Nearly 1,500 formerly secret documents relating to the 1963 assassination of US president John F Kennedy have been opened to the public.
The National Archives and Records Administration released the documents on Wednesday, responding to a White House directive from October to make the records public.
“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 only grown weaker with the passage of time,” President Biden wrote in his memo ordering the release. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.”
The assassination remains an object of intense fascination for historians and conspiracy theorists alike, who have begun digging through the new release of papers, which can be read in PDF form on the National Archives JFK records hub.
Many of the papers include information about JFK’s killer Lee Harvey Oswald, including his meeting with a KGB agent at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City two months before the assassination.
In 1992, Congress passed the President John F Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, which stipulated that “all Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy … should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination.”
Members of the Kennedy family have called for all the files to be released, such as former congressman Patrick Kennedy, JFK’s nephew.
“I think for the good of the country, everything has to be put out there so there’s greater understanding of our history,’ he told The Daily Mail earlier this year, noting we live in a time of “a lot of conspiracy theories” with “a tendency to distrust government in general.”
The only documents that remain withheld are those where the government claims a compelling national security or political interest. Agencies have been reviewing their claims since 2018 with an eye towards fully releasing the papers they retain, a process that was disrupted by the pandemic, according to the national archivist.
In October, the White House agreed to postpone the publication of some of these materials still under review, while directing the NARA to release what was possible this December. Donald Trump had promised to release all of the JFK files, but announced in 2018 his administration would ignore a legal deadline to share all the records, citing national security concerns.
Notably, Wednesday’s release of documents is visible online, while many of the more than 250,000 JFK records that have been opened to the public are only accessible in person at a National Archives facility in Maryland.
The White House has asked the national archivist to devise a plan to digitise the full collection of JFK files that have already been released.
Historians and scholars have argued the full release of the JFK files is important as a matter of history, as well as a way to counter the ongoing appeal of conspiracy theories in US politics today, such as QAnon.
Others in the national security community, meanwhile, suggest that some files could threaten former Cold War-era intelligence sources that are still alive, or expose vital US espionage activities.