Jim Garrison: Interview with Playboy
4: Facts of the JFK Assassination
Playboy: Let’s get down to the facts of the assassination, as you see them. When — and why — did you begin to doubt the conclusions of the Warren Report?
Garrison: Until as recently as November of 1966, I had complete faith in the Warren Report. As a matter of fact, I viewed its most vocal critics with the same skepticism that much of the press now views me — which is why I can’t condemn the mass media too harshly for their cynical approach, except in the handful of cases where newsmen seem to be in active collusion with Washington to torpedo our investigation.
Of course, my faith in the Report was grounded in ignorance, since I had never read it; as Mark Lane says, “The only way you can believe the Report is not to have read it.” But then, in November, I visited New York City with Senator Russell Long; and when the subject of the assassination came up, he expressed grave doubts about the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Now, this disturbed me, because here was the Majority Whip of the U.S. Senate speaking, not some publicity hound with an ideological ax to grind; and if at this late juncture he still entertained serious reservations about the Commission’s determinations, maybe there was more to the assassination than met the eye.
So I began reading every book and magazine article on the assassination I could get my hands on — my tombstone may be inscribed “Curiosity Killed The D.A.” — and I found my own doubts growing. Finally, I put aside all other business and started to wade through the Warren Commission’s own 26 volumes of supportive evidence and testimony. That was the clincher. It’s impossible for anyone possessed of reasonable objectivity and a fair degree of intelligence to read those 26 volumes and not reach the conclusion that the Warren Commission was wrong in every one of its major conclusions pertaining to the assassination. For me, that was the end of innocence.
Playboy: Do you mean to imply that the Warren Commission deliberately concealed or falsified the facts of the assassination?
Garrison: No, you don’t need any explanation more sinister than incompetence to account for the Warren Report. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the Commission simply didn’t have all the facts, and many of those they had were fraudulent, as I’ve pointed out — thanks to the evidence withheld and manufactured by the CIA. If you add to this the fact that most of the Commission members had already presumed Oswald’s guilt and were merely looking for facts to confirm it — and in the process tranquilize the American public — you’ll realize why the Commission was such a dismal failure.
But in the final analysis, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether the Commission members were sincere patriots or mountebanks; the question is whether Lee Oswald killed the President alone and unaided; if the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion — and it doesn’t — a thousand honorable men sitting shoulder to shoulder along the banks of the Potomac won’t change the facts.
Playboy: So you began your investigation of the President’s assassination on nothing stronger than you own doubts and the theories of the Commission’s critics?
Garrison: No, please don’t put words in my mouth. The works of the critics — particularly Edward Epstein, Harold Weisberg and Mark Lane — sparked my general doubts about the assassination; but more importantly, they led me into specific areas of inquiry.
After I realized that something was seriously wrong, I had no alternative but to face the fact that Oswald had arrived in Dallas only a short time before the assassination and that prior to that time he had lived in New Orleans for over six months. I became curious about what this alleged assassin was doing while under my jurisdiction, and my staff began an investigation of Oswald’s activities and contacts in the New Orleans area.
We interviewed people the Warren Commission had never questioned, and a whole new world began opening up. As I studied Oswald’s movements in Dallas, my mind turned back to the aftermath of the assassination in 1963, when my office questioned three men — David Ferrie, Alvin Beauboeuf and Melvin Coffey — on suspicion of being involved in the assassination. I began to wonder if we hadn’t dismissed these three men too lightly, and we reopened our investigation into their activities.
Playboy: Why did you become interested in Ferrie and his associates in November 1963?
Garrison: To explain that, I’ll have to tell you something about the operation of our office. I believe we have one of the best district attorney’s offices in the country. We have no political appointments and, as a result, there’s a tremendous amount of esprit among our staff and an enthusiasm for looking into unanswered questions. That’s why we got together the day after the assassination and began examining our files and checking out every political extremist, religious fanatic and kook who had ever come to our attention.
And one of the names that sprang into prominence was that of David Ferrie. When we checked him out, as we were doing with innumerable other suspicious characters, we discovered that on November 22nd he had traveled to Texas to go “duck hunting” and “ice skating”. Well, naturally, this sparked our interest. We staked out his house and we questioned his friends, and when he came back — the first thing he did on his return, incidentally, was to contact a lawyer and then hide out for the night at a friend’s room in another town — we pulled him and his two companions in for questioning.
The story of Ferrie’s activities that emerged was rather curious. He drove nine hours through a furious thunderstorm to Texas, then apparently gave up his plans to go duck hunting and instead went to an ice–skating rink in Houston and stood waiting beside a pay telephone for two hours; he never put the skates on.
We felt his movements were suspicious enough to justify his arrest and that of his friends, and we took them into custody. When we alerted the FBI, they expressed interest and asked us to turn the three men over to them for questioning. We did, but Ferrie was released soon afterward and most of its report on him was classified top secret and secreted in the National Archives, where it will remain inaccessible to the public until September 2038 A.D. No one, including me, can see those pages.
Playboy: Why do you believe the FBI report on Ferrie is classified?
Garrison: For the same reason the President’s autopsy X rays and photos and other vital evidence in this case are classified — because they would indicate the existence of a conspiracy, involving former employees of the CIA, to kill the President.
Playboy: When you resumed your investigation of Ferrie three years later, did you discover any new evidence?
Garrison: We discovered a whole mare’s–nest of underground activity involving the CIA, elements of the paramilitary right and militant anti–Castro exile groups. We discovered links between David Ferrie, Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby. We discovered, in short, what I had hoped not to find, despite my doubts about the Warren Commission — the existence of a well–organized conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy, a conspiracy that came to fruition in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and in which David Ferrie played a vital role.
How the JFK Assassination Conspiracy Worked
Playboy: Accepting for a moment your contention that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President John Kennedy, have you been able to discover who was involved — in addition to Ferrie — how it was done and why?
Garrison: Yes, I have. President Kennedy was killed for one reason: because he was working for a reconciliation with the U.S.S.R. and Castro’s Cuba. His assassins were a group of fanatic anti–Communists with a fusion of interests in preventing Kennedy from achieving peaceful relations with the Communist world.
On the operative level of the conspiracy, you find anti–Castro Cuban exiles who never forgave Kennedy for failing to send in U.S. air cover at the Bay of Pigs and who feared that the thaw following the Missile Crisis in October 1962 augured the total frustration of their plans to liberate Cuba. They believed sincerely that Kennedy had sold them out to the Communists.
On a higher, control level, you find a number of people of ultra–right–wing persuasion — not simply conservatives, mind you, but people who could be described as neo–Nazi, including a small clique that had defected from the Minutemen because it considered the group “too liberal.” These elements had their canteens ready and their guns loaded; they lacked only a target. After Kennedy’s domestic moves toward racial integration and his attempts to forge a peaceful foreign policy, as exemplified by his signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, they found that target.
So both of these groups had a vital stake in changing U.S. foreign policy — ideological on the part of the paramilitary rightists and both ideological and personal with the anti–Castro exiles, many of whom felt they would never see their homes again if Kennedy’s policy of détente was allowed to succeed.
The CIA was involved with both of these groups. In the New Orleans area, where the conspiracy was hatched, the CIA was training a mixed bag of Minutemen, Cuban exiles and other anti–Castro adventurers north of Lake Pontchartrain for a foray into Cuba and an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro. David Ferrie, who operated on the “command” level of the ultra–rightists, was deeply involved in this effort.
The CIA itself apparently did not take the détente too seriously until the late summer of 1963, because it maintained its financing and training of anti–Castro adventurers. There was, in fact, a triangulation of CIA–supported anti–Castro activity between Dallas — where Jack Ruby was involved in collecting guns and ammunition for the underground — and Miami and New Orleans, where most of the training was going on.
But then, Kennedy, who had signed a secret agreement with Khrushchev after the Missile Crisis pledging not to invade Cuba if Russia would soft–pedal Castro’s subversive activities in the Americas, began to crackdown on CIA operations against Cuba.
As a result, on July 31, 1963, the FBI raided the headquarters of the group of Cuban exiles and Minutemen training north of Lake Pontchartrain and confiscated all their guns and ammunition — despite the fact that the operation had the sanction of the CIA. This action may have sealed Kennedy’s fate.
By the early fall of 1963, Kennedy’s plan for a détente with Cuba was in high gear. Ambassador William Attwood, a close personal friend of the late President, recounts that a thaw in U.S.–Cuban relations was definitely in the works at this time and “the President more than the State Department was interested in exploring the [Cuban] overture.” One of the intermediaries between Castro and Kennedy was the late television commentator Lisa Howard, who met secretly with Ernesto Che Guevara to prepare peace terms between the U.S. and Castro. Miss Howard was arranging a conference between Bobby Kennedy and Guevara when the President was shot in Dallas.
In a United Nations speech on October 7, 1963, Adlai Stevenson set forth the possibility of a termination of hostilities between the two countries, and on November 19th. Presidential aide McGeorge Bundy, who was acting as an intermediary in the secret discussions, told Ambassador Attwood that the President wanted to discuss his plans for a Cuban–American détente in depth with him right after “a brief trip to Dallas.” The rest is history.
One of the two heads of state involved in negotiating that détente is now dead, but the survivor, Fidel Castro, said on November 23rd that the assassination was the work of “elements in the U.S. opposed to peace,” and the Cuban Foreign Ministry officially charged that “the Kennedy assassination was a provocation against world peace perfectly and minutely prepared by the most reactionary sectors of the United States.”
Most Americans at the time, myself included, thought this was just Communist propaganda. But Castro knew what he was talking about. A few weeks after the assassination, the Cuban ambassador to the UN, Dr. Carlos Lechuga, was instructed by Castro to begin “formal discussions” in the hope that Kennedy’s peace plan would be carried on by his successor. Ambassador Attwood writes that “I informed Bundy and later was told that the Cuban exercise would be put on ice for a while — which it was and where it has been ever since.” The assassins had achieved their aim.
Playboy: This is interesting speculation, but isn’t that all it is — speculation?
Garrison: No, because we know enough about the key individuals involved in the conspiracy — Latins and Americans alike — to know that this was their motive for the murder of John Kennedy.
First of all, you have to understand the mentality of these people. Take the Cuban exiles involved; here are men, some of whom survived the Bay of Pigs, who for years had been whipped up by the CIA into a frenzy of anti–Castro hatred and who had been solemnly assured by American intelligence agencies that they were going to liberate their homeland with American support. They had one disappointment after another — the Bay of Pigs débacle, the failure to invade Cuba during the Missile Crisis, the effective crushing of their underground in Cuba by Castro’s secret police.
But they kept on hoping, and the CIA kept fanning their hopes. Then they listened to Kennedy’s famous speech at American University on June 10, 1963, where he really kicked off the new drive for a détente, and they heard the President of the country in which they’d placed all their hope saying we must make peace with the Communists, since “we both breathe the same air.” Well, this worries them, but the CIA continues financing and training their underground cadres, so there is still hope. And then suddenly, in the late summer of 1963, the CIA is forced by Presidential pressure to withdraw all funds and assistance from the Cuban exiles.
Think of the impact of this, particularly on the group here in New Orleans, which had been trained for months to make an assassination attempt on Castro and then found itself coolly jettisoned by its benefactors in Washington. These adventurers were worked up to a fever pitch; and when the CIA withdrew its support and they couldn’t fight Castro, they picked their next victim — John F. Kennedy. That, in a nutshell, is the genesis of the assassination. President Kennedy died because he wanted peace.
Playboy: How many people do you claim were involved in this alleged conspiracy?
Garrison: Too many for their own security. If they had let fewer men in on the plot, we might never have stumbled onto it. But let me add one additional point here: The brief account I’ve just given you shouldn’t be construed to indicate that any of the legitimate anti–Castro organizations were involved in the assassination — or that all Minutemen were implicated. Nor should the fact that there was a conspiracy from the paramilitary right be used to start a witch–hunt against conservatives in general, any more than Oswald’s phony pro–Communist record should have been used to purge leftists from our national life.
In this case, the very terminology of “right” and “left,” which is essentially an economic definition, has little validity as a description of those fanatic war lovers who were ready to assassinate a President because he worked for peace. If you go far enough to either extreme of the political spectrum, Communist or fascist, you’ll find hard–eyed men with guns who believe that anybody who doesn’t think as they do should be incarcerated or exterminated. The assassination was less an ideological exercise than the frenzied revenge of a sick element in our society on a man who exemplified health and decency.
How the JFK Assassination Happened
Playboy: You’ve outlined the genesis of the alleged conspiracy as you see it. Will you now tell us how it was carried out — and by whom?
Garrison: I won’t be able to name names in all instances, because we’re building cases against a number of the individuals involved. But I’ll give you a brief sketch of how the conspiracy was organized, and then point by point we can go into the participants we know about so far and the role we believe each played.
Let me stress at the outset that what I’m going to tell you is not idle speculation; we have facts, documents and reliable eyewitness testimony to corroborate much of it — though I can’t lay all this evidence before you without jeopardizing the investigation. But there are many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle still missing. Not one of the conspirators has confessed his guilt, so we don’t yet have an “inside” view of all the pre–assassination planning.
In order to fill in these gaps for you, I’ll have to indulge in a bit of informed deduction and surmise. It may sound melodramatic, but you can best envisage the plot as a spider’s web. At the center sit the organizers of the operation, men with close ties to U.S. and western–European intelligence agencies. One of them is a former associate of Jack Ruby in gun–smuggling activities and a dedicated neo–Nazi in close contact with neo–fascist movements in Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy.
Radiating out from these key men, the strands of the web include a motley group of political adventurers united only in their detestation of Kennedy and their dedication to the reversal of his foreign policy. One such man was David Ferrie. Another member of this group is an individual who deliberately impersonated Lee Oswald before the assassination in order to incriminate him: we believe we know his identity.
Several others, about whom we have evidence indicating that they helped supply weapons to the plotters, were the right–wing extremists I mentioned earlier who broke off from a fanatic paramilitary group because it was becoming “too liberal.” Also involved is a band of anti–Castro adventurers who functioned on the second, or “operative,” level of the conspiracy. These men include two Cuban exiles, one of whom failed a lie–detector test when he denied knowing in advance that Kennedy was going to be killed or having seen the weapons to be used in the assassination — and a number of men who fired at the President from three directions on November 22nd.
The link between the “command” level and the Cuban exiles was an amorphous group called the Free Cuba Committee, which with CIA sanction had begun training north of Lake Pontchartrain for an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro, as I mentioned earlier. It was this group that was raided by the FBI on July 31st, 1963, and temporarily put out of commission. Our information indicates that it was shortly after this setback that the group switched direction and decided to assassinate John Kennedy instead of Fidel Castro, after the “betrayal” of the Bay of Pigs disaster. That’s it in a nutshell, but I think the development of the conspiracy will become clearer if you ask me one by one about the individuals involved.
The FBI’s Investigation of Clay Shaw
Playboy: All right, let’s begin with Clay Shaw. What was his role in the alleged conspiracy?
Garrison: I’m afraid I can’t comment even inferentially on anything pertaining to the evidence against Mr. Shaw, since he’s facing trial in my jurisdiction.
Playboy: Can you answer a charge about your case against him? On March second of this year, shortly after Shaw’s arrest, Attorney General Ramsey Clark announced that Shaw “was included in an investigation in November and December of 1963 and on the evidence that the FBI has, there was no connection found between Shaw and the President’s assassination.” Why do you challenge the Attorney General’s statement?
Garrison: Because it was not true. The FBI did not clear Clay Shaw after the assassination. You don’t have to take my word for it; The New York Times reported on June third that “The Justice Department said today that Clay Shaw. New Orleans businessman, was not investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation … The statement contradicted Attorney General Ramsey Clark … A Justice Department spokesman said that Mr. Clark’s statement last March second was in error.”
Now, the Attorney General’s attempt to whitewash Shaw via the FBI, as you pointed out, was made immediately after our office arrested him, and it really constituted the first salvo of the propaganda barrage laid down against us. The natural reaction of many people across the country to Clark’s statement, which was carried prominently on TV and in the press was, “Well, if the FBI cleared him, there can’t be anything to this whole conspiracy business.” Most defendants have to wait for trial before they’re allowed to produce character witnesses.
When, three months later, the Justice Department finally admitted Clark was “in error,” the story appeared in only a few newspapers and wasn’t picked up by the radio or TV networks. But what was even more significant about the Justice Department’s attempt to bail out Shaw was the fact that the day after Clark’s statement, The New York Times’ Washington correspondent. Robert B. Semple, Jr., reported that he had been told by an unnamed Justice Department spokesman that his agency was convinced “that Mr. Bertrand and Mr. Shaw were the same man” — and that was the reason Clark released his untrue story about the FBI’s having cleared Shaw! In other words, knowing that our case was based on fact, the Justice Department deliberately dragged a red herring across the trail.