Declassification center deflects calls for opening JFK records

In response to 11 comments calling on the National Declassification Center blog calling on the NDC to make the declassification of JFK records a priority, archivist Don McIlwain has a familiar message.

It is not possible, he says.

McIlwain writes:

“With a very few exceptions, virtually all of the records identified as belonging to the Kennedy Collection have been opened in part or in full. Those documents that are closed in full or in part were done so in accordance with the Kennedy Act, mentioned above. According to the Act, no record could be withheld in part or in full, without the agreement of the ARRB. The guidelines for withholding records are outlined in the provisions in Section 6 of the Act. The full report of the ARRB is available online. A copy of the Act is in Adobe Acrobat PDF, Appendix C of the ARRB Report mentioned above. In all cases where the ARRB agreed to withhold a record or information in a record, they stipulated a specific release date for the document. In addition, according to Section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act, all records in the Kennedy Collection will be opened by 2017 unless certified as justifiably closed by the President of the United States.”

I appreciate the work that McIlwain and his colleagues do in maintaining and enhancing the JFK Assassination Records Collection, which has revolutionized scholarship of the Kennedy era. I also understand the Archives does not have unilateral authority to declassify documents generated by the CIA.

But the Archives is under no obligation to minimize the amount of JFK material that remains classified 51 years after the fact. To characterize the 1,100-plus CIA documents (comprising as much as 50,000 pages of material) that have been withheld in full as “very few exceptions,” seems off the mark. True, that is a small percentage of what has been released but by any reckoning a lot of material remains beyond public view.

And there is good reason to doubt the CIA’s claim that these records are “Not Believed Relevant” to the JFK story. See: “Top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret” (Nov. 11, 2013).




7 thoughts on “Declassification center deflects calls for opening JFK records”

  1. If the principal of supply & demand seeps into this ongoing Archivist to Archivist historical censorship I expect to see some of the withheld records start appearing on the black market. Some might also ponder what good is a National Archives that only permits the public to see a segregated portion of its total history?

  2. Otis Chambers

    Mmmmm…dont’cha just love the taste of government red tape! As one of Jeff Morley’s readers so eloquently put it, when asking the government for anything keep your expectations (if any) at its lowest level & expect plenty of BOHICA. How Jeff Morley has the patience to tolerate ring around the rosie government replies to public appeals for historical info is beyond me; he’s a tougher person than I am.

  3. The NARA is not enforcing the JFK Act as it should. The recommendations the ARRB made before it dissolved have not been implemented and there are so many records being withheld they can’t count them and tell us how many. Among the ARRB recommendations is a call for the establishment of an independent oversight board composed of representatives of the historical and archivist organizations who recommended the board members. There has been NO oversight of the JFK Act by Congress or anyone other than COPA and the members of AARC.

    Now that the National Declassification Review of 2013 is complete they can, if so directed, flush the remaining withheld JFK records through that process and then they would be able to tell us how many such records there are.

    In addition to those records being withheld, there are many official JFK records that have been unaccountably destroyed, are missing and not being sought, and were not included in the ARRB roundup and remain out of the JFK collection, including Secret Service records in the possession of former agents, the HSCA records of first chief counsel Richard Sprague, and the Air Force One radio tapes and transcripts.

    The Congress and NARA are not going to do its job of enforcing the JFK Act until they are forced to do so by the same weight of public response that got the law passed in the first place.

    1. We need another movie to electrify the American people. I’d call it “The Big Fail” and base it on Vince Palamara’s “Survivor’s Guilt”. The lead character would be a motorcycle cop who got splattered with JFK’s blood and brains who believes the official story. His girlfriend’s questions would lead to inconsistency between what he witnessed, what he knows, and what he believes.

      It could be well and engagingly done and a shock to the system.

      This isn’t just a fantasy. Geraldo in the 1970s and Oliver Stone in the early 1990s proved Americans respond to strong visual stimuli from the assassination.

      The duds who sit in government will continue to be intransigent over the JFK historical record until and unless the American people once again rise up in anger.

      1. Just as long as Tom Hanks has nothing to do with it. See Jim diEugenio’s “Reclaiming Parkland”. Hanks sees American history filtered through a 1950s Disneyland world-view.

  4. Clearly those documents are the most important and informative of all that were collected at some point enough is enough release everything and let the chips fall where they may!
    It is my feeling that these documents will shed a greater light as to what happend and what was discoverd after however I further believe this is the govts way of making it clear to everyone listening that withholding those documents isn’t about what they contain rather it’s about them making sure they stay with what’s always been practiced and that is they may be released but no documents will be released without a fight ever!

  5. Mr. McIlwain’s statement also brings into focus the records released in part, i.e. with redactions. Researchers tell me that such redactions are extensive throughout the JFK collection at the Archives. It is possible that this redacted material is larger in volume than the 1,100 CIA documents withheld in full. It is unfortunate that the Archives is trying to use the JFK Records Act as a secrecy statute, whereas in fact the purpose of the Act was to bring about full disclosure. In 2006 CIA made early release of all material through release dates of 2010, so there is a precedent for releasing the JFK material earlier than the original dates. This is what should be done now with the withheld material.

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