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The Origins of John F. Kennedy’s Struggle against the CIA [View All]

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-23-09 10:30 PM
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The Origins of John F. Kennedy’s Struggle against the CIA
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A couple months ago I wrote a DU post titled “The GAME”, which I began by noting the many unmentionable things in U.S. politics, and I concluded that the purpose of the censoring of so many important issues is the creation of an alternate reality among a critical mass of the American people. The belief in that alternate reality is necessary in order to convince the American people to continue to play the GAME that has been laid out for them by the GAME’s masters. For the actual reality of the GAME’s methods and purposes, I believe, is so terrible that if people consciously recognized it they would refuse to play, and the GAME would have to be radically altered or come to an end – peaceful or otherwise. The ultimate purpose of the GAME’s masters is to arrange the world to their advantage or according to the way that they believe things should be. In pursuit of their goals we have wars, overthrow of sovereign governments, and obscene wealth accumulation into the hands of the GAME’s masters and prime players.

Another way of saying this is that there is a group of people that some of us sometimes refer to as “The powers that be”, who exert a lot more control over our country, our planet, and our lives than we imagine is possible in a so-called democracy. The comedian Bill Hicks once memorably captured the thrust of that idea:

It's just a handful of people that run everything…No matter what promises you make on the campaign trail - blah, blah, blah - when you win, you go into this smoky room with the twelve industrialist, capitalist scumfucks that got you in there, and this little screen comes down... and it's a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you've never seen before, which looks suspiciously off the grassy knoll.... And then the screen comes up, the lights come on, and they say to the new president, 'Any questions?'

Some excellent books that touch on the subject include: “The Shock Doctrine – the Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, by Naomi Klein; “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries out of Trillions” and “The Secret History of the American Empire”, by John Perkins; “The Bush Agenda – Invading the World, One Economy at a Time”, by Antonia Juhasz; “Moyers on Democracy”, by Bill Moyers; “Blowback”, “The Sorrows of Empire”, and “Nemesis – The Last Days of the American Republic”, by Chalmers Johnson; and, “Who Will Tell the People – The Betrayal of American Democracy”, by William Greider. President Eisenhower’s farewell address, warning us about the Military Industrial Complex (MIC), is also relevant.

Also highly relevant to this discussion is a book that I read many years ago, by two former CIA agents, who required a prolonged legal battle with the CIA in order to get their book published. I don’t recall the name of the book, the authors, or many of the details. The main point that stuck with me was the authors’ claim that the CIA had developed such autonomy that U.S. presidents could not control what it does. Since then, I’ve often wondered how that could be. It is related to the issue of the relationship of our Presidents and other elected officials to the GAME. I’ve often thought about this with regard to our new President. How much of his tilt to the right on some issues is forced by the powers that be? How much of his agenda is his own? What exactly is he up against?


An early remark about JFK’s potential struggle against shadowy powers

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who was avidly against nuclear proliferation. On that score he was disappointed in the early Kennedy presidency. He wrote in a 1962 letter to a friend:

I have little confidence in Kennedy, I think he cannot fully measure up to the magnitude of his task… What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don’t have: depth, humanity and a certain self forgetfulness and compassion… a deeper kind of dedication…

Maybe Kennedy will break through into that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.


The origin of JFK’s struggle against the CIA

When Kennedy came to the presidency in January 1961 he inherited a CIA plan for an invasion of Cuba by about 1,500 Cuban exile troops, who were then being trained by the CIA. The plan, as it was related to Kennedy by CIA Director Allen Dulles, was that the landing of the Cuban troops in Cuba would inspire a nation-wide uprising against Fidel Castro, which would quickly overthrow him. The landing of the Cuban troops was to be preceded by bombing of the Cuban Air Force on the ground by a Cuban Expeditionary Force.

Kennedy was never enthusiastic about the plan, but he approved it anyhow, while making clear that under no circumstances would he introduce U.S. troops or air support, even if the refusal to do so meant the defeat of the Cuban exile troops.

The invasion at the Bay of Pigs
The invasion began at dawn on April 15th, 1961, with air strikes by the Cuban Expeditionary Force, which were followed on April 17th by the landing of the Cuban exile troops at the Bay of Pigs. But there was no Cuban uprising, as the CIA had promised Kennedy. The Cuban exile troops were soon surrounded by Castro’s troops, they surrendered on April 19th, and 114 men were lost and more than a thousand were taken prisoner.

Prior to the surrender, Kennedy’s military advisors put tremendous pressure on him to intervene militarily. From Thomas Reeves’ book, “A Question of Character – A Life of John F. Kennedy”:

As the situation at the Bay of Pigs grew worse, pressure mounted on the president to come to the rescue. Members of the exile government were furious with… the administration for refusing to use its full military might… American military men on the scene and in Washington were enraged over the orders prohibiting them from saving the lives of brave men on the beaches…

But Kennedy held firm. He had good reason to fear that further escalation at that point could lead to a nuclear exchange with the USSR. And that was a risk he wasn’t willing to take.

What we now know about the CIA’s motives
At the time, it was believed that the CIA officials who drew JFK into the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs were merely incompetent. But it later turned out otherwise. James W. Douglass, in his book, “JFK and the Unspeakable – Why he Died and Why it Matters”, explains what we now know about this episode:

At his death Allen Dulles left the unpublished drafts of an article that scholar Lucien S. Vandenbroucke has titled “The Confessions of Allen Dulles”… In these handwritten notes, Dulles explained how CIA advisers who knew better drew John Kennedy into a plan whose requisites for success contradicted the president’s own rules for engagement that precluded any combat action by U.S. military forces… They discreetly kept silent in the belief, Dulles wrote, that “the realities of the situation” would force the president to carry through to the end they wished… “We felt that when the chips were down – when the crisis arose in reality, any action required for success would be authorized rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”…The assumption was that President Kennedy… 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 beachhead.

Kennedy’s reaction to the CIA betrayal
Douglass describes Kennedy’s reaction to the whole affair:

President Kennedy… said to one of the highest officials of his administration that he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds”. Presidential advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., said the president told him… “It’s a hell of a way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business – that is, that we will have to deal with CIA… no one has dealt with CIA” …

And deal with them he did. He asked the three principal planners of the operation – Director Allen Dulles and Deputy Directors Richard Bissell and Charles Cabell – to resign. And he cut the CIA budget in 1962 and 1963.


JFK’s turn towards peace

Kennedy started off his political career and his Presidency somewhat to the right on questions of U.S. militarism, compared to where he eventually ended up. He escalated our involvement in Vietnam (which he inherited from Eisenhower), and he began his presidency by agreeing to the invasion of Cuba (which he also inherited from Eisenhower).

But he exhibited an extraordinary ability to learn from his mistakes. Rejecting the advice of his predecessor and his military advisors, instead of violently intervening in Laos to overthrow the Communists, he began working out a diplomatic solution in 1961, which ended in the signing of a 1962 agreement that set up a coalition government in Laos. In his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he repeatedly resisted advice from his military advisors to escalate the crisis by invading Cuba.

He then began diplomatic attempts to end the Cold War. A few months before he was assassinated, he gave a radical speech on behalf of peace that probably seemed terribly threatening to the Military Industrial Complex. Here are some excerpts:

Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament -- and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must re-examine our own attitude -- as individuals and as a Nation -- for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every… thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward -- by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the Cold War and toward freedom and peace here at home.

First let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many of us think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – that mankind is doomed -- that we are gripped by forces we cannot control…

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace -- based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions -- on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned…

Six weeks later, Kennedy announced to the American people the first nuclear test ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. He then undertook secret negotiations with Fidel Castro in an attempt to come to an accommodation with him. And, he began talking with his close associates about pulling out of Vietnam.

Four months after his peace speech, Kennedy was assassinated.


The power of the Pentagon

The CIA and the U.S. military are strongly connected. They have similar goals, and U.S. foreign policy decisions often come down to a question of which one – the CIA or U.S. military or some combination of the two – is the preferred way of accomplishing a given goal.

An excellent source of information on the history of the Pentagon is James Carroll’s “House of War – The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power”. The main theme of Carroll’s book is that the Pentagon has become a tremendously powerful entity unto itself, beyond the control of anyone, even American presidents. In the last pages of his book, Carroll says:

The Pentagon defines America’s reach across the world, and for countless millions that reach is choking… The Pentagon is now the dead center of an open-ended martial enterprise that no longer pretends to be defense. The world itself must be reshaped… The Pentagon has, more than ever, become a place to fear.

Even after reading Carroll’s excellent “National Book Award” winning book,
the scope of power at issue is so vast that I can barely comprehend it. So many more questions are raised than answered. Why can’t a U.S. president exert control over the U.S. military, all of whose employees report directly or indirectly to him? What forces are at work that would put the military of a democracy beyond the control of that democracy’s elected representatives?

One thing is for certain, however. A U.S. president can go against the advice of those who try to rush him into war (though perhaps not without serious consequences). JFK proved that time and time again. One of the most striking examples of this was “Operation Northwoods”, a plan by JFK’s Joint Chiefs of Staff for a false flag operation that would draw the United States into a war against Cuba. James Bamford describes it in “Body of Secrets – Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency”:

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plan, which had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.

The idea was shot down. Kennedy told Lemnitzer that “there was virtually no possibility that the U.S. would ever use overt military force in Cuba.”


Some additional observations

In my article on “The GAME” I described three U.S. presidents since World War I who in my opinion, at least to some major extent, decided not to play the GAME – FDR, Jimmy Carter, and JFK.

FDR survived a coup against him in 1933. Jimmy Carter’s presidency was destroyed by the Iran hostage crisis, for which there is much evidence that his successors (which included a former CIA Director) arranged to prolong. And JFK… Well, official U.S. history has it that he was cut down by a lone gunman – before ‘the powers that be’ had an opportunity to take action against him for his repeated challenges to the Military Industrial Complex.

And Allen Dulles? A prospective biographer quoted him as saying shortly before his death, “That little Kennedy… he thought he was a god”. James Douglass describes how Dulles returned to prominence after JFK’s death:

Foreign observers, many more familiar than Americans with Dulles’s history in assassination plots and the overthrow of governments, wondered at the former CIA director’s possible involvement in the murder of the man who had fired him and then tried to rein in the CIA. However, far from being considered a suspect, one week after the assassination Dulles was appointed by the new president Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission.

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