Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Cuban Connection: Oswald, Mexico City, and the Media's Failure to Evaluate Assassination 'News'


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.

Essential reading

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,] 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,]
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.

Wilfried Huismann

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:
  • 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.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kennedy Library Announces the Release of the Remaining RFK Papers – Really?


Yesterday, the National Archives released what they claim are most of the remaining withheld files of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

According to the Archives, “the release completes the archival processing of files from Robert F. Kennedy’s years as Attorney General and has been done in collaboration with the family of Robert F. Kennedy.”

Seven boxes (amounting to more than 2,700 pages) were released last year after growing pressure from researchers.

Anywhere from 62 to 74 boxes (the estimates vary by report) have been locked away since 1973 and amount to nearly 7,500 additional pages covering key events during the Kennedy administration.

The Archives did note that four boxes among the so-called “classified” and “confidential” Justice Department files will remain off limits because they were deemed to be “of a personal nature.”

Unless the box dimensions have changed drastically, there seems to be much material still out of our grasp. (Dale Myers and I previously described some of the highlights of the original 1975 finding aid in “Drums of Conspiracy.”)

Perhaps it might be a good time for interested parties to compare the library’s latest iteration of the finding aid to the one generated by NARA in 1975, and which was obtained by this writer in 1995.

Here for the first time is the complete finding aid as it existed thirty-eight years ago.

Of course, any conclusion about what we are still being denied (or what has been removed permanently) misses the many elephants in the reading room:
  • How does a private family gain control over classified government records in the first place, files which they aren’t even cleared to look at?
  • How do federal employee whistleblowers get prosecuted for releasing government files to the public while private citizens are allowed to keep them from the American people for decades with help from the National Archives?
  • Who approved the transmittal of these files to the Kennedys, rendering them immune to FOIA requests?
  • Are there other citizens we should know about who received a similar sweetheart deal? If so, can I get one too?
 Peter Kornbluh, a senior researcher at the National Security Archives at George Washington University, was quoted last Wednesday in the Boston Globe as saying the recent release was one of the “great treasure troves of documentation on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations” and that he “hopes the cooperation between the Archives and the Kennedy family can be a model for releasing other collections of historically valuable government records.”

Seriously? If this is the model for the future handling and disposition of public records, I say, God help us.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

JFK Assassination Redux: The Best and the Worst of 50th Anniversary Coverage


No doubt you’re a bit burnt out on the Kennedy assassination case given the avalanche of documentary television specials, news stories, and Internet coverage we’ve been inundated with over the last few weeks.

No matter which side of the stockade fence you fall on there was some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some truly awful stuff served up to satisfy the general public’s appetite for all things JFK.

Now that you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, here’s one last look at the best and worst of November’s wall-to-wall coverage with some commentary from yours truly.

The best

The History Channel’s “Oswald: 48 Hours to Live” easily ranks with the best of the new shows produced specifically for the fiftieth anniversary. (Yes, I participated in the production, but believe me; I would have ranked it among the best anyway.)

Buried in the November 22nd, 10 p.m. time slot, director Anthony Giacchino’s masterful take on Oswald’s flight, arrest, and interrogation sessions still managed to draw close to one-million eyeballs from its prime demographic audience (plus many younger viewers) – something unheard of for a two-hour special these days. It outpaced the History’s Channel’s other special, “JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide,” which was given the coveted prime-time slot, by nearly a quarter million viewers.

What made Giacchino’s work outstanding? It tackled a part of the assassination story that has been virtually ignored for the better part of 50 years – Oswald’s actions after the assassination, the police investigation that led to charges against the pro-Castro Marxist for the Kennedy and Tippit murders, and Oswald’s ultimate collision with Jack Ruby. Only David Wolper’s 1964 award-winning documentary “Four Days in November” had tackled this area previously.

Superb cinematography and fast paced editing created a sense of urgency that was palpable throughout the program. Giacchino cleverly avoided showing Oswald or Ruby’s faces, opting instead to show them only in archival footage. Don Kruizinga, who had an uncanny resemblance to his real-world counterpart, played Captain J. Will Fritz. Photographing the re-enactments at the actual locations lent an air of authenticity to the film. The varied voices of on-camera historical consultants Steve Gillon, Gary Mack, Dale Myers (yes, that’s me), Randy Roberts, and Larry Sneed provided texture and drove the story forward.

Oswald: 48 Hours to Live is a fine example of what can be accomplished on a shoe-string television budget – especially when in the capable hands of someone as accomplished at Giacchino. Purists will argue over small details that had to be cheated given the budget and unfortunately the program is not without a few minor flubs and one major flaw (Gillon erroneously describes Ruby entering the basement garage as police pull the armored car out). Still, the program does an excellent job of portraying the chronology of the Dallas police investigation that resulted in the collection of much of the damning evidence against Oswald (evidence that has stood the test of time), the obvious lies Oswald told behind closed doors, and Ruby’s vigilante actions at the moment of his chance encounter with Oswald on Sunday, November 24, 1963. If you don’t come away believing Oswald did it, you must’ve fallen asleep. Watch it again.

CNN’s “The Assassination of President Kennedy,” was another one of the better programs produced for the anniversary. It provided an excellent view of the assassination arc, covering the event itself, the government investigations, and the controversy. On-camera voice-overs included Dan Rather, Robert McNeil, Robert Caro, Bob Huffsaker, Vincent Bugliosi, Max Holland, J. Edward Epstein, Howard Willens, and more. The story is told with a composite of black and white and color archival footage (some of it familiar, much of it rarely seen). Highlights include LBJ strong-arming Senator Richard Russell into serving on the Warren Commission (“…You can serve with anybody for the good of America and you’re gonna do it. I can’t arrest you and I’m not gonna put the FBI on you, but you’re goddamn well gonna serve, I’ll tell you that!”), Penn Jones and Mark Lane (going head-to-head with David Susskind) on the Merv Griffin Show, musician David Crosby at a rock concert (“…When President Kennedy was killed, he was not killed by one man. He was shot from a number of directions, from different guns. The story has been suppressed. Witnesses have been killed. And this is your country…”), Arlen Specter debating Mark Lane and other critics, clips from the four-part 1967 CBS News Inquiry, Jim Garrison on the Johnny Carson Show, Senator Russell Long decoding Oswald’s notebook to reveal Ruby’s telephone number (Yikes!), and much more. Very well done and extremely interesting – even for those of us who are very familiar with this subject.

National Geographic’s “JFK: The Final Hours,” narrated by actor Bill Paxton, was also easily one of the top-five best programs produced for the anniversary. The highlight of the program were the new ultra-crisp, high-definition transfers of footage we’re all familiar with but haven’t ever seen looking this good. What really comes across in this program – something that has rarely been explored this in-depth before – is the tremendous welcome the Kennedys received in Texas just before disaster struck at the very end of the motorcade – which emphasizes the tragedy of November 22nd. Visually stunning, very well done, and highly recommended.

PBS’s “JFK: One P.M. Central Standard Time,” narrated by George Clooney, was a surprisingly good look at the assassination and how CBS News, led by anchor Walter Cronkite, handled the coverage. Those old enough to remember Cronkite will find this program particularly touching, for no other reason than it reminds you of how television news used to be – and how much we’ve lost in this age of infotainment-style “news”.

The Smithsonian Channel’s “The Day Kennedy Died,” narrated by actor Kevin Spacey, also ranks among the better programs produced for the anniversary. Heavy with rare archival footage and new interviews with Clint Hill, Robert McClelland, Phyllis Hall, James Tague, Ruth Paine, Gene Boone, Johnny Brewer, James R. Leavelle, Hugh Aynesworth, Buell Wesley Frasier, Bob Jackson, and others.

PBS Nova’s “Cold Case: JFK” also ranks as one of the better programs produced in 2013. Ballistic experts Lucien C. Haag and son Michael provide the science in a program that features new ballistic tests and insights. Nothing radically new for anyone familiar with the case, but essential viewing for new-comers and those that still don’t quite get why the properties of the 6.5mm ammunition fired by Oswald explains the anomalies often seized on by conspiracy theorists as proof of multiple shooters. Well done, although much of Haag’s impressive presentation (which I saw at the 2013 annual meeting of the Northeastern Forensic Scientists Association in Cromwell, CT) was sidelined for comments from Clint Hill, G. Robert Blakey, and Josiah Thompson (who later called the show “rigged”). Much of the fatal head shot experiments the Haags performed were not included in the show. Too bad.

NBC’s “Where Were You? America Remembers the JFK Assassination,” hosted by former anchor Tom Brokaw, held the promise of telling the assassination story through the eyes of those who had been most effected by it but the program turned out to largely be a puff piece filled with film and political celebrities who had little direct connection with the assassination. There were insightful moments with principals like Buell Wesley Frasier, Ruth Hyde Paine, Johnny Calvin Brewer, Ray Hawkins, Marie Tippit, and others, but far too much time spent with Steven Spielberg, Chris Matthews, Mike Barnacle, Joe Biden, John Glenn, Bill Clinton, Robert DeNiro, Jane Fonda, Jimmy Carter, Tom Hanks, and the like. Highlights included former KGB officer Oleg Kalugin claiming that Marina Oswald was a plant, recruited by the KGB to gather information on her husband – a mission she reportedly never fulfilled; a glassy-eyed Oliver Stone telling Brokaw he still believes Oswald was completely innocent; and Tom Brokaw telling conspiracy theorist Robert Groden in Dealey Plaza, “There’s nothing about this that you believe.” Tip: Get the book, which includes the full interviews in prose form.

There were other shows that were also worthwhile viewing including, PBS’s “American Experience: JFK”; CBS’ “As It Happened: John F. Kennedy, 50 Years”; and TLC’s “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy.”

The mediocre

History Channel’s “JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide,” was another newly produced fiftieth anniversary program featuring the on-camera voices of Max Holland, Vincent Bugliosi, Robert Groden, Gerald Posner, Jefferson Morley, Robert McNeil, Clint Hill, Bill Newman, John McAdams, Don Thomas, David Kaiser, G. Robert Blakey, and the general public. Based on a Topline consumer survey conducted for the A&E Networks, the program revealed some interesting results about what the public believes about the JFK assassination. The poll numbers show that 71% believe there was a conspiracy. However the survey also shows that 76% didn’t know that Oswald had attempted to defect to the Soviet Union, 67% didn’t know that Castro had publicly threatened Kennedy, 73 % didn’t know that multiple tests showed that Oswald’s rifle was capable of firing the shots, and 86% didn’t know Oswald had previously attempted to assassinate General Edwin A. Walker. It’s not hard to notice that the same percentage of people who believe in a conspiracy don’t really know the facts of the case. Many of the poll numbers were skewed (“…of conspiracy advocates, the percentage that believe…”) for presentation in the show. It would be interesting to see the original questions and survey results.

The worst

Not sure how I’d rank the worst of the lot, but here’s a sampling:

Reelz’s “JFK: The Smoking Gun,” and the follow-up discussion “JFK: Inside The Evidence,” hosted by Bill Curtis, seemed to get the most media play across the planet. The idea that a Secret Service agent accidently shot Kennedy and then the government covered it up is incredibly laughable. You gotta love the animated sequences presented in the show that claim to show the possibility of such a shot, but instead prove that such a shot would have been impossible given Kennedy’s true position in the car. The Curtis led discussion that followed was equally silly and represented an all new low for a Bill Curtis Production – if that’s possible. A colossal waste of time, but then everyone (accept the spectacularly uninformed) knew that going in. Ranking: Five Tums.

Fox News’s “50 Years of Questions: The JFK Assassination,” hosted by Bill Hemmer, was one of the more stomach-churning specials produced for the anniversary. Fox presented the 14-year-old “investigation” conducted by former Justice Department prosecutor John T. Orr as if it was new. I suffered through all of it, but found myself reaching for the remote control about ten minutes in. Ranking: Five Rolaids.

National Geographic’s “Killing Kennedy,” based on the Bill O’Reilly book of the same title and starring Rob Lowe as JFK, turned out to be a leaden, pulse-killing docu-drama about Oswald and Kennedy’s tangled fates. This made-for-TV movie proved once again that you cannot adequately and accurately tell this story in a two-hour slot. Even knowing what they weren’t showing (and I felt sorry for anyone trying to follow the story that didn’t know what they were missing), the story felt rushed and without substance. Boring beyond belief; the anti-thesis of Giacchino’s “Oswald: 48 Hours to Live.” Ranking: Five bottles of Pepto-Bismol.

The truly pitiful

The most disgusting display of modern-day journalism wasn’t a TV special at all, but rather, a news report broadcast on November 20, 2013, over WFAA-TV in Dallas, Texas, featuring the results of an “investigation” by Farris Rookstool III, a paid consultant to the television station’s fiftieth anniversary coverage who was billed as “the world’s leading expert on the assassination.”

Under the banner headline: “Wallet mystery from Officer Tippit’s murder settled 50 years later,” WFAA reporter Jason Whitely claimed that the only evidence linking Oswald to the Tippit murder were four shells and some witnesses – until now.

In an exclusive report, Whitely announced that “a new piece of evidence, the strongest yet tying Oswald to the murders,” had been uncovered during a two-year study by Rookstool.

What was this new evidence? Archival film footage shot by WFAA cameraman Ron Reiland at the Tippit murder scene shows officers handling a wallet that police later claimed was taken off of Lee Harvey Oswald after his arrest. The reality, according to the “world’s leading assassination expert,” is that Oswald’s wallet really was found at the Tippit murder scene.

“It’s been picked apart for decades,” Rookstool says on-camera, “but the tragedy of this is that no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.”

Whoa, daddy. Rookstool may be able to sell that load of shingles to the uninformed, but he knows damn well that the story that Oswald’s wallet was recovered at the Tippit scene was dissected, examined, and written about fourteen years ago in a book called, “With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit” (Oak Cliff Press, First Edition, 1998). I know – I’m the author.

The wallet story was subsequently updated in the second edition of With Malice, published in August, 2013 – a fact that Rookstool also knew about given the fact that he purchased a copy in October, a month prior to the WFAA broadcast.

And frankly, I’ve done much more than just talk and write about this particular episode of the Tippit murder – including within the pages of this blog (see, With Malice: The Tippit Murder 45 Years Later).

I’m the individual who initially drew attention to the existence of the WFAA news footage of the wallet, made the connection between the footage and a claim made by former FBI agent Bob Barrett (first published in fellow FBI agent Jim Hosty’s 1996 book Assignment: Oswald), informed both Hosty and Barrett of the films existence, and interviewed Barrett extensively in 1996 in an effort to substantiate his claim. Despite Barrett’s help, and that of several others, I was unable to reconcile his latter day claims with the contemporary record – including Barrett’s own reports.

Good Lord, I would have loved to have been able to prove that police found Oswald’s wallet at the Tippit murder scene! Are you kidding me? It would have been the centerpiece of my book. However, looking at the evidence, I could not in good faith sign off on something so contrary to the official record without definitive proof – no matter how good it sounded. And I had more than one set of eyeballs looking at the evidence with me. They weren’t convinced either. I know there are some people (maybe a lot of people) who would have played it differently. I’m not one of them.

“….no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.” Seriously?

What exactly has Rookstool added that is new to this story? Nothing he couldn’t have gotten out of With Malice over the last fourteen years. According to Rookstool’s “investigation”:
  • Bob Barrett claims that Captain W.R. Westbrook asked him about the names Oswald and Hidell while he was thumbing through the I.D.s of a wallet he was holding at the Tippit scene. Yes, we know. This is discussed at length on pages 287-304 (1998 edition) and on pages 349-368 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
  • A crime scene photograph depicting Tippit’s patrol car was autographed for Rookstool by Jim Leavelle, Bob Barrett, T.F. Bowley, Roy Nichols, and Kenneth H. Croy – who wrote: “First on the scene, recovered Oswald’s wallet there too.” Rookstool refers to Croy’s autograph as “the only written account” of the recovery of Oswald’s wallet at the scene. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call an autographed inscription a “written account,” but then I guess that’s just me. I did interview Croy in 2009 (he died in 2012) and wrote about his latter day claims which not only have many inconsistencies with his contemporary testimony, but is also at odds with Barrett’s account. This is also discussed at length on pages 356-358, 367-368 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
  • Marie Tippit is shown on-camera with Tippit’s black wallet, which is clearly different from the one seen in the 1963 news footage. Again, I wrote in 1998 that Tippit’s black billfold was on a list of personal possessions removed from his person after his death and while his revolver (left behind at the scene) was also on the list, I thought it highly unlikely – given interviews I conducted with multiple witnesses and fellow police officers – that it was Tippit’s black billfold being filmed by Ron Reiland, despite his claim that afternoon. Any doubts as to whether it was Tippit’s wallet were laid to rest in 2012 when I saw photographs of Tippit’s black billfold – a fact I discussed on page 364 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
  • Finally, Rookstool did an on-camera comparison between a frame from the archival WFAA news film – which was published on pages 293, 298 (1998 edition) and pages 355, 362 (2013 edition) of With Malice – and Oswald’s arrest wallet housed in the National Archives. Rookstool didn’t actually go to the National Archives, get permission to have the wallet pulled out of cold storage, and photograph it – as I did in 1996. Instead, he used the photograph I had taken of the wallet and subsequently published in the color plate section of the 1998 and 2013 editions of With Malice. More on that in a moment.
What did Rookstool find after comparing the images I had published in 1998 and again in 2013? Both wallets, he claimed, had “circular snaps, metal strips and – perhaps the biggest similarity – a zipper over the cash compartment.”
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was Oswald’s wallet,” Rookstool opined.
But wait, look again (especially at a first generation duplicate of the original 1963 videotape) – the wallet depicted in the archival WFAA newsfilm is much thinner and much more worn than Oswald’s arrest wallet, one of the principal reasons I was forced to reject the idea that the two wallets were the same. The other reason? The metal band on the photo compartment of Oswald’s arrest wallet does not go to the edge of the leather flap, nor is the leather flap square (it has rounded corners) - both characteristics decidedly unlike the wallet depicted in the WFAA newsfilm. Again, the trip made to the National Archives, the photographs taken at my direction, and the comparison I performed in 1996 are all discussed at length on pages 298-299 (1998 edition) and pages 361-363 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
As if to add insult to injury, Rookstool used – without permission - one of the many photographs I paid to have taken of Oswald’s arrest wallet at the National Archives (and which I subsequently published in With Malice) to support his contention in the WFAA broadcast report that the wallets were the same. The photograph he used is clearly captioned: “Author’s photo.” For the uninformed, that means I own it and hold the copyright.
Slapped across my photograph during the WFAA broadcast were the words: “Courtesy of Dale Myers.” Classy, huh?
Immediately after the report aired, I emailed both Rookstool and WFAA reporter Jason Whitely and asked for an explanation. Whitely promptly called me and explained that because it was a news broadcast, the Fair Use Law allowed newscasters to use my work without permission and that he, Whitely, was the one responsible for seeing that the “Courtesy of…” slug was placed on the photograph. He said he felt it was only fair to acknowledge that the photo was mine.
I explained to him that the fair thing to do would have been to ask for and get my permission to use the photograph - which is what “courtesy of” means. I also pointed out that the courtesy tag implied that I had been involved with Rookstool’s belated “investigation,” had granted my permission to use the photo, and sanctioned his conclusions – none of which was true.
Mr. Whitely apologized, adding that he could have handled it better.
As for Rookstool, he never bothered to respond to my email. No phone call, no nothing. Nice, huh?
It’s no secret that investigative journalism, as we once knew it, is dead. In this infotainment focused world, it’s far more important to engage the audience with a captivating story, take your bows, and get off the stage before anyone figures out what happened. News has become a circus side-show, complete with freaks and slick carnival barkers selling illusions to the suckers.
How does Rookstool address the conflicts between the official record and the recovery of an “Oswald” wallet at the Tippit shooting scene? According to Rookstool and Barrett, the official story is “hogwash” cooked up by police eager to hide the recovered wallet because “too many officers handled the crucial piece of evidence.” Huh?
Rookstool’s own account has the wallet recovered by Officer Croy and given to Captain Westbrook, who was in charge of the Tippit crime scene. How does that constitute too many officers? Not only is their explanation silly on its face, it doesn’t even begin to address all of the other problems that the contemporary record poses – problems I explored and discussed at length in With Malice.
Why would police hide the most damning evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald in the Tippit shooting? Why didn’t any of the reporters who were known to have been at the Tippit scene during the period in which the wallet was allegedly recovered report the discovery of Oswald’s wallet at the scene? What would be the advantage for the police to lie about removing Oswald’s wallet from his pocket after his arrest at the Texas Theater?
Anyone with a brain knows that if Oswald’s wallet had been found at the Tippit murder scene it would have been printed in every newspaper and broadcast on every radio and television station in America before the end of the day, Friday, November 22, 1963.
More important, it would have appeared in the contemporary report prepared by FBI agent Bob Barrett that day and would have been discussed in the testimony given by Officer Kenneth Croy before the Warren Commission in 1964. Instead, there is nothing.
Flashback to earlier this summer - I was informed that contrary to everything I had uncovered about the wallet story, due to my own investigative efforts over the last fourteen years, Farris Rookstool had found documentation that “proved” that Oswald’s wallet was indeed found at the Tippit shooting scene.
Naturally, I was interested in what he had found and asked to see “the documentation” but was told that Rookstool preferred to reveal it himself during an unnamed 50th anniversary broadcast. I attempted to contact Rookstool directly, but he refused to return my call.
Rookstool was told through an intermediary that I would be more than happy to include his “discovery” in the forthcoming second edition of With Malice, due to be published by late summer 2013, with full credit given where credit was due. My focus was on disseminating the truth about this puzzling episode no matter who discovered it.
Rookstool declined to accept my offer and later again refused to take my direct call to discuss the matter. You know the rest.
“….no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.” Seriously? [END]

Monday, November 25, 2013

J.D. Tippit's funeral held fifty years ago today: Dallas
officer played pivotal role after Kennedy assassination

by DALE K. MYERS / Detroit Free Press

L to R: J.D. Tippit, age 24; and Robert Jack Christopher, age 22, in 1948. [Courtesy of Robert Jack and Dorothy Christene (Tippit) Christopher / Digital restoration by Dale K. Myers]

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

The images of that day are seared in the public consciousness and over the last few weeks have been revisited with television documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles, and what seems like an endless parade of conspiracy theories.

Yet, few remember J.D. Tippit, the Dallas cop who was gunned down on an Oak Cliff side street just forty-five minutes after the assassination. Even fewer realize that Tippit’s murder is what led to the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald who was later charged with killing Kennedy.

For the Tippit family, the fiftieth anniversary of those four dark days in November is personal. The murder of one so loved was devastating beyond words.

Particularly painful for family and friends are the continuing allegations that J.D. was somehow involved in a conspiracy to kill the President or to murder Oswald. Of course, anyone who really knew the 39-year-old father of three knows that such claims are preposterous.

J.D. was a country boy raised in the depression-era farming community of Clarksville, Texas. During World War II, at age nineteen, he volunteered for the parachute infantry and jumped into France with the 17th Airborne Division earning a Bronze service star. After the war, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Gasway, and tried to make a go of farming. But drought and floods took their toll on the young family and in 1952 he sought employment with the Dallas Police Department.

J.D. had a keen eye for police work. He was a good judge of people, compassionate, and dependable. Away from the force and the odd jobs he held to make ends meet, J.D. was a devoted family man. He liked Clark Gable movies, the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, bushy Christmas trees, and clowning around with friends and family. He was the funny brother, the favorite uncle, the lovable guy.

At 1:15 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 1963, Officer Tippit spotted a suspicious man walking near Tenth and Patton in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. He stopped his squad car and got out to investigate. The man, identified by eyewitnesses as Lee Harvey Oswald, pulled a gun from under his jacket and shot Tippit four times in the chest and head, killing him instantly. Forty minutes later, police pounced on the cop-killer at the Texas Theater.

Late that night, Tippit’s body lay in state at an Oak Cliff funeral home. “I don’t suppose you could imagine what it was like to see your best friend laying up there,” boyhood pal and brother-in-law Jack Christopher recalled. “His life was gone, just like that.”

Three days later, fifty years ago this date, seven hundred policemen in dress blues joined as many mourners at the small, red brick Beckley Hills Baptist Church to say goodbye. An organist played The Old Rugged Cross as broad shouldered lawmen openly wept.

Few historians have considered the consequences for Dallas and the country had Oswald, an avowed pro-Castro Marxist, escaped the city. The President’s assassination had lit the fuse of a Cold War powder keg that might never have been snuffed out. In that sense, Tippit’s showdown with Oswald had a momentous impact on our nation’s history.

J.D. Tippit was one of those ordinary men who, through extraordinary events, had the moniker of hero thrust upon them. And although his pivotal role in America’s darkest days will forever be remembered it is his likeable spirit that has left the deepest impression on those who loved him.

Duty, honor, and love - essential ingredients of a hero of the ordinary kind.

Dale K. Myers is a Milford, Michigan, resident and the author of “With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit” (Oak Cliff Press, 2013)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In a week devoted to JFK, sacrifice of Officer Tippit honored

by MOLLY HENNESSY-FRISKE / Chicago Tribune

He was Lee Harvey Oswald's second victim that day in 1963, and as Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, many paused this week to reflect on the life, and sacrifice, of J.D. Tippit.

Tippit was a 39-year-old Dallas police officer when he was gunned down by Oswald as the assassin fled in the city's Oak Cliff neighborhood.

Dallas police gathered with Tippit’s friends and family to honor him at a candlelight vigil at the Dallas Police Association late Friday. When the officer’s widow, Marie Tippit, entered the room, the crowd of several hundred stood.

Tippit, 85, arrived carrying a bouquet of red roses. She had attended the city’s official commemoration in Dealey Plaza earlier in the day, an event attended by thousands. Although the evening crowd was much smaller, she sat beaming at the front of the room beside a portrait of her late husband.

She talked about what a good father Tippit had been to their three children. Now a great-grandmother, she said she appreciates the community’s support and prayers for her family. Another ceremony honoring Tippit was held Friday at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.

"It just blessed me to see you all here and to know that you know about our family and all we've been through," she told the crowd to applause.

Dallas Police Chaplain Bill White reminded those assembled that the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination was also an anniversary for Tippit. After Tippit stopped Oswald to question him, Oswald shot the officer and hid in a movie theater where he was later captured.

“As the world has come to Dallas, there must be a message that goes from this place of courage and of duty,” he said. “J.D. Tippit gave all that he had, as did the president.”

The association’s president, Ron Pinkston, talked about Tippit’s record, and how police in the room were wearing special badges inscribed with the fallen officer’s badge number, 848, and “Patrolman J. D. Tippit, EOW 11/22/63.” EOW stands for “end of watch.”

“Tonight we light a candle to remember both President Kennedy and J.D. Tippit,” Pinkston said.

Many approached Marie Tippit after the ceremony, including several officers, some long retired.

Dallas Police Detective Elmer Boyd, 86, was Tippit’s partner for a time.

“He was really the hero,” Boyd said.

He remembered Tippit’s dry sense of humor, and his confidence which came from a bit more experience — 11 years on the police force.

“He was a good partner. I never had to worry about my backside when I was with him,” Boyd said.

On the day of the assassination, Boyd was assigned to the Trade Mart where Kennedy’s motorcade was headed, while Tippit was working alone.

After the shootings, Boyd was assigned to escort Oswald to lineups and interrogation sessions with police and the Secret Service. The first day he had off was the day Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.

Boyd said Friday’s vigil brought back memories. He said only two out of 20 homicide detectives from that time are still alive to tell the story.

But after the candles were extinguished Friday, the lights turned back on and the crowd prepared to leave, the association’s first vice president, Frederick Frasier, made Tippit’s widow a promise: “The memory of that day will never be forgotten, and neither will our fallen officer.”