CIA Autonomy


By mid-1963 President Kennedy was well into several initiatives that were moving covert military operations away from the CIA, and personnel in the CIA Directorate of Operations were not happy with that direction.  JFK had already transferred covert operations against North Vietnam to the Army and 1962 had seen the multi-agency Mongoose program against Cuba – with the CIA strictly in a support role. By the summer of 1963 JFK was looking at several options, including turning covert Cuban operations over to the military (if he determined to return to that tactic), exploring a totally autonomous offshore Cuban exile initiative with AMWORLD, and even pursuing the possibility of some sort of political accommodation with the Castro regime if Castro was willing to break from the Soviets.


The President had taken a number of measures to ensure oversight and control of CIA operations against Cuba, requiring sabotage projects to be proposed and reviewed in detail.  The Special Group Augmented was also tasked with increased oversight of all covert operations. However we have reason to suspect that control was not nearly as complete as intended.

We have indications that the CIA, in particular the Directorate of Plans/Operations was still capable of acting acting quite autonomously, certainly at the level of JMWAVE activities – which included infiltration, exfiltration, intelligence collection and limited support for the few on- island resistance groups still rumored to exist.  The extent of that operational autonomy can illustrated in one particular operation which came to be designated as TILT.


I’ve written about TILT before but my friends David Boylan and Bill Simpich continue to dig up documents which provide further insight – and a dramatic illustration of how JFK could indeed be isolated from extremely risky field activities. In the case of TILT, a mission which if it has come out as planned, would literally have shaken his administration to the core, very possibly shattering JFK’s chances for reelection.


Amazingly TILT did not even have its roots within the CIA, it evolved over a matter of months, based on rumors of Soviet missile technicians who had defected to a resistance group inside Cuba – individuals willing to reveal that Soviet ballistic missions and atomic warheads remained inside Cuba. Ultimately the rumor came to the attention of two powerful individuals highly critical of Kennedy’s actions on Cuba, William Pawley and James Eastland. Background on the project can be found in Chapter 1 of Someone Have Talked or at the following link:


William Pawley, had a long history with the CIA, including acting as a special advisor to President Eisenhower on the performance of the Agency.  He also had close personal connections to senior CIA officers such as J.C. King, Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division, Ted Shackley, Chief of Station at JMWAVE and Marshall Carter, CIA Deputy Director. In regard to the reports of Soviet defectors inside Cuba, Pawley approached both Shackley and Carter, offering his own resources and asking for JMWAVE support in extracting them.

Ultimately the operation evolved into a rather complex mission including multiple boats, a PBY type plane, a set of totally unvetted Cuban exile volunteers led by Eddie Bayo and the personal involvement of William Pawley, John Martino, Richard Billings of LIFE Magazine and a LIFE photo journalist.

None of the Cubans were cleared through standard CIA security protocols or given operational approval. And from a security standpoint, having two LIFE magazine employees recording the mission – as well as the implication that the information and ultimately the Russians would be passed on to Senator Eastland’s committee – is totally outside the boundaries of standard CIA practice.

Yet as the following documents reveal, it all happened and the mission was signed off on by various operations personnel including Deputy Director Marshall Carter and COS Shackley. Indeed the chief of the Cuba project, Desmond Fitzgerald was also read into the program at a certain point.

Incredibly, there is no sign that approval went above these individuals, to the Director of the CIA and certainly not to the Special Group Augmented, RFK or the President himself.  The Operations staff at JMWAVE acted totally autonomously in supporting the mission, treating it as an intelligence collections effort, risky but within their mandate. The political implications of success were studiously avoided in the written exchanges among all parties.

I’ve written about the TILT mission itself in great detail, providing both action and after action reports by Rip Robertson (Rutherford) and David Morales. The mission itself failed, with the officers in charge determining they had essentially been scammed, with Bayo using them simply to get a well-armed resistance team into Cuba.

Perhaps most amazingly, even the most basic security cleanup was not done, with the LIFE photographer simply walking off with his film.  It didn’t go into LIFE itself, but did later appear in a soldier of fortune magazine – which is why you can see it yourself in the following photos.

All of which suggests that a great deal more autonomy within CIA field operations than the President realized, or that anyone within among the JMWAVE field personnel appear to have questioned.



In Plain Sight

Covert and deniable military/paramilitary activities continue to be one of my main interests. While I spend most of my research and writing time on historical operations, I do try to keep abreast of contemporary activities, especially changes in practices and emerging trends. As Stu Wexler and I described in Shadow Warfare, one of the most dramatic trends over the last couple of decades has been the moves by both the United States and the Russian Federation to conduct paramilitary operations in the open.  That includes operations both to support favored regimes and activities designed to overthrow or otherwise bring about regime change.

The U.S. began that trend in its response to the 9/11 attacks, sending covert/deniable CIA paramilitary personnel to Afghanistan in an effort to oust the Taliban regime. Extensive pains were taken to covertly infiltrate the CIA officers, later joined by only a handful of regular military when it became clear that forward air control and target illumination would become key to the air campaign that emerged.

Of course initially no one anticipated what would become a decade’s long war, one fought by conventional, uniformed military forces using a truly immense amount of combat air support. And it has to be noted that the CIA went into Afghanistan at a time when the Bush Administration was still advocating a purely tactical hunt and kill type response to Al Qaeda, and swearing that it would never enter into regime building or policing in that nation.

The next stage in what became a move towards overt practice came with the decision to actually hire American contract paramilitary – Backwater – personnel to provide personal security for the new Afghan government leadership. Objectively it seems that it would be a bad sign if the designated leader has to have foreign military security – it seems to echo the practices of the European global empire era. Now with decades worth of Afghan experience that might now be truly viewed as having been a leading indicator to future problems.

Using contract paramilitaries to provide leadership security is one thing, deploying them as a security force to deal with protests and insurgency is another – and of course that was the next phase in Afghanistan, prior to full scale American military deployment. After a number of high profile examples of the risks associated with private military contracting firms, the weaknesses of such practices (perhaps “temptation” is a better word) would seem to be pretty apparent – however as recently as 2018 a serious effort was made within the Trump Administration to actually turn over the war against the Taliban to a Blackwater like private contractor.

While that 2018 effort appears to have failed for the present, events soon demonstrated that Russia was more than willing to implement the same model – in Syria – as a counterpoint to their conventional military presence there.

While the Russian contractor experience in Syria appears not to have proved nearly as effective as it had the Crimea, there is no sign that President Putin has any intention of abandoning it as an option.  Its 2019 and the private Russian military contractors remain a tool for the Russian Federation – reported arriving in the Sudan and most recently in Venezuela.

Its obvious that Russia has increasingly turned to the private contractor model (with financial relationships protected by a network of shell companies which make the CIA fronts of the Cold War look like elementary school ventures by comparison). However the United States has moved to a primary reliance on its Joint Special Operations Command, its Military Assistance Groups and on joint military exercises. All with the stated intent of preserving regimes that it feels are vital to national security – and in pushing back against terrorist groups prior to their gaining an international reach.

On one hand all this openness seems like a good thing. Activities  that were once done under cover are now in view in plain sight, announced in American news releases. Or with Russia at least tracked though the movement of  unmarked aircraft and the appearance of “little green men” in camouflage uniforms.

Of course being “in plain sight” doesn’t seem to have the impact that it once carried. Statements and actions that would have amazed us during the Cold War are making routine appearances in political campaigns and presidential news conferences. It seems clear that the public has come to accept things that would have shocked it into action in earlier decades  – or perhaps its just that nobody cares that much about reality as compared to the internet?

Still, there remains a possibility that there are still covert things going on behind the scenes. In fact some rather “old school” practices may still be in play on occasion.

Mind Games

One of the topics that comes up in regard to the political assassinations of the 1960’s is that of “programmed assassins”, a concept largely ingrained in the popular psyche by the movie “Manchurian Candidate” and reinforced repeatedly over the following decades in articles and books.  Perhaps the most active discussion has been around Sirhan Sirhan and the assassination of Robert Kennedy Jr.  However other attacks have raised the same thoughts, including the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

In addressing the topic it is important to isolate the type of total mind control envisioned in the MKULTRA project, where personalities were literally destroyed and presumably reconstructed to design, from practices such as “brainwashing” and hypnosis. I certainly urge anyone interested to read some of the historical studies of MKULTRA, they are tragic but they will give you a good handle on how personality deconstructions can be done, and insight into how difficult it is to reconstruct even a minimally functional personality when certain of the techniques are used. These two sources give some balance, one from the CIA and the other from a medical professional, both are available from Amazon. Some of the CIA historical material is also available online.

Its beyond sad but the medical information is necessary to get a true appreciation for the techniques themselves – and what is required in terms of time and materials to implement them  – certainly there is/was a wide variety and some methods were much more invasive (requiring prolonged treatments) than others.

A deeper study is really vital to give you a much fuller understanding of the difference in the real medical practices and that of brain washing/conditioning, which often requires both sensory deprivation and torture.  And which in turn is far different from hypnosis or even practices such as visualization.

With all that as context, I participated in a discussion of the overall topic, especially as it might relate to the RFK assassination, in a recent podcast – which you can find here:

My contributions during the program were largely from my own studies of Sirhan Sirhan and his various experiences with hypnosis, self hypnosis, visualization, auto suggestion and a variety of other similar techniques – all of which were observed by his family, and which he eagerly and openly shared with several of his friends and associates.

For some reason, those practices and the guidance Sirhan received from his “new age” guru Thomas Rathke do not get much mention discussion these days. Nor does the letter that researcher Lynn Mangun, a friend of the Sirhan family, recovered which contained a warning to Sirhan that he must stop certain of his practices before something terrible happened.

Those points and are great deal of related information including Sirhan’s remarks during police interrogation immediately following the shooting are covered in one part of a series of my essays on the RFK assassination that  you can find at the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

My own opinions on Sirhan Sirhan and his susceptibility to  hypnosis and experience with it and related practices is described in both the article and the interview so there should be no need to go into that further here – in what has become a really long post.


Roads Taken


Questions keep coming up in regard to certain items of my earlier JFK research (almost 30 years overall at this point ) – some of the most frequent are about the DalTex Building and Dallas Uranium and Oil, Ray January and Red Bird Airport and about the 112th Military Intelligence (Corp) Group and the purported “security stand down” in Dallas.

By this time I think a search on my blog posts here were answer most questions about the first two, for that matter I’ve recently including more information about Ray January and Red Bird in certain of the Wheaton Names posts that I have been making here.

In regard to the 112th, I did author a research study on that which is available from JFK Lancer; that CD contains a host of relevant documents on the 112th (primarily from the work of the ARRB) as well as studies and documents on John Martino, Richard Case Nagell, Frank (Fiorini) Sturgis and others. You can get the CD from Lancer here:

However I also wrote an extended article on the 112th for JFK Lancer’s Kennedy Assassination Chronicles and I think it will answer a lot of questions; it includes information on the Dallas 112th office as well as the headquarters group. To a large extent it is based on ARRB era document releases.

You can find that article here:

Finally, I’ve also gotten lots of questions about my research (with my friend Glen Cressy) into the mysteries of Fred Crisman and Thomas Beckham, a subject which bridges the venues of both JFK research and the history of UFO’s…not necessarily in a good way. Fortunately Lancer also made the effort to put that extensive collection of documents and commentary on CD and you can find it here:

The Crisman saga is strange indeed, even a handful of such characters is enough to poison a very large well.

Hopefully this will help anyone visiting here that may have interests in these topics, if I’ve missed something you are interested in let me know. Perhaps I’ve done some work on it – looking back I’m amazed I survived venturing off into just the areas listed above.


Long time readers of my posts will know that I write about a broad range of subjects that I feel relate to national security, including the political assassinations of the 1960’s as well as topics of military history and political warfare.  All of which means that I’m occasionally venturing out on a limb in regard to some subjects, even though I remain stringent about documentation and source vetting when I do so.

Probably the best example of that is my work on UFO’s as an issue of national security, covered in my book Unidentified; The National Security problem of UFO’s.

It’s certainly a challenging subject but my approach is historical and security related, evaluating the history of military reports from a threat and warnings intelligence perspective.  Apart from the book itself I remain active in studies and analysis, and was pleased to recently be voted onto the board of a group devoted to the scientific study of the subject – the Scientific Coalition for UFOlogy.

The SCU will be hosting its first research conference this spring, in Huntsville Alabama.  I’ve included a link which discusses the conference.

In addition, I’m working on a project involving pattern and trend analysis related to the physical and flight characteristics of a set of  very high quality, close range incident reports covering a period of several decades.  I’m doing that with my friend and fellow SCU Board member Robert Powell, who has most recently been involved with an SCU study of what has become known as the Nimitz incident, involving multiple military contacts including films of extremely anomalous aerial craft.  I’ve included a link for that as well.

I hope you find the subject interesting; feel free to ask any questions that occur to you here or by email at  I’m continuing my other work as well but thought an update on this subject was in order.

Robert’s work on the Nimitz incident is discussed in the following interview:



Threats and Warnings – Conclusion

One of the comments to my previous post quite accurately pointed out the fundamental problem in evaluating whether the threat/warning cycle is actually working –  if it’s working well you may never know it, at least until threats are aborted and announcements are made.  While that is quite true for discrete, operational threats, it may be possible to get a sense of whether or not the overall system is being “optimized” for a given period of time.

Optimization requires that all elements are working on the same priorities, that resources are allocated according to those priorities, that there are no known threats which are being neglected and that all parties are equally engaged.  And “all parties” not only means the different agencies and services involved in intelligence collections and analysis, it includes the national political leadership that issues the directions that drive the resources and priorities. If that leadership is not issuing directions and personally engaging with the threats and warnings identified by the intelligence community exposures arise.  One of the most contemporary and dramatic examples of disconnects in priorities and engagement can be found during the six months prior to the attacks on America in 2001.

An easy enough failure to see in retrospect, however even at the time it would have been clear that there were some serous disconnects between the foreign policy priorities and objectives of the new Bush Administration and data that was being developed within segments of the intelligence community. That can be seen not only in the complaints of senior advisors such as Richard Clarke (the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism) but with indications in the public record. Those I found them in a mind numbing dive into a variety of 9/11 interviews as well as in contemporary committee testimony – the sort of thing nobody ever reads until something goes terribly wrong.

It is indeed possible to gain insight into any administration’s actual priorities on threats and national security.  A starting point is to check the national security directives which are being issued (specifically those related to intelligence) – those essentially direct the intelligence communities as well as the security agencies as to where they should be focusing their resources. You can find a historical lists and even contemporary lists online; under the Trump Administration these directives are not referred to as National Security Presidential Memorandums and only one to date appears to deal directly with intelligence. :

That directive deals with “offensive” cyberwarfare. However there are no signs of directives for defensive cyberwarfare, for addressing social media warfare or any directives relating specifically to Russian political warfare or interference in American elections.  Nor are there any specific memorandums dealing with intelligence community or agency threats to the actual mechanics of the elections process at either the state for federal level.

In terms of numbers of such directives, the Trump Administration’s engagement with the intelligence community can be compared to other administrations. President Reagan issued 9 intelligence related directives, President H.W. Bush 4, Clinton 2, George W. Bush 2 and President Obama 2. The titles of each are on record, even if the documents themselves are confidential.  Obama’s two directives dealt with cyberwarfare and signals intelligence. He also supported and signed legislation to significantly increase the authorities of the Director of National Intelligence and among other things require “vulnerabilities” studies that would be reviewed with the President and forwarded to Congress.

With reference to this public record, it is also possible to get a feel for the existence of any “disconnects” between the Presidents’ priorities and the assessments of the national intelligence community.  Those assessments show up both in extended written reports and in Congressional testimony.—SSCI.pdf—Unclassified-SSCI.pdf

Readers can make their own assessments as to whether the current threats and warnings expressed by the intelligence community are in sync with the priorities and focus of President Trump and his administration.  As to my own concerns, I’ll illustrate them out with a few references.  I’ll leave you to read them and draw your own conclusions.

And as a closing note, check out these recent news items, suggesting why you should perhaps be more worried than you were….and why President Trump might want to reconsider his priorities….

Threats and Warnings – Part 2

Is America’s threat and warnings intelligence (referred to as “strategic intelligence”) working, or is it increasingly broken, divorced from reality?  And how can that question even be asked at a time when national technical collections themselves are arguably so sophisticated, so pervasive and pragmatically so effective that they frighten some citizens?  There is simply no doubt that intelligence collections are at an unprecedented level.  If you want to dig into the true scope and reach of technical collections I can only refer you to Jeffrey Richelson’s most recent work on the US. Intelligence Community (it’s some 600 pages, and that’s really just a good overview).

The good news is that those capabilities allow us an unprecedented ability to monitor what foreign actors such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and China are actually doing. The question is whether or not the same confidence can be found in the overall intelligence “system” – “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network”.

Modern strategic intelligence began with the onset of the Cold War, focused on assessing the Soviet Union and the likelihood and potential timing of preemptive warfare against the West. By January, 1948 a newly formed Joint Intelligence Committee was forecasting that open war with the Soviets could commence within a year.  In its early years “warnings” intelligence was devoted almost entirely to the anticipation of military action by Communist bloc countries against the United States and its allies, or against other nations nominally part of the Western bloc – it was being developed to serve as a key decision making element for the President.

Cynthia Grabo, one of the earliest post-war practitioners of the specialty, wrote that President Truman was an avid reader of intelligence reports, yet he became confounded by conflicting opinions and assessments regarding the possibility that Stalin would move to take control of Berlin.  At that point Truman pointedly asked who it was that was monitoring and consolidating all the intelligence being produced. He wanted someone to reconcile them all and give him a single, intelligence assessment. When told there was no mechanism to provide a unified opinion he became adamant that would change – and change quickly.

Given the challenge of inter-agency rivalry, it took several days – and some strong words from President Truman – for the committee to reach an estimate they could all accept. The ensuing Soviet blockade of Berlin kept the new committee at work updating their estimate for the remainder of 1948. After the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency an internal weekly Situation Summary began to be compiled; it was used by the CIA Director in personal briefings of President Truman. With the establishment of the CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence, that office began creating a daily summary which evolved into the Current Intelligence Bulletin, first issued in 1951.

President’s Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were all avid consumers of intelligence materials, following his election President Kennedy requested that a new format for the daily report be developed, condensed to a smaller number of pages so that he could carry it with him for quick reference in discussions and decision making. President Johnson was also an avid consumer of intelligence and also directed revisions in the format, which continued virtually unchanged into contemporary times – the one obvious change being that President Obama request an electronic version that could be carried on a personal tablet device, giving him a form of portable reference similar to President Kennedy’s.

Samples of the intelligence checklists provided to President’s Kennedy and Johnson have now been released and are available for public review:

While the PDB is highly classified, portions of it have historically gone to the Secretaries of State, Defense and the president’s national security advisor. A more limited version (the National Intelligence Daily) is distributed more broadly including to select members of Congress.  The material in the PDB represents the consolidation of thousands of intelligence professional’s work – with today’s resources this represents an almost unimaginable amount of intelligence collections.

The goal of the PDB briefings is not only to make the President aware of new intelligence regarding sensitive situations but to provide an opportunity for detailed discussion, and presidential direction on intelligence focus and priorities. Without a doubt, the president’s engagement with the PDB and with his intelligence briefs (historically conducted by the CIA director and now available from the Director of National Intelligence) provide a measure of how actively the Commander in Chief is involved with the intelligence community.

Of course each president has their own style as a consumer of intelligence, some prefer to spend extensive time reading while others want the active give an take of dialog in extended sessions – both President’s Kennedy and Obama appear to have been oriented towards reading while Johnson wanted a lively intelligence dialog.  Presidents such as Nixon, Carter, and Reagan George W. Bush appear to have relied heavily on their National Security Advisors to research and filter the intelligence product for them – as well as establishing the  priorities for follow-on briefings related to outstanding threats and warnings.

When a president is actively engaged with threats and warnings intelligence – and makes the right decisions on priorities – the process works well. In Surprise Attack (Chapter 16; “Shadow Boxing”), I describe how in two separate instances President Clinton and his national security staff engaged with new types of emerging terror threats, in both instances quick engagement and proactive changes in priorities neutralized actual threats – in the Bojinka Airlines bombing and the Millennium bombing plots of 1995 and 99.

Unfortunately, in 2001, with the intelligence community sounding alarms about impending attacks, the engagement process failed at both the level of the presidential briefings and the priority setting for staff dialogs on imminent threats and warnings. That story is far more complex than can be detailed here but ultimately the PDB which was involved in its earliest stages was released to the public – as was a White House response on the PDB itself.

What was not released in the White House statement were the failed efforts of the President’s special advisor on counter terrorism to gain access to raise the visibility of impending attacks or a special briefing given to President Bush at his ranch in Texas on August 6, 1961 (“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States”).

The upshot of it all was that there was “no formal tasking” coming out of the intelligence briefings, no elevation of threat levels, no change in priorities or special White House pressure on the FBI or the CIA field offices (as there had been with the threat related to the Millennium plot of 1999) – and no new national security directives from the President’s office.

The attacks on America in 2001 illustrate the critical nature of threat and warnings intelligence as a total “closed loop” system.  The first stage is collecting, analyzing and compiling extremely current information to provide to the decision makers.  Completing the loop relies on the decision makers allocating the time and focus to engage with the intelligence on a daily basis, to change their priorities as it changes and to ensure that their own political priorities and concerns to not override the facts that are being provided to them. Which leads us back to the question of current threat and warnings intelligence in the United States.

If the reporting is accurate, President Trump is not an eager consumer of professional intelligence. Unlike the majority of his predecessors he rarely (if ever) reads the full President’s Daily Brief, relying only on oral briefings on selected topics.

On the other hand, some past presidents – LBJ and Richard Nixon being a prime examples – were not enthusiastic readers either, and reading does not translate into engagement.  A more positive view of Trump’s engagement comes from CIA Director Pompeo:

You can read these articles and reach your own opinion in regard to the level of the president’s intelligence community engagement.

But beyond that there are much more objective measurements of how well the overall process is working – leading us to actual work products such as national security directives, presidential decision and study directives and White House proposals for security related legislation. Those are things that most definitely can be measured, and not only measured but matched to the threats being reported to the President and to Congress by the intelligence community. That should give us an indication of whether the full intelligence cycle is working – or whether there is evidence of the sorts of failures that, in retrospect, can now be seen to have begun to emerge during 2001.

Threats and Warnings

Given my recent series of JFK related posts, newer readers of this blog may not be aware that I tend to research and write more broadly than on the political assassinations of the 1960’s.  It’s true that I am involved in some pretty focused and intense JFK related work at the moment but my overall interests are in the areas of the intelligence communities (primarily American and Russian), national security issues, and what is broadly described in the military as command and control (C3 / communications, command and control) – if you want to be really contemporary it’s now C4 / communications, command, control and intelligence.  Never can have too many acronyms…

You will find those interests, and my work on them, in my books Shadow Warfare, Surprise Attack and most recently Creating Chaos – which focuses on American and Russian political warfare, including information and social media warfare.  Given high degree of strangeness in current events, and the mix of hybrid and political warfare that had become very real, I’ve moved into paying more attention to the present – essentially wrestling with an attempt to put today’s events into some sort of historical perspective. If nothing else, to evaluate how bad things really are at the moment. I’m also pondering a fourth book in the national security series, which would deal with the pitfalls of military assistance – but sales of these types of titles are not great, publishers want something more sensational and penetrating the media world with a new history book, unless it’s a tell-all of some sort or a memoir of a Washington figure (lots of people writing those books at present, heavy competition) it’s a very hard to convince a publisher that it’s even a break even investment.

So, for the moment I’m going to do a few posts on contemporary issues.  One of the most obvious of those relates to the subject of national security – “threats and warnings” and how they are being handled in Washington D.C. That is now quite different than how they are being handled in NATO, which is generally elevating its game, while Washington has largely retired to the dugout (I want it to be an early spring, hence the baseball metaphor).

Over the decades of the Cold War, the American intelligence community developed some very refined modeling, statistical and pattern analysis techniques to estimate and report on potential national threats. Arguably the best summary of those practices are fond in Anticipating Surprise; Analysis for Strategic Warning, by Cynthia Grabo. To make a long story short, those techniques are accurate enough so that most real national security threats – from Pearl Harbor, to Korea, on to the abortive Millennium terror attacks of 2000 and the successful attack on America in 2001 have been detected and profiled by the intelligence community. Threats identified, specific warnings given and the chain of command briefed at the level of the National Security Council and President (for Pearl Harbor that would be the Departments of the Army and Navy and the War Department). In most instances specific warnings were also given to field commands…as with Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, the Korean theatre and in later years the respective domestic agencies such as the FBI.

The reasons why many of those warnings failed are summarized by Grabo in her work and I’ve expanded on them in Surprise Attack, taking them beyond the Cold War into more contemporary examples.  And it turns out the failures to respond to the warnings are not “conspiratorial” but rather involve very basic human factors and systems failures. Often failures of basic command and control.  There have been some successes but unfortunately the tendency – from administration to administration and president to president, has been to duck the blame and as an alternative to expand the overall system (the most far reaching example of that following 9/11) to put in more layers, a bigger bureaucracy and in doing so produce more room to ignore or at least not take focused action on real threats.

The reason I seem to be obsessed with this problem at the moment is because the current state of threat and warning intelligence in America is literally worse than it has been since before World War II. And the problem is not in the intelligence collections, analysis or warnings – it is now better than it ever has been, technologically verging on the spectacular.  In contrast American national security in terms of command and control is dismal, perhaps not at its worst but comparable to 2001.  In one respect it may even be worse than it’s ever been.

Those are clearly some very strong claims, in the next post I’ll work on giving some factual and historical support for my opinions.

Lessons from Chicago

While the October and November incidents in Chicago may not provide us with a deeper understanding of the actual attack in Dealy Plaza, they may reveal something about the context in which the Dallas attack developed in the fall of 1963.

Among the lessons to be found in Chicago is that there there is a very fundamental difference between the Vallee and Bolden incidents.  The origin of the Vallee threat is known and documented and there is an extensive paper trail recording both the Secret Service and Chicago Police Department activities.  Beyond that there is a paper trail extending over a number of years as Vallee was actually placed in the ongoing Secret Service PRS follow up program.

No such record exists for the the incident Abraham Bolden described, all we have is “negative imagery”,  based in the fact that there appears to have been something going on in regard the JFK’s Chicago trip – and its last minute cancellation – that individual Secret Service and FBI members in their respective offices (even secretaries) simply refused to talk about in later years.  It should also be noted that the “alert” in that incident came from the FBI and was apparently a notification that individuals were traveling to Chicago who might present some sort of a problem for the President’s visit (we don’t actually know that it was a threat warning per se).  We do know from the follow on investigation of the third Chicago incident –  the Echeverria remarks – that the FBI was reporting suspicious activities possibly relating to the President to the Secret Service.  We also know from their Echeverria investigation that there were some plans among Cuban exiles to conduct a protest against JFK during his visit.

What we don’t know is why the Bolden incident would not have been documented – or if it was, at least to some extent, why the documents would have been taken out of Chicago and back to DC as Bolden describes. The most innocuous explanation would be that people were picked up, nothing was found which would have led to CPD booking them (as they had over a traffic charge with Vallee) and they were released, with the paperwork going into a PRS file in DC that we have never seen – or perhaps into the Secret Service trip files, some of which we know were destroyed as recently as the 1990s during the work of the ARRB. A more interesting thought is that the Secret Service was actually assembling a centralized Cuban related threat file which was never acknowledged and alter “disappeared” (perhaps similar to the CIA’s Cuban exile assassination investigative file and report that disappeared from JMWAVE).

While either explanation is unsatisfying, the third incident – the Echeverria remarks – was investigated in far more detail than has generally been discussed in JFK literature and is not the “black hole” that I imagined it to be (and wrote about with that mistaken impression in SWHT).  That investigation does tell us a number of things, things that may indeed be relevant to the attack in Dallas. Or at least relevant to the idea that there was a growing amount of radical talk about JFK in certain Cuban exile circles, talk that was being taken seriously by both the FBI and the CIA – and even by the Secret Service, if only in Florida and not Texas.

We do know the CIA took threats coming out of the Cuban community in Miami seriously (such threats can be dated back to JFK’s appearance at the Orange Bowl at the return of the Cuban Brigade, when an IED was found placed at a location on his motorcade route).  And we know that in November, 1963 the threat level was sufficient for the Secret Service to reach out to the CIA in identifying potential protests or violence which might occur during his visit.  While no Dallas style motorcade was scheduled for Miami, a planned car trip from the airport to the hotel where he stayed was replaced with a helicopter flight.

But perhaps the most significant lesson from Chicago is that the FBI was very closely monitoring weapons sales to Cuban exiles, and the travel of those exiles in attempts to get weapons and explosives.  During the latter half of 1963 that exile effort had substantially increased, as the Kennedy Administration moved to shut down exile military action from the continental United States and to support its new, highly deniable AMWORLD offshore initiative against Cuba.

This literally left most of the militant exile groups without support and on their own.  It is in that context that we find the DRE associated Miami and LaCombe Louisiana bombing efforts, the ongoing weapons shopping trips from Miami, first to Chicago (where a trip by DRE military leader Blanco very likely produced the Echeverria comments) and by October/November to Dallas, Texas.

By that time the talk against JFK within DRE circles was becoming more than a little heated, there are reports of remarks in Dallas that were  so heated that the speaker had to physically act to seize the tape recording which had been made of the meeting.  And of an FBI investigation of exiles with bumper stickers literally saying “Kill JFK”.

In the end it all leads us to Dallas, and to a milieu of Cuban exile activity that might have served as a very valuable cover for individuals traveling from Miami who had something more radical in mind than simply purchasing weapons for a new series of raids on Cuba.

Chicago threats Part 3


In two previous posts I’ve reviewed one Chicago incident reported to the Secret Service (Vallee) by an individual who had a conversation with him in a public place (Bowling alley diner) and passed a warning to the Secret Service who in turned involved the Chicago Police Department in an investigation which resulted in the arrest of Vallee (for a traffic violation) and continued Secret Service routine PRS follow ups on him for a number of years. That case was well documented and also reseived HSCA attention.

A second incident (Bolden) was investigated by the HSCA but unfortunately remains almost entirely undocumented, relying on Abraham Bolden’s statemets on the affair. According to Bolden the FBI had advised the Chicago Secret Service office that individuals were traveling to Chicago who might represent a dancer to President Kennedy on his upcoming appearance in that city.  Bolden has stated that the indivudals were named and that surveillance was established on them; apparently the surveillance was bungled and two men were taken into custody while others fled. The office reports on the incident were ordered collected and transported to Washington, leaving no local record of the incident. Investigations by the HSCA failed to unearth anything in regard to the Bolden incident. However work and inquiries conducted by the ARRB did produce information confirming that various individuals who had worked in both the Chicago Secret Service and FBI offices were aware of issues related to the planned JFK visit and adamantly refused to provide details on its cancellation. Further speculation has been fueled by the discovery that a number of Secret Files pertaining to the President’s fall travels were destroyed by the Secret Service – as late as the 1990’s during the ARRB’s work – apparently far outside any normal records retention criteria and in direct violation of an ARRB stay order on such records.

There remains a third incident out of Chicago which has fueled the idea that there were known threats to the president in the fall of 1963. That incident was reported to the FBI by one of its sources (Thomas Mosley) and passed on to the Secret Service. It involved remarks made by a Cuban who Mosley had been in contact with in regard to the sale of weapons and explosives. Homero Sameul Valdavia Echeverria, an anti-Castro activist, had expressed interest in weapons purchases and in doing so his remarks suggested he might have knowledge of some plan which had targeted President Kennedy. Reportedly he had stated that “we have plenty of money, our new backers are Jews, as soon as they [or we] take care of Kennedy…  at that point the conversation had terminated.

It was certainly a suggestive remark and well worth investigation. I wrote at some length about Echeverria in Someone Would Have Talked, his possible associations and the idea (widely repeated in the JFK research community) that a through investigation of his remarks had somehow been blocked or dropped…creating more suspicion and more mystery.  Based on recently available documents it appears that I (and others) were quite wrong about that last point.  We can now see that a follow on investigation, involving multiple sources, ongoing contacts with Echeverria by Mosley and surveillance on Echeverria was conducted.  In fact the investigation extended to other indivudals contacted by Mosley (a very long time source for the FBI, on his own sales activities and more importantly those of Richard Lauchli, a major weapons and explosives dealer to anti-Castro Cubans and ultra right groups such as the Minutemen).

The reality turns out to be that neither the Secret Service nor the FBI dropped its investigation of the incident. They continued an effort to determine what exile group(s) Echeverria had been associated with, to develop the context of the remarks through additional meetings with (and reports from Mosley) and whether or not an actual threat was in play that might extend to President Johnson. A detailed (albeit convoluted) synopsis of their report may be found at the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

In the end the determination was made that no ongoing threat existed and that no illegal acts had actually been committed in regards to weapons or explosives sales. At that point investigation ceased as there were no grounds to refer the information for charges. While that is certainly unsatisfactory it is consistent with a number of other investigations of exile weapons purchasing contacts (and even sales) in which the FBI appears to have determined that protecting ongoing sources and surveillance was more valuable than recommending charges – especially in incidents were sales might not have actually been illegal. The chronology of the inquiry is as follows:

September  – Thomas Mosley approached Echeveria in Sept offering machine guns (Sten guns) and received no response.

November 21 – Mosley reapproached Echeverria at which point the remarks about new backers, Jewish, with money and proceeding once JFK was out of the way were made. During that conversation Echeverria cautioned Mosley that his superiors would have to meet with and evaluate Mosley to ensure the approach  was not a sting.

November 26 – Mosley telephoned to reach Echeverria on Nov 26 but could not reach him.

Secret Service and FBI investigation of Echeverria was underway and continued up to November 28th when it was deemed to risky due to it being detected. Echeverria eventually did respond to Mosley and a meeting was scheduled for Nov 28.

November 28 – Homer Echeverria was brought into a conversation about JFK and characterized him as an intellectual who had not committed himself to the anti-Castro effort in the way that Johnson, described as a common man, would It was felt Johnson would not would not stand in the way of direct Cuban exile military action against Cuba.

On November 28 Echeverria and Mosley, after a telephone call from Echeverria, left Homer’s home in Mosley’s car. After driving near Logan Square Homer told Moseley to stop and a man got into the car.

Mosley pitched his Sten guns to the man and in turn was given a shopping list for a much larger range of weapons and explosives…the Cuban began to vet Mosley – asking him how he felt about the death of JFK and then asking for references. Moseley brought up an association with Michael Ponce in earlier days and the man said he had known Ponce in Cuba.  Ponce was officer in Cuban Navy under Batista and had been associated with Mosley in gun smuggling in the 1950s. Mosely suggested his Chicago arrests and CPD file would verify his experience.  It should be noted that the “shopping list”related to Mosley was almost identical to the DRE shopping list which had been submitted by the DRE to John Thomas Masen in Dallas.

Mosley talked sales details, partial payment etc and the Cuban found it acceptable and if Mosley checked out further dealings would be through an attorney.  Future contact was outlined, through classified ad and telephone number.  It was a rather sophisticated contact and cut out communications process and Moseley was told he would be contacted by the Cubans if they wanted to pursue the deal after checking him out.

An FBI informant identified the unknown Cuban as a DRE member and Echeverria was also identified as a DRE member.  The description of the unknown Cuban appeared to match that of Juan Francisco Blanco-Fernandez who had been observed by an FBI source at the same grocery store as Homer Echeveria only days earlier.  Blanco had been in Chicago shopping for weapons and explosives on previous occasions. The FBI referred the Blanco inquiry to Miami and the local FBI office used one of their sources to personally contact Jaun Blanco Fernandez and establish that he was in Chicago during the period in which the Echevarria/Mosely  meeting had occurred.

November 30 – Another meeting was being planned between Echeveria and Mosley.  Mosley was also reported in contact via Echeverria with another individual referred to as Mannie. Mannie asserted himself as representing all groups in the Chicago area.  Mannie has communicated the desire for a shopping list of items for an upcoming attack on Cuba event – they were needed in a short time frame as attacks were planned to begin within 90 days – by March 1964.

There are more details to the ongoing Echeverria inquiry – which continued through December and they can be found in the link cited. This post had already gotten too long so I’ll return to my thoughts on what the overall takeaway from these three Chicago incidents may tell is in Chicago Part 4.