Closing the CIA Circle
It was 1966, at a motel room in Wildwood, New Jersey. It has been almost 50 years, but you can still hear Vince Salandria's rumbling voice.
"Don't you see it, boys? Don't you see it? There's only one outfit who could have pulled this off."
Salandria was talking about the assassination three years before of President John F. Kennedy. He had contacted Gaeton Fonzi at Philadelphia magazine to point out discrepancies in the Warren Commission Report, which concluded that a lone nut had murdered an American president. We happened to be working with Fonzi on a light piece on Wildwood called "The Workingman's Riviera." I had an interest in the Kennedy assassination and tagged along when Gaeton took time from our barhopping to meet Salandria. Very few people had challenged the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report, but in truth almost nobody had read the 26 volumes of evidence in the report. Salandria, a Philadelphia school board lawyer, had read it all and what he was telling us that day is that the only outfit who could have pulled this off—by that he meant the killing and the cover up—was the CIA.
What Salandria showed us that day was largely the glaring physical contradictions between the president's wounds and the Warren Commission's conclusions. It was enough to convince us both that more than one person shot at the president. Shortly thereafter, Fonzi confronted Arlen Specter, the man who came up with the 'magic bullet' theory for the Warren Commission. That theory was crucial to blaming a lone gunman. At the time, Specter was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, and later a longtime U.S. Senator. Unprepared for Fonzi’s detailed questions, he could not explain his own theory.
Fonzi was off on a journey that led him to write The Last Investigation, a book that was the first to connect the accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, to the CIA. We know it well. It first appeared as two long articles in our Gold Coast magazine and Washingtonian magazine.
Gaeton Fonzi's book was a landmark in the long examination of JFK's murder. His work is cited in virtually every important book on the subject, including one just out. David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard traces the career of Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA until President Kennedy removed him. Talbot presents strong evidence that Dulles and his network of spies were behind the murder, and behind them was a group of some of the most influential businessmen in the country. Their common bond was a hatred for President Kennedy, whom they regarded as soft on communism—basically a traitor.
Talbot's work would not surprise Gaeton Fonzi, who died three years ago. He spent five years on government payroll when the Kennedy investigation was reopened in the mid-1970s. He connected Oswald to the CIA as a low-level operative set up to be blamed for the crime. At the time, investigators referred to a "rogue" group within the CIA as responsible for the crime. But Fonzi knew the highly placed CIA men he connected to Oswald could not have acted without approval from the top—and the top was Allen Dulles.
Talbot’s book is mostly about Dulles' tawdry career before JFK. He was the brother of John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower. Allen Dulles had been a spook since World War I. Under him, the CIA became its own government, free to bribe and murder foreign leaders, and even protect Nazis who should have been tried for war crimes. The CIA found the Germans’ experience useful in fighting the Communist threat. In that atmosphere, murdering a president would be a challenging exercise, but only they could get away with.
In a sense they did. The whole intelligence crowd and the men who supported them are all gone. Safe from justice, they might even enjoy the recognition today.
An aspect of Talbot’s book we appreciated was his indictment of the media for its negligence in the JFK investigation. He points out how friendly the CIA was with key elements of the press. Fonzi sensed that decades ago, when his dramatic piece on Arlen Specter in Philadelphia was ignored by local papers, and years later his book initially was dismissed by many critics, who at the same time praised shallow (and many think CIA backed) books, such as Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, which supported the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone.
For reasons difficult to fathom, the disinformation goes on to this day. Even as most of the country, and the world, accepts the idea that JFK’s death was a conspiracy, key elements of the media refuse to accept the obvious. Even Chris Matthews, who wrote a book on President Kennedy—and as a liberal broadcaster should relish the right wing being blamed for his murder—continues to occasionally refer to Oswald as a lone nut. He recently ridiculed the Investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in the 1990s.
Garrison, it turns out, was on to something—at least Robert Kennedy thought so. Garrison was brushing against the CIA, and events relating to the crime. Robert Kennedy suspected the CIA from the start. But Garrison’s investigation was infiltrated by spies and discredited by much of the media. You can thank Allen Dulles for that.