Saturday, October 28, 2017

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

The latest JFK assassination files leave the media scrambling for something - anything - newsworthy


The last twenty-four hours have been hell for just about everyone trying to make heads or tails out of the lastest document dump on the JFK assassination.

The only real news is that this isn’t the end of it, thanks to the last minute decision to postpone the final release of all documents another six months – at least.

Rex Bradford of the Mary Ferrell Foundation reports that “tens of thousands of documents, possibly as many as 30,000, remain sealed at the National Archives.”

To some, this is the “good stuff.” To others, the good stuff was destroyed long ago.

For this author, the good stuff is the approximately five-million-plus pages that have been declassified over the last fifty-some years and have been available to read for nearly as long – but apparently, few will bother.

And that includes today’s 24-hour news cycle veterans who have a nauseating penchant for leaping in front of a camera or a blog screen to pontificate about something they know absolutely nothing about – but more important – don’t seem to want to know, lest the reality spoil their parade.

The examples of this phenomenon are too numerous to catalog, but here’s just a taste of what’s been considered newsworthy over the last two days:

Mysterious phone call

Twenty-five minutes before President Kennedy was fatally shot, a British newspaper got an anonymous call to be prepared for “some big news,” crowed Newsweek.

According to a CIA memo, an anonymous caller had telephoned a Cambridge News reporter twenty-five minutes before the assassination and told them that they should call the American Embassy in London for some big news and hung up.

On Friday last, the newspaper’s website showed a reporter explaining that “no one has ever been able to establish whether that call was actually made.”

Truth is, this story has been out since 1976 and was published in Michael Eddowes' 1977 book, The Oswald File.

So much for the big revelation. Newsflash for Newsweek: The assassination files are filled with examples of unsubstantiated clairvoyance relating to every aspect of the assassination story.

Answer cut off

Another bombshell revelation was advanced by the U.K. Sun, and repeated by The Huffington Post and a host of other media companies world-wide, that a top-secret transcript showed former agency chief Richard Helms being asked whether Lee Harvey Oswald was a CIA agent – but his answer remained withheld.

It didn’t take long to prove the Sun’s reporting wrong. The recent release was only a few pages from testimony given by Helms as part of the 1975 President’s Commission on CIA Activities, the transcript of which was declassified in 1994.

Helm’s response has been known for over twenty years:
DAVID BELIN: Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way showed that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or an agent of the FBI or any other Government agency?

HELMS: Mr. Belin, this question, and I think you may recall this, was raised at the time and the Agency was never able to find any evidence whatsoever, and we really searched, that it had ever had any contact with Lee Harvey Oswald. As far as the FBI was concerned, my recollection is not all that precise. I believe that Mr. Hoover testified that he had not been an agent of theirs either. He certainly was not an agent of the CIA. He was certainly never used by the CIA. Whether any CIA officer ever talked to him any place or not I don’t know but I certainly felt quite comfortable – I believe Mr. McCone was asked to testify before the Commission on this point. I believe he was asked to testify. It was a hot item anyway at the time. And my recollection is that I informed Mr. McCone that we could find no evidence that Oswald had any connection with the CIA.
If the Huffington Post, or the Sun, or any other news organization really wanted to know whether the Helm’s testimony transcript was new or available elsewhere, they could have found out with a few mouse clicks. Does anyone know how to use Google over there?

The Hoover memo

This one has gotten the most play. According to media outlets everywhere this was a shocking bombshell – a memo documenting that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had telephoned President Johnson hours after Jack Ruby murdered Oswald and declared that the public needed “convincing” that Oswald was guilty.

“The thing I am concerned about is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,” the memo quotes Hoover as saying.

The Washington Post consulted Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba specialist at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, who declared the document “a never-before-seen memo” and questioned what the secrecy around that document was really about? The implication was clear – Hoover was trying to cover up the truth and sell Oswald as the real assassin without conducting a thorough investigation.

But had the Washington Post bothered to vet their spokesperson’s remarks by simply asking anyone familiar with the assassination (or, consult their own news archive) they would have found that the memo was written by President Johnson’s aide Walter Jenkins and that the document had been published 38-years ago as part of the House Select Committee on Assassinations report.

Furthermore, the FBI’s James R. Malley testified that he was in charge of building up the FBI’s investigation in Dallas at the time that the memo was written and therefore it was inconceivable to him that Hoover’s remarks about Oswald meant he intended to shut down the investigation and declare Oswald the assassin. The intense FBI investigation that followed supports Malley’s contention. In addition, Malley testified that it was his belief that Hoover simply wanted “to get something out to the public to let them know what had been developed up to that time” and that the suggestion that Hoover's comment that he wanted to “convince the public” of Oswald’s guilt was his way of saying he was squashing the investigation was, in Malley’s words, “a misinterpretation of what the Bureau intended to do later.” [HSCA Hearings Vol. 3, p.467] 

And, as documents released in 1999 show, the only thing that officials wanted kept secret was the last few lines of page two which mentioned an Oswald phone call to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City which was intercepted and a letter he had written that was also intercepted – both of which have been known about for years.

In short, there is absolutely nothing new or revealing about this memo. But you’d never know that by reading the newspaper or watching TV during the last few days.

Tippit killed Kennedy

This one really ticks me off. The U.K. Daily Mail reported that an FBI informant “identified Dallas police officer J.D Tippit as the actual killer of John F. Kennedy.”

According to the informant, H. Theodore Lee (sic) told him that Tippit was the head of the John Birch Society in Dallas and met with Jack Ruby and possibly Oswald at Ruby’s nightclub.

As the author of the 2013 book, With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit,” I can assure you that this report is hokum from start to finish.

Had anyone bothered to double-check the allegation, they would have found that the “H. Theodore Lee” was actually Vincent Theodore Lee – who aficionados of the assassination story will recognize as the head of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) in New York, the same organization Oswald claimed to have been secretary of in New Orleans and who Oswald had written to in 1963.

In April, 1964, attorney Mark Lane, the self-appointed defense counsel for Oswald, was peddling a story that Bernard Weissman, J.D. Tippit, and Jack Ruby met in Ruby’s nightclub shortly before the assassination. The story turned out to be hooey, but not before Lane managed to get several left-wing publications, including The Guardian, to print stories about the allegation.

Former FPCC head, Lee, read the accounts and was repeating them to an FBI informant.

In an April 6, 1964, FBI memo, released in July 2017 and included again as part of the October release, the FBI noted the similarities between Lee’s claims and the allegation being slung around by Lane.

Again, a few clicks, and you’d have the answer to this false Tippit allegation.

The secret sport shirt

Finally, not because there isn’t anymore – it’s just that I can’t take anymore, there’s what the Los Angeles Times refers to as “seemingly innocuous information that had been classified to protect the FBI’s ‘operations in foreign country’” – a shot at the government’s inclination to classify documents in the name of national security.

In this case, the Times notes that one FBI file shows how agents also tracked Oswald’s bus trip to Mexico City in October 1963. It included information that Oswald was wearing a “short sleeve light colored sport shirt and no coat,” suggesting that this was the reason (obviously, according to the Times, an insanely stupid reason) for fifty-four years of secrecy.

But, all one has to do is look at the document to realize that it contained the identities of a number of passengers who happened to be onboard the bus and were question about Oswald.

Let’s see a show of hands – who wants to be associated with a presidential assassin simply because you happened to be on vacation?

It will take time

It’s been fifty-four years since the assassination, and yes, we’d like all the information we can get, as soon as possible.

Eventually we’ll get it all. But I don’t know anyone who has spent the better part of the last five decades immersed in this case that doesn’t believe that we already have the vast majority of the story in our laps.

I have serious doubts that whatever remains in the final release is going to change what we already know to be true.

And while there will always be people who feel the need to jump in front of a camera to bestow their knowledge upon us, it’s been my experience that the people who are deep in the trenches, doing the hard work – methodically and silently – are the ones worth listening to. Oh, yeah, and the ones who know how to use Google.

Hats off to them.