Michael Beschloss, Dealey Plaza, Texas Schoolbook Depository
Michael Beschloss. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from LOC / Wikimedia and LBJ Library / Flickr.

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After 60 years, establishment figures are increasingly voicing the belief that government agencies and officials might have at least covered up critical information about the assassination plot to kill President John F. Kennedy. And one major interpreter of history is even going so far as to suggest a key governmental entity took delight in JFK’s demise. 

Nonetheless, they’re still behind the curve of public opinion. And even in their new posture, they appear to be playing a game of denial. 

Most Americans don’t buy the official story of one disgruntled loner coincidentally  securing a job along an as-yet-undetermined presidential motorcade route, then, once the route information was public, deciding spontaneously to bring a rifle and thereby altering the course of history.

And most people who have studied the copious research done over the years are even more sure that it’s hooey. (As was a 1970s panel, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which concluded there was seemingly some kind of conspiracy involving more than one person). That’s why at least some of us keep on digging. 

After Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK, swung public opinion on the issue in the early 1990s, Congress unanimously mandated that the government find and release all documents on the assassination. By 2017, a quarter-century later, all the documents were supposed to be out. But delays dragged on as federal agencies sought more time to review, redact, or outright withhold documents that might somehow breach individuals’ privacy or harm national security. 

Still, more documents have slowly emerged, and finally, in December, the National Archives and Records Administration (“Archives”) let loose online another pile of faint, eye-straining documents related to the Kennedy assassination — 13,173 of them. The agency says that pretty much everything covered by the JFK Records Act of 1992 is now out, except a handful of papers protected by other laws involving IRS documents or those protected by rules around judicial proceedings like grand juries. 

The commercial media’s reaction to this “final” release was, with one notable exception, pretty much what you would expect.

Oswald did it alone. Nothing to see here folks, move right along.

Oswald did it alone. And here’s more proof that he did it.

Oswald did it alone. The CIA has been hiding things, but for reasons that had nothing to do with the assassination.

The exception: Oswald alone pulled the trigger — but maybe others were involved.

Setting the Stage  

This last version — that maybe others were involved — was speculation on the part of the historian Michael Beschloss, on NBC News Now, a day after the records were released.

Based on our long-term study of how “uncomfortable truths” are managed for public consumption, it is possible that this explanation will be softly promoted to prepare the public for any future semi-revelations, pieced together by savvy and conscientious researchers, that at least in part contradict the conclusions of the Warren Commission, which in 1964 became the formal government pronouncement on the matter.

Beschloss’s role here is important because he seems to have been anointed as one of a long string of go-to interpreters of all things presidential, hence all things Kennedy, hence all things related to the assassination. 

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which Beschloss has attained the loving embrace of the establishment. 

Here are only a few of his titles, in an untidy pile: trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation; board member of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation; trustee of the Miller Center of Public Affairs; a visiting scholar at the Harvard University Russian Research Center; chair of the annual Robert F. Kennedy Book Awards; and… that’s quite enough.

Who could or would ever doubt that anything this man says must be authoritative and settle all disagreements? 

He’s hardly alone in fulfilling the system’s longstanding imperative that every single political assassination in US history be seen as the work of lone, or near-lone, lunatics — with nary a possibility of “executive action” by some entity or faction. In other words, the US must see itself, and present itself, as utterly unlike just about every other country on earth, where, when a leader is killed, suspicion immediately turns to powerful elements with a stake in the leader’s removal. 

Others only too glad to serve the cause, and receive the professional rewards for doing so, include an army of up-and-coming “reporters” in major news organizations, who themselves are unfamiliar with the massive amount of research done over the years that does not point to the “Oswald presidential assassin” scenario. 

For example, take NBC’s White House correspondent, Monica Alba. She made a brief, but remarkably deceptive announcement, just before Beschloss was brought into the discussion. She said that, from these newly released documents, they are now learning, in her words:

… new details about Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in Mexico City and a wiretap that had collected some information about what he had said there in relation to wanting to kill John F. Kennedy.

We have the relevant document on that wiretap, a CIA report on all of the recorded phone conversations by someone claiming to be Oswald with Soviet Embassy personnel — and we read every word of it. Not once does “Oswald” say anything at all about Kennedy, let alone killing him, on those tapes. 

The phone calls were all about “Oswald” trying to get a visa to the Soviet Union, and being able to wait in Cuba while it would have been processed. 

In this same report, the CIA also expressed doubt that, contrary to what many were saying, Oswald was conspiring with the Russians:

The very openness of his visits and the phone calls speak against any secret role. His trip to Mexico was not itself a secret act; he traveled under his real name or a close variant of it… corresponded with the Soviets through the open mails… (page 18)

Certainly if Oswald had been a Soviet agent in training for an assassination assignment or even sabotage work, the Soviets would have stopped him from making open visits and phone calls to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico after he tried it a couple of times. (page 20)

Beschloss, who spoke immediately after Alba on the same NBC show, praised her brief report — and did not correct it. (Beschloss did not respond to emails requesting comment.)

This Is What They’ve Been Hiding?

Beschloss then went on to provide what seems meant to explain one reason certain documents have been withheld: He actually claims that the former director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and perhaps others, knew in advance that a so-called Soviet defector would be in the book depository window the day Kennedy would be driven by — and that they did nothing to have him removed. 

Beschloss speculates this is possibly because Hoover and his colleagues “hated and disapproved of” Kennedy; and that, if Americans had known all this, they would have had Hoover prosecuted.  

This of course is an astonishing claim being made by a major figure, yet it passed without further comment. It also goes to the growing desperation of the establishment to head off at the pass any further movement in the direction of a broader conspiracy. 

To fall back on the idea that the head of the FBI either didn’t care whether Kennedy was assassinated or passively hoped that he would be means that the needle continues to move toward acceptance that, as the Rolling Stones sang in “Sympathy for the Devil”: 

I shouted out “Who killed the Kennedys?”

When after all, it was you and me

In other words, that the death of political figures has been somehow sanctioned and approved by the leading elements of our establishment, far beyond one person or even agency.

Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter and author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, echoes this same damage control strategy. He told the BBC:

I suspect there may be information in these documents to suggest that … Oswald was a danger and that he may have talked openly about his intention to kill the president. 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?”

Michael Isikoff, a longtime national security correspondent at Newsweek now working for Yahoo News, takes a more cautious stance of after-the-fact posterior-covering for security failures:  

What emerges from this account is not so much a portrait of CIA officials horror-struck that their role in the president’s murder might be exposed but of government bureaucrats scrambling to find details about the accused assassin and cover themselves, no doubt worried that they might be blamed for not paying more attention to him before the murder.

Getting back to Beschloss, he ended his report with another startling remark — his main takeaway from the documents — that it seems less and less likely that Oswald acted alone. But he also said, with great confidence, “Oswald pulled the trigger.”


Another thing that is supposed to explain the secrecy — something that, so far, seems to have attracted much more attention than the above: The wiretap operation targeting the Soviet Embassy was a joint CIA effort with the office of the Mexican president, an arrangement that was “highly secret and not even known to Mexican security and law enforcement officials.” Several news organizations — including The New York Times — made much of this. 

But no matter what the pundits say in nearly all the stories on the records release, one point stands out above all else: Oswald is always blamed as the one and only shooter. 

In a New York Post article on Mary Ferrell, a longtime researcher who died decades ago and after whom a nonprofit foundation dedicated to JFK records is named, foundation founder Oliver Curme is quoted as saying Ferrell “was never able to find ‘the smoking gun’ evidence of whom Oswald might have been working for, or why the US government might have been covering up the assassination.”  

And the same point was made in Newsweek, which said Oswald’s involvement with the CIA reignited questions “about whether Oswald truly was alone in his decision to kill the youngest man ever elected president.”

The Fox Factor

Various JFK researchers got a welcome and rare opportunity to present in commercial media. 

Tucker Carlson — not usually known as a purveyor of reliable, accurate, and agenda-free systemic critiques — nonetheless surprised longtime researchers with a perspective rare on television. In his opening monologue on his December 15 show, he weighed in unambiguously on the controversy — and then claimed new information from an exclusive source.  

Some critical excerpts: 

The government’s explanation didn’t seem entirely plausible. And some people started asking obvious questions about it. It was at that point, as Americans started to doubt the official story, that the term “conspiracy theory” entered our lexicon. As Professor Lance DeHaven-Smith points out in his book on the subject, “The term conspiracy theory did not exist as a phrase in everyday American conversation before 1964. In 1964, the year the Warren Commission issued its report, The New York Times published five stories in which ‘conspiracy theory’ appeared.”

Now, today, of course, the term “conspiracy theory” appears in pretty much every New York Times story about American politics. It’s wielded, now as then, as a weapon against anyone who asks questions the government doesn’t feel like answering. But despite 60 years of name-calling, those questions have not disappeared. In fact, they have multiplied with time.

And here’s one of them. In April of 1964, a psychiatrist called Louis Jolyon West visited Jack Ruby in his isolation cell in a Dallas jail. According to West’s written assessment, he found that Jack Ruby was “technically insane” and in need of immediate psychiatric hospitalization. Those are conclusions that puzzlingly no one who had spoken to Jack Ruby previously had reached. … But what West neglected to  say was that he was working for the CIA at the time. Louis Jolyon West was a contract psychiatrist for the spy agency. He was also an expert on mind control and a prominent player in the now infamous MKUltra program in which the CIA gave powerful psychiatric drugs to Americans without their knowledge.

Carlson went on to question why so many records are still being withheld, and he quotes a mysterious source:

We spoke to someone who had access to these still hidden CIA documents. … We asked this person directly, “Did the CIA have a hand in the murder of John F. Kennedy, an American President? And here’s the reply we received verbatim. Quote: ‘The answer is yes. I believe they were involved. It’s a whole different country from what we thought it was. It’s all fake.’”

While we have no reason to doubt this answer, the choice of words seems to reflect some hesitancy: “I believe” sounds more like an opinion, based on indirect evidence, rather than an acknowledgement of having seen unambiguous verbal proof. It’s almost as if he’s not really tattling… at all. Although assassination researchers desperate for acknowledgement of the truth from big media were glad to get anything  — even from Carlson — the fact is he appears to have oversold the comment. Why would he do that? Was it to seal the deal against the CIA? 

As for who this anonymous source is, Jacob G. Hornberger of The Future for Freedom Foundation, thinks he knows who: Donald Trump. Because of what Judge Andrew Napolitano, a former Fox judicial analyst, said in an interview on November 8: 

I once had a conversation … with President Trump when he was in the White House. He used to call me all the time.  And we talked about everything under the sun. I said, “Are you going to release those documents or not?” And he said to me, “If you saw what I saw, you wouldn’t release them.”

Can you imagine Trump keeping such information to himself? Hornberger, whose libertarian focus invariably leads to highlighting real or perceived government abuses, has an idea why that may be:

One possibility is that the CIA “Hoovered” Trump into continuing to keep the CIA’s decades-old assassination-related records secret. By “Hoovered” I am referring to J. Edgar Hoover, who was a serial blackmailer when he was serving as FBI director. Hoover would acquire personal information about people with the aim of blackmailing them into bending them to his will… If they refused…

If true, this might indicate that Trump, despite his claimed boldness, is just like virtually every other president: afraid to tangle with the CIA.


For more on the maddening effort to obtain government documents — and some interesting solutions on prying loose our real history, see this WWW podcast with Nicholson Baker, author of Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act. (It’s about America’s possible use of biological weapons during the Korean War.) We’ll feature this podcast again, this Friday, January 5.


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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  • Milicent Cranor

    Milicent Cranor is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy. She has worked as a creative editor at E.P. Dutton, a comedy ghostwriter, and editor of consequential legal and scientific documents. She has also co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals.

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