Tom Hanks and the ‘modified limited hangout’ of ‘Parkland’

“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.

The liberal Washington Post and the conservative Daily Mail are paying attention to the story, even if “Parkland’s” first-time director Peter Landesman did not.

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.

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See also:

The cinema of assassination.

 

7 comments

  1. Avinash says:

    A better name for the movie would be “Propaganda” or “The Coverup”.

  2. Hans Trayne says:

    Tom Hanks should have utilized you as a story consultant, Jeff.

    The term “maturing” can be taken several different ways. Was the Agency telling the FBI in its cable that Lee Oswald ‘coming up in the ranks’ is like the military promotes higher grades as a person ‘matures’ and demonstrates the capacity to take on more involved responsibilities or does it mean Oswald was just a young dude sowing his oats & was not to be taken seriously? If Oswald wasn’t maturing for the Agency or the FBI who was he maturing for & why wasn’t anything being done about him trying to drum up public support for Fidel Castro, The Agency’s primary target of Operation 40 & ZR/RIFLE?
    Was there a secret deal with the KGB or Cuban Intel to let Oswald wander around on the streets & lecture on radio broadcasts in support of Castro & his Cuba the public doesn’t know about? Was the Agency working with ONI, OSI or other US Intel concerning LHO? The cable begs for an explanation.

    The Agency cable you informed us about indicates at least 2 people connected to the Warren Commission knew Lee Oswald was ‘maturing’ according to the Agency yet said nothing about it in their reports, Allen Dulles & J. Edgar Hoover.

  3. Bill Pierce says:

    Mr. Morley writes:
    “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.”

    Wouldn’t they have known about Oswald’s cozy relationships with commie-hating, nutwing extremists Guy Banister, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, et al? Wouldn’t they have known about Oswald’s curious journey to the USSR, the journey that took him through Helsinki and, for all appearances, was choreographed by US intelligence? Wouldn’t they have known that Oswald was being impersonated in Mexico City?

    I don’t think he means it but Mr. Morley seems to imply that senior CIA operations officers were limited to the superficial profile in Oswald’s ‘official’ file. Thus they viewed him as a ‘real’ commie who engaged in ‘authentic’ street fights with CIA-sponsored Cubans and ‘actually’ met with communist intelligence officers in Mexico City. The CIA doesn’t deserve that kind of deference.

    Re: the Oct 10 cable: If the word “maturing” was supposed to reflect Oswald’s realization that the Soviet system was worse than he once believed, he had a strange way of demonstrating his maturity. Back in the US Oswald subscribed to socialist and communist publications, bought weapons, formed a one man chapter of FPCC, and allegedly went to Mexico City with the intent of returning to the USSR via Cuba.

    Considering all of this, it hardly makes sense for the FBI to drop Oswald from its Alert list based on the word “maturing” as used in the context of Oswald’s exit from the USSR many months before. The CIA’s cable was simply a strategy to firmly link Oswald to Mexico City while pretending that the CIA’s only knowledge of Oswald came from an old state department memo. That the FBI dropped Oswald’s Alert on the same day suggests that the CIA and FBI had a joint operation using Oswald as an asset.

  4. Mike says:

    This movie is going to flop at the office. Who does it appeal to? Maybe those 20 people planning the Dallas blackout ceremony.

  5. Hans Trayne says:

    My combat unit in Germany gave us frequent Intel briefings and warned us of the consequences of defecting to the ‘Commie side’ which boiled down to once the US got their hands on whoever did that move would face treason charges at Court Martial. In some cases it was possible to face the death penalty we were frequently told.

    A more reasonable explanation for the handling of Lee Oswald was he was sent to the USSR under assignment & was being returned upon completion/termination of such.

    It appears to some that once the New Orleans leaflets & Latin Listening Post radio interviews were conducted (events that would infuriate a CIA hell bent on destroying Fidel Castro at the time)for Lee Oswald not to have been targeted & attacked suggest his new assignment in the US was to bait out genuine Castro supporters.
    This would be something both the Agency & the FBI would find mutual interest in.

    I have heard opinions that Agency operatives connected with Operation 40 & ZR/RIFLE may have not known Lee Oswald was on assignment for Intel of some sort, possibly in conjunction with the FBI and thinking Oswald was a genuine Castro groupie punished Lee Oswald by ambushing President Kennedy outside Oswald’s workplace & making it appear he shot the President. That may seem a bit far fetched to some.

    It’s easy to forget or not understand that back in the Cold War days one had to really guard their speech & actions for fear of being blacklisted as a communist sympathizer. There was no “maturing” benefit of the doubt given to commie sympathizers back then as was afforded to Lee Oswald.

    • jeffc says:

      This is why this case can be so fascinating. Looking at its events in isolation doesn’t allow for the broader implications to be grasped, but at the same time looking at particular events in great detail allow the nuances in. “Oswald” in Mexico is best considered alongside Oswald in New Orleans, and Oswald in N.O. is best considered alongside Oswald in Russia.

      Oswald showed up in New Orleans just as the FBI was working up covert plans to infiltrate and disrupt the FPCC. “Oswald” in Mexico City appears shortly after the CIA distributed memos announcing a campaign to disrupt and discredit the FPCC in foreign countries. Oswald showed up in the Soviet Union only weeks after CIA internally discussed active false defector programs.

  6. Lisa Pease says:

    How is a film that tells us nearly nonstop that there was no conspiracy a “modified limited hangout”? That’s nonsensical.

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