Federal judge John Tunheim, chair of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) from 1994 to 1998, said last week the government has released virtually all of its assassination-related records–a claim contradicted by a publicly available online database of the National Archives.
This is a story you can fact check yourself.
On Tuesday, WCCO-TV, a CBS affiliate in Minneapolis quoted Tunheim as saying:
“Is there a cache of records someplace? I don’t think so. We looked as far and as wide as we possibly could,” said Tunheim. “It would have been a violation of law to not turn over records to us for our decision making. I just don’t think there was much left.”
But a search of the National Archives’s database of the JFK Assassination Records Collection in College Park, Md. suggests Tunheim is mistaken. The data base lists hundreds of documents in the JFK Collection that have never been made public. The CIA has acknowledged in writing that it retains 1,172 assassination-related records that is has not made public
I spoke about these records at a public forum sponsored by the National Archives in Washington in August (You can watch the video here, I start speaking at 1 hour, 32 minutes and National Archives General Counsel Gary Stern answers my question.)
These records, known to exist, are also the subject of an online petition calling for their immediate release that has been signed by more than 2,200 people. Bill Kelly, sponsor of the petition, has written an open letter to Tunheim, questioning his statement.
The source of confusion is a dispute over whether the 1,172 CIA documents are actually related to JFK’s assassination. Because the existence of the records was uncovered by the ARRB, they meet the legal definition of “assassination-related” records, according to the National Archives. But the CIA says these records have been designated as “Not Believed Relevant” (or NBR) to the assassination story.
The CIA’s claim appears to be inaccurate. The Archives data base, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, shows that some of these documents concern CIA officers who figure in the JFK assassination story.
One of them is E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglar who died in 2007. Hunt was open about his contempt for JFK. In his 1973 book, “Give Us This Day,” Hunt was harshly critical of JFK’s “cowardice” on Cuba, suggesting it was poetic justice that he was shot and killed by a Castro supporter. Before his death, Hunt told his son a different scenario, making cryptic and uncorroborated remarks about possible CIA involvement in “the big event,” meaning JFK’s assassination.
The Archive’s JFK Assassination Records Collection includes 330 pages of undated material on Hunt, that has never been made public.
Another is David Atlee Phillips, a senior CIA officer who testified under oath to the House Select Committee on Assassinations about his surveillance of Oswald’s visit to Mexico City six weeks before JFK was killed. The JFK Assassination Record Collection has more than 600 pages of undated material on Phillips, including “operational files,” that have never been made public.
Phillips’ inconsistent and evasive testimony aroused suspicion. Richard Sprague, HSCA general counsel, told Phillips that he had “slithered” around comments he had made about Oswald. HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi later wrote a magazine article implicating Phillips in JFK’s assassination. Phillips sued but the case was dismissed on the grounds Phillips was a public figure, according to the Montgomery County Sentinel, Phillips died in 1988. Fonzi died on August 30, 2012.
After all of the official JFK investigations were over, the CIA acknowledged that Phillips had been involved in a political assassination. In 1999 the non-profit National Security Archive obtained CIA records showing that Phillips orchestrated the killing of Gen. Rene Schneider, Chile’s top ranking military officer in October 1970, at the behest of CIA director Richard Helms and President Richard Nixon.
DO IT YOURSELF FACT-CHECK
You confirm the substance of this post and view all that is known about the 1,100 still-secret JFK files in the National Archives by searching the JFK Assassination Records Collection here.
In the first search field, enter the name “David Phillips” or “Howard Hunt” (or some other person)
In second field, enter the term “NBR.”
Then click on “Display Search Results.”
To view more details about the withheld files, click on “Display All/Selected Hits.” On this page you will see that the documents in question have been “Withheld in Full.”
As reported in Salon last year, the CIA says these records won’t be made public until 2017 at the earliest
I’m asking Judge Tunheim and reporter Pat Kessler for comment I will post his reaction as soon as I get it.