NARA 21, part 2: “declassify” and “pending” records

This is my second note on NARA 21, the revised version of the JFK ARC database (available here). The ACRS, the on-line version of the JFK database, is still off-line undergoing maintenance. This new version of the database, NARA 21, consists of six excel files which give a snapshot of the database as of May 17, 2021.

As I wrote in my first note, NARA 21 lists 319,106 records in the JFK collection. This means it is a revised version of the original on-line ACRS. A “scan and scrape” version of this original list is available at the Mary Ferrell Foundation website (here). Since this was done in 2015, I call it MF15. I did a “scan and scrape” myself in 2019 and got the same list as well.

NARA 21 is not a complete re-make, but it does incorporate the results of the large 2017-2018 release of JFK collection texts, answering many questions I have asked about the remaining redactions in the collection. My last note looked at the “current status” field, which turns out to be a very convenient summary of the 2017-2018 releases, dividing them up into five categories: release, redact, withhold, pending, and declassify.

I should underline here the importance of this one field. I have been asking for this information for three years. It is fundamental to understanding how the records in the JFK ARC have been processed. It is fundamental to resolving many, many controversies over assassination documents. These excel files are a big deal. Thanks to everyone at NARA!

Today’s note looks at the records in these last two smallest categories. The remaining three categories will be the subjects of individual notes, probably later this week.

“Declassify” records

The first category I look at today is “declassify”. This is the smallest of the five new categories, so I can just list all the records here:

record numberdatepagessubjectcomments
177-10002-100941963-11-2410INTELLIGENCE MEMORANDUMDOC. #30
179-30003-102221963-12-095MEMO RE NEWS COLUMN BY CARPENTER2 COPIES ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102271967-03-029REPORT ON HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVITIES OF DAVID FERRIE AND OTHERSNLJ REFER TO FBI? ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102281967-03-024ALLEGES THAT CLAY SHAW IS A HOMOSEXUALNLJ REFER TO FBI? ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102361967-04-071ENCLOSES MATERIALS SENT BY FBI RE GARRISON2 COPIES. ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102401967-04-262REPORT CONCERNING ALLEGED CONSPIRATOR IN JFK ASSASSINATIONATTACHED TO HOOVER TO STEGALL 4/24/67. ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102461967-08-023SUGGESTIONS THAT GARRISON INVESTIGATION IS A HOAX & A FRAUDATTACHED TO HOOVER TO STEGALL 8/2/67. ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102481968-01-182COMMENTS THAT SUGGEST THAT GARRISON HAS NO REAL EVIDENCENLJ REFER TO FBI? ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102491968-01-025REPORT ON GARRISON'S PSYCHIATRIC SITUATIONNLJ REFER TO FBI? ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102511968-01-032PRESS REPORTS RE GARRISONATTACHED TO HOOVER TO STEGALL 12/28/67, 1/3/68. ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102621967-02-277INTERVIEW WITH PERRY RAYMOND RUSSOATTACHED TO WATSON TO PRESIDENT 4/7/67, HOOVER TO STEGAL 4/7/67 ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3
179-30003-102640000-00-0012FBI REPORTS RE: LOYALTY, STABILITY, AND SOURCES OF INFOONLY LHM FOR CHARLES SILES WRIGHT 6/15/64 MENTIONS ASSASSINATION. ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3; MULTIPLE REPORTS
179-30003-102801967-12-2810PRESS REPORTS RE GARRISONATTACHED TO HOOVER TO STEGALL 1/3/68 ( LETTERS). ENTRY NNFJ FILES BOX 3

None of these 13 records were released in 2017-2018, nor did they ever appear in other lists of unreleased or redacted ARC records. I think it is safe to say that NARA has only recently determined that these are redacted or withheld records. The metadata for these records, however, with the exception of the “current status” field, remains basically unchanged from what was in the ACRS. Check the records in MF15 yourself to verify this.

Record 177-10002-10094 comes from the LBJ Library and is described in the “record series” field as “NSF, INTELLIGENCE FILE, CODEWORD MATERIAL, VOL. 1, BOX 6.” (NSF means National Security Files. Codeword material is material classified as top-secret.) There are five documents in the ARC from this box, labeled in the database “comments” field as docs 27-31; this one is doc 30.1The record numbers are 177-10002-10092- 92 to 95, and 106. All of these NSF docs are labeled in the restrictions field as “Mandatory review material”, with the status of three documents listed as “release”, and one as “redact”. “Mandatory review” is a declassification process; perhaps this process is not yet complete for this last, fifth, document. Look for this one when the next ARC release happens in September of this year.

The remaining 12 documents come from “NARA”, but the reference to “NNFJ” in the comments field tells us these are also from the LBJ Library. The “records series” field for these twelve records says “[RESTRICTED]”. This is odd; looking back at MF 15, the old ACRS database, the series field for all 12 says “DONOR RESTRICTED MATERIAL FROM NLJ 1”. This suggests these documents were donated to the LBJ Library via a “deed of gift”.

Poking around even further in the “from” and “to” fields, the name “Mildred Stegall” is listed several times. This seems to be Mildred Steagall, an important LBJ aide. Her importance can be seen from the fact that the person corresponding with Steagall is FBI director Hoover. Perhaps these documents were donated by Steagall? Release of donor records is not as certain as release of the NSF material, but a status of “declassify” seems to suggest that release is possible. The subject descriptions are certainly interesting.

Were all these materials originally withheld in full? If so, they were overlooked during at least two (or three) reviews of the ARC for withheld-in-full material. In fact, I would not be surprised if there is one more document discovered to be withheld-in-full during this current review of the collection. On the other hand, I would be surprised if more than three were discovered. On the third hand (insert appropriate Charles Addams cartoon here), I have been surprised often during the last couple of years.

“Pending” records

The second category I look at today is “pending”. There are 227 records in this category. I believe these are records that NARA is still checking to make sure they do not exist. I discussed this problem in an earlier note.2 There are several hundred rows in the JFK database where one or more field says ‘[NARA HAS NO DOCUMENT FOR THIS RECORD NUMBER]’, ‘NO DOCUMENT EXISTS FOR THIS RECORD NUMBER’, ‘NO DOC EXISTS’, or some such variant.

The record numbers for almost all these null docs starts with 124, i.e. FBI docs. I offered a random guess for why this was so in my previous note.

Anyway, the ‘current status’ field in the JFK database marks 217 of these rows as ‘Pending’. The other 10 ‘pending’ rows are probably the same story; they have almost no metadata except for the record number, docdate = 0, doc pages = 0, etc.

Oddly, there are 156 rows that have the same message in the title, file number, or subject fields, yet they are not marked ‘Pending’. Instead, current status says ‘Release’! My random guess for this puzzle is that NARA has double, triple checked these records and is sure they are really, really, really not there. Under this interpretation, ‘pending’ would mean “Well, they weren’t there yesterday, let’s look again today.”

Why bother with small numbers of records?

The controversy over the most arcane and minute details of the ARC has to be read and experienced over several years for one to really grasp why such trivia as this comes to have such significance. Every scrap of paper must be counted. NARA has heeded this call. Well done, guys.

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