Friday, 14 November 2003 22:47

Gus, Will You Please Make Up Your Mind?

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Jim DiEugenio explores Gus Russo's changing positions concerning Oswald's supposed motivations for killing Kennedy.

Gus Russo has been at work on the JFK case for the past 15 years. To those around him, he has jumped around in his conclusions quite frequently and violently. So much so, that it is hard to measure what he really believes about this case and why or why not. This is particularly puzzling because since 1998 there have been approximately 2 million pages of new files that have been released by the Assassination Records Review Board. Many of these new documents have been very important in resolving disputes that have existed for a long time. For example, Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn's investigation of the medical evidence --- that is, the interviews he conducted with some very important people at President Kennedy's autopsy in Bethesda, Maryland --- are extraordinarily illuminating to anyone seriously investigating a homicide. Yet, if one examines Russo's book there is not a mention of them in the entire text. This is important for what it tells us about the book and Russo, but also because it tells us why Russo arrived at where he did on his long and digressive and interesting journey.

In the late 1980's Russo was friendly with Boston area researcher Edgar Tatro. (This relationship would be sustained up until the issuance of JFK: The Book of the Film. Russo worked on this book with Oliver Stone's chief researcher, Jane Rusconi. He promised Tatro he would be credited prominently in the book since he called him many times for information. Tatro was not mentioned as often as he should have been and this began their split.) As anyone who knows him will attest, Tatro is a prime proponent of the school that Lyndon Johnson was behind the John Kennedy assassination. At this time, Russo befriended Tatro and asked if he would be willing to take a sabbatical from his educator's position to serve as the consultant to a documentary film he was proposing to several financial backers. According to Tatro, Russo actually got as far as presenting the idea to these backers, but for some reason the proposal fell through. So, one could assume that since Russo was pushing this idea he probably believed it. But wait.

In the early 1990's the word got out that Oliver Stone was producing a big-budget film based on Jim Garrison's book, On the Trail of the Assassins. Now anyone who knew Garrison, or his publisher, Sheridan Square Press, would know that the book had to propose that the Central Intelligence Agency ---especially the so-called Old Boys Network within it --- was the main perpetrator behind the Kennedy assassination. At this time, Russo was investigating the shadowy European trade company PERMINDEX, of which Clay Shaw was a member. He was also extolling the fact that he had outfoxed a clerk at the National Archives and had listened to a previously classified tape of the so-called Fenton Report. This referred to a suspect in the Garrison investigation who had been tracked down by House Select Committee investigators Cliff Fenton, Bob Buras, and L. J. Delsa and had discussed his role in an apparent meeting, and other actions, at which the murder of JFK had been discussed. As mentioned above, Stone later hired Russo to help Rusconi produce the book which contained much of the backup material for the screenplay. So many deduced from all this that Russo believed the CIA was the prime force behind the killing of Kennedy. But wait.

At a conference in Dallas in 1992, Russo discussed the story of Delk Simpson, a military officer who had been mentioned by writer Robert Morrow and had been pursued reportedly by attorney Bernard Fensterwald. He actually made a presentation with former military intelligence analyst John Newman. Newman's book JFK and Vietnam mainly blamed the military for the intelligence deception that Kennedy had seen through when he decided that the U.S. would have to withdraw from Vietnam. So now people assumed that Russo had shifted gears and thought the assassination was led by the military with perhaps a hand from the CIA. But wait.

A year later, at a conference in Chicago, Russo now ridiculed the idea that Oswald could have been an intelligence operative. This basically knocked out the idea of a military-intelligence type of conspiracy. He now said that the research community should be following leads that pertained to the Mafia and the Cuban exile community. Sort of what people like Robert Blakey --- Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations --- may have proposed today. Yet, at the same time, someone read him his blurb for Robert Morrow's final book on the case, First Hand Knowledge. Russo essentially said that he stood by the positive blurb. The problem here was that Morrow's book included a conspiracy of the Mafia, the Cubans and the CIA, which was led on the ground by Clay Shaw. So perhaps now Russo was advocating a kind of "grand conspiracy" theory crossing through two or three different structures. But wait.

In the same year, Russo was one of the two reporters on the PBS Frontline special, "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" This show was erratic and unfocused yet by the end it clearly went along with the verdict of the Warren Commission, i.e. that Oswald did it alone. Was Russo now throwing all his years of hunting for an antidote to the Warren Commission away? Was he now embracing the thoroughly discredited Warren Commission? It appeared that way. But wait.

In 1998 Russo penned his book which was supposedly based on the declassified files of the ARRB. Now he twisted the Warren Commission thesis a bit. He now seemed to be saying that Oswald was not really a demented sociopath, which is what the Warren Commission leans on. He now seemed to be saying that he was manipulated by agents of Fidel Castro into believing that Kennedy felt that Castro's regime had to be removed. The pro-Castro Oswald could not stomach that thought and he did what he did in Dealey Plaza.

If you have been counting, depending on what you make of Russo's performance at the Chicago Conference, that is either six or seven camps that Russo has been in. Yet he discounts each step of his Pilgrim's Progress. He forgets his previous beliefs as quickly as a good cornerback forgets the 70 yard touchdown completed over his head. This is OK for football, but it is not OK for investigative journalism which tries to build an edifice that recognizes and tries to reconcile into an understandable paradigm all the evidence about a complex and important event. There is no sign of this in Russo's work. Or else he would not have ignored the vital medical evidence mentioned above. What makes it even worse is that Russo does not even mention his previous beliefs today. For instance, it is difficult to find anywhere where he mentions that he worked on the Stone book with Rusconi. The only way one can find out about the LBJ phase is through Tatro. No one can recall him mentioning it at any talk he gave at a national researcher's conference in the nineties.

The natural question is: Did he believe any of these himself? Or when he found he could not find a foolproof theory did he then decide that it was easier and more lucrative to side with the Establishment and the Warren Commission, knowing that people like Peter Jennings and David Westin would never divulge his past conspiracy delvings, or maybe not even ask about them?

Unfortunately for Jennings and Westin, some people knew Russo way back when he was a musician, before Jennings and Westin started flying him around the country first class for their "exhaustive" and "irrefutable" investigation.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 October 2016 17:52
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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