Monday, February 21, 2011

A Call for a Congressional Hearing

     Back in 1993, just days before the 30th anniversary of the JFK assassination, we had a congressional hearing on the effectiveness of Public Law 102-526.  Below is a link to the full text of that hearing which is available in a variety of formats from the Internet Archive, a wonderful website which you should all bookmark.  

     I'd like to have another one before the 50th anniversary.  I want a hearing focused on the JFK Act alone. We haven't had anything like one in 18 years.  

     I want to emphasize documents that we still don't have and should.  I want to draw attention to records that are still being withheld, like the George Joannides files; and a subsection of the Lopez report entitled "Was LHO a CIA agent?" that has not been released.  There are, of course, many other examples.  

     I don't want this to be a talking point on a blog, or a forum, or a panel at a conference.  I want action. Those interested in such an endeavor please email me at  I would like to have a list of issues to bring to the attention of congress.  I would like to have a small get together of interested researchers, perhaps in Washington, D.C., over a long weekend where we could discuss this and present documents that show that there should be other documents but they're not there.  Basically, I want a list of everything still frustrating you as a JFK researcher since the JFK Act was passed.  The idea is you bring your story and documents, and proof that things are missing, or should have been released and are not and we share this amongst the team.  It is not to go to the archives and let's find problems.  

     What I don't want is a discussion of worn out and phony issues.  I don't want to hear about the Single Bullet Theory.  I don't want to hear about Roscoe White.  I don't want to hear about getting the Dallas District Attorney to reopen the case.  I don't want to hear about a grand jury. I don't want to hear the Three Tramps were Watergate burglars.  I don't want to hear George H.W. Bush is behind it all.  I don't want to hear we need to do X, Y, and Z, and all the other letters of the alphabet first, or we need action on everything before we have any action at all.  I don't want to hear it.  

     At the last JFK Lancer conference Bill Simpich had a great idea that I'm surprised I haven't heard it expressed before.  The HSCA got a gag order lifted for personnel involved with JFK's autopsy at Bethesda.  We need to break the gag order that is the secrecy oath CIA personnel have, and other employees of other intelligence agencies have.  We need to break the idea of an oath to an agency, rather than a oath to the Constitution.  We need to break the idea that remaining silent is demonstrating loyalty to an agency and a patriotic duty.  Some examples of people who should be questioned from the CIA are: Jane Roman, Ann Goodpasture, Charlotte Bustos (I don't know if she's still alive,) and many others.   

     What I want to hear are things like this:

          1.) The George Joannides Case  
          This is an example of the blatant disregard for the ARRB's compliance program.  From the ARRB's Final Report, "The Review Board compliance program was established to ensure that all federal agencies holding assassination records would warrant under oath that every reasonable effort had been made to identify assassination records and that such records had been made fully available for review by the Board. The Board has remained concerned that critical records may have been withheld from the Board's scrutiny and that the Board did not secure all that was "out there." It is all too easy to imagine that agencies and agency personnel not inclined to cooperate might simply have waited, using the JFK Act's sunset provision by waiting for it to take effect and ending the need to cooperate.
          The Review Board's solution to this concern was to develop a compliance program in which each agency designated a "compliance officer" to warrant, under oath and penalty of perjury, that records had been diligently searched for and turned over to the Board for review and/or release to NARA. This program entails a detailed review (overseen by Review Board staff) of the effort undertaken by each agency in pursuit of such records and constitutes a record to guide future researchers in examining what assassination records were actually uncovered. The program is also intended to be forward-looking, so that the agencies will continue to follow the provisions of the JFK Act after the Board terminates its role. The program has worked well."  Until people learned about George Joannides. 
          Jefferson Morley has written about this many times.  I like this one from Talking Points Memo Cafe -

  2.) Inter-filling
         Material is being declassified and released with little or no notice and just filed within the collection. Researchers may think they have copied the entire contents of a box only for something new to be placed in that box that they will never discover without going into Archives II and re-examining boxes. 

          3.) Failure to implement ARRB recommendations.  
          Recommendation #2 is THE reason to call for a congressional oversight hearing.  "2. The Review Board recommends that any serious, sustained effort to declassify records requires congressional legislation..."  
          Recommendation #4 is crucial too, "the Review Board sunsets but the JFK Act does not and, as a result, there is uncertainty about the status of openings that will occur after September 1998, and whether any further appeals by agencies might be permitted, and, if so, who would represent the interest of openness;"  Who represent the interests of openness?  
          Recommendation #7c "that a joint oversight group composed of representatives of the four organizations that originally nominated individuals to serve on the Review Board be created to facilitate the continuing execution of the access provisions of the JFK Act." This never happened.  Further, "The Board recommends negotiation of a memorandum of understanding among NARA, the FBI, and the CIA that would establish a common agreement on how to resolve the inevitable issues concerning the extensive assassination records of these two agencies. This is particularly necessary since additional records will be sent to NARA and additional releases of documents are scheduled to take place after the termination of the Review Board. The formation of a liaison group composed of individuals from professional organizations that originally nominated members for the Review Board to oversee implementation of the provisions of the JFK Act would ensure the continuing representation of the public interest by those trained to understand continuing historical, archival, and legal issues." Where is the representation of the public interest? 
          The ARRB is gone, but the JFK Act still exists. There is no supervisory body to ensure proper implementation of the JFK Act.  This is congress' responsibility.  But, no hearing has been held since the ARRB sunset in 1998. Maybe new legislation is needed.  The Board wrote, "Other federal declassification efforts, especially at NARA, need substantially more resources if they are successfully to accomplish their mandates. The work of the Review Board staff shows what adequate funding can achieve." Maybe at this hearing we should call for the creation of funds to help offset the costs of declassifying JFK assassination records.   

          4.) Postponed Material that should now be released.  In some instances the ARRB did not release documents in full.  In some instances they decided to postpone the release of a document, or they released a document but postponed the release of some information contained within the document.  Often these postponements cited a date whereby the document should be released in full, or the previously postponed portion of a document should now be open. They ARRB were precise in this. These decisions were published in the Federal Register.  But, there seems to be a, "the hell with it," attitude and just wait until 2017 and then release it all.     

          5.) The Big Black Hole - Where are the audiotapes / videotapes? There are many examples of documents being associated with audiotapes and videotapes.  There apparently is some regulation within NARA that paper documents and audio / visual material are to be separated.  I can sort of see the logic of that in terms of the material being of different mediums and needing different storage conditions.  However, the application of this methodology currently results in easily found documents and a big black hole as far as where the heck is the audiotape and/or videocassette mentioned in specific documents?  Paper records at Archives II are on the second floor, and audio / video tapes are on the fourth floor.  Malcolm Blunt is concerned about this and has run into it time and time again.  
          I am also gravely concerned as technology has migrated from magnetic audiotape to MP3 formats for sound and from VHS videotape to DVD discs for video.  I fear nothing has been done to migrate material onto the new medium and precious material recorded onto older mediums will be lost as equipment to play them becomes obsolete and no longer produced.  As of 2011 it is becoming harder and harder to even find blank 90 minute audio cassettes or blank VHS tapes for sale. Once upon a time they were  ubiquitous and the industry standards.  
          The issue's importance should be clear.  We're still waiting for audio and video to be declassified.
What if the government waits another decade, or two or more to release them?  Will NARA still have functioning equipment to play them?  And if they do will staff allow members of the public to play them? I fear the medium they are on will imply they're no longer important.  How many people under age 20 would seek out a vinyl recording? Or even know what a 33 and a 1/3rd is? or a 45? or a 78? How many would invest in buying something recorded on such media, or invest in the type of roundtable to play them? Today's youth are not even interested in purchasing music.   

          Examples of audio and video problems: 
          a.) The ARRB used audiotapes and videocassettes especially when interviewing witnesses and other important personnel in the history of the JFK assassination.  Almost none of this has been processed and made available to researchers.  
          b.) hundreds of audio items stripped from FBI files, none processed and made available to researchers.

          6.) Mandated FBI File Releases pursuant to an agreement with the ARRB 
          According to Malcolm Blunt, they are not happening, "For all intents and purposes there is no FBI/ JFK Task Force operating now. The FBI Task Force is either non existent or almost non existent, that's why they are attempting to review these ARRB mandated releases themselves "page by page."

          7.) The JFK Records Collection has been downgraded within NARA.  It is now a very low priority.  Who is in charge of the collection now? There should be at least one person in charge, and his or her duties should not be diffused across numerous other collections.  

          8.) Missing transcripts from that Church Committee files, and missing staff notes.  Again, Malcolm Blunt has informed me about this.  

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