Nov. 22, 1963 was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in his presidential motorcade driving down Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
Almost 30 years after the fact, George H.W. Bush signed the President JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 which directed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to keep and store every record and document relating to the assassination. This Act ultimately required that every one of these documents be declassified and released to the public 25 years after the fact.
On Oct. 26, 2017 the files were set to be released. Despite having time to sift through the documents and redact necessary information, the National Archives, in conjunction with U.S. governmental intelligence agencies and President Donald Trump, released most—though not all—of the files.
This delayed release has sparked controversy due to two sets of broken laws. The first is the JFK Records Act of 1992 mentioned above, and the second being the Presidential Records Act of 1978 which altered the legal ownership of official records of presidents from private to public.
West Chester University History Professor Anne Krulikowski said, “The United States Congress passed a law that stated all presidential papers belong to the American people. While certainly there are times when the government is not able to tell us certain things for the sake of national security matters and because certain information could jeopardize the safety of certain individuals and/or current policy, the fact is these documents do belong to the American people and at some point they need to be released, not held back.”
These files discuss several topics such as USSR suspicions that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the assassination, as well as talk of Cuban and spy involvement. Most notably, however, is that Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassin Jack Ruby traveled to Cuba together to “cut sugar cane” and were reportedly overheard discussing “Big Bird.”
This discussion fueled questions and conspiracy theories because Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife was known as “Lady Bird.” Additionally, the CIA was warned of a Soviet plot to assassinate Kennedy in 1962, which they dismissed.
Another revelation in these files is the CIA plot “Operation Mongoose” in which the CIA planned on detonating bombs in various locations around Miami and pinning the act on Fidel Castro. Along with this, they intended on sinking a boat full of Cuban refugees as well as assassinating exiled Cuban leaders. The general purpose of the plot was to turn world opinion against Castro.
After questions about the remaining files lingered, President Trump tweeted, “After strict consultation with general Kelly, the CIA and other Agencies, I will be releasing ALL JFK files other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living. I am doing this for reasons of full transparency and in order to put any and all conspiracy theories to rest.”
The U.S. President is the only entity capable of blocking the release of these files. However, Trump decided that files are to be released in full on April 26, 2018 unless an argument made by any entity can be brought to the U.S. Archivist by March 26, 2018 indicating sufficient reason to prevent the release.
More releases were made on Nov. 3, 9 and 17, in which a total of around 24,000 more documents became available, some with many redactions. Once these documents are properly sifted through, historians hope it will be clear what took place on that day in Dallas, Texas and answer all questions the public has raised over the decades about the assassination.
Alexander Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at AS823512@wcupa.edu.