Former US President Gerald Ford in 2004
In a foreword to a new edition of the Warren Commission Report, the late president states that the CIA destroyed or kept from investigators critical secrets connected to the assassination of President Kennedy.
by Don Fulsom
In his final public words, former President Gerald R. Ford said the CIA destroyed or kept from investigators critical secrets connected to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The stunning admission by Ford—a member of the Warren Commission that investigated the JFK assassination—is contained in the foreword to a new edition of the commission's report, A Presidential Legacy and The Warren Commission. Ford died in late 2006 at the age of 93.
In the new book, Ford said the commission's probe put "certain classified and potentially damaging operations in danger of being exposed." The CIA's reaction, he added, "was to hide or destroy some information, which can easily be misinterpreted as collusion in JFK's assassination."
Ford family spokeswoman Penny Circle confirms that the ex-president approved the foreword and even autographed 3,000 copies of the new book—a joint venture between Ford and the book's publisher, Tim Miller of Nashville. Circle says she acted as an intermediary between the two men, who never met.
Ford's charge of a CIA cover-up is accompanied by a new concession by Ford—that there "conceivably" could have been a conspiracy to kill JFK, but that "no verified evidence to date shows a link to, or any direct involvement by any government agency, federal employees or subversive groups."
Now there's a very carefully worded statement for you. Particularly the use of "verified," "to date" and "direct." The former president also conveniently leaves out Mafia leaders, the chief suspects of House assassination investigators who, in the mid-1970s, found a "probable conspiracy."
In his new statement, Ford does mention CIA efforts to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But he does not mention that the agency, as only recently confirmed by the CIA itself, worked in lockstep with the Mob in trying to bump off Cuba's president, beginning around 1960.
The closest Ford comes to touching on this particular CIA sore subject is a glancing reference: "The reason some things appear to be suspicious (about the JFK assassination) was possibly because there were people who apparently did have things to hide. It came out later that there was a government-sanctioned plot to kill Fidel Castro. There seemed also to have been a scramble to cover that up, which did interfere marginally with our investigation, as I testified (to House investigators)."
Two other U.S. presidents have expressed doubts about the commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the JFK assassination. On tapes released in recent years, Lyndon B. Johnson said he did not believe the single gunman theory; and Richard M. Nixon said the commission pulled off "the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated."
It is also now known that Ford made a key change in the commission's final report—a change that made the single-shooter theory easier to believe. He revised the description of the bullet wound in President Kennedy's back and placed it higher to make "the magic bullet" theory plausible, enabling the commission to conclude that Oswald was the lone gunman.
Recently released FBI memos show that Ford served as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's informant on the commission. Hoover, of course, had proclaimed Oswald the lone killer long before the Warren Commission had even been appointed.
In his news release promoting the "final word" of President Ford, the book's publisher, Tim Miller, goes even farther than Ford. Miller flatly declares: "There was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. There is no doubt that President Gerald Ford knew more about the JFK death. There is no doubt President Clinton knows more. Has he or any other U.S. president since November 22, 1963 ever swore under oath that they know no more?"
Penny Circle, the Ford spokeswoman, thinks Miller has gone overboard in some of his promotional comments: "Miller's press release stating that he worked closely with President Ford and edited as they went along is preposterous. Also, his statement that he believes 'Ford and others knew more about the assassination,' is nuts …"
Circle, it seems, has a right to beef about some of Miller's questionable statements. Just a few examples:
- On his Web site (which he says gets an amazing 600,000 "hits" a year), Miller gives rave reviews to his own Ford-foreworded book: Time is ecstatic, saying "Should become one of the best-thumbed books since the Bible," while Newsweek raves, "The pages crackle with the electricity of human feeling." When called on this, Miller explains he got the blurbs from 1964 issues of these magazines. They were apparently clipped from reviews of the original Warren Report.
- When he made a pre-publication appearance on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show, Miller said of Ford: "I am privileged to have known him."
- Yet, both he and Circle acknowledge the two men never set eyes on each other. (Miller offered Liddy's listeners $200 off the high-priced version of the book in honor of the disgraced Watergate burglary leader.)
- A longtime authority on antiquarian and fraudulent books, Ken Sanders, complains of repeated run-ins with Miller and his company, Flatsigned. "During my six years as security chair for the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America), Ken Lopez, then ABAA president and myself devoted a lot of time and energy tracking and documenting the allegedly fraudulent autograph activities of Tim Miller and Flatsigned." Sanders also said his organization forwarded "a large dossier on Miller" to the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. "To my knowledge," he adds, "we never heard back from anyone."
Both Miller and Circle decline to disclose exactly how Ford managed to "write" his final words. Nor do they say just how this project came about. Some might question why Ford would entrust such an important piece of history to a stranger with a somewhat shady background.
Just how was an elderly man able to write a new foreword to the Warren Report and autograph 3,000 copies of the pricey (starts at $889) tome? The answer might be a relatively new device called LongPen. Developed by author Margaret Atwood, LongPen is a long-distance book-signing device. The LongPen Web site brags that it is "the world's first long distance, real-time, real pen and ink autographing device operated over the Internet." Atwood once said of her conception: "You don't have to be in the same room as someone to have a meaningful exchange."
Others may solve that mystery of just how Ford's final words came to be written someday, but—in the meantime—let's look at just how far Ford has now strayed from his once solid commitment to the anti-conspiracy, lone-killer position. A long way, it seems.
One of the president's best friends in the press, Tom DeFrank, says Ford never had any doubts about the Warren Commission's conclusions. In a 1992 interview, the ex-president told the reporter: "I signed the report. I've never changed my opinion. I feel as strongly today, Tom, on the two basic fundamental issues. Number one, Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. Number two, the commission found no evidence of conspiracy, foreign or domestic."
DeFrank discloses the conversation he had with Ford in his new book, Write It When I'm Gone. In 2003, according to DeFrank, Ford told historian Douglas Brinkley: "I am a total devoted person to the (commission's) conclusions. But 75 percent of the people don't believe the Warren Commission anymore. It just makes me sad and unhappy." A longtime White House correspondent for Newsweek, DeFrank is now the Washington bureau chief of the New York Daily News.
The newest remarks by Ford are certain to reignite the always fascinating and always fiery JFK assassination controversy, which has already caused more than 2,000 books to be written and published. Some two-dozen Web sites cover the internationally popular topic. At least a couple of expert opinions are already in.
Veteran Washington investigative reporter Dan Moldea, an authority on the Mafia's ties to the JFK murder and the author of The Hoffa Wars, declares, "Had the Warren Commission known about the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, a new avenue of investigation would have been created. CIA Director Allen Dulles, a commission member who had intimate knowledge of these plots, chose to engage in a cover-up, which doomed this investigation from the outset. The Mafia murdered an American President and got away with it."
Debra Conway runs JFK Lancer, a leading pro-conspiracy assassination research group and Web site. After being informed of Ford's final words, she weighs in: "If he admits to having doubts about the honesty of the CIA and that he knows they withheld and destroyed evidence that may have affected their investigation, it takes the worth out of his previous statements where he claims that not only did the Warren Commission not find any evidence other than Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone, but that since then he has never seen any." Conway also provides an astute guess as to what might have been in Ford's mind when he made his death-bed confession: "It sort of takes the Warren Commission off the hook, if (the commission) can claim plausible deniability due to the CIA."
Don Fulsom covered the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton presidencies. He is an adjunct professor of government at American University.