John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA, was killed in November 1963. A Commission of Inquiry found that he was the victim of a single shooter who fired his rifle at the presidential motorcade in Dallas. The shooter was himself shot dead two days after the assassination while in police custody without ever answering any questions.
This unsatisfying conclusion—that a frustrated “loser” was able to strike down the world’s most powerful man—spawned hundreds of books and dozens of theories that differed from the official findings. US legislation committees held hearings and one outcome was the John F Kennedy Assassination Records Act of 1992 which required that all government records about the assassination be sent to the National Archives and released to the public in 25 years.
This has been happening at intervals and in December 2022, another batch was released, this time of 13,000 documents from the archived 5 million-page collection. There is little new documentation about the actual assassination as most of those have already been released.
Dating between October and December 1963, most of the new documents are mundane human resources memos, reports, newspaper scans and other records, some of which have faded over time making the typed text illegible. There is a 1964 memo about the IBM company starting to use a computer system they are developing to “machine process” records at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), some of which relate to the assassination.
Still, there are some revealing documents about events around the time of the assassination. Did a wealthy drunk man in Sweden predict the assassination two weeks before it happened? Did a female agent drive with a team of assassins to Dallas? Did Cuban leader Fidel Castro order the assassination of Kennedy in retaliation after discovering that there was a similar plot against him? Did a Chinese diplomat write a confession that his country had orchestrated the assassination? These are all investigated through embassies and bureaus around the world and debunked in different intelligence memos.
Many of the pages are now available because people mentioned in the CIA documents are now deceased. There are secret reports from the desks of intelligence officers, some with names obscured, about events in the region that had a functional desk called the “Near East and Africa”.
They show increasing concern about developments in the Congo whose economic wealth was seen to be important to the USA. The CIA did not believe Africans could handle the situation in Congo, a country that could fall under the control of communists. US policy was seen as indistinguishable from that of the United Nations (UN), so the USA would support the build-up of UN troops, as a failure of the UN would reflect badly on the peacekeeping role of the United States.
Did Cuban leader Fidel Castro order the assassination of Kennedy in retaliation after discovering that there was a similar plot against him?
The Kennedy administration planned for a centralized government comprising all political factions as the only hope of averting a civil war. To enforce this policy, they were willing to withdraw their support to the military, a threat that so distressed army chief Joseph Mobutu that he drew his gun on the CIA officer who brought him the news.
At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, Mobutu had become critical of the lacklustre leadership and indecisiveness of the country’s Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. The CIA would deny any role or support for Mobutu when he seized power in a bloodless coup two years later.
Another October 1963 memo notes increased tension in Kenya amid the constitutional talks taking place in London. The Kenyan opposition suspected that Britain would accede to Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta’s demand for easier procedures to amend the constitution and grant more authority to the central government which would weaken their minority tribes’ position. To force concessions, opposition leaders in Nairobi had threatened to secede before they were calmed by their leaders in London. In the meantime, British authorities took precautionary measures and deployed a special police force to the Rift Valley region with African troops also on alert.
Other memos note that, in November 1963, armed groups from the Somali Republic conducted well-planned raids from across the border into Kenya’s northeast and speculate it could be the start of a guerrilla campaign to show that the region’s Somali inhabitants are determined to secede. British police suspected that the rifles and grenades used in the attacks came from Somali police stocks. While the Somali government denied instigating the attacks, British officers predicted they would support more raids ahead of the Somali election in March 1964.
There are follow-up memos about how Somali attacks did increase after Kenya’s independence from Britain on December 12 and the Kenyan government soon declared a state of emergency in the region. Kenyatta vowed to deal decisively with the raids but said Kenyan forces would not undertake “hot pursuit” across the border since this would permit Somalia to internationalize the situation. Observers were sceptical that Kenya could control the situation by patrolling a dead zone along the 450-mile border. However, Kenya and Ethiopia worked out a defence pact to stop Somali insurgent activities in both countries.
Another memo notes a protest by 500 Ghanaians at their embassy in Moscow in December 1963 following the killing of a student named Edmund Assare-Addo. Soviet police claim he died of exposure while intoxicated but the protesters believe he had been killed because he wanted to marry a Russian girl. It ends with a suggestion to use wire services to show the protests in Moscow as evidence of racist attitudes towards Africans despite Soviet propaganda and tie them to other events like the expulsion of Soviet diplomats from the Congo.
Observers were sceptical that Kenya could control the situation by patrolling a dead zone along the 450-mile border.
The records also capture an event that happened long after the Kennedy assassination. In July 1972, members of the Black Liberation Army hijacked a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit. They collected US$1 million in cash from the airline before releasing its passengers and flew on to Algeria, a country they knew little about. Even though Algeria had close revolutionary ties with Cuba, which was not friendly to the USA, its authorities seized and returned both the plane and the ransom. The hijackers—one of whom was a female with a young daughter named Kenya—were allowed to remain in the country.
American officials later tracked reports that the hijackers may have moved on to either Switzerland, France, or Sweden, or that they were back in the USA. In January 1973, the Tanzanian government seized three people who they thought may have been among the hijackers. While Tanzania normally offered refugee status to disaffected American blacks, they were willing to surrender the “undesirable aliens” if the US Embassy asked for their extradition. They were later released as a case of mistaken identity and the CIA wondered if it had been a staged effort to cause confusion in the search for the real hijackers.
The next document review will be in May 2023 when the remaining assassination records will be released. Unless, of course, their release is perceived to potentially cause harm to US intelligence, its military, or the country’s foreign relations.