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%
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.
- There are withheld DOD records on military contingency planning around Cuba. [VIEW]
- LBJ's intelligence briefings for two weeks starting the day after the assassination. [VIEW]
- 15 pages of LBJ's daily diary entries from June 6, 1967, during the 6-day War. [VIEW]
- Minutes of the Special Group from August 30, 1962. [VIEW]
- A transcript of a 1964 interview with Robert Kennedy from the papers of William Manchester. See the note "closed by court order until 2067." Perhaps instead it will be 50 years early? What court order? [VIEW]
- A 49-page Church Committee record entitled "FBI ON WARREN COMMISSION" [VIEW]
- Here's one of a few Department of Justice documents with "PUBLIC MAIL" in the record series. Is this Garrison memo from a mail intercept, or mailed to them by an inside informant, or what - by what means does "public mail" end up on a copy of a memo from one of Garrison's staff to the DA? [VIEW]
- A few more Church Committee interview transcripts not included in the 1990s releases, including one with none other than CIA CounterIntelligence chief James Angleton. [VIEW]
The House Committee on Assassinations has some still withheld records:
- A 100-page document on the strange story of Regis Blahut's mishandling of JFK autopsy photos. [VIEW]
- A transcript of the HSCA interview with Orest Pena, the New Orleans bar owner who told them that Oswald was palling around with the FBI. There are actually 3 copies of this 1978 interview with different RIF numbers - all still withheld in full. [VIEW]
- Some of these are just intriguing even if they probably won't amount to much. Here's an HSCA 1-pager with the no title and the subject "REVOLVERS" - really? [VIEW]
For me, the CIA records here hold the most interest:
- Anybody into the Nosenko story will have a happy Christmas. Many transcripts [VIEW] - lengthy reports [VIEW] - even some magnetic audio tapes [VIEW].
- Here's an 84-page document on Bernard Barker, the Cuban exile and Watergate burglar who often shows up in CIA files as AMCLATTER-1. [VIEW]
- An 86-page file on the DRE Cuban exile group - you know Carlos Bringuier et al - helpfully labeled "Not Believed Relevant." Note the term "operations" - we'll come back to this. [VIEW]
- A 40-page CIA file on HSCA investigator Ed Lopez. [VIEW]
- There are a whole bunch of these volumes of Oswald's 201 file here, withheld in full; they presumably are just copies of what we already have. Though the comment field notes "duplicate retention file contains classified information." [VIEW]
- There are some finance reports for the Cuban Revolutionary Council exile group. [VIEW]
- A 49-page CIA report from 1967 on Vietnamese leader Diem, or possibly the coup in which he was overthrown and murdered. [VIEW]
For Mexico City watchers, there will be an abundance of releases including:
- A 167-page CIA document on Valeriy Kostikov, the Soviet agent stationed in Mexico whose name was used as part of the "world war III" scenario that the Warren Commission we now know was created to push back against. [VIEW]
- A still-withheld Warren Commission record, a memo from CIA to the White House Situation Room 4 days after the assassination, regarding the man named Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte who was then telling US and Mexican officials a story that he saw Oswald take money in the Cuban Embassy to kill Kennedy. The timing here is precisely at a point where there are gaps in our understanding of how LBJ turned from being against a Presidential Commission the day before, to being for it a day after, and thus may shed more light on that process. [VIEW]
- A taped interview with the Tarasoffs, the CIA translators whose account to the HSCA concerning the so-called "Oswald calls" was at odds with the CIA's narrative. This presumably is a tape of the already-released transcript, but we'll see. Because for one thing there are two different audio interview records. [VIEW]
- A 221-page document on June Cobb, a person fascinating enough that a whole book could be written on her. Given that this is volume 7, it appears the CIA already has. [VIEW]
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.
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":
- This is a 260-page "201 FILE OF PROTECTABLE SOURCE" for agent LITAMIL-9, who was a double-agent working inside the Cuban Embassy, for which an identification and associated references is made on the Mary Ferrell Cryptonym Database Project. LITAMIL-9 for instance informed to the CIA on the demeanor of Silvia Duran when Duran returned to the Embassy, after having been arrested by the Mexican government at station chief's Win Scott urging and harshly interrogated. [VIEW]
- There is a 96-page FIELD DOUBLE AGENT GUIDE for instructing such persons. [VIEW]
- And there are a number of "OPS files" - operational files - listed under names such as William Harvey [VIEW], David Phillips [VIEW], Ann Goodpasture [VIEW], E. Howard Hunt [VIEW], James O'Connell [VIEW], Harold Swenson [VIEW], and others. Richard Snyder, the U.S. State Department Embassy official in Moscow during Oswald's defection, has a CIA operations file [VIEW]. Curious.
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)