Earlier this year, I tried to summarize the state of CIA files on Lee Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy (the note is here). The new releases are up, so another update is in order. Unfortunately, this will not be the last update I do on this subject!
CIA Oswald files pre-2021-22
There are multiple CIA files on Oswald. The main file is what is called a 201 file, which is where CIA puts biographical information on people they are interested in. Oswald’s file, however, expanded far past this quotidian function over the years, and eventually became a sort of repository for all CIA information on the JFK assassination.
In addition to this file, there is also an Office of Security file on Oswald, an A-file which was started by the CIA’s Domestic Contacts Service over a decade after Oswald was killed, and a defector file which predated Oswald’s 201 file. The history of these files is aswirl with conpsiratorial theories and confusion, and this short note is not the place to go into all this.
This note will stick to the 201 file as it was entered into the JFKARC and declassified, bit by bit. In fact, the Oswald 201 was partly declassified and sent to NARA even before the JFK Act became law. Despite this early start, however, complete declassification has been slow, and as this note will mournfully show, that process is not yet complete.
The Oswald 201 in 2021
My last note gave a count based on the updated JFK collection database, posted at NARA in 2021. Using this source, I checked to see what was listed as redacted, then compared that to what was released in December 2021. Unfortunately, I did not clearly distinguish between the Oswald 201, security file, and A-file, so the numbers I gave then were a little off.
Here are the corrected numbers. The JFK database 2021 lists 4576 records in the Oswald 201. I explained in my last post how I figured out which records were Oswald 201 docs, and which docs were still redacted. Because I did not filter out the SF file and the A file records, however, I did not get the right count for redacted Oswald 201 records. The right number, for May 2021, was 215.
As I showed in my last post (here again!), 33 records from Oswald’s 201 file were released in full in December 2021. That means there were 182 records still redacted, prior to the December 2022 releases NARA has just completed.
The Oswald 201 in 2022
So how were these 182 records handled in this latest release? There were 152 records released in full. There are 30 records still redacted. Bummer. Since the Oswald 201 is a core file, it would be nice to have it completely unredacted. What were the reasons for not releasing these 30 records in full?
Fortunately the CIA has given us a list of reasons for continued redaction of certain records past 2022. As I noted in a post a couple of days ago, this is available in the CIA’s agency documentation here.
CIA’s basic claim is that there are three categories which justify extending redaction in these documents past 2022: people, CIA locations, and operational details. There is further discussion of why these are important in the CIA’s letter to President Biden, available here. I offer no opinions here on whether these grounds do indeed justify extending redactions or not. (Though see my comments below for a possible exception.)
Notice again! These records are NOT withheld. They are all available online, with mostly minimal redactions of the text. Here they are:
|#||Record number||Cia rationale|
|24||104-10014-10051||CIA Locations, Operational details|
|26||104-10014-10065||People, CIA Locations|
|27||104-10014-10066||People, CIA Locations|
|28||104-10014-10067||People, CIA Locations|
|25||104-10014-10064||People, CIA Locations, Operational details|
|14||104-10009-10222||People, Operational details|
|15||104-10009-10224||People, Operational details|
|19||104-10012-10035||People, Operational details|
|21||104-10012-10078||People, Operational details|
|23||104-10012-10080||People, Operational details|
I have ordered these by rationale, rather than record number, but for some reason I don’t understand, the result from my database command still reflects record number order. Sorry about that.
“CIA Locations” come in two varieties. One kind is the name of a single station in a regular cable. I assume in the cases here that the host country continues to object to the release of the station location even today. A big thanks to the Swedish and Finnish governments, who have finally stopped objecting to the release of the “FROM” line in cables originating in places like Helsinki and Stockholm. Otherwise, there would be dozens, maybe hundreds more redacted records still in the collection.
The other CIA Locations issue is with “distribution lists (sheets)”. These are a special page or section in “Book Messages”, mass cable mailings to dozens of stations and bases. Some of these distro sheets have been released, but there are clearly still many places in Africa and Asia that pose release issues. It is very possible that there are zombie redactions, or semi-hemi-zombie redactions in these lists (i.e. some of these redacted station names may have been released elsewhere.)
“People” here seem to all be CIA people. I assume these are living persons retired under cover who do not wish to be identified until they are gone. Not sure what else to say there. Redacting the names of these people has in the past been the cause of thousands upon thousands of redactions when the redactees long ago passed on. Cleaning up this mess is one of the main reasons this latest release was necessary. Have they got it right this time? I am not not sure, for reasons I will discuss in another note.
Operational details could be many things. One of the things it includes is liaison arrangements and information. This is apparent in the last five records on my list. These are letter exchanges between DCI Richard Helms and DGS Sir Charles Spry. Spry (1910-1994) was the First Director General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). His letter is not the USG’s information to release. Based on these redactions, the Australian government must not want Spry’s name officially acknowledged. The U.S. government has heeded them, as is only proper. I am not party to official knowledge here, I only give my own opinion.
Thanks Robert for the careful analysis of the JFK records! This is an incredible resource site for understanding the document record keeping. So much has been misstated in the media lately regarding the Biden release. Journalists would be well served to visit this site for a full understanding.
Thanks, Steve! Hope to have a couple of more posts up later this week.