Discover more from Just the Facts with Gerald Posner
Do you know that the National Archives just released more CIA-JFK Assassination Files?
No fanfare or headlines. No grist for conspiracies. The latest document release flew under the media radar.
A lot of readers are probably saying, “What CIA-JFK files?” That is because the National Archives did not issue a press statement about its April 27 release of an additional 355 files.
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Even many JFK assassination researchers were caught off-guard by the document dump. It took one, Fred Litwin, author of “On the Trail of Delusion,” to first spot the news and inform others.
These new files are not the top subject of a Joe Rogan podcast since they do not reveal any evidence of a conspiracy in the murder of the president. What the files do illustrate is the type of material about which the CIA has been fighting tooth and nail not to disclose to the public for nearly 60 years. Attorney Mark Zaid and I talked about some of the reasons behind the CIA’s secrecy obsession regarding the JFK files in 2021 in a Lawfare podcast. The agency battles to protect either confidential informants or foreign intelligence programs. Not very exciting for those hoping for a smoking gun proving that there was more behind the president’s murder than a 24-year-old assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
A detailed review of all the new files should be coming next month. I am looking forward to Professor Robert Reynolds, who knows the documents, their history, and what they mean, to write about them, probably on Max Holland’s Washington Decoded.
Until then, I am sharing some highlights from the National Archives new release. These examples show that the CIA was overly protective when it came to keeping secret information about past operations and sources. I have previously criticized the agency’s priority of putting its own concerns ahead of the public’s right to know everything related to the assassination of a president. Now, the 335 CIA-redacted documents just released by the Archives, reveal that some of the material the agency fought to keep hidden has nothing to do with the assassination. Keep in mind that with one exception, parts of these files have previously been declassified. What the National Archives did on April 27 was to make public all the words or pages that had previously been redacted.
One document many researchers were looking to see in full was the 1975 testimony of James Jesus Angleton, the former head of CIA’s Counterintelligence, to the Church Committee. He was the agency’s top counter-intel officer for 21 years, starting in 1954, and is a favorite suspect in many JFK assassination conspiracy theories. Angleton’s deposition was released in part in December 2017; more was made public onApril 26, 2018, and again last December 15. Only a few redactions remained. Of course, public interest and curiosity naturally focused on what was still sealed. What are they hiding, was the question I often heard?
Below are the sections or words that were kept from public view after the December 2022 document release (The red markings are mine, for ease of spotting what was hidden)
Now, the fully unredacted version released three days ago by the National Archives (yellow highlights are mine)
There is no mention of JFK or a link to the assassination. Instead, what the CIA wanted to keep secret was about a Romanian intel officer who had defected to Norway and provided a lot of information about Soviet pact activities. The CIA protected the defector by not giving his nationality, and hid that it was French and Norwegian intel that managed to break up a spy network.
Another example of a a document that was long sought by assassination researchers was a letter from Brigadier Charles Spry, the chief of Australia’s equivalent of the CIA, to the agency’s director, Richard Helms. In an October 15, 1968, letter, Spry told Helms that he “recommended strongly” not to declassify a document dated November 29, 1963, only seven days after the assassination (that document was later identified as Warren Commission Document (CD) 971). The Sydney Morning Herald had made a request on March 26, 1968, in a letter the paper sent to Helms, to declassify the document. The Herald request came after the Saturday Evening Post had published an article by David Wise, in which he described the classified document: “Anonymous telephone calls to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia relative to planned assassination of President Kennedy.”
When CD 971 was first declassified in 1976, it seemed explosive since it was from someone who claimed to a Polish chauffeur for the Soviet Embassy in Canberra. The document was a memo from the CIA’s Richard Helms to one of the Warren Commission attorneys (Lee Rankin). It said, in part: “This individual, while discussing several matters of intelligence interest, touched on the possibility that the Soviet Government had financed the assassination of President Kennedy. Reference was made in this cable to the receipt of a similar anonymous telephone call on 15 October 1962.” The caller claimed that “Iron Curtain Countries” had a $100,000 bounty on JFK’s head. Moreover, the CIA did not learn about the 1962 call until after JFK’s murder.
Did someone calling the American Embassy in Australia have foreknowledge of the assassination and try to warn Kennedy? Helms reported to Rankin that: “In the opinion of the Australian authorities, the caller was a crank. In any event, they were not able to identify any Polish employee of the Soviet Embassy, the automobile described by the caller as the one he drove, or the license plate number given by him. No further information on this call has been received. Available evidence would tend to show that the caller was some type of crank. This conclusion, however, cannot be confirmed.”
Most researchers long ago reached a similar conclusion. The caller had also claimed in 1962 that “about five Russian submarines carrying 400 to 500 Soviet soldiers” were on their way to Cuba. This troop movement, according to the bizarre claim, was “to support the Governor of Mississippi.” After the assassination, the same caller reached the US embassy. He said that when he drove two Soviets on November 22, 1963, their shortwave radio announced, “we have achieved what we want,” and later they joined other Russians at the USSR embassy in celebrating with vodka. The car and the license plate given by the caller did not exist. There were no troops dispatched by Russia to Cuba on secret submarine trips.
However, if the calls were only malicious pranks, why did the CIA fight for six decades to keep secret portions of the cover letter from the chief of Australia’s CIA to the head of the American CIA?
The Assassinations Review Board that managed to review and release millions of pages of JFK assassination related files during its 1994 to 1998 lifespan, had an acrimonious battle with the agency over whether to release Spry’s letter. Below is what was still redacted up to three days ago.
And here is the unredacted file just released (again, with my highlights)
What the CIA fought hard to keep redacted was information the Australians did not want public. They did not want revealed the extent to which the ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organization) was working with the CIA. Spry feared unmasking a secret CIA station in Canberra and was sensitive to the domestic political fallout for ASIO. Again, the redactions were about protecting intelligence relationships between the CIA and another country, not material hidden because it related to the murder of the president.
The final example of what I highlight from the just released documents, relates to a 12-page file listed as “Info Handling Policy.” Four pages of the file were released to the public on April 26, 2018. The first three pages were a memo dated April 1, 1977, from Charles Briggs, an information review officer in the office of the CIA’s Deputy Director, to the agency’s Executive Advisory Group. It discussed how the agency could develop a mechanism to review “controversial and publicity generating information.” The 4th page unsealed was a December 3, 1992, Washington Post story (“Terminating the CIA”) about how New York senator, Pat Moynihan, wanted to shutter the agency.
The remaining 8 pages were completely withheld. That made this file, according to Professor Reynolds in an email he sent to a list of JFK researchers and authors, “one of the longest whole page redactions in the ARC (Assassination Records Collection).”
In its release on April 27, the National Archives unsealed in full the previously hidden 8 pages. It turns out that they are totally unrelated to the first four pages. The new material includes 1972, 1974 and 1975, handwritten and typed letters from Marcel Chalet, the chief of French counterintelligence to James Angleton (who Chalet addresses as “Dear Jim”).
I did an OCR version of the PDFs, turning it into searchable French text and then used Chat GPT4 to translate the pages into English to determine if there was anything added to our knowledge of the JFK assassination. There is not. A 1972 letter is concerned with NATO counterintelligence and “high level” operations involving U.S. Brigadier General Joseph Cappucci, Deputy CIA Director Vernon Walters, and the French Minister of Defense, Michel Debré. A 1974 letter is about an effort to find an American publisher for a book by Chalet. In a 1975 note, near the time Angleton resigned in the wake of the scandalous disclosures from the Church Committee hearings, Chalet commiserated with his longtime CIA friend and colleague.
“I still have a very oppressive feeling when I think back to our last meal together, where we all refrained from talking about your upcoming departure, which was, in any case, my main concern. I cannot resign myself to accepting this outcome, and frankly, I am worried about what comes next.
That is what I wanted to tell you, briefly but from the bottom of my heart.
I can never thank you enough for what you have done for me in terms of friendship, for my service in terms of understanding and assistance, and I hope to have many more opportunities to tell you so.
My best wishes for the rest of your fight.”
The name Kennedy does not appear in the 8 pages released three days ago. There is no mention of the assassination, Oswald, the KGB, or Castro. Once again, the material the CIA fought to keep secret was intelligence matters that involved intel operations with other nations. Additionally, as for this file, the CIA also inexplicably fought to retain classification on personal exchanges from France’s counterintelligence chief to Angleton.
While the review of the 335 just released documents continues, the clock turns now to June 30 and the next “final deadline” for the National Archives to release the remaining 3,565 JFK assassination files . Will they be the documents that provide the evidence of conspiracy to which so many Americans still cling? If the files released on April 27 are a glimpse at what is coming, I am not holding my breath.