Oliver Stone’s December 1991 film JFK ended with closing statement about the enormous amount of still-secret government documents relating to the JFK assassination and the fact that they would not be released until 2029. The tidal wave of letter-writing and phone-calling to Washington D. C. that followed the film precipitated a congressional decision to speed up the declassification of those files. The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 was the result, and it was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on 26 October 1992.
The Records Collection Act also created an independent board to oversee the declassification effort—the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB)—and invested it with the power to direct agencies to release documents, with direct appeal to the President as the agencies’ only recourse. The law defined “assassination record” very broadly. It decreed that no records could remain classified beyond twenty-five years of the enactment. In other words, the law mandates that all JFK assassination records must be fully declassified by 26 October 2017.
Although the AARB released millions of pages of assassination records, a significant amount of potentially critical material still remains partially redacted or withheld in full. In April 2015, Martha Murphy, Chief of Special Access and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, (NARA) gave this assessment of the current situation:
- There are 5 million pages of records in the JFK Act collection.
- There are 318,886 documents in the JFK Act database.
- 11% of the documents have partial redactions.
- 3,603 documents are withheld in full.
These figures do not include many hundreds—perhaps thousands—of documents that are already supposed to be released but are not available. NARA has put U. S. Government agencies on notice that the withheld material is going to be released in 2017 unless they appeal to the President to prevent it. Murphy stated that NARA wants to know now—not at the last moment—what, if anything, these agencies expect to appeal.
The people of the United States must anticipate now that:
- Such appeals will occur
- Without significant public pressure the president will assume that Americans are not interested in upholding the terms of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act
Therefore, we must begin to prepare now for action to ensure that these records are released. Over the course of the next twenty-four months citizens concerned about the possible continued withholding of these assassination records must:
- Constantly stay informed about the developing situation
- Organize in ways to increase and share awareness
- Develop plans and activities to communicate with elected leaders and presidential hopefuls
- Impress upon them our firm and unwavering belief that these records belong to us