Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Max Holland and the Nation by Gary Aguilar

This article originally appeared in Probe Magazine. The full version can be found here:
By Gary Aguliar

The Nation Magazine has long been one of the most perceptive and eloquent voices for skepticism in publishing. Its revelations over the years have established it as one of the few national media outlets that truly functions as a watchdog in the public interest. It has always been an early voice, often the first, to question official pronouncements -- on Vietnam, on Watergate, on Iran-Contra, on Guatemala, on Haiti, and Chile. When, for example, CIA man Richard Helms told the U.S. Senate that the CIA played no role in demolishing Chile’s democracy in 1973, The Nation called his testimony exactly what it was: perjury.[1]

But on JFK’s murder, The Nation has inexplicably kept shut the skeptical eye it normally keeps cocked at outfits like FBI, the CIA and the military – the very groups it has so often caught lying, and the very groups that produced virtually all the evidence the Warren Commission said disproved conspiracy.

The Nation raised nary an eyebrow at the apparent ease with which the FBI was able to prove right FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover’s astounding clairvoyance--announced on the very night JFK died and before any investigation--that Lee Harvey Oswald had done it all by himself. It never wondered whether the Warren Commission’s bias toward the FBI’s solution--plainly evident already during the Commission’s very first meeting--might have been abetted by Hoover’s having employed one of his favorite dirty tricks: “file-checking” the Commissioners for dirt.

Given that the public hasn’t believed the Warren Commission since the late 60s, and since its no-conspiracy verdict was officially reversed in 1978 by the House Select Committee (HSCA), it is hard to fathom why The Nation, of all magazines, continues to toe the old line. In recent years, its in-house experts have been Alexander Cockburn and Max Holland. Skeptics like Peter Dale Scott and John Newman, whose credentials far surpass those of Cockburn and Holland in this case, have been restricted to limited responses on the letters-to-the-editor page.

Cockburn claimed that Kennedy “always acted within the terms of [establishment] institutions and that, against [Oliver Stone’s film JFK’s] assertions, there is no evidence to the contrary … The public record shows JFK was always hawkish.”[2] Thus, “whether JFK was killed by a lone assassin or by a conspiracy has as much to do with the subsequent contours of American politics as if he had tripped over one of Caroline’s dolls and broken his neck in the White House nursery.”[3]

Echoing Cockburn, Holland holds that, behind a pacific facade, Kennedy was really a clanking Cold Warrior spoiling for a fight--exactly the opposite of the fantasy held by the kooky conspiracy crowd. It was but a “fantasy that Kennedy was on the verge of pulling out from Vietnam.”[4] A fantasy to suppose, therefore, that radical change--on the USSR, on Cuba, on Vietnam--was ever possible in the early 60s. (More on this later.)

The situation is about to get a lot more interesting. Sometime in 2003, Holland will finally unleash his long-promised, 650-page paean to Earl Warren. Early signs are that Holland intends to use the Kennedy case to deliver a sweeping, extraordinary history and civics lesson to the public. After what the Boston Globe described five years ago as “one of the most exhaustive examinations ever conducted into the Warren Commission’s investigation,”[5] Holland announced that, “It’s become part of our popular culture that the Warren Commission was a joke, and that’s not the case.”[6] Holland intends to stop the laughter.

Holland has written that ignorance, “cunningly manufactured falsehoods,” and paranoia--but not a suspiciously inadequate investigation--have conspired to unjustly darken the reputation of the Warren Commission’s “no-stone-unturned” murder investigation. It’s a remarkable theory. If his book bears any resemblance to what Holland has already written, and it would be surprising if it didn’t, it appears Holland represents the new wave in Warren apologia: In taking down the Warren Commission, malicious and stupid skeptics have spawned a corrosive public cynicism not only about the government’s honest answer to the Crime of the Century in 1964, but also about government in general.

Holland Face to Face

Here I must own up to some personal history with Max Holland. On September 13, 1999, I made a formal presentation at The Nation on some of the new JFK medical/autopsy evidence. Also speaking that day were historian John Newman, and researchers John Armstrong and Milicent Cranor. Max Holland, whose words have appeared in The Nation, in mainstream publications, as well as in U.S. government-sponsored publications, such as the CIA’s own website[7] and Voice of America, sat in.

The goal of that meeting was to update The Nation on some of the JFK disclosures that had already gotten coverage in outlets like the Washington Post and AP, and to bring some then-unpublished material to the attention of the editors. Max Holland did not appear pleased at what he heard.

Newman projected documents showing that Oswald had been impersonated in taped conversations recorded by the CIA in Mexico City six weeks before JFK’s death. Newman showed declassified FBI and CIA documents proving that at least one phone recording to the Russian embassy survived after 11/22/63, despite both the CIA and the FBI later claiming that no such tapes had ever survived routine erasure and recycling. Two Commission lawyers listened to the tapes in 1964. One of them told Peter Dale Scott and the JFK Review Board about it. Peculiarly, the Warren Commission was unable to find space anywhere in its 26 published volumes to devote even a footnote to recordings that seemed to link the supposed Communist assassin to the USSR and to the KGB. Nor did they ever pipe up to refute the CIA’s claim no tapes survived the assassination.

The new information Newman had found in the files was that the Oswald recording had been fabricated, almost certainly by the CIA, who found a stand-in to impersonate Oswald on the recordings. Holland scoffed that any tapes had survived; apparently unaware the story had already been publicly confirmed. During the nationally-broadcast Frontline documentary-- “Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?”--Commission lawyer W. David Slawson admitted that he had been permitted to hear at least part of one tape during his tenure with the Commission.

John Armstrong gave his usual dramatic presentation of documents showing that on numerous occasions there were two different “Oswalds” appearing simultaneously in different locations. Milicent Cranor provided strong evidence of what was behind autopsy pathologist James Humes' false testimony concerning Kennedy's throat incision.

The Rehabilitation of the Warren Commission

In a series of articles that have appeared over the past 8+ years, Holland has outlined the skeleton to which one imagines he intends to affix toned muscles and strong sinews in his upcoming opus, A Need to Know: Inside the Warren Commission.[8] “It would be one thing,” he sighed in the respected Reviews in American History, “if conspiracy theories were still only believed by a decided minority of Americans. It’s quite another matter when more than 80% of Americans disbelieve or cannot accept their own history, and when the questions they ask about the past are based on palpable, cunningly manufactured falsehoods.”[9]

Conspiracists have been so successful, Holland has lamented, that, “Now the burden of proof [has] shifted decisively and unfairly from critics to defenders of the official story … Almost any claim or theory, regardless of how bizarre or insupportable, [can] now be presented in the same sentence as the Warren Report’s conclusions and gain credence.”[10] (Holland’s emphasis. Holland appears to be suggesting that it is unfair to expect advocates of the official, only-Oswald-did-it, story to bear the burden of proving their theory; that it would be fair to require skeptics to prove a negative, that Oswald did not do it.) Holland, however, isn’t troubled that the virus of mistrust has infected a few crackpots. He’s vexed at the reception of Oliver Stone’s pro-conspiracy film JFK, and the favor accorded pro-conspiracy books by authors such as Peter Dale Scott and former House Select Committee counsel Gary Cornwell.

“Even the highest level of education is not a barrier,” he complained, “to judge from the disregard for the Warren Report that exists in the upper reaches of the academy.” In fact, “the professional historians’ most prestigious publication, the American Historical Review, published two articles (out of three) [sic] in praise of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. The lead piece actually asserted that ‘on the complex question of the Kennedy assassination itself, the film holds its own against the Warren Report.’ In a similar vein, in 1993, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, by an English professor named Peter Dale Scott, a book conjuring up fantastic paranoid explanations, was published by no less respected an institution than the University of California Press.”[11]

Rather than explaining why one should embrace the conclusions that bear Earl Warren’s name, Holland instead attacks skeptics by offering only two simple explanations for the skepticism: ignorance and paranoia. Virtually no one (but Holland, apparently) truly grasps the unique Cold War circumstances in which both the President’s murder and its investigation transpired. And without it, one is totally lost. The deranged act of a lonely, pro-Cuban zealot, he maintains, was the unintended consequence of Kennedy’s rabid anti-Castroism. In essence, Kennedy got from Oswald what he’d intended to give Castro through the agency of the CIA and Mafia. The Kennedy murder was a case of simple reprisal. But not from the target of Kennedy’s malice, Castro, but instead from a delusional, self-appointed pro-Castro avenger.

The government’s well-intended decision to protect the public from the seamier aspects of this scenario explains why the public has never understood the whole picture. The Warren Commission, for good reason Holland says, withheld this simple and indisputably true explanation: “[B]y effectively robbing Oswald of [his pro-Communist], ideological motive, Warren left a critical question unresolved and provided fodder for conspiracy theorists.”[12] In essence, Cold War jitters during the 60s encouraged the Commission to de-emphasize the ferocity of Oswald’s political ardor, lest an anticommunist backlash overwhelm events, propelling us toward a hot reprisal against innocent Communist countries that had nothing to do with the Lone Nut.

So, sure, the government hid facts about Oswald and about the CIA’s plots to murder Fidel Castro. So what? The secrets were kept, Holland argues, not to deny the basic truth of JFK’s death, but instead to calm an electrified public and protect secret, vital, and ongoing, Cold War operations. “[T]he 2 percent [of Warren Commission documents still withheld] doesn’t contradict the Warren Report; like the information omitted by the CIA and Robert Kennedy in 1964, it only helps to affirm Oswald’s sole guilt.”[13] Rather than explaining how he knows what is in still-secret documents, Holland instead presumes to explain their meaning: secrets were kept because they had nothing whatsoever to do with Who struck John. Moreover, there is a key aspect of the secrecy that Holland believes hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: the destructive self-serving Kennedy family secrecy about JFK’s death.

Holland believes that RFK, to protect the Kennedy name, and his own political future, repeatedly blocked the very avenues of investigation whose sloppy coverage in 1964 is taken as proof today that the Warren Commission got it wrong. So, in Holland’s eyes, if the Warren Commission was not entirely successful, the Kennedys deserve no small portion of blame. As examples, Holland maintains that RFK prevented JFK’s autopsy doctors from dissecting the President’s back wound, and so the proof of an Oswald-implicating trajectory was lost. Also lost was the public’s confidence in the post mortem’s conclusions that only two shots, both fired from the rear, hit their mark. Besides that, RFK never told the Commission about murderous CIA plots undertaken under his command to have the Mob whack Castro, while he preserved his option to plausible deny his own role. Thus, Holland says, it was that the ferociously anti-Castro president inadvertently inspired a communist loser’s vengeful act. RFK then orchestrated a protective cover-up of his brother’s death, leaving a legacy of public skepticism that continues to undermine faith in honorable public institutions to this day. (See below.)

The Seductions Of Paranoia

Ignorance of the bigger picture, whether because of Kennedy subterfuge or for other reasons, is not the only explanation Holland offers for the widely held skepticism. “To understand the JFK phenomenon,” he observes, “it helps to revisit [Richard Hofstadter’s] classic lecture ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics.’” Holland says that, “the most prominent qualities of the paranoid style, according to Hofstadter, are ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.’ Propagators don’t see conspiracies or plots here and there in history; they regard ‘a vast or gigantic conspiracy as the motive force in historical events.’”[14] (Holland’s emphasis)

Holland singles out historian Arthur Schleshinger, filmmaker Oliver Stone, Professor Peter Dale Scott, and, most importantly, Jim Garrison as especially responsible for the persistence of paranoia. Schleshinger, Holland tells us, “manipulates history as if he were a lifetime employee of the Kennedy White House,” enthusiastically feeding the Kennedy Camelot myth, “his eloquence in the writing of history rivaled only by his skill in dissembling it.”[15] It is not mere national myths that so trouble Holland, for “every nation is sustained by its own myths, which occasionally collide with reality. But when myths are as divorced from reality as these are, they become dangerous. Americans are encouraged to feel nostalgia for a past that never was, wax dreamily about what might have been, or indulge in elaborate paranoid fantasies about their own government.”[16]

Oliver Stone, having punctuated Schleshinger’s Camelot fairytale of JFK with a free-handed, black finale, is “one of the worst purveyors of the kind of paranoid nonsense eschewed by [Jack Kennedy himself].” “Although Stone strikes a vaguely leftish pose,” Holland notes, “he in fact uses the familiar rightist logic of those who muttered darkly about black helicopters, fluoridation of the water, one-world government.”[17] As an example, Holland decries Stone’s wild claim that “President Kennedy was ‘calling for radical change on several fronts--the USSR, Cuba, Vietnam … [and so] if nothing else, a motive for [JFK’s] murder is evident.’” This is nothing, as Holland sees it, but pure fantasy, pure paranoia. Professor Scott fares little better. Holland concludes that the “outstanding characteristics” of Scott’s book Deep Politics, “put it squarely in the [paranoid] tradition of most books about the assassination … an unreadable compendium of ‘may haves’ and ‘might haves,’ non sequiturs, and McCarthy-style innuendo, with enough documentation to satisfy any paranoid.”[18]

Holland reserves his greatest contempt for the famous New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Clay Shaw for conspiracy to murder JFK. In the introduction to an article about Garrison that appeared in the spring 2001issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Holland hangs virtually all responsibility for America’s loss of faith in public institutions on the district attorney. He maintains that the Shaw trial’s “terrible miscarriage of justice was to have immense, if largely unappreciated, consequences for the political culture of the United States … Of all the legacies of the 1960s, none has been more unambiguously negative than the American public’s corrosive cynicism toward the federal government. Although that attitude is commonly traced to the disillusioning experiences of Vietnam and Watergate, its genesis lies in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination … Well before antiwar protests were common, lingering dissatisfaction with the official verdict that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone broadened into a widespread conviction that the federal government was incompetent or suppressing the truth or, in the worst case, covering up its own complicity in the assassination.”[19] [20]

And who was responsible for germinating all that dissatisfaction in the 60s? None other than the fiendishly clever chaps in the Russian KGB, whose clever conspiracy only succeeded in seducing the public because of the gullibility of a vainglorious dupe, Jim Garrison. Holland’s theory is pretty straightforward. Holland says that in 1967 the KGB slipped a bogus story into a ‘crypto-Communist’ Italian newspaper, Paese Sera, that tied Clay Shaw to an a CIA front organization in Italy, “Centro Mondiale Comerciale.” (More on this below.)

Lacking even a valid scintilla with which to move forward against Shaw, the bogus story was all the loose cannon in New Orleans needed. Garrison grabbed it ruthlessly. From there, events followed an inexorable, downward spiral as Garrison painted an incredible courtroom sketch of Shaw and Oswald clutched in the CIA’s malefic embrace as they danced toward destiny in Dallas. Had Garrison not gone wobbly on the KGB’s concoction, Holland believes that the Shaw-CIA-Oswald fairy tale would have vanished like a dream, taking the nightmarish prosecution of Shaw with it. But the communist Mickey Finn worked. The final upshot was a senseless catastrophe for Shaw, and a loss of faith in America.

Holland, it should be emphasized, does not deny that some cynicism about government is justified. “Commentators usually ascribe the public’s [legitimate] paranoia to the disturbing events that followed Kennedy’s murder: Vietnam, other assassinations, Watergate, exposure of FBI and CIA abuses in the 1970s, and finally the Iran-contra scandal, all of which undermined Americans’ trust in their elected government.”[21] The distrust, however, should not be taken too far. For not only on the Kennedy case is it true that, “a more sophisticated or mature understanding is necessary among the public to realize that the government does keep secrets, but it doesn’t mean that what they say isn’t the truth.”[22] Of course no one argues it’s always untruthful. But the government’s problem is that, as with any proven liar, the government has already been caught telling myriad, big lies, and it takes only a few small lies to foster an atmosphere of mistrust.

An illustrative example is one Holland cites himself: the edifying parallels between the JFK case and the government’s white lies about the Cold War-related events at Roswell, New Mexico over 50 years ago. The suppression of information about our use of high-tech spy balloons, he says, allowed flying-saucer and conspiracy buffs to ‘adorn the Roswell incident with mythic significance.’ In the Kennedy case, similarly, “the suppression of a few embarrassing but not central truths encouraged the spread of myriad farfetched theories.”[23] In both cases, the government’s white lie-encased good intentions backfired, creating more skepticism than confidence. And in the Kennedy case, “[t]he assassination and its aftermath have never been firmly integrated into their place and time, largely because of Cold War exigencies.” And so “Americans have neither fully understood nor come to grips with the past.”[24]

This amusing nonsense is assailable on so many levels one scarcely knows where to begin. First, the public didn’t “adorn” the Roswell incident with paranoid mythic significance because the government told the truth but not the whole truth; it did so because the government invited farfetched theorizing by offering three different “factual” explanations for what really happened there, at least two of which were lies.

A more “sophisticated understanding” doesn’t lead one to trust the government more, as Holland would have it, but less. Confining his gaze to the myriad government conspiracies betokened by the words Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and CIA and FBI abuses, doesn’t give the government its due. And it doesn’t reflect the changing nature of what properly constitutes “paranoia” today.

Since Hofstadter delivered his famous lecture in 1963, “paranoia” has been beating a steady retreat. Had Hofstadter read in 1963 that in 1962 the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had unanimously approved a plan to commit acts of terrorism against U. S. citizens on American soil, he might have withheld his sermon on the foolhardiness of paranoia. ABC recently publicized the story that was first disclosed in investigative reporter, James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets. In a once-secret operation codenamed Operation Northwoods, ABC.com reported that, “America's top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities to create public support for a war … to oust Cuba's then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.”[25] Luckily, the plans (which can be read in the original on the web at George Washington University’s National Security Archive[26]) “apparently were rejected by the civilian leadership” of the Kennedy administration, and never carried out.[27]

In the year Hofstadter spoke, it would have been considered pure paranoia to believe--especially after the Nuremberg convictions of Nazis for grotesque human experiments--that our government was then conducting and covering-up ongoing dangerous and secret drug, LSD, radiation and syphilis experiments on unwitting, law-abiding, American citizens.[28]

Had the documents themselves not been declassified, Hofstadter would likely have called crackpot a recent AP report that cited secret FBI memos linking the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover to breathtaking lawlessness. On July 28, 2002, AP reported, “For more than 20 years, FBI headquarters in Washington knew that its Boston agents were using hit men and mob leaders as informants and shielding them from prosecution for serious crimes including murder.” It also reported that a known murderer was allowed by the FBI to go free, “as four innocent men were sent to prison in his place.”[29]

Whereas in 1963, Hofstadter would have howled, today no one calls The Nation paranoid when it reports, “[Once secret] ‘archives of terror’ (sic)… demonstrate that a US military official helped to draw up the apparatus of the Paraguayan police state while he was ostensibly merely training its officers. They also conclusively prove an official US connection to crimes of state committed in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, under Operation Condor … The moral callousness exhibited in the US response to these disclosures is shocking.”[30] Given that these appalling acts occurred during the very era in which he delivered his reassuring admonitions, Hofstadter’s advice today seems foolishly naïve and misguided. He was encouraging Americans to feel nostalgic for a past that never was, to wax dreamily about what might have been. And he discouraged “paranoid fantasies” about government that were often vastly less “paranoid” than the suppressed reality.

Hofstadler, alas, is obsolete because it has long since ceased being “paranoid” to believe that the government has lied to the public about its secret wars abroad; that it has lied about its illegal support of murderers at home and murderous totalitarian dictatorships abroad in Central America and elsewhere; that it has lied about the immoral and illegal assaults on citizens who took lawful exception to its misguided policy in Vietnam,[31] and even on citizens whose only crime was to be accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time and so fodder for clandestine human experimentation

If Holland is right that there is a “widespread conviction” that the federal government has suppressed the truth or covered up its own complicity in myriad, lawless acts, that conviction exists entirely independently of the efforts of Schleshinger, Stone, Scott and Garrison. In fact, so many deplorable government conspiracies have been proven that Hofstadter would never have dreamed of, most detailed eloquently in The Nation, one can’t help but wonder if conspiracy-exorcist Holland ever reads even the magazine he writes for.

The True History of a Remarkable Investigation

By putting the “extraordinary investigation” into its historical context, it appears Holland expects to redeem the checkered reputation of Earl Warren’s most famous accomplishment. “The Warren Commission’s inquiry occurred at what we now know was the height of the Cold War, and it must be judged in that context. Perhaps with its history understood, the Warren Commission, instead of being an object of derision, can emerge in a different light, battered somewhat but with the essential integrity of its criminal investigation unscathed[32] … In time the Warren Commission will be seen for what it truly was … a monumental criminal investigation carried to its utmost limits and designed to burn away a fog of speculation. It did not achieve perfection, and in the rush to print (there was no rush to judgment) (sic) the language on pivotal issues, such as the single bullet, was poorly crafted … the accuracy of the report’s essential findings, holding up after three decades, is testimony to the commission’s basic integrity.”[33] (emphasis added)

Commission Appointments: The Wisdom of LBJ’s Tricky Balancing Act

Holland attributes much of the Commission’s success to the wily LBJ, whose conscription of two reluctant appointees was especially inspired. Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senator Richard Russell, staunch political enemies, were essentially coerced. Holland sees enormous wisdom in Johnson’s move. If Warren, a liberal Republican, could cobble together a consensus conclusion about the tragedy with a well-respected political enemy, the conservative Democrat Russell, there would be no doubting the fundamental integrity of the investigation and the nonpartisan nature of the conclusions. “If Richard Russell could possibly have disagreed with Earl Warren he would have,” observed Holland. “Yet they did agree--it’s a unanimous report.”[34]

Holland hastens to remind readers that the unanimity was the end product of an honest process that was established at the outset. On the day the Commission met for the first time--January 20th 1964--Warren set the tone when he admonished the assembled staff: “Truth is our only client here.” That phrase became, as Holland put it, “the commission’s unofficial motto.”[35]

Earl Warren’s No-Stone-Left-Unturned Investigation

With that mandate, the Commission began “a probe that truly spanned the globe.”[36] Holland described as especially clever the Commission’s use of intelligence agencies. These groups were of incalculable value to perhaps the most sensitive aspect of the investigation: the possibility that Oswald had been a tool of Cuba or the USSR. “New intelligence reports from Mexico City suggested a link between Oswald and the Cuban government. The supersecret National Security Agency and allied eavesdropping agencies went into overdrive to decipher intercepted conversations, cable traffic, radio, and telephone communications at the highest levels of the Soviet and Cuban governments … In about forty-eight hours the intercepts showed beyond a reasonable doubt that both the Soviet and Cuban governments had been as shocked as anyone by the news from Dallas.”[37] This fabulous intelligence coup, Holland argues, allowed cooler American heads to prevail. And yet the Commission has been criticized for having been too reliant on the intelligence apparatus, rather than on its own independent investigators. Holland has little patience for such nonsense.

“The lawyers on the staff were investigators of a sort. I mean they went out in the field, they interviewed witnesses, they deposed witnesses, they conducted a first hand evaluation of evidence … [While] you can say [the Commission staff] weren’t trained homicide investigators--that’s true--but the FBI didn’t also [sic] investigate a lot of murders either. Murder was a state problem … so, number one, the staff of the Warren Commission were investigators. Number two … the Commission realized that the FBI had a lot of sensitivities about the assassination because they had the largest file on Lee Harvey Oswald and once they realized this they tried to double check and sometimes triple check the reliability of the FBI’s information by also getting it thorough the Secret Service and/or the CIA.”[38]

To prove his point, he says that the Commission, for example, “did an extremely thorough check of the indices [they were shown] at FBI headquarters. There was no Lee Harvey Oswald listed as an informant.” And if that wasn’t adequate disproof of rumors Oswald had ties to the Bureau, Holland adds that, “All the FBI agents who ever came into contact with Oswald signed affidavits saying they had never attempted to recruit Oswald. Hoover signed an affidavit saying the Bureau had never recruited or attempted to recruit Oswald.” And so, after reviewing files the FBI supplied, files Holland can’t imagine Hoover would have sanitized, and after getting affidavits from agents, affidavits Holland can’t imagine might not be true, “insofar as possible, I believe the Commission put that rumor to rest.”[39]

Thus, Holland maintains it is wrong-headed to believe that the Commission was too dependent on intelligence agencies that were biased toward the single-assassin theory from the beginning. Instead, Holland holds that not only did the investigation greatly benefit from the remarkable data federal snoops gathered, the Commission was also satisfactorily able to cross check any important information from them it doubted.

The Crux and Crucible

In a crucial sense, this may be the crux of Holland’s pro-Warren case: The Commission was a splendid, if imperfect, national effort to solve the JFK’s murder, but it doesn’t get the respect it deserves because of the misunderstandings, lies and paranoia of

critics. In many ways, Holland’s defense marks a new tact in defending the Warren Commission: characterizing the Commission as a monumental criminal investigation carried to its utmost limits, while dismissing skeptics on the grounds they are either too stupid to grasp the Cold War circumstances of both the murder and its investigation, or on grounds they are liars or paranoid, or both. It isn’t surprising that such a novel defense has never been tried before by anyone--except, perhaps, by ex-Commissioners Gerald Ford and David Belin.

Instead, skepticism about the Warren Commission has been the rule. And perhaps the most scathing critiques to come along have not come from “paranoid” skeptics, but from two groups of skilled government investigators: Frank Church’s Senate Select Committee in 1976, and the House Select Committee in 1978 (HSCA). Those critiques, it should be noted, bear an eerie similarity to the critiques of skeptics such as historian Michael Kurtz, journalist Henry Hurt, Sylvia Meagher, Notre Dame law professor and former HSCA chief counsel, Robert Blakey, Peter Dale Scott, as well as many others.

There is no denying that the Commission learned little about Oswald’s associates. Though the FBI had Jack Ruby’s phone records, it failed to spot Ruby’s suspicious, and atypical, pattern of calls to known Mafiosi in the weeks leading up to the assassination. The Commission’s “investigators” didn’t know enough to triple-check the FBI, or to check themselves, and so the Commission learned next to nothing about Ruby, or his calls. Basing its conclusions on FBI-supplied “character references” from, among others, two known mob associates (Lenny Patrick and Dave Yaras),[40] the Commission ultimately concluded Ruby was not connected to the mob.

Then in 1977, the HSCA performed the rudimentary task of actually analyzing Ruby’ calls and exposing Lenny Patrick’s and Dave Yaras’ mob ties. It made the obvious connection--one that fit other compelling, and previously ignored, evidence that tied Ruby to the Mafia, and the Mafia to the crime. The importance of this reversal was entirely lost on Holland, who wrote, “[The HSCA] corroborated every salient fact developed by the Warren Commission.”[41] Perhaps the connection had been missed in 1964 because the FBI’s senior mafia expert, Courtney Evans, was excluded from the probe. (Evans told the HSCA: “They sure didn’t come to me. … We had no part in that that I can recall.”[42]) Instead, the Bureau turned to FBI supervisor Regis Kennedy, who then professed to believe Carlos Marcello, the New Orleans capo to whom Ruby had ties, was a “tomato salesman and real estate investor.”[43] And perhaps the Commissioners also willingly averted their gaze, lest they agitate the sensitive FBI director.

“The evidence indicates that Hoover viewed the Warren Commission more as an adversary than a partner in a search for the facts of the assassination,” the HSCA concluded in 1978.[44] Speaking for all the Commissioners in 1977, chief counsel J. Lee Rankin admitted that in 1964, the Commissioners were naïve about Hoover’s honesty and yet were afraid to confront him when he wouldn’t properly fetch for them. “Who,” Rankin sheepishly asked, “could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?”[45] Apparently not the President’s commissioners. And so, “The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI, and managed to avoid the appearance of doing so.” This had repercussions on possibly the most explosive rumor the Warren Commission ever dealt with--that Oswald had been an FBI informant. The HSCA found that, “The Warren Commission] ended up doing what the members had agreed they could not do: Rely mainly on FBI’s denial of the allegations [that Oswald had been an FBI informant].”[46]

The FBI never informed the Commission of Oswald’s threatening note to Hosty, which it destroyed. The Commission never heard about the mafia threats against JFK and RFK that had been picked up in FBI wiretaps. Nor did they ever learn that even before the Commission started, Hoover already had a secret informant in place: Representative Gerald Ford.[47] The record also suggests the CIA had been little better than the FBI.

Two years before the HSCA issued its report, the Senate Select Committee reported on its own examination of the process employed by both agencies. It reported, “The Committee has developed evidence which impeaches the process by which the intelligence agencies arrived at their own conclusions about the assassination, and by which they provided information to the Warren Commission. This evidence indicates that the investigation of the assassination was deficient and that facts which might have substantially affected the course of the investigation were not provided the Warren Commission or those individuals within the FBI and the CIA, as well as other agencies of Government, who were charged with investigating the assassination.”[48]

Thus, Holland’s most threatening enemies aren’t the informed skeptics, or even the university-published skeptics who mistrust the government, but the government itself. That is, two government bodies that--armed in abundance with the one key capacity the Commission needed but lacked, a staff of experienced and proven criminal investigators--uncovered good reasons to incline any reasonable person toward skepticism.

The HSCA vs. The Warren Report

The list of Commission shortcomings the HSCA assembled is not short. A brief summary of them runs some 47 pages in the Bantam Books version of the report (p. 289--336), which outlines what required all 500+ pages of volume XI to cover.

To cite a particularly important one, the HSCA found that, “Even though [the Commission’s] staff was composed primarily of lawyers, the Commission did not take advantage of all the legal tools available to it. An assistant [Commission] counsel told the committee: ‘The Commission itself failed to utilize the instruments of immunity from prosecution and prosecution for perjury with respect to witnesses whose veracity it doubted.’”[49] And despite Earl Warren’s bold declaration, “Truth is our only client here,” it was no less than the Chief Justice himself who recommended relying on the FBI’s investigation instead of conducting an independent investigation. Warren inexplicably refused to seek one of the most essential tools necessary for any serious criminal investigation: the authority to issue subpoenas and to grant balky witnesses immunity from prosecution. His opposition had to be overcome by the other Commissioners.[50] But in practice, they proved no more courageous than Warren. For although they admitted doubting, and with good reason, the truthfulness of some of the witnesses, the Commissioners freely admitted they never once found even a single occasion to offer a grant of immunity to pursue their only client.[51]

The HSCA’s chief counsel, Robert Blakey, an experienced criminal investigator and prosecutor himself, was impressed with neither the Commission’s vigor nor its independence. “What was significant,” Blakey wrote, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission, in light of the bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy. At a January 27 [1964] Commission meeting, there was another dialogue [among Warren Commissioners]:

John McCloy: … the time is almost overdue for us to have a better perspective of the FBI investigation than we now have … We are so dependent on them for our facts … .

Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin: Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problem. They have decided that no one else is involved … .

Senator Richard Russell: They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.

Senator Hale Boggs: You have put your finger on it. (Closed Warren Commission meeting.)”[52]

The HSCA gave a compelling explanation for how the case was so swiftly solved: “It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin, a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”[53] (The Bureau’s ability to prove is legendary. It proved that Nixon was innocent of Watergate after what then-Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, with unintended irony, described as the greatest (FBI) effort since the assassination of President Kennedy.[54])

In essence, the HSCA concluded that Hoover had divined the solution to the crime before the investigation, and then Hoover’s agents proved his epiphany. The intimidated Commission didn’t put up much of a fight. (Who could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?) Despite the Commission’s admission that it would probably need an independent investigative staff to properly investigate certain intelligence “tender spots,” it chose not to get one. As the HSCA succinctly put it, “[T]he Commission did not go much beyond the agencies in investigating the anticipated [intelligence] ‘tender spots.’”[55] J. Lee Rankin explained the Commission’s spinelessness: An independent investigative staff would have required an inordinate amount of time, and “the whole intelligence community in the government would feel that the Commission was indicating a lack of confidence in them … .”[56] Echoing Rankin, Allen Dulles pressed his fellow commissioners to accept the FBI’s investigation so as to, as Dulles’ biographer Peter Gross put it, “avoid frictions within the intelligence community.”[57]

The HSCA’s criticism is particularly damning given the fact it was delivered by an official body. Holland, however, is unlikely to be impressed. Complaining in The Nation that HSCA deputy chief counsel Gary Cornwell “recycles some of the hoariest clichés regarding the Warren Commission (in his book Real Answers),”[58] Holland seems disinclined to accept any of the HSCA’s critique of the Commission. For Cornwell had made an admission that one imagines would have immediately disqualified him as far as Holland is concerned: “Before joining the Select Committee, I had been a federal prosecutor with the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Justice Department, and Chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force in Kansas City. I had investigated numerous conspiracies, and indicted and tried the organized crime members who participated in those conspiracies, including the head of the Mafia in Kansas City, and the head of the Mafia in Denver. I believe criminal conspiracies do exist. Unlike [pro-Warren columnist] Tom Wicker, my bias ran toward a belief that conspiracies are a very integral part of ‘how the world works.’”[59] Certainly anyone with Cornwell’s sterling credentials as a murder investigator, someone who had so often proved conspiracies actually exist, could not possibly have been relied upon to investigate JFK’s murder, or the Warren Commission’s investigation of it.


[1] The Nation. 11/19/77.

[2] Alexander Cockburn, letter in reply. The Nation, March 9, 1992, p. 318.

[3] Alexander Cockburn. J.F.K. and JFK. The Nation, January 6/13/1992, p. 6.

[4] Max Holland. After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination. Reviews in American History 22(1994):208-209.

[5] Adam Pertman. Researcher says Cold War shaped Warren Commission conclusions. The Boston Globe, 12/8/98.

[6] Quoted by Adam Pertman, in: Researcher says Cold War shaped Warren Commission conclusions. The Boston Globe, 12/8/98.

[7] Max Holland, The Lie That Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination. Available at:http://www.cia.gov/c.../article02.html

[8] Adam Pertman, in: Researcher says Cold War shaped Warren Commission conclusions. The Boston Globe, 12/8/98.

[9] Max Holland. After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination. Reviews in American History 22(1994):209.

[10] Max Holland. After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination. Reviews in American History 22(1994).

[11] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 50--52.

[12] Adam Pertman. Researcher says Cold War shaped Warren Commission conclusions. The Boston Globe, 12/8/98.

[13] Max Holland. After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination. Reviews in American History 22 (1994).

[14] Max Holland. Paranoia Unbound. Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p. 88. (See also Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 50.)

[15] Max Holland. Stokers of JFK Fantasies. Op-Ed. The Boston Globe, 12/6/98, p. D-7.

[16] Max Holland. Paranoia Unbound. Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p. 90.

[17] Max Holland. Stokers of JFK Fantasies. Op-Ed. The Boston Globe, 12/6/98, p. D-7.

[18] Max Holland. Paranoia Unbound. Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p. 87.

[19] Max Holland. The Demon in Jim Garrison. Wilson Quarterly, Spring, 2001, p. 10.

[20] Max Holland has published an article detailing his case that the KGB duped Garrison into linking Shaw to the CIA that is titled, The Lie That Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination . It appears at:http://www.cia.gov/c.../article02.html

Holland makes much the same argument in an article, Was Jim Garrison Duped by the KGB?, that appeared in the February, 2002 edition of New Orleans Magazine.

[21] Max Holland. Paranoia Unbound. Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p. 88.

[22] Max Holland interview with Chip Selby in Washington, D.C., July 26, 1997, p. 9.

[23] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 50.

[24] Max Holland. Paranoia Unbound. Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1994, p. 88.

[25] David Ruppe. Friendly Fire--Book: U.S. Military Drafted Plans to Terrorize U.S. Cities to Provoke War With Cuba, November 7, 2001. Available at: http://abcnews.go.co...efs_010501.html

[26] George Washington University’s National Security Archive, April 30, 2001: Pentagon Proposed Pretexts for Cuba Invasion in 1962. Documents can be viewed at: http://www.gwu.edu/~.../news/20010430/

[27] The Northwoods plan is discussed in detail by James Bamford in his book, Body of Secrets, [New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, 2002] on pages 82--91.

[28] “[A]fter a half-century of official denial and derision, the government is just now beginning to admit its responsibility for poisoning its own citizens” with wildly immoral and illegal Plutonium injections. (The Nation, 2/28/00) “After decades of denials, the government is conceding that since the dawn of the atomic age, workers making nuclear weapons have been exposed to radiation and chemicals that have produced cancer and early death.” (New York Times, 1/29/00) “The Treasury Department shredded 1262 boxes of potential evidence in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over Native American trust funds, then covered it up for more than three months.” (AP, 12/7/99)

[29] Jeff Donn, “Top FBI officials knew of mob deals--Director’s office commended agents for shielding Mafia hit men.” AP, July 28, 2002. In: Marin Independent Journal, 7/28/02, p. A-3.

[30] The Nation, 9/6-13/99.

[31] Frank Donner. Protectors of Privilege. Berkeley: University of California Press , 1991.

[32] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 52.

[33] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 64.

[34] News from Brown. The Brown University News Bureau, distributed 11/11/98.

[35] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 57.

[36] Max Holland. The Docudrama that is JFK. The Nation Magazine. 12/7/98, p.26.

[37] Max Holland. The Key to the Warren Report. American Heritage Magazine. November, 1995, p. 54.

[38] Max Holland interview with Chip Selby in Washington, D.C., July 26, 1997, p. 4.

[39] Max Holland interview with Chip Selby in Washington, D.C., July 26, 1997, p. 4.

[40] Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover--The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 552.

[41] Max Holland. After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination. Reviews in American History 22 (1994)

[42] HSCA, Final Report, p. 242.

[43] “[FBI agent Regis Kennedy told the HSCA that] he believed Marcello was not engaged in any organized crime activities or other illegal actions during the period from 1959 until at least 1963. He also stated that he did not believe Marcello was a significant organized crime figure and did not believe that he was currently involved in criminal enterprises. Kennedy further informed the committee that he believed Marcello would ‘stay away’ from any improper activity and in reality did earn his living as a tomato salesman and real estate investor.” In: HSCA, vol. 9:70-71. See also Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover--The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 530.

[44] HSCA, vol. 11, p. 53.

[45] HSCA, vol. 11, p. 49.

[46] HSCA, vol. XI, p. 41.

[47] 12/12/63 memorandum from C. D. DeLoach to Mr. Mohr. (“Ford advised that he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission. He stated this would have to be on a confidential basis.” See also: Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets. New York: W W Norton & Co., 1991, p. 557.

[48] The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies, Book V, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, p. 6.

[49] In: The Final Assassinations Report--Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 334.

[50] Full quote: “At the very first meeting of the Commission, on December 5, 1963, Warren announced his belief that the Commission needed neither its own investigators nor the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity from prosecution to witnesses if they were compelled to testify, after first having chosen to take the Fifth Amendment on grounds of self-incrimination. The Chief Justice was overruled by the Commission on the subpoena and immunity authority, thorough immunity was never used; but he held sway on his insistence that evidence that had been developed by the FBI would form a foundation for the Commission investigation.” (In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 82)

[51] “Immunity under these provisions (testifying under compulsion) was not granted to any witness during the Commission’s investigation.” (In: Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964, p. xi.)

[52] In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 29. This testimony was also published in: Mark North. Act of Treason. New York, 1991, Carroll and Graf, p. 515--516.

[53] The Final Assassinations Report--Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 150.

[54] Fred Emery. Watergate--The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: A Touchstone Book for Simon & Shuster, 1995, p. 217.

[55] HSCA, vol. XI, p. 33.

[56] R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 82--83.)

[57] “Supported by the commission’s cautious counsel and staff director, J. Lee Rankin, [Allen Dulles] urged that the panel confine its work to a review of the investigation already being made by the FBI. In taking this stand he implicitly turned his back on the sentiments of his old friend, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, who wrote Allen that the truth must come out, ‘no matter who it affects, FBI included.’ Allen argued, to the contrary, that a new set of investigations would only cause frictions within the intelligence community and complicate the ongoing functions of government on unspecified matters of national security.” In: Peter Grose. Gentleman Spy--the Life of Allen Dulles. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1994, p. 544--555.

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