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"We've seen revealed one conspiracy after another. Anybody would have to be a fool, nowadays, to dismiss conspiracies. And perhaps we lived in a fool's paradise before the Kennedy assassination."
-- Robert MacNeil, The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, PBS
On November 22, 1963, it is said, everything changed.
The sages tell us that with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on that day, our nation took its first slippery step down into a political and moral abyss that would kill our soldiers in Vietnam, corrupt our politics in an office building called the Watergate, humiliate our national pride at our embassy in Iran, and finally make us so blind that we call heroes those who condoned and abetted the Iran/Contra scandal.
The accepted, quite rose-colored view is that
Some will tell you that an outgrowth of this was that, in spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the American people were so shaken by the enormity of the Texas tragedy that they refused to believe that one small, insignificant man could have caused
Others will say that, in spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the American government was so afraid that the truth about who killed the President might become known that it framed a "lone nut" as the assassin, fabricated a tenuous case against him, and ignored or disposed of any evidence to the
Of course, the most untrue statement above (among many) is the assertion that everything changed when President Kennedy was murdered. And those who have, over the last thirty years, watched the unfolding of revelations concerning the way political power is wielded in this country know and understand that November 1963 was, borrowing a phrase, "the same as it ever was."
Perhaps the only unmourned casualty of Dealey Plaza was the loss of national innocence. Some say that Watergate was when Americans first began to distrust government, but the seeds were sown a decade before. The shocking revelations of what our country was up to (and hid from its people), which emerged through efforts to understand the JFK assassination, fostered a cynicism and distrust that we have never reversed.
The Frenzied Search for Answers
Kennedy's murder has spawned at least one other new phenomenon. The assassination has been the focus of what can only be described as an industry of publications, lectures, debates, television specials, and, yes, magazine features. The irresistible lure of what is perceived as the biggest unsolved crime in our half of the century has created a flock of Sherlocks, each attempting to fashion just the right permutation of conspirators to solve the murder or, failing that, to force the government to do
One need only look as far as the book stores this fall to find, at latest count, eleven new books and two new videos on various sides of the argument. And most are still mired in the basic questions "Was there a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy?" and "If so, who did it?"
On one side is Gerald Posner's much-heralded (from U.S. News and World Report to the QVC cable shopping channel!) new volume called Case Closed, which attempts to gather all the arguments that support the view that Oswald was the lone assassin. Lionized by the media, in the same way they uncritically lauded the Warren Commission who issued similar findings in 1964, Posner has diverted many of his critics back to the minutiae of Oswald and away from the larger picture.
The media's attempt to portray Posner as the only sane, rational, and authoritative voice in a morass of bug-eyed fanatics is beginning to wane, as intelligent, factual challenges to his methods and conclusions are surfacing. Posner's book, far from closing the case, will probably be consigned to the same forgotten limbo of previous similar books by Gerald Ford, David Belin, and Jim Moore.
The often fragmented disarray of the other side can also be seen in the new offerings. The Critics (a name derived from those who early on criticized the Warren Commission's lone nut conclusion), while they have been largely responsible for the enormous advances in the public's knowledge of the case, cannot agree on what conclusion to draw from these new facts. Conspiracy theories abound, and those who would scoff at such ideas point to this very real confusion as proof of a lack of substance in the critics' methods.
Matthew Smith's important new book JFK: The Second Plot is this year's representative of the Oswald as intelligence agent theories. And certainly there is much credible and convincing evidence to support this view. According to Senator Richard Schweiker, hardly the typical conspiracy nut, "all the fingerprints I found during my eighteen months on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence point to Oswald as being a product of, and interacting with, the intelligence community." This fact alone has ominous implications concerning the planning and the cover-up of the assassination.
The other main theory-de-jour is that organized crime did it. The Kennedy Contract: The Mafia Plot to Assassinate the President is John H. Davis' latest attempt to cast New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, with help from Santos Trafficante of Florida and Sam Giancana of Chicago, as the villain. There is historical precedent for this theory, going back to the conclusions of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, whose chief counsel, Robert Blakey, had been in Robert Kennedy's Justice Department in the organized crime "Get Hoffa" squad.
Harry Livingstone virtually takes no prisoners in his uneven and poorly edited new book Killing the Truth: Deceit and Deception in the JFK Case. He theorizes that the plot was masterminded by Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Texas oil baron H.L. Hunt, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Texas tycoon and Dallas Cowboy football team founder Clint Murchison, Jr., Dallas mayor Earle Cabell, his brother and former CIA Deputy Director Charles Cabell, and CIA officer David Atlee Phillips.
Livingstone perhaps breaks new ground in devoting an entire chapter of his 750- page tome to skewering one of his fellow researchers and co-author with him of his first book, Robert Groden. Livingstone uses him as but one example of what throughout the book he claims are "fraud and misrepresentation" by some of the Critics who are either dishonest or "bought and paid for" dupes of the intelligence
Groden, for his part, has two new entries in the market this year, a 103-minute video titled JFK: The Case for Conspiracy, and a coffee-table-sized book called The Killing of a President. Both are superb compilations of film clips and still photos documenting various aspects of the case, from Dealey Plaza to the autopsy room. Groden has spent many years collecting and analyzing this photographic record, engendering the ire of some other researchers in the process, but as these documents prove he has been a good conservator of the collection.
And in the End, Conspiracy
Backing up considerably from the fracas and melee that is the ongoing JFK investigation, focusing not on the who and how (the details that will mire you down if you let them), it is possible to draw at least one clear, unmistakable conclusion which emerges from the perspective of the last thirty years' research, both governmental and private: there was a conspiracy to murder the President of the United States.
Whatever Lee Oswald's role in the crime, it is clear now that surrounding his actions like an evil aura were people, forces, movements, and organizations influencing him and operating in nefarious ways to ends we are only now uncovering.
The Critics have been saying it since the mid-60's; the House Assassinations Committee said it in 1979; and even those who early on vehemently denied it (because they believed the government who assured them there was none) are now saying the weight of the evidence of a conspiracy is compelling, perhaps overwhelming.
New York Times columnist and North Carolina native Tom Wicker says, "For a long time I felt quite strongly that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. I think there's enough evidence now that there's certainly doubts about that. I'm willing to concede those doubts."
Arch-lone-nut advocate and CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, whose several television specials sought to rebut the findings of the Critics, now says, "I hold to the view that he [Oswald] was the lone gunman. I'm not sure as to whether it was a part of a conspiracy, however, any longer."
It is clear that the type of investigations mounted by the Critics and by the government (whatever the participants' various motivations) have been highly successful in getting facts galore into the public domain. That these myriad facts have been unable to lead to a single, cohesive, believable solution to the mystery is also abundantly clear.
What is needed is a meta-analysis of the clandestine social, political, military, and global forces at work at mid-century as they converged on Dealey Plaza. If you can understand the state of the world, America, and the South as it truly was on November 21, 1963, then the events of November 22 flow inevitably from there, falling into place as neatly as pieces of a puzzle.
Two authors, long highly praised for their investigative work and writings about the assassination, have come out with superb new books which attempt just this sort of analysis.
Gaeton Fonzi and the Last Investigation
Award-winning journalist and Congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi has produced the sine qua non of research and analysis books related to the assassination. The Last Investigation details not only an insider's focused and reasoned critique of the workings of the House Assassinations Committee, but also the results of his own years of investigation into America's clandestine intelligence operations in the South and the Caribbean in the 1960's.
Fonzi's style is never sensational or out of focus; he is the epitome of the rational, understated authority whose conclusions the nay-sayers will be hard pressed to fault. As a journalist, he asserts nothing more than his wish to set the record straight, and that record paints a picture that is at once gritty, exciting, deceit-filled, and seamy. In short, The Last Investigation is a singular milestone in the understanding of America's odyssey from before Dealey Plaza until today.
It rings true when Fonzi writes, "One of the opinions I've come to is that the issue of conspiracy is not contestable. It never was. Long before the Assassinations Committee ... the evidence of a conspiracy was overwhelming." His own odyssey of how he came to this conclusion is the underlying theme of the book, and he takes the reader along for a fascinating ride.
Because of his investigative journalistic background, Fonzi landed what was supposed to have been a short-term contract to follow up some leads for Senator Richard Schweiker, whose subcommittee on the JFK assassination was the first federal government probe into the case since the Warren Commission. After weeks turned into months working for Schweiker, Fonzi's unique first-hand knowledge got him hired as a staff field investigator for the House Assassinations Committee.
His home base for all of this was Miami, and from there he learned the details of the enormous "Murder Inc." operations the American intelligence agencies were running throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. In this book, unlike any other (with the possible exception of Hinckle and Turner's Deadly Secrets), one gets a glimpse of the huge scope of these endeavors, and meets literally at first hand some of the key players.
By now everyone knows some of those involved; E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, etc., have become well known names thanks to Watergate, even if the full extent of their activities from 1960 to 1972 is still obscure. But Fonzi introduces us to three far more important figures, as it turns out, for the JFK investigation: Sylvia Odio, Antonio Veciana, and David Atlee Phillips.
Sylvia Odio, the daughter of a powerful but imprisoned anti-Castro leader, claims that two Latin men brought a man named Leon Oswald to her home, asking for her help in anti-Castro plans they were making. She was suspicious and turned them down, but was later telephoned by one of the Latins who referred to Oswald in association with the murder of Kennedy. This was two months before Dealey Plaza.
The degree to which one accepts or rejects Ms. Odio's credibility has almost become a litmus test for researchers. The Warren Commission tried every way to reject the story, and the House Assassinations Committee virtually ignored her. Gaeton Fonzi, who interviewed her, got to know her, and came to be trusted by her, believes her implicitly. And if she is right, someone was attempting to create an assassination legend for Oswald well before the event.
Antonio Veciana was recruited by American intelligence in Havana to become the leader of a virulently anti-Castro terrorist organization known as Alpha 66. His agency contact was known to him by the pseudonym Maurice Bishop, whom Fonzi unequivocally identifies as David Atlee Phillips of the CIA. The amazing web of intrigue traceable to Bishop/Phillips is thoroughly detailed by Fonzi, but most amazing is Veciana's testimony of witnessing a meeting in Dallas between Bishop and Lee Oswald.
After years of investigating Phillips' other connections with the case, Fonzi asserts, "David Atlee Phillips played a key role in the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.... That Phillips eventually rose to the top echelon of the Agency as Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division is, I think, significant when we talk about 'elements' of the CIA being involved in the Kennedy assassination. (Can those who control the ideological soul and operational body of the Agency be considered simply 'elements' within it?)"
Fonzi has forged identifiable and distinct links between the intelligence activities and operatives that are now known to have existed in the early 60's and the enigmatic, shadowy world of Lee Oswald. Conspiracy is not a concept foreign to America; it was and is a fact of clandestine political life. Lee Oswald's life, as predicted, fits as neatly into it as pieces of a puzzle.
The title of Fonzi's book refers to the fact that he is convinced that the House Assassinations Committee was the last investigation that will ever be held in connection with the murder of JFK. Further, he believes the scope, time frame, and resources of the committee were effectively curtailed in order to assure that its conclusions would be incomplete and ultimately misleading. Because of his position as an insider, he is uniquely qualified to report this, and it obviously was a blow to him and to his integrity that the Committee's final report effectively ignored the implications of the stories of Odio, Veciana, and Phillips.
The clear implication is that every time the Committee's investigation began to drift toward Oswald's connections with the CIA or the involvement of government officials in a cover-up, Chief Counsel Blakey would personally steer it away from those rocky shoals, pleading that there was no time to open new doors. In the end, the Committee report, in essence, threw a conspiracy bone to the public, with a cast of characters that was short, uninteresting, and populated by Organized Crime.
In the final pages of this remarkable book, Fonzi summarizes the source of his ultimate frustration: "Today most Americans BELIEVE there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, but they don't KNOW it. They don't want to KNOW
It falls to a University of California English professor to explain why the government, by definition, cannot admit it.
Peter Dale Scott and Deep Politics
Peter Dale Scott's new book Deep Politics and the Death of JFK is a scholarly investigation of events surrounding the death of the President. It goes to the heart of his main thesis that the government, as currently constituted and controlled, has not allowed and cannot
"Instead the search for the truth has been left, by default, to a small band of self-selected critics, usually derided as 'buffs' or 'assassinologists.' These, often disagreeing among themselves, have certainly failed to produce a generally persuasive alternative account of how the President was killed. Indeed their often strident disagreements may have only strengthened the general impression that the President's murder was a mystery which will never be solved."
The heart of Scott's book is a documentation of the way the power structure works in America. It is at the level of Deep Politics that relationships and alliances occur between elements normally seen as disparate, sometimes even mortal enemies: intelligence, Mafia, drug cartels, and vested economic interests such as petroleum and import/export.
"Kennedy was killed by the deep political system.... Far too much has been written about the roles in the case of Texas oilmen, organized crime, the Dallas police, and army intelligence, without looking at the ways these superficially separate elements in fact functioned together."
Americans are used to what might be called the "6:00 o'clock news version of reality." In it, the cooperating deep political entities separate and are often at odds with one another. In actuality, the fundamental interests of these groups sometimes overlap, and when that happens, they work together to reshape the course of events around them.
So, then, is Scott suggesting, as did Oliver Stone, that Kennedy was the victim of a coup d'etat? No, because "despite certain dramatic scenes in the movie JFK, the channels of authority do not appear to account for the assassination plot.... Too much of what we have observed about the case appears to have been plotted outside the government.... The scene in the movie, where General Y speaks into his Pentagon phone, and says, 'Bill, we're going,' is not my idea of how Kennedy was murdered."
Scott's idea of Deep Politics posits "an open system embracing both power-holders in office and power-movers behind them. The assassination was an example, and not such an isolated one, where there was an adjustment at the level of power-holding, to meet the overriding political priorities of the power-movers and -shakers."
He suggests that our office holders, including Presidents, have been reduced to the status of clients, dispensable when the patronage of the power-movers is withdrawn. "To what extent," he asks, "has our visible political establishment become one regulated by forces operating outside the constitutional process, rather than through it?"
Since by definition these relationships lie beneath the open surface of our society, Scott asks, is it any wonder that they are virtually immune to disclosure, and capable of great crimes? The entire apparatus and machinery of government comes into play to make sure that the truth of these deep political connections is not known and the powerful are kept outside of any investigation.
Scott cites four political crises in Washington since 1945 which he calls incapacitating: McCarthyism, Dallas, Watergate, and Contragate. The striking continuities between them, including personnel, suggest a pattern (though not, as he says, one single conspiracy), and that deep political pattern, designed to protect in each case the prosecution of the Cold War, is the focus of his historical analysis. An understanding of how the deep politics paradigm explains these phenomena may be gained by viewing it as a series of plastic overlays.
The bottom layer is Scott's deep political and economic power-movers and -shakers, among whom conceivably in 1963 were the Hunts and Murchisons that feature so strongly in Harry Livingstone's book. The very top
In between are two wafer-thin layers (so much so that the lines of distinction sometimes blur) representing the official and shadowy underground groups which carry out policies and operations (as determined from above and below). The first is the officially constituted, known agencies such the CIA, the FBI, the military, and military intelligence. Below are those groups and people who don't show up on official payrolls or organization charts but who get things done: for example, organized crime, Alpha 66, paramilitary organizations, and various private security and investigative agencies. Filtering among the two layers and in and out of the various groups are all the shadowy figures that have surfaced over the years such as Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, David Atlee Phillips, Antonio Veciana, Lee Oswald, and Jack Ruby.
The very bottom (shakers) controls the top (office holders), which in turn shields the bottom from public scrutiny or accountability. And in the middle two interconnected layers, when the recognized agencies cannot afford to take on a necessary project, such as the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, they turn to their shadowy counterparts, like organized crime, to get things done. Since the groups in the middle layers are the executive action and covert operations arm and are so intertwined, is it any wonder that the walls which separate those organizations seem permeable and in fact non-existent at times?
To the extent that Scott's paradigm correctly reflects the political reality of this country, various other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It immediately becomes obvious why examination of pristine bullets and Grassy Knolls has never produced and can never produce a final solution to the murder. With the government protecting the operatives from view, and the power-movers and their machinations shielded one step deeper, detection would be almost impossible.
This is not just intellectual fiction; Gaeton Fonzi's book details the interactions of all of the various
Dallas: A Fit and Proper Study?
The honest, analytical examination of events surrounding the death of John Kennedy has all too often been equated with hucksterism, fanaticism, poor scholarship, and generally bad taste. But as has been shown, when viewed from proper perspectives, the JFK assassination is a microcosm of and a proper vantage for the study of the clandestine power structure in America.
Conspiracies exist; as Robert MacNeil so rightly says, one would be a fool to dismiss them. The odyssey of America over the last thirty years has been an attempt to come to grips with that fact. Not only is the study of conspiracies a proper and valid intellectual pursuit, it is a necessity if we as a people ever hope to prevent a repeat of Dallas 1963.
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