The year 2017 contains two important milestones in the mystery of the John F. Kennedy saga—one dealing with the man, the other with the mysteries of his assassination. The end of last month marked the centennial of Kennedy’s birth in Brookline, Massachusetts. This was commemorated with glossy news magazine special editions and a few TV programs—at least one with Caroline Kennedy, the last surviving member of the immediate family. There was also an act of Congress recognizing this event.
This October, another act of Congress will be honored in regards to John F. Kennedy. This one relates not to his life, but to his death. On October 17th, the National Archives will release well over three thousand documents relating to the assassination of President Kennedy. In other words, fifty-four years after his murder, 53 years after the Warren Report was issued, the American public will finally be allowed to read what the American government wanted to keep classified for still another 22 years. Because if it were not for Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, most of these documents would have remained classified until the year 2039. But due to the firestorm of controversy created by that film, an act of Congress was passed. That act created a citizens’ panel called the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). From 1994-98 it declassified over two million pages of documents dealing with the assassination of President Kennedy. But there were certain restrictions placed in the legislation that allowed for exceptions until the year 2017. Those exceptions will expire this October.
The secrets already released by the ARRB from 1994-98 were underplayed by the news media, but in fact they were quite bracing. For instance, the records of a meeting in May of 1963 helmed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara showed that President Kennedy did have a plan to withdraw from Vietnam. Under questioning by ARRB chief counsel Jeremy Gunn, Kennedy pathologist James Humes revealed that he had burned both his notes and the first draft of his autopsy report. We learned from declassified records of the Church Committee that INS officers—on the trail of Cuban illegals—had followed David Ferrie to Guy Banister’s office in New Orleans. And they found Lee Oswald there.
On April 28th of this year, Max Holland published an essay on the JFK case in The Daily Beast. Holland brought up a different milestone date. This one concerned the 50th anniversary of a story originally published on April 25, 1967 in the (now defunct) New Orleans States Item. Holland’s article was called “How the KGB Duped Oliver Stone.” Holland stated that the 50-year-old article—titled “Mounting Evidence Links CIA to Plot Probe”—was a triumph for Moscow.
The article describes the arrest of Clay Shaw by New Orleans DA Jim Garrison on March 1, 1967. Holland characterizes the arrest of Shaw for conspiracy in the JFK case as “outlandish and baseless”. He adds that the reasons for Shaw’s arrest had already been reviewed back in 1963 by the FBI and found wanting.
But the arrest of Shaw created headlines around the world. And this led to several articles about Shaw’s work in Rome for a mysterious business entity called Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC). One Italian newspaper, which produced a series of articles, Paese Sera, was a leftwing publication that eventually wrote that CMC might have been a creation of the CIA, and a center of funding for illegal covert activities. Jim Garrison received copies of these Paese Sera articles. According to the author, this is how the DA now centered his investigation on CIA complicity in the Kennedy murder. The article then concludes that Garrison was really an unsuspecting dupe of Moscow. How? Because Paese Sera was really a conduit for KGB disinformation. And because Oliver Stone based his 1991 film JFK on Garrison’s memoir On the Trail of the Assassins, Stone was also made a Moscow dupe.
Holland’s source for this? The controversial Mitrokhin archives. Vasili Mitrokhin was a former archivist for the KGB. In 1992 he defected to the United Kingdom. As Russian scholar Amy Knight has noted, the story behind Mitrokhin and his defection strains credulity. But it began a whole new genre of academic studies and books. With a skeptical eye, she surveyed the books in all of their questionable aspects, i.e., the sales and marketing of former Russian intelligence employees who spirit out their notes on KGB files. (See this article in the Wilson Quarterly)
This new area of trade and barter reached its apogee in the instance of Alexander Vassiliev, still another former Russian intelligence officer who defected to England. In that case, it was shown that Vassiliev’s “notes” at times actually distorted the original memorandum beyond recognition.
Once in England, Mitrokhin was furnished with an official in-house British MI5 author. In turn, Christopher Andrew set up a syndication deal with Rupert Murdoch. The subsequent volume was called The Sword and the Shield. In 1995, the political angle behind the barter was accentuated. Based on the word of still another Russian intelligence defector, Murdoch and his subordinates accused former Labor Party leader Michael Foot of accepting funds from KGB agents. Foot promptly sued for libel. Understandably, Murdoch did not want to appear in court, so he settled the case in Foot’s favor.
Mitrokhin’s notes said that the late Mark Lane had been aided by two secret donations from the KGB: one for 1500 dollars and one for 500 dollars. As Lane later replied, the only donation he received even close to those amounts was from the extraordinarily wealthy Corliss Lamont, an heir to the JP Morgan fortune. Not a likely candidate for a KGB agent. Further, according to the Mitrokhin notes, the transfer occurred in New York City in 1966. As Lane has noted, he was living in London that year, finishing up and editing his book Rush to Judgment, which was being published by a British house. (Lane, Last Word, pp. 92-93) Third, the next largest donation Lane got for further research was from Woody Allen. It was for $50. Lane kept records of his donations. In other words, the Mitrokhin charges against him were quite dubious. Consequently, he challenged the veracity of the book in a letter to the author. Andrew never replied. (ibid, p. 96)
Which brings us to the pretext for this article. Clay Shaw was arrested on March 1, 1967. Three days later, Paese Sera began publishing its six-part series on the mysterious and suspicious activities of the CMC in Italy. The author tries to imply that there was a cause-effect relationship between the two events. He bases this on one of the notes in the Mitrokhin archive. That note says that in 1967, the Russians started a disinformation scheme in that Italian newspaper that was later picked up in New York. (ibid, p. 73) That is it. In other words, there is no specificity to the accusation. There is no mention in the Mitrokhin note of Jim Garrison, Clay Shaw, the CMC or any New York publication that picked up the story. Realizing how that paucity presents a problem, Holland had once said that there was a mention of the Paese Sera series in the socialist New York weekly the National Guardian. But this was only done because they had a contributor who lived in Rome.
In prior presentations, Holland had realized how thin this case was. So he added the testimony of CIA officer Richard Helms before a congressional committee concerning Paese Sera. The problem with this was that Dr. Gary Aguilar exposed Helms’ testimony as being rather faulty. It turned out that Helms, in order to discredit Paese Sera, used a story in which they said the CIA was complicit in the attempts to overthrow French president Charles DeGaulle. As Aguilar ably pointed out, this story was true. Even a sympathetic CIA author like Andrew Tully admitted this as far back as 1962, after the attempted coup of the French generals over the war in Algeria. The complicity was reported even earlier than that in The New York Times by Scotty Reston. (NY Times, April 29, 1961) More recently, David Talbot hammered the point home with multiple sources in his biography of Allen Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard. (See pp. 412-24)
Another implication of Holland’s essay is that, somehow, the KGB dreamed up the story and gave it to Paese Sera on the occasion of Shaw’s arrest. As anyone in the newspaper business knows, usually the next day’s paper is locked down the night before. Which would mean that the KGB put the story together in about 48 hours. This author had the opportunity to read the six part series in translation. The idea that a foreign intelligence service could put together such a story on such brief notice is hard to buy. Clearly, the quite lengthy, detailed reporting was the result of a weeks-long inquiry into the whole business enterprise of the CMC. So unless this was all made up in Moscow—and it is hard to see how it could be—the idea of a KGB “planting” of the story is simply improbable.
Why would Paese Sera be interested in such a lengthy exposé? Because the CMC was a mysterious business agency with a suspect past. Prior to moving to Italy, the enterprise had been kicked out of Basel, Switzerland in 1957. The reasons were similar to those that Paese Sera complained about: murky financing and the questionable character of the company directors. Which included one George Mandel, who had been accused of working the Jewish refugee racket during World War II. When this unsavory fact surfaced in the Swiss press, Mandel threatened to sue the paper—but he didn’t. The editor was disappointed. He commented, “Too bad. We would have heard some great things at the trial.” (Paris Flammonde, The Kennedy Conspiracy, p. 216; State Department Memorandum of April 9, 1958)
But further, as questions about the financing in Basel began to crest, another director of the firm, former Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Nagy, mentioned J. Henry Schroder Banking Corporation as a source of funds. He also mentioned J and W Seligman. As William Davy writes in his book Let Justice be Done, Allen Dulles had been general counsel to Schroder prior to becoming CIA Director. When the Dulles brothers law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, was still dealing with the Nazis in the thirties, they used Schroder’s as their conduit. When Dulles became DCI, he opened up a fifty million dollar emergency fund with Schroder’s. It was later reported that Schroder’s served as one of the recurring cut-outs for the Agency to transfer funds. (Davy, pp. 96-97) If one consults the book Millionaires and Managers, a 1969 analysis of the large Wall Street investment houses and legal firms, one will see that both banks—Schroder and Seligman—come under the purview and control of what the author calls the Sullivan and Cromwell/Marine Midland Group. This important back-story in Switzerland is ignored by Holland.
In 1958, because of all the controversy in Basel, the enterprise moved to Italy. This is when Clay Shaw entered the picture. The major board players in Italy were much the same as in Switzerland. But they were augmented by people like a former member of Mussolini’s cabinet, and the son-in-law of Hjalmar Schacht, financial guru of the Third Reich. They represented “a small cross-section of the aging royalists with whom Shaw liked to hobnob on his European jaunts and whose names and phone numbers were kept in his address book.” (Davy, p. 98)
Paese Sera was not the only newspaper that reported on the controversial company. So did Corriere della Sera, Il Messaggero and Le Devoir in Montreal. The latter likely reported on the enterprise because its general counsel was Louis Bloomfield, a Montreal corporate and international lawyer. Looking through what has been released of Bloomfield’s papers, researcher Maurice Phillips has discovered that Bloomfield was an important player in the CMC scheme. He actually coordinated meetings and investments for Nagy from some of the wealthiest men in the world, who were somehow interested in the CMC; e.g., Edmund deRothschild, and David Rockefeller. (Letter from Bloomfield to Dr. E. W. Imfeld, 2/10/60) Phillips has also uncovered documents that show that Nagy was a CIA asset and that he queried the Agency, offering them the use of CMC in any capacity. (March 24, 1967 CIA memo, released in 1998.) Phillips is now involved in a legal dispute with the Bloomfield estate, who wish to cut off any further access to these papers. This, in spite of the fact that Bloomfield’s will said his papers should be opened to the public twenty years after his death, and he passed away in 1984.
Finally, there is information about the CIA and the CMC from FBI agent Regis Kennedy, who, along with Warren DeBrueys, was J. Edgar Hoover’s man on the ground in the Cuban exile community in New Orleans. He reportedly stated that, “Shaw was a CIA agent who had done work of an unspecified nature over a five year period in Italy.” (Davy, p. 100) That description, of course, perfectly matches both the time span and the location of the CMC. Therefore, in two strands of Holland’s sixteen-year old yarn—concerning the CIA and the DeGaulle overthrow, and the Agency connections to the Centro Mondiale Commerciale—it turns out that Paese Sera was right and Holland was, shall we say, obtuse. After all the controversy in Italy, the CMC left and went to Johannesburg, South Africa. Thus the idea that CMC was somehow connected with the Central Intelligence Agency is anything but disinformation.
But Holland goes even further here. In defiance of the ARRB declassified record, he conceals from the reader the new documents about Clay Shaw. The author writes that both the Warren Commission and the FBI investigated the true identity of a man named Clay Bertrand, who New Orleans lawyer Dean Andrews said called him to go to Dallas and defend Oswald. Holland writes that the Bureau and the Commission determined that this allegation was false, and that Bertrand was not even a real person.
First, there is no evidence that the Warren Commission itself ever did any kind of search for the true identity of Clay Bertrand. The FBI did investigate the issue. And the results were pretty much contrary to what Holland describes. In 1967, the Justice Department committed a faux pas about it. They admitted that the FBI had investigated Clay Shaw back in 1963. (Davy, p. 191) This announcement caused much consternation at FBI headquarters, because the obvious follow up question would be: Why was the FBI investigating Shaw as part of its original inquiry into the Kennedy murder? J. Edgar Hoover did not want to answer that question. So the Justice Department issued a second announcement: the FBI had not conducted any inquiry about Shaw in 1963.
As the declassified record demonstrates, this was false. In fact, The New York Times actually printed the truth about this on March 3, 1967. They wrote, “A Justice Department official said tonight that his agency was convinced that Mr. Bertrand and Mr. Shaw were the same man … .” Behind the scenes, FBI official Cartha DeLoach admitted that, in December of 1963, several parties had furnished the FBI information about Shaw. (Davy, p. 192, italics added) Before Shaw was arrested, the FBI had multiple sources saying Garrison was correct: Shaw was Bertrand. (ibid, p. 193) The declassified record shows that the Bureau knew this and concealed it.
One of the most questionable statements in Holland’s essay is that it was because of the Paese Sera article that Garrison began to focus on the CIA as his chief suspect in the Kennedy murder. Again, this does not align with the record, or even with what Garrison himself has written. It is very clear what led Garrison down this path: Oswald’s Russian language test in the military, and the flyers Oswald was passing out on Canal Street in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. The former was a strong indication Oswald was receiving Russian language training in the Marines. Which suggests he was being prepared in advance for his defection to Russia upon his early release. As per the latter, some of the flyers Oswald was handing out in New Orleans contained the address: 544 Camp Street. As depicted in Stone’s film, Garrison visited this building. It turned out that Oswald had been seen there at the office of former FBI agent Guy Banister. It turned out that, again, as depicted in JFK, Banister’s office was a clearinghouse for many Cuban exiles, along with Oswald’s longtime friend, David Ferrie. And Garrison later learned that both Banister and Ferrie were involved with both the Bay of Pigs landing, and Operation Mongoose, the secret war against Cuba, also depicted in Stone’s film. Both of these were CIA sanctioned, supplied, and backed. The more Garrison peeled back 544 Camp Street, the more he discovered how residents of the address, like Sergio Arcacha Smith, were related to the CRC. This was the CIA’s anti-Castro Cuban government in exile, created by Howard Hunt. Therefore, the only way to explain Oswald’s presence amid all these CIA agents and Castro haters was that he was an agent provocateur against the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which was billed on the literature as being located at that address. Garrison goes through all of this in his memoir, On the Trail of the Assassins. (See Garrison, pp. 22-25 and 34-36)
But another point that caused Garrison to consider the CIA as a chief suspect was the infiltration of his office. And also the fact that suspects and witnesses in his case were being furnished lawyers associated with the CIA. Again, this point has been reinforced with the release of declassified files by the ARRB. Through that process we have discovered that the CIA maintains what they call a Cleared Attorneys Panel in major cities. This panel is called upon when the Agency gets stuck in sensitive situations. The Garrison investigation caused word to get out in the New Orleans legal community about this panel, and soon letters were being sent to CIA Director Richard Helms to volunteer for work on it. (Letter from James Quaid, May 15, 1967)
This directly relates to the article Holland mentions in The New Orleans States Item. The Paese Sera article takes up two paragraphs in the over thirty-paragraph article. The reporting team had talked to one of the witnesses Garrison was trying to extradite back to New Orleans. Gordon Novel had volunteered for Garrison’s probe masquerading as an electronics expert who could ensure his office was not bugged. He ended up doing the opposite. Again, as Stone’s film shows, he wired the office for sound and sold some of the tapes to the producer of an upcoming NBC special. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second edition, pp. 232-34) When Garrison requested Novel testify before the grand jury, he fled the state. As the article reveals, Novel had worked for the CIA since the Bay of Pigs operation. And he planned on using those credentials for his defense—if Garrison ever got him back to New Orleans. Which he did not. In other words, a former CIA operative was ingratiating himself with the DA. He was then wiring his office and selling the tapes to an upcoming negative TV special. And, as Garrison revealed in his October 1967 Playboy interview, one of Novel’s attorneys was being paid by the CIA. Kind of interesting, no? But it is left out of Holland’s story.
As one can see from what I have indicated above, the Mitrokhin Archives represents one notch of a string of former KGB agents who understood an important historical point in time had been reached. That, after the fall of the USSR, and especially after the rise to power of Boris Yeltsin and his disastrous economic policies, the writing was on the wall. One way to escape the oncoming socio-economic crisis was to curry favor with the American State Department, as depicted in the recent film, Ukraine on Fire. Another way was to win over the west with “notes” from the KGB Archives. (Evidently Mitrokhin did not have access to a copier for all those many years he was an archivist.)
But the East/West exchange actually goes back before Mitrokhin. It stems from the relationship of former TV/Radio journalist Brian Litman with the KGB after the USSR began to collapse in 1991. At that time, while working for an American cable TV company, Litman was living in Moscow. It is there that he began a relationship with the KGB and sold the American rights to a book called Passport to Assassination. That book proposed that Lee Harvey Oswald actually did go to the Russian embassy while he was in Mexico City. There, he met with the embassy chief consul and two assistant consuls. This occurred even though no surveillance camera captured Oswald’s image upon entrance or exit; and there was no recorded tape of his voice inside the embassy. Even though the embassy was under multi-camera surveillance and the interior was bugged.
The portrayal of Oswald in this book is that of a desperate man at the end of his rope. He carries a handgun with him since he thinks the FBI is following him around everywhere—even in Mexico. He says ominous things, like, “For me it’s all going to end in tragedy.” Or he breaks down and weeps, because he fears the FBI will actually kill him. This is allegedly due to the fact he wrote a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Washington over the possibility of returning to Russia. In other words, by actually placing Oswald in Mexico City, this book countered what Mexico City CIA officer David Phillips said in public: namely, that when all the information is finally produced, there will be no evidence placing Oswald inside the Russian embassy. (Mark Lane, Plausible Denial, p. 82) Thus began a long migration of convenient helpers from the KGB who would paper over problems in the CIA’s version of the Cold War—including its difficulties with the Kennedy assassination. For instance, in the Litman/Nechiporenko version of Oswald in Mexico, Oswald (oh so conveniently) pulls his jacket over his head as he leaves the embassy—as if the authors were aware that the CIA surveillance took no photos of Oswald entering or leaving. One wonders, did he also do that upon entering the compound? If so, how did he know about the surveillance?
But perhaps the worst part of the essay is the charge that it was Jim Garrison who caused a loss of belief by Americans in the democratic institutions of their government. Because it was not Jim Garrison who provoked serious doubts about the Warren Commission. It was a wave of books, articles, and radio appearances by the first critics of the Warren Report, who preceded Jim Garrison. That is, writers like Edward Epstein, Vincent Salandria, Harold Weisberg, and Mark Lane. By 1967, the Gallup Poll revealed that belief in the Warren Report’s Oswald-Did-It-Alone concept was at about 30%. What drove it even lower—to 11% in 1976—were three major events, which we all know about. They were, in order, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the exposés of the Church Committee concerning the crimes of the CIA and FBI. This all began in 1965—with the first insertion of American combat troops into Vietnam—and continued until the last reports of the Church Committee in 1976.
The unfolding of these three events on national TV, radio, and in daily newspapers, was incessant and, in its cumulative effect, oceanic. They literally dominated all news cycles for over ten years. Has Holland completely forgot about the Tet Offensive and the cover up of the slaughter of civilians at My Lai? What about Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre? Or the indictments of over sixty employees of his administration, and the convictions of over forty of them? Perhaps he missed the Church Committee’s exposure of the attempts by the CIA to assassinate Patrice Lumumba of the Congo? Or J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO programs to infiltrate, disrupt, and sometimes eliminate leftist groups?
It was the tremendous impact of these three events that drove down all belief in government. And anyone can see this by looking at the graph in Kevin Phillips’ 1995 book Arrogant Capitol, which first appeared in US News and World Report. But interestingly, on that US News graph, the drop-off in belief begins in 1964, the year the Warren Report was issued, three years before Jim Garrison’s inquiry was made public. This would suggest that, from the beginning—and without any outside influence—the American public thought something was awry with the official story of President Kennedy’s assassination.
As author Larry Sabato noted in his 2013 book The Kennedy Half Century, there is an underlying reason that Kennedy’s life and death is celebrated on so many occasions. Sabato commissioned extensive polling and focus groups for his book. At the end, he revealed that 78% of those polled thought that Kennedy’s presidency had a deep impact on the USA. Which is remarkable since Kennedy only served two years and ten months of his term. Even more remarkably, 91% of the public believes that Kennedy’s murder changed the country a great deal. The last polling result was that 75% of the public did not believe the Warren Report verdict of Kennedy’s assassination, namely that Oswald acted alone.
The Daily Beast preferred printing this article instead of previewing the upcoming releases of the ARRB in October, or the mock trial of Oswald in November in Houston. Which is somewhat surprising, since those upcoming events are rather singular in more ways than one. Holland’s article is nothing more than a rerun of an essay he started marketing at least 16 years ago. In the Spring 2001 edition of Wilson Quarterly , it was entitled “The Demon in in Jim Garrison”. In 2004, he made a very similar presentation at the Assassination Archives Research Center Conference, which, as mentioned above, was rebutted by Gary Aguilar. In 2007, the piece was printed in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence. Any differences between the versions is marginal. So if The Daily Beast paid Holland, it was like a photographer dusting off photos in his drawer from 15 years ago—easy money. But what makes it worse is that they were all done after 1998—the termination date of the Assassination Records Review Board. As the reader can see, Holland ignored the new information on Clay Shaw and Jim Garrison. Instead, he went with records from an alleged KGB archives which are easily rendered dubious.
For many, many years now Holland has been ignoring the declassified records of the ARRB. Even when he was supposed to be reporting on those files. The fact that he still does so, even on the eve of their final disbursement, tells us all we need to know about him.