June 27, 2023: 1103 JFK docs posted at NARA

[Corrected and revised on 6/30]

On 27 June 2023, 1103 records from the JFK Assassination Records Collection were posted at NARA. This is the fifth set of records posted at NARA this year. How many of the records in this latest set released previously withheld information? Is there still material withheld in these 1103 records? Unfortunately, that is harder to say than one might hope.

Release 5, as I will call the latest posting, follows four earlier releases in 2023. These previous releases removed all redactions from the documents posted online. As a result, a total of 1569 records were released in full (RIF).

The releases this time are different. Most of the records posted at NARA on June 27 were released in part (RIP), a disappointment for sure. Even worse, some of the records posted at NARA seem to have no new information released at all.

As a result, it is hard to give numbers for the current release status of the newly posted records.

What about future releases? Well, this release was supposedly the last for this year. I have no doubt that more redacted material will come out in the months and years ahead.

However, there is also no doubt that the 2023 releases have substantially reduced the already depleted stock of redactions in the ARC. So is there anything significant still withheld in the ARC? That, of course, depends on what you mean by significant.

Who posted records for release 5?

Here is a list of agencies which posted records at NARA this time, and how many records each put up:

agency number agency name count pct
104 CIA 759 69%
119 DOS 1 <1%
124 FBI 216 20%
157 SSCIA 44 4%
176 JFK Library 18 2%
177 LBJ Library 10 1%
178 Ford Library 14 1%
180 HSCA 29 3%
194 ACSI 3 <1%
198 OSA 7 <1%
202 JCS 2 <1%

Records unreleased in 2023

I have a note here on the total number of redacted records left in the ARC following the December 2022 releases.

Summarizing the note, in December 2022 there were 4,342 “Section 5” documents in the ARC that had text redacted. (“Section 5” documents are the records eligible for release under the JFK Act.)

After four additional releases in 2023, that number had gone down to 2773 redacted documents in the JFKARC.

We are now at the fifth, and perhaps final 2023 release. NARA has posted 1103 records online, but were redactions actually released in all of these records? Well, no. How many of these newly posted records are now released in full? I don’t yet know. Well, what do we know? Let’s first take a look at where the records are coming from.

The majority of these records were created by the CIA, or contain CIA information. The rule is that the agency which provided classified information in a document is responsible for approving its release. The master list of records that the CIA is responsible for releasing is located here

The list has a total of about 3648 documents. All of the documents released in 2023 have been on that list. Adding together the five releases this year, we get 1569 + 1103 = 2672.

Notice, that means that as many as 976 documents on the master list were NOT released in 2023. I assume that the redactions in these records did not meet criteria for release, and that President Biden decided not to have these released.

Three points: first, President Biden is not personally reviewing these documents. The work, as we now know through a couple of FOIA releases, is done by NSC people. The process is very interesting for me, since how things get declassified is one of my primary interests, but I will save commentary on this for later.

Second, I say “as many as 976”, but I have found that there are surprising uncertainties in counting how many records are at issue. In particular, it seems that there are multiple versions of what should be single records. This is the sort of confusing detail I usually leave out. An example is record number 104-10105-10290. There are two versions of this in the new release: 104-10105-10290[c00551619] and 104-10105-10290[c06932214]. The number of records like this is very small, but they make giving exact numbers always a little bit uncertain. I will say no more about this.

Third, I will repeat for the nth time, otherwise people will still be confused. ALL of these documents, both the 2672 posted at NARA in 2023 and the 976 which were not posted at NARA in 2023, are AVAILABLE on line. They are not withheld, they are not secret, they are not unreleased. They have been released multiple times: five, six, seven times! The issue is that in many cases a single word has been redacted. In other cases a phrase, sentence, or paragraph has been redacted. In about 60-70 records, one or more pages have been redacted.

I call these “redacted records.” I do not call them “secret records”, or even “withheld records”. To do that is just exaggerating the amount of material withheld in the ARC. I don’t knowingly exaggerate.

Records posted at NARA in 2023

As we saw above, there have been 2672 records posted at NARA as of the end of June. The first 1569 were all released in full. I have double checked and believe this is true.

The last release, which we are looking at right now, is not nearly as clear: some are released in full, most are released in part, and some are unchanged from 2022.

So for example, in 2022, 104-10059-10210, a two page memo, had one redacted name left on the second page. The new version from 2023 releases that name, Ken Millian, who was head of covert operations for the Western Hemisphere division in 1970.

In 2022, 104-10064-10012, a 17 page document including a dispatch and several attachments, had one paragraph redacted on page 6. The new version from 2023 has released some, but not all, of that paragraph.

In 2022,104-10098-10072, a one page dispatch, had only a single redaction (the replacement number [24] means operational detail). The new version from 2023 retains that redaction. Although this document was posted at NARA on June 27, it remains unchanged from 2022.

All of this makes it quite difficult to say how many documents with redactions are left in the collection, though of course the amount of uncertainty is much less than in 2018, when the same thing happened, but with many more records.

My two cents

I expect that we will not be left in this sort of uncertainty for as long as we were last time.

After the April 2018 release, it was very difficult to say how many redacted records were left in the collection. This confusion was not clarified until an updated copy of the JFK database was posted in June 2021, over three years after the 2018 release. Bad NARA!

If the release of the remaining redactions pauses for more than a couple of months. NARA should promptly post another updated JFK database. We should not have to wait another three years for an accurate account of the collection’s release status!

Going back to the question of significance, I have said before that most of the redactions left in the ARC are not significant when it comes to the JFK assassination. Obviously, with the release of even more redactions, the amount of information being held back must have shrunk. Less information, less significance. Others, however, may not agree with this view.