Marc Raskin Acquitted, He Wanted a Retrial

January 7, 2018–I want to mark the passing of Marcus G. Raskin, a long-term fighter for progressive causes, who died at home on Christmas Eve. The teaser in the headline refers to a famous passage in the political struggle against the Vietnam war, where the Draft was the vehicle the United States used to fill many of the ranks of those sent to the front. Under U.S. law it was a requirement (mostly honored in the breach) to have on your person a “Draft Card” that identified you and specified your status in terms of being called up for military service. The card was considered property of the United States. While the possession clause was largely ignored, deliberately destroying a Draft Card was a definite no-no.  Needless to say, destroying Draft Cards soon became a symbol of resistance to this arbitrary system of filling the armed forces. Marc Raskin and four colleagues–the famous baby doctor Benjamin Spock, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., chaplain of Yale University; author Mitchell Goodman, and grad student Michael Ferber–were put on trial in Boston for burning Draft Cards (most, but not all, their own). All the participants except Raskin were convicted at trial (overturned on appeal). Raskin was acquitted. He wanted a retrial!

That was a time when principles were real and citizens deemed civil disobedience necessary to rein in an increasingly imperial presidency. I’ve wondered what Marc thinks about the times through which we live today, but it’s been increasingly difficult for him to express himself. I last saw him about eight months ago and just held his hand. To the earth we all shall return.

But Marcus Goodman Raskin accomplished a number of important things in his time among us. His greatness was prefigured at an early age. His father a plumber, his mother a seamstress, Marc became a concert pianist–good enough for Juilliard, to attend which he dropped out of high school. But Marc was always about convictions. He began in piano at age 4, but at 16, in 1950, Marc decided the nervous tension, even playing just for himself, was too much. Abandoning the piano–though he took a year off after college, in Italy extending his talent–Raskin decided to attend the University of Chicago. There he ran into the future composer Philip Glass, then a student, who asked his help learning the piano. Convinced he saw talent and yearning, Raskin became a coach and helped Glass develop a real technique.

Yet it was in the nation’s service that Marc Raskin really achieved his metier. A Milwaukee boy, Raskin joined the staff of Wisconsin congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1958. By then Marc had a doctorate in jurisprudence from Chicago. Kastenmeier joined the Liberal Project Group in Congress, an informal circle that commissioned essays, then met to discuss them, attempting todevise policies that were consistent with liberal thinking and solved real problems. Raskin took notes. When the group published a book, The Liberal Papers, Marc contributed an essay and help edit others. That brought wider attention.

When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 elections he needed to staff his administration, including the National Security Council (NSC) staff, as head of which he appointed McGeorge Bundy. Raskin and JFK had shaken hands once, at some congressional function; but Carl Kaysen–Bundy’s right-hand man, and David Riesman, a Harvard social science guru, knew Raskin better. They pushed for him. Kennedy also wanted to build a bridge to liberal Democrats like Kastenmeier. As a result Marcus Raskin was offered a post on the NSC staff.

Raskin’s office was in the Old Executive Office Building, next to one the Mac Bundy occupied before he moved across to the West Wing. Marc’s portfolio was to help with Congress, the United Nations, disarmament issues, and later added the UN trusteeship in Micronesia, Albania and Yugoslavia. Introducing Raskin to his then-NSC deputy, Walt Rostow, Mac Bundy had said, “Marc is going to be our conscience.”

But while these were formal roles, nothing kept Raskin from commenting where he thought some point needed to be made. Early after his inauguration President Kennedy presided over the disastrous CIA invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. That travesty was naturally followed by multiple inquiries, post-mortems, and investigations. All of them included CIA participants among the principals. The most important one, the “Taylor Board”–named for General Maxwell D. Taylor, to whom JFK had taken an especial liking–included CIA director Allen W. Dulles. On May 1, 1961 Raskin wrote a memo to Mac Bundy: “It seems to me that we should have some other kinds of people on the panel which is presently looking into the operation of the CIA.” Marc warned that the inquiries were going to take an operational or tactical view–seeking to optimize techniques, not asking questions like “What is the relation of an outfit like the CIA to a free society?” “How is such an organization going to be held accountable?” “How do we make sure that so-called para-military outfits don’t so completely change the nature of our society and what we want to do internationally that we wind up being as unstable as the Weimar Republic?”

All good questions. All very uncomfortable. None likely to endear Marc to his White House colleagues. Pressures for conformity were great.

Another 1961 episode, quite notorious, concerned U.S. nuclear war plans. There was a terrible moment when the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the president on the scenarios in the nuclear plan, responses  that would automatically go into effect if Kennedy ever approved a nuclear strike. The generals estimated that Russia and China would be devastated and the world suffer between 325 and 525 million deaths. Kennedy was horrified. He demanded changes. Today Dan Ellsberg is taking credit for sparkplugging reductions in the war plan that took China, at least, off the target list, but the truth is that the push for more limited options came from right inside the White House. There was a basic national security policy paper (BNSP) drafted at RAND in the fall of 1961, but it could be read either to justify big war or limited strikes. A rewrite at the Pentagon, where the issue of limited options became confused with the option of an early, counterforce strike to disarm the Russians, sounded to Raskin like a formula to start a nuclear war. Raskin had been attending all kinds of meetings on this matter in his capacity of NSC specialist on disarmament. Carl Kaysen had headed the White House team, and the latest rewrite of the BNSP paper sounded like Kaysen had had a hand in it. Raskin went to Kaysen to object that the BNSP looked like a first-strike war plan. Kaysen demurred. Raskin then asked how Kaysen thought the United States was different from the people who had loaded the boxcars for Auschwitz. After that day the two men hardly spoke again.

Meanwhile The Liberal Papers actually appeared in print, and though Mac Bundy had induced Raskin to take his name off of it, it came out that Marc had had a lot to do with that project. To get Raskin out of the White House he was packed off to Geneva, to the U.S. delegation at negotiations for General and Complete Disarmament, which had largely devolved into a propaganda forum where the communist bloc and the West hurled charges at each other. A year of that soured Marc Raskin on changes from within the government, and that is when he joined up with a similarly disillusioned ex-State Department fellow, Richard J. Barnet, to create the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

Most of the obituaries and commentaries on Marc Raskin have centered on the IPS years. That’s fine, because IPS really became lodestar–for Raskin and Barnet both. But these early stories are important because they show the man of principle. I’ll tell one more story. It’s about the Pentagon Papers. By 1970 Dan Ellsberg–like Marc himself–was fighting against the Vietnam war. Ellsberg had tried to get Congress to take heed of the revelations in these important documents. Importantly, he had taken them to senators like J. William Fulbright and George S. McGovern. On The Hill, congresspeople were sympathetic to Ellsberg but then never followed through. That’s when Ellsberg began approaching the media. He also went to IPS. The Institute did not get a full set of the Pentagon Papers but it got enough of the 7,000 pages to fill a banker’s box–and the IPSers did not sit on them. In early 1972 they hit with a book in preparation from before the big scandal broke in June 1971. Raskin joined with Barnet and Ralph Stavins to publish Washington Plans an Aggressive War. The title was a play on the Nuremberg Principles, for Germans and Japanese had been sent to prison–and the gallows–for planning and waging “aggressive war” in World War II. Marc’s piece in the book dealt with Congress permitting the erosion of its power, the presidency dangerously out of control, and–following his passion for disarmament– the possibilities for a political system loosely based on the post-World War II measures to demilitarize Japan (in particular) and Germany.

To the end Marc Raskin remained a man of principles. The contrast to today’s enablers in the White House, from John Kelly to “Appropriate Dereliction” McMasters, are palpable. America needs more like Raskin, not like them.

White House Ghosts

December 26, 2017–Our latest reporting suggests that the Ghosts have moved into the White House. That is, according to today’s Washington Post, by the end of the Obama administration the president had already signed a Memorandum of Notification–the kind of document used to authorize a United States covert operation–for the intelligence services to employ active countermeasures against the Russian Caper, Moscow’s hacking of U.S. politics and the American election in 2016.

The new reporting (Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe, “KREMLIN’s TROLLS BESET WEB AS U.S. DITHERED,” Washington Post, December 26, 2017) shows an extended example of one web troll identified as a Russian source, ties that pseudonym to a range of posts fronted to many online outlets, from Counterpunch to Veterans Today, and outlines the chronology of Washington’s grudging choice to begin countermeasures. The notification memo, more frequently called a “presidential finding,” put the CIA and NSA and their brethren on point by early 2017. The Obama National Security Council (NSC) staff director for intelligence briefed his successor, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, along with intelligence community officials. H.R. McMaster, the general who ended up as national security adviser after the flame-out of Donald J. Trump’s first pick, Michael Flynn, even agreed with the policy, although he suspected Cohen-Watnik –Flynn’s man–and soon got rid of him. But McMaster quickly locked horns with Trump homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, over who had charge of the cyber portfolio. The net result was that actions have to be justified by new presidential findings–and those have never been issued. President Trump, with his alternate “there’s no scandal here,” and “anybody could have hacked” stances, is an obstacle to meaningful action. So nothing is being done.

In my book The Ghosts of Langley the “ghost” serves as metaphor for the kind of character whose example or behavior her successors want to avoid because inappropriate, mistaken, or worse. Earlier you could have argued that Ghosts fueled the reluctance to act of the Obama White House. The Trump White House has now added bureaucratic infighting to the list of excuses for inaction. Clearly the Ghosts are strong at the White House. –And the Russian trolls are still out there.

McMaster the Enabler

December 16, 2017–Evidence is mounting that Harold Raymond McMaster, the Army lieutenant general who currently functions as national security adviser for President Donald J. Trump, is doing the nation no favors sticking around. Previously I had written that McMaster is guilty of the same “dereliction of duty” as that charge he hurled, in a book by that name, at the Vietnam-era military brass facing President Lyndon Johnson. Now McMaster parrots the senseless foreign policy antics of Mr. Trump and even tries to represent them as coherent and clever strategy.

I’ve not got much time today but I wanted to underline press reporting that has given us a fresh example of the dangers of an unchecked Harold McMaster. Yesterday’s Washington Post carried a remarkable piece of reporting from Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Philip Rucker (“How Trump’s Pursuit of Putin Has Left the U.S. Vulnerable to the Russian Threat,” December 15, 2017). In their story the journalists report an incident involving the National Security Council staff director for Russia and how Mr. Trump dissed her in a key White House encounter. At a meeting held preparatory to a Trump telephone call to Vladimir Putin the president treated the staff director, Fiona Hill, as a secretary, throwing a marked up memorandum at her and telling her to rewrite it. When Hill did not immediately rush away to do that, President Trump apparently yelled at her. When Hill did leave, General McMaster followed her out of the room and added to the hurt with an extra dollop of criticism.

How ’bout that? Harold McMaster curries favor with the president, his boss, by dumping on his own staff. Rather than defending Fiona Hill as a professional expert and reminding Mr. Trump of the boundaries of proper behavior, The Derelict imitates his master and digs the hole deeper. Is it any wonder the national security policy of this administration has descended into incoherence? In my book The Ghosts of Langley  I argue that, at the CIA, characters who furnish bad examples, or demonstrate behaviors to avoid, become “ghosts” to their successors. It’s looking very much like Harold McMaster is entering that spirit world. So far, in deference to his status as an Army general officer, observers have been reluctant to call a spade a spade. Watch out!

The Derelict Is At It Again: McMaster at the Reagan Library

December 6, 2017–In Simi Valley the thing folks still talk about is how Air Force One made it into the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Granted, the aircraft was not the one which President Reagan got approved and funded on his watch, it was the older Boeing 707 version that had served presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, not the plush Boeing 747 version of today. The newer aircraft would hardly have made it through the suburban avenues, much less up the steep, winding two-lane hillside road that is the only approach into the Library. Even the older aircraft had to be taken apart to make it.

They still talk about Air Force One. I don’t think that will happen for the visit of Harold Raymond McMaster, today’s national security adviser, who spoke at the Reagan Library last weekend at an event billed as the Reagan National Defense Forum. I’ve written before about McMaster as practitioner of the same sort of “dereliction of duty” of which he accused the Vietnam-era generals in his book of that name. General McMaster, as security adviser, is acting as enabler and defender of President Donald Trump’s fractured foreign policy. At the Reagan Library McMaster continued in his now-standard mode–he sought to lay claim to the mantle of Reagan, proposing Trump as the Gipper’s true descendant. Saying the nation must design its policy to counter Russia and China, reclaim confidence in American values, and align diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement [read immigration] policies, McMaster the Derelict dug his hole deeper. For myself, I had little use for the Reagan national security policy at the time–it sought unbridled military superiority, carried out a weapons build up that caused domestic economic problems, nearly triggered a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and was confrontational across several continents in conducting aggressive covert operations. However, the Reagan program was a policy–that is, the different elements were planned, fit together, and corresponded to some concept of overall strategy. It would be a mistake–one Harold McMaster is even now making– to represent Trump national security policy as following a strategy in any way. For example, his “America First” stance is antithetical to the nation’s longest, closest alliances. His pro-Russia and pro-China rhetoric is contradictory to the proposition that forces must be built to defend against Russia and China. Trump’s opening to Saudi Arabia is fueling instability on the Arabian peninsula and in the Persian Gulf which it has long been U.S. policy to avoid. Trump’s Syria policy is incoherent altogether. In Africa and Asia there is no policy worth the name. The Afghan war is being pursued in a brainless fashion while the Afghan government–our Afghan government–disintegrates before our eyes. Then Mr. Trump makes nice with a rightist Indian government which hates Pakistan, with whom we have to work in order to fight the Afghan war. And, if national security is being designed to counter Russia and China, what is Trump doing kicking up an unnecessary conflict with North Korea where he wants Russia and China to help us resolve it. To garnish this pastiche of disparate elements with the name “strategy” is, in a word, to create fake news.

I have been on Reagan’s Air Force One. It is the centerpiece of the largest gallery in the museum portion of the facility. The plane is not all that impressive after all, given the inherent limitations of a Boeing 707 fuselage. What is truly remarkable is the planning effort necessary to get that thing to this place and then build a museum gallery to hold it. That kind of planning is not happening in the Trump administration today. Their hopes for a bigger, plusher -747 amount to a bunch of component parts littered about on factory floors. The problem is that we’re not really talking about inert objects. Trump’s arbitrary diktats and vertiginous changes of direction will ultimately lead to complete immobility and confusion. –And Derelict McMaster helped make it happen.

Flynn Flips : The Art of the Deal

December 2, 2017–Yesterday General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to counts of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when being questioned on aspects of the Russian Caper, which readers of this space will know we have been following since the summer of 2016. Flynn’s confession–and commitment to turn state’s evidence in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller–give us a suitable moment to take stock of developments.

The conventional wisdom in scandals like this has long held that the coverup is worse than the crime. Although I had some qualms about that formula, which emerged during the Watergate affair–which, after all, represented an attempt to determine the course of a presidential election–I think the Russian Caper challenges conventional wisdom even more. This time we have not only the political manipulation but an effort to benefit from the influence and actions of foreign states. That both contravenes United States law but may turn out to amount to espionage–high treason. Of course the coverup is bad–Mike Flynn will be just the tip of the iceberg–and it has directly involved the president. (Until very late in Watergate, Richard Nixon managed to keep the president’s hand hidden.) By his own admission, President Donald J. Trump fired FBI director James Comey for purposes of squelching investigation of the Russia Caper. Trump is also revealed to have intervened with congressional authorities in both the House and the Senate for favorable actions, including shutting down their own investigations of the Caper. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is by now neck deep in dubious refusals to answer legally justified questions and in outright perjury. Various officials in the Trump White House are far out on thin limbs in parroting Trump’s “there’s no there there” rhetoric, which every day seems more transparently false.

Mike Flynn’s flip cracks the ice. Expect to see even more Trump officials hiring lawyers–and lining up to make deals of their own. Nothing that has emerged so far refutes the theory of the case advanced here last year : the Trump campaign signaled Russia it was open to Russia’s assistance. General Flynn himself was one of the emissaries. A crucial waving of the hands, if not a full scale pow wow, took place in April 2016 at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. June meetings between Donald Trump Jr. plus senior campaign officials and new Russian emissaries conveyed illustrative examples of help. In July the Trump campaign signaled back by working to weaken the Republican Party platform on sanctions against Russia. On at least two occasions–promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton at the time of the June meeting, and when asking Russia to find “Hillary’s emails,”–Mr Trump suggested he had some personal knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes. By now the documented instances of Trump campaign contacts with the Russians have reached nearly a dozen.

The art of Trump’s deal was to have kept himself away from touching elements of the political manipulation. But in the coverup his fingerprints are everywhere–in tweets, declarations, demonstrable falsehoods, actions, and so on. It is regrettable that the Republican Party has stooped so low, and abandoned its long-held principles, to curry favor with this man.

Who IS that Masked Man?

November 24, 2017–Donald J. Trump continues to inspire caricature even as we struggle to describe and understand him. Stuffed with turkey and pie as I am–and I understand Mr. Trump yesterday did not manage more than to hand out sandwiches–I don’t believe I could come up with a fresh description today. But I found this recently, and it works very well: “He was nervous, high-strung, and mercurial. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, he would threaten and posture, playing the warlord who would lead his nation into battle; later he would take it all back. Military and civilian officials who worked with him learned never to rely on the decisions he announced off the cuff; there had been too many false alarms.

“The accounts . . . show an undisciplined and inconsistent figure, on the childish side, emotionally taut, often on the verge of breakdown, broadly ignorant but with no hesitation about making unqualified announcements about any number of matters about which he knew nothing. Egotistical and inclined to megalomania, he often spoke and even acted as if he were an absolute ruler.” Sound like Donald Trump? Yes. But–that was the late, great historian David Fromkin, writing about Kaiser Wilhelm II before World War I. Yet Wilhelm had been a breach birth, physically crippled by the loss of one arm, with observers speculating he had suffered brain damage from loss of oxygen during that precarious birthing. There has to be a different explanation for Donald Trump.

For more on the troubles U.S. intelligence agencies face in the Age of Trump read Ghosts of Langley, my book on how the CIA broke free of accountability.

Is John F. Kennedy a CIA Ghost?

November 21, 2017–On the eve of the fifty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy this question is worth asking. I have a book out right now called The Ghosts of Langley,  in which I use the metaphor of a ghost to signify a character whose example, for good or ill, stands out so prominently that successors take their cues from her or him, trying to emulate or to avoid the same sorts of behaviors. Langley in the title, of course, is the geographical location of Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, and my metaphoric ghosts are from the CIA, highlighting an agency in its 70th year. But there’s no reason why the ghost couldn’t reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a matter of fact there is also no reason why President Kennedy cannot also be a CIA ghost. His claim to be a spirit flows from his zealous pursuit of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In The Strategy of Peace, his political testament book working up to the 1960 presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy lamented that the United States had for so long supported Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and speculated that Castro might have acted differently had he been received more enthusiastically in Washington. In actuality just a few months after Kennedy’s declaration President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a CIA plan to overthrow Mr. Castro, one accepted by Kennedy when he entered office, and which led to the Bay of Pigs disaster. But rather than giving up the ghost, JFK redoubled U.S. efforts to depose Mr. Castro.

This piece of history has President Kennedy acting through the CIA in a top secret project called MONGOOSE. It is usually passed over by history with a few sentences about CIA assassination plotting, or the episode where one MONGOOSE infiltration team almost triggered war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the Cuba program went way beyond that–and Jack Kennedy stood at the center of it. Journalist Tad Szulc and Senator George Smathers both had conversations with Kennedy where the president mentioned assassination. Szulc went off and actually discussed a plan with some Cuban exiles. Kennedy showed his concern over the CIA program by creating the “Special Group (Augmented),” a unit of the interagency panel that approved covert operations whose function was specifically to monitor MONGOOSE. This device the president used to put his brother Robert, then the attorney general, in position to oversee CIA action. Kennedy was never satisfied with the pace or progress of MONGOOSE. Prodded for something more aggressive, the CIA crafted a “Phase II” plan in 1962. That was still not enough. Later in 1962 came Phase II Plus. The Cuban Missile Crisis forced JFK to rethink his approach, and afterwards Kennedy dismantled the CIA unit, Task Force W, responsible for the covert operation. But that meant nothing. President Kennedy actually elevated Cuba covert planning to a higher level of the National Security Council, an NSC Standing Group, where Cuba discussions focused during 1963. That summer the NSC Standing Group approved a whole new Cuba plan. In the meantime Langley had created a fresh unit, the Special Affairs Staff, to carry out the anti-Castro operations. Its deputy chief was the same individual who had been deputy to the chief of Task Force W.

Just ten days before his murder in Dallas, President Kennedy personally met with his CIA Cuba team, heard a full briefing on the anti-Castro program, and approved the next set of targets for exile raids. Looking at the anti-Castro operations journalist George Crile once called them “The Kennedy Vendetta,” and he was right.

In the years since Jack Kennedy’s death there have been a plethora of theories, conspiracy theories, speculations, and plain explanations for why JFK was assassinated. They show why, at a certain level, Kennedy is a Ghost of Langley. One theory is that Castro reached out and retaliated for the CIA’s murder plots against him. That is largely speculation–the CIA had a dedicated counterintelligence operation it ran against the Cuban DGI and G-2, and had both Miami and Mexico City wired for sound. The FBI had an even more intense program. They recorded reactions to Kennedy’s death but no preparations for an attempt against him. Another theory is that the CIA murdered the president. That seems unlikely. Yet another is that it was the Cuban exiles, furious at their betrayal at the hands of Kennedy and the CIA. The exiles were not aware of the inner workings of JFK’s intense vendetta against Castro. Then there is the Mafia, said to be  enraged their Havana clubs and hotels had been nationalized without a U.S. response. Lee Harvey Oswald, the putative assassin, was also acutely aware of Kennedy’s Cuba policy.

I shall leave it to Kennedy assassination historians to unravel the skeins of all these threads. There are two important points to carry away: First, all these threads revolve around CIA operations from one side or the other–Kennedy as a Ghost of Langley. Second, all the CIA assassination plotting that the Rockefeller Commission and Church Committee uncovered and investigated in the middle 1970s–all of it ended with Kennedy. Presidents after John F. Kennedy never involved themselves, or the CIA, in assassination planning. Even Ronald Reagan, who called Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega a “dictator in sunglasses,” and ordered the CIA out to mine Nicaraguan harbors, never entertained any plan to murder the Sandinista commandante. Subsequent presidents took a lesson from the Kennedy experience. Ghosts of Langley.

CIA Gunslinger: Bob Eatinger Learned His Tricks Early

November 7, 2017–Mentioned here in passing ten days ago, CIA lawyer Robert J. Eatinger, Jr. has been at the heart of agency business for a very long time. It looks as if Eatinger learned his tricks very early. The counselor, for those who are unaware, figured as a major figure within the CIA Counterterrorist Center in the 2005 destruction of the notorious videotapes documenting the torture of captives held by the agency. As the CIA’s acting general counsel from 2009 on he rode herd on the CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s (SSCI) investigation of the agency’s detainee interrogation program, with which he had been intimately familiar at the time as a Counterterrorist Center lawyer. In fact the SSCI chairwoman has said on the floor of the Senate that Mr. Eatinger’s name appears in her committee’s investigative report more than 1,600 times. You can read much more about him in my book The Ghosts of Langley.

Late in 2013, with the CIA actively dragging its feet on declassifying the SSCI report, Counsellor Eatinger spoke at an American Bar Association panel meeting on national security law. “Because you can do it,” Eatinger declared, doesn’t mean you should . . . That’s what we spend our time defining to the director.” Sounds quite responsible. But less than two months later, as detailed in The Ghosts of Langley Mr. Eatinger was telling the director that the CIA would be obstructing justice if it did not recommend the Justice Department investigate the Senate Intelligence Committee on criminal charges of espionage–this after Eatinger’s CIA monitors of the Senate investigation had been caught hacking into SSCI computers.

In 2009 Robert Eatinger, along with the CIA’s then-acting general counsel and another agency lawyer, figured in another legal disaster, a suit in which a former Drug Enforcement Agency operative accused the CIA of eavesdropping. Federal judge Royce C. Lambeth found that the agency lawyers, Eatinger among them, had withheld evidence about the CIA officer involved. The plaintiff walked away with a $3 million settlement.

Now, the release of formerly secret records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reveals a new side to Bob Eatinger. The lawyer had gone to work at the CIA Office of General Counsel (OGC) in September 1991. Not long afterwards the Oliver Stone movie JFK garnered so much attention for its controversial charges of conspiracies against the president that Congress passed–and President George H. W. Bush signed–a law empowering a blue ribbon Assassination Records Review Board to examine and make its own decisions on the declassification and release of documents relating in any way to Kennedy’s murder.

Then-CIA director Robert Gates approved a policy of full responsiveness to the Records Board investigators. The inquiry turned into the widest review of CIA covert operations until the SSCI torture inquiry. The CIA made Robert Eatinger its point man on all matters related to the Kennedy Records Board. The attorney’s first excursion into the rarified world of the assassination records came when he issued OGC policy guidance for agency employees considering appeals to the Records Board to preserve the secrecy of documents. The December 14, 1992 instruction found that the law had been tightly constructed and required Langley’s cooperation. Spooks had to apply a balancing test even before developing arguments why a document could be kept secret. There were pretty tightly circumscribed grounds for the appeal to secrecy.

After that promising beginning the secrecy mavens at Langley walked it all back. The CIA successively interposed more and more objections. –To searching certain categories of records, to revealing the names of agents or even agency officers, to admitting that the CIA has “stations” in foreign countries, to releasing basic data on agency organization, to admitting there had been telephone taps and photographic monitoring of the Russian and Cuban embassies in Mexico City, to giving up histories of the Mexico City station and the one in Miami, to documents in the files on Lee Harvey Oswald and Yuri Nosenko, more. Bob Eatinger absorbed the coloration of the CIA footdraggers. In April 1993 the lead attorney recommended options for excluding records of CIA brass wrangling with Kennedy assassination matters that the agency had been ordered to give up in a lawsuit. In May 1993 Eatinger recommended that Langley withhold from the Records Board anything about specific Americans surveilled by the notorious Project MHCHAOS, which had aimed directly at Americans. In November 1993, when the Kennedy Board discovered that a Cuban exile leader, prosecuted in the late 60s, had actually been arrested by a man on the CIA payroll, the General Counsel’s office wanted advance word if the assassination investigators got near that fact. In January 1994 Eatinger advised CIA personnel to stonewall on MHCHAOS data for Americans abroad, extending his previous advice. In November 1995 Robert Eatinger would be reassigned as a line counselor for the agency operations directorate. By then, it looks like, he knew all the tricks.

New Kennedy Assassination Papers

October 26, 2017--Today the National Archives is supposed to release the final tranche of papers reviewed back during the period from 1992 to 1998 by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Board. As the result of a law passed in 1992, the Board, composed of prominent citizens and historians appointed by Congress, on the one hand, and the president on the other, enjoyed exceptional latitude in what it could release. The Board itself had the power to declassify documents. That reversed the usual situation, where people apply to government agencies for the latter to release material. The CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and other haggled with the Board to keep stuff secret. Sometimes the Board agreed, sometimes it didn’t. Most of the material was released, with some deletions, in the 1990s.

Documents the Board agreed to hold back were put into a basket to be released 25 years on–that is the benchmark we reach today. The National Archives and Records Administration made a start at the task over the summer, putting out the first of hundreds of thousands of documents. Today is the moment of suspense for the rest.

I expect the Kennedy documents will contain big piles of information about Lee Harvey Oswald, the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and issues surrounding President Kennedy’s security. They will also contain a great deal about the Soviet spy Yuri Nosenko, who defected to the United States claiming to have special information about Oswald. Because the Records Board had a wide jurisdiction it also looked into CIA covert operations, especially those aimed at Cuba’s Fidel Castro, which I covered most recently in my book The Ghosts of Langley (The New Press).

Over the next days and weeks you should expect to see some of the posts here focus on what we learn from the new Kennedy Board documents. Clearly historians will be grappling with this material for decades to come, but at least you’ll get a whiff of what’s new.

What the CHICAGO TRIBUNE Case Means Today

October 25, 2017–Over at the website for the National Security Archive I am today posting an “electronic briefing book” that samples the grand jury records, now unsealed, of the Roosevelt administration’s 1942 attempt to prosecute the Chicago Tribune under the Espionage Act. In today’s superheated atmosphere where presidential acolytes and the president himself speak of pulling the licenses of broadcasting networks, or firing reporters who write what they don’t like, the Tribune case holds special meaning.

You can amble among the records at your leisure but here is a brief summary: In June 1942 the United States engaged Japan in a naval battle off Midway Island in the Pacific. Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Navy codebreakers (covered in my 1995 book Combined Fleet Decoded) the Americans knew the Japanese plan and their fleet organization. Admiral Chester Nimitz laid a trap for the adversary and, in the ensuing battle, the most important Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. This ranks among the decisive battles of World War II. A Chicago Tribune reporter, Stanley Johnston, was on another Navy vessel returning from the South Pacific, and he saw information taken from a Nimitz message that named the Japanese warships and detailed their task organization. When Johnston arrived on the U.S. west coast he wrote the article the Tribune published. The newspaper’s editor disguised the source by datelining the piece “Washington,” and attributing it to “naval intelligence.” The Navy, furious, immediately began an investigation. President Roosevelt, who had once been a top Navy official and now enjoyed the benefit of the codebreakers’ work, wanted to go after both the journalist Johnston and the newspaper Chicago Tribune. The Justice Department prosecutor assigned to the case actually advised against proceeding. At the behest of FDR and Navy secretary Frank Knox, the attorney general forged ahead anyway. A grand jury was convened in Chicago. The case fell apart as predicted: journalist Johnston had not had a formal requirement to submit his articles to censorship, while the Chicago Tribune’s responsibility was to have censors look at material about U.S. forces, not Japanese ones. Further, the Espionage Act aimed at physical documents, not the information contained in them. The grand jury refused to indict.

In actuality the Tribune case was about what legal experts call “prior restraint”–whether government should have the power to determine what can be said in public discourse, and regulate that by suppressing information it does not like. These are hallmarks of dictatorships. In Nazi Germany a Propaganda Ministry decided what news the public could see and hear. In George Orwell’s 1984 the “Ministry of Truth” did the same thing. In America, the Constitution features a Bill of Rights and the very First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. Those First Amendment rights were further confirmed in 1971 when the Nixon administration tried to enforce a prior restraint against the New York Times and Washington Post, which had begun printing their reporting on the Pentagon Papers.

Today we live in an era where too many, starting with the president, churn out “fake news.” Opinion polls show a disturbing percentage of Americans in favor of actions–like pulling broadcast licenses–that would ostensibly curb fake news. Of course, the problem is who decides what is fake? Only a Ministry of Truth. That is not admissible, yesterday, today or tomorrow. There is no substitute for a well-informed citizenry, and citizens have an obligation to decide for themselves what meaning lies in an issue. The desire not to make that effort, to rely upon potted news, is what opens the door to fakery. One thing that has, for the most part, disappeared from American schools is civics class. Schools used to teach the Constitution, and government, and rights. We equipped citizens for the challenges of interpreting the news around them. In my current book The Ghosts of Langley I write at length about abuses of the CIA torture program in the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Imagine if there had been a Ministry of Truth deciding what we could know about these outrages. Lets get those civics classes back!