William Pawley, the Kennedy Assassination, and Watergate
TILT and the “Phase Three” Story of Clare Boothe Luce
A new biography of William Pawley clarifies the millionaire’s status as a friend and adviser to presidents, despite his reactionary views that often made the State Department and even the CIA reluctant to deal with him. His ability to modify and on occasion even overturn official U.S. policies easily qualifies him to be considered part of that mostly invisible milieu I have clumsily called the American “deep state,” a milieu both inside and outside government with the power to steer the history of the public state and sometimes redirect it. It would be wrong to think that Pawley had such power only because of his personal wealth and connections. I hope to show that from the beginning of his career to his sudden death by a self-inflicted gun wound, Pawley always acted in conjunction with other powerful people from both the overworld and the underworld– in short, with what I have called other dark forces of the deep state.
The key to Pawley’s controversial status was that he made (and sometimes lost) his fortunes under foreign dictators he was personally close to: Chiang Kai-shek in China, Presidents Prio and Batista in Cuba, and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Long after the U.S. Government ceased to support these men, Pawley maintained their confidence, which was one of the reasons elements of the U.S. Government chose on occasion to use him as an asset. Another reason is that all these dictators had developed contacts with the U.S. underworld, often because of their involvement in the trafficking of opium and heroin into America. As we shall see, Pawley himself had at least one CIA-linked mob contact, John Martino.
The book shows how Pawley’s personal wealth and associations enabled him at times to mount his own foreign policy, one supported by friends inside government and also by other wealthy individuals and corporations who saw their wealth or policy objectives doomed by the fall of strongmen like Chiang Kai-shek and Batista. Among Pawley’s closest influential friends were Henry Luce of Time-Life, Henry’s wife Clare Boothe Luce, Allen Dulles, and Richard Nixon (who according to Anthony Summers had is own web of associations men who had links to organized crime). All of these people shared what has been called Pawley’s “pathological hatred of [Fidel] Castro.”
On at least two occasions I believe Pawley’s support for a minority right-wing clique led to significant and lasting changes to American foreign policy. The first was after Chiang Kai-shek’s expulsion from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, when “Pawley became the point man for an end run around American policy toward
Taiwan.” It was the official policy of the U.S. State Department under Dean Acheson to plan for a containment policy in East Asia in which Taiwan would not be defended. But Pawley lobbied Acheson to allow for Chiang in Taiwan to be assisted by “a small group of American civilian, economic, industrial and [retired or ex-officers] military advisors.”
This plan when implemented, apparently with assistance from at least one underworld figure along with Frank Wisner’s Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), became a significant factor in the survival of an independent Taiwan, and also in the growth of the post-war Asian drug traffic. (Though the book does not mention this, Pawley was also “instrumental in setting up the infamous Civil Air Transport [CAT, later Air America], an airline that later became notorious for ferrying drugs from the Golden Triangle in Asia.”) The Taiwan plan also enabled the notorious “China Lobby” to continue to lobby and pass money to the American Congress, helping among other things to secure the election to the presidency of Richard Nixon in 1968, and again of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The Carrozza biography describes Pawley’s lobbying for a private Taiwan defense mission as a one-man campaign. But the definitive history of the Korean War by Bruce Cumings shows how the end run around the State Department was fostered by other important individuals inside and outside government, including General Douglas Macarthur as the head of U.S. forces in Japan, Macarthur’s intelligence chief Charles Willoughby, former OSS Chief William Donovan, mob figure Sonny Satiris Fassoulis, and “Texas oilmen” presumably including H.L. Hunt. This ad hoc coalition was not all-powerful, and fell apart the next year when H.L. Hunt tried and failed to promote Macarthur, after he was relieved of his command by Truman, as a candidate for the presidency. This fluidity exemplifies the reasons why I argue that the so-called “deep state” should not be seen as a structure, but as a milieu.
With the support of elements from the same milieu, Pawley affected U.S. policy again under Eisenhower, with perhaps even more long-lasting and widespread consequences. By 1952 Frank Wisner’s free-wheeling OPC had gone so far afoul of U.S. laws and policy that it incurred the wrath of both President Truman and CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith. As a result OPC was merged into the CIA and was known thereafter as the CIA’s Department of Plans. However Smith’s and Truman’s intentions of curbing OPC were soon thwarted, thanks to their ill-advised appointment of Allen Dulles, an OSS veteran who was again a practicing Wall Street lawyer, to be the CIA’s assistant director in charge of the former OPC. Wisner’s OPC “cowboys,” now merged into the CIA’s new Department of Plans, continued to operate as before, especially after Dulles was promoted by Eisenhower to become the new CIA Director.
But tensions and ill-will continued in the Department of Plans, between the veterans of OPC and those of the old CIA’s Office of Special Operations (OSO). Matters came to a head in 1954, with the CIA’s preparation to overthrow the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in operation PBSUCCESS. Eisenhower asked his friend Pawley to participate in a planning group for the operation, along with the Latin American representative of U.S. Steel. Eventually Arbenz was defeated, with the aid of three planes paid for by Pawley’s personal advance of $150,000 to the Nicaraguan government of Anastasio Somoza. Pawley was personally commissioned by his friend President Eisenhower to obtain the planes, after the two men heard first hand from Allen Dulles that the chances of winning without them were “Nil.”
More importantly for American history, Pawley noticed that plans for PBSUCCESS were being leaked to the U.S. press, and he learned that the source was a high official in the CIA’s Department of Plans (presumably an old-guard opponent of the ex-OPC “cowboys”). Pawley brought the problem of the inside leaking to Eisenhower, “whose response surprised him, ‘I want you to conduct a thorough investigation of the covert side of CIA operations for me.’” Pawley declined to lead the new commission, giving as a reason “ a possible breakdown in the special relationship Pawley had with Dulles brothers.” Instead Pawley’s old friend Gen. Jimmy Doolittle became head of the Commission, with Pawley as a member.
The Doolittle Commission’s report in 1954 led to a complete victory for the OPC faction in the Department of Plans. In addition to purging old officers deemed inefficient, the report also urged that the CIA become an “organization more effective, more unique, and, if necessary, more ruthless than that employed by the enemy.” The door was opened to far larger CIA operations, including the waging of a war with a drug-financed army in Laos. “Dirty tricks” such as assassinations were now sanctioned as a covert adjunct to U.S. foreign policy. Today, with use of lethal drones at the core of the U.S. war on terror, it might be said that “dirty tricks” have become U.S. foreign policy.
Seen from a different perspective, the Doolittle Commission represented a consolidation of control over the CIA by Allen Dulles, Wisner, and the OPC. Behind Pawley’s recommendation more than one historian has seen the hand of Dulles himself; for Pawley had the reputation of being a member of the CIA’s “Old Boys network and … especially close to CIA Director Allen Dulles.”
My chief criticism of Carrozza’s excellent biography is that it repeatedly highlights Pawley’s image as a maverick lone entrepreneur. In fact Pawley consistently acted in concert with other influential figures from the overworld, united in lobbying groups for the military-industrial complex like the American Security Council [ASC] and the Committee on the Present Danger [CPD]. Carrozza does note how in 1969 Pawley used the newsletter of the ASC to publish his recommendation that Nixon’s withdrawal plans for Vietnam be supplemented by unleashing “the armed forces of the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan.” But he treats as a personal initiative Pawley’s publication in 1974 of a newspaper ad supporting “funding outlays of $20 billion for the B-1 bombers and Trident submarines.” In fact these two expensive and highly controversial weapons systems were being fiercely debated in post-Vietnam Washington, where the campaign on their behalf was being led by the American Security Council and later the Committee on the Present Danger (a member of which was Pawley’s close friend Clare Boothe Luce, the wife of Henry Luce of Time/Life).
Pawley’s actions in short were not just idiosyncratic, but rooted in the agendas of a militant sector of the overworld. Given Pawley’s status in this overworld, and above all his ease of access to Dulles and his circle, including Henry Luce (another personal friend), one has to ask whether Pawley did not have high-level support in the following episodes, detailed in Carrozza’s book, with respect to both Cuba and possibly even the Kennedy assassination.
New Information about Oswald’s First Approach to Carlos Bringuier: He Was Taped
If Carrozza is to be believed, Pawley’s well-known role as a supporter of anti-Castro activities outside the CIA made him aware of an important tape of Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans, a tape which for some reason did not reach the Warren Commission, and would seem to contradict the account of Oswald’s activities in the Warren Report.
An early and energetic opponent of Fidel Castro, Pawley (according to David Kaiser) “may have been the man who first suggested to Ike that Castro should be assassinated.” From the time of Castro’s takeover, Pawley became a well-known backer of anti-Castro operatives. Many of these he vetted and then referred to the CIA’s JM/WAVE station in Miami, with such regularity that he was assigned his own special CIA cryptonym, QDDALE. But his own preferences for a post-Castro leadership were wealthy Batistianos like Dr. Antonio Rubio Padilla, who was too reactionary for the CIA, too reactionary even for Howard Hunt. Pawley in short was acting as a spokesman for those forces in Cuba, including both Cuban landowners and businessmen, and also American corporations like American and Foreign Power, who ran the risk of losing their Cuban investments, even under the kind of moderately conservative government with which the CIA hoped to replace Castro. The same was true of those mob owners of Havana casinos who had not, like Meyer Lansky, had the foresight to hedge their political bets, by developing new casinos in the Bahamas.
Thus it was no accident that Pawley, in his Cuban policies, according to Carrozza, also dealt with mob and casino-related figures who were also too shady for the CIA. Thus, “Pawley’s involvement with anti-Castro groups brought him in contact with shadowy figures such as Mafia gangster John Martino, Watergate [figure] Frank Sturgis,” and others. In the same sentence, Carrozza also lists “Howard Hunt, and an unidentified anti-Castro youth who tape-recorded Lee Harvey Oswald during an interview when Oswald tried joining a New Orleans anti-Communist group as a hired gun.” (This claim is not supported; and according to the book’s Index, Pawley’s contact with the unidentified youth is not referred to again.)
This reference resurrects the unresolved allegation of Pawley’s close friend and political ally Clare Boothe Luce, about a story from her “young friend,” the skipper of one of the anti-Castro raider boats she and Pawley were sponsoring. Luce claimed that her friend (to whom she gave the pseudonym “Julio Fernandez”), told her the night of Kennedy’s assassination that he “had these tape recordings of Oswald” in New Orleans, tapes which included Oswald’s “bragging that he could shoot anyone, even the Secretary of the Navy.”
This story, never explained, supplies an alternative to the FBI and Warren Report account of Oswald’s contact in early August 1963 with New Orleans DRE delegate Carlos Bringuier in his shop Casa Roca, a remarkable visit even before this new information.
It is important to note that both Philip Geraci and Vance Blalock, the two witnesses to Oswald’s visit to Bringuier’s shop, testified (in divergent and mutually exclusive versions) that, after Oswald left, they “started following him home.” In Luce’s version as she told a journalist in 1975, “Fernandez”’ contacts “followed him and found he was in a Fair Play for Cuba Communist cell.”
We seem to have two different accounts of the same event. The FBI and Warren Commission version, as we might expect, is what I have called a “phase two version,” in which nothing conflicts with the picture they present of Oswald as a lone assassin.
Geraci and Blalock were interviewed by the Warren Commission but said nothing about having taped him (10 WH 76, 82). The Luce-Hernandez version, in contrast, is a “phase one” story, in which Oswald appears as a hired gun working ultimately for Castro: “The young Cuban who called me,” Mrs. Luce continued, “said that there was a Cuban Communist assassination team working somewhere – in Dallas, New Orleans, or wherever … [and] Oswald was their hired gun.”
Luce’s Cuban added, somewhat paradoxically, that Oswald, before deciding to work for Castro, “had tried to report the Communist plans to the FBI some time before the assassination.” This switch from anti-Castro to pro-Castro roles for Oswald, unlikely as it may sound, closely mirrors the Warren Report’s account of Oswald between August 5 and August 9, 1963. Bringuier himself told the Washington Post after the assassination that on August 5 “I thought he might be an agent for the FBI or the CIA,” before Bringuier caught him on August 9 distributing leaflets from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
[Today I shall skip what the taping of Oswald implies about the Lake Ponchartrain training camp that Oswald asked about, and go directly to what I say about the so-called Bayo-Pawley plot, the CIA-backed operation TILT that brought in Jerry Hemming and Frank Sturgis, the two men behind the Lake Ponchartrain training camp.]
Pawley, Sturgis, Hemming, Martino, and the Bayo-Pawley Plot
Pawley, Hemming, and Sturgis (along with John Martino) were actively involved with the CIA in a conspiratorial penetration of Cuba in April 1963, the so-called Bayo-Pawley plot (known to the CIA as Operation TILT).
The Bayo-Pawley story has been told many times. David Kaiser has seen in it the hand of Martino’s associate John Roselli, and concludes that in the Bayo-Pawley plot “Roselli and Trafficante were using Martino and Pawley as cut-outs to enlist the help of the CIA.” The Carrozza account differs from Kaiser’s in attributing a more forceful role to Pawley, claiming that it was Pawley himself who “began assembling a team [which] included mob figures, Cuban exile leaders, CIA operatives, and mercenary soldiers, some of whom would become well known names during the Watergate investigation a decade later.”
David Kaiser, in contrast, claims that Pawley “became a pawn in an elaborate scheme hatched by John Martino.” But Pawley’s and Martino’s outlooks on Cuba were so similar, that there is no need to think that one of them duped the other. It is symptomatic of their convergence that both men used the anti-communist writer Nathaniel Weyl to ghost-write their memoirs. Pawley, Martino, and Weyl all had links to the John Birch Society, which Gus Russo and others have also linked to the Lake Ponchartrain training camp.
Furthermore it is not disputed that on April 18, 1963, Pawley contacted Ted Shackley of the CIA’s Miami JM/WAVE Station about the raid; and told him “that Martino was to play a role in the operation.” This seems an odd requirement if the purpose of the mission was (as Pawley told Shackley) to extricate Soviet technicians who would testify to the on-going presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. But it makes perfect sense if (as Carrozza suggests) Pawley knew that this was planned to be (or at least look like) an assassination mission, which members of the mob (Roselli and Sam Giancana, according to participant Loran Hall) were paying for.
[Jack Anderson’s Phase-Three Report of a “Political H-bomb” and Watergate]
Pawley’s biographer, Anthony Carrozza, corroborates the story given in 1976 by one of the participants, Loran Eugene Hall, and endorsed by David Kaiser: that a deeper purpose of this raid was to assassinate Castro. And Carrozza speculates that the team of Cubans exfiltrated into Cuba for this purpose may have been the team that (according to a John Roselli story published by Jack Anderson) came “back to the United States as the team that killed President Kennedy and set up Oswald as the fall guy.” Anderson referred to this possibility as “a political H-bomb.”
In other words, Carrozza gives support to a story first spread by Martino and Roselli in 1963 (and reported by myself three decades later) both of whom “told the FBI that the assassination of John F. Kennedy had been Castro’s retaliation for Kennedy’s CIA-Mafia plots against himself, even to the point of Castro’s having ‘turned’ an assassination team and sent it back to Dallas.”
This “retaliation” story was first published nationally by Jack Anderson, after meeting with Roselli’s lawyer Edward P. Morgan, on March 3, 1967. I suspect however that it was circulated much earlier, and may even have been the substance of the long discussion between John McCone and Robert Kennedy on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. We know that on that same afternoon RFK voiced a version of the “plot that backfired” theory when he spoke to his Cuban friend Harry Ruiz-Williams. What makes the following quote so meaningful is the fact that in 1963 RFK, at odds with CIA plans for the replacement of Castro, was using Williams as his go-between with Cuban exiles for alternative covert operations not sponsored by the CIA. According to journalist Haynes Johnson, who was present, Kennedy turned to Williams that fateful afternoon and said, “One of your guys did it.”
From early in his presidency, Lyndon Johnson also reportedly believed, perhaps from what he was told by CIA director McCone, that JFK was killed in retaliation for U.S. assassination plots against Castro. Joseph Califano, a former Army member of Cuban Coordinating Committee under both JFK and LBJ, later formulated this belief more precisely as a “plot that backfired” theory:
I have come to share LBJ’s view [that Castro "got him first"]….Over the years I have come to believe that the paroxysms of grief that tormented Robert Kennedy for years after his brother’s death arose, at least in part, from a sense that his efforts to eliminate Castro led to his brother’s assassination.
I like to think of the “plot that backfired” theory as a “phase three” story, because of my arguments elsewhere that it, and more specifically the Bayo-Pawley mission, was planned precisely to coerce the CIA, Life, and even the Kennedy family “into an assassination cover-up.” For many years I have suspected that the true target of the Bayo-Pawley mission was neither the mythical Soviet defectors, nor even to assassinate Castro, but President Kennedy, on a level even deeper than its avowed intention to sabotage Kennedy’s policy of détente with Cuba and the Soviet Union. (As Robert K. Brown and Miguel Acoca wrote in their 1976 account, “The Bayo-Pawley Affair,” “It was a plot to destroy President Kennedy politically, and the CIA played a major role. Without the CIA, in fact, the weird adventure could not have taken place.” It is indeed true that proof of missiles in Cuba would have completely discredited Kennedy’s claim to have successfully resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis, and put an end to his efforts to develop a policy of détente towards the Soviet Union).
No Soviet defectors were actually obtained, so the plot might at first glance seem to have been ineffective. That however did not at all impede the use of the “phase three” retaliation story as post-assassination political blackmail. By enlisting both regular CIA personnel from Shackley’s JM/WAVE station, and also Richard Billings from Life magazine, the plot may have helped ensure that the CIA, Life, and others would later engage in a post-assassination cover-up.
The plot may also have blackmailed Robert Kennedy: Brown and Acoca report (as Kaiser and Carrozza do not) that the organizers of the raid had at the outset brought in a wealthy Kennedy supporter, Theodore Racoosin; Racoosin reported later that he had contacted “someone in the White House, who had authorized him to organize meetings of Cuban exile leaders, in order to obtain information on the CIA’s Cuban operations.”
Such an authorization, if granted, would be enough to explain why Robert Kennedy “immediately moved to shut down” Roselli’s “phase three” story when Jack Anderson published it in March 1967. According to David Talbot, Kennedy first requested “a copy of the FBI memo on the … meeting when he was first informed by the CIA about the Mafia plots.” and the arranged to have lunch, on March 4, 1967, with CIA Director Richard Helms. Three days later, on March 7, 1967, the Washington Post finally published a bowdlerized version of the March 3 Jack Anderson column. It no longer contained Anderson’s reference to “a political H-bomb – an unconfirmed report that Senator Robert Kennedy (Dem-N.Y.) may have approved an assassination plot which then possibly backfired against his late brother.”
One does not have to believe in the truth of the “plot that backfired” story to believe in the importance of it. Robert Kennedy was not the only major figure to feel threatened by Anderson’s “political H-bomb;” so, four years later, did President Nixon. In January 1971 a Jack Anderson column reported again about CIA plots, this time naming mob figure John Roselli, ex-CIA officer William Harvey, and CIA contract agent Robert Maheu, their go-between in the CIA-mafia plots of 1960, (plots involving Nixon but not Kennedy). In 1971, “Could the plot against Castro have backfired against President Kennedy?”
As I noted in 1976, the column ”caused a flurry of investigative memos inside the Nixon White House,” including a warning from one of the White House “dirty tricks” operatives, Jack Caulfield, that “Maheu’s covert activities … with CIA… might well shake loose republican skeletons from the closet.” According to Anthony Summers, Attorney General John Mitchell promptly phoned Maheu, who was currently “under pressure to appear before a grand jury in connection with a Las Vegas gambling prosecution,” and arranged a deal whereby, in exchange for Maheu’s silence on “the entire Castro story,” Maheu would not have to testify.
This was noted and investigated by two members of the staff of the Senate Watergate Committee, Terry Lenzner and Mark Lackritz, who concluded that White House concern about Anderson’s phase-three story “could have been a possible motivation for the [Watergate] break-in to the office of the DNC.” The two staffers questioned Caulfield about his “skeletons” memo. Anthony Summers writes that “Caulfield first asked to go off the record. After discussion in private, he conceded that his reference to ‘covert activities’ related to [Anderson’s] Castro plot revelations.”
At the end of a lengthy chapter, Summers concluded, Nixon had good reason to fear exposure of his part in the Cuban intrigues. The information marshaled here shows starkly why it was that in 1971, in the wake of the Anderson articles and the Maheu scare, he renewed his demands for the CIA’s files on the Bay of Pigs. He hoped, to be sure, that they contained embarrassments for the Kennedys. At the same time, he knew the agency’s records probably contained material compromising to himself. Nixon needed to see them, as he explained to [his aide John] Ehrlichman, in order to know what to “duck,” to “protect” himself.
In January 1974 Senator Sam Ervin, Chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, rejected the request of the staffers Lenzner and Lackritz to issue subpoenas to their witnesses.  But six months later, on the “smoking gun” tape which led promptly to his resignation, Nixon was heard by the committee to say to his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, ”Look, the problem is that this [Watergate break-in] will open the whole Bay of Pigs thing.” Summers notes that Haldeman later wrote in his memoir that “It seems that in all those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination.”
Let me close this section with a letter from Pawley to Richard Nixon, dated April 15, 1963, three days before Pawley contacted Shackley about Operation TILT:
Focusing again on Cuba, Pawley recounted the disastrous decisions that both the Eisenhower and the Kennedy administrations had made. There was only one way out of the mess, according to Pawley: [QUOTE]‘All of the Cubans and most of the Americans in this part of the country believe that to remove Castro you must first remove Kennedy, and that is not going to be easy.’ [END QUOTE]” [repeat]
These were suggestive words to communicate to the man who, along with Allen Dulles, had back in 1960-61 supported Pawley’s efforts for a more decisive anti-Castro policy than that adopted by Eisenhower and Kennedy.
I want to close with some remarks from my concluding section, Why Did Clare Boothe Luce Not Release Her Oswald Story Until 1975?
Pawley and Luce were enthusiastic supporters of Nixon in his 1968 campaign to be elected president, and Pawley joined the “Ambassadors for Nixon Committee.” But their support predictably waned with Nixon’s moves in 1971-72 to redefine America’s relationship to China and the Soviet Union. Pawley wrote in his unpublished memoir, “Russia is Winning,” that “The whole pattern is now colored with a thin, pasty coating called ‘detente,’ a Communist tactic to prepare the trusting democracies for the kill…It can end only in surrender.”
After Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Pawley was even more uncomfortable with the foreign policy of his successor Gerald Ford. In 1975 the John Birch Society publication American Opinion quoted Pawley as stating that Kissinger, whom Ford had retained as Secretary of State, “scares me to death.” Pawley was particularly incensed to learn that Ford and Kissinger might lend support to a move in the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift economic and diplomatic sanctions against Cuba.
It was inevitable that Pawley’s political preference in 1976 would be for his friend, and Ford’s primary opponent, Ronald Reagan, whom Pawley had urged Nixon to consider as his vice-presidential choice in 1968. Clare Boothe Luce was also a supporter of Reagan in both 1976 and 1980. Moreover she was a member of two important neocon groups that helped prepare for the 1980 “Reagan Revolution,” by lobbying for an end to détente and an increase in defense spending: the Committee on the Present Danger (1976) and the Coalition for Peace through Strength (1978, of which Reagan also was a member). In 1981 Reagan rewarded Luce for her efforts with a seat on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).
More importantly, in 1964 both Pawley and Mrs. Luce had been important figures in the campaign to elect their friend Barry Goldwater as president. Clare Boothe Luce seconded the nomination of Goldwater at the Republican Convention, and thereafter co-chaired a Citizens group (with General James Doolittle) to elect him. Pawley meanwhile had served as chairman of Florida Citizens for Goldwater-Miller. After Goldwater’s ignominious defeat in 1964, Mrs. Luce continued to be close to him, dining with him at least twice (in 1965 and again in 1967) with their mutual friend William Buckley.
With the unprecedented resignation of Nixon in 1974, American politics were left in disarray, with both left and right struggling (and expecting) to prevail in the post-Nixon era. Major topics, usually too sacred for public discussion, were briefly debated in both Congress and the media, including the size of the post-Vietnam defense budget, the future of the CIA, and even the CIA’s past role in assassinations. At the time there was an unprecedented outpour of books attacking the CIA from both the left and the right.
In this post-Watergate turmoil Democrats and Republicans in the Senate agreed to the formation of the Church Committee to investigate the CIA and FBI. On this Committee the Republicans were represented by Senator John Tower as Co-Chair, and also Senator Goldwater.
Inside the Church Committee a bitter contest, between the advocates or a more open America versus the advocates of a more authoritarian one, became crystallized about the question of who had been responsible for past assassinations: the Kennedys or the CIA. In his massive defense of the “phase three” retaliation story, Gus Russo sums up the positions of Republican Senators Schweiker and Goldwater:
Senator Richard Schweiker headed the Church Committee’s investigation into the Kennedy assassination’s possible connection to intelligence activities. He has said, “My impression is that the presidents not only knew but ordered these policies by and large… Past presidents have used the CIA as their secret police at home and their secret army abroad.”
Perhaps the most forthright Committee member was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. At the time of the hearings, Goldwater remarked that there was friction on the Committee between “those who want to protect the Kennedys and those who want to tell the truth.” Years later, he stated it more succinctly, saying, “We spent nine of the ten months trying to get Kennedy’s name out of it.” When asked by the press who was behind the attempts on Castro’s life, Goldwater motioned towards the White House and said, “Everything points right down there.”
Goldwater’s description of the Democrats’ behavior in the 94th Congress is corroborated by the Democrats’ subsequent behavior in the 95th. A new House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), first set up in 1976, was severely reorganized by Democrats in 1977 and put in the hands of Robert Blakey, who had been a former close ally of Robert Kennedy in the Justice Department. Although the HSCA achieved much of value, it also studiously avoided the Bayo-Pawley story. The HSCA Report did not mention it, nor did it point out that the Report’s author, HSCA editorial director Richard Billings, had himself been a participant in the Bayo-Pawley mission.
But the CIA appears to have been as industrious in protecting its secrets as the Kennedy loyalists. The CIA gave an undercover assignment to one of its officers, psychological warfare expert George Joannides, and assigned him to work as its liaison officer with the HSCA. The Committee never learned that Joannides had also been the case officer for the Cuban exile group DRE, whose publicity director Carlos Bringuier had been repeatedly in contact with Lee Harvey Oswald.
In the course of their debates, the Church Committee established a subcommittee “to review the role of federal agencies in investigating the Kennedy assassination.”
Goldwater’s viewpoint was represented on the subcommittee by Senator Richard Schweiker, a Republican from Pennsylvania. According to Church Committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi , the subcommittee was established on September 8, 1975.
Schweiker’s move coincided almost exactly in time with Clare Boothe Luce’s decision to go public with her “phase three” story that Oswald had been “turned” by Castro. In Fonzi’s words.
Right after Schweiker announced the formation of his Kennedy assassination Subcommittee, he was visited by Vera Glaser, a syndicated Washington columnist. Glaser told him she had just interviewed Clare Boothe Luce and that Luce had given her some information relating to the assassination. Schweiker immediately called Luce and she, quite cooperatively and in detail, confirmed the story she had told Glaser.
It makes strong political sense that Luce would be anxious to launch her version of a “phase three” story in 1975. Nixon was no longer there to be protected; the president who would be injured by it was now Gerald Ford; and Ford, besides being a member and spokesman for the Warren Report, was the leader of the anti-Reagan forces in the Republican Party, and perhaps above all the ally and protector of Henry Kissinger with his hated policy of detente.
But if Luce’s motives for launching her story at this time were political, she badly underestimated the political explosiveness of the “phase three” story. Eventually the Church Committee would document how both the Secret Service and the FBI found Jack Anderson’s story too hot to handle (5 AH 80-82). The reaction of the CIA was quite different: after LBJ asked DCI Richard Helms about it (having been alerted by Earl Warren, who had heard about it from Drew Pearson before the March 1967 story), the CIA produced an Inspector-General’s Report of over 100 pages, which even then dealt only obliquely and evasively with Anderson’s story.
Buried near the end of the Report was a section headed with the ominous question, “Should we try to silence those who are talking or who might later talk?” The Report’s response to the question was low-keyed and quite benign, ending two pages later with the sentence, “There might be some value to be gained from endorsing [Robert Maheu’s] suggestion that he approach [Edward P.] Morgan and perhaps Roselli and urge discretion.”
But in 1975, after Nixon’s two CIA directors (James Schlesinger and William Colby) had demanded an accounting of the CIA’s past illegalities, the CIA was in a far more desperate plight than it had been back in 1967. We have to ask whether it is only coincidental that the years 1975-78 saw so many violent deaths among those involved in the CIA-mafia plots, and more specifically with the Bayo-Pawley plot.
On June 19, 1975, “a week before his scheduled appearance before the Church Committee to be questioned about the CIA-Mafia plots…Sam Giancana [was] shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber pistol.” John Martino also died in May 1975, allegedly after telling his wife, a business partner, and a journalist friend that he had been peripherally involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. After John Roselli had testified to the Church Committee, his mutilated body, on August 7, 1976, was discovered in Biscayne Bay, floating in an oil drum. Committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi records the deaths of three other witnesses he had planned to question: George de Mohrenschildt by alleged suicide, Carlos Prio by suicide, and Manuel Artime, weeks after his diagnosis with cancer.
Extensive as it is, Fonzi’s list of questionable deaths is not complete. William Harvey, the CIA officer who was also a friend of Roselli and one of the three sources Anderson named for his “backfire” story, testified to the Church Committee in 1975; on June 8, 1976, he died suddenly, at age 60, from a heart attack. William C. Sullivan, head of the FBI’s Intelligence Division that so strangely handled (or mishandled) Oswald’s FBI files in the weeks before the assassination, was shot in November 1977 with a high-powered rifle, by a hunter who claimed to have mistaken him for a deer. Journalist Robert Novak, a friend of Sullivan, later wrote, “Bill told me I would probably read about his death in some kind of accident but not to believe it. It would be murder.” On May 8, 1978, David Morales, the CIA Operations officer who is said to have selected his close friend Mickey Kappes for Operation TILT, died, after having reportedly told friends, “I was in Dallas when I, when we got that mother fucker, and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”
But there is one death in particular that could suggest that Clare Booth Luce may have underestimated the political explosiveness of “phase three” stories. It can be seen also as an ironic comment on the fluidity of the dark forces underlying American politics, and the danger of dabbling with them. I shall close with a quote from Gaeton Fonzi’s description of how in early 1977 he began to continue his investigations on behalf of the recently created House Select Committee on Assassinations:
On my official first day, I sent to Washington a list of witnesses I planned to interview… William Pawley was near the top of that list. Exactly one week later [on January 7, 1977], William Pawley, in bed in his mansion on Miami Beach with a nervous ailment [shingles], put a gun to his chest and committed suicide.
Although I have never hear of any other person committing suicide because of shingles, Pawley’s death by itself proves nothing at all. However I believe that the story of a story I have been telling you today, of a “phase three” story that was indeed a political H-bomb, makes at least two things clear. The first is that President Kennedy was not assassinated by a marginal neglected loner who was quickly killed, but by some deep enduring force in our society, with the power to affect bureaucratic behavior.
And despite their lip service to the findings of the Warren Report, a lot of public figures knew this, and felt very threatened.