Though hundreds of documents regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy remain a secret, the 2,800 newly released records offer a tantalizing window into the event that shook the world and the ensuing investigations that have never quite satisfied assassination researchers — and conspiracy theorists.
The records released Thursday do not solve the mystery surrounding the assassination. The official story of a lone, deranged Lee Harvey Oswald killing the president still stands. But the latest release has made some people even more anxious for the remaining files to be released.
Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter who is the author of “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination,” said he was disappointed.
“The most secret material is still secret, and I’m not convinced the public will ever see a lot of it,” he said.
Shenon said the new records would just fuel further conspiracy theories — and the records do offer tidbits — couched in reports written in imposing officialese — that would bolster a variety of wild theories.
Still, the records are fascinating, offering a glimpse into a strange world of CIA spies, FBI agents, and high-ranking government officials who were chasing down every lead, trying to unravel a stunning crime. Here are some of the intriguing things that have surfaced so far in the records:
■A cable less than a week after the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination, from the US embassy in Mexico City to Secretary of State Dean Rusk raised the specter of Oswald being both a deranged, disgruntled loner — and someone who had received a payment from the Cubans during a visit to Mexico two months before.
Shenon said it appeared to be a cable from Ambassador Thomas C. Mann, who told assassination investigators years later that Rusk had ordered him to shut down any investigation in Mexico.
“It certainly points to how much suspicion there was by some people in Mexico City, especially the ambassador, that there was a plot that had been hatched on Mexican soil,” said Shenon.
■A cable five days after the assassination to the CIA director from Ottawa reported that the initial reaction of the Cuban ambassador and his staff “to report of assassination president was one of happy delight.”
The cable continued, “After further info was received indicating that Oswald had connections with Fair Play for Cuba Committee there was some apprehension concerning possible U.S. reaction.”
■Fidel Castro years later told congressional investigators that the idea that he was involved was “insane.” In a report prepared in 1979 by the House Select Committee on Assassinations that detailed an interview with Castro, he said, “From the ideological point of view it was insane. And from the political point of view, it was a tremendous insanity. I am going to tell you that nobody, nobody ever had the idea to do such things.”
“That would have been the most perfect pretext for the United States to invade our country which is what I have tried to prevent all these years, in every possible sense,” he said.
The report dismissed the theory that US assassination attempts against Castro inspired him to retaliate.
■A day after Kennedy was killed, the CIA was looking into a meeting Oswald had during his Mexico City visit with a KGB officer.
A CIA document described the consul, Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, as “a case officer in an operation which is evidently sponsored by the KGB’s 13th Department (responsible for sabotage and assassination).”
The CIA official who wrote the memo, titled “Contact of Lee OSWALD with a member of Soviet KGB Assassination Department,” said he was turning the information over to the FBI.
■ In a 1975 deposition with assassination investigators, Richard Helms, who was a top CIA official at the time of the assassination and later headed the agency, said President Lyndon B. Johnson, who took office after Kennedy was assassinated, “used to go around saying that the reason President Kennedy was assassinated was that he had assassinated [Vietnamese] President Diem and this was just justice.”
“He certainly used to say that in the early days of his Presidency and where he got this idea from I don’t know. I don’t how many of you had the privilege of trying to argue with Presidents about things like that but you tend to be a loser,” Helms said.
■ In the same deposition, an investigator asked about “charges that the CIA was in some way conspiratorially involved with the assassination of President Kennedy.”
The investigator continued, “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or an agent ...” And there the document ends.
■A cablegram from 1964 revealed that the FBI investigated Oswald’s bus trip to Mexico. The document included specific seat numbers on a bus that he took and details about passengers in front and behind him.
Twenty-two sources were interviewed about Oswald’s travel, along with other passengers on the bus, the document states.
■On the day of the assassination, about 25 minutes before the president was shot, an anonymous call was made to a reporter at the Cambridge News in Cambridge, England, stating that the “reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news.”
The British Security Service reported that similar anonymous calls of a “strangely coincidental nature” were made to people throughout the UK that year.
■ A memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover two days after the assassination laid out the details of Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald and the aftermath. In it, Hoover notes that Oswald’s death would be seen as a civil rights violation.
“It will allow, I am afraid, a lot of civil rights people to raise a lot of hell because he was handcuffed and had no weapon,” Hoover wrote. “There are bound to be some [elements] of our society who will holler their heads off that his civil rights were violated — which they were.”
Hoover also stressed a need to “convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
“There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” he wrote.
■In a 1966 report sent to the White House, Hoover detailed the reactions in 1963 of Soviet and Communist Party officials to Kennedy’s assassination.
In it, the FBI reported that the news “was greeted by great shock and consternation and church bells were tolled in the memory of President Kennedy.”
The document also stated that the “Communist Party of the Soviet Union believes the assassination was part of a well-organized conspiracy on the part of the ‘ultraright’ in the United States to effect a ‘coup.’”
Party officials “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 report said.
■The KGB had a theory that perhaps President Johnson was behind Kennedy’s killing. In a memo from Hoover dated Dec. 2, 1966, he writes that “our source” stated that “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.”
Because of this suspicion, the KGB was looking into the “personal relationship” between Johnson and members of the Kennedy family, particularly Robert and Edward “Ted” Kennedy.
■ In a 1976 memo written for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, an investigator detailed his efforts to confirm the story of a man who said he saw Oswald and Jack Ruby, the man who would later kill him, at the Key West International Airport before the assassination.
Gaeton Fonzi said he returned from Key West “more frustrated than tired” and unable to confirm the story.
■ In a 1978 summary of a deposition for the House committee, a New Orleans FBI informant (who refused to answer whether he also had any relationship with the CIA) said he believed “Oswald was an agent of the U.S. government.”
The informant, Orest Pena, said he had seen Oswald and Pena’s FBI handler speaking together and he believed the two knew each other “very, very well.”
He said both Oswald and the handler had been “transferred to Dallas” at the same time.
■ Pena’s handler was Special Agent Warren DeBrueys. And the documents do show that DeBrueys was aware of Oswald.
In an Oct. 25, 1963, document from the New Orleans FBI office, the agent reported that he would “maintain contact with Cuban sources for any indication of additional activity” by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, “which appears to have become inactive since the departure from New Orleans of LEE HARVEY OSWALD.”
The document says that a copy was being furnished to the Dallas division “inasmuch as that office is presently conducting inquiries to locate LEE HARVEY OSWALD, subject of a separate investigation, Dallas file number 100-10461, and if OSWALD has relocated in the Dallas territory it is possible he may inaugurate a FPCC branch in that area.”
It wasn’t clear what the “separate investigation” was.
■An informant told the FBI in 1964 that one of the members of the Minute Men, a virulently anti-Communist group in the Fort Worth area, came to his house at night about six weeks prior to the assassination and asked for ammunition. “A man was with him. Both men stayed in the yard and did not enter the house. The informant got the ammunition and gave it to them,” according to an FBI report.
Neither he nor his wife “thought any more about it,” the report said, until they saw Oswald’s photo in a newspaper.
“Both noticed a close resemblance between Oswald and the man who was with the Minute Man a few weeks before,” the report said.
“Both said they felt the Minute Men were involved in the assassination although they claimed that very little was said by members they know following the assassination except to express satisfaction that it happened,” the report said.