Few things spark the human imagination as sinister conspiracy theories. When tragic events, such as assassinations and mass shootings, many people feel that big events should have been explanations. Although some conspiracy theorists likely suffer from psychiatric disturbances, conspiratorial thinking has been so ingrained in our culture that the explanation has to be much more complicated. Conspiracy theories provide apparent certainty in a time of ambiguity and lack of information, are exceptionally self-insulating as any evidence against a conspiracy theory is often interpreted as evidence of just how far the conspiracy goes. With the impact of the Internet, people who believe weird things and use to be isolated village kooks can now aggregate online and spread their influence with social networks and micro-targeted advertisement.
A classic conspiracy theory in the modern history of the United States is the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald outside the Texas School Book Depository. A few days later, Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby. A lengthy investigation, called the Warren commission, found that Oswald acted alone and that there was no conspiracy behind the death of JFK. Despite this investigation and several others, conspiracy theories have flourished both offline and online for many decades, ranging from a CIA assassination, a hit by the Mafia to various foreign countries such as Cuba and Russia.
As of 2013, conspiracy theorists have accused a total of over 40 groups, 80 assassins and over 200 individuals according to a CNN interview with author and former prosecutor Los Angeles Vincent Bugliosi. Among the American public, recurrent Gallup polls, around 60% or more believe that Oswald did not act alone.
What documents are now accessible to the public?
Over time, more and more government documents from the JFK investigation have been declassified and released to the public. In July 2017, the National Archives released 3810 documents on their website. Almost 9 in 10 of these documents have been fully available to the public since the end of the 1990s. Out of these almost 4000 documents, 441 of them where previously classified and 3369 included portions that had been redacted. The documents included in this data dump online come from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Why where these documents classified?
In 1992, the U. S. Congress passed a law called JFK Assassination Records Collection Act. This meant that all government agencies moved their records that related to the assassination of JFK to the National Archives to establish a record collection there. This record collection, called JFK Assassination Records Collection, contains about 5 million pages. It is unclear how many pages the average document has or how many documents are included in this collection in full. As stated above, most of the records were accessible to the public. About 1 in 10 documents from the collection are accessible but with crucial portions redacted. About 1 in 100 documents are still classified and not available to the public in any shape or form.
According to the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, all records that were classified and unavailable to the public, either in part or in full, should be released on October 26 of 2017 (25 years after the law was signed by George H. Bush in 1992). The only way to keep them classified is if the President decides that they should be kept from the public.
Will there be any earth-shattering revelations?
It is not likely that there will be any new, shocking revelations in this material. No government agency has appealed this disclosure project and the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) examined all documents individually. Because they were very thorough, the document dump includes records not directly related to the assassination of JFK. One cannot, of course, say for sure that no fascination revelations will arise after the documents have been declassified as thousands and thousands of interested parties and individuals pour over the documents.
Will some records never be released?
However, some records will not be released. This includes categories such as “grand jury information and records” related to tax returns or records that are “covered by a specific deed of gift”. This sounds like a small number of irrelevant documents and perhaps they are. Nevertheless, there might be some interesting information in these documents that, when combined with publicly available information, can provide some valuable insight into the investigation into the assassination of JFK. Only the President of the United States can decide if and when these final records can be released.
How can people access the JFK assassination documents?
So how can these documents be accessed? Unlike the CIA documents about experiments into alleged psychic abilities (alleged psychics actually use a variety of psychological tricks), the documents now released related to the JFK assassination is not available online. Instead, one has to download spreadsheets with information about all documents and then take that information to the National Archives at College Park and file a request in order to get access to the documents in question. The visiting address to the National Archives is National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. This means that it will require a lot more effort to access these documents compared with if they had been scanned and uploaded to the Internet. On the other hand, since it involves 5 million pages, this would probably have taken quite a lot of effort and time to even digitize them.