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Watertown’s Dulles had connection into investigation of JFK assassination

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Less than a year after President John F. Kennedy was killed, Watertown native Allen Welsh Dulles was one of seven men who determined that a lone gunman assassinated the young, popular president in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 — 50 years ago today.

A week after that tragic day, President Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, asked Mr. Dulles to investigate the assassination as part of the Warren Commission. The seven-member committee also was tasked with delving into the killing of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24-year-old former Marine and high school dropout who was shot to death by Dallas nightclub owner Jack L. Ruby two days after Kennedy’s assassination.

Mr. Dulles, who was born in Watertown and spent his early childhood in the city, was a member of the Warren Commission because he had been the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Margaret S. Thompson, an associate professor of history and political science at Syracuse University.

Dulles was CIA director from 1953 to 1961, first under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and then under JFK, who dismissed him as the result of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in April 1961. Two years later, Mr. Dulles played a major role in directing the JFK assassination evidence to the Warren Commission, which was instructed to present its findings before Mr. Johnson ran for president in 1964.

The Warren Commission, headed by then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, released an 888-page report that determined Oswald had acted alone and shot Mr. Kennedy from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository building in Dealey Plaza.

Five decades later, conspiracy theorists still insist the Warren Commission got it wrong, or covered up who killed the president. The theories vary from an anti-Cuban faction to the CIA or the mob being involved. For different reasons, they all blamed President Kennedy for the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion.

While an Associated Press poll last April showed that 24 percent of Americans believe Oswald acted alone, 59 percent think multiple people were involved. Twenty-four percent, however, is the highest acted-alone figure since within the first month after the assassination.

Almost immediately after JFK’s death, it became known that Oswald had lived in the Soviet Union for more than two years.

Ms. Thompson said President Johnson probably thought Mr. Dulles’s CIA background and experience would be helpful in the investigation, adding that Mr. Dulles would be the person who could determine if an international plot were involved.

President Johnson, a Democrat, also wanted the Warren Commission to be a bipartisan effort, Ms. Thompson said. That’s when he turned to U.S. Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, who, like Mr. Dulles, was a Republican.

The Dulles-JFK connection, however, began before the investigation.

President Eisenhower tapped Mr. Dulles to become the first director in the CIA’s history, and the Watertown native played a crucial role in the Republican president’s Cold War national security policy, Ms. Thompson said. President Kennedy, a Democrat, kept Mr. Dulles as the CIA director for a year even though he was a holdover from the previous administration.

Some historians believe Mr. Dulles became a scapegoat for the Bay of Pigs, an American-backed invasion of Cuba that used Cuban exiles to try to oust communist leader Fidel Castro in 1961. The mission ended with many of the CIA-trained anti-Castro forces either killed or captured.

The Bay of Pigs was initiated under Eisenhower and was backed by the newly elected President Kennedy and some of his advisers, including Secretary of State Robert F. McNamara. Like his predecessor, JFK wanted to get rid of Castro.

But Ms. Thompson disagreed that Mr. Dulles was a scapegoat. It’s also only speculation that JFK planned to dismantle the CIA, as some historians have suggested. If he was going to do it, he died before putting the plan into motion, she said.

“We’ll never know of his intentions,” Ms. Thompson added.

After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy kept his close allies — Mr. McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, his national security adviser— in his administration. But, Ms. Thompson said, “Dulles was in the Republican family. and Kennedy had no personal loyalty to Dulles. It was easier to get rid of him.”

After his departure from the CIA, Mr. Dulles remained out of government until President Johnson appointed him to the Warren Commission. He died in 1969 at the age of 75.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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