The Kennedy researcher and film historian Joseph McBride often cites Penn Jones’s suggestion that one should “find a single aspect of the case, and research the hell out of it.” The living embodiment of that suggestion is Vincent Michael Palamara. Vince has specialized in the Secret Service protection for decades, producing the books Survivor’s Guilt, JFK: from Parkland to Bethesda and now The Not-So-Secret-Service: Agency Tales from FDR to the Kennedy Assassination to the Reagan Era. As a result of his frequent contacts with members of the Secret Service, he has information in his books that cannot be accessed elsewhere.
The first thing to know about this new collection is that it does not solely focus on John F. Kennedy, although much of it reflects on or fills in the historical background of the Secret Service. Palamara, via his correspondence, for example, is able to supply significant first-hand reports about the quality of Presidential protection from an historical perspective prior to 11/22/1963, and the quality of the protection on that day. As is well-known, Fletcher Prouty had referred to the poor quality of the protection supplied on the day of the assassination, pointing out, for example, that there were strict procedural measures that had been ignored. He criticized the route itself, the open windows in the buildings, the slow speed of the parade route, and a few other things (cf. Dave Ratcliffe, Understanding Special Operations, 205-210).
Palamara contrasts the Secret Service performance in Dallas and compares it to a trip taken just four days earlier in Tampa. Why, he asks, did the motorcade not proceed in a wedge formation, with agents physically on the president’s limousine, as was customary? He also points to an interesting article from December of 1963, from U.E. Baughman, a former Secret Service Chief, who also indicates a violation of what he calls “basic, fundamental” rules. (Palamara, 87). Fascinating.
For researchers, perhaps the most important chapter in the book is called “Debunking Agent Gerald Blaine’s The Kennedy Detail.” It’s the longest chapter in the book, and goes into detail to counter Blaine’s book, which—as Palamara points out—has no footnotes and uses the sheen of authority to put forward questionable history. To use just one example, he asserts that Admiral Burkley, Kennedy’s physician, ran late and therefore had to catch the bus rather than riding in a staff car; while Burkley himself stated for the record that it was the Secret Service who put him on the bus. (122) The Kennedy Detail (co-written by Lisa McCubbin, who served the same function for Clint Hill’s series of books), focuses entirely away from “conspiracy theories,” as Palamara observes, largely on the grounds they are disrespectful to the family.
A few words should be said about Lisa McCubbin, both Blaine’s and Hill’s co-author. McCubbin, a journalist by trade, found in Clint Hill both a boyfriend and a new business. Hill had promised he would never write a memoir, but having met McCubbin, he then decided to write three of them: Five Presidents, Five Days in November, and Mrs. Kennedy and Me. “He credits Lisa McCubbin for bringing him out of his ‘dungeon, where he languished for years in [his] emotional prison’ and for helping him ‘find a reason to live, not just exist,’” says the bio on Lisa McCubbin’s webpage: Quite interesting. The major media likes to criticize the “cottage industry” of JFK books; but as usual, it seems like the best supported and promoted works are those with the least interesting content. In addition, Hill’s exit from the “dungeon” and hooking up with McCubbin has also mysteriously coincided with Hill no longer saying anything to upset the defenders of the Warren Commission. In fact, if you want to hear him speak on the subject in your town, all you need is cash.
There is also some interesting background on McCubbin at this AEI site:
In July of 2001, just two months before September 11, Lisa gave up her news anchor chair and moved with her family to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where her husband was being transferred by his company. After September 11, KGET-TV asked Lisa to report as a foreign correspondent with an insider's view of Saudi Arabia. Her reports from inside the Middle East captivated the southern California audience by providing a personal connection to the Arab world.
In Riyadh, Lisa met Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud, a great-grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia. After learning that Lisa was an experienced journalist, Prince Abdullah convinced her to work for the Saudis as a media consultant and trainer. In a country where women are not allowed to work with men, it was extraordinary that Lisa had direct meetings with the prince and his male staff—often held secretly at Prince Abdullah's private villa. Her rare experiences in Saudi Arabia are the subject of her first book, Undercover in Islam: Spinning the News from Saudi Arabia.
McCubbin is the daughter of Gay and Wyman Harris. Wyman Harris graduated from the USAF, class of ’63. His background can be seen here:
Mr. Wyman C. Harris is a Principal at Harris, Hoimes, Sutton & Allen, LLC. He was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer at Wyndham Foods, Inc. Mr. Harris is a Director of Sagus International, Inc. He served six years in the United States Air Force in Germany and the Pentagon. Mr. Harris completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School and received an M.S. in Industrial Engineering at Purdue University and a B.S. from the United States Air Force Academy. (See this link; a little more can be found here)
Anyway, it’s all a bit interesting.
To return to the main topic, Blaine contends that conspiracy theorists are just nasty people who want to think ill of our government. The trouble is, the behavior of the Secret Service tends to belie that. Palamara gives a full list of the contents of the two boxes that the Secret Service had deliberately destroyed in January of 1995, just a few months after the Assassination Records and Review Board had been established. Those records concerned the Protection of President John F. Kennedy and the Protective Survey Reports from presidential trips ranging from September 1963 right up until November 8, 1963—two weeks before the assassination. As Palamara writes, this cannot be an accident. How did the Secret Service respond to this?
… the Secret Service attempted to wriggle out of its predicament by simultaneously suggesting that perhaps the destruction was really the Review Board’s fault because it was not in receipt of the ARRB’s expanded definition of what constituted an “assassination record” until February 1995, after the records were destroyed …. [Ralph] Basham [the Administrative Director of Administration] also tried to downplay the significance of the missing Chicago protective survey reports for the cancelled November 2, 1963 trip (during which conspirators had planned to assassinate President Kennedy) … (137)
Needless to say, all of these trip reports would be of tremendous significance to any investigative body reviewing the protection of the president during a completed assassination. But the Chicago report is critical because it resulted in the cancellation of a trip and the possible saving of Kennedy’s life. Because there were strong indications that a plot was afoot in Chicago, as first reported by Edwin Black in his landmark essay “The Chicago Plot,” and also supplemented by Abraham Bolden, who later wrote about the incident in The Echo from Dealey Plaza. For the Secret Service to “accidentally” destroy these most important records, just before the ARRB was about to request them, is ever so slightly suspicious.
There is more to be found in the book: for example, I had not heard the story of Thomas Shipman, who was one of three people to drive President Kennedy while he was in office and who died shortly before the assassination. Although not much is known about him, it is certainly of interest.
Overall, there are two great strengths of the book. One is that it is relatively short yet fairly dense with information. Palamara is not selling any particular theory throughout the text (except the general thesis that the Warren Commission was wrong) and this is an excellent feature. The second great strength of the book is the obsession with obtaining direct reports and interviews, and when using secondary sources he reprints many of them right in the book so we can look at them. I was very appreciative of this aspect. The book’s subtitle is “Agency Tales from FDR to the Kennedy Assassination to the Reagan Era,” and that is what it delivers; so there is some information in the book that JFK researchers might regard as trivial. However, much of the material, especially the historical background work that the author has done with the agents themselves, is invaluable. And his persistence in attacking the work of Blaine/McCubbin/Hill is thoroughly admirable, if for no other reason than to continue our collective insurgency against the falsified historical record that the establishment wants to carve into stone.