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JFK, 9/11 and Conspiracy Theories
November 18, 2003
"There have been many things swept under the carpet. And I think it's a shame in a government that you trust - I think it's a shame, the things that they chose to tell you and the things they choose not to tell you." -- Sept. 11 widow Julia Sweeney, whose husband Brian worked in the World Trade Center
"One of my greatest shames, as a journalist is that I still don't know who killed Jack Kennedy." -- Hunter S. Thompson
Last January, Mike Ward compared the post-9/11 conspiracy frenzy to what occurred in the aftermath of JFK’s murder. "Angry speculation -- focused mainly on government dirty dealings, ulterior motives, and potential complicity in the attacks -- has risen to a clamor that easily rivals what followed the Kennedy assassination," he wrote. [Alternet.org]
Inconsistencies in the official story always take their toll, particularly when there's a whiff of a cover-up. And certainly, news that the White House will edit sensitive documents before handing them over to the independent commission investigating Sept. 11 makes matters murkier. "The White House gets to cherry-pick how much access the nation's commission looking into 9/11 gets to crucial documents. I'm ready to vote for subpoenas right now," former Senator Max Cleland told CNN, evoking Warren Commission suspicion deja vu.
While it's not surprising, as a New York Times /CBS poll revealed, that 77 percent of Americans reject the Warren Commission's findings, it seems that several government officials did, too. Richard Nixon, for example, said that the Warren Commission was "the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated," [BBC] while Bill Clinton reportedly asked Webster Hubble to find answers to two questions: "One, who killed JFK? And, two, are there UFOs?"
Of course, without history's hindsight, nobody knows if 9/11 questions will capture the public's imagination the way those surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination have. And while some, like Tucker Carlson, continue to disparagingly refer to "grassy knoll conspiracy theories," a quick glance at this week's TV listings shows exactly how enduring (and widely believed) such theories are.
Though ABC plans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of JFK’s assassination by "irrefutably" confirming that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, other offerings include FOX’s JFK: Case Not Closed, The Discovery Channel's Unsolved History: JFK Conspiracy, Court TV’s JFK Assassination: Investigation Reopened and Cinemax’s airing of Oliver Stone’s JFK. Starting Nov. 18, The History Channel is featuring Nigel Turner’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy series, offering nine hours of individual conspiracy segments over the course of three nights. And on Sun. Nov. 23, they’ll air JFK and the Grassy Knoll, with Kennedy assassination authors Gerald Posner, Mark Lane and David Lifton debating new evidence, which, the listing explains, "concludes that there may have been another gunman on the grassy knoll."
Although there are at least 36 different JFK conspiracy theories, part of the lasting allure of the Kennedy saga lies in the fact that new information keeps bubbling to the surface. It seems that while some fibs (like Condi Rice's assertion that nobody imagined planes being used as weapons) are uncovered early on, others take longer to unravel. It took nearly 40 years and a team of British forensic scientists, for example, to conclude, with 96.3% accuracy, there was most likely a second gunman on the grassy knoll ("Study Backs Theory of 'Grassy Knoll,'" the http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A56560-2001Mar25?language=printer Washington Post, March 25, 2001).
Postcards from the Bushy Knoll
While ex-British minister Michael Meacher has openly wondered if 9/11 wasn’t conveniently allowed to happen to pave the way for US global domination [The Guardian], it’s doubtful that a majority of Americans entertain such claims. During a May, 2003 Hardball appearance, for example, political humorist Bill Maher reflected what seems to be prevailing attitude towards JFK and Sept. 11 theories. Uttering a confounded "wow" after Chris Matthews admitted, "I believe in the single bullet theory," Maher nevertheless balked when an audience member suggested that Bush might have purposely dropped the ball on 9/11.
British officials notwithstanding, for the most part, American politicians have tried to tiptoe around accusations that "Bush knew." Calling for the FBI’s Phoenix memorandum and Bush’s Aug. 6, 2001 intelligence briefing to be handed over to Congressional investigators, Sen. Hillary Clinton measured her words carefully in May, 2002. "I am simply here today, on the floor of this hallowed chamber, to seek answers to questions," she said. "Questions being asked by my constituents. Questions raised by our newspapers in New York, such as the one with the headline 'Bush Knew.' The President knew what? My constituents would like to know the answers to those questions. Not to blame the President or any American. But just to know. To learn from experience. To do all we can to ensure that a 9/11 never happens again."
Al Gore, on the other hand, was more forceful in his Nov. 9, 2003 speech, when he suggested that Bush was attempting to cover his hide. "In a revealing move, just three days ago, the White House asked the Republican leadership of the Senate to shut down the Intelligence Committee's investigation of 9/11 based on a trivial political dispute," he said. "Apparently the President is anxious to keep the Congress from seeing what are said to have been clear, strong and explicit warnings directly to him a few weeks before 9/11 that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial airliners and use them to attack us."
Oddly enough, George Bush, Sr.'s name was dragged through the Kennedy assassination muck, too. In an F.B.I. memorandum, dated Nov. 29, 1963, J. Edgar Hoover reported that the FBI had briefed "Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency" on the post-JFK assassination reaction of Cuban exiles in Miami. [InternetPirate.com]). And a 1988 Nation article entitled, "The Man Who Wasn't There, 'George Bush,' C.I.A. Operative" suggested that Bush's Zapata Offshore Oil Company was a front for CIA clandestine operations. "I know [Bush] was involved in the Caribbean," a CIA operative said, referring to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. And in an added twist, Lee Harvey Oswald's suicidal friend, George DeMohrenschildt had "George H.W. (Poppy) 1412 Ohio, also Zapata Petroleum Midland" listed in his address book.
Media Trollops Revisited
Though the press is meant to be a watchdog for "we the people," since 9/11, it's been clearly complicit in spreading governmental whoppers about everything from WMD to Jessica Lynch. At times, it spoon fed us doozies (remember the one about the hijacker’s passport surviving the fiery crash into the World Trade Center?), while often, it was merely guilty of sins of omission. 'I'm very disappointed in the press," 9/11 widow Kristin Breitweiser told Salon.com. 'I've been scheduled to go on 'Meet the Press' and 'Hardball' so many times and I'm always canceled. Frankly I'd like nothing better than to go head to head with Dick Cheney on 'Meet the Press.' Because somebody needs to ask the questions and I don't understand why nobody is."
This unholy alliance between the media and the government was intact after the JFK assassination, too. Bertrand Russell's 1964 essay, "16 Questions on the Assassination," for example, charged that the American media blindly propagated "blatant fabrications" and largely ignored "world-wide disbelief" in official US government claims. [LINK]
A 1992 Village Voice article entitled "JFK: How the Media Assassinated the Real Story" further chronicled government’s sins and the media’s complicity. In a move that rivals the Bush administration’s manipulation of WMD intelligence, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach determined what the Warren Commission's findings should be a year before the commission reached them. "We need something to head off public speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort." Katzenbach wrote in a 1963 memo. [LINK]
Chronicling ploys to achieve this end, the Voice outlined tactics that are startlingly familiar to the post-9/11 propaganda employed today. "[T]he working press was a lobster in a trap," Bill Moyers admitted. "Back then, what government said was the news." While this phenomenon was recently witnessed whenever anyone like Scott Ritter disputed the official story (Ritter was accused, as Paul Zahn put it, "of drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid"), such naivete was more forgivable during the pre-Watergate era. Because of this, Johnny Carson's reaction to Jim Garrison's Tonight Show appearance [Prouty.org] was hardly out of bounds.
"The function of the Warren Commission was to make the American people feel that the [JFK assassination] had been looked into so that there would be no further inquiries," Garrison told an incredulous Carson.
"I just can't understand how you think that these men think they can get away with it or for what reason they would do it," Carson later responded.
By 9:00 the next morning, Garrison had received more than 2000 telegrams from District Attorneys across America, who felt that Carson's "nervous antagonism," was a sign that Garrison was onto something. Feeling the need to apologize for Carson's demeanor (which was nevertheless polite and jovial by today's shout-fest standards), NBC sent out thousands of form letters saying, "The Johnny seen on TV that night was not the Johnny we all know and love. He had to play the devil's advocate, because that makes for a better program."
The Price of Secrecy
Years ago, Moyers also lent a credible voice to those warning about America's "secret government." Tracing the advent of our secretive and often grossly unethical national security state to the National Security Act of 1947, Moyers chronicled coups, dirty tricks and other blowback-inciting activities. Citing at least eight documented plans to kill Castro (including a plan to lace his cigars with LSD), Moyers also reported on the CIA’s use of the Mafia to conduct assassinations.
"It’s a chilling thought," Moyers said, "made more chilling by the assassination of John Kennedy. The accusations linger. In some minds, the suspicions persist of a dark unsolved conspiracy behind his murder. You can dismiss them, as many of us do, but knowing now what our secret government planned for Castro, the possibility remains: Once we decide that anything goes, anything can come home to haunt us." [InformationClearingHouse.info]
Interestingly enough, H. R. Haldeman hinted that Nixon had inside information regarding the JFK assassination. 'Tell Ehrlichman this whole group of Cubans [Watergate burglars] is tied to the Bay of Pigs,' Haldeman quoted Nixon as saying, later adding, "It seems that in all of those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination." Others contend that Robert Kennedy didn't want JFK's death to be fully investigated because it might uncover the Kennedy White House's plans to assassinate Castro.
Not surprisingly, Moyers revisited "the Secret Government" in 2002, while reporting on how the Bush administration used Sept. 11 and "national security" as a backdrop to effectively repeal access to presidential records -- along with the public's right to know. [PBS.org] (National security was also evoked following the JFK assassination, prompting Bertrand Russell to ask, "If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?)
Given this White House’s unprecedented secrecy -- not to mention ties to the Project for a New American Century, the Carlyle Group, the Saudis and Halliburton -- it would be remarkable if people didn’t speculate about hidden agendas. Rollbacks in the Freedom of Information Act notwithstanding, perpetual stonewalling of the Sept. 11 investigation adds to the distrust. "Excessive administration secrecy on issues related to the September 11 attacks feeds conspiracy theories and reduces the public’s confidence in government," Sen. John McCain reminded.
Then, too, as more Americans awaken to how deeply we’ve been lied to, those who didn’t even realize that NORAD hadn’t scrambled jets from Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 11 must now be wondering why the commission is having trouble procuring records of NORAD’s activities. And now that Sept. 11 victims' family members are warning that the 9/11 commission will not be able to render "a full uncovering of the truth," [New York Times] even those with minimal interest in the JFK case are bound to see parallels.
And, as with the JFK assassination, there are simply too many unanswered questions. How is it that, despite long-standing procedures, the systems to safeguard America's skies failed to function? Why didn’t the FAA notify NORAD until 32 minutes after losing contact with Flight 11? How is it that, though nearly an hour and a half elapsed between Flight 11's fateful detour and the time the Pentagon was hit, military jets didn't intervene? How did the FBI miraculously know, hours after the attacks, to go the flight school where hijackers had trained -– though an agent told one 9/11 widow that there were too many flight schools to investigate pre-Sept.11 claims that Al Qaeda operatives were training in America? And why-oh-why did George W. Bush sit in that Florida classroom, after learning that a second plane hit the World Trade Center -- and then repeatedly claim that he saw the first plane hit while watching TV at the school? The list goes on and on, but at this point, you might as well be searching for JFK’s stolen brain.
But who knows? Maybe decades from now, vital information will come to the forefront and we’ll finally understand exactly what happened on Nov. 22, 1963 and on Sept. 11, 2001. In the meantime, sentient beings will wonder why pertinent facts remain hidden, and will continue to dismiss lame explanations like the magic bullet theory and "they hate us for our freedoms." Because no matter what Tucker Carlson says, given the mysteries surrounding JFK's assassination and Sept. 11, the term "conspiracy theory" eventually loses its stigma, as truth-deprived minds try to fill in the blanks -- even if (as this week's TV fare suggests) it takes 40 years to do so.
© Copyright 2003, Maureen Farrell
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure. She writes for Buzzflash.com. See the Maureen Farrell Archives
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