Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Playing Politics with History – the Still Secret JFK Assassination Records

                                                    FBI Record on the Assassination of JFK

Playing Politics with History – the Still Secret JFK Assassination Records
20 Ye ars  after the JFK Act

By William E. Kelly

You may think the November 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy is ancient history, but as we approach the 50th anniversary of the murder of the president, there are still government administrators who actively oppose the idea of the full truth being known today.

To high level officials, some government records on the assassination are still a matter of national security and many thousands of historical records are so sensitive that they won’t allow you to read them nearly a half-century after Kennedy was killed.

Polls have consistently shown that the American public’s confidence in their government has declined steadily since the Warren Report on the assassination was issued in 1964, and 80% of the people refuse to believe its conclusion that the President was killed by a lone, deranged gunman. [See polls ]

Twenty years ago, in response to the continued decline in public confidence in government and the outcry over the sealed records, which Oliver Stone’s movie JFK had called attention to, Congress passed the JFK Act of 1992, and the President signed the act on October 26, 1992. [ ] The law created the temporary Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent agency that reviewed and released nearly five million pages of once-secret JFK assassination records.

In their Final Report [ ] the ARRB said, “Restoring public confidence in government is a difficult task under any circumstances. The Review Board took this responsibility seriously, however, and set out…to create the most complete record possible of the documentary evidence of the assassination so that in the end the American people could draw its own conclusions as to what happened and why on that fateful day in Dallas in November 1963.”

They also reflected - “Agency reviewers will note that the Republic has not collapsed under the weight of threats to national security because of Review Board actions and, perhaps, they will also note that openness is itself a good thing and that careful scrutiny of government actions can strengthen agencies and the process of government, not weaken it.”

Former Assassinations Records Review Board member Kermit Hall said at the time that it would take ten years before the JFK Act and the work of the ARRB could be adequately evaluated. [ ] Well now it has been twenty years and we know that records have been intentionally destroyed, some gone totally missing and others are being wrongfully withheld, without any enforcement or oversight of the law.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) estimates that one percent of the records still remain classified, which would mean there are still an estimated 50,000 still-secret records. Not a few, there are so many they can’t even tell you how many documents are still sealed or how many pages are being withheld, and they’re not going to count them until they are required to do so.

Just among the CIA records alone, there are over 1,000 documents identified by the ARRB that are currently locked in a sealed vault at the Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland and are scheduled to be released to the public in 2017, but are expected to remain sealed indefinitely at the request of the CIA. According to some reports, the CIA has already identified the documents that they intend to ask the President to postpone beyond 2017.

So the Kennedy assassination isn’t ancient history, at least to high level government administrators who consider it so relevant, so significant today that these records, if released to the public, will threaten the nation’s security and the very foundations of the government. This continued secrecy flies in the face of the JFK Act, and the current policies of open government espoused by the administration today. 

One of the first things President Obama did once assuming office was to declare a policy of “open government,” saying that “no record shall be withheld indefinitely.” He issued an executive order creating the National Declassification Center (NDC) to expedite the declassification and release of a backlog of over 4 million pages of documents by 2013, which according to assistant archivist Michael Kurtz, included the remaining withheld JKF assassination records.

The NDC reported that the level of public interest would determine their priorities saying, “To achieve the NDC goal of making declassified records available to the public, three factors affect how records will be prioritized: 1) High Public Interest – The NDC will use a variety of sources, including public input through a variety of social media technologies, and information about records requested in the NARA research rooms, and by the public through the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act and Mandatory Declassification Review provisions of E.O. 135264, to determine the level of public interest…”

No other issue came close to the high level of public interest in the JFK assassination records. Including those records in the NDC effort would be consistent with the administration’s espoused policy of open government and would release the records in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the event.

At the second public hearing however, after assistant archivist Michael Kurtz had retired, the NARA announced that he “misspoke” and the remaining sealed JFK assassination records are not going to be included in the 2013 NDC declassification project. So instead of giving priority to the records with the most public interest, they decided to exclude them all together.

It would also be nice to know if Michael Kurtz, the assistant archivist with over 30 years as an archivist, who said the JFK records were included in the NDC program, was fired or forced to retire because of having “misspoke” about the disposition of the JFK records?

David Ferreiro, the Archivist, in an interview in the Boston Globe, said that NDC forum audience members who participated in the question and answer period included the UFOers on one side and the assassination buffs on the other, but no one at that hearing mentioned UFOs, and the murder of the President cannot be easily dismissed as a joke, but is a national security issue of the greatest importance.

Jim Lesar, the president of the Assassinations Archives and Research Center (AARC), then wrote a letter to the National Archivist David Ferriero,
[ ] requesting that NARA reconsider its decision not to include the JFK assassination records in the 2013 NDC program. But he was rebuffed in a response from the chief counsel to the NARA,
[ ] who said the CIA did not have the ability to declassify these records even though they did declassify and release all of the records scheduled for release in 2010 in 2006, exactly what they are requested to do now. So they can if they wanted to.

The clear and cold refusal by NARA to seriously consider the declassification and release of the remaining withheld JFK assassination records led to the posting of a petition at, which now has over 2,000 signatures, calling on the Archivist and the President’s chief information officer to release these records.

At the third open public hearing of the NDC Lesar asked the CIA representative how long it would take them to declassify the remaining records once they began to do it and the answer was two months. But at this point they’re not even interested in counting how many pages there are.  

Three of the six questions posed by the public at the third open NDC hearing concerned the JFK assassination records, but when the NARA posted the official videotape of the hearing, the tape freezes just as the public question and comment session begins, and it appears that the recording machine was deliberately turned off, which certainly indicates they were not even interested in preserving what the public had to say.  [JFKcountercoup: View the third NDC Open Public Forum ]

Only  after repeated requests did they release the full forum video. 

Reporter Dick Russell, in his blog [] wrote, “when the person in charge of the National Archives' Declassification Center (Sheryl Shenberger) was formerly employed by the CIA, perhaps we should expect no less than the current impasse. Before undertaking prior declassification chores for the Agency, Shenberger was a branch chief in the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center between 2001 and 2003.
For those of us who are convinced we've never been told the truth about the tragedy of November 22, 1963 - a day that changed the course of American history - it's time to make the government hear our voices loud-and-clear leading up to next year's 50th anniversary.”

Since the belligerent attitude of the NARA and NDC administrators must reflect that of the Archivist himself, Paul Kuntsler decided to write him an open letter, and when it went unanswered, to get his attention by holding a protest at the National Archives, which he did on October 8, Columbus Day. Joined by a few other researchers, they wore “Free the JFK Files” signs and distributed copies of Kuntsler’s open letter  [Kuntsler’s letter:  JFKcountercoup: Open Letter to Ferriero ], giving one to a mid-level NARA official who came out to meet them. Copies of the letter were sent to news papers and media outlets, none of which bothered to cover the event or publish the letter.

One of the historical researchers who did attend the demonstration, former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, has been dueling the CIA in court over release of specific JFK assassination files. Not among the CIA records at the NARA’s JFK Collection are the operational files of former CIA officer George Joannides, whose death has not softened the CIA’s refusal to release his records or include them in the JFK Act Collection. This is so even though Joannides’ was the CIA officer responsible for the anti-Castro Cuban Student Revolutionary Directore (DRE), an anti-Castro Cuban organization the accused assassin tried to infiltrate a few months before he allegedly killed the president.

Detailing the relationship between the DRE, their CIA case officer and the accused assassin would go a long way in determining whether the assassination was the act of a lone, deranged nut or was a well planned and executed covert intelligence operation designed to shield those actually responsible.

Since the Joannides records were “not considered relevant” to the assassination and not included as part of the JFK Act records, James Lesar, at the behest of Morley, filed a FOIA suit to get them, a case that the CIA has dragged through the appeals courts for many years now. While one could speculate that if the records supported the government’s official lone-gunman, lone-nut determination regarding the assassination, then they would have no qualms about releasing them, but instead they contend these records must remain sealed for reasons of national security.

Among the documents that the CIA has released because of the court case are even more surprising, as they show that besides running the (DRE) Cuban group that had run-ins with the accused assassin, Joannides was given a special CIA assignment in 1978, to serve as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), where he obstructed the committee’s access to many of the CIA records they sought on a number of issues related to the assassination.

The former chief counsel to the committee, G. Robert Blakey, now a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, said that if he knew Joannides had been the case officer responsible for the DRE he would have had him testify under oath.

Instead, Joannides kept the HSCA from obtaining the relevant records about the Cubans, the CIA officer and the accused assassin, and the CIA is keeping them from being included in the JFK Collection and out of the public eye today.

It is not only the CIA who gets its way with NARA, the Secret Service destroyed records that were requested by the ARRB after the JFK Act was enacted, the Office of Naval Intelligence can find no relevant assassination records whatsoever from the files of its director, ever though many such documents have been found among the records of other agencies, and the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) refuses to even acknowledge the existence of the original, unedited Air Force One radio transmission tapes. 

According to the law it is the responsibility of the NARA to enforce the JFK Act, which they have failed to do, and it is the responsibility of Congress to oversee the law, which they refuse to do, as they have not held an oversight hearing on the issue in over fifteen years. [JFKCountercoup2: WHY Congress Oversight Is Needed ]

In order to rectify the situation, and get the government to enforce the law, we have written, faxed and emailed letters, asked appropriate questions at public hearings, petitioned the government and protested with pickets and flyers seeking what most American citizens want – the full release of the records, yet the agency administrators do not even acknowledge our requests and the most significant records remain sealed.  

The government’s intransigence, their blatant destruction of records, their refusal to include the JFK records as part of the NDC program, to enforce the JFK Act or the President’s Executive Order, to hold mandated Congressional oversight hearings and to release the relevant records is playing politics with history, our history, our records, and we must hold them accountable for their actions.

This is the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the JFK Act, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in history, and I call on you and everyone interested in the truth about the assassination and our mutual history, to take action, any action – write a letter to the Archivist, your congressman or the President, make a phone call, post on a government web page or internet forum, sign the petition or get some friends to sign it, but do something that will help make the withheld JFK assassination records an issue.

At one time some records may have been reasonably withheld for reasons of national security, but now, fifty years after the assassination and twenty years after the enactment of the JFK Act, it is a matter of national security to release them to the public, so “the American people could draw its own conclusions as to what happened and why on that fateful day in Dallas.”

In 1962, on the twentieth anniversary of the Voice of America, President Kennedy said, “We seek a free flow of information…We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Today, the American government is afraid of its people, afraid to enforce its own laws and afraid to allow its citizens know the complete truth about the assassination of President Kennedy.

Now, nearly fifty years after the assassination and twenty years after the enactment of the JFK Act, it is time to do something about it. 



Section 1:
Short Title

This Act may be cited as the “President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.”

Section 2:
Findings, Declarations, and Purposes

(a)    Findings and Declarations – The Congress finds and declares that –
(1)   all Government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should be preserved for historical and governmental purposes;
(2)   all Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure, and all records should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination;
(3)   legislation is necessary to create an enforceable, independent, and accountable process for the public disclosure of such records;
(4)   legislation is necessary because congressional records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would not otherwise be subject to public disclosure until at least the year 2029.
(5)   Legislation is necessary because the Freedom of Information Act, as implemented by the executive branch, has prevented the timely public disclosure of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
(6)   Legislation is necessary because Executive Order No. 12356, entitled “National Security Information” has eliminated the declassification and downgrading schedules related to classified information across the government and has prevented the timely public disclosure of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
(7)   Most of the records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are almost 30 years old, and only in the rarest cases is there any legitimate need for continued protection of such records.

(b)   Purposes – The purposes of this Act are – (1) to provide for the creation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration, and
(2) to require the expeditious public transmission to the Archivist and public disclosure of such records.

Section 5:
Review, Identification, Transmission to the National Archives, and Public Disclosure of Assassination Records by Government Offices

(a)    In General
(1)   As soon as practicable after the date of enactment of this Act, each Government office shall identify and organize its records relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and prepare them for transmission to the Archivist for inclusion in the Collection.
(2)   No assassination record shall be destroyed, altered or mutilated in any way.
(3)   No assassination record made available or disclosed to the public prior to the date of the enactment of this Act may be withheld, redacted, postponed for public disclosure, or reclassified.
(4)   No assassination record created by a person or entity outside of government (excluding names or identities consistent with the requirements of Section 6) shall be withheld, redacted, postponed for public disclosure, or reclassified…..
Postponements Under The JFK Act

Whenever an agency wishes, in the terms of the JFK Act, to “postpone” (i.e. redact) information, it must submit those proposed postponements to the Review Board, which then makes “formal determination” on the release of the information.

If an agency disagrees with a decision of the Review Board, its sole recourse under the JFK Act is to appeal the Review Board’s decision to the President. 1.

Whenever an agency wishes to postpone information from a record before the record is released to the public, the agency must identify with specificity the information to be postponed, identify the specific provision of Section 6 of the JFK Act that permits the postponement, and provide “clear and convincing” evidence to the Review Board as to why the information should be postponed. (See Section 6 of the JFK Act, attached.) By way of example, the FBI, which seeks to postpone information that might identify informants, provides other evidence that might be useful to the Review Board when evaluating the proposed postponements. The Review Board takes very seriously its statutory obligation to sustain proposed postponements “only in the rarest of cases [where there is a] legitimate need for continued protection of such records.” See Section 2(a)(7) (emphasis added). Under this statutory standard, which presumes the release of the information except in the “rarest of cases,” agencies have tended to postpone very little information and then only when they are able to provide evidence supporting the proposed postponements. 2.

  1. Thus far, only one agency, the FBI, has made an appeal to the President. After a full briefing of the issues by the FBI and the Review Board, the FBI withdrew all of its appeals. As a result, every formal determination made by the Review Board has been followed and every record has been made available to the public in accordance with the Board’s decisions.
  2. The Review Board does, however, routinely sustain postponements of Social Security numbers. No evidence need be provided for such postponements.

ONI Document Declassification Review and Transmission Procedure

The following steps should be taken by ONI to review records that it does not desire to release in full in accordance with JFK Act requirements.

-         ONI should make a photocopy of the original record, conduct declassification review in accordance with Section 6 of the JFK Act, and mark the proposed postponements either by highlighting them, or by clearly bracketing them.
-         ONI must create a Record Identification Form (RIF) for each document it reviews, using the DOS software and numbering disks created by NASA and previously provided by the ARRB.
-         ONI should forward to the Review Board (with Rifs attached), upon completion of its declassification review, all such photocopies, with postponements identified by brackets or highlighting, reason codes (from Section 6 of the JFK Act) assigned to each postponement in the margin that identify which section of the JFK Act justifies postponement, and with all supporting evidence for each postponement. [Along with the highlighted or bracketed review copy of each document, either the original, or a pristine (i.e., unredacted) photocopy, must also be transmitted to the Review Board, with a separate copy of that document’s unique RIF attached.]

Once the Review Board staff reviews ONI’s proposed postponements, the staff will notify the Review Board as to whether it concurs with your postponements or not. The Review Board will then evaluate ONI’s proposed postponements, in light of the ARRB staff recommendations, and the evidence provided by ONI (and any referral agencies) in support of these desired postponements.

The Review Board will make formal determinations regarding postponements recommended by ONI. ONI will then be promptly notified of the Board’s decisions, and the Board will explain subsequent procedures. If there are no postponements in a document RIFed by ONI, or if ONI recommends postponements that are not upheld by the Board (and ONI chooses not to appeal to the President), those documents will be immediately transmitted to the JFK Collection at the Archives by the ARRB, and released to the public. Whenever records contain postponements following formal determinations by the Review Board, both the unredacted version (original or pristine photocopy) and the redacted version is released to the public via the JFK Collection.

Section 6:
Grounds for Postponement of Public Disclosure of Records

Disclosure of assassination records or particular information in assassination records to the public may be postponed subject to the limitations of this Act if there is clear and convincing evidence that –
(1)   the threat to the military defense, intelligence operations, or conduct of foreign relations of the United States posed by the public disclosure of the assassination is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest, and such public disclosure would reveal –

(A) an intelligence agent whose identity currently requires protection;
(B) an intelligence source or method which is currently utilized, or reasonably expected to be utilized , by the United States Government and which has not been officially disclosed, the disclosure of which would interfere with the conduct of intelligence activities; or
(C) any other matter currently relating to the military defense, intelligence operations or conduct of foreign relations of the United States, the disclosure of which would demonstrably impair the national security of the United States;

(2)   the public disclosure of the assassination record would reveal the name or identity of a living person who provided confidential information to the United States and would pose a substantial risk of harm to that person;
(3)   the public disclosure of the assassination record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, and that invasion of privacy is so substantial that it outweighs the public interest;
(4)   the public disclosure of the assassination record would compromise the existence of an understanding of confidentiality currently requiring protection between a Government agent and a cooperating individual or foreign government, and public disclosure would be so harmful that it outweighs the public interest; or
(5)   the public disclosure of the assassination record would reveal a security or protective procedure currently utilized, or reasonably expected to be utilized, by the Secret Service or another Government agency responsible for protecting Government officials, and public disclosure would be so harmful that it outweighs the public interest.

Section 12:
Termination of Effect of Act

(a)    Provisions Pertaining to the Review Board – The provisions of this Act that pertain to the appointment and operation of the Review Board shall cease to be effective when the Review Board and the terms of its members have terminated pursuant to section 7(o).
(b)   Other Provisions – The remaining provisions of this Act shall 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.



The Final Report of the Assassinations Records Review Board provides not only an opportunity to detail the extraordinary breadth and depth of the Board’s work to identify and release the records of the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, but also to reflect on the Board’s shared experience in carrying out this mission and the meaning of its efforts for the much larger challenge of secrecy and accountability in the federal government. It is true that the Board’s role was to a large extent disciplined and tightly focused on the assassination, its aftermath and the broader Cold War context in which the events occurred.

Any evaluation, however, of the unique experience of the Review Board-five private citizens granted unprecedented powers to require public release of long-secret federal records – inevitably presents the larger question of how the Board’s work can be applied to federal records policy. There is no doubt that for decades the pendulum had swung sharply toward secrecy and away from openness. Changes wrought by the end of the Cold War and the public’s desire to know have begun to shift the balance. The Review Board’s mandate represented a new frontier in this changing balance – an entirely new declassification process applied to the most sought after government secrets.

In this chapter, the Board steps back and reflects on its experiences, raises issues that will help frame the declassification debate, and makes recommendations on the lessons to be learned from the path taken to release of the JFK assassination collection. The dialogue about how best to balance national security and privacy with openness and accountability will continue both within government and beyond. The Review Board will necessarily be part of that important debate.

The Review Board was created out of the broad public frustration that the federal government was hiding important information about the Kennedy assassination by placing its records beyond the reach of its citizens.

Broad disagreement with the Warren Commission findings, explosive claims in the popular movie JFK, and continued deterioration of public confidence in government led to consensus that it was time to open the files.

Thus the debate in Congress largely became a debate over what mechanisms could constitutionally compel the opening of the assassination files.

The Review Board’s mandate was not to investigate one again the assassination, but to release as many of these heavily restricted documents as possible. Lawmakers commented that the efforts of the Review Board “will stand as a symbol and barometer of public confidence in the review and release of the government records related to the assassination of President Kennedy….Several provisions of [the JFK Act] are intended to provide as much independence and accountability as possible within out Constitutional framework.”

Restoring public confidence in government is a difficult task under any circumstances. The Review Board took this responsibility seriously, however, and set out in April 1994 to create the most complete record possible of the documentary evidence of the assassination so that in the end the American people could draw its own conclusions as to what happened and why on that fateful day in Dallas in November 1963.

From the start, the Review Board did as much of its work in public as it could possibly do, given the classified material with which it worked. The Board’s major policy decisions were all made carefully consulting with the public through public hearings and Federal Register notices. Many of the Board’s requests to agencies for additional information were suggested by the Board’s continuing dialogue with researchers, authors, and experts. Frequent public hearings outside of Washington, experts conferences, ongoing public releases of the records, witness interviews, and media availability were among the many tools the Board used to reach out and communicate with a public strongly interested in the results of the Board’s work.

The result was that the Board was helped immeasurably not only by the advice and suggestions that resulted from the public dialogue, but by the records that were discovered and opened through the communications….

The precedents that developed from the Board’s early deliberations guided the staff in its review of the records and guided agency reviewers in the positions they took towards postponement requests. The development of this unique and valuable set of decisions, which came to be known as the Board’s “common law,” eventually resulted in thousands of “consensus releases,” in which documents moved directly from the agencies without redactions to NARA.

There were, of course, many substantive disagreements between the Board and the agencies, but the course of the relationships were characterized chiefly by growing mutual understanding and markedly improved communications. The Board was gratified to see agency reviewers and decisionmakers grow increasingly aware that he responsible release of information can provide an opportunity to create a more complete record of the extensive work that many agencies did on the issues raised by the assassination. Many appeared also to gain a greater appreciation of the tremendous costs of secrecy, both in terms of public confidence and maintenance of records.

There were critics of the Review Board, those who believed that the “targeted declassification” of assassination records not only interfered with the goal of systematic declassification directed by Executive Order 12958, but was also much too expensive. It is difficult, of course, to compare one method of declassification with another, harder still to place a price tag on the nature of the information that is now released and available to the American public.

It is worth noting that the Kennedy assassination records were largely segregated due to the use of the records during the many prior government investigations of the assassination. But, the Review Board does recognize that any meaningful approach to declassification will of necessity be multi-faceted, with different methods adopted for different circumstances. The particular circumstances of eh assassination of President Kennedy and the highly secretive government response  have had an enormous impact on public confidence and made the Review Board approach singularly appropriate, particularly when compared with the significant costs, both financial and otherwise, of keeping the record secret. The Board is confident that, in this setting, the approach chosen by the Congress to open the Kennedy assassination records was a highly effective one.

The Review Board is certainly aware that there are a great many unresolved issues relating to the assassination of President Kennedy that will be addressed in the years to come. The massive public collection of documents that awaits the researchers will undoubtedly shed light not only on the assassination, but on its broader context as an episode of the Cold War.

The community of professional historians, who initially exhibited comparatively slight interest in the Board’s work, has begun paying attention with the new accessibility of records that reflect the Cold War context in which the assassination is enmeshed. Ultimately, it will be years before the JFK Collection at NARA can be judged properly. The test will be in the scholarship that is generated by historians and other researchers who study the extensive documentation of the event and its aftermath. Does the historical record formed by the Board inspire confidence that the record is now reasonably complete?

Will the documents released under the JFK Act lead to still other materials?

Will the mass of documentary evidence answer the questions posed by historians and others?

Will the Board’s compliance program inspire confidence that the agencies have produced all the relevant documentation that exists today in agency files?

What do the records tell us about the 1960s and the Cold War context of the assassination?

The Review Board approach, the precedent created, the tools identified, and the lessons learned will assist future researchers immeasurably.

Agency reviewers will note that the Republic has not collapsed under the weight of threats to national security because of Review Board actions and, perhaps, they will also note that openness is itself a good thing and that careful scrutiny of government actions can strengthen agencies and the process of government, not weaken it.

There will likely be problems in the future that best lend themselves to the extraordinary attention that a similarly empowered Review Board can focus.
Formation of a historical record that can augment understanding of important events is central not only to openness and accountability, but to democracy itself.

At an early stage in the Review Board’s efforts, one of the Board members commented that the Board should strive to accomplish as much as it could, to be remembered for what it attempted. Or, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy, the Board should work hard to ensure that its reach continually exceeded its grasp. The Board did not always achieve that standard, but the sheer scope and accessibility of the JFK Collection speaks eloquently about the effort. The Board has left to posterity a historical bequest that is invaluable and unprecedented.


The Review Board presents recommendations that reflect the Board’s experience and provides guidance for those who wish to capitalize on that experience to further reform the process of classification and declassification of government documents. The Board recognizes that the JFK Act represents but one approach to declassification, one whose activity was designed to review sensitive records concerning a controversial event.

  1. The Review Board recommends that future declassification boards be genuinely independent, both in the structure of the organization and in the qualifications of the appointments.
  2. The Review Board recommends that any serious, sustained effort to declassify records requires congressional legislation with (a) a presumption of openness, (b) clear standards of access, (c) an enforceable review and appeals process, and (d) a budget appropriate to the scope of the task. 
  3. The Review Board recommends that its “common law” of decision, formed in the context of a “presumption of disclosure” and the “clear and convincing evidence of harm” criteria, be utilized for similar information in future declassification efforts as a way to simplify and speed up releases.
  4. The Review Board recommends that future declassification efforts avoid the major shortcomings of the JFK Act:
       (a) unreasonable time limits,
 (b) employee restrictions,
(c) application of the law after the Board terminates, and 
(d) problems inherent with rapid sunset provisions.
  1. The Review Board recommends that the cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive problem of referrals for “third party equities” (classified information of one agency appearing in a document of another) be streamlined by
    1.  requiring representatives of all agencies with interests in selected groups of records to meet for joint declassification sessions, or
    2. devising uniform substitute language to deal with certain categories of recurring sensitive equities.
  2. The Review Board recommends that a compliance program be used in future declassification efforts as an effective means of eliciting full cooperation in the search for records.
  3. The Review Board recommends the following to ensure that NARA can exercise the provisions of the JFK Act after the Review Board terminates: a. that NARA has the authority and means to continue to implement Board decisions, b. that an appeals procedure be developed that places the burden for preventing access on the agencies, and c. that a joint oversight group composed of representatives of the four organizations that originally nominated individuals to serve on the Review Board be created to facilitate the continuing execution of the access provisions of the JFK Act.
  4. The Review Board recommends that the Review Board model be adopted and applied whenever there are extraordinary circumstances in which continuing controversy concerning government actions has been most acute and where an aggressive effort to release all “reasonably related” federal records would serve usefully to enhance historically understanding of the event.
  5. The Review Board recommends that both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Executive Order 12958 be strengthened, the former to narrow the categories of information automatically excluded from disclosure, the latter to add “independent oversight” to the process of  “review” when agency heads decide that records in their unites should be excluded from release. 
  6. The Review Board recommends the adoption of a federal classification policy that substantially:
a. limits the number of those in government who can actually classify federal documents,
b. restricts the number of categories by which documents might be classified, c. reduces the time period for which the document(s) might be classified,
d. encourages the sue of substitute language to immediately open material which might otherwise be classified, and e. increases the resources available to the agencies and NARA for declassifying federal records.  

The Review Board’s experience leaves little doubt that the federal government needlessly and wastefully classified and then withheld from the public access countless important records that did not require such treatment. Consequently there is little doubt that an aggressive policy is necessary to address the significant problems of lack of accountability and an uniformed citizenry that are created by the current practice of excessive classification and obstacles to releasing such information. The need is not something recently identified, although the Moynihan Commission on Secrecy in Government is a recent expression of this longstanding concern. Change is long overdue and the Review Board’s experience amply demonstrates the value of sharing important information with the American public. It is a matter of trust.

The Review Board’s recommendations are designed to help ensure that the comprehensive documentary record of the Kennedy assassination is both actively developed after the board terminates, and that the experience of the Review Board be turned to the larger purpose of addressing the negative consequences of the excessive classification of federal records.

The Review Board’s efforts to accomplish the purposes of the JFK Act has been focused and aggressive. It will be for others, of course, to judged the Board’s success in achieving these goals, but there can be no doubt about the commitment to making the JFK Act and an independent Review Board a model for the future.

Review Bd Votes



Documents Voted on by the Board - 

By Agency

Army                            77
Army Intelligence     2, 854
Carter Library                   1
Church Committee        185
CIA                           14,079
Department of State         20
DIA                                    5
DOJ                                  63
DOJ Civil Division            1
Eisenhower Library           2
FBI                           10, 013
Ford Library                   133
HSCA                          1,421
JCS                                   76
Johnson Library                31
Kennedy Library               31
NARA                                 1
NSA                                246
NSC                                  48
Office of Sec Defense        3
PFIAB                              18
Pike Committee                12
Secret Service                   30
Warren Commission         70

Total Documents       29, 420

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Is American Archives Month


AOTUS: Collector in Chief has posted a new item, 'American Archives Month'



October is American Archives Month, a time when we celebrate the work that archivists all over the country do to ensure that the records of their institutions are created, collected, and protected in a manner that allows their clientele to find what they need.  Here at the National Archives that means ensuring that citizens can hold our government accountable, can learn from our history, and can explore family histories, to name just a few ways the records are used.

We risk losing our memory as a country if we cannot meet the challenges of electronic records management. The fact is, without good records management, it is impossible for us to learn from the past and plan for the future....I expect the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration to change the way we do things, the way we think about things, and the way we deliver services to the public.

What do I love about the National Archives?  The discoveries made every day in the records of our country, such as:

Last week a veteran arrived in College Park by motorcycle from Nevada.  He has been searching for 43 years for information about his platoon leader killed in Viet Nam. The staff found the information he needed “in 30 seconds!”

An archivist in St. Louis learned of a family bible in our pension claim records for his Revolutionary War ancestor

Letters with checks for the pennies collected by school children, teachers, and Elks Lodges around the country in a campaign to save the Navy’s oldest ship, the U.S.S. Constitution during the late 1920s.
The fact that my grandfather, Paolo Ferriero, was 15 years old when he arrived in Boston from Naples in 1903.  And that he was met by his father, Antonio, who had arrived three years before.

One of the supplementary questions NOT asked during the 1940 Census:  “Do you have a waffle iron and a Bible?”

What I love most about the National Archives is the staff in 44 facilities across the country who are so passionate about their work—those who work with veterans, the general public, genealogists, scholars and students, the Federal Agencies, the White House, and Congress.  And, just as passionate, are those who support those who are doing that frontline work.  For me, every month is Archives Month!

David S. Ferriero was confirmed as 10th Archivist of the United States on November 6, 2009.

Previously, Mr. Ferriero served as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries (NYPL). He was part of the leadership team responsible for integrating the four research libraries and 87 branch libraries into one seamless service for users, creating the largest public library system in the United States and one of the largest research libraries in the world. Mr. Ferriero was in charge of collection strategy; conservation; digital experience; reference and research services; and education, programming, and exhibitions.

 Among his responsibilities at the NYPL was the development of the library’s digital strategy, which currently encompasses partnerships with Google and Microsoft, a web site that reaches more than 25 million unique users annually, and a digital library of more than 750,000 images that may be accessed free of charge by any user around the world.

Before joining the NYPL in 2004, Mr. Ferriero served in top positions at two of the nation’s major academic libraries, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and Duke University in Durham, NC. In those positions, he led major initiatives including the expansion of facilities, the adoption of digital technologies, and a reengineering of printing and publications.

Mr. Ferriero earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from Northeastern University in Boston and a master’s degree from the Simmons College of Library and Information Science, also in Boston. After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, he started in the humanities library at MIT, where he worked for 31 years, rising to associate director for public services and acting co-director of libraries.
In 1996, Mr. Ferriero moved to Duke University, where he served as University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs until 2004. At Duke, he raised more than $50 million to expand and renovate the university’s library and was responsible for instructional technology initiatives, including overseeing Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology.

We have provided links to other websites because they have information that may interest you. Links are not an endorsement by the National Archives of the opinions, products, or services presented on these sites, or any sites linked to it. The National Archives is not responsible for the legality or accuracy of information on these sites, or for any costs incurred while using these sites.

You are encouraged to share your comments, ideas, and concerns.  


United States Archivist David S. Ferreiro
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington D.C. 20081-0001

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Protesters Deliver Letter to Archivist


103 G. Street, S.W.
Suite Number B-218
Washington D.C. 10024-4324

October 8, 2012

Mr. David JS. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
The National Archives
700 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20408-0001

Dear Mr. Ferriero:

As American historical researchers, we are out here this morning to protest the decision of the National Archives not to declassify documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy, a decision made at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency.

On Wednesday, January 21, 2009, the day following his inauguration, President Obama declared that “no information may remain classified indefinitely” as part of a sweeping overhaul of the executive branch’s system for protecting classifying national security information.

On Tuesday, June 26, 2012, I wrote to you requesting an explanation why the National Archives decided to violate President Obama’s executive order. As you know, your office failed to respond to my letter. Other members of the research community also wrote to you about the JFK assassination records, including Jim Lesar, president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center.

As I did last June 26, I am attaching a copy of the New York Times story, “Obama Moves to Curb Secrecy with Order on Classified Documents” from Wednesday, December 30, 2009. In particular, President Obama “established a new National Declassification Center at the National Archives to speed the process of declassifying historical documents by centralizing their review, rather than sending them to different agencies.” President Obama set a four-year deadline for processing a 400-million-page backlog of such records that originally included the JFK assassination records to be released during 2013, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, but later the National Archives reneged on that commitment.

As the Archivist of the United States, you are responsible for the preservation of our country’s records and the documentation of our nation’s history. Conducting an open and honest government is the goal of President Obama’s administration. Our founding fathers recognized that a democracy required an informed electorate, one that has all the information and facts necessary to make decisions that effect the direction that the country will take in the future.

Over the course of American history, no single event has had such an impact on our national political system than the assassination of President Kennedy, largely because of the unresolved nature of the case both in legal and moral terms, particularly with the continued withholding of relevant records from the public.

Polls have consistently shown that the American public’s confidence in their government began to decline shortly after the release of the Warren Report in 1964 and has continued to decline ever since. That confidence will never recover until all the government records on the JFK assassination are released to the public.

When the Warren Commission concluded its work, Chief Justice Earl Warren, in response to a question as to when all of its records would be released, responded by saying, “Not in your lifetime!”

Then when the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) disbanded, its records were sealed for a half-century. The second chief counsel to the HSCA said that he could live with the judgment of historians in fifty years.

But in response to Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Records Act of 1992. This act created the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB), which despite releasing over four million pages of records, failed to locate the complete Air Force One radio transmission tapes of November 22, 1963, the relevant documents of Office of Naval Intelligence Director Admiral Rufus Taylor, and numerous other records related to the JFK assassination.

Since agencies, especially the CIA, FBI and the Secret Service, knew that the ARRB was a temporary agency, they delayed responding to requests for records, and intentionally kept records from being reviewed and becoming part of the JFK assassination records collection.

Even among those records that were to be included, the CIA has withheld over a thousand documents. Many of these documents are now part of a major Freedom of Information Act court case which should be resolved in the public’s interest.

Some agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Secret Service, intentionally destroyed relevant records to keep them from becoming released to the public. Those individuals responsible for the destruction of these documents have never been questioned or reprimanded for their actions.

Thus Mr. Ferriero, why have you not, as the Archivist of the United States, requested that Congress to hold mandated oversight hearings on the JFK Records Act and schedule a special program at the National Archives for the upcoming 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s murder?

These records were created by public servants working for the federal government. They do not belong to those who created them, or the agencies they work for, or the Kennedy family. They belong to the people of the United States. These records are a record of our history. We want them now – not in 2017 or 2029.

Fifty years ago there might have been some reason to keep some of these records secret, but now, it is a matter of our national security that the JFK assassination records be released to the public.

The provisions of the John F. Kennedy Records Act require the full disclosure of all unredacted copies of all related records immediately, when the reason for postponing release in each case is no longer relevant, and no later than 2013, the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

We want the National Archives to assume the role previously performed by the ARRB, as the law requires, continuing to fulfill the remaining work until it is done.

Since a copy of the Air Force One radio tapes was discovered in November 2011, the allegedly destroyed Secret Service documents were found among the effects of a former agent, and the records of the first chief counsel of the HSCA were not obtained by the ARRB, we want the National Archives to resume the search for all relevant JFK assassination records, including federal, state, local, foreign and personal files, secure them and make them part of the JFK Assassination Records Collection, open to the public.

Finally Mr. Ferriero,  as the Archivist of the United States, do your sworn duty and fulfill the requirements of the JFK Records Act so that you can, as the law requires, report to Congress that the last JFK assassination record has been released to the public.


Paul Kuntzler


Obama Moves to Curb Secrecy With Order on Classified Documents

By Charles Savage

WASHINGTON – President Obama declared on Tuesday that “no information may remain classified indefinitely” as part of a sweeping overhaul of the executive branch’s system for protecting classified national security information.

In an executive order and an accompanying residential memorandum to agency heads, Mr. Obama signaled that the government should try harder to make information public if possible, including by requiring agencies to regularly review what kinds of information they classify and to eliminate any obsolete secrecy requirements.

“Agency heads shall complete on a periodic basis a comprehensive review of the agency’s classification guidance, particularly classification guides, to ensure the guidance reflects current circumstances and to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified,” Mr. Obama wrote in the order, released while he was vacationing in Hawaii.

He also established a new National Declassification Center at the National Archives to speed the process of declassifying historical documents by centralizing their review, rather than sending them in sequence to different agencies. He set a four-year deadline for processing a 400-million-page backlog of such records that includes archives related to military operations during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Moreover, Mr. Obama eliminated a rule put in place by former President George W. Bush in 2003 that allowed the leader of the intelligence community to veto decisions by an interagency panel to declassify information. Instead, spy agencies who object to such a decision will have to appeal to the president.

As a presidential candidates, Mr. Obama campaigned on a theme of making the government less secretive. But in office his record has been more ambiguous, drawing fire from advocates of open government by embracing Bush-era claims that certain lawsuits involving surveillance and torture must be shut down to protect state secrets.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, expressed cautious optimism about Mr. Obama’s new order, saying it appeared to be “a major step forward” from the vantage point of those who believe the government is too secretive.

“Everything depends on the faithful implementation by the agencies,” Mr. Aftergood said, “but there are some real innovations here.”

Mr. Obama also suggested that his administration might undertake further changes, saying he looked forward to recommendations from a study that Gen. James L. Jones, the national security advisor, is leading “to design a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012



Paul Kuntsler, who called for the Monday, October 8th Columbus Day picket and protest at the National Archives (and Records Administration NARA), formerly owned the transcript service that handled much of the HSCA testimony. He is a long time activist who has previously taken full page ads out in the New York Times and Washington Post questioning their reporting on the assassination of President Kennedy. He has also sponsored a forum on the assassination at the Willard Hotel and has previously held protests at the CIA, FBI and Secret Service.

Security at the NARA have requested that no pickets on polls be used, but signs held by string around the neck are okay. We have also agreed not to disturb those people in line to get into the Archives.

Kuntsler believes, and others agree, that our purpose is not to harass NARA employees or the public, as most people, including many within the government agencies and departments, support our cause, and want to see all of the remaining assassination records released. Our purpose is to convince them that we are right and they too should support the release of these records.

Only a few high level administrators and agency heads want to keep these records withheld, not for reasons of national security or because they prove conspiracy, but because they are an embarrassment to their agencies and departments, and because they can keep them secret.

The Columbus Day protest at the NARA was instigated by the insolence of the NARA officials to cower and kowtow to the CIA and agree to exclude the remaining sealed JFK assassination records from the 2013 National Declassification Center review. The president did not say that no government record would remain sealed forever “except the JFK assassination recorded,” and his executive order does not specifically exclude these records.

At the first open public hearing of the NDC two years ago, the assistant archivist said the JFK assassination records would be included, but that commitment was rescinded at the second public hearing, when they said the assistant archivist had “misspoke.” That assistant archivist would retire after over 20 years in government service. Was he fired or forced to retire because of this issue?

Although the video of that first NDC public meeting is posted at their web site, neither the tape or a transcript of the second or third public meeting can be reviewed, and when I requested a video recording and transcript of the third meeting I was told there is no transcript. While upon request, I was supplied with a link to a Youtube videotape of the third meeting, but that tape is posted under a private section of Youtube that other people can’t reach by a Google search, and it freezes near the very end, shortly before the public questions are asked, including answers to what we consider most significant.

While a NARA staff member has said that I would be provided with a corrected version, if I am not, then there is nothing else to conclude except that the glitch is intentional and there is information in that part of the tape that someone with significant power within NARA does not want publicly released.

This must be so because the auditorium where the public forum was held is set up for professional audio visual recording of all presentations, with cameras stationed behind glass and audio recording stations throughout the room. It is inconceivable that such an accidental technical glitch would occur at precisely the right place where the public question aspects of the proceedings are suddenly froze and inaccessible.

For the record, three of the six post-forum public questions were related to the JFK assassination records. Jeff Morley, Jim Lesar and John Judge all asked pertinent questions or made relevant statements.

Because the open public hearing was held on a weekday in the last week of August, shortly before the Labor Day holiday, it was clear that the NARA officials did not want a large public turnout.

Reported before -

    “The National Declassification Center (NDC) at the National Archives held a public forum on Aug. 29 to obtain public input on declassification.  The NDC is trying to address a 400 million page backlog of classified records at the Archives.  During the public question period, journalist Jeff Morley (formerly with the Washington Post) asked that NDC reconsider its decision earlier this year not to speed up processing of 1,171 classified CIA records related to the JFK assassination by the 50th anniversary in 2013 (otherwise they remain secret until at least 2017 and perhaps indefinitely beyond).  The NDC/Archives response to Morley's request was a flat no.  The CIA representative on the panel said, "My agency has nothing to say on that topic".  Another questioner, Jim Lesar, elicited the admission that it would take approximately two months to process that quantity of complex documents. There were six public questions asked at the forum and three of them were from people seeking declassification of the JFK assassination records, the most commented topic.  The flat negative response to the JFK records issue cast a pall over the proceedings.  There were 100 plus people in attendance, many of them government employees.” 

The CIA representative who spoke said that much of the declassification concerns the identity of CIA agents, whose identities they will not reveal. If I was there I would have asked him if that included Lee Harvey Oswald? 

Jim Lesar asked the CIA man how long it would take the CIA to review and declassify the remaining withheld CIA records if they were required to do so, and the answer was – two months. They don’t even know how many pages there are, and they’re not about to count them if they don’t have to. They contend they do not have to act on them until 2017, and claim they don’t have the ability to declassify them at this time, even though they did accelerate the declassification of all the CIA records ordered released by 2010 in 2006, four years in advance. We are now requesting they do the same thing for the 2017 records and declassify them in 2013, certainly a reasonable request.

The insolence of the NARA officials to abide by the CIA instructions and ignore the law and intense public interest in these records has forced us to protest their actions, try to get the attention of the media and general public and convince them it is everyone’s best interest to declassify and release these records now.

If you can’t be there in person and participate in the protest, but would like to support this cause, you can write your own letter, sign our petition, get others to sign it

and contribute to the Committee for an Open Archives (COA) Facebook paypal account that will be used for a full page ad in a Washington DC publication posting our petition and letters to the Archivist and Congress.
Site for contributions to full pg ad by the Committee for Open Archives to build support and actions for an open archives and oversight of the JFK Act.

here is the new NARA declassification page with the new slogan (below)--
Protecting information critical to our Nation's security and demonstrating our commitment to open Government and effective declassification.



     Historical researchers will picket the National Archives on Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth Streets, N.W. near the Visitor’s Entrance on Monday, October 8, 2012 between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 Noon and distribute an open letter to David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States.

     The purpose of the picket will be to protest the decision by the National Archives not to declassify documents related to the assassination of President John Kennedy, a decision made at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency.

     The National Archives' decision is in violation of President Barack Obama' executive order of Tuesday, December 29, 2009 that "no information may remain classified indefinitely" as part of sweeping overhaul of the executive branch's system protecting
classified national security information.

     President Obama also established a new National Declassification Center at the National Archives to speed the process of declassifying historical documents by centralizing their review. The President set a four year deadline for processing a 400-million-page backlog of such records that originally included the JFK assassination records to be released on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, but later reneged on that commitment.

The October 8th picket is in protest that decision by the Archives and the continued withholding of JFK assassination records past the 50th anniversary of the assassination.


(22) Release JFK Assassination Records Now!
(13) COA JFK Act Ad Hoc Lobby Group