The J.F.K. Files, Trump, and the Deep State
By Adam Gopnik
So far, the newly released documents on John F. Kennedy’s assassination seem only to confirm the wisest conclusions about the President’s death.
BK – Yes, that he was not murdered by one man alone.
The release last Thursday of previously classified, or at least unseen, government files of all kinds relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy is being heralded as Donald Trump’s decision—though it was simply his decision not to prevent their release, which had long been scheduled. In fact, at the last minute, Trump listened to requests from the intelligence services not to release some three hundred of the remaining three thousand files.
BK: You got your numbers wrong Gopnik – get it right please – this is important.
But that decision raised more suspicions, so on Friday night the President tweeted, “I will be releasing ALL JFK files other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living.”
BK: Wait a minute – they’ve already released millions of documents with the names of living persons, and the whole idea of releasing the document to set the record straight includes the ability to identify, locate and interview persons mentioned so the facts can be substantiated.
It’s always possible that some smoking gun of a document will reveal itself in the remaining files.
BK: Smoking document have already been discovered among the records released under the JFK Act, including the Northwoods documents, the Higgins Memo, and the Secret Service Protective Research Files, all of which support the idea that the assassination wa not the act of a deranged loner or just a plot and conspiracy but a very specific covert intelligence operation.
Scrolling through the PDFs of the (very well presented) documents, though, mostly reveals just what one expected: rumors and scuttlebutt, with uncertain sourcing.
BK: Well, there’s thousands of documents, some hundred of pages long, have you read them all? I don’t think so.
We learn that, two days after the assassination, the F.B.I. was roiled by the possibility that Jack Ruby was identical to a Florida racketeer named Rubin. And that, two weeks before the assassination, one Robert C. Rawls overheard someone in a bar in New Orleans offering to bet a hundred dollars that President Kennedy would not be alive in three weeks’ time. But, the document reads, “He does not recall ever seeing the man before and is not certain that he would recognize him if he did. He admits being somewhat intoxicated at the time and said the man also was in an intoxicated condition.”
Anything more notable that’s turned up simply echoes what we already knew: the C.I.A. was enlisting gangsters in an effort to assassinate Castro (with what depth of knowledge on the part of the Kennedy brothers is still unclear);
BK: These CIA-Cuba and Castro assassination files are the most significant and you can’t just gloss over them.
J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with American Communists and with Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s purported ties to them, to the point of mania;
BK: Why are these files unrelated to the assassination being released? To confuse the easily confused Gopnik.
Lee Harvey Oswald went to Mexico City in the fall of 1963, probably in order to try and get to Cuba, and while he was there had contacts with Russian intelligence in the person of embassy staffers;
BK: Wait a minute. You are only giving this extremely significant aspect of the assassination a half a sentence? You have no idea what you are talking about if you don’t know about Oswald’s Mexico City connections, and it isn’t just with Cuban and Russian intelligence.
Lyndon Johnson never entirely bought the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald had acted alone;
BK: Yea, LBJ, RFK, Jackie O, Richard Sprague, the list of conspiracy theorizing luminaries is long, and LBJ leads the list, but Gopnik isn’t on it.
Oswald was a good, not an inept, shot. (This last fact, known already from Oswald’s service record from his time in the Marines, is curiously sourced to a Cuban diplomat.)
BK: Oswald’ s brother Robert, a USMC marksman, said that if Lee did not practice with that rifle in the days and weeks before the assassination he did not take the shot that killed the President and wounded the governor. And the Warren Commissions said Oswald did not practice with that rifle that remained in Paine’s garage until the day of the assassination.
There are strange historical pleasures in sorting through the records. The obsession with Castro and Cuba is, given that we now know that the United States can actually flourish quite well with “Communists right off our shores,” still startling.
BK: Cuba is the primary connection between all of the players in this drama, including JFK, Oswald and Ruby. It’s the key.
Certainly, the entanglements of the government and the Mafia remain shocking: one document, prepared for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, summarizes the evidence flatly, stating that Allen Dulles, the head of the C.I.A., authorized payment of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a plot against Castro involving Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana.
BK: Yea, and among the 98% of the records still being withheld are the files on Giancana, Rosselli and Rosselli’s CIA case officer William Harvey, though they did recently release the CIA’s Rosselli Chronology file, that indicate that he was working on plans – not plot – plans to kill Castro from the JMWAVE base in Florida in early 1963, supporting a team of commandos who went into Cuba by boat with high powered rifle with the plans to kill Castro as he road in an open jeep.
It’s scary to read the minutes of a “Special Group meeting” in November, 1960—just before Kennedy’s election—which included such Cold War worthies as Generals Charles Cabell and Ed Lansdale, and in which someone asks if “any real planning has been done for taking direct positive action against Fidel, Raul and Che Guevara.” Cabell advises that the suggestion is “beyond our capabilities” but not, apparently, beyond our consideration. (Ted Cruz’s dad, however, does not as yet seem to be mentioned in any of the documents.)
Perhaps that smoking gun may yet exist; God knows there are enough dogged assassination researchers out there to find it if it does.
BK: It isn’t Ted Cruz’s dad whose important but Steve Cruz, the then 17 year old Cuban who got arrested with Oswald. Where’s his file, where’s he today? He can answer a lot of these questions.
But, so far, the documents seem to confirm the wisest twin conclusions about the J.F.K. assassination: Oswald was guilty, and acted alone;
BK: The documents do no such thing. The Warren Commission couldn’t even do that, as the evidence and testimony indicates Oswald wasn’t even on the sixth floor at the time of the shooting and was what he claimed to be – a patsy. This shows Gopnick, like Shenon, Sabato and other mainstream ‘journalist’ are not familiar with details of the case.
and, at the same time, the intelligence services—the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the rest—were up to their armpits in bad acts that they were trying to keep concealed.
BK: Yea, yea, yea, the CIA, FBI, SS are only trying not be embarrassed by the revelations, when in fact the government records prove they are guilty, not only of neglect of duty, but for letting the assassination happen and covering up the facts up to and past today, making this crime relevant today as it was in 1963.
These conclusions, as I wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, point to two more: that the Warren Commission is almost certainly the only plausible account of what happened on that day in Dallas,
BK: The WC’s account is not only implausible, it is unaccepted by 80% of the people, and accepted only by those who haven’t even read it, like Gopnic. One more plausible account is that what happened at Dealey Plaza, whatever Oswald’s role was – lone gunman or patsy, it doesn’t matter, what happened was a successful covert intelligence operation designed to protect its sponsors.
and that the underlife of the government was more sinister, or at least more complicit in guilty knowledge, than the image makers of the time, and the Kennedys, wanted to accept or to publicize.
The pretense last week was that, in releasing the files, Trump took action on behalf of the American people, in the pursuit of openness. But Trump acts in his own interest, and his pursuit of apparent openness has as its real end the undermining of public institutions and practices which depend on professionalism, independence, and trust.
BK: America’s trust in its government began to decline in 1964 with the release of the implausible Warren Report and continues today, and will continue to decline until these records are released in full, unredacted, complete with names. Trump has nothing to do but just release these records in their entirety or cowtow to the CIA and military and withhold them in the name of the guilty.
Trump was likely prodded to speak out about the files by Roger Stone, one of the figures from the fringes of American life whom the President has brought to the center. Stone wrote a book titled “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” Last week, his profane rants got him suspended from Twitter, but he still appears to be in touch with Trump.
BK: Stone is a joke no one pays attention to except for Trump and Glopnik
Stone has warned of the “deep state,” the new villain of right-wing paranoia—well, an old villain, newly restored to primacy.
BK: You have no idea what the “deep state” is all about until you read the works of Peter Dale Scott, which you have not, and such deep thinking cannot be attributed to the links of Stone.
The thinking in this case seems to be that, if Trump’s followers can be persuaded that no one in the “permanent government” should be trusted, they can perhaps be more easily persuaded not to trust the institutions of the state when, say, they pursue charges against anyone associated with his campaign. The implicit, and increasingly explicit, argument here is: Don’t listen to special counsels who worked for the F.B.I.; those are the guys that withheld all those documents about the J.F.K. assassination.
BK: Well, you got that one wrong because as we speak and as I type this the Attorney General of the United States is live on TV saying that the FBI is preparing all of their remaining sealed files for release ASAP, today or tomorrow but months before the records Trump will deal with next April. The FBI is not the boogyman it used to be.
As David Frum has pointed out, what Trump’s surrogates really mean by “the deep state” is the rule of law. The idea that there are civil servants or functionaries within the government whose chief trait is loyalty to the Constitution and to the ongoing administration of the state is intolerable to the autocratic mind. So, if those other actors challenge the White House, they must be taunted, demoralized, and, if possible, dismissed.
BK: If you knew what “deep state” really means, it is the ability of such civil servant and party functionaries in power to abuse that power and go beyond the Constitution, not those who do the right thing. And taunting, demoralizing and dismissing are child’s play to getting away with political assassination.
Yet what the true history of the Kennedy assassination, including the newly released documents, reveals is not how formidable the government agencies during the Cold War era were but how vulnerable they were to exposure by what was then called “the press,” and to the countervailing power of Congress.
BK: Where was “the press” in 1963 and today? They aren’t exposing the vulnerable to the truth, but letting the government slide for breaking the JFK Act law, with no repercussions in sight.
The genuine heroism of those members of Congress who in the seventies pushed to reopen inquiries about the Kennedy assassination, in the light of the post-Watergate revelations about C.I.A. murder plots, has not been sufficiently applauded in this much more obedient day. Their work resulted, as few people now recall, in a public apology from Richard Helms, the C.I.A. chief, for the agency’s contacts with organized crime.
BK: Wow, that’s a 360.
The committee reviewed all the crucial evidence against Oswald and, somewhat to its own surprise, validated it.
BK: That’s not true. They uncovered much more evidence of Oswald’s contact with Cubans and CIA agents and officers (like David Atlee Phillips) that goes against the grain of him being the lone assassin. They didn’t validate anything.
(A tentative, last-minute conclusion that there may have been a second, unknown gunman was based on acoustic evidence that has since been universally discredited.)
BK: The acoustic evidence has never been repeated, the true test of scientific validation, and not universally discredited, only by those embarrassed by their clinging to the lone nut scenario.
The effort today is not to get at the truth but to make the truth look unobtainable.
BK: The truth is obtainable – and is already known to most people who know something about the case, and only those who want to protect the guilty claim the truth is unobtainable. We already know the truth, the details are in the files that are still being withheld.
By damaging people’s confidence not just in good government but in the separation of powers, which allows one part of the government to investigate another, you create an illusion of powerlessness that can only produce rage and despair, the two emotions that Trumpism profits from.
BK: You can begin to regain the public’s confidence in government only by releasing all of the files in full.
Progressives who imagine that conspiracy thinking ever helps their causes are deluded.
BK: Wait a minute, who brought Progressives into this? The JFK assassination and the release of the government’s records is neither liberal nor conservative, right wing or left wing, a Democratic or Republican cause – Congress passed the JFK Act unanimously - when was the last time Congress agreed on anything?
Pessimism about reform is essential to the authoritarian mind. Confusion is its lifeblood. Then preposterous theories become just as likely as rational ones.
BK: That’s what you would like – preposterous theories mixed in with rational ones so the rational ones are ignored.
Any potential attempt to collude with a hostile foreign government to undermine democracy becomes the same as an attempt by others to find out if anyone has been potentially colluding. It’s Chinatown, friends. You can’t trust anyone.
BK: We can learn whether or not Cubans or Soviets were behind the Dealey Plaza operation, - and have learned from ELINT surveillance of their leader, they were not. We can learn if the Russians influenced the last election, and will. You can trust yourself if you know the facts.
What we should fear is not a deep state but a state robbed of its depth.
BK: The deep state has robbed of us of our soul, and discovering the truth about the assassination of President Kennedy helps restore that lost spirIt.
As the historian Timothy Snyder has pointed out many times, it is when states are robbed of their memory and their self-respect, which are most often embodied in a civil-servant class, that tyranny flourishes. There is no “deep state” that exists beyond the scrutiny of responsible citizens; there is a cynical paranoia that always acts, and is meant to, as a pathogen to public trust.
BK: We are being robbed of our memory when the government refuses to release the records on the assassination of the President and the public’s trust will not return until they are released.
· Adam Gopnik, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker si- -
- Bill Kelly is a freelance journalist and historian who blogs at http://JFKCountercoup.blogspot.com