Joan Mellen Lecture from 2007 – still Apt. Thanks to Elena Freeman for this posting.
The Kennedy Assassination and the Current Political Moment
Talk at the 92nd Street Y,
JANUARY 28, 2007
by Joan Mellen
It happened going on forty-four years ago, and yet the murder of President Kennedy remains simultaneously a subject of fascination and yet is still taboo within mainstream discourse. You will not find a free exchange of views on the Kennedy assassination in the “New York Times” nor, to date, an acknowledgement of the unanswered questions arising from 9/11. This past November, I spoke at a Jewish Senior Center on the Upper West Side [in New York] where the director, Sara Tornay, remarked that the “Times” had listed the lecture the week before mine, and the lecture the week after. My talk on the Kennedy assassination had slipped down the memory hole. How come? she wondered.
So I’m grateful to the 92nd Street Y for the liberalism of outlook and independence of mind that made this evening possible. The Kennedy assassination will not go away, and I’ll try to explain why, heartened as I am by the fact that the former governor of Minnesota, Arne Carlson, gave a speech in November entitled “The JFK Assassination: Its Impact on America’s History.” That’s my subject as well: How the Kennedy assassination illuminates the present political moment.
The Kennedy assassination is present even in its absence in the recent film, “The Good Shepherd,” a movie about the CIA. Its central character, played by Matt Damon, is based largely on the late head of CIA Counter Intelligence, James Jesus Angleton. The distortions of “The Good Shepherd” return us to the meaning of the Kennedy assassination. James Angleton in real life was the mastermind not, as the film suggests, of the Bay of Pigs (that was Richard Bissell), but of a false defector program that sent spies into the Soviet Union. Among them was one Lee Harvey Oswald. I am basing this talk either on interviews I conducted for “A Farewell to Justice,” or on new interviews I’ve done since its publication a year or so ago. I am referring as well to some of the more than four million documents released under the JFK Records Collection Act and now residing in Maryland at the National Archives.
It was actually an FBI document that demonstrates that Oswald, indeed one of Angleton’s assets in the Soviet Union, communicated back to the CIA through a CIA asset at American Express named Michael Jelisavcic. One of my discoveries for “A Farewell to Justice” was the original of a note that Oswald, arrested in New Orleans for a street fight, handed to the police lieutenant who was questioning him, Francis Martello. One CIA document refers to an FBI “65″ file, an espionage file, for Jelisavic, a reference inadvertently unredacted when CIA declassified the document.
This number clearly directs CIA to an espionage file. Oswald also had Jelisavcic’s name and room number in his possession. Angleton’s false defector program, not mentioned in “The Good Shepherd,” remains among CIA’s most closely guarded secrets, a secret necessary to preserve the fiction of the Warren Report.
The figure of Lee Harvey Oswald, and his peculiar biography as a low-level intelligence agent, continues to haunt those whose paths he crossed. After “A Farewell to Justice” was published, this was last April, I drove down Alligator Highway in Central Florida to interview a very interesting nonagenarian named Otto Otepka. Mr. Otepka was high up in State Department security under the Eisenhower administration and into the 1960s. Routinely, he came upon the names of people who had defected, and whom it was his job to investigate for security purposes.
Highly commended for his diligence, Mr. Otepka displayed to me, proudly, a wall filled with a display of framed commendations, including one signed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on behalf of President Eisenhower. (Certainly in these times President Eisenhower seems to be a bonafide liberal, not only for his prescient remark about the military industrial complex, but for another of his observations, that most of America has accepted the idea of the New Deal, but for a few oil millionaires in Texas).
Otepka saw at once that there was something unusual about Lee Oswald, “tourist.” As he placed this list of defectors into his security safe, Mr. Otepka planned to request that the CIA look into this individual, “Oswald.” A nighttime burglary, obviously an inside job, resulted in this file vanishing. Soon Otto Otepka was demoted to an inconsequential post, writing summaries of documents. Oswald’s “defection” was not to be scrutinized. Later I’ll explain whom Mr. Otepka believes was responsible for the burglary and the destruction of his career.
This all took place in the early sixties. In the year 2006, “The Good Shepherd” still could not mention Angleton’s false defector program which would have driven the film to the door of the Kennedy assassination. Instead the film conveniently closes in 1961 at the time of the Bay of Pigs.
That Oswald was an employee of the CIA I demonstrate in my book, a fact recently re-confirmed by a historian named Michael Kurtz. Professor Kurtz reports on an interview he did in 1981 with Hunter Leake, second in command at the New Orleans field office. Leake admitted that CIA used Oswald as a courier and that Oswald came to New Orleans in April 1963 because the CIA office there intended to use him for certain operations. Leake either was disaffected from the Agency, or, perhaps, was just an honest man. He admitted that he personally paid Oswald various sums of cash for his services. Oswald was on the CIA payroll, Leake knew. He himself paid Oswald’s CIA salary.
Leake also explained in this telephone interview with Professor Kurtz why there was no documentation on Oswald’s employment with CIA in New Orleans. After President Kennedy’s assassination, he drove the files personally to Langley, Virginia. They were so voluminous that he had to rent a trailer to transport them. Shouldn’t revelations from so credible a source have made the newspapers or CNN? I don’t know why Hunter Leake, who figures prominently in “A Farewell to Justice,” talked to Professor Kurtz, but I discovered that the original Hunter Leake family estate, in 1927, was sold to purchase Hammond Junior College, which became Southeastern Louisiana University – where Professor Kurtz teaches.
In “A Farewell to Justice,” I write for the first time that Oswald had also been enlisted by U.S. Customs in New Orleans, information I gleaned from the documents deposited at the National Archives by the Church Committee. Not a single newspaper or magazine or television program chose to notice this astonishing revelation. I show how the framing of Oswald in Louisiana by the CIA began even before the shooting in Dallas. I shall return to that subject.
As you study the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, you discover repeatedly that the press relinquished its freedom more than forty years ago. The latest document I was sent came from the LBJ library in Austin. Dated 1967, it was a telegram from the “Newsweek” columnist, Hugh Aynesworth, to George Christian, Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary. Aynesworth was announcing that he was sending the President, in advance of publication, his latest attack on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the better for the President to take steps against Garrison’s investigation.
CIA releases, once marked “Secret,” are filled with revelations of how reporters, another was Al Burt, the Latin America editor of the “Miami Herald,” visited the CIA to be instructed on what was and was not in the Agency’s interest that he print. There are precedents for our present co-opted press, from FOX to CNN, its twin. Even Keith Olbermann on MSNBC seems unduly cautious.
In his forthcoming memoir, “American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond,” long time CIA operative, E. Howard Hunt, who died last Tuesday – as with Richard Helms, with his secrets intact – suggests that Lyndon Johnson should be viewed as the prime suspect in “having Kennedy liquidated.” It seems clear that Hunt, age 88, was still engaged in the business of drawing attention away from the massive evidence connecting CIA to the assassination. Lyndon Johnson, the direct beneficiary of the assassination, seemed to Hunt a likely target.
Hunt was far too clever to regurgitate J. Edgar Hoover’s disinformation that the Mafia planned and then covered up this crime. His obvious intention was to provide a false sponsor, someone other than the Agency. Even Hunt didn’t bother to revive the fantasy that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or acted at all, in the assassination.
The young Warren Commission lawyers could find no motive for Oswald’s shooting of President Kennedy, even as they blamed him. You might well ask, what, then, was the CIA’s motive? Return to 1963 and the pressure by both the CIA’s clandestine service and the Pentagon for a full-scale invasion of Cuba. President Kennedy opposed an American invasion of Cuba as not in the national interest, just as he had no intention of embedding us in the quagmire of a ground war in Vietnam. That was the first Texas President who profited from John F. Kennedy’s murder, and who did the bidding of those forces John Kennedy opposed.
Look at Richard Reeves’ biography quoting President Kennedy’s fury at the sabotage of his presidency by the CIA. In the one true political moment in “The Good Shepherd,” Kennedy threatens to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and cast them to the winds. “I’ll get those CIA bastards if it’s the last thing I do,” Kennedy said, famously, underestimating his adversaries. The CIA’s “Executive Action” (read murder) capability was in place by 1963. CIA had already been involved in the murder and/or attempted murders of various heads of state, efforts outlined in detail in the papers of the Church Committee.
Our mainstream press manages to avoid confronting those documents, writing about CIA as if it had no history, but was born in the aftermath of 9/11. They are particularly unwilling to connect our present political morass to past events. Foreign reporters have not been similarly restrained. On a recent fifteen minute magazine segment on BBC-2 this past November, came an extraordinary photograph connecting the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy. (You won’t find this information in that other Kennedy movie of this season, “Bobby”).
That press photograph was taken at the Ambassador Hotel on the evening of the assassination of Robert Kennedy where a crowd had gathered to celebrate his victory in the California primary. Pictured standing together were three high level CIA operatives. One was Gordon Campbell, the second in command at JMWAVE, the big CIA station in Miami, from which emanated plans for the sabotage of Cuba and the assassination of Fidel Castro.
With Campbell was a long-time CIA operative named David Sanchez Morales, who worked with CIA propaganda expert David Atlee Phillips, a figure I discuss at length in “A Farewell To Justice.” Morales had assisted Phillips in the 1954 coup against President Arbenz in Guatemala. Morales’ lawyer, Robert J. Walton, had quoted his client to the government investigator in Miami, Gaeton Fonzi: “I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch, and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”
Morales was also close to a CIA operative named Felix Rodriguez, famously present at the murder of Che Guevara in Bolivia, so that he came away with Guevara’s wristwatch. Rodriguez was so close to George H. W. Bush that he included photographs with the Bushes in his autobiography. (Present in Dallas that November morning of the 22 nd were not only George H. W. Bush, shortly to depart for Tyler, then return that afternoon to Dallas, but also Richard Nixon. Neither Bush nor Nixon, of course, staged the shooting itself. But it does seem odd that they were in Dallas along with David Atlee Phillips.
The third unlikely well-wisher of Robert Kennedy in this trio was CIA psychological warfare specialist, George Joannides. Joannides was CIA handler in Miami for an anti-Castro group called DRE (Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil). Lee Oswald’s adversary in his street scuffle in New Orleans was a man named Carlos Bringuier, who claimed to be the DRE representative in New Orleans. Both were arrested. All trails lead to Lee Harvey Oswald.
That street fight was clearly staged, as I show in my book. I also discovered what Oswald actually said to Lieutenant Francis Martello, and which Martello chose not to share with the Warren Commission: “Call the FBI. Tell them you have Lee Oswald in custody.” Yet another recently declassified FBI document, again, once marked “Secret,” reveals information given to the Bureau by a CIA officer. Dated 11/23/63, it confirms that Oswald was indeed a shared agent of both agencies.
It may be (here I’ll speculate, I hope for the last time), that the street fight on Canal Street that established Oswald as pro-Castro, purveyor of leaflets for “Fair Play For Cuba,” was a propaganda victory by Joannides, whose specialty was psychological warfare. Five years later, there Joannides apparently stands, awaiting the impending murder of Robert F. Kennedy. The BBC documentarian, Shane O’Sullivan, tells me that he plans to release a full-length film on the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June. I hope he has added further identifications to that photograph. I’ll just add that there was a complete blackout in the U.S. media of O’Sullivan’s BBC segment. On the website of the London GUARDIAN newspaper, you can find a report entitled, “Did The CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy?”
I’m sure many in this audience are aware of the third recent moment at which the Kennedy assassination has surfaced. There are a few scant degrees of separation between
1. the two Bush presidents
2. the role of the CIA in the Kennedy assassination
3. Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA asset.
This surprising invocation of the Kennedy assassination occurred on January 2 nd at the funeral of President Gerald Ford, the last surviving member of the Warren Commission. I’ll read this extraordinary revealing paragraph from George H. W. Bush’s eulogy for those who missed it:
“After a deluded gunman assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness – and a conspiracy theorist can say what they will – but the Warren Commission report will always have the final definitive say on this matter. Why? Because Gerry Ford put his name on it and Gerry Ford’s word was always good.”
Allow me to add that when amendments were offered to the Freedom of Information Act, enlarging public access to affairs of state, Gerald Ford vetoed the bill, only for Congress to override his veto. Ford was no more a supporter of the truth than Mr. Bush’s son. George H. W. Bush’s own word was not always so good either. There are powerful reasons why George H. W. Bush was motivated to invoke the Warren Report, even, amazingly, to refer to a “conspiracy theorist,” as if that designation would at once banish some truths he does not want available. Only two degrees of separation separate George H. W. Bush from Oswald himself.
At his 1976 confirmation hearings for the post of Director of Central Intelligence, a post into which he was elevated by Gerald Ford, Bush denied that he had any prior connection to the CIA. This was a falsehood. At the National Archives, and on the Internet, is a CIA document directed to its clandestine service (Record Number 104-10310-10271) that reveals that when, in the 1950s, Bush founded Zapata Oil, his partner was one Thomas J. Devine, who was not only an oil wildcatter, but a long-time CIA staff employee. Thomas Devine’s name does not appear in the original papers of Zapata, but it does in the company Bush created shortly thereafter as “Zapata Offshore.”
This CIA document reveals that Thomas Devine had informed George Bush of a CIA project with the cryptonym WUBRINY/LPDICTUM. It involved CIA proprietary commercial operations in foreign countries. By 1963, Devine had become not a former CIA employee, but ‘a cleared and witting contact” in the investment banking firm which managed the proprietary corporation WUSALINE. WUBRINY involved Haitian operations, in which, the documents reveal, a participant was George de Mohrenshildt, the Dallas CIA hander of – Lee Oswald.
In late April 1963, in Haiti, de Mohrenshildt appeared to discuss investment possibilities. The CIA officer, the author of the document, named only as WUBRINY/1, had no idea of de Mohrenshildt’s already long-standing CIA connections, and in particular his role in shepherding Oswald in Dallas. De Mohrenshildt could safely pursue CIA interests in Haiti because it was that month, April 1963, that Lee Oswald, his charge, moved from Texas to New Orleans, on the orders of the CIA, with Oswald reporting to – Hunter Leake.
A May 22, 1963 CIA document has de Mohrenshildt admitting he had “obtained some Texas financial backing” and had visited interested people In Washington regarding the candidacy of one M. Clemard Joseph Charles for President of Haiti, “as soon as Duvalier can be gotten out.” So we are reminded of CIA’s efforts to influence the political configurations of other countries – an obvious example is CIA’s obliging British Petroleum – for a price – and overthrowing Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, replacing him with the Shah.
To summarize: George Bush is linked in April 1963, seven months before the Kennedy assassination, to a CIA project involving Lee Oswald’s handler, Count Sergei Georges de Mohrenshildt through his own CIA partner, Thomas Devine. Bush and Devine later traveled to Vietnam together, a trip for which the Department of Defense issued Devine an interim “Top Secret” clearance. No surprise there: Devine obviously had never left the Agency.
On the day Gaeton Fonzi was to interview de Mohrenshildt for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, de Mohrenshildt was shot, his death ruled a suicide. Fonzi’s card was in his pocket. Let me refer you as well to Joseph McBride’s “Nation” magazine article where he exposed how George H. W. Bush was debriefed by the FBI about the Kennedy assassination on November 23 rd . The inadvertently released document refers to “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency.” It was a different George Bush, George William Bush, who worked for the Agency, Bush claimed. But it wasn’t so. George William came forward to say he was never debriefed by anyone.
Every road leads to the assassination of President Kennedy. What should also give us pause is that these documents about ZapataOffshore, which had offices on several continents, but never did much business, though the Offshore company most likely has received a suspicion business cash advance or two, as the CENTRO MONDIALE COMERCIALE in Rome, on whose board of director’s Garrison suspect Clay Shaw served, did little trade, and George Bush’s CIA partner, were released under the JFK Act as Kennedy assassination documents. So it is the Agency itself, not the dreaded “conspiracy theorists,” that links George H. W. Bush with the Kennedy assassination. Or: it’s the government that is the ultimate “conspiracy theorist.”
It is the task of the historian to examine on whose behalf the CIA murdered President Kennedy. Although President Kennedy threatened the very existence of the Agency, and had begun to reduce its powers, and to restrict the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence, the motive goes beyond that. When we examine who benefited from the assassination, whose interests were served, despite the latest puff of smoke blown by E. Howard Hunt, we also go beyond the first Texas president, Lyndon Johnson, to the second and third Texas Presidents. Certain Texas businesses, among them Halliburton, of course, and then independent Brown and Root, were not doing particularly well in 1962 and 1963.
Among those who benefited immediately from the removal of President Kennedy and the ascendancy of Lyndon Johnson was a fabulously successful wildcatter named David Harold, also known as D.H. for “dry hole” Byrd. (Not all the holes, of course, were dry). Byrd’s company LTV was about to go under. In early November, 1963, Byrd and a partner, James Ling, bought a sizable amount of outstanding LTV stock. Then LTV received the first defense contract from the Pentagon – for a fighter plane – accompanying the escalation of the war in Vietnam that was the direct result of the Kennedy assassination. Although that airplane was not ultimately built, LTV stock soared. As Byrd writes in his autobiography, “I’ve run fifty-two companies, many of them in no way connected with oil.” The man who brought George H. W. Bush west from Connecticut to Texas was named Neil Mallon, another of Byrd’s partners.
Other Texas companies saved by the Vietnam War were Halliburton and Brown and Root, which Halliburton had purchased in – 1962. The Browns, even Herman, who began by hating Lyndon’s New Deal tendencies, were Johnson’s primary financial benefactors, as Robert Caro has shown. It was through my own research into Jim Garrison’s New Orleans investigation that I found a 1967 CIA document revealing that George Brown was a CIA asset, and none of the historians have noticed that.
Other CIA documents list the executives of Texas petroleum companies who were CIA assets. The list is considerable. Although these documents were made available under the JFK Act, as with the story of George H. W. Bush and his CIA partner, the Kennedy assassination is not mentioned.
From the government’s own records, we find connected:
(1) the CIA angry about the Bay of Pigs, that CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba whose code name, “Zapata,” returns us to George H. W. Bush and his CIA partner, Devine
(2) the military with its Vietnam defense contracts, and
(3) the Texas Presidents.
“Dry Hole” Byrd just happened to own the Texas School Book Depository, from which someone, not Lee Oswald, but someone, fired at the President on November 22 nd. Six weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, when Byrd wanted a souvenir of this historical building, he chose the South Westernmost window of the sixth floor, not the window from which Oswald purportedly fired with his creaky rifle with its loose telescopic sight, that was the Southeast. No, Byrd took the window from which a Dealey Plaza witness and his wife told the Warren Commission they saw a man with a gun. It seems D. H. Byrd knew exactly which window was the souvenir, and, by inference, that Oswald was no shooter.
To contemplate the political context of the assassination, as Governor Carlson of Minnesota suggested that we do, we note that the President was shot down in front of a building owned by a Texas defense contractor who won the first defense contract of the escalated Vietnam War, an escalation possible only with the removal of President Kennedy. D. H. Byrd was a founding member of the Civil Air Patrol, that group which boasted a group in New Orleans led by one David Ferrie, Jim Garrison’s chief suspect, in which Lee Oswald participated as a teenager. Chronicling the CIA’s cover-up of the assassination, we must acknowledge that the Agency did not act in the assassination entirely on its own behalf.
I believe we can trace to that November day in 1963 an anarchism not visible in American society since the 19 th century when, rebelling against Mexico, for a time Texas operated without a government. It was that chaotic lawless moment in Texan history that seems to have been revisited upon us. Following the Patriot Act, and the Military Commissions Act, eroding the right to habeas corpus, 2006 closed with a Postal Reform Bill. This bill, passed by Congress, insisted that the government needed a warrant to open people’s mail. President Bush’s “signing statement,” asserting his personal interpretation of the law, insisted that under “exigent circumstances,” the President can, in fact, open mail “otherwise sealed against inspection” without a warrant.
This particular engorgement of Presidential power recalls to us once more “The Good Shepherd” and James Angleton. A particular Angleton project was the CIA’s opening of the mail of American citizens. During the first half of 1960, at least two hundred people were on the CIA’s list world-wide to have their mail opened. Lee Harvey Oswald’s name was among them.
“A Farewell to Justice” was published a year ago. In the intervening time, new documents have emerged that corroborate my view that the Central Intelligence Agency planned, supervised and implemented the assassination of President Kennedy. Those who claim that we will never know what happened to President Kennedy would do well to spend some time at the National Archives.
Among the lessons Philip Zelikow, former Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission learned, he admitted on National Public Radio, was that he would not make the same mistake the Warren Commission did. He would not make the papers of the 9/11 Commission available to the public. In this era of authoritarian government secrecy – witness today’s “New York Times” editorial on how the Department of Justice, against the Constitution is refusing to make public its briefs in the case involving illegal government surveillance – we owe also a debt of gratitude to the Congress of the early 1990s for passing the JFK Act. My op ed piece, “9/11 and 11/22,” remains on my web site, www.joanmellen.net . Zelikow, who resigned this past November from the staff of Condeleeza Rice, was the person assigned to supervise the transcription of President Kennedy’s office tapes, suggesting we had better cast a critical eye on those transcriptions.
CIA’s Counter Intelligence component always claimed that Oswald was never debriefed after his return from the Soviet Union. Yet in a CIA document released in December 2005 a person who fits the precise description of Oswald – it could be no one else – was debriefed in New York, where Oswald on his return from the Soviet Union did disembark. This man had reported to the CIA details about the radio factory where he worked in Minsk.
“A Farewell to Justice” chronicles how “Fair Play For Cuba,” for which Oswald handed out leaflets in New Orleans, was heavily infiltrated by CIA through its master propagandist, David Atlee Phillips. New documents confirm CIA’s involvement. The co-director of Fair Play, Richard Gibson, it turns out, had a PRQ from the CIA, indicating his employment with them.
Also released was a July 1962 letter where Gibson requests that the CIA employ him. Another “Secret” CIA document lists five CIA cables from “sensitive source” in Operations, regarding Gibson’s connections with Lee Harvey Oswald, whom Gibson refers to, coyly, as “Lee Bowmont.” When the Swiss Federal Police wiretapped Gibson’s hotel room, and provided the FBI with transcripts of these “overhears,” Gibson was not so coy. He referred to “Oswald” as “Oswald.”
As I wrote “A Farewell to Justice,” I had to decide not only what documents like these meant, but which witnesses were credible. I borrowed from lawyers: a witness gained in credibility to the degree that he spoke against his own interest. If he would gain nothing from talking to me, but might even damage himself, I took him seriously. If notoriety was anathema to the person, and he had demonstrated that, I took him more seriously.
I chose to believe a man named Thomas Edward Beckham, whom I discuss in the book as an alternative patsy. Beckham told me that Oliver Stone’s staff had managed to find his cell phone number and call him. He denied his identity. “I don’t know anyone by that name, ma’am,” Beckham told the caller. Stone paid his witnesses and consultants, so Beckham could have enjoyed both fame and fortune should he have signed on to the film, “JFK.”
Beckham also took the risk of my discovering that not only had he been a con man over the years – it was what saved his life because his scams rendered him impeachable – but he continued in certain dubious practices while he was talking to me. Con men are no more or less likely to tell the truth than white collar ENRON types. As I learned during the process of writing a biography of Lillian Hellman, liars don’t always lie.
In 1963 in New Orleans, Beckham was a young man tapped by the CIA to be trained at a Virginia facility. He was to be an alternative patsy and take the blame for the assassination should Oswald vanish into the night.
Tom Beckham was not informed of the purpose of his CIA training that spring of 1963. The same was true for Lee Oswald, who was instructed by his New Orleans CIA handlers, David Ferrie, and a CIA operative named Clay Shaw, the managing director of the International Trade Mart. Oswald was ordered to apply for a job at the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson. Ferrie and Shaw drove Oswald up to Jackson from New Orleans.
The hospital application form inquired whether you were a registered voter in East Feliciana Parish. Ferrie and Shaw then drove Oswald to Clinton, the county seat, to register Oswald to vote in order to facilitate his being hired by a mental hospital, a good place from which a crazed lone assassin might escape only to wind up arrested in Dallas. No operation is without glitches. How could Ferrie and Shaw imagine that on the very day they were taking Oswald to register, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) would be holding a huge voter registration drive?
The whole town became witnesses to Oswald being in the company of those two CIA operatives. A good number of people, both African American and Caucasian, came forward to tell what they had seen. Oswald, in fact, did register. Jim Garrison’s investigators, Anne Dischler and Francis Fruge, got to Clinton and discovered that fact. The following day the entire registration book at Clinton had disappeared without a trace.
Arrested by Jim Garrison, Clay Shaw denied he knew David Ferrie, no matter that the whole town saw them together – he counted on the CIA to protect him. Yet I was able to find a witness to a loan document Ferrie had taken out so that he could rent an airplane to fly to Dallas the week before the assassination. Ferrie later told both the FBI and the Secret Service that he hadn’t been in Dallas for eight to ten years, clearly a lie. The co-signer of that note was…Clay Shaw! Jim Garrison, defamed over the years, was prescient and right and is owed a posthumous apology.
Thomas Edward Beckham also handed me the original of a government document describing his CIA training and why CIA had concluded he could be useful to them. This document had been given to him years earlier by his CIA handler, a man named Fred Lee Crisman, as an explanation of how CIA had utilized him. Its letterhead is not “CIA,” but “UNITED STATES ARMY AIR DEFENSE COMMAND” out of Colorado Springs, and, yes, such an outfit does exist.
Beckham told me that his original handler in New Orleans was a strange character named Jack Martin. You don’t find identity cards confirming that someone is CIA, just as you didn’t find Communist Party membership cards. Jim Garrison’s investigation inspired CIA to conduct a trace search on Jack Martin, only for them to decide that their employee “Joseph John Martin” was not the New Orleans Jack Martin, although the documents reveal a bushel of similarities between the two. One CIA document refers to the name “Jack Martin” as “generic,” suggesting that as such the name “Jack Martin” was in use by CIA.
What does all this mean? This past fall, I hired an attorney to request of the CIA all its records on this New Orleans Jack Martin, particularly his Security file, a suit that is still in progress. We requested all records related to Jack S. Martin, aka Jack Martin, aka John J. Martin, aka Jack M. Martin, aka Lawrence J. Martin, aka John M. Martin, aka Edward Suggs, as well as Joseph James Martin. For good measure, we threw in Beckham’s other CIA handler, Fred Lee Crisman.
CIA acknowledged that they had three separate “Jack Martin” files, representing three different people, all with different middle initials. Each bore an AINS or “Agency Identification Number,” which is used when you want to claim later that the person never “worked” for the Agency. According to CIA, there was no significance to an AIN, unlike EINs, which are rock-solid employees or contractors.
Jack Martin in New Orleans in one document describes as CIA assets people who “were either crazy, ex-convicts, jail-birds, or even worse.” These categories apply both to himself and to Beckham. Of the three Martins the Agency acknowledges, CIA omits its openly acknowledged Joseph James as its former employee. Meanwhile Jack Martin of New Orleans used terminology like “operational penetration of these groups” and “legitimate front, such as an intelligence unit, for its cover,” clearly suggesting his intelligence background.
In the batch of CIA documents came an interesting letter. It demonstrates, and is the only internal document to do so, that Fred Lee Crisman, Beckham’s lifetime handler, was, indeed CIA. This letter refers to “documents” identifying Crisman’s Agency connections obtained by the sender, whose name is obliterated. This anonymous individual worked for a section of the Agency different from Crisman’s. He managed to obtain Crisman’s file through his own internal connections.
Now he urges that it be made known that Crisman served “only a part of the CIA” and that Crisman’s Agency activities even be made public. The document is dated September 13, 1969. It reveals internal conflict within the CIA that matches President Kennedy’s own battle with the clandestine service. So not everyone knew about the utilization of Oswald, or Beckham; not every component was in on the plot to murder President Kennedy.
Without subpoena power, or the power to charge someone with perjury, this research is expensive and exhausting. Results, when they come, are often as fragmentary as this extraordinary letter about Fred Lee Crisman. Meanwhile every few years a CIA inspired book appears insisting that it was the Mafia that accomplished this murder, no matter that they could never have engineered the massive cover-up, the better that the public throw up its collective hands and conclude that we will never know the truth.
The Warren Commission chose not to investigate a visit to an anti-Castro Cuban activist named Sylvia Odio in late September 1963 in Dallas by Oswald and two Cubans. As her Warren Commission testimony reveals, a day or so later, one of those Cubans telephoned Mrs. Odio to say that “Leon Oswald” had talked about how someone should kill President Kennedy over how he betrayed the Bay of Pigs operation.
“A Farewell to Justice” identified those Cubans for the first time. One was Angelo Murgado, who worked closely with Bobby Kennedy in his anti-Castro operations on which he collaborated with General Edward Lansdale. The other was a fellow veteran of the Bay of Pigs, the aforementioned Bernardo de Torres, the man who telephoned Mrs. Odio implicating Lee Oswald.
My primary source was Mr. Murgado, who, when he became an American citizen, he told me, changed his name to “Angelo Kennedy” in homage to Bobby Kennedy, a person he continues to admire. After the President was assassinated, and their relationship came to a close, Robert Kennedy asked Mr. Murgado if he needed anything. Mr. Murgado said “no.” He did not want to profit from political work in which he believed. He came away poor.
This enhanced his credibility for me. I believed Angelo Kennedy because he sought no notoriety, had never talked about the Odio incident before, did not court “assassination buffs,” and spoke against his own interest. These were painful memories. On November 22 nd , Mr. Murgado told me, he vomited when he realized that the murderer of President Kennedy, as far as he knew, was the man he met at Sylvia Odio’s. Ostensibly that man, called “Oswald,” was just another volunteer in their anti-Castro operations.
The implications of this evidence, which I published for the first time, are enormous. Bernardo de Torres, the CIA releases reveal, was a CIA operative. If he was involved in framing Oswald, it was on behalf of the CIA. A multitude of sources place de Torres as Oswald’s Dallas CIA hander, keeping Oswald under constant surveillance.
It was deeply moving to watch on CNN earlier this month Senator Edward Kennedy compare the Iraq War with Vietnam during his speech at the National Press Club. It was the day before George Bush’s Iraq troop acceleration, or “surge,” was announced. Kennedy read out quotations about “staying the course” and the need for “more people,” and then told the audience, no, this was not George Bush speaking. It was Lyndon Johnson, forty years ago. The spirit of John F. Kennedy hovered near.
It was a great disappointment to New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison that Robert Kennedy did not assist him in his investigation. Instead, Robert Kennedy actively attempted to thwart his efforts. He sent Walter Sheridan, his “confidential assistant,” Sheridan’s job description, to New Orleans to discredit Garrison. As a historian of Jim Garrison’s investigation, I too have pondered why Bobby Kennedy remained aloof, and I have concluded that it could only have been because he did not want his own part in the assassination attempts on the life of Fidel Castro, during which Oswald came to his attention, to emerge.
I located a document from the CIA’s own Secret History, in which the CIA’s History Staff is interviewing a CIA officer named Sam Halpern. Halpern reveals his own incredulity that Bobby Kennedy should be working with the Mafia in attempts on the life of Castro at the very same time that he was trying to send other Mafia figures to jail. A CIA operative named Charley Ford, alias Charley Fiscalini, was assigned by Bobby Kennedy to make contact with Mafia types in this country and Canada for the purpose of murdering Castro.
To all this, Charley Ford testified under oath before the Church Committee. That Bobby Kennedy repeatedly attempted to enlist anti-Castro Cubans for these assassination attempts against Castro I learned first-hand from Isidro Borja, of the DRE. “I know Bobby Kennedy was behind it,” he told me indignantly, “because his people approached ME!” Borja told me Bobby’s people did succeed in recruiting his good friend Rafael Quintero Ibaria, also known as “Chi Chi.”
Even after “A Farewell to Justice” was published, I continued to attempt to confirm a lead I was given that Robert Kennedy gave a talk at Homestead Air Force base in Florida to a group of anti-Castro people, with Lee Oswald supposedly in the crowd. It was summer of 1963. I was able to confirm that Oswald was in Miami at the time. A fellow writer claimed he had a source, an aging documentary filmmaker, to whom Robert Kennedy personally revealed that when he spoke at Homestead Air Force base, Oswald in the audience. When I asked the writer to return to the source, he did, only for the source to become evasive.
To give you an idea of how difficult this work is, to confirm this information, if it was information, I interviewed a slew of documentary filmmakers. I located Robert Kennedy associates: John Nolan; Peter Edelman; John Seigenthaler; press secretaries Frank Mankiewicz and Ed Guthman; Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen; his cousin Joey Gargan; and George Stevens, Jr.
I moved on to soldiers of fortune like Ed Kolby, whose name appears in Lee Oswald’s address book; Mr. Borja; and a mercenary living among Cuban exiles in Australia named James Richards. Richards told me that a group of Cubans who feared they might be implicated in the assassination had migrated to Australia. Richards added that Bernardo de Torres admitted to him that he had been in Dallas on the day of the assassination. Perhaps the story about Homestead had been invented by someone who knew Robert Kennedy was aware of Oswald (this fact I confirmed with Angelo Kennedy), to underline the point.
John Seigenthaler suggested that I consult the appointment books of Robert Kennedy’s secretary, Angie Novello, for 1963. These reside at the Kennedy Library. When I did, I was informed that the appointment book for 1963 was missing. In no uncertain terms, I was told not to inquire again. “The curators have no idea as to its disposition,” the librarian told me.
There is another unanswered question that has bedeviled me. In April of 1963, Lee Oswald took shots at General Edwin Walker in Dallas. Walker believed to his dying day that the Department of Justice sent word to the Dallas police not to pursue Oswald “for reasons of state.” The relevant police file, #F48156, is missing from the Dallas police files, like the 1963 appointment book of Robert Kennedy.
By the mid 1970s, the FBI was still instructing Dallas police Chief Jesse Curry to remain silent about the “handling” of the Oswald evidence. Dutifully, Curry denied he had ever heard of Oswald before the assassination. The missing document purportedly connects Oswald with his own assassin, Jack Ruby, an association made to seem outlandish by the Warren Commission, except that I discovered for “A Farewell to Justice” that Ruby and Oswald were very well known to each other.
The seeming Justice Department directive, alternately described as a CIA order transmitted by the Justice Department, demanding that Oswald be left alone, returns us to the story of poor Otto Otepka, and his being fired from his high position in State Department security. Mr. Otepka told me he believed Walter Sheridan (he kept a huge file on Sheridan at his home) and Bobby Kennedy were behind his being hounded from his job, that Sheridan was behind that theft of the defector files from his office safe. Who, in a very high place, because it wasn’t easy to break into those high risk files, was protecting Oswald, and why?
What sounded alarms in all kinds of places was Mr. Otepka’s innocent request of the CIA that they check into Oswald, a routine request he made when the name of someone he was investigating raised questions. The fact that, before the assassination of President Kennedy, Oswald was known to Robert Kennedy, as he was to CIA, the FBI, and Customs, accounts in no small measure for why Robert Kennedy remained silent about who was responsible for his brother’s death. Kennedy loyalists, Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, have been similarly silent. It has been an anomaly of the Kennedy assassination that, to borrow the terminology of Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, “The Road,” both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” have conspired to keep the truth from us.
I’ll close with the quotation from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” engraved on the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. It asks that we connect the murder of President Kennedy, and the motives for that crime, with the increasingly unrecognizable America in which we find ourselves living today:
“The past is prologue.”