KENNEDY’S ORDER CASTRO ASSASSINATION
SEE CHURCH COMMITTEE REPOT BOOK IV ON MY WEBSITE UNDER WARREN COMMISSION BUTTON
From: Steve Bochan <email@example.com>
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