JFK Theory: FBI/Secret Service

Theory: Secret Service

After the death of John F. Kennedy, his deputy, Lyndon B. Johnson, was appointed president. He immediately set up a commission to "ascertain, evaluate and report upon the facts relating to the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy." The seven man commission was headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren and included Gerald Ford, Allen W. Dulles, John J. McCloy, Richard B. Russell, John S. Cooper and Thomas H. Boggs.

Lyndon B. Johnson also commissioned a report on the assassination from J. Edgar Hoover. Two weeks later the Federal Bureau of Investigation produced a 500 page report claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin and that there was no evidence of a conspiracy. The report was then passed to the Warren Commission. Rather than conduct its own independent investigation, the commission relied almost entirely on the FBI report.

Mark North (Act of Treason) and George O'Toole (The Assassination Tapes) both believe that J. Edgar Hoover either knew of plans to kill Kennedy and did nothing to stop them, or he helped to organize the assassination. In his book, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993) Peter Dale Scottprovides information that Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation helped to cover-up the real identity of the people who assassinated John F. Kennedy.

In his book, Best Evidence, David Lifton claims that members of the Secret Service agents were involved in the killing of Kennedy. This included providing the assassins with a good opportunity to kill Kennedy. Lifton was highly critical of the behaviour of William Greer, Roy Kellerman and Winston G. Lawson during the assassination. Lifton believes that after the assassination of Kennedy they hijacked the body in order to alter the corpse. In the book, Mortal Error, Bonar Menninger, claims that SS agent George Hickey killed Kennedy by accident.

James H. Fetzer believes the Secret Service played a role in the assassination. In his book, Assassination Science, he writes: "I have discovered at least fifteen indications of Secret Service complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, from the absence of protective military presence to a lack of coverage of open windows, to motorcycles out of position, to Secret Service agents failing to ride on the Presidential limousine, to the vehicles arranged in an improper sequence, to the utilization of an improper motorcade route, to the driver bringing the vehicle to a halt after bullets began to be fired, to the almost total lack of response by Secret Service agents, to the driver washing out the back seat with a bucket and sponge at Parkland Hospital, to the car being dismantled and rebuilt (on LBJ's orders), to the driver giving false testimony to the Warren Commission, to the windshields being switched, to the autopsy photographs being taken into custody before they were developed".

Clint Hill, Roy Kellerman, and William Greer aftergiving evidence to the Warren Commission (March, 1964)
Clint Hill, Roy Kellerman, and William Greer after
giving evidence to the Warren Commission (March, 1964)

(P1) William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967)

There was a sudden, sharp, shattering sound. Various individuals heard it differently. Jacqueline Kennedy believed it was a motorcycle noise. Curry was under the impression that someone had fired a railroad torpedo. Ronald Fischer and Bob Edwards, assuming that it was a backfire, chuckled. Most of the hunters in the motorcade - Sorrels, Connally, Yarborough, Gonzalez, Albert Thomas - instinctively identified it as rifle fire.

But the White House Detail was confused. Their experience in outdoor shooting was limited to two qualification courses a year on a range in Washington's National Arboretum. There they heard only their own weapons, and they were unaccustomed to the bizarre effects that are created when small-arms fire echoes among unfamiliar structures - in this case, the buildings of Dealey Plaza. Emory Roberts recognized Oswald's first shot as a shot. So did Youngblood, whose alert response may have saved Lyndon Johnson's life. They were exceptions. The men in Halfback were bewildered. They glanced around uncertainly. Lawson, Kellerman, Greer, Ready, and Hill all thought that a firecracker had been exploded. The fact that this was a common reaction is no mitigation. It was the responsibility of James J. Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service, and Jerry Behn, Head of the White House Detail, to see that their agents were trained to cope with precisely this sort of emergency. They were supposed to be picked men, honed to a matchless edge. It was comprehensible that Roy Truly should dismiss the first shot as a cherry bomb. It was even fathomable that Patrolman James M. Chaney, mounted on a motorcycle six feet from the Lincoln, should think that another machine had backfired. Chaney was an ordinary policeman, not a Presidential bodyguard. The protection of the Chief Executive, on the other hand, was the profession of Secret Service agents. They existed for no other reason. Apart from Clint Hill - and perhaps Jack Ready, who started to step off the right running board and was ordered back by Roberts - the behaviour of the men in the follow-up car was unresponsive. Even more tragic was the perplexity of Roy Kellerman, the ranking agent in Dallas, and Bill Greer, who was under Kellerman's supervision. Kellerman and Greer were in a position to take swift evasive action, and for five terrible seconds they were immobilized.

Why was William Manchester critical of the way the Secret Service responded to the shooting at the motorcade in the Dealey Plaza?

(P2) William Greer interviewed by Arlen Specter on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: Now, how many shots, or how many noises have you just described that you heard?

William Greer: I know there was three that I heard - three. But I cannot remember any more than probably three. I know there was three anyway that I heard.

Arlen Specter: Do you have an independent recollection at this moment of having heard three shots at that time?

William Greer: I knew that after I heard the second one, that is when I looked over my shoulder, and I was conscious that there was something wrong, because that is when I saw Governor Connally. And when I turned around again, to the best of my recollection there was another one, right immediately after.

Arlen Specter: To the best of your ability to recollect and estimate, how much time elapsed from the first noise which you have described as being similar to the backfire of a motor vehicle until you heard the second noise?

William Greer: It seems a matter of seconds, I really couldn't say. Three or four seconds.

Arlen Specter: How much time elapsed, to the best of your ability to estimate and recollect, between the time of the second noise and the time of the third noise?

William Greer: The last two seemed to be just simultaneously, one behind the other, but I don't recollect just how much, how many seconds were between the two. I couldn't really say.

Arlen Specter: Describe as best you can the types of sound of the second report, as distinguished from the first noise which you said was similar to a motorcycle backfire?

William Greer: The second one didn't sound any different much than the first one but I kind of got, by turning around, I don't know whether I got a little concussion of it, maybe when it hit something or not, I may have gotten a little concussion that made me think there was something different to it. But so far as the noise is concerned, I haven't got any memory of any difference in them at all...

Arlen Specter: Did you step on the accelerator before, simultaneously or after Mr. Kellerman instructed you to accelerate?

William Greer: It was about simultaneously.

According to William Greer, how did he react when he first heard the shots being fired at President John F. Kennedy?

(P3) Roy Kellerman interviewed by Arlen Specter, John S. Cooper and Gerald Ford on behalf of the Warren Commission (9th March, 1964)

Arlen Specter: When was it that Mrs. Kennedy made the statement which you have described, "My God, what are they doing?"

Roy Kellerman: This occurred after the flurry of shots.

Arlen Specter: At that time you looked back and saw Special Agent Hill across the trunk of the car, had your automobile accelerated by that time?

Roy Kellerman: Tremendously so; yes.

Does Roy Kellerman agree with the testimony of William Greer?

(P4) Michael L. Kurtz, Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historians Perspective (1982)

The Zapruder and other films and photographs of the assassination clearly reveal the utter lack of response by Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman and William Greer, who were in the front seat of the presidential limousine. After the first two shots, Greer actually slowed the vehicle to less than five miles an hour. Kellerman merely sat in the front seat, seemingly oblivious to the shooting. In contrast, Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood responded instantly to the first shot, and before the head shots were fired, had covered Vice-President Lyndon Johnson with his body.

Trained to react instantaneously, as in the attempted assassinations of President Gerald Ford by Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore and of President Ronald Reagan by John Warnock Hinckley, the Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Kennedy simply neglected their duty. The reason for their neglect remains one of the more intriguing mysteries of the assassination.

Does Michael L. Kurtz agree with the accounts of William Greer (P2) and Roy Kellerman (P3)?

(P5) Joachim Joesten, How Kennedy Was Killed (1968)

One of the most eminent authorities on the subject, former Secret Service chief U.E. Baughman, who headed that agency from 1948 to 1961, has publicly taken issue, in several newspaper interviews, with the lack of adequate precautions which is so painfully apparent in the Dallas tragedy.

A UPI dispatch from Washington, dated December 8, 1963 quoted Mr. Baughman as saying that "there are a lot of things' to be explained" concerning the assassination.

One thing Baughman wanted to know - nobody has explained it yet - is why Lee H. Oswald was permitted to leave

the Book Depository after the shooting.

He asked, also, assuming that the shots did come from the sixth-floor window of that building, why the Secret Service didn't immediately pepper that -window with machine gun fire?

This is one of the most obvious - and least asked - of all "unanswered questions" about the Kennedy murder. Why, indeed, was all the shooting done only by one side - that of the assassins?

There were dozens of Secret Service men on the scene, all former FBI agents and tested marksmen, quick on the trigger and with their service guns and submachine guns at the ready - to say nothing of the hundreds of Dallas policemen who were also present when the President died in a hail of bullets. And not a single shot was fired by any of these alert guardians of the law!

Had the Secret Service men reacted as Baugham says they should have, by instantly 'peppering' the TSBD window with machine gun fire, the sniper crouching behind that window would certainly not have been able to get off a second or third shot, as the Commission says he did.

In a subsequent interview with Seth Kantor of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, Mr. Baughman declared that it was a "basic, established rule" of the Secret Service to see to it that people were kept out of the upper stories of buildings along a presidential parade route. The manager of the Texas School Book Depository therefore "should have been under firm instructions by the police" to close the upper floors of that building to unauthorized persons...

The Secret Service couldn't spare a man either for checking the grassy knoll, a textbook location for a guerilla-type ambush. This breathtaking deficiency came to light when there were reports that a man who identified himself as a member of the Secret Service was encountered near the knoll just after the assassination. These reports drew a firm denial from the Secret Service which stated explicitly that it had no man posted there. It would have been better for the Secret Service to have said that the knoll had been swarming with agents who didn't notice a damn thing than thus to admit another such glaring dereliction of duty.

According to former Secret Service chief U.E. Baughman, what mistakes were made during the visit to Dallas?

(P6) Evidence of four police officers protecting the motorcade about what the presidential car did when the shots were fired in the Dealey Plaza.

James Chaney (motorcyclist on motorcade): "From the time the first shot ran out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped."

Bobby Hargis (motorcyclist on motorcade): "The car stopped immediately after that and stayed stopped for about half a second, then took off."

Earle Brown (police officer on overpass): "When the shots were fired, it (the car) stopped."

J. W. Foster (police officer on overpass): "Immediately after Kennedy was struck... the car pulled to the curb."

Do these accounts support the testimony of William Greer and Roy Kellerman?

(P7) The Warren Commission Report (September, 1964)

The Commission has concluded that some of the advance preparations in Dallas made by the Secret Service, such as the detailed security measures taken at Love Field and the Trade Mart, were thorough and well executed. In other respects, however, the Commission has concluded that the advance preparations for the President's trip were deficient.

Although the Secret Service is compelled to rely to a great extent on local law enforcement officials, its procedures at the time of the Dallas trip did not call for well-defined instructions as to the respective responsibilities of the police officials and others assisting in the protection of the President.

The procedures relied upon by the Secret Service for detecting the presence of an assassin located in a building along a motorcade route were inadequate. At the time of the trip to Dallas, the Secret Service as a matter of practice did not investigate, or cause to be checked, any building located along the motorcade route to be taken by the President. The responsibility for observing windows in these buildings during the motorcade was divided between local police personnel stationed on the streets to regulate crowds and Secret Service agents riding in the motorcade. Based on its investigation the Commission has concluded that these arrangements during the trip to Dallas were clearly not sufficient.

The configuration of the Presidential car and the seating arrangements of the Secret Service agents in the car did not afford the Secret Service agents the opportunity they should have had to be of immediate assistance to the President at the first sign of danger.

Within these limitations, however, the Commission finds that the agents most immediately responsible for the President's safety reacted promptly at the time the shots were fired from the Texas School Book Depository Building.

What criticisms did the Warren Commission make of the Secret Service on 22nd November, 1963?

(P8) House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979)

Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy....

Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President John F. Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.

The Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties.

The Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.

In what ways was the House Select Committee on Assassinations critical of the Secret Service?

(P9) James H. Fetzer, Assassination Science and the Language of Proof, included in Assassination Science (1998)

I have discovered at least fifteen indications of Secret Service complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, from the absence of protective military presence to a lack of coverage of open windows, to motorcycles out of position, to Secret Service agents failing to ride on the Presidential limousine, to the vehicles arranged in an improper sequence, to the utilization of an improper motorcade route, to the driver bringing the vehicle to a halt after bullets began to be fired, to the almost total lack of response by Secret Service agents, to the driver washing out the back seat with a bucket and sponge at Parkland Hospital, to the car being dismantled and rebuilt (on LBJs orders), to the driver giving false testimony to the Warren Commission, to the windshields being switched, to the autopsy photographs being taken into custody before they were developed, and more.

What evidence does James H. Fetzer provide to support his view that the Secret Service might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

(P10) Edward Jay Epstein, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald (1978)

The possibility that Oswald was encouraged or assisted in the act by some unknown party can certainly not be excluded. But there is one piece of evidence which strongly argues against the possibility that Oswald was part of an intelligent and purposeful conspiracy - the note which Oswald purportedly wrote to the FBI a week or so before Kennedy arrived in Dallas.

In this note, Oswald threatened to blow up the local FBI headquarters in Dallas unless FBI agents stopped harassing his wife. The note itself was never divulged to the Warren Commission. Instead, after Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby, the local FBI agent, undoubtedly on orders from his superiors destroyed the note. Its existence was only admitted by FBI officials in 1975 when FBI employees in Dallas, who had seen the note, revealed its contents. They testified, moreover, that Oswald had delivered the note to the FBI office.

If there was a conspiracy, it is difficult to understand why it should risk revealing itself to the FBI by having Oswald, their; main actor, walk into the FBI office with a threatening note. He might have been arrested on the spot, or at the very least, the FBI could have been expected to warn the President security force that Oswald, who was employed on the President's route, had made a violent threat to federal officials. Even if the conspirators only meant to frame Oswald, the delivery of the note would jeopardize that plan since it risked having Oswald arrested prior to the President's arrival. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that, if the note is authentic, Oswald was not part of a conspiracy.

Why does Edward Jay Epstein believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a FBI agent?

(P11) Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993)

The House Committee on Assassinations confirmed that the Hosty entry had been deleted in the retyping of the memo. It called the incident "regrettable," but "trivial", even though what was at stake was an apparently false statement by FBI officials under oath....

The FBI's handling of Hall, and of the whole Odio story, suggests they had something to hide. To begin with, the agents they sent to interview Silvia Odio, and who asked no questions about the "double agent" story, were James P. Hosty, Jr., and his partner, Bardwell D. Odum. Hosty also interviewed Juan B. Martin, the man Odio had been interested in buying arms from; yet his write-up of this interview is utterly trivial and makes no reference to gunrunning at all.

James Hosty was hardly the right agent to send for an impartial investigation. As the FBI agent assigned to handle both arms trafficking and the Oswalds before the assassination, Hosty quickly became a party to some of the FBI's most serious cover-up activities. On November 24, 1963, long before he finally interviewed Silvia Odio in December, Hosty had already destroyed a threatening note which Oswald had left for him at the Dallas FBI office. He had done so on orders from his boss, Gordon Shanklin, which almost certainly came from Washington.

Why does Peter Dale Scott believe it was significant that the FBI employed James Hosty to interview Silvia Odio and Juan B. Martin?

(P12) Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins (1988)

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.

What did Jim Garrison believe James Hosty's role was in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

(P13) Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993)

Such an explanation is less plausible for the FBI's interference with leads that appeared to be guiding its agents to the actual assassins of the President - a case, seemingly, of obstruction of justice, or worse. How else should one assess the response of FBI headquarters to a report from Miami that Joseph Adams Milteer, a white racist with Klan connections, had in early November 1963 correctly warned that a plot to kill the President "from an office building with a high-powered rifle" was already "in the working"? These words are taken from a tape-recording of a discussion between Milteer and his friend, Miami police informant Bill Somersett. Miami police provided copies of this tape to both the Secret Service and the FBI on November 10, 1963, two weeks before the assassination, and this led to the cancellation of a planned motorcade for the President in Miami on November 18.20

Although an extremist, Milteer was no loner. Southern racists were well organized in 1963, in response to federal orders for desegregation; and Milteer was an organizer for two racist parties, the National States Rights party and the Constitution party. In addition he had attended an April 1963 meeting in New Orleans of the Congress of Freedom, Inc.,

which had been monitored by an informant for the Miami police. A Miami detective's report of the Congress included the statement that "there was indicated the overthrow of the present government of the United States," including "the setting up of a criminal activity to assassinate particular persons." The report added that "membership within the Congress of Freedom, Inc., contain high ranking members of the armed forces that secretly belong to the organization."

In other words, the deep politics of racist intrigue had become intermingled, in the Congress as elsewhere, with the resentment within the armed forces against their civilian commander. Perhaps the most important example in 1963 was that of General Edwin Walker, whom Oswald was accused of stalking and shooting at. Forced to retire in 1962 for disseminating right-wing propaganda in the armed forces, Walker was subsequently arrested at the "Ole Miss" anti-desegregation riots. Nor was the FBI itself exempt from racist intrigue: Milteer, on tape, reported detailed plans for the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Hoover's FBI, by the end of 1963, had also targeted for (in their words) "neutralizing... as an effective Negro leader."

Four days after the assassination Somerset! reported that Milteer had been "jubilant" about it: "Everything ran true to form. I guess you thought I was kidding you when I said he would be killed from a window with a high-powered rifle." Milteer also was adamant that he had not been "guessing" in his original prediction. In both of the relevant FBI reports from Miami, Somersett was described as "a source who had furnished reliable information in the past."

Why was Peter Dale Scott critical of FBI's behaviour in the weeks leading up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

(P14) Matthew Smith, JFK: The Second Plot (1992)

One of the outstanding examples of a witness being frustrated in his attempt to speak out when he had something important to say is to be found in the story of Abraham Bolden. Abraham Bolden was a member of the White House detail of the Secret Service, and was the first negro to be appointed to that body. Bolden had heard of a Chicago plot to kill the President and was anxious to tell what he knew. He was also critical of the personnel appointed to guard the President, claiming they were lax in their duties. It was believed that an attempt on Kennedy's life had been foiled on 1st November in Chicago, but three weeks before he was killed in Dallas, and it would have been extremely embarrassing to the Warren Commission, heavily involved in establishing their "lone killer - no conspiracy" theory, to have had Bolden telling of a Chicago plot. Bolden's superior officers blocked his request. A few months later Abraham Bolden was charged with soliciting a huge bribe for disclosing secret information on a counterfeiter, Joseph Spagnoli, and he was jailed for six years. Spagnoli later confessed he had lied about Bolden, at the request of Prosecutor Richard Sikes, he claimed. In spite of this Bolden was made to serve his full sentence.

What is the significance of the story of Abraham Bolden in the search to discover who was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy?