Balancing Access and Protection

Last Thursday, a Federal grand jury indicted Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff “…for conspiring to steal historical documents from museums in Maryland and New York, and selling them for profit.”  On Friday they were arraigned in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court and immediately arrested by FBI and NARA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Special Agents.

The indictment spells out the manner, means, and purpose of Landau and Savedoff’s conspiracy to “…steal and obtain by fraud from the care, custody, and control of various museums certain objects of cultural heritage…”  Among those “objects” are seven reading copies of speeches given by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stolen from our FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York.  Four of these speeches were later sold.

Other institutions identified in the indictment include the New York Historical Society and the Maryland Historical Society.

Our OIG is working closely with the law enforcement agencies involved in the ongoing investigation and NARA staff from various units have stepped up to assist this work.

I am extremely proud of the staff—their professionalism, cooperative spirit, and seriousness with which they are taking this assignment.

Any time the collections entrusted to my care are stolen I feel personally violated.  Throughout my career I have fought hard to create and support the appropriate protective measures that ensure that those great special collections and archives would be available forever.  Those measures include secure and climate-controlled housing, secure reading rooms, and well trained staff who, every day, walk the fine line between access and protection—making the records available and safeguarding them at the same time.

This past year, our newly created Holdings Protection Team has identified and engaged stakeholders, observed processes that created holdings risks and provided recommendations and solutions, and monitored the execution of policies and standards.  They have visited more than 30 of our 44 sites, doing internal and external prevention awareness training at most facilities.  Heightened research room security continues to be our highest priority.  Constant vigilance is our best defense.

You will certainly be hearing more about this as the investigation proceeds.

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5 Responses to Balancing Access and Protection

  1. I appreciate the forthright manner in which you address these issues. These are difficult issues but it sounds as if the New NARA is not flinching from addressing them head on.. As to your conclusion, I actually am sure NARA will keep us informed–that would fit with my sense of change at the agency. As a former NARA employee, someone who knows the NARA of old, I appreciate it.

    Best to you all, Maarja

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  2. T says:

    Mr. Ferriero:

    I understand that a number of volunteers and even an individual who is employed by one of the digital partners has badge access to either the stacks or areas where records are available. Why is access offered to non-NARA staff?

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  3. AOTUS is far better equipped to respond on the overall access issue but I’d like to offer my particular perspective, given the ease with which he deals with various opinions. (Appreciate that, Big Dude.) I know some of the people who have some badge access at NARA as volunteers. (What I focus on more than stack access is the exit procedure for leaving the building. That has been tightened in recent times.)

    Volunteers aren’t a monolithic group, they have various skills and contribute to the agency’s work in different ways. NARA is lucky to draw on so many different voluntters. They work on a wide range of projects. Some may need different access than others. I know for a fact that some volunteers actually are former NARA employees who have returned to help out on various projects after retiring from federal service.

    Reasonable people can disagree on how to assess risk in these areas, of course, but I can see permitting some people who work as volunteers some badge access to certain areas although not to all areas in which records are held, of course. That can be controlled by the type of badges people have, of course.

    That said, agencies reconsider and calibrate these things differently over time as they reassess risk. When I was a history grad student in the 1970s, I had a stack pass at the Library of Congress and could wander the stacks there and browse them at will. That is unthinkable these days and issuing such stack passes has not been the Library’s policy for decades, now. Yet at one time, the risk of allowing that was calculated differently than it later was.

    Just my two cents worth based on knowing a number of NARA volunteers, people I respect, and the types of projects on which they work.

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  4. T says:

    Apologies for not having been more specific. I have no issues with retired employees coming back to volunteer and there are two in particular who have been very helpful to me.

    My concerns are with the tradition of allowing “trusted” volunteers have full run of the place (characters like Thomas Lowry who irreparably damaged a Lincoln manuscript) and it is worth mentioning again the digital partner volunteers.

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  5. T, thanks for the clarification. I don’t know if Mr. Ferriero is going to join the convo or not. I would think on the specifics of the current charges and the ongoing investigation, probably not. On the larger security issues, I don’t know. I like his leadership of NARA but base some of my reactions on what I’ve directly observed and some on guesses. This is an area where I can only guess.

    Although I don’t know where you work and what your experiences are, I understand why you raise issues such as latitude allowed to digital partner volunteers, T. I can’t say what that latitude is as I have fragmentary knowledge of what is going on in NARA. It has been a long time since I was employed there.

    I can say that there are areas in my work at Fedland where I have faced constraints due to dealing with non-federal entities. Unfortunately, I have a sense that NARA may not have such challenges on its radar screen. Generally, I have found that it is very challenging to explain the federal ethos as it works at its best. It’s a different vibe than you get elsewhere.

    Mr. Ferriero comes from the prviate sector but has been on the job long enough to absorb some of that ethos and also to hear about it from longtime civil servants. I don’t know how he has picked up on it except that I sense he has. It may or may not be something that you focus on coming in from the private sector, at the outset. Mr. Ferriero seems to value learning and be open to it. Based on that, perhaps NARA will look again at some of the issues you raise. Again, I’m not familiar with the nitty gritty of how badge access is handled. I do recall a problem with a missing hard drive that was revealed around 2009 prior to Mr. Ferriero becoming AOTUS. Room access was an issue, as I recall.

    I appreciate your response, T. Glad to get a convo going here! I like that.

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