Ten Questions From a JFK Conspiracy Skeptic
With ten answers--and a couple more questions--from the JFK research community
Cory Franklin, retired director of medical intensive care at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, is one of those smart people who scoffs at JFK “conspiracy theorists.” So is Anthony Fisher, a senior editor at Daily Beast. In response to allegations from Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that the CIA was involved in the assassination of his uncle John F. Kennedy, both are both waxing indignant.
In the Daily Beast Fisher responds to RFK Jr.’s claim by arguing that Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK” is a brilliant piece of cinema but “batshit” crazy for casting doubt on the government’s frail theory that a “lone nut” killed JFK for no discernible reason. In John Kass News, Franklin posed a series of questions that he believes will confound those of us who reject the official story.
Like a lot of smart people, Franklin and Fisher labor under common misconceptions about the CIA and about JFK researchers. I’ll pass on judging the merits of “JFK” (I’m not a movie critic) and focus on clarifying what we know about CIA covert operations (I’m a CIA historian) in 1963 and what credible JFK researchers believe. Like me, some of these researchers are associated with the Mary Ferrell Foundation (MFF), the largest online publisher of JFK assassination records.
We are a disparate bunch politically and geographically. None of us was decisively influenced Oliver Stone’s counter-myth of November 22. Our collective thinking is consistent with that of JFK authors such as James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable—RFK Jr.’s primary source. Other books we rely on include Anthony and Robbyn Summers (Not in Your Lifetime), David Talbot (Brothers and The Devil’s Chessboard), Bill Simpich (State Secret), Larry Hancock (Somebody Would Have Talked) and Josiah Thompson (Last Second In Dallas). It is tedious but necessary to say we are not “conspiracy theorists.”
While we disagree on many particulars of JFK’s murder, we agree with leading political figures—including Lyndon Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Charles De Gaulle, Fidel Castro, John Kerry, and Joe Califano—that JFK was killed by his enemies, and not by one man alone. Like Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon we harbor suspicions about the CIA’s role in the events of November 1963. Our views are not eccentric nor factually unfounded. To the contrary, they are common, some would say commonsensical.
Which CIA agent authorized the assassination?
The correct term is CIA officer. An agent is someone who carries out a task for the Agency, while an officer runs operations. We don’t know for sure that any CIA officer or official “authorized” JFK’s assassination. The possibility strikes me and most of my fellow researchers as unlikely. Since I met former CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen in November 2019, I have been persuaded by his analysis of the attack in the Dealey Plaza. November 22 was, he says, the result of a tightly held covert operation known to a handful of men who did not act with official authorization. In my view, the preponderance of evidence supports his scenario much more than the lone gunman theory.
The JFK researchers, I know, are actually a fairly careful bunch. They politically diverse, ranging from anarchists and anti-imperialists on the left to libertarians and Trumpsters with more than a few constitutional conservatives and good government liberals (like me) in between. Rather then push the string of theory, I look for fact patterns in the evidence that illuminate the motive forces at work on November 22. I recommend Franklin and Fisher spend time on the MFF website (or this site or WhoWhatWhy or American Conservative) to gain a clearer understanding what skeptics of the official theory actually believe.
For us, the contradictions in the evidence—and the evidence unknown to the authors of the lone gunman theory—constitute proof that the government’s theory is not supported the facts and thus does not explain the causes of President Kennedy’s murder.
For example, the official theory is based on the assumption that senior CIA officers:
did not know about Oswald’s politics, arrest, personal life, and foreign contacts before November 22, 1963;
were not involved in assassination operations;
did not conceive false-flag operations to blame Cuba for crimes committed by U.S. operatives.
had no operations targeting Oswald’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee; and
cooperated fully the Warren Commission.
All of those assumptions, we know now, were false, meaning the Commission was ignorant or deceived on key points. At a minimum, this ignorance undermines the credibility of the official theory. Certainly there are many facts about November 22 and the ensuing coverups for which the government’s theory has no explanation.
Researchers associated with the Mary Ferrell Foundation do not insist on a “CIA done it” scenario. Given the fact that the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods, the false flag operation to stage a spectacular crime against a U.S. target and lay the blame of Cuba, we think the involvement of cleared military personnel cannot be excluded.
Which CIA agent recruited Oswald?
The day after the assassination Oswald denied killing Kennedy, claiming he was “a patsy,” meaning a person blamed for something he didn’t do. That indicates that he was not recruited as a gunman.
If a CIA officer recruited Oswald for other purposes, that officer almost certainly came from the Agency’s Cuba operations or its counterintelligence operations. JFK files declassified since the 1990s show counterintelligence officers monitored Oswald from 1959 to 1963 and that Cuba operations officers were informed of his leftist politics and foreign contacts in the fall 1963.
Those knowledgeable about Oswald while JFK was still alive include:
assistant deputy director Tom Karamessines;
acting Western Hemisphere operations chief Bill Hood;
counterintelligence liaison officer Jane Roman;
counterintelligence mole hunter Birch O’Neal;
Mexico desk chief John Whitten;
chief of Cuba operations David Phillips;
chief of covert operations in Miami George Joannides; and
chief of the Dallas CIA office, J. Walton Moore
None them disclosed their knowledge of the accused assassin to the Warren Commission. All of them reported to deputy director Richard Helms or counterintelligence chief James Angleton.
The most likely candidates for a recruiter of Oswald on this list are the officers in the field, namely Joannides in New Orleans and Moore in Dallas.
Did that recruiter help Oswald kill the president or was another agent involved (RFK Jr. alleges multiple people)?
Like I said, most JFK researchers do not believe Oswald was recruited as an assassin. We think it more likely that he was set up to be what he said he was: “a patsy.”
The evidence that other people were involved in the shooting of the president is strong, derived from Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination and the testimony of dozens of credible eyewitnesses. I will limit myself to five examples:
Dr. Robert McClelland, senior doctor on the team that tried to save JFK’s life, observed the president’s head wound from a distance of less than two feet. McClelland said he was certain Kennedy was killed by a shot that came from in front of his limousine. (Dr. McClelland thoughtfully recounted his experience in this video.)
Bill Newman, the closest bystander to Kennedy when he shot, told me personally that he thought the shot came over his head, meaning from the front the motorcade.
Secret Service agents who were interviewed by reporter Merriman Smith within thirty minutes of the assassination said they believed gunfire had come from in front of the president’s motorcade. That’s why Smith coined the term “grassy knoll.”
After CIA director John McCone saw Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination, he told Robert Kennedy that JFK had been hit by gunfire from two different directions. (RFK told this story to Arthur Schlesinger who recorded it in his journal.)
Physicist Paul Chambers analyzed the Zapruder film and concluded the fatal shot could have only come from the front.
None of these people qualifies as a “conspiracy theorist.” None was influenced by Oliver Stone’s movie. To dismiss their testimony as uninformed or delusional is an exercise in denial in my opinion.
Where is the tangible evidence – paper trail, money trail, phone calls, corroborating eyewitnesses of any contact between Oswald and any specific CIA agent (did Oswald work for free, and if not, where did the money go)?
Oswald’s repeated contacts with CIA assets and surveillance operations in late 1963 have been abundantly documented since the release of JFK files in the 1990s. These revelations forced the CIA to admit in 2012 that the Agency had not cooperated with the Warren Commission investigation.
In August 1963, Oswald had a series of encounters with members of the Cuban Student Directorate in New Orleans. Unbeknownst to the Warren Commission, the Directorate was secretly funded by the CIA under program, code named AMSPELL. The money trail shows the Miami-based group received $51,000 a month from the CIA. The undercover officer handling the program was Joannides, covert action branch chief, who received high marks for his work in 1963.
The Directorate’s local leader, Carlos Bringuier, had “some contact” with the New Orleans office of the Agency, according to CIA general counsel Lawrence Houston who noted the group was “conceived, created, and funded by the CIA.”
Other relevant evidence, such as Joannides’ monthly reports on the AMSPELL program in August and November 1963, has never been made public by the CIA.
A month later Oswald visited Mexico City where his communist contacts were picked up by two CIA surveillance programs, codenamed LIFEAT and LIEMPTY. Station chief Win Scott, his deputy Anne Goodpasture, and operations chief David Phillips received reports on Oswald and queried the Langley headquarters. Karamessines and his staff reviewed the Oswald file and wrote four-page cable back to Mexico City station about the man who supposedly killed the president 42 days later. The cable was not shared with the Warren Commission.
All of this tangible evidence (except for the missing Joannides file) is available on the Mary Ferrell site. There’s no evidence Oswald was paid by the CIA (although we cannot be certain because Oswald’s tax returns are still classified). In any case, CIA operations often involve the use of unwitting persons who are not paid. This might have been the case with Oswald.
Why did Oswald’s family, friends and acquaintances never mention anyone who turned out to be a CIA agent?
The CIA is a covert organization expert in keeping its actions secret. That’s why Oswald’s family and friends didn’t know CIA officials were monitoring him as he moved from Texas to Moscow to Minsk to Fort Worth to New Orleans to Mexico City, and Dallas.
Oswald’s mother Marguerite did suspect her son was some of kind of agent or asset of the CIA and said so both before and after JFK’s assassination. She was ridiculed by so-called experts who knew nothing about the CIA’s pre-assassination file on Oswald.
As for Oswald’s family and friends, his wife Marina, and two of his closer friends (George de Mohrenschildt and Ernest Titovets) came to the conclusion that Lee Oswald did not shoot JFK.
Why would a self-admitted Marxist and supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuba collaborate with the agency that attempted to overthrow Castro (Bay of Pigs) and also planned his assassination?
Oswald did not wittingly collaborate with the Agency, in the view of most JFK researchers. Oswald denied killing Kennedy, which is consistent with his leftist political beliefs and his admiration for JFK’s civil rights policies. His denial is also evidence that he did not collaborate in JFK’s assassination. We believe Oswald was what he said he was: “a patsy.”
Why would the CIA collaborate with an itinerant, chronic ne’er do-well, who was intermittently surveilled by the rival FBI?
The evidence does not indicate that the CIA collaborated with Oswald. Rather, it shows conclusively that senior operations officer closely monitored him from November 1959 to November 1963. The evidence suggests—but does not prove— that CIA officers manipulated him, via the AMSPELL program, after Kennedy was killed by linking him to Cuba and Castro.
The question might be rephrased as follows: Why did top CIA officials monitor a “chronic ne’er do well’ so closely for four years?
In fact, there is no indication in Oswald’s pre-assassination file that any CIA official thought Oswald was unworthy of the close attention he received from November 1959 to November 1963. Indeed some of the top personnel in the clandestine service read his file in the weeks before the Dallas ambush and signed off on a secret cable about him. This is consistent with the notion that Oswald was used by certain operations officers for intelligence purposes that have never never disclosed.
Why is there no physical evidence of how the CIA actually carried out the assassination?
The best answer to this question comes from Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a voice of experience when it comes to covert operations.
“A rogue CIA operation to kill the president will be indistinguishable from a lone gunman scenario,” he told me, “to the extent it was planned and carried out flawlessly by experts in the craft of intelligence. [emphasis added]”
Why did the CIA allow Oswald to be captured and interrogated for two days by the Dallas police?
There’s no evidence the CIA allowed Oswald to be captured. CIA officials did allow his arrest to be exploited for purposes of linking the assassination suspect to Cuba. The Cuban Student Directorate linked Oswald to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee within hours of Kennedy’s assassination, generating headlines about “the pro-Castro gunman.”
What we do know, thanks to author Tom O’Neill and his book Chaos, is that the CIA intervened in the case of Oswald’s killer Jack Ruby. O’Neill discovered that Dr. Jolyon West, a psychiatrist, who declared Ruby psychotic was in fact a CIA contractor. The Warren Commission never knew.
JFK researchers are now asking a new question that the government and partisans of the “lone gunman” theory have yet to answer: “Why did the CIA interfere in Jack Ruby’s trial?”
Why didn’t Robert Kennedy (RFK Jr.’s father), the country’s top law enforcement officer – with the resources at his disposal of everyone from local police forces to the FBI – attempt to uncover a CIA plot to kill his brother, whom he idolized and was his best friend?
After RFK was killed his brother suspected JFK’s domestic enemies—CIA, Cubans, organized crime—were responsible. As David Talbot shows in his exhaustively reported book “Brothers.” RFK spent the rest of his life discretely seeking more information about the causes of November 22. Suffice it to say, RFK was not “batshit” crazy, and he did not believe the official theory of a lone leftist gunman, not for a minute, not ever.
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In his book "All The President's Men" reporter Bob Woodward's source "Deep Throat" on a number of occasions repeats that in order to get to the truth one must "Follow the Money".
This certainly applies to the JFK Assassination as well.
As Jeff mentioned in the posting, at this moment in time Lee Harvey Oswald's tax returns are still classified and kept from public view. From what I've heard, the reason being privacy statutes in the current IRS codes. Yet we have someone here who was suspected of committing a criminal act, but the Government still uses confidentiality as the reason to keep these important records from public view. In spite of Oswald's itinerant lifestyle he was still able to eek out a living, therefore his sources of income are indeed a relevant question. This is also an individual who is suspected of a crime and has therefore obviated certain rights to privacy. Yet in spite of it all, the Government insists that these documents must be kept from the public.
This begs the question- why are they going to all this trouble?
A few points about Oswald I would like to add. For starters, Oswald was not a leftist or a Marxist. I encourage everyone to watch the show on YouTube “I led 3 lives” about a government infiltrator in a left wing communist underground. The Tv show is to modern eyes, corny and laughable (seeing a librarian give a secret cable from party chairman in some Midwest small town is hysterical). According to Oswlad’s brother LHO was a massive fan of this show.
This is not a relevant piece of evidence to the killing but it is relevant to what Oswald wanted out of life. He wanted to be the undercover guy infiltrating and disrupting communist plots. In my mind this piece of knowledge points to why Oswald would have been for being moved all around the south like a chess piece. Oswald likely thought he was going undercover and it also explains the tensions Oswald was having where he seems to have felt that something was amiss in the fall of 63.
This type of individual would have been easy to dupe and lead around by the nose.