THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION / On its Origins


ON THE ORIGINS OF THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK

James H. Fetzer

[Editor's Note: Perhaps without appreciating the importance of his discoveries for understanding the origins of the conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, James Bamford's BODY OF SECRETS (2001) reveals the preoccupation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, especially its chairman, Lyman Lemnitzer, with invading Cuba and removing Castro, an approach to which President Kennedy proved an obstacle.]

James Bamford's BODY OF SECRETS (2001) appears to clarify and illuminate the origins of the conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Take a good look at pages 78 (bottom) to 91 (top), which discusses President Eisenhower's preoccupation with Cuba and his suggestion that, if no actual pretext for an attack were available, then a pretext (a phony event) might be created that could be used to justify an invasion of the island. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Lyman Lemnitzer, took this message to heart and became obsessed with the Communist threat and the destruction of Castro. Everyone who cares about our country needs to understand this development. It looks like a large piece of a very complex puzzle.

A report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the President warned of the major problem with right-wing extremism running through the military. "Among the key targets of the extremists, the committee said, was the Kennedy administration's domestic social program, which many ultraconservatives accused of being communistic. The 'thesis of the nature of the Communist threat', the report warned, 'often is developed by equating social legislation with socialism, and the latter with Communism . . .

" . . . much of the administration's domestic legislative program, including continuation of the graduated income tax, expansion of social security (particularly medical care under social security), Federal aid to education, etc., under this philosophy would be characterized as steps toward Communism'. Thus, 'This view of the Communist menace renders foreign aid, cultural exchanges, disarmament negotiations, and other international programs as extremely wasteful if not actually subversive'."

He and Air Force General Edward Lansdale viewed Operation Mongoose, set up to take out Castro, as "a golden opportunity" for the military to show that it could succeed where the CIA (at the Bay of Pigs) had failed. Lemnitzer "was raging at the new and youthful Kennedy White House. He felt out of place and out of time in a culture that seemed suddenly to have turned its back on military traditions. Almost immediately he became, in the clinical sense, paranoid; he began secretly expressing his worries to other senior officers . . . "Lemnitzer had no respect for the civilians he reported to. He believed they interfered with the proper role of the military. The 'civilian' hierarchy was crippled not only by inexperience', he would later say, 'but also by arrogance arisnig from failure to recognize its own limitations. . . . The problem was simply that the civilians would not accept military judgments.'

In Lemnitzer's views, the country would be far better off if the generals would take over. "For those military officers who were sitting on the fence, the Kennedy administration's botched Pay of Pigs invasion was the last straw. "The Bay of Pigs fiasco broke the dike', said one report at the time. 'President Kennedy was pilloried by the superpatriots as a "no win" chief. . . . The Far Right became a fount of proposals born of frustration and put forward in the name of anti-Communism. . . . Active duty commandesr played host to anti-Communist seminars on their bases and attended or addressed Right-wing meetings elsewhere. "Although no one in Congress coud have known it at the time, Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs had quietly slipped over the edge."

Eisenhower's suggestion of creating "a pretext for invading Cuba--a bombing, an attack, an act of sabatoge--carried out secretly against the United States BY the United States . . . to justify the launching of a war", was a dangerous suggestion from a desperate president, who wanted to retire from office with a flourish. "Although no such war took place, the idea was not lost on General Lemnitzer. But he and his colleagues were frustrated by Kennedy's failure to authorize their plan and angry that Castro had not provided an excuse to invade. "The final straw may have come during a White House meeting on February 26, 1962.

Concerned that General Lansdale's various covert action plans under Operation Mongoose were simply becoming more outrageous and going nowhere, Robert Kennedy told him to simply drop all anti-Castro efforts. Instead, Lansdale was ordered to concentrate for the next three months on gathering intelligence about Cuba. It was a humiliating defeat for Lansdale, a man more accustomed to praise than to scorn. "As the Kennedy brothers appeared to suddenly 'go soft' on Castro, Lemnitzer could see his opportunity to invade Cuba quickly slipping away. The attempts to provoke the Cuban public to revolt seemed dead and Castro, unfortunately, appeared to have no inclination to launch any attacks against Americans or their property.

Lemnitzer and the other Chiefs knew there was only one option left that would insure their war. They would have to trick the American public and world opinion into hating Cuba so much that they would not only go along, but would insist that he and his generals launch their war against Cuba. . . . They prepare a plan, called OPERATION NORTHWOODS, which "called for a war in which many patriotic Americans and innocent Cubans would die senseless deaths--all to satisfy the egos of twisted generals back in Washington, safe in their taxpayer-financed homes and limousines.

One idea seriously considered involved the launch of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. On February 20, 1962, Glenn was to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on his historic journey. The flight was to carry the banner of America's virtues of truth, freedom, and democracy into orbit high over the planet. "But Lemnitzer and his Chiefs had a different idea. They proposed to Lansdale that, should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, 'the objective is to provide irrevocable proof that . . . the fault lies with the Communists et al Cuba [sic]'. This would be accomplished, Lemnitzer continued, 'by manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference on the part of Cubans'. Thus, as NASA prepared to send the first American into space, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preparing to use John Glenn's possible death as a pretext to launch a war. . . . "

Among the actions recommended was 'a series of well coordinated incidents to take place in and around' the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This included dressing 'friendly' Cubans in Cuban military uniforms and then have them 'start riots near the main gate of the base. Others would pretend to be saboteurs inside the based. Ammunition would be blown up, fires started, aircraft sabotaged, [and] mortars fired at the base with damage to installations. "The suggested operations became progressively more outrageous. Another called for an action similiar to the infamous incident in February 1898 when an explosion aboard the battleship MAINE in Havana harbor killed 266 U.S. sailors. Although the exact cause of the explosion remained undetermined, it sparked the Spanish-American War with Cuba. Incited by the deadly blast, more than one million men volunteered for duty.

Lemnitzer and his generals came up with a similar plan. 'We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba', they proposed; 'casuality lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.' "There seemed no limit to their fanaticism: 'We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Maimi area, in other Florida cities, and even in Washington', they wrote. 'The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. . . . We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated) . . . We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. Bombings were proposed, false arrests, highjackings. . . .

"Among the most elaborate schemes was to 'create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner en route from the United States to Jamacia, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. The destination would be chosen only to cause the flight plan to cross Cuba. The passengers would be a group of college students off on a holiday or any grouping of persons with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight.

Lemnitzer and his covert action officer, Brigadier General Wiliam H. Craig, reviewed their final plans for OPERATION NORTHWOODS, which would have placed the responsibility for both over and covert operations in the hands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before heading for a "special meeting" in Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's office. 'An hour later he met with Kennedy's military representative, General Maxwell Taylor. What happened during those meetings is unknown. But three days later, President Kennedy told Lemnitzer that there was virtually no possibity that the U.S. would ever use over miliary force in Cuba.

"Undeterred, Lemnitzer and the Chiefs persisted, virtually to the point of demanding that they be given authority to invade and take over Cuba. . . . Lemnitzer was virtually rabid in his hatred of communism in general and Castro in particular and Castro in particular. . . . What Lemnitzer was sugesting was not freeing the Cuban people but imprisoning them in a U.S. military-controlled police state. 'Forces would assure rapid essential military control of Cuba', he wrote, 'Continued police action would be required'. . . . "By then McNamara had virtually no confidence in his military chief and was rejecting nearly every proposal the general sent to him. The rejections became so routine, said one of Lemnitzer's former staff officers, that the staffer told the general that the situation was putting the military in an 'embarrassing rut'. . . .

Within months, Lemnitzer was denied a second term as JCS chairman and was transferred to Europe as chief of NATO. Years later President Gerald Ford appointed Lemnitzer, a darling of the Repubican right, to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. . . . "Even after Lemnitzer lost his job, the Joint Chiefs kept planning 'pretext' operations at least into 1963. Among their proposals was a plan to deliberately create a war between Cuba and any of a number of its Latin American neighbors. This would give the United States military an excuse to come in on the side of Cuba's adversary and get rid of Castro. . . . Among the nations they suggested that the United States secretly attack were Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago. Both were members of the British Commonwealth. . . .

"Lemnitzer was a dangerous--perhaps even unbalanced--right-wing extremist in an extraordinarily sensitive position during a critical period. But Operation Northwoods also had the support of every single member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even senior Pentagon official Paul Nitze argued in favor of provoking a phony war with Cuba. The fact that the most senior members of all the services and the Pentagon could be so out of touch with reality and the meaning of democracy would be hidden for four decades."



Now, given this background, it is not a stretch to imagine that the Chiefs came to the conclusion that the only obstacle between them and a Cuban invasion was their Commander in Chief himself. The President's enormous popularity meant, in their minds, that his assassination by a pro-Cuban, communist sympathizer would not only remove a weak and spineless leader from the nation's stage but almost certainly lead the country to rise up and demand retaliation by a full-fleged invasion of Cuba that would--finally and permanently--rid the world of Castro and demonstrate the importance of the military power exercised by the Chiefs. This plan was far more elegant than blowing up a plane-full of college students, because the only casualities would be a pinko-wimp president and a suitably designated patsy, a small price to pay for strengthening freedom and democracy.



In 1968, during his testimony under oath before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert McNamara vigorously denied that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution had been predicated upon a phony attack upon a U.S. warship with these words:

"I must address the suggestion that, in some way, the Government of the United States induced the incident on August 4 with the intent of providing an excuse to take the retaliatory action which we in fact took. . . .

"I find it inconceivable that anyone even remotely familiar with our society and system of Government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy which would have included almost, if not all, the entire chain of miliary command in the Pacific, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense and his chief assistants, the Secretary of State, and the President of the United States."



"Inconceivable", indeed! As if McNamara had never heard of OPERATION NORTHWOODS!


(c) 2002 James Bamford / James H. Fetzer