Tuesday, 14 November 2017 21:39

The Newly Declassified JFK Assassination Files

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Files supposedly declassified in full but mostly or entirely redacted, a national security apparatus which thwarts the law, and a media given to smug, glib or downright misinformed dismissals of both the process and content of the document releases mandated by the JFK Act: Jim DiEugenio reviews the current state of (non-) disclosure concerning the event which marked a crucial turning point in our nation's history and consciousness.

October 26, 2017 was supposed to be the last day for secrecy in the John F. Kennedy assassination. After 54 years, all the files on that case were finally supposed to be open to the public. In fact, President Trump actually tweeted about this occasion twice, saying how much he looked forward to it. This was a good indication that all the files would now be declassified, since only the president could halt that process.

But on October 26th, President Trump gave in to last minute pleas from the CIA and FBI. He decided not to declassify everything. He now said that he would delay things until April of 2018 so that only very small bits of information like an agent’s real name or address would be concealed. The media then told us that only 300 documents would be deferred until that new release date of April, 2018. As we shall see, this often quoted 300 number is simply wrong and vastly understates what is still being withheld.

Richard Helms

The mainstream media (MSM) has been guilty of futher distortions. On a few occasions, they have reported old information as if it were new: for instance, regarding a memorandum written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about convincing the public that Oswald was the lone assassin (see further below); or the transcript of then Ambassador to Iran Richard Helms’ testimony to the Rockefeller Commission which is supposedly cut off just as he is responding to the question of whether Oswald was a CIA asset. In both cases, this information has been known for some time; in the latter, the full document providing Helms’ response (in the negative) has been long available. As much as one might be inclined to excuse journalists for not being deeply familiar with the case, and thus unaware that they were inappropriately sensationalizing, it is hard to pardon the smugness with which the media asked us, for the most part, and without adequate knowledge, to accept their word that there was not anything really interesting in these releases. Like Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, they were telling us, “Move on. Nothing to see here.”

Having actually reviewed many of these documents, I would respectfully disagree. One might ask, for instance, why the following (old) information, which has resurfaced through the release of either previously unseen documents, or of documents which have had previous deletions removed, was not mentioned. Might it possibly be because some of it concerns the mainstream media—specifically, how they cooperated with the FBI, the Warren Commission, and perhaps the CIA, in order to uphold in the public eye the dubious tenets of the Warren Report?

Consider the following previously withheld documents:

  • In an FBI document dated 2/1/67, it is noted that information received from the CIA reveals that The New York Times had lost faith in the Warren Report and was working on a full-scale exposé of its tenets, which it did not consider reliable anymore. That information was attained by talking to an informant of that Agency (the former head of the FPCC, Richard Thomas Gibson) who knew a reporter on the Times. We have actually had this information in nuce for a while: see the original memo from the Director of Plans to Hoover, in which the informant’s name is redacted, but in which the source at the Times, reporter Peter Khiss (misspelled 'Kihss' in the documents) is revealed.
  • An FBI teletype dated 12/11/63 reveals that NBC was preparing a program on the JFK case, but the producer’s policy would be to televise only “those items which are in consonance with” the FBI report.

Then, there are the following documents which were re-released but with redactions now filled in:

  • A document which contains the minutes of a meeting on December 6, 1963, between LBJ and CIA Director John McCone; while the missing information which has now been filled in is of much interest (there were discussions at this point about the banning of underground tests, and the situations in Cambodia and Malaysia), one bit of “old” information contained here, and which again has gone largely unnoticed, is striking: a highly reliable CIA source reported that Russian intelligence was trying, through an Indian intermediary, to prod LBJ, RFK and Earl Warren into a thorough investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.
  • A CIA memorandum which was actually classified as OPEN IN FULL and already figured in the 1995 ARRB releases, but which has oddly received little attention, reveals that on November 23, 1963, Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms wrote the FBI that voice comparisons of calls made to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City had indicated the caller on September 28 was the same one as the caller identifying himself as Oswald on the October 1 call. This clashes with the story coming out of Mexico City by then, which was that no voice comparisons had been done because the recording of the 9/28 call had been destroyed before the second call on 10/1. But what is even more curious about this memo is that by November 23rd, the FBI already knew that the voice on the tape claiming to be Lee Oswald was not the same as that of the man in custody in Dallas.
  • Making the above document even more interesting is a CIA Mexico City cable from just three days later. This information has also been available for some time. The Agency had two informants in the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. Neither recalled Oswald being there at any time. Yet the Warren Report said he was there on three occasions. Was he or wasn’t he? Again, if the MSM does not tell you about these reports, then that question cannot be raised. (In the re-released version, John Whitten’s name, formerly not visible, now appears, but the identities of the two assets, whose cryptonyms were LITAMIL-7 and LITAMIL-9, had already been deciphered.)
Roger Feinman

These five documents alone raise some troubling questions. One being, how can we uphold a democracy when broadcast agencies like NBC collude with intelligence agencies to spin the facts about the murder of the president? Or when the New York Times decides that it does not believe the Warren Report, but then goes on to say that it does? What happened to that full-blown exposé of the Warren Commission that the Times was planning? Well, perhaps the same as what happened to a CBS special critical of the Warren Report. We know through the late CBS employee Roger Feinman that CBS reporters wanted to do a special critical of the Commission. But due to pressures from above, the reporters were discouraged from that, and CBS decided to do a four-night segment supporting the Warren Report. (See “How CBS News Aided the JFK Cover-Up”)

CBS correspondent
Eddie Barker

What happened at CBS is further elucidated in another declassified teletype from the FBI recovered by researcher Bill Davy (available prior to the current releases in Section 30 of the FBI Warren Commission HQ Liaison File 62-109090). This memo reveals that as early as January of 1967, CBS had decided to slant its upcoming late June multi-night documentary into, quite literally, a hatchet job. CBS was going to take books critical of the Warren Commission, like Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment, and, as the memo, says, “tear them apart”. The informant providing this information to the Bureau was Eddie Barker, a local Dallas CBS correspondent who would appear on the CBS program. Barker, quite naturally, requested anonymity. But he added that the documentary would not be critical of the FBI and would support the Warren Report. Barker understood that the executives at CBS had already been in contact with members of the Warren Commission. He specifically mentioned Warren Commissioners John McCloy, Allen Dulles, and former Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin. It was his opinion that they would cooperate with the production, which had not actually begun yet. One would think all this would be an interesting question for members of the so-called New Media like Rachel Maddow, or Josh Marshall, to address. But as we shall see, they did not.

Media specials and articles in places like Politico have also recently recast the spotlight on Oswald’s alleged visit to Mexico City. Ever since 1964, there have been serious issues with the way the Warren Report treated this supposed trip. One problem is that the CIA, which had covert multi-camera photo surveillance on both the Cuban and Russian embassies Oswald visited, could not produce a single photo of alleged assassin Oswald entering or exiting either building—even though he made a total of five combined visits to both places. That would mean the Agency should have ten pictures of Oswald in Mexico City. But as early as November 23, 1963, the CIA reported that it could find no picture of Oswald entering either place.

Noteworthy in this regard is the original rough draft of Warren Commission lawyer David Slawson's report on the Warren Commission visit to Mexico City, which has also been re-released (it was previously released with restrictions in the 90s). Present in this version is a description of the meeting that Slawson, William Coleman and Howard Willens had with station chief Winston Scott. They inquired if Scott had a photo of Oswald at either the Russian or Cuban embassy. Scott replied in the negative. He said this was due to lack of manpower, funding and proper lighting supplements (see both the previous and current releases at pp. 25-26). There is no way to characterize that reply as less than a deception. From the declassified Lopez Report, however, we know that the CIA had full-time coverage of both embassies during operating hours, and that Oswald did not enter either embassy at night (see Oswald, The CIA and Mexico City: The Lopez-Hardway Report [Mary Ferrell Foundation, 2003], esp. pp. 12-46). This information tends to bring Scott into the web of the cover-up about Mexico City, the CIA and Oswald.

David Phillips
Anne Goodpasture

The two documents referred to earlier deepen this mystery. On November 23, 1963, CIA officer Richard Helms forwarded the above-mentioned memo to the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. In it Helms wrote that voice comparisons made of phone intercepts at the Russian Embassy in late September and early October indicated that these conversations are “probably the person who identified himself as Lee Oswald on 1 October 1963.” There are two serious problems with this statement by Helms. First, the CIA officer in Mexico City, David Phillips, would later tell the HSCA that no voice comparisons were made, since the tapes had routinely been destroyed within seven or eight days of their origination. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 354) This is, in fact, what the first cable [MEXI 7023, 11/23/63, para 2] from Anne Goodpasture suggested, at least for the 9/28 recording. Goodpasture then followed this with another cable [MEXI 7025, 11/23/63, para 4] suggesting that it was the translator (Boris Tarasoff) of the two calls who connected the two speakers, i.e., that he “recognized” the 10/1 caller to be the same as the 9/28 one. Tarasoff, however, testified to the HSCA that he did no voice comparisons per se (see further Oswald, The CIA and Mexico City, pp. 164-167).

Boris Tarasoff

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the FBI had already discovered on the day they got the Helms memo that the voice on the tape was not the same as that of the man held in custody in Dallas. In fact, Hoover had already memorialized that fact in a memorandum, and also in a phone call with President Lyndon Johnson. (Destiny Betrayed, p. 357) So where did Helms get his information from? And what was it based on? And why in heaven’s name is the MSM reporting that it was Oswald in communication with the Russian embassy, when the FBI determined that the voice on the tapes was not him? But further, the other document shows us that the CIA informants inside the Cuban embassy had told the Agency they had no knowledge of a visit by Oswald at any time. These kinds of evidentiary problems have led some to believe, with justifiable cause, that Oswald was impersonated, both at the consulates and on the phone, in Mexico City. But if the public is not informed of the facts in these documents then they cannot even begin to comprehend that thesis.

Nikita Khrushchev with JFK
Washington correspondent
Drew Pearson

Or the following fact: the CIA knew that Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev did not believe the official story about Oswald and, in fact, was quite dismissive about it in discussions with Washington reporter Drew Pearson. Pearson and his wife had met Khrushchev and his wife in late May, 1964, while on vacation in Cairo. Pearson met with the CIA station chief there afterwards and told him about their conversations on the subject and how Khrushchev did not believe American security forces could be so inept. Pearson added that he could make no headway at all trying to change the Russian couple’s understanding. The Russian leader thought a right-wing coup had taken place. Apparently, Khrushchev felt this way from the start, since there is the previous report from December 6, 1963, that the KGB was trying to tell President Johnson, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Attorney General Robert Kennedy that no stone should be left unturned in their inquiry into Kennedy’s assassination. This report joins others on Charles DeGaulle, Fidel Castro, and Achmed Sukarno, adding to the list of world leaders who did not believe the lone gunman solution to the assassination.

DeGaulle, Sukarno and Castro all questioned the lone gunman explanation

Let us step back now a moment to review how we have arrived at our present state of knowledge. In 1998 the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) closed its doors after four years. It had been created due to the uproar over Oliver Stone’s film JFK. At the end of that film, it was revealed that the files of the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA)—the last inquiry into Kennedy’s death—were classified until 2029. Few people knew about this massive classification, or that the HSCA had concluded that Kennedy was killed as a result of a probable conspiracy. Assaulted by thousands of phone calls and telegrams due to their exposure to these facts, Congress created the ARRB to begin to declassify two million pages of Kennedy assassination related documents.

John Tunheim and members of the ARRB meet with President Clinton


It is clear today that the Board had neither the lifespan nor funding to properly complete its assignment. That assignment was not only to declassify all federal files, but also to search other repositories and seek out hidden pieces of evidence that could elucidate the circumstances of Kennedy’s murder. For the last three weeks—actually longer—we have been watching the leftover residue of their work, which results from the fact that the enabling legislation for the Board said there should be nothing still withheld 25 years after the law was passed in 1992. This clause in the legislation is what this furious debate has been all about.

The MSM did an unsatisfactory job in covering the four-year life of the Board. There were some rather sensational discoveries unearthed by that body. Some authorities would state that this new information altered the calculus of the Kennedy case. But the public never heard of it because the MSM either did not know about it, or they did know about it and failed to make it public. (See “The State of the JFK Case 50 Years Out”)

That poor prior performance has been repeated for the last three weeks. It spiraled upward into a paroxysm of chattering nabobs on Thursday, October 26th. The congressional legislation that gave birth to the Board allowed them to, at their close, grant what they called “postponements” to certain documents: that is, a document’s release would be delayed for say two years or ten years. The most sensitive documents would be given the longest postponement, which would be 25 years past the signing of the legislation, i.e., October 26, 2017. The most commonly based exemptions were if a document endangered an agent’s identity, or if it could cause the exposure of an ongoing operation. The usual numbers given for such 20-year postponements are 3,571 documents withheld in full, and approximately 32,900 still redacted in part. This past July, Martha Murphy, who is running the release project at the National Archives, declassified 441 documents in full. On October 26, contrary to what was commonly passed off in the media, there were only 52 of those documents released to the public. In the two releases since, there have been very few added to that sum. As of today, there are still over 2,700 JFK classified documents that the public has never seen!

Rex Bradford

These numbers come from Rex Bradford at the Mary Ferrell Foundation, and Gary Majewski, who has been a consultant on this project at the kennedysandking.com website. They have been confirmed by Jim Lesar, a Washington Freedom of Information Act attorney. One reason that the public was so misinformed is that none of the TV hosts consulted with Lesar or Bradford, who know much more about the subject than anyone the MSM used as authorities. In other words, only 52 of the “withheld in full” documents were declassified on Thursday, October 26th; and only 2,800 of the over 28,600 documents “released with deletions” were re-released on that day. What this means is, that amid all of the media hoopla, about 2% of the former, and less than 10% of the latter were finally released. And here we are, 54 years after Kennedy was killed. Twenty years after the Board closed down. In retrospect, what President Trump did was probably about the worst thing he could have done. Because if he had followed the law, it is very likely that everything would have been declassified on that day.

Jim Lesar

What makes that failure even more important is another aspect of that Thursday release. Shockingly, several of the 52 withheld in full documents still contained redactions! For instance, a 1975 CIA document describes an Agency training camp set up outside of New Orleans in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion. In scanning over the document, I have discovered there are easily 25 deletions still in it. The reason the document may be important is that Oswald’s New Orleans friend David Ferrie was one of the trainers at this base, and CIA officer David Phillips—a suspect in the JFK murder—was in charge of sterilizing it after the invasion. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, pp. 30-31)

But on top of that, many of the released documents are not just redacted; they contain many pages that are completely blank. And the CIA is getting very good at doing this. Now they do not even black out, or white out pages. It looks like they just photocopy a blank page over and over, or cover the entire document page with a blank sheet, so one cannot decipher anything. For example, one CIA document on Jim Garrison is supposed to be 11 pages long. Yet 8 of those pages are blanked out completely.

In addition to that lengthy redaction, there is a fascinating memo from the internal email messages of the ARRB about even more extensive concealment. In a message dated November 14, 1996, the Board is describing its approach to the CIA about documents concerning Clay Shaw and the New Orleans CIA station. In its final paragraph, it is revealed that the Board intended to ask for information about the destruction of Shaw's 201 file. If this is accurate, then it is something that no one has ever revealed before. The closest anyone has come to it is the discovery in Bill Davy's book Let Justice be Done that a certain “Y file” of Shaw's had also been destroyed (p. 200). If both statements are true, and both of these refer to separate files, then they lend credence to what Gordon Novel wrote to researcher Mary Ferrell in a letter during the House Select Committee proceedings in 1977. He stated that during the Warren Commission hearings, the CIA had deliberately concealed Shaw's true status with the Agency. Novel would appear to be a good source since he was hired by Allen Dulles to infiltrate Garrison's office (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, pp. 232-33).

Beyond the outright concealment of pages or destruction of files, there are documents that the National Archives admits are simply illegible. But they declassify them anyway. Calling them illegible does not do justice to how bad they really are (see this example). Even if one scanned them using OCR software, that would not improve readability, since there is so little to recognize in them.

Another way the law is being circumvented is that in some of these releases the cover sheet describes a report, giving the reader the originating agency, the author and the subject, and listing a page count. But it does not then include the report itself! This has been done several times (see, for example, this CIA file).

Earle Cabell, CIA asset
and mayor of Dallas on 11/22/63
Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko

There is still another category of documents that has not been discussed by the MSM. This category was labeled by the Board as “NBR”, Not Believed Relevant. It is fairly clear today that this rubric was abused. For instance, one of the most fascinating July releases was on Earle Cabell, the mayor of Dallas in 1963. It was revealed that he was a CIA asset at the time of the assassination. According to former intelligence analyst John Newman, that document was previously classified as NBR. How anyone could deem such information irrelevant is unfathomable. Lesar told this author that files on Yuri Nosenko were also deemed irrelevant. Nosenko was the Soviet defector who arrived in America in 1964 and said that the KGB had never recruited Oswald while he was in the USSR for approximately three years. CIA officer James Angleton then more or less had him imprisoned and tortured for nearly 36 months to try and make him admit he was sent over to mislead the CIA about Oswald. Author Edward Epstein, an Angleton idolater, wrote a book—Legend—endorsing Angleton over Nosenko and portraying Oswald as a communist spy. Again, it is extremely puzzling to think Nosenko documents would be labeled as irrelevant. Luckily, Murphy declassified many of the Nosenko documents and the Cabell document. But, according to Lesar, there are tens of thousands of these NBR documents that the Review Board allowed to be deferred. They must be located and declassified.

In its vapid coverage of the JFK releases, the MSM largely ignored things that were new and important, and focused, as we have already mentioned, on papers which had been released before in whole or in part. Two of the worst examples of this kind of presentation were by representatives of the so-called New Media, i.e., cable television and online journalism.

Rachel Maddow
Tom Pettit

Rachel Maddow reran a segment that had been filmed back in 1993 featuring deceased newsman Tom Pettit. Pettit visited the National Archives on the first day of the ARRB declassification. He apparently did not understand the difference between documents that were declassified and ones that were already among the exhibits of the Warren Commission, that flawed 1964 investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination, because he pointed to documents in the latter as if they had been newly declassified that day. (See this full report on that segment)

Nicholas Katzenbach

On October 27th, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo discussed an 11/24/63 memorandum written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (alluded to above) in which he stated that he was concerned that something must be issued in order to convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin. That document is a forerunner to the famous and long ago declassified document which would be typed the next day by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who Hoover had talked to the night of the 24th, after Oswald had been shot. Marshall then said that this did not necessarily indicate that Hoover had any doubts about the case and that it was not incriminating of his investigation.

Josh Marshall

Apparently, Marshall was unaware of one of the keystones of the JFK case, namely the Single Bullet Theory, aka the Magic Bullet. Hoover never bought into that dictum. Which is why the original FBI report on the JFK case was not included in the Warren Commission volumes. The Warren Commission’s shooting scenario maintains that one shot, aimed at his skull, killed Kennedy; a second shot went through both Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally, making seven wounds, and smashing two bones in the two men; and one shot missed the limousine by 200 feet, hitting the curb on a different street, and dislodging the concrete upwards, cutting the face of bystander James Tague. Hoover rejected this and said all three shots hit both men in the car. How did he manage to bypass the shot that ricocheted upward and hit Tague? He quite literally erased it. He had it carved out, pasted over and shipped back to Washington. (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 252) In other words, Hoover tried to make his verdict stick by altering the evidence. A rather important point which Marshall either is unaware of, or does not want his readers to know about.

The two men who know the state of these documents best, Bradford and Lesar, were nowhere to be seen on the domestic MSM. (Although Bradford did get on abroad.) Instead, we had people like Gerald Posner, Larry Sabato, and Philip Shenon, who conveyed none of the important information that would have explained what was really happening, or what was in the new documents.

Media darlings Gerald Posner, Larry Sabato & Philip Shenon

But there is an even larger story here about the pernicious effects of secrecy and how it has worked in the JFK case. And it’s one that no one has written about. Ramon Herrera is a computer information technology expert with a strong interest in the JFK case. He decided to clone the entire records database of the online JFK collection at the National Archives. He used some revolutionary “scraping” software he developed together with a friend from abroad. The process lasted a week and he repeated it four times, then wrote programs to compare the results, record number by record number, to make sure they were identical. With this exact copy in hand, he then extended the capability which NARA provides by making the field “Current Status” searchable. That allowed him to count the number of records for each of the three categories: “Postponed in Full”, “Released with Deletions” and “Open”. Herrera came up with a remarkable discovery. His number of records classified “Postponed in Full” is over three times as large as the official number: 9,718. One reassuring aspect of his work is that his number of “Released with Deletions” documents is very close to NARA’s. This would seem to indicate that either the Archives records on the JFK case are wrong, or Martha Murphy has not updated her database to insure a proper count of what has been released and what is being withheld.

What all of this reveals is that the ARRB process was, in large part, subverted. The Review Board did some good and valuable work. But as Lesar told this writer, Congress wanted to get rid of the public pressure, but they also wanted to do it fast and cheap. But when one is dealing with a subject that strikes at the heart of the national security state—as the JFK case does—there is no fast and cheap way to approach it. For the simple reason that the executive intelligence agencies understand the technique of waiting an opposing agency out; that is, the CIA knew it was going to be with us long after the Board left. In fact, British researcher Malcolm Blunt found an Agency internal document which contained words to that effect. Written in late 1995, the author wrote that the Agency considered the Board not so much a releasing agency—but as one setting dates for future review: in other words, as a review and postpone apparatus. In many ways, that seems to have been the case, so the Agency packed in as many postponed documents as they could. It also appears that with what President Trump did on October 26th, there will be a lot of court hearings for Jim Lesar to attend to clean up the mess that Trump and the media made of this momentous occasion.

But as Lesar informed me, there might even be instances that he cannot salvage. While trying a case directly related to the ARRB process, the attorney was advised to visit a sitting general. The general told him that after the Board disbanded, there were a lot of burning parties going on in Washington. That is how deep the secrets of the JFK case go in the capital. Which is why the MSM has never been able to deal with the subject.

Last modified on Sunday, 26 November 2017 19:09
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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