Friday, December 6, 2013

Kennedy Library Announces the Release of the Remaining RFK Papers – Really?


Yesterday, the National Archives released what they claim are most of the remaining withheld files of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

According to the Archives, “the release completes the archival processing of files from Robert F. Kennedy’s years as Attorney General and has been done in collaboration with the family of Robert F. Kennedy.”

Seven boxes (amounting to more than 2,700 pages) were released last year after growing pressure from researchers.

Anywhere from 62 to 74 boxes (the estimates vary by report) have been locked away since 1973 and amount to nearly 7,500 additional pages covering key events during the Kennedy administration.

The Archives did note that four boxes among the so-called “classified” and “confidential” Justice Department files will remain off limits because they were deemed to be “of a personal nature.”

Unless the box dimensions have changed drastically, there seems to be much material still out of our grasp. (Dale Myers and I previously described some of the highlights of the original 1975 finding aid in “Drums of Conspiracy.”)

Perhaps it might be a good time for interested parties to compare the library’s latest iteration of the finding aid to the one generated by NARA in 1975, and which was obtained by this writer in 1995.

Here for the first time is the complete finding aid as it existed thirty-eight years ago.

Of course, any conclusion about what we are still being denied (or what has been removed permanently) misses the many elephants in the reading room:
  • How does a private family gain control over classified government records in the first place, files which they aren’t even cleared to look at?
  • How do federal employee whistleblowers get prosecuted for releasing government files to the public while private citizens are allowed to keep them from the American people for decades with help from the National Archives?
  • Who approved the transmittal of these files to the Kennedys, rendering them immune to FOIA requests?
  • Are there other citizens we should know about who received a similar sweetheart deal? If so, can I get one too?
 Peter Kornbluh, a senior researcher at the National Security Archives at George Washington University, was quoted last Wednesday in the Boston Globe as saying the recent release was one of the “great treasure troves of documentation on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations” and that he “hopes the cooperation between the Archives and the Kennedy family can be a model for releasing other collections of historically valuable government records.”

Seriously? If this is the model for the future handling and disposition of public records, I say, God help us.


Annette said...

I believe the answer to your question, Dale, may be somewhat resonant of this week's People magazine. The cover of this issue contains a picture of Caroline Kennedy's youngest child. The picture is pleasant - the demi-deification not so much so. This family has placed itself outside the law one too many times, in my opinion and those of the sans coulottes who serve this clan. My feelings about America's first family are profoundly complicated - extremely respectful on one hand and pervasively disdainful on the other. I believe this current situation reeks of power, overweening arrogance and a sense of morbid entitlement. The Kennedys believe they are above the law. Probably, they should be disabused of this misperception.

Paul C. said...

This is certainly not an acceptible situation, but let's not forget it's the legacy of a unique convergence of historical circumstances. Laws and precedents were very different in the pre-Vietnam/Watergate era, when the family assumed this role. The Bush and Clinton families can't play such games with their administrative records, thanks in no small part to the negative example of the Kennedy family.

Anonymous said...

Annette, I thought you were referring to the Bush family. But seriously, Dale's point is that what's happened here with these Kennedy papers may unfortunately equally apply with respect to other "first families", to the detriment of the American public and the historical record, including, for example, Lyndon Johnson's papers, Nixon's, and yes, those of the Bush family.

Dale K. Myers said...

Folks, the byline identifies the article as written by Gus Russo.