Online Journal Contributing Writer
The first time Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pressured the CIA to mislead Congress was in 1975 and 1976, when Cheney was chief of staff to President Gerald Ford and Rumsfeld was Ford’s secretary of defense.
Cheney, having held a series of positions alongside Rumsfeld -- starting under him in the Nixon administration -- also became campaign manager for Ford’s reelection campaign. George H. W. Bush was head of the CIA, appointed by Jerry Ford when Ford switched Rumsfeld from White House chief of staff to secretary of defense.*
The mission of the three men was to protect the Ford presidency and some elements in the CIA from the Church Committee. According to researcher Lamar Waldron, they succeeded.
Waldron is co-author, with Thomas Hartmann, of Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination, an exhaustively documented 800 pages compiling more than three decades of research into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. In two recent interviews of more than an hour each, Waldron discussed how much some things haven’t changed since before Watergate.
Reacting to public outrage over a series of abuses -- including domestic surveillance -- exposed during Watergate, the Nixon impeachment and the winding down of the Vietnam War, in 1975 Congress authorized a special senate committee chaired by Democrat Frank Church of Idaho to look into abuses of the intelligence agencies, primarily the CIA and FBI. The Church Committee was convened, getting off to a slow start and under steady CIA-friendly media fire from the beginning; Ford appointed George H. W. Bush as head of the CIA and Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in October 1975.
As Waldron points out, we now know from thousands of documents declassified since the 1970s that a massive amount of vital information was withheld by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush from the Senate’s Church Committee. The White House and top echelon of the CIA withheld from the committee information about the CIA’s manipulation of the news media; domestic spying; and material about Cuba, including JFK’s plan to topple Fidel Castro on December 1, 1963, the Mafia’s infiltration of the anti-Castro plan, and the CIA’s unauthorized continuation of agency plotting to use the Mafia to assassinate Castro. Waldron and Hartmann document in Legacy of Secrecy that then-CIA official Richard Helms withheld the unauthorized extension of the mob-linked anti-Castro plots from JFK himself, and from President Lyndon Johnson and from the Warren Commission afterward -- and even from JFK’s own CIA Director.
The legacy of secrecy -- often for political or career reasons, depending on the individual, or for bureaucratic self-protection -- continued throughout the sixties and seventies to the Church investigation. Some particularly flashy and sensational material on the larger issues was shared with the committee, garnering headlines. Elements of the Castro assassination plots like those ‘exploding cigars’ to be given to Fidel, for example, were divulged by the CIA to Church and were exposed with much fanfare. But the deeper concern of intensive Mafia participation in the anti-Castro plots was never fully investigated -- not even by the later House Select Committee on Assassinations, and certainly not by the Church committee.
The back story is that from 1960 to 1963 Mafia participation in plots to assassinate Castro became, tragically for the United States, a powerful Mafia participation in plots to assassinate President Kennedy. The CIA picked up too lethal a tool in choosing the Mob to carry out its plans to remove Castro.
To this day, the general public -- which never bought the ‘lone nut’ theory that the manipulated Lee Harvey Oswald, a beginning-level marksman, singlehandedly brought off the miracle shot of the assassination -- still has not been permitted to know the full extent of the powerful arsenal of resources trained against President Kennedy by the wealthiest Mafia families in the U.S. Coordinated by Carlos Marcello, head of the oldest Mafia family in the U.S. (dating from the 19th century) and Gulf Coast kingpin in control of Louisiana and Texas, they had planned since 1962 to take out the Kennedy brothers -- either Attorney General Robert Kennedy, aggressively pursuing the Mob, or, more effectively, the brother in the White House who had appointed him as AG. When John Kennedy came down South -- as they had previously threatened -- they took him out, having tried twice before in November 1963 to get JFK, once in Tampa and once in Chicago. The helpless Oswald -- seen drinking a Coke in the Texas Book Depository two minutes after Kennedy’s murder -- was then taken out himself, by heavily mob-connected ‘nightclub owner’ (actually, mob gnome) Jack Ruby, given basically full run of the Dallas police station. The general public has also not been permitted to know the full extent of Ruby’s Mafia involvement, despite hundreds of pages of information detailing his mob connections.
One continuing consequence is the effect on U.S. relations with Cuba to this day, something Waldron and Hartmann deplore. As Waldron says, no national security reason justifies hiding the JFK assassination archives in the year 2009. Congress intended them to be revealed years ago; the Cuban official implicated in the anti-Castro plots -- Almeida -- has long since been outed and forgiven; and both the United States and Cuba would benefit from expanded trade and other relationships.
Releasing more millions of pages of documents already declassified would illuminate more history of the twentieth century, including one of its defining tragic events. Waldron says, in the wake of current controversy, that he would like very much to see Cheney testify under oath about the material withheld from the Church Committee. After all, there is no legitimate security concern to justify keeping the material hidden. There is no argument, however specious, that releasing it would somehow endanger our troops.
There is not even an argument, in regard to those anti-Castro plots, that ‘they worked.’ As Waldron says, “Nobody thought Castro would be in office this long.” Of course, as he also remarks, nobody thought during the 1970s that Cheney and Rumsfeld and George H. W. Bush would be back in government again, either, much less that they would return as vice president and secretary of defense in a bloody war and president, respectively. If we don’t learn from the past, we are condemned to relive it, with a vengeance. (The late Mary McGrory wrote about the return to government of so many Nixon retreads in her columns; very few other established Washington journalists did so, at least in newspapers and television news.)
In these changing times, one reason it would have been good to see the luminous Caroline Kennedy in the Senate is that she would be an excellent resource in support of warmer relations with Cuba. Few individuals would be better qualified to represent -- just by her presence -- U.S. awareness of our need to reach out to the islands near us, including Cuba, in a favorable, beneficial and practical way.
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*Rumsfeld was Ford’s transition chairman in the WH, then chief of staff 1974 to 1975; secdef for Ford 1975-1977 (and secdef for GWBush 2001-2006, youngest and oldest person ever and 2nd longest holding that ofc, etc). Appointd secdef in Oct 1975 when George HW Bush appointd CIA head.
*Cheney was on Rumsfeld’s staff under Nixon; Cheney and Rumsfeld both were Nixon alums, along with GHW Bush, who was previously head of the Republican National Committee and resisted acknowledging the ills of Watergate to the bitter end. Cheney became assistant to pres under Ford; became Ford’s chief of staff when Rumsfeld became secdef, and Ford’s campaign manager. As deputy asst to pres in 1974-75, he memoed Rumsfeld about using the DOJ to get at journalist Seymour Hersh, then of the NYTimes.” Waldron says that all the information about CIA manipulation of the news media has “definitely not” come out. Much of it is contained in documents still held by the CIA in spite of being declassified.Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at email@example.com.
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