|From the September-October, 1997 issue (Vol. 4 No. 6)|
Current events, most notably a past issue of Vanity Fair, and the upcoming release of Sy Hershs new book, extend an issue that I have dealt with in a talk I have done several times around the country in the last two years. It is entitled The Two Assassinations of John Kennedy. I call it that because there has been an ongoing campaign of character assassination ever since Kennedy was killed.
In the talk to date, Ive dealt primarily with the attacks on Kennedy from the left by Noam Chomsky and his henchman Alexander Cockburn which occurred at the time of the release of Oliver Stones JFK. But historically speaking, the attacks on the Kennedys, both Jack and Robert, have not come predominantly from the left. The attacks from the right have been much more numerous. And the attacks from that direction were always harsher and more personal in tone. As we shall see, that personal tone knows no limits. Through papers like the New York Times and Washington Post, the attacks extend into the Kennedys sex lives, a barrier that had not been crossed in post-war mainstream media to that time. To understand their longevity and vituperativeness, it is necessary to sketch in how they all began. In that way, the reader will be able to see that Hershs book, the Vanity Fair piece on Judith Exner, and an upcoming work by John Davis on Mary Meyer, are part of a continuum.
The Right and the Kennedys
There can be no doubt that the right hated the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. There is also little doubt that some who hated JFK had a role in covering up his death. One could use Secret Service agent Elmer Moore as an example. As revealed in Probe (Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 20-21), Moore told one Jim Gochenaur how he was in charge of the Dallas doctors testimony in the JFK case. One of his assignments as liaison for the Warren Commission seems to have been talking Dr. Malcolm Perry out of his original statement that the throat wound was one of entry, which would have indicated an assassin in front of Kennedy. But another thing Gochenaur related in his Church Committee interview was the tirade that Moore went into the longer he talked to him: how Kennedy was a pinko who was selling us out to the communists. This went on for hours. Gochenaur was actually frightened by the time Moore drove him home.
But there is another more insidious strain of the rightwing in America. These are the conservatives who sometimes disguise themselves as Democrats, as liberals, as internationalists. This group is typified by men like Averill Harriman, Henry Stimson, John Foster Dulles and the like. The common rubric used to catalog them is the Eastern Establishment. The Kennedy brothers were constantly at odds with them. In 1962, Bobby clashed with Dean Acheson during the missile crisis. Acheson wanted a surprise attack; Bobby rejected it saying his brother would not go down in history as another Tojo. In 1961, JFK disobeyed their advice at the Bay of Pigs and refused to add air support to the invasion. He was punished for this in Fortune magazine with an article by Time-Life employee Charles Murphy that blamed Kennedy for the failure of the plan. Kennedy stripped Murphy of his Air Force reserve status but Murphy wrote to Ed Lansdale that didnt matter; his loyalty was to Allen Dulles anyway. In 1963, Kennedy crossed the Rubicon and actually printed money out of the Treasury, bypassing that crowning jewel of Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Board. And as Donald Gibson has written, a member of this group, Jock Whitney, was the first to put out the cover story about that Krazy Kid Oswald on 11/22/63 (Probe Vol. 4 No.1).
Killing off the Legacy
In 1964, author Morris Bealle, a genuine conservative and critic of the Eastern Establishment, wrote a novel called Guns of the Regressive Right, depicting how that elite group had gotten rid of Kennedy. There certainly is a lot of evidence to substantiate that claim. There were few tears shed by most rightwing groups over Kennedys death. Five years later, they played hardball again. King and Bobby Kennedy were shot. One would think the coup was complete. The war was over.
That would be underestimating these people. They are in it for the long haul. The power elite realizes that, in a very real and pragmatic sense, assassination isnt enough. You have to cover it up afterwards, and then be ready to smother any legacy that might linger. The latter is quite important since assassination is futile if a mans ideas live on through others. This is why the CIAs Bill Harvey once contemplated getting rid of not only Castro, but his brother Raul and Che Guevara as well as part of single operation. That would have made a clean sweep of it. (In Americas case, one could argue that such an operation was conducted here, over a period of five years.)
The smothering effect afterward must hold, since the assassinated leader cannot be allowed to become a martyr or legend. To use a prominent example, in 1973, right after the CIA and ITT disposed of Salvador Allende and his Chilean government, the State Department announced (falsely) that the U. S. had nothing to do with the coup. Later on, one of the CIA agents involved in that operation stated that Allende had killed himself and his mistress in the presidential palace. This was another deception. But it did subliminally equate Allendes demise with the death of Adolf Hitler.
The latter tactic is quite prevalent in covert operations. The use of sex as a discrediting device is often used by the CIA and its allies. As John Newman noted in Oswald and the CIA, the Agency tried to discredit its own asset June Cobb in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. It did the same to Sylvia Duran, Cuban embassy worker in Mexico City who talked to Oswald or an impersonator in 1963. In Probe (Vol. 4 No. 4, p. 9) we have seen how journalist (and CIA-applicant) Hugh Aynesworth and the New York Herald Tribune tried to smear Mark Lane with compromising photographs. If one goes to New Orleans, one will still meet those who say that Jim Garrison indicted Clay Shaw because he was himself gay and jealous of Shaws position in the homosexual underworld. And we all know how the FBI tried to drive King to suicide by blackmailing him with clandestinely made sex tapes.
The Church Committee
What precipitated these posthumous and personal attacks on the Kennedys? Something happened in the seventies that necessitated the second assassination from the right i.e. the use of scandal to stamp out Kennedys reputation and legacy. That something was the Church Committee. Belated revelations about the CIAs role in Watergate, and later of the CIAs illegal domestic operations created a critical firestorm demanding a full-scale investigation of the CIA. The fallout from Watergate had produced large Democratic majorities in both houses of congress via the 1974 elections. This majority, combined with some of the moderate Republicans, managed to form special congressional committees. The committee in the Senate was headed by Idahos Frank Church. Other leading lights on that committee were Minnesotas Walter Mondale, Colorados Gary Hart, Tennessees Howard Baker, and Pennsylvanias Richard Schweiker.
As writers Kate Olmsted and Loch Johnson have shown, the Church Committee was obstructed by two of the CIAs most potent allies: the major media and friendly public figures. In the latter category, Olmsted especially highlights the deadly role of Henry Kissinger. But as Victor Marchetti revealed to me, there was also something else at work behind the scenes. In an interview in his sons office in 1993, Marchetti told me that he never really thought the Agency was in danger at that time. He stated that first, the CIA had infiltrated the staff of Churchs committee and, second, the Agency was intent on giving up documents only in certain areas. In Watergate terminology, it was a limited-hangout solution to the problem of controlling the damage.
The Escape Route
The issue that had ignited so much public interest in the hearings had been that of assassination. CIA Director Bill Colby very clearly drew the line that the CIA had never plotted such things domestically. Colbys admission was a brilliant tactical stroke that was not appreciated until much later. First, it put the focus on the plots against foreign leaders that could be explained as excesses of anti-communist zealotry (which is precisely what the drafters of Churchs report did). Second, all probes into the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK would be off-limits. The Church Committee would now concentrate on the performance of the intelligence community in investigating the death of JFK; not complicity in the assassination itself. This distinction was crucial. As Colby must have understood, the Agency and its allies could ride out exposure of plots against Marxists and villains like Castro, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. The exposure of domestic plots against political leaders would have been lethal.
Colbys gambit, plus the strictures put on the investigation as outlined by Marchetti above, enabled the intelligence community to ride out the storm. The path chosen for limited exposure was quite clever. The most documentation given up by the CIA was on the Castro assassination plots. Further, the Agency decided to give up many documents on both the employment of the Mafia to kill Fidel, and the AM/LASH plots, that is, the enlistment of a Cuban national close to Castro to try and kill him. Again, not enough credit has been given to the wisdom of these choices. In intelligence parlance, there is a familiar phrase: muddying the waters. This means that by confusing and confounding the listener with diverse and prolific amounts of information, the main point becomes obfuscated. Since none of the Mafia plots succeeded, one could claim they were ineffectual. The huge amount of publicity garnered by them could eventually be deflected onto the Mobs role in them and not the Agencys. The AM/LASH plots, exposed in even more copious documentation, could be used in a similar way. If Castro knew about these plots within his midst, couldnt he then claim turnabout and use the same tactics by employing a Communist in the U.S. to kill Kennedy? This, or a combination of the two, has been what suspect writers like Jean Davison and Jack Anderson have been foisting on the public for years.
The rest of this article can be found in The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease.
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