“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.

“Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.…

“Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants,’ but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

— PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY

Address Before the American Newspaper Publishers Association,
Waldorf Astoria New York, April 27, 1961 [1]


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q09oRZQCgHY

The timing of John F. Kennedy’s warning to the leaders of the American press regarding “secret proceedings” is conspicuous. Given just one week after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the president’s appeal to the publishers betrayed a personal concern that in the name of fighting communism, the tactics of “official censorship and concealment” were subverting the aims of democracy and covertly manipulating the highest office in the nation — his own.

The failed invasion of Cuba had been orchestrated by the top CIA and military officials under President Eisenhower, who had maintained their positions in the new administration and had sold their fantastical scheme to the young and inexperienced president at the beginning of his term only through gross fabrication and deliberate deception. [2] In the bureau-speak of CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick’s classified Survey of the Cuban Operation, “The Agency…failed to appraise the chances of success realistically…[and] failed to keep the national policy-makers adequately and realistically informed of the conditions considered essential for success.” [3] The most senior of the national policy-makers was understandably furious.

In the aftermath of the Cuban invasion, President Kennedy fired the three most senior officers of the Central Intelligence Agency — Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Charles Cabell, and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell — and reportedly told a senior official that he wanted to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” [4] He set out to minimize the influence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who remained as holdovers from President Eisenhower, brought in new advisors he felt he could personally trust, and appointed retired Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor to lead a Cuba Study Group to investigate and draft a report on the Cuban invasion independently of the CIA. [5] But the president did not splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces. Instead, he maintained the Agency and continued its covert action capabilities, even proceeding to authorize Operation Mongoose in November 1961 to “use available assets…to help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime,” inaugurating a CIA program that would soon grow larger than the previous disastrous Operation Zapata, with an annual budget of more than $50 million, a staff of more than 300 American officers and thousands of Cuban agents, and over fifty proprietary companies serving as fronts for operations. [6]

Kennedy’s approach to Cuba reflected an ambivalence toward political secrecy — a former journalist, the new president seemed unsure about the ethics and efficacy of keeping important information from the press and the public, but also appeared reluctant to relinquish the power inherent in covert operations. [7] Moreover, as an inexperienced commander in chief struggling to exercise authority over an entrenched network of power based in the twin cabals of intelligence and national security, President Kennedy had little leverage to dismantle or even defy the dictates of what his predecessor, former Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, had only recently described in the first draft of his ominous farewell address as the “military-industrial-congressional complex.” [8]

And the new president seemed to know this. In his speech to the newspaper publishers at the Waldorf Astoria, Kennedy vowed that he did “not intend to permit” those who would seize upon “an announced need of increased security” to “expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment,” but he also included the telling caveat, “to the extent that it is in my control.” Just days before assuming the presidency in January 1961, John F. Kennedy wrote a letter to Turner Catledge, then managing editor of The New York Times and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, expressing that “within the rather narrow limits of national security the people of the United States are entitled to the fullest possible information about their government — and the president must see that they receive it.” [9]

But “within the rather narrow limits of national security,” as the president-elect so politely phrased it, the notion of “fullest possible information” seemed devoid of all meaning. In the months between his inauguration and the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy concealed and categorically denied the government’s plans for Cuba, and after the invasion’s colossal failure, he excoriated the editors of The New York Times for reporting on the preparations, despite the fact that they had voluntarily censored their own reporter’s sensational scoop. Less than two weeks before the invasion, the editors had eviscerated Tad Szulc’s four-column, front page story about the Cuban invasion preparations, cutting it down to a single column and eliminating any mention that the CIA was involved or that the invasion was “imminent.” [10] Five years later, Times managing editor Clifton Daniel speculated that the invasion “might well have been canceled and the country would have been saved enormous embarrassment if the New York Times and other newspapers had been more diligent in the performance of their duty.” [11]

“Anti-Castro Units Trained to Fight at Florida Bases,” April 7, 1961: Tad Szulc’s story on the Bay of Pigs invasion training, heavily censored by his own editors

Daniel recalled that President Kennedy met with the paper’s editors after the failed CIA invasion and “ran down a list of what he called premature disclosures of security information” from the Times. But the managing editor also portrayed the president as “apparently torn in two directions by the course The Times took during the Bay of Pigs buildup,” his newspaper noted. According to Daniel, “While he scolded the New York Times, the president said in an aside to Mr. Catledge: ‘If you had printed more about the operation you would have saved us from a colossal mistake,’ More than a year later, President Kennedy was still talking the same way.” When Kennedy received Times publisher Orvil Dryfoos at the White House in September 1962, he was penitant man. “I wish you had run everything on Cuba,” the president reportedly told Dryfoos. “I am just sorry you didn’t tell it at the time.” [12] The Times editors had published an indignant editorial in May 1961, shortly after the invasion, claiming “The Right Not to Be Lied To,” and admonishing Kennedy for his deception. “The Cuban tragedy has raised a domestic issue that is likely to come up again and again,” they reflected. “Is a democratic government in an open society such as ours ever justified in deceiving its own people?” Though the editors allowed that “there must be secrets kept from the American public,” they concluded that there was no defense for official lies: “Neither prudence nor ethics can justify any administration in telling the public things that are not so.” [13]

President Kennedy’s speech to the newspaper publishers assembled at the Waldorf Astoria after the failed Cuban invasion was, in a word, an equivocation. Indeed, the president spoke of “two requirements that may seem almost contradictory in tone, but which must be reconciled,” namely “the need for far greater public information, and…the need for far greater official secrecy.” Excepting the brief moments of clarity which constitute the epigraph to this essay, Kennedy only vaguely indicated the “grave danger” of secrecy inside his own state, instead framing his remarks within the typical narrative of America’s global struggle with the Evil Empire. So, while the president warned of a “monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day,” he did not locate such a conspiracy within his own government, nor acknowledge that these covert means were common to the U.S. intelligence agencies under his ostensible authority. Although he spoke of a “system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations,” Kennedy was not warning of the U.S. “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower had attacked just three months earlier in his televised farewell address. And while he emphasized to the journalists their “obligation to inform and alert the American people — to make certain that they possess all the facts that they need, and understand them as well,” he also called on them to “heed the duty of self-restraint” and ask themselves, “with respect to every story…‘Is it in the interest of the national security?’” And so, in maintaining his allegiance to political secrecy and the paranoid logic of “national security,” the president continued to be manipulated by the intelligence cabal’s “secret proceedings.”

The Secret Hope

It is clear from the reports of both CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick and General Maxwell Taylor, as well as the classified CIA internal history of the Cuban invasion, that Agency officials deliberately misled the president about the feasibility of the planned covert invasion at the Bay of Pigs, presuming that in the heat of the moment, Kennedy could be coerced into authorizing an open military invasion. The president’s announcement to the press just a week before the launch of the CIA invasion that, “There will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States armed forces,” apparently had done nothing to diminish CIA Director Allen Dulles’s confidence that he could force Kennedy’s hand. [14] As National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy observed, it was “the secret hope of the leaders of the CIA” that President Kennedy would buckle under Agency and military pressure to send in the Marines once the invasion was in progress, despite the president’s prior public statements. “So it was an entrapment,” concluded Bundy, an otherwise sympathetic former student of Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell. [15]

“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,” Allen Dulles admitted privately. “We believed that in a time of crisis we would gain what we might lose if we provoked an argument.” [16] Rather than give the president a realistic assessment that might prompt him to scuttle the CIA invasion altogether, Dulles knowingly presented him with a fantasy scenario and silenced any questions about its plausibility in order to manipulate the young leader into a military invasion when the covert operation failed. [17] According to Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson, the invasion organizers were told by their superiors that “the invasion was going to take place even if Washington tried to stop it,” and were instructed in such an event to pretend to be prisoners of their mutinous paramilitaries in order to disclaim responsibility. [18]


“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…


…We believed that in a time of crisis we would gain what we might lose if we provoked an argument.”


President Kennedy had no idea that internal assessments at the CIA had already determined that the Cuban invasion plans were unfeasible before he had even entered office, as the CIA chief historian Jack Pfeiffer noted in an official history of the operation that remains mostly classified to this day. On November 4, 1960, four days before John F. Kennedy was even elected, CIA officials sent a long cable to the paramilitaries training for the Cuban invasion in Guatemala, informing them that the guerrilla operation plan had been discarded in favor of a direct invasion assault. [19]

On November 15, 1960, just one week after Kennedy’s election, a CIA task force meeting on Operation Zapata concluded that, “Our original concept is now seen to be unachievable in the face of the controls Castro has instituted,” according to the minutes cited in the declassified third volume of Pfeiffer’s report. “Our second concept (1,500–3,000 man force to secure a beach with airstrip) is also now seen to be unachievable, except as a joint Agency/DOD action,” the task force determined. But Kennedy never received this candid review from Agency officials. As a bewildered Pfeiffer reflected in his official history, “How, if in mid-November 1960 the concept of the 1,500–3,000 man force to secure a beachhead with an airstrip was envisioned by the senior personnel in WH/4 as ‘unachievable’ except as a joint CIA/DOD effort, did it become ‘achievable’ in March 1961 with only 1,200 men and as an Agency operation? What was being denied in confidence in mid-November 1960 became the fact of the Zapata Plan and the Bay of Pigs Operation in March 1961.” [20]

Once Agency officials had committed to concealing from the president the basic fact of the the covert invasion’s impossibility, it appears that manipulation became the order of the day, as all ancillary issues regarding the invasion became distorted on their way to the top. General Taylor’s independent report on the Cuban invasion noted, for instance, that, “In approving the operation, the President and senior officials had been greatly influenced by the understanding that the landing force could pass to guerrilla status, if unable to hold the beachhead,” an expectation that CIA officials knew to be mistaken. [21] And Kennedy was insistent upon concealing his government’s hand in the invasion, although CIA officials knew this to be impossible. “Plausible denial was a pathetic illusion,” CIA Inspector General Kirkpatrick stated bluntly. “The Agency failed to recognize that when the project advanced beyond the stage of plausible denial it was going beyond the area of Agency responsibility as well as Agency capability.” [22] General Taylor likewise concluded that, “By about November 1960, the impossibility of running…a covert operation under CIA should have been recognized and the situation reviewed. Failing such a reorientation, the project should have been abandoned.” [23]

Instead of abandoning the impossible covert mission when the new president entered office, however, CIA Director Allen Dulles insisted that President Kennedy could not turn back from the project initiated under his predecessor. “We had made it very clear to him that to call off the operation would have resulted in a very unpleasant situation,” Dulles told General Maxwell’s Cuba Study Group. “Don’t forget that we have a disposal problem,” the CIA Director had said to President Kennedy at a meeting on March 11, 1961. “If we have to take these men out of Guatemala, we will have to transfer them to the United States, and we can’t have them wandering around the country telling everyone what they have been doing.” [24] Presented with the nightmare scenario of extremist Cuban hit squads “wandering around the country,” President Kennedy agreed to continue Operation Zapata with great ambivalence, scaling it back significantly in the prelude to the invasion to minimize any apparent U.S. involvement. [25]

“Girón Beach–First great defeat of imperialism in Latin America”

The rest, as they say, is history. The CIA invasion predictably collapsed in what historian Theodore Draper famously called “one of those rare politico-military events — a perfect failure.” [26] Contrary to Allen Dulles’s plans, the president had refused to be pressured to launch a full military invasion of Cuba. “Nobody is going to force me to do anything I don’t think is in the best interest of the country,” Kennedy fumed to his friend, Under Secretary of the Navy Paul Fay, months later during a family retreat to the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port. “We’re not going to plunge into an irresponsible action just because a fanatical fringe in this country puts so-called national pride above national reason.” [27] Kennedy clearly understood the entrapment that CIA officials had attempted in advising him on the covert invasion plan. “They were sure I’d give in to them and send the go-ahead order to the Essex,” the president confided to his special assistant David Powers. “They couldn’t believe that a new president like me wouldn’t panic and try to save his own face. Well, they had me figured all wrong.” [28]


“They couldn’t believe that a new president like me wouldn’t panic and try to save his own face.

Well, they had me figured all wrong.”


President Kennedy’s early encounter with manipulation from his own advisors put him on alert for the rest of his abbreviated tenure in office. “After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy had contempt for the Joint Chiefs,” recalled former Kennedy advisor and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. “I remember going into his office in the spring of 1961, where he waved some cables at me from General Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was then in Laos on an inspection tour. And Kennedy said, ‘If it hadn’t been for the Bay of Pigs, I might have been impressed by this.’” But the president had vowed that he “would never be overawed by professional military advice again,” Schlesinger said. “He dismissed them as a bunch of old men. He thought Lemnitzer was a dope.” [29] Kennedy told Ben Bradlee, then Washing bureau chief for Newsweek, “The first advice I’m going to give my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that just because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn.” [30]

Plausible Denial

Decades later, Richard Bissell insisted, despite Allen Dulles’s own admissions, that there had not been any deliberate conspiracy by CIA officials to mislead the president. “There was never any trace of a conspiratorial alternative operational plan based on the assumption that the President’s hand would be forced,” Bissell wrote to the journal Diplomatic History in 1984. But he did allow that in the course of CIA operational planning, “Many of us, like Dulles himself, believed there was a possibility that, in the event of trouble, restrictions would be relaxed, possibly even on the use of U.S. aircraft.” [31] Whatever one makes of Bissell’s denial, the CIA’s pursuit of seemingly “conspiratorial alternative operational plans” hardly came to an end at the Bay of Pigs. For instance, whether conspiratorial plan or simply commonplace conduct, it appears from records and testimony that neither President Kennedy nor his closest advisors knew that the CIA also had been running assassination operations targeting Fidel Castro alongside the Bay of Pigs plan, and had continued to do so without executive authorization even after the failed invasion.

It wasn’t until 1975, when the U.S. Senate convened the Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities — better known as the Church Committee — to “come to grips” for the first time with the “basic constitutional and structural issues arising from a permanent secret intelligence establishment,” that the startling extent of the CIA’s “excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts” finally became public. [32] “Assassination was intended to reinforce the plan; there was the thought that Castro would be dead before the landing,” Richard Bissell explained to the committee. “Very few, however, knew of this aspect of the plan.…There was a reluctance to spread, even on an oral record, some aspects of this operation.” In testimony presumably intended to defend rather than incriminate the Agency, Bissell told the committee that he believed Allen Dulles would have informed President Kennedy of assassination plans in a manner designed “to give the president just as little information about it as possible,” in order to “leave him in the position to deny knowledge of the operation if it should surface.” He repeatedly emphasized that such a briefing by Dulles would have been “circumlocutious” regarding the facts. As the committee report noted, Bissell testified that the CIA modus operandi was that, “pursuant to the doctrine of ‘plausible denial,’ efforts were made to keep matters that might be ‘embarrassing’ away from presidents.” [33]


“Assassination was intended to reinforce the plan…Very few, however, knew of this aspect of the plan…There was a reluctance to spread, even on an oral record, some aspects of this operation.”


President Kennedy’s top Cabinet officials unanimously testified before the Church Committee that they had never been informed of the CIA assassination programs, that they did not believe that the president had been either, and that they believed that the president would have shut down any assassination operations if he had known about them. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy stated categorically that, “No one in the Kennedy Administration, or in the Cabinet, ever gave any authorization, approval, or instruction of any kind for any effort to assassinate anyone by the CIA.” And White House counsel Theodore Sorenson recalled that, “The president on more than one occasion felt that Mr. Dulles, by making rather vague and sweeping references to particular countries was seeking tacit approval without ever asking for it, and the president was rather concerned that he was not being asked for explicit directives and was not being given explicit information.” Sorenson said he believed President Kennedy would never have authorized assassination, because it was “totally foreign to his character and conscience, foreign to his fundamental reverence for human life and his respect for his adversaries, foreign to his insistence upon a moral dimension in U.S. foreign policy and his concern for this country’s reputation abroad and foreign to his pragmatic recognition that so horrendous but inevitably counterproductive a precedent committed by a country whose own chief of state was inevitably vulnerable could only provoke reprisals and inflame hostility.” [34] While this beatific portrait of Kennedy’s “fundamental reverence for human life” might easily be attributed to the doctrine of “plausible denial,” several others both inside and outside of the White House confirmed not only Kennedy’s avowed opposition to assassination, but also his anxiety about CIA concealment and his prescient awareness that he himself was “inevitably vulnerable” to assassination. [35]


“…so horrendous but inevitably counterproductive a precedent committed by a country whose own chief of state was inevitably vulnerable could only provoke reprisals and inflame hostility.”


Kennedy sought the opinion of several individuals outside of his administration, including Senator George Smathers and journalist Tad Szulc, to hear what they thought of Allen Dulles’s favored idea of assassinating Castro, and evidently shared their disapproval of it. Szulc met with Kennedy at the insistence of his friend Richard Goodwin, the president’s assistant special counsel, and testified to the Church commitee that after Kennedy heard his opinion on killing Castro, he “went on for a few minutes to make the point how strongly he and his brother felt that the United States for moral reasons should never be in a situation of having recourse to assassination.” In his notes after the meeting, Szulc wrote: “JFK said he raised question because he was under terrific pressure from advisers (think he said intelligence people, but not positive) to okay a Castro murder, [said] he was resisting pressures.” [36] Whether the president was advancing his own subtle strategies for plausible denial in these talks or truly being deceived by his own officials, CIA officials continued to secretly pursue several assassination plots, allegedly under the assumption of their implicit approval within the scope of Operation Mongoose. [37]

A Continuing Involvement

In one of the more nefarious plots against Fidel Castro, the CIA reached out to organized crime bosses Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, and Santo Trafficante to arrange a hit on the Cuban leader. The mob plot was only revealed to the president after Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent-turned-private investigator who was contracted by the CIA as a liaison with the mobsters, became the subject of an FBI investigation into an illegal wiretap he placed in a Las Vegas hotel room, reportedly at the request of Sam Giancana. [38] Intervening to protect Maheu from prosecution, CIA officials had to divulge information to the Justice Department about their operation to assassinate Castro with mobsters, which Attorney General Robert Kennedy duly reported to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. [39]

“The Attorney General told me he wanted to advise me of a situation in the Giancana case which had considerably disturbed him,” Hoover wrote in an FBI memo on May 10, 1962. “He stated a few days ago he had been advised by CIA that in connection with Giancana, CIA had hired Robert A. Maheu, a private detective in Washington, D.C., to approach Giancana to kill Castro.” Even in this moment of obliging disclosure, however, CIA officials had continued to deceive the Kennedy administration, falsely reporting to Robert Kennedy that “the assassination plan aimed at Castro had been terminated completely.” As a subsequent report by the CIA Inspector General stated, “The Attorney General was not told that the gambling syndicate operation had already been reactivated, nor, as far as we know, was he ever told that CIA had a continuing involvement with U.S. gangster elements.” [40] Bill Harvey, the agent assigned to coordinate the Castro hit, testified that CIA Director of Security Sheffield Edwards drafted an internal memo stating that he was “dropping any plans” to use Roselli, which “was not true, and Colonel Edwards knew it was not true.” [41]


“The Attorney General told me he wanted to advise me of a situation in the Giancana case which had considerably disturbed him.”


The Agency-arranged mob hit on Fidel Castro was apparently so secret that even the CIA’s Chief of Western Hemisphere Branch 4 (WH/4) Jacob Esterline, the man ostensibly in charge of all Cuban operations, was kept in the dark about the underworld plot. According to the CIA history of the Cuban invasion, “Esterline claimed that on one occasion as Chief, WH/4 he refused to grant Col. J.C. King, Chief, WH Division, a blank check when King refused to tell Jake the purpose for which the check was intended. Esterline reported that King nonetheless got a FAN number from the Office of Finance and that was the money used to pay the Mafia-types.” Esterline’s chief of operations, Richard D. Drain, testified to the Church Committee that “until it came out in 1975…that Shef Edwards and Mr. Maheu were working with the Mafia to assassinate Castro, concurrent with the Bay of Pigs Operation, that is the first time I ever heard about it. Ever!…I never heard it; and my initial reaction when all this came out, during this last year was…well…why did they give me the idiot treatment?” [42]

John Roselli, appearing to testify before the Church Committee, on June 24, 1975, days after Sam Giancana — also called to testify — was murdered. Roselli would be found dismembered in an oil barrel floating in Biscayne Bay a year later, three months after testifying to the committee for the third time — the last time about the Kennedy assassination.

According to the Church Committee, Richard Helms, who assumed the post of CIA Deputy Director of Plans after Richard Bissell’s ouster, said that he “inherited the Roselli program from Bissell, and, due to its sensitive and unsavory character, it was not the type of program one would discuss in front of high officials.” [43] But it was evidently not the type of program one would discuss even with colleagues and superiors at the CIA — a sort of secret within a secret in that most secretive of organizations. Bissell “stated that he never informed McCone and other officials of the Kennedy Administration of the assassination plot,” the Church Committee noted. “However, McCone and the surviving members of the Kennedy Administration testified that they believed a Castro assassination was impermissible without a direct order, that assassination was outside the parameters of the Administration’s anti-Castro program, and each testified that to his knowledge no such order was given to Helms.” [44]

It appears from the committee’s investigation that CIA officials were deliberately keeping the president and his entire Cabinet ignorant of their ongoing assassination operations in Cuba. At the same time that President Kennedy and his brother Bobby were aggressively attacking organized crime syndicates, the CIA was secretly working with some of their leaders, and deceiving the president about it. [45] The mob hit on Castro would not be the last secret assassination operation that Kennedy would confront.

An Egregious End Run

By April 1962, CIA activities in Vietnam had begun to trouble President Kennedy, who called the director of the CIA’s Far Eastern Division, William Corson, to the White House from Laos to give a briefing. “Kennedy had already lost faith in the CIA,” Corson recalled in an interview many years later. “Crisis after crisis was hitting him. It was in the middle of it all he asked me to brief him on what the Agency was doing in Vietnam. He asked because he no longer trusted what he was hearing from the military or up the river at Langley [CIA headquarters]. He caught them in lies.” [46]

From an ongoing Soviet mole investigation, Corson said he had active wiretaps “across the board” inside the CIA headquarters and the Pentagon, and through them he “soon learned that my fellow officers wanted a war. They had picked Vietnam and were doing everything they could to sell it to Kennedy.” The repressive rule of President Ngo Dinh Diem, who rose to power in South Vietnam with CIA support as a Catholic anti-Communist commanding a Buddhist agrarian country, was destabilizing society to such an extent that by 1963, Corson said, “Diem and Vietnam were President Kennedy’s main problem.” [47]

Kennedy had already disbanded the anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose after the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, and a memorandum on “Cuban Alternatives” drafted for President Kennedy by McGeorge Bundy on April 21, 1963 had even proposed “Possible New Directions,” including moving “in the direction of a gradual development of some form of accommodation with Castro.” [48] William Atwood, an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, testified that Bundy told him the president was in favor of “pushing toward an opening toward Cuba,” with the aim of taking Castro “out of the Soviet fold and perhaps wiping out the Bay of Pigs and maybe getting back to normal.” [49]


“By 1963, Diem and Vietnam were President Kennedy’s main problem.”


Meanwhile in South Vietnam, the fabric of civil society was disintegrating, engulfed in widespread riots after President Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu led special forces in bloody midnight raids targeting Buddhist pagodas in August 1963. [50] “It is now clear that whether military proposed martial law or whether Nhu tricked them into it, Nhu took advantage of its imposition to smash pagodas with police and Tung’s Special Forces loyal to him,” stated an official U.S. diplomatic cable sent out three days later, “thus placing onus on military in [the] eyes of [the] world and Vietnamese people.” The State Department cable, authorized by the president, objected that Nhu had “maneuvered himself into [a] commanding position” and stated that the “US Government cannot tolerate [a] situation in which power lies in Nhu’s hands.” It even suggested support for a military coup, stating that if Diem would not “rid himself of Nhu and his coterie,” then “we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.” [51]

As the “Pentagon Papers” report leaked by defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg observed, “State in its subsequently controversial reply, drafted and cleared on a weekend when several of the principal Presidential advisors were absent from Washington, affirmed that Nhu’s continuation in a power position within the regime was intolerable.” [52] Historian John W. Newman described this infamous “Cable 243” as the “single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War.” [53] Robert Kennedy recalled that his brother “always said that it was a major mistake on his part.…The result is we started down a road that we never really recovered from.” [54]

Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger Hilsman and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs W. Averell Harriman, son of the railroad tycoon E.H. Harriman, had rushed to draft the cable while President Kennedy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and CIA Director John McCone were all away on vacation, and secured approval by what seemed to be a tactic of calculated miscommunication, with responsible officials insisting later, as a CIA historian noted, “that they had been hustled, not consulted.” [55] General Maxwell Taylor, who was by then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later called the cable an “egregious end run,” objecting that, “The anti-Diem group centered in State had taken advantage of the absence of the principal officials to get out instructions which would never have been approved as written under normal circumstances.” [56]

At a bitterly divisive Monday morning Cabinet meeting, President Kennedy and his senior staff quarreled over the implications of the cable, and whether to maintain support for a coup against Diem. The president repeatedly rejected the idea that “we ought to just do it because we feel we have to now do it,” saying that would be “the worst reason to do it.” [57] The resulting Cabinet fight was fierce. “The government split in two,” reflected Robert Kennedy, “the only time really, in three years, the government was broken in two in a very disturbing war.” The president despaired to journalist Charles Bartlett, “My god! My government’s coming apart!” From Vietnam, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. adamantly insisted on executing the coup. As Robert Kennedy reflected, Lodge was “the individual that forced our position really at the time of Vietnam…The President would send out messages and he would never really answer them.…My impression was Henry Cabot Lodge didn’t pay much attention because he wanted a coup.…It was an impossible situation.” On August 29, Ambassador Lodge cabled to Washington, “THERE IS NO TURNING BACK.” [58]

And so, despite great misgivings at the White House, the coup conspiracy continued. On November 1, 1963, the Vietnamese military organizers of the overthrow began their swift takeover of Saigon. As the siege advanced, Ambassador Lodge and General Duong Van Minh, leader of the military junta, both promised safe passage out of the country for Diem and his brother. With assurances of exile, they fled the presidential palace late in the night, hiding out in the St. Francis Xavier Church in the Saigon suburb of Cholon, where they waited to be escorted out of the country. Instead, they were found by Vietnamese military officers in the morning, thrown in the back of an army truck, and murdered. [59]

General Taylor recalled that when news of the assassination reached the White House the next morning, “Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I have never seen before.” [60] Michael Forrestal, the national security aide who delivered the news, said that, “It shook him personally…bothered him as a moral and religious matter. It shook his confidence, I think, in the kind of advice he was getting about Vietnam.” [61] William Corson said that the president was as “angry as I ever saw him, absolutely shaken.” [62] Perhaps the startled president sensed in the unexpected assassinations the specter of his own death, lurking just three weeks away.

February 13, 1961: President John F. Kennedy hearing of the murder of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who had been ousted in a CIA-supported coup the previous September and assassinated just three days before Kennedy’s inauguration.

Kennedy tasked Corson with finding out how executive policy had been subverted on the ground in South Vietnam, and he concluded that Harriman had been dictating Vietnam policy “without consulting the president or the attorney general” and had conspired with Ambassador Lodge to ensure that Diem and Nhu were assassinated, and not merely deposed. “The orders that ended in the deaths of Diem and his brother originated with Harriman and were carried out by Henry Cabot Lodge’s own military assistant,” he said, observing that Kennedy’s secretary Kenny O’Donnell “was convinced that McGeorge Bundy, the national security advisor, was taking orders from Ambassador Averell Harriman and not the president. He was especially worried about Michael Forrestal, a young man on the White House staff who handled liaison on Vietnam with Harriman.” [63]

Michael Forrestal, the son of former Defense Secretary James Forrestal, was a close family friend and godson of Averell Harriman who had personally served him twice, as assistant naval attaché in Moscow in 1946, while Harriman was ambassador to the Soviet Union, and again in 1948 while Harriman was ambassador-at-large to the Economic Cooperation Administration. [64] As for Ambassador Lodge, allegiance to President Kennedy could never have been any more than begrudging at best: he had lost his Senate seat to Kennedy in 1952, had been defeated by Kennedy in 1960 as Richard Nixon’s running mate, and had even watched his son, George C. Lodge, lose to President Kennedy’s brother, Ted Kennedy, in the 1962 Senate election for the president’s vacant seat. Robert Kennedy recalled that the president had decided to call Ambassador Lodge back to Washington after the coup “and discussed with me in detail how he could be fired, because he wouldn’t communicate in any way with us.” [65]


“The orders that ended in the deaths of Diem and his brother originated with Harriman and were carried out by Henry Cabot Lodge’s own military assistant.”


Suggestive of the level of insubordination under President Kennedy, Robert McNamara drafted a memo for Lyndon Johnson the day after Kennedy’s death emphasizing as its first point the “Need for Teamwork” in Vietnam. “It is absolutely vital that the whole of the Country Team, but particularly Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, work in close harmony and with full consultation back and forth,” he wrote. “There must be no back-biting or sniping at low levels…” [66] Johnson’s first National Security Action Memorandum, issued three days later, urged “full unity of support for established U.S. policy in South Vietnam,” and an end to “express or implied criticism of officers of other branches.” [67]

Revelations about Henry Cabot Lodge’s activities as the Diem coup unfolded which surfaced decades later only appeared to further justify Corson’s suspicions about the ambassador. Colonel John Michael Dunn, an aide to Ambassador Lodge, admitted in an interview with journalist Zalin Grant that President Diem had called the ambassador early in the morning on November 2, after fleeing the presidential palace. Lodge put Diem on hold, Dunn recalled, in order to relay Diem’s location to Lucien Conein, the CIA liaison with General Duong Van Minh and his military junta. The ambassador then told Diem that he could not arrange for air transportation until the next day, contrary to prior promises, because there were no aircraft available nearby to make the long-distance flight. [68] As a 1971 Senate report on the Diem coup remarked: “One wonders what became of the U.S. military aircraft that had been dispatched to stand by for Lodge’s departure, scheduled for the previous day.” [69] When Dunn offered to personally protect Diem and Nhu, Lodge insisted, “We just can’t get that involved.” [70] Dunn reflected, “I was really astonished that we didn’t do more for them.” [71]

President Ngo Dinh Diem at a military academy graduation in March 1963, just months before being murdered in a military coup on November 2, 1963

Using the information relayed by Lucien Conein, General Duong Van Minh and his junta found the fugitive brothers at the Cholon church, hauled them into the back of an armored personnel carrier, and stabbed and shot them. [72] Ambassador Lodge publicly expressed a total lack of contrition over the deaths of Diem and Nhu. “What would we have done with them if they had lived?” he mused. “Every Colonel Blimp in the world would have made use of them.” [73] The North Vietnamese Politburo, however, assessed the situation much more appropriately: “The consequences of the 1 November coup d’etat will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S. imperialists,” they predicted. “Diem was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialists… Among the anti-Communists in South Vietnam or exiled in other countries, no one has sufficient political assets and abilities to cause others to obey. Therefore, the lackey administration cannot be stabilized. The coup d’etat on 1 November 1963 will not be the last.” [74]

Indeed, the military junta led by General Duong Van Minh lasted only three months before the coup by General Nguyen Khanh, who was shortly replaced by Phan Khac Suu, then Nguyen Van Thieu. [75] As Henry Kissinger noted in his history of the Vietnam War, “In 1964 alone, seven more changes of government took place, none of which brought about a semblance of democracy.” By supporting the Diem coup, Kissinger concluded, “America cast its involvement in Vietnam in concrete.” [76]


“The consequences of the 1 November coup d’etat will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S. imperialists.”


Except One Man

The political instability that followed the Diem assassination provided a pretext for the U.S. military to dramatically expand its role in the Vietnam War, a hellish conflict that would take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, and tens of thousands of conscripted American soldiers — and would forever scar many millions more. All of this was made possible, however, only after the elimination of one more troublesome head of state: President John F. Kennedy, a man who realized he faced a Cabinet eager for war, noting shortly after the disaster of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that he was the only one who wanted to find a political solution for Laos in a Cabinet full of men pushing an “impossible” military solution. [77]

General Maxwell Taylor reflected that after he presented a plan for military intervention in Vietnam, “I don’t recall anyone who was strongly against, except one man, and that was the president. The president just didn’t want to be convinced that this was the right thing to do…It was really the president’s personal conviction that U.S. ground troops shouldn’t go in.” [78] Former Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger Hilsman affirmed General Taylor’s point in a letter to The New York Times following the release of Oliver Stone’s JFK in 1992. “President Kennedy was determined not to let Vietnam become an American war — that is, he was determined not to send U.S. combat troops (as opposed to advisers) to fight in Vietnam nor to bomb North Vietnam,” Hilsman wrote, noting that several other generals had made similar observations. “A highly respected general, Bruce Palmer, who in 1963 was a senior officer in the Pentagon, believes Kennedy would not have committed major U.S. forces to Vietnam ‘and that quite a different situation would have unfolded’ had he lived,” wrote Hilsman. [79] “Having discussed military affairs with him often and in detail for 15 years,” wrote General James Gavin in 1968, “I know he was totally opposed to the introduction of combat troops in Southeast Asia. His public statements just before his murder support this view.” [80]

The president’s secretary, Kenneth O’Donnell, recalled that in the spring of 1963, Kennedy called a meeting in the Oval Office with Senator Mike Mansfield, a major critic of U.S. military presence in Vietnam, and told him “that he had begun having serious second thoughts about Mansfield’s argument and that he now agreed with the Senator’s thinking on the need for a complete withdrawal from Vietnam,” but said he couldn’t do it until 1965, after his reelection. “In 1965, I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history,” he remarked to O’Donnell after the meeting with Mansfield, telling him “that he had made up his mind” to order “a complete withdrawal” from Vietnam. “I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser. But I don’t care,” Kennedy said. “If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So we had better make damned sure that I am reelected.” [81]


“In 1965, I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history…

If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So we had better make damned sure that I am reelected.”


Henry Brandon, a British journalist and personal friend of Kennedy, also affirmed that his goal was complete withdrawal from Vietnam. “By the autumn of 1963,” Brandon recalled, “he seemed sick of it, and frequently asked how to be rid of the commitment.” [82] In late September 1963, President Kennedy directed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor to visit South Vietnam and prepare a study of the situation. When they returned on October 2 to present their report to the National Security Council, they proposed “to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel” by the end of 1965, and recommended consultation with Diem on “military changes necessary to complete the military campaign in the Northern and Central areas…by the end of 1964, and in the Delta…by the end of 1965.” To facilitate the withdrawal of US. military, they recommended that “a program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by U.S. military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese by the end of 1965.” Their report also recommended that “the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963,” and an announcement was drafted at the meeting and released to the press the same day. [83]

On October 11, President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum 263, which affirmed the points of the McNamara-Taylor report, directing only that “no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963,” presumably on the counsel of Secretary McNamara and General Harkins, who had advised that the withdrawal “would have to be handled carefully due to the psychological impact” on Vietnam and suggested that military not “depart with bands playing, flags flying etc.” [84]

“He’d seen the error his ways,” concluded Senator Wayne Morse, an outspoken critic of the U.S. military presence in Vietnam, a decade after President Kennedy’s death. “I’m satisfied if he’d lived another year we’d have been out of Vietnam. Ten days before his assassination, I went down to the White House and…he said, ‘Wayne, I want you to know you’re absolutely right in your criticism of my Vietnam policy. Keep this in mind. I’m in the midst of an intensive study which substantiates your position on Vietnam.’” [85]

Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff confided that President Kennedy had told him that he had made up his mind on Vietnam just before his murder. “It’s time for us to get out,” he said before leaving for Texas. “We’re losing too damned many people over there…After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change. There’s no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.” [86] But President Kennedy didn’t come back from Texas alive — and Kilduff himself bore the burden of announcing the president’s death to the public on November 22, 1963.


“We’re losing too damned many people over there…

After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change.

There’s no reason for us to lose another man over there.

Vietnam is not worth another American life.”


The possibility of peaceful American coexistence with communist or socialist states died with President Kennedy on that day in November 1963. The tectonic shift in Vietnam policy heralded by Kennedy’s murder was likewise reflected in the rapid retrenchment of hostility toward Cuba under President Johnson. William Atwood recalled that in service of President Kennedy’s plan to improve relations with Fidel Castro, he had arranged for French journalist Jean Daniel to meet with the president prior to the journalist’s trip to Cuba in November 1963 to interview Castro. In a pair of articles published in The New Republic in December 1963, Daniel revealed that Kennedy had hoped to reestablish positive U.S.-Cuba relations and had asked him to report back after interviewing Castro. “I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime,” Kennedy told Daniel, extending an implicit message of peace to Castro through the neutral emissary. The president offered a stark rebuke of American policy in Cuba:

I believe that we created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it. I believe that the accumulation of these mistakes has jeopardized all of Latin America…This is one of the most, if not the most, important problems in America foreign policy. I can assure you that I have understood the Cubans. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear. [87]

A month later in Cuba, while Fidel Castro shared his opinions on President Kennedy with Jean Daniel — saying he doubted that “a President of the United States is ever really free,” and that Kennedy “now understands the extent to which he has been misled” — the CIA was transmitting a poison pen to Cuban assassin Rolando Cubela Secades, code-named AMLASH, for use in the planned assassination of Castro, an ongoing secret CIA operation in direct conflict with President Kennedy’s stated foreign policy. [88]

And on that very same fateful day, at the very moment that Jean Daniel was meeting with the Cuban leader, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. “Es una mala noticia,” Castro grimly repeated three times after receiving the news by telephone. [89] It was indeed bad news for the Cuban leader. William Atwood said his talks with Cuban officials became less frequent after Lyndon Johnson assumed power, and had ceased altogether by early 1964. [90]


“Es una mala noticia.”


A Conscious Effort

Just four days after President John F. Kennedy’s death, the newly-empowered President Lyndon Johnson began his reversal of Kennedy’s Vietnam withdrawal plans with the approval of National Security Action Memorandum 273, the first step in his expansion of the American military efforts in Vietnam from 16,500 military advisors to a peak of well over half a million combat troops by 1969. [91] “In his very first days in office,” writes historian Garry Wills, “he not only escalated troop movements to the war, but did it in secret, deceiving both Congress and the American public.” [92] NSAM 273, first drafted by McGeorge Bundy at a defense conference in Honolulu one day before President Kennedy’s murder, represented a departure from the withdrawal plan of NSAM 263 for which there is no evidence of Kennedy’s support. Although NSAM 273 claimed that the “objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963,” the newly avowed “central object” of supporting South Vietnam to “ win their contest” against North Vietnam — a shift from the prior aim to “suppress the externally stimulated and supported insurgency of the Viet Cong” — and the stated plans to expand “military operations up to a line up to 50 kilometers inside Laos” and to launch naval attacks on North Vietnam indicated an escalation that would hardly afford an expeditious withdrawal of troops. Only one significant alteration was made to the original draft of NSAM 273 before approval, replacing a clause calling fo a “detailed plan for the development of additional Government of Vietnam resources” for use in “action against North Vietnam…especially for seagoing activity” with one calling more broadly for covert U.S. attacks on North Vietnam. [93]

A chronology in the Pentagon Papers of “Military Pressures Against NVN [North Vietnam]” indicates that the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved just such a plan for “non-attributable ‘hit and run’ GVN [South Vietnam] covert operations against NVN, supported by U.S. military advisory materiel and training assistance,” CINCPAC OPLAN 34–63, on September 9, 1963, one month before Kennedy signed his NSAM 263 withdrawal plan, and was discussed at the Honolulu defense conference one month after, though as a chronology in the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers notes, “Apparently, the plan was not forwarded to the White House by SecDef.” [94] The “hit and run” naval raids presented at the Honolulu conference, later approved by President Johnson as OPLAN34-A, directly provoked the naval battle in the Gulf of Tonkin the following August between the U.S. destroyer Maddox and North Vietnamese PT boats, priming the sailors to make their confused reports of another attack two nights later, which Johnson seized upon to secure from Congress a resolution that he would wield as the “functional equivalent” of a declaration of war. [95]

Although Captain John J. Herrick of the Maddox had quickly cast doubt on his initial report of a second attack, cabling just hours later that the reports of torpedoes “appear doubtful” and that “freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonar men may have accounted for many reports,” and finally suggesting “complete evaluation before any further action taken,” President Johnson instead rushed to announce in a television and radio address that “repeated acts of violence” called for a “positive reply,” and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara informed the press that the military “would take appropriate action in view of the unprovoked attacks in international waters.” [96] On the basis of the administration’s claims of multiple “unprovoked attacks” by ships on “routine patrol” in international waters — not one part of which was true — Congress quickly and overwhelmingly approved the authorization for military action that had been drafted by State Department officials, passing the resolution on August 7 by a unanimous vote in the House, and by a vote of 88–2 in the Senate. [97] The massive escalation of the Vietnam War thus began with an extraordinary act of deception.

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, August 10, 1964

Captain Herrick’s destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin had been tasked with a covert electronic intelligence gathering mission, code-named DESOTO, “which had been conceived in the White House and directed by the President’s national security adviser [and] was largely secret, even to him,” as the Los Angeles Times reported. [98] The mission was deliberately provocative, including direction “to stimulate Chinese Communists, North Vietnamese electronic reaction.” [99] The captain was not told that his patrol was coordinated with OPLAN 34-A, under the aegis of which Laotian aircraft were bombing North Vietnamese targets and South Vietnamese naval forces were launching commando raids which “were unilaterally controlled by the U.S., using boats procured and maintained by the U.S. Navy, attacking targets selected by the CIA, in an operation paid for by the United States,” as historian John Prados noted. [100] Nor did Captain Herrick know that the very first attacks on North Vietnamese positions with heavy artillery had begun just before his ship set sail along the coast of North Vietnam on July 30, although the North Vietnamese did publicly protest the strikes on August 1. [101]

The interception of North Vietnamese communications by the Maddox revealed that the North Vietnamese associated the patrol with the attacks launched the same night — not without reason — and Captain Herrick sent word to his fleet commander: “Evaluation of info from various sources indicates that DRV considers patrol directly involved with 34–A ops.” The captain considered this an “unacceptable risk” and cabled that he intended to cancel his patrol, but his fleet commander ordered the Maddox to continue. Eight hours later, three North Vietnamese ships sailed within 10,000 yards of the Maddox, and the U.S. destroyer opened fire, initiating a brief battle in which it sustained no damage except for a single bullet hole fired from a U.S. aircraft. [102]

The U.S.S. Maddox

Two nights later, during rough seas, dense fog, and electrical storms, the sailors on the Maddox and a companion destroyer, the Turner Joy — all whom had been primed for an attack by the intelligence officer in the surveillance mission — began to read radar dots and sonar sounds as torpedo strikes, counting 20 to 30 torpedoes over the next two hours, as they zigzagged in evasive maneuvers and fired their guns at nothing. [103]

Declassified phone records reveal that McNamara knew before any public announcement was made that there was a “possibility there was no attack.” But rather than undertake the “complete evaluation” advised by Captain Herrick or “hold [the] execute” order for airstrikes “until we have a definite indication that this happened,” as recommended by Admiral Ulysses Grant Sharp Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Secretary McNamara decided to “continue the execute order in effect,” without telling President Johnson of the admiral’s advice. The president, meanwhile, was anxiously preparing to announce the attack and his military response, before that response was even ready. [104]

At a White House staff meeting the next morning, McGeorge Bundy admitted that “the amount of evidence we have today is less than we had yesterday” on the purported second attack on the Maddox. “This matter may be of some importance,” Bundy said, “since Hanoi has denied making the second attack.” President Johnson was to appear before Congress that day to seek authorization of military action based on the reports of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, but when a new staffer questioned “how an attack on US forces specifically justified a resolution” for military action, “Bundy, in reply, jokingly told him perhaps the matter should not be thought through too far,” according to the minutes of the meeting. “For his own part, he welcomed the recent events as justification for a resolution the Administration had wanted for some time.” [105]

Many years later, former Under Secretary of State George Ball admitted that the president “wasn’t convinced at all after the thing…but they had been waiting for a provocation for a hell of a long time,” so they took advantage of the false pretext. [106] “I think he had grave doubts that this attack had occurred,” Ball reflected, “but from the point of view of the President and those who were around him who were eager for a stronger American line to be taken, this served the purpose.” Johnson had even joked to Ball about “those God-damned slap-happy admirals shooting at flying fish.” [107] When McNamara went to the president a month later, on September 18, 1964, with reports of a third attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the president was skeptical. “Just say that you want to be sure…that we were fired upon,” he told McNamara. “Because you just came in…a few weeks ago and said that, ‘Damn, they are launching an attack on us — they are firing on us.’ When we got through with all the firing, we concluded maybe they hadn’t fired at all.” [108] Indeed, the third attack turned out to be as apocryphal as the second. “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there,” Johnson said a year later to his press secretary, Bill Moyers. [109]

However, administration officials did not merely misinterpret confusing reports in the manner most convenient to advance their agenda and then later neglect to set the record straight. They actively dissembled and misled the Congress and the public to secure military authorization, covering up evidence and maintaining the lie for years afterward. They were aided by the National Security Agency, which sent reports to policymakers that were “deliberately skewed to support the notion that there had been an attack” on August 4, according to a 2001 article by NSA historian Robert Hanyok, which was classified top secret and only released to the public after a FOIA request in 2005. [110]

“The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened. So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred,” Hanyok wrote. “The extensive amount of SIGINT [signals intelligence] evidence that contradicted both the intial attack and the notion that any North Vietnamese boats were involved in any ‘military operations,’ other than salvage of the two damaged torpedo boats, was either misrepresented or excluded from all NSA produced post-incident summaries, reports, or chronologies.” [110] The NSA historian concluded that the agency’s deception was clearly deliberate:

what few product (six) were actually used, and how 90 percent of them were kept out of the chronology; how contradictory SIGINT evidence was answered both with speculation and fragments lifted from context; how the complete lack of Vietnamese C3I was not addressed; [112] and, finally, how critical original Vietnamese text and subsequent product were no longer available. From this evidence, one can easily deduce the deliberate nature of these actions. And this observation makes sense, for there was a purpose to them: This was an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin. [113]

Despite the obviously deliberate nature of the deception, Hanyok still went out of his way to insist that, “This mishandling of the SIGINT was not done in a manner that can be construed as conspiratorial, that is, with manufactured evidence and collusion at all levels.” [114]


“The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened. So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred.”


The Black Box

Four years after manipulating Congress into unwittingly authorizing the Vietnam War, Secretary McNamara was called to testify about the Gulf of Tonkin incident before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 20, 1968. Wielding his doctored NSA records to fend off the senators’ investigation into the elaborate deception, McNamara repeated that, “The American destroyers were engaged in a routine patrol in international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and were the victims of deliberate and unprovoked attacks,” and still not one part of the statement was truthful. To reporters, Pentagon sources were claiming possession of absolute proof of the second attack, cynically referring to a “black box” about which they would say nothing more. [115]

To the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary McNamara tried to justify the false interpretation of the second attack by making vague reference to “intelligence reports received from a highly classified and unimpeachable source” — which he refused to share with the committee purportedly due to questions of clearance and national security risk — insisting that the classified intelligence documents “reported that North Vietnam was making preparations to attack our destroyers” and “reported, while the engagement was in progress on August 4, that the attack was under way.” Senator Al Gore, Sr. objected, “I submit, Mr. Secretary, you have given us nothing from the intercepted message to support that.” Senator J.W. Fullbright didn’t accept McNamara’s “national security” pretext for withholding the reports, remarking, “it is awfully hard for me to believe that three and a half years after that this is of any significance to current security. It is just incredible.” [116]

The senators already knew that the patrol was hardly “routine” but rather a deliberately provocative intelligence mission approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and coordinated by U.S. officials in tandem with the ostensibly South Vietnamese attacks. They knew that the mission authorized surveillance targets within four nautical miles of North Vietnamese islands, and six miles of the mainland, cognizant of the fact that North Vietnam claimed rights to twelve nautical miles from the coast. [117] They knew the attacks were not “unprovoked,” but rather were aggressively provoked by air strikes directed from Laos, naval strikes from South Vietnam, and invasive surveillance within waters claimed by North Vietnam. And they knew the U.S. Navy was aware of these attacks, and of the provocation they had caused, despite McNamara’s claims to the contrary. [118] “There is no doubt about it,” committee staff member William B. Bader said during one meeting. “The United States Navy was completely aware of the 34 operations at least by July 15, 1964.” [119]


“intelligence reports received from a highly classified and unimpeachable source…”


Despite evidence of the duplicity of Secretary McNamara and others in the White House, the senators of the Foreign Relations Committee proved extremely reluctant to even acknowledge, let alone address the willful deceptions. “You say Mr. McNamara misled the committee, he gave us wrong information,” Senator George Aiken said. “Have you any information who misled Secretary McNamara?” Seemingly oblivious to the basic tenets of “plausible deniability” that define U.S. covert operations, staff assistant William Bader reassured committee members that, “I do not think there is any suggestion here…that Mr. McNamara consciously misled the committee.” [120] But that is exactly where the evidence was leading the senators, who were becoming noticeably disturbed by this inconvenient truth.

“I must say,” confided Senator Karl Mundt, “this morning’s session has raised some very troublesome questions for me. I came here not believing that there was anything like the kind of evidence which this…research has produced. Faced with this much information, I think we would be collectively and individually derelict in our duty if we stopped here.” The issue was, Mundt said, “much more serious than I thought.” Senator Al Gore, Sr., replied, “I do not know how we can in conscience and constitutional responsibility stop here,” but he expressed reluctance to continue publicly. “I certainly would not wish to see us make anything public about it now because frankly I think the conclusions ought to be considered of a tentative nature,” Gore said. “But I cannot rest easy to stop now. If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, the consequences are very great.” [121]

Senator Stuart Symington noted the allegations that the attack on Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen, “was planned here in Washington” to engineer a pretext for entering World War 2, and wondered aloud if a similar conspiracy might be afoot in the Gulf of Tonkin deception. “It seems to me the important thing here is was there, based on the testimony as against the facts as developed by the staff, and this is the only thing that worries me or really even particularly interests me, is whether there was some organized plan to have this operation developed so that the President could take a position before the country which would justify us in effect going to war,” Symington said. [122]

Senator John Sherman Cooper was the first to mention the spectre of impeachment, though he seemed to raise the issue as a point against continuing an investigation, considering both absolute proof and impeachment during wartime to be impossible. “If you are trying to say that this committee, the country, and the Congress were the subject of a giant hoax, of course I don’t think you would ever prove that,” he said, “and, second, if it were proved, then you might have a question of impeachment. But to raise that question and not to be able to do anything about it at a time of war and everything, I think this committee would take a tremendous responsibility.” [123]

The senators, however, seemed to be shamed into denying any suspicion of a deliberate deception after Secretary McNamara publicly released his opening statement to the committee, in which he attacked “the suggestion that, in some way, the Government of the United States induced the incident on 4 August with the intent of providing an excuse to take the retaliatory action which we in fact took.” Though the truth was in fact worse — the incident was invented rather than induced — McNamara’s response was vehement. “I can only characterize such insinuations as monstrous,” he said. “But beyond that, I find it inconceivable that any one even remotely familiar with our society and system of Government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy which would include almost, if not all, the entire chain of military command in the Pacific, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and his chief Civilian Assistants, the Secretary of State, and the President of the United States.” [124]

The statement was outrageous to the senators on the committee, who saw it as a calculated propaganda weapon prepared “for public consumption” and released to the press despite remarks to the contrary in order to deliver a tactical first strike on their inquiry. Audaciously embellishing a lie with voluminous new detail and references to “unimpeachable” secret sources, McNamara had ended by attacking the senators’ skepticism as a “monstrous” conspiracy theory. [125] “I don’t know what to do, Mr. Chairman, but the committee is left in an unenviable position with this statement,” said Senator Gore the next day, noting “at least a half dozen more inaccuracies” in what Secretary McNamara had said. “It is more than inaccurate,” Chairman William Fulbright replied. “I think it is grossly misleading.” Nevertheless, he admitted a naïve surprise at the officials’ capacity to lie about their covert operations:

I think I was certainly misled, and the whole committee was absolutely misled, and including the Armed Services Committee, as to what happened. I don’t have any doubt we were misled about it. I think the record speaks for itself. This was not that way, and what effect it would have had or may have had, I do not know. I think it would have been a very different situation. It surprises me — the greatest surprise to me was to find out that my own government was capable of the kind of misleading statements they made. That is the biggest surprise to me. I was naïve enough to believe them, and I did believe them, and I repeated the misstatements on the floor, and I am now being taxed with telling the country what they told me. [126]

“I don’t have any doubt we were misled about it. I think the record speaks for itself.”


Chairman Fulbright, roused to indignation by Secretary McNamara’s deceit, called upon his colleagues to assert some authority, lest they prove themselves to be a completely irrelevant oversight body:

I think if we are going to be subject to the kind of treatment we had yesterday, and their willingness to take advantage of the press and put out their statements as they did, I do not see much function that we have to perform. We are completely at their mercy on expressing ourselves in any meaningful way. I do not think we ought to accept it. I do not want to accept his version of it, because I do not think it is correct. I think it is highly prejudicial to the committee and to — well, to the truth primarily.

A dejected Senator Bourke Hickenlooper replied that the committee was already a vassal of the president. “We have taken the orders of the administration, whether it is the Eisenhower administration, whether it is the Truman, Kennedy or Johnson, administration,” he said. “We have become subservient to the administration, this committee and other committees.” He proved reluctant, however, when the committee considered releasing its staff study to counter Robert McNamara’s disinformation campaign, saying, “I do not think we help ourselves if we drag all the family skeletons out of the closet right in the midst of an emergency.” Although Senator Gore insisted that the investigation was “an extremely serious matter,” he too lobbied for secrecy. “Let this public business be way down the line,” he cautioned. “Let us keep it entirely within our own bosoms up until that point.” [127]

Even Senator Mike Mansfield, an outspoken critic of the war, feared that they would “increase the divisiveness in the country,” by releasing the study. “You are not going to better the influence, such as it is, that this committee has, which in reality it does not have but should have,” he said. [128] But Senator Fulbright despaired that nothing they did made any difference:

The only difficulty is, What do we do to have any influence?… the Secretary goes off on his own in this fashion, and I do not see any way to make them take any notice of it. We have all…tried to influence them, and we obviously are ignored just as we were yesterday when we asked him not to make his statement public.…It is a question of: is this committee going to have any influence or are we just going to take whatever they say and do and with no response.…I think this is very shabby treatment of the committee. If we do not do anything and just take it, they will certainly continue to do it.…If the committee is not going to influence him, I do not think anybody is. I do not know who can. But I do not mean that this report in itself will do it. But I think the committee, accepting the Secretary’s action and doing nothing about it as if that is the last word, is in a very weak position where no one will pay any attention to us at all. I personally — I am not going to accept it, just as an individual senator…I will have to make my own remarks…I might as well say I am not going to remain silent in the face of that statement he made yesterday…If you do not want to say anything and just want to keep it secret and sit on it, why that is your privilege.…This committee has a role to play that as Senators we are not just rubber stamps and we are supposed to have an influence. If you do not wish to or you think it is unwise to in this instance, that of course is the privilege of yours, that is your function.

Senator Frank Church also doubted that the Senate could exert any influence on the president, but was the first to point out that it might be important simply that the public know the truth:

I had supposed our objective was to attempt to ascertain the truth, and then the question was: Is it then our responsibility to disclose the truth about an event that was used for purposes of justifying the assault we have since directed toward North Vietnam? And a resolution that the President has since repeatedly referred to as his congressional authority to proceed. I think historically the truth about this is terribly important. I think that is an issue. As far as what influence this committee has with the President, it has none and it will not have any until we agree with his policy and attempt to assist him in implementing that policy.

Chairman Fulbright implored his colleagues to exercise their power, if not to influence the president, then at least to inform the public. “I would say that you have expressed it when you say the truth is it,” he replied to Senator Church. “It strikes me that in a democracy you cannot expect the people, whose sons are being killed and who will be killed, to exercise their judgment if the truth is concealed from them,” Senator Fulbright said. “The one thing we can do, if we cannot influence the president’s judgment, we can at least make the truth available to the people and they have to vote, that is their function.” [129]

Senator Church, however, feared that if they could prove that the second Gulf of Tonkin incident was “a contrived incident to justify an attack upon North Vietnam,” then the committee represented a security threat to the military. If they could prove the deception, Church said, “we have a case here comparable to the Dreyfus Case, [130] we have a case that will discredit the military in the United States, and discredit and quite possibly destroy the President.” The executive’s response to such a threat, especially during wartime, was likely to be unlimited:

In other words, we are dealing here with matters that I think go far beyond the security impact of or the immediate military consequence of whether or not we have broken a code or not broken a code. I have no doubt but what the military senses the importance of this inquiry and that every possible roadblock will be raised against our pursuit of it and every possible pressure will be placed upon us…I must say that there is not sufficient evidence here to substantiate or to justify in my opinion the pursuit of an investigation in public that would hall into question the integrity of the military and the President of the United States. I think there is enough evidence here to justify further inquiry on our part behind closed doors. I doubt very much if we can prove this case because I can see a hundred ways that it can be covered up, and I doubt that we will be able to cope with the cover-up, if in fact it is.…I can see a hundred ways that the Navy can come up here under so serious a probe as this, and justify and clarify and explain away what happened. All I am cautioning us is this: Let’s be very careful before we take this into the open. We both understand that this is by far the most serious inquiry we have ever launched upon; and, secondly, that we have the evidence that can substantiate the charge, and otherwise we will discredit ourselves totally, and you can be sure that the big forces in this country that have most of the influence and run most of the newspapers and are oriented toward the presidency will lose no opportunity to thoroughly discredit this committee unless we have evidence. [131]

Senator Church’s concerns about a military cover-up and a media smear campaign by “big forces in this country that have most of the influence” ultimately carried the day, and the committee duly assumed its function as an irrelevant rubber stamp. [132] For the rest of Lyndon Johnson’s tenure in office, he kept a copy of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in his coat pocket. “Any time that anyone would raise the question of the grounding for his actions in Vietnam,” recalled former press secretary Bill Moyers, “he would pull that out and say, ‘Look, I have the overwhelming support of Congress’” — a support secured by deceit. [133]


“I can see a hundred ways that it can be covered up, and I doubt that we will be able to cope with the cover-up…”


A Genuinely Unfashionable Opinion

And so, as Roger Hilsman wrote to The New York Times after the release of Oliver Stone’s JFK, the first premise of the film was true — that the Kennedy stood in the way of the Cold War plans of the defense and intelligence establishment in a way that his successor quite obviously did not — even if Hilsman considered the rest of the conspiracy theory presented in the movie to be “palpable nonsense.” Which brings the discussion, inevitably, to the question of conspiracy in the mysterious events surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which has become a kind of shibboleth in modern American political discourse, now rivaled perhaps only by the mysterious events surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Those who openly admit that they find the official story set down in the Warren Commission report — magic bullet, missing brain, and all [134] — to be unconvincing and improbable, are ipso facto “conspiracy theorists” in the logic of the political mainstream, whether they propose a theory of conspiracy or merely skepticism of official nonsense. And “conspiracy theorist,” in this conceptual schema, is understood to signify a sort of dubious extremist. As Lance deHaven-Smith observes, “conspiracy theory” is a term “which, since the 1960s, has been associated with paranoia and harebrained speculation.” [135]

It matters little that nearly everyone who has seriously investigated the assassination of President Kennedy has expressed significant doubts about the Warren Commission findings — including all but one of the Commission members themselves. [136] Nor does it make much difference that for the past fifty years, polls have consistently shown a vast majority of Americans think that President Kennedy’s assassination involved a conspiracy and an official cover-up. [137] Although skepticism is obviously not a fringe phenomenon, it still seems that anything more than a cursory study of the assassination will suffice to pigeonhole an individual as a “conspiracy theorist” or “assassination buff.” As political theorist Michael Parenti points out, this commonly applied label of “buff” to investigators of John F. Kennedy’s murder — ”a diminishing characterization, describing someone who pursues odd hobbies” — is about as appropriate a term for serious researchers of such an important political event as “Holocaust buff” would be. [138] Along similar semantic lines, we might ask why those who dismiss all discussion of conspiracies outright aren’t called “conspiracy denialists.” The so-called “conspiracy theory” seems to be the sort of “unfashionable opinion” which George Orwell wrote in “Politics and the English Language” is “almost never given a fair hearing.” As Orwell observed:

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals. [139]

Although the infamous “conspiracy theory” first emerged in the late 19th century as a dismissive phrase applied to suspicion of secret corruption, the term rose to prominence in the aftermath of World War 2, through Karl Popper’s treatment of the subject in The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper defined the “conspiracy theory of society” as “the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which first has to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.” Though Popper sought to problematize the tendency to seek a single hidden conspiracy in everything — such as those conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination which had fueled the Third Reich’s atrocities — he acknowledged that conspiracy was, in fact, a common occurrence. “I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena,” Popper clarified. “Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted.” [140] Nevertheless, despite Popper’s narrow application of the phrase, the rhetorical deployment of “conspiracy theory” became an effective means to dismiss any suspicion of elite conspiracy as not only incorrect and inappropriate but outright insane.

The emphasis on the aberrant mental state of those who entertain conspiratorial narratives of history has been a recurring motif in the literature on conspiracies ever since Richard Hofstadter published his seminal essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” in Harper’s magazine in November 1964 — one year after the Kennedy assassination, and just months after the Gulf of Tonkin deception. Even Hofstadter, though, was willing to acknowledge the historical reality of conspiracy. “One may object that there are conspiratorial acts in history, and there is nothing paranoid about taking note of them,” he conceded. “This is true. All political behavior requires strategy, many strategic acts depend for their effect upon a period of secrecy, and anything that is secret may be described, often with but little exaggeration, as conspiratorial.” [141]


“One may object that there are conspiratorial acts in history, and there is nothing paranoid about taking note of them. This is true…anything that is secret may be described, often with but little exaggeration, as conspiratorial.”


Like Popper before him, Hofstadter meant his analysis of the “paranoid style” to apply specifically to the delusional belief in a single “’vast’ or ‘gigantic’ conspiracy as the motive force in historical events.” But the theory of Hofstadter, like Popper, has been exploited and distorted to attack nearly any mention of political conspiracies with such success that today, even a qualified, informed “conspiracy theory of society” — based in the recognition that covert manipulation is an essential aspect of politics and history, and disposed to suspect possible conspiracies only when evidence warrants suspicion — manages to be “silenced with surprising effectiveness” and made to appear paranoid.

As the conservative British political theorist John Laughland noted ironically in a 2004 column entitled, “I believe in conspiracies,” written in response to the obvious conspiracies that launched the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that “British and American foreign policy is itself based on a series of highly improbable conspiracy theories” involving a fictitious terrorist organization invented by the U.S. Department of Defense, [142] nevertheless “conspiracy theories are generally considered a rather repellent form of intellectual low-life, and their theorists rightfully the object of scorn and snobbery.” Noting a column in the Daily Mail which “attacked conspiracy theories as the consequence of a special pathology, of the collapse in religious belief, and of a ‘descent into the irrational,’” Laughland wrote, “The implication is that those who oppose ‘the West’, or who think that governments are secretive and dishonest, might need psychiatric treatment.” [143]

Historian Gordon Wood offers a textbook example of this arrogant position in a 1982 essay on “Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style,” writing that, “By our own time, dominated as it is by professional social science, conspiratorial interpretations have become so out of place that, as we have seen, they can be accounted for only as mental aberrations, as a paranoid style symptomatic of psychological disturbance. In our post-industrial, scientifically saturated society, those who continue to attribute combinations of events to deliberate human design may well be peculiar sorts of persons — marginal people, perhaps, removed from the centers of power, unable to grasp the conceptions of complicated causal linkages offered by sophisticated social scientists, and unwilling to abandon the desire to make simple and clear moral judgments of events.” [144]

Wood’s essay was published just months before the media revelation of secret CIA collusion with the Argentine military junta to foment a coup in Nicaragua prompted Congress to pass the first Boland amendment, which prohibited CIA from supporting anti-Sandinista activities and which the Reagan administration duly disregarded, leading to the so-called “full Boland amendment” after the mining of Nicaraguan harbors in 1984, which inspired the Reagan administration to subvert the Congressional prohibitions by contracting Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to organize the illegal conspiracy known as “The Enterprise,” subsequently revealed in the sprawling “scandal” known as “Iran-Contra.” [145] Considering all of the political conspiracy of the previous decade, this was hardly even an exceptional case of scandal — and yet somehow, Wood did not consider it absurd to write that “conspiratorial interpretations have become so out of place” that only “marginal people” with “mental aberrations” might employ them.


“…conspiratorial interpretations have become so out of place that…they can be accounted for only as mental aberrations, as a paranoid style symptomatic of psychological disturbance.”


As Jeffrey M. Bale, director of the terrorism research program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, notes, “only a handful of scholarly publications have been devoted to the general theme of political conspiracies–as opposed to popular anti-conspiracy treatises, which are numerous, and specific case studies of events in which conspiratorial groups have played some role–and virtually all of these concern themselves with the deleterious social impact of the ‘paranoid style’ of thought manifested in classic conspiracy theories rather than the characteristic features of real conspiratorial politics.” [146]

Rather than bemoan the rise of paranoid “conspiracy theories” of politics, John Laughland proposed that “one ought to speak of a ‘conspiracy of silence’ about the role of secret services in politics.” As Commonweal’s editors wrote in 1967, “There is no point in complaining about a growing attachment of the New Left to ‘conspiracy theories’ when genuine conspiracies are popping up all around.” [147] John Naughton, co-director of Oxford University’s Conspiracy and Democracy project, says, “The reason we have conspiracy theories is that sometimes governments and organisations do conspire.” [148]

The silence about conspiracies reveals a curious cognitive dissonance among conspiracy denialists, who, wrote Laughland noted, “often allow that conspiracies have occurred in the past, but refuse to contemplate their existence in the present”:

For some reason, you are bordering on the bonkers if you wonder about the truth behind events like 9/11, when it is established as fact that in 1962 the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lyman L. Lemnitzer, tried to convince President Kennedy to authorise an attack on John Glenn’s rocket, or on a US navy vessel, to provide a pretext for invading Cuba. [149] Two years later, a similar strategy was deployed in the faked Gulf of Tonkin incident, when US engagement in Vietnam was justified in the light of the false allegation that the North Vietnamese had launched an unprovoked attack on a US destroyer. Are such tactics confined to history?[150]

One is led to wonder if it is a consequence of the “conspiracy of silence” that Laughland’s feature article eventually disappeared from the website of The Spectator. Absent from the archive of Laughland’s articles and missing from the January 7, 2004 issue’s online table of contents, the article’s title appears in a search of the website only as a link to an empty page in the cartoon section. [151]

A Conspiracy of Silence

This peculiar “conspiracy of silence” has not gone unnoticed among those engaged in the study of clandestine politics. As Jeffrey M. Bale observed in a 1995 article in Lobster:

Very few notions generate as much intellectual resistance, hostility, and derision within academic circles as a belief in the historical importance or efficacy of political conspiracies. Even when this belief is expressed in a very cautious manner, limited to specific and restricted contexts, supported by reliable evidence, and hedged about with all sort of qualifications, it still manages to transcend the boundaries of acceptable discourse and violate unspoken academic taboos. The idea that particular groups of people meet together secretly or in private to plan various courses of action, and that some of these plans actually exert a significant influence on particular historical developments, is typically rejected out of hand and assumed to be the figment of a paranoid imagination. The mere mention of the word ‘conspiracy’ seems to set off an internal alarm bell which causes scholars to close their minds in order to avoid cognitive dissonance and possible unpleasantness, since the popular image of conspiracy both fundamentally challenges the conception most educated, sophisticated people have about how the world operates and reminds them of the horrible persecutions that absurd and unfounded conspiracy theories have precipitated or sustained in the past. So strong is this prejudice among academics that even when clear evidence of a plot is inadvertently discovered in the course of their own research, they frequently feel compelled, either out of a sense of embarrassment or a desire to defuse anticipated criticism, to preface their account of it by ostentatiously disclaiming a belief in conspiracies. [152]

Due to the effectiveness of the “conspiracy theory” epithet, anyone with an interest in maintaining a professional reputation knows to avoid even asking the sorts of questions that would betray a suspicion of large-scale political conspiracies. One might be allowed to occasionally acknowledge the more mundane sorts of insider illegality and concealed corruption, like regulators in bed with executives of the industries they ostensibly investigate — literally and figuratively [153] — or administration officials deliberately fabricating intelligence data to construct a phony pretext to start a decade-long international war. [154] But to interpret these isolated — if endlessly repeated — “scandals” and “affairs” as part of a standard operating procedure of conspiratorial politics is to venture beyond the channel of acceptable discourse. “In intellectually respectable company it is necessary to preface any reference to actual political, economic, military or paramilitary conspiracies with the disclaimer that the speaker ‘doesn’t believe in the conspiracy theory of history (or politics),’” wrote Robin Ramsey, publisher of Lobster, a magazine dedicated to secretive “parapolitics.” [155]

When Robert McNamara publicly attacked the senators investigating the Gulf of Tonkin deception, suggesting they believed in a “monstrous conspiracy,” they were quick to disclaim any suspicions of deliberate plotting, falling back on feeble characterizations of the administration’s tactics as a “precipitate” action, a “questionable procedure,” based on an “untruth,” and even caused by “ineptitude,” in which the administration “just muddled through.” [156] And when NSA historian Robert Hanyok discovered clear proof that the NSA had “deliberately skewed” reports to support the apocryphal story of the second attack, he still averred that the deception could not be “construed as conspiratorial.” [157] “That speakers wishing to be suspicious feel the need to defend against an implied accusation of paranoia suggests that it has powerful regulatory effects,” writes psychology professor David Harper in an essay on suspicion in the era of pervasive surveillance. [158] “If I call you a ‘conspiracy theorist,’ it matters little whether you have actually claimed that a conspiracy exists or whether you have simply raised an issue that I would rather avoid,” write sociologists Ginna Husting and Martin Orr:

As part of the machinery of interaction, the label does conversational work no matter how true, false, or conspiracy-related your utterance is. Using the phrase, I can symbolically exclude you from the imagined community of reasonable interlocutors.…when I call you a “conspiracy theorist,” I can turn the tables on you: instead of responding to a question, concern, or challenge, I twist the machinery of interaction so that you, not I, are now called to account. In fact, I have done even more. By labeling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur. [159]

Since even those who make claims that are not “conspiracy-related” earn the epithet of “conspiracy theorist,” Lance deHaven-Smith contends that the essential aim is not to “disparage conspiratorial thinking or analysis in general, even though this is what the term suggests,” but rather to more broadly stigmatize and stifle all “inquiry and questioning that challenge official accounts of troubling political events in which public officials themselves may have had a hand”:

Deployed in public discourse to discredit and silence those who express suspicions of elite criminality, the label functions, rhetorically, to shield political elites from public interrogation.…the conspiracy theory label is applied not to categorize a position that will actually be considered but to shut off argumentation before it begins. As a practical matter, the label condemns as hysterical and pernicious almost all speculations about the possible complicity of political elites in suspicions events. [160]

Indeed, any undue attention on the workings of elite power, whether criminal or purely ordinary, is vulnerable to the standard dismissal through the “conspiracy theory” label. When sociologist C. Wright Mills published The Power Elite in 1956, his fairly self-evident thesis that the major issues of the United States were decided by a small political, economic, and military elite that was interconnected and coordinated in an “intricate set of overlapping cliques” was widely criticized, with some referring to it as a “conspiracy theory.” [161] Sociologist and psychologist G. William Domhoff, author of studies of elite power like Who Rules America? and The Powers That Be, writes that, “Critics of a power elite theory often call it ‘conspiratorial,’ which is the academic equivalent of ending a discussion by yelling Communist.” Domhoff responds:

It is difficult to lay this charge to rest once and for all because these critics really mean something much broader than the dictionary definition of conspiracy. All right, then, if ‘conspiracy’ means that these men are aware of their interests, know each other personally, meet together privately and off the record, and try to hammer out a consensus on how to anticipate or react to events and issues, then there is some conspiring that goes on in CFR, not to mention the Committee for Economic Development, the Business Council, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.” [162]

Mark Fenster, a professor of law and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, proposes that the stigmatizing label of “conspiracy theory” serves a broad function of neutralizing any dissent from elite consensus. “By labeling as pathological any challenge or resistance to ‘consensus,’ the notion of the ‘paranoid style’ serves as an excuse for neglecting, equating, and even repressing political protest of all sorts,” he writes. [163]


“…if ‘conspiracy’ means that these men are aware of their interests, know each other personally, [and] meet together privately and off the record…then there is some conspiring that goes on in CFR,…the Committee for Economic Development, the Business Council, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.”


After an almost immediate consensus coalesced around the accusation that IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted a cleaning woman in the Sofitel Hotel in 2011, Executive Editor Bill Keller of The New York Times took to the pages of his paper to ridicule suspicions — held by over half of the French public — that the incident was the result of an elite setup. “People who would happily accept the label ‘intellectual’ were quick to surmise that the scandal was somehow cooked up by President Nicolas Sarkozy,” Keller wrote of this “conspiracy theory,” troubled that “evidently rational people” could still “fall for beliefs that seem far-fetched at best.” Keller spoke to Mark Fenster, who said he had first suspected a plot to frame Strauss-Kahn, but after hearing more about the case, “I was ashamed of myself.” The implication, loudly unsaid, was that anyone who suspected a conspiracy should feel the same way. Keller, likening suspicions of a Strauss-Kahn set-up with global warming denial and the racist “birther” controversy over President Obama’s nationality, comforted himself that “As the Strauss-Kahn case makes its way through discovery and trial, the French suspicion of a setup will surely wane.”[164] Instead, by the end of the month, the district attorney had filed a petition to dismiss the case, finding Strauss-Kahn’s accuser to be chronically untruthful — and the mysterious story vanished in a cloud of unanswered questions. [165]

The establishment response to reports of CIA-supported cocaine smuggling has become a canonical example of this conspiracy of silence in action. When AP journalist Robert Parry first broke the story of drug running by the Nicaraguan contras in 1985, he said the story was “a hard sell” because “editors are afraid of being called conspiracy theorists.” [166] Laurence Zuckerman at Time found his story on the contra cocaine operations killed in 1987 by management because, as a senior editor told him, “Time is institutionally behind the contras.” [167] In 1988, when a Senate committee led by John Kerry completed its investigation into evidence of government-supported drug running that emerged from the “Iran-Contra” investigations, Parry noted that “establishment publications took the cue that it was safe to mock Kerry. Newsweek dubbed him a ‘randy conspiracy buff.’” [168] Jack Blum, the chief investigator for the Kerry committee recalled that the members of the committee “were personally trashed. The Reagan administration and some people in Congress tried to make us look like crazies. And to some degree, it worked.” Establishment journalists did not simply avoid the report’s conclusions, but actively assailed the committee, Blum said. “The press treated it like, ‘These people are wackos!’” [169]

When journalist Gary Webb began an investigation years later into the connections between the Nicaraguan contras and the crack cocaine explosion in Los Angeles, Robert Parry presciently warned him, “Are you sure you want to ruin your career?” [170] Webb’s investigative series, published in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996 with a special section on the internet with digital downloads of primary sources, caused a national outrage that ultimately brought about the end of Webb’s award-winning career as an investigative journalist, and later the end of his life. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times led the attack on the series, with “conspiracy theory” liberally applied to deride the heavily-researched stories.


America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war

BY GARY WEBB

FOR THE BETTER PART of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency…


When The Washington Post responded to Webb’s series in October, for instance, their front page story ran side-by-side with an article on “conspiracy theories” and the “inclination” of the black community “to accept as fact unsubstantiated reports or rumors about conspiracies targeting blacks.” [171] The other two papers followed suit, with The New York Times reporting an “endless supply of suspicion” in the black community which had given Webb’s series “a life of its own” despite the fact that the “country’s biggest newspapers, to the extent that they have covered the story, have for the most part done so skeptically.” [172] Howard Kurtz at The Washington Post quipped, “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” in a dismissive piece on the “Webb of Conspiracy.” [173]

As Nick Schou reflected ten years later in the Los Angeles Times, “Most of the nation’s elite newspapers at first ignored the story. A public uproar, especially among urban African Americans, forced them to respond. What followed was one of the most bizarre, unseemly and ultimately tragic scandals in the annals of American journalism, one in which top news organizations closed ranks to debunk claims Webb never made, ridicule assertions that turned out to be true and ignore corroborating evidence when it came to light.” [174] The Los Angeles Times engaged in a veritable conspiracy to bring down Gary Webb, with one reporter remarking that he was “assigned to the ‘get Gary Webb team,’” and another vowing, “We’re going to take away that guy’s Pulitzer.” [175]

Three months after the series went to print, The New York Times worried that the “rumor mill continued to grind, seemingly unstoppable,” despite the paper’s best efforts to bury the story. Times columnist Maureen Dowd insisted to her readers the next day that there was “no evidence to support the conspiracy theory” of Webb’s investigative series. [176] Nearly a year after the series first ran, the editor of the San Jose Mercury News finally succumbed to the nationwide attack, writing a public apology for “gray areas” and “impressions that were open to misinterpretation” in the stories, and Gary Webb was transferred to Cupertino and relieved of his duties as an investigative journalist. [177]

In response, Webb resigned and dedicated himself to supporting every fact in his series in a lengthy book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. “To this day, no one has ever been able to show me a single error of fact in anything I’ve written about this drug ring, which includes a 600-page book about the whole tragic mess,” Webb said in 2001. “But, in the end, the facts didn’t really matter. What mattered was making the damned thing go away, shutting people up, and making anyone who demanded the truth appear to be a wacky conspiracy theorist. And it worked.” [178]

Effectively blacklisted as a “radioactive” journalist and unable to find another newspaper job, the depressed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist eventually settled for work at a weekly independent paper in Sacramento, and eight years after his sensational series was published, he committed suicide. [179] “The reason this whole remains so significant today,” reflected Jack Blum in 2005, “is this: the knowledge that, if one individual dares raise such serious issues, they risk confronting a tremendous apparatus that is prepared to whack them hard, and there is very little they can expect by way of support. Look at the way the U.S. press reports on Iraq. The complete lack of desire to ask the difficult questions makes me want to scream.” [180] As World Bank Vice President and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz said in a lecture on secrecy at Oxford University in 1999, “The press plays an essential role in the battle for openness. But the press, as we have seen, is at the same time a central part of the ‘conspiracy of secrecy.’” Stiglitz called for “more reporting on the reporting process itself, exposing the nefarious system, if not the key players.” [181]

A “conspiracy theorist” might well suspect a literal “conspiracy of silence,” as journalistic attacks on investigations into elite political conspiracies often appear to be well-coordinated, with consistent talking points in diverse media sources suggesting evidence of high-level efforts to silence such inquiry. A CIA analyst observed that in the first days of the Gary Webb series, “CIA media spokesman would remind reporters seeking comment that this series represented no real news, that similar charges were made in the 1980s and were investigated by the Congress and were found to be without substance” and “were encouraged to read the ‘Dark Alliance’ series closely and with a critical eye” — and these indeed became the major themes of the establishment attack on Webb’s series across most national newspapers. [182] Similarly, in the repeated attacks on skeptics of the Warren Report, the recurring themes of the paranoia and poor reasoning of skeptics are conspicuous. And in this case, at least, it’s now evident that a “conspiracy theorist” would be right to suspect a literal conspiracy. Just because you’re paranoid, as the saying goes, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. [183]

A classified CIA document written in 1967 — and not released until 1998 — reveals that the Agency did indeed coordinate a covert, multi-faceted attack on skeptics of the Warren Commission report, secretly recruiting “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” for the express purpose of “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists.” These elites were to “use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation,” and to promote the idea that “parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists.” Additionally, the CIA document proposed to secretly “employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics” through the placement of ostensibly independent “book reviews and feature articles” in magazines and newspapers. The dispatch outlined effective tactics for dismissing suspicions and even identified specific targets to discredit, like Edward Jay Epstein, who was particularly dangerous for his “scholarly tone…which has made it respectable to doubt the Commission’s findings.” [184]

Unfortunately, specific details about the CIA’s attack on critics of the Warren Commission — for instance, precisely which articles and book reviews were planted by “propaganda assets,” or what stories were killed by “friendly elite contacts” — are not forthcoming.[185] But the Church Committee’s investigation into the CIA did confirm in broad outline the massive scale of the Agency’s program to exploit the media, which included planting stories and book reviews with their agent-journalists embedded at dozens of institutions and publishing over a thousand books. [186] It may be impossible to ascertain the role of the CIA in media attacks on other so-called “conspiracy theorists,” but if the purported reason for “countering criticism” of the Warren Commission was genuine — that it was “a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization” that “efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of the American society” — then any investigation into elite political criminality able to attract popular interest would be a potential target.


SUBJECT: Countering Criticism of the Warren Report

“From the day of President Kennedy’s assassination on, there has been speculation about the responsibility for his murder…In most cases the critics have speculated as to the existence of some kind of a conspiracy. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization.…The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists…

a. To discuss the publicity problem with liaison and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)…Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

b. To employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics…”


Back to Black

If anything is clear from an investigation into the brief history of the Kennedy administration and its aftermath, it is that secrecy and deceit were woven into the warp and weft of the entire elite political realm, with underworld criminals and international assassins, duplicitous diplomats and conniving Cabinet secretaries, arrogant chiefs of a war-hungry “military-industrial complex” and furtive officers in competing intelligence agencies assuming roles as central actors in political affairs. The most significant events in Kennedy’s presidency are surrounded by secrecy and defined by deception committed by his own subordinates, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Diem assassination to Kennedy’s own assassination. It is remarkable, given the endless, inescapable cycle of political and economic “scandals,” that the notion of investigating these complex webs of crime as a standard domain of social science has been effectively stigmatized as a paranoid project. As Hakim Bey, reflecting on “The Ontological Status of Conspiracy Theory,” has written, “Anyone who denies the reality of conspiracy must face a difficult task indeed when attempting to explain away the activities of certain elements within Intelligence and the Republican Party in the USA over the last few decades”:

Never mind the Kennedy Assassination, that spectacular boondoggle…but how can one even begin to discuss Nixon’s plumbers, Iran/Contra, the S&L “crisis,” the show-wars against Libya, Grenada, Panama, and Iraq, without some recourse to the concept of “conspiracy”?…The Republicans launched an open “War on Drugs,” for example, while secretly using cocaine money to finance right wing insurgency in Latin America.…As Carl Oglesby points out, sophisticated conspiracy theory posits no single, all-powerful, over-riding cabal in charge of “History.” That would indeed be a form of stupid paranoia, whether of the Left or the Right. Conspiracies rise and fall, spring up and decay, migrate from one group to another, compete, collude, collide, implode, explode, fail, succeed, erase, forge, forget, vanish.…Conspiracies, in effect, are not THE way history is made, but are rather parts of the vast complex of myriads of ways in which our multiple stories are constructed. Conspiracy Theory cannot explain everything but it can explain something. If it has no ontological status, nevertheless it does have its epistemological uses. [187]

And if the defense of conspiracy theory is an unfashionable opinion among journalists and academics — for reasons which we have seen are not entirely accidental or benign — nevertheless, the epistemological utility of conspiracy theory is evident in the common expression it finds among politicians and intelligence professionals. Whatever may be said about the paranoid fringe and its pathological obsession with grand theories of conspiracy, it is clear that those most acquainted with the inner machinations of power regularly employ conspiracy theory as a framework for understanding political events — and have done so throughout modern history — for reasons that are entirely rational.

Since even the founding fathers of the “conspiracy theory” stigma, Karl Popper and Richard Hofstadter, admitted that conspiracies were common sociopolitical phenomena, perhaps a change of terminology is needed. Consider again, for instance, Richard Bissell’s denial that CIA officials harbored a “conspiratorial alternative operational plan” to coerce President Kennedy into authorizing a military invasion of Cuba, in light of Allen Dulles’s admission that he withheld information in the hope that ultimately, “any action required for success would be authorized rather than permit the enterprise to fail.” The trouble with such clandestine political activity is that it is virtually impossible to distinguish deliberately conspiratorial plots from merely ordinary operational approaches to sensitive information. And, in any case, the outcomes are often functionally equivalent. As Peter Knight writes in Conspiracy Culture, “The contemporary discourse of conspiracy gives narrative expression to the possibility of conspiracy without conspiring, with the congruence of vested interests that can only be described as conspiratorial, even when we know there has probably been no deliberate plotting.” [188] The label of “conspiracy,” then, offers little and even serves to distract and provoke meaningless definitional disputes.

Attempting to parse the distinction — metaphysically, semantically — between conspiracy and ordinary clandestine political activity proves to be a fool’s errand. It is easy enough to see the CIA’s Cuban operation, for instance, through either interpretation, or even through both at the same time. Essentially, the decision to view such corrupt, covert, elite political activities as a conspiracy — in the sense that is mocked by the label of “conspiracy theory” — is question of aesthetics, and the decision to present them as such is one of rhetoric. As Michael Parenti writes, “In most of its operations, the CIA is by definition a conspiracy, using covert actions and secret plans, many of which are of the most unsavory kind. What are covert operations if not conspiracies? At the same time, the CIA is an institution, a structural part of the national security state. In sum, the agency is an institutionalized conspiracy.” [189]

The paranoid tendency among so-called “conspiracy theorists” to sensationalize every perceived instance of covert politics as part of a vast singular plot in fact underestimates the severity of the political problem of secrecy. It is, ironically, much worse than they realize: behind so much conspiracy, we will find no grand sinister evil, just business as usual. Call them what you will, conspiracies are everywhere, as the histories of Secret Politics will show. “Black budgets,” “black operations,” “black projects,” “black propaganda,” “black sites,” and “black lodges” are all real phrases that refer to real covert and clandestine activities. They are conspiracies — even if they are largely institutional conspiracies — and they have been kept secret for nefarious purposes. As Lance deHaven Smith reminds us, “antidemocratic conspiracies in high office do, in fact, happen”:

The congressional hearings on Watergate, the Church Committee’s discoveries about illegal domestic surveillance, and the special prosecutors’ investigations of Oliver North and Scooter Libby revealed that public officials at the highest levels of American government can and sometimes do engage in conspiracies to manipulate elections, wiretap and smear critics, mislead Congress and the public, and in other ways subvert popular sovereignty. Certainly, such crimes and the criminogenic circumstances surrounding them warrant scientific inquiry…The challenge for scholars is to engage in serious, unblinkered study of the subject without contributing to mass paranoia or elite incivility. [190]

We might refer to these secretive activities as “parapolitics,” following Robin Ramsay and his journal, Lobster, or as “deep politics,” following the research of Peter Dale Scott. [191] They belong to what Norbert Bobbio called the “cryptogovernment,” or what politicians and journalists in Turkey have long called derin devlet, or the “deep state.” [192] DeHaven-Smith and others academics now describe these activities as “state crimes against democracy” (SCADs), a concept developed precisely in order “to move beyond the debilitating, slipshod, and scattershot speculation of conspiracy theories by focusing inquiry on patterns in elite political criminality that reveal systemic weaknesses, institutional rivalries, and illicit networks.” As deHaven-Smith explains:

In the post-WWII era, official investigations have attributed assassinations, election fiascos, defense failures, and other suspicious events to such unpredictable, idiosyncratic forces as lone gunmen, antiquated voting equipment, bureaucratic bumbling, and innocent mistakes, all of which suspend numerous and accumulating qui bono questions. In effect, political elites have answered conspiracy theories with coincidence theories. Conspiracy theorists have contributed to this disjunctive dispute because they have focused on each suspicious event in isolation. Amateur investigators have developed a large popular literature on the assassination of President Kennedy and a number of other political crimes in which state complicity is suspected or alleged. The research has discredited official accounts of many incidents, thus casting suspicion on the government. But such ad hoc research has failed to actually solve the crimes under analysis or even to identify the agencies and officials most likely to have been the perpetrators. By delineating a specific form of political criminality, the SCAD concept allows inquiry to move beyond incident-specific theories of government plots and to examine, instead, the general phenomenon of elite political criminality. Similar to research on white-collar crime, domestic violence, serial murder, and other crime categories, SCAD research seeks to identify patterns in SCAD victims, tactics, timing, those who benefit, and other SCAD characteristics. These patterns offer clues about the motives, institutional location, skills, and resources of SCAD perpetrators. In turn, as SCAD research brings SCAD perpetrators into focus, it provides a basis for understanding and mitigating the criminogenic circumstances in which SCADs arise. [193]

A political crime “scandal” never exists in isolation, but rather appears as a node in the “criminogenic” networks of corruption that permeate our political, economic, and social systems. De-Haven Smith’s mention of “white-collar crime” is apropriate, as political and economic scandals are not born of separate spheres of corruption but rather symbiotic systems of criminal influence. To understand the basic modus operandi of modern political and economic systems, we must begin to see the myriad political and economic scandals which continually emerge as essential elements of covert framework which operates at all times through profound depths of corruption, conspiracy, and concealment. We need not appeal to paranoia to explain why mistrust of authority is “one of the main features of our age,” as documentarian Adam Curtis observes. “Wherever you look there are lying politicians, crooked bankers, corrupt police officers, cheating journalists and double-dealing media barons, sinister children’s entertainers, rotten and greedy energy companies and out-of-control security services,” he writes. “And what makes the suspicion worse is that practically no-one ever gets prosecuted for the scandals. Certainly nobody at the top.” [194]

As de-Haven Smith proposes, the first step toward discovering and preventing political and economic corruption is “facing up to the nature and magnitude of the threat.” Routine “scandals” and “affairs” are “surface indications of a deeper, invisible level of politics in which officials at the highest levels of government use deception, conspiracy, and violence to shape national policies and priorities. This sub-rosa manipulation of domestic politics is an extension of America’s duplicity in foreign affairs and draws on the nation’s well-developed skills in covert operations.” [195]

The three volumes of Secret Politics will chart the twentieth century development and growth of the mechanisms of “sub-rosa manipulation” which now dominate all aspects of foreign and domestic politics. Over the course of two world wars, multinational corporations and imperialist governments refined the tactics of secret subversion and established permanent institutions dedicated to covert and clandestine activity, which grew ever more extensive, more powerful, more secretive, more duplicitous, and more depraved. The intense secrecy which gave their activities such influence also granted them an impunity which has guaranteed their growth and increasing criminality. As Frank Church remarked during the 1975 investigation of the horors committed by the U.S. intelligence agencies, paraphrasing Lord Acton, “Secrecy corrupts, and absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely.” [196]


“Fade to Black” is Part 1 of the book,
Sub Rosa: An Introduction to Secret Politics.

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Endnotes

[1] John F. Kennedy, “The President and the Press,” April 27, 1961, The American Presidency Project

[2] John F. Kennedy was keenly aware of his political inexperience. Dean Acheson recalled that when President-elect Kennedy visited him to seek advice on Cabinet appointments, “he said that one of his troubles now was that he had spent so much time in the last few years on knowing people who could help him become president that he found he knew very few people who could help him be president.” (Lucius D. Battle (interviewer), “Dean G. Acheson Oral History Interview–JFK #1, 4/27/1964” John F. Kennedy Library) John Seigenthaler, journalist and former administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, said that the president-elect justified appointing his brother–reportedly a capitulation to the demands of his powerful father–by citing the need for at least one trusted individual in an otherwise unfamiliar Cabinet. “I know full well these are going to be difficult years in many areas, and I’m going to have great problems, and I’m going to need to rely on many people,” Kennedy told him. “But I’m in a difficult position because in this Cabinet there really is no person with whom I have been intimately connected over the years.” (Ronald J. Grele (interviewer), “John Seigenthaler Oral History Interview–JFK #3, 2/22/1966,” John F. Kennedy Library)

[3] Lyman Kirkpatrick, Inspector General’s Survey of the Cuban Operation, October 1961, p. 143

[4] Tom Wicker, John W. Finney, Max Frankel, E.W. Kenworthy, “C.I.A.–Maker of Policy, or Tool?” The New York Times, April 25, 1966

[5] “Soon to go were the Planning Board, the Operations Coordinating Board, and the other support machinery created by Eisenhower that had given the JCS direct and continuous access to the top echelons of the policy process. As one sign of their diminished role, the Joint Chiefs closed their office of special assistant for national security affairs, which they had maintained in the White House since the early 1950s, and conducted business with the NSC through a small liaison office located next door in the Old Executive Office Building.…A further blow to the Joint Chiefs’ influence was Kennedy’s decision in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961 to give retired Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell D. Taylor an office in the White House as the President’s Military Representative.” (Steven L. Rearden, Council of War: A History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1942–1991 (2012), p. 212) “Bemoaning ‘generals and admirals with tiers of service ribbons advertising’ their experience, Kennedy claimed, ‘Those sons of bitches with all the fruit salad just sat there nodding, saying it would work.…If we listen to them [the JCS], and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.’ Liking air force chief of staff Curtis LeMay the least, Kennedy reportedly walked out of meetings when the general conducted briefings; and White House staffers knew that Kennedy ‘has a kind of fit if you mention LeMay.’” (Ronald H. Carpenter, Rhetoric in Martial Deliberations and Decision Making: Cases and Consequences (2004), p. 70)

[6] U.S. Senate, Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities (hereinafter “Church Committee”), Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, November 20, 1975, p. 139; John Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars (1986), p. 211; Taylor Branch and George Crile III, “The Kennedy Vendetta,” Harper’s, August 1975, p. 51

[7] Mary McGrory, “Kennedy and the Press,” Publisher’s Auxiliary, December 23, 1961, p. 2

[8] Robert Schlesinger, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters (2008), p. 8. President Eisenhower’s farewell address was the culmination of a long, futile struggle against Congress and the Defense Department to reduce military spending. As his son, John Eisenhower, recalled, “My father, as president, he had strong guiding principles. He used to say modern weapons take food from the hungry and shelter from the homeless. And so he was fighting with the Pentagon all the time for asking for too much, and Congress for giving it to them.” (Eugene Jarecki (dir.), Why We Fight (2005))

[9] John F. Kennedy to Turner Catledge, January 3, 1961, Freedom of Information Center, University of Missouri at Columbia; American Society of Newspaper Editors, Problems of Journalism (1961), p. 177

[10] R.W. Apple, “James Reston, a Giant of Journalism, Dies at 86,” The New York Times, December 7, 1995; Tad Szulc, “Anti-Castro Units Trained To Fight At Florida Bases,” The New York Times, April 7, 1961; “Rebuttal Is Made By Schlesinger,” The New York Times, June 14, 1966

[11] “Editors’ Decision on Cuba Related,” The New York Times, June 2, 1966

[12] Ibid.

[13] “The Right Not to Be Lied To,” The New York Times, May 10, 1961

[14] John F. Kennedy, “The President’s News Conference,” April 12, 1961, The American Presidency Project; David Talbot, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2008), p. 45: “Kennedy had repeatedly made it clear to Dulles and Bissell that he would not commit the full military might of the United States to the Bay of Pigs operation…To make sure that the brigade soldiers themselves knew that they could not expect to be reinforced by the U.S. Marines, he had sent a military aide to their Central American training camps to deliver the message directly.…Rostow realized that Bissell and the other CIA men had never truly believed that Kennedy would stick to his ban on direct U.S. intervention. ‘It was inconceivable to them that the president would let [the operation] openly fail when he had all this American power,’ Rostow later wrote. In the heat of battle, the CIA expected Kennedy to cave and send in warplanes and troops.”

[15] Gordon M. Goldstein, Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam (2008), p.

[16] Allen Dulles, “My Response to the Bay of Pigs,” Allen Dulles Papers, Mudd Library, Princeton University. Dulles explained that for this reason he “never raised objections to repeated emphasis [by the president] that the operation: a) must be carried through without any “combat” action by U.S.A. military forces; b) must remain quiet [and] disavowable by [the] U.S. gov; c) must be a quiet operation yet must rouse internal revolt vs. Castro and create a center to which anti-Castroites will defect.”

[17] Edward Lansdale, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, vocally objected to the Cuban invasion plan at a meeting of the National Securty Council’s secret 5412/2 Special Group. “You can’t do that in a country where the army is as alert [as in Cuba],” he said. “We’re going to get clobbered! What’s the political base for what you’re going to do? How popular is it going to be?” Allen shot back: “You’re not a principal in this!” Lansdale, rebuffed, commented that, “In policy meetings, you have got to be very honest. You should have talk.” (Cecil B. Currey, Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (1988), p. 211) Lyman Kirkpatrick had likewise heard objections from CIA officials who were “terribly upset at the haphazard organization of the plan,” but when he approached the CIA Director, he found that “Dulles didn’t want to hear about it.” (Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, Perilous Options: Special Operations as an Instrument of U.S. Foreign Policy (1993), p. 27)

[18] Haynes Johnson, The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders’ Story of Brigade 2506 (1964), pp. 75–76

[19] Ibid., p. 54

[20] Jack Pfeiffer, The Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume III: Evolution of CIAs Anti-Castro Policies, 1950-January 1961, December 1979, pp. 149–150

[21] Maxwell Taylor, “Memorandum No. 3 From the Cuba Study Group to President Kennedy,” June 13, 1961, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume X, Cuba, January 1961–September 1962, May 2013, p. 896

[22] Kirkpatrick, Inspector General’s Survey of the Cuban Operation, pp. 61, 143

[23] Taylor, op. cit., p. 895

[24] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (1965), p. 242. General Andrew Goodpaster warned President Eisenhower of this danger when the operation was first assembled in 1960, fearing that the CIA paramilitary program “would build up a momentum of its own, which would be hard to stop.” (Stephen E. Ambrose, Ike’s Spies (1981), pp. 307–308) President Eisenhower considered General Goodpaster one of the smartest men in the country, though he did not take his advice. Many Cuban operatives later appeared in some of the biggest crimes connected with the CIA worldwide. CIA agent Félix Rodriguez, a Cuban veteran of Operation Zapata, served the CIA-backed Bolivian military dictatorship of General René Barrientos, allegedly with the aid of fugitive Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, to hunt down and kill Che Guevara. (Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith, Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder (2011); Kevin MacDonald (dir.), My Enemy’s Enemy (2007)) Rodriguez was reportedly later involved in drug-running for CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, Drugs, Law Enforcement, and Foreign Policy, December 1988, pp. 61–62) The car bomb assassination in Washington, D.C. in 1976 which killed Orlando Letelier, former chief minister to Chilean President Salvador Allende and outspoken leader of the exile movement against Augusto Pinochet, was carried out by five right-wing Cubans, four of whom were veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The confessed leader of the assassins, Michael Townley, was an American-born agent of Pinochet’s intelligence service, DINA, on contract with the CIA according to Townley and DINA chief Manuel Contreras, himself a paid CIA asset. (J. Patrice McSherry, “Operation Condor: Deciphering the U.S. Role, Crimes of War Project, July 6, 2001, “Operation Condor: Clandestine Inter-American System,” Social Justice, Winter 1999, p. 144) Luis Posada Carriles, another Cuban veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and confirmed CIA agent, planned the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 that same year with Cuban terrorist leader Orlando Bosch. Posada Carriles went on to serve Oliver North’s contra operations in Nicaragua after escaping prison in 1985. (”Luis Posada Carriles: The Declassified Record,” The National Security Archive, May 10, 2005, “The Posada File: Part II,” The National Security Archive, June 9, 2005) Among the team of “Plumbers” caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972 were at least five right-wing Cubans, including CIA contract agents Bernard Baker and Eugenio Martinez, along with James McCord, a “retired” CIA agent, and Frank Fiorini, a.k.a. Sturgis, a former Marine who allegedly organized Operation 40 assassination plots against Castro in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion and trained Cubans for subsequent guerrilla activity after the invasion failed. Sturgis was accused of involvement in President Kennedy’s assassination by both E. Howard Hunt, another CIA agent-turned-Plumber, and Marita Lorenz, a German-born mistress of Fidel Castro and Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez and later CIA agent who allegedly collaborated with Sturgis in one of the Castro assassination plots. Lorenz also accused Bosch and three other Cubans of involvement in Kennedy’s assassination. (Walter Rugaber, “Motive is Big Mystery In Raid on Democrats,” The New York Times, June 26, 1972; Linda Charlton, “Ehrlichman Is Convicted of Plot and Perjury in Ellsberg Break-In; Liddy and 2 Others Also Guilty,” The New York Times, July 13, 1974; Laurie Johnston, “Police Studying Arrest of Sturgis, Who Denies Threatening Accuser, The New York Times, November 4, 1977; Paul Meskil, “Ex-Spy Says She Drove to Dallas With Oswald & Kennedy ‘Assassin Squad,’” New York Daily News, September 20, 1977) Robert Kennedy also believed Cuban Bay of Pigs veterans were involved. ‘One of your guys did it,” he said in a telephone call to Enrique “Harry” Ruiz-Williams, one of the Bay of Pigs veterans with whom he was closest. (Bryan Bender and Neil Swidey, “Robert F. Kennedy saw conspiracy in JFK’s assassination,” Boston Globe, November 24, 2013)

[25] Kirkpatrick, Inspector General’s Survey of the Cuban Operation, pp. 67–72

[26] Theodore Draper, “Cubans and Americans,” Encounter, July 1961, p. 59

[27] Paul B. Fay, The Pleasure of His Company (1966), p. 188

[28] Kenneth O’Donnell, David Powers, and Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (1973), p. 316

[29] Talbot, Brothers, p. 51; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, p. 290

[30] Benjamin Bradlee, Conversations With Kennedy (1984), p. 122

[31] Richard Bissell, Diplomatic History, Volume 8, Fall 1984, p. 380

[32] Church Committee, Book I: Foreign and Military Intelligence, April 26, 1976, p. 15

[33] Ibid., pp. 118–122. NSC 5412, a National Security Council directive on covert operations approved by President Eisenhower on March 15, 1954, established an official definition of “covert operations” as activities “which are so planned and executed that any U.S. Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Specifically, such operations shall include any covert activities related to: propaganda, political action; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition; escape and evasion and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states or groups including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillias and refugee liberation groups; support of indigenous and anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world; deceptive plans and operations; and all activities compatible with this directive necessary to accomplish the foregoing.” (Foreign Relations of the United States: The Intelligence Community, 1950–1955, (2007) pp. 746–749)

[34] Church Committee, Foreign and Military Intelligence, pp. 19–20. As the committee documented, Kennedy’s objection to assassination was repeatedly reaffirmed in the testimony of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Deputy Secretary of State Roswell Gilpatrick, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Deputy National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow, Special Counsel to the President Theodore Sorenson, and Assistant Special Counsel Richard Goodwin.

[35] The president seemed most consciously aware of the threat posed to him by his military chiefs. Kennedy read an advanced copy of Seven Days in May, a book reportedly inspired by an interview with Air Force Chief of Staff, Curtis Lemay, which told the story of a military conspiracy to oust the president, and said, “It’s possible. It could happen in this country, but the conditions would have to be just right. If, for example, the country had a young president, and he had a Bay of Pigs, there would be a certain uneasiness. Maybe the military would do a little criticizing behind his back, but this would be written off as the usual military dissatisfaction with civilian control. Then if there were another Bay of Pigs, the reaction of the country would be, ‘Is he too young and inexperienced?’ The military would almost feel that it was their patriotic obligation to stand ready to preserve the integrity of the nation, and only God knows just what segment of democracy they would be defending if they overthrew the elected establishment. Then, if there were a third Bay of Pigs, it could happen.” Director John Frankenheimer said “President Kennedy wanted Seven Days in May made,” and was supportive in the filming of the film adaptation, which was released three months after his murder. (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978), p. 450) Variety later reported that Paramount had pulled an ad for the film that was to run on the day Kennedy was shot, which read, “Impeach him, hell. There are better ways of getting rid of him.” (Talbot, Brothers, p. 151) Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev recalled that he heard similar fears about the military from Robert Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Even though the President himself is very much against starting a war over Cuba, an irreversible chain of events could occur against his will,” Robert Kennedy told Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. “That is why the President is appealing directly to Chairman Khrushchev for his help in liquidating this conflict. If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American army could get out of control.’ (”Khrushchev Remembers: Part IV, Playing For High Stakes,” Life, December 18, 1970, p. 50) Indeed, Daniel Ellsberg reported that after the Cuban Missile Crisis, “There was virtually a coup atmosphere in Pentagon circles…a mood of hatred and rage. The atmosphere was poisonous, poisonous.” (Talbot, Brothers, p. ?)

[36] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 138

[37] Ibid., pp. 135–176, particularly, “(3) Evidence Bearing on Knowledge of and Authorization for the Assassination Plot, Phase II,” pp. 148–161

[38] Ibid., pp. 78–79. In a literal case of politics making strange bedfellows, evidence indicates that John F. Kennedy was sleeping with a woman, Judith Campbell Exner, who also “had a close friendship” with both Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, as The New York Times politely phrased it. (Nicholas Gage, “2 Mafiosi Linked to C.I.A. Treated Leniently by U.S.,” The New York Times, April 13, 1976; AP, “Crime Figure, Linked to Plot on Castro, Found Slain,” The New York Times, August 9, 1976)

[39] The mobsters were repeatedly protected at the highest levels from federal prosecution. The New York Times reported that “the two men received generous treatment from the Federal authorities in other instances as well,” and “records show that on three occasions when Federal officials had Mr. Giancana in a tight spot, they let him out of it.” (Gage, “2 Mafiosi Linked to C.I.A. Treated Leniently by U.S.”). Also see the CIA “Family Jewels.” Robert Maheu, in this case, would have been a CIA “cut-out,” in operational parlance, a go-between to keep the Agency from direct contact and maintain “plausible deniability.” Maheu’s relationship with the CIA and Howard Hughes, who asked him in 1957 to “be his alter ego” in all his business affairs, is one of the more surreal chapters in the history of secret politics. (Richard Goldstein, “Robert Maheu, 90, Surrogate for Howard Hughes, Is Dead,” The New York Times, August 6, 2008) See Norman Mailer, “A Harlot High and Low: Reconnoitering Through the Secret Government,” New York, August 16, 1976.

[40] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., pp. 132–133. The CIA wasn’t the only U.S. intelligence agency to partner with criminals in covert operations. As the New York Commissioner of Investigations William Herlands detailed in a 1954 report, officials of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) deliberately cultivated relationships with organized crime rings during World War 2, forming partnerships with infamous mob leaders Joseph “Socks” Lanza, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Meyer Lansky. The chief of the ONI branch in New York, Captain Roscoe MacFall, told Herlands that, “The use of underworld informants and characters, like the use of other extremely confidential investigative procedures, was not specifically disclosed to the Commandant or other superior officers as such use was a calculated risk that I assumed as District Intelligence Officer….When underworld sources were used or informants turned up by underworld characters, their names would not be kept and no filed records were maintained of their information, as their activities and identities were considered extremely confidential.” One of MacFall’s men, Lieutenant Anthony Marzullo, former aide to New York Governor Thomas Dewey, explained, “Intelligence as such is not a police agency. Its function is to prevent. In order to prevent, you must have a system and the system in its scope and latitude must encompass any and all means which will prevent the enemy from securing aid and comfort from others.…By any and all means, I include the so-called underworld.” (William Herlands, Report to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, September 17, 1954, pp. 23, 80) On November 22, 1954, ONI Director Carl Espe successfully requested that the Herlands report be suppressed, fearing that its publication “might bring harm to the Navy…[and] jeopardize operations of a similar nature in the future.” In the light of public awareness, he realized, such tactics would not be permitted to continue. (Peter Kihss, “Secret Report Cites Luciano on War Aid,” The New York Times, October 9, 1977; Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press (1998), pp. 119,133)

[41] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 134

[42] Pfeiffer, The Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume III, pp. 279–280

[43] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit.,, p. 135. Roselli and Giancana were both murdered shortly after agreeing to testify before the Senate. Giancana was shot to death at his home in June 1975 after being subpoenaed by the Church Committee, and Roselli was found dismembered in an oil drum in Miami’s Biscayne Bay the next year, three months after testifying to committee for the third time. “There appears to be a connection,” said Senator Howard Baker, a committee member. “Both agreed to testify on the same subject. Both were involved in the same assassination operation.” (UPI, “Baker to Ask F.B.I. and C.I.A. For Data on Murder of Roselli,” The New York Times, August 10, 1976) “I suggest that two and two makes four,” commented the conservative columnist William Safire, “that Sam Giancana took seven .22-caliber slugs in his body…to keep him from telling all he knew.” (William Safire, “Murder Most Foul,” The New York Times, December 22, 1975, p. 28)

[44] Ibid., p. 280

[45] The mobsters were vocal in their hatred for the Kennedy brothers during their national commission meetings, which were frequently under federal surveillance, as the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) noted in their 1979 report: “The bitterness and anger with which organized crime leaders viewed the Kennedy administration are readily apparent in the electronic surveillance transcripts, with such remarks being repeatedly made by commission members Genovese, Giancana, Bruno, Zerilli, Patriarca and Magaddino. In one such conversation in May 1962, a New York Mafia member noted the intense Federal pressure upon the mob, and remarked, ‘Bob Kennedy won’t stop today until he puts us all in jail all over the country. Until the commission meets and puts its foot down, things will be at a standstill.’ Into 1963, the pressure was continuing to mount, as evidenced by a conversation in which commission member Magaddino bitterly cursed Attorney General Kennedy and commented on the Justice Department’s increasing knowledge of the crime syndicate’s inner workings, stating, ‘They know everything under the sun. They know who’s back of it-they know there is a commission.’” (House Select Committee on Assassinations. Final Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, January 2, 1979, p. 164) Given the paradoxical context, the CIA-Mafia connection became one of the most closely-guarded and controversial secrets after the president’s assassination. As the HSCA wrote: “Virtually all former Warren Commission members and staff contacted by the committee said they regarded the CIA-Mafia plots against Fidel Castro to be the most important information withheld from the Commission. They all agreed that an awareness of the plots would have led to significant new areas of investigation and would have altered the general approach of the investigation. J. Lee Rankin, who was the Commission’s General Counsel, said he was outraged on learning in 1975 of the CIA’s use of underworld figures for Castro assassination plots. Rankin stated to the committee ‘Certainly…it would have bulked larger, the conspiracy area…we would have run out all the various leads and…it is very possible that we could have come down with a good many signs of a lead down here to the underworld.’” (ibid., p. 258) The HSCA concluded that “there was no basis…for the CIA to decide that the AMLASH and the CIA-Mafia plots were of no significance to the Warren Commission’s investigation,” but on the contrary, “anti-Castro activities of the CIA should have been considered quite pertinent, in light of specific allegations of conspiracy possibly involving supporters of the Cuban leader.” (ibid., p. 117) The committee report also said the FBI “was seriously delinquent in investigating the Ruby-underworld connections…[and] also determined that the Bureau’s lack of interest in organized crime extended to its investigation of Oswald.” The “Bureau’s own organized crime and Mafia specialists were not consulted or asked to participate” in the investigation of the assassination. Thus, despite the fact that “Ruby’s links to various organized crime figures were contained in reports received by the FBI in the weeks following his shooting of Oswald,” the Warren Commission knew nothing of them. (ibid., p. 243) As attorneys Charles Sanders and Mark Zaid note, “The Warren Commission concluded that Jack Ruby acted impulsively and alone in killing Lee Harvey Oswald…[and] found ‘no credible evidence that Jack Ruby was active in the criminal underworld.’…The HSCA, on the other hand, determined that Ruby stalked Oswald for two days before killing him, and that Ruby had substantial ties to organized crime.” HSCA general counsel Robert Blakey later found that “FBI wiretap recordings containing discussions among organized crime figures about the Kennedy assassination were withheld from his committee in the late 1970s.” (”The Declassification of Dealey Plaza: After Thirty Years, A New Disclosure Law At Last May Help To Clarify The Facts Of The Kennedy Assassination,” South Texas Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 3, October 1993, p. 425)

[46] Joseph J. Trento, The Secret History of the CIA (2005), p. 327

[47] Ibid., p. 333; “Document 95: Lansdale Team’s Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955,” The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1 (1971), pp. 573–583

[48] McGeorge Bundy, “Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Standing Group of the National Security Council,” April 21, 1963, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath, May 2013, p. 1184; Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., pp. 170, 172

[49] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 174

[50] Final Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, op. cit., p. 30: “At the insistence of his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the Roman Catholic Diem had instituted a number of repressive measures against the country’s Buddhists, who made up 70 percent of the population. His troops attacked pagodas, and Buddhists were jailed. The self-immolation of protesting Buddhist monks dramatically called into question the American role in Vietnam.”

[51] U.S. Department of State, “Re CAS Saigon 0265 reporting General Don’s views; Saigon 320, Saigon 316, and Saigon 329,” August 24, 1963

[52] The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, (1971) p. 203; Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 218

[53] John F. Kennedy Library, “News Release: White House Recordings of President Kennedy Debating Vietnam Coup Released by JFK Presidential Library,” November 2, 2009

[54] Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 713

[55] Each senior official seemed to abdicate responsibility based on the understanding that others had already given their support to send the cable. As a declassified study by CIA officer Dr. Harold P. Ford noted, “Roger Hilsman maintained that he had cleared his cable with President Kennedy and other Washington principals. Virtually all those officers have contested that account, insisting that they had been hustled, not consulted.” (Harold P. Ford, “CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes 1962–1968, CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, March 19, 2007) When first contacted, President Kennedy asked Michael Forrestal to “wait until Monday” for a decision on the cable, but later relented to a call from Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs George Ball, agreeing that the cable was acceptable if Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric endorsed it. Rusk gave his assent, recalling decades later that, “If Ball, Harriman, and President Kennedy were going to send it out, I wasn’t going to raise any questions.” Gilpatric signed on, saying that, “if Rusk went along with it and the President went along with it, I wasn’t going to oppose it.” As he later reflected, “In McNamara’s absence I felt I should not hold it up, so I went along with it just like you countersign a voucher.” (Howard Jones, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War (2004), pp. 315–316) When CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms received the call, he approved the cable without notifying Director John McCone, allegedly considering the call a briefing on a decided policy matter and not a consultation. (Ford, “CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers”) Director McCone had been adamantly opposed to the overthrow of Diem, astutely forecasting that, “if Diem was removed we would have not one coup but we would have a succession of coups and political disorder in Vietnam and it might last several years…” (Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 221)

[56] Jones, Death of a Generation, op. cit, pp. 318–319

[57] John F. Kennedy Library, “News Release,” op. cit.

[58] Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, op. cit, pp. 713–715

[59] The Pentagon Papers, Volume 2, op. cit, pp. 201–232

[60] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (1983), p. 326; Jones, Death of A Generation, op. cit, p. 425

[61] Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War: 1954–1965 (2009), p. 276

[62] Trento, The Secret History of the CIA, op. cit., p. 334. Three days after the assassination of Diem and Nhu, Kennedy dictated a memo full of remorse: “I feel that we must bear a good deal of responsibility, in part beginning with our cable of early August, in which we suggested the coup. In my judgment that wire was badly drafted, it should never have been sent on a Saturday…I was shocked by the death of Diem Ngo. He was an extraordinary character. While he became increasingly difficult in the last months, nevertheless over a 10-year period he held his country together.” (Bill Delaney, “Kennedy White House tapes offer new insight,” CNN.com, November 24, 1998)

[63] Trento, op. cit., pp. 334–335

[64] Glenn Fowler, “Michael V. Forrestal Dies at 61; A Lawyer and Ex-U.S. Official,” The New York Times, January 13, 1989; “Forrestal’s Son Off For ECA Job,” The New York Times, June 23, 1948. CIA agent and Nixon Plumber E. Howard Hunt, in Paris with the ECA in 1948, recalled Forrestal in his memoir: “A junior member of our party was Mike Forrestal, son of the then Secretary of Defense and a godchild of the Harrimans. Just out of Princeton, Mike was heading for Harvard Law School, but was so often in the company of [CIA agent] Glen Moorhouse that I began to wonder whether Mike was a member of the Central Intelligence Agency.” (E. Howard Hunt, Undercover, p. 55) Until 1942, Harriman had managed funds in a banking corporation established on behalf of Fritz Thyssen, Adolf Hitler’s earliest and most supportive patron, through which the Nazi financier was able to safeguarde and exchange millions of dollars of assets over the course of two decades. (M.J. Racusin, “Hitler’s Angel Has 3 Millions in N.Y. Bank,” The Washington Post, July 31, 1941) The seven directors of Thyssen’s firm, the Union Banking Corporation, included Averell’s brother E. Roland Harriman and Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush. The Guardian reported that the firm “shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US treasury bonds to Germany, both feeding and financing Hitler’s build-up to war.” (Ben Aris and Duncan Campbell, “How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power,” The Guardian, September 25, 2004). The funds of UBC were frozen by the Alien Property Custodian as enemy assets in 1942, after the Unites States entered World War 2. (Leo T. Crowley, “Vesting Order Number 248,” Federal Register, Saturday, November 27, 1942, p. 9097)

[65] Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, op. cit., p. 714. Bobby said he warned his brother “that Henry Cabot Lodge in Vietnam would cause him a lot of difficulty in six months.” (ibid., p. 715) Nevertheless, wrote Kenneth O’Donnell, “The President told us that when Rusk suggested sending Lodge to Saigon, he decided to approve the appointment because the idea of getting Lodge mixed up in such a hopeless mess as the one in Vietnam was irresistible.” (Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, p. 16) The history of the aristocratic Lodge clan should have given Kennedy pause. His grandfather, Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., former Senate leader and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was infamous for his subversion of presidential policy in the name of American empire, known as an “evil genius” by friends of his partner in crime, Theodore Roosevelt. As Journalist Karl Schriftgiesser wrote, “The United States went through a long period of actual imperial policy owing largely to the efforts of Henry Cabot Lodge, often abetted by his aggressive friend, Theodore Roosevelt. It was Lodge who led us almost to the brink of war with Britain over Venezuela and it was again Lodge who gratuitously hurled threats at Canada. It was partly because of his efforts that we fought Spain, annexed Hawaii, and took over the Philippines, Later, when Lodge managed to defeat the Versailles Treaty, he was aware as he did so that he was defeating the wishes of the American people. If the peace is destroyed again, it will be by the methods Lodge introduced and practised so cleverly. (Karl Schriftgiesser, The Gentleman from Massachusetts: Henry Cabot Lodge, (1944) p. 129, jacket notes) Lodge Sr. called for an imperial crusade “for the sake of our commercial supremacy,” boasting that “We have a record of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion (Westward as Washington taught!) unequalled by any people in the 19th Century.” (ibid., pp. 135–136) He was even “one of the tiny group of politicians who were responsible for the nomination of Warren G. Harding” in the infamous “smoke-filled room,” inaugurating one of America’s most notoriously corrupt political. administrations. “He was opportunistic, selfish, jealous, condescending, supercilious, and could never resist calling his opponent’s spade a dirty shovel,” wrote biographer George Mowry. “Small wonder that except for Roosevelt and Root, most of his colleagues of both parties disliked him, and many distrusted him.” (George E. Mowry, “Politicking in Acid,” The Saturday Review, October 3, 1953, p. 30. Senator Lodge’s machinations to incite the Spanish-American War are the most suggestive of his grandson’s later deceit. First, Lodge had Theodore Roosevelt installed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, despite the misgivings of President William McKinley and Navy Secretary John Davis Long “that Roosevelt was not to be trusted.” (ibid., p. 165) Roosevelt fought Long to advance a policy of aggressive expansion, confiding that “I only wish that I could poison his mind,” to support the imperial project. (Wendell Garrett, “John Davis Long, Secretary of the Navy, 1897–1902: A Study in Changing Political Alignments,” The New England Quarterly, September 1958, p. 299) Roosevelt and Lodge “plotted in secret throughout the winter and spring” prior to McKinley’s inauguration in 1897 to develop “a comprehensive plan of action to take effect just as soon as an excuse arose.” (Schriftgiesser, p. 173) “In strict confidence,” Roosevelt wrote to a friend in 1897, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” Not coincidentally, powerful financiers and industrialists agreed. (Howard Zinn, The People’s History of the United States, p. 290) The duo “found an officer who could be entrusted with their larger plans of conquest,” Commodore George Dewey, and “By astute maneuvering, with Lodge’s sub rosa help, Roosevelt got for Dewey the sole command of the Asiatic Squadron and made it clear to the officer that at the first hint of strife he should proceed to seize the Philippine Islands, Spain’s only outpost in the Pacific. This was done without consulting Secretary Long.” Just two weeks before the mysterious explosion which sunk the U.S.S. Maine off the coast of Cuba in February 1898, Long wrote a letter to Ambassador Henry White in London, rather suspiciously predicting that “there may be an explosion any day in Cuba which would settle a great many things. We have got a battleship in the harbor of Havana, and our fleet, which overmatches anything the Spaniards have, is masked at the Dry Tortugas.” Ten days after the explosion of the Maine, which the yellow journalism of the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers exploited to rouse support for a war with Spain, Secretary Long took a leave of office for rest, leaving Roosevelt as acting Navy Secretary. Lodge and Roosevelt sprang into action. “The two spent one of the busiest afternoons of their careers. They were making history.…they started the wires humming with a series of orders for ammunition, the distribution of ships, the providing of guns for an auxiliary fleet not yet authorized, and the calling in of experts. They even sent a message to Congress asking immediate legislation authorizing the enlistment of an unlimited number of sailors.…No wonder when the Secretary learned, the next day, what had happened he felt that ‘the very devil seemed to possess’ Roosevelt, and that he had come ‘very near causing more of an explosion than happened to the Maine’…’I believe,’ Senator Lodge wrote, several years later, ‘He was never again permitted to be the acting Secretary. But the deed was done.’” (ibid., pp. 175–176) “Cable 243” and the Gulf of Tonkin incident seem like pages straight out Lodge Sr.’s playbook. As the 1962 Operation Northwoods memorandum of the Defense Department makes clear, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine served not merely a historical parallel for later military deceptions, but a literal model for inducing the public to support a declaration of war. (see infra note 149)

[66] Robert McNamara, “Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) to the President,” November 23, 1963, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, p. 628

[67] McGeorge Bundy, “National Security Action Memorandum No. 273,” November 26, 1963, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, pp. 637–640. The final months of Kennedy’s presidency were marked by what The New York Times called an “Intra-Administration War in Vietnam.” CIA officials opposed the Diem coup for strategic reasons, and reports of CIA resistance to Lodge led the Times editors to worry, rather ironically in this case, that the Agency was assuming “the functions of king-makers,” posing the question: “Is the Central intelligence Agency a state within a state?” The Times editors wrote, “Kennedy’s recall of the head of C.I.A. operations in South Vietnam, coming after persistent reports of discord between him and Ambassador Lodge, appears to provide substantive corroboration to the long-voiced charges that our intelligence too often tends to ‘make’ policy.” (”State Within a State?” The New York Times, October 6, 1963) Another Times article decried the “disorderly government” and “the spectacle of war within the Executive Branch.” (Arthur Krock, “The Intra-Administration War in Vietnam,” The New York TImes, October 3, 1963) Richard Starne, writing for the Scripps-Howard newspapers, denounced the CIA for a “dismal chronicle of bureaucratic arrogance obstinate disregard of orders, and unrestrained thirst for power,” and reported a “very high official” in Vietnam who “likened the CIA’s growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure even the White House could control it any longer.” An unnamed U.S. official commented that “If the United States ever experiences a ‘Seven Days in May’ [coup attempt] it will come from the CIA, and not from the Pentagon.” (Richard Starnes, “’Spooks’ Make Life Miserable for Ambassador Lodge: ‘Arrogant’ CIA Disobeys Orders in Viet Nam,” The Washington Daily News, October 2, 1963 (see supra note 35)

[68] Zalin Grant, Facing the Phoenix: The CIA and the Political Defeat of the United States in Vietnam (1991), p. 211; Francis X. Winters, The Year of the Hare: America in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 — February 15, 1964 (1999), p. 104

[69] Ann L. Hollick, U.S. Involvement in the Overthrow of Diem, 1963: A Staff Study Based on the Pentagon Papers prepared for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, July 20, 1972, p. 23, fn. 80

[70] Grant, op. cit, p. 211

[71] Moyar, Triumph Forsaken, op. cit, p. 272

[72] Death of a Generation, op. cit, pp. 428–431; The Pentagon Papers, Volume 2, op. cit, pp. 201–232

[73] Moyar, op. cit, p. 272. Less than three weeks after the assassination of Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower called Ambassador Lodge, viewing him as the strongest possible Republican presidential candidate against Lyndon Johnson, and asked him to return from Saigon to campaign for the nomination, though he had lingering doubts about Lodge’s role in the Diem assassination. As The New York Times reported, “General Eisenhower wanted to be assured on one paramount question. He wanted to know of the Ambassador whether anyone would ever be able to charge, with any hope of making it stick, that he had had any responsibility, even indirectly, in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam or his brother. Mr. Lodge was emphatic on the point. He said he had feared for the personal safety of the two men if the military coup was successful in that country. He said there was irrefutable proof that he had twice offered them asylum in the United States Embassy and that President Diem had refused the offer for them both.” (Felix Belair, Jr., “Eisenhower Urges Lodge to Pursue G.O.P, Nomination,” The New York Times, December 8, 1963)

[74] Ibid., p. 286

[75] Harris M. Lentz, ed., Heads of States and Governments Since 1945, (2014) p. 828

[76] Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War. A History of America’s Involvement In and Extraction from the Vietnam War (2003), p. 36; Hollick, U.S. Involvement in the Overthrow of Diem, 1963, p. 26: “General Minh did not prove to be the natural leader the U.S. had hoped for and was overthrown in a coup on January 30, 1964. Within a little over a year folIowing Diem’s overthrow, there were four major changes of government in South Vietnam, and political stability was soon added to the list of U.S. goals in Vietnam. By encouraging the overthrow of the Diem government, the United States bears a large measure of responsibility for the ensuing political chaos. The weight of this responsibility, in turn, drew the United States ever more deeply into the struggle in Vietnam.”

[77] Roger Hilsman, “How Kennedy Viewed the Vietnam Conflict,” The New York Times, January 20, 1992

[78] Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, op. cit, p. 738

[79] Hilsman, op. cit.

[80] James Gavin, “We Can Get Out of Vietnam,” Saturday Evening Post, February 24, 1968, p. 23; excerpted from James Gavin, Crisis Now (1968), p. 53

[81] Kenneth O’Donnell, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, p. 16; Warren Weaver Jr. “’60 Choice of Johnson: Another Version,” The New York Times, August 3, 1970

[82] Robert Kennedy and His Times, op. cit, p. 715; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. “John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace,” Rolling Stone, November 20, 2013: “By the summer of 1963, JFK was quietly telling trusted friends and advisers he intended to get out following the 1964 election. These included Rep. Tip O’Neill, McNamara, National Security adviser McGeorge Bundy, Sen. Wayne Morse, Washington columnist Charles Bartlett, Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, confidant Larry Newman, Gen. Taylor and Marine Commandant Gen. David M. Shoup, who, besides Taylor, was the only other member of the Joint Chiefs that JFK trusted. Both McNamara and Bundy acknowledged in their respective memoirs that JFK meant to get out — which were jarring admissions against self-interest, since these two would remain in the Johnson administration and orchestrate the war’s escalation.”

[83] Robert McNamara, Maxwell Taylor, “Memorandum For The President–Subject: Report of McNamara-Taylor Mission to South Vietnam,” October 2, 1963, p. 2 “U.S. Policy on Viet-nam: White House Statement,” October 2, 1963; Tad Szulc, “Vietnam Victory by the End of ’65 Envisaged by U.S.,” The New York Times, October 3, 1963. W. Averell Harriman was incensed by the president’s decision to send McNamara and Taylor, saying that he was “sending two men opposed to our policy,” and calling the “proposal of a visit a disaster.” “Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff, Washington, September 17, 1963, 4:20 p.m.” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, p. 256

[84] McGeorge Bundy, National Security Action Memorandum 263, October 11, 1963; Record of the Secretary of Defense Conference held 6 May 1963, p. 48 The minutes of the meeting on October 5 in which President Kennedy made this decision state: “The President also said that our decision to remove 1,000 U.S. advisors by December of this year should not be raised formally with Diem, Instead the actions should be carried out routinely as part of our general posture of withdrawing people when they are no longer needed.” (Michael V. Forrestal, “Memorandum for the Files of a Conference With the President,” October 5, 1963, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August–December 1963

[85] Wayne Morse interview by David Nyhan “We’ve Been a Police State a Long Time” Boston Globe, June 24, 1973

[86] Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., “John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace,” Rolling Stone, November 20, 2013

[87] Jean Daniel, “Unofficial Envoy: An Historic Report from Two Capitals,” The New Republic, December 14, 1963, pp. 15–20

[88] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 174; J.S. Earman, CIA Inspector General’s Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, May 23, 1967, p. 79

[89] Jean Daniel, “When Castro Heard the News,” The New Republic, December 7, 1963, pp. 7–9. The guarded offers of peace exchanged between these two leaders through the unusual emissary of a French journalist are fascinating, especially in light of their context. “I haven’t forgotten that Kennedy centered his electoral campaign against Nixon on the theme of firmness toward Cuba,” Castro told Daniel in their first all-night conversation three days before Kennedy’s death. “I have not forgotten the Machiavellian tactics and the equivocation, the attempts at invasion, the pressures, the blackmail, the organization of a counter-revolution, the blockade and, above everything, all the retaliatory measures which were imposed before, long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism. But I feel that he inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think that a President of the United States is ever really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom. I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on [the] Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.” Despite the recent tensions, Castro had hope for Kennedy, telling Daniel that he “still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists.” Castro even remarked, “If you see him again, you can tell him that I’m willing to declare Goldwater my friend if that will guarantee Kennedy’s re-election!”

[90] Church Committee, Alleged Assassination Plots, op. cit., p. 174

[91] McGeorge Bundy, National Security Action Memorandum No. 273, November 26, 1963, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, pp. 637–640; U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations for 1972, (1971) p. 413

[92] Garry Wills, “America’s Nastiest Blood Feud,” New York Review of Books, Volume LIX, Number 9, May 4, 2012, p. 48

[93] Bundy, “National Security Action Memorandum No. 273,” op. cit. The new passage directed that, “Planning should include different levels of possible increased activity, and in each instance there should be estimates of such factors as: A. Resulting damage to North Vietnam; B. The plausibility of denial; C. Possible North Vietnamese retaliation; D. Other international reaction.”

[94] The Pentagon Papers, Part IV. C. 2. a.: Military Pressures Against Vietnam, “Chronology,” p. viii; The Pentagon Papers, The Senator Gravel Edition, Volume III, p. 141

[95] Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Katzebach told Congress three years later that administration officials considered it the “functional equivalent” of a declaration of war. (E.W. Kenworthy, “Katzenbach Says Congress Cleared Wide War Power,” The New York Times, August 18, 1967)

[96] Lyndon B. Johnson, “Radio and Television Report to the American People Following Renewed Aggression in the Gulf of Tonkin,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–1964 (1965), pp. 927–928; Robert McNamara, “Press Conference regarding Tonkin Gulf Incident, with Official Statement and Chronology,” Press Release No. 571–64

[97] The day after the first Gulf of Tonkin announcements, the president repeated the lie of “further deliberate attacks” in front of Congress, coercing them into authorizing war by proposing a brief resolution which could “well be based upon similar resolutions enacted by the Congress in the past-to meet the threat to Formosa in 1955, to meet the threat to the Middle East in 1957, and to meet the threat in Cuba in 1962.” (Lyndon Johnson, “President’s Message to Congress, August 5, 1964”; “Message and Draft Text in Congress,” August 6, 1964, The New York Times) U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson announced to the Security Council that U.S. ships on “routine operations in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, have been subjected to deliberate and repeated armed attacks,” making it “necessary to take defensive measures.” Stevenson said, “There no longer could be any shadow of doubt that this was a planned, deliberate military aggression against vessels lawfully present in international waters.” (U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Background Information Relating to Southeast Asia and Vietnam (1967), pp. 122–25) The next day, McNamara told a joint hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees that “The American destroyers were engaged in a routine patrol in international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and were the victims of deliberate and unprovoked attacks. These attacks compelled the President and his principal advisors to conclude that a prompt and firm military response was required.” He insisted that “our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any. I want to make that very clear to you. The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times.” (U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Volume XX, (1968), pp. 63, 68, 113) Signing the Tonkin Resolution on August 10, President Johnson reiterated that “deliberate and unprovoked acts of aggression…clearly required that we respond with a prompt and unmistakable reply,” in the “cause of peace.” (Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks Upon Signing Joint Resolution of the Maintenance of Peace and Security in Southeast Asia,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–1964 (1965), p. 946)

[98] Robert Scheer, “VIETNAM- A Decade Later,” Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1985

[99] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op cit, pp. 64, 123: “Although the administration described the patrol of the Maddox and Turner Joy as routine but prepared for attack, there is considerable evidence that the objective of the patrol was to provoke the North Vietnamese and then to bloody them if they responded to the provocation.” One month after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, McGeorge Bundy suggested the very actions that had triggered the first attack as a means of deliberate provocation. “Our consensus now runs against any plan to force substantial escalation before October, at the earliest,” Bundy wrote. “The main further question is the extent to which we should add elements to the above actions that would tend deliberately to provoke a DRV reaction, and consequent retaliation by us. Examples of actions to be considered would be running US naval patrols increasingly close to the North Vietnamese coast and/or associating them with 34A operations. We believe such deliberately provocative elements should not be added in the immediate future while the GVN is still struggling to its feet.” (McGeorge Bundy, “Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President,” September 8, 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968,,Volume 1: Vietnam, 1964; Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 561–562)

[100] John Prados, “Essay: 40th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” National Security Archive, August 4, 2004

[101] Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, “30-year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War,” FAIR Media Beat; Daniel C. Hallin, The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam,p. 20; Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1968), pp. 108, 116

[102] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1968), pp. 65, 80 107–108; R.A. MacKinnon, “The Gulf of Tonkin,” DIRNSA Manuscript Review, May 30, 1979, pp. 37–38: “Maddox was hit…by a bullet…[and] subsequently the hole was located in the armor plate and the projectile recovered. Secretary of Defense McNamara would make much of this proof of our injury. He proudly displayed the projectile on his desk and even brought it to the Congressional Hearings in 1968. Unfortunately, he never delved into its origin.…[T]he shell hole on Maddox, measured against a ruler, reveals the ultimate truth of the incident. The hole is…consistent with a 20 millimeter weapon. The only 20 millimeters in use that day were mounted on the U.S. aircraft. It was certainly not the first time, and unfortunately not the last,that a U.S. ship would be hit by friendly fire.”

[103] The intelligence officer in charge of the surveillance mission reported indications of an imminent attack on the ship, based on intercepted orders sent to two ships incapable of carrying torpedoes to “make ready for military operations.” When the captain relayed the report to Johnson, he was already eager to use this as a pretext to authorize an aggressive attack to destroy a North Vietnamese harbor and any surviving boats from the Maddox battle, to “give them a real dose.” After the two hour battle with phantom North Vietnamese ships, the sailors began to sense that there had been no attacks. As North Vietnam was thought to have a total of only 24 torpedoes, reports of 20 to 30 torpedoes fired in a single skirmish were doubtful. “Immediately after the attack, the officers came streaming into the wardroom and it was hysterical…just hysterical laughter,” the ship’s physician recalled, adding that “some of the chiefs were really upset” about the intelligence officer’s report. (Scheer, “VIETNAM: A Decade Later”) James Stockdale, leader of a flight team above the ships searching for the attackers finally broke the silence ordered by his superiors and admitted that there was no attack.”There was absolutely no gunfire except our own, no PT boat wakes, not a candle light let alone a burning ship. None could have been there and not have been seen on such a black night,” he wrote. “I had the best seat in the house from which to detect boats–if there were any.” (James B. Stockdale, “Another Gulf, Other Blips on a Screen,” The Washington Post, August 7, 1988; James B. Stockdale and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War, p. 19) Captain Herrick concluded that the sonar sightings were the result of the ship’s electronic signals reflecting off its own rudder, and sent a cable calling into question his previous reports of the attack, which arrived in Washington at 1:30 p.m. on August 4: “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonar men may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” An hour later, another cable stated that the “Entire action leaves many doubts.” (Scheer, op. cit.)

[104] Scheer, op. cit.: Sharp told McNamara that the planes could not finish arriving at their targets before midnight, Washington time. “How serious do you think would be a presidential statement about the time of launch?” McNamara asked. Sharp replied: “I don’t think it would be good, sir, frankly, because it will alert them. No doubt about it.…Wouldn’t recommend it.” In the next hour, Sharp had to inform the defense secretary that the air launch had to be delayed further for technical reasons. But McNamara replied, “The President wants to go on the air at 11:15 p.m., that is the problem.”…Planes were sent to bomb North Vietnam before definitive word was reached from the ships about the torpedo attack — and a number of those planes arrived at their destination after Johnson had informed the world of the raid.…Sharp remains bitter that the President’s refusal to delay his televised address alerted the North Vietnamese and endangered the lives of American pilots. “That’s a very bad thing to do,” said Sharp…He said he argued the point with McNamara, who “decided to do it anyway.” “Just doing things like that for political reasons, without considering the lives of our pilots and the lives of our soldiers, you know,” Sharp said. “The wrong thing to do, God damn it, just as dumb as hell…you alerted the North Vietnamese that an attack was going to take place. So naturally, when they’re alerted, they’re better able to strike at you, and the pilots lose as a result of that…” Sharp added with some bitterness, “The President had to get on evening TV.…” In the attack, two planes were shot down. One pilot was killed and the other captured.

[105] William Y. Smith, “Memorandum for the Record of the White House Staff Meeting,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume I, Vietnam, 1964, pp. 631–632

[106] On July 28, 1964, just days before the first Gulf of Tonkin incident, CIA Director John McCone drafted a memo for the president on “Probably Communist Reactions to Certain US or US-Sponsored Courses of Action in Vietnam,” outlining three categories of action: 1. Air raids in Laos; 2. “Ground force cross-border raids” in Laos; and, 3. “Limited air strikes” within North Vietnam. McCone wrote that, “In response to the first or second categories of action, local Communist military forces in the areas of actual attack would react vigorously, but we believe that none of the Communist powers involved would respond with major military moves designed to change the nature of the conflict.” The air strikes of Category 3, he predicted “would evoke sharper Communist reactions than air strikes confined to targets in Laos,” and this was the course of action taken four days later, on the day the Maddox set sail. (John A. McCone, “Memorandum From the Director of Central Intelligence (McCone) to the President,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume I, Vietnam, 1964)

[107] Scheer, op. cit.

[108] Michael Beschloss, ed. Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson’s Secret White House Tapes, 1964–1965, p. 39

[109] Bill Moyers, “Democracy, Secrecy and Ideology,” December 9, 2005

[110] Robert J. Hanyok, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2–4 August 1964,” Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001, p. 49 ; Scott Shane, “Vietnam War Intelligence ‘Deliberately Skewed,’ Secret Study Says,” The New York Times, December 2, 2005

[111] Hanyok, op. cit., pp. 48–9

[112] Ibid., p. 30: “How did the North Vietnamese carry out the ‘attack’; that is, how were the boats controlled and vectored to the American ships? If we recall the three elements of the command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) observed during the previous two days’ activities — communications from Haiphong and Port Wallut, relayed through the Swatow-class boats; the relay of tracking information on the American ships; and the use of the Skin Head surface search radar — then we have another serious problem with the engagement of the night of 4 August because none of these elements was present during the so-called attack.”

[113] Ibid., p. 49. “Specious supporting SIGINT evidence was inserted into NSA summary reports issued shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin incidents,” with “fragments of legitimate intercept lifted out of its context,” “severe analytic errors, unexplained translation changes, and the conjunction of two unrelated messages into one translation.” Noting “the unexplained disappearance of vital decrypted Vietnamese text of the translation that was the basis of the administration’s most important evidence — the so-called Vietnamese after-action report of late 4 August,” Hanyok asks why there were “critical differences in the English translations of it issued both by the navy intercept…and NSA,” and “why two separate North Vietnamese messages were combined into one translation by NSA.” (p. 3) “Considering the importance of this translation to the administration’s case, the fact that the original text cannot be found…is unusual. That these original texts and translation are the only missing papers in the San Miguel reports allows for suspicion to shade any further discourses.” (p. 49)

[114] Ibid., p. 3. As investigative journalist Gareth Porter reads the events, President Johnson was not an active co-conspirator but rather a victim of the deception of the military hawks: LBJ began to suspect that McNamara had kept vital information from him, and immediately ordered national security adviser McGeorge Bundy to find out whether the alleged attack had actually taken place and required McNamara’s office to submit a complete chronology of McNamara’s contacts with the military on August 4 for the White House indicating what had transpired in each of them. But that chronology shows that McNamara continued to hide the substance of the conversation with Admiral Sharp from LBJ.… Within days after the episode Johnson had learned enough to be convinced that the alleged attack had not occurred and he responded by halting both the CIA-managed commando raids on the North Vietnamese coast U.S. and the U.S. naval patrols near the coast. In fact, McNamara’s deception on August 4 was just one of twelve distinct episodes in which top U.S. national security officials attempted to press a reluctant LBJ to begin a bombing campaign against North Vietnam.…After LBJ was elected in November 1964, LBJ continued to resist a unanimous formal policy recommendation of his advisers that he should begin the systematic bombing of North Vietnam.…LBJ only capitulated to the pressure from his advisers after McNamara and Bundy wrote a joint letter to him in late January 1965 making it clear that responsibility for U.S. “humiliation” in South Vietnam would rest squarely on his shoulders if he continued his policy of “passivity.” Fearing…that his own top national security advisers would turn on him and blame him for the loss of South Vietnam, LBJ eventually began the bombing of North Vietnam.…The deeper lesson of the Tonkin Gulf episode is how a group of senior national security officials seeks determinedly through hardball–and even illicit–tactics to advance its own war agenda, even though they knew the President of the United States was resisting it. (Gareth Porter, “Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception,” Counterpunch, August 5, 2014)

[115] The committee’s chief of staff Carl Marcy related the story from New York Times reporter John Finney: “He has covered the Pentagon in the past, and he was the one who mentioned first to me that, he said, ‘What about this black box information,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, they are saying over in the Pentagon Building,’ and I say, ‘Who are “they”?’ He said, Dick Frykland, ‘are saying they have positive proof that this incident occurred because of a black box,’ and so I keep asking them about the black box and they say they can’t tell me anything about the black box.” Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit.; p. 100

[116] Ibid., pp. 284–285. Gore complained of “the ballooning of this highly classified unimpeachable source.” “What is unimpeachable?” Senator Gore asked. “This source reported three of our planes shot down. No planes were shot down. You can’t exactly say it is unimpeachable.…it stands as very impeachable, not unimpeachable.” (ibid., pp. 309–310) When committee staff member J. Norvill Jones was finally allowed to view the reports years later, he noted that, “Of the several messages we were allowed to scan, only one was from August 4. The others clearly related to the incident on August 2. My reading of the Aug. 4 intercept was that it was a boastful summary of the attack on August 2. Even the NSA officials could not say that it definitely related to the Aug. 4 action. In addition the time sequence of the intercept and the reported action from the U.S. destroyers did not jibe.” (J. Norvill Jones, “Letter to the Editor,” The Washington Post, November 23, 1995) Ray S. Cline, CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence at the time, said, “I began to see that the [intercepts] which were being received at the time of the second attack almost certainly could not have referred to the second attack because of the time differences involved. Things were being referred to which, although they might have been taking place at that time, could not have been reported back so quickly.” (”The Phantom Battle that Led to War: Can It Happen Again?” U.S. News and World Report, July 23, 1984)

[117] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit., p. 64

[118] Military officials knew from surveillance intercepts that the North Vietnamese had indeed been provoked prior to the battle with the Maddox on August 2 and that they associated the Maddox mission with the U.S.-directed attacks by South Vietnam. (Hanyok, op. cit.) Secretary McNamara said in his very first conversation with the president after the Maddox battle on August 2, that “we should also at that time, Mr. President, explain this OPLAN 34-A. There’s no question but what that had bearing on.” (Johnson-McNamara Telephone conversation, 10:30 AM, August 3, 1964, in John Prados, ed. The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (2003), p. 185)

[119] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit., p. 75

[120] Ibid., pp.66–67; The NSC 5412 “covert operations” are defined by the government’s ability to “plausibly disclaim any responsiblity for them.” See supra note 33.

[121] Ibid., pp. 98–99

[122] Ibid., p. 77

[123] Ibid., p. 104. An anoymous letter received by Chairman Fulbright from an insider source in the defense establishment suggested that their best evidence resided in the records “passing through the National Military Command and Control Center,” though he presumed that most “have probably now been destroyed.” A study was “made on the basis of most of those records, fresh after the event,” which the source said was “TOP SECRET and is very tightly held.” The source predicted that “Very probably an effort will be made to have all copies of the study destroyed when and if there is any intimation that you know of the existence of the study.” He said the report showed that the Tonkin incident “was not a put-up job” but rather “was a confused bungle which was used by the President to justify a general course of action and policy that he had been advised by the military to follow.” The president, he said, “like the Secretary of Defense, was their prisoner. He got from them all the critical and decisive information, and misinformation, and he simply put his trust in the wrong people.” The real deception came from national security community, he believed, not President Johnson. “One of the things your Committee should really look into is the constant use of security regulations to conceal the blunders and connivings in the field of national security. But I doubt that all of the power of the United States Senate could ever penetrate far enough into the supersecret world to learn much about what goes on.” (ibid., 126–127. See also Porter, supra note 114)

[124] Statement of Robert McNamara Before Foreign Relations Committee, 20 February, 1968,” Naval History and Heritage Command; Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit., pp. 310–311

[125] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit., pp. 294–310: “I asked him before we even started not to [publish his opening statement],” said Fulbright. “And he did it anyway, and he had obviously made up his mind he was going to do it. They prepared that for public consumption and I think it was a very unfair procedure.” Mundt agreed: “His last paragraph was obviously for the press and not for the committee. That was the tipoff.” “The most offensive thing he said was…that we were alleging he had plotted and planned in the nature of a conspiracy,” Fulbright said. “The record, I think, does support that this was a very uncertain incident that took place, and they resolved the uncertainty precipitately and took retaliatory action far beyond any justification of the event and caused us to take action which was the equivalent of a declaration of war.…It is not a conspiracy at all, but it is a very questionable procedure they follow in making this kind of a decision, and I think the documents support that.” Mundt said, “I am disturbed about the fact that they tried to put this committee in the light of conjuring up some monstrous, which it would be a monstrous thing, I think, if we had done that, to try to pretend that we believed that Johnson and McNamara had gotten together in the quiet of their room and said, we are going to precipitate it. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think anybody believes that, and certainly the evidence that the staff report has doesn’t prove that.…But I think we have to do something to stand in a good light with the public. We are kind of condemned as a bunch of people, trying to say it is some kind of a Machiavellian plot which some of us believed.” Senator Cooper pointed out that they weren’t the only skeptics, noting that “this answer he made at the very end of some kind of conspiracy …those rumors have been out. I have had newspapermen come to me from the New York Times, and say they had been informed that there might be a situation where facts had been concealed and where there was an absolute disposition on the part of the administration to cover up facts at that time, retaliate to bring this resolution before the Senate…I stated this statement about the monstrous conspiracy, that it wasn’t monstrous, that…what we suggested was that it was an untruth, that nobody on the committee…had at any time implied or otherwise stated that it was a deliberate conspiracy…Senator Gore…also made a statement to that effect that this has never been entertained by any member of the committee that it was a deliberate conspiracy, and I never have believed that. It was, if anything, it was ineptitude, if it was anything, they just muddled through and went ahead on very flimsy evidence, made a decision to request declaration of war.” Senator Gore added, “I don’t think there was any conspiracy to create it, but they responded before they knew what happened because they had this recommendation from the task force commander, five hours before those planes left that he thought there was a great deal of doubt that there were any attacks, and recommended that it be careful and fully evaluated before any further actions were taken. Yet the action was taken.”

[126] Ibid., p. 351

[127] Ibid., pp. 98–99

[128] Ibid., pp. 295–296. Mansfield optimistically suggested that, rather than interrogating and battling the president and the national security chiefs, the senators try “to get a little closer and endeavor to influence them a little more” by having “a heart to heart talk with the president alone to tell him how we feel and to see if he would not maybe take some of our guidance.”

[129] Ibid., pp. 299–303

[130] “The Dreyfus affair is an extraordinary tale of injustice, deceit and coverup. When a French cleaning lady working at the German Embassy in Paris in 1894 found a traitorous letter, suspicion fell on Dreyfus, the only Jew in the general staff of the French army. Investigators were so sure of Dreyfus’ guilt that they dismissed the analysis of a handwriting expert who refused to link the letter’s script to Dreyfus. When other evidence against Dreyfus proved flimsy, the army simply manufactured more. Dreyfus was court-martialed, found gulty,…and hustled away to Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana in South America.… When Lt. Col. Georges Picquart submitted irrefutable evidence of Dreyfus’s innocence, he was told, ‘What does it matter to you that this Jew remains on Devil’s Island?’ The Dreyfus affair split French society, pitting artist against artist, intellectual against intellectual…But it was Emile Zola who…in an open letter to the French president, published Jan. 13, 1898, in the newspaper L’Aurore,…detailed Dreyfus’ unjust conviction and the French army’s coverup. Zola’s attack ran across the front page under the headline ‘J’Accuse’ in enormous type. More than 300,000 copies of the paper were sold, and French public sentiment began swinging to Dreyfus’ side. The French generals refused to bow. When the High Court of Appeals overturned Dreyfus’ conviction, the army simply tried and convicted him again.” (Stanley Meisler, “History’s new verdict on the Dreyfus case,” Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2006) Dreyfus finally accepted a pardon in 1899, and had his conviction overturned in 1906, but many mysteries in the affair were never solved. “Whole libraries have been devoted to unraveling the mysteries of the case, which was like a spy novel come to life — complete with forged documents, anonymous veiled ladies, duels of honor, and suicides that looked like murders.” (Adam Kirsch, “The Most Shameful of Stains,” New York Sun, July 11, 2006)

[131] Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, op. cit., pp. 101–102

[132] Elizabeth Bumiller, “Records Show Doubts on ’64 Vietnam Crisis,” The New York Times, July 14, 2010

[133] Scheer, op. cit.

[134] Douglas Horne, the chief analyst of military records for the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), produced an independent 32-page report on the suspicious events of the Kennedy autopsy. “I am 90 to 95 percent certain that the photographs in the Archives are not of President Kennedy’s brain,” Horne said in an interview. “If they aren’t, that can mean only one thing–that there has been a coverup of the medical evidence.” Horne’s report contends that the official photos of Kennedy’s brain show much less damage than Kennedy actually sustained, which–as the doctors at Parkland Hospital told reporters when he was brought in–indicated Kennedy was shot from the front and not from behind as the Warren Commission later concluded. Former FBI agent Francis X. O’Neill Jr., who was present at the first autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital on November 22, 1963, told the board in a 1997 deposition that “there was not too much of the brain left” when it was first removed, that “more than half of the brain was missing,” and that the brain in the official photographs in the Archives “looks almost like a complete brain.” Former Navy photographer John T. Stringer, who photographed a “supplementary examination” of the brain conducted two or three days later, said his photos did not resemble those at the Archives: they seemed to be on “a different type of film,” there were none of the photos he had taken of “cross sections of the brain” that had been cut out to show the damage, and even some photos he took at the original autopsy were missing. Stringer said he “gave everything” from the brain examination to the medical examiner, James Humes, who gave the film to Kennedy’s personal physician, Admiral George Burkley. But Humes testified in a 1996 deposition that Kennedy’s brain was not sectioned in the way Stringer described “because the next thing you know George Burkley wanted it,” allegedly telling Humes “flat out” that the Kennedy family wanted the president’s brain to be buried with the body and that he would deliver it to Robert F. Kennedy. However, a third autopsy physician, Pierre Finck, said in a 1965 report that Humes called him on November 29, 1963, four days after the president was buried, to “examine the brain” at Bethesda Military Hospital. The ARRB, which was not established to make findings on the evidence it collected, took no position on Horne’s troubling report. (George Lardner, Jr. “Archive Photos Not of JFK’s Brain, Concludes Aide to Review Board,” The Washington Post, November 10, 1998; Assassination Records Review Board, Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, September 1998)

[135] Lance deHaven-Smith, “Beyond Conspiracy Theory: Patterns of High Crime in American Politics,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 63, No. 6, 2010, p. 797

[136] Spymaster Allen Dulles was, unsurprisingly, the single exception. (Kathryn Olmsted, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (2009), p. 130) As the ARRB noted in 1998: “Well before 1978, President Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and four of the seven members of the Warren Commission all articulated, if sometimes off the record, some level of skepticism about the Commission’s basic findings.” (Final Report, op. cit., p. 11) Robert Kennedy considered the commission a public relations exercise. (Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (2002), p. 284) Three members of the commission initially refused to sign the report Senator Richard Russell was so opposed to the “magic bullet” theory that he dictated a separate dissent to the report, which was ultimately suppressed. The transcript of the final meeting of the commission on September 18, 1964, at which Russell attempted to include his dissent, has disappeared. (Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., “Senator Russell disagreed with the Warren Report,” The Athens Observer, November 9, 198) “They said that they believe…that the Commission believe that the same bullet that hit Kennedy hit Connally,” Russell said in a phone call to Lyndon Johnson. “Well, I don’t believe it.” Johnson replied, “I don’t either.” (Max Holland, Kennedy Assassination Tapes (2004), p. 250)

[137] “The belief that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” Gallup observed in 1978, “is now almost totally without adherents.” (George Gallup, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1972–1977, Vol. 1 (1978) pp. 927–931) Gallup found that 70% of Americans believed that Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination was also the result of a conspiracy, and only 5% of Americans accepted the official version of both assassinations. Since the 1970s, Gallup has found repeatedly since the 1970s, that 75–80% of people believe “others were involved in a conspiracy” to assassinate Kennedy, though the numbers recently dropped to their lowest point in decades, at 61%. (Art Swift, “Majority in U.S. Still Believe JFK Killed in a Conspiracy,” Gallup, November 15, 2013). Even the 2004 FOX News poll found 66% believed the assassination was “part of a larger conspiracy,” and 74% believed there “was a cover-up.” (Dana Blanton, “Poll: Most Believe ‘Cover-Up’ of JKF Assassination Facts,” FoxNews.com, June 18, 2004) For the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 62% believed in a “broader plot” and “an official coverup,” (Peyton M. Craighill, “Poll: 62 percent believe broader plot killed Kennedy,” The Washington Post, November 20, 2013)

[138] Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths (2001), p. 156

[139] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” Horizon, April 1946, pp. 252–265

[140] Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2, (1945) pp. 352–353

[141] Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1964), p. 29

[142] “Al Qaeda itself does not exist,” says historian R.T. Naylor, “except in the fevered imaginations of neo-cons and Likudniks, some of whom, I suspect, also know it is a myth, but find it extremely useful as a bogeyman to spook the public and the politicians to acquiesce in otherwise unacceptable policy initiatives at home and abroad. By those terms, Al Qaeda is cast like ‘the Mafia’ and similar nonsense coming from police lobbies. This is a complex issue, but, putting it very simply, what you have in both cases is loose networks of like-minded individuals–sometimes they pay homage to some patron figure they may never have met and with whom they have no concrete relationship. They conduct their operations strictly by themselves, even if they may from time to time seek advice.” (Standard Schaffer, “The Wages of Terror, an Interview with R.T. Naylor,” CounterPunch, June 20, 2003) As former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook explained in an article in The Guardian one month before his death, the term “Al Qaeda” originated from the neoconservative funding of Osama bin Ladin and the mujahideen in Afghanistan in their secret war against the Soviet Union: “Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database’, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.” (Robin Cook, “The struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means,” The Guardian, July 8, 2005) Adam Curtis, creator of the BBC documentary series, “The Power of Nightmares,” explained that the idea of “Al Qaeda” as a terrorist organization was devised by U.S. government prosecutors in order to provide a basis for a federal conspiracy case: “Prosecutors for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings believed bin Laden organised them and wanted to convict him in absentia by showing that he headed a criminal organisation. Jamal al-Fadl, a former associate of bin Laden, conveniently described just such an organisation to them, which the investigators called al-Qaeda. While bin Laden apparently aided the attacks he had no organisation through which he could command and control them; al-Fadl seems to have told investigators what they wanted to hear in return for money and witness protection.” (Adam Curtis, The Power of Nightmares, Part 3: The Shadows in the Cave (2004)) R.T. Naylor elaborates in Wages of Crime…in much the way “Mafia” morphed from a mode of behavior rooted in Sicilian social conditions into a supposedly formalized business structure, so too in the public mind, after the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, did “al-Qaeda” take on more and more the shape of a multinational, multidivisional hierarchy whose members took an oath of fealty (bay’at) and stood ready on bin Laden’s command to assault the foundations of Judeo-Christian Civilization. This, despite the fact that none of the actual perpetrators of the 1998 attack seemed to know anything about such an “organization” or had even met bin Laden, let alone had sworn bay’at. In fact, some had never heard of the practice. Thus, as organizational concepts, “the Mafia” and “al-Qaeda” may have one important thing in common–both were mythical constructs that, once in the public domain, took on a self-verifying quality. They also shared useful public relation functions. They made the phenomena of “crime” and “terror” reassuringly simple for the American public to grasp. Furthermore, it is much easier to demonize, legislate against, and, where convenient, drop bombs on something with apparently concrete substance than an abstract idea. (Naylor, pp. 296–297)

[143] John Laughland, “I believe in conspiracies,” The Spectator, January 17, 2004

[144] Gordon S. Wood, “Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century,” The William and Mary Quarterly, July 1982, p. 441

[145] What the Secret War Has Cost,” The New York Times, November 27, 1986; Philip Taubman, “Are U.S. Covert Operations Best Policy on Nicaragua?” The New York Times, June 15, 1983; U.S. Senate, Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran, U.S. House of Representatives, Select Committee to Investigate the Nicaragauan Opposition Covert Arms Transactions With Iran, Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair: Appendix C, Chronology of Events (1988), pp. 2, 12. On the CIA involvement in drug-running to finance the contras, see infra note 175.

[146] Jeffrey M. Bale, “Political paranoia v. political realism,” p. 49. Bale offers a survey the literature, which includes: Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1966), pp. 3–40; J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (1972); George Johnson, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics (1983), Carl F. Graumann and Serge Moscovici (eds.), Changing Conceptions of Conspiracy (1987); Daniel Pipes, Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From (1997); Mark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (1999); Peter Knight, Conspiracy Culture: American Paranoia from Kennedy to the X-Files (2001); Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003); and Jon Ronson, Them: Adventures with Extremists (2003).

[147] “The CIA Nightmare,” Commonweal, March 3, 1967, p. 612

[148] Brian Wheeler, “Are Conspiracy Theories Destroying Democracy?” BBC News, October 26, 2013

[149] Laughland alludes here to Operation Northwoods, a project proposed in 1962 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to engineer “pretexts which would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba.” The memoranda, declassified in 1997 by the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, outline options for false flag attacks on innocent citizens, including “A ‘Remember the Maine’ incident” to “blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.” (see supra note 65) They also proposed to “develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” as a pretext for invasion of Cuba. (Department of Defense, “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (TS)” March 13, 1962) While the memoranda do not actually call for a sabotage of John Glenn’s rocket, one plan suggests staging the destruction of a civilian aircraft by Cubans, and another, code-named “Operation Dirty Trick,” proposes to “provide irrevocable [sic] proof that, should the MERCURY manned orbit flight fail, the fault lies with the Communists et al Cuba.”(William Craig, “Possible Actions to Provoke, Harrass (sic), or Disrupt Cuba,” February 2, 1962, p. 2)

[150] John Laughland, “I believe in conspiracies,” The Spectator, January 17, 2004

[151] http://www.spectator.co.uk/?s=%22i+believe+in+conspiracies%22; http://www.spectator.co.uk/comic/i-believe-in-conspiracies/; http://www.spectator.co.uk/issues/january-17-2004/

[152] Jeffrey M. Bale, “‘Conspiracy Theories’ and Clandestine Politics,” Lobster, June 1995; “Political paranoia v. political realism: on distinguishing between bogus conspiracy theories and genuine conspiratorial politics,” Patterns of Prejudice, Volume 41, Number 1, 2007

[153] The Interior Department inspector general reported in 2008 that Minerals Management Service regulators had accepted gifts, used cocaine and had sex with oil and gas company representatives, decrying “a culture of ethical failure” and “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” at the MMS. (Charlie Savage, “Sex, Drug Use and Graft Cited in Interior Department,” The New York Times, September 10, 2008) Not surprisingly, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, another inspector general report revealed the virtual nonexistence of oversight in drilling inspections, noting that industry officials were allowed “to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency.” (Ian Urbina, “Inspector General’s Inquiry Faults Regulators,” The New York Times, May 24, 2010) In the wake of another modern manufactured disaster, after the epic collapse of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme in 2008, it was revealed that Eric Swanson, assistant director of the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, had begun a romantic relationship in 2006 with Bernard Madoff’s niece, Shana Madoff, a “compliance officer” in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. On February 28, 2006, Swanson learned in an email from Assistant Director John Nee that the SEC’s New York Regional Office was investigating Harry Markopolos’ now-famous complaint that Madoff was running “the biggest Ponzi scheme ever,” and forwarded the email to his supervisor. Just three days later, Shana Madoff repeatedly texted Swanson to persuade him to meet with her at a bar. “I got the distinct sense that she was kind of flirting with me,” Swanson said. “I also felt like if I had wanted to take it further that night, I could have, but I didn’t.” The next day, he emailed a colleague that he “caught an earful” from the OCIE branch chief “re: Madoff” because “apparently I’m a sycophant.” A month later, when Swanson’s supervisor learned that he had begun a relationship with Shana Madoff, he expressed what Swanson described as “fairly extreme displeasure with me dating Shana,” and wrote to a colleague of Swanson’s, “I guess we won’t be inspecting Madoff anytime soon.” Nevertheless, the Inspector General’s reaction to Swanson’s obvious conflict of interests was lukewarm. “We conclude that Swanson’s communication with and attendance at events sponsored by Shana during the period of time he was engaged in a cause examination of her uncle and father’s firm, created the appearance of a potential conflict of interest. While there is no evidence that any information about the examination was imparted to Shana during these communications, the level of interaction with a registrant wile Swanson was supervising a cause examination of the firm could have created the appearance that the examination was impacted by their personal relationship.” (SEC Office of Investigations, Investigation of Failure of the SEC to Uncover Bernard Madoffs Ponzi Scheme, August 31, 2009, pp. 399–402, 409–410) In 2004, a former SEC investigator who had noted obvious red flags in her team’s Madoff review had been reassigned and had her case shut down after she recommended further investigation to her supervisors, including Swanson. She left the SEC in 2006 after filing a hostile workplace complaint. (Suzanne Barlyn, “Ex-SEC Lawyer: Madoff Report Misses Point,” The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2009) After another SEC whistleblower filed a complaint in 2007 with the inspector general, David Kotz, stating that cases were stalled because the assistant regional director of the New York office said, “We don’t do IM (investment-management) cases in this group,” the IG produced a report that concluded that the New York office supervisors “created an atmosphere of fear, frustration and confusion among many staff,” who had expressed “a strong fear of retaliation by management.” (William D. Cohan, “How Bad Can It Be for SEC Whistle-Blowers?” Bloomberg, May 15, 2013) The IG report on the Madoff case concluded that “despite numerous credible and detailed complaints, the SEC never properly examined or investigated Madoff’s trading and never took the necessary, but basic, steps to determine if Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Had these efforts been made with appropriate follow-up at any time beginning in June of 1992 until December 2008, the SEC could have uncovered the Ponzi scheme well before Madoff confessed.” The report revealed that “Shortly after the Madoff Enforcement investigation was effectively concluded, the staff attorney on the investigation received the highest performance rating available at the SEC, in part, for her ‘ability to understand and analyze the complex issues of the Madoff investigation.’” The staff attorney in question, Simona Suh, said she “knew [Madoff] wasn’t truthful and I knew he was not giving us full information,” but showed no interest in investigating further. (Investigation of Failure of the SEC…, op. cit., pp. 41, 273, 360) Ironically, after releasing his report on the SEC’s Madoff investigation, the IG was charged with ethics violations and investigated by an outside inspector general, probing into “Whether Kotz engaged in misconduct for participating in inappropriate relationships that created conflicts of interests” for becoming friends with Harry Markopolos during the Madoff investigation.(Jon T. Rymer, Securities and Exchange Commission Office of Inspector General, Washington DC 20549—Executive Misconduct, September 17, 2012, p. 3)

[154] The infamous “Sixteen Words” in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” were the culmination of months of deception by the Bush and Blair administrations, parading false claims and forged documents as truth of Iraq’s imminent threat despite repeated insistence by CIA officials that the evidence was unreliable. Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, noted that Bush made similar public statements on September 26, 2002–despite attempts by Jami Miscik, CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence, to have the uranium claims taken out “because we didn’t think it was credible”–and again on October 7, 2002, despite the CIA’s repeated insistence to remove the claim, “including (1) a memorandum sent on October 5,2002, to Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, (2) a second memorandum sent on October 6,2007, to the White House, and (3) a personal telephone call from CIA Director George Tenet to Mr. Hadley directing him to remove the claim.” Rice then “asserted publicly that she knew nothing about any doubts the CIA had raised about this claim prior to the 2003 State of the Union address. And former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales asserted to the Senate on her behalf that the CIA approved the use of the claim in several presidential speeches.” (Henry A. Waxman, “Memorandum, Re: The President’s Claim that lraq Sought Uranium from Niger,” December 18, 2008) “C.I.A. analysts have privately expressed concerns…that they have faced pressure in writing intelligence reports to emphasize links between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda,” journalist James Risen noted. “Several analysts have told colleagues they have become so frustrated that they have considered leaving the agency…” (James Risen, “A Nation at War: Intelligence; C.I.A. Aides Feel Pressure in Preparing Iraqi Reports,” The New York Times, March 23, 2003) “I watched Cheney on ‘Meet The Press’ contradict our assessment publicly,” former CIA intelligence analyst Nada Bakos complained of the administration’s deception. “’We know that he [Saddam] has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups,’ Cheney said, ‘including the al-Qaeda organization.’ …Cheney was asserting to the public as fact something that we found to be anything but.” (”I Tried to Make the Intelligence Behind the Iraq War Less Bogus,” Wired, March 18, 2013) The CIA apparently acquiesced to administration pressure, as all qualifications and dissent were redacted from claims about Iraqi weapons in the 2003 National Intelligence Estimate prepared before the invasion of Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on prewar intelligence concluded that the Agency’s “elimination of the caveats from the unclassified white paper misrepresented their judgments to the public, which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” (Mark Mazzetti, “Key Revisions Were Made to CIA Document,” Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2004) When former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson wrote an editorial in July 2003 on “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” during his travels to Niger to investigate the uranium claim, concluding that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat,” Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove retaliated by exposing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, using Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to leak the information to Washington Post journalist Robert Novak. (Joseph Wilson, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa, The New York Times, July 6, 2003, Farhana Hossain, “Diary of the Leak Trial,” The New York Times, February 21, 2007)

[155] Robin Ramsay, “Conspiracy, conspiracy theories and conspiracy research,” Lobster, May 1990, p. 25

[156] See supra note 125

[157] See supra notes 110–114

[158] David Harper, “The Politics of Paranoia: Paranoid Positioning and Conspiratorial Narratives in the Surveillance Society,” Surveillance and Society, Volume 5, Number 1: p. 16

[159] Ginna Husting and Martin Orr. “Dangerous Machinery: “Conspiracy Theorist” as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion”Symbolic Interaction Volume 30, Number 2 (2007): pp. 127–150

[160] DeHaven-Smith, “Beyond Conspiracy Theory,” op. cit., p. 798

[161] Mills is alive to the fact that he might be charged with advancing a new ‘conspiracy theory of history,’ wrote the reviewer for Commentary magazine, for instance. (Dennis H. Wrong, “The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills,” Commentary, September 1, 1956) A biographer of Mills posited that The Power Elite was “vulnerable to the charge of conspiracy-mongering,” because of it vagueness about elite decision-making and coherent elite interests, despite noting that Mills thought the elite mostly “did not cohere at all,” let alone conspire. A 2014 political science paper proved the commanding power of economic elites in U.S. politics, determining by statistical analysis of 1,779 national policy issues, “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” (Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 12, No. 3, September 2014, p. 564)

[162] G. William Domhoff, “Who Made American Foreign Policy, 1945–1963?” In David Horowitz, ed., Corporations and the Cold War (1969), p.34

[163] Mark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (2008), p. 21

[164] Bill Keller, “A Theory of Conspiracy Theories,” The New York Times, June 3, 2011. (Print headline: “Let M Take Off My Tinfoil Hat For a Moment.”)

[165] Two assistant district attorneys explained in a letter to defense counsel that Strauss-Kahn’s accuser had admitted that she “fabricated” a story about being raped to secure asylum in the United States. She recorded the false story on a cassette tape and “memorized these facts by listening to the recording repeatedly,” then in multiple “interviews with prosecutors, she reiterated these falsehoods when questions about her history and background.” The assistant district attorneys explained that “in two separate interviews…the complainant stated that she had been the victim of a gang rape in the past in her native country and provided details of the attack. During both of these interviews, the victim cried and appeared to be markedly distraught when recounting the incident. In subsequent interviews, she admitted the gang rape had never occurred. Instead, she stated that she had lied about its occurrence and fabricated the details, and that this false incident was part of the narrative that she had been directed to memorize as part of her asylum application process.” The accuser original claimed many times, including in testimony before a grand jury, that she fled to the main hallway after being sexually attacked and waited there until Strauss-Kahn left, but later “admitted that this account was false and that after the incident in Suite 2806, she proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to Suite 2806 and began to clean that suite before she reported the incident to her supervisor.” On top of that, she admitted to declaring a friend’s child as her own for a fraudulent tax deduction and “misrepresenting her income in order to maintain her present housing,” and “was untruthful to assistant district attorneys about a variety of additional topics concerning her background, present circumstances and personal relatioships.”(Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, John McConnell, “Letter to William W. Taylor, III and Benjamin Brafman, re: People v. Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” June 30, 2011) “The letter from the prosecutors did not include everything their investigators had learned about the woman,” reported The New York Times. “According to two law enforcement officials familiar with the prosecutors’ inquiry, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded. That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling about $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania. The investigators also learned that the woman was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. She had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends.” (John Eligon, “Strauss-Kahn Is Released as Case Teeters,” The New York Times, July 1, 2011) In August, prosecutors filed a recommendation for dismissal of the case, explaining that “the nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant. If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.” According to the prosecutors, the accuser’s lying reached the level of compulsiveness. “[W]e are confronted with a situation in which it has become increasingly clear that the complainant’s credibility cannot withstand the most basic evaluation. In short, the complainant has providing shifting and inconsistent versions of the events surrounding the alleged assault, and as a result, we cannot be sufficiently certain of what actually happened on May 14, 2011, or what account of these events the complainant would give at trial. In virtually every substantive interview with prosecutors, despite entreaties to simply be truthful, she has not been truthful, on matters great and small, many pertaining to her background and some relating to the circumstances of the incident itself.” (”Recommendation For Dismissal, The People of the State of New York against Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” August 22, 2011) Apart from the untrustworthy accuser, a number of compelling mysteries suggest a plot to frame Strauss-Kahn, as compiled in Edward Jay Epstein, “What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn?” New York Review of Books, December 22, 2011

[166] Barbara Bliss Osborn, “’Are You Sure You Want to Ruin Your Career?’ Gary Webb’s fate a warning to gutsy reporters,” Extra! March/April 1998

[167] Norman Solomon, “Snow Job; The Establishment’s Papers Do Damage Control for the CIA,” Extra! January/February 1997

[168] Robert Parry, “Contra-Crack Story Assailed,” Consortium News, October 28, 1996

[169] Susan Paterno, “The Sad Saga of Gary Webb,” American Journalism Review, June/July 2005

[170] Osborn, op. cit.

[171] Michael A. Fletcher, “Conspiracy Theories Can Often Ring True: History Feeds Blacks’ Mistrust,” The Washington Post, October 4, 1996

[172] Tim Golden,” Though Evidence Is Thin, Tale of C.I.A. and Drugs Has a Life of Its Own,” The New York Times, October 21, 1996. A CIA analyst observed that “By the end of September, the number of observed stories in the print media that indicated skepticism of the Mercury-News series surpassed that of the negative coverage, which had already peaked. In fact, for three weeks the number of skeptical or positive pieces observed in the media constantly exceeded the number of negative treatments of CIA. After a brief surge in negative reporing in mid-October, the observed number of skeptical treatments of the alleged CIA connection grew until it more than tripled the coverage that gave credibility to the connection. The growth in balanced reporting (sic) was largely due to the criticisms of the San Jose Mercury-News by The Washington Post, The New York Times, and especially The Los Angeles Times. (Nicholas Dujmovic, “Managing A Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” Studies in Intelligence, Volume 41, Number 3, 1997 pp. 11–12)

[173] Howard Kurtz, “A Webb of Conspiracy,” The Washington Post, October 28, 1996

[174] Nick Schou, “The truth in ‘Dark Alliance,’” Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2006

[175] Peter Kornbluh, “Crack, the Contras, and the CIA: The Story over ‘Dark Alliance,’” Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1997

[176] B. Drummond Ayers, Jr., “C.I.A. Chief Visits Watts to Counter Crack Talk,” The New York Times, November 16, 1996; Maureen Dowd, “From D.C., With Love,” The New York Times, November 17, 1996. Dowd patronizingly wrote that the “conspiracy-minded crowd” in South-Central L.A. “has a right to be paranoid,” though she denied any proof of “an organized plot to finance the war with cocaine cash.”

[177] Jerry Ceppos, “To readers of our ‘Dark Alliance’ series,” San Jose Mercury-News, May 11, 1997

[178] Gary Webb, “Why the Lawsuit? To Silence Him,” NarcoNews, March 16, 2001

[179] Paterno, op. cit.

[180] Robert Chalmers, “Susan Bell: a shameful secret,” The Independent, October 9, 2005

[181] Joseph Stiglitz, “On Liberty, the Right to Know, and Public Discourse: The Role of Transparency in Public Life,” 1999 Oxford University Amnesty International Lecture, January 27, 1999, p. 26

[182] Dujmovic, op. cit., p. 12

[183] Indeed, you might be paranoid because they’re out to make you paranoid. One of the documents revealed in the 1971 burglary of FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania encouraged FBI agents to interview political dissidents more frequently because “it will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” (Betty Medsger, “Remembering an earlier time when a theft unmasked government surveillance,” The Washington Post, January 10, 2014)

[184] Central Intelligence Agency, “Dispatch: Countering Criticisms of the Warren Report,” January 4, 1967. Google’s Ngram Viewer for “conspiracy theory” between 1950 and 1980 shows a conspicuous spike in the incidence of the phrase beginning in 1963. The CIA wasn’t the only agency involved in this plot. Two years after Representative Hale Boggs, a dissenting member of the Warren Commission, disappeared on a plane in 1972, his son revealed that his father had given him FBI dossiers compiled for use against critics of the Warren report. “They weren’t basically sex files,” he said. “They had some of that element but most of the material dealt with left-wing organizations these people belonged to.” (“Boggs Says Father Left F.B.I. Dossiers,” The New York Times, January 31, 1975)

[185] The Church Committee discovered that the CIA recruited journalists internationally to build “a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence foreign opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of foreign newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign news outlets.” In the United States, the CIA maintained relationships with journalists which ranged “from salaried operatives working under journalistic cover, to U.S. journalists serving as ‘independent contractors’ for the CIA, to those who receive only occasional gifts and reimbursements from the CIA.” The Agency’s penetration of the media was pervasive and institutional, the committee found, not simply a matter of cooperation by a few individuals. “More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad,” the committee revealed, noting that “over a thousand books were produced, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA before the end of 1967.” (Church Committee, Book I, op. cit., p. 191, 193–195)

[186] Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies From Dallas to Watergate, (1976) pp. 27–29: The arguments for a conspiracy theory are indeed often dismissed on the grounds that no one conspiracy could possibly control everything. But that is not what this theory sets out to show.…The implicit claim, on the contrary, is that a multitude of conspiracies contend in the night. Clandestinism is not the usage of a handful of rogues, it is a formalized practice of an entire class in which a thousand hands spontaneously join. Conspiracy is the normal continuation of normal politics by normal means.…[T]he Yankee/Cowboy interpretation in fact is set dead against the omnipotent-cabal interpretation…in the respect that it posits a divided social-historical American order, conflict-wracked and dialectical rather than serene and hierarchical, in which results constantly elude every faction’s intentions because all conspire against each and each against all.…Conspiratorial play is a universal of power politics, and where there is no limit to power, there is no limit to conspiracy.

[187] Hakim Bey, “The Ontological Status of Conspiracy Theory,” www.hermetic.com/bey/conspire.html

[188] Knight, Conspiracy Culture, op. cit., p. 32

[189] Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths, p. 186

[190] DeHaven-Smith, op. cit., p. 796

[191] Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: The Secret Road to the Second Indochina War (1972), p. 171. Scott defined “parapolitics” as: “1. a system or practice of politics in which accountability is consciously diminished. 2. generally, covert politics, the conduct of public affairs not by rational debate and responsible decision-making but by indirection, collusion, and deceit. C.f. conspiracy. 3. the political exploitation of irresponsible agencies or parastructures, such as intelligence agencies.” He later shifted to “deep politics,” explaining that “parapolitics as thus defined is itself too narrowly conscious and intentional…it describes at best only an intervening layer of the irrationality under our political culture’s rational surface. Thus I now refer to parapolitics as only one manifestation of deep politics, all those political practices and arrangements, deliberate or not, which are usually repressed rather than acknowledged.” (Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993), pp. 6-7.

[192] Maureen Freely, “Why they killed Hrant Dink,” Index on Censorship, Vol. 36, No. 2, May 2007, pp-15–29: “The deep state is Turkish shorthand for a faceless clique inside the Turkish state that has, some claim, held the reins of real power throughout the republic’s 84-year history. There are some who see it on a continuum with the shady networks that ‘took care of business’ (including, some believe, the Armenian business) in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. The deep state is held to be based in the army, but closely linked with the National Intelligence Service (MIT), the judiciary, and (since the 1960s) the mafia.” Others have used the “deep state” outside of Turkey, including Peter Dale Scott (The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (2014)), and former Congressional staff member Mike Lofgren (”Anatomy of the Deep State,” February 21, 2014, www.billmoyers.com). “Every state has its own deep state,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “It is like a virus; it reappears when conditions are suitable. We continue fighting these structures. We cannot of course argue that we have completely eliminated and destroyed it because as a politician, I do not believe that any state in the world has been able to do this completely.”. (Markar Esayen, “What Is Deep State?” Today’s Zaman, December 26, 2012) A lexicographer defined “deep state” in a New York Times article on newly popular terms at the end of 2013: “DEEP STATE n. A hard-to-perceive level of government or super-control that exists regardless of elections and that may thwart popular movements or radical change. Some have said that Egypt is being manipulated by its deep state.” (Grant Barrett, “A Wordnado of Words,” The New York Times, December 21, 2013)

[193] DeHaven-Smith, op. cit., pp. 796–799. “Qui bono” or “cui bono,” and “cui prodest,” are Latin phrases meaning “to whose benefit?” which suggest a method of investigating hidden motives to discover perpetrators. The Roman orator Cicero attributed the phrase to the judge Lucius Cassius in Pro Roscio Amerino, a speech he delivered in his first criminal case, in which he successfully defended Roscius of Amerino from the charge of killing his father, Sextus Roscius, by literally proposing a conspiracy theory hatched by two relatives, Roscius Magnus and Roscius Capito, who had motive to kill the patriarch and frame the son:
L. Cassius ille quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat identidem in causis quaerere solebat ‘cui bono’ fuisset.” (”The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, ‘To whose benefit?’”) (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Andrew R. Dyck (ed.), Pro Sexto Roscio (2010), p. 41)

[194] Adam Curtis, “Suspicious Minds,” BBC: Adam Curtis_The Medium and the Message, April 2, 2014

[195] DeHaven-Smith, op. cit., pp. 818–819; David E. Pozen, “Deep Secrecy,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 62, No. 2, January 2010: “[W]e can say that a government secret is deep if a small group of similarly situated officials conceals its existence from the public and from other officials, such that the outsiders’ ignorance precludes them from learning about, checking, or influencing the keepers’ use of the information…If no one outside of a particular executive branch unit knows of a program the unit is running, the program is an extremely deep secret…If the program is disclosed to the other branches of government, but not to the public, it lies somewhere in the middle…Illegal programs will tend to be deeper secrets than legal ones…Programs cloaked in cover and deception, whereby officials take active steps to mislead observers, will likewise tend to be deeper.”

[196] Olmsted, op. cit., p. 161. Lord Acton made his own famous comments on secrecy: “Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.” John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, Francis Aidan Gasquet (ed.), Letter of January 23, 1861, Lord Acton and His Circle (1906), p. 166