By Trowbridge H. Ford
By Trowbridge H. Ford
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.
By Trowbridge H. Ford
Assassinations are like other murders except in one important regard – the motive of the assassin or assassins in doing so. While ordinary murders are committed because the killer wants the victim dead for some personal reason, assassins increasingly do it because it suits other persons’ reasons, especially officials involved in government, and for which they for benefit in return. Single assassins, despite convenient myths, are essentially a thing of the past, as assassinations have become a likely action for modern governments, facing problems that they cannot solve by legal means, and wanting to avoid more destructive means, especially regime-changing war.. For persons investigating such murders, it then becomes a question of how the victim was actually killed.
One must also remember that assassinations almost never work out as planned – what requires a more careful, long-range search if one ever hopes to discover for the truth. There are so many things that can go wrong, explaining why critics of alleged conspiracies often get their way because neither investigators nor the public have the resources, time, and effort to determine otherwise. Even if the actual killing goes according to plan – and more often it doesn’t – the perpetrators can have second thoughts about what they have done, can fall out with their employers for some reason, and commit unexpected actions which just complicate matter further, often resulting in more assassinations. The corrective for this is for the investigator to look for a string of such crimes, or attempted crimes, if one wants to get the whole story.
Just think about the JFK assassination. While it seemed to go according to plan since he was shot dead several times as his motorcade went by the Texas School Book Depository on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. No killing seemed like a more open-and-shut case of assassination than this, but it wasn’t. The deliberate or accidental wounding of Texas Governor John B. Connally – especially because they proved not to be fatal, and he vowed to get those responsible – resulted in all the subsequent efforts, particularly blaming the communists for it, and taking out Castro’s regime, to be scrubbed. JFK’s actual killers, Richard Cain and Chuckie Nicoletti, ran into Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit while making their escape, and were required to kill him for fear that he would expose them as the assassins. Then the convenient capture of Lee Harvey Oswald, the communist patsy for the shooting, before he could go to Cuba was ruined because he had an alibi for the killing – what required assassination manager on the scene Jack Ruby to kill him as quickly as he could.
A similar sequence of events occurred when Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in Stockholm on February 28, 1986 – what was planned to trigger a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War with the Soviets at the expense of the Swedish troublemaker. While the assassination went off exactly as planned, the conspirators were unable to make the patsy this time, Soviet spy Stig Bergling who was on compassionate release from prison at the time to get married, escape to the USSR, leaving the assassination without any likely assassin. When the false leads failed, Admiral Carl-Fredrik, Sweden’s official responsible for approving arms transfers, was pushed, it seems, in front of a train six days before he was to testify the special prosecutor investigating the Iran-Contra shipments which led to Palme being targeted. Nine months later, disgraced Schleswick-Holstein politician Uwe Barschel was assassinated when he threatened to expose the scandal in making a comeback.
Then the context in which assassinations are placed change the longer they go on without a solution. The longer an individual lives, whether he be the intended victim or the perpetrator, the greater the chance of his being exonerated or overlooked for the tragedy. After the Dallas assassination, Connally, despite his alarming cry when he belatedly discovered that he too had been shot – crying out most shockingly, “Oh, no.no. no. My God, they are going to kill us all.” – went on to become Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury, and would have become Spiro Agnew’s replacement as Vice President if it had not been for Watergate. Nixon, as we all well know, ultimately managed to arrange him own election after his attempt to shoot his way into the White House after LBJ surprisingly got himself elected after the Dallas tragedy.
Then time gives historians all kinds of reasons for revising assessments of deceased leaders. Events may turn out to see them in a more favorable light than originally thought. The opening of archives, both official and private, often provides a basis for seeing them in a different, usually more favorable way. Abe Lincoln and Jack Kennedy have both benefited in this way, explaining explain why they, of America’s four assassination Presidents, are honored by memorials in Washington. Then President Ronald, like Nixon, has a presidential library and museum supported by the federal government under the terms of the National Archives and Records Administration Act, and some still hope to see the Gipper’s face, smiling down from Mount Rushmore. Of course, the more revisionary history there is – the more arguments, one way or another, go on – the more it promotes everyone’s reputation who participated in the process.
In few cases do all the factors come more readily to mind than in the attempted assassination of Polish Archbishop and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. A most surprising victor in a bitterly fought election after the surprising death of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, to the Pontificate, he was almost cut down by an assassin’s bullets before he had really gotten started, but, fortunately, he survived, and went on a make a name for himself as the world’s leading evangelist, the faithful’s staunchest pastor, and the poor’s greatest protector.
By the time he was finished, he was seen, after the UN’s Secretary General as the world’s leading politician, with heads of states recognizing him worldwide, and heads of governments constantly seeking audiences with him to gain approval for their policies, and legitimacy for their rule. All recent American Presidents sought audiences with him to boost their appeal with voters and fellow politicians, and Reagan even gave the Roman enclave diplomatic status in 1983. The Nordic states finally ended the Reformation by granting diplomatic relations with the Vatican during his tenure as Pontiff. Britain, that great bulwark against the so-called Anti-Christ, ultimately succumbed, with Queen Elizabeth even paying the Pope a visit.
Actually, this impression is quite removed from the much dirtier reality, as we have slowly learned. While Wojtyla was known for this piety, prose and poetry in first Nazi-occupied, and then in Soviet-occupied Poland – often prone to lapse into deep thought while involved in most mundane matters – he was a quick learner, and at no time was this better illustrated than when he became Pope. Not only did he prudently adopt the name of his fallen predecessor, but he also refused to support anything he actually stood for.
During the previous half-century, the Curia had completely made peace with the financial and political interests which had dominated Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. The Curia itself was controlled by P2, a mysterious Masonic Lodge, which had converted the Vatican Bank – which was untaxed by the Italian government, thanks to its Concordat with El Duce – into a multi-national one which had all kinds of connections with Mafia and extreme right-wing interests worldwide for making illegal stock transactions and conducting similar money laundering.
P2’s founder was Licio Gelli who had the closest political friendships with politicians like former Nazi Klaus Barbie, Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi, the Bushes, and Ronald Reagan. It constituted a “shadow government” for all kinds of Axis war-criminals who were seeking to save their skins, and their skimmings of Nazi loot from the fallout of WWII. By the time Wojtyla became Pope, Gelli was coordinating Operation Glaudio, its plan to roll back the Iron Curtain with a network of 15,000 agents and informants if a shooting war erupted with the Soviets.
The bank itself was run by American Bishop (and later) Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who relied heavily upon P2 members Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi for arranging corrupt transactions with companies it owned, thanks to its vast war-profiteering under Pope Pius IX. It had been particularly successful in fleecing Serbs and Jews, an estimated 500,00 people, who had been rounded up by the Ustasha, the Croatian secret police, during WWII.
When Pope John Paul I aka Archbishop Alberto Luciani let the Curia’s Cardinal Villot know that he planned to rid the Papacy of its bank, and of many of its Masons on September 28, 1978 – only 33 days after he had been elected to the Holy See – he was dead within six hours from a massive heart attack. The new Pope had immediately indicated that he planned something like this when he addressed the Vatican press corps thus: “We have no temporal goods to offer, no economic interests to discuss.”
While a house physician claimed that death was the result of myocardial infarction, no autopsy was ever performed – the Curia claiming falsely that there was no precedent for such a procedure – and no death certificate was ever issued.
The Pope had been taking Effortil – a drug to correct low blood pressure – and conspiracy theorists, given the circumstances, seemed quite right in claiming that it was the result of an overdose – today’s favorite way of explaining way a convenient murder . Villot had immediately called the papal morgue rather than any physician when he first heard about the Pope’s incapacity. He added to suspicions by removing from the death scene without a trace all important evidence – the drug bottle, the Pope’s last writings in his dead hands, and the vomit which was lying on his night clothes – which could help determine its cause.
“When Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, won election as Luciano’s successor he received an immediate briefing on the radical plans of Pope John Paul I,” Jonathan Vankin and John Whelan have concluded in their account of the real story of the Godfather, Part III in The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time. “He implemented not a single one.” (p. 118)
Instead the new Pope established an iron-grip on the Church, reminiscent of how communists ran the Soviet Union from the Kremlin, and his Polish compatriots from Warsaw. In canon law, he strengthened the hand of the Curia in determining church doctrine, official promotion, and recognition of saintly deeds. John Paul II had little tolerance for debates and critics within the heirarchy about questions regarding social and economic conditions, celibacy among the priesthood, and the place of women in the church. Priests were instructed to sign the “mandatum” which upheld the magisterium of the Pope in such matters. John Paul II even expected bishops in diocese throughout the world to oversee the hiring of teachers in all Catholic colleges and universities.
And, of course, the Pope would brook no compromise when it came to questions of contraception, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia – policies which seem to fly in the face of the dire conditions confronting today’s world. How anyone can maintain such stands with an overpopulated world being daily decimated by AIDS, other diseases, and a lack of basic needs, and people who contact them dying slow, hopeless deaths is beyond me. In fact, the Pope’s own death seems an ironic twist of the issues, with him finally succumbing despite all kinds of desperate measures – a tracheotomy to keep him breathing, food tubes through his nose and stomach to keep supplying nutrition, an electric shock which restarted his heart after he had suffered brain damage because of a stoppage, etc.
John Paul II did not simply lay down the law but saw to its implementation. “A consummate politician,” Kenneth L Woodward wrote in Newsweek, “he nonetheless forbade priests in Latin America from joining political movements and those in the United States from holding elective office.” The Pope hated everything about Jesuit “liberation politics” among America’s suppressed native peoples, and is well remembered for admonishing Father Ernesto Cardenal, the Sandinistas’ Culture Minister, for practicing it in Nicaragua.
People may have forgotten, though, that the prohibition against priests holding elected office in America was directed specifically against Father Robert Drinan, S.J., former Dean of the Boston College Law School, and a Congressman from Massachusetts when Watergate broke. Drinan introduced the first impeachment petition into the House against Nixon on July 31, 1973, claiming rightly that he ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia, and engaged in various “high crimes and misdemeanors”, especially the secret taping of Oval Office conversations, and ordering the illegal break-ins by E. Howard Hunt’s Plumbers. Drinan, in sum, was one of the very few real statesmen at the time, as Jimmy Breslin in How the Good Guys Finally Won wrote, and the Pope was certainly not among them when he prevented Drinan from continuing.
And this too might have come back to haunt the Pope. By the time that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gained office, John Paul II had largely outlived his usefulness. He had changed the character of the Church, set its new agenda, and started carrying it out, and there was no need for him to continue. Someone else could certainly carry on in his footsteps. The nearly-successful assassination of the just inaugurated Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr., on March 30, 1981 almost made that a necessity as the new Pope had apparently taken the place of Lech Walesa as a Polish intelligence service spy after the CIA had gone to such lengths to woo the labor leader away from it. The assassination of John Paul II was a forerunner of the one which killed Palme, an independent player who gummed up the plots.
Reagan’s near assassination was the result of a plot, one to get rid of President Carter if he threatened to get re-elected, especially through some kind of ‘October Surprise’, and the plan was scrubbed when it no longer seemed necessary. And when this assumption apparently proved unfounded, the plotters settled for shooting Beatle John Lennon instead because Hinckley was no longer available. The Lennon assassination reactivated Hinckley, though, because he was so distressed by it, but by then, he knew how he had been used and abused earlier, and turned on the man responsible, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and then on the President when he proved available. It is a case of blowback without parallel.
This is well established if one takes the time to read Lou Cannon’s tome, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. There is no attempt to explain the assassination, just a brief discussion of what happened afterwards when Secretary of State Alexander Haig tried illegally to take command when Vice President Bush was returning to Washington from Texas (pp. 164-5), and Cannon’ noting that White House aide Edwin Meese gave the President the daily intelligence brief in writing rather than National Security Adviser Richard Allen in person while he was recovering from the assassination attempt. “For Reagan, his national security adviser was both out sight and out of mind.” (p. 156)
Cannon should have added that this was because Allen had activated Ted Shackley who got social psychiatrist Leilani Siegfried to do a quick hypnosis on Mark David Chapman which resulted ultimately in the Manchurian Candidate killing Beatle John Lennon – what resulted in Hinckley’s surprise blowback.
Former Governor John Connally had surprisingly not even made it to Washington in Reagan’s administration because of the false scare that he had made about Carter having pulled off the surprise – what resulted in the activation of Allen who got Shackley involved in the unnecessary killing of Lennon. While Nixon’s former Secretary of the Treasury had the highest recommendations from the former President, Reagan would have none of him, not even as Defense Secretary, stuck out in the Pentagon, as he had proven a most unnecessary “wheeler-dealer”. (Quoted from Cannon, p. 62.)
Pope John Paul II had proven a big disappointment in stoking up the conflagration that charismatic Lech Walesa and his Solidarity trade union movement was creating in Poland’s shipyards. The dramatic rise of food prices in the summer of 1980 caused such a wave of hidden discontent surfacing that the Kremlin feared that the Polish communist government in Warsaw would not survive unless it instituted a crackdown – what it consistently declined to do for fear of a bloodbath. On August 27th, the Pope – who Poles contended had burned his party card when he became Pontiff – persuaded Edward Gierek’s government to agree to their demands for independent unions, and organizations of self-government – what seemed to strike at the heart of continued communist rule in Eastern Europe.
It turned out to be hardly anything at all. Polish Primate Stefan Wysynski, who was the real Catholic leader behind the strikers, died, replaced by the much more conciliatory Cardinal Jóseph Glemp. Gierek was ultimately replaced by the much shrewder General Wojciech Jaruzelski who was finally willing to bite the bullet, and put down the dissidents by force. And all the while, the Pope, starting with his meeting in the Vatican on January 15th with Walesa, was stringing him along – to just sit tight, and let things work themselves out. Things did not work themselves out until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 when a Solidarity-led government finally came to power with the collapse of the communist one-party state.
The assassination of the Pope seemed like a replay of what Shackey had arranged at Lennon’s expense when The Gipper’s presidential hopes seemed to be going down the tubes, thanks to an ‘October Surprise’ that Carter’s people had arranged with Tehran’s mullahs. The Pope’s assassination – and Mehmet Ali Agca intended to kill him in no uncertain terms – would divert attention away from what most embarrassingly and surprisingly had happened to the President – what could lead to a constitutional crisis over a suspect coup.
The badly wounded Pope, though not intended, served an even better cover. Whether the President and the Pope would even recover, much less fully, kept all kinds of actions in a state of limbo which their perpetrators exploited further.
The most likely suspect of the assassination was Italy’s most corrupt Intelligence service, SISMI. Hardly had all the mess been cleaned up at St. Peter’s Square than it produced a document from a meeting of the Warsaw Pact which claimed that the assassin had been trained in the USSR – what proved to be a forgery. (Vankin and Whelan, p. 340) To back up the claim, it was then falsely contended that the Bulgarian secret service had recruited Agca to do the job to “…demoralize uppity Poland, the Holy Father’s communist-infested homeland.” (Quoted from ibid., p. 339.)
During the fallout from the assassination attempts, both Washington and John Paul II tried to hide from one another who they thought had really tried to kill them, why, and what they were doing about it. As soon as the Pope was truly fully recovered, Reagan paid a visit to the Vatican Library on June 7, 1982 during which they traded pleasantries and confidences about the ill-advised consequences of the Yalta agreement which confused everyone, and led nowhere. It seemed like just more stringing along which both leaders were noted for.
Then Casey’s CIA, Italy’s SISMI, and agents of the Curia tried to prove that Ali Agca was not a lone assassin, and certainly not one connected to the neofascist Grey Wolves but really one that Bulgarian intelligence had activated for the KGB. Just before the trial, Agca confessed, claiming that he had been recruited by a Bulgarian spy master, Colonel Sergei Antonov, whose apartment he described in great detail. “The strange thing was that he had described the Antonov suite to a T- with the exception of one salient architectural detail in every other apartment in the complex, but not Antonov’s. (p. 341)
The complex had an apartment which the Curia had access to, and it worked up Agca to make the case against the Bulgarians there, thanks to help supplied by an Italian-speaking CIA agent working in an American college. (Information withheld to protect source.)
Agca reminded one of James Earl Ray, MLK’s assassin, when he constantly changed his story, so much so that the Pope, like King’s survivors, finally agreed to meet with their nemeses, acknowledging that they were not really responsible for what happened.
It all provided good cover for the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, the largest private bank in Italy, when it was discovered to be missing $1,300,000,000 – what was finally traced to the Vatican Bank.It refused to allow any investigation of it, claiming successfully papal immunity, but it did agree to give creditors $241,000,000 in compensation for its “moral involvement” in its illegal deals – like supplying Solidarity with $12,000,000.
Calvi, whose life was depicted in the film God’s Bankers, was jailed for four years, and fined £8,200,000 for the illegal export of money from the bank. He was found hanging from Blackfriar’s Bridge in London on June 17, 1882 while out on appeal – what was originally judged a suicide but was changed to murder at a second inquest, caused by his survivors. Gelli received a 12-year sentence for the affair, and is currently living as an exile in America – at the retirement community of Sun City in Arizona. Sindona died in prison from a poisoned cup of coffee.
Given the rot surrounding Rome, it was hardly surprising that the Pope devoted his last years to travel, and reflection. His evangelical efforts, and supporting those of others – beatifying and canonizing more than all his predecessors combined – seem intended to compensate for the failings of his underlings, especially in the American child sex-abuse scandal – what Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law was obliged to cover up at great expense.
In the Pope’s later writing, he pretty much scrapped his earlier ideas about the dignity of labor (1983) and the evangelization of its culture for keeping up with the G8 in such matters when he wrote his 1991 pastoral letter, “One Hundred Years”, emphasizing the virtues of globalism and free markets in making an economically and socially more efficient capitalism.
Terry Eagleton, the cultural theorist at Manchester University, best summed up John Paul II for me when he wrote for The Guardian: “He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian Church since Charles Darwin.”