From the Black Vault: a note on getting good JFK data

John Greenewald, the man behind the Black Vault site of declassified government records, writes with some thoughts about the difficulty of figuring out which JFK files the Trump has NOT released.


Black Vault

Hello everyone! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reply.

I recently posted this on my JFK Archive site, for offering additional information, but wanted to post it here for a further explanation.

I have much respect for everyone here — so this is said just to further explain my side and offer up as much explanation to it all, as I can.

Update on 2/9/2018:  Jefferson Morley of  has recently posted some articles regarding the EXACT number of documents currently withheld.  Although first reporting the numbers above, he did submit a correction saying the number may be smaller based on additional information obtained from Rex Bradford, president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation.  It is believed that some of these records listed as “withheld” and/or “Redact” do actually exist in the Mary Ferrell Foundation archive, or at NARA possibly in only paper form (or digital and set to be released at a later date).

This could very well be the case, and I am very open to the above numbers not being the 100% set in stone record count. But, this brings up a very important factor when sifting through these papers and tackling this topic, and that is the sheer volume and erroneous information that is currently floating around about what really is there — and what is not.

When I built the government document archive here on The Black Vault, I have always utilized only information given to me straight from the U.S. Government to report and create statistics like the above.  I was originally told the spreadsheet I received was of entirely “withheld” documents (which my FOIA request asked for) but upon review, I noticed that was not the case, and I confirmed that with NARA who stated that as well over the telephone.

The next step, using only the spreadsheets released officially, I (along with Jimmy Falls of WhoWhatWhy) confirmed the above numbers as those not matching as being released, and as Mr. Bradford confirmed, was accurate on the surface.  But, digging deeper, he goes on to say he believes some of these (all of these) reside at his archive, or at NARA (or possibly both) but just not online.

I do not have ‘membership’ access to the Mary Ferrel Foundation archive, so I can not verify myself if 100% of these documents reside there or are withheld. But after conducting some searches on their search engines, and on Google which will hit the MFF database, I did find reference to many of the documents that I spot checked at random, but they have no download link and do not appear to be in the archive.  Some examples (and please correct me if I am just lacking a proper membership to view)

Document numbers 157-10014-10152, 157-10014-10158 and 179-20001-10145 were randomly chosen and not found in MFF’s archive. These appear as “redacted on the NARA list, Bradford asked for examples of these not appearing in the MFF archive, and I believe these do reflect that they are referenced in MFF, but never obtained ie: still not released. Again, please correct me if I am mistaken… but I only find brief references and they say “Withheld in full” as well on MFF.

Let me say I have nothing but respect for the Mary Ferrell Foundation and their service to the public of archiving information relating to the JFK Assassination. I am not ‘fighting’ the counter-argument that the number is smaller, but rather, stating that based off the official released lists, the above numbers I posted are accurate based on what they gave me and have released publicly.  Whether or not some of the records I deem as “not released yet” have, in fact, been released — that goes into again, that larger issue which I believe, is part of the game the U.S. Government is playing.  Massive document dumps, incorrect indexes, non searchable formats, erroneous information, etc. all make all of our jobs, as researchers, reporters, journalists, archivists, or curious minds that much harder.

But, let me end with this explanation on the way I look at it.  NARA, along with the U.S. Government, is touting these digital releases as the collection of previously withheld, or partially withheld records.  They state:

“The National Archives is releasing documents previously withheld in accordance with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act. The vast majority of the Collection (88%) has been open in full and released to the public since the late 1990s. The records at issue are documents previously identified as assassination records, but withheld in full or withheld in part.  These releases include FBI, CIA, and other agency documents (both formerly withheld in part and formerly withheld in full) identified by the Assassination Records Review Board as assassination records. The releases to date are as follows.”

If records being released show that the government is still reviewing a record, but history shows us the records have been released (as the MFF states they have some already) — then this review process is taking much longer than it has to and is much more disorganized (on the part of the U.S. Government) then I first feared.  Or, the other way to look at it, is despite a previous (redacted) version of some of these records released in the past, maybe the above number reflects documents still to be reviewed again,  and further released without as many redactions. That, may be encouraging, if true.

Bury the public in massive amounts of data, and another generation will pass before any sense is made of it.

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