JFK – The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy by L. Fletcher Prouty
Birch Lane Press, 1992 – hard cover
Kennedy Versus the CIA
PRESIDENTIAL POWER: Does it come with the office, or must the incumbent fight for it every step of the way? As James David Barber states in his book The Presidential Character:1 "Political power is like nuclear energy available to create deserts or make them bloom. The mere having of it never yet determined its use. The mere getting of it has not stamped into the powerful some uniform shape."
John F. Kennedy came to the office of the presidency with style and enough experience to know that he would have to fight to wrest political power from entrenched interests of enormous strength. If anything hit President Kennedy harder than the utter defeat of the Cuban exile brigade on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, it was the realization that he had let himself be talked into that operation by inexperienced men in the CIA.
Kennedy blamed himself and believed that he should not have authorized the invasion. On the other hand, the Cuban Study Group (see below) concluded that the cancellation of the crucial air strike was the cause of the failure of the Zapata operation.
CIA director Allen Dulles had not been there at the time of the final decision making or at the time of the invasion itself. He was on vacation. This was a most unusual absence by the man responsible for the entire operation.
In his book Kennedy,2 Ted Sorensen makes a good case for his doctrine that "the Kennedys never fail." However, Kennedy did fail in his attempt to gain full control of the CIA and its major partners in the Defense Department. It was the most crucial failure of his abbreviated presidency. He recognized his adversary during his first term, and as he related confidentially to intimate acquaintances, "When I am reelected, I am going to break the agency into a thousand pieces." He meant to do it, too, but the struggle cost him his life.
Former President Harry S Truman was deeply disturbed when he learned of the murder of Jack Kennedy in Dallas. That experienced old veteran of political wars saw an ominous link between the death of the President and the CIA. One month after that terrible event, just time enough to get his thoughts in order and on paper, Truman wrote a column that appeared in the Washington Post on December 22, 1963. He expressed his doubts about the CIA directly:
For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government....Truman's characterization of the CIA as "a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue" is, unfortunately, quite accurate. That "foreign intrigue" involved Cuba, Castro, and John F. Kennedy, at least in the minds of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as is evidenced in their later writings about the assassination. And it was Lyndon B. Johnson who said the government operated a "Murder Inc." in the Caribbean.
I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and a subject for Cold War enemy propaganda.
It is absolutely astounding that when the thoughts of these four presidents turned to the murder of JFK, they all wove a fabric of sinister intrigue that included the CIA in the scenario of his death. These men were telling us something. It is time we listened to and learned from what they have said.
The power of any agency that is allowed to operate in secrecy is boundless. The CIA knows this, and it has used its power to its own advantage. Only three days after the disastrous Cuban defeat, Kennedy set up a Cuban Study Group headed by Gen. Maxwell Taylor to "direct special attention to the lessons which can be learned from recent events in Cuba."
With that action, which received little notice at the time, the President declared war on the agency. The Cuban Study Group was one of the most important creations of the Kennedy presidency, and it was the source of one of the major pressure points on the way to the guns of Dallas on November 22, 1963.
President Kennedy was seriously upset by the failure of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide him with adequate information and support prior to his approval of the brigade landing at the Bay of Pigs. He was also upset by the results of the total breakdown of CIA leadership during the operation that followed that landing.3
Kennedy's good friend Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas, in recalling a discussion he had with Kennedy shortly after the disaster, said:
This episode seared him. He had experienced the extreme power that these groups had, these various insidious influences of the CIA and the Pentagon, on civilian policy, and I think it raised in his own mind the specter: Can Jack Kennedy, President of the United States, ever be strong enough to really rule these two powerful agencies? I think it had a profound effect...it shook him up!Can any President "ever be strong enough to really rule" the CIA and the Defense Department? Eisenhower had learned that he was not strong enough when a U-2 went down in the heart of Russia despite his specific "no-overflight" orders in 1960.
Kennedy set out to prove that he was "strong enough," and he might have done so had he had a second term in office. Instead, he was first overwhelmed and then murdered.
(1) James D. Barber, The Presidential Character (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972).
(2) Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Bantam Books, 1965).
(3) The absence of Dulles and the ineffectiveness of his deputies, Gen. Charles P. Cabell and Richard Bissell, are described in this book as "a breakdown of leadership." One must keep in mind, however, that this apparent "breakdown" may well have been intentional. Our so-called national policy on "anticommunism" has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of Castro and his "Communist threat," just as it has continued to do in Central America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.