Garrison, when he was district attorney for Orleans Parish in Louisiana, prosecuted a New Orleans businessman named Clay Shaw for complicity in the assassination. Garrison believed that Shaw, among other people, were part of a plot by some elements of the Central Intelligence Agency (3) to kill the president to derail what was supposed to be Kennedy’s efforts to negotiate an end to the Cold War.
Testimony at the trial placed Shaw at a so-called “assassination party” attended by a number of right-wing zealots where the murder of President Kennedy was discussed. Some doubt exists that such a party ever took place. But, to make a long story short, after a trial that lasted a little more than a month, the jury took about an hour to find Shaw innocent.
Why did Garrison believe that the CIA was behind the assassination of President Kennedy? Journalist and historian Max Holland concluded (4), based on recently declassified documents, that the theory originated in an article in a left-leaning Italian newspaper Paese Sera that was published three days after Shaw was arrested.
“According to the afternoon daily, Clay Shaw was no mere international businessman. That profession was a facade for his involvement in ‘pseudo-commercial’ activities via the Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC), a trade-promotion group headquartered in Rome from 1958 to 1962. The defunct CMC had been ‘a creature of the CIA,’ according to Paese Sera, ‘set up as a cover for the transfer to Italy of CIA-FBI [sic] funds for illegal political-espionage activities.’ Revealingly, one of the CMC’s most nefarious acts, according to Paese Sera, was support for the ‘philo-fascists’ who had attempted to depose Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s.”
CIA Conspiracy Theory
The story was built around known facts, that anti-communist activists in Italy had been given support by the CIA, that Shaw had given information from his travels to the CIA’s Domestic Contact Service, though he was never a covert asset or an agent, that Shaw was also a board member of CMC, and that he had been charged with involvement in Kennedy’s assassination.
The story was picked up by the Soviet communist party newspaper Pravda and left-wing media in Greece and Canada.
Holland found that there was no link between the CIA and CMC nor did Shaw have any contact with the Agency after 1958. The original story in Paesa Sera was likely the result of a Soviet KGB dezinformatsiya operation that attempted to undermine the credibility of the CIA by linking it with the Kennedy assassination.
Oddly enough, the CIA conspiracy theory was never introduced during the trial, even though Garrison evidently believed in the connection since the Paese Sera story had come to light. Nevertheless, even though Garrison lost at trial, he achieved a victory of sorts by spreading the meme that the CIA had Kennedy killed for wanting to end the Cold War.
As with all conspiracy theories, the CIA-Kennedy Assassination theory persists because its adherents want to believe it because it fits a particular world-view.
Formula to Disprove Conspiracy Theories
The idea that the CIA or any other elaborate conspiracy would assassinate a sitting president in full public view is ludicrous on its face.
The CIA possessed the means to kill people and make it seem like a natural event without the fuss of a shooting. Indeed, one of the plots to kill Castro involved a poisoned cigar (5).
Kennedy’s various health problems, which the Agency may or may not have known about, would have provided a perfect cover.
Indeed, JFK’s particular sexual antics would have provided the means to remove him from the presidency without the messy course of a political assassination. Americans took a far dimmer view of marital infidelity in 1963.
Putting the final nail in the coffin, Oxford math professor David Grimes (6) has developed a formula that pretty much disproves all elaborate conspiracy theories. A conspiracy to kill President Kennedy as widespread as conspiracy theorists like Garrison believe would have unraveled decades ago.