I’m going to use this post to wrap up on Col. Burris and transition back to the subject of National Security and November 22, 1963. There are some good resources for anyone interesting in researching the Burris connection and as I have mentioned, Newman, Morrow, Russo, and additionally Noel Twyman have all written about him and there are good document trails available as well. There are a couple of significant tracks, one having to do with his work for Johnson and his connections to Johnson associates – for example he was clearly in ongoing contact with Cliff Carter and he also appears to have done some business with Mickey Weiner (and if you don’t know about Winer, that trail leads off to Bobby Baker and Fred Black -and if you don’t know the relevance of Fred Black you haven’t read SWHT…grin).
The other trail leads in a totally different direction, to Burris intelligence connections and his probable role in working with various “Boy’s in the Woodwork”, both relaying and providing information. The following is quoted from Twyman and his writing on Burris:
Col. Prouty explained to Twyman that when the White House trumped the military chiefs by taking over the[PN1] awarding of the TFX contract, it created a chasm between the career officers and McNamara, and further, to Kennedy, that “…was a major item for consideration as to the motive in the assassination.”[i] He went further, to suggest that there was someone else that Twyman had not mentioned, someone who might be a “hot item.” When Twyman then mentioned the “back channel” connection to the CIA’s Vietnam assessments – information that neither McNamara nor JFK even had access to – and read him a “TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY” memorandum written by Colonel Howard L. Burris, LBJ’s military aide on July 20, 1961, Prouty exclaimed, “There is the hot item.” Burris at that time was one of the most important of the Pentagon men. [ii] Prouty said that he and Burris had been friends and neighbors for awhile, but that the last he knew of Burris was that he retired in 1964 and later became a wealthy oil man, with operations in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries throughout the world. The circumstances of his retirement shortly after the assassination, followed by his stunningly quick success as a lobbyist and international businessman in the oil industry, make Colonel Burris one of the most enigmatic, yet least researched and little understood figures closest to Lyndon B. Johnson as of November, 1963.
One of Col. Burris’ early assignments, in May 1961, was to accompany Johnson on the trip to Vietnam. To prepare for that trip, he was rehearsed on how to control LBJ, and told what he could say or could not say to the vice president. What he found suggests that he thought Johnson had a rather provincial and shallow understanding of the culture, economy, history and concerns of Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular: As reported in a previous chapter, Col. Burris said that, “I don’t think he had a really deep perception and comprehension of what the whole scene was about.”[iii] This trip – despite Johnson’s miserable performance, as previously described – would mark the start of what would become Johnson’s secret back-channel to the CIA, which provided him unfiltered intelligence information that unavailable to either McNamara or Kennedy. Author Gus Russo confirmed this when he stated that Burris had personally told him that “…Johnson had back-channel sources at the CIA that kept him apprised of such matters.”[iv]
And I need to point out that as an aide to Johnson, Burris was permitted to attend some meeting representing Johnson that were extremely classified. In fact, a memo from Burris offers our only public view into an extremely secret meeting in which the National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee offered an assessment of U.S./Soviet strategic atomic capabilities that was felt to offer the U.S. an actual “first strike” opportunity against the Soviets. That presentation occured on July 20, 1961 and estimated that from June-December 1963 the U.S. would have an overwhelming advantage with some 185 ICBM’s and over 3,400 deliverable atomic weapons. Reportedly the serious consideration and support for an actual first strike in some quarters provoked an extremely negative reaction from President Kennedy. There has been some speculation that Soviet’s recognition of the imminent US advantage and discussion of first strike had been a factor in the extremely risky decision to deploy a major IRBM force in Cuba.
In any event, Burris’s position was a significant one and offered considerable opportunity to influence Johnson and also to get feedback on Johnson’s views – the sort of thing both the CIA and Pentagon Air Force staff would both find highly attractive. Burris’ position on several key military projects such as the TFX, his connection to folks who wanted to influence strategic thinking on Vietnam – both are possible explanations for the mystery trip to Dallas. My personal view is that the Col. was “carrying the bag” for somebody on that trip and whatever was in the bag was of considerable importance.