Why Have The Kennedy Assassination Records Been Kept Secret For So Long?

The ongoing secrecy around President John F. Kennedy's assassination files has added fuel to an already inferno-sized conspiracy fire. Despite Congress announcing that documents related to the terrible events of November 1963 should be released, the White House has repeatedly stalled (via NPR).

Bizarre things surrounding JFK's assassination have been intensely debated by both the public and the press. Some of the most popular theories include the widespread belief that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone (via The Washington Post). Conspiracy theorists of all stripes often argue that a man spotted nearby with an umbrella may have been involved, as well as the Russians, the mob, the CIA, President Lyndon B. Johnson, or even Ted Cruz's dad.

According to a poll published by NBC News, over 70% of Americans want to see the secretive JFK documents. Congress first agreed that the files should be made public in 1992, and although a great deal of information has been brought to light, 16,000 files related to the mysterious plot have never been released (via NBC News). In theory, one day the digitized documents will be available online for all to see.

Broken promises

The United States government has the right to keep the JFK documents secret if releasing them will compromise security in some way (via NPR). This is due to a clause in the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, passed in 1992. The act stipulated that the documents should be released by 2017, 25 years later (via The Washington Post).

President Donald Trump made moves to honor that promise when he was in office but later announced that some files would remain secret in accordance with security concerns. Trump's administration okayed the release of 19,045 files, but a majority of the documents still had key names and details redacted, per The Washington Post.

According to a report released by Politico, CIA and FBI officials have been embroiled in a multi-year-long conflict over the release of the documents in an attempt to keep them secret. Some of those fighting for secrecy have stated that they wish to protect the safety and privacy of still-living agents and informants. Most of the files are under the lock and key of the CIA, but 23% are controlled by the FBI (via The Guardian).

What's in the JFK files?

Some conspiracy theorists are still convinced that the files contain evidence that the CIA was involved in President John F. Kennedy's death. As recently as 2007, an extremely ill ex-CIA agent, E. Howard Hunt, personally named a handful of CIA operatives, as well as Lyndon B. Johnson, as the true culprits behind the assassination (via Wired).

The notorious agent Hunt went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. The Mary Ferrell Foundation, who are pushing for the release of the documents, have claimed that critical information related to the JFK murder was illegally redacted from E. Howard Hunt's file when the last round of documents were published (via NBC News).

There is also some speculation that the documents will reveal an embarrassingly close relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald and the CIA. Some of the already declassified JFK files have shown that the CIA was surveilling Oswald's activities in Mexico just weeks before he killed the president (via Politico). Speaking on behalf of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, Jefferson Morley, an ex-Washington Post journalist, has repeatedly argued that the CIA worked with Oswald in the 1960s (via The Independent).

Among the unreleased files, journalists are particularly keen to get hold of records regarding the career of agent George Joannides, who worked at the CIA's Miami offices and infiltrated anĀ anti-Fidel Castro group in the '60s. The Mary Ferrell Foundation believes that Lee Harvey Oswald was known to Joannides. The now deceased ex-agent was awarded an intelligence medal for unknown reasons, in the 1980s (via NBC News).

Full disclosure?

The issue of the hidden documents was raised again after President Joe Biden's election. In 2021, 1,500 new files were published by the National Archives (via The Guardian). Skeptics will be unsurprised to discover that they revealed nothing shocking in relation to the case, although they did show that Lee Harvey Oswald was attempting to get a visa to enter the Soviet Union just prior to the assassination.

Convinced conspiracy theorists were outraged that once again only a paltry number of documents were published. Biden issued a memo in 2021 to further delay the release of most of the materials once again, and in response, the Mary Ferrell Foundation began a lawsuit against Biden and the National Archives this October (via NBC News).

The foundation's case argues that all the files should have been declassified on time and that some already published files should never have been redacted. On December 15, 2022, the National Archives released more than 13,000 additional documents connected to the assassination, per CNN. The newly released documents are available online.