The fight to secure the full release of all JFK assassination related records continues, two decades since the passage of the JFK Records Act. COPA sponsored the October 8 protest at the National Archives mentioned below. Bill Kelly, co-founder of the Committee for an Open Archives, the first member organization of COPA continues to report in his JFK Countercoup blog. His online petition mentioned below now has more than 2,100 signatures and still adding more. Join his call by signing on, writing the White House, Congress and the National Archives to demand full release by the 50th anniversary in 2013.
Playing Politics with History – the Still Secret JFK Assassination Records 20 Years after the JFK Act
By William E. Kelly
You may think the November 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy is ancient history, but as we approach the 50th anniversary of the murder of the president, there are still government administrators who actively oppose the idea of the full truth being known today.
To high level officials, some government records on the assassination are still a matter of national security and many thousands of historical records are so sensitive that they won’t allow you to read them nearly a half-century after Kennedy was killed.
Polls have consistently shown that the American public’s confidence in their government has declined steadily since the Warren Report on the assassination was issued in 1964, and 80% of the people refuse to believe its conclusion that the President was killed by a lone, deranged gunman. [See polls http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2011/10/blog-post.html ]
Twenty years ago, in response to the continued decline in public confidence in government and the outcry over the sealed records, which Oliver Stone’s movie JFK had called attention to, Congress passed the JFK Act of 1992, and the President signed the act on October 26, 1992. [ http://jfkcountercoup2.blogspot.com/2012/09/jfk-act-1992-public-law-no-102-526.html ] The law created the temporary Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent agency that reviewed and released nearly five million pages of once-secret JFK assassination records.
In their Final Report [ http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/arrb98/index.html ] the ARRB said, “Restoring public confidence in government is a difficult task under any circumstances. The Review Board took this responsibility seriously, however, and set out…to create the most complete record possible of the documentary evidence of the assassination so that in the end the American people could draw its own conclusions as to what happened and why on that fateful day in Dallas in November 1963.”
They also reflected – “Agency reviewers will note that the Republic has not collapsed under the weight of threats to national security because of Review Board actions and, perhaps, they will also note that openness is itself a good thing and that careful scrutiny of government actions can strengthen agencies and the process of government, not weaken it.”
Former Assassinations Records Review Board member Kermit Hall said at the time that it would take ten years before the JFK Act and the work of the ARRB could be adequately evaluated. [ http://jfkcountercoup2.blogspot.com/2012/08/kermit-l-hall-on-jfk-assassination.html ] Well now it has been twenty years and we know that records have been intentionally destroyed, some gone totally missing and others are being wrongfully withheld, without any enforcement or oversight of the law.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) estimates that one percent of the records still remain classified, which would mean there are still an estimated 50,000 still-secret records. Not a few, there are so many they can’t even tell you how many documents are still sealed or how many pages are being withheld, and they’re not going to count them until they are required to do so.
Just among the CIA records alone, there are over 1,000 documents identified by the ARRB that are currently locked in a sealed vault at the Archives II facility in College Park,Maryland and are scheduled to be released to the public in 2017, but are expected to remain sealed indefinitely at the request of the CIA. According to some reports, the CIAhas already identified the documents that they intend to ask the President to postpone beyond 2017.
[For samples JFKCountercoup2: JFK RECORDS POSTPONED IN FULL -SAMPLES ]
So the Kennedy assassination isn’t ancient history, at least to high level government administrators who consider it so relevant, so significant today that these records, if released to the public, will threaten the nation’s security and the very foundations of the government. This continued secrecy flies in the face of the JFK Act, and the current policies of open government espoused by the administration today.
One of the first things President Obama did once assuming office was to declare a policy of “open government,” saying that “no record shall be withheld indefinitely.” He issued an executive order creating the National Declassification Center (NDC) to expedite the declassification and release of a backlog of over 4 million pages of documents by 2013, which according to assistant archivist Michael Kurtz, included the remaining withheld JKF assassination records.
The NDC reported that the level of public interest would determine their priorities saying, “To achieve the NDC goal of making declassified records available to the public, three factors affect how records will be prioritized: 1) High Public Interest – The NDC will use a variety of sources, including public input through a variety of social media technologies, and information about records requested in the NARA research rooms, and by the public through the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act and Mandatory Declassification Review provisions of E.O. 135264, to determine the level of public interest…”
No other issue came close to the high level of public interest in the JFK assassination records. Including those records in the NDC effort would be consistent with the administration’s espoused policy of open government and would release the records in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the event.
At the second public hearing however, after assistant archivist Michael Kurtz had retired, the NARA announced that he “misspoke” and the remaining sealed JFK assassination records are not going to be included in the 2013 NDC declassification project. So instead of giving priority to the records with the most public interest, they decided to exclude them all together.
It would also be nice to know if Michael Kurtz, the assistant archivist with over 30 years as an archivist, who said the JFK records were included in the NDC program, was fired or forced to retire because of having “misspoke” about the disposition of the JFK records?
David Ferreiro, the Archivist, in an interview in the Boston Globe, said that NDC forum audience members who participated in the question and answer period included the UFOers on one side and the assassination buffs on the other, but no one at that hearing mentioned UFOs, and the murder of the President cannot be easily dismissed as a joke, but is a national security issue of the greatest importance.
Jim Lesar, the president of the Assassinations Archives and Research Center (AARC), then wrote a letter to the National Archivist David Ferriero,
[ http://www.aarclibrary.org/notices/AARC_Letter_to_National_Archives_12-01-20.pdf ] requesting that NARA reconsider its decision not to include the JFK assassination records in the 2013 NDC program. But he was rebuffed in a response from the chief counsel to the NARA,
[ http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2012/06/nara-continues-withholding-of-jfk.html ] who said the CIA did not have the ability to declassify these records even though they did declassify and release all of the records scheduled for release in 2010 in 2006, exactly what they are requested to do now. So they can if they wanted to.
The clear and cold refusal by NARA to seriously consider the declassification and release of the remaining withheld JFK assassination records led to the posting of a petition at Change.org, which now has over 2,000 signatures, calling on the Archivist and the President’s chief information officer to release these records.
[See Petition link Petition | Free the JFK Files | Change.org]
At the third open public hearing of the NDC Lesar asked the CIA representative how long it would take them to declassify the remaining records once they began to do it and the answer was two months. But at this point they’re not even interested in counting how many pages there are.
Three of the six questions posed by the public at the third open NDC hearing concerned the JFK assassination records, but when the NARA posted the official videotape of the hearing, the tape freezes just as the public question and comment session begins, and it appears that the recording machine was deliberately turned off, which certainly indicates they were not even interested in preserving what the public had to say. [JFKcountercoup: View the third NDC Open Public Forum ]
Only after repeated requests did they release the full forum video.
[National Declassification Center Public Forum - YouTube]
Reporter Dick Russell, in his blog [http://www.dickrussell.org/] wrote, “when the person in charge of the National Archives’ Declassification Center (Sheryl Shenberger) was formerly employed by the CIA, perhaps we should expect no less than the current impasse. Before undertaking prior declassification chores for the Agency, Shenberger was a branch chief in the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center between 2001 and 2003.
For those of us who are convinced we’ve never been told the truth about the tragedy of November 22, 1963 – a day that changed the course of American history – it’s time to make the government hear our voices loud-and-clear leading up to next year’s 50th anniversary.”
Since the belligerent attitude of the NARA and NDC administrators must reflect that of the Archivist himself, Paul Kuntsler decided to write him an open letter, and when it went unanswered, to get his attention by holding a protest at the National Archives, which he did on October 8, Columbus Day. Joined by a few other researchers, they wore “Free the JFK Files” signs and distributed copies of Kuntsler’s open letter [Kuntsler’s letter: JFKcountercoup: Open Letter to Ferriero ], giving one to a mid-level NARA official who came out to meet them. Copies of the letter were sent to news papers and media outlets, none of which bothered to cover the event or publish the letter.
One of the historical researchers who did attend the demonstration, former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, has been dueling the CIA in court over release of specific JFK assassination files. Not among the CIA records at the NARA’s JFK Collection are the operational files of former CIA officer George Joannides, whose death has not softened the CIA’s refusal to release his records or include them in the JFK Act Collection. This is so even though Joannides’ was the CIA officer responsible for the anti-Castro Cuban Student Revolutionary Directore (DRE), an anti-Castro Cuban organization the accused assassin tried to infiltrate a few months before he allegedly killed the president.
Detailing the relationship between the DRE, their CIA case officer and the accused assassin would go a long way in determining whether the assassination was the act of a lone, deranged nut or was a well planned and executed covert intelligence operation designed to shield those actually responsible.
Since the Joannides records were “not considered relevant” to the assassination and not included as part of the JFK Act records, James Lesar, at the behest of Morley, filed a FOIA suit to get them, a case that the CIA has dragged through the appeals courts for many years now. While one could speculate that if the records supported the government’s official lone-gunman, lone-nut determination regarding the assassination, then they would have no qualms about releasing them, but instead they contend these records must remain sealed for reasons of national security.
Among the documents that the CIA has released because of the court case are even more surprising, as they show that besides running the (DRE) Cuban group that had run-ins with the accused assassin, Joannides was given a special CIA assignment in 1978, to serve as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), where he obstructed the committee’s access to many of the CIA records they sought on a number of issues related to the assassination.
The former chief counsel to the committee, G. Robert Blakey, now a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, said that if he knew Joannides had been the case officer responsible for the DRE he would have had him testify under oath.
Instead, Joannides kept the HSCA from obtaining the relevant records about the Cubans, the CIA officer and the accused assassin, and the CIA is keeping them from being included in the JFK Collection and out of the public eye today.
It is not only the CIA who gets its way with NARA, the Secret Service destroyed records that were requested by the ARRB after the JFK Act was enacted, the Office of Naval Intelligence can find no relevant assassination records whatsoever from the files of its director, ever though many such documents have been found among the records of other agencies, and the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) refuses to even acknowledge the existence of the original, unedited Air Force One radio transmission tapes.
According to the law it is the responsibility of the NARA to enforce the JFK Act, which they have failed to do, and it is the responsibility of Congress to oversee the law, which they refuse to do, as they have not held an oversight hearing on the issue in over fifteen years. [JFKCountercoup2: WHY Congress Oversight Is Needed ]
In order to rectify the situation, and get the government to enforce the law, we have written, faxed and emailed letters, asked appropriate questions at public hearings, petitioned the government and protested with pickets and flyers seeking what most American citizens want – the full release of the records, yet the agency administrators do not even acknowledge our requests and the most significant records remain sealed.
The government’s intransigence, their blatant destruction of records, their refusal to include the JFK records as part of the NDC program, to enforce the JFK Act or the President’s Executive Order, to hold mandated Congressional oversight hearings and to release the relevant records is playing politics with history, our history, our records, and we must hold them accountable for their actions.
This is the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the JFK Act, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in history, and I call on you and everyone interested in the truth about the assassination and our mutual history, to take action, any action – write a letter to the Archivist, your congressman or the President, make a phone call, post on a government web page or internet forum, sign the petition or get some friends to sign it, but do something that will help make the withheld JFK assassination records an issue.
At one time some records may have been reasonably withheld for reasons of national security, but now, fifty years after the assassination and twenty years after the enactment of the JFK Act, it is a matter of national security to release them to the public, so “the American people could draw its own conclusions as to what happened and why on that fateful day in Dallas.”
In 1962, on the twentieth anniversary of the Voice of America, President Kennedy said, “We seek a free flow of information…We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For 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.”
Today, the American government is afraid of its people, afraid to enforce its own laws and afraid to allow its citizens know the complete truth about the assassination of President Kennedy.
Now, nearly fifty years after the assassination and twenty years after the enactment of the JFK Act, it is time to do something about it.