The US Is About To Release 3,000 Classified JFK Files. Here's What They Are

History

President Donald Trump announced that the National Archives will release more than 3,000 JFK files, many of which have been classified since the 1960s.


The formal date of the release is October 26, 2017, as determined by the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which George H.W. Bush signed into law exactly 25 years ago.

What are the JFK files?

Sure to be fodder for conspiracy theorists, the files all relate to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Following Kennedy's murder, more than 30,000 government documents — totaling millions of pages — have been incrementally released to the public, although many of them have been redacted or only partially released.

Much of the public stayed in the dark about the presence of these files until Oliver Stone's 1991 film "JFK," in which a closing statement told the public about the secret documents. Movie-goers quickly turned into letter-writers, as concerned citizens began demanding that Washington make the full set of files available.

Congress accelerated the choice to declassify them, and President Bush signed the Records Collection Act a year later. The act created a review board known as the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) that oversaw the documents' release.

What could be in the files

Of the tens of thousands of documents already partially released, approximately 3,100 still remain classified. No one knows exactly what information is contained in the files; the only guide is an index that vaguely lists the contents of the secret documents.

The index does, however, present eyebrow-raising file names that seem to implicate a connection between the ARRB and the CIA. One such batch of files is listed with the subject line "CIA CORRESPONDENCE RE ARRB," Politico reports.

That particular set of files could indicate the CIA was engaging in intelligence operations at the time the ARRB was created, and that it feared releasing files could compromise the operation, Judge John R. Tunheim, who led the ARRB, told Politico.

Related: Did Lee Harvey Oswald Act Alone? An Army Vet’s Investigation Suggests Otherwise »

But conspiracy theorists who don't believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy are likely to be disappointed, Gerald Posner, the author of "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK," told CNN.

"Anybody who thinks this is going to turn the case on its head and suddenly show that there were three or four shooters at Dealey Plaza — it's not the case," Posner said. More likely is that the documents offer greater detail about the CIA's investigation of Kennedy's murder, such as a trip Oswald took to Mexico a few weeks before Kennedy was shot.

What Trump will release

There is some doubt whether Trump will follow through with allowing the National Archives to dispense the documents in full.

Speaking to Politico, an anonymous White House official said that "unless there is a dramatic change of heart, there will not be an absolutely full release of this information." Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said the administration was working "to ensure that the maximum amount of data can be released to the public."

When the Archives does release the files, it has said it'll do so all at once — putting to rest some questions the American public may have about Kennedy's murder, but no doubt raising more.

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