In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. The committee looked at the case of Fred Hampton and discovered that William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an "X" marking Hampton's bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton's bedroom.
Church's committee also discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation had sent anonymous letters attacking the political beliefs of targets in order to induce their employers to fire them. Similar letters were sent to spouses in an effort to destroy marriages. The committee also documented criminal break-ins, the theft of membership lists and misinformation campaigns aimed at provoking violent attacks against targeted individuals.
One of those people targeted was Martin Luther King. The FBI mailed King a tape recording made from microphones hidden in hotel rooms. The tape was accompanied by a note suggesting that the recording would be released to the public unless King committed suicide.
In its final report, issued in April 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities concluded: “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The committee also revealed details for the first time of what the CIA called Operation Mockingbird.
The committee also reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had withheld from the Warren Commission, during its investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, information about plots by the Government of the United States against Fidel Castro of Cuba; and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1976 Thomas N. Downing began campaigning for a new investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Downing said he was certain that Kennedy had been killed as a result of a conspiracy. He believed that the recent deaths of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli were highly significant. He also believed that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had withheld important information from the Warren Commission. Downing was not alone in taking this view. In 1976, a Detroit News poll indicated that 87% of the American population did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy.
Coretta Scott King, was also calling for her husband's murder to be looked at by a Senate Committee. It was suggested that there was more chance of success if these two investigations could be combined. Henry Gonzalez and Walter E. Fauntroy joined Downing in his campaign and in 1976 Congress voted to create a 12-member committee to investigate the deaths of Kennedy and King.
Thomas N. Downing named Richard Sprague as chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Gaeton Fonzi was to later say: "Sprague was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds-barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were".
Sprague quickly assembled a staff of 170 lawyers, investigators and researchers. On 8th December, 1976, Sprague submitted a 1977 budget of $6.5 million. Frank Thompson, Chairman of the House Administration Committee made it clear he opposed the idea of so much money being spent on the investigation. Soon afterwards smear stories against Sprague began appearing in the press. David B. Burnham of The New York Times reported that Sprague had mishandled a homicide case involving the son of a friend. Members of Congress joined in the attacks and Robert E. Bauman of Maryland claimed that Sprague had a "checkered career" and was not to be trusted. Richard Kelly of Florida called the House Select Committee on Assassinations a "multimillion-dollar fishing expedition for the benefit of a bunch of publicity seekers."
Probably the most important criticism came from Eldon J. Rudd of Arizona, a former FBI agent who had worked on the original investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy, declared the Committee had "already fanned the flames of rumour, distortion and unwanted distrust of law inforcement agencies." However, Walter E. Fauntroy defended the work of Sprague: "threshold inquiries by a thoroughly professional staff... in the last three months have produced literally a thousand questions unanswered by the investigations of record."
On 2nd February, 1978, Henry Gonzalez replaced Thomas N. Downing as chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Gonzalez immediately sacked Sprague as chief counsel. Sprague claimed that only the fill committee had the power to dismiss him. Walter E. Fauntroy agreed with Sprague and launched a campaign to keep him as chief counsel. On 1st March, Gonzalez resigned describing Sprague as "an unconscionable scoundrel" Louis Stokes of Ohio was now appointed as the new chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. After a meeting with Stokes on 29th March, Sprague agreed to resign and he was replaced by G. Robert Blakey.
Sprague later told Gaeton Fonzi that the real reason he was removed as chief counsel was because he insisted on asking questions about the CIA operations in Mexico. Fonzi argued that "Sprague... wanted complete information about the CIA's operation in Mexico City and total access to all its employees who may have had anything to do with the photographs, tape recordings and transcripts. The Agency balked. Sprague pushed harder. Finally the Agency agreed that Sprague could have access to the information if he agreed to sign a CIA Secrecy Agreement. Sprague refused.... "How," he asked, "can I possible sign an agreement with an agency I'm supposed to be investigating?"
Two subcommittees were created - a subcommittee on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with Richardson Preyer of North Carolina as its chairman, and a subcommittee on the assassination of Martin Luther King, with Walter E. Fauntroy, as its chairman. The staff was divided into two task forces designated to assist each of the subcommittees.
The House Select Committee of Assassinations set up a panel of forensic pathologists to examine the autopsy materials and other medical evidence. Most of the members concluded that two bullets, both fired from the rear, struck Kennedy. However, one member, Cyril H. Wecht, rejected this theory claiming it was medically impossible, and suggested that at least one bullet had been fired from the right front.
During the investigation the committee discovered that the Dallas Police had a recording of the assassination. A microphone, mounted on one of the motorcycles escorting the motorcade, had picked up sounds in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination. Acoustic experts analysed the recording and were able to distinguish four rifle shots. They concluded that there was a 95 per cent probability of the third bullet was fired from the Grassy Knoll.
As a result of this acoustic evidence G. Robert Blakey was able to state that there were "four shots, over a total period of 7.91 seconds were fired at the Presidential limousine. The first, second and fourth came from the Depository; the third from the Grassy Knoll."
The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that "scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy." It added that "on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
The HSCA was "unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy." However, it did discover evidence to suggest that anti-Castro Cubans were involved in the assassination. For example, an undercover agent heard Nestor Castellanos tell a meeting of anti-Castro Cubans, "We're waiting for Kennedy (on) the 22nd. We're going to see him in one way or another." The committee also obtained evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald met David Ferrie in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. It concluded that "individuals active in anti-Castro activities had the motive, means, and opportunity to assassinate President Kennedy".
The committee claimed that the Warren Commission "failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President." The report was also highly critical of the Secret Service: "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."
G. Robert Blakey and Richard Billings wrote an account of the HSCA investigation entitled The Plot to Kill the President (1981). In the book Blakey and Billings argue that there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He believes that Lee Harvey Oswald was involved but believes that there was at least one gunman firing from the Grassy Knoll. Blakey came to the conclusion that the Mafia boss, Carlos Marcello, organized the assassination.
Gary Cornwell, Deputy Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations published his own account of the investigation, Real Answers, in 1999. It is highly critical of the FBI and the Warren Commission investigations. As Cornwell points out: "The case should have been solved in 1963 and 1964, and because the government decided not to look for the real answers when it had the chance, the opportunity was probably lost forever."
The House Select Committee on Assassinations refused to publish all the documents obtained during the investigation. The CIA forced all members of the committee, all staff members, all consultants to the committee, and several independent researchers involved in the investigation, to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement. As Richard E. Sprague, one of the consultants, later explained: "First, it binds the signer, if a consultant, to never reveal that he is working for the committee. Second, it prevents the signer from ever revealing to anyone in perpetuity, any information he has learned about the committee's work as a result of working for the committee. Third, it gives the committee and the House, after the committee terminates, the power to take legal action against the signer, in a court named by the committee or the House, in case the committee believes the signer has violated the agreement. Fourth, the signer agrees to pay the court costs for such a suit in the event he loses the suit."
It has been announced that all House Select Committee on Assassinations documents will be published by 2017.
The Covert Use of Books and Publishing Houses: The Committee has found that the Central Intelligence Agency attaches a particular importance to book publishing activities as a form of covert propaganda. A former officer in the Clandestine Service stated that books are "the most important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda." Prior to 1967, the Central Intelligence Agency sponsored, subsidized, or produced over 1,000 books; approximately 25 percent of them in English. In 1967 alone, the CIA published or subsidized over 200 books, ranging from books on African safaris and wildlife to translations of Machiavelli's The Prince into Swahili and works of T. S. Eliot into Russian, to a competitor to Mao's little red book, which was entitled Quotations from Chairman Liu.
The Committee found that an important number of the books actually produced by the Central Intelligence Agency were reviewed and marketed in the United States:
* A book about a young student from a developing country who had studied in a communist country was described by the CIA as "developed by (two areas divisions) and, produced by the Domestic Operations Division... and has had a high impact in the United States as well as in the (foreign area) market." This book, which was produced by the European outlet of a United States publishing house was published in condensed form in two major U.S. magazines."
* Another CIA book, The Penkorsky Papers, was published in United States in 1965. The book was prepared and written by omitting agency assets who drew on actual case materials and publication rights to the manuscript were sold to the publisher through a trust fund which was established for the purpose. The publisher was unaware of any US Government interest.
In 1967, the CIA stopped publishing within the United States. Since then, the Agency has published some 250 books abroad, most of them in foreign languages. The CIA has given special attention to publication and circulation abroad of books about conditions in the Soviet Bloc. Of those targeted at audiences outside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a large number has also been available in English.
Domestic "Fallout": The Committee finds that covert media operations can result in manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. Despite efforts to minimize it, CIA employees, past and present, have conceded that there is no way to shield the American public completely from "fallout" in the United States from Agency propaganda or placements overseas. Indeed, following the Katzenbach inquiry, the Deputy Director for Operations issued a directive stating: "Fallout in the United States from a foreign publication which we support is inevitable and consequently permissible."
The domestic fallout of covert propaganda comes from many sources: books intended primarily for an English-speaking foreign audience; CIA press placements that are picked up by an international wire service; and publications resulting from direct CIA funding of foreign institutes. For example, a book written for an English-speaking foreign audience by one CIA operative was reviewed favorably by another CIA agent in the New York Times. The Committee also found that the CIA helped create and support various Vietnamese periodicals and publications. In at least one instance, a CIA supported Vietnamese publication was used to propagandize the American public and the members and staff of both houses of Congress. So effective was this propaganda that some members quoted from the publication in debating the controversial question of United States involvement in Vietnam.
The Committee found that this inevitable domestic fallout was compounded when the Agency circulated its subsidized books in the United States prior to their distribution abroad in order to induce a favorable reception overseas.
The Covert Use of 11.5. Journalists and Media Institutions on, February 11, 1976, CIA Director George Bush announced new guidelines governing the Agency's relationship with United States media organizations: "Effective immediately, CIA will not enter into any paid or contractual relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station."
Agency officials who testified after the February 11, 1976, announcement told the Committee that the prohibition extends to non-Americans accredited to specific United States media organizations.
The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.
Approximately 50 of the assets are individual American journalists or employees of US media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are "accredited" by US media organizations and thereby affected by the new prohibitions on the use of accredited newsmen. The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad, and thus are not affected by the new CIA prohibition.
More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad. A few of these organizations were unaware that they provided this cover.
The Committee notes that the new CIA prohibitions do not apply to "unaccredited" Americans serving in media organizations such as representatives of US media organizations abroad or freelance writers. Of the more than 50 CIA relationships with United States journalists, or employees in American media organizations, fewer than one half will be terminated under the new CIA guidelines.
The Committee is concerned that the use of American :journalists and media organizations for clandestine operations is a threat to the integrity of the press. All American journalists, whether accredited to a United States news organization or just a stringer, may be suspects when any are engaged in covert activities.
After talking with Sprague I was now certain he planned to conduct a strong investigation and I was never more optimistic in my life. I remember excitingly envisioning the scope and character of the investigation. It would include a major effort in Miami, with teams of investigators digging into all those unexplored corners the Warren Commission had ignored or shied away from. They would be working with squads of attorneys to put legal pressure on, to squeeze the truth from recalcitrant witnesses. There would be reams of sworn depositions, the ample use of warrants and no fear of bringing prosecutions for perjury. We would have all sorts of sophisticated investigative resources and, more important, the authority to use them. The Kennedy assassination would finally get the investigation it deserved and an honest democracy needed.
Philadelphia's Richard Sprague as the Committee's chief counsel. Sprague had gotten national attention with his successful prosecution of United Mine Workers President Tony Boyle for the murder of UMW reformer Joseph Yablonski. In Philadelphia, where as First Assistant District Attorney he had run up a record of 69 homicide convictions out of 70 prosecutions, Sprague was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds-barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were.
When he took the job, Sprague had done so with the stipulation that he would have complete authority to hire his own staff and run the investigation as he saw fit. He proposed setting up two separate staffs, one for Kennedy and one for King.
He insisted on handling both cases as if they were homicide investigations.
In the annals of the John F. Kennedy assassination, it was a novel approach. And, judging from the reaction of many Congressman, it was a far too radical approach.
The key factors that drove Richard Sprague to resign as Chief Counsel of the Assassinations Committee appeared, at the time, to be apparent and on the surface. His proposed use of certain investigative equipment, his demand for a expensive, unrestricted investigation, his refusal to pay politics with Chairman Gonzalez - all were apparent grounds for the vociferous criticism which, in the long run, was debilitating to the Committee's efforts to get on with its job. However, after his resignation and a brief respite from the turmoil of Washington, Sprague was able to view his experience in a broader perspective.
Shortly after he returned from Acapulco, he was interviewed by Robert Sam Anson of New Times Magazine. Sprague admitted that, with the barrages flying at him from all directions, he and the staff had little time to actually investigate. By his reckoning, he said, he spent "point zero one percent" of his time examining the actual evidence. Yet, he told Anson, if he had it to do over again, he would begin his investigation of the Kennedy assassination by probing "Oswald's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency." Recently, I asked Sprague why he had come to that conclusion. "Well," he said, "when I first thought about it I decided that the House leadership really hadn't intended for there to be an investigation. The Committee was set up to appease the Black Caucus in an election year. I still believe that was a factor. But when I looked back at what happened, it suddenly became very clear that the problems began only after I ran up against the CIA. That's when my troubles really started."
In the early months of the Committee's life, Sprague's critics both in Congress and in the press were not only keeping him busy dodging the shots, they were also demanding that the Committee produce some sensational new evidence to justify its continuance. Sprague, therefore, was forced to take some wild swings at what appeared to be a few obvious targets. One area that very apparently needed closer examination was the CIA's handling of the initial investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald's activities in Mexico City.
According to the information supplied to the Warren Commission by the CIA, a man who identified himself as Lee Harvey Oswald visited the Cuban consulate in Mexico City on September 27th, 1963. (That, by the way, the House Assassinations Committee would later conflictingly conclude, was possibly one of the dates Oswald appeared at Silvia Odio's door in Dallas.) The Agency told the Commission that Oswald had been in Mexico City from September 26th to October 3rd. During the time, said the Agency, Oswald made a number of visits to both the Cuban Embassy and the Russian Embassy attempting to get an in-transit visa to Russia by way of Cuba. The CIA also claimed that when Oswald visited the Russian Embassy he spoke with a Soviet consul who was really a KGB intelligence officer. It was later learned, however, that CIA headquarters in Washington was not informed of the incident until October 9th, and then told only that Oswald had contacted the Soviet Embassy on October 1st. The CIA station in Mexico City told headquarters that it had obtained a photograph of Oswald visited the Embassy and described the man in the photo as approximately 35 years old, six feet tall, with an athletic build, a balding top and receding hairline.
When the Warren Commission asked the CIA for photos of Oswald taken in Mexico City, the ones it produced depicted the man described in the original teletype - obviously not Oswald. Notified of this discrepancy, the CIA said simply it had made a mistake and that there were no photographs of Oswald taken in Mexico City. It never identified the man in the photos. In fact, the CIA was able to produce very little hard evidence regarding Oswald's activities in Mexico City. "For example," Commission Counsel J. Lee Ranking complained, "they had no record of Oswald's daily movements while in Mexico City, nor could they confirm the date of his departure or his mode of travels."
Some Warren Commission critics would later interpret the incident as an attempt by certain CIA personnel to falsely link Oswald to Communist connections even before the Kennedy assassination. When Sprague first approached this area, he discovered that the CIA officer in charge of reporting such information from Mexico City at the time of Oswald's visit was former Bay of Pigs propaganda chief David Atlee Phillips.
In the biography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service (published in 1977), David Phillips spends just a few pages on the Kennedy assassination and the Mexico City incident. He blames the cable discrepancy on a mistake by an underling. He explains the lack of an Oswald photography on the CIA's inability to maintain camera coverage of the Cuban and Russian embassies on an around-the-clock and weekend basis. A seemingly strange deficiency at a period so close to the Cuban missile crisis)
Sprague called David Phillips to testify before the Assassinations Committee in November, 1976. According to Sprague, Phillips said that the CIA had monitored and tape recorded Oswald's conversations with the Soviet Embassy. The tape was then transcribed by a CIA employee who then mistakenly coupled it with a photograph of a person who was not Oswald. Phillips said that the actual recording was routinely destroyed or re-used about a week after it was received.
Sprague subsequently discovered an FBI memorandum to the Secret Service dated November 23rd, 1963. It referred to the CIA notification of the man who visited the Russian Embassy. The memo noted that "Special Agents of this Bureau who have conversed with Oswald in Dallas, Tex., have observed photographs of the individual referred to above and have listened to a recording of his voice. These Special Agents are of the opinion that the above-referred-to individual was not Lee Harvey Oswald."
Sprague was intrigued: How could the FBI agents have listened to a tape recording in November when Phillips said it had been destroyed in October? Sprague decided to push the CIA for an answer. He wanted complete information about the CIA's operation in Mexico City and total access to all its employees who may have had anything to do with the photographs, tape recordings and transcripts. The Agency balked. Sprague pushed harder. Finally the Agency agreed that Sprague could have access to the information if he agreed to sign a CIA Secrecy Agreement. Sprague refused. He contended that would be in direct conflict with House Resolution 222 which established the Assassination Committee and authorized it investigate the agencies of the United States Government. "How," he asked, "can I possible sign an agreement with an agency I'm supposed to be investigating?" He indicated he would subpoena the CIA's records.
Shortly afterwards, the first attempt to get the Assassinations Committee reconstituted was blocked.
There were worthy lessons to be learned from Sprague's experience. Granted, he had many shortcomings, so his dismissal was fitting. He was egotistical and arrogant to the extent that he believed he did not need to pay attention to the work that had been done by the FBI and the Warren Commission (he was literally calling witnesses - gangsters, ex-
CIA officials - without the benefit of full background briefings). He insisted that his investigation be kept independent of individuals who had been "tainted" by experience - federal agency officials, critics, and politicians (this would seem even to include members of the Committee). Sprague apparently forgot he was conducting a congressional investigation. To him, the Kennedy and King assassinations were everyday murders, which explained why he staffed the Committee with attorneys and investigators from metropolitan homicide bureaus. The approach was doomed from the start, for it was predicated on the single objective of apprehending and prosecuting the killers, an unconstitutional undertaking for a congressional committee. (Even if he had developed evidence against named conspirators that met trial standards, it would have been up to the Department of Justice, not the Committee, to act on it.)
It is only fair to say, however, that Sprague came to terms on the conditions of his appointment with Downing, and Gonzalez switched the signals. Sprague understood, for example, that he had full authority to hire and fire, and he understandably resented the public way that Gonzalez took it away from him. He also resented having to justify his stewardship once Downing had departed, and he objected strenuously to being forced to go hat-in-hand before other congressional committees for funding. Sprague confided to associates that he had thought, when he accepted the job, that all he had to do was put together a staff, prepare a budget, and proceed to solve the cases. Thus, he betrayed a misunderstanding of Congress, for if it is nothing else, Congress is a political institution accustomed to granting nothing that is not inveigled from it by the lobbying process that Sprague resented. Congress also draws a sharp distinction between elected and appointed power - committee staff members, even a chief counsel, are expected to know their place.
Although the Warren Commission stated that the FBI had not yet completed its investigation at the time its report went to press, it was only 2 days after its September 16, 1964, interview of Loran Eugene Hall that the FBI interviewed William Seymour, who denied he ever had any contact with Silvia Odio and that he had been in Dallas with Hall in September 1963. The FBI subsequently confirmed the fact that Seymour was working in Florida during September 1963. On September 23, 1964, the FBI interviewed Loran Hall's other associate, Lawrence Howard. Howard also denied he had ever contacted Silvia Odio. The FBI then went back and re-interviewed Hall who then said that he had been accompanied on his trip to Dallas not by Seymour but by a Cuban friend he knew as "Wahito" and that he no longer recalled any contact with Odio. The FBI determined that "Wahito" was Celio Sergio Castro who, when interviewed, said he had never heard of or met Silvia Odio. On October 1, 1964, the FBI showed Silvia Odio photographs of Loran Hall, William Seymour, Lawrence Howard and Celio Sergio Castro. She examined the photographs and said that none of the individuals were identical to any of the three men who had come to her apartment door in Dallas.
In view of the premature character of the Warren Commission's conclusion based on the impeached Loran Hall allegation and the unresolved question of Oswald's whereabouts at the time, the Odio incident remains one of the lingering enigmas in the original assassination investigation. Unfortunately, the nature of the incident makes it, from an investigative standpoint, particularly susceptible to the erosive effects of time. The canvassing, for instance, of both pro-Castro and anti-Castro groups in Dallas, New Orleans, and Miami in search of descriptive similarities to the men who visited Odio might have been fruitful at the time; today it is impractical. The construction of a composite sketch of the individuals when their features were still fresh in Odio's memory might have provided productive evidence 15 years ago; today it is of questionable value considering the natural adulteration of recall over that period of time. A search for the car that the men were driving might have been very productive at the time; today it is useless. The committee was, therefore handicapped by the limitations of the initial investigation and the paucity of evidence developed. The valid investigative approaches remaining were distressingly limited. Nevertheless, because of the potential significance of the Odio incident to a possible conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination, the committee decided that, in addition to pursuing any substantive leads it possible could, it would also attempt to verify the record regarding Silvia Odio's credibility and the details of her allegations.
Also of interest to the committee, of course, were the initial assertions of Loran Hall that he and two associates, William Seymour and Lawrence Howard, were the ones who had visited Odio in September. All three had been actively involved in anti-Castro activity and were members of a group of soldiers of fortune called Interpen. The group was arrested at No Name Key, Fla., in December 1962 as part of the Kennedy administration's crackdown on anti-Castro operations. That policy, which highly incensed the anti-Castro and right-wing factions, was the result of an agreement Kennedy had made with Khrushchev and Castro. Those factions considered the agreement a "betrayal."
The committee interviewed Lawrence Howard on May 23, 1978. Howard stated he has never met Silvia Odio. The committee also interviewed William Seymour, who acknowledged his relationship with Hall and Howard but did not recall any details of a trip to Dallas, including meeting any Cubans there.
The committee believed it important in its investigation to examine in detail the substance of Silvia Odio's allegations as well as their credibility. One of the problems faced by the committee was Odio's negative attitude toward a governmental investigation of the Kennedy assassination. Her attitude, she said, was the result of her relationship with the Warren Commission. She expressed sharp disillusionment with the Warren Commission and said that it was obvious to her that the Commission did not want to believe her story. A committee investigator noted that her whole demeanor was "one of sharp distrust of the Government's motives. She claims she feels she was just used by the Warren Commission for their own ends and she does not want to be put in the same position." Nevertheless, after contact was established by the committee, Odio's cooperation with the committee was excellent, and she voluntarily submitted to interviews and, subsequently, sworn testimony.
Evidence indicated that Odio's story remained basically consistent with her Warren Commission testimony. There are, however, details concerning Odio, her background, and certain points of her story developed by the committee, which should be noted. Silvia Odio was one of 10 children of Amador and Sarah Odio who were sent out of Cuba when their parents began taking an active part in a counterrevolutionary movement shortly after Castro took power. Amador Odio was among Cuba's wealthy aristocracy, the personal friend of diplomats and Ambassadors, including, during the last days of the U.S. presence there, American Ambassador Phillip Bonsal. Odio was owner of the country's largest trucking business and was once described in Time magazine as the "transport tycoon" of Latin America. Yet, from their youth, both he and his wife were active, frontline fighters against the succession of tyrants who ruled Cuba. During the reign of Gen. Gerardo Machado in the 1930's, Sarah Odio was captured and beaten with a machete until her ribs were broken. Twice during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the Odios were forced into exile for their revolutionary activity. Amador Odio's trucks were the main supply line for the weapons and ammunition which kept Castro's hopes alive in the mountains. Yet when the Odios decided that Castro had "betrayed the revolution," they were among the founding members, with Manolo Ray, of one of the early, most aggressive anti-Castro groups, the Movimiento Revolucionario del Pueblo (MRP).
Amador and Sarah Odio were arrested by Castro on October 26, 1961. Their arrest was the result of the capture of MRP national coordinator Reynaldo Gonzales in hiding on their country estate. Ironically, the Odios had once hosted the wedding of one of Fidel Castro's sisters on the very estate, a large, resort-like retreat in El Cano, outside of Havana. Later, Castro would turn it into a national women's prison and Sarah Odio would spend 8 years incarcerated there, while her husband was placed in a cell on Isla de Pinos. Reynaldo Gonzales had been wanted in connection with his involvement in the assassination attempt on Castro that had been organized by Antonio Veciana.
Findings of the Select Committee on Assassinations in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at President John F. Kennedy. The second and third shots he fired struck the President. The third shot he fired killed the President.
President Kennedy was struck by two rifle shots fired from behind him.
The shots that struck President Kennedy from behind him were fired from the sixth floor window of the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository building.
Lee Harvey Oswald owned the rifle that was used to fire the shots from the sixth floor window of the southeast comer of the Texas School Book Depository building.
Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly before the assassination, had access to and was present on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building.
Lee Harvey Oswald's other actions tend to support the conclusion that he assassinated President Kennedy.
Scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy. Other scientific evidence does not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President. Scientific evidence negates some specific conspiracy allegations.
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.
The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet Government was not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Cuban Government was not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that anti-Castro Cuban groups, as groups, were not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the national syndicate of organized crime, as a group, was not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
The Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
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.
The responsibility of the Secret Service to investigate the assassination was terminated when the Federal Bureau of Investigation assumed primary investigative responsibility.
The Department of Justice failed to exercise initiative in supervising and directing the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the assassination.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of its duties.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation adequately investigated Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination and properly evaluated the evidence it possessed to assess his potential to endanger the public safety in a national emergency.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a thorough and professional investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was deficient in its sharing of information with other agencies and departments.
The Central Intelligence Agency was deficient in its collection and sharing of information both prior to and subsequent to the assassination.
The Warren Commission performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of its duties.
The Warren Commission conducted a thorough and professional investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination.
The Warren Commission failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President.
This deficiency was attributable in part to the failure of the Commission to receive all the relevant information that was in the possession of other agencies and departments of the Government.
The Warren Commission arrived at its conclusions, based on the evidence available to it, in good faith.
The Warren Commission presented the conclusions in its report in a fashion that was too definitive.
In 1967, 1971, 1976, and 1977, those 4 years, columnist Jack Anderson wrote about the CIA-Mafia plots and the possibility that Castro decided to kill President Kennedy in retaliation. Mr. Anderson even contends in those articles that the same persons involved in the CIA-Mafia attempts on Castro's life were recruited by Castro to kill President Kennedy. The September 7, 1976 issue of the Washington Post contains one of Mr. Anderson's articles entitled, "Behind John F. Kennedy's Murder," which fully explains Mr. Anderson's position. I ask, Mr. Chairman, that at this point this article be marked as JFK exhibit F-409 and that it be entered into the record at this point.
Mr. Trafficante, I want to read to you just two portions of the article I have just referred to, after which I will ask for your comment. According to Mr. Anderson and Mr. Whitten in this article, it says: Before he died, Roselli hinted to associates that he knew who had arranged President Kennedy's murder. It was the same conspirators, he suggested, whom he had recruited earlier to kill Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. By Roselli's cryptic account, Castro learned the identity of the underworld contacts in Havana who had been trying to knock him off. He believed, not altogether without basis, that President Kennedy was behind the plot. Then over in another section, it says: According to Roselli, Castro enlisted the same underworld elements whom he had caught plotting against him. They supposedly were Cubans from the old Trafficante organization. Working with Cuban intelligence, they allegedly lined up an ex-Marine sharpshooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been active in the pro-Castro movement. According to Roselli's version, Oswald may have shot Kennedy or may have acted as a decoy while others ambushed him from closer range. When Oswald was picked up, Roselli suggested the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive U.S. crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald making it appear as an act of reprisal against the President's killer. At least this is how Roselli explained the tragedy in Dallas.
ABC News: Let me ask you: 40 years after the fact and 25 years after your investigation, who killed John F. Kennedy?
Blakey: Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy. Two shots from behind. The evidence is simply overwhelming. You have to be lacking in judgment and experience in dealing with the evidence to think that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill President Kennedy. That's really not the problem. The problem is: Was there something beyond Lee Harvey Oswald? And now what you do is you look at the evidence.
ABC News: How many shots were fired at Dealey Plaza?
Blakey: What we did is determine that there were in fact four shots. Our scientists looked at a tape we found, and they did a scientific analysis of it, and it indicated four shots in the plaza, three from the depository and one from the grassy knoll. That meant there were two shooters in the plaza, two shooters in the plaza equal a conspiracy.
The first shot from the depository by Lee Harvey Oswald missed. The second shot about 1.6 seconds later, hit the president in the back of the neck. (The bullet exited Kennedy and) hit John Connally. It hit his wrist, hit his leg. Now six seconds from the second shot, we think a shot came from the grassy knoll. It missed the president. The shot from the grassy knoll missed. The X-rays, the autopsy, all of that indicates the president was not hit by a shot from any other direction. Seven-tenths of a second after that, the third shot, fourth in the row, third shot from the depository, hits the president right in the back of the head.
The shot from the grassy knoll is not only supported by the acoustics, which is a tape that we found of a police motorcycle broadcast back to the district station. It is corroborated by eyewitness testimony in the plaza. There were 20 people, at least, who heard a shot from the grassy knoll.
ABC News: In your book you point the finger squarely at Carlos Marcello and his organization. Why would he want to kill Kennedy?
Blakey: Carlos Marcello was being subject to the most vigorous investigation he had ever experienced in his life, designed to put him in jail. He was in fact summarily, without due process, deported to Guatemala. He took the deportation personally. He hated the Kennedys. He had the motive, the opportunity and the means in Lee Harvey Oswald to kill him. I think he did through Oswald.
ABC News: How central is Jack Ruby's murder of Oswald to your understanding of this case?
Blakey: To understand who killed President Kennedy and did he have help, I think you have to understand what happened to the assassin of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald. I see Jack Ruby's assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald as a mob hit.
This is in direct contradiction to the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission portrayed, wrongly I think, Jack Ruby as a wild card who serendipitously got into position to kill Oswald. I think in fact he stalked him. I can show you from the Warren Commission's evidence that he tried to get into where he was being interrogated, number one. That he tried to get in where there was going to be a lineup, number two. That he was seen around the garage, where he was announced that he was going to be moved. And we know, from Jack Ruby himself, that he had a gun with him at the time of the lineup.
I believe that Ruby was able to get in to kill Oswald through the corrupt cooperation of the Dallas P.D., that he was let in through a back door and he was given an opportunity to kill Oswald. I see that, therefore, as a mob hit. And if that's a mob hit, there is only one reason for it, and that is to cover up the assassination of the president himself. You kill the killer.
ABC News: Since you believe that Lee Oswald shot the president, and you also believe that Carlos Marcello was behind the assassination, what connections do you point to between Oswald and Marcello?
Blakey: I can show you that Lee Harvey Oswald knew, from his boyhood forward, David Ferrie, and David Ferrie was an investigator for Carlos Marcello on the day of the assassination, with him in a court room in New Orleans. I can show you that Lee Harvey Oswald, when he grew up in New Orleans, lived with the Dutz Murret family (one of Oswald's uncles). Dutz Murret is a bookmaker for Carlos Marcello.
I can show you that there's a bar in New Orleans, and back in the '60s, bars used to have strippers and the strippers circuit is from Jack Ruby's strip joint in Dallas to Marcello-connected strip joints in the New Orleans area. So I can bring this connection.
Did Lee Harvey Oswald grow up in a criminal neighborhood? Yes. Did he have a mob-connected family? Did he have mob-connected friends? Was he known to them to be a crazy guy? He's out publicly distributing Fair Play for Cuba leaflets. If you wanted to enlist him in a conspiracy that would initially appear to be communist and not appear to be organized crime, he's the perfect candidate. Ex-Marine, marksman, probably prepared to kill the president for political reasons.
Could he be induced to kill the president for organized crime reasons unbeknownst to him? I think the answer is yes and compelling.
Downing and Gonzalez hired Dick Sprague as chief counsel. Sprague very rapidly hired the equivalent of his own FBI. He sensed from the start that he might be up against both the FBI and the CIA, so he carefully screened his investigators, lawyers, researchers and other personnel to prevent intelligence penetration of the staff. However, some personnel were "handed" to him by both Gonzalez and Downing.
It goes almost without saying that the PCG would have tried to infiltrate the staff. What they learned by their early infiltration was that Sprague and his crack team were not only on the right track in both the JFK and MLK investigations, but also that the tactics used by the PCG in those weeks were making the staff and some of the committee members suspicious about the PCG itself.
Faced with the new committee and Sprague's staff, the PCG had devise a strategy that included:
1. Attacking Dick Sprague to discredit him with dirt and print it in the media.
2. Using the media to spread PCG propaganda and control the sources of all stories concerning the Select Committee.
3. Using PCG Congressmen to provide biased, distorted quotes to the media for its use.
4. Trying to discredit the entire committee by making it appear to be disorganized and unmanageable.
5. Controlling the voting and lobbying against the continuation of the committee in January and February.
6. Influencing members of the House to vote against the Committee through a massive letter and telegram campaign.
7. Exaggerating the emphasis placed on the size of the budget requested by Sprague without considering the need for such a budget.
8. Demanding that the committee justify its existence by producing new evidence.
9. Splitting the committee and attempting to create dissension; creating a battle between Henry Gonzalez and Richard Sprague and between Gonzalez and Downing.
10. Hamstringing the staff so they could not receive salaries, could not travel, did not have subpoena power, could not make long distance telephone calls; blocking access to the key files at the FBI, Justice Department, CIA and Secret Service.
11. Trying to insert their own man at the head of the staff.
12. Brainwashing Henry Gonzalez into believing that Sprague and others were agents.
13. Sacrificing Henry Gonzalez when it became obvious the PCG could not control him as their chairman.
14. Leaking stories that seemed to make the committee's efforts unnecessary.
The final report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), issued in 1979, concluded that a conspiracy existed in the assassination of President Kennedy. This news should have delighted hundreds of researchers who had disagreed with the no-conspiracy finding of the Warren Commission. The fact that it did not, is due to the HSCA conspiracy being a simple one, with Lee Harvey Oswald still firing all but one of the shots from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building. The existence of another shooter and another shot, from the grassy knoll, was "proved" by the HSCA, based primarily on acoustical evidence presented in the very last month of their public hearings. Dr. Robert Blakey and Richard Billings, chief counsel and report editor for the HSCA, co-authored, in 1981, a book, The Plot to Kill the President, following the publication of the HSCA's final report. The book claimed that the other shooter and Oswald were part of a Mafia plot to kill JFK.
To over simplify the current (1985) situation, most JFK researchers feel that the American public had been deceived once again. The HSCA reaffirmed all but one of the Warren Commission's findings, including even the famed single bullet theory. The simplified conspiracy finding is now subject to review by the Justice Department and the FBI because it is based on very questionable acoustical evidence. Justice commissioned the so-called Ramsey Panel to review this evidence, in 1981, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. It found no evidence from the acoustics that a grassy knoll shot was fired. So, we are back to no-conspiracy and Oswald being the lone assassin. And even if there was a conspiracy, Blakey claims it involved the Mafia and not the CIA. The HSCA report and all of its volumes of evidence omitting any reference to CIA involvement, concluded that the CIA was not involved, and did not reveal any evidence that the HSCA staff had collected showing that CIA people murdered JFK, and that the CIA has been covering up that fact ever since.
Any followers of CIA activities connected with the JFK assassination, since 1963, must ask the question, how did they do it? How did the CIA turn things completely around from the 1976 days when Henry Gonzalez, Thomas Downing, Richard A. Sprague, Robert Tanenbaum, Cliff Fenton and others were pursuing the truth about the assassination, to essentially the same status as when the Warren Commission finished its work? How did they produce the final cover-up? The answer is that the CIA controlled the HSCA and its investigation and findings from the early part of 1977, forward. The methods they used were as clever and devious as any they had used previously to control the Warren Commission, the Rockefeller Commission, the Garrison Investigation, the Schweiker/Hart Committee and the efforts of independent researchers.
The first step taken by the CIA was to use the media they control, along with some members of Congress they control, and two planted agents on the staff of and consulting for, Henry Gonzalez, to get rid of both Henry and Richard A. Sprague. In taking this step, they used the old Roman approach of divide and conquer. They made Gonzalez and his closest staff assistant, Gail Beagle, believe that Sprague was a CIA agent and that Gonzalez must get rid of him. They also made Gonzalez believe that some of his other associates, both in the HSCA and outside, were CIA agents. At the same time, they used the media to attack Sprague mercilessly. The key people in doing this attack on Sprague were three CIA reporters, George Lardner of the Washington Post, Mr. Burnham of The New York Times, and Jeremiah O'Leary of the Washington Star. In all HSCA committee meetings and in Rules Committee and Finance Committee meetings, these three reporters sat next to each other, passed notes back and forth, and wrote articles continually attacking and undermining both Sprague and Gonzalez, as well as the entire committee. The CIA had the support of top management in all three news organizations in doing this.
Gonzalez eventually tried to fire Sprague, was over-ruled by the committee, and then resigned from the committee. Sprague eventually resigned, because it became obvious that the CIA controlled members of the Finance and Rules Committees and other CIA allies in the House, were going to kill the committee unless he resigned. There are many more details to this story, which requires a book to describe. Suffice it to say, the CIA accomplished their first two goals by March 1977. The next steps were to install a CIA-controlled chief counsel and to get a chairman elected who could be fooled or coerced into appointing such a counsel. Lewis Stokes was a perfect choice for chairman. He was, and probably still is, a good and honest man. But he was completely bamboozled by what the CIA did and is still doing. The selection and implementation of a CIA man as chief counsel had to be done in an extremely subtle manner. It could not be obvious to anyone that he was a CIA man. Stokes and the other committee members had to be fooled into believing they had made the choice, and had picked a good man. Professor Robert Blakey, an apparently scientifically oriented, academic person, with a history of work against organized crime, was the perfect CIA choice. Once Dr. Blakey took over as chief counsel, he accomplished goals numbered 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 very nicely. The fourth and fifth goals having been achieved, Blakey set about the other parts of his assignment very rapidly after he arrived. For Goal 3, he fired Bob Tanenbaum, Bob Lehner, and Donovan Gay, three loyal Sprague supporters, quickly.
The most important weapon used by the CIA and Blakey to pursue goals 9 and 10 was instituted within one week after Blakely arrived. It is by far the most subtle and far reaching technique used by the CIA to date. It is called the "Nondisclosure Agreement" and it was signed by all members of the committee, all staff members including Blakey, all consultants to the committee, and several independent researchers who met with Blakey in 1977. Signing the agreement was a condition for continued employment on the committee staff or for continuing consulting on a contract basis. The choice was, sign or get out. The author signed the agreement in July 1977, without realizing its implications at the time, in order to continue as a consultant. The agreement is reproduced in full the Appendix and is labelled Exhibit A. The author's consulting help was never sought after that and the obvious objective was to silence a consultant and not use his services.
This CIA weapon has several parts. First, it binds the signer, if a consultant, to never reveal that he is working for the committee. Second, it prevents the signer from ever revealing to anyone in perpetuity, any information he has learned about the committee's work as a result of working for the committee. Third, it gives the committee and the House, after the committee terminates, the power to take legal action against the signer, in a court named by the committee or the House, in case the committee believes the signer has violated the agreement. Fourth, the signer agrees to pay the court costs for such a suit in the event he loses the suit.
These four parts are enough to scare most researchers or staff members who signed it into silence forever about what they learned. The agreement is insidious in that the signer is, in effect, giving away his constitutional rights. Some lawyers who have seen the agreement, including Richard A. Sprague, have expressed the opinion it is an illegal agreement in violation of the Constitution and several Constitutional amendments. Whether it is illegal or not, most staff members and all consultants who signed it have remained silent, even after three and a half years beyond the life of the committee. There are only two exceptions, the author and Gaeton Fonzi, who published a lengthy article about the HSCA cover-up in the Washingtonian magazine in 1981.
The most insidious parts of the agreement, however, are paragraphs 2, 3 and 7, which give the CIA very effective control over what the committee could and could not do with so-called "classified" information. The director of the CIA is given authority to determine, in effect, what information shall remain classified and therefore unavailable to nearly everyone. The signer of the agreement, and remember, this includes all of the Congressman and women who were members of the committee, agrees not to reveal or discuss any information that the CIA decides he should not. The chairman of the committee supposedly has the final say on what information is included, but in practice, even an intelligent and gutsy chairman would not be likely to override the CIA. Lewis Stokes did not attempt any final decisions. In fact, the CIA did not have to do very much under these clauses. The fact that Blakey was their man and kept nearly all of the CIA sensitive information, evidence, and witnesses away from the committee members was all that was necessary. Stokes never knew what he should have argued about with the CIA director. It is this document which proves beyond doubt that the CIA controlled the HSCA.
The author attempted to point out to Stokes in a letter dated February 10, 1978, copy included herein, Exhibit B, the type of control the agreement gives the CIA over the HSCA. Stokes replied in a March 16, 1978 letter, Exhibit C, that he retained ultimate authority and was not bound by the opinion of the Central Intelligence Director. He also claimed that paragraphs 12 and 14, on extending the agreement in perpetuity and giving the government the right to file a civil suit in which the signer will pay all costs, were legal. He said in the letter that the purpose of the agreement was to give the HSCA control over the conduct of the investigation including control over the ultimate disclosure of information to the American public. That is a key admission about what has actually happened. The only question is, who is controlling the information in the heads of the staff investigators who discovered CIA involvement? Was Louis Stokes working for the public or for the CIA?
Thankfully, the Assassination Records Review Board has declassified many of the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. This process is ongoing as it winds down to its termination date of October 1, 1998. But there is quite enough now available to begin to get an accurate gauge on the performance of that committee, more specifically the record of its controversial second Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey...
The committee was first led by Downing with Gonzalez as second in command. Once formed, it faced two immediate problems. First, Downing had decided that this would be his last term in the House of Representatives. He would step down at the end of 1976. Second, a chief counsel would have to be chosen. Both of these events were absolutely crucial to the history of this committee. Neither of them has gotten the attention or weight they deserve. Although the battle to get the HSCA authorized had been a difficult one, the newly formed committee still had plenty of ballast from the momentous events described above, all taking place from 1974-1976. Also, former Warren Commissioner Gerald Ford, who we now know was up to his neck in the spurious editing of the Warren Report, was about to leave office. Ford had done everything he could to thwart the investigations of Frank Church and his congressional counterpart Otis Pike in the House. He had even formed his own commission to preempt them. It had been headed by, of all people, Nelson Rockefeller who chose as his chief counsel former Warren Commissioner David Belin. Jimmy Carter was to be the new president and he had campaigned against the corruption symbolized by Watergate with the slogan, "I will never lie to you."
When I asked Downing if he had ever thought of staying on just to see the committee through, he replied no he had not. He was eager to return home, spend time with his family, and get back to his law practice. In retrospect, Downing’s departure was a blow the committee could not sustain. Gonzalez was now slated to be eventual chairman, and as Bob Tanenbaum later told me, he hadn’t the experience or the stature to carry out what would be an insurmountable task. But before leaving, Downing was determined to choose a worthy chief counsel, one who would be above reproach from both a political and professional standpoint...
Sprague hired two top deputies, one for the Kennedy side of the HSCA, and one for the King side. They both came out of New York City. Tanenbaum took the JFK side, and his friend Bob Lehner took over the MLK investigation. Sprague granted both men the freedom to pick their own staffs. Tanenbaum brought in some first class detectives from New York, like Al Gonzalez and Cliff Fenton. From an interstate homicide task force he helmed, Tanenbaum hired L. J. Delsa to work New Orleans. He hired Michael Baden and Cyril Wecht to serve as his chief medical consultants. After talking to Richard Schweiker, he decided to hire his chief field investigator, Fonzi to investigate the Florida scene. There were literally thousands of applicants for the researchers’ positions on the HSCA. When I interviewed Al Lewis in Lancaster, he told me that they must have gotten at least 12,000 applications to work on the committee from young people around the country, most of them college students who wanted to serve. Lewis was an attorney who had worked with Sprague in Philadelphia, helped on the Yablonski case, and later joined him in private practice.
The feeling on the committee, and inside the research community was that the JFK case was now going to get a really professional hearing. Jim Garrison never had the resources or the professional manpower to really helm a widespread, multi-pronged criminal task force. It looked like celebrated prosecutor Sprague now would. As Lewis related to me, one of the areas that Sprague expressed a special interest in was the medical and ballistics evidence. Sprague and his fellow staff attorneys requested entrance into the National Archives in order to survey the existing medical evidence firsthand. They were appalled at what they saw. Coming out of big city homicide bureaus, they had studied many autopsies. Remembering back to the experience of encountering the autopsy materials in this case, a look of disbelief and disgust crossed Lewis’ face. Sitting in his office on a Sunday afternoon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I took note of that look and I commented that Harold Weisberg has written that skid row bums had received better autopsies than President Kennedy’s. Lewis replied, "Its worse than that." When I asked him to elaborate, he waved me off. As Bob Tanenbaum plodded through the Warren Commission volumes, he was shocked at their incompleteness and the lack of thorough investigation. As he relates in his fictionalized treatment of the matter, Corruption of Blood, it struck him as being unsatisfactory for a first year assistant DA and something in which a law student could have found giant evidentiary holes.
Sprague was eager to delve into some of the better, more concrete materials that the critics had come up with. One area that he felt was important was the photographic evidence. Soon after he accepted the position, counsel Richard A. Sprague was introduced to photoanalyst-computer technician Richard E. Sprague. Sprague quickly arranged a presentation of the voluminous photos that Richard E. Sprague had collected over the years, undoubtedly the largest collection of pictures on the JFK case in any private collection. Sprague directed every hired detective and researcher to attend a photographic slide show put together by the Kennedy researcher. According to people who were there, it was a long and impressive presentation. But before the lights went down, Sprague turned to everyone in attendance and said, "I don’t want anyone to leave unless I leave. And I don’t plan on leaving." By the end of Sprague’s four hour slide show, Al Lewis told me that, of the 13 staff lawyers in attendance, only one still held out for the single bullet theory.
The IG report came to the attention of President Gerald Ford in early 1975 after a famous leak of widespread CIA wrongdoing to Seymour Hersh of the New York Times in the previous December. The 1967 document then became the basis for the Senate Select Committee of Intelligence Activities' report, Alleged Assassination Attempts against Foreigns Lenders, published later that year. But neither the Church Committee report (named after the committee chairman, Senator Frank Church) nor the IG report itself, which was finally released in 1993, told anywhere near the whole story about the U.S. governments attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Written by lawyers, the Church Committee report focused on very specific questions concerning high-level authorization of, and responsibility for, the assassination plots. The secret testimony on which it was based is now fully available in the JFK collection at the National Archives, and it contains much key information not included in the report. It also documents the ethos of the CIA at the height of the Cold War and gives a unique glimpse into the agency's inner workings. While witnesses like Richard Bissell, the deputy director for plans, and his deputy and successor, Richard Helms, worked very hard not to provide any information that the Church Committee did not already have, a few others, like William Harvey, Sam Halpern, and E. Howard Hunt, were much more forthcoming. Most importantly for history, Halpern in particular did the committee (and now historians) the service of making it quite clear that the agency had the means and the will to conceal sensitive information forever, if it so chose.