For decades, the existence of secret government files linked to U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination has helped fuel conspiracy theories that others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved.
The government is required by today to release the final batch of files related to Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
“As long as the government is withholding documents like these, it’s going to fuel suspicion that there is a smoking gun out there about the Kennedy assassination,” said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian at Boston College.
The collection includes more than 3,100 documents — comprising hundreds of thousands of pages — that have never been seen by the public. About 30,000 documents were released previously with redactions.
The National Archives is planning to post the files on its website, although the precise time hasn’t been announced.
Hundreds of documents related to the assassination, released by the National Archives in July, were heavily redacted, but interest was so great that the website crashed. The same outcome is expected Thursday.
President George H.W. Bush signed on Oct. 26, 1992, the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, which directed the National Archives to collect all information related to the assassination and release it within 25 years, barring exceptions designated by the president that doing so would harm intelligence, law enforcement, military operations or foreign relations. The push for transparency was driven in part by the uproar in the wake of Oliver Stone’s 1991 conspiracy theory-filled film JFK.
President Donald Trump has not given any indication he would block any of the files from being released.
Mexico City trip mysterious
The CIA and FBI, whose files make up the bulk of the final batch, have refused to say whether they’re lobbying the president to keep any of the files under wraps. Experts expect certain IRS files to remain secret, like the tax return of Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after Kennedy’s assassination when the suspect was in police custody.
“In any release of this size, there always are embarrassing details,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor at Rice University.
The chances are slim for a bombshell, according to the judge who led the independent board that reviewed and released thousands of the assassination documents in the 1990s. The files that were withheld in full were those the Assassination Records Review Board deemed “not believed relevant,” Judge John Tunheim of Minnesota told The Associated Press.
But Tunheim said it’s possible the files contain information the board didn’t realize was important two decades ago.
JFK experts believe the files will provide insight into the inner workings of the CIA and FBI. But they stress that it will take weeks to mine the documents for potentially new and interesting information.
Some of the documents are related to Oswald’s mysterious six-day trip to Mexico City right before the assassination, scholars say. Oswald said he was visiting the Cuban and Soviet Union embassies there to get visas, but much about his time there remains unknown.
The to-be-released documents contain details about the arrangements the U.S. entered into with the Mexican government that allowed it to have close surveillance of those and other embassies, Tunheim said. Other files scholars hope will be released in full include an internal CIA document on its Mexico City station, and a report on Oswald’s trip from staffers of the House committee that investigated the assassination.
Swings in opinion
The Warren Commission, established by Kennedy successor Lyndon Johnson in 1964. reported that Oswald had been the lone gunman.
Theories abounded that Oswald’s murder was a coverup for a conspiracy or government ineptitude. The deadly aim of a lonely, alienated gunman seemed hard to fathom, with many in the conspiracy camp pointing to Jack Ruby’s fatal shooting of Oswald two days after Kennedy was shot.
Others have pointed out that Ruby was an unpredictable character, and that he actually showed up at the Dallas police station later than the original time Oswald was scheduled to be transported, meaning his decision to shoot Oswald would have been spontaneous and/or his own.
Opinions as to who was involved in the assassination have changed through the years, undoubtedly influenced by new developments and a spate of books and documentaries related to the assassination.
A Gallup poll conducted weeks after the assassination found that 29 per cent believed Oswald acted alone, but at the time JFK hit the screens in December 1991, a poll coinciding with the film’s release found only 11 per cent believed he was the only person involved in the assassination.
By that time, an entire generation had become familiar with the film shot by a Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder. The Zapruder film was available to the Warren Commission, but was not seen by the American public until the mid-1970s.
As well, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded after a two-year inquiry in 1979 that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.”
Since the release of Stone’s film, some books have pushed back at the conspiracy-fuelled conclusion, including Case Closed by celebrity journalist Gerald Posner, and Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi, the former Charles Manson prosecutor.
Polls conducted by Gallup, the Washington Post and ABC in 2013 found support for the lone gunman theory at 29 or 30 per cent. The Gallup poll at the time reported that 61 percent of people believe the assassination was part of a larger conspiracy, the lowest support for that belief since the 1960.