The next releases: A prediction

If NARA can stick to its schedule, next week we will see more redacted text released from the JFK Assassination Records Collection. Since not much time is left, I had better hurry up with my predictions of what that “new” material will include.

Calling future roulette rolls can be tricky, but I’m confident about the predictions I will offer here. The reason: I am predicting the content of records that have already been opened elsewhere. The only thing I’m unsure of is whether all of these records will actually have their zombie redactions lifted.

The curse of the zombie redactions

To understand my mystic art of prognostication, you have to know what a zombie redaction is. Imagine that you have one document where there is a name you want to withhold from public scrutiny: let’s say it’s “Jane Valachi”. And say you have about 14 copies of this same document that were originally in 14 different files. So you chop lots of little holes in the docs then put them in an archive for people to look at.

As time goes by, however, you come under pressure to fill some of those holes. Okay, you say, I’ll let a couple of the less important ones go. But you have a gazillion docs, each one with oodles of holes. What are the odds that you will be inconsistent in putting back some of the stuff that was in those holes? Pretty good, it turns out, and along with the stuff you don’t care about, you release Jane Valachi’s name.

Whoops! Now you have lots of holey docs here and an unholey doc there, which has sucked all the meaning and purpose out of the holey docs. The holey docs become meaningless shells, stalking you through the shelves and bins of your card catalogs. They are zombie redactions.

Okay, okay, you don’t like this mumbo jumbo. Fine. A zombie redaction is a redaction in copy X of a document which has already been released in copy Y of the same document, tucked away in some other file or folder or microfilm reel. There, are you happy?

Laddie crosses over

In the example today, the document illustrating this blood curdling phenomenon comes from the CIA. Blue ribbon for duplication in the JFK collection goes to the FBI, but the CIA is a close contender.

Our zombie redactions were spawned by a document known as “AMMUG-1 Debriefing Report #278.” AMMUG-1 is the cryptonym for Vladimir Rodriguez Lahera, one of the first DGI officers to defect to the U.S. (DGI is Dirección General de Inteligencia, the Cuban intelligence service). Laddie, as CIA officers nicknamed him, is the subject of a whole chapter in Castro’s Secrets, Brian Latell’s book on the DGI, and readers should go there for a clear and impressive discussion of his importance.

Laddie’s production ultimately included over 300 debriefing reports, which in turn provided the basis for hundreds more cables, dispatches, and information reports, as well as a massive 112 page summary. Who debriefed him and who wrote up these reports? Most of these names have been released, and I will give you a list of docs below which you can check for yourself.

In sum, it took a lot of people. Overseeing these people at first was Harold Swenson, a senior CIA counterintelligence officer, whose name was released to the public early on, due to his importance in the HSCA’s investigation of the JFK assassination. Swenson was the first to debrief Laddie after he defected in April 1964, and he continued in that role for several months more.

By 1965, however, oversight of the massive debrief operation was passed on to another office, the WH/C/RR/OS. The C stands for Cuba, I believe; OS may be Office of Security, but I have no idea what RR stands for. The head of this office was C/WH/C/RR/OS, with the initial C standing for Chief. In the beginning, the Chief was a thoroughly redacted blank.

The duplicates multiply and are zombified

A couple of Laddie’s debriefing reports appear in the JFKARC a surprising number of times. One report accidentally had its number left off, though the CIA later concluded this was report #40. This report dealt with Lee Oswald, and the lack of a number greatly bothered HSCA. As a result, it appears in file after file after file, close to 30 times, in fact. “Report 40” is of course now released in full.

Another report that appears frequently is number 278. This report deals with Luisa Calderon, a DGI affiliate (says Laddie). Calderon was another controversial subject for the HSCA, and there are 15 copies of this report. There were not many redactions in the report, but C/WH/C/RR/OS was blanked. Everywhere. Until 1999, when he finally appeared in 104-10125-10329. This version of the file is up at Mary Ferrell here, and the Chief is Ben Stotts. The remaining 14 redacted copies are now zombies.

The hidden chief

We are not finished yet. In addition to Report #278, the title C/WH/C/RR/OS appears another 60 times in other Laddie debriefing reports. The name of the chief is redacted in all of these reports; for the most part it is the sole redaction. The dates on all of these reports cover the end of February 1965 through the first 10 days of March. They all come from the same time frame, they all cover the same subject (Laddie’s debriefing). My bold conclusion: The hidden chief in all of these reports is Ben Stotts as well. This one name thus accounts for 74 redactions in 74 documents. A complete list of all these records is here.

Does Stotts’ name appear anywhere else in the ARC? Yes, it appears here. Not surprisingly, Harold Swenson describes Stotts as his deputy.

Why redact?

Why did CIA redact the names of CIA employees in ARC documents? The answer is in the final report of the ARRB, the independent board that oversaw the assembly and release of documents in the JFK collection, under Chapter 5 Section B (here). This section also explains why the ARRB agreed to let CIA redact the names.

One key point here: these officers retired under cover. This subject comes up repeatedly in CIA records covering their work with the ARRB. I will not go over the details here, but the ARRB report does not come close to explaining the complications that can come with a forced declassification of an undercover officer, even a retired one.

Another key point: most of these names have nothing to do with the assassination. Ben Stotts is assuredly one of those people. The record shows that he was simply part of the team who debriefed Laddie, playing an administrative role in the complicated process.

On the other hand, his name has already been released, twice, as a CIA officer, from as far back as 1999. Whether he is alive or not, I do not know, but whatever consequences there were for this release took place decades ago. I don’t think it does any harm to point out where his name has already been published, or to observe that his job was exactly what Hal Swenson said it was.

Well, no harm maybe, but is there any benefit to it? Only to my rather shame-faced ego, pleased at predicting the content of 74 redactions. Or maybe not, but at least 14!