L. Fletcher Prouty

Fearless Truth Teller, or Crackpot?

One of the truly interesting individuals associated with the Kennedy assassination, the late L. Fletcher Prouty was an Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon. He was therefore an "insider" who supposedly knows the "real scoop" about the Cold War, Vietnam, covert operations, and the Kennedy assassination. But did he really? Or was he a story teller whose stories don't survive scrutiny?

Prouty was in New Zealand when Kennedy was shot, and believed that the Christchurch Star reported on Oswald's background far too quickly. It smelled to him like a CIA-planted cover story. Researcher David Perry looked at this issue to see whether the initial reports on Oswald and his background contained any suspicious information. He found that all the information in the paper was available in the files of U.S. newspapers and ready to be quickly sent over the news wires. And Bob Cotton, Chief Reporter of the Christchurch Star, has explained how the paper they published that day was the result of journalistic diligence, and not conspiratorial machinations.

Proutyism #1 — Where Was Nixon During the Shooting?

The Prouty Version

We have noted in an earlier chapter that, despite frequent denials, Richard Nixon was in Dallas during those fateful moments, attending a meeting with executives of the Pepsi-Cola Company. According to the general counsel of that company, Nixon and the others in the room knelt in a brief prayer when they heard of Kennedy's death. JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 310.

The Reality

Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who left Dallas only a few hours before President Kennedy was shot to death on a city street, had made a prophetic plea for the chief executive's safety

Mr. Nixon had urged a courteous reception for President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson in an interview printed in The Times Herald Thursday and in the first edition Friday.

The former vice president, who was defeated by President Kennedy in 1960, told The Times Herald by telephone from New York he was shocked and distressed by the news of the President's death.

He said he learned of the President's death while in a taxi driving from Idlewild Airport. He said a citizen ran into the street, hailed the cab — not knowing who was inside — and excitedly told him, "The President has been shot."

Dallas Times Herald, Nov. 23, 1963, p. A-7.

Prouty and the Far Right

An essay, written from a leftist perspective by Chip Berlet, deals with the ties between Prouty (and, incidentally, Mark Lane) and the extreme right-wing paranoid Liberty Lobby. Nothing here shows Prouty to have been a Nazi or an anti-Semite, but shouldn't he have shown better judgment in picking his associates?

High Cabal Had Planned Korean and Vietnam Wars in 1945?

According to Prouty, a harbormaster in Guam told him that a massive quantity of arms, made surplus by the recent Japanese surrender, were being diverted to anti-communist Syngman Rhee in Korea, and communist Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. To Prouty, this indicated that the "High Cabal" had already decided to foment wars in those two nations. But when Dan McLaughlin looked into the history of the communist movement in Vietnam, it became obvious that no such arms shipment ever took place.

Proutyism #2 — Presidential Protection

The Prouty Version

As the presidential motorcade began its procession through the streets of Dallas, we note that many things which ought to have been done, as matters of standard security procedure, were not done. These omissions show the hand of the plotters and the undeniable fact that they were operating among the highest levels of government in order to have access to the channels necessary to arrange such things covertly.

Some of these omissions were simple things that were done normally without fail. All the windows in buildings overlooking a presidential motorcade route must be closed and observers positioned to see that they remain closed. They will have radios, and those placed on roofs will be armed in case gunmen do appear in the windows. All sewer covers along the streets are supposed to be welded to preclude the sewer's use as a gunman's lair. People with umbrellas, coats over their arms, and other items that could conceal a weapon are watched.

JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 291.

The Reality

Just Last Week, He Wanted No Special Guard

By Edward Kirkman

Top city police with many years of experience in guarding Presidents and visiting heads of state said yesterday that President Kennedy took too many chances.

On Nov. 14 — eight days before the assassin's bullet struck him down — the President rode through New York City without a motorcycle escort and with fewer guards than police and the Secret Service wanted him to have.

Authorities believed that Kennedy was too responsive to criticism for his own good.

Heavily Guarded Until Last Week
A frequent visitor to New York City, the President until last week had been heavily guarded, had a motorcycle escort, and traveled heavily-guarded streets which had been cleared of other traffic to make way from him.

There were those who spoke disparagingly of the interruption of normal living occasioned by the President's visits, and this disturbed him.

Small Guard Not Enough for Safety
He insisted last week that there be no motorcycle escort and that his motorcade stop for traffic lights. His principal protection on the ride from LaGuardia Field to the Hotel Caryle, 76th and Madison Ave., was two city police cars in front of his limousine and one car with Secret Service men immediately behind the limousine.

During the ride into Manhattan, cars containing newsmen on occasion came dangerously close to the side of the President's car before being waved off. While the President's car was stopped for a red light at 72d St. and Madison Ave., an amateur photographer stepped up close and took pictures before he was chased off.

All this was clear evidence to security men that the small guard insisted upon by the President was not adequate to insure his safety.

Queried on this point, Police Commissioner Michael Murphy officially said, "No comment." But those close to him knew that he and his top brass and the Secret Service were deeply concerned.

New York Daily News, Nov. 23, 1963.

What About People Who Actually Know about Motorcades?

After leaving the position of Press Secretary for President Eisenhower, James Haggerty went to work for a division of ABC. So it was no surprise when he turned up on ABC's coverage of the assassination. About 2:18 CST on the afternoon of the assassination, the subject of presidential protection came up. Haggerty said:
I have seen many motorcades. . . . A rifle shot . . . from a window of a building is pretty hard to guard against.
About twenty minutes later, after interruptions for breaking news, he continues:
In a large city it is impossible to guard every single window. In the years that I served with General Eisenhower, the only time I ever saw all windows guarded in the line of march was in Tehran, when President Eisenhower went to visit the Shah of Iran . . . . That was the only time I saw that.
When Fletcher Prouty and other conspiracy authors tell us that security was "stripped away" in Dallas, they sound plausible enough. Unfortunately, plenty of "plausible" propositions happen to be untrue.

Prouty and Presidential Protection

Where presidential protection is concerned, Prouty seemed to just be making things up. Consider Prouty's claim that the failure to close windows overlooking the motorcade route indicated a conspiracy.

The video at right, from the documentary "JFK: One PM Central Standard Time, shows JFK in Berlin. The motorcade route was lined with buildings with open windows and enthusiastic onlookers, as was the site where he gave his famous speech.

The voice over at the end of the clip is former President Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, Prouty's ideas have little to do with what the Secret Service actually did — particularly with a very politically attuned president like Kennedy.

When Kennedy toured Ireland his motorcade wound down Patrick Street, in Cork. As in Dallas, windows were open over the route, and spectators were in the windows. Elliot Perry brought this photo, from the National Archives, to my attention.

Kennedy Motorcades

The National Archives' collection includes many newsreel films of Kennedy's public appearances. Many of them show people in open windows above his motorcades, appearances, and so on.

Prouty and the Vietnam War

Prouty is most visible in conspiracy literature as an interpreter of how the United States got into the Vietnam War. This brief essay is a critique of the author's JFK book. Written by Dave Fuhrmann, it was posted as a series of messages on the Compuserve POLITICS Forum. It is reposted here by permission.

Fuhrmann later posted a longer, much more detailed analysis of Prouty's JFK book, debunking Prouty's treatment of issue after issue. Here are his Compuserve posts, included here with Fuhrmann's permission.

Proutyism #3 — Army Intelligence Told to "Stand Down"

One of the most quoted assertions of L. Fletcher Prouty is the claim that an Army Intelligence unit — the 316th Field Detachment of the 112th Military Intelligence Group — was ordered to "stand down" and provide no additional security for Kennedy's Texas visit.

The Prouty Version

The commander of an army unit, specially trained in protection . . . had been told he and his men would not be needed in Dallas. "Another Army unit will cover that city," the commander was told.

I called a member of that army unit later. I was told that the commander "had offered the services of his unit for protection duties for the entire trip through Texas," that he was "point-blank and categorically refused by the Secret Service," and that "there were hot words between the agencies."

This leaves an important question: Why was the assistance of this skilled and experienced unit "point-blank refused?" Who knew ahead of time that it would not be wanted in Dallas?

L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, p. 294.

The Reality

The House Select Committee on Assassinations took testimony from Colonel Robert E. Jones, who had been the Operations Officer of the 112th Military Intelligence group from June, 1963 until January 1965. He was questioned about a variety of matters, including his unit's role in the protection of President Kennedy during his Texas trip. Not only did Jones not mention any orders to "stand down," he explicitly noted that his unit provided protection for the president in Dallas! He stated:
We provided a small force — I do not recall how many, but I would estimate between 8 and 12 — during the President's visit to San Antonio, Texas; and then the following day, on his visit to Dallas, the regions also provided additional people to assist, that is additional people from Region 2. Hearings Before the Subcommittee on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy of the Select Committee on Assassinations, House of Representatives, Executive Session, Washington, DC., April 20, 1978, p. 1-14.
Prouty's claim is thus flatly at odds with the on-the-record sworn testimony of the Operations Officer of the unit. Like so many of his claims, it just doesn't jibe with the historical record.

More Proutyisms

Prouty seems drawn to the wildest interpretations of about any issue you can think of.

Proutyism #4 — Assassins Shooting Blanks?

The Prouty Version

. . . Although the gunmen [in Dealey Plaza] may have used "automatic" weapons, it is more likely that what the reporters heard that day was the well-coordinated fire from at least three gunmen in different locations, and that they fired at least three times each.

This is an old firing-squad and professional hit-man ploy. It serves to remove the certain responsibility from each gunner as a psychological cleanser. If three men are to fire, they all know that two guns are loaded and one gun is firing blanks. The gunmen do not know who had the bullets, or who had the blanks. Each man can swear an oath that he was not the killer.

L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, pp. 307-308.

The Reality

In how many different ways is the Prouty scenario ludicrous?
  1. Under Texas law, even a gunman shooting blanks would be a party to the murder, and thus subject to execution.
  2. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution would have protected the right of the assassins to remain silent under questioning.
  3. Any experienced "gunman," "hitman," or "assassin" would know instantly if he was shooting blanks, due to the nearly non-existent recoil force.
  4. Prouty seems to believe that professional assassins — men willing to murder the president of the United States — would have scruples about lying under oath!
  5. Were nine shots fired? Most witnesses heard only three.

Thanks to Gary Nivaggi for point (3.) above, and to Brian Dasher for point (1.)

Prouty's "Wacky Imagination"

Prouty's boss at the Pentagon was General Edward Lansdale. He described Prouty in Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American by Cecil B. Currey:
I continue to be surprised to find Fletcher Prouty quoted as an authority. He was my "cross to bear" before Dan Ellsberg came along. Fletch is the one who blandly told the London Times that I'd invented the Huk Rebellion, hired a few actors in Manila, bussed them out to Pampanga, and staged the whole thing as press agentry to get RM [Magsaysay] elected. He was a good pilot of prop-driven aircraft, but had such a heavy dose of paranoia about CIA when he was on my staff that I kicked him back to the Air Force. He was one of those who thought I was secretly running the Agency from the Pentagon, despite all the proof otherwise. (p. 384)
Elsewhere, Lansdale comments on Prouty's "wacky imagination" (ibid.). As if to confirm what Lansdale says, Prouty claimed to see Lansdale in a photo of the three tramps under arrest in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination!

Proutyism #5 — George Bush Named Three Ships

The Prouty Version

Recently I interviewed former CIA liaison officer L. Fletcher Prouty. He is a consultant for the excellent new movie on how the CIA killed JFK, being made by Oliver Stone. He told me that one of the projects he did for the CIA was in 1961 to deliver US Navy ships from a Navy ship yard to the CIA agents in Guatemala planning the invasion of Cuba. He said he delivered three ships to a CIA agent named George Bush, who had the 3 ships painted to look like they were civilian ships. That CIA agent then named the 3 ships after: his wife, his home town and his oil company. He named the ships: Barbara, Houston & Zapata. Any book on the history of the Bay of Pigs will prove the names of those 3 ships. Again, this is more finger prints of George Bush's involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Yet Bush denies his role in this great adventure. Why would Bush be so shy about his role in this war? What is the secret? Is there something dirty about this war that Bush & Nixon don't want the public to know about? (Source: "The Kennedy Assassination: The Nixon-Bush Connection" by Paul Kangas. Originally published in The Realist.)

The Reality

Prouty's story is absurd on several levels. Thanks to solid research by Jim Olmstead and Gordon Winslow, we know the following:
  1. There was no ship named "Zapata." The whole operation was "Operation Zapata," but no ship was named that.
  2. The ship Prouty calls the "Barbara" was in fact the "Barbara J." But Mrs. Bush's maiden name is "Barbara Pierce" with no middle initial, according to the 1999 edition of Who's Who. So no ship "Barbara J." could have been named after Mrs. Bush.
  3. The ships in question had long carried the names they had at the Bay of Pigs invasion, and were not renamed for that operation.
  4. The ships were indeed civilian ships, and not Navy ships painted to look like civilian ships.
  5. No records have been found supporting Prouty's claimed role as supplier of ships for the operation.

Finally, the Assassination Records Review Board looked into the claim that George Bush was a CIA agent, and found the following:

4. George Bush

A November 29, 1963, memorandum from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State refers to the fact that information on the assassination of President Kennedy was "orally furnished to Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency." At the request of the Review Board, the CIA made a thorough search of its records in an attempt to determine if the "George Bush" referred to in the memorandum might be identical to President and former Director of Central Intelligence George Herbert Walker Bush. That search determined that the CIA had no association with George Herbert Walker Bush during the time frame referenced in the document. (Source: Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, September 1998.)

What is so disturbing about this is that Prouty did not merely repeat a silly factoid. He claimed personal knowledge of something that did not happen.

Proutyisms are Endless

"The Col. L. Fletcher Prouty Collection" is a photocopied volume of reprints from Prevailing Winds Press. It can be bought from The Last Hurrah bookshop. The volume contains yet more Proutyisms.

Prouty the Environmentalist

Unlike support for Scientology or the Liberty Lobby (see above), support for environmentalism is pretty mainstream. And Prouty was indeed an environmentalist, as shown by his article titled "The Law of Earth." The problem comes when Prouty completely mangles several key factual issues. He appears to have been no more reliable discussing ecology than he is when discussing the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, or the Military Industrial Complex.

Prouty the Political Activist

Actor Donald Sutherland (below, right) played a mysterious "Mr. X" in the movie JFK. The inspiration for "Mr. X" is none other than L. Fletcher Prouty. This is not an inference or supposition. Oliver Stone introduced Prouty to the National Press Club as the man who was the basis for "Mr. X," and many of this mysterious figure's words are almost verbatim from Prouty. However, some of Prouty's political connections were not the sort that would find favor among politically-active Hollywood leftists — nor indeed among sensible people.

The following is taken from Edward J. Epstein's The Assassination Chronicles.

Donald Sutherland in movie JFK

Aside from advising Oliver Stone, Prouty is also extremely active with other conspiracy-hunters. He served, for example, as editorial adviser to publications of the futuristic Church of Scientology; as a consultant to the far right Lyndon LaRouche Organization, who also provided its convention with a presentation comparing the U.S. government's prosecution of Lyndon LaRouche (for mail fraud) "to the persecution of Socrates"; a board member of the Populist Action Committee, where he joined Robert Weems, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and John Rarick, the organizer of the White Citizens Council; and as a featured speaker for the anti-civil rights organization called the Liberty Lobby, whose founder, Willis Carto, also set up the Institute for Historic Review, a disseminator of books and videotapes that allege that the Nazi death camps in Europe were fictions devised by Zionist propaganda to justify tax money being donated to Israel. (It also published Prouty's own book, The Secret Team: the CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World.)

Prouty also exposed the machinations of putative global conspiracies. For example, when the Liberty Lobby held its annual Board of Policy convention in 1991, he presented a special seminar, "Who Is the Enemy?," which blamed the high price of oil on a systematic plot of a cabal to shut down oil pipelines deliberately in the Middle East. "Why?" he asked, and explained to the seminar: "Because of the Israelis. That is their business on behalf of the oil companies. That's why they get $3 billion a year from the U.S. taxpayer." His enemy list also included the CIA, usurers, school textbooks, the media, political parties, international banks, federal crises-planning exercises, and the U.S.-Soviet Trade and Economic Council (which, according to Prouty, had stage-managed, along with David Rockefeller, the liquidation of the Berlin Wall to profit from "the rubles and the gold").

So this is the intellectual provenance of the man Oliver Stone chose as his technical adviser — and the man called "X" . . . .

Prouty/X's secret knowledge about the elite's organizing principle and the "war system" derives from a very special source — a suppressed Kennedy administration study, which he discussed in the Liberty Lobby's Radio Free America on December 14, 1989. He explained that this study was so secret that the group of "power brokers" who conducted it met, according to Prouty, "in an underground storage and security area" in the Hudson Valley of New York called "Iron Mountain." The explosive issue they addressed was: Could America survive "if and when a condition of permanent peace should arise"? Their conclusion, which "X" would echo in the film JFK two years later, was "the organization of society for the possibility of war is its principal political stabilizer"; without a believable war threat "no government could remain in power," and consequently "the elimination of war . . . implies the eventual elimination of national sovereignty." He explains on this radio program and in a subsequent issue of Spotlight, the newspaper of the Liberty Lobby, that these conclusions come directly from the report from this Iron Mountain group — which he has obtained a copy of (and that the Institute for Historic Review republished). He concludes the program by relating about the "high cabal . . . calling the shots."

While Prouty quotes accurately from the Report from Iron Mountain, he fails to realize it was a complete hoax. There was no group in underground storage vaults in Iron Mountain, no study of the elimination of the war threat, no report from power brokers. The "Report from Iron Mountain" was a brilliant spoof by political satirist Leonard Lewin of think tanks in 1967. . . . [Lewin could not] forsee . . . that this hoax would reemerge a quarter of a century later, first in radical-right radio broadcasts and Liberty Lobby publications, and then as the connective logic of Oliver Stone's film JFK. (pp. 578-580)

Interviewed by the ARRB Prouty Recants

The Assassination Records Review Board, in the 1990s, was charged with releasing records about the assassination of JFK, including both government records and records in private hands. Thus they interviewed Prouty about any records he might have to substantiate his various claims.

Prouty not only could produce no documents, he backed away from many of his claims, according to an ARRB record of the interview. According to the ARRB (quoting):

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