April 26, 2021
Hon. Ezra Cohen, Chairman
Public Interest Declassification Board
c/o Information Security Oversight Office
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Room 100
Washington, D.C. 20408-0001
Re: President John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act
Dear Mr. Cohen:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Public Interest Declassification Board (“PIDB”) add to its proposed agenda for its upcoming meeting scheduled for May 17, 2021, the topic of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act of 1992 (“JFK Act”), 44 U.S.C.#2107 (Supp. V, 1994) and related declassification issues.
The JFK Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1992, required all government agencies to search for records in their possession concerning the assassination and place them in the National Archives. A Review Board (“ARRB”) was established to identify and retrieve all assassination records but its existence terminated in 1998, with its work not having been fully completed. The AARB’s Final Report set forth ten recommendations which have never been the subject of any meaningful oversight, analysis or implementation in the two decades since they were issued. See: http://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/review-board/report/arrb-final-report.pdf.
The PIDB is the appropriate forum to evaluate whether and to what extent those recommendations, especially #7, have been fulfilled or should be pursued.
But more importantly for now is that the JFK Act mandated tat each “assassination record” be publicly disclosed in full and be available no later than the date that is twenty-five years after the date of the enactment of the JFK Act. Any request for postponement of a record by an agency required “clear and convincing evidence” that one of five enumerated harms would occur if the assassination records were disclosed and that harm would outweigh the public interest in disclosure. While the original deadline for all records to be disclosed in full was October 26, 2017, President Trump postponed that obligation until October 26, 2021. See Memorandum of President of the United States, “Certification for Certain Records Related to the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy” (April 26, 2018), 83 F.R. 19157 (May 2, 2018), available at http://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2018-05-02/pdf.
Two additional deadlines are in play right now. President Trump’s memorandum required that “(a)ny agency that seeks further postponement beyond October 26, 2021, shall, no later than April 26, 2021, identify to the Archivist the specific basis for concluding that records (or portions of records) satisfy the standard for continued postponement under section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act.” Additionally, the Archivist shall recommend to the President, no later than September 26, 2021, whether continued withholding from public disclosure of the identified records is warented after October 26, 2021.”
The PIDB as the opportunity to play an important role in ensuring that the public has the fullest access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of the assassination of our 35th President. Given that your Board’s role is to advise the President of the United States regarding issues pertaining to national declassification and declassification policy, we cannot think of a more appropriate endeavor for the PIDB to engage in over the next few months as these deadlines loom and faithful execution of the law is imperative.
Some of the undersigned have studied the Kennedy assassination for decades. Others helped work on the JFK Act and cooperated with the ARRB. We represent different views of what happened on November 22, 1963, but we all concur that the fullest possible disclosure of the documentary record is long overdue. The terms “conspiracy” and “theory” have no place in this discussion. We are focused on declassification, transparency and compliance with the law.
We hope the PIDB agrees to address this historic undertaking.
Mark S. Zaid
Cc: PIDB Members
David S. Ferriero, Archivist, NARA
Gary Stern, Esq., NARA General Counsel
Mark Bradley, Esq. , ISOO Director/PIDB Secretary
Mark E. Adamczyk
Daniel S. Alcorn
G. Robert Blakey
Bernard Festerwald, III
Paul L. Hoch
David S. Lifton
Edwin J. Lopez-Soto
Dan E. Moldea
Dale K. Myers
Charles J. Sanders
David E. Scheim
Lawrence P. Schnapf
William M. Simpich
John R. Tunheim
David R. Wrone
THE RESPONSE FROM THE PIDB:
Public Interest Declassification Board
The PIDB Issues Strong Statement in Support of Releasing JFK Assassination Records
On April 26, 2021 the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) received a letter (click below to open letter) signed by several researchers and members of the public interested in the declassification and public release of records previously ‘postponed’ in 2017 and 2018. President Donald J. Trump previously certified agency postponement requests in accordance with the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (the Act) that established this collection and defined reasons agencies could request postponing the public release of specific information.
The PIDB remains interested in ensuring that the provisions of the Act are implemented and as much information as possible is declassified and made public. In 2017, the PIDB wrote a blog post about agency requests to postpone release of records in this collection. At that time, the members expressed their disappointment that so many records continued to be withheld from public access.
The Act mandated that all records in the collection be released to the public by September 26, 2017 unless agencies requested specific delays, called ‘postponements’ in the Act, from the President, and the President certified that each postponement was warranted and met standards found in section 5 of the Act. The Act mandated that agencies had to request postponements from the President every four years until such time as all records are declassified and made available to the public.
The latest deadline was April 26, 2021. Importantly, the National Archives which serves as the custodian of the assassination collection can challenge agency requests. It has until September 26, 2021 to complete its assessment of agency requests.
The members call on the National Archives to exercise its authority in the Act to challenge all requests that do not strictly meet the Congress’ intent to release as much information as possible and only postpone the most sensitive records that meet the standards in section 5(g)(2) of the Act.
The members of the PIDB take its responsibility to promote a “thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant United States national security decisions and significant United States national security activities in order to…respond to the interest of…Congress…and respond to the interest of the public” seriously. As the National Archives begins its analyses of the agency requests, the PIDB will continue pressing for maximum transparency. In the coming months leading up to the September 26 deadline and the President’s October 26 certification deadline, the PIDB will remain engaged and advocate for the public release of these records.