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National Archives releases hundreds of previously classified documents on JFK assassination

Hundreds of JFK assassination files released
Hundreds of JFK assassination files released 01:52

Washington — The National Archives on Wednesday released hundreds of previously classified documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, nearly 60 years after he was fatally shot in Dallas, Texas.

In October, federal agencies asked President Biden to push back the release of certain documents that remained hidden from public view. Mr. Biden agreed, issuing an executive order delaying the release of about 14,000 records until December 15, 2022. However, he instructed the National Archives to disclose "any information currently withheld from public disclosure that agencies have not proposed for continued postponement" by December 15, 2021, prompting Wednesday's release.

Mr. Biden's executive order said the continued delay was "necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations."

The 1,491 documents released Wednesday include thousands of pages of never-before-seen investigative memos, notes and cables prepared by the CIA, FBI, State Department and Defense Department. 

Kennedy was 46 years old and serving his first term as president when he was killed by an assassin's bullet while riding in a motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963. A commission overseen by Chief Justice Earl Warren conducted a 10-month investigation and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, fatally shooting Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository as his presidential motorcade passed on the street below.

JFK Centennial
In this April 30, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy listens while Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg speaks outside the White House in Washington. William J. Smith / AP

Oswald was taken into police custody and was himself shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner. The Warren Commission likewise concluded that Ruby acted alone, but Oswald's killing, and his time spent living in the Soviet Union, sparked years of rampant conspiracy theories and doubts about the Warren Commission's conclusions. 

There was no immediate indication that the records released Wednesday contained new revelations that could radically reshape the public's understanding of the events surrounding the assassination.

But the latest tranche of documents was nonetheless eagerly anticipated by historians and others who, decades after the Kennedy killing, remain skeptical that, at the height of the Cold War, a troubled young man with a mail-order rifle was solely responsible for an assassination that changed the course of American history.

The documents include CIA cables and memos discussing Oswald's previously disclosed but never fully explained visits to the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City as well as discussion, in the days after the assassination, of the potential for Cuban involvement in the killing of Kennedy.

One CIA cable describes how Oswald phoned the Soviet embassy while in Mexico City to ask for a visa to visit the Soviet Union. He also visited the Cuban embassy, apparently interested in a travel visa that would permit him to visit Cuba and wait there for a Soviet visa. On October 3, 1963, more than one month before the assassination, he drove back into the United States through a crossing at the Texas border.

Another memo, dated the day after Kennedy's assassination, says that according to an intercepted phone call in Mexico City, Oswald communicated with an identified KGB officer while at the Soviet embassy that September.

After Kennedy was killed, Mexican authorities arrested a Mexican employee of the Cuban embassy with whom Oswald had communicated, and she said Oswald had "professed to be a Communist and an admirer of Castro," according to the cable.

One CIA document marked "Secret Eyes Only" traces U.S. government plots to assassinate the Cuban leader at the time, Fidel Castro, including a 1960 plot "that involved the use of the criminal underworld with contacts inside Cuba."

Another document weighs whether Oswald, while living in New Orleans, may have been affected in any way by the publication in the local newspaper of an interview an Associated Press correspondent conducted with Castro in which Castro warned of retribution if the U.S. were to take out Cuban leaders.

The new files include several FBI reports on the bureau's efforts to investigate and surveil major mafia figures like Santo Trafficante Jr. and Sam Giancana, who are often mentioned in conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's assassination.

Apart from the Kennedy investigation, some of the material would be of interest to scholars or anyone interested in the minutiae of 1960s counterespionage, with pages and pages of arcane details on such things as the methods, equipment and personnel used to surveil the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City.

In 1992, Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, requiring all previously withheld documents about the assassination to be released by 2017. Former President Donald Trump allowed the release of some documents but delayed the disclosure of others at the request of the FBI and CIA, which said their release could jeopardize national security.

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