The Ellsberg challenge

National Security Authors
(l to r) Peter Dale Scott, Russ Baker, David Talbot, Dan Ellsberg, and Jeff Morley.

Pardon my absence. I took a vacation from blogging about JFK to finish writing a book about JFK. It was a coals-to-Newscastle type of journey, a veritable busman’s holiday that took me to northern California where I met some of my favorite people to talk about, well, you know.

Tink Thompson and I explored the Pointillism of the Zapruder film. Bill Simpich parsed some bullets for me and purchased some of the finest cocktails in the Mission. David Talbot filled me on the perfidious Allen Dulles (his book on Dulles is going to be great). Russ Baker wised me up on the American elite. And over a lovely lunch in Berkeley at Peter Dale Scott’s house, I met Dan Ellsberg for the first time.

The consensus at the table was that Kennedy was killed by his enemies in the national security agencies of his own government. On the details of the tragedy, there were many differences of opinion. My own view is that while there is no proof that any one individual conspired to kill Kennedy, JFK’s wrongful death was probably the result of the malfeasance by patriotic enemies. (Spoiler alert: David’s book will look at Dulles as a leader of JFK’s foes in the elite. My book explores who might have been culpable in the ranks of the CIA.)

But you know, really, who cares? It happened a long time ago. Move on. Per the JFK story, Ellsberg asked us insistently, “Imagine that people come to believe what you say about JFK.  What do you want to happen? What do you want to change?”

It was a good question because it requires connecting the past to the present, no easy task. The question devoured much of our lunch. My answer: the dismantling of the secrecy system. JFK’s assassination was a foundational moment in the creation of the secret national security state that pursues war abroad and mass surveillance at home in 2014. Understand JFK’s death and you understand the power of military commands and intelligence officials to shape the discourse of political reality. Understand JFK’s death and you understand the danger posed if the power of the national security agencies goes unchecked.

Then, all of sudden, a man walked through the room in the custom of a monk. It was the damnedest thing. Peter explained he had a couple of Buddhist monks in residence, like you or I might say Aunt Sophie was staying in the den.  The monk expressed no opinion on the Single Bullet Theory or the national security state.  A wise man he moved on with a placid step.

Its good to be back and hopefully wiser.

So let’s take the Dan Ellsberg Challenge: what do you want to happen as a result of your understanding of the JFK story? What, if anything, does it require the American government to do in 2014?

Got a thought? Send me an email.



26 thoughts on “The Ellsberg challenge”

  1. Charles Ewing Smith

    Who ordered JFK’s death is a subject no one touches. Another thing not touched is the angry battle between JFK and David Ben Gurion over Israel’s nuclear ambitions at the Dimona nuclear plant. JFK did not want Israel to go nuke as it would start an arms race with Egypt. Ben Gurion refused to let JFK in on Israels plans. He fought against JFK’s demanded inspections. The dust up continued until after JFK’s death when LBJ backed down from inspections of Dimona. Ben Gurion’s connection to pull off the assasination …. James Jesus Angleton, CIA counter terrorism chief and a founder of the MOSSAD.
    How about investigating this lead for once. It’s pretty damning when you get into it.

  2. Charles Vergados

    Sorry. I gave the article to Dave Powers. This was before Tip O’Neil wrote of his conversation with Powers and O’Donnell where they said they felt thst shots came from elsewhere.I’m also a believer that James Angleton “May” have been the mastermind,because of his labyrinthine mind and his ability to connect a variety of perhaps seemingly disparate groups and manipulate them into places where they could be compromised. That plus his “Johnny on the spot appearance at Mary Meyer’s the night of her death,and at Win Scott’s place in Mexico to retrieve his files,as well as his connections to Oswald surveillance,and his connections to Hunt. It’s interesting that Hunt,in his “deathbed” confession,tarred many of his former associates but mentioned not one worrd about the man,Angleton,who directly contradicted him by saying he WAS in Dallas on 11/22/63.

  3. Charles Vergados

    Great post. As someone who began political activism as a 12 year old in JFK’s campaign,and had a passing acquaintence with Dave Powers and Ken O’Donnell,and was an early member of Bob Katz’ and Carl Oglesby Assassination Information Bureau,I’ve come to believe in a modified coup d’etat scenario. No one seems to mention the conversation between John Connolly and “Seven Days in May”author Fletcher Knebel,where Connolly says that a coup d’etat would be possible as Thurston Clarke reports. Or the fact that Oswald in his notes for the speech at Spring Hill College,observed that a coup d’etat was not impossible.And of course the fear of JFK and Bobby about an overthrow. Taken into consideration with the October 1963 article in the New York Times that mentions the possibility that a coup d’etat,if it happened,would be by the CIA and not the military. As if the military wanted to distance itself from “rumors”.When three men involved in that days events,the attorney general,and a former family confidante seem to be giving us a heads up,perhaps we should listen. I gave a xerox copy of Robert Sam Anson’s early article on the assassination from “New Times” magazine while he was setting up a temporary exhibit at Boston City Hall. He took it and promised to read it.There was nothing negative or dismissive about his reaction to my bold move.

  4. I will never understand how some researchers can let their political orientations drive their opinions on who would want JFK removed while totally ignoring the 800 lb. gorilla sitting in the room that had motive, experience and a demonstrated ability to kill opponents. Nothing here about Hoffa, Marcello, or Giancana.
    History shows us that the CIA has never been very good at pulling off assassinations, even to the point of farming them out to real professionals-like the individuals above.Aside from pulling off a few coups I don’t see where the big, bad CIA was very successful at anything despite the reputation.
    Just as Ruby was the key to the conspiracy, his associations are the key to who used him.
    If you want to see how the Mafia repeated another political assassination unsolved after decades look at the public execution of Joe Columbo and what happened to his assassin immediately. Looks very familiar.

    1. But Brad, what if some of the Mafia worked FOR the CIA? And how do you explain the Warren Commission cover up? As for the “800 lb. gorilla” I would include Lyndon Johnson in that simian selection. With LBJ, you have a proven track record of shady dealings, murder, and a political career that was literally on the edge of a cliff in late 1963, suddenly saved by the assassination. Talk about opportunity!

      1. The problem I see with that line of thought is why would the Mafia need to work for the CIA when they had their own reasons for hitting JFK? Bringing LBJ into the plot seems totally irrational- the Kennedy family had mob ties, but good ole boy Texan Lyndon?
        Over the years the research community has been plagued by the belief that any conspiracy theory that conflicts with the WC has to be good- no matter what the quality of evidence or how many hoops you have to jump through to support it. I personally think that RFK knew who shot his brother but that overtly pursuing it would bring up those Mafia ties that would tarnish JFK’s legacy. I also think that Bobby saw the Garrison “investigation” for what it was- a distraction to steer away interest from Carlos Marcello and Jimmy Hoffa. That’s why he sent Sheridan- who certainly knew what Hoffa and his associates were capable of. And that is why Garrison tried to go after Sheridan.

  5. Larry Schnapf

    The reason the JFK assassination remains important today is that the coverup has served as a template for much of what has gone wrong with our country in the past 50 years. The intelligence apparatus or secret government learned they can hijack national policy and outright lie to the American people with no consequences. While the individuals who allowed theJFK assassination to occur and covered up their failures are likely no longer in power, the lessons learned on how the corporate media can me manipulated and how individual journalists will not dig for the truth if it could costs them their careers or be marginalized have been passed down to a new generation and are continuing to be deployed in this century. we dont have to look any any further that the Iraq war with the manipulated intelligence over WMD. IF it wasnt for the courageous Snowden, we wouldnt know how the extent the government is spying on its own citizens. Exposing the truth about what happened with JFK will perhaps be the first step towards injecting transparency into the functioning of our government. As Judge Brandeis once said “Sunshine is the best disfectant”. we need to cleanse our government of the rot that has formed from 50 years of lies and coverups.

  6. The US Government did not kill John Kennedy.

    The Israeli Government was behind the assassination of John Kennedy because of John Kennedy’s opposition to Israels nuclear weapons program.

    Without a doubt, there were elements of the US government who were sympathetic to Israels situation and agreed to help.

    It is important to understand what happened in order to prevent it from happening in the future.

    It is not a mere coincidence that Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald, Abraham Zapruder, the man who was perfectly situated to film the entire assassination sequence and Seymour Weitzman, the man who discovered the rifle in the TSBD, were all from the same minority group(Jewish)

    Jewish people made up 3% of the population of Dallas in 1963. Black people made up 6% of the population in Dallas in 1963.

    Given those demographics, the likelihood that all three of those men would be from the same minority group , by chance is .0000027.

    The probability that all three of those men would be from the same minority group(Jewish), BY CHANCE, is 2.7 times 10 to the minus 6 power. Very very very tiny.

    I choose those three events because each of those events could indicate prior knowledge of the assassination.

  7. Since I began reading more about the assassination, last November, I’ve asked myself two questions quite often. First, why am I so persistently interested in finding out an answer, while most people seem content with either the lone nut theory, or that this is a mystery so far in the past that it isn’t worth spending time worrying about in the present. After reading Douglass, Morley, Peter Dale Scott, Summers, and Mellen, I became outraged at the injustice that was done to JFK, and to our country, and it led me to believe that it’s our duty not to let it go. That would be the conspirator’s final victory. In the long view of history, 50 years is not that long ago.
    What would I like to see happen? I would like for us to have a better understanding of the motives behind the conspirators, to understand why it happened, and what it tells us about our society as a whole. The failure of our government agencies to investigate the crime was equaled by the failure of the national press. I would like to see our government admit to it’s failures and the widespread disinformation campaign that began on 11/22/63 but continues to this day. I would like to see JFK’s desire for normalization of relations with Cuba to come to fruition.
    I would like to see a rebirth, if only to a small degree, of JFK’s idealism and patriotism. True patriotism, I would add, the type that demands that our country seeks truth and fairness, rather than always bowing to power and money. A pipedream?

    1. JfK was killed because he was planning on launching a surprise nuclear attack again Soviets, was told that by a senior CIA guy once. Take it for what its worth, here-say but makes sense when you read about the shelter he was building in Florida

  8. Jean Brocklebank

    Only nineteen and a student at UCLA at the time of JFK’s murder, I was utterly devastated. Although I did read Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers and other 70’s books about Nixon, the CIA, etc., it would be four decades after the fact before I began to read books about the murder that to this day causes me great sadness. From my most recent readings, I tend to agree with the consensus at the table — that “Kennedy was killed by his enemies in the national security agencies of his own government.” My latest read was “JFK’s Last Hundred Days” by Thurston Clarke. A little too much personal titillation for my tastes, but I was impressed by the apparent lack of good sense of JFK about his vulnerability to assassination. Yes, if not in Dallas, maybe somewhere else…but I cannot help myself…in 50 years of thinking what this nation might have been had he not gone to Texas that pre-election year.

    1. He probably would have been re-elected even without Texas..He was a much better campaigner than LBJ, and, after all, it appeared even then that Goldwater would be the GOP nominee. Goldwater would have needed a lot more than Texas to beat JFK in 1964, had JFK lived.

  9. Not just the “secrecy system”, but the lies and corruption that emanate out from there, and the fake culture that flourishes in the inability to look honestly at what’s happened and continues to happen.

  10. Welcome back. I for one had begun to wonder if you or family had an illness or accident. Maybe problems with the site, an external blocking or something. Or maybe you’d just become disillusioned with the whole thing.
    Sound’s like a wonderful learning vacation. I just ordered Scott’s Deep Politics last week as next on my list (to take on vacation next week!). Look forward to yours and Talbot’s books also.
    I for one would like to see greater oversight and transparency of the CIA and NSA in particular. For that matter campaign reform (financing – corporate, millionaire funding). While I’m dreaming, it would be nice if someday the History used in teaching our children told the truth about a coup in our country on 11/22/63. That they would learn the ongoing consequences of what happened, to correct them and not let them happen again. That freedom of speech is our greatest right. Off the soap box (for now).
    Like Neil Young said, Keep on Rockin in the Free World.

    1. Ronnie,

      Re: July 24, 2014@ 7:07pm

      “Deep Politics and the Death of JFK” is an absolute masterpiece. In my opinion it should be read by any serious student of the assassination. It had a profound effect on my own thinking, and the direction my studies have taken. Peter Dale Scott is in a class of his own. You are in for a treat!

      1. I received Deep Politics as a Christmas present. I am looking forward to reading it in the next few months or so. I have already read The Last Investigation (Gaeton Fonzi), and Destiny Betrayed this year.

      2. The question is, what class is that. Anyone familiar with Scott’s treatment of NSAM 273 should question his judgement.

  11. to me the murder and its aftermath were a major illustration of how liberals continually allow themselves to be outflanked, outmaneuvered, and politically defeated by reactionary forces; they rolled over on all evidence that showed that this was an overthrow of government, under some bizarre notion that it was their patriotic duty to do so. And this was exactly what the right was expecting. The liberals played into their hands because their own very shallow analysis of history let them convince themselves that this was an event to ‘get past,’ and that to pursue the actual murders would have represented some kind of unseemly political obsession. They were ‘above’ the fray, at least in their own minds, and the result has been 50 years of complicity in murder and repression, economic blackmail, and a delusional belief that somehow this was what JFK the idealist would have wanted.

  12. Jonathan July 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    True, I’m afraid the record here is pretty disappointing on honesty from our government. Just finished reading some on the MIAs our government left in Vietnam when the other POWs came home. I imagine those classified files will be released about the same time all the JFK assassination files are released. That would be right after hell freezes over.

    1. Bill, you’ve opened an old wound for me, Vietnam POWs and MIAs. Nixon and Kissinger left some of our guys in Laos. The military knew it and kept quiet.

      1. Jonathan July 28, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        Sorry, didn’t mean to open old wounds, they are hard enough to heal as it is.

        I have a friend, Frank Anton, who was a POW for over 5 years. About 3 years in the deadly jungle camps and then in Hanoi. Frank stayed in the Army when released and began speaking out about Americans he had seen as POW that wasn’t returned. He got a phone call from a colonel suggesting he stop talking about it. Frank kept on and was called in and told if he wanted to stay in the military he had to stop talking. So he did stop but is very bitter about it.

        So am I as I imagine you are.

  13. I don’t guess there’s any chance you tape recorded the conversation? I mean, in the interest of openness? 🙂 I know we’d all love to have been flies on the wall. Or monks on the ceiling. Or something.

  14. Quite a gathering. A collection of heavy hitters. Would have loved to have spent some time at that table for sure.

  15. If one is not too constrained in one’s thinking one wonders about ways in which the U.S. government has behaved badly and perhaps asks: about what of national importance has our government not lied to its citizens?

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