Deep Politics and the Death of JFK by Peter Dale Scott

Book review by Jodey Bateman


 

This is the best book so far on the assassination of President John Kennedy. Peter Dale Scott, the author, is a former Canadian diplomat and professor of English at the University of California, which published this book. Scott makes clear why after over 40 years, the Kennedy assassination still affects our lives.

Scott says that at this point it is not possible to say what specific individuals plotted to kill Kennedy. However, there is publicly available information, easy to obtain, on why a much larger group of individuals was willing to stage an official cover-up to make it appear that the Kennedy assassination was simply a horrible accident without political significance.

Scott is not accusing any of the people involved in the cover-up of being part of the assassination plot. but he does say if we understand why they were so unwilling to do a serious public investigation of the facts around the assassination, we will understand why Kennedy was killed and what social forces the assassination came from.

To start with, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, was in charge of investigations for the commission his friend President Lyndon Johnson set up, supposedly to find the facts about Kennedy's death. The commission was headed by Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Warren Commission's report asks – was Jack Ruby, who killed Kennedy's alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, connected with organized crime? The Commission says no. Its investigation, conducted by Hoover's FBI, asked Ruby's long-time friend Dave Yaras if Ruby was connected with the mob. Yaras said no. That was enough for the commission.

The commission's report does not mention that in 1949 this same Dave Yaras was on trial for an important mob hit when the main witness against him was murdered and Yaras went free.

Yet the word of such a person was enough to keep the commission from investigating the possible role of organized crime in the Kennedy assassination.

To Peter Dale Scott, the question is not what the role of organized crime was. What he asks is why did the director of the FBI and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court take the word of someone like Dave Yaras seriously? Or pretend to take it seriously?

For 20 years, up until shortly before John F. Kennedy became president, FBI Director Hoover denied that there was any such thing as organized crime. Although the FBI kept major Mafia figures under surveillance, they were seldom prosecuted at all, usually not by the FBI.

In return for not being prosecuted, the executives of organized crime, as we may call them, gave the FBI tips that led to the capture of small-time crooks who had displeased them. Jack Ruby was a low level organized crime bureaucrat. According to Ruby's FBI file, which was not released until 15 years after the Kennedy assassination, he was the one who gave permission for a shipment of heroin to pass through Dallas. Yet the FBI had him down as a potential criminal informant, one who was willing to give them information about illegal activity in Dallas. Ruby was never prosecuted for his role in the heroin deal.

It is not only law enforcement agencies who developed such relationships of mutual benefit with organized crime. During World War II, the Office of Special Services, which became the CIA, got powerful Mafia figures in prison in the US to send messages to Mafia leaders in Sicily asking them to prepare the way for landings by Allied troops. In return these Mafia figures were released from prison and deported to Italy after the war.

The end of the war did not end friendly Mafia contacts with the US government. After Mafia don Vito Genovese was deported to Italy he became an interpreter for the US occupying army and obtained American military trucks which he used for his black marketing activities.

Relationships between organized crime and American intelligence went on into the Kennedy administration. Mobsters such as Meyer Lansky and Santos Trafficante lost millions when the Cuban revolution confiscated their gambling casinos in 1959. After Kennedy became president in 1961 organized crime supplied money and personnel to help the anti-Castro movement which the CIA organized.

Organized crime's contributions to the CIA were summed up as helping a project to assassinate Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Actually, as Castro never seemed to get killed, the assassination plot seems to have been simply a big “get out of jail free card” for the organized crime figures involved. As long as they could say they were involved in a top-secret plot against Castro for national security, the CIA would try to keep them from being prosecuted for criminal acts.

Peter Dale Scott calls long-term relationships which cannot be officially acknowledge (such as the CIA's relationship with organized crime) “deep politics.” So-called legitimate business also benefits from deep politics. Business executives can use contacts with organized crime to get things done quickly that would take too long by legal channels.

A perfect example of deep politics between business, government and organized crime is the career of Dallas oil millionaire Clint Murchison whose money was important in building the career of Lyndon Johnson first as Senator and then as Kennedy's vice-president.

One of the main investors in Murchison's oil company was Mafia figure Gerardo Catena. Murchison was also a close friend of Lyndon Johnson's next door neighbor, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Murchison let Hoover take free vacations at Rancho del Charro, a resort which he owned. While such blatant Mafia figures as Gerardo Catena did not take their holidays at Rancho del Charro, others with strong but less obvious organized crime ties such as Sid Levison did.

One of the humorous oil men who vacationed at Rancho del Charro said that Murchison exhibited Hoover to his friends at the resort to show them that Murchison “had the sheriff on his side.”

This meant that any deals they wanted to make with Murchison and his organized crime contacts would not be prosecuted.

Murchinson was the co-owner of the Dallas Cowboys with Gordon McLendon, the owner of radio and TV station KRLD in Dallas. Jack Ruby said that McLendon was one of his six best friends in Dallas. Ruby arranged for illegal gambling games for McLendon and his associates.

Twelve years after the Kennedy assassination McLendon started the Association of former Intelligence Agents with Clare Booth Luce, widow of Henry Luce, publisher of Time and Life. McLendon and Luce and the former intelligence agents who joined them were trying to stop the investigations chaired by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which exposed the CIA plots with the Mafia against the life of Fidel Castro.

While none of these powerful and wealthy people such as McLendon and Murchison may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, they were involved in deep political relationships which were threatened by President Kennedy.

The Kennedy administration doubled the number of prosecutions of organized crime. After the missile crisis of 1962, in return for the Soviet Union withdrawing missiles from Cuba, Kennedy shut down the air strips and boat docks in Florida from which Cuban exiles – and American mobsters – raided Cuba. Mafia figures could no longer claim immunity from prosecution for being part of a plot to kill Castro.

Kennedy's murder removed the threat to a host of deep political relationships. But any honest investigation of his death would have exposed these relationships to the embarrassment of many very powerful people.

So a real investigation never occurred. The beneficiaries of deep politics – who were also beneficiaries of the Kennedy assassination, whether they took part or not – passed their wealth and power on to heirs who are wealthy and powerful today.

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