In a recent series of posts here, I have been looking at the records released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) under the JFK Records Act. These are the JFK assassination records that were originally mandated to be released by October 26, 2017. Despite the newspaper coverage, there are still many records that have not yet been released to the public. This post looks at what we know about these as yet unseen records.
As noted in a previous post, the records that NARA has been releasing since July of this year are of two kinds: records “previously withheld in full” (WIF records), and records “previously withheld in part” (WIP records). WIF records have never been released in any form by any governmental agency or investigation. WIP records have been released at some point in the past, but with redactions which range from a single two letter prefix (cryptonym prefix) on a single page, to multiple pages which have been completely blanked out.
The WIF records, however, have received the majority of the attention in the run up to October 26. These records are by no means terra incognita. In response to an FOIA request, NARA released a detailed list of these documents in January/February 2016. I have tracked down some of the details about this list from the following sources:
The FOIA website shows that a request for this information was submitted to NARA by Michael Raznitsky on Nov. 30, 2015, and a “partial” response was provided January 21, 2016. “Partial” seems to mean that parts of the list were redacted (as the annotations on the list show).
The file posted was originally cited by both WWW and MFF as listing 3603 records. It does not. John Newman’s website 2017JFK.org (here) attributes the figure of 3603 WIF records remaining to an April 15, 2015 presentation by NARA’s Martha Murphy (available on youtube here). I can’t find where Murphy gives this specific number, but she does make the important point that NARA’s online catalogue of records subject to the JKFRA had, or have, many inaccuracies concerning which records remain WIF, and which are only WIP.
In any case, as MFF later acknowledged (here), the list NARA provided to Raznitsky in 2016 (hereafter simplified to “NARA 2016”), had data for 3598 records. The file posted online omitted one page, which NARA provided to MFF (available here). With this correction, all the data for these records is publicly available. Many of these records list 0 pages; this means that the number of pages has not yet been entered into the NARA catalog. As a result of this, we do not yet know the total number of pages remaining to be released. We do have all the RIF numbers, which are the record numbering system devised by NARA for the JFK record collection, and we do know which agencies provided the records. MFF gives a breakdown of records per agency for NARA 2016 (here), but it is slightly off. The corrected numbers are as follows:
|RIF prefix||Agency||No. Records|
(Note that 176 records are not from the US Secret Service, but from several collections held by NARA, in this case the papers of C. Douglas Dillon, Sec. of the Treasury and head of the Secret Service at the time of the Kennedy assassination. 181 records, on the other hand, are records produced by NARA itself)
The RIF numbers also allow us to check which of these records have been released in 2017 (as of 29 Nov). As noted in my previous post, NARA has provided spreadsheets which list all the data for the records released so far, but there are some ambiguities in the spreadsheets. As a result, MFF lists 1211 WIF records released as of 17 Nov, but I count 1179 records, 32 fewer than MFF counts.
Comparing the RIFs of the released records to the RIFs listed in NARA 2016, we can see that WIP vs WIF numbers are still a problem. First, there are 31 released records which are listed in NARA 2016, but the NARA release spreadsheet gives their status as WIP. These records are:
Second, there are 19 released records where the NARA release spreadsheet gives their status as WIF, but they are NOT listed in NARA 2016. These records are:
I believe that the discrepancies between NARA 2016 and the data in the release spreadsheets is due to NARA reviewing previous records which were not correctly accounted for. The RIF sheets that accompany the majority of the new releases support this suggestion.
For example, of the 31 records which NARA 2016 lists as WIF and the release spreadsheet lists as WIP, the RIF sheets for 27 of these are stamped “Released under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 ($$ USC 2107 Note). Case#: NW 54545 Date: 10-12-2017”, with the Current Status marking on the sheet all originally reading ‘Withhold’, but in two cases crossed out and hand marked ‘Open.’
I take this to mean that these records were processed as a set on 10/12, at which point the incorrect status was noted and corrected. (Also, it is interesting that most of these records were from NARA itself, i.e. prefix 181.)
In the case of the records that were not listed in NARA 2016, but are marked on the release spreadsheets WIF, this was in at least some cases the reverse process. For example, on record # 194-10013-10328 the Current Status marking was “Released with Deletions”. This would explain why it was not listed in NARA 2016. As for its release now listed as WIF, I assume that this was also due to review, though there is no marking on the RIF sheet to support this.
The end result: 1191 records in NARA 2016 have now been released, with 2407 to go. Here is table of these records by agency:
|RIF prefix||Agency||No. Records|
(Table revised 12/20/2017)