How CIA talking points on JFK still echo in the New Yorker

A cosmopolitan look at JFK

In a brilliant blog post for Esquire, Josh Ozersky documents how Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker essay about JFK repeats key memes from a secret 1967 CIA cable about how the agency officials worldwide should enlist “friendly elite contacts” to counter critics of the Warren Commission.

The problem with calling people “conspiracy theorists,” Ozersky points out, is that you may just be repeating decades-old talking points generated by an intelligence agency with a lot to hide.

Ozersky, a food writer, shows how the influence of the cable, “Countering Critics of the Warren Report,” otherwise known as Memo 1035-960, endures in the American imagination.

The original 1967 CIA cable, “Countering Critics of the Warren Commission,” was sent by CIA director Richard Helms to agency stations worldwide on April 1, 1967.

Richard Helms,

Richard Helms, deputy CIA director in 1963

Helms and his colleague, counterintelligence chief James Angleton, felt threatened by critics of the first official investigation of JFK’s death because their aides had learned about the travels, politics and contacts of Lee Harvey Oswald in October 1963 and raised no concerns.

Indeed aides to Helms and Angleton assured colleagues in Mexico City that Oswald was “maturing.” Forty two days later JFK was shot dead, apparently by Oswald. (See “Four CIA officers who made a lethal mistake about Lee Harvey Oswald,” JFK Facts, Sept. 30, 2013.)

Rather than disclose the CIA’s failure to protect the president, Helms ordered a campaign against those who questioned the lone gunman conclusions of the Warren Commission.

Ozersky quotes from the CIA talking points and then finds the echoes in Gopnik’s piece.

Memo 1035-960: “Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States.”

Gopnik: “No matter how improbable it may seem that all the hard evidence could have been planted, faked, or coerced—and that hundreds of the distinct acts of concealment and coercion necessary would have been left unconfessed for more than half a century.”

Memo 1035-960: “Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it.”

Gopnik: “It is, in other words, possible to construct an intricate scenario that is both cautiously inferential, richly detailed, on its own terms complete, and yet utterly delusional.”

Memo 1035-960:“The Warren Commission made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible.”

Gopnik: “The first truth is that the evidence that the American security services gathered, within the first hours and weeks and months, to persuade the world of the sole guilt of Lee Harvey Oswald remains formidable: ballistics evidence, eyewitness evidence, ear-witness evidence, fingerprint evidence, firearms evidence, circumstantial evidence, fibre evidence.”

Ozerky’s point is not that the New Yorker consciously follows the CIA line. His point is more damning. Gopnik’s argument is habitual, not original or even cynical.

“Gopnik doesn’t need a memo to parrot this line,” Ozersky says. “He picked it up along the way as a consensus pundit.”


Read the original CIA cable: “Countering Critics of the Warren Commission.”






  1. JSA says:

    Media spokespersons who parrot what CIA wants them to say (and not say) are like relatives who act as enablers of drunks in the family. Rather than confront a drunken father or uncle, they try to push the problem under the rug, even lie if necessary to keep the peace. It’s unhealthy and in the end, doesn’t work, even if the problem seems to be “containable” for a number of years.

  2. mitchum22 says:

    Good for Esquire. And thank you for this link.

  3. Neil says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for this post.

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