The December 2022 releases–A first look

NARA has released another set of redacted texts from the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection (JFKARC, or just plain ARC below). Since I am not a newspaper or journalist, I will not rush to get out all the new news from this latest, but not last, set of previously redacted texts. Better slow but relatively accurate than fast and inaccurate.

The files and the list

First on the agenda is a look at the files NARA has posted, and the all-important excel sheet describing these. There are 13171 13173 files newly added to NARA’s online collection. All of these new files are pdf files, no audio files this time.

The excel sheet, on the other hand has 13252 rows. Row one is headers, the other rows represent records in the ARC, so we have data for 13251 records/documents.

Why the difference between files posted and record rows in the excel file? Some of the FBI records were posted as one big pdf file. This is familiar from previous releases. In addition, there are multiple (“duplicate”) pdf files for 19 CIA records 62 records, mostly from the FBI and CIA. Well, sort of duplicates, but there are also differences. I don’t know why this is. There was a similar problem in earlier ARC releases, so it’s not unusual, just confusing.

Despite these slightly different numbers, we clearly have releases of material from 13251 ARC documents in these files. Don’t assume anything else. Don’t assume all of these files have newly released material in them. Don’t assume all of these files contain complete records. Neither of these assumptions may be correct.

In fact, some of the new files at NARA are definitely just new copies of the exact same texts we saw in 2018 and redacted in the exact same way. No new text releases for these docs. (This is most annoying for people trying to keep track of what’s new.) Some of the new files up at NARA also have more (or fewer) pages than the documents posted in 2018 or whatever. Again, confusing, annoying, but not unheard of.

Which agencies provided these records to the JFKARC? Here is a list, based on the record identification numbers in NARA’s excel file for 2022:

prefix agency count percent
104 CIA 10095 76%
111 DIA 9 < 1%
119 DOS 8 < 1%
124 FB1 1573 ~12%
137 IRS 1 < 1%
144 NSA 253 ~ 2%
157 SSCIA 169 ~ 1%
173 ONI 1 < 1%
176 NARA-JFK 118 ~ 1%
177 NARA-LBJ 26 < 1%
178 NARA-FORD 46 < 1%
179 NARA-WC 2 < 1%
180 HSCA 603 ~ 5%
181 NARA 12 < 1%
194 IRR (ACSI) 288 ~ 2%
195 OSD 1 < 1%
197 ACE/PTC 3 < 1%
198 OSA 32 < 1%
202 JCS 11 < 1%

If you are not sure what these agency abbreviations mean, you might want to check this note, and this table. There is also a similar table at the Mary Ferrell website here.

The three agencies responsible for most redacted materials remaining in the ARC are thus the CIA, far ahead of everyone else, the FBI, and the HSCA. This is not surprising, since these three together account for 92% of the records in the ARC to begin with.

Newly released records

One of the more surprising things about this new release, to me, was how many records were put on line that were not there for the 2017-2018 releases. Here is a summary table:

prefix agency count
111 DIA 9
119 DOS 5
124 FBI 32
137 IRS 1
144 NSA 5
157 SSCIA 4
173 ONI 1
180 HSCA 142
181 NARA 12
194 IRR (ACSI) 263
198 1 OSA

I had earlier observed, following the release of the updated JFK database in 2021, that “comparing [the updated] JFK database with the April 2018 list of records posted at NARA suggests that there were quite a few records that were not posted in 2018.” I was surprised, however, to see that there were this many. Why so many?

A partial answer: Some of these are the formerly “missing records”, which I mentioned here. These formerly missing records are now mostly found, and the latest discoveries are included in this release, e.g. the 9 DIA records the 5 DOS records, the sole ONI record, the 12 NARA records, and the 2 OSA records. There are 32 FBI records that were not posted online in 2017-2018, but now appear in the 2022 release. Two of these are also former “missing records”.

But the big numbers do not come from these agencies. They come from the HSCA records and the IRR (ACSI) records. In 2021, I noted that there were over a dozen HSCA records posted online that were not posted in 2017-2018. This time there are over 140 HSCA records that were not posted online before. I suspect that many of these are HSCA personnel records, but I just haven’t had time to look at them.

The IRR records are even more surprising, and cause me a twinge of anxiety. IRR is the “Investigative Reports Repository”. This huge set of records does not appear in the JFK database. Why not? I believe the main reason is that the Army refused to do the laborious work of keying in all the data. I could be wrong, if someone knows better, let me know.

In any case, there are over 5000 records in the ARC that come from the IRR. Without the JFK database to guide us, it is possible there are still redacted, and unnoted records in there. I will take a hard look at this oddity when I have time. But who knows when that will be?

What about the redactions?

The entire point of this latest release is of course to get all the redacted material out there where the public can access it. How successful have they been this time? The bottom-line number is in NARA’s press release here: “Section 5 postponement decisions now affect less than 4,400 documents in the Collection.” This is down from the previous number of 14,236 in December 2021. As a result of Biden’s memo, the ARC has removed redactions from a hair under 10,000 records.