The government has an inherent right to lie to save itself when faced with nuclear destruction.
—ARTHUR SYLVESTER, former Assistant Secretary of Defense
The effect of power upon men of honor is as old as the murder of leaders for the acquisition of power. Since the beginning of recorded time, the thwarting of justice has been virtually the exclusive province of honorable men. Simpler men have rarely been able to get their hands on the machinery of justice.
The generals who sent Dreyfus to Devils Island on false charges were among the most honorable men in France. The men who helped Brutus dispatch Julius Caesar were among the most honorable men in Rome. All that is required for distinguished men to participate in a crime is for them to be able to rationalize that there is a higher virtue than justice and that they will be serving this higher virtue. After that, they can carry on their assignment with dignity, whether it be merely the concealment of truth from the nation or actual genocide. The most effective rationale to justify the destruction of justice is the excuse of national security. It worked well in Hitler’s Germany, and it worked well in America after November 22, 1963.
The unwritten premise of the Warren Commission was that full exposure of the facts of the assassination would endanger the security of the country, a curious premise if one accepts the official tale of the lone assassin. The primary function of the commission thus became not the revelation of the essential facts, as the American people had expected, but the careful control and concealment of the essential facts. What ostensibly was a truth-seeking body turned out to be the antagonist of truth, its perverse posture being justified on the old, familiar totalitarian ground of national security.
When the commission’s hearings were nearing completion, the predisposition of its members was against publication of the testimony and the exhibits. Allen Dulles said there was no point in publishing the material because the American people did not read. Other members similarly opposed publication of the material. Even after it was decided that publication was necessary, it was apparent that considerably less than all the relevant material would be published. Some of the evidence, the Chief Justice indicated, might not be made available to the American people during their lifetimes.
It is well then at the outset to be rid of any impression that the commission conceived its function to be finding the truth and communicating it to the public. This board of past and present government officials clearly conceived its function instead to be the protection of government interests as distinguished from the interests of the people. The public was not going to be informed but rather mollified so that it would not be unduly disturbed.
If you were going to select a commission to protect the government from the people, you undoubtedly would be very careful in choosing its members. If it truly appeared that the President had been shot capriciously by a lone assassin, it would not matter greatly who constituted the board of inquiry. A committee made up of attorneys, university professors and businessmen, for example, would be quite satisfactory.
On the other hand, if you had reason to believe that elements of the government were involved in the assassination, and if you desired to conceal this, you would be likely to confine the commission to government officials so that they would be inclined to protect government interests. The Warren Commission consisted entirely of men who presently or formerly were high federal government officials.
Furthermore, if there were a specific part of the government which you felt you particularly wanted to protect from the public eye, you would very likely give some thought to having that part of the government well represented on the board of inquiry. The part of the government most strongly represented on the commission, by virtue of the philosophies of its members, was the military-intelligence complex.
This is a very interesting coincidence, because no President in history was more at sword’s point with the military and intelligence combine than was John Kennedy.
The split, which began when the Bay of Pigs debacle was laid in his lap, had widened by the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when he rejected the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (with the sole exception of General David Shoup of the Marine Corps) to bomb Cuba. It further widened when the President set up negotiations with Fidel Castro, looking toward a possible detente with Cuba. It further widened when he authorized the signing of the nuclear test ban treaty in Moscow on September 1, 1963, again over the objection of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It further widened when Secretary of Defense McNamara announced Kennedy’s intentions of having most American troops out of Vietnam by 1965, a move which would have constituted a complete abandonment of our military foothold in Asia. Senator Wayne Morse has apprised us of the fact that “Mr. Kennedy told me ten days before he was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas on 11/22/63 that he (Kennedy) was re-examining Viet Nam Policy.”
President Kennedy’s program of deescalation necessarily had a tremendous impact on elements of our military-intelligence structure. From their point of view, we had reached a position from which we were close to military hegemony over the world, and this rich young man, this transient, was undoing it all by the systematic voluntary surrender of our military advantages.
This steady, ineluctable course toward ending the cold war placed Kennedy on a collision course with the strongest forces in the United States government. His course, if continued, meant the end of the long hayride of billions and billions of dollars of military hardware purchases. It meant the end of the Pax Americana, the new imperialism which had crept into American foreign policy at the end of World War II. It meant the beginning of the end of the dominance of the Pentagon and the CIA over American foreign policy, and, indeed, over much of the domestic policy as well. It meant, in sum, the beginning of the end of two empires, one international and the other a bureaucratic structure internal to our government and more powerful than all the rest of the government put together.
But the empires did not end. As luck would have it, a lonesome warehouse employee happened along and, because of personal adjustment problems he was having, removed the President. Incidentally, this lonely man rescued from possible oblivion the most powerful warfare structure on the face of the earth.
Consider now the orientation of the majority of the members of the Commission appointed by the new President to inquire into the assassination.
Allen Dulles was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency until President Kennedy removed him after the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba. During his ten years as deputy chief and then as chief of that agency, the concealed power of the CIA grew steadily. Although the CIA was represented to the American people as engaged in activities outside of the United States, it also operated as a powerful secret police agency within the United States. The primary activity of the CIA was deception—not merely red-blooded, patriotic deception of foreign people, but domestic deception as well. The CIA also had developed skills in the art of political assassination. The trademark of the CIA assassination was that it never looked as if the CIA had done it.
Senator Richard Russell was the Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Subcommittee. He had no peer as the protagonist for the needs of the military-industrial complex. His close relationship with the armed forces establishment had peppered his home state of Georgia with military bases. Senator Russell was a member of the Board of Visitors to the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy.
Congressman Gerald Ford enjoyed the reputation of being the CIA’s best friend in the House of Representatives.
John J. McCloy had previously served as head of the Office of Strategic Services, the top military intelligence agency, during World War II. It was out of the OSS structure that the CIA was born.
These were four of the seven men who were assigned the thorny problem of the mysterious assassination of a President who was at the time of his removal in deep conflict with the military and its clandestine intelligence ally and who made the statement that he was going “to splinter the CIA into 1,000 pieces and scatter it to the winds.” These were four of the seven men who were going to attempt to discover the motive of a lonely warehouse employee in removing this man from office.
The rest of the appointments were significant with regard to protecting the government from the people. The Chief Justice was a distinguished liberal whose appointment would appease those liberals who might take note of Kennedy’s absence. A Republican Senator was added, marrying the opposition party to the President’s commission. Finally, there was the Democratic whip of the House of Representatives, to bind the majority party in Congress, and the result was a politically oriented government team, firmly weighted among the majority with the philosophy of the military-industrial complex.
It is apparent that the minds putting together this team conceived of the assassination inquiry as being primarily a political problem. Less sophisticated minds might have regarded the inquiry as a problem of evidence inasmuch as the foremost question appeared to be the identification of the force which committed the crime. However, this matter was settled by bypassing entirely the question of who killed the President. Instead of taking on the question of determining if Lee Oswald had murdered the President, the commission assigned itself the problem of finding the reason why he had done it.
Thus the commission evaded at the outset the primary question at issue. Furthermore, its automatic conviction of the scapegoat before it examined the evidence guaranteed that its conclusions as to the motive for the assassination would have no significant contact with the reality of the President’s murder. If one arbitrarily assumes that Christopher Columbus was the first man to fly an airplane across the ocean, an analysis of why he decided to travel by air will not be very valuable no matter how many months are spent on the project.
Allen Dulles, one of the commission members and the man who had been removed as head of the CIA by President Kennedy at a very early juncture, called the attention of the investigating body to the phenomenon of lonesome assassins in America. At one of the earliest sessions, just after the members of the commission were given their oath of office, he noted the recurrent appearance of lone assassins and the general absence of plots in Presidential assassinations. Presumably through the use of insight, since the commission had not heard any testimony yet, he was able to anticipate that this probably would turn out to be true of Kennedy’s murder also. The following dialogue occurred in the early executive sessions of the Warren Commission and was classified as top secret for more than four years following the assassination:MR. DULLES: I’ve got a few extra copies of a book that I passed out to our Counsel. Did I give it to you, Mr. Chief Justice?
The following month, the former head of the CIA once again brought up the historic trend showing that American Presidents usually were killed by lonely men.MR. DULLES: I have one other point. I think it would be well to assign one of these people to the question of studying previous cases of assassination attempts against the head of state, particularly in the United States and maybe a few others.
Notwithstanding the historical evidence advanced by the former CIA chief to the effect that American assassins were lone assassins, a very good question arose during one of the early meetings. This was the matter of whether or not Lee Oswald happened to be an agent of the CIA. Ordinarily, when a man is accused of murder, an inquiry is not made to see if he is a CIA agent. Such an inquiry would seem to be all the more unnecessary when the man has allegedly killed the President, because there is a general assumption that the President and the CIA are on the same side. Nevertheless, like a body floating up on the lake in the middle of a picnic, the question arose. Since the former head of the CIA had been placed on the commission, he addressed himself directly to this bizarre development.
MR. DULLES: Depending as of the time we are talking about, I might have a little problem on
that—having been Director until November, 1961, it would
depend upon as of what time he was supposed to have been an agent
of the CIA. The only problem—there is no problem so far as
I am concerned in making an affidavit to the period up to
November 26, 1961, if you want me to. I don’t know what you
would feel about that.
Of course, McCone has all the records. I do not have the records and files. All the records are there.
McCone, of course, could testify as to the records for any period as far as that is concerned.
Ultimately, the commission decided to take the bull by the horns and write the CIA a letter asking whether Oswald had been a CIA agent. At the same time it asked the CIA whether Jack Ruby also had been an employee of the agency. The commission’s letter was written to the CIA in April, 1964. In the six months of its existence which followed it received no reply from the intelligence agency. After the Warren Commission had completed its inquiry, submitted its report to the President and disbanded, the CIA responded by letter explaining that Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby were not CIA employees.
The CIA never explained why it took six months of deliberation for it to decide that Oswald and Ruby had never been employed by that agency. However, the Warren Commission apparently took the view that no news was good news, for it never protested the intelligence agency’s refusal to reply while the commission was still in existence. The disdain with which the CIA treated the request of the President’s commission may give some idea of its enormous power as a part of the warfare complex. It is also illustrative of the correspondingly limited power of transient Presidents in the new order of things after November 22, 1963. In the eyes of the war machine, Presidents come and go but the cold war lasts forever.
Some information apparently was available about Oswald’s connection with the intelligence agency in a CIA memorandum marked Secret. This was referred to in a State Department letter received by the commission. However the CIA memorandum was not attached as the letter indicated it should have been. The commission, hardly inclined to want to find threads leading to a government agency, turned its attention to less depressing areas of inquiry. As the months passed, by the extensive questioning of irrelevant witnesses the Warren Commission managed to avoid having to confront the all too evident inference that Oswald was an employee of an intelligence agency of the United States government.
Behind the scenes, as the subsequent classification of secret files indicated, there appears to have been much more concern about Oswald’s full identity than was revealed in the bland proceedings at the front of the stage. For a young man who was supposed to be an itinerant nobody without significant connections, Lee Oswald evoked an unusual security response from the government. FBI, Secret Service and CIA documents relating directly to Lee Harvey Oswald are among the files still classified as secret six years after the President’s murder.
As a by-product of the federal investigation into the assassination, a total of 51 such CIA files were locked away in the vaults in Washington. In many instances the secret classification of the files ostensibly was based upon national security.
The winding excursion into trivia taken by the government investigation was matched by the testimony being heard by the commission. Classmates from Oswald’s school days were questioned in detail about a fight he had with another boy. A number of persons who had been tourists at Minsk when Oswald was there were questioned. One gentleman, who had conceived the notion that President Kennedy had been killed by the Communists because Kennedy was about to abandon being a Communist stooge and turn American, testified at great length—thirty-five pages in the published testimony.
This was not an inquiry into the assassination. This was a filibuster—a rambling, time-consuming game of manners so that in the end it could be said that everything had been explored exhaustively. Understandably, no commission meeting ever occurred at which all the members were present. Having begun the inquiry with the conclusion that the scapegoat was guilty, it really made no great difference whether they were all there or not.
Only a government inquiry committed to finding no government involvement could have been so blind to the many threads which connected Lee Oswald to a government intelligence operation. Had the inquiry been conducted instead by a committee of ordinary citizens its focus would have been quite different.
It would have been recognized as unusual that the alleged Marxist assassin had been given a particularly high security rating while he was in the Marines. It would have been noted that the “defector” had applied for his passport to Europe and had received it overnight. It would have been observed that Oswald had not learned Russian on his own because of his “Marxist tendencies” but that he had been taught Russian by the government and had taken an armed forces Russian examination while stationed at El Toro Marine Base months before his alleged defection.
It would have been observed that on his return from his thirty months in Russia he was never charged or punished but, on the contrary, received special treatment. He was given a job at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall Company, a photographic firm in Dallas. In New Orleans, after his arrest following a street dispute over his Fair Play for Cuba signs and literature, he was, unlike the other parties to the dispute, interviewed privately by a federal agent. The agent subsequently destroyed his notes from his interview with Oswald, contrary to normal law enforcement procedure.
It would have been discovered inevitably that the address Oswald stamped on the leftist literature he passed out in New Orleans, 544 Camp Street, was the location of a government operation being conducted by W. Guy Banister, a former special agent in charge of the FBI office in Chicago and an intelligence officer in World War II. The government sought to conceal Oswald’s mistake in so marking his literature by giving the address of the ex-FBI supervisor and intelligence officer as 531 Lafayette Street, the side entrance to the office.
For any honest inquiry, the cat would have been out of the bag because 544 Camp Street was an active headquarters for the government’s anti-Communist effort in New Orleans. All the government accomplished by trying to change the address of this operation was to show guilty knowledge of Oswald’s government connection as well as the meaning of that connection with regard to the assassination.
It would have been recognized as unusual that, although Oswald ostensibly had been a defector to Russia, he received special service from the government when he applied for a passport to Europe in the summer of 1963. Under federal law, men who have been defectors are not eligible for passports at all. However, when Oswald applied in New Orleans with a number of other persons, unlike the other applicants, he received his passport within 24 hours. Nor can it be said that his application slipped through unnoticed, for on the federal government’s list of applicants his name has been distinctly marked with a “No” so that it stands out from the others.
A commission genuinely seeking the truth about the assassination would have taken particular note of the remarkable associations of this itinerant warehouse worker. In Dallas, his most frequent companion was an extremely sophisticated man who spoke five languages and had been an intelligence agent for France in World War II. Obviously, such an individual would be most useful to contemporary American intelligence.
Oswald’s wife and children were staying at the home of Michael and Ruth Paine in a Dallas suburb. Michael Paine was an engineer at Bell Helicopter, a contractor for the Defense Department. Ruthie Paine’s father was a retired employee of the Agency for International Development, regarded by some as a cover operation for the CIA, and her brother-in-law was employed in the Washington, D.C., area by the same agency.
When Oswald’s wife and child came back to Dallas in September, 1962, Michael Paine moved out, and they moved in with his wife. Immediately after the assassination, when they had been given other quarters, Michael Paine moved back in with his wife.
In New Orleans, it would have been observed, Oswald was closely associated with David Ferrie, a pilot-adventurer who had executed contract assignments for the CIA. Prior to the CIA operation in the Bay of Pigs, Ferrie had trained Cuban pilots in Guatemala for the invasion. Later Ferrie had made night flights into Cuba depositing men and weapons.
It would also have been noticed that among Oswald’s belongings seized by the Dallas police was an exotic collection of equipment for a laborer at a warehouse: one Minox camera, one 15 power Wollensak telescope, one pedometer, one compass, one pair of Nippon Kogaku binoculars, camera filters, one Realist viewmaster, an Ansco flash assembly, one 35 millimeter camera, a second pair of binoculars, one lens in a hood, one 7x18 telescope, another camera, a variety of photographic film and an unidentified apparatus lamely described by the Dallas police as an “unknown electronic device.”
It certainly would have been noticed that during the twelve hours of questioning of the man who allegedly killed the President of the United States, no transcript or recording of his statements was made, contrary to long-established practice in law enforcement. No attorney was made available to him during the twelve hours of interrogation.
In short, a committee of ordinary citizens exercising common sense would have necessarily perceived the accumulation of indications pointing to linkage of the accused assassin to an intelligence apparatus. Thus, a serious inquiry would have considered the implications of such an intelligence employee being on the scene. As the evidence began to indicate that he could not have accomplished the assassination but was instead set up to be trapped and blamed for it, there would have followed an inquiry into the involvement of the intelligence apparatus itself in the assassination. No committee of Americans would be happy with the task of having to confront this stark implication, but it is unlikely that men free of government connections would conclude that the truth should be hidden and the people fooled in the name of national security.
However, these were not ordinary citizens conducting the inquiry. The Warren Commission, like the government investigators, looked everywhere but toward the government. Its function was not to discover what had happened but to close the door to any such discovery, for after their long and solemn deliberations, any later inquiry would lack authority and could be made to seem frivolous.
And so the commissioners questioned and ruminated and thought out loud and pondered, their attentions never turning one degree toward the direction of the late President’s historically unprecedented break with the powerful military-intelligence combine. They found Oswald’s Marxist inclinations and his inability to adapt to society more engrossing. The fact that he was dead and the warfare complex was alive may have helped make him the more interesting object of attention.
Nothing is more illustrative of the cosmic irrelevancy of the government’s inquiry than the index to testimony at the end of volume fifteen of the commission’s hearings. Many hours could be spent thumbing through this index and attempting to guess how these names found their way into the aimless, wandering testimony: Xaxier Cugat, Eleanor Roosevelt, Heinrich Himmler, Herbert Hoover, Rudy Vallee, Leo Tolstoy, Theodore Roosevelt, Gamal Abdel Nassar, Che Guevara, Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra, Jr.
Behind the officious foolishness of the mock inquiry was cold cynicism. It was bad enough that this tribunal of honorable men began its hearings with the presumption that the dead defendant was guilty, in violation of one of the strongest traditions of American justice. It denied him legal representation, unless we call the occasional presence, at one tenth of the sessions, of the American Bar Association’s emissary legal representation. No one cross-examined the witnesses, cross-examination being the most effective device available for causing witnesses to stay close to the truth and for determining when their testimony is not true. Oswald’s wife, Marina, was used to testify against him after being held in isolation and being coached by representatives of the federal government.
The many witnesses and photographic evidence which would have shown that the President was killed from the front and that, therefore, Oswald did not kill him, were ignored by the commission. Crucial evidence, such as the photographs and X-rays of the President’s autopsy, were never viewed by the members of the commission nor made available to the public. The witnesses who saw the shooting of Officer Tippit and who observed that the man did not even resemble Oswald were never called to testify before the commission.
The injustice did not end there. It was unjust to protect the men who killed President Kennedy, and moreover, it was unjust to delude the American people about the assassination.
Nor did the impact of the Warren Commission end there. Its effect was to authenticate the transfer of the power to make foreign policy from the White House to the Pentagon. In its wake would come the very war which John Kennedy was avoiding. More than half a million American soldiers would soon be in combat in Southeast Asia for reasons which were never quite clear.
Thus the conclusion of this tribunal that the government’s illusion should prevail was not merely a historic act of injustice: it permitted the removal of a fundamental power from the hands of the American people, and it validated the existence and ascendancy of invisible government in the United States.
Yet these were honored men who did this. What then had honor become in America? It had become position, not compassion. It had become laurels, not conscience.