Many of the IG Report's most important revelations have been known for two decades, but the release of the full text is nonetheless important. Although many of its key statements were transmitted by Congressional Committees in the 1970s, the document as a whole tells us far more than any of its parts. It is informative in What it chooses to tell us about the CIA's conscious collaboration with (its phrase) the "criminal underworld" (p. 15). But it is also informative in the facts which it strives to disguise or suppress. These include key events in the immediate context of President Kennedy's assassination.
The IG Report was the result of an investigation ordered in 1967 by President Johnson, after a Drew Pearson-Jack Anderson column of March 7, 1967, had published for the first time details of "a reported CIA plan in 1963 to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro."(l) However Johnson never got to see the actual report: Helms merely spoke to him from a set of notes which excluded the key events of late 1963. President Nixon never got to see it either, although it would appear that he had his aide John Ehrlichman try over many months to pry it out of CIA Director Richard Helms.(2)
The Report's story of CIA-underworld assassination murder plots will startle no one in the 1990s. In 1967 it was so explosive as to be virtually unmentionable in the public arena for another eight years. Even the Anderson column. Which told only a small part of what Anderson would eventually reveal, was published four days late by the Washington Post, by which time the column's references to the recruitment of "underworld figures" had been edited out, presumably after checking with the CIA. We shall see that a follow-up column by Jack Anderson in 1971 was likewise edited. Not until the 1975 reports from the Rockefeller Commission and the Senate Church Committee did the press treat the story of CIA-Mafia murder plots as more than a wild left-wing allegation.
Comment by PDS: one of these was Meyer Lansky's Tropicana, where the manager was first Dino Cellini and then his and Jack Ruby's mutual friend Lewis McWillie, who arranged Ruby's mysterious trips to Cuba in 1959.3 Then Dino and Eddie Cellini (with a third brother, Goffredo or Girodino Cellini) managed the casino at Lansky's 514 million dream palace, the Riviera, which opened in 1957. Thanks to the presence of top international couriers like Giuseppe de Giorgio, Havana casinos served as way-stations in the transfer of large heroin shipments from Europe to the United States.(4)
On reflection, this should appear brazen, but not surprising. The mob had functioned as enforcers of U.S. interests in Cuba since the repeal in 1934 of the Platt Amendment which had "legalized" U.S. interventions in Cuba. Their corruption of Cuban politicians like Carlos Prio Socarras (Varona's patron), or Fulgencio Batista helped reduce these men (whatever their original ambitions) to the role of docile feeders at the U.S. capitalistic trough.
There may have been politics behind the March 1961 decision of the CIA's Office of Security to follow Trafficante's guidance and give a murder role to Varona. At the time Varona's influence in the Frente had been undercut by the incoming Kennedy Administration's stated preference for younger and less reactionary political leaders, notably the young engineer Manolo Ray, who had served briefly as a Minister under Castro. Bowing to the inevitable, senior CIA officials like Richard Bissell had made this leftward adjustment. After removing the right-wing Howard Hunt as the Frente's political liaison, on March no they appointed the more neutral Miro Cardona to be head of the CIA's "provisional government" with Ray and Varona as his lieutenants.(6)
The political difference between Marina and Ray was significant, at least from the point of view of the CIA. Varona was explicitly in favor of restoring the land, banks, and industries that had been nationalized under Castro to their original owners; Ray (whose political slogan was Fidelismo sin Fidel) accepted this part of the Castro revolution.(7)
Trafficante as well as Varona could correctly interpret the Kennedys' leftward move towards Ray as a threat to their influence in a post-Castro Cuba. Varona's and Trafficante's interests were not identical -- indeed Varona had once denounced mob influence in Cuba -- but Varona in exile depended on the funds and other resources of the mob-tainted Prio. The even more right-wing ideologue Hunt preferred the young Catholic leader Manuel Artime over Varona; and in January took steps to counter a leftward shift of the Frente by increasing the status of Artime (who by now was a Varona ally) in the CIA invasion forced All three men, Varona, Trafficante, and Hunt, had reasons to oppose the Kennedy-backed forces of social democracy.
O'Connell's decision to involve Varona in a sensitive and central murder operation, at a time when his status and influence in the Bay of Pigs Operation was diminishing, reflects at a minimum the kind of bureaucratic inertia that has made the CIA such a reactionary force throughout the Third World But what are we to make of his decision to do so without seeking guidance from Bissell or higher authority? Other considerations suggest that his decision, like Hunt's promotion of Artime, and indeed the whole CIA-Mafia collaboration to kill Castro, was not just insensitive to the Kennedys' political directives but consciously and actively opposed to them.
It is important to understand that CIA-underworld collaboration was an established and continuing mode of operation going back to the suppression of Sicilian and French Communism after World War II.(9) The Kennedy family had their own well-established mob connections, dating back to Joseph Kennedy's liquor operations during and after prohibition.(10) Almost certainly the mob helped elect Kennedy in 1960, as it has frequently helped to elect Presidents (and more importantly advance them through the primaries) before and since.(11)
And yet Bobby Kennedy was undeniably (and dangerously) committed to the goal of reducing the power of organized crime in America. Both in his years with the McClellan Rackets Committee and then in his book The Enemy Within, published in February 1960, Kennedy specifically targeted both Santos Trafficante and Sam Giancana along with Jimmy Hoffa (almost certainly another CIA asset, and possibly involved in the murder plot, although unnamed in the IG Report).12 And when as Attorney General Bobby drew up a list of the hoods he wanted to go after, "heading the list was none other than Sam Giancana."(13) In fact the Parade article and photographs which allegedly revealed to O'Connell he was dealing with Giancana and Traffficante (IG Report, 19) were later recalled by O'Connell as describing "Bobby Kennedy's ten most wanted individuals" (5 AH 249).(14)
The truth is that in 1960 Trafficante and Giancana were relatively little known, apart from Robert Kennedy's pursuit of them. It can hardly be a coincidence that in August 1960, shortly after John Kennedy secured the Democratic nomination, Bissell and Edwards took steps to create (via Roselli, Giancana's subordinate) a CIA connection to these two men, effectively conferring on them a CIA immunity, or "get-out-of-jail free" card, that Giancana, in particular, would use dramatically on two occasions when his nemesis was Attorney General (IG Report, 57-60, 67-70).
Both Trafficante and Maheu, along with Maheu's mentor Edward Bennett Williams (through whom Maheu had met Roselli), were allied to Bobby Kennedy's arch-enemy, Jimmy Hoffa.(15) Using Maheu as his investigator, Williams had performed a number of favors for the CIA in the past, as well as Hoffa. So, according to his biographers, had John Roselli.(16) It is thus understandable, and hardly treasonable, that the CIA should have taken these steps to protect their underworld assets, before the Kennedys came to power.
By contrast, the revival of the plan with Varona, probably in March 1961 (IG Report, 29; Assassination Plots Report, 82), set the CIA in clear and witting alliance with the underworld, in opposition to the policy priorities of the new Attorney General, backed by the President of the United States.
What was really being protected by the CIA here was not so much the underworld per se, but the political life of Washington in which the underworld, with its lobbyists and call girls and cash, was an integrated part.(17) Perhaps the most revealing clue to this is the Report's startling digression (IG Report, 30) on the Cellini brothers (who were top Lansky lieutenants) and the Washington p.r. man Edward K. Moss, a man so powerful (especially among Democrats) that all reference to him has been deleted in the Church Committee's extended (and Democratic) Assassination Plots Report.
Whether or not Moss actively represented the Cellinis, he did for years represent a number of far more famous people who were simultaneously CIA assets. One of these in the 1970s was Adnan Khashoggi, then known as "the richest man in the world." (Khashoggi's kickbacks on lucrative defense contracts with Saudi Arabia generated a slush fund for such intelligence-driven operations as the Iran-Contra affair.) We learn from Khashoggi's biography that in 1954 Moss, a Yale man and former assistant to the president of the American Management Association, "started Moss International Inc., which has advised nineteen countries, helped the Democratic National Committee organize conventions, and represented the National Coffee Association and the Bank of America.''(18)
It is striking that one of Moss's acts for Khashoggi was to secure for him the legal services of Edward P. Morgan, the attorney whom Maheu had previously hired for Howard Hughes (another source of funds for CIA operations) and who turns up in the IG Report (p. 36) as attorney for John Roselli. As Ron Kessler remarks in his Khashoggi biography, Morgan was the kind of man who knew that clients and issues come and go, but the powers in Washington remain. largely unchanged." (19)
The chief result of the so-called assassination plot of 1960-61 was not to threaten Castro. It was to preserve the dubious underpinnings of the world that made men like Maheu and Moss and Morgan (and their friends in the CIA) enduringly powerful.
One can indeed surmise that this was not only the result, but for some, and above all Maheu himself, the conscious aim of the operation. For the CIA gained no protection whatsoever by introducing such sinister outpours as Roselli, Giancana and Trafficante. Far from suppressing the involvement of the CIA, these men advertised it whenever it suited them, as even the IG Report is aware.(20) Even riskier, from the point of view of the CIA's security, was the fact that by 1961 Trafficante was widely suspected of being a double agent. reporting to Castro's DGI as well as the CIA.(21)
The plot makes much more sense, however, if one imagines that the initiative for it came from below; and that the purpose was to protect. not the CIA, but the mob and its allies. This is quite possible, for Edwards, O'Connell, Maheu, and Roselli were more clannish than the IG Report lets on. The sentence "Edwards consulted Robert A. Maheu...to see if Maheu had any underworld contacts" (IG Report, 15) is particularly misleading. Edwards, O'Connell, Maheu, and Roselli had already dined together in Maheu's home the previous spring.(22) Maheu claims that Edwards and O'Connell originally met and talked with Roselli at a party Maheu threw for an ex-FBI agent, Scott McLeod, when he left the State Department s Office of Security in 1957.(23) Nor did Maheu open his Office with a CIA subsidy in 1956, as the IG Report claims (15); he opened it in 1954.24 In the next six years he had done a number of jobs for the CIA, and O'Connell in particular. In this time period the Maheu office, which Jim Hougan characterizes as one of the CIA's "deniable proprietaries," had been involved in the 1956 kidnap-murder of a leading intellectual from the Dominican Republic, Jesus de Galindez, in collaboration with the mob figure Bayonne Joe Zicarelli.(25)
Could the four men who dined together at Maheu's house have dreamed up this escapade to reinforce their alliance against Bobby' s house-cleaning? It is striking that (according to the IG Report, 16-18) Edwards took this; step on his own initiative, merely informing his superiors of a fait accompli. What increases the possibility of that Edwards was using the CIA to help the mob (rather than vice versa) is the fact that so many of those involved (O'Connell, Maheu, Morgan, and others) were, as the IG Report notes (15) former FBI men. For the mob had been receiving the same privileged treatment from some high officials in the FBI, and from J. Edgar Hoover in particular, for many years.(26)
Another possibility, not inconsistent. is that the plot was intended to fail, and that Trafficante, the suspected double agent, was in fact supposed under CIA direction to leak some of the details to the Cuban DGI. This would haste the effect of increasing Trafficante's credibility and utility to the Castro intelligence forces, and thus help open a window for the CIA inside Cuba. One of the IG Report's authors, Scott Breckenridge, later maintained to a Senate staff member "that Trafficante had been providing Castro with details of the plot all along".(27)
Not mentioned in the IG Report, but crucial to understanding the AMLASH operation, are the secret contacts in 1963 between representatives of the Kennedys and of Castro. The CIA, now deeply distrusted by the White House, was pointedly excluded from these secret negotiations; but almost certainly it had knowledge of them. The CIA's assassination initiatives in 1963 seem completely bizarre, and irrational, unless we consider that they were designed to prevent these secret contacts from succeeding.
Normal to any CIA illegal operation, and indeed dictated by the CIA's charter, is the condition that it must be plausibly deniable. In 1963 the CIA flagrantly violated this elementary rule, as if deliberately. whereas in 1960 it had brought in the mob as a means of concealing government responsibility, in 1963 it repeatedly sought to establish a convincing trail of responsibility leading into the Kennedy White House.
In 1962, for example New York attorney James Donovan, accompanied by John Nolan of Robert Kennedy's staff. had negotiated smith Castro the return of the Pay of Pigs prisoners. In April 1963 the two men returned to Cubela for more negotiations which, even if not conclusive, were fruitful in opening a doorway for further talks towards possible normalization.(32) The CIA was informed of this mission but did not take part in it.
Desmond FitzGerald of the CIA's SAS staff does not appear to have looked favorably towards this step on the accommodation track. In early 1963 the staff arranged for the CIA's Technical Services Division to purchase a wet suit, and contaminate it with tuberculosis bacilli and the spores for a disabling skin disease. The plan Was for Donovan (who was not informed of the plot) to give the suit to Castro, his companion in scuba diving.(33)
It is not hard to see that this wild proposal violated "the most elementary considerations -- for example that it [i.e. the suit] was in effect a gift from the United States, while the idea was to keep it secret; or, then again. Donovan's feelings about being the gift-giver in this plot. If he wasn't let in on the plot, after all, he might try on the suit himself."(34)
We can see the same CIA antipathy to the accommodation track in October 1963. By this time (thanks in part to the Donovan-Nolan mission) there had been presidentially authorized meetings at the UN between William Attwood. a Special Advisor to the U.S. Delegation, and the Cuban UN Ambassador, Carlos Lechuga. The President' s authorization specified that Attwood would report directly to McGeorge Bundy in the White House; the CIA and the State Department were to be excluded. The talks began in September and soon involved others, including the French journalist Jean Daniel. On November 18 Attwood finally reported to Bundy that Castro would be sending Lechuga instructions for the agenda of a meeting with Attwood in Havana. Bundy replied that the President would see Attwood after a brief trip to Dallas. With the President's death, the project for normalization lapsed.(35)
The time frame of the short-lived. Attwood initiative fits closely with the 1963 Cubela assassination plot. The go-between who arranged for Attwood to meet Lechuga (the American journalist Lisa Howard) told Attwood of her intentions on September 5. Two days later, on September 7, the CIA resumed contact with Rolando Cubela. a member of Castro's entourage whom the CIA had first contacted in 1961, and then dropped in 1969, after proof of his notorious inability to keep a secret.(36) Attwood himself comments that the CIA must have had an inkling of what he was up to, from their phone taps and surveillance of Lechuga.(37)
This first coincidence of dates may have been fortuitous. Less excusable is the unauthorized decision of Richard Helms and Desmond FitzGerald to have FitzGerald present himself to Cubela on October 29 as a personal representative of Robert Kennedy, especially since FitzGerald proceeded to discuss an assassination plot against Castro which the Kennedys almost certainly knew nothing about. October 29 was just five days after the President had met personally with Jean Daniel, and given him a personal message to transmit to Fidel Castro. Robert Kennedy had just authorized the Attwood accommodation initiative from which the CIA was being excluded. Crudely put, Helms and FitzGerald chose unilaterally to represent Robert Kennedy, precisely at a time when they could not know what he wanted, or was up to: a time when there was a distinction and potential divergence between CIA and Kennedy interests.
That the CIA was well aware of this distinction was unconsciously revealed in 1976 by FitzGerald's assistant Samuel Halpern. Halpern was deposed by the Schweiker-Hart Subcommittee, who had learned that two senior CIA officers had counseled FitzGerald against the security risk of a personal meeting with Cubela. Halpern discounted the danger that the FitzGerald-Cubela meeting "exposed the CIA to possible embarrassment, because Fitzgerald had not used his real name and, therefore, AMLASH would have been unable to identify Fitzgerald as a CIA officer."(38)
Only Robert Kennedy would be embarrassed, in other words. This indeed would seem to be the most rational intention of such an unprofessional and disloyal meeting. Both Kennedys were lending support to explorations which promised (or alternatively, threatened) to lead to an accommodation with Castro. Those initiatives could only be harmed by FitzGerald's discussion of assassinating Castro with a suspected leaker or double-agent, while claiming to be a representative of Robert Kennedy.
But Halpern and Davis seem to have missed the point: namely, that FitzGerald and Helms never presented the Cubela initiative to their superiors as an assassination operation. It is indeed likely, almost certain, that the CIA had authorization to proceed with the political initiative. But that it had authorization to involve Robert Kennedy's name and authority in an assassination plot with a notorious leaker, at a time when the Kennedys were attempting to open discussions with Castro, is virtually unimaginable. Both Fitzgerald and Helms later denied that the AMLASH operation contemplated assassination.(4l) It seems clear that Kennedy's authorization for AMLASH would have been limited to what they described it as. an attempt to find a group to replace Castro.
From this point on the AMLASH initiative had the looks of an anti-Kennedy provocation. This was Attwood's retrospective evaluation of the FitzGerald/AMLASH meetings: "One thing was clear: Stevenson was right when he told me back in September that 'the CIA is in charge of Cuba'; or anyway, acted as if it thought it was. and to hell with the president it was pledged to serve."(42) Indeed the conduct of the AMLASH episode as much as of the Attwood initiative, is symptomatic of the mistrust and hostility Which divided the CIA from the Kennedys over Cuba in late 1963.
There was a lot of politics to the timing of Anderson's charge, and it involved among other matters the worsening war scene in Vietnam.(45) Both Pearson and Anderson were close to Johnson,who by 1967 was convinced that Bobby Kennedy was the leader of those forces opposing his Vietnam policies from the left.(46) Johnson's almost paranoid obsession with Bobby could only have been enhanced on March 2, 1967, the day before the Pearson-Anderson column appeared, when Robert Kennedy came forward with a controversial proposal for the suspension of bombing against North Vietnam. By this time Johnson's paranoia had also come to embrace the CIA, whose initial support of the escalated war had become much more critical in late 1966.(47)
Hence the Anderson column must have struck Johnson as a convenient opening to gather ammunition against Robert Kennedy and the CIA at the same time. His request to Helms for the facts must have struck Helms too as part of a political strategy against Robert Kennedy, in which the CIA, even if not the primary target, would also get mauled. Assuredly Helms' sense of loyalty to the CIA would have justified in his eves a refusal to become part of this game.(48) But Helms' refusal to execute Johnson's request for information about this sensitive area only makes sense if we accept that there was indeed something to the Anderson story.
Before proceeding, I should also make it clear that I do not believe (as Jack Anderson apparently still does) that Castro killed Kennedy. Nevertheless I now believe that the March 3 allegation, that the CIA plot "possibly backfired," was suppressed in the Post and the IG Report because it had hit a nerve. That is, it contained an element of truth and people (probably in the CIA) knew it.
The extreme sensitivity of this allegation was demonstrated again in January 1971, when Anderson repeated it. This time Anderson outlined the CIA-underworld plots in some detail, naming Maheu, Harvey, O'Connell, Roselli. the CIA poison pills, and "Cuban assassination teams equipped with high-powered rifles."(49) Once again Anderson asked the forbidden question: 'could the plot against Castro have backfired against President Kennedy?" Once again, predictably, this part of his column was suppressed, not just by the newspapers publishing it, but by the Senate Watergate Committee which found it relevant.(50)
By this time, of course, Robert Kennedy was dead. However most accounts of Watergate agree that by early 1971 Richard Nixon's "abiding nightmare" was that his nemesis Larry O'Brien "would somehow rebuild Teddy Kennedy to be [Nixon's] opponent for the presidency in 1972.''51 Once again Jack Anderson appeared to threatening a Kennedy-Helms area of vulnerability, at a time when the Nixon White House (with a more hard-line Vietnam policy) was hostile to both men.(52)
This Luis Castillo is the "Castillo" cited by the IG Report on p. 118 as corroboration of the "counterplot." Martino himself claimed before his death to have had special knowledge concerning the Kennedy assassination, to have known Ruby in Cuba, and even to have watched Oswald passing out his pro-Castro leaflets in Nest Orleans.(58) Above all, Martino had already given to the Warren Commission and to tile FBI an earls version of the Roselli-Anderson story, that the Kennedy assassination "had been an act of retaliation for an anti-Castro plot."(59)
The Anderson column was explicitly about "a reported CIA plan in 1963." Thus it is most disingenuous of the IG Report to focus on the reported "rumor" of a three-man team, and conclude that this must refer to an assassination plot in 1962.(60) Not only is such an inference impossible, it is dishonest. Such dishonesty suggests that at least some of the sources and/or authors of the IG Report were suffering from a guilty conscience: they knew there was something to hide.
Whether or not one believes Castro's intelligence networks to have been involved, one can entertain the hypothesis that a shooter team, in effect licensed by the CIA to kill Castro, might then have returned from Cuba and killed the President instead. Such an idea, floated by Martino and later Roselli, would have exerted pressure on the CIA whether true or untrue. The mere appearance that a CIA team had been “turned around” while other killers took care of the actual job, would have been enough to coerce the CIA and its triads into the ranks of those claiming to be true believers in a lone assassin.
Such a possibility is by no means proven. But one is more inclined to take it seriously, once one has been exposed to the evasiveness and false logic of the IG Report. We must add to this the indications we have seen, that the mob and their in-house allies did not merely execute the CIA's assassination plans! but helped originate them to serve their own ends.
Given these Signs of a mob influence within the CIA (as within the FBI), it seems at least possible that the mob could have helped secure CIA authorization for a plot against Castro, which it then exploited to murder the President of the United States.