The JFK 100

Suppressed Investigative Files

Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) addresses the jury


In Oliver Stone's JFK, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) delivers a monologue about evidence being concealed by the federal government:


Let's ask the two men who have profited the most from the assassination -- your former President, Lyndon Baines Johnson and your new President, Richard Nixon -- to release 51 CIA documents pertaining to Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby, or the secret CIA memo on Oswald's activities in Russia that was "destroyed" while being photocopied. All these documents are yours -- the people's property -- you pay for it, but because the government considers you children who might be too disturbed to face this reality, because you might lynch those involved, you cannot see these documents for another 75 years. I'm in my 40s, so I'll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then, but I'm already telling my 8-year-old son to keep himself physically fit so that one glorious September morning in 2038 he can walk into the National Archives and find out what the CIA and the FBI knew. They may even push it back then. It may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, in the manner of the ancient runic bards. Someday somewhere, someone might find out the damned Truth. Or we might just build ourselves a new Government like the Declaration of Independence says we should do when the old one ain't working -- maybe a little farther out West.(1)


Has the government really been withholding evidence of conspiracy? Longtime researcher and JFK consultant Gus Russo discusses the issue in the introduction to his book, Live by the Sword:


[Oliver] Stone had graciously granted me total access to his movie set, where he sought to recreate the shooting. Walking with Stone one day, I heard him tell a tagalong press member about the sinister sealing of the Warren Commission records for seventy-five years. I was stunned. Although that had been President Johnson's original intention, public pressure had actually forced the release of most of the Commission's records within three years of the 1963 murder.

I managed to pull Stone aside, and informed him that the records we investigators really coveted were the HSCA's [the House Select Committee that investigated the assassination in the 1970s] sealed files, numbering hundreds of thousands of pages, as well as those of other federal agencies, whose holdings could be in the millions of pages. He asked me to write down this information, which I did. . . .

Next I made a trip back east to confer with former HSCA investigator Kevin Walsh. Since his days with the HSCA, Walsh, now a private detective, had become a one-man lobby. For ten years, he had mounted a behind-the-scenes campaign to encourage legislation freeing the HSCA's material. Kevin gave me a letter he had been trying to get to Stone that essentially corroborated what I had been trying to tell the Oscar-winning director. Upon returning to Dallas, I hand-delivered the letter to Stone. By now, he was convinced. . . .(2)


Russo is correct about the Warren Commission's files. Michael R. McReynolds, who, as director of the National Archives's Textual Reference Division, oversees the Warren Commission's records, confirmed in 1992 that approximately 98 percent of the Commission's evidence had long since been declassified; virtually all of the remainder has been reviewed and released since then.(3)

Russo continues:


As I had hoped, Stone's film, while completely misleading, created a hurricane of controversy, and made the Congress see the political benefits of freeing the records. . . . As it turned out, public support for the bill was virtually unanimous, many on the outside of the policy-making loop were convinced that total disclosure would indicate the government's role in JFK's assassination, while the politicians they implicated were convinced the released material would vindicate them. The legislation (the so-called JFK Act) passed easily in 1992.

In 1994, the JFK Review Board (mandated by the new law) was seated, and within a year, the documents began flowing. The board ceases to exist on September 30, 1998, and by then, it is estimated that over three million pages will have been released.(4)


Since that time, of course, some may have noticed that Oliver Stone hasn't said a word about those files. That's because they prove his JFK monologue to be little more than hot air; there were no documents withheld because they were "smoking guns" proving the existence of a conspiracy. The House Committee documents, for example, were withheld because Congress customarily seals investigative files from its committees, theoretically to protect those who served as sources of information; and also because HSCA Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey needed to keep the files untouched, to preserve the chain of evidence, in the event the Department of Justice chose to follow-up the HSCA's investigation with a renewed federal investigation.

The simple fact is that government bureaucracies routinely classify all of their records unless compelled to do otherwise.

The Kennedy Assassination Home Page collects some examples of newly declassified government documents listed in recent issues of The Record: News from the National Archives and Records Administration:


The Fish and Wildlife Service just opened a cubic foot of records: "Monthly Statistical Bulletins and Current Fishery Statistics for the ports of Boston and Gloucester, MA, 1901-1944 and Portland, ME, 1915-1944. These reports show species, quantities, and values of fish landed; location of fishing grounds; size and nature of the fishing fleets; number of vessel sailings; and type of fishing gear (trawls, gill nets, etc.)" (Vol. 4, No. 3, January 1998, p. 31.)

And see Vol 4., No. 4, March, 1998: Page 31: "Declassification and Initial Processing Division" for:


As a result of the JFK Records Act of 1992, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) was established to, among other things, supervise the timely release of all classified assassination-related records in the federal government's possession. Composed solely of civilians, primarily educators, the ARRB reviewed all classified assassination records and released all such records except those for which the Board determined there existed a legitimate reason to postpone declassification, such as the protection of sources or methods of information gathering.

There are no assassination records being withheld because of the nature of their contents, but that hasn't stopped Jim Garrison's methodological offspring from claiming otherwise. The reason is very simple; those who cannot support their theories with evidence need an excuse. So they claim they would have evidence, if only the government weren't suppressing it. Which is what Jim Garrison himself said for twenty-five years.

Author Edward Jay Epstein pointed out in 1967, for example, that Garrison was wrong about the "destroyed" CIA document mentioned in his October 1967 Playboy interview. It was a photocopy of the document that was accidentally destroyed, and another copy was forwarded to the Warren Commission, which published it in Volume XVIII of their Hearings set.(5) Researcher Sylvia Meagher pointed this out to Garrison, but he continued claiming the document had been destroyed anyway; and here Oliver Stone is, a quarter-century later, parroting Big Jim's lie.

All fifty-one of those "CIA documents" Garrison raved about in his Playboy interview, and about which Oliver Stone duly expressed his outrage as well, were released to the public long ago. Did Jim Garrison ever read any of them? If so, he never acknowledged it. Why not? Because they did not contain the explosive revelations he promised they would. But that did not stop Oliver Stone from pretending otherwise in his movie.

The simple fact of the matter is that it is infinitely easier to exploit popular paranoia about government secrecy than it is to actually produce evidence to support one's opinions -- especially if one's opinions are made up out of thin air, as Jim Garrison's tended to be.

Edward Jay Epstein points out a most revealing historical precedent to Garrison's behavior:


[I]n 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy asserted before the Tydings Senate Sub-Committee that his celebrated charge of eighty-one card-carrying Communists working in the State Department was supported by classified evidence in FBI files, and he vehemently demanded to know why the Truman administration was keeping secret vital evidence that would show the extent of the Communist conspiracy in the State Department. Taking unprecedented action, President Truman waived executive privilege and ordered the files made available to the Tydings Committee. When it became abundantly clear that these files were concealing no evidence to support McCarthy's charges, the Senator simply declared that the files had been "raped and rifled" before they were shown to the Committee and continued to demand that the "real files" be released. The government, McCarthy charged, was using its powers of secrecy to conceal a gigantic conspiracy involving Communists and fellow travelers. In his campaign against the forces of secrecy, McCarthy also attacked the CIA as "the worst situation of all," and consistently denounced the news media for abetting the conspiracy by suppressing the "truth" and attacking him.(6)


Sound familiar?

And, as usual, Oliver Stone fell for it.


Click here for more information on the
Assassination Records Review Board

Click here for information on the
President John F. Kennedy Records Collection
at the National Archives



Copyright © 2001 by David Reitzes


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1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 178. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

2. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. ix.

3. Michael Isikoff, "Seeking JFK's Missing Brain, 'Secret' Files," Washington Post, January 21, 1992, reprinted in Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 416.

4. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. x.

5. Edward Jay Epstein, The Assassination Chronicles (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992), p. 256.

6. Edward Jay Epstein, The Assassination Chronicles (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992), p. 257.



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