Sanders, Clinton, the CIA, and the JFK Assassination
by Jacob G. Hornberger
An article this week in Politico reveals that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for the abolition of the CIA during the 1970s. Apparently it is a position that Sanders is now running away from because he certainly hasn’t repeated it during the presidential race, and when the Politico reporter who uncovered the story asked the Sanders campaign to comment on it, the reporter was met with silence.
Sanders told a Vermont audience in 1974 that the CIA “is a dangerous institution that has got to go.” According to the Politico article, Sanders “described the agency as a tool of American corporate interests that repeatedly toppled democratically elected leaders — including, he said, Mosaddegh.” The CIA, Sanders stated, was accountable to no one “except right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships.”
Sanders, of course, was referring to the CIA-instigated coup in 1953 that ousted the democratically appointed prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, from power and re-installed the dictatorial regime of the Shah of Iran. The CIA then proceeded to train the Shah’s national-security state forces on how to torture and oppress the Iranian people, so that the Shah would remain their dictator for the indefinite future.
That regime-change operation was followed by the one in Guatemala in 1954, where the CIA ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, from power and replaced him with a brutal pro-U.S. dictator from the Guatemalan military establishment. Sanders might have been described the CIA as “a tool of American corporate interests” since the CIA’s coup restored land belonging to United Fruit Company, whose tentacles reached deep into the Washington, D.C., establishment — lands that Arbenz had nationalized for the benefit of the poor.
The reasons for these regime-change operations against democratic regimes? Why, national security. What else? The U.S. national-security establishment had concluded that Mossadegh and Arbenz posed a grave threat to U.S. national security and, therefore, had to be ousted from office and replaced with an unelected dictator who didn’t pose a threat to U.S. national security.
That pattern would be repeated in the years 1970-1973, when the U.S. national-security establishment ousted the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in a military coup by which military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet became dictator of Chile.
And also in Cuba from 1960-1963, where the national-security state would invade the island and engage in repeated attempts at assassination with the aim of achieving regime change against a country that, like Iran, Guatemala, and later Chile, was viewed as a grave threat to U.S. national security, notwithstanding the fact that it had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so.
But as interesting as Sanders’ position was in the 1970s, what is arguably more interesting is the response to the Politico article by a man named Jeremy Bash, who currently serves an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In response to the Politico revelations, Bash stated:
Abolishing the CIA in the 1970s would have unilaterally disarmed America during the height of the Cold War and at a time when terrorist networks across the Middle East were gaining strength.
Why is Bash’s statement interesting?
First, Bash served as chief of staff to CIA director Leon Panetta.
Second, his mindset was the same mindset that guided the national-security establishment during the John Kennedy administration.
First of all, what is the national-security establishment? It is the part of the federal government that consists of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. None of these agencies were part of America’s original federal governmental structure. In fact, they weren’t part of America’s governmental structure for the first 150 years or so of U.S. history.
There is a simple reason for that. The Founding Fathers, the Framers, and our American ancestors had a deep antipathy toward things like standing armies, militarism, secret intelligence forces, secret surveillance schemes, indefinite detention, torture, coups, assassination, regime-change operations, foreign aid, and partnerships with dictatorial regimes.
Second, a national security governmental apparatus is inherent to totalitarian regimes. China, for example, is also a national-security state. So is North Korea. So is Iran.
So, how then did the United States become a national security state too?
It happened at the end of World War II. After defeating Nazi Germany, advocates of converting the United States to a national-security state said that such a conversion was “temporarily” necessary to oppose America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, in a “cold war.”
Thus, in order to wage a cold war against the Soviet national-security state, the United States itself became a national-security state, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment.
That’s when the regime-change operations began — Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Indonesia, Congo, Chile, and many, many more.
The justification for all those regime-change operations?
In fact, Bash misses the point. In the 1970s the big bugaboo was the same as it was in the 1960s and 1950s and late 1940s. That bugaboo was communism, not terrorism. The problem with terrorism in the Middle East would not arise until the 1990s, when the U.S. national-security establishment, in search of new official enemies given that the Cold War was now over, went into the Middle East and began killing people, which ultimately generated enough anger and rage as to produce an ongoing threat of anti-American terrorism.
But in the 1970s, the anti-communist obsession and the Cold War were still in full bloom, which the U.S. national security state continued to use to justify its existence and its ever-growing budgets. In fact, Bash might have forgotten that the CIA was ardently and enthusiastically supporting radical Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, many of whom would later become anti-American terrorists, when it was the Soviet Union, rather than the United States, doing the occupying of that country.
When he came into office, Kennedy had bought into the national-security state’s anti-communist, Cold War mindset. But after the CIA’s disastrous invasion at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, an invasion that had been planned during the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy achieved a breakthrough with respect to the CIA. Clearly realizing what a sinister force this totalitarian agency with virtually omnipotent power had become within America’s governmental structure, he vowed to tear it into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds. As part of his war against the CIA, he fired its much revered director Allen Dulles (who Lyndon Johnson would later appoint to the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of JFK) and two of his high subordinates.
It was clear that JFK had reached the same breakthrough on the CIA that his predecessor Eisenhower had reached about the other principal component of the national-security establishment — what Ike called the military-industrial complex. In his Farewell Address, Ike warned the American people that this apparatus that had been attached to their federal governmental structure posed a grave threat to their liberties and democratic processes.
As the Kennedy administration proceeded, it was clear that Kennedy’s mindset toward the military establishment was becoming similar to Eisenhower’s. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, Kennedy left the meeting indignantly, saying to an aide, “And we call ourselves the human race.” His reaction was the same when the JCS unanimously presented Operation Northwoods to him, a plan that called for terrorist attacks against American citizens by U.S. agents posing as Cuban terrorists, so as to provide Kennedy with an excuse to order an invasion of Cuba for another regime-change operation.
Moreover, Kennedy was clearly aware of the dangers to himself by taking on the national-security establishment. After reading the novel Seven Days in May, which posited a national-security state regime-change operation against a U.S. president, Kennedy recommended that it be made into a movie, to serve as a warning for the American people — the same warning that Ike had issued.
It’s important to understand the mindset of the national-security establishment towards Kennedy. Their mindset was the same as that of Jeremy Bash today — that the abolition of the CIA would be a grave threat to national security. It would mean, they believed, exposing America to being taken over by the communists. The national-security establishment was determined to not let that happen.
The war between Kennedy and the national-security establishment came to a head after the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point, Kennedy made a dramatic move, one that ended up sealing his fate. He decided to end the Cold War entirely and have the United States peacefully coexist and even cooperate with the Soviet Union and other communist regimes. That meant, of course, that there would be no more need for a national-security establishment in America.
That shift was manifested in Kennedy’s now-famous “Peace Speech” at American University, a speech that he didn’t even advise the Pentagon or the CIA he planned to deliver — a speech that threw down the gauntlet to the national-security establishment. He also ordered the Pentagon to begin withdrawing troops from Vietnam. He entered into the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets. Most dangerous of all, he instigated secret personal communications with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban president Fidel Castro with the aim of ending the Cold War. In fact, JFK’s emissary was speaking to Castro at the very moment of his assassination.
It is not difficult to imagine the effect that Kennedy’s actions must have had on the national-security establishment. After Kennedy had rejected the military’s recommendations to invade Cuba during the Missile Crisis, which would have undoubtedly led to all-out nuclear war, Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay called the settlement of the crisis the biggest defeat in U.S. history and compared it to Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler at Munich.
In the eyes of the national-security state, Kennedy was hopelessly naïve if he thought that he could ever peacefully coexist with the communist world. Communists could never be trusted on anything. This was a fight to the finish. The communists were lulling Kennedy into disarming, after which the dominoes would begin falling, with the final result being a communist conquest of the United States.
If you want to get a good grasp on how the national-security establishment viewed Kennedy, all you have to do is read the two anti-Kennedy advertisements – one titled “Wanted for Treason” and the other titled “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas” — that were run in the Dallas Morning News on the morning of November 22, 1963. While the advertisements were purchased by anti-communist right-wingers, they also expressed the sentiments that the anti-communist national-security establishment held about Kennedy.
To get a good grasp of how Kennedy viewed the way that the national-security establishment viewed him, consider what JFK said to his wife Jacqueline on reading those advertisements before heading to Dallas. He told her that they were headed into “nut country.”
Thirty days after JFK’s assassination, former President Harry Truman, who had brought the CIA into existence in 1947, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post stating that the CIA had become a sinister force and had far exceeded the intelligence-gathering mission Truman had intended the CIA to have.
Of course, the war between Kennedy and the national-security establishment came to an end on November 22, 1963. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, reversed course on Vietnam and ended up sending some 58,000 men to their deaths.
The Cold War continued.
The national security establishment remained a permanent and ever-growing part of America’s governmental structure.
Once the Cold War finally ended in 1989, it was replaced by the “war on terrorism” after the national-security establishment went into the Middle East and began killing large numbers of people, many of whom were Muslims.
NATO, which had been formed to protect Western Europe from a Soviet attack, remained in existence and began absorbing former members of the Warsaw Pact, thereby moving ever closer to Russia’s borders. Not surprisingly, that gave rise to Russia’s invasion of Crimea to avoid a U.S.-NATO takeover of that region.
Thus, the national security state now has a double enemy for America — terrorism and Russia (i.e., communism) — to justify its permanent part of America’s governmental structure.
And, needless to say, not one single presidential candidate since then, including Bernie Sanders, has dared to call for the dismantling of America’s totalitarian structure known as the national security state.