What to Know After Government Releases Trove of Classified Documents Related to Assassination of JFK

Kennedy Assassination
Lyndon B. Johnson taking the presidential oath after the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas.Getty

The newly released documents mean 97% of the National Archives' assassination reports have been made public.

A fresh trove of classified documents related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy has been released by the federal government, after President Joe Biden signed an executive order Thursday.

President Biden decided last year to delay the newest release until Dec. 15, 2022, noting the nation's archivist reported the COVID-19 pandemic was having a “significant impact” on agencies that needed to be consulted about redactions.

The new documents are being pored over by historians and conspiracy theorists, but did not appear to include any smoking guns, an initial review conducted by CBS News said.

Of note, though, were newly declassified reports about what assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was doing in Mexico in the weeks before he opened fire in Dallas.

One document written by a CIA officer in December 1963 chronicled the spy agency's intercepting Oswald communicating with the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City.

A previously released version had redacted information that wiretapping the Soviet Embassy was a joint enterprise with the Mexican president's office and that it was "highly secret and not known to Mexican security and law enforcement officials," according to the new version.

Philip Shenon, a former journalist and author of "A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination," said the new documents could illuminate whether the American government knew anything about Oswald's plan to kill the president.

"I suspect there may be information in these documents to suggest that other people knew before the Kennedy assassination that this man Lee Harvey Oswald was a danger and that he may have talked openly about his intention to kill the president," Shenon told the BBC.

"And the question has always been did the agencies of government, the CIA and FBI, have some sense that this man was a danger to President Kennedy, and if they had acted on that information could they have saved the president?" Shenon added.

The Warren Commission, headed by then-Chief Justice Earl Warren, determined Oswald acted alone when he fired three times from Texas School Book Depository on Nov. 22, 1963. The shots killed Kennedy and wounded Texas Gov. John B. Connally Jr. as they rode in limousine through downtown Dallas.

Other newly released documents disclosed CIA efforts in Latin America.

One report described the agency's attempts to frame Cuba for smuggling Soviet weapons to several Latin American countries as well as detailed plans to bomb Cuban oil refineries, power stations and other targets.

With Thursday's release, the archives said 97% of the roughly 5 million pages in its collection concerning JFK's assassination have been publicly released.

Related Stories