- January 3: A Viet Cong victory in the Battle of Ap Bac makes front page news in America as 350 Viet Cong fighters defeat a large force of American-equipped South Vietnamese troops attempting to seize a radio transmitter. Three American helicopter crew members are killed. The South Vietnamese Army is run by officers personally chosen by President Diem, not for their competence, but for their loyalty to him. Diem has instructed his officers to avoid causalities. Their primary mission, he has told them, is to protect him from any coups in Saigon. (Vietnam War Timeline)
CIA-supported coup in Iraq; Qasim executed
- February 8: The CIA, after years of clandestine involvement in Middle East politics, mount a successful coup against the military government of Iraq. They choose the Ba'ath party to place in power. Qasim is executed; the new government, led by Colonel Abd as Salaam Arif, recognizes Kuwait's independence, and aligns itself much more towards Egypt and away from Syria in the ongoing Arab power struggle. With CIA assistance, Hussein becomes head of security and the head of al-Jihaz a-Khas, the secret intelligence apparatus of the Baath Party. Modeling himself after his hero Josef Stalin, he quickly makes a name for himself as one of the most brutal interrogators and torturers of the new government. He also establishes himself as a reliable conduit for information from Baghdad to the CIA, and participates in the murder of Iraqi Communists whose names are provided by the CIA. A former State Department official later says, "We were frankly glad to be rid of them. You ask that they get a fair trial? You have to be kidding. This was serious business." A former senior CIA official says, "It was a bit like the mysterious killings of Iran's communists just after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. All 4,000 of his communists suddenly got killed." Later, Arif imprisons Hussein for Ba'athist activism. (UPI, FactMonster, US/Iraq Relations Timeline, 1UpTravel, MidEast Web, BBC)
- March 2: Frequently convicted criminal Ernesto Miranda kidnaps and rapes a woman in Phoenix, Arizona. A week later he will be caught by area police and told falsely that the victim has positively identified him; based partially on that false identification, Miranda confesses to the crime. He will be convicted, but will appeal on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not provided for and his rights as an accused criminal were not upheld. Miranda becomes a test case for the ACLU and a number of civil rights lawyers wishing to expand the constitutional rights of the accused. (G.B. Riley)
- May: Buddhists riot in South Vietnam after they are denied the right to display religious flags during their celebration of Buddha's birthday. In Hue, South Vietnamese police and army troops shoot at Buddhist demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of one woman and eight children. Political pressure now mounts on the Kennedy administration to disassociate itself from Diem's repressive, family-run government. "You are responsible for the present trouble because you back Diem and his government of ignoramuses," a leading Buddhist tells US officials in Saigon. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- June: President Kennedy states, "The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war." He goes on to say about peace, "What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.... I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children-not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women -- not merely peace in our time but peace for all time." (Buzzflash)
- June - August: Buddhist demonstrations spread. Several Buddhist monks publicly burn themselves to death as an act of protest, with a notable incident involving a monk setting himself afire in Saigon in front of news cameras. The immolations are captured on film by news photographers and shock the American public as well as President Kennedy. Diem responds to the deepening unrest by imposing martial law. South Vietnamese special forces, originally trained by the US and now controlled by Diem's younger brother Nhu wage violent crackdowns against Buddhist sanctuaries in Saigon, Hue and other cities. Nhu's crackdowns spark widespread anti-Diem demonstrations. Meanwhile, during an American TV interview, Nhu's wife, the flamboyant Madame Nhu, coldly refers to the Buddhist immolations as a "barbecue." As the overall situation worsens, high level talks at the White House focus on the need to force Diem to reform. (Vietnam War Timeline, Chronology of US-Vietnam Relations)
- June 1: Jomo Kenyatta officially takes over the leadership of Kenya's indigeneous government, marking the end of British colonial influence in that part of Africa. The charismatic Kenyatta, always more conservative than his former reputation as a fiery revolutionary had indicated, does not wait long before beginning to fill Kenya's jails with opponents to his rule. Kenyatta also ensures that British settlers still in Kenya will not face any criminal charges or legal reprisals for their role in brutalizing and torturing his countrymen. Kenyatta will rule Kenya until August 1978, when he dies of a heart attack during his third term as president. (Africa Within, Caroline Elkins)
- July 4: South Vietnamese General Tran Van Don, a Buddhist, contacts the CIA in Saigon about the possibility of staging a coup against Diem. On August 23, newly installed US ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge is told by the State Department that he should support the coup. Days later, Lodge meets with Diem for the first time, and advises him to fire his much-hated brother Nhu. Diem arrogantly refuses even to discuss such matters with Lodge. On August 29, Lodge informs Kennedy that he believes "...there is no possibility, in my view, that the war can be won under a Diem administration." Kennedy then gives Lodge a free hand to manage the unfolding events in Saigon. However, the coup against Diem fizzles due to mistrust and suspicion within the ranks of the military conspirators. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- The Ayatollah Khomeini, a vocal opponent of the Shah, is exiled from Iran and eventually takes up residence in France, where he becomes the focus of all the anti-Shah resistance elements.
Zapata Oil becomes Pennzoil after mergers
- Hugh Liedtke merges Zapata Petroleum with the Penn Oil Company, to form Pennzoil, which will become one of the largest and most influential oil companies in the world. James Baker III's law firm Baker " Botts becomes Pennzoil's chief legal firm; Baker's Texas family has had generations of personal and business connections to the Bushes. By this point, George H.W. Bush, Baker, and Liedtke all work out of Houston, Texas, where they are forming close business and political ties to the Texas elite. (Consortium News)
US-assisted coup in South Vietnam against Diem
- September 2 - November: The abortive coup against South Vietnam's Diem is given new life, sparked by a news interview where Kennedy describes Diem as "out of touch with the people" and adds that South Vietnam's government might regain popular support "with changes in policy and perhaps in personnel." In October, Ambassador Lodge tells Kennedy that another coup is in preparation. A number of South Vietnamese rebel generals, led by Duong Van Minh, first ask for assurances that US aid to South Vietnam will continue after Diem's removal and that the US will not interfere with the actual coup. This scenario suits the White House well, in that the generals will appear to acting on their own without any direct U.S. involvement. President Kennedy gives his approval. The CIA in Saigon then signals the conspirators that the United States will not interfere with the overthrow of President Diem. On November 1, mutinous troops take over police headquarters and surround Diem's presidential palace. Diem and his brother Nhu try to escape, but are betrayed to the coup leaders and assassinated. At the White House, a meeting is interrupted with the news of Diem's death. According to witnesses, President Kennedy's face turns a ghostly shade of white and he immediately leaves the room. Later, the President records in his private diary, "I feel that we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it." The coup results in a power vacuum in which a series of military and civilian governments seize control of South Vietnam, a country that becomes totally dependent on the United States for its existence. Viet Cong use the unstable political situation to increase their hold over the rural population of South Vietnam to nearly 40 percent. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- November 6: Laura Welch, the daughter of a rich Texas family who would later marry George W. Bush, accidentally kills her fiancee in what is possibly the result of drunken driving. Welch, a Robert E. Lee High School senior, runs a stop sign with her new Chevrolet, and rams her boyfriend's car, killing him. The citation shows two notations, one for running a stop sign and the other illegible. A friend of Welch's, who is in the passenger seat, characterizes it as a "horrible, horrible accident." Inexplicably, no charges are ever filed. (Dallas Morning News/Globe/Bartcop)
Kennedy assassinated; Johnson becomes president
- November 22: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas, ostensibly by a deranged young Communist sympathizer, Lee Harvey Oswald. The facts don't tally with the official story. Former Vice President Nixon, also in Dallas, leaves an hour before the assassination. An internal FBI memo reports that the same day, "reputable businessman" George H.W. Bush reports hearsay that a certain Young Republican was discussing murdering Kennedy when he arrives in Houston. The Young Republican in question is nowhere near Dallas on that date. Later, a November 29 memo from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is unearthed that states, "Mr. George Bush of the CIA" had been briefed on November 23rd about the reaction of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami to the assassination of Kennedy. Bush denies the memo refers to him; he admits to being in Texas, but says he can't remember where. The CIA also denies Bush's involvement, saying that the memo refers to a George William Bush, a low-level analyst whose job involves working on coastline mapping. A high-level but anonymous US intelligence source confirms that Bush began working with the CIA in 1960 or 1961, and used Zapata Oil as "a cover for clandestine activities," possibly being involved in the Kennedy assassination and/or its aftermath. Oswald himself will be murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he can testify about his actions; Ruby has deep connections to area Mafia organizations and possibly connections to the CIA. (In 1976, investigative journalist Jack Anderson reports that mob boss Johnny Roselli, who was involved in the CIA's attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, tells him, "When Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald." Roselli will be murdered shortly thereafter.) In another twist, Lee Harvey Oswald's friend, George DeMohrenschildt (who apparently committed suicide before police could question him regarding Oswald), had "George H.W. (Poppy) 1412 Ohio also Zapata Petroleum Midland" listed in his address book. (Bushwatch, JFK Assassination Timeline, Buzzflash, Spartacus Educational, Kevin Phillips)
Postcard illustration of JFK assassination route
Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald
- The assassination is investigated by the infamous Warren Commission, which begins its work on November 29, days after assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is himself murdered. The Warren Commission will eventually report that Oswald was the lone assassin, a conclusion hotly disputed by many. Interestingly, the mandate of the Warren Commission, as drawn up by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, is that the commission must find Oswald to be the lone assassin, with no confederates, and that the evidence is such that he would most certainly have been convicted at trial. The commission is also mandated to scotch speculation that Oswald was either working for the Communists or for right-wing interests who want to frame the Communists for the shooting.
- On November 29, newly sworn in president Lyndon Johnson issues an executive order creating the commission, to be headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren and composed of Democratic senator Richard Russell, Democratic representative Hale Boggs, Republican senator John Sherman Cooper, Republican representative Gerald Ford, former CIA director Allen Dulles, and former diplomat and World Bank president John McCloy. Future GOP senator Arlen Spector is one of the staff attorneys. The involvement of Dulles, in particular, has opened up a raft of speculation as to the integrity and honesty of the commission. Almost all of the commission's work will be done in secret. 10 months later, in September 1964, the commission will find Oswald to be the lone assassin. Some of the findings of the commission are frankly a stretch of credulity, particularly the assertion that Oswald fired three bullets, the first of which missed entirely, the second striking Kennedy in the back, exiting his throat, and going on to strike Governor John Connelly, and the third striking Kennedy in the head. The second bullet becomes known sardonically as the "magic bullet," because of the contention that it struck Kennedy in the back, exited his throat, entered Connelly's back, exited his chest, went completely through his right wrist, lodged in his left thigh, and later fell out onto his stretcher at the hospital. Such a complex path seems illogical for a single bullet, and the convenience with which the bullet was found, lying beside Connelly on his stretcher, adds to the speculation. Worse, the report is written without any of the commissioners actually seeing the actual autopsy photos and X-rays of Kennedy.
- The commission will also find gross and egregrious lapses on the part of the Secret Service and the Dallas police in ensuring Kennedy's safety: failing to ensure that only "authorized personnel" were to stand on bridges and overpasses; failing to search nearby buildings and to secure windows and rooftops along the path of the motorcade; failing to perform background checks on those who might come in contact with Kennedy; using as a model the 1936 visit by Franklin Roosevelt to Dallas; failing to have sufficient security personnel; failing to have Kennedy drive through in a bulletproof car with a hardtop, instead of a convertible (although many claims have been made that such a car was not readily available, a week later, Johnson will be told by the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover that Hoover has such a car); allowing Kennedy, who was famously impatient with security protocols, leeway with security plans that increased his risk; and planning the motorcade route to make it easy for potential shooters to have numerous angles and avenues of attack. Though the report is made public, the actual Warren commission files are sealed for 75 years -- until 2039. The surviving assassination records will be released in 2017. Several subsequent investigations have raised the possibility of a second shooter, possibly from the infamous "grassy knoll" in Dealy Plaza.
- Eminent philosopher and scientist Bertrand Russell makes one of the most famous objections to the Warren Commission findings, released in September 1964. He says the commission's report is "riddled with contradictions," asserts that "blatant fabrications" have taken root in the public mind, and notes that key evidence, including testimony from Oswald's wife and brother, has either been forged, doctored, or lost. Russell takes serious issue with the makeup of the commission, labeling Boggs and Russell as right-wing racists, Ford as a Goldwater colleague with close connections to the FBI, McCloy as representing the interests of the business community, and the CIA's Dulles needing no explanation as to why he would be suspect. "[M]any of its members were also members of those very groups which have done so much to distort and suppress the facts about the assassination," he writes. "Because of their connection with the government, not one member would have been permitted under US law to serve on a jury had Oswald faced trial." He questions the makeup of the commission, as well as the cloak of secrecy under which it operated. One of his most interesting questions is why the commission refused to consider any alternatives to the theory of Oswald as "lone gunman." He also poses the unanswerable question, "Why have so many liberals abandoned their own responsibility to a Commission whose circumstances they refuse to examine?"
- Other questions still resound: days before Kennedy's visit, a list of 23 "subversives," with Oswald heading the list, was available to the police; 22 of the 23 were kept under surveillance, but not Oswald. Russell also notes that Kennedy's motorcade's route was changed at the last minute; before the change, the motorcade would not have driven past the depository. No explanation for the route change has ever been given. Russell also asks why fundamental medical evidence from Kennedy has been altered, with the original autopsy report showing that Kennedy was shot from the front, not behind; that report has been lost, and the doctor who wrote it has been silenced by the Secret Service. A number of witnesses have testified that they heard shots from in front of the motorcade; films from the shooting show witnesses pointing in a very different direction than towards the motorcade. Witnesses also dispute the description of Oswald as Officer Tippit's killer, but those statements have been excluded. Russell's essay contains much detail that is omitted here, including several other serious allegations of evidence being forged or ignored.
- Russell concludes, "We view the problem with the utmost seriousness. US Embassies have long ago reported to Washington world-wide disbelief in the official charges against Oswald, but this has scarcely been reflected by the American press. No US television program or mass circulation newspaper has challenged the permanent basis of all the allegations -- that Oswald was the assassin, and that he acted alone. It is a task which is left to the American people." (Wikipedia, Village Voice/Real History Archives, Bertrand Russell/Kenneth Rahn/University of Rhode Island)
- From almost the moment that Kennedy was shot, the media lines up in complicity to ensure that only the government's version of events is placed before the public. In 2002, Village Voice Robert Hennelly and Jerry Policoff will document what they call "a pattern of collusion and co-optation that is hardly less chilling than the prospect of a conspiracy to kill the president." The biggest culprits are the supposedly liberal New York Times, Time/Life magazine, and the television networks CBS and NBC. Within days of the assassination, the Justice Department will manage to quash a Washington Post editorial calling for an independent investigation. Two weeks after the assassination, the FBI will brag that it has convinced NBC not to present any information about the assassination except what the FBI approves for public consumption. Within hours of the assassination, Life secures the main piece of evidence -- the amateur film shot by Abraham Zapruder -- and deliberately misrepresents and misleads its readers through its captioning of stills from the film as published in its "special report" on the assassination. And a 1967 CBS "independent" documentary is apparently altered by Warren Commission member John Jay McCloy through the auspices of his daughter, Ellen McCloy, the administrative assistant of CBS News president Richard Salant. Within that same CBS series, the testimony of Orville Nix -- an amateur filmmaker who captured the "grassy knoll" angle on tape -- was tailored to fit the requirements of CBS's Warren Commission slant. Much of this unethical and immoral practice was accomplished under the pretext of "sparing the Kennedy family."
- The New York Times, as the nation's "newspaper of record," is one of the FBI's first targets for damage control. Times writer Anthony Lewis will be given an exclusive preview of the Warren Commission report; in return, Lewis writes a glowing, uncritical extollation of the commission's findings. (40 years later, Lewis still defends the commission and attacks its critics.) IN December 1964, two months after the Warren Commission publishes its report, the Times collaborates with Bantam and McGraw-Hill on The Witnesses, a book of testimony from the Warren Commission hearings edited by the Times. The accounts of those witnesses whose testimony deviated the slightest from the official story were simply edited out. Not included, for instance, was one man's testimony to the Warren Commission that on the day of JFK's murder he had seen two men on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, where the official line says there was just Oswald. The FBI told this witness to "forget it." His references to shots coming from the railroad yards in front of the president were also deleted. In addition, the section of the transcript where three Secret Service agents' autopsy observations contradict the official autopsy report was deleted. The book staunchly supports the Warren version of events, with Oswald the single, deranged assassin. In December 1970, John Leonard will write a review of two books re-examining the assassination, Jim Garrison's A Heritage of Stone and James Kirkwood's American Grotesque. In the early edition of the paper the headline read, "Who Killed John F. Kennedy?" and the review itself contained two long paragraphs challenging the Warren Commission, subtitled "Mysteries Persist." Leonard wrote, "But until somebody explains...why a 'loner' like Oswald always had friends and could always get a passport -- who can blame the Garrison guerillas for fantasizing? Something stinks about the whole affair." Within hours these paragraphs disappeared from the review and the headline was altered to read, "The Shaw-Garrison Affair." Leonard says he was never able to track down the person responsible for the changes. "Not the bullpen, not the culture desk, not even Abe Rosenthal knew how it happened," he recalls. "We've every right to be paranoid."
- Life magazine went the Times one better, actually spiriting away physical evidence that may have shown the assassination in a different light. Life almost immediately sequesters Oswald's wife and mother, keeping them in seclusion to preserve the magazine's access to them for exclusive interviews. Worse, within four hours of the assassination, Life makes arrangements to purchase the film of the shooting from Abraham Zapruder, whose 8mm recording is considered the best evidence of the crime. Life publisher C.D. Jackson makes the decision to withhold the film from public view. Jackson is an interesting case: a lifelong anticommunist who played a key role in the McCarthy era purges, he is best known in the journalistic community for, in the words of columnist Drew Pearson, "always pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the CIA." Jackson takes the film with him, giving investigators an almost-worthless copy instead. Hennelly and Policoff write, "By permitting the chain of custody to include Life magazine, and by accepting a mere copy of a crucial piece of evidence, the law-enforcement authorities were well on their way to compromising their investigation." Life will hang on to the film for 12 years. In its first report using the film, Life editors will make a gross and deliberate misrepresentation. During the original autopsy, the Parkland Hospital doctors will note that Kennedy suffered an apparent entry wound in the throat, indicating that at least one shot was fired from directly in front of him and not from Oswald's vantage point above and behind. When Life prints stills from the Zapruder film, it claims that the film shows Kennedy turning almost 180 degrees around, exposing his throat to Oswald's shot. The explanation goes a long way towards quelling public apprehension about the discrepancies in the reports of the shooting, but the explanation is completely specious: when the entire film is viewed, at no time is Kennedy ever seen making such a turn. He does, however, turn somewhat to his right, facing the grassy knoll, just before being shot in the throat. Life instead misrepresents the facts shown in the film.
- In its October 2, 1964 edition, largely devoted to the newly released Warren Report, the assignment of assessing the commission's work is given to commission member Gerald Ford. Along with Ford's predictably supportive assessment, the magazine uses eight frames from the Zapruder film to illustrate its articles. The issue underwent two major revisions after its release, requiring the breaking and resetting of plates twice, a highly unusual occurrence. That issue of Life was illustrated with eight frames of the Zapruder film along with descriptive captions. One version of caption 6 read: "The assassin's shot struck the right rear portion of the President's skull, causing a massive wound and snapping his head to one side." The photo accompanying this caption -- frame 323 -- shows Kennedy slumped back against the seat, and leaning to the left, an instant after the fatal bullet struck him. The photo makes it look as though shots came from the front -- the railroad trestle -- or the right--the grassy knoll. A second version of the issue replaces this frame with another, the graphic shot of the president's head exploding (frame 313). Blood fills the air and all details are obscured. The caption, oddly enough, remained the same -- describing his head snapping to one side. A third version carries this same 313 slide -- frame 323 has now been removed from the issue -- but now with a new caption, one that jibes perfectly with the Warren Commission's findings. "The direction from which shots came was established by this picture taken at the instant the bullet struck the rear of the President's head and, passing through, caused the front part of his skull to explode forward." Years later, the world would learn that it was the back, not the front, of Kennedy's skull which exploded and prompting Jackie Kennedy to crawl, reflexively and hysterically, across the trunk of the limousine to retrieve the pieces. This would not be fully understood until the Zapruder film itself had been seen in its entirety. For the moment, the only people in a position to spot Life's error were the Secret Service, the FBI, and possibly the busy pressmen at R. R. Donnelly, who must have piled up a lot of overtime trying to keep up with the ever-changing facts. (Life wasn't the only publication on the assassination to have bizarre layout problems. The Warren Report itself never addressed the backward motion of the president's head, thus sparing itself the burden of having to explain it. This omission was facilitated by the reversal of the two frames following the explosive frame 313 in the Warren Commission's published volumes, which considerably confused the issue by making it seem as if the head jerked forward. J. Edgar Hoover later blamed the switch on a "printing error.") British journalist Anthony Summers, author of the book Conspiracy, speculates that "if they had shown the film on CBS the weekend of the assassination or at any time the following year there would not have been anyone in America who would not have believed that the shots came from the front of the President and that there was therefore a conspiracy."
- Meanwhile, Life's sister publication, Time, counters the talk of conspiracy with, among other articles, a June 12, 1964 piece entitled "J.F.K.: The Murder and the Myths," which blames the speculation on "leftist" writers and publications looking for a "rightist conspiracy." The article smears such Warren Report critics as Thomas Buchanan with allegations of Communist sympathies.
- By 1966, with calls for re-examination of the Warren Report coming from such luminaries as Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Goodwin, Walter Lippman, Cardinal Cushing, William F. Buckley, the Saturday Evening Post, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore, and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the New York Times initiates its own independent investigation, even acknowledging in a November 1966 op-ed that there remained "Unanswered Questions." The investigation lasts less than a month, with the most revealing look inside the investigation coming from team member Martin Waldron, who later tells Rolling Stone that the team found "a lot of unanswered questions" that they chose not to pursue. Even the Life staffers begin to back off of their stance, with a November cover story labeling Oswald's presumption of guilt questionable, and calling for a new investigation. Partially due to pressure from Headley Donovan, editor-in-chief of both Time and Life, the latter will quickly drop its support for reopening the inquiry.
- In 1975, activist Dick Gregory and optics expert Robert Groden approach sensationalist reporter Geraldo Rivera with a newly unearthed, clear copy of the entire Zapruder film. Rivera airs the unedited film on ABC's Good Morning America, including the damning Frame 313. The airing causes a firestorm of controversy, and reignites interest in the Kennedy slaying.
- The controversial 1991 film JFK, by director/screenwriter Oliver Stone, relies on the Zapruder film to support the film's central contention that since Kennedy suffered a head wound from the front, a conspiracy was involved. Stone tells the Voice, "It was key. It is the best smoking gun we have to date." Even Zapruder himself, according to a 1973 Esquire article, believes that he heard shots fired from the grassy knoll in front of him and Kennedy.
- CBS airs a documentary series about the assassination in the fall of 1966, as conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination continue to mount and public opinion polls show that a strong majority of Americans doubt Oswald was the lone gunman. CBS's documentary is, in the words of Hennelly and Policoff, "monumental," but ridden with errors in procedure and logic. One egregrious error is in the rifle test, which features a re-enactment by 11 marksmen trying to replicate Oswald's three shots; the timing was in error, forcing the marksmen to squeeze off their shots in 4.1 and not the correct 4.6 seconds; worse, the marksmen used guns that did not replicate Oswald's weapon, and were given time to practice. Even with their better guns and practice time, the experienced marksmen averaged a firing time of almost 6 seconds, with a dismal 1.2 hit average. Oswald, a poor shot with an inferior gun, is alleged to have done much better with his three shots. CBS refuses to report on the marksmen's inferior results. "It seems reasonable to say that an expert could fire that rifle in five seconds," intones a misinformed Walter Cronkite. "It seems equally reasonable to say that Oswald, under normal circumstances, would take longer. But these were not normal circumstances. Oswald was shooting at a president. So our answer is: probably fast enough."
- The documentary's errors may be explained in part by the intervention of Ellen McCloy, the administrative assistant to CBS News chief Richard Salant. McCloy, the daughter of Warren Commission member John McCloy, made sure to pass along the observations and advice of her father to Salant. One document even indicates that McCloy even passed along to Les Midgley, the serues producer, a sweetener: Ellen writes, "Dad asked me to give you the enclosed. He said it shouldn't be considered a bribe...maybe it's just a gift as the result of the birth of Luci's baby. 'The old man' thanks you very much for the booklet!!! --Ellen." According to McCloy's biographer Kai Bird, he is "the guy who greased the wheels between the world of Wall Street, big foundations, and Washington." McCloy himself later acknowledges his agenda: for the series to show that America was not "a banana republic, where a government can be changed by conspiracy." Salant and Midgley both deny that McCloy had any undue influence on the series. In 1970, the independent documentary "Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy" notes that Cronkite himself later conceded that in 1970, the CBS documentary censored Lyndon Johnson's own doubts about the Oswald "lone gunman" theory. Cronkite tells filmmaker Danny Schechter that Johnson invoked "national security" to get CBS to edit out his remarks long after they had been captured on film.
- CBS had a potentially explosive revelation in a film it had available from another videographer on the scene of the assassination, Orville Nix. Nix, a former repairman for the General Services Administration, and who took his footage across from the grassy knoll, sold his film to UPI in 1963. But according to family members, Nix said that the film only brought him heartache. "The FBI had issued a dictum to all of Dallas's film labs that any assassination photos had to be turned over to the FBI immediately," recalls granddaughter Gayle Jackson. "The lab called my granddad first and, like the good American he was, he rushed it to the FBI." Nix had to turn his camera over to the FBI as well. "They took the camera for five months. They said they needed to analyze it. They returned it in pieces."
- In 1967, Nix reported to CBS for his part in the documentary's re-enactment. "His turn came to reenact what he saw," recalls Jackson. "They said, 'Mr. Nix, where did the shots come from?' He said, 'From over there on that grassy knoll behind the picket fence.' Then it would be, 'Cut!' We went through this six or seven times and each time it was, 'Cut!' And then a producer stepped forward and said, 'Orville, where did the Warren Commission say the shots came from?' My granddad said, 'Well, the Texas Book Depository.' The producer said, 'That's what you need to say.'" CBS producer Bernard Birnbaum, who worked on the documentary, denies the exchange. "We never tried to put any words in anybody's mouth, absolutely not," he says. Birnbaum says CBS did give Warren Commission critics air time and cites a segment of the documentary where another eyewitness contends shots came from the grassy knoll. "We were looking to disprove everything," he insists. According to Jackson, her grandfather also told CBS that there were four shots fired during the assassination, an observation subsequently endorsed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1975, based on controversial acoustical evidence. But what did the CBS viewing audience hear from Nix? "Bang, bang, bang," as if to suggest that Nix also subscribed to the three-bang theory. After being browbeaten by CBS, Nix, a normally mild-mannered man, became furious. "He was hitting the steering wheel on the ride back home saying, 'Why are they trying to make me feel like I am insane?'" Jackson recalls. She remembers that a year or so later, when District Attorney Jim Garrison called for Nix to testify, her grandfather wouldn't talk. He was afraid for his life.
- Another witness browbeaten into conforming with the official storyline is Kenny O'Donnell, a confidant and advisor to Kennedy who was in the motorcade. O'Donnell later tells Democratic congressman Tip O'Neill that he was sure he heard two shots fired from the fence behind the grassy knoll. "That's not what you told the Warren Commission," says O'Neill. O'Donnell responds, "You're right, I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."
- Nix's granddaughter has been trying since Nix's death in 1988 to get the original film back from UPI. She maintains that UPI had agreed that the rights to the film would revert to Nix in 1988. In 1991, UPI will agree that she is the rightful owner of the film...but the film is no longer in UPI's possession. Jackson will receive a letter saying the film had gone to the Warren Commission and is supposedly housed in the National Archives. With the Warren Commission out of business, she will contact the National Archives only to learn that the original is not there either. Where is the film? It is believed that the chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Robert Blakey, who worked with that committee in 1975 to investigate the assassinations of Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., classified the Nix film and filed it somewhere where it cannot be found. Interestingly, Blakey, who was characterized by staff members as obsessed with mandatory secrecy oaths and who saw to it that most of the committee's files were classified, has recently been assigned to help draft legislation about what will be released from the original Kennedy assassination files.
- Currently the Kennedy assassination remains unsolved. PBS political commentator and former Johnson White House advisor Bill Moyers says reflectively, "When it came to this [reporting on the assassination], the working press was a lobster in a trap. Back then, what government said was the news.... In the 1950s and early '60s, the official view of reality was the agenda for the Washington press corps.... I think it is quite revealing that it's Oliver Stone that's forcing Congress to open up the files and not the Washington Post, the New York Times, or CBS." (Village Voice/Real History Archives)
- Kenneth O'Donnell, one of Kennedy's closest aides, says that Kennedy told him that he would begin pulling American troops out of Vietnam in 1964. This does not happen under Johnson, who instead begins escalating the US war effort almost immediately. (D.J. Herda)
- November 22: Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the Presidency upon confirmation of Kennedy's death. Johnson is a millionaire Texan whose "wildly swinging moods matched his size," writes D.J. Herda. Herda quotes Johnson biographer Stanley Karnow as saying Johnson could be "cruel and kind, violent and gentle, petty, generous, cunning, naive, crude, candid, and frankly dishonest." Walter Cronkite, a friend of Johnson's, periodically dines with Johnson, and during those moments Johnson often expresses opinions about the war or race relations that, if reported by Cronkite, would have outraged millions. But Cronkite refuses to print: "It was private," he later wrote, "and it should remain such." (JFK Assassination Timeline, D. J. Herda, Marvin Kalb)
- November 23: George Bush is briefed by an FBI and a DIA agent on possible repercussions of the Kennedy assassination, as noted above. Bush denies that he is the person who was briefed, a denial that is later shown to be false. (Bushwatch, JFK Assassination Timeline)
- November 24: Johnson signs an order rescinding Kennedy's proposed reduction of troops in Vietnam. Johnson will instead escalate the US military presence in Southeast Asia. (JFK Assassination Timeline)
- November 24: Kennedy's putative assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is killed by New Orleans nightclub owner Jack Ruby while Oswald is in the custody of federal marshals. Oswald had staunchly maintained since his arrest on November 22 that he was a "fall guy," that he did not shoot either Kennedy or Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, and that he intends to present evidence that he was the victim of a conspiracy. The FBI finds evidence that Oswald was indeed the victim of someone impersonating him in the weeks before the shooting, and that this impersonator had tried to contact both the Russian Embassy and the Cuban consulate in Mexico in an attempt to contact a well-known assassin whom the CIA and FBI had been tailing for over a year. This evidence will not come to public light for over 40 years. Oswald was a violent and troubled youth, but even so managed to join the US Marines, though by this time he was an avowed Marxist. His military career was short and marred by disciplinary actions, though he did display a proficiency in marksmanship.
- He "defected" to the USSR in 1959, but the Soviets found him of no use, and shipped him off to Minsk, where he was kept under constant surveillance. He married a young Russian woman, Marina Prusakova, and returned to the US in June 1962. On April 10, 1963, Oswald attempted to assassinate the vituperatively right-wing General Edwin Walker; though he had a clean shot from less than 100 feet away, either his shooting skills or his mail-order rifle were deficient, and he missed. (Oswald's attempt on Walker would not be discovered until after Kennedy's death; ballistic tests on the Walker bullet were inconclusive, but did show that they were made by the same manufacturer as the bullets found in Kennedy's body.) As Oswald's job prospects worsened and his marriage became more contentious, he moved to New Orleans, where he became interested in Cuba's Fidel Castro, and soon became a one-man chapter of the "Fair Play for Cuba" organization. After a disastrous radio interview, Oswald moved back to Dallas. New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison found numerous interesting but inconclusive ties between Oswald and local magnate Clay Shaw, and a possible connection between Oswald and private investigator Guy Bannister, who was active in local conservative causes.
- Leaving his wife behind, he journeyed to Mexico City, where he inquired about defecting to Cuba, and after heated disputes with the local KGB (drawing the attention of the local CIA operatives), he angrily returned to Dallas. (He was later approved for emigration.) He took a job at the Texas School Book Depository, where, according to official reports, he fired the shots that killed John Kennedy and wounded Texas governor John Connelly. If the reports are correct, he lingered in the Depository after firing the fatal shots, then left the building, possibly to catch a Greyhound bus that would have taken him to Mexico. Patrolman Tippit stopped Oswald to interrogate him, and Oswald shot him dead with a .38 caliber revolver. At least a dozen witnesses identified Oswald as the shooter. He ducked inside a shoe store, then sneaked inside a movie theater without paying, drawing the attention of the shoe store manager, who alerted the ticket clerk, who called the police. A contingent of police found Oswald inside the theater and subdued him after a struggle. He was arraigned for the murder of Tippit and then of Kennedy the evening of November 22. He told reporters that he didn't even know Kennedy had been shot until they asked him about the charges, and claimed that he was being framed because of his former residence in the USSR.
- Death threats against Oswald, now in police custody, came in thick and fast, but police captain Will Fritz refused to cancel a "perp walk" that would allow reporters to photograph Oswald as he was being transferred to jail. Moments after joking with one of his escorts about the unlikelihood of anyone trying to shoot him, Jack Ruby shoots Oswald in the basement of police headquarters. The shooting is carried live by NBC. It is unclear how Ruby got into the building. Ruby will later claim that he shot Oswald on the spur of the moment to spare Jackie Kennedy the stress of Oswald's trial, but Ruby's explanation is less than satisfactory. Ruby is known to have extensive connections to area mobsters, adding fuel to the speculation that Kennedy was assassinated at the behest of the Mafia. One interesting, but unproven, speculation, unconfirmed but not disproven by a 1981 exhumation of Oswald's body, is that Oswald was "swapped" with a double while he was in the Soviet Union. Several discrepancies between the body and Oswald's known medical conditions (i.e. a hole in his skull from an operation) were found. (Wikipedia)
- By year's end of 1963, there are 16,300 American military advisors in South Vietnam which received $500 million in U.S. aid during the year. (Vietnam War Timeline)
1963 - 1966
- After Richard Bissell's resignation as head of the CIA's science and technology programs, he is replaced by Stanford and MIT physicist Bud Wheelon. Under Wheelon's tenure, the CIA will establish a new Directorate of Science and Technology, and sets out to create a spy satellite system that will eclipse the highly successful but limited Corona program. Wheelon and his aides will envision, and create, technologies that allow US spy satellites to transmit streaming data feeds to Washington interpreters almost instantly, see details on the ground as small as a football, peer through clouds and see as well during the night as during the day, focus on varying targets depending on the desires of the satellite operators, and monitor electronic communications around the globe. In 1994, Defense Secretary William Perry will say, "The national reconnaissance systems which the United States now has, which are truly jewels in our crown, all stem, in my judgment, from the creative work that Bud Wheelon did in the sixties." (Philip Taubman)