The Enduring JFK Mystery
by Lisa Pease
Forty-two years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963,
President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. In
Bethesda, Maryland, this past weekend, a group of distinguished
journalists, historians, scientists and others gathered to discuss
and debate the evidence of conspiracy in the JFK case.
While the research community has often
slammed the mainstream media for not covering the facts of the
case, the blame must go both ways. The conference organizers offered
no handouts, no summaries of what is new in the case this year,
or any hook upon which a journalist might hang a story.
As one of the reporters said in a panel
discussion, this is a story without an ending, and how satisfying
But that is a tragedy, in light of the
Downing Street Memo and other evidence that the Bush administration's
case for war in Iraq was built on a false platform. The common
thread throughout the weekend was that secrecy and democracy cannot
safely coexist, that the more we have of the former, the less
we have of the latter.
The credentials of the speakers this year
was more impressive than in previous conferences. Featured speakers
included former presidential candidate Gary Hart, author James
Bamford, journalists Jeff Morley and Salon founder David Talbot,
and historians David Wrone and John Newman (who was a military
intelligence analyst), and the former head of the House Select
Committee on Assassinations, G. Robert Blakey.
Former Sen. Hart, a Colorado Democrat,
recounted his experiences on the Senate Select Committee to Study
Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities,
more popularly known as the "Church Committee" after
its leader, Sen. Frank Church.
Hart began with a disclaimer saying he
didn't read the assassination books, hadn't reviewed his Church
Committee files, and warned that everything he said should be
prefaced with, "as I recall."
According to Hart, there was little interest
among Committee members in seriously investigating the intelligence
community. There had been little oversight of the CIA since its
creation 28 years earlier. Reviewing the CIA's operations seemed
both a gargantuan and ultimately unnecessary task. The Vietnam
War was in its last days, and there was the sense that poking
around in Agency business might undermine morale.
The Committee members also realized that
if there was even one leak, their work would be over. That's one
of the reasons there was so little oversight in the years up to
that point. Simply put, the CIA did not trust Congress to keep
its secrets. So they implemented strict security.
One day, CIA Director William Colby asked
for even more security than ever before. He wanted the room swept
for bugs before they began. Colby also insisted only members,
not their staff, attended.
At that session, Colby presented Committee
members with the 600-page Inspector General report on Agency abuses,
a document popularly known as the "family jewels." Included
in that document were tales of drug experiments on both witting
and unwitting subjects, the wholesale opening of mail, bugging
operations, and plots to overthrow governments including -- "with
almost demented insistence," Hart said -- the attempts to
kill Fidel Castro.
The Committee members were shocked. And
significantly, Hart said that only a few items from that report
have ever made it to the public, begging the question of what
other abuses occurred. How can we measure the success of Congressional
oversight if we don't know if any of those other abuses were successfully
Hart recounted an episode where he had
the chance to meet one of the CIA's top contract assassins, known
only as QJ/WIN. After a long series of instructions, Hart arrived
at the location, only to find QJ/WIN did not want to talk to him.
Hart wrote about that episode in fictional form in the novel Double
Man (co-written with William Cohen).
When Hart ran for president, he said he
was frequently asked what he would do about the Kennedy assassination.
He promised if elected, he would reopen the investigation. But
then he was caught with Donna Rice on a boat in Florida. "If
you've seen the movie 'Bullworth,' you know that now we can assassinate
people with cameras," he said.
Most of the speakers did not offer theories
as to who killed Kennedy, but presented instead the context of
the event within the framework of the Kennedy administration during
the Cold War.
On that point, there was considerable
agreement that John and his brother Robert Kennedy found themselves
increasingly isolated within their own administration. They were
at war with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA over Cuba and
Bamford discussed documents from Operation
Northwoods, a plan that called for a wave of terrorism inside
the United States that falsely would be blamed on Fidel Castro
and become the justification for invading Cuba.
At one point, all the Joint Chiefs had
signed off on these plans. Kennedy stood alone in opposing this,
and one is left wondering if that was one of the prime motives
for his murder.
Professor Blakey's hands shook slightly
as he spoke to the group gathered for dinner on Saturday night.
He confessed that he had trusted the CIA too much.
CIA Director Stansfield Turner showed
Blakey a letter in which Turner admonished CIA people not to lie
to the committee members. Blakey believed that was enough. He
finds now that was not the case.
Blakey denied that his long background
dealing with organized crime was the reason he chose to focus
on the Mob as the conspirators in the Kennedy assassination. He
said when he looked for a group that could connect both Oswald
and Ruby, the choice seemed clear that the Mob fit the bill. He
said if proof surfaced that Oswald had been framed, that would
indicate conspirators other than the Mob, which did not have that
Blakey spoke specifically about George
Joannides, a CIA psychological warfare expert and the focus of
several of Jeff Morley's articles about the case. Joannides had
been in charge of the anti-Castro Cuban student organization known
as the DRE.
Carlos Bringuier of the DRE fought verbally
with Oswald in the streets of Miami, which led to the arrest of
Oswald just weeks before the assassination, and later put Oswald
on the air in a DRE-sponsored program in which Oswald said he
was a Marxist.
During the House investigation, Blakey
assigned two of his young law school student assistants, Edward
Lopez and Dan Hardway, to the CIA. They were set up in an office
at CIA and given great freedom to request documents.
The Agency was forced to comply. But when
Lopez and Hardway started pressing for more of the DRE documents,
Joannides, who had been brought back from retirement to oversee
the investigation, went to Blakey and complained that Lopez and
Hardway were too aggressive, that they were pushing too hard.
Blakey said at the time, he believed
the CIA. Now he wished he had backed up Lopez and Hardway.
In addition, Blakey had originally used
the Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA), a method for testing metal
composition in bullets, as the basis for saying that - despite
the acoustical evidence of conspiracy - Oswald had fired the fatal
shots. Now, in light of the exposes about the inaccuracies of
NAA, Blakey called that "junk science."
Blakey's mea culpa met with mixed reaction
from the crowd, who asked him several questions, including why
he had not continued with the effort in effect to file perjury
charges against senior CIA official David Atlee Phillips after
he was caught red-handed lying to the Committee. (Blakey claimed
not to know anything about that effort, which was in essence shut
down upon his arrival.)
The crowd did applaud him, however, for
being the first public official to go on record saying there was
a probable conspiracy in the assassination. He based that on the
In regards to the acoustical evidence,
two presenters spoke back to back on Saturday about the Dictabelt
tape - a tape a motorcycle cop made inadvertently during the shooting
of Kennedy in Dealey Plaza.
The House assassination committee hired
two different companies to evaluate the evidence and both agreed
the tape showed five distinct shots. Blakely only asked the Committee
to evaluate the evidence for four of the shots, one of which purportedly
came from the "grassy knoll." (Blakey did not see the
point in looking at five shots when four was enough to prove conspiracy
and a knoll shot.)
Richard Garwin, whose program biography
did not include his work for the CIA (which he acknowledged during
the Q&A), presented an opaque argument that the sounds on
the Dictabelt tape came a minute too late to have been any of
the shots in Dealey Plaza. Presenting charts and graphs that confused
most people in the audience, and fumbling over his sound files,
Garwin was not well received.
Garwin was followed by Donald Thomas,
who had written an article on the acoustical evidence for the
well-respected British publication Science & Justice (2001
- see http://www.forensic-science-society.org.uk/Thomas.pdf).
Dr. Thomas presented a stark contrast
to Garwin. Thomas began by asserting that the number on the tape
Garwin tested was not the number of the tape the House assassination
committee tested. He also pointed out that there is a difference
in recording speed and playback speed, and that Garwin's team
had applied one which made the shot sounds no longer line up with
the House committee analysis.
Thomas provided slides that made clear
the points he was making. One could feel the change in the room.
People now felt they could follow along as Thomas lined up each
sound with the motorcycle's probable position, and then showed
us pictures from the Zapruder film and others that confirmed that
the motorcycle cop, Officer H.B. McLain, was indeed in those positions
at those times.
Former military intelligence analyst John
Newman was the only speaker willing to speculate about a potential
conspirator, based on the documentary record.
Professor Newman reviewed how CIA reports
of Oswald's trips to the Cuban and Soviet embassies was a key
factor in getting President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Warren Commission
members to go with the Oswald as lone assassin line.
Newman described how the reports in essence
created a "World War III" virus, such that after the
assassination, no one wanted to look too closely at who Oswald
served, lest it touch off a nuclear war with the Soviets or the
Newman traced how false information that
helped promote this WWIII virus got into Oswald's file and concluded
that the person who controlled the file at those points was Ann
Egerter, one of the six or so hand-picked operatives working in
James Jesus Angleton's CI/SIG unit - the Special Investigations
Group within the larger 200-man Counterintelligence group at CIA.
Newman also pointed out how many in the
Agency feared Angleton, feared for their lives if they crossed
him, and suggested Egerter would not have manipulated Oswald's
file on her own, but only under express instructions from Angleton
The U.S. 'Empire'
Virginia lawyer Dan Alcorn spoke of the
parallels between George Washington's farewell address, in which
he warned against the danger of maintaining a standing army, and
Eisenhower's admonition to beware the Military-Industrial complex.
"I think what's at stake is the identity
of our country and what kind of country we want to be," Alcorn
said. "The word 'empire' has been thrown around. I can't
believe people around Washington have seriously discussed describing
themselves as an empire.
"But we were not founded to be an
empire. A free republic cannot be an empire. I think people have
lost touch with the ethic of the country and what the country
should be. [We've converted ourselves into] a global domination
"If morality doesn't concern us,
practicality should. The reason we're a free republic is that
it's a self-sustaining system on an ethical basis. Lessons of
history are that empires do not succeed."
Kennedy's consistent refusal to allow
America to become an empire, and his desire to avoid a "pax
Americana" may have been key motives for his assassination.
The topic of the Iraq War and the lies
that took the nation to war was a frequent sub-theme at the conference.
To many of the 135 people gathered, history is one long through
line. By not confronting the lies we were given about the assassination
and demanding government accountability, we essentially agreed
to look the other way, empowering government to lie to us about
To study the assassination is to peer
into the yawning chasm between what we are told happened, and
our true history. Information empowers us to take corrective action.
Disinformation - or a lack of information - keeps us out of the
loop, unable to make appropriate choices for oversight. Nowhere
has that point been brought home more strongly than in the buildup
to war in Iraq.
Lisa Pease began studying the Kennedy
assassination in 1992 after observing how the raw evidence from
the Warren Commission's investigation was misrepresented in the
mainstream media. Some of her writings can be found in the anthology,
The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm
X. Her Web site is www.realhistoryarchives.com.