At the request of the CIA, FBI and others in the national security community, President Donald Trump made a last-minute decision last week to delay the release of thousands of pages of classified documents related to the John F. Kennedy assassination.
The president allowed the National Archives to publish about 2,800 records that the agencies did not object to making public. (Read them in full at http://bit.ly/2yWLxxY.) But about 300 additional records — the ones historians were most interested in seeing — will stay secret for now.
Federal agencies have known since 1992 that the midnight deadline was coming up. It was created by Congress, in a law signed by George H.W. Bush, after Oliver Stone's JFK movie in 1991 suggested a broad conspiracy to kill the president that included the CIA, the FBI and the military.
Even as he holds back some of the juiciest stuff, the president wants credit from his base for releasing the documents. "I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted," Trump said in a statement. "At the same time, executive departments and agencies have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement and foreign affairs concerns. I have no choice — today — but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our nation's security."
The president's impulse is to get all these files out. But he was reminded again that it's really hard to tell national security officials "no" when they're warning you of potential dangers to the country and its intelligence apparatus if certain information goes out.
For example, CIA officials say that they pushed to withhold documents to protect their assets, the identities of current and former officers, intelligence-gathering methods and sensitive partnerships that remain in effect today.
Trump's decision to acquiesce to the CIA will only add to the cloud of public suspicion that hangs over the official story line — even 54 years later — that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The government's refusal to be fully transparent and forthright has contributed to a climate in which few citizens trust institutions. The feds have long had an over-classification problem, erring on the side of marking files secret that really don't need to be. It has become even worse since the 9/11 attacks.
A poll conducted this month by SurveyMonkey for FiveThirtyEight found that only 33 percent of Americans believe that one man was responsible for the Kennedy assassination, while 61 percent think that others were involved in a conspiracy.
So what exactly is still being withheld? The missing records include a 338-page file on J. Walton Moore, the head of the CIA office in Dallas at the time of the killing, and an 18-page dossier on Gordon McClendon, a Dallas businessman who conferred with Jack Ruby just before he shot Oswald. Several files on notorious anti-Castro Cuban exiles were apparently withheld, including those focusing on Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, who had been accused of a 1976 airline bombing that killed 73 people.
Researchers had hoped the release would shed new light on Oswald's movements and contacts in the months before he shot Kennedy. Historians were particularly eager for new details of Oswald's six-day trip to Mexico City, where he met with Cubans and Soviets two months before the assassination. None of those documents appeared to be in the batch released last week.
What might the CIA be afraid of? 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.
What is in the files that did come out? More than a dozen reporters and editors for the Washington Post combed through the 2,800 records. Here are some of the wildest nuggets they found:
• An FBI file contains information on the bureau's attempt to locate a stripper named "Kitty," last name unknown. According to the file, another stripper named Candy Cane said Kitty had been an associate of Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963. Leon Cornman, business agent with the American Guild of Variety Artists in New Orleans, told the FBI that "the only stripper he knew by the name of Kitty who worked in New Orleans was Kitty Raville." He "advised (that) Raville committed suicide in New Orleans in August or September 1963," the report states.
• The documents show that for years, the FBI used informants to monitor the Communist Party in Dallas — a group that consisted of five or six people — so small they could sometimes hold a meeting inside a car.
• A 1964 FBI memo describes a meeting in which Cuban exiles tried to set a price on the heads of Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. "It was felt that the $150,000.00 to assassinate FIDEL CASTRO plus $5,000 expense money was too high," the memo noted. At a subsequent meeting, they settled on more modest sums: $100,000 for Fidel, $20,000 for Raul and $20,000 for Che.
• Some of the papers recounted the agency's well-chronicled schemes to kill Castro. One document, a summary of the CIA's plans to assassinate foreign leaders, recounted how the CIA tried to use Gen. William Donovan, the former head of the agency's precursor, the Office of Strategic Services, for one plot. He would give Castro a contaminated skin-diving suit while the two negotiated for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners. Donovan didn't go through it, instead presenting the Cuban leader with "an uncontaminated skindiving suit as a gesture of friendship."
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