Sinatra in Sicily, “My Way Museum” opens in Sinatra’s home town

On May 14, 2019, the village of Lercara Friddi, Sicily will open the “My Way Museum” to commemorate its most famous son, Frank Sinatra.

Our 2005 biography, Sinatra: The Life, established Sinatra’s link to the village and we have been delighted by the way the village has embraced both us and the book.

We hope at some point to be able to join our friends in Lercara for their annual “My Way Festival”. Until then, though, here’s a sample of how it all began:

Io sono siciliano…” I am Sicilian.

At the age of seventy-two, in the broiling heat of summer in 1987, Frank Sinatra was singing – not so well by that time – in the land of his fathers. “I want to say,” he told a rapt audience at Palermo’s Favorita Stadium, “that I love you dearly for coming tonight. I haven’t been in Italy for a long time – I’m so thrilled. I’m very happy.” The crowd roared approval, especially when he said he was Sicilian, that his father was born in Sicily. Sinatra’s voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he looked more reflective than happy.

*           *              *

Frank Sinatra’s paternal grandfather grew up in Sicily in the years that followed the end of foreign rule, a time of social and political mayhem. His childhood and early adult years coincided with the collapse of civil authority, brutally suppressed uprisings, and the rise of the Mafia to fill the power vacuum.

Beyond that, very little has been known about the Sinatra family’s background in Sicily. The grandfather’s obituary, which appeared in the New York Times because of his famous grandson, merely had him born “in Italy” in 1884 (though his American death certificate indicates he was born as early as 1866.)

Twice, in 1964 and in 1987, Frank Sinatra told audiences that his family had come from Catania, about as far east as one can go in Sicily. Yet he told one of his musicians, principal violist Ann Barak, that they came from Agrigento on the southwestern side of the island. His daughter Nancy, who consulted her father extensively while working on her two books about his life, wrote that her grandfather had been “born and brought up” in Agrigento. His name, according to her, was “John”.

Biography begins with this most simple of facts. When we set out to write our book on ‘Old Blue Eyes’ back in 2001, we both felt a niggling certainty that finding the truth about Sinatra’s lineage would be the Rosetta Stone to understanding the man.  In fact, we discovered, Sinatra’s grandfather came from neither Catania nor Agrigento, was born earlier than either of the dates previously reported, and his true name was Francesco – in the American rendering, like his famous grandson, Frank.

*                     *                        *

Sicilian baptismal and marriage records, United States immigration and census data, and interviews with surviving grandchildren, establish that Francesco Sinatra was born in 1857 in the town of Lercara Friddi, in the hills of northwest Sicily. It had about ten thousand inhabitants and it was a place of some importance, referred to by some as “piccolo Palermo”, little Palermo.

The reason was sulfur, an essential commodity in the paper and pharmaceutical industries, in which Sicily was rich and Lercara especially so. Foreign companies reaped the profits, however, and most locals languished in poverty. The town was located, in the words of a prominent Italian editor, in “the core territory of the Mafia.” The town lies fifteen miles from Corleone, a name made famous by The Godfather and in real life a community credited with breeding more future American mafiosi than any other place in Sicily. It is just twelve miles from the Mafia stronghold of Prizzi – as in Prizzi’s Honor, the Richard Condon novel about the mob and the film based on it that starred Jack Nicholson.

It was Lercara Friddi, however, that produced the most notorious mafioso of the twentieth century. Francesco Sinatra’s hometown spawned Lucky Luciano. Luciano was “without doubt the most important Italian-American gangster”, according to one authority, and “head of the Italian underworld throughout the land”, according to a longtime head of the Chicago Crime Commission. One of his own lawyers described him as having been, quite simply, “the founder of the modern Mafia”.

Luciano, whose real name was Salvatore Lucania, was born in Lercara Friddi in 1897. Old marriage and baptismal registers show that his parents and Francesco Sinatra and his bride Rosa Saglimbeni were married at the church of Santa Maria della Nieve within two years of each other. Luciano was baptized there, in the same font as Francesco Sinatra’s first two children.

In all the years of speculation about Frank Sinatra’s Mafia links, this coincidence of origin has remained unknown.  Living as they did in a town the size of Lercara, it is hard to imagine the Sinatras and the Lucanias did not know each other. The two families lived on the same short street, the Via Margherita di Savoia, at roughly the same time.  Luciano’s address book, seized by law enforcement authorities on his death in 1962 and available today in the files of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, contains only two entries for individuals who lived in Lercara Friddi: one a member of his own family and the other a man named  “Saglimbeni,” a relative of the woman Francesco Sinatra married – the famous Frank’s grandmother. Even if the Sinatras and the Lucanias did not know each other, Lucky Luciano’s later notoriety makes it certain that the Sinatra family eventually learned that they and the gangster shared the same town of origin. Kinship and origins are key to Italian-American culture, and were even more so in the first decades of the diaspora.

The future singer Frank Sinatra could have learned from any one of several senior relatives that his people and Luciano came from the same Sicilian town. He certainly should have learned it from his grandfather Francesco, who lived with Sinatra’s family after his wife’s death and often minded his grandson when the boy’s parents were out.

Francesco, moreover, survived to the age of ninety-one, until long after Luciano had become an infamous household name and his grandson an internationally famous singer. Sinatra himself indicated, and a close contemporary confirmed, that he and his grandfather were “very close”. Late in life, moreover, he said he had gone out of his way to “check back” on his Sicilian ties. And yet, as we have seen, he muddied the historical waters by suggesting that his forebears came from Sicilian towns far away from Lercara Friddi.

*           *          *

There was only one school in Lercara Friddi, and few could read or write. Francesco Sinatra was no exception, but he did have a trade – he was a shoemaker. He married Rosa Saglimbeni, a local woman his own age, when both were in their early twenties, and by the time they turned thirty – in 1887 – the couple had two sons. As the century neared its close, times were desperate. Thousands of Sicilians were going hungry, especially in the countryside. There were food riots, and crime was rampant.

In western Sicily, the Mafia’s power had become absolute. Palermo, the island’s capital, spawned the first capo di tutti capi, Don Vito, who one day would  forge the first links between the Sicilian Mafia and the United States. His successor, Don Calò, operated from a village just fourteen miles from Lercara Friddi.

By 1889 Francesco and Rosa had moved to a working-class suburb of Palermo. Two more sons were born there, but died in infancy, possibly victims of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the neighborhood in the early eighteen-nineties. Meanwhile, a Sicilian exodus began. One and a half million people were to leave the island in the next twenty-five years. The emigrants went to Argentina and Brazil and, in ever increasing numbers, to the United States, L’America.

Francesco Sinatra joined the rush in the summer of 1900.  At the age of forty-three, he said goodbye to Rosa and their surviving children – there were by now three sons and two daughters – and boarded a ship for Naples. There he transferred to the British steamer Spartan Prince, carrying a steerage ticket to New York. At Ellis Island, on July 6, he told immigration officials he planned to stay with a relative living on Old Broadway. He had thirty dollars in his pocket as he headed for Manhattan.

Francesco found work, and soon had enough confidence to start sending for his family. His eldest son, Isidor, joined him in America, and Salvatore, just fifteen but declaring himself a shoemaker like his father, arrived in 1902. Rosa arrived at Christmas the following year, accompanied by Antonino, age nine, and their two daughters Angelina and Dorotea, who were younger. Antonino – “Anthony Martin” or “Marty” as he would become in America – was to father the greatest popular singer of the century.

The Statue of Liberty smiled, Frank Sinatra would say in an emotional moment forty years later, when his father “took his first step on Liberty’s soil.” For many Italian newcomers, however, the smile proved illusory.

*           *          *

In Francesco’s day, Italian immigrants were greeted with widespread hostility. They were bottom of the heap in New York, ostracized by those who had arrived before them, by the Germans and the Irish especially. Italians were said to be dirty, ignorant and criminal, and were vilified as “wops,” “dagos”, “guineas”. Early in the twentieth century, when blacks were being lynched in the South, some Americans considered Italians – immigrants from southern Italy and Sicily especially – “not even white”. The Ku Klux Klan railed against them.  They found themselves excluded from churches used by other ethnic groups, consigned to menial work, and persecuted by the police.

The accusation of criminality had some basis in fact. Mafia fugitives from Sicily had been active in the United States for some years now. Palermo’s mob chieftain Don Vito, describing himself to immigration officials as “a dealer”, arrived from Europe the year after Francesco and during a two-year stay laid the foundation of what would eventually become the American Mafia.

To oppressed Sicilian immigrants, Vito and his kind were the uomini rispettati who had ruled the roost back home. They offered protection, made loans, made many things possible – at a price. They extorted money from shopkeepers and workmen, and those who did not cooperate got hurt. To some immigrants, joining the ranks of the criminals was more attractive than regular work. “I realized Italians were considered dirt, the scum of the earth,” recalled “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, the son of a Calabrian tailor who was to become a senior American mafioso. “I quit…went the other way.”

Lucky Luciano, who arrived in the States from Lercara Friddi several years after the Sinatras, made the same choice. “We was surrounded by crooks,” he recalled of his childhood years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, “and plenty of them were guys who were supposed to be legit…All of them was stealin’ from somebody. And we had the real pros, the rich Dons from the old country, with their big black cars and mustaches to match…The only thing is, we knew they was rich, and rich was what counted….”

Francesco Sinatra, for his part, struggled. Many Italians were cobblers, apparently too many, for he first found work as a boilermaker. He later landed a job at the American Pencil Company that paid $11 a week (just over $200 dollars today),7 and stayed with the company for seventeen years. Rosa, like Francesco already well into her forties, raised their children and eventually opened a small grocery. By that time, the couple had long since left New York City for the New Jersey town now inseparably linked with the name Sinatra – Hoboken.

It was there, On December 17, 1915, that a baby – whose birth certificate mistakenly recorded was called “Frank Sinestro” – was born. A quarter of a century later, when the grown child had become a celebrity, the name would be corrected and reregistered as “Francis A. Sinatra”.

But that’s another chapter.

2 _ CHURCH _DOCS - edited

Records establish that Sinatra’s paternal grandfather, Francesco, and his grandmother Rosa Saglimbeni came from the same town and street in Sicily as Mafia boss Lucky Luciano. The church (background) where they were baptised and married; their baptism and marriage records (top and center); the information on Rosa’s U.S. death certificate (bottom) that confirms the discovery.

3 _ BOAT_DOCS - edited

Francesco Sinatra arrived from Italy in 1900 abroad the S.S. Spartan Prince, as recorded (top) by U.S. Immigration at Ellis Island. His wife, Rosa, and three of their children, including Frank Sinatra’s father, Anthony Martin (“Marty”), arrived aboard the S.S. Citta di Milano three years later (bottom).


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Still No Justice for Admiral Kimmel

Our book, A Matter of Honor, was published on the 75th anniversary of the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the aftermath of that attack two men, Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lt. General Walter Short, bore the weight of the nation’s opprobrium for the failure of U.S. defenses.

After the attack, the admiral—along with General Short—was relieved of command and, following a brief investigation, accused of dereliction of duty. In 1944, a Navy Court of Inquiry cleared Kimmel of the charge, as did a later investigation by Congress. Washington had failed to meet his repeated requests for vital equipment—especially for reconnaissance planes. And senior officers in Washington had failed to share vital intelligence with Hawaii.

Our research for A Matter of Honor produced numerous never-before-seen pieces of evidence that Kimmel and Short were made scapegoats for the failures of many.  As a consequence of which, Kimmel and Short were the only two World War II officers not retired at their highest wartime rank. Kimmel was retired as a two-star Rear Admiral. The Admiral struggled for full exoneration until his death, but the stain of disgrace remained.

Admiral Kimmel’s family took up the struggle and have labored for years to clear his name and correct the historical record. “Restoration of our grandfather’s four-star rank”, said his grandson Thomas K. Kimmel, Jr.,  “became the only way the government could belatedly restore his honor.”

In 1991, 36 admirals petitioned President George H.W. Bush to recommend Kimmel’s posthumous promotion. In 2000, Congress passed a resolution recommending the measure to President Clinton. No further action, however, has ever been taken on an issue that then Senator Joseph Biden called the ‘the most tragic injustice in American military history.’

With the new evidence in A Matter of Honor to hand, Tom Kimmel thought the time was right to petition the Board for Correction of Naval Records about his grandfather’s case. After months of waiting, he this week received the results of the three-person Board’s deliberations. The Board recommended denial of Kimmel’s petition – the Admiral’s naval record would not be corrected to reflect the injustice done.

The link below will take interested readers to Tom Kimmel, Jr.’s video presentation about Pearl Harbor and Admiral Kimmel:


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Pearl Harbor. Depending on your point of view it is either “the mother of all conspiracies” or “the mother of all conspiracy theories”. Last year’s 75th anniversary of the attack was rightly marked by solemn remembrance for the dead. The 76th anniversary we mark today should be a time for setting the historical record straight.

Sunday, December 7, 1941. The hour after dawn. An armada of more than 350 Japanese planes begins a bombardment that has been planned for a year. The attack’s purpose is to cripple the Fleet. Four battleships are sunk, others badly damaged. By the time the sun goes down, 2403 Americans are dead, the nation’s leadership in turmoil.

In the days after the attack recriminations flew. Fingers were pointed at the FDR, his Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, military intelligence but most vigorously at Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander in Chief of America’s Pacific fleet and the Army’s Hawaiian commander, Lieutenant General Walter Short. The stream of blame and denial, accusation and rebuttal, claim and counterclaim, flows on still.

The effluent from the stream, which has become central to it, is the suspicion of a greater evil. Book after book, article after article, has entertained the notion that President Roosevelt and some of those around him knew in advance that Pearl Harbor would be attacked, that they allowed it to happen.

The speculations include the notion, covered in Part 1, that Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent America advance warning. The theories, though, spread well beyond that. They include suspicion that U.S. code-breakers had intercepted a message signaling the coming break in relations hidden in a Japanese weather bulletin; that senior officials in Washington knew that Japanese warships were steaming towards Hawaii; that President Roosevelt and members of his government concealed a meeting they held, on the eve of the onslaught, at which FDR ordered that no timely warning be sent.

During the research for A Matter of Honor, our book about Pearl Harbor, we yanked hard at the threads of the loosely woven tapestry of conspiracy to see if it would tighten the weave. Instead the fabric unravelled.

An October 1940 Navy intelligence memorandum, unearthed in the 1990s, was said to lay out the steps by which Japan could be lured into firing the first shot, thus propelling the US into war not just in Asia but through the backdoor into the war in Europe. Responses to the memo found by us in 2015, however, show that of three officers known to have seen the report none suggested following such a course. One senior officer explicitly recommended against “precipitating anything in the Orient”.

Then there is the so-called “Winds” message, a code that told Japanese diplomats that they would learn of an impending rupture in relations with any of three possible countries – the U.S., Britain, or the Soviet Union – in a broadcast coded to appear like an ordinary weather forecast.

Captain Laurance Safford, the U.S. Navy’s respected codebreaking chief, testified that a Winds message signifying a break with the United States was intercepted and known in Washington on December 4th. Safford’s version of the broadcast, however, was inconsistent with the prescribed format. A code that doesn’t follow the code is no code at all.

In 1977, in an oral history interview, former navy radioman Ralph Briggs claimed to have intercepted the “Winds” message on December 4th. What he said seemed at first to corroborate Safford, but falls apart on scrutiny. Years after the war, Briggs said, he had searched in official files for a record of the message but it was missing. He had noted that fact, he said, in the file. The file in the National Archives does include a note by Briggs. It relates, however, not to December 4th as he claimed, but to December 2nd. Moreover, a superior whom Briggs claimed could corroborate his story, instead said he had never handled or observed a Winds message.

In what would have been a superfluous and costly exercise had the broadcast been picked up on December 4 as alleged, a host of Army and Navy personnel continued to make searching the ether for Winds a priority long after December 4. “We were continuing to look,” one naval intelligence officer would recall, until “after the bombs had started falling on the Fleet.”

As reported in Part 1, meanwhile, a history of Britain’s code-breaking unit in the Far East, refers to a “priority message from Hong Kong” reporting “that the broadcast mentioning “East” and “West” winds had been heard.” “EAST WIND RAIN,” if that is what was indeed heard, was the coded language for an imminent break in relations with the United States. If the British history is accurate, it represents the only known record of the receipt anywhere of a “Winds” message referring to a break with the United States. It was intercepted two hours after the attack on Pearl.

One of the most seemingly credible suggestions of foreknowledge appeared in the book Infamy by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian John Toland. Toland published the recollection of a Dutch Naval officer, Johann Meijer Ranneft, that on a visit to U.S. Navy Headquarters on December 6, he had been shown a map on which two Japanese carriers were positioned at a point “just north of Honolulu.” In support Toland reprinted a portion of Ranneft’s wartime diary. A position to the north would have been significant, as the Japanese attack force approached Hawaii from that direction. Toland’s translation of the diary entry, though, is seriously inaccurate – the relevant passage places the two carriers simply “to the West of Honolulu”.

Two memos written by Ranneft in the 1940s, and located by us in the Dutch National Archives, meanwhile, specify that the position of the two carriers was “at the Easterly border of the Mandate area [Marshall Islands], at a distance of several hundred miles of Honolulu.” The area specified is to the southwest of Hawaii, not the north. Ranneft wrote, moreover, that “neither any of the intelligence officers present nor I spoke of a possible attack by the carriers on Honolulu.”

Finally, there is the allegation of a late-night meeting at the White House on December 6, at which FDR and a coterie of advisors – supposedly with some of intelligence of the attack in hand – gathered to plot. The notion was encouraged by two letters written in the 1970s by publisher James Stahlman. In one letter, in 1973, Stahlman quoted former Navy Secretary Knox as having told him that he and “[Secretary of War] Stimson, [Chief of Staff ]Marshall, [Chief of Naval Operations] Stark, and [presidential adviser] Harry Hopkins had spent the night before [Pearl Harbor] at the White House with FDR, all waiting for what they knew was coming…” In a second letter, in 1975, Stahlman’s list of supposed participants in the late-night meeting expanded to include Knox’s aide Frank Beatty and Stark’s aide John McCrea. Stark and Marshall denied under oath to official investigators that they had been at any White House meeting on the night of December 6th. Told of Stahlman’s claim McCrea, too, categorically denied attending such a meeting.

While there is no reliable evidence that U.S. officials conspired to allow the attack to happen, in the aftermath many of them certainly conspired to cover up the full facts. That conspiracy took place to hide the U.S. code-breaking program known as “Magic”.

Through Magic US intelligence had decoded the Winds message and hundreds of other valuable Japanese messages. So secret was Magic, that its existence was known to only a handful of men, so valuable, that its exposure was deemed too critical to be exposed. Officers who had sworn an oath to never reveal what they knew were cautioned not to speak of it even to official investigators. That major lie, as such lies often do, spawned myriad other lies – lies that covered a multitude of sins. Mistakes, incompetence, lost opportunities, petty ass-covering,

There were, too, egregious errors that the lies about Magic obscured. Two long suppressed “after action” reports made clear how poorly Magic had been used in the months before Pearl Harbor. One, for the Army, concluded that the coded information from Magic had “clearly foreshadowed” the attack. ”The traffic,” the Army’s report concluded, “had not been given sufficiently close attention.”

The decoded messages, the Navy’s report opined, showed the Japanese “had determined to attack Pearl Harbor as early as September 24…evidence for this last statement comes from…the minute attention paid to every inch of Pearl Harbor in the instructions from Tokyo.” None of the decoded messages, though, were shared with the two men who most needed them – Hawaiian commanders Kimmel and Short.

Admiral Kimmel and General Short had been, the Navy’s analyst later said, “scapegoats… for the failures of many.” That is the conspiracy at the heart of years of myth-making and propaganda about Pearl Harbor.

The brave young Americans who faced the Japanese onslaught in 1941, Admiral Kimmel later wrote, “showed themselves fearless, resourceful and self-sacrificing.” The lesson for history is that those young men died not as the result of a vast perfidious conspiracy, but because of tragic human fallibility.

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Tomorrow, December 7,  is the 76th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  The onslaught in Hawaii killed more than two thousand Americans and sunk or badly damaged major U.S. warships. It triggered America’s entry into World War II, changed history. Americans everywhere remember December 7th 1941 as the date that “will live in infamy”.

They mourn, but they also argue. Was the attack really a surprise? Did their President, Franklin Roosevelt, have foreknowledge? If he did, and failed to warn his commanders in the Pacific, was he not guilty of unforgivable treachery? And Britain’s legendary leader, Winston Churchill, features large in such conspiracy theories. Was it he who had foreknowledge, shared it with Roosevelt but then – because both men wanted to see America enter the War – connived with the President to keep the explosive knowledge to themselves?

The facts as now investigated take us closer to the truth than ever before.

Churchill told in his memoirs of how, when he learned the attack had taken place – from a few words on the end of a BBC radio broadcast – he at once placed a call to the President in Washington. Roosevelt told him: “It’s quite true. They have attacked us…We are all in the same boat now.”

Churchill, by his own account, said that “certainly simplifies things.” The United States and Britain now had common cause – in the open. He wrote in his diary: “So we had won after all…the United States is like ‘a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’…I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

That has long been the generally accepted version: An attack that took both men by surprise. A development, nevertheless, that happened to coincide with the desire of both men that America would now plunge openly into the fight against both Japan and Hitler.

But is the official account wallpaper that conceals a more complex, sinister truth? Was the attack really a surprise? Had the leaders received some form of advance warning, but concealed what they knew? Had they allowed the attack to go ahead – knowing that it would provoke America’s immediate entry into the war? That is one version of the conspiracy theorists’ scenario.

A recent find in British archives might seem at first glance to support the notion. It centres on a Japanese coded message that the intelligence services of several friendly nations had for days been tipped off to intercept. The words “EAST WIND RAIN”, hidden in what appeared otherwise to be a routine Japanese radio weather forecast, would warn Japan’s diplomats around the world of an imminent severing of relations with the United States. If relations with other nations were to be cut, that would be indicated by different coded weather references. “WEST WIND CLEAR” would mean relations with Britain were to be cut off. “NORTH WIND CLOUDY” would mean Tokyo was going to break with the Soviet Union.

Some were later to allege that such a Japanese message was indeed intercepted before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Historians, however, have long looked in vain for proof that the message was ever transmitted.

A secret report, prepared for Churchill after the war but not released by the British National Archives until 2004, shows that British code-breakers in South-East Asia did indeed intercept such a message. The report refers to a “priority message from Hong Kong” reporting that “the broadcast mentioning ‘EAST’ and ‘WEST’ winds had been heard.”  If this is an accurate account, it reports the only known intercept anywhere in the world of the coded message indicating a Japanese break with the United States. An interception that was made by British intelligence.

Interesting though this is, though, the previously unknown report does not change history. Britain’s listening post in Southeast Asia had intercepted the message only “at 2010Z 7th” – military shorthand for “2010 Zulu” time – or 9.40 a.m. Hawaii time on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The bombs had started to rain down on the Fleet nearly two hours earlier. By the time London received its report of the telltale Japanese weather broadcast, it was already too late.

Other information on supposed British foreknowledge turns out not to be reliable. In the 1970s, the wartime chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, said he recalled a December 5th meeting of the Committee – two days before Pearl Harbor – that discussed information that “a Japanese fleet was sailing in the direction of

Hawaii.” Someone at the meeting , according to Cavendish-Bentinck – he did not name the person – stated that Washington had been informed.

There is no evidence, however, that any Intelligence Committee meeting was held on December 5th. Committee records now available at the National Archives reflect no meeting that day. There was a meeting on the 3rd, but Pearl Harbor was not discussed.

In a draft memoir written in the 1990s, Sir Julian Ridsdale, who in 1941 had served in the War Office’s Far Eastern Section, recalled a meeting of the Committee on November 27th. Those present, he wrote, had discussed the fact that both U.S. and British intelligence in the Pacific “had begun losing track of the movements” of the Japanese fleet. It was observing radio silence. “We concluded,” he wrote, that the Japanese force was “now in a position to be considered a major threat to the American Fleet in Pearl Harbor. It was agreed we should alert the President of the United States.” Years later, Ridsdale wrote, he was assured that the message had been passed on.

If there was indeed such a discussion in the Intelligence Committee, and if a message was passed to Washington, nothing about it has ever surfaced in American archives. The author of “British Intelligence in the Second World War”, official historian F.H. Hinsley, cited a paper the Committee produced on November 28th, ten days before Pearl Harbor. Written the day after the meeting at which an attack on Hawaii had supposedly been discussed, it “excluded the prospect of a direct Japanese attack on U.S. possessions.”

And then there is a startling comment reportedly made by the onetime confidential secretary who served Britain’s wartime intelligence chief in the United States, Sir William Stephenson. “We did know that they were going to attack on December 7,” secretary Grace Garner told a newspaper in her native Canada in 1998, “We told London. We told the Americans. We had quite some considerable warning. Days, days, days.” Given that Garner’s boss Sir William was had contact with both Roosevelt and Churchill, her assertion would seem to indicate that Britain did warn the President.

Is the former secretary’s claim reliable? Perhaps not. She was ninety years old when she spoke with the Canadian newspaper.  When we interviewed Garner years earlier, on the phone and in person, and on four separate occasions, she made no such claim.

What then of the assertion, made before the Millennium, that vital information in British government archives was being suppressed? In his two books on Pearl Harbor, historian John Costello wrote that, days before Pearl Harbor, Churchill shared with Roosevelt intelligence that hardened the President’s attitude to Japan. Relevant information, Costello added, was still being kept secret. “A whole section of the Prime Minister’s secret office file relating to Japan,” he wrote in 1994, “is marked ‘closed for 75 years’.” The file in question, however, is in fact now open to researchers. It contains nothing that is remotely relevant.

Those who suspect skulduggery, meanwhile, have long suggested that British intelligence perhaps obtained information on Japanese plans from coded intercepts – but deliberately withheld it from the Americans. That might support the theory that the British held back from sending Washington a warning – hoping to ensure that America would enter the war. Another version of perfidy.

Research, however, has now produced evidence that – far from London having the potential to be ahead of Washington in cracking Japanese coded messages – there were great gaps in what was read by the British. In a detailed post-war analysis of the period just before Pearl Harbor, GCHQ Deputy Director Nigel de Grey concluded that “we did not have all the Americans had.”

Pearl Harbor spawned multiple conspiracy theories. The notion that Roosevelt and Churchill connived to let the attack happen shows no sign of going away. But it is unsupported by the evidence.


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Pearl Harbor 75 Years On…”A MATTER OF HONOR”


Mostly, other books recount the saga of the catastrophe itself and the behind-the-scenes events that led up to it. Our investigation of those events led to new discoveries that show, more vividly than ever before how human failure – much of it by the top brass in Washington – led to the surprise attack. Our special focus, too – for the first time – is the tragic inside story of the man who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl. Admiral Husband Kimmel, the creme de la creme of his naval generation, was removed from his post, accused of “dereliction of duty,” and lived out his life under a cloud of disgrace. Thanks to unprecedented access to tens of thousands of documents – we tell the story straight for the first time.

For a military man governed by the code “death before dishonor”, what befell Kimmel was unthinkable. Dominating his thinking, always, was the memory of the men for whose deaths he had been vilified – 2,403 of them. Through nine official investigations and extraordinary challenges – political trickery, betrayal and personal tragedy (his own eldest son, a submarine skipper, was killed in the Pacific) Kimmel fought until he died to clear his name. First his sons, and after them his grandsons, took up his cause, and are fighting it to this day.

We report on documents never unearthed until now: a naval chart showing that – ten months before the Japanese attack U.S. Naval lntelligence had detailed evidence showing that aerial torpedoes could be successfully launched in water as shallow as that at Pearl Harbor. Kimmel and his command team were vitally interested in such data. lt was never, however, shared with them, and probably lay filed and forgotten at Navy HQ in Washington. That was only one of multiple screw-ups. It has long been known that, eager to safeguard a vital wartime secret, the fact that U.S. codebreakers were reading Japan’s diplomatic message traffic, government and military leaders failed to share it with Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the Army commander in chief in Hawaii. They, more than almost anyone from the military point of view, ought to have been made aware of it. Our book reveals how and why HQ blew it – and how, later, they covered up.

Because history ignored repeats itself. The lead-up to the 9/11 attacks, which we investigated for our 2011 book “THE ELEVENTH DAY”, is a prime example. There is another parallel. The 9/11 story is bedeviled by allegations of high level U.S. foreknowledge – so too with the Pearl Harbor case, and it can be argued that it spawned the age of conspiracy. President Roosevelt’s enemies, who latched on to the holes in the case against Admiral Kimmel and General Short, used multiple apparent mysteries to sow distrust of FDR and his advisers. The mud stuck. A brief look at the Internet shows that vast numbers of people believe, seventy-flve years on, that FDR, and/or Winston Churchill. or the men around them, had foreknowledge of the coming attack on Pearl Harbor. Our book. almost alone among the serious books on Pearl Harbor, tackles the conspiracy theories with irrefutable new evidence.

We lucked into it, then worked damned hard. We encountered the Admiral’s grandson Tom Kimmel. Jr. a former senior FBI agent and retired naval officer, by pure chance. Tears came to his eyes when he discussed the case, and that piqued our interest. As we probed. we found that the entire extended Kimmel family was imbued with the intense desire to clear their forebear’s name. They opened their archives to us without reservation and said, “Let the chips fall where they may!” Cooperation coupled with evident integrity was hard to resist. We had first-ever access to a treasure trove of unpublished letters, diaries and photos.

We read into the published literature and dissected the forty volumes of testimony and documentary evidence of the Pearl Harbor investigations. That gave us a sense of the holes in the official story, the lingering questions. Then, we combed the archives, dug into obscure diaries, letters, and legal records, and tapped our international connections for research in Holland, Germany and the UK. The mountain of documents that we’ve gathered fill thirty file drawers.

We’ve tackled some of the biggest stories of the last century – from the rise of the American Mafia, to the Kennedy assassination, to Watergate. to 9/11. Every time we start a book, someone says, “But hasn’t that been done before? We’ve always had to dig deep, and “A MATTER OF HONOR” has been no different. Seventy-five years after the attack, we find ourselves holding critical, unknown documents.

It depends on what day you ask us….
When weore working on a book, we become barely capable of speaking about anything else. Our children and our friends bear the brunt. Working so closely together can be very intense, and we don’t always agree. In the main, though, we trust each other’s judgments. We feel privileged to be able to work on stories that matter. In the case of “A Matter of Honor”, that has also meant being able to contribute an important correction to the historical record. Admiral Kimmel was scapegoated for the mistakes of many. We hope that our work helps to restore his reputation – and his honor. Both houses of Congress voted in 2000 to recommend that he be posthumously restored to the four-star rank he held at the time of Pearl Harbor. No president has made that a reality. Obama may yet do so.


Filed under General



 Back in 2011, with the cooperation of 9/11 Commission Senior Counsel John Farmer and his Commission staff colleague Miles Kara, we had first access to a Commission working paper that incorporated actual audio from the aircraft hijacked on September 11, 2001, and the FAA and military personnel who scrambled to meet the threat.

For this 15th anniversary, we have put the full story of that fateful day together – with the revealing and emotionally charged audio-taped voices of the participants.                                                           

Part 1

Late in 2004, almost three years after the attacks of September 11, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission – then in the final weeks of its work – dictated a memo. It was addressed to the inquiry’s chairman and vice-chairman, and posed a very sensitive question. “How,” Philip Zelikow wanted to know, “should the Commission handle evidence of possible false statements by U.S. officials?”

“Team 8,” he reported, “has found evidence suggesting that one or more USAF officers – and possibly FAA officials – must have known their version was false, before and after it was briefed to and relied upon by the White House, presented to the nation, and presented to us…The argument is not over details; it is about the fundamental way the story was presented. It is the most serious issue of truth/falsity in accounts to us that we have encountered so far…”

The “story” that so provoked the Commission was the military and FAA version of their response to the 9/11 attacks, a response that failed utterly to thwart the terrorists’ operation. The Commission’s belief that it had been deceived would be lost in the diplomatic language of its final Report. Zelikow’s memo on the subject would be withheld until 2009.


COMING IN NOVEMBER 2016 We think we know the story well: In the devastating aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, was relieved of command, accused of dereliction of duty, and publicly disgraced. In this conversation-changing book, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan not only tell Kimmel’s story, they unravel the many apparent mysteries of Pearl Harbor. A Matter of Honor is a heartbreaking human story of politics and war – and epic history.

The Commission’s chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, and the vice-chairman, former congressman Lee Hamilton, however, gave a sense of their frustration in their later memoir. The military’s statements, they declared, were “not forthright or accurate.” To another commissioner, former congressman Tim Roemer, they were, quite simply, “false”. Former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, the Commission’s senior counsel who led Team 8’s probe of the military’s performance, has said that he was shocked by the “deception”.

Farmer questions not only how the military and the FAA had functioned on 9/11, but also the actions of the President and the Vice President. In his view, “The perpetuation of the untrue official version remains a betrayal of every citizen who demanded a truthful answer to the simple question: What happened?”



Two days after the attacks, Air Force general Richard Myers testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Though the hearing had been scheduled before 9/11, questioning turned naturally to the crisis of the moment. For an officer of distinction, about to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Myers seemed confused as to when fighters had gone up to attempt to intercept the hijacked planes. Memory, he said in an oddly vague way, told him that fighters had been launched to intercept Flight 93, the plane that crashed before reaching a target. “I mean,” he said, “we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall. I’ll have to check it out.”

Within days, another senior officer flatly contradicted Myers. Major-General Paul Weaver, commander of the Air National Guard, gave reporters a detailed timeline of the military’s reaction. According to him, no airplanes had been scrambled to chase Flight 93. “There was no notification for us to launch airplanes…We weren’t even close.”

What, moreover, asked Weaver, could a fighter pilot have done had he intercepted one of the hijacked airliners? “You’re not going to get an American pilot shooting down an American airliner. We don’t have permission to do that. The only person who could grant such permission was the President, the General pointed out, leaving the impression that Bush had not done so.

By week’s end, however, that notion was turned on its head. Vice President Cheney, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that George W. Bush had indeed made the “toughest decision” – to shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary. Fighter pilots, he asserted, had been authorized to “take out” any plane that failed to obey instructions to move away from Washington.

In spite of denials by General Myers and others, there were people who thought United 93 might in fact have been shot down. Bush himself had asked Cheney, “Did we shoot it down, or did it crash?”

In the absence of good evidence to the contrary, though, few now credit the notion that any pilot shot down an airliner filled with helpless civilians on September 11. No pilot would have fired without authorization, could not have done so without fellow officers, radio operators and others being aware of it. There was no way such an action could have been kept secret.

Shootdown aside, the statements by the military and political leadership begged a host of questions. Had fighters really gone up in time to intercept any of the hijacked planes? If they did get up in time, what had they been expected to do? Could they – would they – have shot a plane down? If pilots were cleared to shoot, was the order given in the way the Vice President described? If so, when did he issue the order and when did it reach military commanders?

The most powerful military nation on the planet had been ill-prepared and ill-equipped to confront the attacks. Time was, at the height of the Cold War, when NORAD could have called on more than a hundred squadrons of fighter aircraft to defend the continental United States. By September 2001, the number had dwindled to a token force of just fourteen “alert” planes based at seven widely scattered bases. Only four of those fighters were based in the Northeast Air Defense Sector – NEADS – which covered the geographical area in which the hijackings took place.

Practice runs aside, moreover, the airplanes had never been scrambled to confront an enemy. They were used to intercept civilian aircraft that strayed off course, suspected drug traffickers, planes that failed to file a proper flight plan. Hijacks were rare, and counter-measures were based on the concept of hijacking as it had almost always been carried out since the sixties – the temporary seizure of an airliner, followed by a safe landing and the release of passengers and crew.

The cumbersome protocol in place to deal with a hijacking involved circuitous reporting, up through the FAA and on to the Pentagon, all the way up to the office of the Defense Secretary. At the end of the process, if approval was granted, NORAD would launch fighters. The pilots’ mission would then be to identify and discreetly follow the airplane until it landed. Nothing in their training or experience foresaw a need to shoot down an airliner.

September 11, 2001. Shortly before 7:30, Gen. Myers, was at the Pentagon viewing the slide presentation that comprised part of his usual morning intelligence/operations briefing.  The Air Force had deployed additional forces to Alaska and Canada in response to a major Russian military exercise in the northern Pacific that had begun the previous day. The Russians had scheduled the firing of an air-launched cruise missile as part of the exercise – the first such firing since the end of the Cold War.  A “threat-ring” graphic depicting the current range from the continental U.S. of Russian military forces – and the missiles they carried – flashed onto the screen as the briefer described them as “the current air threat to CONUS.” Within the hour, the nature of that threat was to change dramatically.

At 8:00 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston’s Logan airport bound for Los Angeles with 92 people aboard. All appeared well until thirteen minutes into the flight when Air Traffic Control lost contact with the cockpit.

“American 11 [instruction…there is no response]….American 11 [instruction]….American 11, Boston…American 11, Boston…American 11, the American on the frequency. How do you hear me?…He will not respond to me now…He’s turning right….American 11, Boston…American 11, if you hear Boston Center, ident….American, if you hear Boston, ident please, or acknowledge…..American 11, if you hear Boston Center….[THERE IS NO RESPONSE

Increasingly concerned, the Boston controller tried repeatedly over the next nine minutes to raise the flight and check the status of his own equipment. At 8:21, the plane changed course and someone turned off its transponder – severely limiting controllers ability to judge its position, speed or even to identify it accurately.

At 8:18, unbeknownst at the time to the controllers, a telephone rang at an American Airlines office almost a thousand miles away, in the town of Cary, North Carolina. The woman calling was a senior Flight 11 attendant, forty-five-year-old Betty “Bee” Ong.

Using a seatback Airfone, Ong  had dialed a number  that  crews knew well – they used it to help passengers with onward travel plans. When she got through, finally, to an American Airlines ground supervisor named Nydia Gonzalez, she sounded “calm, professional, and poised. The first four and a half minutes of Ong’s call, the standard  duration  of the recording  system at American, tell the tale.

I’m in my jumpseat, that’s 3R….My name is Betty Ong, I’m number  3 on Flight 11….The cockpit’s not answering their phone. Somebody’s stabbed in business class and, ah, I think there’s Mace that we can’t breathe. I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked . . . Somebody is coming back from business . . . hold on for one second . . . Karen and Bobbi got stabbed. [This last sentence, the tape shows, was spoken by a fellow attendant close by.] . . . Our number 1 got stabbed . . . our galley flight attendant and our purser has been stabbed. And we can’t get into the cockpit. The door won’t open.

“Karen” was lead flight attendant Karen Martin, “Bobbi” her backup BarbaraArestegui. Martin, Ong said, lost consciousness, then came around and was being given oxygen. Arestegui appeared not to be seriously injured.  The passenger in First Class Seat 9B, however, appeared to be dead.

The  man in Seat 9B had perhaps tried to intervene  and fight the hijackers. He was Daniel Lewin, an American-Israeli who had served in a crack Israeli commando unit. Lewin spoke Arabic, and may have understood before anyone else what the hijackers intended. Ong said the passenger  in Seat 10B, directly  to his rear,  had stabbed  Lewin to death. The man in 10B was one of the five young Arabs who had boarded that  morning.  The killer and  another  hijacker,  Ong said had gotten had gotten  into the cockpit. The sound of “loud arguing” had been heard.

There is no knowing exactly how or when the hijackers erupted into the cockpit. “There was no warning to be more vigilant,” Captain Ogonowski’s wife Peg would later say ruefully. “These people come in behind him. He’s sitting low, forward, strapped in – the same with his co-pilot. No warning…”

Ogonowski and co-pilot Tom McGuiness had been trained not to respond to force with force. FAA policy instructed pilots to “refrain from trying to overpower or negotiate with hijackers, to land the aircraft as soon as possible, to communicate with authorities, and to try delaying tactics.”

At 8:32, using a borrowed calling card, Ong’s colleague Amy Sweeney placed a call back to the American office back at Logan. She began speaking with duty manager Michael Woodward.

Sweeney said the hijackers had “boxes connected with red and yellow wire” – a bomb, she thought. One, she said, spoke no English. So far, passengers in Coach seemed unaware of what was going on.

As Ong talked on,  Nydia Gonzalez passed on what she learned to American’s security office in Texas.

“American Airlines Emergency line. Please state your emergency.”

“This is Nydia, American Airlines, calling. I’m monitoring a call from a flight attendant on Flight 11. …She is advising that the pilots…everyone’s been stabbed. They can’t get into the cockpit. That’s what I’m hearing.”

“Who’s this I’m talking to?”

Raleigh, [Carolina] Ops. Center.”

“What was your name again?”


“Last name?”

“Gonzalez. [spells] We’ve got a flight attendant on the line one of our agents.”

“I’m assuming you are declaring an emergency. Let me get APC on here…”

“Betty, you’re doing a great job. Just stay calm, okay….We are absolutely. We’re contacting the flight now. We’re also contacting APC.”….

“Is there a doctor on board?” “You don’t have any doctors on board….”

“You’ve got all the First Class passengers out of First Class? “

“Have they taken everyone out of First Class?”

“Yeah. She says that they have. They’re in Coach.” “What’s going on honey?”

“The aircraft, it’s erratic again. Flying erratically…”……

“They are going to handle this as a confirmed hijacking….They seem to think he is descending.”

“They may have sprayed something. They’re having a hard time breathing.”

Now Ong’s connection was fading in and out. Her colleague Amy Sweeney said she could see they were now “over New York City.” Then Ong exclaimed, “Oh God!…Oh God!…” and began to cry.

Sweeney screamed and said, “Something is wrong. I don’t think the captain is in control. We are in a rapid descent…We are all over the place…I see water! I see buildings!…” Next, a deep breath and, slowly, calmly, “Oh my God!…We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later, again, “Oh my God, we are way too low…”

The American Airlines people on the ground could no longer hear either flight attendant. In Boston, duty manager Woodward got only “very, very loud static.” In North Carolina, Gonzalez hung on the line.

“What’s going on Betty. Betty, talk to me. Betty….”

“O, we’ll stay open…”

“I think we may have lost her….”

While Ong and Sweeney had been alerting their colleagues, the Boston air traffic control had picked up an ominous message from the cockpit.   Someone in the 767’s cockpit someone had keyed the mike to make an announcement to the passengers – but had instead broadcast a message to controllers.

Controller: “Is that American 11 trying to call?”

Male voice[accented]: “We have some planes. Just say quiet, and you’ll be okay. We are returning to the airport.”

Controller: “Who’s trying to call me here?…American 11, are you trying to call.”

Male voice: “Nobody move. Everything is okay. If you try to make a move you endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

Then seconds later, another transmission:

Male voice: Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

In Herndon, Virginia, the FAA’s new national operations manager Ben Sliney had begun his first day on the job by fielding a routine phone call alerting him pending Russian missile shot. Ten minutes later, though, at 8:28, a call came through from Boston Center advising that American 11 had been hijacked and was heading toward New York.

The nerve center for the military on September 11 was an unprepossessing aluminum bunker, the last functional building on an otherwise abandoned Air Force base in upstate New York. From the outside, only antenna betrayed its possible importance. Inside, technicians manned rows of antiquated computers and radar screens. They did not, though, expect to have a quiet day on September 11. Their commander, Colonel Robert Marr, moreover, expected to have to respond to a hijacking.

A simulated hijacking. For the Northeast Air Defense Sector’s headquarters was gearing up for its part in the latest phase of Vigilant Guardian, one of several largescale annual exercises. This one, old-fashioned in that it tested military preparedness for an attack by Russian bombers, included a scenario in which an enemy would seize an airliner and fly it to an unnamed Caribbean island.

At 8:30 that morning, the exercise proper had not yet got under way. The colonel was munching apple fritters. His mission-control commander, Major Kevin Nasypany, was away from the Ops floor getting a coffee. The general to whom they answered, Larry Arnold, was at the NORAD Command Center in Florida.

On the Ops floor at NEADS, Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, Technical Sergeant Shelley Watson, and Senior Airman Stacia Rountree, were chatting about furniture at the mall – wondering whether an ottoman and a love seat were on sale. To be sure, the orders for the day’s training exercise provided for the team to be capable of responding to a “Real World Unknown”, but no one expected much to happen.

Then the unknown arrived, in the form of a call from FAA controller Joe Cooper, at Boston Center, to Sergeant Jeremy Powell. It was 8:38.

Cooper: Hi, Boston Center TMU [Traffic Management Unit] We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.

Sgt. Jeremy Powell: Is this real-world or exercise?

Cooper: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.

The sergeant, and the women who moments earlier had been discussing home furnishings, needed some persuading. Phased by the advent of real-life excitement, Shelley Watson even exclaimed, “Cool!” A moment later, after an “Oh, shit…”, she was all business. “We need call-sign, type aircraft. Have you got souls on board, and all that information?…a destination?” Cooper could say only that the airplane seized was American 11 – as would become clear, the first of the four hijacks. No one could have imagined the destination its hijackers had in mind.

By 8:41, Colonel Marr had ordered the two alert jets at Otis Air National Guard base, on Cape Cod, to battle stations.

Marr immediately passed the order down the chain of command, but it was immediately clear there was a problem.

Weapons Director: I don’t know where I’m scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, a destination.”

At 8:46, having conferred with General Arnold, Marr ordered the Otis planes into the air – to no avail.

Absent any detailed data, they were assigned merely to fly to military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast. In the same minute, a hundred and fifty-three miles away, American 11 smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The NEADS technicians, who had a TV set, saw the tower in flames. “Oh, God,” Sergeant Watson said quietly. “Oh my God…”A colleague at her side cried, “God save New York.”


Watch for Part 2 of IN THEIR OWN WORDS: INTHE TRUE STORY OF THE 9/11 BATTLE IN THE SKY to be published in coming days






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September 7, 2016 · 3:44 pm

The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward

Fifty years ago, the world learned that a member of the British government, Minister for War John Profumo, had been sleeping with a nineteen-year-old girl called Christine Keeler, who was seeing Soviet diplomat and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov. The Minister resigned, and attention focused on the prostitution trial of Stephen Ward, the osteopath and part-time artist, who had brought the couple together.

Ward died, an apparent suicide, before the end of the trial, and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan resigned a few months later.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of the Ward story premieres in London’s West End today.

Anthony’s book The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward, written with Stephen Dorril, is a page-turning investigation into one of the greatest sex and security scandals of 20th century. The book will be published on December 19.

The book was the subject of articles in this week’s London Sunday Times anf in the Daily Telegraph today.



Filed under General

Intended Talk to COPA by Anthony Summers: Where the JFK Case Sits 11/22/2013

Dallas talk for COPA….November 22, ’13…..from Anthony Summers
(did not go ahead, because of technical problems)

Greetings from Ireland. You in Dallas have experienced an extraordinary couple of days, again. I thank John Judge for his invitation.

Let me say now that I am well aware that this group embraces people with widely divergent views – many no doubt far, far from my own. My intention tonight, as you wind up the program of the day, is to offer some new information but no great sensation. Merely, on this fiftieth milestone day to assess where the case sits in 2013 – as I see it after my own reporting. What I say may seem conservative. And if it does, then that may not be such a bad idea.

Fifty years…To many in the wider public, by now, our subject is too far in the past to matter – or an entertainment.

It wasn’t, of course and never should have become that.

One could start worse than with the words of Jacqueline Kennedy, as she recalled the moment of the assassination – just a week after it occurred, in an interview for Life magazine. What she said was suppressed for years, deemed too raw to be published. You may know what she said, but I read it now because – even now – it takes us back with a jolt:

Mrs. Kennedy said: “You know, when he was shot, he had such a wonderful expression on his face…[Then] he looked puzzled…he had his hand out. I could see a piece of his skull coming off. It was flesh-coloured, not white. He was holding out his hand – and I can see this perfectly clean piece detaching itself from his head…”

As the presidential limousine gathered speed, Mrs. Kennedy believed she cried:
“I love you, Jack…I kept saying, ‘Jack, Jack, Jack’…All the ride to the
hospital, I kept bending over him saying, ‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’ I kept holding the top of his head down, trying to keep the…”
She could not finish the sentence.

What happened on November 22, 1963 was brutally brief. The findings of the two official enquiries have been reiterated ad nauseam. The Warren Commission’s version – the one the mainstream media has always favored (without really paying attention to the second investigation or thinking out of the box) had the murder committed by former Marine Oswald, a recently returned defector to the then Soviet Union, a leftwinger who had lately seemed to be an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba.

Oswald had got off three shots, as the Commission had it, in between about 5 seconds and rather less than eight seconds (depending on which shots hit and which may have missed). He had then run for it, and soon after killed Officer Tippit. The Commission had it that Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days later, had “no significant link” to the Mafia.

In 1979, the House Committee on Assassinations would show conclusively that, to the contrary, Ruby in fact had links to organized crime from his youth until just before the assassination. The Committee would also find links between Oswald’s family and organized crime.

The way the Committee saw it, on its reading of all the evidence, physical, acoustics, and the human testimony was – just as had the Commission – that Oswald was an assassin. It also thought, however, that another – unknown – gunman – had probably fired at the President on November 22 – from in front.

There had thus – that unfortunate word “probably” – probably been a conspiracy.

The Committee suspected the Mob, but could pin nothing on Mafia leaders. And, though you had to look harder for that than you did for the suspicions about organised crime, the murkier parts of the anti-Castro movement.

The bulk of the U.S. media, however, virtually ignored the congressional finding of probable conspiracy. There was no clamor for action. Barely a soul noticed when the Justice Department failed to follow through as the Committee had recommended. Although the Committee’s former Chief Counsel Robert Blakey has said – quite seriously – that he believed that back then around 1980 – a tough investigation could have brought conspirators to trial.

With one official probe saying Oswald did it alone and another pointing to conspiracy, it is not a bit surprising that the American public’s skepticism has never gone away. Some 60 % of those Americans polled in a study this year believe there was a conspiracy.

On the other hand, it would be fatuous to think now – has been for decades – that anyone official is going to do anything about it. To think otherwise is to yodel in the wilderness.

And yet. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has just said publicly that he has “serious doubts” Oswald acted alone.

The New Yorker two days ran a lengthy piece by John Cassidy. He wrote:
“There’s a substantive reason why the doubters survive: the official version of events begs questions; in some aspects, it beggars belief….Questioning the official version of history is a sign of democratic vigor.”
Yes, it is.
My book on the case was first published three decades ago as Conspiracy, a title deriving – at my publisher’s insistence, and over my strenuous objections – from the House Committee’s conclusion.…I thought I’d be labelled a “conspiracy theorist”, a fate worse than “reputation death” for a journalist who takes his work seriously. Mysteriously, however, I got away with it, and most of the mainstream press – even the ever-nose-in-the-air New York Times, for godsake, welcomed the book.

A couple of editions later, when I updated the book, a new publisher agreed to the title it now carries – Not in Your Lifetime. I took this new title from the answer Chief Justice Warren gave in 1964 when asked if all the investigation’s information would be made public. He replied: “Yes, there will come a time. But it might not be in your lifetime. I am not referring to anything especially, but there may be some things that involve security. This would be preserved but not made public.”

Warren was thinking, he said, of stays by the alleged assassin in the Soviet Union and Mexico, and there may indeed have been national security ramifications at that time.

Since then, of course, and against the wishes of some federal agencies, millions of pages of documents have been released – thanks to the JFK Records Act. Not that, fifty years on, we yet have it all. Some Army Intelligence and Secret Service records have been destroyed. There are questions as to the whereabouts of some Naval Intelligence material. The Central Intelligence Agency – the CIA – is withholding 1,171 documents as “national security classified.” “I think.” former Assassinations Committee chief counsel Blakey has said, “the Agency is playing the Archives.”

If anything has kept me going this year, when I’ve produced a new, updated edition of my book, it’s the challenge presented by those continued withholdings. I’ve dropped a lot of material that seems to me surplus to requirements, or is never going to go anywhere, brought what I’ve sustained up to date, and considered what we have left.

I think the one thing anyone seriously focused on this case knows is that – after all this time and effort by so many people – all we know is that much remains unknown.

A primary reason I’ve kept working on the case,, when I should perhaps have known better, is what I learned at the outset about the press coverage of the case. It was shamefully delinquent at the time and has stayed delinquent. If you’re kind enough to read the new edition of my book, which I believe may be available at the door, take a look at how very rarely, in some hundred pages of Notes at the end, I quote from major media sources. I quote them hardly at all because…few reporters did any real work.

I have as little patience with the bogus experts who have wasted time and distracted attention from the real issues – or the Hollywood distortions. Really early on, when I was working as a young journalist at the BBC in London, I had the unpleasant experience of seeing Mark Lane, heady no doubt with the hoohhah about his book Rush to Judgement, cause an unjustifable public furore and flounce out of a television studio. It was grandstanding, made no point, achieved nothing – except to make doubt look disreputable.

Oliver Stone, with his immensely successful movie JFK, used distorted information to lead a whole generation to think the assassination was somehow connected to the Vietnam War and “the military-industrial complex.” He said the assassination was “sacred history” to which one had to be faithful, or words to that effect, while maintaining that he had artistic license to make the film as he wished. You can’t have it both ways – though Stone and I have since become friends.

The further glorification Stone gave to former District Attorney Jim Garrison, moreover, troubled me. Garrison made a circus out of a crucial evidence scene, New Orleans, and I think set serious research back years and years. When I finally met him, in the late 1970s, he behaved as though we were in the middle of a very bad spy movie – and asked me to meet him in a sauna bath. To the extent that a reporter comes to a conclusion about an interviewee on the basis – to a degree – of instinct – I thought him quite seriously unstable.

There are the time-wasters and gossip merchants – I’m thinking of the “a-Secret-Service-agent-did-it” notion. Or: “It was LBJ”. And of course the complete nutcases. Some of the more extreme theories reposing in the Loonies file in our office, include:

* A letter on the grand notepaper of the “Institute of Moral and Political Law,” advising that “the JFK mystery is solved!” The assassin, you see, was George Bush Sr.!

* A missive enclosing photos “proving” that there had been a small dog in the limousine with the President on the day he died. The pooch was somehow involved in the murder plot!

* An initially sane-sounding letter that closes with an offer to prove that JFK was not killed, merely “removed from office.” Crouched down on the floor, he escaped the bullets….
Back in the real world, what of the actual evidence in the case? You don’t have to be a lunatic or a “conspiracy theorist” to harbour multiple questions about the evidence the Warren Commission handed down as certainties. Millions now know, largely thanks to people like you, how badly the autopsy and the ballistics evidence was handled. One would hope, I think, that a homeless person’s autopsy would be handled better than was John Kennedy’s.

A lot of people – I watch it on the Internet – still give serious time and debate time to the studying the wounds, the trajectories, the bullet fragments – and all that. I admire some of those who work in that area, but I long since distanced myself. Nothing is ever going to be proved one way or the other about the physical side of the evidence. It’s vaguely satisfying to those who oppose the Warren account, I suppose, that the Livermore National Laboratory, no less, in 2007, cast new doubt on the Single Bullet Theory. But I think we should accept that the physical evidence area is now what the lawyers call a non liquet – something that can never be resolved for certain. Better, now, to look elsewhere.

Fingerprint evidence can of course be crucial, and Oswald’s prints were found on book cartons near the window from which he allegedly fired. Yet that proved nothing. As an employee, the alleged assassin had been legitimately working in that very area.

What, though, of the palm-print found on one of the boxes, one never identified? Whose was that? We don’t know, not least because – in a ludicrous oversight – not all those who worked in the building were fingerprinted. Why not? Because, after Oswald had been arrested, the building superintendent asked that the fingerprinting process be halted. Incredibly, law enforcement officials obliged.

There is, as you know, much more. The possibility, for example, that Oswald was not on the infamous Sixth Floor at the time shots were fired. He claimed he had been in a downstairs lunchroom at the time, and there were witnesses who appeared to support his story.

One of them, whom I believe I interviewed for the first time, Caroline Arnold, the secretary to a senior executive in the building. She told me she saw Oswald in the lunchroom at 12.15 p.m. or perhaps as late as 12.25 p.m. I found her credible and have had no cause to change my mind. Had the motorcade been on time – in fact it ran five minutes late and went by at 12.30 – the President would have passed the building at 12:25.

Would a would-be assassin who planned to kill the President have been sitting around downstairs as late as 12:15, or anything after that?

There is something else that’s toweringly important. The cliché is that murderers should have “motive, means and opportunity.” Well, Oswald had the opportunity and he had the means – a rifle. But, motive? The Commission never figured out a satisfactory motive for Oswald. The overall testimony was that he rather liked the President, and there is not a jot of even half reliable evidence that he loathed him – let alone wished to do away with him.

Could Oswald have been, as he claimed, a “patsy” – set up to take the blame? His behavior that day sure leaves it highly likely he was guilty of something, but it is not at all evidence that means that he killed the President.

Any serious look at the case involves disentangling the threads that run through Oswald’s activity in the months and years before the assassination:

* The clandestine operations of U.S. intelligence.

* And the Cuba factor.

In a talk like this, I can only sketch in the outlines of the intelligence angle. Consider, though, Oswald’s three-year defection to the Soviet Union and his return the year before the assassination. This was a former U.S. Marine who had had access – at the height of the Cold War – to information on the operations of the U-2 spy plane. On defecting, he had said openly that he had undertaken to give the Soviets what he knew. This was a self-declared would-be traitor. Would you not think that, on returning to the United States, Oswald would have been – at a minimum – severely interrogated?

The official line, however, has been that Oswald was allowed to return home and melt back into life as a law-abiding citizen. It doesn’t wash, and snippets of evidence indicate otherwise. There’s that CIA document, long withheld in its full version, that shows officials discussed “the laying on of interviews” on his return. A senior member of the Soviet Russia Division wrote that his department “had an OI [that’s Operational Intelligence] in Oswald.”

Here, briefly, a speculation – and I try in my book to speculate very little. Were this leftwing defector-cum-traitor – think, somewhat, a sort of junior league Edward Snowden – interrogated on his return, he may have been given options. “You’re a traitor,” subject to a lengthy stay in jail.” Or, perhaps, “You’re a traitor, and you could go to jail. Or you could perhaps be useful to us. Maintain your leftwing stance, and we may get you to do things for us.”

Back to the facts. Oswald did return to civilian life, did go back to his focus on socialist activity – and especially on Communist Cuba. Remember the date he returned. This was shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis. The armed standoff – and the propaganda war – between the United States and the Soviet Union and Castro’s Cuba was at its most tense.

Oswald joined the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, went to New Orleans – the city of his birth – and ostensibly went about setting up a local branch of Fair Play for Cuba there. I say “ostensibly” because there are indications that it was all a charade. He reported a clash in the street with some anti-Castro Cuban exiles a week before it actually occurred. Stuff like that just won’t go away. When it did occur, and Oswald was arrested for disturbing the peace, two police officers got the impression there was some sort of “set up,” that Oswald was “being used.”

Used, used by whom? The files show that the Fair Play for Cuba Committee was being targeted, bugged and infiltrated, by the FBI. The anti-Castro group with which Oswald “clashed,” moreover – the DRE – was being run by the CIA as part of the secret war against Cuba, a war that involved both armed raids on Cuba by armed exile fighters and complex propaganda operations.

We know the anti-Castro group that had the supposed clash with Oswald reported back to a CIA case officer. I obtained an interview with a former paid tool of the FBI, Joseph Burton – the Bureau described him as a “valuable and reliable source” – whose job back then was to pose as a Marxist and infiltrate radical groups. He said Oswald had been “connected with the FBI”…that FBI agents had spoken of “owning” Oswald.”

The FBI and the CIA, often historically at loggerheads, were cooperating to an unusual extent at this time. In September, 1963, a CIA officer and a senior FBI official met to discuss new plans for action against the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The CIA “advised that it was “giving some consideration to countering the activities of [the Committee] in foreign countries”…..and giving thought to planting deceptive information which might embarrass the Committee.”

The day after that memo was written, Oswald applied for a Tourist Card for a visit to Mexico. A new passport had been issued to him within twenty-four hours – even though his application stated he might wish to return to the Soviet Union. Funny that, you may think – given Oswald‘s background as a defector and traitor.

Oswald did go to Mexico City, and his six-day visit remains one of the most mysterious – yet telltale – episodes of the entire story. It makes for a fresh chapter in the new edition of my book – though here we must zip past it in a couple of minutes. Oswald’s ostensible purpose in Mexico, of course, was to go to the Cuban and Soviet embassies – armed with his credentials as a pro-Castro activist – to try to get a visa for travel to Cuba. He failed. The Cubans – I went to Mexico and Cuba and talked to relevant witnesses – suspected he might well be a CIA agent provocateur.

The signs are that the CIA did indeed hope to use Oswald, wittingly or unwittingly, as a cog in its covert anti-Castro operations. I say perhaps unwittingly, for there are indications that an Agency impostor used Oswald’s identity in Mexico City. The House Assassinations Committee took the possibility seriously – and separate information, nothing to do with Oswald, establishes that the use of impostors by the CIA was a common ploy. “A standard operation was to impersonate Americans in telephone contact with the Soviet Embassy,” said Jeremy Gunn, the former Executive Director of the Assassinations Records Review Board.
More important – and this is more stuff that just won’t go away – is the tangle of information that arose from the CIA’s photographic and audio surveillance of the Communist embassies. Both the Cuban and Soviet embassies were covered by cameras monitoring comings and goings. CIA microphones were planted inside the Cuban embassy, especially, and telephone calls were all bugged.

Two of the calls Oswald supposedly made to the Soviet Embassy appear not to have been made by the real Oswald. Could one not establish whether that is so by comparing the voice on the tape with the known voice of the authentic Oswald? A good specimen was available, a recent broadcast he had done in connection with his pro-Castro activity in New Orleans.

Well no, said the CIA. It claimed the Mexico surveillance tapes had been “routinely” wiped weeks before the assassination – because, it claimed, Oswald had supposedly, been of no interest at the time.
Except, we now know from the draft memoir left behind by the then CIA station chief in Mexico City, Winston Scott, that – in his words – Oswald “had been a person of great interest to us” during his visit. “We kept a special watch” on him.
Except, too, that we now know the tapes were not routinely wiped before the assassination. Senior Warren Commission counsel William Coleman and his fellow Commission attorney David Slawson, and – in his retirement – the CIA station chief’s deputy, all told me that they listened to Oswald’s tape-recorded voice in April 1964 months after the assassination. What became of the recording – and indeed of the photographs that must have been snapped of Oswald on one of a total of five visits to the Communist embassies?

The CIA has offered no satisfactory answer. We do know, though, that – when Station Chief Scott died some years afterwards – CIA Counterintelligence’s James Angelton flew down to Mexico within hours, searched through the deceased man’s belongings, seized Scott’s draft memoir and what has been described as a stack of reel-to-reel tapes labelled “Oswald,” and ordered that they be flown to headquarters in Washington. Though some of the memoir has since been returned to the station chief’s next of kin, it appears that the other material was disposed of under a CIA “destruction order.”

There is still , meanwhile, the extraordinary episode that has been called the “Rosetta Stone” of the case, which probably occurred when the authentic Oswald was on his way from Mexico to Dallas, where he was to spend the few remaining weeks before the assassination. I refer to the testimony of the Odio sisters, Cuban exiles Silvia and Annie. I know, I know, this is a hoary old angle. But it is as central to the case as ever it was. The sisters were visited by a trio of men who said they were anti-Castro militants. Two of them, Hispanics, introduced their companion, an American who – the sisters would insist after the assassination looked just like Oswald – as “Oswald,” “Leon Oswald.”

Later, in what seemed to be a very deliberate way, the leader of the group would say Oswald was an “ex-Marine…an expert marksman…” who said “we should have shot Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs…should have done something like that.”

This posed a problem for the Warren Commission probe into the assassination – one that never was resolved. Commission attorneys took the view that the Odio women were excellent, credible witnesses and that their account seemed truthful. (I obtained what I believe were the first independent interviews with them – and I share that view.) Silvia and Annie’s account, of course, suggests that there was an attempt to set Oswald up – just weeks before the assassination – as a would-be presidential assassin.

Today, there is more. In the attempts to establish who the two Hispanics who had accompanied this “Oswald” had been, investigators took statements from a man who initially led them down a false trail – offering what Congress’ Committee called a “fabrication.” That man, a fellow named Loran Hall, alias Pascillo, had served in the U.S. Army, reportedly trained in counter-intelligence, was indeed involved with the anti-Castro campaign in the New Orleans area, and – earlier – had worked for Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.

Trafficante was one of the two Mafia bosses who has been linked repeatedly to the assassination of the President.

Which brings us to the issue of motive and – if Oswald didn’t kill the President, or at any rate didn’t do it on his own – Whodunnit?

Who might have had a motive to kill Kennedy? Though Oswald had lived for quite a long period in Russia, and though available information makes it clear that Soviet intelligence took a real interest in him while he was there, no serious observer considers the Soviets desired the President’s death or had any part in the assassination.

The theory that Castro’s Cuba was behind the tragedy has received serious attention over the years – not least, recently, in the context of the possibility that Castro learned of CIA efforts to kill him – and struck first. The so-called supporting evidence for such a theory, however, is flimsy. Militating against it is the fact that – had Washington discovered Cuba had a hand in the assassination – U.S. retaliation could have been expected to be devastating, would have swept the Castro revolution away once and for all.

Of the plausible suspects, that leaves the anti-Castro exiles, Mafia bosses – and, I don’t reject the possibility, elements within the CIA. There is no inherent conflict in lumping those three groups together. All three were committed to the fight against Castro – the Mafia because the Revolution had robbed them of a gambling and hotel goldmine, the anti-Castro people and their CIA backers for obvious reasons. Many anti-Castro fighters loathed Kennedy with a passion because of the way they considered he had betrayed their cause at the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, by the way he resolved the Missile Crisis and by his subsequent clampdown on their activity. Mafia bosses, notably Trafficante and New Orleans’ Carlos Marcello, hated the President – and had even allegedly threatened to kill him – because the Kennedy administration was conducting an unprecedented onslaught on organized crime. If the anti-Castro groups and the Mob bosses plotted to kill Kennedy, seeing to it that the crime was blamed on a pro-Castro activist would have seemed a masterstroke.

After all this – and we’ve only scratched the surface – the endgame.
Have there been plausible admissions?

I call the final chapter of my book “Hints and Deceptions.” On this 50th anniversary, you may have heard discussion of admissions Mafia bosses Trafficante and Carlos Marcello supposedly made in old age. I’ve looked hard at those stories, and the alleged confession stories turn out to be really questionable.

I set much more store by other apparent admissions, some of them gleaned from my own interviewing. One has been around for a long time. Trafficante associate John Martino should be high on any suspect list. His connection with the Mafia boss aside, he had worked in a casino in Cuba before the revolution, had done time in a Castro jail, worked on both the military and propaganda campaign to topple Castro afterward – and was amongst those who spun tales after the assassination about Oswald’s alleged links to the Cuban regime.

Martino’s wife Florence told me her husband spoke of an imminent assassination attempt on the morning of November 22, hours before it took place. According to her and the couple’s son Edward, the news from Dallas – when it came – seemed “more like confirmation.” Much later, when he was dying of heart disease, Martino told an associate – whom I also interviewed – that he had been “part of” the assassination.

Martino said: “The anti-Castro people put Oswald together. Oswald didn’t know who he was working for….Oswald made a mistake….They had Ruby kill him.”

And he referred to a second gunman who had been involved, a “Cuban” who had been “the other trigger.”

In 2007, in the company of former Assassinations Committee chief counsel Professor Blakey, I visited Miami to speak with a Cuban no one had heard of before. The man, who was in his eighties, had made contact saying there was something he wanted to get off his chest before he died. What he had to say is, in Blakey’s view, “a breakthrough of historical importance.” I’ve put it on the record in the new edition of my book.

While in a Castro prison in the mid-1960s – on a minor charge involving illegal currency offenses – the man said – he learned that an anti-Castro fighter he had known well since their student days, had spoken of his “participacion” – participation – in the assassination of the President.

The fighter’s name was Herminio Diaz. He had worked in one of Mafia boss Trafficante’s casinos, and is listed in CIA files. It is a matter of record that he had had in the past shot dead a former Cuban chief of police, had tried to kill the President of Costa Rica, and had plotted to kill the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He was a crack marksman, a known assassin – and he was in the United States in 1963.

After fifty years, this may be the first plausible identification of an unknown gunman who perhaps fired at President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

In the fog of remaining knowns and unknowns, now and then, are the elements that could perhaps tell us whether and how Oswald – the very public pro-Castro Marxist – may have been set up to take the blame. Just visible in the thick of the evidence are the outlines of what may have happened.

In New Orleans, there was the anti-Castro group that had clashed with “pro-Castro” Oswald in that charade of a confrontation. That group was funded and supervised by the CIA – a fact that the CIA failed to reveal to the Warren Commission.
In Mexico City was senior CIA officer David Phillips – he had previously been the CIA’s man in Havana – running anti-Castro propaganda (with oversight over the operations in New Orleans) and in charge of the surveillance operations against the Cuban and Soviet embassies during Oswald’s visit. Phillips may have been one and the same as “Maurice Bishop”, an intelligence officer who – after the assassination – sought to fabricate information linking Oswald to the Castro Cubans.

There’s new information on the Phillips/ “Bishop” issue. This year, while I was preparing my book, former Clandestine Services officer Glenn Carle told us he asked Phillips whether he had been “Bishop”. “Phillips’ reaction,” Carle said, was to acknowledge that he was the man in question…but he did not explicitly confirm to me that he had done what he was accused of doing: meeting with Oswald. He avoided discussing this point.”
How to interpret it all?

Did Oswald shoot the President off his own bat, without any known motive, as the official account claimed? Did U.S. intelligence officers use Oswald as a minor cog in a covert anti-Castro propaganda scheme – one that had nothing whatsoever to do with the assassination – then, to avoid exposure, rush to cover up after November 22nd – with the effect of making themselves appear to have something far more serious to conceal? Did the anti-Castro people kill Kennedy without the knowledge of their CIA handlers, seeking to make the pro-Castro Oswald take the fall?

After all the work and all the years, I do not pretend to know the answer.

What is clear, though, is that elements of the truth have been kept secret, are being kept secret still – not least by the CIA. It has emerged that George Joannides, the officer brought in from retirement to liaise with Congress’ Assassinations Committee, to decide what Agency documents investigators could and could not see, was none other – though the CIA concealed this from the Committee – than the very CIA officer who, in 1963, had been case officer to the DRE, the anti-Castro group that had the purported clash with Oswald in New Orleans!
This was a gross deception. One that former chief counsel Blakey has called “criminal…a wilful obstruction of justice…I no longer believe anything the Agency told us.” Professor Anna Nelson, who served on the Assassination Records Review Board, has suggested there be a congressional probe of “the CIA’s alleged corruption of its inquiry into the Kennedy assassination.”

Don’t hold your breath.

A drunk, cynical stage character, in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh, says, “To hell with the truth…As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything.”

In fact, of course, history is very, very relevant – and getting to the truth about the assassination of President Kennedy has mattered greatly.

That said, it is very late now, probably too late, to be able to take the case much further. I leave the last word – ironically enough – to a former Warren Commission counsel – he later became a judge – Burt Griffin. He felt “betrayed,” he told, because the CIA – and the FBI – deliberately misled us….Consider the possible reality that under the American system of civil liberties and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is virtually impossible to prosecute or uncover a well-conceived and well-executed conspiracy.”

There is a further moral to draw from that quote. I first cited it in the original edition of my book, in 1980. We have moved forward a snail’s pace or two since then. Not much, but history matters!

Thank you all for listening, and the very best from Ireland.


Filed under General


By Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan

There have been allegations over the past twenty years that Florida’s Santo Trafficante and Louisiana’s Carlos Marcello admitted before they died that they had been involved in the assassination.
Do those allegations have merit?

The Mafia thought they had a deal, their help to get Kennedy elected in exchange for a complaisant Justice Department. The month after the election, though, John Kennedy announced that he was making his brother Robert Attorney General. Speaking from the steps of the Department of Justice, Robert made it clear that he intended to use the office to wage war on organized crime.

By early 1962, the Attorney General would be saying new laws and specialized intelligence had top gangsters on the run. Three hundred and fifty mobsters were indicted that year, 138 of them convicted. Some mobsters were fleeing the United States rather than face justice.

Lucky Luciano and Joe Adonis continued to languish in exile. Skinny D’Amato, the New Jersey nightclub owner who had acted as bagman during the West Virginia primary campaign of 1960, reminded Joe Kennedy that his help in the election had been against a promise of leniency for Adonis. Robert Kennedy had no intention of allowing Adonis to return, however, and D’Amato himself was indicted on tax charges.

The Attorney General pressed for the deportation of any other mafiosi who could be shown to be aliens. Early on, New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello had been flown out of the country to Guatemala – though he subsequently returned. There were new efforts to expel Frank Costello and Johnny Rosselli.

Rosselli and Sam Giancana had hoped for special treatment because both had been involved in CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro and – as Giancana put it – considered they had been “working for the government.” FBI wiretaps make clear Giancana simmered with rage. After the deal-making of the election – when his efforts had helped deliver Illinois for Kennedy – he felt he had been double crossed.

In November 1963, within hours of his brother’s death, Robert Kennedy asked rackets specialist Julius Draznin to look for Mob leads in Chicago. “He meant,” said Draznin, “Sam Giancana.” The focus of those who share RFK’s suspicion has long been on Giancana and two other Mafia bosses, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.

“The Mob typically doesn’t hit prosecutors or politicians,” said former House Assassinations Committee chief counsel Robert Blakey. “You are all right….just as long as you do not `sleep with them,’ that is, you do not take favors, either money or sex. Once the public official crosses the line, he invites violent retribution.”

In 1977 Santo Trafficante, the Florida Mafia boss, was forced by subpoena to testify on oath before the Assassinations Committee. The questions put to him included the following:

* Did you ever discuss with any individual plans to assassinate President Kennedy?

* Prior to November 22, 1963, did you know Jack Ruby?

* While you were in prison in Cuba, were you visited by Jack Ruby?

In response to all three questions, Trafficante responded, “I respectfully refuse to answer pursuant to my constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.” “Pleading the Fifth” invokes the constitutional principle that no one can be forced to give evidence that may be self-incriminating.

Having been granted immunity from prosecution arising from what he might say, Trafficante testified again in secret. Then, in late 1978, he appeared at a public hearing to deny having said in advance of the assassination – as alleged – that President Kennedy was “going to be hit.” Asked whether he had been aware of threats to the President allegedly made by his Louisiana counterpart, Carlos Marcello, he replied, “No, sir; no, no chance, no way.”

There was also, however, a comment Trafficante had made in 1975, while being taped during an FBI surveillance operation. “Now only two people are alive,” the FBI microphone had picked up Trafficante saying—in conversation with Marcello—“who know who killed Kennedy.”

What he meant remains unknown and unknowable. Trafficante died in 1987. Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, who had been his associate and who allegedly wanted both Kennedys dead, had vanished twelve years earlier—probably murdered by criminal associates.

Sam Giancana, the Chicago Mob boss who had conspired with Trafficante and the CIA to kill Cuba’s Fidel Castro, was also long dead. He had been found in 1975, lying face-up in a puddle of blood, just as the Senate Intelligence Committee was preparing to question him about the Castro plots. He had been shot once in the back of the head and six times—in a neatly stitched circle—around the mouth. It was the Mob’s way, one source said, of warning others not to talk. Some suspected that Trafficante had ordered the hit.

John Roselli had been killed soon after Giancana and Hoffa. What was left of him was found floating in Miami’s Dumfoundling Bay, crammed into an oil drum. He had testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee and was due to appear again. Trafficante was again a suspect.

Before Roselli died, it was reported, he had suggested that his former associates in the Castro assassination plots had gone on to kill President Kennedy. Within weeks of his death, the House of Representatives voted by a huge majority to reopen the Kennedy case—a decision that led to the formation of the House Assassinations Committee.

The Committee finding, in 1979, was that “extensive investigation led it to conclude that the most likely family bosses of organized crime to have participated in [planning the President’s assassination] were Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.” While both had had “the motive, means, and opportunity to plan and execute a conspiracy,” however, the Committee could not pin anything on either mafioso.

In 1994, however, it seemed that credible testimony on the subject had perhaps emerged. Frank Ragano, an attorney who long represented Trafficante, Marcello, and Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa made remarkable claims in a new memoir. “Santo, Carlos, and Jimmy”, he wrote, had often spoken of their wish to see both Kennedy brothers dead. In July 1963, Ragano claimed, Hoffa had sent him to New Orleans to ask Trafficante and Marcello to kill the President. When he passed on this message, Ragano wrote, the mobsters’ response led him to think the idea “had already seriously crossed their minds.”

After the assassination, a gleeful Hoffa had supposedly exclaimed, “I told you they could do it. I’ll never forget what Carlos and Santo did for me.” Marcello supposedly said, “When you see Jimmy, you tell him he owes me and he owes me big.”
According to Ragano, Santo Trafficante had phoned him years later – on March 13, 1987 – to request a meeting. When the lawyer arrived to take him for a drive, the ailing 72-year-old mobster shuffled to the car in pajamas and a terry-cloth robe. Then, slumped in Ragano’s Mercedes-Benz, he talked in Sicilian of the old days, old murders, and of the Kennedys.

“That Bobby,” Ragano claimed the dying mobster had said, “made life miserable for me and my friends…God damn Bobby. Carlos e futtutu. Non duvevamu ammazzari a Giovanni. Duvevamu ammazzari a Bobby.” (“Carlos [Marcello] fucked up. We shouldn’t have killed John. We should have killed Bobby.”)

Four days after this supposed admission to the crime of the 20th century, Trafficante died. He had not elaborated on his statement, and Ragano said he had not asked him to. He said he thought about it anxiously for a while after the mobster’s death, then confided in his wife, and eventually went public.

Trafficante’s widow, his two daughters, and several friends and neighbors, said the March 13, 1987, meeting never happened. According to Ragano it occurred in the city of Tampa, the family’s traditional base and his own hometown. Trafficante had long since, however, lived most of the time almost 300 miles away, in North Miami Beach. He had not visited Tampa since the Christmas holidays, according to his family. The mobster was so ill, they insisted, what with heart disease, thrice-weekly hospital visits to have kidney dialysis, and a permanent colostomy bag, that travel had become a major undertaking.

The time of his momentous March 13 meeting with Trafficante, Ragano had written, had been about 1:30p.m..Yet Jean Amato, the widow of one of Trafficante’s close associates, says she visited Trafficante and his wife at home in North Miami Beach between noon and 2:00p.m.. Jack Hodus, a pharmacist, said he saw Trafficante there at about 6:00 p.m., and other accounts place the mobster in Miami for dinner. Even if only Jean Amato told the truth, Trafficante could not have been in Tampa at 1:30 p.m., as Ragano claimed.

Ragano asserted he could respond to these counter-allegations with three witnesses of his own, but declined to produce them unless the Trafficantes tried to take him to court for libel.

Meanwhile, there is some medical evidence. The records of Miami’s Mercy Hospital indicate the mobster was being treated in the dialysis unit regularly in early 1987. He was there, receiving treatment until 7.15 pm on March 12 – the day before his alleged lunchtime confession to Ragano – and was back in the dialysis unit by the afternoon of March 14.
Trafficante Dialysis 3-12-87 Trafficante Dialysis 3-14-87

Dr. Felix Locicero, Trafficante’s Tampa nephrologist, told us he knew of no visit to Tampa on March 13 and thought it “unlikely” the mobster was in town.

Exposing Ragano as a possible liar does not dispose of the “Mob dunnit” theory, nor of the notion that Trafficante and Carlos Marcello played some part in Kennedy’s murder. “Mark my word,” Trafficante is reported to have said to a close associate in September 1962, “this man Kennedy is in trouble, and he will get what is coming to him…He’s not going to make it to the election. He is going to be hit.”

Carlos Marcello, the boss of the Mafia in the southeastern United States, had like Trafficante appeared before the Assassinations Committee. His principal business in life, he had earlier had the audacity to tell another committee, was as a tomato salesman earning about $1,600 a month. His answers related to the President’s assassination were no more illuminating.

Asked whether he ever made a physical threat against the President, Marcello replied, “Positively not, never said anything like that.” Trafficante, he said, had never talked with him about assassinating Kennedy. Their contacts had been “strictly social.” He did not know of any discussion with U.S. officials about killing Fidel Castro, had not been to Cuba before or after 1960, never had any interests there. He “never knew” either alleged assassin Lee Oswald or Jack Ruby.

More, just a little more, emerged from FBI surveillance obtained during a bribery probe in 1979, when microphones planted in Marcello’s home and office picked up snatches of relevant conversation. It was the year the House Assassinations Committee was winding up its work, and—on several occasions—mikes picked up the mobster repeating, as though he wanted to be overheard, the sort of “No, I never” denials he had made when testifying.

Once, however, when a visitor asked his reaction to the Committee’s suspicions as to his role in the assassination, the mobster told the man to shut up. There was then the sound of a chair being pushed back, of the two men walking out of the room. In the last words picked up, Marcello could be heard telling his companion that this was a subject better discussed outside. Going “outside” to discuss sensitive matters, the record showed, was something Marcello did on more than one occasion.

An informant the FBI used in that surveillance operation, a man named Joseph Hauser, later claimed he got Marcello to discuss the assassination. According to Hauser, the mobster admitted both that he had known Oswald’s uncle Charles Murret, and that Oswald himself had at one point worked as a runner for the betting operation run for Marcello by a bookmaker named Sam Saia.

Even more provocative was something that—according to Hauser—Marcello’s brother Joseph said. Edward Kennedy was about to run for the White House, and Hauser raised the subject of the “rough time” the elder Kennedys had given Marcello back in the 1960s. “Don’t worry,” Joseph supposedly replied, “We took care of them, didn’t we?”

Oswald’s uncle Charles had indeed been involved in gambling activity, and he was an associate of Sam Saia. Saia was a powerful figure in bookmaking, and was reputedly close to Carlos Marcello. What Marcello is said to have confided is thus plausible—but not evidence. Of the surveillance tapes thus far released, none show that Marcello made such admissions, or that his brother’s remark about having “taken care” of the Kennedys was really made. One must question, too, whether – if it was made – it was meant seriously.

More and similar material is reflected in FBI records. It dates to the mid-1980s, when the Mob boss had at last been imprisoned—on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a federal judge. It was then that a fellow prison inmate named Jack Van Laningham, who was being used by the FBI in another surveillance operation against Marcello, made a fresh allegation that the mob boss had admitted involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The FBI file contains a report on what, according to Van Laningham, Marcello told him and another inmate as they were sitting “outside in the patio” of the prison yard. As originally circulated, with Van Laningham’s name withheld, it reads as follows:

A confidential source who has provided reliable information in the past furnished the following:

On December 15, 1985, he was in the company of CARLOS MARCELLO and another inmate at the FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE (FCI), Texarkana, Texas, in the court yard engaged in conversation. CARLOS MARCELLO discussed his intense dislike of former President JOHN KENNEDY as he often did. Unlike other such tirades against KENNEDY, however, on this occasion CARLOS MARCELLO said, referring to President KENNEDY, “Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed. I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.

The report, as currently released by the National Archives with Van Laningham’s name revealed, is here: Confidential Source Report

Later, in a letter to an FBI agent, Van Laningham quoted Marcello as saying he had known Santo Trafficante, who had been his partner in the gambling rackets in Cuba. He had “hated” the President and his brother the Attorney General. He had been “introduced to Oswald,” the mob boss supposedly told Van Laningham, “by a man named Ferris, who was Marcello’s pilot” [a reference presumably to David Ferrie, a Marcello associate long rumored to have been involved in some way in the assassination] —and had thought Oswald “crazy.” He had backed Ruby in business in Dallas, and Ruby had come to Louisiana to “report” to him.

(Portions of Van Lanigham’s multi-page letter – to FBI agent Carl Podsiadly – can be found below.)
Podsiadly letter NARA cover sheet

Podsiadly letter, FBI cover memo

Podsiadly letter 1

Podsiadly letter 2

If Marcello really did admit that he ordered President Kennedy killed, this was damning information. But does Van Laningham’s allegation have a basis in truth?
The former Senior Supervisory Resident Agent at the FBI office near the prison, Thomas Kimmel, Jr., was interviewed by us for Not in Your Lifetime in 2013. He confirmed that Van Laningham had indeed been used in an operation that targeted Marcello in prison, and that Van Laningham did make the allegation alleging that Marcello admitted tohaving had the President killed. Kimmel had duly passed on the information to FBI headquarters, as the relevant memo shows.

Van Laningham, whom we also interviewed this year, claimed the FBI “did not want me to go into the Kennedy thing whatsoever. . . . The FBI doesn’t want anybody to know that.” According to the former informant, similar statements the Mob boss made to involvement in the assassination – on other occasions – were recorded on the bug with provided to him by the FBI.

Former agent Kimmel, however, insisted, “There was nothing remotely resembling that” on the tapes. Ron Sievert, the prosecuting attorney who supervised the Marcello surveillance operation, for his part, said there was “absolutely nothing to corroborate ” the claim by Van Laningham.

Agent Kimmel said he reported the purported Marcello admission to superiors because it was his duty to do so. He did not, though, recall having received any significant reaction. His own view, looking back in 2013, was as follows. “I don’t doubt that Carlos made the statement. I don’t think Van Laningham is fabricating that. . . . We got to the point where we thought Carlos would say almost anything. And even if he said something on the tape it would not be credible. Carlos was old. Carlos was on the outs….I thought there were indications of senility on Carlos’ part, and thought a jury or a judge would agree. . . .no matter what Carlos said.” Supervisory attorney Sievert agreed that “there was also the mental capacity issue.”

Attempts by the authors to reach a third agent involved – he used the pseudonym “Tom Kirk” in his contacts with Van Laningham – did not succeed. The former agent sent word that he did not wish to be interviewed.

Informant Van Laningham has claimed that, contrary to the recollections on interview of Agent Kimmel, of his case agent Ray Hult, and of prosecutor Sievert, the mobster had still been mentally “sharp” in 1985, when Marcello allegedly said he had had Kennedy killed.

There are other discrepancies between the version of events as told by Van Laningham and by the FBI agents involved. Kimmel’s memory was that the bug in the Texarkana operation against Marcello functioned only for three thirty-day periods (the periods covered by three separate court authorizations for electronic surveillance).

Van Laningham, on the other hand, said the operation lasted for more than a year – and that Marcello had been running his crime network from inside the prison. According to Kimmel, agents concluded that Marcello was not running his criminal empire from jail – and that was why the operation was terminated. His mental state, moreover, had been so poor that a court would have deemed anything he said unreliable.

Van Laningham, who claimed that he had been promised early release in exchange for his cooperation over Marcello, wrote a series of heated letters to the FBI in which he repeated his account of what he said the Mob boss had told him. Among other things, he named the other inmate who had supposed been present with him in the prison courtyard as “Don Wardell”.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, however, told us it has no record of anyone by that name having been imprisoned at Texarkana or indeed anywhere in the federal prison system. In his interview with us this year, Van Laningham still maintained that the other inmate’s name was Wardell, and that he had disappeared from the prison soon after Van Laningham had identified him to the FBI handlers as having witnessed Marcello’s supposed confession.

(Two of Van Laningham’s letters recounting the Marcello “confession” episode and mentioning fellow prisoner named Don Wardell can be viewed here:Wardell
Wardell 2

By 1989, three years after the episode Van Laningham claimed occurred, Marcello had suffered a series of strokes and was indeed in a state of what an attending doctor described as “senility.” That year, employees at a prison medical center reported having heard Marcello say—in the early hours of the morning, while in bed—“That Kennedy, that smiling motherfucker, we’ll fix him in Dallas.” The old man rambled on to that effect, apparently under the delusion that the jail employees were his bodyguards and that the assassination had not yet occurred.

The FBI did on that occasion follow up by questioning Carlos Marcello—both about that comment and the “I had the son of a bitch killed” remark Van Laningham had claimed occurred several years earlier. Marcello denied having said anything of the kind. He was released from prison soon afterward and died in 1993 at the age of 83.


Filed under General

Did the Mob Target JFK?

By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

On this 50th anniversary of the assassination, as the nostalgia-smudged picture show of John F. Kennedy’s 1000 days is played, rewound, and played again, few will remind us that the shiny Kennedy machine was oiled with dirty grease. Joseph Kennedy, the father, had a long and tangled relationship with organized crime – the U.S. Mafia – and that played a key part both in his son’s rise – and perhaps ultimately in his death.

It was the father – not merely a former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James but also a sometime bootlegger – who brought the Mob into his son’s orbit. “Joe Kennedy had been involved with us from the beginning,” said mob boss Joseph Bonanno’s son Bill. “He asked for a favor and it was granted.” In the winter of 1959, Bonanno told us, there was a meeting between intermediaries for Bonanno Sr. and Kennedy Sr. that led to consultation with other national crime figures and fundraising .

Joe Kennedy also turned to Jimmy “Blue Eyes” Alo, long an influential member of the mob. “Joe came to me early,” Alo said in 1997. “I got a call from an old friend I’d known since Detroit, from the casino. He said, ‘Phil Regan’s in town, he wants to talk with you.’ I came up with Phil in Brooklyn – a good looking Irishman, good singer, Irish tenor….Joe Kennedy had sent Phil to see me.”

Regan himself acknowledged that he had worked for Joe Kennedy early in the campaign. He told Alo, according to the mobster, ‘Well, you know Jack Kennedy’s going for the nomination for President?….The old man has delegated me to see you, because he’s got everything figured out….’ He said, ‘Do you know Sam Giancana?’”

Sam Giancana, the heir to Capone, the man who ran the Mafia in Illinois. “Joe Kennedy wanted me to talk to him about helping Jack in Chicago” Alo said. “I said, ‘‘Phil, don’t mix me up with politics because I don’t want no part of it….The next thing I hear is that they went to [Frank] Sinatra.”

The elder Kennedy needed to bring Giancana on board because the Mob’s hold on politics was strong in the borderline state of Illinois. Three decades later, when his daughter Tina was preparing a TV movie on his life, Frank Sinatra revealed what happened next. Joe Kennedy asked him to lunch at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port and told him what he wanted. As rendered in the movie, the conversation ran as follows:

Joe Kennedy: “Sing?…I got something more important in mind for you…Frank, we know the same people. And I know you know the people I mean.
Sinatra: Sure, I know.
Kennedy: We need a boost from our friends in Chicago who control the unions. They can win this race for us. But you understand, Frank, I can’t go to those people. It might come back to Jack. The White House can’t owe them any favors.
Sinatra: I understand…”

Sinatra delivered the request for Mob help early – in the movie and in real life, according to Tina – during a golf game with Giancana early in the campaign. “My friend Jack Kennedy,” Sinatra told the Mafia boss, “needs some help with the West Virginia primary….”

West Virginia had looked like a sure thing until Hubert Humphrey, a Protestant, entered the race. The population of West Virginia, which was overwhelmingly Protestant, had never elected a Catholic to important office. Yet Kennedy, the Catholic, trounced Humphrey in the primary election in May, a result that would ever after be clouded by corruption allegations.

“I knew Joe Kennedy well,” Sinatra’s friend Bob Neal said, “He made a deal with Giancana, and the first part of it was West Virginia.” Chicago gangster Murray Humphreys, according to his widow Jeanne, concluded that Giancana agreed “to get that Joe Kennedy’s kid elected president” in part “to impress Sinatra.”

In West Virginia, Sinatra’s intimate associate Skinny D’Amato spread money around like manure. “We got them in,” D’Amato said in an interview shortly before his death, acknowledging that he talked with “the Old Man,” a Kennedy brother or a close aide, every day during the campaign. A photograph shows D’Amato in conversation with John Kennedy. Also visible in the photograph is Angelo Malandra, a mob lawyer who, an FBI agent said, was “one of the people who, with Sinatra, had the mob’s money in West Virginia.”

Money for West Virginia, D’Amato was overheard saying on an FBI wiretap, had come from Las Vegas. Back in February 1960, as Kennedy relaxed in Sinatra’s suite at the Sands, Peter Lawford had taken Sammy Davis aside. “If you want to see what a million dollars in cash looks like,” he whispered, “go into the next room. There’s a brown leather satchel in the closet. Open it. It’s a gift from the hotel owners for Jack’s campaign.”

The actor Brad Dexter, another Sinatra friend, had a similar experience. “He said there was a valise in his car, and to go get it for him.” Dexter said. “I brought it in, and he said ‘Open it.’ The goddamn valise was chock-full of hundred dollar bills, wrapped in packages. There had to have been a hundred, two hundred thousand dollars in there.”

Sinatra’s secretary Gloria Lovell, Dexter said, “used to take messages and money back and forth for him, to Chicago, to Sam Giancana, for Jack Kennedy, to distribute for payoffs.” Giancana would later say that Sinatra was “our errand boy.”

Another player in the dangerous game was a brunette named Judith Campbell. Sinatra introduced her to Kennedy at Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel. “Who is this girl?” show business agent Milt Ebbins asked his client Peter Lawford, Kennedy’s brother-in-law. “And Peter said, ‘She’s a hooker. Frank gave her $200…to go to bed with Jack.’”

Campbell’s memoir offered the romantic version. Kennedy “looked so handsome in his pin-striped suit,” that she accepted when he phoned inviting her to lunch on Sinatra’s patio. She said “a long and intimate relationship” followed, one that lasted until as late as the second year of the Kennedy presidency. At Sinatra’s urging, Campbell claimed, she had early on flown to Miami and met with Mob chieftain Giancana. For a time, she said her life was dominated by the sexual relationship with J.F.K. and parallel contacts with Giancana. Much of what Campbell claimed turned out to be credible, supported by phone records and White House logs. Nevertheless, Campbell was less than frank.

In her memoir, Campbell wrote as though – until the Giancana meeting – the world of the mob was unknown territory to her. Sands Casino employee Count Guido Deiro, however, said she was familiar to staff at the Sands “because she was a girlfriend of Johnny Rosselli.”

Rosselli was a leading Las Vegas mobster, operating on Giancana’s behalf, when Campbell met Kennedy. He too had a longstanding connection to Joe Kennedy – they were occasional golf partners and played cards together. Judith Campbell told the Senate Intelligence Committee that she had met Rosselli for the first time “possibly in 1960.” In her memoir she said she had met him “once briefly years before.”

Research and interviews indicate that was not true, that the chronology in which Campbell connected with the key men involved was not – as she claimed – Sinatra, followed by Kennedy, followed by Giancana. It was, rather: Sinatra, followed by Giancana – and then John Kennedy.

“I don’t think it takes a great deal of imagination,” Judith Campbell said years afterward, “to think there is a possibility I was used.” “They deliberately fed her to Jack,” actor Dexter said before his death in 2002, “Very serious….”

There are credible claims, too, that John Kennedy’s relations with Giancana were closer than ever suspected, corroboration for part of Judith Campbell’s claim. “I met Jack Kennedy when he was a senator,” Sinatra’s friend Nick Sevano said in 2004, “and we had dinner with Sam [Giancana] and a few others. Jack was very respectful to Giancana….”

The society columnist Taki Theodoracopulos, who mixed in the Kennedy circle in the early 1960s, recalled a night out in New York with Peter Lawford and the Mafia boss, who was introduced by his nickname “Sam Mooney.” “They talked about all the girls that Mooney used to produce for the Kennedys,” the columnist said, “reminiscing about the girls that JFK had through Mooney. Mooney was very proud of his Kennedy connection.”

In July, at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Sinatra entertained 3,000 of the Democratic faithful. Gangster Murray Humphreys, meanwhile, labored behind the scenes to nail down support for Kennedy. Holed up in a Chicago hotel suite, he worked the phones and met with politicians and union officials from around the country.

The following month, Giancana met with Humphreys to discuss – Humphreys’ widow remembered – “what politicians had to be ‘turned around’….which union heads had to be convinced….Mooney [Giancana] was exuberant….There was a lot of ‘Frank said this’ and ‘Frank said that’ and ‘It’ll all pay off’….”

It did. On election night 1960, when it seemed Illinois could go either way, John Kennedy made a call from the family compound at Hyannis Port to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Daley assured him, Kennedy told aides, that “we’re going to make it with the help of a few close friends.”

In his office at the Armory Lounge, Giancana presided over a bank of phones. During the cliff-hanger hours, Sinatra called time and again from Hollywood. With Johnny Rosselli, in from the West Coast for the purpose, Giancana monitored local returns as they came in. Orders had been issued, and field operatives bent the voting process as required. “Votes weren’t bought,” said Murray Humphreys’ widow, so much as “commanded, demanded and in a few cases cajoled.”

Kennedy won the presidential election by the slimmest of margins. He won the popular vote with a majority of just 113,057 votes out nearly 69,000,000 cast. He would have lost in the electoral college, the crucial part of the process, had 4,500 voters in Illinois (and 28,000 in Texas) cast their votes differently. There was immediate suspicion of fraud, focused especially on Illinois.

The votes that put Kennedy over the top in Illinois had been “stolen – let me repeat that – stolen,” Notre Dame professor Robert Blakey, an organized crime specialist, has said. FBI wiretaps alone, he said, show that mob money and muscle made a difference. The Mafia does nothing for nothing, however, and – Blakey concluded – Giancana believed “the Kennedys would do something for them” in return.

According to Jeanne Humphreys, Joe Kennedy had assured Giancana that a Kennedy administration would “lay off the mob.” Former FBI agent William Roemer, who ran FBI surveillance of organized crime in Chicago, recalled listening to Mafia conversations before and after the election. “Eventually,” Roemer wrote, Giancana had a conversation in which he “indicated that Frank Sinatra had made a commitment to Giancana in 1960….The agreement was that if Giancana used his influence in Chicago with the ‘West Side Bloc’ and other public officials on Kennedy’s behalf, Sinatra felt he could get Kennedy [should he become President] to back off from the FBI investigation of Giancana.”

The candidate’s father Joe may have made other extravagant promises. During the 1960 campaign, the exiled mobster Lucky Luciano would recall, he began to hope for a return to the U.S. “I got a feeling,” said Sal Vizzini, a Narcotics Bureau undercover man who had got close to Luciano, “that [New York’s Frank] Costello and Meyer Lansky were promising him an opportunity to come back if Kennedy won.”

According to Michael Hellerman, an intimate of Skinny D’Amato, Joe Kennedy promised to “do what he could,” should his son become President, to see that another exiled mobster, Joe Adonis, was allowed back into the U.S..

This was perilous deal-making, for – in office – the Kennedy administration did not come through. Under Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the new President’s brother, the U.S. Mafia was pursued and prosecuted as never before.

By 1962, according to an associate, Florida Mafia boss Santo Trafficante was saying that the Kennedys were “not honest. They took graft and they did not keep a bargain…Mark my word, this man Kennedy is in trouble, and he will get what is coming to him.”

The associate, businessman Jose Aleman, demurred, saying he thought President Kennedy would be reelected to a second term. Then, speaking very quietly, the Mafia boss replied: “Kennedy’s not going to make it to the election. He is going to be hit.”

The U.S. Congress’ Assassinations Committtee, the second official probe into John F. Kennedy’s assassination, would identify Trafficante as one of two Mafia bosses it suspected of involvement in the President’s murder.


Filed under General

Lee Harvey Oswald: A Simple Defector?

By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

In December 1958, Lee Harvey Oswald – U.S. Marine and putative assassin of John F. Kennedy – ended his tour of duty in the Pacific, and was transferred to the El Toro Air Station in California. There, colleagues recalled, Oswald showed a remarkable interest in world affairs – and was especially preoccupied with things Russian.

Oswald applied to take a proficiency examination in Russian. He failed, but showed a basic level knowledge. He was observed laboring over his Russian books, played Russian records, and began addressing people in Russian – whether they understood him or not.

Marine friends nicknamed him “Comrade Oswaldskovich”. A fellow Marine with whom he discussed politics, gained the impression that Oswald thought Communism “the best system in the world”. This was apparently tolerated by the U.S. Marine Corps. Later, oddly, the Warren Commission’s Chief Counsel Lee Rankin asked for further investigation of what Oswald had “studied at the Monterey School”. The Monterey School provided crash languages courses for military personnel – and the reference has never been explained.

In August 1959 Oswald asked for an early release from the Corps on the ground that his ailing mother needed him. He applied for a passport, openly stating that he intended to travel to Russia and Cuba. This did not square with the notion of going home to look after his mother, but there is no sign that the Marine Corps raised any query. The passport was forthcoming, and on September 11, 1959, Oswald was out of the U.S. Marines and on his way.

By mid-October Oswald was in the Soviet Union. Within weeks, he walked into the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. There, according to the Consul Richard Snyder and Vice-Consul John McVickar, Oswald declared his wish to renounce his American citizenship. He slapped his passport down on the table, along with a formal letter that ended, “I affirm that my allegiance is to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

Oswald declared that he had “voluntarily told Soviet officials that he would make known to them all information concerning the Marine Corps and his speciality therein, radar operation, as he possessed.” He added, in what may have been a reference to his Marine service at a secret U-2 spy plane base, “that he might know something of special interest.” On the face of it, Oswald was now not only a defector, but a traitor.

Oswald’s Soviet adventure lasted two and half years. Then, supposedly disillusioned with life in the workers’ state, he requested permission to return to the United States. By June 1962, he, his Russian wife Marina and new baby were back in the U.S.

What is the truth about Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union? Some speculated that he was part of a covert program to slip individuals into the Soviet Union in the guise of defectors, “sleepers” who could gather information of use to U.S. intelligence. There had been a sudden rash of turncoats in the eighteen months up to 1960, two former Navy men, five Army personnel stationed in West Germany, and two employees of the National Security Agency.

The official story has it that when Oswald defected he went to the American Embassy in Moscow once, visiting the consular office on the ground floor. Yet Joan Hallett, who was married to the Assistant Naval Attaché and worked as a receptionist at the embassy, told us that Consul Richard Snyder and the security officer “took him upstairs to the working floors, a secure area where the Ambassador and the political, economic, and military officers were.” According to Hallett, Oswald came to the embassy “several times” in 1959. Was Hallet mistaken?

Congress’ Assassinations Committee later expressed itself as “extremely troubled” by the fact that the C.I.A., which had previously employed Consul Richard Snyder, was “unable to explain” a reference in his Agency file to “cover.”

There are oddities, too, about the Navy’s response to Oswald’s defection. In California, where he had last served, aircraft call signs, codes, and radio and radar frequencies were changed. Oswald’s former associates recalled being questioned about him by visiting officials in civilian clothes.

In another respect, though, Oswald’s defection was not handled in the same way as those of other military enlisted men. Damage assessments were conducted following the defections of the only two enlisted men known to have gone over to Communist nations before the Oswald episode—and of two others who defected soon after him. In Oswald’s case however, no “formal damage assessment was conducted.”

The callow twenty-year-old Oswald was an improbable candidate for a mission behind the Iron Curtain. Could it be, though, that at a time of concern about the increased number of U.S. defectors, he was seen as a source of information on how the Soviets handled military defectors? Was Oswald an unwitting tool, a genuine leftist whose communications could be monitored and in time—potentially—debriefed? Was he, perhaps unwittingly, primed with false information designed to deceive his Soviet hosts?

The concept of Oswald being used in such way is not merely the notion of conspiracy theorists. A former Chief Security Officer at the State Department, Otto Otepka, said that in 1963 his office engaged in a study of American defectors that included Oswald. Five months before the Kennedy assassination, according to Otepka, the State Department was still uncertain whether Oswald was or had been “one of ours or one of theirs.”

The way the American military and intelligence authorities treated Oswald’s return, or claimed they did, remains unexplained. On leaving active duty, Oswald had signed a form that said clearly that personnel could be recalled “for trial by court-martial for unlawful disclosure of information” and listed the penalties for doing so. There is no known evidence to indicate that the Navy considered prosecuting Oswald.

Marine Corps records reflect no interest in even talking with the prodigal on his return from Russia, let alone putting him on trial. The Office of Naval Intelligence told the FBI it contemplated no action against Oswald.
The FBI, for its part, had not placed Oswald on the list of the thousands of people categorized by the Bureau as potentially disloyal. It had opened a “security case” on him because of his defection, and FBI agents in Texas did pay him a visit on his return. They asked whether he had been approached by Soviet intelligence while in the USSR, and Oswald said he had not. When he declined to take a lie-detector test though, that, effectively, was that. The Oswald “security case” was closed shortly afterward.

At the State Department, meanwhile, a senior official had written that any risk involved in returning Oswald’s passport “would be more than offset by the opportunity provided the United States to obtain information from Mr. Oswald concerning his activities in the Soviet Union.” According to the record, though, Oswald never was comprehensively debriefed.

What of the CIA? Some former defectors were interviewed by the Agency on their return. Robert Webster, a former Rand Development Corporation employee who defected at the same time as Oswald, had been brought to Washington and debriefed by CIA officers and U.S. Air Force personnel for two weeks.

There are parallels between the stories of Webster and Oswald. Webster, a plastics expert working at an American exhibit in Moscow, told U.S. officials of his intention to defect less than two weeks before Oswald did. A former Navy man, Webster had a relationship with a Soviet woman thought to have been linked to the KGB. Marina Prusakova, the Russian woman Oswald married, was also suspected of having intelligence connections. Webster left the USSR, also apparently disillusioned, a fortnight before Oswald.

Oswald and Marina seem, moreover, either to have met Webster or to have learned about him. Marina’s Russian address book contained an address for an apartment building in which Webster had lived. Years later, she told an acquaintance that her husband Lee had defected after working at an exhibition in Moscow. That description matched Webster’s history not Oswald’s. In 1961, when arranging his return to the United States, Oswald himself reportedly “asked about the fate of a young man named Webster who had come to the Soviet Union shortly before he did…”
There are CIA and FBI files, as well, on another American, Marvin Kantor, who was in Russia at the same time as Oswald. Kantor spent time in 1958 and 1959 in Minsk, where Oswald also lived while in the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding official denials that Oswald faced such questioning – the House Assassinations Committee was told the CIA questioned only some returning defectors – tantalizing leads suggest that he did.

One CIA memorandum indicates that officials discussed “the laying on of interviews” with Oswald on his return to the States. Its author, Thomas Casasin [a pseudonym], who had been a senior member of the Soviet Russia Division department responsible for “research related to clandestine operations” in the USSR, recalled having discussed Oswald with two senior colleagues in 1962. In a memo written after the assassination, Casasin wrote:

1. It makes little difference now, but REDWOOD had at one time an OI interest in Oswald. As soon as I had heard Oswald’s name, I recalled that as Chief of the 6 Branch I had discussed . . . the laying on of interview(s) through KUJUMP or other suitable channels. At the moment I don’t recall if this was discussed while Oswald and his family were en route to our country or if it was after their arrival.

2. . . . We were particularly interested in the OI Oswald might provide on the Minsk factory in which he had been employed, on certain sections of the city itself, and of course we sought the usual BI that might help develop target personality dossiers.

“REDWOOD,” we now know, was a CIA cryptonym for “action indicator for information” for the CIA’s Soviet Russia Division. “KUJUMP” was the cryptonym for the Agency’s “Domestic Contact Division.” “OI” stood for “Operational Intelligence.”
The recollections of another former CIA officer—if truthful—would indicate that Oswald was indeed debriefed on coming home. Donald Deneselya, who in 1962 worked in the Soviet branch of the Directorate of Intelligence, was fired by the CIA in 1964—and is thus a controversial figure. According to Deneselya, though, he “reviewed a contact report from representatives of a CIA field office who had interviewed a former U.S. Marine who had worked at the Minsk radio plant following his defection to the USSR.” The Marine, who Deneselya thought may have been Oswald, had been living with his family in Minsk. The contact report he saw, he said, had been four or five pages long.

Denesleya’s claim does not stand entirely alone. A Washington psychiatrist once employed by the CIA recalled having been asked to meet a young American just back from Russia. This had been at the right time, in mid-1962, and the subject had been married to a Soviet wife. After the assassination, the psychiatrist thought he recognized photographs of Oswald as the man he had questioned for the CIA.

Was the man Oswald? There are numerous CIA reports on Marvin Kantor, the other American who had been in Minsk, and who—like Oswald— had once been a Marine. Details about Kantor, however, do not fit the man referred to by either Deneselya or by the psychiatrist. There remains the possibility that the unnamed psychiatrist’s subject might have been returned defector Robert Webster. Webster had lived with a woman in the USSR, but he had not married her and did not bring her with him to the United States.

A former Deputy Chief of the Domestic Contact Division, speaking on condition that he not be identified, has said the CIA did indeed debrief Oswald.
That someone in U.S. intelligence would have questioned the returning Oswald – not least because he had himself declared traitorous intentions while in Moscow – would seem hugely likely. The Agency’s denial of interest in Oswald, author and former Army intelligence officer John Newman has said, is “a big billboard saying there’s something else. . . . There’s an unexplained anomaly, and among the questions it poses is whether or not the Agency had an association with Oswald.”



Filed under General

Reflections on the New Yorker and the JFK Assassination

This week’s edition of the New Yorker is on newsstands today – with a shortened version of my comments about Adam Gopnik’s piece of last week in the Letters column. I thought readers of this blog might be interested in seeing the full text before it was edited.


The New Yorker’s piece on John F. Kennedy was brilliant and sweeping in scope – and managed to be both open and closed-minded about the assassination at the same time. As a former British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and the author of a book on the assassination, Not in Your Lifetime, I have for my sins worked on and off on the case for over four decades.

What struck me first in Critic-at-Large Adam Gopnik’s article was what he referred to as the “passionate chaos” and the poetry set loose by the events in Dallas. It reminded me of the irony that the fallen President himself had quoted from Alan Seeger’s poem:

“It may be that he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath…
But I’ve a rendez-vous with Death

Famously, hours before his actual death, in his hotel suite, Kennedy said: “Last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate a president…Anyone perched above the crowd with a rifle could do it.”

On just how and why the fatal moment came for him, of course, we – and the Gopnik piece – still waver. Respectable polls early this anniversary year indicated that more almost 60% of Americans believed there had been a conspiracy, a cover-up, and that the truth will never be known. The sillier stories aside, how could it be otherwise? The first investigation, the Warren Commission, gave us lone assassin Oswald. The second, the House Assassinations Committee, gave us a “probable conspiracy” finding.

I am not a “conspiracy buff,” to use Gopnik’s term. Nevertheless, having known a number of sensible men and women who doubt the lone assassin version, I think he is less than fair to the doubters he lumps together as “buffs.” No one I respect ever took seriously the notion that LBJ was behind the conspiracy or that Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and Nixon were somehow guiltily entwined.

Gopnik dismisses the notion that the Zapruder film was altered to deceive the world. So do I. That is not to say that the argument the Warren Commission made to sustain its lone assassin theory should not be questioned. As recently as 2006, a study by the Livermore National Laboratory under the auspices of the Department of Energy found that calculations “considerably weaken support for the single-bullet theory.” Those doubters are scientists, not buffs. They could be wrong, and they could be right.

Gopnik writes of the belief by veteran journalist Jefferson Morley, that the C.I.A. was “keeping a much sharper eye on Oswald that it ever wanted known”. I think that very possibly is the way to decode major aspects of the case. Aspects of the evidence suggest Oswald was used by the CIA – and possibly others – before the assassination, wittingly or unwittingly, as a low-level pawn in the black propaganda war against Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

This is of course not to suggest that the C.I.A. as an agency had any part in the assassination. There is, however, and has long been, persuasive information leading sane students of the case to suspect that anti-Castro elements and organized crime bosses may have had a hand in it. Both had expressed venomous animosity towards the President. Both, unlike Oswald, had motives to kill him.

In 2007, the former chief counsel of the House Assassinations Committee, latterly Professor of Law Emeritus at Notre Dame Robert Blakey, and I interviewed a witness who gave us what we found – on its face – to be potentially credible identification of a man other than Oswald who admitted before his death that he participated in the assassination. Will the media take notice?

There is something people should be exercised about, meanwhile, that has nothing to with the evidence. Finally, thousands of relevant records, including 1,171 C.I.A. documents classified on the ground of national security, remain withheld. The law requires that all Kennedy-assassination-related records be released by 2017, unless the President rules otherwise. If Oswald was a Leftist loner who upped and killed the president – if that was all there was to it – why?

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The “New Yorker’s” Reflections on Kennedy and the Assassination

This article is currently being edited. Coming soon.

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On When to Stop Asking Questions….?

In an article in the Los Angeles Times this week, former Warren Commission staffer Richard Mosk expresses the hope that, on this 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination, the public will be skeptical of criticism of the official finding that Oswald alone shot at the President. He thinks “most Americans have come to accept the conclusions of the Warren Commission.” Not so.

Respectable polls this year indicate that more than 70% of Americans believe that there was a conspiracy, an official cover-up and that the full truth will never be known. The public has reason to think this.

The second official investigation, the House Assassinations Committee, found that there had “probably” been a conspiracy. The Committee’s then Chief Counsel, Robert Blakey, professor emeritus of law at Notre Dame until very recently, now says he feels even more firmly that there was a conspiracy.

In my book, Not in Your Lifetime, out now, I point to the interview Blakey and I conducted in 2007 that resulted in the first plausible identification of an anti-Castro Cuban exile who may have participated in the assassination.

Mr. Mosk refers to the reports and documentation of the Commission, as if to indicate that all assassination related documents are in the public domain. In fact, many thousands of documents, from various agencies, are still withheld. Why?


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JFK – The Flight Home from Dallas

Interesting story by Garrett Graff in this month’s Washingtonian magazine about the complicated journey back to Washington after the President’s assassination. The fact that President Kennedy’s body was immediately flown back to Washington aboard Air Force One was an ill-advised decision. By rights and according to the regulations, as I report in Not in Your Lifetime, the body should have been autopsied in Dallas, Texas, a state well-experienced in handling gunshot wounds. When the Dallas authorities insisted that they wanted this done, however, Secret Service agents put them up against a wall at gunpoint and took the President’s body from the hospital by force. As it turned out, the autopsy that was done – in Washington, DC – was botched. As a result, truth about the Kennedy assassination was served poorly from the very beginning.

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Warren Commission Counsel Coleman’s Account of Meeting with Castro

by Anthony Summers

CBS News and other media yesterday reported as a supposed revelation, that Warren Commission counsel William Coleman travelled to meet with Cuba’s Fidel Castro to discuss the assassination. This is not a revelation.
I first learned about this from Coleman in 1994, at a time when he said he could not describe the assignment because “It was top secret”. I published the exchange in my book Not in Your Lifetime. I wrote in greater detail on the subject in The Times of London on January 7, 2006, following a new meeting with Coleman. I reported that he “told me before Christmas of a mission that he carried out on the orders of the U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren. He had flown to a secret location for a meeting with Señor Castro….What Mr. Coleman learned, he said, satisfied him – and the Chief Justice when he reported back – that ‘Castro’s regime had nothing to do with the President’s murder.’”
I wrote this following a conversation with Mr. Coleman on the evening of November 18, 2005, at a social gathering. My handwritten note recorded that he said: “Earl Warren asked me to fly down to an island and meet with Castro. And I did fly down to the island, spent about six hours with him. And he gave me various papers. And I brought them back to Washington….I concluded and reported to Warren that the Castro regime had nothing to do with the assassination. I asked Coleman, “Where are the documents you brought back?” The former Commission attorney replied, “I hope they’re at the National Archives with everything else. They damn well should be.”
I pressed him further, but Coleman said, “I’ve already said too much”. I had an exchange of letters with him the following month, asking Coleman to tell the story of his mission as fully as possible – in the interests of getting relevant documents released in the spirit of the Clinton presidential order that established the Assassinations Records Review Board .
Mr. Coleman responded on December 30, 2005 with a letter stating that – contrary to what he had told me – “I have never met, talked to, or been in Mr. Castro’s presence, and I had no such direction to do so by Mr. Chief Justice Earl Warren.”

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A “Mafia-driven” conspiracy??

October 24, 2013

Author and Kennedy assassination researcher Larry Hancock has written on his blog that the new edition of my book Not in Your Lifetime gives him the impression that I “put the reader towards a Mafia-driven conspiracy”. I think Larry, who kindly says he admires my work – I admire his too – has perhaps misread the book.

In re-writing Not in Your Lifetime – and I have rewritten it with much new information – I have not intended to lead the reader to think that the assassination was necessarily Mafia driven. Indeed, I have not in the end expressed any certainty that there was a conspiracy, although I think that entirely possible.

I have attempted to present all I can of what I think is the pertinent, reliable information as I know it. And that, to the extent it leads anywhere, would point to a conspiracy involving both anti-Castro and Mafia elements.

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Correcting the Record on Herminio Diaz

By Anthony Summers

On October 14, the National Enquirer misreported some news from “Not in Your Lifetime”, my book on the Kennedy assassination and took it wildly out of context. Their story stated that the book contains “proof” that a gunman other than Oswald fired at the President. It also quoted me as saying “Oswald did not act alone,” and that I “completely believe” the new allegation as to the identity of an alleged Dallas gunman, Hermino Diaz.

That is not what I said or what I report, in the new, massively revised edition of my book. What I do report among many other details is a new interview identifying Diaz as a man who allegedly admitted to involvement in the assassination. This is the first, perhaps plausible, claim to identify a previously unknown gunman.

I spent a great deal of time and care updating “Not in Your Lifetime” and I hope you find it to be as fascinating to read as it was to report.

“Not in Your Lifetime” can be purchased in the U.S. here

In the UK it is available here


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A Few Thoughts on the Nature of Conspiracy….

by Anthony Summers

I missed covering the greatest conspiracy controversy of the twentieth century – at first. I was a student working in an Oxford pub in November, 1963 when – minutes after President Kennedy was shot – the telephone rang behind the bar. The then editor of “World in Action,” a leading British current affairs program, was rustling up reporters and researchers for a charter flight to Dallas. He knew of me from a vacation stint I had done for his show. Could I be at Heathrow airport within two hours?
Couldn’t I just! Except that an assistant rang back soon after to say they had found someone more experienced. As the world’s press raced to Dallas, I went back to pulling pints.
As time passed, as I covered international affairs for the BBC and as the “lone assassin” verdict in the Kennedy case bobbed on a sea of rumour, I resolved to stay away from the story. It looked what it indeed can be: a mire of half-truth waiting to swallow up journalistic reputations.
I got sucked in eventually, when a Washington colleague told me an U.S. congressional committee was soon to reach a conclusion that had previously seemed the preserve of California dreamers and fast-buck artists. The Kennedy murder, the House Committee on Assassinations was to declare, was “probably” the result of a Mafia conspiracy. I produced a TV documentary, then a book that won an award. That was followed in 1994 by an article on the subject, “The Ghosts of November” – written with my wife Robbyn Swan – which became the longest story ever run by Vanity Fair. Now, on this 50th anniversary – and again with Robbyn’s help – I have massively revised and updated my book, Not in Your Lifetime. (Which can be found in the U.S. here or in the UK here.)
Those who praised the previous edition of the book said its “BBC approach” persuaded them for the first time that the President may have died as the result of a plot. It has led some to dub me a “conspiracy theorist” and, mysteriously, a “leftist”.
After authoring eight non-fiction books, all on controversial events or individuals, such brickbats no longer hurt. Had I failed to provoke criticism with books on the fate of the last Russian imperial family, the Kennedy assassination, Marilyn Monroe, the Profumo sex/spy affair, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, or 9/11, I would have been boring my readers.
My guiding rule is to research the hell out of a story, pursue every lead to the limit of my abilities and the budget – authors in my field are few because the work is so costly – then write the story truthfully. And readably, I hope. Along the way, meanwhile, I have wandered far in the strange land of Conspiracy.
The word “conspiracy” derives from Latin roots that translate roughly as “breathing together” – a desirable activity for plotters who want to stay in sync. History is replete with conspiracies: from the stabbing of Julius Caesar to the shooting in Sarajevo that started World War I to the Wannsee conference at which the Nazis –breathing together in terrible unison – laid the foundations for the Holocaust.
In a book published some years ago, the American author Jonathan Vankin examined a clutch of his compatriots and their theories, many of which I would consign promptly to the wacko category. Concluding that “conspiracy theories are a guide to life in a strange and threatening America: a conspiracy nation,” Vankin said he came away “asking questions about America and my own place in it that I’d never dared ask before.” It is hard to tell whether Vankin was more bothered by the evidence supporting the existence of conspiracies, or by the fact that America has a surfeit of folk who believe in them.
Wackos there are in plenty. The Loonies file in our office contains some gems: a letter on the grand notepaper of “The Institute of Moral and Political Law,” advising me that “the JFK mystery is solved!” The assassin was George Bush Sr.; another missive, enclosing photos “proving” that a small dog travelled in the limousine with the President the day he died. The pooch was somehow involved in the murder plot; and an initially sane-sounding letter closing with an offer to prove that JFK was “removed from office” but not killed. Crouched down on the floor of the car, he escaped the bullets.
Not all the nut cases are immediately recognizable as such. I was once contacted by a woman claiming knowledge that Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family were not killed in 1918 but spirited to safety by British agents. Writing on posh notepaper from a part of London inhabited by the “old money” wealthy, she said the source of her sensational information had been her late husband, a former senior naval officer.
This was long before the identification in the early 1990s of skeletons with DNA that apparently matched that of the Romanovs, and I knew British Naval Intelligence had indeed been involved in rescue schemes. The background the woman claimed checked out, so I went to see her. Two hours into the visit, she got out a Ouiji board and implored the Tsar to send us a message from the spirit world. It was time to leave.
When is a source not a usable source? Answer: when it is not corroborated by a second or more sources or – often – simply when your gut tells you to back off. While we were researching our Nixon biography, the author of an earlier book recalled one of the former president’s aides telling him how – one night during Watergate – he found President seated at his desk – tipsy and stark naked. Interviewed by me, though, the aide disclaimed any such memory and seemed to think he was being set up. Had he, rather, been setting up Nixon years earlier? Or was the story attributed to him true, but one he now regretted having told? I had no way of knowing, and that juicy morsel wound up in the “file and forget” folder.
“In America,” author Vankin concluded, “The word used to describe conspiracy theories is ‘paranoia’. Conspiracies are delusions. Believe in them and you are mentally ill.” Because conspiracy nuts do exist, that is a handy slur to throw at troublesome people who are not mad at all, as I discovered when my Kennedy book was published.
David Phillips, a former head of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division, was furious because I had written of troubling anomalies in his sworn testimony. To put it more bluntly, the staff of the House Assassinations Committee were sure he had lied – and I had so reported. Appearing opposite Phillips on NBC’s Today show, I explained that what I had written had been taken almost verbatim from the Committee’s published reports. The CIA man fulminated for a while, then produced his trump card.
Gaeton Fonzi, the congressional investigator who researched and wrote the offending report, he claimed, was by his own admission “paranoid” about the Kennedy assassination. I was ready for this, having been tipped in advance by Today to what Phillips planned to say, and had asked the investigator what could possibly be the basis for such an accusation.
Though baffled at first, Fonzi eventually recalled having long ago written, in tongue-in-cheek fashion in an obscure article, that the spate of assassinations in the sixties were enough to make any sane citizen start to feel paranoid. On perusing the article, it was obvious Phillips was distorting what the investigator had written. I was able to defuse the smear, by reading the passage out loud and in context, live on television.
You do not have to be much of an expert, and certainly not a conspiracy-monger, to question the facts in the Kennedy case. These days, many people know how horrendously badly the autopsy and ballistics evidence was handled: that due process was stymied when the President’s body was removed from the custody of the proper authorities at gunpoint; that the post-mortem was bungled; that key bullet fragments mislaid; and that – it would be funny were it not so serious – Kennedy’s brain remains missing to this day.
Few though, I think, are aware of another outrageous blunder. Fingerprint evidence can be crucial, and Oswald’s prints were found on book cartons near the window from which he allegedly fired. Yet that proved nothing. As an employee, the alleged assassin had been legitimately working in that very area.
What, though, of the palmprint found on one of the boxes, one never identified? Whose was that? We shall never know, not least because – in a ludicrous oversight – not all those who worked in the building were fingerprinted. Why not? Because, after Oswald had been arrested, the building superintendent asked that the fingerprinting process be halted. Incredibly, law enforcement officials obliged.
In 1968, I happened to be one of the first journalists at the scene of Martin Luther King’s murder, a killing that – the Assassinations Committee firmly believed –did result from a conspiracy. The civil rights leader had been shot in the early evening, and before breakfast next morning I was able to talk my way into the house from which the fatal shot had apparently been fired. The policeman on the door demurred only briefly, then let me and my camera crew enter the room the sniper was believed to have used. We balanced our camera on the window frame on which the rifle was said to have rested, did virtually anything we wanted, trampling a crime scene that should have remained sealed for days.
The following year, after the killing spree by the Manson Family, I picked up a hitchhiker not far from the ranch where the gang had lived. He turned out to be the former husband of one of the young women involved, and – stoned on peyote – poured out the gruesome account of the crime his wife had confided to him soon afterwards.
At the time, the cops had Manson and his crew in the lockup but still lacked clinching evidence. This was one of the rare occasions, I thought, when civic duty had to take precedence over journalistic privilege. I phoned the police, introduced myself as a BBC man who wished to report relevant information, and was told a detective would interview me at my hotel within hours. Nobody appeared that day nor – though I phoned repeatedly all week – on any subsequent day. I was never interviewed.
Back to the Kennedy case. The only comprehensive visual record of the assassination, the home movie shot by bystander Abraham Zapruder, was suppressed for more than a decade. Within days, though, viewers of CBC News were regaled with a verbal description of the footage by a young reporter who had been allowed to view it. His name was Dan Rather, and the scoop helped him on his way to national prominence.
In Rather’s account of watching the film, viewers heard that at the moment of the fatal head shot the President “fell forward with considerable violence.” But he got it totally wrong. Any alert viewing of the film makes it mercilessly clear that Kennedy jerked backward at that moment – a movement that convinces many, rightly or wrongly, that the killer bullet was fired by a sniper in front of him. Ergo, a conspiracy.
The point here is not to denigrate Rather, and not to argue the case for conspiracy. The episode demonstrates, as do the hopeless handling of the Kennedy and King crime scenes and the police inefficiency in the Manson case, the role played by human error. The cock-up theory of history is often as valid as the dark theories that posit cover-up or conspiracy.
Yet it is indefensible to shrug off inconvenient facts with easy generalities, or to dismiss competent researchers as paranoid. Government officials often do just that, and the mainstream media as often as not lets them get away with it. It is easier to be blasé, to sneer, than to do the sheer hard work, the questioning and digging that should be the reporter’s stock in trade.
“To hell with the truth,” says a cynical character in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, “As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything.” A former Warren Commission counsel put it another way. “Consider the possible reality,” he said, “that under our system of civil liberties and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is virtually impossible to prosecute or uncover a well-conceived and well-executed conspiracy.”
Perhaps so. But how shameful it would be if honest men gave up bothering to seek elusive truths. Ethically, that would be the end of the road.

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Publication Day for “Not in Your Lifetime”

by Anthony Summers

This note is to let everyone know that I have this year virtually rewritten and updated my book Not in Your Lifetime (né, long ago and over my protest, Conspiracy), on the Kennedy assassination. It will be published on Tuesday, October 1, by Open Road Media in the U.S., and on October 10 by Headline in the UK.

 In the publishers’ view, Not in Your Lifetime has earned a lasting place and should be republished on this 50th anniversary. Realizing, though, that it needed a thorough revamp, I set to work (with Robbyn) for what turned out to be many months. I have honed this new edition, filling in previously unavailable detail and making amendments, shedding material that has been discredited or no longer seems worth space in the book – and adding elements that do justify inclusion.

 Perhaps most significant is a new final chapter that amounts to an overview of the case as things stand in 2013. This includes a section covering “admissions” – claims of involvement in the assassination, their credibility or otherwise.

 Most interesting, perhaps, is a new interview I recently conducted of a Cuban exile in Florida. In extended conversations , over two days, he identified a fellow Cuban, once his best friend, who – he said he learned – “participated” in the assassination. This especially, I expect, will stir discussion.

 Heartening reviews the book has received include: 

  • (On this new 2013 edition) “Not in Your Lifetime is the best single analysis of what we know and what we don’t know about JFK’s assassination. If you have time to read only one book on the assassination, this is it. By far. – Robert Blakey, former Chief Counsel, House Committee on Assassinations 
  • “An awesome work…with the power of a plea as from Zola for justice” —Los Angeles Times
  • “An important piece of work…exceptionally well written, with all the tone and tension of a thriller. . . A book that must be read” —New York Review of Books
  • “The closest we have to that literary chimera, a definitive work on the events in Dallas.” 


Not in Your Lifetime will be available in the U.S. from October 1, as an e-book or in paperback, from U.S. publisher Open Road, by following this link:


For those who would like to have a look at the British edition, it can be found here on the Headline/Hachette Group website:












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Nixon Speaks…..Again

Robbyn Swan

There is only one thing surprising about reports that Richard Nixon repeatedly mouths racist and anti-Semitic comments on the final set of White House tapes released last week – it’s that anybody is still surprised.

From the day of his downfall until his death, Nixon struggled to prevent public access to the four thousand hours of tapes generated during his time in office. This last release is the final step in a drawn out process that pitted Nixon’s heirs against historians seeking to write an accurate history of the 37th President’s administration.

Even so, as long ago as our 2000 biography of Nixon, The Arrogance of Power with only some 900 hours of the total available to us – we were able to conclude that the tapes revealed a man with a penchant for ethnic, racist and sexist slurs.

In 1970, as he nagged his aide John Ehrlichman to ensure the tax affairs of Democratic contributors were investigated, he zeroed in on “…the Jews, you know, that are stealing….” Days later, he would beg another aide, “Please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors…Could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers?”

Nixon once ordered an aide to investigate a “Jewish cabal” at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to contemporary notes, and two Jewish bureau officials were transferred within weeks. The IRS, he insisted, was “full of Jews,” and he demanded the firing of a California Immigration Service official, “a kike by the name of Rosenberg. He is out…Transfer him…”

 “Jews are all over the government,” the President complained at an Oval Office meeting, adding that they should be brought under control by putting someone “in charge who is not Jewish.” “Most Jews are disloyal, he told his closest advisor, H.R. Haldeman, “…generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards.”

Was Nixon an anti-Semite? He did after all appoint Henry Kissinger, a Jewish immigrant, to the second most powerful post in his administration. And he appointed Jewish men to several other key posts. Commenting on the matter later, presidential counsel Leonard Garment, himself Jewish, defended his former boss as having been “better than most, worse than some.” Kissinger disagreed. “You can’t believe how much anti-Semitism there is at the top of this government,” he said, “and I mean at the top.”

Nixon’s comments about African-Americans could be equally vile. Former aides have said he referred to blacks as “niggers,” “jigs,” jigaboos,” and “jungle bunnies.” Long before this latest tape release, researchers working on the unreleased tapes at the National Archives revealed that Nixon spoke of blacks as being “just down from the trees.”

Yet Nixon greatly increased the budget for civil rights enforcement and appointed the first African-American head of the Federal Communications Commission. So, too, his administration saw the appointment of the first black admiral and the first black assistant secretary of the navy.

“With blacks you can usually settle for an incompetent,” the President said while discussing hiring policy on an early tape, “because there are usually just not enough competent ones. And so you put incompetents in and get along with them, because the symbolism is vitally important.”

There seem to have been two Nixons where minorities were concerned: the private man, spewing the abuse evident on the tapes, and the candidate, concerned above all about garnering – and keeping – votes.

No one, surely, can argue any longer with those historians who have said that the tapes reveal a deeply flawed character. No one, surely, could maintain that such remarks are permissible from a President, even in private.

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Iraq, Al Qaeda & 9/11: The Connection that Wasn’t

Robbyn Swan

In the early hours of March 19, 2003, a pair of F-117 fighters launched the first salvos of Operation Iraqi Freedom, their satellite guided missiles exploding into Dora Farm, one of Saddam Hussein’s private compounds. Over the coming days, much of the news-channel addicted world sat transfixed as waves of American Tomahawk missiles thundered into Baghdad. Polls suggested that, for many of the Americans viewing those events, Iraq’s role in the September 11 attacks made it an enemy deserving retribution.

Ten years on the events of 2003 have been marked by a flurry of articles justifiably revisiting the issue of whether or not the Bush administration lied – or was simply mistaken –   about Saddam’s WMD capability. These reports have missed the first falsehood that Bush and his people conjured up to justify war against Iraq – their attempt to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks which they did from almost the night of September 11. In the context of those frightening days, that linkage was an emotive, powerful force in making war on Iraq acceptable to the American people and the U.S. Congress. The pursuit of that lie led to the forgery of incriminating evidence and became an element in the torture of U.S. detainees.

In the eighteen months before the war the Bush administration persistently seeded the notion that there was an Iraqi connection to 9/11. While never alleging a direct Iraqi role, President Bush repeatedly linked Hussein’s name to that of bin Laden.

In his address to the nation of October 7, 2002, for example, Bush said: “We know that Iraq and al Qaeda  have had high-level  contacts  that go back a decade. . . . After September 11, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.” The President mentioned 9/11 eight times at his press conference just before the invasion of Iraq.

“The White House played endless semantic games on the issue,” The New York Times’ Philip Shenon later wrote.  “When pressed, Bush was careful not to allege that Iraq had any role in the 9/11 attacks, at least no direct role. But he insisted that if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, he…would have been tempted  to hand over [weapons of mass destruction]  to his supposed ally Osama bin Laden. Vice President Cheney went further…suggesting repeatedly, almost obsessively, that Iraq may in fact have been involved in the September 11 plot.”

Polls from the time reveal how effective the PR campaign was. One found that 57 percent of Americans believed Hussein had helped the 9/11 terrorists, another that 44 percent thought that “most” or “some” of the hijackers had been Iraqi. (In fact, none were.) Another, six months into the war, revealed that 69 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein had been personally involved in 9/11.

In his first address to the nation after the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush had hinted at what was to come.  “Evil, despicable acts of terror,” the President  had said, “have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger.” In a line the he himself scripted, Bush emphasized that the U.S. would henceforth make “no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

Afterward, Bush met with key officials, the group he was to call his “war council.” The words “al Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden” had been on everyone’s lips for hours. Amid the talk of reprisals and push-back, CIA director George Tenet stressed the link between al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, according to counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came out with the comment.  “You know,” he said, “we’ve got to do Iraq.”

“Everyone looked at him…like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ ” Clarke was to recall. “And I made the point certainly that night…that Iraq had nothing  to do with 9/11.

“That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld…It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq.”

On the evening of September 12th, Clarke recalled, Bush quietly took him aside to say, “Look . . . I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way…Just look. I want to know any shred.”

“Absolutely, we will look . . .” Clarke responded.  “But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not  found  any real linkages to Iraq.”

“Look into Iraq, Saddam,” the President reiterated, and walked away.

In the days following the attack, a report linking Mohammed Atta to Iraqi intelligence made headlines. An informant had reported to Czech intelligence that photographs of lead hijacker Atta resembled a man he had seen meeting with an Iraqi diplomat  and suspected  spy, Ahmad al-Ani,  in Prague on April 9, 2001. Investigation indicated that neither Atta nor al-Ani had been in Prague  at the time alleged. Atta was recorded  on closed-circuit  TV  footage in Florida on April 4, and his cell phone was used in the state on the 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th. Atta and fellow hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, moreover, apparently signed a lease on an apartment on the 11th. This information, while not certain proof, strongly suggests that Atta was in the United States on date in question. CIA analysts characterized the alleged Prague sighting as “highly unlikely.”

“Unlikely” or not, the report crept into pre-war intelligence briefings as having been a “known contact” between al Qaeda and Iraq.

A second allegation, propagated by Laurie  Mylroie,  a scholar associated with the conservative American Enterprise Institute,  proposed that Ramzi Yousef – the terrorist responsible for the 1993 WorldTradeCenter  bombing – had been an Iraqi agent using a stolen  identity.  Investigation by the FBI and others indicates that the theory is unsupported by hard evidence. Nevertheless, the claim proved durable.

None of the leads suggesting an Iraqi link to the attacks proved out.  “We went back ten years,” said former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer, who looked into the matter at the request of Director Tenet. “We examined about 20,000 documents, probably something along the  line of 75,000 pages of information, and there was no connection between [al Qaeda] and Saddam.”

A January 2003 report entitled “Iraqi Support for Terrorism,” was the last in-depth analysis the CIA produced prior to the beginning of hostilities.  “The intelligence community,” it concluded, “has no credible information that Baghdad had foreknowledge of the 11 September  attacks…”

Nevertheless, on the weekend before the U.S. launched its attack on Iraq, Vice President Cheney appeared on “Meet the Press” to make a final pitch about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. “We know,” Cheney said, “he has a long standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda organization.”

*          *            *

After exhaustive trawls of the record, official probes concluded that senior Bush administration officials applied inordinate pressure to try to establish that there was an Iraqi connection to 9/11, and that American torture of al Qaeda prisoners was a result of such pressure.  CIA  analysts noted  that  “questions  regarding  al Qaeda’s ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented  to senior operational  planner  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed  following his capture.” KSM, whose case  is currently before a military tribunal at Guantanamo, was one of those most persistently subjected to torture.

The  CIA’s Charles  Duelfer,  who was in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials after the invasion, recalled being “asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used” on a detainee who might have knowledge of links between the Hussein regime and al Qaeda.

The  notion  was turned  down.  Duelfer  noted,  however,  that  it had originated “in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA).”  Two U.S. intelligence  officers, meanwhile,  have said flatly that the suggestion came from Vice President  Cheney’s office.

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent and why extreme methods  were used,” a former senior intelligence official said in 2009. “The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney  and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between  al Qaeda  and Iraq….”

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Major Paul Burney, told military investigators  that  interrogators at Guantánamo were under “pressure to resort to measures that might produce” evidence of ties between al Qaeda  and Iraq.

In the absence of real evidence, according  to Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Suskind’s 2008 book, The Way of the World, it was in one instance  fabricated.  Suskind has reported  that in fall 2003 – when the U.S. administration was struggling to justify the invasion of Iraq – the White  House asked the CIA to collaborate  in the forgery of a document  stating that hijacker leader Atta had spent time training in Iraq.

The forgery took the form of a purported memo to Saddam Hussein from the former head of the Iraqi intelligence service, Tahir Habbusch al-Tikriti, dated  two months  before  9/11.  Signed by Habbusch, the memo stated  that  Atta had spent  time  in Iraq learning “to lead the team which will be responsible  for attacking  the targets that we have agreed to destroy.”

The  story of fakery provoked vigorous  denials from the CIA. Rebuttals  included  a carefully phrased  statement  from Suskind’s  primary  source,  a former  head of the  CIA’s  Near  East  Division named Rob Richer – to  which Suskind responded  by publishing a transcript  of one of his interviews with Richer.

In contrast to Suskind’s allegation, CIA analyst Nada Bakos wrote in the March edition of Wired magazine, the Agency itself vigorously examined the Habbusch letter and concluded that it was a forgery. “Our Branch Chief, Karen, walked into Cheney’s office with everything we’d uncovered…It seemed airtight. These were forgeries.” Bakos recalled. “I wasn’t there, but I heard the vice president was gracious and thanked her.”

Another former CIA officer, Philip Giraldi, meanwhile, placed responsibility  for  the  fabrication  on  the  Pentagon’s  Office  of Special Plans, and said it had been done at the instigation  of Vice President  Cheney.  According to Giraldi, the Pentagon, unlike the CIA, had “no restrictions on it regarding  the  production of false information to mislead the  public” and had “its own false documents  center.”

If it happened, the forgery was the most flagrant attempt to blame 9/11  on Iraq.

In 2008, the Senate Intelligence Committee produced its “Report on Whether Public Statements  Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence  Information.” “It’s my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam  Hussein,” said its chairman, John D. Rockefeller.  “To accomplish  this, top  administration officials made repeated statements  that falsely linked Iraq and al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretences.

In the ten years since the invasion of Iraq, reputable estimates indicate, almost 5,000 coalition servicemen and women have died. That number is dwarfed by the almost 150, 000 Iraqis – more than 80% of them civilians – who have also lost their lives. They died as the result of an attack on a nation that many Americans had been falsely led to believe bore some if not all of the responsibility for the attacks of September  11.

As former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote in an article for the Daily Beast on March 18, “mobilizing Congress and the American people” to go to war against Iraq, “required a considerable messaging effort.” That messaging effort began with a spurious linkage to 9/11.


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A 9/11 Update

October 4, 2012

The eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks passed with very little comment. There are still many questions that need to be answered, about the event itself and its aftermath. Former 9/11 Commission staff member Miles Kara is one of those who is still working quietly – on an almost daily basis – to ensure that the historical record is as complete and accurate as is possible. He has today posted a thought-provoking piece on how the nation responded while under attack that day, and how that response was spun by both officialdom and members of the 9/11 Truth community. Definitely worth a read.

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The Pulitzer…and Those Lingering Questions About 9/11

April 19, 2012

Welcome news for us this week. Our 9/11 book, The Eleventh Day, is one of three finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in History. The committee cites our “painstaking look at the catastrophic attacks and the nagging questions that have swirled around it.”

 Foremost, for us, of those remaining questions is: Was there foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers?

 That subject was blurred in the 9/11 Commission Report and hidden from the public by President Bush’s censorship of a key 28-page section of Congress’ earlier Joint Inquiry. We continue to pursue indications that elements of one Middle Eastern regime may have given the terrorists real assistance – a Saudi Arabia.

In The Eleventh Day, we raised some of the questions surrounding a San Diego-based Saudi named Omar al-Bayoumi. Bayoumi assisted future hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar in early 2000, within days of their arrival in the United States.  Bayoumi claimed to investigators that he became involved with the terrorists only because he heard them speaking Arabic in a Los Angeles-area restaurant. But did they really meet by chance? The Los Angeles Times has reported that the men began conversing after Bayoumi – like someone in a bad spy novel – dropped a newspaper on the floor and bent to retrieve it.

 The Bayoumi episode is shot through with oddities. The witness who said that, before the supposedly chance meeting, Bayoumi said he was on his way “to pick  up visitors”; the phone records that indicate frequent contact between Bayoumi and a Saudi diplomat – said to have arranged for the two future hijackers to take a car tour of the city; other phone records showing that the pair used Bayoumi’s cell phone for weeks; information indicating that Bayoumi’s salary – paid by a subsidiary of a contractor for the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority – was approved by the father of a man whose photo was found in a raid on a terrorist safe house in Afghanistan; a mark in Bayoumi’s passport that investigators associated with possible al Qaeda affiliation.   

 Omar al-Bayoumi left theUnited Statestwo months before the 9/11 attacks. He stuck to his “chance encounter” claim when, in 2003 and 2004, 9/11 Commission staff were allowed to interview him in Saudi Arabia – under the watchful eye of Saudi interior ministry officials. Commission memos show that staff who questioned Bayoumi and others linked to him – also under Saudi supervision – emerged from the interrogation sessions filled with suspicion. Fahad al-Thumairy, the Saudi diplomat in Los Angeles with whom Bayoumi was in touch, was thought to have been “deceptive in both interviews.” Osama Basnan, a close Bayoumi associate who at one point lived across the street from the two al Qaeda operatives, was held to have shown an “utter lack of credibility.”

 As recently reported in the Daily Beast, former Sen. Bob Graham has described California as “ground zero in terms of the connections between the terrorists and the Saudi government.”

 Though Graham was generous with his help while we were researching our book, it was clear that there were areas that he could not discuss freely. One appeared to concern a man named Dr Abdusattar Shaikh, in whose San Diego home both the first two terrorists to arrive lived after their early encounter with Bayoumi. Shaikh is not mentioned at all in published parts of either of the official reports on 9/11, and is identified in an internal Commission memo only as Dr. Xxxxxxxxxxx Xxxxxx. Keeping him unidentified was deemed important, it seems, because – astonishingly – Shaikh had all along been an FBI informant.

 In recent months we have further pursued information at which we could only hint in The Eleventh Day. With our colleague Dan Christensen of the Broward Bulldog, we have reported on it for the London Daily Telegraph and in a series of articles for MSNBC, (here, here, & here) and it further calls into question the behavior of the FBI. These latest developments link the hijackers to a Saudi family based in Sarasota, Florida and to purported al Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah, in the months before the 9/11 attacks.

The FBI has claimed that it investigated these alleged links and passed on its findings to both Congress’ Joint Inquiry and to the 9/11 Commission. Graham, who as a two-time Florida governor has a special interest, maintains that the information never reached either him or his 9/11 Commission counterparts. A search of 9/11 Commission files this past month located no relevant FBI records.

Many more strands go to a putative Saudi connection to 9/11 – some so far flimsy, some highly disquieting. The recollection of a Miami immigration inspector that further supports the notion that the hijackers were in contact with suspect Shukrijumah. She thinks Atta was accompanied by Shukrijumah when he came to her office to discuss a visa problem; the interview with a former CIA officer who says a captured bin Laden aide, himself involved in 9/11, said – naming three princes – that he had official Saudi support; and hard evidence that, the very night before the attacks, a senior Saudi religious official stayed at the same Virginia hotel as Bayoumi’s two hijacker associates. An FBI attempt to interview the official, Saleh al-Hussayen, was cut short when – in the view of a Bureau agent – he “feigned a seizure.”

 We report in The Eleventh Day – naming names – claims that millions in Saudi official money flowed to Osama bin Laden over a period of years before 9/11. During the preceding half-century, oil-richSaudi Arabia had enjoyed a mutually beneficial friendship with theUnited States. What reason, then for powerful Saudis to make contributions that fueled bin Laden’s terrorist feud with America? Is the explanation that Saudi royals, fearing overthrow by bin Laden-inspired extremists, saw help for bin Laden before 9/11 as an insurance tactic, self-preservation. In the West, we call this paying protection money.

The censored 28-page section of Congress’ Joint Inquiry Report is still withheld, in spite of an outcry from senators and a decade-long effort to get it released. Graham, and others who were privy to the suppressed material when it was written have revealed that it concerns Saudi Arabia. President Obama was quoted as having said soon after taking office that he was prepared to have the material released. Even so, it still remains withheld. A National Security Council spokesperson, asked by a colleague of ours last year about the censored pages, came back with a novel response. “I have been asked to convey to you, off the record, that we decline comment.”

 There is a limit, one would like to think, to how long Americans are prepared to wait for their government to come clean about possible foreign involvement in 9/11 –  facts gathered by their elected representatives but withheld from them by order of former President Bush. President Obama should move promptly to release those 28 redacted pages – and to insist that the FBI makes public everything it learned about links between the terrorists and Saudi citizens in California and Florida.

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“J. EDGAR”, from Clint Eastwood, and that cross dressing story…

November 8, 2011

During the  publicity campaign for the launch of the new Clint Eastwood movie J. EDGAR, there have been critical references to the account in my biography of J. Edgar Hoover – shortly to be republished. The criticism concerns the allegations I reported that Hoover, apparently a more or less repressed homosexual, also on occasion cross-dressed. I’ll here respond to such criticism. 

    The person principally cited on the cross-dressing is Susan Rosenstiel, a former wife of Lewis Rosenstiel, a millionaire distiller with close links to organized crime – and a longtime Hoover associate who contributed $1,000,000 to the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation. Those who suggest his former wife’s cross-dressing claim is not credible raise the fact that she had pled guilty in 1971 to an attempted perjury charge. I was aware of that, reported it in the original edition of my book Official and Confidential – and explained the circumstances. The charge was brought in connection with a civil suit and – I was told by New York State Legislative Committee on Crime interviewees – was thought by them to be unprecedented and bizarre. Noting that the charge was brought the very week the Committee intended to produce Susan Rosenstiel as a witness to her former husband’s Mafia links, the Committee sources said they believed the charge was instigated by Lewis, in an effort to discredit his former wife and thus obstruct the Committee’s inquiry. Court records showed that Lewis Rosentiel had used similar tactics to obstruct the course of justice in the past.

    During six years’ work on Official and Confidential, which included repeated interviews with Susan Rosenstiel, her account on various areas – including the sex allegation – remained consistent. She signed an affidavit asserting that the information she provided was true. I asked Mrs. Rosenstiel to agree to a television interview and to grant me exclusivity for a matter of years, and paid her a fee in that connection. I emphasize, however, that the matter of a fee came only after she had given me her lengthy initial interview, which was therefore not tainted by any payment.

    New York Judge Edward McLaughlin, former Chief Counsel of the Crime Committee, and Committee investigator William Gallinaro, told me Mrs Rosentiel had been an excellent witness. “I thought her absolutely truthful,” Judge McLauglin said. That too, was in my Hoover biography, and more – but was not quoted by any of those who assailed the passage on Susan Rosentiel in the book. Almost none of them noted, moreover, that a similar account of alleged cross-dressing came to me from two other interviewees, referring to a different location and a different timeframe. On the basis of all of this, and after discussion with my publishers, we included her account – which was broader than the cross-dressing allegation – in the book.

    I would note, finally, that the cross-dressing allegation is one passage in a biography of some 600 pages. The overall reporting on his sexuality is pertinent to any study of the man, not least in the context of his insistence on the ruthless pursuit of homosexuals. It is one element in the evidence of Director Hoover’s overall abuse of Americans’ rights and freedoms.



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Afghanistan: Back When It All Began

  October 11, 2011                                               

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded coalition forces in 2009-10 in Afghanistan, caused a stir last week with his suggestion that the U.S. is only just past the 50% mark in terms of achieving its goals – particularly that of  “creating a legitimate government that the Afghan people believe in, and therefore providing a counterweight to the Taliban.” “I think that’s going to be a hard last percentage to close,” McChrystal added.

Speaking almost ten years to the day since the conflict began, McChrystal charged that the U.S. had gone into that conflict with a “very superficial understanding of the situation and history,” didn’t speak the language or adequately grasp either the number of “forces at play” or the “players”. To the catalogue of early mistakes McChrystal added the burden of having opened a second front in Iraq, which not only stretched resources but fundamentally “changed the Muslim world’s view of America’s effort… much of the Muslim world now questioned what we were doing…”

Really to understand where the general is coming from, it may be useful to turn back the calendar to the closing months of 2001, when the seeds of the  current U.S. predicament were sown.



The way America would react to the Al Qaeda assault on 9/11 had been immediately clear. Evident within forty-five minutes of the first strike on the World Trade Center, when Bush spoke to the nation from the schoolroom in Florida promising to “hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.” Evident two hours later at an Air Force base in Louisiana, away from the microphones, when he told aides, “We’re gonna get the bastards.” By the end of September, when he addressed a joint session of Congress,  Bush was referring to the coming fight as the “war on terror”.

            The vast majority of the American people agreed that there had to be severe retribution. At a memorial service on September 14th, with four U.S. presidents in the congregation, the National Cathedral had reverberated to the roar of almost a thousand people singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword…the watch fires of a hundred circling camps…the trumpet that shall never call retreat…Let us die to make men free…”

The September 11 onslaught had been judged an act of war, and the response was to be war. Bush made clear from the start that bin Laden and his followers would not be the only targets. In his address to the nation on the night of the attacks, the President had said the U.S. would “make no distinction between those who planned these acts and those who harbor them.” Within an hour of the television appearance, he was discussing what that would mean with the group he was to call his “war council” – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, CIA Director Tenet, Condoleeza Rice, Richard Clarke, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and key generals.

The talk in the Situation Room at the White House was uncompromising. The Taliban were soon to propose trying bin Laden in Afghanistan or handing him over for trial in another Muslim country, but America would turn a deaf ear. “We’re not only going to strike the rattlesnake,” Bush said at this time, “We’re going to strike the rancher.”

The administration never even considered negotiating with the Taliban, Condoleezza Rice said later. Washington was eventually to issue a formal ultimatum – promptly rejected – demanding that Afghanistan hand over the Saudi exile or “share in his fate.”

The weekend following the attacks, after the frenzy of the first fraught days, Bush flew his war council to the calm of the presidential retreat at Camp David.  CIA Director Tenet and his Counterterrorism chief Cofer Black briefed Bush’s team on the Agency’s plan for “Destroying International Terrorism.” They described what they called the “Initial Hook,” an operation designed to trap Al Qaida inside Afghanistan and destroy it.

The objective was to be achieved by a numerically small CIA paramilitary component and U.S. Special Forces, working with Afghan forces that had long been fighting the Taliban. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Shelton, outlined the crucial bomb and missile strikes that would precede and support the operation. “When we’re through with them,” Black had assured Bush, the Al Qaeda terrorists would “have flies walking across their eyeballs.”

On September 20, the CIA’s Cofer Black gathered the team that was to spearhead the covert operation in Afghanistan. He dispensed with any notion of taking the terrorist leader alive. “Gentlemen, I want to give you your marching orders and I want to make them very clear. I have discussed this with the President, and he is in full agreement…I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured. I want them dead. Alive and in prison here in the United States, they’ll become a symbol, a rallying point…They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the President. I promised him I would do that.”

In the field, three men led the operations that targeted bin Laden, two veteran CIA officers, and a Special Forces officer with the unit popularly known as Delta Force. Their teams in the early months numbered only some seventy men, including a dozen Green Berets, Air Force tacticians, communications experts, and a small group of elite British commandos.

“The mission is straightforward,” Black told a colleague back in Washington,” “We locate the enemy wherever they are across the planet. We find them and we kill them.”

The first CIA team was on the ground in Afghanistan just two weeks after 9/11, armed with not only their weapons but three million dollars in $100 bills. The cash, lugged around in duffel bags, was used mostly to grease the palms of anti-Taliban warlords. For a mission that targeted the Taliban as much as bin Laden, buying their loyalty was essential. Brilliant American management of the warlords and their forces, combined with devastating use of airpower, would defeat and decimate the Taliban soldiers – though they were often valiant fighters – in little more than two months.

Getting Osama bin Laden was to prove another matter altogether.

In a letter to Taliban leader Mullah Omar written just before the American attack began, bin Laden forecast that the coming U.S. campaign in Afghanistan would cause “great long-term economic burdens”…force America to resort to the former Soviet Union’s only option: withdrawal from Afghanistan…” Two weeks on, with the bombing continuing, the Taliban’s military commander – a longtime bin Laden ally – claimed his soldiers were holding their ground. Bin Laden was “safe and sound…in good spirits.”

The CIA’s team had only poor intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts. There were attempts to persuade them that he had left the country soon after 9/11. Other reports put him either in the Afghan capital, Kabul, or at Jalalabad, nearer to the border with Pakistan. Bin Laden and a large group of fighters were seen arriving in Jalalabad in a convoy of white Toyota trucks. American bombs were already falling on the city, and their stay was brief.

Bin Laden apparently spoke of wanting to stay and fight. He was dissuaded. The convoy – some 300 vehicles – left soon afterward. At least one of those in the group said they were on their way “to their base at Tora Bora.”

Tora Bora, which translates as “Black Widow,” lies almost sixteen thousand feet above sea level on Towr Ghar – the “Black Dust” – a series of rocky ridges and peaks, ten precipitous miles from the border of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. A legend now, it was at the time a media fantasy. By November 27th a British newspaper was reporting that it was a “purpose-built guerrilla lair…350 yards beneath a solid mountain. There are small rooms and big rooms, and the wall and floor are cemented…It has its own ventilation system and its own power, created by a hydro-electric generator…driven by water from the peaks of the mountains.”

The reality was far more primitive. Bin Laden’s first wife, who had spent time there, remembered a place with no electricity and no running water, where life was hard at the best of times. In the early December of 2001, in the icy Afghan winter, it became a desolate killing ground.

From their base at an abandoned schoolhouse, the pursuing Americans struggled with multiple obstacles. Tora Bora is not one place but a series of natural ramparts and cave complexes, a frustratingly difficult place to attack. Afghan generals, whose troops were key to the mission, were often intransigent, rarely dependable, and partial to negotiating with an Al Qaeda enemy that the Delta Force and CIA commanders wanted only to destroy. The Afghan inhabitants of the mountains were at best uncertain sources of information. The Americans could dole out cash, but these were people who had enjoyed bin Laden’s largesse for years..

            Berntsen, heading the CIA detachment, encountered reluctance when he begged for more U.S. military support. The operation to hunt down bin Laden, the team was told, was “flawed,” too high risk. The reluctance to commit American ground forces was only going to get worse. What the United States did deliver was the bludgeon of pulverizing airpower. Often guided by forward observation teams, waves of bombers flew from bases in the U.S and carriers in the Persian Gulf to bombard the Al Qaeda positions. AC-130 Spectre gunships pounded them by night.

            Decimated but not yet finally broken, bin Laden’s defenders clung on. Intercepts picked up an Al Qaeda commander giving movement orders, ordering up land mines, exhorting his men to “victory or death.”  On the afternoon of December 13th, Delta Force’s Major Fury and his men listened to a voice they were sure was that of bin Laden. “His Arabic prose sounded beautiful, soothing, and peaceful,” Fury recalled, “I paraphrase him…‘Our prayers have not been answered. Times are dire…Things might have been different…I’m sorry for getting you into this battle. If you can no longer resist, you may surrender with my blessing.’”

            According to the ex-Marine expert at recognizing the Saudi’s voice, bin Laden then gathered his men around him in prayer. There was the sound of mules, used for transport in the high mountains, and people moving around. Then silence.

By the time the bombing and the shooting stopped, Tora Bora was devastated, a wasteland of shattered rocks and broken trees. The detritus of war: spent ammunition, bloody bandages, torn fragments of documents in Arabic script – and not a trace of Osama bin Laden.

            Convinced that their quarry escaped, those who risked their lives to kill him cast bitter blame on those from whom they had taken their orders. The Delta Force operatives, Fury said, had not been allowed to engage in “real war fighting.” Had they been, he thought, things could have turned out differently. Being held back had been like “working in an invisible cage.”

The CIA’s Gary Berntsen had in vain requested a force of eight hundred U.S. troops – to block the “back door”, the mountain escape route to Pakistan. “We need Rangers [special operations combat troops] now!,” he had begged with ever-increasing urgency, “The opportunity to get bin Laden and his men is slipping away!” He had been rebuffed every time.

Why were the troops refused, and who was responsible for the refusal? Military decisions were transmitted by the generals, directly to Berntsen by the officer commanding Joint Special Operations Command, Major General Dell Dailey, who in turn answered to General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief at U.S. Central Command, the man running the Afghanistan operation.

“We have not said,” Franks remarked at a press briefing just before the fighting at Tora Bora, “that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort.” It was a strange comment, even taking into account security considerations, given what Fury and Berntsen have said of the explicit orders they had been given. In a 2004 memoir, Franks skirted any discussion of the decision not to use U.S. troops to trap bin Laden. As recently as 2009, the general said he had doubted whether bin Laden was even at Tora Bora. Notwithstanding the certainty expressed by the CIA and Delta Force commanders on the spot, he claimed the intelligence had been “conflicting.”

Delta Force’s Major Fury placed responsibility elsewhere. “The generals,” he said, “were not operating alone. Civilian political figures were also at the control panel….I was not in those air-conditioned rooms with leather chairs when they came up with some of the strangest decisions I have ever encountered…at times, we were micromanaged by higher-ups unknown, even to the point of being ordered to send the exact grid coordinates of our teams back to various folks in Washington.”

The two civilian higher-ups involved with Franks in the decision-making were Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the man ultimately responsible as Commander-in-Chief, President Bush. Bush, who six days after 9/11 had indicated that he wanted bin Laden “dead or alive”.

The President “never took his eye off the ball when it came to bin Laden,” according to General Franks. Through October and into November, Bush had appeared still keen to “get” bin Laden. In late November, at a CIA briefing, he was told Tora Bora had become the focus, that Afghan forces were inadequate to do the job, that U.S. troops were required. “We’re going to lose our prey if we’re not careful,” the CIA briefer warned. The President seemed surprised. In Afghanistan in early December, shortly before the massive BLU-82 bomb was unleashed on Tora Bora, those heading the fight in the field were told that POTUS – the acronym for the President – had been personally “asking for details.”

According to CIA sources, Bush would reportedly remain “obsessed” with the hunt for bin Laden even months after Tora Bora. In public though, far from talking of getting him dead or alive, he seemed to downgrade his importance. “Terror’s bigger than one person,” the President said in March, 2002, “he’s a person who has been marginalized…I don’t know where he is. Nor, you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you…I truly am not that concerned about him.”

The record, perhaps, explains the sea change in the priority given to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. On November 21st, a couple of weeks before the final battles in the mountains and bin Laden’s disappearance, the President had taken Rumsfeld aside for a conversation that he insisted must remain secret. He wanted a war plan forIraq, and insisted that General Franks get working on it immediately.

Franks, already up to his eyes dealing with the conflict inAfghanistan, could barely believe what he was hearing. “Goddamn!” he exclaimed to a fellow general, “What the fuck are they talking about?” The huge pressure he was under had been ratcheted up another notch. From then on, not least in early December, when there were repeated appeals for U.S. troops to block bin Laden’s escape route, the general was constantly plagued with requests for plans as to how to attack Iraq. At a crucial stage of the Tora Bora episode, Bush’s primary focus had begun to shift – and a shift in the Commander-in-Chief’s focus meant distracting the attention of his overworked general from the fight in Afghanistan.




That’s the bungling with which the saga began.

The 140,000 strong U.S. led coalition combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan in 2014. It looks, however, as though this year may prove to be the costliest yet in terms of civilian lives lost. Some observers, moreover, suggest Afghanistan is again teetering on the brink of all-out civil war. If the U.S. is to meet its goal of presiding over an orderly transition and leaving with the hope of a secure future for ordinary Afghans, the problems of the past must be acknowledged and overcome. The omens, though, are poor.




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A New Piece of the 9/11 Jigsaw

                                                                                                                                                                                                            September 20, 2011

An abbreviated version of this post appeared last week on Salon. We take this opportunity to fill in extra detail.

Two sentences in a 9/11 Commission document, previously withheld from the public but released in recent weeks, offer a tantalizing glimpse of a nugget of intelligence that has long been concealed from the public. The sentences read:

            “OnJuly 20, 2001, there was a call between KSM and Binalshibh.

              They used the codewords Teresa and Sally.”

            Those nineteen words, seen now for the first time, indicate that – just seven weeks before the attacks – a Western intelligence service intercepted  a coded phone call between two key 9/11 conspirators. The words now released appear in a three-page memorandum, in a passage describing an exchange between KSM – self-confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – and Ramzi Binalshibh, his go-between to the terrorists preparing the operation in the States. The pair discussed – improbably – sending “skirts” to “Sally.”

“Skirts,” according to the document, was a reference to money. “Sally,” the designated recipient, was their accomplice Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be hijacker pilot apprehended before 9/11 for behaving suspiciously at a flying school – and since convicted and sentenced to life in prison. “Teresa,” investigators thought, referred to Ziad Jarrah, who was to pilot a hijacked airliner on 9/11 but who – the conspirators feared for some time – might drop out of the operation.

            It is not the detail of the exchange between the plotters that is striking today, though, so much as the revelation that someone was eavesdropping on it. The two telltale sentences, released to us by the National Archives shortly before publication of our book The Eleventh Day, throw up new questions about the role of Western intelligence agencies in the run-up to the attacks.

            Which intelligence service tapped the call? The agencies most likely to have made the intercept are those of theUnited States or Germany. While KSM was almost certainly in Afghanistanon July 20, Binalshibh is believed to have been in Hamburg.

            If the conversation was intercepted by the Germans, did they share it in timely fashion with their American counterparts? Whichever country’s service made the intercept, was work done promptly to translate it or figure out what it might mean? Was it apparent that the exchange related to terrorism, and if so what was done about it?

            As important, were other contacts between the two men monitored before 9/11?

            The search for answers to those questions means going back as far as 1998, when German federal and regional intelligence services were focusing on Islamic extremist activity. They were interested especially in a Syrian-born citizen named Mohammed Zammar, because he appeared to be facilitating jihadi travel to Afghanistan. Zammar was surveilled, his telephone tapped.

            At the start of 1999, calls on Zammar’s line in turn drew attention to aHamburgarea address that was to become infamous after 9/11, the first floor apartment at 54, Marienstrasse. Those who lived there or frequented it would include hijack leader Mohamed Atta, his companion and fellow future hijack pilot Marwan al-Shehhi, Mounir Motassadeq, who is today serving fifteen years inGermanyfor allegedly helping in the plot – and Ramzi Binalshibh himself.

            The first known call of relevance to the 9/11 plot came when a male caller identified at the time only as “Marwan” phoned Zammar’s number from the United Arab Emirates. Weeks later, a caller looking for Zammar was given the number of the Marienstrasse apartment – and both Atta and Binalshibh were mentioned by their first names. Later in the year, when Zammar phoned Marienstrasse, a transcript shows, he sent his regards to Atta.

            When the content of the “Marwan” call was revealed three years after 9/11, a senior German intelligence source described the information on the call as particularly valuable, and said it had been passed – along with the U.A.E. number from which the call had been made – to the CIA. U.A.E. security officials have said the number could have been traced in five minutes, but insisted the CIA never asked them to do so.

            Then CIA Director George Tenet, for his part, would tell the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, that “We didn’t sit on our hands” on receiving the information. “I’m not going to go through the rest of it in open session,” but “we did some things to go find out some things…Okay?…That’s all I want to say in open session.” Is it possible that one of the things done by the CIA was an attempt to monitor the number from which Shehhi called Germany?

            In Germany, meanwhile, the surveillance had expanded beyond Zammar’s phone. Two of the men who used the Marienstrasse apartment were surveilled and their names were put on a border watch list. If such attention was paid to their activity and movements, was none given to that of the apartment’s other denizens, Atta, Shehhi, and Binalshibh?

            An Islamic affairs specialist with German domestic intelligence inStuttgart, Dr. Herbert Müller, told us that Atta was “going through the focus of our colleagues…He came to their notice.”

            If Atta at some stage came to the Germans’ notice, was Binalshibh also in their sights? Can it be that he and the phone he used were being monitored when the July 2001 phone intercept was made? If so, then the July call – if recognized as a terrorists’ conspiratorial communication – could conceivably have begun a series of steps leading to the core of the plot.

            Whatever suspicions there may have been about Binalshibh, his telephone interlocutor KSM had been a wanted man since as early as 1996, when he had been indicted for his role in a plot to blow up airliners – an early concept of his that foreshadowed 9/11.

In June 2001, the month before the intercepted call with Binalshibh, a CIA cable from the field reported that a “Khaled” was “actively recruiting people to travel…including to theUnited Stateswhere colleagues were reportedly already in the country to meet them, to carry out terrorist-related activities for bin Laden.” Weeks later, just before the intercept that is the focus of this article, “Khaled” was identified as KSM.

            The information in that cable from the field was of course almost precisely accurate. Can it be that the July 20 Binalshibh-KSM intercept now in question was made by the Germans, shared with the CIA – and became part of the skein of intelligence that, Director Tenet has said, made summer 2001 a time when “the system was blinking red”?

            Approached by us for interview either on possible pre-9/11 monitoring of the terrorists or on the relations withU.S.intelligence agencies, German federal officials were unhelpful. “Sadly,” a Bundesnachrichtendienst official responded, “due to considerations of principle, your request cannot be granted.”

            The then and now deputy chief of domestic intelligence inHamburg, Manfred Murck, told in late August that it was not his Hamburg region agency that intercepted the Binalshibh/KSM call. The last contact his service had withU.S.officials relevant to 9/11 individuals and issues, he added, had been two years before the attacks.

            “Some countries,” a 9/11 Commission staff statement stated tartly, “did not support U.S.efforts to collect intelligence information on terrorist cells in their countries…This was especially true of some of the European countries.” The report of Congress’ Joint Inquiry, whose mandate it was to investigate the intelligence community’s pre-9/11 performance, stated that pressure had been brought on “foreign authorities” to target “Zammar and other radicals [REDACTION]…” but that “it became apparent only after September 11, 2001 that the foreign authorities had been watching some of those persons before that date.”

            The former U.S. deputy head of mission in Berlin Michael Polt, however, told the 9/11 Commission that his impression was always that “our level of interaction with counterterrorism and cooperation with the Germans was extremely high and well coordinated…the reason the Germans would want to share those concerns with us [was] because they were expecting from us some information that they could use to go after these people.”

            If the July 2001 intercept of the Binalshibh/KSM call was not made by a German agency, the most likely other service to have either made it or been privy to it isAmerica’s National Security Agency, whose remit includes the collection of telephonic traffic. Whether by eavesdropping on Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, while he still risked using one, or by picking up calls between al Qaeda associates, the NSA had been listening in where possible on the terrorists for years.

The NSA willingly offered cooperation with the 9/11 Commission. Yet Philip Shenon, in his study of the investigation, reported that Commission staff conducted no thorough review of al Qaeda-related material supplied by the NSA. Though some were eager to delve more deeply, they ran out of time.

            That there were concerns within the NSA about its pre-9/11 performance, however, does surface in the record. Toward the end of her interview with Commission staff, a former NSA chief of counterintelligence said concerned agency staff “thought they might have been guilty of missing ‘warning’ information.” For that reason, she added, the NSA had done “a 9/11 retrospective [REDACTION] to insure they knew everything they had.”

            Approached for this article, the NSA did not respond to a request for comment. A Commission staffer present at the interview with the chief of counterintelligence, Lorry Fenner, said she could throw no further light on the nature of the “retrospective.”

            Miles Kara, an analyst for Congress’ Joint Inquiry, who spent dozens of hours reviewing the NSA Retrospective, told us in early September about what he saw of the agency’s post-9/11 trawl. Kara, himself a former senior intelligence officer, says the retrospective was created at the direction of then Director General Michael Hayden and signed by him. “It was delivered to us in a binder,” Kara recalls, “It was created to put in one place everything the agency knew about the warnings leading up to the attack…It sought no conclusions or inferences, it was simply a compilation of primary source (intercepted traffic) information.”

            Asked specifically whether he remembered reference to a July 20 intercept, Kara could say only that the “the ‘Sally’ and ‘Teresa’ language sounds familiar.” Asked whether the retrospective included intercepts made by agencies other than the NSA, he mentioned that there may have been foreign input. “I was focused on the content more than the originating agency, but I’m fairly confident,” Kara told us, “that I recall GCHQ [British communications intelligence] headers…I don’t specifically recall a German header.”

            “Nothing I’ve dredged up from my memory,” he added, “inclines me to support a real-time understanding [by NSA]. “No real-time understanding,” for those unfamiliar with the language of intelligence, suggests the possibility that the NSA – even if it did have the July 20 intercept of the two key 9/11 plotters – did not realize that it had drilled into the mother lode.

            Almost two months before 9/11, U.S intelligence may have had in its hands the treasure that the intercept represented – and simply not understood what it was.

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Bush & Cheney: 9/11 Questions Still Unanswered

The next couple of weeks will be filled with 9/11 remembrances. Best to remind ourselves, though, that ten years after the fact they’re a poor substitute in evidential terms for the contemporary records of the day.  We’ve been giving this a lot of thought, wondering what, if anything, any of the talk will add to our understanding of the day’s events. Two of those notably doing the talking this past week were former President George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney – Bush in an “intimate” interview for National Geographic, Cheney in his just-released memoir, In My Time.

We blogged about this issue last week for The Daily Beast, before having heard Bush’s much-publicized 9/11 interview for National Geographic.  In our Beast piece we pointed out that neither Bush nor Cheney has ever submitted to questioning alone and under oath on the events of September 11.  Bush and Cheney instead granted a “private interview” to 9/11 Commission members but without recorders or stenographers present.

As a test, we’ve analysed their latest comments on one significant question about their own behaviour as the attacks unfolded – the matter of who authorized the shooting down of civilian airliners.

While the fire and smoke of the attacks was still in the air, top Bush administration officials hurried out statements on who issued that momentous order, and when. First there had been a flat statement  by Deputy  Defense  Secretary Wolfowitz that—had  United  93 not crashed—Air Force pilots had been poised to shoot it down. Next, on the Sunday after 9/11, had come Vice President Cheney’s account, in a Meet the Press interview, of how the shooting down of hijacked airliners had been authorized.  Cheney said the “horrendous decision” had been made—with his wholehearted agreement—by the President himself. There had been moments, he said, when he thought a shoot-down might be necessary

Bush took the decision during  one of their  phone  calls that day, Cheney told Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, “I recommended to the President that  we authorize . . . I said, ‘We’ve got to give the pilots rules of engagement, and I recommend we authorize  them  to shoot.’ We talked about it briefly, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll sign up to that.’ He made the decision.”

Bush himself, speaking with The Washington Post’s  Bob Woodward, said Cheney  had indeed suggested that he issue the order.  His response, as he remembered it in late 2001, had  been  monosyllabic.  Just, “You bet.” Later still, speaking with the 9/11 commissioners,  Bush recalled having discussed the matter in a call made to him by Cheney, and “emphasized”  that  it was he who authorized  the shootdown  of hijacked aircraft.

By the time the President wrote his 2010 memoir,  that call from the Vice President had become a call  he made to Cheney. Bush’s monosyllabic authorization, moreover, had transmogrified into a well thought-out plan.

“I called Dick Cheney as Air Force One climbed rapidly to forty-five thousand  feet . . . ,” the President  wrote. “He had been taken to the underground Presidential Emergency Operations Center—the PEOC—when the Secret Service thought a plane might be coming at the White  House. I told him that I would make decisions from the air and count on him to implement them on the ground.”

“Two big decisions came quickly. The military had dispatched Combat Air Patrols—teams of fighter  aircraft  assigned to intercept unresponsive  airplanes—over  Washington  and  New  York. . . .  We needed to clarify the rules of engagement. I told Dick that our pilots should contact suspicious planes and try to get them to land peace- fully. If that failed, they had my authority to shoot them down.”

Have Bush and Cheney’s most recent utterances shed any new light? In his Nat Geo interview this past week, President Bush gave a truncated account of the event, echoing the notion that it was “a decision” he alone had made, but this time entirely leaving out any mention of Cheney. Cheney, for his part, reiterates in his memoir that the President had “approved my recommendation” that the military be authorized to “fire on a civilian airliner if it had been hijacked and would not divert.” No clarity there.

It would have been unthinkable  for the  U.S.  military to  down a civilian airliner without a clear order from the President,  as commander-in-chief. In his absence, the authority belonged to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. “The operational chain of command,” relevant law decreed, ran “from the President  to the Secretary of Defense,” and on through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to individual commanders.  The Vice President  was not in the chain of command.

That was well understood by U.S. military on September 11. In an earlier exercise, one that postulated a suicide mission involving a jet aimed at Washington, they had said shooting it down would require an “executive” order. The defense secretary’s authority, General Arnold told the Commission, was necessary to shoot down even a “derelict balloon.” Only the President, he thought, had the authority  to shoot down a civilian airliner.

The 9/11 Commission  made no overt statement  as to whether  it be- lieved Cheney’s assertion—that he recommended and Bush decided. Shown the final draft of the Report’s passage on the shoot-down decision, however, Cheney was furious. For all its careful language, the Report  dropped a clear hint that its staff had found Cheney’s account—and Bush’s—less than convincing.

“We  just didn’t  believe it,” general  counsel  Daniel  Marcus  de- clared long afterward. “The official version,” John Farmer would say, “insisted  that  President  Bush had  issued an authorization to  shoot down hijacked commercial flights, and that that order had been pro- cessed through the chain of command and passed to the fighters. This was untrue.”

Why  might a phony  scenario have been created? “The administration version,” Farmer  noted,  “implied, where it did not state explicitly, that  the chain of command  had been functioning on 9/11, and that the critical decisions had been made by the appropriate top officials. . . . None of this captures how things actually unfolded on the day.”

As we said in the Beast, we believe we come close in The Eleventh Day to establishing that shoot-down authorization originated not with Bush but with the Vice President. Nothing that either man has revealed in the past week changes that.

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On Nixon’s Sanity…or Otherwise

August 18, 2011

I’ve  been hearing a lot about Nassir Ghaemi’s new book A First Rate Madness. Ghaemi, an academic psychiatrist with a string of prestigious teaching posts to his name.  He’s also the director of the Mood Disorders Clinic at Tufts University Medical Center.  Using the lives of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi, Ghaemi argues that one “should accept, even celebrate” the possibility that our decision-makers have dealt with mental illnesses —  all of which he says foster in those who have them the qualities of “realism, resilience, empathy and creativity.”

It’s an intriguing and counter-intuitive theory – which should rise or fall on the strength of Ghaemi’s grasp of the personalities he’s chosen as his subjects. I cannot claim any special knowledge of Lincoln, Churchill or Gandhi. As one of the late President’s biographer’s, however, and the only one to have spent considerable time with his psychotherapist – I’ll be intrigued to see the case he makes for Richard Nixon. According to Newsweek, Ghaemi concludes, that Nixon’s failing was that he was “too sane” for the times he lived in, his handling of the Watergate crisis too much like that of an ordinary person. Continue reading

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Truthers and Consequences: The Trouble with Dean Hartwell’s “Perspective”

In his review of our book, The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, 9/11 skeptic Dean Hartwell charges that we make “questionable assertions and omissions of fact.”

Any reading of Mr. Hartwell’s review, [which can be found on his website “Hartwell Perspective – Truth & Relevance“] however, must begin with the understanding that he himself is a “No Planer” – his own contribution to the canon of research on the attacks is a book entitled “Planes without Passengers: The Faked Hijackings of 9/11.”

In any event, Hartwell claims, in the first instance, that we have not analyzed the work of  AK Dewdney on the use of cell phones on airplanes. Not true. We deal specifically with Dewedney’s claims – at p. 113 and in two notes on p. 476. Continue reading


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Kicking and screaming!

That’s how Anthony, anyway, will be coming to this blog.

With more than 70 years of reporting and writing experience between us (eight books and more documentaries and articles than we can count), however, we think we have lots still to say. And this is going to be the place we say it.

We’ll be digging into our archives to share stories we’ve written nowhere else, fleshing out and elaborating on the revelations in our latest book, The Eleventh Day. We’ll also be commenting on stories and events that grab our attention – particularly from the worlds of politics, intelligence, and organized crime. Bear with us as we get the bugs out (that was not a jibe, Mr. Murdoch). We hope eventually to be worth the wait.

 Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan

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