Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

May 18, 2007

Two New JFK Assassination Books: What to Think (1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:15 pm

I’m going to sort of live-blog, over an extended period, my reading of Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History and David Talbot’s Brothers. Bugliosi’s massive 1500 page book is an attempt to disprove all conspiracy theories and validate the Warren Commission conclusion that Oswald acted alone. Talbot’s book about the relationship between JFK and RFK gives credence to several conspiracy possibilities and clearly suggests the case has not been solved in any convincing way.

Before beginning let me set out the arc of my own thinking about the question which I’ve written about and researched sporadically ever since I became a writer. I can trace my fascination with the controversy to the time I attended a lecture by one of the first most outspoken Warren Commission critics, Mark Lane.

From the beginning there were always two categories of criticism of the Warren Report: that the investigation was deeply flawed. And that it’s two conclusions–Oswald was a lone gunman and that he acted on his own, with no confederates or backing from others–were wrong.

It’s important to remember that a badly flawed investigation can still come up with the correct conclusions. I guess the best way to describe my own trajectory is that I went from believing that a flawed investigation came to the wrong conclusions to a belief that a flawed investigation was right on the first premise of its conclusion–that Oswald was the lone gunman–but had failed to prove that he acted alone in the sense that he wasn’t shooting Kennedy on behalf of some group of associates, real or imagined–pro or anti-Castro Cubans, the KGB, the CIA, the Mafia, right wing Southern racists, the military industrial complex etc.

The Warren Commission in other words had failed to solve the problem of motive. The report was weakest in sorting out Oswald’s actual political allegiances and personal psychology. So I’ve come to think that Oswald was the only one who fired shots that day but that a real and significant aspect of the case remains unsolved: what went on inside Oswald’s head, what were his motives and were any of his dubious political zig zags–as a marine he defected to the U.S.S.R., supposedly embracing communism, then re-defected to the U.S. with his Russian wife, and proceeded to engage in pro-Castro activities although some have seen this as a front for anti-communist, anti-Castro infiltration motives. or was he infiltrating anti-Castro groups for pro-Castro reasons? (Just what was Oswald up to when he visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City the month before the assassination and asked for a visa to visit Cuba? Did he want to go there to ingratiate himself with the Fidelistas, to further infiltrate them or to assassinate Fidel?)

Did any of his encounters with Cuban and anti-Castro intelligence assets, with the KGB, the CIA, even (at some remove) the Mafia have some causal relationship to the assassination. Or was it the act of a lone gunman acting out of deranged self-aggrandizing motives. or did he have a political motive: revenge for U.S./Kennedy sponsored assassination attempts on Castro? That’s what people from LBJ to RFK seemed to believe at one time or another.

I spent some time investigating the question of Oswald’s allegiances, re tracing his steps in New Orleans in the summer before the assassination in the shadowy territory between pro and anti Castro groups, the landscape filled with various informers fanatics and front groups that Oswald navigated in New Orleans and Dallas. (even visiting the famous address– 544 Camp Street–that played host to a seething warren of pro and anti-Castro groups Oswald had strange relations with. (You can read my account–“Oswald’s Ghost”–in %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%%.

So when I read about Bugliosi’s book and his claim that his two-decade-long investigation had put to rest all doubts, quashed all conspiracy theories, I was hopeful that at last we could achieve (that dread word) “closure”. Then I heard about one of the features of Talbot’s book, the Howard Hunt “confession”, one that seems particularly dubious to me. But Talbot’s book does serve to give credence to the doubts about, the mystery of Oswald’s motivation, doubts far more widespread than I’d ben aware of, though I’d known of some.

So I decided to approach both books a bit at a time focussing on the question of motive.

Let me begin with a hole in Bugliosi’ s book, a late-breaking development that he was likely unaware of before his book went to press: the new take on the Nosenko case in CIA counterintelligence veteran pete Bagley’s memoir Spy Wars. A new take which has forced me to reconsider the case and it’s relation to Oswald and the Kennedy assassination.

You remember Yury Nosenko, right? He was the KGB defector who gained asylum in the U.S. in 1964–while the Warren Report investigation was still ongoing–with the sensational claim that he seen Oswald’s KGB file and that the file disproved any notion that he could have been working on behalf of the Soviet Union in killing Kennedy.

It was, in a way, welcome news because, although evidence of KGB complicity was absent, Oswald had been a defector to the Soviets, which raised the question of whether his re-defection to the U.S. might have been part of some mission, one that unfolded on November 22. 1963.

Potential Soviet complicity with Oswald (retaliation for the supposed humiliation of the 10962 Cuban Missile crisis?) caused fears of nuclear war. No one wanted t hat. Nosenko’s message was accepted although within months Nosenko himself was targeted by CIA counter intelligence, led by James Jesus Angleton, who accused him of being a “false defector” sent to the U.S. to spread “disinformation”.

Which might mean his testimony there was no KGB connection to the assassination was fabricated to cover-up a real connection.

For nearly 15 within the CIA and longer outside, the theory that Nosenko was a “KGB plant” became conventional wisdom. Although no one seemed to want to take the KGB assassination complicity implication seriously.

Then after Angleton was fired, the verdict on Nosenko within CIA was reversed and what seemed to me to be a air tight case for his legitimacy was made by British journalist Tom Mangold (a case cited and adopted by by Bugliosi).

But just last month Yale University Press published the memoir of Angleton deputy Pete Bagley in which, to my surprise, Bagley made a remarkably strong case for the Angletonian view that Nosenko was in some way a plant a witting or unwitting conveyor of disinformation which called his Oswald reassurances into question.

In an essay inThe New York Observer (Feb. 12, 2007) “The Spy Who Came in From Geneva”, I argued that Bagley’s book may call for a “re revision” of thinking about Nosenko and “goes a long way to rehabilitate the Angletonian view” long dismissed as paranoid.

It’s a minor point, I don’t believe there’s evidence the KGB had anything to do with the assassination of JFK, yet Nosenko–the revised standard conventional view of him–occupies a large place in Bugliosi’s dismissal of the possibility of KGB involvement. It causes him to cite all sorts of self serving statements by KGB and Soviet leaders about how “shocked, shocked” they were about the assassination and how they couldn’t imagine why anyone would entertain the notion of their involvement.

Bugliosi’s reliance on self serving statements (what are they going to say: “yeah we did it”?) here and in his examination of the possibility of Cuban/Castro involvement illustrates a weakness in his argumentation. Attempting to refute a report that Castro had spoken before the assassination of the possibility that assassination attempts on him might “boomerang”–lead to revenge–and another even more persuasive report that Castro knew of Oswald’s visit to the Cuban Embassy and of threats against Kennedy he made there, Bugliosi relies on Castro’s personal denial. Such reports were ridiculous on the face of it, Castro unsurprisingly says.

Well of course he’d say that now. Self serving statements are admitted as evidence when they support Bugliosi’s view of the case when, if they hadn’t he’d cross examine them to death and then leave them for dead in his withering prosecutorial way. This doesn’t mean I agree with the reports that suggest Cuban or Castro involvement. It’s just that Bugliosi’s claim that he’s blown every theory out of the water shouldn’t rely so heavily on self serving denials.

It also illustrates the tragedy of Bugliosi’s truly heroic effort: new information continues to emerge, adding, undermining, subverting what we know, or think we know. I will focus in my next posts on his evaluation of various conspiracy theories, particularly the KGB and Castro ones and critique his method of argumentation. Not to take anything away from his epic effort, but to sharpen the debate.



  1. Hi Ron, I visit your blog regularly. The idea that Oswald did anything “lone”, as gunman or whatever, is contradicted for me by the simple logic of his elimination by a mobbed up individual. Ruby was portrayed as a grief stricken citizen, when everyone in Dallas and any journalist worth his salt would know his background and report it. All other contradictions in the case notwithstanding, this voluntary real-time veil of ignorance and self-censorship regarding Oswald’s assailant tells me the press agreed with the Warren Commission: that unraveling the mystery was bad for the nation. There is no closure for this case. It is an open wound in our history, whether we “close” the case or not. Lone gunmen are not silenced, and certainly not like this.

    Thanks for your comment/visits. By the way I got no less than 12 copies of your comment, only time it’s happned so maybe the glitch is on your end. Meanwhile I think you didn’t note or care about the distinction I went to great pains to make between saying I’m convinced that O. was the only one shooting and saying O. had no fellow conspirators. He could have been shooting on behalf of the Mob, pro- or anti-Castro Cubans without them having to pull the trigger, except the trigger inhis head. I’m working on a post critiquing Bugliosi’s crique of the mob theory in fact. But there’s more evidence of Oswald’s potential pro-Castro passion than mob ties, the fact Ruby may have been mobbed up is not conclusive evidence he didn’t do it because he was an unstable character. Not saying I know, I fear know-it-all attitude pervades too much of JFK literature, pro and anti-conspiracy so I try to avoid it. But you should read Bugliosi’s chapter on Ruby and the mob if you still have an open mind, it made me re think things I thought I knew it all about.

    Comment by Mo Cohen — May 20, 2007 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Ron
    Everybody has a different take on JFKs assassination, the truth may never be known. The film clip that has Oswald being taken by the police with Oswald saying “I am just a patsy,” is very convincing. Oswald’s eyes conveyed an image of truth and horror. Perhaps I am naive, but I believe Oswald. Perhaps the Marilyn Monroe connection is at the bottom of this, again, I don’t know, but I suspect it is.

    Comment by Leo — May 21, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  3. Jack Ruby was not really a “mobbed up” individual. Go read Posner’s book on the assassination, it’s very well researched and documented. Most people are under the misperception that Jack Ruby was some big-time mobster with excellent connections. In reality, he was a fish out-of-water, an eccentric and a glory hound. All evidence demonstrates that he was a small-time strip club owner who, living in Dallas in the 1950s and 60s, never really fit in, though he desperately tried.

    If you want to see a conspiracy, you can see one — Ruby must have been acting like he cared when he was around every witness that reported him acting as such.

    Comment by Bob Sacamano — May 21, 2007 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  4. This is the most logigal book on the JFK assassination. All the others don’t even entertain the premiss presented in this book.


    Comment by Keif — May 21, 2007 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  5. Ron,

    Unfortunately, the evidentiary substance of this topic has been corrupted forever by official investigations clouded and obscured by political motives and incompetencies, and equally tainted by independent “researchers” who had political conspiracy agendas to advance over and above what the evidence would bear. The left and right went to war over who was to blame. It was so extreme that today all that is necessary to discredit a researcher is to hang on him or her the conspiracist label.

    Actually, conspiracies are one of the most common and basic social impulses, perhaps originating in the childhood pact, “I won’t tell if you don’t.” In a group, if something wrong is done, you can assume conspiracy was involved. For example, the bulldozing of the crime scene at the Branch Davidian compound was obviously a conspiracy result. One person didn’t do it all. I’ve heard it objected that conspiracies can’t work because people–especially in large organizations–can’t keep secrets. It’s a pretty specious argument; at best, it only asserts conspiracies will eventually be found out, and even that is no more than an article of faith.

    The various documented involvements of Oswald and a lot of other pieces of contrary information convince me that he was not a “lone nut.” His Marine Corps record causes me to doubt that he was a lone shooter as well. In view of the recent discrediting of the metalurgical analyses of the bullet fragments by FBI, I suspect we will be hearing more on that score.

    I think for all of us the problem is this: the official investigation was not intended to arrive at the actualities of what occurred; Johnson wanted the public to accept that one lonely nut committed the assassination, no foreign involvement, and CASE CLOSED–NOW! Those with the best resources to do–the government–so never put all the pieces togetherin a way that made sense, and now it may be too late for us. Perhaps new metalurgical analyses will prove Oswald was or was not the sole shooter. But as you note, that’s not the real question for us. WHY– FOR WHAT END? is the real question we need answered. Some cynical friends shake their heads when I talk this way. Had it been in the interest of the government, don’t you know we would know?

    Comment by DuMaurier-Smith — May 22, 2007 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  6. Just as Reclaiming the truth hits it’s stride comes news that a May 2007 study suggests that there may be fragments of three different bullets taken from JFK’s limo. They say now that the 6.5 ammo used by LHO isn’t as unique when looked at using modern science. These tests MAY show fragments from a third bullet because this fragment(s) is so different from the ammo used in Lee’s 6.5 MC, as to stand out from the rest. This would mean four shots in all. That would prove a conspiracy 100% as even the best of the magic bullet backers would have to admit LHO wouldn’t have hide time to fire four shots, and maybe even use a different rifle for one of them

    Comment by Tom Cattermole — May 22, 2007 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

  7. It is very interesting that just when a group is starting to grow which has noted the similarities between the JFK assassination and the 9/11/01 attacks (the tidy way all the loose ends were taken care of, how the those commissions were staffed, loss of evidence and absence of evidence, etc.) out comes Bugliosi’s book.

    While I admit I only skimmed the book so far, I found numerous problems with it. It is a shame that people who choose to write so much about so little they have any understanding of – evidently Bugliosi has never served in the military, has no qualitative knowledge of rifle and marksman qualifications, etc.

    ‘Nuff said…..

    Well, not quite ’nuff. I’d seriously be interested in the specifics of your critique of Bugliosi on rifle and marksmanship issues.

    Comment by sgt_doom — May 24, 2007 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

  8. By simply tracking Oswald’s whereabouts from 1959-1961 one learns that he was a “known quantity” by various INTEL agencies. That in and of itself proves that he was no “Lone Commie Nut”, which in turn proves that there was a conspiracy. He was a low level INTEL person and he played his role very well. Whether he ever fired a shot or not that day is irrelevant now, some 46 years later as all the evidence is gone, interestingly enough so are all the witnesses who had a version contrary to the Warren Report.

    Comment by Fishbait — June 11, 2009 @ 7:01 am | Reply

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