JFK files detail plots to kill foreign leaders

Officers escort Lee Harvey Oswald (center) through the Dallas police station on Nov. 23, 1963. Newly released records show FBI agents tracked Oswald on a bus trip to Mexico City in October 1963.

Cuban assassination plots involving exploding seashells and poisoned swimsuits. Bounties on the heads of high-profile communists. A secretive investigation that tracked John F. Kennedy's assassin into Mexico.

As scholars, journalists and the merely curious on Friday pored through a tranche of nearly 3,000 newly released secret documents related to the 35th president's assassination, there were few if any major plot twists about what happened that day in Dallas in 1963.

Instead, the files -- which include secret FBI memos, handwritten notes from top White House officials, and CIA field reports -- tell the story of America's paranoid underworld in the 1960s, where shadowy figures chased secrets at home and abroad and hatched plots to change the course of history.

Bending to CIA and FBI appeals, President Donald Trump blocked the release of hundreds of other records on Thursday. He placed those files under a six-month review.

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Despite having months to prepare for disclosures that have been set on the calendar for 25 years, Trump's decision came down to a last-minute debate with intelligence agencies -- a tussle the president then prolonged by calling for still more review.

The delay sparked a round of finger-pointing among agencies and complaints that Trump should have released all records.

Roger Stone, a sometime Trump adviser who wrote a book about his theories on the assassination, urged Trump to review personally any material that government agencies still want to withhold. Trump should at least "spot check" any extensive redactions to make sure agencies are not "dabbling in acts of criminal insubordination," Stone said in a statement.

As for the unreleased documents, Trump will impress upon federal agencies that "only in the rarest cases" should JFK files stay secret after the six-month review, officials said.

The records that were released shine a light into America's covert operations during a turbulent period that included the Kennedy administration's attempts to overthrow communist revolutionaries in Cuba, records which were examined by investigators to see if those operations somehow played a role in inspiring Kennedy's assassination.

Some records provide insight into investigators' hunt for details involving the only suspect ever officially identified, Lee Harvey Oswald. One newly released FBI file shows how agents tracked Oswald's bus trip to Mexico City in October 1963. It included information that Oswald was wearing a "short sleeve light colored sportshirt and no coat," seemingly innocuous information that had been classified to protect the FBI's "operations in foreign country."

Some accounts only loosely involved Kennedy's assassination, focusing instead on the U.S. government's own plots to kill foreign government leaders and politicians.

One top-secret White House document detailed a proposal to create "Operation Bounty" to assassinate prominent Cuban communists -- suggesting up to $20,000 to kill communist informers, up to $100,000 for Cuban government officials, and a morbidly cheeky two cents for the death of Fidel Castro.

Some ideas to assassinate Castro included using the Mafia, which displeased Kennedy's brother, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, "because at that time he felt that he was making a very strong drive to try to get after the Mafia," one 1975 document stated. "His comment was to us that if we were going to get involved with the Mafia, in the future at any time, to make sure you see me first."

Some of the proposed plots involved placing botulism pills in Castro's food, with the CIA's director of security at one point testing the pills on some guinea pigs "because I wanted to be sure they worked." Pills were sent to "assets" in Cuba who tried to poison Castro at a restaurant, but failed.

Another CIA plot was based on Castro's fondness for diving, and proposed "to dust the inside of the suit with a fungus that would produce a disabling and chronic skin disease, and also contaminating the suit with tuberculosis bacilli in the breathing apparatus."

Another one involved a "booby-trap spectacular seashell which would be submerged in an area where Castro often skindived. The seashell would be loaded with explosives to blow apart when the shell was lifted." But plotters discovered that "there was no shell in the Caribbean area large enough to hold a sufficient amount of explosive."

That document also reviewed the Central Intelligence Agency's efforts to assassinate other foreign leaders, including discussions about killing Democratic Republic of the Congo leader Patrice Lumumba, who was shot to death in 1961, three days before Kennedy's inauguration. The agency denied playing a role.

Information for this article was contributed by Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times and by Calvin Woodward, Deb Riechmann, Alanna Durkin Richer and Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press.

A Section on 10/28/2017