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The "power?" of the Presidency


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I recently posted on another forum a question that has been progressively confounding me over the past several years. It as yet has not received appreciable comment. The question, at first glance, may seem rather insignificant but I feel that the core of the real question is quite important and most of the potential answers that I foresee are disturbing.

The question relates to what power and how much power, in reality, does the office of the U.S. Presidency hold? It has been reported that former Presidents Carter and Clinton were stonewalled by the DIA and the CIA when they inquired into classified elements of the JFK assassination. They were stonewalled by the "need to know" provision.

Can anyone tell me how it is possible for an intelligence agency to determine what a U.S. President has a "NEED TO KNOW"?

Who then has a need to know if the elected President who has the responsibility of making the critical determinations and decisions of this country does not? What great authority is authorized to make such a decision? How could they make such a determination? Who then would "police" this authority?

What persons or agencies hold such power? By what authority? Have we the people granted this power to anyone? Has it been assumed by anyone?

Military commanders and agency heads can be immediately terminated and I know of no elected official that holds such power. Furthermore if the assassination occured as concluded by the WC and HSCA, why would there be anything that needs concealment?

I fully understand the "checks and balances" theory but nothing here seems to apply.

Who knows, other than the President himself, what he NEEDS TO KNOW? If not the President, then WHO IS IN CHARGE of this country? Were they saying that the U.S. President does not have a high enough security clearance?

I truly request your replies. I feel that the ramifications of this are enormous.

Charlie Black

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Can anyone tell me how it is possible for an intelligence agency to determine what a U.S. President has a "NEED TO KNOW"?

Decisions are made every day of the week by subordinates on what the president needs to know. He has a daily news briefing, so someone decides what the president needs to know. He has a daily CIA briefing, so someone at CIA decides what the president needs to know. These decisions necessarily have a lot of wiggle room built in as far as what the president is told. This wiggle room comes in handy when an agency is doing such nefarious things as are done by the CIA. I imagine there are things that a president doesn't even want to know. This is the nature of having something as powerful and unaccountable as the CIA, carrying on covert operations, often, it seems, just for the sake of it, since "that's what we do," it's fun, and there's plenty of money to do it with.

You also have White House chiefs of staff who decide what the president needs to know. I recall complaints during Nixon's tenure of lack of access to the president because everyone and everything had to go through Herr Haldeman. This is a lot of power and it doesn't belong to the president.

There are various theories about Watergate, but a common thread seems to be that Nixon didn't know anything. He had no idea who was behind it or why, and never seemed to ask. He finally came to the conclusion, apparently, that Mitchell was "the big enchilada." So why the hell didn't he ask Mitchell, "Are you the big enchilada?" Instead Nixon just told everyone to stonewall it. The only thing that Nixon seemed to know was that Hunt knew too much, apparently about things having nothing to do with Watergate. When Dean told him that Hunt wanted a million dollars, Nixon told him to get it. Other than that, my impression is that Nixon could never figure out why those "jackasses" in jail had done what they did. If any president ever had a need to know, it would seem to be Nixon.

Ron

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Charlie, I would love to see a response to your question from an expert on Constitutional or Federal law. As Commander In Chief I have a hard time understanding how the President would not have the power to request or even give himself clearance for any particular piece of information.

However as Ron points out, first he had to know about something to even make an inquiry and its pretty clear that information is often very much "controlled" by those who hold it. Its probably also not impossible that those in control at certain points might not even trust a certain President not to leak secure information or try to "use" it - that's happened a lot and certainly discourages "sharing". Certainly the same is true in regard to revealing information to Congress who can't seem to keep much of anything to themselves without eventually trying to use it in some fashion.

And to make it worse, the President might have to have some pretty detailed information to retrieve a really closely held piece of information compartimentalized within an organization - its possible for military commanders not to have either knowledge or access to compartimentalized information within parts of their command. So just asking an Agency chief or commander might not be enough... security and deniability often cover-up more than might even have been intended. I'm currently researching some pre-BOP Castro assassinations projects that clearly were known to only a few people way, way down the Agency food chain and certainly not at any Executive levels.

.... However I remain very much confused about the ongoing story that Nixon asked for the CIA IG report on the BOP and it was denied to him. I don't understand how that could stick legally if the President really wanted it?

-- Larry

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Hi Ron

I agree with what you are saying in part. In government as well as big business there are portions of the picture that an executive does not need to see or at times may not want to see. This however is not what I am talking about!

I am talking about a U.S. President who desires and requests specific information and is told that he can have no access to it because it is believed by certain persons that he does not have a need to know that information. We certainly realize that not everyone can address the President in this manner. My question is " what person or persons have the legal right and the authority to tell a Pres. that `it is my determination that you do not need to know that information' ".

I further and primarily question who that person is that can, with assurance, tell a President that he knows that the President does not need to know certain information? Who or what gives him, first the wisdom to make such a determination, and second, by what authority is he given this supreme decision making power. Do we have a position in our government that is entitled "God"?

I do not think that our system of government requires that a President must explain and defend to anyone why he may want certain information. He may have good reason not to disclose his reasons. I maintain that no one has the authority to so censor the President.

If there is legally such an omnipotent faction of our government, I feel that we should all be aware of it. Apparently Presidents Carter and Clinton were not until after the fact!

Charlie Black

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I think the CIA has demonstrated that it is above the law and thus above the president, or rather it is higher above the law than the president is. A president can give the CIA an order, he can even fire a CIA director, but the order might not be obeyed (Larry cites the example of the IG report Nixon wanted) and firing a CIA director has its perils (JFK firing spymaster Dulles). A president should understandably fear the CIA because he knows what it's capable of with no one to hold it accountable. So to answer your question, IMO no one has legal authority to withhold information from the president, that's just the way it is.

Ron

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Well Ron

I suppose that JFK was right. Too bad that he didn't have enough time to smash it into a thousand pieces and toss it to the wind.

It seems that we have created a beast that is devouring us. A beast with unrivaled power, a limitless unaccountable budget, and most certainly a license to kill coupled with an obvious propensity to do so in a flaunting and flagrant manner. All of this and accountable to no one. Neither the KGB nor Hitler's SS ever had it so good. Yes, that is who I compare them with!

This might be easier to take if I thought that they were at least doing a good job. Even an adequate job.

I well realize that often we have no way of realizing when they are successful, but their obvious failures have been paramount.

Other than being a semi effective Murder Inc., I don't know of a great many kudo's that could be sent their way. These people are capable of devouring their own young!

These offsprings of Harry Truman are most certainly not what he envisioned.

Charlie Black

Edited by Charles Black
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Well Ron

I suppose that JFK was right. Too bad that he didn't have enough time to smash it into a thousand pieces and toss it to the wind.

It seems that we have created a beast that is devouring us. A beast with unrivaled power, a limitless unaccountable budget, and most certainly a license to kill coupled with an obvious propensity to do so in a flaunting and flagrant manner. All of this and accountable to no one. Neither the KGB nor Hitler's SS ever had it so good. Yes, that is who I compare them with!

This might be easier to take if I thought that they were at least doing a good job. Even an adequate job.

I well realize that often we have no way of realizing when they are successful, but their obvious failures have been paramount.

Other than being a semi effective Murder Inc., I don't know of a great many kudo's that could be sent their way. These people are capable of devouring their own young!

These offsprings of Harry Truman are most certainly not what he envisioned.

Charlie Black

Democracy isnt what it used to be in America. This article pretty accurately details my feelings about who really holds power in this country.

http://www.constitution.org/shad4816.htm

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Larry's post was very good.

I am not an expert on constitutional law but the president is the head of the executive branch of government and the position is constitutional. The CIA is only a creature of statute.

The president can assert absolute control over an agency if he has the right to fire the agency head. I think some agency heads and some other positions appointed by the president are for set terms so a new president cannot replace them. That is set up in the statute that creates the position. I am quite sure that would apply to the FBI. I am sure the president has the right to fire the CIA Director (as JFK fired Dulles).

So when Helms refused to let Nixon see the full Inspector General's Report, there was nothing legally that stopped Nixon from firing Helms on the spot and replacing him with someone who would follow his orders. The problem of course is that the firing of a CIA Director would raise many questions and there could have been other non-legal restraints upon Nixon.

The Watergate "Saturday Night Massacre" is a good example of the raw assertion of presidential authority. Nixon wanted Watergate prosector Archibald Cox fired. When his AG refused to do it, Nixon fired him. Nixon then ordered the Deputy AG to fire Cox and he resigned in protest. Finally Nixon ordered the Solicitor General (the next in the chain of command) to fire Cox and he did. But Nixon paid a tremenduous political price for the "Saturday Night Massacre".

I believe that as long as an action is otherwise legal, the president has the right to order the head of any executive agency to take any action the president deems appropriate. If the executive disagrees with the presidential order, he can resign in protest.

Within an agency the head has the same authority. John posted an interesting order that James Schlesinger issued after Nixon appointed him CIA Director. In the order Scheslinger required top level CIA officers to report to him of any ongoing CIA operations that might be outside the charter of the agency (i.e. illegal).

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Charles Black wrote:

I suppose that JFK was right. Too bad that he didn't have enough time to smash it into a thousand pieces and toss it to the wind.

It seems that we have created a beast that is devouring us. A beast with unrivaled power, a limitless unaccountable budget, and most certainly a license to kill coupled with an obvious propensity to do so in a flaunting and flagrant manner. All of this and accountable to no one. Neither the KGB nor Hitler's SS ever had it so good. Yes, that is who I compare them with!

This is unbelievable! Comparing the CIA to the KGB and the SS? Surely you jest! You claim the CIA had a "license to kill"? What statute gave it that authority? I believe when the CIA authorized assassination attempts without statutory authority it engaged in conspiracy to murder. I think any CIA offficer involved could have been indicted and if any president had authorized the assassination the president himself could have been indicted.

Please recite any murders committed by the CIA.

What books have you read about the KGB and the SS?

And for your information after JFK made that statement about the CIA in the geat of the BOP failure, he used it and gave it increased power with respect to the operations against Cuba. And on several subsequent occasions he publicy praised the CIA. Are you aware of this?

And by the way the article Paul Kerrigan cites is from the Constitution Party which I believe is a far-out extremist right-wing organization. It just shows that sometimes the extreme left and extreme right go so far they in fact meet!

Edited by Tim Gratz
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These offsprings of Harry Truman are most certainly not what he envisioned.

This is what Harry Truman had to say about the CIA soon after the assassination of JFK (Washington Post, 21st December, 1963)

"For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government... I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda."

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Charles Black wrote:

I suppose that JFK was right. Too bad that he didn't have enough time to smash it into a thousand pieces and toss it to the wind.

It seems that we have created a beast that is devouring us. A beast with unrivaled power, a limitless unaccountable budget, and most certainly a license to kill coupled with an obvious propensity to do so in a flaunting and flagrant manner. All of this and accountable to no one. Neither the KGB nor Hitler's SS ever had it so good. Yes, that is who I compare them with!

This is unbelievable!  Comparing the CIA to the KGB and the SS?  Surely you jest!  You claim the CIA had a "license to kill"?  What statute gave it that authority?  I believe when the CIA authorized assassination attempts without statutory authority it engaged in conspiracy to murder.  I think any CIA offficer involved could have been indicted and if any president had authorized the assassination the president himself could have been indicted.

Please recite any murders committed by the CIA.

What books have you read about the KGB and the SS? 

And for your information after JFK made that statement about the CIA in the geat of the BOP failure, he used it and gave it increased power with respect to the operations against Cuba.  And on several subsequent occasions he publicy praised the CIA.  Are you aware of this?

And by the way the article Paul Kerrigan cites is from the Constitution Party which I believe is a far-out extremist right-wing organization.  It just shows that sometimes the extreme left and extreme right go so far they in fact meet!

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"This is unbelievable comparing the CIA to th SS & KGB"

"You claim the CIA had a license to kill......"

Wake up and grow up Tim! Yes, and in some ways I compare the SS and the KGB favorably to the CIA.

Of course there is no "statute" that will give an agency the license to kill! But if you do not know that this agency kills people, you had better put your head back in the Key West sand.

AS far as my knowledge of the CIA, SS and KGB and what books I have read....you don't want to go there.

Perhaps you should dwell on Cuba and not worry about what I Know, Believe, Read or Think!

Charlie Black

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Please recite any murders committed by the CIA.

What was Operation Phoenix?

I'm also reminded of this passage from a letter L. Fletcher Prouty wrote to Jim Garrison in 1990:

"I have heard (CIA's Lansdale) brag about capturing random Vietnamese and putting them in a Helicopter. Then they would work on them to make them 'confess' to being Viet Minh. When they would not, they would toss them out of the chopper, one after the other, until the last ones talked. This was Ed's idea of fun."

Ron

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  • 1 month later...

I have returned to this thread for one reason only. It is the

reason behind the reason that I initially introduced it.

As time and the years are quickly passing, and I realize that my time also is, I have developed very serious and disturbing doubts that there will be a reopening of this investigation as was recommended by the HSCA.

The only avenue that I interpret as viable, would be a presidential order, either thru a special prosecutor or some other independent means. An investigation with unlimited subpoena power along with the authority to grant immunity. Not a government controlled investigation. I do not see forthcoming action at any time by the Justice Dept. If this doesn't occur, in another 43 years there might be a handful of old researchers still scratching their heads and communicating by whatever means that might have replaced the internet.

There is, tho I do not expect it, the possibility of new evidence or a deathbed confession, either of which would be very circumspect and certainly open to much questioning.

It seems to me, that both by my reason and by what a few of you have expressed, the office of the President does in fact have the power, and probably the only true and effective power, to effect this.

I realize that it would take a person with courage and moral integrity that I have never witnessed.

Does anyone see any other way that action is "likely" to be taken. Not just a hope that it will happen, but a reasonable assuredness that this will take place. As a child, I held to the possibility of miracles. I no longer receive satisfaction from such a possibility!

If this is in fact our only possibility, I feel that we have very litte hope. I don't suggest that any of us ends his research; I am merely reaching for a semblance of hope. Have we such?

Are we at a dead end? Regardless of what might be uncovered, there must be a means to present it to the world.

Charlie Black

Edited by Charles Black
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I have returned to this thread for one reason only. It is the

reason behind the reason that I initially introduced it.

As time and the years are quickly passing, and I realize that my time also is, I have developed very serious and disturbing doubts that there will be a reopening of this investigation as was recommended by the HSCA.

The only avenue that I interpret as viable, would be a presidential order, either thru a special prosecutor or some other independent means. An investigation with unlimited subpoena power along with the authority to grant immunity. Not a government controlled investigation. I do not see forthcoming action at any time by the Justice Dept. If this doesn't occur, in another 43 years there might be a handful of old researchers still scratching their heads and communicating by  whatever means that might have replaced the internet.

There is, tho I do not expect it, the possibility of new evidence or a deathbed confession, either of which would be very circumspect and certainly open to much questioning.

It seems to me, that both by my reason and by what a few of you have expressed, the office of the President does in fact have the power, and probably the only true and effective power, to effect this.

I realize that it would take a person with courage and moral integrity that I have never witnessed.

Does anyone see any other way that action is "likely" to be taken. Not just a hope that it will happen, but a reasonable assuredness that this will take place. As a child, I held to the possibility of miracles. I no longer receive satisfaction from such a possibility!

If this is in fact our only possibility, I feel that we have very litte hope. I don't suggest that any of us ends his research; I am merely reaching for a semblance of hope. Have we such?

Are we at a dead end? Regardless  of what might be uncovered, there must be a means to present it to the world.

Charlie Black

Charlie,

I agree with your thoughts. Basically only a Government investigation, conducted by either a special investigator or a panel of appointees, will have a chance of success. The major problem would be bureaucratic resistance to the investigation from within the agencies (and possibly from the mainstream media). This problem would need to be addressed by determining what the powers of those conducting the investigation will be, right from the start. From this one could ascertain whether the investigation was real or a sham.

It would require a very determined President to see it through, but it's possible. The most interesting aspect, IMO, is the question of what the Government would do if the findings incriminated past Presidents, close allies, the JCS or any longstanding American institutions.

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