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. Here, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination in November, is the fifth part of a ten-part series of excerpts from WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker’s bestseller, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years. The story is a real-life thriller.
Note: Although these excerpts do not contain footnotes, the book itself is heavily footnoted and exhaustively sourced. (The excerpts in Part 5 come from Chapter 5 of the book, and the titles and subtitles have been changed for this publication.)
“Must have angered a lot of people”
In 1976, more than a decade after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a letter arrived at the CIA, addressed to its director, the Hon. George Bush. The letter was from a desperate-sounding man in Dallas, who spoke regretfully of having been indiscreet in talking about Lee Harvey Oswald and begged Poppy for help:
Maybe you will be able to bring a solution into the hopeless situation I find myself in. My wife and I find ourselves surrounded by some vigilantes; our phone bugged; and we are being followed everywhere. Either FBI is involved in this or they do not want to accept my complaints. We are driven to insanity by this situation . . . tried to write, stupidly and unsuccessfully, about Lee H. Oswald and must have angered a lot of people . . . Could you do something to remove this net around us? This will be my last request for help and I will not annoy you anymore.
The writer signed himself “G. de Mohrenschildt.”
The CIA staff assumed the letter writer to be a crank. Just to be sure, however, they asked their boss: Did he by any chance know a man named de Mohrenschildt? Bush responded by memo, seemingly self-typed:I do know this man DeMohrenschildt. I first men [sic] him in the early 40’3 [sic]. He was an uncle to my Andover roommate. Later he surfaced in Dallas (50’s maybe) . . . Then he surfaced when Oswald shot to prominence. He knew Oswald before the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. I don’t recall his role in all this.
Not recall? Once again, Poppy Bush was having memory problems. And not about trivial matters. George de Mohrenschildt was not just the uncle of a roommate, but a longtime personal associate. Yet Poppy could not recall – or more precisely, claimed not to recall – the nature of de Mohrenschildt’s relationship with the man believed to have assassinated the thirty-fifth president.
This would have been an unusual lapse on anyone’s part. But for the head of an American spy agency to exhibit such a blasé attitude, in such an important matter, was over the edge. At that very moment, several federal investigations were looking into CIA abuses – including the agency’s role in assassinations of foreign leaders. These investigations were heading toward what would become a reopened inquiry into Kennedy’s death. Could it be that the lapse was not casual, and the acknowledgment of a distant relationship was a way to forestall inquiry into a closer one?
Writing back to his old friend, Poppy assured the Mohrenschildt that his fears were entirely unfounded. Yet half a year later, de Mohrenschildt was dead. The cause was officially determined to be suicide with a shotgun. Investigators combing through de Mohrenschildt’s effects came upon his tattered address book, largely full of entries made in the 1950’s. Among them, though apparently eliciting no further inquiries on the part of the police, was an old entry for the current CIA director, with the Midland address where he had lived in the early days of Zapata:
BUSH, GEORGE H. W. (POPPY), 1412 W. OHIO ALSO ZAPATA PETROLEUM MIDLAND.
De Mohrenschildt and the Oswalds
When Poppy told his staff that his old friend de Mohrenschildt “knew Oswald,” that was an understatement. From 1962 through the spring of 1963, de Mohrenschildt was by far the principal influence on Oswald, the older man who guided every step of his life. De Mohrenschildt had helped Oswald find jobs and apartments, had taken him to meetings and social gatherings, and generally had assisted with the most minute aspects of life for Lee Oswald, his Russian wife, Marina, and their baby.
De Mohrenschildt’s relationship with Oswald has tantalized and perplexed investigators and researchers for decades. In 1964, de Mohrenschildt and his wife Jeanne testified to the Warren Commission, which spent more time with them than any other witness – possibly excepting Oswald’s widow, Marina. The Commission, though, focused on George de Mohrenschildt as a colorful, if eccentric, character, steering away every time de Mohrenschildt recounted yet another name from a staggering list of influential friends and associates. In the end, the commission simply concluded in its final report that these must all be coincidences and nothing more. The de Mohrenschildts, the Commission said, apparently had nothing to do with the assassination.
Even the Warren Commission counsel who questioned George de Mohrenschildt appeared to acknowledge that the Russian émigré was what might euphemistically be called an “international businessman.” For most of his adult life, de Mohrenschildt had traveled the world ostensibly seeking business opportunities involving a variety of natural resources – some, such as oil and uranium, of great strategic value. The timing of his overseas ventures was remarkable. Invariably, when he was passing through town, a covert or even overt operation appeared to be unfolding – an invasion, a coup, that sort of thing. For example, in 1961, as exiled Cubans and their CIA support team prepared for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Guatemala, George de Mohrenschildt and his wife passed through Guatemala City on what they told friends was a month-long walking tour of the Central American isthmus. On another occasion, the de Mohrenschildts appeared in Mexico on oil business just as a Soviet leader arrived on a similar mission – and even happened to meet the Communist official. In a third instance, they landed in Haiti shortly before an unsuccessful coup against its president that had U.S. fingerprints on it.
A Russian-born society figure was a friend both of the family of President Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. A series of strange coincidences providing the only known link between the two families before Oswald fired the shot killing Mr. Kennedy in Dallas a year ago was described in testimony before The Warren Commission by George S. de Mohrenschildt.
He was actually much more intriguing – and mystifying. As Norman Mailer noted in his book Oswald’s Tale, de Mohrenschildt possessed “an eclecticism that made him delight in presenting himself as right-wing, left-wing, a moralist, an aristocrat, a nihilist, a snob, an atheist, a Republican, a Kennedy lover, a desegregationist, an intimate of oil tycoons, a bohemian, and a socialite, plus a quondam Nazi apologist, once a year.”
A Name Never Dropped
During all these examinations, and notwithstanding de Mohrenschildt’s offhand recitation of scores of friends and colleagues, obscure and recognizable, he scrupulously never mentioned that he knew Poppy Bush. Nor did investigators uncover the fact that in the spring of 1963, immediately after his final communication with Oswald, de Mohrenschildt had traveled to New York and Washington for meetings with CIA and military intelligence officials. He even had met with a top aide to Vice President Johnson. And the commission certainly did not learn that one meeting in New York included Thomas Devine, then Bush’s business colleague in Zapata Offshore, who was doing double duty for the CIA.
Had the Warren Commission’s investigators comprehensively explored the matter, they would have found a phenomenal and baroque backstory that contextualizes de Mohrenschildt within the extended petroleum-intelligence orbit in which the Bushes operated.
Getting America Into World War I
The de Mohrenschildts were major players in the global oil business since the beginning of the twentieth century, and their paths crossed with the Rockefellers and other key pillars of the petroleum establishment. George de Mohrenschildt’s uncle and father ran the Swedish Nobel Brothers Oil Company’s operations in Baku, in Russian Azerbaijan on the southwestern coast of the Caspian Sea. This was no small matter. In the early days of the twentieth century, the region held roughly half of the world’s known oil supply. By the start of World War I, every major oil interest in the world, including the Rockefellers’ Standard Oil, was scrambling for a piece of Baku’s treasure or intriguing to suppress its competitive potential. (Today, ninety years later, they are at it again.)
In 1915, the czar’s government dispatched a second uncle of George de Mohrenschildt, the handsome young diplomat Ferdinand von Mohrenschildt, to Washington to plead for American intervention in the war – an intervention that might rescue the czarist forces then being crushed by the invading German army. President Woodrow Wilson had been reelected partly on the basis of having kept America out of the war. But as with all leaders, he was surrounded by men with their own agendas. A relatively close-knit group embodying the nexus of private capital and intelligence-gathering inhabited the highest levels of the Wilson administration. Secretary of State Robert Lansing was the uncle of a diplomat-spy by the name of Allen Dulles. Wilson’s closest adviser, “Colonel” Edward House, was a Texan and an ally of the ancestors of James A. Baker III, who would become Poppy Bush’s top lieutenant. Czarist Russia then owed fifty million dollars to a Rockefeller-headed syndicate. Keeping an eye on such matters was the U.S. ambassador to Russia, a close friend of George Herbert Walker’s from St. Louis.
Once the United States did enter the war, Prescott Bush’s father, Samuel Bush, was put in charge of small arms production. The Percy Rockefeller-headed Remington Arms Company got the lion’s share of the U.S. contracts. It sold millions of dollars worth of rifles to czarist forces, while it also profited handsomely from deals with the Germans.
In 1917, Ferdinand von Mohrenschildt’s mission to bring America into the world war was successful on a number of levels. Newspaper clippings of the time show him to be an instant hit on the Newport, Rhode Island, millionaires’ circuit. He was often in the company of Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, of the family then befriending Prescott Bush and about to hire Prescott’s future father-in-law, George Herbert Walker. Not long after that, Ferdinand married the step-granddaughter of President Woodrow Wilson.
In quick succession, the United States entered World War I, and the newlywed Ferdinand unexpectedly died. The von Mohrenschildt family fled Russia along with the rest of the aristocracy. Emanuel Nobel sold half of the Baku holdings to Standard Oil of New Jersey, with John D. Rockefeller Jr. personally authorizing the payment of $11.5 million. Over the next couple of decades, members of the defeated White Russian movement, which opposed the Bolsheviks and fought the Red Army from the 1917 October Revolution until 1923, would find shelter in the United States, a country that shared the anti-Communist movement’s ideological sentiments.