DALE: Welcome to JFK Facts podcast, featuring news, analysis and discussion of issues relevant to the study of President Kennedy’s assassination. My name is Alan Dale. It’s my pleasure to introduce the founder and editor of JFK FACT’s Jefferson Morley.
MORLEY: Hi Alan
DALE: Where were we?
MORLEY: Well, we resume our conversation after a long hiatus.
DALE: Hiatus? That’s a good word.
MORLEY: Well, you know, the thing that’s happening in the JFK world this year is a President Biden faces a big decision later this year about JFK records. It’s inescapable. He’s going to have to decide what to do with the JFK records that President Trump did not release exact. So and we’re talking about a big a big body of records. More than 15,000 records are partially or wholly redacted. These are records related to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 that are still that have still not been made public. And there’s lots of them, that’s probably surprising to people, or maybe not.
[There are] 15000 plus documents held by a variety of federal agencies. Most of them are CIA and FBI documents and or IRS documents that we know something about these records and that’s what we know about them. We don’t know their contents, but we do know who generated them.
And we do know that President Biden is going to have to decide whether to make these. Documents, public or not, so that’s going to be the JFK news later this year and you know, it’ll be in 2017, a lot of news organizations were paying attention when this same issue faced President Trump. And so I think a lot of news organizations are going to be paying attention this October when the deadline comes up…
DALE: It got international attention in 2017, that’s for sure.
MORLEY: Yes, I remember talking to The Economist, The Guardian paper in Canada. So, yeah, I mean, you know, the interest in the JFK story never goes away. And especially, you know, this this secrecy seems highly unusual, right? I mean, we’re talking about the assassination of President Kennedy, which happened 58 years ago. Right. I mean, this is a long, long time ago. Not many people have any memory of it. I mean, I’m one of the youngest.
DALE: Yeah, me too.
MORLEY: I was I was in kindergarten and I didn’t really know, like, what a president was, but I recall, you know, people being upset and being around the TV. And it’s one of my earliest really one of my earliest memories. And so here it is. And the government is still keeping secrets about it. So that’s kind of amazing and noteworthy in and of itself.
DALE: Yeah, it had a profound impact on generations of people around the world in a way that was unique up until the death of Princess Diana, where for the second time on a global scale, a lot of children saw their parents cry for the first time in their lives. It made a hell of an impact.
MORLEY: Yeah, yeah. That’s that’s,,, that’s a good way to put it. And also this experience that we have in the modern electronic world, you know, where news travels instantly. I mean, the Kennedy assassination, it is one of the first events that people experienced, you know, in real time. Everybody had the same experience within 24 hours.
DALE: Yes. Yeah.
MORLEY: So it was a culture shaping event. I guess that’s that’s sort of what what what I’m the way I think of it. And that’s why that’s why interest in it endures. That’s why you and I are talking about it. And that’s why President Biden has to make a decision. Right. It’s like this is something that is still with us.
DALE: Well, the fact that 2021 is relevant to our interest in government withheld documents of in numbers of thousands of separate. We’re not talking about pages. We’re talking about records which can include audio materials and conclude can include documentation, part of the documentary record from all of the federal agencies, not merely CIA and FBI, but all kinds of everything else, which comes as the result of the work of the Assassination Records Review Board, the AARB, between nineteen the early to mid 1990s, they concluded in late 1998, and they had the responsibility of defining first.
What does it mean for a federal record to be JFK assassination related?
MORLEY: So I spoke with I spoke with Judge Tunheim of that board and I said, you know, how did you decide that? And he said, well, we proceeded on sort of a common sense definition of, you know, if you read this thing, was it somehow part of a conversation that you might have about the assassination of President Kennedy? And so rather than try and work out some, you know, rigid definition, he said, you know, we’ll just take, you know, each case as it comes. And so as a result of that, I think that was a good idea because there’s no way to define an assassination related record in a in a technical, strict sense.
And what they did so, you know, they included a lot of material about Vietnam where you say, well, what did Vietnam have to do with, you know, the assassination? Well, I mean, it was the context in which President Kennedy lived and died and so, so and so it’s important to understand in the context of the event and why it happened. And so this collection that we now have since the 1990s is not just valuable for understanding the assassination of President Kennedy, but also for understanding American power, the American empire, American foreign policy at that time.
There’s not really we have more, you know, a clearer understanding of what the secret side of government was doing at that time than in almost any other period in American history because of the attention that has fastened on to the Kennedy assassination. You know, at the at the Mary Ferrell Foundation, which I am the vice president of, Rex Bradford is the president.
We have done some research into these records and there’s an interesting presentation of that on the Mary Farrell website. Mary Farrell dot org for those who are interested. Yes. And Rex has done a close analysis of these records. You know, the fact that these records aren’t public doesn’t mean that we don’t know a lot about them because they’ve been cataloged. There’s metadata. Some of these a lot of these documents are partially declassified. So we can read the whole document. There might be a name or a paragraph taken out, you know, or maybe a whole page. So we understand a lot about these about these records. And you alluded to before, there’s a wide variety of material. We’ve identified some tape, audiotapes, tapes of interviews with people that are missing. There’s a typewriter ribbon. There’s audio recordings with Jackie Kennedy and
DALE William Manchester
MORLEY: talking to William Manchester, you know. Yeah, I think in terms of some of the most significant material still with how those interviews with, you know, Jackie Kennedy and William Manchester, which are under a deed of gift, not supposed to be released for another 30 or 40 years.
DALE: 2067. So you and I really have to take care of ourselves, brother. We have really got to start taking care of ourselves
MORLEY And we know Jackie Kennedy did not accept the official story of her president’s assassination. And remember, she’s the very closest witness to the crime.
DALE: It’s a miracle she wasn’t killed.
MORLEY She she’s only a couple of feet from her husband. It means she’s seated right next.
DALE: Well, inches, really. Yeah.
MORLEY So and, you know, Jackie Kennedy never I mean, she commented on the Warren Commission sort of suggesting that she might approve of it. But privately, you know, there’s a lot of evidence that she told people she didn’t believe it. Barbara Leamer was a biographer. She was Jackie Kennedy’s official biographer. So, you know, she she had access. She the first lady approved of what she did. And Barbara Leamer said she was talking to Jackie about when she was first informed about the Warren Commission’s conclusion. Yeah, their version of the crime, where the where the gunfire came from and many shots and all of that. And and Barbara later said that is not at all how Mrs. Kennedy remembered it,
MORLEY never we have no account from Jackie Kennedy about what she experienced in those few moments of gunfire. But she did not apparently have much confidence in the Warren Commission account. So that’s why something like this, you know, a tape recorded interview with a confidant, William Manchester, the author was a close friend of hers.
DALE: Death. Well, president. Yeah.
MORLEY As well as being a very good historian and writer. So what she would have said to him is of great historic interest. You know, I wonder about that, that deed of gift. I wish that tape could be made public, but there’s other material that surely could be made public that is not that is not disputable. And that’s also part of what’s in here.
One example I just saw in the in the records, I’ve been looking at the records, trying to see like what what’s missing here, you know, OK, what are they hiding? And in going through these records, Rex and I have we’ve identified three kinds of things that we see.
One is just classification that hides trivial information like something’s kept secret. And when you when they take the tape off the document and you see the word that’s been hidden for the last 50 years. Yeah. And you’re like, what? You know, that was a secret, you know, and it just doesn’t make any sense. And there’s a lot of that in this in this material. So, for example, there’s one document about David Phillips, a senior CIA operations officer who figures in the JFK story right now. And it says that he was the chief of station in blank. He was chief of station in the Dominican Republic. That’s actually in David Phillips’ own memoir, which was approved by the. The CIA and was published 40 years ago, and yet it’s still being withheld, so sort of rampant overclassification. And I would say among the all these things that are being held, I mean, that accounts for most of it, you know, just rampant overclassification.
Then there’s another category which is interesting, not quite in the same, which is stuff that’s embarrassing. Right. Didn’t have anything to do with national security. It just has to do with the CIA doesn’t want it out. And Rex found this example. The CIA was trying to make a the US government didn’t like President Sukarno.
DALE: Right, because Sukarno was trying to he didn’t want to choose between the Soviet Union and the United States. He’s the head of state of Indonesia for many years.
MORLEY: Right. But he was this kind of independent leader, so they wanted to smear him. So the CIA, knowing that the president had a great appetite for women, made a fake porno film.
DALE: Oh, for God’s sake. I didn’t know about that.
MORLEY: Yeah. And in in Sam Halpern’s deposition, you know, they were cross-examined about this and all the details are cut out. I mean, we know the broad outlines of the story now is the material that is redacted, you know, relevant to the JFK assassination. No. Is it trivial? No, it’s highly embarrassing to the CIA, but it has nothing to do with national security. So in a way, it’s part of the category of overclassification. There’s no real reason to withhold this. I mean, somebody at the CIA is embarrassed. Who cares? The law is the law. These documents are supposed to be released. Doesn’t say the JFK Records Act, doesn’t see, you know, we’re going to release all the records except the ones that are embarrassing to the CIA. No, that was not the intent of Congress at all.
DALE: Yeah, I know. I’m just stunned by that revelation. I knew that there was a film. I knew Sam Halpern was engaged and he was a senior CIA guy, was not someone who I’m who I consider to be admirable in all kinds of ways. But you know more about him than I ever will. But I had no idea this
MORLEY –was the executive assistant to Dick Helms, the deputy director of the CIA. So he was not a decision maker himself. It was more like a henchman. He carried out the orders of the top guys like Helms and Harvey.
DALE: He had a subordinate role in relation to Harvey, too.
MORLEY But the thing about Sam Halpern was he had an incredible memory. He was actually a kind of candid, blunt man. And and he saw everything. You know, he was deeply involved. So he would know, like the down and dirty details of a dirty trick like this, you know,
[00:14:55] or at least he enjoyed being perceived as someone who would know all the down and dirty. I think he enjoyed this image of himself as an oracle during his retirement years. And I think.
MORLEY Well, you know. Yeah. So, like, when I would I call Dick Helms for an interview.
MORLEY: And I wasn’t one of the high and mighty. He said he said I couldn’t possibly remember anything about this, but go talk to Sam. And so I would go talk to Sam Halpern and he would talk your ear off. You know, he loved to talk.
MORLEY: And so and you could also count on him to give you kind of, you know, the company line. Right. He was extremely loyal to the CIA. So, you know, you knew where he was coming from. I knew he was well informed. You know, he might be lying. That was part deal
DALE: You’re a gentleman. Jeff, you’re a real gentleman.
MORLEY: So so that’s you know, that’s kind of what we’re looking at. And then there’s the last category of redactions that we see in these. And that’s like information that’s like highly relevant to the JFK story. And we found another one of those, which is on a memo that the CIA wrote in 1964 about its dealings with the Warren Commission. And in this memo, the CIA was trying to finesse the fact that they had not told the Warren Commission how much the CIA knew about Oswald before the assassination.
The Warren Commission was originally told, we know nothing about him, and we only had about five documents which were routine.
DALE: Right. Routine documents.
MORLEY: Well, the Warren Commission, as they began to investigate and talk to other agencies, you know, they learned, oh, you know, there were all these CIA communications going around the government at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. And they went back and asked and they said, you know, we want to see X, Y and Z. And so in March of 1964, 10 weeks after the assassination, the CIA finally admits, oh, no, we didn’t have five documents about Mr. Oswald. We had 42. And so it kind of made a hash of the CIA’s claims to the Warren Commission that we didn’t really know that much about this guy. And it was very our information was very minimal. Quote unquote. It wasn’t very minimal at all.
So on this document, which has been released before, there’s the name of the guy, Lee Wigram, who was a counterintelligence officer, and then there’s a line that’s deleted that’s still redacted 58 years later. And that line, if you know how CIA documents are composed, that line is typically identifies your job, position or location.
MORLEY: And and your location and your component, which, you know, which office within the CIA did you work at . So that Lee Wigran, like, what was his job and who was he working for in 1964? That’s still redacted. Well, you know, JFK researchers like myself say, well, so it took them 10 weeks to tell the Warren Commission, oh, we actually knew a lot about this guy. Right. And so, you know, they were slow walking the investigation. They’re ….who was slow walking the investigation? Which office in the CIA was doing that, you know?
Well, that’s exactly the kind of question that the JFK Records Act was supposed to answer. Right. And yet, there it is. It’s still secret now. Is that the key to the assassination? Probably not. But it could be it could be highly relevant. It might be trivial, but it could be highly relevant. You know, the point is, that’s why we have the law so that we can say we don’t have to speculate.
MORLEY The whole point of the law was to have transparency, not speculation. And yet because of this continuing secrecy, we still have we still have to speculate. And that’s the this is the go to go back to the very beginning. This is. The conundrum that President Biden and the CIA and the FBI will face later this year is, you know, are they going to quit the crap and release all this stuff, as the law says very clearly, or are they going to keep playing games and keep creating suspicion and speculation and uncertainty that, you know, that’s really what we’re looking at later this year. That’s the decision President Biden’s going to have to make.
Now, he’s got a lot more important things to do. This is not this is an important kind of symbolic issue, but it’s also substantively important in that it says something about what’s the government’s attitude towards transparency and accountability. And in that sense, the JFK is not ancient history. That’s actually it’s a, it’s a it’s a test for us today. You know, how accountable is our government? How responsive is how transparent is it? And here’s a highly symbolic. But, you know, people it’s a very important event in American history. What are we going to do?
DALE Couldn’t agree more. I said not always. Is it not always a case of us doing the best we can, gradually earning the progress that is earned? Demystifying the complexities of the past, which help us to demystify the complexities of the present.
MORLEY: Yes. Yes. So. So, you know, I don’t know what Biden’s going to do. I mean, President Trump tweeted four years ago, all the JFK records have been released ahead of schedule. No surprise that statement was false in two ways. All the JFK records weren’t released and they weren’t released ahead of schedule. So that’s the question facing Biden now is are we going to get back on track and release these documents that should have been released four years ago? And, you know, I really don’t know the answer to the inclination of the CIA, certainly to keep secrets and to obfuscate. And I expect that. But I think that if, you know, if people call attention to this and talk about it and talk to their representatives. You know, they might do the right thing. They might.
DALE: It’s possible I admire your optimism before we move on. An honest to goodness we’re really, really short on time in terms of our new format here, trying to keep things a little bit more concise and in smaller portions, we can take up what people can do.
MORLEY: Yes, maybe. But let’s let’s take that up in a separate show. What can people do and and what are people doing? Because people are starting to take some action around the JFK records in twenty, twenty one. So let’s let’s do let’s do that for a save that for a moment.
DALE But before we move to our ultimate conclusion here on this first program, there’s this fourth at least an additional category. You define three separate categories. But I’m I’m quite intrigued by something that is sort of in the cracks that because of the collaboration between you and Rex Bradford on behalf of JFK and Mary Ferrell Foundation. And this is stuff the the I love this this headline that Rex wrote previously released in full or perhaps not the result of which is you investigate through NARA 336 records, multiple pages and different documents. Three hundred and thirty six separate records. You did a spot check just within the last year, I think maybe a year and a half. And and your conclusion, reluctant as it may be, the truth is the spot check resulted, if I’m correct in this and it’s always possible I’m not 224 out of three hundred and thirty six, which are listed as previously released, 224 are missing.
MORLEY: Could not be found.
DALE Yeah, that’s great. That’s just great.
MORLEY: So, yeah. I mean this is why, you know, this is why we’re trying to really get a good close read and people can if people are interested. The presentation of the analysis of the outstanding JFK records is on Mary Ferrell dot gor. Yeah. And yeah. And the JFK records collection is screwed up. And when they say things have been released, if you go and look, you actually can’t put your hands on them. So our history is is is inaccessible in that way. And, you know, I mean, I think that’s why we want the National Archives to do a good job. And they’re a small federal agency, you know, confronting mammoth federal agencies. And they have a very difficult position. But they’ve got to do better than they’re doing.
You know, I mean, this is the JFK records are the most popular collection in the National Archives. That is, it attracts the most researchers, historians, graduate students, interested people more than any other collection in the in the National Archives. So this matters to people. And they need to get you know, they need to get these records right. Which I will say in conclusion, depends on President Biden.
DALE Well, I am grateful to you for allowing us to pick up where we left off. There’s been a very busy interregnum between where we stopped in April of 2017 and where we are today in March of 2021 , for God’s sake. But I’m grateful to you for allowing us to do this. I think it’s worthwhile and on our behalf, I’d like to thank those who are listening. We invite you to join us at JFK FACT’s dot org, where you will find updates on JFK related news with the goal of dispelling confusion and establishing an accurate historical record of the JFK story. Thank you for being with us.