Biden releases most JFK assassination records — but withholds thousands
All the documents should be made public under a 1992 law, but the administration is declining to follow its letter for the second year in a row.
President Joe Biden’s administration released more than 13,000 records of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination Thursday, but it fell short of fully complying with the spirit of a 30-year-old law demanding transparency by now.
With Thursday’s action, about 98% of all documents related to the 1963 killing have now been released and just 3% of the records remain redacted in whole or in part, according to the National Archives, which controls the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection.
The records include more information on accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald and his time spent in Mexico City.
But about 4,300 records remain redacted in part — with no record completely blacked-out — according to the agency, and experts say there’s no justification for withholding them to protect national security or intelligence gathering.
“We’re 59 years after President John Kennedy was killed and there’s just no justification for this,” said Judge John H. Tunheim, who from 1994-98 chaired the Assassination Records Review Board that was established Under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which Biden voted for when it passed Congress unanimously.
Among the documents that remain largely hidden: 44 related to a shadowy CIA agent, George Joannides, and a covert Cuba-related program he ran that came into contact with Lee Harvey Oswald less than four months before Kennedy was shot, according to calculations made by JFK researchers with the Mary Ferrell Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit repository of the assassination records, which sued the administration to make all the documents public. The foundation says the CIA is withholding most of the records at issue.
Many of those Joannides records were never put in the National Archives’ JFK collection, according to the foundation’s lawsuit, so the lion’s share of the suspected records were not released Thursday.
CIA officials dispute the number of Joannides records in their possession, but they confirmed two were scheduled to be released Thursday.
“We believe all CIA records substantively related to Mr. Joannides were previously released, with only minor redactions, such as CIA employees’ names and locations,” the agency said in a press statement in which it boasted of making “tremendous progress” in releasing records.
“We’re talking about over 87,000 documents originally included in the JFK Act collection,” the agency said. “And as of today, CIA has completely disclosed more than 84,000 of those to the public without any redactions. That amounts to about more than 95% of those documents, released in full.”
Under the JFK records act, all documents related to the assassination were supposed to be released by 2017. But then-President Donald Trump delayed the full publication of all records and ultimately left it in the hands of Biden, who in 2021 delayed full release until Thursday, only to do so again.
Throughout the process, Trump and Biden authorized releases of some information, but those records that remain secret are expected to be the most interesting to researchers, involving government contacts with Oswald.
In a memorandum explaining the release of records and the withholding of others, Biden noted that the records act “permits the continued postponement of disclosure of information … only when postponement remains necessary to protect against an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
But Tunheim said he heard those arguments in the 1990s and does not believe them. Earlier this month, he wrote Biden a letter urging him to honor the spirit of the law and he referenced Joannides, who guided and monitored an anti-Fidel Castro group called Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (Revolutionary Student Directorate) in 1963 that came into contact with Oswald in New Orleans in the months before the assassination, leading some to speculate about CIA-related complicity in the killing.
As Oswald interacted with DRE and became known as an activist who supported President Castro, the Pentagon was formulating a plan called Operation Northwoods to stage a false flag attack in the United States to blame on Cuba and justify a military confrontation to make up for the aborted Bay of Pigs fiasco two years before.
The foundation seeks those Operation Northwoods records in its lawsuit, as well as records concerning CIA plans to assassinate Castro and a June 30, 1961, memo from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to JFK to reorganize the agency after Bay of Pigs.
Jefferson Morley, a JFK expert and vice president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, said a spot check of the Thursday files showed that the memo was still “largely redacted.”
“If the CIA can’t bring itself to release a document written two years before the assassination — a memo that is obviously critical of the CIA — you have to question their good faith in whether they are complying with the law,” he said.
But the CIA disclosed none of that information and appointed Joannides as an agency liaison to investigators, which impeded the 1976 House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation, its general counsel, G. Robert Blakey, told Miami New Times in 2001. Tunheim agreed.
“They said his files shouldn’t be released because it didn’t relate to anything related to the assassination because he wasn’t involved. That clearly wasn’t true at all,” Tunheim said. “His information is highly relevant, and if we had it at the time, we would have released it. And the fact they haven’t released it leads people to think they have something to hide. It just suggests there’s something to hide.”
Tunheim said he doesn’t believe there is a “smoking gun” in the documents suggesting that Oswald was not the gunman who shot Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Ever since the shooting, a majority of Americans have believed that Oswald was not a lone-wolf gunman, according to Gallup polling and a poll released last week with the Mary Ferrell Foundation conducted by Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based consultant and JFK history enthusiast.
His poll also showed that 71% of voters thought Biden should release all of the JFK records, regardless of agency opposition.
“The CIA is putting President Biden in a bad political position that’s at odds with the overwhelming majority of Americans as the poll results reveal,” Amandi told NBC News.
“Calling for further delays and redactions for six decades-old documents around the most important of issues in American history — the murder of a president inside our borders — doesn’t just raise additional suspicions, it borders on tacit admission by the agency that something’s very rotten at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.”
Rex Bradford, the president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, said every document release adds a piece of the puzzle of the assassination, but he doesn’t expect a “Star Chamber report that says, ‘OK boys, here’s what happened.’ It ranges from interesting stories part of the assassination context to things that, if you put several of them together, it furthers the story. And for us, Joannides is top of the list.”
Bradford called Thursday’s records release “half a loaf” that failed to provide full and needed transparency.
Bradford discovered 20 years ago that the first recorded conversation between then-President Lyndon Johnson and then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover 22 hours after the assassination was mysteriously erased. A transcript exists of the conversation — in which Hoover talks about Oswald traveling to Mexico City before the assassination — but there’s no way to check its veracity.
The Mexico City story is crucial in the JFK assassination because, immediately after the assassination, the idea that this “loner” was in league with Communists in Mexico City panicked officials in Washington and helped drive the Warren Commission response, Bradford said.
The Warren Commission concluded in 1963 that Oswald acted alone in the assassination.
As part of the foundation’s lawsuit, it’s also seeking a document removed from the security file of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt and it wants the full release of the personnel files of senior CIA operations officer David Atlee Phillips (who told conflicting stories about Oswald’s Mexico City visit); senior Dallas-based CIA operations officer James Walton Moore (who was informed about Oswald’s return to Texas in 1962 and allegedly told a CIA asset that Oswald was “harmless”); and CIA counterintelligence officer Birch D. O’Neal (who controlled the CIA’s Oswald file from November 1959 to November 1963).
Some of those records still had redactions Thursday.
“It’s been 60 years. They’ve run out of excuses,” said Bill Simpich, the attorney who filed the suit for the foundation. “Hopefully, the courts will get them to follow the law and release everything.”
AU official calls out Germany over leopard jibe that left some offended
Germany apologized on Thursday (Jan. 26) for using a leopard emoji in a tweet refering to the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to Africa. The post that was regarded as offensive by some users was called out by the spokeswoman for the African Union chairman Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat.
The German foreign ministry attempted to poke fun at Russia’s top diplomat during his tour of Africa when it tweeted that he wasn’t there looking for leopards, but using the trip to try and justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The tweet, and the leopard emoji the foreign ministry used on its official account, apparently sought to play off Germany’s decision to send some of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to back its military fight off Russian forces.
An African Union official questioned the use of emoji, pointing it could be interpreted as the continent being portrayed once again as only about wild animals.
Hi @GermanyDiplo.Your boss @ABaerbock visited the @_AfricanUnion based in one of the more than 20 African countries that Germany enjoys reciprocal diplomatic relations with. Did she come to see animals? Or is the Continent of Africa, its people & wildlife just a joke to you? https://t.co/RkzWsBbBoH
— Ebba Kalondo (@EbbaKalondo) January 25, 2023
Ebba Kalondo, the spokeswoman for AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted back to the German government account questioning if Africa, its people and its wildlife was “just a joke to you?”
“Foreign policy is not a joke nor should it be used to score cheap geopolitical points by illustrating an entire Continent with colonial tropes,” Kalondo wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The German foreign ministry apologized and said that the tweet wasn’t meant to offend, but rather “to call out the lies that Russia uses to justify its imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine.”
Lavrov has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea this week, where he has repeated his claims that the United States and its Western allies are using Ukraine as a tool in a “hybrid war” against Russia.
Many African nations hold historical ties with Moscow. South Africa was one of several to abstain from a U.N. vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution alongside Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria.
Bomb injures at least a dozen people near a market in north-eastern DR Congo
A bomb exploded at a market in eastern Congo on Wednesday (Jan. 25), injuring at least a dozen people, authorities said.
An unknown person detonated a bomb inside a bag in North Kivu’s Beni town, said Tharcisse Katembo, a local official.
“Damage was documented (and) at least 12 people were injured. They were injured in the lower limbs, others in their upper limbs and others were hit in the head,” he told reporters in Beni.
The victims were taken to the hospital and an investigation was underway, Katembo said.
No one claimed responsibility for the bomb. However, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces, which is believed to be linked with the Islamic State extremist movement, have been increasing in North Kivu, according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, at least 14 people were killed and dozens injured in an attack on a church in Kasindi town, which was claimed by Islamic State. It said in its Aamaq news outlet that it planted an explosive device inside the church and detonated it while people were praying.
Since April, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces have killed at least 370 civilians, and the group has abducted several hundred more, including a significant number of children, the U.N. says.
The explosion Wednesday (Jan. 25) occurred in a local market next to a cassava mill, witnesses said.
Danny Syaghuswa, 16, said he was sitting on his motorcycle when a man in a striped shirt put a small bag behind a door, saying he would come back for it, according to an interview with local reporters heard by The Associated Press. “Less than five minutes after he left the bomb exploded,” Syaghuswa said.
Images of the attack circulating on chat groups show people lying on the floor. One woman in blood-stained clothes was carrying a small child.
Violence has wracked eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups and self-defense militias fight for land and power. Nearly 6 million people are internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands are facing extreme food insecurity, according to the United Nations.
Somalia: Al-Shabaab terrorists storm mayor’s office, killing six
Al-Shabaab terrorists set off a bomb and stormed a government building in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. The Al-Qaeda-backed terror group has stepped up bombings in the country.
At least six people were killed on Sunday in an attack by Al Shabaab militants at the mayor’s office in central Mogadishu, police said.
A suicide bomber set off a huge blast that tore through building near the office complex with gunfire erupting afterwards, Somali police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said at the end of the four-hour siege.
“All the six attackers died. Five of them during the fire exchange with the security forces and one of them detonated himself,” Dudishe told reporters.
“Six civilians also died during the attack and the situation is back to normal.” All the staffers at the mayor’s office were rescued, the police added.
Al 0Shabaab, a militant group allied with Al Qaeda claimed, responsibility for the attack via its communication channels, saying its fighters “made their way inside the targeted building after killing the security guards.” Witnesses said the initial explosion damaged nearby buildings and gunfire could be heard in the vicinity of the mayor’s office.
The area was quickly cordoned off by security officers, a witness who runs a business near the offices said.
Another witness, Omar Nur, said he was inside a nearby mall when the explosion went off and “was lucky to have escaped safely.” The Al Shabaab militants have been waging a bloody insurgency against the frail internationally backed central government for 15 years, carrying out attacks both in Somalia and neighbouring countries.
The latest attack comes days after seven soldiers were killed on Friday at a military camp in Galcad, a town in central Somalia about 375 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu. The US military said the attack — in the Somali town retaken by the army this week — involved more than 100 Al Shabaab jihadists.
“The combined actions by partner forces on the ground and the collective self-defence strike is estimated to have resulted in three destroyed vehicles and approximately thirty Al Shabaab terrorists killed” the US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) said in a statement.
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