Saturday, November 23, 2013

On the Trail of the Assassins -- Second Stop, New Orleans

On the Trail of the Assassins -- Second Stop, New Orleans

When New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison said that Lee Harvey Oswald, who shared a now-demolished office building, called the Newman Building, with retired FBI agent and noted right-winger Guy Banister, ran his "Fair Play for Cuba" Committee smack dab in the middle fo the U.S Federal government presence in New Orleans, he wasn't kidding.

Banister, who was close to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and various right-wing politicians in New Orleans, maintained the office for his private investigative firm at 531 Lafayette Street. In the same building, but using a different entrance on 544 Camp Street, just around the corner, was Oswald's Fair Play for Cuba Committee. It is clear that Oswald, from the outset, was a CIA operative who took part in a "fake defect" program that saw a number of U.S. Marine Corps veterans like Oswald, as well as those from the Army and Air Force, "defect: to the USSR and East Germany, Many, like Oswald, later returned to the U.S. where they faced no prosecution. Some of the fake defectors, as was the case with Oswald, brought home Russian wives.

Not only was 544 Camp the location for the "pro-Fidel Castro" Fair Play for Cuba Committee but it had previously served as the office for the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Council headed by Carlos Bringuier, an old friend of Oswald who helped stage a "confrontation" between anti-Castro Cuban "pedestrians" and Oswald as the former Marine handed out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets on Canal Street. It was clear that Banister was establishing Oswald as a noted "Marxist" for some future operation. Garrison caught on quickly, however, the district attorney was subjected to a barrage of personal attacks by those who wanted to cover up the CIA's and mob's role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Some of the assassins present on Dealey Plaza had passed through New Orleans, where they purchased rifles with the cash handed to them by Santo Trafficante in Tampa. The guns were bought at a gun store in Slidell, north of the city and across Lake Pontchartrain. While briefly in New Orleans, the gunmen were under the protection of New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello.

Oswald also used an alias for his Fair Play for Cuba leaflets, "A.J. Hidell," or Alex James Hidell." Oswald maintained a post office box in New Orleans under "A.J. Hidell." However, other Fair Play for Cuba leaflets listed Oswald as "L.H. Oswald, 4907 Magazine Street." The Magazine Street address is several blocks due west of the Banister/Oswald/federal government enclave surrounding Lafayette Park. Also located within the Lafayette Park sphere was the W. B. Reily Coffee Company. Oswald worked at the company's headquarters, located at 640 Magazine Street, just a few blocks from 544 Camp and the Newman Building -- all within the shadows of the U.S. federal building, where the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and Office of Naval Intelligence maintained offices, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ironically, the Newman Building at 544 Camp and 531 Lafayette has been torn down. Reily Coffee, founded at the turn of the last century by Bastrop, Louisiana businessman William Reily. In addition to selling coffee and tea, the company was rumored to allow the CIA to use its premises for certain covert activities.

Standing in its place is the one-block Hale Boggs Federal Building and U.S. Court House. The building is located at 500 Poydras Street and is bounded by Poydras, Camp, and Magazine Streets. Boggs was one of three dissenting members of the Warren Commission who doubted the commission's conclusion that Oswald was the sole gunman who killed President Kennedy. Boggs, the House Majority Leader, died in a mysterious plane crash over Alaska in October 1972, weeks before the presidential election pitting Richard Nixon against George McGovern.

The editor asked a couple of federal security guards about the history of the Boggs building, including when it was built. They were clearly unwilling to say anything about the building with one of the guards telling me that there were two Camp and Lafayette intersections, when, in fact, there was only one where the Newman Building had been located. I was under the distinct impression that they had both been pre-briefed by their superiors on anyone asking questions about the infamous 544 Camp/531 Lafayette address. The guards were totally uncooperative and were suspicious of the questions. Fifty years later, New Orleans continues to keep its ugly secrets about 1963.

One businessman from St. Louis I met near the old location of 544 Camp -- who will remain nameless because he was a one-time colleague of former HealthSouth chairman Richard Scrushy (Scrushy was jailed, along with Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, in a trumped up GOP political pogrom) said he was 19 years old and in the Army stationed at Fort Belvoir in November 1963. He recounted how all students at the command were dismissed and sent back to their barracks only to be called to an all0hands formation on the morning of November 23. The commanding general announced that Lyndon Baines Johnson was now president and commander-in-chief. There were no prayers for Kennedy and not even a mention of his name. Fort Belvoir was the location of a number of U.S. Army Intelligence and CIA activities. Former Colonel Fletcher Prouty always contended that the conspirators who killed the president included a number of Pentagon special operations personnel, including his boss General Edward Landsdale.

Garrison's major quarry was centered on the suspected CIA activities of Clay Shaw, a key member of New Orleans wealthy and influential gay community, and a colleague of Canadian Jewish businessman and noted Zionist and Israel supporter Louis Bloomfield. Shaw, who was also known as Clay Bertrand and Clem Bertrand, was associated with Oswald and two others who were part of Oswald's immediate circle, David Ferrie, a bizarre and hairless homosexual who conducted "cancer research" on caged rats and mice at his rundown apartment at 3330 Louisiana Avenue, and Perry Raymond Russo.

Although Garrison's prosecution of Shaw for involvement in JFK's assassination ended in a jury acquittal in 1967, the presiding judge, James Haggerty, never bought the jury decision. Speaking of Shaw and his friends, Haggerty said, "I am personally convinced that -- from people I've spoken to and what I've heard over two years -- I am convinced that Shaw knew Ferrie. I am convinced  . . .  queers know queers! In New Orleans -- they've got a clique better than the CIA."

Hoover did everything he could to derail Garrison's investigation, even planting FBI confidential informants within Garrison's team of investigators. Although it is not known whether Garrison knew Hoover was a closeted homosexual -- few in federal law enforcement were unaware of that fact in 1963 -- nothing was apparently done by Garrison to link Hoover to Shaw's "Queen Network" in New Orleans. In any event, Hoover was too powerful to come under investigation by a city D.A. like Garrison

Looking at old U.S. Federal Building from Lafayette Park. Oswald, Banister, Bringuier, and other CIA assets worked in the shadow of this building, which houses offices of the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and ONI.

The Newman Building once occupied the right of the photograph. It was torn down and replaced by the Hale Boggs Federal Building named after the most vocal dissenter on the Warren Commission. Boggs disappeared in a plane over Alaska in October 1972.

In 1963, 544 Camp and 531 Lafayette, along with Elm and Houston in Dallas - location of the Texas School Book Depository -- were among the most notorious intersections in the United States.

640 Magazine Street, literally around the corner from the old Newman Building site. 640 Magazine is still the location of Reily Foods, the former Reilly Coffee Company that employed Lee Harvey Oswald and other CIA covert operatives under its corporate cover.

This intersection of Lafayette and Magazine Streets, with Reily Coffee across from the street from the US Appeals Court Building and just around the corner from 544 Camp Street.

The US Court of Appeals (above) sat between 544 Camp and Reily Coffee (bekiw), two of Oswald's business addresses in New Orleans and right in the middle of a large federal enclave in the city.

544 Camp and 531 Lafayette. Now the Hale Boggs Federal Building. The Newman Building and Warren Commission dissenter Boggs were lost to history: