Friday 1 September 2006

A History of America's National Reconnaissance Office


by Trowbridge H. Ford


With the nomination of Representative Gerald R.Ford, the Republican House Minority Leader, to replace the disgraced Spiro T.Agnew as Vice President on October 12, 1973, the Nixon White House was confident that the problems caused by Watergate would rapidly disappear, but it turned out far different from what it planned. While the President believed that the confirmation of Ford, a Nixon loyalist through-and-through, would guarantee that he would never be impeached, much less removed from office, his critics were sure that the Congress would get rid of Nixon, once Ford had been confirmed, as the country was increasingly ready to make anyone President in place of 'Tricky Dick'. NIxon was certain that Ford brought so much unwanted baggage with him that once confirmed, the Congress would never have the temerity to remove him. He figured wrongly, though, that the darkest secrets of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) would never be suspected, much less revealed.

Earlier in the day, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had ruled that the President must turn over the tapes Judge John Sirica demanded for Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox about the Watergate break-in. Cox, an Eastern Establishment Liberal, and JFK's Solicitor General, was surprisingly picked by the new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, who was given carte-blanche by the President in making the choice, and Nixon could not risk countermanding it. Cox was interested in not only the break-in but also the Huston Plan, the 1969-71 wiretaps, and the Plumbers themselves - the essentials of the White House's secret government efforts - as Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin have written in Silent Coup. "When Cox asked (the President's counsel Fred) Buzhardt in writing for the detailed records and logs on the Plumbers, Buzhardt refused." (p. 338)

These records would show their composition, especially William King Harvey's leadership of the group, and what they had been doing when former Alabama Governor George Wallace was nearly assassinated, why J. Edgar Hoover and former President Lyndon B. Johnson had suddenly died, and other horrors, not even imagined. The wiretaps would show that NSA Henry Kissinger's military aide Alexander M. Haig, Jr., broke the law when he demanded them to track down the leakers of the secret bombing and invasion of Cambodia for fear that the quid pro quo Agnew had arranged with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Theiu to steal the 1968 Presidential Election would be disclosed in the process. The call that the Vice President-designate had made to Thieu from Phoenix - what the NRO had recorded for the National Security Agency just before the November election - was still by no means the biggest skeleton in Nixon's closet.

Gerald Ford, despite his genial exterior, was a true believer when it came to Nixon, and he would do anything to keep him President. The House Minority leader had been Nixon's choice when LBJ asked him who he wanted appointed to the Presidential Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy, and Ford did not disappoint Tricky Dick, keeping Director Hoover apprized of what the Warren Commission was looking into to make sure that it got nowhere, and legitimizing its cover up for the public when he co-authored Portrait of the Assassin - an effort which completely scapegoated Lee Harvey Oswald for the government conspiracy which assassinated JFK. The Director's files on its members, especially Ford himself, insured that nothing untoward ever emerged from its inquiry.

Hoover, consequently, had been able to treat Chief Justice Warren, thanks to seven wiretaps that the Bureau had maintained on his telephones, as a mere nuisance whose doubts about LHO's guilt for the murder could safely be rejected. Anthony Summers has added, in his The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, that the FBI, even at this late date, insists that "electronic surveillance transscripts, 'must be kept secret in the interests of national defence or foreign policy'." (p. 205) According to Curt Gentry, the Bureau, besides providing helpful political information, and checking on the suitability of daughter Nina's suitors for the former California Governor, had enough on Warren himself that he was willing to let it solely investigate the assassination. (J. Edgar Hoover, p. 553)

While the Chief Justice grew increasingly difficult for the Bureau during the inquiry - ultimately forcing Hoover to have his name removed from the Special Correspondents list who received inside Bureau information about current political matters that it gleaned through its unfettered efforts - Ford never risked any such independence. The root of Ford's subservience was what the Bureau had collected about his extra-marital, sexual activities, especially thanks to the efforts by LBJ's former infamous aide, Bobby Baker, making him, as Summers had recorded, one of Hoover's "congressional stable" (p. 318) of political informants and manipulators. Carthy O'Brien has even claimed in Tranceformation of America that she was brain-washed by the CIA's Project Monarch, as part of its MK-ULTRA project, as a mere child to become a sex-slave for the Michigan Congressman. (p. 82ff.)

Ford, who the Bureau had helped get elected to the House right after WWII, went to the greatest lengths to shield it from any criticism by the Warren Commission, especially the material that the NRO had collected for the CIA about Oswald's alleged activities at the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City - what was intended to make him look like a recruited communist assassin - and Langley had alerted the Bureau of. It had not taken the apparent threat seriously, though, forcing it to excise the name of FBI agent James Hosty, who was handling the former Marine, from his address book after the assassination. "The commission member Ford opposed criticizing the FBI for having failed to inform the Secret Service that Oswald was in Dallas and working in a building located on the parade route," Gentry added, "but Chairiman Warren insisted it go in..."(p. 556)

Ford's nomination revived all these concerns in a most pointed way. Deceased Democratic Majority Leader of the House, and also former member of the Warren Commission Hale Boggs had also been a target of the Bureau's "Congressional Relations Service" because of his personal behavior, but he had not capitulated to Hoover's threats - what even resulted in threatening visits by agents to his office to make him change his tune about a possible conspiracy, especially one involving the Bureau, being behind the Dallas assassination. And Boggs, as Gentry has described, was the leading sceptic, and rightly feared of the consequences of its possible disclosure - what helps explain not only his sudden death, but also that of the Director himself.

Back in April 1971, just after Hoover had rebutted charges Ronald Kessler's charges in The Washington Post that the Bureau had engaged in any kind of wire-tapping - what resulted in the House Appropriations Subcommittee approving a $31,000,000 increased appropriation - Boggs and Ford had gotten into a most embarrassing altercation about alleged Bureau bugging after the Majority Leader had called for the Director's resignation: "When the FBI taps the telephones of Members of this body and of Members of the Senate," Gentry quoted from the Congressional Record, "when the FBI stations agents on college campuses to infiltrate college organizations, when the FBI adopts the tacts of the Soviet Union and Hitler's Gestapo, then it is time - it was way past time, Mr. Speaker - that the present Director no longer be the Director..." (Quoted from Gentry, p. 677.)

The House was caught completely unawares by Bogg's demand, and only Minority Leader Ford rose to his feet to rebut the charge, claiming that there was no truth to the claims, no need for Hoover to resign, and that Bureau agents did as best they could. "They are humans, as we are," Ford added lamely. It all reminded listeners of the feeble attack that the Minority leader had made a year earlier when Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was threatened with impeachment. Douglas had claimed that not only were all its deliberations tapped, but that Hoover was trying to pack the Court at his expense to help assist Nixon's conservative political agenda. The Director supplied Ford with inside information about Douglas which they hoped would result in his being removed from the Court, but the effort failed miserably. (Gentry, pp. 625-30.)

While Boggs's attack was dismissed as just another result from his battle with the bottle, he denied the charge, and promised to prove his case, starting with determining the origin of a bug which was discovered on his home telephone, and a tape Congressmen Mario Biaggi and Neil Gallagher supplied him, allegedly from the Bureau, of recorded conversations by fellow Congressmen. When Boggs made a second speech on April 22, 1971 against Hoover, calling for his resignation, and about the Bureau' s covert operations, it fizzled, largely because Biaggi refused to release the tape which would confirm his charges. And then it turned out the bug was apparently not a Bureao one, as it nornally tapped lines from the Old Post Office Building.

The sudden death of the Director, the attempted assassination of former Alabama Governor George Wallace, and the Watergate break-in a year later aroused the Majority Leader's interest again in these matters, especially after he denied that he had ever attacked Hoover personally, and was reminded of his two speeches he made in the House against the
Director. His efforts, though, were not long-lived, as he was killed in a mysterious plane crash while flying with fellow Congressman Nick Begich, his legislative assistant, and the pilot of the twin-engined Cessna from Anchorage to Juneau in Alaska on October 16, 1972. The plane was never officially found, and it seemed like more work by William King Harvey's people, especially given what happened to Dorothy Hunt two months later, in December, when she was threatening to blow the White House sky high over Watergate.

It was only 20 years later that family survivors of the two Congressman became convinced that they had been deliberately killed. That year, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by Roll Call Magazine, they learned that the plane had been found, and that two of the passengers had survived the crash, thanks to a telex which the Bureau in Anchorage had sent to Washington at the time. "The information indicated an undisclosed 'firm' involved in testing advanced surveillance equipment had located the crash," Dr. Nick Begich, the Congressman's son wrote in a letter to Earthpulse Friends on June 19, 2001. Of course, the 'firm' was the NRO, and the failure of acting Director L. Patrick Gray to act on the telex guaranteed the deaths of the two people. "Some, including several of Begich's children," the Wikipedia internet biography of Boggs added, "have suggested Richard Nixon had a hand in Boggs's death in order to thwart the Watergate investigation." Little wonder that only then did the NRO officially admit its existence - for fear that people might think that it was the 'private firm' involved.

If Boggs were then still alive, the Majority Leader would never have approved Ford's nomination, and since the Democrats controlled the House, that would have ended the effort. But there was still the Bureau's investigation of Ford's credentials for the office, and the Minority Leader's role in covering up covert government, and engaging in child pornography and sex could still torpedo Nixon's choice, especially since the Bureau was conducting its biggest background investigation in history under the new Director, Clarence M. Kelley, the Kansas City police chief. The Bureau assigned 350 agents to conduct interviews, and they talked to 1,000 people, amassing 1,700 pages of documents in the process.

The background investigation would be an ideal way of checking to see if the political environment had cleared since the forced resignations of John Dean, John Erhlichman, and Robert Haldeman, and acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray had been forced to withdraw his nomination the previous spring. At the time, the press made much in explaining developments because Gray admitted that he had destroyed E. Howard Hunt's files which Dean had kept in his White House safe, the acting Director making sure that they would never see the light of day. Actually, as the Wikipedia biography explains, it was Gray's giving Dean Bureau files which had caused the fatal showdown, what the FBI's legal counsel had advised that he was legally obliged to do. Given Dean's reaction to the files - what led him on confess to Nixon on March 21, 1973 that the Plumbers, especially Gordon Liddy, had created a "cancer on the presidency" - they were even unwilling to consider the possibility of killings and air crashes.

Moreover, Cathy O'Brien, who was allegedly enslaved as a child by the CIA's mind-control program for such sexual purposes, knew Ford aka Leslie Lynch KIng, Jr., as her porn boss (Tranceformation, note #3, p. 86), and Kelley was known for trying to clean up the Mafia reputation of the city. Around this time, O'Brien claimed that she, as a second grader, was taken into the Congressman's office in the Capitol where she was placed on his desk, her panties were removed, and had sex not only with him but also Michigan State Senator Guy VanderJakt. (p. 85) And Kelley, in cleaning up Hoover's Bureau, might well take exception to Ford's covering up for its mistakes before and after the JFK assassination.

Nixon knew his man, though, when he selected Kelley. He had turned a blind eye when
Plumber and former Bureau agent Liddy was caught, carrying out a black bag job in the city. "He'd been released, Bureau scuttlebutt had it," Gentry explained, "only after a call was made to the local police chief, and former special agent, Clarence M. Kelley." (p. 692) More important, Kelley kept on uncritical supporters of Hoover like Mark Felt, and loyalists who followed in the footsteps of sacked John P. Mohr of its Inspection Division. The fact that they had co-opted him in these critical matters became public knowledge when Ford, then President, kept him on as Director in 1976 despite the fact he had let senior FBI officials pay for window drapery valances and a small cabinet for his living room, part of the Bureau's illegal system of perks.

When Carter declined to overlook Kelley's liberties at the Bureau, and refused to keep him on as Director, he still went out to his way to provide cover for the former President when it came time to write his autobiography, The Story of an FBI Director. Kelley claimed that if the CIA had only informed the Bureau through another NRO telex that Oswald was seeing Consul Valeri V. Kostikov, a member of the KGB's Department Thirteen - its 'liquid affairs one' - while visiting Mexico City in October 1963, the FBI would have prevented the
President's assassination, as Kelly explained to Mark Riebling while he was reseaching Wedge: The War betweem the FBI and CIA:

"That omission cost JFK his life. Had Jim Hosty and the Dallas office known the nature of the Russian with whom Oswald had met at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, the FBI in Dallas would have (after learning that the President was coming to Dallas) undoubtedly taken all necessary steps to neutralize Oswald - perhaps by interviewing him on November 22. And history would have taken a different turn....Had our intelligence communities pooled their information on Oswald, had the Oswald-Kostikov-Mexico City information been distributed to the New Orleans and Dallas field offices in time for them to act then, without a doubt, JFK would not have died in Dallas on November 22, 1963." (Quoted on p. 175.)

Back in December 1973 when Ford was confirmed by Congress as Vice-President, Plumber and former CIA agent Harvey could not take such a relaxed view about who killed JFK,
especially since his real murderers, especially former Bureau agent Richard Cain, were continuing to tell anyone who would listen that he, Chuckie Nicoletti, and other Mafiosos had killed the President. "According to FBI reports," Sam and Chuck Giancana wrote in Double Cross, "Cain then met with bureau agents and asked to be hired by the Justice Department. The agreement called for him to continue his Outfit duties and act as a paid FBI informant." (p. 350) Cain let everyone know that he would one day be taking over control of Sam Giancana's Outfit in Chicago.

Given Cain's ties to the CIA in general, and to Harvey in particular, this was too dangerous a condition for America's covert government to allow to continue, and Cain was, consequently, gunned down in Rose's Sandwich Shop in the Windy City on December 20, 1973. The killing had all the overt signs of another Agency assassination, with a gunman wearing a black and a white glove to indicate the involvement of the Mob and CIA respectively in the killing, and the masked killer was directed to the target by walkie-talkie - repeatedly asking "Who's got the package?" (p.351) When told by the party at the other end of the walkie-talkie that the person who had it was coming - Cain - the masked man immediately murdered him with two pointblank, shotgun blasts to the head.

The package referred to was the rifle Cain was supplied in Oswald's 'sniper's nest' but which he had used without test firing, causing the near-fatal wounding of Texas Governor John B.
Connally. When he survived and promised to get those who had apparently double crossed him, plans to blame the assassination upon the communists had to be scrubbed.

While Ford's nomination was proving so successful - safely covering up the last bits of the terrible things the Plumbers had done while confirming a Vice President who had apparently little chance of becoming President - the White House allowed certain liberties to be taken at the NRO's expense in order to have another Middle East war which worked to the advantage of not only Golda Meir's government in Tel Aviv, but also NIxon's beleaguered one in Washington. Egypt and Syria had long been planning to resume their conflict after they had surprisingly had their noses bloodied during the Six Day War in 1967. The NRO had constantly been monitoring the area by reconnaissance satellites, on the lookout for troop movements, and military build-ups along their borders with Israel.

While the photographs came from the satellites which lacked real-time imagery, they still showed the Egyptians constantly practicing how they would cross the Suez Canal with their moveable bridges, even noticing that Cairo was not committing its main armored forces to the original attack which was only to penetrate about 10 kilometers into the Sinai. Syria would obviously make a dash for the Jordan River, and to Israeli terrority. Even Hafez Ismail, an Egyptian diplomat, was forced to admit after the conflict: "The Israelis had a very excellent molibilzation plan." (Quoted from Gerlad S. and Deborah Hart Strober, Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency, p. 145.) Vernon Walters, the CIA's Deputy Director, added, thanks to the NRO's intelligence: "We knew they had it in mind, but we didn't know when."

The Israelis learned from an Arab spy on the morning of October 6, 1973 that the Egyptian-Syrian attack would take place that afternoon, and the IDF's Chief of Staff General David Elazar advised that the Israelis launch a pre-emptive attack before to blunt the effort. Prime Minister Meir decided against it because of what it would reveal about American intelligence capability and help, while eliminating any further assistance by firing the first shot, especially against Syria. Allowing the so-called Yom Kippur surprise to occur came in most handy when the Israelis started running out of ammunitions, money, and other matériel - what Nixon saw was supplied in profusion by a hastily arranged airlift. Little wonder that a most confident IDF Deputy Chief of Staff predicted a few days before the war started - "If only they will cross, we shall put them to fire. Like torches they will burn." (Quoted from ibid., p. 149.)

Bolstered by these developments, and thanks to feedback that Buzhart was supplying about what the Special Prosecutor was after, Nixon, as Fred Emery has described in Watergate,
became "commander in chief of the tapes situation." (p. 387) When written summaries of tapes would not satisfy Cox, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig apparently aka "Deep Throat" informed Attorney General Richardson that he must relieve Cox of his duties or that he must allow Senator John Stennis, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a Nixon supporter, to submit the written summaries of the nine tapes wanted to Judge Sirica's Court. While Cox was tempted to go along with the ambiguous settlement, he refused when he learned that Buzhardt would be actually writing the summaries.

After some last-minute efforts by attorney Charles Alan Wright to head off a final rupture, triggered by Cox wanting to expand his investigation yet more, the famous Saturday Night Massacre occurred on October 20th, resulting in the firing by Solicitor General Robert Bork of the Special Prosecutor after Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus had resigned rather than do it themselves, and ordering Bork to assume the position. "A brief sense of euphoria gripped the White House," Emery concluded. "Action at last. Garment remembers the mood. They believed they had cleared the air. If so, it was the onrush preceding a tornado." (pp.399-400)

While the storm clouds were gathering, the NRO decided to cash in on all the good work, much of it unrecognized for one reason or another, it had been doing. Since Dr. John L. McLucas had been its director, it had seen its satellite reconnaissance programs grow at the expense its manned flights. The Air Force was trying to take over the whole lot - the OXCART program by its A-12s, and the U-2s - and seemed well on its way, especially after James Schlesinger was appointed DCI, and given the responsibility of radically trimming its covert operation capability. But when he went to the Pentagon and was slow to react to Israel's needs during the Yom Kippur War, the NRO saw its chance, and jumped.

No sooner had the NRO staff sent a Top-Secret memorandum to the director on Octber 25th, saying that it no longer saw any need to be involved in "aircraft overflights operations", recommending that they be turned over the the Joint Chiefs of Staff, than it completely reversed its position. In order to make the switch more achieveable, McLucas was promoted to be Secretary of the Air Force, and Dr. James W. Plummer replaced him as NRO
Director. Hardly had he settled in than his deputy director sent him another memorandum, dated February 8, 1974, suggesting "...rather than reliquish authority in the area, the NRO reassert it..."

The CIA was clearly hoping to regain much of the authority it had lost through the Watergate scandal through the efforts not only of the NRO but also its National Underwater Reconnaissance Office, as we shall see.