The US government released 2,800 documents on Thursday, but President Donald Trump delayed the release of others, saying he had “no choice” but to consider “national security, law enforcement and foreign affairs concerns” raised mostly by the FBI and CIA.
One of the first interesting documents to be unearthed, as journalists, scholars and the public pored over them, was a memo written by director J Edgar Hoover that said the FBI had warning of a potential death threat to Oswald, who was then in police custody.
“There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” Hoover wrote on 24 November 1963. “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.
“We at once notified the chief of police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection. This morning we called the chief of police again warning of the possibility of some effort against Oswald and again he assured us adequate protection would be given.
“However, this was not done.”
Hoover admitted he did not have “firm” information about Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald dead, but said his real name was Rubenstein, and noted rumors of “underworld activity”.
The FBI sent an agent to Oswald’s deathbed in the hopes of a confession, to no success. Ruby denied making any phone call.
In the same memo, Hoover said he and Nicholas Katzenbach, the deputy attorney general, already feared the spread of conspiracy theories. He noted that Oswald had visited Mexico City, called the Cuban embassy there, and sent a letter to the Soviet embassy about a visa.
“The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr Katzenbach, is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,” Hoover wrote.
The files comprise almost the final 1% of records held by the federal government and their publication follows a release in July when the record-keepers, the National Archives, posted 3,801 documents online, mostly formerly released documents with previously redacted portions. An administration official told reporters on Thursday that the files that remain secret have information that “remains sensitive depending on its context”.
Trump ordered the agencies to review those redactions over the course of six months, the official said, to ensure more documents reach the public. The next deadline for documents is 26 April 2018.
According to the National Archives, 88% of records related to Kennedy’s murder were already fully open and another 11% released but partially redacted. In total, that makes for about 5m pages.
The newly released documents also reveal that Soviet Union leaders considered Oswald a “neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else”, according to an FBI memo documenting reactions in the USSR to the assassination.
The Soviet officials feared a conspiracy was behind the death of Kennedy, perhaps organised by a rightwing coup or JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson.
They also feared a war in the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, according to the memo: “Our source further stated that Soviet officials were fearful that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”
The documents include details of various CIA attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, most frequently Cuban leader Castro. He told American lawmakers in 1978 that his country was not involved in the plot to kill Kennedy.
In 1963, however, the Cuban ambassador to the US reacted with “happy delight” to the murder, according to a CIA memo.
Other information so far uncovered includes:
- Oswald spoke to a member of a KGB assassination unit in Mexico City in September 1963. A CIA memo calls the consul there, Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, “an identified KGB officer” and a member of Department 13, a unit “responsible for sabotage and assassination”.
- The Dallas division of the FBI was already trying to track Oswald in October 1963, according to memos by the New Orleans division.
- Jack Ruby had a “good in” with Dallas police, according to an FBI informant in a memo dated shortly after Ruby shot Oswald dead.
- A reporter on the UK’s Cambridge Evening News received an anonymous calltelling him to ring the US embassy for some big news, 25 minutes before the assassination of JFK in Dallas.