Tag Archives: Anthony Summers

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

HOW IS YOUR BOOK “A MATTER OF HONOR” DIFFERENT FROM OTHER BOOKS PUBLISHED ON THIS 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF PEARL HARBOR?

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.

THAT’S WHY YOUR BOOK’S TITLE IS A MATTER OF HONOR”?
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.

WHAT SORT OF NEW INFORMATION HAVE YOU DISCOVERED?
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.

WHY IS A BOOK ABOUT PEARL HARBOR RELEVANT TODAY?
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.

WHAT LED YOU TO THE PEARL HARBOR STORY, AND HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TACKLING IT?
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.

WHAT MOST SURPRISED YOU DURING THE RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK?
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.

YOU’RE MARRIED TO ONE ANOTHER. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK TOGETHER AS CO-AUTHORS?
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.

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IN THEIR OWN WORDS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 9/11 BATTLE IN THE SKY  

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

 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.

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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?”

“Nydia.””

“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

Sinatra at the Paramount

An Extract from SINATRA: The Life

In late 1942, after his stint with band leader Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra was back in New Jersey playing small-town theaters. His luck turned on December 12, his twenty-seventh birthday, thanks to a persistent New York booker named Harry Romm. After weeks of trying, Romm got the attention of Robert Weitman, director of the Paramount Theater, Broadway’s hottest music and movie venue.

Romm went on and on about Sinatra. “Take a chance. Come over and look for yourself,” he recalled telling Weitman. “It’s the damnedest thing you ever saw. A skinny kid who looks strictly from hunger is singing over in Newark and the she kids are yelling and fainting all over the joint. You’ve got to see it to believe it….”

Weitman agreed to go to Newark’s cavernous Mosque Theater to hear Sinatra perform. The place was less than half full. “Then,” he remembered, “this skinny kid walks out on the stage. He was not much older than the kids in the seats. He looked like he still had milk on his chin. As soon as they saw him, the kids went crazy. And when he started to sing they stood up and yelled and moaned and carried on until I thought – excuse the expression – his pants had fallen down.”

Weitman swung into action within hours. “He rang me at the house,” Frank remembered, “and said ‘What are you doing New Year’s Eve?’ I said, ‘Not a thing. I can’t even get booked anywhere….He said, ‘I’d like you to open at the joint.’ He used to call the Paramount ‘the joint.’ I said, ‘You mean on New Year’s Eve?’ He said, ‘That’s right.’…And I fell right on my butt!”

The Paramount was majestic, the tallest structure on Broadway north of the Woolworth Building. The illuminated glass globe at its top could be seen as far away as New Jersey. Its plush red and gold auditorium could accommodate almost four thousand people. Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Mae West, Claudette Colbert, were among the stars who had seen their names on the marquee beneath the Paramount’s vast ornamental arch. At dawn on December 30, when Frank arrived to rehearse, there was his name beneath the title of the movie and “Benny Goodman and his Band,” and alongside the billings for the Radio Rogues comedy act: “EXTRA – FRANK SINATRA.”

That night was pivotal. For all his early success, he was still relatively unknown. When Weitman told Goodman that Frank would be appearing, Goodman asked: “Who’s he?” “I introduced Frank Sinatra as if he were one of my closest friends,” the comedian Jack Benny remembered. “I had to make all of this up, because I didn’t know who he was.” He did it only as a favor to Weitman.

Yet as Sinatra’s name was spoken, there came a reaction from the audience that no one present ever forgot. “I thought the goddamned building was going to cave in,” said Benny, “people running down to the stage, screaming and nearly knocking me off the ramp.” As Weitman remembered it, there was a long call from the audience of “F-R-A-N-K-I-E-E-E-E-E!” Sinatra himself recalled a sound that was “absolutely deafening…a tremendous roar.” Conducting with his back to the audience, Goodman could not imagine what was going on.

Frank froze in terror for a moment, then burst out laughing. He could not remember later whether he began by singing “For Me and My Gal” or “Black Magic.” “The devout,” wrote the editor of The New Republic, Bruce Bliven, had recognized “a pleasant-appearing young man” who “with gawky long steps moves awkwardly to the center of the stage while the shrieking continues….He has a head of black curls and holds it to one side as he gestures clumsily and bashfully, trying to keep the crowd quiet enough for him to sing….”

Something unprecedented had begun. Vast throngs of people, most of them very young and most of them female, began flocking to the theater. Frank was soon singing as many as a hundred songs a day – at least nine shows. “One Saturday I did eleven shows,” he remembered. “We started at 8:10 in the morning and finished at 2:30 Sunday morning.”

When his family came to the theater they became part of the spectacle. Nancy was lost to sight in the throng and Dolly was pawed by the fans. “I couldn’t hear,” Marty complained. “Who could hear?” For Frank’s grandfather Francesco, now in his late eighties, it was all too much. “I put him in the third row, in among the kids,” Frank remembered. “He didn’t know what the hell happened to him because when I came out on the stage everything broke loose and he just sat there. I could see his face. He was absolutely terrified. They brought him back in the dressing room after the performance, and he was so angry – that he had come that far and never heard me sing. He didn’t understand that that was the game that the kids played….”

The original one-week appearance at the Paramount was extended, first to a month, then to two months, a theater record. Frank agreed to return in the spring. His audience was made up overwhelmingly of schoolgirls in their early or mid-teens, typically dressed in sweaters, knee-length skirts, and white socks – bobbysoxers. Webster’s Dictionary defines one as an “adolescent girl”.

“The squealing yells reverberated,” Bob Weitman’s friend Armand Deutsch, a film producer, said of the fans, “It was a new sound, a screaming expression of adulation and curiously innocent eroticism. They were, Bob told me sadly, almost impossible to dislodge, fiercely fighting all eviction efforts and drastically cutting the grosses.”

Few bobbysoxers stayed for only one performance. They came with food and drink and settled in. Theater staff often found the girls had urinated on their seats, either out of fear of losing them if they went to the bathroom or out of sheer excitement.

“They would scream every time he sang a word like ‘love,’” said Al Viola, who was to become Frank’s principal guitarist. “I used to think, ‘Oh, here it comes!’” Sometimes, though, the fans were “as hushed as if they were in church.”

Fans fell to their knees in the aisles. Girls lined up to kiss Frank’s picture on billboards, begged for trimmings from the floor of his barber’s shop, snatched the handkerchief from his jacket pocket as he passed. In the hope of forcing him to stop and sign autographs, some flung themselves in front of his car. They gave him teddy bears, heart-shaped flower arrangements, a loving cup, a golden key – said to fit the heart of its sender.

“He was my idol when I was in eighth grade,” Marie Caruba, a former teacher in her late seventies, recalled half a century later. “I had his photos all over my locker. I worked some days at Gardella’s Ice Cream shop, and the only way I’d work in the afternoons would be if Mr. Gardella let me listen to Frank on the radio. I knew, of course, that he was singing just to me. We lived in Connecticut, and a girlfriend and I would hop a train down to New York to go to matinees at the Paramount. I went as often as I could, but my mother never knew.”

“Groups of little girls used to play hooky from school,” said Martha Lear,“off to shriek and swoon through four shows live, along with several thousand other demented teenagers….That glorious shouldered spaghetti strand way down there in the spotlight would croon on serenely, giving us a quick little flick of a smile or, as a special bonus, a sidelong tremor of the lower lip. I used to bring binoculars just to watch that lower lip….Before going home we would forge the notes from our parents: ‘Please excuse Martha’s absence from school yesterday as she was sick….’”

*************

On October 11, 1944, opening night of another run at the Paramount in New York, Frank triggered a frenzy unprecedented in the history of music. Girls waited in the street all night to buy tickets. When the doors opened, a capacity crowd crammed into the theater and began chanting his name. The fans totally ignored the movie that was shown and then – when he appeared – their screaming made him virtually inaudible.

By five o’clock in the morning the next day, a veritable army of young people was already waiting outside and near the Paramount. “I ventured down to Times Square,” wrote Earl Wilson, who had been working through the night at the Post, “and was literally scared away. The police estimated that 10,000 kids were queued up six abreast on 43rd Street, Eighth Avenue, and 44th Street, and another 20,000 were running wild in Times Square, overrunning the sidewalks and making traffic movement almost impossible.

“Over on Fifth Avenue, a Columbus Day parade was forming. Two hundred cops were taken off guard duty there and rushed over….Eventually there were 421 police reserves, twenty radio cars, two emergency trucks, four lieutenants, six sergeants, two captains, two assistant chief inspectors, two inspectors, seventy patrolmen, fifty traffic cops, twelve mounted police, twenty policewomen and two hundred detectives, trying to control some 25,000 teenage girls. Girls shrieked, fainted – or swooned – fell down, were stepped on and pulled up by their companions and resumed screaming. They rushed the ticket booth and damaged it. Windows were broken.”

 

Of the 3,600 fans admitted for the first performance, only a couple of hundred left when it ended. Angry thousands waiting outside swarmed around the neighborhood all day, not dispersing until nightfall. There was similar chaos when Frank appeared in Chicago, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The New Republic described it as an “electric contagion of excitement…a phenomenon of mass hysteria that is seen only two or three times in a century.”

“What is it you’ve got,” the actress Carmen Miranda asked Frank in 1944, “that makes the girls all cry over you?”

“It’s not what I’ve got, Carmen,” Frank replied, “it’s what they’ve got. Imagination.”

The adulation of Elvis Presley ten years later, or of the Beatles in 1964, perhaps came close. The furor over Frank, though, was the first eruption of youthful idolatry in the twentieth century, and as great as any that has come since.

 

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Celebrating Sinatra at 100, an extract from SINATRA: THE LFE

Sinatra on tolerance….

In his childhood, Frank Sinatra told a group of young people in 1945, African-American children had been dismissed as “niggers,” Jews as “kikes” and “sheenies.” He had been called “little dago” and showered with rocks by other children.

Frank blamed prejudice not on children but on parents, including his own parents. He remembered his mother pestering him about the ethnic origin of boyhood friends, his father “hating” people of different ethnic origin who might take his job away from him. The Ku Klux Klan had a significant membership in the New Jersey of his youth, and its enmity was applied to Italians as well as blacks.

At seventeen, when Frank spent a year fending for himself in New York, he had tried to get a job as a messenger on Wall Street. “One of the questions that was on almost every form I had to fill out,” he remembered, “read ‘religion?’ It meant that whether you got a job or not – a  matter of life or death with people such as I came from – depended largely on your religion.”

Hanging out on 52nd Street, he had seen for himself how deeply racial prejudice was ingrained. At the end of the thirties, there were still few places outside Harlem where an African-American band could play. Even when invisible to the audience, on the radio, black musicians could not play with white bands.

Conditions for entertainers reflected those in society at large, as Frank discovered when he traveled around the country. World War II changed little. Blacks were allowed to perform in some first-class hotels, but not stay there as guests. The police in Washington, DC, would tolerate black after-hours clubs, but raided or closed them down if white women were seen entering. After complaints from white guests at a New York hotel, Billie Holiday was ordered to use the service elevator rather than the main one. Duke Ellington could record with Rosemary Clooney, but the record cover could not include a photograph of them together.

Frank detested such rules. To him, Ellington and Holiday were just two of many African-Americans he admired as colleagues and treated as friends. A 1943 photograph shows him sitting and laughing with the black pianist and singer Hazel Scott but – shockingly for the day – holding hands with her.

Frank reacted viscerally on encountering blatant prejudice. “When I was a kid and somebody called me a ‘dirty little Guinea,’” he recalled, “there was only one thing to do – break his head….Let anybody yell wop or Jew or nigger around us, we taught him not to do it again.” So it was, on numerous occasions, when he became an adult. When he was with the Dorsey band, he knocked a newspaperman out cold at a party for calling another guest a “Jew bastard.”

Orson Welles witnessed a similar incident. “Sinatra went into a diner for a cup of coffee with some friends of his who were musicians,” he recalled, “one of whom happened to be a Negro. The man behind the counter insultingly refused to serve this Negro, and Sinatra knocked him over on his back with a single blow.”

On racial matters, however, it dawned on him that “you’ve got to do it through education.” He began subtly – though it was noticed soon enough – in his performance of the Jerome Kern classic “Ol’ Man River.” When Paul Robeson had sung it, in 1927, “darkies” all worked on the Mississippi while the white folk played. Frank’s version, from 1943, went: “Here we all work while the white folks play.” Concerned that the song live on as more than a cliché, he was to sing it with evident passion time and again.

In 1944, on one of Frank’s visits to the White House, he told President Roosevelt that he intended to start talking to young people “about the need for tolerance and to point out that we mustn’t destroy the principles for which our grandfathers founded this country….” Roosevelt approved the idea, and Frank kept his word within months. In early 1945, encouraged by George Evans, he went to the Bronx to talk with schoolchildren about juvenile delinquency. In March, at Carnegie Hall, he addressed a World Youth Rally.

Frank made thirty speaking appearances that year alone. “The surprising element was that he came to speak on ‘Racial Tolerance’ rather than to sing,” Grayce Kaneda recalled of a visit he made to Philadelphia when she was a student. “Negroes, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Catholics and Protestants, were all there together.”

“The next time you hear anyone say there’s no room in this country for foreigners,” Frank wrote in an article, “tell him everybody in the United States is a foreigner….It would be a fine thing if people chose their associates by the color of their skin! Brothers wouldn’t be talking to brothers, and in some families the father and mother wouldn’t even talk to each other. Imagine a guy with dark hair like me not talking to blondes. The more you think about all this, the more you realize how important Abraham Lincoln was talking when he said: ‘Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ Get that!…”

Though they seem trite today, Frank’s homilies were well received. Film director Mervyn LeRoy told Frank, “You could reach a thousand times more people if you’d tell your story on the screen.” The pair found an ally in an R.K.O. vice president and got the go-ahead to make a short movie aimed at youngsters likely to be effected by bigotry – and perhaps prepared to listen to advice from a pop singer. The result was a fifteen-minute movie made in just two days, The House I Live In.

The film was built around a song that had previously been featured only by a black gospel group and seemed destined for obscurity. Its first three verses:

What is America to me?

A name, a map, or a flag I see,

A certain word, democracy

What is America to me?

 

The house I live in

A plot of earth, a street

The grocer and the butcher

Or the people that I meet.

 

The children in the playground,

The faces that I see

All races and religions

That’s America to me.

Frank made the song powerful populist propaganda. In the movie he played himself, a crooner who emerges from a studio to find a gang of boys abusing a young Jew. “Look, fellas,” he admonished them, “religion doesn’t make any difference! Except maybe to a Nazi or a dope.…God didn’t create one people better than another. Your blood is the same as mine, and mine is the same as his. You know what this country is? It’s made up of a hundred different kinds of people – and they’re all Americans….Let’s use our good American brains and not fight each other.”

The movie ends with the boys dispersing, tempers calmed, and humming quietly. It was good melting pot stuff and generally well received, as was the news that the proceeds were to go to charity and that Frank had taken no salary. A usually acid columnist, Harriet Van Horne, declared him “a sincere, hard-working young man with a deep sense of his brother’s wrong and a social conscience that hasn’t been atrophied by money or fame.”

The movie rightly won Frank a special Oscar, his first Academy award and one of which he was especially proud, and he returned to the song time and again over the years.

SINATRA: The Life, is published by Vintage Books

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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.

Ward

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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.

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THE CLAIMS THAT MAFIA BOSSES TRAFFICANTE AND MARCELLO ADMITTED INVOLVEMENT IN ASSASSINATING PRESIDENT KENNEDY

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.

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