The 2017 JFK ARC releases: An audit

[First posted on November 28, 2017 at]

This post is a continuation of my previous post on the 2017 ARC releases. It is more number checking, no comments here on the content of the releases. This is probably boring to most readers (if there are any), but it’s always good to know the exact extent of the material you’re dealing with, otherwise you may wind up drawing conclusions based on partial or inaccurate information and numbers.

In this post I am especially interested in the issue of records “previously withheld in full” (WIF), as opposed to records “previously withheld in part” (WIP). WIF records are records designated by the ARRB as assassination records which have never been released in any form, either by the ARRB or any other government body investigating the JFK assassination. WIP records have already been released, with redactions, by one or more government agencies or investigations.

How many WIF JFK records does NARA still have? There is a NARA document, released in 2016, which lists them. This list, after correction, had details on 3,598 records. The details of the list, its release and its correction, is a subject I’ll take up in a separate post. Here I am just interested in how many of these 3,598 records have been released in 2017.

Why focus on WIF records? Most of the websites commenting on the releases have focused on the “withheld in full” records because they view them as a metric for “how much more is still to come.” This is not necessarily the right way to look at things, but it is true that 3,598 is now a more or less set number, which will allow us to say when this part of the release process is done. The number of records “withheld in part” is much harder to estimate, as is the point at which we can say the release process for these is also done.

I am also interested in comparing my numbers with the numbers posted by the Mary Ferrell Foundation (MFF), which are now online here. MFF is an authoritative source for JFK assassination record information, but I think in this case they have missed a couple of the problems in the spreadsheets posted by the NARA for each release. These problems I can summarize as follows:

1) There are a number of duplicates among the records (29) released so far. I am not sure of the reason for this, but if you want to know how many of the WIF records have been released, you can’t count these duplicates as if they were distinct files.

2) There are cases where it is not clear how to count the material that the NARA spreadsheets list because two items are listed under one record.

3) There are cases where records are listed inconsistently on the release spreadsheet, sometimes as WIF, other times as WIP. If we are relying on a list of WIF records, this introduces uncertainty into how many files are going to be released in the future.

4) There are cases where there are inconsistencies between the NARA 2016 WIF list, and the spreadsheets for the 2017 releases. In these cases, records on the NARA 2016 WIF list are listed in the release spreadsheets as WIP.

5) Finally, there are records listed in the release spreadsheet as WIF that do not appear in the NARA 2016 list.

These last two cases I will discuss in my next post, when I look at the list of WIF records NARA released in 2016. The rest of this post explains the differences between my counts and the NARA/MFF counts. Here is the main table (numbers in parentheses are where I differ from the NARA spreadsheets):

Release date WIF records WIP records Notes
24 Jul 2017 441 (425) 3369 I omit 16 pdfs for audio files
26 Oct 2017 52 2839 MFF adjusts WIF/WIP numbers to 39 – 2852
3 Nov 2017 583 (561) 93 I omit 22 dup. recs.
9 Nov 2017 4 13209
17 Nov 2017 144 (137) 10600 I omit 7 dup. recs.
Totals 1224 (1179) 30110 MFF adjusts WIF/WIP totals to 1211 – 30123

Following are more detailed explanations of the differences in counts for each release

Release 1 (24 Jul 2017): This release includes 17 audio files of interviews with Yuri Nosenko. With the exception of the first audio file, the spreadsheet for this release includes two items under each of these records: an mp3 audio file, and a pdf file. According to the NARA spreadsheets, the audio files are WIF records. The 16 pdfs listed in the NARA spreadsheet, however, are each one page documents that merely list the tape number and first names of Nosenko’s interrogators.

Note that there are not separate RIFs for the pdf and audio file, and the 2016 NARA file only lists the 17 audio records. Because of this, I do not think the pdfs should be counted, at least not as separate WIF records.

When MFF says that this release had 402 CIA records previously withheld in full, however, they are counting the 16 pdfs. My count therefore has 16 fewer WIF records than theirs.

Release 2 (26 Oct 2017): The spreadsheet for this release lists 52 WIF records. The spreadsheet for the November 09 release, however, changed the status of 13 records marked as WIF to WIP. The spreadsheet for the November 17 release then changed these back to the original status. My count follows the original October figures. MFF uses the 11/9 correction.

Release 3 (3 Nov 2017): This release includes 22 duplicate records, as discussed in my previous post. These 22 duplicates all originally appeared in the 7/24 release. All 22 duplicates were CIA records, previously WIF, and were listed in the 2016 NARA list. It makes no sense to count these records twice, so I subtract them from the total of 583 WIF records for this release to get 561.

Release 4 (9 Nov 2017): I get the same figures as MFF.

Release 5 (17 Nov 2017): This release includes 7 duplicate records, as discussed in my previous post. These 7 duplicates all originally appeared in the 11/3 release. All 7 duplicates were FBI records, previous WIF, and were listed in the NARA 2016 list. It makes no sense to count these twice, so I subtract them from the total of 144 WIF records in this release to get 137.

Totals: I count 45 fewer records than MFF does: 32 fewer WIF records (1179 vs 1211). and 13 fewer WIP records (30110 vs 30123) The reason for the difference between my count and the MFF count is that I didn’t count the 16 pdfs listed under the audio files, subtracted 29 duplicate records, and kept the original WIF status of 13 records. Other than these differences, I have the same count as MFF.

Post script on agencies

There are several records in the releases whose RIFs begin with 179-. MFF lists these as DoJ records, but the actual agencies listed on the RIFs of these records are quite miscellaneous: (WC, NARA, FBI, etc.) For the sake of consistency, in the future I will also label these DoJ records. In addition, there are many records whose RIFs begin with 178-. MFF lists these as Rockefeller Commission records, but the actual agencies listed on the RIFs of these records are even more miscellaneous, including separate collections in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. For the sake of consistency and simplicity, in the future I will follow MFF in labeling all of these as ROCKCOM records. I have also checked the agency counts for all releases in the NARA spreadsheet, and using the DOJ-179 and ROCKCOM-178, I have the same count as MFF, except for the Nov 3 release, where MFF’s agency count for WIF records is in error. [2018/1/24 note: The MFF figures have now been corrected]