I’m going to use this post to wrap up on Col. Burris and transition back to the subject of National Security and November 22, 1963.  There are some good resources for anyone interesting in researching the Burris connection and as I have mentioned, Newman, Morrow, Russo, and additionally Noel Twyman have all written about him and there are good document trails available as well. There are a couple of significant tracks, one having to do with his work for Johnson and his connections to Johnson associates – for example he was clearly in ongoing contact with Cliff Carter and he also appears to have done some business with Mickey Weiner (and if you don’t know about Winer, that trail leads off to Bobby Baker and Fred Black -and if you don’t know the relevance of Fred Black you haven’t read SWHT…grin).

The other trail leads in a totally different direction, to Burris intelligence connections and his probable role in working with various “Boy’s in the Woodwork”, both relaying and providing information. The following is quoted from Twyman and his writing on Burris:

Page 363:

Col. Prouty explained to Twyman that when the White House trumped the military chiefs by taking over the[PN1]  awarding of the TFX contract, it created a chasm between the career officers and McNamara, and further, to Kennedy, that “…was a major item for consideration as to the motive in the assassination.”[i] He went further, to suggest that there was someone else that Twyman had not mentioned, someone who might be a “hot item.”  When Twyman then mentioned the “back channel” connection to the CIA’s Vietnam assessments – information that neither McNamara nor JFK even had access to – and read him a “TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY” memorandum written by Colonel Howard L. Burris, LBJ’s military aide on July 20, 1961, Prouty exclaimed, “There is the hot item.” Burris at that time was one of the most important of the Pentagon men. [ii]  Prouty said that he and Burris had been friends and neighbors for awhile, but that the last he knew of Burris was that he retired in 1964 and later became a wealthy oil man, with operations in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries throughout the world.   The circumstances of his retirement shortly after the assassination, followed by his stunningly quick success as a lobbyist and international businessman in the oil industry, make Colonel Burris one of the most enigmatic, yet least researched and little understood figures closest to Lyndon B. Johnson as of November, 1963.

One of Col. Burris’ early assignments, in May 1961, was to accompany Johnson on the trip to Vietnam. To prepare for that trip, he was rehearsed on how to control LBJ, and told what he could say or could not say to the vice president.  What he found suggests that he thought Johnson had a rather provincial and shallow understanding of the culture, economy, history and concerns of Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular: As reported in a previous chapter, Col. Burris said that, “I don’t think he had a really deep perception and comprehension of what the whole scene was about.”[iii]  This trip – despite Johnson’s miserable performance, as previously described – would mark the start of what would become Johnson’s secret back-channel to the CIA, which provided him unfiltered intelligence information that unavailable to either McNamara or Kennedy.   Author Gus Russo confirmed this when he stated that Burris had personally told him that “…Johnson had back-channel sources at the CIA that kept him apprised of such matters.”[iv]

[i] Ibid.

[ii] Ibid. p. 539

[iii] Newman, JFK and Vietnam. p. 91

[iv] Russo, p. 74


And I need to point out that as an aide to Johnson, Burris was permitted to attend some meeting representing Johnson that were extremely classified. In fact, a memo from Burris offers our only public view into an extremely secret meeting in which the National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee offered an assessment of U.S./Soviet strategic atomic capabilities that was felt to offer the U.S. an actual “first strike” opportunity against the Soviets.  That presentation occured on July 20, 1961 and estimated that from June-December 1963 the U.S. would have an overwhelming advantage with some 185 ICBM’s and over 3,400 deliverable atomic weapons.  Reportedly the serious consideration and support for an actual first strike in some quarters provoked an extremely negative reaction from President Kennedy.  There has been some speculation that Soviet’s recognition of the imminent US advantage and discussion of first strike had been a factor in the extremely risky decision to deploy a major IRBM force in Cuba.

In any event, Burris’s position was a significant one and offered considerable opportunity to influence Johnson and also to get feedback on Johnson’s views – the sort of thing both the CIA and Pentagon Air Force staff would both find highly attractive. Burris’ position on several key military projects such as the TFX,  his connection to folks who wanted to influence strategic thinking on Vietnam – both are possible explanations for the mystery trip to Dallas. My personal view is that the Col. was “carrying the bag” for somebody on that trip and whatever was in the bag was of considerable importance.








About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

5 responses »

  1. Russ Tarby says:

    fascinating !

  2. Anonymous says:

    James K. Galbraith wrote about Col. Burris and the memo detailing how DCI Dulles and JCS Chief Lemnitzer counseled an all-out, surprise nuclear sneak attack on the Soviet Union in Fall of 1963 in The New Republic:


    • Actually we have notes from Burris himself during one of those meetings, preemption was actually discussed twice. Burris was sitting in for Johnson and gives us one of the most detailed reports on the dialog. I think I’ve posted on this before but in case not, its important to remember that a committee of the Chiefs had been formed early on – after the first post war bomb tests. The Chiefs had issued a report on atomic warfare which essentially concluded that there as no effective defense, whoever launched first would win an atomic war. The committee was chartered with two missions, perform ongoing strategic assessments of when and if the Soviets would have the wherewithal to launch a preemptive strike and as a counter, any point at which the US had such a significant offensive and defensive capability that it could successfully preempt. The committee reported that in 1963, with the SAGE system in place, with extensive antiaircraft and interceptor missile capability and hardened and submarine ICBM’s, a first strike on the Soviets was credible. It was their job to make that assessment. On the other hand President Kennedy obviously thought that it was incredible that would have ever have been considered an option.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for the kind reply. I very much appreciate you shedding light on Col. Burris. There is almost nothing in the generally accesible public record about his role as an aide to LBJ or his work as an oilman.

        Reading that he later became a business colleague of Mr. Helms in Iran, made me jump to connect dots all the way to Dallas and on to Los Angeles. The late Prof. Philip Melanson wrote about Khaiber Khan, an Iranian ex-patriot, who may have played a role in the murder of the Senator, stating Khan may have been an associate of Sirhan and helped spread disinformation after the Senator’s murder:

        http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/FBI/Who_Killed_R_Kennedy.html (an excerpt from his book, “Who Killed Robert Kennedy?”.

        This is probably all old news to you. I don’t mean to use your valuable time or to add to the many sad things to contemplate in history.

        With all sincerity, please know, Sir, you are not only helping preserve the truth for history, you are helping preserve democracy.

      • Thanks you for the kind words Anonymous, actually I got very wrapped up in Col. Burris at one point and have some modestly extensive files on him. It is one of those things that drive you nuts because it looks like it should go somewhere and then there are just not enough dots…sigh. Strangely enough the same thing happened with Khaiber Khan. Stu Wexler and I revisited the RFK case a couple of years ago and once again there is some extremely suggestive stuff about Khan and his daughter. We are still working that one as far as its possible. About all I can say is that we tied down two sets of leads that we felt were really worth pursuing and one went in Khans direction.

        All in all I’d have to say that the Burris lead is interesting but most likely not relevant, as far as Khan goes that becomes more and more interesting the more you find out about him – including the likelihood that he was indeed running a network of college age Iranian students for their state security.

        But all that’s a very different story indeed, one I’ll probably have to leave Stu to run out…he’s got youth and energy on his side..grin.

        — Larry

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