As President Trump’s April 26, 2018 deadline for release of the last of the government’s JFK files, Roger Stone, the sartorial dirty trickster of American politics, makes a legally valid point:
The CIA is not obeying the JFK Records Act.
Stone pointed out that the 1992 law which required the JFK documents be released also required the agency redacting records to justify their redactions in writing and that those explanations be published in the Federal Register.
Stone is political provocateur and performance artist with a penchant for misstatements of fact. Anything he says has to be handled with care. But in this case, he is correct.
Stone is referring to a specific passage in the JFK Records Act, Section 4 (g) (2) (B), which states
All postponed assassination records determined to require continued postponement shall require an unclassified written description of the reason for such continued postponement. Such description shall be provided to the Archivist and published in the Federal Register upon determination.
From the passage of the law in 1992 until 2017, the CIA and other agencies adhered to this passage, and did so scrupulously.
If the CIA released a JFK file to the National Archives with redactions, a coded comment in the margin gave an unclassified description of why information was withheld. Typical reasons were “national security,” “personal privacy” or “sources and methods.”
Here’s an example from the file of George Joannides, an undercover CIA officer who ran a secret program called AMSPELL that figured in the surveillance of Oswald in the summer of 1963.
A line of information has been blacked out and replaced with the words, “08-civil service grade.” That’s a coded reference to the fact that Joannides’ exact civil service grade was withheld on grounds of privacy.
The line below has been redacted and replaced with the number 23, a coded reference to withholding related to “sources and methods.”
In this document, the CIA adhered to the JFK Records Act; it explained what was withheld and why
Evidence of Non-Compliance
Now compare that with the recently released file of Birch D. O’Neal, the veteran counterintelligence officer who opened the CIA’s first file on Oswald in November 1959. The 224 pages of his file are rife with redactions, none of them explained.
Look at this 86-page file on “DRE/AMSPELL operations,” which were run by Joannides from August 1963 to May 1964. Sixty two pages of the file are withheld in full or in part. None of the redactions are explained as required by law.
Who’s to Blame?
Stone blames “the deep state” for this failure but President Trump is arguably responsible too. In his order of October 26, 2017, the president could have reminded the CIA and other government agencies of their legal obligation to explain any withholding decisions. He did not.
Perhaps the CIA will come into compliance by April 26. Perhaps not. It all depends on whether Trump is serious about enforcing the JFK Records Act, and so far the evidence is mixed.
The Mary Ferrell Foundation has pointed out the non-compliance of the CIA and other agencies in a letter to National Archivist David Ferriero. I will post the letter later today.