The Obsolescence of the Warren Report
By Jefferson Morley
JFK 1.o dropped 50 years ago this week.
On September 27, 1964, the report of the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was published. In the Internet age, the release of the Commission’s 800-page report could be described like this:
A government-sponsored data dump, accompanied by a top-down narrative, generated by law enforcement and intelligence organizations (the Dallas Police Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, Lyndon Johnson’s White House, with a little help from the Secret Service and the CIA.) The meme of a “lone gunman” was blessed by varioius MSM gatekeepers and shared with the target demographic: the world.
JFK 1.0 taught us that the liberal president had been killed by a left-wing sociopath for reasons known only to himself. #TragicStory #TrustUs.
The JFK 1.0 narrative, alas, lacked persuasive power with the informed public. The suspicious circumstances of the crime, the testimony of the closest bystander and 21 cops that at least one gunshot seemed to come from the front of the presidential motorcade, prompted American citizens to review the evidence themselves.
Before long, the JFK story was being crowd-sourced. As people not employed by the U.S. government or major news organizations began to study the case of the murdered president, they created their own 1960s version of the Internet. They did their own searching, amassed data from disparate sources, and networked via communication nodes not controlled by the gatekeepers of government and media (i.e., the U.S. mail, the underground press of the 1960s, the alternative press of the 1970s, and eventually, the World Wide Web.)
These efforts worried gatekeepers at the CIA into taking secret action (and still worry mandarins like former White House official Cass Sunstein) because they propagate uncomfortable questions about “national security” and talking points said to be damaging to American institutions. The Warren Commission report, the critics insisted, was not a credible account of how the popular president came to be killed, much less a convincing explanation of why no one was ever held accountable for his wrongful death.
By 1965, any consensus about what happened on that awful sunny day in Dallas was gone. The diffusion of documents, data, disinformation, misinformation factoids, rumors, revelations, and myths about JFK’s death continued over the next three decades.
The scattershot prosecution of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in 1967–69 raised the specter of CIA conspiracy. (The swift acquittal of his target seemed to dispel it.) In 1975, Congressional investigators discovered that top CIA officers had been plotting to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro even as they apparently failed to protect Kennedy from a known ex-Marine marksman and Castro sympathizer.
In March 1975 came a major media moment. A film of Kennedy’s assassination, made by spectator Abraham Zapruder, was shown on national television for the first time. The home movie, made possible by a new technology—a Kodak Super 8 Camera—had been suppressed for eleven years by the collusion of the Big Government and Big Media (namely Time-Life Inc. which bought the film from Zapruder).
The circulation of bootleg copies of the film was the original illegal download: a violation of copyright that satisfied market demand. The film’s terrible imagery, broadcast on ABC News by a daring young correspondent named Geraldo Rivera, qualified as the first animated GIF to penetrate national consciousness, a nightmarish 26-second loop in which the president is killed by a gunshot that blasts his head, backwards and to the left.
The effect was profound. Upon seeing the film CIA Director John McCone and many other people concluded the President must have been shot by two gunmen. Conspiracy theories proliferated. So did confusion and doubt.
In December 1991, American media consumers snapped up JFK 2.0, which was dropped by Oliver Stone, a Hollywood code master. Stone’s conspiratorial epic “JFK” was a counter-myth to JFK 1.0, depicting the much-maligned Garrison as a courageous truth-teller.
JFK 2.0 taught us the slain president had been betrayed by a patriotic cabal in the Pentagon and CIA. #Conspiracy #QuestionAuthority.
The gatekeepers and guardians of JFK 1.0 were disturbed by the popularity of JFK 2.0 and savaged Stone with a peculiar vehemence. While JFK 1.0 retained a small loyal following, the multitudes in the multiplex generally preferred JFK 2.0 and mocked single bullet theorists like Arlen Specter with an irreverent glee.
That’s where things were stuck until the Internet came along.
If data wants to be free, as some say, JFK assassination data really wants to be free.
By popular demand, the historical record of JFK’s assassination is vast and still growing. Thanks to Stone’s cinematic provocation, Congress was shamed into passing the 1992 JFK Records Act mandating the release of all of the government’s JFK files.
The result was another government-sponsored data dump, starting in the 1990s. Various agencies disgorged an estimated 4 million pages of long-suppressed documents, and the process is still not complete. The last of the CIA’s JFK assassination files will not be arrive on the nation’s desktop until October 2017.
Don’t you hate it when your Netflix download takes forever? Well, the CIA’s download of JFK assassination files is in its 22nd year—and the churn will last three more years.
Nonetheless, thanks to the Internet, 0nline civil society, and Web sites like MaryFerrell.org, much of the historical record of JFK’s assassination is now available to anyone, anywhere. The citizenry of the world is only just now getting unfiltered access to the record of this most enigmatic historical crime. Call me a techno-utopian but I think this development will eventually make a difference in how Americans understand the tragedy of JFK’s death.
In JFK 3.o the assassination narrative will not be controlled by Washington insiders or Hollywood myth makers. Rather it is curated the wisdom of crowds (such as it is) as well as the wisdom of experts, scholars, and traditional journalists.
This is already happening, albeit with less than startling results. Wikipedia’s account of the assassination is kind of JFK 1.0, much to the frustration of the JFK 2.0-types on Reddit, in the chat groups and on the conspiracy-themed Web sites. Facebook teems with interesting Warren Commission skeptics like a forensic audio expert in Detroit, a CIA expert in New Zealand, a JFK photo archivist in Canada (Twitter thinks #JFK is an airport. )
But the potential of the Internet to enhance collective understanding of a formative event in American history has barely been tapped. The Mary Ferrell Foundation is a solid foundation. I’m intrigued by the JFK Timeline Project, created by a veteran programmer named Brian Castle. The goal is to create a tool that can collate and make sense of disparate data points. (Check it out in beta here.)
Much more is possible. I would like to see a social graph of the connections between the characters in the story: between Oswald and the CIA men who came in contact with him in 1963, for example. An analysis of how use of the epithet “conspiracy theorist” would chart the ebb and flow of the JFK debate over the years. A JFK historical game that put student in the shoes of investigators would illuminate the workings of the U.S. government, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. There’s no telling what creative techies could contribute to clarifying the JFK story if they put their minds to the task.
The point is that we know now that JFK’s assassination was a national security event whose secret dimensions were hidden for a long time. That’s not a theory. That’s a fact.
The Veil of National Security Secrecy
In historical perspective, 50 years of debate about the Warren Commission is not unusual.
Consider the scandalous story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. For 175 years, academic historians and Washington journalists scoffed at those pathetic souls who believed the rumor that the Founding Father had an African-American mistress. These pundits often used same vocabulary of abuse now directed at critics of the Warren Commission: rumor-mongers pathologically peddling an un-patriotic theme harmful to American civic life.
Then DNA science came along and testing of Heming’s descendants proved that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of Heming’s children. The conventional wisdom collapsed, and hard fact prevailed over convenient fiction.
Such clarity about the causes of President Kennedy’s death is not inevitable but it is at least possible with new technology and networked expertise.
JFK 1.0 told us that crazy Oswald came out of nowhere to shoot the president, and then another crazy man shot him. #GetOverIt
JFK 2.0 told us Oswald was the patsy of Kennedy’s right-wing enemies in the CIA and Pentagon. #ConspiracyRules
JFK 3.0 tells us the story of the role of certain senior CIA officers, now deceased, in the events leading to Kennedy’s death remains suspicious and unexplained. #EndTheSecrecy.
On the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission report, no one will be surprised to learn that the CIA remains biggest obstacle to completion of the JFK historical record. The agency retains 1,100 JFK assassination files, comprising some 50,000 pages of material, that it will not make public until October 2017—for reasons of “national security.”
Damn, that download is taking a long time. Wonder why.
This story was written by Jefferson Morley. He is the editor of JFK Facts and author of Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA.
Next in Medium: JFK 3.0: What the Warren Commission Didn’t Know About the CIA.
For more information, visit jfkfacts.org and jeffersonmorleybooks.com