Government backtracks on release of JFK assassination files

Blowing a deadline it had 25 years to prepare for, the federal government released some files on the Kennedy assassination Thursday night but announced it would hold others back for six months while the CIA and FBI try to convince President Trump not to declassify them.

The declassification of the secret files was mandated in a 1992 law, which set Thursday as the deadline for their release. And President Trump sent out a tweet Wednesday night that the documents were coming.

But after a long day of squabbling with intelligence agencies who were determined to keep some of the documents secret, the president sent out a memo Thursday evening that about a fifth of the 3,600 or so files would be withheld for six months while the government studies them further.

Because of the objections of intelligence officials, Trump said in the memo, “I have no choice today but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our nation’s security.”

The news that the files — which probably contain thousands of pages — were being withheld infuriated Kennedy assassination researchers.

jfk 2

Part of a web page showing the page from the National Archives showing a listing of records released on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Washington, relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President Donald Trump blocked the release of hundreds of records on the Kennedy assassination, bending to CIA and FBI appeals, while the National Archives moved to turn over some 2,800 other records.

Jon Elswick AP

“54 yrs since #JFK assassination, 25 yrs since mandated release TODAY, and we’ll have to wait another 6 months to MAYBE see the good stuff,” tweeted University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, author of “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.”

The announcement followed a day of chaotic arguments within the administration over the release. “Unreal behind the scenes,” one knowledgeable source told the Miami Herald.

When the released files finally showed up on the National Archives website about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, it was hard — at least in the initial going — to detect a pattern in what the intelligence agencies had blocked and what they had consented to.

One highly anticipated document, 151 pages of secret testimony to the Senate intelligence committee by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, was not released. Some researchers thought it might shed light on one of the most mysterious activities of President John F. Kennedy’s presumed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Six weeks before Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Oswald traveled to Mexico City and visited the embassies of Cuba and the Soviet Union, seeking visas to travel there. Exactly what else he did there — and what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about it — remains mostly unknown, at least on the public record.

But while that potentially important — and potentially embarrassing — document is missing, others are present. At least 27 files on KGB defector Yuri Nosenko, including six transcripts of his ruthless interrogation by the CIA, were released.

Nosenko, who defected to the United States in 1964, just two months after Kennedy’s assassination, is one of the most controversial figures in the history of U.S. intelligence. The CIA, certain he was a double agent sent by Moscow in an attempt to (falsely) persuade the United States that Soviet intelligence had nothing to do with the assassination, held him in solitary confinement for nearly four years, in an unheated room where the light was left burning 24 hours day.

“If the CIA was trying to suppress things that made it look bad, you wouldn’t expect to see anything about Nosenko,” one assassination researcher said.

At least a portion of the 3,000 pages of CIA files about Miami-based anti-Castro groups and individuals identified earlier this week by the Miami Herald were released. A quick and incomplete look at eight files connected to Manuel Artime, an exile activist who helped plan the Bay of Pigs invasion and later staged command raids on Cuba, turn up material that ranged from the absurdly mundane — Artime longed to publish a collection of poems he had written on cell walls while in jail on the island — to the geopolitically explosive: Artime was talking to the leaders of Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and other Central American nations about helping him stage raids on a place designated only by a CIA code word, probably Cuba.

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Franco Ordoñez contributed to this story.