Weighing in against President-Elect Donald Trump in his disagreement with the CIA over alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris writes, “Donald Trump has picked a fight with the Central Intelligence Agency over Russian hacking of American elections, an unprecedented move for an incoming president.” (Emphasis added.)
The likely reason that Harris employed the term “incoming” is that it enables him to avoid addressing the big elephant in the room — President Kennedy and his fight — actually his war — against not only the CIA but also another major component of the national-security state — the military establishment.
Kennedy came into office as a standard cold warrior. That is, like most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he had bought into the notion that had been inculcated into the American people since the end of World War II — that America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), was coming to get us and subject the American people to communism.
To combat what was billed as an international communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Americans were told, it would be necessary to adopt the same type of governmental structure that existed in Russia — a national-security apparatus grafted onto America’s original limited-government structure that had been established by the Constitution.
That apparatus included a giant, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, or what President Eisenhower would later call “the military-industrial complex.”
It also consisted of a secretive agency called the CIA, which would come to wield omnipotent powers within what continued to be billed as a “limited government.” Such powers would include assassination, regime-change operations, foreign coups, kidnapping, torture, rendition, involuntary medical experimentation (e.g., MKULTRA), spying and surveillance of Americans — the types of things that characterized the KGB and even the Hitler’s Gestapo.
Kennedy believed in this apparatus. Even though it had been adopted without a constitutional amendment, he believed it was necessary to keep America free and safe from the Reds, who, it was said, were coming to get us.
He experienced his first dose of reality a few months after being sworn into office, when the CIA presented its secret plan to invade Cuba and effect regime change there. The plan called for using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to do the invading, with the U.S. government denying any role in the operation. Kennedy’s job, under the CIA plan, would be to lie about U.S. involvement in the invasion, thereby making him America’s liar-in-chief (and indirectly subjecting him to blackmail by the CIA).
The CIA assured Kennedy that the invasion could succeed without U.S. air support, and JFK made it clear that no air support would be furnished. The CIA lied. In fact, they knew that there was no way that the operation could succeed without air support. But they figured that once the invasion got underway, Kennedy would have no effective choice but to change his mind and provide the needed air support. It was a classic CIA set up of a newly elected president.
When the invasion started to fail, the CIA urged the president to change his mind. He refused to do so, and the invasion force was easily defeated. The CIA considered Kennedy’s action to be a grave betrayal of America and the CIA’s Cuban “freedom fighters.”
Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the debacle but privately he was outraged. He knew that the CIA had set him up, with the aim of maneuvering him into intervening with air support. He fired the much-revered and much-respected CIA Director Allen Dulles (who, in a classic conflict of interest, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission). Reflecting his disdain for the CIA, Kennedy promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
Over time, Kennedy’s animus extended to the military-industrial complex, the Cold War apparatus that Eisenhower had said posed a grave threat to the freedom and democratic processes of the American people. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that the United States should initiate a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Kennedy left the meeting and indignantly remarked to an aide, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the military establishment exhorted Kennedy to bomb and invade Cuba, which, it would be later discovered, would have almost certainly resulted in all-out nuclear war, given that Soviet military commanders on the ground had been given battlefield authority to use nuclear weapons to defend themselves.
To resolve the crisis, Kennedy promised the Soviets (i.e., Russians) that the United States would not invade Cuba again. He also secretly vowed to remove U.S. nuclear missiles, which were pointed at the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia) in Turkey.
Not surprisingly, the military establishment was livid. One of the generals called the settlement the worst defeat in America’s history. The man they viewed as a neophyte, incompetent president had agreed to leave the communist regime in Cuba intact, which, to the national-security establishment, meant that America was in grave danger of falling to the communists.
That wasn’t the worst of it. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy changed directions completely. Recognizing the Cold War for the nonsense it was, Kennedy decided to end it and to have the United States and the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia) live in peaceful coexistence. He announced the change at his now-famous Peace Speech at American University, which he prepared without consulting with or advising the national-security establishment.
He also entered into a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets (i.e., Russians) over the vehement objections of the military.
He also began ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam.
Worst of all, from the standpoint of the Pentagon and the CIA, Kennedy entered into secret personal negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro to end the Cold War.
In other words, by the time he was assassinated, Kennedy was at full war against the U.S. national-security establishment. He was challenging all of their Cold War assumptions. He was proposing peaceful coexistence with what the CIA and the military had said was an implacable foe that was determined to take over America. And he was doing the unthinkable — making friends with the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Cuba, and the communist world.
In the process, he was threatening the existence of the entire national-security establishment. The contractors. The subcontractors. The generals and other officers. The weapons producers. All the people who were on the warfare-state largess. Without the Cold War against the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Americans would have undoubtedly asked in the 1960s, “What do we need a Cold War apparatus for if there is no Cold War?”
With his assassination, Kennedy lost the war and the national-security establishment prevailed. They got the continuation of their Cold War. They got their Vietnam War. They got continued regime-change operations against Cuba. They got an ever-burgeoning warfare state, which continues to this day, notwithstanding the fact that the Cold War ended decades ago. And, of course, they got their continued Cold War animus against Russia.
Ironically, we now have a president-elect who seems to have much the same critical mindset toward the CIA as Kennedy did when he was president.