The National Archives
Tuesday, September 29, 1998
Copyright © by Joseph Backes
At the last ARRB open meeting on September 9th I spoke briefly with Dr. William Joyce after the open meeting was over. He told me the Board was considering another meeting, or 2, or 3 before they went out of business. Sadly this was not to be.
There was also discussion of issuing the final report around September 15th, thus leaving time for people to read it and ask the Board questions about the final report while the ARRB still existed. Alas, this too was not to be.
I received an email notice about this press conference from Ms. Eileen Sullivan of the Board's staff on Friday, September 25th, 1998. This notice told of two events. The press conference at the National Archives and a presentation of the report to the Congress on Capitol Hill in room EF-100 at 2:00 p.m.
I also checked with the Federal Register for any further information. They issued their last batch of documents with a notice appearing on September 15th, 1998 on pages 49325-49326. As the Board's work progressed to where they were releasing thousands of documents per batch they stopped listing the documents by each individual 13 digit RIF number in The Federal Register, so, you had to get that list in email format from the Board or, as I preferred in hard copy, from them. I was hoping to get this from Ms. Sullivan at the press conference. No such luck.
I arrived, I thought, somewhat early for the press conference. When I entered the archivist's reception room in the original National Archives plenty of reporters were already there. The room was basically divided in half, with a bank of camera crews in the middle of the room. There were several rows of chairs, one desk where the Board members, I gathered, were supposed to sit and answer questions, but it only had one microphone on it. To the right of that desk was a podium with a multitude of microphones on it.
Well, the announced time of the press conference came and went with no Board members or staff visible. I saw Harrison Livingstone and walked over and introduced myself. We chatted for awhile. As it became obvious that we were JFK researchers some started paying attention to us. I did not engage any reporters in discussion but Harry eventually did. So as Harry starts to hold court, some pay attention and some don't. I really don't blame Harry at all, the opportunity was there. Harry is giving away an updated copy of "High Treason" which now includes a sizeable chunk devoted to the ARRB's medical materials released on July 31st, 1998. This is not a monologue by Harry, but rather bits and starts. There are pauses as Harry speaks extemporaneously, and waits for signs of interest or to respond to some questions.
It is around this time that Mr. Bob Clark arrives. I have not seen Mr. Clark since about two or three ARRB open meetings ago. I recognized him as he made his way to the chairs and I think he remembered me. I reintroduced myself to him. He then tells a story. According to Mr. Clark, whom I know to be a friend of Dr. Henry Graff, this press conference has been cancelled. I start to laugh, thinking he is joking as it is running a bit late. No, he says he's completely serious. He said he was so informed by Eileen Sullivan. Also, the presentation of the final report to the Congress has been cancelled. The Board is going to meet with President Clinton tomorrow and he has placed an embargo on the issuance of the final report. Everybody in the room hears this. I'm skeptical. However, I am aware that the Board is supposed to give their report to the President, and there was no mention of any such event in the notice of the press conference. Also, Mr. Clark is a good friend of Dr. Graff. So I'm wondering, is something up?
I go over and stand on a side of the room, rather perplexed by this information. Harry, I believe, goes back to holding court.
Now at some point Dan Alcorn sees me and says hello. He stands with me on the side of the room and we talk. Dan makes several jokes about the case in general and Harry. He remarks that we've been branded as "conspiracy buffs" as Harry talked with us, "Oh no! What will these media people think of us now?" It's that kind of light-hearted talk.
I was annoyed with him as I sent a letter to him and Jim Lesar asking for information on Jim Lesar's suit trying to see if there was any private right of enaction with regards to the JFK statute. According to the D.C. Circuit Court there isn't. Neither one of them replied to me. Dan said it was really a letter to Jim so he didn't feel the need to respond. Thanks a lot Dan.
If there are any lawyers or good researchers who could do me a favor I would appreciate any hard information on this. I would like to know date, court name, numbers, etc.
Okay now for the transcript.
Eileen Sullivan - "...and I just want to let you know the order of events, the Chairman of the Assassination Records Review Board will present the final report to the Deputy Archivist of the United States, Dr. Lewis Bellardo, at that point some of the other board members are going to make some comments, and at the very end they will open it up to Q and A, so if you could please wait until the end to ask questions."
A member of the press asks Eileen to ask the Board members to speak from the podium with all the microphones rather than at the table. Several ask for the final report. No, they don't have that to give out yet, which reinforces the idea of an embargo to some.
Chairman Tunheim - "Good morning, everyone. My name is John Tunheim. I have the honor of serving as the Chair of the Assassination Records Review Board for the past four years and we are pleased this morning to be able to present the final report of the Assassination Records Review Board.
"The report summarizes the extraordinary experiences that we have had over the past four and a half years in locating, obtaining, reviewing, and most importantly releasing the record of the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
"The Review Board has been armed with the power of independence and due process and blessed, I believe, with the enduring values of history and the law, and we have brought to this process, this effort, an orderly and thoughtful procedure for reviewing these important records.
"The statute that was originally passed in 1992 was designed to open vast quantities of material to attempt to convey the whole story of the assassination and yet still protect those pieces of information that still require and in that task I believe the Review Board has succeeded in it's effort. The shroud of secrecy that has sheltered these records for three decades I think has caused great harm. And when the Board examined these documents with balanced judgement it was obvious that very little still required protection, today, 35 years after this terrible event. And harm has been caused to the nation who has been confused about who did what, and who did this terrible deed, and harm has been caused, I believe, to government agencies themselves, who in the name of protecting their interests succeeded in undermining their legitimacy as democratic institutions. And I think also there has been harm to the fragile and very important ideal that the American people trusts its government to tell the truth.
"The records that are at the National Archives at College Park show a Warren Commission that was not dealing with a full deck, and a House Select Committee on Assassinations that was dealing with too many decks and not enough time to play a hand.
"It is a treasure trove of documents, films, and artifacts that the Review Board believe provides an extraordinary and rare open window on a critical part of our nation's history, the early 1960's.
"And as well, the Board believes that the collection includes a fairly complete record of the nation's reaction to the surprising assassination of its leader during the height of the Cold War and the many suspicions that that engendered.
"The Review Board's legacy is a 4 million plus pages of materials at the National Archives which await the interpretive skills of researchers and historians. The Board's ultimate legacy I believe has hopefully been to demonstrate that throughout the course of history it is better to be open than to be secretive, it is better to spend money sharing information than hiding it, and better to establish a process that focuses on an orderly opening rather than a process that grants unfettered discretion to the censors.
"I want to take a moment today to express the thanks of the Review Board to our agency partners that we have worked with throughout this long effort. They have truly become our partners in many respects, we have had many spirited battles, many disagreements about what can be opened today, but in the end, I believe that our work and the work of the agencies has been in the public interest and will result in a great amount of material be opened to the public. So, I want to thank our agency partners for all of their long work and help. And I want to thank the staff of the Assassination Records Review Board over these past four years. They have been a remarkable staff. They have been asked to do an enormous job in a relatively short period of time, the job of searching in every corner, in every file cabinet for records that may possibly be relevant to the assassination. And I want to express my thanks, and the thanks of the Board to each and every one of them, especially our staff that remained with us to the end, and in my view, were truly the A team, the people that worked long, long hours in the past two months to finish up all of the work of the board and to work on this very important final report that we present today.
"And it's especially important I think, and significant that we return today to this room, the archivist's reception room in the National Archives from which we began our work over four years ago with our first meeting as a review board. And to that extent it provides some closure to this effort and a chance to recognize the National Archives and Records Administration which has truly done a great job throughout this entire process. They have been, I think, the Review Board's ultimate partner in this effort. I want to especially thank Steve Tilley, who has been with us from the beginning, the person who is in charge of the collection at College Park. He has been exceptional and we are counting on his good work to continue the effort to make these materials available to the public and to collect further records as we expect will be coming in in the months and hopefully years to come. So, thank you Steve for your fine work.
"Finally, I want to thank the public that has helped us throughout this effort, and that is very important. We have tried from day one as a review board to communicate as much as we possibly could with the American public to take their ideas, their theories, their suggestions and put them to work to try to find records that people believe might have existed. So we thank the public for that communication, the ongoing communication that we have had through the public meetings, the public hearings that we have had, and through the letters and calls that we have received, literally daily, throughout this entire effort. Thank you. That has been an important part of this effort. And public participation in this event is long overdue.
"I would like to ask Dr. Lewis Bellardo who is the Deputy Archivist of the United States to come forward right now. I would like to present Dr. Bellardo with a copy of the final report of the Assassination Records Review Board, and we hope that the National Archives will continue its important stewardship of these records and to make them freely available to the public not only today and tomorrow but for generations to come. Thank you Dr. Bellardo.
Dr. Bellardo - "Judge Tunheim, members of the staff of the Review Board, I do want to say as you indicated that this was an enormous job that this board, this staff has undertook. We receive this report with great gratitude. I do want to say that a remarkable body of records has come to the National Archives because of its work, both government records as well some private material as well, and now not only are, is an enormous amount of documentation now exists about the events of November 1963 in Dallas but interestingly enough a large body of material shedding light on other aspects of government policy that we never would have thought of when this whole thing began, for example, American policy in its relationship to Cuba, American policy in the early 1960's as it relates to Vietnam, and last but not least, also the investigations of the Justice Department and the FBI as it relates to Organized Crime. So, again thank you very much for this and for the records that have come our way. Thank You."
A member of the press asked if he could hold up a copy of the report, which Dr. Bellardo did. He then sat down next to Steve Tilley.
Chairman Tunheim - "I would like to ask other Board members to speak-"
Mr. Tilley and Dr. Bellardo thereupon shot out of the room so fast they nearly broke the sound barrier.
Chairman Tunheim - "- now and give some of their thoughts about the work."
Dr. Henry Graff - "I'm Henry Graff, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University in the History Department. I would like to make a very few and very brief comments underscoring some of the points that Judge Tunheim offered.
"We had to see that this board had as its prime goal the restoration, insofar as we could participate in the process, of the faith of the people in the government of the United States. And we would like to believe that this, above all of the documents, is our major contribution.
"And I would like to add also, that just as the assassination is a significant event in the history of the Cold War, the various theories-"
It is at this moment that Jim Lesar tries to enter the room from the door that Tilley and Bellardo shot out of. I see him, and he sees that Dr. Graff is in the middle of speaking and closes the door, to enter from the other door.
Dr. Henry Graff - "-the doubts of the American people about what actually happened on that awful day in Dallas, all of that is part also of history, a history that includes the Vietnam War, that includes Watergate, and goes back perhaps to The Bay of Pigs, and more recently it involves the medical consequences of certain drugs and perhaps whatever else, even including agent orange, a material that affected gravely the lives of soldiers, all of this contributed to a terrible sense in the public that the government was hiding things, and what our board was created to produce is as President Bush said in the message that he issued at the time of the signing of the legislation creating the JFK [Records] Collection Act, the aim primarily was to restore the confidence in the American people that the government doesn't lie."
President Bush later went on to pardon everyone involved in Iran-Contra.
"We don't know if we have answered all the questions that will arise, that have arisen but we like to think that we have made a major contribution in that regard."
I think one, and only one person applauded those remarks. A point the next speaker, Dr. Kermit Hall mentioned.
"A smattering of applause Henry. I'm Kermit Hall. I'm Dean of the College of Humanities at Ohio State University, The Ohio State University, and I'm also a professor of history and law.
"I first want to thank Jack Tunheim for his leadership on the Board. This was a really complex group of people, I think, to work with. Jack has shown great skill in keeping us together and moving us toward our objective.
"Benjamin Franklin once said that for three to keep a secret two must be dead. And if there is any testimony to make about the work of the Board even with all three dead it's possible for the government to still want to keep things under wraps. If there is anything that stands out about our work it is that the shroud of the Cold War still rests over us. That we can have documents that are more, in some cases, more than 40 years old that the various government agencies sought to protect is, I think, a sad commentary on where we are in the process. Nonetheless, the Board with extraordinary powers, and extraordinary mandate and tremendous sympathy, I think, on the part of a community of researchers who have been out there working on the assassination, has I think put a profound punctuation mark on the cause of openness.
"I would like to, however, remind all of you who are in this room, all of you who are work in the Archives, all of you who represent the agencies that the work of the Assassination Records Review Board, while the Board itself is finished, is far from done. For it is important to remember that there are documents yet to be released, there are documents that are redacted that will be opened between now and the year 2017 and without your conscious involvement, and continuing oversight, and continuing awareness that these documents deserve to be open there are, I think, within the government forces that will push just in the opposite direction.
"So, I think, the challenge for all of us is to remember that though the Board's work, the five of us are finished, but the spirit and legacy of the Act go on. It's up to all of you to make sure that government does the right thing, and that is to ensure that the lessons of secrecy are in fact learned. It is, I think, important to remember, as well, that the legacy of this board is hardly written today. There are approaching 5 million documents out there, there will be more that will be added to the collection over the years. It will be a decade, I will submit to you, before we know what the real impact of these documents are, till researchers and scholars have the opportunity to work their way through them, and in working their way through them come to understand the really tremendous significance of what I believe we have unearthered
"So, whatever story you write, whatever message you send, it needs to be a message that the story remains to be completed, both in the oversight of the process, making sure that that which we declared to be opened is opened, that for scholars and researchers to come and complete the story. I think, in conclusion that we all recognize that Justice Robert Jackson was absolutely right when he said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact, and by that Jackson meant there are some secrets that are clearly worth retaining and keeping because they are in the public interest but after four years and more than four million documents surely we can all agree that the numbers of those secrets are fewer than one would have believed, and more profoundly one of the greatest threats to our liberty is the continuing insistence that we have more rather than fewer secrets. Thank you."
Dan Alcorn was amazed at what Dr. Hall was saying and wryly commented that there is no advocate like the converted.
Dr. Anna Nelson - "I'm Anna Nelson and I teach in the history department at American University. As a person who has done research and taught American foreign policy in the post war period I was always standing on the other side of the barricades of secrecy, always filing Freedom of Information Act requests and harassing the National Archives for documents, and I think that it gave me a very interesting perspective on what was behind those barricades. It wasn't always something that I thought it was, or anyone else thought it was. As it was pointed out we soon came to discover that many of the records could have been released 20 years ago.
"I think that there are several unique things about what we did, one of the things is something that five of us came together, from five different communities you might say, even though we may share professional interests, we were all engaged in other activities, and without fail we would agree on what to open. Five American citizens can simply determine that after 35 years there are some things to close to protect people and there are, most things, to open, and we had a lot of learning to do as a group but it was a most interesting experience. If we differed it was often because one of us wanted to open more. It was almost never because we decided to open less.
"The second thing I think that is important is that we have through our work reached two audiences, one, of course, is the one we were set out to help, were those people who have worked on the assassination, done research on it, studied it for so many years, (obliterated because someone coughs)...in what they were finding as the documents leak out one by one and were blacked out on the page, but the other group that we have also helped are researchers in every field and in the long run American citizens because we have opened so many documents from the early 60's. And we have learned, the public will learn a great deal about, as was mentioned before, a great deal about what in fact was the situation with the government, with government agencies and very formative years in the early 1960's began to unfold. Because we had the statute we had there are some documents which we opened automatically simply because the various agencies and presidential libraries knew that we were in fact in business.
"So I hope we have done our work well. I think that all of us would agree, that it is better at this point, some of the salient features, that I think to me the uniqueness and the product, those marvelous documents in the National Archives will, in fact, remain our legacy."
Dr. William Joyce - "My name is Bill Joyce and my day job, so to speak is at the Princeton University Library. I would like to say a few things this morning and I think I would like to start by thanking our chairman, our colleague, Jack Tunheim, for his very skilful leadership first in bringing the five of us together, then assembling a staff, and finally working with the public, with the various government agencies to move the help, excuse me, move the work of the Board forward so that we might begin to accomplish some of what we set out to do.
Second, I think I would like to pay tribute to the staff, a more dedicated and loyal group of people I can't imagine. We are very blessed to have had their good work over the years and to have been so central in some respects in guiding us as Board members in terms of what we have been able to accomplish. They deserve our hardiest thanks and appreciation for the good effort that they have put into this project.
"Anna has said that the legacy of the Board is in the collection, that compilation of four million plus pages of material at College Park in the Archives building out there. That is certainly the case, and as my colleague Kermit Hall has pointed out, the material that is there awaits the attention of the historians, the journalists, the researchers, to probe into that material. It is an extraordinarily deep slice of information into the workings of the government at a tumultuous time in the history of the republic, and I believe that our legacy in terms of our contribution to historical knowledge can scarcely be plumed now but over the course of time will become apparent to all of us.
"But, I believe there is a second and equally important legacy that we have created and that is the process, the model, that we have been able to put into place using the legislation, the powers that were conferred upon us to create a process by which we could declassify federal records. It is important for all of us to recognize the steps that we were able to take to work to open increasing numbers of documents, some of them very sensitive indeed. And I believe the procedures that we were able to adopt have an impact and have an importance that we must all pay attention to.
"Kermit Hall called attention to the fact that it is the responsibility of all of us, now that the Board goes out of business, to remember that the work of opening these records continues, and I think in that spirit we must all remember that it is our responsibility to keep after this, to try to counter forces that do not want these records to be opened and to continue to work to accomplish as much as we possibly can the openness not only concerning the assassination, but all aspects of public life. That is after all our responsibility as citizens. Thank you."
Chairman Tunheim - "Thank you very much to my fellow Board members, and let me just add in closing my thanks to all of them for being a truly superb group of individuals, very talented and intelligent in their own right, and I think the collective experience of this Board has been an outstanding piece of work, and I want to salute them for that effort. There are a couple of people that I want to point out that I have seen here this morning that are just among a group of many people who should be mentioned, I have already mentioned Steve Tilley and he is important, but, the person who served as our last Executive Director of the Review Board over the past several months which has been a difficult time wrapping everything up, Laura Denk, Laura, would you wave wherever you are? Right in the back.
"And a bit earlier I saw, and I'm not sure if he is still here, our first Executive Director who really set up this entire process Dr. David Marwell, there he is, David, wave for a moment will you?
"They were two of the leaders of a very, very fine staff, a group of a, they have been called loyal and dedicated employees, and they certainly have been and we have enjoyed every minute of working with them.
"Now, the Board will take a few questions, if you have questions to ask, why don't I get everyone up here (to the podium) so that we can all participate in this. I believe we need to stand up here.
The first questioner was Mr. Bob Clark.
Mr. Bob Clark - "Before your arrival here this morning one of the conspiracy authors held forth at length, at length, telling us that your investigation of the autopsy findings, medical findings proved what he and other conspiracy theorists have said all along, that there was a conspiracy to distort the autopsy and hide what had been a collective conspiracy. Is that the view of any or all of you, or is that a trap you fell into by recreating the autopsy and casting doubt on its findings?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Let me answer that Bob by saying that we attempted with the autopsy report to try to clarify some of the many questions that had been raised to the extent that clarifying could be done now 35 years after the event. We did our best to do that, I think we have shed greater light on the autopsy findings which of course have been among the most secretive findings throughout the years, and so I think that we did not attempt to reach any particular conclusion about it, we tried to answer questions about what additional records might be available, again to prepare those records for the American public to make up their own minds about it."
Mr. Clark - "Would you agree that the end result of your findings is not to reassure the public and to mute their suspicions about the assassination but to add fresh doubts that will increase their suspicions, and I know you didn't intend this, but would you agree that is the result?"
Chairman Tunheim - "You are speaking about our entire effort now?"
Mr. Clark - "Yes."
Harrison Livingstone - (to whom Mr. Clark was referring to as the conspiracy author) "May I answer that?"
Mr. Clark - "Oh, please."
Chairman Tunheim - "Let me just say that we took this investigation of the records, which is what this has been, and not an investigation of the assassination itself, but a hunt and search for the records to every possible place we could take it. We didn't prejudge any of the results, and we don't really prejudge the answers either, the answers are really to be left to the researchers, to the writers, who will have the time and effort, ability, to go through these records over a length of time and reach their own conclusions about what happened. I'm convinced that there will be many conclusions reached from that because that is the nature of this particular episode of American history. We are too far beyond the event right now to have the kind of conclusive answers that the American public would like to see, and so the answers will lie in the work of the researchers and interpreters in the years to come."
A member of the press - "I understand that the report is critical of the State Department as being uncooperative, as well as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). What problem did you find with those agencies, I understand that you had some difficulties with them."
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, with the State Department, we had no problems with them and their release of their own records in fact that process moved very smoothly and they were very dedicated to the law. A portion of the law instructed the Department of State to assist us in trying to obtain the release of KGB records in Moscow and in Minsk, records that through our investigation we know exist, in fact we have seen many of them. We have not been able to obtain all of what we would have like to have obtained and in part our criticism of the State Department is that they really didn't spend enough time helping us with that effort.
"As far as the President's Foreign Intelligence [Advisory] Board we worked with them late in the process and felt that they believed that they had an exemption from this Act which is not apparent from the face of the Act. I think in the end their records will be released like everyone else but it was a little difficult task working with them at the end."
Dr. Kermit Hall - "Jack, could I just add something here too?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Go ahead."
Dr. Kermit Hall - "I think that both of these matters are really of some moment. We know that materials are in the former Soviet Union. Jack and I, and David Marwell certainly had the opportunity to see them in Minsk. It's just very unfortunate recognizing that the relationship with the government of Belorus is not the best, it is still very unfortunate that we could not bring more effective diplomatic initiative to support our effort to work there, and much the same, I think, with Russia where we have every reason to believe there are additional records relating to, especially Oswald.
"And in terms of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, we all need to keep in mind that there is a learning process, and unfortunately they didn't get their schooling in early enough, and the result of this is that I think they hold to some views about their authority relative to the authority of the Act that are not I think very progressive and certainly are not going to be very helpful if they aren't forth coming with their records and really amplifying the context of which the assassination took place. So I think your question is right on target and it's just regrettable that we didn't get a little bit more activity out of these two."
Same questioner - "When you say 'their view' what do you mean by 'their view?'"
Dr. Kermit Hall - "Well, their view of their authority to be independent of the scope of our Act, and, you know, they take, I think, the position, although you will have to talk with them, they take the position that they are essentially a private advisory group to the President and that they can't render good judgement unless they know that everything they say is to be maintained in absolute secrecy. Well, I would submit to you that that is no way to run a Democracy, and it's certainly no way to preserve liberty in the face of secrecy, and there is every reason to believe that they are covered as comprehensively as we are, as all the other agencies are by the Act."
Dr. Nelson asks to speak.
Dr. Nelson - "Part of this, to answer your question, is a matter of timing. We had, we did have delay. We actually had a Sunset provision of three years, we had it extended to four years, largely because we could not complete the CIA records. We did not want to go out of business unless we had completed those records. So delay is a wonderful way to avoid coming to grips with what was necessary, and the same was true with the foreign records. There was a window of opportunity with Belorus which we lost because of the State Department losing a cable, or not finding the cable. And so it was this kind of delay that, I mean the remarkable thing is we really thought we would be through processing records in early August, records were processed over this last weekend. We still have two outstanding issues before we go out of business tomorrow. So timing has been very critical to what we have done all the way along the road."
Dr. Henry Graff - "I would like to respond a little further to Bob Clark, who has been an old supporter, I think, of our process and with whom we have had many contacts. The Board does not subscribe to any conspiracy theory. It was not intending to create a new conspiracy theory in getting at the autopsy photographs. Our mission has not been to redo the Warren Commission Report. Our mission was to open documents. And I know the law of unintended consequences, I think that is what Bob had in mind when he wondered what will happen to the product, to the legacy of this Board, we don't know, our intentions were however not to create new conspiracy theories because that was not what we were organized, appointed by the President, affirmed by the Congress to do."
Chairman Tunheim - "There is a question right here."
member of the press - "I know that your mission was to deal mainly with the federal government, I presume you also went for records from local government [as in] the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. How did you find, how was the reaction there, were they helpful? Did you get everything you wanted? Was there secrecy?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Part of our work was to seek out records wherever they existed whether they were in local government hands, state government hands, or private hands as well, we encouraged donations of records, and films, and other artifacts to this collection, and we were really blessed by an enormous amount of donated material which now is available to the American public. One of the most important aspects of this I think are the records from the New Orleans chapter of this event, the prosecution in 1967 of Clay Shaw by District Attorney Jim Garrison. Virtually all of the records that remain from that event have been donated to the collection, including the long secret Grand Jury testimony from that proceeding. We faced a few obstacles in New Orleans but by and large we got great cooperation there. We got good cooperation in Dallas as well, especially with the donation of additional films which will enrich this collection.
Member of the press - "Could you just tick off some of the new material that you are releasing today, that we should be interested in, some of the things we haven't seen before?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, we are not technically releasing new material today because we have been working on this effort for four years and we have been releasing material as it has become available, but I think generally, if you look at the collection, some of the most important documents include the documents about Cuba, and Operation Moongoose, which was in operation in the early 1960's to try to destabilize and perhaps even assassinate Castro, those records are very significant, they were caught up in the sweep of these records because of our broad definition of an "assassination record". Also, I think of significant interest are all of the records of the mysterious visit that Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly made to Mexico City in late September, early October of 1963 in which he sought passage through Cuba back to the Soviet Union. The investigative reports on that visit have now been made public through the work of the Review Board with very little redactions and I think that is a very significant collection as well."
Harrison Livingstone - "Professor Graff's statement should be clarified because he didn't intend to say that you are taking a no conspiracy position, you position is that you are not taking a position on whether there was a conspiracy or whether there wasn't, but your staff did conduct one of the most important inquiries in this country's history in that it reinterviewed the autopsy doctors over the last two years, and the photographic personnel. And the weight of that evidence tends to indicate that the evidence in the National Archives is false. But you don't have to comment on that, that's not part of your report."
Chairman Tunheim - "Uh, (pointing to me to allow me to ask a question) yeah.
(laughter, as Mr. Livingstone gets ignored.)
Dr. Graff - "We accept the invitation. (not to respond to you.)
Joseph Backes - "Chairman Tunheim, before this press conference started I was hearing some rumors that it was going to be cancelled, because the President of the United States had put an embargo on your final report and that you were going to meet with him tomorrow, and there is an air of there's something going on with your work and what may or may not be in the final report. Could you address that please?"
This question was burning in me. I was hoping that someone else would ask it really, because it could very easily be the case that the only copy of the final report the Board had was the one given to Dr. Bellardo, the Deputy Archivist of the United States. Many, if not all persons in the room were wondering if they were going to get a copy of the final report at this press conference or not. And if there was any truth to what Mr. Bob Clark spoke of earlier.
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, that's certainly not the case."
Dr. Henry Graff seemed quite amused by the question. I wonder if he was still amused when he found out I asked it because of his friend.
Dr. Graff - "That's a conspiracy theory."
Chairman Tunheim - "We anticipate presenting our report tomorrow to the President. There has been no embargo on any aspect of the report, it's a, it's a, there is no part of it that is being held up or anything, we are just going to present the report to the President tomorrow, who has been very interested in our work and remains very interested in seeking open the opening of all of these materials
Joseph Backes - "Well, that's good to hear. Will that be an open to the public event, do you know, or to the press?"
Chairman Tunheim - "We are not sure yet. It certainly will be open to the press."
member of the press - "If there is no embargo can we get the report today?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Certainly."
press - "is it here?"
press - "are we going to get it today?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Um. Ms. Sullivan can get you a copy of the report."
press - "What kind of a lesson is there to be learned about the Warren Commission? How much damage did they do by the way that they conducted their inquiry feeding and faning the flames of public distrust of government?'
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, you have to remember that the Warren Commission did its work during the height of the Cold War when there was extreme reservation about public disclosure of anything. I think what our work has done has demonstrated that the Warren Commission worked very hard in a very limited period of time to get at the answers here. That there was a lot of information that was not shared with the Warren Commission. The CIA did not share information, the FBI did not share much of its information about organized crime, again in the context of national security, so you have to look at what the Warren Commission did in the context of the times and the fact that they did not have access to materials that they should have had access to at the time."
Dr. Anna Nelson - "Jack?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Go ahead."
Dr. Henry Graff - "And that is commented upon in the report."
Dr. Anna Nelson - "Umm-hmm, yes, actually we did. The thing about the Warren Commission it seems to me is that they had a very limited amount of time but they were also operating in a period of, when you study, go back and read about what Lyndon Johnson was concerned about and in a period of time when there was a kind of frantic belief that there was a very dangerous time, that perhaps this had been done by the Russians, or the, that it was a very dangerous time, so they were very eager to proceed quickly, and they were very eager not to stir up and stimulate anymore trouble than they could cope with, and so that is part of the problem, but the real problem was that the Warren Commission hid their documents too! As did the House Select Committee, hide their documents, and the Church Committee, we thought had all the documents out there, they also put documents away, so that each time the assassination was investigated the investigating bodies tended to hide the documents so nobody could see who had said what and what had been done, and that I think has stimulated a great deal of the problems."
Dr. William Joyce - "The work of the Warren Commission is a striking example of the way in which the event of the assassination was so emeshed in the matrix of the Cold War I think it is very important to understand that the assassination and the investigative efforts that followed it were so, so much involved in so many events that we have now come to characterize as the Cold War, the fact that we were able to take advantage of the end of the Cold War by grace of the legislation and good timing, I think has contributed to our ability to get at more of this information. But you must see the event for what it was, and that was an event in the context of the Cold War."
Chairman Tunheim - "Let's go over here and then we will go back to Bob [Clark]
press - "Can you tell us about the status of the Zapruder film?"
Chairman Tunheim - "The Zapruder film, which of course is the original film that was taken by Abraham Zapruder on the day of the assassination a film that is famous and well known to all of us. The Board did take action to obtain that film for the American public, it affectuated a 'taking' of the film from the Zapruder family so that the original will remain forever at the National Archives and in the possession of the American public. Details concerning the compensation to the Zapruder family have not yet been worked out. We anticipate that they will be, probably over the next six to eight months and that process is ongoing."
press - "Earlier you had said that you had cooperation in Dallas, and you also received additional films. Now is that film like the Zapruder film? There are others? Could you explain that?"
Chairman Tunheim - "What I was speaking of were films from the day of the assassination [The Cooper Film] taken in Dallas that hadn't been seen before. They are largely out takes from media photographers that day that weren't used, basically tossed in the trash bin which other employees then removed, kept through the years, and no one had taken a look at them. So, they provide a fresh look of the events of the day. They don't provide a fresh look at the moment of the assassination, but certainly its confusing aftermath in Dealey Plaza, and they are very interesting in that regard.
"And also, David Powers, who was a close aide to President Kennedy, who took a movie camera along on a lot of the President's trips, he was filming that day and he's donated, before his death, he donated his film to this collection at the National Archives. It unfortunately stops minutes before the President is assassinated when he ran out of film, but it's a touching final look at the last day of President Kennedy. Bob?"
Bob Clark - "Your report notes that you failed to get the approval of either William Manchester or Caroline Kennedy to look at the Manchester interviews with Robert Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy for his book, those were sealed for a hundred years or so, would you address, you expressed serious concerns about that, what is it that you think might be in those interviews, what are you concerned about?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, I don't know what's in those interviews. The author, William Manchester, who wrote the book 'Death of the President' and interviewed many of the witnesses to the assassination in the months immediately following the assassination has not agreed to make his materials available to the American public at this time. Those materials should be available to the American public. And we hope that he will reconsider and those papers will be available eventually.
"Two extraordinary interviews that he did were with Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy within several months of the assassination, because they had a falling out, those records were sealed by agreement of the parties, and they can be opened only with the permission of the Kennedy family. They have decided that it's still too sensitive to open those interviews. We hope that at some point they will reconsider. I don't know what's in them but certainly they will add another bit of insight to this event and we are trying to make sure that all of the records are opened eventually. Mark?"
Mark Zaid - "As you know, for several years there have been a group of us that have sought to declassify highly sensitive documents, and will continue to do so, we certainly applaud the work of the Board that has set an unbelievable example, you have now had four years of dealing with some of the more difficult agencies, for different reasons, that have claimed that many of these documents have been of the highest sensitivity, CIA, Secret Service, the IRS, Army Intelligence, NSA, many agencies which people really didn't suspect had documents of this nature which now have proven to be so. I just want to confirm for the record, we've got you all there, this is an opportunity to send a message to the agencies as we continue our work, for the record, having released all of these highly sensitive documents, has the world ended?"
Chairman Tunheim - "Well, obviously not, and I think that many of these agencies and the personnel that have handled these records have learned a lot through this process they have learned that records that they previously would never have agreed to release under any circumstances, they have seen those records released and no harm come to them or to the country, and perhaps even some good come to their processes and their ability to look at their own records. So, I'm hopeful that these agencies have learned a lesson through this process that openness is better. Obviously the answer to that ultimately will lie probably years from now in what future releases are done."
Mark Zaid - "And in the report are there any recommendations to the agencies or to Congress for changes in existing legislation, FOIA, or a similar Act for historical records?"
Chairman Tunheim - "We do recommend that changes be made in the Freedom of Information Act to guarantee the opening of more records, and also that changes be made to the process by which the President's Executive Order is being administered. We are also suggesting that the process that was followed with the Kennedy Assassination Records is a good process to follow when there is a group of extraordinary records that the public wants to have access to quickly. It is a process that we've found, through a lot of tinkering, works very well. So, we are hopeful that it will be used again. Thank you everybody. Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead Bill."
Dr. William Joyce - "Just one comment on the question about opening of records and the agency's responses, I think it is important to note that the majority of the records that have been opened through the work of the Board were what we deemed to be 'consent releases', that is previously redacted records that when the agencies understood our policy, and our way of dealing with those records decided to release them under their own initiative. And I think that's a very important precedent, and if we can extend and expand that kind of process I think that would argue well for additional openness in government."
Dr. Anna Nelson - "However, don't disband your group."
press - "Could you have someone announce where we can see the report and get copies?"
Chairman Tunheim - "We have some copies here, we have been scrambling to get it ready. Eileen Sullivan who is standing over there, waving her hand right now has some copies available. We have some more at the office."
Joseph Backes - "Chairman Tunheim, the event later today at Capitol Hill is still on, right? It's not cancelled?"
Chairman Tunheim - "I think that's been postponed for now. Thank you very much."
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