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JFK assassination: CIA and New York Times are still lying to us

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Originally appeared in Salon.com on November 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

Fifty years later, a complicit media still covers up for the security state. We need to reclaim our history

We'll never know, we'll never know, we'll never know. That's the mocking-bird media refrain this season as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of America's greatest mystery -- the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson hijacked a large chunk of her paper's Sunday Book Review to ponder the Kennedy mystery. And after deliberating for page after page on the subject, she could only conclude that there was some "kind of void" at the center of the Kennedy story. Adam Gopnik was even more vaporous in the Nov. 4 issue of the New Yorker , turning the JFK milestone into an occasion for a windy cogitation on regicide as cultural phenomenon. Of course, constantly proclaiming "we'll never know" has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the American press. It lets the watchdogs off the hook, and excuses their unforgivable failure to actually, you know, investigate the epic crime. When it comes to this deeply troubling American trauma, the highly refined writers of the New Yorker and the elite press would rather muse about the meta-issues than get at the meat.

All this artful dodging about the murder of President Kennedy began, of course, nearly 50 years ago with the Warren Commission , the blue-ribbon panel that was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson -- not to get at the truth, but to "lay the dust" (in the words of one commissioner) on all the disturbing rumors that were swirling around the bloody events in Dallas . Two new books take us inside the Warren Commission sausage factory, and show in often shocking detail how the august panel got it so terribly wrong.  Soon after the Warren Report was released in September 1964, polls began showing that the American people rejected its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of the president -- and nearly a half century later, the report remains a notorious symbol of official coverup. [This does not prevent Abramson from blithely declaring that "the historical consensus seems to have settled on" the lone gunman theory -- there is no such consensus, only a deeply fractious ongoing debate.]

" A Cruel and Shocking Act " by former New York Times investigative reporter Philip Shenon has been soaking up most of the media spotlight in recent days. The book proclaims itself to be a "secret history of the Kennedy assassination." Based largely on interviews with Warren Commission staff lawyers, the book reveals how the investigation was immediately taken over by the very government agencies -- the CIA, FBI and Secret Service -- that had the most to hide when it came to the assassination. The other new book, " History Will Prove Us Right ," was written by Howard Willens, a Warren Commission lawyer who refused to speak with Shenon. As suggested by the title -- which is taken from a defiant statement by the commission chairman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren -- Willens' book is a stubborn defense of the report that he helped produce. But ironically, after grinding http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png one's way through Willens' serviceably written but highly revealing story, a reader can only come to the same conclusion that Shenon's sexier expose' demands -- namely, that the Warren Report was the result of massive political cunning and investigative fraud.

Both books contain juicy and informative details that shed new light on the JFK investigation. (Shenon's book also contains a few breathlessly advertised "scoops" that turn out to be rehashed stories or false leads.) But the two books also suffer from a strange cognitive dissonance. After elaborating on the many ways that the Warren Commission's work was sabotaged by President Johnson, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (who immediately took charge of the investigation), former CIA director Allen Dulles (who conveniently got himself appointed to the commission), Treasury chief C. Douglas Dillon (who oversaw the Secret Service) and other Washington power http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png players, the books seem to arrive at the same baffling conclusion as the deeply compromised Warren Report -- i.e., that Oswald did it.

When it comes to the million-dollar question, Shenon is much more equivocal than Willens. He seems to think that Oswald might have had accomplices -- but Oswald nonetheless remains at the center of Shenon's story, rather than the intelligence officials, for instance, whom Sen. Richard Schweiker once remarked had their "fingerprints" all over the young alleged assassin. In following the conspiracy trail, Shenon quickly takes a wrong turn down the "Castro-as-mastermind" path. Perhaps because as a writer he found this story of deep espionage more intriguing than the Warren Commission's twisted bureaucratic tale, the author lights off for Mexico City, where Oswald apparently visited (or was impersonated visiting) the Soviet and Cuban embassies in the days before Dallas . Shenon has Oswald dallying with a sexy clerk in the Cuban embassy, and perhaps getting entangled in a sinister Fidelista plot against JFK.

The problem with this tantalizing tale of Cuban intrigue is that it's completely bogus and has been consistently debunked over the years -- despite the best efforts of former CIA spooks like Brian Latell ("Castro's Secrets"), whom Shenon credits as an inspiration, to revive it. One of the better jobs at http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png deconstructing the Castro theory was done by Gerald McKnight, a professor emeritus of history at Maryland's Hood College . In "Breach of Trust" -- his 2005 exploration of the Warren Commission's failure, which remains the best book on the topic -- McKnight illuminates how immediately after the gunfire in Dealey Plaza, the CIA began an aggressive disinformation campaign to link Oswald with Castro. As McKnight documents, President Johnson was so alarmed that this propaganda offensive would lead to war with Cuba (and perhaps a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union) that he prevailed on his friend J. Edgar Hoover to help him shut down the CIA's explosive rumor-mongering. Fifty years later, Shenon has fallen into the same spook trap on Cuba.

Shenon does have a remarkable story to tell about Castro -- and it completely undermines his dark conjecture about the Cuban leader. In the summer of 1964, Castro passed word to Washington that he wanted to tell his story to the Warren Commission. William Coleman -- the commission's only African-American lawyer -- had met Castro back in the early 1950s, when they were both young men enjoying Harlem's nightlife. As the obvious staff member to undertake the mission, Coleman set off for the Caribbean, where he met with his old acquaintance on a yacht anchored off Cuba. For three hours, Coleman fired questions at Castro about a possible Cuban plot against JFK, with Fidel steadfastly insisting that he admired JFK and had nothing to do with his murder. In fact, it would later be revealed that in the months before his death, Kennedy had begun to soften the hostile U.S. stance against Havana and had opened back channels to Castro. After returning from his secret mission, Coleman reported back to Warren that he found no proof Castro was involved in JFK's murder. The Coleman story is not the hot scoop advertised by Shenon -- it was first reported years ago by Irish journalist Anthony Summers, one of the more dogged diggers in the Kennedy field. But it certainly bears repeating.

To give Shenon and Willens their due, both books contain a number of startling facts, some of which are new, at least to me. For example, Shenon spotlights these intriguing bits of information:

-          After returning home from his grim duties, Dr. James Humes, the Navy pathologist in charge of the Kennedy autopsy at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, burned his original autopsy report in the fireplace in his family room. Humes' superior officer was so concerned that the pathologist himself might be eliminated by the plotters who killed JFK that he ordered Humes to be escorted home that night.

-          Arlen Specter, the Warren Commission lawyer (and future U.S. senator), first presented his soon-to-be infamous single bullet theory to Chief Justice Warren while the two men were standing at the sixth-floor window http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png of the Texas Book Depository where the mediocre marksman Oswald allegedly committed his historic crime. After listening silently to Specter explain the magical trajectory of Oswald's bullet, Warren simply turned on his heel and walked away without saying a word. Warren -- a distinguished chief justice with a monumental record on civil rights -- had resisted serving on the presidential commission. He knew that his duty was not to find the truth, but to suppress dangerous evidence that -- as LBJ had warned him -- might lead to World War III. Still, it must have dismayed the 73-year-old jurist to see how his historic report (and his reputation) would be tied to a patently absurd ballistics theory.

-          In the years following the Warren Report's release, several of the commissioners and staff members distanced themselves from their own report and publicly criticized the manifold deceptions of the agencies on which they had relied, namely the FBI and CIA. Among those who suffered grave doubts was lawyer David Slawson, the man who had been the Warren Commission's lead investigator into whether JFK was the victim of a conspiracy. In 1975 Slawson aired his criticisms to the New York Times, attacking the CIA for withholding vital information from the commission and calling for a new JFK investigation. Within days of the story breaking in the Times, Slawson received a strange and threatening phone http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png call from James Angleton, the spectral CIA counterintelligence chief. Angleton -- who had not only closely monitored Oswald for several years before Dallas, but later took charge of the agency's investigation into the alleged assassin -- adopted a decidedly sinister tone during his call with Slawson, making it clear to the lawyer that he would be wise to remain "a friend of the CIA." Slawson and his wife were deeply unnerved by the call. He thought the message was clear: "Keep your mouth shut."

For his part, Willens, who had been loaned out to the Warren Commission by Robert Kennedy's Justice Department, reveals new information about the attorney general and his troubled relationship with the official investigation into his brother's death. RFK resolutely kept his distance from the proceedings of the Warren Commission -- which was stacked with RFK's political enemies and reported to a new president with whom he had a poisonous relationship. But, as Willens reveals, Kennedy did briefly insert a lawyer on the Warren Commission staff -- in addition to Willens himself. This Kennedy mole used his position on the commission to dig into possible connections between the JFK assassination and the Mafia-connected Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, another mortal enemy of RFK.

As soon as he had heard the devastating news from Dallas on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy immediately suspected that his brother had been the victim of a plot. RFK believed that the shadowy assassination operation against Fidel Castro -- a dark alliance between the CIA and the Mafia -- had somehow been turned against President Kennedy. When Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby stunned the nation by shooting Oswald on national TV while he was being escorted through the basement of the Dallas Police Department http://solidsaving-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png , Bobby and his Justice Department investigators quickly turned their attention to Ruby. Within hours, RFK's men found that Ruby had numerous connections to organized crime.

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David Talbot is the founder of Salon and the author of the New York Times bestseller, "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years." He is now working on a book about legendary CIA director Allen W. Dulles and (more...)
 

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JFK assassination: CIA and New York Times are still lying to us

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Senator Richard Schweiker   Knows&nb... by Gerald Campeau on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 9:10:39 AM
The purported shooting by Oswald was beyond the ca... by Robert James on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 11:18:00 AM
That's simply incorrect. The shot was perfectly wi... by Laurie Endicott Thomas on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 12:11:49 AM
FALSE!  No one was ever able to dupilicate th... by Sun King on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 12:21:24 PM
Robert, total crap!  Your Katsa has a flower ... by Ralph Demers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 1:46:38 PM
Lots of revisionist stuff about this going around ... by steve windisch on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 11:49:55 AM
In fact, Steve, Kennedy's stated intent to "disban... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:11:15 PM
This is an unmitigated crock of sh*t!  I was ... by Ralph Demers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 2:38:42 PM
This is an unmitigated crock of sh*t!  I was ... by Ralph Demers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 2:48:34 PM
Did you seriously expect either the CIA or the New... by David McElroy on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 1:31:40 PM
The parallels between the events of 11/22/1963 and... by Maxwell on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 2:01:02 PM
They should be.  Both historical dates were t... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 10:56:40 PM
I just saw on t.v. the latest of the "Zapruder" fi... by Magistre on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 2:54:39 PM
The larger hole and debris were the result of the ... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:36:54 PM
Thank you for such an informative article.  I... by Clayton Pickering on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 3:04:54 PM
Anyone who publicizes too much from Abbie Hoffman ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 11:00:13 PM
two stories......1. I was working in Nashville TN ... by yunus Luebben on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 3:28:55 PM
If anyone wants a rip roaring narrative, read Dr. ... by Georgianne Nienaber on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 5:48:37 PM
Georgianne, I don't agree that Dr. Mary's Monkey i... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:46:03 PM
...and don't forget about Nat Geo TV (National Geo... by Mark Whittington on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 6:36:56 PM
Remember, everything you see on TV is usually the ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 11:04:30 PM
Two books that shed a new light on the assassinati... by Paul Barbara on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 7:30:49 PM
You'll next want to read "Mary's Mosaic", Paul. Th... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:55:24 PM
AT least Talbot was right about NYT. I fogot to me... by Gerald Campeau on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 7:31:14 PM
Cui bono? Well, LBJ & JFK hated each other, an... by Paul Barbara on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 7:49:41 PM
Seems the thorough list, Paul.But who had the powe... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 12:07:52 PM
Here's an interesting article from January, as Rob... by John Lake on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 8:36:40 PM
Here again is the link I mentioned. First try fail... by John Lake on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 8:42:59 PM
John,I think your article stinketh!While you DO pr... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:50:51 PM
My link may be the source of the one true solution... by John Lake on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 3:51:49 PM
Here's an excerpt from the article that Sun King s... by John Lake on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 8:02:11 PM
Four nights before Kennedy's assassination, I was ... by Scribe 76 on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 9:45:54 PM
Very interesting about your dream. I'd sure like t... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:30:00 PM
Some very astute comments here.  In 2000-2001... by John Russell on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 9:53:46 PM
Thanks David! I'm sharing this article on Facebook... by takebackourcountry on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:24:45 PM
Watch this video of JFK's Secret Service agents be... by 911TRUTH on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 12:03:19 AM
this page has links to some great photos, fact, an... by Wil Masisak on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 9:25:02 AM
A most remarkable book is 'JFK and the Unspeakable... by Sun King on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 2:04:48 PM
Prouty is the quintessential crackpot LOLOLOLOL... by Ralph Demers on Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 1:01:21 AM
On what basis do you make THAT remark, Ralph.Read ... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 11:32:16 AM
I hope Mr. Talbot will provide a critique of the N... by Judy Chucker on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 10:12:53 PM
The purpose of shows like that IS to confuse you..... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 11:38:58 AM
When the OSS was formed, they recruited the Sicili... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 10:50:03 PM
What a scare.  Half the comments are from the... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 11:10:32 PM
Well I think I raised a pretty valid point: namely... by Maxwell on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:41:15 AM
... by Maxwell on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:56:55 AM
No doubt! ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 8:35:00 PM
Also, you spin fascinating tales but it would be n... by Maxwell on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:44:10 AM
For example, the speech at Columbia turns out to b... by Maxwell on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 7:58:50 AM
If you have specific questions about a specific fa... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:20:53 PM
To which Lord Russell do you refer, sir?Also, can ... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 12:05:50 PM
Google Lord Russell and the Opium Wars.  The ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:36:27 PM
I am referring to the Lord Russell out of Boston w... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:50:52 PM
Great response and elucidation, Neal.I was wonderi... by Sun King on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 12:59:19 PM
What is interesting about this is the fact that Pr... by Ethan Hollow on Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 10:08:08 AM
Kennedy had approved the Cuban air strike the afte... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:43:36 PM
Think 'power elite', military-industrial complex, ... by Sun King on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:57:01 PM
John Kennedy's 'way with women' was not exaggerate... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Friday, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:58:47 PM
Bravo, Neal!Well said!... by Sun King on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:55:38 AM