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Reviews Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Spooks, the Godfather and JFK
By Natylie Baldwin
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 3, 2006, 15:52

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Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy,
the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK
By Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann
Carroll & Graff Publishers, New York, NY. 2005
904 pages

My mother and I used to engage in the requisite family debates about who was behind the Kennedy assassination. For me it was important to know what happened from an historical standpoint. But for her it was less academic. She vividly remembers being sent home early from her fourth-grade class one autumn day without explanation only to find her mother, who never had a kind word for a Democrat, in tears as she opened the door.

Like 9/11, the Kennedy assassination was one of those tragically defining moments in the American experience, a moment when the earth seemed to temporarily fly off its axis and everything that represented stability, order and decency was sent hurling out into space.

Mom insisted over the years that it was the Mafia and I pointed out that the Mafia alone did not have the reach to cover all the angles. And what motivation would government officials at so many levels have to ensure a widespread cover-up to protect the Mafia? It seemed to me that mom had simply been reading too many Andrew Greeley novels. I argued that the government, namely the intelligence apparatus, had to have been involved. According to Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK, the new book by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, we were both right -- though not in exactly the way I had suspected.

In response to the fresh controversy brought about by the release of Oliver Stone�s JFK in 1992, the JFK Assassination Records Review Board was convened by Congress and the Clinton administration to selectively release documents relating to the assassination in an attempt to defuse some of the conspiracy theories.

Although the movie was somewhat successful in forcing further debate and some incremental steps toward release of information, the movie itself was long, difficult to follow and struck me as another example of self-indulgent creepiness from Oliver Stone. Gratuitous repetition of the frame where the president�s brains can be seen exploding out of his cranium had the effect of reducing John Kennedy the man to the star of a cheap snuff film rather than providing any useful insight -- the type of stunt Stone just seems compelled to pull at times.

Where a project like the JFK film relies heavily upon dramatic innuendo, Ultimate Sacrifice is based upon a wealth of documented research, including over 4 million government documents that have been declassified within the past 15 years, along with interviews of those who were involved in the Kennedy administration and/or the secret plan that purportedly led to JFK�s death. In fact, the density of the information and the number of players in the book�s coverage can sometimes seem a bit daunting. But the compelling subject matter and the considerable writing skills of the authors kept me turning the pages of this hefty tome well into the wee hours on many nights.

The C-day Plan

Fidel Castro had refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into Cuba to verify that all Soviet missiles had been removed after the Cuban Missile Crisis; therefore, Kennedy�s agreement not to invade Cuba never went into effect. Since Kennedy was unable to offer confirmation that Cuba did not still harbor nuclear weapons, he could not really claim to have satisfactorily resolved the biggest crisis of his presidency.

By 1963, a high Cuban official had initiated contact with the Kennedy administration about the possibility of leading a �palace coup� to eliminate Castro with military support from the U.S. Due to national security laws barring the revealing of intelligence assets both past and present, the authors did not want to divulge the identity of the Cuban official and voluntary coup leader. However, they drop numerous hints to imply that it was Che Guevara. Guevara had become disenchanted with Castro�s autocratic inclinations, including purges of Noncommunist Socialist Revolutionaries. Furthermore, Guevara and other revolutionaries with nationalist sentiments resented Castro�s sacrificing of Cuban independence under increasing Soviet control.

Guevara was probably the only one with sufficient revolutionary street cred and a remaining power base to pull off something of this nature, although it was understood that the coup leader would not take actual credit for the elimination of Castro who still had the support of a significant minority of the Cuban population and was �passively accepted� by most of the rest of the island�s residents. After arranging for Fidel and Raul Castro�s �neutralization,� a euphemism for assassination, the coup leader would preside over a provisional government until free elections could be held.

According to this book, the Kennedys were prepared to accept a Socialist Cuba as long as it was independent of Soviet influence and agreed not to sponsor revolution in other parts of Latin America. It should be noted here that the authors obviously like the Kennedys and so tend to attribute the most noble of intentions to them. Were John and Robert Kennedy driven to support such a plan out of genuine concern for a free and democratic Cuba or was it Cold War politics and a strategic desire to put any Republican criticisms about the handling of Cuba to bed just prior to an election year? The authors clearly believe that the former trumps the latter and that John Kennedy was ultimately a martyr on behalf of such an ideal -- hence, the title of the book.

For this plan to be successfully implemented, it was imperative that the Cuban people perceive Castro�s death as resulting from the Soviets or Soviet sympathizers and that requests for military assistance from the U.S. to protect the provisional government look authentic. Any indication that the operation was planned with Americans from the beginning would be extremely dangerous and could possibly lead to civil war on the island.

Coordination of this high-stakes operation, which the authors refer to as C-day, was overseen by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and scheduled for December 1, 1963. Although many government officials were aware of other operations against Castro that varied in scale and approach, C-day was top secret and known only to a dozen or so government and military officials. The CIA was to provide only a modest support role since Kennedy had developed a distrust of the intelligence community due to the Bay of Pigs debacle. Apparently, this distrust was well deserved since the CIA continued to pursue assassination plots against Castro that involved use of the Mafia against the orders of the Kennedys.

The Mafia

It was these ties to the CIA, along with financial connections with more than one of the five Cuban exile leaders involved in the C-day operation, which enabled three regional Mafia bosses to uncover the top-secret plan and use it on behalf of their own sinister agenda. Many Cuban exile leaders had turned to the Mafia for funding of their anti-Castro activities when they were not working with the CIA. The Mafia was more than happy to underwrite these activities as an investment with any future Cuban leadership.

These mob bosses had a well-known vendetta against the Kennedys that sprang from the aggressive prosecution of Mafia figures by the attorney general. The mobsters were also not happy at being excluded from a major plan to take out Castro since their participation in plots with the CIA in the past was understood to include the Mafia�s re-establishment of casinos in Havana as a reward. Aware of the extreme sensitivity in regards to national security surrounding C-day and that, as a result, a thorough and transparent investigation would never be undertaken, the Mafia bosses saw a rare opportunity to hit Kennedy with impunity. They succeeded on their third attempt after failures in Chicago (Kennedy cancelled his motorcade) and Tampa (thwarted by the Secret Service) earlier in November of 1963.

The Patsy

In order to pull off the murder of JFK, the Mafia needed a patsy with plausible political motivations that could be manipulated, specifically ties to Cuba, so as to trigger the belief that Castro might be retaliating against the U.S. for the plots against him. Such a belief would set in motion the government secrecy and cover-up the Mafia would need to hide behind.

Lee Harvey Oswald was a low-level U.S. intelligence operative whose Communist sympathies and �defection� to Russia were covers. The original objective that the intelligence community had used Oswald for was as bait for drawing interest from the KGB, an interest that did not materialize after his return to the U.S. Subsequently, the intelligence community began grooming him for a different assignment. In preparation for C-day, the CIA had to get intelligence assets into Cuba who could, among other things, serve as monitors of Cuban reaction to Castro�s death in order to determine whether the next phases of the plan, such as military support, should be carried out. Oswald could enter Cuba openly through Mexico City with Cuba serving ostensibly as a transit point to Russia though he would simply stay on in Cuba. This arrangement could be made as a result of his established (but contrived) pro-Castro and pro-Soviet activities.

A key figure in setting Oswald up as an unwitting patsy on behalf of the Mafia, which had infiltrated all aspects of the C-day plan, was Guy Banister, a corrupt former FBI official out of Chicago. By the early 1960s, Banister was a private detective in New Orleans where he had previously worked as a police officer. He participated in projects for both the CIA and the Mafia, including the aforementioned CIA-Mafia assassination plots, and was astute at working with associates from either network in addition to using his extensive police agency contacts. Oswald would have reasonably assumed that any directives or assistance he received through Banister or his affiliates was part of the intelligence assignment.

Eliminating the Patsy

Once Oswald was publicly fingered as the man responsible for the assassination with his Communist pro-Castro sympathies as the motivation, he was to be taken out before any holes in the story could be exposed.

Jack Ruby, a small time hood who had become a trusted errand boy of sorts for the Mafia, had developed notorious inside connections with the Dallas Police Department by 1963. Additionally, Ruby had been a CIA-sanctioned gunrunner on behalf of the mob in the late 1950s, selling arms to both the Castro Revolutionaries and the Batista dictatorship. The Mafia intended to �hedge their bets� with whoever emerged victorious as well as to make as much money as possible by selling to both sides. According to the authors� sources, the U.S. government initially had a noncommittal attitude toward Castro. Once Castro began to institute a land redistribution plan, however, this ambivalence quickly turned to hostility as Vice President Richard Nixon subsequently pressured the CIA to have Castro removed from power, which served as the catalyst for the assassination/coup plots in partnership with the mob that began in 1959.

Parenthetically speaking, Ultimate Sacrifice demonstrates that it is highly unlikely that the CIA as an institution, including its highest ranking officials, knowingly participated in JFK�s assassination. However, the possibility is acknowledged that a rogue element within the intelligence agency could have had knowing involvement; namely, the Miami station chief, David Morales, who worked closely with one of the three Mafia dons in the Castro assassination plots.

Of course, the intelligence community executed a cover-up after the fact to protect their image and their operations from public exposure. Officials throughout the government participated in the cover-up, often at the behest of other government agencies citing national security, to avoid any possibility that the C-day plan would leak out for fear that tensions with the Soviet Union would quickly escalate. The serendipitous effect was the brutal murder of a president, the perpetrators never being brought to justice, and a major deception foisted upon the American public about the circumstances surrounding a national trauma.

All those intrigued by the JFK assassination mystery over the years will find this a must-read. A review attempting to summarize the main points is ultimately a poor substitute for connecting all the dots detailed in the book. As one previous reviewer stated, this book will likely serve as �the final word until 2018� when more documents relating to the assassination are scheduled to be released.

Natylie Baldwin is a writer and activist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also a former editor and contributor to Newtopia Magazine.

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