Frequently Asked Questions - Document Archive
- Where do these documents come from?
- How complete and up-to-date are your collections?
- Is it true that many documents are still classified for 75 years?
- Are there any "smoking guns" in these documents?
- How do I verify that these documents are authentic?
- Are you part of the National Archives?
Using the Document Archive
- How do I find anything in this vast archive?
- Can I zoom in on a page or rotate it?
- In books I see references like WR224, 3WH229, CE 385, etc. What do these mean?
- What are RIF pages and record numbers?
- Can I print out a document or a page?
- Do you have PDF versions of these documents?
- Some of the pages are unreadable - can that be fixed?
- What are the blackouts I see on some pages?
- CIA documents have lots of code words on them; what do these mean?
- How do I search the archive?
- If a search fails, does that mean the word or phrase isn't there?
- Can I email links to these documents or post links to a blog?
- How do I add a comment to a document page?
Answers to General Questions
Where do these documents come from?
Most of the reports and documents on this website originated with an agency of the U.S. government (CIA, FBI, Dept. of Defense) or a government investigation (Warren Commission, House Assassinations Committee). Some of them the Mary Ferrell Foundation are copies obtained directly from the National Archives II facility in College Park, MD, where the JFK assassination records collection is housed. The large CIA and FBI collections come from the Assassination Archives and Research Center, which obtained them directly from these agencies as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Copies of documents obtained from the National Archives have been supplied to us by History Matters, the private collection of Mary Ferrell, and other individuals (a credit below each scanned page shows where it was obtained). Many of the reports were issued by the Government Printing Office, and have been scanned from these printed volumes.
How complete and up-to-date are your collections?
This question is really multiple questions in one. The official JFK collection at the National Archives, not available online, consists of over 5 million pages. So the MFF has just a minority of that (about 20%). However, we have all of the "primary" materials typically referenced in books, and a great deal of the most important remaining materials. A majority of the records in the MFF Document Archive were declassified in 1995 and later, though in many cases the document in question had previously been released with redactions (blackouts). The completeness of particular collections vary. Some are 100% complete and up-to-date. Some of the larger collections are incomplete, or contain documents obtained in the 1980s or early 1990s, in which case there may be a newer (less redacted) version available at the National Archives. In any scanning operation on this scale, there are also bound to be pages or documents which are missing due to human error, whether at the releasing agency, the Assassination Archives and Research Center or other original holder, or the Mary Ferrell Foundation itself.
Is it true that many documents are still classified for 75 years?
No. The Warren Commission records not originally published in 1964 were transferred to the National Archives and originally slated for the then-typical 75-year period of secrecy. However, President Johnson ordered a review and more prompt declassification, and within a few years the majority, though not all, of the Commission's records had been released. Similarly the House Select Committee on Assassination's files were sealed for an intended period of 50 years, but the 1992 JFK Records Act prompted their release. There are still entire documents and portions of documents being withheld, typically to protect sources and methods; all such records are intended to be fully released by 2017. This is not to say that there may not be relevant records which have never been identified by the government for release - there certainly are. It is also true that important records have been destroyed over the years - the most recent known case of this is the 1995 Secret Service destruction of records before they could be turned over for declassification.
Are there any "smoking guns" in these documents?
Smoking guns are in the eye of the beholder. Those who expected to see an internal government report "'fessing up" to the details of the assassination were disappointed. But among the released records are many transcripts of autopsy witnesses challenging the official description of wounds (and thus the notion that all shots were from behind), details of Vietnam withdrawal plans drawn up in the spring of 1963, CIA admission of using false defectors (though no admission that Oswald was one), documents showing that Lee Oswald was impersonated in phone calls in Mexico City which tied him to a Soviet assassination expert and led to panic in Washington, and much much more. Most of the individual documents may not by themselves qualify as "smoking guns," but the stories they cumulatively tell are pretty disturbing. See Starting Points for some of the stories that came out of the new records.
How do I verify that these documents are authentic?
Government reports like the Warren Report and accompanying 26 volumes, House Committee report and Church Committee reports are no longer in print, but are sometimes available from the Last Hurrah Bookshop or amazon.com. Most of the JFK-related document originals are housed at the National Archives II facility in College Park, MD, and may be viewed there. RFK assassination records are available at the California State Archives and the UMass RFK Assassination Archive. Documents on the King assassination come primarily from the FBI itself, which does make some material available in its FOIA reading room.
Are you part of the National Archives?
No. The Mary Ferrell Foundation is a non-profit organization with no affiliation with the National Archives or U.S. government.
Answers to Using the Document Archive
How do I find anything in this vast archive?
There are three main ways to use the archive:
1. Browse: Starting from the top Document Archive page, you can simply explore the hierarchy of documents, organized by high-level topic, then by agency, and then by collection.
2. Search: Use the site's search engine to look for a person, keyword, phrase, or combination. See Search Tips for more information.
3. Follow Links. Starting Points pages introduce various stories and then provide numerous links to relevant documents.
If you are unfamiliar with the assassination stories, the Starting Points are your best bet.
Can I zoom in on a page or rotate it?
Just above each page in the document archive, inside a gray band, there is one combo box to control zoom level, and another to control page rotation.
In books I see references like WR224, 3WH229, CE 385, etc. What do these mean?
Here are the most common types of citations in JFK assassination literature:
1. WR - Warren Report. WR224 would be page 224 of the Report.
2. WH - Warren Hearings Volumes. 5WH181 would be volume 5, page 181.
3. CE - Commission Exhibit. These numbered exhibits are contained in volumes 16 through 26 of the Warren Commission 26 volumes. CE 399 would be Commission Exhibit 399.
4. CD - Commission Document. The Commission's 1555 numbered unpublished documents are online at the MFF. CD 347 would be Commission Document 347.
5. AR - Assassinations Report. This is the Final Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. AR95 would be page 95 of the Report.
6. AH - Assassination Hearings. The House Committee published 5 volumes of hearings and 7 volumes of reports to accompany its Final Report. 3AH642 would be volume 3, page 642.
What are RIF pages and record numbers?
Pages released by the National Archives under the JFK Records Act have associated Record Identification Forms (RIF), which the MFF places at the head of each such document. These contain document titles, releasing agency, collection identifies, subjects and keywords, number of pages, classification status, etc. Starting in 1994, standardized record numbers of the form NNN-NNNNN-NNNNN were employed. The first 3 digits specifies the releasing agency (104=CIA, 124=FBI, 157=Church Committee, 178=Rockefeller Commission, 180=HSCA, 198=Army, 202=Joint Chiefs of Staff, etc.). Many documents, especially Warren Commission records, predate this system.
Can I print out a document or a page?
Single pages can be printed using your browser's print command. To remove the web page materials and print just the document page, use the "printable page" link just above the page. To print an entire document, use our PDF facility to obtain a PDF version, and then print that (see next paragraph).
Do you have PDF versions of these documents?
Yes. The MFF's normal page view uses a custom format to support linking to individual pages within a document, and to support underlining search hits on those pages and other advanced features. But Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions are available, though a cost may be incurred depending on document size and membership type. Use the "PDF Version" tab on a document view page to access the PDF version. For more information on this feature, see the PDF_Downloads page. PDF files may then be printed or stored for later reading.
Some of the pages are unreadable - can that be fixed?
The online pages match quite well the paper copies we receive, which are often of poor quality to the point of being unreadable. Sometimes using the zoom option will help make a page slightly more readable. Also, often there are multiple versions of the same pages in different documents - if you can read a few words and search for that phrase, you may find a more readable copy in another document.
What are the blackouts I see on some pages?
Called "redactions," these blackouts are purposefully used to obscure agent names or other information (sometimes the text is whited out rather than blacked out). In some cases, there are multiple versions of a given document, released at different times and with differing redaction levels. Isolate a clear and distinct phrase and search for that - you may find a more recent version of the same document with fewer redactions.
CIA documents have lots of code words on them; what do these mean?
Called "cryptonyms," these funny words like AMLASH, JMWAVE, ZRRIFLE, ODENVY, LIENVOY, AMBIDDY-1, etc. are used to signify the names of agents, projects, and other individuals and organizations. Some of the definitions of these crypts are known to experts, and some archive pages even supply official decodings. The MFF is hosting a project to collect the decodings of publicly released crypts - see the CIA Cryptonyms Project.
How do I search the archive?
The search box in the banner at the top of every page searches the entire archive, including documents, essays, journals, and books. A search which is "scoped" to include just certain types of materials, or certain collections, can be run from the Advanced Search page or from the sidebars that appear on various document archive pages. There is also a separate mechanism for searching the information on RIF pages. See Search Tips for more information. Note that unlimited "clicking through" the search results page to view documents requires a paid membership; others may do so only a few times per session.
If a search fails, does that mean the word or phrase isn't there?
No. Unfortunately, the Optical Character Recognition process run on the scanned pages is imperfect. If a page is hard to read by a human, a computer will do far worse. Thus the failure to "hit" on a name or phrase does not mean it is not present; the text on the relevant page might just be slightly misrecognized. Try to use short but unique phrases when possible.
Can I email links to these documents or post links to a blog?
Yes. The URL shown in the browser address bar is a permanent link which may be used in emails, web pages, blogs, etc. If you obtain the document page via search, consider removing the extraneous "mode=searchResult&" from the URL.
How do I add a comment to a document page?
Each document page features a Make a Comment button at the bottom of the page. Only registered (free or paid) members may make comments, and comments are moderated. For more information see How to Comment.