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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.
On March 1, 1967, businessman Clay Shaw, head of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, was arrested and charged with conspiring to assassinate President John F. Kennedy by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Three days later on March 4, the Italian left-wing newspaper Paese Sera published a story alleging that Shaw was linked to the CIA through his involvement in the Centro Mondiale Commerciale, a subsidiary of Permindex in which Shaw was a board member. According to Paese Sera, the CMC had been a front organization developed by the CIA for transferring funds to Italy for "illegal political-espionage activities” and had attempted to depose French President Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s. On March 6, the newspaper printed other allegations about individuals it said were connected to Permindex, including Louis Bloomfield whom it described as "an American agent who now plays the role of a businessman from Canada (who) established secret ties in Rome with Deputies of the Christian Democrats and neo-Fascist parties." The allegations were retold in various newspapers associated with the Communist parties in Italy (l'Unità), France (L'Humanité), and the Soviet Union (Pravda), as well as leftist papers in Canada and Greece, prior to reaching the American press eight weeks later. Max Holland stated that Paese Sera's allegations connecting Shaw to the CIA eventually led to Garrison implicating the CIA in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
Garrison said anti-Communist and anti-Castro extremists in the CIA of plotted the assassination of Kennedy to maintain tension with the Soviet Union and Cuba, and to prevent the a United States withdrawal from Vietnam. Mark Lane, author of Rush to Judgment and Plausible Denial and the attorney who defended Liberty Lobby against in a defamation suit from E. Howard Hunt, has been described as a leading proponent of the theory that the CIA was responsible for the assassination of Kennedy. Others who believe the CIA was involved include authors Anthony Summers and John M. Newman.
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.
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 1977, the FBI released 40,000 files pertaining to the assassination of Kennedy, including an April 3, 1967 memorandum from Deputy Director Cartha DeLoach to Associate Director Clyde Tolson that was written less than month after President Johnson learned from J. Edgar Hoover about the CIA plots to kill Castro. According to DeLoach, LBJ aide Marvin Watson "stated that the President had told him, in an off moment, that he was now convinced there was a plot in connection with the assassination [of President Kennedy]. Watson stated the President felt that CIA had had something to do with this plot." Questioned during the Church Committee hearings by Senator Richard Schweiker in 1975, DeLoach explained the comments as "sheer speculation".[nb 1]