On the mixed-up files of John Kerry

Reader John Boyle writes:

I have been yelling since last year that the Navy does not have Kerry’s records, nor does DoD.
The Navy has always been Kerry’s hide-out. The Navy is covered by the Privacy Laws. You’re a lawyer, right? The SF 180 is generically addressed to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. These records are 30 to 40 years old. They are history! They do not stay at Navy Personnel Command forever.
It seems to me that all of Kerry’s tortured rhetoric on this subject attests to the fact that he was having his records vetted, in spite of the public claim to openness. How to accomplish this? Tell the NPRC, on the SF 180, that the designated recipient of the records is to be a federal Agency (subject to the Privacy Laws) – the Navy!
Then, Kerry or his people get to vet the records at the Navy’s offices, allow release of what they want by another required waiver separate from the SF 180, withhold what they don’t want out there, and the Navy cannot comment on the process, their holdings – or their withholdings!
The trick is in whom he designated to receive the outflow from NPRC. Read the opening of Kranish’s article again:”The records, which the Navy Personnel Command provided to the Globe…”
This is not rocket science, yet no one seems to understand what was done here.

Boyle followed up with the following message:

I want to give you another shot on this, just to be sure you understand. It is crystal clear obvious to me, yet very few people seem to get it…is it how I ‘splain it?
The SF 180 is actually a request for “Report of Separation” and all such documents are in the sole custody of the National Personnel Records Center, in St. Louis – not the branch in which the veteran served (in this case the Navy). And the character of Kerry’s “separation” (discharge) from the Navy is obviously the document(s) that are hot.
The SF 180 directs the National Personnel Records Center to release records, at the request of the documented veteran, and send them to whomever he designates (usually himself) – period. What is the Navy doing in the middle of this? The Navy must have been the designated recipient, on this specific SF 180 (not the Boston Globe, as Kranish explicitly admits). As a Federal entity, the Navy is then subject to Privacy Laws and any release by them had to be additionally waived by Kerry – or not. He could then easily not waive specific documents for release that he found damaging. What the Boston Globe got was the remainder of whatever the Navy received from NPRC, less what Kerry wished to withhold.
It may be that the Globe is unaware of this game; although I wrote about this at length last week to their reporter Joan Vennochi, who had written that Kerry’s 180 was in the pipeline, in order to alert the Globe to what was afoot.
A real shell game.

We have it on good authority that ace reporter Thomas Lipscomb is working the story of the Globe and Kerry’s records as well. Until Lipscomb’s stories surface, we’ll try mull over Boyle’s explanations.
UPDATE: Reader John Gershwin has directed us to the succinct explanation posted here, and reader Randy Moss (if that’s his real name, I’m pretty sure he’s not the former Vikings wide receiver) refers us to the Spectator’s “Mission accomplished.”
UPDATE 2: Boyle comments:

The Spectator article somewhat misses the point also. I’m still puzzled why this is so hard to see. Maybe, like most people with some esoteric expertise, I can’t see why others can’t see it. Spectator says: “The Navy, which created the documents to begin with, is legally obligated to protect the privacy of the veteran. If, as many conspiracy theorists have posited, negative material was expunged from Kerry’s file, the Navy could most likely only include the final version of a document.”
The first sentence is my basic point. But, as to the rest of this, I’m pretty sure the Navy can only release those documents the veteran specifically permits it to release. How they were originally produced or revised, or by whom, is irrelevant. And, although this is a Privacy Law question I am not as qualified to address as I am the documents research question, I would bet on it. In other words, even if the Navy had both a bad discharge and a revised good discharge in its files, it could only release the one which the veteran granted waiver for. There is the continuing misapprehension here that the Navy got some sort of blanket release from Kerry, that it had in its custody some sort of personnel file on Kerry apart from what it could obtain from the NPRC, or that he SF 180 was somehow addressed to the Navy. I don’t think any of that is the case. That’s not how this works.

He adds:

BTW – I am no conspiracy theorist. I’m just trying to explain how the documents systems work – and how those who know how they work could manipulate them.

UPDATE 3: Reader Chris Funk provides a different take:

I worked for a couple of years at NPC in the same “PERS” command as the Retired Records group. Although I did not deal with any of these records myself, it was my understanding that all requests for retired records were “processed” through the applicable branch.
I visited Naval Personnel Command’s website to try and refresh my recollection, but only found this: “The Retired Records Section, PERS-312D2, is physically located at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), St. Louis, Missouri. This office verifies entitlement to and issues awards for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard veterans, and provides liaison between the Navy (NPC/BUPERS/NRPC), and NPRC for a variety of information from retired records. The Retired Records Section responds to award requests from Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard veterans or, if deceased, their Next of Kin. Requests should be concise and to the point. The use of Standard Form 180 (Requests pertaining to Military Records) is recommended.”
I am afraid this doesn’t completely clear the air, but I believe the NRPC “holds” the records, but the associated branch of service “owns” the records. Hence, it is technically the NPC that will release them.

UPDATE 4: John Boyle expands on his previous message:

Most of the data available on the Navy website you linked in the update seems to be for currently serving or recently discharged Navy personnel. I believe the office Mr. Funk cites is in business to provide replacement (or original) medals to Navy Personnel who never got all those which they were authorized, as regularly happens, for one reason or another. For example, almost no one is actually handed a National Defense Service Medal, and almost everyone on active duty in time of conflict is authorized one.
I think what Mr. Funk and I are talking about is apples and oranges. This Navy PersCom website states: “The Retired Records Section responds to award requests from Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard veterans or, if deceased, their Next of Kin.”
This Navy Liaison Office (the other branches, Army, Air Force, etc., have their equivalent offices as well) provides one-time editions of all medals due a veteran, upon request. But, of course, the vet

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