The officials say there are no obvious bombshells in the material expected to be released today; there will be nothing to suggest Oswald was not the gunman in Dealey Plaza or — as many Americans believe — that there was a conspiracy in Kennedy’s death.
Still, they say, the new information will be intriguing to historians and assassination researchers who have sought for nearly six decades to connect the dots about a turning point in American history — and to try to understand what possible justification the government could have to withhold any information at all about a president’s murder. Here are a few things we expect to learn more about when the documents are released:
Oswald’s Mysterious Trip to Mexico City
Several of the newly declassified documents will refer, directly or indirectly, to the activities of the undercover CIA operatives in the agency’s Mexico City station who mounted an aggressive surveillance operation against Oswald when he visited the Mexican capital in September 1963, just several weeks before the assassination. Previously released files from the CIA’s Mexico station show Oswald, a self-declared Marxist who apparently sought to obtain a visa to defect to Cuba, made contact in the Mexican capital with Soviet and Cuban spies, including a KGB assassinations specialist. Those documents suggested the CIA’s Mexico station bungled evidence that, had it been passed on quickly to the Secret Service and other agencies in Washington, could have saved Kennedy’s life.
The CIA Veteran Who Hid His Background From Congress
George Joannides served as the spy agency’s liaison to a special House committee in the 1970s that re-investigated Kennedy’s murder. House staff members later said they were outraged to learn after the investigation that Joannides, who died in 1990, had a seemingly blatant conflict of interest, since the CIA never revealed to lawmakers he had led spying operations during the Kennedy administration to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — a CIA effort that many historians believe might have been linked to the assassination. Washington journalist and assassination researcher Jefferson Morley has pursued a widely publicized federal lawsuit for years seeking release of personnel files on Joannides.
Oswald’s 80-Volume 201 “Personality” File
Most of Oswald’s “201,” a term derived from the military in labeling personnel files, was made public years ago, but portions of it have been kept secret on national security or privacy grounds. According to the CIA, the file contains virtually everything the spy agency learned about Oswald before and after the assassination. It’s reported to total more than 50,000 pages. The existence of this file has long suggested the CIA knew much more about Oswald before JFK’s death — and specifically, the threat he might pose to Kennedy — than the agency wanted to admit. According to the CIA, the file was created in December 1960, nearly three years before Kennedy’s murder, after Oswald’s failed defection to the Soviet Union in 1959. The Warren Commission — the White House panel led by Chief Justice Earl Warren that investigated Kennedy’s murder and concluded in 1964 that Oswald had almost certainly acted alone — was never given the full file, for reasons that were never adequately explained. An internal CIA memo dated February 1964, declassified decades later, shows that the agency was aware at least 37 documents had disappeared from the file when it was reviewed in the days after the assassination, including documents related to Oswald that the FBI and State Department shared with the CIA. Later today, we should know more about the parts of the file that are still redacted.
Internal correspondence from the National Archives made public this year shows the Archives, which houses the millions of pages of once-secret documents, has often battled with other federal agencies — the CIA and FBI, in particular — to insist they release assassination-related files, as required by the JFK Records law.
While he would not comment on details of the documents to be released this week, William J. Bosanko, chief operating officer of the National Archives and Records Administration, suggested in a statement to POLITICO Magazine that the Archives and CIA have settled some of their differences, resulting in “greater openness and transparency” that will allow more documents to be made public.
He noted that, as of last year, virtually every assassination-related document out of the files of the FBI has been made public.
Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security issues and has battled in court with the Archives to force the release of assassination-related documents, said in an interview he “does not expect a smoking gun” in the files released this week, although he welcomed any new signs of transparency, especially since “so much of this information should have been released a long time ago.”
Government officials say the CIA, the Justice Department, the Pentagon and other agencies that continue to withhold assassination-related documents will, at Biden’s request, issue so-called transparency plans later today that will explain to the public in general terms what sort of documents are being withheld — and why. In an order expected to be released this week, Biden will direct the agencies to continue to work with the Archives to release the rest of the library of assassination-related documents.
Under the JFK Records law, only the sitting president of the United States has the power to withhold assassination-related documents beyond the 2017 deadline, which means that Biden could release everything at will. He suggested last year, however, that he would continue to abide by a balancing act cited in the law, which allows documents to be kept secret indefinitely if their release would do “identifiable harm” to “military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the condition of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
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