A Hollywood motion picture, JFK, has revived the debate over who was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It raises sensational-and, I might add, ridiculous-accusations that elements of the U.S. government conspired to commit the crime.
Producer Oliver Stone admits that some of his film story is fiction. He says somberly, however, that research undertaken in the preparation of the motion picture convinced him that the co-conspirators included officials of the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and political henchmen of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Stone's astounding charge attacks institutions that, for the most part, are revered by the American people.
Despite the controversy that surrounded its longtime directorm J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI is held in high esteem. So are the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, whose employees are honored as protectors of the public interest at home and abroad. Everyone knows, of course, that the CIA gets its hands dirty at times. But all this, the American people want to believe, is done under constitutional procedures.
American politicians are not viewed with the same reverance. The late humorist Will Rogers could always get a laugh by declaring that the politicians in Congress are "the only native American criminal class." But few Americans would believe that politicians would conspire to assassinate a U.S. president.
The principal argument of Stone, and others, is that just one man firing a rifle from a nearby building could not possibly have killed Kennedy and wounded his companion, Texas Gov. John Connolly. They dispute the findings of the commission head by Chief Justice Earl Warren that placed the blame solely on Lee Harvey Oswald.
Only people of my generation-I am in my 71st year-can remember the American scene at the time. The Kennedy administration began with the aborted U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, followed by an aborted Soviet attempt to base nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba. Kennedy's face-down of the Soviet Union's Khrushchev was admired by the American people and especially the news media. To a great extent, he was an international hero. His assassination plunged the nation, and its admirers overseas, into a protracted period of anguish.
Revival of controversy, therefore, is not surprising. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln occurred 126 years ago, but scholars still argue over the conspiracy.
Who benefitted from Kennedy's removal from office? Although Lyndon Johnson moved up to the presidency, in my view it is absurd to contend that Johnson or any of his partisans would be involved in an assassination plot. I observed Johnson and his cohorts at close range during my congressional years. They were tough, crafty and ambitious, and obviously had no love for the Kennedys. But complicity in assassination would be an act of stupidity.
To be sure, President Kennedy's death eventually removed a problem for FBI Director Hoover, whose disdain for Attorney General Robert Kennedy was widely known. But it is absurd to suggest that Hoover's supporters in the FBI and the Justice Department conspired to kill Kennedy. Likewise, any suggestion of CIA involvement arises mainly from the aura of secrecy surrounding the agency.
Cuba's Castro had a believable motive but there is little evidence that this dictator had the apparatus or the skill to undertake anything that daring and complicated.
America's crime underworld had both the motive and the skill. Attorney General Kennedy had undertaken an aggressive anti-crime campaign. The Mafia, recognizing the ill will between Johnson and the Kennedys, could expect the attorney general to be replaced if his brother were assassinated.
Who else had a strong reason to want President Kennedy out? It is interesting-but not surprising-to note that in all the words written and uttered about the Kennedy assassination, Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, has never been mentioned.
And yet a Mossad motive is obvious. Israeli leaders never trusted the Kennedys. They were aware that when President Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy, was ambassador to Great Britain, he frequently praised Nazi Germany. During John Kennedy's campaign for the presidency, a group of New York Jews had privately offered to meet his campaign expenses if he would let them set his Middle East policy. He did not agree. (For details, see my book, They Dare to Speak Out). As president, he provided only limited support to Israel.
On the other hand, Lyndon Johnson had demonstrated his strong support for Israel throughout his political career. The government of Israel, therefore, had every reason to believe that its interests would be better advanced with Johnson as president.
And indeed they were. After Kennedy's death, the United States, for the first time, began large-scale shipments of arms to Israel. During the June 1967 war, Johnson covertly provided both military equipment and personnel to aid Israel.
Certainly, the Mossad possessed the resources to carry out an assassination almost any place on earth. And the Israeli government has been willing to sacrifice American lives to its own purposes. An example was the unprovoked Israeli military assault that killed 34 crewmen of the USS Liberty in June 1967.
Richard Curtiss, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, who now is editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, tells me that throughout the Middle East, "It was widely assumed at the time, and still is today, that the Mossad had a hand in the assassination. The reason was the expectation that the Kennedy administration would adopt a more even-handed Middle East policy. That expectation was based upon John Kennedy's record as the first U.S. senator to support publicly Algeria's struggle for independence from France."
Am I accusing the Mossad of complicity? Absolutely not. I have no evidence of such. My point is simply this: on this question, as on almost all others, American reporters and commentators cannot bring themselves to cast Israel in an unfavorable light-despite the obvious fact that Mossad complicity is as plausible as any of the other theories.