Tag Archives: conspiracy

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

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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Did the Mob Target JFK?

By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lee Harvey Oswald: A Simple Defector?

By Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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Reflections on the New Yorker and the JFK Assassination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On When to Stop Asking Questions….?

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

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

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

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

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

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