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Whispers from the Silent Generation

by Rex Bradford, May 2013

This talk was delivered at the 2008 November in Dallas conference.


Many of you are familiar I’m sure with Larry Hancock’s book Someone Would Have Talked, which grapples with the question of why someone didn’t “spill the beans” in the JFK assassination. Larry looked at what some interesting people did say, both before and after the assassination, and used that as an approach to connecting the dots between likely players in the murder of President Kennedy.

I want to talk today about a whole other set of people - the political elite class in the country, from Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy to their aides and other highly placed people. What you’ll see is that many of these people also “talked,” though they often did so only many years later, sometimes in private and sometimes on the record. We’ll find that in many ways this group shared with the rest of us disbelief in the lone disgruntled gunman story. What we don’t find for the most part are strong indications that they really knew the answer to “Who killed JFK?” beyond intelligent hunches.

But some of their statements offer interesting clues and point the way toward information they had which has since gone missing. Perhaps as importantly, looking at their statements can help us understand how it is, 45 years later, that the American public still doesn’t know how its 35th president was felled.


As many of you already know, three of the seven Warren Commissioners expressed disbelief in their own conclusions, particularly the single-bullet theory though not limited to it. Richard Russell told Harold Weisberg:

Warren Commissioner
Richard Russell
“We have not been told the truth about Oswald.”  [ 1 ]

Hale Boggs turned against FBI Director-for-life J. Edgar Hoover shortly before his plane disappeared over Alaska, and an aide of Boggs’ said that Boggs told him:

Warren Commissioner
Hale Boggs
“Hoover lied his eyes out to the Commission – on Oswald, on Ruby, on their friends, the bullets the guns, you name it…”  [ 2 ]

John Sherman Cooper was part of the group that attempted to get a dissent into the Warren Report until talked out of it in the Warren Commission session that was never transcribed. David Wrone found a draft of the Report in J. Lee Rankin’s papers on which Cooper had written this:

Warren Commissioner
John Sherman Cooper
“On what basis is it claimed that two shots caused all the wounds?.... It seemed to me that Governor Connally’s statement negates such a conclusion. I could not agree with this statement.”  [ 3 ]

These doubts about the Commission’s reconstruction of the shooting, atop which the whole shaky edifice of the “lone psychopathic gunman” story sits, is reinforced by a revealing comment from Kennedy’s “Irish Mafia,” Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers. They were riding in the Secret Service follow-up car, and later told Tip O’Neill that, in contradiction to O’Donnell ‘s testimony to the Warren Commission, they had heard shots from behind the grassy knoll fence. O’Donnell told O’Neill:

Kennedy Special Assistant
Ken O'Donnell
“I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn’t have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn’t want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family.”  [ 4 ]

Pain and trouble for the family? Lying under oath didn’t make that go away, unfortunately. During an intense moment of such pain, in the aftermath of Robert Kennedy’s murder, Ted Kennedy let down his guard a bit, as he talked to NBC correspondent Sander Vanocur about the “faceless men” with no apparent motive charged in the slaying of both his brothers and Martin Luther King, and added:

Edward Kennedy
“There has to be more to it.”  [ 5 ]

Kennedy Insiders

Speaking of the Kennedys, it turns out that a number of people in the Kennedy inner circle have talked on the record about Dallas. Tony Summers talked to William Attwood, who was key in the backchannel talks to Castro that JFK was encouraging in the summer and fall of 1963, behind the back of his own State Department. [ 6 ] This secret venture was fraught with domestic peril, and we know now that the CIA debriefed journalist Lisa Howard after one of her conversations with Castro, [ 7 ] and there’s great reason to suspect that the secret Attwood initiative was not in fact a secret. Thus Attwood’s words are worth paying attention to:

Former UN Ambassador
William Attwood
“If the CIA did find out what we were doing, this would have trickled down to the lower echelon of activists, and Cuban exiles, and the more gung-ho CIA people who had been involved since the Bay of Pigs.... I can understand why they would have reacted so violently. This was the end of their dreams of returning to Cuba, and they might have been impelled to take violent action. Such as assassinating the President.”  [ 8 ]

Arthur Schlesinger, the historian and Kennedy special advisor who told Ray Marcus “I can’t look and I won’t look” at photos from Dealey Plaza, [ 9 ] concurred with Attwood:

Kennedy Special Assistant
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
“Undoubtedly if word leaked of President Kennedy’s efforts, that might have been exactly the kind of thing to trigger some explosion of fanatical violence. It seems to me a possibility not to be excluded.”  [ 10 ]

Much more recently, Joan Mellen quoted Schlesinger’s reply to Wilmer Thomas, an acquaintance of his who asked Schlesinger whom he believed was behind the assassination of President Kennedy:

“We were at war with the national security people.” [11]

Dick Goodwin, who was in Kennedy’s State Department in Latin American affairs, was even more blunt:

Deputy Asst. Sec. of State
Richard Goodwin
“We know the CIA was involved, and the Mafia. We all know that.”  [ 12 ]

This last quote comes from David Talbot’s Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, a book I highly recommend in part because of the number of people Talbot got on the record.

Goodwin’s sentiment was echoed by Frank Mankiewicz, who at the time of the Garrison investigation was told by RFK to “look into this, read everything you can, so if it gets to a point where I can do something about this, you can tell me what I need to know.” [13] Mankiewicz told Talbot that he turned himself into “an assassinaton buff,” and that:

RFK Press Secretary
Frank Mankiewicz
“I came to the conclusion that there was some sort of conspiracy, probably involving the mob, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, and maybe rogue CIA agents.... Every so often I would bring this up with Bobby. I told him who I thought was involved. But it was like he just couldn’t focus on it. He’d get this look of pain, or more like numbness, on his face. It just tore him apart.”  [ 14 ]

Now there’s something very wrong about the former Attorney General of the United States asking an aide to read conspiracy books to find out what happened to his brother the president. This statement and others tell us a few things I think:

1. They, and by this I mean particularly the Kennedy insiders, didn’t really know for a fact who killed JFK.

2. They understood that the Warren Commission was a public relations exercise, and that the evidence against Oswald amassed by the FBI and the Commission wasn’t to be believed. And these people I might add – Schlesinger, Goodwin, Attwood, and others, not to mention Robert Kennedy himself – knew more about the real workings of government investigations than most.

3. Their collective gut feel, for what it’s worth, caused them to suspect the CIA, Cuban exiles, and organized crime.

Bobby Kennedy

But if Robert Kennedy’s associates didn’t have much more than gut feel to go on, what RFK himself knew is less clear. I’d like to review some of what Bobby Kennedy said in private to various people and see what light it can shed. David Talbot’s Brothers, again is a great source here.

On the afternoon of November 22 RFK called his close friend Harry Ruiz-Williams, someone Bobby was working with on anti-Castro activities during 1963. And he said to either Harry Williams or Haynes Johnson – if you credit both Talbot and Lamar Waldron then Johnson himself keeps changing his mind about who RFK told this to [15] – in any case, what RFK said was this:

Robert Kennedy
“One of your guys did it.”  [ 16 ]

It’s a pretty amazing six words, and apparently not in the form of a question. Joan Mellen believes, based on her conversations with Angelo Murgado, that Bobby Kennedy was aware of Oswald prior to November 22, had even seen a photo of him. [17] Whether that is true or not, the idea that Oswald was an anti-Castro agent, and that RFK was either aware already or was quickly made aware of this after the assassination, is certainly a compelling interpretation of this comment. Though six words is not much to go on.

John McCone arrived at Hickory Hill to spend a few hours with Bobby before this call was made, and thus McCone might in theory have delivered information about Oswald. The call to Harry Williams was apparently made before a call from FBI Director Hoover that we’ll see in a minute. Now when McCone first arrived, RFK greeted him in an unusual way:

“I asked McCone if they had killed my brother, and I asked him in a way that he couldn’t lie to me.” [18]

McCone and RFK were both devout Catholics, so presumably this verification involved rosary beads or stacks of Bibles. I must admit I’ve always found this scene strange. ”I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me whether we killed your brother the president, Bob, because I cannot tell a lie.” In any case, by McCone’s own admission he was unaware of CIA plots to kill Castro for more than 18 months after heading up CIA, so his lack of knowledge is hardly definitive. [19] RFK's friend John Siegenthaler said it was clear that "McCone was out of the loop - Dick Helms was running the Agency...anything McCone found out was by accident." [20]

Just following the call to Harry Williams, RFK spoke to J. Edgar Hoover, who told him:

FBI Director
J. Edgar Hoover
“Oswald went to Russia and stayed three years; came back to the United States in June, 1962, and went to Cuba on several occasions but would not tell us what he went to Cuba for.”  [ 21 ]

Now, Hoover was famous for mis-speaking, but look: note that Hoover hasn’t simply mixed up Russia and Cuba, since he reports the Soviet defection correctly right down to the month; instead he adds that Oswald went to Cuba. It’s odd that Army intelligence files – the ones “routinely destroyed” in 1973 - also contained the information, whether true or not, that Oswald had been to Cuba. [22] This coincidence is very curious even if, as we think we know, Oswald had never been to Cuba.

So we know that initially, and perhaps based on information about Oswald to which we the public are not privy even 45 years later, Bobby suspected the anti-Castro activisits and the CIA. Bobby also tasked Walter Sheridan to try and get the skinny on organized crime involvement. [23]

A week after the assassination, Bobby and Jackie Kennedy delivered an extraordinary message to Soviet Chairman Khrushchev via friend William Walton and Georgi Bolshakov, who had been the Kennedys’ backchannel during the Cuban Missile Crisis. [24] The message, once again delivered to the leadership of a Communist enemy behind the back of the State Department at the height of the Cold War - was "there was a large political conspiracy behind Oswald’s rifle" and that:

Jacqueline and
Robert Kennedy
“Dallas was the ideal location for such a crime…..Perhaps there was only one assassin, but he did not act alone.”  [ 25 ]

It’s clear from many sources that RFK was not a believer in the Warren Report, despite a few tepid endorsements he may have made. [26] But it’s also not clear that he had the inside scoop on the assassination conspiracy, and he wasn’t consistent in what he told aides. For instance, he told Arthur Schlesinger:

Robert Kennedy
“…there could be no serious doubt that Oswald was guilty, but there was still argument if he had done it by himself or as part of a larger plot, whether organized by Castro or by gangsters. The FBI thought he had done it by himself, but McCone thought there were two people involved in the shooting.”  [ 27 ]

Organized by Castro? What happened to “one of your guys did it?” By this point, a couple of weeks after Dallas, a series of leads pointing to Castro, most of them emanating from Mexico City, had been flooding into Washington. [28] I’m going to return to the “Castro solution” in a bit.

The second sentence here is interesting. For one thing, add McCone to the conspiracy believer list. This quote comes from December 9, 1963, by the way, the same day the FBI report was completed, and long before the books exposing the holes in the single bullet theory would be written. And taken at face value, it has Bobby Kennedy believing Oswald was a shooter, and maybe the sole shooter.

So this brings up an interesting side question: “Did Bobby Kennedy really think that Oswald was the sole gunman,” regardless of what conspiracy might lay behind Oswald’s gun? I for one don’t have any doubt that there were multiple gunmen, and a medical cover-up in this case. [29] Was Bobby Kennedy a victim of that cover-up? Or was he actually part of it, and in this comment to Schlesinger is being less than truthful about what he knew?

Bobby Kennedy and Cover-up

The question of Bobby Kennedy and his possible involvement in cover-up of his own brother’s murder is not, I think, a simple topic, and not one I’m going to address adequately in these few minutes. But the topic is no longer taboo, and some authors have tackled it, with mixed results.

Here are a few relevant questions I think:

One. If there was a medical cover-up starting right there during the autopsy at Bethesda, when the throat wound was not dissected, access to JFK’s clothing was denied, and other basic autopsy procedures were jettisoned for reasons which go way beyond “bungling,” [30] was Bobby Kennedy a victim of this or an author of it? Now there are many stories that Robert Kennedy was secretly pulling the strings here, possibly to keep the doctors away from JFK’s adrenals, though last time I checked the adrenals were next to the kidneys and not up in the neck, and the body cavity was examined and the neck wasn’t. But when you track them down, the stories that RFK was limiting the autopsy from the seventeenth floor at Bethesda are all conjecture and hearsay and inference. [31] Finck, who at the Clay Shaw trial couldn’t remember who told him not to dissect the neck wound, got his memory back for the HSCA medical panel. He told the panel in previously-secret testimony that it was Admiral Galloway who passed on the restrictions to the autopsy team. [32] Harold Weisberg found a staff interview the HSCA took with Galloway, by phone, in which Galloway stated that “no orders were being sent in from outside the autopsy room either by phone or in person.” [33]

I’m not saying the stories of RFK’s “interference” with the autopsy may not be true, just urging caution, especially in whether the easy answer of the adrenals is what was at play here. And in any case, by many accounts Dr. Burkley, the president’s personal physician, was a key player in the autopsy, by some accounts running the show. [34] Burkley and Robert Kennedy were hardly strangers – Burkley was RFK’s go-to guy on procuring the brain and autopsy slides subsequently among other things, [35] and even if Burkley was not managing the autopsy on RFK’s behalf, Burkley had to know the score.

Admiral George Burkley
McHugh: “Do you agree with the Warren Report on the number of bullets that entered President Kennedy’s body?”

Burkley: “I would not care to be quoted on that.”
  [ 36 ]

This is from a 1967 oral history with the JFK Library, and Burkley later told Henry Hurt that he believed there had been a conspiracy. [37] In 1977, Burkley had his lawyer contact the HSCA with the message that “others besides Oswald must have participated,” though Richard Sprague was ousted very soon thereafter and this message then fell on dead ears. [38]

There’s much more, including the strange dropping of the Dallas casket into 9000 feet of water in 1966 under RFK’s orders, at a time when the brain and tissue slides were under his control. [39] David Talbot has written that Bobby was hanging onto the medical evidence in order to use it after regaining the presidency and reopening the assassination investigation. But there’s a good circumstantial case that RFK sent 2 miles down to the bottom of the Atlantic the brain, the tissue slides, and the real original autopsy report though that’s another story. [40] This is not an especially good way to preserve evidence for trial.

Maybe Bobby just didn’t care about the forensics, but it’s baffling behavior if he knew there were multiple gunmen. And there’s circumstantial evidence, more than what I’ve mentioned here, that indeed he did know, despite what he may have told Arthur Schlesinger. Didn’t Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers tell him about the grassy knoll shooter?

A second question about Bobby Kennedy and cover-up has to do with the Garrison investigation. Walter Sheridan, one of Bobby’s closest aides in the Justice Department, went down to New Orleans to shut down Jim Garrison. [41] I don’t believe this was a rogue operation on Sheridan’s part. Did Bobby really believe, rightly or wrongly, that Garrison was a charlatan? Did he think perhaps that Garrison’s vocal charges were just too strident and would bring down the heavens on himself, which is what happened? Was something deeper going on?

The third question: What was RFK’s role in the plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, and what relationship did this have with his brother’s assassination? This is the one that crops up over and over again, and for good reason.

The Castro Theory

Most people are familiar with RFK’s Assistant Attorney General Nick Katzenbach’s memo of November 25:

Assistant Attorney General
Nicholas Katzenbach
“The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial…..Speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to be cut off, and we should have some basis for rebutting thought that this was a Communist conspiracy or…..a right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the Communists. Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat—too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)…..”  [ 42 ]

Katzenbach has a new book out in which he bemoans the poor choice of words here, [43] but I think they’re spot on. This was the entire government leadership’s posture in the aftermath of Dallas, and they followed through on it with vigor.

By the way, Katzenbach is also apparently a closet conspiracist; he told David Talbot:

“I’m as certain as one can be that there was no other gun shot…..But it’s not silliness to speculate that somebody was behind Oswald…..I’d almost bet on the [anti-Castro] Cubans.” [44]

But Katzenbach told David Talbot something else that I think gets us closer to the heart of the matter:

“My own feeling was that Bobby was worried that there might be some conspiracy and that it might be his fault…..It might very well have been that he was worried that the investigation would somehow point back to him.” [45]

Lyndon Johnson was a little more blunt in 1968, after Robert Kennedy’s own murder, when he told journalist Howard K. Smith this:

President Lyndon Johnson
“I’ll tell you something about Kennedy’s murder that will rock you…..Kennedy was trying to get Castro, but Castro got to him first.”  [ 46 ]

Less-often quoted is what what LBJ’s chief of staff Marvin Watson had told the FBI’s Cartha DeLoach a year earlier, that Johnson:

“was now convinced there was a plot in connection with the assassination. Watson stated the President felt the CIA had something to do with this plot.” [47]

In any case, the “Castro did it” theme is surprisingly common among government insiders – not journalists or “conspiracy buffs” for the most part, but government insiders. Here’s Joseph Califano, who was working on the “Cuban project” for the Army in 1963:

Cuban Coordinating
Committee member
Joseph Califano, Jr.
“I have come to share LBJ’s view [that Castro “got him first”]…..Over the years I have come to believe that the paroxysms of grief that tormented Robert Kennedy for years after his brother’s death arose, at least in part, from a sense that his efforts to eliminate Castro led to his brother’s assassination.”  [ 48 ]

Others ascribing to this view include Al Haig, also part of the Cuba project, some CIA officers, Ambassador Mann, and others. [49] Even Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick believes it. His biographer said:

Patrick Kennedy,
son of Ted Kennedy
“Patrick has long thought that Castro was behind the Kennedy assassination of 1963.”  [ 50 ]

So where is all this coming from? Obviously there are the allegedly pro-Castro activities of Lee Harvey Oswald in the summer of 1963, his leaflets and his phony one-man Fair Play for Cuba Committee. [51] And oft-repeated is Castro’s statement on September 7 1963 that:

Cuban Prime Minister
Fidel Castroy
“United States leaders should think that if they assist in terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.”  [ 52 ]

Johnny Roselli was the source of such a “blowback” theory that Jack Anderson wrote about, pushing a story that a team of assassins out to get Castro was captured in Cuba, and turned around and used to kill Kennedy. [53] This is an obviously false story, but perhaps it was used to send a message about a deeper truth. For example, Lamar Waldron has advanced the idea that there was a plan in the works to kill Castro in a moving vehicle, using a rifleman from a tall building, and that RFK was very much in the loop on this plan. [54] If so, this would certainly explain the belief that “One of your guys did it.”

And then there’s the Oswald trip to Mexico City, of course, that tangled web wherein Oswald or someone pretending to be him visited both the Cuban and Soviet embassies, made a cryptic remark in a taped phone call that led CIA officers to believe that the Cubans were housing him during the Mexican visit, met with KGB officers one of whom was believed to be Department 13 – sabotage and assassinations, [55] and may have threatened Kennedy’s life when storming out of the Cuban embassy, as Castro himself is said to have told one of the Childs brothers, code-named SOLO:

“He (Oswald) stormed into the embassy, demanded the visa, and when it was refused to him, headed out saying ‘I’m going to kill Kennedy for this.’” [56]

Here’s a fuller version of the quote:

“First of all, nobody ever goes that way for a visa, Second, it costs money to go that distance. He (Oswald) stormed into the embassy, demanded the visa, and when it was refused to him, headed out saying ‘I’m going to kill Kennedy for this’…..What is your government doing to catch the other assassins? It took about three people.” [57]

This alleged threat, which is not part of our troubling and sketchy CIA records from Mexico City, even though former HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey believes it happened, [58] is only one of the clues that the Mexico City cover-up erased evidence of a Castro connection that we don’t even know about. I suspect there’s more that got buried. For instance, here’s Al Haig in his book:

Cuban Coordinating
Committee member
Alexander Haig
“Very soon after President Kennedy’s death, an intelligence report crossed my desk. In circumstantial detail, it stated that Oswald had been seen in Havana in the company of Cuban intelligence officers several days before the events in Dallas, and that he had traveled there by way of Mexico City…..I walked it over to my superiors…..Reading it caused their faces to go ashen. ‘Al’, said one of them, ‘you will forget, as from this moment, that you ever read this piece of paper, or that it ever existed.’”  [ 59 ]

Now, if we know anything about Mexico City, it's that Oswald didn’t get the visa or make it to Cuba. So this report is a phony, like the Pedro Charles letter and so many of the other allegations that Oswald took money to kill Kennedy etc. [60]

The problem is that certain people in government, already predisposed to believe that Kennedy was killed by Castro, never got the memo that this stuff was a setup. When Earl Warren and others did LBJ’s bidding to protect America from being pushed toward a war where “40 million Americans” could die, [61] the ensuing cover-up of phony evidence implicating Castro was left to fester.

What I take away from this is that a great many people in high places disbelieved the lone gunman business, but didn’t really know the exact nature of the conspiracy. Frank Mankiewicz' story of reading conspiracy books to find out what happened is probably the best example of that. Bobby Kennedy and his aides clearly focused on a domestic conspiracy, centered in the CIA and possibly involving Cuban exiles and the mob, but it appears to be based on insider gut feeling rather than specific knowledge, though perhaps coupled with inside information on Oswald and Ruby which never made it into the public record. Lyndon Johnson was all over the map on the assassination. And many others knew that there was evidence implicating Castro that got buried, and that is what cemented their belief that Castro was behind Kennedy’s murder.

The Media

How did the Warren Report withstand such disbelief on the part of all these powerful and highly-placed people? Well, I think it’s important to understand that most of these quotes I’ve been showing were said in private, and a lot of them are pretty recent. They’re in books like Brothers and Tony Summer’s Conspiracy, but most of them never made the newspapers, much less the nightly TV news.

Why weren’t these insiders more vocal? The initial silence was part of the full-court “lone nut” press across the entire US establishment, to avoid the alternative that Oswald was a hired Commie. Earl Warren was acting for the good of the country as he saw it. Robert Kennedy told William Attwood that there were "reasons of national security" involved, [62] a statement whose precise meaning can still be debated. And I think Robert Kennedy’s silence set the tone for a whole group of people.

The media, much more than government insiders, has carried the torch of the Warren Report ever since, and has never really backed off its initial glowing acceptance. In 1966 there was a brief call in some mainstream media organs to address the growing problems with the single bullet theory, [63] but that collapsed in the media orgy over the Garrison investigation. The mid-1970s featured a resurgence of reporting on the assassination story, but the HSCA’s oddball “there was a grassy knoll assassin but he missed” conclusion left everybody confused. [64]

The oft-mentioned CIA manipulation and control of the media is one aspect of the explanation here, [65] but I think the reasons go well beyond that. There’s institutional inertia – it’s not easy to say you were wrong – plus an inherent unwillingness on the part of the media to challenge official sources – these men of “unimpeachable reputiation.” The emperor is presumed to be clothed, unless you can really prove he is naked.

Journalists and their editors work in a system which made up its mind a long time ago – where are the historians on this case, who have more time than journalists after all? Arthur Schlesinger wrote about 30 history books – two very famous ones on the Kennedys – and forgot to include his belief that the “national security people” killed JFK. [66]

Ray Marcus talked to Bob Richter of CBS when Richter was producing the 1967 CBS special on the assassination. Richter knew a few things about the case – he wrote a memo that same year in which he passed along the comment of autopsy doctor Humes that photos had been taken at the autopsy with a probe connecting the back and neck wound. [67]

Marcus met with Richter, and asked him if he would complain publicly if he was pressured to make the CBS special end up one-sided. Richter replied:

CBS Producer
Bob Richter
“You’re asking me if I want to spend the rest of my career working for the Paducah Weekly Journal.”  [ 68 ]

And Dan Rather made an amazing admission to Bob Tanenbaum in 1993:

CBS Anchorman
Dan Rather
“We really blew it on the Kennedy assassination.”  [ 69 ]

And they were still blowing it five years later, when the stunning ARRB medical testimony and disclosures were released in 1998. [70] The disconnect between the stories available in “conspiracy books” and those available in the mainstream press has never been greater.

The Current State of Public Understanding

David Talbot

JFK & the

James Douglass

The Road to Dallas
David Kaiser

Legacy of Secrecy
Lamar Waldron w/
Thom Hartmann

Brothers in Arms
Gus Russo &
Stephen Molton

Reclaiming History
Vincent Bugliosi

So where are we now?

Well, let’s count our successes. The JFK Act resulted in an explosion of knowledge about the assassination investigations, the Kennedy presidency, foreign policy on Cuba and Vietnam, and much more. I’m proud of my own efforts, standing on the shoulders of giants like Harold Weisberg and Jim Lesar and Mary Ferrell, to put a shared base of documents and writing online to help the effort to move our understanding forward.

I do fear that we’ve created a bit of a monster, though. Here are six of the most prominent books of the past year-and-a-half which offer a view on who killed JFK. These are all meaty books, most in the 500 page range with a couple larger than that. They are extremely detailed in their research, well written, and heavily footnoted – three of these books have more than 2000 footnotes, and none of them less than 700. Vincent Bugliosi is the clear winner of the footnote competition at over 7000. The number of footnotes, it turns out, may not be the ultimate measure of value.

So after all the declassifications, we have an embarrassment of riches I suppose – you all have your Christmas reading ahead of you now. And while I would hardly say that these books are of equal value, they do all have useful information in them.

But is there a consensus in the wake of all the new information? Let’s see:

We have two for the CIA/National Security State (Brothers [71] and JFK and the Unspeakable [72]), one for the Mob (The Road to Dallas [73]) and another for the Mob with rogue CIA agents and other helpers (Legacy of Secrecy [74]), one for Oswald on behalf of and paid by Fidel Castro (Brothers in Arms [75]), and one for plain old lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald (Reclaiming History [76]).

These books, unlike this talk, have more answers than questions, containing detailed narrative stories and not just condemnation of the Warren Report. I guess after 45 years it’s about time. It’s just too bad they’re all telling different stories about the same event.

So pity those who are new to this whole saga and pick up one of these books, which they are likely to find utterly convincing regardless of which one it is. That is the state of affairs going forward, and is perhaps the legacy of cover-up that still lives with us.

Final Thoughts

I have one more quote I’d like to share, this one from an official of a foreign government. Outside the U.S., of course, disbelief in the lone gunman story was endemic. After being told the official story by Drew Pearson in May of 1964, Nikita Khrushchev is said to have interjected “What really happened?” [77]

A successor of Khrushchev’s, Mikhail Gorbachev, visited Dallas in 1998, a decade ago, and wrote the following in the guest book at the Sixth Floor Museum. I think it’s worth repeating:

Former Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev
“He looked far ahead and he wanted to change a great deal. Perhaps it is this that is the key to the mystery of the death of President John F. Kennedy.”  [ 78 ]



[ 1 ] Whitewash IV, by Harold Weisberg, self-published, 1974, p. 21.

[ 2 ] Coincidence of Conspiracy", by Bud Fensterwald Jr. and Michael Ewing, Zebra Books, 1977, p. 96.

[ 3 ] The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination, by David Wrone, University Press of Kansas, 2003, p. 247.

[ 4 ] Man of the House, by Tip O'Neill with William Novak, Random House, 1987, p. 178.

[ 5 ] The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, by Jonn Christian and William Turner, Random House, 1978, p. xiv-xv. The "faceless men" part of the quote appears in a Newsweek article of 17 Jun 1968 entitled "Once Again, Once Again" on page 4.

[ 6 ] For more, see Two Tracks on Cuba.

[ 7 ] In a memo to McGeorge Bundy of 27 Aug 1963 on the subject of Castro's desire for a rapprochement, CIA's Richard Helms refers to Lisa Howard's earlier such report in May. in a May 2 memo regarding Howard's April trip, CIA Director McCone opposed the approach to Cuba and stressed that "Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner." Howard's championing of this cause was no secret within the administration, and likely neither were the subsequent Kennedy moves which were intended to be kept secret from the CIA and State Department. William Attwood told the Church Committee that the peace feelers began in response to a second trip to Cuba by Lisa Howard. See Peter Kornbluh's essay JFK & Castro: The Secret Quest for Accomodation.

[ 8 ] Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers, Paragon House, 1980, p.401-2.

[ 9 ] Truth vs. Political Truth, by Ray Marcus, self-published, 2001, p. 20. See also David Talbot's Brothers, p. 287.

[10]Conspiracy, p.402.

[11] How the Failure to Identify, Prosecute and Convict President Kennedy's Assassins Has Led to Today's Crisis in Democracy, by Joan Mellen. See also A Farewell to Justice, by Joan Mellen, Potomac Books, 2005, p. 162.

[12] Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, by David Talbot, Free Press, 2007, p. 303.

[13] Ibid, p. 312.

[14] Ibid, p. 312.

[15] "Brothers" on page 10 quotes Haynes Johnson's Washington Post article of 17 Apr 1981 and personal interviews, in which Johnson said that the statement *"One of your guys did it") was made to Harry Ruiz Williams. But Lamar Waldron points to a different 20 Nov 1983 article, plus his own interviews with Johnson, in which Johnson said that the statement was directed at himself. See "Legacy of Secrecy", by Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann, Counterpoint, 2009, p. 157. Both men had friendships and associations with Cuban exile leaders - Johnson wrote the book "Bay of Pigs" and Williams was a confidant of RFK's - so presumably the importance if any relates to which Cubans they were closest to.

[16] This quote appears in other sources including Tony Summers' "Not in Your Lifetime" (p. 311), quoting his own 1994 Vanity Fair article ("The Ghosts of November"), also says it was said to Haynes Johnson, and supplies this further description from Johnson: "Kennedy was utterly in control of his emotions when he came on the line.... and was studiedly brisk as he said 'One of your guys did it.'"

[17] "A Farewell to Justice", by Joan Mellen, Potomac Books, p. 379.

[18] "Robert Kennedy and His Times", by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Houghton Mifflin, p. 616. Schlesinger cites a 1970 oral history with Kennedy confidant Walter Sheridan.

[19] The Church Committee determined that the CIA officers running Castro assassination plots (Richard Helms, Richard Bissell, and William Harvey) had not notified McCone of the plots, which began under his predecessor Allen Dulles (see Church Committee Interim Report, p.92). McCone testified that he did not know of or authorize Castro assassination plots during his tenure (IBID, p. 99). On the other hand, there is evidence that McCone was intentionally keeping himself in the dark, and was aware that such activities were being undertaken. At a well-known August 10 1962 meeting in which McNamara himself raised the idea of killing Castro. According to participant Walter Elder, McCone objected to discussion of such matters and said "I intend to have it expunged from the record." (IBID, p. 166). William Harvey told the Committee that McCone had said "If I got myself involved in something like this, I might end up getting myself excommunicated." (IBID, p. 105).

[20] "Brothers", p. 87.

[21] Hoover memo of 22 Nov 1963, 4:01 pm.

[22] The destruction of the Army Intelligence file on Oswald is discussed in the HSCA's Assassinations Report. p. 223-224. Army Intelligence on the afternoon of Nov 22 cabled the U.S. Strike Command at McDill Air Force Base in Florida, "telling the Strike Command (falsely) that Oswald had defected to Cuba in 1959 and was 'a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.'" See "OVERVIEW: THE CIA, THE DRUG TRAFFIC, AND OSWALD IN MEXICO", by Peter Dale Scott.

[23] "Brothers", p. 21.

[24] This incredible story was first told in "One Hell of a Gamble", by Alexsandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, W.W. Norton, p.344-346. See also David Talbot's "Brothers", p. 29-34. For Bolshakov's role as a backchannel intermediary during the Cuban Missile Crisis, see "One Hell of a Gamble."

[25] "One Hell of a Gamble", p. 345.

[26] RFK gave some brief tepid endorsements of the Warren Report at various times, but generally avoided comment. When in the fall of 1966 criticism of the Report was appearing in mainstream publications such as the Saturday Evening Post and Look Magazine, Kennedy reportedly wondered aloud with Arthur Schlesinger "how long he could continue to avoid comment on the Report." ("Robert Kennedy and His Times", p. 616). On the campaign trail in 1968, RFK brushed off a student question about whether he would "open the archives" if elected, saying that he would "not reopen the Warren Commission Report. I have seen everything that's in there. I stand by the Warren Commission." ("The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Jonn Christian and William Turner, Random House, 1978, p. 27). But what few endorsements he made of the Commission's work were usually more tepid and pro forma.

[27] "Journals, 1952-2000", by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Penguin Press, 2007, p.214.

[28] See Stories of Communist Conspiracy in Mexico City.

[29] The bizarre twists and turns in the medical evidence in the JFK case defy summarization and are beyond the scope of this essay. A gateway to documents, depositions, essays, audio interviews, and more can be found here: Medical Evidence.

[30] Michael Baden, head of the nine-member Forensic Pathology Panel of the HSCA, later wrote "Where bungled autopsies are concerned, President Kennedy's is the exemplar." ("Unnatural Death, by Michael Baden with Judith Adler Hennessee, Random House, 1989, p. 6).

[31] Harold Weisberg reproduces on p. 507 of "Post Mortem" the authorization sheet for JFK's autopsy, signed by Robert Kennedy, and notes that the space under "This authority shall be limited only by the conditions expressly stated below" is left blank. There are many stories that Robert Kennedy was transmitting orders by telephone to the autopsy room; they may be true, but every account is second-hand.

[32] See for example the ARRB deposition of autopsist Pierre Finck, p. 67-69.

[33] When questioned earlier by the HSCA, the same Pierre Finck had admitted that autopsy restrictions were transmitted to him by Admiral Galloway, the commanding officer. The HSCA contacted Galloway by phone and was told "Galloway said he was present throughout the autopsy.... during the autopsy Galloway said that no orders were being sent in from outside the autopsy room either by phone or by person." ("Never Again!", by Harold Weisberg, Mary Ferrell Foundation Press, p. 482.). I do not think the matter is settled.

[34] An HSCA interview report has autopsist J. Thorton Boswell saying "Dr. Burkley was basically supervising everything that went on in the autopsy room and that the commanding officer was also responding to Burkley's wishes." (Boswell-Purdy interview of 17 Aug 1977). In a 1996 ARRB deposition, Boswell backed off this statement, saying even "I never saw Admiral Burkley in the morgue", though his colleague Dr. James Humes gave a more nuanced response.

[35] The House Committee determined that the brain and certain other autopsy materials were transferred to the Secret Service but were under Burkley's control, until April 1965 when Burkley was directed to deliver the materials to Robert Kennedy's personal secretary Evelyn Lincoln. See HSCA Volume VII pp. 24-27. When the materials were returned to the National Archives in late 1966, the brain was among those items which were missing.

[36] JFK Library Oral History Interview with Admiral George Burkley, 17 Oct 1967, p. 18.

[37] "In 1982 Dr. Burkley told the author [Hurt] in a telephone conversation that he believed that President Kennedy's assassination was the result of a conspiracy." "Reasonable Doubt", by Henry Hurt, Holt Reinhart & Winston, 1985, p. 49.

[38] Memo to File of HSCA Chief Counsel Richard Sprague of 18 Mar 1977. Burkley is one of the key "missing witnesses" in the assassination saga. For more, see The Missing Physician.

[39] In 1999, the National Archives released 46 pages of memos and other documents relating to the disposition of the ceremonial casket used to transfer JFK's body from Dallas to Bethesda. Under RFK's direction, the casket was drilled with holes, weighted down with sand bags, banded with metal, flown out over the Atlantic, and dropped into 9000 feet of water. The plane then circled to make sure that no materials floated to the surface. To dispose of a casket? It is worth noting that the event occurred in early 1966, during the time the brain and other autopsy materials disappeared.

[40] ARRB senior staff analyst Doug Horne wrote a memo entitled Chain-of-Custody Discrepancy Re: Original Copy of President John F. Kennedy's Autopsy Protocol, outlining the reasons for suspecting that the autopsy report in evidence is not the original (along with a follow-up memo).

[41] It's unclear exactly what motive or set of motives caused RFK to send Sheridan to New Orleans originally, but Sheridan quickly turned anti-Garrison. It was Sheridan who brought Garrison aide William Gurvich to see RFK and tell him Garrison had "no basis in fact", and in 1967 Sheridan, now all of a sudden a journalist, produced an NBC "White Paper" which charge Garrison with all manner of malfeasance and wrongdoing, including bribing witnesses. See "Let Justice Be Done", by William Davy, Jordan Publishing, 1999, pp. 135-137). David Talbot presents an interesting take on this, saying that Garrison's actions related to anti-Hoffa witness Ed Partin and his zeroing in on Cuban exiles and anti-Castro plots might easily have triggered panic in the Kennedy camp. ("Brothers", p.328).

[42] Memorandum for Mr. Moyers, 25 Nov 1963, commonly called the "Katzenbach Memo". Katzenbach began drafting the memo the day before, soon after Oswald's murder on national television. See Katzenbach Memo for discussion and related documents. For more on the context in which the Warren Commission was formed, see Walkthrough - Formation of the Warren Commission.

[43] "Some of it Was Fun", by Nicholas deB Katzenbach, W.W. Norton, 2008, p. 133. Katzenbach describes the memo as "badly written."

[44] "Brothers", p. 290.

[45] "Brothers", p. 277.

[46] From the article "How CIA Plot to Kill Castro Backfired", 2 Aug 1976, by Harry Altshuler, quoting Howard K. Smith interview of LBJ.

[47] DeLoach memo quoted in "Never Again!", p. 34. See also the Church Committee testimony of Cartha DeLoach, 25 Nov 1975, p.23.

[48] "Inside: A Public and Private Life", by Joseph A. Califano Jr., Public Affairs, 2004, p. 126.

[49] Al Haig is quoted in Gus Russo's "Live By The Sword" (Bancroft Press, 1998, p. 453.): "Castro was behind this [assassination], but with KGB help." Ambassador Mann vigorously pursued stories of Communist conpiracy in Mexico City until told in person to desist by Laurence Keenan representing the FBI and Washington's view. Upon the appearance of Nicaraguan Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte with his story of seeing Oswald take money from the Cubans to kill Kennedy, on Nov 26 Mann cabled Washington that Duran should be (re)-arrested and vigorously interrogated: "If she did break under interrogation -- and we suggest Mexicans should be asked to go all out in seeing that she does -- we and Mexicans would have needed corroboration of statement of the Nicaraguan." See Sylvia Duran's Interrogation.

[50] An article with this quote appeared in the Boston Globe I believe about a decade or so ago. I am unable to locate the article now.

[51] A summary of Oswald's New Orleans escapades in the summer of 1963, along with his formation of a one-man Fair Play for Cuba Committee, may be found in the HSCA Report, p. 140-147.

[52] Castro quoted in a Louisiana States-Item article of 9 Sep 1963. The article appears as Commission Exhibit 1349.

[53] In early 1967, Edward Morgan, acting on behalf of Johnny Roselli, approached columnist Drew Pearson with the Castro retaliation theory. Pearson approached Earl Warren, who handed him off to the Secret Service and FBI, who didn't pursue the matter. Subsequently Pearson and Anderson's articles appeared and caused a stir; President Johnson then asked the FBI to investigate. See HSCA Vol. 10, p. 154. This led to the 1967 CIA Inspector General's Report on assassination plots against Castro, a report which Peter Scott has noticed assiduously avoided the allegation which caused it to be undertaken. For that discussion, see "Deep Politics II", Mary Ferrell Foundation Press, 1996, chapter 6.

[54] "Legacy of Secrecy", by Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann, Counterpoint, 2008, p. 67.

[55] See Oswalds Visits to the Cuban and Soviet Embassies and Valeriy Kostikov and Comrade Kostin.

[56] Commission Document 1359 is the informant report based on SOLO's meeting with Fidel Castro. For the most in-depth discussion of this episode, see "Deep Politics II", chapter 8.

[57] Commission Document 1359.

[58] See "A Father's Day Gift of Cologne", by Chris Courtwright, in he 1996 issue of Fair Play. Courtwright is quoting an article in the London Daily Telegraph, June 22, by Ben Fenton.

[59] "Inner Circles", by Alexander Haig, Grand Central Publishing, 1994, p. 116.

[60] See copy of the translated Pedro Charles letter, purported written in Cuba on 10 Nov 1963 is actually postmarked Nov 28, several days after the assassination. Addressed to "Friend Lee", it includes many phrases which would lead one to believe that Pedro Charles knew of Oswald's plan to kill Kennedy and in fact had hired Oswald: "After the affair I will send you the money." This theme recurred in the allegations of both Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte and Pedro Gutierrez Valencia, who both claimed to have seen Oswald take money from Cubans in or near the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City to kill Kennedy. There were other such allegations bubbling up in the aftermath of JFK's assassination.

[61] In the phone call between President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell on the evening of 29 Nov 1963, LBJ tells Russell how he convinced a reluctant Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to head what would become the Warren Commission. Johnson invoked the spectre of "40 million Americans" dying in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. While Johnson clearly used this image for his benefit in putting together the Commission, the threat was not imaginary. The Warren Commission superceded other congressional investigations which were gearing up, where "witnesses" to Oswald taking money to kill Kennedy were not a remote prospect.

[62] "Not in Your Lifetime", Anthony Summers, Marlowe, 1980, p. 312.

[63] Life Magazine's 25 Nov 1966 cover story was entitled "A Matter of Reasonable Doubt." The Saturday Evening Post's 14 Jan 1967 issue's cover asked "Did Oswald act alone? Was the Warren Report wrong? Was evidence suppressed? Do we need a new investigation?"

[64] The HSCA's acoustics analysis determined that there was a grassy knoll shot. The medical panel's conclusion was that all shots struck Kennedy from the rear. Thus, the Committee said, the grassy knoll shot missed. See the HSCA Report, p. 1.

[65] See Carl Bernstein's 1977 Rolling Stone article "The CIA and the Media".

[66] Schlesinger is reported to have answered "We were at war with the national security people" to acquaintance Wilmer Thomas when asked whom he believed was behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Quoted by Joan Mellen in "How the Failure to Identify, Prosecute and Convict President Kennedy's Assassins Has Led to Today's Crisis in Democracy", and paraphrased in her "A Farewell to Justice", p. 162.

[67] CBS Memorandum from Bob Richter to Les Midgley, 10 Jan 1967, in which Richter passes along from CBS employee Jim Snyder details of a conversation Snyder had had with James Humes, the lead prosector at President Kennedy's autopsy. Hmes told Snyder that X-Rays were taken with metal probes inserted into the body to show the bullet path, something decidedly not in the extant X-ray collection. Interestingly, White House photographer Robert Knudsen told the HSCA that he had developed photographs which included such a shot, and was greatly disturbed when told that no such photo existed.

[68] Quoted in "Addendum B: Addendum to the HSCA, the Zapruder Film, and the Single Bullet Theory", Ray Marcus, self-published, 1995, p. 57. Marcus says the word "Paducah" is substituted for one he can't remember, but the implication was the same.

[69] Told in 1993 to former HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Tannenbaum. Quoted in David Talbot's Salon article "The mother of all coverups".

[70] See Medical Evidence.

[71] "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years", by David Talbot, Free Press, 2007.

[72] "JFK & The Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters", by James Douglass, Orbis Books, 2008.

[73] "The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy", by David Kaiser, Belknap Press, 2008.

[74] "Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination", by Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann, Counterpoint, 2008.

[75] "Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder", by Gus Russo, Bloomsbury USA, 2008.

[76] "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy", by Vincent Bugliosi, W.W. Norton, 2007.

[77] The CIA on 27 May 1964 sent a memo to the Warren Commission detailing Pearson's discussion with Khrushchev, including his question "What really happened?"

[78] Gorbachev's written comments were noted by Sixth Floor Museum Archivist Gary Mack in Volume 4, Issue 3 of Kennedy Assassination Chronicles.

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