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The CIA Kennedy assassination theory is a prominent John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory. The CIA's potential involvement was frequently mentioned during the 1960s and 1970s when the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, particularly Fidel Castro. Kennedy was quoted as telling an official within his administration: "I want to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." According to author James Douglass, Kennedy was assassinated because he was turning away from the Cold War and seeking a negotiated peace with the Soviet Union. Accusations and confessions of and by alleged conspirators, as well as official government reports citing the CIA as uncooperative in investigations, have at times renewed interest in these conspiracy theories.
John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Various agencies and government panels have investigated the assassination at length, drawing different conclusions. Lee Oswald is accepted by official investigations as the assassin, but he was murdered before he could be tried in a court of law. The discrepancies between the official investigations and the extraordinary nature of the assassination have led to a variety of theories about how and why Kennedy was assassinated. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1979 that Oswald assassinated Kennedy but that a conspiracy was probable. The committee did not implicate U.S. Intelligence agencies. Their conclusion was reached almost entirely because of the results of forensic analysis of a police dictabelt, which supposedly recorded the sound of a fourth bullet being fired in Dealey Plaza. The HSCA also stated that Kennedy did not receive adequate protection in Dallas because Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper and had not acted upon some relevant information. This lack of protection may have occurred because Kennedy himself had specifically asked that the Secret Service make itself discreet during the Dallas visit.
The CIA had a number of high profile conflicts with President Kennedy. The conflicts included disagreements over the CIA's assassination program, many details of which later becoming public as part of the Church Committee. In one instance, the CIA provided $42,000 to the plotters of the assassination of President Diem of Vietnam, which was carried out by Lucien Conein. Robert S. McNamara and White House historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. both stated that President Kennedy went pale when he heard the news about the coup, and was shocked that Diem had been murdered.
Kennedy's relationship with the CIA was strained considerably following the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He remarked that he wanted "to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." The CIA had claimed, however, that this animosity was short lived. In CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John L. Hegerson's words, "the [CIA's] relationship with Kennedy was not only a distinct improvement over the more formal relationship with Eisenhower, but would only rarely be matched in future administrations." While the CIA's budget has always been classified, ranking CIA official William Colby made it clear when he wrote, "the fact of the matter is that the CIA could not have had a better friend in a President than John F. Kennedy. He understood the Agency and used it effectively, exploiting its intellectual abilities to help him analyze a complex world, and its paramilitary and covert political talents to react to it in a low-key way."
Despite the claims that relations with the agency were only momentarily strained, the embarrassment to the U.S. government and to the CIA due to the failed invasion, the withholding of intelligence, and a general atmosphere of distrust led to the Kennedy brothers firing Allen Dulles, Richard M. Bissell, and Charles P. Cabell in November 1961. Allen Dulles, who had been the head of the CIA, was replaced by John McCone. After Kennedy's assassination, Dulles lobbied hard to be a part of the investigation.
An article concerning Kennedy's relationship with the CIA was written by journalist Arthur Krock, and published in the New York Times on 3 October 1963. The article, entitled "The Intra-Administration War in Vietnam", quotes a high-ranking official in the government as saying "[t]he CIA's growth was likened to a malignancy" which this "very high official was not even sure the White House could control ... any longer. If the United States ever experiences [an attempt at a coup to overthrow the government] it will come from the CIA and not the Pentagon." The "agency represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone."
The "three tramps" were three men detained and questioned briefly by police at the time of the assassination and who have been the subject of various conspiracy theories, including some that point to them being known CIA agents. Some of these allegations are listed below.
E. Howard Hunt, a CIA station chief who was involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and who later worked as one of President Richard Nixon's White House Plumbers, was alleged by some to be the oldest of the tramps.
Frank Sturgis is thought by some to be the tall tramp in the photographs. Like Hunt, Sturgis was involved both in the Bay of Pigs invasion and in the Watergate burglary. In 1959, Sturgis became involved with Marita Lorenz, who later identified Sturgis as a gunman in the assassination. Hunt's confession before his death also implicates Sturgis.
Chauncey Holt, also alleged by some to be the oldest of the tramps, claims to have been a double agent for the CIA and the Mafia, and has claimed that his assignment in Dallas was to provide fake Secret Service credentials to people in the vicinity. Witness reports state that there were one or more unidentified men in the area claiming to be Secret Service agents.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations had forensic anthropologists study the photographic evidence. The committee claimed that the analysis ruled out E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Dan Carswell, Fred Lee Chapman, and other suspects. The Rockefeller Commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Frank Sturgis were in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
Former CIA agent and Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt has been named as a possible participant in several Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. He has been claimed to be one of the three tramps, has taken various magazines to court over accusations with regard to the assassination, and has given a confession and description of the crime and conspiracy on video to his son.
In 1975, Hunt testified before the United States President's Commission on CIA activities within the United States that he was in Washington, D.C. on the day of the assassination. This testimony was confirmed by Hunt's family and a home employee of the Hunts.
In 1976, a magazine called The Spotlight ran an article accusing Hunt of being in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and of having a role in the assassination. Hunt won a libel judgment against the magazine in 1981, but this verdict was overturned on appeal. The magazine was found not guilty when the case was retried in 1985. In 1985, Hunt was in court again in a libel suit against Liberty Lobby. During the trial, defense attorney Mark Lane introduced doubt as to Hunt's location on the day of the Kennedy assassination through depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner, and Marita Lorenz, as well as through his cross examination of Hunt.
Shortly before his death in 2007, Hunt authored an autobiography which implicated Lyndon B. Johnson in the assassination, suggesting that Johnson had orchestrated the killing with the help of CIA agents who had been angered by Kennedy's actions as President. A 2007 article published in Rolling Stone magazine revealed deathbed confessions by Hunt to his son which suggested a conspiracy to kill JFK orchestrated by Lyndon Johnson, CIA agents Cord Meyer, Bill Harvey and David Sánchez Morales, and an unnamed "French gunman," who purportedly shot at Kennedy from the grassy knoll.
Some researchers—among them Gaeton Fonzi, Larry Hancock, Noel Twyman, and John Simkin—believe that Morales was involved in the assassination.. Sanchez's friend Ruben Carbajal claimed that in 1973 Morales opened up about his involvement with the Bay of Pigs Invasion operation, and stated that "Kennedy had been responsible for him having to watch all the men he recruited and trained get wiped out." Carbajal claims that Morales exclaimed, "Well, we took care of that SOB, didn't we?" It has been suggested that Morales was the "Latin-looking" man seen with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans in 1963. Numerous employees of New Orleans taverns saw Oswald with a man matching the appearance of Morales, as well as witnesses to Oswald's public leafleting for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
Morales is alleged to have once told friends, "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch, and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard", presumably referring to the assassination of President Kennedy in and to the later assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968.
In an article published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on December 4, 1963, James Buchanan, a former reporter for the Pompano Beach Sun-Sentinel, claimed that Sturgis had met Lee Harvey Oswald in Miami, Florida shortly before Kennedy's assassination. Buchanan claimed that Oswald had tried to infiltrate the International Anti-Communist Brigade. When he was questioned by the FBI about this story, Sturgis claimed that Buchanan had misquoted him regarding his comments about Oswald.
According to a memo sent by L. Patrick Gray, acting FBI Director, to H. R. Haldeman in 1972, "[s]ources in Miami say he (Sturgis) is now associated with organized crime activities". In his book, Assassination of JFK, published in 1977, Bernard Fensterwald claims that Sturgis was heavily involved with the Mafia, particularly with Santo Trafficante's and Meyer Lansky's activities in Florida.
After returning from the Soviet Union, Oswald made a close friend in George de Mohrenschildt. De Mohrenschildt wrote extensive memoirs about his friendship with Oswald and had a copy of one of the photos of Oswald with the rifle used in the shooting. After the assassination, the CIA requested that the FBI locate De Mohrenschildt, as he had written a letter directly to George H.W. Bush, who was a friend, appealing to him to stop the agency from taking action against him.
A few television programs, including Jesse Ventura's "Conspiracy Theories", have alleged that De Mohrenschildt was Oswald's CIA handler. On March 29, 1977, De Mohrenschildt stated during an interview with author Edward Jay Epstein that he had been ordered by CIA operative J. Walton Moore to meet Oswald, and that he would not have if he had not been ordered to do so. After the interview, he received a letter from the House Select Committee on Assassination, but then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head later that day.
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Documents never seen by the Warren Commission have revealed that some Mafiosi worked with the CIA on assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. CIA documents released in 2007 confirmed that in the summer of 1960, the CIA recruited ex-FBI agent Robert Maheu to approach the West Coast representative of the Chicago mob, Johnny Roselli. When Maheu contacted Roselli, Maheu hid the fact that he was sent by the CIA, instead portraying himself an advocate for international corporations. He offered to pay $150,000 to have Castro killed, but Roselli declined any pay. Roselli introduced Maheu to two men he referred to as "Sam Gold" and "Joe." "Sam Gold" was Sam Giancana; "Joe" was Santo Trafficante, Jr., the Tampa, Florida boss and one of the most powerful mobsters in pre-revolution Cuba. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post explained: "After Fidel Castro led a revolution that toppled a friendly government in 1959, the CIA was desperate to eliminate him. So the agency sought out a partner equally worried about Castro—the Mafia, which had lucrative investments in Cuban casinos."
Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union, and mobsters Carlos Marcello, Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli, Charles Nicoletti, and Santo Trafficante Jr.—all of whom say Hoffa worked with the CIA on the Castro assassination plots—top the list of House Select Committee on Assassinations Mafia suspects.
It is also alleged that Mafia criminals may have wished to retaliate against John F. Kennedy in response to the increasing pressure put on them by Robert Kennedy, who had increased by 12 times the number of prosecutions conducted under the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Carlos Marcello allegedly threatened to assassinate the President to short-circuit Robert Kennedy, who was serving as US Attorney General and leading the administration's anti-Mafia crusade.
In his memoir, Bound by Honor, Bill Bonanno, son of New York Mafia boss Joseph Bonanno, disclosed that several Mafia families had long-standing ties with the anti-Castro Cubans through the Havana casinos operated by the Mafia before the Cuban Revolution. Many Cuban exiles and Mafia bosses disliked President Kennedy, blaming him for the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. They also disliked his brother, the young and idealistic Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had conducted an unprecedented legal assault on organized crime. This was especially provocative because several of the Mafia "families" had allegedly worked with JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, to get JFK elected. Both the Mafia and the anti-Castro Cubans were experts in assassination, the Cubans having been trained by the CIA. Bonanno reported that he realized the degree of the involvement of other Mafia families when he witnessed Jack Ruby killing Oswald on television - the Bonannos recognized Jack Ruby as an associate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.
Information released around 2006 by the FBI indicates that Carlos Marcello confessed in detail to having organized Kennedy's assassination. The FBI then covered up this information, which it had in its possession. This version of events is also supported by the findings of a 1979 Congressional Committee investigation that Marcello was likely part of a Mafia conspiracy behind the assassination, and had the means and the opportunity required to carry it out.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations believed evidence exists that indicates violent Cuban exiles may have participated in Kennedy's murder. These exiles worked closely with CIA operatives in violent clandestine activities against Castro's Cuba, such as during Operation Mongoose. In 1979, the committee reported:
President Kennedy's popularity among the Cuban exiles had plunged deeply by 1963. Their bitterness is illustrated in a tape recording of a meeting of anti-Castro Cubans and right-wing Americans in the Dallas suburb of Farmer's Branch on October 1, 1963.
Holding a copy of the September 26 edition of The Dallas Morning News, featuring a front-page account of the President's planned trip to Texas in November, Cuban exile Nestor Castellanos vented his hostility:
CASTELLANOS ...we're waiting for Kennedy the 22d, [the date Kennedy was murdered] buddy. We're going to see him in one way or the other. We're going to give him the works when he gets in Dallas. Mr. good ol' Kennedy. I wouldn't even call him President Kennedy. He stinks.
In May 1967, CIA Director Richard Helms told President Lyndon Johnson that the CIA had tried to assassinate Castro. Helms further stated that the CIA had employed members of the Mafia in this effort, and "...that CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro dated back to August of 1960—to the Eisenhower Administration." Helms also said that the plots against Castro continued into the Kennedy Administration and that Attorney General Robert Kennedy had known about both the plots and the Mafia's involvement.
On separate occasions, Johnson told two prominent television newsmen that he believed that JFK's assassination had been organized by the Cuban government as retaliation for the CIA's efforts to kill Castro. In October 1968, Johnson told veteran newsman Howard K. Smith of ABC that "Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first." In September 1969, in an interview with Walter Cronkite of CBS, Johnson said that in regard to the assassination he could not "honestly say that I've ever been completely relieved of the fact that there might have been international connections." Finally, in 1971, Johnson told his former speechwriter Leo Janos of Time magazine that he "never believed that Oswald acted alone".
President Lyndon Johnson also implicated the CIA in the assassination. According to a FBI document released in 1977, Johnson's postmaster general, Marvin Watson told the FBI "...that [Johnson] was now convinced there was a plot in connection with the assassination. Watson stated the President felt the CIA had something to do with this plot."