“We drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value records,” writes David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, in the Third Open Government Plan released yesterday.
The report makes clear what “high value records” the public wants to see. When the Archives sought input in April about the government’s declassification priorities, nineteen commenters called for release of JFK assassination records. That was almost 40 percent of all comments received and more than double the number of comments on any other subject. (See p. 42 of the report.)
So what did Ferriero do?
He blew off the public and deferred, again, to CIA diktat.
The new open government plan for 2014-2016 runs to 58 pages with 31 recommendations, none of which concern the JFK Records Act or the records that the public cares the most about. The Archives recently boasted about declassification of a document about UFOs, yet plans no actions about declassifying still-secret JFK assassination records. These two facts alone tell us something about the government’s declassification priorities. And it is not something good.
I take no pleasure in criticizing the Archives. It is a valuable and important institution. Without it I could not have written either of my books. The Archives has done a good job in organizing the JFK Records Collection. I know that the Archives, with its annual budget of $368 million, has little bureaucratic leverage on the CIA with its $14.7 billion budget. And the Archivist has to work within a powerful secrecy system that is sanctioned by law and policy.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t do anything.
‘Not a conspiracy’
The back story here, first reported by JFK Facts last June, is that the CIA retains more than 1,100 JFK-related records that have never been seen by the public or investigators. At a time when the Obama administration was seeking to declassify hundreds of millions of long-secret records, JFK researchers in Washington politely suggested that these CIA records receive expedited treatment.
The Archives responded with a litany of explanations of why it just wasn’t possible.
Archives officials said that they had asked the CIA if they could speed up release of the records and the agency replied it lacked “time and resources” to review the JFK material;
And the CIA’s JFK records were reviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) in 1998, so (it is said) there is no need for expedited review of them 16 years later;
And, it is said, the documents are “not believed relevant” to JFK’s assassination;
And the records are scheduled to be released in October 2017, so please don’t expect us to do anything before then. “Its not a conspiracy,” one Archives official quipped at a public meeting in August 2012.
No, its not a conspiracy. Its a failure of leadership, and a cop-out.
‘Not Believed Relevant’
None of the Archives talking points is compelling.
The CIA’s claim that it lacked the resources to review JFK records is hard to credit. The CIA had the time and resources to review records related to the 1942 Katyn Forest massacre, in which the Soviet army liquidated the Polish officer corps. The agency evidently decided that releasing information about the death of the Polish officers was more important than releasing information about CIA officers who figure in the JFK assassination story. Why the Archives feels obliged to accept the CIA’s excuse is beyond me.
There is little evidence the 1,100 CIA records were reviewed by the ARRB staff. Former members of the ARRB have only hazy memories of these records, which were processed in the spring of 1998 at the very end of the board’s existence. The files of the ARRB suggest that unidentified CIA officials decided these files were “Not Believed Relevant” (NBR) to the JFK assassination story, and the ARRB acquiesced without looking at all of them.
The CIA’s claim that the documents are not relevant to the JFK story is self-serving and uncorroborated. The National Archives online data base shows that the the NBR material includes the operational files of well-known CIA officers such as Howard Hunt, Bill Harvey, David Phillips, David Morales, and Anne Goodpasture. All of them had pre-assassination knowledge of the travels, politics and contacts of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; or implicated themselves in JFK’s murder; or or were involved in the CIA’s assassination program. Not relevant?
The Archivist and his colleagues know these facts. I don’t doubt that in their hearts of hearts they would like to see the material released. One friend defended their performance saying they have to play by the unspoken rules of Washington, which include the commandment that no federal agency shall publicly criticize another.
But the imperatives of office politics do not change the fact is that the JFK Records Act is still the law of the land. According to a 1998 Memorandum of Understanding with the ARRB, the National Archives and Records Administration has the legal responsibility for enforcing it. The law, signed into law in October 1992, mandates the “immediate” disclosure of all JFK records in the government’s possession. It is not clear that the 1,100 CIA records (comprising up up to 50,000 pages of material) were reviewed under the terms of the law, and it is very clear the public wants them released.
So the Archivist needs to take action.
Ferriero does not need to criticize the CIA. He does need to stand up for the public interest and the law. Any open government plan worthy of its name should state the long-standing and obvious public interest in enforcement of the JFK Records Act The government’s plan of action for the next couple of years should include steps to insure that any and all assassination-related files are properly reviewed and released under the JFK Records Act.
By not taking these minimal steps, Ferriero has effectively sided with the CIA in its continuing quest to prevent certain JFK records from coming into public view. The Third Open Government Plan is unfortunate evidence that the Archivist is not doing his job.
What can be done?
Sign BIll Kelly’s Change.org petition to free the JFK files.
If you want to contact Ferriero by phone or traditional mail, click here.