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Book Review

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Kennedys, Castros, and Murder

January 5th 2009

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Brothers In Arms. The Kennedys, The Castros, and the Politics of Murder. Gus Russo and Stephen Molton. Bloomsbury. 2008. 560 pages.

Gus Russo and Stephen Molton have produced a well-researched and compelling study of the role Cuban, Soviet, and American intelligence agencies played in keeping track of Lee Harvey Oswald, the self-styled revolutionary credited with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in the years before Dallas. Brothers in Arms provides details of how the Soviets passed information about Oswald on to the Cuban intelligence agencies, who in turn decided Oswald may be of some use in their attempts to hit back at the United States for its efforts in trying to topple the Castro regime. Their investigation into the movements of Cuban Intelligence agent Fabian Escalante Font--before and after the assassination--is also central to their thesis that the assassination can be placed firmly at Castro’s door. The authors have utilized hundreds of documents from KGB, Cuban, Mexican Secret Police, and recently unredacted U.S. government files, and combined them with their own interviews of the players in the JFK/Castro conflict to support their thesis.

Additionally, one would have thought that there was nothing more to learn about Lee Oswald, especially in his relationship with his wife Marina, but Russo and Molton have done exactly that, and they also provide the reader with additional insight into the character and motives of the assassin. The authors are particularly informative about Oswald’s activities in the Soviet Union and his friendship with Cuban students in Minsk. Particularly revealing are the snippets of information about Oswald which reveal how the assassin manipulated Cuban and American intelligence agencies into believing he had an important role to play in what turns out to be his own fantasy game of building himself up to be some sort of important figure.

Brothers In Arms also provides further conclusive proof that the facts of the assassination were concealed in order to hide the truth about Robert Kennedy’s determination to assassinate Castro so the younger brother could protect the family’s legacy. The facts were also concealed from the Warren Commission because of Lyndon Johnson’s desire to protect national security.

Two of the most important failures of the Warren Commission were in not investigating the possible links between the CIA’s plots to kill Castro and the assassination of the president, and the Commission’s poor job in determining if there was more to Castro’s agents in Mexico City than had previously been discovered. Former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a Warren Commission member, failed to tell his colleagues on the Commission or staff investigators about the Castro plots. This knowledge could have given investigators an important lead on Oswald's time in Mexico City in the short period before the assassination. Commission members Richard Russell and Gerald Ford also knew about the CIA’s attempts to kill the Cuban leader. However, if no link existed between Oswald and the Soviet or Cuban governments, they reasoned, there was no reason to inform their staff investigators who wrote the Commission’s report.

Yet there was definitely a political motive for Oswald’s actions which should have provoked the Commission into investigating these important links. Russo and Molton have succeeded where the Commission failed. Oswald had spent his adolescence and early manhood pursuing a communist dream and searching for some kind of involvement in revolutionary activities. Disillusioned with his time spent in the Soviet Union, the young Oswald returned home searching for a new cause. He found it in his hero, Fidel Castro, and began planning a way to help the revolution. As his wife Marina said, “I only know that his basic desire was to get to Cuba by any means and all the rest of it was window dressing for that purpose.” His friend Michael Paine said Oswald wanted to be an active guerrilla in the effort to bring about a new world order. The Commission also had knowledge that a Cuban Intelligence agent defector had provided information about his agency’s interest in Oswald. Lyndon Johnson was adamant that such information should not be disclosed even if it were true, as he believed it would have disastrous consequences.

Russo and Molton provide evidence that this self-styled revolutionary and Castro worshipper may have had contact with Cuban agents when Oswald visited the Soviet and Cuban Mexico City embassies a short time before the assassination. They claim that Castro had been aware of Oswald’s desire to murder the American president, and Cuban agents, either acting on their own or with Castro’s blessing, spurred him on. This may have been true. The evidence the authors provide includes a Cuban intelligence agent’s intercepted telephone conversation in which she gleefully reports JFK’s assassination, and hints she had prior knowledge of Oswald’s intentions to kill Kennedy, and multiple reports of Cuban agents stationed at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City quickly leaving and returning to Cuba after the Kennedy assassination. The inference is that Cuban agents directed Oswald each step of the way. However, there is also a compelling case to be made that Oswald simply presented proof of his authentic ‘revolutionary’ activities in New Orleans to the Cuban agents who then encouraged him to assassinate Kennedy but had no hand in the mechanics of the act.

Russo and Molton have introduced the possibility that Oswald may have had assistance from Cuban agents in Dallas or, at the very least, an observer to make sure the assassin carried out the crime which they encouraged. However, this remains, at best, speculative. Questions still remain about how Cuban intelligence could have placed Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository and why they allowed Oswald to use his own less-than-reliable rifle to commit the assassination. Ruth Paine and Linnie May Randle were the two people responsible for securing the book depository job for Oswald and it beggars belief that Cuban agents would want Oswald to use a cheap rifle which could have misfired at any time during the assassination attempt.

Additionally, Cuban agents would have had no way of knowing JFK’s travel plans or the route the motorcade took in Dallas which placed the president in sight of his assassin - unless they formulated the purported plot only days before the campaign trip. However, would Cuban agents have allowed Oswald to threaten an FBI agent in a note he delivered to the Dallas FBI offices? Would Oswald’s co-conspirators have allowed the assassin to carry only a few dollars with him when he escaped from the Texas Book Depository? Russo and Molton also cannot explain why Cuban agents would risk the possibility of Oswald giving up his co-conspirators in the 48 hours or so between the time he was arrested and his murder by Jack Ruby.

If Russo and Molton fall short of providing concrete proof that Castro organized the assassination of JFK they have, nevertheless, come closer than anyone else to explaining Oswald’s mysterious trip to Mexico City. With the eventual fall of the communist regime in Cuba, Russo and Molton may in time be proven to be correct and the truth of Castro’s role in the assassination established. In the meantime, their thesis cannot either be ignored or rejected. This impressive work comes closer than any other author's efforts, with the exception of Vincent Buglisosi, in establishing the truth of the JFK assassination.

Mel Ayton is the author of Questions of Controversy: The Kennedy Brothers, The JFK Assassination: Dispelling the Myths, and A Racial Crime: James Earl Ray and the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. He also served as historical adviser to the 2003 BBC documentary The Kennedy Dynasty. His latest book is The Forgotten Terrorist.

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