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JFK, Secrecy, and Deference to Authority

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Federal secrecy and deference to authority go hand in hand. The good citizen is expected to not question decisions by federal officials to keep governmental activities secret and to defer to authority by trusting that those in power are doing the right thing for the nation. This is especially true when it comes to the activities of the CIA and the military industrial complex.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this phenomenon related to the Kennedy assassination. When the Warren Commission issued its official report stating that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut who had assassinated the president, federal officials ordered files and records regarding the assassination to be locked up and kept secret from the American people for 75 years. The secret records included the autopsy photos and x-rays of the president’s body.

The reason for this long-term secrecy? National security, federal officials said.

But neither the secrecy nor the basis for the secrecy ever made any sense. After all, we’re talking about a murder where the presumed murderer was dead within two days of the assassination. What possible reason would there be for keeping any matters relating to the investigation secret? It’s not as if there was still an active criminal investigation taking place.

And how in the world could the investigative information regarding a lone nut’s assassination of a president possibly affect national security? Indeed, how could keeping the information relating to the autopsy of the president’s body, including the autopsy photos and x-rays, possibly affect national security? Even at the height of the Cold War, it is difficult to imagine how the Soviet Union could have used the autopsy information to plan a secret attack on the United States.

In 1963, however, most Americans had a deep and abiding faith and trust in their government. The common mindset was to defer to authority. If the government said that national security required that the JFK files and records be kept secret for 75 years, then there must be a good reason for it.

After Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which posited that Kennedy had actually been the victim of a conspiracy involving officials in the national-security state, came out in 1991, lots more Americans had come to the conclusion that the federal government’s assassination secrecy and national-security concerns were all a bunch of bull. By that time, many more Americans were no longer deferring to authority or putting their blind faith in the federal government.

Responding to the huge public outcry for an end to the JFK assassination secrecy, Congress enacted the JFK Records Act, which mandated all federal agencies to release their files and records relating to the assassination.

Guess what! When most of the documents were released (the CIA still won’t release all its documents relating to the assassination, citing national security of course, and the Secret Service, for some reason, intentionally destroyed some of its documents after enactment of the act), the United States didn’t fall, and the country wasn’t even invaded and occupied by some foreign power.

In other words, the much-vaunted national-security concerns that had been cited as the reason for keeping the Kennedy asssassination information secret from the American people for 75 years had proven baseless.

What assassination researchers did discover in the 1990s — some 30 years after the assassination — however, was that many of the files and records relating to the assassination had gone missing or had been destroyed, important witnesses had died, and memories had faded. Not surprisingly, that made it much more difficult for people who refused to defer to authority to investigate and ascertain the accuracy and truthfulness of the federal government’s official version of the assassination. A good example of this relates to the matter relating to the multiple deliveries of Kennedy’s body into the morgue at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, as I pointed out in my recent article “The Kennedy Casket Conspiracy.”

Of course, needless to say, the situation would have been much worse if the files and records hadn’t been opened to the public until 2039, the original release date that federal officials had announced back in 1964.

So, what was the real reason that U.S. officials insisted on keeping their files and records relating to the Kennedy assassination, including Kennedy’s autopsy photos and x-rays, secret from the American people for 75 years?

Good question.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.