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From: Steve Bochan <sbochan@erols.com>

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Subject: Castro, RFK and the CIA

Date: 29 Jun 1998 11:49:24 -0500

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In trying to catch up on all the news while I was away, I found the

attached article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post which may

be of some interest.




                   The Castro Plot Thickens--Again


                   By Evan Thomas


                   Sunday, June 28, 1998



On its face, the document looks like a smoking gun. It is a two-page

"memorandum of conversation" between President Gerald R. Ford and

Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, as recorded by Brent Scowcroft,

then deputy national security adviser. The date is Jan. 4, 1975, and

Kissinger is telling the president about a possible scandal that

threatens to wreck the CIA. Press reports have begun to appear about CIA

"dirty tricks," and Congress is getting ready to launch an

investigation. Kissinger has apparently spoken with former CIA director

Richard Helms, and Helms has warned Kissinger that the stories of CIA

misconduct "are just the tip of the iceberg." If more information comes

out, "blood will flow," says Kissinger, who appears to be paraphrasing

Helms. "For example," the memo quotes Kissinger as saying, "Robert

Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of



This memo has been classified until now. It will be made public later

this week by the Assassination Records Review Board, set up by Congress

in 1994 to identify and release any new government documents that might

have some bearing on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Serious scholars as well as conspiracy theorists have long looked for

links between the CIA's plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro and

JFK's death in November 1963. Did Castro kill Kennedy because Kennedy

tried to kill Castro? Did the mob somehow play a role? The lack of solid

evidence has spawned all manner of speculation and has made historians

eager for more primary source material. The Review Board will release

hundreds of thousands of documents before it goes out of business this

September, but this particular document is sure to attract attention.

Whether it merits such attention is another question.


The memo will be seized upon by some as important evidence in the

long-running debate over the Kennedys' role in the CIA's plots against

Castro. Many historians believe that President Kennedy and his brother,

Attorney General Robert Kennedy, signaled the CIA to try to assassinate

Castro in the early 1960s. The proof for this theory has been largely

circumstantial: The Kennedy brothers made no secret of their

determination to "get rid" of Castro, especially after the humiliating

failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. No one disputes that the

president instructed his brother to oversee covert operations against

Castro, code-named "Mongoose." Therefore, according to this line of

reasoning, the Kennedys must have ordered the CIA to kill Castro, even

if those orders were never written down. Such a command would never be

explicit, this argument goes, but would be communicated indirectly to

preserve the Kennedys' "plausible deniability."


Not so, insist Kennedy loyalists, led by historian Arthur Schlesinger

Jr. There is no public evidence to prove that the Kennedys authorized

any of the eight known CIA plots against Castro, which began at the end

of the Eisenhower administration in 1960 and did not finally fizzle out

until about 1965. "No one who knew John and Robert Kennedy well believed

they would conceivably countenance a program of assassination,"

Schlesinger wrote in "Robert Kennedy and His Times." RFK, in particular,

he argues, was too good a Catholic.


Does this new document resolve the debate? It is the first officially

recorded statement by a senior government official to suggest that

Robert Kennedy ran the CIA's assassination plot against Castro. That

does not mean, however, that Robert Kennedy did (as the notes say)

"personally manage" the CIA's assassination program, or that he was even

aware of the operation until it had been up and running for many months.

As always in dealing with an official "memorandum of conversation," it

is important to consider the context of the times, the knowledge and

motivations of the government officials who were doing the talking and

the quality of the note-taking.


The meeting between Ford and Kissinger lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes,

yet Scowcroft's notes in the "memorandum of conversation" fill less than

two typed pages. One wonders what was left out, and why. Kissinger's

quoted words are ambiguous. It's not clear whether he believes the story

that he is passing along from Helms or, for that matter, whether Helms

is truly alleging that Robert Kennedy ran the assassination program or

just that the press is cooking up a story about Kennedy's involvement.

(Whether Scowcroft, who now runs a consulting business, has a more

extensive recollection of the conversation is not clear; he was

traveling and did not return my calls for comment.)


Today, both Kissinger and Helms continue to say as little as possible.

Shown the "memorandum of conversation," Kissinger would say nothing

for the record. He told the government researchers who discovered the

document in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library that he has no

recollection of it. Helms, too, says that he has no recollection of

talking to Kissinger about assassination plots or any other CIA "dirty

trick." (Helms, who was the CIA's chief of the directorate of operations

in 1962-63 and thus ultimately responsible for the assassination

program, was ambassador to Iran when Kissinger was briefing President

Ford in January 1975.)  Helms says he wants to stick with his sworn

testimony to the Church committee, the Senate select committee headed by

then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that investigated CIA abuses in the

mid-1970s. Beyond that, Helms said he has no comment.


Helms testified to the Church committee that he had never discussed the

plot to kill Castro with either John or Robert Kennedy. His testimony

strongly hinted, however, that he was being a good soldier, taking the

fall for his commander in chief. Assassination, he seemed to be saying,

is a subject that spy masters just don't discuss with their president.

He never doubted, however, that the Kennedys wanted Castro killed.

Robert Kennedy, Helms testified, "would not have been unhappy if he

[Castro] had disappeared off the scene by whatever means. . . . I was

just doing my best to do what I thought I was supposed to do." Part of

his job was to remain silent.


Then why had Helms told Henry Kissinger, as the memo seems to indicate,

that Robert Kennedy had managed the assassination operation? John

Nolan, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, suggests that Helms was telling

a Republican secretary of state (Kissinger) what he thought Kissinger

wanted to hear--that the Kennedys were to blame for the scandal about to

engulf the CIA. "Helms was a very wily bureaucrat," says Nolan, echoing

a judgment widely shared in Washington. "I would regard his statement as

a self-exculpatory attempt to avoid all responsibility for whatever the

agency did. I had a lot of conversations with Bob Kennedy about Fidel

Castro and there was never a suggestion, not a scintilla, that would

give credence to Helm's self-serving statement."


The CIA did formally brief Bobby Kennedy in May 1962 about its earlier

scheme to hire the Mafia to kill Castro. But that was 18 months after

the plot was first hatched in the waning days of the Eisenhower

administration.  (There is no evidence that Eisenhower ordered the plot

or knew about it.)  According to the testimony of Lawrence Houston, the

CIA general counsel who did the briefing, Robert Kennedy grew angry as

he listened to Houston's account. With heavy sarcasm, Kennedy told the

CIA officials, "I trust that if you ever try to do business with

organized crime again--with gangsters--you will let the attorney general

know." Some years later, when Kennedy read a newspaper column accusing

him of trying to plan Castro's assassination, he told his aides, "I

didn't start it. I stopped it. . . . I found out that some people were

going to try an attempt on Castro's life and I turned it off."


And yet, there is another document that casts doubt on whether Kennedy

really was surprised by the CIA's briefing in May 1962. In May 1961, a

full year earlier, Kennedy was informed by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

that the CIA had hired Mafia don Sam Giancana for intelligence work in

Cuba. Hoover did not say anything about assassinations, but he quoted a

CIA official as saying that Giancana's job was "dirty business." At the

time, Kennedy was just beginning his own crusade against the Mafia,

including Giancana, as well as worrying about how to get even with

Castro for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It is hard to believe that Kennedy,

who did not hesitate to ask tough questions of his subordinates, would

fail to make a real effort to find out what the CIA was up to with

Giancana. Indeed, Kennedy wrote on the margin of the memo from Hoover,

"Courtney [Courtney Evans, Hoover's liaison to Kennedy], I hope this

will be followed up vigorously." Are we to believe that Kennedy waited a

full year to learn the truth?


In fact, the CIA's assassination operations against Castro did not end

in May 1962 after Kennedy was briefed. They continued--albeit

fruitlessly--for at least another three years. We will probably never

know the full and true extent of Kennedy's involvement in these plots,

if indeed there was any. But we may get a better idea in the next couple

of years.  The John F. Kennedy Library is working with the various

federal agencies to declassify and release Kennedy's personal files on

Cuba and the Mafia.


These documents may not tell all; they may even mislead. We must read

them together, and not focus too hard on snatches of conversations in

individual documents. But read carefully, against the backdrop of what

we already know, they can bring us closer to the truth.


Evan Thomas, an assistant managing editor at Newsweek, is writing a




  Contact Information  tomnln@cox.net


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