Did the CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy? The BBC's BlunderHistorians/History
A recent BBC news program, Newsnight (November 20th 2006) broadcast a report by an Irish screenwriter, Shane O’Sullivan, that purported to prove that three CIA agents had been present in the Ambassador Hotel on the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. The agents, O’Sullivan claimed, had been responsible for the assassination. Newsnight editors believe O’Sullivan is correct in his assumptions. A related article on their website states, “[O’Sullivan’s investigation] reveals that the operatives and four unidentified associates were at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles in the moments before and after the shooting on 5 June, 1968.”
It is evident that the BBC has accepted O’Sullivan’s research without adequate checks. What appears to be missing from this report is an editorial review that the public should expect when a story of international significance is broadcast by a reputable news organization.
Despite his claims that he has ‘researched this case for three years’ O’Sullivan has deliberately ignored the research carried out by Dan Moldea, one of America’s leading investigative journalists. Although they solicited Moldea’s contribution, without success, they could have used the results of his research in his excellent and acclaimed book, The Killing Of Robert F Kennedy – An Investigation Of Motive, Means and Opportunity. (1995) Moldea’s research provides evidence that challenges O’Sullivan’s ‘shooting scenario’ at every turn. Since 1995 it has been clear to anyone researching this case that a first point of reference would need to be Moldea's excellent study of the dynamics of the shooting and the collection and collation of evidence by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Had O’Sullivan bothered to consult Moldea’s book he would have discovered that the people he had interviewed for his documentary and who appeared on the program, had a precarious grasp of the facts of the case to begin with. The BBC reporter put Sirhan Sirhan’s former lawyer Lawrence Teeter on camera and accepted, without comment or criticism, Teeter’s exposition of the Ambassador Hotel ‘shooting scenario’ in which the lawyer attempted to demonstrate how Sirhan could not have fired the shots that killed RFK. Teeter believes that RFK’s autopsy, which revealed the Senator had been shot in the back of the head at point blank range, exonerated Sirhan. Teeter has also claimed that Sirhan probably had blanks in his gun. However, if O’Sullivan had checked his facts aganst the hard evidence he would have understood the ridiculous nature of Teeter’s remarks. Bullets removed from RFK and the other victims were matched to Sirhan's gun 'to the exclusion of any other weapon in the world.' (The head wound bullet was too damaged for a postive match).The gun was immediately handed to Rafer Johnson, a friend of RFK's. Johnson then gave it to the Los Angeles Police. The provenance of the weapon and the postive matches to the bullets retrieved are therefore not in doubt, thus rendering Teeter’s hypothesis that Sirhan had been firing blanks null and void. Moldea, along with other researchers, has concluded that Sirhan was “… heavily influenced by Teeter, who believed that the CIA was responsible for anything that went wrong in society and was a real conspiracy buff.”
O’Sullivan accepts without criticism the position adopted by conspiracists who claim that the RFK Ambassador Hotel pantry witnesses all agreed that Sirhan had never been in a position to shoot Kennedy at point blank range. In his article for the Guardian which was published to coincide with the Newsnight broadcast O’Sullivan wrote, “But the autopsy report suggests Sirhan could not have fired the shots that killed Kennedy. Witnesses place Sirhan's gun several feet in front of Kennedy, but the fatal bullet is fired from one inch behind. And more bullet-holes are found in the pantry than Sirhan's gun can hold, suggesting a second gunman is involved.”
However, as Thane Cesar, Ambassador Hotel security guard and RFK’s escort through the pantry, said, “A lot of people testified that [Sirhan] was standing this way [with Kennedy facing his assailant]. I know for a fact [that’s wrong], because I saw him [Kennedy] reach out there (to shake hands with a busboy) and which way he turned. And I told police about that.” Although eyewitness Frank Burns insisted the gun was never less than a foot or a foot and a half from Kennedy he nevertheless described the dynamics of the shooting in such a way to make it entirely feasible that Sirhan’s gun moved to an area inches away from the Senator.
As Dan Moldea concluded, “All twelve of the eyewitness’ statements about muzzle distance are based on – and only on – their view of Sirhan’s first shot. After the first shot, their eyes were diverted as panic swept through the densely populated kitchen pantry. The seventy-seven people in the crowd began to run, duck for cover, and crash into each other…no one saw the muzzle of Sirhan's .22 get that close - but no one saw the Senator get shot either. All of the eyewitness testimony is based on Sirhan's location, relative to Senator Kennedy's, at the moment of the first shot…”. Moldea believes that RFK was accidentally bumped forward, toward the steam table and into Sirhan’s gun, where he was hit at point blank range.
O'Sullivan's Newsnight report was also flawed in that he used interpretations about the scientific evidence about the actual shooting only from committed conspiracists like Teeter. His claim that more bullet holes were found in the pantry than Sirhan’s gun could hold is simply wrong – see http://www.crimemagazine.com/05/robertkennedy,0508-5.htm
Why O’Sullivan prefers Teeter’s theories beyond anything anyone else has to offer becomes clear as the film report progresses. If a conspiracy took the life of RFK then the purported contribution made by CIA agents becomes more plausible.
It is also clear that Newsnight’s researchers have ignored vital information about the assassination which renders the BBC/O’Sullivan story not only biased but also uninformed. In an article related to the broadcast the BBC stated: “However, even under hypnosis, [Sirhan] has never been able to remember the shooting and defence psychiatrists concluded he was in a trance at the time.” Unfortunately O’Sullivan has again erred in not seeking out members of the medical community who believe Sirhan had been displaying ‘feigned amnesia’ and that it is impossible to hypnotize a subject to do what his or her moral beliefs oppose.
O’Sullivan is on safer ground when he describes his research into photographs he discovered which led him to believe there were three CIA agents at the scene of the crime. If O’Sullivan is correct these discoveries would be important as the CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and some of the officers he named were based in South-East Asia at the time with no reason to be in Los Angeles. The alleged agents would also not have been present in the Ambassador Hotel to provide ‘protection’ for the Senator.
O’Sullivan connects the agents through their work in 1963 at JMWAVE, the CIA's Miami base for its Secret War on Castro and that they had been positively identified as senior officers who worked together.
O’Sullivan named the men as David Morales, the Chief of Operations who once told friends, ‘I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.’; Gordon Campbell, Chief of Maritime Operations and George Joannides, Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations. Joannides was called out of retirement in 1978 to act as the CIA liaison to the Congressional investigation into the JFK assassination.
The identification of David Morales as the man seen in the film footage of the Ambassador Hotel is flimsy at best. The LAPD film footage only reveals someone who has common features with known photographs of the agent, as did many people in the Ambassador that night who were captured on grainy film. In fact, when the LAPD photos of ‘Morales’ are enlarged from the original footage there emerges what appears to be only a generic African-American male.In fact, to the undiscerning eye he bears a resemblance to OJ Simpson. Furthermore, O'Sullivan's 'witnesses' who identify the ‘agents’ don't seem that sure of themselves – which is not surprising considering the poor quality of the captured images.
O’Sullivan claims that one of the ‘agents’ looked “…. Greek, and I suspected he might be George Joannides.” Aside from the fact that the person O’Sullivan identifies in no way resembles someone who ‘looks Greek’ there are further reasons why O’Sullivan is on unsafe ground. According to American journalist Jefferson Morley, who writes for the New York Review of Books:
When it comes to the late George Joannides, the BBC story is unfounded and unfair. Its evidence is weak, its conclusions unwarranted. The story accurately quotes my reporting in Salon, the New York Review of Books and elsewhere about Joannides' still unexplained roles in the JFK assassination story but I see no basis for author Shane O'Sullivan's extrapolation that Joannides had some role in the RFK story. Specifically, there is no evidence to corroborate Ed Lopez's claim that the man in the photo is Joannides'- the authentication of the photo is uncertain. There is no other evidence that Joannides was in Los Angeles in June 1968, much less than Joannides was involved in RFK's assassination. To make such serious allegations on such flimsy evidence is irresponsible.
Later Morley told a JFK Internet forum that he thought Lopez’s identification of Joannides is credible and requires ‘more investigation’. However any further investigation of Lopez’s identification would have to include Lopez’s colleague, Dan Hardway, who spent the same amount of time as Lopez with Joannides when they visited CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. Incredibly, O’Sullivan did not tell Newsnight viewers that Dan Hardway could not identify Joannides from the photos he was showed.
O’Sullivan does include in his report comments made by close friends of Joannides and Campbell - Tom Clines and Ed Wilson - who denied the men in the photographs were the same people they knew. However, O’Sullivan immediately introduces skepticism about one of these witnesses by writing, “We meet Clines in a hotel room near CIA headquarters. He does not want to go on camera and brings a friend, which is a little unnerving. Clines remembers ‘Dave’ [Morales] fondly. The guy in the video looks like Morales but it is not him, he says: ‘This guy is fatter and Morales walked with more of a slouch and his tie down.’ To me, the guy in the video does walk with a slouch and his tie is down.” O’Sullivan again attempts to pour scorn on Clines by writing, “A seasoned journalist [unnamed] cautions that he would expect Clines ‘to blow smoke’, and yet it seems his honest opinion.” Yet O’Sullivan uncritically accepts the stories of other former CIA operatives he spoke to and uses their testimony to make his case.
JFK assassination author Anthony Summers concurs with the view that O’Sullivan’s evidence is too weak to support the conclusion that CIA agents had been present at the Ambassador Hotel and were responsible for the assassination. “....This seems on its face to be an extremely thin story,” Summers wrote, in correspondence with a JFK forum. “Photographs and photograph recognition are infamously unreliable, especially coming from witnesses so long after an event. That does not mean these fellows were not in the Ambassador on the night - though I would have thought that's the last place such officers would have allowed themselves to be seen and photographed - but I'm surprised (at least on the basis of what I read in the Guardian) that the BBC would have judged the story worth running.”
Viewers had also been unaware that one of O’Sullivan’s witnesses, Bradley Ayers, a retired US Army Captain who had been seconded to the CIA’s Miami base in 1963 to work with Morales, had written a JFK ‘novelized’ conspiracy book and been involved with the conspiracy research community for years. He once tried to sell information to two JFK/RFK researchers, Lisa Pease and Jim DiEugenio, hinting that Morales was involved in the Martin Luther King Jr assassination. Ayers never mentioned to Pease and DiEugenio at the time that Morales may have been involved in the RFK assassination. According to Pease, Ayers was ‘desperate for money.’ Viewers were also unaware that Wayne Smith had a vested interest in the conspiracy angle. Smith has been convinced for many years that the CIA had been involved in the purported JFK conspiracy and told author Eric Hamburg five years ago, “…the [JFK] assassination was carried out by the ‘cowboys’ of the CIA – men like Morales. Who I knew well from my days in Cuba.” The witness identifications by Smith and Ayers are therefore considerably weakened as a result. Furthermore, claims made by O’Sullivan’s defenders on the Newsnight website that these witnesses had no motive in identifying Morales and Campbell are therefore now made redundant.
However, it is O’Sullivan’s use of the LAPD’s film footage that brings his research skills into serious question. In his Newsnight report O'Sullivan said, “Moments after the shooting agent No. 2, Gordon Campbell, walks from the direction of the pantry with a small container in his hand as a ‘Latin Man’ waves him towards an exit.” This is pure speculation on O’Sullivan’s behalf. An examination of the original Los Angeles Police Department footage reveals that the Latin Man is not connected with Campbell at all. After the Latin Man waves the crowd away from the area of the pantry he turns around, without a word to Campbell, and walks off in a different direction. He is clearly not pointing to an exit for Campbell. The Latin Man is shown with the palm of his hand outstretched, directing people away from the chaos in the pantry. The viewer would be unaware of this as the footage has to be run in total context before a proper understanding of the Latin Man’s actions can be made.
Sadly the BBC has erred in not providing checks and balances to this story and they should have solicited the expertise and views, or written works, of those in the research community who have challenged the RFK and JFK conspiracy theories that have been presented to the public over the past 40 years. The broadcasters would, at the very least, have provided a more informed and balanced account of this event.
However,O’Sullivan’s research should not be dismissed out of hand and he deserves encouragement to develop his work further in order to make a convincing case. This may take some time in light of the common experience of researchers who have had dealings with US Government bureaucracy. In the meantime I, for one, cannot accept O’Sullivan’s evidence based on what he has thus far provided.
Since the BBC broadcast a story by Irish screenwriter Shane O’Sullivan that CIA agents had been present in the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated, I have discovered further evidence which shows that O’Sullivan’s research was misleading and flimsy. From the new evidence presented in this article it is now clear that his allegations are unfounded.Friends of CIA agents David Sanchez Morales and a colleague of Gordon Campbell have now established that the O’Sullivan identifications are unsound. The George Joannides identification remains in question.
George Joannides: Ed Lopez made a positive identification of Joannides, the CIA liasion to the House Assassinations Committee. HSCA investigator Dan Hardway, who had spent the same amount of time with Joannides as Lopez, failed to identify the agent from the photos.
Gordon Campbell: Campbell was identified by Bradley Ayers, an army captain attached to the Miamai CIA station JM/WAVE, and purported freelance CIA operative David Rabern. Don Bohning, a former leading reporter for the Miami Herald who spent years interviewing participants in the War On Castro wrote about Ayers in his book ‘The Castro Obsession’. The information about Ayers was based on an interview with JM/WAVE Station Chief Ted Shackley. Bohning wrote, “Ayers was to become so emotionally involved, both in the Cuban exile cause and with a Cuban refugee woman, that (Ted Shackley) terminated him. Shackley, in an interview, recalled Ayers as a 'strange guy' although acknowledging Ayers’ portrayal of the station activities was generally accurate as far as it went. (Shackley said) ‘He (Ayers) was assigned to do training...real gung ho. He came with the impression he was going to train and then lead a team into Cuba. That was always a problem with the Special Forces. When they found they were not going to lead a team they became enamored of the Cuban cause. He started messing around with some female down there. We could see problems and ordered him to return to his parent unit. He was basically a good guy, but they go native.' Shackley said that the station had ‘maybe fifteen or so military trainers at any one time.’” (See: http://www.amazon.com)
However, it is the statement made by Grayston Lynch to this author that eliminates the possibility that the man observed in the LAPD film footage and photos supplied by O’Sullivan is Gordon Campbell. Lynch is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces captain and former CIA intelligence officer. His awards include three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star with V for valor, and the CIA's most coveted award, the Intelligence Star, for heroism at the Bay of Pigs ‘above and beyond the call of duty’. When a force of U.S. trained Cuban exiles invaded Castro's Cuba in 1961, Lynch was the CIA's case officer, their point man, on the command ship, Blagar. He handled every communication between Washington and the beachhead and led the first combat team ashore. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh described Lynch as the man who was , “….there at the Bay of Pigs and was in the perfect position to write the definitive ground-level account of what went right and what went wrong”. According to Lynch the man in the LAPD film footage is not Campbell and that he “…knew Gordon Campbell.”
David Sanchez Morales: Bradley Ayers, diplomat Wayne Smith and David Rabern positively identified Morales, although their initial responses to O’Sullivan’s grainy photos were hesitant. As an 'objective seeker of truth' O’Sullivan should have presented his television audience with research which showed how two of his Morales ‘witnesses’ had a bias for JFK conspiracy theories. Since the first part of this article was published further information has come to light which shows that Bradey Ayers was a committed conspiracist for years. (See: http://www.amazon.co.uk/ Readers will recall that in part one of this article I quoted Eric Hamburg as identifying Wayne Smith as a believer in CIA-linked JFK assassination theories without providing any evidence whatsoever that this was true. Two former agents, Thomas Clines and Ed Wilson failed to identify David Morales from the photographs shown them.In fact they said it wasn’t Morales.The veracity of Clines and Wilson can now be supported by statements made to this author by CIA operatives Grayston Lynch and Lt. Col. Manuel Chavez.
Manny Chavez is a former air force intelligence officer who served in Venezuela as a military attaché in Venezuela during 1957 -1959 while Dave Morales was assigned to the CIA office for a year during the period 1957-58. After examining the photo clips of the LAPD film footage used by O’Sullivan Chavez stated, “I was assigned to the CIA Office in Miami from 1960 to 1964. Dave Morales worked in my office (we shared desks) during a 4 month period (1961), until they moved to their own JMWave location in Southwest Miami. We often socialized.….. the tall dark man (in the LAPD film footage) does not look like Dave Morales… (He) looks like a young, late 30s early 40s, Afro-American…I worked on the photo to make it clearer and am more convinced that the person in the photos is not Dave Morales as I knew him up until 1963.” Manny Chavez’s wife also knew Morales well. She denied the man in the film clip was Morales. In fact I have captured from the LAPD film footage what I believe to be O’Sullivan’s ‘Morales’ standing amongst a group of African American males who are assisting one of the shooting victims into an ambulance.
In his Guardian article O’Sullivan wrote, “In person, Ayers positively identified Morales and Campbell and introduced me to David Rabern, a freelance operative who was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion force in 1961 and was at the Ambassador hotel that night. He did not know Morales and Campbell by name but saw them talking to each other out in the lobby before the shooting and assumed they were Kennedy's security people. He also saw Campbell around police stations three or four times in the year before Robert Kennedy was shot.”
However, according to Don Bohning, his ‘pretty thorough research’ and friendship with the late Jake Esterline, the CIA's project director for the Bay of Pigs, and Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, the paramilitary chief for the project, indicated there were no such ‘freelance operatives’ as part of the invasion force. Don Bohning said, “….This reference to David Rabern… intrigued me. I called Jack Hawkins, the Marine Colonel in charge of the paramilitary side of the Bay of Pigs …... He said what I thought: the only two American CIA contract employees who even made it to the beach during the invasion - and then against orders - were Rip Robertson, now dead, and Grayston Lynch…Hawkins seemed quite certain Rabern was not part of the invasion force itself. ”. Bohning said he was “99.9 per cent certain that David Rabern was not a part of the Bay of Pigs invasion force, as O'Sullivan identifies him”. In fact, Bohning had never heard of a David Rabern and said there were no Americans who participated in the invasion itself; all were Cuban exiles. According to Bohning, “The only other Americans directly involved in the invasion were those contracted pilots from the Alabama National Guard. And all the trainers in Guatemala were American military personnel….. if he had a role in the Bay of Pigs invasion it is not part of the recorded history of the event. While a small thing, it does tend to discredit O'Sullivan's account; and Ayers, who presumably introduced Rabern to O'Sullivan.”
Bohning allows for the fact that it may have been possible that Rabern had been involved in the Guatemala training of the force, “…but most if not all the trainers at the beginning were foreigners and later US military personnel, led by Lt. Col. Frank Egan. I have never heard the name David Rabern associated with the Bay of Pigs in any context.” Grayston Lynch’s wife told this author, “My husband said to tell you that the only two Americans involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion were he and his CIA partner William "Rip" Robertson. Anyone else that tells you they were there, or says they can vouch for someone being there, is a... in no uncertain terms...liar.There have been, over the years, a whole raft of wanna be Bay of Pig invaders both American and Cuban”.
It should be recalled that Rabern did not know David Morales or Campbell or Joannides. Lynch and Chavez did. It should be obvious to most historians and researchers that Chavez’s and Lynch’s identifications must take precedent over Rabern’s.
It is clear from this new evidence that O’Sullivan’s ‘witnesses’ have now been discredited.However, it is the most incredible part of O’Sullivan’s story that renders his theory suspect - the premise that CIA agents, bent on killing a political opponent would allow themselves to be photographed at the scene of the crime.As RFK assassination expert Dan Moldea told this author, “ I couldn't agree more with your analysis. Why in God's name would these guys be there and allow themselves to be photographed if they were part of a plot to kill Senator Kennedy? That would make as much sense as a woman with a polka-dot dress running out of the crime scene, gleefully shouting, ‘We shot him. We shot him.’ It sort of defeats the goal of getting away after successfully executing a complicated conspiracy.”
There were a number of Kennedy aides present that night who had been close to the Senator when he was Attorney General in his brothers’ administration. RFK was given the task of overseeing the War on Castro and during his period in the JFK administration he paid a number of visits to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia and the CIA station in Miami accompanied by aides. Some RFK aides present in the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambasador Hotel were therefore in a position to recognize CIA agents who they may have come into contact with during RFK’s trips to the CIA establishments.Any identification of agents at this time would have given grave cause for concern particularly as this was just a year after the Jim Garrison New Orleans investigation in which charges had been made that Cuban exiles and rogue CIA agents had conspired to murder JFK. It thus becomes highly implausible that CIA agents would expose themselves at the risk a Kennedy aide might recognize them or allow themselves to be photographed at the scene of a major assassination they had purportedly organized.
The BBC blunder did not end with the broadcast of O’Sullivan’s report. On the Tuesday morning following the Newsnight programme I posted criticisms of the Newsnight story on their web blog – it was registered as “No:1”. The post contained criticisms of the program which were eventually incorporated in Part 1 of this article. It contained no libellous, slanderous, provocative or obscene material.The post remained there for 4 or 5 days and was then removed. Such censorship is not worthy of a great news corporation that has a long history of integrity; a corporation that has prided itself on the free dissemination of news and ideas.