Thursday, December 18, 2014

Truth and Journalism

                                  
   
     The problem of journalism in American proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists and editors are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about a story for themselves, and therefore almost entirely dependent on “sources,” who may be self-interested, falsifiers or even fictional characters. It is these “sources” that provide the version of reality that journalists report. Walter Lippmann pointed to the root of the problem a century ago when he made a distinction between “news” and truth.  “The function of news is to signalize an event; the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and to make a picture of reality on which men can act.”  Because news reporting and truth seeking ultimately have different purposes, Lippmann concluded that news should be expected to coincide unerringly with truth in only a few limited areas, such as the scores of sports events and the results of elections, where the results are definite and measurable.  In more ambiguous areas, where the outcome may be in doubt or dispute, news reports could not be expected to exhaust or perhaps even indicate the truth of the matter.  Lippmann held that if the public required a more truthful interpretation of the world it  lived in, it would have to look elsewhere.
    Today journalists would have difficulty accepting such a distinction between news and truth.  Indeed, newsmen almost invariably depict themselves not merely as gatherers of the fragments of information but of hidden truths. Even though they remain dependent on “leaks” from sources whose motives are murky, their standing, as well as the circulation of their news organization, often requires them to ferret out scoops that depend on secret and otherwise unverifiable sources. The pressure to supply something extra in these stories has led time and again  to journalistic invention.      
   Consider the invention of an epidemic of child heroin users in Washington D.C.  On September 28, 1980, the Washington Post ran a sensational story about an eight-year old addict entitled "Jimmy's World."   Janet Cooke, a staff reporter on the Post, described her extended interviews with “Jimmy” whose “thin, brown arms” had tracks of "needle marks” from repeated injections of heroin.  Even after a massive police search for “Jimmy” proved unsuccessful, assistant managing editor Bob Woodward of Watergate fame submitted it for the Pulitzer Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize committee, unperturbed by the lack of verification, awarded Cooke the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing on April 13, 1981.
   It turned out that the reason the police could not find “Jimmy,” the putative source for the story, was that he was imaginary.  Cooke, as she admitted to her editors, invented “Jimmy” in response to pressure to produce an exclusive story for the Post.  To his credit, Donald Graham, the publisher of the Post, admitted that the story was fraudulent and returned the award.  Even so, Woodward said, “I think that the decision to nominate the story for a Pulitzer is of minimal consequence. I also think that it won is of little consequence. It is a brilliant story—fake and fraud that it is.”  He added, in what might be termed the Woodward doctrine, “It would be absurd for me or any other editor to review the authenticity or accuracy of stories that are nominated for prizes.”  (Cooke, who resigned from the Post, demonstrated the profitability of invention by selling the film rights to the story of Pulitzer Prize fabrication to Columbia Tri-Star Pictures for $1.6 million, though the film was never made.)
   Woodward also took advantage of this doctrine when he described in vivid detail a scene in which he extracted a death bed confession from William Casey, the former CIA Director, in his hospital room at Georgetown University hospital just before Casey died of a brain tumor in 1987.  But, according to Kevin Shipp, who was part of Casey’s round-the-clock security detail at the hospital, Woodward was turned away at the door and never entered Casey’s room. If so, the interview was pure invention.
     The pressure to accept stories based on unverified sources has only increased in the Internet era.   In November 2014, for example, Rolling Stone published a stunning story by Sabrina Erdely entitled “A Rape on Campus," It described in gory detail the ritual gang rape on September 28, 2012 of a student identified only as "Jackie" during a party at the Phi Kappa Psi  fraternity house at the University of Virginia. It further described the University’s response to the incident as inadequate. As it turned out, however, there was no party held at the fraternity on the night of the alleged rape, the description of the fraternity house was incorrect, and prior to the Rolling Stone story there had not been any allegation of sexual assault against any members of the fraternity.  The reporter, who viewed her assignment as finding a campus rape story, had not made any effort to speak to any of the alleged perpetrators. Instead, the story relied on a single questionable source.  As the discrepancies mounted, Rolling Stone admitted that its trust in the source was “misplaced.”   Rolling Stone editor Will Dana explained, "We made a judgment -- the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. And in this case, our judgment was wrong."
    I first became interested in the inventions of the media in 1970 when William Shawn, the legendary editor of The New Yorker, asked me to investigate whether the reported killing of 28 members of the Black Panther party was part of a US government “genocide” program to destroy the Black Panther Party.  After investigating each case, I discovered that the list of 28 Black Panther deaths was partly invented, proving that there was  no basis for the widely circulated press stories of genocide. After The New Yorker published my article in February 1971, both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times wrote editorials apologies for their stories based on the invention of 28 Black Panther supposed deaths. 
   The essays I have included in this book are all variations on a single theme– the vulnerability of journalism to deception.  Even after 45 years, it is very much a work in progress.
                                     


Monday, November 18, 2013

Has Anything changed re: Lee Harvey Oswald

Has anything changed in the last 30 years? Below is my Wall Street Journal essay on November 22, 1983.
Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?
(Wall Street Journal, 11/22/1983)

The endless tangle of questions about bullets, trajectories, wounds, time sequences and inconsistent testimony that has surrounded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and has obsessively fascinated, if not entirely blinded, a generation of assassination
buffs-probably never will be resolved.

Within this morass of facts. however, there is a central actor, Lee Harvey Oswald. His rifle, which fired the fatal bullet into the president, was found in the sniper's nest, His cartridge cases were also found near the body of a murdered policeman on the route his flight. He was captured resisting arrest with the loaded murder revolver in his hand.

In light of this overwhelming evidence, the issue that ought to have concerned Americans was not Oswald's technical guilt but his dangerous liaisons abroad. Only eight weeks before the assassination he had excited FBI and CIA interest in his activities by renewing his contacts with Cuban and Soviet intelligence officers in Mexico City. Although these foreign connections remained of great concern to the two U S. intellige agencies, they were considered too sensitive to be aired, publicly in the emotional aftermath of the president's slaying.

Oswald was not a "loner- in the conventional sense. Ever since he was handed a pamphlet about the Rosenberg prosecution at the age of 15, he had sought out affiliations with political organizations, front groups and foreign nations that opposed the policies of the U.S. When
he was 16. he wrote the Socialist Party "I am a Marxist and have been studying Socialist Principles for well over five years" and he requested information about joining their "Youth League-." He also attempted to persuade a friend to join the youth auxiliary of the Communist
Party. He subsequently made membership inquiries to such organizations as the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Labor Party, The Gus Hall-Benjamin Davis Defense Committee, the Daily Worker, The Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the Communist Party, USA— correspondence that brought him under surveillance by the FBI,

While still in the early stages of his flirtation with political causes, 0swald joined the Marine Corps . In October 1959, after a two-year stint as a radar operator, Oswald became the first Marine to defect to the Soviet Union, In Moscow, he delivered a letter stating. "I affirm that my allegiance is to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

Not only did he publically renounce his American citizenship but he told the U.S. consul that he intended to turn over to the Soviet Union military secrets that he had acquired while serving in the Marines, adding that he had data of "Special interest" to the Russians. Since he indeed had exposure to military secrets such as the U-2 spy piane and radar identitification system, and since he may have collected data while on active duty, his defection had serious espionage implications.

Oswald thus had compromised all the secret data he had come in contact with in the Marines. He had also through this act put himself in the hands of his hosts.He was now completely dependent on the Soviets for financial support, legal status and protection.
Before disappearing into the Soviet hinterland for a year, Oswald spelled out his operational creed in a long letter to his brother. From Moscow, he wrote presciently of his willingness to commit murder for a political cause: "I want you to understand what I say now, I do not say lightly, or unknowingly, since I've been in the military .... In the event of war I would kill any American who put a uniform on in defense of the American Government --", and then ominously added for emphasis, " Any American." Although his letter was routinely intercepted by the CIA and microfilmed, no discernable attention was paid to the threat contained in it .
When Oswald returned from the Soviet Union in June 1962 (with a little help from a State Department eager to demonstrate that it could win back a defector from the Soviets), joined by a Russian wife, he retained his militant convictions. In Dallas, where he settled, he purchased a rifle with telescopic sights and a revolver from a mail-order house under a false name. He also lectured his more liberal acquaintances on the need for violent action rather than mere words. General Edwin A. Walker, an extreme conservative, who had been active in Dallas organizing anti-Castro guerrillas became in the Spring of 1963 a particular focus of Oswald's attention. He repeatedly suggested to a German geologist, Volkmar Schmidt, and other friends, that General walker should be treated like a "murderer at large". He did not stop at fierce words. For weeks, he methodically stalked Walker's movements, photographing his residence from several angles.
He then had his wife photograph him, dressed entirely in black, with his revolver strapped on a holster on his hip, his sniper's rifle in his right hand, and two newspapers --~The Worker~ and the~Militant~ -- in his left hand. He made three copies of the photograph-- one of which he inscribed, dated "5--IV-63" and sent to a Dallas acquaintance, George De Mohrenschildt. He then left with his rifle wrapped in a raincoat, telling his wife he was off to "target practice", but his target, General Walker, was out of town that night. Five nights later, Oswald returned to Walker's house, and fired a shot at him that missed his head by inches, demonstrating that he had the capacity as well as the willingness to kill "Any American".
After the failed assassination, Oswald went to New Orleans, where he became the organizer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Aside from printing leaflets, staging demonstrations, getting arrested and appearing on local radio talk shows in support of Castro that summer, Oswald attempted to personally infiltrate an anti-Castro group that was organizing sabotage raids against Cuba. He explained to friends that he could figure out his "anti-imperialist" policy by "reading between the lines" of the Militant and other such publications. In August, he wrote the central committee of the Communist Party USA asking "Whether in your opinion, I can compete with anti-progressive forces above ground, or whether I should always remain in the background,i.e. underground". During this hot summer, while Oswald spent evenings practicing sighting his rifle in his backyard, the Militant raged on about the Kennedy Administration's "terrorist bandit" attacks on Cuba. And as the semi-secret war against Castro escalated, Oswald expressed increasing interest in reaching Cuba.
Oswald told his wife he planned to hijack an airliner to Havana, suggesting, as the summer progressed, that he might even earn a position in Castro's government. On September 9th, in a report that appeared on the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Castro himself warned that if American leaders continued "aiding plans to eliminate Cuban leaders ... they themselves will not be safe".
The implication of this threat was not lost on Oswald. Telling his wife that they might never meet again, he left New Orleans two weeks later headed for the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. To convince the Cubans of his bona fides-- and seriousness-- he had prepared a dossier on himself, which included a 10 page resume, outlining his revolutionary activities, newspaper clippings about his defection to the Soviet Union, propaganda material he had printed, documents he had stolen from a printing company engaged in classified map reproduction for the U.S Army, his correspondence with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee executives and photographs linking him to the Walker shooting.
Oswald applied for a visa at the Cuban Embassy on the morning of September 27th 1963. He said that he wanted to stop in Havana en route to the Soviet Union. On the application the consular office who interviewed him, noted: "The applicant states that he is a member of the American Communist Party and Secretary in New Orleans of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee." Despite such recommendations, Oswald was told that he needed a Soviet visa before the Cuban visa could be issued. He argued over this requisite with the Cuban counsel, Eusebio Azque, in front of witnesses, and reportedly made wild claims about services he might perform for the Cuban cause. During the next five days, he traveled back and forth between the Soviet and Cuban embassies attempting to straighten out the difficulty.
When he telephoned from the Cuban embassy to arrange an appointment at the Soviet Embassy with an officer called Valery Vladimirovich Kostikov, he set off alarm bells at the CIA, which had been surreptitiously monitoring the phone line. Kostikov was a KGB officer who had been under close surveillance in Mexico by the FBI ( and who,in 1971, was identified by a KGB defector in London as the head of sabotage operations in Mexico). By the time the CIA had identified Oswald, and notified the FBI, he had left Mexico.
When he returned to Dallas that October, Oswald assumed a different identity--"O.H.Lee-- and, separating himself from his family, he moved to a rooming house. He also forbade his wife from divulging his whereabouts. He then got a job at the Texas Book Depository, which overlooked the convergence of the three main streets into central Dallas.
On October 18th, Oswald's visa was approved by the Cuban Foreign Ministry (despite the fact that he had not officially received a Soviet visa,as required.) Three weeks later, he wrote another letter to the Soviet Embassy, referring to his meeting with Kostikov in Mexico, and adding cryptically: "Had I been able to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana as planned, the embassy there would have had time to complete our business."
FBI counterintelligence, which had intercepted this letter in Washington, and evidently was interested in Oswald's "business" in Havana, urgently requested its field agents in Dallas to locate him. An FBI agent, James Hosty, rushed over to the home where Oswald's family was living, and questioned his wife, but he did not find him Oswald until November 22nd, when he had been arrested for the murder of a Dallas policeman and President Kennedy. In the final analysis, the Warren Commission turned out to be right: Oswald was the assassin. He had brought his rifle to work on November 22nd, carefully prepared a concealed sniper's position at a sixth floor window, and, waiting in ambush for almost an hour, shot the President as the motorcade passed below. The possibility that he had assistance-- for example, someone setting off a firecracker as a diversion-- can never be precluded. But the real question is not how but why Oswald assassinated the President.
The most obvious motive was provided by Oswald himself in his letter from Moscow: To kill any American who put on a uniform against his cause. He openly subscribed to the terrorist creed that a man with a rifle could change history; and, as far as Oswald was concerned, President Kennedy and General Walker were both actively working to destroy his avowed hero-- Castro.
Whether Oswald , given his clear disposition towards killing an American leader, was prodded or otherwise induced into committing the assassination was the question that vexed American intelligence after the shooting. Oswald had disappeared in the Soviet Union for more than a year, without yielding a trace of what, if any, training and indoctrination he had undergone. The only record of this missing year was a "diary" he brought out with him, which had in fact been written in two days presumably to provide him with a consistent cover story or legend. His five days with the Cubans in Mexico City were also a blank -- although friendly sources within the Cuban Embassy indicated that he was pressured to prove his loyalty and worth. Although the Cuban government insisted, through both official and intelligence channels, that Oswald was presumed crazy and dismissed as such by the embassy staff, it left unanswered the disturbing question of why a visa was approved for Oswald-- after the report was received from the embassy. Among the eleven questions prepared by the CIA for Mexican interrogators was one that expressed its direct concern: "Was the assassination of of President Kennedy planned by Fidel Castro ... and were the final details worked out inside the Cuban Embassy".

In Dallas, before Mexican investigators could question their sources, Oswald was shot dead, and with his death ended the hope of unraveling his motive.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Powerline Q&A on the JFK Assassination

The Powerline Q&A with me on the JFK Assassination is here.  Questions by Scott Johnson, filming by Ena and Ines Talakich,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dr. Susana Duncan Links The New Drug Epidemic To Obamacare


    Dr. Susana Duncan made a truly brilliant connection in the Huffington Post between the epidemic of opiate pain killers and Obamacare.  She wrote :This is not the stereotyped drug problem that can be solved by Miami Vice style drug busts of traffickers and periodic round-up of street-addicts and pushers. In this epidemic, the traffickers are our respected pharmaceutical companies acting entirely within the law seeking only to bring legitimate pain relief to sufferers; the addicts are, for the most part, upstanding citizens seeking a medical solution to their pain, and the "pushers" are, with few exceptions, dedicated doctors attempting to alleviate the suffering of their patients. So how can the interaction of decent people, pursuing well intentioned and legitimate ends, result in a truly disastrous narcotics epidemic?

The answer, as counter-intuitive as it may seems, is that in large part the epidemic is an unanticipated consequence of "managed care"; which swept the country in the 1980's to contain rising medical costs.
Almost every week, I have received more calls from new patients searching for a pain specialist willing to take on the prescribing of their drug. In each case the reason given for the need for a new doctor was their previous doctor's retiring or otherwise no longer being available for the task. In each case a brief interview revealed the nature of the injury or physical problem to be either minor or at best partially diagnosed. Further, there is a turn of phrase, an urgency, a worn thin quality to their stories, which informs the practiced listener that driving the call is addiction. The previous prescriber had created a demon and had withdrawn.

As I reflect on why this wave of opiate addiction is so rapidly gaining hold in America, I realize that the answer lies in the new realities of how doctors must practice to earn their livelihood. Listening to Bill Clinton, the only campaign speaker to try to get across the mechanics of Obamacare, I learned for the first time where the funding ($617 billion) for the proposed expansion of medical insurance coverage was to come from: Hospitals, private insurers and doctors.

A proposed 27% cut in Medicare payments to physicians, already so low as to drive many physicians to refuse to see Medicare patients, is part of the agreed legislation. It is not clear that private medical practice as we know it will survive at all under these cuts. In the past five years physicians have annually fought off a pending far smaller cut, as the austere economics of managed care compels them to compromise and see increasing numbers of patients each hour. This requisite for what government administrators might call “efficiency”, cuts deeply into a commodity precious to diagnosis and patient care, especially precious in pain management; adequate time for listening, for which, under managed care, there is no commensurate reimbursement. Pain has its own special, unfortunate place in this new cut-costs at all cost system. Back and neck problems, vague complaints of limb pain can be challenging at the best of times and may take long and repeated visits, interviewing and examining to fathom and correctly treat. It takes not so much diligence as time to apply skill in getting to the bottom of some of these complaints. And time is what is rationed under this new system. In this time-is-at-a-premium climate one understands how for a harried physician, prescribing a pain killer becomes an expedient substitute for a lengthy diagnostic encounter. Indeed, in the last decade, the use of opiates in general practice pain management has become increasingly the norm. The sad truth is that under economic exigency prescribing in all fields, whether it be drugs or expensive laboratory or imaging testing, is dramatically escalating; too often replacing appropriate, in-depth office encounters between physician and patient, such that a precious gem of spoken information, which might provide the key, is never heard. This pattern is only growing: Enough pain killers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.


If one examines the whole story of opiate use more closely, one finds that (here too) there is another hidden and costly outcome: these prescription drugs can readily reach those for whom they were never intended. A bottle of half finished opiates lying somewhere at home can tempt a teenager, and these drugs have the power to addict within three days of use. Further, less well intentioned callers at doctors' offices have learned to mimic pain, to see multiple doctors with the same story, and then sell the prescribed drugs for handsome profits.

Looking ahead one sees that in a system where symptoms are treated, but the source of pain remains, a growing number of patients will become chronic pain sufferers. And as long as managed care continues to manifest as "efficiencies" in medical practices; doctors’ remuneration for office visits progressively is whittled down, and opiate-based pills become faster acting and more powerful, the inevitable outcome tragically is even greater opiate addiction in America.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Snowden Penetration

In March 2013, when Edward Snowden sought a job with Booz Allen Hamilton at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, he signed the requisite classified-information agreements and would have been made well aware of the law regarding communications intelligence.


Section 798 of the United States Code makes is a very tough law when it come to communications intelligence. It makes it a federal crime if a person “knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States” any classified information concerning communication intelligence. It is indeed so severe that no one working at the NSA has taken misappropriated any classified documents from an NSA facility up until Snowden’s penetration.

According to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist through which Snowden released classified documents to The Guardian, Snowden took “literally thousands” of documents that constituted “basically the instruction manual” of the methods that the NSA uses for intercepting communications. Snowden did not accidently stumble on this trove of classified data. He took a position with Booz Allen Hamilton in March 2012 so he could gain access to this super-secret communications intelligence. After working there for about two months, and systematically misappropriating the data, he escaped with it to Hong Kong and told the South China Morning Post , “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked, that is why I accepted that position.” In short, Snowden’s penetration was planned to get classified data from the NSA, and his flight to Hong Kong, where he was joined by Greenwald and others, was planned so that he could publish part of these misappropriated documents

My question would be, then: Was he alone in this enterprise to misappropriate communications intelligence?

Before taking the job in Hawaii, Snowden was in contact with three people who would later help arrange the publication of the material he purloined– Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Washington Post Journalist Barton Gellman. Two of these individuals, Greenwald and Poitras, were on the Board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, among other things, funds WikiLeaks

In January 2013, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Snowden requested that Poitras get an encryption key for Skype so that they could have a secure channel over which to communicate.

In February, he made a similar request to Greenwald, providing him with a step-by-step video on how to set up encrypted communications.

On May 16th, Snowden made an extraordinary offer to Gellman, According to Gellman, Snowden (using the cryptonynm, Verax) offered to 41 slides of a secret NSA power-point presentation of a covert operation if the Washington Post would also publish on its website a “cryptographic key” so Snowden could prove to an unnamed foreign embassy he was the source of the document leak. Although Gellman turned down this curious demand, it suggests that Snowden either was in contact with, or planned to be, with a foreign embassy in May.

On May 20, three months into his job, Snowden falsely claimed to his employer that he needed treatment for epilepsy. The purpose of the cover story was to conceal his escape to Hong Kong, where the operation to steal U.S. secrets would be brought to fruition.

Greenwald and Poitras also flew to Hong Kong. They were later joined by Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative who works closely with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Mr. Snowden reportedly brought the misappropriated data to Hong Kong on four laptops and a thumb drive. He gave some of the communications intelligence to Greenwald, who had arranged to publish it in the Guardian, and Snowden arranged to have Poitras make a video of him issuing a statement that would be released on the Guardian’s website. At least 3 lawyers were retained In Hong Kong to deal with the authorities.

This orchestration did not occur in a vacuum. Airfares, hotel bills and other expenses over this period had to be paid. A safe house had to be secured in Hong Kong. Lawyers had to be retained, and safe passage to Moscow—a trip on which Snowden was accompanied by WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison—had to be organized.

The world now knows that the misappropriation of U.S. communications intelligence began appearing in the Guardian and other publications on June 5, and Snowden left Hong Kong for the Moscow airport on June 21. A question that remains to be answered: Who, if anyone, aided and abetted this well-planned theft of U.S. secrets?

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Five Best Books on Unsolved Crime

The Money Changers

By Charles Raw (1992)
1.   One of the greatest unsolved crimes of the modern era proceeds from the bizarre hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 of "God's banker," Roberto Calvi, so called because he invested the Vatican's funds. The Vatican bank later discovered a hole in its accounts that swallowed up a large part of the Vatican's available funds. As the investigation into Calvi's death deepened, it opened a Pandora's box of machinations involving the Banco Ambrosiano, which Calvi headed; a Masonic Lodge in Italy that was allegedly planning a coup d'état; the Mafia and even the CIA. Enter Charles Raw, a star reporter on the (London) Sunday Times. He devoted more than nine years untangling the threads, following a trail that led him to anonymous corporations in Latin America and Europe, and revealed that nearly a quarter of a billion dollars had been siphoned from accounts controlled by the Vatican. Even without solving the crime, Raw provides a fascinating tour of the offshore banking world and a surfeit of individuals with a plausible motive for murder. In doing so, he demonstrates that an unsolved crime can offer an extraordinary education in the dark side of finance.
Blood and Fire
By John Marquis (2005)



2.   Murder can be an especially murky business when it involves a member of the royal family. During World War II, Britain sent the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated as king, to the Bahamas, partly out of concern over his connections in Germany. There he was made governor-general and befriended Harry Oakes, a gold miner who was by far the richest man in the Bahamas. When, on the night of July 7, 1943, Oakes was murdered in his bed, the duke moved to stifle the case by imposing press censorship and by bringing in two unsavory police detectives from Miami. The investigators proceeded to frame Oakes's son-in-law, an innocent man who was ultimately acquitted. That left an unsolved crime for local newspaperman John Marquis to write this superb book about. Marquis brilliantly reconstructs the murder, the investigation and the royal coverup. He makes a powerful case that the Duke of Windsor had to close the case quickly to prevent the FBI from uncovering his own involvement in Oakes's illicit money transfers. It would have made a great plot for a James Bond novel, but, in Marquis's skillful hands, it makes an even better nonfiction thriller.

Blood on the Snow
By Jan Bondeson (2005)

3. On Feb. 28, 1986, at 11:21 p.m., Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was fatally shot while walking toward a Stockholm subway station. Other than his wife, who was also wounded, there were no witnesses. The assassin jogged away, and the murder weapon was never found. A somewhat deranged homeless man was convicted of the crime but later acquitted for lack of physical evidence. With the case remaining open, no fewer than 130 people falsely confessed (a phenomenon that turns out to be anything but rare in such cases). Jan Bondeson, a doctor, scientist and investigator of unsolved mysteries, has written an extraordinarily penetrating book on the case, complete with a vivid minute-by-minute account of the crime as well as a detailed description of the failed police investigation and, best of all, a keen analysis of the byzantine political and financial intrigues in which Palme had been involved.

White Mischief
By James Fox (1982)
4.   As in the best crime fiction, James Fox masterfully illuminates not only a crime but also the social milieu in which it occurred. On Jan. 24, 1941, the 22nd Earl of Erroll was found shot to death in his Buick on a lonely road in the British colony of Kenya. No weapon was recovered, and no one was found who saw the shooting. The prime suspect, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, was assumed to have a motive because he had been cuckolded by the earl. He was arrested and tried but acquitted for lack of evidence. Fox, schooled in investigative reporting at the (London) Sunday Times, opens "White Mischief" à la Agatha Christie, by noting that "there were many people in Kenya who had a motive for killing Erroll, and many who had the opportunity that night." He then uses the earl's murder as a vehicle for exploring the philandering, debauchery, adultery and other intrigues of the wealthy, titled colonials known as the "Happy Valley set." Though he doesn't solve the Erroll's crime, he brilliantly chronicles the decline and fall of this upper-class society. As in fiction, this story of wife-swapping, drug parties and betrayals can have only one ending—a murder.
Jack the Ripper—CSI: Whitechapel
By Paul Begg and John Bennett (2012)
5.   Over 100 books have been written about Jack the Ripper, even though there is not a shred of evidence identifying the man who murdered several London women in 1888. Indeed, much of the lore about him, including his name, is likely fictitious, the products of a circulation war among the British tabloids. (Editors were not above generating scoops by publishing, if not writing, hoax letters about Jack.) Nor was there any physical evidence, since when the attacks occurred, London police were not yet using forensic tools such as fingerprint, blood and hair identification. All that is really known as fact is that six or seven London prostitutes were brutally killed in a similar manner in the Whitechapel area. Paul Begg and John Bennett's book greatly clarifies the mystery with a detailed reconstruction of each murder, featuring both photographs and computer-generated renderings of the historic crime scenes. Begg, a "Ripperologist" for more than 40 years, and Bennett, a researcher in the history of the East End of London, bring new life to what may be the ultimate cold case.

A version of this article appeared June 1, 2013, on page C10 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Edward Jay Epstein.