NARA 21, part 11: Redacted CIA records – long

This is my 11th note on NARA 21, the updated version of the JFK ARC database (available here). See the first note in this series for more details on the what, when, why of this update.1A list of notes on this subject is available here.

This note concludes my look at redacted CIA documents in NARA 21. The three previous posts on this subject were two looks at short docs, and one look at mid-length docs. I defined short doc as a CIA doc one page long, where all redactions are 5(g). Mid-length doc refers to a CIA doc 2 to 10 pages long, where all redactions are 5(g). So naturally, long docs are CIA docs more than 10 pages long, where all redactions are 5(g).

5(g) redactions represent material that federal agencies have appealed to continue redacting past October 2017, which the JFK Act set as the release date for all redactions in the collection. The updated JFK database does list records with other than 5(g) redactions. Most of this is outdated redaction types, and its appearance in the updated database (posted online in June 2021) tells us that NARA had not finished reviewing the status of all ARC documents at that time.

I did not look at records with other than 5(g) redactions. This means that when you add up my totals of long, medium, and short docs, it will not add up to the total number of documents where the current status field in NARA 21 is marked ‘Redact’. I will probably write one more note on this. Sometime.

I have also excluded the 179 records comprising the microfilm duplicate of the Oswald 201 file. CIA, ARRB, and finally NARA labored long over the thankless task of checking whether these were indeed 100% duplicates, and the final word from NARA is yes: the content is 100% duplicates of other records already released.

NARA does not have time to mess with guaranteed total duplicates, so these records are in a kind of limbo; all there and accounted for, but not otherwise processed. In terms of priorities, this is understandable. However, ultimately, these duplicates too should be released to the public. How long that will take is not clear. For now, they are still in their boxes.

How many redacted long docs left in the ARC?

After making all the adjustments described above, I originally counted 849 CIA records over ten pages long with 5(g) redactions. However, time has since caught up with NARA 21.

Another 1493 1491 redacted records were released in full on December 15, 2021, including 985 958 CIA records. Of these records, 56 were longer than 10 pages. These 56 records were all released in full, so that the total number of long redacted CIA docs left in the ARC is now 793.

What are these redacted long docs and how much material is still redacted in them? They are quite miscellaneous, not surprising given the reasons for redacting them in the first place. Above all, redactions are CIA people’s names, typically recipients and signatories to cables, dispatches, memos, etc.

Then there are non-agency people who might be embarrassed, expelled, arrested, assaulted, sued, or shot if their names were revealed before they passed on. Most of these people have indeed passed on, so more of these names will be coming out.

Much online commentary tends to suppose that redactions are intended to conceal specific plots or actions. This would be very difficult to do. The rules for redacting information are extremely rigid, and these documents have been read with strict attention to redaction rules.

One action that is frequently redacted, however, is cooperation with liaison services. As I’ve noted elsewhere, many of the redactions released in December 2021 consisted of the single word “liaison”. If the word “liaison” can be connected with an identifiable security service or allied agency, the CIA will fight hard to protect that one word.

All these types of information appear pretty much randomly throughout CIA records, and as a result, redactions are randomly distributed throughout CIA records in the ARC.

Redacted long docs by category

One way to bring some order in presenting these redactions is to break down the documents by the record sub-categories used in the ARC database:

# category count example
1 JFK 148 104-10054-10061
2 JFK 64 426 104-10188-10012
3 JFK M 127 104-10335-10001
4 JFK RH 66 104-10418-10358
5 JFK WF 9 104-10418-10033
6 DCI 2 104-10272-10029
7 OSW 15 104-10019-10022

The category abbreviations here are used in the comments field of the JFK database for seven categories of CIA records. I will soon add a page on CIA record categories in the ARC. In the meantime, here is a very brief description of the seven.

1) JFK refers to records in the hard copy version of the HSCA “Segregated CIA collection”. These documents were provided to the HSCA by the CIA during HSCA’s 1976-78 investigation of the JFK/King assassinations.

2) JFK 64 are records in the microfilm version of the HSCA “Segregated CIA collection”. These overlap with the hard copy records, but also include many files that were not in the hard copy set. Many of these records were designated by the ARRB as NBR (not believed relevant to the assassination), and were withheld in full until the 2017-2018 releases.

3) JFK M refers to “miscellaneous” records. These are almost all records generated or retrieved during the ARRB’s tenure and include memos, letters, requests, and responses back and forth between the ARRB and/or CIA from 1992 to 1998.

4) JFK RH refers to records in the Russ Holmes CIA collection. Holmes was a member of the CIA Counterintelligence Staff who was designated as keeper of the Lee Oswald 201 file in the 1970s and collected many copies of documents relevant to the JFK assassination and the various investigations into it as part of his working files.

5) JFK WF refers to the working files of the CIA’s Latin American Division from its own investigation into aspects of the assassination after the Church Committee’s report was published.

6) DCI refers to minutes of the daily morning meeting held by Director of Central Intelligence. An FOIA suit was filed in the 1980s for minutes from meetings where the JFK assassination was discussed (from 1963-1978). The suit was still pending when the JFK Act was passed, and CIA and the plaintiffs agreed to fold the minutes into the ARRB releases. There are several hundred pages of these minutes in the ARC; a handful of names were redacted from 1977-78. Because the minute releases were added to the ARRB releases, they are subject to the JFK Act release standards.

7) OSW refers to documents from Lee Oswald’s 201 file. Overall redactions left in this file were discussed here. The redacted long docs from the file range from 11 to 47 pages; redactions in them are generally minor.

Some comments

Where are most of the redactions? They are mostly in the microfilm (JFK 64) records, in particular, the NBR records. There are about 335 NBR records in the microfilm set, and some of these still have extensive redactions, including 90 to 100 records that have whole page redactions.

So what are the most heavily redacted CIA records left? The most redacted records are three files on WIROGUE/1, described as “an ethnic Georgian”, who was sent as a CIA paramilitary agent to the Congo, where he trained Congo pilots despite the fact that he had only recently learned to fly himself.2There is a capsule biography of WIROGUE here.

At one point WIROGUE came in contact with another CIA agent in Leopoldville, QJWIN, who was of interest to both the Church Committee and the HSCA as possibly being part of a CIA plot to assassinate Congo leader Patrice Lumumba. How this was supposed to relate to the JFK assassination is still not clear to me, and WIROGUE is not mentioned in any of the Church or HSCA reports or supplemental volumes.

In any case, three volumes of WIROGUE’s file, all designated NBR, remain almost completely redacted, 487 pages kept back out of 506 total. No idea why. It may be that, like one or two of the other CIA agents and assets from this era, WIROGUE is still alive. One volume of his file is mostly open, but I can’t see that it sheds any light on the JFK assassination whatsoever.3The three files are 104-10182-10002, 104-10182-10003, and 104-10182-10004.

Another CIA agent with extensively redacted files is Richard Gibson. Gibson was originally one of the organizers of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee which Oswald corresponded with, and info on him appears in CIA cables sent during the early search for info on Oswald. His later CIA role had nothing to do with this and his files from this later period are all marked NBR. The extensive redactions in three of Gibson’s files (over 200 pages kept back of about 700 total) is at least in part due to the fact that Gibson is still alive (or was in 2018).4The three files for Gibson are 104-10217-10221, 104-10217-10223, and 104-10217-10225.

Another file that I have mentioned before is ARC 104-10188-10001, titled “Contacts with Cuban officials.” Almost one hundred pages of this NBR file are still held back in full. The reasons for holding back a lot of material from this file are obvious.

My 2 cents

The examples above illustrate why I believe that major revelations are NOT concealed in the remaining redacted files, not even in files with a hundred plus pages held back in full. Some of the longest files in this doc set simply have almost nothing held back, such as 104-10333-10010, a 267 page compilation that has only one name redacted. Other files with massive redactions, such as the WIROGUE files listed above, are simply unrelated to the JFK assassination. The NBR designation of most of these files is fully justified by what we can see of other released material on the subjects of these files.