The ARRB’s Document Releasing History
Batch One and Batch Two
Copyright © by Joseph Backes
Well, the Assassination Records Review Board has started to release documents. However, only the first release went off without a hitch. All subsequent releases have either been appealed or have some kind of postponement in them which has delayed the release, even when the ARRB initially voted for full release. I have, therefore, decided to review where we are now and what is expected.
The ARRB voted on June 7th, 1995 to release in full 16 CIA documents. The Board must inform the Federal Register within 14 days of its decision, document by document. The originating agencies have 30 days to appeal the Board’s decision. This is not a loophole in the law, as Mr. John Newman suggested. The President has the power to postpone release of a document or portions in a document. If there is no appeal and if the President of the United States agrees with the Board’s decision then the documents are released.
Now another key point to understand is that 30 days after the Board’s decision is placed in the Federal Register, and if there are no appeals by the originating agencies or any objections by the President, the documents will be released. However, that 30 days can become 44 days before release because the Board may take all of those 14 days before they make their decision known to the Federal Register.
Thus is was on July 21, 1995 that the ARRB announced the release of the 16 CIA documents. Does everyone see that June 7, plus 14 days, plus 30 days, equals July 21?
Okay, now we move onto the second batch of documents the Board voted to release. The Board met on July 17 and 18, 1995 to review documents. They voted to release 16 FBI documents and 2 CIA documents. They voted for full release. Now something strange happened here. The Board seemed to be releasing already released information. I personally know this to be true of some of the documents. I learned of the Board’s decision to release documents and got the information on the specific documents with their numbers at the August 3rd ARRB open meeting. I then went to the National Archives. I found only 9 FBI documents. The other 6 were in boxes that were already charged out. I could not find the 2 CIA documents because they are part of the “segregated collection” and do not have RIF’s, Reader Identification Forms.
RIF’s are documents created by the Archives for all documents that were closed prior to the creation of the JFK database on December 26, 1992. The JFK Act required the Archives to create a database under statute 5(d). The Archives was required to create the JFK collection in late December 60 days after the passage of the Act. Statute 5 (d)(1)(A) Identification Aids says,”Not later than 45 days after the date of enactment of the Act, the Archivist, in consultation with the appropriate Governmental offices, shall prepare and make available to all governmental offices a standard form of identification or finding aid for use with each assassination record subject to review under this Act.” Statute 5(d)(1)(B)(2) states, “Upon completion of an identification aid, a Government office shall-(A)attach a printed copy to the record it describes.” and “5(d)(1)(B)(2)(C) attach a printed copy to each assassination record it describes when it is transmitted to the Archivist.”
Only under the following condition is an assassination record not required to have an identification record, 5(d)(1)(B)(3) “Assassination records which are in the possession of the National Archives on the date of enactment of this Act, and which have been publicly available in their entirety without redaction, shall be made available in the Collection without any additional review by the Review Board or another authorized office under this Act, and shall not be required to have such an identification aid unless required by the Archivist.”
The CIA records were transferred in August, 1994. They therefore avoided having a RIF attached to each document. If they were released after October 26, then they would have a RIF attached to each one.
However, I believe there is a clause that says they had to have been publicly available in their entirety without redaction. This is not the case for the entirety of the “segregated collection”. Therefore, I believe that these documents should have RIF’s and be placed in the database. This is an issue I bring before the National Archives and the Review Board time and time again.
Now when I found these 9 FBI documents I brought them over to John Judge, the Executive Secretary for the Coalition on Political Assassinations. John and I have become friends. I am fortunate enough to stay with him when I drive down to Washington from Albany to attend Review Board meetings. We were amazed to discover that there was repetition of documents and that the information was, largely, already released.
The nine FBI documents that I got were:
1.) Document #124-10070-103542.) Document #124-10108-10142
3.) Document # 124-10119-10078
4.) Document # 124-10230-10425
5.) Document # 124-10243-10367
6.) Document # 124-10006-10342
7.) Document # 124-10170-10064
8.) Document # 124-10244-10077
9.) Document # 124-10232-10345
Documents 5,6,7, and 8 were the same document from different FBI field offices, all redacted differently. This was a three page document on the FBI’s investigation of the Communist Party, U.S.A.’s reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy. The names or codes for two informants who provided the information provided in the report were redacted in all copies. Page two and page three of the report were heavily redacted in all but one copy of the report, the New York Field Office. The New York copy had no redaction on page two or three. However, the same document from the Cleveland Field Office had half of page one, all of page two and some of page three redacted. The Dallas Field Office file had half of page one, all of page two, and some of page three redacted. The Cincinnati field office copy had half of page one, all of page two, and had the most redaction of all copies for page three. The Pittsburgh Field Office won the prize for redactions. It had some of page one and most of page three redacted but page two was withheld in its entirety! This was because of subsection two of “The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.” , a clause that protects a living person who provided confidential information and subsection four, a clause that protects a cooperating individual or a foreign government.
Remember, page two and three are completely open in the New York field office copy.
You did not have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Every copy mentioned that copies were given to Headquarters, Dallas, New York and Cleveland. The report originated from the Cincinnati office. Page three tells us that an additional copy was given to Pittsburgh. Comparing and contrasting all copies of the report gives you the whole document.
The FBI appealed the decision of the Review Board to release these documents.
The only part of these documents dealing with Arnold Johnson and the Communist Party’s reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy that was not already released were the true names of the informants and their code numbers.
These 5 documents were 5 of the 11 documents the FBI fought against releasing.
Document 1 and 2 from my list of 9 were duplicates. So really, of my 9 we are only talking about 4 documents.
Now there was swift reaction to the FBI’s appeal.
COPA issued a press release on August 21 1995. To quote from it, “The FBI sent an appeal of the Review Board’s decision to President Clinton, arguing that disclosure of these records would create immediate harm or risk to informants, but the FBI failed to search their own files to discover whether the informants are still living.” John Newman was quoted in the press release as saying, “The purpose of the JFK Records Act is to ensure immediate and complete disclosure of all records relating to this tragic event in our history. The public’s right to know about the death of their president outweighs the unsupported demands for secrecy by the FBI.”
This was the first time the ARRB dealt with FBI records and it was the first appeal of a Review Board decision by a government agency. COPA also put out an action alert. This was posted on the Internet.
The FBI sent a formal reply to the Board’s decision to release these documents on August 9. This letter is classified.
According to an article John Newman wrote on August 21 entitled, “Public Release of JFK Records Imperiled”, AP reporter Melissa Robinson called the ARRB to find out how the release process was going and she found out about the FBI’s appeal.
This article states, “The FBI claims it is protecting its informants but, in an 11 August counter-appeal to the President, Chairman Tunheim charged that the FBI ‘failed to provide clear and convincing evidence required by the JFK Act’ to support its position. Furthermore Tunheim argued, much of the information the Bureau now wishes to redact [withhold] has already been officially released by the bureau.’ (True.) In other words, in selecting the first FBI package, the Review Board purposely included material the FBI had itself released. This tactic was undoubtedly to test the sincerity of the Bureau in complying with the letter and spirit of the Records Act.” (Misleading.)
I believe that John Newman is off the mark here. Yes, information in these documents is already, or has already been released. However, not all of it has. The true names and/or code names/numbers were not released. We were not dealing with completely unredacted, open in full, documents, portions were deleted. The portions deleted were the informant information. This is what the FBI argued against releasing.
In the meantime, the Board voted to release 37 additional CIA records (the Third Batch). This too met with resistance.
On September 1, 1995 Dan Alcorn faxed me a memo he wrote. Sarah McClendon spoke to a White House press assistant and was told that the President had sent the disputed records back to the ARRB and the FBI to negotiate further on their differences. Dan then spoke with Mr. Thomas Samoluk of the ARRB. Samoluk said that the FBI and the Review Board jointly agreed that more time was needed on the 9 FBI documents and they (the Review Board) agreed to give the FBI 30 more days to submit additional material to the Board. Samoluk also mentioned that the State Department would become involved because there was some foreign policy issues.
Alcorn skeptically and insightfully writes, “Samoluk was spinning that these are good developments because ‘we got people’s attention both at the agencies and at the White House.’ Also, the Board ‘didn’t want to lose’ on the first issue, and this avoids a loss.”
One problem, there is no legal authority for what the President, the FBI, and the ARRB have agreed to do. But, it is not expressly forbidden either. These are uncharted waters. This would be more of a loophole than the FBI’s appeal.
Alcorn inquired how these additional 30 days would be given. Samoluk said that the Board is withdrawing its submission to the White House, giving the FBI 30 days to submit information to the Board on its arguments, then the Board would decide to resubmit to the President and start a new 30 day clock.
Alcorn also asked if Samoluk had heard any reaction to the public campaign COPA ran for people to protest what the FBI was doing. “Yes, very much so.” Samoluk said the White House told him that they had received many communications on the matter, in fact a surprisingly large number. This was the reason the White House decided against upholding the FBI objections.
At the September 21, 1995 ARRB open meeting I find out that the ARRB held a special “Emergency Meeting” on August 30th. The notice for this was published on page 46147 of the Federal Register, Tuesday, September 5, 1995. “On August 30, 1995 at 2:45 p.m., the Assassination Records Review Board determined that it would need to hold an emergency meeting for the afternoon of the same day. The Review Board determined that it needed to take immediate action to withdraw from Presidential consideration its recommendations regarding the release of certain Federal Bureau of Investigations documents. The Review Board determined that discussion of and voting on the issue could not be delayed for seven days in order to give the public seven days notice of the meeting pursuant to the government in the Sunshine Act. ”
Well, isn’t that special? Why was “immediate action” necessary? All this talk of 30 days but an “open” emergency meeting of the ARRB on the matter had to be held in virtual secrecy. There was no notice to anyone about this “open” meeting.
Dr. Hall, Dr. Nelson and Dr. Graff were on the phone for this meeting, not actually present at the ARRB offices. Generally, the Board believed that more information would be gained by taking the steps they did. The problem of the FBI’s protectiveness of informants being used to deny access to countless documents may have been overcome by this Board action. If so, it is a great victory for the research community and the American people. We will have to wait and see if this is the case.
Meanwhile, the documents the FBI did not object to being released have not been released in their unredacted from.
1.) Document # 124-10023-102342.) Document # 124-10023-10235
3.) Document # 124-10023-10236
4.) Document # 124-10023-10237
5.) Document # 124-10023-10238
Document 1-4 in the above list are different copies of the same document. Document 5 in the above list is a routing slip. Document 1-3 are redacted similarly. Document 4, which is only redacted as to the source of the information, is largely unredacted. This document is about the $25 dollar enrollment fee Lee Harvey Oswald paid to attend the Albert Schweitzer College in Churwalden, which I believe is in Finland. These are the documents that had a foreign policy issue. The information in them came from the American Embassy in Paris, France. I don’t see how there could be a foreign policy issue. Supposedly, this has something to do with the American spying on Lee Harvey Oswald while in Russia and that is the foreign policy issue.
Now this could be very interesting. The official story is that no one knew where Lee Harvey Oswald was for a long time while in Russia. Could it be, like the Mexico city story that, in reality, American Intelligence knew immediately that Lee Harvey Oswald went to both the Soviet and Cuban consulates but just lied about it, similarly, American Intelligence knew where Lee Harvey Oswald was, every minute of every day while he was behind the Iron Curtain? Could this Review Board tell us exactly how American Intelligence knew by releasing the pertinent documents?
Now if we could spy on Lee Harvey Oswald and know where he was all the time he was behind the Iron Curtain, who else were we spying on?
The 11 documents from the 16 that the FBI appealed the release of were released on Thursday, October 19, 1995. The Review Board is still awaiting additional information on the other 5.
Now when the 11 FBI documents were released they were not released in their entirety despite the Board’s original vote that they be released in their entirety.
To quote from the October 19, 1995 ARRB press release, “The Review Board originally voted on July 17, 1995 to open 10 of these FBI documents (including duplicates) in full. Upon reconsideration, after receiving additional information from the FBI, the Board voted again to open the entire documents, except for the numerical portion of informant symbol numbers. The Board’s position is that the release of the numerical portion of the informant symbol numbers would provide little, if any, useful information related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The Board voted to open the 11th document in full and the FBI did not challenge that action.”
This sounds like the FBI won. The FBI gets to protect their informants which was the basis for the whole appeal in the first place. However, some information that was previously redacted was released.
Document # 124-10070-10354 is postponed in part.Document # 124-10108-10142 is postponed in part.
These are two copies of the same two page document. They have one postponement, the informant number, per document. They concern an alleged incident wherein Mary Ann McCall, hostess of the Batchelor-s club in Dallas did not think that the shooting of Oswald was an accident. An informant believed that McCall was a fixer and pay-off contact between the Dallas police and the mob. The new information is McCall’s name. Keep in mind that she is not the informant and the incident may not have happened at all.
Document # 124-10119-10078 is open in full. It is a one page document. It concerns an interview by SA’s Charles T. Brown, jr. and Arthur E. Carter of Carl A. “Pappy” Dolsen. Mr. Dolsen received a phone call from the manager of the King’s club in Oklahoma. A message was conveyed from this manager to Dolsen that a Mr. Hubert Gibson wants to represent Ruby at his (Ruby’s) forthcoming trial for free.
Document # 124-10184-10256 is postponed in part. It has 9 postponements. All postponements relate to the informant symbol number. It is a six page document concerning Arnold Johnson and the Communist Party, U.S.A.’s reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination.
Document # 124-10006-10342, Document # 124-10035-10065, Document #124-10170-10064, Document # 124-10232-10345, Document #124-10244-10077 and Document #124-10243-10367 are all different copies of the same three page document on Arnold Johnson and the Communist Party’s reaction to the assassination. All have two postponements per document relating to the informant symbol number. Document # 124-10230-10425 is a one page document, open in full. Someone asked for information on Lee Harvey Oswald and was told that there wasn’t any. I do not know when the request was made or by whom. I believe the request for information is made while Oswald is in Mexico.
I spoke with Mr. Harold Weisberg immediately after the COPA conference and he asked me are these “assassination records”. I had to say no. They do not deal with the assassination in any direct way whatsoever. Who gives a damn what the Communist Party, U.S.A. thought about the assassination? It has no relevance.
We all know what the ARRB should be prying loose from the FBI and it certainly is not this meaningless collection. Unlike Mr. Weisberg, I have had and continue to have high hopes that this Review Board will do the right thing. Time will tell.
I will write on the third batch and fourth batch soon.