State of the JFK Releases 2022
On December 15 of this year, the National Archives is set to release more documents from the JFK Collection, under an order given by President Biden in October of 2021. What is not known is the extent that this release - will it encompass all or most remaining records, or will the can be kicked down the road as it has been since 2017, when under the JFK Records Act all remaining records were to be fully released, except in extraordinary circumstances.
This page documents a set of problems and issues with the state of JFK Collection as of 2022. For background on the document declassifications of 2017-2021, see State of JFK Releases 2021. See links in the sidebar for other related information, including where to view the documents which were released under the JFK Records Act in 2017, 2018, and 2021.
This page was last updated on 10/29/2022.
The issues described on this page mainly fall into these categories:
- Continued withholding - continued redactons in violation of the JFK Records Act
- Deficiencies in tracking - various problems with the National Archive's "central directory of identification aids"
- Missing records - documents which should have been released in 2017, but weren't
- Unjustified redactions - documents with significant and unwarranted redactions
- Records not in the Collection - identified records which should be in the JFK Collection but aren't
Continued Withholding in Violation of the JFK Records Act
Over 14,000 records still feature "redactions" (blacked out text) - 16,283 if the National Archive's 6-part reference spreadsheet is to be believed. These all should have been fully declassified by October 26, 2017, absent a specific justification in each instance by the president of the United States. Instead, both President Trump and President Biden declassified some records while issuing blanket withholding declarations for the rest.
The JFK Records Act is precise on the process which should have been followed:
"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 enactment of this Act, 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 foreign relations; and (ii) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the publc interest in disclosure." (JFK Records Act, section 5(g)(2)(D)).
The JFK Act sets a high bar for continued withholding past 2017. But the requisite findings have not been asserted by the president on a case-by-case basis, as the law requires.
Deficiencies in Central Directory of Identification Aids
Background: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains a 6-part spreadsheet of 319,106 records here: https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/search. Until Oct 2, 2020 this was an online search system rather than a spreadsheet, where it contained the same set of records since 2008. It was then replaced by a 1-part spreadsheet which contained barely half of the 319,106 records (despite the name "jfk-assassination-collection-listing-final.xslx")! After complaints, this spreadsheet was replaced with the current 6-part spreadsheet on June 28, 2021.
See the MFF's JFK Database Explorer, which provides a browse, filter, and search interface to a copy of the data found in these spreadsheets.
NARA's "central directory of identification aids" is a critical resource to accessing JFK records. It is the means by which records may be located and requested for public viewing at the National Archives' facility in College Park, Maryland, where the records are housed. Therefore, errors and omissions in this directory are a huge impediment to public access to the records.
Entire agency collections missing from the central directory
The 319,106-entry spreadsheet that NARA mantains contains not a single entry for records of the Secret Service (prefix 154), National Security Agency (prefix 144), National Security Council (145), or US Army Investigative Records Repository (prefix 194). 360 records from these agencies were actually published online since 2017 by the National Archives, but none of those or other records of this agencies are to be found in the central directory. Even more such records which are not to be found in the central directory are known to exist. The record numbers for such missing entries are set forth here: MFF_JfkRecordsReleasedOnlineButNotInCentralDirectory.csv.
Other records missing from the central directory
There are many other record entries ("identification aids") missing from the 6-part spreadsheet ("central directory"). In just the records released online in 7 batches in 2017, 2018, and 2021, hundreds of records put online by NARA did not have a matching entry in the directory. This despite the fact that each document put online featured a header "Record Identification Form" page, containing the metadata which should be in the central directory.
Entries are also missing for 472 FBI records (prefix 124-), 250 John F. Kennedy Library records (prefix 176-), and 1 Defense Intelligence Agency record (prefix 111-). The record numbers for these missing records are also included here: MFF_JfkRecordsReleasedOnlineButNotInCentralDirectory.csv. Note: This list is by no means complete. The public has no practical way of knowing how many more records exist which do not have a corresponding entry in the central directory.
Redactions in the central directory
Thousands of JFK records still feature redactions, but redactions also exist in the entries of the central directory. The MFF wrote a script to extract records featuring fields containing certain values such as [DELETED] or other such variations, and more than 5,000 entries were found to have one or more redacted values. This imperfect listing of redacted entries is located here: MFF_JfkRedactedEntriesInCentralDirectory.csv. Further, a 2022 update of NARA's 6-part spreadsheet was found to have many entries which featured new redactions not present in the earlier version of the spreadsheet.
Background: In 2016, in response to a FOIA request (see foiaNGC16-095_2016_3603.pdf), NARA released a list of 3,603 records which were "withheld in full" but intended for full or partial release in 2017. These are documents which were not public in any form prior to 2017, as opposed to other records which had been previously released with redactions.
This list was later amended to 3,598 records, and then later still amended (mistakenly) to 3,571.
When documents were released in several batches in 2017 and 2018, MFF conducted an analysis of what was released vs. the list provided by NARA in response to the FOIA. Discrepancies were noted, and email exchanges with NARA clarified some discrepancies but left others unresolved. These are discussed below.
27 Department of Justice records left off the releases
In response to MFF inquiries regarding the change from 3,598 to 3,571 entries, NARA replied with a list of 27 DOJ records, saying the last listing page had been inadvertently removed, and this accounted for the discrepancy between the two lists (3,598 - 3,571 = 27). But despite this acknowledgment, these 27 records were never posted online along with the others being released, and their release status remains unclear. 9 of them are marked "section 11(a)" and thus potentially withheld under this section of the JFK Records Act, but the other 18 have no such marking. See MFF_JfkRecordsMissing27Doj.csv.
Records declared "open in full" which are not publicly available
In response to an inquiry from the MFF regarded other possibly missing records in the 2017 releases, the National Archives provided a spreadsheet containing 337 records marked "Released in Full prior to 2017 project," and Archives' staff provided assurances that these records were "determined to be open in full in the open Collection" and thus in no need of actual release in 2017. See the last 337 entries in the following: MFF_JfkRecords337ReleasedInFull_attachedToNaraEmail_2018-04-06.csv.
However, the MFF in 2019 checked up on a set of 41 records, 27 of which were in the list of 337 "previous released" documents noted above. The spot check was conducted on-site at NARA's College Park MD facility where the JFK Collection resides. The results concerning those 27 spot-checked records:
- 10 records were indeed available
- 3 records were available on a 1986-era microfilm (and thus featuring redactions)
- 13 could not be located
- 1 contained a "withholding" notice in the box rather than the actual document
Thus more than half of the records spot-checked were not available in any form, and only 10/27 - barely more than a third - were indeed available "in full." The status of the other 310 which were not checked is unknown.
Other unaccounted-for records
MFF has conducted an analysis to see what records from the 2016 FOIA list remain unreleased or unaccounted for. Starting with the 3,598 list of records, MFF removed from that list the following:
- 2494 records released in 8 batches in 2017, 2018, and 2021
- 18 DOJ records among the 27 previously discussed (9 are withheld under section 11 and otherwise accounted for here)
- 337 allegedly "open in full" records previously discussed
- 515 records marked as withheld under sections 10 or 11 of the JFK Records Act (generally IRS records and records under court seal); see this page at the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/withheld-in-full-list?_ga=2.16936121.1273303192.1663005297-1566491686.1613050539
- 178 records from the CIA's "201 file" on Oswald, which were not put online due to NARA's determination that they were duplicates of already-available records
- 10 Rockefeller Commission audio records which NARA reported could not be located
- 1 used typewriter ribbon (record #180-10142-10194) not put online because it is a physical artifact
- 33 documents where NARA notes "corresponding document has not yet been found in the Collection"; see NARA page listing 79 of these, only 33 of which are in the list of 3,598 withheld-in-full: https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/rif-numbers
What remains are 12 unaccounted-for records, listed here: MFF_JfkRecordsFrom2016Foia2016UnaccountedFor.csv. Their status is unknown.
Here are some examples of documents for which continued withholding seems excessive:
a. Memorandum to JFK about Reorganizing the CIA after the Bay of Pigs - A June 30, 1961 memoramdum from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to President Kennedy about reorganizing the CIA after the Bay of Pigs, NARA Record Number: 176-10030-10422. See pages 9-10 for a page-and-a-half of whiteouts; note that this document is also missing from NARA's central directory.
b. Personnel file of senior counterintelligence officer Birch D. O'Neal who controlled CIA's Lee Oswald file from November 1959 to November 1963 (NARA Record Number 104-10291-10014).
c. Personnel file of senior operations officer David Atlee Phillips who told conflicting stories about Oswald's Sept. 1963 visit to Mexico City (NARA Record Number 104-10194-10026).
d. Personnel file of senior Dallas-based operations officer James Walton Moore who was informed about Oswald's return to Texas in 1962 who allegedly told a CIA asset Oswald was "harmless"(NARA Record Number 1993.07.22.17:13:03:960590).
e. February 1962 Defense Department Northwoods plan for a "false-flag" operation to stage a violent incident in U.S. and blame it on Cuba (NARA Record Number: 202-10002-10104).
f. File on CIA-funded group DRE/AMSPELL which publicized Oswald's pro-Castro activities in August 1963 and sought to blame JFK's assassination on Cuba in November 1963 (NARA Record Number 104-10170-10121).
g. June 25, 1975 testimony of William K. Harvey (CIA chief in charge of the ZR-RIFLE Castro assassination program) to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (NARA Record Number 157-10002-10106).
h. A JFK document removed from the security file of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (NARA Record Number 1993.07.24.08:37:38:680310).
i. Identity of "the infiltration team with mission of assassinating" Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, listed in attachment to September 10, 1964 report on "activities of AMWORLD." (NARA Record Number: 104-10308-10086).
Records not in the Collection
The JFK assassination saga is replete with stories of records which have been destroyed, such as Secret Service records from the fall of 1963, or are otherwise missing, including large numbers of Church Committee transcripts. The National Archives in the last few years announced that some of the records it intended to release could not be found, including audiotapes of Rockefeller Commission interviews.
There are other records known to exist which should be among the documents up for review but which are not:
- Records of George Joannides. Joannides ran the DRE student Cuban exile group during the time of their interactions with Lee Oswald in New Orleans in 1963, and was later brought in to serve document requests from the HSCA. When HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey later found out about Joannides' earlier role, he said "Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath...". Former ARRB members agree that Joannides records should be in the JFK Collection.
- Surveillance tapes of Carlos Marcello. Tapes of Marcello discussing involvement in the assassination should be made public.
- Other records. Documents have continued to make their way into the JFK Collection since the ARRB closed up shop in 1998, including the so-called Yeltsin documents, the strange records surrounding the disposition of the "Dallas casket", a less-redacted copy of the Air Force One tape from General Clifton's attic, and more. The National Archives should not certify a "complete" collection without further searches, however. As one example, there are many documents which were released by the CIA Historical Review Program in 1993 which never were assigned 13-digit RIF numbers and scheduled for full declassification, including items (d) and (h) in the previous section's list.
The list of issues above is not meant to be comprehensive. For example, some documents released in 2018 featured more redactions than the same record with the same record number when released earlier in 2017. This may be a left-hand vs. right-hand issue among the declassifiers, but it doesn't engender confidence in the process.
There are bound to be anomalies and inconsistencies with such a large body of records. However, the problems noted above - regarding problems both with the releases and with the central directory meant to account for them - are serious, greatly impede understanding and accountability, and remain unresolved as of October 2022.
On December 15, 2021, 1,491 additional JFK records were released with fewer redactions than previously - this is the most recent batch of declassified documents from the JFK Collection. But President Biden, as his predecessor had done, kicked the can down the road on many more. More than 16,000 records remain with status REDACT by our best reckoning (see jfkdb.php?field=all&filters=currentstatus:REDACT). These records are currently being reviewed by the National Archives and government agencies, particularly the CIA, which is the source of the majority of the remaining documents. More than 11,000 of the still-redacted records are from this one agency (see jfkdb.php?field=all&filters=recno3:104|currentstatus:REDACT).
President Biden has the ultimate decision-making authority on further JFK releases, and has set a deadline of December 15 of this year for the current review. Will he elect to follow the JFK Records Act's procedures for document-by-document decision-making. Or will he continue the blanket continuation of withholding we have seen since 2017, which Congress originally set as the deadline for full declassification?