20 March, 2021|Courtesy of Rex Bradford:
This essay discusses the state of the JFK Records Collection as of March 2021. It describes the background and results of the declassifications which occurred in 2017 and 2018, and alerts readers to the re-review which is taking place this year. Particular focus is placed on 3,598 “withheld in full” records which the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) declared would be finally released. Some were, and some weren’t, as will be explained.
A companion page, 2017 Document Releases, discusses the set of records that were released in 2017 and 2018, along with links to read and search them all.
Another companion page, Withheld in Full – 2021 Update, contains an interactive table where the not-released portion of the 3,598 “withheld in full” records may be explored.
Background: The JFK Records Act and the Assassination Records Review Board
Following public outcry over Oliver Stone’s film JFK, Congress in 1992 passed the JFK Records Act. This law created the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which from 1994 until 1998 oversaw the declassification of a large number of documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy and the various investigations into his murder; this broad effort included a wide swath of formerly-secret records on Kennedy foreign policy on Cuba and Vietnam, and FBI and CIA and other agencies’ files on myriad related topics and individuals.
The revelations from the declassifications of the 1990s have rewritten the story of the formation of the Warren Commission, thrust into prominence Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico City in the fall of 1963 and the allegations of Communist conspiracy emanating from that city, and turned that story on its head with the stunning news that Director Hoover – in a memo to the Secret Service and a now-erased presidential phone call – relayed the FBI’s determination that someone had impersonated Oswald there. Also released were formerly-secret notes of Oswald’s interrogation which include an alibi for his whereabouts, buried testimony about the nature of JFK’s wounds (and thus the direction of shots) which was taken by Congressional investigators and then hidden, documents revealing that CIA officers lied about their knowledge of Oswald before the assassination, a Pentagon false-flag operation named Northwoods outlining terrorist acts which could be implemented and then used to justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba, written plans kept secret for 35 years to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam, and so much more, far too voluminous to even summarize here.
The JFK Records Act has been in many ways a great success in reaching toward a fuller history of Kennedy’s murder and its context.
The JFK Collection now sits at over 300,000 records comprising over 5 million pages, plus abundant photographic and audiovisual records. The records processed in the 1990s and later all have a unique 13-digit record number assigned to them and are represented in a master collection database. A substantial portion of the 5 million pages, including voluminous Warren Commission files, predate this system, have no record numbers, and do not appear in the database.
But while the ARRB oversaw a massive declassification effort, it also deferred in many cases to government agencies desiring continued secrecy; tens of thousands of JFK records were released with “redactions” (blackouts) – sometimes as small as a name, sometimes entire pages. And thousands of records remained “withheld in full.”
The JFK Records Act mandated that, 25 years after the passage of the Act, all such records should be released in full, barring a determination by the president that “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
The 25-year deadline came on October 26, 2017. But when the 25-year deadline finally arrived, the remaining records were not released in full. Instead, under a process approved by then-President Trump:
- Over 34,000 documents were released, or re-released with fewer redactions, in 7 batches in 2017 and 2018.
- Hundreds of documents were declared sealed in accordance with Sections 10 and 11 of the JFK Records Act (IRS and Social Security Administration records are exempt from public disclosure, as are those sealed by court order or donated to the Archives under a restrictive “deed of gift”).
- On the date of the last batch of releases, April 26 2018, another Trump memorandum authorized a process whereby the more than 15,000 records with remaining redactions would be subject to re-review in 2021.
It is now 2021.