Three reasons why the JFK conspiracy debate helps the CIA

A reporter recently emailed to ask me to comment on the JFK conspiracy debate on the 50th anniversary. I declined with the following observations:
First, “conspiracy” is a narrow lens through which to view history.
The word is a legal term used by prosecutors who deploy subpoena and law enforcement powers to implicate people in criminal activity for the purposes of indicting them and convincing a jury of 12 people unanimously of their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt so as to deprive them of their liberty.
I’m a journalist, not a prosecutor. I have no legal training. I have no law enforcement powers. I’m not appealing to a jury. I’m not trying to put someone in jail. So “conspiracy” is not a particularly useful or appropriate tool for me to write the history of JFK’s assassination.
Second, we know for a fact that the vast majority of JFK conspiracy theories are wrong.
The events of November 1963 happened one way and one way only. The only theory that is correct is the one that accurately describes the chain of causality that lead to JFK’s assassination. Every other conspiracy theory is incorrect — every one of them. The Onion has made this point more effectively than I ever could.
Third, the manifest stupidity of many JFK conspiracy theories does not constitute proof of non-conspiracy.
That’s the logical fallacy that propelled poor Vince Bugliosi into writing a fat book about JFK’s assassination wrapped around a slender thread of the still-not-very convincing theory that one man was responsible. Debunking conspiracy theories is necessary, amusing (no, Aristotle Onassis was not behind the crime of Dallas; the Federal Reserve did not lurk on the grassy knoll) and profitable for its most dedicated practioneers. But debating conspiracy theories is, by definition, mostly a discussion of what didn’t happen, not what did. It is a distraction. I think I’ll pass.
It makes more sense, at this late date, to focus on a more modest enterprise. I use documents, interviews and litigation to answer the question: “What did certain CIA officers know about Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination?”
This is an empirical question which the CIA is required by law (the JFK Records Act) to answer. Yet it refuses. The agency’s continued censorship of key JFK material (such as these five files, plus two more) is proof of that. Not only does the CIA have no legal obligation to respond to conspiracy theories, the proliferation of speculation helps the CIA’s obfuscate what it still illegally withholds by distracting a skeptical public and complacent news media from the central unanswered question in 2013:
Why did senior CIA officials monitor Lee Harvey Oswald’s travels, politics, and contacts for four years, and then, when he allegedly killed the president, hide their knowledge from all investigators?
My only JFK theory is that the CIA will comply with the law. This theory, I admit, is unproven.

48 comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    Right on.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Footnote: In the law, a conspiracy to commit a crime exists when [a] two or more person agree to commit a criminal act, and [b] one of those persons takes a step, however slight, in furtherance of the agreement.

    Conspiracy is a separate and distinct offense. It can be prosecuted, for example, even if the planned crime never takes place.

  3. Alan Dale says:

    Excellent response, Jeff.

    Bill Simpich, whose research into Oswald in Mexico City should be required reading, has adopted a policy of eschewing the term “conspiracy” in favor of the phrase, “concerted action.” The extent to which conspiracy is used as a classification to denote irrelevancies in pop culture from Bigfoot sightings to whatever we may choose to believe about UFOs does not aid in our search for reliable truth and hidden histories.

    Fanatics who rely upon unreliable sources and will insist at the top of their lungs that they know WHO DID IT don’t help a lot either.

    Thank you for your careful, methodical, and invaluable work.

    • PBR says:

      Hear hear. Let’s stick to what the evidence proves.

    • Jonathan says:

      Not that I disagree, but “concerted action” is an ambiguous term. The Russian army may have acted in concert with underground forces against the Wehrmacht without there being any agreement on strategy or tactics.

      On the other hand, Party A and Party B may have acted in concert to kill JFK. That’s conspiracy.

  4. John Kirsch says:

    I agree with everything in this post — and i’m sure it won’t stop the conspiracy people from continuing to peddle their pet theories.

  5. John Kirsch says:

    Conspiracy theorists, as far as I know, are unable to convincingly answer this question: If Oswald, the person officially charged with killing JFK, didn’t do it, who did?

    • Jonathan says:

      John Kirsch,

      I don’t believe that’s a fair question, a logical question.

      Let’s say I believe Oswald did not pull the trigger of a firearm on 11-22-63. Why, as a matter of logic, should I be able to answer convincingly the question, who did assassinate JFK.

      Establishing that Oswald didn’t fire the alleged murder weapon on November 22 is easy to do using only verified facts. For some, this is enough — certainly enough to void the Warren Report.

      Identifying the perp(s) is another, perhaps related, matter.

      • John Kirsch says:

        Jonathan, when a person says oswald didn’t do it, that naturally raises the question of, OK, who did? It may not be entirely logical or fair but saying that person X didn’t do something naturally raises the question of who did.

        • Jonathan says:

          John Kirsch,

          Let’s say I can prove to your satisfaction Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy.

          Is my proof invalid because I cannot to your satisfaction tell you who did?

          • John Kirsch says:

            Jonathan, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m not sure I understand your question. What I’m saying is this: someone killed the president. If Oswald didn’t do it, who did? I don’t know if that’s a “logical” question but it certainly seems like a natural one.

      • larry wheeler says:

        You are correct. Criminal conspiracies are prosecuted every day in courts all over the land. To deny that people can act conspiratorially is to deny the history of organized crime. The mafia was not really taken down until RICO laws made it possible to target the bosses who ordered the criminal acts by their mafia soldiers. It is like running up the grassy knoll looking behind the fence and finding an assassin with a smoking gun saying -”okay , you got me.” People want easy solutions and deflecting the blame on a commie inspired nut was easy to offer up the public. When the answer to “whodunit” is not a quick short answer I see the attention span quickly diminish and the Oswald did answer provides an easy fix.

    • re: John Kirsh – Lyndon Johnson, CIA/military intelligence and Texas oil men murdered JFK. Hoover was either in on it or immediately became an accessory after the fact.

      The murderers were running the non-investigation into JFK’s death. For the reason the evidentiary record of the JFK assassination simply can’t be trusted.

      As for the actual shooters of JFK – I don’t know. But Frank Sturgis is a good candidate for being one of them.

      • Jonathan says:

        Robert Morrow,

        What are your top verified facts re the assassination?

        • 1) That Lyndon Johnson per his presidential schedule was indeed at the Driskill Hotel on 12/31/63 as Madeleine Brown told folks for 20 years. LBJ told Madeleine that Dallas, TX oilmen that she knew and US intelligence were behind the JFK assassination.

          2) That the FBI had a source – probably electronic surveillance – that found out that the KGB was telling its Residency in NYC by Sept. 1965 that LBJ was behind the JFK assassination.

          3) That 2 close co-workers of Gen. Ed Lansdale (Prouty & Krulak) identified him as present at TSBD on the day of the JFK assassination.

          4) that the Zapruder film proves a shot from the front, that the wounds in JFK’s clothes prove a shot from the back. That the govt knew this in real time and covered up a conspiracy immediately.

          5) That Billie Sol Estes admitted to planning the Henry Marshall June 1961 murder with LBJ – gives us key insight into LBJ.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I’ve done some thinking, and I’m not sure what is meant here by “conspiracy theory.” I know what a conspiracy is legally; that’s easy. I know what a theory is in the field of science; it’s a proposition that can be verified experimentally.

    So I’m ready to chuck the term.

    But what about the proposition, for example, that LBJ was the mastermind of the plot to kill JFK? Phillip Nelson has an axe to grind. I don’t believe he established his proposition. But he does set forth a number of verified facts about LBJ and his associates that are useful to consider in forming a view of the assassination.

  7. Brian LeCloux says:

    The reason we don’t know who killed JFK was summarized by Harold Weisberg in his Post Mortem:
    “The government never really intended to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and it never did.
    It never intended to tell us what really happened, and it didn’t…From the very first moment there was, at best, what I call a ‘whitewash’, nothing better, and one so thin it was transparent.”
    (page 1)

    • Jonathan says:

      Salandria is correct, IMO.

      As much as anything, I believe, the assassination was a message to insiders. Not to the public, insiders.

      Jackie got the message. RFK apparently did not grasp it fully. Hoover got the message in spades.

      • Salandria is completely wrong on this point. The murderers of JFK wanted to get away with it and took great pains and efforts to do this.

        Having said that Joachim Joesten and Vincent Salandria are the 2 greatest JFK researchers of all time.

        • Jonathan says:

          Robert,

          Weren’t the killers careless and lucky?

          – Arnold Rowland told the W.C. he saw an “elderly negro” hanging out a window in the S.E. side of the 6th floor minutes before the assassination.

          – The alleged murder weapon…a joke in a criminal trial.

          – The killing of Tippit: No way to convict Oswald, yet plenty of debris left behind.

          The killers were sloppy. The shooters were good.

  8. John Kirsch says:

    One question that the supporters of the Official Story have never convincingly answered (in my view) is, why would have Oswald have assassinated JFK for no clear reason?

  9. Jonathan says:

    “The events of November 1963 happened one way and one way only.”

    Problem is, there is no consensus on the central events: the wounds inflicted upon JFK.

  10. Jonathan says:

    “A reporter recently emailed to ask me to comment on the JFK conspiracy debate on the 50th anniversary.”

    I would have asked the reporter to define “the JFK conspiracy debate.”

    He or she could give no definition. Because there is none.

    A debate begins upon a set of agreed-upon facts.

    Right there, the reporter’s inquiry fails. Assumes a premise not a premise.

  11. Jonathan says:

    “Three reasons why the JFK conspiracy debate helps the CIA”

    – Facts don’t help the CIA.

    – Understanding intelligence operations doesn’t help the CIA.

    – The law doesn’t help the CIA.

    Ignorance of facts, law, and intelligence operations help the CIA.

  12. Eric Hollingsworth says:

    It’s interesting that the word semantics has two essentially opposite definitions.

    There is a difference between conspiracy theory and controversy. Controversy is what arises when someone like Jack Ruby shoots someone like Lee Oswald in the midst of umpteen police in a police station. Conspiracies theories are what arise to offer explanations for such unlikely events. Some may be guarded, some may be ridiculous, but all are guesses, like it or not. Most important though, conspiracy theories don’t cause the controversy to disappear, unless one is incapable of independent thought.

    But I can’t buy into the CIA-did-it theories. Yes, many of their officers were arrogant, egotistical, overweening, and even psychopathic. But how does that differ from any bureaucracy?

    • Lyndon Johnson himself told two people very close to him that the CIA murdered John Kennedy: 1) Madeleine Brown on 12/31/63 and 2)Marvin Watson his chief of staff.

  13. Hans Trayne says:

    I don’t foresee any federal agency disclosing that Lee Oswald belonged to them, was instructed to murder JFK or did it rouge. To disclose such would explode back in the feds face. Can you imagine a flood of wrongful death lawsuits seeking big buck damages against the government? How about class action lawsuits where the public can seek damages for PST following the assassination (nightmares, loss of appetite, disillusionment with life, etc.)

    I believe the CIA is fighting you for the info you seek for that reason. To give you what you seek might wipe out an already bankrupt government.

    Just sayin’

  14. The very people who murdered John Kennedy, US intelligence, were the sames ones who actually invented the term “conspiracy theory” as a way of denigrating folks who questioned the official whoppers and as a way obfuscating the issue. See paragraph 2 in “CIA Instruction to Media Assets” (dated 4/1/67 right as Garrison was heating up);

    http://mtracy9.tripod.com/cia_instructions.htm

    “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists,…”

  15. Zebulon says:

    I don’t get it . If you can’t come up with an alternative to the LN theory than what is the point of this blog and 95% of the posters who all agree with a conspiracy? Because if you don’t accept the Warren BS there has to be a conspiracy.
    Robert Kirsch, have changed your mind?

    • John Kirsch says:

      Zebulon, I assume you’re addressing me. It’s John, not Robert, BTW. In posing my question, I wasn’t trying to suggest that I believe Oswald was guilty or not guilty. I was simply saying that he was the man officially charged with killing the president. You can argue about whether the authorities were correct in having done that, but the fact is, they did. Critics of the Official Story who say Oswald didn’t kill the president are at a disadvantage because, after 50 years, they have not been able to provide a convincing answer to a simple question: If Oswald didn’t do it, who did? If you told 10 ordinary citizens that Oswald didn’t kill JFK, I guarantee you that most of them would ask the question that I just posed.

      • Jonathan says:

        John Kirsch,

        I’ll take a stab at your question, “If Oswald didn’t do it, who did?”

        First, the killer(s) set up Oswald to take the rap.

        Second, the U.S. government adopted the story that Oswald did it, acting alone.

        Conclusion: The U.S. government accommodated the killer(s).

        Why? Answer: The U.S. government did not want to uncover the true facts of the assassination.

        Why? The true facts would reflect badly on very powerful individuals (such as J.E. Hoover).

        So where does that leave us? The perp(s) provided a patsy, a good patsy. The perp(s) anticipated correctly how the FBI, LBJ, Bobby Kennedy, the CIA, et al would react to the assassination and the arrest and killing of Oswald.

        I can’t give you names; but it’s clear to me –

        – there were multiple perps;

        – they were professionals at planning and executing high-level assassinations; and

        – they had friends or acquaintances in high places.

        • John Kirsch says:

          Jonathan, the inability to identify the person or persons who DID kill the president causes critics to spin out lots of theories that can easily be attacked. sometimes i think these elaborate theories are a way of drawing attention away from the fact that critics of the Official Story(of which I am one) are unable to answer the question i originally asked: if Oswald didn’t do it, who did? Because someone did kill the president, correct?

          • Jonathan says:

            John Kirsch,

            You are posing the ultimate question to be answered. Who did it?

            No one can answer your question except someone possessing all the pertinent facts.

            The facts drip with proof of a concerted cover-up.

            The facts drip with sinister hints of a conspiracy to kill JFK.

            I’m talking about facts, John Kirsch, not conspiracy theories.

      • heather says:

        Oswald was never proven guilty either.

        • Jonathan says:

          Nor was any evidence introduced against Oswald. Evidence tested by cross-examination and other challenges, such as chain-of-custody.

          – There would have been no way to introduce the alleged murder weapon as evidence against Oswald.

          – There would have been no way to establish beyond a reasonable do¨bt that Oswald killed Tippit.

          Oswald’s only convictions came at the hands of the FBI, the Warren Commission, and the press after he was safely dead and buried.

        • Jonathan says:

          Nor was any evidence introduced against Oswald. Evidence tested by cross-examination and challenges, such as chain-of-custody.

          – There would have been no way to introduce the alleged murder weapon as evidence against Oswald.

          – There would have been no way to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Oswald killed Tippit.

          Oswald’s only convictions came at the hands of the FBI, the Warren Commission, and the press after he was safely dead and buried.

      • larry wheeler says:

        Another researcher called them “deferentials” those who ask the “whodunit” question and when the answer requires an understanding of that era – cold war, mafia, cia alliance, JFK at odds with military-they simply defer to authority. The simple world view of black and white , good vs. evil offered up Oswald and what was it they said- “the public must be convinced…”

  16. Bob Cochran says:

    This is a good article. As theorists maybe we could come together on what evidence if irrifutable fact and build a convincing case that way. My fear is there will be twenty such grups and the mire of disilution will go on.. We must learn though from the past and I believe the Truth will win out in the long run.. People believed Dean over Nixon and that situation however tragic did come to a conclusion.. I fear the conspiracy of JFK will be less absolute. I have come to terms with my own belief with many years of investigation. it is less important for me to prove my belief and more important that I can continue to learn ad grow from the matter.. It is important to avoid the liberinth and rabbit holes in this matter. Thanks for listening… Respectfully, Bob Cochran….

  17. Zebulon says:

    Good people have committed their entire lives to proving that JFK was killed by a conspiracy. Just because your definition of “evidence” isn’t present doesn’t mean that all of that research has been wasted. Let the LNers prove that there was no conspiracy.

    • Jonathan says:

      Zebulon,

      I’m on your side. I believe in focusing on verified facts, but I agree with yo, what’s the point of a site like this if conspiracies cannot be discussed; it’s just a blog.

      I bang on the notion of evidence from a legal standpoint because such evidence must meet strict standards and undergo truth-testing (e.g., via cross-examination). The idea that there’s “evidence against Oswald” is false. Oswald was not tried in a court, represented by a lawyer. The Warren Commission testimonies and exhibits are sometimes cited as evidence; they’re not.

      And I’m not just playing lawyer. Consider, for example, the magic bullet, C.E. 399. No way that gets admitted into evidence against Oswald; no way [a] to prove C.E. 399 passed through either JFK or Connolly, or [b] to establish the chain of custody for the bullet found by O.P. Wright, which we’re told is C.E. 399.

      If C.E. 399 is not admitted into evidence, the SBT fails.

      On the other hand, if we fall into the trap of saying it’s just one of many pieces of evidence in the case, we concede the game to the bad people. The bad people know this.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Jeff Morley, this is your question:

    “What did certain CIA officers know about Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination?”

    That’s not the right question. The CIA knew a lot. You know that. I know that.

    • jeffmorley says:

      I know they knew a lot. The question (I repeat) is WHAT did they know. And that’s not an undifferentiated “they.” I am interested in certain specifc officers who knew a lot. But we don’t know what they knew. And we don’t know when they

      • Jonathan says:

        Here’s what we (you) know:

        In the fall of 1963, the James Angleton-part of the CIA sent a message to Win Scott and others that the last info the CIA had on Oswald was from a prior year’s State Department report.

        You and I know this message is false.

        You and I know James Angleton knew more about Oswald than he sent to Win Scott.

  19. Ryan says:

    Hi there! This article could not be written any better!
    Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly
    will forward this information to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a great read. I appreciate you for sharing!

  20. PAM says:

    THE ZUPRUDER FILM CLARLY SHOWS THE KILL SHOT TO PRES. KENNEDY AS COMING FROM THE RIGHT AND FRONT FIRST BLOWING OFF THE EAR AND THEN EXITING THE BACK OF THE SKULL THAT LEFT A 5 INCH HOLE IN THE SKULL. WHILE I’M NO EXPERT ON GUNS OR BULLETS MY OWN RESEARCH TELLS ME THAT THE SHOTS DID NOT COME FROM THE SAME RIFLE AND THAT IT DID NOT COME FROM THE BACK, THUS THERE HAD TO BE 2 SHOOTERS, MAYBE MORE SINCE THERE WAS A VERY LONG LIST OF THOSE THAT WOULD BENEFIT FROM HIS DEATH.

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