CIA Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory

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The CIA Kennedy assassination theory is a prominent John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory.[1][2] According to ABC News, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is represented in nearly every theory that involves American conspirators.[1] The secretive nature of the CIA and the conjecture surrounding high profile political assassinations in the United States during the 1960s, has made the CIA a plausible suspect for some who believe in a conspiracy.[1] Conspiracy theorists have ascribed various motives for CIA involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy, including Kennedy's refusal to provide air support to the Bay of Pigs invasion, his plan to cut the agency's budget by 20 percent, and the belief that he was weak on Communism.[3]

Background[edit]

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Various agencies and government panels have investigated the assassination at length, drawing different conclusions. Lee Harvey Oswald is accepted by official investigations as the assassin, but he was murdered by Jack Ruby before he could be tried in a court of law. The discrepancies between the official investigations and the extraordinary nature of the assassination have led to a variety of theories about how and why Kennedy was assassinated. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1979 that Oswald assassinated Kennedy, but that a conspiracy was probable.[4][5] The committee did not implicate U.S. Intelligence agencies. Their conclusion was reached almost entirely because of the results of forensic analysis of a police dictabelt, which supposedly recorded the sound of a fourth bullet being fired in Dealey Plaza.

Origin[edit]

On March 1, 1967, businessman Clay Shaw, head of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, was arrested and charged with conspiring to assassinate President John F. Kennedy by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.[6][7] Three days later on March 4, the Italian left-wing newspaper Paese Sera published a story alleging that Shaw was linked to the CIA through his involvement in the Centro Mondiale Commerciale, a subsidiary of Permindex in which Shaw was a board member.[6] According to Paese Sera, the CMC had been a front organization developed by the CIA for transferring funds to Italy for "illegal political-espionage activities" and had attempted to depose French President Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s.[6] On March 6, the newspaper printed other allegations about individuals it said were connected to Permindex, including Louis Bloomfield whom it described as "an American agent who now plays the role of a businessman from Canada [who] established secret ties in Rome with Deputies of the Christian Democrats and neo-Fascist parties."[8] The allegations were retold in various newspapers associated with the Communist parties in Italy (l'Unità), France (L'Humanité), and the Soviet Union (Pravda), as well as leftist papers in Canada and Greece, prior to reaching the American press eight weeks later.[6] American journalist Max Holland said that Paese Sera's allegations connecting Shaw to the CIA were what led to Garrison to implicate the CIA in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.[6]

Proponents and believers[edit]

Jim Garrison said anti-Communist and anti-Castro extremists in the CIA plotted the assassination of Kennedy to maintain tension with the Soviet Union and Cuba, and to prevent a United States withdrawal from Vietnam.[9][10][11] James Douglass wrote in JFK and the Unspeakable that the CIA, acting upon the orders of conspirators with the "military industrial complex", killed Kennedy and in the process set up Lee Harvey Oswald as a patsy.[12] Like Garrison, Douglass stated that Kennedy was killed because he was turning away from the Cold War and pursuing paths of nuclear disarmament, rapprochement with Fidel Castro, and withdrawal from the war in Vietnam.[12][13] Mark Lane—author of Rush to Judgment and Plausible Denial and the attorney who defended Liberty Lobby against a defamation suit brought by former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt—has been described as a leading proponent of the theory that the CIA was responsible for the assassination of Kennedy.[14][15] Others who believe the CIA was involved include authors Anthony Summers and John M. Newman.[15]

In 1977, the FBI released 40,000 files pertaining to the assassination of Kennedy, including an April 3, 1967 memorandum from Deputy Director Cartha DeLoach to Associate Director Clyde Tolson that was written less than a month after President Johnson learned from J. Edgar Hoover about CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro.[16][17] According to DeLoach, LBJ aide Marvin Watson "stated that the President had told him, in an off moment, that he was now convinced there was a plot in connection with the assassination [of President Kennedy]". Watson stated the President felt that [the] CIA had had something to do with this plot."[16][17][18][19] When questioned in 1975, during the Church Committee hearings, DeLoach told Senator Richard Schweiker that he "felt [that Watson's statement was] sheer speculation."[20][nb 1]

Conspirators and evidence[edit]

Second Oswald in Mexico City theory[edit]

Gaeton Fonzi was hired as a researcher in 1975 by the Church Committee and by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977. At the HSCA, Fonzi focused on the anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, and the links that these groups had with the CIA and the Mafia. Fonzi obtained testimony from Cuban exile Antonio Veciana that Veciana had once witnessed his CIA contact, who Fonzi would later come to believe was David Atlee Phillips, conferring with Lee Harvey Oswald.[22][23][24] Through his research, Fonzi became convinced that Phillips had played a key role in the assassination of President Kennedy.[25] Fonzi also concluded that, as part of the assassination plot, Phillips had actively worked to embellish Oswald's image as a communist sympathizer.[26] He further concluded that the presence of a possible Oswald impersonator in Mexico City, during the period that Oswald himself was in Mexico City, may have been orchestrated by Phillips[27][28][24]

This evidence first surfaced in testimony given to the HSCA in 1978, and through the investigative work of independent journalist Anthony Summers in 1979.[29] Summers spoke with a man named Oscar Contreras who said that he met a man calling himself Lee Harvey Oswald, in Mexico City, in the fall of 1963. Contreras described "Oswald" as "maybe thirty-five years old, light-haired and fairly short" — a description that did not fit the real Oswald.[30] To Fonzi, it seemed too great a coincidence that Oswald would at random strike up a conversation regarding his difficulties in obtaining a Cuban visa with Contreras, a man who belonged to a pro-Castro student group and had contacts in the Cuban embassy in Mexico City.[26] Fonzi's belief in a "second Oswald" directed by Phillips was strengthened by statements from other witnesses. On September 27, 1963, and again a week later, a man identifying himself as Oswald visited the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. Consular Eusebio Azcue testified to the HSCA that the real Oswald "in no way resembled" the "Oswald" to whom he had spoken to at length. Embassy employee Sylvia Duran also told Anthony Summers that the real Oswald she eventually saw on film "is not like the man I saw here in Mexico City."[31] On October 1, 1963, the CIA issued a teletype to the FBI, the State Department and the Navy, regarding Oswald's visits to Mexico City. The teletype was accompanied by a photo of a man identified as Oswald who in fact looked nothing like him.[32] Also on October 1, the CIA recorded two tapped telephone calls to the Soviet embassy by a man identified as Oswald. The CIA transcriber noted that "Oswald" spoke in "broken Russian".[33][34] The real Oswald was quite fluent in Russian.[35] On November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's preliminary analysis of the assassination included the following:

The Central Intelligence Agency advised that on October 1st, 1963, an extremely sensitive source had reported that an individual identifying himself as Lee Oswald contacted the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City inquiring at to any messages. Special agents of this Bureau, who have conversed with Oswald in Dallas, Texas, have observed photographs of the individual referred to above and have listened to a recording of his voice. These special agents are of the opinion that the referred-to individual was not Lee Harvey Oswald.[36][37]

That same day, Hoover had this conversation with President Johnson:

JOHNSON: "Have you established any more about the [Oswald] visit to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico in September?"

HOOVER: "No, there's one angle that's very confusing for this reason. We have up here the tape and the photograph of the man at the Soviet Embassy, using Oswald's name. That picture and the tape do not correspond to this man's voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it appears that there was a second person who was at the Soviet Embassy."[38][37]

Fonzi concluded it was unlikely that the CIA would legitimately not be able to produce a single photograph of the real Oswald as part of the documentation of his trip to Mexico City, given that Oswald had made five separate visits to the Soviet and Cuban embassies where the CIA maintained surveillance cameras.[39]

Three tramps[edit]

The "three tramps" are three men photographed by several Dallas-area newspapers under police escort near the Texas School Book Depository shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy. The men were detained and questioned briefly by the Dallas police. They have been the subject of various conspiracy theories, including some that allege the three men to be known CIA agents. Some of these allegations are listed below.

E. Howard Hunt is alleged by some to be the oldest of the tramps. Hunt was a CIA station chief in Mexico City and was involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Hunt later worked as one of President Richard Nixon's White House Plumbers.[40] Others believe that the oldest tramp is Chauncey Holt. Holt claimed to have been a double agent for the CIA and the Mafia, and claimed that his assignment in Dallas was to provide fake Secret Service credentials to people in the vicinity.[41] Witness reports state that there were one or more unidentified men in the area claiming to be Secret Service agents.[42]

Frank Sturgis is thought by some to be the tall tramp.[40] Like E. Howard Hunt, Sturgis was involved both in the Bay of Pigs invasion and in the Watergate burglary. In 1959, Sturgis became involved with Marita Lorenz. Lorenz would later claim that Sturgis told her that he had participated in a JFK assassination plot.[43] In response to her allegations, Sturgis denied being involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.[44] In an interview with Steve Dunleavy of the New York Post, Sturgis said that he believed communist agents had pressured Lorenz into making the accusations against him.[45]

The House Select Committee on Assassinations had forensic anthropologists study the photographic evidence. The committee claimed that its analysis ruled out E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Dan Carswell, Fred Lee Chapman, and other suspects.[46] The Rockefeller Commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Frank Sturgis were in Dallas on the day of the assassination.[47]

Records released by the Dallas Police Department in 1989 identified the three men as Gus Abrams, Harold Doyle, and John Gedney.[48]

E. Howard Hunt[edit]

Several conspiracy theorists have named former CIA agent and Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt as a possible participant in the Kennedy assassination and some, as noted before, have alleged that Hunt is one of the three tramps. Hunt has taken various magazines to court over accusations with regard to the assassination.

In 1975, Hunt testified before the United States President's Commission on CIA activities within the United States that he was in Washington, D.C. on the day of the assassination. This testimony was confirmed by Hunt's family and a home employee of the Hunts.[49]

In 1976, a magazine called The Spotlight ran an article accusing Hunt of being in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and of having a role in the assassination. Hunt won a libel judgment against the magazine in 1981, but this verdict was overturned on appeal. The magazine was found not liable when the case was retried in 1985. In 1985, Hunt was in court again in a libel suit against Liberty Lobby. During the trial, defense attorney Mark Lane was successful in creating doubt among the jury as to Hunt's location on the day of the Kennedy assassination through depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner, and Marita Lorenz, as well as through his cross examination of Hunt.[50]

In August 2003, while in failing health, Hunt allegedly confessed to his son of his knowledge of a conspiracy in the JFK assassination. However, Hunt's health improved and he went on to live four more years. Shortly before Hunt's death in 2007, he authored an autobiography which implicated Lyndon B. Johnson in the assassination, suggesting that Johnson had orchestrated the killing with the help of CIA agents who had been angered by Kennedy's actions as President.[51][52] After Hunt's death, his sons, Saint John Hunt and David Hunt, stated that their father had recorded several claims about himself and others being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.[53][54] In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Saint John Hunt detailed a number of individuals purported to be implicated by his father, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Phillips, Frank Sturgis, David Morales, Antonio Veciana, William Harvey, and an assassin he termed "French gunman grassy knoll" who some presume was Lucien Sarti.[53][55] The two sons alleged that their father cut the information from his memoirs to avoid possible perjury charges.[54] According to Hunt's widow and other children, the two sons took advantage of Hunt's loss of lucidity by coaching and exploiting him for financial gain.[54] The Los Angeles Times said they examined the materials offered by the sons to support the story and found them to be "inconclusive".[54]

David Sánchez Morales[edit]

Some researchers—among them Gaeton Fonzi, Larry Hancock, Noel Twyman, and John Simkin—believe that CIA operative David Morales was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Morales' friend, Ruben Carbajal, claimed that in 1973 Morales opened up about his involvement with the Bay of Pigs Invasion operation, and stated that "Kennedy had been responsible for him having to watch all the men he recruited and trained get wiped out." Carbajal claimed that Morales said, "Well, we took care of that SOB, didn't we?"[56] Morales is alleged to have once told friends, "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch, and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard",[56][57] presumably referring to the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas and to the later assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968.[58] Morales is alleged to have expressed deep anger toward the Kennedys for what he saw as their betrayal during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.[59]

Frank Sturgis[edit]

In an article published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on December 4, 1963, James Buchanan, a former reporter for the Pompano Beach Sun-Sentinel, claimed that Frank Sturgis had met Lee Harvey Oswald in Miami, Florida shortly before Kennedy's assassination. Buchanan claimed that Oswald had tried to infiltrate the International Anti-Communist Brigade. When he was questioned by the FBI about this story, Sturgis claimed that Buchanan had misquoted him regarding his comments about Oswald.

According to a memo sent by L. Patrick Gray, acting FBI Director, to H. R. Haldeman on June 19, 1972, "[s]ources in Miami say he [Sturgis] is now associated with organized crime activities".[60] In his book, Assassination of JFK, published in 1977, Bernard Fensterwald claims that Sturgis was heavily involved with the Mafia, particularly with Santo Trafficante's and Meyer Lansky's activities in Florida.

George de Mohrenschildt[edit]

After returning from the Soviet Union, Lee Harvey Oswald became close friends with Dallas resident and petroleum geologist George de Mohrenschildt. De Mohrenschildt would later write an extensive memoir in which he discussed his friendship with Oswald.[61][62] De Mohrenschildt's wife would later give the House Select Committee on Assassinations a photograph that showed Lee Harvey Oswald, standing in his Dallas backyard, holding two Marxist newspapers and a Carcano rifle, with a pistol on his hip. Thirteen years after the assassination, in September 1976, the CIA requested that the FBI locate De Mohrenschildt, in response to a letter De Mohrenschildt had written directly to his friend, CIA Director George H.W. Bush, appealing to Bush to stop the agency from taking action against him.[63][64][65]

Several television programs, including Jesse Ventura's "Conspiracy Theories", have alleged that De Mohrenschildt was Oswald's CIA handler but have offered little evidence. On March 29, 1977, De Mohrenschildt stated during an interview with author Edward Jay Epstein that he had been ordered by CIA operative J. Walton Moore to meet Oswald. He also told Epstein that he would not have met Oswald had he not been ordered to do so. (In fact, de Mohrenschildt had met Oswald several times, from the summer of 1962 to April 1963.)[66][67][68] That same day, De Mohrenschildt was informed by his daughter that a representative of the House Select Committee on Assassinations had stopped by, leaving a card and intending to return that evening. De Mohrenschildt then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head shortly thereafter. De Mohrenschildt's wife later told sheriff's office investigators that her husband had been hospitalized for depression and paranoia in late 1976 and had tried to kill himself four times that year.[69][70]

Role of Oswald[edit]

Findings by the Warren Commission and other federal investigations have conclusively ruled that Oswald either acted alone or conspired with others in the assassination, citing his actions in the years leading up to the event in support of that conclusion. Evidence of Oswald's pro-communist and radical tendencies include his defection to Russia, the New Orleans branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee he had organized, and also various public and private statements made by him espousing Marxism and extreme leftist ideologies.

Other researchers have argued that his behavior was in fact a carefully-planned ruse as part of an effort by U.S. intelligence agencies to infiltrate subversive groups and conduct counter-intelligence operations in communist countries (such as Russia and Cuba), and that his involvement in the assassination was instead that of an agent or informant of the government trying to expose the assassination plot.[71][72][73][74]

Oswald himself claimed to be an innocent, denying all charges and even declaring to reporters that he was "just a patsy". He also insisted that the photos of him with a rifle had been faked, an assertion contradicted by statements made by his wife, Marina (who claimed to have taken the photos), and the analysis of photographic experts such as Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt of the FBI. In any case, less than 48 hours after his arrest Oswald was murdered, leaving many unanswered questions and even fueling speculation by some as evidence of a cover-up.

Oswald's role as FBI informant was investigated by Lee Rankin and others of the Warren Commission, but their findings were inconclusive. Several FBI employees had made statements indicating that Oswald was indeed a paid informant, but the commission was nonetheless unable to verify the veracity of those claims.[75][76] FBI agent James P. Hosty reported that his office's interactions with Oswald were limited to dealing with his complaints about being harassed by the Bureau for being a communist sympathizer. In the weeks before the assassination Oswald made a personal visit to the FBI's Dallas branch office with a hand-delivered letter which purportedly contained a threat of some sort but, controversially, Hosty destroyed the letter by order of J. Gordon Shanklin, his supervisor.[77][78][79]

Some researchers suggest that Oswald was an active agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, often pointing to the fact that he attempted to defect to Russia but was nonetheless able to return without difficulty (even receiving a repatriation loan from the State Department[80][81]) as evidence of such. A former roommate of Oswald, James Botelho (who would later become a California judge) stated in an interview with Mark Lane that he believed that Oswald was involved in an intelligence assignment in Russia,[82][83] although Botelho made no mention of those suspicions in his testimony to the Warren Commission years earlier. Oswald's mother, Marguerite, often insisted that her son was recruited by an agency of the U.S. Government and sent to Russia.[71] New Orleans District Attorney (and later judge) Jim Garrison, who in 1967 brought Clay Shaw to trial for the assassination of President Kennedy also held the opinion that Oswald was most likely a CIA agent who had been drawn into the plot to be used as a scapegoat, even going as far as to say that Oswald "genuinely was probably a hero".[84] Senator Richard Schweiker, a member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence remarked that "everywhere you look with [Oswald], there're fingerprints of intelligence".[85] Richard Sprague, interim staff director and chief counsel to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations, stated that if he "had to do it over again", he would have investigated the Kennedy assassination by probing Oswald's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency.[86]

In 1978, former CIA paymaster and accountant James Wilcott testified before the HSCA, stating that Lee Harvey Oswald was a "known agent" of the Central Intelligence Agency.[87] Wilcott and his wife, Elsie (also a former employee of the CIA) later repeated those claims in a story by the San Francisco Chronicle.[88] Despite its official policy of neither confirming nor denying the status of agents, both the CIA itself and many officers working in the region at the time (including David Atlee Phillips) have "unofficially" dismissed the plausibility of any CIA ties to Oswald. Robert Blakey, staff director and chief counsel for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations supported that assessment in his conclusions as well.[89]

Organized crime and a CIA conspiracy[edit]

Some conspiracy theorists have alleged a plot involving elements of the Mafia, the CIA and the anti-Castro Cubans, including author Anthony Summers[90] and journalist Ruben Castaneda. Castaneda wrote: "Based on the evidence, it is likely that JFK was killed by a coalition of anti-Castro Cubans, the Mob, and elements of the CIA."[91] In his book, They Killed Our President, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura also concluded: "John F. Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy involving disgruntled CIA agents, anti-Castro Cubans, and members of the Mafia, all of whom were extremely angry at what they viewed as Kennedy's appeasement policies toward Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union."[92]

Jack Van Lanningham, a prison cellmate of Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, claimed that Marcello confessed to him in 1985 to having organized Kennedy's assassination. Lanningham also claimed that the FBI covered up the taped confession which he said the FBI had in its possession.[93] Robert Blakey, who was chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded in his book, The Plot to Kill the President, that Marcello was likely part of a Mafia conspiracy behind the assassination, and that the Mafia had the means, motive, and opportunity required to carry it out.[94][95]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to Kathryn S. Olmsted in Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11: "For his part, Lyndon Johnson was convinced that the Castro plots had led to Kennedy's assassination. Before his death in 1973, he told many people — his friends, his publisher, and at least four reporters — that he believed that Castro had organized a successful conspiracy to kill Kennedy."[21]

References[edit]

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