On June 22, 1962, an intelligence official drafted a memo summarizing a letter intercepted between Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother. The note was published a long time ago. But for 60 years, the name of the letter opener was kept secret.
Now it can finally be said: According to an unredacted copy of the memo recently released by the government, the official who intercepted Oswald’s mail for the CIA in the months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated was named Reuben Efron.
And that means – what, exactly? A tantalizing clue to unravel a complicated conspiracy that the government has been trying to cover up for decades? Further evidence that the CIA knew more about Oswald than it initially admitted? Or a minor detail withheld during this time due to bureaucratic imperatives unrelated to the question of whether Oswald was the only shooter on that fateful day?
The mystery of Reuben Efron, who has been dead for three decades, may never be solved to the satisfaction of some of those dedicated to studying the assassination. Thirty years after Congress ordered that articles related to the killing be released with limited exceptions, President Biden declared that he had made his “final certification” of files to be released, although 4,684 documents remain fully or partially withheld. Going forward, agencies will decide on any future disclosures that may be warranted over time.
The president’s testimony, issued at 6:36 p.m. on the Friday before the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, when it would not attract much attention, frustrated researchers and historians still focused on the most spectacular American murder of the 20th century. . But they suffered a setback on Friday when a federal judge refused to block Mr. Biden’s order.
Jefferson Morley, the editor of the blog JFK facts and the author of several books about the CIA, said that Efron’s late identification indicated that intelligence agencies still have something to keep from the American public.
“If they hid this guy’s name for 61 years and they’re still hiding other things, I’d say they’re still hiding sources and methods around Oswald,” Mr. Morley said. “Why else has the name remained a secret for 61 years? The CIA is trying to knock on the door now, and Biden went along with this.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Gerald Posner, the author of “Case Closed,” a 1993 book concluding that Oswald killed Kennedy on his own, said he doubted there was a smoking gun in the remaining files.
“Everyone is focused on the CIA documents still being withheld,” he said. “What we learned from the CIA files released this year is that they either have nothing to do with the assassination, or are only tangentially related.”
While he and Mr. Morley differed on the historical evidence, Mr. Posner agreed that Mr. Biden’s decision was “an abdication of responsibility under the 1992 law” requiring release of the documents. Trust that the government is such, he said, that the public will never accept official assurances that there is no wonderful revelation in the papers.
“I don’t think that’s there,” he said, “but you’ll only know when you have all the files.”
The intense interest in Kennedy conspiracy theories prompted Congress to pass the 1992 law requiring that documents related to the assassination be released within 25 years except for those that could do “identifiable harm” to national security that outweighs the value of disclosure. When the deadline arrived in 2017, President Donald J. Trump, who has dabbled in conspiracy theories about the assassination himself, bowed to pressure from intelligence agencies to give more time. After taking office, Mr. Biden signed two memos doing the same.
Of about 320,000 documents reviewed since the law passed, 99 percent have been disclosed, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. But 2,140 documents remain fully or partially withheld as a result of Mr. Biden’s action, officials said, while another 2,502 remain withheld for reasons beyond the president’s purview, such as court-ordered seals, grand jury secrecy rules, tax privacy limits or restrictions. imposed by people who donated articles, and 42 for a mixture of both.
A large majority of excluded documents have indeed been released but with certain parts redacted, officials said, including names of people still alive, addresses, phone or Social Security numbers or locations of intelligence facilities. Officials said they were confident that none of the withheld information would change the essential understanding of the assassination.
While Mr. Biden’s June 30 order means he is done, the archives and agencies have set up “transparency plans” so that remaining redactions can be reversed in the future, such as after the death of someone whose identity was protected
The Mary Ferrell Foundation, an organization already suing the government over the files, sought an injunction against Mr. Biden following his latest order. But Judge Richard Seeborg of the Federal District Court in Northern California dismissed it on Friday night and dismissed other parts of the original lawsuit, although he allowed some claims to proceed.
Lawrence Schnapf, a lawyer for the foundation, denounced Mr. Biden’s action. “It is simply unfathomable to me that a man who has a bust of RFK in his office and who voted for the law would cave to the incredulous claims of the national security bureaucracy that 60-year-old records pose such a risk to national security that they cannot be released,” he said.
The Justice Department declined to comment but maintained in its filings that the government complied with the law. The CIA did not respond to requests for comment. “This completes the review of records required by Congress and fulfills the president’s commitment to maximize transparency related to the assassination of President Kennedy,” said Adam Hodge, a White House spokesman.
The assassination still has enormous power to arouse suspicion. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has embraced conspiracy theories about vaccines and other issues and is now challenging Mr. Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, said recently that the government orchestrated a “60-year cover-up” in the killing of his uncle. .
“There is overwhelming evidence that the CIA was involved in his murder,” he told radio host John Catsimatidis in may “I think it’s beyond a reasonable doubt at this point.”
Mr. Trump, for his part, has promised to do in a second term what he failed to do in his first. “I released a lot, as you know. And I will release everything else,” said en interview in May with The Messengera new online news site.
The final 1,103 documents released days before Mr. Biden’s order and those released in previous months offered new information that hardly seemed worth keeping under wraps for so long. In April, for example, a file was published with names of employees in the Mexico City station of the CIA, mostly secretaries and translators. Another document listed the names of 27 previously undisclosed CIA staff members; for whatever it’s worth, CIA director John McCone’s secretaries were named Marguerite Beard, Betty Davis and June Irish.
Whether any of the hidden documents would shed more light on Reuben Efron is unknown. His name on the postal intercept note intrigued Mr. Morley. The memo was sent to Betty Egerter at a CIA unit known as “the office that spied on spies.” On the day of the assassination, Egerter’s boss told the FBI that the CIA had no information about Oswald, who had actually been monitored when he moved to the Soviet Union. A document released long ago showed that the agency opened Oswald’s correspondence from November 11, 1959 to May 1, 1960, and again from July 1, 1961 to May 25, 1962.
Interestingly, Efron was previously listed as being in the room when the Warren Commission interviewed Marina Oswald, his Russian-born widow, in February 1964 – the only one present whose title and role were not explained. Mr. Morley suspects that Efron monitored the commission’s investigation for James Angleton, the legendary CIA officer, essentially his “eyes and ears inside the room.”
Efron was born in Lithuania in 1911 as Ruvelis Effronas and arrived in the United States via Cuba in 1939, according to immigration documents that described him as a 5-foot-3, 135-pound “dealer salesman.” In addition to English, he spoke Russian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Yiddish and German, and served in the Air Force during World War II as an interpreter. His obituary said that after the war he was a “specialist on the Soviet Union and a consultant on foreign affairs” without saying for whom.
In a harmonious convergence of conspiracy, Efron reported seeing a UFO in 1955. He was traveling with Senator Richard Russell, Democrat of Georgia, and an army colonel on a train trip through the Soviet Union when all three spotted it. CIA report called two “flying saucers”. Skeptics later suggested that they were Soviet aircraft. Russell was among the Warren Commission members in the room for the Marina Oswald interview that Efron participated in in 1964.
As it happened, Efron died on November 22, 1993 – the 30th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. His wife also died, and he had no known children. Efforts to reach other family members were unsuccessful.
“People say there’s nothing important in these files?” Mr. Morley said. “Bingo! This is the guy who read Oswald’s mail, a detail they haven’t shared until now. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think it’s suspicious.”
Mr. Posner finds it less suspicious but understands why others might. “A lot of us made up our minds,” he said. “Some of us decided there was a conspiracy, and some of us decided it was Oswald.
“But in the end, we all want to see these files.”
Alain Delaquerière contributed research.