Background Information on the
John F. Kennedy
Assassination Records Collection
For access to these records, contact the Special Access and FOIA Staff, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740, (301) 837-3190. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act
- The Collection
- Presidential Commissions
- Congressional Committees
- Executive Branch Agency Records
- Judicial Branch Records
- Presidential Commissions
- Donated Historical Materials
- The JFK Collection Database
- Access to the JFK Collection
The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act
John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963. Almost 30 years later, hoping to allay lingering doubts about the circumstances surrounding that event, Congress enacted the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. On October 26, 1992, President George Bush signed the bill into law (PL 102-526). One provision of the law mandated that all assassination-related material be housed in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The clear intent of the law was to open most of the records for research.
The Act defined five narrow categories of information whose release could be postponed and established the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to consider all agency decisions to postpone the release of records. Records initially postponed by an agency remained in the custody of that agency until the Review Board evaluated those records and decisions. Once the Board completed its review of the agency's recommendations for postponement, all records, including those that are closed, were to be transferred to NARA. The transfers of the last records reviewed by the ARRB are still taking place at this time. The Act requires that all assassination-related records be opened by 2017, with the exception of documents certified for continued postponement by the President.
On December 28, 1992, the National Archives and Records Administration established the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection. The Collection consists of approximately 2,000 cubic feet of records or more than 4.1 million pages. Even though the Assassinations Records Review Board has gone out of existence, additions are being made as agencies continue to review records identified as relevant and transfer newly opened records to the National Archives of the United States. The Collection may not be complete for several years.
The Federal Government created assassination-related records for a variety of reasons. Even before November 22, 1963, a few agencies maintained information on certain individuals later linked with the assassination. Many agencies gathered and created records immediately following the assassination in pursuit of investigations or ongoing business. Still more assembled material in response to the five formal commissions or committees established to investigate various aspects of the assassination or related subjects. Records reflecting all of these functions comprise the JFK Assassination Records Collection.
The Warren Commission
President Johnson created the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (commonly called the Warren Commission) 7 days after the assassination, and 10 months later, the Commission issued its report. The Collection contains 363 cubic feet of Warren Commission records. These records include transcripts of hearings; administrative and investigative documents created by the Commission's staff; documents sent to the Commission by U.S., State, and foreign government agencies; letters from members of the public; photographs; films; and several three-dimensional objects.
The Rockefeller Commission
Gerald Ford created the Commission to Investigate Central Intelligence Agency Activities Within the United States (commonly called the Rockefeller Commission) in 1975. Approximately 2,500 pages of the Commission's records relate to the Kennedy assassination. These documents include information concerning attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations
The House of Representatives established the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976 to reopen the investigation of the assassination in light of allegations that previous inquiries had not received the full cooperation of Federal agencies. The Committee, which also investigated the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued its report on March 29, 1979. Included in the records of the Committee's investigation of the Kennedy assassination (approximately 325 cubic feet) are interviews; transcripts of testimony; outside contact reports; materials from the Departments of State and Justice as well as from the CIA and local law enforcement agencies; personal income tax returns; medical records; unsolicited mail; telephone company records; autopsy reports; and the Committee's own administrative files.
In 1975, Congress created the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee) and the House Select Committee on Intelligence (the Pike Committee). Some of the records generated by these Committees relate to the assassination.
Executive Branch Agency Records
Many executive branch agencies created records that relate in some way to the assassination, and the Collection contains agency documents on various subjects, and in varying formats and amounts.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
FBI records comprise the largest segment of the Collection, totaling over 400 cubic feet. The files come from both headquarters and the field offices and contain the case files that include the assassination file, as well as files on Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee, George DeMohrenschildt, Marina Oswald, Marguerite Oswald, Michael Paine, Ruth Paine, Clay Shaw, and David Ferrie.
Central Intelligence Agency
The CIA transferred Lee Harvey Oswald's 201 or personality file (approximately 24 cubic feet) to the Collection. CIA records made available to the House Select Committee on Assassinations are among the records of the Committee.
Department of Justice
The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice transferred nearly 40 cubic feet relating to the assassination. These records include official mail, primarily between the Department and the FBI or the Department and Congress, letters received from the public, and Freedom of Information Act requests.
Department of State
Records transferred from the Department of State (approximately 12 cubic feet) include documents that relate primarily to Lee Harvey Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union. Much of this material is duplicated in the records of the Warren Commission.
National Archives and Records Administration
The administrative records of the National Archives and Records Administration include nearly 14 cubic feet relating to the transfer, processing, and servicing of assassination-related records.
U.S. Secret Service
The Secret Service records relating to the assassination consist of approximately 20 cubic feet and include the official case file on the assassination, White House police post logs, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous files.
Other Executive Branch Records
The Collection currently includes a small number of executive branch documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, U.S. Marine Corps, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Commands, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Air Force Commands, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Postal Service, National Security Agency, U.S. Information Agency, the U.S. Air Force, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Park Service, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, and Office of Management and Budget.
Judicial Branch Records
Case records in the Collection from the U.S. District Courts of Colorado, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, and Texas include King v. Katzenbach, Weisberg v. U.S. General Services Administration, Shaw v. Garrison, Andrews v. Garrison, Porter v. U.S., and U.S. v. 6.5-MM. Mannlicher-Carcano Military Rifle. The Collection also includes 1 cubic foot of records from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and one case (Robertson v. Wegmann) from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Donated Historical Materials
In addition to the Federal records described above, the Collection also contains a variety of donated historical materials. These include the Dallas Police Department case file on the assassination; records of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission; records from the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas; papers of J.W. Fritz, Jim Garrison, Clay Shaw, Edward Wegmann, Richard Sprague, J. Lee Rankin, Richard Russell, and James Hosty; and personal and Presidential papers from the Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter Presidential libraries. The Lyndon Johnson materials include transcripts of his telephone conversations with J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Russell, and others concerning issues relating to the assassination, such as the establishment of the Warren Commission.
The JFK Collection Database
In addition to establishing the physical Collection, the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act mandated the creation of an electronic index to those documents not open and available at the National Archives and Records Administration when the legislation was signed into law. Each agency with custody of assassination-related material entered into the system information about its own records. The Act required that each entry receive a Record Identification Form which must be attached to the described document. It is possible to search the system in a variety of ways, such as by subject, date, and agency creating the record. The database is available to researchers on NARA's Research Room Home Page
Access to the JFK Collection
Records in the JFK Collection may be viewed in the National Archives research rooms in College Park, MD, and copies of specific records may be ordered through the mail. Requests for additional information regarding the Collection should be directed to the Special Access and FOIA Staff, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD 20740-6001. The staff may also be reached by telephone at (301) 837-3190.
E-mail inquiries may be addressed to email@example.com. Inquiries received by e-mail will be answered by postal mail and not by e-mail. All e-mail inquiries should include a return address. These inquiries must be handled in this manner due to the backlog of JFK inquiries.
Bibliographic note: Web version based on General Information Leaflet 42, updated on July 30, 1998
Note: Web version contents may be more current than 1998 printed edition.