Enforce the JFK Records Act: Collect the foreign records about the assassination

Kerry In Cuba
Secretary of State John Kerry opens the U.S. Embassy in Havana on August 14, 2015.

The 1999 Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board singled out President Clinton’s State Department of a lack of cooperation asserting it “obviously did not consider pursuit of foreign records about the Kennedy assassination to be a priority,“and “more of a hindrance than help“.

David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), has an ongoing duty to ensure that all assassination records are obtained before the provisions of the JFK Act fully expire.  Write his blog and tell him the State Department needs to come into compliance with the law.

President Obama has the power to fix this glaring failure by leaning on his Secretary of State John Kerry to get the job done before he leaves office.

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the other candidates should pledge to fix this matter – this is not a Republican/Democrat issue.

As noted in past articles, this failure is just one of many ways in which the JFK Act has not been properly enforced in both the foreign and domestic contexts. The solution is a new version of the JFK Act that restores the power to subpoena assassination-related documents to a board of private citizens.

From the Final Report:

The JFK Records Act states that it is the “sense of Congress” that the Department of State should take steps to obtain such records which have been the object of much interest since the assassination.From 1994 to 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board focused considerable attention on an effort to obtain copies of records contained in the files of foreign governments.

Assassination Records Review BoardIn particular, the Board focused much of its efforts on the KGB records thought to be maintained both in Russia and in Belarus, and on Cuban and Mexican government records.

Congress anticipated, and indeed specifically provided in the JFK Act, that the Department of State “should contact” the Russian government and “seek the disclosure of all records of the former Soviet Union” relating to the assassination. Furthermore, the Department of State was required to “cooperate in full with the Review Board” in seeking disclosure of relevant records.

The Board certainly expected much more help than it received from a Department that obviously did not consider pursuit of foreign records about the Kennedy assassination to be a priority.

Letters of request to the Department from the Board went unanswered for long periods of time, cables that contained communications from foreign sources or from United States Embassy personnel to the Board sat for months on the desks of State Department employees without being transmitted to the Board, and important opportunities were missed because the Department did not believe the issue was important enough to raise.

The Review Board has identified significant records, but does not believe that these collections will be obtained in full until the Department of State determines that such an effort is an important priority.

1. Russia

The Review Board believes that the records of the former KGB exist in Moscow that (1) reflect surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina Oswald during 1959–1962, and that (2) reflect the Soviet investigation into the circumstances of the Kennedy assassination.

The United States Embassy made requests for these records and a Review Board delegation later visited Moscow and met with representatives of three different archives where it was believed that records existed.

The Board received a number of individual records which have been released in the JFK Collection but was unsuccessful in obtaining permission to review or copy the larger sets of files which exist in Moscow.

The Board received a significant boost to its efforts when Vice President Gore asked Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin in March 1998 to release the files. Unfortunately, the National Security Council declined to raise the request in September 1998 during the Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting.

Additional approaches to the Russians continue, but the Review Board strongly recommends that the United States government in general, and the State Department in particular, continue to pursue the release of these important KGB records.

2. Belarus

With the assistance of the United States Embassy in Minsk, Chairman Tunheim, Board Member Hall and Executive Director Marwell in November 1996 reviewed the extensive KGB surveillance file kept in Minsk by the Belarusian KGB.

The file details over two years of extensive surveillance and analysis by the KGB of Lee Harvey Oswald during the time that he resided in the Belarusian capital.

Some of these records were utilized by Norman Mailer in his book Oswald’s Tale. The Board was unable to obtain a copy of the file, in part due to the deteriorating relationship between the United States and Belarus in 1997–98.

Mailer’s collaborator in Oswald’s Tale, Lawrence Schiller, agreed, in response to the Board’s request, to donate copies of documents from the Minsk files, but the records will not be released in the JFK Collection until a later date. Additional efforts are still underway to obtain the files which are unquestionably of strong historical interest.

Again, the Board strongly recommends that all possible efforts be made to obtain for the American people this important record of the activities of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald during the years prior to the assassination.

3. Cuba

The Review Board initiated a dialogue with Cubans stationed in the Cuban Interest Section in the Swiss Embassy to try to find out if the Castro government has any records relevant to the assassination.

The Chief of the Cuban Interest Section, who agreed that the release of Cuban records would be beneficial to Cuba and the United States, launched an effort to locate records. However, he noted that record keeping in Cuba was spotty in the years immediately following Castro’s rise to power, but agreed to work with the Board in an effort to promote a better understanding of these issues. The Review Board appreciated the excellent cooperation it received from Cuban officials.

The Review Board continued to actively work with officials in the Cuban Interest Section to determine what, if any, information exists in Cuba relating to the assassination.

4. Mexico

Since the Mexican government conducted an investigation into the activities in Mexico City of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Direccion Federal de Seguridad (DFS), the Mexican federal security service, conducted interrogations of Silvia Duran, who met with Oswald in Mexico City, the Review Board sought Mexico’s cooperation in its search for additional records.

At the behest of the Review Board, the Department of State requested the Mexican government to search its files for possible records relevant to the assassination.

To date, the only records the Mexican government has made available to the JFK Collection were copies of the same diplomatic correspondence between the Mexican Foreign Ministry and the Department of State that it submitted to the Warren Commission. Copies of these communications already were in the JFK Collection.


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