Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Forever Conspiracy and the Family Jewels

No, not those family jewels, sunshine…

This week, the CIA announced that it was releasing files that had been long-held classified called “The Family Jewels”, supposedly shedding light on some of the more unsavory CIA activities of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s… all kinds of stuff about assassination plots, coups, and other black arts of spy-vs-spy skullduggery. I’m not sure what the point of all this is at this point in time. Are they trying to make us think they aren’t into anything shady right now?

My 60’s reminiscing continues… Sam Cooke, my playlist, Martin Luther King…. About a week or two ago, I was browsing in a bookstore, and came across a new book by David Talbot called Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.

A lot of people look at an older, bloated, and somewhat dissipated Teddy Kennedy today and see him as a comical figure. The Wizard of “Uhs” who can’t put a coherent thought together without a prepared script (which is unjust, because TK will go down in history as one of the most titanic figures in the history of the U.S. Senate, and I’m not talking about his girth). This is a shame, because it makes people who should know better forget what sharp minds of great acuity JFK and RFK had. In addition, they were fearless and had great toughness. The downside was that they could be secretive and quite ruthless, especially Bobby.

November 22, 1963, the day that JFK was assassinated, was one of my earliest conscious memories. I was over in my friend’s sandbox across the street, and my mother called me home, very agitated. I stayed glued to her side, watching the drama unfold on television over the next few days as she tearfully explained to me as best as she could what was going on. When I saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

That day was one of those turning points in history (there’s a term for it, I can’t recall right now what it is). It marked a complete paradigm shift. The world after 1963 was never the same as it was before 1963. It was the end of naïve optimism that things would always get better, and it was the end of unquestioning trust in the government.

Getting back to Talbot’s book… I did one of those standing 20-minute first chapter reads and I was fascinated. When Bobby Kennedy got the call from FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover that his brother had been shot, he was at his suburban home in Hickory Hill Virginia.

Talbot writes…
On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, Robert F. Kennedy--J.F.K.'s younger brother, Attorney General and devoted watchman--was eating lunch at Hickory Hill, his Virginia home, when he got the news from Dallas. It was his archenemy, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, of all people, who phoned to tell him. "The President's been shot," Hoover curtly said. Bobby later recalled, "I think he told me with pleasure."
Later on, Hoover called and told him just as bluntly, “The President is dead.”

It has been known for a long time that Bobby Kennedy never thought much of the Warren Commission Report, and had his own theories about what happened, but according to Talbot, Bobby sussed the whole thing out with his quick analytical mind right there that afternoon in Hickory Hill, with a series of quick rapid-fire phone calls and a backyard interrogation of CIA Director John McCone. He was like a whirlwind that day and all that night, breaking the news to his mother and the rest of the family, meeting Jackie and holding it all together for her sake, being present at and supervising several aspects of his brother’s autopsy, and removing some personal effects of his brother’s from the WhiteHouse that could have proven embarrassing. What I hadn’t known and found interesting (according to the author’s claim), was that by the end of the afternoon he had reached a conclusion on the conspiracy he thought was responsible for his brother’s death. His conclusion was that it was a combination of rogue elements of the CIA working with certain alienated Cuban exiles (those who had felt betrayed by JFK in the Bay of Pigs fiasco), and elements of the Mafia who had been enlisted in efforts with the former two groups to assassinate Fidel Castro in Cuba. Bobby, of course, was in a better position to know than almost anyone, because he himself had coordinated some of those efforts. A classic case of “blowback”. The guilt haunted Bobby, and he changed profoundly in the next few years as a result. The RFK who was assassinated himself in June of 1968 was a very different man from the tough, combative Attorney General in November of 1963.

There is a whole cottage industry, of course, over the JFK assassination and various conspiracy theories and rebuttals. I used to read some of these books around the time I was in High school. I still find it interesting. My own opinion? I think there was a conspiracy of some kind, probably along the lines that the author claims RFK held to. That’s why I’ve never had too much respect for “Mr. Single-Bullet Theory”, Arlen Specter, a member of the Warren Commission… I do think Lee Harvey Oswald was involved as one of the shooters. Lee Harvey Oswald himself said to police and reporters. “I’m just a patsy.” I think he was… Not in the sense that he was not involved, but to me had the look of a man who knew he'd been had. Who knew he’d been set up to take the fall.

This week in Time Magazine, there are dueling interviews on whether or not the assassination was a conspiracy; one by David Talbot, and one by Vincent Bugliosi, the well-known crackerjack prosecutor of the Charles Manson murder case and author of Helter Skelter. In his book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy , he claims to prove that there was no conspiracy, and that Oswald was in fact the lone gunman. I don’t think the controversy will ever die down.

On a lighter note, here is one of my favorite scenes from the indie movie Slackers.. The JFK assassination buff…


Garpu the Fork said...

I'm sure I'm dating myself, but I only remember presidents from Carter on. (Nixon resigned 4 months or so before I was born, and I don't remember Ford.) I don't ever remember a time when you could trust the government. I wonder what we'll find out about the prisons the CIA is running in 30 years.

crystal said...

If only you watched the X-Files, you would have known that the cigarette-smoking man did it ......

He was involved in training Cuban nationals in the Bay of Pigs, aided Dominican locals in the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, assassinated both John F. Kennedy (firing 2 shots from a storm drain) and Martin Luther King, fixed the Super Bowl to ensure that the Buffalo Bills would never win a championship, drugged the Soviet Union's goalie in the Miracle on Ice, and thinks nothing of insulting J. Edgar Hoover to his face or putting Saddam Hussein on hold.

Seriously, though, I feel there must have been a conspiracy as well, not a lone gunman.

Jeff said...

Hi Garpu,

Nixon resigned 4 months before you were born? Wow.

You're not dating yourself. I'm dating myself. :-)


I've never seen the X-Files, but the supposed shooter in the storm drain? In front of the grassy knoll? Yeah, I've heard of him!

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this. But I have this feeling that the CIA is being cleansed to be an analyst think tank while military intelligence does all the dirty work. You remember Bush and Rumsfeld were all reluctant to unify military/pentagon/defense dept. intelligence under one director per the 911 commish recs? Their argument was that so-called battlefield intelligence might be compromised if delayed by the slow, unweildy, civillian-controlled leadership of the CIA.

I don't buy it.

I watched the movie 'Good Shepherd' with some interest. Obviously it is fiction, but it takes many elements of truth from history. One important moment in that film was when its military founder turned over the reigns to civilian control.

Pray that the we can continue the pressure to fully implement the recs of the 911 commish with the next administration.

Anonymous said...

Also you might want to watch the Good Shepherd flick. It might make you think twice about believing Oswald. Oswald was caught in a net of counter-intelligence BS such that we might never understand the man. But I don't have too much trouble believing the more modern presention of the path of the single bullet, nor the notion that Oswald had swaallowed way too much BS and decided to kill the president. It could still be argued, however, that it was blowback, since his delusional world was made in part of counter and counter-counter intelligence efforts.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jeff, a blogger no-no to off topic comment, couldn't find an email on your blog.

Here are the sorts of comments I get when I post about the Assyrians and their plight in Iraq, and the indifference of the USA whose presence only seems to exacerbate the tensions and make the persecution worse. (Note the last Anonymous post). Not to mention the emails I receive from Assyrians from those posts. I mean Darfur and Rwanda are bad enough but we are *IN* Iraq! I can understand not wanting to committ to something we aren't already *In*. And it is one thing for the pope to chide Bush, and quite another for him to send in aid if Bush won't provide aid himself.

Jeff said...

Hi B.,

I don't normally post my email address. I like to keep most commmunication in the clear, but everybody who has a Wordpress blog or haloscan comments requires one, so I may as well put it up:

I have this feeling that the CIA is being cleansed to be an analyst think tank while military intelligence does all the dirty work.

You may be right about that. All of these kids coming out of Harvard and Princeton and going to wok as analysts for the CIA are probably pretty reticent about, and ill-suited for doing "wet work". I really do want to see The Good Shepherd. It's on my must see list.

It could still be argued, however, that it was blowback, since his delusional world was made in part of counter and counter-counter intelligence efforts.

Yes, this is the reason why I think he wasn't alone in this. I think someone strung him along to do this (as part of a team), and I think he realized by the time he'd been picked up that he was going to be the fall guy the whole thing was going to be hung on. Can I prove it? No, just a hunch.

Jeff said...


Just an note about the Assyrian thing you've been commenting on. The Pope has called attention to their plight, but he's not asking for a crusade on their behalf. He's calling for peace in Iraq, in a war he and his predecessor opposed to begin with. There are hundreds upon hundreds of blogs beating war drums, B. As a Reform Catholic, do you really want to be part of that orchestra?

I think the last thing Iraq needs is more sectarian militias, and while I sympathize with their plight, and I know that they have their own story and history regarding their Kurdish and Arab neighbors, I think we have to be careful about everything we hear coming out of that part of the world. Half the reason we got into this mess is because we took the word of the stories of certain people from that region without understanding the area very well ourselves. Like I said, I think our troops are in a good faith effort to do everyhing they can to be honest brokers and to protect as many citizens as they can impartially no matter what their religion or ethnicity is. I'm not sure what this "extra" effort on the behalf of the Assyrian Christians is supposed to be. The comments coming fom the Assyrians remnded me very much of a post that might have cost me the friendship of an old friend of mine. It sort of goes along the same lines... "The West betrayed us as we were handed over to our enemies, and ignored our plight as practical politics took first place." There are limits to our power, as we are finding out in Iraq all too painfully.

You spoke on your blog of Federated Libertarianism. I don't think dividing countries up along racial or sectarian lines is a good idea. Half of the problems in the modern world came from the arbitrary lines written on the map of the world by Winston Churchill and other British civil servants of the fading empire. These things shift geographically over time, and these borders are almost always doomed to fail, from Northern Ireland to India. "Balkanization" leads to the kinds of problems you see in the Balkans. I remember when the war in the former Yugoslavia was going on. That British guy Vance Owen was coming up with another one of these cockamammie gerrymandered sectarian maps for Bosnia. Holbrooke and the rest of the US Team had to step in, tear the thing up, and take control of the situation.

cowboyangel said...

My 60’s reminiscing continues... Sam Cooke, my playlist, Martin Luther King...

You're such a hippie! :-)

Don't know if you saw today's New York Times, but there's a fascinating story buried in there somewhere about John and Bobby using the CIA to spy on newspaper reporters. It contains transcripts of some Oval Office conversations back in 1962. The transcripts were actually released back in 2001 but came to light again this week because of related material in the "Family Jewels." [What a stupidly polite and insidious way to describe the CIA's dirty work. "It's okay - it's just the family jewels!"]

I used to believe in the CIA/Mafia conspiracy, but I'm don't really know anymore. Blowback makes some sense. But it seems like if there was such a large conspiracy, we would've found out more about it by now. Someone would've said something sooner or later, no?

As you say, JFK's assassination was such a pivotal moment in our country's history. I think, perhaps, we want to believe there was some grand conspiracy behind it, because then it makes more sense to us. There was a reason or purpose, however sinister, behind this incredbily important moment. Otherwise, life feels too chaotic. Look at 9/11 and th conspiracy theories around it. We prefer a mystery that might have order at the center, however hidden, to apparent chaos.

Either that, or John and Bobby are hiding out in Mallorca with Elvis, Llull and Jim Morrison.

And John Lennon, of couse.

Jeff said...

The "Family Jewels". Can you believe it?

Well, you guys may be right about Oswald and the assassination. Who knows? I guess we'll never know for sure at this point. I guess it's hard for people to believe that someone and something they've invested so much hope in gets taken down senselessly and easily by an alienated misanthrope.

Then again, maybe they are all in the Octupus's Garden down there in Mallorca (Mayorca?). It's where Robert Graves and Ringo Starr wrote all their best stuff.

cowboyangel said...

I didn't realize the Octupus' Garden was in Mallorca. That's pretty cool.

And John started writing Strawberry Fields in Almeria. I wonder if anyone has written on the Beatles' Spanish connection?

Jeff said...


Sorry... Fact Check: Ringo was on Peter Sellers' boat near Sardinia when he wrote Octupus' Garden...

I think I had it confused with his 'No, No, No' Song.

A woman that I know just came from Mallorca, Spain
She smiled because I did not understand
Then she held out a ten pound bag of ....
She said it was the finest in the land...