Chapter1b: Establishing the "Facts"
Chapter 1b: Establishing the "Facts"
A look at the weeks of confusion following the assassination, and the failed efforts of the government and news agencies to clear things up
Clearing Things Up
All the secrecy about Kennedy's death led to mucho speculation in the press, much of which would feed into the public's subsequent suspicions. On 11-27, as we've seen, John Herbers, in a New York Times article entitled Kennedy Struck by Two Bullets, tried to reconcile that the Parkland doctors thought the throat wound was an entrance wound, but that Kennedy was past the school book depository when struck in the head, by reporting "The known facts about the bullets and the position of the assassin suggested that he started shooting as the President's car was coming toward him, swung his rifle in an arc of 180 degrees and fired at least twice more." This was days after the Times had helped the FBI and Police sell that there was but one shooter. And yet, apparently, no one at the Times had bothered to ascertain the whereabouts of Kennedy in relation to the sniper's nest at the moment he was first shot. Apparently, they'd spent so much energy trying to get the "official" word from Washington insiders that they'd failed to note the location of those closest to Kennedy at the time of the shots, or study the photos of the shooting itself. Even a modicum of study should have convinced them that Kennedy was far past the sniper's nest when first hit, and that he could not have received an entrance wound in the neck in such position without turning around in his seat. Astounding. And The Times was far from alone in their rush to misinformation. An 11-27 article by Herbert Black in The Boston Globe similarly presents its own scenario. Reporting from Dallas, and citing a source clearly familiar with Dr. Robert McLelland's report claiming the fatal wound was on Kennedy's left temple, claimed: "The Globe has got from an unofficial but authoritative source here what is believed to be an accurate description of the course of events. It is that the sniper, firing from above and behind the President, first hit the President on the right side of the back of his neck. This bullet passed through the windpipe and came out at the throat, just below his Adam's apple, making the large wound which doctors at Parkland Memorial Hospital noted. This wound might not have been fatal, considering the quick medical attention the President received. When he was struck, he apparently turned his head toward Mrs. Kennedy (to the left) and began to slump. A second bullet then tore into his left temple and emerged from the right top of his head, the mortal wound. This information did not come from doctors at the hospital here, who have said they were too busy trying to save the President to study the trajectory of the bullets. It is, however, from a source in position to know the facts, which were ascertained at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, where Mr. Kennedy was taken. This information was doubted at first because it reported that the President was hit on the left temple. It did not seem reasonable that a sniper above and to the right behind the car could hit him on the left side, but information from a film taken of the events tends to corroborate this. The FBI is investigating all aspects of the shooting and that is believed to be the reason why the official medical reports from the naval hospital have not been released."
Now, the writers of these articles shared a common mistake. They both tried to make what may have been mistaken descriptions of Kennedy's wounds, i.e. that the throat wound was an entrance, or that a bullet struck the left side of Kennedy's head, fit the by-now-official solution all shots were fired from the sniper's nest.
But neither of these writers had viewed the Zapruder film, to confirm their scenarios.
In some ways, then, an article in that evening's Fort-Worth Star Telegram was even more problematic. This article, The Anatomy of Death in the Afternoon, written by Arthur J. Snider of the Chicago Daily News, was reportedly written "with the aid of movies taken by an amateur." This is clearly a reference to the Zapruder film. Its description of the shooting sequence follows:
(As presented online by Sixth Floor Museum Archivist Gary Mack, with pertinent sections highlighted)
"As the fateful car rounded the turn and moved into the curving parkway, the President rolled his head to the right, smiling and waving. At that instant. . .the sniper. . .fired his cheap rifle. . . the President clutched his throat for a bewildered instant, then began to sag. A second blast from the high-powered rifle ripped into the right rear of his head at about a 4 o 'clock position.
"It was a violent wound. As a motorcycle officer described it: 'It just seemed as if his head opened up.' The President swerved to his left and collapsed into the arms of his wife. Mrs. Kennedy climbed onto the trunk to beseech aid from a Secret Service man. The President slumped against her leg, bloodying her skirt and stocking.
"Meanwhile, Gov. John Connally had turned to see what happened. A third shot rang out. It struck the governor in the back. The bullet was deflected to his right wrist and lodged in his left thigh. A fragment of rib, fractured by the bullet, punctured a lung."
Now this article, with its implication that the Zapruder film shows Kennedy turned far enough to his right to receive an entrance wound in his neck from the sniper's nest, would be strange enough. But this isn't the only version of this article. The version in this evening's Chicago Daily News, presumably published after the syndicated version of the article had been wired to Forth Worth, raises even more questions.
"As the fateful car rounded the turn and moved into the curving parkway, the President rolled his head to the right, smiling and waving. At that instant, about 12:30 PM, the sniper, peering through a 4 power telescopic sight, fired his cheap rifle.
The 6.5 millimeter bullet--about .30 caliber--pierced the President's neck, just below the Adam's apple. It took a downward course.
"If you're wearing a bow tie, the position is just about where the knot is," said a Dallas neurosurgeon who saw the wound.
The President clutched his throat for a bewildered instant, then began to sag.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Connally had turned to see what happened. A second shot rang out. It struck the governor in the back. The bullet was deflected to his right wrist and lodged in his left thigh. A fragment of rib, fractured by the bullet, punctured a lung.
The car rolled on slowly. Onlookers, instinctively startled by the shots, were still unable to grasp their meaning.
Then, in quick order, the third blast. It ripped into the right rear of the President's head at a 4 o 'clock position.
It was a violent wound. As a motorcycle officer described it: 'It just seemed as if his head opened up.'
The wound was so vast and ghastly that a pathologist in Arlington, VA, suggests the assassin may have used flattened "dum-dum" bullets."
Yes, you got it. The order of the shots has been changed. It seems doubtful that Snider himself made this change. He had after all, studied the Zapruder film while writing the article.
Well, if he didn't change it, who did? And why?
I believe we have an answer.
Above: Texas Governor John Connally in his bed at Parkland Hospital, 11-27-63.
At 4:30 PM on 11-27-63 Texas Governor John Connally was interviewed live on television from his hospital bed. In response to a series of less-than-probing questions, courtesy NBC's Martin Agronsky, he both decried the climate of hatred that led to the assassination and expounded upon the complexities and greatness of his long-time friend Lyndon Johnson. He said of Johnson, "I think in our dealings with foreign nations I know of no man in my lifetime that I would rather be dealing my hand than him." He also described the shooting: "we had just turned the corner, we heard a shot; I turned to my left...Almost simultaneously, as I turned, I was hit...I said, "My God, they are going to kill us all." Then there was a third shot and the President was hit again and we thought then very seriously...."
From this, one might assume someone at the Chicago Daily News, in order to make its interpretation of the evidence fit the Governor's widely-watched recollections, re-wrote Snider's article at the last second, after the version printed in the Star-Telegram had already been transmitted. Beyond this possibility, it's difficult to see how two articles written by the same man and published on the same evening could contain such widely divergent conclusions.
Above: Connally wipes tears from his eyes, while his dutiful wife Nellie, as always, offers her support.
On 11-28, the transcript of Connally's interview was printed in the New York Times. The Times summarized his description of the shots as follows "Shot one struck the President. Shot two coursed through the Texas Governor's body. Shot three struck the President."
The shot sequence described by Connally, which was previously described by Dan Rather, was then rubber-stamped by Dr. Robert Shaw, the Parkland Hospital thoracic surgeon who'd presumably saved his life. An article in the 11-28 New York Herald-Tribune (found in the St. Petersburg Times) reflects: "The Dallas doctor who performed emergency surgery on Texas Gov. John Connally said yesterday that authorities have been able to reconstruct the sequence of shots that killed President Kennedy last Friday. Eyewitness accounts by Gov. and Mrs. Connally, and a crucial Polaroid picture taken by a spectator, reveal that the President was killed by the third shot, the bullet that tore away a piece of his skull." It then asserted that "Shaw said that medical authorities here felt the first bullet that hit the President, a bullet in the front of his throat which lodged in his right lung, was not a mortal wound but was one which, with proper care, the President could have survived."
The article then presented the shot sequence, according to the "authorities" and Dr. Shaw: "The first bullet entered President Kennedy's trachea, in the front of his neck, coursing downward into his right lung. The bullet was removed in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where an autopsy was performed." (Well, this would be news to those performing the autopsy, who not only insisted no bullet was recovered from Kennedy's lung, but anywhere in his body.)
The article continued: "Gov. Connally states he turned, saw the President slumping, then he felt a terrific blow to his right shoulder which stunned him. That was the second shot. The governor then was conscious of a dull explosion, the shot that struck the President and went through his skull, killing him. We know that the first shot went through his throat because authorities have a Polaroid picture, taken by a spectator right after the first shot. It shows the President slumping. His head is intact, undisturbed. Additionally, Mrs Connally said the third shot struck the President in the head." (This bit about the Polaroid, of course, is nonsense. The Polaroid photo to which Dr. Shaw made reference is undoubtedly the Moorman photo. While Dr. Shaw had based his conclusion the first shot didn't hit Kennedy in the head on his acceptance that this photo, which he believed shows the head undisturbed, was taken after one shot had been fired, it would later be shown that this photo was not only taken after at least two shots had been fired, but after Kennedy had been struck in the head. Oops.)
But from there the article only got stranger. It then claimed "Dr. Shaw admitted he was 'a little baffled' by the first shot. 'The assassin was behind him, yet the bullet entered at the front of his neck. Mr. Kennedy must have turned to his left to talk to Mrs. Kennedy or to wave to someone.'" (This was more nonsense. The supposed sniper's nest was behind Kennedy and to his right. If Kennedy had turned to his left, he would have been facing directly away from the rifle, not towards it. Oops again.)
And yet, although Dr. Shaw was clearly not informed enough to make an accurate conclusion regarding the shot sequence, and the Connallys not competent to do so due to their being too close to the action, and Dan Rather not competent, period, the shooting sequence they'd proposed--that Kennedy had been hit by the first and third shots--became the "official" shot sequence. It was reported in a number of 11-28 articles that on 11-27 the Secret Service had performed a re-enactment of the shooting in Dallas. The results of this re-enactment, subsequently reported by both the Secret Service and FBI, indicate that they'd already assumed the last shot was the shot striking Kennedy in the head. Based upon the mixed information they'd received prior to 11-27, this is impossible to understand. But, when one considers that, by 11-27, they'd received word from both the Connallys and Connally's doctor that the head shot was the final shot, well, it becomes a bit easier...particularly when one considers that Life Magazine, as Dan Rather and CBS before it, had taken from its viewing of the Zapruder film that the first bullet strike observable in the film must have been the first shot, and the last bullet strike observable in the film the last.
The 11-29 issue of Time Magazine, already on the streets, we should reflect, had reported the shots a bit differently than had the Connallys and Shaw. It reported: "a shot...The President's body slumped to the left; his right leg shot up over the car door. Blood gushed from the President's head as it came to rest in Jackie's lap...John Connally turned...there were two more shots, and a bullet pierced his back..."
And the 12-2 issue of Newsweek, Time's primary competitor, nearly concurred, claiming: "'Crack!' A rifle shot split the air. 'Crack!' 'Crack!' Two more followed. The President of the United States--caught apparently by the first--spun in his seat. 'I thought it was a backfire,' said Patrolman James M. Chaney, who was riding a motorcycle 6 feet from the right rear fender of the President's car. 'The President jerked his head around...then (came) the second shot and his head exploded in blood..." Turning to look, Governor Connally took the third bullet just below the right shoulder blade. It ripped out through his chest, pierced his wrist, and lodged in his thigh. But the turn saved his life."
But Time's sister publication, Life Magazine, had purchased the Zapruder film depicting the shooting, and had described the shooting in its own 11-29 issue, already on the streets, in the manner pushed by Dan Rather, the Connallys and Shaw.
Here is how Life first described the shooting in its 11-29 article entitled Split Second Sequence As The Bullets Struck: "Then came the awful moment. In these pictures, which run consecutively from left to right, it begins as the car comes out from behind the sign. The President's wave turns into a clutching movement toward his throat. Governor Connally, who glances around to see what has happened, is himself struck by a bullet and slumps over. As the President's car approaches a lamppost, Mrs. Kennedy suddenly becomes aware of what has happened and reaches over to help while Governor Connally slumps to the floor. The President collapses on his wife's shoulder and in the last two small pictures the First Lady cradles him in her arms." The article/photo essay then cuts to a presentation of Mrs. Kennedy's climbing out onto the back of the limo, which is described as a "crawl for help."
Tellingly, the horrific head shot, after which Kennedy's head jerks back and to the left, is not described. Apparently, this shot was just too horrid for Life Magazine--which had broken barriers by showing starving American children during the depression and dead American soldiers during World War II--to describe to its readers.
But if Life was doing its part to preserve the dignity of Kennedy, and conceal the possibility of conspiracy from the public, it failed miserably. In a newspaper summary of the Life article on the Zapruder film, the first frame, frame 233, was captioned "The President's hand moves convulsively as he is shot." Fair enough. But the second frame, frame 269, was captioned "Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, on jump seat, turns toward back and is also hit." This led the public, which was not allowed to see the Zapruder film for themselves, to conclude Connally was hit seconds after Kennedy, by what could have been a second shot fired from Oswald's rifle. This was true, moreover, to Life's account of the shooting. In time, Life's article and the newspaper coverage it received would fuel the widespread rejection of the Warren Commission's single-bullet theory, holding that Kennedy and Connally were in fact hit by the same bullet. In attempting to reinforce that Oswald had acted alone, Life Magazine had instead planted the seeds of doubt...
Which grew in harmony with the seeds of confusion planted by the other news sources... Around the same time as the 11-29 issue of Life was hitting the streets and mailboxes in the states, the 11-30 edition of The Illustrated London News--a magazine that had been published for over 120 years, mind you--was hitting the streets and mailboxes in England. This issue featured the magazine's initial article on the assassination. Amazingly, its opening line asserted "President Kennedy was shot twice in the head as he drove through Dallas on November 22..." Now, one might wish to think this article had been written before any details of the shooting had emerged. But one would be wrong. This 12 page article included photos of Kennedy's funeral, on the 25th.
The incredible confusion wrought by these and other conflicting reports was to have long-term effects. One of the first biographies on Kennedy to come out after the shooting, John F. Kennedy, by Urs Schwarz, was to extrapolate and embellish: "a shot. It was 12:30 p.m. C.S.T. and in a split second a thousand things happened. The President's body slumped to the left; his right leg shot up over the car door. A woman close by at the curb saw it. "My God!" she screamed. "He's shot!" Blood gushed from the President's head as it came to rest in Jackie's lap. "Jack!" she cried. "Oh, no! No!" John Connally turned--and by turning, probably saved his own life. There were two more shots, and a bullet pierced his back, plowed down through his chest, fractured his right wrist, and lodged in his left thigh." (This account, as you've probably noticed, not only had the shots impact in what even at that time was thought to be the wrong order, but had a woman bystander yelling out "My God!" and Jackie Kennedy yelling out "Oh, no! No!"--exclamations later attributed to Governor Connally.)
And that's but one example. Another rush release, JFK: A Complete Biography 1917-1963, by William H. A. Carr, was to report "As the Presidential limousine slowed to make a left turn on to Commerce Street at the Triple Underpass, a well-known Dallas landmark, the Governor's wife, Nellie Connally, turned and said laughingly to the President 'You can't say that Dallas isn't friendly to you today.' Just then there was a crack of a rifle shot. Jack Kennedy, who had opened his mouth to answer Mrs. Connally, said 'Oh!' and lifted his right hand to his throat, where a bullet, traveling an almost vertical course, had smashed through the skin just above his necktie, tearing its way down through his chest. Jackie, puzzled by her husband's guttural sound, but unaware that he had been shot, leaned over to him, her face reflecting her concern. Governor Connally turned around to see what was wrong. At that instant, another shot split the air. The bullet struck Connally in the back, ripped through his chest, emerged to break his wrist, and finally lodged in his thigh. Utterly bewildered by the sounds, the driver had slowed his car again now, after making the turn. Then the third and last shot rang out. This slug hit the back of the President's head. In the words of patrolman James M. Chaney, who was on a motorcycle six feet away, 'his head exploded in blood.'" (This account, as you've probably noticed, was wrong or at odds with the currently accepted story on just about every fact: it had the shooting taking place on the wrong street; it had the shooting occur while Mrs. Connally was still talking to President Kennedy, instead of moments after; it had the first bullet hit Kennedy's neck from the front and head into his chest; and it had this bullet enter above his necktie.)
The extent of the media's confusion, moreover, is probably best reflected by the fact that Facts on File, the most trusted source book for newspaper stories, summarized the shooting in its 1963 edition as follows: "Three shots were fired as the President's car approached an underpass...the first two bullets hit the President, who was sitting with Mrs. Kennedy in the rear seat, and he fell face down in the seat. The third bullet hit Governor Connally, who was sharing the jump seat with his wife...The bullet tore through Connally's back, smashed three ribs, punctured his lung, broke his wrist, and penetrated his left thigh." When the Warren Commission report came out some months later, of course, it offered that Connally was hit by one of the first two bullets, and that only one rib had been smashed.
(The confusion over the wounds and shot sequence, even among historians, unfortunately, continues. In 1998, Anna K. Nelson, an historian working for the Assassination Records Review Board, wrote a chapter on her work for a book entitled ""A Culture of Secrecy – The Government Versus the People's Right to Know." Amazingly, however, she revealed that some of those in the position to know just can't be bothered. When discussing the Warren Commission's conclusions, she wrote "Three shots had been fired; one hit the president but did not kill him, one went astray, and the third killed Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally of Texas..." Yikes. The Warren Commission, of course, concluded that the first bullet to strike Kennedy wounded Connally, and not the last. Still, her display of ignorance was destined to be outdone. The year 2006 saw the publication of LBJ: Architect of American Ambition by Randall B. Woods, a history professor from the University of Arkansas. This was a 1,000 page effort published by Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. Amazingly, Woods reported: "As the motorcade turned onto Elm Street, a shot rang out. Connally remembered being covered with a fine mist of blood and tissue. The president's head had been partially blown off. The second shot hit Connally in the back, passed through his body, through his hand, and into his thigh. A third shot rang out, but by that time pandemonium had broken loose." Woods, amazingly, had not only presented the fatal head shot as the first shot, but had completely failed to account for Kennedy's back wound and throat wound.)
But I digress. Back in 1963, on the night of the 28th, President Johnson addressed the nation. Once again, he wrapped himself in the flag and asked the country to "banish rancor from our words and malice from our hearts--to close down the poison springs of hatred and intolerance and fanaticism." He closed his brief address with an appeal for his fellow Americans to "remember your country and remember me each day in your prayers."
He didn't bother to tell the nation what they undoubtedly would like to have known: that a British journalist, John Wilson, had contacted the American embassy in London on the 26th to tell them that he'd been imprisoned by Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1959, and that while he was in prison he got to know a gangster named Santos (almost certainly Santos Trafficante, who was imprisoned at the time), and that Trafficante was regularly visited by a gangster type named Ruby. Yep, gulp, a credible source came forward within days of Oswald's murder to tell the American government that, oh yeah, by the way, Jack Ruby, Oswald's killer, was not a mere nightclub owner and friend of the Dallas Police, but a one-time associate of Santos Trafficante, the mafia's head honcho in Florida, and a man closely associated with two forces wanting Kennedy dead: the organized crime figures who'd backed Kennedy in the 1960 election only to be targeted by Kennedy's justice department, and the anti-Castro Cuban leaders who felt betrayed by Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs, who were subsequently denied a second shot at over-throwing Castro after Kennedy cut a deal with Khruschev.
Now, a look at Lyndon Johnson's diary for the next day, 11-29-63, proves equally intriguing. It notes that an "official picture" was taken between 9:45 and 10:10, that Johnson then met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 10:10 to 11:10, and that he then met Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, CIA Director John McCone, and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy from 11:15 to 11:30, that he then called Congressman Hale Boggs and Senator Everett Dirksen at 11:30 and 11:40, respectively, and that McNamara, McCone and Bundy left at 11:45.
Now here is a photo of Johnson with three of those who'd attended this meeting. The fourth, Maxwell Taylor, was in the previous meeting. As this was the only day I've found on Johnson's schedule in which these four men were simultaneously at the White House, and as this was a day on which "official pictures" were taken, it seems probable this photo was taken on this day, 11-29-63.
Above: From L to R: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, President Lyndon Johnson, and the odd man out still looking for a chair-- CIA Director John McCone.
So why is this illuminating? Well, look at the topic of conversation provided for this meeting on LBJ's Daily Diary...
While Johnson did discuss creating a high-level commission with Mansfield, it seems clear he discussed this as well with his national security team. He most certainly didn't call these busy busy men into his office to discuss "Mrs. Kennedy's budget"--a topic of conversation provided for a later call with Lawrence O'Brien.
So, yes, it seems clear, then, that Johnson discussed the creation of the Warren Commission with these men, and that this was the de facto birth of the Warren Commission.
Now look again at the "official" photo. A couple of things catch my eye... For one, it appears to be a staged photo, that is, not one taken while these men were actually discussing anything of importance. For two, it seems designed to show all those viewing this photo that these men--physical representatives of the State Department, military, and CIA (the three faces of American influence and power-- negotiation, brute force, and clandestine activity) are all under the control of one man, Lyndon Johnson.
Well, as propaganda posters go, this one was fairly well drawn, if not the least bit subtle...
Now, here's this same pose captured from another angle.
Just kidding. That's a Chinese propaganda poster showing Chairman Mao speaking to his subjects. Note how comfortable he is as the object of their attention--as their leader. Note how enamored they are with his every word. The net effect, then, is that this guy is just fabulous. Now, in 1963 the United States was in a war of silence against the Chinese communists. It spied on them at the same time it pretended they didn't exist. Well, the U.S. would never use the brainwashing techniques employed by communists, would it? I mean the U.S.A. was better than that, right? It would never spend government time and resources taking and disseminating photographs designed to make its military leaders and top spies look like members of the president's personal fan club. Yeah? Right?
Yeah, right. Here's the Johnson pose above captured from another angle.
Yep, there's no doubt about it. With the posing of these photos, and the creation of his "high-level commission," Johnson was trying on his big-boy dictator pants. Just as some suffer from penis-envy, some suffer from dic...tator envy. I mean, just look at these photos... They show Johnson not just in charge, but pretty much worshipped by his subordinates.
Later that day, at 1:15 P.M., Johnson called his closest adviser, future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, to discuss the make-up of his newly decided-upon high-level commission charged with investigating the assassination of his predecessor. Building upon earlier discussions, Fortas suggested that they create a seven man commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, with two from the Senate, two from congress, one (Allen Dulles) from the intelligence community, and a general from the military. Johnson then decided that having businessman John McCloy on the commission would be better than having a general. Johnson then picked Senators Russell from Georgia and Cooper from Kentucky as his senators. As to his congressmen, Johnson said "I would think Jerry Ford would be good from the Republicans," and Fortas agreed. When Fortas' suggested Hale Boggs from the Democrats, Johnson complained that Boggs was "talking all the God-damned time." Even so, when, after some discussion, Fortas offered "I wonder if we aren't stuck with Hale," Johnson agreed. Johnson then dismissed that any of these men should even be consulted beforehand, declaring "I think we oughta order 'em to do it, and then let 'em bellyache." Bing. Bang. Boom. Just like that, Johnson had picked the men charged with investigating, among other things, his own involvement in the assassination. By including the Chief Justice, he had dampened the possibility anyone from the Judicial branch would complain. By including members of both the Senate and the House, he had dampened the possibility anyone from the Legislative branch would complain.
Above: President Johnson (R) respects the personal space of his closest confidant and advisor, future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (L).
Johnson then called FBI Director Hoover to tell him that he'd made a decision, and that he was creating a Presidential Commission to review the FBI's report on the assassination. An unhappy Hoover warned him "It'd be a three-ring circus." Johnson then asked Hoover about the status of the investigation. Four days after closing ranks to convince the American people not only that Oswald did it, but that he acted alone, Johnson finally got around to asking Hoover if Ruby knew Oswald. Amazingly, Hoover told him they were still investigating! Johnson then asked how many shots were fired and if any of them were fired at him personally. For his part, Hoover told Johnson the FBI would wrap up the case by the following Monday. He then shared such incredible details (incredible because they are so out-of-line with the eventual conclusions of the Warren Commission) as: Oswald fired three shots in three seconds (the commission decided it took almost 6), Oswald raced down from the fifth floor (the sniper's nest was on the sixth floor), there were three bullets fired and all were in possession of the FBI (they only recovered one and a half bullets, plus some fragments which may or may not have come from a third bullet), the first shot hit Kennedy, the second Connally, and the third Kennedy (this was the accepted theory before the development of the single-bullet theory months later), the intact bullet found on a hospital stretcher in Dallas rolled out of the President's head after being loosened by heart massage (the temporary theory on the night of the autopsy was that the bullet fell from Kennedy's back after heart massage; no one ever indicated it fell from the head), and that Connally wouldn't have been wounded if he hadn't turned after the first shot and got in the way of the bullet. This last statement indicates that Hoover was under the impression that the school book depository was somewhere in front of the President when the shots were fired. Strangely, Johnson, who was but two cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade and would have to have known there were no buildings in front of Kennedy, failed to correct him. In any case, it's clear by the tape of their conversation that the two men had no grasp of what happened the week before. And yet they had decided to tell everyone that whatever it was that happened Oswald was somehow solely responsible.
Even more surprising than their overall lack of knowledge, however, is Johnson and Hoover's use of the word "they" when describing the assassin during this phone call. Johnson asked "Was they aimin' at the President?" to which Hoover responded "They were aiming directly at the President." Then, after Hoover explained that the rifle tests indicated that one man could have gotten off all the shots, Johnson let his views on this be known. He responded "How'd it happen they hit Connally...?" While the "they" in this particular statement might be a reference to the bullets, the tape-recordings of Johnson's conversations available at his Presidential library, the memoirs of his closest associates, and a number of interviews conducted during his lifetime all confirm that Johnson never believed the conclusions of the Warren Commission, and suspected a foreign involvement in the assassination. That Governor Connally privately shared Johnson's conviction there was a "they" has been confirmed, furthermore, by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who in a 1998 interview with Jim Douglass quoted Connally as swearing "They were trying to hit me. Don't tell me they weren't trying to hit me."
Less than three hours after talking to Hoover, President Johnson called Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren into his office and ordered him to chair the commission that would investigate the assassination. Beyond manipulating Warren with his assertions that a war could result from the "wrong sort" of investigation, Johnson told Warren that the other men on the commission, including Senator Richard Russell, had all agreed to serve if Warren chaired the commission. This was a lie.
Johnson then called Speaker of the House John McCormack. He told him, in his crude yet effective manner, that with his presidential commission set to investigate the assassination, he couldn't have a congressional committee conducting its own investigation, and using the investigation for political purposes, blaming it on Khruschev and whipping up a red scare. He then instructed McCormack to "take care of the House of Representatives for me," which momentarily confused McCormack, and led to his asking "How am I going to take care of them?" Johnson then ordered, as if speaking to a servant (as opposed to the leader of the legislative branch of government), "Just keep them from investigating!"
Above: President Johnson (L) respects the personal space of his one-time mentor, and subsequent "man" on the Warren Commission, Senator Richard Russell. Thomas Jefferson is not amused.
Later that evening, Johnson called Senator Richard Russell and ordered him to serve on his presidential commission--a commission on which his membership had already been announced. Russell, who'd spoken to Johnson earlier that day and told him he would not serve on his commission, reinforced this point and stressed that he refused to serve on any commission chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Johnson then bullied Russell by telling him "You're damn sure gonna be at my command...You're gonna be at my command long as I'm here." He then cut Russell off by simultaneously playing to Russell's vanity, and bragging about his own new-found power.
LBJ: Now you just get ready to do this and you're my man on there, and period.
RR: Well if you hadn't announced it, I would absolutely be--
LBJ: No, you wouldn't. No, you wouldn't.
RR: Yes, I would. Yes I would.
LBJ: I told Warren, Warren told me he wouldn't do it under any circumstances--didn't think the Supreme Court Justice ought to go on it. He wouldn't have any thing to do with it. He said a man that criticized this fellow that went on the Nuremberg trial, Jackson, he told me what he thought about Goldberg. He thought he was terrible [unintelligible] and I said let me read you one report. And I just picked up one report and read it to him. And I said okay, now, forty million Americans are involved here.
RR: I may be wholly wrong, but I think Mr. Warren would serve on anything you'd give him any publicity on.
LBJ: Well you want me to tell you the truth? You know what happened? Bobby and them went up to see him today and he turned them down cold and said "no." Two hours later I called him and ordered him down here and he didn't want to come. I insisted he come, he came down here and told me no twice and I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City and I say now, 'I don't want Mr. Khrushchev to be told tomorrow and be testifying before a camera that he killed this fellow and that Castro killed him and all I want you to do is look at the facts and bring in other facts you want in here, and determined who killed the President and I think you'd put on your uniform of World War I, fat as you are, and do anything you could to save one American life. And I'm surprised that you the Chief Justice of the United States would turn me down.' And he started crying and said, well I won't turn you down. I'll just do whatever you say, but he turned the Attorney General down.
RR: Well, you ought not to be so persuasive.
LBJ: Well, I think I ought to.
RR: I think you did wrong in getting Warren and I know damned well you did wrong getting me but I hope to do the best we can.
LBJ: I think that's what you'll do. That's the kind of Americans both of you are. Goodnight.
And so Johnson had his commission of distinguished Americans... He got what he wanted...and he got it, as he had so many times before in his long political life, by lying through his teeth. As discussed at the outset of our story, he won Warren over with an appeal to domestic tranquility. The bit about Khruschev and Castro was secondary. I mean, think about it. He wasn't about to tell Russell that he'd placed Warren on the Commission so that those suspecting Kennedy'd been killed by southern racists--Russell's supporters, who were looking to him to help fight off the Civil Rights movement--would be mollified when the Commission came down and said Oswald had acted alone. And he wasn't about to tell Russell that he was being used in a similar manner--that he wanted Russell on the Commission to clear the communists.
There's yet another lie that's worth noting in light of future developments. Johnson lied to Russell when he said Warren had turned down Robert Kennedy. It wasn't Kennedy but Kennedy's assistant Katzenbach--acting at Johnson's request--who'd tried to rope Warren on to the Commission. Well, Johnson's lying about this formed the template of his future lies--that the creation of the Commission--and its blaming it all on the Oswald--was the brainstorm of Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, not po' lil' innocent Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Earlier that day, Johnson called House majority leader Carl Albert and told him of his plans. When Albert voiced Speaker of the House McCormack's concern that it would be unwise to have anyone from the Supreme Court on the commission--as the Justice would then have to pass should any aspect of the case wind up in his court--Johnson shot him down, declaring "He's not gonna pass on Oswald; he's dead as hell."
That the Warren Commission was hand-picked by Johnson, and was expected to find no international conspiracy, and not even investigate a domestic conspiracy, is made clear by Johnson's conversations on this date, only a week after the assassination.
While one might think the passage of this week would lead to more accurate articles in the press, moreover, this sadly wasn't true. An article on How the President Was Shot in the 12-9-63 issue of U.S. News and World Report, which is reported to have went to press on 11-29, offers that "Oswald's gun, a 6.5 mm Carcano Italian carbine, had its telescopic sight aligned for the distance from which the sniper fired at the presidential car--about 250 feet. This meant the gun had presumably been 'zeroed in'--test fired several times from the distance the sniper intended to fire from, with crosshairs on the gunsight adjusted accordingly. This, in turn, indicated that the sniper had made careful calculations of the distance between his vantage point in a storage-building window and the parade route."
Well, this was the worst kind of nonsense. In their study of Oswald's rifle the FBI had found no evidence the telescopic sight on Oswald's rifle had ever been zeroed-in, let alone zeroed-in for the distance in question. This article, then, was undeniably unfair to Oswald. But it quickly changed course. The article continued: "The sniper, too, almost certainly had carried out target practice to check his calculations. He had been out of the Marine Corps for four years. Without practice he might have been rusty." Well, oops. The FBI would ultimately find no credible evidence Oswald had practiced with his rifle in the weeks before the shooting.
The 11-29 Chicago Daily News runs a similar article regarding the evidence against Oswald. This article sizzles in its bias. The assassination is now "the crime of the century--so monstrous as to paralyze humanity." Oswald is no longer the "prime suspect" for this crime, moreover, or even a "presumed assassin." No, he has now become, officially--because it's in the papers--"a hate-filled sniper" and "lunatic." This change in tone is really not that surprising. What is surprising, however, is that the evidence against Oswald as recounted by Dallas DA Wade is getting less accurate, not more. Among other things, the article claimed that Wade had "outlined" the following items of evidence:
"A Federal crime laboratory in Washington found Oswald's fingerprints on the rifle used to murder the President." (While this is presumably a reference to a palm print lift IDed as Oswald's on the 29th, it seems strange that the writers of the article would be inaccurate on two key points: 1, that it was fingerprints, as opposed to a single palm print; 2, that it was found by a Federal Crime Laboratory, as opposed to the Dallas Police Department. This suggests that perhaps just perhaps Wade was avoiding the embarrassing fact that the FBI had found no trace of this print on the rifle on the morning of the 23rd, and the even more embarrassing explanation that it had been completely lifted from the rifle by Dallas Police Lt. J.C. Day on the evening of the 22nd, and that he'd failed to take pictures of it before performing the lift, and failed to tell the FBI about it afterward.)
"His fingerprints also were found on two cases of books on which the assassin is believed to have propped the rifle. Wade did not indicate which laboratory made the identification." (This was also inaccurate. Oswald's prints were purported to have been found on only one box believed to have propped up the rifle. They were found on another box, but it was the box on which he was believed to have been sitting.)
"A palm print matching Oswald's was found on one of the boxes. Paraffin tests of Oswald's hands showed he recently had fired a gun. These findings were made by the Dallas city-county crime laboratory." (This was also misleading. The paraffin tests for Oswald's hands were positive, which was consistent with his having fired a gun, but not proof he had fired a gun. As Wade was "outlining" the evidence Oswald shot Kennedy, moreover, it seems a wee bit suspicious that he failed to mention that the test for Oswald's cheek, which would have been consistent with his having fired a rifle, was negative.)
"A neighbor who drove Oswald to work on the day of the assassination said the young man carried a long, wrapped package. Oswald said these contained window shades, according to this account. The police believe it was the death rifle." (This avoided that this "neighbor," Buell Wesley Frazier, described a package much too small to hold the rifle.)
"An elevator operator said Oswald carried the package to the deserted fifth floor storeroom from which the shots were fired." (This, as far as can be determined, was made up from whole cloth. No one saw Oswald with the package in the building. And besides, the shots were fired from the sixth floor.)
"Oswald's handwriting, according to the FBI, is on an order for the rifle received by a Chicago firearms firm." (This was accurate, but avoids the strange circumstance that the rifle found in the depository was a different model than the one Oswald ordered.)
"Police have obtained a photo of Oswald holding a rifle that appears to be the same weapon." (This was accurate, but incomplete. They'd actually obtained three such photos, and had made multiple copies of these photos, to be passed out as souvenirs.)
"His blonde wife, Marina, told police she had seen Oswald's rifle at their suburban Irving home the day before the slaying. Police could not find it when they searched the home afterward." (This was also misleading. Marina told police she'd seen the green blanket which at one time held the rifle, and not the rifle itself. As she discovered when the police came out to see her, however, this blanket was just a shell. As a result, neither she nor anyone else could say when the rifle had last been in the blanket. It could have been taken from the unlocked garage days or even weeks before the assassination.)
"Police say that cloth fibers attached to the rifle butt match clothing worn by Oswald on the fatal day." (This is intriguing for two reasons. The cloth fibers were purported to have been overlooked by the Dallas police, and only discovered by the FBI crime lab in Washington. Were they now trying to make it appear they'd found the fibers? The second reason is far more compelling: the "police" claim Oswald wore the matching clothing on the fatal day, but it does not say he was wearing this clothing at the time of the shooting. This was for good reason; Oswald claimed he'd changed his shirt after leaving work, and, by the time of this article, not one witness had identified the shirt he was wearing when arrested, whose fibers matched those found on the rifle, as the shirt he'd worn to work, and was wearing at the time of the shooting.)
"There are witnesses, still unidentified, to corroborate other parts of the story. Some say they saw Oswald leave the warehouse after the shooting. A woman says she remembers him boarding the bus. Three say they saw him shoot officer Tippit." (This last statement was inaccurate. While a number of witnesses identified Oswald as the man they saw fleeing the scene of the shooting, only one witness, Helen Markham, said she saw the actual shooting, and identified Oswald as the man pulling the trigger.)
On 11-30, yet another strange article was published. This article, by Richard Dudman for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, did what earlier articles should have done, and presented a laundry list of unanswered questions. It presented some quotes from Parkland doctor Robert McClelland, confirming that the Parkland doctors thought Kennedy's throat wound was an entrance wound. It then related "He said the doctors afterward tried to explain how the shot in the neck could have been fired from the book warehouse. 'We postulated that if it was a wound of entry, as we thought it was, the President might have been turned in such a way that it could hit him there,' he said. 'He would have had to have been looking almost completely to the rear.'" Dudman then reported what other articles evaded: "The motion pictures, however, showed the President looking forward."
Dudman then noted "Uncertainty surrounds the number of shots that were fired. Most witnesses have said they heard three, within a space of about five seconds. Investigators have accounted for them as the one that entered the President’s throat, a second that struck Gov. Conally, riding in the front seat, and a third that struck the back of the President’s head and caused extensive brain damage. The first bullet is said by the doctors in Dallas to have entered the throat, coursed downward and remained in the President’s body. The second was extracted from Gov. Connally’s thigh. It had lodged there after entering the right side of his back, passing through his body and through his wrist. A third, which may be the one that struck the back of Mr. Kennedy’s head, was recovered from the stretcher on which he was carried into the hospital. A fourth was found in fragments in the car. Still another bullet was found by Dallas police officers after the shooting. It was in the grass opposite the point where the President was hit. They did not know whether it had anything to do with the shooting of the President and Governor."
Well, heck, that's five bullets. And yet Dudman ultimately concluded "If there were two snipers, and Mr. Kennedy’s car was caught in the crossfire, the rapid-fire shooting would be more easily explained. Tests have shown, however, that a single sniper, using the bolt-action Italian rifle with telescopic sight found in the warehouse, could have fired three shots easily in five seconds. One shell would have been in the chamber, so that the bolt would have had to be moved only twice. The weapon could have been rested on a box, so that it would not have been necessary to aim again for the subsequent shots." He was thereby telling his readers, hey, guess what, there's reason to suspect Oswald wasn't the only shooter...and no one is telling you about it. A pretty ballsy article, all in all. Especially when one considers that within the article Dudman revealed the source of his suspicions--his own observations... He wrote: "Another unexplained circumstance is a small hole in the windshield of the presidential limousine. This correspondent and one other man saw the hole, which resembled a bullet hole, as the automobile stood at the hospital emergency entrance while the President was being treated inside the building. The Secret Service kept possession of the automobile and flew it back to Washington. A spokesman for the agency rejected a request to inspect the vehicle here. He declined to discuss any hole there might be in the windshield."
Well, that makes it clear as day. Dudman suspected a shot came from the front!
No, actually, that's incorrect. He suspected TWO shots came from the front. At another point in the article, he wrote: "There have been two other reports of injury to the President’s head. One of the physicians who attended him in Dallas said afterward that he had noticed a small entry wound in the left temple. Another person, who saw the President’s body a ‘few minutes after he died,’ told the Post-Dispatch he thought he had observed a wound in the President’s forehead. He asked that his name not be used. Reports of the temple and forehead wounds could have referred to the same injury."
The strangest thing about Dudman's article, however, was that it went unreported in the national news. Apparently, the Washington Press Corps thought one of their colleagues' claiming he saw a bullet hole in the President's limousine--and as much as admitting that this had led him to suspect that more than one sniper had fired on Kennedy--unworthy of the public's attention.
Also on 11-30, CIA Director John McCone called Johnson to inform him that Gilberto Alvarado, the Nicaraguan intelligence agent who'd claimed he'd witnessed Oswald discussing Kennedy's assassination in the Cuban consulate in Mexico, had admitted he'd lied. Upon hearing this news, Johnson is reported to have laughed. Seeing as Hoover and Katzenbach had already agreed to tell the people Oswald had acted alone and had had no confederates, and seeing as Johnson had already pressured Warren into chairing a Commission whose findings would help avert a war with the Soviets, one might assume Johnson was relieved as well as amused.
If he was relieved, however, it was destined not to last. An 11-30 UPI article, found in the Hartford Courant, trumpeted "Accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald wrote at least part of a book intimating he went to Russia as a secret agent for the United States." This article, built around an interview with stenographer Pauline Bates, who'd worked briefly with Oswald on his never-finished book, proceeded to run through a laundry list of Oswald's complaints about the Russian way of life. Unstated but implicit in these complaints was that Oswald preferred the American way of life. This, of course, supported the possibility Oswald was what he'd hinted at: a U.S. intelligence operative.
Even so, the right-wing rumor mill continued to push that Oswald had been part of a left-wing conspiracy. Conservative commentator and former FBI agent Dan Smoot, in his weekly report dated 12-2, argued that Jack Ruby--whom he pointedly and repeatedly called "Rubenstein"--was a confederate of Oswald's, and that he had killed Oswald to ensure his silence. While listing the evidence against Oswald, Smoot repeated the lies told by Dallas DA Henry Wade and FBI Agent Gordon Shanklin. He told his readers that "Oswald's fingerprints were found on the murder weapon" and that "A paraffin test revealed gunpowder flecks on Oswald's cheek, which is presumptive evidence that he had recently fired a rifle. The powder flecks were identical in kind with powder flecks in the empty cartridges and gun found in the book warehouse." In his description of the shooting, Smoot confused things even more, relating "The first shot apparently hit President Kennedy in the neck. He clutched himself and partially rose, as the second shot hit him in the head, inflicting the mortal wound. As Governor Connally turned to see what had happened, the third shot from the assassin's gun struck him in the back..."
Now, the irony about Smoot's article was that in painting Ruby as a leftist he helped conceal a more problematic aspect to Ruby's background. It would later be revealed that in the weeks leading up to Kennedy's assassination Ruby had been in contact with a number of known gamblers and/or union enforcers, including several suspected of murder...and not only that, but that on 11-30, Ruby had received a visit at the jail from Joe Campisi, a restaurateur believed to have been a member of the top crime family in Dallas.
And Smoot wasn't the only one stirring up trouble. Drew Pearson, the most notorious muckraker of his day, dished some dirt of his own in his 12-2 column. Pearson, in opposition to President Johnson's wish that the country just move on, reported that members of Kennedy's Secret Service detail had been drinking the night before the shooting, and raised questions about their readiness. These questions have never been adequately addressed. In time, the Warren Commission would reveal that, of the 6 agents in Kennedy's follow-up car tasked with responding to a threat through self-sacrifice or retaliation (that is, not counting the driver, and the radio man) 4 had been out drinking the night before. John Ready, on the right running board, was out drinking beer, returned to his room around 3:30 in the morning, and reported for duty at 7:20. Clint Hill, on the left running board, was out drinking scotch, returned to his room around 3 in the morning, and reported for duty at 8:05. Paul Landis, on the right running board behind Ready, was out drinking scotch, left a club around 5:00 in the morning, and reported for duty at 8:05. (As he failed to say at what time he returned to his room, it seems possible he never actually returned.) And finally, Glen Bennett, one of the two men in the back seat manning the AR-15, an automatic weapon, was out drinking beer, returned to his room around 3:15 in the morning, and reported for duty at 7:20. (Although off-duty drinking was prohibited while traveling with the President, none of these men were reprimanded for their actions.)
And it wasn't as if Pearson had singled out the Secret Service.. No, in the second half of his column, in what he would have to have known was a risky move, he criticized the FBI and Dallas Police. He criticized the Dallas Police for the obvious: allowing Jack Ruby into the basement where he killed Oswald. But his criticism of the FBI was not so obvious. He reported that although the FBI was well aware that Oswald, who'd recently been televised passing out leaflets in support of Cuba, had subsequently moved to Dallas, it had failed to notify the Dallas Police and Secret Service of this fact. In a move sure to get some attention, he then blamed this failure on "jealousy" and "squabbles over jurisdiction."
The FBI's response was both well-reasoned and alarming. In his memo reporting on the column, Assistant Director Cartha DeLoach advised that in order to refute Pearson, the charges made by Pearson would have to be rehashed, and that this was "believed undesirable." This view was supported by Director Hoover, who added, in his own hand "Unfortunately, we are not in a position to completely contradict Pearson."
But if the FBI's response was measured, what lay beneath the surface was monstrous. DeLoach bragged: "Many of our news media friends have called me and the men in this office today concerning Pearson's unjust and unfounded remarks. These men offered to literally 'tear Pearson apart' if we will just give them the go-ahead. They have volunteered to start an effective campaign against Pearson for his attack on the FBI." He then noted that such a campaign was "justified." Well, this makes it more than clear that DeLoach had at his beck and call a number of media assets ready to smear anyone he or the director wanted to smear, and that Pearson would have been the victim of such abuse had DeLoach and Hoover not been concerned that further discussion of the FBI's failures would backfire.
This raises the related questions, then, of how many writers had received such treatment in the past, and how many revelatory articles and columns might have been written were it not for fear of such treatment.
Above: FBI Propaganda Chief Cartha "Deke" DeLoach (R), along with one of his satisfied clients. President Lyndon B. Johnson (L).
Of course, it's not as if the FBI worked only as a censor, trying to keep certain facts from the public. Nope, the FBI under Hoover was multi-talented, and could plant certain stories as well...
The Leaking of the Report
On 12-2, the Associated Press started spreading the news... A nationally-syndicated article stated "the Federal Bureau of Investigation hopes to send to President Johnson this week its report on the assassination... It will be a narrative account in minute detail of the events surrounding the two deaths. If it follows the patterns of others F.B.I. investigative reports, it will stick to positive statements of what happened, dismissing baseless rumors by not mentioning them...It is expected to state that Lee H. Oswald, acting alone, killed Mr. Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby, acting alone, shot Oswald."
There was more to come. On 12-3-63, an Associated Press article by Sterling F. Green appeared in dozens if not hundreds of newspapers, and filled in the details. It confirmed “An exhaustive FBI report now nearly ready for the White House will indicate that Lee Harvey Oswald, a loner all his life, was the lone and unaided assassin of President Kennedy, Government sources said today.” It then claimed "The report will go to President Johnson this week, it was reported, and Mr. Johnson will forward it promptly to the seven-member investigating commission he named on Friday." It then asserted "Various Government sources said the FBI report, incorporating the findings of the Secret Service and at least a half dozen other Federal agencies, would indicate that:
Oswald, without accomplices, fired three shots at Mr. Kennedy from a self-prepared hideaway at a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas as the Presidential motorcade passed on November 22.
The first and third shots struck the President. Either would have killed him.
The second shot missed Mr. Kennedy but struck and seriously wounded Texas Governor John Connally.
About 5 1/2 seconds elapsed between the first shot and the last. Despite questions raised by some rifle experts, Federal agents consider (sic, Green meant "presume") Oswald's bolt-action rifle could have been aimed and fired that rapidly.
It has been established that all three shots came from the same direction, behind and slightly to the right of the President'a car. This gave the assassin a target moving approximately in the direction of his line of fire, an easier shot than a target moving across it.
Ballistics studies reportedly substantiate that the same weapon fired all three shots.
Evidence is lacking of any personal acquaintance between Oswald and Jack Rubenstein, alias Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who broke through a crowd of spectators and killed the prisoner two days later, as Oswald was about to be transferred from Police headquarters in the Dallas City Hall to the county jail.
A 12-4 New York Times article with a 12-3 dateline then jumped on the bandwagon, reporting "it was learned officially, the report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation "probably" will say that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in firing the three shots that killed Mr. Kennedy and seriously wounded Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas..." One notes that these reports call President Kennedy "Mr. Kennedy," an apparent sign of disrespect. If this is any indication of the source, the likely leakers would have to be Hoover and his close cohort, Cartha DeLoach.
Warren Commissioner John McCloy apparently suspected as much. A National Security Administration document (currently available on its website) reports that on 12-4-63 "In conversation with us, McCloy, a member of the Presidential Commission, stated that he has serious doubts of the credibility of the investigation to date. He does not eliminate the possibility that the attempt on Kennedy was made by two persons. However, in view of Johnson's order that the commission investigate also the circumstances of Oswald's slaying, some of the commission's operations and its report could come after Ruby's trial and perhaps even after the verdict and appeals. In the meantime the trial was postponed until 3 January (sic) and the FBI released to the press information that their investigation confirms Oswald's guilt, and that he had no accomplices."
And McCloy was not alone. On 4-3-14, Justice Department attorney Howard Willens published his personal journal regarding his 1964 stint with the Warren Commission. His first entry, dated January 1964, discusses the FBI's report, and notes that in early December 1963 "the FBI gave a briefing session off-the-record to the reporters on the report."
Another 12-4 article in the Times with a 12-3 dateline is also intriguing. It appears to have been designed to overrule the 11-27 article casting doubt on the ability of one man to fire all the shots. It states "From motion pictures of the President's assassination taken here on Nov. 22, authorities have concluded that the three shots were fired over a period of five to five and one-half seconds. But that period is calculated from the moment when the first shot is fired...The man starts the interval himself with the first shot. Therefore, if the interval is five seconds, as some people say it was, he has to fire two shots in five seconds, not three shots. It is possible, and it can easily be done. It's no trick at all...The first and third shots, said authorities, struck the President. Either could have killed him. The second bullet missed the President but struck and wounded Gov. John B. Connally, Jr. of Texas, who was riding with Mr. Kennedy." The frequent reference to "authorities" and the by now familiar "Mr. Kennedy" are indications this article was yet another gift from the FBI.
On 12-4, Theodore Voorhees, Chancellor-elect of the Philadelphia Bar Association, howled into the wilderness. According to a 12-5 New York Times article, Voorhees told a luncheon that Oswald had been "lynched." He went on to state "it is against the legal profession, not television or the press, that the heavy indictment must lie" and that no member of the legal profession "protested the publication of the evidence, the 24-hour interrogations, the violation of the prisoner's rights." The Warren Commission, which had not yet had a meeting, was, naturally, made up almost entirely of lawyers, as was its future staff. One of their future staff members, Arlen Specter, was an Assistant District Attorney from Philadelphia. One can only wonder then what Specter thought of Voorhees' speech.
And what Voorhees thought of the revelations to come... In any event, he was not alone in noting that something was rotten in Dallas...and Washington. On 12-5, an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle opined that the FBI's leaking its own report to the press was "highly irregular and objectionable" and stated for the record that the editors of the Chronicle registered their "profound objection to this kind of handling of so grave and somber a matter."
Above: an article published in the 12-6-63 issue of Life Magazine that was designed to end rumors. The problem: the article was so biased and flat-out wrong it only made things worse.
Life's Cavalcade of Errors
While one might assume some distance and perspective would be good for the media, and that its December stories would thereby be more accurate than those written just after the assassination, this proved not to be the case. The 12-6 issue of Life Magazine, for example, contained even more biased reporting and misinformation than its previous issue. One editorial proclaimed that "Oswald was a misfit Marxist with a life-long persecution complex; a resentful loner who found an evil chance to employ his single skill--marksmanship--against the world's most valuable target." An article--an actual news article not an opinion piece--was titled "In Texas a Policeman and an Assassin are Laid to Rest Too." (An "Assassin"--not an accused assassin or even a presumed assassin--as if Oswald's getting murdered proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he himself was a murderer.)
But it gets worse. Life writer Paul Mandel, in an article entitled "End to Nagging Rumors," listed so many non-facts that one can only assume the whole article was a deliberate attempt to squelch these rumors, even at the expense of the truth.
It started out well enough, noting that the killing of Kennedy and Oswald had led to "breathless rumors: that Oswald had been a hired killer; that Oswald had used an accomplice; that Oswald had not killed the President at all; that Oswald had been framed and then shot to silence him." But from there it stopped reporting and started blowing bubbles.
Mandel claimed: "Three shots were fired. Two struck the President, one Governor Connally. All three bullets have been recovered--one, deformed, from the floor of the limousine; one from the stretcher that carried the President; one that entered the President's body." Well, this was untrue. Only one and a half bullets were recovered. No bullet was removed from the President. As a result, the third shot heard by most witnesses could have come from almost anywhere, and been fired by almost anyone. Apparently this fact, even though it was true, was not to be considered by the American public.
Mandel then continued: "The murder weapon, although subsequently manhandled for the benefit of TV, still showed Oswald's palm print." This was also untrue. The rifle was paraded before the cameras BEFORE a palm print was, reportedly, found and lifted by the Dallas Police. The article also fails to note that the FBI was unable to find ANY trace of this print when they inspected the rifle but a few hours later. Now why wasn't this mentioned? Oh, that's right--the article is entitled "END to nagging rumors", not "telling the truth even if it will lead to more rumors."
Mandel then continued: "His own carbine was missing from its usual place. A witness had seen him bring a long gun-sized package to work." Ouch. This is an outright lie. The witness in question, Buell Wesley Frazier, had passed a polygraph test while claiming that the "gun-sized package" supposedly found in the building and reportedly shown to him was approximately twice as large as the package he'd seen Oswald carry to work. In Frazier's opinion, moreover, the size of the package Oswald was carrying was far too small to carry the assassination rifle.
This paragraph then came to a merciful end: "And threads from Oswald's clothing were found in the warehouse sniper's nest." Now, really. This bit about the threads is made up of whole cloth. True, the FBI claimed there were threads on the rifle that matched Oswald's shirt, but even this "fact" couldn't end the nagging rumor that Oswald had been framed, as Oswald had insisted that he'd only put this shirt on after returning to his rented room from work, and NONE of his co-workers could recall his wearing the shirt to work that day.
Mandel then proceeded to discuss the Zapruder film, and its help in establishing that Oswald had enough time to fire three well-aimed shots. He reported: "from the movie camera's known speed of 18 frames a second--two frames a second faster than it should have run--it is possible to reconstruct the precise timing and placing and feasibility of the shots." Well, this is very interesting. Because it's reasonably accurate. The FBI's report on Zapruder's camera notes that Zapruder gave his camera to the FBI on 12-6, and that the camera was subsequently determined to have run 18.3 frames per second. Mandel's article is dated 12-6, but was actually written days earlier. Well, then, how the heck did Life Magazine know the results of the tests performed on Zapruder's camera before these tests were even performed? Had Life, which had purchased the Zapruder film, performed its own tests on the camera? If so, did it provide this info to the FBI? And, if so, should we take from this that the FBI had no plans to test the speed of Zapruder's camera, and only did so to avoid embarrassment after Life had conducted its own tests?
Mandel then described what can be observed on the Zapruder film. He reported that the first shot was fired from behind and struck Kennedy when he was 170 feet from the sniper's nest (at approximately frame 191). While the HSCA eventually agreed with this assessment, the Warren Commission concluded that the President was first struck somewhere between frames 210 and 225. In a bizarre twist, however, Mandel claimed Kennedy was first struck in the throat. From behind...
But this was just the beginning of Life's cavalcade of errors. Mandel then reported that the second shot hit Connally 74 frames later (at approximately frame 265 of the Zapruder film). Curiously, having Connally hit at this time supported both the scenario outlined in Life's 11-29 issue, and the FBI and Secret Service scenarios for the shooting. It was also strikingly at odds with the film. This leads many to suspect that Mandel's article, designed to end "rumors", was more specifically written as a favor to someone in the government, perhaps even the President. Mandel almost certainly never believed this stuff. Heck, it's so readily apparent that Connally was hit before frame 265 that even the Warren Commission could see it; they claimed he was hit by 225.
Mandel then got something right---he claimed that the head shot came 48 frames later (at frame 313). He then returned to his curious ways. Here, only days after a New York Times article had cast doubt about the assassination rifle's ability to fire three shots in the time allotted for the shooting, Mandel reported that the director of the NRA had successfully re-created Oswald's shooting feat by hitting three moving targets in three tries at similar distances with a similar rifle as Oswald's in 6.2 seconds. The FBI would later determine these claims to have been greatly exaggerated.
Mandel then hit a new low. To explain the public's confusion over the assassination, he offered: "The description of the President's two wounds by a Dallas doctor who tried to save him have added to the rumors. The doctor said one bullet passed from back to front on the right side of the President's head. But the other, the doctor reported, entered the President's throat from the front and then lodged in the President's body." Well, this is strange already. NO Dallas doctor had claimed a bullet had passed from back to front through the President's head. This was just made up.
It then got weirder. Mandel wrote: "Since by this time the limousine was 50 yards past Oswald and the President's back was turned almost directly to the sniper, it has been hard to understand how the bullet could enter the front of his throat. Hence, the recurring guess there was a second sniper somewhere else. But the 8mm film shows the President turning his body far around to the right as he waves to someone in the crowd. His throat is exposed--toward the sniper's nest--just before he clutches it." This, of course, is bullshit. The Zapruder film, which was owned by Life, and which was clearly viewed by Mandel multiple times during the creation of this article, shows no such thing. Not even close.
The back wound, inexplicably still a secret, was never even mentioned.
For what it's worth, someone at Life was quick to realize that Mandel's article was an embarrassment... A week later, when the article was repackaged in a special John F. Kennedy Memorial Edition of Life, its title was changed from the grossly overstated "End to Nagging Rumors" to an almost apologetic "First Answers to the Nagging Rumors." Presumably, Stupid Speculation that We No Longer Stand Behind, although an accurate title, was never considered.
And this wasn't the only Life article revised for the Memorial Edition... The 11-29 article "Split Second Sequence As The Bullets Struck" was also revised and renamed "Split Second Horror As The Sniper's Bullets Struck." Note that along with the addition of the "Horror" the new title specified there was only one shooter, something the editors of Life would have to have known was in question due to Kennedy's being shot from behind, and having an entrance wound on his throat. (Oh, that's right, Paul Mandel had already explained that...)
Here, then is how the shooting is described in the Memorial Edition: "Past the book warehouse the President turned to his right to wave to someone. Just as his car passed the road sign shown in the foreground the first bullet struck him in the neck. He clutched at his throat. Although some onlookers heard the shot, Governor Connally still faced ahead, unaware. With the first bullet still lodged in him, the President slumped forward in his seat and down toward his wife. At the same time the second shot struck Governor Connally. Then the assassin fired a third time. Oswald's bullet, fired at a range of more than 250 feet about two seconds after the shot which hit the governor, struck the President in the rear right part of his head." (The head shot, after which the President's head fell back and to the left, is still not depicted, nor described.) Note that the bullet is now conclusively Oswald's bullet. Note also that, in Life's interpretation of the Zapruder film, Governor Connally was wounded but two seconds before the head shot. This, according to pretty much everyone who would subsequently see the the film, including the members of the Warren Commission, places the Connally shot closer to the time of the head shot than to the time Connally was actually shot.
But as confusing as Life's analysis of the shooting was, it had plenty of partners. Its sister publication, Time Magazine, also described the Zapruder film in its 12-6 issue. It related: "What actually happened was made horrifyingly clear in color films taken by Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas clothing manufacturer and an amateur movieman. The strip runs for about 20 seconds--an eternity of history. Kennedy was waving to a friendly crowd. Then came the first shot, and he clutched at his throat with both hands. Connally turned around, raised his right hand toward the President, then fell backward into his wife's lap as the second shot struck him. The third shot all too literally exploded in Kennedy's head." Note that Time failed to present Mandel's bogus claim Kennedy had turned around in his seat before the first shot. Note also that Time claimed Connally reacted to the first shot, while Life claimed that after the first shot "Connally still faced ahead, unaware." And note, finally, that two of the points on which the two sister publications agreed is that the film shows Connally to have been hit by a separate shot from Kennedy, and that Kennedy was hit in the head by the third shot. That Connally was hit by a separate shot was in time rejected by the Warren Commission. That Kennedy was hit in the head by the third shot was also called into question. Hmmm...what was "horrifyingly clear" to the largest media corporation in America was in time rejected by the Warren Commission.
And Time/Life wasn't the only large American media corporation inadvertently spreading the seeds of conspiracy.
On 12-5, an article in the New York Times by Joseph Loftus about a Secret Service re-enactment of the shooting in Dallas, relates: "One question was how the President could have received a bullet in the front of the throat from a rifle in the Texas School Book Depository Building after his car had passed the building and was turning a gentle curve away from it. One explanation from a competent source was that the President had turned to his right to wave and was struck at that moment. The best authority presumably on the exact angle of entry of the bullet is the man who conducted the autopsy. He is Dr. J.J. Humes at the Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD. Dr. Humes said he had been forbidden to talk. Most private citizens who had cooperated with newsmen reporting the crime have refused to give further help after being interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dallas city and county police withdrew their help the same way. One high officer said he wished he could answer questions 'because it would save us a lot of work.'"
By this time, millions of Americans must have been asking "If the FBI has concluded that the long-dead-and-buried Oswald killed Kennedy, and that he acted alone, why all this secrecy?"
And a few thousand must have been asking "Hmmm... this article says a 'competent source' says Kennedy was turned around when receiving one of his shots, when earlier articles from 11-23 attributed such a belief to a 'White House source.'" Is a 'White House source' trying to convince us the shots all came from the same direction? And is Life Magazine's claim this is shown in the film a mere coincidence? Or has Life, too, been speaking to this 'White House source?'"
The Warren Show
Above: the Warren Commission in its first session. From L to R: former CIA Director Allen Dulles, Congressman Hale Boggs, Senator John Sherman Cooper, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Senator Richard Russell, Businessman John McCloy, and Congressman (and future President) Gerald Ford.
Meanwhile, in the nation's capitol, the Warren Commission held its first executive session. Among the business at hand was picking a general counsel, that is, a person to oversee the actual investigation. Chief Justice Warren wanted his former assistant Warren Olney III for this role, but the other commissioners were wary of having a general counsel so subservient to Warren. So they decided to put their brains together and come up with someone more agreeable to the commission as a whole.
Among the other topics discussed was, no surprise, the FBI's leaking its conclusions to the press. As reported by Dick Russell in The Man Who Knew Too Much, notes on this session by Senator Richard Russell (no relation) found in his memorial library, reflect that Senator Russell felt "Something strange is happening. W and Katzenbach know all about F.B.I. and they are apparently through psychiatrists and others planning to show Oswald only one who even considered. This to me is untenable. I must insist on outside Counsel."
The "W" in Russell's note was Warren. Yes, as incredible as it may seem to those considering Warren a beacon of integrity, Judge Warren was adamantly against conducting an open and independent investigation of the assassination, and told his fellow commissioners: "I am of the opinion also that we should not conduct our hearings in public; that it is not necessary for us to bring witnesses before us. If it is necessary for us to get the stories of witnesses we can get it through our investigative agencies first, and then if we want to talk to them we can bring them into our conference room and discuss it with them there...Having that view, I do not believe that it is necessary for us to have the power of subpoena. I believe that the power of subpoena and holding public meetings where witnesses would be brought in would retard rather than help our investigation...we could hold our meetings and take any evidence or any statements that we want in camera, and eventually make our report without any great fanfare throughout the country. I think any report we would make would carry with it a great deal more influence done in that way than if we attempted to have any public hearings."
He also reminded those in attendance of the commission's raison d'etre: to shut down other investigations and allay public fears. He advised: "The President indicated to me that if this commission was set up that in all probability there would be no legislative committees having hearings. I think that would be very helpful, because one investigation should be enough..." and later added "I personally would be very happy if the State of Texas would decide not to hold any such hearings until this commission had an opportunity to survey the situation and make its appraisal, because if there should be some irresponsible witnesses come before that commission and give sensational testimony to the public... we would have the job of allaying the public fears that developed from that kind of testimony."
This last statement reflects that an underlying turf war had bubbled to the surface. While the Texas Court of Inquiry announced after Kennedy's funeral was more than ready to rubber-stamp the FBI's report, Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr was less willing to subordinate his state's investigation to that of the subsequently announced Warren Commission, as he was concerned that any investigation headed by Warren would have an anti-Texas bias. As a result, during the first week of December he was called back to Washington.
In his book Texas Politics in My Rearview Mirror, Carr describes this trip as follows: "The President suggested that I visit with Chief Justice Earl Warren as soon as possible to work out a cooperative effort...the White House had arranged for Assistant Attorney General Katzenbach to set up the meeting with the Chief Justice. To my complete surprise, Mr. Katzenbach reported to us that the Chief Justice refused to see us until we agreed that Texas would drop any plans for an investigation and any thought of participating in the Warren Commission investigation!...It developed into a Warren-Carr two-day standoff, with Katzenbach acting as go-between. Late in the afternoon of the second day, we sat in the Attorney General's office awaiting Katzenbach's return from another visit with Warren. When he came back, he told us that Warren remained adamant not to see us until we complied with his terms. Completely frustrated and with little patience remaining, I advised Mr. Katzenbach that we were leaving for Texas on the next plane and when we arrived there I would convene the Court of Inquiry. I added that this would be a public hearing, as opposed to Warren's closed-door investigations, and we would let the world determine which one it liked best. We immediately departed for our hotel to check out, but by the time I reached my room, Mr. Katzenbach called to say the Chief Justice had agreed to meet."
Carr and Warren then worked out the terms of their cooperation. In Carr's book, he lays out these terms. In exchange for the Court of Inquiry's being allowed to have representatives present at the Commission's closed hearings, direct questions to witnesses, and have access to depositions, Carr agreed "That when the investigation was completed, if we felt a. It had been fair to Texas, b. It had been thorough, and c. No evidence was withheld from the public, then I would report this to Governor Connally and the people of Texas and publicly agree with the Commission's conclusions." Note that Carr's concern is that the investigation "be fair to Texas" and not "be fair to Oswald," a resident of Texas whose rights he was charged with protecting. Note also that Carr agreed to publicly agree with the Commission's conclusions provided only that their investigation be thorough and that all the evidence be made public; and that they need not come to a correct conclusion in order for him to agree. From this one can only conclude that Carr had sold out his responsibility to see that justice was served in exchange for the protection of his beloved state of Texas, and that Warren had agreed to be kind to Texas in exchange for his conclusions not being publicly second-guessed. A political solution to a legal question. In other words, politics as usual.
There's also this. Carr's insistence the investigation and report be "fair to Texas" has a disturbing historical precedent. In the aftermath of the Civil War (or War Against the Rebellion, or War Between the States--whatever euphemism you prefer for mass carnage) an organization (the United Daughters of the Confederacy) arose. This organization sought to cast the South, and the reasons for the South's rebellion (the preservation of its "peculiar institution," aka the forced enslavement of their fellow human beings) in a more positive light, by pushing the false narrative the South seceded as a matter of principle, and a disagreement over State's Rights. In this false narrative, the South was willing to fight for State's Rights, when the reality was that the whole she-bang erupted over the South's fear the North would someday exercise their own rights, that is, the right to offer amnesty to runaway slaves, etc., and thereby stall the advancement of slavery as an institution, and business model.
In any event, the Daughters of the Confederacy sought to create a false history by implementing the following tactic: they denounced all books and textbooks presenting the South's addiction to slavery as the central cause of the war as "unjust to the South." And it worked. Within decades the vast majority of those writing on the war bent over backwards to excuse the South's actions--or even present them in a noble light--and rarely pointed out that it was really all about slavery--and the fervent desire of one class (the slaveowner class) that they be permitted to own people for perpetuity.
So, yes, it's hard not to see the parallels. As an educated white Southerner, Carr knew full well that the Daughters of the Confederacy had received preferable treatment for their client (the legacy of their forefathers) via their threat of denouncing historical accounts as "unfair to the South," and now he sought to receive similarly preferable treatment for his client (Dallas, aka "nut country" or the "City of Hate") via his threat to denounce Warren's investigation and report as "unfair to Texas."
(On October 5, 1964, less than 2 weeks after the Warren Commission published its 888-page report, the Texas Court of Inquiry issued a 20-page report, confirming its findings.)
Now, back to '63. On December 6, 1963, the day after its first meeting, the Warren Commission picked its General Counsel.
They picked this guy.
Above: Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, a former Solicitor General under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Now, one of the many riddles of the day remains unsolved--and that is why an investigation presumably performed for a Democratic President at a time when the Democratic Party dominated both the Senate and the House was instead dominated and run by Republicans, including the former head of the CIA, who was fired by Kennedy in part because his agency bungled a supposedly secret operation that, unbeknownst to Kennedy, relied upon Kennedy's publicly committing American forces--when Kennedy's reluctance to publicly commit American forces was the reason for the operation in the first place! I mean, this was the leader of America's clandestine forces--who'd clandestinely tried to undermine and re-write the President's policy towards Cuba...
In short, then: what the heck was Allen Dulles--a man fired by Kennedy, for crying out loud--doing on a panel supposedly investigating his death?
Above: long-time CIA Chief Allen Dulles with his pipe and pen. It's been said the pen is mightier than the sword. But one should never underestimate a man with a pipe.
On 12-6-63 Ex-CIA chief and newly-appointed Warren Commissioner Allen Dulles used his pen. He wrote a letter to CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton. He reported "Please see enclosed letter from (REDACTED). Over the phone he told me that he had some information, rather vague, about some plot of air force officers to "impeach" President Kennedy, including an Air force officer who had been attache in Czechoslovakia. I told him that such information should be brought to the attention of the FBI. He promised to do it but whether he will or not, I do not know. I can only judge by telephone conversation in that he talked quite sanely but very vaguely." (Note: I found this letter among Dulles' personal correspondence on the Princeton University website.)
Yep, Dulles, tasked with investigating Kennedy's death, instead passed the buck to the FBI and CIA, even though he, as one well-familiar with the craft of coups d'etats, knew full well that any coups d'etats made of "air force officers" would be likely to include members of the CIA.
Yep, for whatever reason--I mean really, no one can say for sure--Dulles told Angleton, charged with investigating the assassination on behalf the CIA, about a potential break in the case potentially involving the CIA, and failed to tell his fellow commissioners about this break. Well, from this, it seems clear that Dulles' first inclination, even in his retirement, was to protect the CIA. I mean, why, if Dulles truly felt the information brought forth by (REDACTED) should have been brought to the attention of the FBI, hadn't he done so himself?
And Dulles wasn't the only one covering up for his "team" whatever that team should be. A 12-6 article by Anthony Lewis for the New York Times reflects that "congressional Republicans" have rejected President Johnson's decision to blame "hate" for the crime, and have insisted instead that people blame left-wing hate for the crime, and leave right-wing hate alone. A statement put out by these Republicans claims: "We are told that hate was the assassin that struck down the President. If it was hatred that moved the assassin, that hatred was bred by the teachings of Communism. All the evidence presented affirms this." No shrinking violet, Republican Senator Millard Simpson of Wyoming offered his support for this sentiment, and complained, on the floor of the U. S. Senate, that persons seeking "political advantage from warping the uncontestable truth" were trying to blame "rightists and conservatives" for Kennedy's death. He then asserted "It was a single kill-crazy Communist who was acting to the dictates of his own unexplainable left-wing dementia." Keep in mind that the FBI's report on the assassination has not yet been released. And that here is a U.S. Senator, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, pronouncing Oswald a "kill-crazy Communist."
Still, this was almost a compliment in comparison to what came next. Over the next few days, an AP recap of the shootings of Kennedy and Oswald was published across the country. This was a news story, by Jules Loh, entitled "Three Paths Led to Dallas," clearly based upon the FBI's supposedly unbiased report. It was not an opinion piece. And yet Loh saw fit to describe the defenseless Oswald as a "sullen, fitful, frustrated, ne'er do well, whose demonic pursuit of Marxist nostrums led him everywhere and nowhere."
Now, one might forgive the bias against Oswald so apparent in the media, if only they got their facts straight. But, sadly, this was usually not the case. An article in the 12-9-63 issue of Newsweek (already on the streets) provides yet another example. After reporting that a number of witnesses saw a rifle sticking out of the sixth floor sniper's nest window, the article continues: "One man saw a man as well. 'I can't identify him, but if I see a man who looks like him, I'll point him out.' Later, he looked over a police line-up of four men, and chose Oswald." Well, this was quite misleading. On first pass, it makes it sound like this witness chose Oswald as the shooter, when this witness, Howard Brennan, actually chose Oswald as the person most looking like the shooter of the four men shown to him. But it's even worse than that. When taken literally, this passage suggests Brennan said he wouldn't be able to make a positive ID of the shooter, but thought Oswald looked like the shooter, when Brennan actually said he believed he could make a positive ID of the shooter, but refused to ID Oswald, and effectively said he believed Oswald was not the shooter.
(Meanwhile, back in Washington, over this same stretch, 12-6--12-7, Mrs. K moved out of the White House...and the LBJs moved in.)
On 12-9-63, the FBI summary report on the assassination was turned over to the newly formed Warren Commission. Attached to their copies of the report, the commissioners found a letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Katzenbach, noting that "over half the American people" currently suspect Oswald conspired with others to kill Kennedy and that, therefore, "the Commission should consider releasing or allowing the Department of Justice to release a short press statement, which would briefly make the following points: 1) The FBI report through scientific examination of evidence, testimony and intensive investigation, establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy on November 22, 1963" and "2) The FBI has made an exhaustive investigation into whether Oswald may have conspired with or been assisted by any organization, group, or person, foreign or domestic. To date this aspect of the investigation has been negative."
To their credit, the commissioners chose to disregard Katzenbach's letter. In his testimony before the HSCA in 1978 Katzenbach explained his role by saying that the state department had requested some statement be made indicating Oswald's guilt so that our allies would feel more comfortable with the new administration. He also mentioned that the FBI itself wrote the letter and that he merely added his signature.
Above: Nicholas D. Katzenbach, Lyndon Johnson, and Robert F. Kennedy. Katzenbach is on Johnson's side, Johnson is smiling, and Robert F. Kennedy appears none too pleased.
On November 22, shortly after the assassination, Katzenbach took over as Acting Attorney General, so that Attorney General Kennedy could both grieve for his murdered brother and devote himself to his family.
On November 24, after Oswald was assassinated, he met with FBI Director Hoover. The next day, he issued a memorandum to Bill Moyers, then working as the Johnson Administration's Press Secretary, encouraging Moyers to use the press to convince the public Oswald had acted alone. He later defended this action by insisting he was under pressure from the State Department to silence talk of a vast conspiracy.
He then began to pressure the FBI to finish its investigation as fast as possible, and pressure President Johnson to create a Presidential Commission to confirm the FBI's findings.
By early December, he cooperated with Chief Justice Warren and began pressuring the Attorney General of Texas to forego its own investigation.
And then on December 9, he pressured the Warren Commission to simply sign-off on the FBI's findings!
It's amazing to reflect that, in the aftermath of the assassination, Katzenbach, acting as the nation's top cop, had tried to cut-off a thorough, and one might say REAL, investigation at every opportunity, and that, when questioned about this later, he refused to take responsibility, blaming his actions on the FBI and the State Department. It was not HIS job to cater to the insecurities of FBI Director Hoover. It was Hoover's job to answer to him. It was not HIS job to assuage the concerns of the international community. It was HIS job, however, to make sure the assassination was properly and thoroughly investigated, and that those responsible were exposed and brought to justice. Even if one were to acknowledge the likelihood Oswald acted alone, one can not possibly believe that Katzenbach's actions were appropriate and reflective of a high regard for his responsibilities. Robert Kennedy may not have been a giant, but his shoes were clearly too large to be filled by Katzenbach.
Robert Kennedy's approach would almost certainly have been different. On December 9, the same day that Katzenbach urged the Warren Commission to confirm the FBI's findings that Oswald had acted alone, Robert Kennedy had a private conversation with historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and made it clear that he could not agree with so simple a solution. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning epic, Robert F. Kennedy and His Times, Schlesinger wrote that Kennedy, who had deliberately removed himself from the investigation, was nevertheless keeping tabs on the developments, and was suspicious that Oswald, whose guilt he had accepted, may have been part of a larger plot, "organized by Castro or gangsters." Kennedy also told Schlesinger that CIA Director John McCone believed there was a second assassin.
And Kennedy wasn't just talking to Schlesinger. In 1997, with the release of One Hell of a Gamble, a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis co-written by Canadian-American historian Timothy Naftali and Russian historian Aleksandr Fursenko, and built upon previously unexamined documents discovered in the Russian archives, it was revealed that on 12-9-63 American artist and ardent Kennedy supporter William Walton delivered a personal message from Robert Kennedy to Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev. This message, according to the memo of Russian GRU officer Georgi Bolshakov, a former contact of Robert Kennedy's to whom Walton actually spoke, was not remotely an endorsement of the FBI's report on the assassination, which Robert Kennedy undoubtedly knew was bound to be the "official" solution to the crime. No, not at all. Instead, Kennedy wanted Khruschev to know that "Perhaps there was only one assassin, but he did not act alone," and that "there was a large political conspiracy behind Oswald's rifle." And that's not all; Kennedy also had some thoughts on the nature of this conspiracy. According to Bolshakov, Kennedy also wanted Khruschev to know that "despite Oswald's connections to the communist world" the Kennedys believed "the President was felled by domestic opponents" and had been "the victim of a right-wing conspiracy."
Above: FBI ringleader J. Edgar Hoover (R) clowns with polka band leader Lawrence Welk (L).
The Mark of Hoover
And yet, even with doubts in high places, including the minds of President Johnson, Attorney General Kennedy and CIA Director McCone, FBI Director Hoover continued pushing his own version of events--that Oswald had acted alone. A 12-11-63 article in the Los Angeles Times entitled "FBI Certain Oswald Was Assassin, Report Shows," discussed the Warren Commission's reluctance to release the FBI's report, whilst simultaneously revealing some of the key findings of the report. The source for the article is clearly the FBI. The problem with this kind of journalism becomes apparent when one reflects that of the three pieces of evidence presented in support of Oswald's guilt, none of them are provided in context. It is reported that threads of Oswald's clothing were found on the assassination rifle. It is not revealed, however, that Oswald claimed he'd changed shirts when he got home from work and had not been wearing that shirt at work, and that no one who'd seen him at work, including a Dallas Police Officer, could identify that shirt as the one he'd been wearing at work. It is also not revealed that none of the eyewitnesses claiming to have seen a man in the sniper's nest thought the sniper was wearing a shirt of the color of the shirt whose fibers were reportedly found on the weapon. The article then reports that Oswald's hand print was found on the assassination rifle. It does not reveal, however, that this print was reportedly lifted on the evening of 11-22 by the Dallas Police, and that they then supposedly forgot to tell anyone about it until 11-26, after the FBI inspected the weapon and found no such print. The article then reports that Oswald's fingerprints "were lifted from the wrapping paper that hid the weapon when the assassin carried it to work." It does not reveal that the only two individuals to see Oswald with a package on the morning of the assassination refused to I.D. the "wrapping paper" found in the building as the package in Oswald's possession, and claimed the "wrapping paper" was in fact a much much larger package than the one carried by Oswald. In sum, the article allows the FBI to present three pieces of evidence to the public, all of which were extremely damaging to Oswald, and all of which, should a full discussion of their significance been permitted, or pursued, might very well have convinced the public that a frame-up was in progress.
Of course no such discussion was permitted, or pursued. Historian Gerald McKnight, in his book Breach of Trust, discusses Hoover's efforts to close the case in detail. He describes a 12-12-63 teletype from FBI headquarters (JFK record 105-406-39) informing all FBI field offices that "Oswald conclusively established as assassin of President Kennedy" and to limit future communications "to information pertaining to him and to allegations that a person or group had a specific connection with him in the assassination." By limiting the investigation to Oswald, and working outwards from Oswald, of course, the FBI had severely reduced the chances they'd find a conspiracy that only marginally or tangentially involved Oswald. Hoover had his man, and wasn't willing to humor the possibility Oswald was just what he said he was--a "patsy."
Further evidence that Hoover was prematurely closing the case is contained within a 12-12-1963 memo from Hoover to his top assistants. Hoover wrote that he spoke to the General Counsel of the Warren Commission, J. Lee Rankin, and explained that even though the Justice Department had wanted the release of a statement saying Oswald had acted alone, that he and the President agreed that the FBI report should reach no conclusions. He stated further that he believed Oswald was the assassin but that he still had concerns that Oswald was working for Castro. (Yes, this was the same man who two weeks earlier was urging an immediate wrap-up of the case.) Hoover's memo asserted as well that the Justice Department had been leaking the contents of the FBI Report, that he had pressed them to get the report immediately to the Commission, and that he did not want any conclusions made in the letter of transmission of the report to the Commission.
What's wrong with this memo is that it's contradicted by most everything else in the record. According to both the Acting Attorney General Katzenbach (in his testimony before the HSCA) and one of the recipients of this memo, Assistant FBI Director William Sullivan, Hoover both wanted to close the case with the issue of the FBI's report and was the one who'd been making the leaks.
Sullivan actually went further than that. A memo on a 4-21-75 interview of Sullivan by the staff of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations reports "Sullivan offered that Hoover didn't like the Warren Commission because Hoover didn't want any organization going over the grounds that the FBI had already investigated in fear that the Warren Commission would discover something else that the FBI might have forgotten or ignored. In this connection, Sullivan said that Hoover had leaked the results of the FBI investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy to the press in December 1963, in order to preempt the Warren Commission's findings. Sullivan said that the leak to the press was done via Deloach, who gave the story to a cooperative news source at the Chicago Tribune and also the Washington Evening Star. Sullivan said that the allegation was then leaked that it was Acting Attorney General Katzenbach who had leaked the FBI's findings. Sullivan said that the Bureau personnel who would have been aware of the leak were Mohr, Tolson, Edward Clayton, and Belmont. Sullivan added that this was not an unusual practice of Hoover's." If Sullivan was telling the truth, as most believe, then Hoover's memo of 12-12 reflects his trying to cover his tracks whilst simultaneously alerting his assistants to his cover story.
In any event, no matter who was responsible, much of the FBI's secret report was leaked to the press over the next few weeks, and the press returned the favor by convicting Oswald in the public eye. Typical articles in this time period include the 12-14-64 Saturday Evening Post's account of Oswald, entitled "The Assassin" (not the accused assassin) and the Newsweek article of 12-16-64, not too subtly entitled "Portrait of a Psychopath." These articles overlooked that Oswald was not particularly violent and had not officially been declared the President's assassin.
Another 12-12 FBI memo only adds to the intrigue. In this one DeLoach informed Hoover and others he'd had a secret meeting with Warren Commissioner Gerald Ford and that "Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the commission." Ford also told DeLoach that the other commissioners wanted to go along with Katzenbach's recommendation to release the FBI's findings but that he was "a minority of one" who would fight the issuance of a release "until the Commission had had a thorough opportunity to review and discuss the FBI report."
A 12-12-63 article found in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, courtesy the Scripps-Howard News Service, revealed, moreover, why Hoover and his FBI may have felt their leaks were necessary. Here it is: "Confusion about the wounds which caused the death of President Kennedy will be cleared up in the autopsy report submitted to President Johnson's board of inquiry. It has been reported one bullet struck Kennedy in the throat and the other in the head. But inasmuch as the President was facing away from the accused assassin, Lee Oswald, many have wondered how the bullets could strike from the front and side. The FBI and naval hospital reports are expected to explain it this way: the first bullet struck the President in the throat because he had turned in his seat and was looking in the direction the shot came from. The second bullet struck Governor Connally of Texas. The third caught the President in the side of his head when he toppled toward his wife. The bullet from the throat wound was removed during autopsy. The bullet which struck the head was found on the stretcher at the hospital. The bullet which wounded Connally was found on the floor of the Presidential limousine."
I mean, think of it. It would have to have been maddening for the FBI and others somewhat in the know (such as Gerald Ford) to read such nonsense. Almost every "fact" in the story, purported to represent what was in the FBI's reports, was at odds with the FBI's reports. (These non-fact facts are presented in bold above.)
A 12-13 article in the Dallas Morning News, while not an article built on Hoover's leaks, nevertheless revealed their influence. The article started by asking: "Did a bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle chip the curb of Main Street overpass? That question remained unanswered yesterday. And it raised other questions: If one of the three shots from Oswald's mail order rifle struck the curb, is it possible that another bullet ranged through President Kennedy's body and then hit Gov. Connally? If the chip did not result from another bullet, how did it get there?" The article then related the story of Dallas police investigator Buddy Walthers, who asserted that a man came up to him in Dealey Plaza on the 22nd and claimed he'd been hit by something as he watched the motorcade. Walthers then admitted that he'd found what appeared to be a freshly-made chip in the curb by where the man had been standing. The article then advised that Gov. Connally said the first and third shots hit the President, and that he'd been hit by the second shot. It then asked: "Was Governor Connally mistaken about what happened during the 10 second period in which the sniper shot him and the President? Did the rifleman fire two bullets into the car, with one striking both President Kennedy and Gov. Connally, and then hurriedly fire a third which passed over their auto? Or did the chipped shot have nothing to do with the shooting? Couldn't the motorist have been struck by a speck of gravel thrown up by a car? Couldn't the chip have been caused by other gravel? FBI and Secret Service agents may have the answer. But they haven't revealed what they have learned during their intensive investigation of the murder of President Kennedy."
The key problem with this article, of course, was that it framed the questions raised by the wounding of this witness, James Tague, within the parameters of Oswald having fired all the shots. Under normal circumstances, in a case where the FBI hadn't secretly told the press it had concluded that one man had fired all the shots, the existence of an otherwise unexplained chip on a curb, and a witness nearby who believed he was wounded by a piece of flying concrete, might raise questions about a possible fourth shot unheard by the witnesses. Instead, the writers of this article were only willing to state that the wounding of Tague suggested that one of the shots hitting Kennedy had hit Connally as well.
The conclusion of this article is also intriguing. A number of journalists had witnessed the Secret Service's 11-27 and 12-5 re-enactments. Those writing this article would almost certainly have known that no measurements had been made linking the sniper's nest to the curb near the overpass. Perhaps, then, the writers of this article knew full well that no FBI investigation of Tague had been conducted, but were afraid to say so publicly, for fear of incurring the wrath of the notoriously protective and vindictive Hoover.
In any case, with all this leaking and political posturing, the FBI displayed little appetite for performing an actual investigation. Shockingly, a 12-13 teletype message from Gordon Shanklin of the Dallas FBI office to Hoover revealed that the FBI still hadn't even read the autopsy report. The message reads "An article appearing in the evening Dallas Texas newspaper prepared by staff writer Bill Burrus dateline Bethesda Maryland reflects a still unannounced autopsy report from the US Naval Hospital reflecting President Kennedy was shot in the back and the bullet, which had a hard metal jacket, exited through his throat. This does not agree with the autopsy findings at the Bethesda Hospital as reported on page two eight four of the report of SA Robert P. Gemberling at Dallas on December 10, last, which reflects an opening was found in the back, that appeared to be a bullet hole, and probing of this hole determined the distance traveled by this missile was short as the end of the opening could be felt by the examining doctor's finger. The Bureau may want to have Baltimore obtain the unannounced autopsy report from Bethesda, Maryland, and disseminate to the Bureau and Dallas."
The Burrus article referenced by Shanklin ran in the 12-12 Dallas-Times Herald. It read, in part: "President Kennedy was shot in the back and the bullet. . .exited through his throat, a still unannounced autopsy report from the U.S. Naval Hospital revealed Thursday...It was a surprising disclosure that President Kennedy had been shot in the back...the wound had not bled externally and doctors at Parkland Memorial Hospital missed it in their 22 minutes of futility--trying to save the President's life." Burrus then noted that this bullet entered "above President Kennedy's right scapula--commonly called the shoulder blade" and was believed to have exited Kennedy's throat. He related: "Most worldwide press and medical reports have described the neck wound as one which entered there..."
Well, this is indeed the conclusions of the autopsy report. So, who was Burrus' source? Presumably one of the Parkland Hospital emergency room doctors... The records of Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore reflect that he spoke to the Parkland doctors on 12-11, and showed them a copy of the autopsy report. On 12-18, one of the few members of the media to smell conspiracy, Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote an article about this friendly visit by the Secret Service to the doctors. It reads: "Secret Service Gets Revision of Kennedy Wound. After visit by agents, doctors say shot was from rear...(the Secret Service) obtained a reversal of their original view that the bullet in his (Kennedy's) neck entered from the front. The investigators did so by showing the surgeons a document described as an autopsy report from the United States Naval Hospital at Bethesda. The surgeons changed their original view to conform with the report they were shown." Months later, after speaking to one of the Dallas doctors, Dr. Robert McClelland, Mark Lane would relate "the agents had a copy of the autopsy report on their laps but refused to allow the physicians to see it" and that "after a three hour session with the physicians the Secret Service Agents were able to leave the room and to state that the physicians in the Parkland Memorial Hospital all announced and agreed that they were in error when they said that the bullet wound in the throat was an entrance wound."
The Secret Service's efforts to bring the doctors in line and get the story of the Bethesda autopsy report to the public was doomed from the start, however. For weeks afterward, publications were still describing the President's wounds as described in the November 22nd Press Conference. The 12-14 Saturday Evening Post reprinted a Jimmy Breslin article from 11-24 and cited Dr. Perry as believing that the throat wound was "small and neat" and connected to a "mediastinal wound" (which would by extension make it an entrance wound), and that "The occipitoparietal, which is a part of the back of the head, had a huge flap." (Perhaps it was this article that inspired Moore to visit Perry and show him the autopsy report.) The Texas State Journal of Medicine, moreover, ran an article entitled Three Patients at Parkland in its January, 1964 issue. This article, based on the initial reports of the doctors at Parkland Hospital, described the wounds as witnessed by those doctors, and not as described in the autopsy report.
The confusion caused by the divergent accounts offered by the Parkland and Bethesda doctors was only exacerbated by the actions of the FBI. In mid-late December, before Dallas Special Agent in Charge Gordon Shanklin alerted Hoover that the FBI's report on the wounds could be in conflict with the official autopsy report, the FBI began leaking its own version of the President's wounds, one based not on the statements of the emergency room doctors, nor on the official report of the autopsy doctors, but on what Hoover's loyal FBI agents recalled hearing discussed at the autopsy. This effort peaked with the publication of The Torch is Passed, a widely-circulated book rushed out by the Associated Press and rehashing much of the FBI's report on Oswald. On the shooting itself, The Torch is Passed reported: "The President never heard the shot or knew what hit him. It was a piece of metal a little thinner than an ordinary pencil. It struck him in the back, penetrating two to three inches. He was struck as he turned to his right to wave. His hands snapped up reflexively to this throat. Wordlessly, he fell to his wife, who was sitting on his left in the back seat. In the jump seat ahead, Gov. John Connally turned and a second bullet caught him in the back, passed through, struck his right wrist, and lodged in his thigh. The third and last shot hit the back of the President's head about ear-level, as he was bowed forward. 'His head exploded in blood,' said James Chaney, a motorcycle patrolman who was six feet away." There was a huge problem with this passage, of course, one mirroring the problem with the FBI's own description of the shooting--it fails to account for the President's throat wound.
Rather than read the autopsy report, and leak its explanation of the throat wound to the press, however, the FBI thereby commenced pushing its own explanation for the throat wound. Even though the Zapruder film in its possession showed Kennedy reaching for his throat a full five seconds before his skull exploded, the FBI Supplemental Report of January 13, 1964 (CD 107) suggests that a fragment of the bullet striking Kennedy in the head created the throat wound. In a section on Kennedy's clothing, the report contains the following passage: "Medical examination of the President's body had revealed that the bullet which entered his back had penetrated to a distance of less than a finger length. There is a slit...in the overlap of the shirt the President was wearing...The slit has the characteristics of an exit hole...There is also a nick on the left side of the tie knot, which possibly was caused by the same projectile...The coat and shirt were x-rayed for metal fragments...but none were found...The Chief Pathologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital had advised that the projectile which had entered the President's skull region had disintegrated into at least 40 particles..."
This unique assertion, not found in the 12-9 FBI report possessed by the Justice Department and Warren Commission, nor in the autopsy report in the possession of the Navy and Secret Service, was, upon repetition in the news media, as good as a confession that Hoover (almost undoubtedly through DeLoach), or someone quoting Hoover or DeLoach, had been the original source for the story.
In any event, Hoover's leaking of the report to get its conclusions to the public was almost casually mentioned in the December 14 column of Washington insider Drew Pearson.
This did not go unnoticed. A 12-14-63 memo from Hoover to the FBI's assistant directors reveals that he'd had a talk with Attorney General Robert Kennedy--presumably still his boss--and had told him he didn't want the FBI's report to become public and that--look over here--Pearson had received "a good portion" of his information regarding Hoover's leaking from none other than Chief Justice Earl Warren.
A 264-page 6-5-64 FBI brief written in preparation for Director Hoover's 5-14-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, and revised afterwards, provides some more context to this memo. It specifies, for example, that Hoover's meeting with Kennedy came as a direct response to Drew Pearson's 12-14-63 column entitled "FBI Uneasy About Dallas Report." It relates further that Hoover told Kennedy the column was full of lies, including the lie (which was actually true) that the FBI was feuding with the Secret Service. According to this brief (which can be found in HSCA Administration folder W6), Hoover assured Kennedy "there was no closer relationship than that between the Secret Service and the FBI" and said further that he (Hoover) was actually opposed to making public statements about the FBI's report. The brief then relates that Hoover told Kennedy the source for "a portion" of Pearson's lies was none other than Chief Justice Earl Warren. It then relates that the FBI's source for this was none other than...Jack Anderson, Pearson's trusted assistant, who had told this in the strictest confidence to DeLoach.
But enough with the gossip.
A 12-18 article by Nate Haseltine in the Washington Post was the first to bear the mark of Hoover. Here it was reported that the autopsy pathologists had found that Kennedy could readily have survived the first bullet to strike him, and that this bullet was "found deep in his shoulder." Even worse, it was reported that a fragment of the second bullet, which "tore off the right rear portion of his head...was deflected and passed out the front of the throat." The article went on to note that the first bullet "hit the President in the back shoulder, 5 to 7 inches below the collar line" and that this was news to the doctors seeing Kennedy in Dallas, who had been "in disagreement. Some believed the President had been shot twice, the neck wound being from a glancing hit" while others believed "he was shot only once, and that a fragment from the bullet that hit his head coursed downward and emerged through the front of the throat."
Now watch as Hoover's poison spreads. On 12-18, an article for the Associated Press (found in, among other places, the Nashua Telegraph) repeats some, but not all, of the FBI's findings. Citing "a source fully acquainted with results of a post-mortem examination," it reported "The first shot struck Kennedy in the back, made what was described as a small neat hole, and penetrated two or three inches without damaging vital organs. The bullet may even have entered Kennedy's back after first glancing off some part of the presidential limousine, since its penetration was not deep when compared to the damage done by the other shots fired by the assassin...The second bullet to strike Mr. Kennedy --the third bullet fired--left a large hole in the back of the President's head, destroyed considerable brain tissue and severely damaged the forehead." Note that there is no mention of the throat wound here. This suggests that the writer of this article had not yet been briefed by the FBI.
Tellingly, on 12-19, the next day, a follow-up article by the AP reported that Dr. James Beyer, who previously had argued that Kennedy's large head wound was not consistent with a military jacketed-bullet, repeated his assertions and built upon the previous day's conjecture that the first bullet to hit Kennedy hit the limousine first by guessing that the second one did as well. Beyer stated that "the slight instability imparted to the missile by the ricochet could have resulted in the large wound described." (Beyer's second- guessing of "official" autopsy results would boomerang back at him many years later when he would conduct an equally contested autopsy--that of Clinton lawyer Vince Foster.) Note that there is still no mention of the throat wound. These articles confirm then that the AP had not yet been informed of Hoover's "unofficial" explanation for the wound.
But you can't keep a good leaker down... A column in the Washington Daily News by Richard Starnes on this day repeated the wound description given the Post the day before. No mention of a ricochet. More than a mention of a fragment exiting the throat. Starnes reported as fact that the first shot "struck the president high in the shoulder from behind, causing considerable damage to the massive muscles of the neck and shoulder. The second shot fired by the assassin struck Gov. John Connally. The third shot inflicted the wound that killed Mr. Kennedy by smashing away the back of his head. The confusion over the wounds was caused by a fragment of the third bullet that coursed down thru the President's head and exited thru his throat approximately at the collar line."
The red flag indicating the FBI as the source of these leaks gets even redder, however, as we look at articles from the rest of the month. In the December 23 edition of Newsweek, an article quoted the supposedly secret FBI report extensively and said the bullet entering the right shoulder fell out, which left no explanation for the wound in the throat. The next week's Newsweek, however, cited the 12-18 article in the Washington Post, and reported that the throat wound was created by a fragment of the bullet creating the head wound. Similarly, the December 27 edition of Time stated that the "unofficial" word of the autopsy report had been released for a week and that it says a bullet struck Kennedy 6 inches below the collar line and fell out, and that the throat wound had been created by an exiting bullet fragment. A 12-30 U.S. News article followed suit, and claimed the autopsy "showed that the wound in his neck was caused by the exit of a splinter from the shot that struck the back of his head."
But with the coming of a new year, the leaks of the old one persisted. A January 4, 1964 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, repeated the FBI's assertion about the fragment exiting Kennedy's throat. As late as January 26, 1964, incredibly, even the great New York Times was still reporting that the first bullet fired lodged in Kennedy's shoulder, that the second bullet hit Connally, and that "The third bullet, according to an autopsy in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, ripped away a portion of the back of the President's head on the right side. Fragments from the bullets cut a wound in the president's throat and damaged the windshield of the limousine."
But the New York Times was not the only news organization routinely regurgitating the FBI's unique interpretation of the President's wounds. U.S. News and World Report, in its June 1, 1964 issue speculating on the Warren Commission's conclusions, asserted: "The official autopsy of the President's body the night of November 22 shows Mr. Kennedy was first hit in the right shoulder. A second bullet struck Texas Governor John Connally. A third hit the President's head and killed him. There was no fourth bullet." It then added "A wound in Mr. Kennedy's throat was caused by a fragment of the bullet which entered his head from behind."
It took so long for the actual autopsy results to reach the public, in fact, that an entire motion picture, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, was written and completed before the autopsy report's release. Clearly basing their description of the wounds on the leaked FBI report, the film-makers depicted a Navy doctor reading from an autopsy report. He states: "Our examination reveals that the President was struck by two bullets. The first bullet struck the President in the back, just below the collarbone, and lodged in his body. The second bullet struck the President in the back of the head and fragmented. A splintered piece of the second bullet went through the President's neck and exited from the lower part of the neck." When asked about the bullets, the doctor in the film testified "We recovered one, the one bullet that had lodged in the upper shoulder." Officially, of course, the only intact bullet recovered was found in Dallas and the "missile" recovered at the autopsy was just a fragment recovered from the President's brain.
To repeat, as no explanation for the neck wound was contained in the December 9 FBI report given to the Justice Department and Warren Commission, and as the published explanation for this wound was only offered in the FBI's January report, it seems doubtful that the Justice Department and/or Warren Commission were the sources for all these leaks about the neck wound, which started in December. It seems obvious from the nature of these mistakes then that the source of all this misinformation was in fact the FBI. It follows then that the FBI's refusal to look at the autopsy report in a timely manner, its continuing to champion outdated information in its December 9th and January 13th reports, and its decision to invent its own explanation for the throat wound ultimately backfired and fueled many of the conspiracy-oriented books which exploded on the market in 1966 and 1967. Not to be facetious, but perhaps the ever-suspicious Hoover should have had himself investigated as a possible communist.
Above: the Warren Commission and its General Counsel, J. Lee Rankin. Around the table from L to R: Congressman Gerald Ford, Congressman Hale Boggs, Senator Richard Russell, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Senator John Sherman Cooper, former Chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank John J. McCloy, former CIA Director Allen Dulles, and former Solicitor General, J. Lee Rankin. Note the sparseness of the background, and its singular focus on President John F. Kennedy.
The Decided Non-response
If Hoover honestly thought he was fooling anyone as to who was behind the leaks of his report, however, he was both over-estimating the regard in which others held him, and under-estimating their basic intelligence.
From the transcript of the 12-16-63 Executive Session of the Warren Commission:
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Well, gentleman, to be very frank about it, I have read that report two or three times and I have not seen anything in there yet that has not been in the press.
Senator Richard Russell: I couldn’t agree with that more. I have read it through once very carefully, and I went through it again at places I had marked, and practically everything in there has come out in the press at one time or another, a bit here and a bit there.
A short while later, Congressman Gerald Ford asked if the Commission should heed Acting Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach’s written request they release the FBI’s findings to the public. After they decided to hold off, Ford explained why he asked.
Congressman Gerald Ford: I was called by one of the top AP or UP people here, and he didn’t know that you had received the letter (from Katzenbach) and we had copies, but he was one of the top AP or UP people at Dallas at the time. He said “Jerry, I’m surprised that we got, and the other press services got, stories out the very same day.” In effect, he was saying what they have asked us to do. The minute he said that it led me to the belief that he was inferring that there had been a deliberate leak from some agency of the Federal Government, and now they wanted us to confirm by Commission action what had been leaked previously. Now, somebody had to give this information to both AP and UP in order for that to happen...
Chief Justice Earl Warren: I read those dispatches.
Congressman Gerald Ford: Didn’t that come to your mind?
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Surely did. I spoke to Katzenbach about it.
Senator Richard Russell: I mentioned that the first day we sat here.
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Yes, you did. Senator Russell asked Katzenbach where it could have come from and he said there was only one source. (Note: He means Hoover.)
Senator Richard Russell: Do you recall the first day I asked him that?
John McCloy: There were leaks long before we got the documents.
Congressman Hale Boggs: And after that, at the second meeting, there was the Evening Star with that whole thing.
Senator Richard Russell: Every day there was something.
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Yep, until it was all out and I tell you frankly I just didn’t find anything in that report that has not been leaked to the press.
Earlier in the 12-16 executive session of the Warren Commission, an odd incident took place, which might lead one to conclude it was not only Hoover who was anxious to convict Oswald as the lone assassin. Commissioner and former CIA Director Allen Dulles showed up with copies of Robert J. Donovan’s book The Assassins, a history of the many assassination attempts upon U.S. Presidents, and handed them out to both counsel and his fellow commissioners. He told them “It’s a fascinating book, but you’ll find a pattern running through here that I think we’ll find in this present case.” He was referring, of course, to Donovan’s assertion that American assassins are predominantly disgruntled loners… lone-nuts. Was Dulles pushing for this conclusion from the outset? And was it just a coincidence that Dulles’ former boss, former President Dwight Eisenhower, had written an article for the 12-14 Saturday Evening Post, also claiming that assassinations in the United States “do not follow a pattern of political conspiracy and coup d’etat…the facts are that four of thirty-six Presidents have been assassinated, and a President in office and a President-elect have been targets of assassination attempts. These acts all had one thing in common: they were the work of crackpots, of people with delusions arising from imagined wrongs or festering hatreds”? In closing, Eisenhower assured the public “We must and shall rally behind our new President, Lyndon B. Johnson…”
Huh? Were Eisenhower and Dulles reading from the same script? And, if so, who was writing this script?
Ironically, Donovan’s book, originally written in 1952, was re-issued in January 1964 with a new chapter on the Kennedy assassination that, due to the FBI’s leaking their out-dated impression of the wounds, stated the first shot lodged in Kennedy’s back and the second shot struck Connally. It is a sublime twist of fate then that the book Dulles touted as a valid resource would be re-written within weeks of the assassination to include information Dulles would soon conclude was false. If Dulles ever noted the irony, however, that moment is lost to time.
Also ironic is that, after raising the possibility in the 12-16 executive session that Hoover was behind all the leaks, Congressman Ford met the next day with the FBI's most wanted leaker, Cartha DeLoach. Despite his earlier promise to keep the FBI "thoroughly advised" on the workings of the commission, however, Ford decided to keep the confidence of his fellow commissioners and instead told DeLoach that, in DeLoach's words, "There was no criticism of the FBI at yesterday's meeting. There was no allegations by anyone, including the Chief Justice, that the FBI had leaked portions of this report." Apparently, DeLoach figured out that Ford was onto him. His 12-17 memo on this conversation reflects that "I went over very carefully with Congressman Ford that the FBI had not had any "leaks" whatsoever. I told him we were well aware that the department had done considerable talking; furthermore, it now appeared somewhat obvious that members of the Commission were beginning to leak the report. I referred to this week's issue of "Newsweek" magazine which contains a rather clear analysis of the report. I told Congressman Ford that "Newsweek" was owned by the "Washington Post" and that apparently someone was trying to curry favor. I told him we, of course, did not get along very well with either the 'Washington Post" or "Newsweek."
Even if he was telling the truth about the leaks to Newsweek, DeLoach knew full well the leaks began in the beginning of the month, before either the Justice Department or the Commission had come into possession of the FBI's report. As DeLoach and Hoover were too clever by half, it also makes sense that they would attempt to cut off speculation they were the source of the leaks by leaking it through sources outside their usual pattern. It seems probable, then, that DeLoach, as Hoover, was trying to blame the Commission for leaks that he himself had orchestrated.
In any event, if the 12-16 executive session showed that some tasked with investigating Kennedy’s death were displeased with the performance of the FBI, there was no such indication from Hoover’s ultimate boss that he shared their displeasure. A 12-17-63 letter from Hoover to Johnson uncovered at the LBJ Library and published by Mark North indicates that these two couldn’t be happier in their new mutually accommodating relationship.
"My dear Mr. President: I cannot tell you how much our time together yesterday means to me. Your very real appreciation of the matters I was privileged to discuss with you and your complete understanding of our problems smooth the way to our mutual desire to serve our country in fullest capacity. I shall treasure your photograph and your autographed message as I do your friendship and trust.
Sincerely yours, Edgar"
The next day, on 12-18, the FBI's Alex Rosen, who was charged with investigating the physical facts of the assassination, wrote a memo in which he insisted the FBI's delay in seeking the autopsy report was because "the family of the President had requested the report from the U.S. Naval Hospital at Bethesda be kept as confidential as possible." This assertion is suspicious at best, as FBI Director Hoover was such a sensitive guy that when he called Robert Kennedy to tell him of his brother's death, he is reported to have blurted "the President's dead" and hung up. Hoover's hatred for Robert Kennedy was so great, in fact, that when Robert Kennedy was himself assassinated the FBI deliberately minimized the news coverage of his funeral by delaying the announcement of the arrest of Martin Luther King assassination suspect James Earl Ray for two whole days, and then announcing it during Kennedy's funeral. This assertion, by the way, comes courtesy Hoover's boss at the time, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
More to the point, this "oh, the Kennedys wouldn't let us" excuse presented by Rosen, which would be repeated by Warren Commissioner John McCloy and Junior Counsel Arlen Specter in the months and years to come, was ultimately rejected by Hoover himself. In June 1966, when Edward Epstein's book Inquest brought considerable attention to the FBI's failure to read the autopsy report, and embrace its findings, Rosen at first responded by denying there was a problem. He insisted that the FBI's initial reports were based upon the statements of the doctors during the autopsy, and that the 1-13-64 Supplemental report in which these early statements were repeated, weeks after the FBI had been supplied the autopsy report, was also not in error. Yes, incredibly, although the FBI had ignored in its Supplemental Report the official autopsy report then in its possession, and had offered up its own explanation for the throat wound (that it represented the exit of a fragment from the head shot), Rosen claimed, in a June 2, 1966 memo to Hoover's leaker-in-chief Cartha DeLoach, that the inaccurate statements in the Supplemental Report had been included to "point out the apparent conflict between the information originally furnished by medical authorities on 11/22/63 and the results of our Laboratory's examination of the President's clothing, which indicated a bullet had exited his body."
Well, of course. One always points out inconsistent information by leading the reader to an inaccurate conclusion, and then failing to quote from additional reports in which this inconsistent information has been clarified...
In any event, an October 7, 1966 memo from Rosen to DeLoach in which the increasingly desperate Rosen now acknowledged there had been some confusion about the president's wounds, but blamed this on the Kennedy family, received a terse response from Hoover, who obviously knew better. On the last page of the memo, Hoover scribbled: "The confusion... would never have occurred if we had obtained the autopsy report originally. The Kennedys never asked us to withhold it and if they had we should have disregarded it." (Hoover is absolutely right on this point. Many of the conspiracy theories he so despised would not have reared up if the government as a whole had not been so strangely secretive about the autopsy in the first place.)
On 12-19, President Johnson met with his top advisers from the Pentagon and CIA in order to re-evaluate the U.S. government's position regarding Cuba. According to historians Thomas Powers and Max Holland, President Johnson told this audience that Kennedy was killed as an act of retribution "by unnamed persons seeking vengeance for the murder...of...Diem." (The recently-assassinated President of South Vietnam.)
Huh... This was ten days after Hoover gave Johnson a report saying Oswald acted alone.
It's not that Hoover's report took awhile to sink in, for that matter. It never sank in. David Wise, the Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Herald Tribune during this period, would eventually write of a long "background" discussion he had with Johnson in January, 1964. while visiting Johnson's ranch in Texas. Wise reported that Johnson discussed the deaths of Dominican dictator Trujillo and Vietnamese President Diem, declared flatly "we took care of them," and then wondered aloud if Kennedy's death wasn't "some kind of terrible retribution." Apparently, neither Wise nor any of the other journalists privy to Johnson's thoughts in this period ever violated Johnson's trust and told the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy's death that the government had been targeting the leaders of foreign nations, and that Johnson suspected this behavior may have somehow boomeranged back and hit us in the President.
And Johnson wasn't alone among those supposedly in the know who still had their doubts about Oswald, and his supposedly "lone nut" status. Nope, although he'd told Johnson weeks before that there was nothing to the story Oswald was in the employ of the Cuban government, a 12-19 FBI memo reflects that CIA Director John McCone had continued to spread the story as if it had some merit.
This met with the FBI's disapproval. Severe disapproval. The memo, from D.J. Brennan to Assistant Director William Sullivan, relates: "Information developed by Mr. DeLoach has indicated that John McCone, Director, CIA, has attacked the Bureau in a vicious and underhanded manner characterized with sheer dishonesty. If the facts are true, we can safely assume that McCone will continue such tactics to the point of seriously jeopardizing Bureau prestige and reputation." This paragraph concludes "If MCCone is involved in such nefarious activity, there is a way of putting a stop to this."
The memo then lays out the "charges" against McCone, namely, that he told Warren Commissioner and part-time FBI informant Gerald Ford that a Cuban government official had paid Oswald to kill Kennedy, and that he'd also told this story to columnist Drew Pearson. That's it.
The memo then suggests that McCone be confronted with the fact that his own agency had discredited the Oswald-was-a-paid-agent-of-Cuba story, and then be told "that we can only characterize his actions as a vicious and unwarranted attack against the Bureau."
It then concludes: "If McCone did make the referred statements, we can expect him to make a denial. However, it is believed that we will have made our point and he certainly will know where he stands, will undoubtedly have a profound respect for our capabilities to be informed, and he certainly will bear all of this in mind in the event he gets any ideas of making similar statements in the future."
This recommendation received Hoover's "O.K."
I'll let that sink in. While many envision the CIA as a big evil institution, and the FBI as a bunch of nerds in suits, this memo reflects the true balance of power. By 1963, Hoover's hold on Washington, and monumental ego, had reached the point where an underling like Brennan had no problem asking if he could confront the Director of the CIA, and tell him the FBI was, for all intents and purposes, SPYING ON HIM. This was to be done, what's worse, as a response to a COMPLETELY IMAGINARY attack on the FBI stemming from McCone's repeating a story which his own agency had discredited.
That this was viewed as an attack of any type, let alone a vicious one, is beyond bizarre. It's possible, after all, that McCone had his own reasons for continuing to suspect there was something to the story. It's possible, after all, that McCone had simply repeated the story as worrisome gossip, as an example of the kind of thing his agency had uncovered. But no, the FBI had issued its report to the President, in which no such plot was outlined. It had then become gospel. Anyone expressing any doubt in its conclusions--including the director of the Central Intelligence Agency--was thereby a heretic, attacking the Bureau much as Galileo had once "attacked" the Catholic Church.
What balderdash! One can only wonder, then, how many of these late-night-knock-on-the-door, "excuse me, we know what you've been saying" type conversations took place in the months after the assassination. I mean, let's face it, if Hoover and his men were willing to threaten the head of the CIA, who wouldn't they threaten?
On 12-20-63 Hoover aide Cartha DeLoach wrote a second memo regarding the 12-16 executive session of the Warren Commission. Even though Congressman Ford had hid the commission's discussion of Hoover's leaks from DeLoach, this discussion was leaked right back to Hoover anyhow. Deloach wrote: "Pursuant to the Director's instructions, I met with Senator Richard B. Russell at 3:45 p.m. Inspector Jim Malley accompanied me. I told the Senator that the Director probably had the greatest respect for him than any other man on the Presidential Commission; consequently, the Director was most anxious that any misimpression which the Senator might have gotten, regarding leaks concerning the captioned matter, be straightened out immediately. I mentioned that the Director had maintained throughout that there should be no press release unless it emanated from either the President or either the Presidential Commission...I told him that there had been others who thought that a press release, based upon the FBI report, should be issued immediately. I reiterated that under no circumstances had we "leaked" any information...The Senator inquired as to the identity of the sources who had been "leaking" information. I told him it appeared quite obvious that considerable of the information came from the Dallas Police...I told him also that the (Justice) Department undoubtedly had "leaked" considerable information...Senator Russell told Mr. Malley and me that he was glad to hear an FBI denial in the matter...He (Russell) stated that Attorney General Katzenbach had directly implied that the "leaks" had come from the FBI. He quoted Katzenbach as telling the members of the Presidential Commission, "J. Edgar Hoover has chewed his men out for leaking information and they won't be doing any more of this." (Note: to this, Hoover added in his own handwriting, "This certainly shows Katzenbach's true colors.") DeLoach's memo, continued: "I told the Senator that Katzenbach was obviously lying in implying such action on the part of FBI representatives. The point was made that sometimes a person tries to cover up his own guilt by blaming others."
That last line may be one of the most ironic ever written, for it has been the verdict of almost everyone to study the matter that Hoover and Deloach were in fact the ones behind the leaks. When asked in 1978 by the HSCA who leaked the FBI report, Katzenbach responded: "I think that the Bureau leaked it. The Bureau constantly leaked things of this kind and constantly denied it and constantly blamed it on other people. There is not a reporter in town who does not know that...I wanted a formal statement." As discussed previously, in his 1976 interview with the staff of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Operations (The Church Committee), the former Chief of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, William Sullivan, confirmed that it was indeed Hoover who had ordered the report "leaked."
In any event, whether it be the FBI or the Justice Department, it seems clear someone was leaking information in order to plug the dam holding back the rumors of conspiracy.
These efforts were doomed to fail. The 12-21-63 issue of New Republic featured an article by Richard Dudman, which opened: "I witnessed President Kennedy’s assassination and the slaying of the accused assassin two days later. Three circumstances—the entry wound in the throat, the small, round hole in the windshield of the Presidential limousine, and the number of bullets found afterward—suggested that there had been a second sniper firing from a point in front of the automobile. The throat wound puzzled the surgeons who attended Mr. Kennedy at Parkland Memorial Hospital when they learned how the Dallas police had reconstructed the shooting. Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the three doctors who worked on the throat wound, told me afterward that they still believed it to be an entry wound, even though the shots were said to have been fired almost directly behind the President. He explained that he and his colleagues at Parkland saw bullet wounds every day, sometimes several a day, and recognized easily the characteristically tiny hole of an entering bullet, in contrast to the larger, tearing hole that an exiting bullet would have left."
New Republic then doubled-down with a second article spreading seeds of doubt and asking serious questions about the assassination. Strangely enough, it was entitled "Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions About the Assassination." It was by Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd. It concludes:
"Since the bulk of this analysis was written, the news magazines—Time, Life, Newsweek, and US News and World Report—have made public their versions of the assassination...The central problem—the fact that the President was wounded in the front of the throat, “the midsection of the front part of his neck,” according to “staff doctors” at Parkland Hospital on November 23 (New York Times, November 24)—remains. Life and Newsweek place the President’s car 170 feet and 150 feet past the turn at the time of the first shot: a shorter distance than our estimate, but much too distant from the window for a shot through the front of the neck. Life (December 6) recognizes the problem, but solves it by saying that the President was turning far to the right at the moment of impact. This explanation appears to fail for two reasons. First, Life’s own pictures of the event in the issue of November 29 show the President looking straight ahead. Second, Elm Street curves left as it passes the warehouse building (see the picture on page 32H of Life, November 29), in such a way that when the first bullet struck, the President’s back was to the window. In order for a bullet to have entered “the mid-section of the front part of his neck” the President would have had to turn completely around just before the shot was fired."
Now, one might think these articles would arouse the interest of the government, or the mainstream press, and entice someone to clarify these matters. But one would be wrong.
On 12-24-63, more than a month after the President of the United States was murdered on the streets of Dallas, the FBI agents investigating his murder finally relented and took a look at the official report on his autopsy. The letter by Alex Rosen accompanying the FBI's own copy of this report notes that "In view of the interest displayed by Mr. Rankin (the Warren Commission's General Counsel) arrangements were made to obtain a copy of the autopsy report from the Secret Service for the Bureau's use and a request was also made that Secret Service furnish a copy of the report to Mr. Rankin." Incredibly, Rosen was thereby admitting that the conflicts between the FBI's report and the autopsy report as outlined by Dallas Special Agent in Charge Shanklin on 12-12 did not in and of themselves cause the FBI to take a look at the autopsy report. They were only investigating the death of a President, after all.
For what's worse, even after receiving the autopsy report, the FBI ignored its findings, and as late as January 13th continued to champion that the bullet creating the back wound fell out and that a fragment of the bullet striking the skull had been the probable cause of the throat wound. You can't make this stuff up.
But if the FBI had moved on, and was no longer interested in the murder of the president, they were just playing follow the leader. On Christmas Eve, 1963, President Johnson met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss his future plans, including his plans regarding Vietnam. He told them: "Just let me get elected, and then you can have your war." (While this sounds crazy, and reads like something out of a conspiracy movie, it apparently actually happened, as it was first reported by respected historian Stanley Karnow in his 1983 book Vietnam, after hearing it from Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson.)
Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, it appears that Johnson, barely a month into his presidency, cut a deal with the generals that Kennedy would never have even considered, and promised them a war if they would help him domestically. If such things actually happen, Kennedy must have been rolling over in his grave.
And from there the new administration's lack of interest in investigating Kennedy's death becomes even more obvious. A 12-30-63 U.S. News and World Report article presented yet another shooting scenario to the public. This scenario was similar to the FBI's scenario, but with a twist. It detailed "The first struck President Kennedy in the back, just below the collar bone, and lodged in his body. The second shot struck Governor Connally and fragmented. Bullets hitting bone can splinter. A splinter from this bullet apparently hit the windshield of the car. Another splinter could have penetrated the floor pan. The third bullet struck President Kennedy in the back of the head, causing death. This bullet also fragmented somewhat." Well, where did they get this bit about the hole in the floor pan? Did someone tell the writer there was such a hole? One might think the FBI would want to know.
Or not. Sadly, a 1-6-64 memo from the FBI's Alex Rosen on the article declared "There appears to be little significance to the alleged location of this hole in the President's limousine at this time; however, since this item appears in a magazine with a nationwide distribution it is possible questions may be raised by the President's Commission concerning this. Therefore, it is felt we should be in a position to promptly answer any such inquiry." Rosen was clearly not one easily stirred.
But President Johnson was one easily shaken... That night, Rufus Youngblood, the Secret Service agent who'd protected Lyndon Johnson on the day of the shooting, received a most unusual phone call. It was from Johnson, who was extremely angry about a memo he'd received, written by a former Kennedy staffer. This memo made reference to an article in Sports Illustrated describing one of Johnson's frequent disagreements with his bodyguards. (The name of this staffer is unknown, as the memo from which Johnson was reading has never been located.) Johnson told Youngblood: "I've received a memorandum that disturbs me, Rufus. I'll read you some of it. 'I'm alarmed at the situation that has developed between the President and the Secret Service. Morale in the Secret Service is at an all-time low. A number of the members of the White House detail are asking for transfers. This is a great body of men. These men feel they are being prevented from doing their job properly. These men do not want favors; they just want to be accepted. We need them badly, especially in campaign years. They must feel the President appreciates their efforts. If they do something wrong, they do not want to be reprimanded in public over a radio system which lots of people listen to. The attachment this week from Sports Illustrated is an example. I'll do anything you think proper.' Johnson then continued "I just told Rowley (i.e., Secret Service Director James Rowley)to call all of them in and to take any of 'em's resignations that wanted to. And I'd be glad to have his, if he wants it, or yours or anybody else's. And if they don't want to handle it, well, we'll get the FBI to do it." Johnson then complained about Secret Service agents following his car too closely when he went for rides on his ranch. He then urged: "So you get ahold of Rowley and you all call a meeting of your group and (decide) whatever you decide you want to do; and if you want to resign, I'll be glad to accept it forthwith. And if the Secret Service wants to go back to counterfeiting, they can go back to counterfeiting, then I'll get the FBI to just assign me a couple of men to stay by my side without all this God damn big push! I don't know who it is bellyaching. First I heard of it. I'm sorry it didn't come to me. It had to come through some of Kennedy's staffers." Youngblood then asked who wrote the memo. Johnson responded "I don't think I ought to do that, but one of Kennedy's top people and somebody has been bellyaching to him. And there's enough truth in it (to see) that somebody talked. And I can't have disloyalty, and I can't talk in front of your people and have them repeat it." Youngblood then responded: "You're absolutely right. You cannot have disloyalty and I don't want any transfer, reassignment, or any other damned thing, sir." Johnson then returned to complaining about agents driving too close to his car. He then repeated his threat: "So you find out whose morale is low and get rid of the son of a bitch. And if the whole Secret Service is low, I'll tell Dillon (i.e., Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon--Rowley's boss) the first thing in the morning that we'll just change the damned law in about five minutes and turn it over to the FBI because Hoover thinks that I could be handled a lot better anyway. I don't want any of it. I think now's a good time, after Dallas, to make the change, if they want to do it. Now I thought I did pretty well after Dallas and I thought I reflected credit on the Secret Service. I did my damnedest to compliment you and everybody else. But if the appreciation I get is going to be articles like this--Kennedy people coming in and telling me that the morale is the lowest in the history--I'm not going to be run by them, you know that." He then repeated: "You get ahold of Rowley and y'all see who the hell has been bellyaching and get it straightened out. Take their resignations, get them out of here, and get Lem Johns back and you and Lem Johns handle me. You handle me safer than the forty can, 'cause they're liabilities instead of assets. And if y'all don't want to do it, just honestly say so and I'll get you a good reassignment and I'll get Hoover to send me over a couple of 21-year-old accountants over here and they'll probably do as good a job." Youngblood then said "We'll stick with you, sir." Johnson then finished "Okay, but I want something done about it, you understand? Good night, Rufus."
(Note: the transcript presented above was constructed from two sources: Rufus Youngblood's 1973 book 20 Years in the Secret Service, and Michael Beschloss' 1997 book on the Johnson Tapes, Taking Charge. I then compared this transcript against the actual tape available on the Miller Center's website, in anticipation that major corrections were in order. This proved most surprising. The direct quotes in Youngblood's account of the conversation that were not in Beschloss' transcript were nevertheless a near-perfect match for the words on the tape of the conversation. Clearly, Youngblood--or his ghost writer, Richard Hardwick--had been granted access to the tapes...years before the public had been told of their existence. And that wasn't all. The words in bold were in Youngblood's book but not on Beschloss' transcript or the Miller Center's tape. This suggests either that Youngblood and Hardwick made these lines up or that the tapes on the Miller Center's website have been edited since 1973--when Youngblood was writing his book.)
In any event, after chewing out Youngblood, Johnson called up Youngblood's boss, Secret Service Director James Rowley, and repeated his threat of shutting down the service's Presidential Protection Division if they didn't fall in line.
Not surprisingly, in light of this threat, when on the next day the FBI called Robert Bouck, the head of the Protective Research Section of the Presidential Protection Division, and asked him if a hole was discovered in the floor of the limousine, they were told there was no such hole. This marked the beginning and end of the FBI's investigation. While it could very well be that there really was no bullet hole in the floor of the limousine, Johnson's calling the Director of the Secret Service James Rowley the night before this call--and his threatening the jobs of every member of the Presidential Protection Division if they didn't get wise and help protect him from the criticisms of Kennedy loyalists--undoubtedly muddied the waters.
And it wasn't just the Secret Service that Johnson was out to control. The 2007 book Breaking News, a history of the Associated Press, reflects that 6 weeks after the assassination Johnson told members of the White House Press Corps that he wanted a close relationship with them, and that "I'll tell you everything...There won't be any secrets except where the national security is involved. You'll be able to write everything. Of course, I may go into a strange bedroom every now and then that I won't want you to write about..." As one can only assume, based on his comments to Warren, that Johnson considered the Warren Commission's investigation a national security matter, Johnson was thereby trying to swap out increased access to the White House on political news in exchange for his having greater control of stories regarding his sex life and national security, including the Warren Commission's investigation. One can only wonder how many newsmen took him up on it.
And it wasn't just Johnson who was playing with the papers.
Above: Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, with Chief Justice Earl Warren in the background, looking over his shoulder.
On 1-7-64, an intriguing newspaper article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press. This article was built around an interview of Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin--an interview that would not have taken place should Warren have not given his permission. And yet this article, penned by Harold Morrison, made clear the commission was dissatisfied with the FBI's efforts. Here's the article:
WASHINGTON (CP) — Did Lee Harvey Oswald kill John Fitzgerald Kennedy?
The chief counsel for the Warren commission says the signs point that way but that the commission still has not enough evidence to remove all doubt. So the investigation into the crime likely will continue for months.
For example, while Dallas police once reported a finger-print on the alleged assassination weapon—an Italian-made, bolt-action rifle—J. Lee Rankin,commission general counsel, said Monday there was no fingerprint, only a palm print.
The palm print—identified as that of Oswald who bought the rifle from a mail-order firm was found in the underpart of the weapon.
A palm print was supposed to have been found on the brown wrapping paper in which Oswald was believed to have brought the rifle into the Dallas schoolbook warehouse, where he worked. Again there isn't one.
OTHER POINTS PUZZLE
There are other points which bother and puzzle the former U.S. solicitor-general who directs the legal staff of the seven-man commission headed by U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Paraffin tests showed there was evidence of gunpowder on Oswald's hands, indicating the accused assassin had fired a hand weapon, but there were no similar gunpowder traces on his face, Rankin said in an interview.
Some authorities maintain the paraffin tests on Oswald's face would have been positive if he had fired a rifle, as police said he did, Rankin added.
Eyewitnesses have testified that Oswald fired a pistol to kill Police Constable J. D. Tippit shortly after Kennedy was assassinated and a police alarm sounded in Dallas last Nov; 22.
On that day Kennedy was hit by two bullets fired into his limousine as his motorcade entered a road turn-in downtown Dallas. A third bullet hit Texas Governor John Connally, who was sitting in the limousine's jump seat. Connally has recovered from his wounds.
Rankin said that because of the conditions of the bullets, they could not be positively identified as coming from the rifle found in the warehouse. However, spent shells were found near the sixth-floor window where the assassin was believed to have been perched.
The three bullets were estimated to have been fired within 6 1/2 seconds, said Rankin. While rifle experts maintain the firing of three shots in such a short period is possible, the evidence indicates that the last two shots came almost "on top of each other."
"Can a man operating a bolt action rifle fire two shots so quickly?"' asked Rankin. 'That is an example of the kind of thing that bothers us."
"What the commission wants to be able to do," he said, "is to publish a report that would eliminate doubt." Last month the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave the commission its report, concluding Oswald committed the crime unaided.
But the commission apparently was not completely satisfied with the FBI summary. It called for all documents on which the FBI report was based. The commission intends to re-examine every aspect of the case; to account if possible for every development on the day of the assassination.
"We cannot even get witnesses to agree on what Oswald wore that day," Rankin said, as another indication of his difficulties.
He could confirm, he added, that Oswald left his Russian born wife a set of instructions the day before a sniper shot-at former Maj.-Gen.Edwin Walker last April in Dallas.
A published report said the written instructions advised Mrs. Oswald that something was developing that might cause her husband to be absent for some time or to be arrested. She was given directions as to the location of the jail and given a key to Lee's post office box.
Rankin said that identifying Oswald with the attempted Walker assassination did not, by itself, add much judicial evidence to the Kennedy assassination.
"We intend to gather evidence from all key witnesses, including Oswald's wife and Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and others."
"Mrs. Kennedy has also indicated she intends to co-operate fully in providing detailed testimony for the sake of historical accuracy."
Now--let's make no bones about it--this was pure politics. Warren--via Rankin--was sending a message to the FBI: cooperate, or I'll squeal. He had done so, moreover, in a Canadian paper. Well, this showed his willingness keep this kind of stuff away from Main Street, USA.
But it wasn't just the political nature of the article that, in the long run, proved intriguing. Two of the problems pointed out by Rankin in the article--that there was no palm print on the paper bag, and that the bullet fragments couldn't be matched to the rifle--would be contradicted by the commission's report upon its release in September. One might assume then that their inclusion in this article reflected a misunderstanding on Rankin's part, or even on Morrison's part.
Far more telling, then, is that three of the other problems discussed by Rankin--the lack of gunshot residue on Oswald's cheek, the mass of eyewitnesses claiming the last two shots were fired on top of one another, and the fact that no credible witness saw Oswald wear the shirt he was wearing when arrested while at work on the 22nd--would never be resolved by the Warren Commission, and would be dealt with dishonestly in the commission's report.
But what the hey, it's all for show. Those behind the cameras know it...
and those in front of the cameras know it...
Above: the Warren Commission and its General Counsel. Note that the background has changed, and that LBJ's face now dominates.
Another indication of the commission's bent came just four days later. On 1-11-64, despite Rankin's speaking to the Canadian press, and assuring them the commission was still undecided on the question of conspiracy, and would thoroughly review the FBI's investigation, Chief Justice Warren presented an outline of the Warren Commission's upcoming report to the other members of the commission. Shockingly, it mirrors the FBI's report. Oswald was a lone assassin. There was no conspiracy.
The President had been dead for 7 weeks. The commission had been in existence for 6 weeks. They had not spoken to a single witness.
The bias of the commission was evident in other ways as well. Of the 14 lawyers hired as assistant counsel to lead the investigation, there were two (Ball and Belin) assigned the task of establishing Oswald's guilt, two (Jenner and Liebeler) assigned the task of investigating Oswald's background and possible motivation, two (Coleman and Lawson) assigned the task of investigating Oswald's possible involvement in a foreign-based conspiracy, two (Hubert and Griffin) assigned the task of investigating Oswald's murder and his possible ties to Jack Ruby, and one (Stern) assigned the task of investigating the history of Presidential protection. Three others (Redlich, Willens, and Eisenberg) were given jobs as assistants to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, and go-betweens to the Justice Department. This meant that the task of investigating what actually happened in Dealey Plaza was left to but two men. One of these men (Francis Adams) dropped out of the investigation shortly after it began. This left a 33 year-old Assistant District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia (Arlen Specter) as the sole investigator tasked with solving the riddles of Dealey Plaza, determining how many shots were fired, from where they were fired, which shots struck the President and Governor Connally, the damage done by these shots, and whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald could have fired all these shots. Perhaps it was the thinking of the Commission and General Counsel Rankin that this aspect of the case was relatively unimportant, in light of Oswald's obvious guilt. Chief Justice Warren would, in fact, later claim that "The facts of the assassination itself are simple...If the sole responsibility of the Commission had been to determine who shot and killed President Kennedy, it would have taken very little work."
That this aspect of the case was, at least initially, not taken as seriously as it deserved is supported, furthermore, by a 1-12 article in the New York Times on the structure of the commission, and the make-up of its staff. After noting that General Counsel Rankin had outlined the Commission's plans in an interview, the article claimed that the Commission's staff was to investigate six areas of inquiry, with Rankin handling one, and five other teams of lawyers handling the others. It then lists the six areas of inquiry: 1) "Oswald's activities on the day of the assassination;" 2) "Ruby's activities and background;" 3) "Oswald's life and back ground, with the exception of;" 4) "Oswald's career in the Marine Corps and his stay in the Soviet Union;" 5) "Oswald's murder;" and 6) "The procedures used to protect President Kennedy." Well, what's missing? Only the elephant in the room. Rankin failed to mention that ANYONE was going to pursue the basic facts of the shooting--the line of inquiry later pushed onto the relative novice Specter.
If Warren and Rankin sincerely believed this aspect of their investigation was a snap, of course, they were sorely mistaken, as many if not most of the ongoing controversies of the case can be traced back to Specter and the Commission's inadequate and deceptive investigation of the basic facts...
And to their reliance on the FBI... More on this in a sec...
But first, let's acknowledge that President Johnson was busy as a bee these days, anxiously pushing the country forward out of the dark dark shadows of Kennedy's assassination. Now, here he is on 1-13-64 presenting the 1963 National Medal of Science to Dr. Luis Alvarez.
So why is this significant? Only to point out that with each passing day in 1964 more and more of those looking to the U.S. Government for career advancement and prestige were looking to President Lyndon Johnson to help make their dreams come true, and were barely even pondering how he came to office.
Let's single-out Alvarez. In the years to come, he would immerse himself in investigating two aspects of the assassination: the timing of the first shot, and the likelihood a bullet striking Kennedy from behind would make his head spring backwards. In both cases, moreover, he used "junk science" to support that Oswald acted alone. For his first strike, in 1967, he told CBS the blurs on the Zapruder film suggested an early shot was fired circa frame 175, and that Oswald had had more time to fire his shots than previously believed. Well, this was well before Kennedy turned and waved to some spectators on the right side of his limo--a wave after which those noting Kennedy's behavior at the time said the first shot was fired. So no, Alvarez was spewing garbage to give Oswald more time to fire. And then, in 1975, for his second strike, Alvarez claimed that he'd observed watermelons as they were shot and that the "jet effect" of the melon goo shooting out of the exit had propelled these melons back towards the shooter. Well, the problem with this "test" was that it was rigged in that Alvarez's own notes proved he couldn't re-create the backwards movement of Kennedy's head observed in the Zapruder film with a melon the size of Kennedy's head, nor with the full-metal jacketed military ammunition used in the assassination, and that he was only able to "re-create" the movement of Kennedy's head in the Zapruder film by using duct-tape covered under-sized melons, and explosive hunting ammunition.
Now, back to the FBI.... On 1-22-64, President Johnson's assistant Walter Jenkins contacted the FBI to complain about Don Reynolds, the insurance agent whose testimony before congress regarding Johnson's receipt of a kickback was interrupted by Kennedy's murder. Apparently, Reynolds had told someone he thought Johnson was involved in Kennedy's murder. Apparently, this reached Johnson, who was none too pleased, and who now sought the FBI's help in shutting up Reynolds. A 1-31-64 memo from Alex Rosen to Alan Belmont discusses the follow-up to Jenkins' complaint. It reveals its bias by calling Reynolds "an unscrupulous insurance agent," with "an uncontrollable tongue," and concludes further that he is "an opinionated rumor-monger who apparently gets satisfaction out of spreading deliberate exaggerated stories." It reports that Reynolds allegedly said President Johnson would soon be impeached based upon information gathered by the FBI. It reports further that FBI Director Hoover had demanded Reynolds be made to "put up or shut up." It then notes that Reynolds was interviewed by agents in the presence of his attorney on 1-24, and that he denied telling anyone Johnson would be impeached. It then notes that Reynolds' previously furnished "observations and opinions" regarding Kennedy's death were based on "inferences which he drew from conversations and hearsay." It then notes that Reynolds claimed he'd been told that Governor Connally had called Lee Harvey Oswald long distance from Washington while Oswald was staying at the Dallas YMCA. It then reports that Oswald had stayed at the YMCA on 10-3-63 and 10-4-64, and that the YMCA kept no record of incoming calls. It then admits that Jenkins was told the results of the FBI's interview with Reynolds on 1-27. Rosen then acknowledges that, seeing as Reynolds wouldn't disclose who told him Connally had made this call, "no effort has been made to determine the whereabouts of Governor Connally during the period of October 3-4, 1963." There was no mention of the impropriety of Johnson's using the FBI to harass those spreading rumors about him. There was no mention of the impropriety of Rosen's revealing the results of his interview with Reynolds to Jenkins on 11-27, 4 days prior to his reporting on this interview to his immediate superior Belmont.
And that's only half the problem with the Reynolds interview. Upon receipt of Rosen's memo to Belmont, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover fired off a letter to Warren Commission General Counsel Rankin, advising him of Reynolds comments regarding Johnson, and acknowledgement he had nothing to back it up. This was unsurprising. What was surprising, however, was what Hoover added to the copies of this letter sent his subordinates. He added: "Rankin is not being advised that this information was initially received from the White House in view of the statement (appearing in a previous memo) that Walter Jenkins of the White House has indicated that the President does not desire Pierre Salinger to know this information was provided to anyone outside the White House." So there it is. The FBI was willing to keep things from the commission based upon the mere say-so of a Johnson assistant that Johnson didn't want his press secretary to find out what he'd been up to. Well, geez Louise. Lord only knows what else they failed to reveal based purely on Jenkins' say-so.
If there were any thoughts in the Warren Commissioners' minds about expanding their investigation beyond that of the bureau's, however, those thoughts soon fell by the wayside. On 1-22-64 an emergency session of the Commission was called to discuss the discomforting rumor that Oswald was an FBI informant, and the even more discomforting possibility that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was seeking to hide this information from the public. The topic of discussion was so discomforting, in fact, that Chief Warren ordered all transcripts and notes of the meeting destroyed. Fortunately, a stenotypists’s tape was overlooked, and uncovered by researcher Harold Weisberg through the Freedom of Information Act.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren: I thought first you should know about it. Secondly, there is this factor too, that a consideration, that is somewhat an issue in this case, and I suppose you are all aware of it. That is that the FBI is very explicit that Oswald is the assassin or was the assassin, and they are very explicit that there was no conspiracy, and they are also saying in the same place that they are continuing their investigation. Now in my experience of almost nine years, in the first place it is hard to get them to say when you think you have got a case tight enough to convict somebody, that that is the person that committed the crime. In my experience with the FBI they don’t do that. They claim that they don’t evaluate, and it is uniform prior experience that they don’t do that. Secondly, they have not run out all kinds of leads in Mexico or in Russia and so forth…and they could probably say that it isn’t our business…But they are concluding that there can’t be a conspiracy, without those being run out. Now that is not from my experience with the FBI…Why are they so eager to make those conclusions, both in their original report and their experimental report, which is a departure? Now that is just circumstantial evidence, and it don’t prove anything about this, but it raises questions…
After a brief discussion the commissioners came back to the implications of Hoover’s behavior. Everyone on the commission had spent enough time in Washington to hear of FBI Director Hoover’s not-so-secret files, files kept on every prominent figure in America, going back decades. Everyone on the commission knew, or should have known, that Hoover would not hesitate to use these files to protect himself and the Bureau. (It would later be revealed that their fears were justified and that, in anticipation of negative comments about the FBI in the Warren Report, Hoover had files created on every employee of the Warren Commission.)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren: They would like to have us fold up and quit.
Congressman Hale Boggs: This closes the case, you see, don’t you see?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: Yes I see that.
Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin: They found the man. There is nothing more to do. The Commission supports their conclusions, and we can go on home and that is the end of it.
After Allen Dulles pointed out that the FBI was taking a tremendous risk if it was indeed trying to shut down the case, as suspected, Congressman Boggs suddenly became aware of the risk he himself was taking by talking so openly about Hoover’s dark side.
Congressman Hale Boggs: Yes I would think so. And of course, we are even gaining in the realm of speculation. I don’t even like for this to be taken down.
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: Yes, I think this record ought to be destroyed. Do you think we need a record of this?
After Warren assured them that their statements would not be circulated, the session concluded.
On 1-24-64, in an effort to investigate and/or contain the rumor that Oswald had been an informant, Rankin and Warren met with the Texas Court of Inquiry. The memorandum on this meeting prepared by Rankin was not distributed to the other commissioners, nor to the commission's staff. The secretive nature of this meeting and its subject matter is perhaps best demonstrated by its second to last paragraph, in which Rankin relates: "The Chief Justice decided to present the results of this meeting to the entire Commission on Monday, January 27, 1964 and decided to propose tentatively that necessary inquiries be made concerning these allegations and that this memorandum be prepared for the record." This suggests the possibility that, if the meeting had exposed conclusive evidence that Oswald had worked for the FBI, no memorandum would have been created, and no record of this meeting would have been kept.
The statements in the 1-27-64 executive session are even more revealing.
General Counsel J. Lee Rankin: I don’t see how the country is ever going to be willing to accept it if we don’t satisfy them on this particular issue, not only with them but the CIA and every other agency. (The “it” in this statement would seem to be the commission’s pre-determined conclusion that Oswald acted alone. They had yet to call a witness.)
Eventually, they discussed the possibility that Oswald worked for the FBI, but that Hoover didn’t know. Congressman Boggs brought up the recent capture of the American spy Francis Gary Powers by the Russians.
Congressman Hale Boggs: Let’s say Powers did not have a signed contract but he was recruited by someone in the CIA. The man who recruited him would know, wouldn’t he?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: Yes, but he wouldn’t tell.
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Wouldn’t tell it under oath?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: I wouldn’t think that he’d tell it under oath, no.
Chief Justice Earl Warren: Why?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: He ought not tell it under oath. Maybe not tell it to his own government but wouldn’t tell it any other way.
John McCloy: Wouldn’t he tell it to his own chief?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: He might or might not. If he was a bad one then he wouldn’t.
Congressman Hale Boggs: What you do is you make out a problem--if this be true--make our problem utterly impossible because you say this rumor can’t be dissipated under any circumstances.
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: I don’t think it can unless you believe Mr. Hoover, and so forth and so on, which probably most of the people will.
John McCloy: Allen, suppose somebody when you were head of the CIA came to you, another government agency and said specifically, “If you will tell us,” suppose the President of the United States comes to you and says “will you tell me, Mr. Dulles?”
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: I would tell the President of the United States anything, yes. I am under his control. He is my boss. I wouldn’t necessarily tell anybody else, unless the President authorized me to do it. We had that come up at times.
John McCloy: You wouldn’t tell the Secretary of Defense?
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: Well, it depends a little bit on the circumstances. If it is within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Defense, but otherwise I would go to the President, and I do on some occasions.
General Counsel J. Lee Rankin: If that is all that is necessary, I think we could get the President to direct anybody working for the government to answer this question. If we have to we would get that direction.
Former CIA Director Allen Dulles: What I was getting at, I think under any circumstances, I think Mr. Hoover would say certainly he didn’t have anything to do with this fellow. (Dulles was apparently saying that Hoover, unlike himself, would ignore even the President’s requests on such an issue. As Hoover misled the commission about the results of the FBI’s internal investigation, Dulles’ skepticism about Hoover proved accurate.)
They then proceeded to discuss the best way to handle the rumor. This led to Rankin's meeting with Hoover to discuss the matter. On 2-6 FBI Director Hoover sent the commission a sworn affidavit under penalty of perjury stating that to his knowledge Oswald was never a paid source or operative for the FBI. On 2-27 he sent the commission a similar letter stating that, while Jack Ruby had been approached by the FBI about employment as a PCI (Paid Confidential Informant), and had been contacted by the FBI 8 times between March 11, 1959 and October 2 1959, he had, in fact, "furnished no information whatsoever." This, then, allowed him to claim that "Ruby was never paid any money, and he was never at any time an informant of this Bureau."
Of course, these were the kind of statements Commissioner Dulles acknowledged Hoover and his men would make, regardless of the truth, unless directed by the President to tell the honest to goodness truth.
If Dulles and the commissioners had had any doubts about Hoover's predilection to lie, moreover, these doubts should have been washed away on 3-7, when Hoover issued a clearly deceptive statement, published by the AP and UPI wire services nationwide. In attempting to shut down speculation about Ruby's status, Hoover completely side-stepped what he'd already told the commission--that Ruby had been approached by the FBI about becoming an informant, and that he'd met with the FBI 8 times afterward. Instead, he declared: "To set the record straight and to refute the misinformation which has been maliciously circulated, I want to state unequivocally that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack L. Ruby were never FBI informants; that they were never employed by this Bureau in any capacity; nor did they ever render any services for or receive any sums of money from the FBI."
This, then, highlights the commission's predicament. By failing to ask President Johnson to give the Presidential directive described by Mr. Rankin, they'd given Hoover free reign to not only deceive them, but the country. This made it difficult for them to go back and point out Hoover's deceptions, and, let's face it, they were deceptions; while Hoover's statement regarding Ruby was apparently true, in that Ruby had never been a paid informant, it was deceptive in its failure to reveal that Hoover's FBI had actively pursued Ruby, and had tried to make him an informant. Apparently, this was something Hoover, and the Commission, wished to conceal. When Hoover was called before the Commission in May, he was not asked a single question about Ruby's status as an informant, and no acknowledgment of Ruby's meetings with the FBI were revealed to the public. This, then, can be taken as an indication the Commission was more interested in “dissipating” rumors for the public, at minimal cost to themselves politically, and with minimal friction between themselves and Mr. Hoover, than in establishing the truth. This indifference, moreover, would be exposed many more times throughout the course of their investigation.
Perhaps the commissioners were just too much on the "inside" to be objective. A National Security Agency document (RIF #144-10001-10119) reflects that commissioner John McCloy met with the agency on 1-27-64 and "discussed work of Warren's Commission." The “Top Secret Dinar” from a redacted NSA official reveals:
“During our talks, McCloy, on his own initiative, brought up the subject of criticism of the European press, especially the French, of Warren’s commission.
In a lengthy monologue he condemned accusations that the commission intends, in the name of public interest, to gloss over the evidence of the assassination and with its authority support the conclusions reached by the FBI.
He wants to assure us that he will not permit any distortion or concealment of the facts; however, from materials at his disposal, he is more and more convinced that Oswald committed the crime by himself. I acknowledged his information with the statement that interest in the commission’s report is great everywhere because of the shock of Kennedy’s assassination and of the world position of the USA.
McCloy’s statements confirm the opinion circulating here that the commission is mainly interested in proving that the assassination was not linked with any foreign centers. At the same time, public statements made by Mark Lane, hired by Oswald’s mother to defend her son before the commission, must be treated very carefully even in our press. Our friends consider him an unscrupulous politician interested only in his career. He is financed by groups which lean toward the Chinese viewpoint.”
Above: "Oswald's mother" and that "unscrupulous politician," Mark Lane.
Of course, Dulles himself was no angel. If a judge, in a court of law, had been a former CEO of a company rumored to be involved in a crime, he would be expected to recuse himself from the case, even if there was little substance to the rumor. Dulles, as a long-time lawyer, certainly knew this, but, instead of stepping down, he did just the opposite. He used his position as commissioner to help defend the CIA against charges of its involvement. The 3-11-64 Los Angeles Times reveals that Dulles called a press conference the day before in which he discussed his work on the Warren Commission just long enough to dismiss all rumors Oswald was an FBI or CIA informant as "perfectly ridiculous."
Huh... What Dulles acknowledged was entirely possible while talking in Executive Session of the Warren Commission became "perfectly ridiculous" once he stepped outside.
And that's not the worst of it. Dulles not only used his position as Commissioner to defend the CIA, he used the CIA to guide the direction of the Commission. On 1-30-64, in a personal correspondence available on Princeton University's website, Dulles wrote General Counsel Rankin to make some suggestions on areas of interest. Included with his letter was an article by British Labor leader R.P. Dutt, in which Dutt asks if the assassination was a "C.I.A. Job?" Included with this article was a biography on Dutt, clearly written by the CIA itself, in which it is asserted that Dutt's "standing with Moscow is excellent." Dulles then told Rankin "I suggest that you might wish the CIA to send you directly all important items of this general nature and also items bearing on the future Communist propaganda treatment of the assassination issue with their estimate, preferably coordinated with the State Department, showing the general trend of such propaganda, if there is one. It has been my experience that the Communist party of the Soviet Union exercises a good deal, but not complete, control over the propaganda activities of the various Communist parties in the free world and often uses these parties or selected ones to launch various trial balloons in the propaganda field."
In just a few days, Dulles had went from acknowledging the commission's inability to answer questions about Oswald's background to pushing that those even daring to ask such questions were at the beck and call of the Soviets.
I mean, it's not as if Dutt was the only European asking serious questions about the assassination. Nor the only Brit. The February '64 issue of Gun Review, the Official Journal of the The British Sporting Rifle Club, boasted an article by Lieut. Col. A Barker, which concluded:
"Three shots apparently struck the car in which the President was travelling; the time taken to fire these shots is variously reported as 5.5 seconds, 8 seconds and 15 seconds. Even allowing for the fact that the Mannlicher bolt action is reasonably quick and easy to work, the added telescopic attachment undoubtedly would tend to hinder its quick manipulation when the gun was reloaded. Much play has been made of the assassin’s marksmanship capabilities and there is no doubt that it is possible for an expert to fire three rounds in 5.5 seconds with such a weapon. To do so demands constant and recent practice however, and it seems doubtful whether the man Oswald had any opportunity to keep his marksmanship up to scratch since he left the U.S. forces. It seems that there had been no such opportunity during his sojourn in Russia, since lack of shooting facilities was one of the things he complained about.
Nor was the President an easy target. The problems associated with a moving target and a depressed line of fire have already been mentioned (dependent on how long it took for the occupants of the car to realise what was happening and for the driver to accelerate out of range), together with the state of the gun and Oswald’s skill...so the accuracy of the shots seems remarkable."
(Thanks to Paul Rigby for posting this article online.)
And yet, with thoughts such as Barker's spreading across Europe like wildfire, the American media chose to stick its head in the sand, and continued to push the leaked findings of the FBI’s summary report on an unwitting public.
Some publications, like UPI's joint venture with American Heritage Magazine, entitled Four Days, simply replayed that Kennedy was hit by the first shot, Connally the second, and Kennedy the third, and accurately called Oswald Kennedy's "alleged assassin." (In a curious move, this book was re-issued in 1983 without correction.)
Other books influenced by the FBI report, however, were not as open-minded. The Dangerous Assassins by Jack Pearl, published January 1964, included an account of the Kennedy assassination that was even more biased and less accurate than the account of the shooting in Robert Donovan's rush re-released The Assassins. On the inside page, Pearl identified Oswald as Kennedy's assassin--no "accused," no "alleged," not even a "presumed." Now that might be acceptable if it reported the evidence against Oswald with something approaching accuracy. But it did not. Instead, Pearl added so many details into his narrative that were at odds with what was already known or would soon be known, that his assertion of Oswald's guilt carried little real weight. For example, not only did he claim Oswald was an "expert marksman" whose shooting ability placed him "head and shoulders above his fellow Marines," that Oswald bought a car and drove to Mexico City while seeking passage to Cuba, and that Oswald test-fired his rifle "innumerable times at a rifle range on the outskirts of town," all of which were later proved to be untrue, Pearl claimed that:
Oswald was stopped at the entrance to his work on the morning of the shooting by a "special patrolman" who asked him about the long package he was carrying. (This is a fabrication.)
Oswald was only allowed access to the building after he claimed this package held venetian blinds, and his claim was confirmed by another employee. (While Oswald was purported to have told his ride to work, Buell Frazier, that the package held window blinds, he was not questioned about this at work.)
Oswald locked an elevator on the sixth floor before the shooting to hasten his escape after the shooting. (There's no evidence for this. The elevators were on the fifth floor at the time of the shooting, after being ridden to that location by Bonnie Ray Williams from the sixth floor, and James Jarman and Harold Norman, from the first floor.)
Oswald calmly ate fried chicken while waiting for Kennedy's arrival. (The chicken found on the sixth floor was Bonnie Ray Williams' lunch.)
Nellie Connally was looking at President Kennedy when the first shot was fired. (This was not true. She said she looked at him after hearing the first shot.)
The second shot was aimed at Governor Connally. (Pure speculation.)
The third and fatal shot struck Kennedy on the back of his head and "blew a considerable hole in his forehead when it emerged." (While shattered beneath the scalp, his forehead was intact.)
After the shooting, Mrs. Kennedy climbed out onto the back of the limousine to help agent Clint Hill climb aboard. (She was in a panic, and didn't know what she was doing. Hill thought she was reaching for a piece of the President's head.)
While trying to evade capture, Oswald shot Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit three times. (The Warren Commission concluded he'd been shot at five times, and hit four times.)
After shooting Officer Tippit, Oswald bought a ticket and went into a movie theater. (Oswald purportedly aroused suspicion when he failed to buy a ticket, and sneaked into the theater.)
When confronted in the theater, Oswald pulled his revolver and fired at a police officer, only to find that the shell in his revolver was a dud. (The bullet was not a dud. The bullet did not fire because the hammer was blocked by the finger of one of the officers.)
The Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found in the depository was identified as Oswald's rifle by his wife, Marina. (She never ID'ed the rifle. She thought it looked similar, but knew nothing of rifles and could not say for sure if it was even the same type of rifle.)
Tests performed on this rifle proved that the three slugs removed from President Kennedy and Governor Connally were all fired from this rifle. (One intact bullet was found on a hospital stretcher. One partial bullet was found in the limousine. These two bullets were traced back to the rifle. The third bullet was, at least officially, never located.)
Tests performed on Oswald showed that he'd recently fired a rifle. (Totally false. While this was the story put out by the Dallas Police and the FBI, the tests suggested the opposite.)
None of these statements, as we've seen, were supported by the evidence. Some of them appear to have been pulled out of thin air.
Above: the same mug shot as found in the Dallas Police Archives (L) and as subsequently published in the Warren Commission's volumes (R). The darkening of the image, especially around the eyes, gave Oswald a morose, creepy appearance, that he otherwise lacked. In a rough parallel to the Robert Louis Stevenson story, in which Dr. Jekyll became a maniac called Mr. Hyde when under the influence of a specific drug, Mr. Oswald became a maniac over the months following Kennedy's assassination when filtered through the prism of the national media and Warren Commission. This was not justice, moreover, but propaganda.
But the most widely circulated magazines were not to be outdone when it came to Oswald-bashing. The 1-25-64 TV Guide on America's coffee tables included a long article recounting the first few days after the assassination, and the role television played in bringing America the news. This largely self-congratulatory article displayed an amazing bias, however, that was far more damaging to the cause of justice than barely read and boldly inaccurate books like Pearl's. While not stating that Oswald was the assassin and a psychopath, a la the New York Times and Newsweek, the article described him in such a way that his guilt was more than clear. It described Oswald’s first trip before the press as follows: “Oswald entered, an animal-like figure looking puffy-eyed and morose, flanked by beefy, stone-jawed police, and wearing the T shirt about which he was later to complain because no one had offered him a clean one.” Its description of a later press conference was even worse: “Oswald looked a little weasel-like…As the police led him out, a reporter slipped up close to him, and said, “Oswald, what did you do to your eye?” “A policeman hit me,” whined Oswald for 180,000,000 to hear.”
Other writers and publications went to even greater lengths to drill into the public's brain the non-established fact that Oswald acted alone, and that no further investigation need be conducted. Victor Lasky, whose all-out attack on Kennedy, JFK: the Man and the Myth, was scheduled to hit the bookstores within days of the assassination, wrote one especially noteworthy column. In this column, published February 11, 1964, Lasky repeatedly quoted the prominent leftist Dwight MacDonald's statement that "Oswald is our baby, not theirs." As if MacDonald was in any position to know... Lasky then proceeded to criticize "certain know-it-alls who cannot bring themselves to believe that someone of the 'progressive' faith might have brutally murdered Kennedy on the streets of Dallas." He then noted that pro-Castro forces were arguing that Oswald had been set up by the right to appear to be a leftist, but insisted "Of course, this argument presupposes that the FBI and the Secret Service are involved in a monstrous plot to cover up for the real assassins." Of course, the suggestion that Oswald had been set up did no such thing and Lasky was merely pretending it did to create the illusion that questioning the accuracy and completeness of the FBI and Secret Service investigations (whose conclusions were supposedly still-secret) made one un-American. Lasky next mentioned that the Warren Commission has decided to investigate the activities of the Minutemen, "a so-called right wing group recently accused of having threatened the lives of 20 congressmen." He then exclaimed: "But the FBI Report on Oswald, now in the hands of the Warren Commission, in effect fully exonerates the so-called right wing from any involvement in the President's assassination." Lasky thereby created the illusion that investigating the Minutemen was both a waste of time and a personal insult to J. Edgar Hoover, and used material leaked by Hoover to do so.
Whether or not Lasky's column was a de facto message from Hoover or simply a warning from a prominent conservative to the Commission that they would arouse much ire if they expended any effort investigating a possible right-wing conspiracy, the Warren Commission appears to have received the message: no extensive investigation of the Minutemen or other right-wing organizations was ever conducted on their behalf. Ironically, while assuring his readers that Oswald acted alone, Lasky also revealed just how little he personally knew about the case. His column was entitled "Left Wing Claims Harvey Oswald's Ghost as Own..." Harvey was of course Oswald's middle name, not his first name and not part of his last name.
The next day, February 12, 1964, the cinema classic Seven Days in May was released to the public. The film, a cautionary tale directed by John Frankenheimer, depicted an attempted military coup within the United States. The film's creation was encouraged by President Kennedy, who'd told a number of his friends that he thought such a coup was a real possibility should the president lose the support of the Pentagon. The initial response to the film reflects that elements of the media and government, even months after the assassination, still believed that their primary responsibility was to assure a worried public that everything was OK. As reported in David Talbot's Brothers, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner publicly questioned whether the film should even have been made, as "The world is on too short a fuse," and the film could damage "the American image abroad." Across town, the Examiner's larger rival the L.A. Times shared this concern but instead took the time to assure its readers that nothing like this could happen in America. Meanwhile, congressmen called for the film to be clearly labeled fiction before it could be shown overseas.
The film certainly had an impact. A 2-14 memo from Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley to his boss James Rowley discussed proposed legislation making the investigation of a presidential assassination a federal offense, and the sole jurisdiction of the FBI. This, in Kelley's mind, would be a bad thing, and could lead to a "Seven Days in May situation" in which a "venal Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation could in the future bring about or allow the assassination of the President who he either felt was a poor President or a President unacceptable to him..." Kelley then proceeded to point out that the FBI has an appropriation for protection of the President, normally the responsibility of the Secret Service, "in case of an emergency" and that the Secret Service should similarly retain the capacity to investigate assassinations. (As Kelley had just conducted the Secret Service's investigation of the assassination, it can probably be assumed from this that he was not particularly impressed with the FBI's investigation, and that he had doubts about Director Hoover's determination to get to the bottom of the matter.)
Meanwhile, across the country, Americans picked up the February 15, 1964 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Inside was an article by the CIA-friendly columnist Stewart Alsop, not surprisingly defending the CIA against some recent charges that it was out of control and was conducting its own foreign policy. No doubt concerned about the effect these charges might have on the public, particularly when combined with the almost simultaneous release of Seven Days in May in the theaters, Alsop tried to cut off any speculation of CIA involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy. He actually went further than that, and made out that anyone questioning their involvement was a communist dupe. He complained about the recent treatment of the CIA in general, and then reported "a few highly respectable journals have even half-echoed The Communist Worker's charge that Lee Harvey Oswald, murderer of President Kennedy, went to the Soviet Union in 1959 as a CIA hireling." Alsop then shared even more certain knowledge that he could not possibly know, assuring his readers: "Lee Harvey Oswald never at any time had any connection whatever with CIA, although suspicions on that score are perhaps natural in view of the mystery surrounding Oswald's travels and his sources of income. The highest officials in the CIA are ready to so testify--and indignantly--before the Warren Commission investigating the murder. 'If anybody in the CIA had hired so obvious a psychotic,' says one of the greatest experts in the intelligence business, 'he should have been fired on the spot.'"
One might rightly wonder if Alsop's "expert" wasn't Allen Dulles himself, seeking to cut off the questions he knew would not be answered by the Warren Commission. One might also wonder why the "highest officials in the CIA" would be so "indignant" about being asked such a reasonable question, by men who fully understood that they would lie with impunity.
Two days later, on February 17, 1964, possibly at the prodding of the same CIA employees who'd probably prodded Alsop (this might have been Allen Dulles-let's be realistic), and possibly at the prodding of President Lyndon Johnson, with whom he was quite friendly and from whom he was hoping to receive a slot as Vice-President, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut made a long speech defending the CIA. Dodd repeatedly, and cynically, quoted President Kennedy in support of the CIA. He concluded "I think it can be stated as a certainty that many countries that remain free today would not be free if it had not been for the CIA." The CIA's possible involvement in killing Kennedy was not among the litany of criticisms dismissed by Senator Dodd. Apparently, such talk was not to be acknowledged within the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate.
Within a few days, in its February 21, 1964 issue, Life Magazine published yet another article on Oswald, and once again convicted him in the public eye. The cover featured a photo of Oswald holding a rifle, with a pistol on his hip. The caption read "Lee Oswald with the weapons he used to kill President Kennedy and Officer Tippit." The cover story was entitled "The Evolution of an Assassin." This echoed a 12-20 Life article written with the help of the FBI's report. That article had been entitled "The Assassin: a Cold, Lone Man Who Resented All Authority." Real subtle.
The media's investigation of Kennedy's assassination, if you could call it that, was by now pretty much over. They'd relied upon the FBI, and the FBI had misled them, for political purposes.
A 2-24-64 FBI memo from F.J. Baumgartner to Deputy Director William Sullivan supports this point. It reports that Oswald's mother, Marguerite Oswald, and Mark Lane, a lawyer trying to present a public defense of Oswald, spoke at a public meeting in New York, sponsored by The National Guardian, a left-wing newspaper. It reports that "At this meeting it was implied that Oswald was not responsible for the assassination and the handling of the investigation by the Government was criticized." It then notes that a "reliable source"--clearly an undercover operative attending the meeting--spotted Alger Hiss, a one-time member of the State Department, accused of being a communist spy, and convicted of perjury relating to his involvement in the communist party--in attendance. Baumgartner then proposed that this be leaked to the press in order to discredit Lane and--by extension--those daring to imply that Oswald's guilt remained open to question. He even wrote the article he proposed and suggested it "be placed with a cooperative news media source at the Seat of Government."
Although, as far as can be determined, this article never saw print, it seems clear that many sharing its bias, prevailed.
Oswald had been convicted as the sole assassin by President Lyndon B. Johnson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the New York Times, Newsweek, T.V. Guide, and Life Magazine. The only witnesses called by the Commission up to this date had been members of his own family.
If there had been conspirators still at large, they were now specks off in the distance.