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JFK’s Secret White House Tapes

JFK Dictaphone Oval Office - Photo by Jacques Lowe

JFK using the Dictaphone machine in the Oval Office.
Photo by Jacques Lowe

John F. Kennedy was one of six presidents who secretly recorded in the White House. From the end of July 1962 through November 1963, JFK captured meetings, office conversations, telephone calls, and dictation in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.

The tapes were never meant to be made public–they were considered personal records. And very few people knew about them at the time: so far as we know it was only his private secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, the Secret Service agents who installed and maintained the system, and his brother, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy.

By far the largest collection of presidential recordings–and the most famous, thanks to Watergate–at about 3,700 hours, was made by Richard Nixon. Lyndon Johnson’s collection amounts to about 800 hours. The Dwight Eisenhower (4.5 hours); Harry Truman (10 hours), and Franklin Roosevelt (8 hours) collections are much smaller.

The Kennedy tapes collection is made up of about 257 hours of recording, most of which are recordings of meetings. A small portion of the collection, about 12 hours, consists mostly of telephone calls and dictation recorded on the Dictaphone machine that Kennedy is using in the photo at right.

Dictaphone Time-Master

This is the Dictaphone “Time-Master” recorder that JFK used in the White House.

It is possible that that number of hours might grow a little in the future if some tapes that are known to be missing are found. The Kennedy Library has in its holdings 1960s-era rough transcripts from 4 tapes (capturing 11 meetings) for which no corresponding tape has surfaced (the rough transcripts have not been released). A little over 10.5 hours, or about 4.4 percent of the collection, remains closed by the Kennedy Library, mostly due to national security redactions, but also with a small number of deed-of-gift excisions.

The JFK transcripts here are a combination of notable new transcript excerpts and those relevant to the issues and episodes discussed in The Fourteenth Day. Unless otherwise indicated, the transcripts on this site are my drafts, and I take full responsibility for any errors. (And if you do find errors, please let me know so that I can fix them.) This collection will grow in the coming weeks and months as new segments are added.

For Miller Center transcripts, which go through extra layers of editing, head over to the Center’s website. The Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program has published comprehensive, expertly annotated transcripts for the period July 28 through October 28, 1962 in Timothy Naftali, Philip Zelikow, and Ernest May, eds., The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy: The Great Crises (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001). Three more volumes, spanning the period October 29, 1962, through February 1963 are forthcoming. For a concise volume focused specifically on the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, concise edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002).

Each of the transcripts presented here is synchronized with the original audio. To listen, use the play button on the transcript page or click anywhere within a transcript.


JFK Tapes Transcripts

Click on the conversation title or thumbnail to go to that White House tape excerpt.

JFK Dictaphone Oval Office - Photo by Jacques Lowe

JFK Explains Why He Wants to be President

August 1, 1960 | JFK
General Curtis LeMay

This is Almost as Bad as the Appeasement at Munich

October 19, 1962 | JFK, Curtis LeMay
Paul Nitze and Maxwell Taylor

Clarifying Nuclear Launch Procedures During the Cuban Missile Crisis

October 22, 1962 | JFK, Paul Nitze, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Roswell Gilpatric, George Ball
Eisenhower and JFK

What are the Chances They’ll Fire These Things Off?

October 22, 1962 | JFK, Dwight Eisenhower
J. William Fulbright

J. William Fulbright: Vietnam Dove / Cuba Hawk

October 22, 1962 | JFK, J. William Fulbright, Robert McNamara, Richard Russell
Andrei Gromyko

JFK on Why You Can’t Trust the Soviets

October 29, 1962 | JFK, George Anderson
Oval Office Meeting

What an Invasion of Cuba Would Look Like

October 29, 1962 | JFK, David Shoup, George Anderson
David Shoup

Would They Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Cuba?

October 29, 1962 | JFK, David Shoup, George Anderson
IL-28 BEAGLE Bomber

McNamara on Why the IL-28s Have to Go

November 1, 1962 | Robert McNamara
Dean Rusk

A Gigantic Hoax of Which History Has Had No Parallel?

November 1, 1962 | Dean Rusk
Pierre Salinger Talking with Reporters

These Post-Mortems Are Going to Get Worse and Worse

November 2, 1962 | JFK
Map of the IL-28 Airfields

Why the IL-28 Negotiations Must Remain Secret for the Moment

November 2, 1962 | JFK, Robert McNamara, John McCone, George Ball, Roswell Gilpatric, Dean Rusk
Richard Nixon at his "Last" Press Conference on November 7, 1962

Pat Brown, Jerry Brown, & Richard Nixon’s “Last” Press Conference

November 9, 1962 | JFK, Pat Brown, Jerry Brown

General Curtis LeMay Wonders What Khrushchev Was Up To in the Cuba Missile Crisis

November 16, 1962 |
Surveillance photo of FROGs

JFK Explains Why It’s the Better Option for Soviet Troops to Stay in Cuba

November 29, 1962 | JFK, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, John McCone, Roswell Gilpatric, Douglas Dillon
Robert McNamara

How Many Nuclear Missiles Are Enough?

December 5, 1962 | JFK, Robert McNamara
JFK and David Ormsby-Gore

Harold Wilson Comes to Washington

April 2, 1963 | JFK, David Ormsby-Gore
JFK meeting with Andrei Gromyko

JFK and Gromyko on the Cold War in 1963

October 10, 1963 | JFK, Andrei Gromyko
Admiral George Anderson

Robert McNamara’s Feud with Admiral George Anderson

November 8, 1962 | JFK, Robert McNamara
LBJ in ExComm

LBJ on Leaks During the Cuban Missile Crisis

January 28, 1966 | LBJ, Hubert Humphrey
LBJ and Fulbright

LBJ and Bundy on the Military Option in the Cuban Missile Crisis

February 22, 1966 | LBJ, McGeorge Bundy