The public has waited nearly 26 years for the last classified documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to be released. But it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting, due to a decision by the Trump administration to withhold some material in the archive for extra review.
On April 26, in compliance with the deadline set by President Trump last October, the National Archives released 19,045 additional documents from the JFK assassination files. Instead of a full reveal, however, some material will still be kept from the public due to “identifiable national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns,” according to a White House memo. The president said he was ordering agencies to “re-review each of the redactions over the next three years,” and set a deadline for further release of documents of October 26, 2021.
In October 2017, 2,800 files about the 1963 murder were made public for the first time, bringing to the fore revelations that an alleged Cuban intelligence officer met Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City, and praised his shooting ability, and that the Soviet spy agency KGB believed then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson may have conspired to assassinate Kennedy.
But despite the 25-year deadline established by the 1992 JFK Records Collection Act, not everything came out. Citing national security concerns, President Trump then elected to halt the release of some of the remaining classified files for an additional six months. Now that deadline has passed, and it’s still unclear how many records (or portions of the records) still remain under wraps, whether they will be ever released in full, and what—if any—new information they may contain.
Revelations since October 2018 about JFK’s assassination
After that initial release in October, the National Archives made four additional releases in November and December, totaling around 35,000 files published in 2017, many of which were partially or mostly redacted. One of the more intriguing disclosures related to Oswald’s attempts to get a Soviet or Cuban visa during his visit to Mexico City (which the CIA thought might mean he was planning ahead for a quick escape after murdering Kennedy).
Meanwhile, dozens of other memos shed light on the controversy surrounding James Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counter-espionage, who did not tell the Warren Commission about the agency’s involvement in an effort to overthrow or kill Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. His failure to do so has fueled later conspiracy theories concerning a CIA cover-up of Cuban involvement in JFK’s murder.
Another batch of documents revealed the doubts CIA officials had about the testimony of Yuri Nosenko, a former KGB agent who claimed that the spy agency made no attempt to recruit Oswald while he was in the Soviet Union.
There were also interesting tidbits unrelated to Kennedy, such as an FBI dossier on Martin Luther King Jr., dated just weeks before the 1968 assassination of the civil rights leader. In addition to attempts to link King to various Communist organizations, the document contained accusations concerning King’s private life, both of which were known fixations of Hoover. It’s unclear why the dossier was included in JFK’s assassination file, where it remained secret for 50 years.
In December 2017, the Archives claimed that only 86 records remained, in cases “where additional research is required by the National Archives and the other agencies.” Yet according to an estimate by the Mary Ferrell Foundation, a non-profit organization that hosts the Web’s largest collection of documents related to JFK’s assassination, some 21,980 documents, totaling more than 368,000 pages, are still being withheld in full or in part.
In an open letter to U.S. Archivist David Ferreiro sent in March 2018, the foundation’s officers urged the National Archives to release all the JFK files “in their entirety” and require all agencies to “provide and publish in the Federal Register reasons for each postponed document (or portion of a document) before you certify that all JFK records have been released.”
And in another accounting of the still-missing records, released in January 2018 to John Greenewald of the Black Vault website through a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Archives itself put the total number at 22,933 documents (or 442,606 pages).
What is contained in the remaining JFK assassination files?
No one knows for sure. Many of the still-unreleased or redacted documents are thought to have originated at the CIA’s office in Mexico City, where Oswald traveled in September 1963, two months before Kennedy’s assassination. Records that were made available in the late 1990s showed that the CIA and FBI knew about Oswald’s activities in Mexico, including his visits to the Cuban consulate and Soviet embassy and the fact that he had talked openly of killing Kennedy while there. But the agencies didn’t share this information with the Warren Commission, the official investigation into the assassination, prompting accusations of a cover-up.
Among those reportedly urging President Trump to allow the release of the long-secret records in full are the family members of a U.S. diplomat, Charles Thomas, who committed suicide in 1971. As Philip Shenon reported in the Guardian, previously declassified records have shown that Thomas tried repeatedly to open an investigation in order to find out whether the Warren Commission had missed evidence of a conspiracy between Oswald and Cubans loyal to Fidel Castro’s regime. Thomas had uncovered evidence about Oswald’s time in Mexico, including an alleged affair with a Mexican woman, Silvia Duran, who worked at the Cuban consulate.
Shortly after his last attempt, in 1969, Thomas was denied a promotion and forced out of the State Department, leading him to become despondent and, eventually, to take his own life. The department later said that misfiled personnel records had led to the denial of his promotion, but Thomas’ family members believe senior State officials were in fact trying to shut down his attempts to further investigate JFK’s assassination. His youngest daughter, Zelda Thomas-Curti, told Shenon she had written to Trump to urge him to release all of the remaining records in full, as she wanted “my three children to know that their grandfather was a real-life hero.”
But until the JFK files are released in their entirety, Thomas’ family—and the rest of the world— will have to wait.