Never-before-seen personal documents and correspondence preserved for fifty years from my journal and collection of original Warren Commission documents. I have used these documents and my journal as a primary source in my book about the Warren Commission.

9/11 — Never Forget, large and small

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The attacks on September 11th, 2001 form for many of us an indelible memory that separates history into two periods: before 9/11 and after. In that respect, for my generation, September 11, 2001, was similar to November 22nd, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated.

We all know people who were personally affected by the attacks on 9/11, and we are all aware that the geopolitical implications of 9/11 continue to be felt. Yet tragedies such as 911 are intensely personal as well, a fact I was reminded of by this ESPN piece about Welles Crowther, a former college Lacrosse player who was at work in the South Tower on 9/11/01. This heroic man saved a dozen people from dying in the collapsing building, at the cost of his own life.

911

If you are comfortable, feel free to share your own memories of this tragic day on my Facebook page here.

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JFK Campaigns for the Presidency in Texas (1960)

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On September 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson touched down in Texas for a couple days of campaigning. This rare film captures the campaign as it travels through Forth Worth and Dallas, stopping in parks and parking lots as Kennedy addresses unexpectedly large crowds. While most of this film is without audio, there is a segment of JFK’s speech in Burnett Park in Ft. Worth that can be heard. In it, JFK  responds to Republican accusations that he is not a true member of the Democratic party. The crowd responds enthusiastically.”

Quote and video Courtesy of Texas State Archive: http://texasarchive.org/

 

JFK campaigns in Texas, 1960

JFK campaigns in Texas, 1960

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World War II and its Impact on JFK

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This week marks 75 years since Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and began World War II.

Sept 1939—Nazis march through Poland.

Sept 1939—Nazis march through Poland.

Approximately 60 million people would die in the war, making it the deadliest in human history. Additionally, WWII saw the redrawing of international borders, vast shifts in world power, and the emergence of the USA vs. USSR dynamic that would dominate the next four decades. (2)

 

 

 

 

Burning American warships during attack on Pearl Harbor.

Burning American warships during attack on Pearl Harbor.

WWII was also immensely influential in the life of President John F. Kennedy. Like so many other young men from all walks of life, Jack VOLUNTEERED for active military duty following the deadly Japanese attacks on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. (1)

 

 

 

 

 

According to the JFK Presidential Library:

Commanding the Patrol Torpedo Craft (PT) USS PT 109, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, John Kennedy and his crew participated in the early campaigns in the Allies’ long struggle to roll back the Japanese from their conquests throughout the island chains of the Pacific Ocean. The role of the small but fast PT boats was to attack the Japanese shipping known as the “Tokyo Express” that supplied Japanese troops in the islands, and to support the U.S. Army and Marine Corps attacking the Japanese on shore. (1)

Lt. JFK on his USS PT boat.

Lt. JFK on his USS PT boat.

The future President faced his most harrowing experience of the war on August 2, 1943. That night, while his PT boat was “running silent”, a Japanese destroyer literally cut JFK’s ship in two.

According to the library, “Kennedy towed injured crew member McMahon 4 miles to a small island to the southeast. All eleven survivors made it to the island after having spent a total of fifteen hours in the water.” (1) With the help of some courageous native islanders, JFK and his crew were thankfully able to return to their comrades.

 

 

 

The experience of going to war can profoundly shape one’s perspective. Those who have fought and seen their comrades suffer and fall around them appreciate the human costs of distant wars.

It is no longer as common as it once was for American politicians to have active military experience (3). With no experience of the hardships of war, our current politicians may be too eager to send others’ children to fight for questionable purposes. Do you agree? Comment on my FB page and let me know! 

 

Sources:

1. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Exhibits/Past-Exhibits/JFK-in-WWII.aspx

2. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/world-war-ii-fast-facts/

3. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/11/11/the-long-decline-of-veterans-in-congress-in-4-charts/

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Ferguson and the Civil Rights Movement

Ferguson and the Civil Rights Movement

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Until two week ago, the town of Ferguson, MO was mostly unknown by those not living in the St. Louis metropolitan region. That all changed on Aug. 9, when an eighteen year-old African American young man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a local Ferguson PD officer named Darren Wilson[1].

What transpired to cause Brown’s death remains unclear and hotly-debated. The police claim “Brown physically assaulted the officer, and during a struggle between the two, Brown reached for the officer’s gun. One shot was fired in the car followed by other gunshots outside of the car”[1]

Some local community members contest this version of events. They believe the killing of Michael Brown reflects widespread racial discrimination against their community on the part of police. They point to other incidents where unarmed African Americans have been victims of violence, from police or self-appointed vigilantes like George Zimmerman. [1]

This tension between community and police erupted in several nights of violent clashes in the week after Brown’s death. On Aug. 13, the police threw “tear gas at protesters in Ferguson in order to disperse crowds. During the commotion, police also force media to move back

Ferguson up in flames

Ferguson up in flames

out of the area and throw tear gas at an Al Jazeera America crew.” [1]

Although we have come a long way since Jim Crow, I am sad to say that in this arena, not enough progress has been made since the 1960s. President Kennedy in many ways pioneered civil rights protections under law and thought long and hard about the most effective ways that he could use Federal power to enforce equal treatment under the law.

The most notable example occurred early in JFK’s presidency, when the University of Alabama was forced to racially integrate, a move opposed by the Governor of Alabama. President Kennedy had to decide to what extent to intervene. Amazingly, this decision was captured on camera by documentarian Robert Drew. Here, we can watch JFK consider this exact question.

Ultimately, JFK took action. He sent National Guard troopers to Alabama to ensure the safety of the first Black students at the University. He also proposed the foundation of the Civil Rights act of 1964 – which provided that businesses of public accommodation, like restaurants and hotels, could not racially discriminate. President Johnson signed that bill into law after JFK was assassinated. You can see JFK’s historic Civil Rights Address where he announced his decision to send the National Guard to protect African American students and called on Americans everywhere to end discrimination in its entirety here:

JFK would have been proud to see his Civil Rights bill enacted, but he would be disappointed with the lack of other progress, such as closing the income, life-expectancy and life-outcome gaps he discusses in his video.

 

 

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/michael-brown-ferguson-missouri-timeline/14051827/

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MY EXPERIENCE IN PROMOTING “HISTORY WILL PROVE US RIGHT”

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Spending the summer on our farm in Western New York has provided the opportunity – between chores – to reflect on my book tour during the past year to discuss my book about President Kennedy’s assassination, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Lee Harvey Oswald with the Dallas Police

Lee Harvey Oswald with the Dallas Police

The most unanswerable question from the audiences at my 26 events in 11 states?  What was Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive in killing President Kennedy?  In all the time the Warren Commission and its staff spent investigating the assassination, and even with the assistance of three expert psychiatrists, we never could get to a conclusion about motive that we could support with evidence.  Some of us speculated one way or another; but no one could be sure.  Oswald never explained himself, even to his wife, and his meandering comments in his “Historic Diary” provided clues that simply prompted more debate.

The second most unanswerable question?  Why couldn’t the Secret Service agents in the motorcade see the shooter at the window of the Texas Book Depository when bystanders on the parade route saw him clearly enough while he was aiming (and shooting) his rifle to describe him for the police?  Based on this description Officer Tippit stopped Oswald on the street shortly after the shooting, and Oswald pulled his revolver and shot Tippit before fleeing to the movie theater where he was arrested.  One of the most difficult investigative tasks our Warren Commission staff faced was prying information from the Treasury Department where the Secret Service was located in those days.  They were determined to protect their agents from blame for the President’s death and never shared the detailed internal report (about what went wrong and what remedies were required) with the Commission. Without this information, the Commission’s recommendations about Presidential protection lacked the hard-hitting specifics that might have led to meaningful recommendations to reform the organization. People would ask me about one or more of the better-known conspiracy theories, and these are readily resolved by reference to scientific and investigative facts.  I would tell them what I thought. Only a few conspiracy advocates took the occasion to challenge me in person. For the most part, I think, this was due to the fact that those who came to hear me tended to be older than 50; and most of these had some personal recollections of the day on which President Kennedy was assassinated. As for those younger people who heard me speak, I had the sense that they were surprised by the attention being given to this historical event

Howard Willens Signing copies of "History Will Prove Us Right"

Howard Willens signing copies of “History Will Prove Us Right”

after 50 years and appeared to have no preconceptions about the assassination. The audiences seemed eager to hear from someone who had personally participated in the work of the Commission. They seemed to enjoy the opportunity to question me about aspects of my experience on the Commission staff and I, in turn, enjoyed the opportunity to respond. The fact that I am still alive – and prepared to defend the Commission’s work – appeared to win me at least the initial support of many listeners. My reference to the subsequent and impressive careers of my colleagues on the Commission staff also seemed to support my assertion that we were all committed to a thorough and independent examination of the assassination. I found that my audiences were generally unaware of the extent to which the Commission’s principal conclusions had been revisited over the last several decades and, without exception, have been reaffirmed. I described the last chapter of my book, where I summarized the many investigations since 1964 examining one or more aspects of our investigation – in particular the work of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978-79 – and the confirmation of the Commission’s conclusions that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin and there was no credible evidence of any conspiracy. I pointed out that the critics of the Warren Commission’s conclusions typically ignore these subsequent investigations, which I believe does more to impeach their credibility than anything I might say.

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JFK, The Cold War, and Vladimir Putin

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Despite a crowded news docket, Russian aggression in the Ukraine region continues to draw the attention of the world. Under the Presidency of Soviet-throwback and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, Russia has undertaken an expansionist mode not seen since the end of the Cold War.

Indeed, given Putin’s Soviet background, the comparisons are inevitable—and prompt the question of how President Kennedy might have handled the current situation.

Age of Soviet Expansion

Back in the early 1960s, the USSR was assertively in expansion mode. Across Asia, China, Eastern Europe, South America and the Caribbean, the Communist system of government was gaining footholds. These developments were met with concern and attempted counter-measures by the Eisenhower administration, but the global situation was becoming increasingly unfavorable.

Trip to Western States: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico  Please credit "Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

JFK Trip to Western States: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico
“Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston”

President Kennedy took it on himself to reverse this trend. According to the JFK Presidential Library, he “ordered substantial increases in American intercontinental ballistic missile forces… added five new army divisions and increased the nation’s air power and military reserves”.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The single greatest test Kennedy faced as President came when the USSR began to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, a move that would have fundamentally altered cold war strategic calculations. President Kennedy simply could not allow nuclear missles 90 miles off of the coast of Florida.

President John F. Kennedy  addresses a worried nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis

President John F. Kennedy addresses a worried nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba, and after a tense showdown with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, the Russians removed the missiles in return for an American promise not to invade Cuba. (and the removal of NATO warheads from Turkey, a move which was not announced at the time.

Foreign Engagement

When it came to fighting  outside of the American sphere of influence, JFK was more cautious about committing force. He sent a small military contingent to Vietnam, but said “In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it—the people of Vietnam against the Communists.”

navy

Moving Forward

President Kennedy walked a line; defending our homeland, while not getting American forces entangled in extended war campaigns. Presidents Johnson and Nixon after him escalated the War in Vietnam to the extent that it became a national quagmire. This in turn helped influence Nixon and Kissenger to seek détente and arms reduction as their chief strategy to contain the Soviet threat.

In what ways is today’s global strategic balance like the Post-Vietnam era? Do you think President Obama is constrained in his options in confronting Putin’s Russia because of the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? What do you think JFK would do differently?

 

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One Giant Leap….. Reflections on the 45th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

One Giant Leap….. Reflections on the 45th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

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Introduction

This week marks the 45th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing. It is hard to overstate the impact of this event to the world at the time; the moon landing was a major victory for America in the space race between the US and USSR, and was a moment shared with the entire nation through the expanding medium of television.

The moon landing holds even additional significance for my generation as it represented the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s bold promise that America would land on the moon before the 1970s. So much of our space program owes its existence and success to President Kennedy.

Space Race:

The USSR fired the opening salvo in the space race in 1957 with the dramatic and successful launch of the world’s first artificial satellite- Sputnik. 

Sputnik ignited the space race

Given the incredible cold war tension between the two superpowers at the time, the idea of the Soviet Union gaining a significant military advantage through space was deeply troubling.

In response, President Eisenhower initiated Project Mercury, and selected the first American Astronauts. Yet the US continued to be outpaced- the USSR was first to put a man in space in 1961.

JFK Makes a Difference

Dr. Wernher von Braun, the NASA Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, and President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 16, 1963.

Dr. Wernher von Braun, the NASA Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, and President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 16, 1963.

President Kennedy refused to allow the United States to fall permanently behind in the space race. He asked Congress for nearly $10 billion in additional funding for NASA. The successes began to roll in on the American side. John Glenn, Jr. because the first American in space in 1962.

But President Kennedy was not satisfied with matching Soviet accomplishments. In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962 – less than a year after we first placed a man in orbit- President Kennedy pledged that the USA would land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Impact

Under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, the United States continued to gain the advantage in the space race. The 8th mission of the new Apollo program – Apollo 8—was the first manned mission to orbit the moon. The entire space race culminated in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Fulfilling JFK’s vision, Neil Armstrong, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. became the first men to walk on the moon, while Michael Collins piloted the craft in orbit.

Though JFK did not live to see his vision realized, I believe he would be extremely proud of the United States victories over the USSR in the space race and the entire Cold War.

 

 

Where do you think the space race falls on the list of JFK’s accomplishments? Comment on my FB page HERE!

 

Launch of the Mercury MR-3 Freedom 7 Space Capsule pilioted by Alan Shepard, from a Redstone rocket on May 5, 1961

Launch of the Mercury MR-3 Freedom 7 Space Capsule pilioted by Alan Shepard, from a Redstone rocket on May 5, 1961

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The Sixties: The JFK Assassination – CNN.com

The Sixties: The JFK Assassination – CNN.com

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Last Thursday I participated in a lively online Q& A on CNN’s Facebook page with Alexandra Zapruder answering questions from the audience about last week’s episode of the CNN series, The Sixties. On the whole, the episode was well produced and excellent  and includes several people I know as well as many clips of their interview with yours truly.

The website for the series includes an interesting little teaser entitled 5 things you might not know about JFK’s assassination which may surprise you.

You can see my efforts to provide factually based responses to several conspiracy minded questions on the Facebook conversation here.

A segment from the CNN Series "The Sixties: The JFK Assassination"

A segment from the CNN Series “The Sixties: The JFK Assassination”

 

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Book Excerpt: the Hearing With Oliver Stone: A Heroic Moment for Our Protagonist

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The Assassination Records Review Board (1992–98)

Congress created the Assassination Records Review Board in 1992. The law aimed at ensuring that virtually all records generated by previous investigations or held by government institutions related to President Kennedy’s assassination would be turned over to the National Archives. Its enactment resulted from the continuing debate about the conclusions of the Warren Commission and other investigative bodies that gained in intensity and public acceptance with the release in 1991 of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Congressional Hearings on the Need for Legislation

The Review Board acknowledged the significance of Oliver Stone’s film in providing the impetus for the law creating the board. It reported that the film “popularized a version of President Kennedy’s assassination that featured U.S. government agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the military as conspirators.” Although the Review Board described the film as “largely fictional,” it endorsed Stone’s message in the film’s closing trailer “that Americans could not trust official public conclusions when those conclusions had been made in secret.” Therefore Congress passed legislation—the JFK Act—“that released the secret records that prior investigations gathered and created.”

The Review Board’s characterization of the film as “largely fictional” was certainly correct, if understated.

The Review Board’s characterization of the film as “largely fictional” was certainly correct, if understated.

The Review Board’s characterization of the film as “largely fictional” was certainly correct, if understated. Members of the commission staff were offended (but not really surprised) by the liberties taken by Stone in inventing facts surrounding the assassination. Although including in his film some of the more familiar conspiracy contentions dealing with the number of shots and the “magic bullet,” Stone portrayed Oswald as a “patsy” who did not fire any shots at the president. Instead, the whole scene in Dealey Plaza was staged to make it seem like he did, in order to conceal the fact that several gunmen were shooting at Kennedy from different directions—a crossfire.

David Belin spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on March 26, 1992, about the movie in a speech entitled “The Assassination of Earl Warren and the Truth.” Belin began his attack on Stone’s film by quoting Warren to the effect that “one person and the truth is a majority.” He characterized Stone’s film as an effort to impeach “the integrity of a great Chief Justice.” “Earl Warren is not the only victim,” he went on to say, “Stone calls the assassination a ‘public execution’ by elements of the CIA and the Department of Defense, while President Lyndon B. Johnson is called an accessory after the fact.” Because Stone had cited the Select Committee’s report as support for the “facts” dramatized in the film, Belin itemized the respects in which that report corroborated the conclusions of the Warren Commission.

What angered Belin even more than Stone’s lies, omissions, misrepresentations, and manufactured facts was the massive amount of money spent by Warner Brothers and Stone to rewrite history. He said: “One of the most dangerous aspects of the disinformation of JFK is how the television networks in their quest for ratings have helped promote the lies about Earl Warren and the Warren Commission.” Belin urged the press to “expose the corporate incest between huge Hollywood empires and the television networks and the danger that this poses to our democratic society as they rewrite the truth to fit their own mold.” Referring to his Rockefeller Commission experience, he said: “No one knows better than I the dangers to a free society that are posed by a CIA out of control. But from my perspective, I see an equally great, or perhaps even greater, long-range danger to our democratic institutions of government with the increasing control by the entertainment industry over our national media, particularly television.”[i]

Stone’s movie, Belin’s speech, and the likelihood of congressional action prompted several commission lawyers to discuss how we might best respond to the movie and support legislation making assassination records public. Burt Griffin recalled that he, Liebeler, and a few others met with me in Washington, and we also communicated with Mosk in Los Angeles and Redlich in New York. In early 1992, more than a dozen staff members signed a letter to the National Archives urging release of all Warren Commission materials, emphasizing the commission’s (and our) desire back in 1964 to make all of our records available for public inspection, except those with a national security classification. In an accompanying press statement, we reaffirmed our confidence in the commission’s conclusions about Oswald and the lack of any credible evidence of a conspiracy.[ii]

 Early in January 1992, Congressman Stokes, the chairman of the former House Select Committee on Assassinations, introduced H.J. Res. 454 with forty sponsors that would mandate the release of assassination records. I appeared [at the hearing with Oliver Stone] on April 28 representing the commission staff at the first hearing on this legislation. Building on the staff’s earlier public statement, my prepared testimony expressed strong support for making public all of our commission’s materials as well as those of the House Select Committee, which were being withheld from publication for fifty years. I emphasized that only two percent of our commission’s records (about three thousand pages) remained undisclosed and would be subject to review by any agency created by Congress for this purpose.[iii]

The hearing was conducted by the Legislation and National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations chaired by Congressman John Conyers (D. Mich.), a friend of Congressman Stokes and a powerful advocate of the conclusions reached by the former House Select Committee. It was held in a large hearing room featuring a full battery of TV cameras and spectators competing for the available seats. It was clearly the congressional event of the day in Washington for one reason only—the most prominent supporter of the bill was Oliver Stone. Hoping to avoid the penetrating glare of the TV cameras, I sat down on the far end of the table for scheduled witnesses and studiously examined my prepared statement. My desire for anonymity failed with the entrance of Oliver Stone, who sat at a small table about twelve feet directly in front of me, so that the cameras immediately focused on him and I was part of the background.

The hearing began with a brief statement of its purpose by Chairman Conyers and testimony in support of the legislation by Stokes. When he welcomed Oliver Stone as the next witness, Conyers said: “Welcome, Mr. Stone. We have your prepared statement. You are probably the reason that we are all here today.”[iv]   

[At the hearing with Oliver Stone] In his prepared comments Stone described the two conspiracies that led to the assassination of President Kennedy and the cover-up that had prevented the members and the American public from knowing the truth. According to Stone, the second and broader conspiracy involved President Johnson, whose “appointment of the Warren Commission was a means by which to derail a serious homicide investigation which was never accomplished.” As one Washington Post reporter described Stone’s film: “Stone mixes fact and fiction at dizzying speed, stomping on presumptions of innocence, cooking up fake admissions, ignoring contrary evidence, and giving a conspiratorial tone to inconsequential facets of the tragedy that were explained long ago.” His testimony did likewise.[v]

After Stone’s prepared remarks, the committee members eagerly sought the opportunity to express their fascination with his presentation and their admiration for his courage in bringing these conspiracies to the committee’s attention. They solicited further details regarding Stone’s conspiracy theories and, needless to say, Stone was not reticent in responding to their questions. Not one committee member felt obligated to ask whether Stone had any factual support for his views or his rejection of the conclusions reached by the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee.

By the time I was called to the podium, I had decided that my staid presentation in support of the legislation had to be amended to deal with Stone’s presentation and the committee’s apparent lack of interest in the facts. Early in my comments, I suggested that Stone was a far better film producer than a historian. I went on to defend the conclusions of the Warren Commission. But I never had the courage to ask the committee members whether any of them had read the Warren Commission report.

When Chairman Conyers asked for my “theory of the JFK assassination,” I stressed once again my view “that there are no facts, as distinct from allegations and suspicions, that undercut any of the major conclusions of the Warren Commission.” He responded: “You don’t have any nagging doubts?” I mentioned the commission’s emphasis on the lack of credible evidence of any conspiracy, and he repeated, “So you do have some nagging doubts.” After my further defense of the commission’s conclusions despite the failures of the FBI and the CIA, we had this exchange:

Mr. Conyers: But you still have nagging doubts.

Mr. Willens: If you are suggesting I have nagging doubts about the conclusions—

Mr. Conyers: No, I am asking you. I am not trying to put words into a trial counsel’s mouth. You either have nagging doubts or you don’t have nagging doubts. It is a free country.

Mr. Willens: That is why Mr. Stone could make his movie.

Mr. Conyers: Right. And that is why you may have your nagging doubts.

Mr. Willens: And I have my reservations about what the future will display. But I want to reiterate there have been no facts that have come to light in the last 28 years that have undercut any of those conclusions.[vi]

After Chairman Conyers and I continued this exchange to our mutual dissatisfaction, Representative Shays intervened: “Mr. Willens, I love your spirit, and I think I love your spirit more because it is not as popular to take your view. So I thank you for being true to your beliefs and expressing them so strongly.” He then proceeded, very cautiously, to probe whether I might be comforted if and when more information about the assassination was released to the public. I agreed that would be useful and then said: “And to the extent that I have spoken with passion and vigor, I apologize. It is a characteristic flaw. I think that I wanted to draw a distinction between facts on the one hand and allegations, rumors, and suspicions on the other.”[vii]

My critical comments of Stone’s movie and spirited defense of the commission led, somewhat surprisingly, to comments from the audience. When I reminded the committee that the Select Committee’s reliance on acoustics evidence had been rejected by the prestigious committee appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, a voice from the audience shouted “It has been refuted!”—or something to that effect. While I was being challenged by one committee member, my young nephew from rural Western New York, attending his first congressional hearing, urged me on by shouting from the rear seats in the room, “Eat his lunch, Howard!” When I finally ended my testimony with one more declaration that not one fact had come to light since 1964 that undercut the commission’s conclusions about Oswald and the lack of any conspiracy, committee members responded with quiet smiles of sympathy for my deluded state of mind.[viii]




[i] Ibid.

[ii] Griffin, interview by author, November 28, 2012. The letter and statement are attached to my written statement before the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations on April 28, 1992.

[iii] 138 Cong. Rec. H1984 (March 26, 1992); ARRB Report, 2.

[iv] Legislation and National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, Hearings before the Legislation and National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1993), 89 (hereafter “Assassination Materials Disclosure Hearings”).

[v] Ibid., 100; George Lardner, “The Way It Wasn’t; In ‘JFK’ Stone Assassinates the Truth,” Washington Post (December 20, 1991), D2.

[vi] Assassination Materials Disclosure Hearings, 159.

[vii] Ibid., 164.

[viii] When Belin testified before the Conyers subcommittee on July 22, he repeated the major points of his National Press Club speech about Stone’s film. In a characteristic show of bravado, he challenged the members of the subcommittee to ask him any question whatsoever about the Warren Commission’s findings and expressed his confidence that he could answer any such query. Belin took a position on the proposed legislation far beyond what I had advocated on behalf of the commission staff; he recommended that Congress mandate release of all—repeat all—assassination records regardless of any national security classification that they might have. Statement of David W. Belin, Former Counsel, Warren Commission, and Former Executive Director, Rockefeller Commission, before the Legislation and National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations (July 22, 1992). 

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Book Excerpt: The Cuba Conspiracy – A Favorite of Conspiracy Theorists

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The following is an excerpt from my book, History Will Prove Us: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of  John F. Kennedy.

Will Prove Us Right Book Cover - Warren Commission Book

The commission’s investigation of Oswald’s possible entanglement in a conspiracy involving Cuba was not limited to whatever he had done in Mexico. We had good documentation of his activities in support of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee in the United States and we explored these political activities to determine whether they may have involved more serious and threatening objectives beyond the distribution of handbills on the streets of New Orleans or elsewhere. Of course, we were well aware that the United States and Cuba were engaged in a political confrontation that had already led to one military encounter at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and a near catastrophe during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, after the Soviet Union began building a missile base on the island. The willingness of Castro’s Cuba to be a proxy for the Soviets in this hemisphere increased US resolution and candor about a regime change in Cuba. 

Join the Fair Play for Cuba Committee Leaflet distributed by Lee Harvey Oswald

Join the Fair Play for Cuba Committee Leaflet distributed by Lee Harvey Oswald

At the commission, in addition to focusing on pro-Cuba groups in the United States, we also resolved to learn more about anti-Castro Cuban groups because of the widespread sentiment among these groups that President Kennedy had failed to honor his commitment to support them. We knew that Oswald had been involved in a conflict with anti-Castro Cuban refugees.[i] In early August 1963, while living in New Orleans, Oswald volunteered his services to Carlos Bringuier, a lawyer from Cuba then active in anti-Castro projects. Oswald claimed that he had received guerrilla-type training in the Marine Corps and offered to use his expertise in training Bringuier’s group. Bringuier was intrigued by Oswald’s offer and was initially friendly to the young man. However, very soon after, a member of Bringuier’s group observed Oswald distributing Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature. Bringuier promptly challenged Oswald on the streets of New Orleans. The altercation led to the arrest of both men. Oswald was convicted of creating a public disturbance and fined $10.

Soon thereafter, in the middle of August, Bringuier sent one of his followers to Oswald’s home posing as a pro-Castro Cuban interested in working for Oswald. Oswald received Bringuier’s plant courteously and the two discussed Cuban politics into the evening on Oswald’s porch. Marina Oswald testified that Oswald told her after the conversation that he strongly suspected his visitor was an anti-Castro agent pretending to be pro-Castro. The end result: both Bringuier and Oswald failed in their attempts to infiltrate the other’s organization.[ii]

Aware of their ideological differences, a local radio broadcaster arranged for a debate between Oswald and Bringuier on a daily public affairs program on August 21, 1963. According to the broadcaster, Oswald defended the Castro regime and discussed Marxism, handled himself very well, and appeared to be “a very logical, intelligent fellow.” However, his advocacy was seriously weakened when his defection to the Soviet Union was revealed at the beginning of the debate, forcing him to assert that the Fair Play for Cuba Committee was “not at all Communist controlled regardless of the fact that I had the experience of living in Russia.” As a result of this publicity and disclosure of his defection, Oswald believed that he was “open to almost unanswerable attack by those who opposed his views.”[iii]

Oswald distributing Pro-Cuba leaflets

Oswald distributing Pro-Cuba leaflets

Jim Liebeler and David Slawson pursued these leads to explore Oswald’s activities in New Orleans. Liebeler worked (along with Bert Jenner) on exploring every aspect of Oswald’s life in the US to determine if he was involved in a domestic conspiracy. Cuba was the intersection between these assignments. Slawson thought that the anti-Castro groups deserved particular attention. They were his “prized suspects” because they hated Castro and were very angry at Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs failure. The assassination of the president by a known communist connected in some way with Cuba would serve their purposes of getting revenge on Kennedy and possibly triggering an invasion of Cuba by the United States. In Slawson’s view, “this was the only conspiracy theory that I ever heard that made sense.” I agreed that we should pursue this particular conspiracy theory—no matter how implausible or complicated it might appear—because of the zealousness of the anti-Castro exiles in the United States.[iv]

Because of his strong anti-Castro views and contacts with Oswald, Carlos Bringuier was an important witness. Liebeler took his deposition in New Orleans on April 8, 1964. Afterward, he prepared a four-page investigative request for the FBI, citing various leads provided by Bringuier, such as the reported appearance of Oswald at the Havana Bar in the summer of 1963 in the company of a person believed to be either Mexican or Cuban, and his apparent knowledge of the existence of an anti-Castro military training camp in New Orleans. Liebeler was also concerned about earlier FBI reports of interviews of Dean Andrews, the lawyer who represented Oswald in connection with the street disturbance involving Bringuier. In these reports Andrews stated that Oswald came to his office on several occasions accompanied by several different people, including a person of Mexican extraction, but was hesitant about identifying the Mexican. Liebeler wanted the FBI to interview Andrews again to see if his memory could be refreshed as to the identity of this man and, if possible, determine whether that man was the same person believed to have accompanied Oswald at the Havana Bar.[v]


[i] Coleman and Slawson to Rankin, memorandum, undated, “Oswald’s Foreign Activities,” 107.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Warren Report, 410–12, 729.

[iv] Slawson, interview by the author, December 15, 2011.

[v] Rankin to Hoover, April 23, 1964.

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