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THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS

 

John Chuckman

 

I think a description of the political space in which we live as a kind of twilight reality is not an exaggeration. Not only is a great deal of the news about the world we read and hear manipulated and even manufactured, but a great deal of genuine news is simply missing. People often do not know what is happening in the world, although they generally believe they do know after reading their newspapers or listening to news broadcasts. People receive the lulling sounds or words of most of this kind of news almost unconsciously just as they do to the strains of piped-in “elevator music” in stores and offices.

There are several reasons why this is so. The consolidation of news media creates huge corporate industries whose interests are no different to those of other huge corporate industries. The ownership and control of these industries is not in the hands of people interested in finding out about things and helping others to understand: they are in the hands of people with political connections and goals. At the government level, those in power over the great agencies of the military and security also are not motivated by helping others to understand; indeed, they often are very much interested in hiding what they do.

With a large, complex, and powerful state like the United States these motivations become overwhelming in importance. The more the establishment’s national ambitions become interference in, and manipulation of, the world’s affairs – in effect, controlling the global environment in which it lives – the more it finds itself mired in acts and policies which cannot stand the light of day. Secrecy becomes a paramount goal of government, and all corporate news organizations – understanding their dependency upon government agencies for leaks and information to make them look good, for permissions and licences which allow them to survive and grow, and for advertising revenue from other great corporations involved with government – understand implicitly the permissible limits of investigation and news. And when they do forget, they are promptly reminded. Some of these giants – CNN and Fox News come to mind – make little pretence of genuine news or investigation, existing almost entirely as outlets for points of view, attitudes, and the odd tantalizing morsel of disinformation. They keep an audience because they offer what is best understood as either infotainment or soft propaganda which is expertly tuned to listeners’ and readers’ assumptions and preconceived ideas.

Size matters in all enterprises, economies of scale contributing to build powerful corporations with global influence. Size also matters to create what economists call “barriers to entry” in any industry, something which plays a major role in the evolution of many industries over time from fairly competitive ones to quasi-monopolistic ones. It is virtually impossible for a newcomer to enter an industry evolved to this latter state, including the news industry. It would be about as difficult to enter the American news industry as it would be to enter its soda pop, car manufacturing, household products, or hamburger restaurant industries. It is always possible to start a small niche, or boutique, operation, but it literally is not possible to compete with oligopolistic giants. So, necessarily, American news is under the control of a very few people, extremely wealthy people, who attend the same cocktail parties as senior people in government agencies and other great corporations.

The more powerful the great military-security-policing agencies in a society become, the more independent of public approval and scrutiny they grow. This is unavoidable without a sustained popular demand for public accountability and reasonable transparency, but such popular movements are difficult to start and even harder to maintain, and they are pretty much absent in America. Every once in a while we do get a movement in America popping up like spring dandelions on the lawn, almost always of the “back to basics” type, the Tea Party being the most recent manifestation, financed by some wealthy persons with their own goals and serving to titillate people for a short while that the dark monstrosity in Washington can be made to go away, but, as with the Tea Party, they always dry up and blow away.

The politicians who ostensibly oversee dark matters in special committees do not want public credit for what they approve. And I believe a point is reached, as it has been reached in the United States, where a great deal of the planning and decision-making in dirty affairs is left entirely in the hands of the great security agencies themselves, politicians not being in a position to interfere even if they wanted to do so. The sheer volume and complexity of such operations argues for this view, and the truth is most people and most politicians are comfortable with inertia.

If we go back about fifty years we have a complex and fascinating example of these forces and tendencies at work, and we can only be sure that matters have gone a great deal further since that time with the immense swelling of security budgets, open contempt for privacy and rights, and the dramatic advance of technological capabilities. On the matter of technology from the citizens’ point of view, the blithe pop notion of “social media,” so often talked up in the press as now working against concentrated power, ignores that “social media” too are just great corporations intimately linked to government. They not only send the security agencies a detailed flow of information about their subscribers, but they are all engineered to be switched off when government desires it. The Internet in general has provided an outlet for critical views, but the total exposure to the public is small in the scheme of things – a few channels, as it were, in a multi-trillion channel universe – and can mostly be ignored by authorities, and, in any event, the Internet is evolving quickly into something else far more dominated by commercial interests. The Golden Age of the Internet, so far as ideas are concerned, may well soon be over.  To return to our example, if we go back to America’s many attempts to topple or assassinate the leader of Cuba in the early 1960s, we have perhaps our best understood example of elaborate dark operations, unaccountable officials, murder, mayhem, and an utterly compliant press – all freely continuing for years. Although histories of the Kennedy presidency contain more than one version of some details of America’s vast, long-lasting terrorist plot, still, much of it is understood, at least better than is the case for many such matters.

John Kennedy may not have been quite the idealist some sentimentally view him today, but he was more thoughtful, independent, and tough-minded than many American Presidents of the 20th century. He learned nearly immediately after becoming President that the previous Eisenhower government had established a vast operation to eliminate Castro and his government. It was a terror operation whose size and complexity and resources made the later mountain redoubt of Osama bin Laden resemble a Boy Scout camp. Despite its size, this was an operation unknown to the press and public at the time, although there is an anecdote that The New York Times tripped over the plot and, in traditional Times’ fashion, suppressed it at the CIA’s request. The plans took many routes, including, as we learned later from the Church Committee in 1975 (an examination of some intelligence practices in the wake of the Watergate scandal), CIA representatives going to the bizarre lengths of approaching senior Mafia figures to discuss commissioning them for Castro’s assassination.

Kennedy came under great pressure from the CIA to approve the project for invading Cuba, a difficult position in which to put a young, inexperienced President. He decided to support the plan with important provisos. The Bay of Pigs invasion, by a CIA-trained, supplied, and paid private army of Cuban refugees, was directed by CIA personnel and supported by a huge propaganda apparatus, including a radio station, in Florida. There were also CIA assassination teams prepared to enter Cuba and kill certain people once the refugees were established. Many elements of the plan and the people running it had been involved in 1954 with the successful overthrow of the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. But Cuba was not Guatemala, and their plans proved a colossal and embarrassing failure which served only to increase Castro’s heroic, legendary stature in Cuba, a classic result of poorly-conceived black operations called “blowback” in the security establishment, and the reverberations of these events continued for more than a decade, claiming many lives and careers.

Following the failed invasion, CIA leaders, much resembling some “old boys” at an expensive men’s club where outsiders are resented, blamed the President for his scepticism and failure to extend what they regarded as adequate support, especially in the form of disguised American air support for the invading forces. The new President himself was furious at having been pressured into the fiasco at the start of his term. The truth is that the CIA’s plan was almost laughable, including the key assumption that great numbers of ordinary Cubans would rise against Castro, an extremely popular leader, once the invasion force appeared. It was a delusional sand castle built on a foundation of blind hatred for anything to do with communism, especially for a man as charismatic as Castro. The blindness extended to the CIA’s having selected a poor geographical location for forces to land.

It was all a tremendous example of the arrogance of power, secret men with unlimited resources making secret plans that reflected little reality. Kennedy fired some top CIA officials, including Director Allen Dulles, and is said to have privately sworn to tear the CIA apart. We can only imagine the self-righteous fury of the CIA’s Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the time, their words, when recorded here or there, resembling tent preachers speaking about casting out devils. Kennedy, however, did not tear the CIA apart. Realistically, that would have been impossible with the men at the CIA knowing better than anyone how to capitalize on an attempt – blackmail, threats, ugly frat-boy jokes, and criminal activity being everyday tools they used. To be labelled “soft on communism” in the early 1960s was the political Mark of Beast, Richard Nixon having built an entire political career on it, and Kennedy’s personal life was subject to then-unpalatable revelations of extensive marital infidelity. So Kennedy continued to work with the CIA on a series of sabotage operations against Cuba and attempts on Castro’s life. Indeed, it is said that Kennedy put his brother, Robert, a sufficiently tough and ruthless man by all accounts, in charge of the plans, making senior CIA personnel answerable to the young Attorney General, itself the kind of act which would not endear him to the CIA’s old boys.

The secret matters around Cuba dominated events for years, again almost without any hard public information, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis which President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev peacefully settled, a settlement importantly including an American pledge not to invade Cuba again. Ultimately this writer is convinced that it was events around Cuba that led directly to the assassination of John Kennedy, much evidence suggesting a false trail to Cuba being planted before the fateful day in Dallas, the very kind of trail that could be used by the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen to justify an invasion after all. With everything from a faked visit to Mexico City by someone posing as Lee Harvey Oswald (the poor man working in New Orleans as a paid FBI informer at the time – likely a low level part of a Kennedy-initiated FBI program to track and suppress the worst anti-Cuba excesses of the refugees and their handlers in keeping with the spirit of the Missile Crisis settlement – totally unaware he was being set up by those he fell in with), the one-man creation of a Fair Play to Cuba chapter in New Orleans, handing out Fair Play pamphlets (some of which were stamped with the address of an ex-senior FBI anti-communist fanatic, Guy Bannister, who ran a mysterious front operation in New Orleans with some very unsavory associates) at places including near a naval facility, the night visit to Sylvia Odio, daughter of a noted Cuban political figure, by a group of unidentified men who referred to a Leon Oswald, and many other such carefully placed little piles of breadcrumbs.

Kennedy offended his Pentagon Joint Chiefs by not letting them immediately bomb and invade Cuba when offensive missiles were discovered there by U-2 photography, and of course anything of that nature offending the Pentagon offended also the CIA and those dependent upon it.  With his pledge not to invade Cuba again, Kennedy offended the violent Cuban refugee community, people who were armed to the teeth by the CIA and had killed and crippled opponents in Florida as well as in Cuba. And through the entire sequence of events from the Bay of Pigs to the Missile Crisis, Kennedy consistently offended the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the CIA. He added to that offence with acts like establishing secret backchannel communications with Khrushchev and preliminary efforts to establish the same communications with Castro. Such efforts were most unlikely to remain secret from the CIA when they involved such a high level and weighty matters. Remember, hatreds in the United States around Cuba remained so intense in the intelligence and refugee communities that as late as 1976, a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles planted two bombs on Cubana Airlines Flight 455, killing all 78 people aboard, and he was protected by the American government.

The effect on the general public of accurate knowledge about dark matters in the rare instances when they become known can be glimpsed here or there. One of the best examples is the disappearance from politics, including credible presidential ambitions, of a seemingly attractive Vietnam veteran holding the Medal of Honor, former-Senator Bob Kerrey. When the public learned of a secret operation called Project Phoenix and later learned that Kerrey earned his medal through such work, his political career simply dissolved. Project Phoenix was a dark operation in Vietnam in which American Special Forces crept out, night after night, to assassinate villagers the CIA identified as targets. It is estimated that twenty thousand innocent villagers had their throats slashed in the night by Americans creeping into their homes. It would be hard to conceive of a more cowardly and grisly form of war, but it went on for a long time in complete secrecy. The operation burst upon public awareness only after a titanic internal struggle at the CIA over the authenticity of a Soviet defector named Yuri Nosenko ended with the dismissal of James Angleton in 1974, the paranoid Chief of CIA Counterintelligence (a man, incidentally, who unquestionably had special knowledge of the Kennedy assassination) by new CIA Director William Colby. Colby also revealed the Phoenix program for reasons not well understood and stated he had run it. (A retired Colby later had a mysterious fatal boating accident near his home.)

People who want to discredit critics and sceptics of government today often use the term “conspiracy theorist,” almost as though there were ipso facto no such things as conspiracy or dishonesty in government. It is of course intended as a pejorative description. But the entire history of affairs around Cuba puts the lie to those using the term, and we know from many bits of information that Cuba is only one example of scores of genuine conspiracies.

Those with some history will know that secrecy and dishonesty have long served the interests of power. Why doesn’t the United States claim credit for overthrowing the democratic government of Guatemala, the democratic government of Iran which unleashed the filthy work of the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, afterward, or the democratic government of Chile and the fifteen thousand or so state murders that followed? Why doesn’t it claim credit for the State Department’s teletyping lists of desired victims to a new government of Indonesia, after the fall of Sukarno in 1965, as its savage followers conducted a genocidal slaughter of suspected communists which saw half a million people thrown into rivers with their throats slashed? Why did it hide acts like the machine-gunning of hundreds of fleeing Korean civilians, including women and children, at the early stages of the Korean War? Or the hideous murder by suffocation in sealed trucks of about three thousand Taleban prisoners in the early stages of the Afghanistan War undertaken by one of America’s key Afghan allies shortly after Donald Rumsfeld publicly said they should be killed or walled away forever? Why doesn’t Israel just tell people it terrorized Palestinians, killing and raping, in 1948 to make as many as possible flee their homes? Or that it machine-gunned masses of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai in a war that it engineered only for conquering more of Palestine?

Could it be that there are acts of which governments are ashamed? That there is reason to be ashamed of acts which they nevertheless continue to repeat? It does seem that government values its reputation enough to avoid taking credit for its ugliest acts. The terrible dilemma is that in a supposedly democratic state, these horrible acts are committed without either the knowledge or consent of the people and despite the fact that the results affect the public’s welfare and often international reputation. Now at just what point could the consent of the people in a democratic state be more important than committing organized murder on their behalf? I cannot imagine any. Yet that is a point at which states like America feel free to act, covering up what they do with masses of secrecy and lies.

Why would anyone deny the existence of conspiracies by America’s government? Regrettably, the only reason that some government behavior becomes known is the existence of whistleblowers. But how does government treat whistleblowers? Just ask Mordechai Vanunu or Daniel Ellsberg or Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning or Edward Snowden – truly brave and ethically-motivated individuals, treated like criminals by their governments.

Pervasive secrecy and truly democratic government are simply incompatible, and I think it fair to say that where we see monumental levels of secrecy, as we do in the United States with billions of classified documents and hundreds of past controversies dimly understood, it provides prima facie proof of a society tarted-up to resemble democracy but having few if any of the required internal organs functioning. A culture of secrecy and violence is the culture of a police state, full stop.

Right now we have partial information about some recent American, or American-sponsored, terrorist programs. One such is the induced “civil war” in Syria which receives arms and assistance via Turkey, the same route used to inject a rag-tag army of extremists into Syria and to allow them to retreat periodically in escaping Syria’s army. The extremists even used some of the deadly nerve gas, Sarin, to kill masses of civilians in hopes of pushing the United States openly into the conflict, making the rebels surely the kind of people no sane person wants running a country. And who supplied them with Sarin, a manufactured substance available from only a few sources?  A related dark program occurred in Benghazi, Libya, where an American ambassador was killed in another instance of blowback: he had been running an operation to collect from Libya and export to Syria weapons and thugs when some the thugs turned and attacked him instead. Yet another dark operation has been the destabilization of Ukraine through a huge secret flow of money to right wing forces who shot hundreds of innocent people down on the streets of Kiev to instill general fear and terror to support a coup.

Now, you will not read one word from an American official acknowledging any of this grotesque behavior. Indeed, John Kerry has the unenviable job of publically lying about it, puffing and pontificating and self-righteously proclaiming America’s revulsion over others behaving like that. And in all this storm of murder and dishonesty, you will only find American journalism, that noble guardian of the public’s right to know, keeping its readers and listeners in complete ignorance.

This is how it is possible in what is often regarded a free and democratic state, the national government commits itself to murder and mayhem, using its people’s resources without informing them and without their consent, all the while vigorously lying to them. Can you really have democracy that way? I don’t think so. The power and resources that are in the hands of America’s great secret agencies are greater than those enjoyed by many of the world’s dictators. And the distortions of the American press surely are in keeping with the practices of places where the press is never regarded as free. Many Americans know that at the local town or city level, they do have democratic institutions and attitudes, a fact which reassures them against criticisms of their national system, but then so does China today, and no one calls China a democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

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John Chuckman

Of course, the cozy popular myth of America’s Founding Fathers as an earnest, civic-minded group gathered in an ornate hall, writing with quill pens, reading from leather-bound tomes, and offering heroic speeches in classical poses – all resembling Greek philosophers in wigs and spectacles and frock coats – was always that, a myth. They were in more than a few cases narrow, acquisitive men, ambitious for their personal interests which were considerable, and even the more philosophic types among them were well-read but largely unoriginal men who cribbed ideas and concepts and even whole phrases from European Enlightenment writers and British parliamentary traditions.

And much of what they wrote and agreed upon involved what would prove mistaken ideas, with a lack of foresight into what the almost unchangeable concrete their words would shape. Americans today often are not aware that the word “democracy” for many of the Founders was an unpleasant one, carrying just about the same connotations that “communist” would a century and a half later. Men of the world of privilege and comparative wealth – Washington, Morris, and many others – were having nothing to do with ideas which rendered unimportant men important. That is why the country was styled as a “republic” – that most undefined term in the political lexicon, which then meant only the absence of a king with decisions made by a tight group of propertied elites.

False as they are, the very fact that there are such pleasant myths does tell us something about past popular ideals informing their creation. Now, how would any future Americans manage to weave attractive myths about a president who sits in the Oval Office signing authorizations for teams of young buzz-cut psychopaths in secret locked rooms to guide killing machines against mere suspects and innocent bystanders, often adopting the tactics of America’s lunatic anti-abortion assassins, sending a second hellish missile into the crowd of neighbors who come to the assistance of the victims of the first?

How would they weave attractive myths around the CIA’s International Torture Gulag, including that hellhole, Guantanamo, where kidnapped, legally-innocent people are imprisoned and tortured and given absolutely no rights or ethical treatment under international laws and conventions?

During the Revolutionary War, the battles were between armies, and captured soldiers were frequently granted their freedom upon their paroles, pledges of not returning to the fight. Spies were thought poorly of and often hung. Torture was uncommon and certainly not embraced as policy.

What myths can be written of two wars involving the deaths of a million or so people, the creation of millions of refugees, and the needless destruction of huge amounts of other peoples’ property, and all to achieve nothing but a change of government? Or about massive armed forces and secret security agencies which squander hundreds of billions in resources year after year, spreading their dark influence to all corners of the globe, and offering an insurmountable obstacle to America’s own citizens who might imagine they ever can rise against a government grown tyrannous? After all, polls in America show that its Congress is held in contempt by the overwhelming majority of its people, with percentages of disapproval rivaling those held for communism or Satanic rituals.

There are no myths about today’s Congressional figures. Everyone understands they are often to be found bellowing in ornate halls about points most Americans couldn’t care less about. Everyone understands that they are ready to go anywhere and say almost anything for large enough campaign contributions. That they take off on junkets paid for by groups hoping to influence votes and put faces to the exercise of future influence, trips commonly involving a foreign power trying to shape American policy. That their work is often steeped in secrecy from the voters, secrecy not governed by genuine national security concerns but by the often shameful nature of their work. That a good deal of the legislation and rules they create repress their own people’s interests and favor only special interests.

That their government regularly suppresses inconvenient truths and labels those who raise questions as foolishly addicted to conspiracy or even as treacherous. What are just a few of the events which have been treated in this fashion? The assassination of a President. The accidental or deliberate downing of at least three civilian aircraft by America’s military in recent years – an Iranian airliner, TWA Flight 800 on the East Coast, and the fourth plane of the 9/11 plot over Pennsylvania. The CIA’s past cooperation and engagement with the American Mafia during its anti-Castro terror campaign. The CIA’s use of drug trafficking to raise off-the-books income. The military’s assassination of American prisoners of war cooperating with their Vietnamese captors. Obfuscating Israel’s deliberate attack on an American intelligence-gathering ship during its engineered 1967 War. The huge death toll of locals, civilian and military, in America’s grisly imperial wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. 9/11.

I do not believe in 9/11 insider plots, but I know there has been strenuous official effort to disguise that event’s full nature. The motives? One suspects a great deal of embarrassment at demonstrated incompetence has been at work. Blowback from CIA operations in the Middle East seems more than likely. The documented involvement of Mossad in following and recording the plotters inside the United States leaves disturbing unanswered questions. One also knows that America’s establishment discovered in the wake of 9/11 the perfect opportunity for doing a great many nasty things it had always wanted to do anyway. You might say the terrorists did the military-industrial-intelligence complex a big favor. Anti-democratic measures involving surveillance, privacy in communications, secret prisons, torture, and effective suspension of some of the Constitution are all parts of the new American reality.

The FBI can record what you borrow from the public library. The NSA captures your every phone call, text message, and e-mail. The TSA can strip search you for taking an inter-city bus. Drones are being used for surveillance, and the TSA actually has a program of agents traveling along some highways ready to stop those regarded as suspicious. Portable units for seeing through clothes and baggage, similar to those used at airports, are to tour urban streets in vans randomly. Agencies of the government, much in the style of the former Stasi, encourage reports from citizens about suspicious behavior. Now, you can just imagine what might be called “suspicious” in a society which has always had a tendency towards witch-hunts and fears of such harmless things as Harry Potter books or the charming old Procter and Gambel symbol on soapboxes.

America has become in many ways a police state, albeit one where a kind of decency veil is left draped over the crude government machinery. How can a place which has elections and many of the trappings of a free society be a police state? Well, it can because power, however conferred, can be, and will be, abused. And the majority in any democratic government can impose terrible burdens on the minority. That’s how the American Confederacy worked, how apartheid South Africa worked, and that’s how Israel works today. Prevention of those inevitable abuses is the entire reason for a Bill of Rights, but if you suspend or weaken its protections, anything becomes possible.

American police forces have long enjoyed a reputation for brutal and criminal behavior – using illegal-gains seizure laws for profit, beating up suspects, conducting unnecessary military-style raids on homes, killing people sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses – having earned international recognition from organizations such as Amnesty International. The reasons for this are complex but include the military model of organization adopted by American policing, the common practice of hiring ex-soldiers as police, the phenomenon of uncontrolled urban sprawl creating new towns whose tiny police forces have poor practices and training, and, in many jurisdictions, a long and rich history of police corruption. Now, those often poor-quality American police have unprecedented discretion and powers of abuse.

Further, according to the words of one high-ranking general a few years back, the American military is prepared to impose martial law in the event of another great act of terror. Certainly that is an encouraging and uplifting thought considering all the blunders and waste and murder and rape the American military has inflicted upon countries from Vietnam to Iraq.

Where it is possible, power prefers to know about and even to control what is going on at the most humble level of its society, and the greater the power, the more irresistible the drive to know and control. It is essential to appreciate that whether you are talking about the military or huge corporations or the security apparatus, you are not talking about institutions which are democratic in nature. Quite the opposite, these institutions are run along much the same lines as all traditional forms of undemocratic government, from monarchs to dictators. Leadership and goals and methods are not subject to a vote and orders given are only to be obeyed, and there is no reason to believe that any of these institutions cherishes or promotes democratic values or principles of human rights. Of course, corporations, in order to attract talent, must publicly present a friendly face towards those principles, but that necessary charade reflects their future behavior about as much as campaign promises reflect future acts of an American politician.

Those at the top of all powerful and hierarchical institutions inevitably come to believe that they know better than most people, and those with any hope of gaining top positions must adopt the same view. For centuries we saw the great landed gentry and church patriarchs of pre-democratic societies regard themselves as inherently different from the population. It is no different with the psychology of people who enjoy their wealth and influence through positions in these great modern, un-democratic institutions. The larger and more pervasive these institutions become in society – and they have become truly bloated in America – the more will their narcissistic, privileged views prevail. Also, it is axiomatic that where great power exists, it never goes unused. Large standing armies are the proximate cause of many of history’s wars. And just so, the power of corporations to expand through illegality of every description, this being the source of the many controversies about failing to pay taxes in countries where they operate or the widespread practice of bribery in landing large contracts with national governments.

So far as security services go (the United States, at last count, having sixteen different ones), they may well be the worst of all these modern, massive anti-democratic institutions. Their lines of responsibility to government are often weak, and citizens in general are often regarded as things with which to experiment or play. Their leaders and agents are freely permitted to perjure themselves in courts. The organizations possess vast budgets with little need to account for the spending. They can even create their own funds through everything from drug and weapons trading to counterfeiting currency, all of it not accounted for and subject to no proper authority. And their entire work is secret, whether that work involves legitimate national security or not. The nature of their work breeds a secret-fraternity mindset of superiority and cynicism. They start wars and coups, including against democratic governments sometimes, they pay off rising politicians even in allied countries, they use money and disinformation to manipulate elections even in friendly governments, and of course they kill people and leaders they seriously disapprove of. Now, does any thinking person believe that they simply forget these mindsets and practices when it comes to what they regard as serious problems in their own country?

The record of arrogance and abuse by security organizations, such as CIA or the FBI, is long and costly, filled with errors in judgment, abuse of power, incompetence, and immense dishonesty. Owing to the black magic of classified secrecy, much of the record involves projects about which we will never know, but even what we do know about is distressing enough. And I’m not sure that it can be any other way so long as you have Big Intelligence. Apart from Big Intelligence’s own propensity towards criminal or psychopathic behavior, one of the great ironies of Big Intelligence is that it will always agree to bend, to provide whatever suppressions and fabrications are requested by political leaders working towards the aims of the other great anti-democratic institutions, the military and the corporations. This became blindingly clear in the invasion of Iraq and, even before that, in the first Gulf War.

America’s political system, honed and shaped over many decades, fits comfortably with these institutions. National elections are dominated by a two-party duopoly (being kept that way through countless institutional barriers deliberately created to maintain the status quo) , both these parties are dominated by huge flows of campaign contributions (contributions which form what economists call an effective barrier to entry against any third party seriously being able to compete), both parties embrace much the same policies except for some social issues of little interest to the establishment, and election campaigns are reduced to nothing more than gigantic advertising and marketing operations no different in nature to campaigns for two national brands of fast food or pop. It takes an extremely long time for a candidate to rise and be tested before being trusted with the huge amounts of money invested in an important campaign, and by that time he or she is a well-read book with no surprising chapters.

If for any reason this political filtering system fails, and someone slips through to an important office without having spent enough time to make them perfectly predictable, there still remains little chance of serious change on any important matter. The military-industrial-intelligence complex provides a molded space into which any newcomer absolutely must fit. Just imagine the immense pressures exerted by the mere presence of senior Pentagon brass gathered around a long polished oak table or a table surrounded by top corporate figures representing hundreds of billions in sales or representatives or a major lobbying group (and multi-million dollar financing source for the party). We see the recent example of popular hopes being crushed after the election of Obama, a man everyone on the planet hoped to see mend some of the ravages of George Bush and Dick Cheney. But the man who once sometimes wore sandals and bravely avoided a superfluous and rather silly flag pin on his lapel quickly was made to feel the crushing weight of institutional power, and he bent to every demand made on him, becoming indistinguishable from Bush. Of course, the last president who genuinely did challenge at least some of the great institutional powers, even to a modest extent, died in an ambush in Dallas.

JOHN CHUCKMAN

A note to readers: Normally, I post my book reviews only on another site of mine, Chuckman’s Miscellanea of Words, but because of the nature of this book and its being the 48th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination, I am also posting on this site.

The blurb inside this book tells us that Joan Mellen is a professor of English and creative writing at Temple University, and sadly that fact confirms my darkest fears about American education, because Ms. Mellen, as amply demonstrated by significant portions of this book, often cannot write a literate paragraph. It is appalling how many badly written pages are in this volume.

Why did I continue to read it? I am a great admirer of the late Jim Garrison, who incidentally was a pretty fine writer, and being aware of the hatchet-job books done on his efforts in the Kennedy assassination, I wanted to read something of a defense. Ms. Mellen’s book is one of the few, so I persevered through her muddy paragraphs in hopes of reaching a bit of clear water and learning something.

Well, it does get somewhat better through the middle of the book, and there are some interesting points and details raised here.

I very much believe that Jim Garrison stumbled upon something big in New Orleans, something very big, part of the conspiracy to kill John Kennedy, a conspiracy carefully ignored by the Warren Commission and later by The House Select Committee.

Garrison was a very intelligent and able man, but no individual, no matter how bright and brave and dedicated, could have completely withstood the assaults of a Washington establishment determined to smear and mislead and destroy him. The imbalance of forces was terrifying, and the efforts likely shortened Garrison’s life. This book does document some of that in its better-written portions.

I never shared Garrison’s belief that the CIA as an organization killed Kennedy, although it just could not be clearer to people who’ve read enough on the subject that the CIA always worked to manipulate and distort evidence in this matter. Indeed, it continues to do so to this day.

For Jim Garrison, fighting all the dirt and abuse, it would naturally seem that they were covering their own responsibility. I believe rather that they have been covering what would have been explosive information in the 1960s: that their private army of Cuban terrorists killed the President, aided more than likely by the direct or indirect help of the CIA handlers responsible for arming, training, and paying that gang of cutthroats in their long efforts at mayhem and murder in Cuba and in Florida.

People today almost cannot imagine the fetid political atmosphere in the United States of the 1950s and 1960s. It was poisonous, so much so that in many other places people were deeply concerned that the United States would do some terrible things. That view was part of what informed spies the Britain’s Cambridge Circle. The United States in that era seriously considered a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and later on China and it thought nothing of invading a country like Cuba or of overthrowing even democratically-elected governments like those in Guatemala and Iran.

Discrediting the CIA in any way at that time, much as it was deserved, was regarded almost as treason, and that was why the CIA lied and cheated its way through every effort at genuine investigation. The CIA was up to its armpits in collusion with mobsters and thugs of every description to achieve the overthrow of Castro, and when its secret army of Cuban fanatics killed the President, with or without the assistance of their professional CIA handlers, it simply could not be revealed. Truth be known, I feel confident many of the CIA’s career men were glad when he died, believing he did not possess the blind faith they embraced.

The FBI too was glad. Hoover hated the Kennedys beyond describing. And with CIA backing and other political backing, it felt safe to cover and even destroy evidence in its almost laughable race to find poor Oswald guilty, and it was very convenient to portray Oswald as a “Commie nut” since the lifelong passion of Hoover was to lynch as many Communists as he could, even while he was friends with American gangsters.

For some while after the assassination, the CIA tried – through articles and books by its assets in American publishing – to blame Castro for the assassination, but that pathetic story pretty much withered away, Castro being far too clever to have hired someone like Oswald or to have given America’s establishment the excuse it wanted to cover an invasion.

It is well known in intelligence operations that you not only prepare a primary fall-back story – the Castro story – but a secondary one should that fail to gain traction, and that second one is blaming the mafia. The inept Robert Blakey, largely responsible for the feeble efforts of the House Select Committee investigation, put that idea forward. So too did others in a series of contrived books.

It is still around today, with new proponents surfacing periodically. What the story ignores is the virtual impossibility of getting the various mafia clans – the mafia not being a single organization but a group of loosely cooperating families – to agree on so extreme an act, putting all their billions in assets at risk and giving law enforcement the perfect excuse to shut them down completely.

Again, in Bertrand Russell’s profound question, “If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?” So we pretty much know ipso facto that Oswald cannot have been the lone killer, and that’s apart from his lack of motive and talent and an almost complete lack of sound evidence.

So what is the CIA hiding? Its own embarrassment and incompetence and criminal behavior with terrorist groups like the Cuban refugees, as well as the extreme danger to a free society of having such a well-financed organization with almost no responsibility to anyone.

A Note to Readers: I am re-posting this article in view of the coming forty-eighth anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy. It remains an accurate critique of many key aspects of that event and was repeated in many publications around the world. You may also enjoy another later piece, “Lincoln was Wrong: The Ease of Fooling Most of the People Most of the Time,” at https://chuckmanwords.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/lincoln-was-wrong-the-ease-of-fooling-most-of-the-people-most-of-the-time/</

November 12, 2003

FORTY YEARS OF LIES

“If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?”
Bertrand Russell

John Chuckman

Bertrand Russell’s penetrating question, one of sixteen he asked at the time of the Warren Commission Report, remains unanswered after forty years. That should trouble Americans, but then again there are many things around national secrecy today that should trouble Americans.

The most timely lesson to be taken from the fortieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination concerns secrecy and the meaning of democracy in the world’s most powerful nation. Perhaps no event better demonstrates the existence of two governments in the United States, the one people elect and another, often far more influential, as capable of imposing false history about large events as the fabled Ministry of Truth.

Since the time of the Warren Commission we have had the investigation of the House Select Committee and, in the last decade, the release of truckloads of previously-secret documents.
These documents were suppressed originally in the name of national security, but the fact is, despite their release, much of their content is heavily blacked out, and dedicated researchers know many documents remain unreleased, particularly documents from the CIA and military intelligence. Would any reasonable person conclude anything other than that those documents are likely the most informative and sensational?

Was it ever reasonable to believe that material of that nature would be included in document releases? Just a few years ago, records of some of the CIA’s early Cold War activities, due for mandated release, were suddenly said to have “disappeared,” and that declaration was pretty much the end of the story for a press regularly puffing itself as the fourth estate of American society. You do not have to believe in wild plots to recognize here the key to the Warren Commission’s shabby job of investigation. As it was, several members of the Commission expressed private doubts about the main finding of Oswald as lone assassin.

There is a sense in these matters of being treated as a child sent to his or her room for not eating the spinach served. This is not so different to the way the American government treats its citizens about Cuba: it restricts them from spending money there so they cannot freely go and judge for themselves what is and isn’t.

As it happens, the two things, Cuba and the assassination, are intimately related. Almost no one who studies the assassination critically can help but conclude it had a great deal to do with Cuba. No, I don’t mean the pathetic story about Castro being somehow responsible. That idea is an insult to intelligence.

No matter what opinions you may hold of Castro, he is too clever and was in those days certainly too dedicated to the purpose of helping his people, according to his lights, ever to take such a chance. Even the slightest evidence pointing to Castro would have given the American establishment, fuming over communism like Puritan Fathers confronting what they regarded as demon possession, the excuse for an invasion.

There never has been credible evidence in that direction. Yet, there has been a number of fraudulent pieces of evidence, particularly the testimony of unsavory characters, claims so threadbare they have come and gone after failing to catch any hold, remaining as forgotten as last year’s fizzled advertising campaign for some laundry detergent.

The notion that Castro had anything to do with the assassination is like an old corpse that’s been floating around, slowly decomposing, periodically releasing gases for decades. And it is still doing so, Gus Russo’s Live by the Sword of not many years ago being one of the most detailed efforts to tart-up the corpse and make it presentable for showing.

Any superficial plausibility to the notion of Castro as assassin derives from the poisonous atmosphere maintained towards him as official American policy. Researchers in science know that bias on a researcher’s part, not scrupulously checked by an experiment’s protocols, can seriously influence the outcome of an otherwise rigorous statistical study. How much more so in studies of history on subjects loaded with ideology and politics?

When you consider with what flimsy, and even utterly false, evidence the United States has invaded Iraq, it is remarkable that an invasion of Cuba did not proceed forty years ago. But in some ways the U.S. was less certain of itself then, it had a formidable opponent in the Soviet Union, and there was an agreement with the Soviets concerning Cuba’s integrity negotiated to end the Cuban missile crisis, an agreement which deeply offended the small army of Cuban exiles, CIA men, and low-life hangers-on who enjoyed steady employment, lots of perquisites, and violent fun terrorizing Cuba.

Considering America’s current crusade over the evils of terrorism, you’d have to conclude from the existence of that well-financed, murderous mob in the early 1960s that there was a rather different view of terror then. Perhaps there is good terror and bad terror, depending on just who does the wrecking and killing?

If you were a serious, aspiring assassin, associated with Castro and living in the United States during the early 1960s, you would not advertise your sympathies months in advance as Oswald did. You would not call any attention to yourself. It is hard for many today to have an adequate feel for the period, a time when declaring yourself sympathetic to Castro or communism could earn you a beating in the street, quite apart from making you the target of intense FBI interest. Oswald was physically assaulted for his (stagy) pro-Castro efforts in New Orleans, and he did receive a lengthy visit from the FBI while held briefly in jail, but this was not new interest from the agency since he was already well known to them.

Whatever else you may think of Castro, he is one of the cleverest and most able politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. He survived invasion, endless acts of terror and sabotage from the CIA and Cuban exiles, and numerous attempts at assassination, and he still retains a good deal of loyal support in Cuba. A man of this extraordinary talent does not use someone like Oswald to assassinate an American president. And if Castro had made such a mistake, he quickly would have corrected the error when Oswald made a (deliberate) fool of himself, over and over, in New Orleans well before the assassination, his actions there looking remarkably like the kind of provocateur-stuff a security service might use to elicit responses and identify the sympathies of others.

Oswald’s (purported) visit to Mexico and clownish behavior in New Orleans laid the groundwork for the myth of Castro’s involvement, and that almost certainly was one of the purposes of the activity, laying the groundwork for an invasion of Cuba. The motive for the assassination is likely found there. It is just silly to believe Castro risked handing the U.S. government a new “Remember the Maine.”

In recent years, we’ve had Patrick Kennedy say he believes Castro was responsible, but his views on this matter are more like built-in reflexes than informed judgment. Besides broadcasting a tone agreeable to America’s political establishment, his statement comes steeped in de’ Medici-like conviction that Castro’s success stained the honor of his ferociously ambitious family. Cross that family’s path, and you earn a lifetime grudge. That’s the way the family fortune’s founder always behaved.

Robert Kennedy hated Castro (just as he hated other powerful competitors including Lyndon Johnson), and he took personal oversight of efforts to assassinate him. Robert also hated certain elements of the Mafia, who, after supporting his brother with money and influence in the election, felt betrayed by Robert’s legal actions against them. The killing of Castro would have made all these people much happier, Havana having been one of the Mafia’s gold mines before Castro. Interestingly enough, it appears that the FBI, under pressure from Robert, was at the same time making efforts to crackdown on the excesses of the Cuban refugees. Their excesses , including insane acts like shooting up Russian ships and killing Russian sailors in Cuban ports, threatened relations with the Soviet Union.

One of the centers of the FBI’s crackdown effort was New Orleans, and that is where it appears clearest that Oswald worked for them. His defector background made him a logical candidate for provocative activities like handing out leaflets about Castro. At the same time he was offering his services as an ex-Marine to at least one of the refugee groups.

Oswald almost certainly had a minor role in American intelligence, an assumption that explains many mysterious episodes in his life. We know the Warren Commission discussed this in closed session. We also know Texas authorities believed they had discovered such a connection. And we know the FBI in Dallas destroyed important evidence.

If you’re looking for Cuban assassins, why not some of those nasty refugee militia groups, armed to the teeth by the CIA and trained to terrorize Castro’s government? They also terrorized their critics in Florida. The extensive preparations necessary for assassinating the President might have raised little suspicion from the CIA or FBI at a time when these groups, subsidized and protected by the CIA, were carrying out all kinds of violent, lunatic acts. There are strong parallels here with the suicide-bombers of 9/11, who undoubtedly eluded suspicion because the CIA had been regularly bringing into the country many shady characters from the Middle East to train for its dark purposes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Cuban extremists in Florida were furious over the Bay of Pigs and felt betrayed by Kennedy’s terms for settling the missile crisis. You couldn’t find a better explanation for the CIA’s unhelpful behavior over the years since. Imagine the impact on the CIA, already badly damaged by the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s great anger over it, of news that some of its subsidized anti-Castro thugs had killed the President?

I don’t say that is what happened, only that there is at least one conjecture with far more force and substance than the official one. Assassination-theorizing is not one of my hobbies, but I have contempt for the official explanation, and it seems rather naive to believe that the American security establishment would have been satisfied with the insipid conclusions of the Warren Commission.

Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that the vast resources of American security and justice employed at the time – that is, those not concerned with kicking up dust into the public’s eyes – were not able to identify the assassins and their purpose. Documents covering a surreptitious, parallel investigation almost certainly exist because what we know includes suggestions of two investigations intersecting at times. Perhaps, the best example of this is around the autopsy (discussed below).

Kicking-up dust around the assassination is an activity that continues intermittently to this day. In a piece a few years ago in the Washington Post about new Moscow documents on the assassination, a reporter wrote, “Oswald…defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and renounced his American citizenship.”

Oswald never renounced his citizenship, although he made a public show of wanting to do so. This was one of many theater-of-the-absurd scenes in the Oswald saga. We now know that on one of his visits to the American embassy in Moscow, Oswald was taken to an area reserved for sensitive matters, not the kind of business he was there to conduct.

The Soviets let him stay, never granting him citizenship, always treating him as an extraordinary outsider under constant scrutiny.

The Washington Post reporter also wrote, “Historians have expressed hope that the documents could shed light on whether Oswald schemed to kill Kennedy when he lived in the Soviet Union….” That begs the genuine question of whether Oswald killed Kennedy and kicks-up more dust. No historian of critical ability could think that way. The Soviets went out of their way at the time of the assassination to reassure the U.S. government that they had no connection with it. Any credible evidence they could produce, we may be absolutely sure, was produced. The stakes were immensely high.

The testimony of many Soviet citizens who knew Oswald agreed that he was a man temperamentally incapable of killing anyone. An exception was his (estranged) wife, Marina, who found herself, after the assassination, a Soviet citizen in a hostile country, able to speak little English, the mother of two young children with absolutely no resources, and hostage to American agents who could determine her destiny.

Even so accomplished and discerning a journalist as Daniel Schorr has assisted in kicking-up dust, writing some years ago at the release of more than a thousand boxes of memos and investigative reports from the national archives that there wasn’t much there. Somehow, Schorr had managed to digest and summarize that monstrous amount of information in a very short time. Then again, in view of all the blacked-out information, maybe Schorr’s assertion owed less to incredible skills at reading and digesting information than to serene confidence in the methods of the establishment.

Schorr went from the merely silly to the ridiculous with his assertion, “There remains no serious reason to question the Warren Commission’s conclusion that the death of the president was the work of Oswald alone.” How re-assuring, but, if you think about that for a moment, it is the equivalent of saying what never was proved has not now been disproved, so we’ll regard it as proved – absurd, yet characteristic of so many things written about the assassination.

Schorr went on to praise Gerald Posner’s new book, Case Closed, as “remov[ing] any lingering doubt.” We’ll come back to Posner’s book, but Schorr also saw fit to trot out the then obligatory disparaging reference to Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. Why would a piece of popular entertainment be mentioned in the same context as genuine historical documents? Only to associate the movie with Schorr’s claim that the documents had little to say.

Every handsomely-paid columnist and pop news-celebrity in America stretched to find new words of contempt for the Stone movie, miraculously, many of them well before its release. The wide-scale, simultaneous attack was astonishing. You had to wonder whether they had a source sending them film scraps from the editing room or purloined pages from the script. When Stone’s movie did appear – proving highly unsatisfactory, almost silly, in its explanation of the assassination – you had to wonder what all the fuss had been about.

I was never an admirer of President Kennedy – still, the most important, unsolved murder of the 20th century, apart from the lessons it offers, is a fascinating mystery for those who’ve studied it.

The President’s head movement at the impact of the fatal shot, clearly backward on the Zapruder film, a fact lamely rationalized by the Warren Commission, is not the only evidence for shots from the front. In the famous picture of Mrs. Kennedy reaching over the back of the car, she was, by her own testimony, reaching for a piece of the President’s skull. Equally striking is the testimony of a police outrider, to the rear of the President’s car, that he was struck forcefully with blood and brain tissue.

The doctors who worked to save the President at Parkland Hospital in Dallas said that the major visible damage to the President was a gaping wound near the rear of the skull, the kind of wound that typically reflects the exit of a bullet with the shock wave generated by its passing through layers of human tissue. We’ve all seen a plate glass window struck by a B-B where a tiny entrance puncture results in a large funnel-shaped chunk of cracked or missing glass on the opposite side.

The President’s head wound, as described in Dallas, is not present in published autopsy photographs. Instead, there is a pencil-thin entrance-type wound in an unknown scalp. Although the Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who climbed aboard the President’s car after the shots, testified to seeing a large chunk of skull in the car and looking into the right rear of the President’s head, seeing part of his brain gone, the autopsy photos show no such thing.

The wound at the front of the President’s neck, just above his necktie, which was nicked by the bullet, was regarded by those first treating him in Dallas as an entrance wound since it had the form of a small puncture before a tracheotomy was done. But the throat wound in the published autopsy photos is large and messy.

The nature of the pathologists forcefully raises Russell’s question. Why would you need military pathologists, people who must follow orders? Ones especially that were not very experienced in gunshot wounds, far less so than hospital pathologists in any large, violent American city? Why conduct the autopsy at a military hospital in Washington rather than a civilian one in Dallas? Why have the pathologists work with a room full of Pentagon brass looking on? The President’s body was seized at gunpoint by federal agents at the hospital in Dallas where the law required autopsy of a murder victim. Why these suspicious actions and so many more, if the assassination, as the Warren Commission and its defenders hold, reduces to murder by one man for unknown motives?

The autopsy, as published, was neither complete nor careful, rendering its findings of little forensic value. There is some evidence, including testimony of a morgue worker and references contained in an FBI memo, pointing to autopsy work, particularly work to the President’s head, done elsewhere before receipt of the body for the official autopsy, but no new documents expand on this. We do learn the relatively trivial fact that the expensive bronze casket, known to have been damaged at some point in bringing it to Bethesda, was disposed of by sinking in the ocean, but the morgue worker said the bronze casket arriving with Mrs. Kennedy was empty and that the body, separately delivered in a shipping casket, displayed obvious signs of work done to it. The FBI memo, written by two agents at the “earlier stages” of the official autopsy, states that the unwrapped body displayed “surgery of the head area.” The same FBI agents also signed a receipt for a mysterious “missile removed” by one pathologist.

The official autopsy avoided some standard procedures. For example, the path of the so-called magic bullet through the President’s neck was not sectioned. A mysterious back wound, whose placement varies dramatically from the hole in the President’s jacket (a fact officially explained by an improbable bunching-up of the jacket), was probed but no entrance into the body cavity found. The preserved brain – what there was of it, and with its telltale scattering of metal fragments – later went missing. One of the pathologists admitted to burning his original draft before writing the report we now see.

The Warren Commission did no independent investigation (it did not even examine the autopsy photos and x-rays), adopting instead the FBI as its investigative arm at a time when the FBI had many serious matters to explain. The FBI had failed to have Oswald’s name on its Watch List even though they were completely familiar with him, seeing him at intervals for unexplained reasons. His name even had appeared earlier in an odd internal FBI advisory memo signed by Director Hoover. The FBI also had failed to act appropriately on an explicit threat from a known source recorded well before Kennedy went to Dallas. And the agency destroyed crucial evidence.

With a lack of independent investigation and the absence of all proper court procedures including the cross-examination of witnesses, the Warren Report is nothing more than a prosecutor’s brief, and a sloppy one at that, with a finding of guilt in the absence of any judge or jury. The only time the skimpy evidence against Oswald was considered in a proper court setting, a mock trial by the American Bar Association in 1992, the jury was hung, 7 to 5.

Oswald’s background is extraordinary. By the standards of the 1950s and early 1960s, aspects of his life simply make no sense if viewed from the official perspective. Here was a Marine, enlisted at 17, who mysteriously started learning Russian, receiving communist literature through the mail, and speaking openly to other Marines about communism – none of which in the least affected his posting or standing.

He became a defector to the Soviet Union, one who reportedly threatened to give the Soviets information about operations of the then top-secret U-2 spy plane. Some even assert he did provide such information, making it possible for a Soviet missile to down Gary Power’s U-2 plane just before the Eisenhower-Khrushchev summit. Unlikely as that is, for Oswald would certainly have been treated harshly on his return to the United States were it true, he did know some important facts about the U-2’s capabilities, because this Russian-studying, communist literature-reading Marine was posted at a secret U-2 base in Japan as a radar operator before his defection.

At a time when witch-hunting for communists was a fresh memory and still a career path for some American politicians, Oswald returned to the U.S. with a Russian wife, one whose uncle was a lieutenant colonel in the MVD, the Ministry of the Interior, but the CIA and other security agencies supposedly took little interest in him. Oswald’s source of income in the U.S. at critical times remains a mystery. A mystery, too, surrounds the connections of this young man of humble means to some well-heeled, anti-Soviet Russian speakers in Dallas after his return from the Soviet Union. His later ability to get a passport for travel to Mexico in just 24 hours – with a personal history that must have ranked as one of the most bizarre in the United States – is attributed to “clerical error.”

Oswald, so far as we know, was a patriotic individual when he joined the Marines. There is no evidence that he was ever actually a communist or member of any extremist organization. In fact, there is striking evidence suggesting he did work supporting the opposite interest after his return to the United States. Thus the address on some of the “Fair Play for Cuba” pamphlets he distributed in New Orleans was the office of Guy Bannister, a former senior FBI agent and violent anti-communist, still well-connected to the agency.

Oswald’s connections with the FBI have never been satisfactorily examined. There are many circumstances suggesting his being a paid informant for the FBI, especially during his time in New Orleans. A letter Oswald wrote to a Dallas agent just before the assassination was deliberately and recklessly destroyed by order of the office’s senior agent immediately after the assassination with no reasonable explanation.

One way or another, all the major police or intelligence agencies were compromised during the assassination or its investigation. The Secret Service performed abysmally, in both planning the motorcade and responding to gun fire. Some of the agents on duty had actually been out late drinking the night before, as it happens at a bar belonging to an associate of Jack Ruby, Oswald’s own assassin. The performance of the Dallas police suggests terrible corruption. The FBI failed in vital respects before and after the assassination. The CIA failed to cooperate on many, many details of the investigation. These facts understandably encourage the more farfetched assassination theories.

The CIA has never released its most important information on Oswald, importantly including documentation of his supposed activities in Mexico City at the Cuban and Russian embassies where every visitor was routinely photographed and identified by the CIA. We may speculate what a thorough vetting of CIA files would show: likely that Oswald was a low-grade intelligence agent during his stint in the Soviet Union, perhaps working for military intelligence to collect information on day-to-day living conditions and attitudes there, one of several men sent for the purpose at that time; that he was trained at an American military school in basic Russian and encouraged to build a quickie communist identity by subscribing to literature and talking foolishly before defecting. We would also likely find that he was serving American security, probably the FBI, during the months before Dallas in the murky world of CIA/FBI/Cuban refugee/Mafia anti-Castro activities; and that in the course of that anti-Castro work, he was sucked without realizing it into an elaborate assassination plot, offering the plotters, with his odd background, a tailor-made patsy. The CIA assessment of Oswald would likely show, just as testimony from his time in the Soviet Union shows, that Oswald was not capable psychologically of acting as an assassin, lone or otherwise.

The case against Oswald is a flimsy tissue. It includes a poor autopsy of the victim offering no reliable evidence; a rifle whose ownership is not established; a rifle never definitively proved to have actually killed the President; a claim that jacketed bullets were used, a type of ammunition that could not possibly cause the kind of wounds to which many testify; the accused’s record of mediocre marksmanship in the Marines; a parafin test which showed no residue on his cheek despite his supposedly firing three shots from a bolt-action rifle; a single palm print claimed to have been obtained from the rifle after earlier failed attempts; gimmicky, suggestive photographs of Oswald with a rifle declared montages by several experts; a completely unacceptable evidence chain for the shell casings from the site of Officer Tippit’s shooting, those submitted as evidence being almost certainly not those found at the scene; a bizarre history for the bullets supposed to have killed Tippet; an illogical weighting of witnesses who told different stories about Tippit’s shooting; plus many other strange and contradictory details.

Moreover, Oswald had no motive, having expressed admiration for Kennedy. And Oswald was promptly assassinated himself by Jack Ruby, a man associated with the murky world of anti-Castro violence, someone whose past included gun-running to Cuba and enforcer-violence in Chicago.

There is a kind of cheap industry in publishing assassination books, most of which are superficial or silly. This fact makes it easy to attack credible efforts to question the official story, but in this respect the subject is no different from others. Just look at the shelves of superficial or trashy books on psychology, business management, or self-help available in bookstores.

Russell’s question echoes again and again down the decades as adjustments are made to the official story. Employing techniques one expects to be used for covering up long-term intelligence interests, various points raised by early independent researchers like Joachim Joesten or Mark Lane, have been conceded here or there along the way without altering the central finding. This is an effective method: concede details and appear open to new facts while always forcefully returning to the main point.

A significant writer along these lines is Edward Epstein, an author whose other writing suggests intelligence connections. His first book on the assassination, Inquest, conceded numerous flaws in the Warren Report. Epstein went on in subsequent books, Counterplot and Legend to attack at length – and for the critical reader, quite unconvincingly – ideas of conspiracy, Oswald’s intelligence connections, and his innocence.

The Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, 1979, was the grandest effort of this type. The Committee was used for selective leaks and plants, as for example the publication of some bootlegged autopsy photos, which ended by raising only more questions. Leads often were not followed-up, greatly frustrating some of the able investigators employed. The Committee squandered the last opportunity to pursue an independent, well-financed investigation – last, in the sense of never again being able to overcome the inertia against assembling the needed resources and authorities and in the sense that with passing time evidence deteriorates, memories fade, and witnesses die. Despite the Committee’s attention-getting conclusion from technical analysis of an old Dictabelt recording that a shot probably was fired from the front, it also concluded that the shot missed, a truly bizarre finding that welds hints of conspiracy to yet another assertion that Oswald was the only killer.

Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, 1993, was another of these. You couldn’t help noticing this lamentable book being widely reviewed and praised. Why would that be? Because, without producing any new evidence and despite a number of errors, it freshly re-packaged the main speculations of the Warren Report, but no repackaging of the Report’s jumble of partial facts, guesses, and accusations can strengthen its conclusions. You can’t build a sound house with large sections of the foundation missing.

Priscilla Johnson’s Marina and Lee,1980 , was another kind of book, one of several resembling the kind of quickie books churned out to discredit Anita Hill in the Judge Clarence Thomas confirmation. Ms. Johnson managed to interview Oswald in Russia – I wonder what connections might have made that possible? – and later used that fact to gain access to Oswald’s widow, Marina. Impressing many who had heard her as a distracted and confused person, Marina was a woman who had been subjected to immense, frightening pressure from the FBI and other security services after the assassination. The book is an almost unreadable hatchet-job on Oswald’s character, effectively diminishing the image that comes through many photographs and anecdotes of a rather naïve, brash, sometimes rude but not unlikable young man caught up in events he incompletely understood.

The official story of the assassination remains pretty much unchanged from just a few days after events of forty years ago: one man with an almost broken-down rifle, no expertise, no resources, and no motive killed the President, and he was himself killed by a man with the darkest background simply out of sympathy for the President’s wife. Those with no vested interest and critical faculties intact can never accept such a fable explaining the brutal work of a well-planned conspiracy.

Now, the really horrifying possibility is that the security agencies never discovered the assassins despite vast efforts. That means officials hold tenaciously to the Oswald story to cover national nakedness. The FBI has a long and shabby record of blunders and going after the wrong people, and when you think of the CIA’s many failures assessing the capabilities and approaching demise of the Soviet Union, the many failures in Vietnam, and its miserable failure around 9/11, that is not a farfetched possibility. The answer to Russell’s question then becomes that national security indeed applies, if only in the unexpected form of hiding miserable failure.

But if you can write false history of an event so large as a Presidential assassination, what truly are the limits?

THE CASE FOR WAR

John Chuckman

Well, the evidence just keeps accumulating. I think it is a remarkable testimonial to President Bush’s restraint that he has waited this long.

After reading Tony Blair’s dossier on torture in Iraq, the impulse to launch everything the Pentagon has must have been almost irresistible.

Imagine, torture taking place in a brutal dictatorship? Good Lord, this comes as a shocking revelation.

But perhaps the President was reminded of tens of thousands tortured by America’s friends, or by Americans themselves, in Iran or Chile or Nicaragua or El Salvador or Vietnam when he paused, thinking a less-than-perfect case had been made for sending millions of pounds of high explosives and depleted uranium raining down on the people of Iraq.

Perhaps he was reminded of the way that beacon of democracy and human rights in the Middle East, Israel, has quietly tortured its captives for half a century, and, in more than a few cases, outright murdered batches of them.

Or he may have recalled reports from Amnesty International about the common brutality of American law enforcement. A prominent lawyer’s disgusting campaign to establish formal procedures for torture in America may just have slowed his hand. Or it may have been thoughts of the abysmal treatment of Afghan prisoners kept chained in Cuban cages, not to speak of the way his brutish allies in Afghanistan were encouraged publicly by the Secretary of Defense to murder prisoners en masse.

But I doubt it. Bush is simply not a wimp where other peoples’ lives are concerned. He seems capable of sustaining his equilibrium – with its quirky mix of being on a mission for God and nasty frat-boy sense of humor – even in the face of great adversity, so long as it is someone else’s adversity.

I’m sure his hand again started for the red phone when he heard recent, damning reports on the evils of Islam, coming as they did from such towering figures as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Jimmy Swaggart. An outsider might be forgiven for regarding the good gentlemen’s remarks as something akin to theology lessons from the shriveled lips of retired Imperial Wizards of the Klu Klux Klan.

But the words of these men carry weight in several important Bush constituencies including Beany Baby collectors, survivalists living in abandoned Air Force missile silos stocked with tons of ammo and freeze-dried rations, and folks who take their annual vacations watching cartoons and shopping channels on satellite TV from recreational vehicles parked next to the cinder-block splendor of a Wal-Mart.

Jimmy Swaggart, for example, shares the President’s character-building experience as recovered reprobate, having had his rather arcane sexual practices with a prostitute exposed in magazines some years ago. It was the kind of publicity that hits the collection plate mighty hard. But old Jimmy’s a fighter. Equipped as he is with tear ducts capable of gushing on command and an amazing rubbery face that mimics any known expression of mock piety, once again he made the revival-tent crowds roar for more.

Jimmy came back to collect again, just as the President came back from his former, well-publicized life of rude, drunken abuse and failure to do anything worthwhile – although some might argue he succeeded only in removing the word drunken from the description. Still, in the President’s circle, people with such character credentials are regarded as authorities when it comes to recognizing evil.

And now, an amazing piece of evidence comes to light. We have a previously-obscure reporter who knows someone at the FBI whose second-cousin on his mother’s side made an important discovery. A few years back, in the course of taking rolls of souvenir snapshots of the smoldering ruins at Oklahoma City, the second-cousin happened to spot a couple of shady characters with moustaches.

She knew instinctively they were shady, because they didn’t take one souvenir snapshot of the smoking destruction streaked with blood. They just stood there talking and looking. Is that the way a real American acts? Besides these guys just didn’t look like real Americans.

Well, just to be sure, she snapped a picture of them, and, for a while, she kept it pinned to the big, pink, stuffed satin, heart-shaped bulletin board over her bed, right next to her autographed picture of Lt. Calley smiling in front of a burned-out hut in Vietnam. But eventually, word got around the trailer park, and, sure enough, her cousin from the FBI stopped by one day to ask for the picture.

Everyone at the Bureau was convinced immediately that the men in the snapshot were Iraqi agents – after all, the key to future promotion in the Bureau today is one’s ability to recognize such things – and they’ve leaked their views to the press, just as they did in their memorable struggles against Richard Jewel and Wen Ho Lee. Well, almost, but this time the New York Times or the Atlanta Constitution weren’t quite so interested, so the FBI had to dig up an obscure reporter who needed a break in life to become somebody. When they found a struggling, former reporter for her high-school yearbook at a faith-healing in Altoona, Illinois, they knew immediately they had the right person for the job of getting the story out.

This happy discovery also means America’s own son, Tim McVeigh, only did what he did under the insidious, all-reaching influence of Iraqi agents, an innocent lamb led astray by agents of the Antichrist who now strides the earth posing as the second Hitler – although there appears to be a modest disagreement in Bush circles on this exact description of Saddam since good old ‘Rev’ Falwell earlier proclaimed that the Antichrist was in fact Jewish.

The President is convinced he has the goods on Saddam. Now, he just sits back to wait for a formal casus belli. He knows Saddam will leave out a semicolon or mix a metaphor or give a pronoun an ambiguous antecedent somewhere in his thirty-thousand-page document describing Iraq’s weapons’ programs. After all, you can’t expect a bunch of damn Arab peasants to get such things right. And when the President’s team of shrieking, fanatical advisors finds the error, it will prove to the world that Saddam still tries to hide the truth the President has always understood.