Monday, April 24, 2017

Nate Jones of NSA at CAPA Sunshine Week Press Conference

Nate Jones of the NSA gave a short Panel 2 presentation at the CAPA Sunshine Week Press Conference on March 16, 2017 

Nate Jones: 

Thanks a lot, thanks for putting this on. It's great to be here today, my name is Nate Jones from the National Security Archive and despite the official sounding name, the National Security Archive is a non-profit that files thousands of FOIA and mandatory declassification review requests each year, and we fight to get previously classified information declassified and published.

            That said, I am not an expert on JFK assassination, the main reason is because the field is already crowded with experts, you here. So generally the National Security Archive focuses other matters, but I'm happy to talk today about perhaps fighting for access to records, not least of which because the JFK records collection act was one of, if not the strongest, laws ever passed for disclosing records.

            I have a few points that I'll go through and hit, and anything else we can talk about it in questions.

            So, what is needed today, or what we talked about earlier today, the JFK records collection act, is very important. The head of the government office of information service, which is in charge of bureaucrat in charge of collecting classifications government-wide. It's said on the record that government classifiers joked that they could classify a ham sandwich. The National Security Archive finally won a lawsuit for official CIA volume of Bay of Pigs history that the agency with the department justice lawyers argued to a judge and won, that its release could quote confuse the public, so it could remain secret. In this case we went to congress and congress actually passed the FOIA improvement act that, it is typically said that documents over 25 years can't use this pre-decisional exception anymore, so we won! But the executive branch didn't do it for us, just like the JFK Act, we had to go to congress, and congress had to actually pass a law, something that is rare, but these two anti-secrecy matters happened.

            Moving on, I think that the next step for these JFK records that we talked about earlier is to let the congressional foresight that they included in passing a law play out. Here is my understanding of the state of play of these records and Jack Morley knows as well, I wish he was still here, we could talk, but according my my conversations with the national archives and ... For the record, when the national declassification center said which record should we prioritize, the number one vote was for the JFK assassination documents, and even though that's not my field I said, yes, do it. It's a wealth of information, think of the PR boost, and it's the most popular, show your clout by declassifying these. I also said that Obama need not wait until October 2017 to release these remaining records. In both cases they didn't listen to me. So the state of play, so far as I know is that ... I actually have it, you can pass this around, here.

            There are currently, according to the national archives, 3,603 records withheld in full and another 41,000 records, not pages, records, that are withheld apart. My friend wisely did a FOIA request to NARA for an index of the 3001 records. Here are just some of them, you can pass them around, and you can see the names of what I think, I predict, will be coming out within months. The Nosenko transcript, talked about earlier are in them.

            Essentially what has to happen for these records and more to come out. The answer is nothing. As far as I understand the national archives is working right now to release all of the records as demanded by law, unless an agency petitions the President, and the President says do not. My conversations with NARA, and they have given some public statements, say that they are working hard to declassify ... As of months ago they had it during the Obama administration, they hadn't heard ... I asked well when are you going to hear? How are you going to hear?

They didn't really know, but they said they probably would come through agency petitions to the national security counsel and that ultimately it would be up to the president to tell NARA not to release. What's going to happen? I don't know, we've already speculated a little bit we can keep doing that, that's fun, but the issue is that the ball is in the President's court. Congress, I think, did its good job and the defacto is they're going to provide, unless the President stops release.

            I would just end with one more point and we can talk more questions, I'm sure everybody has good stuff, that the importance of the anti-secrecy strong congressional mandate of the JFK Records Act and Jim mentioned the Nazi War Crimes Act also. It still resonates and we need more of that with other documents. Here is the National Declassification Center's recent report, citing the JFK Collection Records Act in 1992, stating quote: "that this legislative critic criteria for exemption is much more stringent, than that would be later required by an executive order on classification." So today, the situation is that information that is currently technically properly classified, including those ham sandwiches that I opened with, and the fact that the Cuban missile crisis ended by taking the Jupiter missiles out of Italy, is a proper secret, is that the requirements to be classified, are far too low. Congress did the right thing with the JFK Act by saying they need to pass the credibility test or ... that's what I call, is much higher leader standards.

            My final point is that this sunshine week, you should look back and celebrate the JFK Records Review Act. Optimistically, and I hope realistically, expect that the vast bulk of the future records will be released in October 2016, that's my prediction, and celebrate the success and begin working on how we can get congress to mandate that more records, beyond this very important universe, are also released congressionally.

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