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  • The Secret Guam Study: How President Ford's 1975 Approval of Commonwealth Was Blocked by Federal Officials
  • Robert C Kiste
The Secret Guam Study: How President Ford's 1975 Approval of Commonwealth Was Blocked by Federal Officials, by Howard P Willens with Dirk A Ballendorf. Mangilao, Guam: Micronesian Area Research Center; Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historical Preservation, 2004. ISBN 1-878-453-77-7; xvii +238 pages, bibliography, appendixes.US$10.00.

Howard P Willens and Deanne C Siemer are a Washington DC–based husband and wife legal team who have served the people of the Northern Marianas since the early 1970s. Most importantly, they represented the Northern Marianas in the negotiations that made the islands a commonwealth in political union with the United States. Willens and Siemer have authored two books: National Security and Self-Determination: United States Policy in Micronesia (1961–1972) in 2000 and An Honorable Accord: The Covenant between the Northern Marianas Islands and the United States in 2002. Willens is also the principal author of The Secret Guam Study. Dirk A Ballendorf is the director of the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.

In the course of their research for An Honorable Accord, Willens and Siemer discovered evidence that in the mid-1970s, at the direction of President Gerald R Ford, a study had been made concerning Guam's future political status and the United States was prepared to offer Guam commonwealth political status, under terms that were at least as advantageous as those for the Northern Marianas. At a meeting in 2000 with Ballendorf and his colleagues at the University of Guam, Willens and Siemer learned that no one on Guam had ever heard of the presidential initiative. They suggested that relevant information might be obtained by requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Ballendorf served as the plaintiff, with Siemer as his lawyer. FOIA requests were submitted to the Departments of State, Interior, and Defense in late 2000. Although the requests were acknowledged, they were stonewalled. In May 2003, thirty months after the FOIA requests, Ballendorf filed complaints against the same three departments, and they quickly produced some [End Page 182] documents. Nevertheless, the record seemed suspiciously incomplete, and in response to further legal action, more documents were forthcoming.

The indigenous people of all the Marianas share a common Chamorro culture and language. Guam, the southernmost of the Marianas, became separated from the others when it became a US territory in 1898 and was placed under US Navy rule. In 1950, the US Congress passed the Guam Organic Act. Guam thereby became an unincorporated territory lacking in local autonomy, belonging to but not an integral part of the United States. Administrative authority was transferred to the Department of Interior. Under the Organic Act, Guam's people became US citizens.

At the end of World War II, the United States acquired most of Micronesia as the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands within the United Nations trusteeship system, and again, the Department of Interior was given the responsibility for administration. Negotiations about the future political status of the Trust Territory began in 1969. Internal differences precluded any chance that the territory would evolve as a single nation, and it became divided into four political entities. The Northern Marianas was the first to break away when it began separate negotiations with the United States in late 1972. The people of the Northern Marianas voted for commonwealth status in political union with the United States in 1975, and the status of Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas became finalized when the Trust Territory was dissolved in 1986. The arrangement provided US citizenship for the people of the Northern Marianas, the privilege of drafting their own constitution, and increased autonomy over many local affairs.

Not long after its implementation, the people of Guam evidenced discontent with the provisions of the Organic Act and lobbied for an improved political status. When US negotiators wanted Guam's support for the commonwealth arrangement for the Northern Marianas, the White House was urged to address the issue of Guam's political status. In late 1973, a...