Opinion: Season’s greetings from the secret JFK files?

A 1963 portrait of U.S President John F. Kennedy.

A 1963 portrait of U.S President John F. Kennedy.

Associated Press

Within hours of President John F. Kennedy’s murder on Nov. 22, 1963, the country’s horror was stoked into outrage by allegations of Lee Harvey Oswald’s purported ties to Fidel Castro. White House transcripts later reveal Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, distressing over how this outrage could escalate into demands for an invasion of Cuba. In those moments, the first JFK assassination conspiracy was born.

Details about the political beliefs and affiliations of a supposedly obscure loner spread across the country almost as fast as details about the assassination itself. Who could provide such seemingly persuasive information about Oswald, so quickly, and to so many people?

These allegations did not come from the FBI, the Secret Service, the police or any investigative journalists. Instead, they come from a well-organized group of activists called the “DRE” (an abbreviation for “Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil”). The DRE hated Castro. They wanted to see Cuba liberated. And they believed the U.S. should take aggressive action. They were not alone.

In 1963, the DRE were headquartered in Miami. They had satellite offices in many major cities, including New Orleans (where some of Oswald’s strangest activities occurred). The DRE’s activities and their funding (today equivalent to about $220,000 per month) are overseen by a man known to them as Howard.

The Warren Commission eventually dispelled the Castro allegations. And the U.S. did not got to war with Cuba. The DRE shut down shortly after the assassination, their name dissolving into history (along with Howard).

Fifteen years pass. In 1978, while a congressional committee is reinvestigating JFK’s assassination, a lawyer is called out of retirement to oversee requests for classified records.

According to committee investigators, the lawyer is notorious for slow-walking or severely limiting the release of files, particularly those relating to the DRE and Oswald’s alleged ties to Cuba. Unsurprisingly, the committee runs out of time before ever seeing the requested files.

In 1992, Congress passes a law requiring the National Archives to preserve, catalog and begin releasing all assassination records, with a final release deadline of October 2017.

In 2001, a journalist researching the DRE uncovers the real identity of Howard in some of these declassified records. Shockingly, the journalist also learns that Howard and the retired lawyer from 1978 are the same man. Give that a minute to sink in.

Howard is long gone now, but he led an interesting life. You may be wondering who he worked for. Rest assured, it was neither the Russians, the Cubans, the Mafia, a wealthy cabal, nor a lone gunman — far from it. Among the 15,000 assassination records that remain classified, 300 pertain to Howard and the work he did for his well-known employer.

Is there a “smoking gun” in these files? Of course not. But much like The Ghost of Christmas Past, the files shine an uncomfortable light. They contain information that would have dramatically changed the questions being asked during investigations like the Warren Commission (1964) and the House Select Committee (1978). Today, these unasked questions haunt all the assassination narratives — from the official to the most absurd.

President Trump was supposed to release the remaining files in 2017. Instead, he ordered many of them hidden for another four years. Last month, President Biden approved their release, but he also added a loophole that could allow many to remain hidden. Most of these files are now nearly 60 years old. If the assassination is a closed case, what is really being protected?

Stay tuned — the answer could be among files that may arrive from the National Archives next month. Some people also believe Santa may arrive next month (although others still dispute the official narrative about him acting alone).

Carl J. Frattini lives in Guilford.