November 22, 1963 — Many of us recall when and how we heard what happened that day–a motorcade through Dallas, an assassin’s bullets, the loss of a President and its impact on a Nation. For those who are younger, the story has been recounted in various ways. We mark another anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination amid recent news regarding the release of assassination-related documents. What is the background regarding the release of these records now?
The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act) was signed by President George H. W. Bush October 26, 1992, nearly thirty years after President Kennedy’s death. In his statement on signing the Act, President Bush noted that, although thousands of documents had been released by the government, many Americans continued to have unresolved questions. “Because of legitimate historical interest in this tragic event, all documents about the assassination should now be disclosed, except where the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H. W. Bush (1992-1993, Book II)
The JFK Act, Public Law 102-526, provided for the “expeditious disclosure of records relevant to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” The Act called for the National Archives and Records Administration to establish the JFK Assassination Records Collection and for each government agency to “identify and organize its records” relating to the assassination and “prepare them for transmission to the Archivist.” Section 5(a)(1). Section 5, in part, states:
Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of this Act, unless the President certifies, as required by this Act, that–
i) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and
(ii) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
The date “25 years after the date of enactment” of the JFK Act was October 26, 2017. On July 24, 2017, the National Archives released the first of several groups of online documents. The next group was released on October 26. The press releases for these and subsequent document releases are available on the National Archives website.
On October 26, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued his Presidential Memorandum for the Heads of Departments and Agencies, providing for a temporary six-month certification period. During this time, President Trump has ordered agencies to re-review those documents with redactions, i.e., sensitive portions removed, before recommending further postponement of full disclosure by April 26, 2018.
Additional information on the JFK Collection, along with updates on the further release of documents, may be found at the following sites:
- National Archives–Documents Recently Released Press releases and updates on the release of documents, as well as access to the online documents which have been released;
- President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection on govinfo, a service of the Government Publishing Office. Access to Audio Recordings from Air Force One following the assassination, the Warren Commission Hearings, and the Warren Commission Report.
- JFK Assassination Records at the National Archives Background on the Collection, FAQs, finding aids, updates on release of documents, and access to online documents.