A History of the National Reconnaissance Office – part 6

28 06 2012

By Trowbridge H. Ford

 

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




A History of America’s National Reconnaissance Office – part 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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Pope John Paul II’s Attempted Assassination Intended To Help Cover Up Reagan’s

31 10 2011

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.”