Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is on the board of directors of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, an organization focused on the study of documents related to the 1960s assassinations, Watergate, and Iran-Contra.
In the following essay, he offers a look at some of the gems found in the new JFK document releases and how to speed up the discovery of future finds.
More than 50 years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, thousands of government documents related to his death are still under classified lock and key.
By law, all of the remaining secret documents were supposed to have been released last year. President Donald Trump approved the release of approximately 35,000 files in 2017. But he delayed the publication of many other documents in full or in part until 2021 — when the winner of the 2020 presidential election will have another chance to review them for possible declassification.
Researchers have been digging through the released documents in search of a “smoking gun” file which neatly explains to skeptics what really happened that dark day in Dallas. While it’s possible such a document exists, it’s unlikely.
The difficult job of understanding why a president was murdered, and unpacking the Cold War path that America was treading, involves working through the minutiae — the “boring” material — so that the little puzzle pieces can fit together to form a coherent bigger picture.
One year ago this week, the National Archives and Records Administration released the first of what were to be seven batches of newly declassified documents. Some of those documents had actually been released in past decades, albeit with extensive redactions. Others had never been seen before.
Analysis of the newly available documents, including those released in the 1990s — most of which still remain undigitized — are already shedding light on the murky background of President Kennedy’s murder.
Among other things, the findings offer a golden opportunity to unpack more of the hidden history of the Cold War, revise our assumptions about that fraught era, and — finally — get the story right.
There will be no new document releases until 2021. That gives us three years to digest what we already have, and to create some stronger tools for analysis.
But the work of researchers and interested citizens is already paying off.
Intriguing Revelations From the New Documents
Take the ongoing research on cryptonyms, or crypts — government codewords for people, places, and things that the intelligence community meant to keep hidden.
As someone who has spent a lot of time solving CIA cryptonyms for the Mary Ferrell Foundation (MFF) website, one of the premier online digital archives of JFK documents, let me say a brief word on why decoding the cryptonyms is important. When you know the names of the CIA programs, officers, and agents whose names are hidden, a whole new way of seeing the world opens up to you.
Cryptonyms usually begin with a two-letter prefix that identifies the country of origin (e.g., “AM” for Cuba or “LI” for Mexico), and then the remainder of the word reveals the program (e.g., AMCANOE refers to a project to unify exiles, many of whom had traveled by water from Cuba into the US).
It becomes particularly important when you see memos like this, saying that “we cannot give wholesale approval for their release [cryptonyms], but if the crypts have been previously blown or exposed they can be released.”
Many new crypts have been revealed in the new release. Just two of the recent examples:
LIOSAGE — a cryptonym long known to refer to an ally of Mexico City CIA station chief Win Scott — is now exposed as the handle for Carl Migdail, a journalist with the conservative US News & World Report and a contact of CIA propaganda specialist David Phillips. Migdail now joins a group of mainstream Miami journalists who were prized CIA assets: Al Burt (AMCARBON-1), Don Bohning (AMCARBON-3) and key CIA ally and source Hal Hendrix, almost certainly QDELF.
ZRJEWEL was a paramilitary program in 1961 that included Rip Robertson, Grayston Lynch, and Lucien Conein. The confluence of these three men is important. Robertson and Lynch were the two Americans who led the Cuban troops at the Bay of Pigs. They entered this commando program that landed Cuban exiles back into Cuba after the Bay of Pigs was over.
Lucien Conein, part of the same program, assisted the overthrow of the Diem brothers in early November 1963 in South Vietnam — which resulted in their assassination. Robertson was a close friend of David Morales, CIA’s chief of operations at its “forward base for Cuba” in Miami. Morales made provocative statements about his role in killing JFK before several articulate and credible witnesses interviewed by government investigator Gaeton Fonzi.
As for Lynch, he never forgave the Kennedy brothers for what he considered their “betrayal” at the Bay of Pigs.
Among the discoveries that emerge when we piece together clues from decoded cryptonyms: the CIA station in Mexico City falsified a wiretap transcript and gave it to the unwitting US ambassador in an effort to get Mexico to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba. This is doubly important because it suggests that the wiretap of a phone call from Lee Harvey Oswald — the alleged killer of JFK — at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City may also have been falsified. This would cast doubt on Oswald’s purported trip to Mexico in the months before Kennedy’s assassination — a trip often cited as proving that Oswald was in touch with Soviet Russian agents in Mexico. (See below)
Apart from cryptonyms, new information has been obtained about a number of shadowy figures. One is the terrorist Jean Souetre. Souetre was active in the Secret Army Organization (OAS), a cabal of dissident French Army officers dedicated to killing and/or overthrowing French President Charles de Gaulle, whom they blamed for “losing Algeria.” (A similar concern about “losing Vietnam” pervaded American military and intelligence circles in the late 1960s and early 70s.)
For decades, researchers have investigated Souetre’s apparent presence in Dallas, on November 22, 1963, and his expulsion from the US immediately after the JFK assassination. The new FBI and CIA documents reveal more about intelligence efforts to locate Souetre in the US in the months before the assassination. What remains unclear is why he was expelled from the US, rather than arrested.
A particularly amusing or intriguing one (depending on your perspective) is the organization TZFRESH — probably Brazilian intelligence — which was asked by the CIA to photograph the JFK researchers and Cuban counterintelligence officers that met together in August, 1995 in Rio de Janeiro pursuant to an invitation by the Ministry of Culture.
The new releases can be combed to find not only new cryptonyms, but new pseudonyms — fake names used in Agency documents to disguise the identities of important CIA operatives. While we have made great progress in solving the cryptonyms, we still have a long way to go with the pseudonyms. (See many of the resolved pseudonyms at the Assassinations Archives Research Center (AARC) website.)
One problem with the new batch of releases is that the government has re-redacted documents that had already been released! These new (different) redactions make it more difficult for a researcher to deduce what has already been released to the public. On the positive side, all redactions — old or new — do offer a little unintended transparency about what the government is trying to hide.
Oswald in Mexico City — Or Not
One of the most curious episodes in the JFK case supposedly occurred two months before Kennedy’s assassination, when Lee Oswald is said to have visited the Soviet and Cuban consulates in Mexico City in an attempt to obtain visas to visit both nations. A November 23, 1963, document recounts the president of Mexico (LITENSOR — Adolfo Lopez Mateos) telling the Mexico City station chief Win Scott that their Mexico/US “joint operation” has found proof that Lee Oswald called the Soviet embassy on September 28, 1963. The newly released document has a redaction in the body of the memo — while an earlier version of the same document has none!
The above image illustrates why many researchers wonder if the wiretap transcripts referring to Oswald in Mexico City in 1963 are authentic. After all, why is the president of Mexico telling the CIA’s Win Scott about Oswald’s supposed call to the Soviet embassy on September 28? Shouldn’t the CIA have already known about it?
The Soviets have no record of this call, as their embassy was closed for business that day and the wiretaps depict Soviet calls of a personal nature. The call supposedly originated from Oswald at the Cuban consulate — but the Cubans deny that their consulate was open that day, or that Oswald visited that day. (Oswald may have been impersonated on the telephone on September 28 — see the discussion in the preface to my online book State Secret).
You have to wonder after reviewing a 1962 document showing that Mexico City Chief of Station Win Scott created a fake wiretap transcript and sent it to LITEMPO-2, also known as Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and the president of Mexico from 1964 to 1970.
Not only did Scott create a fake wiretap transcript and other fake documents described in this memo, but he made sure that the US ambassador to Mexico got a look at them, and then bragged that “the ambassador was allowed to believe that all of the above material is authentic.” (Underlined in the original). For good measure, Scott added that “the Ambassador hopes that this material … will be helpful in convincing Mexico that they should break relations with Cuba.”
Documents Need To Be Accessible and Searchable
The biggest problem is to digest and analyze the documents that we now have. The MFF (Mary Ferrell Foundation) site has the documents that are the easiest to access — but only 20–30 percent of the JFK files are uploaded to the site, and not all of them are searchable.
Many of the important facts residing in the MFF database are subtle and have to be teased out. When located, these hidden treasures need thoughtful care to integrate and organize. Suppose, for example, you wanted to research the activities of the US ultra-right. Here is what you might find on your line if you went fishing on your own — a convoluted cluster of facts strung together on a long string that ties in eventually with the Kennedy assassination.
But try to follow all this:
Documents released in the 1990s reveal that Marcos Diaz Lanz was AMOT-6 (one of the leading members of a group trained by David Morales to be a new Cuban intelligence service once Castro had been ousted), Marcos Diaz Lanz used the alias Pedro Garcia, was active with the Minutemen under the alias “Pedro Garcia”, and threatened to engage in armed insurrection with the Minutemen when President Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).
These facts don’t seem that significant until you consider that Pedro Diaz Lanz was the former chief of the Cuban Air Force … and was smuggled out of Cuba by the CIA’s aforementioned chief of operations in Miami, David Morales.
As stated earlier, Morales has been quoted by several in his intimate circle as admitting a role in the Kennedy assassination.
Another document shows that Morales’s frequent partner Tony Sforza was the case officer for Marcos Diaz Lanz/AMOT-6.
Other documents expand the story of KMFORGET — revealed by the New York Times in 1977 as a program where “stories planted by the agency in one country would be clipped and mailed to media in other countries, and ‘such efforts enhanced the likelihood that the stories would be seen by an American correspondent and transmitted home.’” (Also see Jim DiEugenio & Lisa Pease, The Assassinations, p. 301.)
Releases from the 90s show that this “gray propaganda” technique was employed to get around a government ban on using published material by US government agencies created for foreign audiences and aiming them at American audiences. The ban was in place from the 1970s till July 2013. Gray propaganda is seen in situations when “the source may or may not be correctly identified, and the accuracy of information is uncertain.” (Garth S. Jowett & Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion, (Sage Publications, 2006))
There are dozens of interviews with high intelligence officials within the 70–80 percent of the National Archives documents not yet available on MFF. MFF’s limited budget resources make it impossible to upload these documents at this time without outside assistance.
The Dallas FBI file for the JFK assassination is a crucial source of information for the immediate hours and days after 12:30 PM on 11/22/63.
The “Numbered Files” of the House Select Committee on Assassinations contain dozens of depositions of key CIA and FBI officials and other important discoveries. This is just some of the low-hanging fruit.
If we scan the relevant documents in the National Archives and elsewhere, we will have a far more powerful database. There are other key databases at the Harold Weisberg Archive site, the National Security Archives, MuckRock, WhoWhatWhy’s JFK project, the Assassinations Archives Research Center, the presidential libraries, and elsewhere, but the importance of scanning new documents and increasing the ability to scan cannot be overemphasized.
Some Powerful Ways to Step Up the Pace of Discovery
It is critical for all researchers and authors to support this effort by setting up websites, coming together in small groups whenever possible, scanning their work, and placing their research and archives online. Many of our best researchers will “age out” in the next 10–20 years — their discoveries should not be lost. Previous discoveries that need to be unearthed can be found at the archives of Penn Jones, John Armstrong, and other researchers, located at the Poage Legislative Library and full-text searchable. Although Poage is not accepting new archives at the present time, there are a myriad of ways to get it done. Holding on to this material for proprietary reasons is a bad idea and holds the work back.
Legal action will probably be required to obtain hundreds of thousands of relevant NSA, Secret Service, and military intelligence files that were never submitted to the Archives as mandated by the JFK Act. Document review shows that the number of these records provided to the National Archives are miniscule when compared to the CIA and FBI submissions. Former intelligence officer John Newman refers to what needs to be done as “Research – Analyze – Review – Repeat … just like the intelligence agencies do it.”
Researcher Bill Kelly suggests that the JFK research community is a citizen-based counterintelligence operation, responding to the work of the intelligence operations.
When we strengthen our analysis of the new and recent JFK revelations, we come together as a vital force ready to take on our nation’s history and the challenges of the modern era.