Jim Garrison and the CIA

Bedeviled by Spooks?

CIA Plots to Undermine Garrison?

To hear it from Jim Garrison and his devotees, the Central Intelligence Agency sprang into action the instant it got wind of the New Orleans District Attorney's probe into the John F. Kennedy assassination, infiltrating the DA's office, obstructing his investigation, harassing his witnesses, and attempting to ruin Garrison personally.

Charges of CIA complicity in the JFK assassination "must have worried somebody at Langley," Garrison writes in his memoirs, as the Agency "was actually attempting to obstruct our investigation."(1) According to the onetime DA, "many of the volunteers" that joined the NODA staff to assist with the JFK probe "were with us at the behest of the CIA. In fact, during one period there were almost as many men on our special team working for the federal government as were working for the New Orleans DA's office."(2)

Big Jim's disciples are eager to support such contentions. Robert Tanenbaum, who in 1977 resigned his position as Deputy Chief Counsel to the House Select Committee studying the Kennedy assassination, claims to have seen CIA documents indicating the Agency had been interfering with Garrison's case.(3) HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi likewise says the House Committee "discovered the CIA had planted a number of agents on Garrison's staff."(4)

As ardent Garrison advocates Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy tell it, the Company began burrowing into Big Jim's operation well before the public became aware of the probe's existence. Life editor Richard Billings, "the Time-Life journalist who actively worked to undermine Garrison's case, and who had strong ties to the CIA,"(5) as DiEugenio and Davy describe him, came aboard the investigation in early December 1966.(6)

A few days prior to Christmas '66, the DA enlisted the services of private investigator William Gurvich, who seemed enthusiastic about the conspiracy probe at first, but would walk out six months later, denouncing the entire thing as a farce.

"How do you explain such behavior?" Garrison asked rhetorically in his Playboy interview of October 1967. It is possible, the DA explained, "that those who want to prevent an investigation learned early what we were doing and made a decision to plant somebody on the inside of the investigation. . . . If you were in charge of the CIA and willing to spend scores of millions of dollars on such relatively penny-ante projects as infiltrating the National Students Association, wouldn't you make an effort to infiltrate an investigation that could seriously damage the prestige of your agency?"

Another early arrival on the DA's staff was Bernardo de Torres, a veteran of Brigade 2506 and the Bay of Pigs. While working for the NODA, Bill Davy writes, de Torres was also "filing reports on Garrison to the Miami CIA station, JM/WAVE."(7) "The HSCA developed evidence that de Torres was actually a CIA officer with links to Military Intelligence,"(8) Davy continues, who may even "have been in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination . . ."(9)

Davy notes that "de Torres was not the only anti-Castro Cuban to join Garrison's staff. Alberto Fowler, who also assisted in the early days of the probe, was a fellow veteran of the 2506 Brigade. Suspiciously, Fowler worked and lived with Clay Shaw, was a board member of the ostensibly "CIA-related"(10) Information Council of the Americas (INCA), "had a brother-in-law who was best friends with the head of the New Orleans CIA office, and was one of the first people to contact the media just after the assassination to inform them of Oswald's pro-Castro posturing in New Orleans."(11)

Garrison's advocates also raise doubts about Tom Bethell, a British investigator hired by Garrison due to "his excellent research work" on behalf of the National Archives.(12)

"What Bethell doesn't tell us (and presumably didn't tell Garrison)," writes Bill Davy, "was that he was in New Orleans much earlier — in the summer of 1963. Bethell's friend, Warwick Reynolds, just happened to be the roommate of Oswald's friend, Kerry Thornley."(13) Writing with Jim DiEugenio, Davy explains that Thornley "was a friend of New Orleans-based CIA journalist Clint Bolton." DiEugenio and Davy go on to link Thornley to such alleged CIA operatives as Guy Banister, David Ferrie, and Clay Shaw, as well as the "CIA-related" INCA, "which sponsored [sic] Oswald's famous debate with Cuban exile leader Carlos Bringuier."(14)

Another NODA investigator, William Wood, was hired specifically to tap his previous experience as a CIA employee and was dubbed "Bill Boxley" by Garrison. Before long, Wood led the DA to believe his Agency days were far from over. Garrison's memoir portrays him as an infiltrator and saboteur who not only misleads the office and squanders its resources, but purportedly assists in an attempted frame-up of the DA on a trumped-up sex offense.(15)

Wood himself would later point the finger of guilt at another NODA investigator, William R. Martin. Labeled "Garrison's CIA Infiltrator" by author and longtime Garrison booster Dick Russell,(16) Martin has been linked to the Agency as well as alleged CIA operatives Clay Shaw and Guy Banister.(17) "Martin was one of several people who successfully penetrated my office," Garrison told Russell,(18) and William Wood concurs. Wood told Russell, "I would say the odds are good that he [Martin] was connected with the CIA, probably on a contract basis . . ."(19)

Boasting a privileged place in the provocateur's pantheon is "CIA operative"(20) Gordon Dwane Novel. Novel, who promoted himself as an electronics expert, had originally been hired by Garrison to sweep the DA's offices for suspected bugs and wiretaps. When Big Jim announced that Novel's past associations made him a likely suspect in the probe, Novel skipped town and "headed straight for McLean, Virginia, which is the Central Intelligence Agency suburb," as Garrison described it.(21)

According to Jim DiEugenio, "Gordon Novel had actually tried to infiltrate Garrison's probe," and "then he was hired as a consultant [by NBC] on February 1. The Agency was working in tandem with the media to torpedo the inquiry."(22)

And indeed, if you take the pro-Garrison literature at face value it quickly becomes clear that the Company enlisted the aid of a veritable army of double-dealing pen-pushers and talking heads, each one playing a role in the demolition of Big Jim's case.

Journalistic Spooks?

There was Texas newsman and "CIA lackey"(23) Hugh Aynesworth, who had reportedly "volunteered his services" to the CIA in 1962, and even "expressed interest in employment with the Agency" (Bill Davy's emphasis);(24) and who repeatedly inserted himself into the events unfolding in New Orleans.

Then there was "CIA-White House lackey"(25) James Phelan, the Saturday Evening Post writer who caused the DA and his men such headaches. "Phelan even went so far," Bill Davy writes, as to submit NODA documents, supplied to him by Garrison himself, to the FBI. "But the FBI was not the first to see the documents," Davy asserts. "CIA cutout Robert Maheu was the first person Phelan called, ostensibly to see if Maheu could Xerox the documents for him."(26)

And no list of CIA Garrison saboteurs is complete without Walter Sheridan, the point man for NBC's in-depth examination of the District Attorney's case, which culminated in the White Paper broadcast of June 1967. The DA relates in his Playboy interview that, according to star prosecution witness Perry Russo, Sheridan had threatened "that both NBC and the CIA were out to scuttle my case" and to "destroy Garrison."

Earlier in his remarkable career, Sheridan had logged time as an FBI agent, a member of RFK's infamous "Get Hoffa" squad in the Justice Department, an employee of the ultra-secret National Security Agency,(27) and reportedly had connections to the CIA(28) and Office of Naval Intelligence.(29) As Jim DiEugenio sums it up, "Sheridan's ties to the intelligence community . . . were wide, deep, and complex,"(30) including an alleged stint as "liaison" to a private detective agency ostensibly "owned lock, stock, and barrel by the CIA."(31)

Although numerous journalists have been accused by Garrison and his followers of unholy alliances with the CIA, the above-mentioned trio has often been singled out for special attention. DiEugenio blames the media's "almost universal negative view of [Garrison's] inquiry" on "people like James Phelan, Hugh Aynesworth, and Walter Sheridan," who, "contrary to their public pronouncements . . . were working with the government: Phelan with the FBI, Sheridan with the CIA, and Aynesworth with both."(32)


No cast of sinister characters would be complete without some lawyers, and Garrison certainly believed that several were in the employ of the CIA. In an interview with Playboy Magazine and in private discussions with his staff he singled out lawyers representing Gordon Novel, Sandra Moffett (the girlfriend of key witness Perry Russo) and anti-Castro activist and suspect Sergio Arcacha Smith. When asked by Playboy about Clay Shaw's lawyers, he said "I can't comment directly on that, since it relates to Shaw's trial" — clearly implying that they too were paid by the Agency.(33)

Agents Attacking Garrison?

Refuting each and every claim made by Garrison and his latter-day accolytes would be a massive and tedious undertaking, but even a cursory review of the evidence shows their insinuations of spookiness to be radically exaggerated at best, and entirely baseless most of the time.

For example, Gordon Novel claimed to be a CIA agent. Garrison bought that claim during his investigation, and Garrisonites buy it today, but secret internal CIA documents show that Novel had no connection with the Agency. A con artist, Novel was strikingly successful in conning Garrison and his latter-day followers.

William Wood ("Bill Boxley") was in fact a CIA agent in the early 50s. But he was kicked out of the Agency because of alcoholism. He did volunteer his services to the Houston office of the CIA in early 1967, but they refused the offer. Garrison's claim that Wood wasted time on leads that didn't pan out and steered the investigation in unproductive directions is close to hilarious — given that Garrison himself toyed with a vast number of wild and inconsistent theories.

Richard Billings, rather than trying to undermine Garrison, doggedly supported the DA when an internal rift broke out among the Life Magazine staff.(34) In spite of his efforts, the magazine withdrew support from the DA. In 1969, when Shaw was on trial and Shaw's attorneys felt that Billings had information that would undermine Garrison's case, they asked Billings to testify. He refused.(35)

An FBI memo shows James Phelan turning over to the FBI information that Jim Garrison had given to Phelan — information that radically undermined the credibility of Garrison's chief witness, Perry Raymond Russo. The problem here is that the information Phelan apparently gave to the FBI was the same information he would soon reveal in an article in the Saturday Evening Post. In the 60s in the South, hard on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, anyone believing that some person's civil rights were being violated would quite naturally want to involve the FBI.(36)

Perhaps the most bizarre claim of all was the one against Walter Sheridan. A trusted Kennedy family operative, loyalist, and staffer for three decades, Sheridan went to work for Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy on the McClellan Committee in 1957. In 1960, Sheridan served as a regional coordinator for John Kennedy's presidential campaign, and he later played key roles in the senate and presidential campaigns of Robert Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy. When Bobby became Attorney General, Sheridan went to work for his "Get Hoffa" task force.(37) After the Garrison investigation broke, Bobby sent Sheridan down to New Orleans to find out whether Garrison had any actual evidence that a conspiracy killed his brother. After Sheridan reported back, Bobby dismissed the Garrison investigation to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. by saying "Sheridan is satisfied that Garrison is a fraud."(38)

In the 1980s, Sheridan again served a Kennedy brother, this time Edward, as a congressional staffer for the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. When Sheridan died in 1995, Edward Kennedy issued a statement calling him "an extraordinary investigator and an extraordinary human being. His courage and dedication to justice and the public interest were unmatched by anyone."(39) But the Garrisonites think he conspired to protect John Kennedy's murderers.

Thus it goes. Tanenbaum has never been able to produce the "CIA documents" he claims he saw while working for the HSCA, and no such documents have turned up, in spite of a massive release of documents in the 1990s. Fonzi has never produced the evidence that the CIA "planted a number of agents on Garrison's staff."

The View From Inside the Agency

Instead of considering the Garrisonite charges one at at time, it's more productive to look at the definitive evidence as to how the whole affair looked from inside the CIA. The massive release of secret JFK assassination documents in the 1990s provides an opportunity to see what the Garrison investigation looked like to Agency insiders. If the conspiracists are correct, the documents should provide the definitive insight into a brilliant campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and sabotage.

It has long been known that the CIA did take an interest in the Garrison investigation. Documents show the Agency's interest in developments in New Orleans, and its concern that Garrison might stumble across something that might compromise some operation or embarrass the Agency. But did the CIA do anything to actually undermine the New Orleans DA?

Documents discovered by Max Holland, and provided to The Kennedy Assassination Home Page by Patricia Lambert, describe the CIA efforts to counter what they thought was a dangerous campaign by Garrison. There are four key documents:

  1. A memorandum of 20 September 1967 describing the first meeting of a "Garrison Group" within the Agency.
  2. A 26 September 1967 memo describing the second meeting of the "Garrison Group."
  3. A memo from 29 September 1967 describing a September 27th "policy meeting on Garrison's investigation."
  4. A 26 September 1967 memo from Raymond Rocca that was apparently the subject of considerable discussion at the September 27th "policy meeting."
Taking them in order:

20 September 1967


SUBJECT:  Garrison Group Meeting No. 1 - 20 September 1967

PRESENT: Executive Director, General Counsel, Inspector General, DD/P, DD/S, Mr. Raymond Rocca of CI Staff, Director of Security, and Mr. Goodwin.

1. Executive Director said that the Director had asked him to convene a group to consider the possible implications for the Agency emanating from New Orleans before, during, and after the trial of Clay Shaw.

2. General Counsel discussed his dealings with Justice and the desire of Shaw's lawyers to make contact with the Agency.

3. Rocca felt that Garrison would indeed obtain a conviction of Shaw for conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy.

4. Executive Director said the group should level on two objectives: (a) what kind of action, if any, is available to the Agency, and (b) what actions should be taken inside the Agency to reassure the Director that we have the problem in focus. The possibility of Agency action should be examined from the timing of what can be done before the trial and what might be feasible during and after the trial. It was agreed that OGC and Rocca would make a detailed study of all the facts and consult with Justice as appropriate prior to the next group meeting.


F. W. M. Janney

The single most important thing about this memo is the fact that here, in September 1967, the Agency is considering what to do about the Garrison investigation. Reading the conspiracists, one gets the impression that the CIA had already done a vast amount. Infiltrated the Garrison investigation. Given aid to Shaw's defense. Started a media disinformation campaign. But in this memo the Agency is still trying to figure out what to do.

Along similar lines, the "desire of Shaw's lawyers to make contact with the Agency" is interesting. For the conspiracists, Shaw's lawyers must have already been in touch with the CIA — indeed must have gotten aid from the Agency. But here we find the Agency considering what to do about Shaw's lawyers. These are the lawyers who supposedly were taking orders from, and getting paid by, the Agency!

Ray Rocca's feeling that Shaw would indeed be convicted can be seen as the expression of the mindset of a counterintelligence officer: expect and be prepared for the worst. But given the outrageousness of what had already happened in New Orleans — Garrison's domination of the LaBiche Grand Jury and the conviction of Dean Andrews on perjury charges just a few weeks before the first meeting, for example — expecting Shaw to be convicted did not indicate some inside knowledge of Shaw's guilt.

As bureaucrats — rather than James Bond superspies — the people in the group seem as concerned about the need "to reassure the Director" as they do about Garrison.

Like the other CIA documents, this memo shows the agency in reactive mode — wondering exactly what Garrison might do, worrying about what their response ought to be, and concerned with how they look to their bureaucratic superiors.

26 September 1967


SUBJECT: Garrison Group Meeting No. 2 - 26 September 1967

PRESENT: Executive Director, General Counsel, Inspector General, DD/P, DD/S, Mr. Raymond Rocca and Mr. Donovan Pratt of CI Staff, Director of Security, and Mr. Goodwin

1. General Counsel said that Nathaniel E. Kossack, First Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division of Justice, had met with Shaw's lawyers. They gave him a list of questions and names of individuals that they believed might be implicated in the trial. Justice did not want the Agency to contact Shaw's lawyers, but rather to maintain the safety of our executive privilege.

2. Executive Director asked how complete our records are of contacts with Cubans. DD/P explained that they are adequate where contacts were with individuals but not when they were with Cuban groups. The Executive Director remarked on the impressive number of contacts we seem to have had who might now be implicated by Garrison. He said we should also think of what our course of action should be in the event our position on executive privilege becomes unstuck.

3. Rocca felt that McCone should be briefed, and perhaps also Hoover and Clifford. Executive Director said we should be prepared in the near future to bring the Director up to date and present him with alternative action.

4. Rocca noted that he had prepared a hypothetical scenario and given it to the General Counsel for comment. OGC will subsequently disseminate this with his comments.

5. DD/P said the Director complained of the lack of explanation as to where and how he is liable to get into trouble, and suggested that we ask the General Counsel to pinpoint this. Executive Director added that the Director also wanted to know how he could fight back. In this regard, Goodwin suggested the Director needed "conversational" material.

6. Pratt called attention to that part of Garrison's story which was based on alleged CIA involvement in a plot to kill Castro. DD/S suggested that Rocca might work up a graphic of the organization as conceived by Garrison. This was agreed.

7. Goodwin noted the Life magazine article linking Garrison to the Cosa Nostra in New Orleans.

8. General Counsel said that the judge should be setting the trial date this week.

F.W.M. Janney

Again, the most important thing about this memo is that it shows the CIA in reactive mode, wondering what was going to happen in New Orleans, and how they ought to deal with it.

Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence, didn't attend meetings of the "Garrison Group"
The Agency is still trying to figure out how to "fight back."

Note that the Director, Richard Helms, was complaining about his lack of information, and wanting alternatives. But the key thing about Helms was that he wasn't at the meeting. There were brief mentions of the Garrison probe in Helms' meetings with his top staffers. But he had other, more important things to do. Rather than being scared to death that Garrison might implicate the CIA (and perhaps him personally) in the crime of the century, Helms delegated the issue to subordinates.

That the CIA had an "impressive number of contacts" that might be implicated by Garrison was natural enough, given Garrison's obsession with anti-Castro forces. The Agency most certainly had things to hide.(40)

Although Shaw's lawyers had met with a middle-level bureaucrat at the Department of Justice, the CIA people were clearly keeping their distance from the Shaw defense — again, contrary to the charges of the Garrisonites.

29 SEP 1967


SUBJECT: Garrison Investigation

1. On 27 September 1967 there was a policy meeting on Garrison's investigation.

[approximately four lines redacted]

2. The Legal Counsel discussed his coordination with the Justice Department. The DD/S developed the thesis that CIA should take no action against Garrison at this time because to do so would deny us the protection of executive privilege and also because Garrison has not shown his hand yet.

3. The [REDACTED] passed out copies of a memorandum dealing with possible lines of action and explained that these were not recommendations but rather suggestions for consideration.

4. The DD/S said that he found it difficult to follow the cast of characters in Garrison's case and asked whether a chart could be provided. The [REDACTED] agreed to do so.

First, note the hilarious statement that it was "difficult to follow the cast of characters in Garrison's case." Indeed. Although the CIA was not impressed with Garrison's "case," his constantly changing theories and steady parade of suspects seems to have kept the Agency a bit off-balance. There was always some new suspect or co-conspirator about whom the CIA had to ask "did we ever have any connection with this fellow that might turn out to be embarrassing?"

Garrisonites can be expected to jump onto the language about "lines of action" against Garrison. The problem for them, as was the case with the first two documents in this series, is that they have long claimed that the CIA already had in place several "lines of action" against the Green Giant. Yet here, about seven months after the Garrison's probe became public knowledge, the CIA is still trying to figure out what to do. And there is considerable opinion within the Agency that they should do nothing. Bureaucratic inertia, rather than timely action, seems to prevail.

But just what were these "lines of action?"

A 26 September 67 memo from Raymond Rocca outlines some possibilities. It was classified "Secret," and was found and given to me by Max Holland.

26 September 1967


This is a survey of possible courses of action. There are arguments for and against action in each instance. The purpose is not to make an evaluation but to suggest the choices available.

Attorney General.

1. The FBI representative from the inception of the Garrison investigation has strongly endorsed a course of action involving close and continuous interaction with the Attorney General or his designee. In effect, this has been done by Mr. Houston's office.

2. The following specific lines of action could be taken in complementing what has already been done in discussion with the Attorney General:

a. File a specific bill of particulars on all aspects of the Garrison investigation that have become public. In effect this would mean making available to the Attorney General or his designee the substance Memoranda 1-7 in the Garrison investigation series. It would include a detailed consideration of those charges made by Garrison against the Agency growing out of the Oswald case and the Warren Commission Report.

b. Initiate action with the Attorney General to bring charges of unlawful impersonation against Gordon NOVEL and Donald P. NORTON.

We begin to see here the general fecklessness of Rocca's suggestions. Any attempt to bring charges against someone who had a role in the case would have cast the person in the role of victim and created massive negative publicity for the officials bringing the charges. It's also very hard to see how prosecuting either Novel or Norton would have in any way harmed Garrison.

Committees of Oversight in House and Senate.

1. Mr. Warner should be fully briefed on the entire background of Garrison's efforts to involve the Agency in his investigation. There are certain Congressmen who were members of the Warren Commission, and a specific effort should be made to stay alert and sensitive to Garrison's destructive reading of the Warren Commission Report.

2. Certainly an effort should be made to block or head off any attempts to put the Playboy article into the Congressional Record.

Why the Agency would want to prevent the Playboy Garrison interview from being printed in a journal that almost nobody reads is puzzling. Further, although it is theoretically possible to stop a member from inserting something in the Congressional Record, doing so would be such a radical violation of long-standing congressional norms that no member of Congress would have even considered it.
3. Who in the Senate or House would have the influence to induce Senator Long, who has endorsed Garrison, to consider the facts rather than the fanciful theories?

4. Consideration could be given to providing a designated group in the Senate and/or House with a White Paper summarizing the information that has already been provided to the Attorney General.

Clearly, this is a "Washington insider" strategy. But the Agency's problem was not Washington "insiders," the problem was the Orleans Parish District Attorney. Clearly missing here is any thought as to what Congress might actually do about the Garrison investigation. Congressional interference in a local criminal prosecution would be constitutionally questionable and politically absurd. It would have simply confirmed Garrison's claim that powerful forces in Washington were trying to undermine him.
5. Consideration could be given to introducing formally in one of the CIA legislative committees a request for the extension of present federal legislation applicable to misrepresentation in situations not involving financial gain. It is our understanding that the Houma rule now deprives the Agency of any remedy except when it can be shown money is involved. In other words CIA does not have the same protection for its people in the U.S. as the FBI and certain other agencies have for their operations.
Again, any attempt to prosecute someone connected with the Garrison investigation would have been counterproductive.

Other Organizations and Individuals In and Out of Government.

1. The President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities as a body, or Clark Clifford as Chairman, could be briefed in detail on all of the problems growing out of Garrison's false charges.

2. Mr. McCone could be fully briefed along the lines already discussed above. He is in a position to exert extensive influence in Catholic and Republican Party circles. The events under discussion took place during his Directorship.

Here we have more suggestions for trying to gain support among "Washington insiders," which are as unlikely to have much effect as the earlier ones.
3. Mr. J. Edgar Hoover is probably the single most important person to be considered in reacting to Garrison's false charges. Garrison has obviously made a play in the past four months to detach the FBI from CIA. (When he began his investigation, apparently he considered both the FBI and CIA equally vulnerable.) If Mr. Hoover can be persuaded of the basic merits of the Agency's position in the Garrison matter and if he will take a public stand thereon, we will have gone a long way toward preserving an overall favorable balance of opinion in the country. The facts of our case, therefore, should be pressed not only with the Attorney General and the Department of Justice but with the Director of the FBI as well. We have in the past months kept the FBI liaison fully informed of all aspects of our findings with respect to Garrison's charges.
Contrary to the conspiracist belief that all those federal agencies were "in it together," the CIA didn't take Hoover's support for granted. And why should they? Garrison was attacking the CIA, and leaving the FBI largely alone by this point. Unfortunately for the CIA, Hoover had his own agenda, and was unlikely to expend any political capital in order to help the CIA with its problem with Garrison.

Mass Media Approaches.

1. Careful thought should be given to the extent to which Mr. Goodwin or the Director can assure that the newspaper outlets receive a coherent picture of Garrison's "facts" and motives. In anticipation of a trial, it would be prudent to have carefully selected channels of communication lined up in advance.

We finally have something that actually sounds a bit sinister. The implication here is that the Agency has media "assets" that can be "lined up" to give the Agency's point of view.

But the Garrison investigation had already been attacked by major media outlets. James Phelan's exposé was published in the May 6th, 1967 Saturday Evening Post. NBC ran a highly critical "White Paper" documentary on June 19th. A debunking article by Hugh Aynesworth was published by Newsweek in the May 15, 1967 issue. But here, in late September, the Agency is considering what it might do when there is an actual trial.

The CIA did sometimes try to use media assets to counter conspiracy theories. A dispatch of April 1, 1967 about using "propaganda assets" and "liaison and friendly elite contacts" to counter conspiracy claims was sent to "Chiefs, Certain Stations and Bases." The most striking thing about this dispatch, however, is that it makes no mention of the Garrison investigation whatsoever. Rather than pro-active planning, bureaucratic inertia prevailed, and the CIA was attacking conspiracy theorists whose books had been issued in 1966 or earlier.

One of the attachments to the dispatch is a detailed analysis and critique, by "Spectator," of Edward Jay Epstein's book Inquest. Epstein was at that time working with Garrison's investigation. He broke with Garrison and published an article critical of him in the July 13, 1968 issue of The New Yorker. That article then produced a dispatch dated July 19, 1968, again to "Chiefs, Certain Stations and Bases." It included a copy of the New Yorker article, with instructions that it could be used "to brief interested contacts, especially government and other political leaders and to demonstrate to assets (which you may assign to counter [anti-U.S. attacks]) that there is no hard evidence of any such conspiracy."(41)

Ironically, the agency was puffing a journalist it had been denigrating fifteen months before.

Strikingly, Agency personnel are warned that "any personal attacks upon Garrison (or any other public personality in the U.S.) must be strictly avoided" [emphasis in original]. Given the Agency's well-known willingness to engage in dirty tricks, this sentence may seem odd, but such attacks were probably seen as simply imprudent.(42)

2. The DCI could take up directly with John Daly, who has recently succeeded to the direction of USIA and is the son-in-law of the Chief Justice, the facts of our position on Garrison matter in order to assure that our broadcasts abroad are fully knowledgeable. An indication by the Director to Mr. Rusk would reinforce this action.

3. There is a spectrum that could be covered in preparing materials for covert exploitation. The first formalized attribution of the Dallas crime to CIA was made in the U.K. by R. Palme Dutt in his magazine The Labour Review, January 1964. Dutt, following Garrison's action, has recently congratulated himself publically for his foresight. Because Dutt since 1921 has been an unswerving exponent of Moscow's international communist line, his "foresight" was suspected from the inception as Soviet inspired.

4. The Communist Bloc exploitation of Garrison's investigation since March 1967 would by itself constitute a theme to be surfaced and exploited. There is enough known about Oswald's contacts with the Soviets in the USSR and in Mexico City to warrant the suggestion that Garrison's investigation is wittingly or unwittingly designed to cover, exonerate or exculpate the Soviets in the Oswald case. Moreover, the chief critics of the Warren Commission Report in a number of instances–Mark Lane is the foremost example–were opposed to an interpretation of the assassination based on the factual evidence and accredited testimony developed during the ten months before issuance of the Report. By selective reading Lane, Weissberg, Epstein and other "assassination buffs" have deliberately turned the Warren Commission Report inside out. The precise status, background, and motivation of each of these individuals ought to be subjected to careful public scrutiny and evaluation.

Here the Agency considers playing the "Communist card" — blaming Communists and allied leftists for attempts to blame it for the assassination. In fact, there was indeed an active Communist disinformation campaign in place. Communist newspapers were claiming that Clay Shaw was a CIA operative associated with a supposedly sinister organization in Italy called Permindex — which was claimed to be a CIA front. And recent disclosures from KGB archives show active support by that Soviet agency for conspiracist authors, as well as at least one case of a forged document designed to implicate the CIA in the Kennedy murder.

The problem was that this strategy — no matter how well justified — held very little promise. Outrageous acts of Soviet agression such as the subjugation of Eastern Europe and the Berlin Blockade were ancient history. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 briefly reminded people of all that, but that was just a blip in the trend line. By the late 60s, key sectors of society were more critical of government security agencies, and anti-Communism was associated not with the protection of human rights but with the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.

Super Spooks, or Befuddled Bureaucrats?

The conflict between what the Garrisonites think the CIA was doing in 1967 to undermine Garrison, and what they in fact were doing — or mostly not doing — is massive. Instead of super-efficient intelligence operatives, the CIA officials involved in the "Garrison Group" look just like the ineffective bureaucrats that Americans know and love to hate.

Rather than proactively planning a response to Garrison, they were in reactive mode, and consistently "behind the curve." Rather than having any inside information about what Garrison was doing, CIA headquarters learned about it when their New Orleans office forwarded press reports to Langley. They finally convened a "Garrison group" seven months after the investigation became public, and about ten months after they should have known about it if they had had agents spying on him. Further, the Agency was kept off-balance by Garrison's constantly changing theories and steady parade of charges.

Quite frequently, members of the "Garrison Group" seemed more worried about keeping their bureaucratic superior — Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms — happy than about combatting Garrison. When they did formulate plans, they showed an appalling naïveté about American politics.

The cover sheet for the Rocca memo shows it to have been circulated to DDP (presumably Deputy Director of Plans), "JSW," and "TKG." There is also a notation that "one copy has been sent to Larry Houston." Houston was the General Counsel of the CIA.

A handwritten note, apparently by Houston, says "At present time Justice feels we sit tight but some of these moves may be feasible in the future. How about another crack [?] at the legislation suggested in par. 5." What appear to be Houston's initials appear, with the date 9/28/67.

This conclusion for formalized in a Houston memo dated 29 September 1967, which reiterated that "At the present time, therefore, there is no action we can recommend for the Director or the Agency to take."

Given the inability of the Agency to produce any plausible plan to deal with Garrison, and the fact that several of the proposals on the table were likely to be downright harmful, "sit tight" was doubtless very good advice.


The Garrisonites' penchant for the notion of a "CIA campaign" against Garrison is simply the result of their unwillingness to admit any defects in the character of the controversial District Attorney or in his trumped-up "case" against Clay Shaw. Faced with the fact that several people who worked with Garrison quit and went public with their disagreement, the Garrisonites explain that these people were spies anyway. Faced with Big Jim's wild, constantly changing theories and enthusiasms, they explain that the spooks were feeding him disinformation. Faced with the negative press coverage he garnered, they explain that this was a "media campaign" against him. Faced with witnesses who fled New Orleans and refused to cooperate, they see the nefarious hand of conspirators undermining the DA's case. To vindicate Garrison, they have to implicate virtually everybody else as a spook.

And, in a towering irony, while Big Jim's case was collapsing into a shambles because of its inherent weakness and irresponsibility, the real spooks were spinning their wheels in bureaucratic befuddlement.

This essay benefitted greatly from criticisms and suggestions from Patricia Lambert, Paul Hoch, and Max Holland.

You may wish to see:

1. Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins (New York: Warner Books, 1992), p. 208.

2. Garrison, p. 203.

3. "The Probe Interview: Bob Tanenbaum," Probe, Vol. 3, No. 5, July-August, 1996. "They were harassing his witnesses, they were intimidating his witnesses," Tanenbaum told Probe's Jim DiEugenio. "The documents exist. Where they are now, God only knows."

4. Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), p. 239. Longtime researcher William Turner, who aided in the DA's investigation, writes, "Garrison's staff was penetrated by nine CIA agents." (William Turner, Rearview Mirror [New York: Penmarin, 2001], p. 174.)

5. Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy, "False Witness: Aptly Titled," Probe, Vol. 6, No.4, May-June, 1999. Garrison treats Billings quite sympathetically in his own memoirs, portraying him as a victim of Time-Life treachery rather than an infiltrator into the probe. (Garrison, pp. 132, 189-90.)

6. "Dick Billings's personal notes on consultations and interviews with Garrison," p. 1. See also Patricia Lambert, False Witness (New York: M. Evans and Co., 1998), pp. 45-46.

7. William Davy, Let Justice Be Done (Reston, Va.: Jordan, 1999), p. 148.

8. Davy, p. 148.

9. Davy, p. 148.

10. "CIA-related": Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy, "False Witness: Aptly Titled," Probe, Vol. 6, No.4, May-June, 1999.

11. Davy, p. 148.

12. Garrison, p. 201.

13. Davy, p. 61.

14. Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy, "False Witness: Aptly Titled," Probe, Vol. 6, No.4, May-June, 1999. One of the panelists in the debate was INCA founder Edward Scannell Butler, but INCA did not "sponsor" the broadcast.

15. Garrison, pp. 217-22. Wood was eventually dismissed from the office, with the DA citing "evidence recently developed by the District Attorney's staff [that] indicated current activity by him as an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency." (George Lardner, Jr., "On the Set: Dallas in Wonderland," Washington Post, May 19, 1991, reprinted in Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film [New York: Applause, 1992], p. 194.)

16. Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992), p. 642.

17. Davy, p. 146.

18. Russell, p. 643.

19. Russell, p. 643.

20. Paris Flammonde, The Kennedy Conspiracy (New York: Meredith, 1969), p. 96.

21. Flammonde, p. 98.

22. James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed (New York: Sheridan Square, 1992), p. 167. DiEugenio asserts that Novel was "perhaps the primary CIA contact for the New Orleans part of the anti-Castro efforts" (DiEugenio, p. 134), a key "connection" between the CIA and numerous alleged assassination conspirators targeted by Garrison (DiEugenio, p. 134), and may have even been the so-called "Umbrella Man" in Dealey Plaza. (DiEugenio, p. 137.)

23. Richard E. Sprague, The Taking of America, 1-2-3 (Hartsdale, NY: Richard E. Sprague, 1976, revised 1985), Chapter 9.

24. Davy, p. 132.

25. Richard E. Sprague, The Taking of America, 1-2-3 (Hartsdale, NY: Richard E. Sprague, 1976,revised 1985), Chapter 9.

26. Davy, p. 122.

27. Davy, pp. 135-36.

28. Davy, p. 135.

29. Garrison, p. 193.

30. DiEugenio, p. 155.

31. DiEugenio, p. 166.

32. Jim DiEugenio, "Fax to Mr. [sic] Abbe Raven, Senior VP of Programming for The History Channel regarding the special based on Patricia Lambert's book False Witness, from Oliver Stone [sic]," August 28, 2000.

33. Playboy Magazine, October 1967, p. 70; Richard Billings, "Dick Billings's personal notes on consultations and interviews with GARRISON," at the Assassination Archives and Research Center, Washington, DC., pp. 48, 53, 59, 82.

34. Patricia Lambert, False Witness, pp. 46, 281.

35. Billings had cooperated with the CIA in a plan to get Soviet technicians out of Cuba and into the U.S. for propaganda use. His motivation appears to have been to get a "scoop" for Life Magazine. Indeed, he put up $15,000 of the magazine's money for exclusive rights to the story. See Max Holland, "A Luce Connection: Senator Keating, William Pawley, and the Cuban Missile Crisis" in the Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 1, no. 3 (Fall 1999), p. 165. The desire for a journalistic coup is also what led Life to cooperate with the Garrison investigation, but mere journalistic motives can't explain the dogged support for Garrison that Billings came to show.

36. Author Patricia Lambert argues that Phelan did not in fact give the information to the FBI. Phelan does not remember passing on any such information to the Bureau, but he clearly did brief many of the journalists, editors, and lawyers at the Saturday Evening Post. Lambert suggests that the information was leaked to the FBI via a very sensitive source within the magazine, and the FBI attributed it to Phelan (whose name would soon appear on the article) to cover for the sensitive source. See False Witness, fn. 4, p. 331.

37. Pete Hamill, "The Lives They Lived: Victor Riesel and Walter Sheridan; In Defense of Honest Labor," New York Times, December 31, 1995; Newsday, "OBITUARIES," January 15, 1995, p. A81; Bergen Record, "WALTER SHERIDAN, AT 69; KEY HOFFA INVESTIGATOR," January 15, 1995; The Washington Post, "OBITUARIES," January 14, 1995.

38. Arthur Schlesinger Jr , "What about Oliver Stone's 'JFK'?," Wall Street Journal; Jan 10, 1992.

39. See footnote 37 (above).

40. See for example the Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro.

41. James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 321.

42. This isn't necessarily the first instance of a CIA attempt to use propaganda assets against Garrison. Pro-Garrison author William Davy, for example, reports a memo dated October 2, 1967, written by Donovan Pratt asking "If all of Garrison's statements are true, how come Shaw is alive and unharmed?" Pratt then goes on to suggest passing this idea to "a press contact who could use it editorially." Let Justice Be Done, p. 139.

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