2021 Document Releases
View the 2021 Releases Here on MFF
About the 2021 Releases
On December 15, 2021, the National Archives released an additional 1,491 documents from the JFK Collection. This was done under an order from President Biden. More than 14,000 additional documents still featuring redactions were again postponed for a year, pending further review.
Originally, all documents reviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board were to be released in 2017, per a sunset clause in the JFK Records Act, unless the president specifically authorized their continued withholding. In 2017 and 2018, some of the remaining documents were released in full, some released with fewer redactions, and more than 15,000 left for this year. Unfortunately, the can has been kicked down the road for most of them for yet another year.
Significantly, the Biden memo included these other points:
- NBR records. NBR (Not Believed Relevant) records in the JFK Collection are to be reviewed with the rest.
- Section 10/11 records. "Additional context" will be supplied concerning records withheld in full under sections 10 and 11 of the JFK Records Act. These are primarily IRS-related records, but also include a dozen special records held under "deeds of gift", specifically Manchester interviews of Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Jackie's letters to LBJ.
- Digitization plan. By December 15 of this year the Archivist is to provide a plan to digitize and make available online the full JFK Collection.
This last is particular interesting. The National Archives did indeed on December 15 publish an outline of a plan for digitizing the entire corpus of approximately 6 million pages of JFK records over the next few years. See the discussion at the bottom of this page.
Details of the 2021 Releases
The following table shows how many documents were released, by agency.
The December 15 documents appear to be now released in full. There are a handful where the original of a given document is itself redacted (see Redacted Version Only below), so blackouts do appear. Although often even for those, there may be other unredacted copies of the same material, under a different RIF number.
The download page available at the National Archives includes a column labeled "Formerly Withheld" which holds one of the following four values for each record. MFF has been in touch with the National Archives and been given some guidance on the meaning of this column:
- Redact: prior to 2021 the item was released in part.
- Release: may mean multiple conditions: a) in most instances, there was a release determination from a prior year, but the fully released document had not yet been posted online; b) in a few instances, there was a redact determination from a prior year, but the document that was posted online contained no redactions, and NARA is confirming that the document was released in full.
- Redacted Version Only: prior to 2021 the item was released in part, and as of 2021 NARA has identified that release as the best available copy. This is usually because the original document was itself redacted.
- Missing:prior to 2021, the document was not precisely identified within the JFK Collection.
More than 90% of the documents are marked "Redact", noting their prior release in redacted form. 107 documents have one of the other statuses:
- 40 documents are marked "Release"
- 21 documents are marked "Redacted Version Only"
- 46 documents are marked "Missing"
What's in the New Documents?
It will take time to digest this set of releases. In general, the amount of material previously redacted in each document, and now released, is fairly small. There are exceptions - some of the "Missing" documents in particular do not appear to have been previously available. In most cases, though, the new information is often at the level of officer or agent names, new cryptonyms, and other details of interest primarily to those doing deep research on already-known events and stories.
For example, a Church Committee document (record 157-10004-10287) entitled JMWAVE REPORTING ON LEE HARVEY OSWALD from 11/22/63 as recently as 4/26/2018 had several redactions:
And is now fully released:
The new version is completely unredacted, showing that information about Oswald from the CIA's Florida base came from AMHINT-53 (Luis Fernandez Rocha; see this crypt entry). Unredactions include use of the crypts AMSPELL (the Cuban Exile group DRE), ODFOAM (Secret Service), ODACID (State Dept), ODENVY (FBI), and others. For those following this story closely, the information in this particular case is already known and the unredactions are unremarkable.
The Mexico City Chronology created by CIA officer Anne Goodpasture is finally released in full. Unredactions since the 2017 version include "from joint operation" in relation to telephone taps, the name "Watson" as recipient of a note related to the Elena Garro allegations, and a few other details, though the several earlier versions of this document differ in what was redacted.
In both these two examples above, it is nonetheless significant that finally the complete version is available, and there is no need for guesswork.
These general comments are based on very cursory perusal, and more significant findings may yet emerge. To the extent the December 15 set of documents seems underwhelming in what it reveals, it should also be pointed out that the records released here represent less than 10% of the outstanding JFK records, and they were precisely those which the agencies themselves selected for release. So we would expect the remaining 90%, to be reviewed and possibly released in a year, to potentially be more significant.
Some of the material relates the HSCA's parallel investigation into the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and related matters like the FBI's COINTELPRO program, the FBI's response to congressional investigations in the 1970s, and other such matters. For example, see these records:
- FBI record 124-10352-10029 is the take from telephone surveillance related to Martin Luther King, Jr. A version from the 1990s is heavily redacted.
- FBI record 124-10185-10189 is one of the records marked "Missing" and no previous copy exists on the MFF website. It is a 161-page NY Bureau file related to the Church Committee and other congressional investigations into FBI practices and abuses.
There are many more like these. The FBI files in this release, while less numerous than the CIA files, are often lengthy and potentially of more interest, particularly for those interested in the FBI's response to the MLK assassination and the post-Watergate intelligence agency investigations.
The National Archives' Digitization Plan
Possibly the most important event on December 15 was the National Archives' delivery to the White House of a 4-page plan for digitizing the full JFK Collection and putting it online. Many details remains to be worked out, but if this plan is carried out, the number of JFK documents available to a wide audience will grow tremendously. The MFF Document Archive, at a little over 2 million pages, contains only roughly 25% of these records (this 2 million pages include MFF's abundant files on the RFK and MLK assassinations, Watergate, and other documents not part of the JFK Collection).
The Archives' digitization plan encompasses not only the 300,000+ records reviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), it also includes documents which predated the ARRB (Warren Commission records and more), and also the files of the ARRB itself. The plan's proposed timeline is summarized below:
- Phase 1: January-May 2022: conduct assessment of records, identify digitization priorities, develop quality assurance plan, develop communications plan, discuss "Next Generation Finding Aid" for access.
- Phase 2: June-December 2022: begin scanning fully open records based on priority list, refine requirements for nextgen finding aid, and issue request for proposals for development and design support.
- Phase 3: January-April 2023 (tentative): scan additional records, begin upload of digitized records, develop a design and initial version of nextgen finding aid.
- Phase 4: May-August 2023 (tentative): complete scan of records, upload all records, launch nextgen finding aid, launch Citizen Archivist mission related to the collection.
- Ongoing: update materials as additional releases are made.
This timetable is very aggressive; it contemplates digitizing and putting about 6 million pages online in actually under 2 years. MFF will be following this project closely.