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>From the January-February 1999 issue (Vol. 6 No. 2)

Who is Gus Russo?

By Jim DiEugenio

In late 1991, when Oliver Stone released JFK, Mark Lane decided to write his
third book about the Kennedy assassination. Anyone who has read Plausible
Denial, knows the significance of Marita Lorenz to that book. When the book
became a bestseller, the media was eager to attack it. So in Newsweek, a man
was quoted deriding Lorenz in quite strong terms as telling wild and bizarre
stories and being generally unreliable. The source was, at that time, a
little known Kennedy researcher. He was so obscure that Lane replied to the
reporter, "So who is Gus Russo? Has he ever written a book? Has he ever
written an article?" At that time, to my knowledge, he had done neither. But
now Russo has written a book. It is so dreadful in every aspect that Lane’s
question carries more weight now than then. In retrospect, it seems quite

I can speak about this rather bracing phenomenon from firsthand experience.
To my everlasting embarrassment, Gus Russo is listed in the acknowledgments
to my book, Destiny Betrayed. In my defense, I can only argue that my
association with Russo at that time was from a distance. We had communicated
over the phone a few times because I had heard he was interested in the New
Orleans scene and had done some work on Permindex, the murky rightwing front
group that Clay Shaw had worked for in Italy in the late fifties and early
sixties. Later, after my book came out in the summer of 1992, he called me
and asked me for some supporting documents that I had used in writing it. My
first impressions of Russo were that he was amiable, interested, and that,
since he lived in Baltimore, he was quite familiar with what was available
for viewing at the National Archives and at the Assassination Archives and
Research Center in Washington D. C.

First Encounter

I encountered Russo in person a couple of times at the end of 1992 and the
beginning of 1993. I attended the ‘92 ASK Conference in Dallas where I
exchanged some materials with him and at which he did an ad hoc talk with
John Newman. I did not actually attend that dual presentation but I heard
that Russo’s part centered on some aspects of military intelligence dealing
with the assassination. Specifically it concerned Air Force Colonel Delk
Simpson, an acquaintance of both LBJ military aide Howard Burris and CIA
officer David Atlee Phillips, about whom some significant questions had been
raised. And since he was coupled with Newman, I assumed that Russo was
investigating the possibility of some form of foreknowledge of the
assassination in some high military circles. My other encounter with Russo in
this time period was even more direct. Toward the end of 1992, I had reason
to visit Washington to see a research associate and examine a new CIA
database of documents that was probably the best index of assassination-relate
d materials available at the time. We decided to call up Russo and we
arranged to spend a Saturday night at his home.

When we got there, Russo was his usual amiable self and his surroundings
revealed that he was indeed immersed in the Kennedy assassination. There were
photos of a man who was a dead ringer for Oswald in combat fatigues in
Florida, where Oswald was never supposed to have been. Russo had obtained
letters showing that George de Mohrenschildt had been in contact with George
Bush at a much earlier date than anyone had ever suspected. Russo had a
library of books on the Kennedy assassination that was abundant and
expansive. He had secured a letter written by Jim Garrison to Jonathan
Blackmer of the House Select Committee on Assassinations that examined the
significance of two seemingly obscure suspects in his investigation, Fred Lee
Crisman and Thomas Beckham. Russo had a letter from Beckham to a major
magazine that was extraordinarily interesting. It discussed the young man’s
relationship with Jack Martin, the CIA, the Bay of Pigs, a man who fit the
description of Guy Banister, and a personal acquaintance of his, "this double
agent, Lee Harvey Oswald." (Significantly, none of the above material appears
in Russo’s book.)

Russo and the Anniversary

It was 1993 that proved an important year for Russo. It was the 30th
anniversary of the murder and there were plenty of books, articles, and even
television shows being prepared in anticipation of that event. Russo somehow
had heard of a new author on the scene, a man named Gerald Posner. To some
people he was actually praising the man and touting some of the new
"revelations" to be unsheathed in his upcoming book. Russo had just come off
of working for Oliver Stone on JFK: The Book of the Film, which had turned
out fairly well. Jane Rusconi, Stone’s chief research assistant at the time,
seemed to like him. Russo had also secured another plum assignment right
after this: he was serving as one of the lead reporters on the PBS Frontline
special "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" In fact, early in 1993, Dennis Effle and
myself had met with Russo in the penthouse bar of a Santa Monica hotel where
he was staying as he investigated a reported sighting of Oswald in the Los
Angeles area.

Later in 1993, three things happened that permanently altered my view of and
relationship with Gus Russo. In order, they were his comments at the 1993
Midwest Symposium; the showing of his PBS special; and his helming of a panel
at the 1993 ASK conference. In light of those three events, there seemed to
be things I should have paid more attention to before that time. For
instance, Russo argued against any change in the motorcade route on some
weird grounds. First, he said that the HSCA had investigated that and found
no basis for it. With what we know about Robert Blakey and the HSCA today,
this is sort of like asking someone to trust the Warren Commission. Second,
he commented that even if the motorcade route had gone down Main Street, a
professional sniper could have still hit Kennedy. (At the time, I thought
that Russo was at least arguing for a conspiracy, albeit a low-level one,
although I am not so sure of that today.) Russo also seemed impressed with
Jack Ruby’s deathbed confession in which he seemed to dispel any notion of a
conspiracy. I frowned on this because it had been made to longtime FBI asset
and diehard Warren Commission advocate Larry Schiller. Also, Ruby’s comments
had been erratic while in jail: some of them clearly implied a larger
conspiracy that seemed to go high up into the government. Related to this,
the fact that a notorious CIA doctor had treated Ruby with drugs could
explain the erratic behavior. Finally, there was another point that I should
have considered more seriously. Before I talked to Russo at his home, he had
related to me a rather intriguing fact. I had asked him if he had ever heard
of the so-called "Fenton Report". This is the culmination of work—not really
a report— done by the HSCA in both Miami and New Orleans. It is called the
Fenton Report because HSCA Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton supervised the
work. When I popped that question, Russo’s response surprised me. He said,
"I’ve heard it." He went on to explain that he had gotten access to the then
classified taped interviews of the House Select Committee at the National
Archives. This had been accomplished through some error by the staff there.
The error had persisted for some time since Russo had heard many of the tapes.

Russo in Chicago

At Chicago in 1993, Russo stunned Rusconi, myself and presumably some others
who had known him previously. As he rose to the podium he ridiculed those who
had the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald had some association with American
intelligence. He asked, "How many of you think Oswald was some kind of James
Bond?" I thought this was an oddly posed question. Nobody had ever reported
Oswald owning an Aston-Martin, or leading an army of underwater scuba divers
in a spear-gun fight, or employing all kinds of mechanical gadgetry to disarm
his enemies. Far from it. The question was a pointless and unserious one, at
least to anyone truly interested in Oswald. It was especially unbecoming from
one who was then working on a documentary about the man’s life. Russo went on
to advise the research community as to what they should really be
investigating. He said we "should be following our Mafia leads and Cuban
exile leads". In the question and answer period that followed, someone asked
him to explain his recent blurb for Robert Morrow’s newly published book First
 Hand Knowledge. Russo had the quote read back to him and he seemed to stand
by the endorsement, which is interesting since Morrow was proffering a
low-level plot of CIA rogue operatives led by Clay Shaw allied with the Mob
and some Cuban exiles. Later, he then attributed a quote to Robert Blakey
endorsing a somewhat similar line. The reference to Blakey set off an alarm
bell. Although I had not done an in-depth study of the HSCA at the time, I
knew enough to realize that anyone who took Blakey seriously either wasn’t
serious himself or had not done his homework. I didn’t realize at the time
that Russo and his cohorts were making Blakey one of the prime talking heads
on their November special.

There was one other thing I should have noted about Russo at that conference.
During the proceedings, I saw him with a tall, thin, bespectacled man who I
had not encountered before. I would later recognize him as Dale Myers, who I
now know as an unrepentant "lone-nut" zealot. If I had known who Myers was in
April in Chicago I would not have been so far behind the curve.

The Frontline Special

Then came November of 1993. This was the coming out party for Russo and
company. In Cambridge, Massachusetts I attended the fine Harvard Conference
put together by Lenny Mather, Carl Oglesby and some of his friends. On the
second night of that conference, Lenny somehow secured an advance rough cut
of the upcoming Frontline special. Jerry Policoff, Roger Feinman, Bob
Spiegelman, Lenny and myself sat around in Lenny’s small living room to view
this much anticipated special. We were stunned. First by the choice of
talking heads. True, John Newman and Tony Summers were on, but they were
overwhelmed, engulfed, obliterated by the clear imbalance from the other
side. PBS, Russo, his fellow lead reporter Scott Malone and producer Mike
Sullivan made no attempt to hide their bias in the show. People like Gerald
Posner, Edward Epstein, Blakey, and even well known intelligence assets like
Carlos Bringuier, Priscilla McMillan, and Ed Butler were given free rein to
express the most outrageous bits of propaganda about Oswald and the
assassination. For example, Epstein made a comment that Oswald joined the
Marines because it was a way of getting a gun. As if civilians had no access
to rifles or weapons. The cut we saw even used a photographic expert
associated with Itek, exposed in the 1960’s as having done a lot of work for
the CIA, and shown long ago by veteran Ray Marcus to have an agenda on the
Kennedy assassination. Second, although people like Newman had made some
important discoveries while working on the project i.e. a CIA document
apparently revealing that Oswald had been debriefed when he returned from
Russia, this was also drowned out by the spin of the show’s content which,
without clearly saying so, pointed toward Oswald as the lone gunman. One of
the last bits of narration in the program was words to the effect that the
secrets behind the assassination were buried with Oswald. The show was so
one-sided that even Summers, at that time beginning to move into his
"agnostic" phase, asked that his name be removed from the credits and that
his segments be cut. Feinman was so outraged by Russo and the show that he
made a strong comment about not inviting Russo to the ASK conference that

Russo, Zaid, Vaughn and Co.

But Russo was invited by the conference producers who were not really that
cognizant of the Kennedy case or its dynamics. If anybody needed more
evidence about where Russo stood at this time, it was available at this
conference. Incredibly, Russo got to chair a panel in Dallas. There were two
people on this panel that I had serious doubts about, but Russo was glad to
have. They were John Davis and Lamar Waldron. In Probe, Bill Davy and myself
have written at length about why Davis is not a trustworthy writer, and as I
wrote in my article on Robert Blakey in the last issue, the Review Board’s
release of the Brilab tapes bears this out. (Russo was one of the other
culprits spreading rumors about the strong evidence on these FBI surveillance
tapes supposedly implicating Carlos Marcello in the assassination. The
"strong evidence" has turned out to be another dry well for the Mob-did-it
advocates.) On his panel, Russo gave Waldron a solid hour, unheard of at the
time, to present his "evidence" for the so-called "Project Freedom" theorem
i.e. the idea that the Kennedys had already set an invasion of Cuba for late
1963, the Mob found out about it and miraculously managed to turn the whole
project on its head so that RFK would now have to forever remain silent about
what he really knew about his brother’s murder. (Don’t ask me to explain all
the details. Waldron didn’t seem to understand them either.) I walked out
when Waldron tried to state that RFK was actually in charge of his brother’s
autopsy. The implication being that he ordered the unbelievable practices at
Bethesda that night as part of a witting or unwitting cover-up. I later heard
from reliable sources that Russo and Davis reveled in Waldron’s thesis.
Which, in light of Davis’ book on the Kennedys, and Russo’s current effort,
makes a lot of sense. Russo also invited Ed Butler to that conference, and
reportedly, Butler prefaced his remarks by thanking his friend Russo for
inviting him. The man who was testifying before Senator Thomas Dodd’s
subcommittee on foreign subversion within about 24 hours after the
assassination. The man who was collecting material on Oswald within hours of
the murder for that appearance. The man who, in the eighties, when the
Iran/Contra affair and the drugs for guns trade in Central America was
heating up, came into the possession of some of Guy Banister’s files. And
Russo knew the latter because, as Ed Haslam relates, they discovered that
fact together in the spring of 1993. (See Chapter 11 of Haslam’s Mary,
Ferrie, and the Monkey Virus.)

Then there was the Myers’ parallel. In Dallas, Russo was chummy with people
like Todd Vaughn and Mark Zaid. In Chicago, lawyer Zaid had said that Oswald
would have been convicted at trial but would have later won an appeal. In
Dallas, Zaid was advocating the positions of compromised scientist Luis
Alvarez, who was long ago exposed as accepting money from a CIA front group.
(His defense was he didn’t know it was a CIA front.) On a panel discussing
Oswald, Zaid argued, Russo-like, that there was no evidence that Oswald was
an intelligence agent. Reportedly, when original witnesses appeared in Dealey
Plaza, Zaid distributed literature making arguments against their
credibility. Vaughn was in the position of Russo: an anti-critic within the
critical community. Vaughn had expressed an interest to me in David Ferrie.
But every time I talked to him afterwards, he seemed to get more and more
close to an "Oswald did it" position. (Later on, Effle and I did a talk on
the Kennedy assassination in Detroit. Vaughn and Myers both showed up and
afterward tried to convince us that 1) The single-bullet theory was viable
and 2) Oswald would have had no problem getting three shots off in six

Russo vs. Wecht

I found all this quite puzzling. Why would people who apparently believed the
conclusions of the Warren Commission attend a conference designed for its
critics? On the last night of the conference, I decided to say something
about this mini-lone-nut faction within our midst. Earlier in the year, I had
written a letter to Zaid about what our coming strategy should be to try to
reopen the case. (Zaid had seemed interested in this aspect and had actually
met with a New York lawyer about the possibility.) He had written me back and
in the response he had alerted me to the rather surprising fact that he had
shown my letter to Gerald Posner, with whom both he and Russo were friendly.
I mentioned that fact to the audience and then revealed some aspects of his
letter to me in which he stated that we did not have enough evidence or
reliable witnesses at the time to even attempt a reopening of the case. I
also made some comments about Russo. Naively, I called him my friend, but I
then read off the list of talking heads he had featured on his PBS show and
questioned the objectivity of the show’s producers. (In a conversation with
me, Russo had said that he did not have editorial control of the program and
I mentioned this to the audience. The implication to me was that it would
have been at least a bit different if he had.)
Cyril Wecht followed me as a speaker, and at the end of his comments made a
ringing declaration against inviting "fence-sitters" to any more of these
seminars. He specifically mentioned Vaughn who, on the medical panel, had
argued for the single-bullet theory.

That last night’s panel was one of the most emotional I had ever seen at a
JFK convention. John Judge, Wecht, and myself were all interrupted several
times by sustained applause and Wecht’s powerful peroration against
equivocators brought the house down. Outside the hall, this emotional display
carried over into two outbursts. Dr. Wecht had passed Russo on the
escalator—Wecht was going up and Russo down—and scolded him about not
including certain critical arguments against the lone-nut thesis of the PBS
show. Russo came up to me afterward and expressed his anger at me for
singling him out in my speech. I then walked upstairs to the bar at the Hyatt
Hotel. As I was proceeding, a middle-aged man who I had never seen before,
but will never forget, accosted me in an undeniably emotional state. He
explained to me that he knew I did not know him, but what he was going to
tell me was important and borne out by experience. He told me that he had
been in the leftist students association SDS in the sixties. He added that
SDS did not fall from without. It fell from the inside. Its leaders later
learned that some of its higher-ups had actually been FBI informants.
Relating that experience to this one, he looked me in the eye and said slowly
and deliberately, "Mark Zaid and Gus Russo are infiltrators." He commented on
Zaid by asking me how many young lawyers I knew who left a relatively small
town to join an international law firm in Washington D.C.? (Which Zaid had
just done.) About Russo, he added that he had worked for a time in the
television business. Programs like Frontline are not designed as they go.
They have a slant and a content about them from the beginning that Russo had
to know about going in. Since he didn’t know me, he said it was difficult to
bare such heavy and unkind comments but he felt he had to do it. He then
expressed reservations about whether or not I believed him, or if I thought
he was demented. I said no, I didn’t think he was. Before he walked away, he
told me that time would prove that he was right.
I had one last communication with Russo after that fateful convention. I
wrote him a letter expressing how absurd it was for him to be outraged at me
for mentioning him in my speech when he had put Dennis Effle’s name in the
credits for his program. I told him that we had gotten several calls and
comments about the curious fact of a member of CTKA being credited in such a
one-sided program. I also could have added that at least my comments in front
of 600 people were accurate; Effle’s research was nowhere to be seen in a
show watched by hundreds of thousands. Russo got in contact with Effle
afterwards to try to straighten out the misunderstanding. Thus ended my
direct and indirect contact with Russo.

Russo’s Fateful Meeting

The next time I heard of him was in the late summer of 1994. Rumors were
circulating, later verified, that Russo had lunch with two CIA heavies:
former Director Bill Colby and former Miami station chief Ted Shackley.
Apparently the subject under discussion was the upcoming conference of the
fledgling Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA). Some very interesting
things had already begun flowing out from the Review Board. Already, the
understanding was that a prime goal was getting everything out about Oswald’s
mysterious trip to Mexico City in September of 1963. If this was done, it
would greatly illuminate the role of David Phillips since the HSCA had
discovered that he played a prime role in delivering the tapes to CIA HQ and
making comments about what was on them to the press. When John Newman found
out about this meeting, he called Colby and asked him what the problem was.
Colby admitted that they were worried about what COPA had in mind for
Phillips, who they felt had gotten a bum rap from the HSCA. Newman told Colby
that, if that is what they were worried about, they should come after him and
not COPA.

In retrospect, the timing of this meeting, and the attendees, are quite
interesting. Later, Russo’s pal, Bob Artwohl also admitted to being there.
Artwohl, for a brief time, was Russo’s authority on the medical evidence.
>From Artwohl, CTKA learned that a fifth person at the meeting was writer Joe
Goulden, partner with Reed Irvine in that extreme rightwing, unabashedly
pro-CIA journalist group Accuracy in Media (AIM). One of the reasons for
Goulden’s presence was to discuss whether or not the CIA should use one of
its friendly media assets to attack COPA. (An attack did come, but not until
the next year in Washington’s City Paper.) This meeting is endlessly
fascinating and literally dozens of questions could be posed about it. For
instance: How did it originate and who proposed it? Why on earth did
Shackley, notorious for his low profile, decide to talk to Russo? Another
important point to press is: Why was Russo there at all? The PBS special was
completed. After the 1993 ASK debacle, Russo knew he would not be a prime
force at any conventions. He writes in the opening of his book that he never
contemplated writing a volume on the case. (We will later see that this is
probably disingenuous, but for sake of argument, let it stand.) In other
words, Russo was at a crossroads. He was now firmly in the Warren Commission
camp, having cut his ties to the critics. He had at least collected a salary
for the Frontline show. And now he shows up at a meeting with Colby and
Shackley at a time when one of the things they are contemplating is a
possible discrediting of COPA.

Russo Joins Hersh

At around the time of this meeting, Seymour Hersh was beginning his hit-piece
on John F. Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot. We know from Robert Sam Anson’s
article in Vanity Fair that Hersh had wanted to do a television segment in
1993, but for some reason it never came to fruition. At approximately that
point, Hersh began on his book, for which he got a million-dollar advance.
With that kind of money, he could afford to hire researchers. On the last
page of his book, the following sentence appears: "Gus Russo did an
outstanding job as a researcher, especially on organized crime issues." (p.
476) One of the organized crime issues that Russo apparently worked on was
the Judith Exner aspect of Hersh’s hatchet job. In the first installment of
my two-part piece on the negative Kennedy genre I discussed Exner at length (P
robe Vol. 4 No. 6). I explained all the many problems with Exner’s
credibility, how her story had mutated and evolved with every retelling. I
demonstrated in detail so many aspects of it were simply not credible on
their face, or even on their own terms as related by Exner and her cohorts:
Kitty Kelley, Scott Meredith and Ovid DeMaris, and Liz Smith. Well, for
Hersh, Exner added yet another appendage to her never-ending tale: this time
she said that she had served as a courier for funds between Kennedy and
Giancana (Hersh pp. 303-305). This new episode concerned a transferal of
funds, a quarter of a million in hundred dollar bills, in a satchel with
Exner delivering the bills via train. Kennedy told Exner that "someone will
be looking out for you on the train." Exner was met in Chicago by Giancana
who took the bag without saying a word. Hersh knew that this story was
incredible on its face. That Giancana would himself meet a messenger and
himself be seen taking a bag from her; that JFK would put himself in such an
easy position to be blackmailed; and that Exner’s story had now grown even
beyond its already fantastic 1988 Kitty Kelley version for People.

Underwood and the ARRB

Apparently Hersh, and Russo, knew this would be a tough one to swallow. So
they had to come up with a corroborating witness. It turned out to be a man
Exner never referred to before, but who that master of intrigue, JFK, had
referred to in his above quoted cryptic quote about providing a lookout on
the train. The man who Hersh says "bolstered" Exner’s new claim was Martin
Underwood, a former employee of Chicago mayor Richard Daley who Daley had
loaned to Kennedy as an advance man for the 1960 campaign. According to
Hersh, Underwood was told to watch over Exner by Kennedy’s trusted aide Ken
O’Donnell. Significantly, Underwood refused to appear on the ABC special that
producer Mark Obenhaus made out of Hersh’s book. Yet, the host of that
special, Peter Jennings, did not explain why.

With the issuance of the ARRB’s Final Report, we now know why. We also have a
better idea why Jennings didn’t explain it and why ABC has not commented on
it since. Under questioning by a legally constituted agency with subpoena and
deposition power, the Hersh/Russo "bolstering" of Exner collapsed. Underwood
"denied that he followed Judith Campbell Exner on a train and that he had no
knowledge about her alleged role as a courier." (p. 136) And with the
implosion of this story, Exner is now exposed as at least partly a creation
of CIA friendly journalists in the media. This is the same Exner who in the
January 1997 Vanity Fair, actually talked about the Review Board uncovering
documents and tapes that would strengthen her story. There are a couple of
questions still left about this new revelation of another Hersh deception.
Did Underwood ever actually tell Hersh or Russo the tall-tale that is in the
book? Did Underwood also actually deny the story to Jennings or Obenhaus? And
if he did, and if this is the reason for Underwood’s refusal to appear, did
ABC keep this a secret in order to further protect Hersh and their
investment? (As I noted in my discussion of ABC’s exposure of the previous
Monroe hoax, Jennings did a carefully constructed limited hangout to minimize
the damage to Hersh in that scandal. See Probe Vol. 5 No. 1.)

But the Review Board’s Final Report goes even further in its detailing of the
Russo-Underwood association. (The report does not actually name Russo but it
labels their source as a researcher working for Hersh, and the 12/7 issue of T
he Nation wrote that it was Russo who led Hersh and ABC to Underwood.) It
appears that Russo went to the Board with a story that Underwood had gone to
Mexico City in 1966 or 1967. He was on a mission for LBJ to find out what he
could learn about the Kennedy assassination from station chief Win Scott.
Russo presented the Board with handwritten notes detailing what Scott told
Underwood while on his mission for Johnson. The ARRB writes this summary of
the notes:

The notes state that Scott told Underwood that the CIA "blew it" in Dallas in
November 1963. On the morning of November 22, the agency knew that a plane
had arrived in Mexico City from Havana, and that one passenger got off the
plane and boarded another one headed for Dallas. Underwood’s notes state that
Scott said that CIA identified the passenger as Fabian Escalante. (p. 135)

What an extraordinary story. Escalante was a former officer in Castro’s
internal security police who was responsible for protecting him against
assassination plots. So if the Underwood story is true, it would neatly fit
into the pattern of Russo’s book i.e. that Castro killed Kennedy as
retaliation for the CIA plots against himself.

The ARRB interviewed Underwood about his trip to Mexico. He said he took the
trip but it was in his function as an advance man for Johnson, not to look
into the Kennedy murder. When the Board asked him about any notes he had
taken on the trip, he initially claimed to have no memory of any notes. When
the Board showed him the copies of notes that Russo had given them, Underwood
replied that he had written those notes especially for the use of Hersh in
his book. In other words, they were written in this decade. They were
composed on White House stationery because he had a lot of it still laying
around from his White House days. But Underwood insisted that Scott had told
him what Russo had said about Escalante. The problem was that Underwood could
not even recall if he had contemporaneous notes from his talks with Scott.
But later, he did forward a set of typewritten notes from his trip to Mexico.
They only briefly mentioned his meeting with Win Scott. And there is no
mention of the Kennedy assassination in them. Ultimately, the Board asked
Underwood to testify about the Scott anecdote under oath. He begged off due
to health problems.

Russo Savages the Critics

Between his work for Hersh and on the ABC special, Russo has presumably been
preparing his book, Live By the Sword. For me, the two most important parts
of this book are the introduction and the first appendix. In the former,
Russo takes up the mantle of the young Kennedy fan who has now been educated
to understand that many of the early books critical of the Warren Commission
were "ideologically-driven" and that:

Ideologues are dangerous enough, but the books and authors of this time
inspired a clique of followers, all with a pathological hatred of the U. S.
government. These "conspirati" would make any leap of logic necessary in
order to say that Lee Oswald had been an unwitting pawn of the evil
government conspirators.

And this is just the beginning of Russo venting his spleen against the
critical community. Research seminars are called the "conspiracy convention
circuit" (p. 469). The dust jacket places the two words—Kennedy
researchers—in quotation marks. The "assassination buffs" have misled Marina
Oswald (p. 569). The research community is labeled a "cottage industry" (p.
After his opening blast against the critics, Russo then details the episode
that convinced him that Oswald did it himself. He says the HSCA convinced him
of this. (Russo writes that the HSCA "geared up" in 1978. It actually started
in September of 1976.) About the HSCA, he writes, "It was their meticulous
photographic, forensic, and ballistic work that convinced me that Oswald
alone shot President Kennedy." This is a revealing comment. For as detailed
above, when I first encountered Russo in the early nineties, he appeared to
be in the high-level conspiracy camp. Revealing also was the fact that he now
says that he advised Stone against doing a film based on the Garrison probe.
Neither Russo, Rusconi nor anyone connected with the film ever told me this
had happened. In the introduction, and throughout the book, he relentlessly
pillories Garrison from every angle. Yet, at the 1993 meeting Dennis Effle
and I had with him in Santa Monica, Russo actually said words to the effect
that Garrison had been very close to solving the case. (Significantly, in his
introductory attack on Stone and Garrison, Russo leaves out the fact that he
worked for Stone on the accompanying volume to JFK, entitled JFK: The Book of
the Film.)
There is something else that surprised me while reading this brief but (for
some of us) pithy introduction. It now appears that the whole PBS Frontline
documentary was Russo’s idea in the first place! It seems that Russo had
pitched the idea to PBS in the eighties. Then when Stone’s film was in
production, he pitched the idea to them again. This time, with the 30th
anniversary approaching and Stone’s film sure to create a sensation, they

Russo also presents another quite paradoxical point in his introduction when
he writes: "I never intended to write a book on this case." He explains this
further by adding: "I never thought anyone could write a book on this subject
because all the secrets were well beyond the grasp of anyone without subpoena
power." He says that the main thing that changed his mind was the year he
spent going through the release of new JFK files made possible by the Board.
The Board did not start any serious release of files until 1995. And the
files that Russo is interested in, the Cuba policy files, were not released
until two years after that. Yet, when I visited his home in Baltimore at the
end of 1992, Russo told me about the six figure contract he had already
signed with a major publishing house with the help of New York agent Stirling
Lord. He was then teamed with another writer and Russo actually explained
some of the details of the contract to me. When Russo’s partner dropped out
of the project, that contract was apparently canceled. But he was certainly
doing a book at that earlier time.

Russo, Vaughn, and Myers vs. Oswald

Where Russo loses all credibility is with his Appendix A entitled "Oswald’s
Shooting of the President". (Here, Russo writes another confusing sentence to
the effect that from 1963 to the early eighties, he doubted Oswald’s lone
guilt in the shooting. Yet, as I noted earlier, in his introduction, he wrote
that the HSCA studies convinced him otherwise. The HSCA report came out in
1979.) This is the section where Russo tries, in 1998, to again cinch the
case against Oswald. He has to go through this tired litany because if he
doesn’t there is no book. And since he knows 80% of the public disbelieves
him anyway, he has to make the attempt to show that he just might believe it
himself. As most observers of the Review Board will agree, one of its finest
achievements was the extensive, detailed review of the medical evidence
conducted over many months by Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn. This package of
materials was available early in 1998, so Russo could have included it in the
book. It consisted of 3,000 pages of compelling evidence, much of it new,
that greatly alter the entire dynamic of this case. Most objective observers
would say that it shows that something consciously sinister went on during
and after Kennedy’s autopsy in Bethesda, Maryland. It is the kind of evidence
one could present in a court of law. So how much time does Review Board
watcher Russo devote to this absolutely crucial part of the case? All of four
pages. How much of those four pages deal with Gunn’s new and powerful
evidence? Not one word. To show just how serious Russo is in this section,
toward the end he trots out his buddies Vaughn and Myers. Russo uses Vaughn
to show that, actually, everyone was all wrong about how difficult it would
be to fire three shots in six seconds with Oswald’s alleged
Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. What the Warren Commission accused Oswald of doing
was really not difficult at all. Yet from what I could see, Vaughn never
actually accomplished this. His fastest time was 6.3 seconds and on that
firing round, he did not use the scope on the rifle. Recall that the time
allotted to Oswald by the Warren Commission was 5.6 seconds (Warren Report p.
115). Further undermining his own argument, Russo never describes what
Vaughn’s rounds were fired at, or where he was firing from, or at what
distance, or if the target was moving or not.

In spite of all this, Russo moves on and clinches the case against Oswald
with Dale Myers’ computer recreation of the assassination. This rather
embarrassing computer model of the events in Dealey Plaza was published in
the magazine Video Toaster in late 1994. As we have mentioned before, Dr.
David Mantik ripped this pseudo-scientific demonstration to bits in Probe (Vol
. 2 No. 3). Myers actually wrote that, by removing the Stemmons Freeway sign
from his computer screen, he could see both Kennedy and Gov. John Connally
jump in reaction to the Warren Commission’s single bullet piercing them both
at frame Z-223. As Mantik wrote, this "is both astonishing and perplexing....
If it does not appear in the original Z film (that would appear to be
impossible since both men were hidden behind the sign), then where did Myers
find it? This startling assertion is not addressed in his paper." Mantik
exposed the rest of Myers’ methodology and candor to be equally faulty as his
"two men jumping in unison" scenario. I would be shocked if Russo is not
aware of this skewering inflicted on his friend Myers. Why? Because Myers
sent CTKA a check for that particular issue once he heard Mantik had left him
without a leg to stand on.

With such a weak performance, one would think that Russo would at least
qualify his judgment in this section. He doesn’t. In one of the most
appalling statements in an appalling book, the judicious Russo can write:

When first proposed by the Warren Commission, it was known as "The Single
Bullet Theory." With its verification by current, high-powered computer
reconstructions, it should be called "The Single Bullet Fact." (p. 477)

This ludicrous statement and the foundation of quicksand on which it is
supported expose the book as the propaganda tract it is.

Russo’s Real Agenda

What is the purpose of the tract? If one is knowledgeable of the significance
of this case, and is aware of the dynamic guiding it today, one realizes the
not-too-subtle message behind the book. And when one does, one can see what
is at stake in the JFK case, and how Stone’s movie drove the establishment up
the wall. For the book is really the negative template to JFK. The main
tenets of Stone’s film were: 1) Oswald did not kill Kennedy; 2) Kennedy was
actually killed by an upper-level domestic conspiracy; 3) he was a good, if
flawed president, who had sympathetic goals in mind for the nation; 4) the
country was altered by Kennedy’s death; and 5) the cover-up that ensued was,
of necessity, wide and deep to hide the nature of the plot. If we can agree
on that set, then compare them with Russo’s themes. The main tenets of this
book are in every way the inverse: 1) Oswald killed Kennedy; 2) Oswald was
guided and manipulated by agents of Castro; 3) Kennedy’s own Cuba policies
were the reasons behind the murder; 4) we didn’t understand Oswald at the
time because Bobby Kennedy and the CIA were forced into a cover-up of JFK’s
covert actions against Cuba; and 5) whatever cynicism about government exists
today was caused by the RFK—CIA benignly motivated cover-up. In other words,
all the ruckus stirred up by Stone was unfounded. That Krazy Commie Oswald
did it, and JFK had it coming. And it wasn’t the Warren Commission, or LBJ,
or the intelligence agencies that covered things up, it was his brother
Bobby. So let’s close up shop and go home. All this anguish over Kennedy and
Oswald isn’t worth it.

When one indulges in this kind of total psychological warfare, the reader
knows that something monumental is at stake. And I mean total. For the
singularity of Russo’s book is that it does not just attack the critical
community, or just JFK, or just Bobby Kennedy, or only Oswald. It does all
this and at the same time it attempts to make fascist zealots like David
Ferrie and Guy Banister into warm, cuddly persons. Extremists, but
understandably so. Kennedy would have actually liked them. (I won’t go into
how he does this; but it is as torturous and dishonest as the stunts he pulls
with the single bullet theory.) It has often been said that the solution to
the Kennedy murder, if the conspiracy is ever really exposed, will unlock the
doors to the national security state. The flights of fantasy that this book
reaches for in order to whitewash that state and to turn the crime inward on
Oswald and the Kennedys, is a prime exhibit for the efficacy of that argument.

What is one to make of Russo’s journey from Delk Simpson to Robert Morrow to
the single-bullet fact (Russo’s italics)? Could he really have believed the
likes of Blakey and the HSCA, which I have taken the last two issues to
expose in depth and at length? That is, is he really just not that bright? If
so, in his forays into the critical community, was he at least partly
dissembling to hide what he really believed? Or does he know better and is
dissembling now to curry favor with the establishment? Or did he just never
have any real convictions and decided to go with the flow? Consequently, when
Stone was at high tide, he pursued a military intelligence lead. When the
reaction against Stone set in, he adjusted to the lone-nut scenario. How, in
just one year, does someone go from following a grand conspiracy lead
(Simpson), to a low-level plot (Morrow), to a straight Oswald did it thesis,
which is the road Russo traveled from 1992 to 1993. I don’t pretend to know
the answer. To echo the closing words on Russo’s PBS special about Oswald:
only one man knows the truth about that mystery. But I will relate the newest
riddle circulating around the research community in the wake of Russo’s phony
pastiche. It goes as follows: What happens when you throw Gerald Posner, ice
cream, Priscilla McMillan, nuts, Sy Hersh, strawberries, and Thomas Powers in
a Waring blender? You get the Gus Russo Special i.e. Live By the Sword.


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