Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The AARC Has Made a Mountain out of a Molehill, and the Molehill Wasn't Even There

The ARRC has made a mistake.  This goes back to some open forums that the National Declassification Center (NDC) held.  At the first one, which I attended, they, the NDC people, were looking for guidance as to what should be a priority among 400 million pages of documents on a broad range of topics that they were going to declassify and release to the American people. I urged people to go to this event and ask that JFK records be given the priority.  Thankfully, people responded, showed up and did exactly that. 

In the beginning of the Q & A session in which they responded to questions and comments already received prior to the start of the open public forum Dr. Michael Kurtz, a member of the NDC commented, "On the questions related to the John F. Kennedy assassination review records, just to note that we have 5 million pages that are in the RRB records, [he mangled it, he meant of course the ARRB records.] the assassination review board records. Less then 1% of those records at this point are classified in full and they are scheduled to be released in 2017, unless an agency makes a direct appeal to the president.  And it would be at the presidential level that any decision would be made on whether that small amount of material needs to be, continues to be classified."  

And I think this statement has been hugely misunderstood.  It was not a policy statement.  It was an estimate, at best, as to the actual total number of JFK records being withheld.  

During the Q & A session Jim Lesar asked for JFK records to be the NDC's priority. "I would prefer, or suggest that at the apex of the high public interest documents are those in which Congress itself has spoken and demanded release, most notably in the case of the President Kennedy assassination records.  

And I’m a little disturbed at the suggestion which I have seemed to have picked up here is that those records would be withheld until 2017, while the Act, the JFK Act does provide for withholding until 2017 it does not mandate that date.  There are other considerations that should advance it to the very top of the apex, including the fact that the 50th anniversary is upon us within three years.  There will be an enormous public scrutiny of the assassination in light of that, and not to have all of the records out for that debate would be a very grave error, I think."

Later, Jim Lesar sought some additional information as to this 1% of JFK records, thought to be mostly CIA, that are being withheld.  

"Jim Lesar - One further question, are there any of the records that you say are one percent of the JFK Act collection is currently withheld.  Are any of those, does that category consist solely of CIA records?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - I would have to check into that. I do know it’s got, that less than one percent really has a good bit of human sources and methods, that would be CIA related, whether there are other equities I’m not sure.  

    Jim Lesar - Do you plan to review the JFK materials under the National Declassification Center or are you simply relying on the 2017 date?

    Dr. Michael Kurtz - No, we will process this as part of the NDC.

Now, I never took that as a policy statement set it stone.  For some reason, Jim Lesar did.  For him it was a "commitment." Jim Lesar and others wrote a letter to NARA in January. I criticized that letter for its faulty logic, misspellings and grammatical errors.  Now, I never took that as a policy statement set it stone.  For some reason, Jim Lesar did.  For him it was a "commitment." Jim Lesar and others wrote a letter to NARA in January. 

Apparently, none of my advice was listened to. Six months later NARA has responded.  

NARA'S General Counsel, Gary Stern replied to Lesar pointing out the error in believing that the CIA are withholding 50,000 pages of JFK assassination records, "I note that your letter states that in 2010, Assistant Archivist "Michael Kurtz revealed that the CIA continues to withhold approximately 50,000 pages of JFK assassination-related records." I would like to clarify that NARA has never counted, and thus does not know, the actual number of pages that are postponed in full. Dr. Kurtz accurately stated that "less than one percent'" of the total volume of assassination records was still being withheld; he also provided our rough estimate that the collection totals approximately five million pages. Thus, it appears that the 50,000 page number in your letter may have been derived by incorrectly calculating a full one percent of five million pages. All we do know is that the CIA withheld in full a total of 1,171 documents as national security classified (there is a small number of other agency documents also postponed in full, principally for law enforcement)."

So, the stupid headline of "CIA withholding 50,000 pages of JFK assassination records," is totally wrong!

Jim Lesar, and the folks at the Assassination Archive and Research Center should never have concentrated on the word "pages." They should always and only concentrate on the word "document." "Pages," means nothing, "document," means everything.  A page is a page.  A document can be one page, or hundreds, or thousands of pages.  If ever given the choice between "page" and "document" ALWAYS choose document. 

Stern continued, "We recognize that, in a 2010 public forum. Dr. Kurtz stated that the postponed JFK assassination records would be included as part of the NDC project. However, as we have tried to explain before. Dr. Kurtz misspoke. Rather, because the postponed JFK assassination records have already been subject to a full and complete government-wide declassification review, they are not part of the 400 million page backlog of records that have yet to receive a final review."

So, what we have learned from this is that there are 1,171 documents being withheld in their entirety until 2017.  We need to get the RIF numbers for these documents.  

I am very skeptical of Mr. Stern's claim that "Moreover, as you point out, the JFK Act clearly intended for periodic releases prior to the 2017 date. To date all of the periodic release dates have been met, including in 2006, when the CIA made preemptory releases of all documents that were postponed from release until 2010."  It will take an enormous effort to verify this.  There are an awful lot of postponements in many, many documents from several agencies, not just the CIA.  

The idea that the CIA does not have the time or resources to review 1,171 documents between now and 2017 is yet another self-serving CIA lie. 

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