It’s tempting to say that the very first suspect in the assassination was LBJ; certainly that would have seemed true if you had been talking to folks from Texas. I live next door and have traveled to Texas frequently personally and on business over the decades. I don’t think there was ever a dinner or drinking session where the subject came up that virtually all the native Texans didn’t either suspect Johnson or become open to him when others began talking.

 

Not that there were any details, it was just that the man was so generally felt to be crooked and so self-seeking that he was capable of anything. The common belief was that he had people killed during the Billy Sol Estes scandal and there were dark hints about his sister’s death.

 

This led me so spend a great deal of time on Johnson, even to drafting a book manuscript on a Johnson conspiracy – which I pulled at the point where I came to feel that the evidence just did not hang together. Proving him to be immoral and monumentally self-serving is not that difficult – organizing the assassination of a president is something else. In doing the research for that work I did come across a number of seemingly anomalous behaviors that did strike me as suspicious – both before and afterwards. I cover all those in SWHT but the following synopsis gives a brief picture of their scope.

 

First of all, there was a dramatic change in Johnson’s personal behavior some six to seven weeks before the events in Dallas.  Johnson’s career was on the brink of disaster in a Congressional inquiry and he was frantically seeking solutions, making covert night time visits to his attorney and on the phone constantly, obviously frantic.  Yet only a few weeks before the Texas trip he virtually withdrew to his ranch, with his top political operative in Texas not even directly involved with the upcoming trip, and suddenly all the calls, the attorney contacts, the rushing around – it all stopped. I still have problems explaining that anomaly innocently, the best scenario I can offer is in the book and it is peripherally conspiratorial.

 

Second, immediately following the assassination, Johnson was one of the first to talk conspiracy – a Communist conspiracy. No details but he expressed that fear a number of times, even openly wondering during the flight back to DC “if the missiles were flying”.  Yet there is absolutely no indication that he did anything to pursue those fears from a Commander in Chief standpoint. Existing records from the first 24 hours show no real discussion of a Communist conspiracy or potential attack. So was Johnson sincerely worried or was it a front?  Given his war time record and later events he was surely not a brave man personally, yet he didn’t behave as if his expressed fears were in any way serious.

 

As it turns out, that anomaly was not quite as unique as I suspected. One of my main goals in researching and writing Surprise Attack was to compare Johnson’s behavior to that of other Presidents or senior officials during crises. As it turns out, other President’s behavior has been just as ambiguous and equally ineffectual.  It would be hard to say any were more ineffectual but the actions following the Reagan shooting and on 9/11 are both comparable.

 

Third, and far broader than I can cover here, is Johnson’s obvious participation in a damage control effort and in shutting down any true investigation of a conspiracy. That occurred in two phases. The second phase started on Sunday, in particular after a Sunday morning meeting with two NSC principals. That turns out to have some pretty reasonable, if uncomfortable explanations. You would have to go to the book for that.  Johnson’s own behavior over that weekend can only be described as opportunistic – beginning with the all night talk session with his supporters about how he could take over the Kennedy legislative agenda and leverage it to establish himself politically. But Johnson was always about politics and position first – a closer look at the Tonkin Gulf and Liberty incidents illustrates that and shows the extent to which he was willing to sacrifice American lives for political gain. Both actions were treasonous IMHO and I believe I make that case in Surprise Attack.

 

There is however an element of the damage control that looks quite suspicious and that relates to the calls from Washington D.C. to Texas by Johnson’s aides, in particular Cliff Carter, on Friday night. Those calls literally ordered a series of Texas law enforcement officers not to file charges of conspiracy, speak of conspiracy or essentially investigate anyone other than Oswald – regardless. Johnson and national security were cited in the calls. A call (which has been removed from the WH phone record) from Johnson to Hoover literally ordering him to take over the investigation and bring it out of Dallas is also suspicious given Johnson’s apparent lack of interest in the details of the assassination that evening. While a case can be made that national security might have necessitated a damage control effort (I didn’t say I liked it but the case can be made) the intelligence to support that was not available on Friday night. The official record shows no communications which explain the Carter calls to Texas or the Johnson call to Hoover. That is especially true when you recall that Johnson wanted to hand the whole matter back to Texas to put to bed only a few days later – after Oswald’s death.

 

Bottom line, I believe there are anomalies in Johnson’s behavior that suggest he may have had some prior knowledge or guilty knowledge. Going beyond that and connecting the dots to a totally initiated and organized Johnson conspiracy is something else entirely.

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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.

16 responses »

  1. James Stubbs says:

    I don’t see LBJ as a mastermind. But he was connected, especially through Bobby Baker, to some very unsavory people. I think that it’s possible that they might have helped mastermind the thing, then told LBJ what it was. He was about to get jammed up bad with DOJ and the investigations into him and OC would have eventually have merged. They might have told him the way it was and the role he was going to play. I don’t think he’d have had much choice.

    • Agreed Jim, that is the connection I trace out in SWHT, including the fact that there may actually have been blackmail leverage over LBJ via the Baker vending machine deal and meetings in Johnson’s office that would have ensured findings of influence sales and corruption. It just so happens that connection leads back to John Roselli which in turns leads to the conspiracy scenario I suggest in SWHT and detail in NEXUS. The problem is that I can connect all the dots for that but there is no absolute proof and I don’t see how there could be…which means suspecting prior knowledge is one thing but proving it another.

      Having said that, there are a few items which suggest more active tactical involvement including tampering with the the motorcade, Puterbaugh’s role, his manipulation by Cliff Carter and the interesting point that some of the suggestions about reduced motorcade security seemed to have come from Puterbaugh who many of the organizers actually thought was Secret Service. But all of that is outside the scope of this subject.

  2. Bill Charleston says:

    Once you understand how to PROVE what happened during the shooting, it will all make sense:
    1. The US gov’t investigations could NOT have been so wrong without them trying to prove a lone gunman fired 3 shots no matter what the evidence really showed
    2. To understand WHAT happened during the shooting, you MUST IGNORE everything the US gov’t uses as evidence to prove a lone assassin
    3. PROVE what happened during the shooting by ONLY USING evidence the US gov’t could NOT have forged
    4. Compare the “independent” scenario to the US gov’t scenario and find lies and forgery most everywhere you look
    5. Now you can determine WHO was behind the assassination by seeing who had the power to fix the investigations and who had the power to forge the evidence.

    This video shows how to start figuring out HOW the biggest lie in history has survived this long:

    Everything in the video is easily verified but you will ignore it because that is what Americans have been programmed to do: IGNORE everything except what the gov’t and the presstitutes tell you to think.

    • Given that you use the first person in your post I find it a little insulting – it also suggests you have not actually read any of my work and that you are just using the post to showcase your views. In the interest of openness I’ll leave it up for those that want to take a look.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      With all due respect to your micro-analysis, which may be quite sound, your post does not respond to Mr. Hancock’s article and is somewhat presumptuous.

  3. Gerry Simone says:

    Happy New Year Larry. As always, I find your analyses insightful!

    I agree with what you’re saying about LBJ.

    I also remember that Dr. Charles Crenshaw recounted how LBJ called the hospital and asked that a death bed confession or statement be taken from Oswald (see You Tube video of a 20/20 interview wherein the journalist confirmed the phone call was possible).

    This isn’t the action of a ‘mastermind’, but someone who is trying to ascertain whether it was a lone gunman or conspiracy, and to wrap things up.

    • Gerry, in a similar vein it seems unusual that Johnson showed absolutely no interest in the shooting itself – other than in the dialog he had with Hoover about whether or not shots had been fired at LBJ himself. From one perspective that just reinforces the view that for Johnson everything was always of interest only in how it related to him. However a suspicious person might also wonder if he was having pangs about whether or not parties unknown had been interested in eliminating him as a loose end. Some of this private remarks during the next several weeks – the ones implying JFK had brought it on himself and it was retribution – also might suggest a guilty conscious (to the extent LBJ might have had such a thing).

  4. Anthony M says:

    I agree with your analysis….
    Another little coincidence is the placing of Oswald in the TBSD and the connection back to the Suite 8F group. This falls far short of proof of course but I doubt if a minor little matter like access was entirely left to chance.
    I also don’t think he was the prime mover behind it though, and certainly not the operational lead. Unfortunately that makes it a rather large conspiracy.

    • Having Oswald in the TSBD was certainly helpful although in general I think that was an add on to the plot; its basic purpose was to kill JFK, secondarily implicating Castro (that may have been a consideration for only a few of those involved).

      The problem is we can only look backwards at the conspiracy based on what happened; the plan to implicate Castro may have been much different and more involved than we can see. Martino remarked that the full plan fell apart with Oswald’s arrest. I can think of a number of ways to implicate Castro and even Oswald without Oswald’s working at or even being in the TSBD – having a rifle traced to him found at the scene would be enough even if he did not work in the building.

      Basically with the police and FBI, crime scene evidence wins – put the weapon at the scene of the crime and you have whoever bought it as guilty (exactly the same frame used with James Earl Ray in Memphis).

      Personally I think I understand the overall conspiracy (IMHO) but I have come to accept that its just not possible to fully understand all the details of the operational plan.

      • Anthony M says:

        Larry…I’m puzzled at the idea that placing Oswald in the TBSD could have been an add on to the plot rather than a key element of it.
        Sure, linking the weapon to LHO didn’t require him being physically located at the scene but it would have been tricky to establish him as being the shooter without giving him plausible access. You would then have had two people and a conspiracy. That would not have worried those trying to link it to Castro but a key part of this seems to be that the ultimate purpose was not to set off an invasion of Cuba and the conspiracy question was firmly suppressed from day one.
        All the above influenced by the basic assumption that the evidence (e.g Mexico City and how it was managed after the event points to a motive above that of the anti-Castro participants, but always open to persuasion otherwise.

      • It is just an idea of course but let me expand a bit. First off, there is considerable reason to believe that the lone nut/Oswald shooter was a post assassination creation. Everything about the attack suggests no effort to conceal multiple shooters and present evidence of an organized, multi-person action. Martino did comment that Oswald was not expected to shoot JFK, unfortunately he did not or could not elaborate. There is also evidence to show that a) Oswald applied for and could have taken other jobs even after his TSBD employment, b) Oswald had mixed emotions about whatever was supposed to happen on Nov 22 and given a different response from Marina might have pulled out entirely and c) some effort was spent impersonating him and placing him at different locations along the motorcade route down Main Street in the weeks right before the assassination. Given Oswald’s temperament, he was a wild card.

        What was in play and had been since New Orleans was his Castro linkage as well as his letters to CPUSA and SWP including the damming question about advise on “going underground” in the struggle…letters written right before the abortive incident planned of Washington in Sept.

        So, without doing anything further, Oswald provided a link to Castro. Beyond that there are some misc pieces of evidence that material had been prepared to plant on a dead Oswald which would have directly tied him down as a Castro agent. Having a live Oswald in custody blew that apart. Hence Martino’s comment that the extended plan came apart quickly. I suspect it did so as Oswald began to understand the full implications of the attack on JFK and that it was deadly. It certainly did after Tippet was shot and attention was quickly directed to Oak Cliff.

        Final point, a rifle tied to Oswald would have been enough to implicate him in a conspiracy wherever it was found, even if he had been working somewhere else that day or home sick (providing a rifle to an unknown Castro agent does the trick in terms of a Castro linkage), a rifle planted in the TSBD ties him in, establishes a Castro link and with a dead Oswald the press story would take care of the rest – very likely augmented with further planted linkages. As the DPD Chief noted, legally they could never put Oswald in the window anyway and evidence of him as a shooter was very circumstantial, a trial could have been devastating.

        Simplest thing is to have evidence in place and a dead Oswald. Its always simpler with dead patsies, framing live people is much more difficult. Which of course is why the immense risk of using Ruby (a true act of desperation which could have exposed the whole thing) came into play and why making the Lone Nut story stick in the face of so much counter evidence was mandatory, no mater how embarrassing or ridiculous it looks in retrospect.

  5. Anthony M says:

    Well, I think you make a persuasive point about the lone gunman theory. That does sit oddly with using (following Dr D B Thomas) three shooters including one from the front.
    I’m not at all convinced the LHO’s presence in the TBSD wasn’t planned though, just seems far too much of a coincidence.
    I am struck by how much improvisation seems to have been required as events such as the arrest and then the poor quality autopsy unfolded. Must have needed a lot of communication.

    • Anthony, I think the best view is that there was no absolutely solid tactical plan which was in place for weeks or months (or longer as some believe). A good tactical plan evolves based on a number of factors and I’m sure that by that week the assumption was that Oswald would be in the building; however a good plan has backups (like planting a rifle of regardless of where he is). You don’t need Oswald for the shooting per se, he’s unreliable as a marksman in any event. The core plan was to put multiple, practiced and capable shooters in the Plaza and make sure JFK died. A backup involved a car bomb. Other backups may have involved fall back actions at the Trade Center or Love Field. We just cannot know for sure Veciana tells us the Dallas attack was similar to a planned attack on Castro in Latin America which involved all those elements including framing a Communist linked patsy.

      On the improvisation, probably not so much. If you look at the first 24 hours you find a great deal of evidence for multiple shooters and a conspiracy. That really only begins to change on Sunday after noon as the orders were given at NSC level to reject everything not related to Oswald. At that point you see things begin to disappear and to morph – the bullet from Dallas changes to CE399, the tapes from Mexico turn out not to be real, the FBI agents report on the autopsy remains but even now is in conflict with the official autopsy, autopsy notes disappear, the first two copies of the report are destroyed or vanish, X rays and photos disappear, the first set of NPIC story boards disappear.

      If you take another look at Chapter 15 in my 2010 edition of SWHT you find this all enumerated and all of it is done well after the fact by a very few people who are placed on very tight security oaths. Actually if things had not been so iterative, so uncontrolled and so haphazard we would not have nearly the signs we now have of a cover up.

      What is missing is the quality material that would have connected Oswald directly to Castro agents and indeed have directly framed a Castro assassination team. The sort of high level CIA operation could easily have generated and planted – SOP for them. Which suggests it was a lower level effort and/or things had been prepared but events got in the way of the plan, most likely Oswald being taken into custody.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Larry
        Thank you for your time in putting together such detailed replies. I largely agree with your analysis, including the need for the plotters to be able to respond very flexibly to events (no plan survives contact with the enemy).
        Just in terms of the origins of this being at mid level in the Agency. As you demonstrate very well in SWHT so much keeps coming back to officers and figures associated with JM Wave (and Mexico City) that I agree that looks like the core of the operational side of things. I just wonder if David Atlee Phillips in Mexico City or anyone at JMWAVE would plausibly have known about Kostikov? That incident was a key piece of information in making me consider the senior CIA leadership from the Bay of Pigs era as probably a key group. If you combine that with Angleton’s increasing paranoia about world leaders and what looks like a pattern of counter intelligence operations involving LHO after his return from Russia in various locations, I wonder if someone fairly senior at Langley in Counter intelligence would need to be involved.
        Added to that is that the anti-Castro angle got closed down so quickly that the ultimate motivation would seem to different to where that group was coming from?
        Just my current thinking…tentative as always

      • Those are very interesting thing to consider. There is no doubt Phillips was aware of Kostikov, his job had involved counter intel against both the Russian and Cuban diplomatic facilities in Mexico City. We know more about his Cuban work but even he writes about targeting both – and we know that the same types of taps, bugs and visual surveillance were run against both. We even have MC CIA documents talking about surveillance on Kostikov in MC and during his travels in Mexico. One big hole in our data, intentional or not, is the extent to which CIA and even FBI worked against Americans going to and from Mexico who were suspected of being Soviet informants. We know they did such work from what we know about Tumbleweed, its pretty clear that Oswald should have been targeted in the same way, as a potential Soviet asset – the fact that he was not once again suggests that he was being treated in some special ways by both groups.

        On the second part, and I go into this much more in NEXUS, it appears likely that Phillips and very likely some of the other MC staff were doing some work for Angleton; Angleton was trying to get the responsibility for CI in both MC and in Saigon and there were some real turf wars going on. It seems very likely that the MC CIA station chief was suspected Angleton’s contacts but didn’t have a firm grip on it.

        All of which takes us back to the point that an appearance of Oswald in MC was in many ways much more of a problem for both CIA and FBI after the assassination than in any relationship to the attack in Dallas per se. Oswald was already set up as a Castro supporter and radical, that had been enough for the aborted DC plot. The real net result of Oswald in MC was to create a situation so complex, with different parties having misinformation, wrong information and not knowing who was playing what games with it – that it was a major factor in driving the decision that weekend to go Lone Nut and do whatever it took to abort any real conspiracy investigation – or deeper investigation of Oswald (IMHO of course).

        In one aspect the plot worked beautifully, it killed JFK and ensured that nobody was going to look too closely at Oswald’s connections and use by either FBI or CIA. It appears that some of the field guys, the tactical group, were expecting a lot more including a Cuban invasion. Whether that was ever really in the cards or simply fell apart with Oswald’s actions after the shooting is certainly an open question to me.

  6. Anthony M says:

    Thanks for the very thought provoking discussion on this and also topics from the present day

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