In the long ago research for my book NEXUS, I first came across anecdotal remarks, made during the Church Committee inquiry into CIA and assassination, that during the Eisenhower era assassination was actually such a standard practice that there was a structured process for projects intended to neutralize or eliminate political targets – organized to the extent that there was a “Health Alteration Committee”.

Actually, in spite of what you might read in the popular media, there is no indication that such a committee ever existed. It’s not that the CIA didn’t frequently pursue assassination, it was just never that well organized, or managed. That has become more clear as new research has revealed more detailed about specific assassination efforts of the 1950’s and early 1960s.

I’ve been doing a bit more research into CIA assassinations as it relates to multiple CIA attempts against Fidel Castro during the first Cuba Project  – efforts which were so poorly managed that the individuals in charge (Richard Bissell and Tracy Barnes) appear to have thought they were going to be successful right up to the time of the actual amphibious landings in Cuba. John Newman is also publishing new work on Cuba, as well as producing extreme detail about the CIA’s assassination efforts against Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.

It was John’s recent work that led me to realize how deeply Richard Bissell was involved in a whole series of assassination efforts during 1960 and 1961. I’ve wondered why he appears to have done such a poor job with the Cuba Project, but one of the factors was that he was also juggling two different (highly challenging) assassination projects, both using resources which were new to the CIA. It’s not that the CIA had not worked assassinations before, but they normally took advantage of indigenous regime opponents, simply enabling them with poison or weapons.

Going after Castro was tough enough, Bissell actually had to read several people into the effort just to get money out of the Cuba Project budget, under operational control of Jake Esterline. And the sniper attack plans against Castro aborted simply because the CIA had such poor maritime resources for the project that the privately owned boat being used to infiltrate the shooter suffered engine problems and was taken out of action.

In the Congo, Bissell ended up going to Staff D to look for foreign assets and both the officers he approached turned him down, saying assassination was not part of their job. He ended up almost entirely relying on the Congo Chief of Station, who was less than enthusiastic about the plan to poison Lumumba using CIA assets sent in from Europe. He was much more inclined towards the traditional approach of encouraging local surrogates to kill Lumumba themselves, which in the end was what actually happened.

All of which tends to explain something some of us have wondered about for some time – why William Harvey was called in and asked to create a new Executive Action program for international political assassinations. And why it was put under Staff D. The basic answer is that up to that point it time CIA assassination efforts had been individually crafted, largely personalized under the direction of Richard Bissell and Tracy Barnes. Harvey was ordered to create something which would be much more professional, more structured, more covert, and with global reach. As we know from his own notes, he was not all that excited about the concept even though he did pursue it as directed. Of course in the end he did no better against Fidel Castro than Bissell had done – even as a committee of only one.

2 responses »

  1. Anthony M says:

    I was wondering if you would be OK for me to float a possible research point here? I did originally plan to write a paper on this but in practice I’d need to learn how to be a cartographer to get all the diagrams in to do it to the standard I’d like, which in reality just won’t happen so I wonder if I could ask if you’d be OK for me to put the basic concept out into the public domain here and see if anyone else would like to take it forward / falsify it.

    A while back when reading Dr Donald Thomas’ ‘Hear no Evil’ it struck me it might be possible to extract a little more information from the second of the five shots recorded on the acoustic evidence (in this discussion my starting point is the model of the physical events presented by Thomas – so that is itself a key set of assumptions).

    In Thomas’ model shot 4 correlates to the fatal headshot at Z312-3. It is reasonable to assume three shots were fired from the ‘sniper’s nest’ in the TSBD and the time gaps between shots logically implies (together with the correlation to that location in the acoustic model) these were shots 1, 3 and 5 with shot 3 impacting on JFK and the Governor around Z224. That leaves shot 2 which is too close in time to shots 1 and 3 to have come from the same bolt action rifle. In other words a third shooter.

    What struck me is that the HSCA acoustic analysis notes that there is no shockwave recorded on this shot and that is consistent (assuming the modelling of the location of Officer McClain’s bike is approximately correct) with a shot from the TSBD. That is correct even after adjusting the location of McClain’s bike to the better correlation with the Zapruder film developed by Thomas, who notes that the absence of a shockwave rules out a location for this shot on the Grassy Knoll, which is also correct.

    My suggestion is that we can go slightly further in the conclusions drawn from the absence of a shockwave. If you construct the relevant angles from any location in the building on the east side of Houston (DalTex, Dallas County Records, Court House) and apply a wide range of possible bullet velocities (lower velocities equate to a larger internal angle for the shockwave) I would suggest that the shot could not have come from any of those buildings (much to my surprise as I would have put money on the DalTex before doing this work, but so be it).

    That is were the cartographic skills would be needed to illustrate all that in a paper to a proper standard, but it isn’t even close when you go through it.

    In addition practical considerations come into play in that the shot is exceptionally unlikely to have come from an open area which suggests (but does not formally prove) that there may well have been an additional shooter in the TSBD. Some additional considerations include:
    Target visibility around Z204 suggests a location some distance away from the ‘snipers’ nest itself (the tree blocking the line of sight at this time).
    The roof doesn’t seem to be a practical location (see the testimony around Roy Truly and Officer Baker heading up there and mentioning that the wall was sufficiently high to need to step up on cracks in the brickwork to look over the top).
    The Seventh floor doesn’t seem to have had an open window at the critical moment.
    Lower floors tended to have more people on them.

    All in all I wonder if the most likely scenario was an additional shooter further west on the 6th floor? There is some limited witness evidence consistent with this possibility (the man in the brown coat) but numerous problems – not least the absence of a second weapon in the TSBD.

    I would be very grateful if you be willing to allow some discussion of this possibility and to see if there is anything I have missed which would falsify this hypothesis or help improve it further. As I say, I doubt in practice if I can put the time into seriously developing it to a publishable standard and I would be more than happy for anyone else to take the basic idea and work it up if they want to…



    • larryjoe2 says:

      I’m happy to leave it up here for comment although I think it would get a broader discussion on the Education Forum in the JFK discussion area:

      I find a number of circumstantial elements that could support a shooter on the opposite of the sixth floor from the “Oswald window”. Perhaps the most significant being the very likely discovery of a bullet on the opposite side of Elm. I interviewed the son of the couple that reported that to the DPD and he said they had clearly seen the plain clothes individual pick up the bullet and put it in his pocket (no report on that was made) – that is the fellow in the photo showing a man beside him pointing to the west end of the TSBD.

      Equally important, there is a photo of a crime scene investigation kit at that same spot – indicating the initial report was followed up – but no report of any sort that the spot was examined, which it clearly was at some point.

      Its also interested me that photos show windows open on the west facing wall of the TSBD and a shooter could easily have used one of those windows and have been totally shielded from the motorcade until the president was opposite that point, a much better location than being in a street facing window.

      Having said all that, although the subject interests me I do think you would get some more concrete discussion on the Ed Forum; there are a number of folks there who are very much into cartography and mapping.

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