CIA Director Bill Burns was among the government agency leaders who sent President Joe Biden a letter last year requesting that some information contained within files about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy remain redacted.
Burns’ letter, dated December 15, 2021, was released Thursday by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA also released 13,173 documents related to the Kennedy assassination on Thursday, thus meeting a deadline for the release of relevant documents Biden set last year.
NARA said that more than 97 percent of the estimated 5 million documents it has collected in all from the CIA and other agencies about the November 22, 1963, assassination have now been released to the public. Following the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act passed by Congress in 1992, thousands of documents have become publicly accessible, with the most recent data release occurring last year.
The CIA previously released “all” of the information it had about the assassination itself, Burns said in his letter. He described the information that was still redacted as of December 2021 as “primarily post-assassination documents” involving “intelligence sources and methods of current relevance.”
The redactions were “minimal” and “necessary to protect the most sensitive intelligence information” included within the collection, Burns wrote. The data involved identifying information about CIA employees and assets, some CIA locations and “specific intelligence operational details” that the agency said were “still in use,” as well as accounts of foreign intelligence relationships.
Some information in the CIA’s Kennedy assassination files also included “unacknowledged CIA operations in support of covert actions worldwide,” the public release of which Burns said were “likely to impair the US Government’s ability to accomplish the objectives of the covert action and the CIA’s operations in support of these programs.”
Releasing the redacted information Burns flagged “poses a substantial threat” to U.S. intelligence efforts “and, therefore, to the national security,” Burns wrote. That threat “outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure,” he added.
Burns said the CIA cannot say for certain when it will be safe to publicly release the information he identified and called for a new CIA review of the material to conclude by mid-December 2027. In the meantime, Burns requested that Biden keep certain redactions in place.
In 1992, Congress ordered that all files related to the Kennedy assassination be “eventually disclosed” to the public. “The vast majority” of the files was made publicly available by the late 1990s, according to NARA, with additional documents released in the last few years. In October 2021, Biden sought to release more of the redacted documents and ordered a review by NARA officials, with other agencies able to petition for the continued withholding of sensitive material.
Of the nearly 16,000 documents that were reviewed since fall 2021, more than 70 percent were on Thursday “released in full,” according to a memorandum from the White House. NARA’s acting archivist identified some information that Biden was encouraged to keep redacted.
“I agree that continued postponement of public disclosure of such information is warranted to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” Biden said in the memorandum.
A CIA spokesperson said in comments shared with Newsweek that the agency “is committed to the JFK Act’s goal of ensuring maximum transparency with respect to Government records concerning President Kennedy’s assassination.” The agency worked “in close collaboration” with NARA to review the files over the last year and “released thousands of additional documents in full,” the spokesperson said. Other documents were released with fewer redactions, “and no documents remain fully redacted or withheld in their entirety.”
The spokesperson reiterated Burns’ previous statement that all of the CIA’s information “directly related” to the Kennedy assassination was previously released and said that, as of Thursday, 95 percent of all CIA documents related to the assassination “have been released in their entirety, and no documents remain fully redacted or withheld in their entirety.”
As for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who fatally shot Kennedy, the spokesperson said the CIA is “not aware of any documents known to be directly related to Oswald that have not already been made part of the Collection.”
Conspiracy theories about the assassination have continued to spread in the decades since Kennedy’s death. Some theorists have questioned whether the CIA or other government agencies had any connection with Oswald or involvement in the killing.
The CIA spokesperson also commented on those theories and on the CIA documents mentioning Oswald that NARA included in Thursday’s release of materials.
“CIA never engaged Oswald,” the spokesperson said. “CIA information regarding Oswald, including Oswald’s visit to Mexico City from 27 September to 3 October 1963, was included in prior releases. There is no new information on this topic in the 2022 release.”
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