Judge Tunheim’s letter to President Biden

Judge John Tunheim served as chair of the Assassination Records Review Board from 1994 to 1998, and together with the other four Board members, deserves much credit for the important accomplishments of the Board, the greatest of which was the successful creation of the massive JFK Assassination Records Collection (JFKARC or ARC), a most valuable contribution to the history of both the JFK assassination and to the historiography of the cold war as a whole.

Tunheim recently appeared at the press conference held by the Mary Ferrell Foundation to discuss their lawsuit again the National Archives and President Biden, which asks, among other things, for the immediate release of all redacted materials in the ARC, a position which Judge Tunheim strongly supported.

As a follow up, Judge Tunheim also released an open letter to President Biden calling on him to “exercise your authority to bring transparency and finality to this ordeal and order the release of all remaining redacted information in the assassination records. Mr. President, as we near the sixtieth anniversary, it is long past time to come clean and be able to tell Americans that nothing is being hidden from them and that they have access to the federal government’s entire record of the JFK assassination.”

I support the release of the security classified materials in the ARC, but I have a very specific question about Tunheim’s call for the release of every single redaction in the ARC. Does this include page 161 of JFKARC 104-10333-10001? A link to this page is here. The redacted information is the social security numbers of ARRB staff members, including David Marwell, T. Jeremy Gunn, Michelle Seguin, Bob Skwirot, Mary McAuliff, Manuel Legaspi, and Chris Barger.

I do not think it is reasonable or responsible to release the SSNs of these people. As far as I know, none of them are dead yet, and the publication of their social security numbers by NARA would therefore cause them serious difficulties.

The failure of the JFK Act to exempt such personal information for living persons was a major flaw in the Act, and the ARRB itself acted responsibly earlier on by postponing the social security numbers of HSCA staff members from release.1This is recorded in a notice published in the Federal Register for December 28, 1995, available on line here.

NARA has continued to take this responsible approach, recommending that President Trump not release the SSNs of living persons.2This recommendation is in a letter from NARA to the White House, available here.

Perhaps Judge Tunheim has forgotten that the ARC redactions include this kind of material. In any case, I hope that President Biden will do the right thing and declare as a matter of policy that personal information, including the SSN, of living persons will NOT be released in the ARC.