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  News 11/14/03
Security that kept some JFK files secret also spread outrageous rumors, Hall says

By Shanna Nielsen

Before becoming Utah State's president, Kermit Hall was appointed by then-President Clinton to help sift through millions of highly classified documents related to John F. Kennedy's assassination and make them public.

At the TSC Thursday, Hall projected some of these documents while he spoke about government secrecy. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, he opened the presentation by saying, "In order for three people to keep a secret, two must be dead."

The Assassination Records Review Board, made up of five people chosen for their scholarly expertise, emerged because of Congress' frustration over sealed records and the implications of an Oliver Stone movie JFK.

In the movie, viewers are led to believe that the JFK assassination was an elaborate conspiracy that involved some of the most powerful U.S. organizations, including the CIA, FBI and armed forces.

"It's a fabulous work of fiction," said Hall, who spoke nine days before the 40th anniversary of JFK's assassination.

Nearly 75 percent of Americans believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested on suspicioin of shooting Kennedy, did not act alone. This belief is even more largely held by students who get most of their information from movies, such as Stone's.

"Secrecy is an important part of the American experience or the government would be compromised," Hall said, "but we can't become so suspicious that we conclude JFK was killed by our own government."

Showing the infamous picture of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin, Hall said, "It was one of the saddest days in modern American history, and the events following it bred an enormous amount of cynicism that government wasn't worthy of public trust."

The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and George Wallace's close call that left him paralyzed for life, are some of these events.

"He [Kennedy] left behind a heritage of being a family man" Hall said, showing pictures of the president with the first lady. "But the image that is conjured up is consistently contrary to President Kennedy's private life."

With that, Hall left the topic of Kennedy's personal life, saying, "He was a legendary naval hero; he played a central role in rescuing his crew when his PT boat sank."

From the idea that Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK's vice president, was involved, to the notion that a foreign government was responsible, there are many theories surrounding the shooting on Nov. 22, 1963.

"Not matter what you believe about the assassination," Hall said pointing to pictures of the accused holding a rifle and handgun, "Oswald was not the boy next door."

Among the once-sealed documents that Hall presented was a letter from then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In the letter, Hoover said that the FBI had been informed of a conversation that took place between Oswald and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. According to the source, Oswald demanded a visa from the embassy in Mexico and was refused. He then left, saying, "I'm going to kill Kennedy for this." Oswald also implied that he would not act alone.

"Cuba viewed Kennedy with extreme suspicion and hostility," said Hall.

After the review board finished its final report in 1998, nearly all of the top secret documents were released. The few that were not were related to national security.

"[The government] surely depends on secrets, but your liberty very much depends on what you know. The fact is, we can't wallow in theories of conspiracy which sours attitudes toward public life and makes us suspicious of our government," Hall said.