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NONFICTION

PLAUSIBLE DENIAL: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? by Mark Lane (Thunder’s Mouth Press: $22.95; 416 pp.). The unlikelihood that a “magic bullet” could have struck President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally in three separate places; the eyewitness testimony of gunshots coming from a grassy knoll; the deaths, mostly by assassination and “accident,” of many connected with the investigation: The evidence against the Warren Commission’s “lone gunman” theory is now so voluminous that not even members of the commission itself--such as John Hart Ely--are sure that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. As director Oliver Stone (“JFK”) recently put it, “More people have claimed to see a live Elvis than claim to believe in the Warren Commission.”

In “Plausible Denial,” Mark Lane--the lawyer, former Kennedy campaign aide and writer whose 1966 book “Rush to Judgment” opened the floodgate for conspiracy theories--blames the news media for failing to give the revisionist theories much credence. In particular, he faults their failure to cover a 1985 trial where he used the testimony of CIA figures such as Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner to convince a Florida jury that ex-CIA operative E. Howard Hunt might have been involved in the assassination.

While Lane’s evidence for Hunt’s complicity is quite persuasive, his theorizing becomes more suspect when he moves beyond that trial in an attempt to implicate other U.S. government officials in the crime. He quotes a 1963 memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover, for example, reporting that government agents briefed “Mr. George Bush of the CIA” about the assassination. The CIA claims that the document refers to a George William Bush, but even if it did refer to our President, it hardly implicates him in a conspiracy. Ultimately, many of Lane’s theories--like Oliver Stone’s notion that Kennedy was assassinated by hawks who worried that he was about to end the Vietnam War--are motivated less by actual evidence than by a predisposition to believe in a nefarious Establishment. In short, there are more parallels between Elvis sightings and Kennedy conspiracy theories than either Lane or Stone may care to admit.

Where, then, can the genuinely curious reader turn in order to navigate this conspiratorial sea? Jim Marrs’ 1989 book “Crossfire” (Carroll & Graf) perhaps best summarizes the various theories, though it gives wildly improbable ones (e.g., the rifle in the umbrella) as much credence as the theory currently favored by most of the journalists who have been seriously following the investigations over the years: the possibility that Carlos Marcello--the Mafia boss of the American South, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a boss to both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby--had the President killed to fend off a legal proceeding that the Kennedys had brought against him.

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