By Jacob Engels
“There wasn’t a thing we could have done to stop it” – so said former Kennedy Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine on his prosperous book tour and media blitz of 2010-2011 for his 2010 work titled The Kennedy Detail, an (extended list) NY Times best-seller which was also made into an Emmy-nominated Discovery Channel documentary and, rumor has it, will be made into a full length movie in 2014. The “it” Blaine is talking about is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, when the Secret Service lost a president for the first and only time in their officially-sanctioned watch (the other three presidents to die by the hand of assassins-Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley-did not have a White House Detail watching over them).
“All the advantages went to the shooter that day- we didn’t have a chance to do anything to prevent it”- so said fellow former Kennedy Secret Service agent Clint Hill during several even more prosperous book tours and multiple media blitzes for The Kennedy Detail (Hill wrote the Foreword and contributed), his own 2012 work Mrs. Kennedy and Me, a #1 NY Times best-seller, and yet another NY Times best-seller, 2013’s Five Days In November. All three books were co-written by Lisa McCubbin, a 48 year old journalist close to Gerald Blaine (she had once dated his son) and is now in a romantic relationship with the 81 year old Hill. We will leave it at that. Those statements by Blaine and Hill are compelling. They are thought-provoking. They appear authoritative. And they are dead wrong.
Let me back up a bit. I am not a conspiracy theorist. This past 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, while interesting on certain levels, bordered on overkill with the never ending barrage of internet articles, newspaper columns, television programs, and even movies in the theater. I would just as soon give it all a much needed rest. For the record, I join the majority of Americans in their disbelief that Lee Harvey Oswald (and, for that matter, his murderer Jack Ruby) acted totally alone with no assistance whatsoever. In fact, I even harbor much suspicion towards Kennedy’s successor, “Landslide” Lyndon Johnson (Roger Stone’s brilliant book The Man Who Killed Kennedy crystalized my thinking on the matter greatly). That said, all things being equal, I would just as soon see the country move on. Alas, it is time.
Well, that was the way I felt until very recently. Quite by accident (aren’t all good revelations born of these random acts and occurrences?), I came across the work of a gentleman by the name of Vincent Palamara, the author of Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy. If that title is daunting to you, as well, then you know how I initially felt, as well. Mr. Palamara’s book was incongruously placed in the Travel Section of my local bookstore (by accident or by design, we will never truly know, I suppose). The title and the design of the book seemed to call out to me; a true square peg in round hole, so to speak. Once I began reading, I could not put the book down. In fact, I had to sit down to finish reading several chapters before I purchased the book, took it home, and finished it in a couple days. The verdict? Blaine and Hill have some serious explaining to do. Simply put, President Kennedy could have and should have survived Dallas, either unscathed or, at the very least, only the victim of an assassination attempt a la President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.
The country would have been spared Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, and decades of doubt and Lord knows how many other crises, foibles and theories. Pretty bold conclusion, you say? Read the book. To summarize a bit: Contrary to popular mythology, it is the Secret Service, NOT the president, who is in charge of security. JFK’s two Secret Service Chiefs, U.E. Baughman and James Rowley (spanning careers in the Service from the 1920’s to the 1970’s between them), confirm this little known fact. Baughman conveyed this in his 1962 book Secret Service Chief, while Rowley testified under oath to the Warren Commission that “No President will tell the Secret Service what they can or cannot do”. Presidents Truman and (ironically) Johnson both said “The Secret Service was the only boss the President of the United States really had.” Indeed, an Associated Press story from November 15, 1963- a week before Kennedy’s death- stated: “The (Secret) Service can overrule even the President where his personal security is involved.”
Evidently with an eye toward distant history and posterity, none other than Clint Hill himself told the Sixth Floor Museum in a 2010 oral history: “He can tell you what he wants done and he can tell you certain things but that doesn’t mean you have to do it. What we used to do was always agree with the President and then we’d do what we felt was best anyway.” (During another Sixth Floor Museum televised appearance with both Hill and Blaine, co-author Lisa McCubbin mentioned that, during the writing of The Kennedy Detail, she would find things that contradicted what Blaine was telling her [no doubt Palamara’s prolific online writings]. Ultimately, she copped out, stating “he was there”…no, he wasn’t there in Dallas and what about these contradictions? Luckily for history (and honesty), Mr. Palamara documents the contradictions in spades) So, the onus is truly on the Secret Service agents themselves, NOT the dead president who cannot defend himself, for what transpired, security-wise, in Dallas that dreadful November day. As Truman would say, the buck truly does stop with the Secret Service.
This point becomes very important for one major reason: The Secret Service falsely blamed JFK for his own death after the assassination! No, he did not kill himself (surprised I never read that one before), but the president was not reckless with his own security to the level alleged in both Blaine and Hill’s works- the glad-handing JFK was fond of was no different than the kind that many other presidents have enjoyed thru the decades (and, notably, President Kennedy was NOT killed during at a crowded rope line but in his special limousine driven by a Secret Service agent on a motorcade route designed by Secret Service agents…and with security invoked by Secret Service agents).
You see, Blaine, Hill, and their brethren have adopted the blame-the-victim mantra for quite some time, even before their books were even passing thoughts in their long-retired brains. As Mr. Palamara deftly details in his book, this was an institutional cover-up of agency malfeasance and gross negligence (or perhaps worse) that actually has its genesis through the direct actions of one specific agent: Floyd Boring, second in command of the White House Detail and the planner of the Texas trip (from the agency’s perspective, at least). There is no doubt that Mr. Boring told Clint Hill (later LBJ’s #1 agent) and others not to ride on the rear of the presidential limousine right before the start of JFK’s ill-fated Texas tour…and there is also no doubt that the substance of these remarks was, at best, an exaggerated relay of presidential kindness (what Boring conveyed to the ARRB in 1996), or, at worst, a total fabrication with sinister connotations (what Palamara greatly alludes to in his book from many documented sources and former agent statements. Ironically, included in that mountain of evidence are the statements of Mr. Boring himself, who categorically denied that there was ANY truth to the allegation that JFK ever ordered the agents off his limousine!). If that wasn’t enough, President Kennedy was also blamed for the depletion of the motorcycle formation in Dallas (quantity and quality of outriders) that the HSCA deemed was “uniquely insecure”.
Again, through scrupulous documentation and testimony, Palamara has discovered that these were Secret Service decisions falsely blamed on the dead president. In addition, a Secret Service agent who drove the follow-up car that day in Dallas (and who believed there was a conspiracy, mind you), Sam Kinney, was adamant to Palamara that HE was solely responsible for the bubbletop’s removal from the presidential limousine and that JFK had nothing to do with this at all. I went to Palamara’s You Tube channel and the ghosts from the dead- deceased agents Kinney, Behn, Boring, and Lawton- confirm this and more. Chilling…and disturbing. But it gets even worse. Mr. Blaine writes, on page 74 of his book: “… the only way to have a chance at protecting the president against a shooter from a tall building would be to have agents posted on the back of the car.” Blaine later writes, on page 184: “None of the agents understood why he [JFK] was willing to be so reckless [by allegedly ordering the agents off his limousine].” Both statements are false. In what can only be termed a major discovery of epic proportions, Palamara discovered that multi-story buildings were guarded countless times before Dallas (but not, unfortunately, during the Dallas trip)! Yes, you read that correctly: during many prior motorcades during the life of President Kennedy, not just as an after-the-fact reaction to his murder, agents and/ or police and/ or the military manned and guarded multi-story buildings. Obviously, the implications are disturbing: why was this NOT done in Dallas? Even if one chooses to believe that Oswald was a lone-nut assassin acting alone, he would have been spotted and neutralized long before a shot was fired. Ironically, it was Mr. Blaine himself who was the lead advance agent for the President’s trip to Tampa, Florida, the major trip before Dallas. Want to know what kind of security JFK received (as compared to Dallas)? Here you go: As confirmed by Tampa motorcycle police officer Russell Groover and the Final Survey Report of Mr. Blaine himself (yep, it’s in writing), multi-story buildings were guarded during the motorcade. And, get this: this was the longest motorcade JFK ever was involved in…ever! Far longer and more involved than the one in Dallas.
So, they found the manpower and wherewithal to protect President Kennedy in this fashion, yet, during a far shorter route that, obviously, required much less manpower in comparison, NO BUILDINGS WERE GUARDED! Does that make sense…at all? To add insult to injury, Chief Inspector Michael Torina-who wrote the Secret Service’s own manual, for God’s sake- confirmed to both Palamara and in an obscure 1962 book that guarding buildings was a matter of routine protocol, as also confirmed by Chief U.E. Baughman and in several contemporary newspaper articles from 1961-1963 that Palamara, once again on his own, uncovered. Amazing.
The implications are, once again, mind-boggling:
President Kennedy was not guarded as he should have been.
What else happened in Tampa that did not happen (as it should have) in Dallas:
-agents on the rear of the limo (other than Clint Hill, briefly, 4 times before they got to Dealey Plaza. And, by Hill’s brief presence on the limousine, this further demonstrates that there was NO order from JFK not to be there);
-military aide in front seat between driver and agent in charge (McHugh was asked, for the first time in Dallas, not to ride there!);
-press photographers flatbed truck in front of limo (canceled at last minute at Love Field);
-fast speed of cars (slow in Dallas);
-ASAIC Boring on trip (SAIC Gerald Behn and his immediate assistant Boring always accompanied JFK in motorcades. A third-stringer, Kellerman, goes in their place);
-multiple motorcycles running next to JFK in a wedge formation (they did 11/18-11/22/63 [morning in Fort Worth]…until Dallas);
-White House Press Photographer Cecil Stoughton riding in follow-up car taking photos (he did 11/18-11/21/63…until they got to Dallas);
-Pierre Salinger on trip (Assistant Malcolm Kilduff makes his first trip on his own to Texas; Salinger said he missed only “one or two trips” with JFK…Texas was one of them!);
-Dr Burkley close to JFK (Burkley protested being placed far away from JFK in Dallas, for this was the only time, save in Rome, this ever happened to him);
-military and/ or police lining the streets and overpasses and facing the crowd.
If the agents were closer to JFK, the assassination either does not happen or is prevented; if the military aide was present, he would have been yet another important eye and ear witness (and in the line of fire, as well);
if the press- and still and motion photographers- would have been there, we would not need Abraham Zapruder’s grainy, inconclusive, amateur footage to tell us what happened (and they would have been professional eye and ear witnesses themselves);
if the cars were going faster, the shots were much less likely to have found their mark (or even to have been fired in the first place);
if the #1 or #2 agent would have been on the scene in Dallas, it would have been far less likely that some of the insubordination that occurred would have stood a chance of happening (such as when a shift leader who later became very close to LBJ, Emory Roberts, ordered a couple agents away from the limousine at Love Field and during the assassination itself [it was Palamara who discovered/ popularized the video of the agent’s perplexed reaction at the Dallas airport]);
if there would have been more motorcycles next to JFK in their standard wedge formation, not only would there (again) have been more professional eye and ear witnesses, more importantly, JFK would have been more covered from an assassin or assassins;
if the White House photographer would have been where he was allowed to be beforehand (in the follow-up car behind JFK’s limousine and, intermittently, on the rear of the limousine[JFK didn’t seem to mind that, either]), as with his cohorts in the flatbed truck, he would have been yet another professional eye and ear witness with a camera;
if Salinger would have been on the trip, it would have been far less likely that the printing of the exact motorcade route- and the changes made to it-would have escaped his experienced notice;
if Dr. Burkley would have been allowed to be closer to JFK as he wanted to be (and normally was), not only would we have had yet another experienced eye and ear witness, the doctor would have been able to provide quality care to a wounded president;
and if the military and police would have been lining the streets and facing the crowd, no organized plot or lone nut would have stood a chance.
“There wasn’t a thing we could have done to stop it”-are you kidding me? “All the advantages went to the shooter that day- we didn’t have a chance to do anything to prevent it”- unbelievable. Indeed, the buck stops with the Secret Service. Blaine and Hill are peddling prevarications for profit. Kudos to Vincent Palamara for exposing them for what they are, what they did, and what they should have done and did not do. President Kennedy deserved much better than he received from his “Kennedy Detail”…and so do we.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org