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The James Schlesinger Directive

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James Schlesinger was a close political associate of Richard Nixon. In 1963 Schlesinger worked for the Rand Corporation as director of strategic studies.

In 1969 Nixon appointed Schlesinger as his assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget. Two years later he became chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

During the Watergate Scandal the CIA director, Richard Helms, and his deputy, Vernon Walters, were approached to pay hush-money to E. Howard Hunt. Although it seemed Walters was willing to do this, Helms refused.

According to one of the taped conversations, William Sullivan was providing Haldeman with information on the JFK assassination. Sullivan, along with James Angleton, had carried out a joint CIA/FBI investigation into the assassination. In his memoirs Sullivan claims he did not believe Oswald was a lone gunman.

Nixon had persuaded Sullivan to work with him in the White House after he was sacked by Hoover. This was a shrewd move as Sullivan had considerable information on the illegal activities of the Democratic Party. For example, Sullivan gave John Dean information on how Bobby Kennedy had ordered the bugging of LBJ during the Bobby Baker scandal.

On 23rd June, 1972, H. R. Haldeman suggests to Richard Helms that Richard Nixon has information on the CIA involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This included a reference to CIA actions in Mexico City. It is almost certain that this information came from Sullivan who had investigated Oswald's movements in Mexico City.

Despite these attempts at blackmail Helms refused to help Nixon in the cover-up. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest.

Schlesinger now became the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: “The clandestine service was Helms’s Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size.” This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.

Sullivan continued to pass information to Nixon. At a meeting on 13th March, 1973, Dean and Nixon discuss how they are going to survive the Watergate Scandal. Dean says: "This is why I keep coming back to this fellow Sullivan. It could change the picture." Nixon asks how? Dean replies that Sullivan could "get Kennedy into it".

On 9th May, 1973, Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: “I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about “activities outside the CIA’s charter”.

There were several employees who had been trying to complain about the illegal CIA activities for some time. As Cord Meyer pointed out, this directive “was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he long hated.”

I believe that some of the information being reported to Schlesinger involved the assassination of JFK. I expect Nixon wanted this information to use against the CIA. Nixon hoped this would enable him to force the CIA to help with the Watergate cover-up.

However, this Schlesinger directive backfired. The CIA realised this was a fight to the death. This encouraged senior CIA operatives to leak information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about Nixon's attempt to cover-up the Watergate Scandal. This information probably came from Richard Ober, a senior CIA official based in the White House. I suspect that William Sullivan also helped to get this information to the CIA. Sullivan, as Deputy Director of the FBI had always been close to the CIA, especially Richard Helms. Sullivan was also a secret supporter (revealed in his memoirs) of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. A Roman Catholic Irish-American, Sullivan had a lot in common with JFK. Like JFK, Sullivan moved left while in power. The row with Hoover had been about the large amount of resources being used against the left in the America. Sullivan had told Hoover that there were more FBI informants in the American Communist Party than genuine members.

On 16th May, 1973, Deep Throat has an important meeting with Woodward where he provides information that was to destroy Nixon. This includes the comment that the Senate Watergate Committee should consider interviewing Alexander P. Butterfield. Soon afterwards told a staff member of the committee (undoubtedly his friend, Scott Armstrong) that Butterfield should be asked to testify before Sam Ervin. When he did testify, Butterfield gave details of the tape system which monitored Nixon's conversations. It has been claimed by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin that Butterfield was working undercover for the CIA. This is based on several factors including Butterfield lying about he got the job with Nixon. He initially claimed that he had been approached by Haldeman. Later it was discovered that Butterfield asked Haldeman for a job in the White House (Butterfield admitted to Colodny that he had lied about this).

I suspect that by the end of May, 1973, Nixon realised he had made a terrible mistake in appointing Schlesinger. He now changed his tactics and promoted William Colby from within the organization to become Director of the CIA. Colby did not cancel Schlesinger's directive. Instead, he continued to take information on CIA illegal activities. This information was later passed onto the Frank Church Senate Committee.

The CIA continued to leak information via Deep Throat. Mark Riebling (Wedge) argues that Colby could have been Deep Throat. He quotes Colby as saying Deep Throat was a "good guy". However, Riebling eventually reaches the conclusion that it was another CIA official, Cord Meyer, who was Deep Throat.

In the first week of November, 1973, Deep Throat told Woodward that their were "gaps" in Nixon's tapes. He hinted that these gaps were the result of deliberate erasures. On 8th November, Woodward and Bernstein published an article in the Washington Post that said that according to their source the "conservation on some of the tapes appears to have been erased". From this date on Nixon was on his way out.

The careers of the three men took different paths. William Sullivan was shot dead near his home in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, on 9th November, 1977. An inquest decided that he had been shot accidentally by fellow hunter, Robert Daniels, who was fined $500 and lost his hunting license for 10 years.

Sullivan had been scheduled to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Sullivan was one of six top FBI officials who died in a six month period in 1977. Others who were due to appear before the committee who died included Louis Nicholas, special assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and Hoover's liaison with the Warren Commission; Alan H. Belmont, special assistant to Hoover; James Cadigan, document expert with access to documents that related to death of John F. Kennedy; J. M. English, former head of FBI Forensic Sciences Laboratory where Oswald's rifle and pistol were tested; Donald Kaylor, FBI fingerprint chemist who examined prints found at the assassination scene.

At the time of his death Sullivan was working on a book with journalist Bill Brown about his experiences with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI was published posthumously in 1979.

In 1975 Colby gave evidence to the Senate committee chaired by Frank Church. This included details of the CIA's recent operations against the left-leaning government in Chile. The agency's attempts to sabotage the Chilean economy had contributed to the downfall of South America's oldest democracy and to the installation of a military dictatorship. His testimony resulted in his predecessor, Richard Helms, being indicted for perjury. Colby was attacked by right-wing figures such as Barry Goldwater for supplying this information to the Frank Church and on 30 January 1976, President Gerald Ford sacked him.

In retirement Colby published his memoirs Honorable Men. This resulted in him being accused of making unauthorized disclosures, and was forced to pay a $10,000 fine in an out-of-court settlement.

On 28th April 1996 William Colby went on a canoe trip at Rock Point, Maryland. His body was found several days later. Later police claimed that there was no evidence of foul play.

Schlesinger became Secretary of Defense after leaving the CIA. Soon after his appointment Schlesinger outlined his basic objectives. This included a "strong defense establishment"; "assure the military balance so necessary to deterrence and a more enduring peace"; and to obtain for members of the military "the respect, dignity and support that are their due."

Schlesinger argued that the Soviet Union now had "virtual nuclear parity with the United States" and that the country would have to increase its spending of the military. In a speech in San Francisco in September 1972, he warned that it was time "to call a halt to the self-defeating game of cutting defense outlays‹this process, that seems to have become addicting, of chopping away year after year."

Gerald Ford, had doubts about the wisdom of increasing military spending in the months leading up to a presidential election. In November, 1975, Ford fired Schlesinger. After leaving office Schlesinger explained his departure in terms of his budgetary differences with the White House.

When Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977 he appointed Schlesinger as his special adviser on energy. Nine months later he became the first head of the new Department of Energy. Schlesinger held this position until July 1979.

Since leaving government Schlesinger has been Chairman of the Board of the MITRE Corporation, Senior Adviser at Lehman Brothers and Counselor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is still seen as an expert on foreign policy. This is an article that he wrote for the Wall Street Journal on 17th April, 2003. It is a perfect example of how the Neo-Cons got it completely wrong.

With the process of establishing a new dispensation in Iraq proceeding apace and the remaining pockets of resistance gradually being crushed, it is time to reflect upon the deeper strategic significance of the second Gulf War.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein, with his megalomania and confidence in his own survival, provided crucial tactical assistance. His defiance of United Nations resolutions, his likely possession and secreting of weapons of mass destruction, his general support of terrorism, his harboring of noted terrorists, his constant attacks on U.S. and British aircraft policing the no-fly zones, and his violation of the spirit if not the letter of the 1991 cease fire agreement--all this provided ample justification for the allied ultimatum and ultimate attack.

Yet, the longer-run strategic meaning transcends the essentially three-week war itself. The outcome will alter the strategic--and psychological--map of the Middle East.

The war has most dramatically conveyed the following realities:

1.) The U.S. is a very powerful country.

2.) It is ill-advised to arouse this nation by attacking or repeatedly provoking it--or by providing support to terrorism; and

3.) Regularly to do so means a price will likely be paid. Far less credence will now be placed in the preachments of Osama bin Laden regarding America's weakness, its unwillingness to accept burdens, and the ease of damaging its vulnerable economy, etc.

Many have argued that greater self-criticism or better understanding of the roots of terrorism would magically dispel the hostility displayed in much of the Arab world. This was reflected in widespread demonstrations as we responded to 9/11 in Afghanistan; pervasive sympathy for, as well as some direct support of, bin Laden; celebration of 9/11 itself; constant anti-American whining in the Arab press; and a steady flow of critiques from Arab governments (albeit sometimes primarily for domestic consumption.)

All that has now changed. The rapid collapse of what many had expected to be a long and stout-hearted resistance has altered the tone in the Arab world. While the whining in the press continues, it is now quite different: How long will the Americans stay? Will they successfully build an (infectious) democracy? Will they apply pressure to neighboring states? Who might be next? The dismay and shame in the region that the Arabs did not put up a better fight stands in remarkable contrast to the joy of the Iraqis that Saddam is finally gone.

There is a notable diminution of the earlier braggadocio. The many-heralded "catastrophes" did not take place. There was no "explosion" in the Middle East, no widespread unrest immediately upsetting governments, no endless urban warfare, no heavy casualties, no use of chemical and biological weapons (which Saddam supposedly did not have). What we have seen instead is a stunned realization of an awesome display of military power.

It may be too much to hope, but even the U.S. media may glean a lesson or two. Much of what appeared in press accounts was misleading, if not wrong. There were coalition forces supposedly "bogged down" in a "quagmire," suffering "substantial casualties," with insufficient forces, with supply lines stretched and exposed to undue risk. Momentary setbacks--or alleged setbacks--were inflated in a manner that obscured the overall course of battle.

To be sure, the European press was even worse--with its mixture of prophecies of doom and Schadenfreude. And, of course, the same people who said that an attack without an additional U.N. resolution would be the end of the U.N. are now desperately scrambling to refurbish and reestablish the role and the credibility of the U.N.--and, they hope, its ability to act as a constraint on American power. All in all, it may teach us to be more skeptical about European wisdom and European "sophistication." By and large, European sophistication turned out to be simply European sophistry.

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John, while I understand that much of your post is pure speculation, it might be confusing to others. Using Sullivan to get to Kennedy, for example, probably had nothing to do with the murder of John Kennedy, and had everything to do with having a Democrat Nixon ally, William Sullivan, contacting his fellow Irish Catholic and Democrat, Senator Ted Kennedy, to cut some kind of a deal. It's almost assured that some behind the scenes never to be revealed deals were indeed cut. It's not a coincidence that Agnew was forced out and that both Agnew and Goldwater in their books make it clear that NIXON was behind his removal. That Kennedy and the Democrats would prefer Ford to Agnew as Nixon's successor is beyond doubt, as Ford was a fellow member of congress and knew how to play the game.

Similarly, your assertion that Nixon was trying to use his knowledge of the JFK assassination to blackmail Helms is only our conjecture, based upon Haldeman's discussions with Daniel Schorr. It could very well be that Nixon knew the BOP was a sore spot with Helms and the CIA and was merely trying to use it to his advantage.

While you over-stated much in the early paragraphs, you probably under-stated some of the intrigues revolving around Schlesinger. He was fired by Ford and replaced by Rumsfeld, for example, after refusing direct orders from Ford regarding the Mayaguez incident. Under Carter, he pissed off the right even more, when he proposed the U.S. wean itself from fossil fuels. Firmly back in their good graces by 2003, thanks to editorials like the one you reproduced, he was given the task of running the independent investigation into the abuses of Iraqi and Afghani prisoners. His report pissed a lot of people off by comparing the whole thing to Animal House like frat pranks performed by low-level employees, and evidently disregarded many of the signs pointing to the involvement of military intelligence. I don't own it yet, but hope to find it soon in a used bin someplace.

IMO Schlesinger is in sore need of a bio and an autobio.

Edited by Pat Speer
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Good piece. One small quibble. You wrote:

On 23rd June, 1972, H. R. Haldeman suggests to Richard Helms that Richard Nixon has information on the CIA involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This included a reference to CIA actions in Mexico City. It is almost certain that this information came from Sullivan who had investigated Oswald's movements in Mexico City. 

Despite these attempts at blackmail Helms refused to help Nixon in the cover-up. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest.

While this is certainly the received history, it is not entirely true.  I recently posted here a few essays by Peter Dale Scott that offered a somewhat more updated analysis.  Included in one of them was this nugget that I think should be emphasized:

  We know from a Helms memo that, despite a contrary claim by historian Stephen Ambrose, Helms did temporarily order the suspension of the FBI's investigation in Mexico of funds deposited into the bank account of Bernard Barker. (9) The FBI thus called off a proposed interview in Mexico city with CIA officer George Munro. (10) Why the FBI wished to interview him is far from clear. FBI Director Gray identified Munro as the CIA Station Chief, but he was a much more minor officer. All I know about him is that he was recently identified as the CIA official in charge of the electronic intercept program which allegedly overheard Lee Harvey Oswald. (11)

9. Watergate Hearings 3456.

10. Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much, 239.

11. R.W. Apple, "Prologue," in New York Times Staff (eds.), The Watergate Hearings: Break-in and Cover-up," 57. 

Consequently, while Helms has been lionized for standing up to Nixon's blackmail efforts, he nevertheless felt the need to quash FBI interest in the money trail leading to Bernard Barker's bank account, and the CIA man responsible for supervising the electronic eavesdropping program that captured the "Lee Oswald" phone calls to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. 

Though this doesn't necessarily demonstrate that Helms feared CIA would be tied to the Kennedy assassination - per Haldeman's interpretation of the "Bay of Pigs" as being synonymous with the Dealey Plaza hit - it is nevertheless of interest that Helms did cave in to Nixon's pressure on two counts, both of which may be congruent with Haldeman's interpretation.


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