John Lee is the political editor and columnist at the Mail on Sunday (Ireland edition). He has covered Irish, British, US, European and Australian politics for over 20 years for a number of titles, including the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph (Australia).
Top secret files are due to be declassified this month in a move that could bring closure to one of the most traumatic events in US history – the assassination of President John F Kennedy.
A law was signed by former President George H.W. Bush in 1992 mandating the release of all documents related to Kennedy’s assassination within 25 years. Under the JFK Records Act of 1992, the National Archives has until 26 October of this year to disclose the remaining files relating to the assassination, unless President Trump determines that doing so would be harmful to national security. There are about 3,100 files still sealed by the National Archives.
Most right-thinking people would like to see the files released, to put an end to the constant speculation about the death of one of history’s most iconic politicians.
There is a smaller group, who enjoy vast, outlandish, unproven mysteries that would like to see the files remain locked up. This would allow the morbid supposition to continue.
Was there a conspiracy to kill the US President in 1963? No verifiable proof has been produced to contradict the official version of what happened on 22 November 1963, that lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, who was in an open top limousine, from a window of the Dallas Book Depository building. Oswald was a US Marines trained marksman, but still, it was some deadly shooting with a $21 mail-order rifle.
On 24 November, live on TV, police led Oswald through the basement of the Dallas Police Station. A large man with a fedora steps forward and shoots a single bullet into Oswald, and we hear the dying man shout in pain.
Of course, it is possible Jack Ruby was a madman who was overtaken by patriotic vengefulness. The fact that Ruby, a nightclub owner, had mob connections and police contacts shot an assassin so publicly immediately raised incredulity.
The Warren Commission was set up in the wake of the Dallas events by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate. Wanting to quickly calm a nation that was entering a period of unprecedented upheaval the commission promptly decided to ratify the lone gunman theory.
However, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in 1978 concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The findings of both investigations have been contested.
It would require a vast conspiracy to cover-up the involvement of other parties.
The Kennedys were at the center of a web of bizarre and extra-legal alliances in the early sixties. The Cold War was in its fifteenth year by the time John Kennedy was elected President in 1960. Morbid fear of imminent nuclear war and congressional star chambers driven by the alcoholic Joe McCarthy (a close family friend of the Kennedys) had pushed the US establishment to a deep paranoia.
John Kennedy was the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the high office, and he ran his administration like any good Irish boy should – it was a family business. Brother Bobby was installed at the Justice Department. The two glamorous Democratic poster boys were, in fact, hardnosed Cold War warriors and rabid anti-Communists. Communist leader Fidel Castro had, in 1959, installed his regime in Cuba, 90 miles off Florida and the Kennedys immediately set about removing him, by any means necessary.
The plotting began with the Dwight Eisenhower government almost immediately after the 1959 revolution. In 1961, Cuban exiles, with the backing of Kennedy and the US government, tried to overthrow Castro in the Bay of Pigs debacle. The plan was to assassinate Fidel and Raúl Castro along with Che Guevara. On the day President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, an agent was sent on a mission to kill Castro.
Yet the plotting against Castro was carried out under four US presidents, and only Kennedy was murdered.
Previously released CIA files show the Agency was, incredibly, in league with the Mafia in plotting some of the 600 attempts on Castro’s life.
One file even indicates Robert Kennedy saying he was “angry” when he found out. But he didn’t call a halt to this unholy alliance.
Sam ‘Momo’ Giancana, who was later shot dead, was one of those gangsters involved in the Cuba plots. There were alleged connections between the Kennedy brothers’ father Joseph P Kennedy and mobsters including the notorious psychopath Giancana. Giancana also sharing mistress, Judith Exner, with JFK. Giancana and JFK shared a friendship with the legendary singer Frank Sinatra. I could go on, but I am already digressing significantly.
And that is the point, when you start on the Kennedys and all the dark enemies and glamorous friends and work through in the long, ghastly history of the CIA’s foreign conspiracies you will never get to an end. It is an endlessly fascinating cocktail of sex, death, politics, show business and Cold War espionage. Such narratives sold books and movies.
Yet another question that has been asked by historians is was there a cover-up?
And some things have emerged over the last couple of years that are extraordinary.
These facts are verifiable, and they heighten the anticipation of the potential 26 October file declassification. The usually secretive Central Intelligence Agency has, incredibly, conceded that there is a problem.
In 2013, the CIA’s in-house historian concluded that the spy agency had conducted a cover-up during the Warren Commission’s investigation in 1963 and 1964. The CIA hoped to keep the commission focused on “what the Agency believed was the ‘best truth’ — that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing John Kennedy.”
The secret report was written in 2013 and quietly declassified in 2014. The spy agency’s historian acknowledges what others were already convinced of: that the former CIA Director John McCone and other senior CIA officials were “complicit” in keeping “incendiary” information from the Warren Commission when it began its post-JFK assassination investigation.
According to the report by CIA historian David Robarge, McCone, who died in 1991, was at the heart of a “benign cover-up” at the spy agency, intended to keep the commission focused on the lone gunman theory.
Specifically, McCone withheld from the commission the existence of the CIA and Mafia plots to assassinate Castro. Without this information, the commission never even knew to ask the question of whether Oswald had accomplices in Cuba or elsewhere who wanted Kennedy dead in retaliation for the Castro plots.
And in August of this year, a further tranche of previously classified documents was released under the 1992 Bush law. And they too were tantalizing.
The files released by the National Archives show that, within a few years of Kennedy’s assassination, some in the CIA began to worry internally that the official story was wrong.
Key CIA officials were concerned by the mid-1970s that the Agency, the FBI, the Secret Service and the commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren had not followed up on important clues about Oswald’s contact with foreign agents, including diplomats and spies for the Communist governments of Cuba and the Soviet Union, who might have been aware of his plans to kill Kennedy and even encouraged the plot.
There is no credible evidence cited in the documents released so far that Castro or other foreign leaders had any personal role in ordering Kennedy’s death.
But if the CIA is saying it believes there was a cover-up, and it thought this as early as the 1970s then those expecting something explosive to emerge this month could be right.
Of course, as always, politics are at play.
Republican President Donald Trump is being asked to open up a file on the murder of a dead Democratic President. And not just any President, but John Kennedy, the young, tragic, handsome leader whose family became the royalty of US politics.
Republicans may believe the Kennedys’ swimming in murky waters will come to taint their legacy.
“I believe the American public needs to know the truth,” said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is leading a congressional effort to declassify thousands of documents and recordings compiled by the CIA and FBI.
“It’s still hard for me to believe it was one man, but at the same time I have no proof that it wasn’t,” said Jones.
Trump, if the argument is compelling enough from the CIA and FBI, may still keep the files secret. But many of us want it to end, one way or another.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.