Who Killed JFK?

by Carl Oglesby

Odonian Press, 1992, paper



JFK's enemies

Although he has become a legend, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was hardly the most popular president in history when he was gunned down in November, 1963. In the previous six months alone, the Secret Service had reviewed over 400 threats to his life. Three of these were serious enough to entail changes in his security routine.

He was loathed by anti-Castro exiles, other rightwingers, the Mafia and even some of his own government agencies. In attempting to figure out who murdered him, it is important to understand who hated him, and why.


The stolen election

The seeds of that hatred were planted in the 1960 election that brought Kennedy to the presidency. The Democrats stole that election from Republican candidate Richard Nixon by tampering with the vote in two states. In Illinois, Mafia boss Sam Giancana arranged for 10,000 votes to be cast for John F. Kennedy "from the graveyard." In Texas, the political machine of Kennedy's running mate, Lyndon Johnson, arbitrarily disqualified about 100,000 votes.

As a result, 51 electoral votes that should have gone to Nixon went to Kennedy. Had they been added to Nixon's total, he would have squeezed into the presidency by one electoral vote.

Yet JFK quickly forgot his debts to Giancana and Johnson. Early in his presidency, he and his brother Robert established a special Justice Department strike force aimed at eradicating organized crime in the US. By the summer of 1963, JFK seemed ready to dump Johnson from his 1964 reelection ticket because Johnson's long-time personal secretary, Bobby Baker, had been implicated in a scandal involving federal farm subsidies.


The Bay of Pigs

Soon after the 1960 election, JFK made new enemies. In 1960, President Eisenhower's last year in office, a force of 1400 anti-Communist Cuban exiles was assembled to overthrow Fidel Castro. JFK allowed this force to invade Cuba in April 1961. But when it landed at the Bay of Pigs, it found it had underestimated the extent of Castro's support.

Pinned down on the beach, the invaders appealed to Kennedy for US air and naval support. He refused, leaving them to be taken prisoner by Castro's forces. This embittered all those involved in the anti-Castro cause, including the Mafia, which wanted its Cuban casinos back.

Kennedy then retaliated against those in the CIA he felt had misled him about the strength of anti-Castro sympathy in Cuba. He told a high official that he would "splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." His purge removed CIA Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director General Charles Cabell (the brother of the mayor of Dallas) and Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell.

Kennedy went on to ransom the Bay of Pigs prisoners for tractors, and promised them another try at overthrowing Castro. Then, in October 1962, he surrounded Cuba with a naval blockade and forced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove his missiles. After the Missile Crisis (as it was called), JFK abandoned the anti-Castro movement altogether. He closed its training bases in Florida and Louisiana, promised the USSR he would respect Cuba's sovereignty and began to negotiate for improved relations with Castro himself.



Needless to say, JFK's handling of the Cuban situation did nothing to win over the right wing, nor Kennedy's critics in the military. He further alienated them in his relations with the USSR.

Khrushchev's reading of the Bay of Pigs "fiasco" (as it came to be called) was that JFK was an ineffectual leader who could easily be pushed around. This point of view was reinforced by JFK's failure to react when, in 1961, the Soviet Union built a wall across Berlin, dividing the city, and threatened to attack the Western allies if they stayed there.

JFK did "stand up to the Russians" during the Missile Crisis but then, less than a year later, he signed a limited nuclear test-ban treaty with Moscow, which made the right wing think that he accepted Communist control over Eastern Europe and the Baltic States and was surrendering in the Cold War.


The Vietnam War

Even worse, by the fall of 1963, JFK was ready to cut his losses and pull out of Vietnam. Since South Vietnam's government was so unpopular, Kennedy saw no chance of a US victory without an impossibly large commitment of resources. He sent a high-level fact-finding mission to Vietnam, and it proposed the withdrawal of 1000 US troops by the end of the year and the phase-out of US military forces by the end of 1965.

Kennedy's critics believed that his endorsement of this proposal virtually guaranteed that the whole of Southeast Asia would fall to the Communists.


The civil rights movement

For all these reasons, Kennedy had infuriated the right throughout the country. But what particularly galled those in the South was his encouragement of the civil rights movement.

In October 1962, JFK sent federal marshals and troops to force the integration of the University of Mississippi. In the summer of 1963, he supported a bill that would guarantee the right to vote and access to all public accommodations for every citizen, regardless of color-the most aggressive legislative attack on segregation since the Civil War.


The trip to Texas

Given the number of JFK's enemies-the CIA, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cubans, the Republicans, southern racists, the military and even his own vice-president-and all the threats against his life, it is hardly surprising that Kennedy's proposed trip to Texas in the fall of 1963 was hotly debated within the White House.

Texas, and Dallas in particular, were strongholds of the far right. There was even some chance that the entire Texas Democratic party might bolt to the Republicans in the 1964 election-especially if Johnson were dumped from the ticket.

Virtually everyone in the Texas Democratic party- from conservatives like LBJ and Governor John Connally to liberals like Senator Ralph Yarborough- argued that Kennedy had to come down and face his critics personally. But other advisers were not so sure. Given the mood of the state, a trip to Texas seemed too risky.

Only three weeks before, Adlai Stevenson, Kennedy's ambassador to the United Nations, had been manhandled by a hostile crowd in Dallas. On November 4, a Texan member of the National Democratic Committee, Byron Selton, wrote Robert Kennedy that a prominent Dallas businessman called JFK "a liability to the free world" and urged that the trip to Texas, or at least the Dallas leg of it, be cancelled.

But if he didn't go. would he lose the Democrats in Texas? And if he lost them there, what would happen in the rest of the South? How could he hope to win reelection in 1964? So he decided that he and Jackie would take a two-day trip to Texas, visiting San Antonio. Houston. Fort Worth and Dallas.


Dead witnesses

Investigations have been thwarted by the number of material witnesses who died in the first few years after the assassination and in periods of renewed interest in the case during the 1970s.

... many key witnesses ... died at strategically important moments. Here are a few of the more interesting cases:

* Gary Underhill, a CIA agent who claimed the CIA was involved in the JFK assassination, died of a gun shot to the head in May 1964. H is death was ruled a suicide.

* Guy Banister, a former FBl agent and acquaintance of Oswald, died of an apparent heart attack in June 1964. Files containing information on his anti-Castro activities were missing by the time authorities reached his office.

* Mary Meyer, a mistress of JFK's during the White House years and the estranged wife of CIA veteran Cord Meyer, was murdered in October 1964 in a park in Washington, DC. Cord Meyer was a fishing companion of CIA counter-intelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, who seized Meyer's diary after her death.

* C.D. Jackson, senior vice president of Life magazine, died of unknown causes in September 1964. Jackson arranged for Life to buy the Zapruder film soon after the Dealey Plaza shooting and then locked it away. (The film was not widely seen by the public until it was shown on ABC's Goodnight America in 1975.)

* Rose Cheramie, a prostitute and striptease dancer in Ruby's Dallas nightclub, died in a Texas hit-and-run accident in September 1965. Two days before the assassination, she told police in Louisiana she overheard two Latin men plotting to kill the president.

* Dorothy Kilgallen, a prominent columnist and TV personality, was ruled a suicide by drug overdose in November 1965. She had just completed a lengthy interview of Ruby in prison and told friends privately that she was about to "break" the JFK case.

* David Ferrie, a militant anti-Castroite and associate of Oswald and Banister, died of an apparent brain embolism in February 1967. He was just about to be arraigned for conspiracy in the JFK assassination by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, whose investigation convinced him that the CIA was involved.

* Eladio Del Valle, a friend and political comrade of Ferrie's, was shot at close range the day after Ferrie's death. Garrison had been trying to find Del Valle for questioning.

* Hale Boggs, House majority leader and a member of the Warren Commission, was killed in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972. He had begun to express public doubts about the Warren Commission's findings.

* J.A. Milteer, the far-right Miami activist, died when his heater exploded in February 1974. As mentioned above, he predicted an attempt on JFK's life and the capture of a scapegoat shortly before events in Dealey Plaza-and a man looking a lot like him was picked up by the police that November afternoon.

* Clay Shaw, whom Garrison brought to trial as a prime suspect in a JFK conspiracy, died of cancer in August 1974. Unable to prove Shaw's CIA connections, Garrison saw him acquitted in 1969. But just a year after Shaw's death, a high-level CIA defector, Victor Marchetti, confirmed Shaw's ties to the agency.

* Sam Giancana, Mafia boss of Chicago, was shot to death in the basement of his home while in the Federal Witness Protection Program in June 1975. At the time of his murder, Giancana was scheduled to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee on the ClA's alliance with the Mafia in an attempt to kill Castro.

* John Roselli, a Mafia lieutenant of Giancana's, was dismembered, stuffed into an oil drum and dropped into the ocean off Miami in July 1976. Roselli was the Mafia's contact man for its assassination projects with the CIA and was scheduled for a second appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he was killed.

* George de Mohrenschildt, who befriended Oswald in Dallas, was found dead of a gunshot wound, deemed self-inflicted, in March 1977. Two hours before his death, an investigator for the House Assassinations Committee came to interview him about the JFK case, but de Mohrenschildt was not at home. In a manuscript found afterwards, de Mohrenschildt supported Oswald's view of himself as "a patsy."

* Charles Nicoletti, also on the House Committee's witness list, was shot three times in the back of the neck in the parking lot of a suburban Chicago shopping center in March 1977-less than 48 hours after de Mohrenschildt's death. Nicoletti was said to have been a "handler" (that is, supervisor) of Mafia assassins in the ClA-Mafia plots.

* Carlos Prio Socarras, a president of pre-revolutionary Cuba, was found dying of a pistol shot in April 1977, just six days after Nicoletti was gunned down. Prio's death was ruled a suicide. He, too, was on the House Committee's witness list because of his alleged links to Jack Ruby and anti-Castro Cuban militants.

We may never know for sure if these key witnesses were murdered to keep them silent. But there is no doubt these deaths have significantly hindered the official investigations and the public's understanding of what took place at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963.


Evidence of a cover-up

The evidence that there was a cover-up is just as impressive as the evidence that there was a conspiracy in the first place. Here is a brief run-down, including a couple of points not mentioned above:

* Oswald's description was broadcast over police radio within fifteen minutes of the assassination. No one knows how this description was obtained.

* No interrogation records were kept for those arrested at Dealey Plaza, or for Oswald.

* The pictures of Oswald holding a gun appear to be faked.

* JFK's body was removed from Dallas before an autopsy could be performed there.

* JFK's corpse left Dallas wrapped in a sheet inside an ornamental bronze casket. It arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington in a body bag inside a plain casket.

* The autopsy photographs of JFK's wounds differed radically from the descriptions of the doctors at Parkland Hospital.

* A whole tray of evidence, including what was left of the president's brain, remains missing from the National Archives.

The pristine condition of "the magic bullet" suggests it was planted.

* Numerous films made by witnesses to the event were confiscated.

* Many more witnesses have died than would normally be expected, many in mysterious circumstances.

* Both the FBI and the CIA concealed important evidence from the Warren Commission.

* Critical data unearthed by the Warren Commission in 1964 and the Assassination Committee in 1978 is still classified secret.


Who was involved?

If there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, who was involved in it? Since secrecy pervades the case, and since so many witnesses have died, it is impossible to say with certainty, but the following six scenarios describe the most basic possibilities.

The Soviets

Two related theories propose that Nikita Khrushchev, humiliated by the 1962 Missile Crisis, instigated the assassination. One proposes that Oswald was directed to kill JFK by Valery Kostikov, a Mexico City Soviet embassy official and reputed KGB assassin overseer. The second proposes that the KGB captured Oswald during his stay in Russia and then sent an impersonator back to the US to kill the president.

An important advocate of the Kostikov theory was the CIA's chief of counter-intelligence operations, James Jesus Angleton. Either because he wanted to provoke a Soviet-American clash or because he really believed it, Angleton strenuously maintained that the KGB was behind the Kennedy assassination. In fact, the intensity of his conviction led to one of the most bizarre subplots in the entire JFK case and nearly destroyed the CIA from the inside out.

Early in 1964, a KGB officer named Yuri Nosenko, who had been informing to the CIA for more than a year, decided to defect and come to the United States. Nosenko had worked in the KGB bureau that kept the file on Oswald. He stated that he knew for a fact that Oswald was not under the control of the KGB.

But Angleton thought Nosenko was a "mole"-a fake defector whose real mission was to misinform the CIA. Angleton imprisoned Nosenko in a CIA safe house and pressured him in every way short of physical torture to deny what he had said. This situation led to a virtual war within the CIA, and ultimately resulted in Angleton's downfall and Nosenko's vindication.

The Soviets-did-it theory explains why the Warren Commission developed its implausible lone-assassin conclusion. According to Warren's Memous, Johnson had called him to the White House to tell him of "rumors floating around the world" that the Soviets might have been responsible, that if this were known "it might lead us into war," perhaps even a nuclear war, and that as many as 40 million people might die. Warren's Memoirs imply that the real job of the Warren Commission was to quiet any suspicion of Soviet guilt.

But the Soviet theory raises more questions than it answers. Why would the USSR risk nuclear war to promote LBJ, a much more militant Cold Warrior than JFK? Why would the Soviets trust Oswald? And how could Oswald's mother and brothers have been deceived by an Oswald double? (In 1981 Marina and Marguerite, Oswald's mother, were sufficiently persuaded by the theory to exhume Oswald's body. Dental records proved that the body buried in Oswald's grave was, in fact, Oswald's.)


Castro's Cuba

Another theory, popular among right-wingers and anti-Castroites (among them, US ambassador to Mexico Thomas Mann, columnist Jack Anderson and Mafia lieutenant John Roselli) accuses Fidel Castro of engineering the assassination. In this scenario, Castro either recruited Oswald as the assassin or turned around a hit squad that had been sent to kill him, sending them back to shoot JFK.

This theory has certain strengths. Like the Soviet theory, it suggests a motivation for the Warren Commission's cover-up-to protect the world from the consequences of learning about a Communist-directed assassination. Castro had a motive: The CIA had sponsored Mafia attempts against his life, and he had warned JFK that these attacks might "boomerang."

But this theory is also implausible. As Castro pointed out in a 1991 interview on NBC, Cuba had been improving its relations with JFK ever since the Missile Crisis and had nothing to gain by putting Johnson in the White House. Further, Cuba would have suffered extreme consequences if such a plot had been discovered.

Finally, if Oswald were the assassin, how was he recruited by Castro? Although Oswald had passed out pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans, he did not associate with any other pro-Castro groups and had never visited Cuba.


The Mafia

In its final report of 1979, the House Assassinations Committee theorized that the assassination might have been masterminded by New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. This view was endorsed by the committee's Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey, and Richard Billings in their 1981 book, The Plot to Kill the President, which suggests that two Mafia hitmen were involved-Oswald, firing from the book depository and another, still unknown, firing from the grassy knoll.

Marcello certainly had sufficient motive. Despite the Mafia's crucial help getting JFK elected in 1960, Marcello was apprehended and deported only a few months after JFK took office. Upon reentering the US and successfully contesting his deportation, Marcello threatened JFK's life and spoke of getting "a nut" to kill him.

Clearly the Mafia would not have used someone as inexperienced as Oswald as an assassin, so if he was involved, it must simply have been as a patsy. And clearly the Mafia could not have done the job all by itself, since that would not explain the government cover-up. One possibility is that it blackmailed the government, demanding a cover-up in exchange for keeping secret the CIA's hiring of Mafia assassins to kill Castro. But more likely, it was simply hired to do the job.

A five-part TV series, The Men Who Killed Kennedy, which first aired in this country on the A&E cable network in the fall of 1991, provided testimony from two sources which sought to indicate that three hitmen from the Corsican Mafia had been hired to do the job by the US Mafia.

New evidence emerged in 1991 that J. Edgar Hoover knew of a Mafia murder contract on JFK as early as September 1962 but never informed the Secret Service. According to Texas attorney Mark North, Hoover-a bitter foe of many of Kennedy's policies-was worried that Kennedy would enforce his mandatory retirement in 1965. North says that Hoover had earlier attempted to blackmail Kennedy with FBI evidence of his philandering, including JFK's sharing of a girlfriend with Mafia boss Sam Giancana.


The Cowboys

Another theory claims that JFK was assassinated by the Cowboys-wealthy and powerful Southwesterners who share national power in an uneasy balance with the more liberal East Coast political establishment, the Yankees. In this scenario, Oswald was manipulated into the role of patsy and was not an assassin.

The strong point of the Cowboy theory is that, as we have seen, many Texans were murderously angry at JFK by the summer of 1963. He had scaled back the oil depletion tax credit, disciplined General Edwin Walker and was, rumor had it, considering dumping another Texan, Lyndon Johnson, from his 1964 ticket.

There is at least one major weaknesses to this theory-if the Cowboys were planning to murder the president, why would they virtually advertise their intentions in advance?


The Mongoose team

The theory that seems most popular among researchers-Jim Garrison, Mark Lane, Fletcher Prouty, Robert Groden, David Lifton and Jim Marrs among them-is that the assassination was organized "off the reservation" by rogue agents associated with Operation Mongoose.

Mongoose was the code-name for programs JFK set up in the Defense Department, CIA and State Department after the Bay of Pigs to coordinate anti-Castro activities - some of which were aimed at overthrowing him by political and economic means, others at assassinating him outright. To carry out the JFK killing and to cover up their own involvement, Mongoose rogues set up Oswald, a low-level Naval intelligence agent, as a patsy and planted false clues pointing to Cuba, the Soviet Union and the Mafia.

This scenario also provides a clear motive for assassination. Mongoose members-particularly those in Task Force W, a CIA portion of the team - were angry at JFK for his retreat from the Bay of Pigs and what they perceived as his concessions to Communism. As they saw it, LBJ's foreign policy would be a lot better.

This theory also explains how an official investigation could be thwarted and how Oswald, if he were a US intelligence operative in contact with Mongoose members, could have been framed. The difficulties lie not in the theory itself but in the impossibility of evaluating it without obtaining information now classified secret by the US government.


The Nazis

The most extreme theory traces the assassination to a group in the Defense Department that emerged around Werner von Braun and the Nazi rocket scientists the US military imported into the country illegally and against specific orders, and installed at Huntsville, Alabama at the end of WWII-the famous Operation Paperclip.

During the same period, the US government also absorbed a network of Nazi spies headed by Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen. "The Gehlen Org" (as it came to be called) worked within the US government to promote Nazi aims and to protect and resettle Nazis from Europe. In fact, the CIA was built around the Gehlen Org.

This theory postulates an incredible degree of fascist corruption within the US intelligence services. But one person who lends it plausibility is Clay Shaw, the New Orleans businessman District Attorney Jim Garrison tried for conspiracy in 1968 (and failed to convict). An exit poll of the Shaw jury indicated that Garrison lost his case because he was unable to prove that Shaw was connected to the CIA.

But the year Shaw died ( 1974), a book by a highly placed CIA defector, Victor Marchetti, revealed that the CIA helped Shaw in his legal struggle with Garrison. This may explain why the governors of three states refused to honor Garrison's subpoenas.

Shaw's New Orleans-based International Trade Mart was connected to the shadowy European firm, Permindex, which was kicked out of France in 1962 on suspicion of involvement in the attempted assassination of French president Charles de Gaulle. Permindex's board of directors included von Braun and many well-known European fascists. Some experts say Permindex was a front for the postwar international Nazi underground known as the Odessa.


What can be done

That is far from an exhaustive list of the theories that have been put forward during the almost thirty years since Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps the most plausible of them is that some elements of the Mongoose team and the Mafia pulled the job off together, with the involvement of people in other government agencies.

One thing, at least, is clear: the assassination must have been an inside job. Aside from all the anomalies in the government's behavior, how could outsiders have gotten away with it?

From day one, the government has acted as if it wanted the whole thing over and done with-and with the fewest possible disturbing implications.

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