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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Amanda Knox Innocent?

Amanda Knox, even while appearing on television in America to promote her book “Waiting To Be Heard,” is facing yet another murder trial in Italy for a crime --- of which, in 2011, after spending 4 years in prison, she was found innocent by an Italian appeals court. In throwing out the murder case against her, that court declared that the prosecution’s charges were “not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” The revival of the baseless charges against Knox, and the tabloid frenzy it will no doubt stoke, proceeds from a five-year-long judicial circus in Italy.

Amanda Knox’s ordeal began on November 1, 2007 with the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher, a twenty-one-year-old British exchange student, in a groundfloor flat in a cottage shared by four young women in Perugia, Italy. When police arrived the next morning, they found Kercher's body with several knife wounds, her clothing strewn around, and a broken window. They did not find a murder weapon. It was a holiday weekend; the seven other tenants of the cottage– including four men in the basement flat– all claimed to have been away on the night of the murder, including one other exchange student who was there when the police arrived: Amanda Knox. Knox, an angel-faced twenty-year-old student from Seattle, Washington, told police that she had spent the night at the home of her new boyfriend Raphaele Sollecito. Sollecito, who was standing with her, confirmed her alibi.

While the police investigators had no immediate witnesses to the murder and no murder weapon, they had a blood-stained bedroom in which the coroner determined that the victim was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. This crime scene was crucial to solving the case since as the great French criminologist Edmond Locard suggested nearly a century ago, even the most careful criminal is likely to leave behind a hair, clothing fiber, a fingerprint or other trace of himself or herself. The crime scene in

Perugia contained more than enough such clues fully to identify the assailant. There were fourteen identifiable fingerprints in the room, a palm print on the blood-stained pillow under the victim’s body, a sneaker print in the blood on the floor. DNA of a person other than Sollecito or any other tenant was found inside Kercher’s vagina and on her purse. (Kercher's money was missing from that purse.) All those clues were marks of a single individual, though it took over a month to identify him. He was Rudy Guede, a twenty-year-old drifter from the Ivory Coast, who had broken into other homes in the area. Less than a week before the murder, Guede had even been temporarily detained by police in Milan for breaking into a nursery and stealing an eleven-inch kitchen knife.

The crime scene could establish from Guede's fingerprints that he had been inside the victim’s room, from his DNA inside Kercher's vagina that he had had sexual contact with her, and from his sneaker impression found on the floor in her blood, his palm print found in her blood on the pillow, and his DNA found on her purse, that he had been in the room after she was stabbed. His description, moreover, fit that of a black man whom two witnesses had seen on the street running away from the cottage that night

Shortly after the murder, Guede had fled to Germany. It took more than a month to capture him. He was then extradited to Italy, tried, and in October of 2008, convicted of both the sexual assault upon Kercher and Kercher’s murder.

The belated identification of a local burglar as the intruder and sexual assailant did not, however, end the ordeal of Amanda Knox. In the interim, the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini had developed a theory that Knox - whom he described as a “she-devil” - had murdered her roommate and staged the evidence of a break-in. Knox had been imprisoned. For Mignini to abandon his "she-devil" theory, even after Guede’s arrest, could prove an embarrassment. In an earlier, so-called “Monster of Florence case,” he had already advanced a "Satanic theory" -- in which he attributed a string of unsolved murders to a Satanic cult who killed young women to use their body parts in black masses. His efforts in that pursuit of a non-existent cult resulted in him being criminally indicted for prosecutorial misconduct. (He was still under that indictment in 2007.) If his "she-devil" characterization of Knox were to fail as well, the prosecutor mght be further discredited.

The solution Mignini now found was to expand the “She-Devil" theory to include Guede, and to claim that Knox teamed up with Guede and her boyfriend to kill her flat-mate after a sex game.

The initial crime scene investigation had not produced a shred of evidence that Knox had been in the room at the time of the murder. Under interrogation, Knox had, however, lied to police. She had falsely told them that she had witnessed the Congolese-born owner of a nearby bar, Patrick Lumumba, murder Kercher. Knox had worked part-time for that bar. Lumumba denied having ever ben at the cottage. He was, nonetheless, arrested --- as were Knox and her boyfriend Sollecito. Lumumba was fortunate enough to have a solid alibi for the night of the murder. He was released. Knox repudiated her accusation. In her new book, “Waiting To Be Heard,” she says the accusation was a pure fabrication, induced by police intimidation.

The false statement makes Knox a liar, but not at all, by implication, a murderer. A recent study of criminal justice in the US by law professor Brandon Garrett shows it is not uncommon for innocent people to lie under police pressure; indeed no fewer than forty people out of 250 who were convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence, had falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit.

In Knox's case, Italian prosecutors in their subsequent investigation did find two bits of DNA that could support a conspiracy theory. The first was taken from a knife found in Sollecito’s kitchen and matched Knox’s DNA. The second bit of DNA was taken from Kercher’s bra clasp and matched Sollecitto’s DNA. As it turned out, both DNA samples were later invalidated by the appeals court because of a serious flaw: the police technician who examined them had failed to change her lab gloves between examining DNA samples, raising the possibility of cross-contamination. That "evidence" was invalidated, leaving none. In the absence of any physical evidence against them, Knox and Sollecito were acquitted by the appellate court.

In Italy, prosecutors have the right to appeal an acquittal. On March 25, 2013, at the request of the prosecutor, a Court of Cassation overturned the acquittal of Knox, ordering her to be tried again for a crime, which an appellate court had found there was absolutely no evidence that she committed. The United States Constitution, under its Double Jeopardy provisions, protects individuals from being retried for crimes of which they have been acquitted. It would be a violation of Knox’s constitutional rights as a United States citizen to return her to Italy to be tried again. It would also, of course, be a travesty of justice for an Italian prosecutor to use her case as a means to revive a his reputation, as an advocate of Satanic and She-Devil conspiracy theory.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Skeleton in the Papal Closet

On June 5th 2012, financial police in Piacenza, Italy searched the home of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was the target of a money laundering investigation. Until just a few weeks earlier, he had headed the Pope's
secretive organization for dealing with the world of Mammon, called not without irony the “Institute for Works Religious,” since it operates as an off-shore bank that is beyond the laws and regulations of Italy, the European Union, or any other authority. The raid uncovered a secret dossier that included 47 binders of Vatican documents, some of which exposed the Vatican Bank’s loopholes for laundering money, arrangements for discreet accounts, and a note instructing that these documents be delivered to a designated  lawyer and the media if anything foul happened to Tedeschi. As it was reported in the Italian press, he had feared for his life because some of the secret accounts serviced individuals in the Mafia and other criminal organizations.

Thirty years earlier, the body of Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s Banker” because of his work for the Vatican bank, had been found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London, a well-organized murder that was never solved. Also missing was a half-billion dollars siphoned through the Vatican bank to anonymous corporations owned by unknown parties.And no one found at that time the documents in Calvi’s attaché case, which more than a half decade later were used to blackmail the Pope for $40 million. (Only $2 million was paid to the blackmailers by the Vatican Bank before the police moved in.)

The secret at the heart of these crimes, as it is brilliantly adumbrated in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III , was and remains that the Vatican is desperately short of money, and has been for more than a century. It was so impoverished after the First World War that it borrowed $100,000 from a
bank to pay for the funeral of Pope Benedict XV. It had priceless art and church properties, but it could not sell them, nor did Dioceses abroad provide funds. All it had was the meager revenue from the sale of postage stamps and the annual Peter’s Pence collection boxes in churches. In light of its dire financial situation, it had no choice but accept in 1929 a settlement with the government of Benito Mussolini, which provided it with $91.4 million in cash and bonds. That sum at prevailing interest rates did not
yield enough income to pay the Vatican’s expenses, so, to get a high return,  the Popes used the Vatican’s sovereign status to set up a no-holds-barred offshore bank under the guise of the “Institute For Religious Work.” As its President Archbishop Paul Marcinkus told me, after he moved to full-fledged money laundering in the Bahamas, “You can’t run the church on Hail Marys alone.” Unfortunately, in the banking scandal following the death of God’s Banker, the Vatican bank lost a large part of its capital.

The new Pope Francis is clearly a well-intentioned man. But all his austerity measures, personnel changes, and efforts at transparency will do little to change its century-old insolvency problem. Now, more than ever, the Vatican needs money.
 Join me for an online video Q&A to discuss the skeletons in the papal closet– , including the murder of God’s banker, the blackmailing of the Popes, the money laundering train, and the other Vatican scandals, this Tuesday, 5 PM EST via Shindig. It’s free, but you need to register here.

You can also register here for my future online Q&As about DSK, Amanda Knox,Alexander Litvinenko, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Decapitation Plot

Today is the 148th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. As all the world knows by now, he was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who was shot to death by federal troops Since then Booth has in the popular mind become the template for the crazed lone assassin. In fact, Booth was not the only assassin at work that night. Only a few minutes after Lincoln was shot at Ford’s theater, Lewis Powell, and David Herold, arrived at the home of Secretary of State William Seward, who was in line after the Vice President to succeed Lincoln. Powell stabbed Seward (although he survived the assassination attempt.) Meanwhile, another would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, stalked Vice President Andrew Johnson with a loaded pistol, but failed to carry out the attack. These was a connection between these men: they had all been co-conspirators with Booth in a previous plot to waylay and abduct President Lincoln,

When Johnson succeeded Lincoln on April 15th as president, he had information that these assassins were part of a plot to decapitate the U.S. government, saying that there was “evidence in the Bureau of Military Justice that the atrocious murder of the late President, and the attempted assassination of the Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, were incited, concerted and procured,” by Confederate leaders. To investigate the extent of the alleged conspiracy, he set up a Military Commission (similar to the Commissions President Obama plans to use to try the 911 conspirators.)

The Military Commission found that there was a conspiracy involving Booth, Powell, Herold, Atzerodt, and the latter three were executed, and warrants were issued for top officials of the Confederacy who had fled the country.

So Booth, though a lone gunman, was not a lone conspirator. How high up did the decapitation conspiracy go?  In 1864, the Confederate Congress allocated five million dollars to finance covert actions by its secret service based in Canada. These operations included a plan to blow up the White House and one, which involved Booth, Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt to kidnap Lincoln. Further, the Military Commission found is a ciphered letter sent to Booth on October 13, 1864, asking whether Booth’s “friends would be set to work as directed,” but, it did not identify the task. So we do not know if Booth was authorized to upgrade the kidnap plot to an assassination plot, or if he recast on his own volition.

Historic research over the decades has provided intriguing clues, such as cash withdrawals from a Montreal bank account just prior to the assassination, but not conclusive proof of the involvement of Confederate intelligence officers. What is clear is that the assassination of Lincoln and attempts to assassinate Seward and Johnson, were part of a decapitation plot aimed at creating chaos in Washington D.C.

Please tune in to my video chat on the Booth conspiracy at 5 PM, Tuesday. April 16. You can participate in the Q&A via the incredible Shindig platform

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Vulnerability of Loner Theories

Lets not assume that all high-profile crimes are solved, even if authorities say they are. Nor should we assume that "loners" are necessarily alone.  See the televised conversation I had on April 7th in the Newseum in Washington D.C. with Shelby Coffee.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bizarre Pursuit of Amanda Knox: Injustice Italian Style

  Yesterday the Court of Cassation, Italy's of highest court of appeal, overturned the acquittal of Amanda Knox. The comely Knox was a 20 year old American exchange student in Perugia when her British flat-mate Meredith Kercher was murdered in 2007. Initially, she was convicted on the basis of demonstrably flawed DNA evidence but then acquitted after the appeal court found that the charges against her were “not corroborated by any objective element of evidence.” As I show in The Annals of Unsolved Crime, there was not a scintilla of evidence that placed her at the murder scene. Nor was there a witness. The case proceeded from a wild theory of prosecutor Giuliano Mignini that she was a “she devil”. The same prosecutor had previously made a fool of himself in the s-called “Monster of Florence” case by blaming a non-existent satanic cult for the suicide of a Perugian doctor,and was now trying to redeem himself by spinning another Satanic cult crime.

To be sure. Amanda Knox, under unrelenting interrogation without a lawyer, had given a false statement, which she later fully repudiated. Making a false statement is not a rare phenomenon. Especially when the accused are denied lawyers. Brandon Garrett, a distinguished professor at the University of Virginia Law School, examined 250 cases of people convicted of crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit. No fewer than forty of these exonerated individuals had given a false confession to crimes they did not commit. The lesson Italy needs to learn is that interrogation without Miranda rights and adequate legal representation leads to false admissions. The absurdity in the Amanda Knox case is that the Italian prosecutors are now getting another chance to perpetuate their original miscarriage of justice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Death of Boris Berezovsky

On March 23, 2013, Boris Berezovsky, the once powerful Russian oligarch who helped bring Vladimir Put to power, was found dead in home in Ascot, England, an as yet "unexplained death," according to British authorities. 
  Some seven years earlier, on January 23, 2006,  Berezovsky had been the toast of London, or Londongrad as he called it, holding  his 60th black-tie birthday party at Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's birthplace. In the center of the room was an ice sculpture representing St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, coated with mounds of belugi caviar. At one table was Alexander Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi, and Akhmed Zakayev. They all had been born in the former Soviet Union and they had all been in prison, and, under Berezovsky's aegis, they would  engage in covert intelligence operations in Russia. Britain, and Spain.  Berezovsky's stated goal was to overthrow the Putin regime, explaining in a 2007 interview with The Guardian,"It isn't possible to change this [Putin] regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure." Asked by the reporter if he was effectively fomenting a revolution, he said: "You are absolutely correct." Ten months later, these men, and Berezovsky's most private office, would be exposed to the rare radioactive isotope, Polonium-210, that had been smuggled into London.  Despite a surfeit of speculation, there is no satisfactory explanation how the Polonium 210, which can be used as a trigger in an early stage nuclear weapon, got to London.  For my take on this mystery, based on my extensive interviews in Moscow and London, see "The Case of The Radioactive Corpse" in my book The Annals of Unsolved Crimes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Perils of Confirmation Bias

In writing my new book The Annals of Unsolved Crime, I learned that even the most well-intentioned investigations are vulnerable to what social scientists call “confirmation bias.” This phenomenon helps explains why criminal investigators tend more readily to accept evidence that confirms their initial working hypothesis and hold in abeyance evidence that undermines it. While nowadays neuroscientists are actually able to observe such cognitive dissonance at work inside the brain with MRI scans, it has been long understood by philosophers. Francis Bacon summed it up eloquently four centuries ago when he wrote in Novum Organum that “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion . . . draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects.” Such confirmation bias limits even the most exhaustive investigations backed by all the resources of a powerful government, as I found in my re-examinations of inquiries into the Anthrax attack on America, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the JFK assassination. It also accounts for why in my view some of history’s most intriguing mysteries remain unsolved.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Brilliant Invention of the Golden Globes

If the Golden Globes infomercial did not exist, NBC might have had to invent it to compete with ABC’s Oscar Awards. Fortunately, for NBC, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), an otherwise obscure group, had invented this award-ceremony in 1944 during a free lunch for its members in the 20th Century Fox commissary. Although its dozen or so "members" were mainly war refugees in LA. The German occupation of their homelands had made most of them correspondents without a country, but they loved movies. , Twentieth-Century Fox’s ingenious studio head Darryl F. Zanuck instantly saw that this ragtag group offered another highly-valued product for Hollywood: awards for studio movies. Since the Academy of Arts & Sciences had passed over his studio's “Song Of Bernadette” for the Oscar in 1943, why not accept the "Best Picture" award-- as well as Best Director" and Best Actress-- from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association? So, with a little largesse from the studios, another annual Award ceremony-- and opportunity for placement of the ultimate product, movie stars-- was born.

In short order,the Hollywood Foreign Press Association came up with a slew of other awards that appealed to studio chiefs, such as "Best Film for Promoting International Good Will," "Best Film Promoting International Understanding," "Best Non-Professional Acting," "Hollywood Citizen Award," "Ambassador of Good Will," and a special award for "Furthering the Influence of the Screen" (which went to the Hindustani version of Disney's Bambi.) With them, it managed to promote free dinners for its members at celebrity hangouts including Ciro's, the Coconut Grove and the polo lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

For a while, it was run by Swedish twin brothers; Gustav and Bertil Unger, who were tap dancers. Gustave wore his monocle in his right eye, Bertil in his left, and one consideration in picking winners was who they could get to show up.

But despite the fun, the enterprising group only began to make real money when Ted Turner elected to televise the Golden Globe in the 1980s. Since few stars could resist the ego gratification that came with an award, they provided free talent. The show was taken over by NBC in 1996, which paid the HFPA roughly $3 million a year for the broadcast rights.

Nowadays it is of no matter that the 82 members who vote the awards are mostly free-lance writers and photographers with day jobs or that they have little, if any, connection with the Hollywood community. As the Hollywood Reporter observed "The studios couldn't care less whether the awards are decided by isolated Benedictine monks in the Himalayas or angels on high, at least not since the Globes have evolved into a tremendous marketing tool." As such, it offer scripted speeches by stars, promotional clips from movies, and nostalgic eulogies to some 20 million viewers. And by this time the value of public self-congratulation has become so inculcated in the Hollywood culture that one producer complained to me, "These ceremonies have taken over our social life. Almost every week we get into our formal gear, push through a gauntlet of paparazzi to get to some ballroom, give ourselves awards for everything from movies to lifetime achievements, and then applaud ourselves." Nevertheless, Hollywood’s star troopers suited up last night for yet another black-tie award ceremonies, NBC got its high ratings, the media could report, as if it was a news event that Social Network, won best movie, and Hollywood got yet another infomercial