Former Senator Gary Hart talked to the Huffington Post yesterday about a missed opportunity in the mid-1970s when Congress reopened the JFK assassination investigation, two Mafia bosses knowledgeable about the events of 1963 were murdered — and the Washington press wasn’t interested.
The two Mafia bosses, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, had been enlisted by senior CIA officials in various conspiracies to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Giancana was shot dead in his Chicago home by someone he admitted into his house in June 1975, shortly before he was scheduled to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Hart, then a senator from Colorado, was a member of the committee.
Roselli testified before the committee shortly thereafter and declined to answer most questions about the Castro assassination plots, which had been organized by Bill Harvey, chief of anti-Castro operations for the CIA in the first two years JFK’s administration. In August 1976, Roselli was called to testify again when his body was found stuffed in an oil drum floating in the ocean near Miami.
Some associates of Roselli and Giancana have contended they were involved in JFK’s assassination.
Hart, an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, who was sometimes likened to JFK for his personal style, said this about the puzzling reaction of the press to the murders.
“I was always amazed in that particular instance of the CIA-Mafia connection and the Cuban connection 12 years — coming up 12 years — after Kennedy was killed that somebody didn’t go after that story,” he said. “New York Times, Washington Post; anybody. And they didn’t. They reported the deaths and that was it, and the strange quirky coincidence, you know, but nothing more.”
Hart is talking about an early instance of JFK denialism — the impulse to shy from confronting the hard facts and disturbing implications of the JFK assassination story. The phenomenon is visible these days at PBS and CNN, and Hart’s comments suggest It was also at work in 1975-76.
It’s not hard to understand why. At the time, the U.S. government was in terrible shape. President Nixon had been forced to resigned in August 1974. In early 1975, the CIA had been disgraced by the disclosure of mail intercept program that illegally targeted U.S. citizens and revelations about its conspiracies to kill foreign leaders. In April 1975, the pro-American client government in Saigon was overthrown and the United States lost the Vietnam War. Washington was reeling.
In those circumstances the idea that the murders of Roselli and Giancana might be connected to the assassination of JFK was almost too lurid to be believed. And yet they were.
Suspicions of CIA man
When former CIA official John Whitten heard that GIancana had been murdered, he immediately wondered if his former colleague Bill Harvey had been involved. Whitten knew Harvey well from their time working for the CIA in Europe in the 1950s.
Harvey served as chief of the CIA’s program to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961-62 and openly derided Attorney General Robert Kennedy for what he regarded as the Kennedy administration’s weak Cuba policy.
Harvey also knew Giancana. In 1961, he enlisted Giancana and Roselli and other organized crime leaders in a plot to kill Castro.
Whitten, who served as chief of the Mexico desk in the clandestine service in 1963, told investigators in closed-door testimony in 1978 that, “Harvey was really a hard-boiled unsubtle, ruthless guy who was, in my opinion, a very dangerous man.”
Whitten went on:
“I have wondered — I wondered if the government ever looked into the possibility that Harvey did not knock off Giancomo [Giancana]. He lived in the same area when he retired. He was a great one with guns. I read it in the newspaper. I was overseas and I said to myself I wondered if they looked into Bill Harvey.”
The CIA didn’t and neither did American journalists. The Giancana murder was never solved.
Among the 1,100 JFK-related documents that the CIA is still keeping secret in 2013 is a 123-page file on Bill Harvey’s operational activities.