LECTURE DELIVERED AT THE ETHICAL CULTURE SOCIETY, NEW YORK CITY, JANUARY 24, 2006.
HOW THE FAILURE TO IDENTIFY, PROSECUTE AND CONVICT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S ASSASSINS HAS LED TO TODAY’S CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY
The last time I was in this room was for the memorial service of a distinguished American author, J. Anthony Lukas, who wrote “Common Ground,” about race and class in Boston. During the course of his career, Tony came into conflict with an institution that I will discuss this evening, “The New York Times.”
“A Farewell To Justice” is about the Kennedy assassination. It opens as a biography of Jim Garrison, district attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, who remains the only public official ever to have brought anyone before the bar of justice for participation in the conspiracy to murder President Kennedy. Garrison assumed that role when he discovered that the person framed for the crime, a low-level intelligence agent named Lee Harvey Oswald, resided in his jurisdiction between April and September of 1963. The Biblical metaphor is inevitable: that great harlot city New Orleans, destroyed by flood, with, among its many sins, incubating the Kennedy assassination.
After his suspect Clay Shaw was acquitted, Shaw the man whom the new evidence reveals was a CIA operative guilty of participating in the implementation of the murder of President Kennedy, Garrison was asked how he imagined that he could convict someone of conspiracy in the murder of President Kennedy in a Louisiana state court. Garrison said: “I guess I thought I was living in the country I was born in.” He wasn’t and we aren’t.
I would like to suggest that the truth about the Kennedy assassination, far from being a matter of interest only to historians, and not even to most of them, will help us understand how we have arrived at a point where people as respectable as New York attorney Martin Garbus are comparing the current U.S. government with the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century. It’s my belief that the present state of our political culture is a direct result of the fact that those responsible for the murder of President Kennedy have never been brought to justice.
To sum up: “A Farewell To Justice” suggests that the clandestine service of the CIA not only covered up the truth about the Kennedy assassination – that’s easy to demonstrate from the four million documents now residing at the National Archives – but organized the event itself. That the CIA escaped without penalty, this extraordinary fact, has been integrated over these forty-two years into the body politic. It has produced a political culture where the unthinkable has become accepted practice. Meaningful freedom of the press has fallen into serious jeopardy.
For a flagrant example of what we have come to, we might revisit the scantily reported exchange on December 1st (2005) between Notre Dame professor Doug Cassel and John Yoo, a former deputy assistant to Attorney General John Ashcroft, a participant in the writing of the Patriot Act, and now a Berkeley law professor.
The subject of the debate was the illegal expansion of presidential powers. Professor Cassel asks, “If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” And Yoo answers, “No treaty.” Cassel follows up: “Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.” And Yoo replies, “I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.”
If Professor Cassel’s hypothetical question seems melodramatic, we have Martin Garbus, alarmed by the twin expansion of Presidential and police powers, writing in the “New York Observer”: “This country is approaching a dangerous turning point,” and suggesting that the United States today bears some similarities to Weimar Germany where liberal democracy was not able to contend with the fascist onslaught.
In Miami a few weeks ago I was struck by the omnipresence, on the streets and restaurants, of police officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies. Famously, Benjamin Franklin replied to a question of whether this new land should be a monarchy or a republic with the line, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
What begins as surveillance moves to wiretapping, then COINTELPRO tricks, and finally to murder – a diagram of what happened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why the illegal NSA surveillance is so alarming.
We have not been aided in understanding the meaning of the Kennedy assassination by the continued public silence of those closest to President Kennedy. One day I requested of Wilmer Thomas, one of Jim Garrison’s law school classmates (Tulane School of Law, Class of 1949) to ask his acquaintance, Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., whom he believed was behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Professor Schlesinger observed, quietly, “We were at war with the National Security people.”
That the CIA at its highest levels exacted its revenge on President Kennedy has been an open secret since 1963. A Gallup poll on the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in 2003 found that twice as many people believed that the CIA was implicated in the assassination as there were who accepted the official fiction that Oswald had acted alone.
In 1963, people were already worried abut the CIA’s extraordinary use of its powers. In the “New York Times,” Arthur Krock wrote in October 1963 that if ever there would be a coup in the United States, it “would come from the CIA and not the Pentagon.” The CIA, Krock wrote, was a “malignancy” on the body politic. It is difficult to imagine such words being printed in the “Times” today, so profoundly has our freedom of the press eroded since the time of the Kennedy assassination.
After the death of President Kennedy, ex-President Harry S. Truman, under whose watch the CIA was created in 1947, wrote on the front page of the “Washington Post,” that the CIA had been running a “shadow government,” becoming “operational.” Brazenly, Allen Dulles at one point even told a reporter to think of the CIA as “the State Department for unfriendly countries.” The CIA’s policy-making also involved interference in the electoral process in Italy and France, funneling money to certain political parties – in Italy it was the Christian Democrats whom the CIA funded in an effort to prevent a coalition of socialists and Communists from taking power. The assassination of Prime Minister Aldo Moro was connected to that CIA campaign.
At the time of the assassination, Charles de Gaulle remarked that John F. Kennedy, whom he admired, had died as a result of an intra-government conflict, a situation not uncommon in many countries. The documentation available since the passage of the JFK Act in 1992 overwhelmingly supports de Gaulle’s view.
The rubber-stamping of the Warren Report by the press in 1964 seems to mark the moment when the mainstream press became “embedded” in official versions of events. Traces of that process have surfaced. In April 1967 the CIA issued a memo (available at the National Archives) instructing friendly reporters on how to reply to challenges to the Warren Report, recommendations that have resurfaced in the past few years in a renewed set of attacks on Jim Garrison, a decade after his death.
So it should come as no surprise that the “New York Times” for a year covered up the National Security Agency domestic surveillance of citizens with rubber-stamped search warrants issued under a “Foreign Intelligence Services Act” (FISA) run by the Pentagon, or with no warrants at all. Only when their own reporter was about to publish a book detailing the evidence did the “Times” run that story. It should be horrifying that the Congressional debate about the Patriot Act has not been over whether there should be such a government capability, but how long it should be extended.
Ponder the “Times’” treatment of Jim Garrison, and later of Oliver Stone, who dared to make a film with Jim Garrison as its central character. When Garrison’s first book, “A Heritage of Stone,” appeared in 1969, John Leonard gave it a positive review in the daily “Times.” In his final paragraph, Leonard recounted a few of Garrison’s challenges to the Warren Report.
“Something stinks about this whole affair,” Leonard writes. “Why were Kennedy’s neck organs not examined at Bethesda for evidence of a frontal shot? Why was his body whisked away to Washington before the legally required Texas inquest? Why?”
By the next edition, Leonard’s final paragraph had vanished, a third of a column slid down the memory hole. Leonard’s review now closed with these words: “Frankly, I prefer to believe that the Warren Commission did a poor job, rather than a dishonest one. I like to think that Garrison invents monsters to explain incompetence.” It was an extraordinary example of management censorship of a book review. To this day, the “Times” tolerates no factual challenges to the Warren Report.
They appear to be the only people who still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was responsible for the death of President Kennedy. I spoke in Clinton, Louisiana last month, at the oldest working courthouse in the United States, I believe. The judge who introduced me asked the audience how many believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty. Not a single hand went up. That audience knew the Warren Report was nonsensical because it was in East Feliciana Parish, in the hamlets of Clinton and Jackson, that Oswald appeared in the company of Clay Shaw, and a CIA contract pilot named David Ferrie, in the late summer of 1963, three months before the assassination. In the audience were actual witnesses, including the barber who cut Oswald’s hair.
That the Warren Report could so flagrantly lie, and present itself as a homicide investigation, while doing virtually no investigation at all – neither Clay Shaw nor David Ferrie were interviewed, inspiring Jim Garrison’s quip, “they didn’t call anyone who WAS involved” – has resulted in other Presidential Commissions taking similar liberties with the truth.
I wrote an op-ed piece comparing the deliberate ignoring of crucial information by the 9/11 Commission with a similar failure to investigate a key lead by the Warren Commission. It began with the information released by Lieutenant Colonel in Army intelligence Tony Shaffer that the Able Danger intelligence unit had identified Mohammed Atta and other accused hijackers as part of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States at least a year before 9/11. Colonel Shaffer had wanted this information to go immediately to the FBI only for Defense Department lawyers to forbid Able Danger from contacting the Bureau.
The “New York Times” buried this extraordinary information two-thirds of the way into the paper. The “Washington Post” ran a Pentagon denial.
“Information has to get out, and I think we have to account for why some of these things weren’t looked at as part of the overall report,” Colonel Shaffer said on NPR.
Shaffer then revealed something else: he had presented the findings of the Able Danger team to Philip Zelikow, that same executive staff director of the 9/11 Commission who has defended the recent attacks on Jim Garrison as a dupe of the KGB! Zelikow saw to it that the Able Danger information never appeared in the 9/11 Commission Report, and went on to deny that he was given the information. He now works on the staff of Condeleeza Rice.
One might ask: could Zelikow and company have gotten away with denying the reality of a cover-up of vital information about 9/11 if we had demanded the truth from the Warren Commission? I sent my Op Ed piece, “9/11 and 11/22,” to 34 newspapers. Only one would print it, the “Key West Citizen.”
What has all this to do with the Kennedy assassination per se? I’m suggesting that demanding the truth about the Kennedy assassination, even at this late date, is a step toward restoring our basic freedoms. The discourse needs to go even further than point to who planned and implemented the crime. Was the CIA acting alone on its own behalf? Whose interests did the Agency serve in 1963 – because the CIA eviscerated by George W. Bush was a very different institution from the Agency that waged war against President Kennedy?
The discussion of who rules America might begin with President Eisenhower’s heroic warning against a military-industrial (and we need, of course, to add national security) complex. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes,” President Eisenhower added. He cut the military budget as soon as he took office; he didn’t believe the U.S. should be a militarized nation. The CIA, the research reveals, sabotaged President Eisenhower’s effort to achieve détente with the Soviets in the final year of his presidency through the downing of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 overflight into the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower had a good definition of “National Security.” He said “national security” meant that the country was proceeding in peace and without a deficit.
Jim Garrison often asked during his investigation: Cui Bono? Who benefits? A lawyer friend of mine living near “Langley Forks” in Virginia pointed out to me some interesting connections. The Texas School Book Depository, from which some, but not all, of the shots were fired on November 22, 1963, was owned by one D. H. Byrd. Byrd also founded and was the commander of the Southwest post of the Civil Air Patrol, which included Louisiana and the troop led by David Ferrie, among whose cadets was Lee Harvey Oswald.
In November, 1963, one of Byrd’s companies, LTV, a major defense contractor, was almost bankrupt. Defense contracts flowing from the Vietnam War changed that, and by 1968 the stock had increased geometrically in value. Meanwhile we know that President Kennedy opposed vehemently a protracted ground war, and that as soon as he was dead, Lyndon Johnson dispatched thousands of troops to Vietnam.
Among Byrd’s associates was a man named Neil Mallon, the skull and bones classmate of Prescott Bush. Mallon headed a company called Dresser Industries, and it was Dresser that sent George H. W. Bush, his friend Prescott’s son, west to Texas in 1949. It was for Mallon that the first President Bush named one of his sons. Mallon built Byrd’s barite plant in Mexico, barite a product involved in oil drilling.
Dresser Industries was bought by Halliburton in 1998, and at that time the Kellogg subsidiary of Dresser became part of Brown and Root. Brown and Root itself had been bought by Halliburton in 1962. It is less well known that Brown and Root profited not only from the war in Iraq, but first from Vietnam. Having recognized the role of Brown and Root, and discovering that George Brown was a CIA asset (as the CIA’s own released documents confirm), Jim Garrison hoped to investigate Brown’s role.
Was the CIA acting on behalf of President Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex? As a matter for further research, the intelligence connections of the Bushes date from before the very founding of the CIA: the Agency’s mandate was outlined in 1946 by Robert A. Lovett, who was a partner of Prescott Bush at Brown Brothers Harriman.
Not least, as readers of the “Nation” magazine know, after the Kennedy assassination, the FBI was enlisted to brief CIA asset George Bush, THE George Bush, and not a low-level man in the Agency by the same name, as was at first claimed, on the reaction of the Miami anti-Castro community to the event.
To the general observation that the CIA represented the interests of the oil-defense industries, and the Pentagon, must be added another motive for the involvement of the CIA in the assassination. Almost from the moment Kennedy took office, a conflict raged between the President and the CIA. Once Kennedy refused to be blackmailed by the CIA into a full-scale invasion of Cuba at the time of the Bay of Pigs, de Gaulle’s “intra-administration war” erupted. The clandestine service of the CIA pushed for an invasion of Cuba. President Kennedy declined, and went on to fire the Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles, who re-emerges as the central figure at the Warren Commission.
Throughout Kennedy’s brief presidency, the CIA treated him as an enemy. They withheld information, which included details about the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Also concealed from President Kennedy were the CIA’s continuing assassinations and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.
John F. Kennedy, in turn, sought to reign in the CIA, and to limit the scope of its activities, including reducing the powers of the Director of Central Intelligence. He intended to transfer the overflight U-2 program from the CIA to the Strategic Air Command. He intended to cut the CIA budget. He sent, I discovered, Richard Goodwin down to No-Name Key to ask the Soldiers of Fortune training there to take over Radio Swan, the CIA radio station, on behalf of the President. They declined. Kennedy threatened the existence of the Agency as they knew themselves.
Richard Reeves, in his very honest biography of John F. Kennedy, quotes the President repeating over and over again: “I’ve got to do something about those CIA bastards,” and “Those CIA bastards. I’m going to get those bastards if it’s the last thing I ever do.” It was the persistent refrain of the Kennedy presidency.
The current President has also had his conflicts with the CIA. He, however, has espoused the very policy favored by the CIA under President Kennedy, the relentless pursuit of foreign wars. To achieve his end, that war in Iraq, no matter what lie he had to tell to implement it, George W. Bush had to do what Kennedy knew he had to do as well: eviscerate the CIA. So the disinformation was spread that the CIA had fallen down on the job.
In fact, the CIA had reported accurately about the situation in Iraq, and this before the Iraq War. CIA noted that an invasion of Iraq was likely to lead to civil war; the CIA reported that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Rather than give up his war, the President undercut the CIA.
Then Bush attempted to subvert the CIA further by claiming that the CIA had endorsed what it had not, but which fit his projected policy. He claimed that the CIA had told him first that there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Then he said CIA had been wrong. Neither claim was true. The outcome was the subordination of the clandestine services, and of the Agency itself, so that the CIA director no longer enjoys a daily briefing with the President, and is subordinate to a new Director of National Intelligence, whom the President can control.
We should not be surprised that the National Security Agency, empowered only to spy on foreign agents abroad, is spying on US instead. Research into the Kennedy assassination reveals that although the CIA was supposedly created to deal with foreign threats, the CIA operated together with the FBI in the cover-up of the Kennedy assassination. Documents reveal that this mutual cooperation dates from the moment of the founding of the CIA. In Louisiana, the sabotage of Garrison’s investigation was led by the CIA, operating beyond its mandate, domestically.
Let me return to some details of what Jim Garrison accomplished. As Garrison once quipped about the supposed “lone assassin,” Lee Harvey Oswald, in fact, Oswald was virtually NEVER alone. Moreover, he was not involved with anyone who was NOT connected to the CIA. Oswald was an FBI informant, Garrison learned from Louisiana representative Hale Boggs, a member of the Warren Commission, defying Allen Dulles’ demand that everyone be silent about this fact. It was this single piece of information that in 1965 led Jim Garrison to resume his investigation begun in 1963.
I discovered a conversation that Garrison did not know about. At the First District police station, where Oswald was taken after he was arrested for a disturbance when he was handing out his pro-Castro leaflets, he requested of Lieutenant Francis Martello of the New Orleans police that Martello call the FBI field office. “Call the FBI,” Oswald ordered Martello imperiously. “Tell them you have Lee Oswald in custody.” Oswald asked that Special Agent Warren de Brueys come down to see him. Obviously, Oswald was someone the New Orleans field office of the FBI knew well.
The Agent on duty that night, John Quigley, then asked a young clerk named William Walter, the person who took Martello’s call, to check all the files, locked and unlocked, for what they had on Oswald. On one file jacket, in the locked filing cabinet of the Special Agent in Charge, where security files were kept, were two names, Lee Oswald and Warren de Brueys. To this day, Mr. de Brueys denies that he ever knew Oswald. I called him just before my book was published on the pretext of spelling his name correctly: was that a capital “d” or not? Mr. de Brueys amazed me by remarking, after forty years you wouldn’t be a very intelligent person if you didn’t change your mind about things. This statement might not hold up in court, but I accepted it as a confession for history.
Oswald had also been part of the CIA Counter Intelligence false defector program. Oswald, I found new evidence to show, worked also for U.S. Customs in New Orleans, as many CIA people worked for Customs. One Customs officer told the Church Committee, “I’ve waited ten years for someone to talk to me” regarding what he knew about Oswald.
Garrison began by exploring Oswald’s government connections. He indicted Clay Shaw for participating in the conspiracy, without having access to the government records released under that JFK Act, an extraordinary development we’re not likely to witness again any time soon, records that establish that Shaw was a CIA operative.
By shepherding Oswald around Louisiana, Shaw was repaying the CIA for considerable favors rendered. Because Shaw was acquitted, Jim Garrison chose as the title of his third book, “A Farewell to Justice.” He never used that title, and so I appropriated it. Lillian Hellman taught a course to writing students at Harvard called “Stealing.” It was bad to imitate, but fine to “steal” from authors you admired, so long as you made their strategies your own. Garrison’s ambition was to be an author. He was no stranger to Shakespeare, nor to novelists like Graham Greene, and of course Hemingway.
Part of my book includes how federal agencies worked actively to thwart Garrison’s investigation. Garrison was astonished that the FBI refused to cooperate with New Orleans law enforcement in an investigation of the Kennedy assassination. In fact, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover subverted Garrison’s effort. Witnesses came forward to the FBI, believing that in providing the FBI with information, they were simultaneously reaching the district attorney.
“Give Garrison nothing!” Hoover wrote to all special agents in charge, adding, in reference to the Special Agent in Charge in New Orleans, Robert Rightmyer: “Tell Rightmyer that I want him and all personnel in New Orleans to keep their mouths shut!” This was February 1967, a week after Jim Garrison’s investigation became public.
Bobby Kennedy’s right-hand man, Walter Sheridan, had spearheaded the blackmail, bribery and wiretapping that accomplished the conviction of Jimmy Hoffa. The evidence of Walter Sheridan’s illegalities in the railroading of Jimmy Hoffa is chronicled in Fred Cook’s three part series in the “Nation” magazine. A further irony is that Chief Justice Earl Warren, enlisted by Lyndon Johnson to rubber-stamp the preordained conclusion that Oswald murdered President Kennedy, wrote what seems to me to be a brilliant dissent when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Hoffa conviction.
Bobby Kennedy then sent Sheridan to New Orleans, as Sheridan freely admitted, to “destroy” Jim Garrison. That same National Security Agency spying on American citizens today spawned Walter Sheridan, who was also cleared for service with the FBI and CIA. Sheridan personally telephoned the governors of several states to ensure that Garrison’s subpoenaed witnesses not be extradited back to the state of Louisiana. Not a single witness was returned to New Orleans.
In the recent attacks on Jim Garrison may be found the preposterous notion that the only reason Garrison focused on the CIA was that he was the victim of KGB propaganda flowing from an Italian newspaper, “Paese Sera.” This total falsehood has been defended by Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission. One of the half-dozen anti-Garrison articles appeared, not surprisingly, on the CIA’s own web site, “Studies in Intelligence.”
As a biographer, among the questions I asked was: did Jim Garrison take bribes from executives profiting from pinball machine gambling (then illegal in Orleans Parish), for which he was charged by the federal government? Was Jim Garrison dishonest? The new documents reveal that after Shaw’s acquittal, after he perjured himself, and suborned perjury, Garrison was ready to continue his investigation, only for that same operative, Walter Sheridan, to return to New Orleans and blackmail Garrison’s friend and former chief investigator, Pershing Gervais.
Would Gervais not help them to nail Garrison for taking bribes from pinball gambling interests, Gervais would go to jail for eight years (the document is that specific) for income tax fraud. So we see in this story, the mutual cooperation of agencies: the FBI helping the CIA, the IRS enlisted by the National Security Agency and the CIA. Years later, on the occasion of Oliver Stone’s film, “JFK,” Anthony Lewis wrote in the “New York Times” that Garrison had taken bribes. In fact, Garrison had been acquitted. The bribes were indeed going to a “big man” at Tulane and Broad, but it was not six foot six inch Jim Garrison, but Chief of Police, Joseph Giarrusso.
Addressing a frequent attempt to discredit Jim Garrison, I also had to ask: was Garrison tied to the Mafia? Did he blame the CIA for the assassination as a way of protecting the Mafia? I learned that Carlos Marcello, the Mafia chieftain of Louisiana and Texas, despised Garrison and wanted him out of office. Garrison was “unreliable,” Marcello complained to Governor John J. McKeithen, whose assistant, John Tarver, relayed this to me. (McKeithen himself did take bribes from Marcello by the way. John R. Rarick ran against McKeithen in 1968 and the Marcello people talked to Rarick’s campaign manager, who refused a $50,000 contribution from Marcello. Marcello’s man was incredulous. “Big John took his,” he said).
The final chapter of my book, entitled “Rabbi,” reflects my interviews with a person who was involved in setting up the assassination, a man named Thomas Edward Beckham. It describes his CIA training at a facility in Virginia. Beckham presented me with a government document which describes him as a man who would feel no guilt about killing. This phrase matches in language documents released by the Church Committee describing the assassins hired by the CIA in their assassination attempts against foreign leaders: Lumumba, Trujillo, Diem, and, of course, Fidel Castro.
Beckham had been subjected to a polygraph by the New Orleans police in the late 1970s: when Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, who headed the House Select Committee on Assassinations, discovered this, the Louisiana investigators were suspended for conducting a polygraph without authorization. The CIA controlled that investigation as it did the Warren Commission. My favorite anecdote concerns the moment when former Justice Arthur Goldberg was asked to head the Committee after Philadelphia prosecutor Richard A. Sprague was fired. Knowing that the CIA held the truth about the assassination, Goldberg telephoned the Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, and asked whether, should he take the job, he would be given full CIA cooperation. His question was met by silence.
Goldberg persisted. He posed his question again. Only then did Turner reply, “I thought my silence was my answer.” Goldberg did not take the job.
My final question came at my last interview, in Miami in June of 2005. It was one that also perplexed Jim Garrison: why did Bobby Kennedy try to sabotage his investigation? I interviewed a Cuban close to Robert Kennedy, who revealed that Robert Kennedy had Oswald under surveillance in New Orleans during the summer of 1963.
Like Professor Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy looked first to the CIA for responsibility in the murder of his brother. On the day of the assassination, Bobby confronted John McCone, the Director of Central Intelligence, with this question: “Did the CIA kill my brother?” He told Harry Ruiz Williams, one of the Cubans working for him, confirming his prior awareness of Oswald, “One of your guys did it!” and it was not a question, but a statement.
Wanting to be certain, Bobby sent that same Walter Sheridan to Dallas to find out if the Mafia had planned the crime. They had not. Bobby also asked a Mafia-connected Chicago lawyer, Julius Draznin, who worked for the NLRB, the same question. The answer, as Draznin reported to Walter Sheridan, was that the assassination was not a Mafia hit. Years later, Sheridan would testify under oath that the Mafia was behind the assassination!
It was in the circles of the anti-Castro movement that Bobby Kennedy directed his attention, his aim to protect the life of his brother from some Cuban still furious about the Bay of Pigs. His other aim was to “neutralize” Fidel Castro. Since the Church Committee hearings, newspapers have reported on Operation MONGOOSE, the CIA-Mafia plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. Bobby Kennedy’s separate efforts have been less widely publicized.
It was in this Miami research that I discovered my parallel between the cover-up by the 9/11 Commission of the Able Danger information and a similar set of facts that faced the Warren Commission in its closing days. It reveals information that bears upon why Robert F. Kennedy was nervous about Jim Garrison’s investigation, and about any investigation of his brother’s death. This began at the Bethesda autopsy; one of the doctors, Pierre Finck, testified for the defense in New Orleans at State of Louisiana v. Clay Shaw that the Kennedy family had requested that the trajectory of the President’s wounds not be examined.
“If my brother were killed,” Garrison said, “I would be interested in getting the individuals involved, no matter who they were.” Garrison made this statement on national television, exasperated by the persistent question by news people: if you’re on the right track, why isn’t Bobby Kennedy helping you?”
Late in its deliberations, the Warren Commission discovered that Lee Harvey Oswald had visited a Cuban exile and former law student named Sylvia Odio in Dallas in late September 1963. During the weekend of the assassination, Mrs. Odio and her sister Annie both at once identified Oswald as the man who had visited her in the presence of two Cubans, whom Sylvia has yet to identify.
Mrs. Odio testified before the Warren Commission. She said that the day after that visit, one of the Cubans had telephoned her and in the course of the conversation remarked that “Leon Oswald” had said, “President Kennedy should have been assassinated after the Bay of Pigs and some Cubans should have done that it’s so easy to do it,” indicating both foreknowledge of the assassination and that Oswald was being set up. The Warren Commission never adequately investigated this information – they certainly didn’t call “Leopoldo,” just as the 9/11 Commission didn’t feel obliged to investigate the Able Danger documents.
The Warren Commission’s chief counsel, J. Lee Rankin, expressed irritation at the very suggestion that Sylvia Odio’s story should be fully investigated, muttering, “we are supposed to be closing doors, not opening them.” Years later, Rankin was bitter that the FBI and CIA had concealed vital information from the Warren Commission. Deposed in the late 1970s by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Rankin admitted that he regretted that he had taken the CIA’s word that Oswald “was never a CIA agent.”
Invited to ask if he had anything further to say, Rankin had a question for the lawyers and committee members in the room. Was the HSCA investigating whether the people involved in the CIA cover-up were involved in the assassination as well? He received the identical response Arthur Goldberg had: silence.
The Warren Commission lacked a context in which to evaluate the incident of Oswald visiting Sylvia Odio because the FBI and CIA both, on the instruction of Chief of Counter Intelligence James Angleton concealed the CIA’s history of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, now a matter of public record.
In my pursuit of the question of why Bobby Kennedy tried to sabotage Jim Garrison’s investigation – Garrison used the word “torpedo” – I studied the minutes of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Church Committee papers (the 25 per cent that are open to the public). I tried to interview Cubans who worked closely with the Attorney General. This is some of what I discovered.
Bobby Kennedy had assembled a team of anti-Castro Cubans. One, Manolo Reboso, is now living in Nicaragua, having married into the wealthy Somoza family. Another, Manuel Artime, is dead. But I did locate a man named Angelo Murgado, a man so devoted to the Kennedys that, at his citizenship hearing, he changed his name from “Murgado” to “Kennedy” in homage to a person whom he admired, Bobby Kennedy.
Angelo told me that Bobby’s instructions to his special team were twofold. One aim was to find a means of getting rid of Fidel Castro. Bobby’s other aim was to protect his brother. He sent these Cubans to New Orleans. Moving among, as Angelo put it, “Castro’s agents, double agents, and Cubans working for the CIA,” they hoped to “neutralize” a future assassin. You can deduce what he meant by “neutralize.”
In New Orleans, Angelo Murgado ran into Lee Harvey Oswald, who was moving among the anti-Castro community. He put Oswald under surveillance. When I mentioned that I had discovered Oswald’s acquaintance with an anti-Castro Cuban named Juan Valdes, who worked at Clay Shaw’s International Trade Mart, Angelo was dubious. How could that be? He knew everyone Oswald was acquainted with, and he didn’t know of this man. That’s how close to Oswald they drew.
Scrutinizing Oswald, and reporting back to Bobby, his team discovered that Oswald was an informant for the FBI. Learning this, Bobby reasoned, “If the FBI is controlling him, he’s no problem.” Bobby underestimated the role Oswald had been induced to play in the plans to murder of his brother and ceased to make him a major target of his concern. Bobby knew “something was cooking in New Orleans,” Angelo Murgado told me. But Bobby urged “caution.” He was out of his depth.
In September, it was Angelo and a fellow veteran of the Bay of Pigs who traveled from New Orleans to Dallas to visit Sylvia Odio. Angelo believed they were there to marshal help for their anti-Castro efforts, and talked about buying arms to support an anti-Castro movement within Cuba. Mrs. Odio’s father, in jail in Cuba, headed a liberal organization called JURE, its position, “Fidelismo sin Fidel.” Angelo believed he could trust his companion, referred to in the Warren Report as “Leopoldo,” because not only was he a fellow veteran of the Bay of Pigs, but his brother was running for Mayor of Miami. He was respectable.
The next day, out of Angelo’s hearing, “Leopoldo” phoned Mrs. Odio to tell her how “Leon” Oswald had talked about the need to murder President Kennedy. “Leon is kind of nuts,” Leopoldo stated, setting up Oswald as the patsy. Oswald’s mental imbalance forms the conclusion of the Warren Report, and Oswald was called “Leon” a number of times, not least at a gathering at David Ferrie’s apartment where Clay Shaw and Ferrie, Garrison’s chief suspects, discussed what their alibis would be for November 22nd. At Sylvia Odio’s, Angelo used his true given name. “Leopoldo” was an alias.
Placing Oswald in the company of so close an associate of Bobby Kennedy, in an incident that points to foreknowledge of the assassination as well as the framing of Oswald, created the trap that would silence Bobby forever. Bobby asked his aide, Frank Mankiewicz whether “any of our people were involved,” and, Mankiewicz told me, he had asked himself, did you think there might be?
Angelo, meanwhile, had been betrayed by a companion he believed he could trust, a man not so much assigned to the overthrow of Fidel Castro, as Angelo believed, as he was enlisted to arrange for Oswald to be blamed for the murder of the President.
“Leopoldo” was a Cuban named Bernardo de Torres. A virtual flood of documents reveals that he was an asset of both the CIA and military intelligence. When he was subpoenaed before the House Select Committee, CIA arrived on the day he was deposed to insist that de Torres be granted immunity. The CIA so totally controlled that Committee that they agreed to the CIA demand that de Torres not be questioned about the period of time leading up to the Kennedy assassination. Both the Warren Commission and the HSCA buried what they knew about Oswald’s participation in ANTI-Castro activities, information that would have led directly to the role of the CIA in the assassination.
I believe that we are now suffering the consequences of allowing lies about what happened to President Kennedy to remain unchallenged. The consequence of the public not demanding that the murder of the head of state be properly investigated has led directly to the current undermining of the integrity of our democratic institutions, not least the press. An obvious consequence of the obfuscations of the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee both has been the ease with which the 9/11 Commission was able to conceal important truths.
I wrote my book to make a small contribution to the need for government accountability and openness because what is at stake, to be a bit grandiose, is democracy itself.
I’ll close with a line by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from a sermon a year before his death: “No lie can live forever.”
“A FAREWELL TO JUSTICE: JIM GARRISON, JFK’S ASSASSINATION, AND THE CASE THAT SHOULD HAVE CHANGED HISTORY” (POTOMAC BOOKS, INC. ISBN 1-57488-973-7)