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Biden administration releases previously classified JFK assassination files

President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, shortly before his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. (AFP/Getty Images)
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The Biden administration released a batch of secret government files Wednesday related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the latest milestone in a decades-long push by advocates to have all of the documents about the former president’s untimely death declassified.

The newly released batch of files, posted by the National Archives and Records Administration here, include 1,491 documents, 958 of which are from the CIA. That is less than 10 percent of the 15,834 documents that had remained partially or mostly redacted before Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jefferson Morley, editor of JFKFacts.org and a former Washington Post staff writer, said he had not yet found anything earth-shattering but was still sifting through the hundreds of documents. A key development in the release, he noted, was that the National Archives also issued a plan to digitize the entire collection of JFK assassination records.

“In terms of public understanding, this is probably more important than any documents released today,” tweeted Morley, who has also said it was unlikely that this release would contain anything resembling a “smoking gun” related to the assassination.

Some of the files are jarring for their subject manner. One, titled “Plots to Assassinate Castro,” outlined various plans the CIA explored to take out then-Cuban President Fidel Castro. Others appear more mundane, like a 1961 memo about an FBI informant in Miami who was then being paid $38 per week, plus “up to $2.50 per week for expenses,” to attend meetings of pro- and anti-Castro groups.

Among the most significant JFK files not released Wednesday, Morley noted, are tapes of interviews the historian William Manchester conducted with Jacqueline Kennedy, the late president’s wife, and his brother Robert F. Kennedy in 1964 and 1965.

“Neither Jackie nor RFK believed the official theory that Kennedy was killed by one man alone for no reason,” Morley said. “They said privately JFK was killed by his domestic enemies. That’s what’s on these tapes and why they are so sensitive.”

The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he killed the president on Nov. 22, 1963, and there was no conspiracy.

All of the remaining JFK files were originally supposed to have been released in October. President Biden postponed that planned release, citing delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and announced that they would be instead disclosed in two batches — one Wednesday and another by Dec. 15, 2022, after undergoing an “intensive 1-year review.”

“Temporary continued postponement is necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure,” Biden said then.

The decision upset JFK researchers, who accused the Biden administration of using the pandemic as an excuse for the government to stonewall the public yet again, noting it had been almost 60 years since Kennedy was assassinated.

“They are saying very clearly they do not intend to obey the law … it’s a ruse,” Morley, who in 2003 sued the CIA for records related to the Kennedy assassination, said then.

Under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records should have been publicly disclosed within 25 years — or by October 2017 — but postponements were allowed in instances that national security concerns outweighed the public interest in disclosure.

President Donald Trump in 2017 announced that he planned to publicly disclose the remaining JFK files, only to delay the release of some of the files for national security reasons, setting a new deadline of Oct. 26, 2021. In 2018, Trump did end up authorizing the disclosure of 19,045 documents, about three-quarters of which still contained some redactions.

In October, some members of Congress wrote to Biden urging him to fully release all of the JFK files, including 520 documents that remained withheld from the public and 15,834 documents that had been previously released but were partially or mostly redacted.

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