Late Thursday night, President Trump made a last-minute decision to accept his intelligence agencies' objections and withhold around 300 JFK assassination documents from release.
For almost 54 years, speculation surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and government secrecy has fostered a number of conspiracy theories. Recent polling indicates that a majority of Americans -- 61 percent, to be precise -- do not believe the government's lone-shooter explanation. They believe that more than one person was involved with the assassination.
When the Oliver Stone film "JFK" was released in 1991, it reignited interest in not only the assassination, but in the belief that the government wasn't telling the American people the whole story. So, a year later, Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (also known as the JFK Act). The legislation gave the federal government 25 years to make all remaining classified assassination documents public, with a deadline of October 26, 2017.
With the date approaching, President Donald Trump tweeted on October 21 that "subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened."
However, on the evening of October 26, just hours before the JFK Act's statutory deadline, President Trump reluctantly signed a memo withholding 300 classified documents from release. His memo reads, in part,
... executive departments and agencies (agencies) have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns.
I have no choice -- today -- but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our Nation’s security. To further address these concerns, I am also ordering agencies to re-review each and every one of those redactions over the next 180 days. At the end of that period, I will order the public disclosure of any information that the agencies cannot demonstrate meets the statutory standard for continued postponement."
The internet, not surprisingly, flipped out. The whole purpose of the JFK Act was to squash conspiracy theories and by keeping 300 documents classified and out of the public's reach, President Trump's actions only served to convince many that there is something the government is trying to hide. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency had 25 years to prepare for this release. It is hard to believe these agencies can accomplish anything in the next 180 days that they couldn't have done over the last 9,131 days.
Even so, while 300 documents were withheld, more than 2,800 pages were released as planned. One of the biggest revelations from the release was confirmation that the United States government at the time believed that Lee Harvey Oswald had met with Soviet officials in the USSR embassy just days before the assassination. Even though it appeared that Oswald interacted with the embassy to resolve a visa dispute, the suspect timing was definitely recognized. The Soviet Union also feared that if they were blamed for the assassination, it could have led to nuclear war.
The released documents also show that U.S. intelligence analysts' sources indicated that the Soviet Union was not convinced in the lone shooter theory either. "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 report stated.
Other files detailed CIA plots to assassinate other world leaders, including a pretty detailed write-up explaining a proposed operation to drop leaflets over Cuba offering a bounty on Fidel Castro's head. While the drafted leaflets offered up to $100,000 for government officials, the American government would only have paid out ".02¢" for Castro's head. Another plot involved shipping arms to the Dominican Republic to arm dissidents so they could assassinate the Generalissimo Trujillo.
However, these released documents raise more questions than answers, especially regarding President Trump's decision to withhold some documents for national security and foreign policy reasons. What type of information could cause irreparable damage to American foreign policy that is worse than evidence showing CIA plans to assassinate world leaders?
According to White House sources, President Trump was irate over the 11th hour objections from the FBI and CIA. "He was unhappy with the level of redactions," the source said.
Over the next 180 days, intelligence agencies will review the documents and send their recommendations back to the White House. President Trump will then take a month to review the agencies' concerns and make a final determination on whether to make them public. The next deadline for a decision is now April 28, 2018.
So, for at least another half year, the conspiracy theories will persist. Even though more than 2,800 never-before-seen documents were released, it is impossible not to wonder what the government is choosing to withhold.