Jim Garrison: Interview with Playboy
5: Oswald and Banister in New Orleans
Lee Harvey Oswald’s Background
Playboy: Are you free to discuss Oswald’s role in the conspiracy?
Garrison: Yes, but before you can understand Oswald’s role in the plot, you’ve got to jettison the image of him as a “self–proclaimed Marxist” that the mass media inculcated in the public consciousness after his arrest on November 22nd. Oswald’s professed Marxist sympathies were just a cover for his real activities.
I don’t believe there are any serious students of the assassination who don’t recognize that Oswald’s actual political orientation was extreme right wing. His associates in Dallas and New Orleans — apart from his CIA contacts — were exclusively right wing, some covert, others overt: in fact, our office has positively identified a number of his associates as neo–Nazis. Oswald would have been more at home with Mein Kampf than Das Kapital.
Playboy: If Oswald wasn’t a leftist, what motivation would he have had for shooting at another right–winger, Major General Edwin Walker, eight months before the assassination?
Garrison: If he did it, his motive — which is to say the motive of those behind him — was a simple one: to ensure that after the assassination, people would ask this very question and assume that because Oswald had shot at General Walker, he must have been a left–winger. It was just another part of Oswald’s cover; if you defect to Russia, pass out pro–Castro leaflets on street corners and take a pot shot at General Walker, who on earth would doubt you’re a Communist?
Of course, if you really look deeply into this incident, there is no real proof that Oswald was the man who did it; the whole charge rests on the unsupported testimony of Marina Oswald, after she had been threatened with deportation if she didn’t “cooperate.” It makes little difference, though, whether this incident was prepared in advance to create a cover for Oswald or fabricated after the assassination to strengthen his public image as a Marxist.
But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Let’s backtrack a bit to fill in the background of Oswald’s involvement in the conspiracy. After “defecting” to Russia, where he served as an agent for the CIA — perhaps this is where his knowledge about the U–2 becomes relevant — he returned to this country in June 1962, lived in Fort Worth and Dallas until April 1963, and then went to New Orleans, where he resumed his friendship with David Ferrie, whom he had met several years before when he belonged to a Civil Air Patrol unit led by Ferrie.
We have evidence that Oswald maintained his CIA contacts throughout this period and that Ferrie was also employed by the CIA. In this regard, we will present in court a witness — formerly a CIA courier — who met both Ferrie and Oswald officially in their CIA connection. Parenthetically, Ferrie gave his name as Ferris to this witness — a name recorded without further explanation in Jack Ruby’s address book. In 1963, Ferrie and Oswald worked together closely. They were two of the organizers of the group of anti–Castro exiles and Minutemen who trained north of Lake Pontchartrain for a foray into Cuba to assassinate Castro — the venture that changed direction in the summer of 1963 and chose John Kennedy as its new victim.
Toward this end — for reasons that will become clear — it became Oswald’s role to establish his public identity as a Marxist. It appears that it was with this plan in mind that Oswald was sent to Mexico City in order to get a visa for travel to Cuba, where he planned to solidify his Marxist image, perhaps by making himself conspicuous with a few incendiary anti–Kennedy speeches, and then return to Dallas in time for the assassination. However, this end of the plot was frustrated because the Soviet and Cuban intelligence services apparently had Oswald pegged as an intelligence agent, and he was refused visas at both embassies.
Another way in which Oswald tried to establish his procommunism was by setting up a letterhead Fair Play for Cuba Committee — of which he was the only member — and distributing on street corners leaflets praising Castro. He made two blunders here, however. First, one of the men helping him hand out leaflets was a fanatic anti–Castro Cuban exile whom we’ve subsequently identified from TV footage of a street incident. Second, Oswald “blew his cover” by using the wrong address for his phony New Orleans Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
Guy Banister and 544 Camp Street
Playboy: Will you elaborate on this second point?
Garrison: Yes, because this incident ties together some of the strands of the spider’s web. At the time Oswald started his so–called Fair Play for Cuba Committee, two men — Hugh Ward and Guy Banister — operated a private investigative agency at 544 Camp Street in downtown New Orleans.
There are some intriguing aspects to their operation. For one thing, Guy Banister was one of the most militant right–wing anti–Communists in New Orleans. He was a former FBI official and his headquarters at 544 Camp Street was a clearinghouse for Cuban exile and paramilitary right–wing activities. Specifically, he allowed his office to be used as a mail drop for the anti–Castro Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front; police intelligence records at the time reported that this group was “legitimate in nature and presumably had the unofficial sanction of the Central Intelligence Agency.” It did.
Banister also published a newsletter for his clients that included virulent anti–Kennedy polemics. My office also has evidence that Banister had intimate ties with the Office of Naval Intelligence and the CIA. Both Banister and Ward were deeply involved in covert anti–Castro exile activities in New Orleans. Banister in particular seemed to have had an almost messianic drive to fight communism in every country in Latin America; and he was naturally of value to Cuban exiles because of his intimate connections with American intelligence agencies.
In the Ramparts article you mentioned earlier, ex–FBI agent Bill Turner revealed that both Banister and Ward were listed in secret Minutemen files as members of the Minutemen and operatives of a group called the Anti–Communism League of the Caribbean, which was allegedly used by the CIA in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. So, in other words, these are the last guys in the world you’d expect to find tied up with left–wing or pro–Castro activities. Right? And yet, when Lee Harvey Oswald set up his fictitious branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans, he distributed leaflets giving the committee’s address as 544 Camp Street — Guy Banister’s office!
Somebody must have pointed out to Oswald shortly afterward that he was endangering his cover by using this address, because he subsequently changed it to 4907 Magazine Street. But it’s certainly significant that at the inception of his public role as a pro–Castro activist, Oswald was utilizing the mailbox of the most militantly conservative and anti–Communist outfit in the city. I might add that we have several witnesses who will testify in court that they saw Oswald hanging out at 544 Camp Street.
I want to stress, however, that I have no evidence that Banister and Ward were involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. Their office was a kind of way station for anti–Castro and right–wing extremists passing through New Orleans, and it’s perfectly possible that they were completely unaware of the conspiracy being hatched by men like Ferrie and Oswald.
Playboy: Were any of the other figures in the alleged conspiracy connected with Banister?
Garrison: Yes, David Ferrie was a paid investigator for Banister, and the two men knew each other very well. During 1962 and 1963, Ferrie spent a good deal of time at 544 Camp Street and he made a series of mysterious long–distance phone calls to Central America from Banister’s office. We have a record of those calls.
Playboy: Where are Banister and Ward now?
Garrison: Both have died since the assassination — Banister of a heart attack in 1964 and Ward when the plane he was piloting for New Orleans Mayor De Lesseps Morrison crashed in Mexico in 1964. De Lesseps Morrison, as it happened, had introduced Clay Shaw to President Kennedy on an airplane flight in 1963.
Playboy: Do you believe there was anything sinister about the crash that killed both Morrison and Ward?
Garrison: I have no reason to believe there was anything sinister about the crash, though rumors always spring up in a case like this. The only thing I will say is that witnesses in this case do have a habit of dying at the most inconvenient times. I understand a London insurance firm has prepared an actuarial chart on the likelihood of 20 of the people involved in this case dying within three years of the assassination — and found the odds 30 trillion to one. But I’m sure NBC will shortly discover that one of my investigators bribed the computer.