Biden Orders Release of More Than 12,000 Unredacted JFK Assassination Files
WASHINGTON — The National Archives and Records Administration released 12,879 newly unredacted files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Thursday, after President Joe Biden signed an executive order authorizing their disclosure while keeping only the most sensitive records under wraps.
When they are released, the documents will be available for download here.
With the passage of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, Congress directed that “all government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy … be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination.”
Congress based its directive, setting a rough release date of October 2017, on the fact that by that time almost all of the relevant records were nearly 30 years old, and only in the rarest cases was there any legitimate need for continued protection of the records.
“In the 30 years since the act became law, the profound national tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day,” Biden wrote in a memorandum released by the White House Thursday. “Meanwhile, the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time.
“It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States government maximizes transparency by disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise,” he said.
Then-President Donald Trump released thousands of documents over the course of his presidency but withheld others on national security grounds.
In October 2021, Biden released nearly 1,500 more documents while delaying the release of the most sensitive records until today, Dec. 15, 2022, saying further review was necessary for an unspecified number of documents on those same national security grounds.
The act permits the continued postponement of disclosure of information in records concerning Kennedy’s assassination only when postponement remains necessary to “protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations.”
Since 2018, executive departments and agencies have been reviewing under this statutory standard each redaction they have proposed that would result in the continued postponement of full public disclosure, with the National Archives and Records Administration reviewing whether it agrees that each redaction continues to meet the statutory standard.
That review, however, was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year Biden directed the departments and agencies undertake an “intensive one year” to catch up.
In all, as of Thursday, 16,000 records that had previously been released in redacted form were reviewed and it has been determined that more than 70% of them can now be released in full.
“This significant disclosure reflects my administration’s commitment to transparency and will provide the American public with greater insight and understanding of the government’s investigation into this tragic event in American history,” the president wrote.
Biden went on to say that “a limited number of records” continue to be withheld to protect against potential grave harm “to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations.”
According to the president, the acting archivist believes such additional work could further reduce the amount of redacted information. Therefore, he is temporarily certifying the continued postponement of the release of those documents, giving the National Archives and the relevant departments and agencies until May 1, 2023, to complete their review of the withheld documents.
At the conclusion of the review described in this section, any information withheld from public disclosure that agencies do not propose for continued postponement beyond June 30, 2023, shall be released to the public by that date.
If the National Archives does not recommend the continued redaction of a document, department and agency heads will have the option of recommending, through the counsel to the president, on a document-by-document basis, that the release of the information continue to be postponed.
“Any information that agencies propose for continued postponement of public release beyond June 30, 2023, shall be limited to the absolute minimum under the statutory standard,” the president said.