Last Word: My Indictment of the CIA in the Murder of JFK
Skyhorse Publishing. 304 pp. $24.95
By Mel Ayton
The idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was somehow connected to the CIA is a legitimate line of inquiry considering how many allegations have been made that posit the Agency has not released all its files pertaining to the assassination.
The non-release of some CIA files, including those of Agency officers William Harvey (sealed until 2063) and George Joannides, only helps fuel suspicion that a cabal of operatives, known to be involved in an enterprise designed to either kill or topple Fidel Castro, enlisted Lee Harvey Oswald or used Oswald as a “patsy” in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy.
Conspiracy writers have named singularly, or as a group, such CIA officers as William Harvey, George Joannides, James Angleton, David Atlee Phillips, E. Howard Hunt, and David Morales, amongst others. It is the considered opinion of this reviewer that any additional CIA files will not support the allegations of CIA involvement in the assassination and will likely develop into a farce along the lines of the false Morales/Joannides/Campbell connection to the RFK assassination. However, the central ethical tenet for journalists and historians is to illuminate the unknown therefore it is in the interests of everyone that these files be released.
Outside of the wild and speculative books that attempt to tie in the CIA to the JFK assassination, there have been a number of respected authors (including Bayard Stockton, Vincent Bugliosi, Gus Russo, Evan Thomas, Tim Weiner, Jefferson Morley, and Peter Grose) who have researched the allegation. Most discovered curious, but essentially ephemeral, Oswald connections to anti-Castro Cubans and their CIA handlers. Additionally, alleged CIA/Oswald connections were investigated by the Warren Commission, Rockefeller Commission, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (Church Committee), as well as the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). All these investigatory bodies found no credible evidence to support CIA involvement or culpability in the assassination.
Vincent Bugliosi, in his 1,600 page opus about the JFK assassination, Reclaiming History, concluded that conspiracy theorists have been unable to come up with “any evidence connecting the CIA to Oswald.” Bugliosi meticulously researched the JFK/CIA allegations that had been circulating since the sixties and observed that “. . . the only books written that suggest the CIA was behind the assassination are those by conspiracy theorists . . . . on the other hand, a considerable number of books have been written about the CIA and its history, warts and all, and not one of their authors, even though they had every ethical, professional (Pulitzer Prize, esteem of peers. etc.) and commercial reason to expose the CIA . . . . as being behind the assassination, found the need to devote no more than a paragraph or two in their long books to Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination.”
Bayard Stockton, an ex-CIA agent who later worked as a journalist for Newsweek, may be the exception as he devotes a chapter of his 2006 book to the allegations. He researched the possibility of CIA involvement in the JFK assassination for his biography of CIA officer William Harvey. Stockton interviewed many former officials and Harvey’s wife, all of whom reacted with “horror and disbelief” about the allegations. Stockton wrote that although a conclusive decision could not be made until the CIA releases all its documents, there was no credible evidence to blame the CIA. “I find it very hard to believe,” Stockton wrote, “that sworn officers of the CIA plotted the death of the president of the United States. I think the Agency’s top echelon knew more than it has admitted and was embarrassed that it had not yielded its knowledge instantly.”
Those who have an interest in learning more about the purported role the CIA played in the JFK assassination will be disappointed in what Mark Lane has to offer in his new book Last Word. He offers absolutely nothing new to the “CIA-did-it” literature. He will also likely upset many serious researchers who have been receptive to claims of CIA malfeasance because he has partly built his arguments around preposterous propositions, including the notion that the witness testimony and physical evidence “proves” a second shooter was involved in the assassination. Those old canards were debunked years ago.
Judging from website reports, Lane’s supporters are unaware of his previous shenanigans which stretch back to December 1963; yes, Lane was present at the creation. In 1966, Lane’s first book, Rush to Judgment, was persuasive with the mainstream media who were taken in by Lane’s lawyerly tricks and silver tongue as he debated supporters of the Warren Commission around the world. As Commission lawyer Wesley Liebeler observed, Lane’s antics during these debates reminded him of “an old legend about frogs jumping from the mouth of a perfidious man every time he speaks . . . . If (Lane) talks for five minutes, it takes an hour to straighten out the record.” Even the counter-culture Rolling Stone magazine characterized Lane as a “huckster” and “hearse chaser.” Bugliosi describes Lane as having “infidelity to the truth” . . . a person who commits “outright fabrications” . . . “a fraud in his preachments about the known assassin” . . . and that he had “deliberately distorted the evidence” and repeatedly omitted “evidence damaging to his side.”
In Rush to Judgment, Lane abused the Warren Commission testimony of Jack Ruby, Oswald’s killer, and others like Charles Brehm, an alleged “grassy knoll” witness, who said Lane took his statements out of context and added a different meaning to them. Lane also omitted the statements of key witnesses like Johnny C Brewer, who observed a nervous Oswald avoid police patrols after the shooting of Officer Tippit.
But Lane has a long history of playing fast and loose with the facts. In the early 1970s he used unreliable testimony to accuse American soldiers of multiple atrocities during the Vietnam War, according to New York Times correspondent Neil Sheehan, a prominent critic of US involvement in the Vietnam War. Sheehan investigated the accounts in Lane’s book, Conversations with Americans Testimony from 32 Vietnam Veterans, and found most of them to be bogus.
In the late 1970s, as a lawyer for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray, Lane appeared before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), a congressional probe into the circumstances surrounding the separate assassinations of the civil rights leader and President Kennedy. HSCA said of Lane in its report, “Many of the allegations of conspiracy that the committee investigated were first raised by Mark Lane . . . . As has been noted, the facts were often at variance with Lane's assertions . . . . Lane was willing to advocate conspiracy theories publicly without having checked the factual basis for them . . . . . Lane's conduct resulted in public misperception about the assassination of Dr. King and must be condemned.”
With the publication of his latest book Lane’s modus operandi has clearly not changed. In fact, his new tome depends on readers’ ignorance, and no independent knowledge of the dramatis personae of the assassination literature or how the CIA behaved at the time of the assassination. For example, the author of the book’s introduction resurrects the myth that FBI agents listened to a tape recording of a “Lee Oswald” at the Soviet embassy during the assassin’s trip to Mexico City weeks before the assassination. The allegation that such a tape existed was debunked many years ago by HSCA. The story of the existence of tapes had originated with only one FBI agent out of many who handled the transcripts of the tapes because the tapes had been copied over as per the CIA’s usual procedures. 
There are literally tens of thousands of documents and items of evidence in the JFK case. There are therefore endless opportunities for conspiracy writers to add a word here or a word there to give a different contextual meaning to either a witness statement or a government document. The vast majority of readers simply do not have the time to wade through the relevant documents. As Victor Navasky observed in a 2010 article, “The Rosenberg Variations” in The Nation, “we live in a state of opinion trusteeship. None of us have the time and few of us the ability to do our own research on all the complex, problematic issues of our day.” Consequently, many conspiracy supporters mistake crude manipulation for scholarship.