Who Killed JFK?
This dissertation will seek to analyse the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) with a view to forming a conclusion about the validity of claims relating to the event’s status as a political conspiracy. This will involve clearly defining the term ‘political conspiracy’, before going on to outline the reasons for Kennedy’s assassination being considered as such an event.
Having completed these tasks, it will be necessary to explore the history of Kennedy’s Presidency, with particular focus on the most significant events of this time. This will include particularly close scrutiny of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Operation Mongoose and the dismantling of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Following this, the physical and political evidence relating to the assassination will be reviewed, as will the wider impact of the episode and its aftermath.
Ultimately, the concluding section of this dissertation will recap key points illustrated earlier, before going on to proffer opinions on which elements of the political conspiracy it is possible to be certain about, which are likely, which may or may not be true and which can be firmly discounted.
A political conspiracy can be defined as “an agreement between two or more persons in which they combine for an unlawful or subversive purpose involving plots, schemes, intrigues and collusion. The group of conspirators must be united in the aim of usurping or overthrowing established political power often, but not always, in secret.” The assassination of JFK can be categorised as such given that it fulfils each of the criteria.
The first criterion – that of the requirement for agreement between two or more persons – is met given the probable involvement of the CIA, Mafia, Cuban exiles and Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ). The extent to which each party was involved and the precise part they played will be investigated within the dissertation. The second requirement of a political conspiracy, namely that it serves an unlawful purpose, is obviously true in this case as it involved a man’s murder. Of course, it also led to the overthrow of established political power. The involvement of plots, schemes, intrigues and collusion is undeniable since CIA black ops, blackmail and love affairs with Soviet spies all fall into this category. Finally, the conspirators were certainly united in their aim. The CIA, Mafia, Cuban exiles and LBJ all had their own reasons to be rid of the Kennedys and colluded together to ensure that end.
History of JFK’s Presidency
JFK was elected to the presidency during November 1960. It was widely believed that he had bought the election (Nelson 2010: 306) as he was the first presidential candidate to concentrate on style over substance. Kennedy’s father had previously worked in advertising and therefore knew the power of the media and in particular that of the new medium, the television. Kennedy used this knowledge with an adeptness never seen before and wooed voters from all over the country from his Republican opponent Richard Nixon (BBC2 2010). The way in which the Kennedy administration sought to control the media often irritated the press (Murphy 2005). In a clever manoeuvre following the primaries, Kennedy chose a southern Senator, LBJ, to be his running mate, thereby limiting opposition to his electoral campaign in the south (BBC2 2010). However, this decision was not as straightforward as it seems. Nelson describes how JFK was in fact blackmailed by LBJ and J Edgar Hoover into nominating LBJ. Kennedy had several candidates in mind, but LBJ was not one of them. LBJ’s supporters, i.e. the right-wing anti-communists, saw the vice-presidency as a route to getting one of their own into the presidential position. LBJ and Hoover therefore threatened Kennedy with causing turmoil within the Party which could have gravely injured their election prospects (2010: 314-315). As well as placating the southerners Kennedy also had to remove doubts raised owing to his background, which was Irish (and by extension was seen as an immigrant as he was not from one of the original colony families) and Catholic. He implored the American people not to be bigoted towards his personal history. In the event, however, his religion was less of a concern than his perceived lack of experience. Here, again, Kennedy successfully used a series of live television debates with Nixon to ingratiate himself with the electorate (Jones 1995: 544).
Once in power, Kennedy led an often controversial presidency. He was at once both loved and hated by the American people. Regarded equally by his admirers and adversaries alike as being a liberal, Kennedy pushed through reform on civil rights and during his election campaign used his influence to get Martin Luther King freed from a jail in Atlanta. Doing so behind closed doors ensured him of an increased share of the Negro vote whilst keeping his southern white supporters in the dark. This perceived libertarian aspect of his character during the election period did not actually come to fruition fully until after the Cuban Missile Crisis at which point he was said to have had “an epiphany”. In fact, Nixon had done far more to promote the causes of the civil rights movement until Kennedy won the leadership contest. However, there can be no doubt that between 1960 and that fateful day on 22 November 1963 that he brought hope to millions of people around the world that a new peaceful era was possible (BBC2 2010). Unfortunately, this outlook did not please everyone. In particular the military-industrial complex, the CIA and the Cuban exiles were furious over his stance on military and intelligence affairs (Garrison 1988: 112). The most controversial of these issues will now be discussed.
Bay of Pigs
Since the Eisenhower administration, the CIA had been working with Cuban exiles in planning an invasion of Cuba intended to overthrow the Castro regime. Although Kennedy was not happy with the proposal he nevertheless took counsel from his advisors to go ahead with the assault. Notwithstanding this he refused to provide air cover. So when on 17 April 1961 the invaders landed, they suffered heavy casualties this was attributed to the non-existent air support. Although this undoubtedly played a part it has been reported that the plan had been “poorly planned, poorly equipped, [and] poorly executed” (Jones 1995: 546). Not least because the Cuban exiles were not informed that they would not be receiving air cover and above all because their team was heavily infiltrated with Castro spies. Following the invasion, Cuban forces captured 1200 POWs who remained within Cuban prisons until December 1962 whereupon they were exchanged for $62 million of medical supplies (Anderson 1995: 510). Apart from being a strategic failure the Bay of Pigs fiasco was a political disaster for the US. Kennedy’s critics saw him as being weak and indecisive. This lent Soviet leader Khrushchev to up the stakes in the Cold War by forging closer ties with Cuba and secretly installing medium-range anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) there – a move which resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis (Jones 1995: 546; Anderson 1995: 501-502).
Cuban Missile Crisis
In the year 1962, the USA emerged unsuccessful in trying to overthrow the Cuban regime in the Bay of Pigs episode, where the CIA was unable to put an end to the power of Fidel Castro. Following this, the Soviet Union and Cuba soon began to build nuclear bases in Cuba with the construction of ABMs. The main question to look into was why was Cuba left out of diplomatic negotiations with the United States?
Soon, a ‘naval quarantine’ was announced as it considered attacking Cuba through the sea routes just so it had the power to destroy the nuclear bases and it had also announced taking away all permits to deliver any kind of offensive weapons. This statement and decision made by the Kennedy administration angered both Cuba and the Soviet Union as Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy saying that this was “an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear missile war” (Khrushchev 1962).
Soon however, a secret agreement was made between Khrushchev and Kennedy under the supervision of the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) at the time, U Thant, according to which the Soviets were to dismantle all their offensive weapons and take them back and the US would declare never to invade Cuba again. All the while, Cuba was absent from any kind of negotiations made even though a letter had been drafted for Castro to read. The US failed to create any kind of contact with the government of Cuba that it could have been at war with had the UN not intervened in the matter. This led to Castro turning a blind eye towards the Kennedy administration and Castro refused to accept any kind of inspection within the country with respect to the nuclear material. The Soviet Union had become an intermediary between the US and Cuba. It has been said that Kennedy himself deliberately chose not to involve Cuba in the matter. Soon after, techniques had been built by Kennedy’s men in order to sabotage Cuba in different ways. Castro’s opinions and pleas went unheard and this worsened conditions between the two countries, not to forget the close allies, mainly the Soviet Union. Cuba’s missile crisis was not looked into as much as it was a matter of concern, by the US. The Soviets on the other hand, helped a great deal in settling the warfare which was mainly due to its willingness to comply with the Cuban government (Dominguez 2000).
Under Kennedy’s presidency and strict belief and support towards the Diem government in South Vietnam and in the ‘Domino Theory’, he tried to increase the size of the army in Vietnam by pushing in American soldiers. This act was undertaken despite Kennedy being warned by Charles De Gaulle about how the entire situation was completely out of his hand and not winnable. By doing this, he broke the agreement made in Geneva in 1954 and forced a number of Vietnamese to follow by force the propaganda laid down by the Southern Vietnamese communist government. This led to ruining the lives of a vast number of peasants and rural poor and after he realised that Diem would never be able to unite both parts of Vietnam, he ordered and agreed for the CIA to intervene and overthrow the autocracy established. In the year of 1963, Diem was overthrown and killed and soon after followed Kennedy’s assassination (Hess 2002). It is crucial to note here that even though JFK disapproved of Diem’s regime, he had offered safe passage should the Vietnamese military be successful at his overthrow via a coup d’état. However, when Diem telephoned the US Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, to ask for fulfilment of this, he was assassinated the following morning along with his brother (Nelson 2010: 141). This sequence of events means that Lodge must have been involved, if indeed he did not directly order the hit. Furthermore, as Lodge had at this point aligned himself with LBJ and had already begun dismissing JFK’s instructions this shows LBJ’s ability and willingness to carry out assassinations outside of normal procedures, and crucially his adeptness at forging alliances with others who would help to secure his goals.
Operation Mongoose, also known as the Cuban Project, was a secret plan to sabotage the entire government of Cuba established by Fidel Castro, and to subsequently overthrow and assassinate him. Kennedy’s policies wanted to see a new government in Cuba with which the US could live in peace. Since it was the nearest communist country to the US, it became imperative for Kennedy’s administration to keep it under check and to gradually lay a plan better than the Bay of Pigs which went along the lines of fuelling anti-regime feelings and seditious emotions amongst the peoples of Cuba which would greatly accelerate this process (Wolske 2000).
Edward Lansdale and William King Harvey led the project under strict instructions delivered by Kennedy and involved slaughter of the political regime, propaganda as well as attacking the military. Many even contemplated the assassination of Castro with rumours about the CIA slipping in poisonous and lethal substances into his cigars. It is still not clear whether or not Kennedy and his brother were aware of these plans to kill Castro, despite their obsession with “getting it over with.” However, since these efforts were undertaken under the permit of the President, even if they did not take place, the allegations suffice to explain the strong tensions that existed between the two countries (Wolske 2000).
Dismantling of the CIA and public purge
JFK was famously said to have spoken of his desire to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds” (cited in Nelson 2010: 207). This came about as a result of the distrust between the President and the CIA. Indeed, he went as far as to say: “If the United States ever experiences an attempt at a coup to overthrow the government, it will come from the CIA. The agency represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone” (cited in Nelson 2010: 176). Kennedy felt it necessary to rein in the power of the now too large and too powerful intelligence agency.
In order to achieve his aim Kennedy identified his brother, Robert, as the right man to lead a new ‘Defence Intelligence Agency’ (DIA). The DIA would be a much smaller body, dealing mainly with small, clandestine operations as had previously been the case with the CIA. The CIA had long since overstepped this mark and was involved in large-scale operations which by their very definition could not be covert and therefore fell into the remit of the military. Memorandums were sent in 1961 with the intention of redressing this imbalance by shifting many responsibilities from the CIA to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This would obviously have had the impact of reducing the size and therefore the power of the CIA substantially. It caused shockwaves right through the corridors of power. LBJ took it upon himself to inform his back-channel contact at the CIA, Charles Cabell, of Kennedy’s intentions. Cabell was sacked along with Allen Dulles in November 1961, ostensibly for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion (Nelson 2010: 125).
This chapter shall address the official factual account of the JFK assassination and explore to what extent that version of events is accurate. It shall discuss important conflicting accounts, eye witness statements and physical evidence that indicate that an alternative analysis is possible to the official version of events. It will assess the forensic, scientific and public evidence to sketch an alternative image of events that day and will offer a detailed assessment and critique of traditional explanations for inconsistencies and forensic shortcomings in the official report.
Let us first turn to the issue of security as a whole that day in Dealey Plaza. Prior to the visit security arrangements would have been in place and a general threat level perceived and assessed. It is important to remember the environment within which JFK’s presidency was occurring. Events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs and the general anxiety surrounding Communism during his term in office was acute. Especially important were anxieties and rumours on the mid and far right that JFK himself was not a hardliner when it came to the Left. Suspicions surrounded him that his inclusive, rights based idea of world citizenry was betraying Americans under attack from a totalitarian left wing regime (Hess 2002). Given such an environment it is hard to imagine that the American President’s security team would have been lax in their security preparations on the day of the visit to Dallas. Indeed it has been noted that prior to the visit to Dallas a memo was issued to the FBI which allegedly warned them of an impending attack upon the life of the President (Garrison 1992: 43). This however was not picked up on at the time. The note was allegedly left by Lee Harvey Oswald for FBI Agent Hosty. Hosty later testified that he typically received numerous notes and calls from informants, members of the public or disgruntled suspects whom he had questioned and had not treated this note as being particularly important. After the events of 1963 Agent Hosty informed us that the note was indeed from Oswald but did not refer to any potential assassination on the President but instead warned Hosty away from Oswald’s wife whom Hosty had been questioning (Lane 1992: 78). However, what is critical is that this note, whatever its content, indicates an environment at the time in which the FBI was scrutinizing members of the public – especially ex-Russian nationals – and were vigilant in their use of informants and their assessments of the overall security situation at any one time. This is unusual for our purposes here because, given the strict security atmosphere present at that time in US history; the arrangements made on the day of JFK’s visit that day in Dallas do appear to be somewhat lax.
The area surrounding Dealey Plaza is itself a large open and complicated arrangement of high rise buildings (Garrison 1992: 34). Given the nature of this environment it is clear the president’s security team would have been anxious about the level of threat such an arena presented. However despite the obvious enhanced risk of having the president in a well built up, crowded public environment the arrangements put in place to ensure his safety seem inadequate. Firstly, the route to be taken of the President’s motorcade was publicized in a local paper the week before his visit to Dallas and although Dallas police officers manned the bridges and overpasses around the Plaza they were of course unable to search the crowds at street level, assessed at almost 250,000 people, or deal with the numerous individuals watching proceedings from their offices (Garrison 1992: 67).
Amongst this large crowd and shortly before the shooting broke out, a “dark-complected” man was seen to suffer an epileptic seizure. The man was described as “a Latin man wearing Army green combat garb.” Given the likely suspects, this man could have been a Cuban exile, although there is of course no proof of this. Garrison found this epilepsy incident suspicious on several counts including the following: the ambulance which was on standby for the president became unavailable; the incident caused the police officer standing outside the Book Depository, Joe Smith, to leave his post which allowed the assassins (or the planters of what would come to be used as evidence including the rifle, empty cartridges, etc.) to get into position; and on arrival at the Parkland Hospital the “patient” discharged himself and would not give his name (Garrison 1988: 112).
Likewise, and most critically, the bubble top of the Lincoln Continental JFK was riding in had been removed and so the president was riding in an open top vehicle for the whole procession. Typically it is assumed that this bubble top was bullet proof, however it was merely a rain shield and any protection it may have afforded from attack would have been minimal and largely aesthetic, although it may have proved more difficult to get a good line of sight of the car’s passengers should it have remained in place due to the glare of the sun. As well as the lack of cover for the President, there was a notable lack of security agents directly surrounding the President’s car. Although numerous officers and armed agents travelled in the cars behind and in front of the Lincoln there were no agents directly by the President to either offer assistance or spot and warn of shots being fired (Costella 2002: 67). Given the gap between the first and last fatal shot such a warning might have been critical. Indeed, although relating more to the political reasons behind a possible conspiracy, the Zapruder film does show the slow reactions and extremely poor job, in the seven seconds of the actual shooting, that JFK’s security guards carried out. It is difficult to watch this piece of film without questioning the reactions and organization of the security directly around the President. When we consider a more recent attack on a US President (such as that on Reagan (Lane 1992: 243) or the contemporary attack on De Gaulle it is immediately obvious how much faster the security forces reacted and how much better they responded to initial gunshots. It is also alarming that the statements taken from the closest security staff mention hearing sounds which they thought were “firecrackers” (HCSA 1975: 67). It is implausible that highly trained security staff whose sole purpose was to secure the safety of the US President was not even alerted by such noises, let alone took any further steps when the first of the gunshots rang out.
Eye Witness Accounts
The most critical piece of evidence that suggests the official story of JFK’s assassination is flawed is the considerable testimony that comes from numerous bystanders and witnesses to the shooting of shots being fired from the grassy knoll to the front right of the president’s car as it proceeded through Dealey Plaza (Garrison 1992: 34). As well as a parking lot attendant who noticed figures by the picket fence atop the grassy knoll, Secret Service Agent Clint Hill reported to the Warren Commission that he saw and was scanning the numerous people who were in that location as the motorcade came through. As the President’s car drew nearer to the knoll there were several reports from A. Miller, S.M. Holland, C. Johnson, J. Simmons and W. Winborn who all stated that they saw smoke of some kind rising from this area of the Plaza. In addition, other witnesses testified to shots being fired from this area as well. What is critical about all these witnesses, especially those just in front of the area is that after the car had sped away from the scene several of them proceeded up the grassy knoll and were met by men claiming to be secret service agents who were attempting to seal the area (HSCA 1975: 41-46).
Although it is not possible to verify the location of all secret service agents at any one time it is difficult to ignore these three pieces of evidence which all suggest shots being fired from this area. As well as the witness statements pertaining to the cloud of smoke on the knoll and the testimony of gunshots fired from that area, the actions of those on the ground, either rushing to the site after the shots were fired or the clutch of agents moving people away from the area do suggest strongly that a gunman was in place on or near the knoll, and by extension that the secret service either knew there were assassins there and/or that they were attempting to throw the public off the scent. It is hard to ignore the actions of those on the ground and disregard their testimony for a gunman in such a location given how many individuals believed shots were fired from such a spot. Lastly, several key witnesses complained either privately or publicly that they were threatened or intimidated by unknown individuals after the assassination in a possible attempt to discredit or discourage their testimonies (HCSA 1975: 49). Lastly, the Zapruder film clearly shows that the final headshot which killed JKF appears to be fired from in front of the car as his head moves backwards and to the left (Stone 1991) which seems wholly contradictory with a shot from behind from the Book Depository. Crucially, this evidence was dismissed by official reports in the Warren Commission (Posner 2007) because it did not accord with the most important element of their findings: the magic bullet theory.
The Magic Bullet Theory
The magic bullet theory stems from numerous facts about the gun found in the Book Depository, allegedly fired by Oswald, and the time between the first and last shots heard. The time is established by the Zapruder film, although the untampered state of this piece of film is questionable, which was recorded from the North-West of the President’s motorcade. It confirms that there was approximately five to six seconds for all the shots to be fired at the car. Secondly, the ballistic tests carried out on the rifle apparently used by Oswald indicated that three shots were fired from it that day. The Warren Commission is firmly committed to the lone gunman and the magic bullet theory (HSCA 1975: 41-46). Even though the HSCA subsequently found good evidence for a fourth shot fired from the grassy knoll they did not explicitly dismantle the theory which has become as famous as the assassination itself (HSCA 1975: 3).
That theory is as follows. One of the shots attributed to the “Oswald Rifle” was the fatal headshot which killed the President (Garrison 1992: 35). Another was a wayward shot which nicked an innocent passer by standing by the base of the overpass (Garrison 1992: 56). As such the remaining bullet has to account for the remaining wounds on the President and Governor Connally who was sat in front of him. For this to have occurred, the Warren Commission endorsed the idea that a “magic bullet” had caused all of these remaining wounds. This bullet not only created seven wounds but also changed angles and contradicted even the evidence given by the pathologist who conducted the autopsy who initially regarded the wound at the front of the President’s neck as a wound of entry not exit as the Magic Bullet theory purports to suggest. The Magic Bullet theory is implausible for many reasons, the most unlikely being the angles of entry and exit from the president’s body and its subsequent onward trajectory into Connally’s back, through his wrist and into his thigh. One obvious thought is that it is unlikely that a bullet could enter the body of the president and exit via the neck without shattering or breaking any bones in his upper back. Likewise the second most problematic issue is how the bullet, upon exiting Connally’s chest, could turn at such an unusual angle to the right in flight and then to the left, again in flight, so as to shatter his right wrist and then finally lodge in his thigh. The Warren Commission stated that there was a sufficient physical explanation for such unusual movements of the bullet (HSCA 1975: 3).
Crucial to the criticism of this analysis has been the findings that the President was wearing a back brace at the time of the assassination (Nelson 2010: 202) and was therefore unable to move out of the way of any subsequent shots and also this fact casts some doubt over the ability of the shot to have entered and left his body through his back and neck. The unusual U-turn performed by the bullet in mid-air is also highly suspicious as the wounds in Connally seem to demand. This explanation is critical to the Warren Commission’s broader findings since their contention that there was a lone gunman necessitates that a single bullet caused all seven wounds. Indeed it is easy to note that this explanation has been made to fit the other facts that support their contention. We shall turn now to the next most important element of this: the Oswald rifle found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository in Dealey Plaza from which Oswald is alleged to have fired his three shots. This is the crucial element of the version put forward by the Warren Report (Garrison 1992: 32) because they have eye witnesses that locate Oswald at this scene seconds after the President was shot.
Crucial to the case against Oswald was forensic evidence linking him to the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle alleged to have been used to shoot the President. The FBI technicians in Washington who conducted the first assessment of the rifle on 22 November found that none of the fingerprints matched Oswald’s. However the following day the Dallas Police Department made a statement in which they asserted that “Oswald’s palm print” had been discovered on the rifle. The issue was raised by the Warren Commission’s General Counsel, J. Lee Rankin, in an internal FBI memo dated 28 August 1964, in which he stated that:
“Because of the circumstances which now exist there is a serious question in the minds of the Commission as to whether the palm impression that has been obtained from the Dallas Police Department is a legitimate palm impression removed from the rifle barrel or whether it was obtained from another source and that for this reason the matter needs to be resolved” (cited in Garrison 1988: 113).
Clearly the evidence linking Oswald to the alleged murder weapon is extremely shaky. Further ballistic tests on the gun also showed that the scope on the sight was slightly out of measurement with the rest of the firearm and so it may have proved difficult to obtain an accurate shot (Stone 1991) (though this of course may have accounted for the missed first shot). Secondly, there would have been an extremely narrow window of opportunity to fire off all 3 rounds in the time allowed as ascertained by the Zapruder film and an even narrower period of time to reload the weapon between the second and last fatal shot (Stone 1991). Further issues with the weapon suggest that it had an awkward or faulty bolt action as well (as testified at the Warren Report Hearing) (HSCA 1975: Summary Page 4).
What compounds the difficulty in assessing whether the actual shooting was possible, given the time to reload and the difficulties with the weapon, is the fact that there are several criticisms of the Zapruder film and allegations surrounding both its authenticity and its un-doctored state. If we accept the film is a genuine (if only partial) account of that day’s events then there is just enough time to fire 3 shots from the weapon. However, much criticism and scholarly debate has been conducted about the film and its current state, with some contending that it has been both edited and indeed had insertions made to attest to either a sufficiently long enough window or too short a period within which to carry out the murder. What we can draw from both of these assertions is that according to eye witness accounts there was probably long enough to fire 3 shots. However, if this is not contested, the critical issue is surely that aiming such shots at a moving target in a short period of time was an extremely difficult exercise even for someone with Oswald’s previous military training. Likewise, difficulties would have been faced by the fact that the target was moving away from the gunman.
Critical to the arrest of Oswald was his alleged subsequent shooting of Officer Tippett. It is likely that this incident confirmed Oswald’s guilt in the eyes of many in the public. Also his palm print on the gun (though the chronology of this is contested) and a subsequently found photo of Oswald with the rifle tied him to the crime. Likewise, other seemingly unrelated incidents occurring around Dallas on the day of the killing (such as the pistol whipping of Jack Martin by Guy Bannister which was central to Garrison’s unsuccessful case against Clay Bertrand (Garrison 1988: 5)) also indicate that the version of events put forward by the Warren Commission was highly selective since it placed considerable weight on facts such as Tippett’s death but not on the assault of Jack Martin or other events, such as the epileptic fit in the plaza on the morning of the assassination. However, despite the piecemeal evidence and its dubious strength, there are many other issues as we have seen above that would suggest any lone gunman, Oswald or otherwise, would have struggled to commit the crime.
Following on from the confirmed death of the President, his body was taken for an autopsy and here again several typical procedures were not followed and there is evidence to suggest that the official story was compelling enough so as to preclude a full and thorough autonomous analysis from occurring. As well as the alteration in the Pathologist’s statement that the President’s throat wound was a wound of entry, the brain of the president, which subsequent analysts including Jim Garrison, sought to examine went missing and JFK’s brain disappeared completely (Stone 1991; Nelson 2010: 13). It is suggested that in order for the medical evidence to be consistent with the 3 shots fired from the Book Depository official story, the entry and exit wounds had to be “altered”. Mantik (2010) summarizes research conducted by Douglas Horne and Vincent Bugliosi in this regard. Their evidence compiled from eye-witness testimonies, official paperwork and medical examination reports show beyond doubt that JFK’s throat had been tampered with. This was done in order that the entry and exit wounds of the fatal shot would be consistent with JFK having been shot at from behind. Such inconsistencies and incompetence alone make it difficult to take the autopsy report seriously and must go a long way to ruling it inadmissible for our enquiry here.
Another factor here is of course the use of three coffins before the final selection of a wooden mahogany coffin in which to bury JFK. The speculation surrounding the possible reasons as to why the coffins were switched is intense but the fact that the other unburied coffins are now missing is highly suspicious and fuels anxieties about a possible cover up. Again, the shortcomings of the whole Police investigation are deeply questionable and appear alarmingly slapdash given the seriousness of the crime and the importance of the victim. When the Warren Commission and Jim Garrison’s investigation sought to examine all the facts that surrounded the occurrence of the shooting and its immediate aftermath they both discovered a tangled web of eye-witness accounts and forensic evidence (Garrison 1992: 89).
What is most crucial for our purposes here is that despite the conflicting reports and confused nature of events was that the Warren Commission was able, despite these setbacks and issues, to come down so firmly in favour of the idea of a lone gunman in the shape of Lee Harvey Oswald. His alleged subsequent shooting of Officer Tippet and his murder by Jack Ruby seemed to confirm that Oswald was heavily implicated (Warren Commission 1965: Volume 19: 113). However, the issue remains that so much evidence and other accounts of the day have to be sidelined for this analysis to hold water. To relegate such eye witness testimonies regarding shots being fired from another location in the Plaza and to rely so heavily upon an awkward and questionable “magic bullet” theory instead of admitting the possibility of a second gunman in a different location easily leads an impartial observer to question the ability of the Warren Commission to scrutinize and assess evidence effectively (Griggs 2005: 15). To be able to lay such a challenge at a commission such as this seriously undermines the credibility of all its findings about other aspects of the case, including but not limited to, the rifle tests conducted, the veracity of the Zapruder film and the faith placed in some key witnesses to events but not to others.
Following this unconvincing conclusion by the Warren Commission in 1965 a subsequent House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established in 1975. The main development which arose from the HSCA’s findings was the use of more developed forensic techniques such as the acoustic evidence provided and analysed by G. Robert Blakey. Because of this advance he was able to establish that “four shots, over a total period of 7.91 seconds were fired at the Presidential limousine. The first, second and fourth came from the Depository; the third from the Grassy Knoll” (HSCA 1975: 32). As such, and in direct contradiction to the findings of the Warren Commission, the HSCA stated that “scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy” and that “President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy” (HSCA 1975: 2). As the HSCA’s findings stirred up anxiety about the Warren Commission’s findings Congress was subsequently forced to pass the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which authorized and compelled the relevant authorities to make full and frank disclosure of any information they had pertaining to the assassination. Despite this Act, information, particularly that concerning events on the day of the assassination, has not been fully disclosed, again raising suspicion of a cover up (Nelson 2010: 213-214).
As well as the official enquiries and committees set up centrally, numerous private initiatives have also sought to explore how key elements of the assassination have been wilfully or negligently poorly investigated. The most famous of these is the prosecution sought by Jim Garrison against Clay Bertrand. Although Bertrand was found to be innocent and some of Garrison’s investigation has been rightly discredited and dismissed, his investigation did raise several important questions about the overall conclusions reached by the Warren Commission (Garrison 1988: 6). Garrison, although clearly wrong about Bertrand’s involvement, was right to raise doubts over the Magic Bullet theory, the issues of timing, shots fired and the framing of Oswald and the suspect nature of the ballistics and forensic evidence used to convict him. The difficulty remains however that Garrison and much of his subsequent literature on this topic has failed to offer a clear alternative explanation to replace the Warren Commission’s version.
It is clear that there were a number of parties who had an interest in the assassination of JFK, each of whom were in some way connected to one another. Most notable amongst these are the Mafia, the Cuban exiles in the United States, the CIA, the FBI and LBJ. This section will explore some of these political connections and attempt to uncover the extent to which the political evidence points to the involvement of aforementioned interested parties in the President’s demise.
Vice President LBJ had a desperate desire to become President of the United States (Nelson 2010: 41-115) and favoured a more vehemently anti-Cuba foreign policy than did Kennedy, and was not in favour of the dismantling of the CIA as advocated by Kennedy. And perhaps most crucially LBJ must have known of the assassination attempt on Kennedy before it happened. As before JFK had even left Washington for Dallas on his final trip, LBJ had already signed new NSAM 273 which not only cancelled troop withdrawal, but also changed the objective from “assisting” the Vietnamese to “winning” against the communists (Lane 1992: 102-103 & 107). This has serious implications for Johnson, who on the basis of all this evidence seems closely entangled in the decision to assassinate the President.
Nelson claims, citing a number of interviewees as his primary sources, that Johnson was in fact the ‘mastermind’ of the plot to assassinate Kennedy (Nelson 2010: 131). He goes on to outline the way in which this was a possibility, principally drawing upon LBJ’s closeness to key actors within the security services (Nelson 2010: 425). However, the case is also made that LBJ and his close associate, H.L. Hunt, had connections to the Mafia who themselves desired Kennedy’s demise (Nelson 2010: 225). This has been confirmed by, amongst others, LBJ’s mistress, Madeleine Duncan Brown (Brown 1963).
It is also true that the CIA were well aware of Kennedy’s long-term ambitions to severely restrict their political power and spheres of influence. This is as a result of the confirmed back-channel between LBJ and Charles Cabell (Nelson 2010: 125). Consequently, those involved in the organisation had a clear vested interest in deposing Kennedy, by whatever means necessary, before installing Johnson. After all, the latter was far more amenable to their political agenda. Lane is particularly forceful on this point, claiming it is clear that as a result of Johnson feeding key members the necessary information, the CIA were determined to kill JFK (Lane 1992: 98-99).
Furthermore, we know that the Cuban exile community and the Mafia each had very powerful motives for seeing an end to Kennedy’s Presidency. Not only did the Mafia stand to lose out on significant opium revenue if Kennedy followed through on his inclination to pull troops out of Vietnam altogether, but it also had economic interests in Cuba that it wanted to regain. This did not look possible under Kennedy, who had promised no invasion of the country in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The testimony of key figures within the Mafia, as well as the contacts the organisation had within the CIA as a result of joint plans to assassinate Castro, strongly link the group to the assassination attempt (Kaiser 2008: 17).
The Cuban exiles undoubtedly had two motives for eliminating Kennedy – revenge for the Bay of Pigs debacle and the securing of Castro’s deposition. The Bay of Pigs was seen as an entirely viable mode of regime change in Cuba, had Kennedy only had the will to offer the air cover the invaders required. The fact this was not forthcoming was a triply painful blow, given it led to many American-trained Cuban invaders being killed or imprisoned, as well as the failure to affect a change in regime and the humiliation it brought upon those involved in the invasion (Ros 1994: 197). Indeed, this was also of concern to the CIA and may have been a secondary motive for that organisation seeking an end to Kennedy’s leadership, after the desire to preserve its own power and influence.
A pivotal aspect of the assassination is the supposed usage of CIA station JM/WAVE situation in Miami which was operated by the CIA from 1961 to 1968 for intelligence gathering predominantly to orchestrate Operation Mongoose (Nelson 2010: 153). The term ‘Murder Inc’ was chosen by Johnson to describe the unit that had seen Mafia hit men hired by the CIA (Lane 1992: 113). Following on from the fact that the CIA and the Mafia were already successfully conducting assassinations from this station, it has been put forward by researchers including Mark Lane and Phillip Nelson that following the break-up of Operation Mongoose that this area became the hub for the assassination of JFK (Nelson 2010: 153).
It is also important at this point to look at the man accused of Kennedy’s assassination. Lee Harvey Oswald had been put in the frame ever since January 1961 when his name was used to purchase trucks that would later take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The buyer could not possibly have been the real Oswald as it is known for a fact that he was in Russia at that time. This incident does, however, highlight something even more disturbing. If Oswald’s name was being used from as far back as Kennedy’s inauguration does this mean that the CIA had been planning his assassination from that far back? It later transpired that the CIA had made a psychological profile of Kennedy in November 1960. They obviously had not liked what they found (Garrison 1988: 66-69).
The shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby, a club owner who, despite having enacted the killing in full view of the Dallas Police Department whilst being broadcast live to millions around the world (Herlihy 1963), was never put on trial and convicted for Oswald’s death. Indeed, in a live television interview, Ruby claimed this was because if the truth came out that the American people would know that the orders to assassinate Kennedy had come from the very top of the administration, thereby directly accusing LBJ of being the mastermind (Ruby 1963). Ruby also claimed that he was forced by persons unknown into committing the murder in order to protect the lives of his family, which had been threatened in the event of his noncompliance.
Garrison has said to have launched his personal investigation into the matter soon after he received several inclinations stating that the killer might have been David Ferrie and not Oswald as submitted by the Warren Commission. Ferrie and Oswald were supposedly connected and the FBI was told by Jack Martin, the employee of Guy Banister, a private investigator, that the two were co-conspirators headed by a greater force (Stone 1991).
According to other charges, Clay Shaw has been brought to light, by Garrison claiming to have been in a conspiracy with Ferrie and Oswald and to have had a hand in killing the President. In the ongoing television series by the name of ‘The Men Who Killed Kennedy’ Judyth Baker stated on air that she had been hired by the Reily Coffee Company as a cover for the CIA in order to produce weapons that were in the making to assassinate Castro. However, all her claims might well have been a hoax because the woman was not able to provide any evidence of sharing any sort of relationship with Oswald or being part of any such conspiracy to kill Castro (Turner 1988).
A CIA asset code-named QJ/WIN was named as Jose Mankel and was dismissed from the CIA’s payroll during February 1964. “Mankel was described as a mercenary from Cologne… and was to become the link between Bill Harvey, Guy Bannister, and David Ferrie in New Orleans… the leaders of the Cuban exiles, Johnny Rosselli, who he worked with on the Castro assassination attempts, and to the French assassins commissioned to be one of the three teams in Dealey Plaza” (Nelson 2010: 217). “It is this complex mix of characters, and their interrelationships to each other, that lead to the “perfect storm” of people and elements that were the prerequisites of a widely based conspiracy” (Nelson 2010: 226).
Criticism of the Conspiracy Theory
There have been a number of conspiracy theories criticizing the conspiracy behind the motive to kill JFK. According to public polls and opinions however, it has been assumed that there has been a massive cover up behind the murder of the thirty fifth President of the US and that his assassination was a conspiracy led by figures that held great stature in America at the time. Most Americans believe that Oswald did not act alone while carrying out the task of shooting from the rifle. His bullets were bought by higher powers and orders had been thrust upon him from other people that held authority.
The theory called the Single Bullet Theory had been used in the Warrant Commission and the bullet had been named as the Warren Commission Exhibit 399 and had been introduced in order to balance out the theory regarding the bullets that killed the President and whether or not the same ones injured Governor Connally as well (Warren Commission 1965).
According to the Warren Commission, the Magic Bullet was the one that killed Kennedy. In the Zapruder film one can easily see Connally sitting directly in front of Kennedy and thus the bullet that was supposed to hit the President, struck him and went on to injure the Governor in his shoulder. NASA scientists have studied this trajectory and have come clean that simple science could help to understand the velocity with which the bullet was travelling and how it hit the injured parties. However, according to the autopsy conducted on Kennedy’s body, the entry and exit points of the bullet have been criticized harshly. The Warren Commission placed the entry point in Kennedy’s lower back as the bullet exited from near his neck. The conspiracy theory against this however fails to mention the path that the bullet travelled within the body as well as the exact location of the wound caused which should have been either lower or higher considering the wound formed on Kennedy’s body was consistent and formed by the single bullet (McAdams 2010).
Garrison was made the protagonist of Oliver Stone’s movie titled ‘JFK’ which came as a shock to most people that watched it. According to Stone, anyone that criticized Garrison, was open to criticizing the conspiracy that took place on account of Kennedy’s death. He apparently let go of a chance to publicly release the photos of the JFK autopsy, as well as other photographs and x-rays and called for a drop of the entire lawsuit just in time for them to be obtained by the public. Garrison has badly tainted the credibility of many kinds of reports that came out regarding the conspiracy theory of the Kennedy assassination (Hennelly & Policoff 2002).
Wider Impact of the Conspiracy
The Kennedy conspiracy has gained a global audience as well as worldwide recognition as the people of America have with time come to sympathize with the killing. It has had a very wide impact on society with a number of books and movies being made about the entire situation and the cover up behind it. No one knows for sure who has been fuelling the entire circumstance because of lack of evidence from the different sectors that have been accused of being allegedly involved with the situation. The conspiracy has been compared to a few other international conspiracy theories like the killing of Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the death of Dr David Kelly (Baker 2007). In comparison, the Kennedy death has a far worse conspiracy cover up than any such other assassination that has taken place even though they travel along the same impact.
All these conspiracies have stemmed from local matters even though they went on to become international matters. They have been referred to as total conspiracy theories as well according to which all the events leading to and in the aftermath of the entire conspiracy need to be looked into in order to uncover the truth. The conspiracy theory circling around Kennedy has thus come to initiate a new phase in world history altogether (Heins 2007). The data thus provided as per the entire killing is much too complicated for a proper finding about what has gone wrong in the reports and what exactly is the fact of the matter.
The people behind the Warren Commission have known to be far too corrupt to be able to provide proper evidence against anyone other than Oswald. The autopsy conducted was also not up to the mark because reports regarding shots in Kennedy’s body have been dismissed with accordance to what they actually were and what was shown to the world.
Other conspiracies around the world have also faced some of these cover ups and methods of being taken undercover in order to hide from the world what actually happened and blame the matter on civilians who had been commissioned to carry out the task of being black listed forever in the eyes of the rest of the planet (Mantik 2010).
There are a number of things it is possible to conclude as a result of this dissertation’s investigations. The first is that Johnson was undoubtedly eager to become President of the United States, had a more ‘aggressive’ foreign policy than the one JFK advocated, did not want to see the changes to the CIA of which Kennedy had been fiercely in favour and crucially knew of the assassination attempt on Kennedy prior to it actually taking place. Clearly then, this gives the impression of LBJ playing an important role in the President’s murder.
The CIA had definitely become cognisant of Kennedy’s desire to limit their potency and influence. Consequently, those involved in the organisation were equipped with a motive for removing the President in order to avoid what would, for them, have been a disastrous set of changes to their remit.
The Mafia and Cuban exile community both had reasons for desiring Kennedy’s removal. Opium revenue was at stake in Vietnam. It was deemed crucial that the United States did not pull troops out of the region altogether if the Mafia’s revenue was to be protected – something Kennedy looked like eschewing as an on-going policy. Moreover, the Mafia’s economic interests in Cuba were there to be regained if Castro could be deposed and the communists beaten for good. Despite authorising Operation Mongoose through which Castro’s regime was supposed to be subverted and eventually removed, Kennedy had publically declared that he had no desire to invade the country. Indeed, Operation Mongoose is thought to have become heavily involved in plans to overthrow Kennedy, rather than seeking to fulfil its immediate remit of devising assassination plots on Castro or arming ‘dissidents’ within Cuba itself. This was deemed of little use to the Mafia, who felt they needed to remove Kennedy to have a chance of rediscovering their income streams from Cuba.
Cuban exiles remained extremely angry regarding the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and for that alone desired revenge on Kennedy. It was felt that the President’s weakness in refusing to offer the necessary air cover to the invaders that had seen the entire operation fail and many of those involved killed and injured. This was a propaganda disaster for the anti-Castro Cuban community based in the USA and Kennedy was held entirely responsible.
Overall, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is perhaps the most significant conspiracy in political history. It clearly demonstrated the limits on political power, even those bestowed upon a leader democratically, when there are sufficient economic and political interests at stake for other parties. This dissertation has proved beyond doubt that the official version of events show numerous inconsistencies and can therefore categorically be described as wholly fabricated. It has instead offered an explanation of possible motivations for various groups and individuals to see President Kennedy’s term in office cut short, including identifying those facts of which we can be certain, thus making it an extremely worthwhile and illuminating study.
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