Jim Garrison: Interview with Playboy
3: CIA and the JFK Assassination
Playboy: How could your probe damage the prestige of the CIA and cause them to take countermeasures against you?
Garrison: For the simple reason that a number of the men who killed the President were former employees of the CIA involved in its anti–Castro underground activities in and around New Orleans. The CIA knows their identity. So do I — and our investigation has established this without the shadow of a doubt. Let me stress one thing, however: We have no evidence that any official of the CIA was involved with the conspiracy that led to the President’s death.
The Death of Gary Underhill
Playboy: Do you lend no credence, then, to the charges of a former CIA agent, J. Garrett Underhill, that there was a conspiracy within the CIA to assassinate Kennedy?
Garrison: I’ve become familiar with the case of Gary Underhill, and I’ve been able to ascertain that he was not the type of man to make wild or unsubstantiated charges. Underhill was an intelligence agent in World War Two and an expert on military affairs whom the Pentagon considered one of the country’s top authorities on limited warfare. He was on good personal terms with the top brass in the Defense Department and the ranking officials in the CIA. He wasn’t a full–time CIA agent, but he occasionally performed “special assignments” for the Agency.
Several days after the President’s assassination, Underhill appeared at the home of friends in New Jersey, apparently badly shaken, and charged that Kennedy was killed by a small group within the CIA. He told friends he believed his own life was in danger. We can’t learn any more from Underhill, I’m afraid, because shortly afterward, he was found shot to death in his Washington apartment. The coroner ruled suicide, but he had been shot behind the left ear and the pistol was found under his left side — and Underhill was right–handed.
Playboy: Do you believe Underhill was murdered to silence him?
Garrison: I don’t believe it and I don’t disbelieve it. All I know is that witnesses with vital evidence in this case are certainly bad insurance risks. In the absence of further and much more conclusive evidence to the contrary, however, we must assume that the plotters were acting on their own rather than on CIA orders when they killed the President. As far as we have been able to determine, they were not in the pay of the CIA at the time of the assassination — and this is one of the reasons the President was murdered: I’ll explain later what I mean by that.
But the CIA could not face up to the American people and admit that its former employees had conspired to assassinate the President; so from the moment Kennedy’s heart stopped beating, the Agency attempted to sweep the whole conspiracy under the rug. The CIA has spared neither time nor the taxpayers’ money in its efforts to hide the truth about the assassination from the American people. In this respect, it has become an accessory after the fact in the assassination.
CIA: An Accessory After the Fact
Playboy: Do you have any conclusive evidence to support these accusations?
Garrison: I’ve never revealed this before, but for at least six months, my office and home telephones — and those of every member of my staff — have been monitored. If there is as little substance to this investigation as the press and the Government allege, why would anyone go to all that trouble? I leave it to your judgment if the monitoring of our phones is the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union or the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
Playboy: That’s hardly conclusive evidence.
Garrison: I’d need a book to list all the indications. But let’s start with the fact that most of the attorneys for the hostile witnesses and defendants were hired by the CIA — through one or another of its covers.
For example, a New Orleans lawyer representing Alvin Beauboeuf, who has charged me with every kind of unethical practice except child molesting — I expect that allegation to come shortly before Shaw’s trial — flew with Beauboeuf to Washington immediately after my office subpoenaed him, where Beauboeuf was questioned by a “retired” intelligence officer in the offices of the Justice Department. This trip was paid for, as are the lawyer’s legal fees, by the CIA — in other words, with our tax dollars.
Another lawyer, Stephen Plotkin, who represents Gordon Novel [another of Garrison’s key witnesses], has admitted he is paid by the CIA — and has also admitted his client is a CIA agent; you may have seen that story on page 96 of The New York Times, next to ship departures. Plotkin, incidentally, sued me for $10,000,000 for defaming his client and sued a group of New Orleans businessmen financing my investigation for $50,000,000 — which meant, in effect, that the CIA was suing us. As if they need the money.
But my attorney filed a motion for a deposition to be taken from Novel, which meant that he would have to return to my jurisdiction to file his suit and thus be liable for questioning in the conspiracy case. Rather than come down to New Orleans and face the music, Novel dropped his suit and sacrificed a possible $60,000,000 judgment. Now, there’s a man of principle; he knows there are some things more important than money.
Playboy: Do you also believe Clay Shaw’s lawyers are being paid by the CIA?
Garrison: I can’t comment directly on that, since it relates to Shaw’s trial. But I think the clincher, as far as Washington’s obstruction of our probe goes, is the consistent refusal of the Federal Government to make accessible to us any information about the roles of the CIA, anti–Castro Cuban exiles and the para–military right in the assassination.
There is, without doubt, a conspiracy by elements of the Federal Government to keep the facts of this case from ever becoming known — a conspiracy that is the logical extension of the initial conspiracy by the CIA to conceal vital evidence from the Warren Commission.
Playboy: What “vital evidence” did the CIA withhold from the Warren Commission?
Garrison: A good example is Commission Exhibit number 237. This is a photograph of a stocky, balding, middle–aged man published without explanation or identification in the 26 volumes of the Warren Report. There’s a significant story behind Exhibit number 237. Throughout the late summer and fall of 1963, Lee Oswald was shepherded in Dallas and New Orleans by a CIA “baby sitter” who watched over Oswald’s activities and stayed with him. My office knows who he is and what he looks like.
Was Oswald Working for the CIA?
Playboy: Are you implying that Oswald was working for the CIA?
Garrison: Let me finish and you can decide for yourself. When Oswald went to Mexico City in an effort to obtain a visa for travel to Cuba, this CIA agent accompanied him. Now, at this particular time, Mexico was the only Latin–American nation maintaining diplomatic ties with Cuba, and leftists and Communists from all over the hemisphere traveled to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City for visas to Cuba. The CIA, quite properly, had placed a hidden movie camera in a building across the street from the embassy and filmed everyone coming and going. The Warren Commission, knowing this, had an assistant legal counsel ask the FBI for a picture of Oswald and his companion on the steps of the embassy, and the FBI, in turn, filed an affidavit saying they had obtained the photo in question from the CIA.
The only trouble is that the CIA supplied the Warren Commission with a phony photograph. The photograph of an “unidentified man” published in the 26 volumes is not the man who was filmed with Oswald on the steps of the Cuban Embassy, as alleged by the CIA. It’s perfectly clear that the actual picture of Oswald and his companion was suppressed and a fake photo substituted because the second man in the picture was working for the CIA in 1963, and his identification as a CIA agent would have opened up a whole can of worms about Oswald’s ties with the Agency. To prevent this, the CIA presented the Warren Commission with fraudulent evidence — a pattern that repeats itself whenever the CIA submits evidence relating to Oswald’s possible connection with any U.S. intelligence agency.
The CIA lied to the Commission right down the line; and since the Warren Commission had no investigative staff of its own but had to rely on the FBI, the Secret Service and the CIA for its evidence, it’s understandable why the Commission concluded that Oswald had no ties with American intelligence agencies.
Playboy: What was the nature of these ties?
Garrison: That’s not altogether clear, at least insofar as his specific assignments are concerned; but we do have proof that Oswald was recruited by the CIA in his Marine Corps days, when he was mysteriously schooled in Russian and allowed to subscribe to Pravda. And shortly before his trip to the Soviet Union, we have learned, Oswald was trained as an intelligence agent at the CIA installation at Japan’s Atsugi Air Force Base — which may explain why no disciplinary action was taken against him when he returned to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, even though he had supposedly defected with top–secret information about our radar networks. The money he used to return to the U.S., incidentally, was advanced to him by the State Department.
CIA, Oswald and George de Mohrenschildt
Playboy: In an article for Ramparts, ex–FBI agent William Turner indicated that White Russian refugee George De Mohrenschildt may have been Oswald’s CIA “baby sitter” in Dallas. Have you found any links between the CIA and De Mohrenschildt?
Garrison: I can’t comment directly on that, but George De Mohrenschildt is certainly an enigmatic and intriguing character. Here you have a wealthy, cultured White Russian émigré who travels in the highest social circles — he was a personal friend of Mrs. Hugh Auchincloss, Jackie Kennedy’s mother — suddenly developing an intimate relationship with an impoverished ex–Marine like Lee Oswald. What did they discuss — last year’s season at Biarritz, or how to beat the bank at Monte Carlo?
And Mr. De Mohrenschildt has a penchant for popping up in the most interesting places at the most interesting times — for example, in Haiti just before a joint Cuban exile–CIA venture to topple Duvalier and use the island as a springboard for an invasion of Cuba; and in Guatemala, another CIA training ground, the day before the Bay of Pigs invasion. We have a good deal more information about Oswald’s CIA contacts in Dallas and New Orleans — most of which we discovered by sheer chance — but there are still whole areas of inquiry blocked from us by the CIA’s refusal to cooperate with our investigation.
For public consumption, the CIA claims not to have been concerned with Oswald prior to the assassination. But one thing is certain: Despite these pious protestations, the CIA was very much aware of Oswald’s activities well before the President’s murder. In a notarized affidavit, State Department officer James D. Crowley states, “The first time I remember learning of Oswald’s existence was when I received copies of a telegraphic message from the Central Intelligence Agency dated October 10, 1963, which contained information pertaining to his current activities.” It would certainly be interesting to know what the CIA knew about Oswald six weeks before the assassination, but the contents of this particular message never reached the Warren Commission and remain a complete mystery.
There are also 51 CIA documents classified top secret in the National Archives pertaining to Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby. Technically, the members of the Commission had access to them; but in practice, any document the CIA wanted classified was shunted into the Archives without examination by the sleeping beauties on the Commission. Twenty–nine of these files are of particular interest, because their titles alone indicate that the CIA had extensive information on Oswald and Ruby before the assassination. A few of these documents are:
- CD 347, “Activity of Oswald in Mexico City”;
- CD 1054, “Information on Jack Ruby and Associates”;
- CD 692, “Reproduction of Official CIA Dossier on Oswald”;
- CD 1551, “Conversations Between Cuban President and Ambassador”;
- CD 698, “Reports of Travel and Activities of Oswald”;
- CD 943, “Allegations of Pfc. Eugene Dinkin re Assassination Plot”;
- and CD 971, “Telephone Calls to U.S. Embassy, Canberra, Australia, re Planned Assassination.”
The titles of these documents are all we have to go on, but they’re certainly intriguing. For example, the public has heard nothing about phone calls to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, warning in advance of the assassination, nor have we been told anything about a Pfc. Dinkin who claims to have knowledge of an assassination plot. One of the top–secret files that most intrigues me is CD 931, which is entitled “Oswald’s Access to Information About the U–2.” I have 24 years of military experience behind me, on active duty and in the reserves, and I’ve never had any access to the U–2; in fact, I’ve never seen one. But apparently this “self–proclaimed Marxist,” Lee Harvey Oswald, who we’re assured had no ties to any Government agency, had access to information about the nation’s most secret high–altitude reconnaissance plane.
Of course, it may be that none of these CIA files reveals anything sinister about Lee Harvey Oswald or hints in any way that he was employed by our Government. But then, why are the 51 CIA documents classified top secret in the Archives and inaccessible to the public for 75 years? I’m 45, so there’s no hope for me, but I’m already training my eight–year–old son to keep himself physically fit so that on one glorious September morn in 2038 he can walk into the National Archives in Washington and find out what the CIA knew about Lee Harvey Oswald.
If there’s a further extension of the top–secret classification, this may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son in the manner of the ancient runic bards. But someday, perhaps, we’ll find out what Oswald was doing messing around with the U–2.
Of course, there are some CIA documents we’ll never see. When the Warren Commission asked to see a secret CIA memo on Oswald’s activities in Russia that had been attached to a State Department letter on Oswald’s Russian stay, word came back that the Agency was terribly sorry, but the secret memo had been destroyed while being photocopied. This unfortunate accident took place on November 23, 1963, a day on which there must have occurred a great deal of spontaneous combustion around Washington.
Playboy: John A. McCone, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has said of Oswald: “The Agency never contacted him, interviewed him, talked with him or received or solicited any reports or information from him or communicated with him in any manner. Lee Harvey Oswald was never associated or connected directly or indirectly, in any way whatsoever, with the Agency.” Why do you refuse to accept McCone’s word?
Garrison: The head of the CIA, it seems to me, would think long and hard before he admitted that former employees of his had been involved in the murder of the President of the United States — even if they weren’t acting on behalf of the Agency when they did it.
In any case, the CIA’s past record hardly induces faith in the Agency’s veracity. CIA officials lied about their role in the overthrow of the Arbenz Guzman regime in Guatemala; they lied about their role in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran; they lied about their role in the abortive military revolt against Sukarno in 1958; they lied about the U–2 incident; and they certainly lied about the Bay of Pigs. If the CIA is ready to lie even about its successes — as in Guatemala and Iran — do you seriously believe its director would tell the truth in a case as explosive as this?
Of course, CIA officials grow so used to lying, so steeped in deceit, that after a while I think they really become incapable of distinguishing truth and falsehood. Or, in an Orwellian sense, perhaps they come to believe that truth is what contributes to national security, and falsehood is anything detrimental to national security. John McCone would swear he’s a Croatian dwarf if he thought it would advance the interests of the CIA — which he automatically equates with the national interest.