Tidbits revealed in newly released National Archives documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy suggest the investigation into what happened in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, won’t settle lingering questions.
Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? We Still Don’t Really Know.
Some of the most surprising ― and frustrating ― documents declassified on Thursday revolve around Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
For instance, authorities had eyes on the ex-Marine the month before the shooting, according to memos that the FBI’s New Orleans division sent to its Dallas branch. Oswald was of interest, according to “Cuban sources.” A 1964 memo denied that Oswald was an FBI informant.
Speculation surrounding Oswald and the CIA has abounded for years. It was previously known, for instance, that he tried to defect to the Soviet Union and asked to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
The trove of documents reveals there was speculation Oswald was a CIA operative. A 1975 presidential Commission on CIA Activities deposition shows that David Belin, an attorney for the commission, asked Richard Helms, who had served as CIA director, whether “the CIA was in some way conspiratorially involved with the assassination of President Kennedy.”
“Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent …” Belin inquired.
The document was cut off, but the remainder of it, which was declassified in 1994, shows that Helms responded saying that Oswald “was certainly not an agent of the CIA.” As for whether Oswald was in any way connected to the FBI, Helms said his recollection was “not all that precise.”
Meanwhile, a document says Oswald made contact with Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, an officer from the Soviet KGB, while at Mexico City’s Soviet embassy on Sept. 28, 1963. Oswald called the embassy several days later and asked, in broken Russian, whether there was “anything new concerning the telegram to Washington.”
Soviet officials denied any affiliations with Oswald. They described him as “a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else.”
As for Oswald’s assassination, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said he warned Dallas authorities about a death threat against Oswald, according to a November 1963 memo.
“We at once notified the chief of police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection,” Hoover said after the Dallas FBI office received a call from a man “saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.”
It’s unclear where that protection was when Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death on Nov. 24, 1963, while he was being taken to the county jail.
The documents also contain unsubstantiated tips, including claims of a second shooter and reports of Oswald having prior contact with Ruby.
Was The Assassination A Coup? We Still Don’t Really Know.
Whether there was an agency or group behind the killing is not something the new documents clear up.
Hoover said in the 1963 memo that his concern “is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”
He didn’t expand on this, so it’s not known whether Hoover believed there were more people involved and didn’t want the public to know, or whether he merely thought he would have a hard time convincing the public that the assassin was a lone wolf.
Soviet leadership assumed the killing was the result of an “ultraright” coup intended to “stop negotiations with the Soviet Union, attack Cuba and thereafter spread the war,” according to a 1966 document detailing Soviet reactions to Kennedy’s death from a source who was in Russia.
“They seemed convinced that the assassination was not the deed of one man, but that it arose out of a carefully planned campaign in which several people played a part,” the file said. Soviet leaders were concerned that an “irresponsible general” in the U.S. would launch a missile at them in response.
Then, in 1978, authorities met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who “assured the Committee that neither he nor his government had any involvement in the assassination.” Yet the CIA did note that Cuba’s ambassador to Canada reacted with “happy delight” to the news.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the diplomat who reacted happily to the news of Kennedy’s assassination. It was the Cuban ambassador to Canada, not to the United States. A previous version of this story also indicated it was unknown how Helms responded to Belin’s question about Oswald and the CIA during the 1975 deposition. In fact, a document containing his response was declassified in 1994.