JFK assassination files: why has US released unedited government documents - what did Joe Biden say?

In a memorandum, President Biden said that ‘the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time’

The US National Archives have released over 12,000 unedited documents relating to the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy.

In a memorandum, President Joe Biden commented on: “The profound national tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination,” adding that “the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time.”

A total of 12,879 files have been released, with so many to go through it will take researchers time to find out if there is any new information available.

Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in his motorcade through Dallas, Texas during a campaign visit in November 1963 at just 46-years-old. For decades conspiracy theories around who was responsible for his death have been rife.

So, why have these documents been released and what do they reveal? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who was John F Kennedy?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the 35th President, serving from 1961 until his assassination on 22 November 1963. Born in 1917 to the wealthy Kennedy family in Brookline Massachusetts, he was the youngest president ever sworn into the Oval Office.

President John F. Kennedy speaks at a press conference August 1, 1963 (Photo: Getty Images)

Kennedy studied at Harvard University, before serving in the US Naval Reserve during the Second World War, where he commanded a series of PT boats in the Pacific. In 1960 he defeated Republican Richard Nixon to become the first catholic President.

He met and married his wife, Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier when he was a congressman, the pair got married in 1953 and went on to have two children, Caroline in 1957 and John Fitzgerald Kennedy Junior in 1960.

How did he die?

On 22 November 1963, Kennedy was riding in his motorcade through Dallas, Texas during a campaign visit when he was shot and killed. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital but was pronounced dead. His assassination plummeted the US public into national mourning, however following his death conspiracy theories about who was responsible gained traction.

Two people in Lafayette Park, Washington, reading the newspaper reports of President John F Kennedy’s assassination (Photo: Getty Images)

Lee Harvey Oswald, a US Marine veteran was charged with firing the fatal shots from the Texas School Book Depository. However, he never stood trial for the murder, as when he was being transferred from the city jail to the county jail, he was shot and murdered by nightclub owner Jack Leon Ruby.

What do the JFK assassination files say?

A total of 12,879 files have been released by the National Archives, with so many to go through it will take researchers some time to find out if there is any new information available.

According to an analysis by the Washington Post, one document from 1962 includes the CIA making note of Oswald’s failed defection to the Soviet Union, whilst another describes an “intercepted” phone call in Mexico City between Oswald and theMexican Soviet embassy.

Larry Sabato, author of the The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, told CNN: “It’s not going to change the story,” adding: “It’s not. I guarantee you.”

Sabato said: “The truth is not that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. The truth is that this assassination was preventable and could have been prevented and should have been prevented if the CIA and FBI were doing their jobs. Really, that’s it. Now that’s serious, but you’re not going to find the names of other conspirators in here.”

Cliff Michelmore pointing to the path of gun shots which killed President John F Kennedy, on a model reconstruction (Photo: Getty Images)

Why were the JFK assassination files released?

In 1992 Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act which ordered that the sealed files on the assassination should be opened up to the public by 2017.

Former President Donald Trump released some records during his tenure, with plans to release more on a rolling basis. The remanining files were due to be made available in October 2021 but this was delayed due to Covid.

In a memorandum following the release of the documents President Biden said: “The profound national tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day; meanwhile, the need to protect records concerning the assassination has weakened with the passage of time.”

He added: “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency by disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.”

The remaining documents have until May 2023 to be reviewed by the National Archives. Following that “any information withheld from public discourse that agencies do not recommend for continued postponement” will be released before 30 June 2023.