Friday, February 3, 2012

Now, Finally -- Who Really Did Murder JFK? III


We move on now to another phase of the investigation.  What happened that noon in Dallas?  A comment came in from one of you out there named "Richard," semi-nameless but right to the point.  "It's very unlikely that the CIA or any government entity played a role in JFK's murder," he notes.  "Those institutions are hardwired to wreck havoc in somebody else's sandbox." Then he cites Richard Posner, yet, on Oswald's guilt.

"Richard" is probably right, in a way, and wrong here.  In Bobby and J. Edgar I laid out the extent to which, in 1963, the CIA had bases to support Operation Mongoose all around the Caribbean rim, from Opa Locka near Miami to Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.  As I hope I established last week, at the operational level distinctions between CIA operatives and talent recruited from penitentiaries and exile groups and the executive level of well-integrated gangland organizations tended to fall away. The Church and Schweiker Committee investigations in the Senate during the mid-seventies staked all that out.  Senator Richard Schweiker would later comment to Mark Lane that, under investigation, the Warren Committee Report " had collapsed like a house of cards...snuffed out before it began senior officials who directed the cover-up."  Insofar as CIA involvement is concerned, the real question is where, at what level, the traditional compartmentation and the sharing of information on a need-to-know basis breaks down and responsibility begins.

When the word of his brother's shooting reached him at Hickory Hill, Robert Kennedy's first impulse was to call in the director of the CIA, whom his brother had installed to replace Allen Dulles in September of 1961, the California industrialist John McCone, and demand of McCone:  "Did you kill my brother?"  McCone, a somber Catholic layman and a friend of Joseph P. Kennedy, never quite got the hang of intelligence work -- partly because his savvier underlings made sure they told him very little -- and assured the attorney general that he had not. Next down the chain of command was the head of the Directorate of Plans -- the Ivy-League gentlemen involved at that stage were still too delicate to call their shop Operations - , Richard Helms.  The fact was, the senior intelligence staff around the Agency never really liked the administration's plotting against Cuba.  As I noted earlier, Helms sat out the Bay of Pigs.  His right-hand man, Sam Halpern, whom I always found amazingly outspoken when I interviewed him for The Old Boys, later commented that "Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy's obsession with Fidel....It was a personal thing.  The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge."

By now we are getting down to the operational stalwarts.  Perhaps the key figure here was E. Howard Hunt, "Eduardo," a snobby covert-warfare adept who moved over from his post as a staff assistant to Helms to help train the leadership of Brigade 2506, the fifteen hundred or so Cuban irregulars sacrificed in the feckless invasion. Hunt would remain very close to the Cuban survivors, as would David Atlee Phillips, who roamed the Western Hemisphere for decades, convulsing democracies objectionable to Washington.

I knew Phillips fairly well: early in the eighties I was a founding member of the David Atlee Phillips New England Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.  Phillips showed up at our weekend meetings, regularly. A former actor, Phillips made sure to look the part -- hat brim pulled down, trenchcoat, dark aviator glasses, a terse, insider delivery, a dedicated chain-smoker.  An English publication accused Phillips of having had a hand in the Kennedy assassination; Phillips sued in England, and won.  Phillips always professed to be very indignant at the charge that he or the Agency might have taken out an American president.  Failing finally, Phillips -- who had to have been instrumental in setting up the Mexico City "legend" prior to Oswald's purported visit -- confessed that "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including rogue American intelligence people."

My own guess at this point is that there was in fact a CIA involvement at a number of points in the big-store operation that resulted in the shooting of John Kennedy in Dallas, but that important individuals like Helms, who never were permitted to get anywhere near the details, realized afterwards that they had been complicit -- if always well insulated, at arms-length -- in the execution of a very sophisticated game plan calculated to achieve an entirely different outcome.  Afterwards, the frenzy of cover-your-ass extended halfway across the bureaucracy. 

How this could be must wait until my next blog.

Be patient,

Burton Hersh

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