Document:The Gospel according to Saint Jim

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Subjects: Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case, Jim DiEugenio, JFK Assassination, Permindex
Example of: book review
Source: Lobster

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The Gospel according to Saint Jim



Scott Newton

The JFK industry continues to flourish. One of its most recent as well as more interesting products is DiEugenio's study of the assassination and the Garrison Commission. The book has its flaws and recycles a good deal of material already available in Garrison's own On the Trail of the Assassins, but is on the whole well researched, produces some interesting new information, and is highly plausible.

There are fundamentally two schools of thought in JFK studies. One, represented for example by David Scheim, blames the Mafia for the killing.[1] The other, embodied in the work of Lane, Garrison and Summers (admittedly their versions of the story are rather different) fingers the CIA.[2] DiEugenio backs the second group. Briefly, he maintains that Kennedy was the victim of a plot hatched in the Western Hemisphere division of the CIA. Here, a group of hardened cold warriors and anti-Castro Cuban emigres took pre-emptive action against the President before he could implement detente with Castro and reform the Agency in the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Warren Commission attempted to conceal this treasonous coup behind the lone gunman theory but the truth was smoked out by New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison in his abortive prosecution of Clay Shaw. Garrison was made to suffer for his impertinence, facing media smears (including allegations of Mafia connections) as well as charges of corruption and tax evasion. Garrison was cleared and after a short interval his career in public life resumed, with election to the Louisiana judiciary. Most recently his crusade to uncover the truth behind the Kennedy assassination has attracted world-wide attention and fresh support as a result of Oliver Stone's JFK. Like Stone, DiEugenio takes the view that Garrison is a heroic figure, fighting almost alone for democracy, liberalism and open government in a country lurching towards fascism.

Many assassination buffs will have problems with the hagiographical tone of DiEugenio's book. Descriptions of both Kennedy and Garrison suffer from this. Kennedy's implication in plots to overthrow Castro after the Bay of Pigs (such as Operation MONGOOSE, run by Ed Lansdale) via a vastly expanded CIA station at Miami, JM/WAVE, under Theodore Shackley, is glossed over far too rapidly.[3] The President is depicted as a milk and water liberal even though both he and his brother Bobby were known for staunch anti-communism. At the same time Garrison is seen as a determined enemy of Mob racketeering in New Orleans, although accusations of connections to Mafia bosses have dogged him for years.[4] While many of these may well be politically motivated it is naive to assume that a successful New Orleans politician, whatever his (or her) personal inclinations and beliefs, is going to have no Mafia contacts at all. Yet this appears to be what DiEugenio wants us to believe. DiEugenio is also too soft on Garrison's handling of the trial, transformed into a veritable rodomontade by the D.A.'s claims that he had solved the mystery and counter-allegations that witnesses were subject to truth drugs and hypnosis, as well as by one amazing blunder which effectively sunk the whole case.

This blunder concerned one Charles Spiesel, who was exposed in court as a high octane fantasist and paranoiac. Yet Spiesel was produced as a key witness and claimed to have been present with Clay Shaw and the aviator and low-grade CIA agent David Ferrie at a meeting whose main topic of conversation was how to murder the President. Why wasn't Spiesel checked more thoroughly? What did this fiasco say about the possible quality (or lack of it) of Garrison's other witnesses? All the same this book carries us some way forward. Garrison believed Clay Shaw was the key to the Kennedy murder. Other writers have dismissed this as absurd. For Summers, Shaw was just a 'local businessman'.[5] To Scheim, Shaw was merely a 'soft spoken liberal who devoted most of his time to restoring homes in the old French quarter and writing plays'.[6] It is now clear however that Garrison was correct about Shaw's biography after all. DiEugenio produces more than enough evidence to confirmfirst, that Shaw did indeed use the alias Bertrand, second, that he knew Oswald, and third, that he was a significant CIA asset.[7]

Clay Shaw, CMC and Permindex

Shaw's intelligence connections appear to go back to World War Two. In any event a CIA document declassified in 1977 confirmed that Shaw had worked with the Agency from at the latest 1949, using his globe-trotting commercial role as head of International Trade Mart in New Orleans as cover. Working at the interface between commerce and intelligence, Shaw was appointed during the 1950s to the boards of two shadowy enterprises: Permindex and Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC). Freedom of Information searches and investigative journalism produced evidence that both Permindex and CMC were penetrated by the CIA and probably used for bank-rolling both operations and anti-Communist organisations overseas, especially in Europe. DiEugenio goes a step further and suggests that both could be linked to the Gladio network set up in post-war Europe by local fascists, anti-Communists, and U.S. intelligence.

That Garrison was correct about Shaw's biography gives credibility to the charge that it was Shaw, using his alias Bertrand, who asked New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews to defend Oswald after the assassination. DiEugenio has done his homework and argues convincingly enough that Oswald and Shaw were part of a network which drew together Guy Banister, David Ferrie, Jack Ruby, anti-Castro forces (mainly Cuban emigres and the Mafia) and the CIA.

The mystery of Oswald

Of course the existence of such a network does not prove that it was responsible for the killing of the President. Yet the links are suggestive. Why pick on Oswald, who may well not have shot at anybody on 22 November? What exactly had been Oswald's relationship with CIA agent George de Mohrenschildt, a wealthy Dallas anti-communist who had made his fortune in the oil exploration business and who had taken a paternal interest in the younger man's career? Why did Shaw try to organise Oswald's legal defence, using a false name in the process? Why did Ruby shoot Oswald (strange given that the two men were seen talking quite aimiably together only a fortnight earlier)?[8] Why was the U.S. Acting Attorney General Katzenbach determined, immediately after Ruby had murdered Oswald, to secure the conviction of the latter for assassinating Kennedy even though no evidence had been collected to support the charge?[8] Why the charade of Oswald's visit to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, which we now know to have been made by a double?[9] Why did CIA Director Richard Helms demonstrate such a close interest in the Shaw trial?[10]

Framing Oswald

It looks as if very considerable efforts were being made to set up Oswald well in advance of the assassination. His front of Marxism, his association with embittered Cubans, his eccentric appearances leafletting on behalf of Castro, all point to a very public framing exercise. How much did Oswald know about this? Was he indeed one of the conspirators, but a loose cannon who could be conveniently pushed overboard? Or was he in fact an FBI penetration agent? This suggestion should not be ignored. Threats to Kennedy's life had been uttered by all kinds of strange groups and it wouldhave been the FBI's task to monitor them. On his return from the USSR Oswald was probably enrolled into the COINTELPRO programme. Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr even provided the Warren Commission with Oswald's FBI employee number and monthly salary.[11] It seems reasonable to speculate that the FBI heard of a conspiracy to kill the President centring on ultra-rightist elements in New Orleans, possibly using Mafia contract killers.[12] So Oswald is infiltrated into the group, to inform on them and, presumably, to sabotage the plot. However Oswald's cover is blown and he ends up in the best possible position for the conspirators: accused of committing the crime he was supposed to have prevented, and dead.[13]

And Vietnam?

DiEugenio does not go this far and one of the merits of the book is a willingness to stay close to the evidence rather than speculate too freely. He does not pursue the line taken by Garrison himself in On the Trail of the Assassins and pursued in Stone's JFK, namely that Kennedy's determination to withdraw from Vietnam was the final nail in his coffin since the military industrial complex was appalled by the prospect of lost multi-billion dollar defence contracts. This piece of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning was always the weakest part of the Garrison-Stone thesis. Nobody could have foreseen in 1963 just how massive an operation Vietnam was to become within only three years. Even the early 'hawks' in the State Department and the Pentagon assumed that south-east Asia could be controlled relatively easily and cheaply.[14]

However, a more sophisticated version of this argument can be made -- and it opens up some interesting questions. There is pretty good evidence to show that Kennedy had decided to pull the U.S. 'advisers' (and there were nearly 16,000 of them by November 1963) out of Vietnam, leaving Diem to sort out the south's relationship with the north Vietnamese. [15] It looks even more likely that at the time of his death the President had decided to mend fences with Castro. His relations with Kruschev were improving: an era of detente was in the wind, presaged by the Test Ban Treaty.[16] So while Kennedy may have started his Presidency as a cold war liberal whose outlook resembled that of Alden Pyle in The Quiet American, the Bay of Pigs humiliation and the Cuban Missile Crisis put him on a sharp learning curve. At the end of his life he was talking of the need to build a world 'safe for diversity'. A willingness to encourage the disintegration of the one-dimensional political certainties of the cold war would not have endeared Kennedy to the defence-intelligence establishment. Since 1945 a generation of men had built careers, had invested ideological world-views as well as billions of dollars in the struggle to save the 'free world'. Now their Commander in Chief was coming round to the view that the game wasn't worth the candle. It is not difficult to see how some of the more robust and ruthless cold warriors may have felt that in these circumstances tyrannicide was acceptable.

De Gaulle too?

These are not fanciful reflections. One of the merits of DiEugenio's book, and, it must be said, Garrison's brave if erratically conducted quest, is that it can be used as a key to open up areas of the cold war which have been hidden from view. It is fairly well documented that the CIA assassinated the radical Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba, in 1961. It is also common knowledge that the CIA made numerous attempts to murder Fidel Castro. There are, to say the least, CIA fingerprints all over the JFK killing. But what about de Gaulle? There were many plots against his life, most of them organised by the OAS, the super-patriotic right wing secret army set upby dissident French officers in the wake of the Algerian crisis. At first blush there does not seem to be much to connect the OAS and the CIA. But DiEugenio produces evidence of a link. In 1961 David Ferrie and Gordon Novel, an admitted CIA agent, had stolen arms from an explosives bunker in Houma, near New Orleans. These weapons made their way to Guy Banister's office, whence they were returned to the CIA, having been lent to the OAS.[17] More than this, French intelligence discovered that in 1962 about $200,000 had been secretly deposited in Permindex accounts held with the Banque de la Credit Internationale, and that a contact of Banister's from the Anti-Communist League of the Caribbean had taken just this amount of money to the OAS in Paris. It is not surprising that the French authorities suspected the CIA of backing at least some of the conspiracies against de Gaulle.[18]

The Schroder network

A very interesting network can be built from these connections. Permindex was established by Ferenc Nagy, former Hungarian Prime Minister, at the end of 1956. His financial supporters were right-wing bankers Hans Seligman and George Mandel, both of whom had been compromised by links with the Nazis during the war. Further, Nagy admitted in public that he had the backing of J. Henry Schroder, of New York. The German end of Schroder's had thrown a lifeline to the Nazis when they faced bankruptcy in 1930. Allen Dulles, CIA Director 1953-1961 (when he was sacked by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs), had banked with Schroder's of New York when dealing with Germany for his law firm Sullivan and Cromwell in the 1930s. As CIA Director he set up a contingency fund of $50m -- held by Schroder's.[19]

We seem to have come a long way from Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963. But there is a network of CIA associations with Permindex, CMC, Schroder's and the OAS which cannot be ignored. We now know a fair amount about the connections of the CIA -- of which Gladio is but one manifestation -- with political movements, banks and intelligence organisations throughout the postwar era from Italy in 1947 to the 'October surprise' and the Iran-Contra affair.[20] It seems reasonable to argue that the Kennedy assassination provides us with another glimpse of these agencies, born of the cold war, whose political agenda excluded for the best part of two generations any deviation from militant anti-Communism and permitted only limited forays into social democracy. Mossadegh and Lumumba were CIA victims. At this distance, on the basis of the material in this book, Kennedy looks like one, too. Can the same be said for Willi Brandt and Aldo Moro, and even for the Wilson-Callaghan governments in Britain?[21] Was de Gaulle another target, put in the frame as a result of his anti-Atlanticism and flirtation with neutralism both in Europe and in the third world? DiEugenio has shed a little more light on what is still largely the covert postwar history both of America and Europe.

References

  1. David E. Scheim, The Mafia Killed President Kennedy (London: W. H. Allen, 1988)
  2. Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins (London: Penguin, 1992); Mark Lane, Plausible Denial (London: Plexus, 1992); Anthony Summers, Conspiracy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980), and 'Who Killed JFK? The unstoned version', in The Independent, 15 February, 1992.
  3. Even DiEugenio admits that that the JM/WAVE annual budget was $500m. (Destiny Betrayed, p. 21)
  4. See Scheim, The Mafia Killed President Kennedy. However, much of the evidence that is quoted against Garrison is hearsay and one charge of racketeering was brought by Pershing Gervais, a former member of Garrison's staff who later admitted that he had been pressured and bribed to do this. See DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pp. 268-69, and Carl Oglesby, Is the Mafia theory a valid alternative?, the afterword to Garrison, On the Trail, p. 302.
  5. Summers, 'Who Killed JFK?'
  6. Scheim, The Mafia Killed President Kennedy, p. 47.
  7. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 374, footnotes 63 and 64.
  8. a b The Men who killed Kennedy, Viewpoint 88, Central Television (U.K.), 22 November 1988.
  9. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pp. 260-66; admission by CIA's David Attlee Phillips that the Mexico City 'Oswald' was a fake cited by Robin Ramsay in a review of Mark Lane's Plausible Denial, in Lobster 23, p. 35, June 1992.
  10. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 222
  11. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 116
  12. The theory that the men who killed JFK were Mafiosi must be distinguished from the thesis that the whole operation was inspired, organised and executed by the Mob. Stephen Dorril pointed out in Heritage of Stone; JFK and JFK, Lobster 23, pp. 11-12, June 1992, that 'there is not a shred of evidence to support this argument'. See also Carl Oglesby, Is the Mafia theory a valid alternative?
  13. If this hypothesis, tentatively supported by Garrison in On the Trail (pp. 223-27), is accurate the next question is, to whom was Oswald reporting and why did his contacts apparently do nothing?
  14. See David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (London: Pan, 1974). Garrison makes the Vietnam connection in On the Trail, pp. 293ff, albeit in a rather less strident way than Stone.
  15. Peter Dale Scott, 'The Death of Kennedy, Vietnam, and Cuba', pp. 359-83, in Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond -- A Guide to Cover-ups and Investigations (London: Penguin, 1978).
  16. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 253; Summers, Who Killed JFK?.
  17. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 212. The explosives dump from which the munitions were taken was owned by the Schlumberger Corporation, a company (one of whose directors, Jean De Menil, was on the board of Permindex) which conducted world-wide geological surveys. The Schlumberger Corporation was a supporter of the OAS. (See Garrison, p. 40).
  18. DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 213.
  19. Nagy, Seligman, Mandel and of course Shaw comprised the board of CMC, whose headquarters were in Rome until driven to South Africa by a hostile press campaign. It should be said that Schroder's denied their connections with Permindex.
  20. See Jeffrey M. Bale, 'Right-wing Terrorists and the Extraparliamentary Left in Post-World War Two Europe: Collusion or Manipulation?', Lobster 18, pp. 1-18, October 1989; and Philip Willan, Puppet Masters: the political use of terrorism in Italy (London: Constable, 1991).
  21. This is not to offer the simplistic argument that the CIA was to blame every time that political misfortune overtook left-wing European or for that matter Latin American governments. Incompetence, international economic turbulence and of course domestic resistance from right-wing forces all played a part, separately and together. But there is irrefutable evidence for CIA collusion with the internal opponents of reformist governments which have not shared the world-view of the Pentagon in the two generations since the start of the cold war. Willan's Puppet Masters shows this process at work in post-war Italy, while the role of J. J. Angleton in fomenting right-wing discontent with the Wilson governments points to a CIA connection with the plots to destabilise the 1964-70 and 1974-79 Labour administrations (see Peter Wright, Spycatcher: the Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, New York: Viking Penguin, 1987; and Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Smear! Wilson and the Secret State, London: Fourth Estate, 1991). In view of the economic and strategic importance to the USA of Latin America and western Europe anything else would have been surprising.