November 1, 2010

Former National Archives Department Head Under Investigation

A former department head at the National archives is under federal investigation after Federal agents searched his home last week.  Leslie Waffen had worked at the national archives for 40 years, heading the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit. Federal agents seized material from his home last Tuesday and searched his home. There are no details yet about what kinds of items were recovered.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld is quoted in the TBD piece detailing the investigation last week: "The threat is there. Incidences have transpired and they continue to transpire, and my job is to, A, investigate active cases and, B, educate the public".  Brachfeld offers more details on the National Archives Archival Recovery Team (ART) in the fall volume of the Journal of Art Crime, which will be available in early December. To subscribe see  

The Wright Brothers missing Airplane patent
One of the biggest challenges for the National Archives is its role as a repository for the people. It is open to the public, but it contains a massive amount of material. Much of this has not been systematically inventoried. By way of example there are stores of government documents in salt mines in Hutchinson Kansas.  Stored there are dismantled pieces of the hospital room where President John F. Kennedy was treated after he was shot. Given all of this material, and the access the public has, one of the biggest problems will always be insider thefts. The problem of the employees of the archives taking valuable objects and keeping or selling them.  The Government Accountability office recently issued a report on the National Archives after items had gone missing.  Lost items include the Wright Brothers patent for the first airplane, Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton gin, a copy of President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech, as well as target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These insider thefts are a betrayal of one's profession, but also rob future generations of these important pieces of their past.  To see a truly staggering list of missing documents, look at this list of missing historical documents and items.
  1. Elahe Izadi, National Archives agents raid home of Leslie Waffen, former archives department head, TBD, October 29, 2010, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  2. Audit Shows Records At National Archives At Risk : NPR, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  3. U.S. GAO - National Archives and Records Administration: Oversight and Management Improvements Initiated, but More Action Needed, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  4. Faye Fiore, Guardians of the nation's attic - Los Angeles Times, L.A. Times, August 8, 2010, (last visited Nov 1, 2010).


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