Back in 1997, Seymour Hersh released his horrendous hatchet job of a book on John F. Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot. In discussing the book back then, I wrote that it was best perceived as the follow-up reaction to Oliver Stone’s film about the Kennedy murder case, JFK. The first part of the Establishment’s reaction to Stone’s film had been Gerald Posner’s 1993 book Case Closed. That error-riddled propaganda manifesto was meant to confuse the public as to how President Kennedy was killed. Maybe Oswald did it after all? Hersh’s book was the right cross to Posner’s left hook. It was meant to deflate the image of Kennedy as presented by Stone. He really was not all he was cracked up to be. So, go back to sleep Mr. John Q. Public, nothing was lost with Kennedy’s death anyway.
But there was a problem with Hersh’s pile of rubbish. Namely, it was so bad that even much of the MSM would not approve it. The book got many more negative reviews than it did positive ones, e.g. Newsweek. Some commentators even wrote that Hersh had stooped so low that the volume would be better titled “The Dark Side of Seymour Hersh”.
Up until that time, Hersh had been praised by much of the Left as being some kind of journalistic paragon. He had made his name as one of the men who had publicized the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. And he had written an expose about Henry Kissinger called The Price of Power. Because of this inflated record, some on the Left decided that Hersh needed to be protected from the pummeling he was taking over his Kennedy book. Bob Scheer was one of those who came to his aid.
Scheer, who had previously worked at Ramparts, was now working for the Los Angeles Times. The column he wrote back in 1997 for his former employer has now been recycled and reprinted at his web site “truthdig”. (click here)
In that column he writes that the CIA had recruited Chicago Mafia chief Sam Giancana to help eliminate Fidel Castro. That is true and is contained in his source, the 1967 CIA Inspector General Report on the plots. Scheer then writes that Attorney General Robert Kennedy knew all about this attempt with Giancana since he was briefed on it in May of 1962 by the Agency.
To read something like that makes me think of the famous response by attorney Joseph Welch to the demagogue Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” It is true that Kennedy was briefed in May of 1962. But Scheer jerks it out of context so jarringly that the whole affair is denied its true meaning.
The truth is that the CIA had to brief Kennedy about the first phase of the plots. Not because he was in on them, but for the precise reason he was not. What had happened to cause this reluctant briefing is all in the IG Report. In the first phase of the CIA-Mafia plots, CIA asset Robert Maheu had recruited mobsters Giancana, Johnny Roselli and Santo Trafficante. That recruitment had begun in August of 1960, before John Kennedy’s inauguration, under Eisenhower. (IG Report, p. 16) The idea was that the CIA wished to know if the Mafia still had any associates on the island that could get close enough to Castro to slip him some form of poisonous toxins. These would be supplied in more than one possible form, as dreamed up by the CIA’s technical division. (ibid, p. 23) Giancana actually opposed the use of firearms since it would be hard to find someone to volunteer for such an assignment since the escape would be difficult. (ibid) These plots, which featured things like poison pills and exploding cigars, all failed.
In the IG Report, these were termed the first phase of the Gambling Syndicate plots. They seem to have been closed down around April or May of 1961. This was after the failure at the Bay of Pigs. In their report, the authors make an inventory about who was knowledgeable about this phase of the plots. The Kennedys are not on that list. (ibid, p. 35) So why did RFK have to be briefed about it?
Because in late 1961, or early 1962, Giancana called in a favor from Maheu. The windy city mobster was having an affair with singer Phyllis McGuire. But he suspected that she was two-timing him with comedian Dan Rowan. So he requested Maheu arrange to wiretap her room. Maheu was reluctant, but Giancana reminded him that he owed him one for the outreach on the Castro plots. (ibid, p. 57) Maheu then complied. But the local police in Las Vegas discovered the attempt in process. The actual wiretapper then called Maheu in the presence of the authorities. And this information was now relayed to the FBI. (ibid, p. 59) In late March of 1962, his former employers at the FBI called Maheu for clarification as to why they should not prosecute the perpetrator. Maheu referred the Bureau to the CIA.
Since the FBI worked under the Justice Department, a lawyer from Justice, Herbert Miller, got in contact with the Agency. So now, the Attorney General had to be formally briefed on the whole affair, one of the reasons being that Giancana was one of the mobsters that Robert Kennedy was pursuing by all legal means at his disposal.
In early May of 1962, RFK was briefed on how Maheu got involved with the wiretapping, and why Giancana felt he could call on him. (IG Report, pp. 62-63) The obvious question Scheer avoids is this: Why would RFK have to be briefed on the matter if he had known about it in advance?
But that’s not the worst part of what Scheer leaves out. RFK made it clear to both the CIA and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that he was very upset that the Agency would deal with these kinds of people at all. And that this now endangered the case he had against Giancana. He made it clear that he wanted to hear no more about the CIA reaching out to the Mafia. In fact, as the Church Committee noted, one of the CIA briefers said: ”If you have seen Mr. Kennedy’s eyes get steely and his jaw set and his voice get low and precise, you get a definite feeling of unhappiness.” (Probe, Volume 4, No. 6, p. 7) According to John Siegenthaler, as noted in Ronald Goldfarb’s book Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes, RFK called CIA Deputy Director Richard Helms into his office and reamed him over this.
But none of this mattered. For, as the report makes clear, CIA officer William Harvey was already working on Phase 2 of the plots with John Roselli. And Kennedy’s briefers did not tell him about it. (IG Report, p. 64) In fact, Harvey and CIA Officer Sheffield Edwards agreed to falsify the internal record by saying CIA Director John McCone—Kennedy’s appointee—had authorized Phase 2, when he had not. (op. cit., Probe) Why and how Scheer could discard all of this is kind of puzzling. But there is still more Scheer leaves out.
When the Harvey-Roselli plots also came to naught, the CIA then recruited a Cuban national named Rolando Cubela to continue the plots. They gave him the code name AM/LASH. This phase of the Castro murder attempts went on from 1963-65; in other words, well into the Johnson administration. When Cubela asked for proof of high-level authorization inside the government, Richard Helms advised against telling Robert Kennedy about it. (ibid, pp. 88-89) But he decided to send CIA Officer Desmond Fitzgerald to see Cubela under a false name and say he was representing Kennedy. To make this plain: At every major step of the CIA plots to kill Castro, the Agency decided not just to keep RFK in the dark about them; but to lie to him, and then misrepresent him.
In 1967, when the IG Report was commissioned, the reason was that newspaper columnist Drew Pearson had gotten wind of the plots and was publishing a much-mangled version of them. It was clear he did not have all the information that the CIA did. And the IG Report speculates that either Maheu or Roselli was leaking. (ibid, p. 122) Near the end of that report, in summarizing the Pearson stories, the authors of the IG Report declare that it is simply not true that Robert Kennedy may have approved of the plots. (p. 130) To make it even more obvious: the authors then postulate, in a limited hangout mode, if it were possible for the Agency to say it was “merely an instrument of policy?” Their own reply, in black and white, is: “Not in this case” (p. 131) In the report, that question is underlined and is typed all the way across the page, in spite of margins. How the heck Scheer could have missed it is simply stunning.
Scheer also relies on a State Department meeting that General Ed Lansdale had convened about Operation Mongoose. The report makes clear that Robert Kennedy was not at the meeting. (IG Report, p. 112) There was some kind of general talk about eliminating Castro, which John McCone quickly neutered, later telling the authors of the IG Report that those terms were used in the context of overthrowing Castro’s government, not assassinating him. Afterwards, Lansdale inquired to Harvey about it. But Harvey did not want to disclose anything about his association with Roselli at the time. (ibid, pp. 114-15) But further, the records of Mongoose have been largely declassified today, and there is no mention of any such assassination plots in them, just as there is no mention of such plots in any of the Bay of Pigs declassifications. Scheer also left out the fact that every administration official the Church Committee interviewed said that JFK never knew about any such ongoing plots. (Alleged Assassination Plots, pp. 154-161) This included National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. If that isn’t enough, then how about Helms and Harvey also saying it? (ibid, pp. 148-52, 153-54)
Could it get any worse for Scheer? Yes. As noted, this incredibly shallow and slanted column first appeared in the LA Times back in 1997. Probe Magazine replied to it back then. The LA Times printed that reply in its correspondence section. Did Scheer miss a correction to his own column? Or did he just ignore it?
The occasion for Scheer recycling his worthless column is the visit by President Obama to Cuba. Needless to say, Scheer leaves out the diplomatic back channel to Castro that President Kennedy had set up in 1963 after the resolution of the Missile Crisis. As Jim Douglass so thoroughly described in JFK and The Unspeakable, that back channel—conducted through proxies like journalists Lisa Howard, Jean Daniel and diplomat William Attwood—likely would have resulted in diplomatic relations being restored between Cuba and the USA.
In fact, Castro was jubilant about that possibility after Daniel’s visit in November of 1963. He then got the news of Kennedy’s assassination. He said first, “This is bad news … this is bad news … this is bad news.” He then turned to Daniel and said that everything was going to change now. Which it did. For over fifty years.
Barack Obama is doing what John Kennedy would have done in a second term—had he not been assassinated. And the authority for that is Fidel Castro. In fact, Castro was so sold on this cooperation that he told Jean Daniel that, if need be, he would endorse Barry Goldwater in 1964 to guarantee Kennedy’s re-election. (Jim Douglass, JFK and The Unspeakable, pp. 84-90)
Someone go tell Bob Scheer about all this—before he plants another custard pie on his face again.
Addendum: Jim DiEugenio's letter to the LA Times from November 11, 1997
Letters to the Editor
Los Angeles Times
Times Mirror Square
Los Angeles, CA 90053
In his column of November 11, 1997, Robert Scheer wrote that there is no question that Sy Hersh was correct in writing that John Kennedy ordered Castro's assassination. Scheer cites as support the CIA's 1967 Inspector General report on the Castro Assassination Plots.
Unfortunately for Mr. Scheer, he is not the only person in LA with a copy of the CIA's Inspector General report on the Castro Assassination Plots. The report states the opposite of what Mssrs. Scheer and Hersh proclaim. I have attached copies of the pages from which the following quotes are taken so there can be no doubt as to their authenticity. In the report, we find the following explicit, unequivocal statement:
Former Attorney General Robert Kennedy was fully briefed by Houston and Edwards on 7 May 1962. A memorandum confirming the oral briefing was forwarded to Kennedy on 14 May 1962. The memorandum does not use the word "assassinate," but there is little room for misinterpretation of what was meant. Presumably the original of that memorandum is still in the files of the Justice Department. It should be noted that the briefing of Kennedy was restricted to Phase One of the operation, which had ended a year earlier. Phase Two was already under way at the time of the briefing, but Kennedy was not told of it. [CIA IG Report, p. 130, emphasis added.]
Phase One and Two refer to separate prongs of the assassination attempts against Castro. In other words, Robert Kennedy was told only after such plots, which had been ongoing during President John Kennedy's tenure, had ended. Why would he need to be briefed on these plots after they had ended if he was aware of them while they were taking place? Note too that RFK was not told that new efforts were underway to kill Castro. Two pages after this admission, we find the next interesting and quite explicit question asked and answered by the CIA itself:
Can CIA state or imply that it was merely an instrument of policy?
Not in this case.
[CIA IG Report, p. 132]
The CIA has admitted flatly, for the record, in their own report, that they had no authorization for these plots; that they were not following any expressed policy. I hope you can express this correction in your paper.
Chairman, Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination
Author of Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1992)