Snitches, finks, and the ideological apparatus of archives

1) A little while back, perhaps you heard, Anthony Clark reported that Allen Weinstein, head of NARA in the George W. Bush administration, serially sexually assaulted women employees of NARA. Maryellen Trautman, whose account makes up the bulk of the article, was certain Weinstein had harassed women at NARA other than her; he was “smooth, practiced.” Sam Anthony, who reported directly to Weinstein, later reported on his conversations with Trautman, “Four times she asked me to ‘find the other women.’” Ordinarily, reports of sexual harassment or assault are reported to the NARA Office of the Inspector General. In Trautman’s case, NARA general counsel first spent a week soliciting advice from the Office of Government Ethics, the White House Counsel, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, before finally passing the baton to NARA OIG, which promptly brought in the FBI. Weinstein ultimately resigned, and found a soft landing at the University of Maryland, where he would assault more women. He died in 2015. Our current AOTUS knew why Weinstein resigned, while publicly praising him:

His successor, David Ferriero—who, a National Archives source confirmed, knew the real reason Weinstein had resigned—warmly memorialized him on the Archives’ website, writing, “[We] will forever remember with gratitude his dedication to the mission and employees of the National Archives.”

2) Archivists spend a lot of time writing notes governing access to our holdings, and it’s largely a matter of self-involvement and involution. If a donor agreement stipulates restrictions on access, it’s a garbage agreement. If a contract demands an embargo of digitized content, it’s a garbage contract. If institutional policy creates a blanket time-based embargo on access, it’s a garbage policy. DACS 4.1, “Conditions governing access” becomes the chief bucket we store our garbage actions in, and it’s a required element of our description, which means we are required to be snitches for archives — to reveal aspects of the organizations we work for which are unflattering — with every recondite obstruction to access we create. We’re also required to be finks for archives — our restrictions notes, our rights notes, our security and registration practices, how we treat patrons, our preservation notes, how clean our hands are supposed to be and what we’re supposed to smell like — are all the hinges around which we fink on each other, and on our users.

3) A lot of heat on twitter was generated by the ALA panel on librarians’ neutrality, and there was a lot of good head-busting to be had. I’ve said here before, and nearly constantly since, that the professional compulsion to have archivists respond to social change qua archivists is moot. We’re much worse than neutral actors, neutrality for us would be a positive step toward revolution! We are the means by which our users are interpellated as subjects before our collections, before power. Howard Zinn’s 1970 SAA address is therefore good and forthright and also pitifully naive. We aren’t the lawyer boldly arguing for the Vietnam Moratorium and calling out the humanity shared by the judge, the defendants, and the people of Vietnam — we’re the stenographer, the clerk, and the bailiff. When the lawyer is done with his appeal, we open chambers, we flip to the next item on the docket, we reset our steno machine, and we move the gears.

I’m obviously reading Althusser and barely grasping him, but our real job — opposed to the unreal admonition to make archives liberatory spaces, or to preserve people’s lives using archives, or whatever is on the menu this year — given that any of us fortunate enough to work for an Archives Power always already supports and lends credence to the legitimacy of that Power, is something else. Here, here’s our large wife-murdering boy, also in 1970, from Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses:

Now it is this knowledge that we have to reach, if you will, while speaking in ideology, and from within ideology we have to outline a discourse which tries to break with ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific (i.e. subjectless) discourse on ideology.

I think there are two roles or figures we could play in archives if we begin, while speaking in ideology to outline a discourse which gets at the “scientific mechanism” of ideology’s creation, and they are the Snitch and the Fink.

1) The FBI, when it began interviewing NARA staff about Weinstein, found a squealer, may Allah smile upon this person:

An Archives official would reveal to investigators a more disturbing truth: There were other women. Some within the agency had noticed Weinstein’s inappropriate behavior for at least 16 months before he assaulted Trautman.

The official, whose name was redacted, told investigators that she “first became aware of the possibility of inappropriate behavior” by Weinstein in August 2006.

The official told investigators that, while she had no direct knowledge, there were rumors that Weinstein was “hitting on” a National Archives employee and heard “through the grapevine” that he was “acting inappropriately during his trips.”

The employee then recounted an incident from a year earlier when she and Weinstein had dinner across the street from the Archives Building. While at the bar, Weinstein leaned in to talk to her and put his arm around her shoulders and the chair. “[She] thought it was a friendly gesture but also thought this was a ‘stupid’ action on the part of [her] supervisor. [She] broke away from Weinstein by physically moving [her] body around.”

She also told investigators that another woman told her Weinstein had read her poetry behind closed doors and once hugged her, but that “she did not want this information to go anywhere.”

The Snitch reports out content that Power wants held private. In the case of the FBI investigation into Allen Weinstein, all praise and honor goes to the career NARA archivists who reported out. What’s startling to me is that so few archivists reported on Weinstein — not that this stuff is easy, not that anyone talking didn’t see a world of future bureaucratic repercussions and career stumbling-blocks, or targeted harassment for fuck sake, headed their direction. No, I was surprised because functionally it’s our nature to report. We’re born snitches.

2) Think of the noble Ohioan who snitched, at a long distance, on Warren G. Harding. This guy found Warren’s “Mount Jerry” sexts, set up a clandestine microfilm kit way off in the stacks, filmed them alone after hours, and fed a copy of the film to a friend. (I’m not even re-reading this because it’s so good, correct me if it matters.) What happens next is the friend, a prof at Case Western, retires and deposits his papers with the University, which dutifully describes them, including the mystery roll of microfilm. Up goes the fuckin balloon. People write about the letters using the film, lawyers for the Harding family swoop in, nobody dies or anything, but things get, for our little clerkly profession, somewhat real.

What happened here is that our hero tried to snitch on a president. He made surrogates of records; in the hands of his friend, the surrogates were transmuted into records. Being accessible, the records finked on our hero. Our hero’s friend could easily have stopped this chain of events by destroying the film, or else not depositing his papers with his university. A lesson: records will fink on you. Beware the receipts.

4) A note about screenshots, and the desire to shout “Receipts, biccch” at people on twitter. First of all, it’s a thing I’ve enjoyed:

So what happened is a guy who doesn’t know anything (not me for once!) knee-jerk well-actuallied Safiya Noble online, many people rose up in anger, the dude apologized, and then deleted the offensive tweets and the apology. We then swooped in to point out the ignominious, craven deletion of tweets. I was elling my effing ass off because an archives dedicated to internet stuff didn’t know what to do about Google cache and screenshots.

It’s our nature to report out, to describe the content we encounter, to contextualize it for others. It’s in the nature of records to fink on us, to expose us at our worst.

4) Another, less-conflicted take on receipts. The state archives of Israel encompasses certain records of the British Mandate in Palestine. The blanket embargo on records related to national security in Israel is 75 years. The state archives of Israel has a really assiduous digitization program, and so we can see many administrative records, honestly a lot of receipts, scanned and OCRed and translated. Do a search for almost any Arabic surname, and see what you get. You will mostly get pre-1948 records of property sales and transfers, and extradition orders in the post-1948 period for people accused of “infiltration.” The net effect of paging through the newly-accessible — and make no mistake, Israel has undertaken serious labor on this score — is to read an account of the founding of the Jewish state that consisted of legal transfers of land, from Palestinians to Jewish settlers, for which money was paid, and legal transfers of human beings, from Palestine, where they once lived, to places as far afield as Egypt. For these transfers, Israel has all the receipts.

I keep coming back to Ariella Azoulay’s work on the figure of the infiltrator, and the work done in archives to construct this figure. Receipts in the state archives of Israel, viewed through Azoulay’s lens, do not necessarily prove a truth so much as they support an assertion, namely, that the establishment of the state of Israel proceeded entirely normally, via legal transfers and sales of land; the acquiescence of the people living in Palestine to Jewish settlers’ rule is established by receipts. And the presence of infiltrators — lest anyone forget, people who fled terrorist attacks, who were displaced by force, to return, occasionally, to retrieve furniture, or to attempt to harvest olives and oranges from their families’ groves — is likewise established by receipts.

The receipts do not capture the ordinary experiences of Palestinians dispossessed by the new Jewish state. Of Raja Shehadeh’s family — whose mother inherited a hotel, whose father and grandfather were highly regarded Palestinian lawyers — who fled for Ramallah after the King David Hotel bombing. Of Fawaz Turki’s family, or Ghassan Kanafani’s. Of anyone who was ever presented with the old mafioso pitch, “Lovely olive grove you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it.”

3, 4, 1, 2) The figures of the snitch and the fink are part of the same framework. Structurally, each reports content. One reports out: to lawyers, investigators, researchers, the curious, the seekers. One reports in: to lawyers, investigators, inspectors general, bosses, and spooks. But in archives, we are bound to report. You can serve the devil or you can serve the lord, but you better serve somebody.

Is it possible that our twitter-culture of caches and receipts is bad? Isn’t it worth examining the externalities of our discipline? Should we think carefully about how we reveal content? Should we, as we do all these things, struggle to make sure that we provide receipts to the palaces, and peace to the huts?


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