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The Enduring JFK Mystery

By Lisa Pease
November 22, 2005

Editor’s Note: The assassination of John F. Kennedy was one of the darkest moments in modern American history. But one of its most pernicious legacies has been the notion that average Americans must be shielded from what really happens on matters of national security, even something as important as the murder of a president.

Since the Warren Commission probe of the JFK assassination, other investigations of serious government wrongdoing, one after another, have been truncated – CIA abuses, Iran-Contra, Contra drug trafficking, Iraq-gate, misuse of Iraq War intelligence, Abu Ghraib – supposedly because the full stories would undermine morale or otherwise not be “good for the country.”

Ultimately, of course, this loss of a true history is corrosive to the concept of a democratic republic, and it has been one of our goals as a publication to flesh out the facts of those failed investigations. In that light, we are publishing a report from JFK assassination expert Lisa Pease on a recent historical conference in Washington:

 

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 is that?

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.”

Little Interest

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 handled?

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.

Few Theories

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 Vietnam.

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 capability.

CIA Obstacles

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 acoustical evidence.

The Dictabelt

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.

Lone Assassin? 

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 Cubans.

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 himself.

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 state…

“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 other events.

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.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of the speakers as Don Thompson, rather than Thomas.


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.

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