Pending a successful appeal by agencies like the CIA and the FBI, the federal government is set to release thousands of previously undisclosed documents related to the 1963 assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy on Thursday.
The long-anticipated December 15 deadline represents welcome news for thousands of conspiracy theorists and students of history who still harbor doubts about what forces were behind the shocking death of the nation’s youngest president nearly 60 years ago.
To this day, inconsistencies in the government’s accounting of the story—as well as evidence federal agencies apparently misled members of Congress at the height of questions about Kennedy’s death—have created an environment where a poll released just this month showed approximately half the country believing there was a larger conspiracy involved in the president’s murder, rather than the official narrative of a lone gunman.
While Thursday’s document dump may not contain a “smoking gun” pulling the curtain off of some of the more unsubstantiated mainstream theories in the ether—a secret mob plot to kill the president, a murder carried out on orders of his Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson or the Pentagon to stall the U.S. pullout from Vietnam—some of the closest followers of the lore surrounding the Kennedy assassination believe the latest round of documents will help resolve several lingering questions about those responsible for his death.
Officially, there are a few things we already know. According to the 1964 Warren Commission report—the government’s official recanting of the day’s events—Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after a series of shots were fired from the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository. Oswald was later killed by Jack Ruby, a mob-connected business owner, though there was no evidence Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign.
In 1975, the Rockefeller Commission found “no credible evidence of any CIA involvement” in Kennedy’s death, while an additional investigation four years later by the House Select Committee on Assassinations largely supported the Warren Commission but professed belief in the “high probability that two gunmen fired at President Kennedy.”
Still, there’s a lot that isn’t known—information that could challenge the official narrative of Kennedy’s death. Though hundreds of documents relevant to the case have been destroyed, some believe there could be material contextualizing the period in which Oswald—a self-professed Marxist—traveled in 1959 to the Soviet Union where he lived for several years.
He also visited the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico City two months before Kennedy was shot, though it is still unclear what he was doing there.
Some believe Thursday’s document dump could shed light on Oswald’s potential motivations for committing the murder—and whether official accounts of the killing were truly accurate.
Earlier this year, Jefferson Morley, a leading expert on the Kennedy assassination, told Newsweek and other media outlets he believed there was evidence the CIA not only knew of Oswald prior to the shooting but that Oswald had actually been involved in an official operation by the CIA, suggesting the agency’s former director misled members of Congress in a 1975 hearing on the case.
A smaller trove of roughly 1,500 documents released last December also included memos detailing a number of anonymous phone calls a year before the shooting to officials stationed in Australia detailing a secret Soviet plot to kill the president, though government officials at the time determined there was nothing to it.
Other documents included details of Oswald’s ties to Communist regimes in Cuba and the Soviet Union, including a meeting between Oswald and a KGB agent at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City two months before the shooting—roughly around the time Oswald was allegedly involved in a previously undisclosed operation led by the CIA.
Was there a coverup of a secret plot to kill the president? The most credible experts say no. However, there is the potential to learn more about what the CIA and others actually knew about Oswald prior to the killing.
“Why would they want to hide that? Because it’s embarrassing,” Larry Schnapf, a professor of law at New York Law School who has led lawsuits into the JFK documents, told Newsweek earlier this month. “But embarrassment is specifically a term the JFK Records Act provides for. It says that embarrassment is not grounds for postponement.”
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