By Dr. James Kelleher
And the documents just keep on coming as the National Archives in College Park, Maryland released another 10,744 documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 2017.
Since July 24, 2017 the National Archives has released a total of 31,344 documents including those released on November 17.
Have we learned anything new about Kennedy’s murder since the classified documents tidal wave release began?
The simple answer is not much.
Some of the released documents support the observation made by a number of scholars, historians, and researchers over the years that the government engaged in a series of national security and bureaucratic cover-ups.
One recently released document, a memorandum written by J. Edgar Hoover only two days after Kennedy’s death, clearly expressed the FBI Director’s view of the investigation that it was necessary to “convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
As Hoover wrote this memo, the investigation was barely underway, and Oswald had just been murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Hoover’s memo echoed the sentiment expressed in another memorandum issued by the acting Attorney General Nicolas Katzenbach, which would later be referred to as the “Katzenbach memo,” advising that the public must be assured that Oswald was the lone participant in the assassination.
It left those studying the assassination with the unanswered question of why the government was so focused on convincing the public that Oswald acted alone when the investigation was only days old.
Hoover’s memo supported what some researchers had already concluded; the FBI Director was in a rush to close the investigation with the conclusion that Oswald was the only participant in the murder of President Kennedy.
Professor G. Robert Blakey, Head Counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations and Notre Dame law professor, believes that the document release is being over hyped by the national media.
During a phone call with Blakey on November 19, he said that President Trump was totally unprepared for the document release and as a result had to delay the release of other restricted documents for six months.
Blakey’s position was that President Trump had violated the mandate of the President John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act of 1992 by failing to release all the documents by October 17, 2017.
Blakey further criticized the document release because some documents are still redacted.
I have reviewed several hundred documents, admittedly a drop in the bucket, and encountered documents that are redacted, impossible to read, and in a couple of instances contained nothing more than a file note stating that the original “document has been destroyed.”
I also found a significant number of documents that left me questioning why the documents were included in a records release dealing with the assassination of President Kennedy and why it was necessary to have kept them secret for so many years.
Some of the documents appear to be totally unrelated to the assassination and deal with matters such as medical care reimbursements for Cuban exiles working with the CIA.
Such documents offer little more value than that of wasting the researcher’s time.
However, it does happen every now and then that one comes across a document that makes one sit up and take notice.
Although one story dealing with Jack Ruby made its way into the public’s view a few years ago, thanks to political scientist Larry Sabato, confirmation of it appeared in the form of a document turned over to the FBI in 1977.
An informant for the IRS, Bob Vanderslice, related that on the morning of the assassination Jack Ruby had called him and asked if he would “like to watch the fireworks” in Dealey Plaza.
Later that morning, according to Vanderslice, he and Ruby were standing near the Dallas Postal Annex on the corner that faced the Texas School Book Depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the fatal shots at President Kennedy.
After the shooting, both men left with Ruby going to the offices of the Dallas Morning News.
If true, Vanderslice’s story raised the question of whether Ruby knew about the assassination in advance and if the role he played in it was limited to the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963.
During a November 20, 2017 phone call, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a longtime critic of the Warren Commission and a member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations Forensic Pathology Panel, told me that he found the document release to be “disappointing.”
Wecht wondered if President Trump had cut a deal with the CIA to keep important documents out of the public view.
He argued that the fact that documents were being withheld for fifty-four years after Kennedy’s murder due to national security concerns was absolutely absurd.
Dr. Wecht stated that the American people were told by the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone and that the Soviet and Cuban governments were not involved in the assassination.
If the Warren Commission’s findings were accurate, Wecht wanted to know why national security concerns were being raised at this point in time.
He suggested that it was possible that the CIA was withholding documents most likely because there was a connection between the agency and Lee Harvey Oswald.
The document release has all the hallmarks of an event that will only raise more questions than it answers.
It will not compensate for the failure of the Warren Commission to follow up on many uninvestigated leads right after the assassination.
It has to be kept in that mind that the Warren Commission, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, did not call its first witness until February 3, 1964.
The delay was a major loss of valuable time.
In addition, the document release will not resolve the problems raised by the botched autopsy performed on President Kennedy at Bethesda Naval Hospital that has fueled so much controversy over the years.
Nor is it likely to enlighten the public on what happened to the president’s brain and the tissue slides of his wounds that disappeared from the National Archives years ago.
It will not restore the documents that were destroyed by the Secret Service, the FBI, Army Intelligence, and possibly the Central Intelligence Agency.
The task of examining over 33,000 documents with the prospects of more to come will likely take a few years.
Researchers will have to sift through the bits and pieces of data the documents contain.
If patterns in the data are discovered, along with new information, researchers will have to determine what it all means.
Many of the documents released come from the CIA.
As Professor Blakey warned me, the files were written by the CIA.
He said that if you expect to find a smoking gun, you must be aware that the agency authored the files with history in mind and the need to protect the reputation of the CIA.
What I have seen so far only confirms the national security and bureaucratic cover-ups that researchers already knew about before the document release began.
It will take a while before we know what the document release in total will teach us and how that information differs from what we already know.
Dr. James Kelleher is an associate professor of Political Science and the author of “He Was Expendable: National Security, Political and Bureaucratic Cover-Ups in the Murder of President John F. Kennedy.”
He is also a member of Citizens Against Political Assassinations.