October 26, 2017--Today the National Archives is supposed to release the final tranche of papers reviewed back during the period from 1992 to 1998 by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Board. As the result of a law passed in 1992, the Board, composed of prominent citizens and historians appointed by Congress, on the one hand, and the president on the other, enjoyed exceptional latitude in what it could release. The Board itself had the power to declassify documents. That reversed the usual situation, where people apply to government agencies for the latter to release material. The CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and other haggled with the Board to keep stuff secret. Sometimes the Board agreed, sometimes it didn’t. Most of the material was released, with some deletions, in the 1990s.
Documents the Board agreed to hold back were put into a basket to be released 25 years on–that is the benchmark we reach today. The National Archives and Records Administration made a start at the task over the summer, putting out the first of hundreds of thousands of documents. Today is the moment of suspense for the rest.
I expect the Kennedy documents will contain big piles of information about Lee Harvey Oswald, the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and issues surrounding President Kennedy’s security. They will also contain a great deal about the Soviet spy Yuri Nosenko, who defected to the United States claiming to have special information about Oswald. Because the Records Board had a wide jurisdiction it also looked into CIA covert operations, especially those aimed at Cuba’s Fidel Castro, which I covered most recently in my book The Ghosts of Langley (The New Press).
Over the next days and weeks you should expect to see some of the posts here focus on what we learn from the new Kennedy Board documents. Clearly historians will be grappling with this material for decades to come, but at least you’ll get a whiff of what’s new.