Why did Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy believe that his brother President John F. Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy, as his son recently said?
Did RFK have any evidence for his belief, asked readers of the widespread coverage of RFK Jr.’s comments?
It turns out RFK had it on good authority that two people were involved.
RFK’s conviction was based on conversations with the Director of Central Intelligence, John McCone, who had been briefed by analysts at the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) after they reviewed a home movie of JFK being struck by gunfire.
This little-known story comes from two credible sources: Dino Brugioni, retired chief of the CIA’s photographic analysis offices, and historian Arthur Schlesinger.
The film, of course, came from the camera of dressmaker Abraham Zapruder as he watched the presidential motorcade in Dallas in which President Kennedy was struck by gunfire on November 22, 1963. Zapruder had the film developed and gave a copy to the Secret Service. That night one copy of Zapruder’s film was hand-delivered to the Grand Prairie Naval Air Station in southwest Dallas. A jet pilot flew the film to Washington D.C. where it was viewed by FBI and Secret Service officials.
At around 10 p.m. on the night of November 23, two Secret Service agents delivered a copy of Zapruder’s film to the new state-of-the-art National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC) at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C., where Brugioni was working as duty officer. In an extended interview, Brugioni told Doug Horne, a former chief of military records for the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, what happened next:
Brugioni’s team analyzed the film and made still enlargements of select individual frames that were mounted on briefing boards. They worked on the film throughout the night. On early Sunday morning, November 24, Art Lundahl, the director of the NPIC, took the briefing boards to CIA headquarters in Langley. Lundahl was Brugioni’s mentor who had won the confidence of the White House with the CIA’s rapid analysis of aerial surveillance photos of Soviet missile installations in Cuba in October 1962.
According to Brugioni, Lundahl went to the office of CIA Director John McCone, taking along briefing notes Brugioni had prepared for him. Lundal briefed McCone on the CIA’s analysis of the blown-up frames of the Zapruder film. He returned to NPIC later Sunday morning, November 24, and thanked everyone for their efforts the previous night, telling them that the briefing of McCone had gone well.
What Lundahl told McCone in the briefing is unknown but Lundahl’s sources are not. He relied on the NPIC analysis of the original Zapruder film and the reports of the Secret Service agents who witnessed the assassination.
McCone had already spoken once with RFK about the assassination. The Attorney General had called McCone to come talk to him at his home in McLean, Virginia, on the afternoon of November 22 to ask him about his brother’s murder. McCone was surprised when RFK asked him if the CIA was involved.
Because McCone was not a career CIA man, RFK trusted him more than anybody else at the agency and pressed him for more information. Sometime in the next two weeks McCone gave his informed view. On December 9, 1963, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., adviser to President Kennedy, met with RFK and asked him what he thought about his brother’s assassination. As Schlesinger wrote in his diary, published in 2007:
“I asked him, perhaps tactlessly about Oswald. He said there could be no serious doubt that he was guilty, but there still was argument whether he did it by himself or as a part of a larger plot, whether organized by Castro or by gangsters. He said the FBI people thought he had done it by himself, but that McCone thought there were two people involved in the shooting.” [Emphasis added] (Journals 1952-2000, p. 184).
John McCone was not just speculating. His thinking came from a highly credible source: the CIA’s leading photo analyst and his analysis of the NPIC blowups of frames of the Zapruder film, as well as Secret Service reports.
In short, RFK’s belief in that more than one person was involved in the assassination of JFK was based on the best information available to the U.S. government at the time.
Q. What does this story have to do with the theory that the Zapruder film was altered?
A. It is a separate but related. Doug Horne believes the Zapruder film was altered by someone after Brugioni’s team analyzed it. Before you scoff, you should know Brugioni lends credence to this theory. He says the film he viewed at NPIC on the night of November 23 was different from the famous Zapruder film that is available to today. In any case, Brugioni had no doubt he saw a camera original copy and used its imagery to brief McCone. Horne believes that Brugioni is correct.
So the alteration theory should not be dismissed out of hand. JFK Facts will deal it in a separate post.