Rex Bradford, President, Mary Ferrell Foundation June 18, 2018
Under the President John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act of 1992 (“JFK Records Act”), the Assassination Records Review Board (“ARRB”) oversaw the declassification of millions of pages of formerly classified records. But a significant number of documents were withheld in full, and many more were withheld with “redactions” (portions withheld from view).
As noted in the ARRB’s Final Report, the JFK Records Act included a provision for full release 25 years after its passage. Specifically, it “mandated that all postponed assassination records be opened to the public no later than the year 2017” unless the President certifies that (1) “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and (2) “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” (https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=3611#relPageId=33).
Instead of full disclosure, what occurred was a rolling set of partial releases, 7 so far, along with continued withholding. On the positive side, for the first time the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) published the newly released documents online in PDF format, a huge boon to researchers. But this process has been marred by errors and confusion, as documented herein.
Currently according to NARA, 15,834 documents remain withheld in part, along with a smaller set still withheld in full. Both the current state of affairs, and the process by which releases have occurred, are less than satisfactory.
This paper documents the recent history of releases and the numerous problems with the process and the current state of affairs. It does not discuss the question of “what’s in the new records?” – suffice to say that there are important documents being uncovered, related to the assassination investigations and also the context of Kennedy Cold War policies, and that the full “digestion” process will take time.
After an early release of records in July of 2017, the 25-year anniversary arrived on October 26. Against a backdrop of lobbying by federal agencies, President Trump
signed an authorization for continued withholding of most of the remaining records, release of some, and an accompanying review process with a 6-month deadline.
In November and December of 2017, 4 additional releases happened. When the 6month review deadline came on April 26, 2018, a seventh release occurred, along with continued withholding and a new review deadline set for 2020.
In all, tens of thousands of documents were released or re-released, though over 15,000 documents remain withheld at least in part.
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