Now that President Biden has granted the CIA’s demand for continued secrecy of its 58-year-old Kennedy assassination-related records, it’s worth asking some important questions, ones that hardly anyone ever asks: What if a president really does pose a threat to national security? What are the CIA and the Pentagon expected to do about it? What would Americans want them to do about it? What would they do about it?
It’s not just a theoretical question. There were obviously a number of people who were convinced that President Trump posed a threat to national security, especially given his supposed role as a Russian agent.
What if Trump really was a Russian agent and, as such, was engaged in actions that were designed to put America under Russian rule?
The Constitution provides for two possible remedies: impeachment and the next election. But what if impeachment fails to convince enough members of Congress to convict and oust a president who poses a threat to national security? What if the next election is two or three years away?
If a president is engaged in actions that are going to bring about the destruction of America, should the Pentagon and the CIA take the necessary steps to ensure that that doesn’t happen, even if if such steps are not authorized by the Constitution? Or should they abide by the Constitution and ostensibly let the country go down?
What would you want the Pentagon and the CIA to do? Save the country from a president who is purportedly taking the country down? Or do nothing and supposedly let the country go down?
It’s not just an esoteric question. It’s actually what happened a few years after the Kennedy assassination. It happened in Chile.
In 1970, the Chilean people democratically elected a man named Salvador Allende to be president of their country. Allende was a socialist. He was also good friends with the Soviet Union as well as Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro. He even invited Castro to come to Chile and tour the country with him. That was when the Cold War was still going strong.
U.S. officials deemed Allende to be a threat to U.S national security. Equally important, they deemed him to be a threat to Chile’s national security. The Pentagon and the CIA wanted their national-security state counterparts in Chile to oust Allende from power and replace him with a military ruler.
The overall head of the Chilean armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, disagreed. His position was that the Chilean constitution controlled the situation. Like the U.S. Constitution, it provided for impeachment and elections as the only ways to oust the nation’s democratically elected president. Impeachment against Allende had failed. As far as Schneider was concerned, people would just have to wait until the next election to oust Allende.
The Pentagon’s and the CIA’s position was that Chile didn’t have the luxury to wait that long. As far as they were concerned, by the time the next election would come, Chile would have already become another communist Cuba. Therefore, in order to save the country from becoming another communist Cuba, the Chilean national-security establishment needed to act now to remove Allende from office, even if by doing so they were violating the country’s constitution.
The CIA decided that Schneider was an obstacle to removing a grave threat to the national security of both the United States and Chile. The CIA had people attempt to violently kidnap Schneider, which left him shot dead on the streets of Santiago.
The Pentagon/CIA mindset that led to Schneider’s kidnapping/murder is obviously a critically important mindset, one that all too many Americans have been reluctant to acknowledge. That Pentagon-CIA mindset holds that if a president is engaged in actions that pose a grave threat to national security, it is the solemn duty of the national-security establishment to save the country, even if by doing so the country’s constitution is violated.
There is an important point to note about this mindset: It is the national-security establishment that makes the final determination as to whether or not a president poses a grave threat to national security.
That brings us to the Kennedy assassination. Did Kennedy pose a grave threat to national-security, as Allende purportedly did?
The rightwing in America certainly believed so. Consider, for example, the 5,000 “Wanted for Treason” fliers that were being distributed in Dallas on the day of the assassination. When a president engages in treason, that’s a pretty good sign he poses a grave threat to national security. Or consider the “Welcome to Dallas” advertisement in the Dallas Morning News on the morning of the assassination that accused Kennedy, among other things, of embracing “the spirit of Moscow.”
But the real question is not whether Kennedy actually did pose a grave threat to national security. The real question is whether the Pentagon and the CIA concluded that he posed a grave threat to national security. If they did, then there is every reason to believe that they would have done what they would counsel their Chilean counterparts a few years later. They would act to save the nation from a president whose policies were taking the country down, even if by doing so they would be violating the Constitution.
The fact is that the Pentagon and the CIA embraced the points that were made in those “Wanted for Treason” fliers and in that Dallas Morning News advertisement. The national-security establishment was absolutely convinced that Kennedy had engaged in treason and that he was in fact embracing “the spirit of Moscow.”
Consider some of things that Kennedy had done — and was doing — that caused the national-security establishment to conclude that he posed a grave threat to national security:
1. He failed to provide air support to the CIA-trained Cuban exiles who invaded Cuba in an attempt to free the nation from communist rule. Instead, Kennedy let them be captured or killed by the communists.
2. He fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, who was deeply admired and revered by the U.S. national-security establishment.
3. He reputedly vowed to destroy the CIA by tearing it into a thousand pieces and scattering it to the winds. The national-security establishment, not surprisingly, believed that a sound and strong CIA was absolutely essential to national security.
4. He rejected Operation Northwoods, the Pentagon’s fraudulent plan to invade Cuba.
5. He settled the Cuban Missile Crisis by agreeing to permanent communist rule in Cuba, even though he knew that the CIA and the Pentagon were convinced that a communist Cuba posed a grave threat to U.S. national security.
6. He declared an end to the Cold War, which the Pentagon and the CIA were convinced was necessary to prevent a communist takeover of the United States.
7. He reached out to the Soviet Union and Cuba in a spirit of peace and friendship, just as Allende would do (and that Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz had done in 1954, which spurred a U.S. national-security state regime-change operation against him).
8. He came to the defense of the U.S. civil rights movement, which the national-security establishment was convinced was a front for the supposed international communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow.
9. He entered into the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union, over the vehement objections of the CIA and Pentagon, which believed that nuclear testing was essential to national security.
10. He proposed a joint project to the Moon with the Soviets, which necessarily would have meant sharing rocket technology with the Soviets.
The Pentagon and the CIA knew that if they went to Congress with an impeachment request for those acts, the effort would almost certainly fail. They also knew that it was a virtual certainty that Kennedy would defeat the likely Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, in the next election, which meant that Kennedy would continue moving the nation in the direction of a communist takeover.
What were the Pentagon and the CIA supposed to do? Their job is to protect national security from all threats, both foreign and domestic. Were they supposed to just let the country go down? Or were they supposed to do whatever was necessary, no matter how unconstitutional, to save the country? Is the Constitution a “suicide pact”?
We know what their mindset was a few years later in Chile. Maybe that’s why they still won’t release their secret records about their Chilean regime-change operation, just as they still won’t release their secret records relating to their Kennedy regime-change operation.
To delve more deeply into this issue, read The Future of Freedom Foundation’s excellent book JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the Assassination Records Review Board. Also recommended is the best book ever written on the Kennedy assassination, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass.