The Mystery of the Black Books
Warren Hinckle


"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you aren't being followed."



Somewhere back in the primordial ooze of the Garrison investigation there lingers a story that has never been told before. It is not an assassination story, it is primarily a mystery story, and it is not even a story about Garrison himself, although his interests at the time spurred on the events. There have been good reasons for the long silence of the participants, or victims, as the telling places certain people where they perhaps should not have been, and involves the violation, or alleged violation, of several laws of the land, among them those proscribing the unauthorized dealings by private citizens with the governments of unfriendly foreign powers. By now, though, Richard Nixon the Elder has left pecker tracks all over those previously clear ground rules, and one no longer knows if one is dealing with an old enemy or a new friend until one picks up the morning paper. So I will be indiscreet.

In the New Orleans summer of 1968, Bill Turner was chewing the conspiracy fat with Jim Garrison and enjoying a Southern bourbon without benefit of mint. Turner suggested that it would be nice to know what the Russians knew about the murder of John F. Kennedy. Assuming that they didn't do it, they doubtless had a pretty good idea who did.

The thought of the KGB's bulging files on the CIA lit Garrison up like the White House Christmas tree on opening night. But a frown browned out his enthusiasm. "Even if they'd cooperate," the DA said, "we could never make the approach from my office. The wolves out there would never stop howling if they caught us asking the time of day of the KGB."

Never mind that, said Turner, Ramparts would make the Russians an offer they couldn't refuse . . .

It was a week later. Turner was having coffee in a San Francisco beanery with a young man who had no name. He was the shady side of thirty-five, tall, tanned, sandy-haired, with high, raw cheekbones and polished turquoise eyes. He was not a professional mystery man, although he was mysterious about his profession, and it would be as accurate to say he had several names as none, because names to him were as paper plates, to be used and then discarded. His primary employment, in the year and a half that we had known him, was that of a contract combat pilot for the CIA. He flew a Douglas B-26 out of Miami on itinerant bombing raids against the Cuban coastline. His targets were usually pedestrian objects such as oil tanks, although once he made a pass over a Russian-built radar installation. He had also flown aerial reconnaissance missions over Cuba out of Central and South American airfields.

He had flown and fought in many other places in the world at the drop of a dollar. His disillusion with the CIA began when he worked for them in the Congo. "You can rescue nuns," the Agency had told him. He found himself shooting up supply boats instead. But he kept flying, partly for the money, which was good, partly because he was hooked on adventure, and the CIA was the big Connection.

It is testimony to the perverseness of his world that -- although he came to see himself as working for the bad guys, an employment he was loath to give up because he enjoyed the means if not the end -- his dangerous compulsion to simultaneously do something for the good guys was limited by his inability to find any. He had once tried an undercover assignment for the federal narcs, but their bumbling ways nearly got him killed. Given the paucity of angels, he latched onto Ramparts as a reasonable alternative to evil and a place where double agents were granted instant status as war heroes. As often as he was in the office, and visiting our homes, there remained a restive quality about him, a separateness, as if he were lonely out there in the cold and wanted companionship, yet didn't want to come all the way in.

We called him Hill. At least that was the name by which he was known to everyone on the paper, including one of the secretaries with whom he took up housekeeping between derrings-do. But he had a name for every day of the week. He was Bill Bridges when he worked in Miami, until, he said, he became too hot and the CIA decided to "kill off" Bridges by simulating a plane crash at sea, thus discouraging the spoil- sports in the FAA from inquiring further into the checkered history of Bridges' flight plans. He had several newspaper clippings reporting his own death, which he would exhibit with the eager shyness of someone showing you an appendix scar or bottled gallstone. He was also known as Jones, also as Montgomery, also as several other people. But by any name he was, as Damon Runyon said about those types who stand out among other types of their type, the "genuine item."

Hill loved adventure, and second only to that he loved talking about adventure. However, his exploits were made of far sterner stuff than imagination. A walking scrapbook, he showed Turner a news clipping of his latest CIA exploit, dated but a week before their coffee date. HAITI CALLS ON UN. TO HALT BOMBINGS the headline read. Two geriatric B-25's had flown over Port-au-Prince, dropped a few bombs which missed the Presidential Palace by several yards, and then landed some thirty Haitian exile commandos to the north at Cap-Haltien, who subsequently held a radio station for a few hours before they were chased into the hills by the Tonton Macoute.

It wasn't much of an air raid by Twelve O'Clock High standards, but Hill, who piloted one of the B-25's, explained why the CIA would want to bother bombing a broken-down dictator like Duvalier. It made a CIA-sort of sense. The scenario was for Haitian exiles, supplemented and directed by CIA freedom fighters from central casting, to overthrow old man Duvalier. That would get a good press, as everyone knew he was a miserable bastard. The Free Republic of Haiti would then accept as naturalized citizens those large numbers of displaced Cubans who had been giving the CIA such a headache by hanging around Miami. Thus stocked, this artificial trout pond of a republic would proceed to drive Castro to the wall, gradually knocking out Cuba's defenses by low-flying bomber attacks across the narrow windward passage separating the two islands, and the amphibious landing of teams of saboteurs and Fuller Brush salesmen of insurrection. With a little bit of luck, Castro would crack under the pressure, or be faced with no alternative but that of counterattacking Haiti. That would mean war in the Caribbean, and the United States could come to the defense of its new democratic neighbor Haiti, and thereby land the Marines in Cuba -- all on the up and up. It was not a bad plot, as evil plots go, and for all I know it's still in the CIA's Out Basket.

Hill was the man we tapped to send to the Russians.

Anyone who has seen a good spy movie knows how to get in touch with the KGB. All you do is go to a Russian Embassy and ask to see the Second Secretary, who is invariably the resident Soviet intelligence chief. (If you're looking in an American Embassy for the CIA, best try the Cultural Attache first.)

Anyway, that's what we did. And it worked.

There was, however, some hesitation before the fateful knock at the KGB door. Hill quite understandably gave thought to the damage possible to his CIA meal ticket, or his person, lest word get back to Langley, Virginia, that one of their pilots was fraternizing with the enemy. But the lure of rubbing noses with the KGB eventually overshadowed any cautionary reserves in his nature. When he said he was ready to go, we took extreme steps to insure that the man with no name would leave no trail should any untoward or unfortunate event occur while he was dealing with the enemy. We bought his airline ticket with cash, so it could not be traced back to Ramparts. We even shook him down for incriminating matchbook covers. When we were satisfied he could not be connected to any organization in America, save perhaps the CIA, he boarded a jet for Mexico City, on his way along the yellow brick road to see the wizard of espionage at the Russian Embassy. It had been agreed all around that the act of asking to borrow a cup of intelligence from the KGB had best take place in another country.

By the estimate of the Reader's Digest, the Russian Embassy in Mexico City is "one of the world's great sanctuaries of subversion." It has the appearance of a giant cuckoo clock that has been put under house arrest. A gray Victorian mansion bedecked with gingerbread cupolas, it is cut off from the outside world by grounds dotted with peach trees and pa- trolled by sentries with a do-not-touch look about them, who are in turn cut off from the street by an iron fence unsuitable for pole vaulting. The twenty-four-hour work of the Embassy is carried out behind shuttered windows to the sound of crickets at night, melting into the click and whir of camera shutters by day, as most of the handsome houses across the street on the Calzada de Tacubaya are apparently in the possession of camera bugs of various intelligence services who have made a hobby of photographing everyone including the milkman who approaches the Russian Embassy. Not to be outdone, the Russians also photograph everyone who comes through their main gate, and occasionally even photograph the hidden photographers across the street.

Hill walked chin high through the moat of cameras. Once inside, he asked to see someone who could get word back to Moscow. He was ushered to a monastic waiting room. A stocky, owl-eyed man with the look of a well-groomed card mechanic soon entered, blinking in a formal, quizzical manner which gave the impression that he only blinked during working hours.

The visitor introduced himself as the undercover emissary that he was and explained the peculiar circumstances of his mission. The Russian warily asked for the camera which hung around Hill's neck, and said he would return it when their conversation was completed. Hill got it back later, "in better working order than when I gave it to him."

The Russian and the young American without a name talked for two hours. Hill explained Garrison's theory of the assassination, and the Russian nodded on occasion at the mention of the CIA. Hill made his plea for "sanitized" information from the KGB files on Oswald and others.

"Our assumption is that you must have information about these matters that we do not," he said.

The Russian rose from his seat unblinking. He asked Hill where he was staying, and suggested he stick to his hotel and not do too much touring. "It may be necessary for you to stay in Mexico City for a few days."

Hill was followed when he left the Embassy for the hotel. "They used a tail on a tail," he said. "It was a very professional job."

When Hill went down to dinner that evening, a burly man in a rumpled suit sat down directly across from his table, making no pretense that he was doing anything but watching Hill. Hill sent him a complimentary vodka, and the big man smiled, displaying several gold teeth in a setting of black teeth.

The man was there again the second night. On the third day, Hill received a request to visit the Embassy.

The Russian was blinking again. He spoke in careful, circumventive, translated-from-the-Martian phrases, as if his every word were being broadcast that instant to a stadium full of hostile people. His caution was taken by Hill as some sort of a signal, because the Russian hardly said anything more than, "Don't call us, we'll call you."

"What you request is not impossible. But it is not necessary that it will happen. The only way that it could possibly occur is in a way that would be most unexpected, and untraceable to its source. Something might be left in your hands, for instance, by a visitor to your country. That is all for now."

The official smiled, extended his hand, and gave Hill his camera. "Do you like books?" he asked. Hill said that he did. The Russian gave him several books, "all about how the East and West could get along together." Hill reached in his knapsack. The only reading material he had was a Robert Crumb comic book, which he presented to the appreciative Second Secretary, who, expressing unfamiliarity with some of Crumb's idiom, in particular the phrase, "Gimmee some reds," said he would have it translated.

Hill was en route back to San Francisco when there occurred one of those bollixes that come from too much sucking on the snow cone of paranoia. He was about to go through customs in the crowded Los Angeles International Airport, one of the seven plastic wonders of the world, when he suddenly found himself staring into the bloodshot recesses of my own one good eye. Hill came up and gave me what I suppose was the password for his secret mission. He instantly assumed that my unexpected presence in the customs area was meant to head him off at the pass from some certain disaster that had befallen our comrades.

He repeated the password. I looked at him as if he were panhandling in Swahili. I snarled something nasty and incoherent to the effect that if he shaved his legs he might get a job in the chorus of the Nutcracker Suite. The atomic pile behind his turquoise eyes flared into critical mass, and he stepped back as if his toes had just dissolved before his eyes. He was gone before I could remember who he was, for if truth be told, I had forgotten -- so hung over and generally dissipated was I, an empty egg carton that had just been helped off the plane from Ireland, whence I had fled in a deep funk to drink my way through the apocalypse of turning thirty. I was twenty-nine when I left and a human junk heap when I returned, and could not even recognize the most unforgettable person I had ever met. But Hill knew none of that. Believing my catatonic hello to be a signal that we were all in the gravest peril, he went underground from his underground assignment. That began a carnival of pixilation, a lost weekend of paranoia. The Ramparts people assumed Hill's disappearance meant death, or a double-cross. Hill, seeing no report of our arrest under the Espionage Act in the papers, assumed the government was suppressing the news until they hunted him down. Each non-fact reinforced another non-fact, with me not speaking all the while lest the aftertaste of Guinness escape my mouth.

It was straightened out several hundred corkscrews later. But it was a Seconal letdown when we learned, upon Hill's belated surfacing, that all we could do was wait some more for some sign from the KGB that might or might not come.

The only concrete result of that traumatic mission to the Russian Embassy was an invitation for the editors of Ramparts to attend the Red Army Ball in Mexico City, which was graciously declined.

Sometime later, Jim Garrison took a long-distance call in his New Orleans office. The caller identified himself as the traveling representative of the Frontiers Publishing Company of Geneva. That firm had, the caller said, an important four- volume original work on the Kennedy assassination which was about to be published in Europe. Would Mr. Garrison be interested in seeing the manuscript? Yeah, sure, send it, Garrison said, hanging up. Another nut.

The United States mails deposited a fat package in the New Orleans District Attorney's office. It contained three thick volumes of manuscript, each bound in black.

When this manuscript later emerged in book form, its title was Farewell America. The author, according to the book jacket, was James Hepburn, a thirty-four-year-old writer, former acquaintance of Jacqueline Bouvier, and former student at the London School of Economics and the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.

Garrison took one look, and called Ramparts to say that the Miracle of Fatima had occurred. Instead of a lovely lady, the creator had sent down something to read.

The next day a courier arrived from New Orleans lugging a Xerox of the sign from the KGB. It was a heavy sign: a thousand-odd pages of flawless typescript, as if part of an IBM demonstration at a convention of old-maid office managers, or from the Pope. Book manuscripts normally have at the minimum a few peanut butter and jelly stains on them, not to mention hen scratchings and other placental alterations. No author since the dawn of movable type has got himself together enough to dam the babbling brook of creativity, settle the last word and position the final comma, and then had the time or the money to completely and perfectly retype his manuscript before sending it to the publishers, or they to the printers. This masterpiece of the touch system was patently the product of some boiler-plate rewrite bank in the basement of an intelligence factory.

The content of the manuscript confirmed the validity of that superficial assessment of its origin. Garrison was amazed that the unheard-of Geneva publishing outfit had as well developed and documented a conspiracy theory as Garrison's own -- with many of the same villains by name, and others of the same faces, but different aliases. The shock waves were equally as great at Ramparts. The mystery manuscript was as sprinkled with details as an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate jimmies. There were names and addresses, where relevant, about the clandestine operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. Much of the information was of the type that could only come from the CIA's own files or from the dossiers of a rival intelligence network. For instance, it was revealed that the CIA maintained a training center for saboteurs on 5aipan Island in the Marianas, and that the Agency had exactly 28 agents in Iceland, working out of two offices, one at the American Embassy in Reykjavik, the other at the US military base at Keflavik.

A Ramparts team of New Left researchers had been digging into the internal operations of the CIA for the better part of a year and had scavenged numerous scraps of available information, save whatever was tattooed on the inside of John McCone's belly button. A large part of the material in our files was unknown to the general press or public. But these manicured pages so inexplicably handed down from the mountain repeated, in a matter-of-fact manner, many of our zealously acquired CIA supersecrets -- and revealed many more, all of which subsequently checked out. Whoever James Hepburn was, he had reliable sources of information about the inner workings of American intelligence.

The poop on the CIA was plotted in with the subtlety of a Vincent Price movie. The book's text gasped for breath as it crawled through hills and valleys created by mountainous footnotes, which were as jam-packed as a lifeboat with whole file drawers full of classified data. The manuscript revealed the locations of secret CIA schools for sabotage; exposed CIA-owned newspapers, radio stations and publishing houses in Cyprus, Beirut, Aden, Jordan, Kenya and other countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East; named the CIA's clandestine commercial "covers" in the United States, and recorded the Agency's role as co-director of the Eisenhower Administration, and examined its links -- through Kermit Roosevelt in the fifties and John McCone in the sixties-to the oil industry. Among other epithets, the manuscript alleged that former "specialists" for the CIA's DCA (department of Covert Activity} were members of an assassination "team" at Dallas.

Similar working details were disclosed about the KGB, the assessments being quite favorable. "In the domain of pure intelligence, the KGB is superior to the CIA." This supported our belief that the manuscript had been typed on Russian typewriters fitted with American characters. Many sections of the book were non sequiturs which reminded me of Groucho Marx's line in Duck Soup: "A child of five would understand this. Send somebody to fetch a child of five." The gratuitous mention of a 1931 Paris detective story by an author who used the premonitory pseudonym "Oswald Dallas" made at least impish sense. But I couldn't figure the humor of numerous out-of-context references to Roy Cohn, the former boy witch hunter, whose selected quotations merited several vague footnotes with citations such as, "Roy Cohn, at the Stork Club in 1963."

Later, after we had gone scuba diving in the black waters of the manuscript's authorship, much of this strangeness was to be cleared up somewhat, as was the motivation behind a puzzling chapter alleging shocking Secret Service foul-ups which made the Dallas assassination almost a pushover. The critique amounted to a white paper on the deficiencies of the Secret Service, and was obviously prepared by someone very much on the Inside. There was a rather bitter attack on the competence of Kennedy White House aide Kenny O'Donnell, who supervised the security arrangements. The unsubstantiated attack made little sense as the mystery book went on to provide a lengthy analysis of the demonstrably superior security arrangements of other nations, particularly France and Russia, for protecting the lives of their chief executives. There was a puzzling hurrah for Daniel P. Moynihan, a professional thinker of moderate means, who so far as I knew had zero to do with guarding the President: "Only Daniel P. Moynihan, a former longshoreman, had some idea of such things."

The thesis of the mystery text was that of john F. Kennedy as the good guy-golden boy of American democracy, whose honest policies were so at odds with the power-mad and corrupt CIA and its billionaire oilmen kingmakers that he was accordingly snuffed. But by whom?

The three-volume manuscript was accompanied by a cryptic note: If we were interested in seeing the fourth volume, we should cable a law firm in Geneva, and arrangements would be made. An obvious deduction, Watson: The fourth volume would name the murderers.

We cabled. We waited. A week later Garrison telephoned: "You know that fourth volume? Well, it just walked in the door."

There was to be a further complication. The messenger who had arrived in New Orleans from Geneva did not have the final volume with him. We would have to send a representative to Geneva to inspect it in person.

At that, I began to wonder if this was a present from the KGB, or a booby trap from somebody else. Garrison immediately dispatched an emissary to Geneva to collect the tainted goods. Selected for this delicate task was Steve Jaffe, the peach fuzz side of twenty-five, who had already established a reputation as a professional photographer and was envied by other assassination sleuths because he had credentials from Garrison authorizing him a special investigator for the District Attorney's office, and was so registered in Baton Rouge.

In Geneva, Jaffe discovered that the office of Frontiers Publishing was a desk in a large Swiss law firm that specialized in representing Swiss banks. The most concrete information the law firm would provide was that Frontiers was a Liechtenstein corporation. The real headquarters, Jaffe was told, were in Paris. Jaffe went to Paris.

The Paris editorial offices of the elusive Frontiers were in the modern offices of a famous international law firm. Nobody was minding the store but lawyers. It was explained to Jaffe that important "financial interests" were behind the publishing of the book. At one point, the smarmy suggestion was dropped that the Kennedy family itself had underwritten part of the costs.

Jaffe had been asked to interview the author, James Hepburn, and question him about his sources.

The answer came from Paris: It is impossible to meet the author. The author is a "composite."

As my friend Tupper Saussy, the composer, once wrote, "I turned on the Today show and wished it were yesterday." Additional communications across the Atlantic weaved back and forth like carrier pigeons drunk on elderberries. Such facts or suppositions of fact as emerged made only one thing clear to me: we were shadowboxing with a high-level intelligence operation-although no longer necessarily the KGB. French intelligence was suddenly in the running; even the ubiquitous CIA became suspect.

Farewell America was published in Germany, with fanfare but without the missing final volume, and became a moderate best seller. The phony book was syndicated in Bild, Germany's largest daily newspaper, which is owned by Axel Springer, who is not exactly a raving Bolshevik. Why would Springer authenticate such a KGB plant? The inevitable suspicion arose that this might be a triple-decker CIA cake with Ian Fleming icing to somehow entrap Ramparts.

Further investigation revealed that Frontiers Publishing Company of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, had never published a book before, and had no apparent plans to publish anything else in the future. Farewell America was then published in France in a handsome edition by Frontiers. The review in L'Express was quoted on the book's jacket ". . . the most violent indictment ever written by a man about his country, out of love for that country." Not a bad notice for a composite.

Jaffe reported that he had tracked down the publisher of Frontiers. He identified him as one Michel. According to the curriculum vitae supplied to Jaffe, Michel had been the publisher of a French women's magazine, in the early sixties. Before that, he had been a combat officer in the French army in Indochina, had studied at Harvard for a time, and had attended the French Diplomatic Training School. Jaffe said that Michel was the key to the preparation of the mystery book and added his opinion, which he said was not totally unconfirmed by Michel, that the "Publisher" was highly placed in French intelligence.

Whoever he was, the "Publisher" knew his way around the Elysee Palace.

When Jaffe asked him for some authentication of the material in the book, Michel whisked him into the Elysee Palace and into the private office of the Director of the French Secret Service, Andre Ducret.

Ducret was most gracious to the young American. He said that the Secret Service of France had indeed provided certain information for parts of Farewell America. He gave Jaffe photographs and diagrams hand-drawn on his personal stationery supplementing the criticisms of the American Secret Service made in the book. Ducret also told Jaffe that he had knowledge of the weapon that had actually been used in the Kennedy assassination -- which was not the dime store rifle the Warren Commission said Oswald fired.

Jaffe asked the Secret Service head if there was any chance of getting a letter to General de Gaulle. Ducret said it was certainly possible, although he had no way of knowing if the General would have time to send an answer. affe gave Ducret a letter stating the gist of his mission, and inquiring into whatever clarification was possible on the role of the French Government in the publication of the book.

Ducret said he would personally take Jaffe's letter to General de Gaulle. He returned about fifteen minutes later and handed Jaffe De Gaulle's engraved card, with a personal note scribbled on it:

Je suis tres sensible a la
corifiance que vous m'exprimez

The head of the French Secret Service also told. Jaffe in so many words, just how important that he, too, thought both Jaffe's mission and Garrison's investigation were, and how France appreciated their efforts. Jaffe left the Elysee Palace, equally impressed and puzzled.

Michel indicated that the "documents" on which the book was based were locked up for safekeeping in a Liechtenstein bank vault. However, he said Jaffe was in luck as one of the sources, a French intelligence agent known as "Phillipe," was in town. Michel said that Phillipe had interviewed a member of the paramilitary sharpshooting team that had murdered Kennedy at Dealey Plaza. At midnight, Michel drove Jaffe to the Club Kama, a dingy Latin Quarter bar, to have a drink with the spook.

Phillipe spoke only in metaphor. Most of his metaphors were about the Hotel Luma in Mexico City, which he implied had -- in the assassination year of 1963 -- a "Cuban band," whose musicians had dangerous "instruments."

Then Michel said there was just one little thing more before we got to see the fourth volume with the yellow pages listing Kennedy's murderers. Frontiers was anxious to publish Farewell America in America-and wanted Ramparts to publish it, just as Axel Springer had been so kind to have done in Germany.

It seemed time either to retreat or send in reinforcements, so I bludgeoned Larry Bensky, the current victim on the sacrificial altar of the Ramparts Managing Editor's chair, into catching a night plane to Paris. Bensky was not all that happy about going, since he had been a founder of a Franco-American antiwar group during his previous residence as an editor of the Paris Review and had reason to think the French police would be watching him.

Bensky found Michel to be a very average-looking Frenchman, a chain smoker of Gitanes, a chain lover of women, with a strong taste for luxury, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pocket money, and many flashily dressed friends with nice apartments and no visible means of support. He was an expert in "pillow-talk intelligence," having been assigned by French intelligence, with its concern for industrial counterespionage, to infiltrate the social circles of the oil industry in New York and Texas by seducing the daughters of the petroleum magnates. "I learned English to fuck them," the Frenchman told Bensky.

The French intelligence agent came on as an orgy freak, or, more precisely, he came on as a combination self-voyeur and fetishist about being an orgy freak. He sat in Paris sidewalk cafes ostentatiously picking his teeth, and otherwise acting the part of Terry Thomas playing the stud. His conversation was that of an after-dinner speaker in a bordello catering to civil servants. He would preface intimate accounts of the sexual proclivities of prominent politicians with the phrase, "It is known in French intelligence that . . .", then proceed to the nitty gritty about several American politicians and their boyfriends.

Michel was in other ways the perfection of rottenness. He pulled off one of the meanest ploys in the book of dirty tricks: He deliberately got one of our men the clap. The victim was a Ramparts lad who had been standing by in Paris, another innocent New Leftie abroad. Michel apparently convinced his young victim that sexual intercourse was a prerequisite to commercial intercourse in Paris and that their discussions could best be held during nightly visitations to Paris whorehouses in which he was a stockholder. There our lad received a sexual mickey. Relying on the young American's pride not to cry uncle, the fiendish Michel stepped up the whoring pace, putting his negotiating partner at the disadvantage of extreme physical and psychological discomfort. Bensky arrived just in time to put a halt to this slow torture, which he learned about only by accident. The lad met him at the airport and on the way into Paris asked Bensky to wait for a minute in the cab while he ran up to a doctor's office to get a "vaccination." After the meter had ticked by twenty minutes, Bensky, figuring even Ramparts' expense accounts did not have that elasticity, paid off the driver and wandered upstairs. After several wrong numbers in doctors' offices, he found the innocent American, all blushing red, pale white, and de- pressed blue, sitting uncomfortably on a folding chair in a VD clinic. The embarrassed investigator confessed his plight, which was redundant in light of his surroundings. He perked up a bit when Bensky explained to him, Captain Ahab to Penrod, that his extended discomfort was not due to inexperience or bad luck but a trap of the devil, in all his cunning.

Benksy ducked Michel's efforts to lure him to the whorehouses, where he was certain a trap lay germinating for him, pleading a Benedictine vow of celibacy from a previous incarnation, and instead maneuvered the Frenchman into successive cat-and-mouse encounter sessions of drinking cognac in bistros of Bensky's choice. On the third night, he beat the Frenchman at the endurance game. As the sensuous intelligence agent wandered drunkenly around the bistro, having left his jacket on the chair, Bensky went through his pockets, discovering business cards and press cards in several identities, only a few of them in Michel's own name, and a British passport in yet another name.

Bensky dropped these identities on Michel in subsequent conversations, which caused the Frenchman to raise ever so slightly his egg-skin eyebrows and compliment the Managing Editor on Ramparts' "excellent sources" of information.

Back home, we at last developed a good hunch about who was dealing in the bridge game in which Ramparts was playing a dummy hand. The droopy fleur-de-lis of French intelligence overshadowed the cardboard publishing house of Frontiers, but that in itself was of little specific help in tracing the river of data in Farewell America to its source, because the French SDECE was so notoriously, and almost hilariously, riddled with KGB double agents that as a matter of course Frenchmen were offered vodka before wine at international spy gatherings.

There were also some noisy cross signals indicating that the book's brewmasters might be in the private sector of international espionage. A dandruff-collared crew of former French spies, tossed in the garbage when the rotten apple that had been French intelligence was drawn and quartered after World War II, had been hired en bloc by the French oil cartel. The pate of flab around their midsections was strengthened by the addition of Marseilles thugs and floating assassins to their number, creating a relatively sophisticated and mean chorus line of Harry Palmers in berets, ready to do whatever was necessary so that the Frenchies might gain a bigger share of the world oil lamp, Standard Oil be damned.

This was something by the way of cherries on the matzos, as the SDECE itself assumed as a prime part of its raison d'etre the protection and furtherance of French petroleum interests. (It remains an object of bar bets in Paris whether it was the SDECE proper or the freelance French oil agents who erased Enrico Mattei, the Italian oil magnate whose North African holdings encroached on French vital interests, and who conveniently perished in a plane crash near Milan in 1962 which had the suspicious markings of that other political plane crash of General Sikorski off Gibraltar in 1943, in which Winston Churchill was alleged to have pulled the fatal cotter pin.) At any rate, such types as these, who possessed sufficient rough magic to make the Moroccan leftist Ben Barka disappear from the Left Bank and from the face of the earth in 1965, had the financing if not the suavity (that apparently was Michel's function) to palm off Farewell America on the public libraries of the world. This was something they might wish to do inasmuch as the book contained between its hard covers considerable dirt on the American oil industry, including the not very nice suggestion that the kingpins of American petroleum got together to knock off the President of the United States.

It sounds mad, I know, but when you get into it, and down to it, all real madness takes place in some factual context. The French are not the only ones who have found other uses for old spies. Everywhere, former intelligence agents for hire constitute a black belt of overprivileged crud. What really goes on in the world is made all the more dreadfully complicated when one becomes aware of the existence of this private half-world on top, or rather beneath, that other half-world of officially sanitized clandestine intelligence work and subversion.

We never learned for certain whether Michel worked for the French intelligence, with or without its KGB brandy float, or for the Watergate division of French private intelligence, or, for that matter, for some other squad of Flying Dutchmen. Someone substantial was paying his whoring and typesetting bills. He admitted to being a plant but would not say who potted him. All his identities were phony. He had never been the publisher of a French magazine. But in his earnest efforts to get Ramparts to publish his thing Michel did clear up several of the minor mysteries about the black books. He said the extraordinary detail about the CIA had come from the files of the SDECE, which of course kept tabs on the competition. The information in the book about the KGB had come from the same source; he denied it came directly from the KGB. The nasty details about the American petroleum industry were the product of the same files and from Michel's own years of spying and snookering his way into the inner social circles of the filthy oil rich. He also explained the derivation of some of his most scarlet name-dropping. Michel's imagination took him to the heights of drugstore fiction. The nonplusing references to Roy Cohn, for instance, were explained as a simple matter of "friendship" -- Michel claimed to have become great buddies with Cohn while working the stud circuit in Eastern seaboard millionaire playgrounds. To hear the Frenchman tell the tale, he and Roy were something of a frogman team of cunnilingus experts who made many successful forays together in the dangerous waters off East Hampton; therefore, one nice guy to another, the spy put his friend's name in his book. (I later asked Cohn about this; he said he recalled no such person and that the whole story smacked of a left-wing lie.)

Michel also came clean that the name James Hepburn, the pseudoauthor of Farewell America, was of a metasexual derivation. James was the French J'aime, and Hepburn from the actress Audrey Hepburn, with whom Michel professed, without substantiation, to once having dated, and for whom he had kept a soft spot in his black heart, even though, he said, his affection was unreciprocated.

On the basis of this less than complete information, Ramparts purchased an option to publish Farewell America in America, paying for it with a postdated check drawn on a bank with which we no longer had an account. I had never bounced a check on an intelligence agency before and it seemed somehow a fair idea. If the truth be told, the cables I was sending Bensky urging him to hurry up and make haste so we could go to press with James Hepburn's exclusive were in that gray area between little white lies and big black lies. It was in for a dime, in for a dollar, and I couldn't see the harm in hanging tough and trying to find out just who had gone to all this expense and effort to bloody up the good name of the CIA and eminent American oilmen such as H. L. Hunt, the billionaire brown-bagger whom James Hepburn, the pseudoauthor, had defamed in terms I would be loath to repeat even about someone poorer than Hunt.

There being no Geneva Convention of publishing, I figured that if the culprits coughed up Volume Four, with the names and numbers of the players in the Dallas assassination bowl, and if we succeeded in pinning the goods on one intelligence agency as opposed to another, then we could screw James Hepburn and run the story with its proper by-line -- "Who Killed Kennedy, by the KGB." I thought that would make a terrific Ramparts cover.

Under prodding, the proprietorship of Frontiers Publishing came clean as to their most extraordinary source: the material on the internal foul-ups of the Secret Service -- detailed down to the number of bourbons a Secret Serviceman had had the night before and how many aspirins he took the morning after -- was hand delivered from the inner councils of the Kennedy family. The chapter was based on a private, unpublished and undistributed memorandum prepared for Attorney General Robert Kennedy after his brother's murder. Bobby had convened a select committee the day after the assassination, which was to conduct a secret investigation of the Secret Service, independent of the work of other federal agencies such as the FBI or the CIA.

For RFK's first thought had been that the person responsible for his brother's death was his old enemy, Jimmy Hoffa.

Michel said the committee's report had been written by Daniel Moynihan. It excoriated the Secret Service for organizational and functional deficiencies, but it also cleared Hoffa of any involvement in any plot. Once he was assured that his nemesis hadn't done it, Bobby apparently lost all interest in the investigation. He didn't even turn the report over to the Warren Commission, although it was far more critical of the Secret Service than the eventual Warren Report.

This memorandum had lain hidden somewhere in the file cabinets of Camelot ever since. Through "personal friendships" developed within the Kennedy inner circle -- Michel would not say with whom -- it had come to rest in the hands of French intelligence, which had made such expert use of it. Such was the root of the strangest one-liner in the inscrutable text of the espionage classic Farewell America: "Only Daniel Moynihan, a former longshoreman, had some idea of such things."

We were of course sworn to secrecy because of the "extreme sensitivity" of this confidence, a trust I violated in a flash by bracing Moynihan. At first he refused to talk. This was not wholly unreasonable of him, as a tart invitation to a liberal intellectual of the stripe of Daniel Moynihan from the Katzenjammer Kids of Ramparts would naturally raise suspicions of New Left entrapment. However, a second telephone call to his Cambridge home, in which the subject matter of the desired discussion was mentioned, brought him flying down to New York, where a Ramparts Face the Nation panel had hastily assembled.

Moynihan almost swallowed his bow tie when briefed on what we knew. He vehemently denied knowing the man known as Michel, or any French cockfighter, but he would not deny his secret mission for Bobby. He would not confirm it, either. He became fidgety and begged permission to use a telephone for some private calls. "I have to ask some people," he said. Twenty minutes later a slightly more composed Moynihan reappeared, announced that he had no intention of discussing this matter with us, and made a less than graceful exit. We presumed he was under homing instructions beamed from some transmitter still functioning in the ruins of Camelot.

That is everything there is to know about the mystery of the black books except who did it.

Bensky returned from the Paris talks with little more substantial than a fervent dislike for the other side. When pressed to the wall, Michel handed over the long-awaited "fourth volume," which consisted of one double-spaced page. Here is what it said:



The choice made by the people of the United States on November 5th, 1968, will have profound and far-reaching consequences for the life, liberty and happiness of the universe. The peoples of the earth are awaiting new decisions. The man of November 5th cannot escape the conflicts of the modern world. If he chooses to ignore them, he will only delay their consequences. If he is prepared to confront them, he can overcome them.

John and Robert Kennedy had the courage to meet these problems and break down the doors to the future. They were stopped by the frightened confederates of the traditions on which they infringed.

When John Fitzgerald Kennedy's head exploded, it was for some the signal for toasts. The funeral did not go unnoticed. One November morning the cannon boomed, the Panama Canal was closed, flags flew at half-mast, and even Andrei Gromyko wept. Adlai Stevenson declared that he would bear the sorrow of his death till the day of his own, and the Special Forces added a black band to their green berets. Almost five years passed, and another bullet shattered the brain and stopped the heart of another Kennedy who had taken up the fight.

There was another funeral. Once again the Green Berets formed the Honor Guard; once again the Stars and Stripes flew at half-mast. On an evening in June, Robert Kennedy joined his brother beneath the hill at Arlington, and those who pass by can bring them flowers.

The tombs are splendid, but the scores have not been settled.

Who killed them?

And why?"


It is perhaps indicative of the nature of the real knowledge of the Kennedy assassinations on the part of the authors of Farewell America that their manuscript finally ended on a question mark.

At that, the book remained chock-full of an odd lot of goodies. Stalemated in the attempt to determine to which I intelligence agency to award the by-line, I adopted a new tactic which, in retrospect, may have been counter-productive: I told the truth. Frontiers Publishing was informed via its Geneva, Paris and Vaduz, Liechtenstein, addresses that Ramparts would regretfully not publish its book as it would not tell us which brand name of espionage it represented. Michel replied, in something of a snit, that Frontiers would publish the book itself in America, as it had successfully done elsewhere. They proceeded to print a hard-cover, 418-page English-language edition of Farewell America in Belgium which was air-freighted to Canada, warehoused and prepared for distribution in America.

For reasons best known to Frontiers -- a publishing firm which, needless to say, has ceased to answer its telephones -- the book was never brought into the United States. I fear now that its failure to surface may have had something to do with my promise to Michel to "write about" the book when it was published in the United States. I meant that as a promise, not a threat, but it may have been interpreted otherwise.

The plot died lingering. A month after the events just described, Michel showed up in California. He telephoned Bill Turner, who had been Jaffe's contact man. Turner was getting ready to fly to New York, but offered to stop by Michel's hotel on the way to the airport. Hill -- our supersecret emissary -- was driving Turner to the airport, and he joined the meeting. The encounter was light on substantive conversation, but the next evening Michel called Hill, who had let it slip that he was staying in Sausalito, and said that he was leaving town but had "a present" for the gang at Ramparts. Typically, although the Frenchman was staying at the Fairmont Hotel, the present was in the hands of the bell captain of the St. Francis Hotel. From the bellboy Hill retrieved a can of 16-mm film. It was a print of the famous Zapruder film, at that time off-limits to the world at large and under lock and key in the vaults of the National Archives in Washington and at Life magazine, which had paid Zapruder a tidy sum for all the prints in existence.

Bensky volunteered the most articulate explanation of these strange goings-on. The Bensky Theory is the product of his tiptoeing through the intelligence poppy fields of Paris without getting dizzy from the fragrance. He believes Michel was working with a politicized wing of the French intelligence service which had become the last bastion of gainful employment for various supporters of the right-wing militarists who lost out to reality in the French Indochina and Algerian colonial wars. These types were all young-to-middle-aged rightist playboys of the intelligence world, grinning fascists with souped-up cars and a hand in the till of private business deals, of whom Michel was a specimen. A thinking cult among their number, anxious to develop some ploy that would appeal to De Gaulle, hit upon the black books to worm their way into favor. The General was of course very anti-American, but was known to have achieved something of a personal rapprochement with Jack Kennedy, whom he liked and whom he was convinced was the murder victim of a conspiracy within the United States. General de Gaulle was also extremely concerned about France's future sources of energy, which he saw at the mercy of the American and British petroleum cartels. Industrial counterespionage, both oil and nuclear, was an important function of French intelligence. The object of the black books, therefore, was to show De Gaulle that he was right in his views about the conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and at the same time create a scandal both in Europe and the United States by linking the hated American oilmen to the assassination. Neat, no?

There are differences of opinion about the Bensky Theory, but I will refrain. If that was the purpose of the black books, the perpetrators were at least partially successful. They managed to con the largest daily newspaper in Germany and newsmagazine in France into buying their poke, not to mention thousands of book buyers in both countries who were taken along for the ride. And although Farewell America has never been reviewed or written about in the United States, for reasons now familiar to the readers of this history, numerous copies of the book have somehow wormed their way into the public libraries and card catalogs of the nation, including the Library of Congress (Catalog Card Number 68-57391).

I do not know what happened to the shipment of books in Canada, except that six hundred of them ended up in Bill Turner's basement. Michel had asked him at their breakfast tete-a-tete if Turner would like "some copies" of the book. Turner said sure. Two months later he received a notice from a freight forwarder in San Francisco that they were holding something for him. It was a considerable poundage of Farewell America, sent via Montreal to Turner's San Rafael home. Turner refused to accept the skid of books, since there was a $282 shipping tag to be paid, and he did not feel like subsidizing a foreign government to that amount. He so notified Michel. Michel wired back telling him where to pick up money to pay the shipping cost. Following Michel's instructions, Hill went to a Swiss bank in San Francisco and got the money.

So the ex-FBI man keeps the only known extant stash of the black books next to his lawn mower. It is a slowly dwindling pile, as he is constantly bothered by requests to send copies through the mail. Most of these orders come from bookstores near college campuses, one shop apparently getting his address from another. He mails out a dozen or more copies each month, at $8.95 a pop. The Los Angeles Public Library bought five copies.


From If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade
(New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974), pp. 245-68


Back to the top

Back to Farewell America commentary menu

Back to main Farewell America menu

Back to JFK literature menu

Back to JFK menu


Search this site
    powered by FreeFind

Dave Reitzes home page