Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Nestor Sanchez

 Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Patriot Games: The Intriguing Life's Work of a CIA Official


The Washington Post reports that a retired official from the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense has died.  Nestor Sanchez’s life reads like a Tom Clancy novel set in the major international hotspots of the later 20th century:

Most of his time at the [CIA] involved top-secret covert actions, including bloody 1954 coups in Guatemala and a 1960s plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Mr. Sanchez was also closely connected to former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, a onetime CIA paid informant.

Mr. Sanchez joined the CIA in 1952. His first assignment for the agency was as a field intelligence officer during the Korean War, where he recruited defectors to infiltrate North Korea.

Later, Sanchez’s CIA work focused on Latin America:

A New Mexico native and fluent Spanish speaker, Mr. Sanchez was sent to Central America to help engineer the 1954 coup against the left-leaning Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Mr. Sanchez sharpened his focus on CIA operations in Cuba.  "It is obvious that the Soviets and Cubans are attempting to spread the malaise of Marxism to other countries, especially in Latin America," Mr. Sanchez once said, defending U.S. actions against the small tropical country. "They would impose dictatorships, economic decline and human suffering on the people." 

* * *

Mr. Sanchez later worked in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia and Spain before retiring from the CIA as chief of the Latin American division.

One curious case involved a Cuban informant:

Mr. Sanchez worked as the case officer in charge of Rolando Cubela, a Cuban CIA asset. Cubela was an officer in the Cuban army who had become disenchanted with Castro's leadership. At one point, Cubela asked Mr. Sanchez to provide him with a high-powered rifle equipped with a silencer and zooming scope.

Instead, on Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Sanchez gave Cubela a hypodermic syringe filled with poison and camouflaged as a writing pen. But the assassination attempt never took place, and CIA officials later suspected that Cubela was a double agent.

In the 1980s, Sanchez served in the Reagan Administration’s Defense Department:

From 1981 to 1987, Mr. Sanchez served as a senior official in the Department of Defense.  An ardent anti-communist, he advocated for millions of dollars in Defense funding to aid the development of Latin American armies, especially in El Salvador.

"We understand the concern of those who remember the specter of Vietnam that the war in El Salvador is being 'Americanized,' " Mr. Sanchez said in 1983.  "But Vietnam was 10,000 miles away. El Salvador is a contiguous region right at our doorstep.  San Salvador is closer to Washington, D.C., than is San Francisco."

Even his personal life was enhanced by his professional life:

From 1955 to 1959, Mr. Sanchez was posted to Morocco under State Department cover, where he oversaw intelligence gathering operations from a small base in Casablanca.  During his time there, Mr. Sanchez married Joan Russell, a fellow CIA employee working undercover in Casablanca.  She died in 2008. 

The Politics of Deception - Castro and Cuba

 The writer is author of "The Politics of Deception: JFK's Secret Decisions on Vietnam, Civil Rights and Cuba." He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.


There is a safe somewhere in the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, that very likely contains a sort of tribute to Fidel Castro. It's a Cohiba, the cigar favored by the Cuban leader, dusted with one of the world's most lethal poisons — botulin toxin.

"Merely putting one in the mouth would do the job," John Earman, an inspector general of the CIA, wrote in 1967. By "job" he means assassination.

Under orders from Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, the CIA devised numerous plots to kill Castro. The revolutionary turned communist survived White House enmity for half a century.

The Cohiba was uncovered after CIA Director Richard Helms ordered Earman to get the truth behind rumors in the press of the assassination attempts. Earman's little-noticed 1967 report was finally made public in 1998.

The toxic stogie was the work of Dr. Edward Gunn, chief of medical services of the CIA's operations division. Gunn's career defied the Hippocratic pledge: "First, do no harm."

At the dirty tricks division, according to Earman's report, Gunn was Dr. Do Harm.

In 1961, Gunn had prepared a box of 50 poisoned cigars, meant to land on Castro's desk in Havana. They were never delivered.

The Cohiba that remained in the agency's permanent repository was a matter of some pride for the doctor. Although six years old, it "was still 94 percent effective," the inspector general's report said. It could still have caused Castro a quick and horrible death.

Gunn devised other attacks. In 1960, the CIA hired two certified mobsters — SamGiancana of Chicago and Johnny Roselli of Las Vegas, the report said. Both patriots refused the $150,000 CIA assassination fee. But they balked at blasting Castro during a speech in Revolutionary Square. They insisted on poison that would be slipped by their Havana agent into Castro's teacup.

Gunn had trouble with the poison pill. Instead of instantly dissolving, it was still there after a night in a water glass.

When tested, it failed to kill the guinea pigs. Finally, Gunn managed to send a monkey to a screeching death. Although the pill arrived in Havana, Giancana reported his agent "got cold feet."

Kennedy's failure to overthrow Castro in the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco produced constant Republican attacks on his leadership. It resulted in what the inspector general's report termed "severe" pressure by Kennedy to eliminate Castro.

Once more, Giancana and Roselli were recruited, and once again Gunn provided the means. This time, the poison was inserted in a pencil with a secret compartment carved by the good doctor. Once more, Havana agents failed.

By 1963, Desmond Fitzgerald had taken charge of the CIA's Cuban Task Force. Fitzgerald became renowned at Langley for the laughter his schemes produced. They never got out of the lab.

There was the midget submarine for planting explosives in a sea mollusk near Castro's favorite skin-diving area.

And a plot to dust the interior of a skin-diving suit with bacteria that would cover his body in Madura-foot tumors and another to infect his underwater oxygen system with tuberculosis bacteria.

"The fruitless and, in retrospect, often unrealistic plotting should be viewed in that light," Earman wrote.

The final attack was planned — but never carried out — in 1963 after one of Castro's closest associates was approached by the CIA. He was Maj. Roland Cubela Secades, a bearded student revolutionary.

According to his CIA handler, Nestor Sanchez, Cubela hoped for American recognition as Castro's successor once his former comrade was dispensed with. He asked for explosives and automatic weapons with telescopic sights to do the job.

As a physician, Cubela said, he could devise other methods, as well. Gunn helped out.

In his CIA lab, Gunn carved out the guts of a Paper Mate ballpoint pen. Inside, he placed a syringe so fine that Castro would feel only a slight nick as poison was injected.

Cubela was not impressed with Gunn's handiwork when Sanchez delivered it to him in a Paris hotel room. Even so, he placed it in his pocket. Cubela said he would devise his own poison for the syringe.

It was Nov. 22, and as Sanchez and Cubela walked downstairs to the hotel lobby, they learned that Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. According to Sanchez, Cubela was rocked by the news.

"Why do bad things happen to good people?" Castro's would-be assassin asked his CIA handler.

Peter Kornbluh The Darkest Day - JFK and Castro

 The Darkest Day

Fifty years later, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories still swirl around the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

By Peter Kornbluh | From Liev Schreiber, November/December 2013


On the morning of November 22, 1963, a CIA operative named Nestor Sanchez arrived in Paris carrying a Paper Mate pen that contained a hidden hypodermic needle—a Cold War weapon specifically created by the agency’s Technical Services Division to kill Fidel Castro. At a meeting in an undisclosed location later that day, Sanchez provided the converted pen to a Cuban military officer—codenamed “AMLASH”—who was the CIA’s highest level asset in Cuba. The two discussed how to fill it with a deadly poison called “Blackleaf 40.” But AMLASH considered trying to prick Castro with a rigged pen to be a suicide mission; instead he requested a high-powered, long-range, sniper rifle. As the two left their meeting, they received word that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. “It is very likely,” a top secret CIA history on plots to kill Castro later emphasized, “that at the very moment President Kennedy was shot a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination device to use against Castro.”

On that same day and at that very same moment, some 5,000 miles away in Cuba Fidel Castro was meeting with an emissary sent by President Kennedy to offer a possible rapprochement between Washington and Havana. The Cuban leader and the president’s “messenger of peace”—a French journalist named Jean Daniel—had just finished a lunch of freshly caught fish.  They were discussing the potential restoration of normalcy in U.S.-Cuban relations when Castro received a phone call reporting that Kennedy had been shot. “This is terrible,” Castro told Daniel, realizing that his mission of peace had been aborted by an assassin’s bullet. And then Castro predicted: “They are going to say we did it.”

Fifty years after the death of the president in Dallas, the confluence of these dramatic, but coincidental, events on November 22, 1963, continues to provide fodder for a range of assassination conspiracy theorists who place Cuba at the center of their theories.  From the right, conspiracy buffs have postulated that Fidel Castro managed to manipulate a revolutionary wannabe named Lee Harvey Oswald into killing Kennedy before Kennedy could kill Castro; from the left, numerous theories speculate that the CIA and other nefarious national security operatives assassinated the president because he had become “soft” on Communism—particularly in Cuba—and wanted to end the Cold War. After five decades of endless investigation and unproven hypotheses there remains little evidence to challenge the conclusion of the official investigative commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren: Oswald, acting alone and for his own reasons, killed JFK. Nevertheless, Cuba and Kennedy’s policies
toward the Cuban revolution remain a central part of the public fascination with the “whodunit” of the murder of the president.

“We resist the idea that a nobody could do something as big as this,” one of John F. Kennedy’s top White House aides, Theodore Sorensen, told a New York Times reporter 20 years ago. Indeed, the American public has found it hard to accept that the most notorious crime of the 20th century could have been generated by an itinerate loner like Oswald. A Gallup poll taken shortly after the assassination found that 52 percent of the public believed Oswald had been part of a larger conspiracy; another Gallup poll on the fortieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death recorded that 75 percent of Americans believed more than one individual was responsible. “If you put the murdered president of the United States on one side of the scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn’t balance,” as author William Manchester explained the national sense of incredulity. “You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the president’s death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely.”

Conspiracy theorists have certainly devoted themselves to that task. As if to feed the widespread wish to find a master criminal who fit the magnitude of the crime, an entire conspiracy industry has proliferated over the years. More than 2,000 books and many thousands of articles have been written. Major organizations such as the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) and the Mary Ferrell Foundation have pursued the story of the assassination for decades. As the 50th anniversary of the assassination arrives, new websites such as JFKFacts.org have been created to centralize theories, documentation and the always ongoing debate over who, if not Oswald alone, killed Kennedy and why. That question has generated countless responses, many of them paranoid and preposterous. Lyndon Johnson killed the president, a group of gays killed the president, the military-industrial complex killed the president, the mafia and/or the CIA killed the president…these are just a few of the dozens of speculative theories still circulating on the 50th anniversary.

Conspiracy fantasies formed around many elements of the assassination, among them: the discrepancies between the bullet holes in the president’s body and in his suit coat, the so-called “magic bullet” that pierced Kennedy’s neck and then went through the shoulder of Texas Governor John Connally seated in front of him, the shadows on the famous photo of Oswald holding the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle used to shoot Kennedy, and the inaccuracies of the autopsy reports on the president’s injuries. One best-selling conspiracy book, Best Evidence, by David Lifton, claimed that the body in the casket that was put aboard Air Force One in Dallas to transport the dead president home was not the same one that was taken off the plane when it landed in Washington.  “The conspiracy theories are divorced from reality,” Jeremy Gunn, former staff director of the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) told Cigar Aficionado, “and divorced from common sense.”

The creation of the ARRB by Congress in 1992 owes to the mass marketing of perhaps the most discredited and disreputable of all Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories: the witch hunt in New Orleans by local prosecutor Jim Garrison. Garrison originally claimed that the assassination of the president was “a homosexual thrill-killing”—and, on trumped up charges, unsuccessfully prosecuted a local businessman for the crime; he later expanded the pool of conspirators to include the CIA and FBI. His infamous investigation became the basis of the popular 1991 Oliver Stone movie, JFK, starring Kevin Costner.

Like Garrison’s investigation, the movie was utter fiction. But it galvanized public outrage over the U.S. government secrecy that continued to surround the Kennedy assassination.  “Even the records created by the investigative commissions and committees were withheld from public view and sealed,” noted the Executive Summary of the ARRB report.  “The suspicions created by government secrecy eroded confidence in the truthfulness of federal agencies in general and damaged their credibility.” The inexplicable lack of transparency, along with the corrosive nature of the conspiracy theories that filled the void left by the still hidden historical record, mobilized Congress in 1992 to pass the “JFK Act,” which mandated the review and opening of all documentation concerned with the death of the president.

The result was one of the most far-reaching declassification projects ever undertaken by the U.S. government. Under the supervision of a five-member board chaired by Judge John Tunheim, the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, White House and all other relevant government and law-enforcement agencies spent four years locating, reviewing and releasing an estimated 5 million pages relating specifically and broadly to all direct and indirect aspects of the assassination—none of which disproved original findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone. On Cuba, the Kennedy assassination records included detailed CIA operational cables and reports on covert operations to kill or overthrow Castro in the early 1960s.

“The agency made a genuine and sincere effort to declassify everything that was mandated by law,” says Brian Latell, who as the then-director of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence oversaw the agency’s work with the Assassination Records Review Board. But there were “lots of fights with the board” over declassifying specific documents, he recalled. “In every case it was sources and methods.”

Indeed, as the ARRB prepared to close its doors in 1998, it identified 1,100 additional CIA records as “assassination-related.” The Agency, however, refused to release them until 2017—the year the JFK Act states all remaining intelligence records must be declassified. Similarly, the CIA continues to fight a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by assassination scholar Jefferson Morley for the papers of the agency’s case officer for an anti-Castro group of exiles that had several encounters with the pro-Castro Oswald in New Orleans. By continuing to keep relevant records secret, the CIA has fanned the flames of speculation on Cuba’s role in the assassination, as well as the CIA’s role itself.

Castro’s prediction that “they are going to say we did it,” proved prescient. The very first accusation of a Cuba/Oswald conspiracy came just six days after the assassination, on November 28, when CIA Director John McCone briefed President Johnson on Oswald’s visits in late September to both the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City. CIA intercepts of telephone calls revealed that Oswald was seeking “travel permits to Cuba and thence to the Soviet Union for himself and his wife,” McCone advised in a top secret update on the investigation into Kennedy’s assassination. But McCone also reported that a Nicaraguan intelligence operative named Gilberto Alvarado had “advised our [Mexico] station in great detail on his alleged knowledge that he actually saw Oswald given $6,500 in the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on September 18th.”  Alvarado claimed the money was to pay for killing the president of the United States.

Both the CIA and the FBI had concrete evidence, however, that Oswald had been in New Orleans on September 18—he did not travel to Mexico City until September 26th. During questioning at a safe-house in Mexico City, Alvarado failed a polygraph test and retracted his claims. He was “totally discredited,” recalls the CIA’s Brian Latell.

Nevertheless, with the growing public clamor about an international Communist conspiracy, President Johnson moved quickly to appoint a presidential commission on the assassination. “Now these wild people are charging Khrushchev killed Kennedy and Castro killed Kennedy,” he told Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who Johnson appointed to chair the investigation. “But the American people and the world have got to know who killed Kennedy and why.”

Although one informant who pointed the finger at Cuba was dismissed, the CIA also pursued information from a second informant—a leftist politician from Panama. This high-level “asset” had been personally recruited by veteran CIA operative Jacob Esterline to penetrate Castro’s inner circle. Esterline served as station chief in Caracas, and later senior manager of the Bay of Pigs operation. “They told me they would never do that,” the asset reported to Esterline after the assassination—a vague remark he and his agency colleagues interpreted as their informant’s belief in possible Cuban complicity. 

According to Esterline, this comment set off an internal investigation, codenamed “Black Walnut,” into whether the Cubans had anything to do with Kennedy’s death.  The sensitivity of “sources and methods,” in this case the identity of one the agency’s most important sources inside Cuba, has kept this investigation—it presumably cleared the Cubans of wrongdoing—hidden for half a century.

“Black Walnut” would not be the last of such internal inquiries; a dozen years later in the wake of the first major public revelations of CIA efforts to kill Castro using poison pills, toxic cigars, exploding sea shells and Paper Mate pens rigged with hidden syringes, the agency was forced to revisit the issue of whether its own assassination plots might have prompted Castro to retaliate.

At the time of Kennedy’s death, CIA “executive action” operations to eliminate Castro, codenamed “ZR/RIFLE,” were so secret that they were deliberately withheld from the Warren Commission. In 1975, however, an investigative Senate committee led by Senator Frank Church released a report titled “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders,” which described, in shocking detail, the CIA’s clandestine assassination efforts—among them the Sanchez/AMLASH meeting in Paris on the day President Kennedy was killed. The report drew heavily on a top secret, 138-page internal CIA history, “Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro,” compiled in 1967 by the CIA’s own inspector general. The public revelations of the Church Committee report forced another CIA inspector general to assess whether Castro might have preempted the obviously failed efforts to murder him.

That second inspector general report, titled “What Could Castro have Known?” examined the “cause-and-effect relationship between the [CIA’s Castro] plans and President Kennedy’s death.” The agency’s inspector general detailed three specific plots, including the AMLASH operation, to determine whether at any point Castro would have known enough to have acted first. Since the assassination device was only passed to AMLASH on the actual day Kennedy was killed, the inspector general inferred that Castro would not have known in advance of that plot.

“One can speculate,” the report concluded, “as to whether or not Castro actually learned of the plans described above and, if so, the details that he would have learned. Assuming that he learned something—which is not all that clear—he would still have had to know enough detail to have devised that it was a U.S. Government action as the basis for launching a counterattack in the form of Lee Harvey Oswald, as has been postulated by some. The basic issue arises from speculation, and speculation cannot satisfactorily resolve it.”

In his recently published book, Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Brian Latell, now a retired CIA analyst teaching at University of Miami, argues that even if Cuba did not instruct Oswald to kill the president, Castro knew about his plans to do so in advance. This theory seems unlikely; all indications are that Oswald decided, impulsively, to seize the opportunity to shoot the president only the day before his trip to Dallas. Speculation, sheer though it may be, continues about a shadowy Cuban role in the Kennedy assassination.   

Even more conspiracy writers have speculated that Cuba was not the sponsor of the violence that shook the nation on November 22, 1963, but rather its subject—to terminate the president’s effort to pursue a peaceful coexistence with Cuba, CIA officials conspired with other sinister forces to terminate the president. In books such as Peter Dale Scott’s Deep Politics II: Essays on Oswald, Mexico and Cuba, and Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, Oswald is depicted as either a CIA patsy or a cover for additional assassins positioned on the famous “grassy knoll.” The motivation of Kennedy’s killers was to eliminate the president before he could end the Cold War—in the Caribbean, and elsewhere. 

At the time of his death, Kennedy was indeed pursuing secret talks with Castro. The message of possible reconciliation that the U.S. president sent to Castro through Jean Daniel became public shortly after the assassination when the French journalist published a detailed account on his role as an “unofficial envoy” in the New Republic, and in a front-page New York Times article. His meetings with both Kennedy and Castro, Daniel wrote in the Times on December 11, 1963, had established “in effect a dialogue between President Kennedy and Premier Fidel Castro.” 

In fact, the White House had been quietly pursuing talks with Cuba for months—using a series of secret intermediaries and interlocutors before Daniel. James Donovan, a New York lawyer who Robert Kennedy had picked to negotiate the release of more than 1,000 exiles captured by Cuban forces at the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, became the first intermediary.  After Castro broached the possibility of expanding talks on the prisoner releases to improve overall relations to Donovan, the president instructed his top aides to “start thinking along more flexible lines” in negotiating with Castro.

In late April, a correspondent for ABC News named Lisa Howard who had traveled to Havana to do a televised special on the Cuban revolution replaced Donovan as the central interlocutor. When she returned from Cuba, Howard debriefed CIA deputy director Richard Helms on Castro’s clear interest in improved relations. In a top secret memorandum that arrived on the desk of the president, Helm’s reported that “Howard definitely wants to impress the U.S. Government with two facts: Castro is ready to discuss rapprochement and she herself is ready to discuss it with him if asked to do so by the U.S. Government.”

Predictably, the CIA adamantly opposed any dialogue with Cuba. The agency was institutionally invested in its ongoing efforts to covertly roll back the revolution. In a secret memo rushed to the White House on May 1, 1963, CIA Director John McCone requested that “no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time” and urged only the “most limited Washington discussions” on accommodation with Castro.

But in the fall of 1963, Washington and Havana did take active steps toward actual negotiations. In September Howard used a cocktail party at her E. 74th St. Manhattan townhouse as cover for the first meeting between a Cuban official, UN Ambassador Carlos Lechuga, and a U.S. official, deputy UN Ambassador William Attwood. Using Howard as a secret back channel, Castro and Kennedy then began passing messages about arranging an actual negotiation session between the two nations.

On November 5, Kennedy’s secret taping system recorded a conversation with his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, on whether to send Attwood to Havana to meet secretly with Castro. Attwood, Bundy told the president, “now has an invitation to go down and talk to Fidel about terms and conditions in which he would be interested in a change of relations with the U.S.” The president is heard agreeing to the idea but asking if “we can get Attwood off the payroll before he goes” so as to “sanitize” him as a private citizen in case word of the secret meeting leaked.

On November 14, Howard arranged for Attwood to come to her home and talk via telephone to Castro’s top aide, René Vallejo, about obtaining the Cuban agenda for a secret meeting in Havana with the Cuban commandante. Vallejo agreed to transmit a proposed agenda to Cuba’s UN ambassador, Lechuga, to give to the Americans. When Attwood passed this information on to Bundy at the White House, he was told that when the agenda was received, “the president wanted to see me at the White House and decide what to say and whether to go [to Cuba] or what we should do next.”

“That was the 19th of November,” Attwood recalled. “Three days before the assassination.”

As this dramatic history emerged over the past 25 years, it became grist for some of the more popular conspiracy theories, not only on the how but why Kennedy was killed. Early in the opening scenes of the movie, JFK, for example, a narrator sets the stage for the assassination by stating: “more rumors emerge of JFK’s backdoor efforts outside usual State Department and CIA channels to establish dialogue with Fidel Castro through contacts at the United Nations in New York. Kennedy is seeking change on all fronts.” It was JFK’s “turn toward peace” that led to his assassination, according to James Douglass’s chronicle of these conspiratorial events, JFK and the Unspeakable, which has gained a popular following. 

“JFK pursued a series of actions—right up to the week of his death—that caused members of his own military intelligence establishment to regard him as a virtual traitor who had to be eliminated,” the book argues. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led to nuclear war, Kennedy, sought a détente with both Khrushchev and Castro, the book reports. “For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours) Kennedy was murdered by a power we cannot describe.”

“The imaginative recreation of the Kennedy assassination has been a way to explore the twin issues of confidence and conspiracy in U.S. history,” Jefferson Morley has written. The government secrecy that has accompanied the Kennedy assassination, while significantly reduced by the JFK Act, has eroded public confidence in official findings, while enhancing the validity of conspiracy theories—completely implausible and off-the-wall as some may be. The credibility of the Warren Commission findings have been severely undercut by the fact that the CIA withheld from its investigators all information on its Castro-assassination plots. Yet with the clear corrosive effect of undue secrecy on the American psyche, after 50 years there are still “sources and methods” the CIA feels compelled to hide, and records related to Cuba operations in 1963 that it claims still cannot be declassified.

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, last year officials at the National Declassification Center, the government agency that pushes for prioritizing the release of still-secret historical records, approached the CIA about releasing all remaining Kennedy assassination records, as a historical contribution to the nation. But the “securocrats” at CIA claimed they did not have the time and resources to meet that deadline. The public would have to wait till 2017 before the remaining 1,100 records will be reviewed and, perhaps, finally opened.But what is now known about the CIA, Kennedy’s Cuba policies, the assassination and Oswald’s actions leaves an extraordinary and bitter irony. As historian Max Holland pointed out 20 years ago in a little read essay in Reviews in American History on “Making Sense of the Assassination,”Oswald’s violent acts were “manifestly political” and based on “a drive to be recognized as a revolutionary capable of the daring act.” A would-be communist, and one-man chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, he saw himself as a political actor who had the opportunity to save Cuba from the policies of U.S. aggression that he had likely read about in the New Orleans newspapers. The AMLASH mission and others like it may have come back to haunt the U.S., noted veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, who broke the story of the CIA’s assassination plots against Castro. “An arrow launched into the air to kill a foreign leader may well have fallen back to kill our own.”

What Oswald could not have known was that his act of assassination would actually terminate a significant secret effort by President Kennedy to explore détente in the Caribbean, and fundamentally change the framework of a hostile U.S. policy toward the Castro revolution. “This is an end to your mission of peace, this is an end to your mission of peace,” Castro said to Daniel as they listened to a radio report that President Kennedy had died in Dallas.

Fifty years later, that sad fact remains the ultimate historical irony of the Kennedy assassination.

Peter Kornbluh is an analyst at the National Security Archive, and is coauthor of a forthcoming book on the history of dialog between the U.S. and Cuba.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Vince Salandria RIP

Vince Salandria: The JFK Conspiracy Theorist
                  Vince Salandria 

Dear All,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to say that Vince Salandria died this past Sunday of a heart attack while out walking his dog.

We posted a tribute to Vince on the Truth & Reconciliation website.

We are collecting remembrances and will post those as well, so please feel free to share your memories. 
Vince deserves a proper obituary, and we are reaching out to our contacts in the media, but if anyone can help please let me know.

We will miss him,
Libby Handros
Dan Storper
The Truth & Reconciliation Committee


The man who immediately understood the true cause and profound meaning of President Kennedy’s assassination, and for 57 years quietly taught that understanding to the rest of us, has died. Vincent J. Salandria was 92, vigorous and lucid till the end. On Sunday, August 23rd, he collapsed while walking his dog in his Philadelphia neighborhood.

We reprint here in full Christopher Sharrett’s excellent short biography of Vince, written in 1999 as the introduction to False Mystery, a collection of Vince’s speeches and articles that remain indispensable reading today.

To the extensive list of Salandria-inspired people and material provided by Professor Sharrett below, we should add three of the most important that have arrived on the scene since his piece was written: Jim Douglas’s JFK and The Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters and two works by David Talbot: Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, and The Devil’s Chessboard, about the career of CIA director Allen Dulles.  

In addition, Vince advised and will appear in two upcoming documentary films, one directed by Max Good on the role of the Paines in history, and Four Died Trying, produced by TRC co-chair Libby Handros and directed by this writer.

Vince insisted on asking fundamental questions that cut through the cant of official propaganda. With an attorney’s clear logic, he asked with perfect simplicity: “What would an honest government do?”

It was a test the authorities consistently failed at the time of the assassination, and one we would do well to apply more vigorously today.  

Farewell, great teacher.
John Kirby
Provincetown, MA
August 25, 2020

Introduction to False Mystery
by Christopher Sharrett

The writings of Vincent J Salandria on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are historic, foundational, and essential to any serious scholar interested in understanding the real dynamics of the Kennedy murder and its place as a terrible and pivotal moment of the American Century. In his 1967 book Six Seconds in Dallas, Josiah Thompson notes that what he terms the “second generation” of assassination researchers—including Mark Lane, Edward J. Epstein, Harold Weisberg, Raymond Marcus, Léo Sauvage, Richard Popkin—owe “a deep debt to Salandria’s pioneering and largely unsung research.” Thompson is accurate, since Salandria is in the front rank of Warren Commission critics, and the prescience of his analysis is an instruction to all interested people.

On November 22, 1963, the day of the assassination, Salandria watched the unfolding narrative on television with his then brother-in-law, the late Harold Feldman (himself a important scholar of this case and the author of the monograph “Fifty-One Witnesses: The Grassy Knoll”). Many friends of Salandria recount his responses to that day. Salandria noted at the first moments of this crime that it reeked of a governmental coup, and that the confirmation of his suspicion would be the murder of the alleged suspect while in custody.

He observed that from the first hours of the case, the pronouncements of the government, as carried by the major media, contained a consciousness of guilt at the center of state power. At no time did the government entertain seriously the possibility of a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, even as local authorities in Dallas and the mainstream media offered a steady stream of evidence pointing to conspiracy (witnesses and physicians saying Kennedy was shot from two directions; witnesses running to the grassy knoll in front of the motorcade as well as into buildings behind the motorcade; more than one rifle found; various suspects detained; gun smoke smelled at ground level; a bystander wounded). Although many of these reports could have been in error, Salandria noted that the federal authorities, if honest, would have pursued these reports rather than shut down their options and proclaim the guilt of one man, a warehouse worker named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oswald’s guilt was indeed immediately proclaimed, and rarely with the qualifier “alleged.” Oswald’s supposed leftist political affiliations were loudly trumpeted as a means of enhancing the aura of guilt around a man declared the murderer—and the only murderer—even before he was officially charged with the crime. It should be noted that the labeling by the government of Oswald as a leftist—and hence a homicidal madman—effectively stilled the dissent of and terrified much of the American progressive community, particularly with the publication of the Warren Report. The voice of Vincent Salandria, who never wavered from progressive values, was not so stilled.

On Nov. 2, 1964, Salandria published an article in The Legal Intelligencer, the oldest law publication in the United States. The piece, reproduced herein, is the first sustained criticism of the Warren Commission’s conclusions on the forensic evidence in the assassination. It represents a courageous and articulate dissent from within the American legal profession that, sadly, has rarely been replicated. To those who today argue that the government’s initial response to the assassination flowed from a concern merely to protect national security, Salandria’s article, written in 1964, is a crucial response. It shows that the authorities were utterly disingenuous about the smallest detail of the forensic evidence of the crime, and none of the official conduct augured well for confidence in the government’s motivations, then or now, in telling us about the assassination.

The circumstances of this article’s publication are as remarkable and historic as its content. The Philadelphia Bar Association had just finished celebrating the work for the Warren Commission of Arlen Specter, a native son who would soon be elected the city’s district attorney. Salandria, a practicing lawyer in Philadelphia, was unimpressed by his colleague’s new status in the profession. Theodore Voorhees, then Chancellor of the Bar, felt that Salandria’s dissent was too important for the Intelligencer to ignore, despite the paper’s positive appraisal both of the Warren Report and the service provided to the Warren Commission by its legal staff.

Salandria’s article, like his subsequent essays for the New Left journal Liberation [published in January and March 1965], contains a discourse now very familiar to assassination researchers, although it is doubtful if many know where the discourse originated. With a painstaking, methodical approach, Salandria showed how the government’s own evidence completely undermined its conclusions. His argument was bolstered many times over in his Liberation pieces, written after the Commission had issued its twenty-six evidentiary and hearings volumes. While critics have repeated ad nauseam the particulars of Salandria’s argument (the conflicting medical exhibits; the timing of the shots; the impossible trajectories; the ammunition; the ignoring of testimony), few, it seems to me, have apprehended Salandria’s perspective and sensibility as he studied these data.

Throughout his analysis of the Warren Commission evidence, Salandria posed to himself and to his reader questions that were at their heart philosophical and moral as well as political. He noted that the authorities, from the beginning, asked us to suspend not only the rule of law and basic physical laws, but also laws of logic and reason. We were asked by the Warren Commission to accept the Orwellian notion that two plus two equals five. We were asked to accept as sensible and professional conduct under our system of law the Chief Justice and his staff accepting into evidence crude anatomical sketches of President Kennedy’s wounds, drawn by a Navy corpsman at the direction of his superior, rather than primary autopsy data. 

Salandria asked himself and his readers if one could accept, as reasonable professional conduct of adult men, the Bethesda military doctors who performed Kennedy’s autopsy not immediately contacting the medical personnel in Dallas who first treated him, but instead contacting these personnel only as an afterthought the morning after the autopsy was completed and the body sent on for burial. These questions are still pertinent at the end of the twentieth century, since the federal government has yet to provide to the American public a clear, firmly supported account of how many times President Kennedy was shot, from which direction(s), and on which parts of his body he was wounded. Each time an accounting of the wounds is offered (the Clark Panel in 1968; the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979; the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992), the narrative changes, usually to accommodate to some degree the skepticism of the public.

As Salandria continued his research into the assassination, he observed that the media’s representations of the crime shifted regularly to meet the needs of the authorities in possession of the evidence. In this recognition, Salandria was especially prescient. Today, such writers as Jerry Policoff, Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, and many others have proven that ours is hardly an independent media, but rather a set of (dis)information organs, constructed as corporations, wholly answerable to state and private power. This was never more evident than in Salandria’s early scrutiny of the media’s coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

Less than two weeks after the assassination, Life magazine published a Memorial Issue containing an article that attempted to put to rest “nagging rumors” about the assassination. The piece informed us that while President Kennedy was indeed shot in the throat from the front, this could be explained by examination of an 8mm film taken by a bystander that was at the moment of publication Life’s exclusive property (the famous Zapruder film). The author of the essay informed us that the film shows Kennedy turning far around, exposing thereby his throat to Oswald’s sniper’s lair six stories above the presidential motorcade. It would be ten years before the general public would learn that no such turn took place as it finally saw the Zapruder film on national television. Few would know the history of media mendacity on this issue, but Salandria was keeping careful notes.

Life’s uncritical support of the Warren Commission at times bordered on the hysterical. When the Warren Report was issued in the fall of 1964, Life was so enamored of it that the magazine published not one but three versions of a single issue. The issue contained an account of the Warren findings written not by a Life journalist, but by Gerald Ford, the future President who served (at the suggestion of his friend Richard Nixon) on the Commission. Salandria remarked that it was highly unusual, in an era before computer-based publishing, for a magazine to publish three versions of a single issue. The reason for this strange enterprise became clear as Salandria scanned the three versions. Each text contained refinements that bolstered the Commission’s lone-nut thesis, and attempted to clear up (but in the process only complicated) the contradictions related to a broad range of subjects—from the direction of the President’s body under the impact of the fatal shot to the timing of the Tippit shooting to the internal dissent on the Warren Commission. Salandria wrote to Life editor Ed Kern about the peculiar phenomenon of three versions of the same issue. Kern replied that indeed such an occurrence was highly unusual—and very costly—but could not figure out who authorized the changes nor how it was done.

In 1967-69 Salandria supported the efforts of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in reopening the assassination probe. This work is not represented here, but is mentioned in other locations, including Garrison’s A Heritage of Stone and On the Trail of the Assassins. Suffice it to say that Salandria’s contribution to Garrison’s effort was significant; Garrison sent an early printing of On the Trail of the Assassins to Salandria with the inscription: “To my intellectual mentor and friend.” Garrison’s discussion of “models of explanation” in A Heritage of Stone owes much to Salandria, whose examination of the elementary data convinced Garrison that he was looking not at a plot of right-wing fringe groups, but a coup at the center of the American power structure.

In the early 1970s, Salandria refined his model of explanation of the assassination in a speech before the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. The speech was published in the unlikely venue Computers and Automation, a Boston-based science journal created by Edmund Berkeley and Richard Sprague, two computer systems analysts committed to the truth of the assassination and issues of social justice. In this transitional article, reprinted here, Salandria parted company with the school of assassination research—a school he helped to found—focused on Dealey Plaza, in order to examine the why of the assassination and its implications for America. At this stage of his work he determined that the continued ransacking of the Dealey Plaza microdata was a way of prolonging a false debate and instilling a pointless doubt and doublethink in the public, a theme that has been dominant in Salandria’s work to this day.

For Salandria, the endless probing of the evidentiary minutiae proceeds from the assumption that the case for conspiracy isn’t proven (and perhaps can never be proven), and that we should give the authorities the benefit of the doubt as we continue obsessional and debilitating detective work. For Salandria this reasoning, which invites the authorities to continue in their prevarication, is absurd and intellectually dishonest, since a consciousness of guilt was manifest in state power from the moment the assassination occurred. The micro-fixated critical orientation to this case forestalls an understanding of the assassination as a political act requiring mass mobilization, and an analysis of the murder attentive to its political-economic context.

In the mid-70s, Salandria developed these concerns further with the assistance of his friend, Professor Thomas Katen. In a piece called “The Design of the Warren Report, to Fall to Pieces,” perhaps Salandria’s most controversial article, he posited something many critics—including Sylvia Meagher and Harold Weisberg—had long intuited about the Warren Report. To read the Report is to disbelieve it. The reasoning of the Report is absurd, yet unreasonable or irrational men didn’t write it. Salandria argued that the Report was designed to appear incredible, and thereby signal to the people of America that faith in constituency-based government was obsolete, as state power and the capitalist system it represents consolidated their authority over America. Salandria scholars (there are more than a few) debate this piece, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to judge the intent of the Warren Report authors to the level of Salandria’s assertions. Intentionality is indeed a tough call, but it is useful to consider the effect of the Warren Report alongside Salandria’s argument with the hindsight of thirty-six years.

Today, the Kennedy assassination has entered cyberspace and the domain of pop culture. JFK assassination experts are everywhere, and although most think a conspiracy was “likely,” few seem able or interested in seeing how it was precipitated by basic assumptions of our government and economic system. Even fewer people seem interested in the crime’s relationship to subsequent history and our current moment as the case is consigned to the culture of postmodernity and The X Files. Looking at the current situation, we might reflect on Salandria’s most explosive contentions in “The Design of the Warren Report,” and an earlier piece, “The Promotion of Domestic Discord.” Is much of our supposedly adversarial culture, in large part produced by a culture industry, a means of coopting and diluting genuinely adversarial energies? The Huxleyan vision of the future Salandria spoke of in “The Design of the Warren Report” seems too close for comfort as wars become video games, and as we seek solace from the VCR and prescription tranquilizers.

The essay entitled “A False Mystery Concealing State Crimes” is Salandria’s speech before the Coalition on Political Assassination’s 1998 conference, and is a summary statement of his work. It exhorts the reader not to participate in the false, debilitating debate that refuses to say President Kennedy was the victim of a state-sanctioned coup. Salandria asks that we use this murder as an instruction for our times, a lesson concerning the bankruptcy of our way of life, as we engage in the difficult task of building a more just society. The speech, which took Salandria nearly two hours to deliver at COPA, received a prolonged standing ovation, heartening him greatly after a long period of believing assassination research had become an intellectual hobby horse and taken a disastrously pointless turn. The next evening, COPA gave Salandria a long-overdue lifetime achievement award.

Vincent Salandria has never wanted a public profile, and consistently rejected offers to write a book. Occasionally, he has accepted invitations from the Philadelphia media to speak on the subject of the assassination. He has also accepted invitations from civic groups to debate Arlen Specter; Specter has always refused, claiming he has “already” debated Salandria (presumably because he once answered questions about Salandria’s work). A speech by Salandria, although rare, is always pregnant with import that either misses most of the audience or is treated with derision. In a 1967 lecture attended by author Joe McGinniss, Salandria stated that RFK would most likely be assassinated, and that LBJ would step down from office. McGinniss, a chronicler of the 60s and 70s, thought it “sad” that Salandria should believe such things.

In the past thirty-five years Salandria has, in pop psychology terms, “empowered” any number of people interested in the truth of the Kennedy murder. A few people who have benefited from his thought: Harold Feldman, Gaeton Fonzi, Ray Marcus, Jim Garrison, Sylvia Meagher, Jim DiEugenio, and incidentally myself. In the early 1990s, Salandria assembled a circle of correspondents who engage in a round-robin exchange concerning the Kennedy assassination, its legacy, and the shape of our current world. Among those who have participated in this very prolific circle are E. Martin Schotz, Michael Morrissey, Robert Dean, Fletcher Prouty, Steve Jones, Gaeton Fonzi, Barbara LaMonica, Jim Douglass, Dick Levy, Donald Gibson, William Pepper, Joan Mellen, Ben Schotz, and many others. I have been privileged to be in their number. In time, some of this correspondence may be offered for publication, an event that I think would be significant in enhancing public discussion of the JFK assassination. The thinking of this group has already found its way into Fonzi’s The Last Investigation and Schotz’s History Will Not Absolve Us

Both Fonzi and Schotz have been close friends to Salandria for over thirty years. Fonzi produced groundbreaking research for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Schotz, who speaks with Salandria almost every day, has been his intellectual gadfly, a contributor of such magnitude to our understanding of this case it is appropriate that this compendium includes his essay “The Waters of Knowledge,” also presented at the 1998 COPA meeting.

Schotz, a Boston psychiatrist, long ago suggested to Salandria that the public was encased in denial concerning the Kennedy assassination. Schotz observed that public discourse seemed to permit the notion that a conspiracy was “possible” or “likely.” A common statement on the subject is that one “feels” or “believes” that there was official misconduct and obfuscation in the crime. Like the addict or alcoholic unable to confront the seriousness of the disease, the American public would prefer not to know the truth and say it, but to remain locked in psychic and political paralysis rather than state outright that Kennedy was removed by official power, and thereby confront the monstrousness of our political-economic system. I have suggested to Schotz that he extend his penetrating insight a bit further, since to live in America, it seems to me, means to live in some state of denial, because a sensitive person could not live here, aware of the nation’s history, its murderous past, its cruel and inequitable present, without hiding in a carapace of denial. It is the hope of Schotz, Salandria, and this writer that we may all confront truth, shed denial, and build a better world.

I have many fond personal memories of Vince Salandria. I was still living in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 1973 when I screwed up the courage to drop a letter to this formidable, yet quiet, founder of the JFK assassination research community. My adolescent shyness was still obvious in those years, and I disliked imposing myself. My friend Robert Cutler, a flinty and outspoken Bostonian who did major work on the Dealey Plaza trajectory evidence, scoffed at my inhibition. He admonished me with the remark: “Do you know who he is?” I couldn’t muster a reply. “He’s the first damn researcher!” I wrote to Salandria, we had a brief exchange of letters, I invited him to lunch, he accepted.

At the time, I was completing my first graduate degree at Villanova University, and often took a train into center city Philadelphia before making a very long trek to Villanova in the Philadelphia “main line.” My stopover in the city would frequently be the occasion to meet Salandria at his office, or at his old address on Delancey Place. We would have lunch (he bristled if I offered to pay) and walk through town. Salandria would tell me about the case, his experiences, his concern for America. I often felt like the companion to M. Dupin in one of Poe’s detective stories. Suffice it to say that Salandria’s original and penetrating mind made a lasting impression. He fast became one of the few thinkers whose sense of the world stayed with me. I soon began to chide him for his self-effacing tendencies; he still refers to himself as “a poor Italian peasant.” He always knew he packed the gear, and my refusal to accept his modesty has fueled the humor in our relationship.

We appeared together once on the radio station of the University of Pennsylvania, Salandria’s alma mater, and undertook a couple of minor projects before my graduate education and career took me far away from Philadelphia. I began lecturing on the assassination in 1975, recounting to college groups, churches, libraries, and high schools my experience as a researcher, my brief work for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and my view of the case. I always brought up the name Salandria. In 1991, just prior to the release of Oliver Stone’s film JFK, I realized that it had been almost five years since I last spoke to Vince Salandria. Among other things for which I must thank Stone’s historic film is the prompt to get in touch again with a man who has been so transformational to my political and historical worldview. And I have benefited at least some, I think, from his enormous humanity and generosity.

I am grateful to John Kelin for creating this tribute to Vincent Salandria, and hope these articles will inspire new enthusiasms in the young now with us, and in future generations.

Christopher Sharrett Seton Hall University July 1999

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Praise from Past Generation - Vince Salandria

Sent from my iPad

On Feb 11, 2012, at 11:37 PM, John Judge <judgeforyourself@gmail.com> wrote:
David, Jeff and Vince,
Longtime JFK researcher Bill Kelly called me today. He has transcribed both the LBJ Library and the Clifton versions of the Air Force One tapes on November 22, 1963, communicating with White House and others. He has overlapped them as well, in sequence. They still reflect edits since numerous authors, including White, Manchester and Salinger describe conversations not in these recordings, and they are short of the length of the original communications. Bill has also followed up with live interviews with key people involved, including code-name Stranger at the White House Communications center, the widow of LeMay's aide, and others. He asked me to contact you because he wants to be in touch about what he is finding out. You may already be familiar with his blog site JFK Counter Coup, but if not he has some of this information there. He has lost internet connection at his house for the moment, so has limited email access right now. His phone is 609-346-0229  in New Jersey. His email is Billkelly3@gmail.com. Please be in touch.

John Judge.

Date: Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Subject: RE: Bill Kelly and Air Force One Tapes
To: John Judge <judgeforyourself@gmail.com>

Dear John,

         You cannot do better than to get the remarkable researcher, Bill Kelly, to do the work.  

 Bill should look up the Situation Room. He will find that it was staffed by the Pentagon. In my book, p. 161,  False Mystery, I point out that McGeorge Bundy, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, was in charge of the Situation Room. He was a hard liner on U.S. foreign policy,  and had been a student of CIA’s covert operations. Richard Bissell, who had been fired by JFK after the Bay of Pigs, was in charge of Bundy when they worked together on the Marshall Plan. I suggest that Bill Kelly look at my material on this subject on pages 160-162 of my book. Also, it should be noted that U.S. intelligence had to be in contact with the Dallas District Attorney during the afternoon of the killing, and had to know that the District Attorney felt the shooting had been conspiratorial.

        John, for a guy about to be 84 years old, I am well. How are you?

        As for being a worthy addition to the 50th conference, you are mistaken. I have a tired old mind, and guys like Bill Kelly are so much better at this business than I ever was. I also have a beautiful wife who finally accepts my view of the Kennedy assassination but feels that I have made my contribution. She feels that our conviction that the controlled demolition of the three towers on 9/11 is a psychotic idea. She is convinced that  my concept of a ruling class in control of a criminal state is madness. She hated my going to the last conference I attended, and would not appreciate my making any contribution to the 50th.

         John, I take nothing back in terms of my work, and share completely your view of the JFK assassination, 9/11, the criminal nature of our state and our empire. But I love my wife, and will not provide her with a reason to jettison this old man.

        Please feel free to share these views with others, and especially with Bill Kelly, whom I have never thanked enough for his great work.



Salandria on Blaming JFK Assassination on RFK

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Current Significance Of Making Robert Kennedy A Fall Guy In JFK Assassination
Did Robert Kennedy Kill His Brother?
Published in Kennedy Assassination ChroniclesVol. 8, Issue 3, September 2002, pp. 23-26.
A review of In Love With Night - The American Romance with Robert Kennedy, by Ronald Steel (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).
The Pearson-Steel thesis

This is a stupid idea with no basis in fact whatsoever—blaming Robert Kennedy for the assassination of President Kennedy—but it has been espoused by a raft of not only insignificant commentators over the years, beginning with Drew Pearson in 1967, and most recently by Ronald Steel, an award-winning historian, in his recent book.

It is important to understand not only that this thesis is patently false, but also to understand how it serves the ongoing general propaganda mission of covering up the true nature of both assassinations. This mission, tragically, considering the loss of integrity involved, has been embraced and performed assiduously by virtually the whole of the mass media and academia, including the latter’s so-called “progressive” elements, for almost four decades.

The truth is that Robert was a victim of the same powers that killed his brother, as polls have always told us most Americans agree, in stark contrast to their so-called “opinion leaders.” In fact he was doubly victimized, by also being drawn, however reluctantly, into cooperating with the cover-up of the truth about JFK’s assassination in the hope of attaining the presidency himself, until this vain hope precipitated his own assassination in 1968, on the very night he won the California primary and was virtually assured of becoming the Democratic presidential candidate in that mid-Vietnam-war year.

The “RFK did it” idea was first offered up by Drew Pearson in his regular column in the Washington Post on March 3, 1967. Castro, Pearson speculated, had become aware of the plot to kill him and decided to retaliate by having President Kennedy killed. Add this to the assumption (also false) that RFK was personally behind the CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel, and presto, we have Pearson’s conclusion that not only was RFK ultimately responsible for his brother’s murder (by Castro), but was also “plagued by the terrible thought that he had helped put into motion terrible forces that indirectly may have brought about his brothers martyrdom.”

All of this was based on hearsay “evidence” provided by an FBI spy named Edward Morgan, whose sources admittedly were not directly involved in the assassination and whom he refused to identify—in other words, pure gossip.

Ronald Steel continues this fantasy, speaking of “powerful” and even “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that RFK, “through Operation Mongoose, had made the removal of Castro his personal responsibility and highest priority” and made “incessant demands of the CIA and the Mongoose planners to ‘get Castro.’” This evidence consists exclusively of prattle directly attributable to CIA and Pentagon sources, which can hardly be considered reliable sources in this matter.

For example, Steel cites a statement in 1975 by then secretary of state Henry Kissinger to President Gerald Ford that Richard Helms of the CIA had informed him that “Robert Kennedy personally managed the operations on the assassination of Castro.” This triple hearsay, originating from the mouth of a convicted liar (Helms lied under oath to a Senate committee to cover up CIA improprieties) is what Steel calls “overwhelming circumstantial evidence.”

As a further example of Steel’s scholarship, he swallows whole the Warren Report’s contention that Oswald was a pro-Castro agent, failing even to mention the work of Philip H. Melanson, who did in fact present overwhelming evidence eleven years ago to prove that Oswald was not an agent of Castro but of the CIA. Nor should we be surprised that Steel ignores the statement of Castro himself, made the day after the assassination, quoting [from a November 22, 1963 UPI cable in which the National Chairman of Fair Play for Cuba Committee declared] Oswald “was never Secretary or Chairman of any Fair Play for Cuba Committee in any city of the United States” and “that President Kennedy’s assassination was the work of some elements who disagreed with his international policy; that is to say, with his nuclear treaty, with his policy with respect to Cuba.... And what happened yesterday can only benefit those ultra-rightist and ultra-reactionary sectors, among which President Kennedy...cannot be included.” (cf. E. M. Schotz, History Will Not Absolve UsAppendix IIpp. 51-86)).

But not unexpectedly, Steel, like the various post-Warren Commission government committees that “investigated” the assassination, hedges his bets. If it wasn’t Castro, it was the Mafia.

The problem with the Mafia theory is logic. If the Mafia were powerful enough to kill the president and maintain the cover-up ever since, including controlling or deluding the Warren Commission, the Dallas police, the FBI, the CIA, and the entirety of the American press and academia, to this day, then there is no discernible distinction between the Mafia and the United States Government. It is just a question of terminology. I will follow the traditional practice, however, and call the government the government.

A second hedge, abundant in the assassination literature, is that if it wasn’t Oswald, Castro, or the Mafia, it was “rogue” CIA agents. Steel is eager to embrace this foolish idea as well. “Perhaps,” says Steel, “individuals linked to the CIA who feared after the missile crisis of 1962 that the Kennedys were not pushing hard enough against Castro” were behind the assassination.

This “rogue” agent theory has been popularized most successfully by John Newman, who arose full-blown from the depths of a career in Army intelligence and the National Security Agency in 1992 to become the media darling of assassination research. First Newman contended that JFK had intended to pull out of Vietnam—a quite credible thesis—and, three years later, that Oswald was in fact a CIA agent (as Melanson had already proved three years earlier), but did not act on behalf of the CIA. In other words, even though Oswald was an agent, the CIA as an institution remains blameless. I have taken Newman to task elsewhere for the absurdity and dishonesty of this position.

What was the real relationship between the Kennedys and Castro?

The historical record could not be clearer. At the very time that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he was actively exploring the normalization of relations with Castro. In fact, Castro was a willing and most interested initiator of and participant in a peace-feeler project. Common sense dictates that we recognize that a president intent on normalizing relations with a foreign country would not be simultaneously trying to assassinate its head of state.

The U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, VOLUME XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath tells us about the Kennedy-Khrushchev-Castro relationships which evolved as a consequence of the 1962 Missile Crisis. These documents make it clear that at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination Fidel Castro had much to lose and nothing to gain by JFK’s death, and also that Robert Kennedy had no reason to goad the CIA into killing Castro. The details of meetings between William Attwood, the U.S. emissary acting on the direct orders of President Kennedy, and Castro’s representatives are detailed here [See FRUS, Vol XI, pp. 879-883], and are also re-confirmed by Attwood in his July 10, 1975, testimony to the Church Committee (Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) [Church Committee document 157-10002-10028: “Rapprochement With Cuba - Testimony of William Attwood,” which has been withheld in full, is scheduled for October 2017 release.]

After the assassination, things were different.

The rapprochement with Castro had become a “more doubtful issue,” and Attwood’s efforts had lost much of their meaning since “Lee Oswald has been heralded as a pro-Castro type.” Five days after the assassination, Johnson asked CIA director John McCone about the effectiveness of the "economic denial" program with Cuba and “how we planned to dispose of Castro.” McCone’s answer was that Cuba was exporting arms to Venezuela and that the U.S. should get the OAS to agree to “economic denial through blockade and even to possible invasion” of Cuba.

New courses of action were proposed to make life difficult for Castro, including precipitating a break in economic relations between Cuba and the rest of Latin America, “unleashing the exiles,” and generally intensifying covert operations. On December 13, 1963, the Standing Group of the National Security Council authorized the CIA to develop the capacity to conduct air attacks against selective Cuban targets by autonomous exile groups, and endorse the intensification of these raids.

It is clear, then, that immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy, normalization efforts were snuffed out and replaced by a strategy involving an embargo (which continues to this day), blockade, and possibly invasion.

There are thus no grounds whatever, either in common sense or in the historical record, for the Pearson-Steel thesis. On the contrary, when Attwood was asked by the Church Committee in 1975 whether he had “heard any conversation by any Cuban about any possible past retaliation or future retaliation” for the attempts on Castro’s life, he replied that he had “never heard anything like that down there.”

Why didn’t Robert Kennedy challenge the Warren Report?

Steel’s answer to this question is that to challenge the Warren Report would have made public “the CIAs efforts to kill Castro and use the Mafia as hired killers,” revelations that “would have strongly implicated both the Kennedys in these illegal activities” and would also have revealed that the president had “shared a mistress with a Mafia capo.”

First of all, this explanation falls on its face because Robert Kennedy did challenge the Warren Report, privately. In One Hell of a Gamble, Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Nafti, inform us that Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy sent William Walton, a close friend of President Kennedy, to Moscow on November 29, 1963 to deliver their analysis of the assassination. Walton told the Soviets that the Kennedys believed the killing of President Kennedy was “the result of a conspiracy.” Four days earlier, in fact, the Soviets had come to their own conclusion that Kennedy had been killed by “extremely right-wing elements that did not like his policies, especially his policy toward Cuba.”

“By the end of December [1963] KGB analysts had concluded that an anti-Soviet Coup d’etat had occurred.”

Publicly, Robert remained silent about the true nature of the killing of his brother because he deferred to the need to maintain domestic tranquility in the face of a high-level conspiracy far more powerful than the Kennedy family. Only the highest levels of the national security apparatus could have accomplished the following:
  • Using Oswald, a CIA operative, as a patsy.
  • Killing Oswald while he was in custody.
  • Spreading a broad pattern of false clues pointing to the Soviets and Cuba as suspects, yet opting for a lone assassin theory.
  • Ignoring the overwhelming and immediately available eyewitness and other solid forensic evidence in Dealey Plaza.
  • Ignoring the fact that persons were impersonating Secret Service Agents in Dealey Plaza where no Secret Service Agent had been assigned.
  • Ignoring the position of the holes in President Kennedys coat and shirt, which precluded an exit wound in the neck.
  • Ignoring the Parkland Hospital doctors opinion that the neck wound was an entry wound and that the wound in the back of the head was a massive exit wound.
  • Allowing the military officers present at the autopsy to prevent the doctors from tracing the neck and back wounds of the President so as to determine their trajectory.
  • Allowing one of the autopsy doctors, Commander James Humes, to burn his initial notes.
  • Allowing Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA who had been fired by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs debacle, to be appointed to the Warren Commission.
  • Accepting as unchallenged evidence (Warren Commission Exhibit 399) an essentially pristine bullet that after flying in several directions through two bodies (Kennedy’s and Connally’s) and shattering several bones, left more metal in Connally’s body than is missing from the bullet.
  • Not allowing the Warren Commissioners to examine the x-rays and photographs of the Presidents autopsy.
  • Cleaning out the presidential limousine immediately after the execution, and then unlawfully shipping it out of Dallas, the jurisdiction of the crime, to be stripped and refitted, thereby destroying the evidence of the bullet impacts upon the vehicle.
  • Allowing Life Magazine to withhold the eight millimeter film of Abraham Zapruder which showed, inter alia, that following the impact of a bullet on Kennedys head his body was propelled leftward and backward onto the rear seat of the limousine, contradicting the Warren Report’s contention that the bullet was fired by Oswald from the rear.
  • Allowing Life Magazine to then lie about the content of the film, and claim that Kennedy had turned completely around to receive a frontal hit from the rear.
  • Allowing Life Magazine to change a single issue of October 2, 1964 three times in order to conceal the visual documentation of a head shot from the right front.
  • Deleting from the Warren Commission Exhibits the testimony of Jacqueline Kennedy regarding the wounds of the President.
  • Allowing Deputy Attorney General Nicholas de Katzenbach to send memoranda dating from November 25, 1963 to December 9, 1963 to Chief Justice Earl Warren and others stating that “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”
The writing is on the wall—but it is obviously not on the walls of newspaper or university offices. This is the only truth to be gleaned from Steel’s book.
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