As a historian, anything even remotely related to history is very exciting. Even if it’s a relatively small thing, there is much to be gained from each new discovery. Every small step we take can make a difference later down the line. The release of the JFK files was highly anticipated and whether you’re just a fan of JFK or a full-time conspiracy theorist, it was expected that we’d learn a lot from the JFK files.
Now they are public…mostly. Trump backed away from releasing all the files due to ‘national security’ which leaves many conspiracy theorists accusing the government of cover-ups. In the end, the files aren’t the explosive smoking guns many hoped for.
However, there are a few interesting tidbits and facts to chew over. Here’s a fast roundup of what the files contained:
Oswald and the KGB
The most interesting thing to emerge from the released files is Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit to Mexico City before the assassination and his communication with Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov. Kostikov was a consul of the Russian embassy but the FBI identified him as a KGB officer, a member of Department 13 which dealt with sabotage and assassinations. Oswald apparently made a call where he spoke in broken Russia on October 1st to ask about “anything new concerning the telegram to Washington.”
Could the Soviet Union have planned JFK’s assassination? We can’t know for sure but it seems sure likely the Russians might have had a part to play. Some things never change, it seems!
Russia’s concerns over JFK’s death
Despite the new evidence, Russia seemed unprepared for Kennedy’s death. The idea of a leaderless nation, mourning their leader and seeking vengeance, was enough to concern Soviet leaders. Their biggest fear was that “some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.” The Soviets also felt that Oswald didn’t act alone but was part of a group ranging from far-right groups plotting a coup to Kennedy’s Lydon B. Johnson
The FBI worried over conspiracy theories
J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, was apparently concerned with the speculation over Kennedy’s death and how theories surrounding his death would morph into conspiracy theories. The day Oswald was killed, Hoover wrote a memo expressing his concern, saying “The thing I am concerned about is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
If only he knew how far people would take it.
Ignored warnings and surprising actions
What stands out are the number of warnings that were either ignored or not taken as seriously. Things might have been so much different. On 24 November 1963, Hoover warned the police in Dallas of a death threat to Lee Harvey Oswald but the warning was ignored. Not long after the warning, Oswald was killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Ruby was probably helped by his connections to the police with an informant pointing to an operation that received no police interference. However, the informant was surprised that Ruby killed Oswald rather than simply wounding him. There seems to be no information as to whether Ruby was working with the Mafia or how far police corruption helped contribute to Oswald’s death
CIA ‘Murder For Hire’
The CIA has often been seen as an assassination squad working for the US government, but even hardened cynics might be surprised at the sheer number of plots the CIA hatched. Fidel Castro is pretty high on the list with the latter claiming to have dodged over 600 assassination plots. However other plots included killing Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba and Indonesian president Sukarno amongst others. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of dollars were diverted to anti-communist activities such as paying for supplies and weapons into Cuba, South Vietnam and parts of Africa such as the Congo
With the withholding of files by Trump, it is clear that there are still lots of unanswered questions surrounding JFK’s death. Although claims of national security seem a little far-fetched today, it is clear that there is still information that the public can’t see. The big question is whether that information will solve JFK’s murder at the cost of national security.
The truth may never be known. Too much time has gone by, so many facts have been altered, twisted or changed over the decades. Even if the whole truth was revealed, who would believe it? Facts are already hard to establish without the current political climate.
Whatever the case, the files shed a fascinating light on the reactions of the time and the actions of some of America’s most powerful – and secretive – organizations. They raise new possibilities and questions over Oswald’s actions, Russia’s involvement and why warnings should always be taken seriously, even if they never happen in the end.
No one was expecting much from the newly released files. No one expected that the whole mystery to be cleared up in one day, but there are still reams of information to examine and explore.
Who knows what else we might find?