Sunday, February 1, 2015

JFK Assassination Records NBR and Panama

Editors Note: I don't usually post articles by other people on this blog, and usually reserve such things for but this article and another Bill Simpich passed on to me deserve to be posted here - and I will do so with additional comments - and hope to receive more from others who are interested in this subject. You can read more of Bill Simpich's work including his breakthrough analysis of the official records of Oswald in Mexico - State Secrets at   Featured State Secret Preface  - Bill Kelly 

JFK Assassination Records - Not Belieced Relevant - NBR and Panama 

PANAMA CITY: 1964 Thelma King (above) was one of more than 30 person arrested here in connection with the race track assassination of President Jose Antonio Ramon. Miss King was identified as a pro-Communist and as a right-wing follower of former President Arnulfe Arias, who was also arrested. 

                           51 Years After Panama's Fight for Freedom, A Question Emerges

By Bill Simpich

    Fifty-one years ago, the people of Panama went into the streets in protest against the heavy hand of the colonial practices of the United States.  Many Panamanians died in that struggle known as the Martyr Days, but the spell was broken.  One of the Martyr Days leaders was a black woman assemblywoman named Thelma King.

    Just weeks before the Martyr Days, Thelma King was with CIA legend Jake Esterline on November 22, 1963.  When she heard that John F. Kennedy had been killed, she tore up her ticket to China and wrote a eulogy to the American president on the spot.

    Thirty years later, she was named by Esterline as someone who might have met with Lee Harvey Oswald in Cuba.

    A man high in the CIA leadership, Esterline was the task force chief for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.  A week before the attack, Esterline realized the attack was doomed to failure and turned in his resignation.  He returned only after anguished entreaties.  He was sorry that he did.   One would think that Esterline might be a credible witness.

    Thelma King died in the nineties, and she's a legend in Panama.  A room in the National Assembly is named after her.   So is the avenue from her home town to the canal.
    To my knowledge, no one ever confronted this Panamanian legislator with Esterline's question. Esterline died in 1999. The CIA refused to turn over the rest of Thelma King’s file to the Assassination Records Review Board in the nineties, saying that none of the documents in her file were relevant to the JFK assassination. 

     Not relevant?  This story explains what will be found in that file.

   Her full name is Thelma King Harrison.  She was born in 1921 into the only black family in her region of the Panama interior.   She became a lawyer.  By 1960 she was the only woman member of the National Assembly, representing the poor province of Cholon on the Caribbean side of the isthmus.  A nationalist, King was a conservative party member that accepted friends of Fidel.   Miami journalist Don Bohning described her as a puzzle, as she allied herself with communists but sent her kids to school in the States.

    She got involved in espionage by 1962, hoping to use all the tools available to free Panama from Uncle Sam and usher in a "dictatorship of love".   Her loyalty was to Panama, but she would talk to both sides to win freedom for her people.  This American photo from that era shows her face in the shadows.

    At the beginning of 1963, JFK issued an order that the Panamanian flag would fly alongside the US flag at all non-military sites in the Canal Zone.  The Americans and the ambassador were incensed.

    She received operational training from Cuban intelligence.  She was touted as an excellent agent.  

Her case officer was Rogelio Rodriguez Lopez at the Cuban embassy in Mexico in late 1963.  He would give her money for the local revolutionary group, known as the Vanguardia de Accion,   

Not relevant?

    On November 22, she was talking with CIA's Jake Esterline, a high-ranking officer with the pseudonym of Anthony Ponchay,  When she heard of Kennedy's death, she started to cry and praised JFK effusively.   She had been planning to leave for a year of study in China.  She took her plane tickets and ripped them up.  She said they would be of no more use.  She wrote a eulogy to JFK on the spot and handed it to Esterline.

    After JFK's death, the governor decided that it was better to not fly either flag at many of the locations.  The Zonians (Americans in Panama) were furious, and riots erupted.  When a Panamanian flag was damaged, the clashes escalated.

   Thelma King personally led crowds in the streets in protest against the Zonians' attacks. Many Panamanians died, although not in King's marches.  The Martyr Days led to freeing Panama from direct American rule.  (As journalist Eric Jackson points out, Panama remains trapped with a series of drone bases, Southern Command "forward operating location" bases, and a US-Panamanian Trade Promotion Agreement that forces the nation to accept intellectual property agreements with the United States that the rest of the world rejects.)

    A concerned Dick Helms handed documents to the State Department linking Thelma King with the Castro regime. There wasn't much more Helms could do.  Since June Cobb had left Castro's offices in 1961, the CIA had not managed to plant a US agent inside Castro's inner circle.  

Not relevant?

    Paul Bethel's American newsletter for the Citizens' Committee for a Free Cuba excoriated King for fomenting revolt in Panama.  Prior to the Castro takeover, Bethel had worked alongside CIA Miami station chief of operations David Morales at the American embassy in Cuba.  Other committee members, such as Claire Boothe Luce, had participated in a variety of actions designed to bring down the Castro government.  Bethel's colleague Morales has been scutinized for years, due to his purported confession of involvement in the death of JFK.

    In 1970, King was expelled from Panama for reasons that are still unclear.  During the period of her expulsion, King reported a plan to assassinate Vice President Spiro Agnew and kidnap the head of the CIA.   This would appear to be relevant to King's motivations to return home, and why she felt she had to help out the CIA again.

    She was ultimately forced to file suit in order to be allowed to return home.   She resumed her fight for Panamanian sovereignty until her death, a fight which continues in the wake of the departure of the US government in 1999.

    What is King's final legacy?   Can we learn anything more?  King is referred to in the CIA documents as HYSAGE-1. Unknown to King, Esterline claimed during the 1990s that she had met with Oswald, probably in Cuba.  Is it too late to ask her family that question?

    Did King ever meet with Oswald?  If not, was Esterline trying to smear her by tying her to Oswald and her Cuban connections?   The answers can probably be found in the highly relevant files that the CIA refused to provide.    

    One final question.  Why are people like Chelsea Manning criminally punished for providing relevant information, while no one to my knowledge has ever been criminally punished for refusing to provide relevant information?

- Bill Simpich

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