As we have seen, a strong case can be made that John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- the first and only Catholic president -- had intensely upset intelligence and military circles in the U.S. with his stated efforts to reconcile with the U.S.S.R. following the Cuba missile crisis. There was also anger over the President's desire to seek better relations with Fidel Castro, halt conflict in Laos, and -- last but not least -- end America's direct involvement in Viet Nam. That Kennedy -- with the help of Pope John XXIII -- was attempting this is not commonly known. It was done in large part through diplomatic "back channels."
But it is all documented in extraordinarily meticulous detail (including personal interviews and 96 pages of footnotes) by Catholic author and theologian James W. Douglass in his book JFK and the Unspeakable, which poses the question: Was Kennedy assassinated as a result?
And the answer, says Douglass -- whose book has been lauded by the likes of Gaeton Fonzi, an investigator for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations, Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University, and Mark Lewis Taylor of Princeton Theological Seminary -- is yes: JFK was slain by American intelligence operatives.
It's no theory. He marshals tremendous evidence -- facts we have not seen before, and others we have forgotten or have not seen in proper context.
We approach this at a moment when we all recall September 11.
Before that attack, the Kennedy event was modern America's most traumatic -- and fraught with potential spiritual significance.
It still plagues us because we have never felt settled with official explanations and no one wants to think that factions in the U.S. government would kill the nation's leader (in the name of liberty, as well as for other reasons).
Yet it appears this is the case. We'll say at the outset that there is no final "smoking gun." There is no tape recording of intelligence agents meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald. There is no video of or confession from conspirators and additional gunmen.
Moreover, most conspiracy theories have strayed toward the anecdotal or hysterical. One famous case was built around a New Orleans businessman named Clay Shaw who government agencies have compellingly argued could not have been a linchpin in any such operation.
This book doesn't even mention him. Instead it first focuses on the foreign moves by Kennedy with which many military leaders -- as well as the Central Intelligence Agency -- not only disagreed but interpreted as dangerous and highly threatening to their branches of government. Indeed, Douglass recounts how, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco (whereby C.I.A. operatives were caught red-handed trying to provoke an all-out conflict with Cuba), Kennedy threatened to splinter the C.I.A. "into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds. " The agency had engineered the aborted attempt to invade that nation and as it happens was also working behind his back to undermine Asian and Cuban peace efforts -- including through assassination.
"In his short presidency, Kennedy began to take steps to deal with the C.I.A.," writes Douglass. "He tried to redefine the C.I.A.'s mandate and to reduce its power in his National Security Actions memoranda 55 and 57, which took military-type operations out of the hands of the C.I.A. President Kennedy then asked the three principal C.I.A. planners for the Bay of Pigs to resign: Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Richard Bissell, Jr., and Deputy Director General Charles Cabell." (After the assassination, Dulles was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission.)
JFK also moved quietly to cut the C.I.A. budget in 1962 and again in 1963, aiming at a twenty percent reduction. The "splintering" had begun. And the surreptitious foreign operations of the C.I.A., especially in Viet Nam and Cuba (where it had a special team called Alpha 66), were in great jeopardy.
Did this agency -- which beyond question had developed assassination units -- turn one of those teams on the President himself (in effect accomplishing a silent coup, as it had caused uprisings or coups in Asia, Central America, and elsewhere [see list])?
Until now, we have not been able to decide whether it was a lone gunman at Dallas or some sort of larger plot. For years -- for decades -- the notion of a conspiracy seemed out there on the fringe.
After reading this book, it seems so, perhaps, no longer.
Consider, according to Douglass:
-- That, incredibly and inexplicably, as Douglass details at length, Lee Oswald once worked at Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan, a super-secret base of operations for the C.I.A., with the express purpose, according to former C.I.A. financial officer Jim Wilcott, of "becoming a double agent assignment to the U.S.S.R."
-- That when Lee Harvey Oswald returned to the U.S. on June 13, 1962, after his supposed "defection" to the Soviet Union, he was met at U.S. Customs not with arrest and prosecution, but by Spas T. Raikin, a representative of the Travelers' Aid Society. He was granted a passport almost immediately.
Raikin at the time was secretary-general of an anti-Communist organization with extensive intelligence connections -- an unlikely source of support for Oswald, who supposedly had been a traitor. Or had he been a C.I.A. plant?
-- That there had been an assassination program attached to Cuba and known as "ZR/RIFLE" that used documents to falsely link it with Soviets or Czechs.
-- That when in the summer of the same year the Oswalds settled in Fort Worth, Texas, they were immediately befriended by a man named George de Mohrenschildt, who had traveled around the world as a geologist, consulting for Texas oil companies and doubling as an intelligence "asset."
De Mohrenschildt admitted in a 1977 interview that he had been given the okay to meet Oswald by J. Walton Moore, the Dallas C.I.A. Domestic Contacts Service chief.
On March 29, 1977 -- three hours after his revelation of contact with Oswald -- George de Mohrenschildt was found shot to death at a home where he was staying in Manalapan, Florida. He was one of many who died suspiciously after 1963 (one from karate wounds in a shower).
-- That Oswald or an Oswald look-alike was planted in Mexico City to approach the Russian embassy and make it seem like he wanted to turn Communist again -- which set him up as a "patsy" with a motive: abetting the U.S.S.R. (a favorite C.I.A. ploy in the 1960s).
-- That when he traveled to Mexico City, Oswald's tourist card number was 824085; the preceding number, 824084, was later identified as belonging to a C.I.A. agent named William Gaudet.
-- That the same occurred in New Orleans -- where Oswald moved in April of 1963 and found work at a coffee company owned by William B. Reily, a wealthy supporter of the C.I.A.-sponsored Cuban Revolutionary Council.
Indeed, those connected to clandestine C.I.A. operations in Cuba -- operations including the undermining of JFK's effort there -- weave in and out of subsequent events, especially Alpha 66. (In 1969, it was revealed that Reily "had worked for the C.I.A. for years.") A member of this unit, which functioned for the C.I.A. office in Miami, reportedly hinted to friends in the 1970s he had been involved in JFK's assassination and later Bobby's. His name was David Sanchez Morales and he also had been involved in Bay of Pigs and allegedly a coup in Guatemala. He was by reputation the C.I.A.'s top assassin in Latin America.
-- That when an official noted Oswald's "pro-Castro" leaflets, and saw him passing them around on a street in New Orleans (which, again, set him up, in the public's mind, later, as a Communist), a local private detective who was linked to the C.I.A. told the local official not to worry about Oswald: "He's with us." (Oswald apparently didn't realize that he was to be the fall guy.)
-- That Kennedy was originally to be assassinated by Oswald and several others in the Washington D.C. area on September 26, 27, 28, or 29, 1963, but this was delayed when informants relayed information to the F.B.I.
"Please advise me as to how I contact the [Communist] Party in the Baltimore-Washington area, to which I shall relocate in October," Oswald had written.
The counterintelligence agent who revealed this, Richard Case Nagell, soon after, on November 1, 1995, was found dead in Los Angeles and a personal trunk in his home said to contain audio of Oswald and two other operatives disappeared at the same time from the home of Nagell's son -- who was seeking his father's possessions -- was ransacked.
-- That after Washington, the plan was to kill Kennedy in Chicago on November 2. There was even an Oswald-like patsy put in place named Thomas Arthur Vallee; like Oswald weeks later, he to was situated in a warehouse above Kennedy's route. (This plot was disrupted when the Secret Service got wind of Vallee and contacted local police, who put surveillance on this would-be scapegoat, a former Marine. Vallee, one must also note, had been assigned at a U-2 base at Camp Otsu in Japan; the U-2 was under direction of the C.I.A.)
-- That Oswald's job at the Book Depository was arranged through the help of a woman named Ruth Paine, who had expertise in psychology and had been introduced to the Oswalds by De Mohrenschildt. (Paine was also the younger sister of a C.I.A. employee and once had lived near headquarters. She not only helped get Oswald the job at the depository -- on October 16, just over a month before the killing -- but joined the Oswalds in New Orleans, ostensibly to drive Marina Oswald back to Texas.)
-- That Jack Ruby had ties to the C.I.A. when, among his various enterprises, he reportedly ran guns to Cuba. He also had associations with the Mafia, which long had interests in Cuba and was used on occasion by the C.I.A. (including in a famous failed plot to kill Castro).
-- That a woman named Julia Ann Mercer, who worked at a Dallas automat, claimed to have seen a pickup truck in Dealey Plaza an hour and a half before Kennedy's motorcade came through and asserted that a man on the passenger side had walked around the truck and took what looked like a rifle case wrapped in newspaper from the back before heading in the direction of what is now notorious as the "grassy knoll."
Right after the assassination, when shown photos by the F.B.I., Mercer identified the driver of the pickup -- not yet nationally know -- as one whose photo bore the name "Jack Ruby." (And a day later, when she saw him on television -- killing Oswald -- she definitively identified Ruby again.) Her report was later altered, despite her credibility: she would end up the wife of a congressman.
-- That one of Ruby's best friends was the owner of a Dallas radio station who had a background in intelligence work.
-- That a woman who used to work for Jack Ruby at his nightclub and also knew Oswald was found dead on a highway at three a.m. on September 4, 1965, with her suitcases on the road. If that was not strange enough, the results of her autopsy later disappeared.
-- That military and intelligence officials oversaw Kennedy's autopsy, which instead of occurring at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas -- as per normal protocol -- was done at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where what initial doctors had described as a massive wound in the back of President Kennedy's head (indicating a shot from the front, not from the back, which is where it would have originated if from the Book Depository) was suddenly no longer so evident.
-- That a photographer named William Bruce Pitzer who filmed the autopsy -- and had photographic slides of the back wound -- was soon after (on October 29, 1966) shot to death, his body found on the floor of a production studio of the National Medical Center.
-- That a former Special Forces officer in the Green Berets, Colonel David Marvin, claimed he had been asked by the C.I.A. to assassinate Pitzer.
Marvin made this admission as a born-again Christian -- calling Pitzer's wife with the admission.
-- That famed newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen -- who gained an exclusive visit with Ruby behind closed doors and was subsequently hounded by the F.B.I. -- mysteriously died in her Manhattan home.
-- That the Soviet K.G.B. had gotten wind of the assassination plot.
There is far more and it is intricately -- sometimes numbingly -- detailed by Douglass in a way that smacks like nothing in the realm of conspiracists.
This is an academic work.
It is also a work of investigative reporting.
Last but not least, it is by a Catholic who puts it all in the category of actual evil -- what (quoting famed monk Thomas Merton) he calls "the unspeakable."
And so it goes. There is more.
Is it not incredible that the mainstream media -- with thousands of reporters -- have never approached this?
Where was Woodward? Where was Bernstein?
To be fair: that the C.I.A. was at least peripherally involved in some fashion seems incontrovertible but impossible to legalistically prove (in part due to the many other untimely deaths in the wake of JFK's assassination). Many of the "suspicious" deaths are disputed as being so suspicious. Some say, for example, that Kilgallen never really had a substantial talk with Ruby, and that she died twenty months afterward, falling over a railing. There are also disputes over how Pitzer died, along with others (including de Mohrenschildt, who some claim suffered mental illness and killed himself). The woman on the highway was the victim of a hit and run (she was a prostitute and drug addict). There also has been doubt cast on the account of the former Green Beret who said he was asked to kill Pitzer.
Were these deaths all coincidence?
But it seems overwrought -- the idea of happenstance -- when it's all placed together.
Aside from the motive of bureaucratic forces wanting to stop Kennedy from ending military and Cold war conflicts, and fearful of his vow to dismantle the C.I.A. -- as well as reorder the military -- there are those who claim, with far less documentation, but still in an interesting way, that there were other influences as well. Says one: "why they didn't want him around, they being the One-World Internationalist cabal: Kennedy was warning the nation against secret societies and also had plans to place the Federal Reserve under the jurisdiction of U.S. government which the Internationalists resented. The plan wasn't only to kill him but to smear his reputation, even attributing to him the ensuing evils which they themselves had planned. The assassination marked a turning point in the history of our country. Both JFK and the U.S. were shot on November 22, 1963, and our nation has since been dying a slow death."
Was there a Masonic element? J. Edgar Hoover was a Freemason. So was Lyndon Johnson (who Jackie Kennedy suspected). Freemasonry is not exactly in tune with Catholicism.
But there is no evidence of either of those two high officials being involved and probably, if a conspiracy, as recounted by Douglass, it was basically a foreign-affairs C.I.A. thing.
This is hardly to say that President Kennedy was perfect. But it is time to get to the root. In fact, it seemed like the Sixties saw a tremendous surge of evil that remains with us. "One of the awful facts of our age," wrote Merton, "is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable."