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Debunking All the Bunkum: Ulric Shannon on Robert Morrow and L. Fletcher Prouty
#1
Here are some of Ulric Shannon's best debunking articles on Robert Morrow then later L. Fletcher Prouty if I can find it...

First Hand Knowledge: A Review

by Ulric Shannon From The Fourth Decade, November, 1993. Posted with the permission of

Ulric Shannon.
Robert Morrow's latest book on the Kennedy assassination, First Hand Knowledge : How I Participated in the CIA-Mafia Murder of JFK (S.P.I. Books, 1992) was published during last year's Christmas book rush and went practically unnoticed. It is the third literary effort of a man whose expertise on the subject is the result of his "admitted" participation, on behalf of the CIA, in the assassination. I should caution that anyone who has read Morrow's two previous offerings (Betrayal, 1976, and The Senator Must Die, 1988) will not find anything new in this book. First Hand Knowledge is in fact an amalgamation of his previous work. Many passages in First Hand Knowledge are lifted word-for-word from the two previous books.
Researcher Duke Lane's article "The Cowtown Connection", which examines the arrest Morrow mentions, is available on this web site.
Most seasoned researchers are aware of Morrow's longstanding claims: that he operated under contract with the CIA in the murky world of CIA-funded anti-Castro Cubans in an effort to destabilize Castro's government, and that these same people, fuelled by President Kennedy's perceived betrayal of the exile cause, went on to hatch a plot against the President with the CIA's active participation.

First Hand Knowledge is, in many ways, spoken in two voices. The first is an historical review of the anti-Castro movement and the CIA's involvement in financing and supporting anti-Communist endeavors in Latin America, along with the requisite political context (which is often tainted by Morrow's own right-wing extremism). Morrow is fairly accurate in this kind of reporting, given that much of his information was already developed by past congressional investigations. Many times in First Hand Knowledge however, this straight reportage is used to set the table for much more dubious and self-serving claims by Morrow.

The second voice is a narrative in which Morrow tells of personal exploits in many unbelievable situations that a bad novelist would treat with derision. These James Bond-esque feats include seizing the controls of a falling plane, high-speed car chases in the streets of Washington and dogfights, over Cuba where the enemy pilot was so close "...I could see the smile on his young Cuban face." [11]

Perhaps the reason that Morrow's place in the assassination controversy has not been seriously challenged over the last seventeen years is that his scenario of the assassination falls well within mainstream theorizing--a Cuban exile plot supported by the Mafia, the CIA, and to lesser extents, by J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon Johnson. But the fact that Morrow is given to self-aggrandizement does cast doubt on the evidentiary value of his "firsthand knowledge," since it is evident, after study, that he only has his own word to back up his stated expertise on the case.
Eladio del Valle was the victim of one of those supposedly "mysterious deaths," and his murder was a key element of the plot of the movie JFK. In reality, the reasons for his killing were probably pretty mundane.

For starters, nearly all I the characters Morrow claims to have known and plotted with are dead and thus cannot disclaim any of what he says. (Morrow has the apparent habit of only adding characters to his story once they are dead and presumably cannot issue denials). And yet, for a man who supposedly knew all of the principals, he is not given to lengthy descriptions of them. As many researchers have noted, Morrow does not seem to have a good knowledge of the characters he supposedly encountered during his work for the CIA. For instance, when asked by C.B. Sharrett to describe David Ferrie, Morrow would only say that he didn't think Ferrie was a homosexual. [2] Yet he wrote in his book and told me that "everybody knew he was a homosexual." [3]

Morrow describes Ferrie as receiving a serious flesh wound in the left shoulder during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Yet researcher Bob Harris contacted the New Orleans Coroner's Office and spoke to an assistant coroner who was familiar with Ferrie's autopsy. Indeed, Ferrie had no scar of any kind on his left shoulder.

Other examples of Morrow's ignorance of his supposed acolytes revolve around Clay Shaw. For instance, Morrow claims that Shaw and Jack Ruby were very closely involved in planning of the assassination. [4] Yet no other source, credible or otherwise, has ever suggested that Shaw and Ruby even knew each other. Morrow also paints Shaw as one of the more rabid right-wingers in the New Orleans area, even though all that is known about Shaw (including recently disclosed private correspondence) indicates that he was liberal in his thinking. [5] Morrow claims to have been present in Europe while weapons were removed from Permindex warehouses in 1961. [6] Yet in Betrayal, he continually referred to the group as "Permidex", a startling error for him to make had he really been there. [7]

Many researchers have noted Morrow's frequent misspelling of the names of the very people he supposedly knew and worked with. Morrow's oft-invoked excuse is that his publisher made the errors after receiving the manuscript.

Also suspicious is Morrow's inability to offer any "new" suspects to the research community. A common characteristic of the many dubious tales in JFK assassination lore -- such as Robert Easterling's wild claims, Marita Lorenz's recent drastic modifications, and Chauncey Holt's belated "confession -- is the inability of these individuals to advance new names or propose new leads based on their claimed knowledge of events.
At interesting aspect of Morrow's story involves Kohly and a possible connection to Richard Nixon. Researcher Peter Whitmey explores this angle in detail.

One such example is Morrow's addition of French OAS infiltrator Michel Mertz (erroneously referred to by Morrow as, at various times, John Michael Mertz and Victor Michael Mertz) as a suspect in the assassination. [8] Morrow was supposedly told by his case officer, Tracy Barnes, that Mertz, alias Michel Roux, alias Jean Souetre, was indeed the dreaded contract killer, QJ/WIN. [9] Yet, as researchers who have followed this lead know very well, Souetre, Mertz and Roux were three different individuals, and reports that Mertz was Souetre's alias were born out of the early confusion that followed the French government's attempts to locate Souetre in April, 1964. [10]

It is worth noting that the Mertz/Souetre information, which was developed mostly by Dallas researcher Mary Ferrell from 1977 on, was first publicly disclosed in Penn Jones' newsletter The Continuing Inquiry in 1979, and later in Henry Hurt's book, Reasonable Doubt in 1985. One wonders why Morrow, having been told of Mertz's involvement by Barnes shortly after the assassination, would sit on the information for two decades (neglecting to include Mertz as a character in Betrayal) and wait until other researchers had developed the information about him, before back-dating his knowledge of Mertz. (Incidentally, he lists Mertz as an "asset" of Santos Trafficante an assertion for which there is no support of any kind.) [11]

Another such example is Morrow's contribution of a Jack Ruby associate, Thomas Eli Davis, as a suspect, this time as a ZR/RIFLE assassin. [12] Davis is not mentioned in Betrayal (not even under a pseudonym) yet becomes an important figure in the assassination by the time First Hand Knowledge goes to press. Perhaps this is because the Tommy Davis information first came to light during the HSCA investigation, and in Seth Kantor's book Who Was Jack Ruby?, published three years after Betrayal.

If Morrow is indeed drawing his knowledge of the case from other books as opposed to any participation in the assassination, this could explain why he never presented Mertz or Davis as suspects in Betrayal or in any discourse on the assassination before the information became publicly available.

How Morrow Deals With Ferrie
[Editor's Note: David Blackburst is the top expert on David Ferrie, an enigmatic character around whom a mass of fanciful claims has arisen. Blackburst made the following observations in a post to alt.assassination.jfk on May 19, 2004.]

Having done a lot of research on David Ferrie, I often can guage a book's general reliability by its accuracy in dealing with Ferrie. I have recently been re-reading Robert Morrow's First Hand Knowledge and I have noted a few anomalies. This is just a quick overview; I will cite chapter and verse in a later essay. Let it be noted that Morrow clearly was involved in certain anti-Castro activities in that era.

The first thing that caught my eye, even before Morrow gets to Ferrie, is his assertion that Robert Aime Maheu worked for William Guy Banister in the Chicago FBI office for a number of years. Wrong. I've seen both men's FBI personnel files: Banister was the Special Agent in Charge of Chicago only from January 4 to December 11, 1954. Maheu, who never served in the Chicago office, left the FBI in 1951. This was an error made in an early assassination book, but Morrow recounts it as though from his own personal knowledge.

Morow introduces Ferrie on April 16, 1961 in Washington for a meeting with CIA officials. But appears to have been in New Orleans on that date. He purchased fuel at Lakefront Airport. He paid his phone bill and car payment that day with money orders from a local bank. And a friend of his recalls a full day of local activity.

Morrow next has Ferrie flying a plane (on which he was not yet qualified) on a mission to Cuba (involving Eladio del Valle) during which Ferrie was wounded in the shoulder. Again, Ferrie was actually with friends in New Orleans. del Valle was in Miami, giving an interview to a news reporter. The wound was not noticed by the doctor who gave him his routine annual flight physical just a week later, never mentioned to friends, and no trace was evident at the time of his death in 1967.

Later in the book, Morrow has Ferrie involved in an arms deal in New Orleans in early August 1963, on a day when he was in Miami at a hearing.

Three big problems, and I've barely scanned the book. Maybe Morrow has the dates wrong. Maybe there was some chicanery to obfuscate Ferrie's whereabouts. I am inclined to believe that Morrow may have embellished a few events, or worse. Ferrie seems to be an easy target for some who write about this case.

David Blackburst

Another character Morrow now implicates in the assassination is the Chief of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division, David Atlee Phillips. [13] Morrow alleges that Phillips is one of the men who were photographed while under arrest in Fort Worth on the afternoon of the assassination. Yet recent research by Duke Lane has established beyond question that the man Morrow now identifies as Phillips is in fact Kenneth Glenn Wilson, and that the latter was only being picked up as a witness in the arrest of Donald Wayne House. [14]

Even on the most trivial of details, discrepancies emerge in Robert Morrow's tale. He tells, for instance, of meeting mobster Thomas Luchese during the early stages of the plans to murder Castro. [15] (This despite the fact that no one else has ever identified Luchese as being involved in the plotting.) Morrow recounts that he noticed Luchese was missing the thumb and forefinger on his right hand. Yet several books on the Mob describe Luchese as in fact missing only one finger on his hand. [16]

In Betrayal, Morrow outlined the Dealey Plaza firing sequence which he supposedly learned from his close relationship with the top brass at the CIA. But Morrow made the mistake of positioning one of the assassins on the roof of the Dallas County Criminal Courts Building. [17] The problem is, that particular building has a 15-foot high parapet along the edges of the roof, which clearly makes it an impossible location from which to shoot. [18] When C.B. Sharrett confronted Morrow with this discrepancy, he replied,

Listen, you're a buff. I don't give a damn if the car was bombed or whatever; the point is that there was a conspiracy involved and/ had to reconstruct that part in order to sell the book. [19]
Interestingly, Morrow made sure not to include a "reconstruction" of the firing sequence in First Hand Knowledge.
In Betrayal, Morrow quotes himself as describing Owen Brewster as a sitting Senator from Maine in 1961. [20] Yet Brewster had retired from the Senate in 1952. [21] In First Hand Knowledge, Morrow makes sure to correct this glaring mistake. [22]

In one especially unbelievable incident "recalled" in his book, Morrow tells of being attacked while staying at Miami's famed Fountainebleu Hotel [23] (the site of the infamous Giancana-Roselli-Maheu-Trafficante meeting relating to the plots against Castro). The attack supposedly occurred around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of April 29, 1961 (although Morrow had it happening at 5:30 a.m. in Betrayal). [24] The aggressors were two Cubans, one of whom was known as "The Captain," the other as "Callas." By daylight, four people were dead: The Captain (supposedly killed by Eladio del Valle), Morrow's companion, named Francoise Manet, as well as two laundry truck drivers killed in central Miami during Callas' getaway. [25] Even on the bloodiest of days in Miami, a quadruple murder hardly ever fails to make the news. I asked Miami researcher Gordon Winslow to check the newspapers for the week that followed the night of the four murders. Gordon told me that there was no mention of these four deaths in either of the two Miami dailies during the period of April 29 to May 4,1961.

On another occasion, Morrow tells of staying with Congressman Adam Clayton Powell at the latter's newly built home in Puerto Rico in April 1961. This layover occurred after an improbable motorbike chase-scene through the streets of the island. [26] But Powell's biography reveals he had returned to Washington in January when the new congressional session had begun. [27] There is even doubt as to whether construction of the home was finished by April. [28]

Another example is Morrow's stated knowledge of a man named John O'Hare, whom Morrow describes as a CIA mercenary. Morrow tells of interviewing him in 1983, and states that O'Hare died in Cleburne, Texas, in 1992. [29] Yet O'Hare's death certificate, which is reproduced in the appendices of First Hand Knowledge ostensibly to support Morrow's claim, indicates that O'Hare died on March 23, 1975, in Orange County, Florida. [30] When I confronted Morrow with this discrepancy, he stated:

Well, that's a different John--that--John O'Hare, is, I think, the same guy. But then, of course, they all faked their deaths. He was told to go underground and they buried a Cuban in his place. [31]
Again, this is another "fact" Morrow failed to bring out in First Hand Knowledge. Morrow also told me that O'Hare used the name Bill Bishop and was known as Oscar The Assassin. Yet, in First Hand Knowledge, Morrow had those monikers belonging to Eladio del Valle. Again, Morrow does not seem to be very familiar with his alleged accomplices.
Another discrepancy revolves around Morrow himself. The code name by which he was supposedly known at the CIA was Robert Porter. Yet, during a cloak- and-dagger incident set in Spain that he describes in his book, a CIA contact asks him if he is Robert Morrow. [32] Morrow does not address the question of how such a trivial character would know his real name. Interestingly, the CIA contact in question, he says, was a woman named Susan Cotts (Morrow confirmed to me that that is her real name), a Wellesley senior studying under a Fulbright scholarship who had "allowed herself to be recruited as a student observer in Europe." [33] Yet Bob Harris contacted Wellesley and could find no evidence that a woman by that name had ever studied there. Furthermore, he learned that no Wellesley Fulbright scholar had ever been sent to study in Spain.

House Select Committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi (whom Morrow says he "consulted with" during the HSCA's investigation) told me:

I spent a long afternoon with him, questioning him about it. You know, what it boiled down to is that there was so much in it [Betrayal] that there was absolutely no way to checkout, and what turned me off a little bit, especially about Betrayal was that he had so many documentary facts wrong. [34]
(Morrow tells in First Hand Knowledge of "testifying" before both the HSCA and the Church Committee. In fact, Morrow was only interviewed by Fonzi and was never under oath, and he never testified before the Church Committee.)
Logically, one begins to wonder why the top officials at the CIA would rest so much of their plans on one individual, Morrow. This is especially true since the two most important tasks supposedly carried out by Morrow in preparation for the assassination--namely the purchase of four Mannlicher-Carcanos and the design of communications equipment for the hit squad--could be carried out by anyone else.

For example, Mario Kohly (Morrow's accomplice in his counterfeiting operation) states, in an affidavit reproduced in the appendices to the book, that his son was "quite a radio expert." [35] One wonders why the CIA would need to implicate Morrow in the electronics angle when the younger Kohly could do the job quite well.

When First Hand Knowledge was published, the CIA responded that "There is no record that Robert D. Morrow was ever a contract agent of the CIA." Morrow replied that CIA records would not reflect his employment since he had been paid at the time by the U.S. Army. [36] This is another "fact" that Morrow failed to bring out in any of his books.

For all his many claims of crucial work for the CIA or his self-proclaimed status as an "elite CIA operative," Robert Morrow has been unable to produce so much as a stub from the CIA headquarters' parking lot, a cancelled check, or indeed any sort of documentary proof that he ever did any kind of work for the CIA, the U.S. Army, or anyone else in intelligence. Morrow has stated that his notes from that period, which could bear out his employment by the CIA, were stolen from his, office (presumably by the CIA). Yet he told me that he still had his notes from his time with the CIA, which he said he was "in the process of destroying."

The only kind of confirmation I have come across for any of Morrow's claims is the fact, cited by Dick Russell and Gus Russo, that an employee at Baltimore's Campbell Company airstrip claims to remember a strange fellow (whom Morrow says was Farrie) coming to Baltimore in a Tri-Pacer in August, 1963 and picking up weapons, ostensibly those used in the assassination. [37] Yet Ferrie's own airplane was not a TriPacer, but a Stinson 150 that had not been airworthy since April, 1962. [38]

Morrow also states that he once came across a list drawn up for George Bush listing top security threats for the CIA, which had both him and Frank Sturgis at the top. [39] For some reason, he did not keep the list (a damning document for him to publish), but told me that Jim Lesar at AARC did have a copy. Lesar told me, "I have no knowledge of such a document."

Morrow has written that two attempts had been made against his life. The two supposed attempts seem to contradict Morrow's statement that "...the mentality of the intelligence community is to protect its own," even when these operatives are ready to make embarrassing disclosures. [40]

What hobbles Morrow's credibility is his claim that he "knows all." A most common trait of fraudulent characters in the assassination is that they have self-ascribed expertise on all subjects. In Morrow's case, he claims to have not only been "in the loop" of the John Kennedy assassination, but also of the Robert Kennedy murder and Watergate. He claims to have met both John and Robert Kennedy on many occasions, claims even to have shared a girlfriend with the President, claims that his wife knew Jacqueline Kennedy, and told me that he had been knighted by the British Empire. [41]

For all these questions about his credibility, Morrow remains a figure in the assassination controversy who is frequently consulted as an authority. Despite the excellent reasons for doubting his many tall tales, Morrow was quoted at length as recently as this year, in Dick Russell's The Man Who Knew Too Much, and has apparently gained the respect of otherwise solid researchers, such as Gus Russo and John Davis. Morrow told me, on the subject of the research community, that "of course, those people don't believe me at all." I hope I've done an adequate job in assessing why this is rightly so.

Morrow's story, in the absence of any documentary support, relies exclusively on his own credibility, and since far too much doubt can be cast on the validity of his story, it is impossible to accept First Hand Knowledge and maintain decent standards of evidence.

Robert Morrow has shown his ability to construct dialogue and events in Betrayal, and given the equally dubious nature of his claims in First Hand Knowledge I suggest we treat his latest book as fiction as well.

Thanks to: Peter Whitmey, Gaeton Fonzi, Gordon Winslow, Tony Marsh, Bill Beck, Mark Zaid and Bob Harris.
Notes
1. Robert Morrow, First Hand Knowledge (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1992), p. 59 (Hereafter, this source is noted as FHK

2. Transcript of Morrow interview by Sharrett in The Continuing Inquiry (December 22, 1976).

3. Taped interview of Morrow by Shannon, September 14, 1993. Also FHK, pp. 207, 208.

4. FHK, pp. 120, 122.

5. JFK Honor Guard (January 1993) p. 10.

6. FHK, p. 138.

7. Robert Morrow, Betrayal (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1976) pp. 71,74

8. FHK, p. 174.

9. FHK, p. 174.

10. Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt (New York: Henry Holt, 1985) pp. 414-419.

11. FHK, p. 188.

12. FHK , p. 164.

13. FHK, p. 242.

14. M. Duke Lane, "The Cowtown Connection," The Third Decade, (July, 1993) p. 36.

15. FHK, p. 13.

16. Stephen Fox, Blood and Power (New York: Wm. Morrow, 1989) p. 96.

17. Betrayal, p. 202.

18. Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas (New York: Berkley Medallion, 1976) p. 173.

19. The Continuing Inquiry, December 22, 1976.

20. Betrayal, p. 65.

21. Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kenney and His Times (New York: Ballantine, 1978) p. 524n.

22. FHK, P. 62.

23. FHK, p. 108.

24. Betrayal, p. 51.

25. FHK, pp. 111, 115.

26. FHK, pp. 95-102.

27. Charles Hamilton, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma (New York: Atheneum, 1991) p. 336.

28. Taped interview of Fonzi by Shannon, July 28, 1993.

29. FHK, pp. 240, 241.

30. FHK, p. 342.

31. Interview with Morrow.

32. FHK, p. 135.

33. Ibid.

34. Reuters wire story; The Vancouver Province, November 22, 1992.

35. FHK, p. 337.

36. Associated Press story.

37. Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992).

38. Warren Commission CD 75, p. 294.

39. FHK, p. 296.

40. East Side Weekend, (Cincinnati, OH) April 25, 1991.

41. Interview with Morrow.

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#2
Past Imperfect:
The Assassination as a Historical Question
by
Ulric Shannon
EDITORS NOTE: This is a paper presented at the First Research Conference of the Fourth Decade, Fredonia, New York, July 19-21, 1996. Shannon's assessment of some issues may have changed since he wrote this paper, but his assessment of the problems of the "research community" has not. Posted with the permission of Ulric Shannon.


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Does a perverse law operate whereby those events that are most important are hardest to understand because they attract the greatest attention from mythmakers and charlatans?

----Holger Herwig, Patriotic Self-Censorship
in Germany After the Great War, 1987.


A noteworthy development has taken place the last few years in scholarly literature devoted to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This is the increasing frequency of journal articles and panel discussions questioning the purpose, methods and ultimate aims of what is loosely referred-to as the research community, as we enter the fourth decade of an enquiry with no end in sight.

This is a relatively new phenomenon in our field of interest, one likely occasioned by a new-found image consciousness brought about by the Oliver Stone film and regular flurries of media attention at "anniversary time." A more important contributing factor, however, may be the increasing realization that the research community is in need of a major reappraisal of itself; this sentiment is manifest in the growing exasperation of many of my colleagues who feel that the research community's agenda is being set by its least knowledgeable and least objective members.

The purpose of my presentation is to critically evaluate the aims of the research community, as well as its methods; but before I do, two caveats need to be emphasized. First, I should point out that my criticism is meant to be constructive, and that I don't exempt myself from any of it; I've had the painful experience of re-reading Third Decade articles I wrote three or four years ago, and literally cringing. Did I really say that? What was I thinking?

Second, it should be noted that my criticism of the research community's methods is nothing new; Dennis Ford, James Folliard, Tom Filsinger and others have written very cogent essays describing various pathologies in the work of the community: poor reasoning, narrow-mindedness, biases and the like.(1) The problem with these articles, however, is that they assume from the outset that we researchers have a common goal, namely finding The Truth, and that our main obstacle is, simply, a poor grasp of deductive logic. I don't think this is the case; I think bad research is merely a symptom of the fact that assassination researchers don't have a common goal. Of course we all want the truth, we just prefer certain truths to others--I'll get to that later.

But the fact is, we all work on this case with very particular goals in mind, and these goals shape the way we treat evidence. The historian Michael Schudson argues that you don't think about events like the assassination, you think with them; they become "tools, as well as occasions, for a society's thinking out loud about itself, not only at the time but in retrospect....a reference point for thinking about American politics, American journalism, American culture."(2) The way I see it, researchers think with the assassination on four different levels: legal, journalistic, political and historical. My belief is that the historical lens is the most reliable, but that in the research community the political lens is the most prevalent, and that it is for this reason that methodological problems abound.

The Legal Lens
The legal view of the assassination chiefly concerns itself with the question of whether Lee Harvey Oswald would have been convicted at trial; this is a very parochial view of the assassination, and one that I don't think is terribly relevant or widespread; but I still see researchers, fairly regularly, argue that Oswald would have been acquitted, and that this really says something about the evidence against him.

This kind of counterfactual reasoning isn't very helpful in achieving an understanding of what the Kennedy assassination means, because there is no correlation between a jury verdict and the objective truth of events past; an acquittal of Oswald, whether by a Texas court or London Weekend Television or the American Bar Association (the latter two of whom have held mock trials of Oswald over the last decade), is not retroactive; we therefore should not act as though it means anything.

You can argue that a guilty Oswald would have been acquitted on a technicality (key pieces of evidence might have been disallowed in light of a sloppy chain of evidence); you can argue that an innocent Oswald would have been convicted by local passions and prejudices; either way, the verdicts wouldn't reflect reality. Whenever a researcher argues on a radio talk show or conference panel that Oswald would have been acquitted at trial, I always think that, first, we have no way of knowing this, and second, it's not evidence anyway. I'm aware that Martin Shackelford has a presentation tomorrow which deals with this very issue, and I look forward to hearing it; but I hope that we all strive to do more in our work than just acquit Oswald posthumously; (I'll address that a bit later).

The Journalistic Lens
About two and a half years ago, I was asked to serve as a consultant for a planned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary on the assassination (which has since been shelved). Part of my work was to outline for the producers areas where evidence of conspiracy was strong; this proved to be a problem, not because a solid case for conspiracy can't be made--I think it can--but because the areas I found most interesting conspiracy-wise would be like Chinese to anyone outside this room. I think the producers expected me to start telling them about the magic bullet or the Zapruder film head snap; but when instead I began talking about Oswald's possible relationship to the Dodd Subcommittee, and the vagaries of the acoustical evidence, and the disinformation campaign of the Mexico City CIA station, all I got back was a blank stare: What the hell is this guy talking about? None of that stuff was in JFK!

This is the real problem with the available evidence of conspiracy, and one that the Gerald Posners of the world are only too happy to gloss over: it's not that the most credible evidence of conspiracy isn't compelling (it is, if you have the patience to learn its subtleties), it's that you can't easily package it into a sound byte. A good example comes from Lee Harvey Oswald's short-lived pro-Castro campaign in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. Shortly after Oswald's arrest for disturbing the peace, a copy of one of his pamphlets was sent in to the New Orleans FBI office by an informant; what is interesting is that this pamphlet was assigned an FBI office code which also appears on FBI reports concerning anti-Castro activities.(3) Was someone at the New Orleans office aware of the true nature of Oswald's work?

This is a tantalizing bit of information, and may give us some insight into Oswald's role in the New Orleans anti-communist sphere. But it's not something which will ever make the front pages or which will win over converts. In fact, simply explaining the New Orleans context and its significance to someone who knows little about the case is a task in itself.

Many researchers seem to have a fixation with how the Kennedy assassination is reported in the media; whole books have been written on the subject.(4) This concern is manifest in the efforts of researchers to make the assassination a newsworthy topic (thus the regular press conferences, in Dallas, by the AIC, which has been more accurately described as the Assassin-of-the-Month Club). But this fixation has two effects: first, it tarnishes our credibility, because these mediatized leads almost never pan out. Second, and more important, it leads us to cater our research to the media--in particular, visual media; as I said earlier, a story about the Dodd Subcommittee won't cut it with journalists; as far as they're concerned, it's all gibberish unless you have illustrations--preferably pictures of a shape in the bushes. As a result, we've spent an inordinate amount of effort on photographic evidence and neglected more promising areas of research.

The journalistic mindset doesn't serve the research community well because it shies away from the really complex and byzantine areas of the case which are most in need of real scrutiny. Woodward and Bernstein broke Watergate because they kept reminding themselves that "God is in the details"--an axiom that is especially relevant to the assassination. Today, however, the journalistic profession doesn't care for details. We can't afford to think this way.

The Political Lens
The most serious obstacle researchers have imposed on themselves, in my opinion, is their prevalent view of the assassination as a political event. By political, I don't mean crudely partisan, although some researchers are not above this kind of rhetoric;(5) I mean concerning the polity--the American people. The political view of the assassination is imbued with the belief that the assassination has a generalizeable meaning for society as a whole, even thirty years later: this wasn't just a murder (the political view goes), it was an assault on the rights of every American which continues to this day. If you need greater elaboration of this line of reasoning, just review Kevin Costner's horribly maudlin ("...our slain father-leader," etc.) closing arguments in JFK.

Consider the following three statements by researchers, and see if you agree with their fundamentally political message:

The power-mad, money-hungry cabal that killed JFK believes it knows what is best for this country... It is very unlikely that this democracy will ever recover from the results of the decision made by these men in 1963.(6)

Kennedy was overthrown, murdered in a foul conspiracy... reaching into the highest areas of our government and the Establishment that has the power in this nation....Our Constitution has been subverted and circumvented by powerful people and forces in our country.(7)

The Secret Team runs the United States... They did things to each President to make him understand that his life and administration depended upon the Secret Team's control. John Kennedy's murder was an example to all who followed.(8)

If these statements speak to you, there's a good chance you're in the majority of researchers who see the assassination as a political event. You would probably agree that what was killed wasn't just a man, but a whole set of ideals and principles; and that in these ideals and principles--offensive to many powerful, reactionary forces--lay the motive for the crime. No lesser a figure than Sylvia Meagher wrote that "Few people who have followed the events closely--and who are not indentured to the Establishment--conceive of the Kennedy assassination as anything but a political crime."(9)

While it's not really my place to question the beliefs of my colleagues, I feel I should address the repercussions such beliefs have on the aims and methods of the research community, even if I don't consider myself a minion of the Establishment.

For starters, those who sincerely believe the Kennedy assassination was a coup d'état aimed at subverting democracy tend to identify contemporary problems with it. The assassination didn't just happen in 1963, they say; it continues to this day. Many authors have linked it to subsequent national traumas; one in particular even sees in it the groundwork for David Duke's political career.(10) The gist of these arguments is that the murder of John Kennedy remains relevant today as the source of just about all our political problems.(11)

Researchers who see the assassination not as a mere crime but as a subversion of democracy now in its fourth decade tend to feel it their mission to warn everyone of the danger this poses; they see themselves as modern-day Samuel Adamses, endowed with the mission of overthrowing, through rhetoric, the tyranny of the state. For this reason, the prime feature of the political view of the assassination is an overriding desire to convince the public that there was a conspiracy, lest some naive people believe the death of Kennedy was merely, as David Lifton puts it, a man in a building shooting a man in a car. The unspoken credo at work here is that the ultimate truth of the assassination is unimportant--what counts is what people believe. The research community let Oliver Stone off the hook for depicting patently fraudulent evidence of conspiracy because his film had the noble ambition of winning over converts--regardless of whether the basis of this conversion was valid or not. As one researcher puts it, "Perception in this case is, alas, reality."(12)

The desire to shape public opinion was especially strong in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when legions of Warren Commission critics toured university campuses with their charts and slides, and proselytized to the gallery. And it worked. The public--or nine-tenths of it, according to polls--"knows" there was a conspiracy. It is a fact in the common wisdom of the American people--regardless of whether it's true or not. The P.R. battle has been an unmitigated success for us.

Well, so what? I for one don't care what the public thinks about the assassination; I've now spent eight years researching it (with varying degrees of intensity), and early on I would have sided with the nine in ten. But recently I've come to appreciate how ambiguous the evidence in this case is, and how difficult it is for a truly objective researcher to pass judgement on what really happened--and this is true whether your name is Gerald Posner or Jim Marrs. For this reason, I'm not terribly impressed by the number of people who believe in a conspiracy, or the passion with which they believe it. And I can't bring myself to believe that the efforts we all expend on this case serve no other purpose than to raise the public's belief in conspiracy to one hundred percent.

This fixation with public perception of the assassination, which is spawned by the political view I'm addressing, adversely impacts the way we work in several ways. The first is the desire to make complex evidence accessible to the guy on the street. In doing so, we tend to emphasize evidence that is persuasive rather than evidence that is sound. An example is the magic bullet; diagrams of its zigzag path are compelling and can be understood by anyone, but they are also exaggerated and scientifically meaningless: they treat mobile objects as static and claim greater accuracy than they can possibly achieve. (The same is true of HSCA and Failure Analysis Associates simulations which pretend to prove the magic bullet's viability).

Another side-effect of the wish to impact public opinion is an appeal to the quantity of conspiracy evidence, rather than its quality. By this, and I hope we can all agree on this, I mean that there is no smoking gun; there is no incontrovertible proof of conspiracy. Many researchers have a tendency to use the word "proof" very loosely,(13) and that really bothers me. The Zapruder film doesn't prove conspiracy, regardless of what some people think; it's compelling, but that's not the same thing as proof. You don't need to be a lawyer to understand that. I might add, too, that if we had proof of conspiracy, none of us would be here debating it.

Let me illustrate what I mean by quantity of evidence versus quality. I had a conversation with a friend some time back, and he was telling me why he believes in UFOs; now he's a very sane and rational person, and his logic was persuasive: he argued that there have probably been tens of thousands of UFO sightings; I replied that most were probably hoaxes; he agreed, but said that only one of the sightings has to be factual for the existence of UFOs to be verified--it doesn't really matter at that point if all the other sightings are fraudulent. In other words, each sighting may constitute weak evidence on its own, but there's strength in numbers.

Unfortunately, this kind of logic is rampant in the research community; I've often heard colleagues of mine say things like, "What are the odds that all of the evidence of conspiracy is wrong?" Nothing better illustrates this than Jim Marrs' Crossfire, which simply collates, in terms of conspiracy evidence, everything but the kitchen sink, without really discriminating between good and bad evidence. Crossfire makes its case through sheer volume: no one piece of evidence in the book is especially compelling (let alone proof of anything), but there's 590 pages of it--two and a half pounds of conspiracy, thank you very much.

The problem with seeing the evidence in this case in terms of quantity and not quality is that, like any investigation, the explanation you advance is only as strong as the sum of its parts. That's why someone like Gerald Posner does such a good job of attacking the case for conspiracy; by not discriminating between solid, credible evidence and some of the garbage that is taken seriously, the research community has left itself open to attack. For the most part, Posner attacks half-baked theories and weak evidence that aren't even at the heart of the case for conspiracy. I am disappointed at the vitriol directed at Posner by the research community; in actual fact, he only did what we researchers should have done ourselves a long time ago: take stock of the available evidence and root out everything that isn't rock-solid, instead of trying to build a case a mile wide and an inch deep.

Seeing the evidence in terms of quantity, with little concern for quality, means there are few researchers around who bother to clean out the cages, so to speak. A good example is the man in the doorway. On December 2, 1963 a wire service story went out featuring the famous James Altgens photograph of the motorcade, with the front entrance to the Texas School Book Depository visible in the background. The picture showed a man standing on the front steps of the Depository who looked somewhat like Oswald; obviously, this had the potential to undermine the contention that Oswald was six floors up, readying his rifle.

The Warren Commission, however, concluded that the man in the doorway was not Oswald, but a Depository employee named Billy Lovelady, who did bear a striking resemblance to Oswald. Lovelady himself told the Commission that he was the man in the Altgens photograph, and that he recognized in the picture the shirt he had worn that day.

Yet the notion that Oswald was the man in the doorway (and therefore innocent) persisted for years without any sort of factual sustenance. Finally, in 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations' Photographic Evidence Panel discovered a color film which featured a side view of the man in question, as well as his striped shirt. It exactly matched Billy Lovelady's attire, at long last settling the question of the man in the doorway's identity: it wasn't Oswald. Even Robert Groden, a HSCA photographic panellist who had pushed the Oswald-In-The-Doorway theory in the past, was forced to admit his mistake and acknowledged that the man in question was indeed Lovelady.(14)

Yet for some reason, some researchers have been unwilling to let go of even the slight possibility that that could be Oswald. As late as 1989, Jim Marrs was whipping this dead horse in Crossfire.(15) We shouldn't wonder why Gerald Posner has so much fun attacking the research community: on the issue of the man in the doorway, he's shooting fish in a barrel. He's entirely correct when he writes that "the real question is why, when the original evidence is considered, this ever became such an important issue."(16) And indeed, by entertaining such weak theories, the research community supplies Posner with straw men to demolish.

There is at least one more negative side-effect to wanting to convince the public of a conspiracy without the benefit of a smoking gun: this is an overemphasis on evidence of a cover-up coupled with the notion that the underlying crime (of an assassination conspiracy) goes without saying. The problem here is that many of these cover-ups (e.g., of domestic espionage programs, of Ruby's informant relationship with the FBI, of the plots against Castro, etc.) were meant to obscure the truth about official transgressions not necessarily related to, and often predating, the assassination. If the CIA covered up facts about Oswald's visit to Mexico City, it's just as likely that it was to avoid disclosing the methods of their surveillance on the Soviet and Cuban embassies and the identities of their inside people; we can't casually discount the possibility that they were, in Paul Hoch's words, accessories despite the fact. Yet I estimate that at least half of the research community's work is aimed at adducing facts not about the crime but about the manner in which the evidence was treated by law enforcement authorities.
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Since Shannon wrote this essay, the "Zapruder film alteration" theory has prospered among conspiracists, in spite of the wacky nature of the "logic" that supports the claim. Clint Bradford has an excellent web page outlining the evidence on this issue.
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By far the most insidious fixation on the possibility of a cover-up is the one being engaged in these days by some members of the research community who believe that the entire body of evidence is suspect. I refer specifically to those who are endeavouring, with very little success, to prove the Zapruder film was altered.(17) It seems clear to me that these people are making these arguments for no other reason than that the film conflicts with their own pet theories about the location of the wounds or the number of shots. I had planned to say much more about this, but since Daryll Weatherly has a presention on this topic planned for Sunday, I'll let him address this issue.

But the dim view some researchers take of the evidence in this case has been extended, in recent years, to all of the basic tools of the historian. Jim Marrs states that more than five witnesses "have stated that their testimony as presented by the Commission [in its transcripts] did not accurately reflect what they said."(18) For this reason, he advises his readers not to trust the basic evidence and testimony. For his part, Charles Drago told participants at the Third Decade conference in Providence, three summers ago, that the research community shouldn't waste its time poring over the newly-released files in Washington. Why? Well, if we don't find a smoking gun but reiterate our belief in conspiracy anyway, he writes, "this will allow them once again to paint a group portrait of us as impossible-to satisfy conspiracy 'buffs' out on the lunatic fringe."(19)

Now think about for a second. For decades, we beat the drum about full disclosure: the files won't be released until 2039! What in God's name has happened to democracy! And when the government finally relents--under pressure from a movie, of all things--we immediately denounce the newly-released files as an even more insidious cover-up than earlier non-disclosure. A neutral observer might say that we've loaded the dice: we treat evidence of conspiracy as such; we treat the absence of evidence of conspiracy as proof of a cover-up; and then we infer a conspiracy from this cover-up.

This is psychotic. If the body of evidence has systematically been altered, why does it seem to point so consistently in the direction of conspiracy, to the point where true believers in Oswald's sole guilt are treated like disciples of the flat-earth society? For example, why would the Warren Commission alter Jean Hill's testimony (as she claims it did) but leave in her description of four to six shots, some from the knoll? And why does her "altered" testimony match point for point her description of the assassination to radio reporters some twenty minutes after the shooting? (Well, maybe that tape has been doctored, too.)(20)

This tendency to view more and more of the available evidence as suspect has devastating implications for us. If none of the evidence is reliable, then the truth is no longer knowable; it becomes something you attain through intuition alone. Dennis Ford has addressed this problem much more eloquently than I can, and I'll quote from him:

I know of no other field in which opinion leaders happily argue their cause out of existence. It's as if some of the[m forget] that no theories are possible without an evidentiary base. There's no way to create a theory without such a base....the only evidence left for consideration is eyewitness testimony and that has been shown in decades of experimental study to be an exceedingly shaky base on which to build cathedrals of speculation.
Turning from empirical researchers into metaphysicians, whose theories need no support and can't have support, these assassinologists have unwittingly closed their version of the case.(21)

I'd like to take a moment to address what some researchers see as a cover-up taken to extremes: the so-called mysterious deaths of witnesses. Can we abandon once and for all the notion that there is something suspicious about the necrology of witnesses? There was a time when researchers were fond of saying that seventeen witnesses in the Warren Commission index had died within three years and three months of the assassination, and that the odds of this occuring naturally were 100,000 trillion to one. Of course, this figure turned out to be completely wrong,(22) but that hasn't stopped researchers since from compiling ever longer lists of dead witnesses--the longest I've seen recently runs at over 200 names.(23)
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Shannon is correct that the "mystery deaths" thesis is not merely wrongheaded, it is easily debunked, and tends to discredit researchers such as Penn Jones and Jim Marrs who have promoted it.
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The problem, though, isn't just that these lists contain the names of people with no imaginable link to the assassination (Jayne Mansfield, Alex Onassis, Phil Ochs, and a person who had a heart attack and fell over the eternal flame);(24) it's that these so-called mysterious deaths are no longer canvassed strictly from the Warren Commission's index, but indeed from the limitless supply of people involved even tangentially with the case. If you consider that the FBI and Secret Service interviewed over 26,000 people in 1963 and 1964, and that researchers have probably added at least ten thousand names to this body of evidence, then a rate of attrition of 200 people over a thirty year period seems remarkably healthy. In actual fact, if we had a complete record of what has happened to these people since 1963, we would probably find that at least a third of them have died; but this is a normal actuarial condition. We shouldn't expect the material witnesses to be immortal.

So all of these shortcomings I've been talking about come from our misguided wish to convince the public that there was a conspiracy. Because of this bizarre sense of mission, many researchers implicitly see what we do as a public relations battle between our version of history and theirs; this, I might add parenthetically, has led to abuses of the historical record perpetrated under the guise of bringing the truth to the people. We should all be offended--not just as researchers but as human beings--that Robert Groden peddled a set of lurid autopsy photographs to that noted rampart of historical enlightenment, Globe--a tabloid best described as recyclable.(25)

This base appeal to the public's morbid tendencies is sheer exploitation of a tragic event; Groden lined his pockets to the tune of $50,000 by shilling pictures of the cadaver of a man regarded by many--particularly in this room--as a remarkable and interesting person. And yet few in the research community objected; some even saw this as a good thing: the truth about the medical cover-up was being publicized--what's wrong with that? If only the rest of the autopsy photographs were published--then we'd blow the lid on this thing.

Well, if this how the autopsy photographs are going to be used, I for one hope they remain under lock and key at the National Archives, accessible only to qualified experts. The notion that the American public needs to see these pictures to gain an understanding of the facts of the assassination is a lot of self-serving nonsense. As I'm sure the medical panel will show tomorrow, the photographs and X-rays don't depict any absolute truths--they are subject to interpretation. And I'm confident that medical professionals are more qualified to do this than the readership of Globe.


And yet the belief persists in much of the research community that abusive practises such as the exploitation of autopsy photographs is a good thing because it scores points for us in the battle of public perception--this despite the fact that the battle was won decades ago; close to 90% of all Americans think there was a conspiracy, and twenty Gerald Posners working around the clock couldn't put a dent in this figure. The public is now suspicious and cynical beyond belief. And what, exactly, has this accomplished?

Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, which it seems was carried out by mental cases who see black United Nations helicopters everywhere, George Will accused Oliver Stone of laying the foundations of this mass murder. On This Week With David Brinkley, Will argued that the movie JFK had taught people to fear their government. I found this funny, coming from someone who demonizes the government every day of his life, until someone sent me a tape of a radio program from Oklahoma; the gist of this particular show was that the bombing had been orchestrated by the government--the same government, the show argued, that killed Kennedy in 1963.(26)

You may think that paranoids like these don't know what they're talking about, and that, thank God, they aren't in the mainstream of assassination research. But think about this for a second: one of the pet beliefs of right-wing lunatics such as these is that the U.S. government is currently murdering thousands of dissident Americans every year in a secret, nationwide gulag. We may all find this pretty ridiculous; but how different is it from the mainstream research community's belief that witnesses--hundreds of them--have been silenced over the last three decades?

Nowadays, Americans in general are convinced that the government routinely does things like assassinate people. That's why I so dislike the political view of the assassination; it has no other aim than to instill in people a sense of government persecution. Breeding paranoia is not a virtue--least of all when the factual record is ambiguous to the point of making hard-boiled conclusions quite suspect.

The Historical Lens
The historical view of the assassination is one I wish were more prevalent in the research community. Simply put, it means recognizing that, despite the many theories and the many political agendas that underwrite them, the assassination only happened one way, and it may not necessarily lend itself to a satisfactory political interpretation. Gerald Posner argues that conspiracy theories exist because great crimes need great motives and great perpetrators, and that we--the researchers and the public--aren't willing to accept the fact that someone like John F. Kennedy could be cut down by a runt like Oswald for no particular reason.

I think this is an oversimplification. There are real reasons for doubting the lone-assassin theory; there is a wealth of inconsistencies and contradictions in that version of the case--we didn't invent them. But to a certain extent, I think Posner has a point. Suppose for a moment that we went back to November 1963, and were privy to the whole story as it unfolded. And suppose we found out that there was indeed a conspiracy--but not the one we think. Suppose it turned out that the deed was done by Oswald and a couple of anti-Castro types from New Orleans, and that's it. No CIA, no military-industrial complex, no Nazis. No cover-up of any real significance. How would the average member of the research community feel?

I suspect that most researchers would be disappointed. Even having been proved right on the existence of a conspiracy, most of us would probably feel cheated out of an indictment of great significance. Unfortunately, history is often like this; it often fails to meet people's expectations. The historian Henry Commager captured this in the title of his book Search for a Useable Past. In a way, we're all doing this--you, me, Oliver Stone, and Gerald Posner--we're all hoping to find a version of history that bolsters our core beliefs. But if our mission is to find The Truth, we can't afford to do this.

We have to recognize the difference between being objective and being neutral. None of us is neutral; we all tend to prefer certain theories to others, or certain types of evidence to others. But it is possible to be truly objective; we can do this by not having an emotional or intellectual stake in the ultimate truth of John Kennedy's murder--whatever it turns out to be. This is already happening with a small core of researchers--I include myself in this group--who try to wield a double-edged sword, and who see that there is as much virtue in exposing the fallacies of so-called conspiracy evidence as there is taking the lone-assassin theory apart. If you feel you belong to this group, you're probably in the minority.

This sort of objectivity is unnerving to some researchers; Charles Drago wrote the following three years ago:

As for the "next generation" of assassination researchers, I fear that their dispassionate approach to the task at hand, a function of their lack of first-hand experience and emotional involvement with the murder victim and/or his times, makes them vulnerable to sophistic counter-arguments. While they're evaluating the effluvia spilled by David Belin and John Lattimer and Priscilla Johnson McMillan, we'll be about the work of adults.(27)

Well, with all due respect, it seems to me this modus operandi leaves much to be desired. First of all, we shouldn't pretend that sophistry is the sole preserve of Warren Commission apologists; it is rampant in the research community. Second, if objectivity is such a feckless exercise, and if you need an axe to grind to see things clearly, why is this case now three decades old and counting? The reason there even is a next generation of researchers is because our predecessors, in the absence of such a dispassionate approach, fell over themselves taking the road most travelled.

There is such a thing as balance in academic pursuits; extremes are usually short-lived. The Warren Report quelled doubts about Oswald's lone guilt for a short time, but it was soon under attack. And ever since then, it is the critics of the Warren Commission who have had the wind in their sails; most major disclosures over the last three decades have lent support to allegations of conspiracy. But the evidence has never kept pace with the increasingly flaky constructs of the researchers. A year and a half ago, the Fourth Decade--which to me is the meeting place of mainstream researchers--featured a letter to the editor which suggested quite seriously that J.D. Tippit's body was used as a double for Kennedy's, and that both the Welcome Mr. Kennedy ad in the Dallas Morning News of November 22, 1963 and the Impeach Earl Warren billboard which got Jack Ruby's attention, both contained "secret codes" to the conspirators.(28)

Well, when you're a researcher and you start seeing assassins in your soup, it's only natural that, at some point, the pendulum starts to swing the other way. I'm not psychic, but I had a feeling three or four years ago that a book like Case Closed was imminent. I knew it when I heard Jim Garrison declare, in The Men Who Killed Kennedy, that the real Lee Harvey Oswald was not only innocent, but "was in all probability a hero." This is what I mean by a flaky construct. Let's keep in mind here that, whatever his role in the assassination, Oswald has been shown at the very least to have been a pathological liar and a chronic wifebeater; in addition, his actions in the immediate aftermath of the shooting are those of a man with guilty knowledge of something. Let's not be throwing Oswald any banquets, please.

When I started writing this presentation, I didn't mean for the tone to be quite so negative. There is a lot of excellent work being done right now in the research community, but it's often obscured by the rhetoric of those who see the assassination as a cause and by the bizarre tangents of some whose grasp of logic is debateable.

It's at this point in my presentation that I'm supposed to offer some recommendations on how to improve things, but to be honest I don't really know what to say. The real problem is that the institutions we use--newsletters, computer bulletin boards and conferences--are not governed by a sort of consensus-building constraint; they're truly democratic. The great thing about the Fourth Decade is that anything can be published; the awful thing about the Fourth Decade is that anything can be published. The best we can hope for, if our institutions are to continue to be open-minded, is that the more rational and fair-minded researchers will take on greater responsibility in setting the agenda.

For this to take place, we have to be more rigorous in our methods and more honest in our aims. We have to realize that internal criticism strengthens us. We have to make sure that our evidence precedes our conclusions (in other words, move at the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy). We have to realize that the world is not waiting breathlessly for our verdict; people outside this room see in this case what they wish to see, quite irrespective of our work. And finally, we have to know that Richard Nixon was wrong he said that "History depends on who writes it." There is an immutable truth to the assassination; we're probably closer to it now than at any other time, and yet we're still so far. But only if we accept to leave behind an honest and even-handed historical record do we have even a chance to reach it.


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1. A sampling: Dennis Ford, "Assassination Research and the Pathology of Knowledge," The Third Decade, July 1992; James R. Folliard, "Research 'Energies'--One-Sided or Harmonized?," The Third Decade, September 1993; Tom Filsinger, "Groupthink and JFK Assassination Research," The Third Decade, September 1992.

2. Michael Schudson, Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past, Basic Books, (New York, 1992), p. 14.

3. Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, McGraw-Hill, (New York, 1980), p. 574, n. 79.

4. Such as: Mark Lane, A Citizen's Dissent, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, (New York, 1966); Barbie Zelizer, Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media and the Shaping of Collective Memory, University of Chicago Press, (Chicago, 1992).

5. E.g., Harry Livingstone not believing Tom Wilson because "Wilson is a Republican." Harrison E. Livingstone, Killing The Truth, Carroll & Graf, (New York, 1993), p. 411.

6. J. Gary Shaw and Larry R. Harris, Cover-up: The Governmental Conspiracy to Conceal the Facts about the Public Execution of John Kennedy, (Cleburne, TX, 1976), p. 203.

7. Harrison E. Livingstone, High Treason 2: The Great Cover-Up--The Assassination of President Kennedy, Carroll & Graf, (New York, 1992), p. 14.

8. Livingstone, Killing The Truth, p. xxx.

9. Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the fact: the Warren Commission, the Authorities, and the Report, Vintage, (New York, 1992), p. xxiv.

10. Cyril Wecht, Keynote Lecture, Assassination Symposium on Kennedy, Dallas, 1991.

11. Livingstone, High Treason 2, pp. 14-15; Killing The Truth, pp. 560-562.

12. Charles Drago, "Radicalisms: A Manifesto for The New Conspirators," Proceedings of the Second Research Conference of the Third Decade, June 1993, p. 10.

13. E.g., the ubiquitously-titled: Milicent Cranor, "Proof and More Proof," The Fourth Decade, March 1995.

14. Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President, Viking, (New York, 1993), pp. 186-7.

15. Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, Carroll & Graf, (New York, 1989), pp. 45-46.

16. Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Random House, (New York, 1993), p. 261.

17. They are too numerous to list; a good counter-argument is: Richard W. Burgess, "On the Authenticity of the Zapruder Film," The Fourth Decade, September 1994; also, Sheldon Inkol, letter to the editor of The Fourth Decade, unpublished.

18. Marrs, Crossfire, p. 479.

19. Drago, "Radicalisms..," p. 6.

20. For more on Hill's credibility, see Peter Whitmey, Jean Hill--The Lady in Red, as well as Dennis Ford and Mark S. Zaid, "Eyewitness Testimony, Memory and Assassination Research," Proceedings of the Second Research Conference of the Third Decade, June 1993.

21. Dennis Ford, "Major Trouble in Conspiracy Land," The Fourth Decade, March 1994, p. 26.

22. Hearings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. Government Printing Office, (Washington, D.C., 1979), Vol. IV, pp. 454-468.

23. Louis Sproesser, "JFK: Conspiracy Graveyard," Proceedings of the Second Research Conference of the Third Decade, June 1993, pp. 195-199.

24. Ibid.

25. Globe, December 31, 1991.

26. "Lighthouse Report," July 3, 1995.

27. Drago, "Radicalisms...," pp. 7-8.

28. Else Weinstein, Letter to the Editor of The Fourth Decade, November 1994, pp. 20-21.
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L. Fletcher Prouty

Fearless Truth Teller, or Crackpot?

One of the truly interesting individuals associated with the Kennedy assassination, the late L. Fletcher Prouty was an Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon. He was therefore an "insider" who supposedly knows the "real scoop" about the Cold War, Vietnam, covert operations, and the Kennedy assassination. But did he really? Or was he a story teller whose stories don't survive scrutiny?
Prouty was in New Zealand when Kennedy was shot, and believed that the Christchurch Star reported on Oswald's background far too quickly. It smelled to him like a CIA-planted cover story. Researcher David Perry looked at this issue to see whether the initial reports on Oswald and his background contained any suspicious information. He found that all the information in the paper was available in the files of U.S. newspapers and ready to be quickly sent over the news wires. And Bob Cotton, Chief Reporter of the Christchurch Star, has explained how the paper they published that day was the result of journalistic diligence, and not conspiratorial machinations.


Proutyism #1 — Where Was Nixon During the Shooting?

The Prouty Version

We have noted in an earlier chapter that, despite frequent denials, Richard Nixon was in Dallas during those fateful moments, attending a meeting with executives of the Pepsi-Cola Company. According to the general counsel of that company, Nixon and the others in the room knelt in a brief prayer when they heard of Kennedy's death. JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 310.
The Reality

Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who left Dallas only a few hours before President Kennedy was shot to death on a city street, had made a prophetic plea for the chief executive's safety
Mr. Nixon had urged a courteous reception for President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson in an interview printed in The Times Herald Thursday and in the first edition Friday.

The former vice president, who was defeated by President Kennedy in 1960, told The Times Herald by telephone from New York he was shocked and distressed by the news of the President's death.

He said he learned of the President's death while in a taxi driving from Idlewild Airport. He said a citizen ran into the street, hailed the cab — not knowing who was inside — and excitedly told him, "The President has been shot."

Dallas Times Herald, Nov. 23, 1963, p. A-7.

Prouty and the Far Right

An essay, written from a leftist perspective by Chip Berlet, deals with the ties between Prouty (and, incidentally, Mark Lane) and the extreme right-wing paranoid Liberty Lobby. Nothing here shows Prouty to have been a Nazi or an anti-Semite, but shouldn't he have shown better judgment in picking his associates?

High Cabal Had Planned Korean and Vietnam Wars in 1945?

According to Prouty, a harbormaster in Guam told him that a massive quantity of arms, made surplus by the recent Japanese surrender, were being diverted to anti-communist Syngman Rhee in Korea, and communist Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. To Prouty, this indicated that the "High Cabal" had already decided to foment wars in those two nations. But when Dan McLaughlin looked into the history of the communist movement in Vietnam, it became obvious that no such arms shipment ever took place.

Proutyism #2 — Presidential Protection

The Prouty Version

As the presidental motorcade began its procession through the streets of Dallas, we note that many things which ought to have been done, as matters of standard security procedure, were not done. These omissions show the hand of the plotters and the undeniable fact that they were operating among the highest levels of government in order to have access to the channels necessary to arrange such things covertly.
Some of these omissions were simple things that were done normally without fail. All the windows in buildings overlooking a presidential motorcade route must be closed and observers positioned to see that they remain closed. They will have radios, and those placed on roofs will be armed in case gunmen do appear in the windows. All sewer covers along the streets are supposed to be welded to preclude the sewer's use as a gunman's lair. People with umbrellas, coats over their arms, and other items that could conceal a weapon are watched.

JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 291.

The Reality

Just Last Week, He Wanted No Special Guard

By Edward Kirkman
Top city police with many years of experience in guarding Presidents and visiting heads of state said yesterday that President Kennedy took too many chances.

On Nov. 14 — eight days before the assassin's bullet struck him down — the President rode through New York City without a motorcycle escort and with fewer guards than police and the Secret Service wanted him to have.

Authorities believed that Kennedy was too responsive to criticism for his own good.

Heavily Guarded Until Last Week

A frequent visitor to New York City, the President until last week had been heavily guarded, had a motorcycle escort, and traveled heavily-guarded streets which had been cleared of other traffic to make way from him.
There were those who spoke disparagingly of the interruption of normal living occasioned by the President's visits, and this disturbed him.

Small Guard Not Enough for Safety

He insisted last week that there be no motorcycle escort and that his motorcade stop for traffic lights. His principal protection on the ride from LaGuardia Field to the Hotel Caryle, 76th and Madison Ave., was two city police cars in front of his limousine and one car with Secret Service men immediately behind the limousine.
During the ride into Manhattan, cars containing newsmen on occasion came dangerously close to the side of the President's car before being waved off. While the President's car was stopped for a red light at 72d St. and Madison Ave., an amateur photographer stepped up close and took pictures before he was chased off.

All this was clear evidence to security men that the small guard insisted upon by the President was not adequate to insure his safety.

Queried on this point, Police Commissioner Michael Murphy officially said, "No comment." But those close to him knew that he and his top brass and the Secret Service were deeply concerned.

New York Daily News, Nov. 23, 1963.

What About People Who Actually Know about Motorcades?

After leaving the position of Press Secretary for President Eisenhower, James Haggerty went to work for a division of ABC. So it was no surprise when he turned up on ABC's coverage of the assassination. About 2:18 CST on the afternoon of the assassination, the subject of presidental protection came up. Haggerty said:
I have seen many motorcades. . . . A rifle shot . . . from a window of a building is pretty hard to guard against.
About twenty minutes later, after interruptions for breaking news, he continues:
In a large city it is impossible to guard every single window. In the years that I served with General Eisenhower, the only time I ever saw all windows guarded in the line of march was in Tehran, when President Eisenhower went to visit the Shah of Iran . . . . That was the only time I saw that.
When Fletcher Prouty and other conspiracy authors tell us that security was "stripped away" in Dallas, they sound plausible enough. Unfortunately, plenty of "plausible" propositions happen to be untrue.
Prouty and Presidential Protection

Where presidential protection is concerned, Prouty seemed to just be making things up. Unfortunately, Prouty's ideas have little to do with what the Secret Service actually did — particularly with a very politically attuned president like Kennedy. Consider Prouty's claim that the failure to close windows overlooking the motorcade route indicated a conspiracy. This photo, discovered by David Stager, shows Kennedy touring Hawaii. Spectators watch the motorcade from tall buildings on the motorcade route — just as in Dallas.
When Kennedy toured Ireland his motorcade wound down Patrick Street, in Cork. As in Dallas, windows were open over the route, and spectators were in the windows. Elliot Perry brought this photo, from the National Archives, to my attention.

Prouty and the Vietnam War

Prouty is most visible in conspiracy literature as an interpreter of how the United States got into the Vietnam War. This brief essay is a critique of the author's JFK book. Written by Dave Fuhrmann, it was posted as a series of messages on the Compuserve POLITICS Forum. It is reposted here by permission.
Fuhrmann later posted a longer, much more detailed analysis of Prouty's JFK book, debunking Prouty's treatment of issue after issue. Here are his Compuserve posts, included here with Fuhrmann's permission.
Critique Number 1
Critique Number 2
Critique Number 3
Critique Number 4
Critique Number 5
Critique Number 6
Critique Number 7
Critique Number 8
Critique Number 9
Critique Number 10
Critique Number 11
Critique Number 12
Critique Number 13
Critique Number 14
Critique Number 15

Proutyism #3 — Army Intelligence Told to "Stand Down"

One of the most quoted assertions of L. Fletcher Prouty is the claim that an Army Intelligence unit — the 316th Field Detachment of the 112th Military Intelligence Group — was ordered to "stand down" and provide no additional security for Kennedy's Texas visit.
The Prouty Version

The commander of an army unit, specially trained in protection . . . had been told he and his men would not be needed in Dallas. "Another Army unit will cover that city," the commander was told. I called a member of that army unit later. I was told that the commander "had offered the services of his unit for protection duties for the entire trip through Texas," that he was "point-blank and categorically refused by the Secret Service," and that "there were hot words between the agencies." This leaves an important question: Why was the assistance of this skilled and experienced unit "point-blank refused?" Who knew ahead of time that it would not be wanted in Dallas?
L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 294.

The Reality

The House Select Committee on Assassinations took testimony from Colonel Robert E. Jones, who had been the Operations Officer of the 112th Military Intelligence group from June, 1963 until January 1965. He was questioned about a variety of matters, including his unit's role in the protection of President Kennedy during his Texas trip. Not only did Jones not mention any orders to "stand down," he explicitly noted that his unit provided protection for the president in Dallas! He stated:
We provided a small force — I do not recall how many, but I would estimate between 8 and 12 — during the President's visit to San Antonio, Texas; and then the following day, on his visit to Dallas, the regions also provided additional people to assist, that is additional people from Region 2. Hearings Before the Subcommittee on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy of the Select Committee on Assassinations, House of Representatives, Executive Session, Washington, DC., April 20, 1978, p. 1-14.
Prouty's claim is thus flatly at odds with the on-the-record sworn testimony of the Operations Officer of the unit. Like so many of his claims, it just doesn't jibe with the historical record.

More Proutyisms

Prouty seems drawn to the wildest interpretations of about any issue you can think of.
The Col. L. Fletcher Prouty Reference Site, run by Len Osanic, contains several more examples of Proutyisms. For example:
Oil isn't really a fossil fuel. That's just something the "Oil Barons" want us to think.
Franklin Roosevelt didn't die a natural death — Churchill had him poisoned!
And don't miss Prouty's view on UFOs.
There was a nuclear accident at "Windscales" [sic] in the 1950s that the British government supposedly covered up. Not only did Prouty get the name of the nuclear plant wrong, he mangled other key facts too.
From the Prouty CD offered for sale at The Col. L. Fletcher Prouty Reference Site:
Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane was not shot down by the Soviets. It just landed!
From the web:
Prouty "would not be surprised" if the Secret Team killed Princess Diana! This message from Prouty was formerly on the "We The People" website.
Although not a member, Prouty has been a supporter of the cult religion of Scientology, and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.
From the web site of the Scientology magazine Freedom, read what Prouty has to say about the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. He doesn't believe it was a suicide. Rather, the government killed all those people.
The nefarious forces of the Federal Reserve Bank killed Kennedy because he was moving against them.
In Dealey Plaza, the conspirators had a man with an umbrella shooting a poison dart at JFK.

Proutyism #4 — Assassins Shooting Blanks?

The Prouty Version

. . . Although the gunmen [in Dealey Plaza] may have used "automatic" weapons, it is more likely that what the reporters heard that day was the well-coordinated fire from at least three gunmen in different locations, and that they fired at least three times each.
This is an old firing-squad and professional hit-man ploy. It serves to remove the certain responsibility from each gunner as a psychological cleanser. If three men are to fire, they all know that two guns are loaded and one gun is firing blanks. The gunmen do not know who had the bullets, or who had the blanks. Each man can swear an oath that he was not the killer.

L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, pp. 307-308.

The Reality

In how many different ways is the Prouty scenario ludicrous?
Under Texas law, even a gunman shooting blanks would be a party to the murder, and thus subject to execution.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution would have protected the right of the assassins to remain silent under questioning.
Any experienced "gunman," "hitman," or "assassin" would know instantly if he was shooting blanks, due to the nearly non-existent recoil force.
Prouty seems to believe that professional assassins — men willing to murder the president of the United States — would have scruples about lying under oath!
Thanks to Gary Nivaggi for point (3.) above, and to Brian Dasher for point (1.)


Prouty's "Wacky Imagination"

Prouty's boss at the Pentagon was General Edward Lansdale. He described Prouty in Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American by Cecil B. Currey:
I continue to be surprised to find Fletcher Prouty quoted as an authority. He was my "cross to bear" before Dan Ellsberg came along. Fletch is the one who blandly told the London Times that I'd invented the Huk Rebellion, hired a few actors in Manila, bussed them out to Pampanga, and staged the whole thing as press agentry to get RM [Magsaysay] elected. He was a good pilot of prop-driven aircraft, but had such a heavy dose of paranoia about CIA when he was on my staff that I kicked him back to the Air Force. He was one of those who thought I was secretly running the Agency from the Pentagon, despite all the proof otherwise. (p. 384)
Elsewhere, Lansdale comments on Prouty's "wacky imagination" (ibid.). As if to confirm what Lansdale says, Prouty claimed to see Lansdale in a photo of the three tramps under arrest in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination!

Proutyism #5 — George Bush Named Three Ships

The Prouty Version

Recently I interviewed former CIA liaison officer L. Fletcher Prouty. He is a consultant for the excellent new movie on how the CIA killed JFK, being made by Oliver Stone. He told me that one of the projects he did for the CIA was in 1961 to deliver US Navy ships from a Navy ship yard to the CIA agents in Guatemala planning the invasion of Cuba. He said he delivered three ships to a CIA agent named George Bush, who had the 3 ships painted to look like they were civilian ships. That CIA agent then named the 3 ships after: his wife, his home town and his oil company. He named the ships: Barbara, Houston & Zapata. Any book on the history of the Bay of Pigs will prove the names of those 3 ships. Again, this is more finger prints of George Bush's involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Yet Bush denies his role in this great adventure. Why would Bush be so shy about his role in this war? What is the secret? Is there something dirty about this war that Bush & Nixon don't want the public to know about? (Source: "The Kennedy Assassination: The Nixon-Bush Connection" by Paul Kangas. Originally published in The Realist.)
The Reality

Prouty's story is absurd on several levels. Thanks to solid research by Jim Olmstead and Gordon Winslow, we know the following:
There was no ship named "Zapata." The whole operation was "Operation Zapata," but no ship was named that.
The ship Prouty calls the "Barbara" was in fact the "Barbara J." But Mrs. Bush's maiden name is "Barbara Pierce" with no middle initial, according to the 1999 edition of Who's Who. So no ship "Barbara J." could have been named after Mrs. Bush.
The ships in question had long carried the names they had at the Bay of Pigs invasion, and were not renamed for that operation.
The ships were indeed civilian ships, and not Navy ships painted to look like civilian ships.
No records have been found supporting Prouty's claimed role as supplier of ships for the operation.
Finally, the Assassination Records Review Board looked into the claim that George Bush was a CIA agent, and found the following:

4. George Bush
A November 29, 1963, memorandum from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State refers to the fact that information on the assassination of President Kennedy was "orally furnished to Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency." At the request of the Review Board, the CIA made a thorough search of its records in an attempt to determine if the "George Bush" referred to in the memorandum might be identical to President and former Director of Central Intelligence George Herbert Walker Bush. That search determined that the CIA had no association with George Herbert Walker Bush during the time frame referenced in the document. (Source: Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, September 1998.)

What is so disturbing about this is that Prouty did not merely repeat a silly factoid. He claimed personal knowledge of something that did not happen.
Proutyisms are Endless

"The Col. L. Fletcher Prouty Collection" is a photocopied volume of reprints from Prevailing Winds Press. It can be bought from The Last Hurrah bookshop. The volume contains yet more Proutyisms.
Prouty says Oswald could be tried, even though he is dead.
In an interview with Gallery, apparently from the early or mid-1970s, he is asked when the Secret Team first began to run things. He says they "manipulate government policy and have probably done so since 1959 or 1960." (In his book JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, Prouty has the "High Cabel" planning the Korean and Vietnam wars at the end of World War II.)
He recounts a supposed episode in World War II in which Gurka soldiers, fighting for the British, slipped into a German camp and slit the throats of every other German while they were asleep. This, according to Prouty, was to intimidate the remainder of the Germans, and was effective, as the next day the Germans broke camp and ran away.
He says the U.S. lost 970 F-4 Phantom aircraft over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
In the same Gallery interview, he says it's wrong to build any F-16 fighters, since the Mig-25 Foxbat can fly at 2,200 miles per hour. To quote him: "If they can do 2,200 miles an hour, we have not got the right to pay for the production of any fighter in this country that can't do 2,201 miles an hour or better. We're wasting billions of dollars on crud." (Reality: The F-16 badly outclasses every Soviet-made fighter it has ever faced, and has a 71-0 score in air-to-air combat. Source: Lockeed Martin)
And the most "interesting" claim of all: That Korean airlines flight 007 was downed by "an explosive device" planted aboard by the CIA. Given that the Soviet government admitted to shooting down the plane, this one counts as especially bizarre.
Prouty the Environmentalist

Unlike support for Scientology or the Liberty Lobby (see above), support for environmentalism is pretty mainstream. And Prouty was indeed an environmentalist, as shown by his article titled "The Law of Earth." The problem comes when Prouty completely mangles several key factual issues. He appears to have been no more reliable discussing ecology than he is when discussing the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, or the Military Industrial Complex.
Prouty the Political Activist
Actor Donald Sutherland (below, right) played a mysterious "Mr. X" in the movie JFK. The inspiration for "Mr. X" is none other than L. Fletcher Prouty. This is not an inference or supposition. Oliver Stone introduced Prouty to the National Press Club as the man who was the basis for "Mr. X," and many of this mysterious figure's words are almost verbatim from Prouty. However, some of Prouty's political connections were not the sort that would find favor among politically-active Hollywood leftists — nor indeed among sensible people.

The following is taken from Edward J. Epstein's The Assassination Chronicles.

Aside from advising Oliver Stone, Prouty is also extremely active with other conspiracy-hunters. He served, for example, as editorial adviser to publications of the futuristic Church of Scientology; as a consultant to the far right Lyndon LaRouche Organization, who also provided its convention with a presentation comparing the U.S. government's prosecution of Lyndon LaRouche (for mail fraud) "to the persecution of Socrates"; a board member of the Populist Action Committee, where he joined Robert Weems, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and John Rarick, the organizer of the White Citizens Council; and as a featured speaker for the anti-civil rights organization called the Liberty Lobby, whose founder, Willis Carto, also set up the Institute for Historic Review, a disseminator of books and videotapes that allege that the Nazi death camps in Europe were fictions devised by Zionist propaganda to justify tax money being donated to Israel. (It also published Prouty's own book, The Secret Team: the CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World.)
Prouty also exposed the machinations of putative global conspiracies. For example, when the Liberty Lobby held its annual Board of Policy convention in 1991, he presented a special seminar, "Who Is the Enemy?," which blamed the high price of oil on a systematic plot of a cabal to shut down oil pipelines deliberately in the Middle East. "Why?" he asked, and explained to the seminar: "Because of the Israelis. That is their business on behalf of the oil companies. That's why they get $3 billion a year from the U.S. taxpayer." His enemy list also included the CIA, usurers, school textbooks, the media, political parties, international banks, federal crises-planning exercises, and the U.S.-Soviet Trade and Economic Council (which, according to Prouty, had stage-managed, along with David Rockefeller, the liquidation of the Berlin Wall to profit from "the rubles and the gold").

So this is the intellectual provenance of the man Oliver Stone chose as his technical adviser — and the man called "X" . . . .

Prouty/X's secret knowledge about the elite's organizing principle and the "war system" derives from a very special source — a suppressed Kennedy administration study, which he discussed in the Liberty Lobby's Radio Free America on December 14, 1989. He explained that this study was so secret that the group of "power brokers" who conducted it met, according to Prouty, "in an underground storage and security area" in the Hudson Valley of New York called "Iron Mountain." The explosive issue they addressed was: Could America survive "if and when a condition of permanent peace should arise"? Their conclusion, which "X" would echo in the film JFK two years later, was "the organization of society for the possibility of war is its principal political stabilizer"; without a believable war threat "no government could remain in power," and consequently "the elimination of war . . . implies the eventual elimination of national sovereignty." He explains on this radio program and in a subsequent issue of Spotlight, the newspaper of the Liberty Lobby, that these conclusions come directly from the report from this Iron Mountain group — which he has obtained a copy of (and that the Institute for Historic Review republished). He concludes the program by relating about the "high cabal . . . calling the shots."

While Prouty quotes accurately from the Report from Iron Mountain, he fails to realize it was a complete hoax. There was no group in underground storage vaults in Iron Mountain, no study of the elimination of the war threat, no report from power brokers. The "Report from Iron Mountain" was a brilliant spoof by political satirist Leonard Lewin of think tanks in 1967. . . . [Lewin could not] forsee . . . that this hoax would reemerge a quarter of a century later, first in radical-right radio broadcasts and Liberty Lobby publications, and then as the connective logic of Oliver Stone's film JFK. (pp. 578-580)
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