The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on December 15, 2021, released 1,491 documents from the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection and posted them online. These documents were previously released in redacted form. This release was required by President Biden’s October 22, 2021 memorandum to agencies on the public disclosure of records in the JFK Assassination Records Collection. Over 14,000 documents from this collection remain redacted and unavailable to the public, however.
The Public Interest Declassification Board believes that President Biden’s October memorandum to agencies will lead to improved public access to records that are currently redacted. The President’s memorandum reinforced the strict standards established in the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (the Act), established a rigorous process to evaluate agency requests to withhold records, and a tight deadline (December 15, 2022) for adjudicating them and posting them on NARA’s website. Importantly, the two agencies — that are responsible for over 90% of the redactions — are not included in the decision process. The memorandum adds transparency and accountability by requiring a public accounting of each record agencies propose to continue withholding from public access and include the reasons for their request.
Over the past year, we heard from historians and researchers concerned with the continued delay in declassifying assassination records. Like those we heard from, we were concerned that agencies were not taking the strict requirements for withholding records seriously. As a result, we wrote President Biden in September, emphasizing the importance of transparency, and asking that he “instruct agencies to make the maximum public release of the remaining classified records.”
According to NARA, after the December 15, 2021, release, over 14,800 records still remain unavailable to the public, either in whole or in part, almost 50 years after the President’s assassination. By this point, the number of records withheld should be small. The intent and letter of the Act was to declassify and publicly release all records in the collection – with only a few withheld or redacted with minimal redactions. As the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination nears, it is time for agencies to follow the letter of the law and declassify these records.
Our expectation is that, a year from now, most of the over 14,800 records currently redacted or withheld will be declassified and available to the public on NARA’s website. That will happen only if agencies abide by the standards specified in the Act and follow the President’s instruction as outlined in his memorandum.