Saturday, December 7, 2019

The JFK Assassination Records - What's Released and What's Withheld?

The JFK Assassination Records: What’s Released and What’s Withheld

By William Kelly (

[BK NOTES: The video of the CAPA Dallas 2019 is being edited. This is a summary based on my notes. I was originally scheduled to talk for an hour, but relinquished a half hour to Washington journalist Jefferson Morley (, who has been working with Rex Bradford (of on determining the numbers of records released and still being withheld.]

I’m going to try to relate my experience with the JFK Assassination records by giving some basic historical background and explain what's been released and us still being withheld using two metaphoric analogies that, while not based on fact, are somewhat closer to the truth than the explanations given by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), - one that I call “Oliver Stone’s Mercedes,” and the other the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

While most people who are interested in the assassination today because they got their start by watching Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” my interest was sparked, as was Jim DiEugenio’s and other second generation researchers, by the interview with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in Playboy Magazine, an issue that John Judge handed to me when I was a 17 year old freshman at the University of Dayton (Ohio) in the fall of 1969.

That led me on the odyssey that we are still traveling, one that I believe we are on a cross roads, and need to correct our direction.

John and I lobbied Congress for the official investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy, and supported the creation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), that we believe would get to the bottom of things, but boy were we wrong.

My Congressman, William Hughes, voted for the FOIA and HSCA, and hand delivered the final reports of the HSCA to me, volumes that I read over the summer.

When the controversial committee finally disbanded the second chief counsel G. Robert Blakey declared their files “Congressional Records,” as they were, and sealed them for a half century, saying, “I’ll rest on the judgement of historians in fifty years.”

Well I wasn’t about to do that, so John Judge and I started a non-profit group the Committee for an Open Archives (COA) specifically to release the HSCA records. One afternoon we visited the old National Archives building on Pennsylvania Ave. where I met Marion Johnson, the first official curator of the Warren Commission and JFK assassination records. I had corresponded with Mr. Johnson on a number of occasions, requesting records that he dutiful and quickly responded to, so I was glad to meet him in person

I asked Mr. Johnson why Congressional records were sealed for fifty years, why not thirty-five or seventy-five? He said that fifty years was the estimated time it took for the persons named in the records to die. 

So we can't track them down and confirm the information. 

When I asked Mr. Johnson how we could go about accessing the HSCA records he said that since Congress exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we would need an act of Congress to release the records, something that we naively thought could be done.

After years of knocking on the doors of Congressmen who expressed no interest in our cause, we learned that Oliver Stone was making a movie that would become “JFK.”

Sitting in the Senate cafeteria one of our cohorts Congressional investigator Kevin Walsh mentioned the movie “Executive Action,” and how at the end of the movie they mentioned the mysterious deaths and the London Times actuary, and he suggested that if Oliver Stone would put a trailer at the end of his movie mentioning the still sealed HSCA files, it might spark people to complain to their congressman about the continued secrecy.

When Oliver Stone was in D.C. John Judge and I met him at his hotel room, he said to ask him for anything but money, as all his money was tied up in the film. We asked him about putting a trailer on the film mentioning the still sealed HSCA records, and he said someone had already asked him about that and he was considering it. As we were leaving Stone handed me a brown paper bag full of red and white JFK-Free the Files buttons that I distributed liberally. 

And in the end Oliver Stone did it, he added the little rider at the end of his movie and it worked, beyond all imagination. G. Robert Blakey and the other lawyers Congress brought in to draw up the law decided that they weren’t going to just release the HSCA records, but were going to call for the release of ALL of the government records on the assassination, something we never thought of asking for.

And because of the public outpouring of support following the release of Stone’s movie, Congress passed the JFK Act of 1992 unanimously, - when does Congress do anything unanimously?

But before President George Herbert Walker Bush reluctantly signed the JFK Act of 1992 into law he attached a rider that included the stipulation that when all of the remaining sealed records were to be released – 25 years after his signing the act into law, the President of the United States, and only the President – whoever he or she may be at that time - Oct. 26, 2017, that president would have the power to continue withholding records the release of which would threatened national security.

While former ARRB chairman Federal Judge John Tunheim said at a CAPA National Press Club Press Conference that there was no reason to continue withholding any assassination records after that date, the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero was required to write his recommendations to the President, a document that itself is still classified. And while we don’t know what the AOTUS recommended, we know that after repeatedly tweeting that he was going to abide by the law and take credit for the release of all of the remaining JFK assassination records, at the very last moment President Trump changed his mind.

Late in the afternoon of the day they were scheduled to be released – Oct. 26, 2017, President Trump’s then Chief of Staff – General John Kelly, USMC and the CIA persuaded him to continue withholding many records for reasons of national security. And he did so.

Now, over two years later, and with the federal government, military and intelligence agencies in turmoil, it appears impossible to get Congress to do their duty and have the House Oversight Committee hold open public oversight hearings on the JFK Act, as required by the law.

When it was suggested getting one person - the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee to schedule a hearing would be an easy thing to do, especially since only the chairman has the power to do so, that wasn’t done before the chairman – Rep. I. Cummings (D. Md.) passed away. The new chairman is Carolyn Maloney (D. NY) whose district includes lower Manhattan.

When I suggested that we just ask the Chairman to hold JFK Act oversight hearings I was vocally shouted down at conference call board meetings of both CAPA and the TRC – by Dr. Wecht, Larry Schnapf (a Maloney constituent), Dan Stopper, Libby, Jeff Morley and Andrew Kreig, all of whom argued that “Congress was not going to do anything.”

Only Mike Nurko spoke up in favor saying that if we don’t do anything, nothing will happen, but if we at least try, and write them a letter and ask, it could happen, but most certainly won’t if we don’t. Thank you Michael.

The last Congressional Oversight Hearing of the JFK Act was held over twenty years ago, the year the ARRB was slated to be disbanded, long before they were done their work because of Bill Clinton’s procrastination in appointing the board and financing them. At this hearing we heard from LBJ’s assistant Jack Valante, the head of a national film association, whose rage against Oliver Stone’s “JFK” was tempered only by his acknowledgement that all of the records should be released.

When Stone got the microphone he complained that the JFK Act only included JFK assassination records and not the HSCA records on their investigation of the Martin Luther King assassination. “What do I have to do,” Stone asked, “make a movie about King’s murder before you release them?”

A Congressman asked Stone what he expected to find in the assassination records, as it was so long ago.
Stone replied that he looked at the government’s JFK assassination records like a 1963 Mercedes Benz automobile left in a Harlem ghetto for twenty years. It would be jacked up, the tires and chrome stripped, the battery and radio taken, - but you would still recognize it as a Mercedes.

And today, with the records that were released, we can recognize what happened as a coup.

There may not be any “smoking guns” among the government records released under the JFK Act, but there are many “smoking documents,” and I’ll give you a few examples.

When the HSCA interviewed Warren Commission attorney Sam Stern – who is still alive and practicing in Washington D.C., he was asked what would have happened if the Warren Commission had known about the “Hosty note,” the FBI destroyed and the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Stern said that if the Warren Commission were aware of either of those aspects of the case, they would have conducted a completly different investigation.

Among the records released under the JFK Act is the Higgins Memo, the minutes of a September 25, 1963 meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon written by Colonel Higgins, aide to US Marine General “Brute” Krulak, then responsible for the military’s assistance to the CIA’s covert operations against Cuba. Desmond FitzGerald, the CIA officer responsible Cuban operations briefed the joint chiefs and mentioned that among the psychological operations they were conducting a “detailed study” of the German military plan to kill Hitler and take over the Nazi government that resulted in the failed July 20, 1944 bomb attack on Hitler that he survived.

When Washington D.C. FOIA attorney Jim Lesar - the head of the Assassinations Archives and Research Center (AARC) requested the CIA’s “detailed study” FitzGerald referred to, they said they have no record of such a study, or any record whatsoever of the July 20, 1944 Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler. This case has been appealed and is still an active case, though more records are not expected to be forthcoming.

In focusing on the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro I dismiss the early plots and only look at the ones where they were planning – that’s plan not plot – they were planning on killing Castro by shooting him in the head with a high powered rifle as he road by in an open jeep.

In 1975, at the time of the Church Committee investigations, 8 – that’s eight CIA National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC) technicians came forward as whistle blowers, notifying their boss – Dino Brugioni – that they knew of a CIA plan to kill Castro with a high powered rifle as he drove to Veradero Beach, where Castro had a vacation home he frequently visited. These NPIC technicians provided maps, photos and even aerial satellite photos of the area to be used in the operation.

The plan was called Pathfinder, and was associated with CIA maritime infiltration and exfiltration trainer Carl Jenkins, facts they knew because the Pathfinder file was kept in their section of the JMWAVE station rather than in the Operational File, where it belonged.

We only know this because the NPIC report and the CIA’s response was misfiled but found in Frank Strugis’ CIA Security file.

Then when the ARRB requested the NPIC records related to the assassination, a former NPIC secretary said that shortly after the assassination Attorney General Robert Kennedy called and ordered the NPIC assassination records boxed and sent to the Smithsonian Institute rather than the National Archives, where they belonged. But the ARRB did not follow up on that and never requested the Smithsonian to look for those records.

So we have three instances of the NPIC records related to the assassination – possibly including the Pathfinder file, being intentionally misfiled – at JMWAVE in the NPIC section of the station, the NPIC memo in Frank Sturgis’ CIA Security file, and at the Smithsonian instead of the NARA.

While I am focusing my current research on the Valkyrie and Pathfinder plans to kill Castro – that I believe were redirected to JFK in Dallas, other researchers are focusing on their own interests in the case, including John Newman, Malcolm Blunt, Dick Russell, Bill Simpich, Jim DiEugenio, David Lifton, Russ Baker and others, which brings me to the second metaphoric analogy.

My uncle Stephen Hayes, after working at the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper for many years, entered the seminary and became a Catholic priest. Knowing of my interest and work on the JFK assassination records, he wrote a homely that he shared with me that compares our work to the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, in which the blind me describe different parts of the elephant in different ways, but were still describing the same beast.

And I believe what we are describing is not a Mercedes but a coup – a cop d’etat.

Now, despite being shouted down by those who don’t believe Congress will do anything, I believe that getting Congressional Oversight Hearings is one of the easiest things we can legally do, and it is the one thing that we all agree on. Even the most stout defenders of the Warren Commission report, as well as the most sill conspiracy theorist, we all to a man agree that the JFK Act should be enforced, all of the records should be released in full, and as Mike Nurko suggests, it is something that we must at least try to do or it definitely won’t happen.

So whether I do it alone or with others, I am going to ask the new chairwomen of the House Oversight Committee to do her duty and schedule an open public hearing on the JFK Act, to determine what became of the missing records, who destroyed records and why, and what records remain withheld. 

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Tommy Wilkens said...

Outstanding work Bill Kelly. Everyone who is interested in the real truth of John Kennedy's assassination appreciates you and all your tireless work. We hope you find time to give our book "Walking The Razor's Edge: The Dutchman and The Baron" an honest review. Thank you, Bill Kelly, you are a leading voice and we all thank you. Tommy & Hilde Wilkens

Docklady said...

At he time of the Warren Commission, I was seeing an imminent NYC psychiatrist, Dr. Renautus Hartog who had testified that he had treated the Oswald boy in his teens. Dr. Hartog was irate that his testimony had been construed as his stating the boy had exhibited homicidal inclinations. He felt this rewriting reflected upon his integrity as a psychiatrist.
He went on tour to refute the commission to no avail. In his opinion, the Oswald boy's problem was his mother. Linda J Severt

Brandon said...

Bill, I like your use of the elephant analogy a lot. If your part of the elephant is Valkyrie/Pathfinder... what parts of the elephant are John Newman, Malcolm Blunt, Dick Russell, Bill Simpich, Jim DiEugenio, David Lifton, Russ Baker and Larry Hancock specifically looking at? I've tried to break this down for myself just based on their books and lectures, but I've never met any of them in person and I'd love to hear from someone who has.

Barbara S. said...

Dr. Hartogs was a sexual predator who prescribed sexual relations as therapy to some of his patients. It was the subject of "Betrayal" by Lucy Freeman. If you read Dr.Hartogs testimony in the Warren report you will see the doctor described Lee H. Oswald as dangerous. Wesley Liebeler had pulled the original report on Oswald that Hartogs never reviewed before testifying or his questioning by the FBI. Liebeler made Hartogs review his original report and questioned him again. The report was entered into the Warren Report as well. Another of the odd circumstances in the JFK case was that Lucy Freeman was the co-author with Hartogs on his book about Oswald and Jack Ruby "The Two Assassins".