The recent release of thousands of Central Intelligence Agency files on the John F. Kennedy assassination –which continues this week with another drop of 13,000 documents— has opened up countless new areas of interest for researchers to study.
Critics of federal secrecy who say that the JFK files release will not answer all the lingering questions have a point. It has been over half a century since Kennedy was killed in 1963. Most of those involved in any conspiracy that might have been behind his murder would be long dead by now. Even if we do ever get fully conclusive answers about the assassination, bringing most of those directly responsible to justice is likely an impossibility. And despite the release of many new documents, the most sensitive are still being withheld. Yet as journalists and researchers sift through the recently released documents, some explosive revelations that offer new insights on key historical events are nonetheless emerging. Here’s a look at a few of them:
1.) J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about the need to “convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
“There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tersely asserted in a memorandum dictated the same day that purported lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jacob “Jack Ruby” Rubenstein. The very next sentence, however, suggests that the first was misleading at best.
“Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald,” it states. Later in the memo, Hoover notes that what he is “concerned about, and so is Mr. (Deputy Attorney General Nicholas) Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
Reporting for NBC News, Alex Johnson points out that is is “not clear from the memo whether Hoover thought there might have been a conspiracy but didn’t want it to be known or whether he sincerely believed Oswald acted alone and hoped to head off public fear and confusion. ”
2.) The Soviets suspected LBJ and an “ultraright” conspiracy of being behind the assassination.
“A source who has furnished reliable information in the past and who was in Russia on the date of the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy advised on December 4, 1963, that the news of the assassination was flashed to the Soviet people almost immediately after its occurrence,” a December 1966 Hoover memo states. “It was greeted by great shock and consternation and church bells were tolled in the memory of President Kennedy.”
“According to our source, officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believed there was some well-organized conspiracy on the part of the ‘ultraright’ in the United States to effect a ‘coup,'” the memo continues. “They seemed convinced that the assassination was not the deed of one man, but that it arose out of a carefully planned campaign in which several people played a part.”
The memo further states that according to an FBI source “it was indicated that ‘now’ the KGB was in possession of data purporting to indicate President Johnson was responsible for the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy.”
3.) George Bush Sr. admitted knowing suspected Nazi sympathizer George de Mohrenschildt, who had connections to both Oswald and Kennedy.
In response to an official inquiry in 1976, over a decade after the assassination, future U.S. president and then-CIA director George H.W. Bush admitted to knowing a controversial figure whose name surfaced in investigations of the murder, George de Mohrenschildt. “There is voluminous material on Mr. de Mohrenschildt in CIA files, most of it dating of from the post-Kennedy assassination period when he testified before the Warren Commission on his acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald,” one document notes.
Another document in the same file notes that de Mohrenschildt had been reported to have personal connections not only to the Oswald family, but the Kennedys as well. “The majority of informants consider Subject to be eccentric, irresponsible, conceited, an adventurer fond of exaggeration and overly aggressive,” the document notes. “He has been known to associate with persons of questionable loyalty, reputation and moral character.”
This document also notes that de Mohrenschildt was rejected in 1942 from joining the Office of Strategic Services — the wartime sabotage and propaganda agency that was the main forerunner to the CIA — “because he was suspected of being a Nazi agent.”
Other documents in this file, meanwhile, show Bush’s response when questioned about his relationship to de Mohrenschildt. “Do you know this individual?” one document asks the CIA director. “I do know this man deMohrenschildt,” Bush responds. “I first men [sic] him in the early 40’3 [sic]. He was an uncle to my Andover roommate. Later he surfaced in Dallas (50’s maybe) He got involved in some controversial dealings in Haiti. Then he surfaced when Oswald shot to prominence. He knew Oswald before the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. I don’t recall his role in all this.”
Former President Bush is one of the few people still alive from those days, who as CIA director would’ve had access to much more information on the assassination than we’re finding out even now. Yet it might be too much to hope that news stories about this latest release of JFK files will be enough to jog the elderly ex-President Bush’s memory and get him to tell the public any other juicy details that may have since slipped his mind.
4.) Prior to the murder, witnesses reported overhearing that JFK wouldn’t leave Dallas alive, and seeing Oswald and Ruby together, bound for Cuba, at a Florida airport.
A Vancouver, British Columbia man, Henry Gourley, called police on Nov. 23, 1963, the day after JFK was killed, to report that about three weeks prior he had “overheard three men talking abut KENNEDY and if he ever went to Dallas, Texas, he would never leave there alive,” according to one document.
“The men were going to go to Cuba afterwards,” it continues. “One of them said that his uncle had a foreign rifle.” The document states that Gourley was convinced that this man was in fact Lee Harvey Oswald, based on pictures he’d seen on TV, but dismisses his claims as the product of an over-active imagination and potentially a drinking problem.
Yet another newly released document tells an oddly comparable story. This is a report of the account of the manager of the Key West International Airport in 1963, George Faraldo, “a guy with a good reputation,” who, besides managing the airport for over 30 years, “made a number of intelligence gathering trips into Cuba after Castro took over,” for the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), or possibly for the CIA, and “flew numerous aerial photographic missions,” also for the government.
The document details Faraldo’s claims that at some point, probably within a year prior to the assassination, he saw a group of 30 to 40 people at the airport, “mostly young, boys and girls, ‘hippie-looking,’ a few dressed in olive drab fatigues,” including both Jack Ruby and Oswald. “Faraldo says he learned from talking with a few in the group that they were going to Cuba to cut sugar cane and that they had something to do with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee,” the document notes.
According to the report, Faraldo recalled seeing Oswald approach Ruby at one point and ask “Have you heard anything from the Big Bird yet?” A curious question to say the least — a code, perhaps?
The House Select Committee on Assassinations researcher who wrote the document, Gaeton Fonzi, notes that in attempting to corroborate Faraldo’s story, several other people interviewed seemed to vaguely remember the incident, but mentioned the possibility that the group were “foreigners” or “strangers,” possibly coming from Canada, which, oddly enough, seems to fit together with Henry Gourley’s similarly bizarre story.
5.) A British newspaper received an ominous, anonymous phone call minutes before the assassination.
A memo from James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s counterintelligence chief at the time of the assassination, to J. Edgar Hoover, written just days after the murder, notes that “on 22 November an anonymous telephone call was made in Cambridge, England to the senior reporter of the Cambridge News. The caller said only that the Cambridge News reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news and then hung up.”
After hearing of JFK’s death the reporter apparently called local police, who contacted MI-5. “The important point,” however, “is that the call was made, according to MI-5 calculations, about 25 minutes before the President was shot. The Cambridge reporter had never received a call of this kind before and MI-5 state that he is known to them as a sound and loyal person with no security record.”
6.) The CIA approached the Mafia about assassinating Castro, then became concerned that the organized crime syndicate could blackmail the agency.
In September 1960, according to one newly released document, a “CIA intermediary” made contact with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana about arranging a hit on Fidel Castro, the communist Prime Minister of Cuba. The CIA apparently offered $150,000 “as a payment to be made on completion of the operation and to be paid only to the principal or principals who would conduct the operation in Cuba,” according to the document, which notes that the plan had originally been approved by then-CIA director Allen Dulles and Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell.
“The memo is part of an 83-page report that also said the CIA considered delivering a poison pill to kill Castro,” notes Brooke Seipel in a report for The Hill.
When Attorney General Robert Kennedy found out about the plan to hire a Mafia hit man to kill Castro, “he issued orders that CIA should never again take such steps without checking with the Department of Justice,” the report notes, citing another memo. “Mr. Kennedy further advised that because of this matter it would be very difficult to initiate any prosecution against Giancana, as Giancana could immediately bring out the fact that the United States Government had approached him to arrange for the assassination of Castro.”
7.) Johnson was at one time a member of the Ku Klux Klan, according to an informant.
Even those who view Lyndon Johnson as a genuine civil rights hero, rather than simply an opportunistic politician, admit that he would often make outrageously racist statements that contrasted harshly with that image.
One document from the new JFK files, however, brings up even more questions about LBJ’s duplicity. “Ned Touchstone, editor of ‘The Councilor,’ has been identified by a confidential informant (NO 1223-R) as a member of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” it notes. “The source advised in December, 1963, that Touchstone claimed that the Klan had documented proof that President Johnson was formerly a member of the Klan in Texas during the early days of his political career.”
8.) Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell, brother of the fired Deputy CIA Director, was an official CIA asset.
It has long been suspected that Earle Cabell, the mayor of Dallas at the time of the assassination, might have had a closer relationship with intelligence agencies than publicly acknowledged. His brother, Charles P. Cabell, was Deputy Director of the CIA under Allen Dulles and, like Dulles, was fired by Kennedy following the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation.
While it was released without much fanfare and certainly without much mainstream media coverage a few months ago, prior to the most recent JFK documents to come out in the last few weeks, one document is nonetheless of interest given its implications. This is a form, which includes a secrecy agreement signed by Earle Cabell, indicating that he had in fact been a CIA asset since 1956.
Coincidence that Kennedy was shot in Cabell’s city? The Dallas mayor “oversaw arrangements for Kennedy’s trip and motorcade, which took him through Dealey Plaza, a route that violated almost all standard rules for presidential safety — and where normal safeguards, such as sealing windows and placing sharpshooters, were ignored,” notes alternative news site WhoWhatWhy. You’d be forgiven for donning your tinfoil hat and conspiracy-theorizing over this one a bit.
9.) New revelations about Operation Mockingbird.
The existence of a CIA-run “Operation Mockingbird,” with the goal of infiltrating and subverting the news media on a broad scale, has long been rumored, and some details of similar operations have been known for some time.
The agency’s efforts to wage a “cultural Cold War” and to undermine the underground press as part of Operation MHCHAOS, for example, have been the subjects of entire books, while Carl Bernstein, famous for his reporting with Bob Woodward on the Watergate scandal, wrote in a 1977 article that more than 400 American journalists “in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters.”
Yet documented details on an operation specifically called “Mockingbird” have been frustratingly few — until now, that is. At least two of the JFK assassination documents released this year mention “Mockingbird” in the context of a codeword or operation. One of these is of particular interest, mentioning not only “MOCKINGBIRD” but “MHCHAOS,” another program in a similar vein, multiple times in the same report. “The case of the two newspaper reporters is MOCKINGBIRD,” the document tantalizingly notes, yet doesn’t provide much further context.
10.) New details about Operation Mongoose.
While it may not be a direct reference to “Operation Mockingbird” or a brand new revelation in itself, having been the subject of a 2016 book, one interesting aspect of some of the newly released files relating to the “Operation Mongoose” plan to stage terrorist attacks to generate support for operations against Cuba is the appearance of Edward R. Murrow’s name.
Murrow, a legendary radio and television broadcast news personality for CBS and one of the most prominent journalists in America in his day, was apparently part of high-level planning discussions for Operation Mongoose, a secret scheme to undermine communist Cuba, and to generate public support for doing so. Murrow, however, may have been one of the less aggressive pushers of drastic covert action against Castro.
While Murrow apparently said that a covert propaganda broadcasting operation aimed at undermining the Cuban government called Radio Swan “should be continued even though it is not entirely effective,” according to one document, he also “explained the far-reaching reactions that the Cubans could mount against U.S. radio stations, and said that he felt on balance it would not be profitable to provoke this kind of electronic warfare.”
Compare this, for example, to Gen. Edward Lansdale, who according to one newly released document suggested that as a potential “pretext” for military intervention in Cuba the CIA “could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of a Cuban agent and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”
Yeah, talk about “projecting.” Operation Mongoose was a forerunner to Operation Northwoods, a plan for what cannot credibly be described as anything other than a false flag operation to generate support for invading Cuba. “We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba,” one Northwoods documents notes, to stage a “‘Remember the Main’ incident.” After sinking a ship, the CIA could “conduct funerals for mock-victims” it states. “Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”
As the CIA’s black ops planners apparently understood, the public knowing that its leaders were even engaged in discussions of the pros and cons of such schemes could’ve easily caused a “wave of national indignation” in itself, which is why they had to keep them secret for decades.
The newly released JFK files may not answer every last remaining question surrounding the Kennedy assassination. There are so many, that even releasing every single relevant CIA document in full would probably not resolve them all. If elements of the intelligence community were involved in a conspiracy, it seems unlikely that they would have committed their most important secrets to paper in official reports and memos — though some of the released documents seem to challenge that assumption. While many mysteries remain, this year’s release of JFK assassination files provides a starting point for researchers, and represents a partial victory for advocates of government transparency and of uncovering historical truth that’s been deliberately buried.