One of the most fascinating aspects of the Warren Commission hearings was the extreme secrecy under which the hearings were conducted. Most of the hearings, both evidentiary and administrative, were closed to the public. Moreover, at the conclusion of the hearings the Commission ordered that most of the rec-ords be sealed from public view for 75 years.
Why? If the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, really was nothing more than a lone-nut assassin who decided to kill John Kennedy after learning that his motorcade was traveling past the building in which Oswald was working, why all the secrecy? Why not simply open up everything to the public?
The answer lies in the concept “national security.” From the moment Kennedy’s assassination took place, the evidence suggests that high U.S. officials, including the new president, Lyndon Johnson, were operating on two tracks: one that pointed to Oswald as a lone-nut assassin and the other that pointed to Oswald as an agent of Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The first track was directed to the American people. Within a few hours after Oswald had been arrested, U.S. officials bent over backwards to assure Americans that Oswald had acted alone in killing the president. Federal officials immediately shut down any investigation into whether Kennedy had been killed as part of a conspiracy.
The second track involved what might be considered the gravest threat to national security in U.S. history, even graver than the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war several months before the assassination.
If the American people were to learn that Oswald had been operating as an agent of Cuba and the Soviet Union when he killed their president, there is little doubt that they would have demanded immediate retaliation against both countries, which inevitably would have led to nuclear war.
The state-sponsored assassination of a foreign head of state would clearly have been considered an act of war. How could the United States not respond militarily to the communist assassination of its president at the height of the Cold War?
Why wouldn’t the U.S. government be willing to respond in such a fashion? One possibility involves a deep national-security secret at the time: It was the U.S. national-security state itself — specifically the CIA — that had begun the assassination game by repeatedly trying to assassinate Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. Also kept secret, on grounds of national security, was the fact that the CIA had entered into a partnership with the Mafia to assassinate Castro.
Therefore, how could Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. national-security state justify going to war against Cuba and the Soviet Union to retaliate for assassinating Kennedy, a war that would inevitably turn nuclear and cost the lives of tens of millions of Americans, given that the Soviet Union and Cuba would have been retaliating, not instigating, if they had used Oswald to assassinate Kennedy?
Shutting down track two
That would help to explain why U.S. officials immediately shut down any investigation into whether Oswald acted in concert with others. Under the official version of events, U.S. officials had no doubts that Oswald had done the shooting. But suppose they had concluded that he had acted in concert with others and that the only likely co-conspirators were Cuba and the Soviet Union. Owing to the threat of a massive war involving nuclear weapons, the evidence suggests that they used that threat to pin the murder solely on Oswald as a lone-nut assassin, to shut down any serious investigation into whether Kennedy was killed as part of a conspiracy, and to help cover up the evidence that he had been killed as part of a conspiracy.
Immediately after the shooting, the anti-Castro group with which Oswald had made contact in New Orleans, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), began issuing public statements publicizing Oswald’s connections to Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism. They talked about Oswald’s attempted defection to the Soviet Union, his pamphleteering for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and his pro-communist proclivities. The DRE was obviously doing its best to connect Kennedy’s assassin to Cuba and the Soviet Union.
What Americans did not know at the time and, in fact, would not learn for many years was that the DRE was being closely supervised and funded by the CIA, specifically by a CIA agent named George Joannides. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations began re-investigating Kennedy’s assassination in the late 1970s, the CIA called Joannides out of retirement to serve as the its liaison to the committee. Left secret, however, was Joannides’s role with the DRE in the months leading up to the assassination. Later, in the 1990s, when the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which had been established in the wake of the outcry caused by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, began forcing the disclosure of assassination-related documents, the chairman of the committee suggested that the CIA had obstructed justice by keeping Joannides’s role secret. By that time, Joannides had died and, therefore, was unable to testify. It is interesting that to the present day the CIA steadfastly refuses to disclose all its information regarding Joannides’s relationship with the DRE.
When Johnson was establishing a commission to investigate the assassination, the evidence suggests that he employed track two — Oswald’s supposed complicity with Cuba and the Soviet Union — with at least two of the people he was recruiting to be on the commission — Chief Justice Earl Warren, who would become chairman of the commission, and Sen. Richard Russell. When both of them resisted serving on the commission, Johnson raised the specter of a nuclear war that would take the lives of some 40 million Americans.
Now, ask yourself: Why would Johnson say that? If Oswald was, indeed, nothing more than a lone-nut assassin, then how could an investigation into the assassination possibly lead to a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union? The answer is this: by confirming, through an official government investigation, that Oswald’s connections to the Soviet Union rose to a level of a Soviet-Cuban-Oswald conspiracy to kill Kennedy, which would very likely lead to retaliation and nuclear war. Thus, when Johnson told Warren and Russell about the possibility of a nuclear war arising out of the Kennedy assassination, he could have been alluding only to (1) the possibility that Oswald was acting on behalf of Cuba and the Soviet Union when he assassinated Kennedy, and (2) the importance to national security (and to the lives of millions of people) of pinning the murder solely on Oswald to avoid nuclear war with the Soviets.
Obviously, there was more than sufficient evidence to connect Oswald to Cuba and the Soviets — his self-professed devotion to communism, his attempt to defect to the Soviet Union, his connections to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the U.S. Communist Party, and his possible recent visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City, where he may have met with one of the top assassins for the KGB.
But there was more than that. There was also evidence that Kennedy had been shot from the front. If Oswald shot from behind Kennedy, and if Kennedy was also shot from the front, then that could mean only one thing: Oswald wasn’t acting alone when he shot at the president, and the only likely co-conspirators, given Oswald’s background and connections, were Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Shot from the front
What was the evidence that Kennedy had been shot from the front? What follows is some of it.
First, there were the dozens of people who rushed toward the grassy knoll in front of the president’s motorcade immediately after the assassination because they were certain that shots had been fired from that direction.
Second, there were several Dallas physicians and nurses who treated Kennedy who stated that there was a hole in the back of Kennedy’s head, which they took to be an exit wound.
Third, there was the statement of Secret Service agent Clint Hill, the agent who jumped on the back of the president’s limousine immediately after the shooting and pushed Jacqueline Kennedy back into the car, that confirmed the hole in the back of Kennedy’s head.
Fourth, there was the so-called Harper Fragment of Kennedy’s skull that was found after the shooting, which Dallas physicians established had come from the back of his head.
Fifth, there was the testimony before the ARRB of Navy Petty Officer Saundra Spencer, who served in the Naval Photographic Center, where she developed official photographs for the White House, in which she testified seeing an autopsy photograph showing the hole in the back of Kennedy’s head.
Sixth, there was the testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations of several autopsy personnel confirming the hole at the back of Kennedy’s head.
Seventh, there was the press conference given by Dallas physicians after Kennedy was declared dead in which they stated that he had been shot through the front of the neck.
Eighth, there is the photograph of White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff immediately after the assassination in which he pointed to the right temple of his head to indicate that Kennedy had been shot in the head from the front.
So given all that evidence and more, it would not have been difficult to convince people that Oswald had not acted alone in shooting the president. All that would have to be done is to show people that Oswald was shooting from the back and that at least one other person was shooting from the front. And to exploit the grave national-security and nuclear-war implications of that conspiracy, all that would have to be done is to show people Oswald’s connections to communism, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.
The evidence suggests that while track one — the lone-nut assassin theory — was used on the American people, track two — the national-security threat — was employed on people within the government to cover up the evidence of conspiracy.
In fact, the evidence suggests that track two was employed not only on Warren Commission members but also on national-security officials within the military, who were ultimately charged with conducting the autopsy of the president’s body.
The role of the military
Why the military? After all, Oswald was ostensibly a civilian. He was also supposedly nothing more than a lone nut who decided to assassinate the president. The assassination was purely a Texas state crime, since assassinating the president wasn’t a federal crime at that time. What possible business would a principal agency within the national-security state have conducting an autopsy on the president’s body?
There are two likely reasons: (1) to wrap the investigation into the assassination within the intrigue of “national security,” thereby ensuring that Americans wouldn’t ask too many questions when proceedings were kept secret; and (2) to ensure active participation of the military, with oaths of silence, in a national-
security cover-up of shots fired from the front.
Under Texas law, Texas officials were required to conduct an autopsy on the president’s body. Yet Secret Service officials absolutely refused to permit that autopsy to be conducted. Brandishing guns and threatening to use deadly force against the Texas coroner, they forced their way out of Parkland Hospital with the president’s body.
Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson was waiting for the casket at Dallas Love Field, where his plane was waiting on the tarmac and seats in the back of the plane were being removed in anticipation of the casket’s arrival. Although Johnson had raised the specter that the United States might be under an attack by the Soviet Union while he was waiting at Parkland Hospital, he refused to permit his plane to take off until Kennedy’s casket had been delivered to it. Since an autopsy would obviously have taken several hours — an unacceptable delay to Johnson’s returning to Washington — it is fairly obvious that the Secret Service agents were operating on orders from Johnson to get the casket out of Parkland without the autopsy and quickly delivered to Johnson’s plane at Love Field.
Why was it so important to get the body out of the hands of the Dallas pathologist? Because an honest and genuine autopsy would have reflected that shots had been fired from the front, which obviously would have destroyed the lone-nut-assassin theory and inevitably led to the nuclear-war scenario. That is, Americans would have seen that shots were fired from the front, which they would have connected to Oswald’s pre-assassination, pro-communist activities and, thus, would have concluded that the Soviets and Cubans were also behind the assassination. In the high emotions of the time, they would have demanded immediate retaliation, which would inevitably have escalated to nuclear war. Getting the autopsy out of the hands of Texas officials and into the hands of the national-security state would have been the only way to avoid that outcome.
Given the culture of the military, it would not have been difficult to falsify the autopsy. All that high U.S. officials, including the president, would have had to do is explain that the United States was facing the biggest national-security crisis in its history and that the military was needed to conduct a false autopsy to save the nation and the world from a nuclear holocaust, one that the Kennedy administration would have been responsible for starting, owing to the fact that it had initiated the assassination game with its assassination attempts on Castro.
Under such a scenario, there isn’t a military man in the world who would have refused the orders to do whatever was necessary to save the country and, equally important, to keep whatever he had to do secret for the rest of this life.
In fact, the military required participants in the autopsy to sign formal secrecy oaths and specifically told them that if they ever violated the oaths, they would be facing court-martial or worse. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations attempted to talk to some of the enlisted men about their participation in the autopsy in the 1970s, many of them were still too scared to talk.
It all seems quite strange, given the government’s official story that Oswald was nothing more than a lone-nut assassin. But it all makes perfect sense if in fact the government was using the military to suppress evidence of a conspiracy that could lead the nation into nuclear war.
It also makes sense of why the Warren Commission would order its records to be kept secret for 75 years, notwithstanding its official conclusion that Oswald had acted alone. If national security depended on keeping evidence of a conspiracy secret from Americans, owing to the possibility that they would demand retaliation for the assassination, it would obviously be important to keep that information from generations of Americans.
The Warren Commission’s order to delay release of Kennedy-assassination records benefited the national-security state in many ways. For example, the role of the CIA and George Joannides in the activities of the DRE wasn’t discovered until after Joannides was dead and after two investigations into the Kennedy assassination had been conducted.
After the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted its hearings, several former enlisted men, now released from their oaths of secrecy, came forward and disclosed to private assassination researchers that they had witnessed the president’s body arriving at the Bethesda morgue where the autopsy was conducted, wrapped inside a body bag inside a plain shipping casket. Yet the president body’s had left Parkland Hospital wrapped in white sheets and placed in an expensive ornate burial casket.
Restraining the ARRB
Later, the Assassination Records Review Board came up with additional evidence, including an official report contemporaneously prepared by one Sgt. Roger Boyajian, that buttressed the case that Kennedy’s body had arrived at the morgue more than an hour earlier than officially reported and in a different casket from the one that the body was placed into at Parkland. (And that implies that the Dallas casket that Jacqueline Kennedy escorted from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda Naval Hospital was empty.)
What would have been the purpose for doing that? One purpose would have been to alter the body before the formal autopsy began in order to conceal evidence of shots from the front. In fact, the official report filed by the two FBI agents present at the autopsy — agents who had never been called to testify before the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee — indicated that pre-autopsy surgery had in fact been conducted on Kennedy’s head.
So did the ARRB investigate whether the autopsy had been falsified? No. Why? Because when Congress established the ARRB, it strictly prohibited it from reinvestigating the case. Imagine that. Its mission was strictly limited to securing the release of documents. Why would Congress do that? Why wouldn’t it want the ARRB to investigate if it came up with facts that needed to be investigated?
The ARRB also determined that there were two separate brain examinations, which was highly unusual, especially since the autopsy physicians maintained that only one examination had taken place. But even more unusual, the ARRB also determined that two separate brains were examined, one that obviously did not belong to Kennedy.
Why would military officials do that? One reason would be to hide evidence of a bullet that had entered the president’s head from the front and exited from the back. In fact, the second brain examined had a weight that was greater than a normal human brain, notwithstanding the fact that everyone agrees that there was an extremely large amount of brain destroyed by the shot that hit Kennedy in the head.
Did the ARRB investigate that? No. Again, its charter prohibited it from reinvestigating any part of the case, no matter what newly discovered records revealed.
For years, people had believed that the famous Zapruder film had ended up in the offices of Life magazine, after the magazine purchased it from Abraham Zapruder. Not so. As detailed in the five-volume book Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, by Douglas P. Horne, who served on the ARRB staff, the film actually ended up in the hands of the CIA. (Horne’s book, along with the book Best Evidence, by David Lifton, provides a detailed analysis of many of the matters discussed in this article.)
Why the CIA? After all, this was supposedly an assassination conducted by a lone nut. What interest would one of the principal agencies of the national-security state have in a film of an assassination committed by a lone nut? One possible explanation is an alteration of the film, specifically to hide evidence of an exit hole in the back of the president’s head.
Impossible, you say? Well, as Horne details in his article “The Two NPIC Zapruder Film Events: Signposts Pointing to the Film’s Alteration,” which is posted at LewRockwell.com, the film was taken to a top-secret CIA facility in Washington, D.C., on the Saturday night following the assassination. There, the film was watched and briefing boards were prepared for CIA officials.
The evidence suggests that the film was then transported to the CIA’s top-secret film center at Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York. Why there? One possible reason was to alter the film, given that that facility did, in fact, have the means by which to conduct a professional alteration of it.
Did the ARRB investigate that? No. Again, Congress limited its charter to getting records disclosed and prohibited it from reinvestigating the case.
The ARRB took the statements and testimony of the official autopsy photographer as well as people involved in the top-secret development of the autopsy photographs. The evidence revealed not only that there were photographs in the official collection that had not been taken by the official photographer but also that some of the photographs that the photographer took were not included within the autopsy collection.
Among the official autopsy photographs was one that showed the back of the president’s head to be fully intact, which contradicted everyone who stated that there was an exit hole in the back of the president’s head.
Did the ARRB conduct an investigation into the autopsy photos? No. Congress had prohibited it from doing so.
An obvious question arises: If there was a national-security cover-up in the investigation of the Kennedy assassination, can we really blame U.S. officials for having done so? The answer lies in whether the cover-up was actually designed to protect national security or for a much more nefarious reason.
This article was originally published in the October 2012 edition of Future of Freedom.