Redactions in the ARC: Who releases what?

This note takes a look at who is releasing redactions left in the JFK Assassination Records Collection, and how many redactions are left. It’s not who you thought, and there are not many, it turns out.

Sources for record redactions in the ARC

Most of my notes on the December 2022 releases in the JFK ARC at NARA have dealt with CIA records. This is because about 80% of the redacted records in the ARC come from the CIA. That still leaves about 20% that are non-CIA, however. Following is a count of redacted records by agency and the sources for this information:

Adding all these together, there are 4,342 documents that still have redactions in them. Subtracting 422 documents released in April 2023, there are now 3920 still redacted.

Who releases what?

A particularly confusing point for ARC bean counters is who is in charge of which records. In other words, who do I complain to if the records I want to see are not yet released? The lists above finally answer that question, but it turns out to be a much more fuzzy answer than most people would like.

Normally documents with an id number beginning with 104- would be released by the CIA, documents beginning with 124- would be rleased by the FBI, and so forth. There are some cases where this is more or less true. But in other cases, it is not.

The problem is that a document produced by agency X can be 100 percent based on information from agency Y. Based on the “third agency” rule, which is still widely observed in the US government, agency X cannot release any of the document without the agreement of agency Y. After transfer to the ARC, release of the document is still at the discretion of Agency Y.

The lists above finally tell us exactly which records depend on the approval of who. Using the lists, I will give a simple count of who is responsible for remaining redactions across the board.

CIA documents/information

The CIA is of course the main culprit in holding back ARC docs. Following the 2022 releases, CIA was responsible for redactions in 3648 documents. Since then, redactions were released in 422 more documents. Note that ALL 422 records were on the CIA list! So subtracting those 422 documents, now released in full, CIA is responsible for redactions in 3226 documents. Here is a count of those records by agency prefix:

ag # agency count pct
104 CIA 2532 78%
119 DOS 1 < 1%
124 FBI 306 10%
157 SSCIA 103 3%
176 JFK Lib 102 3%
177 LBJ Lib 20 1%
178 Ford Lib 26 1%
179 NARA 1 < 1%
179 WC 1 < 1%
179 NARA 1 < 1%
180 HSCA 95 3%
194 ARMY G2 4 < 1%
197 ACE/PTC 3 < 1%
179 NARA 1 < 1%
198 OSA 23 1%
202 JCS 10 < 1%

So the CIA is still mainly holding back information in its own records, but it is also holding back information in records from a variety of other agencies. Most of this makes sense. For example, the Church Committee interviewed many CIA officers in executive sessions and elicited top secret testimony that is still being released. Most of these redactions are very limited, but in a handful of places there are still larger blanks in the records.

DOD documents/Information

Like the CIA, the DOD (Defense Department) is responsible for reviewing and releasing records from several ARC agencies. Here is a count of redacted records for each of these agencies

ag # agency count
104 CIA 5 1%
124 FBI 49 17%
144 NSA 205 73%
157 SSCIA 3 1%
176 JFK Lib 1 < %1
177 LBJ Lib 5 1%
178 Ford Lib 1 < 1%
194 Army G@ 13 2%

The DOD’s transparency plan is very explicit that some documents will be withheld for some time. Here are some cutoff points for release of materials:

  • From the date NSA determines the specific sources or methods detailed in the JFK records are no longer in use, and their release presents no risk or harm to national security.
  • From the date that NSA partner(s) approve release of their equities for the NSA JFK records.
  • From the date the partnership(s) or diplomatic relationship(s) are formally dissolved and the date the partner is no longer a party to a security agreement or leaves international organizations to which DoD is also a member.
  • From the date when the nuclear weapons system is no longer part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and disclosure of weapons yields of nuclear weapons systems will not hinder U.S. nuclear war planning and civil defense.

So when will the info be released? Well, when do you think “the nuclear weapons system” will no longer be a part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

To be fair, there is only one document that falls into this last category, a couple of pages of a 1963 McNamara report to the JCS. It is 177-10001-10437 and only three numbers are deleted in the entire document. Those numbers, however, represent the megaton yield of nuclear devices. Of course, this was all the way back in 1963.

I have no idea why DOD decided to dig its heels in and redact these numbers. On the other hand, I also have no idea why the ARRB decided to dump this document into the ARC. What is the relevance to the assassination, exception that the document is dated 11/30/63?

That the JFK Act gives Biden authority to withhold these three numbers seems to me beyond any reasonable doubt. So is the withholding of these three numbers enough to make people lose confidence in the government’s ability or willingness to come clean about the assassination of President Kennedy? Something to think about, eh?

The majority of the information held back in these records, however, is NSA related. It is bluntly stated here that some of this information came from NSA partners, i.e. other countries. This information WILL be withheld, unless the US is able to persuade its partners to release. If they are not persuaded, well, the rules governing the release of such information are subject to formal international agreements entered into by the US government, such as the old UKUSA and other, more recent agreements. When the agreements are ended, the information can be released without consent. Not before.

DOS (State Department) documents/information

Still redacted DOS records look odd. None of their own records are redacted (there is one DOS record that CIA is responsible for releasing). Instead, there are a few CIA records and numerous FBI records. Here is the count:

ag # agency count percent
104 CIA 10 < 1%
124 FBI 203 99%
157 SSCIA 1 < 1%

There is some explanation for the FBI records. It turns out that DOS is responsible for releasing extensive sections of a 1400 page FBI file. As Secretary of State Blinken’s letter to President Biden says: “[These records] contain details of a joint intelligence program of the Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although this program was terminated in 1974, the specific details of its activities would cause serious harm to our relations with several specific countries if released. None of the information withheld in these records is relevant to the assassination of President Kennedy and release would add nothing to the public understanding of that tragedy.”

As to redactions in CIA records which DOS is responsible for releasing, apparently these all concern cover arrangements. These was one of the most sensitive issues in CIA/ARRB discussions, and all of these documents are in fact CIA memos and reports submitted to ARRB arguing against release of employee names and cover details. Do not expect these to be released soon.

Finally, the sole SSCIA document which DOS is responsible for releasing turns out to be the Schlesinger memo of 6/10/61 (or 6/30?). This was recently discussed online in places such as Jeff Morley’s substack blog, JFK Facts. The discussion there presumed that CIA was responsible for releasing this document. Apparently this is not true. The Schlesinger memo and who is responsible for its release may be the subject of a later note.

FBI documents/information

According to the FBI letter to Biden linked above, there are only 71 FBI records in the ARC which still have redactions and which the FBI is responsible for releasing. Notice that CIA, DOD, and DOS are also responsible for releasing some information in FBI records, as counted above. On the other hand, The FBI is not responsible for releasing information in anyone else’s records but their own, so I don’t need to give a count here. The FBI divides these 71 records into three categories:

1) Records relating to Martin Luther King, Jr. These records were sealed by a court back in the 1970s. They are scheduled to be released in 2027, at which time they will be released in the ARC. Notice that the JFK Act cannot do a thing about changing the release date of these records.

2) Records which contain the names of living law enforcement and national security confidential sources. The FBI has made sure that these people are still alive, or are under the age of 100. They insist that these names must not be released until death of the sources. The only thing redacted here are names, nothing else.

3) Records which contain social security numbers of living people. The FBI is alone in searching out records with SSNs and specifically holding these back. See below for more on this.

NARA documents/information

NARA has also gone through the entire collection and, to the best of its ability, tried to figure out which records have social security numbers of living persons. They intend to withhold these until they are sure the people they belong to are dead. There are 360 records on their list.

ag # agency count percent
124 FBI 21 6%
180 HSCA 189 52%
194 Army G2 (IRR) 150 42%

Again, the only thing NARA is withholding in these records is SSNs.

I have gone over these, and I believe there is some overlap between the FBI list of records with SSNs of LPs and NARA’s list of SSN’s of LPs. I actually believe that NARA is legally obligated to withhold these. The JFK Act did not exempt such personal information from release, but the least one can say is that this was gross carelessness. In fact, I doubt very much that Congress can require government agencies to release such information. They would have to do this in some other way, like amending the social security act.

It is worth noting that many of the SSNs withheld for HSCA records are for Committee staff. The G2 records are mostly from the Investigative Reports Repository (IRR); much of this material concerns military personnel who were investigating for desertion in Korea. 194 records in the ARC are extensive, but because the RIF forms for these are largely missing from the JFK Database, it is hard to say much more about this.

Section 5 vs Sections 6 and 10

Those who really want to count everything held back in the ARC needs to remember that what we are looking at today are “Section 5” documents. These are the documents that the JFK Act provided no permanent exemptions for release. Once the President has decided everything is open, everything must be opened.

In addition to “Section 5” documents, there are also “Section 6” and “Section 10” documents. These are documents where the JFK Act provided permanent exemptions for release. These documents will be withheld unless/until the JFK Act is revised to remove these exemeptions. Section 6 documents include individual tax returns, which are withheld from public release under the U.S. Tax Code, and records donated to the National Archives with donor restrictions on release. Section 10 documents are court documents, including grand jury information and court sealed documents.

As pointed out earlier in my notes on the December 2022 releases, there are 499 records in the ARC withheld in full under the tax return exemption, and 16 documents withheld in full under the other provisions of Section 6. In addition to these 515 records withheld in full, there are another 2000-plus documents that are partially redacted under Section 6 and 10.

My 2 cents

The “transparency plans” which mandate when these remaining documents will be released were issued in accordance with a Presidential memo. They are not a CIA trick, as one commentator claimed. I am confident that more redactions will be released by June of this year. I am also confident that some material will remain redacted past then.