2022 Document Releases
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About the 2022 Releases
On December 15, 2022, the National Archives released 13,251 documents from the JFK Collection. These mainly consisted of updates to already-released documents, now released in full or containing fewer redactions than previously. December's action was exactly one year after a smaller release in December 2021.
This 2022 release was accompanied by a press release and a White House memo. Thousands of documents remain with redactions, now more than 5 years after the JFK Records Act's sunset clause called for full declassification.
The White House memo calls for temporary postponement and review of some of the remaining records until June 30, 2023. It also announces "Transparency Plans" which appear to substitute new criteria for evaluating remaining withheld information, in place of criteria specified in the JFK Records Act. The Mary Ferrell Foundation has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court seeking enforcement of the Act.
Details of the 2022 Releases
The following table shows how many documents were released, by agency.
Of the 13,000+ released files, more than 10,000 are CIA documents, and many of the other agencies' unredactions also relate to CIA information. Over 1500 FBI documents were also included in this release, as well as over 600 HSCA documents, though many of these were staff payroll records and not investigative files. The remaining files come from various agencies including presidential libraries, the Army and other military departments, and the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commissions, among others.
Topics in the documents include Lee Harvey Oswald, including information related to his Mexico City Trip in the fall of 1963, Cuban operations, organized crime, and a wide range of other events and topics. Virtually all of the documents had been previously released in some form, and now appear with some or all redactions lifted.
According to a National Archives press release, less than 4,400 documents in the JFK Collection remain with redactions.
About the New Documents
How substantial is this release? It should be understood that, while there remain too many documents with paragraph- and page-level redactions, in the majority of cases what remained withheld prior to this release were "sources and methods": source names, agent names, codewords, and information identifying a foreign government or individual.
So in many cases what was unredacted in the new documents is simply a name. As one example among many, see the new version of a 1964 memo in FBI record 124-10003-10387, where a source's name has been unredacted from the 4/26/2018 version.
Information related to cooperation with foreign governments or individuals continues to be a source of redactions, which is especially problematic for full disclosure of the Mexico City story. As one example among many, a memo recording CIA Director McCone's meeting with President Johnson has lifted some redactions in this regard while leaving others in place (see 4/26/2018 version).
Regarding the issue of withholding due to "sources and methods," it's worth noting that none other than Judge Tunheim, former Chair of the Assassination Records Review Board, has called for full release. In a recent letter to President Biden, he made the point that full understanding of the assassination collection requires knowing the sources of information in it: "But in order to fully evaluate the value of the information provided by informants, important for understanding, it is essential to know from whom the information is received and that is why the release of informants' names is important."
Many documents contained a significant number of redactions before last December and still do. For one example, see this CIA memo on its relationship with Robert Maheu: 12/15/2022 version and 4/16/2018 version. Much of this relates to the "embarrassing" episode of Maheu's being hired in 1957 to help produce a fake "porno" film to be used to discredit President Sukarno of Indonesia. A project name ("HARPSTAR") is unredacted, but not much else. Another example is a couple blacked-out pages in Arthur Schlesinger's memo to President Kennedy on CIA reorganization after the Bay of Pigs (that the CIA controls redactions in this documents seems somewhat ironic). A page and a half of blackouts is almost untouched between the 12/15/2022 version and the 4/26/2018 version.
Closer to the assassination story, William Harvey's famous handwritten ZR-RIFLE memo is down to a single redaction ("QJWIN was first contacted in 1958 through the Chief of the [XXXXXXX] by the Chief of Station, Luxembourg..."), a huge improvement over the 4/26/2018 version of the same document. Though since 1993 we have had a different copy of the memo which was almost identical to the new released version. Along the same lines, the new version of a Rockefeller Commission copy of the CIA's critique of the Schweiker-Hart Report has finally unredacted a few paragraphs including noting an "Agency operation to obtain FPCC stationery through penetration"; but a CIA copy of the same document has had this in the clear since 1993. This kind of inconsistency in JFK records declassification is rampant and puts the lie to the idea that such redactions are critical for national security.
Documents related to Cuban operations often still feature redactions around personnel and activities. See for example two AMWORLD documents: Memo: AMWORLD Operation (see 4/26/2018 version) and "Report on Activities of AMWORLD" (see 4/26/2018 version), where the list of 14 participant names remains redacted.
Some documents with significant redactions were released in full. An example is the Church Committee's "Connection Between the AMLASH Operation and the JFK Assassination"; the 4/26/2018 version had retained significant redactions. But other such documents were not re-released at all, including the Church Committee testimony of the AMLASH case officer (see 4/26/2018 version).
Many documents still featuring redactions, including those of interest to researchers, were not released in new form at all. A few examples include the modestly-redacted HSCA testimony of CIA officers Bernard Tovar, David Phillips, Robert Shaw, Alan White, and Elsie Scaletti.
It was not expected that these records would contain the kind of brand-new explosive revelations of the 1990s, which included mountains of new information about Oswald's Mexico City sojourn, anti-Cuban operations and planning including Operation Northwoods, a indications of a medical evidence coverup, plans for withdrawal from Vietnam, and much more.
Instead, the new records from 2017 on have fleshed out details in the storied history of the Kennedy assassination and its context. Books like Larry Hancock's Tipping Point and John Newman's Uncovering Popov's Mole have relied on the details in these records. It will take time to fully absorb the new information in this round of releases.
More Observations on the New Documents
The following additional comments apply to the 12/15/2022 release as a whole:
Difficulties Verifying "What's Left" to be Released". In one respect this release re-emphasizes the problem the public has in verifying what documents remain to be released. The National Archives maintains a "central directory" intended to list the metadata (record number, title, page count, etc.) about each numbered document (the directory contains 319,106 entries). However, an analysis of the 12/15/2022 releases shows that 678 of the 13,251 documents put online by NARA simply do not appear in that directory. This includes 26 FBI records, 110 of the 118 JFK Library records, all 253 NSA records, and all 289 INSCOM/CSF records. The 2017/2018/2021 releases similarly contained 1,078 records not found in the central directory, which contains no entries at all for at least 3 agencies including the Secret Service. Given the problematic state of that important finding aid, it is extremely difficult to have confidence in the process for completing release of all JFK records in the collection.
Never-Before-Seen Records. There appear to be some documents which have never been released before in any form, though it is hard to be certain in some cases. Here are a couple of examples:
- 157-10014-10090. This Church Committee testimony of CIA's Africa Divison Chief Bronson Tweedy was among those records withheld in full as of 2016 and earmarked for release in 2017. It appears in this release for the first time.
- 181-10002-10296. This 1977 White House "Review of Kennedy Assassination Material" was also on the list of withheld-in-full documents seen for the first time now.
- 198-10001-10012. A few pages from the Califano Papers on Cuba was also previously withheld-in-full.
There may be other documents seen for the first time; given the above-noted issue that so many documents are missing from NARA's "central directory", it is difficult to be precise.
Less Than Meets the Eye. The document and page count seems impressive, but the scope of the 2022 records release is a lot less than it may seem:
- Duplicated documents. FBI documents in particular feature a great deal of duplication. For example, the following 6 record numbers were all represented by the very same 489-page PDF file: 124-10271-10314, 124-10271-10315, 124-10271-10316, 124-10273-10058, 124-10273-10062, 124-10273-10065. Probably the record numbers really refer to different subsets of the document, but what was put online was the entire file for each. There are many instances of this, accounting for several thousand duplicate pages.
- Barely changed large documents. While CIA records in this set usually contain just the changed pages, FBI and other agencies often released the entire document, even if only a single page changed. One example is the Church Committee's 158-page "Oswald in New Orleans" document, which unredacted a single name in a couple of places from the 4/26/2018 version.
- Unchanged documents. An unknown number of documents were re-released with no change from the previous version. Here is the new version of JCS record 202-10001-10059, showing two pages with the identical two redactions as the version released on 4/26/2018. The Rockefeller Commission's copy of an appendix to William Colby's testimony, concerning the highly important Miami Station, seems to contain the same abundant redactions as the 4/26/2018 version.
- Missing documents. Among the new "releases" are documents whose pages which simply note that the record has gone missing. Every single one of the 9 Defense Intelligence Agency documents is a header page followed by an identical page noting that the record remains "not located." This page notes that there are 28 such records, including these 9 DIA records, 5 State Dept. records, 11 Office of Presidential Library records, 1 Office of Naval Intelligence Record, 1 Army Record, and a Church Committee record on Mexico City.
According to a presidential memo accompanying the release (see Section 6), the agencies and the National Archives are continuing to review an unknown number of the remaining records featuring redactions. This review is to be completed by May 1 of 2023, followed by a Presidential decision and another release of documents by June 30.
The good news is that thousands more documents from the JFK Collection are now released in full. The bad news it that thousands of documents remain at least partially withheld. And despite the numbers given out by the National Archives, the poor state of accounting for these records makes it impossible for the public to ascertain exactly what remains out of reach.
For more on these records and the JFK release process, see Jefferson Morley's JFK Facts substack: https://jfkfacts.substack.com/