Dick Russell graduated from the University of Kansas in 1969. He was a staff writer in the Hollywood Bureau of TV Guide Magazine (1977-79) and a staff reporter for Sports Illustrated (1969-70) in New York. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, ranging from Family Health to the Village Voice.
Russell took a keen interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After seventeen years of research and over an hundred interviews (including James Angleton and other Central Intelligence Agency officials) he published The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1992.
The book took a detailed look at the case of Richard Case Nagell. Nagell implied to Russell that the initial plan to assassinate Kennedy had been financed by Haroldson L. Hunt and other individuals. Nagell claimed that the operation was to be performed by a anti-Castro group. According to Nagell the conspirators believed that if they set-up Lee Harvey Oswald, a well-known supporter of Fidel Castro with links to the Soviet Union, the assassination would result in a full-scale war against Cuba.
In recent years Russell has written written about environmental issues. In 1986 Russell became Contributing Editor for the Amicus Journal, the award-winning quarterly publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has also been a recipient of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation's Golden Swordfish Award (1984) and the Chevron Conservation Award (1988). Russell is also an active member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Russell, who lives in Los Angeles, is also the author of Black Genius: And the American Experience (1998), Eye of the Whale (2001) and Striper Wars: An American Fish Story (2005). Russell was also the co-author with Jesse Ventura of Don't Start the Revolution Without Me (2008). His latest book about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, is On the Trail of the JFK Assassins.
First thing in the morning, CBS News calls (Richard Popkin) about a possible interview with Daniel Schorr. The professor is inspired to the phone once more. Bill Turner, onetime FBI man turned assassination scholar in San Francisco, apparently agrees to serve as bodyguard for the Washington excursion. The bad news is that the stakeout in the Midwest has been lifted for lack of action. There's also some advice from Bernard Fensterwald, the Washington lawyer with such diverse clients as James McCord and James Earl Ray.
"Fensterwald says I'm crazy to go into the President's office with Gregory," the professor is telling me in the car. "He thinks Gregory might tell the President about flying saucers or something. But I'm too committed to Greg. Fensterwald is my lawyer, I want his advice, but there are times I must make up my own mind."
More bad news. The National Tattler has apparently gotten a call from a Russian¬sounding name with a bad conscience and sent its reporter "off to God-knows where to meet him. There's every reason in the world now for the real assassins to send these guys on a wild goose chase."
We are driving to the office of his local lawyer. Roger Ruffin, the man who put financier C. Arnholt Smith behind bars. A quick trip to talk about the foundation. One of Ruffin's secretaries has found a key to the professor's safe deposit box in the parking lot, where he had lost it earlier. The professor is grateful.
Back at the house, a call to Donald Freed in L.A. to compare notes about hypnotized assassins. Freed, co-author of Executive Action with Mark Lane, has a new book coming out about the programming of Sirhan Sirhan.
"I stayed up until 4:30 last night marking passages in the documents for you," the professor tells him. "Just don't get your movie out before I get my story out!" (Freed is seeing Orson Welles these days about movie rights.)
Outside, the ocean breezes sponge the air. A few students are dropping by once again, veterans of Watergate. That means they spent hours in the professor's garage helping clip and file the newspapers. It's getting dark when the doorbell rings again and, casually, Julie goes to answer it. The professor turns to me confidentially, whispering: "Don't you think she should be a little more careful?"
All perspective is fading. I remember a conversation about ex-neighbors, how Barry Goldwater used to haunt La Jolla and Earl Warren even lived next door. I remember the professor wondering aloud: "Is Care CIA?" I remember the Midwest stakeout starting up again with some students from the New German Critique, a radical journal.
The last thing I recall is sitting on my bed transcribing a taped interview with a CIA man about murder attempts on Castro. The professor is on the floor below, sifting through reams of files. A car is screeching up outside. Anxiously, I peer out the windows. I walk around in a zombie - like state checking that all the doors are locked.
In April of 1994, which was about a year and a half after my book came out, I came down the stairs one day and heard my answering machine going - and recognized this voice. Picked it up, and sure enough, it was Richard Nagell. He had received some documents I'd sent him, including the Hensen document, and some CIA files about his notebook names. And was calling me, and talking as if no time had passed. Just commenting on these documents, talking about the description of Elrod Henson and the CIA document, the Laredo codename that fit somebody that he'd run into at the time...
"And then, as the conversation went on, it began to seem very strange to me, because he hadn't even mentioned the fact that I'd written this book, this massive book about him. And finally - I'd also written him a number of letters when I was putting the book together, hoping that he would get back in touch with me at that time. So I said, 'Dick, I'm really glad to hear from you. But,' I said, 'I wrote you a number of letters over the last few years.' And he said, 'Oh, really? I think maybe I've gotten one or two of them.' And I said, 'You are aware that I've written a huge, unauthorized biography of you...?' And he said he had no idea.
"I had sent him the book. And obviously he had never received it - I think he was telling me the truth. He began going on about how the Post Office was still checking on his mail, and somebody was running off with stuff, and he had no idea...
"So I said, 'I can't believe none of your friends wouldn't have told you that this book was out.' He said, 'Well, I don't have that many friends, and the ones I do don't speak - a lot of them don't even speak English.
According to Nagell, Desmond FitzGerald definitely figures into the Oswald saga - to what degree we may never know, except perhaps through a no-holds-barred official inquiry. A Time magazine file would later describe FitzGerald as "one of the most powerful, but least known top officials in Washington." This was shortly after his death at age fifty-seven, when FitzGerald suddenly collapsed of an apparent heart attack on a country-home Virginia tennis court on July 23, 1967, and died en route to the hospital. At the time he was in charge of all CIA clandestine operations. "Now there is a corpse," Nagell would write, "that should be exhumed and examined by a qualified pathologist."
FitzGerald was a charming, well-connected, redheaded Irishman whose roots derived from the same Boston-Irish background as the Kennedys'. He stood about six-foot-two, with strong, rugged features and, like his mentor Alien Dulles, there was often a ready pipe in his mouth. In 1951 FitzGerald joined the CIA. Almost from the beginning he was the agency's leading spokesman for agents in the field, a staunch advocate of the "can-do" philosophy During the Korean War FitzGerald made his name, smoothly organizing dozens of covert operations from a CIA base in Taiwan. After Korea, FitzGerald moved on to become CIA station chief in the Philippines and then Japan before being appointed the Agency's Far Eastern Division head. He was known as a scholarly sort with a rapt interest in art - as well as an avid enthusiast of CIA covert operations.
"He grew up in a world where the models were the British," his daughter Frances was saying as we sat in her book-lined apartment over-looking New York's East River in the spring of 1992. "You know, the attitude that a whiff of grapeshot would do. He viewed politics in the Third World as a matter of elites, very small elites, so he simply believed you could change things quite a bit by changing the ruler."
"What were you doing in New Orleans that summer?" I asked. Bishop paused and took a deep breath, pushing his glasses back above his nose. He turned to give a hard look at Gary Shaw. "How far can I really trust him?" Bishop asked, casting a finger in my direction. "Tell him anything you'd tell me," Shaw replied.
Bishop nodded and continued: "I was to obtain additional funding, say this and no more, from the crime Syndicate out of New Orleans, for Alpha 66. At that point in time, Rolando Masferrer was the key bagman, for lack of a better term, for Alpha 66. Primarily the funding came through the Syndicate, because of Masferrer's connections with those people back in Cuba. He had ties with Santos Trafficante, Jr., and other criminal elements. Organized crime, pure and simple. He also had different ties with Jimmy Hoffa. As far back as 1962,1 think.
"But Rolando, from time to time when it came to large sums of money, had sticky fingers. I think that's why he was killed, eventually. Either that, or the Kennedy assassination. Because he knew about it."
The colonel stopped talking again, sat in silence for a time, then resumed in low tones. "By 1963, the Cuban element - see, Kennedy had gone to Miami, to the Orange Bowl down there, and made this statement that the brigade's flag would fly over Cuba and all this crap. That was a stopgap. The exiles for a time believed him. Then shortly after that, a presidential executive order came out that no military-style incursions into Cuba based from the United States would be tolerated. The end result was complete distrust and dislike for Kennedy and his administration by the Cuban exiles. You take Tony Varona and Rolando Masferrer to name but two - and there were many, many more - when serious talk began to happen about the possibility of assassinating Kennedy."
The most intriguing news to come out of the Nassau conference, however, was Escalante's revelation about what another leader of the Alpha 66 group allegedly told him. As we have seen, Nagell would never reveal the true identities of "Angel" and "Leopoldo" - the two Cuban exiles who he said had deceived Oswald into believing they were Castro operatives. Instead, on several occasions when I prodded him, Nagell had cleverly steered the conversation toward a man named Tony Cuesta - indicating that this individual possessed the knowledge that he himself chose not to express. Cuesta, as noted earlier, had been taken prisoner in Cuba during a raid in 1966.
"Cuesta was blinded (in an explosion) and spent most of his time in the hospital," Escalante recalled. In 1978, he was among a group of imprisoned exiles released through an initiative of the Carter Administration. "A few days before he was to leave," according to Escalante, "I had several conversations with Cuesta. He volunteered, 'I want to tell you something very important, but I do not want this made public because I am returning to my family in Miami - and this could be very dangerous.' I think this was a little bit of thanks on his part for the medical care he received."
Escalante said he was only revealing Cuesta's story because the man had died in Miami in 1994. In a declaration he is said to have written for the Cubans, Cuesta named two other exiles as having been involved in plotting the Kennedy assassination. Their names were Eladio del Valle and Herminio Diaz Garcia.
In late October of last year, author Dick Russell said of Richard Case Nagell, "I would hope, someday... we will finally know everything he knows" about the assassination of President Kennedy. No one knew it at the time, but when Russell spoke those words, Nagell only had about one week to live. The former intelligence agent died on November 1, at the age of 65...
Nagell, who claimed to have had foreknowledge of the JFK assassination and the activities of Lee Oswald, was considered by many to be one of the last people alive with information that could crack the Kennedy case. Indeed, his death has led to speculation that such information may be forthcoming. Dick Russell wrote that Nagell had stashed certain pieces of evidence as "life insurance" that would surface in the event of his death. These were said to include an audio tape recording of a conversation Nagell secretly made of himself, Lee Oswald, and several alleged assassination conspirators, and a photograph of Nagell and Oswald in New Orleans.
Staff members of Probe, the newsletter of the Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination, report going to Nagell's apartment as soon as they learned of his death. They write that "the inside door to the apartment was open and one could look inside. By November 4th, the place appeared to be barren. If Nagell left anything of importance behind, it doesn't seem to have been there."
In September 1963, just two months before the assassination, Cuban UN Ambassador Lechuga was contacted by one of Kennedy's trusted UN delegates, William Attwood. "He told me this was a private interview," Lechuga recalls. "We spoke on three occasions, trying to break the ice between our countries. Attwood said we should begin a dialogue. He said the idea came from Kennedy, but that we should keep the conversations secret because if the Republicans found out there would be a huge scandal in Congress."
Lechuga says he was surprised by the American approach, because exile raids and efforts to destabilize Cuba were continuing. Adds Escalante: "There was a double track happening. One path was continued sabotage and isolation of Cuba, to force us to sit down at the negotiating table under very disadvantageous conditions. So the Cuban government took its time to deeply study Attwood's proposal. In our view, one strategy was coming from the Administration and another from the CIA, the exiles and the Mafia." The Cubans are convinced that word about the secret talks leaked out, and sparked a conspiracy to kill the American President and invade Cuba.
In September 1963, Rolando Cubela travelled to Brazil to meet with CIA contacts about killing Castro. Simultaneously, an American journalist, Daniel Harker, interviewed Castro at a gathering inside Havana's Brazilian Embassy. Harker's article quoted Castro saying: "United States leaders should think that if they assist in terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe." The story, widely disseminated in the US press, would be used by right-wing elements as evidence that Cuba was behind the assassination.
But Escalante says the article was a distortion. He says what Castro really stated was: "American leaders should be careful because [the anti-Castro operations] were something nobody could control." He was not threatening JFK, but warning him.
In late September that year, Oswald left New Orleans for Mexico City. On the way, he showed up in Dallas at the door of Cuban exile Silvia Odio, in the company of two Latins who identified themselves as "Angel" and "Leopoldo," who told Odio they were soliciting funds for the Revolutionary Junta (JURE), Odio's exile organization. After the visit, according to Odio, "Leopoldo" telephoned her and described their US companion as "kind of loco. He could go either way. He could do anything - like getting underground in Cuba, like killing Castro. He says we should have shot President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs."
The Cuban hypothesis is that the Odio incident had a dual design. JURE was run by Manuel Ray, a moderate exile leader opposed by the CIA but in close touch with the Kennedy Administration. But the Cubans say "Angel" and "Leopoldo" were agents from the right-wing exile group Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE), which operated under the CIA's direction. It was the DRE's propagandists who actively sought to tie Oswald to Cuba immediately after the assassination. Escalante offered a possible identification of "Angel" as DRE leader Isidro Borja, who closely resembled a man seen standing behind Oswald in a famous photo, helping him pass out "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets in New Orleans.
Then on September 27, 1963, Oswald showed up three times at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City, seeking an immediate visa to visit the island. He also visited the Soviet embassy on the same day. (Some researchers believe this could have been an imposter "Oswald", but the Cubans say it was the real Oswald.) Oswald's request was turned down. He angrily stormed out, and shortly returned to Dallas. Says Escalante: "We believe Oswald was acting according to plan - to travel to Cuba for a few days, in order to appear as a Cuban agent after the assassination. Escalante further claims that when that plan failed, the CIA's David Phillips arranged to have letters addressed to Oswald from Havana. On the final day of the 1995 Nassau conference, a slide-show depicted five letters addressed to Oswald from Cuba; two dated before the assassination, three immediately after. One of these letters, intercepted by Cuban authorities, was dated November 14, 1963 and addressed to "Lee Harvey Oswald, Royalton Hotel, Miami" (where Oswald never, in fact, stayed). It was signed "Jorge". According to Arturo Rodriguez, "The text was of a conspiratorial character. It was written on the same kind of typewriter as the two others, which the FBI has concluded were composed on the same machine. We think all these letters were written by the same person--as part of a plan to blame our country for the assassination."
Felipe Vidal Santiago told Cuban intelligence that on the weekend before the assassination, he was invited to a meeting in Dallas by the CIA's Colonel William Bishop. "It was supposed to be a meeting with a few wealthy people to talk about financing anti-Castro operations," says Escalante. Bishop left on his own "for interviews" numerous times during their stay in Dallas. After approximately four days they returned to Miami.
Not long before his death in 1993, Col. Bishop confirmed to this writer that he had knowledge of the JFK plot. The Cubans indicate that the Vidal-Bishop Dallas trip concerned plans for re-taking the island once Castro's people had been implicated in the assassination. Escalante surmises: "Oswald was an intelligence agent of the US-CIA, FBI, military, or all of these, we don't know. He was manipulated, told he was penetrating a group of Cuban agents that wanted to kill Kennedy. But from the very beginning, he was to be the element to blame Cuba."
"Not less than 15 persons took part in the assassination," Escalante theorizes. "At the same time, knowing a little about CIA operations, we see how they used the principle of decentralized operations - independent parties with a specific role, to guarantee compartmentalization and to keep it simple."
A new study by Italian weapons experts, test-firing the identical Mannlicher-Carcano rifle said to have been used by Lee Harvey Oswald, concluded that it would have been impossible even for an accomplished marksman to fire three shots quickly enough to have killed the president. Thus, Oswald could not have acted alone.
Another study, by researchers at Texas A&M University, conducted a chemical and forensic analysis on the type of ammunition Oswald used. It found that the bullet fragments involved in the assassination are not nearly as rare as experts had reported. Thus, evidence said to rule out a second gunman proves fundamentally flawed.
E. Howard Hunt, Jr., the Watergate burglar who had long denied any knowledge of the assassination, revealed in his autobiography-and, shortly before his death, in more detail to his son-that he was aware of a conspiracy involving Vice President Johnson, the CIA, Cuban exiles, and a "French gunman" on the grassy knoll.
The CIA continued to stonewall a court order to explain its refusal to release records on George Joannides, in 1963 the chief of psychological warfare operations at the agency's Miami station and the case officer for a Cuban exile group (the DRE) with long-established ties to Oswald.
The Dallas County district attorney's office discovered a trove of records about the assassination inside an old safe in a courthouse. The transcript of an alleged conversation between Oswald and his slayer, Jack Ruby, discussing a plot to kill the president, was apparently not a "smoking gun" but a "recreation" for a possible movie. however, the announcement made headlines around the world.