President John F. Kennedy. (photo: Getty/AFP)
07 October 15
Now we learn that the CIA chief at the time did all he could to bury “incendiary” information.
t is somewhat lost to history what a writhing ball of snakes the national security establishment was during the three years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, especially after the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion and, subsequently, Kennedy’s rejection of that establishment’s more bellicose proposals during the Cuban Missile Crisis. These were the days of Operation Northwoods, a proposal from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to manufacture acasus belli that would have so inflamed American public opinion as to make an invasion of Cuba inevitable. One of the possibilities suggested in the memo was blowing up John Glenn on the launching pad at Cape Canaveral. The memo is stored in the archives of the Kennedy Library in Boston. I’ve held it in my hand. It is an altogether remarkable government document, and it made it all the way up the policy chain to the Secretary of Defense before Robert McNamara turned it off. That’s what it was like back in those days.
(Which is not to say the Kennedy brothers didn’t contribute to the atmosphere in their own way, with their off-the-books attempts to rid the world of Fidel Castro.)
So it should be no surprise that, after the president was murdered in Dallas, the national security establishment’s first objective was not to tell the truth to the American people about how their president was snuffed in broad daylight. It was to concoct fictions and diversions, most devoted to bureaucratic ass-covering. This brings us to Philip Shenon’s report today in the magazine version of Tiger Beat On The Potomac, in which Shenon tells us of how John McCone, who was put in charge of the CIA after Kennedy fired Allen Dulles, did all he could to bury “incendiary” information where the bumbling Warren Commission couldn’t find it.
But did McCone come close to perjury all those decades ago? Did the onetime Washington outsider in fact hide agency secrets that might still rewrite the history of the assassination? Even the CIA is now willing to raise these questions. Half a century after JFK’s death, in a once-secret report written in 2013 by the CIA’s top in-house historian and quietly declassified last fall, the spy agency acknowledges what others were convinced of long ago: that McCone and other senior CIA officials were “complicit” in keeping “incendiary” information from the Warren Commission. According to the report by CIA historian David Robarge, McCone, who died in 1991, was at the heart of a “benign cover-up” at the spy agency, intended to keep the commission focused on “what the Agency believed at the time was the ‘best truth’—that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing John Kennedy.” The most important information that McCone withheld from the commission in its 1964 investigation, the report found, was the existence, for years, of CIA plots to assassinate Castro, some of which put the CIA in cahoots with the Mafia. Without this information, the commission never even knew to ask the question of whether Oswald had accomplices in Cuba or elsewhere who wanted Kennedy dead in retaliation for the Castro plots.
While I have neither the time nor the patience to go down America’s deepest, darkest, and most mystical rabbit hole, I should note that I always thought this would be the fallback story if the Warren Commission’s fabulism ever truly fell apart – that Castro had ordered a retaliatory strike on the president and that the unsung heroes of our intelligence agencies kept the lid on it so as to prevent an overwhelming public outcry in favor of invading the island. In other words, the same complex network of operators and interests who wanted to blow up Glenn on the launching pad, when presented with an actual casus belli, chose instead to deceive the American people in the interest of hemispheric peace. OK.
(Again, it should be noted that Robert Kennedy believed, and was haunted by, the notion that his brother’s murder was blowback from the administration’s attempts to kill Castro.)
What is made plain (again) by this latest revelation is that the Warren Commission’s investigation was next to worthless except as an exercise in pacification through propaganda. First of all, in one of the great conflicts of interest in American history, Dulles was on the commission. Almost every important witness from inside the government either lied to investigators, or shaded the truth so deeply that it began to grow mushrooms. It’s been 40 years now since the plots against Castro were revealed and, when they were, the surviving commission staffers went up the wall at having been denied this information at the time they were working the case. Comes now the CIA itself, to explain that McCone was substantially less than forthcoming with relevant information.
It’s increasingly difficult to accept the notion that so flawed an investigation, honeycombed by people with agendas contrary to its stated purpose, hobbled by lying witnesses, and denied access to relevant documents and information that might have related to the motive behind the crime, somehow stumbled into the correct conclusion anyway. It’s also hard to believe that, in case it all came apart suddenly, those same people with those same agendas didn’t have a backup plan that covered their asses and made them look wise and noble. As I’ve often said, I’m an agnostic on who shot from where and why. (If you want to convince me it was Oswald, alone, then you’ve got to give me a believable motive, which nobody ever has.) We may never know the truth about the mechanics of the murder. But we do know there was a cover-up, and that we never were told the whole truth about the events surrounding the murder of a president. That is a crime against history that remains unsolved.