Kennedy document release unlikely to quell conspiracy theories

A historic photo of Dealey Plaza is displayed near to the original location in Dallas, Texas, in 2013. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A trove of secret documents about the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy is to be released on Thursday (Oct 26) but scholars say they are unlikely to contain any bombshell revelations - or put to rest the rampant conspiracy theories.

The Warren Commission which investigated the Nov 22, 1963, shooting of the charismatic 46-year-old president determined that it was carried out by a former Marine sharpshooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.

That formal conclusion has done little, however, to quell speculation that a more sinister plot was behind the murder of the 35th president of the United States in Dallas, Texas.

Hundreds of books and movies such as the 1991 Oliver Stone film JFK have fed the conspiracy industry, pointing the finger at Cold War rivals the Soviet Union or Cuba, the Mafia and even vice president Lyndon B. Johnson.

President Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he had authorised the release of the remaining 3,100 files about the case - tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of documents.

The move is in compliance with an Oct 26, 1992, act of Congress which required that the assassination records held in the National Archives be released in full and unredacted 25 years later.

"The president believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency, unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise," a White House official said.


Kennedy assassination experts are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to look at the files but sought to tamp down expectations.

"Many people think they'll be opened and they'll have the solution to the case that everybody can settle on," said Gerald Posner, author of "Case Closed," which determined that Oswald did indeed act alone.

"That's not going to happen," Posner told AFP.

"No one's going to abandon their belief in a conspiracy because the release of the files doesn't prove it," he said. "They'll just say it must have been destroyed or hidden."

Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and the author of The Kennedy Half Century, noted that Trump may decide - at the urging of the CIA or the FBI - to withhold some documents.

"Whatever they're holding back will be called the Rosetta Stone," Sabato told AFP. "It's just going to feed more conspiracy theories."

"Anybody who thinks there's a document in there headed 'Members of the Conspiracy to Kill President Kennedy' is going to be waiting a long time," he said.

Experts agree, however, that the documents may shed some light on an intriguing chapter in Oswald's life - his trip to Mexico City about seven weeks before the assassination.

"There could be a lot of new information, I think, about how much the government knew before the assassination about Lee Harvey Oswald," said Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel And Shocking Act: The Secret History Of The Kennedy Assassination.

"We know from previously declassified files that while he's (in Mexico City) he's meeting with Cuban spies and Russian spies and other people who at the height of the Cold War have reason to want to see Kennedy dead or might have," Shenon told AFP.


"He's being closely watched by the CIA," Shenon said. "The question is 'What did the CIA know in real time - weeks before the assassination?'"

"All the most credible evidence points to Oswald as the gunman in Dealey Plaza," where Kennedy was shot, Shenon continued.

"But I think there could be a lot of information in there to show Oswald was in touch with other people," he said. "He may have told other people what he was going to do."

Sabato said the CIA and FBI may pressure Trump to block the release of certain documents to hide their own failings.

"When you get right down to it the CIA and FBI dropped the ball," he said. "They had every indication that Oswald was a misfit and a sociopath."

But neither agency informed the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president, about Oswald, he said.

The CIA may also be seeking to hide the identities of Mexican citizens who were CIA informants, said Posner.

"Typically, that would be redacted but this law requires you release the file with no redactions," he said.

Oswald, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 but returned to the United States in 1962, was arrested shortly after Kennedy's slaying after murdering a Dallas police officer.

Oswald was shot to death two days later by a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, as he was being transferred from the city jail.

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