Lasting Questions about the Murder of President Kennedy

Rex Bradford
November 2001


PART 2

Was There a Government Coverup of a Conspiracy?

Without question, there has been a wide-ranging and long-lasting coverup of evidence of a conspiracy, despite the denials that such has been the case. This part of the present essay only scratches the surface of this coverup, discussed in more detail elsewhere on this website.

The original presumption that Oswald was the killer sprang naturally enough from the incriminating evidence of the rifle and shells found in the Texas School Book Depository and traced to him. But then, when Oswald was killed in police custody on national television, suspicion was naturally raised in the mind of many citizens. Was Oswald, as he himself had proclaimed while in captivity, "a patsy?"


FBI Director Hoover
LBJ Library

During the ensuing days, fueled by leaks from the ongoing FBI investigation, the national media began assuring the nation that the case against Oswald was airtight. On the day after the FBI's report was finally delivered to the newly-constituted Warren Commission, the New York Times proclaimed "Oswald Assassin Beyond a Doubt, FBI Concludes." Of this FBI report, which was supposedly secret, head Commissioner Earl Warren noted to his colleagues: "I just don't find anything in that report that has not been leaked to the press."

The FBI report was long on evidence against Oswald, but short on everything else. It did not even acknowledge the wound in the President's neck, and its ballistic analysis used up all 3 bullets without reference to this wound, prompting Commissioner Russell to remark: "They couldn't find where one bullet came out that struck the President and yet they found a bullet in the stretcher." The FBI report was apparently so embarrassing and so at variance with known facts that the Warren Commission didn't see fit to publish it anywhere in its 26 volumes of evidence.

So the Warren Commission, regardless of its own predispositions, was immediately confronted with the problem that the acclaimed, and very much feared, Director Hoover had "solved the crime" before they even showed up for work. And the Commission was reliant on the FBI to conduct any additional investigative activity. The CIA, for its part, concealed vital information from the Warren Commission, including most famously the CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro.

But there was an even greater secret kept from the Warren Commissioners, one which has recently come into fuller light. This concerns tapes of phone conversations of a man calling himself Lee Oswald, talking to Soviet agents in Mexico City less than two months prior to the assassination. The mere thought of this was sinister enough in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, but what triggered immense concern was that the caller made reference to an earlier meeting with a Soviet Embassy official named Kostikov. When at least one tape's contents were made known to Washington within hours of Kennedy's assassination, alarm bells rang. Valeriy Kostikov was known to be a KGB agent. Much more ominously than just that, he was already on file suspected of being a member of "Department 13," involved with sabotage and assassinations.


Lyndon Johnson
LBJ Library

It was this taped phone call that rolled into Washington like a live grenade, prompting the new President Johnson to tell Richard Russell "...and we've got to be taking this out of the arena where they're testifying that Khruschev and Castro did this and did that and kicking us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour...".

But in the early hours of November 23, the day after the assassination, while Oswald was still alive in captivity, an amazing discovery was made. At 10:01 AM, FBI Director Hoover informed LBJ by phone that there was something wrong with the tape: "We have up here the tape and the photograph of the man who was at the Soviet Embassy, using Oswald's name," Hoover told LBJ, continuing: "That picture, and the tape, do not correspond to this man's voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet Embassy down there." A follow-up memo sent to both the White House and the Secret Service elaborated: "Special Agents of this Bureau, who have conversed with Oswald in Dallas, Texas, have observed photographs of the individual referred to above and have listened to his voice. These Special Agents are of the opinion that the above-referred-to individual was not Lee Harvey Oswald."

What at first looked like a serious indication of a Communist plot must have taken on a whole new meaning, in the light of the finding that Oswald had been impersonated.

Then a curious thing happened. The CIA complained that, no, they had never sent any tapes out of Mexico City, only transcripts. Memos and cables released recently show two days of confusion, with some people discussing the tapes and voice comparisons, and others trying to correct the "mistake" about the very existence of these tapes. The FBI went along with the new false story that only transcripts had been sent, but unhappily. J. Edgar Hoover perhaps said it best when he scrawled on a memo to a subordinate more than a month later the following: "Ok, but I hope you are not being taken in. I can't forget the CIA withholding the French espionage activities in USA nor the false story re Oswald's trip to Mexico City, only to mention two of their instances of double-dealing." That the tapes did indeed exist is only doubted now by those unfamiliar with the evidence or unwilling to follow where it leads. Two Warren Commission staffers have even gone on record that they listened to the tapes in April of 1964 when they visited Mexico City. But these staffers were apparently unaware of even the question that it might not have been Oswald on the tape.

So what should have been a hot lead to clever conspirators was instead buried within three days after the assassination, and the pretense that it was Oswald in these calls helped drive a coverup. This is one of the more astounding revelations of the 1990s, and by itself shows that there was a sophisticated conspiracy designed to thrust blame for the assassination upon the Communist world. See the The Framing of Oswald topic and The Fourteen Minute Gap for more information, and on the apparent erasure of the one LBJ taped phone call in which the Oswald impersonation was discussed.


Lee Harvey Oswald
HSCA Files

Instead of hot pursuit of Oswald impersonators, we got a President's Commission that by January 11, 1964, weeks before it took its first testimony, had already drawn up a tentative outline for its work containing these three headings:

I. Assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas
II. Lee Harvey Oswald as the Assassin of President Kennedy
III. Lee Harvey Oswald: Background and Possible Motive

One way to implement a coverup is simply to avoid looking for the truth, and the Commission did this expertly. Readers of the voluminous transcripts in the published Warren Commission volumes are repeatedly treated to examples of a Commissioner or staffer changing the subject, going off the record, or even ending an interview when certain topics were inadvertantly broached. Some witnesses, particularly medical ones, were furnished with torturously-worded leading questions designed to elicit the proper response. Despite all this, some truths kept breaking through. Witnesses described hearing four or more shots, in many cases from the "grassy knoll" area. Others saw or smelled smoke in this area, or hit the dirt because they felt that gunfire was whizzing over their head. Others saw two men in the Book Depository sniper's nest. Dealey Plaza witness Robert Edwards, when asked how many shots were fired, said "Well, I heard one more than was fired, I believe (the "correct" answer was three, Edwards knew, but he had heard four). Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman described the shooting sequence in more detail to the Commission. This seasoned agent, who was riding in the Presidential limousine, discussed the initial shot and then how, a few seconds later, "a flurry of shells come into the car." Not exactly what might come from a single rifle, but the Commission took testimony like this in stride, ignored it, and reached the pre-determined conclusions.


The Warren Commission, L to R: Gerald Ford, Hale Boggs, Richard Russell, Earl Warren, Sherman Cooper, John McCloy, Allen Dulles

But besides simple prejudice toward the desired finding, known coverup activities were sometimes more extreme. They included the destruction, manufacture, and alteration of some of the basic evidence in the case. Some of these acts have been admitted over the years, such as the FBI's hiding of Oswald's miniature Minox "spy" camera, and the destruction of a note he delivered to the FBI several days before the assassination. Much has never been admitted and remains disputed; some of the essays on this website will explore the scientific and circumstantial evidence that these acts did occur.


Jack Ruby
HSCA Files

Other aspects of coverup are so overt and open that they often escape comment. An example is the Warren Commission's treatment of Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald. An honest and aggressive investigation would have immediately hauled Ruby to Washington for several days of grilling. Instead, the Commission put off interviewing Ruby until June 7, 1964, when chapters of the Warren Report were already being drafted and edited. During his single interview, held in a jail cell in Dallas, Ruby begged several times to be taken to Washington where he could speak more freely. Ruby said at one point: "Gentlemen, unless you get me to Washington, you can't get a fair shake out of me." The supposed reason for not interviewing Ruby earlier was to avoid interfering with his trial, but even crediting that excuse, the trial was over months earlier. As Warren noted: "And I wish we had gotten here a little sooner after your trial was over, but I know you had other things on your mind, and we had other work, and it got to this late date." The Commission declined to take Ruby to Washington, leaving him in his cell, where he died in January 1967.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations, re-investigating the assassination in the late 1970s, reached a tepid and limited conclusion of "probable conspiracy" while re-affirming much of the Warren Commission's work. But the HSCA buried its report on the Mexico City affair and the Oswald impersonation alluded to above.


Drawing of JFK rear head wound prepared under direction of Dallas physician Dr. Robert McClelland
MD 264, ARRB

At least as troubling is the HSCA's handling of the medical evidence. The HSCA had a tougher row to hoe, there having been several well-written critiques of the Warren Commission which required answering. One "problem" that presented itself was the stark contrast between the statements of physicians who treated Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, who almost uniformly described a large rear head wound (which would tend to indicate a shot from the front), and the autopsy report, which asserted a right-side head wound which did not reach the back of the head. The HSCA met this problem head on, explaining why they sided with the autopsy doctors: "In disagreement with the observations of the Parkland doctors are the 26 people present at the autopsy. All of those interviewed who attended the autopsy corroborated the general location of the wounds as depicted in the photographs. None had differing accounts."


Drawing of back of JFK head, made by mortician Tom Robinson for the HSCA
MD 63, ARRB

This written statement, it turns out, is utterly false. With the release in the 1990s of the HSCA's files, which include transcripts of these unpublished interviews (complete with drawings made by the witnesses), we now know that several autopsy witnesses indeed corroborated the Dallas doctors' observations. See the Medical Coverup topic on this website for the transcripts and audiotapes of the interviews. More recent medical interviews, conducted in 1996 and 1998 by the Assassination Records Review Board, contain even starker indications of a medical coverup to conceal evidence of a frontal shot, and therefore a second shooter.

The many, many details of coverup over the years require too much space to begin to address adequately in this essay. This website will be a continuing forum for detailing some of them, in particular those relating to the medical evidence and the Mexico City affair. See also these books: Cover-Up (Stewart Galanor), Accessories After the Fact (Sylvia Meagher), Presumed Guilty (Howard Roffman), and Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (Peter Dale Scott), among many useful books on this topic.

But why? What was the compelling need to "consign the whole business to oblivion as soon as possible", as a high-level Soviet official present at the Kennedy funeral, in a telegram to his superiors, said was the clear U.S. government posture? Was it simply to save face in the eyes of the world, as Commissioner John McCloy suggested in the very first Commission executive session, when he noted that "This Commission is set up to lay the dust, dust not only in the United States but all over the world." Or was there something else at play here besides the worst instincts of government in response to the unknown? With the release of the Johnson phone calls and other records related to the Mexico City affair, a key to understanding the motivation for a coverup has been uncovered. Skeptics ask, "why would the government hide evidence of a conspiracy?" But what if it was feared that uncovering the conspiracy would lead to nuclear war? The false stories of a Soviet or Cuban assassination plot, led by the fake Oswald phone calls, were tailor-made to provoke just such a response.


Senator Richard Russell
LBJ Library

The story of how Lyndon Johnson convinced a reluctant Chief Justice Earl Warren to serve on the Commission is instructive, and helps explain Warren's later actions. In a taped phone call, Johnson told his friend Richard Russell how Warren had turned down both he (LBJ) and Bobby Kennedy. Johnson then hauled Warren down to the Oval Office, where Warren again refused to join the Commission, arguing that it was improper for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take such a role. Then, LBJ related to Russell, "I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City," and Warren started crying and said "well then I won't turn you down. I'll just do whatever you say."

The "little incident in Mexico City" was presumably the "Oswald" phone calls discussed earlier, though it could have been one of a few other stories which started popping up after the assassination in Mexico City, all alleging an Oswald-Castro connection. If it was indeed the phone calls that LBJ discussed with Warren, he almost certainly omitted the crucial fact that it wasn't actually Oswald on the phone. Johnson was brandishing that week the figure of 40 million Americans dead in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, a sign that the Communist conspiracy angle was being taken seriously in high places—not to mention being used cynically by the new President, who knew better. Peter Dale Scott has written about how a "phase one" story of a red conspiracy was used to force a safer "phase two" lone assassin coverup, in order to avoid the possibility of general war with the Soviet Union. Chapters from a book in progress by Dr. Scott are being published online here at History matters.

 


PART 2