Top Young Historians: 77 – Timothy J. Naftali


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

77: Timothy J. Naftali, 12-17-07

Basic Facts

Position: Director, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, July 2007- Current
Area of Research: American Government and Politics, Cold War, Foreign Policy, Intelligence and Espionage
Education: Ph.D., History, Harvard University, 1993
Major Publications: Naftali is the author of George H. W. Bush, (New York: Times Books, 2007); Khrushchev’s Cold War: The Inside Story of An American Adversary co-author with Aleksandr Fursenko, (New York: Norton, 2006); Timothy J. Naftali JPG Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism, (New York: Basic Books, 2005); US Intelligence and the Nazis co-author with Richard Breitman, Norman Goda, and Robert Wolfe, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); US Intelligence and the Nazis co-author with Richard Breitman, Norman Goda, and Robert Wolfe, (Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund, 2004); The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy, Volume 1, ed., (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001); Timothy J. Naftali JPG The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy, Volume 2, ed., co-editor with Philip Zelikow, (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001; and “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964, co-author with Aleksandr Fursenko), New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.
Naftali is also the author of numerous articles, book chapters and reviews which have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Contemporary Austrian Studies, The Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Diplomatic History, Journal of American History, and the popular media including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, among others.
Awards: Naftali is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature (with Aleksandr Fursenko), 2007;
Principal Investigator, “Why Terrorists Stop,” Two-year grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation, 2006-Present;
Principal Investigator, Three-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, 2003-2006;
Sesquicentennial Fellowship, University of Virginia, 2003-2004;
Akira Iriye Prize for International History (with Aleksandr Fursenko), 1997-1998;
Olin Fellowship in National Security, International Security Studies, Yale University, 1996-1998;
Research Fellowship, Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1996;
Charles Warren Fellowship for Studies in American History, Harvard University, 1995;
Fellowship in National Security, John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University, 1991-1993;
National Intelligence Study Center Prize for best student paper, 1992;
Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Security, (3 Semesters), 1990-91;
John Addison Porter Prize for best essay in American History by an upperclassman, Yale 1983.
Additional Info:
Naftali is currently General Editor, Presidential Recordings Series, 2003 – Current;
Historical Consultant, Nazi War Crimes and Imperial Japanese Government Records Interagency Working Group, National Archives and U.S. Department of Justice, 1999- Current Naftali is formerly Director, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration, October 2006 – July 2007;
Associate Professor, General Faculty and the History Department, University of Virginia, 1998 – 2006;
Director, Presidential Recordings Program and Kremlin Decision-Making Project, The Miller Center of Public Affairs, 1999- 2006;
Instructor, Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre), 2003 – 2006;
Historical Consultant, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9/11 Commission), 2003-2004;
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, Yale University, 1996-1998;
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Hawai’i, 1993-97.

Personal Anecdote

Among my favorite anecdotes involves a weird and nerdy coincidence. In February 1984, not too long out of College, I made my first visit to what was then called the Public Record Office in Kew, outside London. As I awaited the train at the end of my day, I noticed that the evening newspapers carried the headline “Andropov dies.” The Soviet leadership had reached a point where it was as decrepit as the Soviet economy. Timothy J. Naftali JPG That was my last trip to the PRO for a little over a year.

My next visit came on March 10, 1985. Sure enough as I reached the train station to catch the tube home, I saw the headline of the newspaper lying on the platform: “Chernenko Dies.” I don’t know what possessed me, but I then burst into laughter that I know the other passengers found unsettling and distinctly disrespectful to the dead. Thereafter I used to kid that Gorbachev’s friends were asking me never to return to the PRO. It would be mischievous to now claim that because I never returned to the PRO, the Cold War ended and, well, you know the rest. But I did go back to the PRO plenty of times and, of course, and fortunately Mr. Gorbachev is still with us.


By Timothy J. Naftali

  • After years of studying the intelligence and security world I have come to believe less in the efficiency of conspiracies than I do in the inefficiency of government. Most of the supposed conspiracies of modern American Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism JPG history dissolve when you examine them closely. The Roosevelt administration would have had advance warning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had not interservice rivalry and overclassification of intelligence led to a decision to focus on the wrong Japanese communication channel. Japanese diplomats had not been told about the attack; Japanese admirals, on the other hand, had been. Unfortunately, US intelligence had chosen to break the Japanese diplomatic cipher instead of that of the Japanese Admiralty. In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald exploited a last-minute change by the US Secret Service in the route of the presidential motorcade through central Dallas. Oswald had delusions of grandeur and was looking to kill someone famous. A few weeks earlier he had shot at Edwin Walker, a prominent right-wing extremist. Now he would have a chance to use his marksmanship against an even more famous man, John F. Kennedy. Certainly there have been real conspiracies in US history — Watergate and Iran-Contra come to mind — but our society is open enough that we eventually hear about them. Someone is bound to leak to Bob Woodward. — Timothy J. Naftali in “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “I’m not a veteran of the Nixon wars, I’m a Gen Xer. My passion is for history and getting the story out . . . . I’m a scholar. I want to see things released, and I want people to have a chance to use them…. That period was phenomenal in American history. You’ve got all the lunar landings. You’ve got the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season, you’ve got Ali versus Frazier. You’ve got some of the greatest movies ever made, you know, ‘Godfather’ I and II. It’s a great and interesting period in American culture and politics. And what an opportunity to be able to help make that public history come alive. That’s how I look at it.” — Timothy Naftali speaking to the Washington Post upon being named the first director of the Nixon Library

About Timothy J. Naftali

“Masterful…. Blind Spot is an excellent reminder of the value of unbiased scholarship in an environment of poisonous political partisanship.” — The New Republic review of “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”

  • “Blind Spot is that rare phenomenon: a great work of original research on a subject of great importance that is also lucidly written.” — Wall Street Journal review of “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “An engaging and impressively comprehensive history of American counterterrorism…. [It] should become essential reading as we chart our way forward.” — Commentary review of “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “An engrossing narrative of mistakes, missed opportunities, and the occasional triumph, Blind Spot surprises and enlightens. Timothy Naftali’s provocative analysis of US counterterrorism should force a profound reappraisal of our current efforts. This important and fascinating work is necessary reading for policymakers and the public alike.” — Fareed Zakaria, author of “The Future of Freedom” reviewing “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “You are going to want to read this book. With Blind Spot, Timothy Naftali has done everyone interested in the history of U.S. efforts to fight terrorism a great favor: he has combed through all the archives, interviewed all the key participants, and dug up a great many stories that have never seen the light of day before and put them all in one terrifically readable place. The result is a book that weaves the full tapestry of American efforts against the world’s worst terrors, illustrating both the revealing details as well as the larger image of America’s long unwillingness to take this threat seriously until the horror of 9/11 forced us to do so. Anyone who wants to understand that story will be well-rewarded by starting with this smart, splendid book.” — Kenneth M. Pollack, author of “The Threatening Storm,” former director for Persian Gulf Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council reviewing “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “In this fascinating, well-researched, and important book, Timothy Naftali has done an excellent job of using the lessons to history to illuminate one of the central issues of our time.” — Michael Beschloss, author of “The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945” reviewing “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “The best book yet on U.S. counterterrorism. America’s current problems can be properly understood only if they are put in long-tern perspective, and Tim Naftali does this brilliantly. Blind Spot is a must-read.” — Christopher Andrew, author of “The Sword and the Shield” reviewing “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “The blind spot in Timothy Naftali’s important book was the inability of American presidents, despite frequent warning, to recognize the danger posed by Osama Bin Laden. That a huge failure occurred has been obvious since 9-11, but Naftali, a leading scholar of American intelligence organizations, has something bigger on his mind than the now-familiar missed clues and failures to communicate. In this deeply researched book certain to spark controversy, Naftali argues that successful intelligence campaigns against Nazi and Soviet spies prove the United States knows how to run counter-terror operations. But until 9-11 the blind spot kept American presidents and the American people alike from seeing that the time had come to make hard decisions to fight new enemies already gathering to strike.” — Thomas Powers, author of “Heisenberg’s War and The Man Who Kept Secrets” reviewing “Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism”
  • “The 41st president’s political persona was the stuff of greatness, argues this entry in the American Presidents series. Historian Naftali (Khrushchev’s Cold War) credits Bush less with principles than with George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993 JPG “tendencies” toward flexibility, realism and a moderate Republican version of decency. In his foreign policy, these qualities helped him nudge communism toward a soft collapse and build an international alliance to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait; domestically they led him to a budget compromise with Democrats, in which he acquiesced to unpopular tax hikes for the good of the nation. Bush’s flexibility had a dark side, the author notes, that came out in his repeated tactical embrace of racial politics, from his opposition to civil rights legislation during his 1964 Senate run to the 1988 Willie Horton ads, and in his public support for Reaganomics despite deep private misgivings. Naftali forthrightly dissects Bush’s misdeeds-especially his role in the Iran-Contra scandal-but he’s less skeptical about the substance of Bush’s policies, which he pointedly contrasts with Bush Jr.’s failures; he credits Bush’s wars in Panama and Kuwait with helping America “overcome the burden of Vietnam,” without wondering whether this paved the way for the son’s misadventure in Iraq. Naftali’s is a brisk, useful, but not always penetrating overview of a pivotal presidency. — Publisher’s Weekly review of “George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993”
  • “The Cuban missile crisis was the climax of the cold war’s truly perilous time, the years 1960 through 1962 when each superpower felt itself being relentlessly tested by the other … Until now, however, we haven’t had a good up-close look at large and vital parts of the drama: the thinking and motives of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev; the interplay between Moscow and Havana; the degree of risk that the Kremlin was willing to run … This detailed account may not altogether fill the gap, but it comes fairly close. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.” — John Newhouse, The New York Times Book Review reviewing “One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964”
  • “A magnificent achievement. [“One Hell of a Gamble”] is scholarly without being pedantic, full of revelations, and frightening.” — Los Angeles Times review of “One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964”
  • An absorbing, at times riveting, inside tour of the highest echelons of three governments. — Philadelphia Inquirer review of “One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964”
  • “As the Nixon Library prepares to join the other 11 Presidential libraries that are part of the National Archives system, I am very pleased that Timothy Naftali has agreed to take on this important new position. Professor Naftali’s experience, energy, and vision will invigorate this new national resource and help the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum quickly become a major center for research and learning. As the representative of a younger generation of scholars, he will be able to set a new tone for a national center to study the Nixon era. With the eventual transfer of 44 million pages of textual records and the more than 3,000 hours of Presidential tape recordings of the Nixon Administration which are currently housed at the National Archives College Park facility, the Nixon library will prove to be a treasure trove for historians and the general public who are interested in the life, legacy and era of President Nixon.” — Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States
  • “Tim Naftali, (whom) everybody respects and who is a serious scholar and who is committed to openness and accuracy, will do his best to make sure the Nixon people deliver on their promises.” — David Greenberg, author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image.”
  • “As a distinguished Cold War historian and an eloquent advocate of public history, Tim Naftali is an ideal choice as the first director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. We look forward to welcoming him and his colleagues to Yorba Linda, and we pledge to support his exciting ideas for programs and exhibits.” — John H. Taylor, executive director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, which opened the private Nixon Library in 1990.
  • “We are pleased that the National Archives has looked to the Miller Center for leadership of this important national assignment. Tim Naftali’s strong academic credentials, expertise on Cold War issues and guidance of the Presidential Tape Recordings program at the Miller Center provide unquestioned indicators of his energetic leadership of the nation’s newest presidential library. We congratulate Dr. Naftali and wish him well.” — Gerald Baliles, director of the Miller Center and former Governor of Virginia
  • “Tim Naftali is an excellent choice to head the Nixon Presidential library. In my association with Mr. Naftali, on the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group and the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, I found him to be an outstanding scholar and an energetic advocate for the people’s right to know. I congratulate Allen Weinstein on his choice.” — Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor
  • “Tim Naftali has been a great addition to the Miller Center. While we are sad to lose him, we are proud that this brilliant scholar will lead the Nixon Presidential Library when it becomes a part of the National Archives.” — former Governor of Virginia A. Linwood Holton, Jr. who was instrumental in the founding of the Miller Center
  • “Best lecturer I’ve ever had, awesome class, lectures are extremely well put together and engaging. Subject material is interesting enough on its own, but he really brings it to life”… “Great speaker. Also a very good writer; uses his books with the class and they are all good reads.”… “Great teacher . . . who is leaving UVA.” — Former Students

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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