The RealClearPolitics polemic on Castro and JFK

The death of Fidel Castro continues to revive memories of and debate about JFK’s assassination.

This RealClearPolitics take on Castro and the Kennedy Assassination falters when author James Piereson asserts

Oswald’s motives in shooting President Kennedy were almost certainly linked to his desire to block Kennedy’s campaign to assassinate Castro or to overthrow his government.

There is little evidence to support this claim.

First of all, the notion that Oswald was the only gunman on November 22 is much contested. At least 21 law enforcement officers at the scene responded to the sound of gunfire in a manner that is consistent with the notion that Kennedy was killed in crossfire.

Grassy knoll aftermath
A cop runs toward the grassy knoll on Nov.  22.

To put it another way, Oswald might have fired a gun on November 22 but credible witnesses–ranging from UPI reporter Merriman Smith to Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman to Dallas police chief Jesse Curry–said that someone else shot at the president from the area known as the grassy knoll.

CIA director John McCone agreed. After he saw Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination, McCone told Robert Kennedy that JFK had been shot by from two different directions.

If it is true the Kennedy was killed by crossfire, the rest of Piereson’s argument about Oswald the lone gunman is moot.

Oswald’s Motive?

But let us accept, for the purposes of argument only, that Oswald shot and killed JFK.

There is no evidence–only speculation–that Oswald knew about the very compartmentalized CIA assassination operation against Castro known as AMLASH. (Castro might well have known about this plot; but there is no reason to believe Oswald did).

Piereson acknowledges as much. He writes;

“In early September, Castro (aware of these plots) declared in an interview in Havana with an American reporter that U.S. officials would not be safe if they continued efforts to assassinate Cuban leaders. “We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind,” he said. A transcript of the interview was circulated in the United States on the Associated Press wire and published in the local paper in New Orleans where Oswald was then living. It may have been Castro’s remarks that sent Oswald off on his trip to Mexico City a few weeks later in pursuit of a travel visa. Investigators later speculated that Oswald may have interpreted Castro’s remarks as a call to assassinate President Kennedy. [emphasis added]

“Speculated” is the right word. Those investigators didn’t cite any evidence because they didn’t have any.

In fact, neither the Warren Commission nor the House Select Committee on Assassination could establish any motive for Oswald’s alleged actions.

Oswald, of course, denied that he shot Kennedy. He said he was “a patsy,” and then he was killed in police custody by Jack Ruby.

Oswald as Gunman

Self Portrait in Red
Oswald as object of Cold War propaganda

Piereson’s claim that Oswald took a shot at General Edwin Walker, the racist general cashiered for preaching to his troops, is plausible. That a leftist schemer like Oswald would want to kill or scare a right-wing demagogue like Walker makes sense. And there is corroborating evidence from Marina Oswald and t George de Mohrenschildt.

That Oswald would want to kill JFK, a center-left president he admired for his civil rights stance, does not make sense, and there is no corroborating evidence that he had any murderous animus toward Kennedy.

As for the claim that Oswald threatened JFK while in Mexico, corroboration is elusive.

The story originated with Jack and Morris Childs, the brothers who headed of the Communist Party of the United States, while serving as informants for the FBI. They were known by the code name SOLO. Like many intelligence sources, Morris Childs passed on stories that his paymasters wanted to hear. No one else who worked in the Cuban Embassy reported such a threat.

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro, tormenter of empire

The notion that Oswald a violent defender of Cuba is also dubious. When Oswald spoke about Cuba on a New Orleans radio station in August 1963, he spoke in the earnest tones of an auto-didact, not as a man of revolutionary fervor. No one cites Oswald’s public comments on Cuba to support the claim that he violently opposed Kennedy policy because they indicate no such animus.

Piereson says that Castro later acknowledged that he was informed of Oswald’s threat, which is not quite right as far as I know. Castro was informed of Oswald’s provocative behavior, which  Cuban officials in Mexico City mistrusted. (At least one Cuban Embassy official told a group of Mexican students to stay away from Oswald because he appeared to be a CIA provocateur.

Piereson admits his case for Castro’s involvement in JFK’s assassination not supported by evidence.

“Did Castro, or someone in his government, encourage Oswald to carry through on his threat to kill President Kennedy?” he asks. “This is an intriguing possibility, though admittedly the evidence for it is scanty.”

Piereson’s candor about the lack of evidence supporting his interpretation of November 22, 1963 is welcome. Other knowledgable observers like former CIA analyst Brian Latell and author Gus Russo have made more elaborate cases for Cuban involvement in JFK’s assassination.

I don’t find the “Castro did it” conspiracy theory plausible for a number of reasons.

First of all, Castro was winning in the fall of 1963. Kennedy had backed off his pledges to overthrow Castro. Second of all, Castro, as a Marxist, did not think that removal of titular figure would change the nature of a government. And indeed Kennedy’s death did not end the U.S. policy of hostility and assassination toward Castro.

Weak Theory

George Joannides,
George Joannides, psy-war officer

If there was any evidence of Cuban involvement, the United States government and the CIA would have exploited it for diplomatic and geopolitical advantage. They did not.

Instead the CIA covertly sought to link Castro to the Dallas crime. George Joannides, the chief of psychological warfare operations in Miami,  paid for the first JFK conspiracy theory to reach public print. With 48 hours of Kennedy’s murder, the CIA’s media assets in the AMSPELL program identified Castro and Oswald as “the presumed assassins.”

But the CIA did not actually investigate Castro’s culpability. As Piereson notes, the Warren Commission assiduously avoided the question of Oswald’s foreign context and ideological motivation as it sought to rubber stamp Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover’s demand that the investigation prove that Oswald acted alone.

Piereson does not address the U.S. government’s odd reticence to investigate Castro possible involvement with Oswald. Nor does he address the growing body of evidence about the CIA’ pre-assassination knowledge of Oswald.

First JFK Conspiracy Theory
The first JFK conspiracy theory, paid for by CIA

The fact is that Richard Helms and James Angleton and other CIA officials did not want any investigation of Oswald Cuban contacts, whether pro-and anti-Castro. They knew better than anyone that an serious counterespionage investigation of Oswald would have exposed how Angleton’s Counterintelligence Staff monitored Oswald’s movements, contacts and politics for four years, from 1959 to 1963.

That’s why Angleton wanted to “wait out” the Warren Commission when it came asking for CIA reports on Oswald’ visit to Mexico City

That’s why Angleton killed the efforts of Mexico desk chief John Whitten to clarify Oswald’s Cuban connections, (a story I told first in the Washington Monthly, but no longer seems to be available online.)


In my forthcoming book, The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martins’ Press, Fall 2017) I advance the story some more. The Ghost recounts  how Angleton committed perjury and obstructed justice in the JFK assassination investigation.

Which raises a puzzling question: If Castro killed JFK, why would a top CIA official break the law to prevent a thorough airing of the evidence about Oswald’s Cuban connections?

The most plausible explanation, I think, is that Angleton was protecting the sources and methods of CIA counterintelligence activities involving Lee Oswald before November 22, 1963. I’ll present the evidence for this belief in The Ghost.










2 thoughts on “The RealClearPolitics polemic on Castro and JFK”

  1. Excellent!
    clear and concise demolition of the Castro-did-it theory.
    Fidel himself called the JFK assassination “very bad news.”

  2. Great analysis, Jeff. I’ve wondered the same thing for years. Knowing they were attempting to kill Castro, it was a complete dereliction of duty for the CIA to not Investigate the possibility Castro struck first.

    Their lack of curiosity in pursuing a suspect while simultaneously pointing the finger his way through their assets the same day of the crime reminds me of one person: OJ Simpson.

    They clearly knew who was responsible for JFK’s death. Everything else was a feint and misdirection.

    And this wasn’t rogue officers. It was the top officers.

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