JFK papers 'a footnote to history': A foray into assassination documents reveals no new smoking guns - but conspiracy theories stand

CASE UNSOLVED. Still. Two hours buried in drifts of previously classified documents on the assassination of JFK at the National Archives, and this newspaper has no new insights to offer. Would more time help? Probably not.

Not that spending longer in the East Research Room on the second floor, set aside for JFK buffs and assorted reporters, would be an unpleasant chore. Regardless of whether sense can be made of the 900,000 pages released on Monday, reading them is compulsive. Like playing Poirot when the clues - and the mystery - are real and, still today, of national historic importance.

The papers, about half of them released for public perousal for the first time, have been wedged into 1,053 grey boxes. Only 51, all released by the CIA and entitled 'Lee Oswald's Personality File, 1959-1967', are immediately available in the research room. But even with those, where to start?

When not scolding journalists for violating the house rules - the gentleman from the Boston Globe had not only taken his jacket off in the research room, absolutely not allowed, but had opened two boxes at once - the archivists try to offer guidance. They suggest trying boxes 26 and 27.

Inside 26, there are sheaves of loose sheets and two promising-looking manilla folders, tied shut with fading pink ribbons. Undo the first ribbon and there, suddenly, you have the first glimpse of what has gripped historians, conspiracy theorists - and film directors - for almost three decades.

The passage of the years is obvious. Sheets of notes on old, almost translucent, typing paper, held together by rusting clips and staples. (How scratchy the print of the old Remingtons used to be). Indecipherable notes have been scrawled by investigators in pencil or fountain pen in the margins.

One memo refers to alleged plans by Secker and Warburg in London to publish in April 1964, six months after the assassination, the claims of an American journalist that a right-wing political movement was involved. The memo describes how the journalist can be discredited as a Communist. Other sheets detail Oswald's movements during his three years in the Soviet Union.

The Boston Globe is having fun too. His folder unburdens sheaves of original FBI photographs of Oswald, of his wife, Marina, and of the scene as he is shot by Jack Ruby. It is a bit like seeing that Matisse or Monet, so familiar from posters and chocolate boxes, for real for the first time.

First forays into the documents, mostly by journalists untrained in such research, have so far revealed no new smoking guns. Nothing has been turned up yet to disprove the official version of events - that Oswald fired three shots and acted alone. Nor, however, has anything been turned up to discourage the conspiracy theorists. 'None of this material is entirely new', says John Blakey, chief counsel to a congressional committee that investigated the shooting in 1979. 'This is not a historic event. It is a historic footnote.'

It has happend primarily because of the Oliver Stone film JFK, which suggested a team of military and intelligence officers had plotted the killing. Mr Stone was not among the researchers in the East Room yesterday. But perhaps he sent a representative.

(Photograph omitted)

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