Wednesday 23 May 2018

Secrets could put some conspiracy theories to rest - or stir up new ones

Bill and Gayle Newman, civilian eyewitnesses to the assassination, cover their children as photographers take pictures in Dealey Plaza after shots were fired Picture: Cecil W. Stoughton/JFK Library/Reuters
Bill and Gayle Newman, civilian eyewitnesses to the assassination, cover their children as photographers take pictures in Dealey Plaza after shots were fired Picture: Cecil W. Stoughton/JFK Library/Reuters

Ian Shapira

President Donald Trump acted last to block the release of hundreds of records on the John F. Kennedy assassination, bending to CIA and FBI appeals to keep those secrets.

"I have no choice," Trump said, according to White House officials. He was placing those files under a six-month review while letting 2,800 other records come out last night, racing a deadline to honor a law mandating their release.

Officials say Trump will impress upon federal agencies that JFK files should stay secret after the six-month review "only in the rarest cases."

Scholars and sleuths were waiting - and waiting - to leap on the release of the files.

The National Archives needs approval from President Donald Trump to begin releasing the 35,000 documents online and meet a deadline to divulge the papers set by Congress 25 years ago by The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, according to reports from NBC News.

However, as of last night, the memo specifying which material the CIA, State Department and other agencies still want to keep under wraps had not made it to Trump's desk, U.S. intelligence officials said.

"There's a mad scramble going on in the executive branch to get this done," one official said.

The CIA is asking only for some redactions, not for all the documents to be held, the official said. But the other agencies involved in the process have not yet finished their submissions.

A law from 25 years ago required the government to put the thousands of documents out by October 26, 2017, though some may stay hidden.

For historians, it's a chance to answer lingering questions, put some unfounded conspiracy theories to rest, perhaps give life to other theories - or none of that.

The records, held by the National Archives and Records Administration could shed more light on Lee Harvey Oswald's six-day trip to Mexico City, when he met with Cubans and Soviets two months before he shot Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The papers could also reveal more about the careers and activities of Watergate burglars E Howard Hunt and James McCord, both of whom were longtime CIA operatives.

But experts do not believe the documents will contain information to shake the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted as the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza. Oswald himself was killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963, at Dallas police headquarters on live television - a stunning turn that fuelled decades of conspiracy theories.

The release is expected to give the public a few thousand of the records, which could total tens of thousands of pages. More than 30,000 additional records could be disclosed in the coming days.

Mr Trump tweeted excitedly about the records' dissemination: "The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow," he said. "So interesting!"

Mr Trump's decision followed weeks of speculation by assassination experts, historians and journalists eager to see the final batch of Kennedy files. When president George HW Bush signed the President John F Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, the government had 25 years to release all the documents, with a deadline of October 26, 2017. By law, only Mr Trump has the power to delay the release.

The president was lobbied to withhold some of the documents by CIA director Mike Pompeo, according to Trump confidant Roger Stone.

But Mr Stone says he was worried that the intelligence community might still persuade his friend not to release all the papers, or that the files might be heavily redacted.

The National Archives has had custody of the records since the Warren Commission published its investigative findings in 1964.

In 1991, Oliver Stone released his movie, 'JFK', which suggested Mr Kennedy was killed in a grand conspiracy involving the CIA, the FBI and the military. At the end of the film, audiences were informed that many of the investigative documents wouldn't be released until 2029. Soon, protests erupted, and Congress passed the Kennedy Assassination Records Act that was signed into law a year later.

By the early 1990s, only a sliver of the Warren Commission's papers - just 2pc - had been concealed, either partially or in full, according to the National Archives.

Since then, the archives has made periodic releases of its repository, which totals more than five million pages. A majority of Americans believe others besides Oswald were involved in the shooting, according to repeated Gallup polls conducted over the past 50 years.

Since the Warren Commission concluded its investigation, historians and journalists have written extensively about how the CIA deliberately concealed information about Oswald's interactions with Cubans or Soviets in Mexico City before the killing.

Philip Shenon, the author of a 2013 book on the Warren Commission, interviewed one of the commission's chief investigators, David Slawson, for Politico two years ago and showed him documents that had been declassified in the 1990s but that Slawson had never seen.

Slawson's conclusion: the CIA tampered with surveillance evidence of Oswald in Mexico City that would have revealed the agency knew of Oswald's threat well before the assassination.

Irish Independent

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