Peter Kornbluh, Cuba scholar at the non-profit National Security Archive, objects to yesterday’s post criticizing the National Archives for its stance on secret JFK files.
“This criticism of NARA General Counsel, Gary Stern, seems a classic case of shooting the messenger–and in this case an ally for transparency on this issue,” Kornbluh writes.
Kornbluh is a friend whose scholarship on U.S.-Cuba policy is central to understanding JFK’s presidency. And I welcome Stern’s personal commitment to open government. Nonetheless, I think the public can reasonably expect the National Archives general counsel to act in a capacity greater than “messenger” for the CIA’s diktat.
Kornbluh is right that Stern deserves credit for pressing the issue with the Agency, and I should have mentioned that.
“Being responsive to concerns and pressures from right-to-know community, and to the excellent work of Jefferson Morley on this issue, more than two years ago NARA officials went to the CIA and formally requested that they come clean on these records for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. The CIA refused. As the above column concedes, NARA does not have the power to force the CIA to comply–no other agency except the White House itself has that power–but can only ask. NARA did ask, and deserves credit for that initiative which puts the public onus on the CIA.”
Fair enough, but that doesn’t go far enough. Stern and the Archives could — and should — do more, even within the confines of Washington bureaucratic politics.
Why can’t the Archives respectfully acknowledge the CIA’s decision and respectfully state its recommendation that the CIA review and release these records as soon as possible?
It should not need stating (but evidently does) that the interests of the National Archives are not identical to those of the CIA. The Archives would lose nothing — and indeed would gain public respect — by asserting the importance of full disclosure in the JFK assassination records.
Archivist David Ferriero has asked the public to comment on priorities in declassification and the public responded, via the Transforming Classification blog and the Change.org online petition, with strong expressions of support for immediate JFK declassification.
That is the message which the National Archives should be the messenger for.