A frequent claim about documents still redacted in the ARC is that these are all “60 years old.” This is not so. The oldest redacted documents go back to the 1940s, and the most recent redacted document is from December, 1999.
Looking at document age is, of course, another way of judging redactions. It is hard to understand the need for redacting a note from 1943, while the 1999 redaction doesn’t seem that unreasonable. Context, however, is, or should be, a constant companion to such judgments.
With these two points in mind, I rounded up some statistics on just how old redacted documents are in the ARC. With the latest update to the JFK database now available on line, anyone who is interested could do this. Funny that no one seems interested.
Standard disclaimer for all posts on ARC redactions: what is written on ARC redactions today will not necessarily be true tomorrow. Tracking redactions in the ARC is like aiming at a fast moving target, as NARA reviews the collection, updates its database, and prepares for more releases in December.
Sources and issues with document dates in the ARC
For those who have not been following my notes on remaining ARC redactions, a reminder. Everyone writing about the composition and state of the ARC is using the JFK database.
The original on-line version of the database, the ACRS, it is now off-line, undergoing a thorough update. In its place is a May 2021 update of the database, posted to the NARA website as six excel files and available for download here.
The updated database provides several date fields; the one we are interested in is the document date field. This field has not yet seen a major update. Instead, document dates go back to the information provided by the various agencies to NARA when the database was being assembled from 1993 to 1998. CIA did update some information in the early 2000s; this has been the only real change to doc dates, not a very substantial one.
Redacted CIA doc dates by decade
In looking at doc dates in redacted records, I have looked only at CIA records. This is because, as I wrote in a July 2021 note, about 86% of the records still redacted in the ARC are from the CIA. I’ll review again how I got that number.
Basically it comes from the current status field in the updated database, where I first look for CIA records marked “Redact”. The record review was not yet complete when the update went on-line, so I attempted to limit my count to records that I was reasonably sure had already been reviewed.
I did this by counting only records that were listed as restricted based on the 5(g)(2)(D) exemption, which I explained in my earlier post. This gave me 11,208 CIA records, from which I subtracted 180 records that are duplicates of the CIA’s 201 file on Lee Oswald, already released as individual documents.1 This leaves 11,028 records.
Using the database update, it is simple to look up the date ranges for these documents, which are all available on-line at NARA. In table form, this is what I found:
There are many errors and blanks in the doc date field. This is not something that NARA will correct. The JFK Act is very clear on this; agencies who held these records are responsible for providing the metadata in the JFK database. CIA has been the most diligent of these agencies in correcting metadata, so it is possible that the accuracy of dates for CIA records in the ARC may improvement in the future.
Although the frequent errors in the doc date field warn us against relying too heavily on precise numbers, I believe the general picture this table gives is accurate. Based on these numbers, it is fair to say that at least 2/3 of the CIA’s redacted documents are from the 1960s.
Redacted documents from the 1960s.
The 1960s is of course when the CIA’s first records on the assassination were produced, and there is a wide range of documents still redacted on this subject: cables like the one discussed in a previous note,2available here the GPFLOOR reporting that tried to figure out what Oswald was up to, and memos on Mexico City subjects such as Sylvia Duran and Elena Garro.
In addition, the Warren Commission was in operation during this period, and a fair number of memos going back and forth between the Commission and CIA liaison remain redacted, as well as small bits of the massive compilations CIA provided for the Commission, like its chronology of Oswald’s activities, and traces on people mentioned in the Oswalds’ papers.
Jim Garrison’s investigation of the assassination was also a 1960s event. Garrison made many headlines by claiming that the CIA was involved in the assassination. CIA responded by pumping out memos trying to make sense of Garrison’s ever changing claims, and performing ever more name checks of people Garrison said were involved. There are numerous redactions in Garrison related documents as well.
Finally, there are Cuba related documents still redacted which the Assassination Records Review Board released because of the many theories that claim a Cuban involvement in the assassination, either by pro-Castro or anti-Castro forces.
Other eras with redacted documents are usually on more specialized topics, for example redacted documents from the 1970s, which revolve around the major Congressional investigations that touched on assassination issues. More will come on these in the next two or three posts.