This is the third post addressing a perennial question in regard to conspiracy in the murder of President Kennedy. It was actually the first question asked by his brother on the afternoon of the assassination – asked to the Director of the CIA. Robert Kennedy directly asked the Director whether or not the CIA had been involved in the assassination. Tipping Point explores the context which led RFK to immediately suspect the CIA and its anti-Castro surrogates in the covert efforts to oust Fidel Castro.
However, Director McCone was not part of the long time OSS cadre which had launched the CIA into the Cold War nor did he have any extensive operational experience. McCone had come out of the private sector and himself had very little experience in intelligence, he had largely been dealing with strategic national security issues such as the Soviet missile crisis and the American involvement in SE Asia. While he had opposed the coup against Diem, he was in support of JFK’s plan to accelerate covert military action against North Vietnam. Some solid context in regard to his relationship with JFK is contained in the following paper:
Looking downwards inside the Agency in 1963, in regard to political assassination things had changed from the era of the Dulles brothers. Richard Bissell was gone and no longer represented the nexus for assassination suggested by the in house gossip that described he and Tracy Barnes as being in charge of the CIA’s “health alteration committee”.
Richard Helms followed Bissell as the key player responsible for regime change activities, including efforts where assassination remained an option. However Helms was more of a political (read career oriented) animal (having protected himself by avoiding the the disastrous Cuba Project) and an expert at even internal deniablity. When he turned over political assassination to William Harvey in Staff D, he did so in such a matter that even Harvey could only guess at where the orders were originating. One thing that can be said about Helms is simply that nobody, including Congress, could expect the whole truth from him.
In one sense its hard to see Helms committing himself to anything other than his career, of being an efficient administrator and a generic defender of the Agency. He was so effective and so sincere at doing those things that he developed a real reputation for honesty. As noted in the proceeding that reputation should have been considered as quite “situational” but it did stick though most of his career. This article gives some interesting insight into Helms and why he was trusted as a source when he most likely should not have been https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/the-rise-and-fall-of-richard-helms-191224/
As to political assassination specifically, by 1962 Helms had assigned that task to William Harvey – but Harvey had run afoul of RFK during the Mongoose project (both men were “hands on” and Harvey had no respect at all for RFK based on his lack of experience and personal engagement with anti-Castro Cuban activists). Still, Castro remained a declared target and even though Harvey was reassigned in 1963 its difficult to tell exactly when and if Harvey’s program against Castro actually shut down (it may have been even more difficult for those involved). Certainly Harvey stayed in the Staff D intelligence loop through the summer of 1963. However in terms of assassination, that appears to have moved over a topic being discussed under the new head of the anti-Castro effort, Desmond Fitzgerald.
So for a “tops down” CIA plot against JFK, the most well placed people to contemplate such a thing, and with access to the assets to make it happen (in particular in a form which would use anti-Castro assets and attempt to blame the attack on Fidel Castro), would seem to be Helms, Fitzgerald or Harvey. Note: While some will still champion Dulles, who retained some high level influence with old line CIA cadre, he would have to have personally co-opted someone within the CIA’s operations directorate, with direct access to assets either via Staff D or in Miami. Either that or taken entirely separate measures outside the Agency.
So back to “tops down” inside the Agency. In considering Richard Helms it is hard to picture him as a virulent enemy of President Kennedy – or even willing to later smear his reputation when pressured to do so under the Nixon Administration:
He certainly did not agree with JFK on all points and during 1963 was unilaterally opposed to any number of administration discussions of negotiations with Castro or a a change in the basic regime change strategy. This is clear in an ongoing series of documents and extends into the fall when JFK informed the CIA of his back channel contacts with Castro.
Helms openly opposed it, came up with a variety of delaying tactics (such as “war gaming” contacts before any dialog began) and began efforts to monitor and possibly obstruct the Cuban side of the effort – targeting Castro’s contact personnel via CIA assets at the UN, via Miami Station and even thorough AMOT intelligence collection in Mexico City. He was definitely in the “opposition” camp, but very openly and very bureaucratically.
Next down, and someone with a much more direct control over assets, would be Fitzgerald. However all signs are that he had signed on to the administration regime change track and was busying himself with all the new projects ranging from AMTRUNK and AMLASH to autonomous action via AMWORLD and even direct action using JMWAVE for the new Commando Mambises missions. If anything he was excited by the fact that as of October he had managed to get JFK to approve an entire series of new sabotage missions against Cuba.
Finally, there remains William Harvey, no longer in the direct chain of command (although exactly who would know he was not is an open question) and with experience under Mongoose which involved not only John Roselli but direct contacts with the full range of JMWAVE operations personnel and with a good many of their Cuban assets – including personnel involved in both poison and sniper attacks on Castro. Given his personally acknowledged and highly emotional attitudes towards both RFK and JFK, he would seem one credible starting point inside the agency, even if no longer in the direct chain of command. Beyond that there is every reason to believe he was capable of autonomous action and attracted similar personalities to himself…a classic man of action.
Of course the question remains as to whether Harvey would even have been necessary, certainly he was in no position to manage or direct the operational aspects of an attack in Dallas, or of the framing of Lee Oswald.
But that is a different question entirely.
Could I ask if you think Harvey could have effectively co-ordinated a conspiracy from Rome in the later part of ‘63?
The underlying assumption behind my question is that LHO’s movements in the last few months before the assassination seem unlikely to be entirely fortuitous from the point of view of the conspirators. If the patsy was selected in the summer in New Orleans, as seems credible, his presence in a suitable location in Dallas (and possibly his actions in Mexico City) can hardly be entirely coincidental snd must have involved some guidance and control and possibly knowledge snd contacts relevant to at least Dallas and possibly Mexico as well.
Harvey’s Staff D role and his Task Force W role gave him deep knowledge of operations in Miami, Mexico City and probably New Orleans. I’m not sure about Dallas though….?
Of course there could have been a small number of people involved at that level, rather than just one. The common threads that run through LHOs actions in that time period seem to relate partially to propaganda / political action and partially to CI activities (just in terms of how they would relate to the Agency)….which does rather make me wonder about Attlee-Philipps and Angleton, but with nothing more than indications to go on of course. Would you have a view on the relative probabilities of these three candidates, Harvey, Angleton snd Attlee Phillips?
First off I need to let everyone know that I suffered a major PC crash so my ability to post is going to be really limited for an unknown time at this point.
A quick answer is no I don’t think he could or would even have wanted operational level control….that sort of thing would go down to the field level as it had with the Castro assassination efforts (and others). Harvey would only need to incite it and give make sure people like Morales and Roselli were running it. Then its up to the field officers and their surrogates to make it happen.
Given that those assets would have included DRE members it would have been easy enough to add contact in New Orleans via Miami station Cuban assets and carry that all the way into setting up Oswald from Houston to Dallas in a handful of incidents. DRE and Miami station were already using Oswald for propaganda, easy enough to piggyback something else on top of that without anyone really noticing…would not require someone at Phillips level and certainly not Angleton.
it would be a mistake to underestimate the capabilities of the cadre of field CIA officers and their Cuban exile assets who had been working together for over three years in efforts including everything from CIA and propaganda to rifle attacks on Castro.
That’s very interesting and potentially testable to some extent. If Harvey’s role was purely that of an instigator with operational command and control entirely done at a lower level we’d need to be able to see how someone like Morales, drawing on the connections of Roselli and colleagues amongst the anti-Castro groups could have put the whole thing together.
In terms of Attlee Philips, ifit is correct that the plan went wrong with Oswald’s arrest that might account for the oddly poor quality phase 1 propaganda stories trying to pin the blame on Cuba….that would indeed argue against Attlee Philipps being a participant in the plot.
The two areas I am less clear on in terms of if Morales could have done it all are the initial set up in Dallas and Mexico City ( Roselli does give a very clear connection into the Chicago mob and therefore Ruby).
Perhaps counter-intuitively the rather clear CI fingerprints on Mexico City (e.g. the role of CI/SIG in managing the contents of LHO’s 201 file and in shaping the ‘smoking memos’) now makes me think Angleton is not a strong suspect. That view is based on the ‘how to do an assassination’ guide that Harvey wrote and you discuss in Tipping Point…specifically the importance of minimising any paper trail. That is a change of view on my part. That said Mexico City looks very odd to me and I’m far from convinced we have got to the bottom of exactly what was going on…some of the most popular scenarios don’t make logical sense to me.
That said none of this has really tight evidence one way or the other. If however Morales could be shown to have the contacts, resources and operational latitude to pull off the whole thing (allowing for LHO being used for ‘normal’ activities in parallel), then you could well have the simplest scenario.
Good luck to you and your colleagues with this…it’s surprising how far the forensic analysis that is being done has taken things already…
As I see it there are four elements to the conspiracy, first. the recruitment of a skilled tactical paramilitary team – easily handled by Morales with assistance from maritime officers such as Robertson or Lynch. Second, a connection for field intelligence and selective local support in Dallas…easily and independently handled by Roselli via established connections to Ruby.,
As part of that second element it would be helpful to have a trusted liaison to Dallas and to Ruby, handled by someone who had become familiar and trusted by Morales and Robertson only a couple of months earlier – John Martino, with a ready made cover in is book and media activities. That connection has been well documented.
Finally, a connection to Lee Oswald, to track him, manipulate him and piggyback on sanctioned CIA operations being conducted against Lechuga and Duran – that operation involved Sforza’s AMOTs, operating independently in México city and cooperation between Emilio and Phillips (documented in Tipping Point). Easy enough to use DRE assets under the control of Miami station, reporting to case officers for propaganda but also with a history directly to both Morales as the military case officer for DRE and to the maritime operations officers such as Robertson who had been using them in missions over the past two years.
I very largely agree. Could I play Devil’s advocate on a couple of details?
There’s no doubt that action was underway against various Cuban staff in Mexico City and there is documentation which sets out some of the details of that. Can I ask how LHO’s actions in Mexico City might play into an effort to achieve a recruitment in place? They usually involved building a relationship and often involved assets known to the target. LHO, on the other hand behaved provocatively, was argumentative, somewhat suspiciously and was caught out lyeing. At first sight that seems like behaviour more calculated to provoke a negative reaction and perhaps communication with Havana and Moscow than anything else, but perhaps I am missing an angle on this?
There is then the two ‘smoking memos’ at least one and possibly both of which look like ‘marked cards’ and the modifications to his 201 file…
The other question is more on Dallas, but can follow…
The first problem is that we don’t know if it was the real Oswald or someone using his identity – what makes that even worse is that if he had already been “hijacked” by the conspiracy he might have been given orders contrary to any “sanctioned” mission. In that regard, some of his reported behavior in Mexico City, even threatening JFK over being rejected, is very much in line with a “loose cannon”, the same image telephoned back to Odio after the visit in Dallas – someone who could turn on virtually anyone at any time.
Beyond that we don’t know that there might not have been independent, compartmentalized missions going on which created confusion even within the CIA – certainly there are signs of that with information being internally hidden, and of a covert SAS operation going on.
Bottom line is that I think we can lay out some sanctioned activities using Oswald, or even just his identity, but with as many threads crossing, with piggybacked operations and insiders in the conspiracy having their own agenda I’m afraid fully understanding Mexico City is impossible with the information currently in hand.
Yes, very tricky to pin down precisely what was going on.
If you get the chance it might be worth having a look at the paper trail around LAROB, who was being run jointly by the FBI and CIA, and the sequence of documents between MEXI and Langley with an LCIMPROVE slug line in summer and autumn of 63.
There was a lot of concern about a possible ‘high level of penetration’ of the FBI and a lot of CI activity around that. This had been building up for a couple of months prior to LHOs trip to Mexico and seems to come to a crescendo in early October with teams going down to do polygraph tests on various people etc.
Then you have the point of Egerter starting to move documents out of his 201 just days before he left New Orleans and then the two ‘marked card’ memo in October and I do rather wonder if these events are not entirely unrelated to each other. For example, if his provocative behaviour (and personal history as a defector) might not have been designed to provoke a reaction to see if the marked cards got picked up.
It’s just a theory but it would be nice to see if it stood up to scrutiny by some of those more expert than I am.