The Newly Released JFK Assassination Files

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Files confirm that the FBI and CIA concealed and withheld important information from the Warren Commission. Harry Melkonian
Harry Melkonian

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In terms of who shot the President, the newly released files do not alter the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman. But, that is not to dismiss the importance of these documents because the documents do indeed prove a conspiracy. The files confirm that the FBI and CIA concealed and withheld important information from the Warren Commission charged with investigating the assassination.

On 3 November 2017, President Trump released thousands of records from the National Archives relating to the Kennedy Assassination – more will be released in April 2018. Is there anything more to be learned or is this just more fodder for conspiracy theorists? The answer is that while there is no ‘smoking gun’ per se, the documents reveal a great deal of detail about Lee Harvey Oswald’s contacts with Soviets and Cubans in Mexico City shortly before the assassination; how closely he was watched by both the CIA and FBI; and how both of these agencies failed to alert the Secret Service or the Dallas Police about Oswald.

Oswald was a major focus of the US intelligence forces, yet they seemed to lose interest in him when the President came to Dallas. The new documents are profoundly embarrassing to both the CIA and the FBI. And, perhaps the public suspicion of a cover-up has stoked the conspiracy theories from day one. But, the conspiracy was not about who shot the President but about the incredible ineptitude of the government to prevent the assassination.

Nothing alters the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. But, it is also clear that the CIA and FBI lied to the Warren Commission. And, the death of Oswald remains extremely convenient for all concerned. When it comes to keeping Oswald quiet, it seems everyone had a motive: the FBI, the CIA, Fidel Castro, the KGB, and, Organised Crime. The documents do not add to our limited understanding of Oswald’s murder at the hands of Jack Ruby.

Had these documents been made available in the aftermath of the assassination, the American public would have been appalled and disgusted. The documents show that Lee Harvey Oswald was a man of intense interest to both FBI and CIA and that Oswald had been watched and followed as a matter of high priority. Yet, when the President came to Dallas, no effort was made to see what Oswald – who had just returned from Mexico City – was up to. The FBI never even asked the CIA or Dallas Police to keep an eye on Oswald. Yet, it is established policy to notify local law enforcement of any unusual people who should be monitored during Presidential visits. Since Oswald had recently threatened to blow-up the Dallas FBI office, he should have been seen as a threat.

The new documents focus on Oswald’s bizarre trip to Mexico City where he was in contact with both the Russian and Cuban embassies – all the while being wiretapped by the FBI. Oswald was becoming increasingly desperate in his desire to go to Cuba. At the same time, the CIA was engaged in all manner of unlawful hare-brained schemes to kill Fidel Castro and was even running paramilitary camps near New Orleans. While Oswald was not involved in the paramilitary training, he certainly associated with some of the characters who were involved.

Oswald’s association with CIA operatives attracted the attention of New Orleans District Attorney Garrison who was puzzled why the federal authorities showed no interest in the New Orleans connection. When Garrison initiated his own rather poorly-handled investigation, the federal government rather effectively frustrated Garrison and brought him to public ridicule.

Was there a conspiracy? Reading some of these documents convinces me that there most surely was. But, the conspiracy was born in the aftermath of the assassination. The negligence and ineptitude of the CIA and FBI was so profound that had it been made public, people would have reasonably come to the conclusion that the CIA was the force behind the assassination.

The unintended result of the government lies was the hatching of interminable conspiracy theories. These sometimes-fanciful notions were stoked by the rather obvious gaps in the evidentiary record. While New Orleans did not play a part in the actual assassination, the government’s conduct in concealing and obfuscating led Garrison and others to believe that the anti-Castro movement was somehow involved. In short, the government’s imperfect attempt to conceal evidence of its own unlawful activities in Cuba and its incompetency regarding Oswald resulted in bits and pieces of seemingly inexplicable information. It was these bits and pieces that nourished the conspiracists.

First published . Last updated 19/10/2018. Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Newcastle and its employees.

About Harry Melkonian

Harry Melkonian is a freelance writer, educator, commentator and lawyer with a focus on US politics. He has conducted short courses on US politics in Sydney on topics ranging from current elections to historical issues including well-known events such as the Kennedy Assassination and Nixon and Watergate to less well-known American history such as When No One Was Elected – the Presidency and Vice Presidency 1974-1976. He has periodically appeared on the ABC and SBS as a commentator for Australian elections. Harry was previously a partner at the law firm White & Case in the US, and is licensed to practice law in the jurisdictions of New York, California, England and New South Wales. He is now an Honorary Associate at Macquarie Law School, specialising in US constitutional issues as well as media and defamation law.