Like so many of his boasts, the JFK files released by Donald Trump did not quite live up to its promise. “I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted”, he said. In reality, there was not an awful lot of interest behind the veil. But that may be to do with him caving in at the last minute to CIA and FBI lobbying which led to the withholding of some of the documents. This, of course, has had the effect of fuelling the flames of conspiracy theories lit 54 years ago with the death of a president.
One item which has been presented as an exclusive revelation, especially and understandably in Britain, is that a reporter on the Cambridge Evening News received a mysterious telephone call 25 minutes before the assassination to call the US embassy in London for “some big news”.
This is not, however, entirely new, it was already around almost a decade ago along with the claim that there had been a similar telephone call about Stephen Ward, the man who introduced Christine Keeler to both War Minister John Profumo and Soviet naval attaché and spy Evgeny Ivanov, and later killed himself, or, if you believe some theories, was murdered on behalf of MI5.
The Cambridge newspaper connection in the latest JFK papers is made in a memo written by James Angleton, then the deputy director of the FBI. It goes on to say that similar anonymous calls “of a strangely coincidental nature” had been received by people in the UK over the past year, particularly with the case of Dr Ward.”
The Cambridge Evening News, albeit a fine regional newspaper, was an unusual choice for imparting such extraordinarily information. The identity of the reporter who took the call had not emerged in the past and is not known now. There has, however, been some speculation in conspiracy circles that it was Victor Louis, an authority on affairs Russian at the height of the Cold War.
Louis, born Vitaly Yevgenyevich Lui in Moscow in 1928, was widely seen as a Kremlin conduit. “Why do people call me KGB colonel?”, he once complained to Ronald Payne of TheTelegraph. “Goodness: have you been promoted to general at last Victor?”, Payne responded.
Luis, however, did not work for the Cambridge Evening News. He wrote for the Evening News, the London paper which was later incorporated into the Evening Standard. His connection with Cambridge appears to be from 1987 when he arrived there for a liver transplant operation after being diagnosed with cancer.
The intelligence services were heavily enmeshed in the Profumo Scandal and there are some links between that case and John F Kennedy. And, with conspiracy theories, one can envisage secret chains, long and complex, until you reach a stage when nothing is what it seems.
James Jesus Angleton, the author of the memo in the Kennedy documents, is himself an example of someone who saw conspiracies everywhere. He was convinced that battalions of KGB double-agents were embedded in the West, creating havoc. One of the most powerful men in US intelligence, Angleton had been deeply affected when Kim Philby, the MI6 man who he trusted and saw as a close friend, was proved to be a long-term and highly successful Russian spy. Angleton’s book, A Wilderness of Mirrors, depicts a world where it is almost impossible to navigate between truths, secrets and lies. It is a work which, in fact, gives a glimpse into a mind of someone cracking up under the sheer weight of deception and subterfuge.
There are examples of such convulsions in the JFK papers. The defection of Yuri Nosenko from the KGB was paraded as a triumph of Western intelligence. But his insistence that Lee Harvey Oswald, the Kennedy assassin (at least according to official inquiries) was not a Russian agent did not fit with the narrative wanted by some. To Tennent H Bagley, one of Nosenko’s handlers, it added to the probability that he was a KGB plant: “By sending out such a message, the KGB exposes the fact that it has something to hide. That something may be the fact that Oswald was an agent of the KGB.”
No convincing evidence has been presented, in the past or now, that Russia ordered JFK’s killing. Much more credence can be given to the released material which shows that Moscow thought that the “ultra-right” in the US were responsible, and that without Kennedy’s leadership “some irresponsible generals in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union”.
This was hardly apprehension which was far-fetched. There was deep anger towards Kennedy from elements in the intelligence services and military because of his supposed lack of aggression towards Russia over Cuba and other issues. Some of the commanders appear to have been borderline deranged. The response of Air Force General Thomas Power, for instance, to the suggestion there should be restraint if conflict was to break out was “the whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win.”
So what are we left with?
For some Trump supporters, the “Deep State”, which includes the CIA and FBI, and which is now hounding their populist President, is still managing to cover up its part in the Kennedy assassination. Roger Stone, who helped launch Trump’s presidential campaign and remains a close confidant, has written a book making the (unsubstantiated) claim that Lyndon Johnson, JFK’s vice-president and successor in the White House, was involved in the killing. His reaction today was: “The issue is it shows the treachery of the Central intelligence Agency who recruited Oswald who trained and placed him”. For Robert Behr, a former CIA officer, now an intelligence analyst: “Withholding this stuff is just going to add to the crazy conspiracy theories and they are everywhere.”
A segment of the released papers shows that Richard Helms, then CIA director, was asked in one of the inquiries into the assassination: “Is there any information involved in the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or an agent…” There the document ends, without the sentence finishing and without Helms’s answer. Crazy or not, one can be assured that the conspiracy theories are not going to go away.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies