One of the more fascinating loose ends of November 22, 1963 is the rather mysterious flight by LBJ’s aide Col. Howard Burris to Texas on the eve of the assassination. John Newman is one of the few to have written about Burris by name although a handful of us have studied him as best we could. Newman points out that it was Burris who seems to have been responsible for serving as a CIA back-channel to LBJ. Of course its well known that Johnson had a network of folks within various government agencies (including the Department of Agriculture – OK, don’t laugh, a Dept of Ag guy functioned as lead political advance man for the trip to Dallas).
Newman examines Burris’s role in regard to the trip to Vietnam where Johnson served as President Kennedy’s representative – its clear that Kennedy wanted Johnson to do little more than “show the flag” but as it turned out, Johnson ended up holding a press conference in which he parroted the CIA line of dramatically increased military support – effectively backing JFK into a corner on further commitments. Kennedy was quite unhappy with that and Newman tells the whole story in some detail, including his attempts to discuss it with Burris, who would say little but did remark that of course he was Johnson’s adviser on international affairs (and we have a number of documents of reports he prepared for Johnson on that subject) but that he was also connected to and getting input from “the boys in the woodwork.”
By itself, that would be interesting, as would Burris later reported ties to Richard Helms and his eventual, highly lucrative oil dealings and connections to Iranian royalty.
While it would be very informative to understand his real connections to the intelligence community, of even more interest is a flight that he took to Texas at the time of the Dallas visit. When asked about the trip, he stated that he was carrying down background and briefing papers for Johnson who intended to confront Kennedy on certain international issues during the JFK visit to Johnson’s ranch. Given that on November 22, Johnson was totally focused on the political implications of Kennedy’s visit to Texas (and not at all happy with JFK’s apparent popularity), totally immersed in the Democratic warfare over seating at the Governor’s reception for JFK and beyond that not all that involved with international affairs in any case – well the idea that he would be going head to head with JFK on something about international policy seems to need some special explanation.
None of that of course was forthcoming from Burris. He flew down; he flew back. And he later stated that on his flight back he hitched a ride on an AF jet figher, the pilot became unconscious and he had to fly the plane back and land it – quite a feat for a WWII multi-engine bomber pilot who apparently had never piloted a jet. And even more interesting in that a study of his expense reports reveal he was paid for a flight back on a commercial airliner.
So – what was the real purpose for the trip to Texas to see Johnson at the very last minute during the Texas trip? Was it really to prep Johnson for a head to head with JFK on something (perhaps Vietnam with Johnson acting as a stalking horse for others) or was it to carry some other communication to Johnson?
We don’t know, although the few who have studied Col. Burris, and his friend Delk Simpson, have turned up more details on probable connections to the Agency, and more interesting rumors about both men, the whole subject remains largely a mystery. And I’ve personally been surprised that those researches and authors who want to put LBJ in a key role in a conspiracy against JFK have not devoted a lot more time and interest to Col. Burris?
As for me, his flight to Texas and his explanation for it both continue to trouble me.