On July 25th of this year, in The Washington Post, Larry Sabato and Philip Shenon co-authored a column in which they both recommended that President Trump not grant any appeal that an agency of government could make to delay any final releases of JFK-related assassination documents. When the Assassination Records Review Board closed its doors in 1998, they allowed that any document that they had exempted from release would have to be declassified in 2017. Included in that legal exemption were documents endangering an agent in place, or an ongoing operation. It was hard to believe 35 years after Kennedy’s assassination such a risk could be run. But the ARRB did allow for a large number of documents to be so withheld. It is well-nigh impossible to think that excuse could exist 54 years later. And it is also hard to fathom that, even if it did, that danger would outweigh the benefits to the public of finally getting to look at what the government had kept hidden from them on the JFK case. After all, many intelligent commentators have held that the secrecy about Kennedy’s death in 1963 provoked a corrosive effect upon the public’s belief in the government’s credibility.
Which is almost the exact argument that Sabato and Shenon used in their July article. They wrote:
We know we speak for an army of historians, political scientists, journalists, and concerned citizens … when we say that it is time for the federal government to release everything …. This is the moment for full transparency about a seminal event that cost many Americans’ trust in their government.
Although Sabato and Shenon got the number of documents released in July wrong, they were correct in saying that the July release was only a partial one. At that time, the National Archives had planned on doing more partial releases until the last day the law allowed for a final release, which was October 26, 2017. The authors advised that the president not listen to any possible appeal from the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service or any other intelligence agency that wished to further delay declassification. They wrote that when it came to JFK’s murder, there were no secrets worth keeping at this late date. As for the necessity of keeping any spy’s identity secret, “logic suggests that almost all those people are now dead …”
Sabato and Shenon closed with their usual two standard trademarks. First, that somehow 21st-century forensic science has demonstrated Oswald was the lone assassin, and that if there was a conspiracy, Oswald was still the trigger man. But they closed with a request to Trump that he must release these last documents, for if the message is that the USA cannot “tell the truth about the murder of the president, it could not be expected to be honest about anything else.”
About ten days later, the duo printed another article, this time in the online journal Politico. Here they wrote that they had reviewed some of the documents released in July—although the evidence in the article suggested they had only read one. And that release revealed that somehow the CIA may have known that Oswald had killed Kennedy to avenge the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro. The idea that Oswald was inspired by Cuban propaganda to kill JFK is quite old. In fact, there was an entire book written about it in 1970 by Albert H. Newman, a former Newsweek correspondent. In 1984, that hoary idea was then repeated by Jean Davison in her equally bad and error-filled book Oswald's Game. (See my review) Shenon then repeated the “Oswald was inspired by Castro” premise in his book A Cruel and Shocking Act. That volume was timed for release on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.
In this new article, the authors again repeated their claim that somehow 21st century forensic science had proven that Oswald acted alone. More than one person—most notably forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht—has appealed to Sabato and Shenon to please make public their evidence backing up that forensic claim. For the only instance of any such “21st century” testing was done by the father and son team of Lucien and Michael Haag for the PBS series Nova; it was entitled Cold Case: JFK. That program was literally skewered by Gary Aguilar and Wecht in a twenty-page reply published in a professional forensic journal over two installments. (“NOVA’s Cold Case: JFK - the Junk Science Behind PBS’s Recent Foray into the Crime of the Century”) The Haags were so thoroughly thrashed that they have refused to debate either Aguilar or Wecht in public. Even though Aguilar has offered to pay their air fare and hotel bill. This author knows of no other such 21st century demonstration.
But the idea behind the August 3rd story, that somehow the CIA only suspected a motive for what Oswald did and had no active role in the cover up, this was also quite questionable. And it was taken up by more than one commentator. (For an example, see “New Files Confirm the JFK Investigation Was Controlled by the CIA – Not 'Botched' as Some Pretended”) It is clear today that the CIA was deliberately obstructing more than one attempt to find out the truth about Oswald and the assassination. To name three examples, it has now been shown that they obstructed the Warren Commission, the Garrison investigation, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Nevertheless, Sabato and Shenon did not say anything in this column to revise or retract their previous plea for full disclosure of the ARRB documents.
Just two days ago, however, on October 16th, they seemed to hit an off-key note. In another co-authored article for Politico, the headline reads, “The JFK Document Dump Could be a Fiasco”. The authors mentioned that the National Archives had altered their original schedule, which was to release the final JFK documents in a staggered schedule over three months. One obvious reason this was done was so the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and other executive intelligence agencies could buy time to convince the White House to grant their appeals for delay.
But the authors criticize the decision on different grounds. They write that “with everything public at once, pandemonium is all but guaranteed, since major news organizations around the world will want to know, almost instantly, what is in the documents that is new and potentially important.” They warn that the result could be that many journalists will “reach overly hasty, cherry-picked conclusions from individual documents.” The other alternative would be for them to “throw up their hands, assuming that the confusion over the documents is simply more proof of why it is impossible to know the full truth about JFK’s death.” What makes that last statement seem a bit prejudicial is the article’s opening sentence. There Sabato and Shenon proclaim, “The federal government’s long campaign to try to choke off rampant conspiracy theories about the November, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy is threatening to end this month in massive confusion, if not chaos.” They then prognosticate the worst nightmare possible for them, especially if Trump decides on further delay: it “will simply help fuel a new generation of conspiracy theories.”
This author does not follow that logic. For the simple reason that with one lonely exception, Sabato and Shenon—over three installments—have never mentioned or reviewed a single document that was released from the July disbursement. So if you always ignore what was disbursed, how can the pattern of disbursement have an impact on the content of the disbursement?
One reaction to their writing would be: Why aren’t Shenon and Sabato actually reviewing the files and describing what is in them? Another would be, why has no MSM outlet done something similar? In fact, the only lengthy discussion of any of the newly released July documents was by this author on Black Op Radio on September 14, 2017. (Click here and scroll down to that date) With the help of researcher Gary Majewski, host Len Osanic and I shared some of these delayed secrets with the audience. Which made for a most appreciative reaction.
But there is also a conclusion about the remaining documents that Sabato and Shenon seem to want to avoid. That is this: contrary to their standard refrain, maybe there is material in those long hidden papers that contravenes their recurring thesis: namely, that there is nothing of real importance there that would alter the tenets of the Warren Commission. Is that not one logical conclusion for continued classification after 54 years? Why, after over a half century, and so much controversy and damage to their reputations, would the CIA, FBI, or Secret Service still want to conceal records on the JFK case? In light of the fact of how much suspicion such secrecy has already created, why not walk down the path described by Sabato and Shenon in their first article: full disclosure? Especially when some senators and congressman have already recommended that path as the only wise one to take.
After the July release, many people complained about a long download time. There seems to be something more than just computer efficiency that made NARA alter their schedule. The evidence would suggest that there are people in high positions who want to maintain the cover-up about Kennedy’s assassination. If so, why? And if Trump agrees with that plea, the public will need to be fully informed as to why he went along with it.
This author would like to say he trusts that Sabato and Shenon will report that possible outcome accurately. But by their past record in all this, he has some reservation about the matter.