Book review by Steven R. Maher

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 was a turning point in American history. It led to the escalation of the Vietnam war, an explosion of racial and anti-war riots, and the Nixon presidency. It began what one national publication called one of the most depressing periods in American history.

One of the prominent subcultures within the Kennedy assassination research community revolves around the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA’s relationship to alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is explored in John Newman’s 2008 edition of “Oswald and the CIA.”

“The purpose of this book is to carry out an examination of the internal records on Oswald in light of the newly released materials,” writes Newman. “The story in these pages is a story about how a redefector from the Soviet Union became increasingly embroiled with targets of the CIA and FBI about how he was used in New Orleans and in Mexico City, and about how, after the Kennedy assassination, history was altered to obscure these links with the president’s accused murderer.”

Core facts

Since the tragedy happened 46 years ago, a brief review of the event is in order. During a trip to Dallas, Texas Kennedy rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza when shots rang out. Kennedy was killed and Texas Governor John Connolly was wounded. Oswald was arrested for the crime, denied his guilt, and was shot to death two days later in the basement of Dallas police headquarters by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

These are the only core facts on which all assassination researchers agree. All else – who fired the shots, where the shots came from, whether some domestic organization or foreign government was behind the assassination – has been the subject of hot historical disputation.

There were two government investigations of the assassination. In 1964 the Warren Commission issued a twenty six volume report concluding that Oswald was the lone gunman. In 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded, based on an acoustical study of a tape recording of the assassination, that two gunmen fired on Kennedy. HSCA also concluded Oswald fired the fatal head shot that killed Kennedy.

CIA involvement

Some maintain that the CIA, disturbed by Kennedy’s cold war peace overtures to the Soviet Union and plans to withdraw from Vietnam, assassinated Kennedy.

“While we are unclear on the precise reasons for the CIA’s pre-assassination withholding of information on Oswald, we have yet to find documentary evidence for an institutional plot in the CIA to murder the president,” says Newman. “The facts do not compel such a conclusion. It is safe to state now, however, that American intelligence agencies were far more interested in Oswald than the public has been led to believe.”

The picture of Oswald that emerges from this book seems to reinforce the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory. Oswald comes across as a psychologically unstable misfit, one unlikely to be relied upon by any intelligent conspirator. On the other hand, Oswald appeared susceptible to manipulation, which supports the many theories that he was duped into the assassination.

This book is well documented, with nearly 1,500 footnotes. But despite the subject matter, it is a very difficult read. There is little new in this book, and what is new is minutia. It is overwritten. Newman spends too much time detailing the dates minor documents ended up in Oswald’s different police files. Newman goes on long tangents about minor players in the drama. There is too much information here, organized poorly and difficult to follow.

Oswald’s relationship to the CIA would make for a fascinating book if the author narrowly focused on Oswald and the agency. Newman’s “Oswald and the CIA” is not that book.

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