Bowing to CIA, National Archives won’t review secret JFK records

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, and the Boston GlobeThe 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.
CIA victory
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.

Email Archives General Counsel Gary Stern by clicking here or Senior Counsel Christopher Runkel by clicking here

If you want to contact Ferriero by phone or traditional mail, click here. 

28 thoughts on “Bowing to CIA, National Archives won’t review secret JFK records”

  1. There is a similar problem here in Canada regarding Library and Archives Canada withholding documents that belonged to Dr. Louis Bloomfield.

    While it may be an aside, there was an RCMP JFK Taskforce created to look into the alleged Oswald sightings in summer of 1963 that were made by a U.S. Customs officer (J-P Tremblay).

    Other links to Montreal are here:

    Sorry about the french…

  2. It will be just one more sad example of history repeating itself when it finally is revealed to a future generation of researchers that CIA infiltrated the National Archives and so was able to successfully resist disclosing the last 1170 CIA JFK files for several more decades until 2039.

  3. Mr. Ferreio doesn’t seem to realize that the documents don’t belong to the CIA. They belong to us, the people. The entire system of government, which includes the CIA, was instituted by the Constitution, the preamble of which starts, “We the People of the United States …. do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

    It is long past time that we the people start demanding that we know what our government is and has been doing in our name.

  4. I bet more people have read this post than are interested in the release of documents regarding the origins of the coup in Iran in 1953… Jeff, thanks this site. I visit several other forums. It’s nice to have the set up here where you are leading the readers down a specific path! Our movement requires direction and we’re getting it here!

  5. Whilst I have no doubt that the papers relating to Sputnik and the Soviet Space Program would make for an interesting read, I suspect they would be of interest primarily to an academic audience rather than the general public. Including the Cuban Missile Crisis papers, but not the assassination papers seems like a very strange decision in light of all the publicity, articles and interest around the 50th anniversary. If a glance across the shelves in the average bookstore is any indication, Sputnik ranks rather a lot lower in terms of public interest than the assassination.

  6. The sad fact of the matter is the CIA has NEVER been fully investigated for the crime of killing the president. That’s why us netizens are left with breadcrumbs trying to piece the puzzle together. And instead of having the full weight of the government behind us, we have the government against us.

    There is no way any government agency should have carte blanche and a blank check to do whatever it wants. And now we have several of them. That is not what the founding fathers originally envisioned.

    One idea is to put public pressure on the CIA and elected officials by gathering the support of all living members of the Warren Commission and HSCA staffs by alerting them to all the latest information that’s been discovered — from Joannides to Phillips — and help us demand transparency NOW from the CIA.

    I watched some WC staffers on a panel the other night. They said they’re still open to any new facts that would show a different conclusion than theirs. They don’t need to believe in conspiracy, but their interest could be piqued enough to demand ALL files are released.

    1. “For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.
      I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.”

      – Harry S. Truman

  7. Well Mr. Morley, after 50 years the continued obstinance, suppression and deception does not really surprise me. It does however frustrate me greatly, I would imagine you even more so in relation to your lawsuit. Maybe your barking up the wrong tree. I know it can’t be this simple (lawyer’s need billable hours for one thing) but the little I’ve read of the CIA’s charter makes me wonder about a different course. If I recall correctly the CIA was created as an arm of the Executive branch and reports directly to the President. Should we be petitioning the President for a Presidential Order to respectfully please Free The Files?

    1. Bill Kelly started a petition two years ago directed to Cass Sunstein who then was the President’s chief of information matters in the White House (and to Archivist Ferriero). Thousands signed this petition, and according to procedure, each signatory was e-mailed to Mr. Sunstein and Mr. Ferriero. As an academic Mr. Sunstein had written about pernicious conspiracy theories and cited as one the theory that the CIA was involved in the JFK assassination. Mr. Sunstein proposed outlawing such conspiracy theories, although he admitted there might be a First Amendment problem with that (he thought it could be done in areas under US military occupation).

  8. A half century later the cover up CONTINUES. What could still be a priority concerning NATIONAL SECURITY when all involved are probably taking dirt naps ? JFK said himself ” A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. To those that still back the Warren commission my question is this ” why a half century later are JFK records commissioned to be opened by the FOIA act still being kept under wraps” ?

  9. It is very difficult to escape the feeling that American intelligence agencies are attempting to hide something about the assassination. The whole portrayal of Oswald as this insignificant, unbalanced, lone wolf gunman by the Warren Commission, and others, just does not ring true. He joined the Marines and then spent time at the CIA airbase in Japan, which housed the U2 spy plane. Oswald then defects to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, and the American intelligence agencies just seem to shrug their shoulders at this? The guy who supposedly has ‘defected’ to the arch enemy, never gave up his American citizenship. There are so many questions about what was his precise relationship actually was to American intelligence. Was he really a Communist at all? Is it possible for his FPCC activity to be genuine?

    1. This entire fairytale of “Oswald the crazy communist loner” is most likely entirely made up.

      Read the Warren testimony of John E. Donovan, the officer in charge of Oswald’s crew in the MACS-1.
      He testified that on the occasion were Oswald acted as crew chief, he was “competent, very competent”.

      I wasn’t aware that ‘loser loners’ acted “competent” in leadership positions.

      As for the ‘communist’ argument, I can only say that Oswald HIMSELF repeatedly denied being a communist. He literally said he was a Marxist, “a true Karl-Marxist”, but NOT a communist or Marxist-Leninist. He explicitly denied being a communist in multiple interviews.

      The entire hilarity of the Warren Commission’s fairytale about Oswald is brought to point with their conclusion:
      “He sought for himself a place in history – a role as a ‘great man’ who would be recognized as having been in advance of his time.”

      Said man then explicitly denied have done that infamous deed and cried “I’m just a patsy”. Right.

  10. S.R. "Dusty" Rohde

    What possible difference does the CIA think 3 years will make in releasing the records? I fully expect they will block the release in 2017 as well. The only way anyone is going to see the records is to force the issue. Imagine for a moment records implicated the CIA, so that the CIA was dissolved. Would a new agency need to be created for that eventuality….say like the Department of Homeland Security?

    1. CIA and Homeland Security are not really in charge of the same jurisdiction. But what HAS happened since 1963 has been an overall increase in intelligence, both bureaucratic and private contract-based, which exploded (no pun intended) after 9/11. Going after it is like trying to weed a garden the size of Texas. If you want to read a good book on how bloated and out of control things have grown to, I suggest you start with Dana Priest’s excellent introductory primer, “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.” William Arkin is co-author.

      I realize that a superpower must have adequate intelligence and armed forces to defend its interests. But I think, as Harry Truman did, that our national security defensive infrastructure has grown wildly out of proportion to its needs. I believe Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy believed the same thing. Unfortunately our present political leadership on both sides of the aisle is either afraid to try to rein in our police security state or cannot do so. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was, I believe, the moment when our “guard dog” hired to protect our household attacked and killed one of its democratically elected owners. This wouldn’t be the first time —- this kind of thing happened in Ancient Rome too. It’s a danger that all nations must guard against—too much entrenched power concentrated in one spot, be it Wall St. or in the Defense/Intelligence community.

      1. S.R. "Dusty" Rohde

        JSA….understood…was just trying to keep it short but to the point. But I have sometimes wondered if much of the expansion might be to “recreate” our Intelligence agencies in the event the CIA should be implicated in the assassination due to the records release. Our government would plan for that possibilty and need time to set things in place. I know if this happened they would immediately distance themselves from…and perhaps defund the agency. Pure speculation at this point.

        1. It’s amusing that many (most?) Americans seem to think of “our” intelligence as somehow being “honorable”—only the “bad guys” do evil things. Growing up I was taught about the horrible regimes throughout history, and we learned about “brainwashing” that the North Koreans did to American G.I. POWs in the Korean War—I couldn’t believe that someone could be captured and taught to hate the USA like that. The US was a welcome liberating force in Europe in 1944/45, and afterwards as a bulwark against communism. But it’s incredibly naive to think that the USA came to power by being “nice guys” all the time—be it the seizure of land from the Indians and Mexico up through the weird political interventions we practiced overseas after WW2, as described by Graham Greene and by defector Philip Agee. Once you step outside the box of the country you grew up in (in my case the USA but it could be any country-we’re all people) you can look with a more objective eye at the bad stuff we do along with the good. I think the CIA is a LOT like the KGB, just better at marketing themselves than the Russians were. However, CIA has a terrible rep outside our shores, in Latin America, in Europe, Asia, and Africa. To look at the Kennedy assassination as just the work of a lone nut is like a naive school child saying the Pledge of Allegiance, mouthing the words but not thinking too much. Those who support the Warren Commission findings blindly are like those unsophisticated children. They either can’t fathom bad things or don’t want to know about them, so they shield themselves in Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy-like mythologies.

    2. Maybe they are hoping that Fidel Castro will be gone by then so that they can pin the murder on him? A 54-year delay on Operation Northwoods to take full effect! Maybe a then-future POTUS’s (not JFK) name is contained within the documents? Who knows. But, the secrecy surrounding this issue only invites such suspicions whether warranted or not. The conspiracy theorists are not to blame for that – the absurd amount of government secrecy and shady CIA dealings are.

      1. Bingo? I’ve had the same thought in recent weeks about the “future POTUS”. Thinking about one’s role a a recruiter/funds coordinator for Operation 40, and, the Hoover FBI memo about him briefing a couple of others “and George Bush of the CIA”. I’d be interested in Russ Baker’s take on this.

  11. As someone who is not an American, I am more than surprised (although sadly not shocked) that the intelligence agencies in the USA appear to think that the release of the files on JFK are not an urgent task. This is not just an issue for America (although of course its major significance is for Americans). JFK was a major historical figure: he was the first Catholic American president, who was undoubtedly charismatic and talented. JFK’s tenure was highly dramatic, with the Bay of Pigs debacle, the unprecedented crack down on organised crime, the growing Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and of course the final traumatic events in Dallas in November 1963.

    What happened to JFK really matters. The fact that so much still appears to be murky and unclear about what actually happened before, during, and after the assassination, is a reason in itself to release these files now. This story is not going away, it is still going strong after 50 years. People want the truth, and not just in America.

    1. I can’t agree more strongly with this. As a non American myself I can see who this case and the way America’s agencies and government run are of big effect to the rest of us.
      I see this case as like pulling on the thread of a sweater, getting justice and accountability here could save a lot of countries a lot of trouble further down the track.

  12. Sadly, I believe TLR has it right. If the Agency responded to public opinion & pressure JFK would have never fallen dead across the seat of his parade car in Dallas 50 years ago.

    Today, I wish as a child my parents, educators & clergymen had been honest with me & told me up front that I was born in a country where money means everything from penniless parents with n clout & the Agency runs everything. Had they done so I would have attempted to join the CIA following high school. No one wants to be left out of the clique.

    I seriously doubt Mr. Ferriero has what it takes to lock horns with the Agency; even if his office was swamped with public appeals for disclosure. Locking horns with the Agency is what cost President Kennedy his life.

  13. It appears that just about everything in this transparency issue clash seems to cater to the CIA, doesn’t it? It’s evident why it’s budget is so big; it has operatives just about everywhere needed to keep a lid on the truth coming out. It’s cost the Agency much more to cover up the truth about what happened & who was involved than it did to actually kill the President in 1963 IMO. If nothing else, taxpayers should be incensed over the waste of their money & question why are national presidential elections necessary if the CIA is really running the show regardless of who’s elected.

    1. Joan Mellen has a 1992 CIA document that says Clay Shaw was a highly paid contract source until 1956. The same document also says CIA should consider transfering all of its JFK files to the National Archives and then funding positions at the Archives to handle them. The memo says this would create a PR advantage for CIA to be able to say it has sent the records to the Archives.

  14. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect there to be any true smoking guns in these files. Anything really incriminating – if it was ever put down in writing – was either destroyed or existed in some filing system outside the regular filing system (Angleton, Helms, Hoover, Operation 40, etc).

    1. The irony is overflowing over at his facebook page. Apparently David Ferriero is a fan of the “Open Government Partnership”. This organization is said to: “foster greater transparency and accountability” among other things, presumably between citizens and governments around the world. Here is a link to this from his facebook page:

      Those who write to him may ask if this applies to the CIA/JFK files?

      I wonder if pressure might be exerted from Congress, if people might consider writing their Congressional Reps about this. I know it’s old fashioned democracy, but perhaps it might work to help free the files?

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