When David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, solicited comment on U.S. declassification policy on Monday, he failed to mention that the Archives has already decided that the release of ancient secret U.S. government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is not a priority.
The existence of a trove of previously unknown JFK records has been reported in recent months by news outlets ranging from the Huffington Post and Fox News to the Associated Press, NBCNews.com, and the Boston Globe. The records include 1,100 CIA records related to JFK’s murder that have never been seen by the public or investigators.
But in the aftermath of the highly publicized 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, the Archives’ Transforming Classification blog has quietly indicated that it will defer to CIA wishes and not review and release the secret JFK files until 2017 at the earliest.
“We have already received many comments from our followers about what topics you would like to see declassified,” the Archives announced in the blog post that Ferriero tweeted about. “Today, we present you with a new list of topics OLDER than 25 years.“
The list includes 19 topics of historical interest. JFK assassination records do not appear on the list.
Public comment solicited and ignored
When the Archives first solicited public comment last month, scholars and citizens had responded with a wide variety of suggestions for high priority subjects ranging from the historically important (the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962) to the technically obscure (the space program of the now-defunct Soviet Union).
Public support for making JFK files a priority was evident, with at least nine commenters calling for their release. In addition more than 2,700 people have signed an online petition calling for release of assassination-related records.
Despite public support, the secret JFK files did not qualify as one of the subjects that are now a priority for declassification. The result is an anomaly in terms of public interest. Full disclosure of records about the Soviet apace program of the 1960s is a priority of the U.S. National Archives. Release of secret records about the assassination of a sitting American president is not a priority. Sputnik is important. JFK is not.
Perriero’s tweet invited comment from the public. Readers can express their thoughts here.
The Archives’ decision is another small victory in the CIA’s continuing effort to keep certain JFK assassination records out of public view.
In June 2012 the Agency informed Archives General Counsel Gary Stern they lacked “time and resources” to review approximately 1,100 CIA documents related to JFK’s murder in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
The Archives appears to have decided it will not take issue with the Agency’s stance, no matter what the public wants.
The public interest in immediate disclosure is clear. These records are relevant to the outpouring of media and popular interest in the JFK anniversary last month. The JFK files include files on deceased CIA officers who figure in the pre-assassination surveillance of the accused assassin Lee Oswald.
Whether these files incriminate CIA personnel in a JFK conspiracy or exonerate them is anybody’s guess. They certainly would shed new light on the JFK story. See Top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret.
In any case, the continuing secrecy around 50-year old documents seems unnecessary and the Archive’s priorities peculiar.
As JFK author Anthony Summers wrote in a letter to the New Yorker last month:
“The law requires that all Kennedy-assassination-related records be released by 2017, unless the President rules otherwise. If Oswald was a leftist loner who killed the President, and if that was all there was to it, why continue to conceal documents?”
The answer, it seems, is: Because the CIA prefers not to disclose and the National Archives prefers not to challenge the CIA.
What to do:
Send a tweet to the Archivist David Ferriero about his classification priorities. He’s @dferriero.
Submit your comment to the Transforming Classification blog here.