There is disappointment abroad in the land today among tin-foil had aficionados and Warren Commission skeptics alike: John F. Kennedy is still dead, Lee Harvey Oswald still did it, and the shadowy roles of the CIA and FBI in his assassination are likely to remain just that.
There may yet be nuggets in the mammoth document dump by the National Archives, parts of which President Trump delayed releasing in bowing to pressure from the CIA, FBI and other federal agencies for a 180-day review period. But when they are released, they likely will confirm what conspiracy freaks should have anticipated -- no smoking guns.
That is, the remaining documents are less damaging to national security than the frail egos of paper pushers in those agencies who instinctively have sought to hide evidence -- including codenames, pseudonyms and spy jargon, no matter how innocuous -- through the years.
The November 22, 1963 assassination shocked a complacent America, spawning a conspiracy industry that went into overdrive after Oliver Stone's movie JFK was released in 1991 and a growing belief that the government was not to be trusted. That continues to grow.
JFK led the following year to the JFK Records Review Act, responsible for the release of millions of pages of documents in the 1990s that did not alter the official government line, which happens to be the one shared by most independent historians.
What remained secret until the law's 25-year deadline lapsed today were the CIA, FBI and Justice documents, while it is probable that any documents casting serious doubt on the accepted Warren Commission wisdom that Oswald was a lone wolf would have been destroyed in the wake of the flurry of post-assassination investigations in the 1960s. This includes those that could have bolstered Oliver Stone's cinematic view that there was a massive cover-up of all sorts of bad people doing bad things up to and including LBJ being part of a coup d'état to kill the 35th president.
Philip Shenon, a former longtime New York Times correspondent and author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination (2013), offers these tips at Politico for armchair detectives who plan to dive into the massive document dump:
* Begin with the most secret documents, those that the CIA, FBI and Justice have withheld in full. Does that decision now make sense?
* Explore documents related to Oswald's trip to Mexico City two months before the assassination, where he was in touch with Soviet and Cuban spies.
* Was the man in Mexico City claiming to be Oswald actually a CIA agent or other impersonator, a favorite twist of conspiracy freaks?
* Does the single-bullet theory -- that one shot from Oswald's rifle hit both JFK and Texas Governor Connally -- hold up?
* Keep in mind that the CIA has admitted to a cover-up, a "benign" effort to hide info from the Warren Commission that would unnecessarily distract it.
* Are there nuggets of truth hiding behind the jargon in the documents that might, for example, better explain Oswald's motivations?
* A remarkable number of operatives whose names have turned up in assassination files are Watergate scandal figures. What to make of this?
* Is then-CIA counterintelligence director James Jesus Angleton indeed the duplicitous assassination cover-up maestro many people believe him to be?
Note that Shenon does not answer the question of whether Oswald acted alone or was part of a conspiracy in his own book, which is more of an evisceration of the Warren Commission, whose quest for "the truth" was flawed from the start because of bureaucratic infighting, political machinations, destruction of evidence, understaffing and tight deadlines.
Beyond the 1964 Warren Commission report, a 1979 House investigation concluded Kennedy likely was killed as a result of an unexplained conspiracy. Senate investigations in 1975 and 1976 -- known as the Church Committee -- found evidence of CIA and FBI abuses and juicy details of plots to kill then-Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, giving him a reason to kill the American president.
"The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "So interesting!"
But then Trump is no stranger to conspiracy theories, notably clinging to Barack Obama being a Kenyan-born Muslim long after that was debunked. And speaking of JFK, Trump has suggested that the father of primary rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was involved in the assassination, while longtime confidante Roger Stone has written a book blaming the assassination on LBJ.
A decision by Trump to withhold even a small part of the documents would give conspiracy freaks more fodder because the JFK assassination occupies especially hallowed ground in the Conspiracy Theory Hall of Fame alongside many others.
These include that there is a secret Illuminati-type group controlling the world, that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, that the government is covering up contacts with extraterrestrials, and the mother of them all -- that the Holocaust did not happen.
As a longtime investigator reporter and editor, I have used a simple rule of thumb in evaluating the veracity of a conspiracy theory:
The more people who were involved in a conspiracy the more difficult it is to keep secret.
Most of the more popular conspiracy theories crash and burn on this basis alone.
Dozens if not hundreds of people would have had to be involved in fabricating, trucking and placing high explosives into the World Trade Centers or firing a missile into the Pentagon. Why has not one of them come forward? Hundreds if not thousands of people would have been needed to fake a televised moon landing at a secret government hideaway. Why has not one of them come forward? Thousands if not tens of thousands of people would have had to have orchestrated a fake Holocaust at dozens of sites across Germany and Eastern Europe. Why has not one of them come forward?
The case of the alleged 9/11 cover-up is especially piquant because there was a cover up. It's just not the one the tin-foil hat brigade believes.
I happen to not rule out the ET contact cover-up conspiracy. This is because my rule of thumb is not violated since relatively few people would have to have been involved. Besides which, why wouldn't aliens have wanted to contact us? Just asking.
Meanwhile, the released JFK documents have been posted here. Have at it.