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Prince of Thieves -
Richard Nixon and the JFK Assassination
One of Three -
by E. Burton Mercer
It was a feeling of dread, of fear and loathing. Of paranoia. It was June 23, 1972, and Richard Milhous Nixon, President
of the United States, was waiting for his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, to enter the Oval Office and brief him on a third-rate
burglary at a local hotel complex.
The media were already making the connections. Almost as if they knew where to look,
the press had connected the five burglars arrested at the Watergate hotel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP),
Nixon's cash soaked re-election apparatus. But that didn't bother Nixon as much as the man he knew had been controlling the
burglars on their midnight excursion into the Watergate five nights before. That man was E. Howard Hunt, Jr., and as far as
Nixon was concerned, Hunt was a time bomb waiting to go off.
Haldeman arrived. There were problems. Big problems. On
June 17, the five arrested men were nothing more than nameless reactionaries; four Cuban-exiles, and another man, James W.
McCord, Jr. They were caught red-handed in the Democratic National Committee's offices at the Watergate hotel complex, all
wearing business suits and rubber gloves, all loaded up with screwdrivers, pliers, voice distorters and bugging devices. And
cash. Lots of cash. Traceable cash. One of the burglars, Bernard L. Barker, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs fiasco of more than
a decade before, had some interesting things in his bank account, and it had Nixon scared.
"But they've traced the money
to 'em," proclaimed Nixon.
"Well, they have," said Haldeman. "They've traced to a name, but they haven't gotten to the
"Would it be somebody here?" Nixon asked.
"Ken Dahlberg," Haldeman stated.
"Who the hell is Ken Dahlberg?"
ah, he gave $25,000 [to CREEP] in Minnesota and, ah, the cheque went directly in to this, to this guy Barker."
was made, right there, between the Committee to Re-Elect the President and the Watergate burglars. As ominous as this was,
though, Nixon knew it was only the tip of the iceberg. He had other things on his mind.
The idea of a cover-up was,
to Nixon's thinking, a relatively simple procedure. Haldeman suggested that the way to stop the FBI investigation was to bring
CIA Director Richard Helms on side; all Helms had to do was tell FBI Director Patrick Gray that the Watergate burglary was
part of a CIA operation, "National Security" he could call it, and nip the investigation in the bud. Nixon liked the idea.
"I mean you just, well, we protected Helms from one hell of a lot of things," he said. Haldeman agreed.
And then Nixon
turned to his real fear, his real motivation. The words fumbled from his mouth, his paranoia bubbling hot. "Of course, this
is a, this is a Hunt, you will - that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab, there's a hell of a lot of things
and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt,
and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves." He continued: "When you get these people in, say: 'Look,
the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that'...ah, without
going into the details...don't, don't lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is a sort
of comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it. 'The President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs
thing up again. And, ah, because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that
we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case', period!"
Another connection was made. First, from the
Committee to Re-Elect to the Watergate burglars, and then, from the Watergate burglary to the Bay of Pigs. An abstract connection
indeed. Why was Nixon scared of opening "the whole Bay of Pigs thing" up again? It was laughable. The events surrounding the
botched Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 were, by 1972, common knowledge.
By 1960, the CIA, under the direction of
Allen W. Dulles, was vehemently opposed to Fidel Castro's relatively new Communist regime in Cuba, and proceeded to devise
a plan to land several thousand Cuban-exiles at Cuba's Bay of Pigs in a pre-dawn invasion. Once established, the exiles were
to form a provisional government, and Castro would then be toppled in a popular coup as thousands of Cuban's joined this government
in a new, democratic revolution.
Unfortunately for the CIA, however, the newly sworn in president, John F. Kennedy,
wisely refused to provide US military assistance for the invasion. As a result, the Cuban-exile brigade were slaughtered or
captured on the beach head before the invasion really got underway.
This Kennedy decision foiled the CIA's plans in
more ways than one. The Bay of Pigs strategy had counted on US military assistance, with the CIA knowing full well that Castro's
forces could easily take the exile brigade alone in battle. Kennedy had told the CIA months in advance that no military assistance
would be provided, yet the CIA went ahead with their invasion preparations anyway.
They were hoping to bluff Kennedy
into committing US forces, to scare him into intervention. That tact, as history shows, failed.
The end result was
egg on the new Kennedy administration's face. To the world at large, the new Commander-in-Chief had bungled his first foreign
policy initiative, an initiative that had begun with the previous Eisenhower administration. In the long term, however, a
more ominous specter has risen; Kennedy had created three new, rabid enemies: the Cuban-exile community, Fidel Castro, and
more importantly, the CIA. Battle lines were being drawn.
Whilst accepting public responsibility for the invasion's
failure, privately Kennedy knew that the CIA had lied to him. He took immediate action, and over the ensuing months, animosity
between the White House and Central Intelligence festered into paranoia and deceit. Eventually, heads started to roll. CIA
Director Allen Dulles was fired. Director of Plans Richard Bissell was fired. And Deputy Director Gen. Charles P. Cabell was
Kennedy then instigated a massive overhaul of the CIA's role in peacetime. Tactfully proclaiming to "splinter
the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds", Kennedy issued a series of top secret directives, National Security
Action Memoranda's (NSAM's) #55, #56 and #57, which theoretically ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take control of covert
paramilitary operations - a responsibility previously enjoyed by the CIA. Changes were afoot, to say the least.
Kennedy's new directives were never implemented, the documents instead being relegated to a filing cabinet to collect dust.
Apparently even the Joint Chiefs didn't want to upset the CIA. And who can blame them?
But that was history. Now it
was 1972, and the events surrounding the Bay of Pigs fiasco were old news, disseminated many years before by many different
people, the military, the media, the public.
Yet, for some reason, it was driving Richard Nixon nuts. Nixon's weird
secrecy didn't escape Bob Haldeman's watchful eye. A man trained and accustomed to Nixon's ways, Haldeman was known as the
president's "Berlin Wall"; and besides, he had been through the bizarre "Bay of Pigs thing" before.
As far back as
1969, immediately after Nixon had assumed office, John Ehrlichman, Nixon's chief adviser on domestic affairs, was called into
the Oval Office. Nixon said he wanted all the facts and documents the CIA had on the Bay of Pigs, a complete report on the
According to Haldeman, "about six months after that 1969 conversation, Ehrlichman had stopped in my
office. 'Those bastards in Langley are holding back something,'" Ehrlichman had said. "'They just dig in their heels and say
the President can't have it. Period. Imagine that! The Commander-in-Chief wants to see a document relating to a military operation,
and the spooks say he can't have it.'
'What is it?'
'I don't know,'" Ehrlichman said. "'But from the way they're protecting
it, it must be pure dynamite.'"
Despite all of this, however, Ehrlichman was confident that CIA Director Richard Helms
would comply to Nixon's request. "Rest assured," he said. "The point will be made. In fact, Helms is on his way over here
right now. The President is going to give him a direct order to turn over that document to me."
Haldeman states: "Helms
did show up that afternoon and saw the President for a long secret conversation. When Helms left, Ehrlichman returned to the
Oval Office. The next thing I knew Ehrlichman appeared in my office, dropped into a chair, and just stared at me. He was more
furious that I had ever seen him; absolutely speechless...I said, 'What happened?'
'This is what happened,' Ehrlichman
said. 'The Mad Monk [Nixon] has just told me I am now to forget all about that CIA document. In fact, I am to cease and desist
from trying to obtain it.'
Even the most cursory and disinterested examination of the above series of events would
lead one to conclude that CIA Director Helms had told Nixon not to pursue this "Bay of Pigs document", for reasons not yet
known. One might assume that this "dynamite" document was highly classified, yet the only classified document (as of 1972)
relating to the Bay of Pigs operation was The Cuban Study Group document, drawn up at the behest of President Kennedy in the
wake of the invasion fiasco.
Yet this document was not a CIA document; it was a military document, and the CIA had
no control over it.
Reasonably, the only other explanation is that "Bay of Pigs" referred to something else; a code
word for some other top secret CIA operation that both Nixon and Helms had intimate knowledge of. And as far as Nixon was
concerned, this "Bay of Pigs" operation was "dynamite" enough to cause the CIA to stop the FBI's Watergate investigation.
continued: "...[it's] very bad, to have this fellow [Howard] Hunt, ah, you know, ah, it's he, he knows too damn much and he
was involved, we happen to know that. And that it gets out that the whole, this is all involved in the Cuban thing, that it's
a fiasco, and it's going to make the...CIA look bad, it's going to make Hunt look bad, and it's likely to blow the whole,
uh, Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate for [the] CIA and for the country at this time, and for American
With a final "I would just say, 'Look, it's because of the Hunt involvement'", Nixon ordered Bob
Haldeman to meet with CIA Director Helms and begin the Watergate cover-up. And Bob Haldeman did just that.
Haldeman would later write: "This time the CIA was ready. In fact, it was more than ready. It was ahead of the game by months.
Nixon would walk into what I now believe was a trap."
That afternoon of June 23, 1972, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman
met with CIA Director Richard Helms and Deputy Director Vernon Walters in Ehrlichman's White House office. The CIA "was stonewalling
me" says Haldeman, claiming that the Watergate break-in was in "no way" connected to a domestic CIA activity. That was until
Haldeman decided to play "Nixon's trump card."
"The President asked me to tell you [that] this entire affair may be
connected to the Bay of Pigs," Haldeman said. "And if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown..."
According to Haldeman,
this statement was followed by "turmoil in the room" with CIA Director Helms "gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward
and shouting, 'The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this! I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs!'"
just sat there," Haldeman later recalled. "I was absolutely shocked by Helms' violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was
such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?"
Haldeman later "went back to see the President and told him his strategy had
worked. I told Helms that the Watergate investigation 'tracks back to the Bay of Pigs.' So at that point...he said we'll be
very happy to be helpful."
Nixon was more than pleased. His "Bay of Pigs" strategy had worked, and the CIA were now
more than willing to comply in a cover-up of the Watergate break-in.
Yet Haldeman's confusion remained. He still had
no idea what "Bay of Pigs" actually meant; whatever it was however, it certainly had both Nixon and Helms scared. Scared enough
to instigate one of the biggest cover-ups in history. All Haldeman knew was that it involved "these Cubans", "Hunt" and "the
CIA", and that if the truth were ever to come out it would effect "the CIA", "the country" and "American foreign policy".
all of this because five guys got busted in a break-in at the Watergate hotel.
Years later, former CBS news correspondent
Dan Schorr contacted Haldeman. Schorr had been investigating CIA covert activities, and according to Haldeman, Schorr had
uncovered evidence relating to "the mystery of the Bay of Pigs connection in those dealings between Nixon and Helms."
then began to "put Schorr's facts together with mine", and in doing so inadvertently stumbled onto the real mystery behind
Watergate, the real meaning of "the Bay of Pigs".
He had also unlocked the darkest secret, the deepest fear in Richard
Milhous Nixon's political past.
"It seems that in all of those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs," Haldeman later
said, "he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination."