James Piereson is a conservative scholar who serves as Chairman of the Center for the American University at The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He is the author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (Encounter Books, 2007). Shortly after Castro passed away in Havana on November 25, 2016, Piereson deemed it worthy of recalling that “Castro played a large role in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” This arrant nonsense would have as a preliminary factual basis:
- Dallas Police (DP) identified the rifle used in the assassination as belonging to Oswald;
- Ballistic tests confirmed that the bullets that killed JFK were fired from this rifle.
From such “hard evidence,” Piereson jumped “to Oswald as the assassin with his motives linked somehow to Castro, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War”. He further explains that “Oswald was a communist” who by 1963 had transferred his political allegiance to Castro’s regime in Cuba. “He was a creature of the far left … on the lookout for opportunities to act out his radical convictions”; for instance: taking “a shot at retired General Edwin Walker [with] a scoped rifle later used to shoot President Kennedy.”
For arguing that Oswald’s motives “were almost certainly linked to his desire to block Kennedy’s campaign to assassinate Castro or to overthrow his government,” Piereson relies on Edward Jay Epstein’s Legend (McGraw-Hill, 1978), and concludes: “It was, after all, one of Castro’s supporters who killed President Kennedy—and there is the lingering possibility that Oswald may have been something more than just a supporter.”
A bunch of malarkey
First and foremost, Piereson’s hard evidence vanishes, since there is neither a rifle identified as Oswald’s nor a ballistic validation that the killer bullets were fired from the rifle in evidence.
- The latter is a scoped 40.2" Mannlicher-Carcano short rifle; the Warren Commission (WC) Report states that Oswald had ordered a 36" Mannlicher-Carcano carbine via coupon to Klein's Sporting Goods (Chicago). Moreover, HSCA testimony revealed that Klein's placed scopes on the carbine, not on the short rifle. The WC Report also says that Oswald mailed his money order from Dallas on March 12, 1963, and it was deposited the next day in Klein's account at the First National Bank of Chicago. Such expeditious service was highly improbable in 1963.
- Let us leave alone that the Magic Bullet (CE 399) could not have remained virtually intact—as it appears in evidence—after hitting Kennedy’s neck and Governor Connally’s chest and wrist. The dented shell CE 543—allegedly found in the sniper nest—had marks on it indicating it had been loaded and extracted three times before; however, just one mark could be linked to the rifle in evidence. CE 543 came from the magazine follower, which marks only the last shell in the clip, but it wasn’t the last shell, since the clip seized by the police contained a live round.
Piereson nonchalantly ignores the findings of sound research by the late Howard Donahue, Gary Aguilar, Josiah Thompson, John Hunt, Robert Harris, Chris Mills, David Josephs and many others who have revealed that the so-dubbed “hard evidence” is a bunch of malarkey. Similar fate has befallen the allegation of Oswald firing against General Walker.
The WC used the Walker incident to set a behavioral precedent for Oswald’s determination “to carry out a carefully planned killing,” but the DPD had been investigating that case since April 4, 1963, and Oswald had never even been brought up as suspect before the JFK assassination.
On top of that, the bullet recovered from Walker’s home was described by DPD officers Van Cleave and McElroy as a steel-jacketed 30.06 (7.65 x 63 mm) round, which is very different from the 6.5 x 52 mm ammunition for the Mannlicher-Carcano.
Left-winger LHO working for Castro?
Oswald’s critical portrait as a U.S. intelligence asset is clearer nowadays than when the late Philip Melanson published Spy Saga (Prager, 1990). The CIA was watching Oswald all the way from Moscow (1960) to Dallas (1963), accumulating a thick file with index cards for the Covert Operations Desk [since May 25, 1960], a Personality File (201-289248) [since December 9, 1960] and a file (100-300-011) on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) [since October 25, 1963]. Even so, Piereson remains stuck on the Oswald-Castro connection, an old and debunked conspiracy theory first spread by the CIA-backed anti-Castro belligerent group, the Cuban Student Directorate (known in Spanish as the DRE).
Let there be no illusions. If Oswald was a real communist and Castro was somehow behind Oswald in killing JFK, Piereson must explain why a former Marine couldn’t be spotted as a security risk in Dallas if the CIA knew—before the assassination—that he had defected to the USSR and re-defected to the U.S., had subscribed to the red newspaper The Worker, and handed out FPCC flyers wearing a placard which read “Hands Off Cuba, Viva Fidel.” To make matters worse, Oswald had been detected by the CIA in Mexico City visiting both the Soviet and Cuban embassies and even trying to illegally travel to Cuba. Piereson seems to be gratuitously unaware of some key facts:
- The CIA Station in Mexico City has never produced either a picture or a voice recording of Lee Harvey Oswald, despite having a) both the Cuban and Soviet embassies under heavy photo surveillance, which were visited by him three and two times, respectively, on September 27, 1963; and b) the transcripts of two tapped phone calls made to the Soviet Consulate on September 28 and October 1 by a man who, speaking in broken Russian, impersonated LHO, even saying—in the second call—he was Lee Oswald;
- In their October 1963 cable traffic, the CIA Station in Mexico City and the Headquarters in Langley hid from each other their respective data on LHO's relationships with any Cubans; on Christmas Eve 1963, CIA Counterintelligence Chief Jim Angleton prevented—with the approval of Deputy Director Dick Helms—John Whitten, Mexico Desk Chief, from investigating LHO’s contacts with both pro- and anti-Castro Cubans.
- The Lopez Report (1978) on “Oswald, the CIA, and Mexico City” revealed that the CIA Inspector General lied by stating: "It was not until 22 November 1963 [the] Station learned [that] Oswald had also visited the Cuban Embassy." CIA officers David Phillips and Anne Goodpasture also lied to the extent that HSCA was ready to indict them.
|Edward J. Epstein|
Piereson’s lack of knowledge can’t be filled with Epstein’s legend about “the secret world” of LHO. In a 1993-review of counterintelligence literature, Cleveland Cram, a researcher at the CIA in-house think tank Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI), discerned two books in Epstein’s Legend (McGraw-Hill, 1978): one about Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko and the other about the American re-defector Oswald. They were assembled to support the conspiracy theory that the Kremlin masterminded the JFK assassination, under the presumption that Nosenko would have been dispatched by Moscow in order to decouple Oswald from the KGB.
Since Epstein reported so much intel about Nosenko, the leak was easily traced to CIA Counterintelligence Staff. Cram concluded that Epstein was taking part in a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Angleton. Piereson simply joins this ghost tour under Epstein’s guidance and comes to a halt at a Castroite Oswald strongly reacting against Kennedy.
Nevertheless, raids and seizures against anti-Castro Cubans exiles were common in the JFK administration from the spring of 1963 on. Let’s review just an arbitrary sample:
- April 10. Tad Szulc reported that the Florida refugee groups subsidized by the CIA exploded with bitterness, charging Kennedy with "coexistence" with Castro;
- April 19. Under the headline "Cuban Exile Chief Quits With Attack on Kennedy," The New York Times published the full statement by Dr. Miro Cardona on his resignation from the Cuban Exile Council. By the same token, Nixon criticized JFK before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington;
- July 27. St. Louis Globe Democrat informed that Washington had pressured London into stopping Cuban exiles from using bases in the Bahamas for raids against Castro;
- August 1. The Times-Picayune reported an FBI raid in Lacombe (Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans) that seized more than a ton of dynamite, 20 bomb casings, napalm material, and other devices at the home of anti-Castroite William Julius McLaney.
Piereson would have us believe that Oswald threw all this press info away and got mad just by reading the AP Dan Harker’s piece, “Castro Blasts Raids on Cuba,” which The Times-Picayune conveyed on September 9, 1963. Harker quoted Castro at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana: “U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe”. JFK had had the same idea around November 1961, while talking with aide Dick Goodwin about the pressure from other advisors to okay a Castro murder. The President commented: "If we get into that kind of thing, we'll all be targets." (Mahoney, Richard: Sons & Brothers, Arcade Publishing, 1999, p. 135). But Piereson likes to walk among ghosts.
Inside the company
He is not alone in this. Regnery Publishing—its compelling slogan is “the leader in conservative books”—has had the audacity to publish a muddy account by Robert Wilcox (Target JFK, Regnery History, 2016) based on “secret diaries” kept by the late O.S.S. [CIA forerunner] operative Douglas DeWitt Bazata. The most shocking revelation is that Bazata’s O.S.S. fellow Réné Dussaq told him: “We will kill your Kennedy [because he] had authorizing the killing of Castro”. Under Castro’s political influence, Dussaq would have masterfully conducted Operation Hydra K, which includes firing by himself the fatal shot against Kennedy and turning Oswald into a patsy.
Wilcox’s proof for validating Bazata’s remarks on Dussaq is a 1976-diary entry that referred to an obscure Cuban exile in Mexico City, José Antonio Cabarca, who came to light after the 1995 ARRB declassification. It included a CIA report about a phone call made by Cabarca on November 24, 1963, to anti-Castro rabble-rouser Emilio Nuñez in Miami. The gist of the call was: “Plan of Castro carried forward. Bobby is next.”
Certainly, knowing about Cabarca in 1976 does not prove Dussaq’s involvement in the JFK assassination. Bazata had many fellow CIA contacts from whom he could have learned about Cabarca before the ARRB releases. On the routing and record sheet of the mentioned report at the CIA Station in Miami (JM/WAVE), a marginal note reads thus: “This call was heard by lots of people.”
There is also a signature of David Phillips dated November 25, 1963. By that time, David Atlee Phillips was wearing a three-cornered CIA hat: Covert Action, Cuban Desk, and Staff D (SIGNINT). HSCA staffer Eddie Lopez told James DiEugenio: “Jim, this conspiracy was like a giant spider web, and in the middle of it was Phillips.”
|David Atlee Phillips |
and Allen W. Dulles
Likewise, Major General Fabian Escalante—former head of the Cuban intelligence services (CuIS)—told HSCA staffer Gaeton Fonzi: “Phillips was the key man. He was our major enemy [and] mastermind of many Castro assassination plots.”
Let’s recall the passage in Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation (Thunder’s Mouth, 1993) on Phillips’ being interrogated by HSCA staffer Dan Hardway. Although Phillips already had a cigarette burning, he went ahead—hands shaking—and lit up a second. A lesser known anecdote is perhaps more illustrative. After retiring in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, CuIS dangle Nicolas Sirgado appeared in the Cuban TV documentary ZR Rifle (1993) and narrated that his CIA handler Harold Benson, aka David Phillips, had “told me [that during a visit to Arlington Cemetery] he had seized the opportunity to urinate on Kennedy’s grave, since he considered Kennedy a damned Communist.”
Under the alias of Maurice Bishop, Phillips was also the CIA handler of true anti-Castro militant Antonio Veciana. Two major assassination plots against Castro arose from their bond: firing a bazooka at his speaker’s rostrum in Havana (1961) and shooting him with a gun hidden in a TV camera in Santiago de Chile (1971). Veciana has said that both attempts failed because—like almost all other cases—those willing to kill Castro wanted to see his funeral.
Veciana went public about the conspiracy against JFK, too. He recounts that arriving at a meeting with Bishop in downtown Dallas in September 1963, the latter was with a young man who immediately left; after the assassination, Veciana realized this young man was Oswald. Veciana added that his cousin Hilda was married to Guillermo Ruiz, Cuban Commerce Attaché in Mexico City, and Bishop tried to take advantage of it to learn how to get a visa at the Cuban Consulate and to recruit Ruiz in order to present him as a defector who would reveal CuIS had given Oswald precise instructions to kill Kennedy. General Escalante thinks Veciana was part of the plot, since the CIA tried to recruit Ruiz before the assassination.
The CIA retains four of Phillip’s operational files that comprise some 600 pages and should be declassified in October 2017, unless the CIA chooses to ask for—and President Trump grants—another delay in the release. Meanwhile, as if Phillips-Bishop-Benson had never existed, Piereson and other conservative species dip into the absurd hypothesis that “Castro did it” to whitewash what in reality was the planned gambit of a Castroite Oswald in New Orleans and Mexico City who became a lone gunman shooting a magic bullet in Dallas.