Monday, January 28, 2013

Footnote G. Robert Blakey and the JFK Assassination


Much later, in 2003, the US Public Broadcasting System ran a biographical show on Lee Harvey Oswald and interviewed Blakey, who provided a tidy summary of the HSCA's
work and conclusions. On the possibility that Oswald was a spy:

The ultimate judgment on Oswald as a recruited agent is that he was not -- either by the CIA or by the Soviets. For example, if the Soviets had recruited him in Japan, the time and place to use him was in Japan, not to have him defect to Russia to make radios. That just is not what makes sense. Take a look at his character. The KGB conducted an investigation of him in the Soviet Union by the wiretapping, the bugging, the debriefing of all of his neighbors. None of this is consistent with Oswald having been recruited.
... Would the Americans develop a false defector program and put Oswald in it? When you look at Oswald's life, he just doesn't seem to be emotionally stable enough to be the kind of candidate that our people would recruit.

... We took very seriously the hypothesis that Lee Harvey Oswald was connected to the CIA or our intelligence services. When we went to the CIA files, we took very seriously the hypothesis that they had been edited in some way. We talked to the agents who had created them, we made sure that each of the agents was given a release from their secrecy oath and was carefully instructed that if they lied to us, there would be prosecution. We cross checked the references in files to see what would be in parallel files. ... We had total access to the agents who prepared them. ... The records are as they seem.

... [However, the] CIA clearly did lie about the case. ... The CIA appear to have been not cooperative, to have put out false photographs of Oswald, to have claimed they had no photographs of Oswald, there were many cases where they seem to have tried to cover their tracks. ... When it came time to analyze the candor that the Agency had with us, and the FBI had with us, it's my judgment that it was difficult. Teeth had to be pulled, but in the end we had unlimited access.

Blakey later sent a note to PBS saying his reservations about the CIA's honesty had grown following his original commentary:
I now no longer believe anything the Agency told the committee any further than I can obtain substantial corroboration for it from outside the Agency for its veracity. We now know that the Agency withheld from the Warren Commission the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Had the commission known of the plots, it would have followed a different path in its investigation.

In any case, the interviewer then asked about the destruction of Army military intelligence file on Oswald:
In 1972, largely as a result of the investigations into military intelligence activities in the United States, the Defense Department destroyed all of the military intelligence files that they had about American citizens and things in the United States, which was shocking from the point of view of the committee. This general order resulted in the destruction of historically very valuable files.

... Again, our ultimate conclusion was that in the United States, more often than not, the better explanation for government action is not hobnailed boots, but Keystone Cops. It's incredible how our bureaucracy simply responds in a mindless way without any regard to the historical significance of what they have.

On George de Mohrenschildt's association with Oswald:
We looked very carefully into the activity of a man named George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian ... He was a sophisticated man, a very articulate man, a world traveler, and George de Mohrenschildt and his wife befriended Oswald and Marina in this country and we explored very carefully whether he could have been a contact, an indirect contact, between the agency and one of its own agents, Lee Harvey Oswald. After a careful study, we were not able to establish that George de Mohrenschildt was connected to the CIA. [The HSCA sensibly did not see his DCD contacts as a connection of significance.]

On the failure of the CIA to debrief Oswald after he returned from the USSR:
It is unusual for the CIA or military intelligence to debrief Americans. That was something that the FBI should've done. In fact the FBI did make an effort, several, to talk [to] Lee Harvey Oswald in this country. So it's not entirely true that he was not debriefed. He was very uncooperative with the agents, indeed was very belligerent with them. We were deeply troubled by the way in which he came back. The government financed him, they got him a visa, and he came back to this country with great ease, the CIA then incredibly did not debrief him as such.

In the end, we found this not to be significant. Our defector study of some 22 other American defectors indicated that it was not uncommon to facilitate a return, indeed not uncommon that they were not even debriefed at any time. We drew therefore no sinister evidence inference, in light of the pattern of the general evidence.

On Oswald's guilt:
It's an easy case. The prosecution case against Oswald is open and shut. If he'd shot his brother-in-law in the back seat of a convertible, and not the President of the United States, he would have been tried, convicted and forgotten in three days. I'm a former Federal prosecutor, I've been involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases for better than 30 years. To be sure, a defense counsel could have raised issues. But the jury would have been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. His rifle did it, to the exclusion of all others. He was in the book depository with the rifle. He fled the scene. He killed a police officer. His statements to the police are false. His palm print is on the gun.

Concerning Oswald's trip to Mexico City:
The committee took very seriously the critics with suspicions about the Mexico City trip. The suspicion was that Oswald didn't make it at all. That there was an imposter, attempting to frame him in Mexico City. Had that been established, it would indicate a sophisticated effort to frame Oswald, which would immediately draw attention to American intelligence. We obtained from Cuban officials the visa application with his photograph on it and his signature. We verified that it was Oswald's signature. Oswald, therefore, was in Mexico City.

On Oswald's connections to organized crime:
... New Orleans was corrupt, and the principle figure behind that corruption, gambling etc, was Carlos Marcello. Oswald at this time brushed up against organized crime in its worst forms. Oswald's uncle, a man named Charles "Dutz" Murret, [was] an ex-prize fighter and promoter who was also a bookie. He was under the control of Carlos Marcello, who at that time was the head of the Mafia in New Orleans. These were the people who were in the sphere of Lee Harvey Oswald's life as a child.

... We took very seriously the possibility that organized crime had a hand in the President's death. I personally did not believe it at the time. ... We did a survey of [FBI] electronic surveillance, eight months before the assassination and six months after. We were looking for some indication in these men's conversations that would connect them to the assassination - to either Lee Harvey Oswald, or to Jack Ruby. We found no evidence in it to connect them to Oswald or Ruby. On the other hand, what we did find, shockingly, is repeated conversations by these people that indicated the depth of their hatred for Kennedy, and actual discussions saying: "he ought to be killed," "he ought to be whacked."

On Oswald's actions in Dallas:
[Oswald] gets the job at the depository by happenstance. The Kennedy motorcade in front of the depository is by happenstance. It has none of the earmarks of a carefully planned assassination. His flight from the depository is by happenstance. His killing of Tippit is by happenstance.

But then, you find David Ferrie, who is an investigator for Carlos Marcello, being a boyhood friend to Lee Harvey Oswald and with him that summer, and with Carlos Marcello at that very point in time. You have an immediate connection between a man who had the motive, opportunity and means to kill Kennedy and the man who killed Kennedy.

On Oswald as a closet Rightist, pretending to be a Marxist:
The most consistent thing through Lee Harvey Oswald's life is his Marxist position. The effort to talk to the anti-Castro Cubans is an effort either by Lee Harvey Oswald, in his crazed mind, to be engaging in subterfuge activity, or it is, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald acting on behalf of someone else, infiltrating anti-Castro activities.

The true Lee Harvey Oswald is the Marxist. Oswald engages in a number of activities in New Orleans. He distributes "Fair Play for Cuba" literature. He apparently is the head of a unit of "Fair Play for Cuba". He goes on a radio station and debates on behalf of Castro. All of this indicates his Marxist pro-Castro leanings.

At the same time, Lee Harvey Oswald makes a contact with Carlos Bringuier who is an anti-Castro Cuban leader in New Orleans, and this is documented and unquestioned. Which is Lee Harvey Oswald? Is he pro-Castro? Is he anti-Castro?

... you have him meeting with Sylvia Odio, who is, in the context, an anti-Castro Cuban. Within days, he's meeting with high-level people involved in assassinations in the Soviet Embassy. You see him meeting with people in the Cuban Embassy. You see him returning to this country. You have him having conversations on the phone with people in Spanish.

On the attempt to kill General Walker:
Marina's story is that Oswald shot at Walker. Is there evidence that can corroborate that? There are two items. One is a note found by Ruth Paine undated, but is consistent with Marina's story. Second, the bullet recovered from Walker's house. The evidence apart from Marina's testimony is substantial. The bullet recovered is consistent with Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition. We did a study on that.

[That shooting] tends to undermine his possible connections to the KGB, to the pro-Castro Cubans or the anti-Castro Cubans and indeed even to organized crime. Here is a man off shooting people almost at random. How then is he the instrument through which a sinister conspiracy brought down the President of the United States? On the other hand, that evidence can be read another way: It shows his propensity to violence and it also shows that he can be ideologically manipulated into taking this act.

... We also took very seriously the possibility that Oswald may have had companions in the Walker shooting. There are police reports of two cars driving away, and indeed a report from the Walker people that somebody in a car may have been surveilling the housing before the assassination effort. The significance here is obvious. Lee Harvey Oswald didn't have a car and didn't drive. If Oswald was in these cars and fled the scene in that fashion, he had companions. And if he had companions in the Walker assassination effort, the inference can be drawn that he had companions in the Kennedy assassination.

On the "Fascist Hunter" photos:
There are three photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald taken by Marina, each holding a rifle and some Communist Party literature. When Oswald himself was shown those photographs, he denied that he owned a rifle and denies that this was him in it. He said his head was pasted on it. The critics of the Warren Commission seized on this and did studies of shadows. The nature of his chin, with a cleft here and shadows in the background led to arguing that the photographs were composites or fakes.

We took very seriously these charges. Surely, if they were faked, it would be an indication of the most sophisticated effort to frame Lee Harvey Oswald. We had our first bit of evidence examined by the Warren Commission. Marina testifies that she took it; she identifies the camera that she used. The FBI was able, to the exclusion of all other cameras, tie that camera to these photographs.
Assuming that all that was fake, we went further with a photographic panel and studied very carefully all of the testimony about the shadows being inappropriate. Our photographic panel indicated in great detail that these shadows were not inappropriate, that the critics had simply not understood optics accordingly.

But for me at least the single most important counter indication of a faked photograph is that we uncovered in the possession of George de Mohrenschildt a third photograph. On the back of that photograph is an inscription in Lee Harvey Oswald's handwriting, including his signature. We had a panel of handwriting experts look at his handwriting over his whole life, including on that photograph, and their conclusion was without any doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald had signed that photograph.

... There are microscopic, unique indentations [on the negatives]. Based on them, if you have the negative and the camera you can -- just like you can match the grooves in a bullet to the grooves created by the barrel ballistics -- you can match a camera and a negative or a photograph. That's precisely the technique that the FBI employed. The details of it are set out for all to read in the Warren Commission hearings and report. We undertook a similar analysis on the committee and the photographic panel's report is set out in our hearings as well. This is science. This is not memory, this is not perception, and this is something that anybody with the expertise can replicate for themselves.

Blakey's comments, in sum, tend to give much more credibility to the Warren Report than to conspiracy theories. Blakey thought that Oswald might have been working with a conspiracy, but couldn't identify the players in the conspiracy; though he complained about CIA dishonesty, he didn't point a finger in that direction, instead saying that government agencies were more like "Keystone Cops" than ruthlessly efficient plotters.

Blakey, despite his suspicions of the Mob, flatly said there was no substantial evidence to link either Oswald or Ruby to organized crime. The most Blakey could point to was that wiretaps and bugs recorded gangsters as saying that somebody ought to "whack" JFK -- but obviously gangsters like to talk like that. To the extent that Blakey saw suggestions of a conspiracy, his perceptions seem dubious, asserting that:
The CIA handed over "false photographs" of Oswald: Why Blakey thought that indicated a conspiracy and not just bungling, when he admitted that government agencies could bungle things, wasn't clear. 

Oswald and Ferrie were friends: They crossed paths in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol, but there's no other substantial evidence of a relationship between them. 

Oswald's uncle Dutz Murret worked for Mob boss Carlos Marcello: As discussed later, there's no good reason to believe so. 

Oswald got phone calls in Spanish: He couldn't speak Spanish beyond a set of common phrases and couldn't hold a conversation in it. 

Oswald's visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City were suspicious: Since both embassies were under observation and the embassy staffs were aware of it, had Oswald been working as a Red agent, he would have never shown his face there. Since US intelligence quickly concluded that Cuba hadn't been involved in the assassination, it makes no sense to suggest it was done as a spook plot to incriminate Cuba.

Blakey's suspicions were, as he admitted, vague and unpersuasive, and they were by no means shared by the rest of the HSCA. Ralph Salerno, an expert on organized crime who worked for the HSCA, told ABC TV for their 2003 special on the assassination: "I have the greatest respect for Robert Blakey, but I cannot join him in this hypothesis." Salerno pointed out the obvious that seemed to escape Blakey: Why shut up a loose cannon and just hand the law another loose cannon in his place?

In the end, Blakey could only conclude on the basis of the evidence that the case against Oswald was open and shut, "easy" -- there was no doubt Oswald was the assassin, there was nothing of substance to link Oswald to a conspiracy -- and only seemed "hard" to the extent that people were determined to contrive it into appearing so. The fact that Blakey was personally suspicious of a conspiracy only underlined his verdict on the case, since such suspicions would be exactly the opposite of what would be expected of an official engaged in a "coverup".

Again, the HSCA's work effectively backed up the Warren Report; to the extent it differed, it amounted to little in the end. On the basis of the track record, it would not be a good bet to think that any new serious investigation of the JFK assassination would yield different results.

No comments:

Post a Comment