Are (U.S.) Presidents Afraid of
by Ray McGovern
In the past I have alluded to Panetta
and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta
and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors-the ones who sent President
Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to "reverse
Attorney General Holder's August 24 decision to re-open the criminal
investigation of CIA interrogations."
Panetta reportedly was also dead set against
reopening the investigation-as he was against release of the Justice
Department's "torture memoranda" of 2002, as he has
been against releasing pretty much anything at all-the President's
pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is
even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first
faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard "error" when the
President said "era."
As for the benighted seven, they are more
to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves
of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they
put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest-not to
mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere
with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.
Three of the seven-George Tenet, Porter
Goss, and Michael Hayden-were themselves involved, in one way
or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner
of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal
eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the
letter may be the sentence in which they worry: "There is
no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation
will remain narrowly focused."
When asked about the letter on the Sunday
TV talk shows on Sept. 20, Obama was careful always to respond
first by expressing obligatory "respect" for the CIA
and its directors. With Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, though,
Obama did allow himself a condescending quip. He commented, "I
appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an
institution that they helped to build."
That quip was, sadly, the exception to
the rule. While Obama keeps repeating the mantra that "nobody
is above the law," there is no real sign that he intends
to face down Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs-no sign that anyone
has breathed new life into federal prosecutor John Durham, to
whom Holder gave the mandate for further "preliminary investigation."
What is generally forgotten is that it was former Attorney General
Michael Mukasey who picked Durham two years ago to investigate
CIA's destruction of 91 tapes of the interrogation of "high-value
Durham had scarcely been heard from when
Holder added to Durham's job-jar the task of conducting a preliminary
investigation regarding the CIA torture specialists. These are
the ones whose zeal led them to go beyond the already highly permissive
Department of Justice guidelines for "harsh interrogation."
Durham, clearly, is proceeding with all
deliberate speed (emphasis on "deliberate"). Someone
has even suggested-I trust, in jest-that he has been diverted
to the search for the money and other assets that Bernie Maddow
In any case, do not hold your breath for
findings from Durham anytime soon. Holder appears in no hurry.
And President Obama keeps giving off signals that he is afraid
of getting crosswise with the CIA-that's right, afraid.
Not Just Paranoia
In that fear, President Obama stands in
the tradition of a dozen American presidents. Harry Truman and
John Kennedy were the only ones to take on the CIA directly.
Worst of all, evidence continues to build that the CIA was responsible,
at least in part, for the assassination of President Kennedy.
Evidence new to me came in response to things I included in my
article of Dec. 22, "Break the CIA in Two."
What follows can be considered a sequel
that is based on the kind of documentary evidence after which
intelligence analysts positively lust.
Unfortunately for the CIA operatives who
were involved in the past activities outlined below, the temptation
to ask Panetta to put a SECRET stamp on the documentary evidence
will not work. Nothing short of torching the Truman Library might
conceivably help. But even that would be a largely feckless "covert
action," copy machines having long since done their thing.
In my article of Dec. 22, I referred to
Harry Truman's op-ed of exactly 46 years before, titled "Limit
CIA Role to Intelligence," in which the former President
expressed dismay at what the Central Intelligence Agency had become
just 16 years after he and Congress created it.
The Washington Post published the op-ed
on December 22, 1963 in its early edition, but immediately excised
it from later editions. Other media ignored it. The long hand
of the CIA?
Truman wrote that he was "disturbed
by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment"
to keep the President promptly and fully informed and had become
"an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government."
The Truman Papers
Documents in the Truman Library show that
nine days after Kennedy was assassinated, Truman sketched out
in handwritten notes what he wanted to say in the op-ed. He noted,
among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only
"when I had control."
In Truman's view, misuse of the CIA began
in February 1953, when his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, named
Allen Dulles CIA Director. Dulles' forte was overthrowing governments
(in current parlance, "regime change"), and he was quite
good at it. With coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) under
his belt, Dulles was riding high in the late Fifties and moved
Cuba to the top of his to-do list.
Accustomed to the carte blanche given
him by Eisenhower, Dulles was offended when young President Kennedy
came on the scene and had the temerity to ask questions about
the Bay of Pigs adventure, which had been set in motion under
Eisenhower. When Kennedy made it clear he would NOT approve the
use of U.S. combat forces, Dulles reacted with disdain and set
out to mousetrap the new President.
Coffee-stained notes handwritten by Allen
Dulles were discovered after his death and reported by historian
Lucien S. Vandenbroucke. They show how Dulles drew Kennedy into
a plan that was virtually certain to require the use of U.S. combat
forces. In his notes Dulles explains that, "when the chips
were down," the new President would be forced by "the
realities of the situation" to give whatever military support
was necessary "rather than permit the enterprise to fail."
Additional detail came from a March 2001
conference on the Bay of Pigs, which included CIA operatives,
retired military commanders, scholars, and journalists. Daniel
Schorr told National Public Radio that he had gained one new perception
as a result of the "many hours of talk and heaps of declassified
"It was that the CIA overlords of
the invasion, Director Allen Dulles and Deputy Richard Bissell
had their own plan on how to bring the United States into the
conflict...What they expected was that the invaders would establish
a beachhead...and appeal for aid from the United States...
"The assumption was that President
Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct American involvement,
would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning
patriots. American forces, probably Marines, would come in to
expand the beachhead.
"In fact, President Kennedy was the
target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion
collapsed," added Schorr.
The "enterprise" which Dulles
said could not fail was, of course, the overthrow of Fidel Castro.
After mounting several failed operations to assassinate him,
this time Dulles meant to get his man, with little or no attention
to what the Russians might do in reaction. Kennedy stuck to his
guns, so to speak; fired Dulles and his co-conspirators a few
months after the abortive invasion in April 1961; and told a friend
that he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces
and scatter it into the winds."
The outrage was mutual, and when Kennedy
himself was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it must have occurred
to Truman that the disgraced Dulles and his outraged associates
might not be above conspiring to get rid of a President they felt
was soft on Communism-and, incidentally, get even.
In his op-ed of December 22, 1963 Truman
warned: "The most important thing...was to guard against
the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead
the President into unwise decisions." It is a safe bet that
Truman had the Bay of Pigs fiasco uppermost in mind.
Truman called outright for CIA's operational
duties [to] be terminated or properly used elsewhere." (This
is as good a recommendation now as it was then, in my view.)
On December 27, retired Admiral Sidney
Souers, whom Truman had appointed to lead his first central intelligence
group, sent a "Dear Boss" letter applauding Truman's
outspokenness and blaming Dulles for making the CIA "a different
animal than I tried to set up for you." Souers specifically
lambasted the attempt "to conduct a 'war' invading Cuba with
a handful of men and without air cover."
Souers also lamented the fact that the
agency's "principal effort" had evolved into causing
"revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,"
With so much emphasis on operations, it
would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and
processing intelligence has suffered some."
Clearly, CIA's operational tail was wagging
the substantive dog-a serious problem that persists to this day.
For example, CIA analysts are super-busy supporting operations
in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no one seems to have told them that
they need to hazard a guess as to where this is all leading and
whether it makes any sense.
That is traditionally done in a National
Intelligence Estimate. Can you believe there at this late date
there is still no such Estimate? Instead, the President has chosen
to rely on he advice of Gen. David Petraeus, who many believe
will be Obama's opponent in the 2012 presidential election.
Fox Guarding Henhouse?
In any case, the well-connected Dulles
got himself appointed to the Warren Commission and took the lead
in shaping the investigation of JFK's assassination. Documents
in the Truman Library show that he then mounted a targeted domestic
covert action of his own to neutralize any future airing of Truman's
and Souers' warnings about covert action.
So important was this to Dulles that he
invented a pretext to get himself invited to visit Truman in Independence,
Missouri. On the afternoon of April 17, 1964 he spent a half-hour
trying to get the former President to retract what he had said
in his op-ed. No dice, said Truman.
No problem, thought Dulles. Four days
later, in a formal memo for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA
General Counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private
retraction, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post
article was "all wrong," and that Truman "seemed
quite astounded at it."
No doubt Dulles thought it might be handy
to have such a memo in CIA files, just in case.
A fabricated retraction? It certainly
seems so, because Truman did not change his tune. Far from it.
In a June 10, 1964 letter to the managing editor of Look magazine,
for example, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing
that he never intended the CIA to get involved in "strange
Dulles and Dallas
Dulles could hardly have expected to get
Truman to recant publicly. So why was it so important for Dulles
to place in CIA files a fabricated retraction. My guess is that
in early 1964 he was feeling a good bit of heat from those suggesting
the CIA might have been involved somehow in the Kennedy assassination.
Indeed, one or two not-yet-intimidated columnists were daring
to ask how the truth could ever come out with Allen Dulles on
the Warren Commission. Prescient.
Dulles feared, rightly, that Truman's
limited-edition op-ed might yet get some ink, and perhaps even
airtime, and raise serious questions about covert action. Dulles
would have wanted to be in position to flash the Truman "retraction,"
with the hope that this would nip any serious questioning in the
bud. The media had already shown how co-opted-er, I mean "cooperative"-it
As the de facto head of the Warren Commission,
Dulles was perfectly positioned to exculpate himself and any of
his associates, were any commissioners or investigators-or journalists-tempted
to question whether the killing in Dallas might have been a CIA
Did Allen Dulles and other "cloak-and-dagger"
CIA operatives have a hand in killing President Kennedy and then
covering it up? The most up-to-date-and, in my view, the best-dissection
of the assassination appeared last year in James Douglass' book,
JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. After
updating and arraying the abundant evidence, and conducting still
more interviews, Douglass concludes the answer is Yes.
This article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word,
the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in
Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared
and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence
Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
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