Air Force One

Events aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963 have long become a matter of both mystery and speculation in regard to the assassination of President Kennedy.  That remains true despite the fact that William Manchester documented the personalities and activities on that aircraft, and its flight back to Washington in considerable detail in his classic early work The Death of a President.  Towards the end of his writing on that work, he was actually given access to what he knew to be an edited transcript of tape recordings made during the aircraft’s flight.  Actually, although that recording is generally described as a transcript of Air Force 1 radio communications, it is much more than that.  The recording itself was made by the White House Communications Agency, with equipment placed adjacent to the Special Air Mission (SAM) at Andrews air base.  The Special Air Mission supervised all of the aircraft used for White House travel, including VIP travel of senior diplomatic and Joint Chief’s staff.  The recordings had begun specifically at the direction of President Kennedy, who wanted a record of all communications related to presidential air travel.  Given that Air Force One was expected to function as a command center in the event that a national security incident happened during the president’s travels, such a record was as critical to the history of his presidency as were the White House records of events during the Cuban missile crisis.

On November 22, the tape recordings captured a variety of calls to SAM control as well as its communications with both Air Force One and a Cabinet aircraft on the way to Japan.  It was obviously an invaluable historical record, a window into both the personalities and response to the assassination – including the national security activities as the new president took over his responsibility as Commander in Chief.   Initially the existence of the tapes was kept from the public, made known apparently to certain individuals including Presidential aide Pierre Salinger. Salinger was actually provided a transcript of the communications to the Cabinet aircraft, which he had himself had been on at the time of the assassination.   When Manchester became aware of the tape, he requested a copy and was denied.  Ultimately after the better part of a year, he was allowed to listen to a copy he clearly understood to be edited.

Over the course of several decades, an edited version of the tape and a transcript did become available through the Johnson Library. More recently, in 2012, another copy was found in the estate of General Clifford, a military aide to the White House.  Interestingly, the Clifford tape has information edited out of the Johnson Library version, but the material removed proves not to be of any particular military security value – which makes sense given that these radio communications were clear channel and could be picked up by everyone from radio hams to Soviet listening posts. So, if the tape was edited (apparently twice at least), what was the motive?   Part of the answer to that may lie in the fact that there are independent source records of a variety of radio telephone calls which do not show up in either edited tapes – these include calls  by Johnson to Robert Kennedy,  National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Johnson’s lawyer and at least one other personal friend.  Yet very personal calls such as to Rose Kennedy were left on the tape.

The issue also remains as to whether there were any national security calls on the tape, perhaps scrambled but still there (it was later denied that there was secure voice capability on the aircraft; that denial is highly questionable) – or any of the National Command Authority calls that should have been in progress – even basic communications checks from SAC’s command post, its airborne alert command post, and the National Airborne Emergency Command post which was airborne at the time.  There are no signs of even routine communications of that nature and no sign of all of any communication from the National Military Command Post at the Pentagon.  All this raised the question of what was on the full tape and why it appears to have been heavily edited (even for such things that should be there as routine communications checks).

Was there something on the tape that would have raised concern that a conspiracy had either been discussed – or suppressed – in the earliest hours following the assassination?  Were there embarrassing personal calls by the new President (including discussion of stock sales) at a time when he should have assumed his Commander in Chief role?   Would the full tape show Johnson to be ignorant or even negligent in assuming that role?   Or would the full tape reveal that Johnson had actually lied about certain conversations with Robert Kennedy and his need to stay in Dallas to take the oath of office prior to departure?

It all remains a mystery.  What is not a mystery is that a government record was knowingly altered into edited versions and then apparently destroyed.  Work continues on a search for possible copies of the full tape, but in the interim the alteration of the Air Force One communications records remains yet another open issue in regard to the true response of President Johnson and the operation of the nation’s command and control system following President Kennedy’s assassination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bishop, Phillips and Veciana – the implications

Antonio Veciana recently verified that CIA officer David Phillips used the alias of Maurice Bishop from the time of his first 1960 contact with Veciana in Cuba, a relationship that continued over several years and continuing into cover operations in Latin America    The Phillips/Bishop match has been written on at great length by researches ranging from Gaeton Fonzi and Anthony Summers to myself.   In his autobiography Phillips mentioned making contact while in Cuba with a group plotting an attack on Fidel Castro; he stated that he used both an alias and a disguise in those contacts.   We know that Veciana was involved in such a plot and that he had actually proposed an attack on Castro to the CIA (the related document lists the crypt for his CIA contact as “Olien”, a crypt not yet found in other documents).   Phillips notes that he contacted Veciana as a businessman, making no reference to the CIA, and Veciana confirms that Phillips maintained that stance throughout their relationship.  In 1968, Veciana was given a job working for AID (a long time CIA cover) and moved to Latin America, during the next few years he was involved in additional efforts to kill Castro.  I go into this in some detail in NEXUS but Veciana was not the only Cuban exile involved and it appears that Phillips directly and personally ran those assets while serving in a CIA management position as Chief of Cuban Operations for the Western Hemisphere.

It is reasonably clear that Phillips used CIA resources and CIA money to fund those operations.  What is not clear is the degree to which they were sanctioned, documented or the subject of any CIA paperwork trail. Equally important is that circa 1962/1963, Veciana relates the fact that Bishop/Phillips was key in providing the drive, introductions and money to form Alpha 66 and then to direct its activities.  That is especially interesting since once again there is no CIA paper trial showing any connection to Alpha 66.  It is even more interesting given that Veciana relates that Bishop/Phillips directed the group to attack Soviet targets in Cuba, in a series of missions that were to essentially “put JFK’s back to the wall” in some sort of intervention.  Alpha 66 was being used in direct opposition to American and White House possibility – at the direction of a CIA officer.   One possibility was that the group was crated under a sanctioned operation and that Phillips effectively “stole” it with personal direction and manipulation.  Yet there is no paper trail connecting the Agency to Alpha 66 at any point and those documents which do mention it appear to support the view that there was no direct connection.

All of which means that either there is a huge volume of CIA documentation that is missing from the released materials – to no obvious purpose – or that all connections with Alpha 66 were destroyed.  Other possibilities would be that the whole thing could originally have been a vest pocket operation that Phillips stole or that he hijacked the Veciana contact to his own purposes when Veciana arrived in exile in Miami.

Under any guise, its a fascinating and important historical story.  Did the CIA initially direct Phillips to Veciana based on the offer to assassinate Castro?  If so did the CIA not ask for any follow on reports about the assassination group inside Cuba. Phillips was actually brought out of Cuba for a time once his commercial cover was exposed, was he not debriefed then – before being sent back to essentially retrieve his family.   Hopefully someone or some group of researchers will follow this trial – it could have serious historical implications as to whether or not the CIA was essentially acting independently under the Kennedy administration or whether CIA officers had the ability to go rogue and subvert contacts for their own agendas – in Phillips case an agenda lasting well over a decade.   Personally I’ve written about Phillips activities throughout his career in SWHT, NEXUS and Shadow Warfare – no doubt I’ve even forgotten some of the relevant details in those works.  Hopefully younger and fresher minds can use that as a launching point to take this piece of history much further.

 

 

 

 

The Janus Factor

The War against ISIS is turning out to be uncomfortably familiar in some aspects. The U.S. Congress has managed once again to avoid engaging with it in any fashion other than an extremely limited resolution related to arming groups in Syria. We seem to be totally failing to interdict jihadi volunteers moving into the region, in the thousands (if press reports are correct) and while its agreed that the ISIS internet media campaign is one of its most effective weapons, we apparently have engaged in no cyber warfare against them. It also appears that our military is operating under severe policy micromanagement – refer to the following article on that.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/31/military-upset-with-white-house-micromanagement-of-isis-war.html

If you are old enough to have experienced Viet Nam or if you have read Shadow Warfare, this may sound frustratingly familiar. And in one respect it seems surprising since President Obama has previously been praised (and condemned) for delegating a high degree of military autonomy to JSOC and the counter terror groups for their operations.

But after pondering this a bit, it strikes me that what we are seeing is a repeat of what I call the Janus Factor. President’s Johnson and Nixon have been roundly condemned for micromanaging military operations in both South and North Vietnam – where the U.S. was publicly engaged. However covert operations in Laos were far more autonomous, largely under control of the CIA and the US Ambassador in Laos. In the Obama Administration, we have observed an ongoing serious of clandestine JSOC activities and a dramatic (if low profile) growth in Military Assistance and State National Guard partnership programs with foreign nations. With virtually no media coverage, the US is now involved in 68 such National Guard partnerships around the world.

What seems to occur is that if a President is politically exposed in overt warfare, there is a huge temptation towards micromanagement (something that did not exist prior to and during WWII).  In covert and clandestine operations, with limited media exposure, the military is allowed far more autonomy (cynically this could also seen as political deniablity). It is a phenomena that seems to affect all of the modern day administrations. But to date it shows little sign of being positive for actual military operations….

Dallas FBI Agent Wallace Heitman

In recent posts regarding Cuban exiles in Dallas, the house on Harlandale and the lack of information on FBI subversive investigations in Dallas targeting Cubans, I mentioned the work done by agent Heitman.  It turned out that Heitman actually had published a book on his career and a couple of us jumped to order that.  This post is a brief synopsis of that book.  First, its a very interesting read in regard to his life and his overall career.  Second, it provides us with only minimal insight into the areas we would be most interested in.

Mr. Heitman does discuss the assassination at some length, very much in line with the official story  and there is no indication that he ever became familiar with the extensive evidential issues which are commonly discussed today.  Of course that is true for a great many of those involved in the initial investigation, the events in Dallas and the work of the Commission itself.  His remarks about his own work are limited, he does note that he was the agent who went to Sheriff Decker’s office and immediately began interviewing witnesses.  That is interesting and researchers might want to make a search for Heitman’s first day interviews.   He also specifically states that he and Agent Charlie Brown were dispatched to the emergency room to obtain a deathbed confession from Lee Oswald; he goes into considerable detail on that.  Given that the presence of “mysterious” government agencies in the emergency room was often debunked and used to challenge the credibility of certain Dallas doctors, Heitman’s remarks are pretty significant.

Other than that, virtually all his other remarks are in regard with his ongoing interviews with Marina Oswald.  I was immediately puzzled by certain points.  First, he stated that Marina was planning to watch a televised broadcast of the motorcade – yet we know there was no such thing.   Yet at the time of the shooting she was hanging out wash in the back yard.  He then goes on to state that her answers in his interviews were sometimes candid and truthful but but also “not infrequently” devious and untruthful.  But from there he essentially offers her boilerplate story about the Walker shooting, the abortive attempt on Richard Nixon and other similar remarks from Marina with no caveat at all.  It would have been interesting to know what he considered untruthful?

That’s it for his activities in Dallas, he relates none of his work before the assassination and nothing else until he appears in the Dominican Republic in 1965.  Given the very interesting documents we do have on his domestic and subversive intelligence work in Dallas, that area remains a total blank in regard to his book.  What we do learn is that before Dallas he served in Monterrey, Mexico.   He portrays his job there as working with Mexican agencies to monitor potential Communist infiltration of groups on both sides of the border.  Finding no sign of that he was transferred to Mexico City.  Again, given what we know of the serious FBI work targeting the Soviet and Cuban embassies as well individuals moving across the border to and from Mexico, there should be some pretty interesting stories there.  Unfortunately Heitman’s only remarks concern his being assigned to target a group of some 35 American expatriates, many from the film industry and others obviously forced out by the McCarthy campaign of earlier years.  His remark is that they were considered “dark pink” so they had to be monitored – other than revealing American spying on its citizens overseas, that seems awfully dull and something of a waste of taxpayer money.  Again, given what we know from other sources, either Mr. Heitman was getting some pretty weak assignments or he chose out to leave out assignments with real national security impact.

All in all its a nice read, especially if  you are interested in the American Southwest, which was here he was involved in some pretty interesting activities.  But in regard to domestic intelligence, which he describes as one of his major areas of work, its not really all that helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harlandale continued

In an effort to f further spur new research in this area, I wanted to consolidate some of what we do know and point out some key issues with the original investigation as well as a few very interesting open questions.

We officially know about the house only because of reports given to Dallas Deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers by his mother who lived a few houses a way and had been observing some strange comings and goings at the place for short period before the assassination.  I should note that virtually all her remarks were either corroborated or seem very credible.  The house itself (in the Oakdale area) had been recently rented – some two months previous – by a leading figure in the local anti-Castro, Cuban exile community.  One of the key occupants was Manual Rodriquez Orcarberrio, an Alpha 66 leader and major figure in efforts to buy serious weaponry for the exile groups.  He was the target of both an FBI sting and of an independent ATF investigation by Frank Ellsworth.  Full details of those efforts are in SWHT and we have a number of on both the FBI and ATF activities.  Yet what we do not have are any FBI surveillance or actual investigation records on Orcaberrio’s movements or his associates at the house on Harlandale.  One of the FBI’s primary subversive tasks in 1963 was cracking down on exile guy buys and we should have a large set of documents on that activity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  What we do have from the FBI in regard to Walthers report is nothing more than a confirmation that the Cubans had been in the house and left almost immediately either before or after the assassination.  Of course that would be what went into the JFK investigation file; the total local office effort on gun running would be something separate.

It should also be noted that if Oswald was being used as a “dangle” by the FBI, one of the ideal ways for the Bureau to gain more information on these groups and on gun running would be to have Oswald engage with the group having very late night meetings at the Harlandale house (and for those of you who thought that was Mason, regardless of my friend Dick Russell’s remarks, we now have Masens photo and he looks very little like Oswald).  It is also interesting to note that JURE was also actively looking for weapons in Dallas, and the person playing the lead in that role was none other than Sylvia Odio.

Also, as I detail in SWHT, there is reason to believe that the FBI source on the house – and the person who told the FBI Oswald had never been there – was Orcabarrio himself.  Orcarberrio had come from Miami to Dallas and there are reports suggesting he was violently opposed to JFK.  The Harlandale house was used by both Alpha 66 and DRE members, many of the younger exiles belonged to both groups.  It should also be noted that Antonio Veciana, a major Alpha 66 figure, was in Dallas in the fall of 63 to meet David Phillips.  There has been much talk of his seeing Oswald with Phillips in Dallas, but that overshadows what else Veciana might have been doing in Dallas, as well as any contact he may have had with the local exiles.  Recently there has been some information emerging that he too may have been at the house on Harlandale and that we don’t yet have the full story from him on his activities in Dallas. Interestingly enough, we have witness reports of someone looking very much like Oswald at the Harlandale house and across the border in Oklahoma, with Orcarberrio and several other Cuban exiles.

While none of this may have had any direct connection to the attack on JFK, its pretty obvious that if there were Cuban exiles from Florida involved in that, their arrival in Dallas might well have involved at least spending some time on Harlandale or their presence might have been known to some of those there.  Given the degree to which gossip flourished in that community, it would certainly be understandable why the house itself was largely abandoned either right before or immediately after Nov. 22, 1963.

 

Loose Ends in Dallas and the House on Harlandale

I thought it would be a good break to return at least briefly to the JFK assassination and some loose ends from Dallas.  One of the things that frustrates me a good deal these days is very limited amount of new research that actually goes on in respect to many of the fascinating leads which have turned up in the document releases of the past two decades.  Perhaps its too much work, after all there is so much JFK content (much of it heavily dated and questionable) on the internet that its possible to be immersed in that forever (sort of like becoming addicted to computer games I suppose).

To that end, I’ll offer the following tidbits to those who would like to go off on some less traveled roads.

1)  J.D. Tippet – it would probably be news to most folks that in addition to his security job at the BBQ restaurant, Tippet had worked off duty security at the Stevens Park theater, owned by Manuel Avila.  What makes that especially interesting is that Avila was very much connected to Cuban exile activities at the House on Harlandale. The theater was reportedly a Spanish language show, attracting Latino’s and Cuban exiles as well.  Reportedly in addition to the movies downstairs, a prostitution business went on using facilities associated with the theater. Even more interesting is the apparent rumor that Tippet got into some problems involving one of the girls working that side of the business.

Avila’s activities had included serving as a translator for Cuban exiles in Dallas, apparently including visitors. Amelia Diaz, who had immigrated from Cuba in 1959, worked for Avila, was an active DRE supporter and reportedly moved into the House on Harlandale during the relatively brief period in which it was used by DRE and Alpha 66 members. Victor Murillo, another individual who did volunteer translations, he lived in a house with Domingo Benavides.

Jose Salazar had rented the House on Harlandale, served as vice president of the Dallas Alpha 66 chapter and was a friend of Oswaldo Aurelio Pino – Pino was one of those specifically questioned by the FBI about knowing and possibly visiting Sylvia Odio.  The FBI was particularly interested in Pino as he had been an important figure in Cuba (Chief of the Fuels and Lubrication Department at the Institute of Agrarian reform) following the revolution. He was suspected of involvement with Cuban G-2 inside Cuba and being an informant on anti-Castroites and anti-Communists.  After arriving in the US, the FBI investigated him as a possible Cuban intel agent. He was investigated by Dallas FBI agent Walter Heitman from June 63 to March 64 – the investigation was delayed because Heitman was pulled for JFK assassination investigation work.  If Pino was not a Castro agent, clearly he had become a very dedicated anti-Castro activist.

(side note:   virtually none of Heitman’s pre- assassination reports and files are available; yet he played the main role in FBI subversive investigations focused on Cubans in Dallas.  This is one of the most important and least pursued areas of JFK research…in case anybody is interested).

Pino admitted joining a variety of exile groups in Dallas including Alpha 66 / SNFE / MRP) and being Vice Secretary; this was confirmed by a series of FBI informants.

…….so, it seems rather interesting that J.D. Tippett might have been socially connected to a series of Cuban exile figures extending all the way to the House on Harlandale (where Oswald was reported) and it is also just possible that some of those individuals might have known of information on Tippet, pertaining to the theater, that would have given some access and even leverage over him.

2) Oswald at the El Fenix Mexican Restaurant – everyone knows that Oswald asked to be dropped off the cab a distance away from his apartment.  They should also know about the police report of the suspicious car in the back of that restaurant that left immediately when the occupants realized they were being observed.  It just so happens that Oswaldo Pino had worked at that restaurant, and also as a delivery drive to the restaurant (El Chico Food services) in 1963.

We often talk about an abortive contact at the Texas Theater, but the possibility arises that either  there might have been another potential contact point or that Oswald was being monitored by a variety of individuals, not just including Officer Tippet. There is a lot more to this part of the story.  The license plane noted at the El Fenix restaurant mystery car ties into a close friend of Tippet, who had seen him that morning – and has its own major mysteries related to it.  Indeed the El Fenix car incident – along with the activities at the House on Harlandale – may be one of the hottest loose ends remaining.  There is much more to be said about the House on Harlandale, and about FBI agent Heitman’s exile work – or there would be if somebody would get serious with these sorts of leads and move off of the same subjects (and photos) that have been so consistently discussed for decades (sorry, disclaimer, attitude showing – as my friend Jim Marrs said years ago – look, we know there as a conspiracy, there were multiple shooters and Oswald was not a lone nut…get on with it ).

– Larry

 

 

Boots on the Ground?

Eagerly monitoring news of the first strikes against ISIS in Syria, I watched the CNN reporting and viewed the first Pentagon briefings….followed eventually by video of the first strikes.  My initial reaction was “did nobody at Centcom take notes, they’re making the same mistake again, those buildings are empty!”  Now if you have read Shadow Warfare or the excellent books by Gary Schroen – “First In” and Gary Berntsen – “Jawbreaker” you know exactly why I was thinking that.

The initial two months of the US attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan were among the worst and best American military efforts ever….   It begin with the insertion of a single CIA team to contact and establish relationships with anti-Taliban forces, a limited number of other teams followed along with a small number of military special operations teams.  The goal of those teams was literally “targeting”.

But the air campaign, run by CENTCOM, virtually ignored ongoing pleas from the CIA teams and for weeks made little or no use of the field targeting info, focused instead on “strategic strikes”.  The people on the ground simply could not understand why CENTCOM would not pay attention to them and focus on actual enemy fighters….using weapons designed for maximum personnel impact (OK, I know that sounds bloodthirsty but its the way wars are normally won, if you think otherwise you should not be fighting).  Only when there were no more airfields, command and control complexes, obvious storage hub etc did CENCOM start assigning major air assets to do what the CIA and Special Ops teams wanted – and within a matter of weeks, direct strikes on formations of fighters literally broke the back of the Taliban. Those strikes used some guided munitions but also massive bombing up to and including fuel air bombs.   In December, 2001 the Bush Administration was almost ready to give up on the effort; the CENTCOM commander offered little hope – suggesting that the anti-Taliban forces were probably not even trainable – but within the next two months of strikes,  guided by the small number of American boots on the ground, the Taliban was broken.

So far we are seeing what appears to be a repeat of the worst phase of the post-911 Afghanistan campaign.  Its politically correct warfare.  Its also a bad sign when you hear that in region only assets are being used – that means no gun ships, no Warthogs and none of the really broad impact weapons platforms (B-52’s come to mind). Certainly there is still time to turn the tide, our military knows how to do it….especially JSOC.   But at the moment it appears that CENTCOM, using well established practices which work against developed nations and enemies, is running the show rather than JSOC, who knows how to fight these sorts of battles.

At this point,  we appear to be making the horrible mistake of actually having no boots at all on the ground or if the covert teams are there, CENTCOM isn’t listening to them again.   One can only imagine what Schroen or Berntsen would have to say – but strangely enough the media news folks are only interviewing former Generals, nobody is talking to the guys that pulled off one of the most impressive American military feats in recent decades.  And if you don’t believe me, try the article below for a bit more detail.

http://www.newsweek.com/air-strikes-will-never-work-say-troops-fighting-isis-2744

UPDATE:  NOW THE GOOD NEWS / SOMEBODY IS THINKING AFTER ALL – A-10’S ON THE WAY – NOW IF THEY JUST SEND THE GHOSTRIDER GUN SHIPS ISIS IS DONE IN FIELD COMBAT…..

http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/the-usafs-much-maligned-a-10-warthogs-are-deploying-to-1640395280

 

 

Jihadi Threat

There are some good national security analysts at work and CNN’s Peter Bergan is one of them.  I just wish that Congress and the American public would pay some actual attention to what Bergan says.  He recently published and excellent appraisal of the overall Jihadi threat and I wanted to share it.  It clearly defines the lines between local jihadi insurgency and the more threatening pan-global groups who have the ability to attack anywhere including Europe and America.  I do think he underestimates the degree to which individuals in certain of the groups would strike at Americans and Europeans if given a chance, in efforts ranging from new plots to bomb airliners to beheading tourists or aid workers within their reach.   Bergan’s article actually estimates the size of the global Jihadi threat and I highly recommend it – with one exception:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/26/opinion/bergen-schneider-how-many-jihadists/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

It wasn’t until I reached the very end of it that I drew back and shook my head at his statement that the historically the jihadi threat is relatively inconsequential.  His premise for that statement was to compare it to the 60 million man Soviet and Warsaw pact armies and the Soviet strategic nuclear capability. Based on that he concluded that today’s threat is not comparable to that faced during the Cold War. My objection to that view is that it’s not at all a relative comparison. The Soviets understood the “calculus of force” and by the time they achieved nuclear parity, they were actually quite satisfied by mutual assured destruction. While Stalin was a wild card in the early days, for most of the Cold War any military activity was between surrogates – and the Soviets never used their surrogates to actually attack the American homeland.  The Soviets accepted a state of Cold War, in contrast the jihadi movement declared itself to be literally at war with American in 1998 and continues to demonstrate that reality.   And as religious zealots, they are subject to no calculus of force nor amenable to a status quo.

Good analysis Peter, but comparing what the Soviets could have done with what the jihadi actually do on a regular basis is off base in my estimate.

 

 

Presidential Protection

Recent incidents involving White House security leave me concerned that for some reason the Secret Service is once again behind the threat curve in regard to presidential protection.  To assess that concern, its helpful to look back to presidential protection for JFK in 1963.  Vince Palamara has demonstrated that during the fall of 1963 there had been some apparently minor enhancements to White House Detail security during presidential trips – the addition of one or two new PRS (protective research services) staff to the traveling White House Security detail (whose jobs remain unclear even now) and additional staff for technical services work – apparently inspection of hotels and other locations for wire taps, bugs, etc. Beyond that, training and preparedness remained the same as they had for years, focused on protection from close up assaults or attacks while the president was exposed to crowds in public appearances.  Threats reported to the Secret Service were investigated and then indexed in a central file; agents assigned to presidential travel would check that file for outstanding threat suspects in a given city.  It appears that little thought was given to the possibility that individuals posing a threat might be mobile.  Protection also seems to have been very suspect oriented, the idea of a group being a threat seems only to have extended to demonstrations and protests, not to actual physical attacks. That explains why the majority of the threat protection in Dallas, Texas was oriented towards protests at JFK’s Trade Center speech.

The lack of any serous new protection measures in 1963 might seem like simple oversight if we had not become aware of some very specific threats that the Secret Service was aware of and others which they may well have been –  but where the relevant records have been destroyed (some as recently as the 1990’s).  Perhaps the most outstanding example is a threat passed from the FBI to the Secret Service relating to remarks by James Milteer that various militant right wing groups were actually preparing to attack the President and that they would do so with long range sniper fire from concealed positions in high rise buildings during a motorcade.  That report should have immediately surfaced the fact that close in crowd protection was not nearly enough for presidential security.  Beyond that we know that FBI informants were generating memos about ultra right rifle teams being formed and trained to attack the President. We also know that during JFK’s trip to Miami that fall,  threat reports out of Miami suggested that militant Cuban exiles might use explosives devices, either planted or literally thrown at the President.  On that same trip, Secret Service personnel panicked when items were indeed tossed into the Presidential limo – that turned out to be only candy but the risk of explosives tossed out of a crowd should have been clear.  There appear to have been other threat reports as well,  several of them suggesting rifle or bomb attacks on the president. We know that one individual in Chicago was investigated in regard to a potential rifle attack that fall and more importantly, it appears that another report related to the same trip, came from the FBI and was taken very seriously by the Secret Service – so seriously that personnel from the Secret Service and FBI field office stonewalled investigators from the Assassinations Records Review Board in the 1990’s and refused to discuss it.  At that point in time, against orders, the Secret Service destroyed several files relating to presidential travel in the fall of 1963.

The point in all that history is that there were new types of threats emerging, ones which the standard security practices were not capable of dealing with – as sadly proved in Dallas. Yet the Secret Service made no obvious (or known) changes in security protocol or practices to address such threats.  Whether it was due to a lack of headquarters intelligence coordination, the lack of a threat analysis group or simple inertia is impossible to say.  However, when we fast forward to 2014, when such things are supposedly in place and a major priority years after the attacks of 2001 what do we find?   We find that an individual with a history as a threat to the president can simply jump a White House fence and make it through an unlocked front door into the entry area of the presidential residence.  Does the fact that nobody routinely locked the front door to the White House cause you to shake your head?   Is the lack of any security immediately outside that front door hard to understand?   And how do you feel about the Secret Service response that they are “now” going to start observing passerby’s for individuals that don’t look like tourists?   Did they not get the message about radical Islamists wearing concealed explosive vests? Do they think experienced attackers will wear conspicuous clothing or carry signs?  We have numerous recent examples of “wearable explosives”, some quite powerful.  And of “belly bombs” which could be powerful enough to collapse the entry portico – such weapons have already been used overseas.  Did the Secret Service really not anticipate suicide bombers?   Beyond that, the same week we have a driver, again with a threat history, refusing to stop at the entrance – while the barrier might well have stopped his vehicle, given the amount of extremely high explosive that can be placed in a car trunk or built into the vehicle – not to mention a van,  what would be the propaganda impact of an explosion taking out the street facing wall of the White House.

Perhaps most strikingly, the two incidents occurred within days of the President effectively declaring war on ISIS and radical Islamists anywhere who might be preparing attacks on Americans domestically or overseas.  Did the Secret Service miss the fact that the nation had effectively gone to war? That may sound harsh but certainly in regard to White House security it really stretches the imagination to understand how front door remained unlocked following the President’s televised speeches – and the resultant personal threats from ISIS only days before. If the Secret Service was behind the threat curve in 1963, it appears – at least in terms of White House security – to have been even further behind in September, 2014.  We can only  hope that they catch up really fast…..

 

Beyond ISIS

Well I thought I would let Washington go first on the strategy thing – strangely they never called – so I’ll just following along with a few thoughts.

As I imagined, the Obama Administration chose to go tightly focused on ISIS rather than presenting a broader strategy for the much wider radical jihadi threat – which crosses North Africa and continues on into the Pacific, branching off through the now independent former Soviet Muslim republics across Pakistan and India into Kashmir.   Judging the stumbling response of Congress and much of what I’ve seen on the news the last two days that was the right choice – the American public truly does not understand the broader threat so its best to focus on ISIS.  I saw a tragically sad interview with the House leadership in which the interviewer simply asked why Congress was not moving to prepare not just a new authorization for military force but could not even seem to move on moving funding including  training of surrogates – given that they keep complaining that they want to be part of the process.  His answer was just sad, something to the effect that in the past they have always waited on the Commander in Chief.  Talk about both sides of the mouth…but I digress.

The lack of comprehension is also reflected in all the stumbling over terminology – look folks, it can’t be a “war” unless Congress declares it as one.  That is a Congressional prerogative – so if they want a broader and more aggressive strategy, as I kept hearing on FOX, well then they just need to declare war and fund it.   Of course on the ground it will look like war….would have been best just to say military action or combat and not get wrapped up in it.  Probably the closest to technically correct usage is the Administration portion that ISIS evolved from al Qaeda and the 2001 AUMF allows military action against those groups who organized and supported the 9/11 attacks.  Actually, unlike the military action we have been taking in Somalia, Yemen and in other African locations there is a good argument for ISIS.  Of course then they fell into the trap of implying the AUMF actually provided legal justification similar to Somalia and Yemen…..which it does not.

OK, now that I got that out of my system, there are two major things missing from the ISIS strategy.  The first is the lack of a cyber warfare campaign to eliminate the highly effective ISIS recruiting.  We ought to be taking down any server, email account, Facebook page etc ASAP.  Now clearly there are legal issues there…and the likelihood of offending international relationships.  If we had truly declared war it would be no problem, perhaps a new AUMF might address it but I don’t see Congress having the stomach for that.  All of which means we will be fighting with arm tied behind our backs. The second is even dicier,  the talk is about taking out their funding…..but that has been a goal since 2001 and clearly has not worked (have you asked yourself exactly how ISIS buys all those airline tickets to get its recruits to the fight)?   The only real, bruit force approach to disrupting funding would be to begin publicly identify all those individuals, groups and organizations which actually route money to them – knowingly or unknowingly (find out where the money for the tickets came from; most likely we already know all this).  But since that would embarrass too many of our Arab “allies” its just not going to happen.  So that leaves one arm and at least one leg tied behind the back as we start the combat.   Let’s just pray that nobody tries to impose the same geographic boundaries to actual combat we saw in Vietnam…..or that President Obama begins “channeling” LBJ.