One of the strangest aspects of the investigation into John Kennedys murder was the reaction of federal officials.
Whenever government officials are assassinated, the normal reaction of law enforcement is to pull out all the stops in an attempt to ensure that no one who was involved in the crime escapes punishment.
Yet the more one reads about the Kennedy assassination, the more one gets the uneasy feeling that the reaction of the FBI and other federal officials was precisely the opposite. They seem to have been overeager to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin and overpassive in investigating the possible involvement of others in the killing.
For example, there were several witnesses who were certain that a shot had been fired from the grassy knoll. Whether such a shot was fired or not, one would naturally expect law-enforcement officials to aggressively pursue that possibility, given that a senior federal official had just been shot and killed. Yet, having settled on Oswald as a lone assassin who fired from behind the president, federal investigators not only did not aggressively pursue the possibility of shots having been fired from the front, they often actually belittled and berated witnesses who were certain that such a shot had been fired.
That makes no sense to me. That just isnt the way law-enforcement officials operate when a federal official is killed.
For example, consider what happens when a DEA agent is murdered. Federal agents focus not only on the likely perpetrator but also on all other likely suspects who might have been involved in the plot. In fact, thats one reason that criminal elements generally avoid killing law-enforcement officials. They know that the investigatory hammer is going to fall heavily on the entire criminal community.
I recall this phenomenon in the case of federal Judge John Wood of Texas, who was assassinated in 1979. After Wood was murdered, federal officials embarked on one of the biggest, most expensive, and most aggressive criminal investigations in U.S. history. They were relentless, even going so far as to secretly record jailhouse conversations between a convicted drug kingpin named Jimmy Chagra and his lawyer-brother, Joe Chagra. The investigation ultimately led not only to the conviction of the man who fired the shot, Charles Harrison, but also to conspiracy convictions for Joe Chagra and Jimmys wife, Elizabeth. Jimmy Chagra was also prosecuted for the murder but was acquitted.
Suppose that immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, U.S. officials had made the following announcement: Our fellow Americans, we have completed our investigation into this heinous act and have concluded that the only people who were involved in committing it were the deranged terrorist fanatics who hijacked the planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We are closing the case.
Even if that later proved to be true, wouldnt you think to yourself, Wait a minute! Thats not the way the feds operate, especially when federal officials are killed. They pull out all the stops to determine whether there were others involved.
And in fact, as everyone knows the feds did pull out all the stops after 9/11, rounding up and jailing thousands of people, many of them innocent, establishing secret prison camps around the world, kidnapping and torturing hundreds of suspects, and invading and occupying two countries.
Thats how we expect the feds to react in such a case.
Yet, what is odd is that that was not the way federal officials reacted after the president of the United States was assassinated. Instead, having fairly quickly fixed on Oswald as a lone assassin, federal investigators seem to have then directed their efforts to establishing that thesis and failing to aggressively pursue the possibility that others might have been involved in the shooting.
Targeting the CIA
One possibility is that early on, federal officials might have begun reaching an uncomfortable suspicion, one that pointed in the direction of the CIA, a suspicion that would be fueled by information provided to the Warren Commission by Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, who was heading up the states investigation into the murder, indicating that Oswald had been on the payroll of the FBI, an allegation denied by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
If federal officials did in fact consider the possibility that the federal governments primary intelligence agency might have to be accused of murder, conspiracy, and a coup, it is not difficult to imagine their concluding, This is not a road we want to go down, especially at the height of the Cold War, when the prospect of an all-out war against the CIA could easily have been seen as a genuine threat to national security.
Of course, that doesnt necessarily mean that the CIA was actually involved in the Kennedy assassination, but it is to say this:
First, with one exception, there is virtually no possibility that anyone in the federal government, including the president, the FBI, the Warren Commission, and Congress, would have been willing to openly support targeting the CIA in a criminal investigation into whether it killed the president. The only exception might have been Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, but his ability to initiate such an investigation was nonexistent, not only because the assassination of a president wasnt a federal criminal offense in 1963 but also because there is no way that President Johnson and Hoover, both of whom hated the younger Kennedy, would have ever supported such an investigation.
Second, there would have been no way that such a conspiracy could have ever been pierced in the absence of a fierce and honest criminal prosecutor, one who had the full support of the president and the FBI, along with an incorruptible and fearless presiding judge willing to enforce subpoenas served on the CIA with contempt charges.
Obviously, the appointment of a federal special prosecutor wasnt a realistic possibility, not only because the presidents murder didnt violate a federal law but also because, as a practical matter, Johnson would never have ever gone down that road anyway.
That would have meant that it would have been left to a Texas state prosecutor to have initiated such an investigation. But as we all know, the state of Texas quickly accepted the official federal position that Oswald was a lone-nut assassin and never initiated an investigation specifically targeting the CIA as a possible suspect in the assassination.
To quell concern within the public that Kennedy might have been the victim of a conspiracy, Johnson appointed a political commission composed of prominent, establishment politicians. However, none of them was the type of person who would have had any interest in specifically targeting the CIA as a possible assassin and doing the aggressive investigatory work that would have been needed to pierce such a conspiracy.
After all, dont forget that the Warren Commission included two U.S. Senators, two U.S. Representatives, the Chief Justice of the United States, a former member of the World Bank, and even the former director of the CIA whom Kennedy had fired after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Not exactly the type of people who are going to tear the federal government apart in a war in which the CIA is suspected of having assassinated the president of the United States.
Offensive on its face
Last October the New York Times published a story that shone a spotlight into one of the CIAs best-kept secrets involving the Kennedy case; that story can be accessed on the Internet at http:// tinyurl.com/yj2ymwr. The story involved a CIA agent named George Joannides, whose interesting involvement in the Kennedy case did not become public until after his death in 1990. A former Washington Post reporter, Jefferson Morley, became aware of Joannidess role from documents that the CIA had released in response to a congressional law enacted after Oliver Stones movie JFK, which posited that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies had conspired to kill Kennedy.
Ill return to the Joannides story later because it reveals some important things about the CIA and its relationship to the Kennedy assassination. For now, Id like to focus on a statement made to the Times in that article by a CIA spokesman named Paul Gimigliano, who was defending the CIAs continued efforts to keep its files on Joannides secret from the public. Responding to implications that the CIA might be hiding something nefarious about possible CIA involvement in the Kennedy assassination, Gimigliano stated that any such suggestion was offensive on its face.
What Gimigliano was essentially saying is that it is absolutely inconceivable that the CIA would ever commit such a dastardly act as killing the president of the United States. It is a mindset that simply cannot imagine that any such thing is reasonably possible.
Ever since the Kennedy assassination, there have been vast numbers of people on both sides of the divide. One side has steadfastly maintained that Kennedy was killed by a lone-nut gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald.
The other side has steadfastly maintained that Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy involving the CIA, U.S. intelligence, the Mafia, right-wing extremists, anti-Castro Cubans, Fidel Castro, the Soviets, or others.
The lone-nut proponents claim that the overwhelming weight of the evidence supports but one conclusion: that Oswald, a disgruntled communist sympathizer who had defected to the Soviet Union and who returned to the United States, where he lobbied for fair treatment for Cuba, gunned down the president. The lone-nut proponents point to the vast amount of circumstantial evidence that the conspiracy crowd has amassed over the years and pooh-pooh it for lacking a smoking-gun quality.
In doing so, however, the lone-nut proponents miss a critically important point: If the CIA was actually involved in the assassination of John Kennedy, there was no way that such involvement could ever have been definitely determined without a fierce, independent, fearless, and incorruptible criminal prosecutor charged with the specific authority of targeting the CIA for investigation, and fully supported by the president of the United States and the FBI, under the auspices of an incorruptible and courageous presiding judge.
A political or bureaucratic panel, such as the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee, never had a chance of piercing such a conspiracy, not only because of the mindset that characterizes people like Gimigliano, the mindset that finds such a notion offensive on its face, but also because of the extreme reluctance that members of such a group would have had to target a federal agency that was considered absolutely essential to the national security of the United States, especially at the height of the Cold War.
In other words, suppose a member of the Warren Commission had the same mindset as Paul Gimigliano, which I hold is a very likely possibility. He would have considered the possibility that the CIA was involved in the assassination to be ludicrous on its face and, therefore, would never have permitted the aggressive investigation that would have been needed to pierce such a conspiracy.
But there might well have been members of the Warren Commission and indeed, many other federal officials who had a different mindset, one in which they would not have discounted the possibility that the CIA had done such a thing but who would have believed that aggressively targeting the CIA for criminal investigation would have ripped apart the federal government to such an extent that the nation would have been made vulnerable to a surprise attack from the Soviet Union.
Dont forget, after all, that Kennedy was killed just 13 months after the Cuban missile crisis, which involved the Soviets basing nuclear missiles aimed at the United States only 90 miles away from American shores.
Thus, regardless which of these two mindsets characterized the members of the Warren Commission the one that holds that it is inconceivable that the CIA had done such a thing or the one that holds that we just couldnt afford to go down that road the result would have been the same: no aggressive criminal investigation that specifically targeted the CIA.
Was there sufficient evidence to warrant targeting the CIA as a specific suspect in the Kennedy case?
There can be no question about it. Again, that doesnt necessarily mean that the CIA was, in fact, involved in such a plot. It is simply to say that there was more than sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation specifically targeting the CIA and that U.S. officials should have supported such an investigation.
Lets examine that evidence.