Q. Was anything new revealed with the most recent release of Kennedy assassination documents?
A. Very little. People are constantly looking for that magic bullet that will explain everything and provide proof of a conspiracy. There are little things that we discovered from the documents, but nothing that changes the fundamental narrative that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin in Dealey Plaza that day.
What we have learned over the past five decades is that Oswald was a little more mysterious of a figure than that portrayed in the Warren Commission report, which dismissed him as a sociopath. What some of these documents have shown is that he was very political, raising the possibility that there was a political motivation to the assassination. And that’s the key. Was this guy just a sociopath who wanted to shoot the president? Or did he have a political agenda?
There’s this whole mystery about Oswald’s trip to Mexico City, which he takes in late September through early October, where he shuffles back and forth between the Cuban consulate and the Soviet embassy. And the question that has remained unanswered is whether anyone in Cuban intelligence put Oswald up to the assassination.
Q. What is in the documents that are still being withheld?
A. I think the documents that have not yet been released are probably very embarrassing to the CIA. It’s very clear that somebody dropped the ball. We know that while in Mexico City, Oswald threatened to assassinate the president. I believe that the few documents that remain classified will show that it was the CIA that dropped the ball.
I think that they had warnings that Oswald had threatened to assassinate the president; perhaps even possessed recordings of Oswald making these threats in front of KGB agents when he was in Mexico City. But that information was never effectively relayed back to the FBI, so they’re very casual in their efforts to contact Oswald when he returned to Dallas. I think there was a breakdown in the communication between the CIA and the FBI, and as a result Oswald slipped through the fingers of American intelligence.
No doubt some of the materials remain classified because they reveal sources and methods used by American intelligence agencies. But if there is new information, it most certainly would shed light on Oswald’s actions in Mexico City.
Q. Of the documents that were released, does anything change the narrative or perceptions of the assassination?
A. There’s nothing that has come out of the documents released as a result of the 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act that changes the narrative that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots in Dealey Plaza. There’s nothing that proves conspiracy. From my point of view, the main contribution of these documents is that they have painted a more sophisticated and nuanced portrait of Oswald. It seems clear that the Warren Commission portrait was too simple.
Another failure of the Warren Commission was that it was never informed of Operation Mongoose, the Kennedy administration’s efforts to use the mafia to undermine Castro’s government and, in some cases, to assassinate him. Had Attorney General Robert Kennedy been open with the commission and told them about the administration’s operation, it might have been able to investigate the Cuban connection in greater detail. But those leads have long since dried up. Unfortunately, there is nothing in these documents that sheds light on the possible connection between Operation Mongoose and the assassination.
Q. Why has it taken so long to release these documents?
A. As an historian, I wish they’d all been released decades ago. I do think that a lot of the documents relate to sources and methods that the intelligence community has been reluctant to reveal.
One of the things that we learned about in these documents is that the United States was working with the Mexican government to wiretap Americans in Mexico City. That was a method of operation that we previously knew nothing about. I think these are the type of materials that are still locked up, and the kinds of documents that intelligence communities are always reluctant to release.