How Did The JFK Assassination Go Down?

Youssef El-Gingihy
6 min readNov 22, 2021
Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

It is the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and we still do not know who dunnit? President Biden has yet again delayed the release of important files citing COVID-19. After nearly 60 years of sanitisation, this excuse seems every bit as poor as the proverbial dog eating your homework.

One should always start from first principles. The evidence for a conspiracy is based on the Zapruder film, witness testimony as well as ballistics and medical evidence. All of this points to more than one gunman and specifically a gunman shooting from the grassy knoll.

Having said this, ars longa, vita brevis and all that. The official version of Oswald as a lone assassin is a fairy tale to be discarded as such. Phone calls between President Lyndon Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on the same day of the assassination demonstrate this and they acted, in concert, to quash rumours of a conspiracy. The putative existence of either a domestic or international conspiracy was unpalatable to the establishment and needed to be covered up with immediate effect.

The purpose of the Warren Commission — set up by Johnson — was not to investigate the assassination but to contain the whole affair in order to arrive at the pre-ordained conclusion of a lone assassin. It was a damage limitations exercise. The appointment of former CIA Director Allen Dulles — fired by JFK over the Bay of Pigs fiasco — on the Commission was intended to steer its members away from controversial, undisclosed areas such as the CIA-Mafia assassination plots against Castro.

The CIA liaison for the commission was none other than James Jesus Angleton — the head of counter-intelligence. Angleton’s Special Investigations Group knew Oswald’s history intimately and had been monitoring him at least since his defection to the Soviet Union in 1959. Oswald’s purported defection did not prevent him returning to the US without questions asked and this supposed Marxist then spent much of his time with dyed in the wool anti-Communists including Cuban exiles and the Dallas White Russian community.

His actions in the weeks before the assassination — getting into publicised fights with Cuban exile groups and the trip to Mexico City in an effort to obtain visas for travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union — suggest he was being sheep-dipped and that a legend was being created to portray him as a pro-Castro communist.

The key question has always been how extensive was the plot? The involvement of Cuban exiles and the Mafia is likely. Both groups had a fanatical hatred of the Kennedys and are on record as such. Both groups had the motive and the means.

As for the involvement of CIA officers, again this is likely based on the information obtained over decades. The real question is whether these were just rogue officers or whether this was a more extensive national security plot hatched at the highest levels. The problem with plausibly deniable operations is that by definition, it is difficult to obtain hard evidence incriminating high level participants. We certainly have plenty of circumstantial evidence much of which makes many figures suspect.

The government investigations of the 1970s — set up in the wake of Watergate — have shed much light on the abuses of the intelligence agencies. What we now know from these investigations and the millions of pages of documents released as a result of the Assassination Records Review Board — set up as a result of the public outcry over Oliver Stone’s magnum opus JFK — has enabled a greater degree of clarity when it comes to building a picture of a likely scenario.

The testimony of Antonio Veciana regarding his CIA handler Maurice Bishop’s meeting with Oswald in the weeks leading up to the assassination was one of the key leads pointing to a high-level conspiracy. Veciana finally confirmed in 2014 (in time for the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission) what House Select Committee on Assassinations investigator Gaeton Fonzi had suspected all along — Maurice Bishop was David Atlee Phillips.

Phillips was a psychological warfare expert, who was the chief of Cuban operations at the CIA’s Mexico City station in the fall of 1963. As such, he had been in a pivotal position to monitor Oswald’s mysterious trip to Mexico City in September, 1963.

Phillips had participated in the 1953 Guatemala coup and would later be pivotal in the Chile coup overthrowing democratically elected President Allende. Phillips rose to become Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division. As the investigator Dan Hardaway put it after questioning Phillips, all of the ‘Castro did it’ rumours could be traced back to Cuban exile groups being run by Phillips. Hardaway came away from this interview (in which Phillips himself had chain smoked and emerged shaken) convinced that he had been involved in the JFK assassination likely running the psychological operations aspect of the plot.

Phillips was also running operations to penetrate and discredit the pro Castro Fair Play For Cuba Committee and seemingly using Oswald in this role. Is it possible that Phillips merely had a legitimate intelligence interest in Oswald?

Yet one of his final pronouncements on the case was that the assassination had likely involved American intelligence officers. This was as close to a direct confession as we are ever going to get from a man renowned for his reserve. According to his nephew the musician Shawn Phillips, he did confess to his brother towards the end of his life — when he was riddled with lung cancer — that he had been in Dallas on that fateful day.

However, in 1963, Phillips’ seniority was outstripped by others amongst them David Morales — the Chief of Operations at the JM/WAVE station in Miami from which Operation Mongoose — the Cuban Project — was being run. Morales was considered a hard-line and aggressive individual. He later confessed to his involvement in the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers.

Mongoose provided the framework and the plausible deniability from which a presidential assassination could be hatched. It brought together a lethal combination of fanatical anti-Castro Cuban exiles, Mafiosi such as Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli and diehard CIA covert warriors.

Howard Hunt — a friend of Phillips dating back to the Guatemala coup and infamous for his role as one of the Watergate plumbers — also recorded a deathbed confession regarding the existence of a CIA conspiracy. Hunt’s confession has been bizarrely ignored by many in the research community. Yet the details are consistent with much of what we do know. I’m still not convinced of his singling out of LBJ as the architect of the plot — I suspect that this is sophisticated disinformation.

Hunt fingered William King Harvey as a likely participant. Harvey had been in charge of Task Force W — the CIA component of Mongoose. He was also running ZR/RIFLE — the CIA’s assassination programme directed at foreign leaders including the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and of course Castro. Hunt considered Harvey to be a psychotic alcoholic.

As for the architect of the fiendishly clever design of the entire plot, this remains a mystery. Many authors for the plot have been floated over the decades including Angleton, Dulles and even Richard Helms — Director of the CIA under Johnson and Nixon. In 1963, Helms had been in charge of the agency’s covert operations.

It is unlikely that these covert operators inside the CIA would have gone ahead without tacit approval from elites. David Talbot has suggested in The Devil’s Chessboard that the person best placed to have facilitated this — in view of his Georgetown address book of Wall Street and military industrial contacts — would have been Allen Dulles.

Youssef El-Gingihy is working on a book centred on the story of the CIA’s covert warriors during the Kennedy era.