I want to begin this review by stating that I have a huge a mount of respect for Mark Lane. As a lawyer of over fifty years Lane has an undeniable history of looking out for the little guy. He represented numerous African Americans in civil rights cases in the south and was arrested for opposing segregation as a “Freedom rider”. He has been a dedicated antiwar protester and during his term as a New York State Legislator he worked to abolish capital punishment. Lane represented the American Indian Movement at the Wounded Knee Trial and helped establish the rights of women to bring actions for sexual harassment. Even Vincent Bugliosi admitted that Lane's “bona fides as a skilled and dedicated soldier in the fight for civil liberties” are “unquestioned”. (Reclaiming History, p. 1011)
Perhaps more relevant to this review, Lane was one of very few prominent citizens speaking out on Lee Harvey Oswald's behalf in 1963, and within weeks of Oswald's murder at Dallas Police HQ he had the courage to pen a defense brief for the alleged assassin. At Marguerite Oswald's request he attempted to represent her son's interests before the Warren Commission and after the request was denied he testified before the commission and shared details he had uncovered during his own investigation of the assassination. His first book on the subject, Rush to Judgement, was a devastating critique of the Warren report that undermined all of the commission's central conclusions. Lane gave numerous lectures on the assassination, and assisted New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison during his much maligned investigation and prosecution of Clay Shaw. He played a key role in establishing the House Select Committee on Assassinations and faced E. Howard Hunt in court where he presented evidence of CIA complicity in the assassination before the jury.
By any standards, Lane's resume is impressive, and as I stated above, I have a great deal of respect for the man. So it is with heavy heart that I must say his latest and most likely his last book on the murder of JFK, Last Word, is—for me at least—a little disappointing. In nearly 300 pages he presents little that is really new. And he gives the impression of being largely unaware of some of the more interesting research published in the years since the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) pried open thousands of crucial documents from the hands of US intelligence agencies. Somewhat surprisingly the book is, at times, awkwardly written and poorly edited; there are numerous typographical errors, there is no index, and worst of all, the book is poorly sourced. In fact, there are times when the author makes controversial statements for which he offers no citation at all. In no way do I mean to suggest the book is without merit; Lane offers many interesting facts, insights and anecdotes; and his ultra sharp wit is very much in evidence throughout the text. But if this is truly to be his “Last word” on the subject, I can't help wishing it had been a little more substantial.
Last Word is divided into five books; the most interesting of which is, for my money, book two: “The Media Response”. Part of what makes it interesting is that Lane takes the opportunity to hit back at some of his critics and exposes some of the lies that have been spread about him and his work on the assassination. Mark lane is, after all, the man Warren Commission apologists love to hate and with the exception of the late great Jim Garrison, no commission critic has suffered as many baseless personal attacks as Lane. For example, in his mammoth waste of paper, Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi spends an entire chapter attempting to undermine and discredit Lane and his brilliant book, Rush To Judgement. But despite spending twelve fun-filled pages employing every smear tactic available, Bugliosi never actually gets around to pointing out any of the “distortions or outright fabrications” he claims are in the book. The closest he comes is this:
Lane was so bold and blatant in distorting the truth that he even gives citations to the Warren Commission volumes that he knows directly contradict his own arguments. For instance, he states that the Warren Commission’s firearms experts were unable to duplicate on the range what Oswald had done. “none of them,” he says, “struck the enlarged head or neck on the target even once.” But an examination of the citations given by Lane himself (Commission Exhibit Nos. 582 to 584, Warren Commission volume 17, pages 261 to 262) shows two hits were scored on the head. (Reclaiming History, p. 1005)
But the distortion of truth is Bugliosi's not Lane's.
Knowing that Oswald was a poor shot, the Warren Commission made it clear that it believed he had been able to pull off the assassination by utilizing the telescopic sight on his cheap mail-ordered rifle. In that regard and under the heading “The Nature of the Shots”, the commission's report quotes FBI firearms expert Robert Frazier as stating that “when you shoot at 175 feet or 260 feet, which is less than 100 yards, with a telescopic sight, you should not have any difficulty in hitting your target...I mean it requires no training at all to shoot a weapon with a telescopic sight once you know that you must put the crosshairs on the target and that is all that is necessary" [my emphasis](Warren Report p. 190) The above passage and subsequent ones make it clear that the commission attributed to Oswald the use of the scope. In fact, the report even goes as far as to suggest that a defect in the scope “was one which would have assisted the assassin aiming at a target which was moving away”! (p. 194) With this in mind, the reader is invited to check Commission Exhibits 582 and 584 for themselves. They will see that the two head shots were scored by using the iron sights and not the defective scope, which means that Lane was correct; none of the expert riflemen had duplicated Oswald's alleged feat.
Lane turns the tables on Bugliosi, writing that his “book, page after page, swarms with hundreds of demonstrably inaccurate assurances”, (Last Word, p. 143) and unlike Bugliosi he actually provides instances that support his contention. For example, Bugliosi claims that in a taped telephone conversation with Helen Markham, the Warren Commission's star witness to the murder of J.D. Tippit, Lane had identified himself “as Captain Fritz of the Dallas Police Department” before making a “blatant attempt to improperly influence, almost force an uneducated and unsophisticated witness to say what he wanted her to say.” (Reclaiming History, pgs. 1006 & 1009) As Lane makes clear, this is simply not true, and Bugliosi had to know it. Firstly, the transcript of the telephone conversation to which Bugliosi makes reference begins, “My name is Mr. Lane. I'm an attorney investigating the Oswald case.” And secondly, “The statement that I tried to put words into Markham's mouth, an original Bugliosi fabrication, is belied by a review of the facts. Since Markham had told reporters, long before I had spoken with her, that the man she had seen shoot Tippit was 'short' (Oswald was not short) that he was “stocky” (Oswald was thin) and that he had “bushy hair” (Oswald had thinning hair and a receding hairline), I called her to discuss her original description. She in part conceded the accuracy of her original assessment of the shooter and in part rejected it. The original words were hers, not mine, as Bugliosi knew but declined to reveal.” (Lane p. 148) Bugliosi also omitted the fact that this description of Tippit's killer is similar to the initial description given to Dallas police officer Gerald Hill: “5'8'', 160 pounds, wearing a jacket, a light shirt, dark trousers, and sort of bushy brown hair [my emphasis]. (7H47)
Lane also defends himself against the unscrupulous attacks made by another high profile defender of the official fairy tale, Max Holland. Back in 2006, Holland took us all back in time when he attempted to undermine Lane's research in the pages of The Nation by dragging out the tried and true (and slightly outdated) “commie smear” tactic. Holland as we all know, and as Lane points out, is little more than a mouthpiece for the CIA who regularly writes articles for the official CIA website “supporting and defending the CIA and attacking those who dare to disagree”. (Lane p. 112) For his 2006 piece titled “The JFK Lawyers' Conspiracy”, Holland stated that the KGB was secretly funding Lane when he researched and lectured on the assassination and wrote his best-selling book, Rush to Judgment. As Lane wrote in a letter to The Nation, “It was secret all right. It never happened...No one ever made a sizeable contribution with the exception of Corliss Lamont who contributed enough for me to fly one time from New York to Dallas to interview an eyewitness. The second largest contribution was $50.00 given to me by Woody Allen.” (p. 111) When Lane made it clear that he had kept records of all contributions, Holland suggested, somewhat desperately, that the money could have been given in very small amounts. “Perhaps”, Lane sardonically replies, “when I was discussing the case each night for months from the stage of a small theater in New York, a couple of hundred Russian agents, wearing long leather coats, slipped in unnoticed and each paid a dollar for admission.” (p. 94)
Holland comes under additional fire in a chapter contributed by Oliver Stone in which the film maker responds to Holland's claim that the KGB was behind the 1967 Paese Sera story naming Clay Shaw as a board member of Centro Mondiale Comerciale—an organization that had been booted out of Italy amid charges that it was front for the CIA. Holland argues laughably in his article, The Lie that Linked the CIA to the Kennedy Assassination, that it was the Paese Sera articles that led Jim Garrison to believe the CIA was behind the assassination and that the whole thing was the result of a KGB disinformation scheme. But Holland's silly story falls flat on both counts. Firstly, the entire claim that the KGB was behind it all rests on one handwritten note by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin referring to a disinformation scheme that resulted in the publication of a false story in New York. “The note”, Stone writes, “supposedly summarizing a KGB document that Holland has never seen, does not mention Clay Shaw, Centro Mondiale Comerciale, Jim Garrison, or any specific New York publication.” And secondly, “Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins describes in detail how his uncovering of various pieces of evidence actually led him to the conclusion that the CIA was involved.” His suspicions of Agency involvement began when he investigated—among other things—Oswald's background, his associations with CIA-connected people like David Ferrie and George De Mohrenschildt, and discovered “the fact that Oswald was working out of an office that was running the CIA's local training camp for Operation Mongoose...No doubt the Paese Sera series was another piece of the puzzle for Garrison, but it was not the centerpiece of his thinking that Holland makes it out to be.”(pgs. 73-75)
On the subject of Jim Garrison, Lane relates an intriguing story that seriously undermines the conventional view that Bobby Kennedy saw no value in Garrison's investigation. It is usually said that once Garrison's probe became public, RFK had dispatched Walter Sheridan to New Orleans to see if there was any substance to his charges and that Sheridan had quickly reported back that Garrison was a “fraud.” We are usually told that Kennedy accepted Sheridan's assessment and author Joan Mellen even goes so far as to charge that “Bobby Kennedy did everything he could to stop Jim Garrison” and that “Destroying Garrison's investigation became Bobby's obsession.” (A Farewell to Justice, pgs. 259, 382) However, Lane writes that one evening in 1968 over drinks in New Orleans' famous French quarter Garrison confided that Kennedy had sent him a message through a mutual friend. “He said 'Keep up the good work. I support you and when I'm president I am going to blow the whole thing wide open.'” (Lane, p. 42) Garrison had expressed concern that by telling people in private what he planned to do, RFK was putting his life in danger and reasoned that he would be safer if he announced his intentions publicly. Two days later the mutual friend relayed that Bobby had thought it over and decided that if he won the California primary he would go public with his doubts about the official verdict. Kennedy did, of course, win the primary, but he did not live long enough to call for a new investigation.
As someone who has long found the official investigations of the Kennedy assassination almost as interesting as the assassination itself, I very much enjoyed reading Lane's somewhat egocentric recollection of the formation and early days of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). In contrast to the Warren Commission, which we all know by now began with its lone assassin/no conspiracy conclusion already firmly in place, the HSCA had the potential to conduct a genuine investigation that might well have uncovered the true facts of the case. But powerful forces in Washington stood in its way.
In 1975, Lane writes, he moved to Washington, D.C., to organize 180 chapters of the “Citizen's Commission of Inquiry” whose purpose was to urge congress to conduct a new investigation of the assassination and its subsequent cover-up. Whilst continuing to lecture on the subject he prepared a resolution calling for the establishment of a Select Committee and began calling upon members of the House of Representatives for their support. A year later, with over one hundred congressional sponsors and over a million letters, telegrams and signatures on petitions sent to members of congress, the resolution was set for a vote. According to Lane, when the bill passed, Representative Don Edwards looked at him and remarked, “This should be called the Mark lane resolution.” (Last Word, p. 215) Once the HSCA was authorized and given a down payment for its budget, members of the committee suggested he take the job of Chief Counsel. “I said that even I would object”, Lane writes, “since my objectivity had long since evaporated in view of the undeniable evidence.” (p. 216)
Eventually, a brilliant and respected Philadelphia prosecutor named Richard Sprague was chosen for the job. As committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi writes, “Sprague had run up a record of 69 homicide convictions out of 70 prosecutions, and he was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were.” (The Last Investigation, p. 176) Sprague chose as his Deputy Chief Counsel a veteran homicide attorney from the New York District Attorney's Office named Robert K. Tanenbaum who was, according to Fonzi, “the epitome of the quick-thinking, fast-talking prosecutor.” (p. 179) As Lane puts it, “he had a fine reputation...Both Sprague and Tanenbaum were honest, intelligent and skillful lawyers committed to learning the truth.” (Last Word, pgs. 220-221) Indeed it was the skill, integrity and dedication of both men that would put them off the committee before its work had truly begun.
Sprague had made it obvious that he wanted to conduct an honest and independent investigation that would uncover the truth—whatever that may be. He knew that he could not rely on the same agencies that the Warren Commission had (i.e. the FBI and the CIA) as his investigators, since those very agencies might themselves be under suspicion. So he insisted on hiring his own investigators. Pretty quickly the CIA began stonewalling the Committee's requests for information—especially those relating to Lee Harvey Oswald's alleged Mexico City sojourn—and insisting that Sprague sign a secrecy agreement which he refused to do, asking how he could “possibly sign an agreement with an agency I'm supposed to be investigating.” (p. 217) Instead, Sprague responded that he would subpoena the CIA for all relevant materials. What followed, predictably enough, was a media smear-campaign led by Agency assets that essentially resulted in congress refusing to reauthorize the committee until Sprague was removed. As Fonzi writes, “Sprague had early on offered to resign if it meant the difference in keeping the Committee alive” and near midnight of the evening before the House vote, “Sprague realized that...the ground was being shoveled out from beneath him.” Thinking it was the only way to save the committee, he called his secretary and dictated a two-sentence letter of resignation. (Fonzi, p. 194) Tanenbaum followed shortly after.
Sprague's replacement as Committee Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey, was fairly contrary to him. A 41-year-old law professor who, as he admitted to Tanenbaum, had never tried a case, Blakey knew exactly what was expected of him in Washington, since he had worked on previous Congressional committees. In his first address to the Committee staff, Blakey made it clear that their top priority was not to conduct a criminal investigation, it was to produce a report on time and within budget. Blakey had promised that the Committee would produce a report by December 31, 1978, and he informed the staff that there was no chance the committee would be extended beyond that deadline. As Fonzi recalled, “with that pronouncement, I got a revealing insight into Bob Blakey's character...He saw nothing incongruous in accepting a basic and crucial limitation to conducting 'a full and complete investigation' of one of the most important events in this country's history.” (Ibid, p. 210) Blakey also had no problem with signing (and insisting that staff members sign) a secrecy agreement before being given access to CIA documents. Nor with sealing the Committee's voluminous files so that they would be kept from public scrutiny for 50 years. As Lane puts it, “Blakey relied upon the judgment of the CIA and the FBI, who placed their operatives on his staff and who provided only those documents that they wanted the Congress to see. The congressional committee had been captured.” (Lane, p. 232)
In composing his report, Blakey placed a great deal of importance on the scientific evidence—trajectory analysis, ballistics comparison, medical studies etc.— and insisted that it proved Oswald's guilt. But the linchpin of his case, the Neutron Activation Analysis of the ballistics evidence, has since been proven to be so unreliable that the FBI has abandoned its usage in court. In fact, even Blakey now refers to the HSCA's NAA analysis as “junk science”. But perhaps his biggest folly was trusting the CIA and allowing it to appoint career Agency man George Joannides as its liaison to the Committee. In 1978, when he was assigned to the HSCA, Joannides was allegedly retired. But in November of 1963 he was serving as chief of psychological warfare operations in the CIA's Miami station and his main job was to provide funds and support for to the anti-Castro group “Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil” (DRE). As journalist Jefferson Morley explains, by 1962, “the DRE was perhaps the single biggest and most active organization opposing Fidel Castro's regime. In Miami, Joannides was giving the leaders of the group up to $25,000 a month in cash for what he described as 'intelligence collection' and 'propaganda.'” (Morley, The Man Who Didn't Talk and Other Tales from the New Kennedy Assassination Files) In August 1963, the New Orleans chapter of the DRE had a number of very public run-ins with Lee Harvey Oswald. After Oswald offered to help train DRE commandos, “the DRE boys saw him on a street corner passing out pamphlets for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), a notoriously pro-Castro group”. (ibid.) DRE spokesman Carlos Bringuier rushed to the scene to confront him in what a police officer would later describe as a “staged event”, and later visited Oswald's home before debating him on a local radio program.
As Lane explains, “Almost immediately after the shots were fired in Dallas, the Joannides-guided group launched a media campaign to connect Fidel Castro to the murder...One DRE leader called Clair Booth Luce and assured her that the directorate knew Oswald was part of a Cuban hit team organized by Castro...Thus it was the CIA and Joannides that paid for, organized and published the very first conspiracy theory about the assassination”. (Lane, p. 234) When documents released by the ARRB in 1998 revealed Joannides' secret activities with the DRE, Blakey claimed to be outraged stating that had he known of Joannides' role he would have been “interrogated under oath by the staff or the committee”. But, in light of his past actions, Lane finds this more than a little hard to swallow. He also poses the question of whether or not Blakey is merely playing dumb. Did he know all along who he was dealing with? Or was Blakey “so inept an investigator that he could not even discover who was his own main source?” The HSCA reported that it had not have been able to identify the second gunman or “the extent of the conspiracy” but as Lane points out Blakey was somehow “able to state with absolute authority that he knew who” was not involved when he “declared that the CIA and the FBI were innocent.” As Lane concludes, it appears that Blakey “met his commitment to those who hired him”. (p. 235)
When it comes time to address Oswald's alleged visit to Mexico City in September, 1963, I believe Lane ultimately drops the ball. He correctly points to many crucial holes in the official story and casts understandable doubt on the notion that Oswald ever made the trip. But he seems to misunderstand the motivations of those who engineered the whole episode and mischaracterizes the effect it had in Washington and how it ultimately led to a cover-up.
The official version of events, as laid out in the Warren Report, has Oswald leaving New Orleans for Mexico City on September 25, 1963, and arriving on September 27, 1963. Soon after his arrival, the Commission said, he visited the Cuban Embassy to apply for a visa to visit Cuba on his way to Russia. But he was told that the he could not get a Cuban visa until he had received one from the Soviets and this would take several months. At that point, “Oswald became greatly agitated, and although he later unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a Soviet visa at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, he insisted that he was entitled to the Cuban visa because of his background, partisanship, and personal activities on behalf of the Cuban movement.” Oswald got into a loud and memorable argument with the consul who continued to refuse him a visa and remarked that far from helping the Cuban Revolution, Oswald “was doing it harm." “Disillusioned”, Oswald left Mexico City and made his way back to Texas. At least, that was the version Earl Warren put in his report. Behind closed doors, a different story was being told.
On the very weekend of assassination, the White House was receiving reports from the CIA's Mexico City station about Oswald's activities in Mexico City. In this version of events, when Oswald had called the Russian embassy, he had asked to speak to “comrade Kostin,” a codename for Valery V. Kostikov who, according to the CIA, was a KGB officer responsible for carrying out assassinations in the Western Hemisphere. This was quickly followed on Monday, November 25, by a cablegram asserting that CIA station chief Winston Scott had uncovered evidence that Castro, with possible Soviet support, had paid Oswald to assassinate President Kennedy. (Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, p. 24) At the same time, as noted above, George Joannides’ DRE group was informing the press that Oswald was part of a hit team organized by Castro. The CIA was trying to place the blame for the assassination at Castro's feet, and President Johnson's later remarks would reveal that he fell for it.
The CIA was the initial source of all information placing Oswald in Mexico City, and Lane contends that “The entire story about Oswald being in the Cuban embassy was a fiction created by the CIA. Oswald had never been to Mexico City.” (Lane, p. 205) The legend was dependent on Sylvia Duran, the Cuban consul with whom Oswald allegedly spoke, but the Commission never saw fit to call her as a witness. Why? Because when she was first questioned Duran denied ever seeing him there. The CIA wasted no time in directing its assets in the Mexico City police department to place her under arrest, put her in isolation, and keep the arrest a secret. “After a period of solitary confinement, Duran agreed to sign a statement prepared by the CIA that identified Oswald as the person in the Cuban embassy” (p. 204) When she was released from prison, Duran was understandably outraged and began speaking out against the Mexican police, unaware that the Agency was behind it all. The CIA then ordered her rearrested, and in a cable marked “priority”ordered the Mexican authorities “to take responsibility for the whole affair.” (ibid.) By not calling her to give testimony, the Commission avoided having these inconvenient facts cluttering up their report.
The CIA also claimed to have photographs of Oswald entering the Soviet embassy and a tape recording of a phone call but neither turned out to be true. When the photo materialized, it showed a middle-aged man who did not resemble Oswald in the slightest. The tape recording of the man identifying himself as “Lee Oswald” was listened to by the seven different FBI agents who interviewed Oswald on November 22 and 23, and all agreed, according to a memo written by J.Edgar Hoover himself, that the voice on the tape “Was NOT Lee Harvey Oswald.” (p. 206) When David Phillips, who ran the CIA's Mexico City Cuban desk in 1963—and was largely responsible for the Mexico city legend—was called to testify in the early days of the HSCA, he swore that he was unable to provide the tape recordings because they had been destroyed before the assassination as a matter of routine. Upon hearing this, Lane went to the committee offices to see Bob Tanenbaum. He handed him an envelope containing a copy of the Hoover memo, and told him that, once he read it, he would know what to do. And he did. Phillips was called back for further questioning and asked again to explain why he could no longer provide the tapes, to which he restated his previous testimony: that they were routinely destroyed before November 22. At that point, Tanenbaum pulled out the Hoover memo proving this to be a lie and handed it to Phillips. Phillips read the document, folded it up, put it in his pocket, then silently stood and walked out of the room. “At that moment”, Lane notes, Phillips was “guilty of obstructing Congress and numerous counts of perjury and uttering false statements.” (p. 228)
Phillips had clearly lied to the HSCA. But, according to Lane, he was ready to tell the truth some years later during a debate at the University of Southern California. At one point, when Phillips was claiming to regret the CIA attempts to destroy Lane and opining on the difficulties of being an employee of the Agency, a student in the audience yelled out, “Mexico City, Mr. Phillips. What is the truth about Mexico City?” Phillips replied, “...I will tell you this, that when the record comes out, we will find that there was never a photograph taken of Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City...let me put it, that is a categorical statement, there, there, we will find out there is no evidence, first of all no proof of that. Second there is no evidence to show that Lee Harvey Oswald ever visited the Soviet embassy.” (p. 229) Curiously, although Lane first reported this exchange in his 1991 book Plausible Denial, this seeming confession has gone largely ignored by both defenders of the official story and those critical of it.
Unfortunately, although Lane does a good job of showing that the CIA fabricated the Mexico City legend, he doesn't seem to know what to do with that revelation. In fact, he admits to being “puzzled” about why the CIA seemingly told two different stories; one in which Oswald was the lone assassin and one in which he acted at the behest of Castro. But the confusion stems from Lane's misunderstanding of the original intent of the Mexico City escapade, his belief that they were giving the two differing accounts simultaneously, and his desire to place the blame for the Warren Commission cover-up squarely on the CIA.
Lane writes incorrectly that a memo of a January 20, 1964, Warren Commission staff meeting, authored by assistant counsel Melvin Eisenberg, is the “most relevant report about a meeting at which the CIA presented its carefully constructed legend to Warren”. (p. 200) In fact, despite the impression Lane attempts to convey, the Eisenberg memo does not even mention the CIA at all. What it actually reveals is that Earl Warren initially declined chairmanship of the Commission but gave in under pressure from President Johnson:
“The President stated that rumors of the most exagerrated [sic] kind were circulating in this country and overseas. Some rumors went as far as attributing the assassination to a faction within the government wishing to see the Presidency assumed by President Johnson. Others, if not quenched, could conceivably lead the country into a war which could cost 40 million lives. The President convinced him that this was an occasion on which actual conditions had to override general principles.”
It is well documented that Johnson went to his grave believing JFK's assassination was the result of a conspiracy and although he seemingly went back and forth on who he felt was behind it, immediately after the assassination he was convinced that Castro had masterminded the plot. He apparently still gave credence to this notion in 1970 when he told CBS newsman Walter Cronkite that Kennedy had died in retaliation for the numerous American efforts to assassinate the Cuban leader. The source of Johnson's belief was undoubtedly the aforementioned false reports the CIA was feeding the White House in the days following the assassination. As the “40 million lives” remark reveals, Johnson believed that if the American people knew what the CIA was telling him, there would be a public outcry demanding a confrontation with Cuba. But following the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the secret assurances Kennedy had given Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, any action taken against Cuba could well lead to nuclear war with the USSR, and LBJ was unwilling to take that risk. When Johnson and FBI director Hoover made it clear that, as far as they were concerned, the buck was going to stop with Oswald, the CIA backed off. It stuck to its story that Oswald had been in Mexico City but it stopped relating false allegations about Oswald's Soviet and Cuban contacts.
Johnson's fear of a nuclear exchange had put a halter to the ultimate goal of those responsible for orchestrating the Mexico City charade—the very reason it was staged in the first place—an invasion of Cuba and the downfall of Castro's government. It is well documented that many of the militant Cuban exile groups and their sponsors in the CIA felt betrayed by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs and blamed him for the failed invasion. After the Cuban Missile Crisis their violent hatred of Kennedy grew as they began to believe he had no intention, despite his assurances, of unseating Castro and liberating the island. And when word got around that Kennedy had taken part in back channel communications with Castro, seeking to make peace with the Cuban leader, their worst fears were realized. Mexico City was the perfect way to precipitate the invasion that the CIA and the Cuban exiles so desperately craved. Which is precisely why David Phillips and the CIA's Mexico City station engineered the whole thing two months before the assassination. If Lane had accepted the record as it stood, and not let his eagerness to find the CIA entirely responsible for the cover-up cloud his judgment, he may have been a little less “puzzled” over the CIA's actions after November 22.
I was somewhat disheartened to find that 18 years after the publication of his second JFK book, Plausible Denial, Lane is still touting the saga of Marita Lorenz. When Lane defended Liberty Lobby against a defamation suit brought by CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, he attempted to prove that Hunt was involved in the assassination. Lorenz, a former girlfriend of Fidel Castro who was involved in a CIA-led attempt to assassinate him, was Lane's star-witness. Under oath, Lorenz claimed that in November 1963 she traveled to Dallas in a two-car caravan that included Frank Sturgis, Gerry Patrick Hemming and two brothers named Novo and Pedro Diaz Lanz. Unbeknownst to Lorenz, of course, the purpose of the trip was to kill Kennedy, and Hunt was the paymaster. They arrived in Dallas on November 21 but, having a bad feeling about the whole thing, Lorenz left the others at a motel and flew back to Miami. Sometime later, Sturgis told her that if she hadn't gotten cold feet she could have been “part of history.” They had, after all, “killed the president that day.” (Lane, p. 62)
It's a fancy little story, but Lorenz has serious credibility issues and it is not to his credit that Lane chose not to divulge them here, or in his book written largely about the trial, Plausible Denial. Respected HSCA investigator Edwin Lopez told author Gerald Posner that “Mark Lane was taken in by Marita Lorenz. Oh God, we spent a lot of time on Marita...It was hard to ignore her because she gave us so much crap, and we tried to verify it, but let me tell you—she is full of shit. Between her and Frank Sturgis, we must have wasted over one hundred hours. They were dead ends...Marita is not credible.” (Case Closed, p. 467) In The Last Investigation Gaeton Fonzi chronicles his time investigating the assassination for both the Schweiker Subcommittee and the HSCA. He goes into some detail about many of the leads he was fed that ultimately appeared as if they were designed simply to waste the time and resources of both committees. In the end, Fonzi placed Lorenz's various stories in that category.
In 1977, before she claimed knowledge of the assassination, Lorenz was giving Fonzi details about her anti-Castro activities in Miami with Frank Sturgis. She related a story about heading down to the Florida keys in a two-car caravan that included Sturgis, Gerry Patrick Hemming, Alex Rorke, and “Rafael Del Pino or Orlando Bosch” to launch a gun-running mission to Cuba. When Sturgis realized he had forgotten something, “We turned all the way around and went back” to Miami. (Fonzi, p. 90) A year and a half later, she was telling the HSCA the same story about two cars, full of the same people, this time heading to Dallas to kill Kennedy. By the time of the Liberty Lobby trial, she had bumped Del Pino and Bosch in favour of Novo and Pedro Diaz Lanz.
Whether Lane was “taken in” by Lorenz or simply used her testimony as a means to an end, he nonetheless withheld important details about her account from his readers. When the gun running trip morphed into an assassination story, she added Lee Harvey Oswald into the mix. According to her testimony at the Liberty Lobby trial Oswald—whom she knew as “Ozzie”—traveled in “the other car, back-up car” during their two-day trip from Miami to Dallas. Of course, as any first year student of the assassination knows, this simply cannot be because Oswald's actual whereabouts during this time are fully accounted for. He was working his job filling book orders at the depository during both days and he spent the entire evening and night of November 21 by his wife's side at the Paine residence in Irving.
The capper is Lorenz's claim that she first met Oswald in a safehouse in Miami in late 1960 and again in the Everglades in early 1961 when they were both training for the Bay of Pigs. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion, of course, occurred in April 1961—over one year before Oswald returned from nearly 18 months living in the Soviet Union. Not only was Oswald not in Miami in late 1960 or the Everglades in early 1961, he wasn't even in the United States! When she tried to feed this garbage to the HSCA they confronted her with the facts and forced her to recant her fraudulent testimony. Yet she again told the same stories under oath at the Liberty Lobby trial. Knowing full well, as Lane must, that these details discredit her story, he hides them from his readers by carefully excising all references to Oswald when he quotes from her testimony. As I noted above, this is not to his credit.
The fifth and final book of Last Word is titled “The Indictment” and, although I make no claim to be expert in legal matters, I remain unconvinced that Lane has presented evidence of CIA complicity that would lead to an indictment. He details prior acts of assassination by the Agency which I'm sure are perfectly relevant and presents a motive via JFK's stated intention of “dismantling” the CIA, as well as his intention to pull out of Vietnam, and his efforts at rapprochement with Castro. But he also wastes 16 pages discussing the CIA's MKULTRA program, without explaining how it could be directly relevant to the assassination.
One of the more interesting facts that Lane relies upon was first revealed by Jim Douglass in his excellent book JFK and the Unspeakable. It is widely accepted that moments after a bullet tore through President Kennedy's head, Dallas policeman Joe Marshall Smith confronted a fake Secret Service agent behind the picket fence atop the grassy knoll. As Smith stated in his Warren Commission testimony, after he heard the shots, “...this woman came up to me and she was just in hysterics. She told me, 'They are shooting the President from the bushes.' So I immediately proceeded up there...I looked in all the cars and checked around the bushes.Of course, I wasn't alone. There was some deputy sheriff with me, and I believe one Secret Service man when I got there. I got to make this statement, too. I felt awfully silly, but after the shot and this woman, I pulled my pistol from my holster, and I thought, this is silly, I don't know who I am looking for, and I put it back. Just as I did, he showed me that he was a Secret Service agent...he saw me coming with my pistol and right away he showed me who he was.” (7H535) Commission lawyer Wesley Liebeler, who took Smith's deposition, did not ask for a description of the man with the Secret Service credentials because, as Liebeler well knew, there were no genuine Secret Service personnel on foot in Dealey Plaza. Although Commission apologists like Vincent Bugliosi have attempted to blunt Smith's testimony by asserting that he “doesn't say how the person showed him who he was” and therefore he could have been mistaken because he probably just saw a badge and “assumed it was a Secret Service badge” (Bugliosi, p. 865), this ignores what Smith told author Anthony Summers: “The man, this character, produces credentials from his hip pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. I have seen those credentials before, and they satisfied me and the deputy sheriff.” (Summers, italics added, Conspiracy, p. 37)
There is no doubt that the man on the grassy knoll seconds after the shooting was brandishing fake Secret Service credentials. The question is, who in 1963 had the know-how to create them? The answer, as Douglass reveals, is the CIA. Douglass quotes from a document written by Stanley Gottlieb, chief of the CIA's Technical Services Division, that was finally declassified in 2007 in response to a 15-year-old Freedom of Information Act lawsuit: “...over the years” the TSD “furnished this [Secret] Service” with “gate passes, security passes, passes for presidential campaign, emblems for presidential vehicles; a secure ID photo system.” (JFK and the Unspeakable, p. 266) This is a remarkable revelation, and could be said to show that the CIA and its Cuban exile guerrillas not only had the motive, but had the means to pull off the assassination in broad daylight, and then to escape unhindered. But for me, the Mexico City legend aside, this as good as Lane gets when it comes to filling in the details and connecting the CIA to the assassination.
In his indictment, Lane makes no mention of Oswald's associations with Guy Banister, David Ferrie and Clay Shaw—three men who were up to their eyeballs in CIA connections, or Oswald’s campaign to discredit the FPCC, or his trips to Clinton and Jackson—all of which put Oswald at the very center of intelligence intrigue. He does not note that Oswald “defected” to the Soviet Union at the very time the CIA was running a fake defector program, nor the unbelievable ease with which Oswald returned home accompanied by a Russian wife. And although she was responsible for securing Oswald the job at the Texas School Book Depository, which put him in place to take the fall for Kennedy's murder, he does not make even a passing reference to Ruth Paine, let alone to the fact that Marina Oswald was advised by the Secret Service to sever contact with Ruth because she was “sympathizing with the CIA.” (Douglass, p. 173)
It may be that Lane felt much of this was too circumstantial. Or it may be that he simply does not feel it is relevant to his case, but it is because of the wealth of information that Lane leaves out that I feel he ultimately fails to provide a convincing indictment against the CIA in the murder of Jack Kennedy.
So, all things considered, Lane’s new book is a decidedly mixed bag.