Reclaiming History from Vince Bugliosi

Originally posted by Real History Lisa on 05/17/07

Vincent Bugliosi, the famed prosecutor of the Manson case, has stopped putting liars in jail and started putting them in print. In his Orwellian-named book, “Reclaiming History,” Bugliosi purports to answer all the questions and shut all the doors to conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy. Long before we get to the question of why he would waste the later years of his life on such an impossible task, the first question we need to ask is this:

Is this an honest presentation?

After just minutes in its pages, I was shocked at how easily I could answer that.

No. This is not an honest presentation of the case.

This is completely one-sided attempt to do the impossible, to wash away the conspiracy and pretend it never happened.

Now I was hoping to come and tell you that while I thought Bugliosi was an honest man, he was simply wrong. He subscribed to Probe magazine for several years. So I know he’s not ignorant of the facts. He’s just incredibly biased in many cases, and in some, he’s flat out dishonest.

He’s wrong too, but everyone can be wrong, now and then, and that is not a crime.

Deliberately misrepresenting history, however, is the highest possible crime to this Real History lover. So I’ll start the ball in motion. A lot of us will be reclaiming history from the death grip Mr. Bugliosi has tried, but spectacularly failed, to put on the JFK case over the next several months.

I turned right to the chapter that most interested me: his chapter on the CIA. After 15 years of research, serious on-the-ground research interviewing people and reading original documents that were never supposed to see the light of day, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that specific people in the CIA were involved in the crime. Of course I’m curious to see how Bugliosi is going to explain all the evidence away.

So how does he open? With a great big lie:

For years, conspiracy theorists have written books about the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement in the assassination of JFK. And as conspiracy theorist E . Martin Schotz, a mathematician and practicing psychiatrist, puts it, “I and other ordinary citizens know, know for a fact, that there was a conspiracy [to murder Kennedy] and that it was organized at the highest levels of the CIA .”‘ The fact that Schotz and his fellow conspiracy theorists haven’t been able to come up with any evidence connecting the CIA to the assassination or Oswald has not troubled them in the least.

Let’s look at that last sentence closely.

“…not been able to come up with ANY EVIDENCE connecting the CIA to the assassination or Oswald…”

That’s a lie. And Bugliosi, as a prosecutor, knows full well the difference between evidence and proof. I’d be the first to concede that no one has yet proved the CIA was involved in the assassination. But there’s a world of evidence that paints direct ties between the CIA and the assassination.

Let’s start with some testimony from the HSCA, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, formed in the 70s to reinvestigate the crime due to the government’s acknowledgment that the CIA had withheld critical evidence from the Warren Commission during its investigation. The CIA assassination plots against Castro and other foreign leaders emerged, as did their breaking of the law domestically by wiretapping Americans on our own soil, in direct violation of their charter. (These, by the way, are the people whose side Bugliosi takes when faced with believing those liars or the people who gave up a good portion of their time to find the truth about what happened.)

Let’s start with some pretty dang interesting evidence. Former CIA finance officer James Wilcott, who said one of his colleagues told him he’d been drawing money for “Oswald” or the “Oswald project.” Bugliosi tries to shoot this down, noting even the HSCA report writers found Wilcott not credible. But ask yourself. If the CIA was behind the crime, do you think for a second they’d allow the truth to be written into the report? If the CIA is behind the assassination, this same episode, written by Bugliosi to make the case that Wilcott was not credible, can be turned around to make Wilcott ultimately credible. Bugliosi writes:

Wilcott ‘s credibility suffered even further when an intelligence analyst whom Wilcott said he discussed the Oswald allegation with at the post told the committee he wasn’t in Tokyo at the time of the assassination, the committee verifying that he had been transferred back to the United States in 1962, the previous year. Finally, the committee interviewed many CIA personnel who had been stationed in Tokyo at the time, including the chief of the post and other personnel who surely would have known if Oswald had had any association with the agency in Tokyo, and all had no knowledge of such an association.

If the CIA was behind the crime, it makes perfect sense they’d launch other employees more loyal to the agency at the HSCA to discredit Wilcott’s account. People who work for abroad for the CIA have to lie every day about who they are and what they do. Richard Helms, a former CIA director, famously deemed his perjury charge a “badge of honor.”

And why would we expect CIA employees to suddenly tell the truth to a government they felt no subservience to, as evidenced by James Angleton’s famous retort when questioned under oath by the Church Committee in the Senate: “It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government.” In other words, one of the top CIA officials deemed the CIA above the law. Numerous books on the agency show that opinion was widely held on the covert side of the Agency. In fact, that opinion was so widely held that President Kennedy had famously promised to shatter the Agency. He took the first step to following through on that threat when he created the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kennedy wanted to move the rogue CIA covert operations, called “fun and games” by Agency insiders, to the DIA where it would be under the far more accountable military chain of command. Many in the CIA saw this as a direct attack on the Agency. Many of us have speculated that was a key reason Kennedy was killed. In any case, it’s not hard to imagine that when the Agency was under attack by Wilcott, the same knee jerk reaction followed — protect the CIA at all costs.

Bugliosi, through naïveté or deception, doesn’t even entertain the possibility that Wilcott was telling the truth. But he ends with a lie, no matter how you slice it, by saying Wilcott’s story is not evidence. But of course it IS evidence. It is simply not proof.

In fact, there had been, at one point, so much evidence of the CIA’s involvement with Oswald that it warranted its own section of the HSCA report. In Probe Magazine, Vol. 4 No. 2, I wrote a long article called “Who’s Running the Country? How the Mexico City Report Informs us in 1996.” The “Mexico City Report” was a summary of Oswald’s trip to Mexico and attendant matters, written by Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway. In the article, I quoted Lopez on this point. When Jim DiEugenio had interviewed Lopez about the report, DiEugenio had asked, wasn’t there supposed to be a section about Oswald and the CIA? Lopez was surprised that it was gone, and can be heard flipping through the pages of the report on the tape of the interview. “It’s completely gone,” he said in obvious surprise, adding later, “They [the CIA] hated it — that section. Totally. They just hated that section.” In other words, a whole piece of evidence our tax dollars paid for was removed. I’ll give you one guess as to who removed it.

How can you produce evidence if your suspect keeps hiding the ball? Bugliosi says if you can’t prove otherwise, there there’s no conspiracy. I say if we can’t prove otherwise, maybe it’s because we’re exactly right about the CIA’s role in the conspiracy.

And how’s this for evidence? In David Talbot’s book “Brothers,” Talbot writes about Ruben Carbajal, a friend of David Morales, a CIA bigwig from the notorious JM/WAVE station in Florida, the CIA’s largest station inside the US, and his information regarding the Kennedy assassination:

Carbajal does know who killed JFK — it was the CIA, he said, without naming any individuals. Morales and his close CIA colleague Tony Sforza both told him the agency was behind the Dallas plot. The Kennedys got what was coming to them. Carbajal insisted: “[President] Kennedy screwed up, caused all those deaths at the Bay of Pigs, he pulls off the planes, the men get caught on the ground. You want me to respect a president like that? Or an asshole like his brother?”

Is that proof? No. But is that evidence? Heck yeah. If Bugliosi had someone saying that about Charlie Manson when he was looking for evidence to put him behind bars, do you think he would have walked by such a large allegation without investigating it thoroughly? That’s why researchers keep searching the Kennedy case. The evidence of the CIA’s involvement is plentiful. The proof, however, remains elusive, which would also make perfect sense since the CIA has funds that are not available for congressional scrutiny. They can do anything they want. They can lie with impunity. When caught by the House and Senate in separate investigation breaking numerous laws, what happened? Was anyone in the CIA prosecuted? No. The laws were changed to accommodate the Agency. So Bugliosi can spout about their innocence all he wants. But to this very serious, longtime researcher, his explanations ring hollow.

In this next example, you have to wonder whether Bugliosi is ignorant, deceptive, or simply criminally naïve! Imagine that Bugliosi had been prosecuting the OJ case. Let’s say OJ wanted to evaluate his own DNA evidence. The Bugliosi we think we know would have laughed him out of court, maybe even adding as OJ slunk out that such a suggestion was itself almost a tacit admission of guilt. But look what Bugliosi falls for here:

in 1996, the CIA released a study titled “Getting to Know the President, CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-1992,” by the CIA deputy director for intelligence, John L . Helgerson. On a one-year assignment, Helgerson interviewed “former presidents, CIA directors, and numerous others involved” in the nine presidencies covered by the subject period to ascertain the CIA’s relationship with the various presidents. On the issue so dear to conspiracy theorists–the CIA’s alleged animosity for Kennedy, and hence, its motive to kill him–it is very noteworthy that Helgerson’s study reported that “the [CIA’s] relationship with Kennedy was not only a distinct improvement over the more formal relationship with Eisenhower, but would only rarely be matched in future administrations.”

So a CIA deputy director declares, by implication, the CIA’s innocence in the killing of Kennedy. And Bugliosi falls for it! He does this throughout this book, by the way, falling for CIA-sponsored explanations while ignoring the fact that the CIA was the source for the rebuttal of its own guilt! How silly is that? Has he lost his marbles? Did he ever have them?

How can this be the vaunted prosecutor of the Manson days?

Or maybe, what we don’t know about the Manson case to this day would explain Bugliosi’s bizarre allegiance to the CIA.

After all, it was a Manson protégé that almost became another presidential assassin. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme nearly managed to kill Gerald Ford. (Seventeen days later, Sarah Jane Moore, who had at one time been an FBI informant, would fail in a second attempt on Ford’s life, one that would finally have put a Rockefeller in the White House.) Dr. Louis Jolyon West, who had interviewed Jack Ruby after the JFK assassination and who was a leading force in the CIA’s MKULTRA research from his position at UCLA, was quick to offer his comments on Fromme to Time Magazine after her failed assassination attempt:

Trying to explain Fromme’s fascination with violence, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, head of the psychiatry department at U.C.L.A., points out that she was part of a group whose members all were paranoid to varying degrees. “They all suffered from a group syndrome,” he says. “There was a pattern of holding to false beliefs with even greater conviction and emotional commitment than a normal person’s beliefs that are subject to the laws of evidence. They were being victimized by conspiracies and plots coming from very high levels of Government. This affirms the grandiosity of their self-image, and it justifies the violence with which they strike back.”

Or maybe they had notions of conspiracies and plots because they were the product of them.

I’ve never had time to look into the Manson case, but I’ve often wondered about an MKULTRA link there. Manson was transferred to Vacaville prison in the late seventies. Vacaville had earlier been the site of CIA research on an MKULTRA subproject named MKSEARCH. Manson had been in a variety of prisons most of his life, any of which might also have been sites for experimentation. I’m not suggesting anything here other than that there may be more to the Manson story than we ever know. Goodness knows Bugliosi’s hate-filled diatribe against the “kooks” and “nuts” who speak the obvious, that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, calls into question all his earlier reporting, and makes me wonder what we might have learned had someone more honest taken up the Manson case.

Seriously, every page I’ve flipped to by searching or randomly browsing so far is fraught with lies, errors, and omissions — the very things he accuses the research community of doing. Is he just an anti-conspiracy zealot, out to defend a world view he can’t afford to have shaken? Or is something more sinister at work? Maybe a look into his past would give us some answers.

Why is it that when you can scratch the background of nearly every writer on this case who has claimed there was no conspiracy, you can find a CIA link in their past or present? James Phelan, a respected Saturday Evening Post reporter who attacked Jim Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw in the only trial ever brought on the Kennedy assassination conspiracy, turned out to be not only an FBI informant, but a close friend of the CIA’s point man on the anti-Castro plots. Hugh Aynesworth, responsible for nearly all the original Dallas coverage of the event, who later repeated his coverage for Newsweek, had applied to work for the CIA the month before the assassination. Reporter Hal Hendrix, called “the Spook” because of his intelligence agency connections, was the one who supplied Seth Kantor with background info on Oswald in record time right after the assassination. Hendrix was a close friend of David Atlee Phillips, the CIA man most often fingered as a conspirator due to the extensive documentary record, and the man whom all the Castro did it” stories that surfaced originally can be traced to.

Gerald Posner? He came to fame by writing a book that excused the CIA for its failure to find Mengele. He also wrote a fictional book which featured a Cold War CIA hero pitted against a newfangled government bureaucracy. Max Holland? He got his start at the Voice of America, long acknowledged as a propaganda outlet for the CIA abroad. And when “liberal” Holland couldn’t get his regular employer, The Nation, to run one of his lone-nut screeds, whom did he turn to? Why, the CIA, of course, which was more than happy to publish his work in their in-house publication “Studies in Intelligence.”

Consider for just a moment. Why is it that everywhere you look in the media, the voices telling us that Oswald was a lone assassin (and therefore, the CIA didn’t do it) all seem to have ties to the CIA?

This was brought home yet again at a conference in DC a couple of years ago. One man got up to attempt to prove that famous “dictabelt” tape, recorded by a policeman whose microphone was stuck on, did not in fact capture shots in Dealey plaza. (Because if it did, it captured four shots, and hence, at least two shooters.) At the end of his presentation, I challenged his presentation, because he relied on science provided by a Nobel prize-winning scientist who also drew a paycheck from the CIA. The man then said sure, his source was CIA, but so what? “I am too,” he said. In other words, yet again, the people most actively pushing a lone nut scenario were directly connected to the CIA.

I’ll leave you with these excerpts from a CIA memo that instructed its media assets how to discuss the CIA assassination.

This document caused quite a stir when it was discovered in 1977. Dated 4/1/67, and marked “DESTROY WHEN NO LONGER NEEDED”, this document is a stunning testimony to how concerned the CIA was over investigations into the Kennedy assassination. Emphasis has been added to facilitate scanning.

This is CIA Document #1035-960, marked “PSYCH” for presumably Psychological Warfare Operations, in the division “CS”, the Clandestine Services, sometimes known as the “dirty tricks” department.

RE: Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report

  1. Our Concern. From the day of President Kennedy’s assassination on, there has been speculation about the responsibility for his murder. Although this was stemmed for a time by the Warren Commission report, (which appeared at the end of September 1964), various writers have now had time to scan the Commission’s published report and documents for new pretexts for questioning, and there has been a new wave of books and articles criticizing the Commission’s findings. In most cases the critics have speculated as to the existence of some kind of conspiracy, and often they have implied that the Commission itself was involved. Presumably as a result of the increasing challenge to the Warren Commission’s report, a public opinion poll recently indicated that 46% of the American public did not think that Oswald acted alone, while more than half of those polled thought that the Commission had left some questions unresolved. Doubtless polls abroad would show similar, or possibly more adverse results.
  2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization. The members of the Warren Commission were naturally chosen for their integrity, experience and prominence. They represented both major parties, and they and their staff were deliberately drawn from all sections of the country. Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.
  3. Action. We do not recommend that discussion of the assassination question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active [business] addresses are requested:


    a. To discuss the publicity problem with [?] and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors), pointing out that the Warren Commission made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible, that the charges of the critics are without serious foundation, and that further speculative discussion only plays into the hands of the opposition. Point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

    b. To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (II) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories. In the course of discussions of the whole phenomenon of criticism, a useful strategy may be to single out Epstein’s theory for attack, using the attached Fletcher [?] article and Spectator piece for background. (Although Mark Lane’s book is much less convincing that Epstein’s and comes off badly where confronted by knowledgeable critics, it is also much more difficult to answer as a whole, as one becomes lost in a morass of unrelated details.)

    4. In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful:

    a. No significant new evidence has emerged which the Commission did not consider. The assassination is sometimes compared (e.g., by Joachim Joesten and Bertrand Russell) with the Dreyfus case; however, unlike that case, the attack on the Warren Commission have produced no new evidence, no new culprits have been convincingly identified, and there is no agreement among the critics. (A better parallel, though an imperfect one, might be with the Reichstag fire of 1933, which some competent historians (Fritz Tobias, AJ.P. Taylor, D.C. Watt) now believe was set by Vander Lubbe on his own initiative, without acting for either Nazis or Communists; the Nazis tried to pin the blame on the Communists, but the latter have been more successful in convincing the world that the Nazis were to blame.)

    b. Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others. They tend to place more emphasis on the recollections of individual witnesses (which are less reliable and more divergent–and hence offer more hand-holds for criticism) and less on ballistics, autopsy, and photographic evidence. A close examination of the Commission’s records will usually show that the conflicting eyewitness accounts are quoted out of context, or were discarded by the Commission for good and sufficient reason.

    c. Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc. Note that Robert Kennedy, Attorney General at the time and John F. Kennedy’s brother, would be the last man to overlook or conceal any conspiracy. And as one reviewer pointed out, Congressman Gerald R. Ford would hardly have held his tongue for the sake of the Democratic administration, and Senator Russell would have had every political interest in exposing any misdeeds on the part of Chief Justice Warren. A conspirator moreover would hardly choose a location for a shooting where so much depended on conditions beyond his control: the route, the speed of the cars, the moving target, the risk that the assassin would be discovered. A group of wealthy conspirators could have arranged much more secure conditions.

    d. Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it; they also scoff at the Commission because it did not always answer every question with a flat decision one way or the other. Actually, the make-up of the Commission and its staff was an excellent safeguard against over-commitment to any one theory, or against the illicit transformation of probabilities into certainties.

    e. Oswald would not have been any sensible person’s choice for a co-conspirator. He was a “loner,” mixed up, of questionable reliability and an unknown quantity to any professional intelligence service. [Archivist’s note: This claim is demonstrably untrue with the latest file releases. The CIA had an operational interest in Oswald less than a month before the assassination. Source: Oswald and the CIA, John Newman and newly released files from the National Archives.]

    f. As to charges that the Commission’s report was a rush job, it emerged three months after the deadline originally set. But to the degree that the Commission tried to speed up its reporting, this was largely due to the pressure of irresponsible speculation already appearing, in some cases coming from the same critics who, refusing to admit their errors, are now putting out new criticisms.

    g. Such vague accusations as that “more than ten people have died mysteriously” can always be explained in some natural way e.g.: the individuals concerned have for the most part died of natural causes; the Commission staff questioned 418 witnesses (the FBI interviewed far more people, conduction 25,000 interviews and re interviews), and in such a large group, a certain number of deaths are to be expected. (When Penn Jones, one of the originators of the “ten mysterious deaths” line, appeared on television, it emerged that two of the deaths on his list were from heart attacks, one from cancer, one was from a head-on collision on a bridge, and one occurred when a driver drifted into a bridge abutment.)

    5. Where possible, counter speculation by encouraging reference to the Commission’s Report itself. Open-minded foreign readers should still be impressed by the care, thoroughness, objectivity and speed with which the Commission worked. Reviewers of other books might be encouraged to add to their account the idea that, checking back with the report itself, they found it far superior to the work of its critics.

What’s sad is that, even when the CIA admits publicly (they never denied this was their document when it first surfaced) that they’ve used book reviews to attempt to shape the debate in their favor, editors at major publications can still be played for suckers. That’s assuming, of course, that they are not recipients of these instructions themselves.

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