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Second Question and Answer from the Forum

by on September 2, 2011


At the June 2010 public forum, Archives official Michael Kurtz stated that one percent of the five million pages of JFK assassination records is still withheld and that these records will be processed by the National Declassification Center as it tries to clear the backlog by the end of 2013.  In light of the public interest in these records, would the Archives consider establishing a project to ensure that these JFK assassination records are processed prior to the Fiftieth Anniversary of the JFK assassination in November 2013? 

 Answer: Records associated with the JFK assassination, having previously undergone appropriate government-wide declassification review and processing, are not technically part of our 400 million page processing back log; however, they do fall under the high interest, high historical value category.  Recall that these valuable records were subject to the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which mandated that all assassination records must be released in full by 2017,   25 years after the date of the passing of the Act in 1992. To apply that requirement vigorously, the Act established the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent agency set up to make sure all assassination-related records were identified and sent to NARA and that they were open to the greatest extent possible.  The power wielded by the ARRB meant that more records were declassified and made available under the JFK Act than would have been released under the Freedom of  Information Act (FOIA) or under mandatory and systematic review provisions of the Executive Order.  [The work of the ARRB is well described in their Final Report: http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/review-board/report/]  The Collection includes over five million pages, and as noted by this and other questioners, less than 1% of the documents in the Collection are withheld in full.  NARA believes that the declassification review process on these withheld records was vigorously applied under the strictest standards and at great expense.  We believe Agencies were requiredto release documents that they would not have voluntarily released, or been compelled to release, under the previous Executive Order review guidelines.  That said, NDC will examine whether the recent changes reflected in the new Executive Order (13526) are likely to result in a change of declassification status for these historical records and if that change could allow for declassification of the remaining classified material prior to 2017 in an efficient manner.  I must caution you, however, that in prioritizing parts of the backlog, we look for collections of both high interest and “declassifiability.” In the case of these records, that “declassability” standard may have already been surpassed.  As I must focus our and other government agency limited resources on the back log due December 2013, I have to take that into account before I ask other agencies to re-look at documents they may already feel they have re-reviewed sufficiently.


Comments

Steve December 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm

What is the difference between “declassifiability” and “declassability”?

These records are of the highest historical value and interest to citizens, and should be released immediately and before 11-22-2013.

Thank you,

Steve

Alex Daverede December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Steve,

I apologize for the confusion–declassifiability and declassability are admittedly clumsy terms we use to define our ability to declassify records. For example, declassifying World War II era operational records is so easy the action is more administrative in nature, while declassifying nuclear weapons design information is (deservedly) impossible to do. Among the factors the NDC examines in working declassification projects is whether the records in question can be substantially declassified. If there is little or no hope of the records being declassified, then the NDC will move to more fruitful projects.

Dan December 7, 2011 at 8:23 am

Last month at the Virginia Film Festival following a sold out showing of the “JFK” film, a public call was issued for release of the remaining withheld records in the Kennedy assassination collection. This is indication of the continuing high public interest in these records. Any progress on this issue?

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