Tuesday, 26 November 2013 14:24

Patrick Nolan, CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys

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There is really nothing new in the book and its central thesis is simply not supported by the evidence. That CIA rogues were a part of the plot to kill Kennedy has been written before and in a far more persuasive manner than Nolan manages, writes Martin Hay.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is probably one of the most written about events in 20th century American history. So given that this year marked the 50th anniversary of that tragic day, it was perhaps inevitable that we would see a deluge of books on the subject. There are some good new ones, like Jim DiEugenio's Reclaiming Parkland, and some worthy reissues such as Gaeton Fonzi's The Last Investigation and Harold Weisberg's Whitewash. But, as many feared would be the case, these volumes appear to be outnumbered by books that add little or nothing to our understanding and, by and large, are being published simply to capitalize on the hoped-for resurgence of interest that such anniversaries typically bring. Dale Myers seems particularly interested in squeezing as many more pennies as possible out of the anniversary, reissuing his Tippit book, With Malice, at a whopping $65 dollars a pop – $75 if you want the honour of his Emmy award-winning autograph.

With a personal JFK assassination library of around 100 books, I long ago stopped buying every new one to hit the shelves. Instead I save my time, money and shelf space for those books that look as if they might actually offer some genuinely new information or insight. Consequently, when I first saw CIA Rogues advertised on Amazon, I added it to the mental list of books I wouldn't be purchasing. After all, the conclusion that rogue elements of the CIA had conspired to kill the Kennedy brothers is hardly a new one. The late, great Jim Garrison had first publicly suggested that JFK was murdered by "men who were once connected with the Central Intelligence Agency" in his NBC address on June 15, 1967. And he predicted soon after that JFK's brother would be a victim of the same sinister forces who killed the president. Since then, a good number of writers have followed in Garrison's footsteps and reached the same conclusion. So I expected to learn very little from CIA Rogues. However, I did note that the foreword was provided by renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, so I checked out author Patrick Nolan's web page. There I found the claim that CIA Rogues "is based on interviews and/or correspondence with world-renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry C. Lee, and other notables including Kennedy aide Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., former FBI agent William W. Turner, Sirhan attorney Larry Teeter, RFK assassination expert Judge Robert J. Joling, and University of Massachusetts Professor Philip H. Melanson, among others." Well, I think most would be impressed by that list. So I ordered the book.

As it turned out, I should have trusted my initial instincts. CIA Rogues is not in any real sense based on "interviews and/or correspondence" with those named above; it is based on their published books. Checking his source notes, I came across only two references to original interviews conducted by Nolan. Almost all of his remaining 1,654 citations are to secondary sources. Talk about misleading! I had expected his treatment of the forensics would be based on new work by Dr. Lee but was disappointed to discover that it is largely derived from Josiah Thompson's book, rather old Six Seconds In Dallas. Not that there is anything wrong with Six Seconds, but it was published in 1967 and even Thompson himself has since abandoned one of the primary tenets of its reconstruction of the assassination. So I believe it's fair to say that there is little if anything new in CIA Rogues and, therefore, I see little point in offering a lengthy summation or critique of most of its content here. What does need addressing is Nolan's central thesis, which is that both Sirhan Sirhan and Lee Harvey Oswald were victims of the CIA's MKULTRA project.

For those who don't know, MKULTRA began in 1953 at the suggestion of Richard Helms as a project aimed at finding ways to control human behaviour. Under the direction of Helms and Technical Services Division Chief, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the Agency experimented with everything from sensory deprivation and electroshock therapy to LSD and hypnosis. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of MKULTRA is that many of these experiments were conducted without the knowledge or consent of the test subjects. As Nolan writes, the CIA chose "prisoners, foreigners, prostitutes, mental patients, and drug addicts...because, due to their social and economic circumstances, they typically would have little recourse if they discovered the true nature of their predicament." (p. 19) Much documentation was lost in 1973 when Helms ordered the destruction of all MKULTRA files – approximately 20,000 records survived because they had been stored in the wrong building – so a full understanding of the scope of MKULTRA is probably not possible. However, it is widely believed that one goal of the program was the creation of a "Manchurian Candidate". That is, a "hypno-programmed" assassin. One surviving CIA document from 1954 does mention finding ways to get a subject "to perform an act, involuntarily, of attempted assassination against a prominent [redacted] politician or if necessary, against an American official." (Lisa Pease, The Assassinations, p. 533)

When he was interviewed by author Dick Russell, Gottlieb denied that creating brainwashed or hypnotized assassins had been an aim of MKULTRA and suggested that such a thing wasn't actually possible (On The Trail of the JFK Assassins, p. 242). But there's every reason to believe it is. In 2011, British mentalist/hypnotist Derren Brown produced a series of TV shows called The Experiments, the first of which was titled The Assassin. In it, Brown took a volunteer through a series of hypnosis sessions which the volunteer believed were intended to make him a superior marksman. In reality, Brown was programming him to commit an assassination against his will of which he would have no memory. The show culminated with the unwitting gunman firing blanks at British comedian and TV personality, Stephen Fry, in front of a packed and unsuspecting auditorium. After watching The Assassin, the viewer is compelled to conclude that a mind-controlled assassin is a shockingly real possibility.

It has long been believed that Sirhan's behaviour before, during, and after the shooting of Robert Kennedy is highly suggestive of hypno-programming. Witnesses recalled that during the assassination Sirhan looked detached and tranquil. One of those who helped wrestle him to the ground, George Plimpton, said that Sirhan's eyes appeared "enormously peaceful." (Nolan, p. 253) Others reported a "sickly" smile on his face. (Pease, p. 579) More importantly, to this day, Sirhan claims and indeed appears to have no memory of shooting his pistol at senator Kennedy, or even of being in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Even under hypnosis, Sirhan has been unable to recall the assassination. When Sirhan's defense team hired psychiatrist Dr. Bernard Diamond to put him under, he discovered signs that Sirhan had been hypnotized numerous times before. As Nolan writes, Diamond "was also struck by how reliably Sirhan would perform in a waking state what had been suggested to him under hypnosis, without recalling having been told to perform and without recalling having been hypnotized." (Nolan, p. 269) After Sirhan was convicted and sent to San Quentin Prison, the chief psychologist there, Dr. Eduard Simson-Kallas, undertook to discover whether or not Sirhan's amnesia was real. He ended up convinced that Sirhan had no memory of the assassination and that he was "prepared by someone. He was hypnotized by someone." (p. 274) So it's fair to say that there are good reasons for believing that Sirhan was indeed hypno-programmed.

However, because Nolan wants to put MKULTRA at the centre of both assassinations, he wants to postulate that Lee Harvey Oswald was also a "hypno-programmed patsy". Unfortunately for him, there is simply no credible evidence to support this belief and, try as he might, Nolan is unable to cobble together a convincing case. He writes of Oswald's alleged "mood swings and irritability" which he says are "symptoms of hypno-programming". (p. 92) He sources these "mood swings" to page 269 of Sylvia Meagher's Accessories After the Fact, in which she includes a story of Oswald complaining about overcooked eggs at the Dobbs House Restaurant. This is hardly convincing stuff. Of course, there are allegations that Oswald beat his wife, Marina, but many of these were made by Marina herself after she was put under intense pressure to tell the authorities what they wanted to hear. As Nolan himself notes, in her earlier interviews, Marina described Lee as "a good family man" (p. 110). It wasn't until after she was threatened with deportation that the Russian-born widow's stories began to evolve. So these are open to question. And how would this prove Nolan's thesis anyway?

Further "symptoms" of Oswald's supposed programming according to Nolan are "his rapid speech while lecturing as if by rote, and automatic writing". (p. 110) In support of the first "symptom" he cites "a three-hour lecture on American policies regarding Cuba" that he says Oswald gave at a dinner party with "Dallas's White Russian community." (pgs. 110-111) When we check his source, Edward Epstein's Legend, we discover that he is referring to an alleged three-hour "conversation" that Oswald had with Volkmar Schmidt and that there is no mention of "rapid speech". (Epstein, p. 204) In support of the second, Nolan apparently has in mind the letters that Lee wrote home shortly after his arrival in Russia, and his so-called "Historic Diary". Nolan writes that one of these letters contains an "uncharacteristically violent passage" in which Oswald said he was prepared to "kill any American who put on a uniform in defense of the American Government". (p. 101) As Nolan himself admits, Oswald no doubt understood his letters were being intercepted by Russian authorities and was writing them in an attempt to prove his loyalty and gain a resident permit. And yet he somehow concludes that Oswald "no doubt had no knowledge of writing them." (p. 102) Confused? Me too. I simply cannot follow his logic. With regard to the diary, Nolan basically repeats what others have been saying for years which is that it is full of inaccuracies and appears to have been written in one or two sittings. It hardly needs pointing out that all this proves is that the "Historic Diary" is not an authentic, contemporaneous account. In no way does that suggest "automatic writing". Sadly, this is pretty much the extent of what Nolan could come up with as far as finding signs of hypno-programming in Oswald goes.

In the case of Sirhan, it's possible to identify the individual most likely responsible for hypnotizing him; CIA asset, and renowned hypnotist Dr. William J. Bryan. In fact, Dr. Bryan who, in his own words, was "chief of all medical survival training for the United States Air Force, which meant the brainwashing section", apparently himself boasted to two Beverly Hills call girls that he had hypnotized Sirhan. (William Turner & Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, p. 225-228) For the role of Oswald's hypno-programmer, Nolan offers us David Ferrie whom he claims "is known to have been a master hypnotist". (p. 126) Now admittedly Ferrie was a strange guy who apparently dabbled in all sorts of odd areas, and I have read unconfirmed reports that he was interested in hypnosis. But I have never seen him referred to as a "master hypnotist" before. In any case, even if one accepts the notion that Ferrie practiced hypnosis on Oswald (which I don't), this still leaves a big hole in Nolan's theory since he has Oswald being programmed nearly four years before he moved back to New Orleans and began playing intelligence fun and games with Ferrie. Just who was supposedly hypno-programming Oswald before his fake defection, Nolan doesn't say.

In support of his Ferrie contention, Nolan brings up the mysterious trip Oswald made to Clinton, Louisiana but, crucially, he leaves out the visits he made to the neighbouring village of Jackson. To Nolan, Oswald's standing in line for hours to register to vote in rural Louisiana is best explained as a test of the "MKULTRA conditioning process". (p. 126) But the fact is that by leaving out Oswald's appearance in Jackson, Nolan has stripped the Clinton incident of its context. Before he turned up to register in Clinton, Oswald had stopped to get a haircut in the Jackson barbershop of Ed McGehee. There he asked about job opportunities in Jackson and was told about the East Louisiana State Hospital, which was a mental institution. McGeehe suggested Oswald talk to State Representative, Reeves Morgan, who he was sure would help him get a job. When Oswald dropped in on Morgan, Morgan suggested it would help if he registered to vote. So, the next day Oswald, in the company of David Ferrie and Clay Shaw, was in Clinton attempting to register. Once he reached the front of the line, Oswald was informed that it wasn't necessary to register in order to get a job at the hospital so off he went back to Jackson where he apparently filled out an application. (for more details see the second edition of Jim DiEugenio's Destiny Betrayed, pgs. 88-93). It seems fairly clear that the purpose of the Clinton trip was to help get Oswald a job at the State Hospital, and had nothing to do with Ferrie testing his control over Oswald. What purpose would be served in securing Oswald such employment remains a matter of debate and speculation.

While we're on the subject, I cannot let Nolan's treatment of the Clinton/Jackson incident pass without noting one other serious misconception. He writes that "Ferrie drove" Oswald in a black Cadillac that day, and that the other passenger "is believed to have been Guy Banister, based on witness descriptions, although some researchers have said the third member on the excursion was Clay Shaw", which, Nolan says, "is unlikely". (p. 125) This is a serious misrepresentation of the facts. Firstly, according to witnesses, Ferrie was the second passenger and not the driver. Secondly, it is not just "some researchers" who have claimed the driver was Shaw. It was Clinton witnesses John Manchester, Henry Palmer, Corrie Collins, and William Dunn. And,what's more, they positively identified Shaw in court. There is little real doubt that Shaw accompanied Oswald to Clinton, however unlikely Nolan finds that fact. And there is also little doubt that Guy Banister was nowhere around. Because, as he told both Jim Garrison's office and the HSCA, eyewitness Henry Palmer knew Banister from before 1963 and he was sure Banister was not in the car. (DiEugenio, p. 93)

Returning to Nolan's MKULTRA theory, hopefully the reader can see that there is really no credible reason to believe that Oswald was a victim of this program. But Nolan seems so enamoured with the notion of hypno-programming in the JFK case that at one point he goes completely off the deep end. This occurs when he's discussing the Warren Commission's star witness to the Tippit slaying, Helen Markham. Now, most serious researchers agree that Markham was somewhat eccentric and that much of her obviously coerced testimony is not to be taken at face value. And most researchers are happy to leave it there. But not Nolan. Nolan decides that Markham was "connected to Jack Ruby" because she worked at the Eatwell Restaurant where Ruby was known to eat. (Nolan, p. 161) A more tenuous connection is hard to imagine. But worse than that, Nolan decides that because she was "hysterical" when she was taken to Dallas police headquarters, and because her testimony was "odd", Markham "may well have been conditioned or hypno-programmed"! (p. 156) This is ridiculous, nonsensical and, ultimately, fodder for the Warren Commission apologists. Making unsupported and frankly wacky claims of this nature tarnishes the author's credibility and makes it all too easy for lone nutters to dismiss his work entirely – and that of conspiracy writers in general. And to be clear, this is far from being the only unsupported or blatantly incorrect claim in his book. For example, Nolan writes that a "201 file is a CIA personnel term that applies to individuals who are either CIA or have a contract with the Agency." (p. 98) Wrong. A 201 file is opened on anyone in whom the CIA takes an interest. Nolan also writes that David Ferrie was found dead "shortly before he was to appear at Garrison's JFK assassination conspiracy trial." (p. 94) Again, this is wrong. Ferrie died almost two years before the trial began without ever being arrested, let alone charged. And finally, Nolan boldly proclaims that "Ferrie's name was listed in Ruby's address book." (Ibid) It wasn't.

I could point out more errors and problems in CIA Rogues but there's no need. As I wrote above, there is really nothing new in the book and its central thesis is simply not supported by the evidence. That CIA rogues were a part of the plot to kill Kennedy has been written before and in a far more persuasive manner than Nolan manages. As much as I was hoping it would be otherwise, I simply cannot recommend this book.

Last modified on Friday, 24 March 2017 21:05
Martin Hay

Martin Hay is a writer and musician living near London. He has been a keen student of the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King for over 15 years and, as well as contributing popular articles to CTKA, maintains his own well-regarded blog, The Mysteries of Dealey Plaza.

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