Dear Mr. Kelly
Thank you for your recent e-mail raising your concerns about the sufficiency of the JFK Assassination Records Collection database that is available on archives.gov at the following url: http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/seach.html
The Archivist forwarded your e-mail to be for direct reply to you.
As I’m sure you know, the JFK database was created in response to the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. In section 5(d) of the Act NARA was required to create “a uniform system of electronic records” comprising identification aids created for each record transmitted to the Archivist. The Act did not stipulate what data fields should be included on the identification aid.
NARA met the obligations of the Act when it created a uniform system and made it available to the agencies that were transmitting the assassination related document to the NARA for inclusion in the Collection. The originating agencies entered the data fields for each document prior to transfer and transferred the data at the same time the records were accessioned by NARA. NARA then entered the data into the JFK Master System and has maintained that system, as well as the public use version on archives.gov since that time.
Accordingly, we believe that NARA has fully complied with the requirements of the Act.
NARA has freely acknowledged, however, that the “current status” field is out of date, and we realized that this frustrates you and other researchers.
The Special Access and FOIA unit that is responsible for the constitution of the Collection and maintenance of the database has extensive responsibilities for records outside of the Collection. Updates have unfortunately been delayed due to other FOIA review and access policy demands on their limited resources.
I am pleased to inform you that the Special Access and FOIA unit has consulted a team to process all of the JFK documents that are being withheld for release by 2017 in accordance with the JFK Act (the only basis to withhold records beyond that time would be if the President personally certifies continued postponement, under section 5(g)(2)(D) of the JFK Act).
As part of that process, the team is currently updating the JFK Collection Master System.
We then intend to update the public use version once the data has been corrected, although we do not expect the update to be complete until 2017.
We welcome any additional input you would like to provide us about deficiencies in the database, so that we can be sure to correct them.
Martha Wagner Murphy
Martha Wagner Murphy
Chief, Special Access and FOIA Staff
National Archives at College Park
BILL KELLY RESPONDS:
Dear Martha Murphy,
Thank you for inviting me and other researchers to provide additional input on the deficiencies in the JFK Collection database as well as the opportunity to comment on matters of NARA policies and procedures regarding the JFK Act.
A number of speakers commented on the data base t a recent conference in Washington D.C. on the 50th anniversary of the release of the Warren Report, one saying it just “didn’t work” and another saying it is “basically useless,” so your acknowledgement that the “current status” of the database frustrates researchers is an understatement.
The idea that the CIA could accelerate the release of thousands of documents in 2003 that were due for release in 2010 proves that such acceleration is possible and there’s no excuse why the remaining sealed JFK Assassination records can’t be processed by the 2013 National Declassification Review system already in place. It’s also hard to imagine how hard it would be to update the Master System and the public access database at that time.
Beyond the basic frustration of an un-useable public database, we have found that Secret Service records reportedly destroyed have folders that are marked “withheld,” and that some thought destroyed have been located among the private papers of former agents (Blaine), while other government assassination records have been located among the private papers of former chief counsel Richard Sprague, Esq. and former WC attorney Howard Willins, and there appears to be little attempt to acquire these records for inclusion the JFK Collection as required by the law. Why aren’t the JFK Assassination records in the hands of former government employees being pursued, acquired and included in the collection? I believe Blaine and other Secret Service agents have more records and I suspect so does DOD historian Dr. Alfred Goldberg.
Why can’t you scan and post on line the most frequently requested documents rather than continuing to manually respond to the same requests over and over?
Why can’t you tell us how many documents are still being withheld, but you can’t even though Congress required the Review Board to publish a list of such records in the Federal Register?
Why can’t you provide a printout of all 1,100 CIA NBR records that are postponed until 2017?
Why can’t you remove the remaining redactions in the records previously released?
Why can’t you tell us the number of assassination records that have been destroyed and are missing?
It is frustrating to have NARA say “We cannot confirm any ONI records are in fact missing from the collection,” when we know of many that aren’t in the collection now, and we know how determined ONI was to exclude all of its assassination records from the collection. You must acknowledge they are missing before you even start to look for them.
It would be good for the NARA JFK Collection staff to meet with or continue a dialog with a focus group of researchers that we have informally formed so we can continue to advise you as we get closer to 2017.
Giving select researchers access to the Master System directory would help, especially those researchers who are compiling lists of records withheld, destroyed and missing, as well as those who are creating a guide and index to the collection, something that Congress and the JFK Act requires the Archivist to do:
Final Report ARRB p. 184-5 - Section 4: President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration. (a) In General (1)….The Collection shall consist of record copies of all Government records relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which shall be transmitted to the National Archives in accordance with section 2107 of title 44, United States Code. The Archivist shall prepare and publish a subject guidebook and index to the collection….”
It doesn’t say anything about an unuseable searchable data base or Master System that the public can’t have access to. So here we are decades after Congress passed this law – and there is still no prepared and published subject guidebook and index, something that researchers themselves are apparently going to have to do.
Besides preparing our own guidebook and index, and continuing the on-going dialogs between the NARA staff and researchers, the only thing we can do is to file FOIA requests and appeals and ask Congress to conduct its required oversight of the JFK Act – hold hearings and obtain the testimony of those responsible for the implementing the law and destroying and wrongfully withholding records.
Why hasn’t NARA requested Congress to oversee the JFK Act and enforce the law despite the reticence of almost all of the government agencies who waited out the ARRB?
Final Report – “Section 4: (e) Oversight – The Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the Senate shall have continuing oversight jurisdiction with respect to the collection.”
Why aren’t these committees doing their job and overseeing the enforcement of the JFK Act, which according to the law, “…continue in effect until such time as the Archivist certifies to the President and Congress that all assassination records have been made available to the public in accordance with this Act.”