The Role of the Left in the Cover-Up of the JFK Assassination
Over the last few months I have been studying the media coverage of the assassination of JFK and the publication of the Warren Commission. It could be argued that the way the mainstream media accepted the official line is not very surprising given their record of recording political stories. However, what is striking is the way that the so-called Non-Communist Left (NCL) reported these events. These were people who controlled left of centre journals such as the Nation, New Republic and I.F. Stone Weekly. None of these journals were willing to question the idea that JFK had been killed by a lone gunman.
The only journal on the left that seemed to doubt the official interpretation of events was James Aronson, the editor of the National Guardian. In the first edition of the newspaper after the assassination, he used the headline: “The Assassination Mystery: Kennedy and Oswald Killings Puzzle the Nation”. Aronson could not understand why others on the left were not taking up a similar position.
In his book, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian (1978), Aronson recalled that soon after the assassination he was contacted by a journalist working for the New York Times, who asked him if Oswald subscribed to the National Guardian. Aronson replied he could find no record of Oswald receiving the newspaper. Aronson took this opportunity to raise questions about the newspaper’s investigation into the assassination: “I took advantage of the call to air my doubts about the lone assassin theory being fixed in the public mind. What was the New York Times doing to validate or disapprove this theory?” The journalist replied “Look, Jim, you worked here and you know the answer: don’t look this way – they won’t do it.” (1)
Mark Lane was probably the first person to write a detailed article questioning the official story of the assassination. He later pointed out: “The obvious choice, I thought, was the Nation. Its editor, Carey McWilliams, was an acquaintance. He had often asked me to write a piece for him… McWilliams seemed pleased to hear from me and delighted when I told him I had written something I wished to give to the Nation. When he learned of the subject matter, however, his manner approached panic.” McWilliams told Lane: “We cannot take it. We don’t want it. I am sorry but we have decided not to touch that subject.” Lane got the same response from the editors of Fact who said the subject matter was too controversial. It was also rejected by The Reporter, Look, Life and the Saturday Evening Post. (2)
James Aronson “heard that a maverick New York lawyer named Mark Lane had done some careful leg and brain work to produce a thesis casting doubt on the lone-assassin theory – and even whether Oswald had actually been involved in the crime.” (3) Aronson contacted Lane who told him that the article had been rejected by thirteen publications. Aronson offered to publish the article. Lane told him that “I would send it to him but I would not authorize him to publish it. He asked why. I said that I was seeking a broader, non-political publisher and that if the piece originated on the left, the subject would likely never receive the debate that it required.”
Lane now took the article to James Wechsler, an editor of the New York Post. He also rejected it and said that Lane would never find a publisher and “urged him to forget about it”. Lane now told him about Aronson’s offer. Wechsler, according to Lane was “furious” when he heard this news. “Don’t let them publish it… They’ll turn it into a political issue.” (4)
By this time the article had been turned down by seventeen publications and so Lane decided to let Aronson publish the article in the National Guardian. The 10,000 word article, published on 19th December, 1963, was the longest story in its fifteen-year history. It was presented as a lawyer’s report to the Warren Commission and titled A Brief for Lee Harvey Oswald. Aronson argued in the introduction: “The Guardian’s publication of Lane’s brief presumes only one thing: a man’s innocence, under US. Law, unless or until proved guilty. It is the right of any accused. A presumption of innocence is the rock upon which American jurisprudence rests… We ask all our readers to study this document… Any information or analysis based on fact that can assist the Warren Commission is in the public interest – an interest which demands that everything possible be done to establish the facts in this case.” (5)
Aronson later admitted: “Few issues of the Guardian created such a stir. Anticipating greater interest we had increased the press run by 5,000, but an article in the New York Times about our story brought a heavy demand at the newsstands and dealers were calling for additional copies. Before the month was out we had orders for 50,000 reprints.” (6)
Aronson offered the article to both the United Press International and the Associated Press but both agencies rejected it. However, the article was published in several European countries and was discussed in most leading newspapers throughout the world. Some newspapers attempted to rubbish the article by describing it as “left-wing propaganda”. Bertrand Russell wrote to The Times complaining about this treatment: “Mr. Lane is no more a left-winger than was President Kennedy. He attempted to publish his evidence… in virtually every established American publication but was unsuccessful. Only the National Guardian was prepared to print his scrupulously documented material… I think it important that no unnecessary prejudice against this valuable work of Mr. Lane should be aroused, so that his data concerning a vital event may be viewed with an open mind by people of all political persuasions.”
At first the national press attempted to ignore Lane’s article. The only other publication in the United States that was willing to discuss the issue was the New Republic. In an article published on 21st December, 1963, Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd, the authors of Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions about the Assassination, raised questions about five different categories of evidence in the case. Minnis was the research director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, while Lynd was a history professor at Spelman College. Both men were also left-wing activists who were involved with the civil rights and peace movements. (7) However, after the publication of this article the New Republic left the subject alone.
In January, 1964, Walter Winchell made a vicious attack on Mark Lane and the National Guardian in his regular newspaper column. He described the newspaper as “a virtual propaganda arm of the Soviet Union” and called Lane an “agitator” seeking to abolish the Un-American Activities Committee. (8)
It is not surprising that Winchell led the attack on Mark Lane. He was a vital figure in the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird. Carl Bernstein has argued in his article, CIA and the Media: “Joseph Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap.” (9)
Deborah Davis, was the first person to expose the workings of Operation Mockingbird in her book, Katharine the Great (1979), a biography of Katharine Graham of the Washington Post. She explained how journalists were controlled in times of crisis: “This practice, the old intelligence principle translated, contained the seeds of political blackmail: Once the newsman or his organization has been compromised, the politician can threaten to expose its lack of independence unless he (it) cooperates further. Many Mockingbirds have been faced with this choice.” (10)
The origins of this intelligence operation dates back to May, 1940, when the British Security Coordination (BSC) was established in the United States. According to William Boyd: “Churchill’s task, as he himself saw it, was clear: somehow, in some way, the great mass of the population of the US had to be persuaded that it was in their interests to join the war in Europe, that to sit on the sidelines was in some way un-American. And so British Security Coordination came into being… The aim was to change the minds of an entire population: to make the people of America think that joining the war in Europe was a ‘good thing’ and thereby free Roosevelt to act without fear of censure from Congress or at the polls in an election.” (11)
One of the first agents recruited by BSC was Allen Dulles, the future head of the CIA. Other agents from the media included: Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, Walter Lippmann, William Allen White, Dorothy Thompson, Raymond Gram Swing, Edward Murrow, Vincent Sheean, Helen Kirkpatrick, Eric Sevareid, Edmond Taylor, Rex Stout, Edgar Ansel Mowrer and Whitelaw Reid. William Stephenson, the head of the BSC, also worked closely with editors and publishers who were supporters of American intervention into the Second World War. This included Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Henry Luce (Time Magazine and Life Magazine), Helen Rogers Reid (New York Herald Tribune), Barry Bingham (Louisville Courier-Journal), Paul C. Patterson (Baltimore Sun), Dorothy Schiff (New York Post) and Ralph Ingersoll (Picture Magazine). (12)
Franklin D. Roosevelt had assigned William Donovan to work closely with William Stephenson on BSC operations (they had in fact been close friends since the First World War). After the United States entered the war, Donovan became head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and he took over control of BSC’s media assets. After the war, the OSS was closed down but emerged two years later as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (13)
In the 1950s Operation Mockingbird was primarily concerned with the dangers of communism. However, it remained in place to be used by the CIA in times of national emergency. The assassination of JFK fell into this category and was successfully employed to make sure that the media did not openly discuss the guilt or innocence of Lee Harvey Oswald. (14)
The shaping of the media by the CIA became public knowledge in April 1976 when the Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities was published. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the U.S. media, the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the U.S. journalists and media organizations.” (15)
However, in November, 1963, the public was completely unaware of Operation Mockingbird, and the media cover-up operation was very successful. Journalists who wanted to write about their doubts had to find media organisations in Europe to publish their work. In March, 1964, Thomas G. Buchanan began publishing articles about the assassination in the French newspaper, L’ Express. Buchanan claimed in the newspaper that the Warren Commission had discovered that Jack Ruby knew Lee Harvey Oswald. He argued that Ruby lent him money to pay back the State Department for the $435.71 the U.S. had loaned Oswald when he returned from the Soviet Union.
These articles caught the attention of Richard Helms of the CIA. He sent a memo to John McCone, Director of the CIA: “Buchanan’s thesis is that the assassination of President Kennedy was the product of a rightest plot in the United States. He alleges in his articles that the slain Dallas policeman, Tippett (sic) was part of the plot against President Kennedy.” Helms went onto inform McCone that a “competent” CIA informant had disclosed that a book by Buchanan on the assassination would be published by Secker and Warburg on 15th May 1964. (17) The company had a reputation for publishing left-wing but anti-communist books. This included books by George Orwell, C. L. R. James, Simone de Beauvoir, Rudolf Rocker and Günter Grass.
Helms informant was right and Buchanan’s book, Who Killed Kennedy? was published in May, 1964. Buchanan appears to have been the first writer to suggest that Lyndon B. Johnson and “Texas oil interests” were responsible for Kennedy’s death. Buchanan argues that the assassination was funded by a Texas oilman. He does not name him but later it emerged he was referring to Haroldson L. Hunt. (18)
In the book Buchanan claims that Kennedy was killed by two gunmen. One fired from the railroad bridge. Another fired from the Texas School Book Depository. According to Buchanan, Oswald was aware of the conspiracy but did not fire any shots. Oswald believed that J. D. Tippit was going to help him escape. However, his real job was to kill him “while resisting arrest”. Oswald, realized what was happening and fired first.
When Who Killed Kennedy? was eventually published in the United States, it was mainly ignored. However, Time Magazine reviewed it and made much of the fact that Buchanan was a former member of the American Communist Party. (44) The left-wing British journalist, Cedric Belfrage, who had co-founded the National Guardian but had been deported from the United States in 1955 after refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), argued in the journal, Minority of One, that it was “irrelevant whether Buchanan was a former communist or a former Zen Buddhist”. Belfrage went on to state that what was important was Buchanan’s “common sense of the assassination and the American crisis it symbolizes”. (19)
Joachim Joesten, a freelance journalist, travelled to Dallas a few weeks after the assassination of Kennedy and spent four days there, interviewing witnesses and examining key locations. He came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone gunman. However, he did think that he was involved in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. “I wish to make it absolutely clear that I believe Oswald innocent only as charged, but that he was involved with the conspirators in some way.” (20)
Joesten began work on his book, Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy? Like other early authors who questioned the official version, Joesten was forced to get his book published in England (Merlin Press). Before the book was published, Joesten, who was in Hamburg, received a letter from J. Lee Rankin of the Warren Commission, requesting a copy of the book. In March 1964, the United States Embassy in West Germany requested a meeting.
John Kelin, the author of Praise from a Future Generation (2007), has pointed out: “All copies of Joesten’s book manuscript were with either publishers or literary agents, so he was unable to comply with Rankin’s request. But he did sit down with the embassy man, whom he identified only as Mr. Morris… They met at the American Consulate in Hamburg on March 21, 1964… The two men talked for about four hours, during which time Joesten told Morris anything he had learned – why he believed Oswald was innocent of killing President Kennedy and Officer Tippit, and who he thought was really responsible.” (21)
Joesten later recalled that Morris seemed “particularly concerned with the fact that I believed Oswald had been connected with both the Central Intelligence Agency and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Joesten also told Morris that he believed General Edwin Walker organised the assassination and that it “was a military-type operation with firing from both front and rear.” Joesten also speculated that Bernard Weissman was involved in the assassination. (22)
Joesten discovered that while he was in Hamburg FBI agents went to his home in New York City to interview his wife. “Since I had been located, I couldn’t help wondering if the FBI had simply used that excuse to enter my home, talk to my wife and, to put it plainly, snoop around.” The FBI agents recorded that Mrs. Joesten said her husband had returned from Dallas convinced of Oswald’s innocence. “Mrs. Joesten advised that she definitely feels that her husband is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
Joesten’s book, Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy?, was published in the United States by Carl Marzani in July 1964. Marzani, a former member of the American Communist Party, had been imprisoned and blacklisted during the early 1950s and in order to survive went into publishing and established the company Marzani & Munsell. According to Marzani he specialised in books that upset the status quo. In the book Joesten claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dallas Police Department and a group of right-wing Texas oil millionaires conspired to kill Kennedy. He openly accused Police Chief Jesse Curry of being one of the key figures in the assassination.
Victor Perlo, reviewing the book in the New Times, commented that the book had been rejected by several publishers before Marzani accepted it. “The firm deserves credit for publishing and promoting the book, so that thousands of copies were sold in a short time, despite a blackout by commercial reviewers. Publisher-editor Carl Marzani edited the manuscript brilliantly… This reviewer approached the Joesten book with scepticism. Despite my low opinion of the Dallas police and the FBI, I’ve had enough experience to know that utterly senseless things do happen in America… But the Joesten book erased most of my scepticism.” (21)
The book was largely ignored by the mainstream media but was reviewed by Hugh Aynesworth in the Editor and Publisher. Aynesworth, a strong supporter of the lone gunman theory and a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, wrote: “Joesten, an ex-German who became a U.S. citizen in 1948… states that Oswald was an agent of both the FBI and the CIA (how’s that for a 24-year-old who couldn’t spell “wrist”?). It’s the same old tripe with some new flavouring.” Aynesworth uses the review to criticize Mark Lane: “Lane is the troublemaker who spent two days in Dallas in January on his investigation and now pretends to be an expert on all aspects of the weird tragedy.” (22)
Another left-wing foreign-born journalist in America was also taking a close interest in the case. Léo Sauvage, who was the political correspondent of Le Figaro, published an article on the assassination in Commentary Magazine in March 1964, where he suggested that there had been a cover-up. He pointed out that all the available evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald had “either been leaked or eagerly and even ruthlessly spelled out – whether true, half-true, or demonstrably false; whether pertinent, confused, or obviously irrelevant” by the Dallas Police. As early as 23rd November, 1963, Will Fritz of the Homicide Bureau proclaimed the case as “cinched” and the following day, only two hours after Jack Ruby “had disposed of Oswald in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters”, the case against him was declared “closed” by Police Chief Jesse Curry and by District Attorney Henry Wade. (23)
Sauvage was also amazed that by 3rd December, 1963, the FBI had leaked details of its report on the assassination to the media. This allowed the New York Journal American to headline the story with the words: “Oswald lone killer. FBI report to prove it”. Sauvage pointed out that “six days later the Justice Department, acting on instructions from the White House, delivered the now completed report directly” to the Warren Commission. Sauvage adds that on 10th December, the New York Times reported: “Oswald assassin beyond a doubt, FBI concludes. He acted alone and did not know Ruby, says report to Warren Inquiry Panel.”
Sauvage added: “Thus, after the press and television conviction of Lee Oswald in Dallas, a second press and television conviction took place in Washington. And just as the Dallas authorities had forced the hand of any jury that would have heard the Oswald case, so the FBI has forced the hand of the Warren Commission. With the help of all the mass media, Oswald’s guilt has now twice been sold to the public – despite the fact that no one had even so much as ventured to explain why a psychopathic regicide, acting (as we shall see) under circumstances that would make his capture inevitable, should renounce the ultimate satisfaction of glorying in his deed before the eyes of the world. I really do not see, therefore, why only those of us who are sceptical about the case against Oswald should await further information.”
John Kelin, the author of Praise from a Future Generation (2007) summed up Sauvage’s case against the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman: “Léo Sauvage raised a series of questions that, he declared, Oswald’s accusers should be forced to answer. Did Oswald have an alibi? Was the President’s throat wound one of entrance or of exit? Was Oswald a good enough rifleman to do what the authorities said he did? How many shots were fired? Why were no fingerprints found on the alleged assassination rifle? How come none of the theatre patrons who witnessed Oswald’s arrest came forward with impartial accounts of how he was taken into custody?” (24)
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary Magazine added his support to Sauvage’s article: “Is the possibility of a treasonous political conspiracy to be ruled out? Not the least fantastic aspect of this whole fantastic nightmare is the ease with which respectable opinion in America has arrived at the conclusion that such a possibility is absurd; in most other countries, what is regarded as absurd is the idea that the assassination could have been anything but a political murder.” (25) Sauvage’s article greatly impressed a large number of people, including the commissioning editor of Random House and on 11th March, 1964, he signed a contract with the publisher to develop his ideas on the assassination into a full-length book.
Criticism of the lone-gunman theory did not only come from the left. In April, 1963, the ultra-conservative, Revilo P. Oliver suggested in an article Marxmanship in Dallas, that appeared in American Opinion, that Kennedy was a victim of a communist conspiracy. He also used the article to attack Kennedy’s liberal views on civil rights and his closeness to “Martin Luther King and other criminals engaged in inciting race war.” (26)
The following month, the veteran right-winger, Martin Dies, former chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUCA), argued in the same journal that Kennedy had been a victim of a communist conspiracy. However, at this time he did not have all the evidence: “I hope to discuss the circumstances linking the Soviet Union with Oswald’s murder of the President. Naturally such evidence must be circumstantial and based upon the dogmatic pattern of Communist behaviour. The Communists are too clever to leave any trace of connection with Oswald.” (27) It would seem that at this time Dies was unaware that Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and on his return had openly associated with left-wing groups such as the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
Billy James Hargis, a member of the John Birch Society and a close friend of General Edwin Walker, who had been mentioned as a conspirator by Joachim Joesten in Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy?, also claimed a communist conspiracy had killed Kennedy. In his book, The Far Left (1964), he argued: “In spite of the absolute, indisputable evidence that Lee Oswald’s mind was moulded by Communist conspiracy propaganda, that his hatred was of the American free enterprise system and all it embraces, and that no one with even the remotest connection with what is considered to be the extreme right has any remote connection with the entire hideous affair… Do they really think the American people are that stupid? There is no doubt in my mind that the Communist assassin, Lee Oswald, intended to kill the President of the United States and disappear in the confused crowd, thus letting the conservative, anti-Communist element of Dallas take the blame. But it didn’t work. God is on the throne. He saw to it that Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended by a courageous Dallas policeman, Officer Tippit, who, in turn, gave his life for the cause of freedom in attempting to arrest the Communist assassin of the President.” (28)
Another figure on the right who published a book about the assassination of Kennedy in 1964 was James Evetts Haley. His book, A Texan Looks at Lyndon, blamed it on an old political enemy, Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was a best seller and it is claimed that in Texas only the Bible outsold Haley’s book that year. In the book Haley attempted to expose Johnson’s corrupt political activities. This included a detailed look at the relationship between Johnson and Billy Sol Estes. Haley pointed out that three men who could have provided evidence in court against Estes, George Krutilek, Harold Orr and Howard Pratt, all died of carbon monoxide poisoning from car engines. Haley also suggested that Johnson might have been responsible for the death of Kennedy: “Johnson wanted power and with all his knowledge of political strategy and his proven control of Congress, he could see wider horizons of power as Vice-President than as Senate Majority Leader. In effect, by presiding over the Senate, he could now conceive himself as virtually filling both high and important positions – and he was not far from wrong. Finally, as Victor Lasky pointed out, Johnson had nursed a lifetime dream to be President. As Majority leader he never could have made it. But as Vice-president fate could always intervene.” (29)
On 1st June 1964, The New York Times published a story by Anthony Lewis with the headline, “Panel to Reject Theories of Plot in Kennedy Death”. As Jerry Policoff has pointed out: “The story amounted to a detailed preview of the Warren Report three months before the commission completed taking testimony and nearly four months before the report was released.” (30)
The press almost universally supported the Warren Commission report. The New York Times said it was “a comprehensive and convincing account. The Washington Post commented that it was “deserving acceptance as the whole truth” and The Boston Herald suggested that the Warren Commission had provided a “tremendous service”.
What was even more damaging to those who believed that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy was that the progressive press, led by Cary McWilliams, the editor of The Nation, also supported the conclusions of the report. The main bombshell came on 8th October, when I. F. Stone, who had virtually made a living criticising government documents, pointed out in I. F. Stone’s Weekly, that “I believe the Commission has done a first-rate job, on a level that does our country proud and is worthy of so tragic an event. I regard the case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer of the President as conclusive.” (31) However, as John Kelin has pointed out, at the time Stone wrote this article: “the Warren Report had just been published and the twenty-six volumes of supporting evidence and testimony were still not available”. (32)
Stone then went on to criticise those who had argued that there had been a conspiracy. After attacking the work of Mark Lane he turned on Bertrand Russell, who he described as “my dear and revered friend”. He suggested that Russell had dismissed the conclusions of Warren Commission report without even reading it. This was completely untrue. As Russell’s assistant, Ralph Schoenman, later pointed out, he had been provided a copy of the report a week before its official release date. (33)
Stone then went onto to look at the two books that had already been published arguing that there had been a conspiracy: “The Joesten book is rubbish, and Carl Marzani – whom I defended against loose charges in the worst days of the witch hunt – ought to have had more sense of public responsibility than to publish it. Thomas G. Buchanan, another victim of witch hunt days, has gone in for similar rubbish in his book, Who Killed Kennedy? You couldn’t convict a chicken thief on the flimsy slap-together of surmise, half-fact and whole untruth in either book… All my adult life as a newspaperman I have been fighting, in defense of the Left and of a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history, character assassination, guilt by association and demonology. Now I see elements of the Left using these same tactics in the controversy over the Kennedy assassination and the Warren Commission Report.”
Ray Marcus, who was a devoted follower of I.F. Stone and had subscribed to his journal since its first edition in January 1953, was deeply shocked by this article. Marcus later recalled: “What was totally lacking in I. F. Stone’s comments was any evidence of the critical analysis he normally employed on assessing official statements.” On 8th October, 1964, Marcus wrote Stone a long letter outlining the flaws in the Warren Report. Marcus argued that in order to accept the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman scenario, one must accept fifteen points as true. These points were explained in an eight page letter. Marcus never received a reply. (34)
Another journalist considered to be on the left at the time was Walter Lippmann. In his syndicated column, Today and Tomorrow on 29th September, 1964, Lippmann wrote that he was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy. He added there was “no ground on which any contemporary man, here or abroad, should question the verdict”. (35) However, he later told his friend, Ronald Steel, that he suspected that Kennedy had been killed as part of a conspiracy. (36)
The complete acceptance by the media of the Warren Report caused problems for those wishing to publish books advocating a conspiracy. Léo Sauvage, who had already signed a contract with Random House, to publish his book, The Oswald Affair – an Examination of the Contradictions and Omissions of the Warren Report, was to be disappointed. A month after the publication of the report, a senior editor at Random House, Jason Epstein, wrote to Sauvage cancelling the contract: “The problem is that the Warren Report has put the Oswald matter in a different light from what I expected, and I’m now convinced that any book which attempts to question Oswald’s guilt would be out of touch with reality and could not be taken seriously by responsible critics.” (37) No other publisher in the United States was willing to bring out the book and so like other opponents of the lone gunman theory, Sauvage was forced to go to Europe to have his book published.
It has been suggested that the critics of the lone-gunman theory were particularly hurt by the support for the Warren Report from left-wing journalists. In a debate that took place on 4th December, 1964, Beverly Hills High School, Abraham Wirin, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in California and a much respected figure on the left for over 30 years, told the audience that he tried to make up his own mind on important issues, but in the case of the Warren Commission he relied on the opinions of people who he could trust: “I consider Carey McWilliams and The Nation, as an individual and a newspaper, respectively, whose judgment I respect. I do not consider Carey McWilliams or The Nation, a person or a newspaper, which would participate in a fraud, or would condone it.” Wirin pointed out The Nation had carried an article in support of the Warren Report and added: “now, that carries a lot of weight with me.”
Wirin then went onto to discuss I.F. Stone’s support for the Warren Report: “Now Mr. Stone, who has defended the rights of the Left, of Communists and others to fair treatment and freedom throughout his life – who is no apologist for any Rightest… Very rarely does Mr. Stone ever commend a government agency. Very rarely. As very rarely do I.” Wirin then said something very strange: “I say thank God for Earl Warren. He saved us from a pogrom. He saved our nation. God bless him for what he has done in establishing that Oswald was the lone assassin.” (38)
Mark Lane, who was involved in the debate with Abraham Wirin, has suggested a reason why the left was so keen to support the conclusions of the Warren Report. He discovered a document dated 20th January, 1964, where President Lyndon Johnson had asked Earl Warren to squelch rumours that “were circulating in this country and overseas”. He added that these rumours were so potentially explosive that if they were “not quenched, they could conceivably lead the country to war which could cost 40 million lives”. (39)
Lane suggests that this may be connected to the memo that deputy attorney Nicholas Katzenbach sent to Lyndon Johnson, through Bill Moyers, his press secretary, on 25th November, 1963. Katzenbach insisted that: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin, that he did not have confederates who are still at large, and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial. I think this objective may be satisfied by making public as soon as possible a complete and thorough FBI report on Oswald and the assassination.” (40)
Were the rumours that needed to be “quenched” the same as those circulated by Revilo P. Oliver, Martin Dies and Billy James Hargis in the days following the assassination? Lane argues in Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (1991): “The CIA had concluded that Oswald had acted alone; he had not involved others in his plans and no one had directed him. Warren was respectfully cautioned, however, that if the American people received the facts, surely they would demand, in the existing volatile atmosphere, still heaving with tragedy, and against the backdrop of an escalating cold war, that immediate action be taken against the Soviet Union and Cuba. Warren agreed. Under the circumstances, he was advised that since the fate of the world was now in his hands, it was imperative that the Oswald-Kostikov connection be suppressed.” (41) Is it possible that people like Walter Lippmann, I. F. Stone and Carey McWilliams had been told that the Soviets had been involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and without their support a nuclear war could not be adverted?
Then we have those strange words of Abraham Wirin: “I say thank God for Earl Warren. He saved us from a pogrom. He saved our nation. God bless him for what he has done in establishing that Oswald was the lone assassin.” Why would Wirin use the word “pogrom”? Had key figures on the left such as I.F. Stone and Carey McWilliams been told that the conspiracy to kill Kennedy was in someway involved Jewish left-wingers? If that was the case, why would they be willing to believe such stories? It is indeed a strange puzzle. Maybe the answer lies in an article that had been written by Tom Braden that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on 20th May, 1967.
Braden, who had worked with Allen Dulles at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War, was considered to be an expert in psychological warfare. When Dulles joined the CIA in December 1950 as Deputy Director of Operations one of his first acts was to recruit Braden as his assistant. Braden suggested to Allen Dulles that he should be allowed to establish the International Organizations Division (IOD) to counteract Soviet propaganda. Dulles agreed and Cord Meyer was appointed as his deputy. The IOD helped established anti-Communist front groups in Western Europe.
The IOD was dedicated to infiltrating academic, trade and political associations. The objective was to control potential radicals and to steer them to the right. Braden oversaw the funding of groups such as the National Student Association, the Congress of Cultural Freedom, Communications Workers of America, the American Newspaper Guild, the United Auto Workers, National Council of Churches, the African-American Institute and the National Educational Association.
Braden later admitted that the CIA was putting around $900,000 a year into the Congress of Cultural Freedom. Some of this money was used to publish its journal, Encounter. Braden and the IOD also worked closely with anti-Communist leaders of the trade union movement such as George Meany of the Congress for Industrial Organization and the American Federation of Labor. This was used to fight Communism in its own ranks. As Braden said: “The CIA could do exactly as it pleased. It could buy armies. It could buy bombs. It was one of the first worldwide multinationals.” (42)
This remained a highly secret operation but in 1966 stories began to appear in the New York Times suggesting that the CIA had been secretly funding left-wing groups. This in fact, was not a new claim. Joseph McCarthy had made similar accusations in 1953. He had been given this information by J. Edgar Hoover who had described the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) as “Wisner’s gang of weirdos”. In August, 1953, Richard Helms, Wisner’s deputy at the OPC, told Cord Meyer, who was Braden’s deputy at the International Organizations Division, that Joseph McCarthy and the FBI had accused him of being a communist. The FBI added to the smear by announcing it was unwilling to give Meyer “security clearance”. (43)
In September, 1953, Meyer was shown the FBI file against him. It included allegations that his wife, Mary Pinchot Meyer, was a former member of the American Labor Party. It also listed several people linked to Meyer who had “supported pro-Communist policies or have been associated with Communist front organizations or organizations pro-Communist in their sympathies.” The list included the publisher Cass Canfield, the president and chairman of Harper & Brothers. Canfield had first met Allen Dulles in 1940 when they were both working for the British Security Coordination (BSC), a highly secret British intelligence unit based in the United States set up with the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination Canfield played an important role in stopping books criticising the Warren Commission being published. Canfield had indeed been receiving money from the CIA to help publish left-wing but anti-communist books. He was along with Jason Epstein of Random House, who had blocked the publication Léo Sauvage’s The Oswald Affair – an Examination of the Contradictions and Omissions of the Warren Report, a key figure in the CIA sponsored Congress of Cultural Freedom.
McCarthy’s assistant, Roy Cohn, argues in his book McCarthy (1968) that they had discovered that communist agents had infiltrated the CIA in 1953: “Our files contained allegations gathered from various sources indicating that the CIA had unwittingly hired a large numbers of double agents – individuals who, although working for the CIA, were actually communist agents whose mission was to plant inaccurate data…. We also wanted to investigate charges that the CIA had granted large subsidies to pro-Communist organizations.” Cohn complained that this proposed investigation was stopped on the orders of the White House. “Vice-President Nixon was assigned to the delicate job of blocking it… Nixon spoke at length, arguing that an open investigation would damage national security, harm our relations with our allies, and seriously affect CIA operations, which depended on total secrecy… Finally, the three subcommittee members, not opposed to the inquiry before they went to dinner, yielded to Nixon’s pressure. So, too, did McCarthy, and the investigation, which McCarthy told me interested him more than any other, was never launched.” (44)
Allen Dulles refused permission for the FBI to interrogate Frank Wisner and Cord Meyer and Hoover’s investigation also came to an end. McCarthy was in fact right when he said that the CIA was funding what he considered to be pro-communist organisations. He was wrong however in believing they had infiltrated the organisation. As Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) has pointed out it was the other way round. This has been confirmed by some members of the left who received funding from the CIA during this period. As Arthur Schlesinger later explained, the NCL was supported by leading establishment figures such as Chip Bohlen, Isaiah Berlin, Averell Harriman and George Kennan: “We all felt that democratic socialism was the most effective bulwark against totalitarianism. This became an undercurrent – or even undercover – theme of American foreign policy during the period.” (45)
It might seem strange that the non-communist left should be paid to write articles and books attacking the Soviet Union. After all they would have done that anyway. However, the important aspect of this policy was to compromise these left-wing writers by paying them money or by funding their organisations. It also put them in position where they could call on their help in times of crisis such as the assassination of John Kennedy. The support of the NCL was vitally important in the cover-up of the assassination.
Why then did the CIA start leaking information about their funding of the NCL in 1966? The reason is that most of these sponsored journalists refused to support the government policy on Vietnam. In the case of Stone, he found it to his financial advantage to oppose the policy. Stone had barely 20,000 subscribers to I.F. Weekly before the outbreak of the war. By 1969 he had over 70,000. (46)
The story of CIA funding of Non-Communist Left journalists and organizations was fully broken in the press by a small-left-wing journal, Ramparts. The editor, Warren Hinckle, met a man by the name of Michael Wood, in January 1967, at the New York’s Algonquin Hotel. The meeting had been arranged by a public relations executive Marc Stone (the brother of I.F. Stone). Wood told Hinckle that the National Student Association (NSA) was receiving funding from the CIA. At first Hinkle thought he was being set-up. Why was the story not taken to I.F. Stone? (47)
However, after further research, Hinckle was convinced that the CIA had infiltrated the Non-Communist Left: “While the ADA-types and the Arthur Schlesinger model liberal kewpie dolls battled fascism by protecting their right flank with domestic Red-baiting and Cold War one-upmanship, the Ivy League delinquents who fled to the CIA – liberal lawyers, businessmen, academics, games-playing craftsmen – hatched a master plan of Germanic ambition that entailed nothing less than clandestine political control of the international operations of all important American professional and cultural organisations: journalists, educators, jurists, businessmen, et al. The standing CIA subsidy to the National Student Association was but one slice of a very complex pie.” Hinckle even had doubts about publishing the story. Sol Stern, who was writing the article for Ramparts, “advanced the intriguing contention that such a disclosure would be damaging to the enlightened men of the liberal internationalistic wing of the CIA who were willing to provide clandestine money to domestic progressive causes.” (48)
Hinckle did go ahead with the story and took full-page advertisements in the Tuesday editions of the New York Times and Washington Post: “In its March issue, Ramparts magazine will document how the CIA has infiltrated and subverted the world of American student leaders, over the past fifteen years.” For its exposé of the CIA, Ramparts received the George Polk Memorial Award for Excellence in Journalism and was praised for its “explosive revival of the great muckraking tradition.”
On 20th May 1967 Thomas Braden, the former head of the CIA’s International Organizations Division, that had been funding the NSA, wrote an article that was published in the Saturday Evening Post entitled, I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral Braden admitted that for more than 10 years, the CIA had subsidized progressive magazines such as Encounter through the Congress for Cultural Freedom – which it also funded – and that one of its staff was a CIA agent. He also admitted that he had paid money to left-wing trade union leaders such as Walter Reuther, Jay Lovestone, David Dubinsky and Irving Brown. (49)
According to Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999): “The effect of Braden’s article was to sink the CIA’s covert association with the Non-Communist Left once and for all.” (50) Braden later admitted that the article had been commissioned by CIA asset, Stewart Alsop. (51) But why had the CIA decided to expose their agents in 1967. Was it because they were refusing to support government policy in Vietnam?
John Hunt, a CIA agent who worked very closely with Braden at the International Organizations Division, pointed out in a revealing interview: “Tom Braden was a company man… if he was really acting independently, would have had much to fear. My belief is that he was an instrument down the line somewhere of those who wanted to get rid of the NCL (Non-Communist Left). Don’t look for a lone gunman – that’s mad, just as it is with the Kennedy assassination… I do believe there was an operational decision to blow the Congress and the other programs out of the water.” (52)
By this time of course those figures on the Non-Communist Left such as I.F. Stone and Carey McWilliams knew they had been fooled by the CIA in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. However, all they could do was to keep their heads down and pretend it had not happened. Warren Hinkle admitted that as editor of Ramparts in November 1963, he had been reluctant to get involved in investigating the Kennedy assassination. Until he took up the case in 1967 he had left it up to the “amateurs”. He added the “nationwide grass-roots reinvestigation of the Kennedy assassination was an extraordinary phenomenon of an extraordinary decade”. (53)
A more detailed account of the way the media covered the JFK assassination can be found in my introduction of my ebook on the assassination.
1. James Aronson and Cedric Belfrage, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian (1978) page 296
2. Mark Lane, Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (1991) page 19
3. James Aronson and Cedric Belfrage, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian (1978) page 297
4. Mark Lane, Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (1991) page 20
5. James Aronson, National Guardian (19th December, 1963)
6. Mark Lane, The National Guardian (19th December, 1963)
7. Jack Minnis and Staughton Lind, Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions about the Assassination, New Republic (21st December, 1963)
8. Quoted by James Aronson and Cedric Belfrage, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian (1978) page 298
9. Carl Bernstein, CIA and the Media, Rolling Stone Magazine (20th October, 1977)
10. Deborah Davis, Katharine the Great (1979) page 190
11. William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)
12. At the end of the Second World War the files of British Security Coordination were packed onto semitrilers and transported to Camp X in Canada. Stephenson wanted to have some record of the activities of the agency, “To provide a record which would be available for reference should future need arise for secret activities and security measures for the kind it describes.” He recruited former BSC agents, Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, to write the book. Stephenson told Dahl: “We don’t dare to do it in the United States, we have to do it on British territory.” Dahl commented: “He pulled a lot over Hoover… He pulled a few things over the White House, too, now and again. I wrote a little bit but eventually I called Bill and told him that it’s an historian’s job… This famous history of the BSC through the war in New York was written by Tom Hill and a few other agents.” Only twenty copies of the book were printed. Ten went into a safe in Montreal and ten went to Stephenson for distribution. The report was eventually published in 1998 as British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45.
Other books that contain interesting information on the work of the British Security Coordination include: Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008), Thomas E. Mahl, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998), Nicholas J. Cull, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American Neutrality (1996) and Bill Macdonald, The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001).
13. Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities (April, 1976)
14. ARRB Record Number 180-100092-10352
15. Thomas G. Buchanan, Who Killed Kennedy? (1964)
16. Time Magazine (12th June, 1964)
17. Cederic Belfrage, The Minority of One (October, 1964)
18. Joachim Joesten, Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy? (1964) page 11
19. John Kelin, Praise from a Future Generation (2007) page 169
20. CE 2709, Warren Commission Vol.26 pages 79-84
21. Victor Perlo, New Times (September 1964)
22. Hugh Aynesworth, Editor and Publisher (1st August, 1964)
23. Léo Sauvage, Commentary Magazine (March, 1964)
24. John Kelin, Praise from a Future Generation (2007) page 179
25. Norman Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine (March, 1964)
26. Revilo P. Oliver, Marxmanship in Dallas, American Opinion (February, 1964)
27. Martin Dies, Assassination and its Aftermath, American Opinion (March, 1964)
28. Billy James Hargis, Far Left (1964) page 146
29. James Evetts Haley. A Texan Looks at Lyndon (1964) page 199
30. Jerry Policoff, The Media and the Murder of John Kennedy, New Times (8th August, 1975). Included in Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond – A Guide to Cover-Ups and Investigations (1976)
31. I. F. Stone, I. F. Stone’s Weekly (5th October, 1964)
32. John Kelin, Praise from a Future Generation (2007) page 182
33. John Kelin, interview with Ralph Schoenman (14th August, 2000)
34. Ray Marcus, letter to I. F. Stone (8th October, 1964)
35. Walter Lippmann, Today and Tomorrow (29th September, 1964)
36. Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (1999) page 543
37. Jason Epstein, letter to Léo Sauvage (4th November, 1964)
38. Abraham L. Wirin, speech, Beverly Hills High School (4th December, 1964)
39. Mark Lane, Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (1991) page 51
40. Nicholas Katzenbach, memo to Bill Moyers (25th November, 1963)
41. Mark Lane, Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (1991) page 53
42. Tom Braden, interview included in the Granada Television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA (June, 1975)
(43) Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1980) pages 60-84
(44) Roy Cohn, McCarthy (1968) pages 63-65
(45) Arthur Schlesinger quoted by Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) page 63
(46) D. D. Guttenplan, American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone (2011) page 432
(47) Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008) page 239
(48) Warren Hinckle, If you have a Lemon, Make Lemonade (1973) pages 172-179
(49) Tom Braden, Saturday Evening Post (20th May, 1967)
(50) Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) page 398
(51) Tom Braden, interviewed by Frances Stonor Saunders (August 1996)
(52) John Hunt, interviewed by Frances Stonor Saunders (July 1997)
(53) Warren Hinckle, If you have a Lemon, Make Lemonade (1973) page 204
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