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ARTICLE: "The Department of Forgetting"


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ARTICLE: "The Department of Forgetting" (N.A.R.A. related)

Good Day.... FYI....

http://www.slate.com/id/2191902/

<QUOTE>

The Department of Forgetting

How an obscure FBI rule is ensuring the destruction of irreplaceable

historical records.

By Alex Heard

Posted Tuesday, June 24, 2008, at 12:47 PM ET

I got bad news from the FBI a few months ago. A file I'd requested

under the Freedom of Information Act wasn't going to be available.

Ever.

And not for one of the reasons I already knew to expect—that the

material was classified, that the file concerned a living person, or

that no file existed to begin with. Judging by the FBI's final

response letter, there might have been a file on my subject, a long-

deceased Mississippi lawyer name John R. Poole. But if there was, it

got shredded.

"Records which may be responsive to your … request were destroyed on

July 01, 1995," the letter said. "The FBI Records Retention Plan and

Disposition Schedules have been approved by the United States District

Court for the District of Columbia and are monitored by knowledgeable

representatives of the NARA."

NARA is the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency

that keeps track of everything from the Declaration of Independence to

Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle. The letter conjured up images of my file

getting scrutinized by furrow-browed NARA scholars who decided that,

alas, John R. Poole was not of sufficient historical interest to keep

around.

At the time, I was new to the weird science of FOIA requesting, so I

didn't know the FBI was allowed to destroy files routinely. Dismayed,

I looked into how the Records Retention Plan works, with help from

several generous FOIA experts. What they described sounded more like a

Records Destruction Plan, since it allows the FBI to discard roughly

80 percent of its files at any given time. The FBI would have you

believe the plan is a best-of-all-possible-worlds compromise that

preserves the essential and discards only the unworthy. Don't buy it.

Though the NARA experts who helped create the plan tried to come up

with a fair, workable system, the bottom line is that the FBI gets to

trash mountains of historical source material without adequate

oversight. And there is nothing the public—which owns the records,

after all—can do to stop it.

Like many people who make FOIA requests, I'm probably hypersensitive

to the potential loss of any one file among millions, but that's how

it is when you're researching something: The people on your punch list

become all-important. I'm writing a book about the 1951 execution of

Willie McGee, an African-American man from Laurel, Miss., who got the

death penalty in 1945 for allegedly raping a white housewife from the

same town. For the past two years, I've been working to find out

anything I can about McGee, Poole, and dozens of other people involved

in the case.

McGee's legal saga was little-noticed at first, but it became so

famous that, toward the end, President Harry Truman was getting

harangued by people from all over the world who wanted him to grant

McGee a pardon—some because they thought he was innocent, some because

they thought the sentence was too harsh. Given the time, place, and

nature of the offense, the outcome of McGee's first trial in December

1945 was almost pre-ordained. It lasted a day, and an all-white jury

found him guilty after deliberating for 2½ minutes.

During appeals and two retrials over the next five years, the Civil

Rights Congress, a Communist-linked activist group based in New York,

threw tremendous energy into making the case a cause. McGee's appeals

lawyer was a young, energetic Bella Abzug. Among the prominent figures

who spoke out were Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Albert Einstein, and

Josephine Baker.

(Continued from page 1)

The FBI took an interest because the case involved lefties. I already

have its thick file labeled "Willie McGee," and I won't have much

problem gathering info about the famous people—Einstein's file is so

popular that the FBI has put it online. But the smaller fries like

Poole are at risk, and to me they're just as important. Poole was a

white lawyer from Mississippi who represented McGee during his third

circuit-court trial, and though he wasn't a Communist, he got Red-

baited by fellow lawyers on the other side of the case. This led to

his getting disbarred, at the end of a murky process, the basic facts

of which are hard to pin down. I'd hoped an FBI file on him might

contain useful information.

Which brings us back to the Records Retention Plan. The reason the

Poole file might not exist anymore dates back to the early days of

FOIA, which was enacted by Congress in 1966. For the first several

years, the FBI was largely successful in fending off FOIA requests,

which is exactly how J. Edgar Hoover wanted it. "One precept of

Hoover's was that these are our files, they're nobody else's, and

nobody else can have them," says Scott Hodes, a Washington, D.C.-based

lawyer who ran the FBI's FOIA litigation unit from 1998 to 2002.

But Congress changed the playing field in the wake of Watergate,

making it easier for researchers to get their hands on FBI material.

According to Ivan Greenberg, an independent researcher who is writing

a book about the FBI and civil liberties called Trouble Times, the new

rules led the FBI to conduct a massive internal purging of files,

among them more than 330,000 pages from the FBI's file on "Sex

Deviates," which tracked homosexuals in government.

That phase of house-cleaning came to a halt in 1980, thanks to a case

brought by the American Friends Service Committee and a host of

plaintiffs, including Daniel Ellsberg and Jessica Mitford. The suit

was prompted in part by unchecked file dumping at FBI field offices in

cities like New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The

plaintiffs won, and Judge Harold H. Greene ordered the FBI and NARA to

conduct an inventory and come up with a plan about what would be kept

and destroyed.

A 17-member body dove into that task in 1981. According to a summary

of the appraisal process written by archivist James Gregory Bradsher,

they were confronted with files that took up 500,000 cubic feet of

shelf space in 70 locations. (To put that in perspective, the volume

of the Washington Monument is just over 1 million cubic feet, so the

files would have filled it about halfway.) Obviously, the archivists

didn't sit down and study every word. The process relied on a method

developed in the late '70s during a review of 35,000 cubic feet of

records from the Massachusetts Superior Court. It involved a

systematic sampling designed to answer a macro-question: What

percentage of the FBI's total holdings seemed to have genuine historic

value?

The team reviewed roughly 20,000 files from FBI headquarters and seven

major field offices—with FBI personnel on hand to pull files

individually and hand them over—scribbling information about the

contents on a data-collection sheet that asked some 75 questions. How

thick was the file? ("Fat file theory," a rather obvious guidepost

used in the Massachusetts review, holds that if there's a lot of stuff

inside a folder, it might be important.) What were the results of the

case? Whom or what was it about? What forms of intelligence-gathering

were used?

Using this data, files were rated according to a scale of perceived

research potential, with four main values applied: no, low, medium,

and high. By May of 1981, a review of 5,832 headquarters files yielded

a breakdown that went like so: 71 percent of files were deemed to have

no value; 22 percent had low; 5 percent had medium; and less than 1

percent had high. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, who worked on that review

and later served as the acting archivist of the United States during

the Clinton administration, told me the group looked at samples of

records from each of the 214 filing classifications used by the FBI.

Then as now, the Bureau arranged its material in large categories that

are each assigned a number. For example, 44 is Civil Rights, 76 is

Escaped Federal Prisoner, and 100 is Domestic Security, which covers

subversive activities on the left and right. New categories have been

added since the big review in the '80s, covering crimes like Tampering

with Consumer Products (251) and Weapons of Mass Destruction (280).

Some but not all of these categories have subsequently been sampled

and analyzed by NARA.

For each classification, the 1981 assessment group came up with a rule

for the FBI, describing in big-picture terms what they had to keep and

what they could consider for destruction, a process that led to a

final retention rate of about 20 percent. Civil Rights came through

with broad protection. For that large category—there was a total of

234,379 cases in the headquarters and field offices combined—

everything created prior to 1977 was marked "permanent," thanks to the

assumed historical value of this subject. Presumably, John Poole

wasn't a class 44 Civil Rights case, or his file would not be sleeping

with the banana peels. My initial guess—the FBI's response didn't say—

was that he was filed under 100, Domestic Security. There were more

cases created in the Domestic Security category than in Civil Rights—

1,790,191 as of 1981. The destruction guidelines on this class are

looser, however, and if Poole was in there, he didn't make the cut.

(Continued from page 2)

The system's fundamentals make sense, I guess—very complicated sense—

but to me the disturbing part comes at the end of the line. At some

point 25 years after a case closes, a file that isn't marked

"permanent" gets pulled and looked at by one or two people inside the

FBI. There are no "knowledgeable representatives of the NARA"

monitoring this crucial moment. If it's decided internally that the

file isn't important, it's gone.

Michael Ravnitzky, an FOIA researcher based in the Washington, D.C.,

area, is no fan of the Records Retention Plan and likens it to an open-

ended manual for strip-mining a priceless public record. "The FBI got

a list of exceptional files given to them by historians, and they

said, 'We'll keep that,' " he says. "We'll keep large files. Smaller

files, we'll keep a sampling. Everything else gets tossed. That's what

the plan is." Based on documents Ivan Greenberg obtained from the FBI,

he estimates that 250 million pages were destroyed between 1986 and

1995.

But isn't the FBI destroying only junk? I doubt it. Ernie Lazar, an

independent researcher in California whose particular interest is in

far-right groups, sent me a list of "destroyed" responses he's

received over the years from FBI headquarters and field offices. There

are dozens. We'll never know if they were significant—they don't exist

anymore—but they sure look interesting to me. In 1994, for example,

the Baltimore field office destroyed a file called "Arab Participation

and Influence of Hate Literature in the United States." Also destroyed

in the '90s or later: files on "race riots" from Birmingham, Ala.; a

Dallas file on the John Birch Society; and a headquarters file on the

political activities of actor Walter Brennan.

When I moaned about this to Peterson, she acknowledged that the system

wasn't perfect, but she said there was no other choice because of the

volume. "It is a mammoth quantity of material," she said, "and to save

it all is just impossible." An FBI spokesman told me that there are

now 56 linear miles of files scattered in headquarters and field

offices. That's approximately 300,000 cubic feet. I have no idea how

much new material has been added since '81—the FBI wouldn't tell me—

but there's obviously been a huge net loss since then.

Maybe the volume is too much to manage, but I have to wonder if it

might be time to put on the brakes and reassess. Even if the Records

Retention Plan team had scrutinized every page, I wouldn't trust their

ability to decide now what might be significant to someone 100 years

down the road. Also, the rate of handoff from FBI to NARA seems

awfully slow. At this point, NARA has been sent only about 13,100

cubic feet of records for permanent archiving. What do they have? Good

luck figuring that out. There's no general index to the NARA holdings

that lists this information using comprehensible subject headings like

"John Birch Society" or "Judge Crater." You sort of have to know they

have it before asking for it, which you find out by sending them or

the FBI a FOIA request.

My final gripe: The volume of the FBI files isn't that mind-boggling.

NARA has a much bigger load in the attic—29,019,647 cubic feet of

material in its main D.C.-area facilities, regional hubs, and

Presidential libraries—and NARA manages to preserve it without

institutional meltdown. That's 60 times as much as the FBI files

targeted for destruction. The half-million cubic feet of FBI documents

from 1981 would have fit into about a dozen McMansions, packed floor

to ceiling. The stuff was already cataloged and cross-referenced, so a

simpler strategy would have been to keep it all together. The Feds

have no shortage of storage space. Time published a report in 2006 on

the nationwide glut of empty government buildings that require

expensive upkeep, including Chicago's Old Main Post Office (2.5

million square feet of floor space) and the General Services

Administration (376 "vacant and underused" buildings, courthouses,

labs, and warehouses). To protect this priceless collection of FBI

material, all it would have taken was shelves, guards, and about

20,000 smoke alarms.

Meanwhile, there's a new glimmer of hope on the John Poole front. I

was able to get an interview with an FBI official who said the

destroyed Poole file was listed under the classification that covers

interstate transport of stolen vehicles. That's probably not my John

Poole, but attempts to confirm it either way have met with foot-

dragging. Separately, I sent a Poole request to the Jackson, Miss.,

field office and was told that material "which may pertain to your

subject" has been released to the big National Archives storage

facility in College Park, Md.

But when I contacted College Park, I was surprised to find out that

this material, fully freed up by the FBI, can be obtained only with a

separate FOIA request to NARA. I'll do that next, and I'll let you

know whether I get the information or just decide to lie down and go

nuts—whichever comes first.

<END QUOTE>

Best Regards in Research,

Don

Don Roberdeau

U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, CV-67, "Big John," Plank Walker

Sooner, or later, The Truth emerges Clearly

Discovery: ROSEMARY WILLIS Zapruder Film Documented 2nd Headsnap : Westward, Ultrafast, & Directly Towards the "Grassy Knoll"

Dealey Plaza Professionally-surveyed Map Detailing 11-22-63 Victims locations, Witnesses, Photographers, Suspected trajectories, Evidentiary artifacts, & Important information & considerations

President KENNEDY "Men of Courage: 4 Principles" speech, and a portion of fellow researchers articles and my research & discoveries, 1975 to present

T ogether

E veryone

A chieves

M ore

TEAMWORK.gif

National Terror Alert for the United States:

advisory7regional.gif

"Drehm seemed to think the shots came from in FRONT OF or BESIDE the

President." (my EMPHASIS)

----CHARLES F. BREHM, a combat gunfire experienced, United States

Army Ranger, World War II, D-day veteran, & very close Dealey Plaza

attack witness, quoted only minutes after the attack, and while he

is still standing within Dealey Plaza (11-22-63 "Dallas Times Herald,"

fifth & final daily edition)

Edited by Don Roberdeau
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The Henry Waxman (D.Calf) Committee on Government Reform and Oversight of US Census, Information Policy and National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for oversight of the NARA and government records.

There is a movement afoot, though slow and a decade late in getting started, to shame the Waxman Committee into actually holding oversight hearings on the JFK Act, though don't hold your breath.

They will adjurn soon for the rest of the summer and won't reconvein until September.

The Subcommitte on NARA and government records is chaired by Rep. Clay (D. St.Louis), who would be responsible for calling such hearings.

Bill Kelly

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Good Day Bill.... Thank You for the update and the additional info.... that will be used for my contacting WAXMAN and CLAY. I urge everyone to take just a few minutes and do the same via their USG websites. You can locate them (and your Representatives) via here.... http://capwiz.com/thehill/dbq/officials/

Best Regards in Research,

Don

Don Roberdeau

U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, CV-67, "Big John," Plank Walker

Sooner, or later, The Truth emerges Clearly

Discovery: ROSEMARY WILLIS Zapruder Film Documented 2nd Headsnap : Westward, Ultrafast, & Directly Towards the "Grassy Knoll"

Dealey Plaza Professionally-surveyed Map Detailing 11-22-63 Victims locations, Witnesses, Photographers, Suspected trajectories, Evidentiary artifacts, & Important information & considerations

President KENNEDY "Men of Courage: 4 Principles" speech, and a portion of fellow researchers articles and my research & discoveries, 1975 to present

T ogether

E veryone

A chieves

M ore

TEAMWORK.gif

National Terror Alert for the United States:

advisory7regional.gif

The Henry Waxman (D.Calf) Committee on Government Reform and Oversight of US Census, Information Policy and National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for oversight of the NARA and government records.

There is a movement afoot, though slow and a decade late in getting started, to shame the Waxman Committee into actually holding oversight hearings on the JFK Act, though don't hold your breath.

They will adjurn soon for the rest of the summer and won't reconvein until September.

The Subcommitte on NARA and government records is chaired by Rep. Clay (D. St.Louis), who would be responsible for calling such hearings.

Bill Kelly

Edited by Don Roberdeau
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good Day Bill.... Thank You for the update and the additional info.... that will be used for my contacting WAXMAN and CLAY. I urge everyone to take just a few minutes and do the same via their USG websites. You can locate them (and your Representatives) via here.... http://capwiz.com/thehill/dbq/officials/

My letter to Waxman:

http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/

Jim Lesar's letter to Waxman:

http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2008/06...rep-waxman.html

BK

Best Regards in Research,

Don

Don Roberdeau

U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, CV-67, "Big John," Plank Walker

Sooner, or later, The Truth emerges Clearly

Discovery: ROSEMARY WILLIS Zapruder Film Documented 2nd Headsnap : Westward, Ultrafast, & Directly Towards the "Grassy Knoll"

Dealey Plaza Professionally-surveyed Map Detailing 11-22-63 Victims locations, Witnesses, Photographers, Suspected trajectories, Evidentiary artifacts, & Important information & considerations

President KENNEDY "Men of Courage: 4 Principles" speech, and a portion of fellow researchers articles and my research & discoveries, 1975 to present

T ogether

E veryone

A chieves

M ore

TEAMWORK.gif

National Terror Alert for the United States:

advisory7regional.gif

The Henry Waxman (D.Calf) Committee on Government Reform and Oversight of US Census, Information Policy and National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for oversight of the NARA and government records.

There is a movement afoot, though slow and a decade late in getting started, to shame the Waxman Committee into actually holding oversight hearings on the JFK Act, though don't hold your breath.

They will adjurn soon for the rest of the summer and won't reconvein until September.

The Subcommitte on NARA and government records is chaired by Rep. Clay (D. St.Louis), who would be responsible for calling such hearings.

Bill Kelly

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