JFK Theory: CIA

Theory: CIA

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, CIA agent, Gary Underhill told his friend, Charlene Fitsimmons, that he was convinced that he had been killed by members of the CIA. He also said: "Oswald is a patsy. They set him up. It's too much. The bastards have done something outrageous. They've killed the President! I've been listening and hearing things. I couldn't believe they'd get away with it, but they did!"

Underhill believed there was a connection between Executive Action, Fidel Castro and the death of Kennedy: "They tried it in Cuba and they couldn't get away with it. Right after the Bay of Pigs. But Kennedy wouldn't let them do it. And now he'd gotten wind of this and he was really going to blow the whistle on them. And they killed him!"

Executive Action, was a CIA secret plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power. In his bookThe Secret Team (1973) Leroy Fletcher Prouty claimed that elements of the CIA were worked on behalf of the interests of a "high cabal" of industrialists and bankers. He also claimed that the Executive Action unit could have been used to kill Kennedy. Prouty named CIA operative, Edward Lansdale, as the leader of the operation.

Gaeton Fonzi was a staff investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. In his book, The Last Investigation, Fonzi argues that the assassination was organized by David Atlee Phillips, head of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division. Phillips, head of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division, denied this but told the investigator, Kevin Walsh, that Kennedy had been "done in by a conspiracy, likely including rogue American intelligence people."

In his book, JFK: The Second Plot (1992), Matthew Smith claims that Lee Harvey Oswald was recruited as a CIA agent while he was serving in the Marines. Smith quotes James Wilcott, a former CIA man, who claimed that Oswald had been "recruited from the military for the express purpose of becoming a double agent assignment to the USSR." The Soviets were suspicious of Oswald and he was allowed so little freedom it was decided by the CIA to bring him home.

On his arrival back in the United States Oswald continued to pose as a left-wing activist. Smith argues Oswald was "taken over and run by renegade CIA agents who were dedicated to assassinating President Kennedy." Smith claims that J. D. Tippit and Roscoe White were also involved in this plot although he suggests that Oswald was not aware of what was going on and was being set up as a patsy. Tippit was supposed to take Oswald to Redbird Airport where he was to be flown to Cuba in order to implicate Fidel Castro in the assassination.

(N1) Richard Bissell, Reflections of a Cold Warrior (1996)

(The Mafia-connection aspect) did not originate with me - and I had no desire to become personally involved in its implementation, mainly because I was not competent to handle relations with the Mafia. It is true, however, that, when the idea was presented to me, I supported it, and as Deputy Director for Plans I was responsible for the necessary decisions.... Sheffield Edwards, the director of the Agency's Office of Security - and his deputy became the case officers for the Agency's relations with the Mafia. Edwards was frank with me about his efforts, and I authorized him to continue... I do not recall any specific contact with the Mafia, but Doris Mirage, my secretary at the time, does...

I hoped the Mafia would achieve success. My philosophy during my last two or three years in the Agency was very definitely that the end justified the means, and I was not going to be held back. Shortly after I left the CIA, however, I came to believe that it had been a mistake to involve the Mafia in an assassination attempt. This is partly a moral judgment, but I must admit it is also partly a pragmatic judgment.

What did the CIA employ the Mafia to do?

(N2) Leroy Fletcher Prouty, The Secret Team (1973)

The Secret Team (ST) being described herein consists of security-cleared individuals in and out of government who receive secret intelligence data gathered by the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) and who react to those data, when it seems appropriate to them, with paramilitary plans and activities, e.g. training and "advising" - a not exactly impenetrable euphemism for such things as leading into battle and actual combat - Laotian tribal troops, Tibetan rebel horsemen, or Jordanian elite Palace Guards.

Membership on the Team, granted on a "need-to-know" basis, varies with the nature and location of the problems that come to its attention, and its origins derive from that sometimes elite band of men who served with the World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the father of them all, General "Wild Bill" William J. Donovan, and in the old CIA.

The power of the Team derives from its vast intragovernmental undercover infrastructure and its direct relationship with great private industries, mutual funds and investment houses, universities, and the news media, including foreign and domestic publishing houses. The Secret Team has very close affiliations with elements of power in more than three-score foreign countries and is able when it chooses to topple governments, to create governments, and to influence governments almost anywhere in the world.

Whether or not the Secret Team had anything whatsoever to do with the deaths of Rafael Trujillo, Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Dag Hammerskjold, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others may never be revealed, but what is known is that the power of the Team is enhanced by the "cult of the gun" and by its sometimes brutal and always arbitrary anti-Communist flag waving, even when real Communism had nothing to do with the matter at hand.

At the heart of the Team, of course, are a handful of top executives of the CIA and of the National Security Council (NSC), most notably the chief White House adviser to the President on foreign policy affairs. Around them revolves a sort of inner ring of Presidential officials, civilians, and military men from the Pentagon, and career professionals of the intelligence community. It is often quite difficult to tell exactly who many of these men really are, because some may wear a uniform and the rank of general and really be with the CIA and others may be as inconspicuous as the executive assistant to some Cabinet officer's chief deputy.

What was the Secret Team? Does Leroy Fletcher Prouty believe the Secret Team was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

(N3)Leroy Fletcher Prouty, An Introduction to the Assassination Business (1975)

Assassination is big business. It is the business of the CIA and any other power that can pay for the "hit" and control the assured getaway. The CIA brags that its operations in Iran in 1953 led to the pro-Western attitude of that important country. The CIA also takes credit for what it calls the "perfect job" in Guatemala. Both successes were achieved by assassination. What is this assassination business and how does it work?

In most countries there is little or no provision for change of political power. Therefore the strongman stays in power until he dies or until he is removed by a coup d'etat - which often means by assassination...

The CIA has many gadgets in its arsenal and has spent years training thousands of people how to use them. Some of these people, working perhaps for purposes and interests other than the CIA's, use these items to carry out burglaries, assassinations, and other unlawful activities - with or without the blessing of the CIA.

Why did the CIA become involved in political assassinations?

(N4) Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact (1967)

Decision after decision, the State Department removed every obstacle before Oswald... on his path from Minsk to Dallas. The State Department's extraordinary and unorthodox decisions and the decisions taken by other U.S. official agencies in regard to Oswald fall into several general categories: (1) repeated failure to prepare a 'lookout card' to check Oswald's movement outside the US; (2) grant and renewal of Oswalds passport despite cause for negative action; (3) apparent inaction and indifference to Oswald's possible disclosure of classified military data; and (4) pressure exerted and exceptional measures taken on behalf of Marina Oswald's entry into the US.

Why does Sylvia Meagher believe the CIA was involved in helping Lee Harvey Oswald?

(N5) Matthew Smith, JFK: The Second Plot (1992)

It is believed that at this point Oswald made an application for early discharge from the Marines on the grounds of hardship. Clearly it was an unrealistic application, without any hope of being seriously considered let alone granted. The kind of hardship which would warrant discharge in a foreign country would have been difficult to imagine. It was a curious thing to have happened, but only one in a number of curious things which suggested Oswald was being given a 'background'. In this case the refusal of such an application may have been to indicate that Oswald most clearly had no special status and was not receiving any special treatment. It was also, perhaps, to convince 'interested parties' he was losing any interest he might have had in serving his country, a man who wanted 'out', and most certainly not what, in reality, he had now become: a hand-picked and newly recruited agent of the CIA.

Few of the leading researchers would now doubt that this was the case. In his actions and responses, Oswald began to display all the hallmarks of working for the CIA, his special needs being provided for in ways which would not advertise the fact. His display of distress when shooting off a few rounds, no doubt at nothing at all, provided a cover for his speedy return to Japan to participate in preparations for his new work, which included learning Russian, a difficult language for any Westerner to acquire. It is worth recalling at this point, that while Oswald was at Keesler Air Base, he was remembered for his mysterious 100-mile weekend trips to New Orleans. Time would reveal Oswald to have close links with New Orleans in respect of his CIA work. It would seem entirely plausible that, at this early stage in his military career, Lee Harvey Oswald had been sent on a series of visits to that city to have his aptitudes and attitudes for espionage carefully examined. It was happening to a number of young men, selected for the same kind of mission, both in and out of military service at about the same time. Whatever was the case the trips to New Orleans were something he strictly did not talk to his friends about.

Why does Matthew Smith believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was working with the CIA?

(N6) Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, 70 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (2001)

David Philips suspected by the House Select Committee on Assassinations of doubling as the shadowy "Maurice Bishop" CIA overseer of the Cuban Alpha 66 anti-Castro brigade. The same David Philips in charge of spinning the Oswald-Mexico City incident in the CIA's favor may have engineered the "Mexico City scenario" in the first place. Lane, who has made a legal and literary career out of blaming the CIA for JFK's death, says he did.

Alpha 66's Cuban leader Antonio Veciana claimed that at one of his hundred or so meetings with Bishop, Oswald was there not saying anything, just acting odd.

"I always thought Bishop was working with Oswald during the assassination," Veciana told Russell.

Veciana's cousin worked for Castro's intelligence service and after the assassination Bishop wanted Veciana to bribe his cousin into saying that he met with Oswald, in order to fabricate an Oswald-Castro connection.

Investigators never established for sure that Bishop and Philips were one and the same, but descriptions of Bishop's appearance and mannerisms mirrored Philips'. Veciana drew a sketch of his old controller and Senator Richard Schweiker, a member of the assassination committee, recognized it as Philips. When the select committee's star investigator Gaeton Fonzi finally brought Veciana and Philips together, the two started acting weird around each other. After a short conversation in Spanish, Philips bolted. Witnesses to the encounter swear that a look of recognition swept Veciana's visage, but Veciana denied that Philips was his case officer of more than a decade earlier.

Antonio Veciana was the leader of the Alpha 66 anti-Castro group. He also claimed his group was financed by a CIA agent named Maurice Bishop. How does Veciana implicate the CIA and the anti-Castro activists in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

(N7) G. Robert Blakey statement on the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003.

I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency cooperated with the Warren Committee. My reasons follow:

The committee focused, among other things, on (1) Oswald, (2) in New Orleans, (3) in the months before he went to Dallas, and, in particular, (4) his attempt to infiltrate an anti-Castro group, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil or DRE.

These were crucial issues in the Warren Commission's investigation; they were crucial issues in the committee's investigation. The Agency knew it full well in 1964; the Agency knew it full well in 1976-79. Outrageously, the Agency did not tell the Warren Commission or our committee that it had financial and other connections with the DRE, a group that Oswald had direct dealings with...

I now no longer believe anything the Agency told the committee any further than I can obtain substantial corroboration for it from outside the Agency for its veracity. We now know that the Agency withheld from the Warren Commission the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Had the commission known of the plots, it would have followed a different path in its investigation. The Agency unilaterally deprived the commission of a chance to obtain the full truth, which will now never be known.

Significantly, the Warren Commission's conclusion that the agencies of the government cooperated with it is, in retrospect, not the truth.

We also now know that the Agency set up a process that could only have been designed to frustrate the ability of the committee in 1976-79 to obtain any information that might adversely affect the Agency.

Many have told me that the culture of the Agency is one of prevarication and dissimulation and that you cannot trust it or its people. Period. End of story. I am now in that camp.

What information did the CIA decide to withhold from the Warren Commission?

(N8) Letter signed by a group of authors including G. Robert Blakey, Anthony Summers, John McAdams, Gerald Posner, in the New York Review of Books (18th December, 2003)

As published authors of divergent views on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we urge the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense to observe the spirit and letter of the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Act by releasing all relevant records on the activities of a career CIA operations officer named George E. Joannides, who died in 1990.

Joannides's service to the US government is a matter of public record and is relevant to the Kennedy assassination story. In November 1963, Joannides served as the chief of the Psychological Warfare branch in the CIA's Miami station. In 1978, he served as the CIA's liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).

The records concerning George Joannides meet the legal definition of "assassination-related" JFK records that must be "immediately" released under the JFK Records Act. They are assassination-related because of contacts between accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and a CIA-sponsored Cuban student group that Joannides guided and monitored in August 1963.

Declassified portions of Joannides's personnel file confirm his responsibility in August 1963 for reporting on the "propaganda" and "intelligence collection" activities of the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), a prominent organization known in the North American press as the Cuban Student Directorate.

George Joannides's activities were assassination-related in at least two ways.

(1) In August 1963, Oswald attempted to infiltrate the New Orleans delegation of the DRE. The delegation—dependent on $25,000 a month in CIA funds provided by Joannides - publicly denounced Oswald as an unscrupulous sympathizer of Fidel Castro.

(2) After Kennedy was killed three months later, on November 22, 1963, DRE members spoke to reporters from The New York Times and other news outlets, detailing Oswald's pro-Castro activities. Within days of the assassination, the DRE published allegations that Oswald had acted on Castro's behalf.

The imperative of disclosure is heightened by the fact that the CIA has, in the past, failed to disclose George Joannides's activities. In 1978, Joannides was called out of retirement to serve as the agency's liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. The agency did not reveal to the Congress his role in the events of 1963, compromising the committee's investigation.

In 1998, the Agency again responded inaccurately to public inquiries about Joannides. The Agency's Historic Review Office informed the JFK Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) that it was unable to identify the case officer for the DRE in 1963. The ARRB staff, on its own, located records confirming that Joannides had been the case officer.

This is not a record that inspires public confidence or quells conspiracy-mongering. To overcome misunderstanding, the CIA and the Defense Department should make a diligent good-faith effort to identify and release any documents about George Joannides.

The government should make these records public in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 2003, so as to help restore public confidence and to demonstrate the agencies' commitment to compliance with the JFK Assassination Records Act.

Why do these researchers want the CIA to release information on the career of George E. Joannides?

(N9) Daniel Marvin, The Unconventional Warrior (2002)

I was behind my desk at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, when we received word that President Kennedy had been shot. Yuma was where we busied ourselves testing parachutes and airdrop equipment of US and foreign origin. The news of his assassination hit us, as it did the entire nation, like a shock-wave and got me thinking about the Army’s Special Forces, remembering what they had meant to JFK.

The very next day I volunteered for Counterinsurgency and Guerrilla Warfare training. By mid-January of 1964 I was a student at the Special Warfare Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and on my way to earning the right to wear the Green Beret. I recalled how the Commander-in-Chief had described that special headgear as “the symbol of excellence, the mark of distinction, the badge of courage” and I wanted, more than anything, to be a part of that elite group of unconventional warriors he had admired.

The training was accomplished by highly motivated instructors, all of whom, with exception of the few CIA “advisors,” had seen at least one year of combat as a Green Beret. CIA personnel were involved in instruction related to terrorism and assassination techniques, to the extent of going into detail on how the JFK “hit” was perpetrated, including film footage and photographs taken in Dealey Plaza that fateful day. This Top Secret instruction was given on “Smoke Bomb Hill” in an old cantonment area at Fort Bragg. One classroom-type wooden building with raised stage, surrounded by barbed-wire topped fences and patrolled by MPs or guard dogs, was the training facility used for such highly classified subjects.

I shared a “gut feeling” with a few others in my class that our CIA instructors had first-hand knowledge of what happened in Dallas. A sobering thought, particularly so in view of my motives for joining Special Forces. During a coffee break one day, an instructor casually remarked on the “success of the conspiracy in Dallas,” tending to confirm my suspicions that the President’s murder was conceived, executed and covered up by high-level echelons within our government. I attempted to rationalize this by believing there had to have been compelling reasons, with no malicious intent as such on the part of loyal Americans who deemed it necessary, at significant risk to themselves, to wrest the White House from one considered ill-equipped to lead our nation in those troubled times.

What I subsequently gleaned led me to believe that evil factions in certain agencies within our government had engineered and executed the conspiracy that left President Kennedy dead.

Why does Daniel Marvin believe the CIA was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

(N10) US Official Poisoner Dies, CounterPunch (April, 1999)

For many years, most notably in the 1950s and 1960s, Sidney Gottlieb presided over the CIA's technical services division and supervised preparation of lethal poisons, experiments in mind control and administration of LSD and other psychoactive drugs to unwitting subjects. Gottlieb's passing came at a convenient time for the CIA, just as several new trials involving victims of its experiments were being brought. Those who had talked to Gottlieb in the past few years say that the chemist believed that the Agency was trying to make him the fall guy for the entire program. Some speculate that Gottlieb may have been ready to spill the goods on a wide range of CIA programs.

Incredibly, neither the Times nor the Post obituaries mention Gottlieb's crucial role in the death of Dr. Frank Olson, who worked for the US Army's biological weapons center at Fort Detrick. At a CIA sponsored retreat in rural Maryland on November 18, 1953, Gottlieb gave the unwitting Olson a glass of Cointreau liberally spiked with LSD. Olson developed psychotic symptoms soon thereafter and within a few days had plunged to his death from an upper floor room at the New York Statler-Hilton. Olson was sharing the room with Gottlieb's number two, a CIA man called Robert Lashbrook, who had taken the deranged man to see a CIA-sponsored medic called Harold Abramson who ran an allergy clinic at Mount Sinai, funded by Gottlieb to research LSD.

By the early 1960s Gottlieb's techniques and potions were being fully deployed in the field. Well-known is Gottlieb's journey to the Congo, where his little black bag held an Agency-developed biotoxin scheduled for Patrice Lumumba's toothbrush. He also tried to manage Iraq's general Kassim with a handkerchief doctored with botulinum and there were the endless poisons directed at Fidel Castro, from the LSD the Agency wanted to spray in his radio booth to the poisonous fountain pen intended for Castro that was handed by a CIA man to Rolando Cubela on November 22, 1963.

What work did Sidney Gottlieb do for the CIA?

(N11) Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historians Perspective (1982)

Several former Warren Commission staff members stated that had they known about such matters as ClA-sponsored assassination plots against Fidel Castro, they would have looked into the possibility of a conspiracy much more carefully. The CIA assassination papers also include many censored documents concerning such topics as Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, Cuba, and Russia.

Faced with a "definitive" five-hundred-page FBI assassination report, pressured to meet its deadline, and hampered by the lack of complete evidence, the Warren Commission failed to accomplish its prescribed duty of ascertaining all the facts about the assassination. The commission operated in secret and under procedural rules that virtually guaranteed a biased investigation. Presuming Lee Harvey Oswald guilty, the commission simply ignored evidence to the contrary.

What subjects did the CIA withhold information from the Warren Commission? Why might the CIA have done this?

(N12) Matthew Smith wrote about Roscoe White in his book, JFK: The Second Plot (1992)

Geneva White, wife of Roscoe White, a police officer appointed to the Dallas force just weeks before the assassination, claimed her now-deceased husband left a diary in which he reveals he was one of the marksmen who shot the President, and that he also killed Officer Tippit. Roscoe White's story is that he had been a 'contract man' for the CIA, having killed ten times for them, his 'hits' including 'targets' in Japan and the Philippines. The diary, said to have been stolen by the FBI, is claimed to contain details of the assassination, which was carried out on the instructions of the CIA. They said Kennedy was a 'national security risk'. Roscoe White was killed in an industrial accident in 1971 and Geneva is quoted as saying, 'When Rock lay dying he made a confession to our minister, the Reverend Jack Shaw. He named all the people he knew who were involved.' However, this author spoke to the Reverend Jack Shaw who denies Roscoe mentioned killing the President or Tippit. 'He did confess to taking life in the US and on foreign soil,' he said, 'but not that of the President or the police officer.' The Minister went on to say that Roscoe suspected his accident, at a garage at which he worked after he resigned from the police, had been arranged by the CIA - 'I saw a man with a brief case....' and Ricky White, Roscoe's son, is convinced his father had wanted to be finished with the CIA and they killed him for it. Insurance investigator David Perry found no evidence of foul play. The accident was apparently caused by Roscoe taking a welding torch too close to an inflammable liquid.

According to Geneva White, why did the CIA employ Roscoe White?

(N13) Robert Artwohl, Conspiracy, Forensic Science, and Common Sense, Journal of the American Medical Association (March, 1993)

If the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies with close access to the President wanted to dispose of him, they could have availed themselves of a number of covert means of dispatch. It is difficult to believe a government-led team of Presidents assassins came up with the following complex plan. First, take several years setting up Lee Harvey Oswald. Then, get him a job in the Texas School Book Depository so he could be in position to kill the President and meticulously plant evidence with which to frame him. For the central piece of evidence, obtain a cheap mail-order rifle with an inexpensive sight. (Apparently no one thought to spend a few more dollars and get a more credible rifle.) Arrange to have the President fired upon from several different directions using at least three teams of marksmen. (Why would it take several teams of marksmen, not one, not two, but, by conspirati count, three to six volleys of gunfire to hit a slow-moving target at close range with the fatal head shot?) After the President is hit with multiple bullets from multiple directions, the military and numerous government agencies, beginning right at Parkland Hospital, move quickly to conceal multiple bullet holes from civilian physicians (or coerce them all into silence), whisk away bullets, alter the President's body, forge roentgenograms and photographs, and alter every home movie and photograph of the assassination to conceal the true nature of the injuries and the number of accomplices involved.

Why does Robert Artwohl doubt that the CIA was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

(N14) James H. Fetzer wrote about Robert Artwohl, Conspiracy, Forensic Science, and Common Sense in his article, Thinking Critically about JFK's Assassination (1998)

Absolutely vintage straw man. Notice, for example, that conspiracy scenarios do not require involvement by "the military" or "government agencies", numerous or not, but only by enough people in the right places at the right times. Depending on who wanted JFK dead - there are quite a few candidates, from LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover to Charles Cabell and other associates of the CIA, including anti-Castro Cubans and the Mob - it may have been more fitting to assassinate him in public, especially by having a plausible patsy to throw off public suspicion, than to remove him by covert means, which would inevitably create questions and motivate inquiries that might have been inconvenient. Moreover, a public execution sends signals of many kinds about who really controls power in the USA. Artwohl betrays a remarkable lack of imagination about the possibilities of conspiracies of different kinds, where there could have been a number of alternative assassination scenarios, with other "patsies" waiting in the wings if the Dealey Plaza scenario had not played itself out.

Moreover, it would have been essential to have the means to make sure the President was killed. Triangulated fire provides a standard method of ambush, especially in the case of a moving target, which can be difficult to hit under the best of conditions. (Is Artwohl familiar with the problems involved in hitting relatively small moving targets from 100 yards or so? Here I think his lack of knowledge betrays him. Having several teams would be virtually indispensable to guaranteeing the success of the kill.) Moreover, the problem with the rifle may well have been that easy access to quality weapons that could be bought on any corner store in Dallas would not leave a paper trail to implicate Oswald. Not all the photographic evidence needed to be dealt with - only the most important. Some photographs were not picked up at the scene of the crime, which is one of a number of reasons the case has remained alive. And if Artwohl really wants to understand the behavior of the physicians at Parkland, for example, he ought to pick up a copy of Charles Crenshaw's Conspiracy of Silence (1992). This exaggerated caricature of assassination theories may look impressive on the surface, but resorting to such arguments betrays the superficiality of his position.

How does James H. Fetzer counter the arguments put forward by Robert Artwohl?

(N15) Christopher Sharrett, Fair Play Magazine, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy as Coup D'Etat (May, 1999)

It occurs to me that two lines of discourse currently affect public understanding of the John Kennedy assassination. Both narratives obscure the reality of the assassination as a state crime carried out by the official enforcement apparatus, a coup d'etat.

One narrative that informs numerous conspiracy books details a plot to kill Kennedy consisting of some small, marginal grouping, usually including the Mafia and anti-Castro Cubans (although at times including pro-Castro Cubans), occasionally with support of one or two "renegade" CIA agents. This narrative, which has been in circulation at least since the 1970s, seems to me to have a particular function in shaping our perception of the assassination and events surrounding it.

The second narrative, which is becoming steadily more dominant, acknowledges that there was indeed an official cover-up of the assassination, but that this cover-up was "benign," in the interests of the American people, and spontaneously constructed in order to avoid a confrontation with the Soviet Union or Cuba, who were suspected by some in state power of being the real assassins. One recent variation of this narrative argues that this cover-up was put in place largely to protect the public from the consequences of the Kennedy brothers' depraved foreign policy. This narrative also argues that while Oswald was the lone assassin, Castro perhaps influenced him. But the whole affair comes down to the ruthless prosecution of the Cold War by the Kennedys, often against the sober counsel of others within state power.

There is nothing arcane about the murder of John F. Kennedy. It is no more cabalistic than the political-economic system we have come to accept. Calling the assassination a coup d'etat does not necessitate the notion that the plot was overwhelmingly massive, or that everyone within the state agreed that Kennedy should be dismissed. On the contrary, there is rarely uniform consensus within state or private power about any policy issue. But this does not mean that the crime is any less a function of ruling authority. We should not view the assassination as a coup in the traditional sense - obviously there was no imposition of martial law, no prolonged period of bloodletting (discounting murdered witnesses and such). Such a blow against the public would have been intolerable in a major Western democracy after European fascism, and the issue in any event was not about suppressing a popular movement (here we can refer to the effect of the Martin Luther King and Black Panther assassinations on the civil rights movements), but about resolving a disagreement within the state at a time when financial stakes were extremely high.

Only if we choose to shed our denial about the assassination's historical context - and refuse to immerse ourselves in further endless ruminations about oddball plotters and Dealey Plaza minutiae - can we come to terms with the assassination's meaning to our present circumstances, its relationship to the murderous path of the state as it continues to enforce the greed of the few.

Does Christopher Sharrett believe the CIA was involved in a coup d'etat?

(N16) David Talbot, Mother of all Coverups (15th September, 2004)

Thanks to tapes of White House conversations that have been released to the public in recent years, we now know that the man who appointed the Warren Commission -- President Lyndon Johnson -- did not believe its conclusions. On Sept. 18, 1964, the last day the panel met, commission member Sen. Richard Russell phoned Johnson, his old political protégé, to tell him he did not believe the single-bullet theory, the key to the commission's finding that Oswald acted alone. "I don't either," Johnson told him.

Johnson's theories about what really happened in Dallas shifted over the years. Soon after the assassination, Johnson was led to believe by the CIA that Kennedy might have been the victim of a Soviet conspiracy. Later his suspicions focused on Castro; during his long-running feud with Robert Kennedy, LBJ leaked a story to Washington columnist Drew Pearson suggesting the Kennedy brothers themselves were responsible for JFK's death by triggering a violent reaction from the Cuban leader with their "goddamned Murder Inc." plots to kill him.

In 1967, according to a report in the Washington Post, Johnson's suspicious gaze came to rest on the CIA. The newspaper quoted White House aide Marvin Watson as saying that Johnson was "now convinced" Kennedy was the victim of a plot and "that the CIA had something to do with this plot." Max Holland, who has just published a study of LBJ's views on Dallas, "The Kennedy Assassination Tapes," intriguingly concludes that Johnson remained haunted by the murder throughout his tenure in the White House. "It is virtually an article of faith among historians that the war in Vietnam was the overwhelming reason the president left office in 1969, a worn, bitter, and disillusioned man," writes Holland. "Yet the assassination-related tapes paint a more nuanced portrait, one in which Johnson's view of the assassination weighed as heavily on him as did the war."

(16) David Talbot, Mother of all Coverups (15th September, 2004)

Critics of the Warren Report's lone-assassin conclusion were often stumped by defenders of the report with the question, "If there was a conspiracy, why didn't President Kennedy's own brother - the attorney general of the United States, Robert Kennedy -- do anything about it?" It's true that, at least until shortly before his assassination in June 1968, Bobby Kennedy publicly supported the Warren Report. On March 25, during a presidential campaign rally at San Fernando Valley State College in California, Kennedy was dramatically confronted by a woman heckler, who called out, "We want to know who killed President Kennedy!" Kennedy responded by saying, "I stand by the Warren Commission Report." But at a later campaign appearance, days before his assassination, Bobby Kennedy said the opposite, according to his former press spokesman Frank Mankiewicz. When asked if he would reopen the investigation into his brother's death, he uttered a simple, one-word answer: "Yes." Mankiewicz recalls today, "I remember that I was stunned by the answer. It was either like he was suddenly blurting out the truth, or it was a way to shut down the questioning - you know, 'Yes, now let's move on.'"

His public statements on the Warren Report were obviously freighted with political and emotional - and perhaps even security -- concerns for Bobby Kennedy. But we have no doubt what his private opinion of the report was - as his biographer Evan Thomas wrote, Kennedy "regarded the Warren Commission as a public relations exercise to reassure the public." According to a variety of reports, Kennedy suspected a plot as soon as he heard his brother had been shot in Dallas. And as he made calls and inquiries in the hours and days after the assassination, he came to an ominous conclusion: JFK was the victim of a domestic political conspiracy.

In a remarkable passage in "One Hell of a Gamble," a widely praised 1997 history of the Cuban missile crisis based on declassified Soviet and U.S. government documents, historians Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali wrote that on Nov. 29, one week after the assassination, Bobby Kennedy dispatched a close family friend named William Walton to Moscow with a remarkable message for Georgi Bolshakov, the KGB agent he had come to trust during the nerve-wracking back-channel discussions sparked by the missile crisis. According to the historians, Walton told Bolshakov that Bobby and Jacqueline Kennedy believed "there was a large political conspiracy behind Oswald's rifle" and "that Dallas was the ideal location for such a crime." The Kennedys also sought to reassure the Soviets that despite Oswald's apparent connections to the communist world, they believed President Kennedy had been killed by American enemies. This is a stunning account - with the fallen president's brother and widow communicating their chilling suspicions to the preeminent world rival of the U.S. - and it has not received nearly the public attention it deserves.

Both Khrushchev, who had been working with JFK to ease tensions between the superpowers, and his spy chief shared Kennedy's dark view of the assassination. KGB chairman reacted incredulously to the news that Oswald, a man whom his agency had closely monitored after he defected to the Soviet Union, was the culprit: "I thought that this man could not possibly be the mastermind of the crime." And according to Fursenko and Naftali, "Intelligence coming to Khrushchev in the weeks following the assassination seemed to confirm the theory that a right-wing conspiracy had killed Kennedy." This assessment was shared by the governments of Cuba, Mexico and France, where President DeGaulle, when briefed by a reporter on the lone-nut theory reacted with Gallic skepticism, laughing, "Vous me blaguez! [You're kidding me.] Cowboys and Indians!"

In the years after his brother's death, Bobby Kennedy was overwhelmed by grief. But the common perception that he found it too painful to focus on the assassination is belied by the fact that Kennedy maintained a searching curiosity about critics of the Warren Report, using surrogates like Mankiewicz, Walter Sheridan, Ed Guthman and John Siegenthaler to check out their work and dispatching his former aides to New Orleans to evaluate Jim Garrison's investigation. In fact Kennedy himself phoned New Orleans coroner Nicholas Chetta at his home after the death of key Garrison suspect David Ferrie to question Chetta about his autopsy report. And while Sheridan -- a trusted friend of Kennedy's who had worked closely with him on his Jimmy Hoffa investigation -- famously repudiated Garrison in a 1967 documentary for NBC, RFK apparently still kept ties to the Garrison camp. According to William Turner, a former FBI agent who worked as a Garrison investigator during the Kennedy case, in April 1968 he received a call in the New Orleans prosecutor's office from an RFK campaign aide named Richard Lubic. "He said, 'Bill, Bobby's going to go -- he's going to reopen the investigation after he wins.' I went in immediately and told Jim [Garrison]. He didn't seem surprised."

Bobby was not the only member of President Kennedy's inner circle who believed there was a conspiracy. Presidential aides Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers, key members of JFK's Irish Mafia, were in a trailing limousine in the Dallas motorcade. Both of them later told House Speaker Tip O'Neill that they heard two shots from behind the fence on the grassy knoll. "That's not what you told the Warren Commission," a stunned O'Neill replied, according to his 1989 memoir, "Man of the House. "You're right," O'Donnell said. "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things." So not wanting to "stir up more pain and trouble for the family," O'Donnell told the commission what the FBI wanted him to.

Speaking of the FBI, its deeply sinister strongman J. Edgar Hoover might have "lied his eyes out" to the Warren Commission, as panel member Hale Boggs, the Louisiana congressman, memorably told an aide, pressuring and maneuvering the commission to reach a lone-assassin verdict. But again, in private, Hoover told another story. The summer after the assassination, Hoover was relaxing at the Del Charro resort in California, which was owned by his friend, right-wing Texas oil tycoon Clint Murchison. Another Texas oil crony of Hoover's, Billy Byars Sr. -- the only man Hoover had called on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, besides Robert Kennedy and the head of the Secret Service -- also was there. At one point, according to Anthony Summers, the invaluable prober of the dark side of American power, Byars' teenage son, Billy Jr., got up his nerve to ask Hoover the question, "Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald did it?" According to Byars, Hoover "stopped and looked at me for quite a long time. Then he said, 'If I told you what I really know, it would be very dangerous to this country. Our whole political system could be disrupted.'"

Blunt skepticism about the Warren Report was a bipartisan affair, with leaders on both sides of the aisle airily dismissing its conclusions. On a White House tape recording, President Nixon is heard telling aides that the Warren Report "was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated." One of Nixon's top aides, White House chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, shared his boss' skepticism. In his 1978 memoir, "The Ends of Power," Haldeman, who "had always been intrigued with the conflicting theories of the assassination," recalls that when the Nixon team moved into the White House in 1969, he felt that they finally "would be in a position to get all the facts." But Nixon, perhaps wary of where all those facts would lead, rejected Haldeman's suggestion.

According to Haldeman, Nixon did play the assassination card in a mysterious way against CIA director Richard Helms, long regarded by Warren Report critics to have some connection to the gunshots in Dallas. Seeking to pressure the CIA into helping him out of his Watergate mess, Nixon had Haldeman deliver this cryptic message -- apparently a threat -- to Helms: "The president asked me to tell you this entire (Watergate) affair may be connected to the Bay of Pigs, and if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown." This prompted an explosive reaction from the spymaster: "Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair leaning forward and shouting, 'The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.'" Haldeman speculates that "Bay of Pigs" must have been Nixon's code for something related to the CIA, Castro and the Kennedy assassination. But whatever dark card Nixon had played, it worked. Haldeman reported back to his boss that the CIA director was now "very happy to be helpful."

Nixon was not willing to publicly reopen the box of assassination demons. But many of them began flying out when the Church Committee started investigating CIA abuses in the 1970s, including the unholy pact between the agency and the Mafia to eliminate Fidel Castro. (The bombshell headlines produced by the Church Committee would, in fact, lead to the formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977.)

Among those in Washington who were particularly curious about the revelations concerning the CIA and the Kennedy assassination was George H.W. Bush. As Kitty Kelley observes in her new book about the Bush family, while serving as the CIA director in the Ford administration, Bush fired off a series of memos in fall 1976, asking subordinates various questions about Oswald, Ruby, Helms and other figures tied to the assassination. "Years later, when [Bush] became president of the United States, he would deny making any attempt to review the agency files on the JFK assassination," writes Kelley in "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty." "When he made this claim, he did not realize that the agency would release 18 documents (under the Freedom of Information Act) that showed he had indeed, as CIA director, requested information -- not once, but several times -- on a wide range of questions surrounding the Kennedy assassination."

One of the most aggressive investigators on the Church Committee was the young, ambitious Democratic senator from Colorado, Gary Hart, who along with Republican colleague Richard Schweiker began digging into the swampy murk of southern Florida in the early 1960s. Here was the steamy nursery for plots that drew together CIA saboteurs, Mafia cutthroats, anti-communist Cuban fanatics and the whole array of patriotic zealots who were determined to overthrow the government of Cuba -- the Iraq of its day. "The whole atmosphere at that time was so yeasty," says Hart today. "I don't think anybody, Helms or anybody, had control of the thing. There were people clandestinely meeting people, the Mafia connections, the friendships between the Mafia and CIA agents, and this crazy Cuban exile community. There were more and more layers, and it was honeycombed with bizarre people. I don't think anybody knew everything that was going on. And I think the Kennedys were kind of racing to keep up with it all."

Schweiker's mind was blown by what he and Hart were digging up -- there is no other way to describe it. He was a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania and he would be chosen as a vice presidential running mate by Ronald Reagan in 1976 to bolster his challenge against President Jerry Ford. But Schweiker's faith in the American government seemed deeply shaken by his Kennedy probe, which convinced him "the fingerprints of intelligence" were all over Lee Harvey Oswald.

"Dick made a lot of statements inside the committee that were a lot more inflammatory than anything I ever said, in terms of his suspicions about who killed Kennedy," recalls Hart. "He would say, 'This is outrageous, we've got to reopen this.' He was a blowtorch."

Hart too concluded Kennedy was likely killed by a conspiracy, involving some feverish cabal from the swamps of anti-Castro zealotry. And when he ran for president in 1984, Hart says, whenever he was asked about the assassination, "My consistent response was, based on my Church Committee experience, there are sufficient doubts about the case to justify reopening the files of the CIA, particularly in its relationship to the Mafia." This was enough to blow other people's minds, says Hart, including remnants of the Mafia family of Florida godfather Santo Trafficante, who plays a key role in many JFK conspiracy theories. "[Journalist] Sy Hersh told me that he interviewed buddies of Trafficante, including his right-hand man who was still alive when Hersh wrote his book ('The Dark Side of Camelot'). He didn't put this in his book, but when my name came up, the guy laughed, he snorted and said, 'We don't think he's any better than the Kennedys." Meaning they were keeping an eye on Hart? "At the very least. This was in the 1980s when I was running for president, saying I would reopen the (Kennedy) investigation. Anybody can draw their own conclusions."

Hart, of course, never made it to the White House. But another politician who had been deeply inspired by JFK did -- William Jefferson Clinton. And like perhaps every other man who moved into the White House following the Kennedy assassination, he too was curious about finding out the real story. "Where are the Kennedy files?" the young president reportedly asked soon after he went to work in the Oval Office.

And what about the other JFK from Massachusetts, who also met President Kennedy as a young man -- John F. Kerry? If he's elected in November, will he be tempted to launch an inquiry and try to find out what really happened to his hero in Dallas? Hart says he doubts it. "You almost had to go through it like I did with the Church Committee and get all the context. Otherwise, you have to be very careful about falling into the conspiracy category. I at least had some credentials to talk about it. But if Kerry were to bring it up, people would just say he's wacky, he's obsessive." As Hart observes, there are other ways to kill a leader these days -- you can assassinate his character.

And so 40 years after the Warren Report, with the country's political elite still wracked with suspicions about the Kennedy assassination, yet immobilized from doing anything about it by fears of being politically marginalized, and with the media elite continuing to disdain even the most serious journalistic inquiry, the crime seems frozen in place. It is now up to historians and scholars and authors to keep the spirit of inquiry alive.

For decades the only public critics of the Warren Report were a heroic and indomitable band of citizen-investigators -- including a crusading New York attorney, a small-town Texas newspaperman, a retired Washington civil servant, a Berkeley literature professor, a Los Angeles sign salesman, a Pittsburgh coroner -- all of whom refused to accept the fraud that was perpetrated on the American people. Undaunted by the media scorn that was heaped upon them, they devoted their lives to what powerful government officials and high-paid media mandarins should have been doing -- solving the most shocking crime against American democracy in the 20th century. Their names -- Mark Lane, Ray Marcus, Harold Weisberg, Sylvia Meagher, Vincent Salandria, Mary Ferrell, Penn Jones Jr., Cyril Wecht, Peter Dale Scott, Jim Lesar and Gaeton Fonzi, among others -- will find their honored place in American history. It is these everyday heroes, and their successors, whose best work will some day come to replace the heavy, counterfeit tomes of the Warren Report.