Someone who is currently reading the Tipping Point serialization raised an interesting point in regard to the element of risk in regard to attacking President Kennedy in Dallas. As it turns out, some thought on that issue may itself tell us something about the conspiracy which murdered the president.
In Tipping Point I present the scenario that the shooting in Dallas was a paramilitary style ambush, carried out by a small group of trained and experienced attackers. I also maintain that those individuals were “surrogates” for those who incited and organized the Dallas conspiracy, with their own, very specific motivation.
Which takes us to the first point, which is that in terms of the history of political assassination, especially in regard to attacks on national leaders, such an attack is very much an exception. There is simply no doubt that historically and in the 21st Century, poison is the primary tool in such actions, followed by the use of explosives (either planted or personally carried).
In a contemporary example we know that American efforts to eliminate both Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba began with poison attempts, that option provided maximum deniability. However in each instance, the failure of the poison efforts exposed a key problem – access. Poison required not only that the target’s security be compromised, but that the poison deployed by someone above suspicion, within the target’s trusted circle of supporters. Of course for lower level figures, without extensive security, poison is much easier to use and most recently has become a standard tool, even against domestic targets (as with its recent uses against Russian Federation opposition figures).
Several Castro poison attempts during 1961-1962 failed over issues of security and access. And in all instances the “fall back” to those failures were paramilitary attacks involving anti-Castro surrogates – using rifles, bazookas and bombs. In NEXUS I explore a number of similar instances when CIA engaged with rebels and ex-patriots throughout Latin America who themselves proposed assassination as the quickest path to regime change.
While the CIA (and the State Department) actively supported that in Guatemala, later deniability became the watchword and on those occasion when surrogates did carry out attacks the standard response was something along the lines of – “well we were working with them, and we may have supplied some weapons, but we never ordered them to carry out an assassination”. Readers can actually find that response in the Church Committee inquiry.
Bottom line, paramilitary attacks on national leaders do present a variety of extreme risks and poison, sabotage, bombs and virtually any other option is preferable. Assassination turns to paramilitary assaults as a last resort – only when security and access block the “safer” options. In such instances the attack itself is normally carried out by a very few extremely committed individuals, with local support if at all possible, and without the direct participation of those who might have incited, aided or abetted the conspiracy.
Which brings us to another major area of risk – the risk to the participants themselves. In the scenario I outline in Tipping Point, both the Dallas tactical team and those directly involved with them risked being killed or captured, and likely executed. History shows us that in virtually all cases, the people carrying out attacks on national leaders are operating at an extreme, virtually fanatic level of motivation. Despite what the movies may show, mysterious extralegal professional assassins signing on for fantastic payoffs simply don’t show up in presidential assassinations. The instances of professional murders do occur, but are associated with much “softer” targets than national leaders. That leads us to either imbalanced individuals or extremely radical groups – historically most often political (although often with underlying racist and religious agendas).
Which of course includes the “lone nut” scenario offered by Allen Dulles to the Warren Commission – useful in that he could even pass out a book on the subject of “lone nuts”. As a counter to that, in Tipping Point, I present a different alternative, that of a limited conspiracy of individuals, with a very few actually being at risk of being killed or captured. I also speculate that the actual individuals on the ground in Dallas, those most at risk, may have been so committed as to have other options which would have neutralized the very real risk of being killed or captured.
Specifically, I theorize that those most directly involved in the attack were activist anti-Castro Cubans, but with histories going back to actually supporting the revolution against Batista and what became the Castro regime. While the plot itself had elements which, if successful in killing the President, would point the act towards Cuba and Castro, there were options for failure in the attack, and for being killed or captured.
The first option was that the participants could be positioned as double agents, actually under control of Castro and his agents. That argument was actually taken to the press after the assassination, with stories that Castro had so deeply infiltrated the Cuban exile groups that he had manipulated them in an attack on the President. You have to look for that story, but it can be found in statements by in the Americans in the anti-Castro effort (Gerry Hemming and Roy Hargraves being examples). A variant was offered by John Roselli, with a CIA hit team turned by Castro to target JFK.
The second, and much more dramatic option, would have been for anyone captured to have told the press that they were aware of the pending talks between JFK and Fidel Castro, talks which would have “sold out” their cause to the Communist regime. News stories of anti-Communists driven to extreme violence would have both aborted any and all outreach in progress and generated a huge political challenge to JFK’s re-election (just as the TILT mission would have earlier in the summer if it had actually brought out evidence of Russian missiles still in Cuba).
In short, and in summary, there is no doubt an ambush of the President was high risk, a last resort option in political assassination. But there is also no doubt that those carrying it out would have been extremists, fanatically anti-Communist and fanatically patriotic in their own minds. But with that in mind, the odds of ending any possible reconciliation between the U.S. were on their side.