Friday, October 24, 2008

Dick Russell is back on the trail of the JFK case

Dick Russell’s second book on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, is an important contribution to the subject's literature. Russell intertwines some of his previously published articles with chapters of never-before-published information, offering updated perspectives on previous revelations and adding new information to the case.

Russell’s combination of talents is rare in the research community: he brings a reporter’s process, a novelist’s flair, and a researcher’s deep curiosity to the case. The result is an eminently readable volume. It’s far easier to tackle this series of articles than his 800+ page previous volume, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which Russell notes his friends have jokingly called The Book That GrewToo Much.

I must thank Lachy Hulme, an Australian friend of Russell’s, for prompting Russell to resurface his previous articles originally published in The Village Voice, Harpers Weekly, Argosy Magazine, New Times, High Times, and other outlets. In retrospect, these pieces were remarkably insightful. For example, at a time when some of the leading voices in the community were desperately trying to pull the case away from the milieu New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison first discovered, the nexus between the intelligence community, the anti-Castro Cubans, and the CIA’s Mob associates, Russell kept the focus on this crowd and added to the evidence with interviews of some of the case's most colorful characters.

Jim Garrison gets a fairer treatment here than in much of the literature, a welcome relief from the Garrison bashing most critics feel compelled to perpetrate. Indeed, much of what we have learned since the HSCA has served to bolster Garrison’s position. The title of Russell’s book is itself a nod to Garrison’s earlier account of his own investigation into the case, On the Trail of the Assassins.

Russell shows his obvious fascination with intelligence agents, the “spooks” who inhabit that netherworld between observable reality and the covert world we civilians rarely encounter, who perform operations most Americans know nothing about, sometimes to their later chagrin. A character who called himself by the pseudonym “Captain Sam” quite aptly describes why pursuing the truth through the people closest to the crime can be a frustrating endeavor:

“[T]here’s one thing you should know from the start. Half of what I’ll tell you might be the truth, and the other half bullshit. But all of it is what I was told. That’s part of the game in the intelligence business. You confuse your own operatives with false information; maybe nobody knows the full truth about a particular assignment.”

And therein lies the rub of investigating covert operations. Even those who want to help can unintentionally mislead, despite the best of intentions. And then there are the others, who mislead on purpose. Russell appears to have walked a fine line between letting the spooks have their say without giving weight to statements that contradict provable facts about the case.

Ironically, I was just about to write up, for a presentation I was preparing, the story of Luis Castillo, who appeared to be a CIA asset hypnoprogrammed to assassinate a foreign leader and then kill himself afterwards. He was arrested in advance of his assignment by authorities, and his weapons were confiscated. Nonetheless, at the appointed time, he mimed shooting a gun at someone else, from within his prison walls, and then mimed killing himself. I had just pulled out the Turner/Christian book on the Robert Kennedy assassination, which contained a brief discussion of Castillo, when Russell’s book arrived in my mail. I had no idea that Russell, along with Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), had done extensive research on the Castillo case, and had talked to Victor Arcega, the man who was able to uncover, through hypnosis, some of Castillo’s hypnotic programming. Russell’s article on Castillo is, I believe, a must read, not the least for how Dr. Herbert Spiegel helped spike a book deal on Castillo. There’s a reason such stories rarely reach the public, and it’s not always because the story isn’t true. It’s because it isn’t provably true, which is an unfortunately high standard. I’m grateful that Russell gives us the data and lets us make up our own minds.

One of the most interesting throughlines across the old and new articles is the focus on the CIA’s mind control programs and possible connections between those programs and certain participants in the JFK assassination story. While I’ve never believed Oswald was under hypnosis at the time of the Kennedy assassination, the topic is endlessly fascinating, and, I believe, very important to understand the Robert Kennedy assassination, which is touched on in passing in this volume. I’m not at all convinced that Luis Castillo, for example, was in Dealey Plaza, as some of his memories suggest. But it seems obvious to me he was used in a CIA program involving an assassination plot against the leader of another country, albeit (and thankfully) an unsuccessful one.

One of my favorite articles in the book was “The Media, the CIA, and the Cover-Up.” Russell recounts key points in the media history of the case, and shows the direct connections between key stories in the cover-up and the CIA assets behind those stories. I’ve longed to read just such an article for years. It was a pleasure to find the people behind the media cover-up and their connections to the Agency so clearly laid out here.

The book includes some fascinating interviews. Russell recounts a long interview with Senator Richard Schweiker (R-Pa.), who became increasingly concerned by the “fingerprints of intelligence” he found all over Lee Harvey Oswald during his work with the Church Committee.

Richard Sprague, who briefly headed the House Select Committee on Assassinations before the CIA’s media assets started a drumbeat for his removal, noted in his interview with Russell that he had become more interested in the media’s coverage of the case than the facts of the assassination itself, a sentiment I share. To me, one of the points of studying the history of the Kennedy assassination is to explore how someone gets away with such a crime, how the crime can be effectively covered up for years, and how the cover-up, in the end, when unraveled, presents some of the best evidence of conspiracy itself.

Speaking of cover-ups, there's an interesting little story in here regarding a favorite subject of mine, Gordon Novel. Most people who know Gordon know he can lie with the best of them. But few understand why he lies about this case. Russell shows no particular curiosity along those lines, which is a shame, since he has such a provocative tidbit to share that, with some additional context, could become a lot more interesting.

One of my favorite chapters had to do with Russell’s hilarious, amateurish trip to KGB headquarters in Moscow, accompanied by an associate who—well, you just have to read his account. I could see the ending coming a mile away, and was bemused that Russell did not, at the time.

This book will appeal to a broad cross-section of readers. People with only a casual interest in the JFK case will find much to ponder here. Researchers who have been at this for years will learn some startling new information throughout, and especially at the end of the book in Russell’s dynamite interview of Doug Horne, the ARRB's key medical evidence researcher. Those who enjoy spook tales will laugh at the various characters Russell interacts with throughout the 320-page volume. And because the book is a series of self-contained chapters and articles, it's easy to reach "closure" every few pages. I'm not fond of books that keep me up all night while I search for an appropriate stopping point. The truth about this case is, after all, disturbing enough.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Votes being stolen from Obama in Early Voting

I have to point out the pattern of voting "glitches" that have been reported so far with early voting. People in several states now have noted that when they cast a vote for Obama, it has switched to McCain. Not once have the votes flipped in the opposite direction. If there were simple error, we'd expect to see mistakes in both directions. But, just as with the errors in 2004, the only votes that have been seen flipping have gone from the Democratic presidential candidate to the Republican one.

How many times do we have to see this before we recognize what is going on? Someone is trying to game the vote in our country. And if we don't all become a lot more vigilant, our vote will be reduced to a meaningless exercise.

Here are some sample incidents.

Austin, Texas

From a message on an Obama list:

A good, responsible, reliable friend of mine just called with a horror story about voting this morning here in Austin, TX.

He voted at Fiesta Mart on 38th and IH-35.

He voted a straight Democratic ticket.

When he was reading the 'voted for' listing at the end of his ballot, all of those listed were Democratic candidates EXCEPT FOR PRESIDENT. The list showed that he had voted for John McCain!!!

And he voted the straight Democratic ticket.

He reported it to the election official and that person was as shocked by it as my friend. They corrected the vote BEFORE he hit the CAST BALLOT button.

My friend said the experience made him sick to his stomach. He said he was the youngest person in the voting area a nd all he could think is that the older people around him may not proofread their ballot before pressing the CAST VOTE button. They may believe that they voted for Obama but the voting machine may have registered a
vote for McCain.

He called the Travis County voting office and they said they would look into this. When he called me I gave him the telephone number for the Democratic Party and he then called them to report what had happened and they said they would look into it, also.

I am shocked and disgusted by what he experienced this morning and I am telling you because of it.

Please PROOFREAD your ballot choices BEFORE hitting the CAST BALLOT button. This is vitally important. (For EVERYONE who votes, whichever way you vote.)


So I went down to the Democratic headquarters this afternoon and they confirmed what Veryan's e-mail said, that even though a voter had chosen the Democratic ticket, the presidential candidate on his pre-casted ballot was listed as John McCain rather than Barack Obama.

The person I talked with concurred that it is more likely to happen where poor or elderly vote and that it has happened at more than one location.

Here's a suggestion to all of you who are thinking of early voting: Consider voting in an area that has more elderly or a disproportionate number of poor people. See if your ballot is in error before you cast it. If it does, raise heck before you cast it--get the number on the side of the machine--and then make sure to let the Democratic headquarters know.
West Virginia

From the Charleston Gazette:

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Three Putnam County voters say electronic voting machines changed their votes from Democrats to Republicans when they cast early ballots last week.

This is the second West Virginia county where voters have reported this problem. Last week, three voters in Jackson County told The Charleston Gazette their electronic vote for "Barack Obama" kept flipping to "John McCain".

In both counties, Republicans are responsible for overseeing elections. Both county clerks said the problem is isolated.
Of course they would say that. But the problem should never have happened, and again, if it were random, there would have been reports of votes switching in the othe direction. The uniformity of the flip is the disturbing clue.

This woman's experience is heartbreaking (not to mention democracy-breaking):

“I pushed buttons and they all came up Republican,” she said. “I hit Obama and it switched to McCain. I am really concerned about that. If McCain wins, there was something wrong with the machines.

“I asked them for a printout of my votes,” Ketchum said. “But they said it was in the machine and I could not get it. I did not feel right when I left the courthouse. My son felt the same way.

“I heard from some other people they also had trouble. But no one in there knew how to fix it"....
No one knew what to do. How can you, when the system, by design, is inauditable?

We should not be voting on DRE (direct recording electronic) voting machines ever. Not ever. Even if you see a paper record, watch how your paper record vote can be altered after you leave the ballot booth!

(For additional videos showing how other electronic voting systems can be hacked, see this Princeton video re the hacking of a Sequoia machine. There are many others online.)

Nashville, Tennessee

David and Patricia Earnhardt, the makers of the documentary film "Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections" were themselves the victim of a voting glitch when they voted last Friday on touchscreens in Nashville, Tennessee. Brad Friedman quoted David's email as saying:

My wife, Patricia Earnhardt, had an early voting experience here in Nashville, Tennessee, where she saw her vote momentarily flip from Barack Obama to Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. She voted on a touch-screen paperless machine. Here is her story:

A poll worker directed me to a touch screen voting machine & instructed me how to use it. I touched "Obama" for president & nothing lit up. I touched 2 or 3 more times & still nothing lit up. I called the poll worker back over to tell him I was having a problem. He said I just needed to touch it more lightly. I tried it 2 or 3 more times more lightly with the poll worker watching & still nothing lit up. The poll worker then touched it for me twice --- nothing lit up.

The third time he touched the Obama button, the Cynthia McKinney space lit up! The McKinney button was located five rows below the Obama button. The poll worker just kind of laughed and cancelled the vote. He hit the Obama button again & it finally lit up. I continued on to cast the rest of my votes.

After completing the process & reviewing my votes, I went to the VOTE page, hit the VOTE button & nothing happened. Again after several tries, I called the poll worker over & he finally got the machine to register my votes."

Patricia Earnhardt - Friday, Oct. 17 - Howard School Building - Nashville, Tennessee
I also had similar problems with the machine I was voting on that same day, although no vote flipping. I would touch the screen numerous times before I could get my various candidate choices to light up. It was strange and very frustrating. When I finally got through my slate of candidate choices, I could not get the VOTE button to light up when I touched it. I finally called over a poll worker and he told me that I needed to touch lightly. I touched the VOTE button more lightly, but was only able to get it to work after several more failed attempts.
There are other problems that are less sinister, in that they are bipartisan in nature. For example, in Flagler County, where George Bush and John Kerry got similar numbers of votes in 2004, ballots were printed on paper that was 1/32 of an inch too short to be read by the new voting machines.

You'd think, in a Democracy, that this in the one thing Republican, Democrats, and people of ALL political persuasions could absolutely agree on: we need an honest vote. And so far, the dishonest machines have all favored the Republicans. Any objective observer has genuine cause for concern. I wouldn't want to win the race by stealing it. Republicans shouldn't approve of that either, even if it appears to benefit them. Putting thugs who are willing to steal their way into office at the helm helps NO party in this country.

Be prepared

It's better to prevent an election issue than to have to report one! Please review these 12 checklist items for securing your vote, from YES! magazine:

1. Check your registration. Even if you think you're registered, you may not be. Check online at

2. Vote now. Check if early voting is possible in your state. If you're voting by mail, check carefully where you need to sign, how to seal the envelope, and how to mark the ballot. And note: Some ballots require extra postage. [Lisa's note: do NOT vote early if it means NOT voting on a paper ballot that you control.]

3. Practice your vote. Electronic voting machines can be difficult to use. is preparing links to video demos of how to vote on the machine you will find at your polling station. If you'll be using a paper ballot, check out the sample included in your voter pamphlet.

4. Find out who's in charge. Make a phone list of your county and state election officials — it may save valuable time on Election Day if you need to get registration verification or other information.


5. Vote early. Avoid the frustration of long lines. Also, if you encounter problems, you'll have time to sort them out and may be able to help others.

6. Take your government-issued ID and your cell phone, if you have one. If you have problems, or see problems, call a hotline immediately (see point #9). You may not need ID to vote, but it's best to have it. If you have trouble with your registration, ask for a provisional ballot.

7. Avoid Straight Party Voting, if it's an option in your state. Vote for each race individually, even if it takes a little longer.

8. Verify your vote. [Lisa's note: THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!] If you're voting on an electronic voting machine, check the review screen to make sure it reflects your vote. If the machine produces a paper record, check as you go along that everything is working correctly. If not, speak to a polling attendant—don't leave until you're sure your vote has been properly recorded. [Lisa's note: Please don't vote on an electric ballot. Please cast your ballot on recountable paper if at all possible.]

9. Document and report. If you encounter difficulties, or see others experiencing difficulties (excessive lines, voter harassment, malfunctioning machines, etc.), make a detailed record. Get all the facts you can — location, names, specific problem.

The best way to report problems is to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683), which has volunteer lawyers in 15 locations standing by to provide rapid-response assistance. You can also contact your party of choice. We have more suggestions here.


10. Call your candidate. If there are questions about an election result, urge your candidate to ask for an audit. Ask how you can help.

11. Call your election officials. If you have concerns, let your county and state election officials know, and monitor their response. Ask them not to certify the election before all challenges and recounts are finished. And send a copy of your message to your local newspaper editor. If you're confident about the election result, thank the officials for a difficult job well done.


12. Work for fair, transparent elections. 66% of Americans don't trust the electronic voting machines many of us will be voting on this November. Join the movement for election reform in between elections. Use our YES! Tools to find out how.
Thank you for reading all of this, if you made it this far. You are a true patriot, and I appreciate your concern for preserving our democracy.