(The left-wing leader in the Belgian Congo who had been killed
in 1961, supposedly by his Katanga rivals.)
"I can't go down a list with you. Sorry."
I returned to my office, my head swimming with names of dead
foreign leaders who may have offended the American government.
It was frustrating to be this close to one of the major stories
of my career and not be able to get my hands on it. After a few
days I decided I knew enough to go on the air even without the
identity of corpses.
Because of President Ford's imprecision, I didn't realize that
he was not referring to actual assassinations, but assassination
conspiracies. All I knew was that assassination had been a
weapon in the CIA arsenal until banned in a post-Watergate
cleanup and that the president feared that investigation might
expose the dark secret. l sat down at my typewriter and wrote,
"President Ford has reportedly warned associates that if current
investigations go too far they could uncover several
assassinations of foreign officials involving the CIA..."
The two-minute "tell" story ran on the Evening News on February
28. While I had been mistaken in suggesting actual murders, my
report opened up one of the darkest secrets in the CIA's
President Ford moved swiftly to head off a searching
congressional investigation by extending the term of the
Rockefeller commission and adding the assassination issue to its
agenda. The commission hastily scheduled a new series of secret
hearings in the vice president's suite in the White House annex.
Richard Helms, who had already testified once, was called home
again from his ambassador's post in Tehran for two days of
questioning by the commission's staff and four hours before the
commission on April 28.
I waited with colleagues and staked-out cameras outside the
hearing room, the practice being to ask witnesses to make
remarks on leaving. As Helms emerged, I extended my hand in
greeting, with a jocular "Welcome back'." I was forgetting that
I was the proximate reason for his being back.
His face ashen from fatigue and strain, he turned livid.
"You son of a bitch," he raged. "You killer, you cocksucker
Killer Schorr - that's what they ought to call you!"
He then strode before the cameras and gave a toned-down version
of his tirade. "I must say, Mr. Schorr, I didn't like what you
had to say in some of your broadcasts on this subject. As far as
I know, the CIA was never responsible for assassinating any
"Were there discussions of possible assassinations?" I asked.
Helms began losing his temper again. "I don't know when I
stopped beating my wife, or you stopped beating your wife. Talk
about discussions in government? There are always discussions
about practically everything under the sun!"
I pursued Helms down the corridor and explained to him the
presidential indiscretion that had led me to report
Calmer now, he apologized for his outburst and we shook hands.
But because other reporters had been present, the story of his
tirade was in the papers the next day.
(9) Kathryn S. Olmsted, Challenging the Secret Government: The
Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (1996)
Beyond his ideological reasons for opposing a CIA investigation,
Ford was also influenced by partisan and institutional
considerations. Hersh's initial stories had accused Richard
Nixon's CIA of domestic spying - not Lyndon Johnson's CIA or
John Kennedy's CIA. If, indeed, the improprieties took place on
the Republicans' watch, then too much attention to these charges
could hasten the GOP's post-Watergate slide and boost the
careers of crusading Democrats. Ford also opposed wide-ranging
investigations because he felt responsible for protecting the
presidency. "I was absolutely dedicated to doing whatever I
could to restore the rightful prerogatives of the presidency
under the constitutional system," he recalls. His aides list
Ford's renewal of presidential power after Watergate as one of
the greatest achievements of his administration. This lifelong
conservative believed that he had a duty to control the
congressional investigators and restore the honor of his new
Within days of Hersh's first story, Ford's aides recommended
that he set up an executive branch investigative commission to
avoid "finding ourselves whipsawed by prolonged Congressional
hearings." In a draft memo to the president written on 27
December, Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Cheney explained that
the president had several reasons to establish such a
commission: to avoid being put on the defensive, to minimize
"damage" to the CIA, to head off "Congressional efforts to
further encroach on the executive branch," to demonstrate
presidential leadership, and to reestablish Americans' faith in
Ford's aides cautioned that this commission, formally called the
Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, must not
appear to be "a 'kept' body designed to whitewash the problem."
But Ford apparently did not follow this advice. His choice for
chairman, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had served as a
member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board,
which monitored the CIA. Members Erwin Griswold, Lane Kirkland,
Douglas Dillon, and Ronald Reagan had all been privy to CIA
secrets in the past or noted for their strong support of
In a revealing move, the president also appointed General Lyman
Lemnitzer, the same chairman of the Joint Chiefs whose office in
1962 had been charged by Congressman Jerry Ford with a
"totalitarian" attempt to suppress information. In short, Ford's
commissioners did not seem likely to conduct an aggressive
investigation. Of the "true-blue ribbon" panel's eight members,
only John Connor, a commerce secretary under Lyndon Johnson, and
Edgar Shannon, a former president of the University of Virginia,
brought open minds to the inquiry, according to critics.
Many congressmen, including GOP senators Howard Baker and Lowell
Weicker, found the commission inadequate. Some supporters of the
CIA, such as columnist Joseph Kraft, worried that many Americans
would view the commission as part of a White House cover-up.
Although Kraft personally admired the commissioners, he feared
that their findings would not be credible and therefore would
not reduce "the terrible doubts which continue to eat away at
the nation." A public opinion poll confirmed these reservations.
Forty-nine percent of the people surveyed by Louis Harris
believed that an executive commission would be too influenced by
the White House, compared with 35 percent who supported Ford's
action. A clear plurality - 43 percent - believed that the
commission would turn into "another cover-up," while 33 percent
had confidence in the commission and 24 percent were unsure. The
New York Times editorial board, also suspicious of the panel,
urged congressmen not to allow the commission to "become a
pretext to delay or circumscribe their own independent
investigation." A week later, the Times again reminded Congress
of its duty to conduct a "long, detailed" examination of the
intelligence community: "Three decades is too long for any
public institution to function without a fundamental reappraisal
of its role."
(10) The Rockefeller Commission (1975)
On the basis of the investigation conducted by its staff, the
Commission believes that there is no evidence to support the
claim that President Kennedy was struck by a bullet fired from
either the grassy knoll or any other position to his front,
right front or right side, and that the motions of the
President's head and body, following the shot that struck him in
the head, are fully consistent with that shot having come from a
point to his rear, above him and slightly to his right...
Hunt's employment record with the CIA indicated that he had no
duties involving contacts with Cuban exile elements or
organizations inside or outside the United States after the
early months of 1961... Hunt and Sturgis categorically denied
that they had ever met or known Oswald or Ruby. They further
denied that they ever had any connections whatever with either
Oswald or Ruby...
Numerous allegations have been made that the CIA participated in
the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission
staff investigated these allegations. On the basis of the
staff's investigation, the Commission concluded there was no
credible evidence of any CIA involvement.
(11) Richard V. Allen, How the Bush Dynasty Almost Wasn’t, New
York Times Magazine (30th July, 2000)
What I remember most about entering Ronald Reagan’s suite early
on the third evening of the 1980 Republican convention, the
night of his nomination, was the silence. It’s not that there
weren’t plenty of people around. William J. Casey, Reagan’s
campaign manager; Richard Wirthlin, his pollster; and his
advisers Peter Hannaford, Michael Deaver, and Edwin Meese were
all there in the candidate’s elegantly appointed rooms on the
sixty-ninth floor of the Detroit Plaza Hotel. So, too, was
Reagan, dressed in a casual shirt and tan slacks. The entire
group was seated on a large U-shaped couch, hushed, as if they
were watching some spellbinding movie on TV.