When is a release not a release?

I have been looking at the ARC 2017-2018 releases again and there are still many questions I cannot answer. One question that I am looking at now is what makes some of these documents “releases” to begin with.

Here is an example of this problem. CIA record 104-10001-10042 was released on April 26, 2018. This is one of the numbered documents considered under Bud Fensterwald’s FOIA suit against the CIA in the mid 1970s. It is doc number 623-794, a memo for the record (MFR) written by Tom Hall, an analyst in the CIA Counterintelligence division.1See, e.g., 104-10005-10038, where his name and title appear. Hall was trying to track down the time OUT Teletype 74678 was sent. This is the now famous cable that Charlotte Bustos sent from Mexico City to State, FBI, and Navy, asking if they had ever heard of Lee Harvey Oswald.2This document appears a zillion times in the ARC. See for example 104-10015-10052.
Hall checked with a staff member of “COMMO”, CIA Communications Services, who told him the transmittal logs were only kept 90 days, so no way to say.

Putting aside the repeatedly asked questions about all this, the release history of Hall’s MFR, based on records in the MFF collection is as follows: Doc 623-794 was apparently NOT one of the documents released in the Fensterwald FOIA case.3The disposition list for the Fensterwald case (reference to come) says “This document was denied. The document is concerned solely with a brief discussion of the nature and disposition of communications logs. The information is denied as a sample of Agency internal filing procedures combined with information relating to foreign intelligence methods: The deletions were made under the authority of exemptions (b) (I) (b)(2)
and (b)(3)”
Instead, it was first released under the JFK Act in May, 1993. There is a copy of this initial release here.

This initial release withheld the name of the COMMO officer that Hall talked to. That’s all that was withheld, as far as I can tell. The release was reviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board in March 1996 and they sustained the “postponement” of the officer’s name.4MFF does not have this ARRB notice, but the 2018 release of 104-10015-10052 includes a copy of it. Their reason was that the text “reveals the identity of an intelligence agent that might be withheld under Section 6(1)(A) of the JFK Act.” They noted, however, that “The Board is awaiting further evidence from the CIA, at which time it will reconsider the postponement.”

There is even finer detail that can be added about the review and release (or re-release) of the redacted version of 104-10015-10052, but I will spare you for now. I emphasize here the enormous detail available about ALL postponements in CIA documents in the ARC. Having spent much time on these details, I find the many claims that CIA was able to game the release process on a massive scale, or even on a modest scale, to be unmitigated nonsense.

Putting aside 104-10015-10052, however, there was in fact another release of document 623-794. This release came from the Russell Holmes (RH) collection. Holmes had charge of the Oswald 201 file from the 1970s onward, and he accumulated a huge number of CIA records, third-agency documents, and open-source materials that related to Oswald specifically or Kennedy’s assassination in general.

The ARRB declared the collection an assassination record, and CIA began processing it for release in 1998. Processing continued well into 1999. One of the items in the RH collection was a copy of document 623-794. This copy was minus the routing sheet that accompanied 104-10001-10042, but the routing sheet had no text redacted. It was released in January 1999 as record 104-10439-10010 (see here). This copy of 623-794 released the name of the COMMO officer, Mr. Echols (this is surely H.D. Echols, who later served as CIA personnel director).

Despite the RH release, however, Echols’ name was NOT released in 104-10001-10042. And THAT is why 104-10001-10042 was included in the April 2018 ARC releases.

It is not unreasonable to blame CIA for failing to release the name in 104-10001-10042 after releasing it in 104-10439-10010. But it is also easy to understand how it happened. There is massive duplication throughout the CIA records, with some records appearing thirty, even forty times.5Citation forthcoming Determining which records are duplicates and duplicates of what is a task that occupied CIA reviewers throughout the 2000s. When review showed that a redaction could be released, it often happened that one or two of the duplicates remained unreleased.

There are, I believe many, many other cases like this in the 2017-2018 releases. This is one reason why it has always been misleading to cite the “large number of unreleased records” in the ARC as proof that documents or facts are still being concealed. It totally ignores this massive duplication throughout the ARC.

What is the significance for JFK’s assassination that Echols’ name was withheld in 104-10001-10042 until 2018? After release in 104-10439-10010 in 1999, further withholding was a simple error. A meaningless error. For those who would argue otherwise, reasoning please.