The Evil of the National-Security State
By Jacob G. Hornberger
The two most important words in the lives of the American people for the past 60 years have been “national security.” The term has transformed American society for the worse. It has warped the morals and values of the American people. It has stultified conscience. It has altered the constitutional order. It has produced a democratically elected government that wields totalitarian powers.
We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to round up people, including citizens, and take them to concentration camps, detention centers, or military dungeons where the government can torture them, incarcerate them indefinitely, and even execute them as suspected terrorists.
We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to send its military and intelligence forces into any country anywhere in the world, kidnap people residing there, and transport them to a prison for the purpose of torture, indefinite detention, and even execution. We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to sneak and peek into people’s homes or businesses without warrants; to monitor their emails, telephone calls, and financial transactions; and to spy on the citizenry.
We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to support, with money and armaments, totalitarian regimes all over the world and to enter into partnerships with them for the purpose of torturing people whom the U.S. government has kidnapped.
We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to assassinate anyone it wants, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including here in the United States. We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to impose sanctions and embargoes on any other nation and to severely punish the American people and foreign citizens and foreign companies who violate them.
We now live in a country whose government wields the legal authority to invade and occupy any country on earth, without a congressional declaration of war, for any purpose whatever, including regime change and the securing of resources.
And it’s all justified under the rubric “national security.”
Most people would concede that that’s not the kind of country that America is supposed to be. The nation was founded as a constitutional republic, one whose governmental powers were extremely limited. In fact, the whole idea of using the Constitution to bring the federal government into existence was to make clear that the government’s powers were limited to those enumerated in the Constitution itself. To make certain that everyone got the point, the American people secured the passage of the Bill of Rights, which further clarified the extreme restrictions on government power.
Four separate amendments in the Bill of Rights address the power of the federal government to take people, both Americans and foreigners, into custody and to inflict harm on them: the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. Due process of law, right to counsel, grand-jury indictments, trial by jury, search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishments, bail, speedy trial — they are all expressly addressed, reflecting how important they were to our American ancestors and to their concept of a free society.
In the age of national security, all of those protections have been rendered moot. They have all been trumped by the concept of national security.
Ironically, the term isn’t even found in the Constitution. One searches in vain for some grant of power anywhere in that document relating to “national security.” It isn’t there. Nonetheless, the government now wields omnipotent powers — powers that the greatest totalitarian dictatorships in history have wielded — under the rubric of “national security.”
With the exception of libertarians, hardly anyone questions or challenges it, including those who profess an ardent allegiance to the Constitution. Consider, for example, the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause. For decades, both libertarians and conservatives have complained that the meaning of that clause has been so expanded as to transform it into a general grant of power enabling the federal government to regulate the most minute, localized aspects of economic activity.
Yet here’s a phrase — “national security” — that isn’t even found in the Constitution, which has been interpreted to grant omnipotent, totalitarian-like powers to the federal government, and conservatives have been rendered mute.
It would be one thing if there had been an amendment to the Constitution stating, “The federal government shall have the power to do whatever it deems necessary in the interests of national security.” At least then one could argue that such totalitarian measures were constitutional.
But that’s not the situation we have here. We have the government coming up with a concept known as “national security,” which it has then used to adopt powers that would otherwise violate the Constitution. It’s as if national security has been made the foundation of the nation. Everything else — the Constitution, society, the citizenry, freedom, prosperity — are then based on that foundation.
The goodness of national security
What is “national security”? No one really knows. There is certainly no precise definition of the term. It’s actually whatever the government says it is. National security is one of the most meaningless, nebulous, nonsensical terms in the English language, but, at the same time, the most important term in the lives of the American people.
All the government has to do is say “national security,” and all discussion and debate shuts down. If the government says that national security is at stake, that’s the end of the story. Federal judges will immediately dismiss lawsuits as soon as the government claims, “The case is a threat to national security, your honor.” Congress will immediately suspend investigations when the government claims that national security is at stake. The Justice Department will defer to the national-security establishment when it raises the issue of national security.
National security, a term not even in the Constitution, trumps everything. It trumps the judiciary. It trumps the legislative branch of government. It trumps federal criminal investigations. This nebulous term, whose meaning is whatever the government wants it be at any particular time, has been made the foundation of American society.
What is the national-security establishment? It is composed of several agencies, two of the main ones being the vast military-industrial establishment and the CIA. Those two entities have done more to transform American life than anything else, even more than the welfare state. They are the entities that enforce the sanctions and embargoes and engage in the invasions, occupations, regime-change operations, coups, assassinations, torture, indefinite incarcerations, renditions, partnerships with totalitarian regimes, and executions — all in the name of “national security.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of all this is how successful the government has been in convincing Americans of two things: that all this is necessary to keep them safe and, at the same time, that America has continued to be a free country notwithstanding the fact that the government has acquired and has exercised totalitarian powers in order to preserve national security.
When Americans see the governments of such countries as the Soviet Union or North Korea wield such powers, they can easily recognize them as being totalitarian in nature. When Americans read that the Soviet government rounded up its own people and sent them into the Gulag, they recoil against the exercise of such totalitarian powers. They have the same reaction when they hear that the North Korean government has tortured people within its prison system. It’s the same when Americans hear that the Chinese government has arrested and incarcerated people for years without charges or trial.
But when the U.S. government does such things or even just claims the authority to do them — in the name of national security — the mindset of the average American automatically shifts. It can’t be evil for the U.S. government to wield such powers because the agents who are wielding them are Americans, not communists. They have an American flag on their lapel. They have children in America’s public schools. They’re doing it to keep us safe. They’re on our side. We wouldn’t be free without them. They’re preserving our national security. In fact, another fascinating aspect to all this is the mindset of those within the national-security establishment itself. Even though they are wielding the same kinds of powers that are wielded by totalitarian regimes, the last thing in their minds is that they’re doing anything evil or immoral. In their mind, they’re fighting evil in order to preserve security and freedom. Sure, they have to do some unsavory things, but those things are necessary to preserve the nation. Americans are safe and free because of things they’re doing, and we’re supposed to be grateful that they’re doing them.
After all, as advocates of the national-security state often remind us, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. If measures have to be taken to preserve the nation — or the security of the nation — that are inconsistent with the Constitution, then so be it. What good would it do to adhere strictly to the Constitution if, by doing so, the nation were to fall to the terrorists or the communists?
Thus, when officials in totalitarian regimes round people up without charges, incarcerate them indefinitely, torture them, and execute them, what they are doing is evil. But when officials within the U.S. national security state do those same things — and more — they look upon themselves as good and the citizenry look upon them in the same way, simply because they are doing it to advance freedom and to preserve the national security of the United States.
And even then, things are not so clear, at least not when it comes to national security. For example, some foreign totalitarian regimes are considered evil while others are considered good. Consider, for example, Iran and North Korea. In the mindset of the U.S. national-security establishment, they are considered to be evil totalitarian regimes.
But then consider, say, Egypt, which has been ruled by a brutal military dictatorship for nearly 30 years, a totalitarian regime that wields the same kind of totalitarian powers that the U.S. government now wields. For decades, Egyptian military and intelligence forces have rounded people up, taken them to prison camps for indefinite detention, tortured them, and executed them, without formal charges and trial.
Nonetheless, the U.S. national-security establishment has long looked on the Egyptian military dictatorship as good, because of its close relationship with the U.S. national-security state. In fact, during the past several decades the U.S. government has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in money and armaments to Egypt to help fund its totalitarian military dictatorship, and there has been close cooperation between the national-security apparatuses of both nations. In fact, Egypt’s national-security state even agreed to serve as one of the U.S. empire’s rendition-torture partners, a relationship that enables U.S. officials to send a kidnapped victim to Egypt for the purpose of torture.
Good regime, bad regime
Sometimes, the nether world of national security becomes even more clouded, with some nations shifting back and forth from good to evil. Consider Iran and Iraq, for example. In 1953, Iran was considered a threat to U.S. national security. Thus, the CIA, one of the principal components of the U.S. national-security establishment, engaged in its first regime-change operation, one that succeeded in ousting Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, from power and installing the shah of Iran into power.
For the next 25 years, Iran was considered good, notwithstanding the fact that the shah’s regime was totalitarian in nature. In fact, the CIA even helped him and his national-security establishment to oppress the Iranian people. When Iranians finally revolted against the domestic tyranny that the U.S. national-security state had foisted upon them, Iran immediately became an evil regime in the eyes of the U.S. national-security establishment, notwithstanding the fact that the new regime wasn’t doing anything different than the shah’s regime had done. During the 1980s, Iraq had a brutal totalitarian regime headed by Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, it was considered a good regime because it was friendly to the U.S. national-security state. In fact, during that time the relationship was so solid that the United States even sent Iraq biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction so that Saddam could use them to attack Iran (which was considered evil).
Later, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. national-security establishment reclassified Iraq as an evil regime. Today, Iraq is headed by a democratically elected regime that exercises the same totalitarian powers that Saddam exercised, but it’s considered to be a good regime because it’s perceived to be on the side of the U.S. national-security state. If it ultimately formally aligns itself with Iran, as many suspect it will, it will find itself back in the ranks of the evil.
How did it all come to this? How did the United States become transformed from a constitutional republic into a national-security state? How did the concept of national security become the guiding star of American life, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment? How did the national-security establishment — the vast, permanent military-industrial complex and the CIA — come to be the foundation of American society?
More important, is a national-security state truly compatible with the principles of a free society? Did Americans delude themselves into thinking that they could retain a free and safe society with a government that wields totalitarian powers? Did Americans sacrifice their freedom, their security, their values, and their consciences on the altar of national security?
Perhaps most important, has the time come to dismantle the national-security state in order to restore a free, prosperous, peaceful, normal, and harmonious society to our land? Is it time to restore a limited-government, constitutional republic, the type of government that was clearly envisioned by the Founding Fathers?
Let’s examine those questions. Let’s start by focusing on Cuba.
One of the most demonstrable examples of the turn that America took toward empire, militarism, and the national-security state has involved Cuba. That small nation 90 miles from American shores encapsulates the effect that such a turn had on the values and principles of the American people.
Consider the economic embargo that the U.S. government has maintained against Cuba for more than half a century. It has brought untold economic suffering to the Cuban people, especially in combination with the complete socialist economic system under which they have suffered during that same time.
What has been the purpose of the embargo? The answer: the preservation of national security through regime change — the ouster of Fidel Castro and his communist regime and its replacement with a regime that would be subservient to the U.S. government.
What role was the embargo expected to play in that process? The aim was to cause massive economic suffering to the Cuban citizenry — privation, poverty, and even starvation. Then, as a result of that suffering, the idea was that Castro would be removed from power either by a citizens’ revolt, a military coup, or abdication by Castro himself.
Obviously, the plan has never succeeded, although undoubtedly U.S. officials, 50 years after the embargo was instituted, are still hoping that it will succeed.
The embargo is also a classic example of how the turn toward empire, militarism, and the national-security state has warped the values and principles of the American people. While there have been those who have objected to the embargo, even from its beginning, by and large the American people have deferred to the authority of their government. If U.S. officials believed that an embargo against Cuba was necessary to protect the “national security” of the United States, that was all that Americans needed to salve their conscience over the harm that their government was inflicting on the Cuban people.
Ironically, a few years after the Cuban embargo was instituted, the U.S. government, under the regime of Lyndon Johnson, declared its “war on poverty,” a domestic war whose purported rationale was a deep concern for the poor in society. But the Cuban people were among the poorest people in the world, and the same government that was supposedly concerned about poverty was doing its best to bring more suffering to the poor in Cuba.
The Cuban embargo demonstrated one of the core principles of the national-security state: that the end, which was the preservation of “national security,” justified whatever means were necessary to achieve it. If national security required the government to inflict great suffering on the Cuban people, then that’s just what would have to be done. Nothing could be permitted to stand in the way of protecting national security, whatever that term meant. What mattered was that the national-security establishment — i.e., the military and the CIA — knew what national security meant and had the ultimate responsibility for protecting it.
For their part, Americans were expected to remain silent. They were expected to defer to the authority of their government. National security was everything.
Conscience, the casualty
What about conscience? What if Americans, whose traditional values encompassed compassion for the poor and empathy for the suffering of others, objected to the embargo? What about the Christian principle of loving thy neighbor as thyself?
Americans were expected to ditch all that, and most did. Conscience was abandoned in favor of national security. No matter how much suffering the Cuban embargo inflicted on the Cuban people, it wasn’t something over which most Americans troubled themselves. Given that U.S. officials had determined that national security necessitated the imposition of the embargo, that was all that mattered.
Conscience wasn’t all that Americans ditched with the Cuban embargo. They also abandoned traditional American values of private property, free enterprise, and limited government.
After all, while the embargo was ostensibly an attack on the economic well-being of the Cuban people, it was, at the same time, an infringement on the economic liberty of the American people. Under the principles of economic liberty, people have a fundamental, God-given right to travel wherever they want and to dispose of their money any way they choose.
But the embargo made it a federal criminal offense to spend money in Cuba without a license from the U.S. government, which, for all practical purposes, operated as a prohibition against traveling to Cuba. If an American was caught violating the embargo — say, by traveling to Cuba as a tourist — the U.S. government would prosecute him criminally or sue him civilly or both.
The irony was that that was precisely the sort of economic control that Castro was wielding in Cuba as part of his embrace of socialism. In the attempt to oust Castro from power, U.S. officials were imposing the same kinds of socialist controls on the American people that Castro was imposing on the Cuban people.
Most Americans remained silent. All that mattered was national security. If U.S. officials determined that it was necessary to adopt socialist methods in order to protect national security, that was sufficient justification to surrender an important part of economic liberty. The end justified the means.
In fact, the American mindset throughout the Cold War was even worse than that. It wasn’t as though Americans viewed their government as adopting evil or immoral means to protect national security. Instead, the viewpoint was that whatever was being done by U.S. officials to protect national security wasn’t evil or immoral at all. Instead, the mindset, both in and out of the U.S. government, was that even if the U.S. government was employing the same methods being employed by the communists, such methods were good when employed by U.S. officials and bad when employed by the communists.
A good example of that mindset involved assassination. Ordinarily, in an objective sense, assassination is something bad. Assassination is murder, an act that is considered a grave sin under Judeo-Christian principles. Assassination is something that our American ancestors recoiled from as something objectively bad. When the Constitution called the federal government into existence, the power to assassinate was not among the enumerated powers delegated to it. Moreover, to eliminate any doubt on the matter, the American people, as a condition for accepting the federal government, demanded the enactment of the Fifth Amendment, which expressly prohibited the government from depriving people of life without due process of law.
All those principles went out the window when it came to Cuba and the Cold War. The national-security establishment engaged in numerous assassination attempts against Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro. The CIA repeatedly tried to murder him, in a variety of ways.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that U.S. officials justified their assassination attempts under the rationale of national security. The end — the preservation of national security — justified the means — assassination.
Meanwhile, Americans were expected to not question or challenge what the CIA or the military was doing in the name of national security. If they did, they themselves would come under close scrutiny by the national-security establishment.
Americans, for their part, understood that the national-security state was doing things that had to be kept secret from them — unsavory things but unfortunately necessary to protect national security.
It was as if a pact had been implicitly entered into between the American people and the officials of the U.S. national-security state. Under the pact, U.S. officials would have the omnipotent power to do whatever they felt was necessary to protect national security, such as assassinate foreign officials. Such things would be kept secret from the American people so that their conscience wouldn’t be troubled over the unsavory things that U.S. officials were doing to protect national security.
Americans, for their part, wouldn’t ask questions and would defer to the authority of their government. What mattered, first and foremost, was the preservation of national security, a concept whose ever-shifting meaning would be subjectively determined by officials of the national-security state.
Equally important, people both within the government and within the private sector convinced themselves that even if U.S. officials were doing unsavory things, such as assassinating people, such things were not evil because they were being done by U.S. officials to protect national security. That is, when the communists assassinated people, that was something bad. But when the CIA assassinated people, that was something good because it was being done by U.S. officials to protect the national security of the United States.
The CIA’s assassination attempts against Fidel Castro involved something even more unsavory — the secret partnership that the CIA entered into with the Mafia as part of its attempts to assassinate Castro.
Under objective standards of morality and just conduct, people would consider the Mafia to be a bad organization, given the bad things that it’s engaged in, such as murder, extortion, and bribery.
But objective standards were cast out the window when it came to the Cold War. If CIA officials determined that it was necessary, on grounds of national security, to partner with the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro, then it was considered okay from a moral standpoint. Moreover, while the other things the Mafia was doing were considered bad, once the Mafia united with the CIA to assassinate Castro that action was considered to be good. The end — the preservation of national security — justified the means—the CIA’s partnership with a murderous, law-breaking organization to assassinate Castro.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that the aim of the CIA’s assassination attempts on the life of Fidel Castro was the same as that of the embargo: the preservation of U.S. national security through regime change in Cuba. The hope was that the assassination of Castro would bring into power a ruler who would be subservient to the U.S. government.
The assassination attempts on Castro’s life weren’t the only way that the CIA was trying to effect regime change in Cuba. The efforts at replacing Castro with a pro-U.S. ruler began with the CIA’s invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, an action that took place a few months after John Kennedy assumed office as president.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA project that had originated under the Eisenhower administration. From the very beginning, the operation was based on a lie, one that the national-security state intended to sell to the American people. Even though the CIA was orchestrating the invasion, the plan called for U.S. officials, including Kennedy, the military, and the CIA, to lie to the American people about the role the CIA played in the operation. U.S. officials intended to falsely tell everyone that the invasion was carried out solely by Cuban exiles who just wanted to free their country from the communist tyranny of Fidel Castro.
Even though the deception was revealed in the aftermath of the invasion, official lying became an established principle under the national-security state. The end justified the means. If U.S. officials had to lie to protect national security, so be it. In such a case, the lying would not be considered bad. Since it was the U.S. government that was doing it for the sake of national security, deception by U.S. officials was considered something necessary and good. It was only deception on the part of others, such as the communists, that was considered bad.
There were also the numerous U.S.-sponsored terrorist attacks in Cuba, in which CIA-supported operatives would bomb or sabotage Cuban businesses, farms, and industries. Again, the end justified the means. National security was all that mattered.
One of the most tragic events during the Cold War period involved the terrorist downing of a Cuban airliner over Venezuelan skies. Dozens of people were killed, including the members of Cuba’s national fencing team. While there isn’t any direct evidence that the CIA was behind the attack, there is no doubt that the people who did commit the attack had the same mindset as the CIA — that the end justified the means.
Moreover, it is somewhat interesting that the U.S. government, to the present date, has steadfastly continued to harbor a man who has been accused of orchestrating the attack, a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles. For years, the Venezuelan government, with whom the United States has an extradition treaty, has sought the extradition of Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for the murder of the people on that plane. The U.S. government has continually refused to honor the extradition request. It should also be noted that Posada was convicted in Panama of trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, an act that Panama considered to be a criminal offense. He was later pardoned by Panama’s outgoing president, enabling him to immigrate to the United States, where the U.S. government has provided him with safe harbor, preventing his extradition to Venezuela.
Of course, the CIA wasn’t the only branch of the national-security state that was committed to effecting regime change in Cuba. The U.S. military establishment was also committed to achieving that goal. In fact, one of the most fascinating — and revealing — aspects of the military mindset during the Cold War involved a Pentagon plan known as Operation Northwoods.
The purpose of Operation Northwoods was to provide a justification for U.S. forces to effect regime change in Cuba through a military invasion of the country. The plan, which was unanimously approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was presented to Kennedy after the failure of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion and before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The plan called for U.S. agents to disguise themselves as agents of the Cuban government and “attack” the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay. It also called for fake Cuban agents to commit terrorist attacks within the United States, possibly involving the loss of innocent American lives to make it look good. The plan also called for the hijacking of an American airliner that would fall off the radar screens and be replaced by a pilotless drone that would be crashed into the sea, making it look as though the airliner itself had crashed. The plane would then be secretly flown back to a base in the United States. Ominously, the plan didn’t explain how the passengers would be released back to their families if they were thought dead.
The point of all this deception was to provide an excuse for ordering a military invasion of Cuba. The idea was that the United States would simply be responding to a Cuban attack rather than aggressing against Cuba with an unprovoked invasion of the island.
Under the plan, the Pentagon was obviously calling on the president to deceive the American people and the people of the world, just as the CIA had called on Kennedy to lie to Americans about its role in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Pentagon expected Kennedy to go on national television, look straight into the cameras, and falsely tell the American people that America had been attacked by Cuban terrorists, thereby necessitating a U.S. invasion of the country.
To Kennedy’s everlasting credit, he rejected Operation Northwoods. He simply considered it wrong, in an objective sense. But it wasn’t wrong to the military establishment, just as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the assassination attempts, the partnership with the Mafia, and numerous terrorist actions against Cuba weren’t considered wrong by the CIA. Keep in mind that under the principles of the national-security state, the end justified the means, and whatever the U.S. government did to protect U.S. national security was automatically considered good.
Needless to say, however, Kennedy’s sense of moral propriety with respect to Operation Northwoods did not extend to the cruel economic embargo against Cuba, which Kennedy himself instigated, but not before he ordered a large quantity of Cuban cigars to be brought into the country and delivered to him at the White House.
So what was it that Fidel Castro did to justify the U.S. government’s invasion of Cuba, the numerous assassination attempts on his life, the terrorist actions against Cuba, and the 50-year-old embargo that has contributed to the deep economic suffering of the Cuban people? That truly is a fascinating question, one that I’d say very few Americans have ever pondered.
Did Castro ever attack the United States? Did he attempt to assassinate Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or any other U.S. official? Did he ever engage in terrorist attacks within the United States?
No, Castro has never done any of those things — the things that the U.S. national security-state has done to Cuba.
So the question remains: Why? Why the long-time efforts at effecting regime change in Cuba? Why the embrace of all those unsavory actions? Why the abandonment of objective moral principles? Why the infringements on economic liberty? Why the abandonment of conscience?
The answer lies in what was the driving force of the entire national-security state after World War II and even before: the fear — the horrible, irrepressible fear — of communism.
In 2009 a retired U.S. State Department official, Walter Kendall Myers, 73, who is a grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 72, pled guilty to spying for Cuba for 30 years. Their crime entailed the transmission of U.S. “national defense” secrets to Cuba. As part of a plea bargain, he received a life sentence and she received a prison sentence of 81 months.
At their sentencing, the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, berated the Myerses for what they had done. Walton said to them, “If someone despises the American government to the extent that appears to be the case, you can pack your bags and leave and it doesn’t seem to me you continue to bear the benefits this country manages to provide and seek to undermine it.”
What had motivated the Myerses to spy for Cuba? It wasn’t money because they didn’t get paid for what they did. They told the judge that long ago, they embraced the philosophy of communism and socialism and the principles of the Cuban revolution. They said,
We did not act out of anger toward the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism. We did not intend to hurt any individual American. Our only objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution. We only hoped to forestall conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered a comprehensive damage assessment to determine how U.S. national security may have been harmed by the Myerses’ action.
There are several fascinating aspects to this case, all of which shed light on U.S. foreign policy under the national-security state for the past 70 years. For one thing, the judge never seemed to question or challenge the U.S. government’s conduct towards Cuba since the 1959 Cuban revolution. It’s as if that thought just never even entered his mind. He seemed to have just automatically concluded that since the Myerses had delivered classified “national defense” secrets to Cuba, that was the end of the matter. For the judge, that meant that the Myerses obviously hated the U.S. government and that they should have just moved to Cuba instead of undermining America.
Actually, however, the matter is more much complex than that, and if Walton had done his job properly as a judge, he would have taken into account U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba in determining whether to accept the length of the Myerses prison sentences under the plea bargain.
What was the specific information that the Myerses delivered to Cuba? Unfortunately, under principles of “national security,” the U.S. government won’t disclose that information to the American people, which seems odd, given that Cuban officials already have the information. But whatever the information was, it couldn’t have had anything to do with “national defense” simply because Cuba has never taken any aggressive actions against the United States. Instead, the information that the Myerses transmitted to Cuba had to be in the nature of “national offense” or “national aggression” because for the past 50 years it has always been the U.S. government that has attacked Cuba, not the other way around.
What has been the nature of the U.S. government’s program of aggression against Cuba for the past half century? Assassination, terrorism, sabotage, military invasion, and, of course, the continued maintenance of a brutal embargo, which, in combination with Cuba’s socialist economic system, has squeezed the lifeblood out of the Cuban people for more than 50 years.
Even the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, was brought about not by an act of aggression by Cuba and the Soviet Union, as Americans are taught from the first grade on up. Instead, the truth is that it was the U.S. national-security state, and specifically its determination to invade Cuba, that precipitated the crisis. Here’s what really happened.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Pentagon and the CIA became more determined than ever to get rid of Fidel Castro and replace him with a pro-U.S. stooge. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously presented a plan to invade Cuba to John Kennedy. The plan was called Operation Northwoods. It is one of the most shocking proposals in the history of the U.S. national-security state.
Operation Northwoods called for U.S. officials to initiate terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, on refugee boats leaving Cuba, and on the U.S. military facility at Guantánamo Bay. The plan also called for plane hijackings. Under the plan, the terrorists would seem to be Cuban agents. In actuality, however, they would be U.S. personnel falsely portraying themselves as Cuban agents.
Under Operation Northwoods, real people were to be killed, including Americans. The president, who, of course, would be in on the scheme, would go on national television, look into the camera, and inform the American people that Cuba had attacked the United States. In other words, he would lie to Americans and to the world. He would then announce that as a matter of national security, he was ordering a military invasion of Cuba.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Operation Northwoods was the belief among the Joint Chiefs of Staff that such a wide-ranging conspiracy, which obviously would involve many personnel in both the military and CIA, could and would be kept secret from the American people and the people of the world — and for a very long time. As it was, no one who was privy to the plan, including the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, ever talked. The U.S. government succeeded in keeping the proposal itself secret for more than 30 years, until the JFK Records Act of 1992, which was enacted in the wake of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, caused the plan to be disclosed to the public.
Another fascinating aspect of Operation Northwoods was the willingness of the Pentagon to sacrifice the lives of innocent people, including American citizens, as part of fake terrorist attacks to justify an invasion of Cuba. The idea, which has always been a guiding principle for the national-security state, especially within both the military and the CIA, was that the end justified the means.
To his credit, Kennedy rejected Operation Northwoods. But that didn’t dissuade the Pentagon and the CIA from continuing to support an invasion of Cuba. As it turned out, the chatter about invading Cuba reached both Cuba and the Soviet Union.
While Castro’s forces could defeat a small force of Cuban exiles, as it did at the Bay of Pigs, resisting a full-fledged military invasion of Cuba was another thing altogether. Castro knew that he didn’t stand a chance. If the U.S. military invaded the island, his forces would be easily defeated and he would be ousted or, more likely, killed in the operation.
The missile crisis
That’s what motivated Castro to approach the Soviet Union about installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, not as a way to initiate a nuclear war on the United States but instead as a way to deter a U.S. invasion of Cuba, an invasion that the military and the CIA were discussing, planning, and proposing from the time of the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
In the end, Castro’s strategy succeeded. While it appeared that Kennedy had caused the Soviets to back down and withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the price for doing that was twofold: one, Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba, a promise that earned him the deep enmity of the Pentagon, the CIA, and Cuban exiles; and, two, Kennedy promised to remove nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union that were installed in Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.
Throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, the military and the CIA were exhorting Kennedy to bomb and invade Cuba. In their minds, the missile crisis was proof positive that the president should have accepted their proposals for invading Cuba in the months preceding the crisis. Moreover, the military and the CIA viewed the missile crisis as an opportunity — the perfect excuse to effect regime change in Cuba through force. The CIA even sent sabotage teams into Cuba in preparation for the invasion without the knowledge or approval of the president. The military, for its part, raised the nuclear-alert level to the second-highest possible level and let the Soviets know about it, again without the consent of the president.
Fortunately, Kennedy and the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, were able to extricate themselves from the crisis. As Soviet records later documented, nuclear missiles had already been installed and made operational, with authority given to commanders in Cuba to fire them in the event of a U.S. invasion of the island. If Kennedy had done what the Pentagon and the CIA wanted him to do — bomb and invade Cuba — there is no doubt that full nuclear war would have been the result.
That’s how close the U.S. national-security state brought America and the Soviet Union to a nuclear holocaust.
In any event, the classified information that the Myerses were delivering to Cuba during the past 30 years couldn’t have had anything to do with “defense,” as Secretary of State Clinton intimated. It had to do with the acts of aggression that the U.S. government was committing against a sovereign and independent regime that has never engaged in any acts of aggression against the United States.
That’s what Americans so easily forget — that in the 50 years of “conflict” between Cuba and the United States, it has always been the U.S. government that has been the aggressor, and it has always been Cuba that has had to defend itself from the U.S. government’s aggression.
Let’s keep in mind some important facts here: Cuba has never attacked the United States. Cuba has never invaded the United States. It has never engaged in terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage either in the United States or against U.S. installations overseas, not even at the U.S. military installation at Guantánamo Bay. It has never attempted to assassinate U.S. officials or anyone else on American soil, either in partnership with the Mafia or anyone else. It has never implemented an economic embargo against the United States. It has never tried to effect regime change in the United States.
Instead, it has been the U.S. government that has done all those things to Cuba. It has invaded the island. It has engaged in terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage in Cuba. It has repeatedly tried to assassinate Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials, even going so far as to enter into an assassination partnership with the Mafia to do so. It has maintained a brutal economic embargo against Cuba for more than half a century. And it has consistently maintained a policy of regime change on the island, with the intent of ousting Castro from power and replacing him with a pro-U.S. dictator.
It should be noted as well that Congress has never declared war on Cuba, which is the constitutionally required prerequisite to the president’s waging of war against other nations.
That’s what Judge Walton failed to take into account at the Myerses’ sentencing hearing — that the classified information that the Myerses delivered to Cuba during the past 30 years couldn’t have had anything to do with “national defense” because the United States never has had to defend itself from any acts of aggression from Cuba. The information that the Myerses transmitted to Cuba had to have pertained, instead, to the U.S. government’s acts of aggression toward Cuba, that is, to plans relating to assassination, invasion, terrorism, sabotage, or embargo.
How Americans should think
That’s why the Myerses said that they hadn’t acted out of anger towards the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism. In their minds, they were simply giving information to Cuba to enable it to defend itself from U.S. aggression. In their minds, the U.S. government should simply have left Cuba alone.
But, you see, for Judge Walton and for officials in the U.S. national-security state, American citizens are never supposed to think like that. Under the principles of the national-security state, Americans are not supposed to make judgments on right and wrong when it comes to the actions of their government. They’re supposed to defer to the authority of their national-security state officials and to support them unconditionally, without question or challenge.
After all, the job of the national-security state is to keep Americans safe. U.S. officials are the guardians of national security. They are the ultimate judges both of what “national security” means and of what must be done to protect it. If they say that it’s necessary to invade a sovereign and independent country, to assassinate its officials, to
enter into an assassination partnership with organized crime, to engage in terrorism and sabotage within the country, and to squeeze the lifeblood out of foreign citizens with an embargo, then that’s just the way it is.
All Americans are expected to get on board. And whoever questions or challenges what the government is doing to protect their “national security” is considered suspect or, even worse, a bad person, or, worst of all, an enemy of the state or a “terrorist sympathizer” — a person who obviously hates his government and his country, especially given that under the principles of the national-security state, government and country are conflated into one entity.
The mistake the Myerses made was in delivering the information to Cuba, which placed them in violation of U.S. laws against spying and treason. If they had instead delivered the information to the New York Times, it would have made for an entirely different situation, similar to that of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon official who released the Pentagon Papers to the Times during the Vietnam War, or to that of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who is accused of having delivered classified information disclosing embarrassing matters relating to U.S. foreign policy to WikiLeaks.
Yes, the government would have nonetheless indicted and prosecuted the Myerses as it did Ellsberg and is doing to Manning. Moreover, Judge Walton would undoubtedly have still berated them if they had been convicted. But at least the information would have reached the American people, which might have caused more Americans to exercise some independence of thought and personal conscience, which in turn might have brought a change in U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
Another example of this phenomenon is the case of the Cuban Five. That case involves five agents of the Cuban government who were arrested by federal officials in the United States, prosecuted for spying, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms by a federal court in Florida. Their crime? They came to the United States with the aim of ferreting out terrorist plots against Cuba.
For that, those five Cuban agents were considered bad people by U.S. officials — criminals! Imagine the audacity of those five men in trying to protect their country from terrorism. Don’t they know by now that Cuba is not supposed to defend itself against such things?
Consider Cubana Flight 455, which took off from Venezuela on October 6, 1976, and was returning to Cuba. It was downed by a terrorist bomb that had been planted on the plane. All 78 people on board were killed, including all 24 members of the 1975 Cuban fencing team, which had just won gold medals in Latin American competitions.
The prime suspect in the bombing was a man named Luis Posada Carriles, an agent of the CIA. Was Posada operating on behalf of the CIA when he supposedly orchestrated the attack? It’s impossible to know. We do know that he and the CIA claimed that he was no longer working for the CIA during that time. But the problem is that they would say that anyway, so there really is no way to know for sure. What we do know is that the U.S. government has steadfastly harbored Posada by refusing to honor an extradition request from Venezuela, notwithstanding an extradition treaty between the two countries. We also know that Congress has steadfastly refused to conduct a formal investigation into whether the CIA was behind the attack.
Let’s suppose that the CIA was behind the terrorist attack on Cubana Flight 455 and that the Myerses had discovered the plot when it was being planned. If they had delivered such information to Cuba, there is no doubt that they would have been treated in the same way they were treated for transmitting the “national defense” information that they actually transmitted to Cuba. Under America’s national-security state, any citizen, either inside or outside the government, who would disclose such information to a nation being targeted by the CIA is obviously a hater of the U.S. government and anti-American.
What has been the justification for the U.S. government’s actions towards Cuba? The justifications have been twofold: Fidel Castro’s refusal to submit to the control of the U.S. government and the fact that Castro was a communist who turned Cuba into a communist state.
Those two concepts — U.S. imperialism and the U.S. national-security state’s excessive and unreasonable fear of communism — have been driving principles of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba and the rest of the world through much of the 20th and 21st centuries. They have also wreaked untold damage on our nation, our values, our economic well-being, and our freedom.
The day after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they invaded the Philippines, where they killed or captured tens of thousands of American soldiers. The obvious question arises: What in the world was such a large contingent of U.S. soldiers doing in a land thousands of miles away from American shores? The answer lies in the turn towards empire that the United States took during the Spanish-American War in 1898. When Cuba and the Philippines revolted against the rule of the Spanish Empire, the United States intervened in the conflict, promising to help the revolutionaries to achieve independence.
America’s intervention succeeded and the Spanish Empire lost the war. Nonetheless, Cuba and the Philippines failed to secure their independence. The reason? The U.S. government insisted on replacing the rule of the Spanish Empire with the rule of what was to become the U.S. empire.
The result was another brutal war of independence in the Philippines, in which U.S. forces killed, maimed, or tortured hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in their successful quest to quell the rebellion.
Thus, the U.S. soldiers who were killed or captured by Japan at the inception of World War II were on U.S. territory that had been captured almost 50 years before as part of America’s turn away from a constitutional republic to a worldwide empire.
The U.S. government also treated Cuba as its colony, just as the Spanish Empire had done, effectively ruling the country for decades through a succession of brutal and corrupt dictators who would do the bidding of the U.S. empire.
Thus, the Spanish-American War was a watershed event for the United States, one that would ultimately lead to an empire with hundreds of military bases all over the world, along with an endless series of invasions, occupations, coups, assassinations, sanctions, embargoes, and regime-change operations, all intended to expand the reach of the U.S. empire around the world.
In fact, the corrupt dictator who ruled Cuba prior to Fidel Castro’s revolution, Fulgencio Batista, was one of the U.S. empire’s approved rulers, one who brutalized and plundered the Cuban people while doing whatever the U.S. empire requested of him. When the Cuban people revolted against Batista and replaced him with Castro, U.S. officials initially hoped that Castro would continue the tradition and place Cuba and himself under U.S. control. That hope, however, was soon dashed, as Castro made it clear to the U.S. empire and to the Cuban people that Cuba was, for the first time in history, to be a sovereign and independent country.
It is not a surprise that Castro’s position did not sit well with U.S. officials. The empire placed him squarely in its sights for a regime-change operation that would ultimately consist of an economic embargo, an invasion, assassination attempts, terrorism, sabotage, and almost nuclear war.
But there was another critically important factor that guaranteed that Castro would become the target of the U.S. empire. After seizing power, he revealed himself to be a communist, one who quickly began converting Cuba’s economic system to communism.
Those two factors — U.S. imperialism and U.S. anti-communism — became the twin driving forces of the U.S. government in the second half of the 20th century. More than anything else, those two forces would corrupt, warp, and pervert the principles and values of the American people.
From the first grade on up, American students are taught that “we” won World War II. Actually, the truth of that statement depends on how one defines the pronoun “we.” When “we” is defined to include the Soviet Union, then it is true that “we” won World War II. But when “we” is defined to mean the United States, Great Britain, France, and other non-Soviet Allied powers, then “we” did not win the war. It was the Soviet Union that won the war.
Recall, after all, the ostensible reason that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. It was to free the Polish people from Nazi tyranny. What was the situation at the end of the war? Well, the Polish people were indeed freed from Nazi tyranny, only to have to suffer for the next 50 years under Soviet communist tyranny. From the standpoint of the Poles and, for that matter, other Eastern Europeans in the Soviet bloc, that was no victory.
But it was also no victory for the American people because almost immediately U.S. officials converted the Soviet Union from World War II partner and ally (and Hitler’s enemy) into a giant new enemy for the United States, a situation that would bring a half-century of crisis, chaos, conflict, and hostility during the Cold War and massive death and destruction in such hot wars as Korea and Vietnam.
Equally important, that new enemy would provide the justification for maintaining and expanding a massive and permanent military-industrial complex and for initiating a massive national-security state, both of whose policies and practices would end up looking strikingly similar to those of the totalitarian regimes that the United States had opposed during the war and was now opposing in the Cold War.
It is impossible to overstate the depth of the anti-communist fervor that characterized the Cold War. For those who were born after that era, the best way to describe it is that the fear of communism was about 1,000 times greater than the fear of terrorism is today. What was different, however, was that while terrorism involves a physical act of force, communism involved more than that. Communism also involved an idea, one that absolutely scared U.S. officials and much of the American populace to death. There were several aspects to the anti-communist fervor.
One aspect was the notion that the Soviet Union intended to initiate a war against the United States in which America would be conquered by the communists. Under that scenario, the American people would end up living their lives much like the people of Eastern Europe — under the iron boot of the Soviet Union.
A second aspect was the notion that communism would spread beyond Cuba, into other Latin American nations, which would enable them to mobilize military forces that would invade Florida and Texas and sweep up the Eastern seaboard, ultimately defeating U.S. forces and taking over Washington. Under this scenario, the Latin American communist forces would be serving as agents of the Soviet Union and would do its bidding after conquering the United States.
A third aspect was that communists would take control over European countries and Asian countries, causing the “dominoes” to continue falling until the final domino — the United States — would be toppled.
A fourth aspect was communist infiltration in the federal government and the public schools, where politicians, bureaucrats, and teachers would be serving effectively as moles of the Soviet Union, who would be indoctrinating the American people with communist ideas and, even worse, taking control of the reins of power and surrendering America to the communists.
A fifth aspect, which perhaps was the scariest for U.S. officials, was that communism would operate as a Sirens song, infecting the minds of the American people and seducing them into wanting and desiring a communist way of life, one in which people would eagerly and enthusiastically surrender their freedom in return for being taken care of from the cradle to the grave by the state. Under this scenario, communists would begin winning elections all across the land and gradually begin to seep into the federal bureaucracies, enabling them to bring communism to America in a purely democratic fashion.
All five of those aspects of the anti-communism mindset combined to produce a climate of constant preparation for war and a long, dark era of deeply seated fear that pervaded the United States and the American psyche. It was an era that was so frightening that Americans learned to defer to authority, to trust their government officials, and to place unwavering faith in them to protect “national security” and defend them from communism.
What was this thing that frightened people so much? Communism is an economic doctrine in which the state owns the means of production. In its purest sense, it means that the state owns everything in society. Since the state is the sole employer, everyone works for the state. The state guarantees that everyone will be taken care of with housing, food, employment, health care, education, and other important things. No more worries about losing one’s home, starving to death, being fired, or being unable to pay for medical expenses or for an education. Everyone’s needs are taken care of, from the day they are born to the day they die.
Needless to say, all that is a very attractive notion to many people.
The rise of socialism
What’s the alternative to communism or, to employ a similar term, socialism?
The alternative is a private-property, free-market way of life, one in which the means of production and most everything else are privately owned. People are free to engage in economic enterprise free of government regulation, to engage freely in mutually beneficial economic transactions with others, to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, and to decide what to do with it. In a system based on private property and economic liberty, which some might label as “capitalism,” the role of government is simply to protect people from the violence or fraud of others, to defend the nation in the event of an attack, and to provide a judicial forum by which disputes can be resolved peacefully.
Notwithstanding slavery and other exceptions, the United States had been founded on principles of private property and the free market. Despite the many exceptions, it was, in common parlance, a capitalist country. In fact, America’s free-enterprise economic system was one of the major things that distinguished the United States from all other nations in history.
Throughout the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, however, communism was becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Near the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution brought a communist regime to power in Russia. Moreover, socialistic ideas were percolating throughout Europe and Asia. By the time that World War II broke out, the United States itself had embraced a variation of socialism with its welfare-state way of life, one in which the federal government was expected to take care of people by means of certain important programs, such as Social Security.
Moreover, communist parties were playing active roles in the political process, including the U.S. political process.
All of that was too much for U.S. officials, who were convinced that unless the United States took a leading role battling communism around the world, it would end up being a communist nation. Thus, at the end of World War II, the Pentagon and a gigantic wartime military establishment became permanent fixtures in American life. Two years later, in 1947, Harry Truman signed into law the National Security Act, which brought the CIA into existence. Together, that permanent military establishment and the CIA would form the core units of America’s national-security state, which would, over time, effectively become a fourth branch of government having unbelievable powers of invasion, assassination, torture, and fomenting coups and regime-change operations. And the legislative and judicial branches and even the executive branch would not and could not touch it because of the overriding principle of “national security.”
What should the United States have done at the end of World War II? It should have come home and dismantled its wartime military machine. The war was over. Nazi Germany and Japan had been defeated. Sure, the Eastern Europeans were now under the iron boot of the Soviet Union but U.S. officials were partly responsible for that, not only in partnering with the Soviet communists during the war and relinquishing control over such countries to them, but also in their “unconditional surrender” demand by which they declined to enter into separate peace negotiations with the Germans that could have kept Eastern Europe free of Soviet control.
The U.S. government instead chose to maintain a massive level of military force in Germany to protect Western Europe from an attack by its World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union. That’s what NATO was all about. Even worse, the U.S. government promised to defend nations all over the world from communist aggression, an open-ended commitment that would transform America into a militarist, garrison state.
War with the USSR?
What were the chances that the Soviet Union would start a new war against its former World War II allies? Virtually nil. After all, the Soviets had just lost more than 20 million people in the war. The entire nation, including its economy, was devastated Moreover, the U.S. government had sent a powerful message to the Soviets regarding U.S. military might with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What about the continued Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe? The reasoning was no different in principle from that of the U.S. government, which fiercely opposed any communist regimes in Latin America. After two world wars, the Soviets wanted puppet regimes in Eastern Europe to serve as a buffer against future invasions by Germany. The rationale was no more justifiable than the U.S. rationale for installing pro-U.S. puppet regimes in Latin America, but it certainly did not mean that the Soviet Union was embarking on a worldwide campaign of military conquest.
The national-security state’s fear of communism in Latin America went deep. Consider Guatemala. When a socialist named Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected president in Guatemala in 1950, the Pentagon and the CIA went ballistic. They were convinced that with Arbenz’s election, the communists had established a beachhead in the Western hemisphere. Apparently, in the minds of the military and CIA, Guatemalan forces would cross into Mexico, ford the Rio Grande, conquer Houston and Dallas, sweep northeasterly, conquer Georgia and the rest of the South, take Washington, D.C, and then hand the keys to the capital to the Soviet Union. Oh, if they waited until after 1959, Castro’s communist army would invade and conquer Florida and then move north, conquering everything in its path before joining with Arbenz’s army outside Washington, D.C., to jointly accept the surrender of U.S. officials in Washington.
It was obviously a ridiculous, inane notion. But nothing was beyond the communist-possessed imagination of officials in the U.S. national-security state. In fact, when Pentagon and CIA officials learned that Arbenz had purchased a shipload of arms from Czechoslovakia, which was under Soviet control, that transaction was positive confirmation that the communists were planning a military takeover of the United States. Never mind that the Czechs had taken the Guatemalans to the cleaners by selling them a bunch of military junk. Some giant, worldwide, monolithic communist threat!
The national-security mindset was the same in Southeast Asia. The communists would take over in Vietnam, which would cause the Southeast Asian dominoes to start falling, ultimately resulting in a communist takeover of the United States.
That mindset turned out to be as ridiculous and inane as the one that related to Latin America. The best proof, of course, is what happened at the end of the Vietnam War. The dominoes didn’t fall and the Vietnamese communists didn’t invade and conquer the United States. In fact, soon after the reunification of the country, the Vietnamese communists got into a war with the Chinese communists. Today, Vietnam has friendly relations with the United States.
In fact, let’s return to Latin America for a moment. Today, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have socialist-communist regimes. So what? What American feels threatened by that? Is anyone worrying that communist armies are about to cross the southern border of the United States or invade Florida? Like I say, the fear of communism and communists was inane, overblown, exaggerated, and irrational.
What about the Communist Party and American communists — that is, people in the United States who were committed to converting its system to a communist economic one?
In a genuinely free society, people are free to expound any ideas they want, no matter how despicable or unpopular. The American Communist Party should have been free to participate in the political process to its heart’s content, doing everything it wanted to peacefully persuade people to embrace communism and socialism. It was the duty of the government to protect them in the exercise of their rights and freedom. After all, the best way to combat a bad idea like communism or socialism is to promulgate a better idea, such as libertarianism, i.e., a free-market, private-property system.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI, another important part of the U.S. national-security state, viewed things. In their eyes, people who advocated communism were bad people and, even worse, grave threats to the “national security” of the United States.
Thus, to protect “national security” from communism, the U.S. national-security state adopted policies and practices that in some ways mirrored the policies and practices of the very regime they had defeated in World War II — the Nazi regime — and the regime that they had partnered with in World War II and against which they were now waging the Cold War — the Soviet regime. Of course, U.S. officials justified the evil and immoral means they adopted to combat communism under the rubric of protecting “national security.”
Americans should have suspected that something was amiss when, after the end of World War II, U.S. officials began enlisting former Nazis into the service of the U.S. government. Given the massive death and destruction of World War II and the Holocaust, Nazi Germany was obviously one of the most evil regimes in history. That’s in fact one of the major justifications given for America’s entry into World War II — to bring an end to that evil regime.
Yet here were U.S. officials recruiting and employing Nazis. The reason? The Cold War had started! While the Allies had vanquished Nazi Germany, they simultaneously acquired a new official enemy — the Soviet Union, which had served as their ally and partner during the war.
The U.S. embrace of Nazi functionaries signaled what would become a guiding motif for the U.S. national-security state: The end justifies the means. Whatever needed to be done to defeat communism — as represented primarily by the Soviet Union but also by Red China and North Korea — was considered morally justified. It was a motif that would ultimately lead to the embrace of policies that, ironically, characterized totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Consider, for example, the CIA’s highly secret drug experiments, a program known as MKULTRA. Under that program, the CIA subjected unsuspecting Americans to LSD and other mind-altering substances. They did it to people in hospitals, to people in prisons, and to others, with the knowledge and cooperation of officials in those facilities, always under a vow of secrecy. What they didn’t have was the consent of many of the people to whom they were administering the drugs.
What was the justification for those drug experiments, which somewhat resembled the medical experimentation that had been undertaken by the Nazis? Why, national security, of course. Pentagon and CIA officials had learned that the Soviet Union was conducting LSD experiments on people. Therefore, U.S. officials concluded that in order to keep up with the communists and ultimately defeat them, it was necessary to do the same thing. In war, sometimes people have to be sacrificed. The end justifies the means.
It is impossible to know how many people’s minds were damaged or destroyed or, indeed, how many people were killed, by the CIA’s drug experiments. When information about the program became public, the CIA destroyed most of its MKULTRA files, no doubt on the grounds of national security. After all, if the public and the world were to learn the details of MKULTRA, including the identities of the victims, the CIA could be damaged, which, in the minds of national-security-state officials, would logically threaten national security.
One of the best accounts of MKULTRA is found in the book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments, by H.P. Albarelli Jr. (2011). This fascinating and gripping book recounts the life and death of a CIA agent named Frank Olson.
For years, the CIA’s official story was that Olson had taken his own life while suffering the throes of depression. It was all a lie. Many years after Olson’s death, it was discovered that the CIA had actually subjected him to an LSD experiment, without telling him or asking him.
Once that truth came out, the CIA’s official story changed. Under its new story, it acknowledged that it had in fact drugged Olson without his knowledge or consent. Thus, it said that Olson was suffering from both hallucinations and depression as a result of the LSD experiment on him, which supposedly led to his jumping out of a window from an upper floor of a New York City hotel. Under the new official story, the CIA deeply regretted what it had done and apologized profusely to Olson’s widow.
Why would the CIA subject one of its own employees to an LSD experiment? Why, national security, of course. The CIA wanted to see how someone would react if he ingested LSD without being told in advance, information that could enable the United States to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
The natural question arises: Why would the CIA feel the need to do that to one of its agents, when that was precisely what it was doing to patients and prisoners in hospitals and prisons?
In his carefully researched book, one that relies on confidential sources within the CIA, Albarelli provides a convincing case showing that the CIA’s new official story was also a lie and that, in fact, it was a fallback position to disguise the CIA’s murder of Frank Olson.
Why would the CIA murder one of its own agents? Why, national security, of course. Albarelli’s research disclosed that Americans were not the only ones who were the subject of the CIA’s LSD experiments. He points to a small village in France, Pont St. Esprit, that in 1951 became a target of the CIA’s LSD experiments. The experiment resulted in the death of five people and in the need for 300 people to seek medical care or to be placed in treatment facilities.
According to Albarelli, Frank Olson had participated in that horrifying LSD experiment and was deeply troubled about it. Ultimately, in a crisis of conscience, he disclosed the highly classified secret to an unauthorized person.
In other words, Olson knew too much and talked too much. He had become a threat to national security. If people were to find out about the CIA’s LSD experiment on an entire village in France, that would damage the CIA, which in turn would threaten national security. There was no effective choice. In order to protect national security, Olson had to be eliminated. Albarelli’s sources revealed that Olson didn’t jump out of a window. He was thrown out of it, by two men working for the CIA.
There were also several regime-change operations in different parts of the world, where agents of the national-security state initiated what can be described only as undeclared attacks on foreign regimes, with the goal of ousting their rulers from power and replacing them with U.S.-approved rulers — all under the notion that national security required that such operations be conducted.
In 1953, the CIA instigated a coup in Iran that succeeded in ousting the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power and replacing him with the brutal dictatorial regime of the shah of Iran. Needless to say, in justifying its coup, the CIA cited national security, saying that Mossadegh had been leaning toward communism and the Soviet Union. Never mind that British officials had asked the CIA to oust Mossadegh owing to his nationalization of British oil interests.
One year later, 1954, the CIA ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, and installed a brutal unelected military dictatorship in his stead. The justification? National security, of course. U.S. national-security- state officials maintained that Arbenz was a communist, as reflected by his socialist economic policies and his sympathies for Guatemalan communists, some of whom were serving in his administration. Never mind that some high CIA officials and some members of Congress owned stock in the United Fruit Company, some of whose land in Guatemala was being seized and redistributed to the poor. U.S. officials were convinced that the national security of the United States would be severely threatened if a communist regime were permitted to exist in the Western hemisphere. When Arbenz was caught purchasing weaponry from the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia, his fate was sealed.
It is interesting that defenders of the national-security state justify the CIA’s Guatemala coup by claiming not only that it protected U.S. national security but also that it saved Guatemala from tyranny and destruction at the hands of a communist regime. Their argument is that a country’s laws and constitution are not a suicide pact. Moreover, voters make mistakes, and if illegal means are necessary to save a country from such mistakes, then it is right and proper that such means be employed. The end justifies the means.
Arbenz was lucky. By fleeing the country early in the coup, he saved his life. It later turned out that among the CIA’s contingency plans were his assassination and those of other Guatemalan officials.
There were the countless regime-change operations against Cuba, a country that had never attacked the United States, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, terrorist attacks on Cuban soil, the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and, of course, the many assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials.
In fact, there is every reason to believe that the CIA was behind the 1967 extrajudicial execution of Che Guevara, one of Castro’s fellow communist revolutionaries. After he was taken into custody by the Bolivian military, Guevara’s captors executed him on orders from above. The killing was a grave violation of international law. While the CIA has always denied any role in the illegal execution, the fact is that a CIA agent was present during the execution. Given the subservient nature of most Latin American regimes to the U.S. military, which has long supported and trained Latin American troops, the chances that the Bolivian military would have executed Guevara in the face of ardent opposition by the CIA are nil. Moreover, given that Guevara was on the CIA’s assassination list, the chances that it would have objected to his extrajudicial execution are also nil. Finally, soon after the execution the CIA issued a report detailing the benefits of Guevara’s death.
The CIA’s participation in another extrajudicial execution had occurred in South Vietnam a few years previous to the Che Guevara execution. A few weeks before the John Kennedy assassination, a CIA-supported military coup succeeded in ousting the South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, from power. Soon after Diem was taken into custody, South Vietnamese military forces executed him. While the CIA denied any role in the assassination, there is little doubt that the South Vietnamese military would never have done it if the CIA had fiercely opposed it.
It is not surprising that the CIA-supported regime-change operation in South Vietnam was justified by the claim of national security. Diem’s authoritarian regime — a regime that was long supported by the U.S. government — was so brutal and corrupt that it increased the odds of a communist takeover of South Vietnam. If the communists took over South Vietnam, that presumably would cause Southeast Asian “dominoes” to start falling, which would ultimately mean a communist takeover of the United States. Thus, the idea was that national security required Diem’s ouster.
Support for dictatorships
Support for brutal Latin American dictatorships, especially military ones, was another policy of the U.S. national-security state. Often pro-U.S. dictatorships were more brutal than communist ones. Like the shah’s pro-U.S. regime in Iran, the pro-U.S. dictatorships in Latin America, especially the military dictatorships, brutalized their own people — torturing them, “disappearing” them, and killing them with U.S.-trained military and intelligence forces. Whenever citizens who were suffering under such brutal dictatorships resisted the U.S.-supported tyranny under which they were suffering, they were considered communists and terrorists who needed to be captured, tortured, executed, or otherwise suppressed. National security required it.
U.S. officials didn’t care what their puppet regimes did to people within their own countries. After all, national security requires order and stability, which is, in fact, why the U.S. national-security state has always leaned toward pro-U.S. military dictatorships.
In fact, when American citizens became the victims of torture at the hands of U.S.-trained military or intelligence goons in Latin America, U.S. officials were noteworthy for their lack of interest. One example involved the torture and rape of an American nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, who stated that present during her ordeal was a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent. Needless to say, no subpoena was ever served by Congress or the Justice Department on the CIA demanding the production of all CIA agents operating in Guatemala during the time that Sister Dianna was tortured and raped. Obviously, revealing the identities of such agents would have threatened national security; therefore Sister Dianna was simply left to adjust to her unfortunate experience without any expectation of justice from the U.S. government.
A similar example involved an American woman named Jennifer Harbury, who married a Guatemalan insurgent, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who was resisting the tyranny of the U.S.-supported military dictatorship in Guatemala. Bamaca was captured by Guatemalan forces and was “disappeared.” Harbury attempted to locate him and save his life through a series of hunger strikes and legal actions.
Through it all, the CIA claimed to have no information about Bamaca’s whereabouts. It turned out to be a lie. A U.S. State Department official blew the whistle and disclosed not only that the CIA knew where Bamaca was but also that it had a close working relationship with his torturers and killers. By the time Harbury acquired that information, Bamaca had been killed by his captors, another grave violation of international law. The CIA retaliated against the whistleblower by ensuring that he lost his security clearance, which was essential to his position at the State Department.
And at home …
In the United States itself, the preoccupation with communism and communists caused the national-security state to take extraordinary actions against the American people, actions that constituted severe violations of the principles of freedom.
First of all, there were investigations and accusations of Americans who were suspected of having connections to communism and the Communist Party. Reputations and careers were ruined on the supposition that anyone who believed in communism or had believed in communism during some part of his life was obviously a threat to national security.
Only a few people had the courage to point out that a free society protects the rights of people to believe anything they want, associate with whomever they want, and to promote anything they want, no matter how despicable such beliefs and associations might be to others. After all, to defend the right of people to be communists subjected the defender to the charge of being a communist.
Both the FBI and the CIA illegally spied on and closely monitored the activities of American citizens. Secret files were kept on people, often detailing nothing more than their sexual activity or other personal matters, with the aim of blackmailing them, embarrassing them, or destroying them.
Of course, those were the sorts of things that were done by the Gestapo and that were being done by the KGB. In the mind of the ordinary national-security-state official, however, such practices were evil only when committed by Nazis or communists, not when they were committed by U.S. officials, who were charged with the difficult and dangerous task of protecting national security from people like the Nazis and the communists. The end justified the means.
In fact, the communist scare started long before the formal advent of the national-security state. As Americans were later to find out, the federal government was keeping secret files on Americans suspected of being communists as far back as World War I, when U.S. officials were raiding, busting, and prosecuting communist-socialist organizations and deporting foreign residents for having communist views.
Among the most famous of the victims during that time was a Russian immigrant named Emma Goldman, who was arrested and deported for advocating anarchy and communism. She described her thoughts as she was involuntarily departing New York harbor: “It was my beloved city, the metropolis of the New World. It was America, indeed America repeating the terrible scenes of tsarist Russia! I glanced up — the Statue of Liberty!”
Among the national-security state’s favorite tactics during the Cold War was to plant “moles” within communist organizations, with the goal of getting their membership lists, spying on them, and looking for evidence of subversion and treason. If a person were caught doing something illegal, sometimes he’d be promised leniency if he agreed to become a spy for the national-security state.
Hardly anyone noticed the totalitarian nature of those extraordinary “national security” measures. That didn’t matter. What mattered was the defeat of communism. Anything that had to be done to achieve victory was justified. The end justified the means. If the United States was doing it, it had to be good, since it was being done to defeat communism.
Two organizations that the U.S. national-security state was determined to destroy were the U.S. Communist Party and an organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization that included many mainstream Americans who were sympathetic to the communist-socialist revolution in Cuba. U.S. officials successfully planted moles in both organizations. Such moles were trained by the national-security state to falsely portray themselves as communists. They were so well-trained that they successfully fooled people in those organizations into believing that they were genuine communists.
Meanwhile, at the height of the Cold War, as the U.S. national-security state was doing everything it could to destroy communists, one of the most mysterious episodes in the history of the national-security state occurred, an event that can be described as a Cold War miracle.
An American man who supposedly attempted to defect to the Soviet Union and promised to divulge to the Soviet communist regime all the information that he had acquired during his time in the U.S. military — a man who later returned to the United States and then openly started a chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee — a man who openly corresponded with the U.S. Communist Party — a man who was a self-described Marxist — a man who supposedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico with the intent to re-defect to the Soviet Union — sauntered across the Cold War stage with not even a single grand-jury subpoena, much less arrest, torture, incarceration, or criminal prosecution at the hands of the U.S. national-security state. That man was a former U.S. Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.
At the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, when the U.S. government was doing everything to defeat communism and destroy communists, one of the most remarkable series of events in the history of the U.S. national-security state took place. An American claiming to love communists, communism, and Marxism — a man who ostensibly did everything he could to join America’s official enemy the Soviet Union — a man who supposedly delivered top-secret information relating to national security to the Soviets — a man who campaigned openly here in the United States in favor of Cuba and communism — a man who may have visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico with the ostensible aim of returning to the Soviet Union — sauntered across the Cold War stage with virtual immunity from adverse action at the hands of the national-security state. This phenomenal matter could well be described as a Cold War miracle. That man was a former U.S. Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.
The official story: Oswald joined the Marines and became an avowed communist. Somehow during his time in the Marines, he taught himself Russian, a foreign language that many would agree is very difficult to learn, especially without the benefit of a language school or a tutor.
Shortly before his term in the Marines was up, Oswald secured permission to leave his military service early on the ground that his mother had been injured and needed assistance. It was a lie. Soon after being discharged, he made his way to the Soviet Union, although it is still not clear where he got the money to pay for the trip.
Once in the Soviet Union, Oswald went to the U.S. embassy, where he attempted to renounce his American citizenship. He also told U.S. officials at the embassy that he intended to disclose everything he knew to Soviet officials, a threat that had teeth to it, given that Oswald had been stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in Japan where the U.S. government’s top-secret U-2 spy plane was based.
After living in the Soviet Union for a few years, during which he married a Russian woman, he obtained permission from U.S. officials to return to the United States, even securing financial assistance from the U.S. government to make the trip home.
Moving to Dallas, Oswald found employment at a photographic center that just happened to perform classified work for the U.S. government.
Later, he moved to New Orleans, where he found employment at a company located in the heart of offices and agencies that had links to U.S. intelligence. While there, he established a local chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Cuba organization that the U.S. government had infiltrated and was attempting to destroy. At the same time, he was making written contact with the U.S. Communist Party.
During his time in New Orleans, Oswald pamphleteered in favor of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, even going so far as to distribute pamphlets on the street to U.S. troops disembarking from a U.S. Navy vessel. For some unknown reason, he stamped a return address on some of the pamphlets that led to the offices of a retired FBI official who had ties to U.S. intelligence.
Oswald also established contact with an anti-Castro group that was being secretly funded by the CIA and was closely supervised by a CIA agent named George Joannides, which for some reason the CIA kept secret for nearly three decades from — among others — both the Warren Commission in 1963 and the House Assassination Committee in the late 1970s. At first Oswald offered to help the group and then later shifted to his pro-Castro persona by involving himself in a public altercation with the group while distributing his Fair Play for Cuba Committee pamphlets. Jailed for disorderly conduct for that altercation, Oswald successfully sought a visit in jail from an active FBI agent.
Later, Oswald secured a visa to visit Mexico. Researchers have discovered that as he waited in line to secure his visa, a CIA agent stood in front of him in line, something the CIA also successfully kept secret for decades.
Then Oswald seems to have visited both the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City, seeking permission to return to the Soviet Union via Cuba. During those visits, he is said to have met with a chief assassin for the KGB.
Upon returning to Dallas, Oswald secured employment with the Texas School Book Depository, from where he is alleged to have shot John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. On November 25, Oswald was gunned down by a man named Jack Ruby. The Warren Commission later determined that Oswald was a lone nut who assassinated Kennedy all on his own.
How others were treated
Why does Oswald’s case qualify as a Cold War miracle? Because despite the fact that he was an avowed communist who had ostensibly betrayed his country, shamed the U.S. Marine Corps, divulged secret information to America’s avowed enemy the Soviet Union, openly promoted communism on the public streets of America, and visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies with the supposed intent of returning to the Soviet Union, the national-security state didn’t lay a finger on the guy.
No grand-jury subpoena. No grand-jury indictment. No illegal wiretapping of his telephone. No surreptitious delving into his sex life. No enemy-combatant incarceration. No torture. No harassment of employers. Nothing significant against a man who was supposedly one of the greatest betrayers of his country in U.S. history.
Is that the way we would expect the U.S. government to behave toward such a person? We all know that it’s the exact opposite. We would expect the government to go after such a person with extreme vengeance.
Consider, for example, what it did to Daniel Ellsberg. He simply divulged the Pentagon’s lies and deceptions to the New York Times and, indirectly, to the American people. The government went after him with the ruthlessness that we would expect of it. It indicted him and sought to put him away in jail for many years.
But that wasn’t all. Men in its service also committed a felony by breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. For what purpose? Simply to steal information on his personal life, including personal sexual matters, designed to shame him, humiliate him, and destroy his credibility.
That’s what we would expect of the government.
Recall what the government did to John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. It tortured him, it disrobed him, it posed him naked, it indicted him, it convicted him, and it sentenced him to a long jail term. What had Lindh done? He had involved himself in Afghanistan’s civil war by joining the wrong side — that is, the side that would become America’s enemy after the 9/11 attacks. For that, he paid a very high price at the hands of the U.S. national-security state.
The way the government treated Lindh is how we would expect it to behave.
Recall Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a target of another principal agency within the national-security state — the FBI — and specifically of its longtime director, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover’s war against communism predated even World War II.
Absolutely convinced that America was in danger of falling to the communists, Hoover and his FBI pulled out all the stops to prevent that from happening, from illegal wiretaps on American citizens, to surreptitious monitoring of people, to delving into the personal lives of Americans, especially their sexual activities and proclivities, to maintaining secret files on people, to infiltrating what were considered to be subversive organizations.
Among his major convictions was that the U.S. Civil Rights movement was actually a front for the international communist movement. That’s how he came to focus his FBI on Martin Luther King Jr., including secretly monitoring King’s personal life and placing illegal wiretaps on his telephone conversations. Worst of all was that Hoover and his FBI attempted to provoke King into committing suicide, with the threat of disclosing embarrassing matters that had been discovered with the illegal wiretaps.
None of that should surprise anyone. That’s how we would expect federal officials to behave when confronted with an American whose loyalties supposedly lay with the communists.
Consider Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who is accused of having released embarrassing information about the U.S. government to WikiLeaks. He has been locked away and brutally tortured with an extended period of solitary confinement, notwithstanding the fact that under our system of justice, he is presumed to be innocent. Indeed, we all know that U.S. officials are licking their chops at the prospect of getting their hands on the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and punishing him as a spy under the Espionage Act of 1917.
That’s how we would expect U.S. official to behave in such a situation.
Yet here we have a former U.S. Marine who had lied to secure early release from the military, supposedly become an avowed communist, supposedly defected to America’s Cold War enemy the Soviet Union, presumably delivered secret information to the Soviets that he had acquired during his military service, supposedly promoted communism on the streets of America, and supposedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico and — not even a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury, much less a grand-jury indictment.
What are we to make of that? It seems to me — and it has seemed to many Kennedy assassination researchers over the years — that there is only one likely explanation for the government’s strange conduct toward Lee Harvey Oswald — that he was actually a secret, highly trained operative for U.S. intelligence, most likely the CIA.
The thing is that once we overlay Oswald’s life with that hypothesis, the strange and unusual aspects of the government’s treatment of him disappear.
What better place for the CIA to recruit people than from the U.S. military, especially the Marine Corps? Don’t we ordinarily expect that people who join the Marines are extremely loyal to the government? If a poll were taken, most Americans would probably choose the Marines as the branch of service where you would be most likely to find loyal and patriotic military personnel.
How likely is it that a U.S. Marine is going to become an avowed communist? And if it were to happen, especially at the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. national-security state was doing its best to ferret out communists within the U.S. government and destroy them, how likely is it that the Marine Corps wouldn’t be concerned about a self-avowed communist in its midst?
But if he was a CIA recruit who was being trained to be a self-avowed communist, then obviously the Marine Corps would be fully supportive. Indeed, the Marines would have cooperated fully in Oswald’s learning of the Russian language during the time he was in the military.
Would it have been unusual for the CIA to be training people to appear to be genuine communists? Of course not. After all, both the FBI and the CIA were infiltrating pro-communist organizations, such as the U.S. Communist Party and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and planting moles in them. Those moles had to put on a good act, one in which they successfully kept secret the fact that they were actually working for the national-security state.
In fact, consider the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization that included many prominent Americans, some of whom sympathized with the socialist principles of the Cuban revolution and some of whom simply opposed U.S. interference in Cuban affairs, including the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The U.S. national-security state, convinced that the organization was a communist beachhead within the United States, set out to do everything it could to destroy it, including planting a mole within the organization.
At the same time, the U.S. national-security state was doing much the same against the U.S. Communist Party.
So ordinarily you would expect the national-security state to go ballistic over Oswald, but that’s not what happened. Instead, at the height of the Cold War this former Marine who supposedly betrayed his country by becoming a communist and, even worse, went over to the side of America’s Cold War enemy the Soviet Union, sauntered across the national-security stage without incurring any of the ruthlessness and vengeance that we would expect from the U.S. government.
If, however, Oswald was actually a U.S. intelligence operative, it would explain why U.S. national-security officials didn’t lay a finger on him in New Orleans when this supposed betrayer of America, supposed lover of communists and communism, supposed pro-Cuba advocate tweaked the noses of U.S. national-security officials by publicly distributing Fair Play for Cuba pamphlets on the streets of New Orleans and, at about the same time, made contact with the U.S. Communist Party. In fact, it would seem that Oswald’s activities could easily be construed as part of the overall operation to destroy those two organizations.
Oswald’s role as an intelligence agent would also explain why a CIA agent was standing in front of him in line as he waited to get his visa to visit Mexico. It would also explain why the CIA, which closely monitored and photographed activities at the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City would do nothing to him after he supposedly visited those two places.
It would explain why the return address that was printed on some of Oswald’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee pamphlets led to the office of former FBI agent Guy Bannister and why Oswald was sometimes seen visiting that office.
It would also explain why Oswald, a supposed loser, had enough influence to request and receive a visit by an FBI agent to his New Orleans jail cell when he was arrested for disorderly conduct.
It would also explain why Oswald initially offered to help the DRE, the anti-Castro organization of Cuban exiles that was secretly being funded by the CIA and supervised by CIA agent George Joannides.
It would also explain why Kennedy’s brother Robert F. Kennedy said to an anti-Castro exile after Oswald had been taken into custody, “One of your guys did it.” Why would Kennedy place Oswald, a supposed pro-communist, into the camp of the anti-communists? It would seem that the only likely explanation is that he had information indicating that Oswald was in fact a U.S. intelligence agent.
The Warren Commission
On January 22, 1964, the Warren Commission held a meeting that would be kept secret from the American people. The session was called to address the rumor that Oswald was a paid undercover agent for the FBI. After the session was over, former CIA Director Allen Dulles, who was serving on the Warren Commission, stated that the transcript of the session should be destroyed. The Commission went along with Dulles’s suggestion. Years later, it turned out that a court reporter’s tape had survived the destruction. Its release was secured by longtime Kennedy assassination researcher Harold Weisburg.
How did the Warren Commission resolve the issue? They asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director Richard Helms whether Oswald was, in fact, a U.S. intelligence operative. Both of them told the Commission that he was not, and that was the end of the matter.
The Commission obviously believed it had no choice but to accept the statements of both men at face value. After all, imagine the following headlines in the mainstream press: “Warren Commission Suggests CIA and FBI Lying about Oswald.”
That’s what the Commission would have been doing if it decided to delve more deeply into the matter — it would have been accusing Hoover and Helms of lying about Oswald. And how would the Commission have gone about investigating the matter? Obviously, both the FBI and the CIA would never have voluntarily turned over any documents indicating Oswald’s position.
So even investigating the rumor would have required an extremely aggressive action against both the FBI and the CIA. The chance that that would happen was nil. After all, this was the height of the Cold War. A fierce battle between the Warren Commission and the U.S. national-security state would obviously have posed a grave threat to national security, especially by suggesting that the CIA and the FBI were liars and that the supposed assassin of John F. Kennedy was an operative of U.S. intelligence.
The Warren Commission looked into that abyss and quickly turned away by accepting the representations of the CIA and the FBI that Oswald wasn’t a U.S. intelligence agent. After all, think about the potential ramifications if that was, in fact, what Oswald was. That would have converted Oswald from supposed lone-nut assassin to a supposed lone-nut CIA assassin. The Warren Commission would obviously have had a difficult time quickly reaching that conclusion without a serious investigation into Oswald’s CIA activities.
Actually though, there was another likely reason — a much bigger reason — that the Warren Commission refused to seriously investigate whether Oswald was, in fact, a U.S. intelligence agent. That reason would also explain why U.S. officials were so adamant about preventing Kennedy’s autopsy from being conducted in Dallas, as required by Texas law, and instead placing it into the hands of the U.S. military.
What was that much bigger reason? It revolved around the two most important words in the lifetimes of the American people since the end of World War II: “national security.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Warren Commission hearings was the extreme secrecy under which the hearings were conducted. Most of the hearings, both evidentiary and administrative, were closed to the public. Moreover, at the conclusion of the hearings the Commission ordered that most of the rec-ords be sealed from public view for 75 years.
Why? If the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, really was nothing more than a lone-nut assassin who decided to kill John Kennedy after learning that his motorcade was traveling past the building in which Oswald was working, why all the secrecy? Why not simply open up everything to the public?
The answer lies in the concept “national security.” From the moment Kennedy’s assassination took place, the evidence suggests that high U.S. officials, including the new president, Lyndon Johnson, were operating on two tracks: one that pointed to Oswald as a lone-nut assassin and the other that pointed to Oswald as an agent of Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The first track was directed to the American people. Within a few hours after Oswald had been arrested, U.S. officials bent over backwards to assure Americans that Oswald had acted alone in killing the president. Federal officials immediately shut down any investigation into whether Kennedy had been killed as part of a conspiracy.
The second track involved what might be considered the gravest threat to national security in U.S. history, even graver than the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war several months before the assassination.
If the American people were to learn that Oswald had been operating as an agent of Cuba and the Soviet Union when he killed their president, there is little doubt that they would have demanded immediate retaliation against both countries, which inevitably would have led to nuclear war.
The state-sponsored assassination of a foreign head of state would clearly have been considered an act of war. How could the United States not respond militarily to the communist assassination of its president at the height of the Cold War?
Why wouldn’t the U.S. government be willing to respond in such a fashion? One possibility involves a deep national-security secret at the time: It was the U.S. national-security state itself — specifically the CIA — that had begun the assassination game by repeatedly trying to assassinate Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. Also kept secret, on grounds of national security, was the fact that the CIA had entered into a partnership with the Mafia to assassinate Castro.
Therefore, how could Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. national-security state justify going to war against Cuba and the Soviet Union to retaliate for assassinating Kennedy, a war that would inevitably turn nuclear and cost the lives of tens of millions of Americans, given that the Soviet Union and Cuba would have been retaliating, not instigating, if they had used Oswald to assassinate Kennedy?
Shutting down track two
That would help to explain why U.S. officials immediately shut down any investigation into whether Oswald acted in concert with others. Under the official version of events, U.S. officials had no doubts that Oswald had done the shooting. But suppose they had concluded that he had acted in concert with others and that the only likely co-conspirators were Cuba and the Soviet Union. Owing to the threat of a massive war involving nuclear weapons, the evidence suggests that they used that threat to pin the murder solely on Oswald as a lone-nut assassin, to shut down any serious investigation into whether Kennedy was killed as part of a conspiracy, and to help cover up the evidence that he had been killed as part of a conspiracy.
Immediately after the shooting, the anti-Castro group with which Oswald had made contact in New Orleans, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), began issuing public statements publicizing Oswald’s connections to Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism. They talked about Oswald’s attempted defection to the Soviet Union, his pamphleteering for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and his pro-communist proclivities. The DRE was obviously doing its best to connect Kennedy’s assassin to Cuba and the Soviet Union.
What Americans did not know at the time and, in fact, would not learn for many years was that the DRE was being closely supervised and funded by the CIA, specifically by a CIA agent named George Joannides. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations began re-investigating Kennedy’s assassination in the late 1970s, the CIA called Joannides out of retirement to serve as the its liaison to the committee. Left secret, however, was Joannides’s role with the DRE in the months leading up to the assassination. Later, in the 1990s, when the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which had been established in the wake of the outcry caused by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, began forcing the disclosure of assassination-related documents, the chairman of the committee suggested that the CIA had obstructed justice by keeping Joannides’s role secret. By that time, Joannides had died and, therefore, was unable to testify. It is interesting that to the present day the CIA steadfastly refuses to disclose all its information regarding Joannides’s relationship with the DRE.
When Johnson was establishing a commission to investigate the assassination, the evidence suggests that he employed track two — Oswald’s supposed complicity with Cuba and the Soviet Union — with at least two of the people he was recruiting to be on the commission — Chief Justice Earl Warren, who would become chairman of the commission, and Sen. Richard Russell. When both of them resisted serving on the commission, Johnson raised the specter of a nuclear war that would take the lives of some 40 million Americans.
Now, ask yourself: Why would Johnson say that? If Oswald was, indeed, nothing more than a lone-nut assassin, then how could an investigation into the assassination possibly lead to a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union? The answer is this: by confirming, through an official government investigation, that Oswald’s connections to the Soviet Union rose to a level of a Soviet-Cuban-Oswald conspiracy to kill Kennedy, which would very likely lead to retaliation and nuclear war. Thus, when Johnson told Warren and Russell about the possibility of a nuclear war arising out of the Kennedy assassination, he could have been alluding only to (1) the possibility that Oswald was acting on behalf of Cuba and the Soviet Union when he assassinated Kennedy, and (2) the importance to national security (and to the lives of millions of people) of pinning the murder solely on Oswald to avoid nuclear war with the Soviets.
Obviously, there was more than sufficient evidence to connect Oswald to Cuba and the Soviets — his self-professed devotion to communism, his attempt to defect to the Soviet Union, his connections to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the U.S. Communist Party, and his possible recent visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City, where he may have met with one of the top assassins for the KGB.
But there was more than that. There was also evidence that Kennedy had been shot from the front. If Oswald shot from behind Kennedy, and if Kennedy was also shot from the front, then that could mean only one thing: Oswald wasn’t acting alone when he shot at the president, and the only likely co-conspirators, given Oswald’s background and connections, were Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Shot from the front
What was the evidence that Kennedy had been shot from the front? What follows is some of it.
First, there were the dozens of people who rushed toward the grassy knoll in front of the president’s motorcade immediately after the assassination because they were certain that shots had been fired from that direction.
Second, there were several Dallas physicians and nurses who treated Kennedy who stated that there was a hole in the back of Kennedy’s head, which they took to be an exit wound.
Third, there was the statement of Secret Service agent Clint Hill, the agent who jumped on the back of the president’s limousine immediately after the shooting and pushed Jacqueline Kennedy back into the car, that confirmed the hole in the back of Kennedy’s head.
Fourth, there was the so-called Harper Fragment of Kennedy’s skull that was found after the shooting, which Dallas physicians established had come from the back of his head.
Fifth, there was the testimony before the ARRB of Navy Petty Officer Saundra Spencer, who served in the Naval Photographic Center, where she developed official photographs for the White House, in which she testified seeing an autopsy photograph showing the hole in the back of Kennedy’s head.
Sixth, there was the testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations of several autopsy personnel confirming the hole at the back of Kennedy’s head.
Seventh, there was the press conference given by Dallas physicians after Kennedy was declared dead in which they stated that he had been shot through the front of the neck.
Eighth, there is the photograph of White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff immediately after the assassination in which he pointed to the right temple of his head to indicate that Kennedy had been shot in the head from the front.
So given all that evidence and more, it would not have been difficult to convince people that Oswald had not acted alone in shooting the president. All that would have to be done is to show people that Oswald was shooting from the back and that at least one other person was shooting from the front. And to exploit the grave national-security and nuclear-war implications of that conspiracy, all that would have to be done is to show people Oswald’s connections to communism, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.
The evidence suggests that while track one — the lone-nut assassin theory — was used on the American people, track two — the national-security threat — was employed on people within the government to cover up the evidence of conspiracy.
In fact, the evidence suggests that track two was employed not only on Warren Commission members but also on national-security officials within the military, who were ultimately charged with conducting the autopsy of the president’s body.
The role of the military
Why the military? After all, Oswald was ostensibly a civilian. He was also supposedly nothing more than a lone nut who decided to assassinate the president. The assassination was purely a Texas state crime, since assassinating the president wasn’t a federal crime at that time. What possible business would a principal agency within the national-security state have conducting an autopsy on the president’s body?
There are two likely reasons: (1) to wrap the investigation into the assassination within the intrigue of “national security,” thereby ensuring that Americans wouldn’t ask too many questions when proceedings were kept secret; and (2) to ensure active participation of the military, with oaths of silence, in a national-security cover-up of shots fired from the front.
Under Texas law, Texas officials were required to conduct an autopsy on the president’s body. Yet Secret Service officials absolutely refused to permit that autopsy to be conducted. Brandishing guns and threatening to use deadly force against the Texas coroner, they forced their way out of Parkland Hospital with the president’s body.
Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson was waiting for the casket at Dallas Love Field, where his plane was waiting on the tarmac and seats in the back of the plane were being removed in anticipation of the casket’s arrival. Although Johnson had raised the specter that the United States might be under an attack by the Soviet Union while he was waiting at Parkland Hospital, he refused to permit his plane to take off until Kennedy’s casket had been delivered to it. Since an autopsy would obviously have taken several hours — an unacceptable delay to Johnson’s returning to Washington — it is fairly obvious that the Secret Service agents were operating on orders from Johnson to get the casket out of Parkland without the autopsy and quickly delivered to Johnson’s plane at Love Field.
Why was it so important to get the body out of the hands of the Dallas pathologist? Because an honest and genuine autopsy would have reflected that shots had been fired from the front, which obviously would have destroyed the lone-nut-assassin theory and inevitably led to the nuclear-war scenario. That is, Americans would have seen that shots were fired from the front, which they would have connected to Oswald’s pre-assassination, pro-communist activities and, thus, would have concluded that the Soviets and Cubans were also behind the assassination. In the high emotions of the time, they would have demanded immediate retaliation, which would inevitably have escalated to nuclear war. Getting the autopsy out of the hands of Texas officials and into the hands of the national-security state would have been the only way to avoid that outcome.
Given the culture of the military, it would not have been difficult to falsify the autopsy. All that high U.S. officials, including the president, would have had to do is explain that the United States was facing the biggest national-security crisis in its history and that the military was needed to conduct a false autopsy to save the nation and the world from a nuclear holocaust, one that the Kennedy administration would have been responsible for starting, owing to the fact that it had initiated the assassination game with its assassination attempts on Castro.
Under such a scenario, there isn’t a military man in the world who would have refused the orders to do whatever was necessary to save the country and, equally important, to keep whatever he had to do secret for the rest of this life.
In fact, the military required participants in the autopsy to sign formal secrecy oaths and specifically told them that if they ever violated the oaths, they would be facing court-martial or worse. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations attempted to talk to some of the enlisted men about their participation in the autopsy in the 1970s, many of them were still too scared to talk.
It all seems quite strange, given the government’s official story that Oswald was nothing more than a lone-nut assassin. But it all makes perfect sense if in fact the government was using the military to suppress evidence of a conspiracy that could lead the nation into nuclear war.
It also makes sense of why the Warren Commission would order its records to be kept secret for 75 years, notwithstanding its official conclusion that Oswald had acted alone. If national security depended on keeping evidence of a conspiracy secret from Americans, owing to the possibility that they would demand retaliation for the assassination, it would obviously be important to keep that information from generations of Americans.
The Warren Commission’s order to delay release of Kennedy-assassination records benefited the national-security state in many ways. For example, the role of the CIA and George Joannides in the activities of the DRE wasn’t discovered until after Joannides was dead and after two investigations into the Kennedy assassination had been conducted.
After the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted its hearings, several former enlisted men, now released from their oaths of secrecy, came forward and disclosed to private assassination researchers that they had witnessed the president’s body arriving at the Bethesda morgue where the autopsy was conducted, wrapped inside a body bag inside a plain shipping casket. Yet the president body’s had left Parkland Hospital wrapped in white sheets and placed in an expensive ornate burial casket.
Restraining the ARRB
Later, the Assassination Records Review Board came up with additional evidence, including an official report contemporaneously prepared by one Sgt. Roger Boyajian, that buttressed the case that Kennedy’s body had arrived at the morgue more than an hour earlier than officially reported and in a different casket from the one that the body was placed into at Parkland. (And that implies that the Dallas casket that Jacqueline Kennedy escorted from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda Naval Hospital was empty.)
What would have been the purpose for doing that? One purpose would have been to alter the body before the formal autopsy began in order to conceal evidence of shots from the front. In fact, the official report filed by the two FBI agents present at the autopsy — agents who had never been called to testify before the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee — indicated that pre-autopsy surgery had in fact been conducted on Kennedy’s head.
So did the ARRB investigate whether the autopsy had been falsified? No. Why? Because when Congress established the ARRB, it strictly prohibited it from reinvestigating the case. Imagine that. Its mission was strictly limited to securing the release of documents. Why would Congress do that? Why wouldn’t it want the ARRB to investigate if it came up with facts that needed to be investigated?
The ARRB also determined that there were two separate brain examinations, which was highly unusual, especially since the autopsy physicians maintained that only one examination had taken place. But even more unusual, the ARRB also determined that two separate brains were examined, one that obviously did not belong to Kennedy.
Why would military officials do that? One reason would be to hide evidence of a bullet that had entered the president’s head from the front and exited from the back. In fact, the second brain examined had a weight that was greater than a normal human brain, notwithstanding the fact that everyone agrees that there was an extremely large amount of brain destroyed by the shot that hit Kennedy in the head.
Did the ARRB investigate that? No. Again, its charter prohibited it from reinvestigating any part of the case, no matter what newly discovered records revealed.
For years, people had believed that the famous Zapruder film had ended up in the offices of Lifemagazine, after the magazine purchased it from Abraham Zapruder. Not so. As detailed in the five-volume book Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, by Douglas P. Horne, who served on the ARRB staff, the film actually ended up in the hands of the CIA. (Horne’s book, along with the book Best Evidence, by David Lifton, provides a detailed analysis of many of the matters discussed in this article.)
Why the CIA? After all, this was supposedly an assassination conducted by a lone nut. What interest would one of the principal agencies of the national-security state have in a film of an assassination committed by a lone nut? One possible explanation is an alteration of the film, specifically to hide evidence of an exit hole in the back of the president’s head.
Impossible, you say? Well, as Horne details in his article “The Two NPIC Zapruder Film Events: Signposts Pointing to the Film’s Alteration,” which is posted at LewRockwell.com, the film was taken to a top-secret CIA facility in Washington, D.C., on the Saturday night following the assassination. There, the film was watched and briefing boards were prepared for CIA officials.
The evidence suggests that the film was then transported to the CIA’s top-secret film center at Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York. Why there? One possible reason was to alter the film, given that that facility did, in fact, have the means by which to conduct a professional alteration of it.
Did the ARRB investigate that? No. Again, Congress limited its charter to getting records disclosed and prohibited it from reinvestigating the case.
The ARRB took the statements and testimony of the official autopsy photographer as well as people involved in the top-secret development of the autopsy photographs. The evidence revealed not only that there were photographs in the official collection that had not been taken by the official photographer but also that some of the photographs that the photographer took were not included within the autopsy collection.
Among the official autopsy photographs was one that showed the back of the president’s head to be fully intact, which contradicted everyone who stated that there was an exit hole in the back of the president’s head.
Did the ARRB conduct an investigation into the autopsy photos? No. Congress had prohibited it from doing so.
An obvious question arises: If there was a national-security cover-up in the investigation of the Kennedy assassination, can we really blame U.S. officials for having done so? The answer lies in whether the cover-up was actually designed to protect national security or for a much more nefarious reason.
Almost 50 years after the publication of the Warren Commission Report, I still cannot understand what Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive would have been in assassinating President Kennedy. The official version of events is that he was a confused, disgruntled, little man who sought fame and glory by assassinating a famous, powerful, and admired president of the United States.
But there are obvious problems with that official version.
After he was taken into custody, Oswald denied having shot the president or anyone else. If he sought fame and glory by killing the president, why would he deny having done it? Wouldn’t he instead be openly bragging about the fact that he had just killed the president?
Of course, it might be said that he wanted fame and glory and, at the same time, to outsmart the government by successfully avoiding conviction for the crime. But it would seem that those two things are at least a bit inconsistent.
Moreover, in planning to shoot the president, Oswald left quite an easy trail leading to himself. Why would he do that, if he was going to try to beat the rap? Why use a rifle that he had supposedly purchased by mail and, therefore, that could easily be traced to him? Why not instead walk into a gun store and buy a brand new rifle for cash, which would have left no paper trail leading to him? Remember: in Texas in 1963, there were no background checks when one purchased a gun.
In fact, Oswald’s defense was not simply a denial that he had committed the crime. He went further than that. In the hours between his arrest and his murder at the hands of Jack Ruby, he claimed that he had been set up — framed. That’s what he meant when he told the press that he was “a patsy.” What could he possibly have had in mind? What would have been his strategy, assuming he had in fact assassinated Kennedy and planned to escape the rap?
After all, a simple denial of having committed the offense would have been the normal route. In so doing, he would have been saying in effect, “I didn’t do this. I don’t know who did it. All I know is that I didn’t do it.” By claiming he had been set up, he was saying, “Not only did I not do this, I know who did do it, and they’re trying to make it look like I did it.” That obviously would have meant that at his trial, Oswald not only would have been claiming he had nothing to do with the killing but also would have been pointing the finger at some other person or group of people.
For the past half-century since the Kennedy assassination, there have been two lines of “legitimate” discourse within American mainstream circles. The first is: Oswald was a lone-nut assassin. The second is: Oswald conspired with others to assassinate John Kennedy. Each of those positions is considered to be respectable, credible, and legitimate even if people disagree with it.
What one will rarely find within mainstream circles, however, are the following questions: Is it possible that Oswald was innocent? Is it possible that he was neither a lone-nut assassin nor a conspirator in the assassination? Is it possible that he was what he said he was — “a patsy”? Is it possible that someone else committed the crime, framed Oswald, and then had him killed so that he could never deny it or reveal who it was who had set him up to take the fall?
As the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination approaches in 2013, those are questions that the American people are unlikely to encounter in the mainstream press. For once someone begins to contemplate the possibility that Oswald was innocent, he begins peering into an abyss — one that points in the direction of the U.S. national-security state — the set of institutions, including the CIA and the military, whose responsibility since 1947 has been to protect national security.
Those who hold that Oswald was involved in the crime, either as a lone nut or as a conspirator, have always pointed to the large amount of evidence incriminating him. There was the assassin’s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald worked. There were the three rifle cartridges found on the floor near the sniper’s nest. There was Oswald’s supposed murder of police officer J.D. Tippitt soon after Kennedy’s assassination. There was his supposed devotion to communism, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.
But there is a big problem with all that evidence, a problem with which the mainstream press has never grappled. That problem is that when a person is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, to be successful the framers must make the evidence of guilt point convincingly to the person who is being framed. That’s the whole point of a frame-up — to make it look as though an innocent person has committed the crime.
We all know that people have been framed for crimes they didn’t commit. The most successful frame-ups are those where the false evidence of guilt is so convincing that the person being framed cannot successfully defend against the frame. Of course, Oswald never got a chance to present his defense or defend his allegation of having been set up, owing to his murder by Jack Ruby.
So how does one distinguish between a person’s actual commission of a crime and a frame-up of an innocent person? Sometimes it’s impossible to do so. Other times, however, there are anomalies that are simply inconsistent with the guilt of the accused but that are consistent with a frame-up.
And that’s part of the problem in the case of Oswald. There are anomalies that are consistent with a frame-up and inconsistent with his being guilty.
For example, after Oswald was taken into custody, he was given a paraffin test to determine whether he had fired a rifle that day. The test revealed no gun-powder residue on his cheek.
Or consider Oswald’s demeanor when confronted by a police officer on the second floor of the Texas School Book Depository less than 90 seconds after the shooting. He was as cool as a cucumber, showing no nervousness whatsoever. Moreover, he was not out of breath from having rushed from the sixth floor to the second floor. And he certainly showed no inclination to take credit for having shot the president.
There were no fingerprints found on the rifle. The only print that was found was a print of Oswald’s palm under the rifle stock, which was discovered under rather suspicious circumstances days after the assassination.
Assuming that Oswald shot the president, what would have been his primary objective once he had killed the president, if he planned to claim he didn’t do it? Wouldn’t his primary objective have been to get off that sixth floor as fast as he could?
Why then would he have taken the time to hide the rifle? What possible purpose would that have served? The assassin’s nest was there, out in the open. The same holds true for the rifle cartridges on the floor. So what good would it have done to hide the rifle? Surely, Oswald would have known that a complete search would be made of the entire sixth floor. Why delay an escape to do something that served no purpose whatsoever?
Thus, hiding the rifle is another one of those anomalies that are inconsistent with Oswald’s guilt and consistent with a frame-up. If Oswald was going to leave the assassin’s nest intact and leave the spent cartridges on the floor, why not simply leave the rifle there too and make a quick escape? Or if he was going to hide the rifle, why not also take the time to dismantle the assassin’s nest and hide the spent cartridges?
On the other hand, hiding the rifle makes total sense if there were people framing Oswald. It would have been too risky for framers to have brought the gun into the building on the morning of the assassination, when people might have seen them. The framers would necessarily have brought the gun into the building the night before the assassination and, to avoid its being discovered, would have hidden it from view.
Let’s assume what U.S. officials and the mainstream press will never allow themselves to contemplate: Let’s assume for a moment that Oswald was, in fact, innocent and that he was, in fact, what he alleged to be — “a patsy.” To whom could he possibly have been referring when he said he had been set up?
Could it have been personal friends? Not likely, given that he had few if any close friends. How about fellow employees at the School Book Depository? Not likely, given the difficulty he obviously would have had in making such a theory stick. What would have been their motive?
How about the Cubans and the Soviets, given his supposed connections to communism, Cuba, and the Soviet Union? That’s, of course, a possibility — that the Soviets and the Cubans were the ones he was referring to when he suggested he had been set up. But how would the Soviets and Cubans have planned to falsify the president’s autopsy, which would have been a critical step in concealing that shots had been fired from the front?
If we consider, however, that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t the devoted communist he portrayed himself as, but was instead a devoted ex-Marine who had been recruited by Navy intelligence or the CIA or some other intelligence branch of the U.S. government to serve as a government mole during the Cold War, a subject we explored in part six of this series, then there is only one likely possibility: assuming Oswald was, in fact, innocent, he was pointing his finger at the U.S. national-security state, for whom he had been working.
If Oswald was a patsy …
It’s not difficult to understand why the Warren Commission felt compelled to accept on blind faith and trust the denials by the CIA and the FBI that Oswald worked as an intelligence operative for the U.S. government. If it were established that the denials were false, where would that have left the Warren Commission? It would have left them with a U.S. intelligence agent who had assassinated the president, one who was denying his guilt and was pointing to those with whom he worked as the true assassins. It would have also destroyed the national-security cover story, by which Oswald’s connections to communism, Cuba, and the Soviet Union were being used to suggest a conspiracy to kill Kennedy involving him and the Soviets that would inevitably have led to nuclear war.
It would have meant, again, peering into an abyss. It would have meant accusing the national-security state, not just a group of rogue agents, of having assassinated the president. And what if the accusation had proven true? Then what? How does one indict an entire large section of the government? And such an accusation, which would almost certainly have been denied, would have meant an out-and-out war between the Warren Commission, on the one side, and on the other the CIA, military, and other parts of the national-security state, a war that itself would have been considered a grave threat to national security, especially at the height of the Cold War.
Thus, there was never a reasonable possibility that such an accusation or investigation would ever occur. The assassination was done. Nothing could bring Kennedy back to life. Any investigation that challenged the word of the CIA, the FBI, and the military or that suggested the possibility that the national-security state had assassinated Kennedy and framed Oswald would have been perceived as a grave threat to national security and, indeed, to the future existence of the United States. The evidence convincingly pointed to Oswald. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.
The mainstream press and U.S. officials have long subscribed to what might be called the “inconceivable doctrine” — that it is simply inconceivable that the U.S. national-security state, especially the CIA and the military, would ever effect a regime-change operation within the United States.
Oh sure, they’ll say, the CIA and the military will do those sorts of things to leaders in foreign countries. They’ll assassinate them, as they have tried repeatedly to do to Fidel Castro. They’ll initiate coups in which they oust democratically elected leaders from office and install pro-U.S. leaders in their stead, as they did in Guatemala and Iran. But to the mainstream, it is absolutely inconceivable that they would ever do such things here in the United States.
What the mainstream often fails to appreciate, however, is the driving force of the national-security state, which is the protection of national security. Nothing matters more. Protecting national security is the raison d’être of the national-security state. Ever since its founding in 1947, the national-security state — especially the military and the CIA — has stood above American society like a godlike guardian — indeed, stood over the entire world — searching carefully and relentlessly for threats to U.S. national security — and upon finding them, doing whatever was necessary to eliminate them.
Assassinations, coups, drug experiments, spying on Americans, maintaining secret files on Americans, extortion, the use of moles to infiltrate and destroy communist organizations, communist witch hunts, terrorism against communist states, invasions, partnerships with former Nazis and the Mafia, regime-change operations, embargoes, and sanctions — nothing has ever stood in the way of protecting national security. The CIA and the military have always done whatever was necessary, no matter how unsavory, to protect “national security.”
Obvious questions arise, however — questions that the mainstream press has never been able to bring itself to ask: What would the U.S. national-security state do if confronted by a president whose actions posed the gravest threat to national security in the nation’s history, one that threatened the very existence of the nation? Would it let the nation go down, or would it do what was necessary to protect national security?
Proponents of the lone-nut theory in the Kennedy assassination often accuse those who believe that the president was killed at the hands of a conspiracy — and, even worse, one involving agents of the U.S. national-security state — of being unable to accept the fact that a little disgruntled man killed a president of the United States, a man who had fame and fortune and who was respected and admired by many people all over the world.
Yet after John Hinkley’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, there was no widespread belief that Hinkley was part of a conspiracy, including one involving the national-security state. The same holds true with respect to the two separate assassination attempts on Gerald Ford.
Actually, one could easily argue that it’s the other way around. Proponents of the lone-nut theory simply cannot bring themselves to accept the possibility that America’s national-security state, whose existence they believe is necessary to the survival of the nation, took out their own president.
Oh sure, they can accept that the military and the CIA would conduct regime-change operations in other countries, either by coup, invasion, or assassination, as they did or tried to do in Cuba, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere. They can also accept that the national-security state will drug, assassinate, torture, or execute private American citizens. They can accept that the national-security state, especially the FBI, will illegally infiltrate American groups, spy on them, keep files on them, humiliate them, and destroy their reputations. They can accept that the military and the CIA will do whatever is necessary to protect national security, no matter how unsavory. They can accept the common thesis that the Constitution is not a suicide pact and that it is proper for federal officials to violate the law if it is necessary to save the nation.
But they simply cannot bring themselves to accept the notion that the national-security state would ever target the president of the United States in a regime-change operation based on national security. To them, such an action is simply inconceivable.
Thus, as the evidence surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy has slowly trickled out over the years — in violation of the 75-year period of secrecy that had been ordered by the Warren Commission — the “lone-nut” proponents have increasingly buried their heads in the sand, either ignoring discomforting evidence or suggesting that the people giving such evidence must be lying, no doubt as part of some giant conspiracy.
Consider the following fascinating example.
During the hearings on the Kennedy assassination before the House Select Committee in the late 1970s, Congress expressly released personnel who had participated in the official military autopsy of Kennedy from the oath of secrecy that the military had forced them to take immediately after the autopsy.
Why had those soldiers been forced to keep their mouths shut regarding what they had witnessed during the autopsy? What possible national-security concerns could have justified forcing them to sign written oaths of secrecy and threatening them with severe penalties for violating such oaths?
Let’s recall the critical facts. The president was shot in Texas, where state law required that an autopsy be conducted. What’s the purpose of an autopsy? To determine the exact cause of death. The medical examiner conducts a detailed, comprehensive examination of the body, and official photographs and X-rays of the body are taken.
For example, if there had been shots fired from the front of Kennedy, a genuine and honest autopsy would have determined that. Obviously, an autopsy and a final autopsy report are critically important evidence in the subsequent criminal prosecution of whoever is charged with the crime and prosecuted for it.
Yet no autopsy was conducted in Texas. Why? Because agents of the Secret Service refused to permit it to take place. In fact, when the Dallas medical examiner steadfastly refused to release Kennedy’s body at Parkland Hospital, repeatedly pointing out that Texas law required that an autopsy be conducted, a team of Secret Service agents brandished their guns and made it quite clear that they intended to use them against anyone who attempted to obstruct the removal of Kennedy’s body from the hospital.
Why were the agents so insistent on getting the body out of Parkland? One reason was that Lyndon Johnson was waiting for it. He refused to let Air Force One leave without the casket, notwithstanding his supposed concern that the assassination might be the start of a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States. Already seats were being removed from the back of Air Force One to make room for the casket, indicating that the agents at Parkland Hospital were operating on Johnson’s orders.
Kennedy’s body was taken back to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. The casket into which the body had been placedat Parkland Hospital was put into the back of an automobile in which Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline, was riding. When the automobile arrived at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where the U.S. military would conduct the autopsy, everyone, including Mrs. Kennedy, naturally assumed that the president’s body was inside the Dallas casket.
Such, however, was not the case. Both the direct and the circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly establish that the president’s body was delivered to the Bethesda morgue an hour and a half before the Dallas casket was officially delivered.
A real conspiracy?
This matter was first raised in David Lifton’s 1981 book, Best Evidence. By that time, by order of the House Select Assassinations Committee, several enlisted men who had participated in various aspects of the autopsy had been released from their oaths of secrecy that the military had forced them to sign back in November of 1963. They unequivocally confirmed the early delivery of the president’s body to the morgue in a different casket from the one into which the body had been placed before leaving Dallas.
Later, in the 1990s, as detailed in Douglas P. Horne’s five-volume book on the assassination,Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, the ARRB discovered an official report filed on November 26, 1963, by a Marine sergeant named Roger Boyajian that confirmed the early arrival of the president’s body at the morgue. (For a detailed account of the facts and circumstances surrounding the early arrival of the president’s body, see my article “The Kennedy Casket Conspiracy” at http://fff.org/explore-freedom/article/kennedy-casket-conspiracy/.)
The ARRB also discovered a report dated November 22-23, 1963, from the funeral home that handled the postautopsy preparation of the body that said, “Body removed from metal shipping casket at NSNH at Bethesda.” The Dallas casket was no metal shipping casket. It was an expensive, heavy, ornate casket, the type people are buried in.
So what do the lone-nut proponents say about all this? They either remain silent about the matter, choosing to act as if it never happened, or they suggest that all the enlisted men and the funeral home must be lying.
Let’s deal with the second point first. What motive would enlisted men and funeral-home officials have had to lie about when Kennedy’s body was delivered to the Bethesda morgue? What could possibly have caused them to do such a thing? And think about it: If they were lying, could they each have come up with the same lie independently of the others? They would necessarily have had to have entered into a conspiracy with each other to concoct a false story about when the president’s body was delivered to the Bethesda morgue.
So here we have the lone-nut proponents, who scoff at the notion that Kennedy might have been killed at the hands of a conspiracy, implicitly alleging one of the most ridiculous and outlandish conspiracies of all — that a group of enlisted men and funeral-home officials conspired to concoct a false story about the delivery of the president’s body to the morgue.
Moreover, if such a conspiracy really existed, surely the government would have gone after the conspirators with great ferocity. Surely it would have court-martialed them or indicted Sergeant Boyajian for filing a false official report as part of that conspiracy.
But the government did nothing to them. The Pentagon didn’t even bother to accuse them of lying. Instead, the government, including the military, has just proceeded along, decade after decade, as if they and their account of what happened never existed. In other words, act as though it never happened and just don’t address it. The problem will ultimately go away.
Let’s not forget that the U.S. military intended that the witnesses keep their mouths shut for the rest of their lives and for their reports to be kept secret at least for the 75-year period ordered by the Warren Commission. That’s what the oaths of secrecy were for.
Why? Why the extreme secrecy? Why was the president’s body delivered to the morgue earlier than everyone has been taught to believe? What was the purpose of that? Why can’t the military, even at this late date, come forward and give us the explanation for that? Why can’t lone-nut proponents join assassination researchers in demanding the explanation? What would be the harm? How could national security possibly be threatened by a full and complete explanation of why the president’s body was secretly delivered to the Bethesda morgue an hour and a half earlier than everyone was led to believe?
Or consider one of the most startling discoveries made by the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s, one involving the president’s brain. Or should I say “brains”?
It turns out that while the military pathologists claimed that there had been only one examination of the brain, which would have been standard procedure, the ARRB found that the circumstantial evidence established that a second brain examination took place, an examination of another brain, one that did not belong to the president but that the military represented to be Kennedy’s brain. Here is a link to a Washington Post article about the ARRB’s finding on this matter: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/jfk/ap110998.htm.
Why in the world would the U.S. military conduct two separate brain examinations as part of the Kennedy autopsy, one that didn’t even involve the president’s brain but that was fraudulently represented to be his brain? What possible national-security rationale could there be for such a deceptive action?
The fundamental problem is this: Since it is simply inconceivable to the lone-nut proponents that Kennedy could have been made a target of a regime-charge operation at the hands of the national-security state, they simply refuse to consider the many unusual occurrences in the case, occurrences that point to nefarious conduct on the part of the military, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, and other parts of the national-security state.
That brings us back to motive. What possible motive would the national-security state have had to target Kennedy for one of its regime-change operations? The answer is a simple one and, it is no surprise, revolves around the two most important words in the lives of the American people since World War II: national security.
Everyone knows that the military and the CIA will do whatever the president deems necessary to protect national security. In the name of national security, they ousted the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in a coup and replaced him with the brutal regime of a pro-U.S. dictator, the shah of Iran. They also ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, and replaced him with a succession of brutal pro-U.S. military dictators. They invaded Cuba, a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. They tried to assassinate the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, and even entered into a partnership with the Mafia with that aim in mind. They subjected unknowing Americans to illicit drug experiments. They illegally spied on Americans who were suspected of being communists and destroyed their reputations. There isn’t anything that the military and the CIA wouldn’t do to protect national security.
An obvious question arises: What would happen if the president of the United States — the commander in chief of the armed forces and the boss of the CIA — became a threat to national security? What would the military and the CIA do then? Would they let the country go down? Or would they take the necessary steps to protect national security?
Did President Kennedy actually become a threat to national security? Viewed from the standpoint of the national-security state, there can be no real question about it. Kennedy, in fact, posed a much graver threat to U.S. national security than Mossadegh, Arbenz, Castro, or anyone else, because he was the head of the U.S. government. Two of the best sources on this particular subject are JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James W. Douglass, a Christian theologian; and chapter five of Inside the Assassination Records Review Board: The Government’s Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK, a five-volume work by Douglas P. Horne, who served as chief analyst for military records for the ARRB.
John Kennedy came into office in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. By that time the U.S. national-security state, which had been called into existence in 1947, was in full bloom, viewing communists and communism as grave threats to the national security of the United States. Officials at all levels of the federal government made it clear that everything must and would be done to protect national security from the communists, even if some of the actions taken might not be considered legal or moral. The Constitution, after all, is not a suicide pact, as proponents of the national-security state often point out.
Kennedy and Cuba
By the time that Kennedy took office, the CIA had already initiated plans to invade Cuba, which was headed by an avowed communist, Fidel Castro. Never mind that Castro had no intentions of invading and conquering the United States. And never mind that his armed forces didn’t have the remotest capability to perform such a fantastic feat. What mattered was that Castro was a communist and, even worse, was presiding over a communist regime that was only 90 miles away from American shores. Military and CIA officials determined early on that Castro and Cuba posed a grave threat to U.S. national security.
By 1961 the CIA already had some national-security successes under its belt. Eight years before, it had initiated its successful coup in Iran. One year after that regime-change operation came the one in Guatemala.
When Kennedy took office he learned that his role in the CIA’s planned invasion of Cuba would be to lie to the American people about U.S. involvement. The CIA assured him that the invasion would not require U.S. air support, but that was a lie and a setup. The CIA was certain that once the invasion got under way, if air support became necessary, there was no way that Kennedy would permit the invasion to fail by refusing to provide it.
But the trap didn’t work. Even as the invasion was failing, Kennedy refused to provide the air support. Dozens of Cuban exiles were captured or killed during the invasion. Meanwhile, the CIA’s role in the invasion became public, and the agency was humiliated. Angry at Kennedy for refusing to provide the air support that could have saved the lives of their friends and allies and freed the Cuban people from communist control, CIA and military officials considered the president to be weak and ineffectual at best and a traitor at worst.
While Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the invasion, he was just as angry at the CIA as it was at him because he figured out that he had been set up. A bureaucratic war broke out between Kennedy and the CIA, with the president promising to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” He fired CIA director Allen Dulles (whom Lyndon Johnson would later appoint to the Warren Commission), along with his two chief deputies, Richard M. Bissell Jr. and Charles Cabell.
But if the president were to succeed in destroying the CIA, wouldn’t national security be threatened? There is no doubt about it, at least from the standpoint of the CIA and the military. How could the nation survive the communist threat if there were no CIA?
Between the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the national-security state went into overdrive trying to figure out how to get rid of Castro. An assassination partnership between the CIA and the Mafia was established, followed by numerous plots against Castro. Acts of terrorism initiated by CIA operatives were committed inside Cuba.
It was Operation Northwoods that furnished Kennedy with keen insights into the mindset of U.S. military chieftains. Under that plan, Kennedy’s role was to be the nation’s liar-in-chief once again. His job was to falsely tell the American people that Cuba had attacked the United States with acts of terrorism. But those acts, which would kill innocent Americans, would be performed by agents or operatives of the U.S. military disguised as Cuban terrorists.
Kennedy rejected the plan, to the ire of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had unanimously recommended it to him. The military presented Kennedy with what it considered a viable plan to protect national security by effecting regime change in Cuba with a military invasion of the island, and Kennedy said no.
The missile crisis
Then Kennedy discovered that the Soviets were installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. National-security state officials blamed the crisis on Castro and the Soviets. Actually, however, the responsibility for the crisis lay with the U.S. national-security state, specifically the steadfast determination of the Pentagon and the CIA to effect regime change in Cuba by assassination, invasion, terrorism, or other means. After all, the purpose of Soviet missiles in Cuba wasn’t to start a nuclear war but rather to deter another invasion by the U.S. military and CIA.
Throughout the crisis, the Pentagon and CIA, willing to risk nuclear war, urged the president to attack and invade Cuba. Nothing, not even the risk of nuclear war, could stand in the way of removing a communist outpost 90 miles away from American shores. National security was paramount.
By that time, however, Kennedy had lost confidence in both the military and the CIA. With the world at the brink of nuclear war, he struck a deal with the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in which he promised that the United States would never invade Cuba, thereby ensuring that the communists could maintain their outpost 90 miles away from American shores in perpetuity.
Overnight, what had been a driving force for the national-security state since Castro’s assumption of power in 1959 — regime change in Cuba — had become moot, owing to the deal that Kennedy had struck with Khrushchev.
Kennedy believed that the missile crisis was one of his greatest triumphs. That’s not the way the Pentagon and CIA saw it. In their eyes Kennedy had capitulated to the communists. It was Castro and Khrushchev who had defeated Kennedy. Sure, the Soviets had to take their missiles out of Cuba, but so what? The missiles had been installed to deter a U.S. invasion of the island. That strategy worked. And once Kennedy gave the no-invasion guarantee, there was no further reason to keep the missiles in Cuba. As part of the deal, Kennedy also secretly promised the Soviets to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union.
The deep anger and sense of betrayal toward Kennedy, which had begun simmering after the Bay of Pigs, reached a boiling point within both the military and the CIA. Don’t forget, after all, that Kennedy had rejected Operation Northwoods. If he had approved the plan, there never would have been a Cuban missile crisis because Castro would have been dead and U.S. forces would have been running Cuba.
While the missile crisis hardened the CIA and Pentagon toward the communists, the event had a different effect on Kennedy. Having come so close to nuclear war, a war in which his wife and children could have been incinerated, the crisis had a searing effect on how he viewed life and the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
He concluded that it was possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to coexist without a Cold War, much as China and Vietnam and the United States do today. In his famous speech at American University, he announced his intention to bring the Cold War to an end by reaching out to the Soviet Union in a spirit of peaceful coexistence. His speech was broadcast all across the Soviet Union, where his initiative was enthusiastically received by Khrushchev.
As part of Kennedy’s vision, he entered into a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviets, over the fierce objections of the military and the CIA. He also ordered the withdrawal of a thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam, and he told close friends that he intended to pull out all troops from Vietnam after his reelection in 1964.
Most important, he began top-secret personal negotiations with Khrushchev and Castro to end the Cold War, something that most Americans to this day are probably unaware of.
There was a big problem with Kennedy’s actions, at least from the standpoint of national-security state operatives: his actions constituted a grave threat to the nation. After all, as Cold War advocates constantly reminded us, you can always trust a communist … to be a communist. You couldn’t trust them on anything else. Communists were hell-bent on conquering the world. Nothing could dissuade them from that goal. The communists were lulling Kennedy into lowering the nation’s defenses, after which they would attack it and bury it.
Given this grave threat to national security, there was only one thing that could save America from its president, and that solution did not involve the ballot box. After all, voters make mistakes, as they did in Iran with Mossadegh and Arbenz in Guatemala. As Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, later put it after the communist and socialist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, an event we will discuss in the next segment of this series, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
The American people had obviously made a mistake in the 1960 election, rejecting Nixon, a man who knew how to stand up to the communists, and electing instead a man who proved to be weak, ineffectual, incompetent, and afraid of the communists — a man who distrusted his own military and intelligence agency — and a man whose actions were leading America to a takeover by the communists.
By the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy had gone far beyond the warnings that Dwight Eisenhower had issued in his farewell address regarding the threat to America’s democratic processes posed by the military-industrial complex. While Eisenhower had assumed that the Cold War made the military-industrial complex a necessary evil, Kennedy was determined to bring an end to the Cold War.
An end to the Cold War would naturally threaten the existence of the national-security state, since the Cold War was the justification for its existence. Obviously, that would have threatened trillions of dollars in future income to the military and intelligence community as well as to the countless weapons suppliers, contractors, and subcontractors, who serve them.
We also mustn’t forget Kennedy’s ardent support of Martin Luther King, who in the eyes of the FBI was a communist himself. Indeed, we would be remiss if we failed to note Kennedy’s support of the Civil Rights movement, which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated the Kennedys, was absolutely certain was a communist front. If all that wasn’t enough, there were Kennedy’s numerous extramarital affairs, any of which could have made him vulnerable to blackmail from the communists. Indeed, who could say with any degree of certainty that that wasn’t the reason that he was secretly negotiating with Khrushchev and Castro to end the Cold War? After all, why would a president fail to notify his military and his intelligence agency of such critically important negotiations?
Among the sexual affairs that constituted serious threats to national security was the one with Mary Pinchot Meyer, the former wife of a CIA official. She not only was an anti-CIA peacenik, she also had been a member of the American Labor Party, which brought her under the scrutiny of the FBI. Even worse, the evidence is overwhelming that Meyer introduced Kennedy to marijuana and, very likely, also to LSD. (See Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney.) What would have happened if the Soviets had attacked when Kennedy was under the influence of pot or LSD? What if Kennedy ordered U.S. weapons launched while he was in a drug-induced state? Arguably, the drug use alone made Kennedy a grave threat to national security, a threat that the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests was removed through assassination at the hands of the U.S. national-security state apparatus.
Let’s examine next the Chilean military coup of 1973, which took place ten years after the Kennedy assassination. It was that coup, which ironically occurred on 9/11 in 1973, that foreshadowed in fascinating ways the U.S. national-security state’s war on terrorism after 9/11 in 2011. In fact, it was during that coup, which the U.S. national security state fully supported, that the CIA participated in the murder of two American citizens, murders that to this day go uninvestigated and unpunished.
The justification for supporting the Chilean military coup and participating in the murders of those two Americans?
Why, national security, of course.
On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was ousted in a military coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet of the Chilean army. It was a watershed in the history of Chile, breaking with the country’s democratic tradition and unleashing a military reign of terror that lasted for 15 years, when a plebiscite finally removed Pinochet from power and restored democracy to Chile. In the aftermath of the coup, some 40,000 people were arrested and incarcerated without due process of law or trial. Thousands of them were tortured, raped, or executed.
What was the justification for the Chilean coup, which the U.S. government had encouraged and supported? National security, of course, specifically the threat of communism.
As a self-avowed Marxist, Allende was an ardent believer in socialism. Once in power, he began nationalizing businesses and industries, instituting and expanding social-welfare programs, imposing wage and price controls, and using the power of the government to attempt to equalize wealth and regulate and manage Chile’s economy.
Even worse from the standpoint of Richard Nixon, the CIA, and the Pentagon, Allende was strengthening his close relationship with Fidel Castro, the self-avowed communist who was still in power in Cuba despite the many efforts by the U.S. military and the CIA to assassinate or oust him.
Allende’s election was the U.S. national-security state’s worst nightmare. Now there were two communist leaders in the western hemisphere. In the minds of U.S. officials, especially those in the Pentagon and the CIA, the “dominoes” in America’s part of the world were falling. For U.S. officials, Allende’s election constituted another grave threat to U.S. national security. Something had to be done. As Nixon’s national-security adviser Henry Kissinger put it, “I don’t see why we have to let a country go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible.”
So the CIA went into action. Interfering directly in the internal affairs of another nation, this one some 5,000 miles from the United States, the CIA encouraged the Chilean congress to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency. When that effort failed, the agency undertook actions designed to create economic chaos within the country, with the aim of producing the conditions for a military coup. Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream.”
Allende’s socialist and interventionist measures, combined with the CIA’s efforts to create economic chaos, succeeded in throwing the Chilean economy into a deep tailspin. Strikes paralyzed commerce, and mass demonstrations began filling the streets.
The U.S. government, relying on its close relationship with the Chilean military, encouraged a military coup, one that would oust the democratically elected president from power and install a pro-U.S. military dictatorship in his stead.
Standing in the way of the coup, however, was the commander in chief of the Chilean army, Rene Schneider. He opposed a coup and said that the Chilean military would comply with the constitution of the country
The U.S. national-security state refused to tolerate such recalcitrance. U.S. officials conspired with Chilean military officials to neutralize Schneider by kidnapping him, removing him from the scene.
During the kidnapping, Schneider was shot and killed. U.S. officials played the innocent, claiming that they had no intention of killing him. They had only wanted him kidnapped. It was a ridiculous position. U.S. officials were as responsible for Schneider’s murder as the driver of a getaway car in a bank robbery is for murders that his coconspirators commit in the course of the robbery.
Anyway, U.S. officials couldn’t have been too surprised over Schneider’s murder: it was only ten years after the U.S. national-security state conspired with South Vietnam’s military to oust that country’s civilian president, Ngo Dinh Diem, and replace him with a brutal military dictatorship headed by Gen. Duong Van Minh.
John Kennedy expressed shock that Diem had been executed during the coup. Given that Kennedy had approved the regime change, however, he was as morally culpable for Diem’s death as the soldier who actually did the shooting.
Once Schneider was gone, there was nothing in the way of a military coup. On September 11, 1973, the Chilean people learned the hard way why a standing army constitutes a grave threat to a nation’s democratic processes.
Headed by Pinochet, whom Allende had appointed to replace Schneider, the Chilean military attacked the presidential palace and, it is no surprise, took control of the government. Refusing to be taken captive, Allende committed suicide.
Pinochet’s forces immediately swept across the land to establish “order and stability.” Some 40,000 people were rounded up and incarcerated. People were carted away to secret prisons and military dungeons, where they were tortured, raped, or executed — or “disappeared.” No one got trials because, as Pinochet saw it, he was engaged in “war” — war against communism and communists.
Lurking in the background were both the U.S. military and the CIA — the core of the U.S. national-security state — whose officials were ecstatic over what was happening. There, in Chile, the “good guys” were smashing the “bad guys” and, unlike America in its war against the communists in Vietnam, suffering minimal casualties. Suspected communists in all walks of life were being ferreted out by military and intelligence forces, which were free to fight communism without having one hand tied behind their backs. No need for search warrants, arrest warrants, Miranda rights, criminal-defense attorneys, due process of law, jury trials, or any other such technical nonsense. After all, this was a wartime problem, not a criminal-justice problem.
In fact, the mindset guiding Pinochet in his war against the communists, a mindset that fully reflected that of the Pentagon and the CIA, would in many ways be mirrored by the mindset of U.S. national-security state officials some 40 years later, when George W. Bush declared his “war on terror.”
In the initial days of the coup, two young Americans — Charles Horman and Frank Terrugi — were taken into custody by Chilean officials. Their crime? They were leftists who believed in what Allende was doing — that is, attempting to help the poor with social-welfare programs, equalize wealth, and manage the economy. Since the fear of communism was as pronounced as the fear of terrorism would become three decades later, Horman and Terrugi were swept up along with thousands of others who held leftist political views.
They were both quickly executed. No trial. No preliminary hearing. No due process. Just murdered. Of course, in the minds of military officials, it wasn’t murder at all. It was war, a situation in which killing the enemy is legal and where laws against murder don’t apply.
For years U.S. officials pretended they had no knowledge about what had happened to Horman and Terrugi. It was all a lie. Some 25 years after the coup, the State Department released a document admitting that the CIA had played a role in Horman’s execution. Even though the document didn’t mention Terrugi, the CIA had probably played the same undefined role in his murder as well.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the U.S. national-security state’s participation in the murder of these two young Americans, which was a watershed in its history. The U.S. national-security state knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally took out two American citizens, confident that no one could or would do anything about it.
Were there any U.S. grand-jury investigations or indictments in the murders of Charles Horman and Frank Terrugi? Was there a congressional investigation into their killings? Do we even know the names of the CIA agents who participated in their executions? Do we know exactly what role the U.S. national-security state played in their murders? Do we know whether Nixon or other high U.S. officials authorized the hits?
The answer to all those questions is no, which is absolutely astounding. The Congress’s and criminal-justice system’s inaction reveals the omnipotent power that the military and the CIA had achieved over the American people some 25 years after the formal adoption of the national-security state.
It is no surprise that the CIA continues to steadfastly refuse to declassify tens of thousands of records relating to U.S. participation in the Chilean coup. Its justification? National security, of course, the same justification it relies on in its continued refusal to release critical documents relating to the Kennedy assassination some 50 years after that watershed.
Recently, almost 40 years after the murders of Horman and Terrugi, a Chilean judge issued a criminal indictment against a former U.S. army officer, Capt. Ray E. Davis, who was commander of the U.S. Military Group at the American embassy in Santiago at the time of the Chilean coup. The charge? Conspiracy to murder Horman and Terrugi. It’s what the United States should have done a long time ago. It’s what the United States should still do.
To deal with the communist threat, Pinochet embraced a policy of assassination that would be embraced many years later by U.S. national-security state officials to deal with the threat of terrorism. Operating through the intelligence entity DINA, a secret police intelligence force that would partner with the CIA to fight communism, the Chilean military embarked on a program of assassinating suspected communists, not only within Chile itself but also in other countries. The assassination program was similar to the one that the U.S. military and CIA would adopt many years later in their post–9/11 war on terrorism. Among the suspected communists assassinated was a former army general named Carlos Prats, who opposed the Pinochet dictatorship from Argentina.
Murder in America
The most famous of Pinochet’s and DINA’s assassinations, however, was that of Orlando Letelier, who had served as minister of foreign affairs, interior, and defense in the Allende regime and who was openly opposing the Pinochet dictatorship in Washington, D.C. In 1976 he was assassinated by a group of anti-Castro Cuban exiles headed by an American named Michael Townley, a DINA agent who had formerly worked as a CIA operative.
Oddly enough, the U.S. Justice Department considered Letelier’s killing a murder rather than an act of war in the war on communism. Grand-jury indictments for criminal offenses were issued against the Cuban exiles and Townley. For planning and orchestrating the cold-blooded murder of Letelier and his young American assistant, Ronni Moffitt, Townley served a grand total of 62 months in jail before being released to the U.S. government and its witness-protection program.
A Spanish judge recently issued an indictment and arrest warrant against him for the 1976 kidnapping and murder of a Spanish diplomat, Carmelo Soria, who was working in Chile.
While national security was used to justify U.S. attempts to oust Allende, the obvious question arises: what danger to the United States was Allende’s embrace of a combination of socialism, interventionism, mercantilism, and fascism? Sure, such policies would naturally cause economic damage to Chile, but why was that a concern of the U.S. government?
Had Chile attacked the United States or even threatened to do so?
No. Like Fidel Castro, Mohammed Mossadegh, and Jacobo Arbenz, Allende was guilty of nothing more than being a popular foreign ruler who, owing to his belief in statism, was leading his nation into economic and financial disaster. It was the U.S. government, under the flag of national security, that was the aggressor against Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, and other nations.
Unfortunately, the national-security mindset did not end with the Cold War. The mindset would resurge with a vengeance, at least for the American people, when the war on terror replaced the war on communism.
In his Farewell Address in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a stark warning that must have shocked Americans at that time. He said that the vast U.S. “military-industrial complex” constituted a grave threat to their democratic processes.
Eisenhower’s successor, John Kennedy, was so concerned about the power of the military in American life that he recommended that the novel Seven Days in May, which was about a military coup in America, be made into movie to serve as a warning to the American people about how powerful the military establishment had become in the United States.
Thirty days after Kennedy was assassinated, the Washington Post published an op-ed by the former president Harry Truman pointing out that the CIA had become a dark and sinister force in American life.
Since the Kennedy assassination, however, not a single president and very few members of Congress have dared to challenge the existence of what we now know as the national-security state. On the contrary, since 1963 every president and every Congress have showered the Pentagon and the CIA with money, weaponry, power, luxury, and influence.
Moreover, the federal judiciary made it clear a long time ago that it would never enforce any constitutional restrictions against the military and the CIA once “national security” or “state secrets” were invoked.
The national-security state, especially the military and the CIA, has become a permanent part of American life. In fact, with their overarching mission to protect “national security,” their dominant role in the American economy, and now their supremacy over the American citizenry, the Pentagon and the CIA are arguably the most important and most powerful parts of the federal government.
The national-security state has transformed American life. The military now wields the power to take people into custody, transport them to a military dungeon or concentration camp, torture them, keep them incarcerated for life, assassinate them, or execute them, perhaps after a kangaroo military tribunal. All this can now be done without any semblance of due process of law or jury trial.
In fact, as a practical matter the establishment of the national-security state effectively amended the Constitution, without anyone’s going through the formal amendment process. The two most important words in the lives of the American people for almost 60 years — “national security” — have been used to effect the most radical transformation in America’s governmental system in U.S. history. Ironically, the two words aren’t even found in the Constitution.
Combined with the quest for empire, which began more than 100 years ago, the national-security state invades and occupies countries that haven’t attacked the United States and kidnaps people suspected of terrorism anywhere in the world and “renditions” them to friendly dictatorial regimes for the purpose of torturing them. Or it simply assassinates them. When it comes to terrorism, the U.S. national-security state is the judge, jury, and executioner. Its determination is final and nonreviewable. As a practical matter, both the military and the CIA have total immunity from criminal prosecution and from liability for killings and other acts of violence committed in the name of national security.
We shouldn’t forget that it wasn’t always terrorism that justified the ever-growing expansion of the warfare state. Before 1990 communism was the official bogeyman that justified U.S. intervention worldwide. Indeed, the overwhelming weight of the circumstantial evidence suggests that national security was behind the assassination of John Kennedy, especially in light of his secret negotiations with the Soviets and Cuban leader Fidel Castro to end the Cold War, which would have meant that the vast national-security state could have been dismantled as far back as 1963.
In the name of national security, U.S. officials have installed, supported, and partnered with dictatorships renowned for their brutal suppression of their own citizenry, especially with torture. In fact, the U.S. “war on terror” might easily have been modeled on the so-called dirty war in Argentina and the Pinochet reign of state terror in Chile. After all, many of the military officials in those countries who used their powers to smash people whom they suspected of being communists or terrorists had received their training in torture under the auspices of the Pentagon, specifically at the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) or as people in Latin America label it, “School of the Assassins.”
The distressing fact is that both the Pentagon and the CIA have favored totalitarian types since the very beginning of the national-security state, when they began recruiting Nazi intelligence operatives into their fold, with the aim of confronting the Soviet Union — America’s World War II ally and partner — in the new Cold War that would last for decades, thereby ensuring the continuation and expansion of the vast military and intelligence establishment.
During the Cold War the national-security state intentionally destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy by ousting the elected prime minister and replacing him with a brutal pro-U.S. dictator, whose secret police were trained by the CIA.
One year later the U.S. government ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala and installed a succession of brutal military dictators in his stead, setting off a civil war that would last decades and result in the death, torture, and rape of hundreds of thousands of people.
It invaded Cuba, attempted to assassinate its president, imposed an embargo against its people, and engaged in acts of state-sponsored terrorism within that country.
It participated in the ouster of the democratically elected president of Chile and his replacement by a brutal military dictator. During that coup the national-security state helped to murder two young Americans who committed the dastardly mental crime of subscribing to socialist ideology. Owing to the power of the military and the CIA, however, no one has ever been called to account for the murder of those two Americans.
The national-security state also supported, with cash and armaments, the brutal military dictatorship in Egypt, thereby solidifying the power of the dictatorship over the Egyptian people.
The list goes on and on.
The American people have walked through it all in what seems to be a state of permanent numbness. That’s one of the national-security state’s greatest accomplishments — the subordination of individual conscience to the military and the CIA. If national security required an attack on a country that had never attacked the United States, so be it. If it required cruel and inhumane sanctions or embargoes that squeezed the lifeblood out of innocent people, so be it. If it required an assassination of some foreign ruler or just some private citizen somewhere, so be it. If it required 75 years of secrecy in the Kennedy assassination, so be it. If it required the execution of American citizens in Chile or elsewhere, so be it. If it required kidnapping, torture, indefinite incarceration, execution, or assassination, so be it. If it required supporting brutal dictatorships, so be it. If it required drug experiments on unsuspecting Americans, so be it. If it required the recruitment of Nazis into the national-security state, so be it.
All that mattered was that national security be preserved at all costs. No one was supposed to question or challenge what the state had to do to protect national security. Everyone was expected to simply keep his head down, go about his business, and remain silent and trusting.
Thus no one was supposed to notice that the national-security state was embracing many of the policies and programs that characterized totalitarian states. Since it was all being done in the name of “national security” and to “protect our freedoms and values,” it was all considered justified. In fact, it was all considered part of our “freedom.”
The worst choice
Perhaps the most willing form of blindness came with the 9/11 attacks. U.S. officials immediately announced that the terrorists had struck America out of anger and hatred for America’s “freedom and values,” a line that would immediately be embraced by many Americans. Yet time and again, terrorists who struck America before and after 9/11 made it clear that their anger and hatred were rooted in what the U.S. national-security state had been doing and was continuing to do to people overseas, especially in the Middle East.
One of the best examples of the horror of U.S. foreign policy occurred in Iraq, where 11 years of brutal sanctions, which began after the 1991 Gulf War, contributed to the death of half a million Iraqi children. When the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, was asked about that by Sixty Minutes, she said the deaths were “worth it.”
Her answer reflected the official view of the national-security state. Given the lack of outrage among the American people, the episode also showed how horribly the national-security had warped the values, principles, and conscience of the American people. That callous indifference to the sanctity of human life would be repeated after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Not only was there little demand for an official investigation into whether U.S. officials, including the president, had intentionally misled Americans with claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they posed a threat to U.S. national-security interests, all too many Americans willingly accepted the alternative rationale — the spread of democracy — to justify the continuation of the killing, torture, and maiming of the Iraqi people. No one was supposed to notice that the U.S. national-security state had actually partnered with Saddam in his war against Iran or that it was actively supporting other dictatorships at the time it was supposedly engaging in “democracy-spreading” in Iraq.
It was such policies that motivated anti-American anger and hatred, not hatred for America’s “freedom and values.”
People like to say that “9/11 changed the world.” It actually didn’t change U.S. foreign policy at all. Instead, it gave national-security state officials the excuse to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope of installing friendly pro-U.S. regimes. It also enabled the national-security state to adopt by decree the same “temporary emergency” powers that characterized the brutal dictatorships that the national-security had long supported and partnered with, especially in the Middle East and Latin America.
The worst thing the American people ever did — worse even than embracing the welfare state — was to permit a permanent warfare state to come into existence. The national-security state has warped American values and stultified Americans’ conscience. It has engendered anger and hatred for America all over the world. It is a major factor contributing to the out-of-control federal spending and debt that threaten the economic security of the nation. The national-security state is a cancer on the body politic. It’s time to dismantle it. It’s time to close all the bases, bring the troops home and discharge them, and abolish the CIA. It is a necessary prerequisite for a free, prosperous, harmonious, and secure society.