Most Of The New JFK Files Have Been Seen Before In Some Form

Oct 26, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 8:16 pm

Updated Oct. 27, 9:50 p.m. ET

The 2,891 records relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy released by the National Archives Thursday contain many interesting tidbits.

  • The FBI tried to track down a stripper known as "Kitty" who may have been an associate of nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald two days after Oswald killed Kennedy.
  • An anonymous person called a news service in Cambridge, England, urging a reporter to call the American Embassy in London "for some big news and then hung up," 25 minutes prior to Kennedy's assassination.
  • Then-FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover worried about convincing "the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

The thing is, many if not all of the documents dropped Thursday have, in fact, already been made public. The National Archives says that of the 2,891 records released on Thursday, only 53 are being made available for the first time in any form. The others had been "released previously in redacted form."

Jefferson Morley, who edits the JFK Facts blog, calls it a small slice of what might have been released. "President Trump really withheld most of the records yesterday. He released about 2,800 records," Morley said, "There's probably 25,000 records that remain secret."

Philip Shenon, a former New York Times correspondent and author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, said he "didn't see any bombshells" in the files, saying they were "mostly documents that we've seen before."

Still, they make for some interesting reading. And they are useful, Shenon said, as a reminder of what he calls "a rush to judgment by the federal government" to identify Oswald as "this pure lone wolf who never could have been stopped" — when, in fact, the CIA and FBI each knew about Oswald and "may have known much more about the threat he posed than they ever wanted to admit."

Alas, it seems that many of the documents that would shed light on that were held back under orders from President Trump, who bowed to the wishes of the two agencies to keep secret hundreds of other documents, on grounds they contain "certain information that would harm national security, law enforcement or foreign affairs."

Morley, author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton, is interested in viewing files of CIA officers who he says were both opposed to Kennedy's policies, especially in Cuba, and who also were involved in assassination operations of foreign leaders. "Those people would be of interest to anybody who wanted to know what was going on and were they possibly involved in foul play," Morley said.

And he pointed to a document that was released, at least in part. It was the interview of former CIA Director Richard Helms by David Belin, a Warren Commission member who later led the Rockefeller Commission which was investigating the CIA in the mid-1970s. Belin asked Helms if Oswald was a CIA agent. "That's the end of the document, we never get the answer," Morley said. "The fact that we didn't even get the answer to the question is just very emblematic of how limited the full disclosure was yesterday."

President Trump tweeted Friday night that he has approved release of the documents that were not made public Thursday at the request of the CIA, FBI and perhaps other agencies.

"JFK Files are being carefully released," Trump tweeted Friday morning. "In the end there will be great transparency. It is my hope to get just about everything to public!"

The FBI was warned that Oswald might be in danger of being killed himself just before he was shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

In one document written on Nov. 24, 1963, just after Ruby shot and killed Oswald, Hoover dictates in a memo that the FBI field office in Dallas had received a phone call from a man "saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald." The FBI notified the Dallas Police Department, which "assured us adequate protection would be given. However, this was not done," Hoover said. The memo also notes Ruby denies he made the phone call to the FBI.

Hoover goes on to call Oswald's killing "inexcusable" given the warnings the agency gave to Dallas police about the threats it had received, and the FBI director also surmises that the president's shooter being shot so soon after his arrest would only sow doubt that Oswald was the real killer.

In the nearly 54 years since Kennedy was assassinated, that is exactly what has happened — with questions continuing to arise about Oswald's motives; possible ties to communist forces in Cuba and Russia; and why Ruby, who had ties to the mob, would murder Oswald. And that's exactly why the release of the latest government documents is of so much interest to so many.

As NPR reported previously:

"The files are among the last to be released by the National Archives under a 1992 law that ordered the government to make public all remaining documents pertaining to the assassination. There has long been a trove of conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, including doubts about whether assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, as the Warren Commission determined in its report the following year.

"Other files are being withheld owing to what the White House says are national security, law enforcement and foreign policy concerns. The vast majority of what's being withheld is at the request of the FBI and the CIA."

Hoover also wrote that the FBI held out hope that Oswald would confess before he died, but that did not happen. "We had an agent at the hospital in the hope that he might make some kind of a confession before he died, but he did not do so," Hoover said.

Among the other interesting findings: there was concern inside the Communist Party in the Soviet Union that the assassination was part of a right-wing coup, and a National Security Council memo discusses various possible operations to sabotage the Castro regime in Cuba, though it's not known if any were put into place.

We are asking our readers for help. Click here to see how to find the documents and submit tips to NPR.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The National Archives had a deadline yesterday. It was supposed to release all the remaining records from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. And it did post thousands of files online last night. People have been reading them for interesting tidbits of history. So far, though, they haven't found any big revelations about the murder. And now many historians are focused on the files the archives did not release. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Among the documents is a memo from then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover two days after the assassination. Hoover was concerned, he wrote, about how to convince the public that Lee Harvey Oswald was the, quote, "real assassin" of Kennedy after Oswald himself was shot and killed by Jack Ruby. There's the record of an anonymous someone who called a Cambridge, England, news service, urging a reporter to call the American Embassy in London for some big news and then hung up 25 minutes prior to Kennedy's assassination. Still, writer Philip Shenon says there were no bombshells for a good reason.

PHILIP SHENON: You have to keep in mind that the documents released on Thursday are mostly documents we've seen before.

NAYLOR: The National Archives put 2,891 records on its website yesterday pertaining to the assassination, but the Archives tells NPR just 53 of those are available for the first time. All the others had been previously released in a redacted format. Jefferson Morley, who edits the JFK Facts blog, calls it a small slice of what might have been released.

JEFFERSON MORLEY: President Trump really withheld most of the records yesterday. He released about 2,800 records. There's probably 25,000 records that remain secret.

NAYLOR: In announcing the release, the White House said it was withholding those documents that might harm national security, law enforcement or foreign affairs. Agencies have been ordered to review them with an eye on releasing as many as possible in six months. Still, Shenon says yesterday's release was important.

SHENON: It's useful in reminding the public that there really was a rush to judgment by the federal government after the assassination to identify Oswald as this pure lone wolf who never could have been stopped when in fact there seems to be a lot of evidence to show that both the CIA and the FBI knew about Oswald, were following Oswald and may have known much more about the threat he posed than they ever wanted to admit.

NAYLOR: One interesting document released yesterday, Morley says, was an interview of former CIA Director Richard Helms by David Belin, who was head of a commission investigating the CIA in the mid-'70s.

MORLEY: Belin asked Helms, was Lee Harvey Oswald an agent of the CIA, question mark. And that's the end of the document. We never get the answer. The fact that we didn't even get the answer to the question is just very emblematic of how limited the full disclosure was yesterday.

NAYLOR: President Trump tweeted today that in the end, there will be great transparency. And it is his hope to get just about everything to the public. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUBERT DAVIZ'S "AL PATRULEA FRAGMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.