After the war Garrison attended Tulare Law School in New Orleans. He then joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and served as a special agent in Seattle and Tacoma. In 1954 Garrison returned to New Orleans where he became assistant district attorney.
In 1961, Garrison was elected as the city's district attorney. He developed a good reputation and in his first two years he never lost a case. According to Joan Mellen, the author of A Farewell to Justice (2005): "He hired the first woman assistant attorney in New Orleans history, Louise Korns, who had been first in her class at Tulane, and entrusted most of the research to her... Garrison's was the first office to employ full-time police investigators, among them Louis Ivon... Garrison dressed nattily in three-piece suits and he was not corrupt, rejecting the Napoleonic premise that political office was a form of private property."
Three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Garrison brought in David Ferrie for questioning. He had been informed by Jack Martin, a part-time private investigator, that Ferrie had known Lee Harvey Oswald and might have been involved in the assassination. Ferrie told Garrison that on the day of the assassination he had driven to Houston in order to go ice-skating. Garrison thought he was lying and handed him over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, after a brief interview he was released.
In 1965 Garrison was told by Hale Bloggs, a Congressman from Louisiana and a former member of the Warren Commission, that he had serious doubts that Oswald was a lone-gunman. This encouraged Garrison to read the Warren Report and books on the assassination by Mark Lane, Edward Jay Epstein and Harold Weisberg.
Garrison recruited Tom Bethell to investigate the case. He interviewed Vince Salandria who claimed that the conspirators were the CIA and military leaders who wanted to stop President Kennedy's effort to end the Cold War. He also contacted Sylvia Meagher and Mary Ferrell.
In November 1966 Garrison told a journalist, David Chandler, that he had important information on the case. Chandler told Richard Billings and in January 1967, the Life Magazine reporter arranged a meeting with Garrison. Billings told Garrison that the top management at Life had concluded that Kennedy's assassination had been a conspiracy and that "his investigation was moving in the right direction". Billings suggested that he worked closely with Garrison. According to Garrison "The magazine would be able to provide me with technical assistance, and we could develop a mutual exchange of information".
Garrison agreed to this deal and Richard Billings was introduced to staff member, Tom Bethell. In his diary Bethal reported: "In general, I feel that Billings and I share a similar position about the Warren Report. He does not believe that there was a conspiracy on the part of the government, the Warren Commission or the FBI to conceal the truth, but that a probability exists that they simply did not uncover the whole truth."
Garrison also recruited Bernardo de Torres, who had good connections with anti-Castro figures. William Turner, the author of Rearview Mirror: Looking Back at the FBI, the CIA and Other Tails (2001) has argued: "A veteran of the Bay of Pigs, De Torres showed up on Garrison's doorstep early in the probe, saying he was a private detective from Miami who wanted to help, and dropping the name of Miami DA Richard Gerstein, a friend of Garrison's, as an opener. In retrospect, Garrison remembered that every lead De Torres developed ended up in a box canyon." One of the jobs Garrison gave him was to find Eladio del Valle.
Garrison became suspicious of his motives and on 7th January, 1967, he ordered his staff "under no circumstances" to offer any information to De Torres. Four days later he wrote at the top of one of De Torres' memos: "His reliability is not established." Garrison was right to be suspicious as he later discovered he was working for the CIA. According to Gaeton Fonzi, de Torres's CIA handler was Paul Bethel. Another researcher, Larry Hancock, has argued that "It certainly appears that De Torres’ role in the Garrison investigation is suspicious, and it supports Otero’s remarks to HSCA investigators that De Torres had ‘penetrated’ Garrison’s investigation. It also shows that De Torres had an agenda of his own in addition to getting intelligence about Garrison’s investigation and investigators. That agenda involved once again shifting attention to Fidel Castro and a Cuban hit team rather than the activities of the Cuban exiles."
Garrison eventually became convinced that a group of right-wing activists, including Guy Banister, David Ferrie, Carlos Bringuier, Eladio del Valle and Clay Shaw were involved in a conspiracy with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to kill John F. Kennedy. Garrison claimed this was in retaliation for his attempts to obtain a peace settlement in both Cuba and Vietnam.
On 17th February, 1967, The New Orleans States-Item reported that Garrison was investigating the assassination of Kennedy. It also said that one of the suspects was David Ferrie. Five days later Ferrie's body was found in his New Orleans apartment. Although two suicide notes were found, the coroner did not immediately classify the death as a suicide, noting there were indications Ferrie may have suffered a brain hemorrhage.
Garrison immediately announced that Ferrie had been a part of the Kennedy conspiracy. "The apparent suicide of David Ferrie ends the life of a man who in my judgment was one of history's most important individuals. Evidence developed by our office had long since confirmed that he was involved in events culminating in the assassination of President Kennedy... We have not mentioned his name publicly up to this point. The unique nature of this case now leaves me no other course of action." Garrison added that he was making preparations to arrest Ferrie when they heard of his death. "Apparently, we waited too long."
Another suspect, Eladio del Valle, was found dead in a Miami parking lot twelve hours after Ferrie's was discovered in New Orleans. Police reported that de Valle had been tortured, shot in the heart at point-blank range, and his skull split open with an axe. His murder has never been solved. Diego Gonzales Tendera, a close friend, later claimed de Valle was murdered because of his involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A senior member of the Cuban Secret Service, Fabian Escalante, agreed: "In 1962 Eladio Del Valle tried to infiltrate Cuba with a commando group of 22 men but their boat had an English key - a little island. In the middle of 1962. Of course, we knew this. I tell you about this, because one of our agents who was one of the people helping to bring this group to Cuba, was a man of very little education. They talked English on many occasions on this little island with Eladio Del Valle told this person, on many occasions, that Kennedy must be killed to solve the Cuban problem. After that we had another piece of information on Eladio Del Valle. This was offered to us by Tony Cuesta. He told us that Eladio Del Valle was one of the people involved in the assassination plot against Kennedy."
A week after the death of David Ferrie Garrison announced the arrest of Clay Shaw. He was 54 years old and a retired businessman. John J. McCloy, a former member of the Warren Commission, was asked by a journalist what he thought about the Garrison investigation. He replied that the Warren Commission had always known that new evidence in the case might turn up. "We did not say that Oswald acted alone. We said we could find no credible evidence that he acted with anyone else."
Ramsay Clark, the new Attorney General stated that the FBI had already investigated and cleared Shaw "in November and December of 1963" of "any part in the assassination". As Garrison pointed out: "However, the statement that Shaw, whose name appears nowhere in the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission, had been investigated by the federal government was intriguing. If Shaw had no connection to the assassination, I wondered, why had he been investigated?" Within a few days of this statement Clark had to admit that he had published inaccurate information and that no investigation of Shaw had taken place.
As part of Garrison's attempt to prove the existence of a conspiracy, he subpoenaed the Zapruder Film from Time-Life Corporation. The company refused and they fought this subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled that the corporation had to hand over the film. As Jim Marrs has pointed out: "Time-Life grudgingly turned over to Garrison a somewhat blurry copy of the film - but that was enough. Soon, thanks to the copying efforts of Garrison's staff, bootleg Zapruder films were in the hands of several assassination researchers."
In May, 1967 Hugh Aynesworth published a critical article of Garrison in Newsweek: "Garrison's tactics have been even more questionable than his case. I have evidence that one of the strapping D.A.'s investigators offered an unwilling "witness" $3,000 and a job with an airline - if only he would "fill in the facts" of the alleged meeting to plot the death of the President. I also know that when the D.A.'s office learned that this entire bribery attempt had been tape-recorded, two of Garrison's men returned to the "witness" and, he says, threatened him with physical harm."
Garrison later responded to Aynesworth's claims: "As for the $3,000 bribe, by the time I came across Aynesworth's revelation, the witness our office had supposedly offered it to, Alvin Babeouf, had admitted to us that it never happened. Aynesworth, of course, never explained what he did with the "evidence" allegedly in his possession. And the so-called bribery tape recording had not, in fact, ever existed."
In September, 1967, Richard Billings told Garrison that Life Magazine was no longer willing to work with him in the investigation. Billings claimed that this was because he had come to the conclusion that he had links to organized crime. Soon afterwards, Life began a smear campaign against Garrison. It was reported that Garrison had been given money by an unnamed "New Orleans mobster".
In Shaw's trial Perry Russo claimed that in September, 1963, he overheard Clay Shaw and David Ferrie discussing the proposed assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was suggested that the crime could be blamed on Fidel Castro. Russo's testimony was discredited by the revelation that he underwent hypnosis and had been administered sodium pentathol, or "truth serum," at the request of the prosecution. It claimed that Russo only came up with a link between Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald after these treatments. Shaw was eventually found not guilty of conspiring to assassinate Kennedy.
In 1973 Garrison lost the office to Harry Connick. After leaving his post as district attorney Garrison wrote a book about his investigations of the Kennedy assassination, On the Trail of the Assassins (1988). Carl Oglesby summarized Garrison's theory as follows:
(a) Rabidly anti-Communist elements of the C.I.A.'s operations division, often moving through extra-governmental channels, were deeply involved at the top of the assassination planning and management process and appear to have been the makers of the decision to kill the President.
(b) The conspiracy was politically motivated. Its purpose was to stop J.F.K.'s movement toward détente in the Cold War, and it succeeded in doing that. It must therefore be regarded as a palace coup d'etat.
(c) Oswald was an innocent man craftily set up to take the blame. As he put it, "I'm a patsy."
Several researchers were highly critical of the methods that Garrison used in his investigation. Sylvia Meagher wrote: "As the Garrison investigation continued to unfold, I had increasingly serious misgivings about the validity of his evidence, and the scrupulousness of his methods." Anthony Summers was surprised that Oliver Stone decided to base his film JFK on Garrison's work: "From a vast array of scholarship, he picked a book by Jim Garrison, former District Attorney of New Orleans, as his main source work. Garrison, many will recall, is a strange figure - considered crazy by some, and crooked by others."
Jim Garrison died on 21st October, 1992.
Garrison was appointed Assistant District Attorney for Orleans Parish in 1953. Without question, he was the most impressive of the twenty or so lawyers on the District Attorney's staff. He was reputed to be lazy. I, for one, never agreed with that estimate, however, and felt it was born largely of his propensity for writing satirical compositions, often in verse, which he circulated among the staff, and an undoubted knack for delegating both authority and labor.
Like the rest of us, of course, he was not without fault. He did, it seemed, have a tendency to make snap judgments on insufficient facts. He was prone to oversimplify. His abundant ego could, on occasion, be a cause of annoyance. And it is neither exaggeration nor hindsight to recall that in his humor there could at times be detected traces of cruelty.
But these faults, if such they were, seemed relatively insignificant. More prominent were his obvious ability, an easy manner, and a sharp and spontaneous humor. His mind was quick. He seemed incapable, and intolerant, of dullness or ineptitude.
Garrison inverted the criminal investigatory process. You should begin by assembling the facts and from the facts you may deduce a theory of the crime. . . . Garrison did the opposite. He started with a theory and then assembled some facts to support it. Those facts that fit the theory, he accepted. Those that did not, he either ignored or rejected as CIA misinformation.
The reason for Officer Tippit's murder is simply this: It was necessary for them to get rid of the decoy in the case - Lee Oswald... Lee Oswald. Now, in order to get rid of him - so that he would not later describe the people involved in this, they had what I think is a rather clever plan. It's well known that police officers react violently to the murder of a police officer. All they did was arrange for an officer to be sent out to Tenth Street, and when Officer Tippit arrived there he was murdered, with no other reason than that. Now, after he was murdered, Oswald was pointed to, sitting in the back of the Texas Theater where he'd been told to wait, obviously.
Now, the idea was, quite apparently, that Oswald would be killed in the Texas Theater when he arrived, because he'd killed a "bluecoat." That's the way the officers in New Orleans use the phrase. "He killed a bluecoat." But the Dallas police, at least the arresting Dallas police, fooled them, because they had, apparently, too much humanity in them, and they did not kill him...
The Dallas police, apparently, at least the arresting police officers, had more humanity in them than the planners had in mind. And this is the first point at which the plan did not work completely. So Oswald was not killed there. He was arrested. This left a problem, because if Lee Oswald stayed alive long enough, obviously he would name names and talk about this thing that he'd been drawn into. It was necessary to kill him.
About this time, in early 1967, we had an unexpected lucky break Dick Billings, an editor from Life magazine, arrived at the office. He was a slender man with a quick mind and delightful wit. After talking with me at some length, he informed me confidentially that the top management at Life had concluded that President Kennedy's assassination had been a conspiracy and that my investigation was moving in the right direction. Inasmuch as Life was conducting its own investigation Billings suggested that we work together. The magazine would be able to provide me with technical assistance, and we could develop a mutual exchange of information.
The offer came at a good time. I had been wanting to increase my stakeout coverage of David Ferries home but did not have the personnel to spare, particularly an expert photographer. We had succeeded in establishing a friendly relationship with the couple who lived directly across the street from Perrie on Louisiana Avenue Parkway. Like him they lived on the second floor of a duplex and also had a screened porch in the front. I described this situation to the Life editor, and within days a top-flight photographer arrived in town. We promptly installed him at his observation post on the second-floor porch across the street.
Early December (Dec. '66), trip to New Orleans after report from David Chandler that Garrison working on assassination - had a suspect - file from Chandler told of raid on Ferrie apartment, mentioned that two boys picked up held visa applications signed by Marcello Washington lawyer Jack Wasserman (this came from source outside Garrison's office who also alleged case was closed by a bribe, a report denied by DA's office)...
Met with Garrison, who outlined "the Smith case." He began with history - Oswald in New Orleans, the raid on Ferrie, Ferrie's arrest, description of Ferrie, and he produced B of I photo... Ferrie was arrested as fugitive from justice in Texas...
Garrison says that when Oswald in New Orleans in 1963 (April to September) he was seen two or three times with Ferrie - at office of W. Guy Banister, former FBI agent (SAC, Chicago), right wing extremist, later a private eye in New Orleans until he died in June 1964... Information apparently came from Jack Martin, the man who had tipped DA's office that Ferrie had known Oswald, had taught him to fire a rifle and had flown him to Dallas in September-October, 1963... interesting point about Banister-Martin: police report shows Banister pistol whipped martin on day of assassination, reportedly - by a secretary in office - in an argument over JFK... Charges dropped by Martin, who turns out to be an undependable drunk and a totally unreliable witness...
Garrison, a former FBI agent himself, says he turned file in 1963 over to Bureau, but he never heard from them again . . . He says, "you can't work with the Bureau... It's not interested in real investigation - operates with 20/20 hindsight"... Garrison says after Bureau cleared Ferrie, "We let it go, but it has bothered me ever since." . . . Says he got interested again by reading critics' books, Esquire and Life... "There's no way to look at this in depth and not conclude there was a second assassin. There are too many coincidences... "
Garrison, interviewed on television the previous Sunday night, did say as reported that it was his belief that Oswald did not fire the shots that killed the President. He said he has known that for some time, and he is certain that Oswald was simply a minor character in the plot, clearly a decoy or patsy, or both; and it's Garrison's opinion that Oswald probably thought he was at least deluded into thinking he was infiltrating some kind of group, but that his role, though he had a role, was a minor one. Now, the key to this, says Garrison, is the statement by Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig of Dallas, who swore that he saw Oswald leaving the Texas School Book Depository in a light-colored station wagon, testimony that is not believed by the Warren Commission, incidentally. Craig said that later that afternoon, after Oswald was arrested, he saw the suspect in the office of Police Captain Fritz, and he says, Craig testified, that Oswald said at that time: "Now everyone will know who I am." Garrison further finds it interesting that the police in Dallas failed to record or take stenographic record of Oswald's statements for 12 hours after his arrest, which he considers to be quite suspicious; and moreover, Garrison has studied the location of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, where it was found in the Book Depository building. It was far from the window where Oswald allegedly fired the shots, and it was under a couple of boxes. It is Garrison's opinion, in which he concurs with many of the critics, that Oswald would not have had time to try to hide the rifle under those boxes at such a distance from the window...
Garrison says that a letter has been found in the apartment that Gordon Novel vacated, a rough draft of a letter, apparently one that was later typed by Novel, to a Mr. Weiss. This letter, if it's not a plant, or if it's not a Novel trick, clearly links his past activities with some kind of intelligence operation in New Orleans.
It is necessary here to go back over Garrison's relationship with Novel. Novel set on Garrison during an election campaign, and he told the District Attorney that he had done some bugging for one of his opponents. Garrison says that he, Novel, wanted me to know my phone was bugged, and he wanted to do some counter-bugging for me. Seems to be, according to Garrison, Novel's modus operandi to work both sides, and during this investigation -- this would be in January -- through a friend and supporter of Garrison's by the name of Willard Robertson, Novel got in touch with Garrison and told him that five FBI agents had interviewed him over the past three or four days, wanting to know if he, Novel, had been hired by Garrison to do any bugging or any counter-bugging. It was obvious by this time to Garrison, he now says, that Novel is working both sides, and Garrison asked him to specify the names of the FBI men, and Novel surprised him by doing so. Novel was anxious to tell about an adventure that he was aware of in Houma, La., which involved the -- a burglary of weapons and explosives. Novel said that he could tell about the thing, but he wasn't involved; it turns out later that he was, although it was Novel's intent to keep himself on the sidelines of this operation. For a short period, Novel was a confidential source, but the manner of his providing Garrison with information, phony information, and then turning it over to news media, prompted the District Attorney to promote Novel first to material witness and later to defendant, and that is when Novel skipped town. Apparently, right after he wrote he letter to Mr. Weiss, and then, at a later time, he was interviewed in Columbus, Ohio by a reporter named Endicott, the story that was picked up and developed further and run in the States-Item. We understand from the States-Item reporter, Hoke May, that Novel told Endicott a story of his working for the CIA; he told the story late one night, he was tired, he had been drinking, and he spieled out this story and said, you can print it; and then the next day he called up Endicott and pleaded with him not to print it, but the story broke anyway.
It is important to note here that, though it appears to be fairly certain that Novel had a connection with the intelligence agency, this in no way ties him or the agency to the assassination, though the tone of the letter and statements in the letter and Novel's apparent - obvious fear of Garrison would seem to indicate at least a high degree of suspicion.
Now Bill Martin, the Assistant DA, has received another letter from Richard Nagell. Nagell is a man who claims to have pulled a phony bank robbery in San Antonio because he feared that his involvement and his knowledge of the assassination would get him in serious trouble, since he had been working in this country as an agent for the Soviet Union. Nagell has offered to put Garrison in touch with some tapes which recorded planning of the assassination, and has offered to tell his story to Garrison's office if this is kept on a confidential basis. Martin has been to see Nagell twice in Springfield, posing as his attorney of record. The last time he visited the institution, Nagell discovered Martin discussing the case with an official of the prison, and announced in animate and angry terms that he wanted no more to do with Martin or Garrison. A subsequent letter by Martin, which he wrote after consulting with a psychiatrist in New Orleans, was not received by Nagell, he refused to receive it, and, although Martin had the name of the man who is holding the tape, it has been decided by Garrison not to pursue that until -- letting Nagell, giving Nagell a chance to come back and proceed with an earlier plan. The plan was for Nagell to get a letter to Martin which would -- Martin would give to the man who has the tapes, and this would assure that the tape by [sic] turned over to Garrison's office. Now, this letter that Martin has just received is dated May 19th, in which Nagell says he is preparing for a writ of habeas corpus, and a long attached memorandum which he intends to file with the US District Court in Missouri or in Kansas if he, Nagell, is returned to Leavenworth before he is ready to submit the memorandum. He says that he will send a copy to Martin or to Judge Bagert, and in the memo, he will name names of people that Garrison's office may well want to subpoena. He says, "The reason for my contemplated action stems from the belief that my involvement, which, as you possibly know by now, is deeper than I admitted to you or to my sister, is going to be made public eventually anyway; in this respect, I only hope that the authorities furnish adequate safeguard for my children." And at the end of the letter, Nagell says that he has been informed that he will be returned to Leavenworth on or about June 12th.
Garrison believes that Nagell has no intention of submitting this memorandum to a court, where it would become public record. He feels that Nagell wrote the letter in order to arouse or re-arouse Martin's interest, and that when Martin returns to see him another time, that he will proceed with the plan to put Garrison in touch with the tapes and the information and the evidence that Garrison hopes will be authentic documentation that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the President. Everyone, Garrison included, is concerned with the possibility that Nagell is nothing more than a paranoid man with insane delusions. But he has obtained a transcript of Nagell's trial, which we have borrowed, and claims that in this trial, it comes clear that Nagell is not a nut, and that he committed no horrendous crime, certainly not one worthy of a ten-year prison sentence, and that this gives him reason to believe that Nagell's knowledge was known by the federal government, and for that reason, he was put away to - in order that he be kept quiet. Certainly, Nagell is well worth pursuing, and Martin plans to make a trip to Springfield immediately.
Thursday March 14: Today Dick Billings, associate editor of Life magazine arrived in New Orleans, having received a letter from Jim Garrison assuring him of immunity from subpoena or any other legal entanglement. In the morning Garrison came into my office and told me that Billings was arriving that afternoon, and was planning to stay for three months. I asked him what I was supposed to do if Billings came into my office. Was I to co-operate with him, as we had in the past, and show him the files? Garrison said emphatically not, and that he was now convinced that Life was now working with the Federal Govt, and that he himself wasn't even going to talk to Billings. He said he would prefer it if I didn't see Billings socially outside the office, although he added that he wasn't exactly ordering me not to...
At 3:00 pm. Billings arrived in the office, and sat outside in the lobby, waiting to be invited in. Eventually he spoke to Jim Alcock in Alcock's office. Billings at that time advised that Life was outraged by Garrison's recent statements about them in front of a large proportion of the D.A.'s in the country, and that Life's lawyers were instituting contempt proceedings against Garrison as a result. Alcock told him of the new office policy with regard to Billings, and that they had been told not to provide him with any more information.
Billings had still failed to reach Garrison, and he therefore come into the office again. (Garrison not in office, of course.) He spoke to Alcock and Louis Ivon on this occasion, and they told him of the subpoena of the Zapruder film, which was in fact issued today. I saw Billings briefly soon after he had met with Alcock and Ivon. He seemed depressed by his failure to make any headway; he told me he was leaving Life on April 1, 1968, with plans to be a freelance writer. We agreed to meet that evening to discuss the whole matter further.
I met Billings at 7 pm. And we discussed the whole subject of the assassination and the Garrison investigation for several hours. Clearly, he position is that he wants to write a book about the subject, and he has already approached about six publishers in New York, without receiving any encouragement. He feels that his problem is that he is unable to reach any conclusion on the subject. I am not too clear exactly what he means by this, but my guess is that he does not feel that he can make any positive statements about the validity of Garrison's case. (Later, 1969: Billings' position is clearer to me now. His problem at that time was that he was trying to justify - both to himself and to his employers - the position he had taken with regard to the Garrison investigation; ie. He had failed to advise his editors of the weakness of the Garrison case, and oversight which was, I believe, the cause of his losing his job with the magazine. Billings held off and held off blowing the whistle on Garrison for reasons which are probably complex. Although this is speculation, my guess would be that billings did this (a) because he thought there were genuine doubts about the assassination problem, and that Garrison might eventually hit on the solution. (b) Billings evidently had a great deal of information about Cuban exile-type plots in Miami - I mean solid evidence that such plots existed, and was hoping to see Garrison tie in these plots to the Dealey Plaza outcome. He had half the story and he was hoping Garrison would provide the other - vital - half. Boxley's remark - Life lost interest in us when we lost interest in the Cuban exiles - makes sense in this context. (c) and this is probably by no means least - Billings undoubtedly liked and admired Garrison in many ways, and probably thought that it would constitute betrayal if he informed his editors of some of the realities of the Garrison investigation. And by the end of the evening, he had convinced me that he was very well aware of the realities, probably more so than any other journalist who has worked on the case.)
In general, I feel that Billings and I share a similar position about the Warren Report. He does not believe that there was a conspiracy on the part of the government, the Warren Commission or the FBI to conceal the truth, but that a probability exists that they simply did not uncover the whole truth. When it came to the investigation of sensitive areas, such as Oswald's possible alliance with anti-Castro Cubans, he feels that the FBI tended to side-step the problem by not investigating it very thoroughly, for fear that it might upset their sole-assassin preconceptions. In corroboration of this, one need only point to the absence of any trace of an FBI investigation of the 544 Camp St problem. Billings argues that some of the classified FBI reports, if declassified, probably would reveal some interesting information, and he cited CD 1085, the FBI report on Cuban exile groups. Billings does not feel that the FBI knowingly would have filed any reports which indicated conspiracy without making it known, merely that these reports might inadvertently contain such information. I agree with this position.
As for the Garrison investigation, Billings was more guarded, but I sense that he believes that, 1. Shaw is completely innocent. 2. Garrison sincerely believes everything that he says. 3. Garrison is not motivated by political ambition, but that his motives are much more complex, or, maybe, much more simple. 4. Garrison, regrettably, has too much of a butterfly approach, and instead of concentrating on a few important areas, such as Oswald's Cuban connections, hops around from storm drain theories to the Minutemen, without ever really exhausting one line of inquiry. I agree with all these assessments, including the first, in the light of what Billings told me later on in the evening.
As a Washington co-director of the Assassination Information Bureau, which was created early in the 1970s to build a movement for a new J.F.K. investigation, I watched Blakey from a short distance and sometimes close up over a period of about a year and a half as he prepared and presented his theory of the assassination for the committee's review and approval. At first I supported his Mafia theory for basically strategic reasons. It was at least a conspiracy theory that was not rightwing, it could command an official consensus, and it thus appeared strong enough to get the case properly reopened and activated by the Justice Department. Blakey believed the committee's then - fresh leads pointed to the Mafia. Many of us who were watching thought he was mistaken, and that the leads would punch right through the Mafia cover and track straight back to several departments of official U.S. intelligence. That was the gamble and the deal: Let the government start pulling the Mafia string, we thought, and we will see what else it brings with it.
Then came the Reagan era and the total freeze-out from government sympathy of any project in the least memorializing of the Kennedys. Blakey did not take the offensive when the F.B.I, rudely closed the Justice Department's door in his face, basically telling him and the committee, "We don't buy it, so you're out of luck."
Why did Blakey choose not to fight harder and more publicly about it? Why did he seem to retire from the fray?
But then: Why did he try to crucify Garrison? Why did he not credit Garrison for the contribution Garrison has made to the development of this case, though working with a fraction of Blakey's resources and under the intense pressure of an active covert opposition?
Why did Blakey ignore the evidence turned up by his own investigators that the Cuban exile community was equally well positioned to kill a President as was the Mafia? Why did he ignore the fact that this Cuban exile community was the creature of the C.I.A.'s operations directorate?
When I saw "Russian examination" and then found out that this was shortly before he (Lee Harvey Oswald) received an honorable discharge (not a dishonorable discharge) and within a few weeks he's on his way to Russia, this sounds more like intelligence to me. The next morning I noticed that he had handed out leaflets on which he had printed with a little rubber stamp, "544 Camp." I went down to 544 Camp Street and a little old Union building of false granite and I said well this is the side entrance to the offices of Guy Banister. He used to be in charge of the Chicago Office of the F.B.I., was in Naval Intelligence during the war. He was a fanatic anti-communist. I said Oswald can't be a genuine communist if this is where he was operating from. So then I thought that if he was operating from out of here then Banister had some kind of anti-Communist government operation, they would have removed that address immediately. So I checked that and sure enough the second time he was giving something out, the address had been removed.
According to Dallas Police Lieutenant Jack Revill, an F.B.I, agent came up to him at Dallas police headquarters at 2:50 P.M. and said that the Bureau had "information that this suspect was capable of committing the assassination." The agent who brought this welcome news and was the first to mention the name of Lee Harvey Oswald was none other than James Hosty.
Was Hosty merely an innocent messenger, or had he and possibly others in the Bureau been involved in a plot to set up Oswald as the patsy? If F.B.I, employees had been part of the conspiracy, then that might explain why the Bureau had mysteriously failed to act on the warning sent over its telex system five days before the assassination and why no one responded to. the letter of warning that Richard Case Nagell claimed to have sent to J. Edgar Hoover. It also might explain why Oswald, who evidently did not get along with Hosty and may have sensed that he was being set up, had sent a telegram to the secretary of the Navy ten days before the assassination.
I began to formulate a possible scenario. Long in advance, the engineers of the assassination had selected the idealistic and gullible Oswald as a patsy. His close-mouthed intelligence background helped assure not only success in the venture but subsequent support from the government, which would not want to admit that the assassination originated in its own intelligence community.
If Oswald was on the government payroll as a confidential informant in Dallas and New Orleans, he might well have believed that his job was to penetrate subversive organizations, including Fair Play for Cuba and perhaps Guy Banister's apparatus, in order to report back to the F.B.I, about them. Along the way, he was allowed to penetrate a marginal part of the assassination project, again with the idea that he was engaged in an officially sponsored effort to obtain information about it. He may even have filed reports on the plot to kill the President with his contact agent, James Hosty. When Oswald sensed that Hosty was not responsive, he may have gone over his head and telegraphed some kind of warning to the secretary of the Navy, who in turn may have informed the F.B.I.'s Washington headquarters, which then sent out its warning telex.
Mike Wallace: New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison quietly began his own investigation of the assassination last fall. In a sense he picked up where the Warren Commission had left off. Warren investigators questioned a number of people in New Orleans after the assassination, and they failed to implicate any of them. But the more Garrison went back over old ground, apparently, the more fascinated he became with the possibility that a plot to kill President Kennedy actually began in New Orleans. By the time the story of his investigation broke four months ago, he seemed supremely confident that he could make a case, that he had solved the assassination.
Jim Garrison: Because I certainly wouldn't say with confidence that we would make arrests and have convictions afterwards if I did not know that we had solved the assassination of President Kennedy beyond any shadow of a doubt. I can't imagine that people would think that - that I would guess and say something like that rashly. There's no question about it. We know what cities were involved, we know how it was done in - in the essential respects. We know the key individuals involved. And we're in the process of developing evidence now. I thought I made that clear days ago.
Mike Wallace: He shocked New Orleans four months ago by arresting the socially prominent Clay Shaw, former director of the New Orleans International Trade Mart.
Garrison's charge was that Shaw had conspired with two other men to plot the assassination of President Kennedy. Garrison said Shaw had known David Ferrie, an eccentric former airline pilot who was found dead a week before Garrison had planned to arrest him. Incidentally, the coroner said Ferrie died of natural causes. But Garrison called it suicide.
He said Shaw also knew Lee Harvey Oswald; that Ferrie, Oswald, and Shaw met one night in the summer of 1963 and plotted the President's death. Clay Shaw said it was all fantastic.
Clay Shaw: I am completely innocent of any such charges. I have not conspired with anyone, at any time, or any place, to murder our late and esteemed President John F. Kennedy, or any other individual. I have always had only the highest and utmost respect and admiration for Mr. Kennedy.
The charges filed against me have no foundation in fact or in law. I have not been apprised of the basis of these fantastic charges, and assume that in due course I will be furnished with this information, and will be afforded an opportunity to prove my innocence.
I did not know Harvey Lee Oswald, nor did I ever see or talk with him, or anyone who knew him at any time in my life.
Mike Wallace: A preliminary hearing for Shaw was held two weeks after his arrest. The hearing was complete with a surprise mystery witness, Perry Raymond Russo, twenty-five-year-old insurance salesman, and friend of the late David Ferrie. Through three days of intense cross-examination Russo held doggedly to his story, that he himself had been present when Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald plotted the Kennedy assassination. Russo admitted at the hearing that he had been hypnotized three times by Garrison men...
Garrison has gone on to include Jack Ruby in the alleged conspiracy involving Shaw and Lee Harvey Oswald. Garrison says Jack Ruby's unlisted telephone number in 1963 appears in code in address books belonging to Shaw and Oswald. He says both books note the Dallas Post Office box number 19106. Ruby's unlisted phone number was WHitehall 1-5601. And Garrison furnished a complicated formula for converting PO 19106 to WH 1-5601.
Mike Wallace: Garrison has expanded the scope of his charges to include not only a Shaw-Oswald-Ruby link, but the CIA as well. Further, Garrison says he knows that five anti-Castro Cuban guerrillas, not Lee Harvey Oswald, killed President Kennedy. He says the CIA is concealing both the names and the whereabouts of the Cubans.
Playboy: Frank McGee claimed that NBC investigators had discovered that your two key witnesses against Clay Shaw - Perry Russo and Vernon Bundy - both failed polygraph tests prior to their testimony before the grand jury. In the case of Russo, who claimed to have attended a meeting at David Ferrie's apartment where Shaw, Oswald and Ferrie plotted the assassination, NBC said that "Russo's answers to a series of questions indicate, in the language of the polygraph operator, 'deception criteria.' He was asked if he knew Clay Shaw. He was asked if he knew Lee Harvey Oswald. His 'yes' answer to both of these questions indicated 'deception criteria.'" Did Bundy and Russo fail their lie-detector tests?
Jim Garrison: No, and NBC's allegations in this area are about as credible as its other charges. The men who administered both polygraph tests flatly deny that Russo and Bundy failed the test. I'll offer right now to make Russo's and Bundy's polygraph tests accessible to any reputable investigator or reporter the day Clay Shaw's trial begins; I can't do it before that, because I'm restrained from releasing material pertaining to Shaw's guilt or innocence. Just for your information, though, the veracity of Bundy and Russo has been affirmed not only through polygraph tests but through hypnosis and the administration of sodium amytal - truth serum.
I want to make a proposition to the president of NBC: If this charge is true, then I will resign as district attorney of New Orleans. If it's untrue, however, then the president of NBC should resign. Just in case he thinks I'm kidding, I'm ready to meet with him at any time to select a mutually acceptable committee to determine once and for all the truth or falsehood of this charge. In all fairness, however, I must add that the fact Bundy and Russo passed their polygraph tests is not, in and of itself, irrefutable proof that they were telling the truth; that's why we administered the other tests. The lie detector isn't a foolproof technique. A man well rehearsed and in complete control of himself can master those reactions that would register on the polygraph as deception criteria and get away with blatant lies, while someone who is extremely nervous and anxiety-ridden could tell the truth and have it register as a lie. Much also depends on who administers the test, since it can easily be rigged. For example, Jack Ruby took a lie-detector test for the Warren Commission and told lie after outright lie - even little lies that could be easily checked --- and yet the Warren Commission concluded that he passed the test. So the polygraph is only one weapon in the arsenal we use to verify a witness' testimony, and we have never considered it conclusive; we have abundant documentation to corroborate their stories.
Playboy: Two convicts, Miguel Torres and John Cancler, told NBC that Vernon Bundy admitted having lied in his testimony linking Clay Shaw to Lee Oswald. Do you dismiss this as just another NBC fabrication?
Jim Garrison: Messrs. Cancler and Torres were both convicted by my office, as were almost half the men in the state penitentiary, and I'm sure the great majority of them have little love for the man who sent them up. I don't know if they fabricated their stories in collusion with NBC or on their own for motives of revenge, but I'm convinced from what I know of Vernon Bundy that his testimony was truthful. NBC manipulated the statements of Cancler and Torres to give the impression to the viewer that he was watching a trial on television - my trial - and that these "objective" witnesses were saying exactly what they would say in a court of law. Actually - and NBC scrupulously avoided revealing this to its audience - their "testimony" was not under oath, there was no opportunity for cross-examination or the presentation of rebuttal witnesses, and the statements of Cancler, Torres and all the rest of NBC's road company were edited so that the public would hear only those elements of their story that would damage our case. The rules of evidence and adversary procedure, I might add, have been developed over many years precisely to prevent this kind of phony side show.
Of course, these two convicts have been used against my office in variety of respects. Miguel Torres also claims I offered him a full pardon, a vacation in Florida and an ounce of heroin if he would testify that Clay Shaw had made homosexual overtures to him on the street. What on earth that would have established relevant to this case I still don't know, but that's his story. I think it was actually rather cheap of me to offer Torres only an ounce of heroin; that wouldn't have lasted out his vacation. A kilo would be more like it. After all, I'm not stingy. Torres' friend John Cancler, a burglar, has also charged that one of my investigators tried to induce him to burglarize Clay Shaw's house and plant false evidence there, but he refused because he would not have such a heinous sin on his conscience. I suppose that's why Cancler's prison nickname is "John the Baptist." I can assure you, if we ever wanted to burglarize Shaw's home --- which we never did - John the Baptist would be the last man on earth we'd pick for the job. By the way, Mr. Cancler was called before the grand jury and asked if he had told the truth to NBC. He replied; "I refuse to answer on the grounds that my answer might incriminate me" - and was promptly sentenced to six months in prison and a $500 fine for contempt of court.
Playboy: The NBC special also claimed to have discovered that "Clay, or Clem, Bertrand does exist. Clem Bertrand is not his real name. It is a pseudonym used by a homosexual in New Orleans. For his protection, we will not disclose the real name of the man known as Clem Bertrand. His real name has been given to the Department of Justice. He is not Clay Shaw." Doesn't this undermine your entire case against Shaw?
Jim Garrison: Your faith in NBC's veracity is touching and indicates that the Age of Innocence is not yet over. NBC does not have the real Clay Bertrand; the man whose name NBC so melodramatically turned over to the Justice Department is that of Eugene Davis, a New Orleans bar owner, who has firmly denied under oath that he has ever used the name Clay, or Clem, Bertrand. We know from incontrovertible evidence in our possession who the real Clay Bertrand is - and we will prove it in court.
Jim Garrison is right. There has been a conspiracy in New Orleans - but it is a plot of Garrison's own making. It is a scheme to concoct a fantastic "solution" to the death of John F. Kennedy, and to make it stick; in this case, the district attorney and his staff have been indirect parties to the death of one man and have humiliated, harassed and financially gutted several others. Indeed, Garrison's tactics have been even more questionable than his case. I have evidence that one of the strapping D.A.'s investigators offered an unwilling "witness" $3,000 and a job with an airline - if only he would "fill in the facts" of the alleged meeting to plot the death of the President. I also know that when the D.A.'s office learned that this entire bribery attempt had been tape-recorded, two of Garrison's men returned to the "witness" and, he says, threatened him with physical harm.
Aynesworth, who seemed a gentle and fair enough man when he interviewed me for several hours in my home, never did get around to revealing whose life our office had shortened. As for the $3,000 bribe, by the time I came across Aynesworth's revelation, the witness our office had supposedly offered it to, Alvin Babeouf, had admitted to us that it never happened. Aynesworth, of course, never explained what he did with the "evidence" allegedly in his possession. And the so-called bribery tape recording had not, in fact, ever existed.
If this article was a typical Aynesworth product, one could hardly help but wonder how a newsman with so rampant an imagination continued to find a market for his stories. Yet, in fairness to Aynesworth, I must say that this "news" story was all too typical of what my office staff found itself reading in newspaper and magazine articles by writers from distant cities who had not the remotest awareness of what my office had been attempting to accomplish.
There have been indications since November the 22nd of 1963 - and that was not the last indication - that there is excessive power in some parts of our government. It is plain that the people have not received all of the truth about some of the things which have happened, about some of the assassinations which have occurred - and more particularly about the assassination of John Kennedy...
The government's handling of the investigation of John Kennedy's murder was a fraud. It was the greatest fraud in the history of our country. It probably was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of humankind. That doesn't mean that we have to accept the continued existence of the kind of government which allows this to happen. We can do something about it. We're forced either to leave this country or to accept the authoritarianism that has developed - the authoritarianism which tells us that in the year 2029 we can see the evidence about what happened to John Kennedy.
Government does not consist only of secret police and domestic espionage operations and generals and admirals - government consists of people. It also consists of juries. And cases of murder - whether of the poorest individual or the most distinguished citizen in the land - should be looked at openly in a court of law, where juries can pass on them and not be hidden, not be buried like the body of the victim beneath concrete for countless years.
You men in these recent weeks have heard witnesses that no one else in the world has heard. You've seen the Zapruder film. You've seen what happened to your President. I suggest to you that you know right now that, in that area at least, a fraud has been perpetrated.
That does not mean that our government is entirely bad; and I want to emphasize that. It does mean, however, that in recent years, through the development of excessive power because of the Cold War, forces have developed in our government over which there is no control and these forces have an authoritarian approach to justice - meaning, they will let you know what justice is.
Well, my reply to them is that we already know what justice is. It is the decision of the people passing on the evidence. It is the jury system. In this issue which is posed by the government's conduct in concealing the evidence in this case - in the issue of humanity as opposed to power - I have chosen humanity, and I will do it again without any hesitation. I hope every one of you will do the same. I do this because I love my country and because I want to communicate to the government that we will not accept unexplained assassinations with the casual information that if we live seventy-five years longer, we might be given more evidence.
In this particular case, massive power was brought to bear to prevent justice from ever coming into this courtroom. The power to make authoritive pronouncements, the power to manipulate the news media by the release of false information, the power to interfere with an honest inquiry and the power to provide an endless variety of experts to testify in behalf of power, repeatedly was demonstrated in this case.
The American people have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why? The American people have yet to see and hear from the real witnesses to the assassination. Why? Because, today in America too much emphasis is given to secrecy, with regard to the assassination of our President, and not enough emphasis is given to the question of justice and to the question of humanity.
These dignified deceptions will not suffice. We have had enough of power without truth. We don't have to accept power without truth or else leave the country. I don't accept either of these two alternatives. I don't intend to leave the country and I don't intend to accept power without truth.
I intend to fight for the truth. I suggest that not only is this not un-American, but it is the most American thing we can do--because if the truth does not endure, then our country will not endure.
In our country the worst of all crimes occurs when the government murders truth. If it can murder truth, it can murder freedom. If it can murder freedom, it can murder your own sons - if they should dare to fight for freedom-- and then it can announce that they were killed in an industrial accident, or shot by the "enemy" or God knows what.
In this case, finally, it has been possible to bring the truth about the assassination into a court of law--not before a commission composed of important and powerful and politically astute men, but before a jury of citizens.
Now, I suggest to you that yours is a hard duty, because in a sense what you're passing on is equivalent to a murder case. The difficult thing about passing on a murder case is that the victim is out of your sight and buried a long distance away, and all you can see is the defendant. It's very difficult to identify with someone you can't see, and sometimes it's hard not to identify to some extent with the defendant and his problems.
In that regard, every prosecutor who is at all humane is conscious of feeling sorry for the defendant in every case he prosecutes. But he is not free to forget the victim who lies buried out of sight. I suggest to you that, if you do your duty, you also are not free to forget the victim who is buried out of sight.
You know, Tennyson once said that, "authority forgets a dying king." This was never more true than in the murder of John Kennedy. The strange and deceptive conduct of the government after his murder began while his body was warm, and has continued for five years. You have seen in this courtroom indications of the interest of part of the government power structure in keeping the truth down, in keeping the grave closed.
We presented a number of eyewitnesses as well as an expert witness as well as the Zapruder film, to show that the fatal wound of the President came from the front. A plane landed from Washington and out stepped Dr. Finck for the defense, to counter the clear and apparent evidence of a shot from the front. I don't have to go into Dr. Finck's testimony in detail for you to show that it simply did not correspond with the facts. He admitted that he did not complete the autopsy because a general told him not to complete the autopsy.
In this conflict between power and justice - to put it that way - just where do you think Dr. Finck stands? A general, who was not a pathologist, told him not to complete the autopsy, so he didn't complete it. This is not the way I want my country to be. When our President is killed he deserves the kind of autopsy that the ordinary citizen gets every day in the State of Louisiana. And the people deserve the facts about it. We can't have government power suddenly interjecting itself and preventing the truth form coming to the people.
Yet in this case, before the sun rose the next morning, power had moved into the situation and the truth was being concealed. And now, five years later in this courtroom the power of the government in concealing the truth is continuing in the same way.
We presented eyewitnesses who told you of the shots coming from the grassy knoll. A plane landed from Washington, and out came ballistics expert Frazier for the defense. Mr. Frazier's explanation of the sound of the shots coming from the front, which was heard by eyewitness after eyewitness, was that Lee Oswald created a sonic boom in his firing. Not only did Oswald break all of the world's records for marksmanship, but he broke the sound barrier as well.
I suggest to you, that if any of you have shot on a firing range - and most of you probably have in the service--you were shooting rifles in which the bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound. I ask you to recall if you ever heard a sonic boom. If you remember when you were on the firing line, and they would say, "Ready on the left; ready on the right; ready on the firing line; commence firing," you heard the shots coming from the firing line - to the left of you and to the right of you. If you had heard, as a result of Frazier's fictional sonic boom, firing coming at you from the pits, you would have had a reaction which you would still remember.
Mr. Frazier's sonic boom simply doesn't exist. It's part of the fraud - a part of the continuing government fraud.
The best way to make this country the kind of country it's supposed to be is to communicate to the government that no matter how powerful it may be, we do not accept these frauds. We do not accept these false announcements. We do not accept the concealment of evidence with regard to the murder of President Kennedy. Who is the most believable: a Richard Randolph Carr, seated here in a wheelchair and telling you what he saw and what he heard and how he was told to shut his mouth - or Mr. Frazier with his sonic booms? Do we really have to reject Mr. Newman and Mrs. Newman and Mr. Carr and Roger Craig and the testimony of all those honest witnesses--reject all this and accept the fraudulent Warren Commission, or else leave the country?
I suggest to you that there are other alternatives. One of them has been put in practice in the last month in the State of Louisiana--and that is to bring out the truth in a proceeding where attorneys can cross-examine, where the defendant can be confronted by testimony against him, where the rules of evidence are applied and where a jury of citizens can pass on it--and where there is no government secrecy. Above all, where you do not have evidence concealed for seventy-five years in the name of "national security."
All we have in this case are the facts - facts which show that the defendant participated in the conspiracy to kill the President and that the President was subsequently killed in an ambush.
The reply of the defense has been the same as the early reply of the government in the Warren Commission. It has been authority, authority, authority. The President's seal outside of each volume of the Warren Commission Report--made necessary because there is nothing inside these volumes, only men of high position and prestige sitting on a Board, and announcing the results to you, but not telling you what the evidence is, because the evidence has to be hidden for seventy-five years.
You heard in this courtroom in recent weeks, eyewitness after eyewitness after eyewitness and, above all, you saw one eyewitness which was indifferent to power - the Zapruder film. The lens of the camera is totally indifferent to power and it tells what happened as it saw it happen - and that is one of the reasons 200 million Americans have not seen the Zapruder film. They should have seen it many times. They should know exactly what happened. They all should know what you know now. Why hasn't all of this come into being if there hasn't been government fraud? Of course there has been fraud by the government.
But I'm telling you now that I think we can do something about it. I think that there are still enough Americans left in this country to make it continue to be America. I think that we can still fight authoritarianism--the government's insistence on secrecy, government force used in counterattacks against an honest inquiry--and when we do that, we're not being un-American, we're being American. It isn't easy. You're sticking your neck out in a rather permanent way, but it has to be done because truth does not come into being automatically. Individual men, like the members of my staff here, have to work and fight to make it happen - and individual men like you have to make justice come into being because otherwise is doesn't happen.
What I'm trying to tell you is that there are forces in America today, unfortunately, which are not in favor of the truth coming out about John Kennedy's assassination. As long as our government continues to be like this, as long as such forces can get away with such actions, then this is no longer the country in which we were born.
The murder of John Kennedy was probably the most terrible moment in the history of our country. Yet, circumstances have placed you in the position where not only have you seen the hidden evidence but you are actually going to have the opportunity to bring justice into the picture for the first time.
Now, you are here sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw. Yet you, as men, represent more than jurors in an ordinary case because of the victim in this case. You represent, in a sense, the hope of humanity against government power. You represent humanity, which yet may triumph over excessive government power - if you will cause it to be so, in the course of doing your duty in this case.
I suggest that you ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.
What can you do for your country? You can cause justice to happen for the first time in this matter. You can help make our country better by showing that this is still a government of the people. And if you do that, as long as you live, nothing will ever be more important.
At the Shaw trial, Russo testified that several months before the JFK assassination, he was at a party also attended by Shaw, Lee Harvey Oswald, and David W. Ferrie, and that assassinating President Kennedy was discussed.
"Ferrie was in control of the gathering," Russo said years later in a videotaped interview. "He was in one of his obsessive evenings concerning his hatred of the President of the United States."
In 1967, before the Clay Shaw trial began, NBC broadcast a documentary on the case, which Garrison defenders generally agree was an attempt to discredit the prosecutor. The documentary's producer, Walter Sheridan, appeared on the program and said, "In my conversations with Perry Russo he has stated that his testimony against Clay Shaw may be a combination of truth, fantasy, and lies."
Russo, however, said Sheridan "was not investigating any facts. His only purpose was - and he stated it pointedly - he said, 'I'm going to take Garrison out of this.' He says, 'You're going down with him.'"
Russo said that Sheridan offered to relocate him, get him a job, and protect him from extradition. In exchange for that, Russo said, Sheridan wanted him to retract his identification of Shaw and his testimony about the party attended by Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald, where Russo said an assassination plot was discussed.
"What Walter Sheridan was asking me to do was an absolute lie," Russo said. "Shaw was there. Ferrie was there. Oswald was there."
As John Newman noted in Oswald and the CIA, the Agency tried to discredit its own asset June Cobb in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. It did the same to Sylvia Duran, Cuban embassy worker in Mexico City who talked to Oswald or an impersonator in 1963. In Probe (Vol. 4 No. 4, p. 9) we have seen how journalist (and CIA-applicant) Hugh Aynesworth and the New York Herald Tribune tried to smear Mark Lane with compromising photographs. If one goes to New Orleans, one will still meet those who say that Jim Garrison indicted Clay Shaw because he was himself gay and jealous of Shaws position in the homosexual underworld.
In February 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison announced that his office was investigating the assassination. This sensational news aroused a storm of controversy and publicity. The Garrison investigation resulted in the arrest and trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy to murder John F. Kennedy. The 1969 trial resulted in Shaw's acquittal.
During the two-year investigation, Garrison made many irresponsible statements about the FBI, CIA, and other government agencies and about assassins firing from manholes and escaping through underground sewers. However, he did reveal the large exent to which the federal government had suppressed evidence about the assassination, demonstrated the relationship between Oswald and Bannister and Ferrie, and brought out much new information about the Zapruder film, the Kennedy autopsy, and ballistics evidence.
Since my father's death in 1992, The Times-Picayune has published several malicious and inaccurate articles about him. Although I am accustomed to The Times-Picayune's biased reporting, the most recent article, "Garrison paid witnesses in Shaw case, records say," April 10, an editorial in the form of a news story on the front page, warrants the following response.
The basis of this article is a 1967 unsworn statement by William Gurvich. David Snyder's article incorrectly state that Mr. Gurvich worked for Jim Garrison as an investigator. Mr. Gurvich was a private investigator who volunteered to help in the investigation, but he disappeared a short time later.
Mr. Gurvich was never actually employed by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. To the contrary, he evidently aided defense counsel, based on the fact that he was discussing the case with them in 1967. Additionally, an Assassination Records Review Board release, dated April 9, 1996, reveals that Mr. Gurvich gave many of the district attorney's internal office memoranda and statements to the defense team.
Notwithstanding the ethical considerations of Mr. Gurvich's actions during the pending investigation, his statement is so vague and ambiguous that it is meaningless. As cited in The Times-Picayune, Mr. Gurvich's description of an alleged payment by the district attorney is: "I don't know exactly. He doesn't put out much. He only puts, like 10 or 20 on Clyde Johnson when Clyde comes in and I think the minister is worth a lot more than Dago Garner."
This inconclusive statement is of no moment because Clyde Johnson and Mr. Garner were not witnesses. They never testified in front of the grand jury, which returned an indictment, or at the Shaw trial. Further, the suggestion that witnesses could be bought in a case of this magnitude for a mere $10 or $20 is absurd.
Indisputably, Clay Shaw was represented by experienced attorneys. If there was any evidence that Jim Garrison paid potential witnesses, this would have been brought out by the defense attorneys before the trial.
Mr. Snyder wrote that these potential witnesses were coached by Jim Garrison. Mr. Snyder cited the following excerpt from Mr. Gurvich's statement as the basis of this allegation: "Jim probably handled that himself because every time I would see Johnson except the last time, he was always in Garrison's office."
Mr. Gurvich's lack of knowledge regarding the substance of those conversations indicates that his assumption that the district attorney was "coaching" Johnson is nothing more than unsupported conjecture and a boorish effort to impugn my father's character. Without knowing the substance of the alleged conversations, the fact that Jim Garrison spoke to a potential witness at the district attorney's office is, in Mr. Snyder's mind, evidence of coaching.
Finally, and most important, having been well acquainted with my father, I know he was intelligent, honest, and sincere. Frankly, I don't care about David Snyder's opinions. However, when Mr. Snyder's opinions appear on the front page in the form of a news article, I must respond.
In the future, perhaps The Times-Picayune can use better judgement and print its editorials on the editorial page instead of the front page. That way, I can read the news and avoid the newspaper's biased opinions.
As New Orleans' District Attorney Jim Garrison's biographer, I confess to an interest in Patricia Lambert's False Witness. Jim Garrison, who in 1969 prosecuted Clay Shaw unsuccessfully for conspiracy to murder President Kennedy, was a complex man and no saint.
False Witness, alas, is little more than an unpleasant one-sided diatribe, a belated, curious valentine to the elusive Shaw. Lambert's named sources (most are unidentified) are primarily Shaw's own lawyers. Her tone is venomous, the word "fraud" a verbal tic. "Reportedly" is a constant adverb.
Jim Garrison began his investigation with the Warren Report testimony of his classmate, lawyer Dean Andrews, who told government investigators that one "Clay Bertrand" had urged that he travel to Dallas to defend accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Department of Justice spokesmen soon confirmed that "Clay Bertrand" and Clay Shaw were the same person. The officer booking Shaw reported that Shaw admitted to the alias "Clay Bertrand," an admission not admissible in court, but no less true for that. And a mailman testified under oath at the Shaw trial that he delivered mail to a "Bertrand" at the home of one of Clay Shaw's closest friends.
No matter. Bent on asserting that Clay Bertrand did not exist, a point necessary to exonerate Shaw, the goal of this book, Lambert without foundation suggests that these witnesses were either bribed or mentally deficient. The general reader would not know from Miss Lambert that New Orleans FBI agent Regis Kennedy was looking for Clay Bertrand before Kennedy even interviewed Dean Andrews.
From the town of Clinton, La., a group of citizens testified both at the Shaw trial and nearly 10 years later before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (which believed them) that they saw Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie and Clay Shaw together.
Oliver Stone's JFK seems to have achieved a double objective of being a moneymaker and a political activity stimulus, one of the movie's directors avers.
Although he denies any spooky associations, it's going to be interesting to see if future release of classified files on the Kennedy assassination pinpoints new intelligence community involvement, Roy Hargraves, a man with some shadowy past connections, acknowledges.
Hargraves denies any "contract CIA agent" links, although he was involved in military training of Cuban exiles in Florida and Louisiana. British author Anthony Summers hung the contract agent tag on members of the International Penetration Force in his book, Conspiracy.
Summer's book on the JFK assassination cites an FBI raid and the closing of a training site near Lake Ponchatrain several months before Kennedy's death as a possible contributing factor in the assassination.
Hargraves recalls there are many unanswered questions in the Cuban exile aspect of the Kennedy case. Early in New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's probe, "Garrison accused us of training the triangulation team' of three alleged snipers at No Name Key."
No Name Key was the principal Florida training site for the IPF freelance volunteer instructors. "We testified before Garrison and convinced him he was wrong," Hargraves recalls, "and we went to work for him for about a month" early in Garrison's late 1966 and early 1967 investigation.
Garrison's, whose two non-fiction books, A Heritage of Stone, and On the Trail of The Assassins, were the basis of Stone's JFK said in them that Kennedy's "ordering an end to the CIA's continued training of anti-Castro guerrillas at the small, scattered camps in Florida and north of Lake Ponchatrain "added to the disenchantment which contributed to the President's murder.
Another interesting aspect of the Garrison investigation, is that, according to Hargraves, a Cuban exile investigator hired by Garrison" ripped off half the budget" to handicap the probe. Bernardo de Torres, a Bay of Pigs veteran, "was working for the CIA", Hargraves said, during the Garrison investigation.
De Torres, who has since disappeared from his former Miami haunts, also served as a security consultant to local and federal law enforcement units during President Kennedy's visit to Miami after Fidel Castro's release of the prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion.
In February 1967 I received a call from Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney, whose probe into the JFK assassination had broken into the news a few weeks earlier. "Bill, I need your help," he said. "The paramilitary right and Cuban exiles are figuring prominently in the investigation." He had pegged me as an expert on the subject after reading a Ramparts article I had done on the Minutemen, a forerunner of today's ultraright militia units. I had interviewed the national leader of the Minutemen, Robert B. DePugh, in his Missouri redoubt, venturing there with some trepidation since a California unit had warned that time was short for Ramparts editors to "change our nefarious ways." But DePugh was surprisingly cordial. He boasted, "We have the most sophisticated and best-equipped underground army movement this world has ever seen." His membership harbored specialists not only in firearms but electronics, demolition, and chemical and biological warfare. And he added, out of the blue, that he suspected a couple of his members were on the shooting team at Dallas, using ammo encased in plastic sleeves so it could be fired from a larger caliber weapon without being matched to that weapon. DePugh knew that in 1962 one of his "patriots" named John Morris cooked up a plot to assassinate Senator J. William Fulbright because he wasn't "voting American" (he opposed the Vietnam War). When DePugh got wind of it, after money had actually changed hands, he squelched it, he said, in order to head off a massive federal probe of his organization. In researching the article, I picked up information that a Minutemen cell in Dallas threatened to "snuff" Stanley Marcus of the upscale NiemanMarcus department store chain because he was Jewish and liberal (I called Marcus to inform him of the danger).
When Garrison phoned, I was familiar with him through the legal press, for which I wrote forensic science articles. Such was his reputation in the law enforcement field that he had been asked to write the foreword to Crime, Law and Corrections, a collection of criminology essays. It was haunting. As an army officer, Garrison had helped liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, and he had witnessed its horrors. Allegorizing on an extraterrestrial being descending onto a self-desolated world, he asks, "What happened to your disinterested millions? Your uncommitted and uninvolved, your preoccupied and bored? Where today are their private horizons and their mirrored worlds of self? Where is their splendid indifference now?"...
Garrison's political philosophy defied categorization-the closest I could come was to term him a Bayou populist. He subscribed in part to Ayn Rand's libertarian dogma, but was too much of a traditional democrat to accept its inevitable elitism. He was friendly with segregationists and archconservatives but bristled at mention of the Ku Klux Klan. Black leaders had no quarrel with his conduct of office, and he appointed blacks as assistant DAs, a rare move in the Deep South in those days. When the police vice squad tried to sweep James Baldwin's Another Country from bookstore shelves, he refused to prosecute ("How do you define obscenity?") and denounced the censorship in stinging terms, thus incurring the wrath of the White Citizens Council. After starting his assassination probe, some of his views on other issues changed. "A year ago I was a mild hawk on Vietnam," he told me. "But no more. I've discovered the government has told so many lies in this case it can't be believed on anything."
Garrison was by far the most intellectual law enforcement official I ever met. He avidly devoured history (as reflected in his metaphor, "Honorable men did in Caesar," apropos Kennedy's slaying) and quoted a wide variety of sources-from Graham Greene and Lewis Carroll to Shakespeare. He especially liked to recite Polonius's advice to Laertes. He was a chess master. But he was not exactly a square. Once known as a Bourbon Street swinger, he remained a familiar sight in several night spots, where he held forth on the piano while crooning a basso profundo rendition of tunes popular half a generation earlier. His imbibing was moderate-two Tanqueray martinis. He had a wry sense of humor. Once, when a file entrusted to a volunteer helper suspected of informing to the FBI disappeared, he quipped, "Well, would you ask a rabbit to deliver a carrot?" He was sensitive about others' feelings. On several occasions I watched him sit fretfully listening to a visitor give him worthless information but give the departing person the impression that it had immeasurably aided the investigation. Although he was accused of using the Kennedy case to advance his political ambitions, in private moments he talked wistfully about going back to private practice as a defense attorney. He saw no virtue in capital punishment, nor in guns. Once he handed me a photo of Dallas police holding aloft a rifle in front of the Texas School Book Depository building moments after the assassination in the hope that I could identify the model.
"I can't," I said. "And besides, I hate guns."
"So do I," he chuckled. "The Bureau had to give me special training so I could just qualify on the range."
In June 1992, I was a guest on a live, syndicated television special produced by George Paige Associates in Los Angeles entitled "The Kennedy Assassinations-Coincidence or Conspiracy?" which was principally concerned with the allegation of Frank Ragano that Hoffa, Trafficante, and Marcello had conspired to assassinate President Kennedy.
Other guests on the show were Frank Ragano, Dan Moldea, author of The Hoffa Wars, Philip Melanson, author of books on Lee Harvey Oswald and the Robert Kennedy assassination case, James Spada, author of Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets, and Victor Marchetti, author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. When at the end of the two hour show the guests were asked by the host what the ultimate purpose of the Garrison investigation was, the vote was unanimous: to protect Carlos Marcello from being named a suspect in the Kennedy assassination.
I'm the author of A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK's Assassination and the Case That Should Have Changed History, my seventeenth book, whose credibility is attacked by Max Holland. Nation readers might give pause to Holland's five-year campaign of outright falsehoods about the investigation into the Kennedy assassination by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison that have appeared in a range of publications from The Wilson Quarterly, The Atlantic, New Orleans and the Washington Post to, now, The Nation.
Garrison focused on the clandestine service of the CIA as sponsor of the Kennedy assassination as a result of facts he discovered about Lee Harvey Oswald, specifically Oswald's role as an FBI informant and low-level CIA agent sent to the Soviet Union by the CIA's Chief of Counterintelligence, James Angleton, as part of a false defector program. What Garrison had not yet discovered was that Oswald also worked for the US Customs Service in New Orleans.
Contrary to Holland's assertions of the innocence of Clay Shaw, the man Garrison indicted for participation in the murder of President Kennedy was indeed part of the implementation of the murder and was guilty of conspiracy. That Shaw was acquitted does not exonerate him for history. New documents indicate overwhelmingly that Shaw did favors for the CIA. On his deathbed he admitted as much. Shaw's repeated appearances in Louisiana in the company of Oswald demonstrate that Shaw was part of the framing of Oswald for Kennedy's murder. Shaw took Oswald to the East Louisiana State Hospital in an attempt to secure him a job there, one event among many never investigated by the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).
Holland's assertion that Garrison based his conclusion that the CIA sponsored the assassination on a series of articles in an Italian newspaper is also incorrect. Garrison had focused on the CIA long before he learned that Shaw was on the board of directors of a CIA-funded phony trade front called Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC), based in Rome. Indeed, the newspaper Paese Sera broke the story of Shaw's involvement after a six-month investigation into CIA interference in European electoral politics, only to discover that Garrison had indicted Shaw a few days before the first article was to appear. Moreover, the new documents reveal that CMC and its parent outfit, Permindex, were indeed CIA fronts.
The 1992 Assassinations Records and Review Act has disgorged dozens of documents showing that Shaw was a CIA operative. This is directly contrary to what Holland suggests--that Garrison was a willing victim of "the KGB's wildest fantasy." To cite one example, Shaw was cleared for a project dubbed QKENCHANT, which permitted him to recruit outsiders for CIA projects. Shaw was no mere businessman debriefed by the CIA. One document reveals that among those Shaw recruited in New Orleans was Guy Banister, former FBI Chicago Special Agent in Charge running an ersatz New Orleans detective agency whose side-door address (544 Camp Street) Oswald used on a set of his pro-Castro leaflets, until Banister stopped him.
The former editors of the now-defunct Paese Sera, whom I interviewed, from Jean-Franco Corsini to Edo Parpalione, insisted adamantly that neither the Italian Communist Party, nor the Soviet Communist Party, nor the KGB had any influence on the paper's editorial policy. Outraged by Holland's accusations, Corsini said that he despised the KGB and the CIA equally.
The roots of Holland's charge that Garrison was a dupe of KGB propaganda may be traced to an April 4, 1967, CIA document titled "Countering Criticism of the Warren Report." In it the CIA suggests to its media assets that they accuse critics of the Warren Report of "Communist sympathies." In April 1967 Garrison was at the height of his investigation: He is clearly the critic the CIA had in mind.
In 1961 Richard Helms had already developed the charge that Paese Sera was an outlet for the KGB and for Soviet propaganda. Helms was indignant, but the truth had appeared in Paese Sera: The attempted putsch against Charles de Gaulle by four Algerian-based generals had indeed been supported by the CIA. Holland has merely picked up where Helms, later to become a convicted perjurer, left off--repeating a scenario developed for him by Helms, with the addition of making the accusation of Soviet influence on Garrison.
My book is hardly a "hagiography of the DA," as Holland states. I present a flawed man who exhibited great courage in facing down both the FBI and the CIA in his attempt to investigate the murder of the President. Indeed, Garrison family members were dismayed that I did not present him in a more idealized form. I depicted him as an ordinary man who rose to distinction because of his single-minded commitment to the investigation.
Among the many errors in Holland's latest diatribe is that Shaw died "prematurely," as if somehow Garrison's prosecution hastened his end. In fact, Shaw was a lifelong chain smoker and died of lung cancer. Holland attacks Robert Blakey, chief counsel for the HSCA, for using acoustic evidence to suggest that there was a conspiracy in the Kennedy murder. In fact, the acoustic evidence of at least four shots being fired has been established scientifically by Donald Thomas in the British forensic journal Science and Justice (see also Thomas's well-documented paper, available online, "Hear No Evil: The Acoustical Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination," delivered November 17, 2001).
Blakey certainly can be criticized for his close relationship with the CIA throughout his HSCA investigation. His letters of agreement with the CIA are at the National Archives. The CIA decided how key witnesses were to be deposed, and Blakey acquiesced in all CIA demands and intrusions upon the investigation.
Before Blakey was hired, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg considered accepting the job as counsel. Knowing that the CIA had at the least covered up the facts of the assassination and at worst been involved, Goldberg telephoned CIA director Stansfield Turner and asked him whether, should he take the job, he would have full CIA cooperation. Silence emanated over the wires. Goldberg, naïve perhaps, asked Turner if he had heard the question. "I thought my silence was my answer," Turner said. Goldberg declined the job. Blakey took it. It is no surprise that Holland, who has consistently defended the CIA, does not raise the issue of Blakey's cooperation with the CIA during his HSCA tenure but focuses instead on Blakey's conclusion, forced by the irrefutable acoustic evidence, that there was a conspiracy.
It is one thing for Holland to spread his disinformation in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence. It is quite another for The Nation to allow him continued access without debate to its pages to obfuscate, slander authors like myself and deny evidence fully established--in particular about Jim Garrison and how the new documents establish his credibility and reveal how close he came to the truth, and in general about the Kennedy assassination's sponsors and accessories.
I said that by 1975 Martino's information was pretty well known to serious investigators. But really, as Hancock relates it, it was known earlier than that. For by the end of 1968, all of the points -- except as noted -- were working axioms of the New Orleans investigation by DA Jim Garrison. To use just one investigator's testimony, researcher Gary Schoener has said that Garrison was "obsessed" with the Cuban exile group Alpha 66. At one time, he thought they were the main sponsoring group manipulating Oswald, and that they had pulled off the actual assassination.
One avenue by which Garrison was led to believe this was through Nagell. And one thing I liked about the book was that it summarized a lot of Nagell's testimony in more complete, concise and digestible terms than previously presented (see pgs. 39-58). In the first edition of Dick Russell's book, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Nagell's story wandered and got lost in a 900-page mountain consisting of much extraneous and tangential elements. Although Hancock leaves out some rather important details -- which I will mention later -- he does a nice job in distilling and relating its basic outlines. Between the two, because of who he was, his first person testimony, and some evidence he had, I believe Nagell's story easily has more evidentiary value.
Consider: Nagell actually tried to inform the authorities in advance. When they did not respond, he got himself arrested. He was then railroaded -- along with Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden -- because of his attempt to talk. He then wrote letters describing his knowledge to friends while incarcerated (see Probe Vol. 3 No. 1). He then revealed to Garrison assistant William Martin his specific knowledge of two of the Cuban exiles who were manipulating Oswald. One he named as Sergio Arcacha Smith. The other who he only hinted at had a last name beginning with "Q". This could be Carlos Quiroga, or Rafael 'Chi Chi' Quintero. Since Smith and Quiroga were known associates in New Orleans, I lean toward Quiroga. Nagell actually revealed that he had recorded their incriminating talks with Oswald on tape. Since he -- as well as Garrison -- did not know that Martin was a double agent, it is not surprising that the FBI later broke into his belongings and absconded with the tape, among other things. (Strangely, or as we shall see later, perhaps not, Hancock leaves this intriguing episode out of his book.)
Now since Garrison was the first law enforcement authority Nagell confided in directly, and the first person to take him seriously, the DA was clearly interested in the Cuban exile aspect. Especially since Nagell's information was being reinforced to him from multiple angles. For instance, David Ferrie's close friend Raymond Broshears was also quite specific with Garrison as to the importance of Sergio Arcacha Smith. And when Garrison tried to get Smith extradited from Texas, the local authorities, under the influence of Bill Alexander and Hugh Aynesworth, refused to cooperate. (It is puzzling to me that Hancock, who is so interested in the Cuban groups, seems to try to minimize the importance of Smith.)
One thing Hancock makes clear is how Nagell originally got involved in the JFK case. Like many foreign intelligence operatives, one of Nagell's ports of call was Mexico City. As certified by his friend Arthur Greenstein and an FBI memorandum, Nagell was there in the fall of 1962. And at this time, he began acting as a triple agent: "He represented himself to a Soviet contact as a pro-Soviet double agent, while secretly retaining his loyalty to the United States." (p. 54) It was in this pose that he became known to the KGB. When they approached Nagell they asked him to monitor a Soviet defector and his wife. The second mission they had was to infiltrate a group of Cuban exiles. The Russians had discovered a group of them in Mexico City making threats against President Kennedy for his actions at the Bay of Pigs. The Russians had garnered that part of the scheme was to blame the plot on the Cubans and Russians. This is something that, in the wake of the Missile Crisis, the Russians were desperate to avoid. From here, Hancock summarizes the stories of both Vaughn Snipes and Garret Trapnell, people Nagell suspected as being considered as pro-Castro patsies by the Cuban group (pgs 56-58). And it was this trail that eventually led Nagell to New Orleans and Oswald.