JFK’s Secret White House Tapes
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.
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.