Jim Garrison, the KGB, and the CIA

An open letter to Foreign Affairs magazine

by Oliver Stone

The Nation magazine, August 5 /12, 2002


Last fall, Nation contributing editor Max Holland wrote an article for the ClA publication Studies in Intelligence asserting that former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison was duped by a KGB disinformation operation that led him, along with most Americans, to believe that the CIA had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

This spring, Foreign Affairs magazine published a generous review of Hollands article. As co-writers of the film JFK, we sent a reply to Foreign Affairs. The editors refused to publish it. We offered to pay for an ad, but Foreign Affairs again refused.

For the record, here is our reply:

Dear Editors of Foreign Affairs Philip Zelikow's review of Max Holland's recent article in the CIA publication Studies in Intelligence is a disservice to your readers. Zelikow uncritically accepts Holland's theory that a KGB disinformation operation back in 1967 is at the root of most Americans' current belief that the CIA was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

Holland's thesis rests on one unproven premise: that the KGB planted a false story in March 1967 in Paese Sera, an Italian leftwing newspaper. The story reported that Clay Shaw, then recently charged with conspiracy to assassinate the President, was a board member of Centro Mondiale Comerciale (CMC), an organization that had been forced out of Italy amid charges that it was a CIA money-laundering front.

The problem Zelikow ignores is that Holland's only evidence to support his premise is one handwritten note by a KGB defector named Vasili Mitrokhin that "refers to a disinformation scheme in 1967 that involved Paese Sera and resulted in publication of a false story in New York." The note, supposedly summarizing a KGB document that Holland has never seen, does not mention Clay Shaw, Centro Mondiale Comerciale, Jim Garrison, or any specific New York publication.

Holland speculates that the New York publication may have been the National Guardian, which based an article on the Paese Sera series. But one short article in an obscure left-wing weekly that routinely picked up stories from the international press does not seem like much of an accomplishment for a KGB disinformation operation. There is no evidence that the Guardian article was picked up anywhere else in the U.S.

Rather than speculate, Holland might have tried to interview the editors of Paese Sera who were responsible for the articles on Centro Mondiale Comerciale, as scholar Joan Mellen has done for her forthcoming biography of Garrison. They would have told him that the six-part series had nothing to do with the KGB or the JFK assassination, that they had never heard of Jim Garrison when they assigned the story six months before, and that they were astonished to see that Shaw might have any connection to the assassination. The articles were actually assigned in the wake of a right-wing coup in Greece and were intended to prevent such a coup in Italy.

Holland says "everything in the Paese Sera story was a lie." His evidence? A recently released CIA document saying that the Agency itself looked into Paese Sera's allegations. and found that the CIA had no connection to CMC or its parent Permindex. Holland may be willing to accept this as the whole truth, but it is unconvincing to the rest of us who have noticed the Agency's tendency to distance itself from its fronts, to release to the public only documents that serve its interest, to fabricate evidence, and to lie outright even under oath to congressional committees.

Two important facts from the Paese Sera story remain true:

1. CMC was forced to leave Italy (for Johannesburg, South Africa) in 1962 under a cloud of suspicion about its CIA connections.

2. Clay Shaw was a member of CMC's board, along with such well-known fascist sympathizers as Gutierrez di Spadaforo, undersecretary of agriculture for Mussolini; Ferenc Nagy, former premier of Hungary, and Giuseppe Zigiotti, president of the Fascist National Association for Militia Arms.

Holland claims that the Paese Sera articles were what led Garrison to believe the CIA was involved in the assassination. This is nonsense. Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins describes in detail how his uncovering of various pieces of evidence actually led him to the conclusion that the CIA was involved. This gradual process began two days after the assassination when he questioned David Ferrie, a pilot who flew secret missions to Cuba for the CIA and trained Lee Harvey Oswald in his Civil Air Patrol unit. It included his investigation of a 1961 raid of a munitions cache by CIA operatives in Houma, Louisiana; the discovery that several of Oswald's co-workers at Reily Coffee Company in New Orleans now worked at NASA; the fact that Oswald was working out of an office that was running the CIA's local training camp for Operation Mongoose; many eyewitnesses who saw Clay Shaw, David Ferrie and Oswald together, etc. No doubt the Paese Sera series was another piece of the puzzle for Garrison, but it was not the centerpiece of his thinking that Holland makes it out to be.

From the moment his investigation of the JFK assassination became public, Garrison was pilloried in the press. This treatment was part of an orchestrated effort by the CIA to discredit critics of the Warren Commission. A CIA memo dated April 1, 1967, never mentioned by Holland or Zelikow, outlines the strategy and calls for the Agency's "assets" in the media (writers and editors) to publish stories saying the critics were politically motivated, financially motivated, egomaniacal, sloppy in their research, supported the Soviet Union, etc. This is exactly the inaccurate portrait of Garrison that emerged in the press.

With the publication of Holland's recent article attempting to link Jim Garrison to the KGB, the CIA continues to pursue this misguided strategy of smearing Garrison and other critics of the Warren Commission. Fortunately, the American public has never bought the tired old lie that the CIA's misadventures can be written off as figments of KGB disinformation. Too bad your critic did.


Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar co-writers of the film JFK

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