Zombies in the House

Almost all of my work on the latest JFKARC releases has been on CIA records. This is because they have by far the lion’s share of redactions, and redaction/declassification is my main interest.

The last couple of days, however, I have been looking at record releases from the HSCA, and naturally these records, like the CIA records, have their fair share of issues, including those blood-chilling archival spooks: zombie redactions!

Zombie redactions defined (again)

“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.”1I know putting “zombies” in there is frivolous, but checking duplicate records to see if redactions are consistent is tedious and boring work. Can’t a guy have some fun?

The fearless zombie hunters

We owe the latest discovery of zombies to the efforts of Fred Litwin and Tracy Parnell, and behind the scenes, to the ace detective work and long memory of Paul Hoch, the grisly eminence of JFK assassination research.

To be fair, we also owe Jeff Morley at JFK Facts a thanks as well, for bringing these docs to our attention.

Morley has been harshly critical of the 2022 releases, which left redactions in over 3000 CIA records. (Other agencies also have redactions left but I don’t have a count on those yet.)

In a recent note critiquing the new releases, Morley writes that he picked out 33 records in the ARC which he ranked high in research significance, and found only 13 released in full this time.

The others, he believes, still have important material redacted. He gives three records that have examples of this. Litwin, Parnell, and Hoch checked these examples and found problems with Morley’s claims.

Zombies #1 and #2

Litwin was first to note a problem with one of Morley’s examples: an FBI report that was apparently mostly redacted. Litwin, however, found another copy of the same document that was almost completely open. Gasp! It’s zombie redactions!

Parnell quickly followed up with a note on another of the records Morley cited, the HSCA deposition of former Chief of the Counter Intelligence Staff, B. H. Tovar. Again, material redacted in the version Morley cited was available in another copy. Another zombie!

Zombies multiply…

By this point Litwin had read my post on zombie redactions, and was poking around in more HSCA testimony, where he found a third one, in the HSCA deposition of CIA officer Robert Shaw.

Where and when zombies appear are of course important. The first two examples I was left wondering which versions of the docs Morley was looking at. In Fred’s new example, however, the redaction appeared in one of the December 2022 releases, and the unredacted text appeared in an earlier copy of the deposition.

This made Litwin and Hoch sit up. Me too. Zombie redactions in the latest releases from NARA are not a good sign. They are a sign of careless review: not the sort of thing one hopes to find after a year’s worth of work by the agencies struggling to put the JFK Assassination Records Collection into shape.

Litwin’s final conclusion on the Shaw testimony snafu: “as bothersome as these redactions are, they probably do not hide evidence of conspiracy.” It is certainly hard to see any conspiracy revealed in Shaw or Tovar’s redacted testimony. On the other hand, it is not hard to see problematic review here, brewing up more nasty zombies to play havoc with people’s research.

My two cents

Looking into such problems is a wise precaution. Posting notes about dark corners of the ARC where zombies may still be lurking is a praiseworthy public service. So thanks for pointing these problems out, guys!

Following in the path of the zombie hunters, I have taken a close look at transcripts of HSCA depositions, and it does indeed look like there are still more problems with these docs. I will offer a sample of these in another note.