NCH Members Seek Release of Rosenberg Grand Jury Records

On January 31, 2008, a petition was filed in federal court in New York City seeking the release of grand jury records from the 1951 indictment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were accused of running an espionage ring that passed American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, convicted of spying, and executed in 1953. The petitioners include five members of the National Coalition for History, the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and New York Times reporter Sam Roberts.

Bill to Clarify Use of State Secrets Privilege Introduced

Recently, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced S. 2533, the “State Secrets Protection Act.” The state secrets privilege allows the executive branch to block discovery in civil litigation when the government believes that there is an unacceptable risk of disclosure of sensitive national security secrets. The intent of the legislation is to provide guidance to federal courts in handling assertions of the privilege in civil cases, and to prevent the government from using the privilege to withhold evidence that is not actually sensitive in nature.

NCH Urges the Smithsonian to Increase Transparency

The National Coalition for History, and other organizations have met with staff for members of Congress on the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents to urge the revision of Directive 807, a recently-adopted policy that would, among other things, broaden the Smithsonian’s ability to withhold certain business and financial information from the public.

Civil War Preservation Trust Marks 25,000 Acres Saved

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), the nation’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group, recently announced its land preservation accomplishments for 2007. The organization permanently protected 1,616 acres at 12 different Civil War battlefields in five states. In 2007, CWPT reached an historic milestone of 25,000 acres saved during two decades of preservation work. Overall, CWPT has protected 25,289 acres of battlefield land at 99 sites in 18 states.

Senator Sessions Places Hold on Presidential Records Bill

On January 22, 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007” (H.R. 1255, S. 886) to the floor under the Senate’s unanimous consent rule that allows non-controversial bills to be considered on an expedited basis. However, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) became the latest Republican senator to publicly put a hold on the bill and blocked floor consideration.