by DALE K. MYERS
In a recent article for Slate, author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum wrote this about the Kennedy assassination:
“I’ve become convinced that, 50 years after the act, a real reporter—not some chat-room know-it-all—has through actual, on the ground, person-to-person investigation, through nonstop digging, tugging at the tangled heart of the mystery, brought us to the brink of an answer. An achievement that, I believe, merits the Pulitzer Prize and the thanks of a grateful nation.”
Rosenbaum was speaking of New York Times reporter Philip Shenon and his 2013 book about the assassination, A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination. The book targets Oswald’s sojourn in Mexico City seven weeks before killing the President as a key to the case.
Rosenbaum could just as easily been referring to author David Kaiser, (The Road to Dallas), who seems to have just recently discovered the CIA’s Mexico City chronology, and has made much of it on online forums. Kaiser also discusses the contentions of the former US Ambassador to Mexico Thomas Mann as if they were also something newly discovered.
Apparently, when authors, buffs, bloggers, and the mainstream media first learn about “breaking developments” in the Kennedy case, no matter how stale that information may actually be, it’s news to them.
The concept of citing old news as new news has always been a problem in investigative journalism, but it seems downright rampant in the JFK case (i.e., the wallet “found” at the Tippit murder scene, the Secret Service shooter, etc.) especially when it comes to Oswald in Mexico.
I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: not vetting rehashed “new” allegations, or being blind to actual new information about the case, especially regarding Mexico City.
Both Rosenbaum and Kaiser either skimmed Gus Russo’s and Stephen Molten’s 2008 book Brothers In Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder, which preceded Shenon’s by five years, or didn’t read it at all. That book, which regrettably was barely noticed by the media, utilized not only the CIA chronology and the Mann information, but also an international roster of previously un-interviewed intelligence contacts, audio tapes, and documents; it contained more new Cuban/Mexico City leads to chew on than dozens of JFK books. Some simple vetting of Shenon’s revelations would have lead to Russo’s long under appreciated work.
Thankfully, the ambitious book was not overlooked by everyone. Renowned first-generation assassination author Edward J. Epstein considers Brothers in Arms to be one of the most important books on the assassination.
“If you’re interested in the answer to [the assassination] puzzle,” Epstein recently said, “this is the book that comes closest to it.” [“JFK Assassination Q & A with Edward J. Epstein,” November 2013, powerlineblog.com] He elaborated for The Wrap, naming Brothers as one of the six essential books on the case:
“PBS Frontline contributor Gus Russo and novelist Stephen Molton pull back the curtain on the antipathy that Raul and Fidel Castro had for John and Robert Kennedy, a hatred that was reciprocated. The book looks at the impact that the American government’s Latin American adventures and plots to depose Castro may have had in inspiring Oswald’s decision to target the president. Exhaustively researched, unfailingly provocative, it’s a reminder of the ways that the Cold War constantly threatened to get hot.” [Lang, Brent, "JFK Author Picks 7 Essential Assassination Books and Movies," Nov. 14, 2013, thewrap.com]
I couldn’t agree more and have said so on the pages of this blog. (See: “Brothers In Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder”)
In truth, the Russo-Molten book was an elaboration on Russo and world-renowned investigative journalist Wilfried Huismann’s 2006 German television documentary Rendezvous With Death, which again presented groundbreaking evidence of, among other things, Cuban complicity with Oswald – the same ground now being marveled at by the likes of Rosenbaum, CBS television’s Bob Schieffer, and others who think Shenon has uncovered new evidence in the case.
To be fair, Shenon has added to the Cuban story, but his revelations (presented in the last six pages of his 600-page book) only confirm what Russo-Molten exposed five years ago in Brothers and what Russo-Huismann revealed two years before that in Rendezvous.
One of Europe’s most renowned investigative journalists and documentarians, known for his sources inside many intelligence services, Wilfried “Willi” Huismann has been working for German television since 1987 specializing in hard-hitting investigative pieces. Think 60 Minutes alum Mike Wallace on steroids.
Huismann may not be known to American audiences, but the staggering list of prestigious awards he’s garnered world-wide stands as a testament to his tenacity and skill as a world-class documentary filmmaker. He is the three-time winner of the Adolf-Grimme-Award (the most respected German television award), the Herbert Quandt Award, the Friedrich-Vogel Award, and the 1999 U.S. Academy Award for Best Documentary for which Huismann found and filmed the only surviving member of the 1972 Munich Olympics Palestinian terrorist assassination team. Even the vaunted Israeli Mossad couldn’t do what Huismann managed to accomplish.
Having worked together years before on a film about Marita Lorenz, Huismann and Russo decided in 2004 to explore the Big Kahuna: the Cuban intelligence angle (especially in Mexico City) to the Oswald story.
“Willi had made more than twenty-five research trips to Cuba and Central and South America by the time we met,” Russo said. “He was fluent in Spanish and suggested that with his background and my knowledge of the Kennedy case, we could really make some headway into an area that was ripe for investigation – Oswald’s trip to Mexico City and his alleged Cuban connections. My research would provide the leads and questions, and Willi’s unparalleled connections would get the right people to answer them.”
It was during the early stage of the project that Russo obtained the CIA surveillance tapes of the Cuban Embassy. They now sit in the National Archives, and, like Brothers in Arms, have been largely ignored.
Old as new
Shenon’s book also either ignores or re-states as new much of what was in Brothers.
During April to June, 2013, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon re-interviewed several of the persons discussed, and interviewed, at length in Brothers – Silvia Duran (a decidedly short interview in which Duran scoffed at the idea that Oswald was at the twist party or that she had dated him), Oscar Contreras (the former law student turned columnist who had befriended Oswald in his efforts to obtain a Cuban visa; and who now claimed that he also saw Oswald at a reception at the Cuban Embassy), and Helena “Elenita” Paz (who re-confirmed that Oswald had indeed attended the Duran twist party).
The heart and soul of new information in Shenon’s book about Oswald’s escapades in Mexico City centers around two new eyewitness interviews – Lidia Duran Navarro (a former sister-in-law of Silvia Duran, who told Shenon that Silvia Duran admitted to her years ago that she had met Oswald for a lunch date at Sanborn’s restaurant, a popular Mexican chain near the Cuban consulate) and Fransico Guerrero Garro (Elena Garro’s nephew, who had also been at the Duran twist party with his aunt and saw Oswald there). [A Cruel and Shocking Act, pp.550-56]
Yet, even these additional details only confirm what Brothers declared years ago.
In the wake of Shenon’s book, I recently re-read Brothers, and since few others seem to be taking the time, I decided that I’d make it easy for readers to get a sense of what they’ve missed. Herewith is just a sampling of the new information contained in Rendezvous and Brothers in Arms:
- According to both KGB and G2 sources, the Cubans were aware of Oswald from the moment he arrived back in the United States in 1962. [Brothers, pp.184-187] Everything Oswald did – from shooting at General Edwin A. Walker (who had been barnstorming the country calling for Castro’s ouster), to leafleting, to starting an FPCC chapter, to wanting to kill Nixon, to wanting to hijack a plane to Cuba, to wanting to name his new baby “Fidel,” to naming himself “Hidell” – was done to impress his Cuban contacts. It didn’t work. Oswald’s trip to Mexico City in the fall of 1963, with his activist “resumé” in hand, was another effort to prove his usefulness to the Cuban cause.
- The FPCC, far from being some mild-mannered group with left-leaning academic sympathies, was in fact partially funded by Havana and had mobilized a horrific plan for a terrorist attack on New York in 1962 that would have killed thousands. The chief terrorist was smuggled into the country by Cuban UN representative Carlos Lechuga, who some say had an affair with Silvia Duran when he was stationed in Mexico City. After thwarting the plot at the last minute, FBI agents were brought to Washington, D.C. and given special citations by RFK. [Brothers, pp.190, 169, 227-229, 401]
- Marina Oswald was a sleeper agent. [Brothers, pp.162-164] In 2013, KGB US operations chief Oleg Kalugin corroborated that fact, but went even further: Marina was assigned to get close to Oswald when they first met. [See Russo’s“Where Were You?” p. 78] It’s important to note that the FBI wiretaps of Marina made during the months after the assassination, have never been released.
- The Cuban G2 gave Oswald enough money in late 1962 to pay off his State Department loan, although they had no idea that he had done so with the money they gave him. The Warren Commission was stumped as to how Oswald managed to pay off that loan, and remained a mystery until Brothers was released. [Brothers, pp.224, 244-245]
- Rolando Cubela (CIA code name: AMLASH) was a double agent for Fidel from the get-go, which means that Fidel Castro knew everything the Kennedys were doing in their bid to assassinate him. [Brothers, pp.225, 270, 294-95] Castro also knew about the AMLASH plots from KGB spy Jack Dunlap, who had infiltrated the CIA’s Staff D, where the AMLASH operation was housed. [Brothers, pp.267-270]
- Cuban agents first tried to assassinate JFK in 1962 when he visited Mexico City. [Brothers, pp.182-183]
- The Cuban Embassy in Mexico City is known to have coordinated other assassinations. [Brothers, pp.282-283] See also the book’s online appendix on the history of Cuban intelligence, assassination and terrorism: http://cuban-exile.com/doc_451-475/doc0451.html
- Cubans and Mexicans with mixed loyalties were manning many of the CIA listening posts. [Brothers, pp.276]
- The Cuban Embassy was aware of CIA’s bugs and photo surveillance [Brothers, p.283; see also Anthony Summers, Conspiracy] Much of what was done in the public rooms was merely putting on a show for the CIA. Serious conversations were held elsewhere.
- The Hotel del Comercio, where Oswald stayed while in Mexico City, was not just any hotel, but a hotbed of pro-Castro activists. [Brothers, pp.304]
- The tape recordings of Oswald in the Cuban and Soviet embassies did survive the assassination: After years of denials, Scott’s assistant Anne Goodpasture admitted to the ARRB that copies of the Oswald recordings were made before the originals was destroyed. [Brothers, pp.317] They were shipped to CIA headquarters after Scott died in 1971. The CIA agent who received them, Paul Hartmann, also admitted their existence. [Brothers, pp.317-318] The tapes were deposited in Oswald’s 201 file, and have since disappeared.
- Sanborn’s restaurant already appeared in Brothers (p. 316). It appeared to be a regular spot for Oswald, whom Elenita Garro saw with the same men she had seen him with at the twist party.
- June Cobb told Russo she was with Elena and Elenita Garro when they discussed Oswald being at the twist party with Silvia Duran and other Cubans. [Brothers, pp. 411-412] Cobb found them entirely credible. Cobb had been a CIA operative in Castro’s Havana office years before and also served as a plant inside the FPCC.
- In 2005, Silvia Duran admitted to Willi Huismann that there was a plot in the Kennedy assassination, but changed her mind about discussing it on-camera at the last minute. [Brothers, pp.321] She had been warned by the DFS to remain silent. (You’ll recall that in 1963 the Cuban Ambassador to Mexico, Joaquin Hernández Armas had been wiretapped speaking to Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado and informing him that Barrios had beaten Duran during her interrogation. Russo acquired the actual tape under FOIA.) According to one well-placed source, Duran later doubled for G2 [Brothers, pp.378] and she admitted her affair with Oswald to one of Win Scott’s Embassy informants. [Brothers, pp.377]
- Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios (CIA codename: LI-TEMPO-4), the Mexican Federal Security Directorate (DFS) leader entrusted by Win Scott to interrogate Duran and other key witnesses [Brothers, pp.376-382] was actually a supporter of Fidel [Brothers, pp.21-22, 29, 31], and ran his own death squad terror outfit. [Brothers, pp.288] This was the ultimate reason that witnesses in Mexico were frightened to talk about the JFK assassination for decades. Why Scott trusted a Fidelista terrorist as a source is a mystery, but it was his great failure – and the key to understanding everything about Mexico City. Scott’s other LI informants were also loyal to Havana, which severely compromised Scott’s investigation. [Brothers, pp.287-288]
- Juan Luis Ordaz Diaz (CIA codename: LI TEMPO -2) worked with Barrios on the Mexican investigation, and was a close personal friend of LBJ. Ordaz, the future Mexican president, was the likely source for LBJ’s conviction of Cuban complicity in the Kennedy assassination. [Brothers, pp.376-387, 383]
- A former high-ranking G2 source, identified in Rendezvous with the pseudonym “Oscar Marino,” named a black “redhead” Cuban who worked with the DFS, and may have been the man seen with Oswald, as Ernesto Andres Armona Ramos. [Brothers, pp.320, 465] His photo, seen by Huismann, is in Barrios’s DFS files at the Archivo Mexico [Brothers, pp.383], as is a large Mexican investigation into the assassination. “Marino” appears throughout the book discussing G2’s long knowledge of Oswald and his plans.
An interesting sidebar: In 2011, the Hispanic-based Univision Network conducted a yearlong investigation of Cuban spies currently operating in Mexico City. It found that G2 had partnered with Iranian and Venezuelan spies on a cyber-warfare operation against the US – specifically, hacking the White House. Univision learned that before his death in 2008, “Marino” was the Cuban coordinator of the cyber plot. Venezuelan Consul General, Livia Acosta Noguera and Marino had approached students at UNAM in Mexico (where “Marino” worked undercover) to assist in the cyber plot. According to one news account:
Some of the students were uneasy with the idea and began secretly recording the conversations, including the one in which Acosta allegedly asked for codes to U.S. nukes. "I want to emphasize, what you gave me, the last thing... the president already saw it," Acosta said during one conversation. In another, she said the hacked data was passed from Acosta to [Hugo] Chávez by the head of his personal security. This all means that Chávez could be handing over American nuclear codes to Iran at this very moment.
As a result of the Univision investigation, Acosta was expelled from the U.S. by the State Department.
- The 1964 Cuban G2 defector Vladimir Lahera also remembered the redheaded agent, Ernesto Andres Armona Ramos, as being at the Cuban Embassy at the time of Oswald’s visit. [Brothers, pp.403] He also confirmed that Cuban intelligence was aware of Oswald before he came to Mexico, and named some of the Cuban agents who likely dealt with Oswald there.
- Pedro Gutierrez saw LHO get into a car with people from the Cuban Embassy. When CIA traced the license plate, it found that it belonged to someone who had disappeared six years earlier and that his identity had been stolen. [Brothers, pp.313-314]
- A Cuban Embassy employee, known as “Antonio,” facilitated and witnessed secret meetings between Oswald and Cubans in the garage at the Cuban Embassy (away from CIA cameras and listening devices). [Brothers, pp.317-320]
Not new, but largely forgotten:
- After returning to the U.S., Oswald seems to have stayed in touch with the Cuban Embassy, as evidenced by an early November letter he wrote to the Soviet Embassy in which he referred to his knowledge of Consul Eusebio Azcue’s recent departure – a fact not generally known outside the Cuban Embassy at the time of the letter. [Brothers, p.333]
- As the Warren Commission learned, Cuba approved LHO’s visa request in record time. [Brothers, p.325] It would have been waiting for him in Mexico City had he made it there after the assassination.
All of this and much more led Russo and Molten to conclude that Oswald, while a lone gunman in Dealey Plaza, was encouraged by Cuban intelligence agents to take action against Kennedy should the opportunity arise, or, at the very least, fed his dreams of becoming a hero to the Cuban revolution. This was all LBJ had to hear in order to shut down the foreign component of the investigation.
No one can escape the fact that Russo and Huismann have broken a great deal of untouched ground over the last ten years – and in doing so have done the world an immense service, even if they don’t know it.
While there has been much talk about the CIA and their supposed treasure trove of secret documents, let’s not forget that there was more than one intelligence group involved with the shenanigans surrounding Fidel Castro, Oswald, and Mexico City in 1963: The CIA, the KGB, the Mexican DFS secret police, and the Cuban G2. And they all shared this one belief (albeit for very different reasons): the truth about Oswald and Cuba can never come out.
It’s nice to see the mainstream media taking a serious look at the information that’s been trickling out of Mexico City for the better part of a decade (even if it is only a glimpse during the 50th anniversary brouhaha).
As for me, it would be much more gratifying to have them acknowledge whose shoulders the current crop of town criers are standing on.