Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?
Published on Tuesday, December 29, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
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
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
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 secret documents:"
"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
"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,
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," and added:
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 activities."
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.
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 covert action.
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.
article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.