Thursday 13 December 2018

Thousands of documents but still no definite answer on JFK

President John F Kennedy. Photo: Hank Walker/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
President John F Kennedy. Photo: Hank Walker/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lee Harvey Oswald

Laurie Kellman in Washington DC

Botulism pills. Conspiracy theories. What the US government might have known and still won't say about Lee Harvey Oswald.

The release of thousands of records relating to the assassination of President John F Kennedy hasn't settled the best-known, real-life whodunit in American history. But the record offered riveting details of the way intelligence services operated at the time and are striving to keep some particulars a secret even now.

"The Kennedy records really are an emblem of the fight of secrecy against transparency," said Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the private National Security Archive research group in Washington. "The 'secureaucrats' managed to withhold key documents and keep this long saga of secrecy going."

The 2,800 records released last Thursday include some that had dribbled out over the years but are getting renewed attention from being in this big batch.

Some highlights:

  • Just a few hours after Lee Harvey Oswald was killed in Dallas, FBI director J Edgar Hoover dictated a memo saying the government needed to issue something "so we can convince the public" that Oswald killed Kennedy.

The FBI director composed the memo on November 24, 1963, two days after Kennedy was killed and hours after nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station.

Hoover said the FBI had an agent at the hospital in the hope of getting a confession from Oswald, but Oswald died before that could happen. Hoover said he and a deputy were concerned about "having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

Hoover laments how Kennedy's successor, President Lyndon B Johnson, was considering appointing a presidential commission to investigate the assassination. Hoover said he suggested that the FBI give an investigative report to the attorney general complete with photographs, laboratory work and other evidence. That report, he thought, could be given to Johnson and he could decide whether to make it public.

  • Everyone had their theories, including President Johnson. According to one document, Johnson believed Kennedy was behind the assassination of the South Vietnamese president weeks before his death and that Kennedy's murder was payback.

US Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms said in a 1975 deposition that Johnson "used to go around saying the reason (Kennedy) was assassinated was that he had assassinated President (Ngo Dinh) Diem and this was just justice. Where he got this idea from I don't know."

This isn't the first time Johnson's theory has been aired. He was also quoted in Max Holland's book The Kennedy Assassination Tapes as saying Kennedy died because of "divine retribution".

"He murdered Diem and then he got it himself," Johnson reportedly said.

  • lThe former Soviet Union's intelligence agency allegedly claimed it had information tying Johnson to the assassination of Kennedy. In a 1966 letter to a presidential assistant, Hoover wrote that an FBI source reported KGB officials claimed to have information in 1965 "purporting to indicate" Johnson had a role in the assassination.

Johnson has long been a focus of some conspiracy theorists, but no credible information has been revealed linking him to the assassination.

  • lA 1975 document described the CIA's $150,000 offer to have Cuban leader Fidel Castro assassinated - but the mob insisted on taking the job for free.

The underworld murder-for-hire contract was detailed in a summary of a May 1962 CIA briefing for then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. By then, the Kennedy White House had launched its unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and several assassination attempts against Castro had failed.

At least two efforts to kill Castro were made with CIA-supplied lethal pills and organised crime muscle in early 1961, according to the document. The CIA's mob contacts included John Rosselli, a top lieutenant to Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, who weren't told but guessed the CIA was behind the offer. The pair, later victims of mob hits, said they wanted no part of any payment - but $11,000 was still paid for expenses.

The mobsters came to the attention of the CIA a year earlier when Giancana asked a CIA intermediary to arrange a listening device in the Las Vegas room of an entertainer he suspected of having an affair with Giancana's mistress.

The task was handed to a private investigator named Arthur Balletti, who put the listening device in a phone in the hotel room. "The CIA reportedly did not know of the specific proposed wiretap."

Told later about "everything", Kennedy was "unhappy, because he felt he was making a very strong drive to try to get after the Mafia. So his comment was to us that if we were going to get involved with the Mafia, in the future at any time, to 'make sure you see me first'."

l A British newspaper received an anonymous phone call about "big news" in the US 25 minutes before JFK was shot, one file says.

A memo from the CIA to Hoover said "the Cambridge News reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news, and then hung up".

Anna Savva, a current Cambridge News reporter, said: "We have nobody here who knows the name of the person who took the call."

Sunday Independent

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