CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: What about Mr. Dick Russell?
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Okay, then our next witness this afternoon will be Mr. John Judge from the Committee for an Open Archives in Washington, D.C.
Good afternoon, Mr. Judge.
MR. JUDGE: Good afternoon. I would just like to thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony this morning. I am Executive Secretary of the Coalition on Political Assassinations, but I am here today wearing two different hats. One as co-founder of one of the member groups of the Coalition, the Committee for an Open Archives, and also a hat as myself as one of the thousands of independent researchers and investigators into this case who worked almost from the time of the assassination, and have kept this issue alive. It is probably safe to say that without these early and persistent researchers and those who followed them that most of you wouldn't be sitting up here, or I myself.
The Committee for an Open Archives was founded in 1990 by Bill Kelly and myself with the purpose of trying to get full disclosure as the way to move toward a resolution of this case, and we were instrumental in some the early legislation that was introduced prior to the JFK Records Act in terms of opening the files.
We are grassroot public interest and advocacy nonprofit group. We are part of the Center for the Preservation of Modern History, and we seek release of documents not only in the John F. Kennedy case but similarly withheld documents in the Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and other cases.
About three years ago, as a member of the Committee, I stood outside this building, actually, with signs asking for the release of these documents. So I am glad after the passage of the Act to be inside the building, it is considerably warmer, as has been the reception.
Our position in general is that these documents were created at public expense and that they, as well as the history they represent, belong to the public and not to a governmentally-oriented national security apparatus, and we hope that the Board will follow the legislative prescription for presumption of release in this case.
Much of the discussion in Congress at the time the legislation, the Act, came through indicated that the Congress members didn't believe that there was a corpus of documents that would not pass this presumption of release test after 30 years. They indicated that perhaps less than 1 percent of the documents would be in a position not to be released. So we hope that that will be the case, although we understand that there could be a legitimate reason for withholding a document. We have also seen what appears to be the opposite, the national security became a huge door through which literally truckloads of documents were delivered into obscurity.
The standard that we feel the Board should apply in terms of assassination-related would be that any record that would reasonably assist an interested researcher or citizen in search for a truth about the case, and I suppose the balance point is somewhere between releasing everything and what we considered a too strict standard of materially-related or legally-related standard, per se.
We hope also that the Board would expand in its search beyond the bureaucratic imagination of the agencies that have complied so far, and we think that that is a task of the Review Board to sort of get a broader picture of the case and what people would be looking for in these agencies than the agencies might have themselves.
One way to do that, perhaps, since many of the people who might have been testifying before you at an earlier period are gone now, is to check the existing body of literature for mention of buried records. Many of the critics mention these in their various books. We had a submission early on from Raymond Richey, a lawyer, and we could submit that to you, who went exhaustively through the House Select Committee on Assassination investigation records looking just for references to documents that did not appear in the release record, and compiled that. It is a rather lengthy document itself.
So some of this work has been done by the research community over the years in terms of pointing to documents already. At one point some years ago, we released and have been collecting a document called -- it is a form, actually, called, Where Do You Look When You Haven't Got A Clue, and we asked the research community to tell us where they thought the Board should look, and we would be glad to submit in a typewritten form to you the responses that we have gotten, several hundred responses over these last few years to that.
The scope of the Board we are encouraged by because it extends not only to Federal investigations but apparently to local and State investigations and perhaps even court records, arguably, in related cases, or public records held in private hands, or the records of foreign governments. Someone was mentioning even as late as today to me from the Conference that embassies have borrowed the United States records that they held, and the State Department would or could be of interest.
Also the law seems to extend to contractors and subcontractors of the government, and that presumably would include overt and covert subcontractors, and some of the names in that regard in the research community are firms like Jagger-Chiles Stovall, or where Oswald worked, or the Double Check firm which was mentioned, or Collins Radio, or Permindex. I don't know that these are the sorts of things that show up in an index that would be created by the agencies that are searching for these things.
Mary Ferrell, one of the researchers, has done an exhaustive index of names and organizations over the years from the documents of the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee, as an independent investigator. I know that there is a rather extensive tagging index that has been created over at the Archives, how those two would match up or whether an agency looking for assassination-related records would know to look at all the names that people are interested in is a different question. I am not sure how those two would be mixed.
We are concerned that all Federal agencies be approached, even ones that might fall outside the scope of an original review or thought about the assassinations. I gave an example in my written testimony about the U.S. Customs Agency as an example possibly where records would exist concerning travel of these individuals.
We are dismayed that the original 300 days period for release of all documents to the National Archives by the Federal agencies passed without the existence of a Review Board to oversee it, and we early on asked the Archives for a listing of the agencies that responded to their earliest release in the Federal Register asking them to attend a briefing session telling them how to tag and ID their documents, and we found at least to date that many of the agencies that appeared at that juncture, and that was voluntary and not exhaustive, have still not complied in terms of release of documents, either full or in some cases at all, as far as I know.
So just a task of listing and looking at which agencies partially complied at that point might show us where additional documents exist.
I think the Board should be skeptical of claims that documents were routinely destroyed. I think it was common across agency and otherwise to retain documents in duplicate copies, and should be willing to go after instances where documents apparently have been destroyed or lost or disappeared, or perhaps intentionally mishandled or in some way altered.
This search for a records structure within the government agencies, I think, would be important, and I hope that you are planning to do that to get people going back to that time who are on record creating staffs and knew how records were filed might help in terms of revealing things that might otherwise not be apparent.
Just to give one example, which I did in my written testimony, of how the scope might go beyond what is originally seen, my personal thesis, and I am saying personal in the sense that it is neither for the Committee nor for the Coalition as their organizational stance on this conclusion, I don't mean to indicate that I am the only one that happens to have this particular suspicion or, in that sense a lone nut in this regard, but my belief is that the murder of John F. Kennedy represented a military coup d'etat that was engineered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I bring this up not that you should agree or conclude in that direction, but to say that there is a body of, I think, reasonable evidence that points in that way.
So, because of that, I would be interested in records of the Selective Service System, planning records for Southeast Asia combat, projections for the Defense Department, the Defense condition status records, both nationally and regionally. The day of the assassination records of the Strategic Air Command, and other critical command functions and crisis functions of the military and the U.S. Government, perhaps records of the National Reconnaissance Organization or the Pentagon War Room, records that would relate to the Presidential security communications, the black box communications that day, due to things that I found in my own research.
So, as I say, this is perhaps not the first place that someone would look, but I think as you create the record, the collection, that the records themselves are going to point you in different directions, and that the research community can provide a view that is going to be more exhaustive than you might imagine, or maybe unable to deal with within the scope of your tasks. But I brought it up mainly as an example of how records that I think have not been searched or released to any extent.
I think the records of all government agencies in that window, right around the time of the assassination ought to be looked at with some scrutiny, the National Security Agency and other critical agencies, what were they doing in the week before, the week after, and on that day.
I hope the Board will be compelled by any evidence of obstruction of justice or theft of destruction of these documents, or evidence of newly released documents being perhaps not real documents or forged documents in any case. For instance, we have seen one release of a document that appears to be on carbon ribbon at a time, technologically, at least, as far as we know that the advanced typewriter ribbon didn't exist. It purports to be some FBI document typed on the 23rd of November 1963 that doesn't match the cloth ribbon even, as far as we know, on the selectrics at that time.
In addition, we have experienced a lot of public concern at the Committee about provisions in the law for substitution of documents, and what process that would take if that is going to happen. It is mentioned in the record, but people are concerned for what that would mean.
Also that the notices that the Board is required to make in terms of the Federal Register doesn't necessarily make the matter public. It is fairly expensive to take a subscription out, and that we might request the Board to consider giving those same notices to, if not particular organizations, maybe an umbrella organization like the Coalition which could distribute it and make it more public.
I have even just recently gotten requests from people at the Conference. Someone said that a press picture was taken of the limousine windshield at the time it was being moved from one archive to another, and they wondered if that would be available because they thought that it might show some physical evidence of the damage to the windshield. People have talked about the individual confessions that have been made, some court depositions and otherwise to the assassination, and whether the transcripts of those or records relating to those might be made public.
I think that in general it is a kind of daunting task. When I read recently that the history of the Cold War and World War II in the Military Archives at Suitland were comprised of 27 underground buildings, an acre in size each, mentally all I could imagine was the last scene in Indiana Jones where the Ark of the Covenant is being wheeled off in this cart among other carts, and I don't know how you start to search that. In fact, 27 acres of documents is a little amazing to me.
I think generally in order to overcome cynicism the search should be as reasonably thorough as it could be.
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Judge. We would certainly appreciate receiving copies of the submissions that you have received regarding appropriate record groups for us to look into, and I also appreciate your suggestion about the Federal Register. We are developing a mailing list which is getting larger all the time, and we do intend to send all of our notices to our mailing list contacts as well, so that you would not have to subscribe to the Register.
Are there questions that members of the Board have for Mr. Judge today?
DR. HALL: I do have a question, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Go ahead.
DR. HALL: Mr. Judge, you and others have this morning and this afternoon advocated that in the end the researchers should set the agenda for what constitutes an assassination record based on the view that whatever a researcher believes in the interest of his or her research in order to deal with a particular set of issues, then provides the grounds upon which to gain access to material.
The question I would pose to you, are there any theories, any requests, given your mention of reasonability, that would be such as not to prompt the materials requested to be viewed as an assassination record and, therefore, outside the bounds of the Commission's mandate?
MR. JUDGE: Well, I would have to say yes, and I am not legally or historically trained to say what those criteria are. I just am saying that I think you need to lean in the direction of erring on the other side of strictness, and whatever appears to be at least a somewhat documented or reasonable presumption based on evidence that someone has ought to have the chance, you know, for at least a documentary search. But I understand, you know, you can't open documents based on every possible speculation that someone would have. So it is a balancing act.
But I think that the Coalition's existence represents a sort of range of opinion about where those documents might exist, and I wouldn't say that it would necessarily have to be solely research driven. I would think that the documents released themselves may drive you in directions that none of us have yet seen.
DR. HALL: Do you think it is an appropriate function of this Board to assess the relative merits of researchers in making claims before us to documents?
MR. JUDGE: Well, I would say not per se, but I think that your criteria are probably going to have to be what you can reasonably do with limited staff time and ability, but I am just saying, I don't think people should be dismissed out of hand. There ought to be some procedure of establishing a minimal level of credible inquiry or historical interest or legal question, and then proceed from there. As long as it is applied fairly, I think none of us probably, outside of criticism for anything we do, people not happy with inclusion or exclusion, but I think it is a standard that you will find and, also, what the parameters are, because you are not dealing with a quiescent community.
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Any further questions?
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Judge. We appreciate your help.