Tim Weiner’s “history” of the CIA
I just finished listening on C-SPAN to Tim Weiner being interviewed by David Ignatius re his new book on the CIA. Weiner is remarkably misleading about the CIA’s record, especially in relation to the Kennedys. This is not surprising, however, since Weiner has been a favored reporter of the CIA’s for years now.
Weiner’s point he most wants to convey is that — far from being the “rogue elephant” that Frank Church called it — the CIA has always been ultraresponsive to Presidents. But that is provable untrue.
I’m shocked he would open with a quote from Richard Helms, and then return to him on the subject of Kennedy’s assassination, given Helms’ willingness to lie under oath (he was charged with perjury for denying the CIA’s role in the Chilean operations).
Let’s look at how “responsive” the CIA has been to the president over the years:
Truman wanted an information agency. The CIA essentially blackmailed itself into existence (see CIA officer Miles Copeland’s veiled account of this in his book “The Real CIA.”) So right off the bat, the CIA was doing something Truman didn’t want. After Kennedy’s assassination, Truman wrote a letter that was published in the Washington Post, in which he stated:
I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue-and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.
With all the nonsense put out by Communist propaganda … the last thing we needed was for the CIA to be seized upon as something akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people. …
But there are now some searching questions that need to be answered. I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field-and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.
We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.
The CIA was clearly not created to serve only the President. It was created to serve the interests of Wall Street, and if you follow their pattern of covert action around the globe, you’ll see who benefitted. The Guatemalan coup in 1954 benefitted the United Fruit Company. The Iranian coup in the early fifties benefitted the oil barons (access to oil was listed as the first explicit goal of the coup in the summary of that operation.) The CIA was created from the OSS, itself a creation not of the government so much as of Wall Street. The top officers all came from children of lawyers, bankers, and other money men. The OSS’s nickname was “Oh So Social” due to its high profile roster.
The CIA has often run an agenda counter to what the president wished. This is easy to document in the Kennedy administration – they were at odds at nearly every turn. But it wasn’t only the Kennedy adminstration that had difficulty with the CIA.
Under the Eisenhower administration, for example, Eisenhower was set to meet with Khrushchev to discuss a mutual reduction in arms. The CIA didn’t want to see any such accommodation. So in express defiance of Eisenhower’s request that no such flights be made, the CIA flew the U2 over the Soviet Union. As the “official” story goes, the Soviets shot it down. As people close to those events have said in print and elsewhere, there’s good evidence that the flight was deliberately sabotaged by the CIA so that it would crash over the Soviet Union, preventing a peace treaty. Even CIA director Allen Dulles stated the plane was not shot down. As Dulles testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 31, 1960:
“We believe that it was not shot down at its operating altitude of around 70,000 feet by the Russians. We believe that it was initially forced down to a much lower altitude by some as yet undetermined mechanical malfunction.” ? “It is obvious to us that the plane was not hit. If the plane had been hit by a ground-to-air missile, in our belief, it would have disintegrated.”
While Eisenhower later claimed responsibility for the overflight, the evidence is strong that he was surprised, and upset, that the CIA would risk upsetting the all-important peace conference. I believe that incident is part of the reason Eisenhower gave us that famous warning as he prepared to leave office:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
(Looks like we failed that call.)
I’m especially upset to hear Weiner repeat the old canard that RFK ordered the killing of Castro. RFK did NOT order the CIA to kill Castro. EVER. There is NO such tape. NO such testimony. The closest you get are comments made NOT under oath by Richard Helms, which he refused to confirm when finally skewered on this point UNDER oath. Helms had his deputy, Sam Halpern, run around and tell people this was so, even though Helms knew this to be false. It’s not clear if Halpern knew this to be false, it’s only clear (now, with released records and additional comments from all the intimates of RFK still alive) that RFK would never have approved any murder plot. As RFK said to Dick Goodwin, he’s the guy who tried to SAVE Castro.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA’s Bill Harvey sent 10 commando teams into Cuba with the goal of killing Castro. When RFK found out, he was as furious as anyone had ever seen him. He demanded Harvey stop and Harvey said he couldn’t call the teams back. RFK gave Harvey “five minutes” to explain what the hell he was thinking, doing this. Harvey tried to blame it on the Pentagon but RFK had already received believable assurances from the Pentagon that that was baloney. Five minutes later, with Harvey still talking, RFK walked. RFK then demanded the CIA fire Harvey. The ever compliant (not) CIA instead transferred Harvey to Rome to hide him from RFK, but Harvey returned stateside in 1963.
In fact, the accusation of RFK’s role in the Castro plots never even surfaced until the right wing and the CIA were both suffering severe scrutiny in the wake of the Watergate episode. The right wingers in the CIA wanted to use the occasion to smear Democrats as well, in the hopes of deterring a deeper investigation and possibly with the additional goal of deterring people from caring about who killed JFK and why.
Meanwhile, however, a document written by the CIA’s own Inspector General, not released until LONG after the Church and Pike committee investigations had already disappeared into history, asked and answered this question explicitly, asking, can the CIA claim it had executive authority for these plots, and answering its own question, “Not in this case”:
Can CIA state or imply that it was merely an instrument of policy?
Not in this case. While it is true that Phase Two was carried out in an atmosphere of intense Kennedy administration1 pressure to do something about Castro,2 such is not true of the earlier phase. Phase One was initiated in August 1960 under the Eisenhower adminstration. Phase Two is associated in [Bill] Harvey’s mind with the Executive Action Capability [assassination capability], which reportedly was developed in response to White House urgings. Again, Phase One had been started and abandoned months before the Executive Action Capability appeared on the scene.
When Robert Kennedy was briefed on Phase One in May 1962, he strongly admonished Houston and Edwards to check with the Attorney General in advance of any future intended use of U.S. criminal elements. This was not done with respect to Phase Two, which was already well under way at the time Kennedy was briefed.3 [Emphasis added.]
I added three notes to clarify:
1. The “Kennedy administration” does not mean the Kennedy’s. See Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett’s excellent book “Thy Will Be Done” and their chapter on the “Rockefeller Administration.” The Kennedys knew political operatives, but ended up relying on so many men from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund that his administration could more appriately called “the Rockefeller administration.” Indeed, David Talbot shows in his recent book “Brothers” just how isolated the Kennedys became during their term, at war with nearly everyone at a high level in their administration. The Kennedys did not want a Pax Americana. The Rockefeller people did. There were several in Kennedy’s administration who wanted Castro dead. But JFK and RFK were not among them.
2. There was indeed intense pressure to “do something” about Castro. But Kennedy intimates have made clear, as does the available record from credible sources, that the Kennedys wanted to foment a domestic revolution inside Cuba. They did not want to kill Castro. And every time the CIA pressured them to do exactly that (at the Bay of Pigs, and again during the Cuban missile crisis), the Kennedy’s resisted that pressure.
3. The CIA states that they briefed Kennedy on the Phase One plots, but not the Phase Two plots. The wording is obtuse, but that is what they just said, right there in their own report. And they did not tell RFK they were using Mob people in the Phase Two plots either, despite RFK’s explicit request to be informed if the very people he had spent years trying to prosecute were suddenly going to get federal protection. Other sources make clear that Kennedy was reportedly livid at the discovery not just at the use of the Mob, but at the revelation that the CIA was trying to kill Castro.
Weiner makes a big deal of a CIA’s agents secret meeting with Rolando Cubela (not named by Weiner but it’s obviously him) and noted that the agent, Des Fitzgerald went to Cubela and SAID he was an emissary of Robert Kennedy.
What Weiner doesn’t tell you is that Helms had TOLD Fitzgerald to say that, even though Helms ALSO told Fitzgerald that RFK did not know. Helms told Fitzgerald not to talk to RFK about this, but to simply invoke his name with Cubela. That’s on the record, a record Weiner does not mention, even though that shows up in nearly all accounts of this meeting so he could hardly be ignorant of that.
Here are two examples of the CIA’s not following Kennedy’s orders that are not in Talbot’s book. In either 1962 or 1963 (I’m too lazy to go dig the article from my files), the CIA undertook to taint a large shipment of sugar leaving Cuba for the Soviet Union. Kennedy found out and went right to the press with it. Can you imagine the CIA’s fury at having been exposed by their own president? And can you imagine Kennedy’s fury, after the Bay of Pigs, to find the CIA was still willing to run its own operations without consulting him?
Another incident I learned about while browsing the Watergate hearings evidence, Volume 10. There’s a transcript of a secret conversation between Lucien Conein, longtime CIA agent who helped start the DIA (Kennedy’s replacement agency for the CIA, sadly staffed by the very people he would have wanted to stop if he knew who they were.) Hunt and Conein are discussing how Lodge, in Vietnam, was pushing for Diem’s assassination, and Robert Kennedy kept trying to stop the plot. They were laughing about how ineffective RFK was and how Lodge managed to get around him and give the plot a green light. I’d bet good money Weiner never read that interesting conversation, and doubt he’d have put it in his book even if he had.
[CORRECTION: The conversation is in vol. 9, not 10, and Conein was in the DEA, which was created by Nixon, not the DIA, which was created by Kennedy. And they are not recorded as laughing, but there’s a certain levity to the conversation, as I read it.]
I can’t believe Weiner’s near worship of Helms. People love to paint Helms as a solid bureaucrat, one of the “prudent professionals” as Stewart Alsop so lovingly called Helms, Angleton, and other right-wing nuts in the CIA. But this is the guy who, as a spy working under cover of UPI at the time, stole into Hitler’s personal quarters and took some of his stationary. He even wrote his son a letter on Hitler’s letterhead in later years, so enamored was he of his prize.
I’ve read every major history of the CIA to date. So far, it sounds like Weiner is just digging in the same trench. I have no intention of adding yet another book saying the same things to my collection. I have enough disinformation on my shelves already.
How I long to see a serious author do an honest history of the CIA. But then, it’s likely no major house would publish it. The Church and Pike committees found that the CIA controlled people at major publishing houses. Their inside people alerted them to books that might be harmful to the CIA, and got such books killed. James Angleton’s secretary used to be married to one of the big editors at Random House, Bob Loomis.
When the Bill Turner/Jonn Christian book on the RFK case snuck through, Random House, threatened with a lawsuit by a guy who may well have been connected to the CIA, recalled and burned the book. That’s our world.
That’s why I have to keep writing. SOMEONE who knows the truth has to stand up and tell it, since the shills get nearly all the airtime. I don’t know if Weiner is a shill or just someone who has fallen in love with his subject. I just know, from hearing him, that his representation is not an honest account of the full record of the CIA’s history. The REAL history of the CIA is far more interesting, and indeed, far more heartbreaking.