Thoughts on the Willens defense of the Warren Commission

I want to  thank Howard Willens for his willingness to answer questions from JFK Facts. Like most Americans, I cannot share his certitude about the Commission’s findings, and I find my skepticism fortified by his admissions about the “untruthful” and “unresponsive” posture of Richard Helms and James Angleton.

I think Willens’s focus on denying “conspiracy” question serves as a way of avoiding the implications of the CIA’s deceptive stance toward the Warren Commission. If the senior agency officials concealed the Castro assassination plots from the Commission, they could have concealed covert activities — authorized or unauthorized — around Oswald. And there is evidence of a CIA operation around Oswald, namely the October 10, 1963, cable about Oswald’s visit to Mexico City that was signed by three senior officers (John Whitten, Bill Hood, and Tom Karamessines) who had responsibility for authorizing covert operations.

Given the secrecy that still conceals the operational files of CIA officers who were familiar with Oswald’s travel, politics and contacts before JFK’s assassination (David Phillips, Anne Goodpasture) or who ran psychological warfare operations using a CIA-funded group that had collected intelligence on Oswald before the assassination (George Joannides), or who later implicated themselves in the assassination (Howard Hunt, David Morales), it would premature, if not imprudent, to dismiss the possibility of an Oswald operation.

As for the CIA’s assertion that the operational files of these officers are “Not Believed Relevant” to the assassination, this claim remains uncorroborated. Given Willens’s acknowledgement of the CIA’s mendacity toward the Warren Commission, there is no compelling reason to accept such a self-interested and unverified assertion. The peculiar and unnecessary secrecy around ancient files of deceased officers serves to further undermine Willens’s confident claims about what the evidence tells us. We haven’t seen all the evidence, so how can one make definitive judgments about it?

Finally, the legal concept of conspiracy is a narrow lens with which to view the events of November 1963. By focusing on conspiracy, Willens and the Warren Commission spared themselves the burden of addressing the question of whether Kennedy’s death was caused by other factors, such as malfeasance, negligence, or incompetence.

So until we have full disclosure, I have to respectfully disagree with Willens about the causes of JFK’s assassination. I don’t think he is cynical. I think he’s credulous.


  1. Bill Simpich says:


    If you follow up by asking questions to Willens’ colleague
    David Slawson, could you ask him what he meant when he
    wrote “I can explain” next to the written question “why did no one report
    Oswald’s visit to the Cuban consulate until after the assassination”?

    Slawson wrote those three words fifty years ago, and yet no one has asked him that question.

    • Dan says:

      Mr. Slawson appeared at the SMU conference last fall that was carried on C-Span. He stated that in April 1964 he and William Coleman were offered CIA audio tapes of Oswald in Mexico City to listen to. Slawson further stated in answer to a question that he did not credit CIA’s explanations for lack of audio tapes and photographs of Oswald in Mexico City. These would be important points to follow up on.

  2. Jonathan says:

    If you are allowed a follow-up question, I recommend you ask Willens this:

    In your view, what was the purpose of the Warren Commission?

    • leslie sharp says:

      Jonathan, I too wonder about those charged with serving under CJ Earl Warren and what they might have believed to be their mandate. Were they dedicated to uncovering the truth or were their careers of paramount concern … a highly human reaction. The human condition must be factored into any analysis of the Warren Commission Report, the HSCA, etc; it’s no excuse, it is simply the way that it is and was.

      Of paramount interest and concern to me is who in power might have manipulated the Willens’ of the time? Might he be asked if he felt that he was under pressure? With whom was he most directly in contact with during the period? Does he believe that he and others succumbed to the influence of superiors? If so, who might they have been? Is Willens confident that he has analyzed the WC report and subsequent inquiries to the degree that he is certain that Democracy was served? Is Willens willing to put his name on the investigations and assure American citizens that there is no reason to pursue this investigation further?

      We’re are all looking for A Few Good Men. I trust we will know them when we encounter them.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      He’ll probably just quote the preface to the WCR.

  3. echelon says:

    I agree that Howard Willens should be applauded for coming forward to put his opinions on the record. The best disinfectant is full disclosure, but a good second choice is open discussion with respect shown by both sides. I was a bit concerned last year when Robert Blakey was castigated by some researchers and observers for expressing doubts about the investigative process, after a long period of silence.

    It is very important that we get more of the people who have first hand knowledge of these events to speak out. We can express doubts about what they say but we should always encourage them to say it.

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