Addendum to 2017 Documents Listing
In recent months, the MFF posted a National Archives document which listed those JFK Collection records which are currently "postponed in full" but scheduled for full release in October 2017. We also created the JFK Database Explorer for viewing the metadata for these and all other records in the National Archives (NARA) JFK database, using a copy of that database received from a diligent researcher.
In reviewing these records, we noticed a few discrepancies and made inquiries to National Archives staff. One issue was the fact that the listing supplied by NARA was purposed to contain information on 3598 records, but only listed 3571. We recently received a response from Archivist James Mathis of NARA's Special Access and FOIA Staff.
Part of his response was to acknowledge this error and supply the MFF with a one-page listing of the 27 documents missing from the original list:
These 27 documents are all Department of Justice (DOJ) records. Mr. Mathis supplied this explanation for why they were missing from the original list: "We believe a page was missed in the scanning of the original document that was posted on NARA's website; we are forwarding this list to our Office of General Counsel, the office responsible for the original FOIA and posting, and are asking them to post it with the original document in NARA's Electronic FOIA Reading Room."
We also asked NARA a few other related questions:
Number of documents released with deletions. Also scheduled for full release in 2017 are documents currently redacted in part ("released with deletions"). The database copy used in the JFK Database Explorer lists 34,927 such documents, and we inquired as to the accuracy of that number. The reply included NARA's count for such documents: 34,597, which is 330 documents fewer than MFF's number (less than 1%). The reason for this discrepancy is not known, though Mr. Mathis' response did provide a possible explanation, given that the MFF's database copy is a year old: "As with postponed in full records, we are continuing to update the database as we come across documents listed as redacted that are in fact open in full."
Total JFK Collection page count. We also had a question about total page count. Adding the "pages" field across all 318,000+ documents in the database yields a total of roughly 2 million pages. The JFK Collection is widely touted as consisting of about 5 million pages. Now, it is certainly true that there are several large collections which are part of the collection but not in the record-number-based database: voluminous Warren Commission records which predate the JFK Records Act for one, as well as also-voluminous staff files of the Assassination Records Review Board. NARA's reply for more clarity on the makeup of the 3 million pages outside the database acknowledged this and added a bit more:
"We have found it difficult to get an accurate number of pages in the Collection for several reasons. First, records that are part of the Collection but were released prior to the passage of the JFK Act (namely the records of the Warren Commission) were not captured in the database. In addition, the records of the ARRB are not in the database. Of the remaining records that are captured in the Database, inconsistencies in data entry from agency to agency means that we do not always have page counts for each entry; for example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not list page numbers for documents in the Database that were declared Not Believed Relevant (NBR) and indeed often used one entry for multiple documents. Absent a more accurate way to count pages we estimated 5 million pages based on the number of boxes and extrapolated the number of pages from that. We have always stated that the 5 million page number was an estimate."
"There is no page count of the JFK Collection broken down by agency; you can come up with an estimate by using the JFK Collection Register (http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/finding-aids/register.html) and estimate between 800 and 1000 pages per box."
NARA's plans for electronic publication of the 2017 documents. Finally, we inquired as to NARA's plans for electronically publishing the documents when they are released in 2017, asking about the overall plans there, what format (PDF?) the documents would be posted in, and whether currently-redacted records as well as postponed-in-full records were part of the electronic plan. Mr. Mathis replied:
"It is still our plan to release records (both postponed in full and currently redacted records) online through NARA's website. We are working with NARA's online access staff to determine the best mechanism for doing this. It is our goal to make the newly released materials as easy to access as possible. While the final format of the release has not been determined, we do anticipate that the documents will be available to the public as PDFs."
The lack of a clear plan for electronic release is a cause for some concern, and the MFF intends to inquire again on this topic as we get closer to the release date, which is not much more than a year away. It should also be noted that the release of these documents is not guaranteed; the law provides a mechanism where as the President may postpone some or all of them. Public vigilance on this topic remains important.
The release of these documents will be an important milestone in the unprecedented and welcome transparency the JFK Records Act represents. Some of us have long given up on "smoking guns," but with each major set of new documents we have learned more about the JFK assassination itself, the larger political context in which it occurred, and the mechanisms by which our political system failed in its aftermath.