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Betsy Combier

Help Us to Continue to Help Others »

The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Aaron Carr
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Jim Calantjis
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
Many Documents of Historical Value to America Are Missing From the National Archives
It’s hard to comprehend how we could have reached this precarious place regarding the safety of our most precious national treasures, another problem left over from the previous administration, but it needs quick attention and permanent fixes.
Missing History: Artifacts Vanish From National ArchivesA look at how some Washington artifacts can vanish from history

WASHINGTON -- National Archives visitors know they'll find the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the main building's magnificent rotunda in Washington. But they won't find the patent file for the Wright Brothers' Flying Machine or the maps for the first atomic bomb missions anywhere in the Archives inventory. Many historical items the Archives once possessed are missing, including:

* Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln.
* Original signatures of Andrew Jackson.
* Presidential portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
* NASA photographs from space and on the moon.
* Presidential pardons.

Some were reportedly stolen by researchers or Archives employees. Others simply disappeared without a trace. And there's more gone from the nation's record keeper. The Archives' inspector general, Paul Brachfeld, is conducting a criminal investigation into a missing external hard drive with copies of sensitive records from the Clinton administration. On the hard drive were Social Security numbers, including one for one of former Vice President Al Gore's daughters. Because the equipment also may include classified information, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, calls it a a major national security breach.

Brachfeld has documented thousands of electronic storage devices, including computers and servers, that have gone missing over the past decade from the National Archives and Records Administration. Grassley, who has demanded an accounting of all missing items, said the loss of historical documents "robs our nation of its history and is completely unacceptable."

The Archives' stewardship of the nation's records has been questioned before. In a well-publicized incident, former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, took documents from the Archives in the fall of 2003 while preparing, along with other ex-Clinton administration officials, for testimony to the Sept. 11 commission.

In September 2005, Berger was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service, a $50,000 fine and loss of his security clearance for three years. Some records have been missing for decades from the Archives' 44 facilities in 20 states and the capital, including 13 presidential libraries.

"When I came here nine years ago, there was no acknowledgment that we had a problem," Brachfeld said in an interview with The Associated Press. Since then, he has started a recovery team that attends trade shows and Civil War re-enactments, and enlists the help of dealers and researchers to recover historical items that belong to the government.

The agency has two missions that sometimes are in conflict: preserving documents and making them available to the public in monitored research rooms with surveillance cameras.

"We do not have item-by-item control," said Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper. "We can't. We have 9 billion documents. We don't know exactly what's in each of those boxes. There's no point in preserving materials that cannot be used."

Each missing historical item has its own story.

* From 1969 to 1980, the patent file for the Wright Brothers Flyer was passed around multiple Archives offices, the Patents and Trademarks Office and the National Air and Space Museum. It was returned to the Archives in 1979, and was last seen in 1980.

* In 1962, military representatives checked out the target maps for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The maps have been missing ever since.

* In May 2004, one of FDR's grandsons asked to see a portrait of his gra
ndfather at the Roosevelt presidential library in Hyde Park, N.Y. It couldn't be found, and hasn't been seen since 2001.

* Shaun Aubitz, a former employee at the Archives' facility in Philadelphia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 2002 for stealing -- among other items -- 71 pardons signed by Presidents James Madison, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lincoln. The Archives recovered 59 records. They had been sold to manuscript dealers and collectors.

* In 2005, researcher Howard Harner was sentenced to two years in prison, two years probation and a $10,000 fine after pleading guilty to stealing more than 100 Civil War-era documents from the Archives between 1996 and 2002. Fewer than half were recovered.

* A 40-year-old National Archives intern in Philadelphia stole 160 Civil War documents. About half were sold on eBay. The documents included telegrams about the troops' weaponry, the War Department's announcement of Lincoln's death sent to soldiers, and a letter from famed Confederate cavalryman James Ewell Brown Stuart.

* A financially strapped Denning McTague was sentenced in the case to 15 months in prison in 2007. He had told a psychiatrist that he was angry that his internship was unpaid.

Sun Editorial:
Treating history with care
National Archives should do a better job of securing important American documents


Mon, Jul 6, 2009 (2:06 a.m.)

The National Archives in Washington is the designated custodian of many of this country’s most important documents. The original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are among its most famous holdings.

The Associated Press reported Sunday, though, that many other significant items that should be in the Archives are missing. These include Civil War telegrams from President Abraham Lincoln, presidential pardons and NASA photographs from space.

There are fears that a missing external computer hard drive with copies of records from the Clinton administration may have contained classified information.

It doesn’t seem possible that such gaffes could happen. One would assume that the Archives would have among the best security systems in the world given the importance of its holdings. That is clearly not the case.

Archives employees or researchers have made off with some items, but the disappearances of many other documents remain a mystery. This problem is occurring not only in Washington but also at other Archives facilities throughout the country.

What is tragic is that these documents are irreplaceable, creating needless gaps for anyone attempting to learn about America’s past.

The Archives’ inspector general, Paul Brachfeld, has taken some corrective measures by assigning a recovery team to attend trade shows and by soliciting the help of document dealers and researchers in an effort to recover missing items. One of the uglier aspects of collecting is that there are collectors, including museums, that have knowingly possessed stolen artifacts, feigning ignorance.

Clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive look at the Archives’ security system as well as more thorough background checks of employees.

It’s hard to comprehend how we could have reached this precarious place regarding the safety of our most precious national treasures, another problem left over from the previous administration, but it needs quick attention and permanent fixes.

Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006
On the Trail of Pilfered History

On the face of it, the Washington Capital Area Historical Autograph and Manuscript Show seemed like many such shows held around the country each year. Some 20 top dealers gathered at an Alexandria, Va., hotel on Dec. 9 to peddle thousands of autographs, letters and official papers of the famous — many of the more expensive items locked in glass cases. But among the customers wandering through the exhibits this time were two investigators from the National Archives. They passed out brochures on how to spot historical documents stolen from the government and chatted with the dealers to let them know that the feds are now becoming more interested in retrieving the valuable loot. The investigators also quietly browsed through the wares on display, looking for anything that might belong to the Archives.

> During this particular visit the document hunters found none, but they expect other forays will turn up important contraband. The investigators are part of Operation Historic Protector, which the Archive's Inspector General's Office launched in November to combat what many fear is a growing threat to the federal government's historical repository, as well as to state archives and university libraries: the pilfering of old letters, documents, maps, photographs, books and other historical artifacts.

The National Archives has beefed up security in recent years, with video cameras and staffers watching outside researchers who review material in its reading rooms. But the Archives and other repositories around the country have suffered a number of heists in recent years.

Last September, Edward Forbes Smiley III, a Massachusetts dealer, was sentenced to 42 months in prison for stealing 98 rare maps from university libraries in the U.S. and the United Kingdom between 1998 and 2005. Howard Harner, a Virginia relics dealer, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 for walking off with more than 100 Civil War-era documents during visits over a six-year period to the National Archives' Washington, D.C., facility. (Less than half of them have been recovered.) That same year, former Clinton national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger was fined $50,000 after he pleaded guilty to stuffing into his coat pockets and walking out with classified counter-terrorism documents he'd been reviewing at the National Archives for his testimony before the 9/11 commission. (An Inspector General's report on the case, which was finally released on Wednesday, states that on one of his four visits to the Archives in Washington, on Oct. 2, 2003, Berger took four documents outside during a break and hid them "under a trailer" at a construction site near the facility, then "retrieved the documents" later in the day after he had finished his work in the Archives. Berger never explained in court why he took the papers. )

"We do have a problem," says Paul Brachfeld, a former Secret Service agent who's the Archive's inspector general. Just how big the problem is, however, is something nobody really knows. The National Archives has about 10 billion documents that take up 28.4 million cubic feet in three dozen facilities around the country, plus another 543,000 assorted artifacts like paintings and mementos. "We don't know what's missing here because we don't know what we have," Brachfeld told TIME. "We obviously know we have the Declaration of Independence. But there is such a volume of documents here that we don't have an item-level inventory."

Still, a lot may be missing. For the past two years, a team of manuscript experts from the National Coalition for History, an advocacy group for history organizations on Capitol Hill, has been screening the printed catalogues and websites of about 60 top dealers around the country. The screeners found more than 370 suspicious documents among the some 90,000 they saw for sale and forwarded reports on them to the National Archives.

Since May 2004, the Archives has received — both from the coalition and from other people phoning in leads — reports on a total of 610 suspicious documents for sale, which have helped investigators retrieve 19 documents that had either been stolen from the Archives or never made it to the repository in the first place. And Brachfeld revealed to TIME that his investigators are probing a separate "major case," in which "almost a hundred documents" are believed to have been stolen by a National Archives employee. Brachfeld would not discuss details of that case because "it is awaiting prosecution."

In an age of eBay and PBS's Antiques Roadshow, where people have come to believe that every relic has more than sentimental value, it's not entirely surprising that the stolen document market is heating up. In the past, a handful of major auction houses handled the bidding on historic documents. "Now, with the World Wide Web, your market is not just who is subscribing to a preprinted catalogue from Christie or Sotheby's," says Bruce Craig, the outgoing director of the National Coalition for History. Craig adds that Internet bidders tend to pay "far more than a document is worth because they get sort of caught up in the auction frenzy."

While greed motivates most document thieves, it's not the only reason key materials go missing. Archives investigators also suspect some federal documents never make it to their facilities because government officials weed them out to try to sanitize history. Whatever the motive, missing documents can be maddening for historians. "Any document that is not available to historians means that the story is just that less complete," says Lee Formwalt, executive director of the Organization of American Historians.

(I felt that frustration researching my biography of the famed World War I air general Billy Mitchell. Records of Mitchell's messy divorce from his first wife were missing from court files in Milwaukee, where the proceedings were held. Copies of Mitchell's divorce records also were supposed to be in his Army file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, but they, too, were gone. I could never determine who had the sticky fingers.)

Brachfeld says reputable document dealers have cooperated, alerting his office when sellers come to them with questionable papers. "They don't want to be party to trafficking in stolen material," he says. Often, though, it can be difficult even for seasoned dealers to determine what's been stolen. No more than 3% of the documents the federal government creates are important enough for the National Archives to retain them. And the Archives itself wasn't created until 1934. Before that, individual federal departments kept their records and many of the agencies were sloppy, letting retired officials take the important ones home so the material never got to the Archives in the first place. Presidential signatures can command high prices but often they're on documents of no historical significance. "Not every letter that George Washington wrote deserves to be in the National Archives," says Edward Bomsey, an autographs dealer in Annandale, Va. The Archives also doesn't have the right to material that is considered private property, such as Presidential letters to constituents.

Operation Historic Protector is a small initiative at the moment. Brachfeld has only two of his 16-member staff assigned to it, and so far the Office of Management and Budget has refused his request for funding increases to beef up the team. But he says he hopes to build up his force along with a network of outside artifacts experts around the country who will tip off his agents "every time they find something suspicious. And we swoop down."

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation