A History of the National Reconnaissance Office – part 6

28 06 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford

 

While the Plumbers’ attempted assassination on May 15, 1972 of former Alabama Governor George Wallace assured President Nixon’s re-election in the November poll, it just increased the danger of their conspiracies being discovered during the trial of suspected assassin Arthur Bremer, some conspirator or person in the know turning whistleblower, or the deceased FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – who they had apparently dispatched earlier to clear the way for the killing of the potentially most dangerous third-party candidate – having made some arrangement for their exposure if something like this happened, especially irrefutable evidence from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that it had been recording LBJ’s telephone messages at his Texas ranch about ending the war in Vietnam at the height of the 1968 presidential campaign.  The White House and the Plumbers from the NRO, in sum, had to do everything they could to eliminate all suspicion that they had the motive, capability, and opportunity to kill the troublesome Southerner.
 
 The NRO was still officially an even more evanescent agency than its parent, the National Security Agency (NSA) aka No Such Agency.  It was only during Robert McNamara’s tenure at the Pentagon that it even got a toe-hold on what it designed, produced, and used for gathering signal intelligence, thanks to the SoD getting a director, like Alexander Flax, he could work with. Until then, as his successor John McLucas told the Defense Acquisition History Project on June 5, 2001, and shortly before he died, there had been such competition between it and the Air Force about how to produce planes and satellites, and such a circulation of leadership between government employment and the military-industrial complex because of congressional limitations on conflict of interest that the NRO was directed operationally by little more than uniformed personnel among its ranks who could order missions that NSA approved of.
 
 The best example of this was when Brigadier Jack Ledford apparently wanted a U-2 surveillance flight over Cuba to see if Castro was establishing a Soviet military presence on the island. .When the new NSA Director, Vice Admiral Lawrence Hugh (Jack) Frost, heard about it, he gave Ledford and other covert operators a dressing down in typical inter-service rivalry fashion which no one else appreciated, as James Bamford has quoted in Body of Secrets: ” ‘I saw him chew out Frank Raven, Bill Ray (senior NSA officials), and some Air Force brigadier general in a briefing,’ said Robert D. Farley, a former NSA historian. ‘Just the finger-on-the-chest bit.’ ” (.p. 96) Frost’s replacement, Air Force Lieutenant General Gordon Blake, learned the lesson all too well, though, when it came for aerial reconnaissance over the island during the Missile Crisis itself and its settlement, as the fate of downed U-2 pilots Major Rudolf Anderson and Captain Joe Glenn Hyde, Jr. indicated.
 
 Little wonder that McNamara replaced Blake at NSA after he had organized a united service effort to take the fight to the North Vietnamese to insure LBJ’s election with Army General Marshall Carter taking his place, and Dr. McLucas becoming the Air Force undersecretary to manage the NRO’s procurement of weapons, and operations..He got the agency to move beyond the cost-plus and fixed contract way of getting them, with suppliers having to pay back whatever they had received if the weapon did not prove capable, and reliable as they had claimed. Then the NRO returned to first building prototypes for the components of the Rhyoline satellites which the aerospace firm TRW was producing for it rather than just dream up something, like the Air Force was doing with a trial-and-error approach, in the hope that they worked. The pains-taking process of building complicated satellites was carried out at its M-4 facility in Redondo Beach, California, and the first one was put in geosynchronous orbit above Borneo, and its take was downloaded to a facility at Australia’s Pine Bluff in 1970. (For more, see  Bamford, p. 367ff.)
 
 The process became even smoother when former Congressman Melvin Laird became SoD, and David Packard, CEO of the giant electronics firm, joined him as deputy. For more, see this link:  http://www.history.army.mil/acquisition/research/int_mclucus.html
 
 To persuade Wallace that the White House had had nothing to do with the eavesdropping which almost cost him his life, Nixon arranged for political affairs assistant Harry Dent to visit Wallace in the hospital in Maryland, and Nixon’s personal physician William Lukash to check on his current condition.  To make sure that such concern was not considered politically intrusive, Senator Strom Thurmond was contacted to make sure that it was approved, and Nixon Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman was instructed to see what Wallace wanted, to “see if we can make a deal with him.”  (The Haldeman Diaries, June 12, 1972, p. 470)  Nixon worked on Reverend Billy Graham to make sure that the wounded Wallace stayed within the Democratic Party after its convention, making sure that he did not play the spoiler, and elect Senator McGovern even if it required a $750,000 payoff for his staff.
 
 To seal Wallace’s assurance that he would not run, former Texas Governor and Treasury Secretary John B. Connally paid Wallace a visit still in hospital.  Of course, Connally was an ideal choice, having himself been injured as presidential timber when he was almost assassinated when JFK was gunned down in Dallas.  To pressure Wallace still further, he contended that he was thinking of mounting a presidential campaign himself, and was desirous of hiring some of Wallace’s staff if he wasn’t. Wallace said to wait until the American Party convention occurred, as some kind of miracle might occur to make him change his mind.  “John was convinced that this is the most significant day in the campaign,” Haldeman concluded, “because Wallace is not going to run.” (Ibid., July 25, 1972, p. 486) 
 
 Bremer’s trial was expedited because the White House took over the investigation of the crime from Maryland officials, and saw to his prosecution as quickly as possible – before even Wallace’s ultimate state of health was determined.  Hours after the attempted assassination, Nixon took the unprecedented step of calling Assistant FBI Director Mark Felt for apparently the only time, softening him up to work the White House’s will by expressing the hope that Bremer had been “worked over pretty good” when he had been apprehended. Then the President told Felt that he didn’t want the murder inquiry extended by any slip-ups, as had occurred in the JFK assassination, and had caused them to become a national preoccupation.  “We’ll take care of that,” Felt reassured Nixon, as was reported by the AP in 2005 year, and puts to rest the claim that he was the whistle-blowing “Deep Throat”.  (For more on the real “Deep Throat”, see my two articles about Al Haig in my archive.)
 
 And Bremer’s court-appointed counsel, Benjamin Lipsitz, completely compromised his defense by introducing his alleged 137-page diary to help establish his irresponsible “schizophrenic” character, what began with him writing that he was setting out to assassinate either Nixon or Wallace – what rendered the President innocent of anything.  With the President off the hook as being behind the attempted murder, the court made short work of the defense, especially since the expert witnesses were evenly divided over Bremer’s mental state, resulting in his being given a 63-year sentence.  While it was reduced ten years in an unsuccessful appeal of the verdict, the Bureau belatedly investigated the crime for another eight years – resulting in the 26-volume WalShot file which only added suspicions of a White House conspiracy, and the dying Wallace in 1996 endorsed.
 
 While all this prevented any dangerous blowback from Wallace’s shooting, it did nothing to solve the question of what the Bureau’s deceased Director knew about Plumber operations – what had apparently led to his murder – and what measures he might have taken to guarantee their disclosure in case anything happened to him.  After all, most people have a lawyer, even if one is only to make up the terms of a will, and see to its execution after death, and Hoover, being such an important, controversial figure for so long, undoubtedly had one. 
 
 Yet, in reading biographies of him, one cannot find the name of any lawyer he could have trusted enough to have made him his own counsel – only the names of ones he hated, and tried to discredit with the help of other lawyers.  For example, Hoover used good friend and New York attorney Morris L. Ernst in this capacity to protect his and the Bureau’s reputation against Max Lowenthal’s proposed exposé of the FBI, but he, as Curt Gentry wrote in a footnote in J. Edgar Hoover, “objected, more than once, to Ernst characterizing himself as his ‘personal attorney’.” (p. 233) 
 
 Hoover’s personal attorney when he died was apparently Lawrence O’Brien, an employee of the Hughes Tool Company, and now the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) whose offices were in the Watergate.  Of course, both Nixon and Hoover had various relationships with the reclusive airplane, and film maker. The President and Felt had to worry that the former Director knew more than just brother Donald Nixon’s dealings with Hughes regarding financial and sexual irregularities, and that Hoover had passed the information to White House “enemies”  – what the Assistant Director had superficially covered up.  Now the fear allegedly was that the Cuban security service was passing information to the DNC about  Nixon’s attempts, with Hughes’s help, to assassinate the Cuban leader – the blowback from which resulted in JFK’s murder, and which LBJ would be in an ideal position to exploit.   
 
 Besides, O’Brien, as LBJ’s Postmaster General, had crossed the Director right after the Dallas assassination, as no one else had, in his dealing with former agent and now Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd, exposing the Bureau’s interception of a letter that a disgruntled staff assistant had sent to muckraker Jack Anderson, only for Hoover to find out that Dodd was hoping to replace him at the Bureau. Until then, Hoover had been making sure that the Bureau did nothing to uncover Dodd’s criminal ways.   “It was the unpardonable sin,” Gentry concluded. (p. 592)  O’Brien, on the other hand, gained the Director’s good graces.
 
 O’Brien had the closest relation possible with the eccentric billionaire and his company. In 1953, Hughes had turned over all his stock in the company to the Hughes Medical Company, a tax-exempt charity registered in Delaware which carried on medical research.  In 1968, when Congress was considering ending such exemptions, Hughes political operator Robert Maheu, who knew all about William King Harvey’s assassination plots against Castro and others, hired O’Brien to make sure that this didn’t happen, and O’Brien secured its continued exemption. This was when the Hughes empire was deeply involved in secret programs for the government, especially Senior Vice President at the Aircraft Company Tony Iorillo’s plan to design and build a gyrostat satellite for the NRO (Explorer 50) - lifting their size limitation, complexity and capabilities. (For details, see Bamford, pp. 343-6.)
 
 As Bamford described, despite the satellite’s capability, its messages just at this time from Firebase Sarge in Vietnam were completely ignored by NSA when the North Vietnamese build-up, north of the DMZ, occurred during January and February, 1972. NSA was too busy extending the satellite network that the NRO was constructing over the globe to read what was its take.On March 30th,  the North Vietnamese attacked, and staged the biggest victory over American and South Vietnamese forces since the Tet-offensive back in 1968.  This Easter offensive left no trace of either the Explorer system, or the defeat on the battlefield with the American public. “The war was over,” Bamford concluded, “and the United States had lost.” (p. 346)
 
 John Mitchell, now chairman of the Campaign to Re-Elect the President, and his chief adviser, Frederick LaRue, were so afraid of O’Brien’s potential to cause trouble in this environment that they ordered a break-in, and bugging of the DNC at the Watergate on March 20, 1972 – what had to be postponed until both Hoover and Wallace were put out of the way, as I have already explained.  They were particularly interested in finding out if O’Brien had somehow gotten vital information from Hoover, especially NRO documents about Nixon’s “November Surprise” in the 1968 election, the Plumbers’ composition and operations, the destruction of the Explorer system monitoring the DMZ in Vietnam, and the unexpected presence of the Secret Service agents in Bremer’s apartment when Bureau agents, thanks to Felt’s direction, arrived.  It was suspected that O’Brien was still receiving similar information – what could constitute a Democratic “November Surprise” in the upcoming presidential election, resulting in an instruction also to tap his telephone and to bug his office.
 
 The results were two break-ins of the DNC, the first one on Sunday, May 28th, and the second on June 17th, after several, it seems, false starts – what might well have been invented after the burglars were arrested to give the false impression of how unprofessional the operation had been from the outset. (For more on this, see Fred Emery, Watergate, p. 118ff.)  The trouble with the first break-in was that its one successful tap was not on a phone being used by O’Brien. Furthermore, the CRP was no longer interested in current party activities but what the DNC, as J. Gordon Liddy later explained, “…had of a derogatory nature about us, not for us to get something on him. (Quoted from Emery, p. 125.  Italics Liddy’s) 
 
 Of course, the best source of such information would be Hoover’s own files or copies of them - what the Plumbers went back in the hope of photographing three weeks later. “They want everything in the files,” former CIA security agent James McCord explained to an incredulous Howard Hunt, the mission’s operational chief who had put together the forged documents (code name GEMSTONE), implicating JFK in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem. 
 
 While the new mission planned to take pictures of 1,800 documents in files in the office on 50 rolls of film – what required having a key somehow to Secretary to the Director of the State Chairman Ida “Maxie” Wells’ desk where all the necessary file cabinet keys were kept. They were to photograph incriminating evidence the DNC had regarding Nixon – e.g., the Director’s file of infra-red photos that the CIA had engaged MI6 to take in Hong Kong when alleged Red Chinese spy Marianna Liu visited Nixon’s bedroom, the recorded messages of South Vietnam’s “November Surprise” which torpedoed Humphrey’s election, the defeat there which NRO’s Explorer system had recorded, etc.  
 
 The Plumber mission was deliberately sabotaged by McCord failing to remove the tapes from doors down to the garage-level entrance he used to re-enter the complex, fearing apparently that a successful operation would so reveal misdoings by the Agency that the White House would be bound to take drastic action against it. Of course, this reason had to be covered up in all accounts by all kinds of bogus claims - Hoover was just protecting disclosure of his homosexuality rather than that at the White House, the Agency was protecting itself for having arranged on its own for Hughes to build the Glomar Explorer to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine (Project Jennifer), the DNC was protecting itself against disclosure of a sex ring John W. Dean’s bride-to-be was helping run from it to blackmail politicians, especially Republicans, etc. 
 
 The arrest of the five burglars - followed shortly thereafter by those of Hunt, Liddy and lookout Alfred Baldwin - made what they were trying to photograph hardly a concern at all.  The White House was most eager just to dismiss it as an ill-conceived rogue operation, and when it couldn’t, it tried to get the Bureau to just stick to the suspects, and the Agency to provide a national security cover against it being exposed while behind the scenes it attempted to secure the silence in various ways of those accused, and others involved, particularly Plumber secretary Kathleen Chenow.  If she started talking to the Bureau, all the White House plots risked being exposed. 
 
 Dean, the President’s counsel, was responsible for keeping the cover up under control, especially her. (See Emery, p. 201)  The basic details of the cover-ups were contained in the June 20th tape of the conversation between Nixon and Haldeman in the EOB – what became known ultimately as the “181/2 minute gap” and “the smoking gun” when, in fact, the whole discussion had been erased. “The conclusion was,” Nixon’s Chief of Staff wrote in his diaries, “that we’ve got to hope that the FBI doesn’t go beyond what’s necessary in developing evidence and that we can keep a lid on that, as well as keeping all the characters involved from getting carried away with unnecessary testimony.” (p. 473)
 
 For the Oval Office, the immediate problems were to get John Mitchell to give up being CRP Chairman, O’Brien to give up any thoughts of helping torpedo somehow Nixon’s re-election, and Vice President Spiro Agnew to step aside so that former Treasury Secretary John B. Connally could take his place on the Republican ticket – what would render any SIGINT intelligence about them or had by them as benign as possible. Lookout Baldwin had indicated to his lawyers that he was willing to go after Mitchell, and while he didn’t have the evidence to prove his case, it was feared that O’Brien did, especially since he issued a statement stating that the break-in “raised the ugliest question about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century of political activity.”  (Quoted from Emery, p. 159.)
 
 To force Mitchell’s resignation, his wife Martha, who was campaigning for the President’s re-election, started speaking out wildly about her husband, claiming Nixon’s henchmen Erlichman and Haldeman had called her husband at the crack of dawn in California to inform him of the arrests. Then she made hysterical calls to the famous UP White House reporter, Helen Thomas, claiming that her husband was involved in Watergate, and that she was going to kick him out of the house “…if John didn’t get out of politics…” – a conversation she terminated by pulling the phone line out of the wall.  Bob Woodward paid a visit to her Essex House apartment in NYC to get an exclusive interview in which she stated she was writing a book about the “dirty politics” which were required to get statesmen like Nixon elected.  Because of Martha’s erratic behavior – conveniently assumed to be the result of her growing alcoholism - Mitchell resigned at the end of June.
 
 O’Brien, instead of getting the inquiry he demanded about the break-in, was subjected to a wide-ranging criminal investigation, and political attacks while the White House continued to manage its cover-up of Plumber operations.The Justice Department and the IRS started a criminal inquiry into his possible tax evasion on the Howard Hughes yearly retainer - what was serious enough to scare him off from being Senator George McGovern’s Vice Presidential candidate. 
 
 Besides, LBJ was unwilling to endorse McGovern because he thought he was all wrong about Vietnam, promising to work behind the scenes to help Nixon’s re-election.  Ultimately, the pursuit of O’Brien on unpaid taxes for $190,000 from Hughes would turn out to be a “dry hole”, as Erlichman reported in September - as he was cleared in an IRS audit – but the threat had been good enough to move him out of the picture, as he obviously did not want a detailed scrutiny of his finances.
 
 Getting rid of Agnew was a more difficult matter, as he was Vice President, and the only real successor to Nixon was Connally, though he did not think that he could follow the President by becoming Spiro’s successor. Besides, Agnew was the vital connection to the Mafia, and able to mobilize Democrats for Nixon by his bitter attacks on McGovern, though bringing his own psychological soundness into question in the process.  Frank Sinatra, leader of Hollywood’s Rat Pack who had just arranged Mafioso Angelo DeCarlo’s early release from prison and pardon through Agnew by giving John Dean $100,000 in cash as an “unrecorded contribution”, and another $50,000 to the CRP, was most unhappy with having to deal with Connally now in such matters – what was resolved by having the singer lead a celebrity reception at the Residence.
 
 More important, Agnew had been responsible for the appointment of Chalres C. Richey, a Democrat, as a federal judge whose ex-parte statements about the $1,000,000 civil-damage action the DNC had initiated against the CRP’s Maurice Stans for the break-in, and whose pushing for a plea-bargain settlement of a Mann Act prosecution of Phillip Bailley proved most beneficial to the White House. Richey”…told Roemer,” counsel for the RNC, Dean told Nixon,”he thought Maury (Stans) ought to file a counter libel action.” (Quoted from Silent Coup, 226.)  The criminal prosecution of Bailley similarly got nowhere when the judge said to the parties that it was in the interest of all to settle the action without further inquiry. The only party whose interest was served by the settlement was John Dean’s as Bailley, as his address book showed, was helping run a prostitution ring out of the DNC to get dirt on its politicians with the help of Dean’s wife-to-be, Maureen Biner.
 
 In sum, nothing was done to get rid of Agnew until the prosecution of the Plumbers, and Nixon’s re-election was successfully negotiated.  Of course, the coup de grace to the Democrats had been National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s apparently arranging a successful conclusion to the Vietnam War. The settlement was essentially what LBJ had negotiated back in 1968, though this time there was no trouble, it seemed, from President Thieu after Kissinger went to Saigon to get him to go along.  “We’d have everything done by the end of the year,” Kissinger told Nixon, DNSA Haig, and Haldeman on October 12th. 
 
 Unfortunately, the NSA did not even reach a settlement, much less its implementation by year’s end – as Thieu was increasingly objecting to what was being proposed - inducing Nixon to appoint Agnew to force him to agree: “He is to convince Thieu as leader of the hawks,” Haldeman wrote in his diaries, “that there will be no support for him unless he goes along.” (p. 553)  
 
 To soften up the North Vietnamese to accept the plan too, Nixon authorized B-52 raids on the North, and the reseeding of Haiphong Harbor with mines. After four weeks of devastating raids, reminiscent of Operation Arc Light carried out after the Tonkin Gulf incidents, the North Vietnamese and South Vietnam’s President were forced to settle.  Of course, the bombing campaign put the NRO under the greatest strain to gather satellite intelligence of targets through its station at Pine Gap – what risked causing a political rupture with Australia’s government if exposed.
  
 Haldeman put the result of  Vice President’s mission this way in the January 23rd entry: “Thieu had finally capitulated a few days before.”  Agnew was so pleased with his negotiating skills that he requested a meeting with the wary Nixon during which he proposed to …”take a trip to Egypt to visit Sadat, and see if he could try and untangle something on the Middle East.” The incredulous President explained it all to Agnew wanting to rebuild his image.
 
 Agnew had given Thieu the same aim when he strong-armed him into accepting the terms of the proposed settlement, as he apparently did try to improve his image in America in a way the White House least expected - telling LBJ how he had been persuaded by the current Vice President not to take the terms Johnson was proposing four years earlier.  Dean had already called for hard evidence to prove that LBJ had ordered the FBI to bug Nixon’s plane during the 1968 campaign to counter the fallout from the Watergate convictions, and when the former President heard that the Bureau’s former executive Cartha ‘Deke’ De Loach was looking into the matter, “…LBJ got very hot, and called Deke, and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release (deleted material – national security), saying that our side was asking that certain things be done.” (Haldeman, January 12, 1973, p. 567)  De Loach, Haldeman added, took this as a direct threat.
 
 While De Loach indicated that LBJ had called for bugging Nixon’s plane – a request he claimed the Bureau declined – and a check of Mrs. Anna Chennault phone calls, and a tap put on her phone, LBJ obviously had other ideas, and planned to come to Washington to make his case among disgruntled Democrats. “Mitchell,” Haldeman added, “also said he was meeting with O’Brien today, and will make reference to this whole thing in that meeting and see what he can smoke out.”
 
 Undoubtedly, the former Attorney General was looking for confirmation that LBJ had the NRO’s goods on Nixon’s meddling - his “November Surprise” back in 1968 - and had confided documents and Thieu’s testimony in the DNC Chairman about it all. It was all shaping as a most unprecedented inaugural for Nixon.  (For more on this, see the January 11, 1973 tape of the conversation in the Oval Office between Nixon and Haldeman in Stanley I. Kutler, ed. Abuse of Power, pp. 202-4 - noting in passing that it is not followed by another taped recording for three weeks, the biggest gap of all.)
 
 Former President Johnson died on the plane while making his way back from Washington on January 22nd, apparently victim of a heart attack, reminiscent of how Hoover had died.  Of course, he could have died from the angina he was suffering from, popping nitroglycerin pills often to keep the pain manageable, though the trip itself – what he felt impelled to make to rebuild his reputation – killed him. The actual cause of death we will never know, as there was no autopsy, as in Hoover’s case.
 
 There is still alarming evidence that he did not die a natural death.  Johnson’s trip back to Texas had been supervised by White House Dr. Walter Tkasch, a physician noted for giving the patient what he wanted, and a good friend of the Agency’s Dr. Sidney Gottlieb who was currently running its ORD program, the successor to MK-ULTRA. (For more on this, see the article about DCI Richard Helms.) In 1968, ORD people set up a joint program with the Army Chemical Corps (Project OFTEN) to study the effects of various drugs on living creatures.It hoped to discover, John Marks quoted a researcher saying in The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’, “a compound that could simulate a heart attack or a stroke in the targeted individual.” (p. 227)
 
 Was LBJ that targeted individual?  Marks certainly made it sound so when he added this about the just sacked DCI because of his failure to provide Agency cover for the Watergate:  “In January 1973, just as Richard Helms was leaving the Agency and James Schlesinger was coming in, Project OFTEN was abruptly canceled.”
 
 Some other unlikely changes, or just coincidences, included Laird - the elected official best known for stating the politicians have to live longer with their consciences than with their constituents - resigned hurriedly just a week about LBJ died. Laird had joined Nixon in getting Thieu to reject his intended surprise to help Humphrey win the November 1968 presidential election, and he knew that Johnson’s survivors had the goods on his dirty work, so his sudden departure from the Washington scene reduced the need of exposing it.
 
 To replace him, Nixon quickly got Elliot Richardson – the Secretary of Health, Education, and Environment, and who went on to become Attorney General just four months later when the Watergate scandal was really heating up – in the Pentagon office, and the move seemed like another convenient means of a cover up.  Richardson, as we shall see, was involved in seeing if dilantin, a pill that Nixon was taking for his depression, could be approved for general public consumption for almost anything by the department.
 
 Then when Schlesinger moved from the Agency to the  Pentagon for more house cleaning, he made McLucus Secretary of the Air Force, the first undersecretary to be so advanced, so that he could explain whatever the NRO had been doing which required some public explaining.
 
 Of course, the first thing that comes to mind are the tapes it had amassed about the details of the former President’s sudden death when he was taken back to his Texas ranch on Air Force One, and arranging a cover up there with Lady Bird about what had happened – one so successful that the public still believes that he died while having a long sojourn there! 
  
 
 
 
 




A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 1

26 11 2011

by Trowbridge H. Ford

 

One of the least known agencies in the Cold War against the Soviet Union – and what little is known is often wrong – is the National Reconnaissane Office (NRO). Conceived to learn more about the internal workings of the USSR after the simplistic assumptions about ending the confrontation proved hopelessly wrong – e. g., the Soviets could easily be rolled back, spies could readíly unlock what real secrets it possessed or defectors could supply what the West really needed to know about it – the NRO showed that Moscow was much weaker than human intelligence (HUMINT) claimed.

In achieving this result, though, it became so powerful that it functioned almost without any public supervision – almost a state within a state. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the NRO became the instrument of Republican and Democratic Presidents alike to win the war on Washington’s next opponents, whoever they might be, without almost any congressional or democratic control. The NRO became Washington’s preferred secret weapon in the “war on terrorism” because its capabilities were hardly known, hard to stop the continual development of, and much less capable of being defended against.

In WWII’s aftermath, the reorganization and expansion of America’s intelligence agencies was a most confusing process because of uncertainty about its future, how to proceed under the circumstances, and bureaucratic opposition, especially by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, to any significant changes. Given the desire by the weakened Republican opposition for a return to America’s splendid isolation, the Democratic followers of FDR had a difficult time in gaining support for a continuing international role, particularly when many of them were increasingly suspected of being communist tools.

The root of the problem rested with Earl Browder, leader of America’s communists who believed he had influence with the President, allying them with the Democratic Party, arousing beliefs among liberals that he had the support of the fallen President, and suspicions of betrayal among anti-communists – what was only compounded by Stalin seeing to Browder’s ouster from the leadership in 1945, and later expelled. Louis Budenz, a former leader of the Communist Party of the USA turned FBI mole, soured the situation even further by claiming that Browder’s successor, Eugene Dennis, “…had directed a ring of Communist agents in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that included Carl Marzani.” (John Earl Haynes & Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, p. 218)

The leader of the OSS had been Colonel ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, and he was involved in trying to revive the spy agency after its post-war shutdown was being reconsidered, as the amalgamation of the code-breaking services of the Army, Navy and the new Air Force took center stage. Thanks to Hoover’s continuing opposition to any encroachments on his turf, especially because of his intense dislike of Harry Truman and his entourage, though, only the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), and a weak Central Intelligence Group( CIG) – headed by a Director, and assisting a National Intelligence Authority – were allowed to be created. The beginning of the Cold War in earnest led to the expansion of the CIG into the Central Intelligence Agency, and the signal intelligence (SIGINT) problems surrounding the Korean War resulted in the creation of the National Security Agency (NSA) out of the AFSA.

The NSA’s creation caused the greatest intelligence turmoil with the CIA, the fleeing of Soviet spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess to the Soviet Union providing the catalyst. Their flight proved that American intelligence had been riddled with leaks, and NSA’s decoding capacity provided a sure way of proving so at the expense of other intelligence agencies, especially the CIA and its forebearers. NSA’s challenge to the CIA was also most threatening since almost no one knew of NSA, aka ‘No Such Agency’, since it was established by secret presidential order rather than an act of Congress, like the CIA. (For more on this, see Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only, p. 168ff.)

While NSA was busy at Arlington Hall and later at Fort Meade working on Moscow’s coded messages during part of WWII with those people who had had contact with Soviet intelligence (Venona Project) – what threw far more panic throughout American society than the claims of Senator Joseph McCarthy about communist conspiracies – the CIA really got involved in overthrowing governments Washington did not like, and assassinating troublesome foreign leaders. While most people are aware of the successful coups that the Agency engineered against Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh, and Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz, few are acquainted with its elimination of Korean opposition leader Kim Koo, North Korea’s Premier Kim II Sung, Mossadegh himself, Philippino opposition leader Claro Recto, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and Egypt’s President Gamul Abdul Nasser, plus unsuccessful attempts on several other world leaders. (For more on this, see William Blum, Rogue State, p. 38ff.)

CIA also prevented NSA’s SIGINT capability from making inroads into its intelligence operations by persuading its leading codebreaker, Frank B. Rowlett – when the new agency wanted to make him head of its code-making business, COMSEC – to come over, and run its operations,”… stealing foreign cipher materials and recruiting foreign crypto clerks and communications employees.” (James Bamford, Body of Secrets, p. 447) DCI Allen Dulles hoped that Rowett aka The Magician could do some more magic on the Soviet codes.

Rowlett had been the leading genius of the William F. Friedman’s Black Chamber which the Army had reconstituted from WWI back in June 1930, and Friedman was now running the CIA’s Division D and wanted Rowlett to rejoin him. Rowlett had been particularly responsible for breaking the Japanese diplomatic code Purple aka Magic on September 20, 1940, resulting in decrypts which increasingly showed that Japan was preparing to attack French Indochina – what meant war with Washington but failed to foresee that it would be triggered by the attacks on Hawaii. (For more, see Andrew, p. 105ff.)

The only trouble with CIA’s ‘little NSA’, to use Bamford’s term, was that it had little to work with. Prohibited from operating within the United States, and having a most chilly relation with the FBI, it was unable to do what MI5′s Peter Wright in its D Branch had accomplished in Britain regarding stealing codes and breaking encryption machines at the expense of its SIGINT agency, GCHQ.(Spycatcher, p. 80ff.) While Britain was finding out what Egypt was up to during the Suez crisis, NSA did not have a clue about Israel’s ambitions because that was co-conspirator Britain’s responsibility during the preemptive action, and the Eden government didn’t tell Eisenhower’s anything about what was planned.

Up until that time, NSA had been going great guns with its RB-47 reconnaissance flights over the USSR, their Air Force Ravens operating electronic cameras to photograph Soviet installations of interest while other equipment monitored Soviet responses to the intrusions – what established that the USSR was unaware that it could be attacked with devastating results by bombers flown over the North Pole from Greenland (Project Homerun). Once Moscow learned of these numerous intrusions – what Eisenhower approved despite the fact that they could trigger WWIII – and protested to Washington behind the scenes about them, NSA’s capability in this regard became greatly reduced, as the planes could be shot down, and the Soviets rapidly improved their radar all over the vast country to achieve it.

NSA’s embarrassment over these difficulties – what caused the retirement of its first director, Ralph Canine – provided the CIA with an opportunity to recoup, and Richard Bissell, the new Deputy Director for Planning, was quick to take advantage of it. Bissell had been given the post after its warring factions in carrying the war to the Soviets had been humiliated by the Hungarian uprising – what they helped foment – and Eisenhower was looking for a more reliable instrument for containing the struggle. Bissell’s claim to fame was the designing and construction of the U-2 reconnaissance plane which flew above the range of Soviet defenses. “The plane could in one flight,” Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones wrote in The CIA & American Democracy, “take up to 4,000 high-definition photographs of an area 2,174 miles long and 30 miles side.” (pp. 107-8)

To put the U-2′s capability on an analytical intelligence basis, Bissell was given the assignment. It was, of course, because of the U-2′s ability to systematically monitor a given piece of territory that Soviet IRBMs were discovered in Cuba in September 1962 – what resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As R. Jack Smith, a senior Agency analyst who helped brief the President about the crisis, claimed in a somewhat biased way: “American intelligence, and especially the CIA, experienced one of its finest hours…we sifted and sorted until we finally got the evidence that enabled us to target the U-2 correctly.” (Quoted from Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Cloak and Dollar, A History of American Secret Intelligence, p. 191.)

Unfortunately, the Agency’s HUMINT, its dominant side, did not see matters that way at all. The settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis was its final humiliation – going all the way back to the alleged “missile gap”. Back then, William King Harvey, who had taken over Division D after Rowlett had gone back to the NSA in 1957, had arranged an engine ‘flame out’, it seems, which brought down Gary Powers’ unauthorized U-2 flight – making it look like the Soviets had brought it down for the May Day 1960 celebration – but not only Powers but also his aircraft essentially survived to Eisenhower’s great embarrassment, making the claim about the intrusion a matter of international record. Given the fuss that Khrushchev made over the flights, the Paris Summit was canceled, and Ike was forced to show what they could potentially disclose, somewhat minimizing the assertions by the “missile gap” scaremongers.

Still, the downing of Powers’ U-2 ruined the summit – what the President had put such great hopes in, and seriously considered resigning over – once the lying by the White House was exposed. No sooner had it denied any such overflight than the Soviet leader produced the pilot and part of the U-2 wreckage on television. Of course, the Soviet explanation of the crash – a missile did enough damage of bring it down while destroying a Soviet fighter which was closing in for the kill of the U-2 – made no sense, and the Agency did not help matters by failing to explain how Powers still survived the doomed flight, as did the plane itself. Damaged U-2s were programmed to self-destruct.

Moscow had been tipped off about the U-2 overflights by two NSA analysts, mathematicians Bernon F. Mitchell and William H. Martin. The increasingly dangerous antics by its Deputy Director Louis Tordella – who ran the agency for a generation – finally persuaded Mitchell to fly to Mexico City in December 1959 where he asked for political asylum, but the KGB persuaded him to stay in place, so that it could learn more about NSA operations. Tordella was Wright’s leading ally in Washington, prepared to do any operation which stirred up anti-communist paranoia. (See Spycatcher, p.145ff.) While Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin tried feebly to make out in The Sword and the Shield that Mitchell and Martin had somehow defected then (pp. 178-9), they were in Washington on May Day when Powers went down.

They told Moscow of the planned ‘flame out’, and the Soviets made sure that it was shot down. And after the crisis had passed without any claims of American spying having contributed to the crisis, Mitchell and Martin made their escape to the USSR, via Mexico City and Havana. On September 6th, they gave a press conference in Moscow’s House of Journalists, explaining that they had defected because Washington had been spying on the secret messages of its allies, like France, Britain and Israel, which had recently caused the Suez Crisis!

Of course, it would have been a far different matter if Mitchell and Martin had explained that they had helped shoot down Gary Powers’ U-2 – something that neither Krushchev nor Ike wanted known. While the defectors ultimately settled down grudgingly in the USSR, ultimately marrying Russian women, they contributed little more to Soviet covert government. They even contemplated returning to the West, but they never made it, as Andrew and Mitrokhin have explained: “As chairman of the KGB, Yuri Andropov gave personal instructions that under no circumstances was either Mitchell or Martin to be allowed to go, for fear of deterring other potential defectors from the West.” (p. 179) Moscow, actually, could not afford them saying that they had made such sacrifices for nothing.

To prevent a recurrence by the Agency, Eisenhower took its photo-reconnaissance capability away from it, creating the National Reconnaissance Office right after the embarrassing show trial of Powers in Moscow had ended and right before the embarrassing press conference by Mitchell and Martin. “For the next generation,” Andrew has written, “NRO was to be the most secret of all U.S. intelligence agencies. Its existence was not discovered by the media until 1973, and not officially acknowledged until September 1992.” (For …, p. 250) It was a high price for CIA to pay for just keeping the “missile gap” myth alive. To limit further damaging fallout, the CIA exchanged the most successful Soviet spy, Colonel ‘Rudolf Abel’, for Powers when it got the chance.

Then, thanks to the prodding by Wright (see Spycatcher, p.145ff., esp. p. 154.) Harvey got Division D deeply involved in trying to assassinate Castro, using the cover story that it was trying to steal codes and recruiting Cuban cryptographers. Thanks to poison pills provided by the Agency’s Technical Services Division, and contacts supplied by the Mafia, two unsuccessful attempts were made to kill the Cuban leader while power was being transferred from Ike to JFK. After the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, Harvey was again at it – thanks to more prodding by Wright – as head of the Agency’s Task Force W in Miami, providing agents with a wider variety of weapons to kill Castro but still no success.

To get a handle on increasingly runaway covert government, Kennedy had rightly raised the alleged “missile gap” claim and the plans to overthrow Castro’s regime during the 1960 presidential campaign in the hope that the electorate could make a reasonable choice about the risks America faced but Nixon wrongly declined to debate the issues on the grounds of national security. It was only after Jack’s election that Eisenhower – along with Bissell and Art Lundahl, the head of the Agency’s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) – set the record straight by briefing him about the intelligence capability America had in terms of technology and allies, concluding spiritedly: “The enemy has no aerial photographic systems like ours!” (Quoted from Andrew, p. 258.)

Still, soon after JFK was inaugurated, he suffered the black eye of the Bay of Pigs fiasco (Operation Zapata) by Bissell’s people, and the President reacted by forcing the retirement of DCI Dulles and DDP Bissell because of the fallout from the fiasco. While the President had assured the public at a press conference on April 12th that American armed forces would not take any part in an armed intervention in Cuba, the facts turned out to be far different, as Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali have reported in The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis: “One Hell of a Gamble”: “Reconnaissance missions flown by U-2s on April 8, 11, and 13 picked up that Cubans had thirty-six combat aircraft, some of which were T-33 jets.” (p. 92)

The NRO had helped the anti-Castro Cubans before JFK spoke, and continued to do so right up until the invasion. Thanks to information supplied by the NRO, as Andrew has indicated, “Zapata began at dawn on Saturday, April 15, with an air strike against Cuban airfields by eight B-26s flown by Cuban exiles.” (p. 263) When the White House learned of the NRO’s support for the bombers – what happened the next day at 10 a.m. during a meeting at CIA headquarters (see National Security File, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Box 12, Memoranda of Meetings, JFK Library, Boston.), Secretary of State Dean Rusk and American Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson insisted that there be no more aerial attacks, dooming the mission.

To make sure that Bissell did not maintain some informal influence in the NRO, Kennedy appointed Dr. Joseph V. Charyk, an Air Force undersecretary, as its director in Setepmber 1961. Charyk, though, was an areonautical engineer, only interested in developing replacements of the U-2s and new satellites. Ultimately, Charyk, and his replacement Dr. Brockway McMillan, relied upon gung-ho Air Force Brigadier General Jack C. Ledford to carry out NRO operations, and he was ready to follow up any discovery of Soviet IRBMs in Cuba with attacks by the 1040th Field Activity Squadron, stationed at Washington’s Bolling AFB. When JFK was assassinated, Ledford was director of the US Air Force’s special operations projects.

To receive more reliable intelligence and fewer surprises from the CIA, Kennedy approved the creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and transferred the CIA’s paramilitary operations to the DOD. To head the new coordinating agency, SOD McNamara picked one-time FBI agent, and Air Force Inspector General Joseph Carroll because he was not just another Pentagon bureaucrat. Carroll had not only arrested Public Enemy No. I Roger “Tough” Touhy during WWII, but also helped explain away the defections by Mitchell and Martin – making out that there were more homosexuals in government because of abnormal sexual activity while they were adolescents. While the agency was being revamped from top to bottom because of their leaks – what had been attributed to more communist disaffection – Carroll determined that they were homosexuals who feared being caught!

And the showdown with Cuba and the USSR over the IRBMs – what hardliners in government planned to result in the end of the Castro regime – did nothing to redeem them despite all the evidence that Oleg Penkovsky supplied about Moscow’s strategic weakness. As an unidentified source, most likely NSA Diretor General Gordon Blake, in the Cabinet Room on October 19, 1962 explained during the height of the crisis about General Joe Carroll’s capability: “The National Reconnaissance Office is involved in this. They’re, in a sense, a third agency, responsible for the U-2s, responsible for the drones, anything relating to special reconnaissance for CIA, DIA. Carroll knows how to do this.” (Quoted from Ernest R. May & Philip D. Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes, p. 188.)

To rub in Carroll’s triumph, papers like Washington’s The Evening Star ran stories about how his analysis of photographs taken by an NRO U-2 – what CIA analysts had not found convincing – had changed “the days that shook the world”. On October 15th, Carroll had noticed signs of construction being carried out in a remote area of western Cuba, near San Cristóbal, and alerted the Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric about it, starting a process which would only end when Khrushchev started removing the IRBMs from the island. (Kelman Morin, “Gen.Carroll Saw Something,” November 1, 1963, p. 1.)

Carroll’s son James put it this way in his biography of his father, An American Requiem: “His rivals within the military intelligence establishment had been defanged, and his turf-protecting counterparts at CIA, NSA, and the State Department had learned to work with him – a tribute to my father’s skills as a bureaucratic infighter, and also a signal of the strong support he had from McNamara.” (p. 140) As evidence of this, Carroll was appointed to the U. S. Intelligence Board two months before the Dallas assassination in the hope that he could continue to keep the renegades at bay.

The fallout from the settlement, however, drove Harvey, with Helms’s tacit approval, to increasingly desperate measures against the Kennedys. (For more on Harvey and Helms, see my articles on Veterans Today, and in the Trowbridge Archive at codshit.com about them.) Harvey – as head of the ZR/RIFLE project in the Agency’s new center of operations in Miami, code named JM/WAVE and run by a leading operator Ted Shackley -crucially misused NRO’s capabilities to conclude his own war against Castro and the White House. Claiming that he was still trying to achieve Rowlett’s objectives (see Bamford, pp. 478-9 for details.), he actually arranged to make it look as if Castro had shot down another U-2 reconnaissance flight – what constituted an act of war, if true – once his efforts to recruit two Red Army colonels from the island as spies, and to claim that Castro had not removed all the IRBMs had failed. (For more on the Bayo-Martino-Pawley mission, see Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, p. 113ff.)

While most people thought that Cold War relations were improving with the Soviet withdrawal of its IRBMs from Cuba – with JFK and Mrs. Kennedy trying to make amends with the disgruntled Cuban-American community, Department of the Army adviser Major Al Haig trying to find livelihoods for veterans of the Bay of Pigs operation, Attorney General Robert Kennedy beginning to enforce the Neutrality Act against those who still wanted to overthrow the Castro regime, Harvey finally being told to cut his ties with Sam Giancana’s contact Johnny Rosselli and forced to take off for Rome, the President signing a Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets, etc. – the changing mood just drove the hardliners to more reckless measures.

The first alarming sign was when DCI John McCone reorganized all the Agency’s science and technical capability under one roof, ignoring the concerns of its predecessor, Deputy Director of Research Herbert Scoville, Jr. As Scoville, a dove, wrote to McCone on April 25, 1963 – after he had resigned and refused to return when asked because of his continuing disputes with the other directorates about the planned reorganization – “he also expressed his frustration with regard to a joint CIA-DOD program – a reference to the CIA’s participation in the National Reconnaissance Program and the National Reconnaissance Office.” (See synopsis of ltr., Document 20, in The National Security Archive of SIGINT material, obtained by FOIA applications of its managers.) Scoville had been at odds too with NRO directors about its authority, their authority, and their relation with the DDR.

“McCone,” John Marks wrote in The Search For The “Manchurian Candidate”, “apparently believed that science should be in the hands of the scientists, not clandestine operators, and brought in fellow Californian, an aerospace ‘Whiz Kid’ named Albert ‘Bud’ Wheelon to head a new Agency Directorate of Science and Technology.” (p. 209) The DCI, though, in letting the scientists who had tried to create intelligence zombies – former Technical Services Staff head Sidney Gottlieb, his new chief Seymour Russell, hypnotist Dr. George White and others – know what he thought of them, he just angered them, and induced them to more reckless operations, as one ex-CIA recalled upon learning of wild cowboy Seymour’s appointment: “The idea was to get a close interface with operations.” (Quoted from Marks, p. 210.) And this is what Wheelon wanted too.

While this close interface was demonstrated when White tried to quickly hypnotize Lee Harvey Oswald, it seems, in Mexico City in July 1963 to kill JFK (pp. 202-3, and n., bottom p. 244) – which failed, and led to Miami Agent George Joannides helping set him up as the fall guy for the JFK assassination, the more relevant experience for this article was the apparent downing by the Cubans of NRO Captain Glenn Hyde, Jr.’s flight while over Cuba on November 20, 1963, on the eve of JFK’s fatal trip to Texas – what crashed into the Florida Straits, activating new agent Porter Goss to retrieve the plane and its photographic material in the hope that it would show that the Soviets still had IRBMs on the island, and were willing to use force to hide their existence.

The LaGrange (Ga,) Daily News (LDN), the paper of Hyde’s home town, headlined its issue the next day thus: “LaGrange Pilot Missing In U-2 Crash Near Cuba” and printed under it a large photograph of the smiling pilot. There were three stories under the headline: one about the man behind another downed U-2, another about Hyde’s last moments Stateside before his sudden disappearance, and a nationally syndicated story about the apparent shoot-down. A United Press Bulletin reported that Navy divers, operating from a PT boat in the Florida Straits, had found the wreckage of the plane, and had started salvage operations to raise the plane. Then there was a story about his wife, entitled “I Believe My Husband Is All Right”, from Leland, Mississippi where the flight had originated from, and where she was residing while he was performing this crucial duty.

The crux of the stories was what while the Strategic Air Command (SAC) theorized that the plane had experienced mechanical difficulties, military sources in Washington “…did not discount entirely the possibility of a Cuban attack on the U2, the intelligence craft that discovered the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba last year and has kept the island under surveillance since.”

On the day JFK was assassinated, the whereabouts of the missing pilot was the headline on the front page, and the story added that an all-out search was underway to find Hyde, and that “divers, during a preliminary investigation at a 100-foot depth, said there was no signs of Hyde inside the fuselage of the plane.” Its implication was that evidence on the craft would determine what it had encountered, and what was the cause of the crash.

The day after the fouled-up conspiracy assassination – what had accidentally or deliberately included Texas Governor John B. Connally, and he had survived, threatening to prosecute those who had apparently double crossed him – the interest in connecting it to Cuba simply died, and with it the fate of Captain Hyde and the evidence within the downed U-2. In the LDN, these concerns were reduced to a three paragraph story on the bottom of a inside page, the fuselage on the bottom of the Florida straits reduced to merely “minor debris”. Much of the hoax was in evidence when the alleged deceased’s survivors were awarded at the Greenfield AFB in May 1964 his Distinguished Flying Cross and the Fifth Oak Leaf Cluster to his Air Medal for flights which did not include the one which, it seems, killed him.

The crude cover up of this NRO hoax might have been exposed if several other more immediate cover-ups of the killing were not already underway, and the agency was not the vital instrument of JFK’s lasting legacy – landing an American on the moon by the end of the decade. The Apollo program was the NRO’s baby, and it played it for all it was worth. While the NSA was getting embroiled in the Vietnam War because of its fabrications regarding the Tonkin Gulf incidents, the CIA because of its illegal MH-CHAOS operation against its opponents, and the Bureau because of its similar COINTELPRO program, the NRO, with its satellites, spacecrafts, and new aircraft, was pushing everyone’s vision towards the stars.

Still, in its most secret enclave, it would get into much more dangerous projects and results, as we shall see.

See Also - A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 2