What possible connection could there have been between George H.W. Bush and the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Or between the C.I.A. and the assassination? Or between Bush and the C.I.A.? For some people, apparently, making such connections was as dangerous as letting one live wire touch another.
In his book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years, Russ Baker, editor of WhoWhatWhy, documents some of the strangest and least known events relating to the assassination, whose 50th anniversary falls this November 22.
This is the first installment of a ten-part series, featuring excerpts from relevant chapters of the book. (The excerpts in Part 1 come from Chapter 2 of the book, and the titles and subtitles have been changed for this publication.)
Notes: (1) Although these excerpts do not contain footnotes, the book itself is heavily footnoted and exhaustively sourced. (2) To distinguish between George Bush, father and son, George H.W. Bush is sometimes referred to by his nickname Poppy, and George W. Bush by his, W.
When Joseph McBride came upon the document about George H. W. Bush’s double life, he was not looking for it. It was 1985, and McBride, a formerDaily Variety writer, was in the library of California State University San Bernardino, researching a book about the movie director Frank Capra. Like many good reporters, McBride took off on a “slight,” if time-consuming, tangent – spending day after day poring over reels of microfilmed documents related to the FBI and the JFK assassination. McBride had been a volunteer on Kennedy’s campaign, and since 1963 had been intrigued by the unanswered questions surrounding that most singular of American tragedies.
A particular memo caught his eye, and he leaned in for a closer look. Practically jumping off the screen was a memorandum from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, dated November 29, 1963. Under the subject heading “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” Hoover reported that, on the day after JFK’s murder, the bureau had provided two individuals with briefings. One was “Captain William Edwards of the Defense Intelligence Agency.” The other: “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
DirectorBureau of Intelligence and ResearchDepartment of State
[We have been] advised that the Department of State feels some misguided anti-
Castro group might capitalize on the present situation and undertake an unauthorized
raid against Cuba, believing that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
might herald a change in U.S. policy… [Our] sources know of no [such] plans…
The substance of the foregoing information was orally furnished to Mr. George Bush
of the Central Intelligence Agency and Captain William Edwards of the Defense
McBride shook his head. George H. W. Bush? In the CIA in 1963? Dealing with Cubans and the JFK assassination? Could this be the same man who was now vice president of the United States? Even when Bush was named CIA director in 1976 amid much agency-bashing, his primary asset had been the fact that he was not a part of the agency during the coups, attempted coups, and murder plots in Iran, Cuba, Chile, and other hot spots about which embarrassing information was being disclosed every day in Senate hearings.
For CIA director Bush, there had been much damage to control. The decade from 1963 to 1973 had seen one confidence-shaking crisis after another. There was the Kennedy assassination and the dubious accounting of it by the Warren Commission. Then came the revelations of how the CIA had used private foundations to channel funds to organizations inside the United States, such as the National Student Association. Then came Watergate, with its penumbra of CIA operatives such as E. Howard Hunt and their shadowy misdoings. Americans were getting the sense of a kind of sanctioned underground organization, operating outside the law and yet protected by it. Then President Gerald Ford, who had ascended to that office when Richard Nixon resigned, fired William Colby, the director of the CIA, who was perceived by hard-liners as too accommodating to congressional investigators and would-be intelligence reformers.
Now Ford had named George H. W. Bush to take over the CIA. But Bush seemed wholly unqualified for such a position – especially at a time when the agency was under maximum scrutiny. He had been U.N. ambassador, Republican National Committee chairman, and the U.S. envoy to Beijing, where both Nixon and Henry Kissinger had regarded him as a lightweight and worked around him. What experience did he have in the world of intelligence and spying? How would he restore public confidence in a tarnished spy agency? No one seemed to know. Or did Gerald Ford realize something most others didn’t?
Bush served at the CIA for one year, from early 1976 to early 1977. He worked quietly to reverse the Watergate-era reforms of CIA practices, moving as many operations as possible offshore and beyond accountability. Although a short stint, it nevertheless created an image problem in 1980 when Bush ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination against former California governor Ronald Reagan. Some critics warned of the dangerous precedent in elevating someone who had led the CIA, with its legacy of dark secrets and covert plots, blackmail and murder, to preside over the United States government.
“Must be another George Bush”
In 1985, when McBride found the FBI memo apparently relating to Bush’s past, the reporter did not immediately follow up this curious lead. Bush was now a recently reelected vice president (a famously powerless position), and McBride himself was busy with other things. By 1988, however, the true identity of “Mr. George Bush of the CIA” took on new meaning, as George H. W. Bush prepared to assume his role as Reagan’s heir to the presidency. Joe McBride decided to make the leap from entertainment reportage to politics. He picked up the phone and called the White House.
“May I speak with the vice president?” he asked
McBride had to settle for Stephen Hart, a vice presidential spokesman. Hart denied that his boss had been the man mentioned in the memo, quoting Bush directly. “I was in Houston, Texas, at the time and involved in the independent oil drilling business. And I was running for the Senate in late ’63. I don’t have any idea of what he’s talking about.” Hart concluded with this suggestion: “Must be another George Bush.”
McBride found the response troubling – rather detailed for a ritual non-denial. It almost felt like a cover story that Bush was a bit too eager to trot out. He returned to Hart with more questions for Bush:
- Did you do any work with or for the CIA prior to the time you became its director?
- If so, what was the nature of your relationship with the agency, and how long did it last?
- Did you receive a briefing by a member of the FBI on anti-Castro Cuban activities in the aftermath [of] the assassination of President Kennedy?
Within half an hour, Hart called him back. The spokesman now declared that, though he had not spoken with Bush, he would nevertheless answer the questions himself. Hart said that the answer to the first question was no, and, therefore, the other two were moot.
Undeterred, McBride called the CIA. A spokesman for the agency, Bill Devine, responded: “This is the first time I’ve ever heard this . . . I’ll see what I can find out and call you back.”
The following day, the PR man was tersely formal and opaque: “I can neither confirm nor deny.” It was the standard response the agency gave when it dealt with its sources and methods. Could the agency reveal whether there had been another George Bush in the CIA? Devine replied: “Twenty-seven years ago? I doubt that very much. In any event, we have a standard policy of not confirming that anyone is involved in the CIA.”
“Apparently” George William Bush
But it appears this standard policy was made to be broken. McBride’s revelations appeared in the July 16, 1988, issue of the liberal magazine theNation, under the headline “The Man Who Wasn’t There, ‘George Bush,’ C.I.A. Operative.” Shortly thereafter, CIA spokeswoman Sharron Basso told the Associated Press that the CIA believed that “the record should be clarified.” She said that the FBI document “apparently” referred to a GeorgeWilliam Bush who had worked in 1963 on the night shift at the Langley, Virginia, headquarters, and that “would have been the appropriate place to have received such an FBI report.” George William Bush, she said, had left the CIA in 1964 to join the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Certainly, the article caused George H. W. Bush no major headaches. By the following month, he was triumphantly accepting the GOP’s presidential nomination at its New Orleans convention, unencumbered by tough questions about his past.
CIA can’t find “other” George Bush?
Meanwhile, the CIA’s Basso told reporters that the agency had been unable to locate the “other” George Bush. The assertion was reported by several news outlets, with no comment about the irony of a vaunted intelligence agency – with a staff of thousands and a budget of billions – being unable to locate a former employee within American borders.
Perhaps what the CIA really needed was someone like Joseph McBride. Though not an investigative journalist, McBride had no trouble finding George William Bush. Not only was the man findable; he was still on the U.S. government payroll. By 1988 this George Bush was working as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration. He explained to McBride that he had worked only briefly at the CIA, as a GS-5 probationary civil servant, analyzing documents and photos during the night shift. Moreover, he said, he had never received interagency briefings.
Several years later, in 1991, former Texas Observer editor David Armstrong would track down the other person listed on the Hoover memo, Captain William Edwards. Edwards could confirm that he had been on duty at the Defense Intelligence Agency the day in question. He said he did not remember this briefing, but that he found the memo plausible in reference to a briefing he might have received over the phone while at his desk. While he said he had no idea who the George Bush was who also was briefed, Edward’s rank and experience was certainly far above that of the night clerk George William Bush.
Shortly after McBride’s article appeared in the Nation, the magazine ran a follow-up op-ed, in which the author provided evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency had foisted a lie on the American people. The piece appeared while everyone else was focusing on Bush’s coronation at the Louisiana Superdome. As with McBride’s previous story, this disclosure was greeted with the equivalent of a collective media yawn. An opportunity was bungled, not only to learn about the true history of the man who would be president, but also to recognize the “George William Bush” diversion for what it was: one in a long series of calculated distractions and disinformation episodes that run through the Bush family history.
George William Bush Deposes
With the election only two months away, and a growing sense of urgency in some quarters, George William Bush acknowledged under oath – as part of a deposition in a lawsuit brought by a nonprofit group seeking records on Bush’s past – that he was the junior officer on a three- to four-man watch shift at CIA headquarters between September 1963 and February 1964, which was on duty when Kennedy was shot. “I do not recognize the contents of the memorandum as information furnished to me orally or otherwise during the time I was at the CIA,” he said. “In fact, during my time at the CIA, I did not receive any oral communications from any government agency of any nature whatsoever. I did not receive any information relating to the Kennedy assassination during my time at the CIA from the FBI. Based on the above, it is my conclusion that I am not the Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency referred to in the memorandum.” . . .