Category Archives: Warren Commission
The more familiar one grows with the material evidence available to the Warren Commission, the harder it is to see the Warren Commission’s failure to find the truth as a result of mere blundering or philosophical prejudice against “conspiracy theories.” That prejudice was do doubt present and operating; it seems a standard attachment to that vintage (as well as current) liberal sensibility. But there is too much here for Warren to have ignored it all by mistake or prejudice alone: the Zapruder film, the problems of the single-bullet theory, the implications of Oswald’s intelligence background, Ruby’s promise to tell some whole new story if he could be got out of Dallas. And as we now know, thanks to Judge Griffin, the scent of police and FBI obstructionism had reached the commissioners and their staff even at the time.
Is it thinkable that Warren himself was complicit in a cover-up of the truth? May we think such a thing of this paragon? Was it not mainly his reputation that made the lone-Oswald theory go down (as in the case of Connally)?
I think we are compelled to look at Warren’s reactions from the beginning all the way through the investigation in terms of what we can now divine of the cover-up, because nothing is clear if not that Warren played a key role. The cover-up could in no way have succeeded had Warren wanted to find and publish the truth.
But what could motivate a man of such unimpeachable reputation to support a cover story, an obstruction of justice, a lie beyond any lie yet told in American political life, all for the sake of the conspirator’s skin?
I too agree that Warren’s integrity is not to be doubted. It was evidently in some respects quite strong. But what if your strong integrity, for example, is confronted with a choice it is not familiar with, a problem mere integrity might not know how to solve? What if the choice is not between truth and falsehood but between falsehood and oblivion? What does “a patriot of unimpeachable integrity” do if the choice is between covering up a murder and sending a whole world to the brink of war?
Recall that Warren resisted the commission appointment to begin with and had to have his arm twisted by Johnson in a lengthy private session before agreeing to take the job, a session from which he emerged in tears everyone presumed were motivated by his love of the dead chief, but which might as easily have been motivated by something else. Warren himself suggested thereafter a different interpretation when he spoke so ominously of “national security” considerations bound up with the assassination, and then sealed up certain documents and evidence for seventy-five years (until 2039).
The cover story of Dallas appears to be many-layered. It has the internal structure of boxes within boxes within boxes. We struggle to get past the lone-Oswald theory and to assert (against all kind of psychological and pseudophilsophical as well as political defenses) the strict technical need for a conspiracy theory of some kind, that is, for a reconstruction of the crime on the premise that there was a minimum of two gunmen. The simple-minded inclination of faithful citizens is to think that this need, once established in public debate, must necessarily lead to the truth. On the contrary, the disintegration of the lone-assassin cover story only introduces us to the really difficult part of the controversy, the question of who did it if Oswald did not, or who was with him if he was not alone. And in this second phase of the controversy, the need will be to pierce the second layer of the Dallas cover, namely, the story that Oswald was a Castroite agent whose purpose was to avenge the Cuban revolution against Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs and the CIA’s attempts on Castro’s life.
This was the apparent theory of Lyndon Johnson and other right-wingers who from time to time have hinted they were never altogether convinced by the Warren conclusion. For example, Jesse Curry, Dallas police chief at the time of the assassination, said in 1969 (celebrating the coming of Nixon?) that he himself had doubts about the lone-Oswald idea, leaving out the fact that he and his department ran a big part of the investigation themselves and were responsible for much of the deception that crippled the investigation at its base. “We don’t have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle,” he said. “No one has been able to put him in that building with the gun in his hand.”
Another Texan, Lyndon Johnson in retirement, let fall a few side thoughts on the assassination to Walter Cronkite in the famous September 1969 interview and then to Time writer Leo Janos somewhat later. Janos published his report on Johnson’s last days in the Atlantic Monthly for July 1973. The relevant passage runs as follows:
During coffee, the talk turned to President Kennedy, and Johnson expressed his belief that the assassination in Dallas had been part of a conspiracy. “I never believed Oswald acted alone although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.” Johnson said that when he had taken office he found that “we had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” A year or so before Kennedy’s death a CIA-backed assassination team had been picked up in Havana. Johnson speculated that Dallas had been a retaliation for this thwarted attempt, although he couldn’t prove it. “After the Warren Commission reported in, I asked Ramsey Clark [then Attorney General] to quietly look into the whole thing. Only two weeks later he reported back that he couldn’t find anything new.” Disgust tinged Johnson’s voice as the conversation came to an end. “I thought I had appointed Tom Clark’s son – I was wrong.”
Then on April 25, 1975, CBS released a formerly unreleased segment of Cronkite’s September 1969 interview with Johnson containing the same views quoted by Janos, but a little less explicitly put. Cronkite asks Johnson if he through there was an “international connection” in the Kennedy murder, and Johnson puckers his eyes, stares at Cronkite, waits a moment, then says he cannot “completely discount” it. “However,” he goes on, “I don’t think we ought to discuss suspicions because there’s not any hard evidence that Oswald was directed by a foreign government. Or that his sympathies for other governments could have spurred him on in the effort. But he was quite a mysterious fellow and he did have connections that bore examination on the extent of the influence of those connections on him, and I think history will deal with much more than we are able to now.” The Warren people, “did the best they could. …But I don’t think that they, or me or anyone else is always absolutely sure of everything that might have motivated Oswald or others that could have been involved.
The Oswald connections that Johnson wants us to think about (remember both he and Police Chief Curry are expressing these doubts about warren at the springtide of Nixon power, 1969) are the connections implied by his defection to Soviet Russia and his membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. We have seen that these are peculiar connections – whether Johnson knew it or not, by the way, and whether Warren knew it or not. Oswald is much more substantially linked into the U.S. than into the USSR or Cuban intelligence systems from the days of his training in the Russian language at the CIA U-2 base at Atsugi, clear through the Russian adventure, and back to the New Orleans – Dallas shuttle in the bosom of the Great White Russian Czarist exile community and the veterans of Fiasco.
The public record does not tell us what to make of Oswald and his game, but it does suggest that he was no more a left-winger than a loner, and that his apparent attachments included both the CIA and the FBI. He may have been simply an FBI informer bullied into the assassination job by an FBI agent threatening his wife’s awkward status, as O’Toole speculates. He may have been a CIA operative covering as an FBI informer, for such is the way of the clandestine sphere, and one cannot often be sure where the spiral of deception finally closes and the spy’s absolute political identity becomes manifest. Howard Hunt, in the motto to his post-Watergate autobiography, would muse that the spy can have no loyalty more final than his loyalty to himself because to do his work he must be able to accommodate all masters. Perhaps Oswald too would be the last to know for what or for whom he was working on the bottom line.
But what did we all believe in 1964 about the integrity of our upper government? What did we believe about spies, clandestinism, real politik, about intrigue as a method of decision making and murder as an instrument of policy? In 1964 we could not yet even see through the fraud we call “the Gulf of Tonkin incident.” We may look back in some chagrin to recall that the “event” that aroused the Senate to give Johnson the legal wherewithal to make big war in Vietnam was conceived, planned, and staged exactly to do just that – by forces we still cannot name. We see the whole story of the Vietnam war as one unbroken cover-up designed to deceive not “the enemy” but us, the people of the land, the ones who pay the costs of war.
But what could Warren have been able to believe in 1964? Hearing of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy and reviewing the most prominent features of Oswald’s vita under the pressure of Johnson’s Red-conspiracy interpretation, Warren might easily have been persuaded that there had indeed been a conspiracy of Castroite Reds behind Oswald. There could even be a Russian presence in the affair (Oswald’s defection, the secrets given over, Marina, the niece of a highly placed Soviet intelligence official, the possibility of brainwashing, etc.) If such a thing ever got out, the United States would find itself publicly confronting, ready or not, the most classic of all causes of war, the murder of a head of state by a hostile foreign power.
Moreover, since Castro’s Cuba had enjoyed the protection of the Soviet Union ever since the Missile Crisis, how could an armed clash with Cuba be confined to the Caribbean? Given that Russian and American A-bombs had been pressed so hotly up against each other the preceding October, how could Warren countenance pursuing an investigation that might bring them up against each other more hotly still?
Perhaps the question of Warren’s motivation can never be settled. Presuming it will be established that he and his commission’s verdicts were wrong, and that Oswald really was a patsy, one can form answers to the question, “How could Warren have done it?” less awesome than the theory I have just sketched out. Maybe it was that he didn’t know, that the evidence seemed less clear then than it does a decade later, that he was misled by the police, CIA and FBI, that he was in a hurry to get the onerous task out of the way, or that his liberal ideology blinded him to indications of conspiracy. I have no desire to rule out such alternatives. What I do claim, however, is that close study of the evidence available to Warren through his commission’s own investigation will raise to any open mind the question of whether or not Warren turned aside from the Zapruder film, the absurdities of the single-bullet theory, and the mysteries of Oswald’s identity and Ruby’s motive on purpose, with an intention to hide the truth, not to protect the guilty, but because he had been persuaded that the truth, let out, could lead to a nuclear war.
Alternative Models of 11/22/63
One cannot discuss Dealey Plaza conspiracy theories without taking up an early and persisting specimen, the John Birch Society theory that the assassination cabal originates within the orbits of the Council of Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the secret Round Tables, the inner power sphere of the Rockefeller-Morgan-Rothschild world system. The JBS would say it was Yankee power that killed JFK, as I would say it was Cowboy power. Yankees are as capable as other types of turning against their own, and it seems self-evident from the problem remaining before us that they were quite capable of abandoning the pursuit of his killers as soon as it was convenient to do so and going along with the Johnson program of progress through war. Kennedy was far to the left within the coalition through which he sought to govern, even in his own base and constituency. By fall of 1963, he had probably “lost the support of his peers,” in Indira Gandhi’s phrase. But it is naïve of the JBS to think Yankee power could have succeeded in covering up such a thing in an important Cowboy capital like Dallas.
Then did the CIA do it?
This is likely to be the most appealing cover-up of all, now that the CIA has lost so much of its former charm. “The CIA did it.” But as I argue here and there in this book, and especially in the essay on McCord (chapter 8), this could easily be a meaningless shibboleth. The interior of the CIA appears strongly polycentric; there are ideological nooks and crannies within it. What the Intelligence side sees is not always what the Operations side reacts to. Indeed, it is former CIA agents like George O’Toole, Phillip Agee, Victor Marchetti, Jon Marks, and others who are currently contributing so much impulse to the campaign for a new JFK investigation and uniformly they are of Intelligence, not Operations.
We can easily get lost below this level. The names of the organizations that enter the expert discussions at this point are no longer so familiar. Now we come upon stranger beasts the likes of Permindex, Six Star, Intertel, Interpol, the Great Southwest Corporation… the Illuminati. But on the evidence as we have it, the plot of Dealey Plaza could not have succeeded without the specific collusion of elements of the Dallas Police Department, the FBI, the CIA, and various branches of military intelligence.
But this does not teach us to conclude that the FBI did it, or the CIA did it, and so on. The very multitude and magnitude of public institutions apparently implicated in the crime and/or its cover-up actually suggest a different and not so overwhelming picture of “the cabal,” namely, that these institutions were drawn in by pieces from the bottom rather than as entities form the top; drawn in by an ideologically, politically, and morally corrupt renegade agentry rather than ordered in by commands flowing routinely downward through the bureaucratic hierarchy. We can still risk assuming, that is, without flying in the face of all reason, that the cabal is not inclusive, its domination not universal throughout our political system, that there is a residual, basic loyalty to the Constitution and our traditional democratic and republican values flowing through the national defense and security institutions. This is not to say that such loyalty is not put to the night in every storm, only that it is not totally stupid to assume that it may still in some little party survive – in DOD, CIA, FBI, etc. We might assume that these institutions have merely been penetrated, not commandeered, in much the same way that our typical big-city constabulary has been penetrated by organized crime but (possibly) not totally conquered by it.
Yet there is nothing so very reassuring, is there, about the analogy to mobster penetration by the police. The crisis of “law and order” is directly rooted in the larger cities of the infestation of metropolitan police by organized crime, and around that penetration, a vast surrounding bruise of a bureaucratic corruption and demoralization spreading to the population through every institutional pore. The general criminalization of the police is obviously horrifying enough, but in theory that disease is at least confined to “local” structures and checked (if never thrown back) by action at a higher power level. We do not feel quite so powerless before a corrupt municipal police force as before a corrupt federal government (and military), simply because the scale of the former is not so overwhelming. How could we possibly confront the corruption and criminality of the state itself?
If one holds out a theoretical hope that the American state might still be an instrument of its own salvation, and is not irreversibly a tool of big crime, big business, big militarism and right-wing treason, that is not to say that the following picture of Dallas is so very much more hopeful. Only that there is a little more time in it.
In our review of Frontier Camelot, we have observed an intensely inflamed line of conflict running between the Kennedy side and the Johnson side of the 1960 electoral coalition. We have traced out the line of this conflict chiefly with respect to the main foreign policy issues Kennedy had to face – Cuba and Vietnam. But we have also noted that this conflict is apparent in every phase of Frontier Camelot’s life, in domestic policy as in foreign policy, in substance as in style.
I have proposed the Yankee-Cowboy model as a simple structure to situate the events in which this conflict unfolded. From this perspective, we identify Kennedy as a left-wing Yankee, adopted child and hero of the Eastern Establishment, and Nixon as a right-wing Cowboy. The game began in earnest in 1960 when Kennedy beat Nixon by the narrowest of margins through the expedient of allying himself with the most right-wing elements of the Democratic party around Johnson. (Cowboy Nixon’s strategy was the mirror image of Kennedy’s: his running mate was Massachusetts Yankee Henry Cabot Lodge.) Then Kennedy scuttled a basic project of the Nixon-Johnson group, the Bay of Pigs invasion, pet project of the very Cowboys whose fierce-warrior rhetoric he had so cynically co-opted for campaign purposes.
From the furies generated by that immediate internal conflict about Cuba and what we came to call “Third World Revolution,” the line led only to one escalation after another, each new battle compounding prior differences, Kennedy all the while pressing the military budget down and finally trying to turn the FBI against the rebellious Bay of Pigs clique of the CIA.
The magnitude of this battle we can appreciate better from afar, after the fall of Saigon and the liberation of Ho City. The stakes in the fight over Cuba in 1961 were the underlying if not explicit stakes in every American fight that transpired thereafter to May Day 1975. Cowboy militarism, fired by the need to press outward against America’s closing world frontiers and force an Open Door to the Third World, versus Yankee imperialism, fired by the need to expand the Atlantic system, to reform and consolidate the Western base and foundation of the empire. Those are always the contending inner forces.
The first great contemporary subplot of this conflict was laid in that complex American experience leading from the twenties and Prohibition forward to the thirties, the Depression, Repeal, and the slide toward World War II. The Prohibition-Repeal mechanism in particular was like a slingshot in terms of the economic and political impetus it imparted to organized crime. Repeal, to put it simply, legalized organized crime, and it did that by legalizing its main product, liquor, and then more diffusely, by opening up the general kingdom of vice as a sector of the larger national economy.
Then came Operation Underworld, another big step forward in the wedding of crime and the state. The Lansky Syndicate’s interests in Cuba became absolute during the early forties. Kennedy’s decision not to commit the United States to countering the Cuban revolution was thus in practice, from the standpoint of the Syndicate, a reneging on the basic relationship instituted by Operation Underworld, just as from the standpoint of the hard right it was a violation of the unifying principle of the domestic Cold War coalition, the only real basis of internal American unity since the end of World War II.
Then came another thickening. The Gehlen apparatus was incorporated within the womb and bowels of the American foreign intelligence system; this was probably the ballgame by itself. Everything after this, on top of Operation Underworld, was probably just a consequence of this merger. How can a naïve, trusting, democratic republic give its secrets to crime and its innermost ear to the spirit of central European fascism and expect not to see its Constitution polluted, its traditions abused, and its consciousness of the surrounding world manipulated ultimately out of all realistic shape? It now seems only natural and logical that thing would go toward Dallas from Misery Meadow, and toward Watergate from the burning of the Normandie.
In Frontier Camelot the Cowboy/Yankee contradictions are all present, all agitated, all at full spin and drive. First the Bay of Pigs showdown, then the disarmament showdown, then the oil-depletion showdown, then the civil-rights showdown, then the astounding showdown between the FBI and the CIA in the swamps of Lake Ponchartrain, the Everglades and No Name Key.
Then on top of that, in September 1963, came Kennedy’s first clear restraint of further escalation of the Vietnam war. He began to move toward disengagement and a negotiated agreement with yet another new Communist regime. From the standpoint of the Cowboy and indeed of the mainstream American political imagination of the early sixties, what was not imperiled by such reckless and sudden departures from the standard anticommunism of the fifties? If there was ever to be a time when old-minded patriotism must kill the king, was 1963 not the time?
So the motive of the Syndicate couples with the motive of the Nazi-Czarist intelligence clique, of American anticommunism, of the military elite, of the independent oilmen, of reaction, of racism: Everything in America that wants and likes and believes in guns and the supremacy of force over value was at hair-trigger against Kennedy when he resolved that he would no more lead the country into a big land war in Vietnam than into a full-scale over-the-beach operation in Cuba.
That was September, that indubitable and final clarification of Kennedy’s intentions. In October, the Texas Democratic party sent Connally up to see Kennedy about coming down to mend fences as soon as possible. The patsy was in place at the Depository. The “Wanted For Treason” posters were printed. The Vietnam war was about to take place.
So who was Oswald? Now even Ford admits he doesn’t know. The campaign to re-open the investigation of Dealey Plaza succeeded to at least that extent. The likes of Time, Inc., and CBS and Ford will cling to the theory that Oswald killed Kennedy, but by the time of the CBS specials of Thanksgiving 1975, even they had been compelled to admit that the loner theory of Oswald had not withstood a decade of criticism. But now they want to say Oswald must have been a Castro agent.
This move was anticipated by The Assassination Information Bureau in its January 1975 conference at Boston University, “The Politics of Conspiracy,” when it called for a larger effort to understand Oswald from the standpoint of his bureaucratic and personal associations. The no-conspiracy position is going to collapse, we predicted, and when that happens, and suddenly everyone is an assassination buff of a conspiracy freak, then the great claim of the cover-up artists will be that Oswald was part of a leftwing conspiracy answering to Cuban or Russian discipline.
This repeats completely the bias of the Warren Commission in its original work. Always for them the word “conspiracy” actually meant “international Communist conspiracy,” such that the alternative to the lone-assassin concept was axiomatically the next thing to war. The idea that a conspiracy to murder Kennedy might as well be domestic or foreign and as well rightwing or leftwing certainly occurred, but if it was given any serious thought, we have yet to see the record of it. Now again, still in the time of Ford, the same bias is imposed: Probably there was no conspiracy, and if there was a conspiracy, probably it was the work of the Castroites or the KGB.
After the Thanksgiving 1975 CBS specials on JFK and Ford’s positive reaction to them, the AIB at once raised its tiny voice to say that the questions of the assassination itself had by no means been resolved by CBS’s self-commissioned board of inquiry (as if CBS had a mandate to resolve this dispute!), and that nobody was going to get anywhere at all with the question, “Who was Oswald?” by starting out convinced that Oswald killed Kennedy. That was where Warren had started. Any new investigation starting from the same assumption will come to the same or worse confusion. As it always was, and as it will remain until an open investigation is carried out by some group (such as a federal grand jury?) capable of commanding the public trust, the key question is still, “Who killed JFK?” Oswald is not yet proved guilty.
But at the same time, the question of Oswald’s identity obviously remains one of the outstanding submysteries of the larger drama and contains within it many of the decisive threads. If it is explored without a presuppostion of Oswald’s guilt, it can prove a rewarding –a startling, and astonishing –area of study. For my part, I would have no desire to try to anticipate the outsome of such a study were it not for the insistence with which Warren defenders press the unfounded picture of Oswald as the lone assassin upon the public consciousness. Be reminded it is a theory that Oswald did it, not a fact – a minority theory to boot. However speculative it must be, then, the presentation of a different theory of Oswald seems justified if only to counter the impression that Oswald, whatever else, must have been a leftwinger.
From his involvement in top-secret CIA intelligence work (the U-2 flights) at a big CIA base (Atsugi), we surmise that Oswald became a CIA workman while he was still a Marine. From the peculiarities of his defection in 1959 and his turnaround and return in 1962- how precipitous the going, how smooth the coming back – we surmise that he was in the Soviet Union on CIA business for which the role of Marxist defector was only cover. When he came back to the United States, he was met by one CIA operative (Raikin), taken under the wing of another CIA operative (de Mohrenschildt), and accepted in the two most militantly reactionary communities in the United States at the time (the White Russians and the exile Cubans).
Assuming Oswald might have been a CIA man, what possible mission could have brought him to this scene?
Think back to the Bay of Pigs Fiasco and recall the anger of Cuban exile reaction to Kennedy’s last-minute shortening of the invasion effort and his refusal at the crisis of the beachhead to stand by implied promises of support. We know now that a group around Howard Hunt and Richard Nixon was sentimentally and politically at one with the anti-Castro Cubans in their sense of outrage with Kennedy and their desire to force the issue.
A militant faction of this group broke regular discipline in the period after the Fiasco, the period in which Kenned fired Warren commissioner-to-be Allen Dulles, instead installed John McCone in his place, and threatened “to smash the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” This breakaway component operated independently of official control and carried out, with the exile Cubans, its own program of “pin-prick” raids along the Cuban coast. These attacks were staged from bases inside the United States.
This group existed. It was organized. It was being funded. It was getting large supplies of weapons. It was mounting illegal operations from within the continental interior. Yet Kennedy could not find it. And particularly after the October 1962 Missile Crisis, he had to find it, because he had to shut it down; for now he had promised the Russians that the United States would respect the integrity of the Castro government. How do you look for such a group?
You get a trusted agent with the right background and capabilities. You dress up your agent to look like one of the other side’s agents. You get your agent circulating in the flight patterns of the suspect communities.
Obviously we are still far from being able to say for sure what Oswald’s identity and role really were. But to my mind, the hypothesis that best fits the available facts about him is that he was a loyal CIA man sent out to help locate the renegade Bay of Pigs group, contact it, penetrate it, and determine its organization, backing and plans. The now-famous Oswald letter to the Dallas FBI of November 19, 1963, which the FBI first destroyed and then lied about, and which it now says contained a threat to blow up its Dallas office, was just as likely a warning from Oswald that he had discovered a plot against the President’s life set to be sprung that Friday in Dallas. Oswald and his control could not guess that FBI communications were not secure, or that Oswald himself was all the while being groomed for the role of patsy.