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 seventh 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 7 come from Chapter 6 of the book, and the titles and subtitles have been changed for this publication.)
Little is Ever What it Seems
The evidence was mounting that Poppy Bush was not the genial bumbler the public remembered – the bland fellow in the turtleneck who drove a golf cart around Kennebunkport and could never make up his mind.
Apparently Poppy had secrets, and he kept them well. It seems that he had been involved in intelligence work for much of his adult life. He had been in and around hot spots of covert action. And in the fall of 1963, he had for some unfathomable reason been worried that someone would discover he had been in Dallas on the evening of November 21 and seemingly the morning of November 22.
As far as I knew, he had attended the oilmen’s meeting and then left for Tyler. Why hide that fact?
One obvious reason is that no one with any political ambition would want to be associated in the public’s mind with the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963. But in that case, what does it say about Poppy that his first instinct was to create an elaborate cover story to airbrush away an inconvenient fact?
It is theoretically possible, of course, that there was something totally apart from the assassination he didn’t want known. But given his documented intelligence ties and the fact that figures close to him were connected to the event, the likelihood that his attempt to distance himself from Dallas on November 22 was unrelated to the tragedy of that day seems low.
In the absence of any plausible alternative explanation, I found the possibility that George H. W. Bush himself was somehow linked to the events in Dallas worth pursuing, as a working hypothesis at least. Among the material I had to consider was that memo from J. Edgar Hoover referring to a briefing given to “George Bush of the CIA” on the day after the assassination. I also had to take into account the visit from England that week by Al Ulmer, the CIA coup expert – and that Ulmer had spent time with Poppy. There were still more disturbing facts, perhaps all coincidental, which I gathered and which will be presented below and in the next chapter.
Still, I was unsure how to proceed. I was well aware of the perils of even touching the assassination topic, and as a journalist with a reputation to protect, I naturally had reservations. I wasn’t eager to be dismissed as gullible or self-aggrandizing or downright wacky – as I know so often happens to people (sometimes justifiably) who tackle such topics, unless they advance the conventional wisdom or simply point to the “unsolved mysteries” that haunt historians. But I knew I should not, and really could not ignore what I was finding.
So I stepped back. Examining the circle around Bush, I could see it was full of people who had grievances – personal, political, or economic – against Kennedy, and whether or not they wanted him out of the way, who clearly were advantaged by his death.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, JFK had been blunt about his feelings toward the intelligence elite that had concocted the Cuban scheme. “I’ve got to do something about those CIA bastards,” he had raged. Heads had rolled, and Allen Dulles, the Bushes’ close friend, was still smarting over his firing. So was Charles Cabell, the brother of Dallas mayor Earle Cabell and the CIA’s deputy director of operations during the Bay of Pigs invasion; Kennedy deep-sixed his career. Also holding a grudge against the Kennedys was Prescott Bush, who was furious at both JFK and RFK for sacking his close friend Dulles. And there were many others.
The downside of dissembling is that it invites curiosity and the inevitable question: What exactly is the dissembler trying to hide? Poppy Bush went to such lengths, even raising distracting suspicions about a regular volunteer for his Harris County Republican organization and frequent presence in its offices that I felt there had to be more to the story. In Poppy’s book-length collection of correspondence, All the Best, George Bush, there are no letters in the relevant time frame even mentioning the JFK assassination. Remarkably for a Texan, and an aspiring Texas politician of that era, Bush has apparently never written anything about the assassination. This applies even to his anemic memoir, Looking Forward, in which he mentions Kennedy’s visit to Dallas but not what happened to him there. Once I began to piece together the scattered clues to what might be the true narrative, I realized that Poppy’s resort to crafty evasions and multilayered cover stories in this incident seemed to fit a pattern in his life. Over and over, those seeking to nail down the facts about George H. W. Bush’s doings encounter what might be characterized as a sustained fuzziness; what appear at first glance to be unexceptionable details turn out, on closer examination, to be potentially important facts that slip away into confusion and deniability. Little is ever what it seems.
To get a better idea of what happened on November 22 requires a detour, not so much away from Poppy but rather into the spider’s web of connections around him. We start with motive.
How to Win Enemies and Influence People
By the fall of 1963, the Kennedy brothers had made enough enemies to fill an old hotel full of suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery.
There were the many powerful figures under investigation by RFK’s Justice Department, and untold numbers of movers and shakers who felt slighted or humiliated by other Kennedy maneuvers. Jack’s insistence on Allen Dulles’s resignation following the Bay of Pigs debacle was in effect a declaration of independence from the Wall Street intelligence nexus that had pretty much had its way in the previous administration. Like FDR, JFK was considered a traitor to his own class. Also like FDR, he had the charm and political savvy to get away with it. With his wealthy scoundrel of a father in his corner, he could not be bought or controlled.And of course there was the Mafia, which was desperately attempting to recoup its huge losses after Castro shut down their casinos and exiled or imprisoned leading Mafiosi. After Castro announced in December 1959 that he was a Communist, the CIA recognized its newly found common cause with the underworld and solicited the services of several mobsters, in what became the notorious CIA-Mafia plots against JFK. There was motive aplenty: Attorney General Robert Kennedy relentlessly pursued the mob-tied Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa and a long list of underworld figures.
Then, too, many prominent people nursed more private grievances. For one thing, Jack Kennedy could not keep his pants on. He thought nothing of romancing the wives and girlfriends of the powerful. The FBI tracked many affairs during JFK’s brief time in office, but then J. Edgar Hoover was no fan of the Kennedys either.
And there were the Cuban exiles who blamed the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion on President Kennedy rather than on its overseer, the CIA’s Allen Dulles.