Twenty-five years apparently is not enough time to properly review the most sensitive documents about the Kennedy assassination. Now the CIA and FBI require another 180 days to complete this extended vetting process. The agencies are running out of time to prevent us from viewing the long-held and perhaps embarrassing secrets regarding Lee Harvey Oswald and his activities prior to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I can relate to this delaying tactic by the CIA and FBI.
More than 54 years ago, the agencies started wiretapping my dad's work phone and our home phone in Prince George's County. I've been working since 2008 to get access to the papers that would help me understand why they wiretapped my father, nationally syndicated columnist Paul Scott — and what they heard. I won't end my search until all critical material is made public.
The notable stories he covered before and after the wiretap included the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination.
I hoped the release of more JFK files would expedite the declassification and release of material I sought regarding my father. It's frustrating enough that it takes years for agencies to make a determination, but their responses often contain bureaucratic language, redacted pages or statutory exemptions without detailed explanation.
In response to my most recent Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for 40 pages in my dad's files, the agency declassified the material but then applied a security exemption to prevent public release. I still have no idea of the time frame or subject matter of the documents that could be more than 50 years old. Why can't the FBI simply redact sensitive or personal info and not delete entire pages? I also can't imagine that sources and methods used more than 50 years ago can't be disclosed.
It's even more frustrating dealing with the CIA. I learned a few months ago that I could not inquire about the status of my latest FOIA request (initiated in 2015) until June 30. And, even if I uncover information useful in the search, the CIA makes it extremely difficult to contact a case manager. Since my request with the CIA focuses primarily on locating the wiretap transcript, I posed these questions to the CIA: Could a CIA historian explain whether the transcript still exists? Was it destroyed or transferred to another government agency?
The CIA first shed light on this illegal wiretap with the publication in 2007 of the agency's infamous "family jewels," a compilation of covert and illicit operations. Because this wiretap was approved by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and then-CIA Director John McCone, this was a very sensitive, historic document and carefully guarded in the Office of Security. The wiretap of my father and one other newsman included conversations with 12 senators, six representatives, 11 congressional staffers and 16 government employees, including staff from the White House and vice president's office.
It's apparently rare for the CIA historian's office to assist with a FOIA request, but now may the time to put its unique expertise to use in the search for these significant documents, which may be a major contribution to CIA history. CIA historian David Robarge referenced my father and the wiretap in his biography of McCone.
There is positive news. I learned much from the documents released to me so far. I know the FBI was strongly encouraged to wiretap my father, but ironically then-Director J. Edgar Hoover fought it until the CIA agreed to do it. And, after the three-month wiretap ended, the CIA monitored my father and his columns through 1980. The released files include memos to CIA directors with comments about columns critical of the CIA. In some cases, the memos analyze his columns, paragraph by paragraph.
Along the way, I have sought help from the Office of Government Information Services and the Interagency Security Classification Advisory Panel, entities that assist with the release of classified material. But the FBI and CIA still have the final say, and it's difficult to break through those walls of secrecy. People like me don't have legal backgrounds and are unlikely to sue the government. The agencies probably bank on folks becoming frustrated with the time-consuming process and simply stopping their pursuit. I am not giving up any time soon.
The one thing I have learned is that this nation's classification system keeps too many secrets and keeps them too long.