Gerald D. McKnight was born on 12th October, 1932. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War. He later became professor of history at Hood College, where he became chair of the History and Political Science Department. David R. Wrone has commented: "Noted for his outstanding character and gentle manners, the faculty held him in great respect, with administrators knowing he was a rock that they could depend upon, whose fair judgments and consistently sound collegiate outlook they could rest assured to find in his apt comments, good advice, and proper actions. But his greatest noted quality as a professor came in his love of teaching, which was marked by splendid lectures infused with inspiring principles and insights. His enlightening courses lit the path for the life journey of generations of students." (1)
An expert on Martin Luther King in 1998 he published his first book, The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI and the Poor People's Campaign. McKnight became involved in researching the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a result of his friendship with Harold Weisberg. He told History News Network in 2005: "Harold Weisberg, who was a friend and neighbor of mine, wrested from the government under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) almost 300,000 pages of documents and records pertaining to the JFK assassination. I had complete access to his archive, and today the Weisberg Archive is housed at my teaching institution, Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. I am a co-director of the archive - the largest private and accessible collection of government documents on the Kennedy assassination in the world." (2)
McKnight published Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why in 2005. AB pointed out: "The commonly accepted view is that the Warren Commission was a prisoner of its sources (i.e. the FBI) and that, coupled with a notable lack of general curiosity... resulted in the Report that declared Oswald a lone, mad assassin. Yes, so the argument goes, they could have asked more questions, but there were restraints of time and money and they had to go down the one and only avenue that was open to them - an avenue carefully contoured by Hoover and his agency. What McKnight documents fully and exhaustively is that Chief Justice Earl Warren and his fellow commissioners were complicit from the get-go in the lone assassin theory. Their job was to substantiate what had already been decided over the weekend of 23 and 24 November by Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. But their 'crime' was even worse than this, they knew that they were bolstering a lie. Their job was certainly not to go where the evidence night lead them... Now, we may have guessed that this is what happened but here we have McKnight proving it and we only had to wait 42 years. A long time in politics, yes, and a short time in history." (3)
The journalist and historian, David Talbot, has argued that "Breach of Trust, remains the best dissection of the notorious JFK assassination... he simply followed the path of his honest scholarship, even when it was widely considered politically and (academically) incorrect. His book on the willful failings of the Warren Commission - which should have been called the Dulles Commission because of ex-CIA chief (and Kennedy-hater) Allen Dulles's huge influence over the panel - still ranks as one of the Top 10 books on the Kennedy assassination." (4)
Gerald D. McKnight died at a Health Center/Retirement Home in Lawrence, Kansas, on 30th January, 2021. (5)
Question: How did you first get involved in researching the Kennedy assassination and the Warren Commission?
Gerald McKnight: Harold Weisberg, who was a friend and neighbor of mine, wrested from the government under FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] almost 300,000 pages of documents and records pertaining to the JFK assassination. I had complete access to his archive, and today the Weisberg Archive is housed at my teaching institution, Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. I am a co-director of the archive - the largest private and accessible collection of government documents on the Kennedy assassination inthe world.
Question: Do you see connections between the Warren Commission investigation and other recent controversial government investigations, namely the 9/11 Report?
Gerald McKnight: There are parallels between the WC [Warren Commission] and the 9/11 Commission. In both cases the government insisted that these commissions of honorable citizens would undertake a good faith, thorough, and impartial investigation into these history-altering events. In both cases the record demonstrates that both commissions were structured and staffed to provide politically motivatedoutcomes.
Question: Would you say that the Warren Commission created a blueprint of sorts for how the government can fix the outcome of a heated, controversial investigation? If so, in what ways?
Gerald McKnight: The key to government commissions is not the names of prominent members who appear on the marquee for public consumption,but in the chief counsels andexecutive directors—these are the entities that run the investigation. In the case of the WC it was the Hoover-picked J. Lee Rankin, the director's friend. Rankin was not the choice of [former Chief Justice and Commission Chair] Earl Warren.He was forced on Warren by Hoover, [then Assistant Attorney General Nicholas] Katzenbach, anda like-minded majority of the commissioners. This clique was determined to submit a report that found Oswald the sole assassin, no conspiracy. In short, to underwrite the “official truth” of the assassination, which was settled upon over the weekend after the assassination by Hoover, LBJ, and Katzenbach.
As for the 9/11 Commission, the executive director was Philip D. Zelikow, a Republican with very close official ties to the Bush administration, and a close friend of [former National Security Advisor and current Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice.
Both Rankin and Zelikow, as a result of their positions, ran their respective investigations.They picked the areas of investigation, the topics of the hearings, what witnesses to call forth and what lines of questioning to engage, etc.
Question: Unlike the majority of literature on the JFK assassination, your book steers clear of speculation and conspiracy theories, yet you provide concrete evidence of deception and ineptitude. Was there any single incident that stands out to you as the most shocking cover-up or oversight?
Gerald McKnight: I think there are several telltaleevasions: 1) The WC's failure to launch a real investigation into Oswald's Mexico City trip. This, I believe, is akey to what forces or interests were behind the murder of JFK. 2) The destruction ofJFK autopsy materials and the writing of a second autopsy protocol after it was learned that Oswald was murdered—in short, the fabricationof the JFK autopsy protocol. 3) Lastly, the fact that the FBI andthe WC hadthe Atomic Energy Committee (AEC) run sophisticated Neutron ActivationAnalysis (NAA) on Oswald's paraffin casts and other forensic materials and then failed to include those results in the final Commission Report. The fact that some of the best evidence in the case wasnever disclosed in the Warren Report leads toone inexorable conclusion: that results exonerated Oswald.
Question: Some people, especially those born after the assassination, seem to think this is “old news.” How do you explain to them that the unanswered questions surrounding that event are still incredibly relevant more than 40 years later?
Gerald McKnight: A president is assassinated—there can be no more de-stabilizing crime in our system of government—and there is no good-faith effort to uncover the facts. What does thissay aboutthe legitimacy of our government? Moreover, once JFK was removed, there followedpossibly history-altering changes in our foreign policy. Had Kennedy lived, would he have liquidated our involvement in Vietnam? Many credible historians speculate that he would have ended our involvement bythe end of 1964. Kennedy's tentative steps toward a rapprochement with Castro's Cuba ended with Dallas. Once LBJ heated up our Vietnam involvement, the Soviet-American detente growing out of the peacefully resolved 1962 Cuban MissileCrisis was terminated. This raises the foreboding question: Was JFK's assassination a coup d'etat?
Question: Will we ever get to the bottom of this mystery—or did the Commission do a good job of making sure that will never happen ?
Gerald McKnight: Since there was no intentby the government to solve the crime forty years ago, we will probably never know the "Who" and "Why" of Dallas. Moreover, we have to assume that official records—CIA, State, Naval Office of Inquiry (ONI), etc.—have been destroyed. There is, however, an obligation on the part of government to at least come forward and admit to the American people that the Warren Report is a fabrication of our history.A step in that direction would be to reopen the investigation by acommission of independent and nonpartisan investigators with no connection to government.
Question: So, are you a fan of Oliver Stone’s film?
Gerald McKnight: Actually Stone's film bored me. It was clear that Stone can make movies but he knew nothing about the assassination. But the film did rejuvenate public interest in the topic and this ultimately led to the passage of the JFK Records Act and the release of 4-5 million pages of documents relating to the JFK assassination, so on that level I have to say bravo to Oliver.
The FBI had a fairly extensive pre-assassination file on Lee Harvey Oswald, but the first reports on Oswald to cross the director's desk originated with military intelligence. Hoover imposed his own interpretation on the army's intelligence reports on Oswald that fitted neatly into his version of assassination history. Two hours later, while on the phone with Assistant Attorney General Schlei, Hoover gave the Justice Department official the benefit of his reading of U.S. history and the political leanings of presidential assassins. It was the director's considered opinion that such killers were always either "anarchists" or "communists." Later in the day the Dallas field office, after prodding from FBIHQ, started compiling biographical material from Oswald's FBI file and interview sessions at Dallas police headquarters with the alleged assailant. An FBI agent lifted some of this material from Oswald's wallet when the suspect left the interrogation room to relieve himself. One of the items receiving special attention was a "Fair Play for Cuba, New Orleans Chapter" membership card issued to L. H. Oswald by chapter president A. J. Hidell, which was assumed to be a fictitious name for Oswald himself. Later that same day FBI HQ had a chance to review the agency's pre assassination file on Oswald. The salient biographical data in the file strengthened Hoover's conviction that Oswald was the assassin: In 1959 Oswald had told U.S. Embassy officials in Moscow that he was a "Marxist" and wished to renounce his American citizenship. In exchange for Soviet citizenship, he offered to tell the Soviets what he knew about the U.S. Marine Corps and his specialty as a radar operator. The ex-marine had distributed pro-Castro "Fair Play for Cuba" literature in New Orleans and, according to a "confidential informant," Oswald subscribed to The Worker, the East Coast organ of the American Communist Party. ''
Before the day was over the biographical details about Oswald were fitted to Hoover's profile of a presidential assassin. That same day, the word went out from FBI HQ to the Dallas field office that Oswald was not just the principal suspect; he was the only suspect. A Richardson, Texas, law officer called the FBI Dallas office the afternoon of the assassination with the name of a possible suspect, Jimmy George Robinson, and other members of the white supremacist National States Rights Party because of their open hatred for President Kennedy. Before the office memo recording the call was serialized and filed-and it was filed the day of the assassination-it carried the handwritten notation: "Not necessary to cover as true suspect located." In short, within a few hours of the assassination, the FBI was not interested in any possible conspiracy or any suspect other than Lee Harvey Oswald. No action was taken on the lead from Richardson, although the call came in before the Dallas authorities charged Oswald with killing President Kennedy. He was not charged with JFK's murder until 11:25 p.m.
Under Hoover's direction the FBI's handling of Oswald's Mexico City activities was simply a repetition of the way the director and bureau elites dealt with the larger, controlling issue of the assassination itself. That is to say, the politically determined theory of the crime-Oswald acting alone took the president's life-took iron-clad, unamendable precedence over all the evidence and witness testimony. President Johnson and Hoover had agreed on the "official truth" of Dallas over the weekend following the assassination. When LBJ, anxious to "settle the dust" of Dallas, asked that the FBI report on the assassination be on his desk by Tuesday, November 26, the day after Kennedy was buried, Hoover notified the General Investigative Division "to wrap up investigation; seems to me we have the basic facts now:"" Only two developments delayed for the moment this rush to judgment: The first was Hoover's suspicion regarding Oswald's assassin, Jack Ruby, and his easy access to Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police department. The second unanticipated development was the revelation from Mexico City about an Oswald imposter and a possible KGB-Castro conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
As soon as FBI Washington had proved that the Alvarado story was bogus and conspired with the CIA to suppress from the Commission any revelations about an Oswald imposter, Hoover closed the book on any further FBI investigation into the "potential Cuban aspects" surrounding Oswald and his seven days in Mexico City. It would have been expected that the FBI's General Investigative Division (GID) would carry the major responsibility in any legitimate investigation into the Kennedy assassination. Up to a point, this was true. The FBI report that LBJ wanted on his desk by November 26 was prepared by the GID. According to Assistant Director Alex Rosen, the head of that division, the "basic investigation was substantially completed by November 26, 1963," to meet the White House's expectations." After the GID turned in its thrown-together report the division was relegated to the margins of the investigation. Rosen himself was assigned to the bureau's bank-robbery desk. The GID head would later characterize the FBI's investigative efforts into the Kennedy assassination as "standing around with pockets open waiting for evidence to drop in." Even more telltale was Hoover's order on November 23 to cancel all bureau contacts with Cuban sources. He followed this up by excluding the FBI's Cuban experts and supervisors in the bureau's own Cuba Section of the Domestic Intelligence Division from any investigation into Oswald's Mexico City activities. The director focused the probe away from Mexico and the Caribbean to the Soviet Union. Investigation into Oswald's political activities and associations was turned over to the bureau's Soviet experts.
In concert with the FBI, CIA Langley pulled the plug on an honest investigation into any Cuban aspects of the Kennedy assassination. In the CIA's case, the process was more indirect and devious, but the end result was same. Initially, the CIA's deputy director of plans, Richard Helms, appointed John Whitten to undertake the agency's in-house investigation into the assassination. Whitten was a senior career officer with twenty-three years in the clandestine service. In 1963 he was the head of WH-3, the agency's designation for the Western Hemisphere Branch that comprised Mexico and the Caribbean. The WH-3 head had a staff of thirty officers and about an equal number of clerical staff. What Whitten did not suspect at the time was that Helms and the chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch, James Jesus Angleton, had set him up for failure. There is good reason to believe that Hoover was part of an interagency scheme to thwart any good faith investigation into the suspicious machinations surrounding the activities of the CIA's Mexico City station.
Theoretically, Whitten had the experienced area professionals, staff, and informers to conduct a sweeping investigation into Oswald's activities in Mexico City, but during the short time that Whitten was in charge of the investigation he ran into a stone wall. The FBI deluged his branch with thousands of reports containing bits and fragments of witness testimony that required laborious and time-consuming name checks. Whitten characterized most of the FBI information as "weirdo stuff." None of this mountain of paper contained vital information that was critical to any legitimate probe into the assassination. For example, Whitten knew nothing of Oswald's alleged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans during the summer of 1963, Oswald's so-called Historic Diary with insights into his years in the Soviet Union, or the FBI's assertion that JFK's charged assailant had attempted to take the life of General Edwin Walker. Whitten knew none of this until, at Katzenbach's December 6 invitation, he was allowed to read CD 1. By that time Helms and Angleton were preparing to pull the investigation out from under him.
In the chain of command for WH-3, COS Win Scott was under Whitten and, in the bureaucratic scheme of things, expected to report directly to Whitten. But Scott, Whitten's subordinate, never told him about Oswald's contacts with the Cuban and Soviet embassies until the day Kennedy was assassinated. Equally remarkable was the fact that Whitten had never heard of Lee Harvey Oswald until November 22, 1963, even though the CIA had a restricted 201 pre assassination file on Oswald held by the Counterintelligence/Special Investigative Group, indicating that this branch of the CIA confined to sensitive counterintelligence operations may have had a special interest in former marine PFC Lee Harvey Oswald."
The CIA's concerted effort to distance itself from Oswald is contradicted by disclosed facts. For example, a special unit of the agency's Counterintelligence (CI) staff, the Special Investigations Group (SIG), had a pre assassination file on Oswald. The SIG was staffed by a select handful of operatives whose mission was to ferret out any foreign attempt to penetrate the CIA. John Whitten, the former chief of the agency's Western Division, noted that the SIG worked on cases that were "so sensitive ... that they should not be handled by one of the area divisions." Raymond G. Rocca, deputy to the agency's CI chief, James J. Angleton, disclosed to a congressional committee that he was certain the KGB had debriefed Oswald about U.S. radar secrets and any information he had about the agency's top-secret U-2 spy plane."
These revelations indicated that the CIA's attempt to distance itself from Oswald was a tactical charade. Why did the supersensitive SIG have a file on an ex-marine defector? Why did the CIA wait for a year before opening a file on Oswald after learning about his defection? Even more inexplicable is the CIA's contention that it never debriefed Oswald before or after he returned to the United States. If the CIA was certain that the KGB had questioned Oswald about the U-2, then it was in the agency's interest to find out what his Soviet interrogators had wanted to know, where he had been questioned, and much more. That is, if his defection had not been staged.
Assuming Oswald's defection was genuine, the Soviet branch of the agency's CI Division would have needed to know if the redefecting Oswald had been "turned" while in Russia and was returning as a KGB "sleeper," or dormant agent. Angleton, who was famously ensnared in his own web of Cold War paranoia, would never have missed an opportunity to aggressively debrief Oswald if he had indeed breached security. Angleton's suspicions of the Soviet menace were so ingrained that he never retreated from his deep conviction that the KGB was behind the Kennedy assassination. As mentioned earlier, it was Angleton who wrested the CIA's in-house investigation away from John Whitten because he either was convinced or pretended to believe that the purpose of Oswald's trip to Mexico City had been to meet with his KGB handlers to finalize plans to assassinate Kennedy.
One of the most closely held of Helms's secrets had to do with George E. Joannides, the JM/Wave contact officer for the DRE in 1963. Helms never revealed that the CIA was funding the directorate when the DRE had contact with Oswald, who was publicly agitating in favor of the Castro revolution in New Orleans during the months of July and August. Joannides probably knew more about Oswald and his relationship with the DRE and other anti Castro exile groups in New Orleans than anyone else in the government. It was Helms who assigned Joannides to the CIA's Miami station because he was skilled in psychological warfare and disinformation operations. It was Helms who assigned veteran clandestine officer John Whitten to head up the CIA's in-house investigation of the Kennedy assassination and then withheld from him important information from Oswald's pre assassination file. When Whitten protested, Helms removed him and turned the investigation over to Angleton. It might have been just another awkward coincidence that David Atlee Phillips, the DRE's first contact officer, was chief of covert action in the Cuban Section of the CIA's Mexico City station when Oswald arrived in Mexico City in September 1963."
Thomas Powers's biography of Richard Helms, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, could not have had a more fitting title. Helms kept Joannides and his DRE connections secret through four investigations into the Kennedy assassination." Joannides's name did not publicly surface until the 1990s, when the so-called JFK Act led to the establishment of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). Over a four-year period the ARRB, empowered to declassify JFK files, dislodged somewhere between four and five million pages of declassified documents. Joannides's record was one of those files, and his personnel records revealed that he had been the DRE's contact officer when the CIA claimed it had no contact with the directorate in 1963. But his file was purged, according to the Washington Post's Jefferson Morley, who is the researcher responsible for introducing Joannides into the historiography of the JFK assassination. Morley described the file as "thin." There were no reports in the Joannides file for the entire seventeen months that he was the DRE's contact officer. All that his personnel file revealed is that Joannides was paying the directorate for "intelligence" and "propaganda." John Tunheim, now a federal judge in Minneapolis, chaired the ARRB. After reviewing all the CIA suppression and stonewalling surrounding the Joannides story, Tunheim remarked to Morley, "[This] shows that the CIA wasn't interested in the truth about the assassination.
All the indicators strongly point toward Oswald having been connected to an American intelligence source. There is persuasive circumstantial evidence that Oswald was building a pro-Castro cover as part of an intelligence plan that ultimately took him to Mexico City. What we know today of his activities in Mexico City far exceeds what the Warren Commission chose to include in its report, out of design but more significantly because the CIA saw to it that the evidence was not available to the Commission and its staff lawyers.
The most significant and intriguing turn in this paper trail is the recent revelations that some senior CIA officers in the Special Affairs Staff (SAS) had an operational interest in Oswald just weeks before the Kennedy assassination. At the end of 1962 the Kennedy team essentially shelved "Operation Mongoose" as ineffective in its determined campaign to oust Cuba's communist regime. In January 1963 the SAS was created to direct the secret campaign to bring down the Castro government and replace it with a pro American government in Havana. The SAS's executive officer was Desmond FitzGerald, who ten months later was the chief action officer of operation AMLASH, a freelancing operation that did not have the White House's blessing.
This keen interest in Oswald just weeks before JFK left for Dallas was closely held by FitzGerald and a handful of other senior SAS staff officers. It was such a tightly held secret that Win Scott, Mexico City's chief of station, and John Whitten, the career officer Helms picked to head the agency's investigation into the Kennedy assassination, were never told. Whitten's exclusion from FitzGerald's highly compartmentalized "need-to-know" SAS group, and his subsequent abrupt removal from directing the CIA's in-house investigation, were anything but a routine administrative matter or a case of coming out on the losing end of some messy bureaucratic power struggle.
Whitten, as discussed earlier, was a twenty-three-year professional in the clandestine service. His credibility was unquestioned. Early in his CIA career he had introduced the polygraph to the agency and put it to skillful use in some of the CIA's most sensitive espionage investigations." Deputy Director of Plans Helms, chief of the CIA's covert operations division, removed Whitten not on the alleged grounds that his two-week investigation was going nowhere but out of concern as to where it might lead. Helms replaced Whitten with the chief of counterintelligence, and Angleton immediately turned the investigation over to his division's Soviet experts. As was the case with the FBI, the CIA's senior officers diverted all attention away from the Cuban angle in the Kennedy assassination. Always the professional, Whitten quietly stepped aside and held his own counsel until 1978, when he was called to testify before a House committee. At the time Whitten had retired and was living outside the country. Minnesota federal judge John Tunheim, the chairman of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, was of the opinion that Whitten's 1978 testimony (not released until 2001) "was perhaps the single most important document we uncovered."
Whitten testified that when he took over the CIA's in-house investigation his team of thirty agents was provided with no details about "Oswald's political activity in the United States, especially the 'pro-Castro activity' and autobiographical sketches... found among his effects." These "autobiographical sketches" included Oswald's accounts of his encounters with Carlos Bringuier and the CIA-funded DRE group in New Orleans in August 1963. This information was readily available in some version of Oswald's 201 file that was held by Angleton's CI/SIG section at Langley. Whatever intelligence FitzGerald's select SAS group had on Oswald must remain in the realm of speculation. Whitten told his congressional questioners that if he had known about Oswald's activities in New Orleans and contacts with the DRE Cubans, he would have focused his investigation on the "possible involvement of the Miami station". Although Whitten did not believe Oswald was connected to the CIA, after that year's chilling revelations about the CIA's "Executive Action" programs, which was the first time Whitten learned of these assassination operations, he told the committee he could not rule it out.
Whitten was a man of uncompromising professional integrity. During his 1978 secret testimony he unburdened himself when the topic turned to political assassinations. He was appalled that Helms had endorsed such a program and appointed a "thug like [Bill] Harvey to hire some criminal to commit assassinations." He accused Helms of violating every "operational precept, every bit of operational experience, every ethical consideration." When the committee counsel asked if he thought Harvey had been involved in the Kennedy assassination, all Whitten would allow was that he "did not have any reason to believe it." A few minutes later the general counsel asked what Whitten made of the fact that Harvey had instructed his wife to burn all his private papers after his death, implying that there might be a "smoking gun" tying Harvey to the killing of the president. The generally gentlemanly and collected Whitten shot back, "He was too young to have assassinated McKinley and Lincoln. It could have been anything." In short, Whitten was ready to believe that Harvey, the CIA's former head of Task Force W, the action officer in charge of Cuban covert operations before FitzGerald replaced him in 1963 to head up the SAS, was capable of anything and that his nominal boss, the then DDP, Richard Helms, knew it and had taken no steps to restrain him.
During the short time that Whitten was engaged in his investigation he never heard of operation AMLASH. The name Rolando Cubela Secades first came to his attention in the 1970s after the Senate's Church Committee brought it to light.54 There was never a remote possibility that Whitten's team of investigators would have turned up anything about FitzGerald's plans to assassinate Castro. What unnerved Helms was the prospect that Whitten might have turned his attention to the CIA's Miami station (JM/Wave) operating out of South Dade and uncovered the CIA's connections with the DRE, the most militant of the anti-Castro exiles.
As developed earlier, in 1962 Helms had assigned George E. Joannides, a young, well-educated, and experienced junior officer on a fast track inside the agency, to take over as the DRE's contact officer." Helms picked Joannides because the contact officer he replaced, Ross Crozier, had failed to earn the respect of the DRE and therefore had little control over these CIA assets. When Joannides took over, all of this changed. Joannides was the chief of the Psychological Warfare Branch of the Miami station for more than a year before Kennedy's assassination. He was the directorate's paymaster, keeping the exile group in funds to the tune of $25,000 a month.56 More than any other CIA officer, Joannides (code name "Howard") knew about the real operational purpose behind Oswald's staged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans and his carefully scripted contacts with the DRE during the month of August 1963, just weeks before he left for Mexico City.
This was the reason Helms worked so assiduously to keep Joannides's name from ever surfacing in any of the investigations into the JFK assassination. Even when the so-called 1992 JFK Records Act forced the CIA to surrender Joannides's 201 file, the file was purged. It was Helms's concern that if Whitten was allowed to continue his investigation he would discover the FBI reports on Oswald's "pro-Castro" activity in New Orleans and concentrate the in-house investigation on the CIA's JM/Wave station. With a team of thirty agents and a staff of thirty clerical workers Whitten might have shaken loose any operational secrets involving Joannides and the DRE and exposed a clearer picture of the CIA's interest in Oswald. Helms was determined to keep these "family jewels" securely locked away and out of reach of a colleague whose ethical integrity made him a poor risk as a coconspirator. It was this looming threat that prompted Helms to remove Whitten from the investigation and turn it over to Angleton. Angleton, like his professional counterpart, Hoover, dropped the Cuban angle in the assassination and turned the investigation over to Counterintelligence's Soviet Division to determine whether the KGB had influenced Oswald in any way.
If hard-line elements within the CIA conspired to force the new president's hand or provide Johnson with the grounds to settle the "Castro problem" by an invasion of Cuba, they were quickly disappointed. Two weeks after the assassination the White House sent a clear signal to the CIA to abandon its agitation about a "Red plot" behind the tragedy of Dallas. On December 6, 1963, Katzenbach invited John Whitten and Birch O'Neal, Angleton's trusted deputy and senior SIG officer, to the Justice Department to review a copy of the FBI's report (Commission Document [CD] 1) on the Kennedy assassination. At that point CIA Langley knew that the "official truth" of Dallas would be that Oswald, acting alone, had killed the president. President Johnson used CD I to impress upon the CIA that he wanted all rumors and allegations about a "Red plot" squelched.'
Hoover was quick to take the initiative in backstopping Johnson's determination to shut down the Mexico City rumor mill. On November 27 the director ordered Laurence Keenan, a Spanish-speaking supervisor in the bureau's Domestic Intelligence Division, to take the first available flight to Mexico City. Keenan was instructed to "coordinate the entire investigation" into the "Red plot" allegations and "pursue them vigorously until the desired results are obtained." Keenan left that evening on the first flight available to Mexico City. He had no passport or visa, but FBI legate Clark Anderson met him at the airport and whisked him through Mexican Customs and Immigration to an awaiting embassy car. When Keenan arrived at the U.S. Embassy there were five or six officials waiting for him, including Ambassador Thomas Mann and Win Scott, the CIA's station chief. According to Keenan, he relayed to the group that it was "Hoover's conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and in view of Oswald's untimely death no further investigation was deemed necessary: '
The FBI and CIA diverted their respective investigations away from probing into any connection between Oswald and his public pro-Castro activities during the three months before Kennedy's assassination. The day following the assassination Hoover canceled orders to contact the FBI's Cuban sources. The director narrowed the focus to Oswald and any alleged Cuban connections even further when he excluded all of the bureau's Cuban experts and supervisors from the investigation. Abandoning any Cuban angle in the assassination, Hoover turned the investigation over to the bureau's Soviet experts.
Senior CIA officers, in concert with the FBI, maneuvered to keep the public in the dark about any possible connection between the agency and Oswald's movements in Mexico City or his staged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans. In late December Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms moved John Whitten from the CIA's investigation and replaced him with James Angleton, the chief of the agency's counterintelligence staff. According to Whitten, Angleton had "direct ties" with Hoover.' Angleton quickly concluded that Cuba was unimportant and focused his internal investigation on Oswald's life in the Soviet Union. Whitten later told his House Select Committee interrogators that had he remained in charge of the investigation and been fully informed of the FBI's and CIA's pre assassination files on Oswald, he would have concentrated his attention on the CIA's JM/Wave station in Miami, Florida, to uncover what George Joannides, the station chief, and operatives from the SIG and SAS knew about Oswald. However, when Angleton took over the investigation the CIA had clear sailing in covering up any connection between it and the Kennedy assassination. Commissioner Allen Dulles, who had been CIA director before the Bay of Pigs fiasco prompted Kennedy to remove him, was Angleton's ex parte pipeline into what took place inside the Commission's executive sessions. For instance, when Hoover and McCone testified before the Commission they knew beforehand what line the questioning would take, allowing them to coordinate their responses. "Was Oswald ever an agent?" And "Does the CIA/FBI have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate President Kennedy?" When Hoover and McCone made their separate May 1964 appearances before the Commission they were on message with a "No" to both questions.
These were the kinds of generic questions that the government should have made every effort to answer in order to be true to its solemn obligation to uncover the reasons behind the Dealey Plaza conspiracy. Where there is no mystery, no shadow of doubt, is that planning for provocation to justify major U.S. military action against Cuba was a persistent theme in some government circles, most notably the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA, during the Kennedy presidency.
The commonly accepted view is that the Warren Commission was a prisoner of its sources (i.e. the FBI) and that, coupled with a notable lack of general curiosity ('We're supposed to closing doors around here, not opening them,' quote Wesley J. Leibeler), resulted in the Report that declared Oswald a lone, mad assassin. Yes, so the argument goes, they could have asked more questions, but there were restraints of time and money and they had to go down the one and only avenue that was open to them - an avenue carefully contoured by Hoover and his agency.
What McKnight documents fully and exhaustively is that Chief Justice Earl Warren and his fellow commissioners were complicit from the get-go in the lone assassin theory. Their job was to substantiate what had already been decided over the weekend of 23 and 24 November by Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. But their 'crime' was even worse than this, they knew that they were bolstering a lie. Their job was certainly not to go where the evidence night lead them.
On the evening of 22 November President Johnson had put Hoover in charge of the investigation. Subsequently Johnson told Hoover that lie wanted a full report on the assassination on his desk by Tuesday. What would the report conclude? McKnight cites an FBI document that the president 'approved the idea that (the FBI) make a report showing the evidence conclusively tying Oswald in as the assailant of President Kennedy.' This was the 'official solution' and Earl Warren and company simply fell in behind it.
Now, we may have guessed that this is what happened but here we have McKnight proving it and we only had to wait 42 years. A long time in politics, yes, and a short time in history.
McKnight has chapters on how the 'official truth' emerged, the formation of the Commission, and examinations of various issues that confronted these 'honourable' men such as Oswald in Mexico and the 'Single Bullet' fabrication and virtually no page goes by without new insights and fresh documentation. His is a remarkable achievement and one that nobody in the critical Community should fail to read.
Historian Gerald McKnight, whose 2005 book on the Warren Commission, Breach of Trust, remains the best dissection of the notorious JFK assassination panel, has died. McKnight, who was at one time the chair of the history department at Hood College in Maryland, is still one of the few campus scholars to ever take on the explosive subject - which nearly six decades after the gunfire in Dallas's Dealey Plaza remains taboo in university (and media) circles. It was the Warren Commission's glaring coverup of this national trauma that began the deep erosion of the public's faith in authority. But rather than examining this fundamental "breach of trust," timid scholars and pundits today continue to mouth the party line about accused "lone gunman" Lee Harvey Oswald - and lump all independent Kennedy researchers with paranoid QAnon cultists.
But Gerald McKnight, whom I had the pleasure of meeting once, was not easily intimidated. A crusty veteran of the Korean War, he simply followed the path of his honest scholarship, even when it was widely considered politically and (academically) incorrect. His book on the willful failings of the Warren Commission - which should have been called the Dulles Commission because of ex-CIA chief (and Kennedy-hater) Allen Dulles's huge influence over the panel - still ranks as one of the Top 10 books on the Kennedy assassination. That's Dulles, the dark subject of my book The Devil's Chessboard, looming (in a bow tie) behind President Johnson as LBJ was given a copy of the Warren Report in 1964.
Professor Gerald D. McKnight, author of Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why, has died at a Health Center/Retirement Home in Lawrence, Kansas. Professor McKnight was a Korean War veteran serving in Graves Registration, a career educator, a distinguished researcher and author, and a close associate of the prolific litigator and JFK assassination scholar, the late Harold Weisberg. Professor McKnight was an influential teacher and historian, an exceptional person whose friendship, generosity, and depth of understanding was a gift to all who knew him.
Professor McKnight is the author of the books, The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI and the Poor People's Campaign (1998) and Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why (2005, republished for a 2013 edition).
Now cracks a noble heart. Gerald D. McKnight has died. Implacable Death took him on January 30, 2021, from his medical/retirement home in Lawrence, Kansas. He had been ill for many months.
For many years as a professor of history he had taught history at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where he also had served as the chair of the History and Political Science Department. Noted for his outstanding character and gentle manners, the faculty held him in great respect, with administrators knowing he was a rock that they could depend upon, whose fair judgments and consistently sound collegiate outlook they could rest assured to find in his apt comments, good advice, and proper actions. But his greatest noted quality as a professor came in his love of teaching, which was marked by splendid lectures infused with inspiring principles and insights. His enlightening courses lit the path for the life journey of generations of students.
One could not be in his company long ere he would mention a book on a subject or on one he was reading, for in this darkening age when reading and books have increasingly become a negative character quality among so much of academia, his reliance on these foundation building blocks of knowledge was a joy to hear. Indeed, at his home one could not go far without coming into contact with these repositories of our accomplishments in civilization and transmitter of ideas. His near neighbor was the indefatigable assassination scholar Harold Weisberg whose friendship with Professor McKnight over the years grew in their common causes.
As he taught and read, he became more disenchanted with the literature and press coverage on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The result came to an exceptional well-written history, The Last Crusade; Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI and the Poor People's Campaign on the largely neglected but as he found to be the lynchpin of understanding the last years of the civil rights movement and indeed an unhappy influence on the course of American history.
In the course of his labor, he became friend and boon companion with Clayton Ogilvie who had similar interests and unusual skill for digitizing documents. Professor McKnight negotiated with Hood College's librarians to become the repository of Harold's records and personal papers that filled approximately 150 four-drawer file cabinets. Here are deposited hundreds of thousands of pages of FBI FOIA documents garnered by Weisberg (with the legal work of his attorney Jim Lesar) in fiercely contested lawsuits as well as his archival records. The records of critics Sylvia Meagher, Ray Marcus, Hal Verb and others were later added. In the days preceding Harold's passing Ogilvie, in turn, committed to Harold that he would digitize all of his record to ensure his legacy of open access to his records would continue. In the last two years preceding Gerry McKnight's passing, Ogilvie, in turn made the same commitment that Gerry's records would also be digitized and preserved like Harold's. Freely available over the net, they have become an often-used resource for students and scholars, both in the United States and in foreign lands. The digital records constitute solid pillars in a temple monument erected for the study of American History in the last half the 20th century.
Professor McKnight organized and hosted several JFK assassination conferences at Hood College and traveled to present at the Dallas-UK in Canterbury, England. His last JFK lecture appearance was at the Mid-America conference in Springfield, Missouri.
In 2005 he published his superbly researched and organized Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why.
Supplementing the documents to be found in the Harold Weisberg Archive, Gerry frequented the National Archives to augment his knowledge base to draft his book on the Warren Commission. Among Gerry's many points to be found in Breach of Trust was that Commission staff included spies inserted by the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Commission's work was stained by the corruption and manipulation of the military. One member acted as an informer for the CIA, another for the FBI. Incompetent and prejudicial information that would not be permitted in a formal judicial proceeding was free to enter the record from state and primarily federal investigators to make a prosecutorial indictment. Gerry was able to document the suppression of material that would have exculpated Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin, in favor of editing critical assassination reconstruction timelines and ignoring witness statements that were inconveniently subverting their preconceived solutions to the crime.
All the Commission's efforts and those of subsequent "investigative" agencies' efforts that followed seemed designed to deflect an impartial assessment of the facts left a rich documentary record for diligent scholars such as Professor McKnight to examine. Gerry was a scholar; he knew his craft well knew; he taught his students how to research and document their findings as they carefully read the primary documentary evidence. He left behind an exemplar for investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy's murder as forensic investigation free of political Procrustean artifice.
In retirement, as disease wracked his body and age limited his mobility, he remained hard at work assembling and organizing his many notes taken from government documents at the National Archives to prepare an addendum to his Breach of Trust. He sought to write the history of the critical first ten days of the Warren Commission inquiry and the background of the man wrongly charged with the crime. As weakness slowed his steps, and his mind began to wander, he bequeathed his notes, his documents and his initial chapters to the Harold Weisberg Archive to serve as catalyst for a new generation of historical researcher to pick up his mantle and to rid the historical record of its circumambulations and obfuscations. He thought American CAN handle the truth!
Gerald D. McKnight has departed this plain of existence. He has paid his obol to the boatman Charon, who, as flights of angels sung, rowed him across the dark and roiling waters of the river of mortality to a port in the Elysian Fields. We know that then the trumpets sounded from the other side to welcome him home.