The Yankee and Cowboy War
By Carl Oglesby
Chapter Four (part one)
According to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald was a chronic malcontent and loner who in 1959 broke off his career in the U.S. Marines with an irregular discharge in order to defect to the Soviet Union, to which he may have supplied valuable military secrets. He married in Russia, tried to settle down to a Communist domesticity with a job in an electronics factory in Minsk, but reconsidered after two years and decided to come home. He returned in mid-1962 with his wife Marina and their two children, stayed briefly in New Orleans then settled in Dallas-Fort Worth.
He clung to his Marxist beliefs in spite of his evidently unhappy experience in Russia and became an activist, setting up the New Orleans chapter of a pro-Castro group called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee – a chapter of which he remained, however, the only member. Early in 1963, he may have fired a shot at retired General Edwin Walker, a hard-line rightwinger. Strangely for one of his apparent views, he tried later to join up with Prio’s Cuban Revolutionary Council, the major anti-Castro grouping among the militant Cuban exiles camped those days in Miami and New Orleans and still seething over the Bay of Pigs. But then Earl Warren finds him back in character a few days later passing out pro-Castro leaflets (a courageous act in the New Orleans of that period), then going to Mexico City in September in an (unsuccessful) effort to get a visa to visit Cuba. On November 22, in Dallas, at 12:31 p.m. at Dealey Plaza, according to Warren, he shot and killed the president and shot and severely wounded Texas Governor John Connolly in the presidential limousine; then less than an hour later, in another part of town, desperate to escape, he shot and killed Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippit.
He was captured soon after by a police squadron alerted to a gate-crasher at the Texas Theater. He was interrogated for six hours off the record by Dallas officers, who charged him early with the murder of Tippit, then later with the Dealey Plaza shootings. Unlike the standard political assassin qua lone nut, who characteristically boasts of his deed and claims it before history, Oswald took an unashamedly frightened stance, begged someone to come forward to help him, and said from the beginning that he was being made a patsy and could prove it.
On the Sunday morning after that Friday, Oswald was to be transferred to the city jail to the county jail, where it was said he would be more secure. The millions absorbed in television scenes of the funeral procession were rudely switched to Dallas for the on-camera murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby in the very basement of the Dallas jail. Ruby was a Dallas nightclub operator who said he was motivated by sorrow for the plight of the widow, who would have to come to Dallas for the trial of Oswald, a further ordeal he wished to spare her. As a result of his act, the case against Oswald was effectively closed. Ruby’s extensive ties to the Dallas police, organized crime, and the Dallas oligarchy were briefly noted by Warren, but not explored. Like Oswald, Ruby was painted as another lone nut.
Ruby died in prison in 1967, protesting in a voice constantly breaking into hysteria that the real truth about Dallas was still not known.
As will emerge from point to point in the following critique of the Warren theory of Dealey Plaza, the early objections to this theory have only been fortified over the years of debate by new discoveries and insights. More than a dozen years later, the classic critique of Warren retains its original form and power. The first-generation critics, notably Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Josia Thompson, Mark Lane, Edward Epstein and Penn Jones, have not been surpassed.
This attests to their good sense, but it also points to the magnitude of the Warren theory’s main faults. There they stand for all who look to see – the problems of the bullet and the rifle, the medical indications, the sloppy, not to say prejudiced character of the deliberation over the evidence, the concealment of doubts, etc.
The newcomer to the detailed evidence is often surprised to find the Warren Report’s flaws so apparent. For example, Connally never gave up his conviction that he was hit by a different bullet from the one that went through Kennedy’s neck. If that is true, then (as we see in detail below) any lone-gunman theory tied to Oswald is ruled out absolutely, no subtlety to it. Yet Connally is today, as he always has been, a supporter of the Warren theory. Asked to reconcile the two beliefs, he answers that he knows he was not hit by the first Kennedy shot, but that the Warren commissioners were “good patriots” whose would could not be doubted. The main support for the Warren no-conspiracy theory was Warren’s reputation.
Contemporary critique is not so dazzled by Warren’s moral genius. We do not for a moment doubt his passionate desire to do the right thing. We insist, however, that in the complex moral predicament into which the assassination of Kennedy plunged Warren (and Warren liberalism), it was entirely possible that Warren lost his way and did not know what the right thing was. Then he could not resist taking the path others were expecting him to take, the path of the lone-assassin pretense.
We criticize the Warren theory of Dallas in any case on purely factual terms, concentrating on (1) the physical details of the shootings of Kennedy and Connally, (2) the identity of Oswald, and (3) the testimony of Ruby. Then we take up (4) the politics of the evident Warren cover-up. Finally we attempt (5) an alternative reconstruction of the crime.
Oswald had been a stock handler at the depository since October. At lunchtime on Friday, November 22 – according to Warren – he was alone in the southeast corner window of the sixth floor with a 6.5 mm bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcanno rifle in his hands, an early World War II weapon, which, according to Warren, he had purchased only a few months before from Klein’s Mail-Order Sporting Goods for $12.79, and which he had brought to work that morning wrapped as curtain rods.
At 12:30 the lead cars in the motorcade from Love Field appeared below him at the corner of Main and Houston, turned up Houston directly toward him, then turned again to pass in front of him down Elm toward the triple underpass. Then the presidential limousine followed. J. Edgar Hoover once observed that Oswald’s easiest shot came as his target was approaching him up Houston. He waited until the car had made the turn and was several hundred feet down Elm. According to Warren, he then fired three shots at the president’s back within a period not longer than 5.6 seconds.
Of the first two shots, according to Warren, one of the other struck Kennedy high up on the back, deviated the first of several times from its original flight path, ranged upwards and leftwards through his body, exited at his neck, nicked the left side of the knot in the necktie, deviated again downwards and to the right, struck Connally in the back over the right armpit, tore through the governor’s body, and came out just inside the right nipple, leaving a gaping exit wound. It then deviated again to strike his right hand at the wrist, smashing the wrist bone into seven fragments. It exited the wrist and plunged into the left thigh just above the knee. Then it worked its way out Connally’s thigh on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, where it was found by a hospital attendant and turned over to the Dallas police. This bullet found on the stretcher, Commission Exhibit 399, is the totality of the hard evidence tying Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to the crime, just as the rifle itself is the only hard evidence tying the crime to Oswald. Everything else is circumstantial. But we are getting ahead.
The other of the first two shots missed altogether and hit the curb far ahead of the car. A fragment of curbstone chipped off by the bullet superficially wounded the cheek of a bystander, James Tague.
Oswalds third shot, said Warren, hit Kennedy above the front right temple and blew off that portion of his head. The limousine had been slowing until then. At that point it sped off for Parkland Hostpital.
The physical and logical inadequacies of this reconstruction may grouped into three areas:
(1) the magic bullet
(2) the magic rifle, and
(3) indications of a front shot.
1. The magic bullet (Commission Exhibit 399), according to Warren, made four wounds in two men, then turned up on a stretcher in the hospital in what ballistics experts call a “pristine” condition. There are several reasons for thinking this bullet did not do what it is said to have done.
Its pristine condition is the simplest of these reasons and in any other situation would be easily conclusive all by itself. One can simply see from the Warren photos that the bullet is all but undamaged. It never hit anything harder than a bale of cotton; it had nothing to do with these wounds.
As if indeed to force us to see this, Warren prints the photograph of CE399 alongside an identical bullet fired by the FBI through the wrist of a cadaver. As all can see, the test bullet came through severely distorted; the whole upper body of the bullet was flattened by impact with the wristbone, one of the denser bones in the body. The only real explanation offered by Warren for CE399’s pristine condition was that it must have tumbled upon smashing through Connally’s ribs and hit his wrist flying backwards, that is, with the blunt-end, that is with the blunt end to the fore –as though a blunt-end impact would not lead to a still more radical shape deformation and still greater weight loss.
Second, as we have noted, Connally was convinced that the bullet that hit him and the bullet that hit Kennedy in the neck were two separate bullets, not the same CE399. Warren Commission Attorney Arlen Specter, the author of the single bullet theory, examined Connally before the commission on April 21, 1964. The exchange on this point went as follows:
MR. SPECTER: In your view, which bullet caused the injury to you chest, Governor Connelly?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: The second one.
MR. SPECTER: And what is you reason for that conclusion, sir?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, in my judgment, it just couldn’t conceivably have been the first one because I heard the sound of the shot. In the first place, I don’t know anything about the velocity of this particular bullet [2000 fps], but any rifle has a velocity that exceeds the speed of sound [6-700 fps], and when I heard the sound of that first shot, that bullet had already reached where I was, or it had reached that far, and after I heard that shot, I had time to turn to my right, and start to turn to my left before I felt anything.
It is not conceivable to me that I could have been hit by the first bullet, and then I felt the blow from something which was obviously a bullet, which I assumed was a bullet, and I never heard the second shot, didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear but two shots, I think I heard the first shot and the third shot.
MR. SPECTER: Do you have any idea as to why you did not hear the second shot?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, first, again I assume the bullet was traveling faster than sound. I was hit by the bullet prior to the time the sound reached me, and I was in either a state of shock or the impact was such that the sound didn’t even register on me, but I was never conscious of hearing the second shot at all.
Obviously, at least the major wound that I took in the shoulder through the chest couldn’t have been anything but the second shot. Obviously, it couldn’t have been the third, because when the third shot was fired I was in a reclining position, and heard it, saw it and the effects of it, rather – I didn’t see it, I saw the effects of it –so it obviously could not have been the third, and couldn’t have been the first, in my judgment.
Third, the famous Zapruder film shows that as much as a full second after Kennedy was shot in the neck, Connally remained apparently unwounded. When he did react, there was nothing ambiguous about it. His hair shot up. His mouth dropped. Then he seemed to be hit a second time. He slumped immediately to his left into his wife’s lap.
The Warren lawyers explain away the time lapse as a “delayed reaction,” even though the specific pathology of Connally’s wounds, notably the breaking of the ribs and the wrist, make such a theory implausible on its face, and even though the commission had heard expert medical testimony against the delayed-reaction explanation. (Connally is visibly holding his Stetson in the hand with the shattered wrist many Z-frames after Kennedy has first been hit.)
Fourth, the commission produced out of it’s own inquiries the most technically conclusive evidence against the magic bullet theory, although the significance of this evidence may have been concealed from the commission by the FBI, which arranged for the test to be conducted for the commission by the Atomic Energy Commission. This test, neutron-activation analysis, or NAA, involves the same technique that two Swedish scientists used to prove in 1961 that Napolean had actually been murdered by gradual arsenic poising. The method is to bombard the specimen material with neutrons and then measure the emissions thus produced. The operating premise is that any difference in atomic structure of two materials, however slight, will be observable in these emissions. This is why Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht describes NAA as “one of the most powerful and sophisticated science methods ever developed.”
In the current case, NAA was used to compare fragments of a bullet taken from Connally’s wrist (and elsewhere) with material taken from the nose of CE399. If the fragments and the slivers are from the same bullet, they will give off precisely the same emissions under neutron activation.
Until the success of Harold Weisberg’s Freedom-of-Information Act suit in 1974, it was not known for a fact that NAA had been performed. Hoover reported that it had been, but knowingly or not, he concealed the significance of it in a letter to Warren’s chief counsel Rankin dated July 8, 1964. By that time, Specter’s draft of chapter 3 of the Report, setting forth the single-bullet theory, had already been submitted to Rankin. As Wecht observes, Hoover’s language “hast to be read in its entirety to be appreciated,” so I follow him in repeating the letter in full:
As previously reported to the Commission, certain small lead metal fragments uncovered in connection with this matter were analyzed spectrographically to determine whether they could be associated with one or more of the lead bullet fragments and no significant differences were found within the sensitivity of the spectrographic method.
Because the higher sensitivity of the neutron activation analysis, certain of the small lead fragments were then subjected to neutron activation analysis and comparisons with larger bullet fragments. The items analyzed included the following: C1 – bullet from stretcher; C2 – fragment from front seat cushion; C4 and C5 – metal fragments from President Kennedy’s head; C9 – metal fragment from the arm of Governor Connally; C16 – metal fragments from the rear floor board carpet of the car.
While minor variations in composition were found by this method, these were not considered sufficient to permit positively differentiating among the larger bullet fragments and thus positively determining from which of the larger bullet fragments any given small lead fragment may have come.
[s] J. Edgar Hoover.
The boiling obfuscations of that last paragraph show us Hoover at his best. There is no way for the technically uninformed to know that in the NAA test any difference is “sufficient.” If one could strip down Hoover’s subordinate clause to its grammatical essentials, one would have the heart of the matter right enough: “Variations…were found.” Therefore the fragments from Connally’s wrist and CE399 were not of the same bullet. Which should have been obvious to grown men to start with from looking at bullet CE399 with their own two eyes open.
2. The magic rifle is Oswald’s 6.5 – mm Mannlicher-Carcano. Like its companion bullet CE399, it rates the status of magic because it shows so little sign of having been able to do what, for Warren theory purposes, it must have done.
The weapon Oswald is supposed to have selected for his great moment was a bolt-action Italian army rifle mass-produced in the early 1940s. It was not a serious sharpshooting weapon when it was made and two decades of aging could not have improved it.
The telescopic sight was fitted for a left-handed marksman. Oswald was right-handed.
The scope was misaligned so badly that the FBI had to adjust the mounting apparatus before it could test-fire the rifle.
But the deeper problem would still exist even if the rifle had been straight-shooting and fitted with a properly mounted and adjusted scope, because the deeper problem is that the maximum number of shots Oswald could have taken with that rifle in five-and-half seconds was three, and three shots are too few to explain all the damage that was done at that moment to people and things in Dealey plaza.
Add to this the fact that Oswald was rated only a poor marksman in the Marines and that, in one expert’s words, “The feat attributed to Oswald at Dallas was impossible for any one but a world champion marksman using a high-precision semiautomatic rifle mounted on a carriage and equipped with an aim corrector, and who had practiced at moving targets in similar set-ups.”
The most impressive defense of the Mannlicher and Oswald’s ability to use it in the way claimed by Warren that anyone has seen so far was produced by CBS News in the first of its four-part special called The American Assassins, aired in most cities around Thanksgiving 1975. The first part was devoted to the physical analysis of the JFK case. Setting out to settle the dispute about the rifle’s capabilities once and for all, CBS erected in the countryside a target-sled and platform arrangement simulating the geometry and distances of the shot from the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Book Depository, then brought 11 expert riflemen- from the military, from the police, from the firearms industry – to give it a crack: Here toes the sled at the speed and along the path of the limousine. You have 5.6 seconds to squeeze off three shots and score with two of them. After practice, two of the eleven experts were able to do what Oswald is said to have done, two hits out of three shots in 5.6 seconds. CBS does not pause to say how many total series were fired by these eleven, or how many times the two who did it once could do it again. They are impatient to state their interpretation of this result. The reasoning now goes: Since a small percentage of expert riflemen could do it, it was possible. Since it was possible, it was possible for Oswald. Therefore he must have done it. CBS knew that Oswald had never practiced from that position or elevation, that he had not even been on a target range for at least two months, and that all his ex-Marine comrades regarded him as a poor shot. CBS is forced to make the argument, read from the teleprompter by an unblinking Dan Rather, that Oswald had scored, “after all, in the second highest category of marksmen in an outfit, the United States Marines, that prides itself on its marksmanship.” Whoever wrote that had to know that when Oswald was in the Marines, there were only three categories, that you were already in the third of these if you could heft the rifle to your shoulder, and that the minimum score required to enter “the second highest category” was 190, and that Oswald’s score was 191. CBS knew this. It is all in the Warren hearings. It is all nicely accessible in Sylvia Meagher’s work which CBS says it consulted. Misunderstanding or difference of interpretation can always be understood, but does this treatment of the rifle’s capabilities, the demands of the shot, and Oswald’s skill with the weapon fall within that dispensation? Do these look like honest mistakes?
But the worst problem is that for all its testing and proving, CBS is not even addressing the real issue with the rifle. The problem that leads people to doubt that Oswald did what Warren said he did with that rifle is that shot that first hit Kennedy and the shot that first hit Connolly came only 1.8 seconds apart, as is easily determined by analysis of the Zapruder film, and not even the fastest of CBS team of experts was able to reload and fire the Mannlicher anywhere near that fast.
3. Among several indications of a front shot, the backward snap of Kennedy’s head and body visible in the Zapruder film at frame 313 is without doubt the most gruesome and most convincing piece of evidence against the lone-Oswald theory. Indeed, not taking Zapruder into advance account may ultimately prove the big mistake the assassination cabal made.
With his brand-new 8-mm Bell and Howell camera, Abraham Zapruder was standing part way up the grassy knoll that borders Elm on the north and runs up to the railroad tracks. He looked to his left (east) to pick up the motorcade at it turned from Houston left onto Elm, and panned with the Kennedy limousine as it passed in front of him. Kennedy disappeared momentarily behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. He was shot first at precisely that one moment offstage to Zapruder’s camera. When he reappeared a fraction of a second later, his hands were already going to his throat. Then in about a second and a half Connally was going over too.
Just when the episode seems finished comes that endless-seeming moment before the fatal headshot. Zapruder had steadied his camera again. The limousine is actually slowing down. Four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand. Kennedy is straight in front of us. Then his head explodes in a plume of pink mist and he is driven violently into the back of the carseat.
Members of the Assassination Information Bureau, including myself, presented the Zapruder film and other photographic evidence to the editorial board of the Boston Globe and at a meeting at the Globe offices on April 23, 1975. Two days later Globe Executive Editor Robert Healey published a long editorial in which he summed up the board’s general reaction to the Zapruder film as follows:
It is this particular piece of film, with stop action and with individual still frames, that is being shown around the nation and which has convinced some, at least, that Oswald could not have fired all the shots that killed President Kennedy….The visual presentation is far more convincing than all the books and all the magazine articles that have ever been advanced. They make a simple and convincing case that President Kennedy had to be killed by bullets fired from two directions and thus by more than one person. And no words can make the case better than the Zapruder film. It is as simple as that.
It was not as simple as that to CBS, of course, or its carfully selected array of medical and ballistics experts.
Warren defenders, among them CBS prominently, have searched over the years for a plausible explanation of the backward movement of Kennedy’s head. How could a shot fired from behind the President have driven him backward?
An early theory was that the car lurched forward at just that moment, but that was abandoned when it was pointed out (from Zapruder) that the limousine continued to slow down until Secret Service agent Clint Hill got to the back of the car and climbed on. It did not speed up until Jackie Kennedy had crawled out on the rear deck to pick up a piece of her husband’s skull.
Then it was explained that “a neuromuscular spasm” was to blame, but that lost favor when resort to Zapruder’s film showed Kennedy’s body had not stiffened but rather hitting the back seat (in Robert Groden’s phrase) “like a rag doll.” Then came the theory that the bullet hit the back of the head with such force that it caused the brain to explode, that in exploding, the brain blew out the front of the head, and that, as a “jet effect” of this explosion, the head was driven backwards. This novel explanation suffers unfairly from the painfulness of explaining it, but its main problem is that the technical premise has never been demonstrated outside its creator’s backyard.
CBS was satisfied with none of these explanations and preferred, again through an unblinking Rather, to offer an altogether new explanation for the backward motion. “Jackie pushed him!” (??) Yes, in her shock, she pushed him away. Again we turn to the film. Can we see it? Does she push? Is there the least sign of a pushing motion on her part? We go frame by frame again and again through the horrible sequence of images from Z-300 or so through 313 and on to 330. What could be clearer? He is knocked backwards out of her hands by a violent force. She is like a statue as he moves. CBS people can see that as readily as you and I. Then why do they say Jackie pushed him?
There are other indications that shots were fired from the front. Here are a few of these.
Another film of the assassination moment, this one taken by Orville Nix from the south side of Elm. He was on the inner mall of the plaza panning with the limousine from right to left. In much poorer quality exposures and with eye-level crowd interference, we nevertheless see everything in the Nix film we see in the Zapruder film, except from the other side – the president thrown backwards. We see Zapruder filming this. We also see the whole crowd on that side of the street reacting spontaneously as though they hear gunfire from the area of the grassy knoll and the railroad bridge.
Two thirds of the ninety witnesses whom Warren asked said the firing came from the grassy knoll area.
Two Parkland Hospital doctors, the first to reach and examine Kennedy upon his arrival at emergency, thought the hole in Kennedy’s neck was a would of entrance, not exit. A complete autopsy might have determined this one way or another, but the throat wound was never explored by the autopsy surgeons.
A Dallas policeman named Joe Smith, one of several policemen who hurried to the grassy knoll area and the shoulder of the railroad bridge in the belief that the gunfire had come from there, said he was summoned by a woman crying: “They are shooting the President from the bushes.” When he got to the knoll he found a man. He told the FBI, “I pulled my gun from my holster and I thought, ‘This is silly, I don’t know who I am looking for,’ and I put it back. Just as I did, he showed me he was a Secret Service agent.” Secret Service records, which I this respect are careful, show that no Secret Serviceman was assigned that area. No Secret Service agent afterward identified himself as the person confronted by Smith.
The Case Against Oswald
Here is the chain of evidence that convicts Oswald: The wounds to Kennedy and Connally are caused by CE399. The bullet CE399 was fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano found in the depository at the sixth-floor window. The Mannlicher-Carcano had been purchased from a mail-order gun supplier a few weeks before in the name of one A. Hidell. Oswald was carrying papers identifying him as Hidell at the time of his arrest.
The astonishing thing is that this is the entirety of the case against Oswald. Besides that chain of associations, the rest of the evidence comes down to an eyewitness who could not repeat his identification of Oswald at a police line-up and a photograph of the alleged assassin published to the whole world on the cover of Life which contained as plain as the nose on Oswald’s face the ocular proof of its totally bogus character.
First take up the links of this chain one by one.
1. The bullet’s link to the wounds: We have already seen how conjectural this link is . It simply does not appear that CE399 was fired into anything harder than a bale of cotton. No test, whether old technology or new, has ever established that any of the fragments found in Kennedy, in Connally, or on the floor of the car came from CE399.
2. The bullet’s link to the rifle: This is the Warren theory’s strong point. There is no doubt that CE399 was fired from a 6.5-mm Mannlicher-Carcano.
3. The rifle’s link to Oswald: As we have noted, Oswald did not own this rifle in his own name. He used the name A. Hiddell to buy it through the mail, said the Dallas police, who claimed the found papers on him identifying him as that person. The Alek Hidell whom Oswald supposedly pretended to be is reckoned by Warren to be the same A. Hidell who left off the Mannlicher-Carcano at a Dallas gunshop several weeks before the shooting to have the sight mounted.
The problems with this link are several. Fist, the gunshop tag showing that the weapon had been scopesighted was discounted by the commission itself as unverifiable and suspect because at the time “Hidell” brought it into the gunshop, Oswald was supposed to be in Mexico City. Second and most important, Warren’s only source for this Hidell information was the Dallas police, and the Dallas police cannot be relied on in this matter. Even one of the Commission’s members, Assistant Council (now Judge) Burt W. Griffin, has discredited the role of the Dallas police in the investigation, telling reporter Robert Kaiser in 1975, “I don’t think some agencies were candid with us. I never thought the Dallas police were telling us the entire truth. Neither was the FBI.
This is not to say that the rifle could not be Oswald’s. The Dallas police are not reliable in this case, but one may still not claim that they always lied in it, or presume that since it was the police who found the Hidell papers on Oswald, then the Hidell papers must be attributed to them as part of the frame-up; or that since it was the police who discovered the rifle at the depository window with its three spent shells neatly in a row against the wall and the cartridge jammed in the firing chamber, it must be the police who set the scene. It would be playing games to deny that there is a certain temptation toward saying the cops did it because who else could get away with it.
But there may be other answers to our questions going beyond current anticipations and fantasies. It would be better to wait for a real investigation, if only because of the likelihood that there are several cover stories hiding the truth of Dallas, of which the lone-Oswald cover story is only the most thinly transparent. Once the necessity for some conspiracy hypothesis is clearly and widely acknowledged, only then will the real arguments erupt. What kind of conspiracy? Left or right? Foreign or domestic? Private or public?
We are already seeing the Castro-plot theory recirculated.
ON the CBS News for April 24, 1975, Walter Cronkite screened for the first time some footage from his September 1969 interview with Lyndon Johnson which had formerly been suppressed to comply with a government request based on the usual standard of national security. CBS now revealed this footage, said Cronkite, because a columnist had lately given the secret away. Actually, it had been out of the bag since Leo Janos’s reminiscence of Johnson’s final days published in the Atlantic Monthly of July 1973, in which Janos quotes Johnson as saying that while he could “accept that Oswald pulled the trigger” he could not be sure the Commission had got to the bottom of it, and his hunch was that Oswald might have been linked to pro-Castro Cubans out for revenge for the Bay of Pigs.
So we have the first-degree cover story that Oswald was alone; now we have the second-degree cover story that Oswald was Castro’s agent. There are likely to be other stories increasingly difficult to challenge and explore from afar: The CIA did it. The FBI did it. The Secret Service did it. The Pentagon did it. The Dallas cops did it. The White Citizens Council did it. The Syndicate did it. The Texas oligarchy did it.
We have every citizenly need and right to voice our intuitions in this matter; we also have a citizenly right to force the questions politically on the basis of the flimsiness of the official case against Oswald, not on the basis of a necessarily speculative interpretation. No new interpretation could possibly be elaborated and defended in the absence of subpoena powers and a strong national commitment to find the truth. The issue is not whether I or someone else can tell you who killed JFK. The issue at the moment is whether or not the government has been telling or concealing the truth.
Next take the Life magazine cover photo of Oswald which appeared on February 21, 1964. People will find it easy to locate. They will see for themselves what might have been obvious at once to the whole world, and certainly to the photo lovers who put Life and the Warren Report together, namely, that this is a doctored photo, and more than that, it is a crudely doctored photo, and doctored more than once, by different hands, at different times.
At first glance, we see simply Oswald in his battle gear, more encumbered-seeming than menacing. In his left hand with the butt against his thigh is (possibly) the weapon of the sixth floor. In his right hand he shows us some literature of the Socialist Workers Party (the FBI’s favorite radical whipping boy; see Hoover’s antileft “conintelpros”). On his right hip is the pistol with which he is supposed to have slain patrolman Tippit.
But if we notice the shadows on Oswald’s face and the shadows his body casts, at once we see that they fall at obviously different angles. The shadow under his nose falls straight down, as though the sun were in front of him. All the other shadows in the photo, including the shadow of his body, fall off sharply to his right behind him, as though the sun were to his left. Then we notice how the entire body is standing seemingly at a gravity-defying angle.
A still closer look at Oswald’s face shows another give-away: the chin is not Oswald’s sharp cleft chin but a broad, round, blunt chin bearing no resemblance to Oswald’s at all. The horizontal line separating the face of Oswald from the rest of the body is also perfectly apparent once one looks.
Where did this bogus photo come from? It was said to have been found among Oswald’s effects by the Dallas police, who also produced another photo of Oswald armed, similarly doctored, taken with the same camera as the first. No other pictures in the collection had been taken by the camera, nor was the camera found among Oswald’s things.
But we said it was doctored more than once. The second time was in the photolab of the Time-Life building, where someone unknown, but with the authority to do so, told and illustrator to paint a telescopic sight on the rifle shown in the photo, something the rifle had when the police presented it to the world after the killing but not when this picture was taken. What could have possessed Time’s editors, that they would tamper in the least respect with this critical piece of evidence?
But there was to come yet a third and much worse tampering, again by the specialists of Time, Inc. In its issue of November 24, 1975, once more sallying forth to lay all doubts of the lone-Oswald theory to rest, Time reprinted this photo – rather, an artfully selected portion of it. For as though to solve the problem of the contradictory shadows, Time cut off the picture at Oswald’s knees, so there was simply no shadow on the ground to see. And as though to solve the problem of the tilting figure, Time rotated the whole photo a few degrees to straighten the sides and lightly airbrushing the background of fence and houses to obscure the fact that the background was now tilting crazily to the right.
What kind of journalism is this? The only possible innocuous explanation is ignorance, and how could ignorance un-aided have hit all these hidden bases so squarely? The layout man at Time is not an expert on Dealey Plaza, but surely the writers and editor of that story cannot claim such an excuse. How do we avoid drawing an inference of intentional deception.
To top it off, with the same article, Time printed a diagram of Dealey Plaza which totally mislocated the famous grassy knoll. As every schoolchild to the debate about JFK’s death learns on the first day in class, “grassy knoll” is a term used exclusively to refer to the area north of Elm up an incline towards the triple overpass, that is, the area to Zapruder’s right. But in the Time drawing the grassy knoll is shown at Zapruder’s left, just next to the depository.
Could this be another accidental slip? Certainly it is not trivial. The whole debate about JFK’s assassination hinges on the shots which Warren’s critics say came from this area, the grassy knoll. What gives so much concrete power to this claim is the massive congruity between the president’s reaction to the headshot and the response of the crowd: he is thrown backwards, and they, after a moment of shock, surge up the knoll in the direction they thought the shots were coming from. This area, of course, is totally separated from Oswald’s supposed perch in the depository at Zapruder’s left.
But on the other hand – as evidently occurred to someone – if the grassy knoll were next to the depository instead of at the other end of the Plaza from it, then the immensity of this problem for the Warren reconstruction of the crime would be lost on the newcomer to the dispute. The newcomer will look at Time’s diagram and justly conclude that, since the grassy knoll and the depository are next to each other, the conflict among the witnesses about the origin of the shots must not be so important.
The Case for Oswald as Patsy
Over and above the weakness of the case against him, Oswald has a handful of interesting positive arguments in his defense. One of these is that he may be visible (in the ubiquitous Altgens photo) in the crowd inside the depository entranceway at the very instant of the shooting. Another is that he was seen by a Dallas policeman and his boss at the depository, standing calmly in the lunch room on the second floor, a maximum of a minute and a half after shooting the president of the United States and the governor of Texas – supposedly – and supposedly having run down four flights of stairs in the meantime, Oswald showed not the least discomposure, Said another depository employee, “I had no thoughts…of him having any connection with it all because he was very calm.”
A different kind of evidence was introduced in 1975 with the so-called Psychological Stress Evaluator, PSE, an instrumental technique that came into being through the CIA efforts to improve the standard lie-detector test. Its technical premise is that the frequency patterns of normal, relaxed speech disappear under stress. A person can show stress and be telling the truth at the same time, say ex-CIA officer George O’Toole and other advocates of the PSE, but if there is no sign of stress, that is a positive indication of truthfulness. “Stress is a necessary but not sufficient condition of lying,” says O’Toole, “but the absence of stress is a sufficient condition of truthfulness.” The device has the added interest of being usable with any voice record, even on low-quality telephone tapes. Its inventors, says O’Toole, originally intended it as an additional channel in their conventional polygraph setup, but found in use that “the new variable was so reliable and accurate a measure of psychological stress that there was really no need to measure the other polygraph variables.”
Two acoustic tape recordings of Oswald’s voice denying his guilt are preserved, recorded during his stay in the Dallas jail between Friday and Sunday. O’Toole found one in the CBS archive. It contains the following exchange between Oswald and the press at midnight Friday in the basement of the jail, Oswald shackled between two policemen.
OSWALD: I positively know nothing about this situation here. I would like to have legal representation.
OSWALD: Well, I was questioned by a judge. However, I protested at that time that I was not allowed legal representation during that very short and sweet hearing. I really don’t know what this situation is about. Nobody has told me anything, except that I’m accused of murdering a policeman. I know nothing more than that. I do request someone to come forward to give me legal assistance.
REPORTER: Did you kill the President?
OSWALD: No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.
O’Toole tracked down the second specimen in the private collection of a conspiratorialist of Dallas, Al Chapman, in a Columbia Records audio documentary attack on Warren’s critics put out in 1966. Oswald speaks once on this record. O’Toole conjectures the recording was made while Oswald was being led along the crowded third-floor corridor of the police station that Friday night.
OSWALD: These people have given me a hearing without legal representation or anything.
REPORTER: Did you shoot the President?
OSWALD: I didn’t shoot anybody, no sir.
In both specimens, says O’Toole, Oswald shows low stress. The second, categorical denial “contains almost no stress at all.” O’Toole finds in this a proof “that Oswald was telling the truth, that he was not the assassin.” He has support in this judgment so far from several leading technical specialists and practitioners in the PSE field, although at the time of the publication of his book The Assassination Tapes in spring 1975, he says he had not sought expert endorsement. The only criticism of his findings so far is the criticism of the PSE method itself. Presumably this means that if the method is ound, then we have an acoustical companion piece to the Zapruder film. As the film shows us that others had to be shooting at Kennedy, the tape shows us that Oswald was not.
Oswald joined the Marines in 1957 and after basic training was sent to Atsugi, Japan, where one of the CIA’s larger out-front bases was located, a staging area at the time for covert operations into the Chinese mainland and for U-2 overflights.
In September 1959, tow months before normal mustering out, Oswald suddenly applied for a hardship discharge to take care of his mother, who had been slightly injured at work ten months before. Mother Oswald was supported by her regular doctor and an Industrial Accident Board when she denied that this or any other accident cost her any wage-earning capacity or that it was the real motive of her son’s hasty discharge. According to researcher Peter Dale Scott, “…the swift handling of Oswald’s release suggests that it was a cover: Oswald was being ‘sheep dipped’ [prior to] assignment to a covert intelligence role.” Scott points out that his immediate application for a passport for travel to Europe suggests that that role concerned his “defection” to the Soviet Union.
The commission was of course not interested in such speculation and decided to take the word of two CIA and five FBI officials that, in the Report’s words, “there was no, absolutely no type of informant or undercover relationship between an agency of the U.S. Government and Lee Harvey Oswald,” even though in its secret session of January, 27, 1964, the commission heard its own member say that the CIA and the FBI both would deny a connection with Oswald even if one existed.
From the moment of Oswald’s arrest, the story circulated to the effect that he indeed did enjoy such an FBI relationship. This story was finally passed on to the Warren Commission as a formal charge by Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr. Carr said he had learned from reliable informants (who turned out to be on the Dallas district attorneys’ staff) that Oswald got two hundred dollars every month from the FBI as an informer and that his FBI number was 179. On January 27, 1964, the commission went into a secret session to deliberate on this. The record of that meeting would not be released for ten years. The transcript shows Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin defnining the problem and the task: “We do have a dirty rumor that is very bad for the Commission… and it is very damaging for the agencies that are involved in it and it must be wiped out insofar as it is possible to do so by the Commission.”
But as spy-wise Commissioner Allen Dulles was quick to point out, even if Oswald was an agent for Hoover, it would never be possible to prove it because Hoover would deny it and there would be no way to prove him wrong. “I think under any circumstances,” said Dulles, “…Mr. Hoover would certainly say he didn’t have anything to do with this fellow….If he says no, I didn’t have anything to do with it, you can’t prove what the facts are.” Would Dulles lie in the same situation, asked the commissioners. Yes, said Dulles, and so would any other officer of the CIA. Whereupon the commission goes on to ask two CIA and five FBI officers if Oswald was secretly connected with their outfits, and records their answer that he was not as the basis of their official conclusion on the matter.
Discharged in record time from a CIA-related detachment of the Marines on a seemingly fabricated need to take care of a mother who was not infirm, Oswald stayed home a total of three days, then set off for the Soviet Union by way of France, England and Finland with a $1500 ticked purchased out of a $203 bank balance (never explained).
By 1960 he was in Moscow to stage a scene at the U.S. Embassy. First he renounced his American citizenship, then declared that he was about to give the Russians valuable military secrets. He was then shipped off by the Russians to a factory job in Minsk. There he met and married Marina Pruskova, the niece of a top Soviet intelligence official in the Ministry of the Interior.
He decided in 1962 that he now wanted to come back to the States. In spite of his former scene at the Embassy and the radar secrets and failure to recant, the State Department speedily gave him a new passport and an allotment of several hundred dollars of the return trip with Marina.
The Oswalds were met in the United Sttes by Spas T. Raikin, whome Warren identifies as an official of Travelers Aid. Warren knew, of course, but decided not to add that Raikin was also the former secretary general of the American Friends of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, a group with extensive ties to intelligence agencies in the Far East and Europe, including the Gehlen-Vlassov operation (chapter 2) and the CIA.
In April 1963, the Oswalds moved to New Orleans. According to former CIA official Victor Marchetti, Oswald at that time came into contact with Clay Shaw, now identified positively (by Marchetti) as a CIA officer. Shaw was also close to David Ferrie, an instructor at the guerilla training camps at which, at this point, militant anti-Castro exiles and possibly breakaway elements of the CIA were preparing raids if not new invasions of Cuba. This was the month in which Kennedy for the first time publicly acknowledged the existence of these bases and ordered them closed. The world does not now know what Oswald’s relationship to the CIA’s Shaw was, only that it existed (this by the testimony of nine witnesses). It was while this immediate association with the CIA was alight, however, that Oswald became the one-man New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, supposedly a pro-Castro organization.
The pro-Castro leaflets Oswald once distributed for this committee were stamped with the address, “544 Camp Street.” The commission found no evidence that Oswald kept an office there, but it did find the office of an anti-Castro group, the Cuban Revolutionary Council. We now know the Cuban Revolutionary Council was a CIA creation put together by Howard Hunt, and that the 544 Camp Street was a major headquarters of anti-Castro activity throughout that period.
In August 1963, while passing out his pro-Castro leaflets (something he did twice), Oswald got into a scuffle with some anti-Castro Cubans and was arrested by the New Orleans police. The first and only thing he said at the police department was that he wanted to speak to the FBI, a novel request for a leftwinger of that place, period and predicament. The agent appeared and Oswald got off quickly with a ten-dollar fine.
In September 1963 Oswald supposedly took a bus from New Orleans to Mexico City. His purpose is said to have been to obtain a Cuban travel visa. On October 1, the CIA cabled the State Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence to tell of information from a “reliable and sensitive source” that one Lee Henry Oswald had entered the Soviet Embassy. When the National Archives released a previously classified memo from Helms to the commission dated March 24, 1964, another piece fell into the puzzle: “On 22 and 23 November,” said Helms, “immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy, three cabled reports were received from [deleted] in Mexico City relative to photographs of an unidentified man who visited the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in that city during October and November 1963” (Commission Document 674, National Archives).
The original description of this Oswald in the CIA report ran like this: “The American was described as approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with a receding hairline.” Oswald was 24, about 5’8” and 160 pounds. Who was pretending to be Oswald at the Russian and Cuban embassies in Mexico City a month before this same Oswald allegedly was to shoot the president?
There is evidence actually of several Oswalds in circulation at this time. There is in the first place the presumptive original himself installed since late October in the depository. There is the thirty-five-year old Oswald in Mexico City freshening up the Red spoor at the Cuban and Soviet missions. There is the Oswald or Oswalds who move around Dallas just before the hit planting unforgettable memories of a man about to become an assassin: the Oswald of the firing range who fires cross-range into other people’s targets and then belligerently starts a long argument in which he carefully and loudly repeats his name; the Oswald of the used-car lot who sneers at Texas and the American flag and drives recklessly, though Oswald had no driver’s license and did not know how to drive; the Oswald who visited exile Sylvia Odio a few weeks before the assassination in the company of two anti-Castro militants at a time when the real Oswald (or is it the other way around?) is supposed to be in Mexico City. Who are all these Oswalds?
In another crucial Freedom of Information suit, Harold Weisberg forced the government to make and release the transcript of a theretofore untranscribed stenographer’s tape of another secret meeting of the Warren Commission on January 22, 1964. The transcript indicates that Congressman Gerald Ford suspected Oswald of being an informant for the FBI. Ford participated in a discussion concerning Oswald’s repeated use of post office boxes, an operating method characteristic of undercover FBI informants, and remarked on Oswald’s informer-like behavior in playing both sides of the wrangle between the Communists who identify with Stalin and the Communists who identify with Trotsky. “He was playing ball,” said for of Oswald, “writing letters, to both elements of the Communist Party. I mean, he’s playing ball with the Trotskyites and the others. This was a strange circumstance to me.”
In the meeting, Chief Counsel Rankin told the commissioners the FBI was behaving in an unusual way in the Oswald investigation and seemed to be attempting to close the case without checking out numerous leads into Oswald’s activities. On the final page of the thirteen-page transcript, Allen Dulles summed up his reaction to an Oswald connection to the FBI by saying, “I think this record out to be destroyed.”
Chapter Four to be Continued