Washington — The National Archives and Records Administration published a trove of 13,173 documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Thursday, shortly after President Biden issued a executive order authorizing their disclosure while keeping thousands of other sensitive records secret.
“According to my direction, the agencies have undertaken a comprehensive effort to review the complete set of nearly 16,000 records that had previously been published in redacted form and determined that more than 70 percent of those records can now be published in their entirety.” said Mr. Biden. wrote in order of him. “This important disclosure reflects my administration’s commitment to transparency and will provide the American public with greater perspective and understanding of the government’s investigation into this tragic event in American history.”
With the latest release, the Archives said 97% of the roughly 5 million pages in its collection relating to the murder have been made public. But some experts said the government continues to redact or withhold important information that could cast a negative light on the CIA or other agencies.
Kennedy was shot and killed while traveling in his motorcade through Dallas on November 22, 1963, at the age of 46. An investigation led by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine and communist activist who had lived in the Soviet Union, acted alone in the Kennedy shooting, but the investigation has been widely criticized by academics and historians. in the nearly 60 years since the assassination. Oswald was shot to death in the basement of Dallas police headquarters two days after Kennedy’s death, further fueling conspiracy theories about whether he was solely responsible.
A preliminary review of the files included in Thursday’s CBS News release did not appear to reveal any groundbreaking revelations. Longtime JFK watchers had expected the treasure would shed more light on what the US government knew about Oswald before the Kennedy assassination, particularly about his activities in Mexico City in the weeks before he opened fire in Dallas.
A document written by a CIA officer in December 1963 details the agency’s interception of Oswald’s communications with the Soviet embassy in the Mexican capital. A comparison with a previously published version shows that the newsrooms obscured the fact that the wiretapping operation targeting the Soviet embassy was a joint effort with the office of the Mexican president, an arrangement that was “highly secret and unknown to Mexican law enforcement and security officials.” “.
The Mary Ferrell Foundation, a nonprofit group that maintains an online database of records related to the murder,in October, accusing the government of missing a 2017 deadline for the publication of all documents.
Jefferson Morley, the group’s vice president and author of several books on the assassination, said Thursday that he and other experts were just beginning to review the documents, but added that “the initial results are not encouraging,” pointing to several key documents that remained redacted. in Thursday’s statement. Rex Bradford, president of the foundation, called the launch “half a loaf.”
“The number of documents released may seem impressive, but at least a random check … there are a lot of documents released with redactions similar to what they had before,” Bradford said on a call with reporters.
As an example of a record that the government was still partially hiding, Morley pointed to a memorandum written by Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger in 1961 after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, in which Schlesinger strongly criticized the CIA. One and a half pages of the document, titled “CIA Reorganization,” remains redacted, which Morley said is “not a very good sign.”
“[The memo] It clearly indicates that people around the president had a lot of doubts about the CIA and were reconsidering it,” Morley said. “It is an important document about what Kennedy was thinking after the Bay of Pigs. It is truly unbelievable to me that this document has not been published.”
Under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, the government was required to release all documents related to the assassination by October 2017, unless doing so would harm national security or intelligence sources, or violate certain privacy protections. Then-President Donald Trump released thousands of documents throughout his presidency, but withheld others for national security reasons.
In October 2021, Mr. Biden released nearly 1,500 more documents whilethe release of other confidential records until December 15, 2022, saying further review was necessary to “protect against identifiable harm to military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or foreign relations conduct” .
The Archives said last year that “[a]Any information currently withheld from public release that the agencies do not propose for continued deferral beyond December 15 would be released, leaving open the possibility that federal agencies may seek to further delay the release of some of the pending records.
The president wrote in his Thursday order that federal agencies have now “identified a limited number of records containing information for continued deferral of public release,” some of which would be hidden by redactions while others would remain unpublished. Mr. Biden also noted that the acting archivist identified some records that still need to be reviewed.
The executive order established a new deadline of May 1, 2023 for the Archives and relevant agencies to propose and review redactions beyond June 30, 2023.
Robert Legare contributed reporting.