JFK DECLASSIFICATION

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15 December 2022

Memorandum on Certifications Regarding Disclosure of Information in Certain Records Related to the Assassination of

President John F. Kennedy

 

SUBJECT:      Certifications Regarding Disclosure of Information in Certain Records Related to theAssassination of President John F. Kennedy

Section 1.  Policy.  As set forth in the Presidential Memorandum of October 22, 2021 (Temporary Certification Regarding Disclosure of Information in Certain Records Related to the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy) (2021 Memorandum), in the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (44 U.S.C. 2107 note) (the “Act”), the Congress declared that “all Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy . . . should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination.”  The Congress also found that “most of the records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are almost 30 years old, and only in the rarest cases is there any legitimate need for continued protection of such records.”  In the 30 years since the Act became law, the profound national tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day; meanwhile, the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time.  It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency by disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.

Sec. 2.  Background.  (a)  The Act permits the continued postponement of disclosure of information in records concerning President Kennedy’s assassination only when postponement remains necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  Since 2018, executive departments and agencies (agencies) have been reviewing under this statutory standard each redaction they have proposed that would result in the continued postponement of full public disclosure, with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reviewing whether it agrees that each redaction continues to meet the statutory standard.  In my 2021 Memorandum, the Archivist of the United States (Archivist) explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the ability of agencies, including NARA, to conduct this review and comprehensive engagement, and the Archivist recommended that I temporarily certify the records for continued postponement for a limited period.  In the 2021 Memorandum, I directed the completion of an intensive 1-year review of each remaining proposed redaction to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency by disclosing all information in records related to the assassination, except in cases when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.

(b)  Pursuant to my direction, agencies have undertaken a comprehensive effort to review the full set of almost 16,000 records that had previously been released in redacted form and determined that more than 70 percent of those records may now be released in full.  This significant disclosure reflects my Administration’s commitment to transparency and will provide the American public with greater insight and understanding of the Government’s investigation into this tragic event in American history.

(c)  In the course of their review, agencies have identified a limited number of records containing information for continued postponement of public disclosure.  NARA has reviewed these proposed redactions and has coordinated with relevant consulting agencies, where appropriate, to ensure that the proposed redactions meet the statutory standard for continued postponement.  The Acting Archivist has recommended certifying a small subset of the reviewed records for continued postponement of public disclosure.

(d)  The Acting Archivist has further indicated that additional work remains to be done with respect to a limited number of other reviewed records that were the subject of agency proposals for continued postponement of public disclosure.  The Acting Archivist believes such additional work could further reduce the amount of redacted information.  The Acting Archivist therefore recommends that I temporarily certify the continued postponement of public disclosure of the redacted information in these records to provide additional time for review and to ensure that information from these records is disclosed to the maximum extent possible, consistent with the standards of the Act.

Sec. 3.  Certification.  In light of the proposals from agencies for continued postponement of public disclosure of information in the records identified in section 2(c) of this memorandum under the statutory standard, and the Acting Archivist’s recommendation, I agree that continued postponement of public disclosure of such information is warranted to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  Accordingly, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act, I hereby certify that continued postponement of public disclosure of these records is necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  All information within these records that agencies have proposed for continued postponement under section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act shall accordingly be withheld from public disclosure.  Further release of the information in these records shall occur in a manner consistent with the Transparency Plans described in section 7 of this memorandum.

Sec. 4.  Temporary Certification.  In light of the proposals from agencies for continued postponement of public disclosure of information in the records identified in section 2(d) of this memorandum under the statutory standard, the Acting Archivist’s request for an extension of time to continue review of those records, and the need for an appropriately thorough review process, I agree with the Acting Archivist’s recommendation regarding temporary postponement.  Temporary continued postponement of public disclosure of such information is necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  Accordingly, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act, I hereby certify that all information within these records that agencies have proposed for continued postponement under section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act shall be withheld from public disclosure until June 30, 2023.

Sec. 5.  Release.  Any information currently withheld from public disclosure that agencies have not proposed for continued postponement shall be released to the public by December 15, 2022.

Sec. 6.  Review.  (a)  From the date of this memorandum until May 1, 2023, relevant agencies and NARA shall jointly review the remaining redactions in the records addressed in sections 2(d) and 4 of this memorandum with a view to maximizing transparency and disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.  Any information that agencies propose for continued postponement of public release beyond June 30, 2023, shall be limited to the absolute minimum under the statutory standard.  Agencies shall not propose to continue redacting information unless the redaction is necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  In applying the statutory standard, agencies shall:

(i)   accord substantial weight to the public interest in transparency and full disclosure of any record that falls within the scope of the Act; and

(ii)  give due consideration that some degree of harm is not grounds for continued postponement unless the degree of harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

(b)  If, by no later than May 1, 2023, NARA agrees that a proposed redaction meets the statutory standard for continued postponement, the Archivist shall recommend to the President, no later than May 1, 2023, that continued postponement of public disclosure of the information is warranted after June 30, 2023.

(c)  If, by no later than May 1, 2023, NARA does not recommend that a proposed redaction meets the statutory standard for continued postponement, agencies shall, no later than May 15, 2023:

(i)   withdraw the proposed redaction; or

(ii)  recommend to the President, through the Counsel to the President, on a document-by-document basis, that release of the information continue to be postponed, providing an explanation for each proposed redaction of why continued postponement remains necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

(d)  In the development of the recommendations described in this section, as questions arise about particular proposed redactions, NARA shall consult, as appropriate, with relevant agencies as described in section 5(d) of my 2021 Memorandum.

(e)  At the conclusion of the review described in this section, any information withheld from public disclosure that agencies do not propose for continued postponement beyond June 30, 2023, shall be released to the public by that date.

Sec. 7.  Transparency Plans.  As part of their review, each agency prepared a plan for the eventual release of information (Transparency Plan) to ensure that information would continue to be disclosed over time as the identified harm associated with release of the information dissipates.  Each Transparency Plan details the event-based or circumstance-based conditions that will trigger the public disclosure of currently postponed information by the National Declassification Center (NDC) at NARA.  These Transparency Plans have been reviewed by NARA, and the Acting Archivist has advised that use of the Transparency Plans by the NDC will ensure appropriate continued release of information covered by the Act.  Accordingly, I direct that the Transparency Plans submitted by agencies be used by the NDC to conduct future reviews of any information that has been postponed from public disclosure, including information in the records described in sections 2(c) and 3 of this memorandum.

Sec. 8.  Publication.  The Acting Archivist is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

                               JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

 

UPDATE:

On Tue, Dec 13, 2022, 2:51 PM National Archives Public and Media Communications <[email protected]> wrote:

Good afternoon,

The records will be posted online the afternoon of Thursday, December 15.

Sincerely,

 

National Archives Public and Media Communications staff

mail?url=http%3A%2F%2Fi.imgbox.com%2F17qPemBF JFK DECLASSIFICATION

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Following are remarks delivered 6 December 2022 at the National Press Club by the president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, Rex Bradford:

Good morning.  My name is Rex Bradford, and I’m president of the non-profit Mary Ferrell Foundation.  Our organization runs a website at maryferrell.org which contains about two million pages of declassified documents on the JFK assassination and other topics, along with various search tools to make the information in them as accessible as possible.

 

In October, the Mary Ferrell Foundation along with two individual citizens filed suit in federal court seeking enforcement of the 1992 JFK Records Act.  I want to talk for a few minutes this morning about why we filed the suit, and then hand off to our distinguished panelists.

 

President Kennedy was killed nearly 60 years ago, and the excessive secrecy began immediately, with Earl Warren’s declaration that there were things that could not be revealed even “in your lifetime.” After Watergate and the revelations of US assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, there was hope that a Congressional re-investigation would pierce the veil. Instead, it issued a report and then its files went into the vaults of the National Archives.

 

The American people eventually said “enough.”  The result was the 1992 JFK Records Collection Act, which begins with the declaration that “all government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure, and all records should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination.”

 

The JFK Act created the Assassination Records Review Board to oversee the process – I’m very happy its former Chair Judge Tunheim is here with us today.  The 1990s saw the declassification of literally millions of pages of formerly-secret records.

 

The work of the Review Board may not have produced a new headline for the perennial question “Who Killed JFK?”, but its revelations and impact was nonetheless profound. The story of the formation of the Warren Commission, born from a desire to head off World War III, can now be heard in President Lyndon Johnson’s own recorded voice. The strange saga of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to visit the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City in the fall of 1963, allegations arising from which fed the Communist conspiracy line that drove LBJ and the Warren Commission behind closed doors, finally reached the public 30 years later.  Because of the broad mandate of the Act, we even learned a great deal about formerly secret Kennedy foreign policy, particularly on Cuba and Vietnam. Because of the JFK Records Act, the unknowable question “what would Kennedy have done in Vietnam” now sits uncomfortably alongside the certainty that, at the moment of his death, it was U.S. policy to fully withdraw.

 

And, bit by bit, we have continued to learn more about the troubling topic of the CIA’s interest in Lee Oswald before the assassination.  The Warren Commission’s depiction of an unknown loner doesn’t square easily with one senior CIA officer’s assertion that “the effect was electric” when Oswald’s name came over the wire on 11/22/63, nor with another officer’s admission that the strange handling of Oswald’s file indicated a “keen interest in Oswald held very closely on the need-to-know basis.”  My colleague Jeff Morley will be presenting new information on this very important topic today.

 

So we have been peeling layers off the onion that is the murder of a U.S. president at the height of the Cold War, year by year.

 

But our work remains unfinished.  The JFK Act specified the precise timeframe for when all JFK records would be released in full: 25 years after passage. That was October of 2017.  Three times since then, some documents have been released while the can has been kicked down the road on others. The public deserves what Congress intended when it wrote the law 30 years ago – full disclosure – and that’s what we are seeking in court.

 

We have also identified a few particular document sets which are not specifically in the Collection, absent due to time constraints on the Review Board but clearly meeting the criteria for being “JFK records”, and we are asking that these also be released.  Jeff Morley’s presentation will highlight one of these.

 

Over-classification is not limited to the JFK assassination of course, though this topic has perhaps at times been the poster child.  The JFK Records Act, and the Freedom of Information Act before it, are tools borne of the recognition that this is a government of the people, by the people, and ultimately its records are our history.

 

The Mary Ferrell Foundation’s mission is to make the formerly secret history accessible.  We have for over 15 years been digitizing many of these records, and putting them online behind a search engine.  We’ve taken the National Archive’s master index to the JFK Collection – which in 2022 is an Excel spreadsheet – and built an interactive research tool in front of it.  We then used the tool to study this critical document-locating resource, and found major gaps and inconsistencies in the data, something we are also asking be corrected in this lawsuit.

 

The Foundation strives to provide access and to bring these paper records to life.  The stories in them remain all too relevant to seeing how the government functions when in crisis. Ideally this shouldn’t have to be a private organization’s job. The National Archives announced recently that it has digitized 200 million pages of records – well how about the JFK collection, the most sought-after paper it has?  President Biden a year ago asked for a plan to do so; as yet there appears to be still just a plan.  In any case, at minimum the National Archives is legally charged with completing the work of the Review Board, fulfilling the JFK Records Act and finally ending the secrecy.

 

It is not without irony that blanket National Security claims are being invoked to withhold documents concerning a murder which is supposed to have been committed by a single lone malcontent. And there has been a real cost to the lack of transparency and the incessant disclosure delays.  Persons named in the documents have died and can no longer be interviewed. Sometimes when declassification is finally mandated, it turns out the documents have gone missing, as the Review Board discovered happened with a great many deposition transcripts of the 1970s Church Committee.

 

It has been said that the government’s records may offer only an oblique path to the truth in this matter, but in the end they are the best we’ve got.  It is time to stop kicking this can down the road.

 

Thank you for coming today.  I would like to turn things back now to Larry Schnapf, to introduce Judge Tunheim.

Watch the full presentation HERE

On December 5, the day before speaking at the Mary Ferrell Foundation’s National Press Club event, the Honorable Judge John Tunheim wrote a letter to President Biden, strongly urging full release of the remaining JFK records. Judge Tunheim was Chair of the Assassinaton Records Review Board from 1994 to 1998.

Here is Judge Tunheim’s letter to President Joe Biden:

Tunheim_PresBiden_JFKFiles_2022-12-05

[4 pages; Place cursor over file; Scroll up or down using arrows at lower left corner]

 

 

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