Bodies in the Garbage

Coup d'Etat in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy By Michael Canfield and A.J. Weberman The Third Press, $11.95, 314 pp.

A.J. WEBERMAN first acquired notoriety as the man who researched Bob Dylan's life and work by examining his garbage. Weberman and Michael Canfield have spent the last few years going through a different sort of garbage, the mountains of paper left behind by the Warren Commission. This debris, however, is far more sinister: instead of coffee grounds and old newspapers it contains loose ends and a few bodies.

Coup d'Etat in America, the fruit of these labors, is based on the work of Warren Commission critics from Mark Lane onward showing that the Commission Report fails to explain the assassination and is contradicted by much of the evidence. Assuming along with the majority of the American public that the lone assassin theory is nonsense, Canfield and Weberman set out to provide an alternative theory which accounts for all the evidence and provides a motive for the assassination, the most conspicuous gap in the Warren Report.

Among the most puzzling aspects of the assassination is the strange career of Lee Harvey Oswald. After defecting to the Soviet Union, betraying radar secrets, and attempting to renounce his American citizenship, Oswald had no trouble reentering the U.S. or obtaining a new passport. Welcomed back to the country by prominent members of the intelligence community in New York and by wealthy anti-communist Russian emigres in Dallas, Oswald then surfaced in New Orleans as the secretary of a pro-Castro organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Not only was he the only known member of the organisation, out its literature was stamped with the address of an anti-Castro group of Cuban exiles directed by Howard Hunt, Watergate burglar and CIA political advisor to the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In fact, contend Canfield and Weberman, Oswald himself was a CIA agent. Trained as a marine on the Japanese base where the American U-2s were kept, Oswald defected for intelligence purposes, as the Russians themselves apparently suspected since they were reluctant to grant him a visa despite his "radar secrets." The American official to whom he renounced his citizenship in Moscow, the people who received him when he returned to the U.S., his associates in Dallas and New Orleans, and even his cousin can be traced to the CIA. Most crucially, Oswald travelled to Mexico City attempting to obtain a Cuban visa during precisely the two months in the summer of 1963 when Howard Hunt was CIA station chief there.

But the most important new information in Coup d'Etat comes from the analysis of the "tramp photographs" Dick Gregory made famous. The Book Depository from which Kennedy was shot adjoins a railroad yard where three tramps were apprehended in an apparently locked boxcar just after the assassination. Photographs of these tramps, who were arrested, and then released on FBI orders, show that one of the tramps looks very much like Hunt, another like fellow Watergater Frank Sturgis, and the third like Oswald. Canfield and Weberman show convincingly through height and feature comparison that two of the tramps really are Hunt and Sturgis. Sturgis himself refuses to deny that he was in Dallas on November 22, 1963.


Hunt and Sturgis provide the key to the whole puzzle and the motive for the assassination. Leading CIA operatives and masterminds of the Bay of Pigs operation, Hunt and Sturgis were extremely angry at Kennedy for his role in the invasion's failure, as were most CIA agents and Cuban exiles. Kennedy refused to order a second air strike after the first one had been exposed--thus dooming the invasion force to defeat and capture--curtailed subsequent anti-Castro forays, and promised Khrushchev to end all invasion plans in return for removing Russian missiles in 1961.

Hunt and Sturgis were quite capable of coordinating and executing a domestic assassination. Hunt, who denounces Kennedy's betrayal in his book on the invasion Give Us This Day, had led the successful overthrow of the left-wing president of Guatemala in 1954 and had planned several unsuccessful attempts on Castro's life. Sturgis was such a successful spy that he had infiltrated the July 26 Movement before Castro came to power, eventually becoming Air Force Chief of Security and later Minister of Games of Chance before Castro closed the casinos and Sturgis fled in 1960. In an interview with Canfield, Sturgis claims that he was invited to participate in a domestic CIA assassination. He accepted, but will not disclose what became of it.

The third tramp--the Oswald double--appears to have been one of the actual assassins-assisted by two other marksmen on the grassy knoll across the street. His presence in Dallas resolves the contradictions in the Warren Report about Oswald's movements in the weeks before the assassination, which enabled him to be seen in two places at the same time. Canfield and Weberman contend that Oswald was earmarked by the CIA as a patsy for the assassination. Oswald, who thought he was involved in a plot to kill Castro, engaged in public pro-Castro activities to convince the Cubans to grant him a visa. The CIA plan was for Oswald to be apprehended with the visa in his pocket, tying Castro to the assassination and thus ensuring a full-scale invasion of Cuba. The authors trace the Oswald double to a para-military band of right-wing Cubans. Most interestingly, the face of the Oswald tramp closely matches the drawing of Martin Luther King's assassin released by the FBI before they found James Earl Ray. Ray himself claims he was a pasty for a Cuban named Raoul.

OSWALD'S ASSASSIN, Jack Ruby, provides the link to the third crucial element in the conspiracy besides the CIA and Cubans: organized crime. A well-known Dallas underworld figure involved in gambling and prostitution, Ruby began his career working for Jimmy Hoffa, travelled to Cuba with Syndicate boss Meyer Lansky, and was given an interest in a Lansky casino later shut down by the revolution. Ruby seems to have been a mob hit man sent to silence Oswald after a previous attempt failed. Not only did the Lansky Mafia have a fortune invested in Cuban gambling, but Robert Kennedy was then investigating Hoffa and organized crime, another reason for the mob to join in getting rid of Kennedy. The recent exposes of the CIA show that the agency has been closely involved with the Mafia since Lucky Luciano helped the OSS protect U.S. ports against sabotage during World War II, to the point of providing immunity from prosecution for certain mobsters.

Nixon is also implicated in this conspiracy. The Cuban motif runs through his whole career. Nixon visited Cuba in 1940 to explore possible business connections and again in 1952 with Richard Danner, a former FBI agent and Lansky acquaintance who turned up in 1972 as the courier of Howard Hughes's $100,000 to Rebozo. Nixon acquired his Key Biscayne land at bargain basement prices from Lansky through Rebozo by laundering illicit profits from Cuban casinos. Nixon was the "secret action officer" in the White House for the Bay of Pigs and wrote in Six Crises: "The covert training of Cuban exiles by the CIA was due in substantial part, at least, to my efforts." On November 22 Nixon was in Dallas representing Pepsico, a notorious CIA cover, whose Laos bottling plant (franchised under Nixon's auspices) concealed the chief heroin factory for the CIA and the Corsican Mafia in Indochina. When Nixon tells Haldeman to pay Hunt a million dollars on the White House Tapes, he says he is most worried about the "Bay of Pigs thing" coming out. But as Richard Helms irately replied when asked to cover up the burglary as a CIA operation, there was nothing left to expose about the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In the absence of another convincing explanation, this suggests that the Bay of Pigs-inspired assassination of JFK was on Nixon's mind.

Despite its lapses into obsessive speculations about connections between irrelevant figures and dubious arguments by analogy of modus operandi, Coup d'Etat is a chillingly convincing book. Canfield and Weberman document their assertions scrupulously, displaying a total command of both the voluminous Warren Commission papers and the assassination literature. Their theory explains the assassination coherently and fits all the known facts better than any other. The portrait of the CIA that emerges from this book, coupled with the revelations of Marchetti, Agee, and company, presents the agency as an invisible government, acting independently at home and abroad, affiliated with factions of American capitalism but controlled by none.

The impact of the Kennedy assassination on American politics in the 1960s and '70s is difficult to assess. Canfield and Weberman claim that things would have been very different had Kennedy lived: he would have kept us out of Vietnam, secured detente earlier, and inaugurated massive social welfare measures. This is difficult to swallow; the legislation of the Kennedy administration does not suggest real social reform, and while JFK might not have defended the American empire in Vietnam, there is no reason to suppose he had given up his Cold War policies and would not have defended it elsewhere. But the assassination and the CIA power it reveals certainly refute the claims that American democracy has effective political meaning. Not only could what happened in Greece and Chile happen here; to some extent it already has.