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Mark the Date: Oct 26, 2017

This is a transcript of a video/slideshow presentation by Mary Ferrell Foundation president Rex Bradford, delivered at the 2016 November in Dallas research conference. Most of the original slides are included interspersed with the text (click to enlarge them), along with links for further exploration.


Hello, November in Dallas. I'm sorry not to be there in person, but I wanted to record this video missive, to tell you to mark a date on your calendar.

The date? October 26, 2017. That's about 11 months away.

Why is this date important? Because it's the 25th anniversary of the passage of the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. But the significance goes beyond the normal anniversary nostalgia. Here is a section from the JFK Records Act:

"Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of the enactment of this Act....."

And the National Archives is busy getting ready to do just that. They have published, and we have put online at maryferrell.org, a document listing 3,571 records which to this day have remained withheld in full. There are another roughly 35,000 documents which feature redactions--like this page of the Lopez Report. In 11 months, all of those redactions are supposed to be lifted.

Oh but wait, I forgot to read the rest of the sentence in the JFK Records Act. "Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full.....yadda yadda.....unless the President certifies, as required by this act, that: (i) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and (ii) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure."

We'll come back to this point.

About The Records

So, is this event going to be a big deal? What's in these records? Will we get to see what's behind the whiteout on this page from the CIA's so-called family jewels" document, released in 2007 with much fanfare as a sign of new openness?

Personally, I have given up on the hunt for the smoking gun, but I also am very much looking forward to this release. We already have the RIF sheets - the metadata including titles, subjects, number of pages, etc. for all 3,571 fully withheld documents, so we have a sense of what to expect.

This metadata, by the way, along with metadata for the full collection, is now all available and searchable at maryferrell.org, in a project called the JFK Database Explorer. The metadata cards I'll be showing in this presentation were grabbed off these MFF pages.

Here's a breakdown of those 3,571 documents by agency - FBI and CIA documents make up the bulk of them, but there's a fair number of IRS records too. Why? Tax returns.

  • FBI: 35%
  • CIA: 33%
  • DOJ: 15%
  • IRS: 5%
  • HSCA: 5%
  • STATE: 3%
  • OTHER: 5%

Records Walkthrough

Here are metadata slides for a few of those IRS records. Tax returns for Lee Harvey Oswald - 1959, the Paines - 1962, hmm, here's the William B. Reilly Coffee Company, where Oswald worked in New Orleans.

Most of the FBI documents still with held are marked NBR - Not Believed Relevant, so many of them may not be of much interest, though I'm sure that judgment will differ from reader to reader.

But in general, and you can scan through these for yourself using the JFK Database Explorer, just from the titles and subjects it's clear that there is much of interest in these still-withheld records. And the simple fact that these have been withheld for this long adds a bit of mystery. In some cases, like IRS records, the withholding is directly related to general government practices around documents. In other cases, it's not at all clear why some documents are withheld.

Let's have a look at a few interesting samples.

The House Committee on Assassinations has some still withheld records:

For me, the CIA records here hold the most interest:

For Mexico City watchers, there will be an abundance of releases including:

and there's much more.

Then there are some documents that I want to show before segueing into a discussion of the possibility that we might not see all of these documents in 11 months.

Sensitive Records

As I mentioned, most of the still-withheld FBI records are, perhaps rightly or perhaps wrongly, marked Not Believed Relevant. But not all of them.

This one is a one-pager whose title is [RESTRICTED], and whose subjects are MICHAEL MCCLANEY and [RESTRICTED]. Many of you may know that McClaney was the owner of the land in Louisiana where an anti-Castro training camp was raided in the summer of 1963.

The redaction in the title and subject is, according to this postponement form associated with this record, withheld due to "cooperating individual or foreign government, currently requiring protection." So perhaps we will finally learn who blew the whistle on the training camp.

There are CIA records as well that the agency may well consider especially "sensitive":

2017 is Coming

And it's these sorts of records in particular, and also in the other 35,000 documents with redactions many of which are about "sources and methods". In this page from the Lopez Report, what is redacted are agent names.

In this page from Richard Helms' testimony to the HSCA, this one short redaction is the name of an agency of the Mexican government, and Helms is telling the Committee that revealing this cooperation would cause "bad feelings between Mexico and the United States." The amount of this stuff - agent names, identification of cooperating foreign governments, intelligence-gathering methods - leads me to wonder whether the CIA in particular, more than the other agencies where these documents come from, may try to stop the 2017 releases.

The bar that the law sets is pretty high - identifiable harm, and of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest - but really the bottom line is that the President can make this determination. And if an agency makes a forceful case, will President Clinton-or-Trump-not-known-at-the-time-of-this-recording go along?

Expect to hear more from the Mary Ferrell Foundation, as well as other groups like CAPA, about this topic in the coming months.

Another issue is, in the event of the release of these records, dissemination of them. In email exchanges I've had with the Archives, they seem fully committed to the release - again, barring Presidential action - but are pretty vague at this point about their stated goal of putting the documents online.

I am determined to get these records online even if they only come out in the Archives in paper form. Expect to hear more on this topic too, including a way interested researchers can help. Given the number of records here, it may be very helpful to pre-identify "high value" documents to be obtained and electronically published as soon after release as possible. I plan to put up a page on the MFF site that will allow interested researchers to participate in identifying those high-value records.

Ok, it's time now for me to go back to watching election news coverage and biting my nails. Have a great conference.

- Rex Bradford

(post-election note: If you didn't happen to hear, Trump won)

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