Two Men In the Building Words & Music by Steve Gillette
In November of 1963 I was a pretty carefree young guy taking a year off from college and hitch-hiking around Europe. I had my guitar with me, I wrote my first songs and sang for people waiting in the long theater lines on the wide sidewalks of the Champs Elysée. A one-hundred franc coin was worth about a quarter and looked like a nickle so the tourists were generous.
My friend Ron and I stopped by to say hello to his girlfriend who had just arrived in Paris and was staying in a tiny place just off the Boulevard San Michelle near the Luxembourg Gardens. Someone knocked on the door and asked if we were Americans. The four of us went into his room next door to listen to the reports on the radio of the shooting in Dallas. Walter Cronkite had not yet made the official announcement that the president had died, so we were only told that he was in critical condition.
We walked back across the River Seine past the Notre Dame Cathedral and up the Rue Lafayette to our youth hostel. I said to Ron that we probably should not say anything of what we’d heard since it would cause a disturbance at a time when we would all need to get some sleep. But when we arrived we found twenty or so young people from many countries terribly shaken, some in tears. I remember thinking that something very central to my sense of the world had shifted. I suddenly felt grief-stricken and homesick.
Like many others I was not convinced by the Warren Report and the lone gunman story. I read the many articles that appeared and several of the books over the years. The evidence has slowly emerged, and much of the disinformation has been dispelled, and a process of closure has continued. Years later I awoke from a dream with a vision of two ‘men in suits’ standing in the Texas Book Depository, and two others in the bushes on the Grassy Knoll.
I realized that it was a dream image, not necessarily an accurate vision, but a way to get at my personal grief and my desire to reconcile the vicious aspects of statecraft with my naive assumptions about the world. I remember conversations with my dad where he was the one with the overview. As a lawyer and a navy pilot in World War II, he knew what people were capable of, but he was also patient with my idealism.
Seeking to know some deep answers can seem like an unhealthy obsession. And in the case of regicide, which to my still pretty adolescent thinking, this was -- those thoughts can be pretty dark. But knowing and naming the evil can bring a catharsis, a clearing of the smoke. The brimstone subsides and it’s possible to act and vote and write with more clarity and more optimism.
As to why a songwriter would delve so deeply into a single crime, it can be said to be three things; coming of age, coping with a complicated and possibly dangerous world, and processing knowledge that in becoming a song might communicate to others something of importance, something of transcendence.
Several people have commented that "Two Men In the Building" seems like two songs. The first half is about the assassination, much about organized crime, not so much about organized state crime. The second is about my relationship with my dad and the struggle for individuation in a hard world. In our conversations, I was usually the idealistic and ill informed one, he the voice of reason.
There are several other themes at work as well. By considering the macro and micro of empire, power, cruelty and deceit, one can get a sense of a dual or binocular clarity that may lead to acceptance, or a more measured response. Power, the powers that be, and all the struggles that accompany power is represented by the references to the Romans, the ruins at St. Germain Des Pres, and the contemporary symbols of Empire including Caesar's Palace; with all the connotations of Mafia power and their possible complicity in the death of president Kennedy. Everything I say in the song is something I believe to be true, although much more has come to light in the twenty years since I wrote it.
Oliver Stone's film JFK was based on New Orleans District Attorney William Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw, whom Garrison believed to be involved in the plot to kill the president. The character played by Donald Sutherland was based on Colonel Fletcher Prouty, who was a highly placed officer in the Pentagon. Two weeks before the assassination he was sent to Antarctica. The morning after the events in Dealey Plaza he saw the story on the front page of a newspaper in Christchurch, New Zealand. When he saw the open window of the Texas Book Depository, he says he knew the whole story. It was an off-the-shelf military coup.
Later, when he saw photos from the scene, he recognized the faces of several operatives he knew including Edward Lansdale, who had worked with David Atlee Phillips to depose Jacobo Árbenz, the president of Guatemala in 1954. Phillips was in charge of Western Hemisphere Operations under Richard Helms, head of CIA. Prouty went on to write many articles and a couple of books which are excellent resources. This interview is a good place to start.
When William Garrison began his preparation for the trial of Clay Shaw in 1967, it prompted the CIA to publish a document about how to deal with critics of the Warren Report. This message invoked the phrase 'conspiracy theory' for the first time in this context. It instructed readers to criticize such skeptics as disloyal Americans and dupes of the Russian KGB or Communists themselves.
In Chicago on November 2, 1963, Secret Service agents arrested a man named Thomas Arthur Vallee and two other men in a suspected plot to ambush the president’s motorcade. Like Oswald, Vallee was a former marine who had served at the secret base at Atsugi, Japan where the U-2 spy plane was housed. Both had been involved with anti-Castro Cuban groups and both had recently started work in a building overlooking the president’s route. The Warren Commission refused to hear testimony on that incident.
James W. Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is one of the most highly respected treatments of the assassination. Douglass concludes that Kennedy was murdered because among other things, he was working with Khrushchev to end the Cold War. He had refused to commit U.S. troops to attack Cuba after the failure of the ill-advised Bay of Pigs invasion. He had rejected the Joint Chiefs’ Operation Northwoods, a plan to conduct false flag attacks on Americans that would be blamed on Castro to justify military action.
He refused to reappoint General Lyman Lemnitzer as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He told US Marine commandant General David Shoup that he was taking the US out of Vietnam. He said after his reelection he was going to “break the CIA into 1,000 pieces.” All of this threatened the power and profit of the military/security complex and convinced them that he was soft on communism and a threat to US national security.
Peter Dale Scott took part in a very enlightening interview with Pacifica Radio in 1992. His book Deep Politics and the JFK Assassination from the University of California Press is one of the best. Among other very interesting details, he confirms that Kennedy’s last National Security Action Memorandum on Vietnam, which he signed on October 11, 1963, called for the implementation of a plan to withdraw a thousand troops by the end of that year, and continue to call back the bulk of them by the end of 1964. That memorandum was revoked by Johnson on November 23.
In his book The Kennedy Assassination Cover-up, Donald Gibson wrote: “The facts indicate that elements within and at the highest levels of the Establishment killed Kennedy because he was the popularly elected and increasingly successful enforcer of progress. They looked to a world in which diminished state power would leave them to dominate a global corporate system free only in the sense of lacking interference from democratic authority.”
He explains that at the end of the second world war, the International Monetary Fund was established ostensibly to help Europe rebuild. Along with the Marshall Plan this represented a tremendous expenditure and brought an infusion of new energy to the military and industrial establishment that had come together to fight and win the war.
At the end of the war, the U.S. was the preeminent world power. The generals and the heads of large companies and banks didn't just move to the country to raise chickens. On the contrary, they were ready to mobilize to continue the march toward further victories. What emerged was a vision of a one-world government which began to be the guiding inspiration to so many including the long list of heavy hitters who turned out to be resistant to the Kennedy vision of an American Camelot.
If you include Kennedy’s opposition to the oil depletion allowance and his backpedaling on our presence in Vietnam, you can see that by November of 1963, the corporate establishment and their minions in the CIA were at war with the presidency. The Kennedy brothers had many enemies in the world of spies and counter-spies.
One of the most virulent was William Harvey, a true loose canon in the memory of many who knew him. On his own authority, he sent a team of sharpshooters into Cuba at the height of the missile crises. One could guess his objective was to provoke an escalation of hostilities and bring about the military conflict that so many desired. What he and they, and no one else knew at the time, was that those missiles had already been armed and were under the control of individual commanders on site. Any attack could have resulted in a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland, possibly leading to an all-out nuclear war, and ‘mutually assured destruction.’
In November 1961, Harvey was put in charge of the top secret CIA operation to kill Castro by his boss and mentor, James Jesus Angleton, head of counterespionage at the agency. He quickly pushed aside Robert Maheu, the independent contractor the CIA had originally hired to run its murder racket in the Caribbean, and began working directly with Mafia ambassador at large, Johnny Rosselli.
“The two men had secret, martini-fueled rendezvous in the Miami area, where the CIA maintained its largest station, JM/WAVE, and operated a bustling network of paramilitary training bases as well as safe houses in the posh Coral Gables and Key Biscayne neighborhoods. Harvey provided Rosselli with vials of poison and stockpiles of guns to pass along to the Mafia’s hired killers in Cuba. Nothing ever came of the two men’s Cuba schemes, and Castro continued to thrive. But Harvey never lost faith in his Mafia partner.”
E. Howard Hunt, one of the Watergate burglars and long time ghost writer for Allen Dulles, admitted to his son that he had taken part in Harvey’s plot to kill Kennedy. Harvey and Angleton were deeply involved in strategies to assassinate Fidel Castro. Their effort was code named 'Operation Mongoose.' Bobby Kennedy was aware of the project and supported it. Later he expressed regret that he had helped create the teams that killed his brother. Harvey had enlisted David Morales and Frank Sturgis, both veterans of the Bay of Pigs. Hunt was wary of Harvey but was assured that the plot had the support of ‘the Old Man,’ Allen Dulles.
According to David Talbot’s book, The Devil’s Chessboard: “At the secret Miami meeting, Morales told Hunt that he had been recruited for an ‘off-the-board’ operation by Bill Harvey, with whom El Indio had worked closely on the ZR/Rifle project to kill Castro. The aim of this ‘off-the-board’ operation, it soon became clear, was to assassinate President Kennedy. Morales and Sturgis referred to the president’s planned demise as ‘the big event.’
“In his account of the meeting, Hunt presented Harvey and Morales as the key operational figures in the plot; Harvey did not attend the meeting but seemed to loom over it. Hunt suggested that Harvey was in charge of hiring the sharpshooters to kill Kennedy and transporting the weapons to Dallas. According to Hunt, the gunmen were likely recruited from the Corsican underworld. As Harvey once indicated, when it came to highly delicate assignments, working with Corsican gangsters was preferable because they were harder to trace back to the CIA than Italian or American Mafia hit men.”
Someone like Harvey could have acted on his own with his Cuban mercenaries and his Mafia contacts like Johnny Roselli, who was known to have been in Dallas on the day of the assassination. And he could have marshaled forces to accomplish the assassination even as he was in Rome on the 22nd of November. And this could be expected to force those at the top of the government to cover up his actions. But he wouldn’t have had the resources to create the back story for Oswald as a defector and a Cuban sympathizer. He wouldn’t have been able to create the visit by the second Oswald to the Russian Embassy in Mexico City. That had to have been done with the knowledge and aid of the head of the CIA office in Mexico City who was David Atlee Phillips.
Allen Dulles and Charles Cabell had been fired from the CIA and humiliated by JFK after they had lured him into the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Strategists within the Pentagon had predicted that the invasion was likely to fail, but these assessments were kept from the president. Dulles had lied to Kennedy as he had lied to Eisenhower about the way the Cuban people would welcome their liberation. He counted on the young president’s inexperience. Kennedy refused to escalate with U.S. troops when the invasion was routed, and was blamed for the failure. Dulles later admitted that he planned that “the realities of the situation would force the President to carry through to the end they wished.” Cabell’s brother Earl was the mayor of Dallas and chose the parade route and controlled the police presence on that fateful day in November.
In the summer of 1963, a man named George de Mohrenschildt befriended Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife Marina. According to David Talbot, he was directed to do that by the CIA’s Dallas field agent, J. Walton Moore. He spoke Russian with the couple and became Lee’s handler in Dallas. DeMohrenshildt was a colorful character, really a con man who strove to ingratiate himself with his connections at the Dallas Petroleum Club, “a hotbed of anti-Kennedy ferment, whose leading members, including oilmen Clint Murchison Sr., H. L. Hunt, and Sid Richardson, were tied to Dulles, Lyndon Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Petroleum Club also counted D. H. Byrd, the Texas School Book Depository owner, and Mayor Earle Cabell, among its regulars.”
According to Greg Poulgrain’s 2014 book, The Incubus of Intervention, “Allen Dulles had a long association with the de Mohrenschildt family, going back to 1920-21 when in Constantinople he negotiated with Baron Sergius Alexander von Mohrenschildt on behalf of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The Baron’s brother and business partner was George’s father. “The CIA, after all, is a creation of Wall Street and their interests have always been joined. The Agency was not formed to provide intelligence to US Presidents; that was a convenient myth used to cover its real purpose which was to serve the interests of investment bankers and the power elite.”
Amazingly, Allen Dulles was part of the American delegation to Versailles to help negotiate the Treaty in 1919. Both Allen Dulles and his older brother John Foster Dulles were partners in the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, which represented companies with interests all over the world; from United Fruit in Central America to the gold mines of Freeport Indonesia and, “was virtually the front desk for Standard Oil.” All those places where General Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated man ever to serve in the marines, complained that he had been ‘a high class muscle man for Big Business.’
George H. W. Bush was in Dallas on that November morning in1963. Richard Nixon was the fourth president present on that day, even though he and Bush both contended they didn't remember where they were. Each left before the fireworks.
LBJ and Hoover were old scotch drinking buddies. They lived across the street from each other in Alexandria, Virginia for fifteen years while Johnson was in the Senate. I don’t believe they planned the assassination, but the planners knew that as president, Johnson would shield them from any real investigation. Johnson was just one week away from being indicted in a bribery scandal when the bullets flew.
Johnson bulldozed Earl Warren’s objections to leading the commission by convincing him that Castro and the Russians might be implicated and that millions could die if the wrong conclusion were presented to the American people. It had to be the lone assassin. Warren, in tears, assented to the commission using his name.
The Commission was controlled from the outset to reach that conclusion. They had to rely on the FBI and the CIA for their information. Hoover made sure that the FBI confined its investigation to supporting the lone gunman premise. Dulles made sure that nothing was brought to the Warren Commission that revealed that Oswald was connected with CIA and Naval Intelligence. Also there was no revelation of the plots to kill Castro using the Mafia.
In order to preserve the official contention that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, members of the commission were already claiming that the bullet that struck the president in the head was fired from behind. But when it was discovered that one of the bullets allegedly fired from the window of the Book Depository struck a curb and injured a man standing nearby, the commission members realized that they had to account for all the non-lethal wounds to Kennedy and Governor John Connally, who rode in the front seat of the presidential limousine, with the one remaining bullet. This became the single-bullet theory.
Arlen Spector, who later became the senior senator from Pennsylvania, was a junior legal counsel for the Warren Commission. He was the one who proposed the now infamous ‘magic-bullet’ theory.
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, a forensic pathologist who testified before congressional committees and research panels on the assassination, was among the first to examine the Zapruder film. He gave a demonstration of the problems with the single bullet theory at a conference held at the Dallas Sixth Floor Museum on April 11, 2017. He explained the likely paths of the several bullets needed to account for all the injuries to Kennedy and Connally.
In his presentation, Dr. Wecht showed how the wound in Kennedy's back was inflicted from behind, but the wound in his throat was identified by the doctors at Parkland Hospital as an entry wound. Even if the two were the result of one bullet, the angle required for the bullet to connect the two wounds would have been impossible unless the president was learning forward as if tying his shoes, which he clearly was not.
Then it was further contended that the bullet had exited the president's throat and entered Governor Connally's right arm-pit, exited below his right nipple after breaking a rib and struck his wrist as he held his Stetson hat at shoulder level. This same bullet, they claim, shattered his right wrist and then continued downward into his thigh. The changes of direction necessary to cause these wounds are impossibilities.
It was also determined by examining frames of the film, that there is a time disparity of more than one and one-half seconds between the first bullet that hit Kennedy and the bullet or bullets that hit Connally. Oswald’s gun could not be fired more quickly than at two and one-half second intervals. That’s what would be needed to fire three times within six seconds. And that doesn’t allow for time to aim. It’s clear that there had to be another shooter.
Early on it was possible to obscure these finer distinctions of time and direction. It was claimed that Connally was turned at an angle which allowed the bullet to align, but this also has been seen to have been an obfuscation.
The pristine bullet which appeared on a stretcher at Parkland hospital has been carefully studied. For one bullet to have caused all the injuries, striking bone as it did, it's unlikely that this bullet would show no more damage than one fired into cotton or water. Of three bullets of the same type, none varied more than two grains from the average weight of 160 grains. The pristine bullet weighed 158.6 grains. Fragments weighing more than two grains were removed from Connally's wrist, and fragments of greater weight were left in his thigh. It's more likely that at least four bullets caused the five injuries described.
Other witnesses reported that a bullet hit the windshield of the limousine. And there is a photo of a crack in the windshield. It's been documented that the limousine was sent to the Ford factory in Detroit the week after the assassination where the windshield was replaced. Any bullets that didn't support the premise of the one gun firing from the sixth floor window would have been controlled by the investigators in the FBI or CIA. Paraffin tests conducted on Oswald while he was in custody were negative for his having fired a rifle.
Jack Ruby had a much larger role in the assassination than was acknowledged by the Warren Commission. Many witnesses said that he knew Oswald, and although no connection with organized crime was discovered in the Warren investigation, phone records in the days leading up to the assassination showed that he had contacted many known crime figures. It’s been speculated that Ruby was so central to the preparation and the execution of the assassination that he would have been exposed and probably executed if Oswald had lived to testify against him.
There is no question that John Kennedy had an idealized vision for America's role in the world. The Peace Corps is characteristic of his outlook. He wanted a fairer treatment for the people of Latin America as reflected in the principles of the Alliance for Progress, an ambitious proposal for land reform, which brought him into conflict with the oligarchs. He wanted peace with Russia and began to establish a dialog with Nikita Khrushchev. This came out of their negotiation to end the Cuban missile crisis.
The public wasn't told that Kennedy had agreed to remove American nuclear missiles from Turkey in a quid pro quo. He also agreed to leave Castro alone. Generals thought he was naive and soft on Communism, and that his policies would reduce their influence and the cash flow to the military and weapons industries. The Mafia felt betrayed and understandably resentful of Bobby Kennedy’s campaign to rid the nation of organized crime.
David Talbot provides this colorful account of the removal of the eight-pane window from the sniper’s nest in the Texas Book Depository soon after the event: “David Harold Byrd said he feared that souvenir hunters might steal Oswald’s so-called sniper’s perch from the book warehouse, but he displayed the infamous window in his own home like a trophy. Byrd’s name was woven through the turbulent politics of the Kennedy era. He was a crony of Lyndon Johnson and a cousin of Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia, a white supremacist and a leader of the rising conservative movement. He also belonged to the Suite 8-F Group, an association of right-wing Texas tycoons that took its name from the Lamar Hotel room in Houston where they would gather.
“The group included George Brown and Herman Brown of Brown & Root—a construction giant built on government contracts—and other military industrialists and oil moguls who had financed the rise of LBJ. The owner of the Texas Book Depository was closely associated with a number of passionate Kennedy adversaries, including Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief whose relentless quest for a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union caused the president to question the general’s sanity. LeMay bestowed a glowing Air Force commendation on Byrd in May 1963 for his role in founding the Civil Air Patrol, the military auxiliary group that counted a teen-aged Oswald among its cadets.”
Joan Mellen, a professor at Temple University and a respected author of several books on the assassination, has written in depth about Lee Harvey Oswald citing his participation in the 'false defector' program which sent him to Russia, a program created and fostered by James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counterintelligence. He was infiltrated into the "Fair Play for Cuba" organization to establish his back-story as a Communist sympathizer, and then placed in the Texas Book Depository five weeks before the fateful day. She uncovered many furtive details through impressive scholarship as she analyzed official documents and cryptic fragments of documents. She writes:
"The Agency that sponsored the assassination of President Kennedy has revealed itself in multiple ways, not least in exposing how it used Lee Oswald as its scapegoat and, indeed, as its “patsy.” It seems past the hour for coyness in naming that sponsor, and time to consider the political consequences of a government agency’s having murdered a President. I think it’s time to draw a line from the Kennedy assassination to the present historical moment where we have been faced with a systematic undermining of the US Constitution and an agenda demanding permanent war."
One of the House Committee on Assassinations investigators, Robert Groden said, “It might be too late for justice, but it’s never too late for the truth.”
Here is a link to a page with a bibliography of books on the assassination and related topics, as well as a list of videos.
Here is my video of "Two Men In the Building" using the version of the song from my Compass Rose CD, Texas & Tennessee.
Audio from my Compass Rose Music CD, Texas & Tennessee. Video by Steve
Another version of "Two Men In the Building" is available on our 2003 Appleseed CD, Fourtold, with Anne Hills, Michael Smith and Cindy Mangsen.
There is also sheet music of the song in the Steve Gillette Songbook.
Here are the lyrics and chords:
(They say that) Bobby was the problem, he was comin’ down too hard
On Hoffa and Marcello, Traficante and Giancana
They were angry with the President, they were taking him out
He was breakin’ his promise to get the boys back into Havana
New Orleans and Chicago brought the battle down to Dallas
They took the Teamster’s pension fund, they built the Caesar’s Palace
They had a good thing going and they weren’t gonna let it go without a fight
There were two men in the building, two more in the bushes on the right
By the time he’d come of age, my dad was flying transports
Into Pelelu and Kwajalein in the great Pacific conflict
Navigating in the dark, five thousand miles of ocean,
By stars I still haven’t seen
He’s been a judge and a sailor, a skier and a piano player,
And everything that a young man could ever want to be
He’s heard the wisdom and the lies and everything in between
And for the longest time not a word would pass between us
Experience and innocence impatient with each other
Two generations waiting, waiting for the heat to turn to light
And a long time to come before I could lay me down at night
Without the two men in the building, the two men in the bushes on the right.
© 1998, Compass Rose Music, BMI