“We had him and we could have stopped him,” rages an FBI agent in the just-released trailer for Tom Hanks’s forthcoming JFK movie, “Parkland.” It looks to be a powerful scene based on the true story that accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald visited the Dallas FBI office on October 15, 1963, and left a note alleging harassment of his wife.
What you won’t see in “Parkland” is why the FBI was so clueless about the man who would be arrested one week later for killing President Kennedy:
Because senior CIA operations officers wanted it that way.
Attention moviegoers: CIA records declassified since Oliver Stone’s “JFK” tell the real story.
A handful of senior CIA officials kept track of Oswald from October 1959 to November 1963. They assembled a fat file on him as he made his way the Soviet Union to Texas to New Orleans to Mexico City to, finally, Dallas. They didn’t share the nature or extent of their interest with the FBI or the Warren Commission or the American people.
The “Parkland” trailer also shows someone burning a letter, a scene which likely depicts how FBI agents destroyed Oswald’s note after JFK was dead, another true story that was concealed from the public until 1975.
As commercial movie-making this is shrewd. Hanks and co-producer Gary Goetzman know that much of their audience will come to their seats with the knowledge of extensive government misconduct in the case of the murdered president and probably some residual memories of Stone’s “JFK.”
To depict one of the most egregious examples of FBI lawlessness will ring true to “Parkland” viewers. Without acknowledging what most Americans know, the movie producers would have a much harder time getting the audience to subscribe to the film’s overarching yarn: that JFK was killed by one man for no reason.
There’s a term for this sort of strategy: the “modified limited hangout.” I recall it from Watergate days, but Wikipedia notes that it originated among espionage professionals. Here’s how it works:
“When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting — sometimes even volunteering — some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case.”
I’m not saying Hanks & Co. are out to misinform the public. They are selling a reassuring vision of American history in which they no doubt fervently and sincerely believe. And they fervently and sincerely want you to believe it.
But Hanks knows he can’t sell a mass 21st century audience on the story produced by the Warren Commission in 1964: that Oswald was a nobody who attracted no sustained attention from the FBI and CIA. That cover story has been shredded by the evidence.
To sustain his reassuring vision in which the president was not killed by his enemies, Hanks needs a modified limited hangout. While volunteering some of the truth about the FBI misconduct, “Parkland” will (I predict) withhold key and damaging facts about CIA misconduct from viewers.
What “Parkland” won’t show: the CIA’s pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald.
This story is anything but reassuring. The men and women of the CIA who watched Oswald in late 1963 were not clerks. They were experienced operations officers responsible for detecting threats to U.S national security. They were familiar with Oswald’s file. They knew about his excitable mother, his Russian wife. his communist sympathies, his arrest for fighting with CIA-funded Cuban exiles in New Orleans, and his contact with suspected Cuban and Soviet intelligence officers in Mexico City.
Their response? They got together on October 10, 1963, and sent a cable to Win Scott, the Mexico City CIA station chief, purporting to know Oswald’s state of mind. They said Oswald was “maturing.” In other words, don’t worry about him. Headquarters doesn’t think he poses a problem.
(Read the Oct. 10, 1963, cable here, especially the last page.)
On that very same day, October 10, 1963, an FBI official in Washington took Oswald off of its “alert” list of people of interest to the Bureau. When Oswald paid his visit to the Dallas FBI office the next month, he was no longer of interest to the Bureau.
Then, a week later, President Kennedy was shot and killed, supposedly by the “maturing” Oswald. He died at Parkland Hospital.
An FBI agent in Dallas destroyed Oswald’s note. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover covered his ass. He censured the Bureau agents involved in taking Oswald off the alert list. Several agents were demoted or transferred.
The CIA officials who knew the most about Oswald while JFK was alive played dumb. Nobody at the CIA lost their job or their promotions for saying the future accused assassin was “maturing.” When Warren Commission attorneys were shown the October 10 cable, they sought to question James Angleton, the chief of the agency’s Counterintelligence staff, whose senior aides (Jane Roman and Betty Egeter) had drafted the cable. Angleton said he preferred to “wait out” the Commission. And he did.
The October 10 cable was not fully declassified until 2001, 38 years later.
Don’t expect “Parkland” to tell that story. Tom Hanks’s modified limited hangout will give moviegoers a two-hour respite in the darkness of the multiplex from the harsh light of truth outside where the CIA is still hiding 1,100 JFK assassination documents from public view.
Such troublesome details don’t fit into the comforting tropes of “Parkland.” The movie features an all-star cast including Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Harden and Zac Efron. The movie skillfully updates the Warren Commission’s not-widely believed theory of a “lone nut” with selective evidence and superb production values.
As I said here last month, “Parkland” is a front-runner for an Oscar — for best Costume Design.