Conspiracy A-Go-Go

Conspiracy theories: The Shadow Government Theory.

There is a secret government within our government, a cabal that in 1963 ordered the murder of a popular president, set up a patsy, installed its own puppet, and orchestrated an elaborate cover-up that included tampering with the corpse, destroying and suppressing evidence, and killing witnesses. Heading the cabal were some of the world’s most powerful men: rich and corrupt industrialists, generals, and right-wing politicians. Down below was an eclectic group of mobsters, spooks, lowlifes, and anti-Castro extremists, many of whom were headquartered at 544 Camp Street in New Orleans, including Oswald, former FBI agent Guy Banister, soldier of fortune David Ferrie, and suspected CIA informant Clay Shaw. Together, in the summer of 1963, they plotted Kennedy’s demise.

Believers

New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, filmmaker Oliver Stone, and former chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Fletcher Prouty.

Strange Details

Theorists enjoy playing an elaborate parlor game of Six Degrees of Assassination. One version goes like this: As a teenager, Oswald had been in the Civil Air Patrol with Ferrie, who had done private investigative work for mobster Carlos Marcello, whose close associate Santos Trafficante had been the main mob boss in prerevolution Cuba, where in 1959 he was imprisoned by Castro, visited by Ruby, and then bailed out by Cuban turncoat Rolando Cubela, who, on November 22, 1963, was being briefed in Paris on killing Castro by an agent of the CIA, whose former director (and future Warren Commission member), Allen Dulles, had been forced out by Kennedy following the Bay of Pigs invasion, as had his deputy, Charles Cabell, whose brother Earle was the mayor of Dallas, which had been papered on November 22 with “Wanted for Treason” leaflets published by Robert Surrey, an aide to Major General Edwin A. Walker, who had been the target of an assassination attempt in April 1963, the chief suspect of which, according to the Warren Commission, was Oswald. Surrey also played bridge with James Hosty, the FBI agent who had been shadowing Oswald, whose wife, Marina, often mocked her husband’s lovemaking and told him how attracted she was to Kennedy, who had had an affair with Judith Exner, girlfriend of mafioso Sam Giancana, who had helped steal the 1960 election for Kennedy by stuffing ballot boxes in Chicago, where Ruby had run errands for Al Capone as a teenager and Banister had helped ambush John Dillinger.

Reasons to Believe

Pressed for time, obsessed with secrecy, and embarrassed by their awareness of Oswald’s existence, both the FBI and the CIA withheld critical information and did little to investigate possible links between their own organizations and Oswald, between the CIA and Cuban paramilitary organizations, between the Mafia and various assassination players, and between Ruby and the mob, Cubans, and the Dallas police force.

Reasons Not to Believe

• How could such a labyrinthine plan with so many participants never be exposed? How could a bunch of inefficient, bungling bureaucracies work so well and with such determination and unanimity?

• Notwithstanding Kevin Costner’s noble portrayal of him in JFK, Garrison—the chief proponent of this theory—was a lying, attention-grabbing megalomaniac with McCarthyite tendencies who had been dismissed from the National Guard for mental problems. He tried to prove his theory by taking businessman Clay Shaw to court in 1969 for conspiring to kill the president. The resulting trial was nothing less than a circus. Garrison sought to prove his case with an array of peculiar characters, including a man in a toga identifying himself as Julius Caesar, a heroin addict, and a New York accountant who said he often fingerprinted his daughter to make sure she was not an impostor. The prosecution mischaracterized evidence and bribed, intimidated, and even had witnesses hypnotized. He ultimately said that there were sixteen assassins at Dealey Plaza, including the three tramps and a man who popped out of a sewer. Though he presented plenty of intriguing suspicions, he had few facts, and it took the jury only 45 minutes to find Shaw innocent of all charges. The New York Times later called Garrison’s crusade against Shaw “one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of American jurisprudence.”

Recent Developments

JFK’s release forever changed the way Americans view the assassination. Oliver Stone provided the seamless—albeit wildly inventive and historically inaccurate—story line that lawyer Garrison had always coveted. If we vaguely believed in a conspiracy before, by late 1991, 73 percent of Americans were sure of it, while 35 percent thought the CIA was directly involved. In response, Congress created the Assassination Records Review Board, whose mandate was to obtain assassination-related files from often-reluctant agencies like the FBI and the CIA, declassify them, and make them available to the public. The upshot was the release of thousands of important items, including the personal papers of Warren Commission members, a presidential aide’s amateur film of the motorcade, and notes from Oswald’s interrogation at Dallas police headquarters, as well as an archive of more than four million pages of secret records. Nothing earth-shattering was ever discovered (the board was shut down in September), though many documents still remain hidden from view. According to the act that created the board, all relevant documents must be released to the public by 2017—except for ones deemed worthy for further postponement by any sitting president.

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