What To Expect from the JFK Files: A conspiracy Q & A
William Manchester, at the beginning of his 1967 dissection of the JFK assassination The Death of a President, cautioned that “the sum of a million facts is not the truth.” In that spirit, here's a look at what we can expect from Thursday's (supposed) release of the remaining classified "JFK files."
Spoiler: Not much.
What's being released?
Today the National Archives is (allegedly) publishing somewhere around 3,100 previously classified documents concerning the 1963 assassination of JFK. Over the years some 30,000 documents (millions of pages) have been released, and in 1992, largely because of the groundswell caused by Oliver Stone's film JFK, President George H.W. Bush signed an order that the final documents be released this year. Some were declassified this July, and the balance is expected to drop today.
But here's one of many kickers: That declassification schedule isn't scripted the way a movie would be, not "save the best for last." It's actually highly likely these last documents won't have much to do with the assassination at all. The National Archives has said that, though they can't comment on the content itself, they "assume that much of what will be released will be tangential to the assassination events."
Another kicker: Not all these documents date from the assassination. Many were written as recently as the 1990s, and the CIA has protested that some shouldn't be released at all. (Time to stock up on tin foil and distilled water, the milk and bread of 2017.) Likely the agency feels some of these more recent documents could give away sources and methods they consider still important to national security, as well as the identities of informants who might still be alive.
In fact, this still might actually lead Trump to reconsider and block some of the papers, or at least withhold some of them or redact certain parts. As of this writing they still haven't been released, so go figure.
The files, when released, will be available at the National Archives website.
Q: Which conspiracy theories might be given credit?
A: You can find a way to twist this around to support probably anything. But if you're searching, the most interesting thing historians say you search for is some new stuff about Mexico and Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City.
Before the assassination, Oswald did in fact make a trip to Mexico City, where he was allegedly to meet with Soviets and Cubans. Details aren't worth it, but there's reason to believe someone impersonated Oswald in Mexico City. At first the CIA said it had no surveillance of Oswald there and had erased tapes of his phone calls. Later the CIA contradicted this, saying they in fact did have these photos and tapes.
Also: In 2013 a CIA historian admitted knowing of a literal CIA cover-up! He said the agency withheld certain “incendiary” information from the Warren Commission (which investigated the assassination) in order to support “what the Agency believed at the time was the ‘best truth’—that Lee Harvard Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone.”
The CIA apparently didn't want the investigators to look deeply into whether there might have been coordination between Cubans and Soviets to kill Kennedy.
Q: Which conspiracy theories will finally be debunked? A: None.
No matter what the government releases today, the conspiracy theories will never go away. In fact, the release of these "last" documents will fuel more speculation. And this is surely to rankle theorists: Apparently many of the remaining files are letters the CIA wrote in the 1990s to the Assassination Records Review Board, a federal entity that was in charge of deciding how much about the assassination could be safely declassified.
Of course the government doesn't want us to see those letters! It wants us to think these are the only ones left! We need fresh young minds on the case, unhampered by decades of mainstream misinformation and microwave blasts, kids familiar with the arcana of the World Wide Web and making YouTube videos.
Q: I'm a fresh young mind unhampered by decades of mainstream misinformation and microwave blasts, familiar with the arcana of the World Wide Web and making YouTube videos. I wish to subscribe to a conspiracy theory. What are some of the best ones?
A: By "best" do you mean "most popular" or "most insane"?
A: Okay. The most familiar is probably "the CIA did it." This story goes that the CIA had Kennedy killed because they opposed his positions on Communism. JFK didn't throw the full military behind the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, a military operation the CIA devised in order to overthrow Fidel Castro.
Lee Harvey Oswald was but a patsy. This is also where Ted Cruz's dad comes in.
Another popular one: The mafia did it.
This is just the CIA theory expanded one level: They worked with the Mafia, who also opposed Castro. That connection isn't out of nowhere: The Mafia helped the CIA try to kill Castro.
Which brings us to the Cubans. This is basically: Anti-Castro Cuban-Americans killed Kennedy. This theory is "supported" by the fact that the month before the assassination, a group of Cubans met with a group of right-wing nutjob Americans. See also: Ted Cruz's dad.
Then some people think LBJ did it out of a (well-founded) fear he'd be replaced as Vice President. And of course, there's your standard "the Russians did it." But you can see how these theories are appealing: They all have an element of truth, and they all offer motives. This is how conspiracy theories work: A little truth, a lot of weird and fascinating coincidental shit, and voila -- you're suddenly solving a mystery. And because you can't prove something didn't happen, especially so long ago, there's no end to it. Ever.
Q: Those are lame.
A lot of books have been written about the assassination. Go dig em up. Some of them are fucking nuts, especially the ones that came out in the early '90s, around the time of Stone's film. One book, called "Behold a Pale Horse," written in 1991 by William Cooper, says that the limousine driver, a secret service agent, shot Kennedy. This is because the driver turned to his right and looked back.
Another early-90s gem -- Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK -- says it was all just a big whoops-a-daisy: A secret service agent in the follow-up car accidentally fired his assault rifle when they stopped short.
Also, maybe Joe DiMaggio ordered the assassination because he blamed Kennedy for Marilyn Monroe's death.
Most likely scenario: The Coca-Cola theory. Oswald reacted to the sugar or something, and it drove him nuts. There's even a competing Dr. Pepper theory: There were two vending machines in the book depository. Someone actually wrote a book about this.
In the final analysis, there will be no final analysis. The mystery around the JFK assassination, like any history-changing event involving the government -- the moon landing; Pearl Harbor; most recently, all sides of the Trump-Russia scandal -- will never be laid to rest to everyone's satisfaction. The one thing you can know for sure is whether it even matters to you. If it does, go nuts. Pardon the phrase.