KIRKUS REVIEWS, 1992
JFK AND VIETNAM
Pacific Standard Magazine
The Newly Released JFK Files Lend Credence to a Few Major Conspiracy Theories
Last week, over 3,800 CIA and FBI documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were released to the public. To put the release in context, we spoke with John Newman, a leading historian of the conspiracy.
2 August, 2017 | Pacific Standard Magazine | Jack Denton |
Few events in American history have been the subject of as much intrigue as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That morbid fascination has stemmed not only from from what is known by the public, but—even more centrally—what isn’t. The long-murky record around the event has made it fertile ground for conspiracy theories and historiographic debate, in part because a number of intelligence agency documents surrounding the assassination have remained classified. Last week, the National Archives and Records Administration substantially expanded the public record of the assassination, with a surprise release of 3,810 previously classified or redacted documents from the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation related to the assassination. The document dump should help clear up the mystery, at least a little.
Through fits and starts over decades, the availability of these intelligence agency records to historians and the American public has inched ever closer to transparency. In 1964, a commission headed by then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren published a report on the assassination, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone. The Warren report included with it a few thousand pages of supporting documents, but several million pages of records pertaining to the assassination were ordered sealed for 75 years. The year 1991 saw the release of Oliver Stone’s controversial film JFK, which suggested that American intelligence agencies might have played an important role in Kennedy’s murder. The film and surrounding media hysteria renewed interest in the assassination’s narrative, and eventually resulted in the passage of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992. This act forced the release of 88 percent of the previously sealed records over the next few years. The remaining roughly 70,000 pages were to remain fully classified or heavily redacted for 25 years, when all of the documents were to be released in full, barring the intercession of the president. Though the 25-year deadline for full release is October 26th, 2017, about a quarter of the remaining files were released early last week.
For John Newman, like many JFK record-watchers, the early release came as an unexpected Christmas in July. Newman is a retired major in the United States Army, where he served for 21 years as an intelligence officer in China, Thailand, and Japan, often working closely with the National Security Agency. A chance meeting introduced Newman and Stone, and resulted in Newman working as a consultant for the JFK screenplay. He says he wrote nine scenes for the film—”all the Vietnam stuff.” As Newman tells it, the NSA attempted to suppress the publication of his history Ph.D. dissertation, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue,and the Struggle for Power (which served as source material for the Stone film). Now a professor of political science at James Madison University, he has published four history books related to the Kennedy assassination (with more on the way). His work has long been considered relatively hawkish with respect to its conviction regarding CIA involvement in the assassination, a hawkishness that he says has been continually vindicated by each release of more documents.
To understand the significance of last week’s release, Pacific Standard caught up with Newman, after he and his team had already blazed through several thousand pages of the newly released and un-redacted documents.
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Expert Talks JFK Files
HARRISONBURG — John M. Newman said Tuesday morning that he spent too much time talking to reporters in recent days to dive deeply into the recently released documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, with international television crews at his home and calls from print journalists around the globe.
But he’s had a chance to study between 400 and 500 of what he thinks are the key pages out of the thousands made available to the public Thursday night, and he’s intrigued by what he’s found and hasn’t found.
“Having been around this case since the early 1990s, I know pretty much how to hit the high-value stuff,” said Newman, a James Madison University adjunct professor of political science and author of four books on JFK, his assassination, and Lee Harvey Oswald, whom history tells us was the assassin. “There were 50 that were never before released at all. I’ve been through those.”
The thing that’s captivated him most so far is the re-release of an April 1972 memo handwritten by a then-CIA agent.
In the document, which lists “Harvey Lee Oswald” as the subject, the agent writes that then-CIA Director Richard Helms indicated that “the agency was NOT, under any circumstances, to make inquiries or ask questions of any source or defector about Oswald.”
What’s important about the memo is that the third page says Oswald was a source for the CIA, providing information about the Soviets.
“That contradicts a 50-year lie that [CIA officials] never talked to him,” Newman said of Oswald. “The people involved — those the memo was to and from and the people who were shown the document — were all involved in counterintelligence.”
That’s significant enough as it is. But Newman’s curiosity is piqued because he has a copy of the three pages released in the early 1990s. The version released Thursday had only two pages, and it was given a different document number than the initial release.
“I was amazed,” the retired U.S. Army intelligence officer said, “to see one piece disappear and not be released with the other two pieces it belongs with. Obviously, that was an attempt to disconnect it from [the previously released] document.”
Newman, a Harrisonburg resident, will provide more of his impressions at 7 p.m. Thursday when he presents “KGB-CIA Spy Wars: Oswald’s intelligence files and the CIA’s Soviet Russia Division.” The event is scheduled for the Highlands Room at JMU’s Festival Conference and Student Center and is free and open to the public.
“Everybody was lying,” he said of the Soviet and American intelligence agencies. “Oswald was at the center of the chessboard.”
Newman already has published two of the five-book series he’s writing on the Kennedy assassination: “Where Angels Tread Lightly” and “Countdown to Darkness.” The presentation essentially will be the fifth chapter of Volume 3, which he’s working on now.
A consultant to director Oliver Stone for his 1991 film “JFK,” Newman said he isn’t focused on who shot Kennedy or how many shooters there were.
He personally thinks there probably was more than one shooter, but isn’t convinced of it, and he questions whether Oswald could have shot the president as he rode through Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, and escaped the Texas School Book Depository so quickly as to encounter a Dallas police officer moments after the shooting.
His focus is on who is behind the slaying. Did the shooter or shooters act alone, or were they emissaries of some organization?
Based on his research, Newman has developed a hypothesis that President Lyndon Johnson used “a very complicated psychological warfare operation” to get Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to head the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.
The commission determined that both Oswald and Jack Ruby, who shot and killed Oswald two days after JFK’s slaying, acted alone. Conspiracy theorists have long doubted the panel’s findings.
Newman said he thinks Johnson “browbeat” Warren to head the commission and stay away from conspiracy theories by telling the chief justice that identifying the KGB or Cuban leaders as masterminds of the plot to kill Kennedy would prompt a nuclear holocaust that would leave 40 million Americans dead.
Documents with false information, Newman claims, were put in Oswald’s file to persuade Warren that Oswald did the communists’ bidding, though neither the Soviets nor Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro had anything to do with it.
“Warren thinks it’s the truth,” Newman said. “He had to tamp down what he thought was the truth to save lives.”
As evidence of the duplicity, the professor notes that tapes made in the Oval Office include Johnson boasting about what he’d done to Warren Commission member Sen. Richard Russell and Warren relaying a similar version of the exchange on public television in the 1970s.
More To Come
The documents didn’t provide the trove of information historians and researchers expected as Thursday approached. Legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on Oct. 26, 1992, called for all assassination records to be released no more than 25 years from that date.
But last-minute appeals by the FBI and CIA prompted President Donald Trump to withhold some documents for six months. Newman said only about 6,000 pages were released, about 12 percent of the total expected.
Newman called the development “very disappointing” and said he’s “angry” with both agencies for waiting 25 years to request redactions in the documents. April 26 is the new expected release date.
“There’s no reason anybody in the government now would be withholding documents. That would be bad for democracy,” he said. “A law was passed. It needs to be complied with. If not, this sore will fester.
“It’s critical to get the documents out there and let people make up their own minds.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS, 2017
John M. Newman
In 1992, John Newman prepared to celebrate finishing his Ph.D., securing a book deal with Warner Books for the release of his dissertation, JFK and Vietnam, and having worked directly with Oliver Stone as consultant on the film JFK. But a brief call from the National Security Agency put all of that in jeopardy. Newman was warned that his book had been classified and could not be published, beginning a series of curious obstacles that kept his work widely unavailable until he republished it again himself just this January.
As someone who had worked in the Army for 18 1/2 years, Newman had no idea why the NSA would block the release. Even worse, he feared the loss of his security clearance and pension funds. A few months after the call, Newman arrived in LA for the JFK premiere and the NSA contacted him again. At 4:00 the morning before the film’s big press conference, he received word the book could be published after all. Newman’s conclusion: “They didn’t want me to go in front of the press and say that the NSA is trying to block my book,” he says. “But I can’t know that for sure.”
Despite the sudden reversal, his book would still never reach a wide audience. Despite an initial printing and reviews in both Kirkus and the New York Times, no book tour was organized and no significant promotion took place. Newman says that after a few months, “the publisher took it out of the stores and wouldn’t answer my calls.” JFK and Vietnam essentially disappeared from bookstores—a traumatic experience for a newly published author that Newman now refers to as “suppression.”
As far as Newman is concerned, no other book has been suppressed in the same manner. “Especially if the book was good,” he adds. And by all accounts Newman’s book was considered good. Newman argues that by 1963 President Kennedy had made up his mind to end all operations and never move in ground troops. However, the president continued a public face of support and potential escalation in order to win the upcoming election. Newman’s book depicts Kennedy as scared of both the right and the left on the Vietnam issue, worried that decisive action either way would spell certain political defeat. Reviews praised Newman’s meticulous research and passionate presentation of newly declassified documents. At last, it seemed Newman had convincing evidence to settle the debate over JFK’s true intentions for Vietnam and what might have occurred had he lived.
“Out of all the books up to that point, my dissertation was the first to argue that we were going to withdraw, the first written by any credentialed historian,” Newman says. “All the other books up to that point didn’t know anything about the withdrawal plan and assumed Johnson was following Kennedy’s policies.” Even though the general public lost access to Newman’s thesis, academic responses at the time speak to the potency of his material. “I got hit from both sides. Harry Summers on the far right saying I vilified Kennedy and Noam Chomsky saying I made a saint out of him. I wondered if they even read the same book.”
Newman still does not know why Warner decided to suppress his rather sober, academic arguments. His most reasonable guess is that they did not want to detract from other Kennedy books taking the opposite view. “But you can’t just pay somebody to get the rights and then deep six the book without even telling them why,” Newman says. “I don’t know whether it was always a hostile buy but it certainly ended up that way.”
Luckily for Newman, economics and public policy professor James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas at Austin found one of the few released copies when the book was originally published—although his students were never able to obtain it when he put it on a syllabus. After Galbraith intervened on Newman’s behalf, the book’s rights were returned to Newman. Of course, with no digital copy, Newman, now an adjunct political science professor at James Madison University, had to retype the entire book by hand. “It was a very useful exercise,” he notes. “I saw things I didn’t see before.”
Newman also included new material that had been on his consciousness all these years. An expanded introduction details the strange relationship he later developed with Robert McNamara, the controversial secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, eventually convincing him to open up about his feelings about Vietnam and make his oral histories public. Several appendices in the new, self-published edition address the suppression of JFK and Vietnam.“I wanted to write the rest of the story,” Newman says, “because I think the story and the story about the story are important.”
Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator currently based in Paris.
2017 JFK Document Release Shows Former Intelligence Analyst Got It Right
Countdown to October 26
August 3, 2017 | Alan Dale
Dr. John M. Newman author of Countdown to Darkness, JFK and Vietnam, Oswald and the CIA, Where Angels Tread Lightly and more. Photo credit: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Skyhorse Publishing
For decades, those investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have been eagerly anticipating the release of previously withheld documents scheduled for later this year, October 26. One major question that remains is whether President Donald Trump will use his authority to further keep these documents from the public eye.(1)
Fifty-four years is long enough.
The potential for discovery represented by the recent and upcoming release of remaining government files on the Kennedy assassination was realized this week with the startling revelation that beginning in 1956, Earle Cabell, brother of Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Charles P. Cabell and Mayor of Dallas at the time JFK was assassinated, was a CIA asset.
We are now able to review his 10/17/56 CIA Secrecy Agreement, his CIA 201 file cover sheet, his 5/13/57 CIA Personality 201 File Request, and a cover sheet indicating that the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) reviewed his 201 file. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) master listing of files scheduled for release indicates that the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) classified these records as “Not Believed Relevant” (NBR). ARRB Director Judge John Tunheim, speaking at the National Press Club during a CAPA sponsored event this past March, said that he now believes that many of the NBR-designated documents are indeed relevant. With the benefit of hindsight, that may have been an understatement.
The passage of many days, months, or years may be necessary for information to be placed in the correct context and understood as being significant. The example of George Joannides, who was brought out of retirement to act as liaison between the Agency and the HSCA, is a case in point. Joannides’ role as the CIA case officer for the DRE (Revolutionary Student Directorate), an anti-Castro group with which Lee Harvey Oswald had interacted in the summer of 1963 in New Orleans, was withheld by the agency throughout the term of the HSCA which was investigating CIA connections to the group. When asked directly if Joannides could assist the HSCA by identifying the officer who had handled the DRE during the summer of 1963, he responded by saying, “I’ll look into that.” Perhaps the CIA did not feel that revealing Joannides’ true identity to the Committee investigators was “assassination-related.”
The official ARRB classification “assassination-related” was not limited to issues or evidence pertaining exclusively to the scene of the crime.
Dr. John Newman argues that real progress in solving the JFK assassination will not come to those who await a smoking-gun revelation, but will be possible if we first have an understanding of the internal language of US government cryptonyms and pseudonyms. Only by establishing the true identities of the actors — and their locations and activities — can we hope to separate fact from fiction in this mystifying saga.
That has been his goal in a series of publications on America’s untold history over the last three decades. As a retired strategic intelligence cryptologic analyst for US Army Intelligence and the former military assistant to the director of the National Security Agency, Newman has some unique qualifications. His works on the cold war and America’s involvement in Vietnam have been recognized by many, including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and former CIA Director William Colby to be among the most authoritative and significant yet published. In past publications he correctly foretold what we are now seeing in the 2017 release of JFK records.
His 1991 book, JFK and Vietnam, documents Kennedy’s navigation of a dangerous course through cold war hot spots and a very divided administration. What eventually emerged is an astonishingly dishonorable deception: a deliberate attempt to manipulate the President of the United States into authorizing a war policy to which he was fundamentally opposed. The media firestorm created by that thesis, that JFK was committed to withdrawing from Vietnam at the time of his death, and obstructions such as the book’s suppression by Warner Books after only five months on the bookshelves, did little to dissuade Newman from pursuing the story wherever it might lead.
It led to Oswald and the CIA. Published in 1995, his second book used the enormous collection of federal agency documents newly released by the ARRB to explore the CIA’s keen operational interest in Lee Harvey Oswald. It focused on the people and organizations who opened and maintained Oswald’s intelligence files for four years prior to the president’s assassination, and it provided evidence to explore the question of whether Oswald might have been a false defector when he left the US for the Soviet Union in 1959. [See Countdown to Darkness, Chapters One and Eighteen for a detailed account of that story.]
Newman re-entered the JFK case in 2015 with the publication of Where Angels Tread Lightly: The Assassination of President Kennedy, Volume One. The updated and expanded second edition of JFK and Vietnam appeared in January 2017, as did Volume Two in Newman’s series on the assassination, Countdown to Darkness.
CONTINUE READING AT WHO.WHAT.WHY.
Dallas Mayor During JFK Assassination Was CIA Asset
August 2, 2017 | WhoWhatWhy Staff
Here is the first major revelation from the historic release of previously withheld government records on the JFK Assassination: the mayor of Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was killed in that city was a CIA asset.
We were alerted to this salient fact by retired military intelligence officer and author John Newman, who is conducting a thorough analysis of the long-secret documents.
At the time of the assassination, Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell, brother of one-time Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Charles P. Cabell, had been a CIA asset since 1956.
Read more at Who.What.Why.