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The Kennedy Assassination and the Current Political Moment

“James Angleton was the mastermind not of the Bay of Pigs (that was Richard Bissell), but of a false defector program that sent spies into the Soviet Union. Among them was one Lee Harvey Oswald.” – Joan Mellen

Transcript of a lecture given on January 28, 2007 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City

by Joan Mellen

It happened going on 44 years ago; yet, the murder of President Kennedy remains simultaneously a subject of fascination and taboo within mainstream discourse. You will not find a free exchange of views on the Kennedy assassination in the New York Times nor, to date, an acknowledgement of the unanswered questions arising from 9/11. This past November, I spoke at a Jewish Senior Center on the Upper West Side, where the director remarked that the Times had listed the lecture the week before and the week after. My talk on the Kennedy assassination had slipped down the memory hole.

I’m grateful to the 92nd Street Y for the liberalism of outlook and independence of mind that made this evening possible. The Kennedy assassination will not go away, and I’ll try to explain why, heartened as I am by the fact that the former governor of Minnesota, Arne Carlson, gave a speech in November entitled “The JFK Assassination: Its Impact on America’s History.” That’s my subject as well: How the Kennedy assassination illuminates the present political moment.

James Jesus Angleton

The Kennedy assassination is present even in its absence in the recent film, The Good Shepherd, a movie about the CIA. Its central character, played by Matt Damon, is based largely on the late head of CIA Counter Intelligence, James Jesus Angleton. The distortions of the film return us to the meaning of the Kennedy assassination.

James Angleton in real life was the mastermind not, as the film suggests, of the Bay of Pigs (that was Richard Bissell), but of a false defector program that sent spies into the Soviet Union. Among them was one Lee Harvey Oswald. This talk is based on interviews I conducted for my book, A Farewell to Justice, as well as new interviews since its publication a year ago. I refer also to some of more than four million documents released under the JFK Records Collection Act at the National Archives.

An FBI document demonstrates that Oswald, who was indeed one of Angleton’s assets in the Soviet Union, communicated back to the CIA through a CIA asset at American Express named Michael Jelisavcic. One of my discoveries for A Farewell to Justice was the original of a note that Oswald, arrested in New Orleans for a street fight, handed to police lieutenant, Francis Martello.

One CIA document refers to an FBI “65” file, an espionage file, for Jelisavic, a reference inadvertently unredacted when CIA declassified the document. This number clearly directs CIA to an espionage file. Oswald also had Jelisavcic’s name and room number in his possession. Angleton’s false defector program, not mentioned in The Good Shepherd, remains among the CIA’s most closely guarded secrets; a secret necessary to preserve the fiction of the Warren Report.

Otto Otepka

The figure of Lee Harvey Oswald, and his peculiar biography as a low-level intelligence agent, continues to haunt those whose paths he crossed. After A Farewell to Justice was published, I drove down Alligator Highway in Central Florida to interview a very interesting nonagenarian named Otto Otepka. Mr. Otepka was high up in State Department security under the Eisenhower administration and into the 1960s. Routinely, he came upon the names of people who had defected, and whom it was his job to investigate for security purposes.

Highly commended for his diligence, Mr. Otepka displayed to me a wall filled with a display of framed commendations, including one signed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on behalf of President Eisenhower. (In these times President Eisenhower seems to be a bonafide liberal, not only for his prescient remark about the military industrial complex, but for another of his observations, that most of America has accepted the idea of the New Deal, but for a few oil millionaires in Texas).

Otepka saw at once that there was something unusual about Lee Oswald, “tourist.” As he placed this list of defectors into his security safe, Mr. Otepka planned to request that the CIA look into this individual. A nighttime burglary, obviously an inside job, resulted in this file vanishing. Soon Otto Otepka was demoted to an inconsequential post, writing summaries of documents. Oswald’s “defection” was not to be scrutinized.

This all took place in the early sixties. In the year 2006, The Good Shepherd still could not mention Angleton’s false defector program, which would have driven the film to the door of the Kennedy assassination. Instead the film conveniently closes in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs.

Oswald CIA Courier

In A Farewell to Justice I demonstrate that Oswald was an employee of the CIA; a fact recently re-confirmed by historian Michael Kurtz. Professor Kurtz reports on an interview he did in 1981 with Hunter Leake, second in command at the New Orleans field office. Leake admitted that the CIA used Oswald as a courier, and that Oswald came to New Orleans in April 1963 because the CIA office intended to use him for certain operations. Leake either was disaffected from the Agency, or, perhaps, was just an honest man. He admitted that he personally paid Oswald various sums of cash for his services. Oswald was on the CIA payroll; Leake himself had paid Oswald’s CIA salary.

Leake also explained in this telephone interview with Professor Kurtz why there was no documentation on Oswald’s employment with CIA in New Orleans. After President Kennedy’s assassination, he drove the files personally to Langley, Virginia. They were so voluminous that he had to rent a trailer to transport them. Shouldn’t revelations from so credible a source have made the newspapers?

In A Farewell to Justice, I write for the first time that Oswald had also been enlisted by U.S. Customs in New Orleans—information I gleaned from the documents deposited at the National Archives by the Church Committee. Not a single newspaper or magazine or television program chose to notice this astonishing revelation. I show how the framing of Oswald in Louisiana by the CIA began even before the shooting in Dallas.

As you study the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, you discover repeatedly that the press relinquished its freedom more than forty years ago. The latest document I was sent came from the LBJ library in Austin. Dated 1967, it was a telegram from the “Newsweek” columnist, Hugh Aynesworth, to George Christian, Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary. Aynesworth was announcing that he was sending the President, in advance of publication, his latest attack on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the better for the President to take steps against Garrison’s investigation.

CIA releases once marked “Secret” are filled with revelations of how reporters, such as Al Burt, the Latin America editor of the Miami Herald, visited the CIA to be instructed on what was and was not in the Agency’s interest that he print. There are precedents for our present co-opted press, from FOX to CNN, its twin. Even Keith Olbermann on MSNBC seems unduly cautious.

E. Howard Hunt

In his memoir, American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond, long-time CIA operative E. Howard Hunt suggests that Lyndon Johnson should be viewed as the prime suspect in “having Kennedy liquidated.” It seems clear that Hunt, age 88, was still engaged in the business of drawing attention away from the massive evidence connecting CIA to the assassination.1 Lyndon Johnson, the direct beneficiary of the assassination, seemed to Hunt a likely target.

Hunt was far too clever to regurgitate J. Edgar Hoover’s disinformation that the Mafia planned and then covered up this crime. His obvious intention was to provide a false sponsor, someone other than the Agency. Even Hunt didn’t bother to revive the fantasy that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or acted at all, in the assassination.

The Warren Commission lawyers could find no motive for Oswald’s shooting of President Kennedy, even as they blamed him. You might well ask, what, then, was the CIA’s motive? Return to 1963 and the pressure by both the CIA’s clandestine service and the Pentagon for a full-scale invasion of Cuba. President Kennedy opposed an American invasion of Cuba as not in the national interest, just as he had no intention of embedding us in the quagmire of a ground war in Vietnam. The first Texas President profited from John F. Kennedy’s murder, and did the bidding of those forces John Kennedy opposed.

Richard Reeves’ 1994 biography, President Kennedy: Profile of Power, quotes President Kennedy’s fury at the sabotage of his presidency by the CIA. In the one true political moment in The Good Shepherd, Kennedy threatens to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and cast them to the winds. “I’ll get those CIA bastards if it’s the last thing I do,” Kennedy said, famously, underestimating his adversaries. The CIA’s “Executive Action” (“murder”) capability was in place by 1963; it had already been involved in the murder and/or attempted murders of various heads of state, efforts which are outlined in detail in the papers of the Church Committee.

Bobby Kennedy

Our mainstream press manages to avoid confronting the Church Committee documents, writing about the CIA as if it had no history, but was born in the aftermath of 9/11. They are particularly unwilling to connect our present political morass to past events. Foreign reporters have not been similarly restrained. On a magazine segment on BBC-2 which aired on November 20, 2006, documentarian Shane O’Sullivan revealed an extraordinary photograph connecting the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy. You won’t find this information in that other Kennedy movie of this season, Bobby.

The press photographs (shown on page __) were taken at the Ambassador Hotel on the evening of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, where a crowd had gathered to celebrate his victory in the California primary. Pictured standing together were three high level CIA operatives. One was Gordon Campbell, the second in command at JM-WAVE, the big CIA station in Miami, from which emanated plans for the sabotage of Cuba and the assassination of Fidel Castro.

With Campbell was a long-time CIA operative named David Sanchez Morales, who worked with CIA propaganda expert David Atlee Phillips, a figure I discuss at length in A Farewell To Justice. Morales had assisted Phillips in the 1954 coup against President Arbenz in Guatemala. Morales’ lawyer, Robert J. Walton, had quoted his client to the government investigator in Miami, Gaeton Fonzi: “I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch, and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”

Morales was also close to a CIA operative named Felix Rodriguez, famously present at the murder of Che Guevara in Bolivia. He came away with Guevara’s wristwatch. Rodriguez was so close to George H. W. Bush that he included photographs with the Bushes in his autobiography. Present in Dallas that November morning of the 22nd were not only George H. W. Bush, shortly to depart for Tyler, then return that afternoon to Dallas, but also Richard Nixon. Neither Bush nor Nixon, of course, staged the shooting itself, but it does seem odd that they were in Dallas along with David Atlee Phillips.

The third unlikely well-wisher of Robert Kennedy in this trio was CIA psychological warfare specialist, George Joannides. Joannides was CIA handler in Miami for an anti-Castro group called DRE (Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil). Lee Oswald’s adversary in his street scuffle in New Orleans was a man named Carlos Bringuier, who claimed to be the DRE representative in New Orleans. Both were arrested. All trails lead to Lee Harvey Oswald. That street fight was clearly staged, as I show in my book.

I also discovered what Oswald actually said to Lieutenant Francis Martello, which Martello chose not to share with the Warren Commission: “Call the FBI. Tell them you have Lee Oswald in custody.” Yet another recently declassified FBI document once marked “Secret” reveals information given to the Bureau by a CIA officer. Dated 11/23/63, it confirms that Oswald was indeed a shared agent of both agencies.

It may be (here I’ll speculate), that the street fight on Canal Street that established Oswald as pro-Castro, purveyor of leaflets for “Fair Play For Cuba,” was a propaganda victory by Joannides, whose specialty was psychological warfare. Five years later, Joannides apparently stands awaiting the impending murder of Robert F. Kennedy. There was a complete blackout in the U.S. media of O’Sullivan’s BBC segment, but on the website of the London Guardian, you can find a report entitled, “Did The CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy?”

George H.W. Bush

I’m sure many in this audience are aware of the third recent moment at which the Kennedy assassination has surfaced. There are a few scant degrees of separation between the two Bush presidents, the role of the CIA in the Kennedy assassination, and Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA asset. This surprising invocation of the Kennedy assassination occurred on January 2, 2007 at the funeral of President Gerald Ford, the last surviving member of the Warren Commission. I’ll read this extraordinarily revealing paragraph from George H.W. Bush’s eulogy, for those who missed it:

After a deluded gunman assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness – and a conspiracy theorist can say what they will – but the Warren Commission report will always have the final definitive say on this matter. Why? Because Gerry Ford put his name on it and Gerry Ford’s word was always good.

Allow me to add that when amendments were offered to the Freedom of Information Act, enlarging public access to affairs of state, Gerald Ford vetoed the bill; only to have Congress to override his veto. Ford was no more a supporter of the truth than Mr. Bush’s son. George H. W. Bush’s own word was not always so good either. There are powerful reasons why George H. W. Bush was motivated to invoke the Warren Report, even, amazingly, to refer to a “conspiracy theorist”—as if that designation would at once banish some truths he does not want available. There are only two degrees of separation between George H.W. Bush and Lee Harvey Oswald.

At his 1976 confirmation hearings for the post of Director of Central Intelligence, a post into which he was elevated by Gerald Ford, Bush denied that he had any prior connection to the CIA. This was a falsehood. A CIA document at the National Archives and posted on the Internet (Record Number 104-10310-10271) reveals that in 1953, when George H.W. Bush founded Zapata Oil, his partner was one Thomas J. Devine—an oil wildcatter and long-time CIA staff employee. Thomas Devine’s name does not appear in the original papers of Zapata, but it does in the company Bush created shortly thereafter as “Zapata Offshore.”

This CIA document reveals that Thomas Devine had informed George Bush of a CIA project with the cryptonym, WUBRINY/LPDICTUM. It involved CIA proprietary commercial operations in foreign countries. By 1963, Devine had become not a former CIA employee, but “a cleared and witting contact” in the investment banking firm which managed the proprietary corporation WUSALINE. WUBRINY involved Haitian operations, in which, the documents reveal, a participant was George de Mohrenschildt, the Dallas CIA handler of Lee Oswald.

In late April 1963, in Haiti, de Mohrenschildt appeared to discuss investment possibilities. The CIA officer, the author of the document, named only as WUBRINY/1, had no idea of de Mohrenschildt’s long-standing CIA connections, and in particular his role in shepherding Oswald in Dallas. De Mohrenschildt could safely pursue CIA interests in Haiti because in that month of April 1963 Lee Oswald (his charge) moved from Texas to New Orleans on the orders of the CIA, reporting to Hunter Leake.

A May 22, 1963 CIA document has de Mohrenschildt admitting he had “obtained some Texas financial backing” and had visited interested people in Washington regarding the candidacy of one M. Clemard Joseph Charles for President of Haiti, “as soon as Duvalier can be gotten out.” We are reminded of CIA’s efforts to influence the political configurations of other countries. An obvious example is the CIA’s obliging of British Petroleum—for a price—in the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and his replacement by the Shah.

To summarize: George H.W. Bush is linked in April 1963, seven months before the Kennedy assassination, to a CIA project involving Lee Oswald’s handler, Count Sergei Georges de Mohrenschildt, through his own CIA partner, Thomas Devine. Bush and Devine later traveled to Vietnam together, a trip for which the Department of Defense issued Devine an interim “Top Secret” clearance. No surprise there: Devine obviously had never left the Agency.

On the day Gaeton Fonzi was to interview de Mohrenschildt for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, de Mohrenschildt was shot, and his death ruled a suicide. Fonzi’s card was in his pocket. Joseph McBride’s Nation article (“The Man Who Wasn’t There: George Bush, CIA Operative, July 16, 1988), exposed how George H.W. Bush was debriefed by the FBI about the Kennedy assassination on November 23rd . The inadvertently released document refers to “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency.” Bush claimed it was a different George Bush, George William Bush, who worked for the Agency. But it wasn’t so. George William came forward to say he was never debriefed by anyone.

Every road leads to the assassination of President Kennedy. What should also give us pause is that these documents about Zapata Offshore, which had offices on several continents but never did much business, were released under the JFK Act as Kennedy assassination documents. So it is the Agency itself, not the dreaded “conspiracy theorists,” that links George H.W. Bush with the Kennedy assassination. Or it’s the government that is the ultimate “conspiracy theorist.”

A Farewell to Justice was published in November 2005. In the intervening time, new documents have emerged that corroborate my view that the Central Intelligence Agency planned, supervised and implemented the assassination of President Kennedy. Those who claim that we will never know what happened to President Kennedy would do well to spend some time at the National Archives.

©2007 Joan Mellen is the author of A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination and the Case That Should Have Changed History (www.joanmellen.net), available from The Last Hurrah, 937 Memorial Ave, Williamsport, PA 17701 (570) 321-1150. She is also the author of Jim Garrison: His Life and Times, The Early Years, available at www.jfklancer.com. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is the author of several books, ranging from film criticism to fiction, true crime and biography.

Endnotes

1. According to Hunt’s son, Saint John, Hunt left a more specific two-page deathbed memorandum, explaining how Frank Sturges had attempted to enlist him in the Kennedy assassination, which, according to this fragment, was being masterminded by Lyndon Johnson. Involved also were CIA murder specialist William Harvey, CIA officer out of Counter Intelligence named Cord Meyer, David Atlee Phillips, against whom there is massive evidence indeed, and a few others. According to Saint, as he is called in Rolling Stone, Hunt said, no thanks. He didn’t want to be involved in any operation with William Harvey. Instinct if nothing else suggests that Hunt was settling old scores with those in the Agency with whom he had issues. There is no way to corroborate any of these accusations made by Hunt, deathly ill and, as another of his children suggests, drifting in and out of clarity. If nothing else, this Hunt brouhaha suggests that “deathbed confessions,” if that’s what this is, are specious sources of historical information. (“The Last Confession of E. Howard Hunt,” Rolling Stone, April 5, 2007)

ADDENDUM

Shane O’Sullivan’s documentary “Who Shot Bobby Kennedy?,” which aired in the UK on November 20, 2006, revealed photographic evidence that three senior CIA operatives were present at the scene of RFK’s assassination. Present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968 were David Morales (who was Chief of Operations), Gordon Campbell (who was Chief of Maritime Operations), and George Joannides (who was Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations). Although Sirhan Sirhan – a Palestinian – was arrested as the lone gunman, witnesses placed his gun several feet in front of Kennedy, while the autopsy showed the fatal shot came from one inch behind. Even under hypnosis Sirhan remembers nothing, and psychiatrists have stated Sirhan may have been in a hypnotic trance. (BBC Newsnight, 11/21/06; pics from Shane O’Sullivan’s website: http://www.rfkmustdie.com/)

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