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Why Is the Government Withholding Documents About JFK's Assassination?

JFK assassination documents offer surprising lessons about government secrecy -- and Obama's presidency.
 
 
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Next year will be a half-century since the death of JFK. And the Obama Administration thinks we need to keep secret the records on the matter … a little longer yet.

Believe it or not, more than 50,000 pages of JFK assassination–related documents are being withheld in full. And an untold number of documents have been partially withheld or released with everything interesting blacked out. But why?

Since the government and the big media keep telling us there was no conspiracy and that it was all Lee Harvey Oswald acting on his own, why continue to keep the wraps on?

We don’t have an answer, but in understanding this and any number of other mysteries, we can begin looking for patterns in the way the administration handles information policy.

We Want to Hear from You (But That’s It — We Just Want to  Hear from You)

Earlier this year, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)  asked, on its online Open Government Forum, for suggestions from the public about what it could do to create greater transparency. The #1 most popular idea?  Get those Kennedy records out — before Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the Dallas tragedy.

But instead of dealing honestly with this matter, the feds have resorted to disinformation. In an interview with the  Boston Globe, the Archivist of the United States  claimed that at two public forums held on open records, the most public comments came from people interested either in the JFK assassination or … in UFOs.

Except for one thing: James Lesar, an attorney and co-founder of the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC), a D.C.-based nonprofit that has fought a long and valiant fight on behalf of the public interest in disclosure, attended both of those forums and says that, as he recalls, there were  no people there asking about UFOs, or that at most it was of negligible interest. In fact, a look at NARA’s online idea forum (now closed)  showed no UFO proposals or comments.

So, what’s with claiming otherwise? One could be excused for seeing in the Archivist’s statement a deliberate, and unworthy, attempt to smear the legitimacy of JFK inquiries by trying to make them appear “kooky.” (Not to judge the merits of the idea that there could be life elsewhere in the Universe, but the term “UFO conspiracist” is a well-worn dysphemism.)

Here’s what actually happened at the NARA forums.

The first was held in 2010. The assistant archivist, Michael Kurtz, said that withheld JFK assassination records would be processed, along with other documents, for declassification — and that the process should be completed by the end of 2013.

But by 2011, Kurtz, who had been at NARA for decades, had retired. At the 2011 forum, Jim Lesar was told that JFK assassination records are  not part of the declassification process. Hence, they will not be reviewed for release.

Huh? What Happened

For some perspective, meet Sheryl Shenberger. She’s the head of the Archives’ National Declassification Center. What would you guess Sheryl’s professional background would be? Library of Congress? Academic research? Nope. Before NDC, Sheryl worked for … the  Central Intelligence Agency.

The most logical and reasonable explanation for this is that the Obama administration placed an ex-spook in charge of declassification because this would induce her old colleagues in Langley to cooperate. (Which of course raises the question of whether, in a real democracy, you would want to have a bunch of people secretly deciding to do whatever they wanted with 50-year-old documents pertaining to a supposed loony loner who whacked a president.)

 
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