Tuesday, September 12, 2023

It depends on the narrative

      Press coverage of the claims of former Secret Service agent Paul Landis is an example of how the media, well shoot the public too, forms narratives in its head and fits news items into that narrative.  In this case, the so-called single bullet theory is that narrative, but it could just as easily have been the "grassy knoll theory" on any of a dozen others. The essence of Landis's claim is that he found a bullet, presumably a spent one, in the seat where Kennedy had been shot in the presidential limousine. He then placed it on the stretcher with Kennedy before he was wheeled into the hospital.

      But because the narrative of Murder, Inc. is about the failures of American intelligence agencies, I fit the incident into that.  The CIA was trying to kill Castro, a fact it hid from the Warren Commission.  The FBI was derelict in arresting Oswald even though he had threated to blow up the FBI office in Dallas. The FBI in Dallas covered that up, and Hoover hid the fact he censured multiple FBI agents for failures. 

     And what about the vaunted Secret Service? It is well to remember that the agents in Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas had been up drinking until the wee hours of the morning of November 22, 1963.  They had worked long into the night of November 21 and gone without food. Most went to the Press Club in Fort Worth to get something to eat, but its food service had stopped for the day. They had some drinks there and then wandered down the street to the Cellar.  There are various accounts of what they did.  CBS reporter Bob Schieffer was there.  This is from the Dallas News.  The Warren Commission took testimony and affidavits from the Secret Service about the incident. The Service attempted to gloss over the matter by saying the agents were told they could get something to eat at the Cellar.  It was described as a beatnik coffee house that didn't serve alcohol.  But a Google search will turn up other reports that the waitresses wore only underwear, and Schieffer said liquor was available to "friends." Landis signed an affidavit for the Warren Commission saying he had two "Salty Dicks" whatever those were.

      Landis's current claim raises further questions about the Secret Service's professionalism. The Secret Service is part of the Treasury Department.  In addition to executive protection, it performs law enforcement duties in cases such as counterfeiting. So in theory at least, Landis was a law enforcement officer.  He was an eyewitness to murder; he found a bullet that must have been used in the crime; and, what does he do?  He removes it from the scene and puts it on a stretcher for the doctors to find.  He doesn't secure it.  He doesn't turn it over to the police. He doesn't even tell his superiors. To make matters worse, Landis was standing on the running board of the car behind the presidential limousine and said he only heard two shots, not the three the Warren Commission said were fired.  But if the bullet Landis allegedly found isn't the so-called magic bullet, there must have been four shots.  

      This new revelation fits much better into the narrative of widespread failure across the security agencies of the United States with respect to the assassination and a failure by the Warren Commission to get at some basic facts. I can't find any commission testimony from Landis.  Imagine how different the Warren Report might have been, and how different our mental narrative of the assassination would be, if Landis had been called as a witness in 1964 and testified to finding what could only have been a fourth bullet. Of course, maybe that was not his memory then.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The single bullet theory v. Secret Service agent Paul Landis's new claim

      Paul Landis, a Secret Service agent with the President in Dallas, is making news with the claim that he found a spent bullet in the backseat of Kennedy's car at Parkland Hospital.  He picked up the bullet and left it on Kennedy's stretcher in the hospital thinking it would be found. Speculation immediately started that this disproves the single-bullet theory (that a single bullet entered the back of Kennedy's neck, exited the front of his throat, hit Governor John Connally of Texas, who was on a jump seat in front of Kennedy, in his back, exited his chest, and lodged in his forearm. This bullet was found on Connally's stretcher at the hospital. It was assumed the bullet fell out of Connally's arm when he was taken off the stretcher.

    Precisely how Landis's recollection disproves the single-bullet theory isn't clear.  Landis is 85 years old, and his coming forward with this claim after so many investigations and so many years seems unusual. Besides, no bullet was found on Kennedy's stretcher. But giving Landis the benefit of the doubt, his claim is easily reconcilable with the Warren Report. Beginning on Page 52, of the Report, the commission detailed what happened once the presidential limousine arrived at the hospital.  Kennedy was taken out of the car first. Connally, who was cradled in the arms of his wife, seated in the jump seat in front of Jackie Kennedy, stood up so the Secret Service could remove Kennedy from the car.  Only then did he realize how seriously he himself had been injured. If there were a bullet lodged in his forearm, it might have fallen out in the back seat of the car at this time. Maybe this was the bullet Landis found, and maybe instead of leaving it on Kennedy's stretcher, he put it on Connally's.  Kennedy was immediately taken into surgery.  Unless Landis were among those helping remove Kennedy from the limo, there was no way for him to put it on the stretcher.  The bullet was found on Connally's stretcher after he had been taken off and put on the operating table.

      It is worth noting what the Warren Commission said about what happened when the presidential limo arrived at the hospital.  This is from Exhibit 1026, Volume XVIII, p. 811

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The lighter side of redactions

      In 1963, the CIA wanted to bug a safehouse in the Maryland suburbs that it was renting.  Several Cuban exiles were coming to Washington to meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the CIA would put them up in the house. Without apparently being asked by Kennedy, the CIA decided to wire the house and eavesdrop on the exiles' conversations. Perhaps it felt it would curry favor with Kennedy if it could tell him the exiles' plans and reactions to their meetings with him. The wiring would cost a rather considerable amount in 1963, $2,800.  The CIA cleared it with the owner.  He was an audiophile and seemed to like the idea.  But in the 2023 releases, the CIA still redacted the address of the house from the document.   There is obviously no threat to national security in releasing the address -- unless of course the CIA has been using this house for the past 60 years. But one can't help but imagine how pleased the current owner would be if, when guests came over, he could say:  "You know this was a CIA safehouse in 1963. It spent $2,800 wiring it to eavesdrop on some Cuban exiles."  Who knows, maybe a few wires can still be found in the attic. He would have one heck of a story, and it might add $2,800 to the value of his house even without the wires.

     Of course, the redaction is rather silly. I turned to the Internet and within two minutes not only found the address, but also a picture of the house and a biography of the former owner. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Jim Garrison and the CIA's games with the ARRB and Warren Commission

     I would be just about the last person to give any credit to the claim and prosecution by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison that the CIA was behind President Kennedy's murder.  But he may have had a point about the CIA's presence in New Orleans when Lee Harvey Oswald lived there.

     This comes from the CIA's apparently playing games with the Warren Commission in not telling it that the CIA had a sizable presence in New Orleans.  The CIA played games with the Assassination Records Review Board by redacting information from a document that a lawyer in Washington gave the House Assassinations Committee. The JFK Act did not give the CIA authority to make such a redaction. The fact that a redaction was made suggests the information was true. 

      The redacted information was that CIA had 50 employees in its New Orleans office in what was then called the "Masonic Temple" building, only blocks from where Oswald handed our pro-Cuba leaflets and got into a fight with anti-Castro groups. This doesn't suggest a CIA connection with Oswald, but the CIA was playing games with the Warren Commission.  It may have had more employees in New Orleans than the FBI did and, therefore, had a greater ability to investigate Oswald's fight with the anti-Castro Cubans than the FBI did. In the very least, it was incumbent on the CIA in 1964 to tell the Warren Commission of its capabilities in New Orleans, yet there is absolutely no evidence it did.

      All this comes from a memorandum written by Washington lawyer and assassination buff, Bernard Fensterwald, of a 1975 conversation he had with George Gaudet, who claimed to have worked for the CIA.  Most of the claims seem exaggerated or unfounded.  In fact, it could be said that all of those claims are unfounded, except that some agency, presumably the CIA,  redacted two of them when the document was first released. These two facts, in the third and fourth paragraphs on the second page of the memorandum, were that the CIA had 50 employees in New Orleans and that its offices were in the Masonic Temple building.  We know this because these redactions were removed in the Archives' 2023 release of the same document.

     The Masonic Temple building was at 333 St. Charles Street Oswald handed out literature in August 1963 on Canal Street a few blocks away.  He was arrested there after getting into a fight with anti-Castro Cubans.

     The bottom line is that the CIA played games with two government agencies. First, it hid from the Warren Commission the fact that Oswald's confrontation with anti-Castro Cubans happened only a few blocks away from its New Orleans office with 50 employees. Had the commission known, it might have asked if any of the employees witnessed the fight or Oswald's actions. It also might have asked the CIA to investigate. Second, the CIA played games with the ARRB by redacting information from a document that it didn't originate.  Nothing in the JFK Act permitted that.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

KGB public assassinations

         Was Yevgeny Prigozhin's very public death an assassination, when a plane carrying him exploded and fell from the sky?  In Murder, Inc., I wrote how the former Russian security service, the KGB, used public assassinations.  I pointed out on page 98 that typically the KGB's Department 13, which specialized in assassination and sabotage, would not want the assassination to be traced back to it.  However, "Sometimes, an intelligence service may want its adversary to know who was responsible in order to send a message.  In the book KGB, John Barron described the assassination of a journalist in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there: 'The assassination was deliberately crude.  Its intent was not only to eliminate an effective Soviet adversary but also to terrorize potential adversaries into silence.  The assassins also left behind discernible Soviet traces.  Witnesses testified that the men arrived in a Soviet jeep.'"

Friday, August 25, 2023

Secret CIA black bag jobs revealed in the JFK releases

     A surreptitious break-in for the purpose of searching for and seizing documents is called a "black bag job."  It is illegal regardless of whether private parties or government agents do it. Under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, government must obtain a search warrant from judicial authorities if they want to enter private property.  The most famous case, perhaps, was the break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate by men working for the Committee to Re-Elect President Richard Nixon.  They went to jail, and Nixon was forced to resign.  At least some of the burglars were former CIA employees and contractors.  

    One reason the Senate created the Church Committee was to look into what other illegal things the intelligence agencies might be doing. The Committee discovered the FBI had been conducting black bag jobs, but in the wake of Watergate, the FBI realized they were illegal and stopped. No one suspected the CIA might also be doing black bag jobs though, at least not in the United States.  The CIA was prohibited by law from collecting domestic intelligence. This was the FBI's job, and Director J. Edgar Hoover jealously guarded his prerogative. 

    Thus, it comes as a surprise to find a CIA document, released under the JFK Collection Act, indicating it had a team to perform black bag jobs, and on at least one occasion, a domestic black bag job was requested.  The November 9, 1962 document is somewhat confusing because it does not appear to be the original document but rather a sanitized version of a cable.  There are no To or From fields, but it seems to be a document from the JMWAVE in Florida to CIA headquarters requesting a black bag team.  WAVE wanted the team to break into the headquarters of a Cuban exile group and seize financial records. The CIA was funding the group but thought they were misusing the funds. WAVE planned to question the group about the matter and didn't want it to destroy the records.  

     The document is initialed by HFS, whoever he was. Bill Harvey was probably still in charge of Cuban operations at the CIA at this time, but he would be relieved later that month. I point out in Murder, Inc. that he was relieved because of a confrontation with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, but there was a general feeling at the CIA that Harvey ran a loose ship and played fast and loose with the law.

    The exile group was probably Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil or DRE.  Other released documents show that later in November 1962, Nestor Sanchez and Richard Helms met with DRE leaders to discuss its misuse of funds.  Perhaps, the break-in wasn't approved. Or perhaps it was, giving the CIA evidence, if need be, to prove its point to the leadership.

     I was on the Church Committee and don't remember being told the CIA did domestic black bag jobs.  In fact, I knew that when it wanted the overseas mailing list of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, it asked the FBI to get them in a black bag job at the committee's offices in New York. The FBI took its time, though, and didn't get the list to the CIA until after the Kennedy assassination.  I asked four other Church Committee staffers recently if they had heard of the CIA conducting black bag jobs within the United States.  They all said, no, and would be appalled if it were true since the CIA never mentioned it to the Church Committee as far as they knew.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

ARRB vs. FRUS Part 4, Smoking guns?

      Are the two McCone memoranda of his conversations first at Lyndon Johnson's house on the night of November 28, 1963, and then two days later at the White House "smoking guns?"  They have never been made public in full. FRUS quotes from a few sentences about Cuba, but what else was said?  Did McCone tell President Johnson about the AMLASH operation? The totality of the evidence says he did, but clearly the memoranda, which were not provided the ARRB, need to be made public.

       To set the stage for understanding McCone's meetings, one must remember Johnson had only been president for six days before the first meeting.  He was overwhelmed by taking on the presidency. Oswald had been murdered. There had been a state funeral for Kennedy with dignitaries from around the world coming to Washington. Johnson had to decide how to investigate Kennedy's assassination. Earlier in the day of the November 28 meeting, the CIA and FBI had been in a spat about the specious allegations of Gilberto Alvarado, who claimed to have seen Oswald being paid $6,5000 in the Cuban consulate in Mexico City on his visit there. By the time of the nighttime meeting, however, McCone had been told there was nothing to the allegations. For his part, Johnson had made the decision to announce the next day that he was creating the Warren Commission.

      Thus, it would seem that this meeting at LBJ's house would be the first time McCone could give Johnson his unofficial, no-holds-barred, take on the assassination. At Johnson's request, McCone had been giving him the daily CIA briefings on world events in person, in place of the agency's practice of providing Kennedy written briefings, the so-called "daily check list." So McCone had already been briefing Johnson on general intelligence issues at the White House.  

       The likelihood is that nine days earlier Kennedy had approved giving Cubela assassination weapons, as I will explain, and that McCone told this to Johnson at their November 28 meeting, but the public will never know as long as McCone's memoranda are kept secret at the CIA. Of course, McCone might not have committed such a sensitive matter to paper, but this would not have been in character. Besides, the fact that the document was not identified for the ARRB, even though it clearly should have been, and that the CIA did not want me to see it when I was on the Church Committee, suggests the CIA had reasons not to make it public. 

      The near-certainty that McCone told the president about the AMLASH operation in the meeting at LBJ's house is based on what McCone says in his memorandum of the meeting with the president and Bundy two days later on November 30. Johnson asked "what are we going to do in Cuba," McCone implied an invasion.  He referenced three of Kennedy's previous statements of policy.  The most recent were Kennedy's remarks at a press conference on November 20, 1962, at the end of the Missile Crisis.  He made what became known as the "no invasion" pledge.  In exchange for the Russians removing their missiles and aircraft from Cuba, Kennedy implied that the United States would not invade the island -- provided Castro did not try to export the Cuban revolution to other Latin American countries:  "[I]f Cuba is not used for the export of aggressive Communist purposes, there will be peace in the Caribbean. And as I said in September, 'We shall neither initiate nor permit aggression in this Hemisphere.'"

       Not everyone in the administration wanted President Kennedy to go this far.  The matter had been discussed at a National Security Council meeting earlier in the day at which the President had stated his view:  "The President asked where the question of our no-invasion assurance stands. In the light of what Khrushchev has agreed to do, if he does not get our assurances he will have very little. We should keep the assurances informal and not follow up with a formal document in the UN."  His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, disagreed, but the President overruled him: "The Attorney General expressed his opposition to giving the assurance informally. We would be giving away a bargaining counter because Khrushchev is not insisting on having formal assurances. The President restated his view that Khrushchev would be in a difficult position if he gave us something and got nothing in return. We do not want to convey to him that we are going back on what he considers our bargain."

      At the time, of course, the Kennedys were basking in the glory of a clear victory in the Missile Crisis, and they were not about to prolong the confrontation with the Soviets. Richard Helms in his book, A Look Over My Shoulder, writes that after the Missile Crisis, the Kennedys were always bringing up the subject of whether Castro was behaving himself though, and they demanded "hard evidence."  By early fall 1963, the CIA had convinced the Defense Department to come up with a contingency plan for an invasion. The ongoing AMLASH operation contemplated that Cubela would organize a coup and that the United States would step in militarily if needed to ensure success. 

      On November 12, 1963, the President met with all the major players, McNamara, Rusk, Robert Kennedy, Army Secretary Cyrus Vance, Joint Chiefs Chairman Maxwell Taylor, and the full complement of Cuban specialists from the CIA as well as McCone and Helms.  FitzGerald outlined the coup plan.  But then, according to a memorandum of the meeting, almost as an afterthought, Bundy asked about a supposed Cuban arms cache recently discovered in Venezuela.  Was Castro exporting the revolution? Someone, probably the President, said that the Department of Defense should concentrate on catching Castro "red-handed" in delivering arms to communists in Latin America.  The subtext was obviously that hard evidence of this would vitiate the no-invasion pledge.

      Thus, a week later, November 19, 1963, Helms, according to his book, called on the Attorney General along with CIA desk officer Hershel Peake.  Peake carried the hard evidence, a Belgian-made FAL rifle found in the arms cache in Venezuela and photographs.  The CIA could prove it had been shipped through Cuba.  An FAL, pictured below, was an assault rifle, the AK-47 of its day, and a favorite of Fidel Castro during the revolution in Cuba.

       Robert Kennedy called his brother, the President, and within half an hour, Helms and Peake were in the Oval Office, showing him the weapon and the photographs. Helms observed that the Secret Service hadn't prevented him from walking into the Oval Office carrying the case with the rifle in it.  Kennedy joked in response, yes, it gave him a feeling of confidence [in Secret Service protection].  

       CIA memoranda that have been made public, included in an earlier post on this blog, are dated the same day, November 19, and say that giving Cubela the sniper rifles and poison pen or dart pen, which he had been requesting, was finally approved.  Whether the approval came before or after the meetings with the Kennedys isn't known, but it seems highly likely that Kennedy approved or said something to make Helms decide to go ahead.  As noted in an earlier post, Ted Shackley, and others, said rifles with telescopic sights were consider "assassination weapons" by the Cubans. Pictured below is a high-powered Remington rifle of a type which the CIA considered giving Cubela.

       Presumably, Helms told all of this to McCone by the time of the latter's November 28 meeting with Lyndon Johnson, and this is why the arms cache came up at the November 30 meeting.  According to the FRUS's quote from McCone's memorandum of the second meeting, "then I showed the evidence that proved absolutely that arms had been imported into Venezuela from Cuba."  Did McCone carry the rifle into the White House like Helms had done with Kennedy or just photographs?  Regardless, it is impossible to construct a scenario in which McCone would not have told Johnson about Helms's November 19 meeting with Kennedy, about the decision to give Cubela sniper rifles, and about the CIA meeting with Cubela in Paris at the very moment Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Just a day earlier, Johnson had announced creation of the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. The Commission would find that Oswald had killed Kennedy with this model of the Italian-made Carcano rifle with telescopic sight, so rifles would obviously been on Johnson's and McCone's minds.
      The CIA's failure to identify the two McCone memoranda to the ARRB looms large.  Are they "smoking guns," not in the sense of altering the Warren Commission findings but rather in impeaching the entire process. Did Lyndon Johnson know all of this, and yet send the commission off on a fool's mission without it?  Similarly, why did Richard Helms not tell anyone about the November 19 meeting but put it in his book, which was released after his death. Was he, ever the spy, leaving a clue?  He testified twice before the Rockefeller Commission, six times before the Church Committee, and several more times to the House Assassinations Committee and was questioned about the events repeatedly, yet he never volunteered that he had met with President Kennedy on the same day the CIA approved giving Cubela assassination weapons. That the CIA has not been forthcoming is manifest.






Tuesday, July 4, 2023

ARRB vs. FRUS Part 3

      The examples given in the first two posts on this subject are not the only instances of where the CIA gave State Department historians access to secret documents for the FRUS that apparently were not given the ARRB. 

       But while FRUS may be a supplement to the JFK documents at the National Archives, it is not a substitute for them. As the examples of the McCone memoranda demonstrate, FRUS may contain only snippets from the underlying document. Another problem is that while the FRUS may mention a document, the document itself may be omitted as classified, and there is no process for later reviews. There are glaring omission as well. President Kennedy's November 18, 1963, speech to the Inter-American Press Association in Miami was a major foreign policy pronouncement.  He called the Castro government a barrier that had to be removed.  Desmond FitzGerald wrote key parts which were intended by the CIA as message to Cubela and cohorts that the President supported them.  But the speech isn't mentioned in FRUS. And finally, the FRUS suffers from the same flaws as the ARRB. Unless historians at State are given access to material, they can't include it in FRUS.  The best example of this is the audio tape at the Kennedy library in Boston of the August 15, 1963, meeting with President Kennedy at the White House.  In attendance from the CIA were McCone, Helms, Bruce Cheever, and William Colby, who was responsible for CIA operations in Vietnam. Eighteen minutes are deleted from the tape as secret.  The library's listing says the subject was "British Guiana." That seems unlikely.  British Guiana hardly commanded the attention of so many high level CIA officers.  But this underscores the problem.
      The FRUS is published under statutory authority of 22 USC 4351 et seq. That law requires the Secretary of State to insure publication not later than 30 years after the event. Hence, FRUS on the Kennedy administration were completed in the 1961-1963 time frame, overlapping the ARRB's existence. Interestingly enough, the FRUS law contains an injunction on the historians that is not found in the JFK records act:  "Editing principles.  The editing of records for preparation of the FRUS series shall be guided by the principles of historical objectivity and accuracy. Records shall not be altered and deletions shall not be made without indicating in the published text that a deletion has been made. The published record shall omit no facts which were of major importance in reaching a decision, and nothing shall be omitted for the purpose of concealing a defect of policy. 22 USC 4351(b), emphasis added.


Monday, July 3, 2023

ARRB vs. FRUS Part 2

      Jeremy Gunn, staff director of the ARRB, persuaded the board to include CIA operations against Castro as "assassination records" because of the obvious, chronological connection between those operations and Kennedy's murder. Thus, records from the Church Committee on assassination as well as CIA records on its covert operations against Cuba were considered subject to disclosure. Nonetheless, the CIA didn't identify Director McCone's briefing of Lyndon Johnson about CIA Cuban operations to the ARRB, and so a key document was not made public at the National Archives.

      In 1997, however, while the ARRB was wrapping up its work, State Department historians were given access to two of McCone's memoranda of what he told LBJ for the FRUS series on U.S. policy towards Cuba in 1962-63.  The historians didn't make the entire memorandum public. Instead, they quoted a small part in the "editorial" comment below. 


      381. Editorial Note On November 28, 1963, Director of Central Intelligence John McCone met with President Lyndon Johnson at Johnson’s residence for approximately 30 minutes. According to McCone’s memorandum for the record, November 29, the discussion on Cuba was as follows: 

      “The President then turned to Cuba. He asked how effective our policy was and what was the future of Cuba. He asked how effective the economic denial program was and how we planned to dispose of Castro. He said he did not wish any repetition of any fiasco of 1961, but he felt that the Cuban situation was one that we could not live with and we had to evolve more aggressive policies. He looks to us for firm recommendations. In this connection we should prepare a briefing and also we should study carefully various courses of action.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI/McCone Files, Job 80-B01285A, DCI Meetings with the President, 23 November-31 December 1963) 

       On November 30 McCone again met with President Johnson with McGeorge Bundy also present. The meeting lasted for approximately 1-1/2 hours and according to McCone’s memorandum for the record, December 2, the discussion on Cuba was as follows: 

      “The President again raised the question of what we were going to do in Cuba. Bundy advised that a policy meeting was scheduled for Monday, time not set, to discuss Cuban policy. I pointed out to the President the statements of President Kennedy on September 5th, September 13th, and November 20th, 1962 and then I showed the evidence that proved absolutely that arms had been imported into Venezuela from Cuba. I stated that most positive efforts should be made immediately to secure complete OAS agreement on a course of action which would involve a series of steps ranging from economic denial through blockade and even to possible invasion, but that it must be OAS action, otherwise it would involve confrontation with Khrushchev. I stated that if the action was a Hemispheric action I didn’t see that the USSR could do much about it. The President agreed but decided to await the policy meeting on Monday.”


     The memo is notable for several things.  First, Lyndon Johnson said he wanted "more aggressive policies" than Kennedy's. It's hard to imagine what could be more aggressive than Kennedy's plan for a coup. What is more, in three weeks, Johnson reversed himself completely, warning the CIA on December 19, that someday it would have to answer for what it had been doing in Cuba. Second, his directive to McCone to prepare a briefing on various courses of action is undoubtedly what led FitzGerald to make oblique reference to the AMLASH operation in the document that led me to ask the CIA in 1976 for McCone's memoranda of his meetings with Johnson. Third, the first of these meetings took place at Johnson's house, The Elms, with no one else present. McGeorge Bundy was at the second, the next day. McCone apparently showed Johnson and Bundy the same Belgian FAL rifle, or at least a photo of it, that the CIA had found in an arms cache in Venezuela, a weapon Richard Helms had taken to Kennedy at the White House on November 19 as hard evidence of Castro's exporting the revolution to other Latin American countries. Since November 19 was the day the CIA decided to give Cubela the assassination weapons he had been requesting, it is inconceivable that McCone would not mention the AMLASH operation to Johnson in talking about the arms cache. Fourth, the FRUS editorial indicates that this was but one document from McCone's files on his meetings with Johnson from November 23 to December 31, 1963.  Only a few were given the ARRB.  State Department historians saw these two but the ARRB did not. Finally, in 1967 in a recorded phone conversation, John Connally told Johnson that reporters were telling him that Castro had Kennedy murdered in retaliation for assassination plots against him. Johnson responded that the allegations jogged his memory about "requests that were made of me back there right after I became president." He seemed to be saying that he was told about plans to assassinate Castro right after Kennedy's murder.

      When I as writing Murder, Inc., I emailed State Department historians in 2014 and asked for entire copies of McCone's two memoranda.  They replied:  "Unfortunately, we no longer have copies of the documents associated with that editorial note as backup documents for FRUS volumes are not permanent records."

      In short, some of the most significant Kennedy assassination records, McCone's memoranda of his meetings with President Johnson in the weeks after the assassination, were not given the ARRB and have not, to this day, been made public.

      Here is the typed version of LBJ's daily calendar for Nov. 28.  The McCone meeting is not listed, presumably because it was at Johnson's house.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

ARRB vs. FRUS Part 1

     This is the first of four posts about differences between the  records the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) -- and hence the National Archives -- got from the CIA pursuant to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 and the records State Department historians got from the CIA in preparation of the Foreign Relations of the United States histories (FRUS) that they  publish. As you will read, State Department historians had access to a highly significant JFK assassination record that was not turned over to the ARRB and National Archives. Moreover, not even the historians, apparently, were given access to a second possibly important assassination record.

      As the Church Committee was winding down and under deadline to get its report on the Kennedy assassination completed, I was concerned that although the committee had taken sworn testimony from 1963 CIA Director John McCone, it did not have memoranda of any meetings with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson about the AMLASH operation with Rolando Cubela.  McCone and the CIA were notorious for writing such memoranda.

      In this regard, I was puzzled by a memorandum Desmond FitzGerald prepared that summarized what Johnson should be told about Cuban operations, saying Cuban dissidents had been given general and specific assurances of support. President Kennedy's speech of November 18, saying Castro was a barrier to be removed, seemed such a specific assurance. Indeed a copy of the speech as it was reported by the NY Times was given to Cubela at the November 22, 1963, Paris meeting, and he was told the CIA wrote the speech.  This was true.  

     Lyndon Johnson had been kept out of the loop on Cuban operations when he was vice president. For this reason, I thought the CIA surely briefed him about the AMLASH operation after President Kennedy's death.  When I questioned FitzGerald's security officer about why there were no written records of such a briefing, he explained that such a sensitive matter, i.e. providing Cubela assassination weapons, would never be put in writing for the president.  Too many eyes would see it. In fact, he added, it probably would be conveyed by McCone to LBJ when no one else was present.  

     Therefore, I made a written request of the CIA for access to whatever papers the CIA had prepared for briefing Johnson about Kennedy's Cuban policy, e.g., FitzGerald's papers, and for memoranda of any of McCone's briefing of LBJ.  Below is the CIA's response.  It is NARA 157-10005-10402.  The letter from Walter Elder, the CIA's liaison to the committee, was addressed to committee staff director, William Miller.  The CIA denied  me access.  Among the reasons given was that some unnamed Church Committee staffer was once given access to the records.  (This doesn't mean he or she read them).  It was too late in the Church Committee's life to pursue the matter.

     In short, in 1976, when I asked to see memoranda of CIA Director McCone's briefings of Lyndon Johnson about Cuba after the assassination,  the CIA denied the request, saying someone else had looked at those memoranda.  But there was and is no record of who that person was or what he or she saw.  And even if he was allowed to see memoranda of McCone's briefings, he didn't acquire a copy for the Church Committee files. Indeed, there is no proof, other than Mr. Elder's assertion, that the Church Committee reviewed the memoranda.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Plan for RFK to meet Cubela?

      Seeing the actual documents is commonly better than reading about them, so I thought it might be valuable to see the CIA document that suggests Attorney General Robert Kennedy had agreed to meet with Rolando Cubela if necessary. Of course, this is a CIA document about its plan.  It doesn't prove the Attorney General had agreed.

        By way of background, on October 13, 1963, the CIA's Nestor Sanchez met with Cubela and Carlos Tepedino.  At that meeting, Cubela said he wanted to meet personally with Robert Kennedy. And so Sanchez cabled CIA headquarters: "recommend [Cubela} be flown back by military aircraft to U.S. for for two or three days.  Attempt arrange short meeting with [Robert Kennedy] or if this is not possible with other high official responsible for [Cuban] affairs."

        Within an hour of receiving the cable, Desmond FitzGerald called Robert Kennedy. The phone record of that call is in an earlier blog entry of August 26, 2019.  Ultimately though, the CIA decided instead to have Desmond FitzGerald fly to Paris and meet with Cubela under an alias as the personal representative of the Attorney General. The CIA document with the plans for that meeting is NARA 104-10102-10030.  It is a three-page undated and apparently sanitized document.  The first page is "Scenario" that describes the expected arrangements for the meeting, including an "impressive" safehouse under CIA control.  The third page, labeled Fall Back, below, provides that if the FitzGerald meeting isn't enough, Cubela will be flown back to the United States to meet with another high government official.  Although one might argue that this official might be Richard Helms or John McCone of the CIA, given that Cubela wanted to meet Robert Kennedy, there is little doubt that this was the CIA's fall back.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Curious Case of the Ted Shackley Transcripts



      I was recently asked about the transcript of a Church Committee hearing in which I questioned the CIA's Ted Shackley. He testified twice before Committee.  I took a look at the transcripts of the two hearings and was surprised at what I discovered.  The two transcripts are curious both with respect to fact that the first was released in 1998 and the second withheld until 2017 and with regard to what Shackley said.

       The witness.  Ted Shackley was chief of the CIA's Miami station from February 1962 to July 1965.  In its heyday, the station was purportedly the largest CIA station in the world and the largest employer in Florida.  The transcript of the first hearing on August 19, 1975 dealt with assassination plots with Shackley testifying under the alias of "Halley."  He testified under his real name in second on May 6, 1976 about the Kennedy assassination, but his name is redacted.

       The two transcripts.  Shackley's 1975 testimony (taken by Fred Baron, the "Baron transcript") was released with redactions in 1998.  The Miami station was known by the cryptonym JMWAVE, often shortened to WAVE.  Although he testified under the alias of "Mr. Halley," his true identity is easily determined from the transcript because he was asked about passages in the CIA Inspector General's report in which he was named as helping the CIA's Bill Harvey move material in a U-Haul truck.  Since a portion of the report was attached to the transcript, you turn to the attachment and read that Shackley was the man who helped Bill Harvey in move.  Someone at the CIA was careless when he or she approved the document and didn't redact Shackley's name from the attachment.   

     For inexplicable reasons, Shackley's 1976 testimony was withheld in 1998 and not released until 2017.  While his name is redacted in this transcript, he is identified as the chief of JMWAVE for the same period stated in the first transcript.  One might dream up sinister reasons for this.  Had Shackley said something in his second appearance that he did not say in the first?  Is that why it was withheld? I would be flattered by this interpretation since I was the lead questioner in the second, but  this doesn't seem likely from a reading of the two transcripts.  A more likely and prosaic explanation would be that Shackley testified under his true name the second time.  This forced CIA reviewers to redact his name and, in so doing, they may have decided to withhold the entire transcript from release in 1998.  But if this is the reason, they must not have read the transcript carefully enough to know that the witness in both transcripts is said to be chief of JMWAVE and he is identified as Shackley in the attachment to the Baron transcript. But, who knows what the reviewer's thinking was.  

     The May 6, 1976 transcript.  (The Johnston transcript).  If you read the whole transcript, you will see that there are several others at the hearing, Senator Richard Schweiker and Committee lawyer Paul Wallach, as well as Seymour Bolten and a man named "John _____" from the CIA.  The result is an unstructured and somewhat confusing interview as each questioner pursued his own line of inquiry. 

     Generally, as Shackley says, the FBI was responsible for both criminal and counterintelligence investigations within the United States.  But WAVE was an exception. The CIA station was conducting counterintelligence (but not criminal) investigations throughout the Cuban exile community.  Because WAVE could do domestic investigations, I wanted to find out how involved it was in the investigation of Kennedy's assassination.  

      In addition, I had cables from CIA headquarters to WAVE about the delivery into Cuba of sniper rifles that the CIA's Nestor Sanchez had promised Rolando Cubela at the key November 22, 1963, meeting in Paris. Cubela, a "comandante" of the July 26 Movement and a "Hero of the Revolution," was a friend of Fidel Castro.  But he thought Castro had betrayed the Revolution by embracing communists in the government and was prepared to overthrow him with or without the CIA's help.  At least, this is what he told the CIA. 

       After the Paris meeting, CIA told WAVE to plan on delivering a cache of weapons to Cubela.  But in a cable of December 6, 1963, the CIA backtracked and said the delivery had to be delayed pending review in Washington.  The implication was that Kennedy's assassination might change things with respect to the operation. (Page 202 Murder, Inc.)  

      My questions cover three main areas.  First, was the AMLASH (Cubela) operation an assassination?  The CIA had always argued it was not.  Rather, it characterized the operation as a coup.  I thought this was splitting hairs.  Cubela had been asking for rifles with telescopic sights, but the CIA dragged its feet until November 19, 1963.  It did not seem mere coincidence that Richard Helms met with the President at the White House that day and, on the same day, approved giving Cubela the sniper rifles he wanted. Second, what role did WAVE play in the investigation of the assassination?  And third, did the assassination result in a change in CIA policy towards Cuba?

       Rifles with telescopic sights are assassination weapons. Shackley discusses weapons in the Baron transcript.  He paid attention to weaponry.  Teams sent into Cuba commonly were given either short-range, self-defense weapons like pistols and light rifles or heavier machine guns for the backup teams that protected their comrades in the case of trouble.  (P. 32). The Cubans frequently talked about assassinating this or that leader, and when they did, they always thought of a long-range weapon, a rifle with a telescopic sight.  (P. 34).  Shackley recalled putting a cache into Cuba for Cubela, but he wasn't asked what was in the cache.  (P. 81).  (A cache was a sealed container, sometimes water proof, that would be infiltrated into Cuba by CIA teams.  This was classic spy-stuff. Larger boats would sail from Florida to Cuba carrying CIA-paid exiles, who would then get into smaller boats or inflatables and motor or paddle ashore to hide the cache in Cuba before returning to Florida).  However, later in his testimony, when Mr. Baron mentioned giving the Cubans high-powered rifles with telescopic sights and conceivably with silencers, Shackley pulled him up short.  "We had high-powered rifles. I cannot think now of a case where there was a sniper scope attached to the rifle.... I do not recall a sniper scope or a silenced rifle."  (P. 101).

     So I wanted to ask him specifically about the cache for Cubela.  Here is the exchange.  "Johnston:  Well, was it common to drop, to your knowledge, to drop rifles with telescopic sights?   Shackley: Well, I think the thing that would be uncommon would be the telescopic sights."  (p. 47).  Shackley knew what I was driving at.  He knew Sanchez promised Cubela rifles with sights at the November 22, 1963 meeting.  He knew President Kennedy had been killed by a rifle with a telescopic sight.  To Shackley and to other CIA officers, giving Cubela rifles with telescopic sights converted the AMLASH operation from a coup to an assassination. He also knew that when the cache was finally left for Cubela in February1964, after Kennedy's assassination and after the review in Washington, it did not contain sniper rifles.

     WAVE was not tasked to investigate Kennedy's assassination. Shackley says in the Johnston transcript that he was not given orders to investigate Kennedy's murder. (P. 9) WAVE's capability to conduct such an investigation in the Cuban community was, however, "quite good." (P. 11). WAVE did not have sources in Cuban intelligence in Cuba, but it did have sources who had access to people in Cuban intelligence.  It never tasked its sources to make inquiries though. (P. 13) Why?  Shackley gave the excuse that, after all, WAVE had no "hard information" that Cuba was involved in Kennedy's assassination.(P. 14) This excuse was obviously disingenuous.  Intelligence agencies don't wait for hard information before they investigate.  They investigate in order to get hard information.

     When pressed on why WAVE didn't task its sources in Cuba, Shackley responded obliquely:  "In my view, you would have had to have had a penetration of one or more of the Cuban intelligence services. The penetration would have had to have been in the 26th of July Movement [the cadre who had been in the Revolution with Castro] and had enough support with the top leadership that it could have moved freely in and out of a specific circle. Would probably had to have been at the level of a Comandante. We did not have that kind of resource in depth to conduct that kind of investigation." (P. 24)  

      By "comandante," Shackley was surely thinking of Cubela, but WAVE didn't control Cubela.  He was being run out of CIA headquarters.  When asked if he knew of Sanchez's November 22 meeting with Cubela, Shackley answered:  "No, I think the basic answer to that question is no, but if you looked at my previous testimony, I previously said that in the case of this Cuban comandante over the years, I had acquired some knowledge of the fact that he existed and he was being run by my colleagues in Washington, but that was not a clearcut assassination operation." (P. 34).  In other words, if the CIA wanted to determine whether the Cubans were involved in the President's assassination, the best person to ask was Cubela.  There is no record that it ever asked him.

      Although WAVE's capabilities to ask domestic sources about a Cuban connection to the Kennedy assassination were quite good, Shackley was never contacted by the Warren Commission. (P. 42). 

     Was there a change in Cuban policy after Kennedy's assassination? Murder, Inc. documents the "sea change" in U.S. Cuban policy in the wake of the assassination. I didn't have that documentation when I was interviewing Shackley, but I suspected this might be the case and wanted to ask him. On this line of questioning, Shackley's memory failed.  He didn't recall the December 6, 1963, cable from Sanchez, telling WAVE not to deliver the cache of assassination weapons to Cubela until a policy review in Washington was complete. (P. 49). He didn't recall a "stand down" in operations after the assassination.  Rather, he said, operations were always being called off.  (P. 50). He didn't recall if CIA Director McCone met with him in Florida after the assassination. He deflected the question by referring to a time in December 1962, a year earlier, when McCone (and John Kennedy) welcomed the return of Brigade 2506 from its imprisonment in Cuba at the Orange Bowl.  He couldn't recall if he had discussions with someone from CIA headquarters, such as McCone or Helms, about the direction of Cuban policy after the assassination.  (P. 64)  Shackley hedged: "I don't recall this kind of specific conversation with a particular individual, but I'm sure that these kinds of conversations must have taken place." (P. 65)    

      Shackley's selective memory. If you read through both transcripts, you will find that Shackley had a remarkable memory for things of relative minor importance, but on major matters such as those I was asking about his memory failed.  For example, he remembered General Lansdale's visit to WAVE in 1962 and what they talked about.  He only had one meeting with Lansdale in Florida.  He clearly remembered he never discussed assassination with McCone.  (Baron transcript 15, 27).  When Senator Schweiker asked him about his dealings with a banker, whose name is still redacted. Shackley's memory was spot on.  He remembered him.  And, when I asked if he and the banker ever discussed the Kennedy assassination, Shackley answered:  "No I wouldn't have talked about that.  My recollection of the kind of things that I would have talked about with _____ would have been the formation of some cover company, the purchase of a boat, the rental or term lease of you know pieces of acreage for training sites and things like that.  That is what I recall of _____ relationship with us at the time." (P. 75-76).  Exasperated by Shackley's selective memory, I had to observe:  "I guess I just have a little bit of trouble, [illegible] with your recollection of conversations with him. But you don't recall whether you talked to McCone or Helms about a connection between the Kennedy assassination and the Cuban operation."  Shackley answered by saying that the banker was an important man who made an impression on him, to which I responded sarcastically, "I thought Mr. Helms and Mr. McCone would also make an impression." (P. 76-77).

     Shackley distinguished coup from assassinationsMurder, Inc. documents that the CIA met with Cubela on September 7, 1963, for the purpose of enlisting him in a coup plot in Cuba.  But, at that first meeting, he said he wanted to "eliminate" Castro.  In later meetings that fall, he repeatedly argued that Castro's assassination had to be the first step in the coup.  This is why he wanted certain "tools," such  rifles with telescopic sights and a dart pen. So a line of questioning in the Johnston transcript by Mr. Wallach is interesting.  It begins with Wallach asking if Castro was aware that the CIA was supporting Cubans in overthrowing his regime.  Shackley answered quickly "Yes." (P. 35).  But after some confusion over a follow up question, Wallach explained:  "I don't see that much of a distinction between sending someone in who is going to try to foment a revolution, the result of which would probably be the death of Castro as opposed to sending someone in to [kill him]. (P. 36). Shackley went out of his way to correct Wallach.  He answered a different question from Wallach before saying:  "I do want to come back to your point.  I do think there is a difference in the Latin American revolutionary sense of plotting revolution against somebody as opposed to plotting a specific assassination operation against a particular individual.  You know, maybe we have an honest difference of opinion on that point, but my view differs from yours."  (P. 37).  In hindsight, Shackley is giving a much stronger answer than I appreciated at the time.  

     Shackley was drawing a clear line between a coup and an assassination and was not going to let the record show him agreeing to Wallach's blurring that line.  This takes on added significance because Shackley was far more involved in and knowledgeable of the AMLASH operation than appears in these transcripts or than one might expect of a CIA station chief.  Desmond FitzGerald told him that he was going to meet with Cubela personally.  Shackley strongly advised against it, warning of the "flap" that might result if anything went wrong because FitzGerald was such a high-level CIA officer and well-known in Washington.  This would have been in October 1963 since FitzGerald met with Cubela on October 29.  Shackley was in attendance at a White House meeting with the President on November 12, 1963, ten days before Kennedy's death, at which FitzGerald and other top CIA officers briefed the President on the progress of the coup plot.  (Murder, Inc. 121, 137). Shackley's strong reaction to Wallach's conflating coup and assassination seems intended to state for the record that he was not consulted when the CIA approved promising Cubela assassination weapons at the November 22 meeting.

     Seymour Bolten's presence at the 1976 interview. Shackley's appearance at the May 6, 1976 interview was unusual in that he was accompanied by two other CIA officers. Bolten was one of several "liaison" officers from the CIA to the Church Committee. The last name of John, the other individual from the CIA, is still redacted.  Witnesses could be accompanied by their lawyers, but not by officials from their agencies.  I don't remember if Bolten made a special request to attend this interview or whether he and John showed up and weren't challenged.  I remember Wallach afterward complained to senior committee staff because Bolten had been FitzGerald's deputy in 1963.  This means he was involved in the AMLASH plot in 1963, but it was way too late to raise this.  The Church Committee's time was running out.  The committee's report on its investigation of the intelligence agencies performance in the investigation of Kennedy's assassination was released on June 23, 1976 a little over a month after Shackley's interview.

     A final curious coincidence is that Shackley's memoir was published posthumously by Potomac Books, a commercial publisher, in 2005.  Murder, Inc. was also published by Potomac Books in 2019, by which time, it had been acquired by the University of Nebraska Press.


Friday, January 13, 2023

Newly Released Files Part 4, The CIA in Mexico City

     The most intriguing documents in the new released files are ones relating to the CIA's Anne Goodpasture. She was a "charter member" of the CIA, having worked for its predecessor the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WWII.  Thus, like Julia Child, whom she knew in the OSS, Goodpasture was a trailblazer for women in the intelligence services.

      But her importance to this blog is that in 1977, during the House Assassinations Committee investigation, she prepared several memos on the operations of the CIA station in Mexico City at the time of Oswald's visit when he attempted to get to Cuba.  

      In 1998, Dr. Jeremy Gunn, executive director of the Assassination Records Review Board, interviewed Ms. Goodpasture and discussed some of the items below. That interview adds nothing to what appears in the following documents except that she spelled her first name Anne with an "e" whereas the CIA records show her name as Ann.

1. The Mexico City station.  In the first of the memos, Goodpasture describes the history of the counterintelligence work of the station in covering the Soviet and Cuban diplomatic establishments there.  She identifies nineteen of the CIA officers doing this work in 1963.  She is highly critical of the results of a liaison relationship with the Direcccion Federal de Seguridad (DFS) of the Mexican government, calling its agents "vicious, venal, corrupt extortionists." The CIA built its own surveillance of the Soviet and Cuban offices in Mexico City. This is how Oswald came to the CIA's attention when he contacted the Cuban and Soviet consulates to get visas.  The CIA's photograph of a man entering the Soviet establishment, mistakenly identified as Oswald, has been the subject of much controversy over the years, but the CIA's explanation that it was simply a mistake has been pretty much accepted. The important thing about this memo is the transcripts of the phone calls between the Soviet and Cuban consulates about Oswald's visa requests.  The bottom line is that the Soviets thought Oswald wanted to return to Russia with his wife and wouldn't give him a visa until it checked with the Soviet embassy in Washington.  The Cubans wouldn't give him an intransit visa that would permit him to stop there on the way to Russia unless he had a Soviet visa,

2. The Mexico City intercepts.  This 105-page document, apparently prepared by Goodpasture in 1977, includes the document discussed in paragraph 1 above, but it also includes the CIA cables to and from Mexico City reporting on intercepted phone calls (wiretaps) on phone lines at the Cuba and Soviet establishments related to Oswald's visit and to the assassination.

     The CIA's Mexico station realized that Oswald's visit to Mexico City in September and attempt to get a visa to Cuba may have been because "he was getting documented to make a quick escape after assassinating the president" and cabled CIA headquarters to make sure it understood this possibility. (Cable of November 24, page 77).   

      The next day, November 25, the station reminded headquarters of Castro's September 7, 1963 threat to assassinate Kennedy.  "FYI.  Presume headquarters is aware of AP story datelined Hava September 7.  At reception at Brazilian Embassy Castro is quoted: 'We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind. United States leaders should think (reflect) that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.'" (page 85)  The distribution of this cable at CIA headquarters included the Special Affairs Staff (SAS 5), which was Desmond FitzGerald's group. A case officer in SAS, Nestor Sanchez, had met with Cubela that very September 7 in Brazil. As pointed out in a previous post, Sanchez testified to the Church Committee that he did not know of this threat at the time. Sanchez also testified that he returned from the Paris meeting with Cubela to CIA headquarters on November 23, so he was there when this cable arrived. That SAS was so stupid as not to connect the Cubela plot with Castro's threat and with Kennedy's assassination is inconceivable.

    The most intriguing of these intercepts is a phone call at 12:50 pm Mexico City time.  (page 74) Before discussing the phone call, some background is needed.  This call was placed twenty minutes after Kennedy was shot in Dallas, which is in the same time zone.  News of shots being fired at the president went out to the world instantly.  At 12:40 Central Standard Time, Walter Cronkite reported on CBS that three shots were fired and the president was seriously wounded. The French reporter Jean Daniel was in Havana on this day interviewing Castro over lunch. Daniel wrote that the lunch was interrupted by someone bringing in news of the shooting. He said the time was 1:30 Havana time, which is an hour ahead of Dallas. In other words, Castro knew of the shooting around 12:35.  
     Now for the phone call.  It was from Alfredo Mirabal. He had just replaced Azcue as Cuban consul on Monday of that week.  The CIA later identified him as "the chief Cuban Intelligence officer in Mexico City." The intercept is a brief conversation with Valery Kostikov. He was in the Soviet consulate and was the man who Oswald had talked to there. Kostikov was also in Department 13 of the KGB, specializing in assassination and sabotage.  Mirabal called to speak to Pavel Yatskov, but according to the cable, he "was apparently unavailable" and Kostikov came on the line.

     The conversation makes no sense.   The men seem to be talking in code.  They surely knew about the shooting in Dallas by this time, yet they don't mention it.  After a brief exchange about whether Kostikov recovered a suitcase, Mirabal says:  "I called to tell you the following, that regarding that matter that we talked about to see if we could spend Sunday in Chapultapec Park because my wife is preparing some food to eat there."  Kostikov answers:  "I'm sorry but I've just made plans for another trip. I'm leaving this very day. So please forgive me for not being able to go with you.  (At this point Kostikov in error refers to Mirabal as Azcue and Mirabal corrects him)."  

     Did these men know Kennedy had been shot? Did they know or at least assume the CIA was listening in to their phone call?  If so, why would they use the telephone for any significant business? Does the conversation seem nonsense because they are talking in a kind of code? Why would the Cuban consul care about Kostikov finding a suitcase? Was the reference to Chapultapec Park a request to meet there where the CIA couldn't eavesdrop?  Why did Kostikov make the mistake of calling Mirabal, "Azcue." If this was indeed a social call, Kostikov is unlikely to have made such a mistake. Rather than being a social call, was Mirabal suggesting the men meet and talk about the assassination?  And did they have foreknowledge of the assassination and that Oswald was the assassin?  Did Kostikov make the mistake of calling Mirabal "Azcue" because Kostikov and Azcue had met Oswald on his visit to Mexico City in late September?  

     When I was on the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1976, I talked to James Angelton, the CIA's counterintelligence chief and the man who had interfaced with the Warren Commission, about this phone call.  I showed him the cable. Angelton had always said the CIA investigation of Kennedy's assassination would never close and had assigned his assistant Raymond Rocca to follow it.  Angelton agreed that Mirabal and Kostikov seemed to be talking in code because they knew, as all good spies do, the phone might be tapped, but he pointed out that while the timing and gobbledygook raise suspicsions, you can't reach conclusions from suspicions.  It is notable, however, that this cable apparently raised no suspicions in 1963, or, if they did, the CIA made a conscious decision not to pursue the matter.  For example, Kostikov was put under surveillance on November 22, and so the CIA should have learned if he in fact made a trip.  (Page 59). There is no evidence the CIA pursued the matter though.

      A final document in this set is a fitness report on Ann Goodpasture. I highlight this with some hesitation because publishing the fitness report seems an invasion of Ms. Goodpasture's privacy, as it would be for anyone's fitness report.  However, there is a relevant tidbit in her report.  The reviewer is John Whitten at CIA headquarters, who oversaw CIA operations in Mexico.  Whitten'c comments in the fitness report are that Ms. Goodpasture's ratings were too high because while her work was as good as that of others in Mexico City, it "is still not up to DDP [Deputy Director of Plans] standards." Whitten's complaint was not about the quality though but rather about how much money the Mexico City station was spending.  In particular, Goodpasture's LITEMPO project was too expensive.  "The agents are paid too much and their activities are not adequately reported." While Whitten's comments may be a bit crabbed, they do raise questions about how good the CIA investigation of the Kennedy assassination in Mexico City was.

Friday, January 6, 2023

The Newly Released Files, Part 3, Asciate ogni speranza, o voi ch'intrate

    The Italian words chosen for the title of this post, “abandon hope all ye who enter,” come obviously from Dante’s Inferno which has the words inscribed over the gates of hell. They could just as easily be used for the JFK Collection at the National Archives though. This is not to diminish the tremendous efforts of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which oversaw assembly of the collection,  the employees of the government agencies that did the work, or those at the National Archives who maintain them. Yet for those who dive in thinking a smoking gun lurks in the records, asciate ogni speranza, o voi ch'intrate!

1. 40,000 unindexed FBI records. In December 1977, during the House Assassinations Committee investigation, CIA headquarters answered the Mexico City Station's request for copies of FBI documents related to the assassination work in Mexico City because "FBI does not have the personnel to examine first 40,000 pages.... These documents are not indexed.... There no way to determine which documents relate to Mexico City except by search of each individual document." The CIA sent three people to the FBI to do the work, but apparently after the first day of work, they got through only ten of the 200 "sections" of documents at the FBI. (See pages 184-85 of Murder, Inc. on the chaotic filing system for Hoover's feared FBI files).

     The researcher may find some comfort in the fact that the ARRB insured that the JFK Collection was indexed -- although hundreds of boxes of possibly related documents are not.

2. The CIA is not a monolith. It is often of two minds, but just as often it is careful as to which mind it makes public. For example, when Cubela's case officer, Nestor Sanchez, testified before the Church Committee in 1976, I asked him about Castro's September 7, 1963, threat that U.S. leaders would not be safe if they aided plans to eliminate Cuban leaders. This threat was made to an American reporter at a function at the Brazilian embassy in Havana. That very day, Sanchez met in Porto Alegre, Brazil, with Rolando Cubela who told Sanchez he wanted the CIA’s help in "eliminating" Castro.

Q. Castro does give a warning about United States leaders aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuba leaders, and you were doing that very thing.

A. There is probably a coincidence there. I don't recall that I knew of this at that time [even though the coincidence suggests that Castro knew what Sanchez was doing], I've certainly heard it since, but I don't see the point that you are trying to make, because if Castro is behind or was behind AMLASH [Cubela], then are you proposing that he would also publicly in the Brazilian embassy state that this was going to take place? In other words, was he telegraphing this plan that he had?

      But while Sanchez was opining on this to the Senate Intelligence Committee, others at the CIA had reached the opposite conclusion. In a 1975 memo to Rockefeller Commission director David Belin, the CIA's E. Henry Knoche, wrote: "There can be no question... that this event represented a more-than-ordinary attempt to get a message on the record in the United States.... Castro's statements.... dealt principally with American political leadership, in particular President Kennedy, whom he excoriated in an extraordinarily provocative fashion... ('Kennedy is a 'cretin')."

     Of course, Knoche's views were not new.  When an interagency committee on Cuban affairs studied Castro's statement in the fall of 1963, before Kennedy's assassination, it concluded that Castro was threatening drastic action and might, among other things, assassinate an American businessman or diplomat in Latin America. It apparently didn't consider that he might do exactly what he said and assassinate the President. (Murder, Inc. pages 108-09).

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Newly Released Files, Part 2

      The process for releasing the JFK files is like a slow leak. The information comes out drip by changed drip. The same document may have been released previously, but the new one will have a deletion, such as someone’s name, removed and replaced by the name. Nothing is dramatically new in any individual document. Collectively, however, they are adding to the story of a shoddy investigation of the assassination in 1963 and 1964, lackadaisical attitudes on the part of the intelligence agencies since, and a repeated lack of forthrightness to the public and to our elected representatives in Congress.

1.  Richard Helms and Nestor Sanchez meet with DRE leaders.  On November 13, 1962, as the Cuban Missile Crisis wound down, Helms and Sanchez met with Luis Rocha and Jose Lasa of the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE). Helms was Deputy Director for Plans, the #2 job, at the CIA. Sanchez was a case officer (he handled agents) in what was then called Task Force W, run by Bill Harvey. It would be renamed the Special Affairs Staff when Desmond FitzGerald took over a short time later.  The meeting was held in Helms's office at CIA. Helms used his real name; Sanchez used an alias. Helms outlined the purpose of the meeting was first to gain information on the status of the Soviet missiles in Cuba and second to discuss the CIA/DRE relationship. This memorandum of the meeting gives a good feel for how the CIA did business in those days, but this isn't what is important about the document.

     Rather, the important thing is what would happen later. Sanchez would go on to become the CIA's case officer dealing with Rolando Cubela in a plot to overthrow/assassinate Fidel Castro.  Just over a year later, November 22, 1963, the two men would meet in a safehouse in Paris. At the meeting, Sanchez promised Cubela rifles with telescopic sights and a poison pen (or a dart pen).  This later meeting would end abruptly upon word of the President's death. That Sanchez would be the case officer both for DRE and Cubela might make sense because Cubela had led the DRE in Cuba during the Revolution. 

     I was unaware of Sanchez's connection to the DRE when I was on the Church Committee. I don't know if others on the committee were aware of this.  I never saw it mentioned in the documents. The bottom line is that the CIA was in a ticklish position dealing with the Church Committee. If it were forthright and told the committee that Sanchez had served as case officer to the DRE, the committee would surely have delved deeper into DRE and Oswald.

     The Warren Commission was interested in the DRE because Lee Harvey Oswald had a street confrontation with members in New Orleans in August 1963 and a debate on radio with one member.  At the time, Oswald was pro-Castro while the U.S. branch of DRE was anti-Castro.  The bottom line is that CIA had been in the same ticklish position with the Warren Commission. If it told the commission about its own ties to DRE, the commission might have been led to Sanchez and thus have learned about the CIA's plot to kill Castro.

2.  Recruitment of Esebio AZCUE Lopez. Azcue was the Cuban consul in Mexico City with whom Oswald met and argued during his visit there in September-October 1963. Oswald wanted a visa to Cuba. Azcue supposedly didn't like Oswald and told him he was giving the Cuban Revolution a bad name. Azcue would leave his post in Mexico and return to Cuba on November 18, 1963, four days before Kennedy was murdered.  The CIA assured the Warren Commission that Azcue's replacement had been announced well in advance, thus presumably demonstrating there was nothing sinister in his seemingly hightailing it back to Cuba before the assassination.  However, again the CIA wasn't forthright. It didn't tell the commission that it had given the green light to Azcue's recruitment -- although it didn't think he would be amenable.  Notably, the commission didn't get confirmation about Azcue's reason for leaving Mexico until a week before its report was publicly released. He was finally questioned about his encounter with Oswald by the House Assassinations Committee more than twenty years later. His testimony stuck to what was in the Warren Report.

3. Gilberto Policarpo Lopez. His story may be found in earlier posts on this blog, but the new releases merit revisiting his tale. Lopez crossed (fled?) from Texas into Mexico about twelve hours after the assassination. He arrived in Mexico City on November 25 and stayed in a hotel until flying to Havana as the only passenger on a regularly scheduled Cubana Airlines flight with a crew of nine.  CIA surveillance cameras at the Mexico City airport took a picture of him about to board the plane. He wore sunglasses. It was 7:00 pm.  The sunglasses hinder identification and suggest he had been warned about the surveillance.  

     In March 1964, the CIA received a report from Mexican police saying Lopez had been "involved in the assassination."  The CIA did nothing to investigate this report, nor did it tell the Warren Commission. In fact, it did just the opposite. When the Warren Commission staff visited Mexico City in April, the CIA station assured them that it had received nothing to suggest a conspiracy even though it had received the report on Lopez a month earlier.  Later FBI reports established that Lopez had been living in Tampa, but the FBI did not tell the agent doing the investigation of the allegation that Lopez was involved in the assassination. The agent reported that on November 17 Lopez was at a meeting of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee awaiting a phone call from Cuba for the go-ahead to return to the island (he had visited before).  There was no phone call.  The next day, President Kennedy visited Tampa.  This was the same day Azcue left Mexico. The same open-air convertible that ferried Kennedy around Tampa would be used in Dallas four days later.  And Lopez would leave for Texas on November 20, the same day the CIA signaled Cubela that it would provide him assassination weapons, and the same day Lee Harvey Oswald must have made the decision to kill Kennedy.

     The Church Committee's report was the first public mention of Lopez's possible connection to Kennedy's assassination.  With its mandate expiring, it recommended the newly-formed House Assassinations Committee continue the investigation.  However, because I wasn't satisfied that we had left no stone unturned, I went to the Secret Service to see if perhaps it had investigated Lopez.  After all, the Mexican police had claimed he was involved in Kennedy's assassination, and so I thought the Secret Service might have followed up as part of its protection of future presidents. I had experience in the Army intelligence with "watch lists" of possible threats to visiting bigwigs. For this reason, I went to Secret Service headquarters where I gave an agent identifying information on Lopez. After entering that information into his computer, he announced that the Secret Service had no file on Lopez.  "What is he alleged to have done?" the agent asked.  "Assassinate John Kennedy," I answered.  "Check with the CIA." The CIA may not have been of much help.  According to a document in the 2017 releases, the CIA Office of Security didn't have Lopez in its database before the Church Committee began investigating.

The new releases show the CIA was still casual about Lopez.  It wasn't until December 1976, six months after the Church Committee report was made public, that the agency prepared its own chronology.  Someone highligted in the margin that Lopez was alleged to have been involved in Kennedy's assassination.  Yet there is no evidence of any further investigation except in 1977, presumably for the House Assassinations Committee investigation, the CIA asked an officer who had been in the Mexico City station in 1964 if he remembered the Mexican police report that Lopez was involved in the assassination. The officer did not remember. However, he suggested a retired officer may have handled the report. There is no evidence the CIA contacted the retired officer.

     In the end, while the House Assassinations Committee report chided the CIA for its derelictions in 1963 and 1964, it did not investigate on its own.  Instead, it ventured that the Mexican police allegation about Lopez was probably wrong. However, since the House report does not mention President Kennedy's visit to Tampa on November 18, it didn't seem to understand how sinister the known facts about Lopez were and remain. Johnny Roselli was part of the underworld that the CIA recruited to assassinate Castro in the 1960-1962 time frame. He had contacts in Cuba who were close enough to Castro to kill him. In 1967, Roselli's lawyer suggested to the FBI that Castro had dispatched "teams" to several different cities to kill Kennedy.  Roselli had no memory of any of this when he testifed to the Church Committee.  He was murdered six months later. The question remains: Was Lopez on a team in Tampa?

4. AMTHUG is a sitting duck. A previously released document deserves mention on the matter of forthrightness. AMTHUG was the cryptonym for Fidel Castro, a combination of "AM" for Cuban-related matters and "Thug," which was, in the CIA's way of thinking, a mneomic device. This cable from the CIA station in Mexico to headquarters is dated November 10, 1963. "DEGRIP," a businessman who traveled to Cuba, told the CIA that Castro had resumed eating at the Montecatini restaurant in Havana. (It is still there). Castro arrived with only one security car as escort. He waited in the line outside just like a regular patron. Then he would enter with two companions, leaving his security detail outside. The other patrons were not disturbed or ejected. Castro would go into the kitchen alone to chat with the employees. The businessman provided this information, remarking "you can draw own conclusion on possibilities." He also commented that Castro "is a sitting duck."

In other words, twelve days before Kennedy was assassinated by the pro-Castro Oswald, the CIA station in Mexico City, which would soon be overwhelmed by demands from headquarters related to the President's assassination, was telling headquarters how Castro could be assassinated. Now the layman might think this happened all the time, and that might be true. However, during the Church Committee investigation of assassination plots against foreign leaders, the CIA repeatedly argued that John McCone, who was director in those days, was a Catholic and morally opposed to assassination. Everyone at CIA understood, supposedly, that McCone would not contenance assassination. It is, therefore, interesting to say the least that despite McCone's alleged injunctions against assassination, the Mexico station had no compunction against relaying information about how to assassinate Castro.