Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Tortured Trail of the ONI Defector File

The Tortured Trail of the ONI Defector File

Today what is known as the “ONI Defector File” – .08 cubic feet of paper textural documents, are stored in two boxes that sit in on a shelf a highly secure, dark, windowless, temperature controlled vault at the Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

It will ostensibly remain there until October 24, 2017 when the law requires that it be open and made available to the public as part of the JFK Records Collection, that is unless the Office of Naval Intelligence – ONI officially requests the President to continue to withhold it indefinitely for reasons of national security, and the President, whoever wins the next election agrees to the request, which some expect to happen.
While the JFK Act of 1992 has so far been successful in releasing many millions of records, the law has also been intentionally thwarted by a number of government agencies, including the Secret Service, the CIA and the Office of Naval Intelligence; some would say especially the Office of Naval Intelligence.

As Peter Dale Scott suggests, our attention should not be totally focused on the millions of pages of documents that have been released, but on the ones still being withheld.

They tell us that the number of records still being withheld is less than 1 % of all the records released, but they can’t tell us what that number is – how many records are still being withheld for reasons of national security?

They should be able to tell us exactly how many records have been released so far because they have given each one of those records a number – a Record Identification File (RIF) number and form – the form detailing the RIF, the title of the record, who created it, who it is from and to, names of those mentioned and the number of pages.

It is difficult, if not impossible to request a record from the JFK Collection at Archives II without a RIF number, and I think it may be a requirement to provide a RIF number to obtain a document.

Since you can’t ask for a document from the JFK Collection without a RIF number, I requested, via email, the RIF number assigned to the ONI Defector File, which I thought was a straightforward enough question, but it has proved as elusive as the number of records still being withheld.

Both have finite answers – the number of government assassination records still being withheld – less than 1% of four million, or somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000 records, quite big numbers, but the number of documents already released should be very specific as each has been assigned a RIF number unique and specific to the document, so we should know how many there are.

Each RIF – number begins with an agency code – so we know the ONI code is # - so it must begin with those numbers, but I still can’t request the record without knowing the RIF, and they won’t tell me what the RIF number is, so it’s a Catch 22 quandary.

Going back to Square One and recount what has occurred so far – on November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States, was shot and killed by a sniper while riding thought the streets of Dallas, Texas. The assassination was investigated over the course of decades by a number of official agencies of government, most of which concluded that the President was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a former US Marine Corps defector to the Soviet Union.

While most of the official records of these investigations were sealed, some for fifty, some for seventy-five years and others indefinitely, in response to a public outcry created by Oliver Stone’s film “JFK,” Congress passed the JFK Act of 1992 which states: “All Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure,” and that all assassination-related materials be open to the public and housed in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administrations (NARA), where it is located at the Archives II in College Park, Maryland and known as the JFK Assassinations Records Collection.

The JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 – 44 U.S.C. 2107 (S. Rep. 102-328, 102d Cong., 2d Sess. (as amended – ARCA) defines five categories of information for which disclosure may be postponed, including national security, intelligence gathering, and privacy – provided there is “clear and convincing evidence” of some harm which outweighs public disclosure.

“The law requires all federal agencies to make an initial assessment of whether they possess records related to the assassination. The agencies themselves will conduct an initial review to determine whether their records may be disclosed immediately or whether disclosure should be postponed. The agencies must then give all records that are not disclosed to the Review Board. The Review Board will then evaluate all agencies recommendations for postponement, all records, including those that have a postponed release date, will be transferred to NARA. The Act requires that all assassination records must be released by 2017, with the exception of records certified for continued postponement by the President.”

My first article on ONI and the assassination [ ONI http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2011/10/oni-assassination-of-president-kennedy.html ] was just deep background for what I received in the mail from an anonymous source – Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) correspondence with the ONI that led me to write about the Railroading of LCMR Terri Pike.


Pike was a courageous ONI records officer who was reprimanded for being so forthcoming with the ONI assassination records, especially the ONI Defector File.

At first the ONI response to the JFK Act and the Review Board request for all of its assassination records was to politely inform the Review Board that ONI had no records related to the assassination at all, period.
The ARRB then designated the Dallas ONI office records for 1963 as official JFK Assassination Records, but ONI said that the Dallas field office was a component of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which was no longer part of ONI. Indeed, the records of the Dallas field office of the NCIS were located and turned over to the ARRB and are now included in the JFK Collection that is open to the public.
But ONI also said it could find no assassination records from among the files of former ONI Director Admiral Rufus Taylor, though other agencies had no trouble finding such records, though wait, wait, they did eventually come up with two relevant and responsive documents – one from Admiral Taylor telling the Warren Commission at no time did ONI use Lee Harvey Oswald as an informant, agent or operative, and then another document that indicated Admiral Taylor had been running undercover ONI informants in Dallas who worked for Jack Ruby and saw Oswald and Ruby together.

The Taylor Memo certainly indicates that ONI did at one time have an extensive file and many records related to the assassination, and began a back and forth battle between ONI and the ARRB and Review Board staff, who began to take their jobs seriously when rebuffed by a senior staff military officer.

In response to the ONI abstinence the ARRB designated ONI as a separate component from the Navy in general, and required an ONI officer to sign off on its request under penalty of perjury. Then ONI officials assigned a small team of records officers to the task – over two years after they were notified of the requirements of the law.

The team was led by LCDR Florence T. “Terri” Pike (USNR-R) and assisted by LCDR Doolittle and LCDR Bateman.

Nov. 27 1995 – Director, ONI responds to CNO (N09BL) by letter, stating that the Office of Naval Intelligence holds no records responsive to the tasking of 14 Nov 1995…..

Two years later, on Feb.28 1997:  “1. Executive Summary: ....A total of one hundred twenty-three (123) cubic feet of material, approximately 307,500 classified pages, were reviewed at the Washington National Records Center located in Suitland, MD. Of that volume, less than [one cubic foot of files] was identified ... written on the side: 123 boxes - rather than 123 cubic feet and 1 box of relevant records rather than one cubic foot of files.”

Mar. 11, 1997 Meeting Report. Christopher Barger/ARRB staff “met with the ONI team responsible for heading the search for records under the JFK Act. This team is directed by Lieut. Cmdr. Terri Pike; LCDR Doolittle works in the ONI FOIA office; Pike reports to Capt. Peiaec; LCRD Bastein is the JAG. …For reason not entirely clear to either the ONI team or ARRB, the tasking for this project only trickled down to them on Friday, March 7, 1997. They were a little confused as to why they were only being tasked with this now, but expressed a willingness to do everything they possibly could to achieve the objectives of the Act.”

Mar. 11 1997 – ARRB staffers Wray, Barger and Masih met with CAPT Pelaec, LCDR Bastein and LCDR Pike of ONI and discuss JFK Records Act and its requirements. LCDR Pike identified ONI action taken and intended searchers….would begin at Suitland at the Federal Records Center, but would later include district offices within CONUS. “Pike then presented us a small written briefing package detailing what they had identified that they are required to do and the process they will use to go about the review. She noted that their first priority was to identify the records collections they need to search, then determining the physical location of the records. Most of these will be at Suitland, she said, but there will be others located in district offices round the country in locations like Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, New Orleans, St. Louis and Boston. They have also identified a need to determine standard subject identification codes which should cause a document to be searched, and she concluded by detailing the records disposition procedures within ONI.”

“Despite the fact that they had only learned of this tasking on Friday, they had located and designated approximately 125 cubic feet of documents that directly relate to subjects we mentioned in our letter to the Navy. These will be reviewed page by page. She anticipated being able to complete the review by the stated deadline set by the Navy and ARRB of April 30, 1997.”

“In addition, she said that ONI had identified about 950 cubic feet, or approximately 2.4 million pages of records which might be related to the topics we were interested in, but that we had not specifically mentioned…LCDR Pike stressed that she, and ONI, understood that all information, even negative result, is important to our process, and that they will be providing reports on everything they search, whether relevant documents are found within or not. Pike provided us with a ‘flow chart’ documenting the normal records disposition process within ONI, explaining what each step of the process is and where documents go during each phase of the process. The final page of her briefing package was a sample of the ‘clue sheets’ being provided to each reviewer for the April 30 documents. Approximately two dozen subject headings are listed along with ‘clues’ or keywords for each subject, and a time window for each subject….In closing, it should be reported that this team, and LCDR Pike in particular, are very impressive, they appear very much to have their act together on this project. They provided details and planning we have rarely seen from other agencies, yet they have had this project assigned to them for less than a week. They were extremely helpful, and have taken an aggressive and proactive approach to complying with the JFK Act. We can expect more impressive work from this team.” 
The first mention of the ONI Defector File is in a March 24, 1997 ARRB – Memo. Subject: Status Report in which a Review Board staff member wrote:  “I telephone Terri PikeI asked her if she could give me a brief status report on what they have done so far…..She said that they have completed their review of about 40 cu. ft. of the 127 cu. ft. ONI has committed to having reviewed for us by the April 30 deadline. She also said that they have found one box based on our SF 135 requests. This box has to do with defections, both Cuban and Soviet; they plan on turning this box over to us “in toto.” She said that most of the records in that box are CIA originated or have CIA equities, so they will need to be coordinated with CIA. She ended the call by telling me that if we want to come out there at any point and personally review any of their work, we are welcome.” 


Chronology of ONI Defector File –

I) - March 24, 1997 – ARRB Memo Status Report: “ LCDR Terri Pike…..said that they have found one box based on our SF 135 requests. This box has to do with defections, both Cuban and Soviet; they plan on turning this box over to us “in toto.”

II) - 21 April, 1997 Staff Report: “LCDR Pike stated that review of the first 123 cubic feet of ONI records had been completed, and that as a result .8 cubic feet of records (18 district files) on defectors had been identified as responsive to the CNO tasking; these records were presented to ARRB staffers at the meeting for cursory review. Completion of declassification review and delivery of the original records to the ARRB was tentatively promised within 2 – 4 weeks.”

III) - April 21 1997 Meeting Report ARRB Military team met with…ONI records team. “Pike explained that most of the relevant records they found were discovered ‘by accident;’ that is to say, they were misfiled in boxes outside where they should have been. This is important for two reasons. 1) If they had been filed where they ‘should’ have been, they would have been routinely destroyed by this point, and 2) as they continue their review of records they expect they might well continue to discover records of interest to us…There are a total of 18 folders of material which ONI has determined should go into the JFK collection and have earmarked for delivery to us….Pike concluded her report by suggesting that we might find more of the records we wanted in BG38 the records of the CNO.”

IV) - May 12 1997 – LCDR Pike Fax…. to the ARRB; “the cover sheet for her fax indicates that she had finished declassification review of the .8 cubic feet of defector records, and had prepared a page-by-page index of same.  She indicated that transmittal of these documents would occur in the near future.

V) - May 14 1997 ARRB fax explains the statutory requirement in the JFK Act to prepare RIFs (Record Identification Forms) for each assassination record in accordance with a standard software format prepared by NANA.

VI) - June 6 1997 ARRB mails RIF software disks to LCDR Pike so that .8 cubic feet of defector files can be RIF-ed prior to transmission to ARRB.

‘VII) - Aug. 19 1997 ARRB staff requested that “ONI look for ‘119 Reports’ covering an alleged ONI investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald’s October, 1959 defection to the Soviet Union. LCDR Pike accepted the tasking, but ARRB never received any feedback on its results.”

VIII) - April 2 1998 Letter from ARRB to LCDR R. D. Bastien – “The purpose of this letter is to memorialize for the record our meeting…..You advised that although ONI had district offices in the past, there are no longer any district offices within CONUS, subsequently to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) splitting away from ONI as a separate entity. You further clarified that the only locations where you would expect to find ONI records today would be at the Federal Records Center in Suitland, at the Naval Historical Center, or at Archives II in College park….you were confident that ONI had searched for and had not located any files for the Director of ONI,…Although LCDR Pike had promised delivery of the originals of those documents,….the Review Board was still not in receipt of these documents….LCDR Pike had recently mentioned to our staff that she had located Naval Attache Records responsive to the JFK Act during her searches of RG 289, and had placed them in a box that she had labeled ‘44 USC 2107.’ It was unclear from our conversation with her whether this box was left at the FRC in Suitland, or whether it was located at ONI headquarters…”

Shortly after Pike was notified that the ONI “119 Reports” were created by ONI investigators in San Diego on two occasions – when Oswald defected to the USSR and after the assassination, she was relieved of her duties and given a preliminary JAG military court martial hearing on trumped up charges of improperly traveling to search for JFK Assassination records. ARRB Staff Director Jeremy Gunn began an investigation into the Pike affair and the ONI records, but suddenly left the ARRB staff under a cloud, for reasons that have never been made clear.

Was an ONI records officer reprimanded for locating the ONI Defector File and did the ARRB staff director lose his job because of the troubling turmoil created by the very existence of the ONI Defector File?

IX) - May 18 1998 -…..LCDR R.D. BASTIEN - Designated Compliance Official for ONI, swears under oath under penalty of perjury that: “all Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Directories were tasked for search of any information or documents relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On May 3, 1998, Record Identification Forms were created for approximately .8 cubic feet of records on military defectors. These responsive records were obtained from the permanent documents location at the Washington National Records Center and will be submitted to the Assassination Records Review Board (Review Board) on May 21, 1998. …This submission completes our internal search requirements…known responsive items under the control of ONI have been assembled and submitted to the Review Board…I certify that...I have no knowledge of any JFK assassination-related records which may have been destroyed by this command....this completes our internal search requirements. However, under the Executive Order 12958 declassification mandate, we remain committed to searching the approximately 25,000 archival boxes at the Washington National Records Center and Naval Historical Center which have identified in RG 289 as having possible ONI equities...”

X) – September 9, 1998 - Doug Horne memo: “RIFs should not have been created by ONI unless the documents were assassination records.”

XI) – September 14, 1998 – ONI Defector files transferred to NARA in two boxes.

XII) –At some point the ONI Defector records are marked NBR – Not Believed Relevant and postponed in full by the ARRB, an “Annotated RIF” written on the document, but RIF sheets not created and the records not included in the JFK Collection data base. This despite the fact that on ONI had previously signed off on a sworn statement on May 18, 1998 that “Record Identification Forms were created for approximately .8 cubic feet of records on military defectors” and they acknowledged these records  to be “responsive” to the law.

XIII) – ONI Defector files transferred to NARA on September 14, 1998. These files, totaling 2 boxes, are currently postponed in full. At this point, those are the only records we can confirm were received after May 1998.

XIV) - September 31, 1998 – ARRB disbands, issues Final Report.


XV) - April 8, 2014. In response to my request for the RIF number of the ONI Defector File I received the following response from NARA which reads in part: 

We have located two boxes (.8 cubic feet) and one folder of disks labeled ONI Defector records. Binder one includes a subject name index to the files. These records are marked Not Believed Relevant (NBR) and postponed in full. There was a Board decision that declared all of the ONI defector records ‘NBR’ for release in 2017.   

“It is important to note that the defector files do not include RIF sheets but do include annotated RIF numbers. If you are looking for a specific file, you will need to know the RIF number.”

“Per an annotated recommendation memo from Doug Horne on September 9, 1998, ‘RIFs should not have been created by ONI unless the documents were assassination records.’"  

“If you would like to request these materials, you must submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to our office.”

“We can not confirm that any ONI records are in fact missing from the collection. However,  a review of the correspondence files of ARRB regarding transfer of the ONI records indicate that the ARRB communicated with several ONI officials consistently during 1997-1998 to ensure the transfer of all responsive records…..It has been our practice to search for records that are believed to be missing on a case-by-case basis. We will continue do our best to local the Review Board until the last two weeks of their existence, apparently hoping to outlast them, and refused to give these records RIF numbers, or create description forms for these documents despite the final statement that says, under penalty of perjury they did.

And then using the lame excuse that Doug Horne, the Chief Analyst for Military Records of the ARRB Staff said that non-JFK Assassination records should not be given RIF numbers, even though the ONI Defector File was immediately recognized as a relevant record that clearly fit the definition of a JFK Assassination Record, and were in a box(s) that an ONI Records Officer (Terri Pike) labeled with the JFK Act law – 44 U.S.C. 2017, reviewed and indexed. Pike’s index, that I also requested, is also classified and withheld in full. 

So today, the ONI Defector File is safely secured in the hands of the NARA and locked away in a sealed vault at the Archives II, awaiting their fate that will be determined on October 24, 2017, when according to the law, it will either be released to the public in full or continually withheld at the order of whoever is elected President of the United States in the next election.



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