Hey there and welcome to another episode of leverage time flagship podcast from the lever, an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show, we're going to be talking about one of America's most significant historical events, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This past December, the Biden Administration released roughly 13,000 formerly classified documents pertaining to the assassination. But there are still almost 4000 documents that the CIA is still keeping under wraps all these years later. Today, I'm going to be talking with journalist Jefferson Morley, one of the foremost experts on the assassination who explains what we learned, and what we still do not know. This week, our paid subscribers will also get a bonus segment. Some of the best moments from the levers, new podcast movies versus capitalism, you haven't listened yet, this is a great chance to check it out. I was the guest on the first episode, and we discussed one of my favorite movies of all time and a movie with a lot of politics that you may not have noticed. The movie Ghostbusters. If you want access to labor time premium, you can head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber that gives you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you're looking for other ways to support our work, and I hope you are, and share our reporting with your friends and family leave this podcast a rating and a review on your podcast player. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth, and we really need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit that is corporate media. As always, I am here with producer Frank, what's up producer Frank?
How much David doing pretty good. Today, we've been getting a really, really wonderful response on the new podcast movies versus capitalism. People seem to really be enjoying it, despite you being our first guest. But no, it's been really positive. I'm
glad I didn't ruin the vibe. That's good that I didn't ruin the vibe yet. I'll try to ruin the vibe the next time I'm on. It's a great podcast. I hope everyone checks it out. As I've always said, there's a lot of politics baked into pop culture, and you guys flagging it and spotlighting it is is certainly helpful to understand the messages that are being sent through pop culture, and I'm glad it's gotten a good response. Yeah,
yeah, people have been really enjoying it. Having a fun time. A lot of people saying things like, Oh, I did not realize how political Ghostbusters was. Wow, this is wild. Yeah.
So before we get to our interview, and our discussion of the news, what's up next on movies versus capitalism?
Oh, this week, we are discussing Alfonso Korans. 2006. dystopian masterpiece Children of Men. So a little bit of a you know, we did Ghostbusters first. Now we're going to get a little bit serious. But it's a really great discussion about honestly one of the best films of the last 20 years.
It's a great film. It's definitely one that I enjoyed, and it's one that I'm happy that I'm only going to see once. It's one of those one and done. It's not a rewatchable I have to I have to say it's not not in my view, not a rewatchable
I don't know upon re watching it. It's it's it's immensely watchable. It's like a very it's so dark. I mean, I'm not criticizing it. No, no, it look, that's the point of the movie, the point of the movie, it's very bleak. But surprisingly, it's pretty hopeful at the end, which was something I hadn't really remembered from initially seeing it. So everyone check that out. What's the website again? NVC pod.com
That's where you can find it. Go there and go subscribe. Now, before we get to our discussion of the JFK assassination and what we learned, let's take a moment to talk about the huge story from this past week that we've been covering at the lever the Norfolk Southern train derailment. If you haven't been following the story on February 3, a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals including the chemical vinyl chloride derailed and exploded in this town of East Palestina, Ohio. As we reported at the lever, the rail industry helped kill a federal safety rule aimed at upgrading the rail industry's braking systems to try to prevent these kinds of derailments. We also reviewed how industry lobbyists get this convinced regulators to exempt trains like this trains that this train blew up into a giant mushroom cloud 100 foot flames. This train was exempted from being regulated as a high hazard flammable train, which is a classification of trains that requires more safety requirements. In addition, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg his department has not moved to reinstate an Obama era rail safety rule aimed at expanding the use of those better breaks that rule that part of the rule was repealed by Donald Trump and Buttigieg. His agency hasn't done that even though a former federal safety official, very recently warned Congress explicitly that without the better brakes, here's the quote, quote, there will be more derailments and more releases of hazardous materials. So this is a huge story. And the thing that I'm most proud of in our reporting, and also most, among the things most horrified about in this is the fact that we have reported on the decisions and governmental policies that lead up to a disaster like this, that these disasters are often portrayed as just happening out of nowhere kind of spontaneously. But I think what's really important to do in order to try to get some sort of policy change, and I mean, this about the railroad situation, or any other situation like this, is to ask, how did we get here? And we have traced, I think, a very important story about the governmental decisions that were made that created the conditions for a disaster like this. Now, I want to be clear, I'm not saying that had the rules been better, this specific train disaster would have been reverse averted, maybe it would have one federal regulator told us that had the train had better brakes on it, it would have lessened the damage. But that's all speculation. But I think it is fair to say that when we've seen derailments like this, that they don't just come out of nowhere they are they happen inside of an environment inside a set of rules, in this case, a set of deregulated rules that created the conditions for a disaster. And look, ultimately, our reporting finally has drawn attention to this. I mean, this story, producer Frank, the story was was ignored by the national media for I think it's like, you know, more than a week only, as of yesterday, have you seen some serious media coverage of it? Have you seen politicians weigh in on? I mean, when we first started reporting this, it was like, completely off the radar?
Absolutely. I have been so proud to see the work that you and the rest of the reporters have been doing and contextualizing this disaster for people. I also want to point out on top of the, you know, the regulations and the safety rules that you all reported on, you know, we reported back at the end of last year during these contract negotiations with the railroad unions that because the railroads have implemented precision, precision schedule, railroading, which has essentially made these freight trains longer and carrying more freight. And because they've cut down on staffing, the unions have been warning, you know, they don't have the manpower to make sure that these these trains are running safely, you know, they're running men behind. So when you add all of these things together, longer trains, bigger freight, less workers left, less safety regulations, less time and energy to be able to make sure that these trains are safe. This is a recipe for disaster and the lever has been on top of this from the beginning. And everyone should check out all of the reporting if you haven't already on lever news.com.
And we're going to continue reporting on it because it is such an important story. I mean, what's really horrifying is the news of chemicals getting into water supplies, there's questions about is the company Norfolk Southern, actually disclosing what was on the train and we are going to continue to cover that as I as I just echo Frank, go check out our reporting at lever news.com. Okay, we're gonna take a quick break, but we're going to be right back on that topic that I mentioned at the top of this show, the assassination of JFK, what have we recently learned, we'll be right back with my interview with the journalist Jefferson Morley. Welcome back to lever time. For our main story. Today, we're going to be talking about one of the most significant and still debated events in American history, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, if you're wondering why we're still talking about this nearly 60 years after it occurred, it's because there's still a lot that the American public doesn't know. For decades, the CIA has been withholding, 1000s and 1000s of classified documents pertaining to the assassination. But this all changed in 1992 after the release of Oliver Stone's film, JFK and the public pressure campaign that followed, and that campaign prompted Congress to pass the Kennedy assassination record collection Act, which would have required all the documents to be released in 25 years after that laws passing. And it would have required it unless the president uses his or her personal discretion to continue withholding those documents. Well, in 2017, then President Donald Trump released 1000s But not all of the documents. Then this past December, President Biden released another 13,000 documents, but there are still an estimated 4000 documents that the CIA has yet to release. To help explain what might still be included in those remaining documents and why they may be so important. I spoke with investigative journalist Jefferson Morley, Jeff is one of the leading experts on the assassination. And the editor of the blog JFK facts. In 2003, he sued the CIA for certain records related to the assassination. Now, he's suing the Biden Administration and the National Archives, so that we may finally learn finally, the full scope of what happened on November 22 1963, or at least what the government knows about what happened on that fateful day. Hey, Jeff, how you doing?
Hi, David. I'm good. I'm good.
Thanks so much for taking the time with us today. You are one of the leading experts on the JFK assassination. And before we get into the details of what was recently revealed or not revealed, let's just start with a question about about this event in general, what do you think it is about this event in American history that has kept us so invested for such a long time, and that has really continued to hold the public's attention for as long as it as it has, and say asking that question with the understanding that obviously, a president being assassinated is is a huge deal. But the this sort of speculation, the the questions around it, what what is it about it that continues to have salience today?
Well, I think the main thing is that in addition to a shocking event, the president united states shot dead in broad daylight. There's also, you know, the related facts, not only was he shot dead in broad daylight, but no one was ever brought to justice for the crime. Indeed, no one so much has lost their job in Washington. And the third thing is that the government's explanation of the crime has never been particularly credible. And over the years, with the introduction of new evidence, and evidence of governmental misconduct, it hasn't become less credible. So not only do you have this shocking event, but we don't really understand it. And so I think the continuing interest is, you know, people still want to know, it's unresolved somehow in the in the public's mind, we need to know more. That's why it's still in the news.
Let's talk about the Kennedy assassination records Collection Act that was passed by Congress in 1992. To try to provide, I think, some more answers about what really happened. What was that Bill supposed to accomplish? And has it accomplished what it wanted to accomplish, or at least officially wanted to accomplish?
So yeah, the 1992 JFK Records Act is passed in the wake of the box office success of Oliver Stone's JFK, and you can't really understand the law without understanding that stone had scored big in public opinion. And at the box office, with an account of the Kennedy assassination that was very different, radically different than the official story. And the popularity of the movie was kind of an indictment of the credibility of the government. So to regain credibility, Congress was really shamed into passing a really strong law, which said, all of the government's records on JFK assassination, 95%, of which were still classified in 1992 30 years after the crime, that all of those records had to be made public. So the JFK Records Act was a very strong law. And it accomplished a lot in between 1994 and 1998, an independent review board went to all federal agencies and said, show us your JFK related material. And we will review it and release it to the National Archives. And so a huge new body of evidence. I mean, for the first time, the public had access to the whole body of evidence that the government had starting in the 1990s. So the law was very effective in that regard, and has given us a lot of new insights into what happened on November 22 1963. But the law also had a sunset provision, which said, government agencies like the CIA and FBI can withhold material in the interests of privacy or national security or whatever. But after 25 years, everything should be made public except in the rarest of cases. So 25 years after the passage of the law in October 2017. The CIA still had some 1000s of records that it wanted to keep redacted and they went to CIA director Mike Pompeo, who went to President Trump and Trump agreed to the CIA's demands that this material be withheld. And he said, we're going to get to the rest of it four years later. So Trump for all his work Toriko hostility to the deep state actually gave the CIA exactly what they wanted on JFK records. He kicked the question to President Biden who had faced the same question in 2021. And Biden basically punted again and said, the federal agencies claimed that they couldn't declassify their JFK records because of the pandemic, you know. I mean, that was kind of a joke. When the Washington Post called me up and said, What's going on here? I said, you know, this is the COVID dog ate my homework, you know, this is an absurd excuse, they've already blown the deadline, and now they want to blow it again. So Biden issued an order and said, okay, the CIA has another year. So we had another release last month. There's still 1000s of CIA and FBI records that are contained redactions. So it was kind of a sham release. And so we're left in this situation, not only do we not have a very credible explanation of the crime, but the government's dragging its feet on making the records public while insisting we have nothing to hide. And so, you know, that's basically a contradictory position. And I think people are saying, Come on what's going on here. And that's where the story is right now, what's going on here? And we still don't know. But we do know that the CIA really doesn't want to comply with this law requiring full JFK disclosure. That's clear.
So I'm going to ask you to speculate a little bit about what you think the CIA's rationale, actually is for withholding these documents for so many years, because I could see it being one of two things, either, there really is something in that incriminates, the agency that they're trying to hide, or you could also imagine that they may be, I guess, afraid of creating some sort of precedent about what they have to what kinds of documents they have to release and don't have to release, kind of generally both connected to the, to the assassination. And and separately in any other event.
Yeah, no, I think both are at work. I mean, the stated rationale is national security, living informants. When you go and look at the records. That doesn't apply to very many of the redactions. There's very few names of living informants, certainly not 1000s of names, but there's 1000s of withheld documents. So, you know, the stated rationale is national security, I think that a more plausible explanation is that they're hiding something embarrassing or incriminating. And, yes, they don't want to establish a precedent where Congress can tell them, you have to declassify something against your will. That's really anathema to them. And that's why they're dragging their feet because they don't want to be told what to do. Unfortunately, the law is quite clear that they do have to do this. So they're evading compliance. At the same time, they're protesting their innocence. So like I said, it's a contradictory stance, it doesn't really make sense.
Okay, so you mentioned this recent release of documents pertaining to the assassination, what were you hoping would be included? What was actually included? And what kinds of documents that we know of, were not included? Perhaps that should have been included?
So we when I when I say we, I'm talking about the Mary Farrell Foundation, the Mary Farrell foundation sponsors, the Mary farrell.org website, which is the largest online collection of JFK assassination records and material. So there's a group of researchers who are associated with the foundation and we looked at a whole bunch of records that we were looking to know more about in certain categories, like CIA officers who knew about Lee Harvey Oswald, before the assassination, we're especially interested in their records that are still redacted CIA officers who were involved in other assassination operations, we want to know about their records, and then also just some material of general interest. Now, what did we get? Well, the first item on our list. The first item on our list of documents that we really wanted to see was a memo that Arthur Schlesinger wrote to President Kennedy in June 1961. And the title of the memo was reorganization of the CIA. Kennedy was very unhappy with the agency. This is a couple of months after the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy felt the CIA had given him a lousy plan and expected him to save them from their own incompetence. The CIA, for their part, thought Kennedy had lost their nerve and there were bitter feelings on both sides. In this time, Slazenger steps forward and writes a memo and says maybe we should reorganize the CIA. This memo is found in the Kennedy Library, and there's about a page and a half of it, which is classified. So the relations between Kennedy and the CIA in 19 in 1963, is a key issue in the assassination. One story in this document, obviously, bears on it. So we were hoping to see that document. What the CIA did was they released one sentence out of the page and a half that was redacted. And remember, this is Arthur Schlesinger was not a CIA officer. There's no names of living informants in here. This material is simply embarrassing to the CIA, because it goes to the heart of the matter about the alienation of Kennedy and the agency. And so really, what the withholding tells us is, that's a relevant part of the JFK story in 2023. I mean, the continuing withholding tells us something. Now, we still don't know exactly what but I think we can infer this is a very sensitive issue for the CIA. And again, they do not intend to disclose fully anytime soon, only the president can force them to do that.
Okay, there's been a lot of speculation about Lee Harvey Oswald so called 201 file, which is the file the CIA kept on him leading up to the assassination. Most of the file was made public years ago, but some has still been withheld. And it should be noted that the day after the assassination, the CIA was ready to paint Oswald as a Marxist Castro sympathizer. That's what they were ready to say, to the media. So they were clearly keeping some tabs on him. Any guesses as to what in this file is still being withheld?
This is the other point that we brought up at the Mary Farrell Foundation. And this is not documents that are, you know, may have been have redactions in them. But documents which have never gotten into the collection, and we're focusing on a series of records about the CIA's operational interest in Oswald, while JFK was still alive. And these records were not made public last December, and they're still, you know, they're still on the table as an issue in the question of full JFK disclosure. But what we believe is that that there is an undisclosed interest in Oswald, while JFK is still alive. Now, what does that interest mean? Was that part of an assassination conspiracy? Or was the CIA simply clueless about the threat that Oswald posed to the President? You know, without the records, we can't tell. But what we do know now that we didn't know, say, 20 years ago, is what you just referenced. What the CIA knew about Oswald before the assassination, that 201 file. A lot of that has been declassified, although it took a very long time. The last names of people who were familiar with Oswald before the assassination, were not declassified until 2001 38 years after the fact. I mean, just that that fact alone, if this man is a lone nut of no interest to an intelligence agency, why would information about him have to remain classified for 30 years? That doesn't make any sense? What makes more sense is this was a guy who they were monitoring and watching carefully for four years, you know, right up until the eve of the assassination. So, you know, we still don't have that whole story.
Let me ask then about President Richard Nixon. Some have speculated that he knew some substantive details about the CIA's involvement in the assassination. When Nixon was trying to pressure then CIA director Richard Helms into ending the FBI probe into the Watergate burglary, he told his chief of staff, HR Haldeman to relate to Helms, look, the problem is that this will open the whole Bay of Pigs thing. That's what Nixon said, perhaps some sort of veiled threat. Any thoughts on this? And I mean, do we think Richard Nixon knew more?
Absolutely, he did. And I talked about this in my latest book, scorpions dance, which was published last June and is the story of the relationship between Richard Nixon and Richard Helms. And, you know, people speculated for a long time when Nixon used that phrase, the whole Bay of Pigs thing was that a veiled reference to JFK assassination, Bob Halterman said yes, in his memoir, that's what he guessed his boss was really talking about was the JFK assassination. And in my book, I add one piece to the story, which confirms Absolutely, Haldeman was right. Eight months before the Watergate break in in October 1971, Nixon summoned helms to a meeting in the Oval Office because he wanted material from the Bay on the Bay of Pigs. And he had he had been asking for it ever since he took office in 1969. And he had still had not gotten it. So he finally summons helms to his office and he demands it helps us like, What are you talking about? What's this all about? And Nixon says, and you can hear this on the tape, the who shot John angle, right? So when Nixon was asking for Bay of Pigs material, what he had in mind was the who shot John angle, ie, the assassination of President Kennedy. So what did Nixon know? That's hard to tell both men are very canny and play their cards very close to the vest. But clearly held, Nixon thought that the CIA's whatever it was, gave him some leverage over Helms. And that's why he could go to hims after the Watergate burglary and say, Get on board here, or it's going to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing. Now, Helms, for his part, understood a blackmail threat perfectly well, which is why he erupted in anger. But that's how sensitive the JFK issue was between the director of the CIA and the President of the United States, you know, a decade after the crime.
You're currently suing here in the present President Biden and the National Archives to obtain the remaining 4000 documents. What are you hoping to uncover in those documents? And and I guess, what do you think might be there?
So the Mary Farrell foundation last October sued President Biden and the National Archives for failure to enforce the JFK Records Act, we're seeking the release of all the records. But that's not all, you know that the collection is kind of a mess. The National Archives record keeping isn't very good. The CIA and the FBI and other federal agencies did not comply with the JFK Records Act, which says very specifically, that documents withheld for more than 25 years, need to have a document by document declassified justification for why the document has to be withheld and why the harm that disclosure outweighs the public interest in the document. That's the language of the law, completely ignored by Trump and by Biden as well. So we're trying to get the law to be really enforced the way it was supposed to happen. And we hope eventually, that sooner rather than later, we will have the complete JFK collection, or at least all the records that are in possession of the government will be totally available to the public. What's in there, I believe in undisclosed operational interest in Oswald, before the assassination, that there were senior CIA officers who are monitoring this guy, and using him for intelligence purposes. That fact alone raises a lot of questions and is, you know, is why full disclosure is imperative. Because they can't really be answered. If I if I'm wrong, if we are wrong, and there's nothing there. The CIA should disclose and disclose fully and prove it. The fact that they're not disclosing on a very specific, narrow range of documents, indicates to us that they're hiding something incriminating about their interest, whether that's complicity and then assassination plot, or simple incompetence. You know, that's why we need to see the records to answer that question.
Right. I mean, that that's I guess the final question here is that if those documents show a more a deeper relationship, or, as you put it operational interest in Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA's operational interestingly, Harvey Oswald before the assassination, I mean, that could be anything from they were watching him they knew he was dangerous, or knew he could provide them intelligence that could be that it could be, I guess, it could potentially lead to was the CIA, actually actively involved in the assassination, which is, I think, the thing that gets whispered and mentioned would be for sort of folks who have followed this, for that long, that would be the ultimate find that the parts of the government were involved in actually assassinating the president, from what you know, from the documents that have already been released. And again, I won't hold you to this. I'm asking you to kind of predict. I mean, where do you think it comes down from the circumstantial evidence that you know of on that question, was the government actually involved in the assassination? Which is a different thing than the government having maybe having had Oswald on its radar, but not actually being involved in the assassination? Like, where do you come down? And where you think this is all going to end up?
Well, you know, that's a question. And so, you know, the CIA is hiding a lot of material. And so I've debated this with knowledgeable national security reporters who say, you know, they're probably just hiding incompetence. No, I've written three books about the CIA. And in general, it is not an incompetent organization. So the analytically that's not my first choice when it comes to analyzing the operations of the CIA, I think, based on the evidence, and I'm not positive about this, that what's more likely is that there's an incriminating evidence in there that incriminates the the agency or certain agency officers in operations using Oswald for malign purposes related to The Assassination related to and so kind of to just expand a little bit on that, you know, what what we've learned in the last 20 or 30 years is three things really, we've learned about the Roswell 201 file which we net we did not have until 1998. And still didn't have for years after that. The second thing we learned was the use of deception operations, false flag operations by both the Pentagon and the CIA in 1963. This was unknown to all assassination investigators, unknown Oliver Stone. Yet we now know that this this idea of staging crimes and blaming it on a demon, Fidel Castro, was very common for us policymakers, it was one policy tool. And the third thing was that this the the fair play for Cuba committee, the leftist group with which Oswald identified was, in fact, a CIA target in the fall of 1963. So circumstantially, you have a lot of things pointing to this is what the CIA is, he has been hiding for the longest time, deception operations involving Oswald and seeking to impugn Castro and the American left. So with that kind of circumstantial evidence in place, and a lot of files still missing, you know, I can infer that they're hiding something incriminating there. Now, I can't swear that that's true, because there's so much, you know, withholding of information going on. But that strikes me as the most likely explanation for what we're seeing now.
So I know I said, my last question was my final question. But here's a final final question. Looking into the future. There's going to be this new Republican House committee investigating the alleged weaponization of the CIA and the FBI under the Obama and Biden administrations. One question that's come up is whether Republicans who oftentimes say they buy into some theories about conspiracy, whether they will use that also as an opportunity to investigate the remaining JFK documents. Now, obviously, their committee is going to be highly politicized, highly partisan, but is there a chance that something productive comes out of a committee like that visa vie, the JFK assassination?
You know, it's possible I mean, conservatives are touting this as a new church committee have a reference to the Senate Committee, led by Senator Frank Church in the 1970s, which was a popular liberal cause, which really held the CIA accountable for the first time, whether the Republicans are serious about taking a kind of bipartisan, very fair look like the church committee did remains to be seen. What we're hoping is that there will be people on both Republican and Democratic side who want to resolve the JFK issue, who think accountability in this area is appropriate. And maybe rather than focus on the alleged crimes of the Biden administration, where my focus on something that everybody agrees on that all the debt JFK record should be made public. So, you know, there's hope for it, because the political opening is there now. And, you know, the Republicans are not entirely wrong. There are real oversight questions that are should be addressed about the FBI and the CIA, whether they can be addressed with this hyper partisan approach that Republicans take? Probably not. So there's an opening for real accountability, and there's also a possibility of an investigation that doesn't have any credibility.
Jefferson Morley is an investigative reporter, you can find his work at JFK facts.substack.com. He's also the author, most recently of the book scorpions dance, the president, the spymaster and Watergate. You can also find him on Twitter at Jefferson Morley. Jeff, thank you so much for your time, and thanks for your ongoing work and trying to uncover what happened here.
Thanks for having me, David. I appreciate it.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium and the bonus content, get to hear that bonus segment, some of the best moments from the levers, new podcast, movies versus capitalism. credit to the Ghostbusters in some ways for being honest, they're not they're not saying Hey, Peter Bregman thought like I'm here to save the world I'm helping. He's like I'm here to make a lot of money. That's what I'm here to do. listeners can subscribe to evertime premium by heading over to lever news.com. When you subscribe, you also get access to all of the Levers website, our weekly newsletters, and our live events. And that's all for the criminally low price of eight bucks a month or 70 bucks for the year. One last favor, please be sure to like subscribe and write a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. And make sure to head over to lever news.com and check out all of the incredible reporting our team has been doing. Until next time, I'm David Sirota rock the boat