The problem with Politico’s JFK conspiracy theory

Phil Shenon

As the United States and Cuba seek to negotiate a new relationship, ancient history is intruding.

“What if the answers to the many, persistent questions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy lie not in Dallas or Washington, D.C., but in the streets of a foreign capital that most Americans have never associated with the president’s murder? Mexico City.”

So begins Phil Shenon’s new piece in Politico, What Was Lee Harvey Oswald Doing in Mexico? Shenon is surely correct that the U.S. government’s response to Lee Oswald’s visit to  Mexico City in October 1963 is key to understanding the JFK assassination story.

And before Washington and Havana can reach any real rapprochement, renewed allegations that the Cuban government aided JFK’s accused assassin demand clarification.

Skeptics of the official story of JFK’s assassination have argued that Oswald’s Mexico City visit is critical to understanding the crime of Dallas since at least 1978. That’s when Oswald’s visit was first investigated by Dan Hardway and Ed Lopez of the House Selection Committee on Assassinations.

Anthony Summers was the first professional journalist to follow up with serious reporting from Mexico City in his book Not in Your Lifetime. I deepened and clarified the CIA’s perspective on Oswald’s actions in Our Man in Mexico, my 2008 biography of Mexico City station chief Win Scott. Attorney William Simpich added new details from recently declassified CIA records in his 2013 ebook, State Secret. 

The fact that Politico, the chatterbox of the capital’s political class, is now willing to question the Warren Commission’s superficial and misleading account of Oswald’s antics is a welcome  development. For too long, the Washington press corps has averted its collective eyes from the dubious theorizing, selective evidence, government malfeasance, and outright deceit that underlie the official theory that JFK was killed by one man for no reason. Politico is now at least willing to air the once-taboo notion that the JFK’s murder might have been a political deed perpetrated by enemies of his policies.

And for good reason. The CIA’s fallacious claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and Edward Snowden’s indisputable revelations of the NSA’s mass surveillance of U.S. citizens have made it obvious to even the most pro-government reporters that secretive officials in U.S. national security agencies are willing and able to manipulate intelligence (and intelligence agents) to advance their own policy goals and preserve their power beyond the reach of the elected government.

When critics of the Warren Commission made this argument in the 1960s, most Washington reporters derided them as “conspiracy theorists” and “scavengers.” Now the editors of Politico have finally joined the skeptical majority that thinks we don’t know the whole story of what happened in Dallas. That’s progress of a sort.

What We Now Know 

Shenon has also done a service by pointing out how many senior officials in the CIA, FBI and the State Department knew that the Warren Commission’s investigation of Oswald’s visit to Mexico City overlooked or avoided or dismissed relevant evidence.

 It is startling to discover how many credible government officials—beginning with Ambassador [Tom] Mann and CIA station chief Scott—have suggested that evidence was missed in Mexico that could rewrite the history of the assassination. The list includes the late former FBI Director Clarence Kelley and former FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan, as well as David Belin, a former staff lawyer on the Warren Commission.

And now Shenon has added another name: David Slawson, former Warren Commission attorney who had responsibility for investigating the possibility of conspiracy. In the afterword of a new edition of Shenon’s 2013 book A Cruel and Shocking Act, Slawson said he is now convinced the commission was the victim of a “massive cover-up” by the CIA and other agencies to hide evidence that might have identified people in Mexico City who knew and encouraged Oswald to carry out his alleged threat to kill JFK. In Slawson’s formulation, Oswald had accessories, not co-conspirators.

Politico’s JFK theory can be summarized in a phrase: “Oswald did it — with Castro’s help.”

The long history of this JFK theory highlights its one strength — serious people believe it — and its biggest problem: It posits that a tacit conspiracy of senior U.S government officials has been shielding Fidel Castro from justice for a half century.

Really? Are we to believe that U.S. government officials are protecting a proud and sworn enemy of the United States from evidence that he connived in the murder of a popular American president?

This is one of those JFK theories that deserves careful scrutiny.

The History of Politico’s Theory

The “Oswald did it with Castro’s help” theory is not new. It is 51 years old, and there is no disputing it was first espoused by a CIA-funded organization.

The first JFK conspiracy theory

The anti-Castro (and anti-JFK) Cuban Student Directorate (DRE), the recipient of $51,000 a month from the agency, published a broadside on the morning of November 24, 1963, declaring that Oswald and Castro were “the presumed assassins.” 

Carlos Bringuier, the DRE’s delegate in New Orleans, touted this theory to Slawson’s colleagues on the Warren Commission in 1964 and was ignored. Bringuier then wrote two books advancing his thesis, albeit without much new evidence.

Sen. Robert Morgan (R-North Carolina) said in the 1970s he thought Castro was complicit in JFK’s death. Former cabinet secretary Joseph Califano said the same thing in his 2005 memoir Inside.

Authors Gus Russo and Stephen Moulton made the most substantive case for Castro’s involvement in their 2008 book Brothers in Arms. They quoted a manuscript of a former Cuban intelligence officer and a variety of unnamed sources as saying that Oswald had friendly contacts with Cuban government officials in Mexico City during his visit in September and October 1963. Russo and Moulton argued that JFK’s assassination was Castro’s pre-emptive retaliation for CIA plots to kill him.

Former CIA analyst Brian Latell offered a variation on the theory in his 2011 book Castro’s Secrets. He quoted another former Cuban intelligence officer Florentin Aspillaga as saying that Castro’s intelligence service seemed to have advance knowledge that Kennedy might face danger in Dallas.

But if Politico, Shenon, Slawson, the DRE, Carlos Bringuier, Gus Russo, Stephen Moulton, Brian Latell, and Joe Califano are correct that Oswald had Cuban accessories — that Castro got away with murder — why isn’t the U.S. government doing anything about it?

In Havana, the argument that the U.S. government has protected Castro from anything will seem ludicrous. In Washington, it seems at least inexplicable.

Slawson told Shenon that he believes the CIA was desperate to shut down any investigation in Mexico City “out of fear the Warren Commission might stumble onto evidence of the spy agency’s long-running schemes to murder Fidel Castro.”

But the CIA’s plots to kill Castro were exposed 40 years ago. That doesn’t explain why the CIA and other government agencies would still be concealing evidence of Castro’s complicity in JFK’s murder in 2015.

How to Test Politico’s Theory.

I think there is a more plausible explanation of why Oswald’s Cuban contacts in Mexico City were not investigated in 1963 and why they remain the subject of official secrets today: because any serious investigation will have had to explain the CIA’s knowledge of Oswald’s actions and answer questions like, Why did six senior CIA officers sign off on this misleading cable about Oswald on October 10, 1963?

Only more transparency can resolve such questions.

Anne Goodpasture
Anne Goodpasture: ‘Win Scott squirreled the [Oswald] tape away….”
Shenon notes what JFK Facts first reported in June 2013: that the CIA retains more than 1,100 assassination-related documents that it says it will not release until October 2017.

“While refusing to describe what is in the documents, CIA lawyers have acknowledged over the years that many of them are out of the files of agency employees who were stationed in the early 1960s in, of all places, Mexico City,” Shenon writes.

In fact, as JFK Facts has reported, the suppressed JFK files include:

— 606 pages about the operations of CIA officer David Atlee Phillips who knew about Oswald’s presence in Mexico City within days of his arrival. Some HSCA investigators wanted to indict Phillips for perjury but were overruled by HSCA general counsel G. Robert Blakey who now admits that the CIA compromised his investigation.

286 pages about the operations of CIA officer Anne Goodpasture, also based in Mexico City in 1963, who also knew about Oswald’s visit when it happened. In 1997 Goodpasture admitted under oath to the Assassination Records Review Board, that she did not tell JFK investigators that station chief Win Scott had a tape of a caller to the Soviet Embassy who identified himself as Oswald. The CIA has never produced that tape.

The public release of these files now — while Cuba and the United States are seeking to establish a new relationship — would go a long way toward clarifying an important episode in the history of both countries.


I’ve asked Shenon and Slawson to explicate their views for readers of JFK Facts. Shenon has promised to respond.








31 thoughts on “The problem with Politico’s JFK conspiracy theory”

  1. The Shenon article adds another perspective. We can all agree that all the information required to come to an informed conclusion has not been released. Mexico City adds another piece to this big mosaic. What is it that US intelligence has to hid after all this time and how was Oswald involved? Is it plots to kill Castro, infiltration of Cuban diplomat and intelligence assests in Mexico, an unknown intelligence operation to access Soviet listening post in Cuban which was under construction in 1963. Whatever it is, Oswald had some crazy role that requires secrecy forever.

  2. Shenon’s book, in MHO, did provided valuable history on the backstage workings and politics of the WC, the entire book prompted, of course, by a commission member he declined to name.

    On Big Picture substance, he defended the WC, with the proviso that if there was a conspiracy, look to the Cubans, dredging up twist-party tales and other long-discredited (by most honest, non- establishment, non-wacko researchers) Cuban Intelligence tales of red-hair agents paying wads of money to an Oswald loudly proclaiming his desire to kill Kennedy (all of which is – whodda guess it- absent for CIA surveillance tapes)

    Two other big failings I found with his work (even given that it was a “mainstream” defense of the status quo):

    Whitewashing Ruby. And I’m not talking about the more outlandish, no-evidence conspiracy claims, but the in-depth work of mainstream reporter Seth Kantor (whose “The Ruby Cover-Up” remains the definitive work on trigger-man Jack).

    Constantly referring to the wound in JFK’s “neck,” when official panels from the ’70’s Congressional investigation on through the ARRB acknowledge Kennedy was shot in the back. This, natch, made is easy for Shenon to defend the SBT without blushing.

    That Politco accepts problems with the WC is progress, one supposes, a crack in establishment groupthink. That the one possibility it acknowledges in the wake of that is the “Castro-did-it” trope is, sadly, entirely predictable.

    What the Watergate gang call “the limited hangout” route.

  3. I find Shenon’s attempt at misdirection disingenuous at least and irrational at best. For Castro to have JFK assassinated, Castro would have expected swift, insurmountable brutal retaliation from the US military. Instead, the JOHNSON ADMINISTRATION played down any foreign conspiracies. This “official mantra” was mouthed by the actors on the Warren Omission Panel, mostly all hand-picked dupes and puppets of much larger, and richer powers/alignments of power centers. I agree that there was intrigue in Mexico, concerning JFK assassination, but I don’t believe Oswald was involved. Could Oswald lie about Mexico, indeed he could; but he didn’t. What happened in Mexico clearly was a joint CIA/FBI collusion regarding Oswald AND the JFK assassination. Both the CIA and FBI (and other alphabet government organizations) were “tracking” Oswald, so how easy was it to “piggyback” an operation on someone who is under 24/7 surveillance, making Oswald “the patsy” in an assassination plot to kill a US president? Oswald is presented as a “secretive person” but that is from the view of not having specific information about Oswald’s activities. It is these unknown activities the surveillance agencies have and manipulate and continue to with-hold from the public. If Oswald had to be “impersonated” in various places, does it not logically follow that “others” (meaning conspiracy) were involved across several phases of planning leading up to the JFK hit? It is now almost a joke that the official line of the US Government under LBJ was, there was no “foreign conspiracy” to kill JFK. Really? Does this mean Mexico was so controlled by the US, operationally, that Mexico was part of the US; and therefore, an extension of our security apparatus? Thus, “no foreign conspiracy?” I am confident saying the blame for JFK’s murder came from within the ranks of the security apparatus of the US Government (meaning the MILITARY/CIA/FBI/MAFIA nexus. There was/is an alignment of people in positions of power, with shared views, networking to accomplish desired aims both domestically and in foreign affairs. The means and resources that these networks have at their disposal are beyond the average persons’ comprehension. These networks are supra-national and stop at nothing to achieve their goals and objectives. We repeatedly see the results of their operations, but don’t recognize the operational M.O. The people in these networks operate both behind and in front of the scenes. In fact, they stage and direct the scenes offered up for public consumption. They allow the public to be distracted by the planned erosion of true investigative reporting and honest journalism, in favor of “reality TV and lying TV personalities reporting the “news.””
    If you truly want to understand Dallas and the JFK assassination, look at what the people in power were doing, and look at what the security apparatus was feeding them to get the “proper responses.”

  4. When one reads Shenon’s book, one stumbles across an alarming fact; the book was written at the urging of a former Warren Commission attorney, and was conceived (at least by this attorney) as a defense of the commission’s staff. Shenon fails to reveal the name of this attorney, but it seems probable it was Arlen Specter.

    That Shenon chooses to focus on the possibility someone encouraged Oswald only underlines the weakness of his book, IMO. He could have exposed men like Warren, Dulles, Ball, Belin, and Specter to the unemotional scrutiny they deserve, but he opted to instead stalk Sylvia Duran in hopes she would point the finger at Cuba. It’s a shame.

  5. It should also be noted here that Kennedy had opened back-channel negotiations to Castro offering normalization with Cuba.

    The words of one of those involved in these back-channel talks:

    “If the CIA did find out what we were doing , this would have trickled down to the lower echelon of activists, and Cuban exiles, and the more gung-ho CIA people…..they might have been impelled to take violent action. Such as assassinating the President.” – former UN Ambassador William Attwood.

  6. Shenon’s idiocy is proved by his advocacy of the “Oswald attended a twist party and had an affair with Sylvia Duran” theory, which was discredited many, many years ago (John Newman, for one, has thoroughly proved it never happened). Truthfully, anyone who either claims this – yes, Shenon seriously believes Oswald did the twist with Octavia Paz’s wife – or that Castro plotted JFK’s death is not to be taken seriously. Don’t waste space on this Jeff, or on people like Gus Russo, who writes like a high school student and has not a clue about evidence or documentation (try reading through his books, which are sloppy and juvenile).

    1. i think Shenon’s book and article sould be taken seriously as there was in Oct/63 and now a concerted effort to place a False Flag that Castro was behind the Assassination. The same ideology that planed coup d’état in 63 is still active today.

    2. H.P. Albarelli Jr.

      Newman has “thoroughly proved it never happened”? Not in the Newman book that I read; nor did Morley’s book disprove that the party took place with Oswald present. Please explain, Mr. Lowe, how Newman did this.

      1. Imagined things may never be disproved with absolute certainty,its up to you H.P. Albarelli Jr. to prove that LHO attended a twist party in MC.

          1. Hank you keep saying you have prove, selve appointed experts need to demonstrate documented evadance not read my book.

          2. H.P. Albarelli Jr.

            Seek and ye shall find, Jerry. David, interesting that the CIA, and especially Winston Scott, did NOT want people to believe Elena Garro’s account. There are good reasons for this, as I’m sure you can imagine. Shenon took a chance in siding on this story and he was more right than even he knows or understands…

      2. I like your work Mr. Albarelli, but your Elena Garro chapter really jumped the shark, especially when you tried to paint her as a poor, unfortunate whistleblower harassed for her gender as well as her inconvenient observations. After all, Elena Garro was not the one BEATEN BY MEXICAN SECURITY FORCES over statements on the alleged Duran-Oswald relationship was she? And she sure as hell cherry-picked the date of the alleged twist party based on what fit into the Warren Commission’s chronology.

        That dog won’t hunt.

        1. “interesting that the CIA, and especially Winston Scott, did NOT want people to believe Elena Garro’s account.”

          Well yeah, they were acting under presidential orders to cover up at that point, which included phony leads to Castro like Garro’s, as well as genuine leads.

          1. Elena Garro’s account came to late as window of oppertunity to strick Cuba with false flag that LHO was agent of Castro had passed by. Now Coup de’etat deniers our using anything to stop us from seeking the truth.
            Truth is out there and not that difficult to find.

        2. H.P. Albarelli Jr.

          Duran was not beaten. There is far more to the Garro account. Scott under “presidential orders”– I suspect not. The WC report was out well before the Garro account was first revealed and Scott did his best to cover it up, not to draw a line between it and Castro… no need for any dog to hunt.

  7. Shenon is trying but he keeps getting it wrong. During the publicity tour for his book he claimed to have uncovered new information not previously disclosed about the extent to which the FBI and CIA hid critical information from the Warren Commission staff. In particular, Shenon focused on Lee Oswald’s trip to Mexico City in late September/early October, claiming that if certain key information had been disclosed to the FBI and secret service, the assassination may have been preventable.

    Of course, those of us who have studied the assassination knew this was not “new” news. Unfortunately, Mr. Shenon seems incapable of viewing ambiguous or conflicting information as evidence of possible conspiracy. Whenever Mr. Shenon encounters evidence that presents a crossroad decision for him, he consistently opts for the lone gunman path. In doing so, he sometimes omits evidence to the contrary, overstates the evidence he relies on or uses the same approach of the Warren Commission and chooses to ignore or find such problematic evidence unpersuasive. I compiled my own list of 44 mistakes he made in his book which is available from my “Hard Evidence” FB page.

    We should encourage Mr. Shenon to dig deeper since he does seem to be an old fashion reporter. Maybe he needs to read more of Jeff’s work. 🙂

  8. Once again, the ‘Castro did it theory’ has to explain
    -Ruby’s activities: his presence at Parkland, knowledge of FPCC, stalking behavior and murder of Oswald . . . and so much more
    -Secret Service negligence
    -the strange autopsy, conflicting medical observations and moving wounds
    -Katzenbach’s memo
    -Specter’s overbearing and disingenuous handling of testimony
    -the Commission’s failure to call important witnesses
    -suppression of the Zapruder film
    – FBI intimidation, destruction of evidence and intentional failure to follow important leads that implicated the anti-Castro side
    – Fifty years of MSM unity

    And the proposition that the US government/MIC would have protected Castro is ludicrous.

  9. Arnaldo M. Fernandez

    Shenon has perpetrated a cruel and shocking act by keeping Oswald as the sole JFK killer and bringing Castro as the solution for the WC’s problem on LHO’s credible motive. His solution is actually the biggest CIA backstops in the history of the assassination.
    Shenon dared to revive the totally debunked story given by Elena Garro about seeing LHO at a “twist party” with Sylvia Duran, the Mexican employee at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City that Garro turned into a Castro agent. Her story also included the well-known red-haired Cuban referred by David A. Phillips’ asset Gilberto Alvarado.
    Shenon story also fell apart under elementary scrutiny. He simply avoided or bypassed the findings of the Lopez Report. There is neither a single quantum of proof nor a good argument to involve Castro in the assassination, while the CIA has neither produced a single photo of LHO entering or exiting the under photo surveillance Cuban Consulate, although there was six chances to take one, nor a single tape of LHO talking by phone, although there are five CIA transcripts of taped phone calls involving LHO. The list of conspiracy facts by the CIA could go on and on.
    Shenon is simply continuing in Phillips’ footsteps and covering his trail by cutting out the intel that would reveal those steps. The last straw of his nonsensical approach is foisting on the twist party the main purpose of winding LHO up to kill Kennedy… with Elena Garro there!

  10. it seems ludicrous to me also that the US would be protecting Castro and Cuba for so long if they had been involved in the assassination. Yet, I agree that Oswald’s visits to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City has to be important. This information would answer important questions, most likely. Since Oswald and others directly involved are no longer here to speak, we have to depend on getting our answers elsewhere. It is encouraging to know that Shenon has agreed to Jeff Morley’s request. It also now gives me doubts concerning other assassinations, like the Lincoln assassination, which I have also studied. If it sounds impossible that a lone gunman could assassinate Kennedy, then John Wilkes Booth perhaps had a little help also. It has been suggested. I know they say Booth had a reason. When I was very young and in Texas in 1963, I actually heard someone threaten and then say, “The south will rise again.” Of course you really don’t take something like that seriously.

  11. I recently read the Audio version of Shenon’s book and wrote a review on my JFKCountercoup.blogspot blog and include two new Mexico City witnesses that Shenon talks about but his sources refused to identify. There’s a few typos I am aware of but for some reason can’t change from my IPhone but will ASAP.

    I think this is an important story that – as Shenon suggests – should be followed up on.

    Bill Kelly

  12. Your post was a lot better than Shenon’s story, Jeff.

    But I hope Shenon’s gets some mainstream media attention. This case needs a serious re-visit by them and maybe the Cuba angle will make that happen.

  13. It seems that contemporary attempts to link Oswald with Cubans in an assassination plot is conjecture based on unproven sightings or assumed associations. Of the attempts to link Oswald with Cuba immediately after the assassination, Hardway and Lopez discovered that all the individuals engaged in this practice traced directly to the CIA’s David Phillips. Jim diEugenio has established that the first person to realize the importance of Mexico City to the case was New Orleans DA Jim Garrison in the mid-1960s.

  14. Michael Reaves

    I seemed to remember that there was a picture of Oswald outside the Cuba embassy. But it was not Oswald, so how do we know that the CIA (noted for deceptions)did not used this FAKE Oswald to draw attention away from the TRUE killer(s) of President Kennedy! When police investigate a murder, they look for a Motive and Who had the Most to gain from the death. The Only One who had the Most to Benefit and the Most to Lose was LBJ! LBJ was under investigation for political shady dealings. Had President Kennedy lived, Johnson was probably looking at prison time not to mentioned the end of his political career. With President Kennedy’s death (coup-de-tat) The investigation was stopped! And, to control the information of CIA involvement, Johnson’s picks Allen Dulles (Fired by Kennedy) to Control the information released to the Warren Commission!

  15. I see the mention of WC lawyer David Belin in this report. Belin was a strong pro-“Oswald did it alone” guy. He told Vicky Adams(the girl who ran down the TSBD stairs and didn’t see anyone, certainly not LHO)that he didn’t believe a word of her testimony. That was clearly following orders from the US Government. It didn’t mean Adams wasn’t telling the truth.

  16. Photon;

    After reading what Jeff and Philip have written, would you care to re-visit your BS “simple mistake” comment about Oswald and his visit to Mexico City? I will say it agsin for you: the CIA LIED in 63 and they are lying today. Period.

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