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Assignment: Oswald is the authoritative insider’s account of one of our country’s most traumatic events. Combining his own unique, intimate knowledge of the case with previously unavailable government documents—including top secret CIA files recently released from the National Archives—Hosty tells the true story behind the assassination and the government’s response to it, including the suppression of a documented Oswald-Soviet-Castro connection. Hosty offers an exclusive insider’s knowledge of the mechanisms, the power structures, and the rivalries in and among the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies and why they have determined who knows what about the assassination. Here, at last, is an unmistakably expert and responsible account of the murder of President Kennedy.
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Read an Excerpt
Monday, November 18, 1963
TIME: 8:15 A.M.
"Okay, let's have some quiet and get started."
Gordon Shanklin, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Dallas-Fort Worth FBI office, had called an impromptu meeting of the forty or so agents present in the squad room. I closed a file I was reviewing at my desk and gave my attention to Shanklin.
"As you probably all read over the weekend in the Dallas Morning News, President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson will be coming to Dallas this Friday," Shanklin said. "Frankly, this is news to me, and I confess it ticks me off to learn it first in the press. I just called headquarters and was told the Morning News story was the first they knew of Kennedy's visit to Dallas, too. It seems everyone was told except the FBI. I have to assume the FBI liaison with the White House isn't what it used to be.
"At any rate, I called this meeting to remind you all of a few things. As you probably know, the Secret Service wants no help from the FBI in protecting the president or his party. Vince Drain here" — Shanklin nodded toward Drain, who was sitting across from me at another desk — "has already made contact with the Dallas Secret Service office, but was politely rebuffed. He was told in so many words they needed no help from us.
"Because of all this, we're going to do everything by the book, which means if any of you know of any threats of any kind to the president or vice president, refer them to the Secret Service. I want you all to err on the side of caution. If you have any doubt about whether to report a piece of information to the Secret Service, go ahead and report it. Let's be on the safe side. ... Okay, that's it. Let's get back to work."
Like Shanklin, I had read the Morning News article on Saturday morning. Kennedy was making a swing through Texas this week — to Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin — to shore up political support in this key state; the next presidential election was less than a year away. Despite getting trounced in Dallas in 1960 by a 2-to-l margin by Vice President Richard Nixon, Kennedy, with Johnson's help and influence, had been able to win Texas and its twenty-four electoral votes. But that was three years ago. Since then, Dallas had become more openly and vocally anti-Kennedy. Kennedy supporters like me were careful not to voice our pro-Kennedy opinions in this city, for fear of being verbally attacked and ridiculed.
In the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan played a dominant role in the city, Dallas had been known as the "Hate Capital" of the country. Back then the Klan's national leader, the Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans, had come from Dallas. These days it was apparent to me that a large and obnoxious segment of the Dallas population was seemingly cut from the same cloth as its 1920s predecessors. Because of this strong radical right wing, Dallas was considered enemy territory for Kennedy.
My caseload in the four-man counter-intelligence squad in the Dallas office was dominated by right-wingers. I spent much of my time tracking the movements and actions of both Klan members and members of former U.S. Army General Edwin Walker's radical militia group, known as the Minutemen. Convinced there was a Communist hiding under every bush, the Minutemen had been quietly and discreetly arming themselves with an impressive arsenal of weapons. In the eyes of the Minutemen, Kennedy was at best a dupe of the Communists, at worst a Communist collaborator.
Among the agents this morning, everyone was discussing this right-wing element in Dallas and the fact that in all likelihood a threat to the president would come from that direction. We were all painfully aware of United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's visit to Dallas just two weeks before, on October 31. During his visit, right-wingers had heckled and jeered him following his speech to a local group. One woman actually took her placard, which had a venomous anti-Stevenson epithet scrawled on it, and hit him over the head. We in the Dallas FBI were worried that Kennedy might be subjected to a similar display of hate from the right wing. He and his party knew they might be in for a less than friendly reception, and I understood that several of his key advisors had warned him not to come. As a Kennedy supporter, I had to admire the man's guts.
Tuesday, November 19, 1963
TIME: 7:00 P.M.
After finishing supper with my family, I sat down to read the evening newspaper, the Dallas Times Herald. There under the bold headline, KENNEDY virtually INVITES CUBAN COUP, the story began: "President Kennedy all but invited the Cuban people to overthrow Fidel Castro's Communist regime and promised prompt U.S. aid if they do. Kennedy's encouragement of a Cuban coup was contained in a major foreign policy speech before the Inter-American Press Association Monday in Miami Beach, Florida. The President said it would be a happy day if the Castro government is ousted."
I was struck less by Kennedy's provocative comments than the fact that the Times Herald had run this wire story in the first place. Printing this article was a radical departure from the newspaper's editorial policy of portraying Kennedy as weak when dealing with Communists. I later brought this up with a Times Herald reporter, Norman Phil1ips, and he told me that the Times Herald editors had decided after the Stevenson attack that the right-wing element in Dallas was getting out of control. The editors therefore decided to start being more even-handed when reporting news about Kennedy.
The newspaper also reported that on Friday, when Kennedy visited Dallas, he would speak at a luncheon to be held at the Dallas Trade Mart just off the Stemmons Freeway, also known as I-35E. The article also included a general description of the route Kennedy would take through downtown Dallas.
Thursday, November 21, 1963
TIME: 9:00 P.M.
Reading the Times Herald that evening, I noted a front page diagram of the parade route Kennedy would take at noon the next day through downtown Dallas. I examined it casually, only interested in where I could position myself so that I could catch a glimpse of the president. At no time during my examination of the diagram was I interested in determining whether or not any of my case subjects might be located along the motorcade route. It had been beaten into me, by both the Secret Service and the FBI, that this was not of my concern.
My only obligation for the security of the president's trip was to report to the Secret Service anyone who had made a threat against the president or the vice president. In fact, just the day before, I had hand-delivered a report on one possible threat. I had picked up information from a source that a local Klan member had remarked that his group would have a "little reception" for Kennedy when he visited Dallas. I wrote up this information in a one-page report, including a physical description of the Klan member, and attached his photograph to the report. I walked the few blocks over to the Secret Service's office in the U.S. Courthouse and handed the report to one of their agents. I later learned that the Secret Service briefly interviewed the man, but took no action to detain him or monitor his whereabouts on Friday during the president's visit.
Friday, November 22, 1963
Four other FBI agents lived in the same general neighborhood in Dallas as I did, and we had a car pool arrangement. As usual, we left the car in the parking lot two blocks from our office and headed down the street toward the back entrance to the Santa Fe Building. As we were walking, I spotted a flyer on the sidewalk with Kennedy's picture on it. I picked it up; the flyer had two photos of Kennedy's face in mug shot fashion, one full face, one profile. It said: "John F. Kennedy, Wanted for Treason," for caving in to the Communists.
I showed it to the other four agents, and we all felt that, however tasteless, this was just another typical product of the Dallas radical right. I carried it into the office with me, and after I had signed in, showed it to my supervisor, Ken Howe.
"Ken, look at this flyer. Can you believe this stuff?" "Yeah, Nat Pinkston found another one on the street," Howe replied.
"Well, I'm going to run this over to the Secret Service, just to be on the safe side," I said. After I picked up Pinkston's copy, I headed over to the U.S. Courthouse.
When I walked into the Secret Service office I was amazed at how quiet it was. Kennedy had arrived in Fort Worth late last night and was speaking at a breakfast there this morning. He was due to arrive in Dallas in just a few hours. Despite this, the Secret Service didn't appear to be at all fazed by the visit. It was just business as usual, I guess. I asked to speak to one of the four agents permanently stationed in the Dallas office. Agent Mike Howard stepped out front to deal with me.
"I'm Jim Hosty with the Dallas FBI," I said, pulling out my FBI credentials. Howard looked familiar to me, but we had never been formally introduced.
"What can I do for you, Jim?" Howard asked.
"When I was walking into the office this morning I found this 'Wanted for Treason' flyer. I thought you guys might want a copy, just in case," I said.
"We've received several copies of this already," Howard said. "Don't worry, Jim, it's no problem, we're on top of it." He made me feel I was imposing.
As he turned to leave I said, "I monitor a lot of subversive right-wingers over at the FBI. Is there anything you and the Secret Service want to know?" "No." He shook his head. "Listen, Jim, we've got everything under control, okay?" With that he turned and walked away.
That exchange between Howard and me captured the essence of the relationship between the Secret Service and the FBI. The Secret Service, jealous of its mandate to protect the president, regarded the FBI as a threat to its jurisdiction. Only a few months before, the Secret Service had helped kill a bill before Congress that would have given secondary jurisdiction to the FBI, with the Secret Service retaining primary jurisdiction. The Secret Service had been adamant that it did not want the FBI to have any involvement in the president's security. With that bill dead in Congress, that was exactly how things stood on November 22.
Even though the Secret Service had roughly 300 agents nation-wide, compared to the FBI's over 7,000, it wanted no assistance in protecting the president other than information indicating direct threats to his safety. Clearly, the Secret Service felt that if the FBI was given any chance, it would try bureaucratically to swallow up the Secret Service.
I hurried back to my office, not wanting to be late for the weekly Friday morning meeting between all the agents and Shanklin. I arrived at the squad room just in time. As I sat down, Shanklin was calling the meeting to order.
"Okay men, before I begin our meeting, I just want to remind all of you to report to the Secret Service any information you may have indicating any threats to the president or his party."
I made one last mental review of my caseload: nothing more to report. None of my case subjects gave any indication that they were a threat to the president or his party, which included Governor Connally. I sat back and listened to Shanklin review the other business.
After the meeting broke up, I picked up some papers concerning a case I would be working on that morning and headed for the door. On the way, I checked my mail slot and found a case transfer order. The form order, with a fill-in-the-blank format, indicated that as of this date a routine counterespionage case on one Lee Oswald was now officially mine again. Earlier in the summer, the case had been transferred out of my hands to the New Orleans FBI office, when it was determined that Oswald was living there. Now it had been confirmed that he was living in Dallas, and the case had been transferred back to me. With the transfer order was a New Orleans mug shot, dated August 9, 1963. There were no reports attached to the transfer order, much to my annoyance. I made a mental note to contact New Orleans about the oversight, since I needed whatever background they had collected.
I put the Oswald transfer back in my mail slot and walked out the door. I was on my way to meet Agent Ed Coyle of the Army intelligence unit and Agent Jack Ellsworth of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) at Ellsworth's office on a case we were all involved in, concerning the theft of Army weapons, which we had learned were to be fenced to a subversive right-wing group.
TIME: 11:45 A.M.
Having wrapped up our meeting, Coyle and I were about to leave Ellsworth's office when Coyle commented that he was hoping to see the presidential motorcade as it passed through downtown. 'You know," said Coyle, "it's a damn shame, but by federal law the Army can't provide any assistance to the Secret Service."
"I think the FBI should have a more active role, too," I said, "but as you guys know, the Secret Service wouldn't have it."
"That's nothing," Ellsworth said. "The ATF is part of the Treasury Department, just like the Secret Service, but they want absolutely no help from us either."
"Dallas being the right-wing hotbed it is," I said, "I sure hope the Secret Service knows what it's doing."
Both Coyle and Ellsworth nodded in agreement.
Coyle and I left Ellsworth's office and walked the few blocks to Main and Field streets, where Coyle's office was located. We both hoped to catch a glimpse of the president, who was due to pass down Main Street any minute.
Coyle and I nudged our way to the front row, standing right at the curb. As it was the noon hour, thousands of downtown workers were spilling out into the streets on their lunch hour. Coyle and I waited patiently as more and more people crowded along the motorcade route. I noticed very few police and no barricades along the street.
At about 12:20,1 spotted the motorcade as it moved down Main Street at about 10 miles per hour. I noticed several cars in the motorcade and saw one large convertible with several men in coats and ties standing on the running boards. They had to be Secret Service agents. Surrounding the motorcade were several police motorcycle escorts. Clearly this convertible's passengers were being closely guarded, so I assumed the president was in that car.
As the guarded convertible approached, Coyle and I both strained to see its passengers. Then it passed right in front of us, just fifteen feet away. Then Coyle pounded his fist into my shoulder. "There he is! There's Kennedy!" Coyle yelled, pointing frantically at a convertible that had already passed us, just in front of the closely guarded one. I swung my attention to where he was pointing, but all I could see was the back of the president's head. He was waving to the crowd. His wife, Jackie, was seated next to him, wearing a bright pink outfit.
I was disappointed not to have seen the president better, but I was more shocked to see how poorly protected he was. He was in an open convertible with no Secret Service agents or police anywhere near him. Why the hell had they stationed the Secret Service on the vehicle behind him? Well, I guess it was none of my business, I remember thinking.
After the motorcade had passed, I asked Coyle if he wanted to join me for lunch.
"No thanks," he said. "I brought a sack lunch today."
"Okay. Talk to you later," I said, and walked back up the street to Murphy and Main, where one of my favorite restaurants, the Oriental Cafe, was located.
Since it was Friday and I was Catholic, I ordered a cheese sandwich and coffee. I was also trying to lose a little weight, per FBI policy.
As I sat at the counter waiting for my sandwich, I sipped my coffee and thought again how strange it was that the Secret Service had positioned its agents on the car behind the president's. Later, the president's chief of staff, Kenny O'Donnell, said that when the president began his motorcade trip through downtown Dallas, he and his staff had a choice: the president could have had various security measures put in place, including a bubble top and Secret Service agents riding on his convertible's running boards, or he could have had minimum measures to make his appearance in the motorcade as open and visible as possible for this politically motivated swing through Dallas. In the end, O'Donnell said, they chose politics over security.
Friday, November 22, 1963
TIME: 12:30 P.M.
BOOM.....click-click............. ...BOOM.....click-click .....................BOOM....click-click
TIME: 12:38 P.M.
"They've shot the president!"
The cheese sandwich in my mouth turned to sawdust. I pushed back from the counter where I was eating lunch, and swallowed hard. I choked out, "What did you say?"
"Oh, my God, they've shot the president!" the waitress said. She was sobbing and her body was shaking.
Excerpted from "Assignment: Oswald"
Copyright © 2011 James P. Hosty, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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