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On Thursday, October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump authorised the release of approximately 2,800 documents concerning the assassination of John F Kennedy. These are available on the National Archives site.

Over 1,000 documents are pending review, being withheld for up to six months, as they are sensitive either to national security or persons who are still alive. The White House announcement stated (emphases mine):

The remaining records will be released with agency-proposed redactions on a rolling basis in the coming weeks. The President has demanded unprecedented transparency from the agencies and directed them to minimize redactions without delay. The National Archives will therefore release more records, with redactions only in the rarest of circumstances, by the deadline of April 26, 2018.

Many people have wondered if this was the right time. This date was mandated by the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, signed into law on October 26, 1992, in the last few months of Bush I’s (George Herbert Walker Bush’s) presidency. Wikipedia tells us:

The Act requires that each assassination record be publicly disclosed in full and be made available in the collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of the Act (which was October 26, 2017), unless the President of the United States certifies that: (1) continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and (2) the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

It is worth remembering that Bush I was CIA director under Ronald Reagan. He is probably the only person alive who knows what actually happened on November 22, 1963. It is ironic that the act passed under his administration, however, the year before — 1991 — Oliver Stone’s JFK was shown in cinemas around the world. It posited that the CIA and FBI conspired to assassinate Kennedy. The influence of Stone’s film was huge:

The final report of the Act’s Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) partially credited the conclusions in Oliver Stone‘s 1991 film JFK with the passage of the Act.[2]

The day the files were released, The Guardian published an article by Philip Shenon, a former Washington and foreign correspondent for the New York Times, who wrote A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination. Excerpts from ‘Files will shed light on a JFK shooting conspiracy – but not the one you think’ follow.

I was a young child when the assassination occurred. Unlike Bush I, who seems to be the only American who does not remember what he was doing when he heard the news, I recall exactly where I was. I also remember the cast of characters that poured out of the woodwork in the months that followed. My parents and their friends spent a lot of time talking about these people popping up in the news.

The Warren Commission did not clear anything up. This is why the conspiracy theory has persisted. We are now getting some answers, thanks to President Trump’s authorisation. As Philip Shenon notes:

The authors of the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Collection Act said they were alarmed, in particular, by the cloud of suspicion kicked up by Stone’s film

Thanks to other files that the US government has declassified over the years, people discovered that a cover up started almost immediately:

The first act came on Sunday 24 November, the day [Jack] Ruby gunned down [Lee Harvey] Oswald at Dallas police headquarters, when an FBI agent in the bureau’s field office across town was ordered to destroy a threatening handwritten note that Oswald had hand-delivered to the office earlier that month – apparently a protest over the FBI’s aggressive surveillance of his family.

Shenon tells us what happened to the note:

the agent took the note into the men’s room, tore it into pieces and flushed it down the toilet. Years later, the agent admitted to congressional investigators that he and his supervisor had panicked at the thought that the note would been seen as proof that that the FBI had botched the opportunity to save the president’s life.

Details surrounding the assassination have tied people in knots for 54 years. But Shenon says those are nothing compared to:

the well-documented, proven conspiracy within the highest reaches of the US government – a criminal conspiracy from the start, involving the destruction of top-secret documents and photographs, the silencing of witnesses and whistleblowers, and the wholesale suborning of perjury – to cover up the truth about what the government had known in advance about Oswald and the clear threat he had posed to one man: President Kennedy.

The word “cover-up” is not hyperbole. Remarkably enough, it is the word that the CIA itself applies to what happened immediately after the assassination. In a once-classified internal report that became public in 2014, the spy agency’s in-house historian acknowledged that the CIA had engaged in a “cover-up” (albeit a “benign cover-up”, he insisted) to hide evidence from the Warren commission and later government investigations. The cover-up was intended to keep investigators focused exclusively on evidence that proved “what the Agency believed at the time was the ‘best truth’that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing Kennedy”.

Shenon looked into what the Warren Commission did:

I was saddened and surprised by a central conclusion that I reached by the end of my research: the Kennedy assassination did not have to happen. It could have been prevented – easily – if the CIA and FBI had just acted on the intelligence in their own files in November 1963. Yes, Oswald was a violent, delusional misfit. But he was not the pure “lone wolf” portrayed by the initial government accounts of the assassination – the image that the government was desperate to present after Kennedy’s murder, since it suggested nothing could have been done to stop him.

He tells us:

Both agencies had strong reason to believe that Oswald, a self-proclaimed Marxist who had years of rifle practice in the Marine Corps, would be a danger when Kennedy’s motorcade passed through Dallas on 22 November 1963.

Shenon’s position on Oswald and the shooting is more or less along government lines. He thinks that it was a ‘horrifying coincidence’ that Oswald just happened to be a rather new employee at the Texas School Book Depository.

Shenon says it is distressing that the agencies did not act on the information they had on Oswald. Yet, JFK said he wanted to break the CIA into ‘a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds’. My post the other day discussed other aspects of what was going on in Washington DC at the time, including the scandals surrounding Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was close to being indicted. JFK planned to drop him from his re-election ticket in 1964.

The KGB thought that LBJ was behind the assassination:

Unions did not seem too fond of JFK. One of the released documents is a communication dated November 26, 1963, concerning union officials in San Juan, Puerto Rico (full version here). It reads in part:

Ana Maria Del Valle, Secretary – Treasurer, HRWU, was approached by Miguel Cruz, Organizer for Local 901, Teamsters Union (TU), who made a statement “Now that we’ve taken care of President Kennedy, we’ll have no trouble in taking over things.”

… Details: at SJ, PR. Possible connection between Jack Ruby and Teamsters Union (TU).

An FBI memo from May 1963 states that a trial involving a union took place there. Jimmy Hoffa, head of the Teamsters at the time, was going to sit in and had made hotel reservations.

I will post more on the JFK files — past and present releases — this week.

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