According to Shenon, the Warren Commission lawyers who were assigned to investigate Ruby -- Burt Griffin and Leon Hubert -- came to the same disturbing conclusion. Equally unnerving, the commission lawyers also suspected that the Dallas police sergeant who was in charge of Oswald's security had allowed Ruby to slip into police headquarters and gun down the alleged assassin. But Griffin and Hubert were shut down before they could complete their Ruby investigation. And Griffin was reprimanded for daring to confront the Dallas police sergeant with his suspicions. Warren even publicly apologized to the cop when he was called to testify before the commission in Washington.
The post-assassination Washington revealed in these two books brings to mind ancient Rome. The capital's chambers and private clubs were filled with dark whispers. The most powerful elements of government maneuvered to make sure their deepest secrets would not be revealed. Royal blood had been spilled and the new regime was determined that the public must never know why.
In the end, Shenon and Willens do little to further enlighten the public about the who, what or why of the Kennedy assassination. A growing historical consensus now sees JFK as presiding over a bitterly divided government, with Kennedy and his peace-minded inner circle on one side and a war-hungry Cold War establishment on the other. Even humdrum Kennedy historian Robert Dallek has now signed on to this view, with a new book that argues JFK's biggest enemies were not Communist leaders but his own generals and espionage chiefs. This is a sobering conclusion, of course, because it provides a possible explanation for the bloody regime change in Dallas.
These dark waters are simply too ominous for authors like Shenon and Willens to explore. Despite his willingness to expose the Warren Commission's tortured process, Shenon cannot bring himself to condemn its conclusions. At the end of the day, he remains a product of the New York Times -- a newspaper that rushed to embrace the Warren Report months before it was even completed and, as Abramson's wordy screed attests, is still more interested in ridiculing and marginalizing even the most credible conspiracy researchers than in getting at the truth. Mainstream journalists know that -- even 50 years (!) later -- they don't dare go beyond the safe confines of "we'll never know," or they won't be appearing on "Meet the Press" any time soon.
Shenon writes that he worked for five years on his Warren Commission book -- and yet the sum of these efforts is to bring him back to the beginning, where the commission left the investigation. In the end, he doesn't know quite what to make of JFK's murder. His confusion becomes clear in his acknowledgments where he lists the books that he believes are "the essential library" on the Kennedy case -- the books that "will still be read generations from now." Shenon's list is a contradictory hodgepodge, lumping together books from the conspiracy camp (like my own " Brothers ," Jefferson Morley's " Our Man in Mexico " and Gaeton Fonzi's " The Last Investigation ") with hardcore lone gunman titles (like Gerald Posner's " Case Closed " and Vincent Bugliosi's " Reclaiming History "). This weirdly polarized reading list underlines Shenon's failure to resolve his own thinking on the case.
[See the author's list of essential JFK sources below the article.]
In contrast to the vacillating Shenon, Willens at least has the courage of his convictions. He's a Warren Commission apologist, pure and simple. And yet in a recent conversation, he sounded somewhat less certain, as we discussed new revelations that his own political patron, Robert Kennedy, never believed the Warren Report and was determined to find the truth on his own.
Fifty years later, Willens still can't offer a credible motive for why Oswald supposedly killed Kennedy. In his book, he reveals that the commission assigned staff lawyer Wesley Liebeler to write a memo on Oswald's "Possible Personal Motive" -- but the panel found Liebler's effort so unconvincing that it was rejected. In the end, the Warren Commission decided against offering a definitive motive for the murder, leaving the country forever puzzled by the young man who insisted he was a "patsy."
After painstakingly documenting how the country's security agencies played the Warren Commission, Shenon and Willens both explain away this monumental deception by claiming that the country's intelligence apparatus was simply trying to hide its embarrassing failure to protect the president. But there's another, more disturbing conclusion that is left hanging in the air. If the CIA was just trying to hide embarrassing mistakes back in the 1960s -- security lapses that have long since been exposed -- what is the agency still trying to conceal?
At the half-century mark, it's clearly high time for the nation to go beyond all the self-serving apologias -- and beyond all the equivocation and speculation. We need the facts -- as Jefferson Morley, one of the few journalists to devote serious effort to the Kennedy case, has demonstrated. Morley has been pursuing a lengthy Freedom of Information battle with the CIA to pry loose more than 1,500 documents that the agency is still concealing in defiance of the 1992 JFK Records Act. At long last, we need the government to come clean and provide the American people with what is legally theirs -- every piece of classified information relating to the Kennedy assassination. Failing that, if the CIA continues to defy the law, the nation needs another Edward Snowden.
The assassination of President Kennedy and its subsequent coverup was a triumph for the rapidly growing U.S. national security state. Fifty years later, that surveillance colossus increasingly treats the American people as if we're enemies of the state. We can begin to take control of our future by finally demanding ownership of our past.
There is a wealth of useful information about the Kennedy assassination available online. But before a beginner wades into these thickets, it's best to start with some of the best books on the subject.
1. " JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters ," by James W. Douglass. Written by a deeply thoughtful Catholic peace activist, this book portrays Kennedy as a Cold War martyr -- a leader who sacrificed his life to save the world from the nuclear holocaust that was being threatened by his national security team. Douglass draws together much of the best research about the Kennedy administration, and the tensions that finally tore it apart.
2. " The Last Investigation: What Insiders Know About the Assassination of JFK, " by Gaeton Fonzi. An aggressive Philadelphia investigative journalist, Fonzi was recruited by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976 to be one of its lead investigators. (The HSCA's final report in 1979 overturned the Warren Report, concluding that JFK had been killed as the result of a conspiracy, but failed to name the plotters.) Fonzi's inside account of the committee, which came tantalizingly close to cracking the case before it was sabotaged by CIA obstructionism and congressional cowardice, makes for a gripping and eye-opening tale.
3. " Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why ," by Gerald McKnight. Written by a professor emeritus of history at Hood College , this is one of the few invaluable books on the Kennedy case produced by American academia -- which has been as timid as the press when it comes to exploring this taboo topic. McKnight documents how U.S. security agencies immediately hijacked the Warren investigation -- and makes a compelling case for their own involvement in JFK's death.