This post refers to an exchange of letters in The Nation, entitled November 22, 1963: You Are There. Ordinarily I would simply link to it as above, but that simply brings you face-to-face with one of those hated subscriber firewalls. So instead, try clicking on this Google search link, then click on the link that appears. Don’t ask me why this manages to get you behind the firewall. I suspect this loophole will be closed when discovered.
I can’t remember the last time The Nation published such an extensive, heated, and entertaining exchange of letters as in its recent issue dated March 20.
The immediate cause of this flurry of anger is Max Holland’s article, The JFK Lawyers’ Conspiracy, an account of last November’s conference organized by the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC). Holland gives the reader a brisk historical tour through the landscape of JFK conspiracy theorizing, pointing out the curious prominence of lawyers among the ranks of the conspiracists.
But what really seems to have aroused the fury of the letter writers are two specific charges about KGB involvement in the JFK conspiracy industry:
- The KGB financially supported the research of Mark Lane, author of the 1966 best-selling book Rush to Judgment, and
- The KGB sponsored a disinformation campaign charging CIA complicity in Kennedy’s assassination. As part of this campaign, it may have planted a fraudulent story in the Roman newspaper, Paese Sera, which was later picked up by the North American media (including Montreal’s own Le Devoir) — and famously embraced by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.
I’ll deal with the first charge here, and come back to the second in a later post.
The charge that Mark Lane was the beneficiary of Moscow gold was first aired in the explosive 1999 book, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, co-written by Christopher Andrew and KGB-archivist-turned-defector, Vasilii Mitrokhin. They write:
Though it dared not take the risk of contacting Lane directly, the New York [KGB] residency sent him $1,500 dollars to help finance his research through the intermediary of a close friend whom Lane’s KGB file identifies only as a trusted contact …. The same intermediary provided 500 dollars to pay for a trip by Lane to Europe in 1964.
Who was that close friend? We may never know, since Lane denies everything in his letter responding to the article:
Neither the KGB nor any person or organization associated with it ever made any contribution to my work. [Andrew and Mitrokhin say there is no evidence to suggest that Lane was aware the funding came from a KGB source — PM] No one ever made a sizable contribution, with the exception of Corliss Lamont, who contributed enough for me to fly one time from New York to Dallas to interview eyewitnesses. The second-largest contribution was $50 given to me by Woody Allen.
Memories fade after 40 years, of course. But published alongside Lane’s letter was another by his close friend Ralph Schoenman, about whom I have written before. In a segment of the letter edited out by The Nation, but read out over the airwaves on February 26, Schoenman adds a significant detail to Lane’s account (even as he neglects to mention the Lamont donation):
Mr. Holland asserts that Mark Lane‘s Rush To Judgment was funded by the KGB. That book was written in my flat in London. The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation [of which Schoenman was executive director] brought Mark Lane to London [in 1964] and supported his work. The largest contribution that Mark Lane or the Foundation ever received for these efforts was $42 from Woody Allen. [Emphasis added.]
(On the radio show, Cloak and Dagger — click here if you really want to listen to it — Schoenman read out the unedited version of the letter.)
There is no doubt that a close collaborative relationship existed between Lane, Schoenman, and Bertrand Russell, Schoenman’s employer. Evidence of this can be found, for instance, in a handwritten letter Lane sent to Russell on the occasion of his birthday, expressing heartfelt gratitude for his "support." (The letter, and many others on the subject, can be found in the Bertrand Russell Archives at McMaster University.)
My debt, in addition to the general one is of course personal as well. My work in the exposure of the fraudulent Warren report is beginning to secure some recognition…. But I shall not forget — how could I — that when no one else was concerned and there was no other support — your encouragement was decisive.
But the real key to understanding their close working relationship is an obscure little organization known as the British Who Killed Kennedy? Committee (WKKC). As they say, a little history is in order …
On 9 May 1964, Bertrand Russell wrote Mark Lane a letter after reading one of his articles in the National Guardian. Lane responded a week later, telling Russell that he would be in London in June to meet him, and that he would share his evidence concerning the assassination with him at that time. Russell immediately went to work writing letters to his many high profile friends and acquaintances, including Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper, Arnold Toynbee, Malcolm Muggeridge, and many others.
Mr. Lane’s evidence is so startling and so impressive [Russell wrote] that I feel it of great importance that a British Committee should be formed for the purpose of making known the material he has uncovered and his further findings…. I am asking you to join a Committee which would correspond to the Committee in existence in the United States called the Citizens‘ Committee of Enquiry [sic] into the Death of the President.
Some, like Trevor-Roper, were willing to lend their names to Lane’s (and now Russell’s) cause — though Trevor-Roper himself would later have reason to regret it. Others, such as Muggeridge and Toynbee, refused from the beginning. But the fact remains that the WKKC was organized explicitly to support Mark Lane’s research, and it raised money specifically for this purpose. Schoenman was appointed the WKKC’s director.
Writing on 15 August 1964, Schoenman asked for input from Lane on an upcoming conference organized by the WKKC, apparently in anticipation of the publication of the Warren Report. Lane was to provide specific advice on the questions to be asked the ballistics and medical experts who were to appear at the conference. Schoenman also explained in his letter that he was in the midst of fund-raising:
We are making a concerted effort to raise the funds for the Conference and a dozen letters have gone out to all the possible money bags. [emphasis added]
If only one thing is clear from this 1964 correspondence, it is that Lane’s claim never to have received any "sizable contribution" to his "work" is difficult to sustain. Furthermore, Lane, who is usually not shy about threatening lawsuits, has to date taken no action against Christopher Andrew over his book’s allegations.
A postscript: In his letter to The Nation, Lane writes that he has "proof" that the CIA fabricated this idea of KGB funding, and invites readers to e-mail him for more details. Intrigued, I took him up on his offer. He responded by saying that he was at work on a longer article on the subject and would send it out to everyone who asked in a "few days." It’s now been a week and a half. I’m not holding my breath.