Biden releases most JFK assassination records

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15 Dec 2022, 7:01 pm

Biden releases most JFK assassination records — but withholds thousands

President Joe Biden’s administration released more than 13,000 records of President John F. Kennedy's assassination Thursday, but it fell short of fully complying with the spirit of a 30-year-old law demanding transparency by now.

With Thursday's action, about 98% of all documents related to the 1963 killing have now been released and just 3% of the records remain redacted in whole or in part, according to the National Archives, which controls the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection.

The records include more information on accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald and his time spent in Mexico City.

But about 4,300 records remain redacted in part — with no record completely blacked-out — according to the agency, and experts say there's no justification for withholding them to protect national security or intelligence gathering.

“We’re 59 years after President John Kennedy was killed and there’s just no justification for this,” said Judge John H. Tunheim, who from 1994-98 chaired the Assassination Records Review Board that was established Under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which Biden voted for when it passed Congress unanimously.

Among the documents that remain largely hidden: 44 related to a shadowy CIA agent, George Joannides, and a covert Cuba-related program he ran that came into contact with Lee Harvey Oswald less than four months before Kennedy was shot, according to calculations made by JFK researchers with the Mary Ferrell Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit repository of the assassination records, which sued the administration to make all the documents public. The foundation says the CIA is withholding most of the records at issue.

Many of those Joannides records were never put in the National Archives' JFK collection, according to the foundation's lawsuit, so the lion's share of the suspected records were not released Thursday.

CIA officials dispute the number of Joannides records in their possession, but they confirmed two were scheduled to be released Thursday.

"We believe all CIA records substantively related to Mr. Joannides were previously released, with only minor redactions, such as CIA employees’ names and locations," the agency said in a press statement in which it boasted of making "tremendous progress" in releasing records.

Under the JFK records act, all documents related to the assassination were supposed to be released by 2017. But then-President Donald Trump delayed the full publication of all records and ultimately left it in the hands of Biden, who in 2021 delayed full release until Thursday, only to do so again.

Throughout the process, Trump and Biden authorized releases of some information, but those records that remain secret are expected to be the most interesting to researchers, involving government contacts with Oswald.

In a memorandum explaining the release of records and the withholding of others, Biden noted that the records act "permits the continued postponement of disclosure of information ... only when postponement remains necessary to protect against an 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 disclosure."

But Tunheim said he heard those arguments in the 1990s and does not believe them. Earlier this month, he wrote Biden a letter urging him to honor the spirit of the law and he referenced Joannides, who guided and monitored an anti-Fidel Castro group called “Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil” (Revolutionary Student Directorate) in 1963 that came into contact with Oswald in New Orleans in the months before the assassination, leading some to speculate about CIA-related complicity in the killing.

As Oswald interacted with DRE and became known as an activist who supported President Castro, the Pentagon was formulating a plan called Operation Northwoods to stage a false flag attack in the United States to blame on Cuba and justify a military confrontation to make up for the aborted Bay of Pigs fiasco two years before.

The foundation seeks those Operation Northwoods records in its lawsuit, as well as records concerning CIA plans to assassinate Castro and a June 30, 1961 memo from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to JFK to reorganize the agency after Bay of Pigs.

Jefferson Morley, a JFK expert and vice president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, said a spot check of the Thursday files showed that the memo was still "largely redacted."

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