Everyone knows that the military and the CIA will do whatever the president deems necessary to protect national security. In the name of national security, they ousted the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in a coup and replaced him with the brutal regime of a pro-U.S. dictator, the shah of Iran. They also ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, and replaced him with a succession of brutal pro-U.S. military dictators. They invaded Cuba, a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. They tried to assassinate the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, and even entered into a partnership with the Mafia with that aim in mind. They subjected unknowing Americans to illicit drug experiments. They illegally spied on Americans who were suspected of being communists and destroyed their reputations. There isn’t anything that the military and the CIA wouldn’t do to protect national security.
An obvious question arises: What would happen if the president of the United States — the commander in chief of the armed forces and the boss of the CIA — became a threat to national security? What would the military and the CIA do then? Would they let the country go down? Or would they take the necessary steps to protect national security?
Did President Kennedy actually become a threat to national security? Viewed from the standpoint of the national-security state, there can be no real question about it. Kennedy, in fact, posed a much graver threat to U.S. national security than Mossadegh, Arbenz, Castro, or anyone else, because he was the head of the U.S. government. Two of the best sources on this particular subject are JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James W. Douglass, a Christian theologian; and chapter five of Inside the Assassination Records Review Board: The Government’s Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK, a five-volume work by Douglas P. Horne, who served as chief analyst for military records for the ARRB.
John Kennedy came into office in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. By that time the U.S. national-security state, which had been called into existence in 1947, was in full bloom, viewing communists and communism as grave threats to the national security of the United States. Officials at all levels of the federal government made it clear that everything must and would be done to protect national security from the communists, even if some of the actions taken might not be considered legal or moral. The Constitution, after all, is not a suicide pact, as proponents of the national-security state often point out.
Kennedy and Cuba
By the time that Kennedy took office, the CIA had already initiated plans to invade Cuba, which was headed by an avowed communist, Fidel Castro. Never mind that Castro had no intentions of invading and conquering the United States. And never mind that his armed forces didn’t have the remotest capability to perform such a fantastic feat. What mattered was that Castro was a communist and, even worse, was presiding over a communist regime that was only 90 miles away from American shores. Military and CIA officials determined early on that Castro and Cuba posed a grave threat to U.S. national security.
By 1961 the CIA already had some national-security successes under its belt. Eight years before, it had initiated its successful coup in Iran. One year after that regime-change operation came the one in Guatemala.
When Kennedy took office he learned that his role in the CIA’s planned invasion of Cuba would be to lie to the American people about U.S. involvement. The CIA assured him that the invasion would not require U.S. air support, but that was a lie and a setup. The CIA was certain that once the invasion got under way, if air support became necessary, there was no way that Kennedy would permit the invasion to fail by refusing to provide it.
But the trap didn’t work. Even as the invasion was failing, Kennedy refused to provide the air support. Dozens of Cuban exiles were captured or killed during the invasion. Meanwhile, the CIA’s role in the invasion became public, and the agency was humiliated. Angry at Kennedy for refusing to provide the air support that could have saved the lives of their friends and allies and freed the Cuban people from communist control, CIA and military officials considered the president to be weak and ineffectual at best and a traitor at worst.
While Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the invasion, he was just as angry at the CIA as it was at him because he figured out that he had been set up. A bureaucratic war broke out between Kennedy and the CIA, with the president promising to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” He fired CIA director Allen Dulles (whom Lyndon Johnson would later appoint to the Warren Commission), along with his two chief deputies, Richard M. Bissell Jr. and Charles Cabell.
But if the president were to succeed in destroying the CIA, wouldn’t national security be threatened? There is no doubt about it, at least from the standpoint of the CIA and the military. How could the nation survive the communist threat if there were no CIA?
Between the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the national-security state went into overdrive trying to figure out how to get rid of Castro. An assassination partnership between the CIA and the Mafia was established, followed by numerous plots against Castro. Acts of terrorism initiated by CIA operatives were committed inside Cuba.
It was Operation Northwoods that furnished Kennedy with keen insights into the mindset of U.S. military chieftains. Under that plan, Kennedy’s role was to be the nation’s liar-in-chief once again. His job was to falsely tell the American people that Cuba had attacked the United States with acts of terrorism. But those acts, which would kill innocent Americans, would be performed by agents or operatives of the U.S. military disguised as Cuban terrorists.
Kennedy rejected the plan, to the ire of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had unanimously recommended it to him. The military presented Kennedy with what it considered a viable plan to protect national security by effecting regime change in Cuba with a military invasion of the island, and Kennedy said no.
The missile crisis
Then Kennedy discovered that the Soviets were installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. National-security state officials blamed the crisis on Castro and the Soviets. Actually, however, the responsibility for the crisis lay with the U.S. national-security state, specifically the steadfast determination of the Pentagon and the CIA to effect regime change in Cuba by assassination, invasion, terrorism, or other means. After all, the purpose of Soviet missiles in Cuba wasn’t to start a nuclear war but rather to deter another invasion by the U.S. military and CIA.
Throughout the crisis, the Pentagon and CIA, willing to risk nuclear war, urged the president to attack and invade Cuba. Nothing, not even the risk of nuclear war, could stand in the way of removing a communist outpost 90 miles away from American shores. National security was paramount.
By that time, however, Kennedy had lost confidence in both the military and the CIA. With the world at the brink of nuclear war, he struck a deal with the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in which he promised that the United States would never invade Cuba, thereby ensuring that the communists could maintain their outpost 90 miles away from American shores in perpetuity.
Overnight, what had been a driving force for the national-security state since Castro’s assumption of power in 1959 — regime change in Cuba — had become moot, owing to the deal that Kennedy had struck with Khrushchev.
Kennedy believed that the missile crisis was one of his greatest triumphs. That’s not the way the Pentagon and CIA saw it. In their eyes Kennedy had capitulated to the communists. It was Castro and Khrushchev who had defeated Kennedy. Sure, the Soviets had to take their missiles out of Cuba, but so what? The missiles had been installed to deter a U.S. invasion of the island. That strategy worked. And once Kennedy gave the no-invasion guarantee, there was no further reason to keep the missiles in Cuba. As part of the deal, Kennedy also secretly promised the Soviets to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union.
The deep anger and sense of betrayal toward Kennedy, which had begun simmering after the Bay of Pigs, reached a boiling point within both the military and the CIA. Don’t forget, after all, that Kennedy had rejected Operation Northwoods. If he had approved the plan, there never would have been a Cuban missile crisis because Castro would have been dead and U.S. forces would have been running Cuba.
While the missile crisis hardened the CIA and Pentagon toward the communists, the event had a different effect on Kennedy. Having come so close to nuclear war, a war in which his wife and children could have been incinerated, the crisis had a searing effect on how he viewed life and the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
He concluded that it was possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to coexist without a Cold War, much as China and Vietnam and the United States do today. In his famous speech at American University, he announced his intention to bring the Cold War to an end by reaching out to the Soviet Union in a spirit of peaceful coexistence. His speech was broadcast all across the Soviet Union, where his initiative was enthusiastically received by Khrushchev.
As part of Kennedy’s vision, he entered into a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviets, over the fierce objections of the military and the CIA. He also ordered the withdrawal of a thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam, and he told close friends that he intended to pull out all troops from Vietnam after his reelection in 1964.
Most important, he began top-secret personal negotiations with Khrushchev and Castro to end the Cold War, something that most Americans to this day are probably unaware of.
There was a big problem with Kennedy’s actions, at least from the standpoint of national-security state operatives: his actions constituted a grave threat to the nation. After all, as Cold War advocates constantly reminded us, you can always trust a communist … to be a communist. You couldn’t trust them on anything else. Communists were hell-bent on conquering the world. Nothing could dissuade them from that goal. The communists were lulling Kennedy into lowering the nation’s defenses, after which they would attack it and bury it.
Given this grave threat to national security, there was only one thing that could save America from its president, and that solution did not involve the ballot box. After all, voters make mistakes, as they did in Iran with Mossadegh and Arbenz in Guatemala. As Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, later put it after the communist and socialist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, an event we will discuss in the next segment of this series, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
The American people had obviously made a mistake in the 1960 election, rejecting Nixon, a man who knew how to stand up to the communists, and electing instead a man who proved to be weak, ineffectual, incompetent, and afraid of the communists — a man who distrusted his own military and intelligence agency — and a man whose actions were leading America to a takeover by the communists.
By the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy had gone far beyond the warnings that Dwight Eisenhower had issued in his farewell address regarding the threat to America’s democratic processes posed by the military-industrial complex. While Eisenhower had assumed that the Cold War made the military-industrial complex a necessary evil, Kennedy was determined to bring an end to the Cold War.
An end to the Cold War would naturally threaten the existence of the national-security state, since the Cold War was the justification for its existence. Obviously, that would have threatened trillions of dollars in future income to the military and intelligence community as well as to the countless weapons suppliers, contractors, and subcontractors, who serve them.
We also mustn’t forget Kennedy’s ardent support of Martin Luther King, who in the eyes of the FBI was a communist himself. Indeed, we would be remiss if we failed to note Kennedy’s support of the Civil Rights movement, which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated the Kennedys, was absolutely certain was a communist front. If all that wasn’t enough, there were Kennedy’s numerous extramarital affairs, any of which could have made him vulnerable to blackmail from the communists. Indeed, who could say with any degree of certainty that that wasn’t the reason that he was secretly negotiating with Khrushchev and Castro to end the Cold War? After all, why would a president fail to notify his military and his intelligence agency of such critically important negotiations?
Among the sexual affairs that constituted serious threats to national security was the one with Mary Pinchot Meyer, the former wife of a CIA official. She not only was an anti-CIA peacenik, she also had been a member of the American Labor Party, which brought her under the scrutiny of the FBI. Even worse, the evidence is overwhelming that Meyer introduced Kennedy to marijuana and, very likely, also to LSD. (See Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney.) What would have happened if the Soviets had attacked when Kennedy was under the influence of pot or LSD? What if Kennedy ordered U.S. weapons launched while he was in a drug-induced state? Arguably, the drug use alone made Kennedy a grave threat to national security, a threat that the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests was removed through assassination at the hands of the U.S. national-security state apparatus.
Let’s examine next the Chilean military coup of 1973, which took place ten years after the Kennedy assassination. It was that coup, which ironically occurred on 9/11 in 1973, that foreshadowed in fascinating ways the U.S. national-security state’s war on terrorism after 9/11 in 2011. In fact, it was during that coup, which the U.S. national security state fully supported, that the CIA participated in the murder of two American citizens, murders that to this day go uninvestigated and unpunished.
The justification for supporting the Chilean military coup and participating in the murders of those two Americans?
Why, national security, of course.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 edition of Future of Freedom.