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Tipping Point

Introduction

by Larry Hancock, November 2020

Introduction


Very few of those in my generation who experienced the murder of President Kennedy, and even fewer of those who watched on live television as Jack Ruby shot Lee Oswald the following Sunday morning, came out of that weekend without the belief that there was more to the crime than emerged in the official story of the next few months. Most, although skeptical, went on with life. Being a teenager at the time, the assassination faded from my thoughts pretty quickly, only returning as a matter of interest in the early 1990's as a couple of new books on the subject caught my attention.

What began as a mild interest evolved into something closer to an obsession, driven by the idea that if there was something more to it than a "lone nut", at least some of the people who had investigated the crime must have had suspicions of their own. And if others were involved with the actual attack, at some point they must have talked – to someone. That idea led me through several years of research and three editions of Someone Would Have Talked, what began as a research monograph and evolved into an actual book in 2006.

With the ongoing release of documents mandated under the JFK Records Act, my research files grew exponentially during the 1990's, with new material obtained both in large batches by mail and even larger batches though the personal visits to the National Archives by my friend Stuart Wexler. Some early questions were answered, some questions which had puzzled the earliest researchers were resolved, and a number of leads (and sources) fell by the wayside – but with new leads and new names replacing them.

Most importantly, due to the extensive work of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board staff, including the medical personnel interviews conducted by Jeremy Gunn and Douglas Horne, the picture of what had happened during the 72 hours following the assassination became disappointingly clear, to an extent that justified all the skepticism of the months immediately following the assassination. Those findings, among other new research, became part of a major expansion in content and led to the third edition of Someone Would Have Talked, published in 2010.


Reality Check


By 2010 it had become quite clear, to me at least, that the official history (as portrayed in the Warren Commission Report) of the Kennedy assassination was simply not credible. That conclusion was based in part on an assessment that the materials offered in support of the Warren Report were questionable in many respects - including the fact that the legal chain of evidence used to support the Report was not only broken, but contained so many questionable elements that an evidentiary approach simply did not offer a viable foundation for assessing the crime. Beyond that, the documentary record supported the conclusion that an iterative series of actions had been taken after the assassination to suppress certain items of evidence, to obfuscate witness testimony, and to preempt any contemporary investigation of conspiracy during the months immediately following the assassination.

New information had also revealed that there had been known, active threats to President Kennedy during 1963. Those threats had been significant enough that Kennedy administration staff had begun planning – with meetings ongoing in November - "damage control" protocols to be used in the event that American diplomats or political figures died under suspicious circumstances. [ 1 ] That planning had initially been based in concern about Cuban retaliation for CIA actions against Cuba. However, by fall there were also concerns in regard to threats against President Kennedy from radical Cuban exiles embittered by resolution of the Cuban Missile crisis and suppression of exile missions against Cuba and Castro.

Fidel Castro himself publicly raised the issue that anti-Castro Cubans which the United States had trained to assassinate him could become a threat to their American sponsors. On September 7, 1963 speech Castro warned that CIA-trained Cubans might become frustrated enough to even turn on President Kennedy or his brother. [ 2 ]

Unfortunately we have no details from the meetings addressing "damage control" in response to attacks on American diplomats or political figures. We only know that they occurred. But what we do know is that one of the traditional practices related to such events has been to pre-empt panic and overreaction by taking control over the media narrative in an attempt to minimize public fears and concerns.

We have well-documented illustrations of just such practices. In one example, only a few years later, the Director of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General immediately announced that a single "lone nut" had murdered Martin Luther King - and that he had acted alone, no others were involved. That announcement was made before any actual criminal investigation had even begun. The Attorney General would later confirm that the announcement had been nothing more than a move to minimize public reaction to the killing, an effort in media control intended to forestall retaliation and violence.

In retrospect, it appears that something similar – albeit more extensive, extending over weeks and even months – occurred almost immediately following the death of President Kennedy. As new material has emerged over the decades it has become evident that individuals at the highest levels of government had immediately suspected a communist conspiracy, with the assassination driven by actors associated either with Cuba or Russia.

The Fourteen Minute Gap
Less than 24 hours after the events in Dallas,
President Johnson and FBI Director Hoover
had a phone call in which Hoover said that
"it appears that there is a second person who
was at the Soviet embassy down there"
(in Mexico City). The tape discussing a
possible Oswald imposter has been erased,
and only a transcript survives.

As early as Saturday morning, November 23, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover advised President Johnson that unknown parties had impersonated Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City only a month prior to the assassination. The entirety of what might have been discussed during that Hoover/Johnson conversation remains an open question because it cannot be verified. While a written transcript of the conversation does exist, we now know that the actual tape of the call has been totally and intentionally erased. The LBJ Library can offer no explanation for the erasure of the tape; an audio engineer who has examined it determined the erasure to be "purposeful", and the library has confirmed the erasure in writing. [ 3 ]

Within two hours of that conversation, Director Hoover ordered that all FBI offices drop the initial open-ended investigation of the crime and focus entirely on Lee Oswald as the murder suspect. Records also show that by Sunday afternoon a directive was issued for the FBI to immediately prepare a report establishing Oswald as the lone assassin, a task described in internal FBI memoranda as "difficult". That same afternoon J. Edgar Hoover advised presidential aide Walter Jenkins that it would be necessary for the incoming administration to issue something which could be used to "convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin." [ 4 ]

The following day, November 25, 1963, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, sent a memorandum to presidential aide Bill Moyers, which said in part:

Katzenbach Memo
Drafted within hours of Oswald's murder
by Jack Ruby, at a time when no one
could know the extent of any conspiracy,
the Katzenbach memo began to
shut down real investigation.

"The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial."' ' [ 5 ]

Katzenbach established that position for the Johnson Administration on the third day following the assassination, the day after which Oswald himself had been murdered in Dallas – a point in time when any real criminal investigation of the shooting was still very much progress. Certainly the question of others being involved, even if it were only encouraging or enabling Lee Oswald, could not possibly have been thoroughly investigated as of the third day after the assassination of the president.

At the same time, very much behind the scenes, the FBI itself continued to pursue leads suggesting that Oswald had been acting on behalf of Cuba – and had been in contact with Fidel Castro's agents. The FBI was not alone in those suspicions, with the Director of the CIA also continuing to direct internal inquiries which focused on Lee Oswald as part of a conspiracy:

"A Headquarters cable on the 28th stated that ""[w]e have by no means excluded the possibility that other as yet unknown persons may have been involved or even that other powers may have played a role. On 1 December, the station in Mexico City...was told to "continue to follow all leads and tips. The question of · whether Oswald acted solely on his own has still not been finally resolved." [ 6 ]

CIA cable of 11/28/63
CIA cable from Mexico City to HQ,
11/28/63: "We have by no means excluded
the possibility that other as yet unknown
persons may have been involved or even
that other powers may have played a role."

Two weeks later, Headquarters [CIA] was still advising Mexico City station to "continue to watch for ... evidence of their [Soviet or Cuban] complicity". Reportedly CIA Director McCone personally felt that Castro might have well been the force behind the assassination.

While both McCone and Hoover can now be shown to have had suspicions of Cuban involvement in the attack, Robert Kennedy suspected a much different conspiracy in the hours immediately following the shooting. McCone himself confirmed – but never explained why – RFK had personally asked him whether or not CIA officers had been involved in the attack on his brother. Beyond that we also know that RFK himself had almost immediately been moved to call a close personal friend within the Cuban exile community - not asking him, but telling him that "your people" in the anti-Castro effort had been involved. [ 7 ]

Such suspicions remained well concealed from the public dialogue but were quite real; one of the key advisors to President Kennedy (Arthur Schlesinger) wrote in his personal diary that on December 9, 1963 he had privately talked to Robert Kennedy about his brother's death. Robert Kennedy had remarked to him that while the FBI was taking the position Oswald alone had done the shooting, CIA Director McCone was of the opinion there were two shooters. Of course as far as the public was being told, the "lone nut" story jelled quickly, actively promoted by President Johnson, and supported by an FBI report concluding that Oswald was indeed the only person involved – a report leaked to the media within days and formally released within two weeks. [ 8 ]

In contrast, regardless of what Robert Kennedy, Director McCone or others within the highest levels of government might themselves have privately suspected, in the first meeting of the Warren Commission after which the members had taken their oaths, former CIA Director Allen Dulles passed out a book – The Assassins by Richard Donovan – which established a case that all assassinations of American presidents had and would be done by "loners and solitary fanatics" In offering the book to the Commission members he advised them that it presented a pattern which he expected had been repeated in the assassination of President Kennedy.

While certainly not a matter of written record, there is ample reason to suspect that a national security decision had been reached in Washington, certainly by Sunday November 24, that "damage control" would indeed be carried out. Lee Oswald would be presented as the sole individual involved in the attack on President Kennedy. In-depth FBI investigation not involving Oswald would be forestalled, and any material too suggestive of conspiracy would be suppressed or obfuscated; such material was not intended to survive the months-long process that was about to ensue.


Dissension


After examining repeated indications of evidentiary problems which a number of dedicated researchers have identified and written about over the decades, I personally came to conclude that the body of evidence placed into the official record was not simply a matter of poor crime scene work (although there was a good bit of that), of poor Dallas police records management (no, because known records had literally disappeared), or of the FBI's rush to complete their investigation (that would not explain their destruction of materials relating to Lee Oswald and the FBI itself, as well as the actual replacement of a page in his notebook to conceal a contact with him).

I outlined many of those police and FBI evidentiary issues in Someone Would Have Talked, following behind other researchers such as Sylvia Meagher and Jerry Rose, as well as David Lifton, William Law, Douglas Horne, and Debra Conway who had done ground breaking work in documenting a number of similar problems with the practices and materials of record related to the official autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital. [ 9 ] [ 10 ]

Washington Post 1998 article: Archive Photos Not of JFK's Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board
Washington Post 1998 article:
"Archive Photos Not of JFK's Brain,
Concludes Aide to Review Board"

Beyond the work of those individuals, the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) has to be recognized for identifying and detailing problems with missing and conflicting X-rays, photographs, autopsy doctor's notes, and even multiple versions of the official autopsy report. [ 11 ] [ 12 ] In one of their most revealing pieces of work, ARRB staff interviewed the lead autopsy doctor, asking him about wounds and damage to the president's skull and brain. Towards the end of the interview staff members Douglas Horne and Jeremy Gunn remained perplexed by the fact that no wounds were marked correctly on the archived autopsy materials. At that point they asked Doctor Humes to simply to indicate them on autopsy photographs as he would have in court – Humes responded that he could not do so, referencing other photographs and X-rays which he felt must have originally existed, but which are not now in the officially archived materials from the autopsy. His only further response was to wish them luck in resolving "their" problem.

It also has to be noted that issues of evidence, of investigation and of the suppression of information were not unknown even among those directly involved with the Warren Commission's work. There was dissension within the Committee, mistrust of the FBI's work and repeated concern about exactly what should be entered into the official record – extending even to the transcripts of the Commissioners own internal meetings. Commissioners Richard Russell, Hale Boggs, John Sherman Cooper were all dissatisfied with elements of the inquiry and its final report. [ 13 ] That dissatisfaction, and suspicions of conspiracy, extended to Kennedy Administration insiders including William Atwood, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Dick Goodwin, Frank Mankiewicz and Robert Kennedy. Such suspicions were also shared by the wife of the murdered president, Jacqueline Kennedy, as illustrated in the following quote:

"Dallas was the ideal location for such a crime.....Perhaps there was only one assassin, but he did not act alone." [ 14 ]


The Back Door


After some 15 years of my own inquiry into President Kennedy's murder, I concluded that there had indeed been a conspiracy in play - but that my initial and preferred, evidentiary approach, to the crime would remain both frustrating, and fruitless. Pursuing a conspiracy by going through the front door was simply not viable. If the actual conspiracy was to be revealed, it was not going to be in the negative template created by the Warren Commission, nor in the more critical but still superficial narrative which came out of the work of the House Selected Committee on Assassinations. It was going to have to come from individuals, not from committees.

During my first decade of research I had come across not only well-respected individuals who dissented with the official Warren Commission inquiry, but others who appeared to have credible, if limited, knowledge in regard to the conspiracy itself. Some of those individuals had been inside the government at the time, some even within the intelligence community. Others were of a different ilk, holding guilty knowledge, perhaps complicit to some extent in having withheld that evidence from law enforcement or from the follow-on, official investigations of the assassination.

Others were more deeply involved, as possible enablers or participants in the conspiracy and the attack in Dallas. Several had actually been investigated to at least a limited extent by either the Warren Commission inquiry or the House Select Committee on Assassinations. While seriously incomplete, records and documents did provide certain details on their backgrounds, and all had been provably associated with the activities and people which would have allowed them to actually have the information expressed in their private remarks.

The most interesting were individuals who could be confirmed as actually having revealed some minimal information to family, the closest of their friends, or to their lawyers. None had talked publicly. I had researched and then written about some of those individuals in Someone Would Have Talked – because they had talked. Research during the decade following the publication of that work added other names to the list of both sources and associates.

And as more documents were released, these sources became even more interesting. In many instances documents relating to them had initially been mysterious and intentionally cryptic (per standard intelligence practice and operational security concerns). But year by year they were becoming more readable and much more informative. The individuals could not only be identified, but placed in a solid historical context extending over several years.

Much of that progress was due to the "crypt busting" work of several of my fellow researchers, with David Boylan, Bill Simpich and Rex Bradford playing leading roles. The creation of an extensive CIA cryptonym and alias online reference database at the Mary Ferrell Foundation played a key role in aiding the deciphering of documents, and connecting the dots between people, places and various intelligence community activities. It also allowed the connections and associations of individuals who had "talked" to be confirmed.

The most interesting thing was that the more we learned about these sources, not just from their personal histories, but from the still ongoing release of documents and related historical research - the more credible they became. With more records, and more history we found ourselves not only confirming elements of their remarks, but being able to expand on them.

What we also found was that irrespective of the individual and the lead, to some extent all of them shared some sort of history with the Cuban revolution of the late 1950's, the rise to power of Fidel Castro, the Cuban resistance to his regime, the various CIA efforts to oust Castro from power or the years-long anti-Castro resistance movement inside Cuba or among Cuban exiles in the United States.

It didn't matter whether the individuals of interest were Dallas club owners, casino figures from Las Vegas or Los Angeles, Cuban resistance figures, private American "freedom fighters", senior CIA officers, paramilitary contractors, or simply people who had worked with them in the early 1960's, or even years later. All those sources, who after extensive research and testing, proved to be most credible in offering insights into the assassination of President Kennedy shared some history of participation in Cuban affairs. Not just in regards to Cuban affairs circa 1963, but back to the Batista era and the revolution against his regime circa 1958/59.

Perhaps most startling, not only did all the sources and associations which seemed most credible connect to Cuba in some fashion, in the end they actually pointed in the same direction that Robert Kennedy appears to have immediately suspected on the afternoon of November 22, 1963.

This work presents my observations on the conspiracy which murdered President Kennedy - as it appears to me now after some three decades of research. It offers a hypothesis as to the origins and nature of the conspiracy, scenarios as to how the attack in Dallas originated and was carried out, and speculation as to certain leads that were knowingly suppressed after the fact. Suppression carried out in order to ensure that the official story of a lone nut attacker carried the day in the media, and the history books.

To a large extent, these observations and the conspiracy scenario are rooted in, and understandable only in the context of revolution and resistance inside Cuba – the multi-year American covert effort to force Fidel Castro from power. Indeed, many of the remarks of the sources explored in this work are only understandable in that same context. Given that, it is necessary to begin with a deep dive into the Cuban backstory, introducing the key individuals, political and social networks, and operational connections which developed over some five years from 1958 to 1963.


Larry Hancock is the author of Someone Would Have Talked and several other books, including The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. (with Stuart Wexler), NEXUS, and his most recent work In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks? Larry has for several years co-directed the annual November in Dallas research conferences, and written and spoken extensively on the political assassinations of the 1960s, the efforts to oust Fidel Castro, and national security.

See all chaptersNext => Part 1: The Cuba Backstory


ENDNOTES


[ 1 ] Assassinations Records Review Board, "Final Report", Chapter 8

[ 2 ] Daniel Schorr, "Oswald as Avenger", The Washington Post, November 25, 1983

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1983/11/25/oswald-as-avenger/cc9ab63e-8aeb-4ca9-8b41-15be6dc85830/

[ 3 ] Rex Bradford, The Fourteen Minute Gap, Mary Ferrell Foundation

[../pages/The_Fourteen_Minute_Gap https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/The_Fourteen_Minute_Gap.html]

[ 4 ] Dan Hardway, "Thank You, Phil Shenon", Real Hillbilly Views, October 27, 2015

https://realhillbillyviews.blogspot.com/2015/10/

[ 5 ] Katzenbach Memorandum, Mary Ferrell Foundation

https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Katzenbach_Memo.html

[ 6 ] David Robarge, "DCI John McCone and the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy", George Washington University, September 29, 2014

https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB493/docs/intell_ebb_026.PDF

[ 7 ] Anthony Summers, Not in Your Lifetime, 311, quoting his own 1994 Vanity Fair article ("The Ghosts of November"). Summers also says RFK was speaking 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.'"

[ 8 ] While it is far too detailed to be discussed here, we now have a good understanding why McCone would have thought that, and why he likely was briefed (along with President Johnson) over the weekend of the assassination in regard to the likelihood of multiple shooters– that is discussed in Chapter 15 "If I Told You" of my book Someone Would Have Talked. McCone's view would have come from an initial analysis and storyboard presentation related to frames from the Zapruder film. The details of that activity as well as of other incidents related to the suppression and obfuscation of evidence which occurred during the first 72 hours after the assassination are contained in Chapter 15 of the 2010 edition, 232-233. Also Douglas Horne, Inside the Assassinations Records Review Board, Volume 4, 2009.

[ 9 ] Ibid, 233-237 also Douglas Horne, Inside the Assassinations Records Review Board, Volume 1-4, 2009.

[ 10 ] Jim DiEugenio, "Douglas Horne, Inside the ARRB", Kennedy's and King, October 16, 2010

https://kennedysandking.com/john-f-kennedy-reviews/horne-douglas-inside-the-arrb

[ 11 ] Deposition of Dr. James Humes, Assassination Records Review Board, February 13, 1996

https://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/testimony/humesa.htm

[ 12 ] George Lardner Jr., Archive Photos Not of JFK's Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board, Washington Post, November 10, 1998; Page A03

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/jfk/jfk1110.htm

[ 13 ] Rex Bradford, "Whispers from the Silent Generation", Rex Bradford, May 2013; from a talk delivered at the 2008 November in Dallas conference.

[ 14 ] Alexsandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble, W.W. Norton, 345.

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