28. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Warren Commission Report

At your instruction I have today reviewed, within the limits of time, the Warren Report.2

My conclusions are as follows:

1. Overseas the report should do something to dilute the conspiracy theory of President Kennedy’s assassination. The vested interests in that theory, combined with overseas experience with political conspiracy, make it, I suspect, impossible to eliminate that view.

2. The handling of all aspects of the relations between the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Mexico with Oswald is correct. The report does, however, blow the fact that Oswald3 saw a named KGB agent at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City; and there is the flat statement on page 423 that: . . . “his commitment to Marxism and communism appears to be another important factor in his motivation.” Depending on Senator Goldwater’s decision, this statement may get some considerable attention at home; and it may be debated abroad.

3. The criticisms of the FBI and the Secret Service, and the more muted criticism of the Department of State, may get some attention abroad, although the major impact will be domestic.

4. It may well be that the major task for ourselves and the USIA will be to prevent the discussion and debate in the U.S. from projecting an image of excessive domestic disarray.

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5. With respect to the domestic scene, a good deal hinges, as I suggest, on Senator Goldwater’s decision about using this report in the campaign. Specifically, he could seize on these items at least:

a. The passage on Oswald’s motivation quoted above from page 423.

b. The role of the State Department. It would be easy to bypass the legal basis for the State Department actions in financing Oswald’s return and subsequently giving him a passport, thus exploiting a coarsened version of the story to reflect insensitivity to communism in the State Department. Although the dual failure of the “lookout file” procedure is a bit scandalous, it does not really bear on the tragedy. But critics will use it.

c. The extraordinary communication of Oswald with the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City could, evidently, be made the subject of doubt. It took a quite fine-grained analysis by the Commission to sort that one out.

d. The criticism of the FBI and the Secret Service is the most serious of the judgments rendered. Although Senator Goldwater may not be inclined, in principle, to attack the FBI, it is possible that he or the Republican Vice Presidential candidate4 may try to assign responsibility, directly or indirectly, to the then Attorney General.

6. The criticisms made of the local authorities in Dallas, notably in their handling of Oswald’s transfer and permitting Ruby’s5 access, and the criticisms of the press will be noted abroad; but the shock was largely absorbed in the widespread showing of the films of the critical four-days and the thoughtful observations of the Warren Commission on these matters, may be, on balance, a positive factor.

7. On the whole, the Warren Commission report, as Ernest Lindley noted, is up to the best Royal Commission standards. For those with open minds, it cannot help be a strengthening, rather than a weakening, factor both at home and on the world scene; although it will reopen in an authoritative way debates which have only thus far been contained because the Warren Commission Report was on its way.

8. My most important recommendation is that the White House issue a detailed, consolidated statement of changes in government practice in the relevant fields since the assassination, including responses [Page 81] to the Warren Commission recommendations. It is essential that this material not dribble out piecemeal, department by department.

9. I had a conversation in this vein with the USIA (Burnett Anderson). I said they should keep closely in touch with Jim Greenfield and, on my behalf, Ernest Lindley in following up. As the debate unfolds, issues will arise—almost certainly some issues we have not now anticipated. It will be important to maintain the closest possible liaison between the Department and USIA, as well as between the Department, Treasury, Justice, and the White House. We must be a united government in this matter.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, DIRCTR Subj. Files, 1963–69, Bx 6–29 63–69: Acc: #72A5121, Entry UD WW 257, Box 17, Government Agencies—White House, Warren Commission, Kennedy, 1964. Confidential. Sent through S/S. Printed from an uninitialed copy. Copies were sent to Lindley and Greenfield. Dizard’s and Wilson’s initials and Burnett Anderson’s name appear in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum.
  2. On November 29, 1963, President Johnson established a commission, chaired by then-Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Earl Warren, to investigate Kennedy’s November 22 assassination. The group was subsequently referred to as the Warren Commission and the report was the culmination of that investigation. (John D. Morris, “Johnson Names a 7-Man Panel to Investigate Assassination; Chief Justice Warren Heads It,” New York Times, November 30, 1963, p. 1) See also Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964).
  3. See footnote 4, Document 2.
  4. Goldwater selected Representative William E. Miller (R-New York), Chairman of the Republican National Committee, as his Vice Presidential running mate for the 1964 Presidential campaign on July 15. (“G.O.P. Chairman Picked for No. 2 Spot on Ticket,” New York Times, July 16, 1964, p. 1)
  5. See footnote 9, Document 4.