Release of JFK assassination files could fuel conspiracy theories, experts say
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump will allow the last of the classified federal government documents tied to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy to be made public, raising concerns from some that the release may only fuel the conspiracy theories surrounding the murder.
“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long-blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.
About 88 percent of these records have been fully available to the public since the late 1990s, and another 11 percent have been released with sensitive portions removed, the National Archives states on its website.
But under a 1992 law on the JFK files, all records previously withheld either in part or in full are to be released by Oct. 26, 2017, unless the president authorizes that they be withheld longer. Only the president can make that decision.
A White House official told ABC News that the release could be held up if national security or law enforcement agencies provide the president reasons why doing so is necessary.
The law also states that the release can be delayed if the president believes any harm to military operations or foreign relations would “outweigh the public interest in disclosure.”
The law was created in an effort to curb conspiracy theories, but Richard Clarke, a former national coordinator for counterterrorism for the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations and current ABC News consultant, thinks the release could do just the opposite.
“The president is releasing the documents even though the intelligence community would rather he not,” Clarke said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America.” “This will definitely stir up nationwide controversy.”
The documents are mostly files from the CIA and FBI, but Clarke warns that raw files could be misinterpreted as individual reports are not always considered conclusive or comprehensive. Clarke has not seen the undisclosed contents of these JFK files himself but is familiar with classified national security case files after working in counterterrorism offices of two different White Houses.
In an article for Politico magazine, Philip Shenon and Larry Sabato, both authors on the life and death of Kennedy, expressed concern over the release.
“With everything made public at once, pandemonium is all but guaranteed,” they wrote.
“And there will simply be no way for historians and other researchers, even those with a special knowledge of the Kennedy assassination, to make any authoritative judgment as they try to page through tens of thousands of pages of files all at once.”
The contents of the potential release are largely unknown, according to the two authors. They don’t anticipate any findings to significantly change the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, as the Warren Commission, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson, reported a year after the assassination.
According to Shenon and Sabato, some documents are expected to address a six-day trip Oswald made to Mexico, where he met with foreign spies and attracted the attention of the CIA.
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