The final batch of classified documents relating to the Kennedy assassination are due to be published today – offering perhaps the last chance to clear up one of the greatest conspiracies of all time.
Roughly 30,000 secret files relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November 1963 were released by President Trump last October, ending a 54-year wait for historians, amateur detectives and conspiracy theorists.
Yet despite promising full transparency, in a last-minute decision Trump blocked the publication of some documents on the grounds of protecting national security – and set a six-month deadline, which expires today, for their release.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
At the time, CNN said that although the withheld files may prove tangential, “a decision to withhold even a sliver of the documents could give conspiracy theorists more fodder to propel their claims”.
The official verdict - offered by the Warren Commission in 1964 - was that the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone. But Americans have long held theories that the 46-year-old president’s murder was organised by Cuba, the Mafia, or even rogue security agents.
Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a series of politically motivated killings during a turbulent period in the 1960s that also saw to the murders of the president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
What was released in October?
The suppressed documents primarily focused on FBI and CIA efforts to determine whether Oswald had contact with spies from Cuba and the former Soviet Union during a trip to Mexico City in September 1963, experts told Reuters.
“This could add texture to unanswered questions about Oswald’s six days in Mexico City several weeks before Kennedy was assassinated,” says the Dallas News.
Although most of the collection has already been made public, US judge John R. Tunheim, former chair of the Assassination Records Review Board, told Time magazine at the time that he was not ruling out the possibility that new information directly related to the assassination will emerge. According to Tunheim, this might include further revelations about Oswald’s links in Russia, where he lived for three years from 1959.
“There’s a lot of still unanswered questions about the assassination. For example, did Oswald, when he lived in Minsk, have any connection with Cuban intelligence agents who were being trained in Minsk by the Soviets? There are issues like that that aren’t fully resolved anywhere, and going through these documents might give good researchers an opportunity to come up with more than what we know today in the official story,” said Tunheim.
The new records also included information associated with the intelligence-gathering mechanisms that the US worked out with Mexico in the early 1960s.
This included photographic evidence as well as records that the FBI collected while investigating Mark Lane, the now-deceased conspiracy theorist. While the photos did not deal directly with the assassination, it is important to understand how personal information was collected about people who questioned the consensus on the assassination, and to understand Cold War foreign relations.
The files also provided answers about Oswald’s links with the US security services, and his relationship with the FBI and the CIA before the crime.
So what is contained in the remaining JFK files?
Experts and assassination conspiracists disagree widely about the number of documents still to be released.
Since its October publication, the US National Archives has made four additional releases, bringing the total number of files published to around 35,000 in 2017, many of which were partially or mostly redacted.
The Archive claims only 87 records remain. However, an estimate by the Mary Ferrell Foundation, a non-profit organisation that hosts the web’s largest collection of documents related to JFK’s assassination, puts this number at some 21,980 documents, totalling more than 368,000 pages, which are still allegedly being withheld in full or in part.
As for the contents of these files, “no one knows for sure” what they contain says History. Experts believe many of the still-unreleased or redacted documents originated from the CIA’s office in Mexico City, where Oswald travelled in September 1963, two months before Kennedy’s assassination.
Whatever they cover, historians don’t expect “bombshell revelations” about what unfolded on Dealey Plaza in 1963, according to the The Boston Globe.
“I don’t think there’s going to be [information] in there pointing to a second gunman, or anything like that,” Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, told the newspaper.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.