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In 1991, there was a huge controversy over JFK, a film I directed and co-wrote. One reason for this was at the end of the film, I alerted the public that the files of the last inquiry into Kennedy’s murder — the House Select Committee on Assassinations — were sealed until the year 2029. This created an outcry, and congressional hearings and legislation followed. Under the 1992 President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), a five-person citizens panel appointed by the president to oversee the release of classified records on the JFK case, was formed.
From 1994 to 1998, the ARRB declassified about 60,000 documents and 2 million total pages of records. But the four-year mandate was not adequate to fulfill their mission to release everything, and there was no congressional oversight to ensure the completion of the ARRB’s mandate of full disclosure.
The 1992 legislation decreed that everything would be declassified by Oct. 26, 2017. On that day, President Trump was visited by the CIA and FBI. He was the only person allowed by law to further delay the process. He did so, twice. First, a six-month delay on the grounds the agencies had “insufficient time” to finish the job required by the JFK Records Act. In April of 2018, he granted a three-year delay.
President Trump also added a layer of bureaucracy to the law which is not there: The National Archives was never foreseen as an arbiter of what should be withheld or released. Yet, agencies apparently continue to make postponement requests to the archivist, even after President Trump’s arbitrary three-year “extension.”
The JFK Records Act also stated that if any record was still being withheld in 2017, the president had to state, in writing, the reasons why. That did not happen.
Most people thought that Biden would break with Trump and declassify everything immediately on the due date of Oct. 26. He didn’t. He has now given the CIA and FBI until Dec. 15, 2022, to comply with the law. Between Trump and Biden, the total delay will be more than five years. In other words, the public will have waited 59 years since Kennedy’s assassination for the declassification of the last of the JFK records.
One last point should be made about Biden’s decision: Back in 1992, he was part of a unanimous Senate which passed the JFK Records Collection Act. Now, he agrees with his predecessor that nearly three decades was not enough time to fulfill the act’s mandate.
Oliver Stone is a director, screenwriter, producer and best-selling author. He won his first Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for Midnight Express (1978) and won his second and third as best director for Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), respectively. Other notable projects include JFK (1991), W. (2008), Savages (2012) and Snowden (2016).
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