JFK Assassination Records Processing Project - 2017 Update
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.
Questions about the Collection and the 2017-2018 releases
In accordance with the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act), 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 JFK Act, all records that were previously authorized for withholding by the ARRB (under section 6) are to be released no later than 25 years after the signing of the Act, unless the President authorizes further withholding. That date was October 26, 2017. Agencies who wanted their information withheld for longer filed formal appeals with the President in accordance with the JFK Act.
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,” which thus 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 JFK Act, will not be released in 2017. Sections 10 and 11 of the JFK Act address withholding of 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 those records, or portions of records, that fit into these categories. They represent a small portion of the larger collection. For all other records, how long the records will remain withheld after 2017 will be determined by the President, who has final appeal authority.
What is NARA’s role after the release?
The staff of the National Archives has been focused on ensuring that we do everything that we can to facilitate the processing of these records. Our goal was to provide the support that the agencies and the President needed to meet the requirements of the JFK Act and to expeditiously release the records as soon as we were authorized to do so.
Now that the 2017 review project is coming to an end, we will begin the archival processing of the original paper documents. We will be interfiling tens of thousands of documents into the 300,000+ documents in the Collection. We will maintain the documents that are still withheld for future re-review. We will be updating the JFK Assassination Collection database with updated access status and posting the updated database on the web.
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?
The JFK Act is printed in Appendix C to the ARRB Final Report. It is codified at 44 U.S.C. § 2107 note.
What happened after the October 26, 2017 deadline?
On October 26, 2017, the President issued a memorandum granting a temporary certification authorizing the withholdings requested by the agencies. However, in the memorandum the President required that the agencies re-review the withheld documents over the next 180 days. Any agency that sought to request further postponements needed to submit their findings to the Archivist of the United States by March 12, 2018. The Archivist then provided advice to the President on March 26, 2018 as instructed in the memorandum. NARA is publishing the newly released documents on April 26th, based on the decision of the President.
How do I know if a document released in April has been previously released in 2017?
You can download the spreadsheet linked on the website and sort it by the Record Identification Form (RIF) number. If you see more than one entry for the same RIF number with different dates of release that means that the documents has been released more than once since 2017. We only posted documents in April of 2018 if the agency informed us that the document had more information released as a result of the re-review ordered by the President.
Why are some RIFs associated with the same pdf?
For the subset of FBI files identified by the ARRB as “Not Believed Relevant” or “NBR,” the digital files were sent to NARA as large pdfs. In many cases, more than one “document”, as described in the database with a unique record identification form (RIF) number, is included in a single pdf. Given the time constraints of the project, NARA did not have the time to split these pdfs into unique documents. As a result, the same pdf is often posted more than once and associated with every RIF number that is included in that pdf.
What has not yet been posted?
NARA did not post the following
- 520 documents that are continuing to be withheld in full under sections 10 and 11 of the JFK Act.
- Documents included in the Oswald 201 microfilm were not processed for release or posted since it was determined that the microfilm documents are a duplicate of the original Oswald 201 file that is processed and released. The ARRB evaluated these records and determined that they were duplicate files. NARA conducted our own evaluation, which was completed on February 5, 2018. That independent evaluation agreed with the ARRB’s original assessment.
- The open in full “document” 180-10125-10179, which is an index of the numbered files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Since every document in the numbered files has otherwise been indexed in the JFK Database, we have not yet prioritized the scanning of these 30,000 index cards. However, they are now open in full and available upon request in the research room at the National Archives at College Park.
- Document 180-10142-10194, which is a used typewriter ribbon.
- Ford Library audio files that the ARRB agreed could not be recovered. The transcripts of the audio files are open and available in the Collection. The ARRB’s decision was captured on page 2 of the Ford Library’s “Final Declaration,” dated August 12, 1998 (which is open and available in the ARRB files). The following RIF numbers describe the audio files.
- 79 unresolved RIF numbers (See below)
What is the current status of the 86 documents referred to in the December 15, 2017 press release?
The press release referred to 86 Record Identification Form (RIF) numbers where additional research was required by the National Archives and the other agencies to resolve. After additional processing, NARA was able to reduce the number of RIF numbers still outstanding to 79. These are RIF numbers that were captured in the JFK Database, but a corresponding document has not yet been found in the Collection. Some of these might be data entry errors from when agencies provided thousands of diskettes with meta-data in the 1990s. NARA will continue to try to resolve these issues as archival processing continues on the Collection. A list of these RIF numbers as well as the associated meta-data is available here.
Please explain the Section 10 and 11 documents issue.
Unlike the Legislative and Executive Branch records discussed in sections 5 and 6 of the Act, section 10 addresses records withheld under court seal that would require a federal court order to allow release. The records still withheld under section 10 are outside of the current public disclosure rules as outlined in section 5.
In section 11, the Act states that the JFK Act does not take precedence over "section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code" or “deeds governing access to or transfer or release of gifts and donations of records to the United States Government.” Records defined by section 11 are also outside of the current public disclosure rules outlined in section 5.
As part of NARA’s processing, we conducted a survey of documents listed as containing withholdings under both of these sections, and were able to determine that the metadata identifying documents with section 10 and 11 information was correctly applied. Since 2017, we also identified several items among our holdings subject to deed of gift restrictions where a release was possible and undertaken. We will continue to assess the pertinent deed of gift restrictions and will release documents in the future.
What is the oldest document that still contains a redaction?
A document from 1943, RIF number 104-10166-10145.
As of April 2018, how many documents are now withheld in full and how many are redacted?
520 documents remain withheld in full pursuant to sections 10 and 11 of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act (JFK Act) and are not subject to the 25-year disclosure requirements, and the President’s certification to withhold certain records, established under section 5 of the JFK Act.
Section 10 authorized the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to petition courts to request the Attorney General to release assassination related information held under seal of a court or “under the injunction of secrecy of a grand jury.” The ARRB "only identified one instance where it believed that important assassination records remained under seal of court and it requested and obtained the assistance of the Department of Justice in lifting the seal" on 13 transcripts of electronic surveillance (described in Chapter Five, p.75, and Chapter Six, p.104 of its Final Report, which is available on NARA’s website, at https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/review-board/report). Five documents remain withheld in full under this section.
Section 11 completely excluded from the JFK Act tax return information protected under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as “deeds governing access to or transfer or release of gifts and donations of records to the United States Government.” The vast majority of the remaining 515 withheld in full documents concern tax-related information of the IRS or the Social Security Administration. The ARRB discusses these documents at Chapter Five, pp.74-75, and Chapter Eight, pp. 154-55 and 159-60 of its Final Report.
15,834 documents are still redacted, although most are currently less redacted than prior to October 26, 2017.
Since July 2017, NARA has released in full 13,371 documents.