I saw this movie not too long ago. I was curious as to public opinion on the whole thing provided anyone's done any thinking on this. I only included a few excerpts from the relative national archive as the article is somewhat lengthy.
Studies in Intelligence - The Power of Disinformation
Garrison Opens His Investigation
The complex story begins in early February 1967, when the FBI and CIA learned about a striking development in New Orleans. Two years after the completion of the federal inquiry into President Kennedy’s death by the Warren Commission, the local district attorney, Jim Garrison, had opened his own investigation into the November 1963 assassination. Whatever Garrison was up to, he did not seem intent on involving the federal government. So both the Bureau and the CIA simply awaited the next development, believing, like most Americans, that no responsible prosecutor would dare reopen the case unless he truly had something.
On 17 February, the New Orleans States-Item revealed Garrison’s reinvestigation to the world and ignited a media firestorm. The first legal action, however, did not occur until 1 March 1967, when Garrison ostentatiously arrested an urbane local businessman named Clay Shaw and charged him with masterminding a plot that culminated in President Kennedy’s death. Both the Bureau and the CIA rushed to their respective files and ran name traces on Shaw, a man who had never been linked to the assassination despite Washington’s painstaking investigation. Insofar as the Agency was concerned, only one sliver of information was noteworthy. The businessman now charged with the crime of the century had once been a source for the CIA through its Domestic Contact Service (DCS).
None of this seemed to matter, least of all to the CIA, until the publisher of Garrison’s memoir thrust a copy into the hands of filmmaker Oliver Stone during an international film festival in Cuba. That chance encounter eventually led to the endorsement of Paese Sera’s disinformation by a major Hollywood film, JFK. In the movie, Garrison (portrayed by Kevin Costner) confronts Shaw (played by Tommy Lee Jones) with an Italian newspaper article exposing Shaw’s role as a CIA operative. The confrontation, of course, never occurred in real life; yet the scene captures a hidden historical truth. The epicenter of Garrison’s prosecution, and the wellspring for his ultimate theory of the assassination, was the DA’s belief in a fantasy published by a Communist-owned Italian newspaper.
According to one historian who admires Stone, the movie JFK probably “had a greater impact on public opinion than any other work of art in American history” save Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While that may be hyperbole, not many Hollywood films can claim to have generated new legislation. JFK ignited a public clamor for millions of pages of documents that had been “suppressed” as part of the government’s alleged massive cover-up.
In response, Congress passed a sweeping statute in 1992, the President John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act, which forced open all federal records relating to the assassination and an unexpected amount of state, local, and private records as well—including those of the former Orleans Parish district attorney. The law directed that these documents be catalogued and housed at the National Archives.
Oliver Stone likes to assign full credit for the legislation to his film, which is something of an exaggeration. The coincidental end of the Cold War also played a critical role in the enactment and implementation of the 1992 law. More disingenuously, Stone claims that while the records declassified by the statute have not produced a “smoking gun,” they have opened “a clear historical record of a cover-up taking place.”
In truth, one legacy of Stone’s JFK is an altogether ironic one. Far from validating the film’s hero, the new documents have finally lifted the lid on the disinformation that was at the core of Jim Garrison’s unrelenting probe. The declassified CIA records document that everything in the Paese Sera story was a lie, and, simultaneously, reveal the genuine nature and duration of Clay Shaw’s innocuous link to the CIA. These same records explain why the CIA never responded appropriately to the disinformation, as it had in Helms’s 1961 Senate testimony and would later do in swift response to such schemes in the 1980s. Finally, the personal files turned over by Garrison’s family underline the profound impact that one newspaper clipping had on a mendacious district attorney adept at manipulating the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s.
Max Holland is a Research Fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. His current book project—A Need to Know: Inside the Warren Commission—won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for 2001.