Back to the big picture: A second look at CIA redactions

My recent posts on HSCA documents in the ARC1They are here, here, and here. having reached the outer limits of inside baseball, this note will return to my more usual boring topic of counting records and redactions.

Pages and redactions redux: CIA still on top

For those new to my commentary, my interest is redaction/declassification of security classified documents, of which the JFK Assassination Records Collection had plenty. I have spent most of my time writing on CIA records in the ARC because that’s where all the redactions are.

This remains true after the December 2022 releases. I still do not have counts of redacted non-CIA records, but NARA writes that redactions in the ARC now affect fewer than 4400 “section five” documents, and we know from the document index which CIA released this time that CIA still has over 3600 redacted records in the ARC. These means CIA is responsible for over 80% of the redactions left in the ARC.

As I noted earlier, the CIA document index also tells us that in a significant portion of these 3600+ documents, CIA is not listed as the originating agency. These documents are instead credited to the FBI, the State department, etc, but since they were based on CIA information, the CIA must review and release. The total number of redacted documents credited to the CIA (i.e. having record numbers starting with the CIA prefix 104-) is 2902.

From 2021 to 2022

Last year and the year before I spent quite a bit of time going over the 2021 update of the JFK database, which gives metadata for many, but not all, of the documents in the JFK Assassination Records Collection. Most important, the update fixed the current status field, correcting years of neglect, and let us know exactly which documents were released in full and which were still redacted.2A link to my notes on the 2021 database update is here.

Looking back at this situation from the perspective of January 2023 is one way of measuring how far the collection has come in the last year and a half, after one small release and one big release. What types of documents are still redacted? How long? From what dates? What is the justification offered for continuing to hold back these words, sentences, and pages?

To be sure, there are no CIA documents withheld in full, but there are still gaps in some records, sometimes lengthy ones, though these have shrunk considerably since my last look.

As usual, this retrospective comparison will focus on CIA docs. If CIA don’t like the attention, they should release more redactions.

Short, medium, and long

In my earlier survey of redacted CIA records, I divided them by length into three sets: short (one page), medium (2-10 page), and long (> 10 pages). What was the situation then, and what is the situation now? Here are some old and new numbers. These numbers are only for the remaining 2902 CIA records with the 104- prefix.

category 2021 count % in 2021 2022 count % in 2022
short 5672 52% 1095 38%
medium 4462 40% 1307 45%
long 849 8% 500 17%

So the short docs are no longer the main component in the redacted records, the medium docs are. Notice also that the long docs now make up a larger percentage of the 2022 docs than long docs did in 2021. If the cycle continues, and everything is not just released in one fell swoop (an unlikely occurrence), I predict that the long docs will become the main component of redacted records.