Tag Archives: Kennedy Assassination

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

This article is currently being edited. Coming soon.

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Warren Commission Counsel Coleman’s Account of Meeting with Castro

by Anthony Summers

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

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Correcting the Record on Herminio Diaz

By Anthony Summers

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

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

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

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

In the UK it is available here

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