On 16th January, 1975, President Gerald Ford held a luncheon in the White House for the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and some of his top editors. During the meeting, A. M. Rosenthal, the paper’s managing editor, asked Ford whether the Rockefeller Commission investigation into the CIA would reveal any important information about its activities. Ford replied that the commission’s mandate was strictly limited as he did not want politicians “rummaging about in the recesses of CIA history”. Ford added that if they did they “might stumble onto things which would blacken the name of the United States and of every President since Truman.”
“Like what?” asked Rosenthal.
“Like assassinations!” Ford replied. Realising what he had said, he quickly added: “That’s off the record!”
The New York Times decided it was morally bound not to publish Ford’s remarks. However, one of the journalists leaked this story to the CBS television news correspondent, Daniel Schorr.
On 27th February, Schorr interviewed William Colby, the Director of the CIA. During the conversation he asked Colby if Ford was right that the CIA had been involved in killing politicians. Colby replied, “Not in this country”.
The following day Schorr went on the CBS Evening News and said: “President Ford has reportedly warned associates that if current investigations go too far they could undercover several assassinations of foreign officials in which the CIA was involved.”
Richard Helms was furious with Daniel Schorr for broadcasting this story. On 28th April, 1975, Helms bumped into Schorr outside the Vice President’s office. Helms exploded: “You sonofabitch! He shouted at Schoor. “You killer! You cocksucker! 'Killer Schoor' – that’s what they ought to call you.”
This incident does not appear in Helms’ autobiography, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency. That is not surprising, Thomas Powers’ biography of Richard Helms is entitled: ‘The Man Who Kept the Secrets’. Like most autobiographies produced by senior figures in the CIA, you learn as much by what the authors leave out as you do with what they put in.
Helms died in October, 2002 and therefore this autobiography was published posthumously. Helms went to his grave without disclosing details of the CIA’s role in assassinating political leaders. This caused him a great deal of trouble and some believe he was lucky not to be sent to prison for not telling the truth about the dark history of the CIA.
In 1975 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began investigating the CIA. Senator Stuart Symington asked Helms if the CIA had been involved in the removal of Salvador Allende. Helms replied no. He also insisted that he had not passed money to opponents of Allende.
Investigations by the CIA's Inspector General and by Frank Church and his Select Committee on Intelligence Activities showed that Hems had lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They also discovered that Helms had been involved in illegal domestic surveillance and plotting the murders of Patrice Lumumba, General Abd al-Karim Kassem and Ngo Dinh Diem. In 1977 Helms was found guilty of lying to Congress and received a suspended two-year prison sentence.
Some people believe Helms knew about CIA involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In his autobiography Helms argues: “I have not seen anything, no matter how far-fetched or grossly imagined, that in any way changes my conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy, and that there were no co-conspirators.” (page 229)
Not everyone believed him. This included President Richard Nixon. Howard Baker, who was a member of the Evrin Committee, later commented: “Nixon and Helms have so much on each other, neither of them can breathe.”
In 1969 Nixon sent Ehrlichman to see Helms. He told Helms that Nixon “wanted all the facts and documents the CIA had on the Bay of Pigs”. Ehrlichman later told Haldeman that the “Bay of Pigs” was a coded reference to the assassination of JFK. According to Helms biography, the Bay of Pigs meant the Bay of Pigs.
Helms refused. This is what Haldeman says in his book The Ends of Power about this issue:
About six months after that 1969 conversation, Ehrlichman had stopped in my office. 'Those bastards in Langley are holding back something. They just dig in their heels and say the President can't have it. Period. Imagine that! The Commander-in-Chief wants to see a document relating to a military operation, and the spooks say he can't have it.'
'What is it?
'I don't know, but from the way they're protecting it, it must be pure dynamite.'
During the Watergate crisis Nixon attempted to persuade Helms to participate in the cover-up. He also wanted the CIA to pay the burglars “hush money”. Helms refused, fearing that he would be dragged into this scandal. Haldeman explains what happened next (pages 48-49):
I was puzzled when he (Nixon) told me, 'Tell Ehrlichman this whole group of Cubans is tied to the Bay, of Pigs.'
After a pause I said, 'The Bay of Pigs? What does that have to do with this?'
But Nixon merely said, 'Ehrlichman will know what I mean,' and dropped the subject.
After our staff meeting the next morning I accompanied Ehrlichman to his office and gave him the President's message. Ehrlichman's eyebrows arched, and he smiled. `Our brothers from Langley? He's suggesting I twist or break a few arms?'
'I don't know. All he told me was "Tell Ehrlichman this whole group of Cubans is tied to the Bay of Pigs".'
Ehrlichman leaned back in his chair, tapping a pencil on the edge of his desk. 'All right,' he said, 'message accepted.'
Ehrlichman did not seem to have any luck in obtaining this information. On 23rd June, 1972, Nixon sent Haldeman to see Helms (page 61):
Then I played Nixon's trump card. 'The President asked me to tell you this entire affair may be connected to the Bay of Pigs, and if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown....'
Turmoil in the room. Helms gripping the arms of his chair leaning forward and shouting, 'The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.'
Silence. I just sat there. I was absolutely shocked by Helms' violent reaction.
Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story? Finally, I said, 'I'm just following my instructions, Dick. This is what the President told me to relay to you.'
What was this Bay of Pigs/Kennedy assassination story? According to Haldeman, he was told what it was about by the CBS journalist Daniel Schorr (pages 62-63):
After Kennedy was killed, the CIA launched a fantastic cover-up. Many of the facts about Oswald unavoidably pointed to a Cuban connection.
1. Oswald had been arrested in New Orleans in August, 1963, while distributing pro-Castro pamphlets.
2. On a New Orleans radio programme he extolled Cuba and defended Castro.
3. Less than two months before the assassination Oswald visited the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and tried to obtain a visa.
In a chilling parallel to their cover-up at Watergate, the CIA literally erased any connection between. Kennedy's assassination and the CIA No mention of the Castro assassination attempt was made to the Warren Commission by CIA representatives. In fact, Counter-intelligence Chief James Angleton of the CIA called Bill Sullivan of the FBI and rehearsed the questions and answers they would give to the Warren Commission investigators, such as these samples:
Q. Was Oswald an agent of the C.I.A?
Q. Does the CIA have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate Kennedy?
And here's what I find most interesting: Bill Sullivan, the FBI man that the CIA called at the time, was Nixon's highest-ranking loyal friend at the FBI (in the Watergate crisis, he would risk J. Edgar Hoover's anger by taking the 1969 FBI wiretap transcripts ordered by Nixon and delivering them to, Robert Mardian, a Mitchell crony, for safekeeping).
It's possible that Nixon learned from Sullivan something about the earlier CIA cover-up by Helms. And when Nixon said, 'It's likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs' he might have been reminding Helms, not so gently, of the cover-up of the CIA assassination attempts on the hero of the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro - a CIA operation that may have triggered the Kennedy tragedy and which Helms desperately wanted to hide.
Richard Helms: A Look Over My Shoulder
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