A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 5

25 06 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford

 
Never was there a stranger presidential year than 1972 – when President Richard Nixon was apparently poised for successful re-election while his “tricky” bits along the way were threatening to surface in a devastating fashion. After three hard years of effort, the Vietnamese war finally seemed on the verge of ending despite the secret campaign the White House had been conducting at home and abroad while trying to decouple the communist powers from the process by opening the door to Red China’s recognition, and seeking a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviets. Nonetheless, the Oval Office was most worried of the public learning of the conniving its occupant had used in getting there, the most conspiratorial way it operated once there, and its reckless gambling with the future in order to remain.

Efforts to stop knowledgeable whistleblowers, especially former agent to CIA’s top officials Victor Marchetti, from publishing works on Agency deceptions was just a stop-gap effort as others were bound to come along. While prepublication review by the CIA of proposed work, and secrecy contracts for all employees of covert government – something difficult to arrange with those already hired – promised to stem the tide of revelations of shoddy, if not illegal, work, there was still the problem of the secret documents themselves, especially signal intelligence aka SIGINT, especially from NSA’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), surfacing – exposure of which would blow Nixon’s ship of state right out of the water.

1972 was most concerning from the outset in this regard, as Nixon was facing re-election – what he hoped to showcase with a successful conclusion to the war in Southeast Asia. In the year’s State of the Union Address, the President announced a further 70,000-man reduction of American forces in South Vietnam – one indicating that full Vietnamization of the struggle was just a short matter of time – while mentioning National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese for a settlement: an American withdrawal in exchange for the return of those Americans missing in action, a cease-fire, and new elections in South Vietnam – what was intended to break the deadlock in discussions.

The prospect raised the ugly issue of what would happen to South Vietnam’s current President, Nguyen Van Thieu, if peace was agreed to but if he refused again to go along – what he had done during the last days of the 1968 election campaign in America. On October 31, 1968, LBJ announced a bombing halt in Vietnam, and the assembling of the parties in Paris in the hope that the war could be settled. Two days later, though, Thieu refused to attend the negotiations, and the effort failed. Thieu’s refusal was apparently crucial in preventing Democratic Party candidate Hubert Humphrey from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – what JFK had allegedly done eight years earlier by taking advantage of the secret plans to invade Cuba at the former Republican Vice President’s expense. Thanks to Thieu’s refusal, LBJ’s ploy fell short, and Nixon narrowly won the election.

Of course, Johnson suspected a plot – what was soon established, but he declined to make public, even in his memoirs, The Vantage Point, his highly secretive sources: the Bureau’s bugs and surveillance of South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem and Anna Chennault – wife of the celebrated chief of the Flying Tigers in China during WWII, General Claire Chennault – the Agency’s bugs on President Thieu’s office in Saigon; and the NRO’s regularly encrypted diplomatic traffic between the South Vietnamese Capital and its embassy in Washington. “There is little doubt that during the final stages of the campaign,” Christopher Andrew wrote in For the President’s Eyes Only, “Anna Chennault passed on a ‘very important’ message from the Nixon camp that was intended to dissuade Thieu from agreeing to attend the Paris peace talks until after the election.” (p. 349)

Johnson was apparently persuaded that he had “no reason to think” that Nixon “was himself involved in this maneuvering, but a few individuals in his campaign were.” (Jon Weiner, “Another ‘October Surprise’,” The Nation, November 6, 2000)

Of course, Nixon knew better, and he was already deeply involved in trying to solve the problem – get rid of the members of his campaign who were, destroy the evidence of this “October Surprise”, and make sure that Thieu could not kibosh any peace settlement now. While many critics have pooh-poohed Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power – like his previous exposés of the JFK assassination, and FBI Directory Hoover because of minor errors, and unsubstantiated speculation – it nailed down who were the culprits in Nixon’s campaign staff, New York attorney John Mitchell, and Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Spiro Agnew, who were dealing with the famous Chinese lady. “In interviews with Summers,” Wiener wrote,”she said he met with Nixon and his campaign manager (and future Attorney General), John Mitchell, who told her to inform Saigon that if Nixon won the election, South Vietnam would get ‘a better deal’.” Furthermore, Summers established that the ‘Boss’ who told her to pass along the message to Thieu, “Hold on, we are gonna win,” was Agnew – while on flight stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico on November 2, 1968.

Nixon was trying to solve the problem by getting rid of Director Hoover – what would end his threats to leading Republican leaders – but without any success because of all the files he had on “Tricky Dick” and others. In October 1971, Nixon vowed to get rid of Hoover, but the President got cold feet during the showdown. Then in December, at Nixon’s home in Key Biscayne, he apparently tried to persuade the Director to retire, but failed. Nixon even invited Hoover to accompany him back to Washington on Air Force One – even presenting him with a cake for his seventy-seventh birthday – in the hope that this sign of favor would soften him up to retire.

All the while, Nixon officials in the Justice Department were desperately trying to locate the Director’s most sensitive files, some of which involved the NRO – ones about his affair, starting in 1958 in Hong Kong, and still continuing until Nixon was inaugurated, with Marianna Liu, suspected of being a Red Chinese agent; his working with the Bureau which apparently doctored Alger Hiss’s typewriter to secure his 1948 conviction of perjury; his helping Nixon become Eisenhower’s running mate, and the Republican candidate for President in 1960; looking for more dirt on Edward Kennedy after Chappaquiddick; falsely telling Nixon after he was elected President that LBJ had been bugging his airplane during the final two weeks of the campaign, etc. – and to destroy them, a process which only started in earnest after the Director died.

Actually, the Director went out of his way to frighten Nixon because of his pressuring him to retire – what may well have led to Hoover’s convenient death. Columnist Jack Anderson, a growing thorn in the White House’s side, somehow obtained in early March a copy of lobbyist Dita Beard’s memo, claiming that International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) had obtained a favorable Justice Department ruling in an anti-trust suit in 1971 in return for contributing secretly $400,000 and services to the Republican National Convention in San Diego – a quid pro quo which would allow the White House direct access to secret transmissions it was interested in, especially the coded messages between the government in South Vietnam and its embassy in Washington while getting President Thieu on board for a settlement.

The disclosure could not have been a worse one, and could not have occurred at a worse time. The memo completely disrupted what had been agreed to at Camp David on January 28th – the announcement of Mitchell’s resignation on February 15th, and his replacement by Richard Kleindienst, his deputy. Mitchell would return to his law firm which had represented ITT in its disputes with the government, and run the campaign to re-elect Nixon. Also, the White House was planning to get rid of the troublemaking Vice President, Spiro Agnew, especially over Vietnam – what would remove from the scene the two most vulnerable of Nixon’s associates involved in making the “November Surprise” which sank Humphrey’s presidential ambitions.

The disclosure forced Kleindienst, who was being questioned now by the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation as Attorney General, to ultimately withdraw his nomination, and Agnew was recruited by Mitchell into the White House task force to prevent dangerous blowback about ITT which threatened even Nixon himself. This clearly involved not only insider-trading with its stock but also the White House using ITT as its own SIGINT service, as Robert Haldeman dutifully recorded on March 5th in his diaries: “P(resident) was concerned about what’s at the root of all this, where did his story start, who leaked the memo, who was it written to, and so forth. We don’t seem to have the answers on any of that.” (pp. 425-26) While the White House was being obliged to stick with Spiro, Nixon was most concerned that Colson, his special counsel, and handler of The Plumbers aka the Special Investigations Unit, kept a low profile during the whole affair.

Nixon had good reason for Colson to play it cool, as he had recommended the burning down of a famous Washington research institution when The Plumbers started looking for documents regarding important leaks and leakers, as Woodward and Bernstein recorded in All the President’s Men - what even his naive superior, John Dean, had enough sense to call off: “Morton Halperin, Daniel Ellsberg’s friend whose telephone was among the ‘Kissinger taps,’ was believed to have kept some classified documents when he left Kissinger’s staff to become a fellow at the Brookings Institution (a center for the study of public policy questions).” (p. 324) It was the beginning of the Plumber project of dirty tricks, code-named “Gemstone”. Of course, the White House wanted the papers back but not yet at this expense. Moreover, it wanted to minimize the possibilities of such blunders by recruiting ITT as its own SIGINT service – what would cut the NRO and NSA out of the process.

The Nixon White House had something really big planned with ITT, as was demonstrated by the lengths it went to in order to get Ms. Beard to repudiate the memo, and to cover up what was really planned with the communications giant. Plumber Hunt, using a CIA-supplied red wig, went to see her in a Denver hospital to get her to deny the memo’s authenticity. Then the White House tried to make out that ITT was the initiator of all the deals involving it, especially the prevention of socialist Salvatore Allende becoming President of Chile, and that they simply concerned money – what was patently untrue.

John McCone, former DCI, and now ITT’s director, offered the Agency in 1970 $1,000,000 to stop Allende’s election – what DCI Helms made sure looked like the CIA had sought, and when it came time to censor Marchetti’s manuscript. Shortly thereafter, Anthony Sampson’s exposé of the international conglomerate, The Sovereign State of ITT, appeared, but it was so involved in talking about its past international meddling, especially on both sides during WWII, that it never got round to the present.

To stop the rot, Nixon had John Dean visit Hoover in the hope of getting the Director to declare the memo a fake. The encounter was a bruising one for the President’s young counsel. After Dean had hesitantly explained to J. Edgar what the White House wanted, he said – after telling a tale about how Anderson was even willing to go through his trash and its dog shit for a story – that he would be pleased to test its authenticity. As Hoover was ushering Dean out, he even volunteered material from his famous files, as Curt Gentry wrote in J. Edgar Hoover, on the troublesome reporter.

Given the fact that ITT had already tested the memo’s authenticity, and the expert, Pearl Tytell, had staked her reputation on its being a recent forgery, Nixon was ecstatic over the probable result – comparing it to how the testing of Alger Hiss’s typewriter had led to his undoing: “The typewriters are always the key.” (Quoted from Gentry, p. 716.)

The President was totally unprepared for the result. Ivan Conrad, head of the Bureau’s Laboratory, found that the memo was apparently typed around the date indicated on it, and that it was probably genuine. Of course, Nixon was beside himself over the result, uttering that it was Hoover who hated Anderson. To change the outcome so that it did not contradict what the ITT expert had found, White House officials pressured the Director, and Nixon even wrote a personal note to Hoover, asking him to “cooperate”. Of course, if he had, not only would his continuance at the Bureau been assured but also the cosy relationship the White House had with the SIGINT giant. Ms. Beard’s lawyers even released her sworn affidavit, denying her early claims to Anderson. Still, Hoover would not budge, and on March 23rd, the Senate received Hoover’s verdict – what ended any hope of Kliendienst becoming Attorney General.

Hoover appeared to be in the driver’s seat, given his “back channel” to all kinds of secrets, mostly SIGINT in nature, which threatened disastrous consequences if Nixon fired him. The most talked about source was the taping system that the Director had secretly installed in the Oval Office, but there were many more sources than that. Their scope indicated that Hoover had something even more comprehensive than ITT, most likely the NRO itself. Remember the Director had cut all Bureau liaison with the CIA, DIA, NSA, Secret Service, IRS, etc., but it needed SIGINT in order to prevent some terrible disaster, like another assassination, so there had to be a back channel with the NRO.

It would not have required much from the Director to expand what it was already providing the Bureau in the name of law-enforcement, and nation security. All Hoover would have needed to justify wider coverage was to say that the Bureau was looking into the possibility of some presidential candidate trying to pull off another “November surprise” about the Vietnam war in the hope of stealing the election.

And if not the NRO, perhaps the Institute of Defense Analyses (IDA), now headed by the disgruntled, former head of NRO, Dr. Alexander Flax, who had resigned because of the White House’s resumption of efforts to win the war three years earlier. Given what McCone was doing for the White House at ITT, it seems likely that Flax would reciprocate in kind for the whistle-blowing Hoover. The IDA had authority to investigate any national security issue for government departments which was science-related, and it could call upon the Pentagon to provide any information which would be used to help test improvements in law-enforcement, technical equipment, communication security, etc.

The crucial importance of Hoover now was demonstrated in what the Plumbers were doing. Since their pursuit of leakers, especially Daniel Ellsberg, had led nowhere despite their break-in, with CIA assistance, of his psychiatrist’s office in California, they had then been looking into getting rid of Anderson – a possible operation in the Gemstone plan. In late March, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt met with the Agency’s Dr. Edward Gunn, an expert on poisons, and neutralizing drugs, and discussed with him how they might incapacitate someone of Scandinavian descent. With the Director proving to be the real danger, though, the focus of the covert operations turned to knocking Alabama Governor George C. Wallace out of the presidential campaign.

Nixon had originally urged the Southerner to compete in the Democratic primaries to help divide its supporters, especially to protect against Teddy Kennedy suddenly attempting to grab the nomination, but Wallace was increasingly proving to be a threat to Nixon’s re-election, particularly when Senator George McGovern proved to be a candidate in his own right and not just a stalking horse for the Massachusetts Senator. The turning point had been the Florida primary which Nixon had urged Wallace to enter, via Bob Haldeman and crony Bebe Rebozo, and he had proven that he was not just a red-neck from south of the Mason-Dixon Line by knocking out Senator Muskie, the Democratic front-runner, for all intents and purposes.

While the Plumbers had an ideal candidate, a Manchurian one, for knocking out Wallace, if circumstances so required, they had to be worried about any replay of the MLK and RFK assassinations at the expense of a real conservative. In 1968, Hoover, as Anthony Summers wrote in Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, laughed off a bid to join Wallace’s ticket as Vice Presidential candidate in order to secure his stay as Director. (p. 369)

The Plumbers, thanks to the efforts by Executive-action specialist William King Harvey, had recruited an ideal assassin, young Arthur Bremer from Milwaukee, for any assassination. Harvey was now a particular red-flag for the Director because he reminded him of the treachery that trusted aide William Sullivan, another strong advocate of covert action, had just engaged in with the White House to get him retired, and to replace him. Sullivan had been forced to resign the previous August.

Hoover was surprisingly candid when he spoke about the Nixon’s relationship with the Plumbers, particularly Harvey, as Summers has reported: “The President is a good man. He’s a patriot. But he listens to some wrong people. By God, he’s got some former CIA men working for him that I’d kick out of my office. Someday that bunch will serve him up a fine mess.” (Quoted from p. 409.) Since Hoover had kicked Harvey out of his office back in the summer of 1947, there is little doubt that he had especially had him in mind.

Moreover, the total composition of the Plumbers has always been deliberately a bit vague to hide the membership of some notorious characters, as their secretary, Kathleen Chenow, explained to reporters Woodward and Bernstein when the Assistant Attorney General was apparently attempting to get Hoover’s files for the White House: “There was another occasion when Mr. Maridan was at a big meeting in Mr. Krogh’s office with Liddy, Hunt and three or four people I didn’t recognize.” (Quoted from All the President’s Men, p. 216)

No one has ever seen fit to determine who they might be, and she certainly knew the personnel who regularly worked out of room 16 on the ground floor in the Old Executive Office Building. Along with Harvey, the men seem to have been Felipe Vidal aka Felipe DeDiego and Charles Morgan, Humberto Lopez, and Jaime Ferrer – an anti-Castro group to carry out assassinations since the Bay of Pigs Operation.

Since Hoover was now playing hard ball with the White House – amassing files on all its buggings, intercepts, and break-ins – nothing rash could be attempted until the Director was clearly out of the way. After all, Hoover had recently explained to journalist Andrew Tully that the Plumbers “…think they can get away with murder.” (Quote from Official and Confidential, p. 409.) According to an article Mark Frazier published in The Harvard Crimson, this group placed a thiophosphate type poison in Hoover’s toilet articles after a previous break-in of his home had failed to find the documents Hoover was holding over the President’s head. “Ingestion,” Summers explained, “can result in a fatal heart seizure and can be detected only if an autopsy is performed within hours of death.” (p. 415)

On May 2, 1972, the Director seems to have suffered such a heart seizure after Nixon had called him shortly before midnight, and told him that he must retire. Hoover’s blood-pressure obviously soared after hearing of the fatal, final showdown with the President, and he must have gone to the medicine chest for medication required, only to ingest the thiophosphate which left him dead on the floor of his bedroom in a couple of hours.

The next morning, while Nixon cronies L. Patrick Gray and Deputy Associate Director Mark Felt, now falsely aka “Deep Throat”, were stripping Hoover’s home of all its documents and seeing that they were shredded, the medical examiners, after contacting NYC’s Medical Examiner Dr. Milton Helpern, decided that the Director had died of natural causes, requiring no autopsy. Later, Felt explained: “For me, it was no personal loss. I never did feel emotional about it. My main thought that day was about the problems created by his death.” (Quoted from Summers, p. 428.)

With Hoover out of the way, Harvey’s men moved quickly to finish off Wallace. Bremer, like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver, was already well prepared for the job, having been subjected to “psychic-driving” reminiscent of how James Earl Ray had been programmed to kill Dr. King – what would be repeated when it came time for Mark David Chapman to kill Beatle John Lennon. Law enforcement officers were already on the lookout for Bremer after he was arrested on November 18, 1971 for carrying a concealed weapon! For good measure, Bremer bought a Charter Arms .38 caliber revolver at Milwaukee’s Casanova Guns, Inc. on January 13 – the same day that he broke up his relationship with teenager Joan Pemrich, and Wallace announced his third run for the Presidency. Bremer purchased a 9mm Browning pistol on February lst.

By the end of March, the Plumber operation was transferred to Milwaukee. Of course, this led to secretary Chenow’s office being the center of all kinds of communications which Hoover was undoubtedly receiving copies of. The most likely hypnotist to have programmed Bremer was Dr. William Joseph Bryan, who had helped solve the Boston Strangler murder case by hypnotizing suspect, Albert DiSalvo - a name that Sirhan Sirhan had mysteriously written in his notebook before he shot at RFK. Bryan, during the last two years of his life, boasted to two call girls who “serviced” him regularly before he died in 1977, William Turner and Jonn Christian reported in The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, not only “about hypnotizing Sirhan, but also about working for the CIA on ‘top secret projects’.” (Jonathan Vankin & John Whalen, The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, p. 371)

During April, Bremer stalked both Wallace and Nixon in a way which would be repeated eight years later when John Hinckley, Jr. pursued President Carter and Ronald Reagan. Of course, it was much easier for Bremer to gain access to Wallace than to Nixon, even when the President visited Ottawa in Canada, but the programmed assassin explained his aims in ways reminiscent of Hinckley. “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace,” as Dan T. Carter quoted in The Politics of Rage. “I intend to shoot one or the other while he attends a champange (sic) rally for the Wisconsin Presidential Preference Primary.” (p. 419) Nixon, though, never campaigned in Wisconsin, so Bremer was just screwing himself up for some wild aggression against the Alabama Governor when the time came.

Bremer – whose income for 1971 was a measly $1,611 – went on a wild spree in NYC, staying at the Waldorf-Astoria, renting a Lincoln Continental, and seeking sexual pleasure with prostitutes but without any success. Then, reminiscent of how Ray drove around the South, looking for Dr. King, Bremer flew back to Milwaukee, packed his Rambler with his guns, and went to Ottawa again, and to Washington to shoot Nixon, only to report bitterly in his diary: “ALL MY EFFORTS & NOTHING CHANGED. Just another god Damn failure.” With Wallace poised to win the Democratic Primary in Michigan, clinching his hold on the Midwest Rust Belt, Nixon was suddenly confronted by a probable third-party candidate who could spoil his re-election.

During the two weeks after Hoover’s death, Bremer’s wild behavior alerted police and the Secret Service that he was a threat, but the questions were to whom and where. As Wallace was winning the South, Bremer was reading Robert Kaiser’s R.F.K. Must Die, and attended Stanley Kubrick’s film “A Clockwork Orange” at Milwaukee’s Mayfair Shopping Center Cinema, imagining that he was actor Alek in the film, and he was getting the Governor. On May 9th, Bremer claimed that only two girls prevented him from shooting Wallace when he attended a rally in Dearborn. Four days later, he arrived five hours before Wallace’s scheduled appearance at Kalamazoo’s National Guard Armory, and when questioned by police about his unusual behavior, he just said he wanted to make sure he got a good seat.

Two days later, Bremer gunned down Wallace, and three others, including SS agent Nick Zarvos, when he attended the Laurel shopping center in Maryland. No one was killed, but the Governor was severely wounded, resulting in paralysis from the waist down, and essentially settling the election. (For more on the assassination, see my “Manchurian Candidates:Mind-Control Experiments and The Deadliest Secrets of the Cold War,” Eye Spy magazine, Issue Eight 2002, p. 50ff.) “Nixon now knew for certain,” Fred Emery wrote in Watergate, “he would not be threatened by a Wallace third-party candidacy as in 1968.” (p. 115) Of course, officially Nixon acted as if it were just an unexpected occurrence, and did what he could to ease the pain of the Wallaces by getting former Treasury Secretary John Connally to do whatever was necessary to get them to retire quietly from the political scene.

Behind the scenes, though, the President and his covert operators worked frantically to make sure that there was no incriminating evidence back in Bremer’s apartment. The FBI, under Mark Felt’s leadership, proving that he was no “Deep Throat”, made no immediate attempt to seal it, and, as a consequence, it was stripped of anything of interest by curious reporters and other unknown parties, the leading member of which must have been Harvey. Felt even knew of Bremer’s identity and residence while claiming to Colson that the Bureau knew nothing about the shooting.

“Hunt’s story,” Emery added, “was that Colson first asked him to break into Bremer’s rented rooms in Milwaukee in search of incriminating materials, then called it off. (pp. 115-6) Harvey’s people had apparently made Hunt’s trip unnecessary. When the Bureau agents arrived at the apartment, they got into a dispute with the SS about who should have control of it. Colson then tried to convince Felt that Bremer had ties with the Kennedy and McGovern camps.

In sum, the killing of Hoover allowed Nixon to insure his re-election by having the Plumbers dispose of Wallace with little difficulty because of Felt’s considerable assistance at the Bureau. And it was all deemed necessary because of the SIGINT that the Director had garnered, especially from the NRO.


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A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 4

11 06 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford

Whenever a new administration takes over in Washington, especially that of the other party, there is a vast change in the Executive Branch because of policy needs, the demands of favor, and the needs of individuals.The new President will need a group of like-minded specialists to satisfy the demands of current administration and future policy changes, the needs and expectations of party enthusiasts and special interests who have invested so much of their time and resources in his election, and those who burned themselves out at various posts while trying to keep his predecessor in office.  The shakeup in the White House is so chaotic that it is almost impossible to satisfy basic security concerns while the transformation is taking place.
 
Given this situation, the replacements of administrative personnel are usually seen as normal and most predictable.  Consequently, when Dr. Alexander H. Flax resigned as director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in March 1969, it was hardly even mentioned, much less raising any eyebrows.  Flax had been director for 3 ½ years demanding years – ones in which the NRO finally completed the objective of the Apollo program of sending men to the moon, and safely returning them to earth just before Christmas 1968 – just when the new Nixon administration has organizing itself to take power the next month. The public would hardly have been surprised if Flax took advantage of the Pentagon’s revolving door relationship with its industrial complex, and opted for a cushy position in the private sector.  
 
From the very outset when Richard Nixon was elected President in November 1968, though, his administration was ideally suited to take advantage of all the capabilities of the NRO. ‘Tricky Dick’ seemed just the man to want the services of an agency officially unknown, and whose abilities were only really known by a most small circle. It was not until five years later - in the middle of the Watergate scandal – that the media finally discovered its very existence, and it took another generation before officialdom - when it wanted to clean up its image - formally acknowledged its existence. The Nixon administration appeared to offer opportunities that Flax could hardly afford to turn down despite its stated intentions of ending America’s war in Vietnam.
 
And Flax did not offer his resignation, only to learn almost immediately that it was dejá vue all over again. Instead of using the NRO to help achieve peace – what the voters expected from Nixon since the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, had promised to continue LBJ’s campaign there to a successful conclusion – the Republican administration, thanks to input by the new National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, and his military assistant, Colonel Alexander Haig, opted to snatch victory from defeat by launching a massive aerial bombardment of the whole area to destroy the ability of the North Vietnamese and their alleged surrogates, the Viet-Cong, to continue fighting.
 
Of course, they have maintained most false claims about what was afoot, once the gambit ended in total failure.  Kissinger wrote in 1979: “The Nixon Administration entered office determined to end our involvement in Vietnam.” (Quoted from Robert J. McMahon, ed., Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, p. 425.)  According to Kissinger, the reason why it didn’t do so successfully was because the American public and Washington’s commitments further afield did not permit the time and effort that General de Gaulle had been allowed to withdraw from Algeria. Haig, in Inner Circles, played dumb about the whole matter, acting as if he were merely a White House errand boy who prepared the President’s daily intelligence briefing, merely alluding to a paper he prepared for the President which Kissinger was enthusiastic about, and Nixon “…ordered us to put it into effect.” (p. 196)
 
Nixon’s first chief of staff, in his amended, published The Haldeman Diaries, described a most secret meeting held in Brussels during Nixon’s first visit to Europe on February 24, 1969:  “At the meeting K, his deputy, Al Haig, and a Pentagon planning officer worked out guidelines for a proposed plan for bombing North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia.  P had decided on the plane to Belgium to order the bombing as a response to the North Vietnamese countrywide offensive that they launched the day before we left.” (p. 33)  The plan included the items that Haig and Lt. Col. Dewitt Smith had recommended to Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson five years earlier, but had been rejected at the time because they were too risky. (See Haig, pp. 137-9.)
 
While implementing the plan was postponed for three weeks in order to override State Department opposition, Operation Breakfast – the codename apparently befitting Haig’s morning intelligence duties – was kicked off on March 16th, a Sunday, after a dutiful church service.  Two days later, Haldeman reported, “K’s ‘Operation Breakfast’ a great success.  He came beaming in with a report, very productive.  A lot more secondaries than had been expected.  Confirmed early intelligence.  Probably no reaction for a few days, if ever.” (p. 41)  The next phase of the secret war, Operation Lunch, the military incursion into Cambodia, followed in due course, but one would never know from reading Haig’s account.
 
Of course, Haldeman was referring to a North Vietnamese reaction, but there had already been a response.  Flax tendered his resignation just then, knowing that the Nixon administration had the tiger again by the tail, and he wanted no longer to be a part of it.  Haldeman, along with other administration leaders, also did not anticipate the increasingly hostile press coverage of the accelerating operation, thanks to leaks to the media about it.  Soon the Washington Post and New York Times reporters, especially William Beecher, were barred from the White House, and Haig, who was now regularly consulting with Nixon in the Old Executive Office Building where they both had offices, was busily involved in determining their source.
 
To implement the secret Kissinger-Haig plan, the White House created a “backchannel” with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thereby circumventing not only SOD Melvin Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, and the Cabinet but also NSA and the CIA.  “Using special codes, teletypes, and secure terminals located at the Pentagon and in the White House Situation Room,”  Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin wrote in Silent Coup: The Removal of a President, “the president and his national security adviser could send and receive messages to selected American officials and members of foreign governments around the world without alerting the rest of the United States government.” (p. 8)
 
Of course, the secret war needed the NRO to collect the aerial intelligence, and to provide the necessary communications for the successful completion of what the agenda called for – disrupting the transmission of men and materiel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the ousting of the North Vietnamese from their Cambodian sanctuary, pursuing those who fled into Laos, the mining of Haiphong Harbor, etc. – and a second set of false reports about results in order to keep others in the dark about what was going on.  Haig, in characteristic style, explained the campaign as the result of the North Koreans shooting down a US Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane on April 14th (p. 204ff.), a month after the bombing of Cambodia had started.   
 
For all intents and purposes, Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson - the top assistant to Admiral Thomas H. Moorer – the CNO who would soon become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - was the NRO’s deputy director under the new arrangements.  While Robinson was said to be running, later along with Yeoman Chuck Radford, a liaison office, connecting the JCS with the NSC – he was actually seeing to the implementation of what had been agreed to by Kissinger and Haig regarding the secret war.  Robinson may well have been the Pentagon planner present at Brussels at its inception.  The Admiral was a go-for-broke type who would stop at nothing to win the war in Vietnam      
 
As Admiral Robert O.Welander - Robinson’s replacement to the White House when the operation had to be closed down - explained to John D. Ehrlichman, the President’s Assistant on Domestic Affairs, and David R. Young, an aide to Kissinger, on December 23, 1971, his joint-position had existed for about ten years, and he took over from Admiral Robert Ginsburg who had held the position in the LBJ administration:  “I’m a two-way avenue of communications. I try and explain things to the (NSC) staff.  I mean some of the formal military positions, things of that sort.  I’m an in-house military expert; if they need some things done quickly.  I can go ahead and punch into the organization over there much more quickly and hopefully effectively, than if we go down through the formal mechanism.”
 (Quoted from Colodny and Gettlin, p. 447.) 
  
While Robinson was responding to NSC commands with NRO missions, Haig was increasingly trying to determine the source of the growing number of leaks, especially because his former boss, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, had commissioned a study of why policy-making had gone so badly in Vietnam – a work Haig had been asked to join but had declined, unlike many former colleagues in the process, especially Daniel Ellsberg.  When the FBI finally declined to investigate more suspected leakers after having bugged 17 persons, most of them members of the NSC, over an 18-month period without any positive results, Haig saw to the hiring of The Plumbers aka Special Investigations Unit, and their installation in the Executive Office Building to continue the work
 
The Plumbers’ background has never been adequately examined, and the reason seems to be Harvey’s leadership of it. It was the descendant of his old ZR/RIFLE group in the Agency’s Division D which had expanded its “black bag” experts to plant bugs and photograph documents in foreign embassies into official assassination efforts (James Bamford, Body of Secrets, p. 479) – the authority that Harvey, now aka Harvey Lowmeyer, had used is getting rid of MLK and RFK.  Fred Emery, in Watergate, made no attempt to explain the group’s origin, just the decision by the Nixon White House to hire it to do its “black bag” operation. (p. 53ff.)  The CIA’s approval of the switch seems to have been made by DCI Richard Helms who was trying to separate Nixon’s covert operations from the Agency’s one, and slimming down its ranks to get rid of its most dangerous operators, especially Harvey, E. Howard Hunt, G, Gordon Liddy, and James McCord.
 
The troubles with the Kissinger-Haig-NRO secret war were manifold.  The North Vietnamese and the Viet-Cong were unwilling to negotiate anything more than the cessation of hostilities, and the withdrawal of American forces, as their unwillingness to let the Soviets negotiate some kind of lesser settlement indicated. Washington only added to these problems by opening the door to Red China, and talking to Moscow about a treaty to limit nuclear weapons, thinking falsely that these efforts would undermine their assistance of the Vietnamese.  And American losses continued to mount, as the media indicated – the NYT even publishing the photographs of service men killed since the Nixon administration had taken office.  Then NSA Kissinger was growing increasingly pessimistic about what the secret war was achieving.
 
These developments, especially the negotiations with the communist powers, drove the JCS to start using the “backchannel” to spy on what Kissinger and Haig were up to, especially as the secret war wound down. Admiral Welander and Yeoman Radford instead of being conduits to the NRO became spies for Admiral Moorer, chairman of the JCS.  “Military officers sensed that they were merely being used as instruments,” Colodny and Gettlin wrote, “to further Nixon’s own ends; their belief that this was the case was furthered by the events of ensuing months, during which they saw themselves being ignored, cut out, and circumvented on all the important issues – the conduct of the war, troop withdrawals, the peace negotiation, and SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), just to name the most important ones.” (p. 10)
 
This spying - which started for real in October 1970 –  was discussed by Nixon, Attorney General John Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman at a meeting at the White House on December 21, 1971 where they interviewed Welander’s assistant, as James Rosen recounted in “Nixon and the Chiefs,” on KeepMedia on April 1, 2002:  ” ‘Under the implied approval of his supervisor,’ Ehrlichman said at another point in the conversation, Radford ‘has systematically stolen documents out of Henry’s briefcase, Haig’s briefcase, people’s desks – anyplace and every place in the NSC apparatus, that he could get his hands on – and then duplicated them and turned them over to the Joint Chiefs, through his boss’.”  While the President was interested in seeking a prosecution of those thought responsible, especially Haig, the Attorney General talked him out of doing so for fear of disastrous blowback.
 
Instead, the liaison office was immediately closed, and the files Welander had were handed over to Haig who understandably handed those relating to the spying to Ehrlichman while keeping the rest himself. Welander was transferred to a sea command as far away from Washington as could be found, and Radford was reassigned to Oregon’s Naval Reserve Training Center.  Admiral Robinson, while revealing nothing about his being a NRO conduit during the secret war when he was interviewed, was conveniently killed in a helicopter crash in the Tonkin Gulf in May 1972, leaving Haig in the confident position of denying in an uncharacteristic footnote Silent Coup‘s claims only about him:  “…I do so now by stating categorically that any suggestion that this officer committed any act of disloyalty whatsoever to the United States or his Commander-in-Chief while serving in the White House is totally false.” (p. 245)
 
Officially, during this time, the NRO was busily occupied positioning its new generation of satellites, Rhyolites, constructed in TRW’s M-4 facility in Redondo Beach, California, and making arrangements around the globe for the secure retrieval of their take.  The satellites – the size of a minibus, and equipped with a solar-powered, dish-shaped antenna aimed towards the earth – were designed to pick up microwave and satellite communications on a continual basis - what the Soviets were increasingly relying upon in communicating across their vast country – and down-loading what they recorded without any encryption to avoid any additional weight in securing their positioning in space. In order for the satellites to work continuously, they had to be placed in geosynchronous orbit – 22,380 miles above the equator, and at a longitude where a secure place existed below.
 
Flax’s replacement, Dr. John L. McLucas, was the ideal director for the job, as he had spent his previous, relevant career in the private sector, and, cconsequently, knew nothing about the NRO’s ongoing operations, especially its secret war in Southeast Asia.  McLucas, the former CEO and President of MITRE Corp., had been involved in developing communication systems for national air security, and McLucas, in becoming Air Force undersecretary too, just thought
his function was to smooth relations between the public and private providers of satellites, as he explained to researchers for the Defense Acquisition History Project shortly before he died:  “So I saw it as mainly dealing with hardware and with the people who were necessary to procure and upgrade the hardware.”
 
McLucas left the positioning of the new satellites to subordinates, and their real challenge was to find a place where they could conveniently and securely download their take in the far Pacific. Australia offered the best sites possible, and as long as it was governed by politicians friendly to America’s venture in Vietnam, it was no problem. The site selected was at Pine Gap, near Ayers Rock, smack-dab in the middle of the continent.  “Like a vacuum cleaner,” Helen Caldicott wrote in Missile Envy, “they suck up a wide spectrum of Soviet and Chinese military communications and radar emissions and beam them back to Pine Gap.” (p. 127)  Pine Gap also received photographs and electronic transmissions from the latest satellites in the KH series, KH-8, and 9 (BIG BIRD).
 
For the purposes of this article, though, the most relevant program at Pine Gap was the CIA’s Pyramider project, about which Dr. Caldicott wrote:  “It communicated with foreign agents using sensing mechanisms placed in strategic locations around the world, and backup communications for overseas systems.  The Pyramider program was supposed to ensure ‘maximum undetectability’.” (ibid. Pyramider was part of the program that DCI Helms was using to ferret out alleged spies among the anti-war ranks worldwide, and to pave the way for the secret operations by rogue agent William King Harvey et al. Of course, no system ensures undetectability, especially if someone in it decides to talk. What, for example, would have been the protection against Dr. Flax himself telling tales – and well he might, given his unexpected, abrupt resignation - and who really were the leakers that Colonel Haig was now so worried about?
 
To complement what was going on at Pine Gap, DCI Helms created the National Underwater Reconnaissance Office (NURO).  The joint CIA-Navy project was organized much like the NRO, with the Navy taking the place of the Air Force, and its management being directed in the Agency’s direction.  The impetus behind the NURO’s creation was the Navy’s attack sub Halibut finding a stricken Soviet Golf attack submarine on the Pacific Ocean floor - loaded with nuclear weapons, “crypto-codes”, and its communication systems – and the CIA was going all-out to build a vessel to retrieve it. 
 
In 1970, the Halibut was given the assignment to tap the Soviet cable in the Sea of Okhotsk to its port on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Petropavlovsk.  To facilitate such operations, the Navy built three stations to transmit very-low-frequency (VLF) messages to the probing subs: the biggest one on the Northwest Cape of Western Australia, a second one at Jim Creek, Washington, and a third at Cutler, Maine. 
 
To insure the security of the new NURO’s operations, its CIA-led leadership carried out Operation Kittyhawk – a disinformation one to persuade Moscow falsely that it had SIGINT operations by the Americans under control.  In June 1966, KGB agent Igor Kochnov made himself available to the Agency as a continuing agent in place by offering his services to CI chief James Angleton over the phone.  To help settle disputes, and coordinate operations between the Bureau and the Agency, he was recruited, and allowed to handle a Soviet defector, former Red Banner fleet officer Nicholas Shadrin aka Nikolai Artamonov codenamed LARK, who was working for the Office of Naval Intelligence. 
 
While Shadrin helped settle their disputes over another defector, Yuri Nosenko, Mark Riebling wrote in Wedge, “Shadrin also began to pass doctored naval secrets to the Soviets.” (p. 232)  The kind of doctored information he was supplying was the difficulty the Halibut was having in finding the cable in the Sea of Okhotsk, the worries the Americans had about her being discovered in Soviet waters, the infrared guidance system that Soviet cruise missiles had which were so threatening to American carriers, etc.   (For just how hopeless The Sword and The Shield:  The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB is as a source, note that Mitrokhim has no information about Kochnov, and Shadrin ‘s contribution is limited to his false claim that he could discover Nosenko’s whereabouts! (p. 387)
 
As with the NRO’s secrets about SIGINT operations during the Vietnam war, NURO’s secret operations against Soviet SIGINT were betrayed in late 1967 by Chief Warrant Officer John Walker, a communications watch officer on the staff of the commander of the Atlantic Fleet’s submarines who walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington to offer his services shortly after fellow spy Robert Lipka had left NSA.  “He had access to reports on submarine operations, technical manuals, and daily key lists,” Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew wrote in Blind Man’s Bluff, “that were used to unscramble all the messages sent through  the military’s most widely used coding machines.” (p. 351)  As expected, the Mitrokin Archive has nothing to say about what the eighteen years of spying by him, his recruit Jerry Whitworth, and three members of his family contributed to Soviet security.
 
The success of the Walker spy ring was well demonstrated when the Halibut finally went on its first NURO mission to tap the cable in the Sea of Okhotsk in October 1971 just when the SALT talks with Moscow were entering their most difficult stages. The Soviets knew that the submarine would be looking for a sign along the coast somewhere, warning mariners not to anchor because a cable lay underneath – what  Captain James Bradley, the Navy’s top underwater spy, was convinced existed because of his experience on ships as a youth on the Mississippi. 
 
After more than a week’s search, lo and behold, the Halibut discovered a sign, stating in Russian:  “Do Not Anchor. Cable Here.”  In placing the tap on the cable – what enabled Washington periodically to read the routine communications between Moscow and its submarines in the Pacific - submariners discovered a mass of destroyed cruise missiles, small pieces of which they carefully recovered in the hope of coming up with a complete homing device of the cruise missiles.  While the Navy’s Department of Energy lab reconstructed a missile, its engineers were never able to put together the homing device.  In sum, despite the NURO’s massive efforts, it really never came up with anything important because of the spying by the Walkers.  
  
When Nixon was nearing the end of his life, former DCI Helms told Cambridge history Christopher Andrew in an interview in April 1992 his side of the story in dealing with the former President’s White House.  (See his For the President’s Eyes Only, p. 350ff., and notes.)  Of course, Helms wanted readers to believe that Nixon was the guiding hand behind Operation Chaos, claiming that the only way the Agency could prove to the President that domestic dissent was not inspired by foreign communist powers was by investigating all anti-war persons, and all contacts they had had with any foreign person.  In putting all the onus of the program on the President, though, Helms never expressed any real opposition to it nor threatened to resign because it was completely swamping his agency.
 
Then Helms was worried about the legacy Harvey had left in immobilizing other agencies while he had carried out the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.  Agents of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) had repeatedly had their drug-trafficking investigations, particularly those of James Earl Ray and his courier Charlie Stein, stopped because of NRO wiretapping which showed that CIA agents were involved.  These concerns became a crisis when Nixon ordered on June 5, 1970 Vice Admiral Noel Gayler, NSA’s director, “…to program for coverage the communications of U. S. citizens using international facilities.”  (“James Bamford Statement on NSA Surveillance,” February 3, 2006, cryptome.org)  Same as now, NSA needed neither a warrant nor probably cause for the wire-tapping in Operation Minaret.
 
This presidential directive set off alarm bells at CIA, and it moved immediately to limit any damage from new wire-tapping, especially those of sources working with the BNDD. Of course, the Agency and Bureau both had been supportive of the program when it was started back in 1967 – only to be closed down a month later when the FBI was unable to find any connection between the Vietnam Veterans against the War and the Communist Party – only to be resumed in 1968 after MLK and RFK had conveniently departed the political scene.  The CIA was worried about investigators learning about the hiatus and wondering why, especially since February 1970 when Director Hoover broke off all contact with Langley - what would show that the Agency was using the BNDD as a cover for Harvey activities, and a firewall against dangerous blowback.
 
Two weeks after Nixon had ordered warrantless eavesdropping on foreign communications of Americans by NSA, BNDD agents carried out the biggest drug-bust in history – Operation Eagle during which 150 suspects were rounded up from cities around the country.  “As many as 70 percent of those arrested had once belonged to the Bay of Pigs invasion force,” Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall wrote in Cocaine Politics, “unleashed by the CIA against Cuba in April 1961.” (p. 26)  The others were connected to the Mafia, especially the crime families of Santos Trafficante, Carlos Marcello, and Sam ‘Momo’ Giancana.  Of course, their arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment not only took them out of circulation but also rendered their terrorist activities for the Agency a dead letter.  
 
Of particular concern to Langley was the activities of the Florida-based financial conglomerate, the World Finance Corporation (WFC).  Headed by Guillermo Hernández Cartaya, a member of the Operation 40 group which planned to take over Cuba in the wake of Castro’s demise, the WFC was riddled with CIA agents, noticeably Juan Restoy, Ricardo Morales, and Mario Escandar, and Agency fronts.  The arrests and indictments were an effective diversion from what were their primary responsibilities – murders, decoy operations, terrorist bombings and underworld enforcement – and after the crisis had passed, they largely escaped prison on legal technicalities. Of course, the CIA leader of all these anti-Castro Cubans was E. Howard Hunt, the eccentric writer who was now an employee of the Mullen Company, and back then thought that domestic dissent in Cuba, triggered into action by a small invasion force, could easily lead to his ouster. 
 
The arrest of some Agency assets and the transfer of others had been just in time as the disarray of Washington’s intelligence services had reached a new low in cooperation.  At the same time that Nixon ordered the warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA, it seemed that the FBI, CIA, NSA, and DIA had agreed to a new level of cooperation in meeting the unprecedented domestic unrest by agreeing to the Huston Plan – what the President’s liaison with the agencies Tom Charles Huston had proposed – but Director Hoover refused to go along with the program which would leave him responsible for any illegal activities, and broke off not only all liaison with them but also with the Secret Service, the IRS, and the individual armed services intelligence services.  “By cutting off liaison,” Curt Gentry wrote in J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, “Hoover hoped to distance the FBI, and his own reputation, from the inevitable holocaust.” (p. 655)
 
Hardly a week later, the fat was in the fire when the New York Times announced that the Pentagon study of the conduct of the Vietnam war had been leaked to the press. While Nixon first thought that it would be a boon to his re-election since it showed the double-dealing of JFK and LBJ, he soon changed his mind when State Department memoranda showed the deep involvement of Henry Cabot Lodge and the Agency’s Lt. Col. Lucien Conein in Diem’s overthrow.  Then the effort to get leaker Daniel Ellsberg by criminal due process was completely frustrated by the FBI taps that had been ordered to discover the leaker of the Nixon-Kissinger-Haig secret war -  the DOJ could not use them without showing that they had earlier been trying to get his friends, especially Morton Halperin.
 
Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel, was ultimately obliged to have the Plumbers break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding who had refused to tell the Bureau the findings of his examination of his patient, hoping to find the information themselves - setting off a process which dragged into White House operations just those people the Agency was trying to distance itself from.  Hunt.- thought to have been the “mastermind” of the Bay of Pigs Operation – turned out to be the leader of Cartaya’s group, the people who had just been arrested by the BNDD.  More important, Hunt promised to provide “the right resources”, as Fred Emery explained in Watergate, to turn Ellsberg’s betrayal into a political triumph.  Then Hunt was consulting with Conein, another operative involved, along with Ted Shackley, and was working for Harvey on how to make it look as if JFK had been more involved in Diem’s overthrow that thought.
 
From the NRO’s point of view, the most damaging aspect of the Plumbers’ work was Hunt’s forging cables to prove the Kennedys had personally conspired in the assassination of South Vietnam’s President Diem – what President Nixon not only demanded, but deliberately referred to in his September 16th news conference, taking the initiative way from opponents using the release of The Pentagon Papers against the administration
 
Thanks to input from Conein, and help from Plumber secretary Kathleen Chenow, Hunt was able to put together forged cables – the Gemstone Papers – which falsely claimed that the US Embassy had asked for instructions about possible asylum for Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, if they were overthrown.  More important, as Fred Emery wrote in Watergate, a forged cable back to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon declared:  “At highest level meeting today decision reluctantly made that neither you nor General Harkins should intervene in behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum.” (Quoted from p. 72.)
 
While Hunt was unable to publish an article, based upon his forgeries, in the last issue of Life magazine, Conein took advantage of them when he appeared in December on the NBC-TV program “White Paper: Vietnam HIndsight” - what led NYT reporter Neil Sheehan, who had leaked The Pentagon Papers, to connect Daniel Ellsberg to the break-in, and to conclude that Conein’s statements left no doubt about the extent of the Kennedy administration’s involvement in the assassination of the South Vietnamese leaders.  And there was no denial from any former JFK officials or former Ambassador Lodge about having either said or seen any of the material claimed, and neither the NSA nor the NRO have raised any questions or complaints since about their alleged existence.
 
Little wonder that when the Agency learned early in 1972 that disgruntled agent Victor Marchetti, a former assistant to the DDCI who regularly attended planning and intelligence meetings attended by DCI Helms, was writing an article and a book about the Agency’s corruption, independence and incompetence in conducting foreign operations, its leadership pushed the panic button to stop them.  After having stolen the material from the office of a New York publisher, and placed Marchetti under surveillance, the Agency went successfully to court to get an injunction against the book’s publication, claiming that he was bound to secrecy, and obliging him to permit prepublication censorship before it appeared. 
 
After a series of court hearings about what had to be removed, and two years later, the book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, finally appeared, with only the Agency’s claim to secrecy for 27 items regarding SIGINT satellite intelligence, as Angus Mackenzie concluded in Secrets: The CIA’s War at Home, standing up in court.  The NRO’s work was still the Republic’s deepest secrets.          
 
 

 
 




Yitzhak Rabin Assassination: Israeli Statesman Helped Dig His Own Grave

19 10 2011

By Trowbridge H. Ford

No democratic, developed country has more secretive, conspiratorial ways than the state of Israel, and they were never more in evidence than when its Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated on November 4, 1995 after attending a “Yes to Peace, No to Víolence” rally in Jerusalem by apparently a young, 3rd-year-law student at Bar-Ilan University, Yigal Amir.
 
While the media portrayed the killing as the result of a right-wing fanatic, opposed to any peace settlement with the Palestinians, it was actually caused by a covert operation gone wrong, reminiscent of John Hinckley’s nearly successful assassination almost fifteen years earlier of President Reagan rather than the mythic ‘lone assassin’ theory which people in the Western world have become accustomed to when such killings occur.
 
The real key to understanding the murder is appreciating the close connection that Israel established with the United States during its 40-year existence.  Without Washington’s increasing support, the Israeli state never would have made it, given the problems the Diaspora and Holocaust had caused masses of Jewish people trying to resettle in Palestine.  The Truman administration’s prodding of the new Labour government in Britain to give up its Palestinian Mandate was followed by the May 1948 war in which Israeli forces triumphed against all the odds over those from the weak Arab states of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.
 
While Atlee’s government attributed Truman’s stance of pandering to Jewish voters – and the President did acknowledge to a group of Mid-East ambassadors that he had no Arab constituents to contend with – he was genuinely committed to the Zionist cause. To enhance Democratic chances at the polls, Truman pressed for the admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees, and called for the partition of the country.  When the Mandate expired on May 16, 1948, the USA, along with the USSR, immediately recognized the new state of Israel. Still, Truman’s support of the Zionist cause did not play a significant role in his election in November.  
 
During the War of Independence, Rabin, a native of Palestine, was in an ideal position to take military command of the situation as the British were forced by Jewish terrorists to withdraw.  Since he had helped British forces to attack Vichy ones in Lebanon during WWII, he was domestically positioned by 1944 to take command of the Palmach commando unit of the Haganah – what would become the nucleus of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). It took the lead in ousting Arabs from key territory around Tel Aviv, and on the road to Jerusalem.  While the Palmach failed to secure the Old City after the British finally departed, Rabin was still seen as a leading hero of the struggle. 
 
The most controversial incident regarding Rabin’s alleged activities during the struggle for independence occurred on June 22, 1948 when a ship-load of Jewish Freedom Fighters, and munitions on the Altelena were prevented from joining up with Menachem Begin’s Irgun guerrillas. They had blown up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, and it was feared that they would break the agreement for the cessation of hostilities.
 
Before the ship sailed from Port-de-Bouc in France, the Irgun in Palestine had signed an agreement with the government of David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv that all arms and fighters independently recruited would be handed over to the IDF, though the ship sailed in the hope of getting round it somehow, and secretly landing them unnoticed somewhere in Palestine – what was largely defeated by Radio London announcing its departure at the time.
 
When the ship finally landed at Klar Vitin, David Even’s IDF brigade, thanks to an order given  by the government, set about seizing the 1,000 men, and confiscating the 4.5 ton cargo of weapons, ultimately resulting in fighting during which six of them were killed.  The ship then sailed on to Tel Aviv, and before the whole confrontation was settled, another 10 died, and the ship was set afire. 
 
In the accounts of the Altelena Affair, there is no mention of Rabin having played any significant role in the confrontation – what apologist Ben Shapiro made up for by having him carry the can when Rabin was assassinated for the failure of Begin, Ben-Gurion and Even to settle the difficulty peacefully.
 
During the Suez Crisis, Rabin, as commander of the Harel Brigade, was most eager to take advantage of its incursion on October 28, 1956 into the Sinai towards the Suez Canal, but the failure of Tel Aviv, Paris, and London to clear the whole operation with Washington resulted in it all going for naught. The invaders were confident that they could force Eisenhower’s hand into backing the ouster of Egypt’s uppity dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, but the American President reacted with unprecedented opposition and speed, causing all those involved, especially Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, Defense Minister Shimon Peres,  IDF chief Moshe Dayan, and Rabin never to forget the lesson.
 
Washington had learned something about what was planned by intercepts that the new National Security Agency (NSA) had made of messages between Tel Aviv and Paris, and those between its allies in Paris and London, but had not learned the substance of. Thanks to the division that Washington and London had made for eavesdropping on the world under the terms of the the postwar communications agreement, listening on what was transpiring in the Middle East was left to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to pass on to NSA.
 
It was sending along only a few which did not reveal what was planned. When Eisenhower learned the full extent of their perfidy, Washington took the necessary actions to reverse it, and NSA vowed never again to be caught short in supplying the necessary intelligence in such crucial Cold War confrontations.
 
The fallout from the fiasco had resulted in the Soviet Union tightening its hold on the Soviet bloc by suppressing the uprising in Budapest at the same time. Ike, still suspecting that at worst the action in the Middle East was a surprise attack on Jordan, was completely taken aback when the Israelis invaded the Sinai, advancing within 25 miles east of the Canal – just when Imre Nagy, Hungary’s new Prime Minister, announced the restoration of multi-party rule. 
 
America’s U-2 intelligence gathering concentrated upon determining what was slowly unfolding in Egypt for fear that the USSR would take advantage of the fiasco there when, in fact, Moscow was arranging a rollback of what was happening in Budapest. On November 4th, two days before the American election, the Red Army began its suppression of the Hungarian revolution – something that Ike admitted that America, under the circumstances, could do nothing about. (Christopher Andrew, For The President’s Eyes Only, pp. 236-7).
 
By 1964, Rabin had become the IDF’s Chief-of-Staff, and he planned to pay back Washington and Cairo for the humiliation he and the IDF had experienced eights years earlier – what resulted in the devastating Six-Day War three years later. This time, Israel revealed its aggression to no one, counting on the fact that it could dictate Washington’s response after the fact, thanks to tight security its military-intelligence establishment was noted for, and the political influence Jewish Americans had on the beleaguered Johnson administration, bogged down in Vietnam, and facing the prospect of a tough re-election campaign. There would be no babbling by the Israeli Prime Minister and her defense establishment to Washington about what was in the works this time, as had happened with Prime Minister Anthony Eden et. al. during the Suez Crisis.
 
The Israeli attacks on its neighbors, starting on June 4, 1967, were masterful deceptions, fooling everyone, it seemed, about who was attacking who with what – making Germany’s deceptions before its soldiers marched into Poland in 1939, and the CIA’s ones before the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 look like the most crude attempts. 
 
The only surprise in the whole operation was the unexpected appearance of the American spy ship, USS Liberty, off El Arish on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast on June 8th during the height of the struggle.  The spy ship had great advantages in eavesdropping over other means as it could stay in an area where trouble was anticipated, and it could monitor and analyze all kinds of intelligence from close in, 24-7. Its only drawback was that it could hardly defend itself if discovered and attacked.
 
As James Bamford has described in the greatest detail in “Body of Secrets”, the Israelis attacked the snooper with the greatest force from sea and air for fear that it was monitoring the slaughter that Rabin’s forces were carrying out on shore against Egyptian prisoners:  “…Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish.” (p. 202) 
 
In an attempt to prevent the war crimes from coming out, the IDF killed 34 servicemen on the ship, wounded 171 more, and nearly sank the ship itself.  It was only after the Israelis had failed to eradicate the mission that they falsely claimed that the attacks were a mistake, and agreed most reluctantly to pay measly compensation for what they had done.
 
When Washington learned of the hostilities, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the American Ambassador to Israel Walworth Barbour that the Egyptians had started them – a considerable armored force had entered its territory, and had given IDF ones battle. The Foreign Minister lied about Israeli intentions, claiming that they were just interested in containing Egypt’s aggression when, in face, they were involved in grabbing territory which had eluded them nine years earlier. 
 
While Israel wanted Washington to put pressure on the Soviets not to intervene, Moscow preempted the effort by sending an unprecendented message on the hot line, urging Washington to do all that it could to end hostilities, particularly exerting pressure on Israel to do the same. After a hectic half hour in the White House over how to respond to the Soviets’ entreaty, Washington told Moscow that it would not be entering the conflict   
 
It was only afterwards that President Johnson learned of the ship’s dire straits, especially the carnage on board. In anticipation of such a conflict, Washington had sent the USS Liberty there is the hope of preventing it, or at least containing it from becoming a conflict with the USSR. On May 23rd, it was ordered to leave Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and steam as fast as possible to the US Navy base in Rota, Spain, a journey of 3,000 miles, and requiring eight days travel.
 
There, it picked up five Arabic linquists and one senior analyst Marine Sergeant Bryce Lockwood to assess the meaning of what the Egyptians were planning and doing. (Bamford, pp.188-9) While Frank Raven told Bamford that the lack of any Hebrew linquists was due to their shortage, it indicated that NSA was only planning to eavesdrop on what the Muslims were doing.  On June lst, the ship left Rota, and deployed just off El Arish when the Israli attacks started.
 
It seems that this effort was conducted secretly from the Israelis to give them cover without there being any revealing feedback from what was happening. The ship would have all kinds of messages deciphered about what Nasser’s forces were doing, but none from the Israelis – what would quell any complaints, especially by the Soviets, of Israeli aggression. It would have no record of any massacres of prisoners by the IDF, and there were still no Hebrew linquists back at headquarters in Athens.  It apparently was the Johnson administration’s compensation for the damage the Israelis had suffered at the hands of the Eisenhower administration.
 
The only trouble with it for the Israelis was that they knew nothing about it, so they went bonkers when they discovered the spy ship just off the coast in international waters, fearing that it was collecting information about war crimes which would be used against Israel’s military leadership  There was no other way they could interpret this new surprise.
 
And when LBJ learned of the attack, Washington was more interested in sinking the ship in order to protect its vital Sigint secrets from falling into enemy hands, and to protect Israel from any embarrassment by inflaming American public opnion than saving it, and providing succor to its crew .While LBJ was afraid that the Soviets had attacked the ship, he was soon informed by his ambassador in Tel Aviv that the Israelis had confessed to having attacked it “in error”. NSA had discovered the attack before anyone else, though, showing that it had been eavesdropping on all Israeli communications to have just the right record for what it had originally planned – what Bamford still cannot explain. (p. 224)
 
After the President informed the Soviets that the Israelis had indeed attacked the ship “in error”, Washington hoped that the ship would indeed just sink. LBJ amazingly ordered the Joint Chief of Staff to have fighters from the Six Fleet which had arrived on the scene to protect the ship from further attack to be recalled.  “President Lyndon Johnson came on,” Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis, commander of the carrier force, added in information released after his death, “with a comment that he didn’t care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his allies.” (Quoted from p. 226.) 
 
Never in American military history had the Commander-in-Chief been so cruel in the treatment of his own forces, and it can only be explained by the political motives in starting it in the first place. The political fallout domestically, it seems, helped induce him not to run for re-election in 1968. Rabin was so upset by what he had done to Egytian prisoners, and American eavesdroppers that he had a nervous breakdown while the fighting was still in progress.
     
To contain the damage done by the assault, Rabin was sent to Washington as its new ambassador, and he flouted diplomatic convention by going out of his way to make friends with members of Nixon’s new Republican administration. Rabin’s close relationship with NSA Henry Kissinger and DNSA Alexander Haig came in most handy when the Syrians and Egyptians tried to pay back Israel for the 1967 war by springing the Yom Kippur War on it in October 1972.  Thanks to information NSA supplied the Israelis, Ariel Sharon’s forces were able to beat back the Egyptian forces behind the Suez Canal which had surprisingly crossed it, and the Syrian threat to the Sea of Galilee was stymied just at the last moment.  When the Soviets threatened to intervene in the war, Haig forced Breznev to back down by placing American forces around the world on the highest alert short of imminient war.
 
In reading the former Nixon Chief of Staff’s book, Inner Circles: How America Changed the World, one gets a good glimpse of just how Haig manipulated Nixon to help the Israelis while Rabin was manipulating Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the defense of Jordan from Syrian attacks. Little wonder that when she retired shortly thereafter, Rabin triumphed over Peres in a bitter battle for the Labor Party leadership, and succeeded her as Prime Minister. 
 
Three years later, though, Rabin’s coalition government fell apart over an alleged financial scandal, and he went into the political wilderness. Rabin had made enemies out of the leading players by acting as if he were in the process of solving everything – i.e, the surprise threats to Israel’s very existence, claiming how he had been so instrumental in its creation by stopping Begin’s reckless intrusions during the Altelena Affair, and covering up the Liberty one by successfully persuading Washinging that it was indeed an accident. 
 
Though Rabin had negotiated the Sinai Interim Agreement with Egypt, setting the country on its way to making peace with Anwar Sadat, and authorized the Entebbe raid which recovered almost all of the passengers who had been kidnapped by Uganda’s  Edi Amin, Rabin found dealing with the Carter administration and his fellow Isrealies over the continuing Palestinian problem so difficult that he resigned after the Labor Party was defeated in the 1977 election, doing so because his wife Leah had broken the rule about no Israeli having a foreign currency account without proper authority – what she had failed to do by opening a dollar one during their days there when he was the ambassador.
 
It seemed more like an excuse to avoid difficulties ahead all by himself, as if he had some fears of his own safety. 
 
During his absence, the governments in Tel Aviv and Washington worked continuously to break down Arab opposition to Israel’s existence, while trying to get Israeli voters to agree to some kind of swap of land for security. By this time, Israel had more land than it needed, and the Palestinians were becoming increasingly isolated.
 
The Camp David Accords that President Carter negotiated between Sadat and Begin ended Egypt’s support of an armed Palestinian struggle, though Sadat was to soon lose his life at the hands of Muslim extremists. Sharon’s IDF responded by driving Yasser Arafat’s PLO out of Lebanon.
 
To soften American hostility to what Sharon had done, Prime Minister Begin went out of his way to tell the Reagan administration that Rabin had lied when he told previous American administrations that the attack on the Liberty was simply a mistake.  “We… had a choice,” he admitted in 1982.  “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us.  We must be honest with ourselves.  We decided to attack him.” (Quoted from Bamford, p. 186) 
 
In 1984, Rabin joined a government of national unity, headed by Labour Party leader Shimon Peres, and soon thereafter he, as Minister of Defense, was obliged to suppress the first Intifada.
 
He did avoid being implicated in the spying by Jonathan Pollard for the Soviets, and the illegal arms dealing by Ollie North et al. during Iran-Contra.  Rabin had insisted that Reagan unequivocally approve the sale of Israeli weapons to Iran in return for the hostages held there, and in August 1985 the President telephoned NSA Bud McFarlane to confirm his approval, adding that Washington would replenish Israeli weapons stocks. (Lou Cannon, President Reagan, The Role of a Lifetime, pp. 544-6)  
 
The trouble with a bipartisan attempt in both Tel Aviv and Washington to solve the Palestinian problem was that it was done without consulting their top leaders while Iran joined the countries willing to support their increasingly fragmented leadership. Israel had long been the Shah’s closest friend in the area, and his overthrow, coupled with Sadat’s assassination, left Begin’s government nearly surrounded by enemies, and too few resources for dealing with them. Iran’s SAVAK (the National Intelligence Organization) had long done much dirty work for the Mossad and CIA, its joint creators, and they had reciprocated in kind, but their joint operations were ultimately its undoing when the young mullahs it had recruited turned on the Shah. 
 
As a result, Israel had to increasingly do its own dirty work – what it had only seriously done before in reaction to the killing at its Olympic athletes at the Munich Games in 1972 .The Mossad had Said Hammami, the PLO’s London representative, shot dead by agents of Abu Nidal’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in January 1978 when it feared that he, an Arab moderate, was attempting to negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis for Arafat. 
 
“The conflict had made little progress ten years later,” Tony Geraghty added in The Bullet Catchers, “when Afarfat’s military commander, Abu Jihad (real name, Khalil al-Wariz) was assassinated with military precision at his villa near Tunis, probably by agents of Israel’s secret service, Mossad.” (p. 376).

 
During the interim, Nidal’s terrorist group had seen to the hijacking of the Italian liner Achille Lauro, the assassination of Jewish invalid passenger Leon Klinghoffer, and the shooting up of the airports in Rome and Vienna during the terrorist countdown to the shooting of Sweden’s statsminister Olof Palme in Stockholm on February 28, 1986 – what was intended to trigger a solution to all the problems the West and Israel faced with a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War with the USSR.
 
Rabin’s forcing Washington to approve any arms shipments to Iran before they occurred proved most helpful to Tel Aviv when the fallout from Iran-Contra was occurring. The various investigations of the scandal, especially the Tower Commission, believed McFarlane’s testimony about which came first.  “The accumulated evidence,” Cannon concluded, “did show that Reagan had given prior approval.” As a result, former head of the Israeli Air Force, and current Israeli businessman Al Schwimmer had to take personal responsibility for trying to sneak 80 HAWK missiles through Sweden on November 17th without statsminister Olof Palme’s approval, beginning the whole massive scandal which resulted in his assassination along the way,
 
Rabin while he was in New York had even called McFarlane earlier in November while he was in Geneva where Reagan and Gorbachev were to meet for the first time to make sure that he obtained Palme’s permission for using Sweden for the weapons transfer.  “Rabin had asked for help in arranging for an Israeli shipment of Hawk missiles to pass through a third country and be transferred to non-Israeli planes for delivery to Iran. McFarlane had directed Oliver North, who was in Washington, to attend to the matter.” (Lawrence Wash, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, p. 39)
 
When Rabin proved unable to crush the Intifada, and the Soviet bloc and Union collapsed in a peaceful way, Rabin easily replaced Shimon Peres as Labor Party leader in its election in February 1992.  The result was hardly surprising as the former Prime Minister aka “Mister Loser” had been working behind Rabin’s back with Ollie North’s people so that the arms shipments would go ahead no matter what he wanted, and Palme demanded, as all the American investigations had indicated. (For more, see Walsh, p.37ff.)  In the surprising victory, Peres was made a most dangerous enemy, a leader who was more interested in making sure Rabin failed somehow rather than succeeded.
 
Thanks to Rabin’s convincing Knesset victory in the July 1992 election, he set about implementing his mandate for a permanent peace with the Palestinians – what Washington outsider Bill Clinton, just elected President, was most eager to achieve. 
 
Upon becoming Premier, Rabin ordered Israel’s General Security Service, Shin Bet, to focus its activities on the right-wingers opposed to any settlement, and appointed close associate, Karmi Gillon, its director general – instead of the veteran and more qualified Gideon Ezra – to carry out the mission which Gillon himself had pointed out the need of. Several senior Shin Bet people quit in protest over the new mission.  “This policy change resulted in the most dangerous and bitter split ever in Israeli society,” Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg wrote in “A slanderous tongue.”  Rabin thought it was necessary if there was to be any hope of making the dream of peace a reality.
 
Once the Olso Accords had been agreed to, and Rabin, Peres, and Arafat received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, its prospects deteriorated as suicide bombers continued to kill Israelis, and Orthodox rabbis started a most threatening campaign against Rabin’s leadership. Peres helped set up Rabin as the prime cause of the trouble by making him make the symbolic handshake with PLO leader Arafat at the signing of the agreement in Oslo.
 
They revived two obsolete halachic precepts from the Talmud – the din rodef (the duty to kill Jews who imperil other Jews), and the din moser (the duty to kill Jews who threaten to turn in other Jews to non-Jewish authorities).  Religious law student Yigal Amir soon became acquainted with these precepts while attending Bar-Ilan University. The precepts were soon being used against Rabin who had claimed during the 1992 election campaign that he would never negotiate with Arafat – what Yossi Beilin had met the PLO’s Abu Mazen in secret in May to work out the details of.  Because of Rabin’s actions in the Altalena Affair, right-wingers like Ben Shapiro were so clamoring that he was no hero at all since he had seen to the killing to his fellow Jews then, and was leaving others to fall into the hands of foreign authorities now.
 
To stem the anti-Rabin tide, Gillon, it seems, hired agent provocateurs, particularly Avishai Raviv. They created hostile groups like Eyal, composed of angry settlers and right-wingers, to denounce and protest his policies in an increasingly violent way.  Reminiscent of the campaign against Olof Palme, they called Rabin a traitor, and a Nazi. The protesters cursed the Premier outside his apartment in Ramat Aviv, and Eyal teenagers produced a video, calling for a military coup.  When an Arab was murdered in Halhoul by persons wearing IDF uniforms, Raviv claimed that members of Eyal had done it, though, it turned out after Rabin’s assassination that Arab thieves had done it.
 
Rabin’s cabinet, especially Minister of Agriculture Ya’acov Tzur, still believed the deception, complaining bitterly when there were no arrests for the killing. 
 
On October 5, 1995, there was a mass protest by the right-wingers at Zion Square, attended by Rabin’s apparent assassin.  During the demonstration, a poster was raised on which Rabin’s face was pasted over the figure of Heinrich Himmler – what had been made originally by Raviv and Amir at a Eyal summer camp on the Kinneret.  Amir responded to the sight thus:  “Because of this dog, this country is going to be destroyed.”  When Amir noted TV cameras recording the scene, he said: “Instead of filming, will you come to the funeral?  Will you come to the funeral tomorrow?”  Then, Binyamin Netanyahu told the crowd being observed by guests including Sharon:  “Rabin is a dog – In blood and fire we’ll drive Rabin out – will bring the government down.”
 
Then the group marched on the Knesset during which they attacked Rabin’s empty limousine without any response by security people.  Then it attacked Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezar in his car, threatening to kill him.  Once he escaped harm, he charged after Netanyahu, exclaiming:  “The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month.” 
 
It was 30 days later, on November 4th, that Rabin was assassinated after Amir had fired blanks in a fake attempt to rally public support when it failed, as he went to his limousine after addressing the peace rally, while his bodyguards once again looked helplessly on. Once in the limousine, Rabin was shot twice by covert operators, dying on the way to the hospital.  It was a case of hijacking the scene that the Prime Minister had made up in order to dispose of him without any serious blowback, at least not until Shimon Peres dies. 
 
Thanks to Gillon’s deceptive campaign, as the Shamgar Commission investigating the assassination duly recorded, but was prevented from releasing the damaging details of, it was a case of ‘mirror-imaging’ which had completely confused his security detail about the dire threat of.  The most damning evidence about a double-agent operation having gone horribly wrong was the admission that Raviv had urged Amir to kill Rabin to prove his manhood – what Amir achieved after shooting the blanks when he told police:  “Do your work.  I’ve done mine.”