I can still remember where I was when I learned that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated. I was coming home from school that Friday and heard a man and a woman mention it as I waited at the corner for the traffic light to change. The woman had her hand over her mouth, the way women did in those days when they were about to laugh or cry. The man had his hands on her shoulders, not affectionately but the same way a police officer would hold my shoulders six years later when I learned that my stepparents had been killed by a drunk driver.
I spent the rest of that day and many days thereafter sitting in front of a portable television the size of a small freezer. I watched black and white images from a city I was told brimmed with hate; I glimpsed men in suits and narrow ties flit about; I listened to endless questions from reporters and measured responses from White House and Dallas authorities. Occasionally, there was a terse pronouncement from Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin.
— ABC News Bulletin: “We interrupt this program to bring you further details on the shooting of President Kennedy… A man and a woman were seen scrambling on the upper level of a walkway overlooking the underpass in which they believe the shots were fired… Police and Secret Service men quickly pulled their rifles, but it is not known if they returned any fire… President Kennedy, according to a member of his staff, is still alive… He was shot by unknown assailants. So far as we know at the present time, they have not been captured… We have some information regarding the persons who possibly might have fired the shots that struck the President and the Governor. It says, according to the United Press International service, at the top of a hill a man and a woman appeared huddled on the ground. In the turmoil, it was impossible to determine at once if the Secret Service and the Dallas police returned the gunfire.”
— Presidential Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff: “President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 Central Standard Time today, here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound in the brain… It’s a simple matter of a bullet right through the head (points to his right temple).”
— Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade: “No, he (Oswald) didn’t give any motive. In fact, he denies them both (the killing of President Kennedy and Police Officer J. D. Tippitt).
— Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry: “There’s others we want to talk to… He (Oswald) just denies everything… We have heard that he was picked up by a Negro, in a car… In all of the interrogations there have been an FBI Agent present and a Secret Service Agent present.”
— Accused Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald: “I really don’t know what this situation is about; nobody has told me anything… I don’t know what dispatches you people have been given, but I emphatically deny these charges.”
— Dallas Detective James Leavelle: “I’ve known Jack Ruby (Oswald’s killer) for a number of years, and I recognized him just as soon as he emerged from the crowd.”
— CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite: “There was what appeared to be a bullet nick in the windshield of the limousine… Parkland Hospital doctors reported as saying they thought at least one bullet entered Mr. Kennedy’s neck from the front.”
In the summer of 1966 I spent two weeks at a friend’s home in Tampa, Florida. He had an uncle—whom I’ll call “Ray”—who I later learned was an officer in the CIA. I had gone off alone to go bowling and was on my way back. As I walked up to the front of the house I could hear music and splashing going on in the pool out back. I was thirsty and decided to enter the house through the front door and head to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Apparently, no one heard me enter—what with all the noise—as in the living room Ray and another man were deep in conversation. The man said to Ray, “There was no way we could live with that, not 24 years of Kennedys. Jack would have been re-elected; that’s 8 years of him. Then 8 years of Bobby and 8 more of Ted? No way.” He stopped when he saw me cross to the kitchen. I smiled at them, but they just stared at me.
Later, as I sat alone in the den listening to their shortwave radio, Ray came in and asked me how I was going back home. By bus, I told him. He then offered me a free trip back to New York City on American Airlines, plus a round trip to any city I wanted to visit, whenever I wanted. He said he worked for Continental Can Company and that they had several seats on American reserved for their executives so that they could fly at a moment’s notice. Being a good friend of the family, I was more than welcome to use one of those seats.
I was flush with excitement. But before I could speak, I had this sickening taste, like bile, on the back of my tongue. At the time I wasn’t quite sure why; I just had this feeling that I should decline his offer. I said that there was so much of the country I wanted to see, and I thought the best way to do that was by bus. Ray smiled, then gave me the sort of look exchanged between friends sharing a secret. He left, but not before saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if we met again.
In 1977, seven top FBI officials due to testify before the House Select Committee On Assassinations died during a 6-month period.
- Louis Nicholls, former #3 man at the Bureau, J. Edgar Hoover’s liaison with the Warren Commission: heart attack.
- Regis Kennedy, one of Oswald’s FBI handlers, confiscated home movies of the assassination: heart attack.
- James Cadigan, document expert with access to classified documents related to the JFK assassination, testified before the Warren Commission: died from a fall in his home.
- Alan Belmont, an Assistant Director under J. Edgar Hoover, in charge of all investigative work after the JFK assassination, testified before the Warren Commission: died after a long illness.
- J.M. English, Head of FBI Forensic Sciences Laboratory, examined the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and the pistol Oswald owned: heart attack.
- Donald Kaylor, fingerprint chemist, examined fingerprints found at the Texas School Book Depository, tied to the Oswald palm print later found on the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle: heart attack.
- William Sullivan, head of Division 5 (Counterespionage and Domestic Intelligence), who claimed “there were huge gaps in the case; gaps we never did close”: died from a gunshot wound in a hunting accident.
A couple of weeks after I returned from Tampa I was back on my paper route, delivering the Christian Science Monitor. My final delivery stop was the Theological Seminary at Columbia University, where the bulk of my papers was delivered.
Unlike the rest of the campus, the Seminary was quiet. In the late afternoon when I delivered the paper, few people milled about; most were engaged in study or prayer. The halls and stairwells were virtually empty. In the Seminary’s administrative offices I saw the same faces, 6 days a week.
On this Saturday, as with most Saturdays, there were only a handful of my regulars around, and just a couple of office workers. As I approached the administrative building, a man standing in the doorway, whom I had never seen, nodded to me as I passed him. As I went up the stairs, I could see him in the reflection on the stairwell windows. He waved to someone to come toward him.
I dropped off the papers and headed to the top floor. There, a room had been reserved as a small gymnasium, complete with a judo mat, a few free weights, a rowing machine, and a resistance bicycle. I used to spend an hour there each Saturday practicing judo falls from a book I had bought. Once or twice a student would peek in, smile and say hello to me by name—I was, after all, their paperboy—but for the most part no one entered the room while I was there.
If there is one thing I can tell you about gothic architecture, it’s that it produces a resounding, distinctive echo. That afternoon while falling and rolling about the mat, I heard footsteps echoing louder and louder from the stairwell. To me, it was a reminder that my hour was probably up and it was time to leave. I walked down the corridor to the stairwell—no one was there. Perhaps it was the janitor and maybe a student. I had heard what sounded like two sets of footsteps because their echoes were irregular, not the constant, steady peal one hears from one person trudging up the stairs.
I reached the first floor and left the building. Within a few seconds the same man I had seen leaning in the doorway came up to me; with him was another man. Both were fairly tall, around six feet, with light brown or blond hair. It was late summer, but these two had an odd, pasty-white complexion. The doorway man told his friend that I was a good-looking kid. He then asked me if he could take my picture. Every pernicious tale of child predators I’d ever heard rushed to mind. I backed away. The man apologized to me and produced a camera, saying that he meant no harm and really wanted to take my picture to show to his friends. Yeah, right.
I stiffened, preparing myself for the first application of my book-learned judo. Instead, this fellow snapped my picture—twice, in fact. He thanked me and left with his friend.
Observation. A security service uses surveillance to watch you. They find out what you’re doing, discover whom your contacts, associates and friends are. They learn your plans.
Detecting your adversary. Being able to detect surveillance gives you a margin of safety that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Thwarting your adversary. Knowing that you’re under surveillance means you can begin to thwart your adversary’s attempts to gather information about you. Being able to detect surveillance gives you the opportunity to confuse and confound the security service.
Following the JFK assassination, I heard and read various theories on what had happened that day in November. No one in my underprivileged community believed the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin. We all viewed Lyndon Baines Johnson as the totem of a cabal that had assassinated the 35th President of the United States.
It so happened there were others beyond my Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood who doubted the official version of what happened that day:
- Researcher Sylvia Meagher wrote the critique exemplar of the Warren Report, Accessories After The Fact.
- State Department Intelligence Analyst Harold Weisberg became one of the nation’s leading authorities on the JFK assassination, collecting over a quarter of a million assassination-related documents as well as writing several books on the subject.
- Attorney and author Mark Lane, one of the earliest Warren Commission critics, wrote Rush To Judgment, one of the seminal works on the JFK assassination.
- Mary Ferrell, historian and researcher, devoted her life to collecting books, newspapers, magazines, reports, and declassified documents on the assassination, amassing an extensive database.
There are others, many others—some with various axes to grind, Warren Commission apologists, those fixated on identifying the shooters, and more. It has become difficult to distinguish the wheat from the chaff in this morass. I harken back to my childhood and wonder… If detectives like the men and women in the New York City Police Department had investigated the case, would there be as much disinformation as now abounds?
I wonder if incidents like that which occurred at the Winnipeg Airport would have gone under-reported. There, Richard Giesbrecht, a salesman, had an appointment to meet a client at the airport. While having a cocktail in the airport lounge, he overheard two men talking about Oswald, wondering how much he knew and how much does she (Marina, Oswald’s wife) know. A name was mentioned—sounding like “Isaacs”—who was apparently seen on news film after the landing of the President’s plane. (The FBI later identified this as “Love Field” in their six-page report.) Further conversation could be heard in bits and pieces, such as, “If Oswald is found guilty the Bureau will not stop their investigation.” They talked about “Merchandise coming from Nevada… Too risky in the past months. We’ll have to close up shop temporarily.” Giesbrecht recalled reference being made to the name of a person soundling like “Hoffman” or “Hauckman” (Troy Houghton of the right-wing group the Minutemen?) in conjunction again with Isaacs. One of the men said that Isaacs was to be relieved and the car destroyed (the FBI report identified it as a 1958 Dodge). The other man could clearly be overheard saying, “Isaacs, a man with such a good record would get involved with a psycho like Oswald.”
A declassified FBI document stated that a .38 caliber revolver was discovered in the immediate vicinity of the assassination site. “For the information of the Boston office on the morning of November Twenty-three, last, a snub nose thirty-eight caliber Smith and Wesson, serial number eight nine three two six five, with the word quote England unquote on the cylinder was found at approximately seven thirty AM, in a brown paper sack in the general area of where the assassination of President Kennedy took place.”
Dallas Police Officers Roger Craig, Seymour Weitzman, Will Fritz, Eugene Boone and Luke Mooney were on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where a rifle was found. Craig asked Weitzman to identify the weapon. Weitzman, who had owned a sporting goods store and was more of an authority on rifles, picked up the weapon and pointed to the name stamped on the gun barrel: 7.65 Mauser.
A crime was committed that day in November 1963; its result being a new paradigm for public governance. The architects of this model are long since dead. Proving that there was a conspiracy is only a small step toward recognizing that an oligarchic confluence of military, business and financial spheres has rendered democracy to a delusive promise, carted before the public once every four years like leap year where, as if by magic, an extra day is gained.