The Assassination Records Review Board


The Organization of American Historians

Thursday, March 28, 1996

Copyright © By Joseph Backes

Hello, and welcome to another installment of reviewing the Review Board. The Board gave a small presentation to the Organization of American Historians in Chicago on March 28, 1996 at the lovely Palmer House Hilton hotel.

Guess which floor it was on? That's right, the sixth.

Drs. Hall, Nelson, and Joyce were present. I was glad to see new faces representing the research community. John Judge had a small table set up.

This is a welcome improvement since the Review Board's presentation in Atlanta to the American Historical Association, and hopefully speaks to the kind of impact I want to have on the research community. Since I wrote of the Board's presentation at the American Historical Association there has not been one open meeting of the Board. These presentations to these two historical associations represent the only opportunity to learn from the Board members what they have been up to.

Dr. Hall mentioned that the Board is debating whether to have any more Public Hearings at all. They are rather intensely reviewing documents at the moment and Public Hearings are time consuming and costly. While I can see and even support his viewpoint I feel that at the very least an open meeting of the Board is long overdue. I would love to hear an update on the collection from Mr. Steve Tilley and an update from the Board members on the many jobs they are currently undertaking. Another open meeting similar to the October 23, 1996 one, when the staff of the Board gave briefings on the progress to find and locate records, would be very welcomed by this writer.

This is an intensely active period for the Board right now. I would love to hear from the newly created subdivision of the Board's staff on the quest for military records. I want to hear about the subpoenas that have been issued and are about to be issued. I want to learn as much as possible of the recent deposing of Drs. Humes and Boswell. I want to read the ARRB's annual report. I want to know more about the Secret Service destroying assassination records in 1995 relating to President Kennedy's travels. This is most distressing news and in clear and open violation of the JFK statute. I want to know more about the Board's court battle with New Oreleans D.A. Harry Connick, Sr.

I don't know about you but I had a cross between an orgasm and a religious experience when I heard that the ARRB deposed Humes and Boswell. This is major news. This is a first in the history of the case. I recall vividly when I went to Harold Weisberg's house shortly after the C.O.P.A. conference; he was dismissive of the Board in general and of the then-most recent release of assassination records. He asked me, "Do you know what they could do to Humes and Boswell?" Mr. Weisberg suggested that if they ever talk to them the first question should be, "Do you know what perjury means Doctor?" Well, miracle of miracles, they deposed them!

None other than Dr. Hall, who served as moderator for the Board, pointed out that they, the Board, were aware of notes being taken at the time of the autopsy by Humes, Boswell and Finck. This is amazing stuff. I point this out for those in the research community who have been knocking Dr. Hall for being pro-Warren Commission. I do not feel that is a correct characterization.

Dr. Hall started the proceedings with a brief biography of the Board and how it came to be. Dr. Hall did mention that the purpose of the Board is to try to secure some greater sense of legitimacy with regard to the investigation that surrounded the murder of the President and with the hope that by so doing we will be able to restore confidence in the government itself.

Now that sounds like he wants to defend the Warren Commission version, yet Dr. Hall seemed irritated that the Secret Service had destroyed records, just last year, relating to President Kennedy's travels in 1963. I am sure he supported issuing subpoenas to Drs. Humes and Boswell. I am sure he is not happy with D.A. Connick.

The Board has a difficult task on many levels. One is because the release of these documents reveals misconduct and criminal acts by the intelligence agencies that goes well beyond solving the mystery of the murder of President Kennedy. There are countless examples of opening people's mail, lying to Congress, suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, tapping people's bank accounts, illegal surveillances of law abiding American citizens, and numerous other activities, up to and including murder. Some of this came to light in the 1970's when the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission investigated these intelligence agencies. The FBI word COINTELPRO is synonymous with many of these activities.

Simultaneously, there are legitimate national security concerns. Many anti-Castro Cuban activities are still going on. I am convinced we are still tapping the telephone lines into and out of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. Perhaps not in the exact same manner as we were in 1963 but nonetheless one an intelligence agency would rightly want to keep secret. That interferes with acknowledging we did it in 1963 and what Oswald was doing in Mexico City in 1963. Also, people who helped us in Mexico City, Cuba and other countries, including right here in America may become endangered by the release of this information. This is no joke and something to take very seriously.

So restoring faith in government means disclosing information in a timely and reasonable manner. And changing the intelligence agencies so that they conform to legal and ethical behavior.

Dr. Hall pointed out that the Board does not go through the material on a document by document basis but rather sections of, or particular pieces of information that many documents have in them. If they can get that part of the document opened it results in the removal of large amounts of black ink.

Dr. Hall wanted to show documents that required special attention. He prefaced that by saying that he does not think that there are any smoking documents. Foolish boy! He actually showed one.

While Dr. Hall fiddled with his documents Dr. Nelson informed the audience that they are a working Board. They meet for two days, two intensive days, but are now adding a day. She also pointed out the big difference between their statute and the FOIA. Dr. Nelson pointed out that the Board is trying to use as far as possible substitute language. She mentioned that there is one pseudonym in particular that the Board is eager to reveal. Dr. Nelson said that this person used this pseudonym to the Warren Commission, a researcher in the audience later pointed out to me that Dr. Nelson probably meant the HSCA. This is "Scelso", whom I mentioned in my article on the 39 CIA documents that Board released September 20, 1995. Dr. Nelson said there are problems with revealing the name. She did not elaborate and I do not know what the problems are.

Dr. Nelson talked of the Board's decision to go beyond the statute and develop a very broad definition of an "assassination record". If you'll recall, I fought to keep "artifacts" in the definition. Dr. Nelson commented, "We don't know what's out there. We know what the agencies have pinpointed but we don't know what else there is."

Now a very interesting development is that some intelligence agencies have begun to just hand over documents to the Archives bypassing the Review Board because they know that the Review Board will release it anyway. I consider this to be a very positive step. I believe it will save the Board a lot of time and money that they can use in locating and securing other "assassination records".

"They are bypassing the middleman which is fine with us," Dr. Nelson offered. 500 documents from the CIA just recently went straight into the Archives.

Dr. Nelson then spoke of the intelligence agencies desire to protect sources and methods. The trouble is that you need to know the source to validate the information. This is a conflict that has come up in Board meetings.

Dr. Nelson also mentioned a concern of the intelligence agencies that the release of the information "will create a mosaic, and people will figure this out." I had to laugh, god forbid we should figure this out. "That's what we do, we create a mosaic. It's our business," responded Dr. Nelson. The intelligence agencies still operate in a Cold War culture, so do historians. "And therefore we mistrust these agencies no matter what they exactly do and I count myself among this group. I mean every blacked out word becomes an object of suspicion to us even though it may be of no importance or may only be peripheral to the information in the document. So we are all sort of bound by that Cold War culture that we have been immersed in for so many years," Dr. Nelson commented.

Dr. Nelson also stated, "I think that it is interesting as an outsider, one who filed a lot of requests and still is [sic, do, not is--JB] from agencies to suddenly become an insider. And it poses some problems. What do you do when in fact you are told, for example, that releasing something would hinder ongoing foreign policy, or intelligence sources and methods, whatever." It is a conflict that Dr. Nelson includes the public's and the historians' right to know in the decision of whether or not to release the information. I think we are very lucky to have Dr. Anna Nelson on this Board. However, she also said, " I think another opportunity for those of us who face students in the classroom as well as our neighbors is to dispel Stone's assumption of some massive conspiracy..."

Why does the Board feel the need to chastise Oliver Stone and his movie JFK? Oliver Stone is not so indirectly responsible for the creation of the Board. What is the problem with the word "conspiracy" with some people? Certainly the Warren Commission version of events is not true. Everyone who defended, and defends it today changes the story, even the people who are still alive and who worked on the damn thing. Everyone adds or subtracts something, including Posner, and they all act like nothing is wrong, the Warren Commission is still right, no evidence has come forward to disprove it, which is in blatant conflict with the fact that they changed something, because someone in the research community proved something in the Warren Commission version of events is not true.

Dr. Joyce mentioned that there are some 50,000 documents of the HSCA comprising more than 600,000 pages that the Board is reviewing. This means working with the Congress. He also mentioned the Public Hearing in New Orleans and records from the prosecution of Clay Shaw that the Baord has acquired.

Some of these records have not been released because D.A. Harry F. Connick is blocking their release in a fit of pique when original Grand Jury records were released by Gary Raymond. The appearance of the original Grand Jury records was a huge embarrassment to Mr. Connick and proved him to be a liar. Mr. Connick testified to the Board that Garrison staffers are the reason why there are not as many Garrison files as there originally may have been. Mr. Connick stated that these former Garrison staffers rifled these files. Mr. Raymond swore in an affidavit that on the contrary, Connick ordered the records destroyed. Mr. Raymond did not do so and secretly hid the Grand Jury records for decades. Mr. Connick took Mr. Raymond to court and got convictions against Mr. Raymond and Mr. Richard Angelico, a reporter with WDSU-TV who received the files before passing them on to the Review Board --- where they now reside in a state of legal limbo.

The Board recently issued a subpoena against Mr. Connick to release the Garrison records in his possession. He has refused to do so. Mr. Connick's lawyer has stated that the ARRB and the JFK statute are "not worth complying with".

Dr. Joyce says he is confident that the Board will receive those records. I sincerely hope so. Dr. Joyce also mentioned the records obtained from the Garrison family and records obtained from Clay Shaw's defense that the Review Board has acquired and should be released soon by the National Archives.

Dr. Joyce then surprised me by saying that there is some question about the Zapruder film and its status, "There are questions of ownership of it." Really!? Dr. Joyce then spoke of the issue of provenance, which he also mentioned in Atlanta.

Dr. Joyce referred to the FBI who surveyed every informant they had on Lee Harvey Oswald to see what the word on the street was about him. According to Dr. Joyce, who is relying on FBI data that I for one would severely question, precious little came back. When there is still the unresolved issue of whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald was an informant for the FBI I would not expect the FBI to be forthcoming with informant provided information that would be filtered through the FBI hierarchy. I do believe the FBI is lying to you, Doctor.

Dr. Joyce considers the Review Board to be a part of a larger process for regaining control of the classification/declassification process. There is a new Presidential Executive Order on declassification and the Moynihan Commission on secrecy in government. He believes that when the Board's work is done there will no longer be a fear that somewhere the government is hiding records on the assassination of President Kennedy. This brings up the question of records that the Board does not look at, or will not have the time to look at, or whose existence will be kept from the Board.

Dr. Hall then took some questions. The first question was about Humes and Boswell being subpoenaed. Yes, Dr. Humes and Boswell talked to the Board in a deposition under oath. Another doctor is about to be subpoenaed, most likely Dr. Finck. Dr. Anna Nelson pointed out that Dr. Humes was there being questioned almost a full day. Dr. Hall stated that the Board "is acutely aware of the history of Humes and Boswell and the last thing we want is to do is to end up with another failed episode in this regard. Time will tell how well we did." Dr. Nelson mentioned that there is the issue of at least one of them taking notes and that goes to the issue of documentation which is what the Board is all about. Dr. Hall then spoke of the draft notes of Humes being burned, that the Board should ask about the number of photographs, what additional notes were taken, what individuals were in the room and outside of it, why wasn't a tape recording of the autopsy made. etc. "It is an interesting proposition that both of my colleagues made sparklingly clear that the pursuit of the documentary record is really, quite I think, germane to getting at the larger questions about who did it, why it was done, other things, and all of that. So that on first impression, see since they say 'Well they are just chasing down documents' but what we are doing is chasing down history."

I then asked Dr. Joyce to elaborate on the question of the Zapruder film. Dr. Joyce mentioned that the statute refers to documents in the custody of federal repositories. The Zapruder film was in the custody of the National Archives for safe keeping so the question is what status does that give the film and how does that compare to the ownership rights of Zapruder's family.

John Judge asked about a federal court decision on Monday (when?) on the Garrison files. Would the Board get to keep the original Grand jury records? The Federal judge was going to decide in favor of the government, i.e. the Review Board but he wanted the two parties to resolve this themselves as he was worried about the delicate matter of state rights and federalism. Mr. Judge also asked about the cooperation or lack of it with intelligence agencies. Dr. Nelson answered. The agencies have continually met with the Board. One member of the CIA admitted that the Board gave him heartburn. Dr. Nelson quipped that that of course is our function. The Board has been invited out to the National Security Agency and have been given top secret briefings. Dr. Nelson mentioned that the Board has to do a little pushing to make sure that they are told everything and shown everything. They will not be brushed aside with 'Sorry this impinges upon current activity'. The Board has to be told exactly how and why and where. Pretty cool, huh? They are responsible people and that eases the tension.

The Board was asked if the Air Force opened their files. Dr. Nelson quickly answered, "We are working on it."

Dr. Hall then showed some documents hoping to engage the audience in a "what do you think?" atmosphere. However, he should have given more background and context to what he was showing as the audience was largely ignorant of the importance and lack of importance of the documents shown. The Board delighted in showing the recently released FBI documents on the Communist Party, U.S.A., Ohio Valley section's reaction to the assassination. This group consisted of 7 people, 3 of whom were FBI informants. These are not assassination records according to Harold Weisberg. In my opinion, they have very little value and are certainly not what the Board should be pursuing as assassination records. One document Dr. Hall displayed, Document # 124-10108-10142 released October 19, 1995, concerned a telephone call between an FBI informant who is still protected and one Mary Ann McCall.

Dr. Hall got it completely wrong. He thinks McCall was the informant who reported a telephone call with someone concerning the shooting of Oswald to the FBI. It is the exact opposite. McCall was not the informant. The informant is quoting what McCall had to say. Dr. Hall actually asked the audience, "What do we owe to Mary Ann McCall?" The answer is nothing!!! She isn't the informant.

One document that Dr. Hall showed was certainly an assassination related document and of critical importance. This is document # 104-10015-10114 from the 39 CIA documents released September 20, 1995, "The Third Batch". It is a document from the Director of the CIA to the Mexico City Station. Dr. Hall asked the audience what is this document about. One person was entranced that it came from the C/CI/SIG which was James Jesus Angleton's mole hunter's group. Big Deal. That is meaningless. This document is proof that the intercept existed after the assassination when the CIA official story is the tapes were erased prior to the assassination.

Dr. Hall asked the audience whether or not this document proves that tapes existed. There was a long pause as I waited for someone else to answer the question; finally I said, yes. Dr. Hall agreed. It was nice to be on the same wave length as Dr. Hall for a awhile. I pointed out that copies of the tape had to exist . Why would the Director ask them to review tapes if they did not exist? The Director wanted these tapes and transcripts dispatched as soon as possible, with a staffer if necessary. Original tapes were asked for, therefore at the very least copies had to exist. Dr. Hall agreed. It was at this point that Dr. Hall said, "And continuing that line of questioning?...And?" I do not think I knew exactly what he was asking for. I knew that tapes had to have existed after the assassination and I was going to explain why based on other information. Dr. Hall said he thinks it is clear that the Director of the CIA did not know if the original tapes were available but that some tapes were certainly available.

Dr. Nelson then mentioned the name "Scelso" who is still alive. I pointed out that there is a name above C/WH/3 that is not blacked out and is not "Scelso" in the 39 documents released by the Board in September. I could not think of the name at the time. That name is Holman, it appears in document #104-10015-10014. Now either Holman is "Scelso" or Hollman signed on behalf of "Scelso". Dr. Hall told me I was trying to draw a conclusion from an inference that may not be correct. I responded that I know that but I could also be right. He responded back that he could not answer my question.

Dr. Hall told us that this was a bitterly contested document in which the Board prevailed. "It sent a strong message, " Dr. Hall added. Apparently, there are some important negotiations going on with the Board and the CIA. I think we just might see and hear the damn intercept.

Dr. Nelson also referred to LIENVOY which was a struggle to get released. She believes that this will open a vast ammount of other documents. Someone in the audience said that LIENVOY was deleted from Phil Agee's book Inside the Company: CIA Diary. Well, that is not true. It is listed on p.527, 528, 530-532 and p.613. Dr. Nelson spoke of a newspaper article in The Washington Post a week or so ago that used some of the information from document # 104-10015-10114. This newspaper article concerned the son of Win Scott. I believe Mr. Mark Zaid is representing Winston Scott's son, who, I beleive, is suing the CIA for personal effects of his father's.

Another question raised was what kind of cooperation has the Board received from the Mexican government. Dr. Nelson explained that the statute requires them to consult foreign governments through the State Department. Dr. Hall remarked that Mexico has not escaped their attention. He facetiously remarked that Cuba has been very cooperative. Dr. Nelson explained that the Mailer book showed that there is indeed more information than was previously acknowledged in the former Soviet Union. The State Department "lost" a request by the Board to a foreign government for four months.

Overall, these presentations have been quite interesting, both because of the untapped potential of the academia and what the Board members had to say. The research community needs a stronger showing at them, I'm talking to you John Newman, and you Peter Dale Scott, and anyone else in the research community who is a historian or academician of some type. For Christ's sake I'm just a Subsitute teacher, with more tables that are manned by people knowledgeable on the case. The next OAH conference will be in San Francisco. It is possible to bypass registering for the whole conference so as to just attend the ARRB's presentation. That way you can save yourself some money. Call or write to them at:

Organization of American Historians
112 North Bryan Street
Bloomington, IN

Phone (812) 855-7311
FAX (812) 855-0696

If the Board is there, I'll be there and I hope to see you there too!

Joe Backes --- email me at

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