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The assassination of JFK (part I)

22 November 1991


This article on the murder of JFK was offered to several magazines, but remains the only one I can remember which was rejected by everyone.


These days (unlike in 1991) I am agnostic on a JFK conspiracy: there is a ton of evidence for and against it. There is too much data for anyone without first-hand knowledge to assess.


I said for a long time that the truth could only be known if there were a deathbed confession, but even that was wrong. Various presumed conspirators died without making one - then came Howard Hunt's death in 2007, and, along with it, a deathbed confession. It was one which corroborated the scenario put together by the most credible researcher, Mark Lane. The confession was released via book and taped recordings by two of Hunt's sons.


Hunt's confession sounded plausible because of its detail. However Hunt was an accomplished dime novelist, and an inveterate liar - indeed a famous one. He was certainly not beyond concocting a story to enable his sons to make some money after he died (which is what they did).


Thus the "deathbed confession" I'd been waiting for left me as agnostic as before.


I don't know how it is any longer possible for someone who was not a part of the assumed plot to know who killed JFK.


The assassination is now a day on which people project fantasies about the past and present. For many it remains Shakespearean in its dimensions - or Arthurian, or Wagnerian. But leaving aside its ability to stir archetypes from their hiding places, as a piece of hard history the assassination is less significant, to me, than it was in 1991.


The US destroyed governments and leaders, and indeed entire countries, in their dozens after World War II, and Kennedy was a part of this. This is the real tragedy - and the real story - as it threw away the West's chance to prove a global exemplar, and to ignite democracy in the developing world and beyond. In nine years in Southeast Asia I have witnessed the aftermath of mess and stagnation. None of the Indochinese countries have yet recovered from the American bombings and invasions.


Kennedy's murder was, at worst, an intra-Establishment feud.


JM, 2013

The first coup d'etat against an American Head of State was put in place for one reason above all others: the Central Intelligence Agency knew President John F Kennedy was about to splinter it "into a thousand pieces". Moreover the Agency felt that with Vice-President Lyndon Johnson in the White House, the two wars Kennedy had marked for obsolescence - one hot, one cold - would more likely take their courses.


But intelligence people had never had much time for transient elected officials. FBI chief J Edgar Hoover - himself in line for dismissal by Kennedy - insisted memos to himself be marked "S.O.G." Seat of Government.
Thus it was that on November 22, 1963, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy received a phone call from this "Seat of Government". "The President's dead," Hoover barked, and hung up in his ear.
 
Assassins' bullets had altered the course of modern history. Kennedy's National Security Action Memorandum 263 - to terminate the Vietnam engagement - was withdrawn. His successor - whose rise to high office, according to his biographer Robert Caro, had been eased by the theft of ballot boxes, character assassination, bribery, alliances with organised crime and murder - ushered in a period of domestic disillusion, and violent military expansion abroad. Hundreds of thousands went to their graves in South-East Asia alone. Instead of the disgrace they were expecting, those involved in CIA murders, invasions and even pogroms went on to positions of high authority in the land. The present occupant of the Oval Office, it now seems possible, was also a major beneficiary of Kennedy's death.
 
This sea change in American foreign policy was set in train when a handful of riflemen, deployed around Elm Street, Dallas, executed in a period of less than ten seconds the task for which they had been paid in rolls of taxpayers' funds in a downmarket motel the night before. A quarter-century afterwards, despite the flowering of a thousand conspiracy theories, the American public still knew next to nothing about the facts of the event.
 
In 1992 JFK,  Oliver Stone's hard-to-ignore movie, at last got the ball rolling in the United States. JFK  is the tip of an iceberg representing years, indeed decades, of work by several investigators. Leading the field are Jim Garrison and Mark Lane - each of whom has put in roughly half a lifetime. Garrison was the New Orleans District Attorney who prosecuted businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy to murder JFK, as seen in Stone's movie. His most comprehensive book on the subject is "On The Trail of the Assassins"*. Lane is a respected trial lawyer, and was Kennedy's New York cam paign manager in the 1960 election. His latest book on the assassination, released recently, is "Plausible Denial".
 
Garrison and Lane have been conspiracy investigators, not "theorists": in accord with their legal training they have confined themselves to turning up facts. Many of these facts - names of conspirators, their connections to the secret agencies, and the truly Shakespearean extent of the cover-up - have the profoundest implications for American constitutionalism. Yet the American media has ignored their efforts for twenty-five years - only occasionally breaking its silence to pillory them. Both men have repeatedly been depicted as hungry for power, fame or money. Serious articles about their work hardly exist.
 
Even if we accept for a moment that Garrison's and Lane's facts are unsound, still unexplained is why the extensive effort by the federal government to discredit the two men has received no comment - let alone the outcry it merits - from the newspapers of the land.
 
During his prosecution of Clay Shaw in 1969, Garrison's office was bugged, and his home phone tapped, by the FBI. Cabinets full of vital files were stolen from him by a CIA employee. David Ferrie, the New Orleans lynchpin of the assassination conspiracy Garrison had begun to unravel, was "found dead" - in the language of the newspapers - five days after being questioned. (A long line of people involved in the assassination have been found dead.) Garrison's investigation was infiltrated by "volunteers" who passed information to the FBI and Shaw's defence. Garrison was offered a federal judgeship to stop his investigation.
 
After this lone carrot came more sticks: an unprecedented refusal by federal agencies to co-operate with him in extraditing witnesses, serving subpoenas, and providing helpful information. (The information, for example, that Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald were CIA employees.) The majority of Garrison's witnesses were sequestered interstate, intimidated or murdered. His prosecution failed.
 
But it was known that he would not let the conspiracy he had part-unravelled slide into history. Two years later, following an investigation by 40 federal agents, across five states, Garrison was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges. The prosecution's Exhibit A, an audio tape of Garrison being "bribed", was thrown out of court, along with the case, when it transpired that it was a cut-and-splice job by FBI technicians. (The chief prosecution witness admitted on television that the case was "a political frame-up" by the FBI, which alternately paid him and threatened him in return for his perjury.) The Internal Revenue Service subsequently prosecuted Garrison, unsuccessfully, for evading taxes on the (non-existent) bribes. The stench attaching to this and the previous case ensured that he narrowly lost the next election for DA. Despite his distinguished War service, his commission in the National Guard was terminated. There was an attempt to entrap him in an airport toilet with a homosexual. A series of media leaks linked - and still link - him to gambling and organised crime. (He doesn't gamble; and the jury in the the bribery case was told by a Tulane Law Professor, and others, that Garrison had been the first New Orleans DA to close down the city's pinball and prostitution rackets). There was, finally, an attempt to hire a hit man to eliminate him.
 
The question which leaps out of all this is: if Garrison's claim of a CIA-engineered coup  is so wide of the mark, why were there such exhaustive attempts to destroy him by the federal authorities?
 
But it is high time, too, to raise an equally important question: where was the American media during all this?
 
According to a Harris Poll, Kennedy is more highly regarded by Americans than any other of their last nine Presidents, including Roosevelt. Largely because of Mark Lane's 1966 best-seller, Rush To Judgment,  the conclusions of the Warren Commission of enquiry into his death were, by the end of the 1960s, no longer credible. This, of course, left his murder unsolved. As Jim Garrison's was the first attempt to bring some of his alleged murderers to justice, the New Orleans DA may have expected some support from the last bastion of a democratic society, its fourth estate. But the American media's performance was as dismal as it had consistently been since November 22, 1963.
 
It is perhaps worth reiterating just one detail of the story the press bought that day - if only because it is representative of the stew of dubious facts which was swallowed with it.
 
"The murder weapon" - Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle - was found in the Texas School Book Depository, and was soon produced for the press. It was photographed, and duly appeared in a thousand newspapers. It was the third "murder weapon" which had been presented to the press that day: two other rifles, also found at the Depository, disappeared forever on falling into the hands on the chief of Dallas Homicide. The press never pursued this, preferring to repeat the police line that Oswald's fingerprints "would soon be found" on the Mannlicher-Carcano.
 
They never were. Nitrate tests on his cheek established that Oswald did not fire any rifle shots that day. His Mannlicher-Carcano - a rifle known to the Italian Army as "the humanitarian rifle" - was disabled by a misaligned sight.
 
Yet, for all his apparent innocence of the crime, Oswald knew several of its planners. Whether he was involved in their conspiracy, or whether he stumbled on it and was appalled at what he found, is still unknown. Either way he ended up as the "patsy". Because he is officially Kennedy's murderer, it is paradoxical that Oswald's role in the assassination is its last great mystery.
 
Six years after Oswald went, reviled, to his grave - and around the time that public doubts about the Warren Report were reaching a critical mass - New Orleans's States-Item  newspaper broke the story of Garrison's investigation of Oswald's colleague, Clay Shaw. Its headline was "DA HERE LAUNCHES FULL JFK DEATH PROBE: Mysterious Trips Cost Large Sums".
 
When the involvement of David Ferrie - he of the false eyebrows and hairpiece in Stone's JFK  - reached the press, Ferrie told the investigators, over and over, "I'm a dead man". Five days later - when Ferrie died under conspicuously odd circumstances - the world's press descended on New Orleans. The city was the centre of media attention for three days. Then the coroner announced that Ferrie had died of "natural causes". Garrison comments: "Instantly the excitement of the assembled journalists vanished, and within hours they were standing in long lines in the International Airport for flights out of town. Their departure was as mystifying to me as their arrival had been."
 
Fearing a similar fate for Shaw, Garrison indicted him, charging that he "did wilfully and unlawfully conspire with David W Ferrie, herein named but not charged and Lee Harvey Oswald, herein named but not charged, and others, to murder John F Kennedy."
 
The American media soon began portraying Garrison as a man determined to ride the case, and its attendant fame, to the Governorship, the US Senate or, according to the New York Times,  the Vice-Presidency. That was only the beginning. Newsweek's Hugh Aynesworth wrote:
 
"There has been a conspiracy in New Orleans - but it is a plot of Jim Garrison's own making....in this case, the district attorney and his staff have been indirect parties to the death of one man and have humiliated, harrassed and financially gutted several others... I have evidence that one of the DA's strapping investigators offered an unwilling 'witness' $3000 and a job with an airline - if only he would 'fill in the facts' of the alleged meeting to plot the death of the president."
 
It was subsequently announced - by the allegedly bribed witness, but not by Newsweek - that the bribery attempt never took place. Those who had been harrassed, bankrupted or sent to their graves by Garrison were never identified.
 
The Saturday Evening Post followed up with a colorful story about Garrison's drugging of a key witness to extract fictitious information about a conspiracy. The witness, Perry Russo, subsequently testified at Shaw's trial that he had  seen Shaw, Ferrie and a young man named "Leon Oswald" discuss in detail the assassination of President Kennedy. He further stated that he had given this information to Garrison's team during his initial interviews, without the use of drugs.
 
Life, Time  and the New York Times published stories wich savagely attacked Garrison's character. Then the NBC television network began approaching potential witnesses, including Perry Russo. Garrison had one of his assistants interview Russo about it, and write a memo of the interview:
 
"Russo has informed me that Richard Townley [of NBC] has been to his house twice and James Phelan of the Saturday Evening Post has been to his house four times..."
 
Townley also told Russo that he would contact him in a few days and let him know what moves Clay Shaw's attorney had in mind, as they were working together...


Russo also said that Walter Sheridan of NBC News told him that the President of NBC contacted Mr Gherlock who is in charge of management at Equitable's home office in New York and Gherlock assured the President of NBC that if Russo did co-operate with NBC in trying to end the Garrison probe, no retaliation would be taken by Equitable [Russo's employer] against Russo...


Sheridan then told him that NBC flew Novel [another witness] to McLean, Virginia, and gave him a lie detector test and that Garrison will never get Novel back in Louisiana... Sheridan told him that what he wants Russo to do is get on an NBC National television show and say "I am sorry for what I said because I lied..."


NBC's subsequent "White Paper" program on the Garrison investigation produced several men who made claims about Garrison attempting to procure and manufacture evidence. These "witnesses" were immediately called before a grand jury and asked to repeat their claims under oath. They refused, and were given jail sentences for contempt or perjury. The press claims relating to Garrison's "low credibility" rolled on.
 
It was the same strange pattern of denial and misinformation which had been established on day one, in 1963. Indeed one of the last times the press had published anything which detracted from the official view, that JFK was killed by a disgruntled loner and Marxist, was during that very early period. In late 1963 several newspapers had reported the disclosure of the Attorney-General of Texas, Waggoner Carr, that, at the time of the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald had been FBI Special Agent no. 179. But when the Warren Commission chose to ignore it so, thereafter, did the media.
From the early 1960s through to the decade's end, there was little evidence of the spirit which later gave the nation Watergate.


IN LIGHT OF WHAT happened in 1985, one is entitled to wonder whether Watergate was a media aberration. In that year there was, in effect, the second trial of the murderers of John F Kennedy.
 
"Hunt vs Liberty Lobby" was a civil, not a criminal, case, in which ex-CIA man and former Watergate "plumber"  E Howard Hunt successfully sued the "Liberty Lobby" for defamation. Liberty Lobby's magazine, Spotlight,  had claimed that Hunt was in Dallas on November 22, 1963 - and all which that implied. He was awarded $650,000. Facing bankruptcy, Liberty Lobby appealed, and hired Mark Lane to represent them. In addition to being a former colleague of John F Kennedy, a former congressman, an author, playwright and long-time civil rights lawyer, Lane is the longest-serving serious student of the assassination.
 
The CIA photograph of "Oswald" entering the Soviet Embassy had been taken - and the tape-recorded tap of "Oswald's" voice in a phone call to that Embassy had been made - weeks before the assassination. The photograph had been delivered by the CIA to the FBI on the morning of the assassination. That the Central Intelligence Agency had set Lee Oswald up as President Kennedy's murderer, well in advance of the assassination, was apparently deemed un-newsworthy.
 
But, if nothing else, the Phillips confession meant that Lane was well-briefed for the Hunt defamation case.
 
Lane began by getting Hunt's former CIA colleagues (including Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, two former Directors) to effectively demolish Hunt's evidence, and his assassination day alibi. He pointed to glaring discrepancies between Hunt's statements in the first trial and the present one. Hunt's claim was probably lost from this point.
 
But Lane did not leave good enough alone. He called as a witness Marita Lorenz, a German woman who had once been Fidel Castro's mistress, and who had produced his child. Lorenz had fled Cuba for Miami after the 1959 Revolution, having been convinced by Castro's trusted aide, Francisco Fiorini, that Castro planned to kill her and the baby. (Years later Lorenz discovered that Fiorini's claim of Castro's intentions had been false.)
 
Fiorini - who had all along been a CIA agent - had also soon defected to Miami, where many anti-Castro Cubans resided. From those Cubans was recruited the CIA army which harrassed Cuba through the early sixties. During this period Fiorini and Marita Lorenz ran guns to Castro's enemies on Cuban soil. Fiorini, who had been the head of Castro's airforce, now went by the name of Frank Sturgis. As Sturgis he, too, later gained notoriety as one of the Watergate burglars.
 
In fear for her life, Lorenz testified on the conditions that her address not be revealed, that Lane would not ask her for more details than it took to shoot down Hunt's defamation case, and that she did not have to appear in person. (She gave a deposition at another site, was examined by both counsel, and her evidence was read out in court by a stand-in.) Lorenz began by stating that she "had been employed" by the CIA and the FBI - and could not discuss the details, nor her current work.
 
Lane then took Lorenz back 22 years, to the period after her CIA-arranged flight to Miami.
 
 
Q: Did you work with a man named Frank Sturgis, while you were working for the CIA?
 
A: Yes.
 
Q: Did you ever witness anyone make payments to him for the CIA work which you and Mr Sturgis were both involved in?
 
A: Yes.
 
Q: Who did you witness make payments to Mr Sturgis?
 
A: A man by the name of Eduardo... That is his code name; the real name is E Howard Hunt.
 
Q: Did you go on a trip with Mr Sturgis from Miami during November of 1963?
 
A: Yes...
 
Q: What method of transportation did you use?
 
A: By car.
 
Q: Was there one or more cars?
 
A: There was a follow-up car.
 
Q: What was in the follow-up car, if you know?
 
A: Weapons.
 
Q: Did Mr Sturgis tell you where you would be going from Miami, Florida, during November of 1963...?
 
A: Dallas, Texas.
 
Q: Did he tell you the purpose of the trip to Dallas, Texas?
 
A: No, he said it was confidential.
 
Q: After you arrived in Dallas, did you stay at any accommodations there?
 
A: Motel.
 
Q: While you were at that motel, did you meet anyone other than those who were in the party travelling with you from Miami to Dallas?
 
A: Yes... E Howard Hunt.
 
Q: Was there anyone else who you saw or met other than Mr Hunt?
 
A: Jack Ruby.
 
 
Jack Ruby, a mob hitman and FBI informant, shot Oswald to death in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters three days later, on November 24, 1963. His prior acquaintanceship with Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald has been well-established by Jim Garrison, and accepted by the Shaw jury. A Warren Commission witness testified that she saw Ruby unloading a young man with a rifle at the grassy knoll, an hour before Kennedy was shot. (The testimony of this woman - a Republican congressman's wife - was altered beyond recognition, and a fraudulent signature and notarisation appended, by the Warren Commission's lawyers.)
 
Q: Tell me the circumstances regarding your seeing E Howard Hunt in Dallas in November of 1963?
 
A: There was a prearranged meeting that E Howard Hunt deliver us some money for the so-called operation that I did not know its nature.
 
Q: Were you told what your role was to be?
 
A: Just a decoy at the time.
 
Q: Did you see Mr Hunt actually deliver money to anyone in the motel room which you were present in?
 
A: He gave an envelope of cash to Frank Fiorini [Sturgis].
 
Q: Now, can you tell us in relationship to the day President Kennedy was killed, when this meeting took place?
 
A: The day before.
 
 
In an initial interview, Lane had asked Marita for the names of the others in the convoy to Dallas on November 21. "They killed Kennedy," she answered. "I don't want to be the one to give their names; it's too dangerous." Lane agreed not to ask her about the matter in court. However he warned her that Hunt's lawyers may.
 
Hunt's lawyer did ask. Marita looked around helplessly before blurting out: "Jerry Patrick Hemming." Also in the convoy were two Cuban brothers named Novo and a pilot named Pedro Diaz Lanz. In the CIA safe house from which they had departed in Miami there were two men by the names of Orlando Bosch and Alexander Rorke, Jnr.
 
Later, in the course of trying to recruit her to another operation, Sturgis had told her that she had missed "the really big one" in Dallas. "We killed the president that day," he said. "You could have been a part of it - you know, part of history. You should have stayed. It was safe. Everything was covered in advance. No arrests, no real newspaper investigation."
 
Suddenly in an American courtroom the American people were being told, by a credible witness, the names of the men who had executed their most popular modern President.
 
After announcing the finding for Liberty Lobby, Leslie Armstrong, the jury foreperson, came out onto the court-house steps and spoke to the media at length. Lane summarises the remarks she repeated, over and again, to the nation's reporters:


The evidence was clear, she said. The CIA had killed President Kennedy. Hunt had been part of it, and the evidence, so painstakingly presented, should now be examined by the relevant institutions of the United States government so that those responsible for the assassination may be brought to justice.


The local TV station gave the verdict a few seconds, replaying Armstrong's answer to one red herring question. As for the print media, Lane writes:
 
The Washington Post, which had devoted a substantial story to Hunt's victory at the first trial, when no issue of national importance had been adjudicated or even raised, declined to publish even a word about the jury's verdict at the second trial, where the question of the CIA's role in the assassination had been decisive. Almost all of the national news media joined in surrounding the historic verdict with an iron curtain, through which the news of the verdict could not filter.
 
Sturgis's words about there having been "no serious newspaper investigation" ring down through the years. Lane's description of the silence of the nation's media as "an iron curtain" may, to a future historian, seem a fine historical irony.
  
IT IS INDEED CURIOUS that the historic facts which turn up in American courtrooms, and elsewhere, are so persistently ignored. Curiouser still is that those who produce them are so persistently vilified. The pattern shows little sign of abating, as JFK  director Oliver Stone has discovered.
 
In attacking the first draft of the JFK script, The Washington Post  became the first newspaper in history to condemn (or even review) a movie before it was made. It followed up with an article on Stone's "big lie", co-authored by former President, and Warren Commissioner, Gerald Ford. Halfway through the shooting of his movie, Time magazine described Stone's "conspiracy theories writhing underfoot like snakes". It labelled Jim Garrison - the movie's central character - "a wide-eyed conspiracy buff". "Garrison," Time  added - of one of Louisiana's most eminent jurists, and the first man to have a conspiracy accepted by an American jury - "is considered somewhere near the far-out fringe of conspiracy theorists." A Newsweek  cover story was titled, "The Twisted Truth of JFK:  Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted." The Hollywood Reporter  simply stated that "most people are likely to regard JFK as BS".
 
Certainly there are many journalists - "assets" - on the CIA payroll. Freedom of Information documents garnered by the indefatiguable Lane reveal that there are also many "liaison and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)" who, in the matter of the JFK assassination, have been provided detailed information "for discrediting the claims of conspiracy theorists" - and urged to "point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists." CIA agents were urged to "employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the [Warren Commission] critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate..." The Agency provided detailed writing tips and model articles for these purposes.
 
But CIA penetration could hardly explain the inability of an entire nation's media to come to grips with a story of such significance. Nor, in itself, could the media conglomerates' interests in "the biggest business in America" - the Vietnam War - in the sixties and seventies. (NBC, for example, is owned by RCA, which made literally billions out of the Vietnam War.)
 
There are simpler reasons for the American media's dereliction of duty. To get to at least one of the roots of the problem we must go back to that original nightmare on Elm Street, on November 22, 1963.
 
On that day not a single witness saw Lee Oswald firing at John Kennedy. Several, however, saw others - including men of "Cuban" appearance - firing at the President. One sharp-eyed 16-year-old even picked out the trigger and stock of a rifle being fired by a dark-skinned man, at Kennedy, from "Oswald's" window in the Book Depository.
 
Nevertheless Oswald was arrested, and presently announced as the killer. The news flashed around the world. Not reported was that whilst Kennedy was shot at 12.31 pm, the log of cab driver William Whaley stated that Lee Oswald had entered his cab as a passenger at 12.30 pm. (Whaley was subsequently found dead  in his vehicle, becoming the first driver in the Dallas taxi industry to die on duty since 1937.)
 
The press additionally regurgitated Dallas Homicide's belief that Oswald had murdered Police Officer George Tippit. None of the witnesses to Tippit's murder identified Oswald as the killer - until, that is, one was shot in the head in a car park, miraculously survived, and changed his testimony before the Warren Commission. The closest witness to Tippit as he was murdered was the apparent object of an assassination attempt within three months of the event (his look-alike brother was shot to death), and the man who saw Tippet's killer - who was not Oswald - fleeing the scene, was subsequently killed by a policeman.
 
In the millions of words contained in the report of each body there was much evidence of the intelligence community's complicity. But journalists have deadlines, and are often overworked. Few if any could have read the reports in full - as the Warren Report's eye-witness statements about the riflemen attest. Journalists were not only unaware of the contents of the reports, however. They were also unaware that both bodies of enquiry were subverted.
 
The Warren Commission's most active member was the otherwise unemployed Allen Dulles, who had been sacked by Kennedy as CIA Director after the Bay of Pigs. Dulles carefully selected witnesses and information conducive to the lone assassin theory.
 
Mark Lane eventually obtained top-secret FBI documents from the immediate post-assassination period, under the Freedom of Information Act. An internal FBI memo dated December 17, 1963 listed items which Commission member Gerald Ford - the future President - illegally passed to the J Edgar Hoover's assistant, Cartha DeLoach. Among other things, Ford was telling the FBI which Warren Commission members required more work to be brought around to the FBI's view of the assassination.
 
The rot went to the top. Chief Justice Earl Warren had been talked into coming down in favour of the lone assassin theory, by President Lyndon Johnson, before the Commission had even begun its sessions. It was urged upon him as a priceless service to the nation. He apparently emerged from the meeting with Johnson with tears in his eyes.
 
Twelve years later, in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established, to re-investigate the murders of both JFK and Martin Luther King. Lane, who was a force behind the creation of the HSCA, describes a meeting between himself, the black activist Dick Gregory, and the black Congressman chosen to head the King investigation in the HSCA, Walter Fauntroy.
 
Initially Gregory and Fauntroy, both Christians, prayed together. In his leading prayer, Gregory described Fauntroy as "the most important man in America... He is going to tell this nation the truth about how our beloved Martin died... Lord, grant him the wisdom to learn all of the facts. And Lord, grant him the courage to tell the truth to the people."
 
Fauntroy was a little more prosaic. After the prayer, he said, "Dick, there's a problem. We know who did it...We know the FBI killed Martin. We have the proof. But Dick, the FBI is bugging my home, my congressional office, even my church. We can't report that they did it. It's too dangerous."
 
Gregory reminded Fauntroy of King's own exemplary decency and honesty. Fauntroy replied: "Yes, Dick, and they killed him. I'm not prepared to make that sacrifice."
 
In light of Fauntroy's statement, and the Bureau's important role in Kennedy's murder, it may be understandable why a large slice of the FBI's national leadership was, at the same time, being eliminated. In 1977 no less than six senior FBI men - all of them scheduled to appear before the HSCA - were found dead. For example the Bureau's former number three man, William Sullivan, was shot dead near his home with a high-powered rifle.


When the HSCA addressed its most basic task - to appoint a general counsel - Bernard Fensterwald, a Washington lawyer, was offered the job. After the CIA visited him, and said it would present him his "head on a platter" if he accepted, he declined. The Committee presently appointed Richard Sprague, a Philadelphia attorney who had attracted national media praise for his prosecutions of labour union hit men. After announcing that he would conduct a fearless independent enquiry, and subpoena intelligence documents where called for, Sprague was strongly attacked by the New York Times, Washington Star and Washington Post. (A Times  man who wrote favourably of him was removed from the story.) Sprague went from being one of the nation's most respected crime-fighters to a pariah, overnight. Congress ultimately grew so restless it threatened to vote the HSCA out of existence unless he was removed. He was.

Sprague's replacement was Robert Blakey, a Justice Department man who had spent several years sponsoring the idea that Fidel Castro murdered Kennedy - an idea he now attempted to get the House Select Committee on Assassinations to accept.
 
Despite having been given power to do so by an Act of Congress, Blakey did not subpoena a single document from the FBI or CIA. Instead he passed them  documents. Most of the top-notch investigators appointed by Sprague resigned. The remainder were sacked by Blakey.
 
Despite the existence of thousands of pages of testimony which named names, furnished motives, and provided innumerable new leads, the HSCA went on to record that Kennedy was murdered by persons unknown for reasons unknown.
 
The preparation and execution of the JFK assassination is a complex story - but it is the subsequent high-level cover-up which makes it labyrinthine. And here we come up against one of the limitations inherent in journalism. One could not even introduce this modern Mahabharata  in a standard-length newspaper article.
 
Related to the story's complexity is its "surreality". The web of threats, disinformation, document-doctoring, character assassination, unexplained deaths, obstructions of justice, subversion of law enforcement agencies, bald lies and audaciously implausible facts is at first breathtaking. After a time one who is addressing all this begins to feel he has stepped into a dream world. It reminds one of nothing so much as the plays by Havel, and his Eastern European contemporaries, about the Alice in Wonderland illogic of Eastern bloc totalitarianism; of state-sponsored fiction; of black being called white, day in and day out, for decades.
 
That the CIA's activities are often quite literally incredible can be illustrated in an Australian context. Last year I attempted to engage the interest of then-backbencher Paul Keating in the Agency's activities in this country. (I had previously been rebuked by Prime Minister Bob Hawke for raising the same "lies".) I read Keating a precis of statements made by CIA men, past and present, including a Station Chief, a Regional Director and even a Deputy Director, to the effect that the CIA was involved in the downfall of the Whitlam Government. (Veteran American journalist Joseph Trento quotes a CIA Deputy Director as stating, of the Whitlam coup, and the Governor-General whose CIA affiliations go back to the 1950s: "Kerr did what he was told to do.")
 
Keating replied that he believes such claims to be "a bit of old stuff from the left". In a sense one can hardly blame him, or his predecessor, for this view. The CIA's activities are nothing if not outrageous; indeed their very "surreality" is an antidote to the Agency's detractors. Few journalists risk their salaries by peddling such "credulous", "over-imaginative" or "paranoid" claims.

COLONEL L FLETCHER PROUTY (essentially the character played by Donald Sutherland in Stone's JFK ) was in 1963 the head of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, simultaneously occupying equally lofty positions in the Defense Department and the Air Force. He was, in short, the man in charge of military support for CIA projects. Prouty was sent to the South Pole before the Kennedy assassination - leaving the President unprotected by the military back-up the Secret Service required in Dallas, and which it would have been his job to arrange. Looking over photographs of the Dallas street-crowds taken immediately after the assassination, Prouty was staggered to identify, therein, the man who had been his superior in 1963, Major General Edward Lansdale.
 
Lansdale was the "General Y" in Stone's movie who sent Prouty - "X" - to the South Pole before Dallas. Prouty told Mark Lane he now knew why he - as Kennedy's leading supporter in the military - had been sent out of the country.
 
Prouty's (non-culpable involvement in the assassination, as well as his roles in the Bay of Pigs, and in drafting Kennedy's National Security Action Memorandum which ordered the pull-out of all American personnel from Vietnam, as well as his insights into George Bush's early activities (see below), make him one of several characters whose threading in and out of history make this story so exactingly complex: less the province of newspapers than of very long books.
 
Other characters who possess the Zelig-like quality of popping up during key - but apparently unrelated - moments of modern American history, are E Howard Hunt (Bay of Pigs CIA "advisor", Kennedy assassination team paymaster, Watergate break-in paymaster, and also the man entrusted by the Nixon Administration with doctoring the national archives to make it appear JFK had authorised the assassination of a foreign head of state); Frank Sturgis (Castro's airforce chief, Bay of Pigs counter-revolutionary, weapons provider to Kennedy assassination team, Watergate burglar), Jerry Patrick Hemming (who was a CIA anti-Castro gunman; whose intelligence career in the Marines "tracked" that of Oswald; and who was, probably, one of those who shot at Kennedy in Dallas); and even Richard M Nixon: who lost the 1960 election to Kennedy; who flew out of Love Field, Dallas, just before the assassination (this was probably coincidence: he was Pepsi Cola's lawyer at the time); who was the chief political ally of the anti-Castro Cubans; and who - when Watergate was bursting about his head - used his knowledge of the CIA's role in the Kennedy assassination to keep the Agency in check, according to the memoirs of his former Chief of Staff, HR Haldeman.


In 1977 Lane and David Atlee Phillips, former head of the CIA's Western Hemisphere, had debated publicly at the University of Southern California. In his introduction, Lane had visibly unnerved the former spy chief by talking lengthily (and hopefully) of Nuremburg-style trials for those who had engaged in CIA crimes. Phillips, dazed and glassy-eyed, had then stunned the audience by confessing - in answer to a Lane question - that Lee Oswald's crucial pre-assassination visit to the Russian Embassy in Mexico City was a CIA fabrication. (Falsified voice recordings, photographs, documents - and perjury before Warren and the House Select Committee on Assassinations.) Virtually the last domino suggestive of the guilt of this "Communist loner" had tumbled. The American public, by and l arge, never read or heard of Phillips's momentous confession.


Why has its media so consistently failed the American people in the matter of the Kennedy assassination?
It seems remarkable now that no-one questioned these inconsistencies and coincidences at the time. It is true that the media on the spot on assassination day were not experienced crime reporters, but the President's travelling entourage. But principally, perhaps, it was just that kind of era. The Government didn't lie to the people: justice would be done. It took years - culminating in E Howard Hunt's bungled burglary of the Watergate complex - before the trust Americans had built up in their institutions degenerated into doubt.


But more concrete than the prevailing ethos is that the press was never told  of the intelligence community's involvement in JFK's murder. This is not so simplistic as it sounds. Two outwardly respectable enquiries were held into the crime: the Warren Commission in 1964, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in 1976-9. The first blamed Oswald, and the second concluded a "probable conspiracy" - participants unknown.


These events weave in and out of each other like strands in the Bayeux Tapestry, are sometimes secret and sometimes not, and are often distorted by disinformation. The saga has emerged bit by torturous bit: one clue lending further weight to another, and few individual clues adding up to a newsworthy story in themselves. Above all it has unravelled over an enormous length of time. Tracking and collating such things is, in a real sense, the work of historians.


Compounding this process is the constant the turnover of media personnel. Few who were reporting in 1963 would have been around in the same capacities in the late seventies, when the CIA's curriculum vitae  of pogroms, assassination and subversion was first laid before the American public - and when, also, the HSCA was formed. Even fewer will be working in similar capacities now, when perhaps the most spectacular details of the 28-year-old assassination are emerging.
Finally there is fear. Two journalists who were in Jack Ruby's apartment the day he shot Oswald were themselves found dead,  of violent causes, within a year. So was Dorothy Kilgallen, the only journalist to interview Ruby in jail, and who claimed she would "break" the JFK case. The body of her close friend, who possibly had her notes, was discovered two days later. In 1977 Dallas radio host Lou Staples - one of the few journalists to eschew the Pravda-like repetition of the government line - stated that he also would "break" the JFK case. He was shortly found dead  of gunshot wounds. Several other journalists on the trail of Kennedy's assassins have died under comparable circumstances.


Doubtless these incidents serve as a salutary warning to those who may follow.


All of this may help to explain why the media has rejected the intelligence community's involvement in the past. One reason it still refuses to do so is, no doubt, embarrassment. The revelation that there had been a coup d'etat  in the United States, and that the media had missed it, would cause a substantial decline in the credibility of that media.
The other side of this coin - its rationalisation, if you like - is that "the nation couldn't stand another Watergate". Jim Garrison, now a senior Louisiana Judge, comes from three generations of distinguished American jurists. He was decorated for gallantry in World War Two, and is in many ways an old-style patriot. He stated in a recent radio interview that unless the truth is published about the assassination of John F Kennedy, and the changes in foreign policy which flowed from it, "this Republic will not survive." His detractors, however, may well believe that the Republic could not survive if the truth were  made known.


Perhaps the most powerful prophylactic of all - where the truth about the Kennedy assassination is concerned - is the pervasive sentiment that " it's all in the past"; that there are important contemporary matters to examine, and little space in a modern newspaper for "ancient history". This ahistorical view of public life has great potential to damage a nation's understanding of its contemporary politics. This needs no historical vagaries for proof, as we shall see.


In 1988 the American investigative magazine Nation published an FBI memorandum, penned by J Edgar Hoover, dated November 29, 1963. It stated that the Bureau had briefed "Mr George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency" the day after the assassination, on the reactions to it of the Miami Cuban community. (There was a fear they would try another Cuban invasion, this time without the CIA.)


A normally reliable intelligence source quoted in Nation  stated that Bush worked in the Caribbean for the Central Intelligence Agency - using his oil business as a cover - from 1960 or 1961, and that thereafter "he was involved in the suppression of things after the Kennedy assassination."


When the Nation articles were published, George Bush denied that he had been involved with the CIA before his appointment as Director in 1976. The CIA stated that the "George Bush" referred to by Hoover was probably George William Bush - not the then Vice-President, George Herbert Walker Bush. Nation  diligently tracked down George William Bush, who stated that he had never been briefed by the FBI on the matter in question because he was "a lowly researcher and analyst". He had quit the CIA after six month's service in 1964.


Vice-President Bush's denial of the "FBI briefing" story was worded deviously - what journalists call a "non-denial denial" - and his resume for the early 1960s is suitably vague. His travel through the Caribbean for his oil company, during the years of confrontation with Castro, would have provided a perfect cover for CIA business such as the destabilisation of Cuba, and for working with groups of anti-Communist Cubans. Such business covers were and are commonplace.
As the years fly by since the Kennedy assassination, the circle continues to widen.


According to many witnesses named by Garrison and other researchers, Lee Oswald was a CIA man involved with anti-Castro groups in the southern USA during the early sixties. So, it now seems possible, was George Herbert Walker Bush.
It is therefore unsurprising that Lee Oswald and George Bush had a colleague in common. George de Mohrenschildt, a wealthy Texas oilman, was Oswald's close friend and, probably, his CIA handler. De Mohrenschildt was contacted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late seventies to tell it what he knew about the JFK job. He was found dead  of gunshot wounds even as the HSCA investigator was on the road to interview him. His address book contained the name, and home and work addresses, of "Bush, George HW (Poppy)."


Equally interesting, in its context, is that George Bush was, until 1964, running his petroleum company, Zapata Off Shore Co, in Houston - where he lived with his wife Barbara. In 1961 the CIA planned their invasion of Cuba - then known, only to the few, by the top-secret code-name of "Operation Zapata". Colonel Fletcher Prouty was in charge of ordnance for the operation, and secured two Navy vessels which were repainted - and re-named "Barbara" and "Houston".


In another curious lapse of duty by the American media - which thinks nothing of following one Presidential candidate to his hotel to record a sexual liaison, or of digging out the yellowing draft records of another - none of the above has become an election issue in 1992.


On February 23 this year CIA Director Robert Gates stated that (after 28 years of unremittingly obstructing justice) "the CIA will not be found lagging" in any effort to open the JFK files - which the American public has still not seen. But President Bush and Congress show no sign of authorising this. Indeed President Bush stated in Canberra on January 2, "I have seen no evidence that gives me any reason to believe that the Warren Commission was wrong - none whatsoever."
In the unlikely event that this is true, President Bush believes something at least two of his predecessors did not believe. (Presidents Johnson and Nixon are on the record as to their belief in CIA involvement in JFK's murder.) Indeed President Bush would be one of the few people in America who has not seen "evidence that the Warren Commission was wrong". Recent opinion polls tell us that half the American population now believes the CIA was involved in Kennedy's assassination; and that, outside the media and the White House, the Warren Commission's findings have roughly the same credibility as the Flat Earth Theory.


 


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