ECHOES OF CONSPIRACY July 17, 1986 Vol. 8, #2 Paul L. Hoch +quot;An interesting theory can
ECHOES OF CONSPIRACY July 17, 1986
Vol. 8, #2 Paul L. Hoch
"An interesting theory can always outrun a set of facts," according to
psychologist A. Holliday, at a 1959 conference on LSD therapy chaired by Dr.
Paul Hoch, CIA consultant and "opinion leader."
From "Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties Rebellion," a new book
by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain (Grove, $12.95). A fascinating social
history, particularly the chapters on the CIA's early interest in LSD.
("Funny and irreverent" - WP)
There are a few references to John and Robert Kennedy, but nothing new on
the Mary Pinchot Meyer story. If people like Meyer's friend Angleton knew of
her dabbling in drugs with Leary and apparently with JFK, did it matter? I
wonder, but the book avoids speculation along such lines. There is no mention
of "Did Lee Harvey Oswald Drop Acid?," the article co-authored by ex-AIB'er
Lee. (5 EOC 1, p. 4) (#1986.14: Publisher's press release, consisting of
advance comments by Ginsberg, Stockwell, Krassner, et al.)
In November, Showtime will present four hours of "The Trial of LHO," with
Vincent Bugliosi for the prosecution and Jerry Spence for the defense. (Ed
Bark, DMN, 21 Jun 86, reprinted in Coverups, 6/86 [#15].) An earlier report
by Jerry Rose identifies the producers as London Weekend Television. (See
2 3D 3.21; that is, The Third Decade, Vol. 2, #3 [Mar 1986], p. 21) Although
there are risks in having lawyers present the case, this should a good show.
16. 22 Nov 85 (Fredericksburg, VA "Free Lance-Star") "JFK questions
persist" A summary of what has and hasn't happened since the HSCA report, by
guest columnist (and buff) Harry Nash. "The simple fact is that Justice, like
many agencies of government over the years, would like for the question to go
away. If you think the reason is just 'bureaucratic', think again. The
murders [of JFK and MLK] did not occur in a vacuum. William Faulkner (in
another context) said it best: 'The past isn't dead; it isn't even past.'"
This is the only anniversary article I recall which dealt with the
ongoing controversy over the assassination. Were there others? (I have the
original version of the widely publicized account of how the WC damaged the
Hoover-Warren relationship; it should be in the next EOC.)
17. 5 Mar 86 (LA Herald-Examiner) "RFK slaying report lacks all the
facts" [2 p.] Quotes Paul Schrade and Greg Stone, who said that "what is
important is the 97% of material which remains withheld." The commission
asked Mayor Bradley to form a committee to develop standards and a schedule
for release of the remaining material. This advisory panel has been set up.
People interested in encouraging fuller disclosure should get in touch
with Stone or Phil Melanson. There is much concern about the processing of
the remaining material. The summary report itself costs $150 ($0.10/page!)
plus postage, and is probably not worth it. For earlier coverage of the
release process, see 7 EOC 3, p. 1.
18. 5 Mar (NYT) "Summary of Report Released...." "Critics said the
commission's report contained nothing that was not published in [Robert
Houghton's] 1970 book...." Stone tells me that it is worse than that;
published information has now been deleted.
19. 5 Mar 86 (LAT) "Summary of Police Probe Says Sirhan Acted Alone"
[3 pp.] Page one, but hardly news. "Release of the 1,500-page summary [on
March 4] did little to mollify critics...." Schrade accused the police
commissioners of "arrogance" and challenged Chief Gates to explain the
trajectory of the bullet which struck him.
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20. 5 Mar (SFX) "RFK murder probe is 'a P.R. gesture,' victim
complains" [2 pp.] Also quotes Prof. Melanson.
21. 4 Mar [25 pp.] Partial transcript of the board meeting, including
comments by critics.
Other March 5 reports, mostly from wire services: #22, USA Today
(incomplete copy); #23, AP; #24, Hartford Courant; #25, SFC (from LAT),
[2 pp.]; #26, Detroit News.
27. 6 Mar (LAHE) Editorial, "A call for public disclosure"
28. 9 Mar (Dubin, Phila. Inquirer) "RFK summary sharpens demands for
all files" [2 pp.] A rather good summary, including comments from Stone and
Schrade (whose doctor called it "crazy to think that Sirhan acted alone").
29. 16 Mar (Providence Journal) "Assassination and gun control: RFK
report puts spotlight on protection of president" [3 pp.] Primarily an
interview of Melanson.
30. 28 Mar (LAT) "Sirhan Denied Parole; Crime's 'Enormity' Cited"
A staff psychiatrist described him as "generally rehabilitated."
31. 20 Apr 86 (Boston Herald) "JFK's death: Let's find the truth"
An op-ed piece by Henry Hurt, directed at Boston Congressional candidate
Joseph P. Kennedy. "The bond of silence that began with Robert Kennedy has
remained inviolate. Indeed, the members of this illustrious family are among
a tiny minority of Americans who have not vigorously debated this important
issue.... In a recent profile of Joe Kennedy in Life Magazine, he is quoted
as saying that it is time for his campaign 'to take the initiative on
something.'... If Joe Kennedy fully accepts the simplistic official version
of JFK's death, then let him say so." (Reprinted in 2 3D 4.4.)
32. (Same paper, same date) "Joe Kennedy urged to reopen JFK probe:
Author cites conspiracy theory" (but not Easterling) A page-two news story
based on an interview of Hurt. Joe Kennedy was not available for comment; his
campaign manager said he may make a statement. (As far as I know, he has made
none, and nothing has come of this.)
33. 16 Feb 86 (WP Book World) [2 pp.] Reviewer Anthony Lukas notes
that Hurt "is most convincing in his meticulous dissection of [the WC]
scenario," but "less persuasive when he seeks to assemble an alternative
scenario. Everyone in his story has a purpose.... There is little room for
chance.... And the only major piece of new evidence [Easterling's testimony]
is singularly unconvincing." Lukas concludes that, until there is access to
the secrets Hurt believes to be still locked up, "anything and everything is
possible." I don't think he is being sarcastic; perhaps Hougan's revisionist
analysis of Watergate, which Lukas took seriously (#1984.180), influenced his
perspective on the JFK case.
34. March 86 (3D) A nine-page "review essay" by Jerry Rose, positive
in general but with several points of disagreement. (You should have your
subscription copy, so I won't describe it further here.)
In response, Hurt has written a letter to Rose, challenging readers to
name another "detailed, on-the-record account of personal involvement in a
successful conspiracy." Perhaps such a distinction can be drawn, but in my
opinion the similarities between Easterling's story and many others far
outweigh the differences.
35. Mar 86 (Coverups) "Significant Doubt about 'Reasonable Doubt'"
Gary Mack considers the book "one of the most disappointing and misleading
'major' works" on the case. I disagree with some of the specific points Mack
disputes - e.g., the John Hurt phone call, and Harrelson as the tall tramp -
and I have no problem with the book leaving out the backyard photos, the
umbrella man, and even the acoustics. In any case, Mack's specifics do not
establish his most serious criticism, that the book was "very carefully,
cleverly constructed" to build a case that Castro did it, and to give the
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impression that it completely covers the major open questions. I didn't get
that impression from the book; if the Justice Department or many reviewers
were to respond that way, I would reconsider.
36. Jun 86 (Coverups) Reporter Johann Rush recounts his own
impressions of Easterling, who was trying to sell his story for money when
Rush talked to him in 1981-83. The records of the alleged "diversionary fire"
show no damage to the building, just a little to some furniture; no hydrant
was used, alleges Rush. [2 pp.]
37. 26 Jan 86 (Cincinnati Enq.) A "must read," but the reviewer
complains (with some validity) that Hurt ignored Dr. Lattimer's work on the
single-bullet theory and the head snap.
38. 9 Feb (St. Petersburg Times) "Another dubious conspiracy"
"The conspiracy theorists' main fault is that they, like Hurt, deprive Oswald
39. 16 Feb (Baton Rouge Sun) A short review, mostly negative ("a
rehash"). "The Easterling chapter is riveting, but not worth the $19.95...."
40. 23 Feb (Richmond T-D) A mixed review by a retired member of the
Foreign Service. "The endless reporting on Easterling raises the question of
why a well-regarded journalist should have devoted so much time to 'Reasonable
Doubt.' The surest answer lies in the incredible divergence of the reports
from governmental investigations of the assassination."
41. Mar 86 (Village Voice Literary Supp.) A positive review - even
Easterling's story "compels attention" - consisting mostly of the reviewer's
favorite old anti-WC arguments. (Carl Oglesby is singled out among those who
have previously made "extremely plausible guesses" about the culprits.)
42. 3 Mar 86 (Pub. Wkly) "Challenge, Inc. Continues Two Libel Actions"
Also, David Phillips "is considering a suit" against Hurt "for allegations...
that he was 'Maurice Bishop,' CIA case officer for Lee Harvey Oswald."
43. 7 Mar 86 (SFC) "From Castro's Plot To the Botched Autopsy"
"Like the creature from the swamp in a C-grade movie, it [the case] won't be
put to rest." Tantalizing, but "conspiracy is not really explosive news at
this date unless you can name the conspirators," and Hurt's book, like the
HSCA report, "suffers from that deficiency."
44. 10 Mar 86 (Roanoke Times) "'Reasonable Doubt' a lesson for shuttle
investigation" (That is, "be thorough, get it right the first time," unlike
the Warren Commission.)
45. 12 Mar 86 My rough handwritten notes on Hurt's appearance on WWCN
radio, Albany. Does he think that "Mr. Stone" killed Tippit? Here, he says
that he has come up with the person "who probably did." Hurt thinks that JFK
would have "gotten Castro out of this hemisphere"; that LBJ thought Castro
killed JFK, and got the message, thus deciding to fight Communism in Vietnam
instead of Cuba. Given the evidence on JFK's involvement in Vietnam, and the
ongoing pressure against Castro under LBJ, this is too speculative for me.
46. 23 Mar 86 (Milwaukee Journal) "More doubt on JFK" Reviewer David
Wrone is critical of the Easterling chapter ("No cub reporter would turn in a
story like this") and of much more. The anti-WC chapters are "solid" but Hurt
"cannot evaluate witness testimony" and "is blinded by an anti-Communism"
which "enables him... to portray the murder as the work of Castro Communists
[and] the Mafia."
47. Apr 86 (Freedom) [2 pp.] A generally negative review, suggesting
that Hurt deliberately played down the possibility of government involvement.
(This monthly magazine, linked to the Scientologists, publishes investigative
reports on various important topics, but unfortunately a substantial part of
what it prints ranges from a bit overdone to quite silly indeed.)
48. 6 Apr 86 (Oakland Tribune) "Volume opens forum to more JFK
assassination theories" [2 pp.] A favorable review by Jonathan Marshall, now
the Trib's editorial page editor, focusing on Burkley, Tippit, and suppression
of evidence by federal agencies. "Worst of all, however, was the decision of
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the [HSCA] to put a 50-year seal on most of the thousands of pages of
documents it assembled. 'The irony of the situation... is clear,' noted
Berkeley-based assassination scholar Paul Hoch. 'The congressional
investigators who broke the JFK case wide open and reversed the official
government verdict have left us with more material withheld than ever
before.'" (4 EOC 5.1)
"The assassination deserves whatever study it still receives. For even
if the conspirators are never identified, much less caught, careful analysis
of the crime and its aftermath will continue to shed light on the many
political pathologies that rippled outward from the center of the
49. 13 Apr 86 (Phila. Inquirer) A review by Jean Davison, author of
"Oswald's Game." (5 EOC 4) On the whole, she is not overly negative:
"Anyone who has followed the controversy will probably want to read the latest
round in the debate. Whether one agrees with them or not, conspiracy books
like this one are seldom dull."
"It is not unusual... for conspiracy theorists to make their attacks on
the Warren Report sound utterly convincing - until they try to explain what
<> happened. Then some sticky questions inevitably arise. For instance,
why does all the physical evidence point to Oswald's rifle and to no other
weapon?... If a better rifle was used, where did its bullets go?... Hurt
provides a novel explanation.... Readers who prefer complex solutions to
simple ones will find much to admire in <>." (She might be
wrong about any given area of evidence, but she does have a point.)
Easterling's confession "has the dreamlike quality of a delusion....
[He] seems to have been working for everyone on the conspiracy theorists' list
of Top Ten Suspects.... It seems not to have occurred to Hurt that Easterling
could have gotten many of his ideas from reading earlier books about Dallas."
(Hurt certainly did think about that explanation, but, indeed, you wouldn't
know that from the book itself.) "Sadly, Easterling's confession sounds like
an unconscious parody of the theories presented there."
50. 22 Apr 86 [3 pp.] A letter from Hurt to the Inquirer, defending
his handling of the neutron activation analysis and noting that Davison's book
was not, as the Inquirer said, "a critical examination of conspiracy theories"
but, in Davison's publisher's words, "an anti-conspiracy book about Oswald's
assassination of President Kennedy." Hurt also says "I accept Miss Davison's
attack on the credibility of Robert Easterling."
51. 19 Apr 86 (Montreal Gazette) A positive review by Brian McKenna,
who directed two CBC documentaries on the JFK case. He notes Hurt's work on a
report of Oswald handing out FPCC literature in Montreal, and regrets that
Easterling may have taken Hurt away from "more fertile trails." "In his
graceful and diplomatic treatment of the lonely work of the critics, Hurt
refrains from the poisonous backbiting that has so divided many of the best
ones over the years." (Reprinted in Coverups, June 1986)
52. (Same paper, date, and author) "How careers like Dan Rather's were
built on [the] JFK assassination" Rather told McKenna in 1978 that he
personally believed there was a conspiracy, but despite the HSCA he allegedly
continues to reflect the lone-nut view, and was among those who vetoed a
potential story by "60 Minutes" based on Lifton's evidence. Quite far out for
a sidebar (a far-out-bar?): "What this suggests is that like many high U.S.
officials in every branch of government, Rather's career and the official
story are welded together." McKenna's brings up Rather's erroneous
description of the Zapruder film, and the WC's "printing error" resulting in
transposed frames (both of which I accept as non-sinister mistakes).
53. 25 May 85 (Jackson, MS Clarion-Ledger & News) "Book explores
confession in Kennedy assassination" [2 pp.] Hurt, who used to work for the
Jackson News, met with two FBI agents "who had examined Easterling's file.
'The whole tone was, one of, "Listen, you're a fairly sensible fellow, how can
8 EOC 2 -5-
you get taken in by this man?" And my position was I'm not being taken in by
him. I'm trying to find out the full story. I don't understand why you folks
haven't taken a more vigorous interest in the man,' Hurt said.... Attempts to
contact the FBI about Easterling's story were unsuccessful." (#53a: an
accompanying review, not noteworthy.)
There is some interesting information on Hurt (rather than on the case)
in the following articles from Virginia papers, which are mostly profiles
based in part on interviews:
54. 16 Feb 86 (Danville Register) [3 pp.; photo: #54A]
55. 9 Mar (Richmond T-D) [2 pp.]
56. 10-12 Mar (Lynchburg News) [5 pp.] Also quotes Ed Tatro.
57. 16 Mar (Roanoke Times) [2 pp.]
A few more reviews, short and/or not particularly noteworthy: #58 (19
Jan), Fort Wayne Journal; #59 (23 Jan), Macon, MS Beacon; #60 (16 Feb),
Anniston, AL Star; #61, Detroit News; #62 (24 Apr), Daily Express (UK).
Several people have challenged me to explain how Tippit's affair might
have actually played a role in the events of November 22. Indeed, it would be
quite a coincidence if he happened to be the victim of a killer with a
personal grudge just when Oswald was in the vicinity. Such things do happen -
that's why they are called coincidences - and it is plausible that the DPD
would have used the dead Oswald to clear up an unsolved crime. But a more
complex scenario may make more sense. Joanne Braun speculates that Tippit's
problems may have caused him to go to some unsavory characters for help, for
example to get some money which his wife would not know about, and that he may
have gotten entangled with, and in debt to, some hypothetical conspirators,
who then set him up as they set Oswald up. Also, David Lifton reminded me of
the eyewitness evidence suggesting that Tippit had been waiting for someone
coming from the same direction as Oswald. (Ramparts, Nov 66) And of course
Tippit's affair might explain only why he was in Oak Cliff.
Ted Gandolfo sent Jim Garrison part of 8 EOC 1, and sent me a copy of
Garrison's reply. (Letter of 14 Apr 86 to Gandolfo, #1986.63; quoted almost
in full here.)
The Judge had "nothing to say concerning [Hoch's] comments about me.
Frankly, I found them to be incoherent."
"I cannot guess as to the origin of his emotional hang up [sic] about me.
In any case, I will not attempt to reply to him in a similar vein...." Some
of my earlier research on the assassination was "quite competent. Moreover --
in view of the solid front presented by the federal government in its cover-up
of the assassination -- it seems to me childlike for one assassination critic
to attempt to dis-credit another publicly." (I suppose calling Tony Summers
"one of the [CIA's] more accomodating prostitutes" doesn't count.)
"One statement of Hoch's, however, does concern me enough to require a
comment. He refers to the 'vulnerability of Clay Shaw due to his apparently
irrelevant C.I.A. links and homosexuality.' Mr. Hoch should go straight to
the bathroom and wash his mouth with soap."
"Throughout our trial, in everything I have ever written and in every
public statement I have ever made -- I never once have made any reference to
Clay Shaw's alleged homosexuality. What sort of human being is Mr. Hoch that
he is impelled to so gratuitously make such a reference in a newsletter which
he widely distributes to the public? For all his faults or virtues, Shaw is
dead and unable to defend himself from that kind of off the wall canard. No
matter how virtuously Hoch might couch it, a smear is still a smear."
I will let you decide if my reference (or Hurt's) was gratuitous. Out
here, referring to someone's homosexuality stopped being a canard years ago;
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at least, it's not as serious as charging someone with conspiring to kill JFK.
Does Garrison now think Shaw was involved in the conspiracy which led to
JFK's death? If so, the reference to "all his faults or virtues" is
In 1969, J. Edgar Hoover himself called me "a smear artist", for
suggesting that there may have been an undisclosed relationship between Oswald
and the FBI. [#64, 2 pp.] So Garrison is in good company.
As for my question in 8 EOC 1 about Garrison's case, asking what evidence
he had when he arrested Shaw: The most enthusiastic answer came from
Gandolfo, who said, "Did't you know that Shaw was connected with Permindex,
which just happens to be one of the most efficient assassination organizations
around?? Didn't you know that Shaw was CIA?" Also, Shaw's friend Ferrie was
CIA and there is Russo's testimony. That is, of course, exactly the sort of
evidence which I did know about but which does not relate to my question.
Gandolfo also promised to expose me as "just a CIA coverup bastard" in
his newsletter, to which I do not subscribe. Does anyone out there want to
send me a copy?
The best semi-serious answer came from Robert Ranftel and Jim Lesar, who
sent me an FBI letterhead memo dated March 2, 1967, the day after Shaw's
arrest. (#65, 2 pp.) The memo, discussed in Hurt's book (p. 281), notes that
one of Shaw's alleged homosexual contacts said on March 19, 1964, that Shaw
was into S&M. On February 24, 1967, two sources reported that they thought
Shaw had "homosexual tendencies," and two sources (possibly the same ones)
indicated that Shaw was Clay Bertrand, who allegedly contacted Dean Andrews on
Oswald's behalf. Unnamed FBI sources are not necessarily reliable, but in any
case none of this evidence even suggests that Shaw conspired with anyone to
kill JFK. Sorry, but the prize for my $64 question remains unawarded.
Incidentally, Lou Sproesser pointed out a problem with the Hurt-HSCA
hypothesis that Banister, not Shaw, was with Oswald and Ferrie in Clinton.
Marshall J. Manchester testified at the Shaw trial that he checked out the car
and that Shaw said he was from the Trade Mart. (NYT, 7 Feb 69, 2 pp., #66)
Manchester is not necessarily credible, but this shows that untangling the
Clinton story by believing just some of the testimony is not easy.
While I was in the mood to discredit my fellow critics, I came across a
letter from Garrison to "Freedom" (May 1986, #67) which is worth some
attention. It offers a rare opportunity to scrutinize Garrison's analytical
work in an area where the evidence is accessible and not crucial.
I think the buffs should keep in mind that what got many of us into the
case in the first place was the demonstrable inadequacy of the Warren Report -
for example, conclusions and summaries in the Report which did not even
adequately reflect the published evidence, much less what was not published.
In my own case, at least, the inference was that any investigation which was
so clearly unreliable on details could certainly not be trusted to get the
difficult and uncheckable answers right.
These days, assertions by Garrison and his ilk tend to get accepted into
the mythology of the case if they sound plausible, without much detailed
scrutiny. It is not easy to deal with most such claims. For example, no
matter how exaggerated Garrison's (or Sprague's) comments about the HSCA staff
and investigation under Blakey seem, and how implausible their conclusions
about what was behind the HSCA, most of the rebuttal evidence is known only to
HSCA people, and everyone who dealt with the HSCA knows their investigation
was inadequate in many ways - at least in many small areas. So, it is hard to
argue against the conclusions of Garrison or Sprague (either Sprague, in fact)
without seeming to defend certain indefensible aspects of the HSCA's work.
Likewise, when implausible things are said about Oswald in New Orleans
(by the HSCA) or about Cuban exiles, one may be reluctant to be properly
critical if one believes, as most of us do, that those areas probably are
central, and that someone might well have come up with new and important
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(but unverifiable) evidence.
So I have no qualms about taking a close look at Garrison's charge that
the Warren Commission may have relied on a CIA asset to solve one evidentiary
problem. Garrison wrote that an earlier "Freedom" article on Hemingway "may
have contributed to the identification of a possible CIA 'asset.'" In about
1961, Dr. Howard Rome, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, gave Hemingway shock
treatments. In September 1964, Rome gave the WC an analysis of Oswald, which
"would appear to have been obtained and inserted just prior to the printing
deadline in order to mask one of the major holes still remaining in the
official fiction: Oswald's motivation. The thrust of Dr. Rome's evaluation
was that Oswald's spelling problem was not inconsistent with his having
murdered the president of the United States." In Wesley Liebeler's words,
"the frustration which may have resulted [from Oswald's reading-spelling
difficulty] gave an added impetus to his need to prove to the world that he
was an unrecognized 'great man.'"
Garrison does qualify his factual conclusion (enough to make it
nonlibelous?): "One cannot ignore the fact that it is just possible that Dr.
Rome might have been functioning all along primarily as an agency 'asset.'"
Then he takes off again: "Those men who function clandestinely as CIA assets
will do anything and help destroy anyone for a share of the CIA's cornucopia.
To give but one example, consider how successful the media and 'journalistic
author' assets have been in giving life to the two remaining scapegoats in the
JFK assassination -- Fidel Castro and organized crime."
It is the jump to such a broad allegation which justifies attention to
Garrison's comments on the Rome matter. His analysis is, basically,
unsupported by the evidence Garrison himself refers to, and to some degree
contradicted by it. Some terse one-word assessments spring to mind, but I
don't want to be told again to wash my mouth out with soap.
The details are not interesting enough to reproduce here, but I'll send
my analysis to anyone who wants it, at no charge. (#68, 3 pp.) If very few
people ask for it, I'll probably draw some inferences from that.
One question for the third decade (and for Jerry Rose's journal as well)
is how to deal with the survival of myths about the assassination other than
the Warren Commission's. That is, what is the role of "scholarly research"
when many of the people still interested in the case are sure that the head
snap proves there was a shot from the front, that the single-bullet theory is
a joke, that the HSCA's primary goal was to hide the truth, or that Garrison
solved the case with the arrest of Clay Shaw?
The April and May 1986 issues of "Freedom" include a long article by
Richard E. (critic) Sprague and two "Freedom" staffers, "The Ultimate Cover-
up," focusing on the CIA, the HSCA, Ruby, and mind control. (There are also
parts of a long series by Fletcher Prouty on the CIA, dealing with the
assassination in the May issue.) Each issue is $1.50 from 1301 N. Catalina
St., Los Angeles, CA 90027. Certainly many of the details are correct, and
maybe some of the big charges are, but I do not think these articles
consistently meet essential standards of exposition and logical argument.
What follows is essentially the complete text of a letter I sent to the
Justice Department on May 13, 1986. Once again, an assassination lead brings
us back to the hidden history of the Kennedy administration's war against
In connection with the Justice Department review of the report of the
House Select Committee on Assassinations, I would like to bring to your
attention one area in which the report was incomplete. I believe that the
published information may be unfair to one of the named individuals, Paulino
Mr. Sierra is mentioned on page 134 of the HSCA report, which states that
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a certain "arms deal was being financed through one Paulino Sierra Martinez by
hoodlum elements in Chicago and elsewhere." A staff report on the organi-
zation he headed (JGCE, the Junta del Gobierno de Cuba en el Exilio) is
published in Vol. l0, pp. 95-103. This HSCA report appears to be based
entirely on a review of existing documents (mostly from FBI and CIA files).
The HSCA's information relating to Sierra is summarized in a book by HSCA
staff members Robert Blakey and Richard Billings, "The Plot to Kill the
President." The Sierra material takes up a substantial part of the chapter
entitled "Cuban Exiles and the Motive of Revenge."
Blakey and Billings said that a "background check [on Sierra] stimulated
our interest in a Cuban exile - Mafia connection that just might have had a
bearing on the assassination."
Sierra reportedly said that he had backers who would provide a large sum
of money - $30 million - to finance an invasion of Cuba. "Sierra was saying
publicly that it [the money] was being donated by U.S. corporations whose
assets in Cuba had been expropriated.... According to several sources, the
real benefactors were members of the underworld, whose gambling interests in
Cuba had indeed been expropriated by Castro.... There were other indications
that organized-crime figures were behind the Sierra plan...." By June 1963,
the FBI in Chicago concluded that Sierra was "a con artist."
Blakey and Billings said that they "were able to document in detail
Sierra's activities and his apparent connection, or that of his backers, to
organized crime," but that "the relevance to the assassination remained
undetermined." (P. 174)
My colleague Peter Dale Scott and I studied the HSCA's Sierra material in
some detail when the report was published. At first, Scott (like Blakey and
Billings) was interested in the apparent connections between Sierra and
various people whose names had become familiar in the JFK assassination
controversy. (For example, Antonio Veciana, Gerry Patrick Hemming, and Rich
Lauchli.) Scott found additional possibilities for links between Sierra's
associates and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Scott came to doubt Blakey's belief that organized crime was the dominant
force behind Sierra's Junta. Scott interviewed a number of the principals,
including Sierra. (Sierra's employer, William Browder, essentially supported
Sierra's account of the formation of the JGCE.) Sierra was displeased that
the HSCA had depicted him in such a sinister light, and that he had not been
interviewed by the Committee or its staff.
Sierra specifically objected to the implication that he was working in
opposition to the policy of the Federal government. According to Blakey and
Billings, "Sierra told the exile leaders that he spoke for a group of American
businessmen in Chicago who wanted to join forces with them to overthrow
Castro, with or without the approval of the U.S. government." (P. 174)
Scott found a published reference to Sierra which indicates that he was
indeed coordinating some of his actions with the U.S. government at a high
In his biography of Robert Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger discussed an anti-
Castro operation in Central America involving Manuel Artime. "Hal Hendrix of
the <> supposed [this operation was] managed either by CIA or, 'on a
hip pocket basis,' by the Attorney General [Robert Kennedy] himself." Luis
Somoza, "son of the thieving Nicaraguan dictator," tried to learn of the
attitude of the U.S. government toward that operation. Somoza "was soon
telling Carribean notables that he had received a 'green light' from Robert
Schlesinger noted that a State Department official said that Somoza had
not in fact gotten that approval, when Somoza's claims were repeated to him in
a meeting in August 1963.
Scott was able to obtain a memorandum concerning that meeting under the
Freedom of Information Act.... (Memo by John H. Crimmins, Coordinator of
8 EOC 2 -9-
Cuban Affairs in the State Department, August 17, 1963)
The man who repeated Somoza's claims was Paulino Sierra, who said that he
had been in touch with Somoza, who had offered him a site for a base. "Sierra
and Rivero said they had to know what truth there was in Somoza's assertion
about U.S. support for him before deciding whether to accept his offer or to
go it alone." (Crimmins memo, p. 2)
Sierra and his associate, Felipe Rivero, described themselves as
"[d]evoted... to the United States and conscious of the need to do nothing
that would run counter to U.S. policy." (P. 4) Sierra "emphasized again the
desire of his supporters not to operate contrary to U.S. policy." (P. 6)
Prior to the meeting, the Attorney General's office informed Crimmins
that "the Attorney General had been talking to Enrique Ruiz Williams and that,
as a result, Dr. Sierra would be calling [Crimmins] for an appointment."
Williams, also known as Harry Williams, is generally considered to have been
Robert Kennedy's principal liaison with the anti-Castro Cuban community.
In his phone call, Sierra apparently suggested that Williams was a "mutual
friend" of himself and Crimmins.
It is possible, of course, that this contact with the government was an
attempt by Sierra to provide a cover for his true motives. However, Scott
believes that the operations of the Junta may have been part of the policy of
"autonomous operations" against Cuba, which was formally approved in June
1963. While the Kennedy administration was openly cracking down on the most
prominent anti-Castro groups operating in the U.S., it was also encouraging
deniable operations abroad.
According to the HSCA, State Department counsel Walt Rostow "proposed a
'track two' approach to Cuban operations to parallel regular CIA-controlled
Cuban teams." The U.S. "would provide general advice, funds and material
support," but "would publicly deny any participation in the groups[']
activities." "All operations had to be mounted outside the territory of the
United States." (10 HSCA 77)
In contrast, Blakey and Billings emphasized that when Sierra came on the
scene in Miami just a month earlier, in May 1963, "the exile movement was in
disarray: the United States had just stopped funding the Cuban Revolutionary
Council; U.S. law enforcement agencies were cracking down on guerrilla
activities; and factions within the exile community were politically
polarized...." (P. 171)
Blakey and Billings noted that Sierra was "virtually unknown (his only
mark of public prominence was that he had formed a Cuban lawyers association
in Chicago)...." (P. l7l) After talking with Sierra, Scott concluded (with
support from documents at the Kennedy Library) that Robert Kennedy's office
was worried about the many Cuban exile professionals who were doing menial
work in the U.S., and directly encouraged the formation of such organizations.
That is, Sierra's previous public activity may be not an exception to his
relative obscurity but a clue to his key sources of support.
As Schlesinger noted, the record of the mid-1963 anti-Castro efforts
based in Central America "is unusually murky." Someone in the CIA got the
Crimmins memo, although its existence is not reflected in the CIA material
quoted by the HSCA. Blakey and Billings quoted a CIA memo dated two days
before the assassination of President Kennedy, whose author reportedly found
it "curious that Sierra had for so long managed to hold a position in the
exile hierarchy: 'Perhaps his mysterious backers are providing him with
sufficient funds to keep the pot boiling....'" (Pp. 173-4)
To improve the historical record, I think that the Justice Department
should at least perform a more complete file review than reflected by the
published HSCA material.
In addition, any surviving principals should be allowed to respond to the
HSCA's charge that the JGCE may have been a tool of organized crime.
8 EOC 2 -10-
69. Excerpts from Schlesinger, "Robert Kennedy and his Times."
70. Crimmins memo, 17 Aug 63, 6 pp.
In an informal interview published in "Lobster" (#1985.99), Peter Scott
apparently gave Robin Ramsay his "three-hurricane theory" of the
assassination. That expression, from Mark Allen, derives from a powerful
alcoholic drink popular in New Orleans, after three of which any buff will
tell you what he <> thinks happened in Dallas.
"I think that the Kennedys really had started a new type of Cuban exile
movement against Castro, the chief element of which was that there would be
money to go anywhere else they liked, in the Caribbean, to find their bases.
They would get money for training and they would get a green light, but it
meant the Cubans got out of the U.S.... And I think this operation was
penetrated from the very beginning. This may be the key to the assassination,
in fact. [Ramsay: Penetrated by whom?] First of all by the CIA because they
wanted to know what was going on, for a minimum. But this was another slap at
them: the Kennedys doing what they were supposed to do. And they, that is
the CIA, were being accused by Bobby Kennedy of having dealt with organized
crime people. And I think the first thing the CIA did was to get Cubans into
the operation who quickly turned round and started dealing with organized
crime figures. This was the so-called Junta.... The CIA files on this
operation, the Junta, make it look more and more like an organized crime
operation from beginning to end. The House Committee, rather foolishly,
without interviewing anybody, put the contents of this file into Vol. 10 of
its report as if it were all fact. Now, what a perfectly invulnerable vantage
point to have shot Kennedy from, if you used the assets of that operation to
kill him. That would explain Bobby's sense of paralysis, because it was his
Based on what I know at the moment (i.e., not counting all the material
from Scott which I have forgotten), the possibility of relevance to Oswald or
the assassination is intriguing, but it seems so tentative, indirect, and
speculative that I don't want to offer a further opinion at the moment.
In any event, the Sierra story says something interesting about the HSCA
investigation. Putting it as generously as possible, it suggests that
Blakey's expertise in finding organized crime links had the effect of a filter
in a case where obscure links also pointed in other directions. This problem
differed from those the HSCA faced with Oswald and Ruby, where most of the
alternative interpretations were well known in advance. I am not saying that
the organized-crime angle was definitely absent, but the actual situation
regarding Sierra was both more complicated and more interesting than the
Blakey & Billings version indicates.
Peter Scott's half of the unpublished 1980 book "Beyond Conspiracy" dealt
in part with the milieu of the Chicago Junta, and related matters. Although
the manuscript was set aside after Pocket Books decided not to publish it, we
have not forgotten about it and still hope to get the information out in due
This issue of EOC is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Dr. Cornelia
Hoch-Ligeti, who died in May at age 79, after a long career in medical
research. (WP, 31 May, p. B6)
Thanks to T. Cwiek (#49), T. Gandolfo (63), G. Hollingsworth (30),
H. Hurt (37-42, 44, 49-50, 53-60), F. Krstulja (19, 22), P. Lambert (19),
M. Lee (14), H. Livingstone (51-2), B. McKenna (51-2), G. Mack (15, 35-6),
J. Marshall (18, 20), P. Melanson (27, 29), J. Mierzejewski (26, 61), H. Nash
(16), R. Ranftel (33, 41, 65), M. Reynolds (41), J. Rose (34), M. Royden (62),
P. Scott (69-70), G. Stone (17-8, 21, 28), E. Tatro (31-2), and D. Wrone (46).
And thanks to L. Iacocca and Cheerios for the address labels.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank