Imagining New Careers in Public History

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A Very Good Day: Giving Closure to a Mourning Family

As a Records Declassification Specialist with the Air Force Declassification Office, I am usually sitting at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, reading historical documents.  One day, however, I became involved in a very different activity.  I was called by a Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (“We’re just like NCIS, but without a television program”) with a request: Could I look over some documents that had security classification markings on them?  I said, Sure, how about tomorrow?  No, it had to be today.

I met two OSI Special Agents at the Archives after lunch, and learned that the documents came from the residence of an Air Force historian who had died suddenly.  In making sure foul play wasn’t involved, authorities discovered these “classified” documents.  The two agents had brought copies with them, and explained that the victim’s family was arriving in town that day to claim his possessions.  If the Air Force could not “clear” all of the documents, the family would not be given access to his home.  Thus began a four-hour effort to review the documents, determine which federal agencies owned the contained information, have Archives personnel review the documents to confirm they originated at the Archives, locate the relevant agency representatives within the Archives building, and have them review the documents and render a classified/declassified judgment.  Finally, after 4 P.M., the last required agency rep – from the CIA – confirmed the unclassified status of some OSS records.

Mission accomplished – the Special Agents had got their job done in one day, the family got some timely closure on the death of their loved one, and I patted myself on the back for having helped get it all done.  A pretty good day for a non-traditional public historian. ~ Michael


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2 thoughts on “A Very Good Day: Giving Closure to a Mourning Family

  1. That is fantastic! I have to say that I covet your job if only to say that I was able to meet “OSI special agents”! -Anne

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