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2 May 1963 Letter from Acting DCI to McGeorge Bundy

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I'm passing along information supplied to me, with an appeal to John Simkin to correct the relevant pages on spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk regarding a matter that, from what I've seen on this now, I feel is important. It concerns a letter dated 2 May 1963 from Acting Director of CIA Marshall S. Carter to Kennedy's National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. In it, Carter paraphrases a cable he says he had received from the absent John McCone that morning regarding the Lisa Howard interview with Fidel Castro.

Before posting below the actual relevant documents, I'm going to lay out the research tar pit the person who brought this to my attention fell into when trying to track this down:

1. In the September/October 1999 edition of Cigar Aficianado magazine, an article called "JFK & Castro: The Secret Quest For Accommodation" appeared with the following very questionable paragraph:

  • CIA Director John McCone adamantly opposed Howard's approach to Cuba, arguing that it would leak and compromise a number of CIA operations against Castro. In a recently declassified May 2, 1963 memorandum to Bundy, McCone stressed that the "Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner," and "that no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time."

2. Essentially the same information, including "quotes" from the above, falsely attributed to a 2 May 1963 memorandum from John McCone to Bundy, have been included in the spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk bio pages on: McGeorge Bundy, Lisa Howard, John McCone, and William Attwood.

3. Those pages being top Google hits for the personalities named above, that false attribution of McCone "quotes" and historically fuzzy information has propagated further to web sites who pick these bios up and mirror them, reinforcing the false belief in the existence of a purported declassified memorandum from McCone to Bundy that doesn't in fact exist.

A great many hours of several researchers' time was invested—wasted—in attempting to track down any such "recently declassified memorandum to Bundy" from McCone, and it didn't exist, at least anywhere that could be found. And although the fuzzy-enough wording of the Cigar Aficianado piece might justify in some minds their shorthand statement of "facts," it is a research nightmare, and it is precisely these kinds of imprecise "facts" that can completely color "history" and completely derail accurate analysis.

For reasons I'm not going to lay out here at the moment, I consider it of considerable importance to supply the correct information on this, and I urgently request that John Simkin get the spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk pages listed above corrected.

Below is the actual document giving rise to all the foregoing:

  • 32. Letter From Acting Director of Central Intelligence Carter to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)
    Washington, May 2, 1963.
    //Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Intelligence Material, Vol. V. Secret.
    Dear Mr. Bundy: With respect to the Lisa Howard report,/1/ Mr. McCone cabled me this morning stating that he cannot overemphasize the importance of secrecy in this matter and requested that I take all appropriate steps along this line to reflect his personal views on its sensitivity. Mr. McCone feels that gossip and inevitable leaks with consequent publicity would be most damaging. He suggests that no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time and urges most limited Washington discussions, and that in these circumstances emphasis should be placed in any discussions on the fact that the rapprochement track is being explored as a remote possibility and one of several alternatives involving various levels of dynamic and positive action.
    /1/Lisa Howard of the American Broadcasting Company had a 10-hour interview with Fidel Castro on April 22. During that interview Castro made a number of points, the most important of which was that Cuba was looking for ways to establish a rapprochement with the United States. Cottrell summarized the main points of the interview in a May 2 memorandum to Martin, and Richard Helms prepared a more detailed account in a memorandum to McCone, May 1. The President read Helms' summary. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 Cuba and Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Intelligence Material, Vol. V)
    In view of the foregoing, it is requested that the Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner.
    Faithfully yours,
    Marshall S. Carter/2/
    Lieutenant General, USA
    /2/Printed from a copy that indicates Carter signed the original.

The "quotes" from the Cigar Aficianado article are not from John McCone, but from Marshall S. Carter, who is Acting Director CIA at the time in McCone's absence. It is his paraphrasing of McCone, and so far no declassified actual cable from McCone to Carter has been located.

Not only does this give an incorrect source for "quotes," it also obfuscates the absence of McCone at a very crucial period of time.

And the following document from the same day, 2 May 1963, is indicative of at least some of the likely historical weight and consequences of this exact incident:

  • 333. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Members of the Standing Group of the National Security Council
    Washington, May 2, 1963.
    //Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, General, 5/1-5/15/63. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
    The following assignments have been made as a result of the discussion in the Standing Group on Tuesday, April 30th:/1/
    /1/Document 330.
    1. There will be an examination of the possible developments in Cuba if Castro were to disappear from the scene. This analysis will be developed by Mr. Sherman Kent and will be available for discussion at the meeting of the Standing Group on May 14th.
    2. There will be an analysis of the possible use of contingencies for the achievement of wider political objectives. This analysis will be conducted under the direction of Mr. Alexis Johnson and Mr. Paul Nitze, and its first results will be available for discussion at the meeting of the Standing Group on May 14th. This first analysis will provide: a. A detailed examination of possible action in the event of interference with surveillance; and b. a more general assessment of possible use of other contingencies in Cuba or in the waters around Cuba.
    3. The Central Intelligence Agency will prepare a general paper on the possible forms of effective interference with the economic life of Cuba by sabotage or other means. In particular, CIA will report on the oil problem in relation to Cuba. It is hoped that a first report on this study may be available next week for distribution.
    4. The Department of State will examine the possible use of the sugar market as a means of complicating the life of the Castro regime. It is hoped that this study will be available next week.
    5. The principal topic of discussion for the meeting of the Standing Group on May 7th will be the development of a U.S. program and policy toward post-Castro Cuba, and the initial lead in the discussion will be taken by Mr. Wilson for USIA. Appropriate papers will be circulated before noon on Monday, May 6th.
    McGeorge Bundy

There also is information on certain personnel in that document immediately above that may, or may not, have considerable impact on analysis of the events of 1963 leading to Kennedy's assassination, but in any case I urgently recommend that the bio pages on spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk referencing this purported "memorandum from McCone to Bundy" get corrected, and that any sites that have picked up and propagated the inaccurate statements be contacted and sent the corrected information.

Ashton Gray

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