What possible connection could there have been between George H.W. Bush and the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Or between the C.I.A. and the assassination? Or between Bush and the C.I.A.? For some people, apparently, making such connections was as dangerous as letting one live wire touch another. Here, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination in November, is the eighth part of a ten-part series of excerpts from WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker’s bestseller, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years. The story is a real-life thriller.
Note: Although these excerpts do not contain footnotes, the book itself is heavily footnoted and exhaustively sourced. (The excerpts in Part 8 come from Chapter 6 of the book, and the titles and subtitles have been changed for this publication.)
For a nation traumatized by the death of John F. Kennedy, the notion that a rootless and disturbed individual could murder the president was troubling enough – but far less troubling to contemplate than the alternative possibility, that the assassination was part of a larger plot.
The arrest and subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald provided, in today’s jargon, a grim kind of “closure” for the public, one elaborately ratified by the Warren Commission. To probe into the nexus of interests that benefited from Kennedy’s death and its connection to the events of November 22 – well, that would be the opposite of closure. The figure of Oswald, the lone gunman, was a highly questionable fit with the evidence, but neatly fulfilled the psychological needs of the country.
The conventional account goes like this: Oswald, an unstable person who hates the United States, begins showing an interest in Communism and seeks haven in the Soviet Union, where he works in a factory and marries a Russian woman, Marina. Disillusioned by his experience in the “workers’ paradise,” he returns with Marina to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and descends into a spiral of anger and irrationality.
He experiments with myriad political causes, buys a rifle, and travels to New Orleans, where he expresses sympathy for Castro’s Cuba and consorts with a bewildering array of flamboyant and disreputable figures.
He returns to the Dallas area, takes a job along the route of a planned motorcade for President Kennedy, and as Kennedy passes, shoots him. Oswald is later captured, and almost immediately is killed by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner with ties to mobsters actively involved in CIA-Mafia plots to assassinate Castro.
Yet even as the Warren Commission was endorsing that scenario, doubts were arising. The lawyer Mark Lane, onetime New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, and historian David Kaiser all spent years challenging the Oswald-as-lone-assassin theory.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations convened in 1976 and concluded three years later that a conspiracy was likely. Oliver Stone’s blockbuster JFK film – which chronicles Garrison’s court battle against the Warren Commission’s findings – led to the formation of the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board.
When Lee Harvey Oswald told the press after his first interrogation, “I am a patsy,” many dismissed it as the predictable disclaimer of the guilty. But what if it were true? What if Lee Harvey Oswald really had been set up as the fall guy to deflect attention from the real plotters? Most other “lone nuts” who have killed presidents or celebrities have proudly claimed responsibility for their crime, not tried to blame others.
If any group of plotters were setting up Lee Harvey Oswald, they would want him to appear as both darkly mysterious and an obvious suspect. They might run elaborate tracks across Oswald’s path, to generate false leads and a thick fog of misinformation. Who would be better qualified to do this than an expert in the game – that is, someone with experience in intelligence and covert operations?
Peter Dale Scott, a retired UC Berkeley professor, has documented that Oswald may well have believed that he was working at least indirectly for a U.S. government agency, perhaps related to the investigation of trafficking in unregistered guns. In his book Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Scott shows how Oswald’s activities, starting with his return to the United States from Russia in 1962, closely tracked specific objectives of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
Though Texas laws in 1963 allowed untraceable over-the-counter firearms purchases, Oswald went to the seemingly unnecessary step of ordering his guns through interstate mail, which required identification and left a paper trail. Moreover, the two guns he ordered through the mail were both from companies being investigated by the ATF as well as the Senate. At the time, the ATF was housed within the Treasury Department, not the Justice Department, and thus was beyond the immediate jurisdiction of President Kennedy’s brother.
If Oswald were connected to the government in any way, he would not have been high-level. Like many foot soldiers in the intelligence wars, he would not necessarily have known precisely whom he was working for, or why. Rather, he could well have thought he was on one mission while he was actually being used for another. If that were so, it might not have been until the assassination and his arrest that he finally grasped the situation. In that case, his words at his arrest might have been the most candid statement in the whole affair.
All this might seem a mere exercise in speculation, but certain facts are clear: Oswald was a young man who craved guidance and purpose. His father died before he was born, and he lived for a spell in an orphanage until his mother remarried (briefly) and reclaimed him at the age of three. Not surprisingly, he seemed eager to find a father figure, escape from his dominating mother, and establish some stability in a peripatetic life that included nineteen moves before the age of seventeen.
His was an upbringing that can often lead to the military, and at thirteen, Oswald became a cadet in the Louisiana Civil Air Patrol (CAP). According to Collin B. Hamer Jr., who served as cadet adjutant of CAP’s Moisant Squadron in 1957, and later headed the City Archives collection of the Louisiana Public Library, Oswald was a student of one David Ferrie – a protégé of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. A number of Oswald’s fellow cadets told the House Select Committee on Assassinations the same thing. Oswald and Ferrie can also be seen together in a group photograph from a 1955 CAP training camp.