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Disappointment Over Tyler Cowen’s Take on the JFK Assassination


Anyone familiar with Tyler Cowen knows that he has been blessed with a brilliant and analytical mind. Such being the case, I was particularly interested in reading his Bloomberg article “How to Test Your Favorite Conspiracy Theory,” at least insofar as it related to the assassination of President John Kennedy. I wanted to see how Cowen applied his legendary analytical skills to that seminal event in U.S. history.

Alas, after reading the article, I was left with nothing but disappointment.

Mind you, the article wasn’t only about the JFK assassination. It also encompassed other subjects, like UFOs, the Malaysian Airliner crash, insider trading, baseball scandals, the moon walk, and Paul McCartney.

Nonetheless, Cowen’s comments on the JFK assassination were fascinating, revealing, and, well, disappointing.

Here is what he writes:

I am inclined to think (although not certain) that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone…. Another way to search for true conspiracies is to scour history for deathbed confessions. Did any Cuban or Soviet agents, shortly before dying, blurt out that they knew the true story of President John Kennedy’s assassination? As far as I know, these admissions are hard to come by. That’s another reason for not believing in most conspiracy theories.”

That is a fascinating — and revealing — insight into Cowen’s perspective on the JFK assassination. Notice that Cowen’s mindset leads to but two possibilities: Oswald did it alone. Or Oswald conspired with others.

Who would those “others” be? Why, Soviet or Cuban agents of course. That’s why Cowen refers to the absence of deathbed confessions from Soviet or Cuban agents. He is suggesting that if Oswald didn’t act alone, then his co-conspirators had to have been Soviet or Cuban communists.

Why is that? Cowen is alluding to the official story: Oswald was supposedly a devout communist, one who had traveled to Moscow, attempted to defect to the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), vowed to give the Reds all the information he had acquired as a U.S. Marine, returned to the United States with a Russian wife, distributed pamphlets in New Orleans for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and traveled to Mexico City, where he purportedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies shortly before the assassination.

Thus, all that obviously leads Cowen to conclude that there are but two possibilities: Oswald acted alone or Oswald conspired with the Reds to kill Kennedy. Since no deathbed confessions have popped up among Soviet and Cuban agents, Cowen tends toward the lone-nut theory.

What is disappointing is that Cowen apparently fails to consider a third possibility: that Oswald was entirely innocent — that is, that he didn’t kill Kennedy, either alone or in concert with anyone.

Let’s not forget, after all, that Oswald actually claimed to be innocent. Even more interesting, rather than simply saying, “I had nothing to do with this,” he went a critical step further: He alleged that he was being framed. That’s what he meant when he stated that he was a “patsy.”

Motive? Lone-nut theorists have long maintained that Oswald’s motive was to be a little man who killed a big man. But that motive is problematic, given that Oswald denied he committed the offense. If his motive had been to become a little man who killed a big man, he would have been bragging about how he killed Kennedy. He didn’t do that, which pretty much eviscerates the motive that lone-nut theorists have long ascribed to him.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Oswald really was innocent. That would mean that in the hours he was in custody, his mind began processing the distinct possibility that someone or some people were setting him up to take the fall for the assassination. That is, that he was being framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

Let’s take it a step further. If Oswald was telling the truth and if, in fact, he was being framed, then the assassination would have all the hallmarks of a good frame-up, especially if it was being carried out by people who specialized in both assassination and cover-up.

Were there any groups actually specializing in assassination and cover-up operating within the United States in November 1963?

Actually, there were. Not one organization but two: The CIA and the Mafia. In fact, it’s worth noting that, unbeknownst to Americans at the time, when Kennedy was assassinated, the CIA and the Mafia had entered into an assassination partnership to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Most Americans are familiar with the assassination and cover-up abilities of the Mafia. There have been no deathbed confessions, as far as I know, of people who murdered Jimmy Hoffa, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Mafia didn’t do it. Or consider the case of Johnny Roselli, who was the liaison between the Mafia and the CIA for their assassination partnership. After revealing a bit too much to congressional investigators who were re-investigating the Kennedy assassination in the 1970s, Roselli’s body parts popped up in separate containers floating in Miami Harbor. To my knowledge, nobody, including in the CIA and the Mafia, has ever issued a deathbed confession in the murder of Johnny Roselli, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Mafia-CIA assassination partnership didn’t do it.

Suppose I were to ask Tyler Cowen, “What’s your take on Saundra Spencer’s testimony before the ARRB in the 1990s.” My hunch is that he would respond, “Who is Saundra Spencer?” an answer that would reveal to me that Cowen hasn’t taken the time to examine the large amount of circumstantial evidence that assassination researchers have uncovered, especially since the 1990s, that points in the direction of a national-security state regime-change operation on November 22, 1963.

It would be virtually impossible to find a more credible witness than Saundra Spencer. She was a U.S. Navy petty officer who worked in the U.S. military’s top-secret photography lab in Washington, D.C. As such, she dealt with highly classified material and worked closely with the White House.

Spencer was summoned to testify before the ARRB in the 1990s. For 30 years, she had kept her involvement in the Kennedy case secret because she had been sworn to secrecy. During her testimony, she was shown the official autopsy photographs that are part of the JFK autopsy record. She examined them and stated directly and unequivocally that those photographs were not the ones she was asked to develop, on a top-secret basis, on the weekend of the assassination. The photographs she developed, she testified, showed a large exit-sized hole in the back of Kennedy’s head, which matched what the treating physicians in Dallas had attested. A large exit-sized wound in the back of the president’s head means a shot fired from the front. Oswald was in the rear.

As far as I know, no one has ever alleged that Spencer was a liar, an incompetent, or a person who, for whatever reason, wanted to pin the assassination on the U.S. national-security establishment. In fact, after she testified, no military or CIA official came forward to question her integrity or her competence.

Of course, one possible response to Spencer’s testimony is: “Let’s move on. Let’s just act like it didn’t happen.” But for people who have inquisitive minds, that’s just not a practical option. We need a rational explanation, especially because a false set of autopsy photographs points in the direction of a cover-up and a frame-up, which was precisely what Oswald was alleging.

Another fascinating aspect of this is with respect to foreign regime-change operations carried out by the U.S. national-security establishment. I have never heard of anyone referring to the CIA’s and Pentagon’s regime-change operations in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1960-2018), and Chile (1973) as “conspiracy theories.” As a matter of fact, there seems to be a rather ho-hum attitude toward those operations, notwithstanding the fact that a president or prime minister was being forcibly removed from office. This ho-hum attitude even extends to the CIA’s intention to assassinate Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, and Cuba’s unelected ruler, Fidel Castro (notwithstanding the fact that neither country ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so).

In fact, this ho-hum attitude has even extended to the CIA kidnapping-assassination of the commanding general of Chile’s armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider. It also has extended to the role that U.S. intelligence played in the execution of Americans Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi during the Chilean coup. I don’t know of anyone who has labeled these murders as “conspiracy theories.”

Yet, with the Kennedy assassination, many people have come to embrace the term, notwithstanding the fact that the CIA, as people later learned, was specifically advising its assets in the mainstream press to employ the term as a way to smear those who were starting to assert that the Kennedy assassination was a regime-change operation.

Why a domestic regime-change operation? Well, take the current anti-Russia brouhaha today and multiply it by about a 1000. That was the national-security state’s mindset against JFK in November 1963. That’s because, unbeknownst to Americans at the time, Kennedy and the U.S. national security establishment were at war with each other. In the eyes of the national-security establishment, what Kennedy was doing was far worse than what Mossadegh, Arbenz, Castro, and Allende did in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and Chile.

By the time he was assassinated, Kennedy had rejected the anti-Russia mindset that held the Pentagon and the CIA (and most of the nation) in their grip. Kennedy essentially declared war against the national-security establishment during his famous Peace Speech at American University in June 1963. He told the audience that from then on the United States and Russia would be friends and would maintain normal and friendly relations.

Later, he even suggested that the U.S. and Russia even work together on going to the moon, which meant sharing U.S. rocket technology with the communists. Kennedy also entered into secret personal negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to establish normal and friendly relations. He began pulling U.S. troops out of Vietnam. He came to the support of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, both of whom were considered by the U.S. national-security establishment, especially the FBI, to be fronts for a communist takeover of America.

Given that one of Tyler Cowen’s tests regarding conspiracy theories is whether there is a death-bed confession by a conspirator, I can’t help but wonder whether it would interest him to know that E. Howard Hunt, a Watergate conspirator, issued a near-death bed statement indicating that the JFK assassination was a regime-change operation. Or that David Morales, a CIA assassin, expressed to friends during a drunken moment that Kennedy was a traitor and said words to the effect, “We got the S.O.B.”

There is something important to keep in mind regarding confessions: They normally reflect guilt over having done something wrong. National-security officials who effect regime-change operations or who carry out assassinations do not think they are doing anything wrong. On the contrary, they are convinced that they are protecting “national security” when they carry out a regime-change operation or a national-security assassination.

The question naturally arises: Why are there still so many Americans who simply will not bring themselves to delve deeply into this murder and the ever-growing circumstantial evidence that points toward a domestic U.S. regime-change operation? Why do so many Americans passively accept those two choices: Oswald alone or Oswald with others without considering the third possibility — that former U.S. Marine Oswald was instead a secret U.S. intelligence operative who was set up to the take the fall in the Kennedy assassination?

I think there are two possible explanations: Fear and what I call the Inconceivable Doctrine.

Fear that this might well have been a domestic regime-change operation. After all, let’s assume it was. What then? Most Americans genuinely believe that the CIA, the Pentagon, and the NSA are necessary to America’s survival. I think that’s why they don’t object too vehemently to things like MKULTRA, kidnappings, coups, assassinations, torture, destruction of evidence, perjury, obstruction of justice, and the like. They figure, “Oh well, what’s done is done but we need the CIA, the Pentagon, and the NSA, and so let’s just move on.”

But if they were to conclude that the national-security state, in partnership with the Mafia, employed its assassination and cover-up skills to effect a domestic regime-change operation by assassinating a U.S. president (as compared to a foreign president) and then covering it up. What then do people say to themselves? Do they simply say: “Oh well, what’s done is done. Let’s move on because we need the CIA, the Pentagon, and the NSA”?

That’s when some of them resort to the Inconceivable Doctrine — the notion that it’s just inconceivable that the national-security establishment would effect a regime-change operation here at home. The idea is: Oh sure, the national-security establishment protects us from presidents and prime ministers in foreign countries who pose a threat to U.S. national security by assassinating them or forcibly removing them from power but it would never protect us from a U.S. president who, in the minds of the national-security establishment, posed a much greater threat to national security.

For more information, read:

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James K. Douglass
The Kennedy Autopsy by Jacob Hornberger
JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne
Regime Change: The JFK Assassination by Jacob G. Hornberger
The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State by Jacob Hornberger
CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files by Jefferson Morley

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.