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J.F.K. Turned to the C.I.A. to Plug a Leak

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Word for Word | Spying on Reporters

J.F.K. Turns to the C.I.A. to Plug a Leak


The New York Times

July 1, 2007


THE unsealing by the C.I.A last week of the documents it called its “family jewels” was an only-in-America moment. A secret intelligence service freely admitted its crimes and blunders. Americans were reminded of a piece of living history: the time in the 1960s and 1970s when presidents turned the spying powers of American intelligence on the United States itself, searching for an enemy within.

As the “family jewels” make clear, this web of intrigue began in the Kennedy White House.

Another treasure trove, however, was already in public view — tapes that President John F. Kennedy himself recorded in the Oval Office. Here are edited transcripts — and a link to the tapes themselves — of two August 1962 conversations in which Kennedy took steps to spy on the national security reporter for The New York Times, Hanson Baldwin. The president was furious. He wanted to stop secrets from leaking.

These Oval Office transcripts were published in October 2001 by the Miller Center of Public Affairs. But that was the month after 9/11, and they went largely unnoticed — until last week, when the more closely guarded “family jewels” were released.

Those documents include a description of Project Mockingbird, which involved the C.I.A.’s wiretapping of two unnamed Washington reporters. This surveillance began on March 12, 1963, under the authority of John A. McCone, the director of central intelligence, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, both of whom were present in the Oval Office in August 1962.

It was 45 years ago. But it seems like yesterday. And it is.

In December 2005, The Times revealed that the executive branch was once again using its foreign intelligence powers to spy within the borders of the United States, also by warrantless wiretapping. We may learn the full story a generation from now, if and when the first of the 21st century’s “family jewels” are revealed. TIM WEINER

The chief protagonists in the transcripts:

President John F. Kennedy

John A. McCone, director of central intelligence.

James Killian, chairman of the president’s foreign intelligence advisory board.

Clark Clifford, adviser to Democrats since the Truman administration, and a member of the intelligence advisory board.

Hanson Baldwin, military analyst for The New York Times since 1937, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches from Guadalcanal and the western Pacific in 1943, a dependably pro-military reporter. He had infuriated the president with an article on the Soviets’ efforts to protect their intercontinental ballistic missile launch sites with concrete bunkers. His reporting accurately stated the conclusions of the C.I.A.’s most recent national intelligence estimate. He is not present; he is the object of the participants’ anger and concern.

Aug. 1, 1962, 5:35 p.m.-6:25 p.m., President Kennedy meets with his foreign intelligence advisory board. Present: the president, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Clark Clifford, Dr. James Killian, Dr. Edwin H. Land, a physicist, and Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, the president’s military representative and soon to be his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Killian: We would say to you unequivocally that this has been a tragically serious breach of security.

J.F.K.: What I find is incomprehensible ... that someone of Baldwin’s experience and stature and the status of The Times would do it. ...

Killian: The F.B.I. may not be the best agency to conduct investigations of leaks to this kind. ... We would suggest, therefore, that the director of central intelligence be encouraged to develop an expert group that would be available at all times to follow up on security leaks.

Clifford: I think this is the most effective recommendation that the group makes: that there be a full-time small group, devoting themselves to this all the time. I believe that that group could become knowledgeable about the pieces that these various men write, like Baldwin. ...

Killian: There are many things that such a sensitized group could do ... They could follow the press and see evidence of ——

Taylor: We’d know the trends, where their contacts ——

J.F.K.: That’s a very good idea. We’ll do that.


Clifford: They can find out who are Hanson Baldwin’s contacts. When he goes over to the Pentagon, who does he see? Nobody knows now. The F.B.I. doesn’t know. But I think it would be mighty interesting ... To my knowledge it’s never been done before and it is long overdue.

Aug. 22, 1962, 6:10-6:37 p.m.,meeting on intelligence matters. Present: The president, McCone, General Taylor.

J.F.K.: How are we doing with that set-up on the Baldwin business?

McCone: Well, I’ve got a ... finally got a plan in which C.I.A. is completely in agreement with. It does a number of things that were recommended, including the setting up this task force, which would be a continuing investigative group reporting to me. ...

J.F.K.: Would you have supervision over the leakage from the Department of Defense?

McCone: As far as intelligence information is concerned. ...

J.F.K.: Then anyone who had intelligence would have to log their meetings?

McCone: That’s right ... I get a log every week of all the contacts they make and memoranda of the discussions.

Taylor: Do you?

McCone: I write a memoranda ——

Taylor: Has that ever been revealed to the press? [Have] you ever been ——

McCone: Oh, no ——

Mr. McCone then awkwardly returned to the subject of the task force or investigative group the president wanted him to create. It was arguably illegal, and almost inarguably prohibited by the C.I.A.’s charter. That charter was signed on July 26, 1947, and Mr. Clifford was among those who helped to write it. The charter commanded the C.I.A. to protect intelligence sources and methods, but barred it from operating within the United States, spying on Americans, or behaving like secret police. Mr. McCone mumbles, and the tape is unclear.

McCone: It’s clearly a, it’s kind of a, of a directive that ... [to] avoid getting involved, you or your office getting involved ... [unclear] I can do under the law — there’s nothing wrong [with it] — By the National Security Act, I’m charged with [unclear].

J.F.K.: Well, I think they’re scared. ... Hanson Baldwin and these fellows who’ve got these very good contacts over there [at the Pentagon]. They’re all well regarded and they talk to them so frankly. So I think if they begin to think they’re going to have to write a report on it, it’s going to have a very inhibiting effect, I think. And especially when I saw from Hoover that they figured that there were 761 people that had this secret information.

After an interrogation from J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. about his New York Times article on Soviet nuclear forces, a shaken Hanson Baldwin told a colleague, in a conversation wiretapped and taped by the bureau: “I think the real answer to this is Bobby Kennedy and the president himself.” A transcript of that conversation was on the attorney general’s desk the next day.

As the newly released “family jewels” and other now public United States government records confirm, the C.I.A. kept watch on reporters and some of their sources for three years after Kennedy and Mr. McCone met. The surveillance continued after the president’s assassination, until 1965.

So now the record is clear: long before President Nixon created his “plumbers” unit of C.I.A. veterans to stop news leaks, President Kennedy tried to use the agency for the same goal. Nevertheless, throughout the decades, reporters have continued to plague the C.I.A. and presidents alike by reporting on secrets of state.

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Let's end this B.S. once and for all.

This is war. As it has been and will be.

Quote Eleanor of Aquitaine, as portrayed by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter: “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife. We all have knives. It’s eleven eighty-three and we’re barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we’re the origins of war. Not history’s forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing. We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children; we could change the world.”

Who were at the points of the Kennedys' knives?

At whose knifepoints were the Kennedys?

All attempts to draw moral equivalency are by definition doomed.

Pick a side, have the stones to announce your choice to the world, and go at it "tusk to tusk."

But don't you DARE try to tell me or any other thinking, moral human being that the dead of Dealey Plaza and the Ambassador are no different from their killers!

Charles Drago

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