Category Archives: History

The Kennedy Assassination Files

JFK 01

Zapruder Film

On October 27, 2017, the National Archives released some 3800 heretofore unseen files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. A second group of over 500 files was released on November 3, 2017. A third group of 13,213 files was released on November 9, 2017.

In 1992, Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992   (Public Law 102-526), which directed the National Archives to assemble a collection of all known government materials related to the assassination of President Kennedy. This included all known Federal, state and local records on the subject.

Interestingly enough, the Assassination Records Review Board, which oversaw the project, gave some credit for the creation of the archive to Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK. It was believed that Stone’s movie created a significant popular belief among the public  that the government and/or the military were in some way co-conspirators in the President’s assassination.  All records were to be made public on October 27, 2017, twenty-five years after the enactment of the law.  Here’s a clip from the movie:

The Files

There are over five million documents in the National Archives pertaining to the Kennedy assassination. You can buy copies of the documents for only $.80 each, which means a copy of the entire collection can be yours for a mere $4 million.

Many of the documents have never been completely seen by anyone, largely due to them being heaviliy redacted (censored). Over 3600 documents had never been seen by the public at all. Some Federal agencies, most specifically the FBI and CIA, argued against the release of non-redacted documents. Some of the reasons for their argument were that real names of confidential informants could be made public, and/or intelligence gathering operations could be compromised. President Donald Trump overrode their arguments and the final documents were released on November 9th.

The Task:

The first release on October 29 consisted of 2891 documents. The second on November 3 included an additional 676 documents. A third release on November 9 released 13,213 more documents. The actual database entries, however, require looking at an astonishing 20,574 entries, spread over 412 pages of database. Many of the documents are duplicated in various places in the database. Some of the documents appear to be meaningless — a fax cover sheet without any attached document, or a document so badly faded it is impossible to read. Similarly, many documents reference reports that are not in the database. Perhaps they can be found elsewhere in the National Archives, but not online.

The documents can be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet, probably making them easier to manage and organize; however, the sheer size of a massive download such as this goes beyond the ability of any but the most completely dedicated researcher — a task beyond me.

Document Dump?

There is no rhyme nor reason to the database, other than it being loosely organized by agency (FBI, CIA, etc). It is not in sequential order, nor any other order I could ascertain.  A document from 1963 might be followed by one from 1975, followed by another from 1964. Some documents go back as far as 1945, and seem to present no relevence to the assassination or to Kennedy whatsoever.

Some of the documents are absolutely non-related, such as one referring to a CIA employee taking a leave of absense to attend to her sick father.

There are many seemingly unrelated files among these documents, including large FBI folders on Martin Luther King and interogations of Soviet defector Yuri  Nosenko. The files are lengthy and include field agent reports and and allegations that seem unsubstantiated, such as one that reports that Martin Luther King had an affair with singer Joan Baez.

These unrelated or periferially related files seem oddly placed in the Kennedy archives. If one were of a suspicious mind, it would be easy to suspect these files were placed in these achives deliberately. These archives were sealed for many years and possibly could have remained sealed even longer. The archives could possibly be an excellent repository for items never meant to see the light of day.

ce- 133a

Lee Harvey Oswald

FBI Files

The bulk of the FBI reporting during the days following the Kennedy assassination seem to display the wide-spread effort coupled with enormous frustration. Most of the reports from field offices include efforts to find anyone who knew anything about Oswald or Jack Ruby. Most of the field office reports indicated specialized efforts — the Dallas field office, for instance, focused on anyone connected with Oswald, and any connections to Cuba, while the Chicago field office concentrated on organized crime, and any connections Ruby may have had when he lived there. Other offices were looking at the Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremacy or neo-Nazi groups.

Other field offices seemed to do their best to generate reports to send to headquarters, no matter how trivial. The Los Angeles field office spent considerable time running down former strippers who had worked for Ruby in Dallas, but had moved to LA.

The Newark (NJ) FBI office may have had the oddest report. It seemed that a man in Mays Landing NJ received a letter with the return logo of Parkland Hospital on the envelope (Parkland Hospital was where President Kennedy was rushed to after the shooting, and where he subsquently died). The local rural free delivery mail carrier noticed the return address, and called the FBI.

The Newark field office placed the man’s mail under surveilance.  Using information they gathered from a cooperating local postmaster, if seemed the man’s story was that he was involved with a poetry group and was a judge of a poetry contest. The man indicated (to the mail carrier) that he received poems in the mail from around the country to judge. While he was not asked directly, a possible explanation for the Parkland Hospital envelope was that an employee there was writing poetry, and simply stole some of the hospital’s envelopes to use.

The explanation did not satisfy the FBI, and they apparently did not want to tip their hand to the man by just interviewing him.  Instead, they attempt to engage a confidential informant with the notion that the informant would befriend the man, and somehow get inside his home to search through his records.  They were not successful doing this, and apparently the mysterious envelope case simply faded away. FBI Newark Field Office Report

Mark Lane, a New York attorney, was one of the earliest conspiracy theorists about the Kennedy assassination. He believed the Kennedy  murder was a conspiracy, and began giving public lectures about his theories within weeks after the assassination.  He would later write a book entitled Rush to Judgment, which was a best seller and spent twenty-nine weeks on the New York Times best seller list.

From the archives, the FBI was clearly interested in Mark Lane. They planted confidential informants at many (if not all) of his lectures to report back to the FBI what was said at the lectures.

The FBI also showed a susbstantial interest in New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who’s investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy was the basis for the  movie JFK.  Several files indicate FBI efforts to learn anything about what Garrison was doing in his investigation from any and all sources.

The FBI files are often of questionable value.  Many times the “file” is simply a cover sheet or cover letter referencing an item that is not to be found in the database.

CIA Files

Overall the CIA files, many of which have never been seen by the public before, are more extensive than other agencies. Some of the files run for hundreds of pages and are quite detailed.

The CIA files included files on Martin Luther King similar to the FBI files, which some might find odd inasmuch as the CIA was supposedly prohibited from domestic surveilance. The CIA also had files on Howard Hunt and James McCord, both former CIA operatives involved in Watergate, and strangely, a file on Claire Booth Luce, a prominent Republican writer, ambassador, and wife of Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.

Another strange file in the CIA group is the 1960 Field Double Agent Guide. It is exactly what it seems to be: a ninety-six page guide about how to become a double agent. Field Double Agent Guide

An extremely odd CIA file is called The Unsanitized Diem Report, about Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assassinated in Vietnam just a few weeks before President Kennedy. The report. never released before, is unsigned, marked “Top Secret – Eyes Only” and it is noted there were no copies made, but it would be hand-delivered to ? (not stated).  Reading the fifty-one page report, it suggests that the United States began supporting a coup of Diem during the summer of 1963. It also suggests, through the documents presented, that Kennedy was kept “in the loop” on coup activities right up until the time Diem was assassinated.  By the same token, it appears Kennedy was receiving conflicting information from different agencies, each of which seemed to have differing opinions on the regime in Saigon.

The inter-department rivalries were even more exacerbated in Vietnam, with the CIA supporting Diem, but the State Department  and the Defense Department wanting him out. The State Deparment went so far as attempting to have the CIA’s Chief of Station (COS) in Vietnam removed. The Chief of Station was re-assigned to Washington in October, clearing the way for a coup. The new COS in Vietnam sent two cables to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, which in part recommended the assassination of Ngo Dien Nhu, Deim’s brother, and his wife, famously known as “the dragon lady”.  He received a terse reply, ordering him to re-write his cables, leaving out references to assassination, because “…we cannot be in position actively condoning such course of action and thereby engaging our responsibility therefor…”

The report goes on much further, but strongly indicates the US goverment was complicit, if not directive in the ultimate assassination of Diem. The President’s actual in-depth knowledge of all this is a bit obscure. It is unclear why this mysterious report is in the Kennedy Assassination archives. This seems to be another seemingly unconnected piece of information that  found its way into the files. The closeness in time of the assinassination of Diem and Kennedy however, does provoke thoughts of a possible link to some conspiracy theorists.

 

JFK 03Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

HSCA Files

During 1976-1978, the House Subcommittee on Assassinations (HSCA) conducted an investigation into the Kennedy Assassination.  The committee was created to review the findings of the Warren Commission (1963-64), and to look into new information. Part of the reason for the creation of the committee was significant public perception that the Warren Commission had not adequately investigated the assassination of President Kennedy. Among other things, the committee re-visited ballistic and photographic analysis, as well as pathology and fingerprint reports. The committee conclusions were in marked contrast to the Warren Commission report.

There are several committee documents in the Archive release. One such document, a fifty-four page deposition from a former CIA employee probes the belief among CIA employees that Lee Harvey Oswald was, in fact, a CIA employee. HSCA Deposition from CIA employee.

Interesting Finds

The files in this archive are like a potpourri — a mixture of the seemingly disconnected, that if properly blended create an interesting scent. Some of the oddities discovered include:

A memo from the Secretary of Defense (OSD) outlining contingency plans for an invasion of Cuba: Operation Mongoose: Invasion of Cuba. This plan was supposedly killed by Defense Secretary McNamara in mid-1962.  But strangely enough, it pops up over a year later, being activated, this time without an operational name.

This becomes even more interesting when coupled with a memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) discussing CIA requests for military support in the form of personnel, ammunition, training facilities and even Navy SEAL teams, on July 29, 1963,  just four months before Kennedy was assassinated: DOD Operations against Cuba (1963). The memo states that several of these requests had been fulfilled, including deliveries of ammunition and boats.

Operation Mongoose was presented to then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in March of 1962, but he rejected the plan.  It appears, however, that  more than a year later, the military and the CIA were actively in training for such an invasion.  Then, suddenly, it all just disapeared.  Cuba was never invaded, and no more memos can be found. What happened? Who stopped this clandestine mission that conceivably could have led to all out war with Cuba? We don’t know, and perhaps we never will.

There were several balls in the air during the few months before the Kennedy assassination. In addition to the apparent clandestine actions directed against Cuba, the situation in Vietnam was in turmoil. Both Cuba and Vietnam offered the potential to become international crises. Kennedy’s cabinet seemed to be at odds with each other over the handling of both of these areas. It appears he was receiving conflicting information from the opposing parties, and some actions may have been taken without his complete knowledge or approval.

Interestingly, it seems that some of the same “players” in the CIA and DOD were connected to both the potential invasion of Cuba, and the Diem assassination.

Summary

Of the more than 20,000 data entries in the Archives, I reviewed somewhat over 1200, just barely scratching the surface. A detailed review and the following of “threads” that emmanate from the documents could possibly take years to pursue. I doubt I will dig into these files much farther;  it is decidedly time-consuming, and can be fairly tedious.

In all, it was a fascinating experience. While many of us have read accounts and seen movies about the Kennedy assassination, we generally don’t have access to raw data. Memos and reports written in real time concurrent with the event present  a vivid picture, one not found in history books.

Like many people, I have had my doubts and speculations about the official findings.  I thought some of the “conspiracy” theories were often overwrought and sometimes silly. Reading these documents, I’m not so sure. There seem to be far too many unanswered questions, and after reading the documents I have more questions than ever before.

Was there a “smoking gun” buried in these files? I didn’t see one. The documents strike me as a jigsaw puzzle; if correctly connected, they may create a picture. The shear volume of data, however, seems to make the completion of that puzzle difficult to impossible.

I’m fairly sure we’ll never know the absolute truth in our lifetimes. That being said, digging into the archives of one of the most mysterious crime stories in modern history was, as they say, “quite a trip”.

 

National Archives – JFK Assassination Records

 

1968

 

time 1968

I missed 1968. Of course 1968 really happened, and I was alive then, but I missed it. I missed it because I was in Vietnam, and almost totally unaware  of the tumultous events that took place that year. So many dramatic events took place that they changed this country, and indeed much of the world. 1968 was the most significant year of my lifetime, and I wasn’t there.

When these events took place, I was barely aware of them. In Vietnam we had a single radio station, AFVN, which stood for Armed Forces Vietnam. It was the only radio station we ever heard. Fortunately or unfortunately, AFVN was heavily censored. We only heard what they allowed us to hear, and issues that were considered too “controversial” were not broadcast. As a result of this, I only learned of many of the major events of 1968 when I returned home late that year.

Looking back, I do believe 1968 changed everything.  Let’s look at the year month by month and see what happened.

January

1968 started out innocuously enough. In January, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau premiered on ABC. Johnny Cash performed his historic concert at Folsom Prison, and the Green Bay Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl II.

Things started to get dicey around the end of January.  On January 21st,  A B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in Greenland. One was never recovered under the ice. On the same day, the battle of Khe Sahn began in Vietnam.

On January 22, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In debuts on NBC, and on the 23rd, North Korea seized the American Navy ship USS Pueblo and it’s crew.

FILE - In this undated file photo from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy USS Pueblo sails underway at sea. The ship is North Koreafs greatest Cold War prize, a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States, once in an all-out ground war and now with its push to develop the nuclear weapons and the sophisticated missiles it needs to threaten the U.S. mainland. (AP Photo/USN, File)

USS Pueblo

To cap the month of January off, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam on January 30, and by the next day , Viet Cong soldiers were attacking the US embassy in Saigon.

1202 Americans were killed in Vietnam in January

February

February 1st: In what would beome one of the most iconic and controversial photographs of Vietnam, photographer Eddie Adams captured the execution of a Viet Cong captive by Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

loan

On February 6th, the Winter Olympics opened in Grenoble, France. On February 8th, three protestors were shot and killed and 27 injured at the University of South Carolina by state police, in an incident that became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

During February, actors Nick Adams and Gary Coleman died, and actors Josh Brolin and Molly Ringwald were born. Singer Frankie Lymon died of a drug overdose.

2124 Americans were killed in Vietnam in February

March

March started off calmly enough. Johnny Cash and June Carter were married on March 1st, and actor Daniel Craig was born on the 2nd.

Then, on March 8th, a Soviet ballistic missle  submarine sank 90 miles off Hawaii, with the loss of all the crew.

There was a nerve gas leak at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds, 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City,  on the 14th.

On the 16th of March in Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre took place.On the same day, Senator Robert Kennedy entered  the race for the Democratic nomination for President.

My son was born on March 28th. I was notified about his birth by the Red Cross about a week later.

On March 30, Celine Dion was born, and on the next day, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

1543 Americans were killed in Vietnam in March

April

April 2nd: Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, opened in Washington DC.

king

On April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. Almost immediately, riots broke out all across the country. Riots took place in over one hundred cities, with the largest in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The riots lasted for the better part of a week, and over 45 people were killed.

king riots

 

On April 11, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

On April 13, there was a total lunar eclipse, the first of two in 1968.

Anti-war protests in New York shut down Columbia University on April 23rd.  Timothy McVeigh is born on the same day. The musical Hair opened in New York City on April 29th.

hair

1410 Americans were killed in Vietnam in April

May

Early May settled down a bit in the U.S., but student protests expanded in Europe, especially in France, perhaps inspired by American anti-war protests.

May 17: Anti-war protestors, known as the Cantonville Nine break into a Selective Service office in Maryland and burned draft records. Two involved were Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip.

On May 22, the U.S.  Navy nuclear-power submarine USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, with the loss of all on board. On May 27, civil rights protesters rioted in Louisville, Kentucky.  The rioting lasted two days and two people were killed.

2169  Americans were killed in Vietnam in May

June

June 5: Senator Robert Kennedy was shot in the Ambassdor Hotel in Los Angeles  by Siran Siran, a Jordanian. He died the next day.

James Earl Ray is arrested on June 8th for the assassination of Martin Luther King.

1146 Americans were killed in Vietnam in June

July

All things considered, July was a relatively quiet month. The country seemed to take a breather. The CIA did launch it’s controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam on July 1, Saddam Hussein first came to power in Iraq.

On July 17, the PLO committed it’s first skyjacking (El Al Flight 426), and Pope Paul VI issued his enclyclical Humanae Vitae, concerning birth control.

813 Americans were killed in Vietnam in July

August

August 5-8 :The Republican National Convention selected Richard Nixon at the party’s nominee for President. Spiro Agnew was named Vice Presidential nominee.

nixon agnew

August 20-21: 750,000 Soviet Union and “Warsaw Pact” troops invaded Czechoslovkia, using 6500 tanks and 800 aircraft, in the biggest invasion since World War II.

August 20-30: Massive rioting took place at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the Democrats nominate Presidential candidate Hubert Humphry and Edmund Muskie for Vice President.

On August 28, John Gordon Mein, US Ambassador to Guatamala is assassinated in Guatamala City. He was the first American ambassador ever assassinated in the line of duty.

1080 Americans were killed in Vietnam in August

September

September 6: 150 women arrived in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pagent. The first of the “bra burning” demonstrations, this was considered to be the first large feminist/women’s liberation demonstration.

Hawaii Five-O debuts on CBS, and becomes the longest-running show on television until 2003.  Sixty Minutes debuts on CBS.

September 30: Boeing Aircraft introduces the Boeing 747 to the public.

1053 Americans are killed in Vietnam in September

October

October 7: Singer Jose Fecliciano’s stylized version of the Star Spangled Banner at the World series creates huge controversy.

October 11: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission.

October 14: The Department of Defense announces it will send about 24,000 soldiers and Marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.

October 18: At the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American atheletes raise their fists in the black power salute.

black power

600 Americans are killied in Vietman in October

November

November 5:  Richard M. Nixon wins the Presidential election, defeating Democratic candidate Humbert Humphrey,  becoming the 37th President of the United States

On November 20th, the Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia kills 78 miners.

On November 24, four men hijacked Pan Am Flight 281 at JFK Airport in New York City, and flew it to Havana, Cuba.

703 Americans were killed in Vietnam in November

December

On December 20, the Zodiac Killer begins his deadly spree in California.

December 24: Apollo 8 enters obit around the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the moon.

749 Americans were killed in Vietnam in December

1968 was not an easy year  to forget. Assasinations, riots, and chaos seemed commonplace that year.  16,899 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died in Vietnam. 

The year was a breaking point. Something snapped, and it seems possible today to look at the years before and after 1968 and see dramatic differences.  Every now and then in history major events seem to compress into a short period of time. 1968 was such a time, the only one like it in my lifetime. I hope I never see another.

Endnotes:

B-52 Crash in Greenland

Battle of Khe Sahn

Seizure of USS Pueblo

The Tet Offensive

U.S. Embassy Saigon

Orangeburg Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Civil Rights Act of 1968

Daniel Berrigan

Humanae Vitae

Farmington Mine Disaster

Zodiac Killer

 

 

272 Words, 150 Years

150 years ago tomorrow, Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. It was once considered so important that schoolchildren were required to memorize it. I memorized it in the 8th grade.  I guess it’s not considered so important anymore. Many of my students don’t even know what it is. Times have changed.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

 

Dealey Plaza, Dallas Texas

Back at the end of October, a few friends and I flew to Dallas. We went with one purpose in mind: to see the site of the John F. Kennedy Assasination.I was seventeen on November 22, 1963, a senior in high school. Over the years, I’d read several books about the assasination and seen countless TV shows and debates about the truth of what happened. My mental images were strictly from photos and TV. I’d often thought I would like to see the actual place where this terrible history was made. Click on the photos for closeups.

Texas School Book Depository

Texas School Book Depository. The name of the building has since changed, but everyone still calls it by the old name. The Plaza is smaller than it looks on TV, but it  looks remarkably like the way it looked in 1963. This years marks the 50th anniversary of the assasination, so there were quite a few tourists. The window Oswald shot from is on the right corner of the building, second from the top. If you look closely at the closeup photo, you can see a box in the window, replicating the “sniper perch” Oswald used.

Houston and Elm Streets

Houston and Elm Streets, the most infamous location in Dallas. Lunchtime crowds turn out that sunny afternoon to see the President’s motorcade. One of the people in the crowd was Abraham Zapruder. He had a movie camera to film the historic event. This is what he saw, standing on the same spot: Zapruder's View

The “Zapruder Film” as his 8mm movie would be ultimately called, became the most watched historical video of all time.

Another view was from the sixth floor of the Book Depository. This was the view Lee Harvey Oswald had. The sixth floor of the School Book Depository is now a musuem, and the “snipers nest” in the corner is encased in glass. This view is actually from the seventh floor, directly above that window.

Oswald's View

Suddenly, shots rang out. The President was shot. There were three or possibly four shots, depending on different reports. In just a few short seconds, President Kennedy was fatally wounded. Today the locations where the bullets struck are marked by X’s on the street:

Point of Impact

There was mass confusion at the scene. Some people thought shots came from behind a fence at the top of a small hillock. This site became forever known as “The Grassy Knoll”:Grassy Knoll

This is the view from behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll. We were told the original boards from the fence have been replaced many times, as they are frequently taken as souveniers.

Behind the Fence on the Grassy Knoll

This is the view from the railroad overpass next to the Grassy Knoll, looking back toward Dealey Plaza

View from the Railroad Overpass

 Lee Harvey Oswald worked at the School Book Depository. This is the boarding house where he lived:Oswald's Boarding HouseOswald later shot and killed Dallas Police officer J.D. Tippitt. Oswald was captured inside the Texas Theater:Texas Theater Oswald Captured

Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, after Ruby walked through this door and down a ramp into the Dallas Jail:

IMG_1225

 Bill Lewis, Jan Guiney, Ed Golat at Dealey Plaza.

IMG_1228