Final Report of the Assassination Records
Review Board September 30, 1998
The Review Board recommends that future declassification boards be genuinely independent, both in the structure of the organization and in the qualifications of the appointments.
The Review Board recommends that any serious, sustained effort to declassify records requires congressional legislation with (a) a presumption of openness, (b) clear standards of access, (c) an enforceable review and appeals process, and (d) a budget appropriate to the scope of the task.
The Review Board recommends that its "common law" of decision, formed in the context of a "presumption of disclosure" and the "clear and convincing evidence of harm" criteria, be utilized for similar information in future declassification efforts as a way to simplify and speed up releases.
The Review Board recommends that future declassification efforts avoid the major shortcomings of the JFK Act: (a) unreasonable time limits, (b) employee restrictions, (c) application of the law after the Board terminates, and (d) problems inherent with rapid sunset provisions.
The Review Board recommends that the cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive problem of referrals for "third party equities" (classified information of one agency appearing in a document of another) be streamlined by (a) requiring representatives of all agencies with interests in selected groups of records meet for joint declassification sessions, or (b) uniform substitute language be devised to deal with certain categories of recurring sensitive equities.
The Review Board recommends that a compliance program be used in future declassification efforts as an effective means of eliciting full cooperation in the search for records.
The Review Board recommends the following to ensure that NARA [ed: National Archives and Records Administration] can exercise the provisions of the JFK Act after the Review Board terminates: (a) that NARA has the authority and means to continue to implement Board decisions, (b) that an appeals procedure be developed that places the burden for preventing access on the agencies, and (c) that a joint oversight group composed of representatives of the four organizations that originally nominated individuals to serve on the Review Board be created to facilitate the continuing execution of the access provisions of the JFK Act.
The Review Board recommends that the Review Board model could be adopted and applied whenever there are extraordinary circumstances in which continuing controversy concerning government actions has been most acute and where an aggressive effort to release all "reasonably related" federal records would serve usefully to enhance historical understanding of the event.
The Review Board recommends that both the Freedom of Information Act and Executive Order 12958 be strengthened, the former to narrow the categories of information automatically excluded from disclosure, the latter to add "independent oversight" to the process of "review" when heads of agencies decide that records in their units should be excluded from release.
The Review Board recommends the adoption of a federal classification policy that substantially (a) limits the number of those in government who can actually classify federal documents, (b) restricts the number of categories by which documents might be classified, (c) reduces the time period for which the document(s) might be classified, (d) encourages the use of substitute language to immediately open material which might otherwise be classified, and (e) increases the resources available to the agencies and NARA for declassifying federal records.
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