Saturday, 10 January 2004 11:08

Ed Butler: Expert in Propaganda and Psychological Warfare

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Jim DiEugenio writes about how reporter Gus Russo digs up long-forgotten characters in the JFK assassination to slant the story toward the government's conclusions.


carlos ed
Ed Butler (right) with Carlos Bringuier

One of the most unusual and, for some people, breathtaking things that Gus Russo has accomplished is to dust off people who had been looked upon with a jaundiced eye, and, with a straight face, produce them for public consumption. Like the Warren Commission he "dusts them off" by not revealing any of their problems as witnesses, or how they would be attacked by an opposing attorney in court. For ABC, one of the witnesses was Ed Butler.

Edward S. Butler was born in 1934 to an upper class New Orleans family. He went into the Army Management School from 1957-59 at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. When he returned home he took a position as an account executive with Brown, Friedman and Company, an advertising firm. But, according to New Orleans authority Arthur Carpenter, his service in the military affected all his later adult life. Butler wrote that at the time of his service he became interested "in psycho-politics and particularly Soviet applications." As Carpenter notes, in June of 1960, Butler wrote an article in Public Relations Journal, which became a declaration for his later career as a propagandist. There he wrote about the Communist threat to America and how a spirit of crisis had to be created to resist it; how America had to use propaganda to counter the Soviets' skill in that field; how public relations experts like himself had to be recruited in this endeavor; and finally how private funds had to be enlisted to finance this war and his efforts. He also proposed that this effort would serve as a complement to the State Department, USIA, CIA, free institutions abroad, and the various legislative committees dealing with trade information, foreign aid and the like. In short, a private adjunct to America's foreign policy apparatus. The article turned out to be his vocational outline.

Some of the people Butler recruited in New Orleans to help finance his propaganda efforts were Clay Shaw and Lloyd Cobb of the International Trade Mart and Alton Ochsner, the extremely conservative physician and philanthropist. By 1961 he had become involved in two associations that were meant to fight this propaganda war: the Free Voice of Latin America and the American Institute for Freedom Project. The former had its office in Shaw's International Trade Mart and through the latter Butler engaged both Ochsner and Guy Banister, who was Oswald's handler in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. But according to an investigation by Jim Garrison, Butler was so imperious and abrasive within the former group that he was forced out in 1961.

At that time, Butler began to organize its successor organization, the Information Council of the Americas, or INCA. This was to be, in essence, a propaganda mill that had as its targets Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It would create broadcasts, called Truth Tapes, which would be recycled through those areas and, domestically, stage rallies and fund raisers to both energize its base and collect funds to redouble its efforts. By this time, as Carpenter and others point out, Butler was now in communication with people like Charles Cabell, Deputy Director of the CIA, and Ed Lansdale, the legendary psy-ops master within the Agency who was shifting his focus from Vietnam to Cuba. These contacts helped him get access to Cuban refugees who he featured on these tapes. Declassified documents reveal the Agency helped distribute the tapes to about 50 stations in South America by 1963. There is some evidence that the CIA furnished Butler with films of Cuban exile training camps and that he was in contact with E. Howard Hunt --- under one of his aliases --- who supervised these exiles in New Orleans. Some of the local elite who joined or helped INCA would later figure in the Oswald story e.g. Eustis Reily of Reily Coffee Company, where Oswald worked; Edgar Stern who owned the local NBC station WDSU where Oswald was to appear; and Alberto Fowler, a friend of Shaw's; plus future Warren Commissioner Hale Boggs who helped INCA get tax-exempt status. Butler also began to befriend ground level operators in the CIA's anti-Castro effort like David Ferrie, Oswald's friend in New Orleans; Sergio Arcacha Smith, one of Hunt's prime agents in New Orleans; and Gordon Novel, who worked with Banister, Smith and apparently, David Phillips, on an aborted telethon for the exiles.

Two other acquaintances of Butler's were Bill Stuckey, a broadcast and print reporter, and Carlos Bringuier, a CIA operative in the Cuban exile community and leader of the DRE, one of its most important groups in New Orleans. These three figure in one of the most fascinating and intriguing episodes in the Kennedy assassination tale. In August of 1963 --- three months before the assassination --- Bringuier was involved in a scuffle with Oswald as he distributed literature for the FPCC, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As many commentators have noted, Oswald was the only member of that "committee" in New Orleans, and some of the literature he distributed gave as the FPCC headquarters address, the office of rabid anti-communist Guy Banister --- further exposing who Oswald really was. WDSU filmed some of these leafleting events. When Bringuier found out about this, he confronted Oswald on the city streets and verbally and physically assaulted him. The police came. Bringuier got off; Oswald was busted for disturbing the peace --- even though Bringuier was the aggressor. This event brought Oswald to the attention of Stuckey who had him on his WDSU show, Latin Listening Post, on August 17th. After the show, Stuckey and his friend Ed Butler asked Oswald to return four days later. Oswald continued his leafleting, this time in front of the International Trade Mart. In the interim, through contacts in Washington, they found out about Oswald's voyage to Russia, his stay there, and his attempted defection. The morning of the program, the 21st, Stuckey informed the FBI that Oswald would appear on the program. Butler and Stuckey used the Washington information to "unmask" Oswald on the show, and thereby discredit the supposedly liberal and sympathetic FPCC as harboring Soviet Communists in its midst. Right afterwards, Butler went over to a neighboring TV station, WVUE, where he was put on the air to announce Oswald's exposure on the 10 PM news.

Interestingly, John Newman later revealed in Oswald and the CIA that the CIA had an anti-FPCC program ongoing at the time. It was run by Phillips and Hunt's friend, James McCord. It may be relevant to note here that a CIA contact sheet with Butler contains the comment that he was "a very cooperative contact and has always welcomed an opportunity to assist the CIA." Even more revealing as to the true nature of these events, Oswald wrote a letter about the confrontation five days before it happened.

Butler's role in the assassination tale now gets even more interesting. For as Time magazine noted in its 11/29/63 issue, "Even before Lee Oswald was formally charged with the murder, CBS put on the air an Oswald interview taped by a New Orleans station last August." That night, according to New Orleans Magazine, Butler and the INCA staff churned out news releases about Oswald in order to offset the "rightist" and "John Bircher" charges flying about. Then, Senator Thomas Dodd, who ran the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, was called up by Butler. Conservative Democrat Dodd was very friendly with the CIA and was a personal and professional enemy of Kennedy, opposing him on his African anti-colonialism policy in the Congo. Dodd was out of Washington on November 22nd but booked a special flight back and announced to his staff, "I am a friend of the new administration!" Dodd then began to mimic and deride those who were bereaved over Kennedy's death. He topped it all off with this: "I'll say of John Kennedy what I said of Pope John the day he died. It will take us fifty years to undo the damage he did to us in three years."

Dodd then invited his acquaintance Ed Butler to testify before his Senate Sub-Committee, a kind of parallel to Richard Nixon's red-baiting House on Un-American Activities Committee. Dodd later wrote of this episode that he was in contact with Butler just a few hours after Kennedy was shot --- when Oswald was still alive! Further, Dodd added that Butler's testimony convinced him and his colleagues that "Oswald's commitment to communism, and the pathological hatred of his own country fostered by this commitment, had played an important part in making him into an assassin. This important and historical record completely demolishes the widespread notion that Oswald was a simple crackpot who acted without any understandable motivation." In other words, Oswald really was a communist, and he alone killed Kennedy for that cause. (Hale Boggs was so enamored of Butler that he invited him to serve on the Warren Commission.) Finally, apparently completing Butler's public relations tour, the tape of the WDSU interview was forwarded by the CIA to Ted Shackley at the Miami station and used in the CIA's broadcasts into Latin America, furthering the legend about Oswald the communist killing President Kennedy. Declassified files reveal that the label on the box with the tape says, "From DRE to Howard". This means that Bringuier's group (DRE) probably gave a copy to Howard Hunt who forwarded it to Shackley who, in spite of later denials, was still funding the DRE at the time of the assassination.

Could there be anything more to add to the suspicions about Butler? When New Orleans DA Jim Garrison began investigating Oswald's activities in the summer of 1963, he inevitably came around to Butler, Ochsner and INCA. When word got out about this aspect of the investigation, Butler and Ochsner began to attack Garrison both locally and through national media like The New York Times (12/24/67). According to Carpenter, they began a whisper campaign that Garrison was mentally unbalanced and that his followers, like Mark Lane and Harold Weisberg, were lunatic leftists who wanted America to crumble from within. They became so worried about Garrison that Butler packed up all the files of INCA and moved to Los Angeles where he accepted a job offer from another conservative philanthropist, William Frawley of the Schick-Eversharp fortune. Frawley was one of the early backers of Ronald Reagan, governor at the time, who had failed to extradite two Garrison suspects. Frawley credited Reagan's success to public disgust over "Niggers, the Watts riots, dirty students, the Cesar Chavez Reds and fair housing."

Butler wrote a book in 1968 entitled Revolution is My Profession in which he attacked as communist infiltrators those whose tactics have "been to try to link the CIA with all sorts of crime, especially President Kennedy's assassination." (P. 242) In that same year, he himself infiltrated a meeting of Mark Lane's Citizens Committee of Inquiry and capsized their proceedings. Later that summer he hooked up with two other ultra-rightists, Anthony Hilder and John Steinbacher, to try to sell the idea that Sirhan had been under the influence of the Madam Blavatsky meditation cult, and that she had been a disciple of Stalin. Hilder and Steinbacher even produced an "instant book" on the subject: Robert Francis Kennedy THE MAN, THE MYSTICISM, THE MURDER. (As some commentators have pointed out, there are indications this book was actually put together before the RFK assassination.) Butler was at the press conference to promote the book. Butler then put out a magazine financed by Frawley called The Westwood Village Square which tried to link all three assassinations --- both of the Kennedys and King's --- to the Communists. The centerpiece of the article was his testimony before the Dodd committee.

In the eighties, the Butler-Banister-Oswald story came full circle. A young advertising employee named Ed Haslam was assigned to go over to the revived offices of INCA in New Orleans. At the time William Casey was fighting a not-so-secret war against communism in Central America. INCA was going to use a radio station through the Voice of America to support that effort. Haslam's company was going to write ad copy for the station. When he got there, Butler showed him around the place. One thing he showed him was the extant files of Guy Banister. Gus Russo knew this story because Haslam revisited the office and Butler in the nineties with him. This intriguing fact never made it into the ABC special. Somehow, the files of the man who handled Oswald in New Orleans in 1963 came into the possession of the man who "exposed" him as a communist, first locally, then to the US government, and then to the world. By not going into any of the above facets, ABC served as a conduit for propaganda analyst Butler to revive his greatest psy-ops triumph.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 October 2016 20:39
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and Reclaiming Parkland (2013/2016), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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