The US government on Thursday released a mammoth, long-awaited trove of secret files on the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, but withheld others for further review on national security grounds.
In a statement the National Archives said that on orders from President Donald Trump it had released 2,891 records related to the November 22, 1963 slaying of JFK in Dallas, Texas.
Kennedy scholars have said the documents were unlikely to contain any bombshell revelations or put to rest the rampant conspiracy theories about the assassination.
The files are vast in number and scope, covering everything from FBI directors’ memos to interviews with members of the public in Dallas who came forward trying to provide clues in the weeks and months after that singularly unforgettable moment in US history.
Trump said in a memorandum he had agreed to hold back for further review some records relating to the killing.
Administration officials who requested anonymity said the majority of those requests had come from the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Executive departments and agencies have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns,” Trump said.
“I have no choice — today — but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our nation’s security,” he said.
Trump gave agencies six months — until April 26, 2018 — to make their case for why the remaining documents should not be made public.
“At the end of that period, I will order the public disclosure of any information that the agencies cannot demonstrate meets the statutory standard for continued postponement of disclosure,” he said.
The 2,891 records approved for release are viewable on the National Archives website, in full and unredacted form.
“The president wants to ensure that there is full transparency here,” an official said, but “there does remain sensitive information in the records.”
This includes, for example, the identities of informants and “activities that were conducted with the support of foreign partner organizations, either intelligence or law enforcement,” the official said.
The Warren Commission which investigated the shooting of the charismatic 46-year-old president determined that it was carried out by a former Marine sharpshooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.
That formal conclusion has done little, however, to quell speculation that a more sinister plot was behind the murder of the 35th president of the United States.
Hundreds of books and movies such as the 1991 Oliver Stone film “JFK” have fed the conspiracy industry, pointing the finger at Cold War rivals the Soviet Union or Cuba, the Mafia and even Kennedy’s vice president, Lyndon Johnson.
The release of the documents is in compliance with an October 26, 1992 act of Congress which required that the assassination records held in the National Archives be released in full and unredacted 25 years later.
Kennedy assassination experts were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to look at the files but have sought to tamp down expectations.
“Anybody who thinks there’s a document in there headed ‘Members of the Conspiracy to Kill President Kennedy’ is going to be waiting a long time,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Kennedy Half Century.”
Gerald Posner, author of “Case Closed,” which determined that Oswald did indeed act alone, said people who think the files will “have the solution to the case that everybody can settle on” are going to be disappointed.
“That’s not going to happen,” Posner told AFP.
“No one’s going to abandon their belief in a conspiracy because the release of the files doesn’t prove it,” he said. “They’ll just say it must have been destroyed or hidden.”
Experts agree, however, that the documents may shed some light on an intriguing chapter in Oswald’s life — his trip to Mexico City about seven weeks before the slaying where he is known to have met with Cuban and Soviet spies.
Sabato said the CIA and FBI may be blocking the release of certain documents to hide their own failings.
“When you get right down to it the CIA and FBI dropped the ball,” he said. “They had every indication that Oswald was a misfit and a sociopath.”
But neither agency informed the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president, he said.
Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 but returned to the United States in 1962.
He was shot to death two days after killing Kennedy by a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, as he was being transferred from the city jail.