Nixon’s System to Threaten the CIA on JFK’s Assassination

Nixon recommended chief of personnel H.R. Haldeman on how to get the CIA director to get rid of the FBI’s probe.

“Say, ‘Look, the challenge is that this will open the whole, the entire Bay of Pigs issue, and the President just feels that, ah, without having likely into the details … do not, never lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is type of a comedy of faults, strange, without obtaining into it, the President thinks that it is likely to open the entire Bay of Pigs matter up yet again.’”

The June 23 tape was incontrovertible evidence that Nixon had obstructed justice. The previous vestige of assist for Nixon on Capitol Hill evaporated. Two months afterwards, on Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon resigned.

But the “smoking gun tape” was not only the denouement of the Watergate affair. It was — and is — an unsettling glimpse into the dim coronary heart of the Watergate scandal, and the workings of American electricity in the mid-20th century. The commander in main voiced ominous threats that reeked of unspoken crimes to his intelligence main, whose agency experienced used four of the 7 burglars. For the subsequent 50 years, Nixon’s entourage, JFK conspiracy theorists, journalists and historians pondered the June 23 tape as a Rosetta Stone of Nixon’s psyche. What “hanky panky” was Nixon referring to? What did he indicate by “the complete Bay of Pigs issue?” What story was going to “blow” if the CIA didn’t cooperate?

A lengthy-neglected White House tape supplies the answers. The “hanky panky” referred to CIA assassination functions in the early 1960s. The “whole Bay of Pigs thing” was the Agency’s response to its most humiliating defeat. And the tale that could blow was the link involving individuals functions and the murder of JFK.

Richard Nixon and Richard Helms to start with met at a Capitol Hill briefing in 1956. Nixon, a former Navy lieutenant, was the young, bold and anxious vice president. Helms, also a previous Navy lieutenant, was a gentlemanly spy, rising in ranks of the CIA with bland performance. (“His smile did not generally include things like his eyes,” observed Henry Kissinger.) Helms’ discreet type won more than President Lyndon Johnson, who appointed him as Director of Central Intelligence in 1966. When Nixon was elected president in 1968, LBJ recommended he keep Helms on.

Nixon, the insecure workaholic from Southern California, and Helms, a scion of the Philadelphia Principal Line, basically managed to get alongside. Though Helms portrayed their connection as stormy, he flattered Nixon’s wounded satisfaction and supported his hardline insurance policies on Vietnam and domestic surveillance.

On June 16, 1972, just hrs prior to the Watergate burglars ended up caught, Nixon and Helms experienced a friendly telephone dialogue about his assembly with the president of Mexico. “He’s on our aspect all proper,” Nixon reported. “Oh, that’s fantastic, Mr. President,” Helms replied.

Fourteen several hours later, 5 burglars had been arrested at the Watergate, and the tenuous bond among Nixon and Helms started to fray. Nixon, frantic to disguise the burglars’ ties to the White Dwelling, assumed his intelligence chief would help. In his memoir, The Finishes of Electric power, Haldeman wrote that when he relayed Nixon’s information about the Bay of Pigs, Helms exploded, shouting, “This has nothing at all to do with the Bay of Pigs!” Haldeman documented back to Nixon that the gambit had labored and Helms experienced pledged to support with the FBI. And indeed he experienced. Helms despatched phrase to performing FBI director, L. Patrick Grey, to “taper off” the investigation. But when Gray pushed again a several months afterwards, Helms acquiesced, and the investigation continued. The director abandoned his defense of the president.

Helms opened his personal memoir, A Glimpse Around My Shoulder, with an account of the June 23 conversation. He denied boosting his voice and insisted Nixon’s concept about the Bay of Pigs was “incoherent,” which didn’t clarify his uncharacteristic loss of poise. Helms later instructed a CIA historian that the phrase experienced the “devious, challenging-nosed smell” of a threat, which was extra plausible.

Haldeman recommended that Nixon applied the phrase, “the full Bay of Pigs detail,” as a coded reference to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. It was, he wrote, “the president’s way of reminding Helms, not so carefully, of the deal with-up of the CIA assassination makes an attempt on the hero of the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro, a CIA procedure that might have triggered the Kennedy tragedy and which Helms desperately preferred to disguise.”

Haldeman’s interpretation of the “whole Bay of Pigs thing” was disputed by Tv set discuss present host Chris Matthews. He dismissed the story, indicating Haldeman’s ghostwriter, Joseph Dimona, built up the JFK connection and set it in the reserve without Haldeman’s awareness. Dimona, however, denied Matthews’ declare. He told documentary film producer Eric Hamburg that the ebook was “all Haldeman’s.”

Dimona and Haldeman are deceased, but Tom Lipscomb, the editor-in-chief of Instances Books, which posted The Ends of Energy, is not. “Bob Haldeman was a perfectionist and a control freak,” Lipscomb mentioned in an job interview. “The thought that he did not think what he wrote about the Bay of Pigs and JFK’s assassination is absurd. Totally he thought it. We talked about it all the time.”

Haldeman’s just take on “the entire Bay of Pigs thing” lived on in Oliver Stone’s 1995 biopic “Nixon.” The film depicted an ominous trade about the Bay of Pigs in which Helms (played by the chilly Sam Waterston) condescends to Nixon (performed by Oscar-profitable Anthony Hopkins). In articulating his dream of détente with China and Russia, Nixon suggests, “Cuba would be a compact price tag to pay back.” Helms replies, “So President Kennedy considered.” Spliced with movie footage of JFK’s assassination, the trade implied enemies of Kennedy’s Cuba coverage were guiding his assassination.

Helms, his espionage expertise undiminished with age, attained a duplicate of Stone’s script just before the movie debuted and threatened litigation. Stone excised the exchange from the movie’s theatrical launch — for motives of length, Stone said in an job interview — but involved it in the director’s cut. Helms did not sue. (He died in 2002.)

With out corroboration, Haldeman’s speculation about Nixon’s which means has left most Nixon biographers puzzled about “the full Bay of Pigs issue.” But an edgy dialogue among Nixon and Helms 8 months before the Watergate arrests confirms that Nixon did certainly have JFK’s assassination on his brain when he pressed Helms about the secrets of the Bay of Pigs.

Rewind the White Property tape to the tumble of 1971.

With the Vietnam War sputtering and the 1972 election looming, Nixon predicted a challenging reelection campaign that would pit him in opposition to Sen. Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of the slain president. Nixon’s program was to frontally assault the Kennedy legacy. From his initial times in place of work, Nixon experienced ordered adviser John Ehrlichman to receive the CIA’s information on two embarrassing functions in JFK’s presidency: the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963. Every single 6 months or so, Ehrlichman frequented CIA headquarters in Langley and invariably returned empty-handed.

Irritated, Nixon summoned Helms to the Oval Office on Oct 8, 1971, for some blunt chat. The tape of their trade (collected and annotated on nixontapes.org) captures a ruthless president pressuring a very pleased intelligence main. Whilst the tape has been in the community report for years, just one vital passage has been mainly overlooked by historians.

“Let me appear to this delicate point that you have been talking to John about,” Nixon started out. “John’s been speaking to me about it, and I know he talked to you about it. Probably I can probably place it in a different point of view than John. You probably questioned what the hell this was all about.”

It was about CIA operations.

“Now to get to the filthy methods component of it,” Nixon went on. “I know what took place in Iran [a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953]. I also know what happened in Guatemala [a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954], and I absolutely approve the two. I also know what happened with the preparing of the Bay of Pigs beneath Eisenhower and fully authorized of it.”

Nixon wanted to speak about what he observed as JFK’s failure, specifically his refusal to authorize air support for the CIA-backed rebels when Castro’s forces pinned them down on the shorelines of the Bay of Pigs.

“The dilemma was not the CIA,” Nixon explained. “The trouble was that your strategy was not carried out. It was a goddamn superior strategy. If it had been backed up at the good time. If he’d just flown a few of planes more than that damn location …”

Nixon was unique about his curiosity.

“My desire there is not the interior circumstance, the combat in the CIA,” Nixon confided. Soon after the unsuccessful invasion, the Agency’s management split above regardless of whether failure was owing to an sick-conceived operation or a weak-willed president. Nixon didn’t treatment about the blame match. “My desire there is solely to know the information.”

The specifics of the Bay of Pigs, however, were not in dispute. The CIA-qualified invasion drive lost, and senior officers like Hunt had been permanently embittered. Nixon experienced anything else, one thing extremely sensitive in mind.

“What I want, what I want, Dick,” he rasped, “regarding any being familiar with, about any facts, I do not want any details that will come in from you on these sensitive and sensitive topics to go to any person outdoors …”

Nixon was lastly completely ready to tip his hand.

“The ‘Who shot John?’ angle,” he claimed quietly, 17 minutes into the conversation. Nixon did not dwell on the phrase. He did not require to. In the context of his extended-standing need for the CIA’s information, the invocation of “the ‘Who shot John?’ angle” can only refer to one point: Kennedy’s assassination. The ambush in Dallas was the first matter on Nixon’s head as he pressed the director for the agency’s Bay of Pigs information. The president intuited a relationship amongst the failed invasion in 1961 and JFK’s assassination two many years afterwards.

Nixon had no motivation to expose what Helms known as the agency’s “dirty linen.” Alternatively, he needed to use the Bay of Pigs problem towards presumed rival Ted Kennedy while defending the CIA from new allegations that the CIA’s plots in opposition to Castro experienced led to JFK’s loss of life. Nixon understood the Agency was vulnerable to JFK’s assassination, which he presumed gave him leverage over Helms.

Nixon assured Helms that his worry was not the agency’s actions similar to Kennedy’s assassination but the criticism he confronted as president.

“Is Eisenhower to blame? Is Johnson to blame? Is Kennedy to blame? Is Nixon to blame?” the president went on. “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It may possibly become — not by me — but it could grow to be a really, really vigorous concern. If it does …”

Nixon couldn’t have been referring to the Bay of Pigs or Cuba, which ended up both lifeless concerns by then. The JFK assassination tale, by contrast, experienced erupted vigorously before that yr. In January 1971, a front-page New York Instances tale reported that Dallas law enforcement main Jesse Curry released a ebook saying JFK experienced been killed by a conspiracy. The exact same day, Jack Anderson, the syndicated investigative reporter, wrote a startling column in The Washington Submit that started, “Locked in the darkest recesses of the Central Intelligence Company is the story of six assassination makes an attempt towards Cuba’s Fidel Castro.”

The story, picked up by the Television networks, was disturbingly correct to Helms. There was in truth a best-top secret CIA Inspector General’s report that itemized the 6 plots Helms was managing a single of them on the day JFK was killed. Anderson’s resource was a well-linked Washington lawyer symbolizing Johnny Rosselli, the Mafia boss whom the CIA experienced enlisted to poison the Cuban leader in 1960. Anderson intimated that Castro experienced intercepted the CIA’s assassins and orchestrated Kennedy’s assassination as retaliation.

By leaking his story, Rosselli effectively employed the Article to blackmail the CIA — and it worked. The agency shielded Rosselli from deportation proceedings, in accordance to a memo declassified in 1997. The CIA-blessed mobster hardly ever shared his information of the Castro plots with federal prosecutors. The settlement prevented disclosure of the CIA’s assassination plan, which most likely saved Helms’ work.

Now Nixon required to know extra about “the Who shot John? angle.”

“I require to know what is important to secure, frankly, the intelligence gathering and the Dirty Tips Division, and I will safeguard it,” the president avowed. “Hey, listen, I have done additional than my share of lying to guard you, and I believe that it’s completely right to do it.”

Helms stayed silent.

“If I do not know,” Nixon questioned plaintively, “then what do you have?”

The president was beholden to his spymaster. This was a severe fact of the Watergate affair, not reported by the Washington Article, not uncovered by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The CIA and Helms scarcely figure in All the President’s Men, or the legendary motion picture that adopted.

The Oval Office dynamic was also somewhat diverse than the showdown depicted by Oliver Stone. Helms did not threaten Nixon with a veiled reference to Kennedy’s assassination. In historical reality, the disappointed president unsuccessfully begged the imperious spy main for much more facts about who killed his predecessor.

“I really do not think that you can say, well … the director of the CIA … is the only 1 who is to know what occurred in particular situation,” Nixon explained. “The president is to know, and that the president’s successor is not to know?”

The agency’s JFK insider secrets have been harmless with him, Nixon emphasised. “I am not heading to embarrass the CIA because it served. … I believe that in Dirty Tips.”

Helms finally spoke. He appeased Nixon by supplying a folder of CIA cables on the assassination of Diem, substance that Nixon could use to impugn JFK’s legacy in the 1972 election. “Sir, I’m operating totally for you,” he confident the president. “Anything I’ve got is yours.”

The partisan president arrived away joyful. The canny director had offered up absolutely nothing on the Bay of Pigs, the Castro plots or Kennedy’s assassination.

Eight months later on, when the Watergate burglars were arrested, Nixon envisioned Helms’ help. He had certainly guarded Helms. Nixon had turned down Haldeman’s suggestion to re-open the investigation of JFK’s death, which could have uncovered the reality that the CIA had lied to assassination investigators on quite a few vital points. Nixon experienced requested his Justice Section to block publication of a damning memoir composed by a disillusioned CIA officer who experienced served in Helms’ workplace. Nixon realized burglar-in-chief Howard Hunt had served in a senior position in the Bay of Pigs procedure and held JFK individually responsible for the defeat. And he understood to start with-hand that Helms was loathe to surrender nearly anything about the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs. So Nixon sent Haldeman to deliver his blunt information: If Helms assisted limit the FBI investigation, the president would defend “the Soiled Tips Department” from queries about Dallas.

Helms realized particularly what Haldeman intended. He had not neglected his final Oval Office environment assembly with the president. Nixon was utilizing the risk of JFK revelations to coerce him into a address-up. But Helms could not be blackmailed. The director secured himself and his agency by refusing to block the FBI’s investigation, minimizing the Agency’s help for the burglars and indicating nothing at all about JFK. Nixon resented his independence, and the at the time effective romance concerning them swiftly unraveled.

5 months later, in November 1972, the president demanded Helms’ resignation in a tense meeting at Camp David. Helms extracted an ambassadorial appointment, and the two gentlemen parted warily. When Nixon resigned in August 1974, Helms was relieved. In November 1977, Helms was convicted of lying to Congress about an assassination operation in Chile, creating him the only CIA director ever convicted of a crime. The Home Pick out Committee on Assassinations reopened the JFK investigation in 1978. A calendar year later on, it concluded that Kennedy had been killed by conspirators who could not be identified.

Nixon and Helms, observed Sen. Howard Baker, “had so substantially on each individual other, neither of them could breathe.”

And now we know why.

From Scorpion’s Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate, by Jefferson Morley. Copyright © 2022 by the writer and reprinted by authorization of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

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