Top 4 Revelations From the New JFK Files

News & Politics

The release of the last of the U.S. government's long-secret JFK assassination files by the National Archives has drawn the attention of news organizations nationwide responding to enduring interest in Kennedy's murder—the most shocking event in American history after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and before the attacks of September 11.

The official story, recounted in the Warren Commission report of 1964, was that a lone gunman killed President John F. Kennedy for reasons known only to himself, a conclusion that has never found support among a majority of Americans, and for good reason.

The government concealed evidence and official misconduct after JFK was killed. The CIA did not disclose to the Warren Commission that its agents were seeking to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the time, nor that the agency's counterintelligence staff had monitored the movements, contacts and political activities of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald for four years before JFK's murder. FBI agents destroyed a key piece of evidence; a home movie of the assassination was suppressed for 12 years.

Over the years, the Dallas tragedy and its confusing investigatory aftermath have generated thousands of conspiracy theories. Many of them are quite absurd, like the one espoused by Donald Trump. A few are quite plausible, like the scenario presented in James Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable.

The new records, whose release is mandated by the 1992 JFK Records Act, do not solve the crime. There is no "smoking gun." But they do clarify the role of the CIA in the events leading to JFK's death and the coverup that followed. And more JFK records will be released in the next six weeks. 

Four Revelations

1. WhoWhatWhy reported on documents showing that Earle Cabell, the mayor of Dallas at the time of JFK’s assassination, was a CIA asset in the 1950s. His brother, Charles Cabell, was a high-ranking CIA official until 1962.

While the documents don’t show that Earle or Charles Cabell had any connection to JFK’s assassination, they do illuminate that the CIA’s extraordinary penetration of domestic American institutions extended to the city where JFK was killed. If anyone had said over the past 50 years that the mayor of Dallas in 1963 was a CIA asset, they would been derided as a conspiracy theorist. Now we know for a fact that he was. (A few hours after the assassination, Cabell talked about his reaction in this video.)

2. Ian Shapira of the Washington Post plumbed the new records to recount the secret interrogation of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB intelligence officer who defected to the United States in 1964. Nosenko was detained without charges for four years in what would now be called a CIA black site.

The Nosenko affair (celebrated by HBO) was a key chapter in the CIA’s reaction to JFK’s assassination. James Angleton, the powerful chief of counterintelligence, suspected Nosenko had been dispatched by the KGB to conceal the Soviet Union's ties to Oswald and the assassination. The interrogation of the "foul traitor” Nosenko failed to confirm Angleton’s conspiracy theory, according to the Post.

3. Writing for Politico, professor Larry Sabato and journalist Philip Shenon reported that one new CIA file showed that in the mid-1970s, one of Angleton’s top lieutenants came to doubt the Warren Commission's finding that JFK was killed by Oswald, alone and unaided. Sabato and Shenon argue that the JFK investigation was “botched” and that the possibility of Cuban government involvement was ignored.

4. On AlterNet, I quoted extensively from the same records to argue that the JFK investigation was not so much botched as "controlled" by top CIA officials, including Angleton. The CIA made at least four false statements to investigators. The effect of these statements was to conceal what top CIA officers, including Angleton, knew of Oswald while JFK was still alive.

What Does It Mean?

Collectively, the new JFK files pour more cold water on the “KGB did it” conspiracy theory, while encouraging questions about the “Castro done it" theory. Mostly, the new files illuminate how the CIA resisted investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald after JFK was killed, and why the public, and CIA officials themselves, came to reject the official theory of a lone gunman.

Officials of the National Archives tell AlterNet they will release thousands of pages of additional secret JFK records before October 26. Altogether some 113,000 pages of records are supposed to be released, although some could continue to be withheld if President Trump gives his approval.

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