Inside the Department of Dirty Tricks

"We're not in the Boy Scouts," Richard Helms was fond of saying when he ran the Central Intelligence Agency. He was correct, of course. Boy Scouts do not ordinarily bribe foreign politicians, invade other countries with secret armies, spread lies, conduct medical experiments, build stocks of poison, pass machine guns to people who plan to turn them on their leaders, or plot to kill men such as Lumumba or Castro or others who displeased Washington. The CIA did these things, and more, over a long span of years. On whose orders? This is a question a Pulitzer prizewinning writer addresses in an adaptation from his forthcoming book about Helms and the Agency, The Man Who Kept the Secrets.

The elimination of Castro was raised again by the Kennedys—in more ambiguous terms this time—during a meeting with Bissell in September 1961. Bissell later described the meeting to his Cuban desk officer in mid-October. He said he had been called to the White House and "raked stem to stern" by both Kennedys in the Cabinet Room, and by Robert Kennedy in particular. By all accounts, both Kennedys could make a point when they wanted to. McGeorge Bundy, who told the Church Committee that ordering an assassination would have been "contrary to everything I know about their character," also said that when there "was something that they really wanted done they did not leave people in doubt." Larry Houston, who had on May 7, 1962, briefed Robert Kennedy about the early, pre-Bay of Pigs Mafia plot, made the same point: "If you have seen Mr. Kennedy's eyes get steely and his jaw set and his voice get low and precise you get a definite feeling of unhappiness." The Cuba desk officer got a clear impression from Bissell's description of what he'd been told by the Kennedys: they wanted the CIA to get rid of Castro, and they meant get rid of Castro.

Castro continued to be on the Kennedys' mind that fall of 1961. On November 9, the attorney general took Tad Szulc, then a reporter for the New York Times, to meet the President, who asked Szulc, "What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?" Szulc told the President it wouldn't work, and that the United States should not do such things. Kennedy said he and his brother felt the same way. In Szulc's note of the conversation, made the same day, he wrote "JFK said he raised question because he was under terrific pressure from advisers (think he said intelligence people, but not positive) to okay a Castro murder. Said he was resisting pressures."

Despite all the evidence gathered by the Church Committee, it never found anything like an order to kill Castro in writing, and it never found a witness who would confess explicitly that he had received such an order. The committee's response to the incomplete record was to leave the question of authority hanging. Must we do the same? Lacking a smoking gun in the form of an incriminatory document or personal testimony, we can reach no firm conclusion, but at the same time the available evidence leans heavily toward a finding that the Kennedys did, in fact, authorize the CIA to make an attempt on Castro's life.

The evidence is particularly persuasive on two points. First, President Kennedy's conversations with Senator Smathers and Tad Szulc on the subject of assassination both occurred at times when the CIA was actively trying to kill Castro with the aid of the Mafia. Second, the briefing of Robert Kennedy by Lawrence Houston and Sheffield Edwards elicited a very narrow response from Kennedy. The facts surrounding the briefing, held on May 7, 1962, are extremely complex, but at its heart the episode is a simple one: a case of the dog that didn't bark. Houston told the committee that Kennedy's anger was directed at the CIA's use of the Mafia; He made the same point even more emphatically to me. "Kennedy was mad," he said. "He was mad as hell. But what he objected to was the possibility it would impede prosecution against Giancana and Rosselli. He was not angry about the assassination plot, but about our involvement with the Mafia." Perhaps Kennedy did not know the whole story, Houston conceded, but he added: "All I know is that [Robert] Kennedy knew about one of them [the assassination plots] in very great detail."

The record is clear, then, that Kennedy was thoroughly briefed about the details of an attempt to murder Castro during his brother's presidency. The record is clear that the attempt to kill Castro continued. And the record is clear that, despite his knowledge of the earlier attempt, Robert Kennedy did not protest to the CIA, to its director, John McCone, to Helms, or to anyone else in the Agency about that attempt. He was mad about the use of the Mafia. Period. Would he have kept his mouth shut, and done nothing, if he had discovered that the CIA, answerable to his brother, had tried to murder a foreign leader without his brother's approval? It seems unlikely.

That was the first time the dog didn't bark. The second time occurred during the Church Committee's investigation, when Kennedy Administration officials might have been expected to be publicly furious at the CIA—an executive agency, as Helms often reminded Congress when he was director—for undertaking anything so fundamental as an assassination without the President's explicit approval. Instead, they said that the Kennedys they knew would never have done such a thing, and left it at that. Why were they so complaisant? Well, you can push a man keeping a secret just so far.

4. A Case History: Chile

DURING the 1960s, Chile received more American aid per capita than just about any other country in the world—Vietnam excepted—and the CIA provided half the money spent in the 1964 election won by the Christian Democratic party candidate, Eduardo Frei.

Frei was the beneficiary, not only of CIA funds given directly to his party (something he did not know), but of a CIA propaganda program intended to scare the living daylights out of Chileans at the prospect of a victory by Salvador Allende, whose Popular Action Front was depicted as nakedly Stalinist. Posters of Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest and of Cubans in front of Castro's firing squads proliferated on Chilean walls in 1964. CIA assets in the Chilean press hammered on the same theme while CIA election experts coached Christian Democratic party workers on American media and get-out-the-vote techniques. A quieter but equally effective CIA disinformation effort helped to divide the left and to keep Allende defending himself against charges which were false or half true or even all true—such as foreign funding of his party—but which were equally true of his principal opponent, Frei.

In the end Frei's victory in 1964 was probably his own, but not its margin: the credit for that must go to the air of crisis that polarized the Chilean electorate, and which had been largely the CIA's doing.

As early as April 15, 1969, Helms warned Henry Kissinger that an early start was necessary if the CIA was to repeat in 1970 its successful role in the 1964 election. Kissinger decided to let the matter ride for the moment. The situation was complicated by a dispute between the CIA and U.S. Ambassador to Chile Edward M. Korry, who favored minimal interference. In Santiago, CIA station chief Henry Heckscher wanted to support the rightist candidate, Jorge Alessandri, directly. Korry balked at that, but Heckscher persuaded him that his hands-off policy was suggesting American indifference to the cause of democracy, and was in effect helping Allende, who was receiving Russian funds. Korry and Heckscher then drafted a joint plan for a general anti-Allende campaign which would continue to bar direct support for any single candidate. At length a proposal for anti-Allende "spoiling operations" was finally approved on March 25, 1970.

At this point the multinational companies intervened. They wanted not a general anti-Allende, scare-the-people campaign, but a more aggressive program of positive financial and technical support for Alessandri, the only candidate in the election who opposed expropriation. On April 10, a group from the Business Council on Latin America met with the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Charles Meyer, to urge a major pro-Alessandri effort. Meyer, a former Sears, Roebuck executive in Latin America who had been given his State Department job through the influence of David Rockefeller, was studiously noncommittal when the chairman of the board of Anaconda, C. Jay Parkinson, said his and other interested American companies were willing to put up $500,000 to block Allende. Another State Department officer present at the meeting, William Stedman, sent Korry a memorandum describing Parkinson's offer, and Korry responded on April 28 with a stinging cable arguing against any such involvement by U.S. business, claiming that Alessandri was a candidate of the rich, who could well afford to pay for their champion's campaign, and repeating again that U.S. support for a rightist was going to backfire against the United States.

Deflected for the moment by Korry's opposition, the multinationals changed their strategy. Instead of proceeding through the State Department, they decided to enlist the aid and expertise of the CIA. In May 1970, John McCone, who had appointed Helms head of the DDP back in 1962, and who was now a member of the board of directors of ITT, approached Helms privately to discuss a CIA-ITT program to support Alessandri. As DCI back in 1964, McCone had refused an ITT offer of funds for the Chilean election, but now he was ready to propose what amounted to the same thing. In July 1970, McCone again contacted Helms, who in turn arranged a Washington meeting between William Broe, chief of the Western Hemisphere Division of the DDP, and Harold Geneen, the head of ITT. Geneen offered Broe and the CIA $1 million in ITT funds for a pro-Alessandri campaign.

The various congressional committees that investigated the Chilean episode cited the ITT offer but never fully explained what it was for. Giving the CIA money, after all, is bringing coals to Newcastle. Why was the offer made? Both Korry and the State Department opposed a pro-Alessandri campaign, and Kissinger duly limited the U.S. effort to an anti-Allende campaign. Rejecting State Department reservations at a 40 Committee (the White House CIA Oversight Committee) meeting on June 27, 1970—"I don't see why we have to let a country go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible"—Kissinger nevertheless restricted the U.S. effort to spoiling operations and a $500,000 contingency fund, proposed by Korry ten days earlier, to "influence" the final vote of the Chilean Congress, should Allende win the election on September 4. The weakness of Kissinger's strategy, as Helms suggested without emphasis at several meetings on Chile, was the weakness of any political campaign which proposed to beat somebody with nobody. It is hard not to conclude then, that ITT's million-dollar offer, made indirectly through McCone, was actually an attempt to reach a working agreement with the CIA for a pro-Alessandri campaign which was to remain secret from Korry and the State Department, and perhaps—but this is less likely—even from the White House itself.

Did McCone, a former CIA director, have reason to believe that the CIA would lend itself to any such free-lancing scheme? In any event, the CIA cooperated in a modified version of such a scheme, providing ITT with the names of Chileans through whom ITT could support Alessandri on its own. According to several sources, the CIA went further, and provided ITT with local introductions as well. Thus the CIA was, in effect, operationally supporting a policy which had been specifically rejected, so far as the record shows, by the U.S. government. The bald facts of this arrangement were cited by the Church Committee but then more or less ignored, an omission which was to infuriate Korry later.

In the early Summer of 1970, the CIA, over Korry's protest, managed to persuade the State Department to support a pre-election poll in Chile. The result was a CIA prediction that Alessandri, would win with 42 percent of the vote. Korry took issue and reviewed the poll with the help of embassy officers. They cabled the State Department criticizing the CIA for basing its poll on the 1960 Chilean census, and concluding that Alessandri would win 40 percent of the vote at best, and likely a good deal less. The CIA reviewed the review and stuck to its original figures; Alessandri would win with 42 percent.

But Alessandri did not win on September 4, despite a CIA propaganda effort which was a replay of the 1964 scare campaign. The actual results were Allende 36.3 percent, Alessandri 34.9, and Rodomiro Tomis 27.8. The reaction on the right in Chile, among the multinationals, and in the White House was all but identical: alarm verging on panic. Nixon and Kissinger, perhaps lulled by the CIA's poll into a relative low-key intervention, now felt betrayed and desperate: something had to be done to stop Allende. This sentiment was fully shared by the multinationals. The Chilean publisher Agustin Edwards, a longtime ally of the CIA, asked Henry Heckscher to arrange a meeting with Korry at the embassy. There Edward bluntly asked, "Will the U.S. do anything militarily—directly or indirectly?" Korry was as unhappy about Allende's victory as Edwards, but he was dead set against anything in the nature of a coup to keep Allende out of office. He told Edwards that the United States intended to abide by the election results. But Edwards had other avenues to the U.S. government, and he immediately used them. As the owner of a local Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, he knew PepsiCo's chief, Donald Kendall, an old ally and friend of Nixon. Edwards fled Chile, met with Kendall in the United States, and prophesied general disaster if Allende was allowed to take office. Kendall was impressed and arranged for Henry Kissinger and John Mitchell to meet Edwards at a private breakfast on the morning of September 15. 1970. A week earlier, Harold Geneen of ITT, also alarmed, had asked McCone to get in touch with Helms again, but this time Helms delayed his response, waiting to see what the White House wanted to do.

Korry, meanwhile, had picked up wind of a possible military coup as a means of preventing Allende's confirmation by the Chilean Congress in its vote scheduled for October 24. The commander of the Chilean armed forces, General Rene Schneider, was known to be firmly opposed to any unconstitutional attempt to block Allende's confirmation. Since the birth of Chilean independence in 1818, democracy in Chile had been interrupted on only three brief occasions, the last in 1932—a remarkable history in Latin America, and one which Schneider wanted to maintain.

Other military officers, however, were not so punctilious. For nearly eight years, the CIA had been painting a leftist victory in the darkest possible light, and elements of the Chilean military, like Chilean businessmen hurriedly exporting their capital abroad, were afraid that Stalinism was around the corner. One of the early military conspirators was Brigadier General Roberto Viaux, who left the army after an abortive coup called the "Tacnazo" in 1969, and who was an erratic, politically irresponsible man with a beautiful, ambitious wife. Korry had ordered the CIA to refrain from all contact with Viaux and other military conspirators, and he later barred two local ITT men from the embassy, Hal Hendrix and Robert Berrellez, because of their plotting with the Chilean right. On September 12, responding to a Kissinger-40 Committee request for a "cold-blooded assessment" of the situation, Korry cabled that "our own military people [are] unanimous in rejecting possibility of meaningful military intervention .... What we are saying in this 'cold-blooded assessment' is that opportunities for further significant USG action with the Chilean military are non-existent."

Two days later, on September 14, the 40 Committee decided to risk what the CIA referred to as "the Rube Goldberg gambit," an unwieldy scheme to (a) persuade Frei to resign, (b) have his vice president succeed to the presidency, and then (c) "influence"—with a $250,000 CIA contingency fund—the Chilean Congress to vote for Frei, who was otherwise constitutionally ineligible to succeed himself. Korry went along with this improbable scheme on the grounds that it depended on Frei, and thus offered a "Chilean solution." But Heckscher had already warned Korry that nothing of the sort could work, since CIA agents had learned that Tomic and Allende had reached a secret deal to back the leader if either of the two candidates should place first or second in the election. In effect, they were collaborating to beat the right. Such a deal could hardly have been reached without Frei's support as leader of the Christian Democrats, but Korry refused to believe the CIA was right in its report of the deal, and when he learned later that the Agency had been right, he felt something of a fool for ever having approached Frei with the Rube Goldberg gambit.

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