Who killed John F. Kennedy?

Published : Feb 24, 2006 00:00 IST

John F. Kennedy (right) with brother Robert Kennedy. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

John F. Kennedy (right) with brother Robert Kennedy. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The controversy is kept alive even after four decades after the incident because it could not achieve one of its main objectives - the liquidation of the Cuban revolution.

ONE of the collateral objectives of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was to liquidate the Cuban revolution. But this aim was not achieved and that is the reason why the conspiracy continues even 42 years after the incident. The latest machination has come from Germany: "Hamburg, Jan 3 (DPA). - A TV documentary from the German public TV ARD has charged the Cuban Secret Service with the assassination of the U.S. President, John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas."

Wilfried Huismann, the documentary's director who is the current instrument to perpetuate this theory, said to the German agency: "It was Castro's revenge for the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] attempt to assassinate him with a poisoned pen."

It is not an accusation to be underestimated. The shocking assassination had such an impact on the world that even today, when it is recalled, people remember where they were at the moment.

On November 22, 1963, I was in the picturesque La Percherie restaurant in the port of Algiers, anticipating the house's excellent snails with Helen Klein, the United States press chief of President Ahmed Ben Bella. We suddenly received the terrible news.

"President Kennedy has been assassinated!" Now they are going to blame Cuba," I immediately told her.

"Don't exaggerate," she said.

We quickly went to the Prensa Latina agency on 26, Rue Claude Debussy, where I was working as a correspondent. There I learned how the radio stations were repeating that the Cuban government was responsible for the assassination. Surprised, Helen asked me how I had guessed it.

"I'm not a fortune-teller," I explained, "but for the United States, Cuba is the cause of all evil. A little bit of it because of hysteria and another little bit because they are looking for a pretext to try and crush us."

However, a few hours later, the accusation vanished into the air with the same speed that it had entered. At that point everything was shrouded in mystery.

Fifteen years later, in Washington, the same charge was floating in the air for the umpteenth time. A Special Committee appointed by Congress under African-American Congressman Louis F. Stokes, which was investigating the assassinations of Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, was handling many theories on the assassination of the U.S. President. Once again speculation of the Cuban government's involvement in it was being floated in the media.

A Washington-based journalist with close links to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told me in confidence that the version originally came from the CIA, which distributed a note stating that Lee Harvey Oswald had committed the murder on behalf of the Cuban government. He added that the FBI forced the media to withdraw the accusation.

When I asked the veteran journalist why the FBI had taken the trouble to do so, he explained that they considered the initiative an irresponsibility that could have unleashed incalculable consequences, such as a third world war.

The first significant investigation into the assassination was undertaken by the Warren Commission, which considered that theory and discounted it by stating that there was no such conspiracy.

However, starting in 1967, the Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson syndicated columns once again raised similar accusations. The media raised the pitch by pointing to Cuba every time new evidence involving the establishment arose that Oswald did not act alone. It should be noted that during his career Anderson had at least been very close to the CIA.

After more than one year of arduous investigations the Stokes Committee arrived at interesting conclusions. Among its findings, Appendix C, Paragraph 2 states that on the basis of the available evidence the Cuban government was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.

After enquiries in the U.S. and in Cuba on the motives for the assassination, President Kennedy's intention to normalise relations with Cuba emerged as the reason, in addition to other no less significant reasons within internal politics.

The Special Committee reached the conclusion that Carlo Marcello, the capo of New Orleans and part of Texas; Santo Trafficante of Florida; and James Hoffa, president of the truck drivers' trade union, had the motives, means and opportunity to assassinate Kennedy.

Trafficante was a vital target in the Kennedy administration's battle against organised crime. His name was among the 10 principal subjects to investigate and combat.

When Robert Kennedy found out about the CIA's collusion with the Mafia, he prohibited the officials involved from having recourse to such associations without informing him. But they continued doing so under the direction of Richard Helms.

The Committee report stated that Trafficante's position in organised crime and drug trafficking and his role as the principal mafia link with criminal figures within the exile Cuban community, all furnished him with the capacity to organise a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, as he did previously in the case of Fidel Castro.

The Committee established that there was a possible connection between Trafficante and Jack Ruby, particularly in Havana in 1959, when Ruby was in fact acting as a courier in the interests of the Cosa Nostra (a mafia) for transferring funds from the Cuban capital to Miami. Cuba supplied the evidence of that.

However, the Committee was unable to find any direct evidence as of Trafficante's or Marcello's involvement in the assassination of the President. New Orleans, the imperial capital of the latter, had turned into a significant centre of terrorist conspiracies. Terrorists of Cuban origin such as Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles, the Guillermo brothers and Ignacio Novo Sampoll, Eladio del Valle, Jorge Mas Canosa and Hermino Daz used to go there.

The Special Committee confirmed the theory that these terrorists of Cuban origin conspired as individuals to commit the crime. The same men who plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro conspired to assassinate Kennedy. Shortly before being killed, Mafia leader John Roselli told Jack Anderson that Cubans in Trafficante's gang had taken part in the assassination.

The report conceded that the anti-Castroites were frustrated, embittered and angry and that their resentments were focussed on Kennedy who, just before his death, had directed William Atwood, Special Adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the U.N., to discuss the possibility of normalising relations with Cuban representatives. The Cuban delegate to the talks that followed was Carlos Lechuga, at that time United Nations Ambassador. McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy's Security Adviser, stated that the President wanted a report on the progress of the talks when he returned from Dallas. Even after the death of his brother, Robert Kennedy tried to suppress the anti-Cuba measures, but the new President, Lyndon Johnson, prevented it.

The Stokes Committee confirmed that Oswald's contacts in the U.S. were counter-revolutionaries of Cuban origin and opted to openly look into these aspects, which had not been investigated by the CIA, closely involved with the Cuban-Americans. It decided to examine rigorously the groups that, apart from the motivation, had the capacity and resources to be involved in the assassination.

There were many terrorist organisations in the period between the triumph of the Cuban revolution and the assassination of Kennedy. But it was determined that there could have been a connection between Oswald and two of them: Alpha 66 and the Cuban Revolutionary Junta (JURE).

The Stokes Committee heard the testimony of Marita Lorenz, a beautiful spy recruited by Frank Sturgis, a Cuban who turned a CIA agent, she recounted a meeting that she attended in Miami at the house of Orlando Bosch in which Pedro Luis Daz Lanz and Oswald planned a visit to Dallas. She added that on November 15, she travelled to that city in a two-car caravan with Bosch, Sturgis, Daz Lanz, Oswald, Gerry Hemmings and the Novo Sampoll brothers. There were guns in the hotel rooms in which they stayed and they had a visit from Jack Ruby, subsequently Oswald's executioner. More recently, Lorenz stated that at the hotel on November 21, Howard Hunt (Eduardo to the Cubans) handed money over to Sturgis for an operation in an unspecified location and returned to Miami two or three hours after the assassination.

ANTONIO VECIANO, the founder of Alpha 66, told the Committee that in the context of his activities against the Cuban government, he met on many occasions with a CIA official who gave his name as Bishop. And that in August 1963, in Dallas, the latter made contact with him in an office building, accompanied by a person whom he identified after the death of Kennedy as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Later Veciano confided to writer Gaeton Fonzi that Bishop's real name was David Atlee Phillips who worked for the CIA in Havana under the cover of a businessman living in Apartment 502, 106, Humboldt Street.

From 1960, Atlee Phillips-Bishop was the Miami chief of propaganda for the 1961 invasion of Cuba, together with Howard H. Hunt, the principal organiser of Watergate. In 1954, both of them succeeded in bringing down the Arbenz government in Guatemala. The Cuban security establishment confirmed the identity of this CIA official who organised the Cuban-American terrorist groups who, as late as 2003, were pressuring the Bush government to secure the release of Posada Carriles and his accomplices.

One of the members of JURE, Silvia Odio, testified in 1964 before the Warren Commission that a man whom she identified via the media as the Oswald who killed Kennedy, visited her apartment in Dallas in September 1963 with two other men of Latino appearance. She added that the two Spanish speakers told her that they were members of JURE.

One of them gave his name as Leopoldo and had a Cuban accent. The other, Angelo, seemed to be Mexican. The third introduced himself as Leon Oswald and was, for her, Lee Harvey Oswald. The Cuban security system identified the other two as the Novo brothers, responsible for a long list of assassinations and other acts of terrorism.

Silvia gave the same testimony to the FBI and added that two days later, Leopoldo called her again and told that, according to Leon, they should have killed Kennedy after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Two months later, Kennedy was assassinated.

THE conclusion of the report was that Silvia's statement is still credible; all the more so given the fact that she insistently maintained the same arguments 15 years later.

That same day Nicholas Katzenbach, former Justice Secretary under the Johnson administration, gave evidence and made allusion to internal fights and poor relations between the FBI and the CIA during the period of the investigation.

The following day, September 22, Richard Helms, former CIA Director, provoked indignation among certain Congress members by appearing for seven hours before the Select Committee to respond to enquiries into the effectiveness of the CIA investigation after the assassination and whether he had supplied the relevant information he possessed to others. At the time of Kennedy's assassination, Helms was head of the CIA clandestine service and President Johnson appointed him Deputy Director of the CIA one year later. And Director in 1966. Congressman Christopher J. Dodd asked whether the Warren Commission was informed of the attempts on the life of Fidel Castro and revealed his anger at the contacts between organised crime and the agency. Helms replied that he had only informed the Warren Commission on matters he was asked to.

At the insistence of Congress members, he stated that activities against the Cuban revolution included attempts to sabotage electricity plants and sugar refineries, burn cane fields and multiple types of terrorist actions. He added that this was a political action that could not solely be blamed on the agency, as the President, the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the Defence Department, the State Department and the National Security Council were fully aware of the plans and had approved them.

A tall man with greying, receding hair and cultivated manners, with his well-cut dark suit, Helms confronted his interrogators with great aplomb and traces of good humour. His distinguished aspect did not make it easy to envisage the man who gave orders to assassinate from his office desk. He spoke coldly of criminal attempts in complicity with mafia killers.

Another of the documents on which he was interrogated referred to the CIA's first contacts with Oswald; even though he informed the Warren Commission that there were none, they dated back to 1960. One of the CIA memos presented stated that Allan Dulles, despite being a member of the Commission, lectured his subordinates on how to conceal the CIA's relations with Oswald.

Helms responded to these questions evasively.

Three days prior to that, Thomas J. Kelly and James J. Rowley, Inspector and Chief, of the Secret Service responsible for the President's protection, shocked the whole of America by stating that despite the CIA and the FBI possessing information on Oswald, the Secret Service was not informed of it.

"Otherwise we would have known what we were doing on the day of the death of President Kennedy," stated Kelley and Rowley to the members of the Select Committee.

THESE and other findings made the Committee reach the conclusion that there was a lack of cooperation and coordination among the distinct government agencies; that the Secret Service was deficient in protecting the President and in analysing the information that it possessed. Moreover, it lacked the personnel for his adequate protection.

In Paragraph 5, it is affirmed that neither the Secret Service (of the presidency), nor the FBI nor the CIA were involved. But it criticised them for not having adequately analysed, investigated, utilised or exchanged information that they possessed on the threats surrounding Kennedy's visit to Dallas.

The report recommended that the Justice Department should continue the investigation, because they had found evidence of a conspiracy in which elements of the Italian-American mafia and Cuban-American Mafiosi groups had participated. It was not stated that these had been handled historically by the CIA, but it was insinuated. It confirmed that it was not possible to reach definitive conclusions as the CIA had refused to decode certain information. At the same time, the CIA was criticised for not having rigorously investigated these groups of Cuban origin resident in Miami.

In deciding to ask the Justice Department to investigate further the Committee also took into account the fact that the filmed and acoustic evidence demonstrated the possibility of a second individual on the floor from which Oswald supposedly fired and of more than one sniper.

The report also emphasised that the FBI did not investigate the possibility of a conspiracy after the assassination and that the CIA was deficient, both before and after the killing.

Moreover, the Dallas Police, like the entire population of Texas subjected at that time to an anti-Kennedy barrage of propaganda, demonstrated themselves to be incapable of protecting him. The anti-Kennedy atmosphere there reached such an extreme that in the morning of that fateful November 22, 1963, pamphlets were distributed against the President.

The most aggressive was published in a Dallas daily as a full-page paid advertisement and bore a photo of Kennedy and the following provocative text: "Sought for treason: This man is sought for acts of treason against the United States."

Even after the assassination there was serious neglect over the transfer of Oswald. The photograph of his two guards looking the other way while Ruby approaches with impunity to shoot the accused is an eloquent one. Thus the most appropriate person in terms of revealing the motives and complexities of the case was silenced. Nevertheless, the officers on duty that day were not dismissed but subsequently promoted.

It was not only Veciano who mentioned CIA intentions to implicate the Cuban government in the case. For a long time the CIA had tried to identify Oswald with the island and even put pressure on a Mexican employee at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico to corroborate that version.

The accusations against Cuba remained alive until the Stokes Committee ruled them out in 1978 after making investigations in Mexico and Havana, where it met with President Fidel Castro. Azcue, the Cuban Consul in Mexico who refused Oswald a visa a few weeks before the assassination, in spite of his agitated insistence, testified before the sessions.

This session made us wonder exactly what Kennedy meant when he confided to his collaborator Clark Gifford shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion: "Something very bad is going on within the CIA and I want to know what it is. I want to shred the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the four winds."

In its final report, the Stokes Committee noted that the CIA refused to declassify certain important documents. When Frank Carlucci, Deputy Director of the CIA in 1978 and President Ronald Reagan's National Security Adviser in 1987, was interrogated in one of the hearings, he stated that they came from highly sensitive sources and had to be protected.

One of the most important and worrying pieces of evidence found by the Stokes Committee was the tape recording found in the Dallas police station in which four shots can be heard and not three as the Warren Commission established. This finding was strengthened by the statement of the wife of Governor Connally that a second shot was fired at him and not the one that wounded the President in the throat.

GENERAL Fabian Escalante, one of those investigating the case on the Cuban side, has stated that based on information from the State Security files, certain testimonies and an analysis of the facts and antecedents, Havana has reached conclusions about the identity of the guilty parties that are similar to those of other investigators: the CIA, the Mafia and Cuban counter-revolutionaries planned and executed the assassination. He added that having studied the descriptions of witnesses to the crime, especially those expounded by former Judge Garrison, it is presumed that the sharpshooters of Cuban origin, Eladio del Valle and Hermino Daz, were those ordered to fire and that they subsequently escaped in a Nash Rambler truck. And that the attempt was organised by two groups, one under the control of Jack Ruby and the other by Frank Sturgis.

The Mafia participants, Escalante continued, were Santos Trafficante, Sam Giancana, John Roselli and, to a lesser degree, Carlos Marcelo and Jimmy Hoffa.

Among the CIA plotters he also mentioned David Atlee Phillips and Richard Helms, superviser of anti-Cuban operations; General Cabell, former Deputy Chief of the CIA; Gerry Hemmings and other high-ranking officials.

The scandal, picked up by the press worldwide, led to the committee instructing the CIA executive to declassify the majority of the documents, which succeeded in hushing the protests. But doing so would have been to incriminate itself.

Unable to continue its investigations, on fulfilling the Congress mandate in December 1978, the Committee made the noteworthy suggestion that the Justice Department continue the investigative line to resolve the mystery.

It is for that reason that President Jimmy Carter could not be allowed to win a second mandate. That had to be prevented by provocations such as the assault on the embassies that resulted in the Mariel exodus from Cuba. For that reason, 27 years after the investigation and 42 years after the assassination, the administrations of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush Jr., which should have picked up the glove, have not lifted a finger to assume that task.

The most important documentation on the Dallas shooting has been retained as secret in a vault in the archives of the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon, and Capitol Hill, which would not be classified until 2013.

In the years after the assassination more than 22 people involved in the case have died in more or less mysterious circumstances; among them, were the main protagonists: Oswald and Ruby.

The list has been growing since 1963. At that rate, it is unlikely that anyone will be alive to testify. And what is worse, none of those guilty will be alive. Today the shady secret is transparent to everyone apart from those to whom it should be. Because the principal protagonists have acquired a terrible ascendancy over the U.S. government. German Wilfried Huismann is no more than another pawn in this chess game. For that reason, he is maliciously ignoring these sources. That conspiracy in Hamburg seeks to distract media attention from Luis Posada Carriles in order to release him. Because if Carriles should fulfil his threat to spill everything that he knows, Nixon's Watergate will appear like a scratch on the surface of the perversity that is being concealed.

Gabriel Molina is Editor, Granma International.

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