/ 21 November 2013

JFK: A conspiracy of echoes

Lee Harvey Oswald: More questions than answers.
Lee Harvey Oswald: More questions than answers. (AP)

When John Kerry fuels doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone just as publishers unleash a torrent of JFK assassination books you have to ask yourself: conspiracy?

Did the United States secretary of state pull the trigger on a clandestine publishing industry marketing plan? Are bookstores in on it? Is Hollywood connected? Or did Kerry act alone? We may never know.

Kennedy nostalgia and scrutiny are in overdrive on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his murder on November 22 1963, and dozens of new books are advancing theories novel and dusty over who fired the fatal shots at the motorcade in Dallas.

Kerry caused astonishment when he waded into the debate by telling NBC that he suspected Oswald had external help or inspiration, possibly from Cuba or Russia. "To this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone," he said.

The comments added unexpected spice to the latest revelations and claims of revelations about the most parsed, analysed and disputed moment in US history.

Major US publishing houses have produced dozens of titles pegged to the November 22 anniversary, swelling a bulging oeuvre of more than 1 000 Kennedy-related books dating back half a century.

Polls tend to show that most Americans reject the Warren Commission's finding that Oswald, acting alone, fired all three shots from the Texas book depository's sixth floor.

That's a view long shared by senior government officials, said Jeff Morley, an author and former Washington Post reporter who moderates the website JFK Facts. "John Kerry is part of a long tradition of insiders who have questioned the official version."

Morley's 2011 book, Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, plumbed the agency's dealings with Oswald before the assassination. He thinks it implausible that "one guy with no motive" single-handedly did it, but says truth remains elusive. 

Morley accused major organisations of being "asleep at the wheel" in neglecting available documentation and not demanding access to still-sealed archives. Another problem was that ludicrous and discredited theories competed for attention alongside serious investigations. "The bad information obscures debate."

To guide readers through the conspiracy maze, here is a list of five new books, each representing, with varying credibility, a popular theory.

The mob did it
The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination by Lamar Waldron (Counterpoint)

Thesis: Godfathers Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante took out the president to neutralise his anti-Mafia crusade. They framed Oswald and his supposed Cuban puppet masters, a ruse that deceived Lyndon Johnson — who was the vice-president when Kennedy was shot — and Kerry.

"They got away with it because they planted the evidence against [Fidel]Castro," said Waldron. "We know the FBI had Marcello's confession in 1985 and basically suppressed it." 

A film due out next year, based on this and a previous book co-authored by Waldron, will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. "We hope the movie will bring attention to the fact hundreds of [government] files haven't been released."

Oswald did it with Cuban help, or inspiration
A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination by Philip Shenon (Henry Holt and Co)

Thesis: Oswald flirted with Cuban officials in Mexico City shortly before the assassination and possibly had help in setting it up. At the very least, he hoped to impress the Castro government. The CIA, FBI and others in Washington sabotaged the Warren Commission by withholding evidence to protect reputations and cover up their own missteps in dealing with Oswald before the murder. Reviewers have praised the former New York Times investigative reporter's tome as a sober, balanced account.

Oswald acted alone
History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F Kennedy
, by Howard Willens (Overlook)

Thesis: A loner with a rifle and a grudge did it alone. Willens, one of the commission's few still living staff members, gives a behind-the-scenes take on the investigation, its personalities and methodology. One by one he discards alternatives to the lone gunman theory. 

The CIA did it
CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and Why US Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK
by Patrick Nolan (Skyhorse)

Thesis: Top spooks Richard Helms and James Jesus Angleton hired Mafia hit men to murder Kennedy to derail his planned disengagement from Vietnam and rapprochement with Cuba and the Soviet Union. "Their motive was power."

Nolan cites research by forensic scientist Henry Lee, who writes the book's foreword, to argue there was more than one gunman. Nolan's website says he "utilises the mosaic method of intelligence, analysing each piece that is obtained and determining its relationship to other pieces to arrive at the solution".

Lyndon Johnson did it
The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The case against LBJ
by Roger Stone (Skyhorse)

Thesis: The vice-president orchestrated an elaborate plot involving elements in the mob, CIA, White House and Cuban exile community to eliminate his boss. The motive: JFK planned to dump LBJ from the ticket in 1964, leaving him exposed to corruption probes.

Johnson's control over Dallas police facilitated the cover-up of evidence such as a fingerprint in the sniper's nest that matched his personal hit man, Mac Wallace. The truth, says Stone's Amazon entry, was hiding in plain sight all this time. "LBJ was not just shooting his way into the White House, he was avoiding political ruin and prosecution and jail for corruption." — © Guardian News & Media 2013