My father sent this book to me about a week ago. He heard an interview with the author (Edward T. Haslam) on the radio and thought it might be an intriguing read.
When it arrived, I wasn’t sure what to make of it and its long-winded subtitle. I thought it might just be some fringe ‘anti-vaxxer’ propaganda, and I was skeptical of whether or not I should even bother taking the time to read it. I skimmed over the bio of the author on the back and thought, “What would an advertising executive know about medicine, or JFK history for that matter?”
I decided to read it anyways and I must say that it ended up being a very interesting (and enjoyable) book. Part memoir, part history, and part mystery; I was surprised at how thorough and well-researched it was. Haslam grew up, went to school, and worked in New Orleans and has several personal connections and experiences that tie him to the cast of characters in the book. He’s been researching the subject matter for many years.
Despite the fact that the book deals with ‘conspiracy’ theories, Haslam is very honest and meticulous in the way he presents what he knows, what he’s learnt over the years, and what he still doesn’t know. When he speculates or makes guesses, he’s careful to emphasize that he is doing so. Due to the subject matter of the material (much of which is still classified), speculation is inevitable, but I found his theories to be compelling and plausible based on the evidence he presents.
I haven’t really read much about all of the different theories and mysteries surrounding the JFK assassination. My personal belief has always been that there are powerful people with lots of money in high places that are the ones truly ‘pulling on the strings’ to ensure that their profits and power are maintained. Although I’ve never really concerned myself with the details, I’ve suspected that there was always something more to the story than what the Warren Commission concluded.
What I was most surprised by, was the confluence of crazy events going on at the time in 1960’s New Orleans. I thought the subtitle sounded wacky at first but after reading the book, I realize now how Haslam and/or his editor(s) must have struggled to come with something even that short to try to explain all of the intertwined mysteries, characters, and events.
The book explains how the death of a prominent medical researcher in New Orleans is tied to a secret government program that rose out of the aftermath of administering Polio vaccines tainted with other primate viruses. Haslam details how these viruses most likely mutated to cause a spike in soft tissue cancers in the following decades. Medical experts realized that another vaccine needed to be created to try to correct this, but admitting to a botched Polio vaccine rollout that had potentially exposed the population to other cancer-causing viruses would have caused panic and immense political fallout. So, the government decided to set up a clandestine research operation in New Orleans to attempt to quietly develop a vaccine that could inoculate the masses against the viruses they were exposed to in the tainted Polio vaccines.
That’s one thread of the story. At the same time, the US government (and other ‘interests’, particularly organized crime figures and Cuban exiles) were hellbent on eliminating Fidel Castro. So, while one clandestine operation was trying to create a vaccine to inoculate people from cancer-causing viruses, yet another was using the same people and resources to weaponize it. Enter Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, Jack Ruby, Carlos Marcello, and a host of other characters that any JFK conspiracy buff is most likely familiar with. The surprising thing that Haslam shows is just how intertwined the debacle with the Polio vaccine was with clandestine (and rogue) efforts to assassinate Castro and JFK.
Oh, and a secret linear particle accelerator facility is involved. Anytime you have secret facilities dealing with exotic radiation-generating machines in large urban areas, you know it’ll be a good story!
So with that summary out of the way, here are a few more things I found interesting:
1) Cuba and Castro. Haslam touches on some aspects of this, but I was curious and read more about Batista and Castro on my own. I think it’s important for the reader to realize just how corrupt the US-backed Batista regime was. Batista had essentially turned Cuba into a giant brothel and casino operation hand-in-hand with organized crime, and the mob (as well as other American business interests) were making money hand over fist. When Castro came to power, he quickly closed the casinos and nationalized many of the American-owned operations. In my opinion, this—in addition to his alignment with the USSR—was what made him bitterly hated in the US, particularly among wealthy Americans and Cubans who lost their capital investments, and the mob who lost a very large source of income which they enjoyed with Batista by raiding wealth from and exploiting the poor Cuban people. JFK was sympathetic to the plight of the Cuban people, and highly critical of US support for the atrociously corrupt Batista regime. This undoubtedly made him many of the same enemies that Castro had, which might explain why elements that wanted Castro gone might also have wanted JFK gone too.
2) In a previous article I wrote, I mention the United Fruit Company (UFC). UFC was immensely powerful, and had direct influence on US foreign policy, especially in Central and South America. Allen Dulles was head of the CIA under Eisenhower, and his brother John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State. Both were on the payroll and major stockholders of UFC. Haslam mentions the CIA coup that overthrew democratically-elected President Árbenz of Guatemala on page 145. This is an example of the CIA essentially doing UFC’s bidding. Árbenz wanted to reclaim some of the land UFC controlled, so that it could be put to use to benefit the people of Guatemala. Rather than just seizing it, Guatemala purchased it from UFC. I found footnote 1 on page 167 to be an interesting (and somewhat comical) tidbit regarding this transaction. In it, Haslam points out that the purchase has always been portrayed in the US media as, “socialists nationalizing foreign-owned assets.” Guatemala had paid exactly what UFC declared the land to be worth for tax purposes. Of course, UFC had, “deliberately under-valued the undeveloped land to avoid paying taxes on it.” Basically, UFC shot themselves in the foot here trying to cheat on taxes, and they were bitter about it.
3) I found Chapter 8 really interesting, because I’ve written before about media, propaganda, and misrepresentations of socialism. This chapter talks about the Information Council of the Americas (INCA), which was essentially an anti-Communist propaganda mill. On page 184, Haslam mentions this:
In a perceptive article about INCA, archivist Arther Carpenter described anti-Communism as an ideology of convenience, which offered the ruling elite “a respectable way to discredit challenges to its power.”
This stuck out to me because I recently wrote an article about how a ‘think-tank’ in Idaho is using similar anti-Communist rhetoric to push agendas that really don’t have much of anything to do with ‘fighting Communism’, but rather, are about privatizing education and increasing profits for their members. This ‘red-baiting’ continues today.
4) Chapter 9 introduces the reader to Bernice Eddy, M.D., PhD, a bacteriologist at the National Institute of Health (NIH). She was tasked with safety-testing the new polio vaccine prior to its release. When the vaccine began to paralyze the monkeys she was testing it on, she tried to raise the alarm. Rather than acknowledging the problem, addressing it, and working to prevent a tragedy, her superiors were furious. She was reprimanded and her career was actively hindered. This follows a pattern I’ve noticed from my own experiences, and from others I’ve heard or read about. It’s the typical knee-jerk reaction of terrible management to squelch bad news and punish whistleblowers. Bad management (of which there seems to be an abundance of in business and government) is more worried about ‘managing perception’ and covering their own a** rather than dealing responsibly and intelligently with challenges and crises. It’s certainly a problem I’ve noticed in my time, and apparently it was one that existed in the 1960’s as well.
5) A theme that Haslam touches on is this crazy situation where no one really seemed able to account for all of the clandestine projects the CIA had going, and there was real concern that elements within it had effectively ‘gone rogue’. There was a lot of collusion with organized crime and Cuban dissidents to do ‘dirty work’, a lot of money missing from budgets, and a lot of people taking orders from the highest levels of government and the mob at the same time. Footnote 9 highlights the ultimate question: “Who is the government?” I wonder this often even today. Who’s actually pulling the strings? Who’s actually calling the shots?
6) I was struck by the comment Haslam recounts from his grade school teacher, Mrs. Ellis:
This is going to be your country soon, and you are the ones that are going to have to deal with these problems. You have the right to know what they did
7) The last paragraph on page 331 contains some sharp criticism from Haslam after he summarizes the absurd and insane nature of the activities detailed in the book. I was particularly drawn to the passage where he points out that these things were done, “In the name of freedom. With flag-waving allegiance to colors and slogans that mask a contempt for law.” I’m critical of the jingoism so prevalent today in the US—this perverted form of patriotism that is more about bullying and silencing those that wish to draw attention to problems that need to be fixed, and harassing whistleblowers and those who are trying to teach the lessons of our past so we don’t keep making the same mistakes in the future. Too often, the response to anyone who dares challenge the notion that the US is slipping or failing in some area, is to “gag ‘em with the flag” and attack their patriotism. Actually, in my opinion, it’s the people that stand up to that sort of misappropriation of patriotism that are the true patriots.
8) Finally, this last little note I have isn’t really that significant, but I did find it interesting that Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie were both involved with Civil Air Patrol (CAP), only because I too was active in that organization as a teenager.
↩︎ For an overview of the events that led to the rise of Castro, and the fall of Batista, see this Wikipedia article. Note the quotes from both Castro and JFK regarding the corrupting influence of American interests in Cuba, and how this led to mass anger and frustration among the poor population—and eventually to revolution.
I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.
↩︎ I read an article about Putin’s government a while back. It emphasized that in Putin’s Russia (and in many other former USSR countries in Eastern Europe), there is effectively no real division anymore between organized crime and the government. The corruption is so complete that the mafia is the government and the government is the mafia. I think we’d like to think that this could never be the case in the US, but the events detailed in Haslam’s book show that the US is just as prone to this sort of rampant corruption at the highest levels where criminals and intelligence agencies become one and the same.