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JFK Files: What We’ve Learned From The Declassified Documents

That's 5 million pages of new information.

27/10/2017 11:17 SAST | Updated 27/10/2017 17:23 SAST

On Thursday US President Donald Trump ordered the release of 2,800 documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy.

Though Trump yielded to pressure from the FBI and CIA to block some 300 records, there are now 5 million declassified cables, notes and reports pertaining to the killing of the first and only Irish-American Roman Catholic to hold office.

From a tantalising tip-off to a local British newspaper to an alleged KGB connection, here is what we’ve learned so far... 

Reuters
President Kennedy and his wife ride through Dallas moments before the assassination 

A mysterious tip-off in Cambridge 

A memo addressed to the director of the FBI reported an anonymous phone call being made to the senior reporter of the Cambridge News 25 minutes ahead of the assassination.

The memo reads: “The caller said only that the Cambridge News reporter should call the American Embassy in London for some big news and then hung up.” It continued: “After word of the President’s death was received the reporter informed the Cambridge police of the anonymous call and the police informed MI5.

“The important point is that the call was made, according to MI5 calculations, about 25 minutes before the President was shot.”

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CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite announces the assassination of JFK

The Cuban Connection 

In 1978 a team of investigators travelled to Cuba where they met with Fidel Castro. According to the files, Castro “assured the Committee that neither he nor his government had any involvement in the assassination.”

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The files claim the CIA had plans to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the early days of the Kennedy administration. Castro denied any involvement in JFK's death 

Nevertheless, a further form from the CIA notes that the Cuban ambassador to the US reacted with “happy delight” to news of the killing.

1975 documents detail the CIA’s role in foreign assassinations and said plans to assassinate Castro were undertaken in the early days of the Kennedy administration. A further document says the agency was involved in plots against the Cuban leader as early as 1959 or 1960. 

National Archives

Lee Harvey Oswald 

To date, there is no evidence to suggest Lee Harvey Oswald worked with anyone else in his plot to murder the president.

Among the files however are a document which suggests Oswald made contact with Valeriy Vladimirovich Kotikov, a member of the Soviet KGB assassination department at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, around two months before President Kennedy’s death. 

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The fatal shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by nightclub owner Jack Ruby at the Dallas Police headquarters 

There is also a memo from the New Orleans division of the FBI which states the Dallas branch of the agency was already trying to track Oswald in October, a month before the shooting. Dated 10/25/63, it indicated an agent would “maintain contact with Cuban sources” for information relating to the Pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee which the 24-year-old was a member of. 

Another memo revealed the FBI had warned police of a death threat against Oswald, prompting agency director J Edgar Hoover to write: “We at once notified the chief of police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection.” 

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Oswald's police mugshot 

In the 24 November 1963 document originally marked “secret”, Hoover said: “There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead. Last night, we received a call in our Dallas office from a man... in a calm voice saying he was a member of a committee organised to kill Oswald.”

Hoover called the failure to protect Oswald “inexcusable.” He added: “The thing I am concerned about is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”

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FBI Director J Edgard Hoover said the failure to protect Oswald was 'inexcusable' 

Oswald, a former Marine, was shot dead in the basement of the Dallas Police department two days after the assassination by nightclub owner Jack Rubenstein - also known as Jack Ruby. 

Jack Ruby 

Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the abdomen at point blank range as he was being escorted to the county jail. The event was witnessed by millions of Americans on live TV. 

Ruby insisted his great grief over Kennedy’s murder had caused him to suffer “psychomotor epilepsy” and unconsciously shoot Oswald, but he was convicted of murder in 1964 and sentenced to death. He appealed but died of lung cancer in jail before his new trial could begin. 

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Nightclub owner Jack Ruby seen with two unidentified members of his burlesque act 

Though there is no evidence Ruby and Oswald knew each other, some theorists have posited that Ruby murdered Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. 

One of the declassified documents contains an unverified report claiming Ruby and Oswald were seen together at Florida’s Key West airport weeks before the president was murdered. 

Airport manager George Faraldo is cited as claiming he saw Oswald approach Ruby and ask him: “Have you heard anything from the Big Bird yet?”

Soviet Reaction 

In the wake of the assassination, a document citing intelligence from Russia on the day of the killing stated: “Soviet officials were fearful that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union. It was the further opinion of the Soviet officials that only maniacs would think that the ‘left’ forces in the United States, as represented by the Communist Party, USA, would assassinate President Kennedy.

“According to our source, Soviet officials claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had no connection whatsoever with the Soviet Union. They described him as a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else.” 

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A 1964 White House portrait of President Lyndon B Johnson, who took office after Kennedy was killed 

LBJ in the KKK?

A further FBI report cites an informant as claiming white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan had “documented proof that President [Lyndon B] Johnson was formerly a member of the Klan in Texas during the early day of his political career.” 

The document cuts off there, with no sign of such evidence. 

‘Sex Parties’

A 1960 document lists a “high-priced Hollywood call girl” and close friend of private detective Fred Otash “who has been convicted of horse race fixing”. The woman contacted the FBI in LA to tell them Otash had “requested information relating to her participation in sex parties involving Senator John F Kennedy, his brother-in-law, movie actor Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.” 

She is said to have told Otash “she had no knowledge of such activities involving these men.” 

Otash later implied Confidential magazine was “looking for dirt” on Kennedy ahead of the November election. 

$100,000 Reward 

WikiLeaks has announced it will give a $100,000 reward for the documents which continue to be withheld, “should they show violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error.”