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 third 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 3 come from Chapter 4 of the book, and the titles and subtitles have been changed for this publication.)
“Somewhere in Texas”
George H. W. Bush may be one of the few Americans of his generation who cannot recall exactly where he was when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
At times he has said that he was “somewhere in Texas.” Bush was indeed “somewhere” in Texas. And he had every reason to remember. At the time Bush was the thirty-nine-year-old chairman of the Harris County (Houston) Republican Party and an outspoken critic of the president. He was also actively campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate at exactly the time Kennedy was assassinated right in Bush’s own state. The story behind Bush’s apparent evasiveness is complicated. Yet it is crucial to an understanding not just of the Bush family, but also of a tragic chapter in the nation’s history.
Who Wanted Kennedy Dead?
The two and a half years leading up to November 22, 1963, had been tumultuous ones. The Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, designed to dislodge Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution from its headquarters ninety miles off the Florida Keys, was an embarrassing foreign policy failure. Certainly in terms of lives lost and men captured, it was also a human disaster. But within the ruling American elite it was seen primarily as a jolt to the old boys’ network – a humiliating debacle, and a rebuke of the supposedly infallible CIA. For John Kennedy it also presented an opportunity. He had been impressed with the CIA at first, and depended on its counterinsurgency against Communists and nationalists in the third world. But the Bay of Pigs disaster gave him pause. Whatever Kennedy’s own role in the invasion fiasco, it had been planned on Dwight Eisenhower’s watch. Kennedy had been asked to green-light it shortly after taking office, and in retrospect he felt the agency had deceived him in several key respects.
The most critical involved Cubans’ true feelings toward Castro. The CIA had predicted that the island population would rise up to support the invaders. When this did not happen, the agency, Air Force, Army, and Navy all put pressure on the young president to authorize the open use of U.S. armed forces. In effect they wanted to turn a supposed effort of armed Cuban “exiles” to reclaim their homeland into a full-fledged U.S. invasion. But Kennedy would not go along. The success of the operation had been predicated on something – a popular uprising – that hadn’t happened, and Kennedy concluded it would be foolish to get in deeper.
Following the disaster, CIA director Allen Dulles mounted a counteroffensive against criticism of the agency. Dulles denied that the plan had been dependent on a popular insurrection. Just weeks after the calamity, he offered this account on Meet the Press: “I wouldn’t say we expected a popular uprising. We were expecting something else to happen in Cuba . . . something that didn’t materialize.” For his part Kennedy was furious at Dulles for this self-serving explanation. He also was deeply frustrated about the CIA’s poor intelligence and suspected that the CIA had sought to force him into an invasion from the very beginning.
The president told his advisers he wanted “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” Within weeks of the invasion disaster, Washington was speculating on Dulles’s departure. By autumn, he was gone, along with his lieutenants Charles Cabell and Richard Bissell. But in the end, it was not the CIA but rather John F. Kennedy who was destroyed.
The assassination of JFK has fathered a thousand theories, and nearly as many books and studies. Through it all, no consensus has emerged. Most “respectable” academics, journalists, and news organizations don’t want to get near the matter, lest they be labeled conspiracy nuts. Most Americans harbor an overwhelming psychic resistance to what retired UC Berkeley professor and author Peter Dale Scott has called the “deep politics” surrounding the assassination. Few of us care to contemplate the awful prospect that the forces we depend upon for security and order could themselves be subverted.
When the Kennedy assassination is mentioned, the inquiry tends to focus on the almost impossible task of determining who fired how many shots and from where. This obsession with the gun or guns bypasses the more basic – and therefore more dangerous questions: Who wanted Kennedy dead, and why? And what did they hope to gain?
Earl Warren to LBJ: “I’ll just do whatever you say.”
The years since the first assassination investigation was hastily concluded in September 1964 have not been kind to the Warren Commission. Subsequent inquiries have found the commission’s process, and the resulting report, horrendously flawed. And there are lingering questions about the very origins of the commission. First, all the members were appointed by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who was – stark as this may sound – a chief beneficiary of the assassination, having immediately replaced the dead president to become the thirty-sixth president of the United States.
The commission’s chairman was the presiding chief justice of the Supreme Court. Earl Warren was the perfect choice because he was seen by the public as an honest, incorruptible man of substance. Warren’s involvement gave the commission a certain credibility and convinced major newspapers like the New York Times to continue supporting the commission report over the years.
Warren resisted LBJ’s call to service, but finally acquiesced, leading the panel to the conclusions it reached. To get Warren to say yes, Johnson had warned the justice that Oswald might be tied, through an alleged Mexico City visit, to the Soviets and Cubans. He implied that this could lead to nuclear war if level heads did not prevail.
As Johnson explained in a taped telephone conversation with Senator Richard Russell, himself reluctant to join the panel:
Warren told me he wouldn’t do it under any circumstances . . . He came down here and told me no – twice. And I just pulled out what [FBI director] Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City . . . And he started crying and he said, “I won’t turn you down. I’ll just do whatever you say.”
And that got Warren— and the public trust he brought— on board.
Allen Dulles, the member who asked the most questions, would have been himself considered a prime suspect by any standard police methodology. Moreover, he was expert not only in assassinations but also in deception and camouflage.