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Tim Gratz

What Did JFK Know? When Did He Know It?

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I thought it would be worthwhile to have a separate thread (who first named these things threads, by the way?) on the issue whether or not JFK was witting of the CIA plots to kill Castro. I know that on another thread Robert Charles-Dunne has argued vigorously that JFK had no knowledge those plots were going on.

To start this discussion I offer this datum: In Dallek's "An Unfinished Life" Dallek states that George Smathers stated that JFK had told Smathers that the CIA had told JFK that Castro would be killed immediately before the BOP. We would all agree, I am sure, that it was the CIA intention to murder Castro prior to the BOP. In that regard, it is worthwhile to note that Rosselli delivered poison to a Cuban exile in mid-March of 1961.

This also raises the interesting point if JFK's decisions re the BOP were influenced by the fact that the CIA had failed to kill Castro.

Logic would support Smather's story. It makes logical sense that the CIA would, off the record, advise JFK of its plans to eliminate Castro before the BOP.

Edited by Tim Gratz

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I'm sure you realize, Counselor, that Smathers' testimony is heresay, as he was not a witness to the CIA telling JFK about a plot to kill Castro. While I believe it's more likely accurate than inaccurate that JFK told Smathers this, the veracity of the claim--that the CIA informed JFK of its palns to kill Castro--wouldn't be sufficient to prove anything in a legal proceeding.

Which is just a step away from being speculation, as I see it.

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I thought it would be worthwhile to have a separate thread (who first named these things threads, by the way?) on the issue whether or not JFK was witting of the CIA plots to kill Castro.  I know that on another thread Robert Charles-Dunne has argued vigorously that JFK had no knowledge those plots were going on.

Just to make the issue crystal-clear: on a personal level, I have no great interest one way or the other, since I don't feel any need to serve as JFK's post-humous waterboy.  In fact, I would find it rather astonishing that the President didn't know, yet the slender evidence that he did know, such as it is, comes exclusively from CIA personnel, the very people suspected of disregarding Kennedy's orders.  As such, it must be viewed with skepticism, since these people had their own motives for advancing their "evidence."

However, on an analytical level, much rides upon the ultimate determination of whether CIA had fully advised JFK of its plans, before, during and after the Bay of Pigs.  And/or whether it unilaterally chose to ignore the President's wishes.

Kennedy's predecessor Eisenhower gave CIA very specific instructions regarding the launching of U2 Soviet overflights, which were disregarded in the Powers incident.  When Powers' flight went awry, so did much else, including the planned summit between Eisenhower and his Soviet counterpart. 

Kennedy's successor Johnson gave CIA very specific instructions, per your own assertions, to cease and desist all actions against Castro, which were disregarded by CIA's continuing dalliance with Cubela. 

In each instance, CIA seems to have abrogated the requirement to follow the direct orders of its own commander-in-chief.  Historically speaking, with such a precedent and antecedent, it should hardly surprise the neutral observer to learn that CIA may have disobeyed Kennedy, too.

Irrespective of whether Kennedy did or didn't know about CIA plans to kill Castro, the issue leaves open the possibility of blackmail.  It has been suggested that Bobby Kennedy was forced to remain silent on the JFK assassination, in large part because he knew that Kennedy-approved plans to kill Castro had backfired against his brother. 

And yet, if the Kennedys didn't know about such plots, CIA itself was left vulnerable to blackmail by any other party who was aware of the plots, and aware that CIA had kept the Kennedys in the dark.  For example, had the Rosselli-Giancana-Trafficante troika known that the Kennedys had forbidden the attempts to kill Castro, and they surely had first-hand knowledge that the attempts continued apace, this left CIA open to extortion by the Mob.

Any number of repercussions could have flowed as a direct result of CIA disregarding a Kennedy prohibition upon killing Castro.  Needless to say, it is also unwise to accept the history provided us by CIA and its multiple apologists, shills and lackeys.  There is too much at stake to uncritically accept CIA assertions that it was, ultimately, only following orders that nobody seems to remember actually receiving from the President. 

Plans to kill Castro predated Kennedy's election into office, remained in place throughout his tenure and continued well into Johnson's term.  Given that CIA itself figures strongly on the list of suspects in the President's assassination, it is naive and unwise to accept its assertions simply because they claim to be "honourable men."       

To start this discussion I offer this datum:  In Dallek's "An Unfinished Life" Dallek states that George Smathers stated that JFK had told Smathers that the CIA had told JFK that Castro would be killed immediately before the BOP.  We would all agree, I am sure, that it was the CIA intention to murder Castro prior to the BOP.  In that regard, it is worthwhile to note that Rosselli delivered poison to a Cuban exile in mid-March of 1961.

CIA plotting began in 1959 and the recruitment of Mob proxies to effectuate those plots predated Kennedy's election.  Clearly, the plan was already well underway prior to Kennedy's arrival in the White House. 

It would be instructive if you could cite the time frame in which Kennedy allegedly told this to Smathers.  I know that Kennedy told the Florida Senator about such plans in the summer of 1962, but it is important to know if Smathers was advised of this fact before the Bay of Pigs.  When approached for advice, both Tad Szulc and Smathers insisted they urged Kennedy not to authorize such actions, but neither conversation seems to have taken place prior to the Bay of Pigs, indicating ongoing pressure on Kennedy to authorize such acts well after the invasion. 

This also raises the interesting point if JFK's decisions re the BOP were influenced by the fact that the CIA had failed to kill Castro.

If Kennedy disallowed CIA plans to kill Castro concurrent with the BoP invasion, just as he disallowed the prior plan to use US military as part of the invasion, then it should have played no part in Kennedy's response to the invasion's failure.

Logic would support Smather's story.  It makes logical sense that the CIA would, off the record, advise JFK of its plans to eliminate Castro before the BOP.

This statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the chain of command.  The CIA doesn't merely advise the President of its plans, on or off the record; the President issues a command, which CIA is honourbound to obey. 

Kennedy disallowed other aspects of the plan prior to authorizing it to go ahead, such as the use of US military personnel, munitions and materiel.  Did CIA obey those?  Hell, no.  Alabama Air National Guard pilots were used, and killed.  US planes were poor disguised, but used nevertheless.  Hence, if Kennedy had stipulated that there by no CIA attempts to murder Castro, there's absolutely no guarantee the Agency would have paid greater heed to that prohibition than it did to the others.  

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Robert, Robert, as articulate and eloquent your language, you seemed to have missed the point of Smathers' statement.

For instance you wrote:

. . .yet the slender evidence that he did know, such as it is, comes exclusively from CIA personnel, the very people suspected of disregarding Kennedy's orders

Now how can you that the evidence that JFK had knowledge of a CIA p[lan to kill Castro came only from CIA personnel? Smathers was a U.S. Senator.

You also wrote:

There is too much at stake to uncritically accept CIA assertions that it was, ultimately, only following orders that nobody seems to remember actually receiving from the President.

I am not aware that the CIA implied it was following presidential orders to kill Castro. If so, the orders would have had to come from Eisenhower since the plots began in the Eisenhower administration. I think the genesis of the plots was within the CIA. The question is whether the CIA informed the president of the plans. Now it makes logical sense that if it informed Eisenhower it informed JFK, and vice-versa. (In other words, if the CIA decided it could undertake to kill a foreign head of state without presidential authority, and it did not obtain such authority from Eisenhower, then there is little reason to believe it would have felt duty bound to report its plans to JFK.)

Robert wrote:

Given that CIA itself figures strongly on the list of suspects in the President's assassination, it is naive and unwise to accept its assertions simply because they claim to be "honourable men."

Robert, it is now my turn to hold you to the same standard you hold me to re my theory of Castro complicity in the assassination. What evidence do you have, sir, of the involvement of the CIA as an institution in the assassination? I seem to recall in a previous thread you had indicated you were careful NOT to accuse the CIA of complicity due to lack of any hard evidence thereof.

You wrote:

This statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the chain of command. The CIA doesn't merely advise the President of its plans, on or off the record; the President issues a command, which CIA is honourbound to obey.

I disagree with you on this. As you know, the CIA submitted its plans to Eisenhower for its anti-Castro activities on March 17, 1960. Eisenhower approved the plans. Those plans did not include a full-fledged invasion of Cuba. Last year I had the opportunity to talk to Gen. Andrew Goodpasture who actually participated in that meeting. He told me that after the meeting he had indicated to Eisenhower after that meeting that he was concerned that such plans often assumed a "life of their own." To which, Gen. Goodpasture told me, Eisenhower replied rather testily, "Not while I am President." Goodpasture then told Eisenhower he neeed to remember he would not always BE the president!

But my point is the CIA often initiates plans which are approved by the president. And not all plans are. Obviously, no president can micro-manage every agency. of the BOP.

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Robert, Robert, as articulate and eloquent your language, you seemed to have missed the point of Smathers' statement.

For instance you wrote:

. . .yet the slender evidence that he did know, such as it is, comes exclusively from CIA personnel, the very people suspected of disregarding Kennedy's orders

Now how can you that the evidence that JFK had knowledge of a CIA p[lan to kill Castro came only from CIA personnel?  Smathers was a U.S. Senator.

With all due respect, Tim, it is you who seem to have missed the point entirely.  Whatever Smathers may have learned from Kennedy, it was something Kennedy had learned from CIA.  The fact that it was second or third hand doesn't alter where the information originated. 

Moreover, you glossed over the far more important detail of when Smathers learned this.  I know, as do you and others, that Smathers had such a conversation with Kennedy in the summer of 1962, well over a year after the Bay of Pigs.  However, since the plans to kill Castro originated prior to Kennedy's election in 1960, and were an intended component of the invasion, it would be pertinent to know when Smathers was advised of this.  I do not have Dallek's book, which is why I asked you to provide this detail.

You also wrote:

There is too much at stake to uncritically accept CIA assertions that it was, ultimately, only following orders that nobody seems to remember actually receiving from the President. 

I am not aware that the CIA implied it was following presidential orders to kill Castro. 

Then perhaps you should re-read the responses of Helms, Harvey, and all the other CIA personnel to whom the question was put.  You seem unfamiliar with the fact that each man stipulated that authorization for plots to kill Castro originated in the White House - as they must have done in order for CIA to be operating within the "law," such as it is - so there is no "implication" involved.  It is direct testimony.

If so, the orders would have had to come from Eisenhower since the plots began in the Eisenhower administration.  I think the genesis of the plots was within the CIA.  The question is whether the CIA informed the president of the plans.  Now it makes logical sense that if it informed Eisenhower it informed JFK, and vice-versa.  (In other words, if the CIA decided it could undertake to kill a foreign head of state without presidential authority, and it did not obtain such authority from Eisenhower, then there is little reason to believe it would have felt duty bound to report its plans to JFK.)

Since Eisenhower was not in the best of health at the time the invasion plans were being drawn up, his representative during the NSC meetings was his Vice President, Richard Nixon.  It is possible that Nixon OK-ed plans to kill Castro, but failed to advise Eisenhower of this fact.  [i state this [b]only[/b] as a possibility that mustn't be dismissed, since Eisenhower had initially been as vehement as Kennedy that US sponsorship for the invasion be deniable.  It seems counterintuitive - though not impossible - that Eisenhower would order Castro's death while trying to keep US sponsorship hidden.  In the event that US proxies were captured during an attempt to kill Castro, there is little doubt the US role would remain secret for long.]

But, regardless, your above passage indicates that you either do not comprehend the chain of command in place, or wish to ignore it.  The President garners the best advice available from the best sources, and then establishes the policy, which is carried out by the underlings tasked to do so.  CIA doesn't merely say to the President - whether Eisenhower, Kennedy or any other - "As a courtesy, we just thought we'd let you know we plan to kill a foreign leader of a sovereign state."  It may suggest that this be done, or strongly urge that it be done, but the final decision to proceed rests exclusively in the Oval Office.  Not that CIA seems to have been terribly interested in following Presidential orders, as I've pointed out again and again, without any comment from you. 

Robert wrote:

Given that CIA itself figures strongly on the list of suspects in the President's assassination, it is naive and unwise to accept its assertions simply because they claim to be "honourable men."       

Robert, it is now my turn to hold you to the same standard you hold me to re my theory of Castro complicity in the assassination.  What evidence do you have, sir, of the involvement of the CIA as an institution in the assassination?  I seem to recall in a previous thread you had indicated you were careful NOT to accuse the CIA of complicity due to lack of any hard evidence thereof.

I am not the first, and I won't be the last, to include CIA on the list of suspects.  You may have heard of a chap named Jim Garrison.  You might profit from reading his thoughts on the topic.  You may be equally familiar with the outcome of the Howard Hunt/Liberty Lobby/Spotlight libel trial.  The jury fore[wo]man stated quite clearly that the jury was convinced that Howard Hunt had been in Dallas on that day, and that CIA had played a role in killing the President.  I know that's not a particularly welcome thought to you, but it is, after all, a decision reached by a jury of Howard Hunt's peers.  Since you place so great a value in jurisprudence, one wonders why you think this is somehow "my" idea alone.  And, contrary to your assertions, I still refrain from claiming CIA killed the President; merely that the agency rightly belongs on the list of suspects. 

You wrote:

This statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the chain of command.  The CIA doesn't merely advise the President of its plans, on or off the record; the President issues a command, which CIA is honourbound to obey. 

I disagree with you on this.  As you know, the CIA submitted its plans to Eisenhower for its anti-Castro activities on March 17, 1960.  Eisenhower approved the plans.  Those plans did not include a full-fledged invasion of Cuba. 

That is true.  As I've repeatedly pointed out, including in this very post, Eisenhower was no more anxious for the world to know who sponsored the invasion than Kennedy would be as Eisenhower's successor.  However, it seems either that Eisenhower changed his mind, per his comments to Kennedy once JFK had become President, or it was changed for him somewhere along the line.

Last year I had the opportunity to talk to Gen. Andrew Goodpasture who actually participated in that meeting.  He told me that after the meeting he had indicated to Eisenhower after that meeting that he was concerned that such plans often assumed a "life of their own."  To which, Gen. Goodpasture told me, Eisenhower replied rather testily, "Not while I am President."  Goodpasture then told Eisenhower he neeed to remember he would not always BE the president!

Did you ask the good General if Eisenhower had approved of plans to kill Castro, or if CIA had even bothered to ask for permission?  If you can still contact Goodpasture, it might be a worthwhile question to pose to him, don't you think?

But my point is the CIA often initiates plans which are approved by the president.  And not all plans are. 

Are what?  Approved by the President?  If not, then they should not proceed.  We can agree on that much, can't we?

Obviously, no president can micro-manage every agency.

For the umpteenth time, Tim, you have again made my point for me, and I extend my gratitude.  CIA is not entitled to conduct its own foreign policy in direct opposition to that of the President it is sworn to serve.  That it does so, frequently, is beyong doubt, based on historical fact. 

You seem to feel that this is a failure on the part of the President who cannot "micromanage" all the agencies and bureaus answerable to him.  It is no such thing.  It is evidence of willfully disobeying Presidential orders and, ultimately, treasonous behaviour.  Those who disregard a President's orders and wishes do not serve him, but their own agenda.  That's how things operate in a totalitarian society.  It is not the hallmark of a society that lays claim to being a democracy.  

of the BOP.

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A lot of this argument comes down to semantics. Bisselll and Helms believed in the concept of Plausible Deniability, for both the DCI and the President. In other words, they both felt that as part of their job they were supposed to read between the lines of stated American policy, and create their own policy. They believed therefore that if Robert Kennedy or McGeorge Bundy or Robert McNamara or ANYONE representing the White House said something as vague as "Get rid of Castro!" it was their job to decide if that meant killing him or trying to arrange an overthrow. They felt it was THEIR decision, and that nothiing needed to be in writing as long as it was clear to THEM. They felt they had a license to kill that they could use at their discretion, without EVER double-checking with the DCI or the President himself. It is MY OPINION that Bissell and Helms are both sneaky S.O.B.S and that they willingly granted themselves this "license to kill" in order to enact their OWN policy.

The Church Committee hearings are informative and mind-blowing... the CIA was undoubtedly out of control. For Bissell and Helms to admit that they never even double-checked with Dulles or McCone is stupifying. It is as if you overheard the Chairman of the Board of the corporation where you worked tell the CEO to destroy the competition, and then went down the street and burned your competitor's factory to the ground, claiming you were told to do it. The Church Committee concluded that the "wink-wink" method of conducting policy was grossly inadequate. In less than ten years, however, we found that Billy Casey, Pointy, and Ollie North had returned to performing these same old tricks.

Plausible deniability goes against everything we're taught to believe as Americans. I find it reprehensible.

Edited by Pat Speer

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In Tim's world the good guys are always good and gentlemen speak the truth, friends don't plot against friends and the red white and blue is always clean and pristine.

Of course that thinking has no usefulness in understanding the Cold War, MK ULTRA, the Kennedy assassinations or the Vietnam War.

Fond nostalgia from a sentimental naif.

Smathers wouldn't lie, he was a US SENATOR !

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Shanet,

I can assure you that persons who share my value system would have NEVER made a deal with the Mafia.

In my opinion, the Mafia is about as close to evil incarnate as can be. I would make no moral distinction between the Mafia and Communists with respect to their total lack of morality and willingness to kill.

It is interesting to me that Richard Bissell, who helped initiate the Mafia plots, was a Kennedy supporter. And of course it is well known that Jack Kennedy's father made a deal with the mafia that secured Kennedy's presidency.

I believe our country paid a terrible price for the bargain men like Richard Bissell and Joe Kennedy made with "the devil". That is true whether or not Jack Kennedy was aware of the deal made by the CIA or was aware of the deal made by his father.

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In my opinion, the Mafia is about as close to evil incarnate as can be.  I would make no moral distinction between the Mafia and Communists with respect to their total lack of morality and willingness to kill.

You really are a McCarthyite with your right-wing references to the communists. The problem with your use of language is that it stops you from thinking logically about what you are saying.

Yesterday, Edgar Ray Killen, a Ku Klux Klan member and part-time preacher, was found guilty for taking the lives of three civil rights workers in 1964. You can read more about the case here:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=4157

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAburning.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAschwerner.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAgoodmanA.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAchaney.htm

When he was interviewed in 1999 about the case he justified the killings by describing the civil rights activists as “communists”. This was a common term used by Ku Klux Klan members. After all, they were guilty of lynching trade union leaders as well as civil rights workers.

In many ways James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were communists. They believed in equality. They thought that all men and women should be treated the same. I don’t have much time for the American Communist Party (far too willing to support what was going on in the Soviet Union for my liking), however, they were consistent in their support for civil rights in the Deep South. Several of their members, including Viola Liuzzo, were murdered as a result of their efforts.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAliuzzo.htm

On another thread you praised Lyndon Johnson for his civil rights legislation. Is that what you were doing in the 1960s? Were you a member of Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)? Did you take part in the Freedom Rides or Freedom Summer like Viola Liuzzo? Or were you a member of that political party that was more interested in smearing civil rights activists as communists?

By the way, how do you explain the fact that such a high proportion of those racists in the Deep South were devout Christians? I suppose they must have been Bush-style Christians. You know, the ones who do not seem to have read the New Testament.

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John, I really need to reply to the above, and will do tonight.

I suggest you read the post I just placed on the thread you started on the verdict.

Communists never stood for civil rights. Communists stood only for the advancement of the party. Which is why the Soviets first aligned with Adolph Hitler.

I admire and respect greatly many liberals.

I despise Communist murderers and thugs. They are the mafioso of politics!

More tonight.

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Shanet,

I can assure you that persons who share my value system would have NEVER made a deal with the Mafia.

In my opinion, the Mafia is about as close to evil incarnate as can be.  I would make no moral distinction between the Mafia and Communists with respect to their total lack of morality and willingness to kill.

It is interesting to me that Richard Bissell, who helped initiate the Mafia plots, was a Kennedy supporter.  And of course it is well known that Jack Kennedy's father made a deal with the mafia that secured Kennedy's presidency.

I believe our country paid a terrible price for the bargain men like Richard Bissell and Joe Kennedy made with "the devil".  That is true whether or not Jack Kennedy was aware of the deal made by the CIA or was aware of the deal made by his father.

Tim,

This is fundamentalist stuff. You see the mafia and the communists as evil, therefore they must have killed JFK. You've brainwashed yourself into believing this.

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I am not aware that the CIA implied it was following presidential orders to kill Castro. 

Christopher Dodd (Democrat, Connecticut; 1975-81, Congressman; 1981-Present, Senator): Why did you not want to tell the Warren Commission or why did you not tell the Warren Commission about the efforts to get rid of Fidel Castro or to overthrow the Cuban government?

Richard Helms (CIA, 1947-73; Director, 1966-73): But Mr. Dodd, you are singling me out as to why I did not march up and tell the Warren Commission when these operations against Cuba were known to the Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the President of the United States himself (although he at that point was dead). I mean all kinds of people knew about these operations high up in the government. Now why am I singled out as the fellow that should have gone up and identified a government operation to get rid of Castro--and it was a government-wide operation--supported by the Defense Department, supported by the National Security Council, supported by almost everybody in high position in the government?

The question is whether the CIA informed the president of the plans. 

McGeorge Bundy (1961-64, National Security Advisor): As far as I ever knew or know now, no one in the White House of at the Cabinet level ever gave any approval of any kind to any CIA effort to assassinate anyone. I told the Committee in particular that it is wholly inconsistent with what I know of President Kennedy and his brother Robert that either of them would ever have given any such order or authorization or consent to anyone through any channel.

Unidentified Reporter: You were head of the Agency during the time most of these operations occurred. What did you tell the Commission of assassination?

John McCone (CIA Director, 1961-65): Well, you know, I had no knowledge of it whatsoever. As you know, I stated that there was feasibility or lack of feasibility. There obviously were discussions of the question of whether such matters were being planned, but I had to plead ignorance because none were brought to my attention, and therefore I knew nothing of them.

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