COPA members are currently visiting Congressional members and Committee Staff members to lobby for oversight hearings on the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act. Here are our talking points. We are also promoting passage of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Records Act about to be introduced by Rep. John Lewis (GA) and Senator John Kerry (MA). The oversight hearings may be combined. The points and the Subcommittee members and contact information follow. If you are in the Member’s district please contact them to urge them to call for hearings and introduction of the MLK Act.
OVERSIGHT HEARINGS ON JFK ASSASSINATION RECORDS ACT
FUTURE LEGISLATION FOR RELEASE OF HISTORIC RECORDS
Why we need oversight hearings:
· The JFK Records Collection Act (Public Law No. 102-526) mandated oversight hearings following termination of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to implement ongoing release of records by all agencies and to review the effectiveness of the Review Board process. Section 5, (g) PERIODIC REVIEW OF POSTPONED ASSASSINATION RECORDS — (1) All postponed or redacted records shall be reviewed periodically by the originating agency and the Archivist consistent with the recommendations of the Review Board under section 9(c)(3)(B). Section 7 (l) OVERSIGHT — (1) The Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the Senate shall have continuing oversight jurisdiction with respect to the official conduct of the Review Board and the disposition of postponed records after termination of the Review Board; and shall have access to any records held or created by the Review Board.
· The stated purpose of the JFK Records Act is as follows:
Section 2, (a) FINDINGS AND DECLARATIONS — The Congress finds and declares that –
(1) All government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should be preserved for historical and governmental purposes;
(2) all government records concerning 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;
· A range of executive agencies have not yet complied or have failed to fully implement the provisions of the JFK Records Act in the following ways:
The Assassination Records Review Board, prior to its termination in 1998, released a Final Report which names the specific agencies that failed to comply in any substantial way with transfer of JFK assassination related files before the Review Board’s termination. These agencies have not subsequently complied with additional releases. Other agencies failed to carry out their responsibilities in effecting and securing release of records of foreign governments, preventing their release.
Certain records and categories of files were never initially transferred to the ARRB for review because they were not recognized as meeting the definition of “related records”, they were missing from record files, or they had been destroyed both in the past and illegally after passage of the Act. Attempts to garner more information or release of such files has been obstructed in large part by the originating agencies following the termination of the ARRB. In cases where newly discovered related records have been found or acknowledged to exist their requested release has been evaluated by the standards of the Freedom of Information Act rather than the presumption of release and limited options for postponement under the guiding legislation of the JFK Records Act, usually resulting in denial of access.
While mandated annual reviews of records for release by various agencies has continued to result in additional disclosures over time, it is also the case that many postponed records, some never reviewed, have not been released by dates certain specified by the JFK Records Act. All related records are to be released in 2017.
Additional issues include digitization of the collection, ease of public access in its current location, provision for copies of the record in NARA regional offices, incomplete releases of records or empty file folders without postponement slips and appeal procedures for additional review by the Archivist when new records or categories are discovered.
Recently, Senator John Kerry and Rep. John Lewis announced their intention to introduce legislation originally drafted in 2005 to release files on the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This Records Act is modeled after and hopes to improve upon the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, and to broaden the scope of the related records to include both the life and the murder of Dr. King. Since the two pieces of legislation are closely related, it might make sense to combine an oversight hearing when the King Records Act is introduced to consider both.
In addition, President Obama initiated an Open Government Directive in January (see http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/memoranda_2010/m10-06.pdf) through the Office of Management and Budget that requires all government agencies to identify at least one “high value data set” of records for release to the public. These are being stored at http://www.data.gov and hundreds of thousands of sets are already online. In our view, records that qualify as related records in the JFK assassination history qualify as a high value data set both historically and because the JFK Assassination Collection at the National Archives is still the most requested record set since it’s early releases.
President Obama also issued an Executive Order on Classified National Security Information on December 29, 2009 (see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-classified-national-security-information.) The following section appears to apply directly to both JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. records still held by federal agencies, as well as those segregated for the House Select Committee on Assassinations:
Sec. 3.3. Automatic Declassification. (a) Subject to paragraphs (b)–(d) and (g)–(j) of this section, all classified records that (1) are more than 25 years old and (2) have been determined to have permanent historical value under title 44, United States Code, shall be automatically declassified whether or not the records have been reviewed. All classified records shall be automatically declassified on December 31 of the year that is 25 years from the date of origin, except as provided in paragraphs (b)–(d) and (g)–(i) of this section. If the date of origin of an individual record cannot be readily determined, the date of original classification shall be used instead.
In our view and in practice the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act and a similar Nazi War Crimes Record Release Act, using independent review boards and a presumption of release standard have worked far better than the Freedom of Information Act regarding historical records of extensive public interest and should be replicated and form a new method for encouraging government transparency and declassification. Introduction and passage of the proposed Martin Luther King. Jr. Records Act will be an important step in that direction.
Finally, the JFK Assassination Records Review Board in its Final Report laid out a set of recommendations for the future:
1. The Review Board recommends that future declassification boards be genuinely independent, both in the structure of the organization and in the qualifications of the appointments.
2. The Review Board recommends that any serious, sustained effort to declassify records requires congressional legislation with (a) a presumption of openness, (2) clear standards of access, (3) an enforceable review and appeals process, and (4) a budget appropriate to the scope of the task.
3. The Review Board recommends that its “common law” of decision, formed in the context of a “presumption of disclosure” and the “clear and convincing evidence of harm” criteria, be utilized for similar information in future declassification efforts as a way to simplify and speed up releases.
4. The Review Board recommends that future declassification efforts avoid the major shortcomings of the JFK Act: (a) unreasonable time limits, (b) employee restrictions, (c) application of the law after the Board terminates, and (d) problems inherent with rapid sunset provisions.
5. The Review Board recommends that the cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive problem of referrals for “third party equities” (classified information of one agency appearing in a document of another) be streamlined by (A) requiring representatives of all agencies with interests in selected groups of records to meet for joint declassification sessions, or (B) devising uniform substitute language to deal with certain categories of recurring sensitive equities.
6. The Review Board recommends that a compliance program be used in future declassification efforts as an effective means of eliciting full cooperation in the search for records.
7. The Review Board recommends the following to ensure that NARA can exercise the provisions of the JFK Act after the Review Board terminates:
a. that NARA has the authority and means to continue to implement Board decisions,
b. that an appeals procedure be developed that places the burden for preventing access on the agencies, and
c. 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.
8. The Review Board recommends that the Review Board model be adopted and applied whenever there are extraordinary circumstances in which continuing controversy concerning government actions has been most acute and where an aggressive effort to release all “reasonably related” federal records would serve usefully to enhance historical understanding of the event.
9. The Review Board recommends that both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Executive Order 12958 be strengthened, the former to narrow the categories of information automatically excluded from disclosure, the latter to add “independent oversight” to the process of “review” when agency heads decide that records in their units should be excluded from release.
10. The Review Board recommends the adoption of a federal classification policy that substantially:
a. limits the number of those in government who can actually classify federal documents,
b. restricts the number of categories by which documents might be classified,
c. reduces the time period for which the document(s) might be classified,
d. encourages the use of substitute language to immediately open material which might otherwise be classified, and
e. increases the resources available to the agencies and NARA for declassifying federal records.
(for full text see: http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/arrb98/part12.htm).
These recommendations should be considered and guide any oversight hearings and should lead to implementation of some if not all recommendations.
There is also public support for this effort reflected in over 275 signatures on an online petition for oversight hearings at http://www.petitiononline.com/JFKACT/petition.html
Contacts: John Judge, Coalition on Political Assassinations, email@example.com
William Kelly, firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on House Subcommittee on Information
Policy, Census, and National Archives
Rayburn House Office Building 2157
Parent Committee: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Majority Members (Democrats)
William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-MO) [Chair]
Paul E. Kanjorski (D-PA)
B. Maloney (D-NY)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Danny Davis (D-IL)
Steve Driehaus (D-OH)
Diane Watson (D-CA)
Judy Chu (D-CA)
202-224-3121 (new Member)
Minority Members (Republicans)
Patrick McHenry (R-NC) [Ranking Member]
Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA)
John L. Mica (R-FL)
Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)