The National Archives released thousands of previously secret papers collected as part of the government’s investigation into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 on Thursday.
The collection of over 13,000 papers is the second of two JFK assassination-related document dumps ordered by President Joe Biden last year after the White House delayed a public release because to the Covid-19 crisis.
“[T]he profound national tragedy of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day; meanwhile, the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time,” the White House said in a memorandum released Thursday.
“It is therefore vital to guarantee that the United States Government optimizes transparency by publishing all information in records surrounding the assassination, unless where the strongest conceivable grounds suggest differently.
In the memo, Biden stated that the National Archives and other government agencies had until May 2023 to assess the remaining private records. Following that, “any material kept from public discourse that authorities do not urge for further deferral” will be made public by June 30, 2023.
The killing of John F. Kennedy sparked a flood of inquiries from the public and scholars, as well as several conspiracy theories and the government’s reflexive silence.
Researchers have warned that going through the thousands of documents with a fine-toothed comb would likely take days to guarantee there are no fresh clues surrounding the killing or innovative pieces of historical knowledge concerning CIA and FBI activity in the 1960s.
However, for many politicians and transparency advocates, disclosing all outstanding records is about rebuilding trust in government. A majority of Americans, according to public polls, do not trust the Warren Commission’s official determination that Kennedy was assassinated by a single individual, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.
According to Larry Sabato, author of “The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy,” while there may be some hidden jewels in the document release, nothing will change what happened that day in 1963.
“It’s not going to change the story,” he said of the newly declassified documents. “It’s not. I guarantee you.”
He added that if people are looking for proof to back up conspiracy theories that Oswald didn’t act alone in killing Kennedy, or that the CIA was somehow involved, they won’t find that here.
“The truth is not that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy,” he said. “The truth is that this assassination was preventable and could have been prevented and should have been prevented if the CIA and FBI were doing their jobs. Really, that’s it. Now that’s serious, but you’re not going to find the names of other conspirators in here.”
The CIA said in a series of statements on Thursday that many of its records released in the latest batch post-date Kennedy’s assassination and do “not change the historical record and has no bearing on the assassination or the investigation itself.”
“Likewise, we are not aware of any documents known to be directly related to [Lee Harvey Oswald] that have not already been made part of the Collection,” an agency spokesperson said.
While there may not be any earth-shattering revelations about what happened on November 22, 1963, Sabato did note a document discussing Oswald’s time in Mexico City, which says the US was running a “highly secret” telephone tap center with the president of Mexico, not even known to Mexican law enforcement. He also identified a document from the National Archives and Records Administration that said as of this month, 28 records in the JFK collection remain “not located.”
Admissions like the latter are what fuel conspiracy theories, Sabato said.
“If you are of a conspiratorial mind, you go, ‘Aha! There were important documents with key information in there and they’ve conveniently ‘lost’ them.’ Now, it’s possible that’s true. But I would say the odds are enormous they just got lost. I mean, there’s so much paper,” he said.
With Thursday’s release, the CIA has released “all of its information known to be directly related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963,” its statement said, with about 95% of the CIA documents within the JFK Assassination Records Collection now public in their entirety.
While no documents remain fully redacted or withheld, according to the agency, the small percentage of information that remains blacked out “would currently do identifiable harm to intelligence operations,” according to the spokesperson. Those records, they said, consist primarily of internal administrative records collected to provide the JFK review board with background on the CIA, to help the board “understand, for example, CIA sources, methods, terminology, cover, and tradecraft.”
Over the years, millions of documents have become public, offering researchers an opportunity to pore over not only records related to the Kennedy assassination, but also a variety of other topics, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and slaying to pivotal moments in the Cold War.
In 1992, Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, in part prompted by furor caused by the conspiratorial Oliver Stone film “JFK.”
The act dictated that all assassination records should be publicly disclosed by October 2017, but former President Donald Trump and now Biden have allowed multiple postponements on the advice of the FBI, the CIA and other national security agencies. Trump ultimately released tens of thousands of documents, the majority of which include at least some redactions.