The JFK 100


Phony Secret Service Agents


Secret Service agents impersonated in Dealey Plaza?

 

Oliver Stone's JFK alleges that conspirators impersonated Secret Service agents in the moments following John F. Kennedy's assassination.

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) incorporates statements made by Dallas police officer Joe Smith into his scenario:

 

JIM (VOICE OVER)
Patrolman Joe Smith rushed into the parking lot behind the fence. He smelled gunpowder.

FLASHBACK TO: the picket fence area where, with his gun drawn, Smith rushes across to a man standing by a car who reacts quickly, producing credentials. He is one of the hoboes. There's a strange moment when the camera moves from Smith's eyes to the man's fingernails.

SMITH (V. O.)
. . . the character produces credentials from his pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. So I accepted that and let him go and continued our search. But I regretted it, 'cause this guy looked like an auto mechanic. He had on a sports shirt and pants, but he had dirty fingernails. Afterwards it didn't ring true, but at the time we were so pressed for time.

JIM (VOICE OVER)
Yet all Secret Servicemen in Dallas that day are accounted for. None were on foot in Dealey Plaza before or after the shooting, till Dallas Secret Service Chief Forrest Sorrels returned at 12:55. . . .(1)

 

Oliver Stone is correct when he asserts that, so far as is known, no Secret Service agents were stationed in Dealey Plaza before or immediately after the assassination; however, there are several possible explanations for Officer Smith's encounter, and others like it, that do not require the existence of a conspiracy.

Author Gus Russo writes:

 

Secret Service agent Mike Howard had been in charge of security for the Fort Worth leg of the JFK trip. As he told me in 1993, there was coincidentally a "grassy knoll" on the way to the Ft. Worth Airport. These kinds of topography were clear security risks, says Howard, who adds, "We placed two deputies there. This is routine. Sorrels [Forrest Sorrels, the Secret Service agent in charge of the Dallas motorcade] did the same thing in Dallas." Howard was told by the now deceased Sorrels that, like Howard, he had placed security people in all the obvious areas. Howard elaborated:

 

We deputized everybody we could get our hands on -- including agents from ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms], customs, border patrol, reserve police, deputy sheriffs, etc. The motorcade route in Dallas was crawling with these people, especially in Dealey Plaza and the overpass.

 

Howard adds that many of these security reinforcements were technically off-duty, and wouldn't appear on any "official" listing of posted officers. In addition, many of these agents had the standard ATF IDs, which were virtually identical to Secret Service cards, both being issued by the Treasury Department. Compounding the confusion is the fact that the ATF and Secret Service were often perceived as interchangeable in 1963. Frank Ellsworth, a Dallas ATF agent at the time of the assassination, told me, "In 1963, if you would have asked me if I was a Secret Service agent, I most likely would have answered yes -- our roles overlapped that much." Robert Gemberling, the FBI agent in Dallas who investigated Oswald after his arrest, told me that he remembers being told that two Customs Agents who worked at the Post Office building across Dealey Plaza were, in fact, spending their lunch break helping with security in the knoll area.(2)

 

In addition, Colonel Robert E. Jones, Operations Officer of the 112th Military Intelligence unit in November 1963, told the House Select Committee investigating the assassination in the late 1970s that the 112th had "a small force, perhaps between eight and twelve men," assisting the Secret Service in Dallas that day. It is likely that, if necessary, such individuals would have identified themselves as Secret Service officers.

In addition, one off-duty Army Intelligence agent rushed to Dealey Plaza after the shooting. FBI agent James Hosty writes:

 

I later learned that Agent [James] Powell . . . had been in downtown Dallas when the assassination occurred, doing some routine background checks at the Sheriff's Department across the street from the assassination site. When the call came over that shots may have come from the book depository building, Powell and about twenty sheriff's deputies dashed over to the building and volunteered their services in searching. Because Powell wasn't in a police uniform, he at first made people suspicious and was briefly detained by the police while they confirmed his identity. (3)

 

Researcher Chris Mills has suggested yet another possibility, discussed in an article at the Kennedy Assassination Home Page -- that the alleged Secret Service agent really was a Secret Service agent: agent Thomas Lemuel "Lem" Johns, who had leaped from the car following Vice-President Johnson's limousine and was momentarily stranded in Dealey Plaza.

Unfortunately, no definitive explanation is possible, as no one has ever come forward to identify himself as a candidate for a case of mistaken identity in Dealey Plaza. Nevertheless, it is only reasonable to insist that all innocent explanations be considered before one leaps to conclusions about conspiratorial goings-on in Dealey Plaza.

 

 

Copyright © 2001 by David Reitzes

 

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NOTES:

1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), pp. 166-67. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture. Joe Smith did not testify at the Clay Shaw trial (although he was deposed for the Warren Commission); the statements attributed to him in JFK are paraphrased from remarks he made to author Anthony Summers in 1978. (Anthony Summers, Conspiracy [New York: Paragon House, 1989], p. 50.)

2. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 473.

3. James P. Hosty, Jr., with Thomas Hosty, Assignment: Oswald, (New York: Arcade, 1996), p. 202.

 

 

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