JFK Assassination Records Processing Project
NARA Commits to Processing the Withheld JFK Assassination Records by October 26, 2017
When Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992 agencies throughout the Federal Government transferred assassination-related records to the National Archives which established the JFK Assassination Records Collection. The Collection consists of approximately 5 million pages of records. Approximately 88% of the records in the Collection are open in full. An addition 11% are released in part with sensitive portions removed. Approximately 1% of documents identified as assassination-related remain withheld in full. All documents withheld either in part or in full were authorized for withholding by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent temporary agency that was in existence from 1994 to 1998.
According to the Act, all records previously withheld either in part or in full should be released on October 26, 2017, unless authorized for further withholding by the President of the United States. The 2017 date derives directly from the law that states:
Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, unless the President certifies, as required by this Act, that –
(i) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or conduct of foreign relations; and
(ii) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
The Act was signed by President Bush on October 26, 1992, thus the final release date is October 26, 2017.*
The JFK 2017 Processing Team
In October of 2014, after conducting an initial pre-processing evaluation of the withheld materials, the National Archives constituted a dedicated team of four (4) archivists to process withheld JFK Assassination-related records in preparation for the 2017 release of additional materials. NARA has hired three (3) additional technicians to assist with digitizing the withheld materials.
The Team is conducting archival processing on the documents to prepare the records for scanning. Agencies with equities in the withheld materials have been notified that previously withheld documents will be released in 2017 absent a successful appeal to the President. The staff is working with NARA’s Office of Innovation to determine the best way to present the documents through archives.gov when released in 2017.
Once the digital release is completed the hard copy documents will be interfiled into the five million pages of the paper Collection.
*For more information about the ARRB and the Act, you can read the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board. A copy of the Act is in Appendix C of the Report.
FAQs about John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 Collection and the 2017 release
The President created the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) as an independent agency to re-examine for release the assassination-related records that federal agencies still regarded as too sensitive to open to the public. The Board finished its work on September 30, 1998, issued a final report, and transferred all of its records to the National Archives and Records Administration.
What does the John F Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 say about the release of assassination records?
According to the Act, all records that were previously authorized for withholding by the ARRB are to be released no later than 25 years after the signing of the Act, unless the President authorizes further withholding. That date is October 26, 2017. Agencies who would like their information withheld for longer, need to file a formal appeal with the President.
Have any agencies appealed the release of their records?
As of March, 2017, NARA has not been notified that any agency has appealed release of their documents. However, it is our understanding that agencies are still reviewing the documents subject to release in October 2017.
What is going to be released before October?
We still have not determined whether or how many records will be released before the October deadline. The law states that the records must be released or authorized for further withholding no later than 25 years after the signing of the act. Nothing in the law precludes or requires a release prior to that date. We are hopeful that there will be files that can be proactively released before the October 26, 2017 deadline, but are awaiting formal determinations from the agencies.
Where is the withdrawn material physically kept?
Agencies transferred the withheld material to NARA. NARA stores the records in security-classified stacks at the National Archives at College Park.
How likely is it that there could be a major revelation in the material?
The ARRB considered the relevancy of each document to the assassination events when they determined which documents would be released during their tenure and which could be postponed until 2017. The ARRB cast a wide net in what they considered assassination related and included records on topics not specifically related to the assassination and the investigations into the assassination. While NARA cannot comment on the content of the records, we assume that much of what will be released will be tangential to the assassination events.
Are we going to see everything, or will some documents remain secret forever?
NARA is trusted with preserving our archival holdings permanently and holds that all records in our legal custody will eventually be available for research. That said, there are categories of records in the collection that, in accordance with the Act, will not be released in 2017. Sections 10 and 11 of the act discuss grand jury information and records held under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code (tax return information) as well as records covered by a specific deed of gift. We have identified a small number of records, or portions of records, that fit into these categories. For all other records, how long records stay withheld after 2017 will be determined by the President, who has final appeal authority.
What is NARA’s role?
The staff of the National Archives is focused on ensuring that we do everything in our power to facilitate the processing of these records. Our goal is to provide the support that the agencies and the President need to meet the requirements of the Act and to expeditiously release the records as soon as we are authorized to do so.
Where can I find a copy of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act and more information about the work of the Assassination Records Review Board?