Washington, DC, February 29, 2016 – The Gerald Ford White House significantly altered the final report of the supposedly independent 1975 Rockefeller Commission investigating CIA domestic activities, over the objections of senior Commission staff, according to internal White House and Commission documents posted today by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org). The changes included removal of an entire 86-page section on CIA assassination plots and numerous edits to the report by then-deputy White House Chief of Staff Richard Cheney.
Today’s posting includes the entire suppressed section on assassination attempts, Cheney’s handwritten marginal notes, staff memos warning of the fallout of deleting the controversial section, and White House strategies for presenting the edited report to the public. The documents show that the leadership of the presidentially-appointed commission deliberately curtailed the investigation and ceded its independence to White House political operatives.
This evidence has been lying ignored in government vaults for decades. Much of the work of securing release of the records was done by the John F. Kennedy Assassinations Records Board in the 1990s, and the documents were located at the National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, Maryland; or at the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Additional mandatory declassification review requests filed by Archive fellow John Prados returned identical versions of documents, indicating the CIA is not willing to permit the public to see any more of the assassinations story than we show here. The documents in this set have yet to be incorporated into standard accounts of the events of this period.
Among the highlights of today’s posting:
- White House officials of the Ford administration attempted to keep a presidential review panel—the Rockefeller Commission—from investigating reports of CIA planning for assassinations abroad.
- Ford administration officials suppressed the Rockefeller Commission’s actual report on CIA assassination plots.
- Richard Cheney, then the deputy assistant to the president, edited the report of the Rockefeller Commission from inside the Ford White House, stripping the report of its independent character.
- The Rockefeller Commission remained silent on this manipulation.
- Rockefeller Commission lawyers and public relations officials warned of the damage that would be done to the credibility of the entire investigation by avoiding the subject of assassinations.
- President Ford passed investigative materials concerning assassinations along to the Church Committee of the United States Senate and then attempted—but failed—to suppress the Church Committee’s report as well.
- The White House markup of the Rockefeller Commission report used the secrecy of the CIA budget as an example of excesses and recommended Congress consider making agency spending public to some degree.
The Rockefeller Commission, the White House and CIA Assassination Plots
By John Prados and Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi
The current controversy over drone attacks has an important backstory. During the 1970s it became known that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had plotted the murder of foreign individuals. These persons for the most part were prominent leaders or even heads of state. That the U.S. government had in any way been engaged in murder became a dark charge against the CIA, and helped inflame the political climate in a way that ensured investigations of the U.S. intelligence agencies would occur.
During those 1975 investigations, particularly those of the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, allegations of CIA involvement in assassinations were among the most important lines of inquiry. President Gerald R. Ford himself had a key role in triggering the investigations, inadvertently but artlessly revealing the fact of CIA involvement in plotting assassinations during a meeting with press editors.[i]
There had already been revelations of illegal domestic activities by the CIA. These led to the creation of a presidential panel under Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, and committees of inquiry in both houses of the United States Congress. Ford’s January 1975 admission of CIA involvement posed a dilemma for the administration. Vice President Rockefeller attempted to head off inclusion of the subject, restricting consideration of assassinations to the question of what role Cuba might have had in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That proved unacceptable to some members of his own commission, among them then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan. When the Rockefeller Commission took a vote on whether to include charges of CIA assassination plots in its inquiry, the group overrode its own chairman.[ii]
Rockefeller’s key opponent in the fight over investigating assassinations was the panel’s staff director, David W. Belin. A lawyer for the Warren Commission, empanelled to look into the Kennedy assassination in 1963-1964, Belin had been handpicked by Ford for the Rockefeller group. Ford, one of the Warren commissioners, was confident of Belin’s loyalty, but this time the lawyer fought hard to investigate deeply.
The investigators sought CIA documents on assassination plots conducted in its history and information on administrative routines. They also questioned key witnesses. As CIA lawyer John S. Warner admitted under questioning, the agency “certainly” had “no specific authorization” to conduct assassinations (Document 7). Warner additionally admitted he was “not clear” that a president had the constitutional authority to order an assassination, though that “might” lie within his powers.
Documents in this electronic briefing book reveal the views on the assassination reports of not only Belin but key members of his staff. At the time, in the spring of 1975, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee) was just being constituted but the Rockefeller Commission inquiry was already in progress. Days after Church Committee members met with President Ford, press adviser David Gergen advised the president to say nothing about assassinations (Document 1).
The jurisdictional and procedural issues regarding whether to include an investigation of assassination plotting, so far as the Rockefeller inquiry was concerned, were fought out over this same period (Documents 2,3,4,5). White House officials, including panel chairman Rockefeller, continued a rearguard action in opposition, first to covering CIA assassination plots at all, and later to including that material in the Rockefeller Commission report. Belin continued to press for the coverage, took a primary role in interviews the commission conducted for this part of its inquiry, and became the main author of the portion of the report dealing with CIA plotting against Fidel Castro (including Operation ZR/RIFLE).
The Rockefeller Commission collected a wide array of evidence, as illustrated by a staff member’s report on what could be learned from the papers of former CIA Director John McCone, and a CIA compendium document on the ZR/RIFLE project (Documents 8, 9, 10).
As of mid-April 1975, Belin expected to have the assassination portion of the panel report complete by the end of the month. He so informed White House officials. However, the CIA dragged its feet on providing materials, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who initially promised cooperation, provided little. Kissinger became a major actor in the struggle to suppress the Rockefeller assassinations report.[iii] When Belin scheduled a press conference to announce the panel’s assassination findings, deputy assistant to the president Richard Cheney and White House Counsel Philip Buchen, citing Kissinger’s concerns, intervened to induce Belin to cancel it.
As the Rockefeller Commission moved toward finalizing its report, panel staff concluded that the assassinations issues were going to be buried. Several recorded their objections to this course (Documents 11, 12). The Rockefeller Commission’s public affairs director, for one, observed that leaving out assassinations would make the report seem like a cover-up and cast doubt on the Commission’s entire project (Document 13). Nevertheless Belin and staff could not prevent determined superiors from holding back the entire subsidiary report that dealt with assassinations.
Meanwhile at the White House, Cheney led the way in “editing” the Rockefeller report—including suppressing the assassinations section. The final draft of the full report contained a brief passage noting that President Ford had asked the panel to investigate the assassination plots after its inquiry began, that the staff had not been able to complete the investigation, and that Ford had then asked that assassinations material be turned over to him. The Cheney edit inserted doubts by adding that it was unclear whether assassinations fell within the scope of the Commission’s mandate, thus resurrecting jurisdictional issues which had previously been resolved. The revised language also reduced President Ford to a bit player—asserting only that he had “concurred” inthe panel’s decision to investigate rather than that he had revealed the existence of CIA plotting and then been obliged to modify the Commission’s terms of reference to include an investigation of the matter. White House editors also changed the original text, from indicating that records were still in the process of being turned over to the president, to the statement that it already “has been” done.
Document 19 reviews the substance of the Commission’s evidence and findings relating to assassinations. In Document 20, White House lawyer Buchen discusses the substance of the findings.
The White House “edit” (Document 15) provides clear indications of the direction of the White House’s concerns vis-à-vis the conclusions of the wider Rockefeller Commission investigation. The report had determined that various intelligence agency actions were illegal and explicitly called them “unlawful.” The edit resisted that formulation and talked instead about actions that merely exceeded agencies’ statutory authority. The Cheney-supervised edit made a single exception—the White House changed Commission language which found the CIA had exceeded its authority in the course of drug experiments to say that these had been “illegal” (p. 37).
Rockefeller investigators had probed White House-CIA relationships that landed the agency in trouble during Watergate as a result of White House instructions to provide psychological profiles of prominent individuals, disguises for White House operatives, and documents on past CIA activities. The full Commission had then approved a recommendation (number 23 on its list) which specified that a single, authoritative channel be established for all White House requests to the CIA and that this be routed through the NSC staff. Following CIA internal directives (ones that had, among other things, resulted in the compilation of the “Family Jewels”), the Rockefeller Commission made clear that any CIA employee who questioned the “propriety” of any White House order should take that concern either to the CIA director or the agency’s inspector general. The White House editors changed this directive (in renumbered Recommendation 26 of the published report). Now, employees were to be instructed only to question requests that came outside the authorized channel, and to state their concerns only to the CIA director. Improper requests came off the table, and the inspector general was not to have automatic jurisdiction.
Among the abuses that led directly to President Ford creating the Rockefeller Commission were charges the CIA had compiled dossiers on American citizens and infiltrated political groups that opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam. In this instance the Rockefeller panelists entered a blanket finding that the files and lists of citizen dissenters were “improper.” The White House edit changed this conclusion, indicating that the “standards applied” had resulted in materials “not needed for legitimate intelligence or security purposes,” and that this merely applied to “many” records gathered about the antiwar movement (see unnumbered page revising p. 41 in the report).
White House editors eliminated a Commission recommendation (number 17 in the original text) that applicants for agency positions and foreign nationals acting on behalf of the CIA be informed more clearly that they could be subjects of U.S. security investigations. The Cheney-inspired edit also added recommendations the Rockefeller panel had not voted. One (Recommendation 29 in the published report) advocated for a new civilian agency committee to be formed to resolve concerns about the use of CIA-developed intelligence collection mechanisms (overhead photography) for domestic purposes.
Another White House-originated point (Recommendation 20 in the published report) sought to increase public confidence in the integrity of the intelligence agencies by instructing them to review their holdings of secret documents periodically with the aim of declassifying the maximum amount of material. This recommendation was more honored in the breach.
In a related case, White House editors eliminated a lengthy commentary from one of the commissioners, the former solicitor general of the United States, Erwin N. Griswold. A detailed footnote quoted Griswold as saying that an underlying cause of the problems confronting the CIA was its pervasive atmosphere of secrecy, and recommending Congress consider making public the CIA budget (page 132-3, renumbered p. 15 in Document 15, footnote 2). The commission quoted Griswold in the context of a recommendation about the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. White House editors converted Griswold’s statement into part of the main text which the entire Rockefeller panel had supposedly agreed upon, and used it to buttress a recommendation to create a joint committee of the Congress to oversee the CIA and other intelligence agencies and went on to Recommendation 4 — that Congress consider making the CIA budget, to some degree, public.
Thus the White House edit both put words into Rockefeller Commissioners’ mouths and dispensed with concerns they had expressed. Apart from the substantive issues raised thereby these actions amounted to direct political interference with a presidential advisory panel. Ford may have been comfortable with his subordinates’ maneuvers, but they helped drain credibility from the Commission’s investigation, as the panel’s own staff had warned in discussions of whether to include its assassinations report (Documents 11, 12, 13, 14).
The White House strategy for releasing the Rockefeller report is detailed in talking points and strategy memoranda (Documents 16,17,18). In the end, in a complete reversal of the actual inquiry, the only assassination material to make it into the report concerned whether the CIA had conspired to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.[iv]
Richard Cheney and Gerald Ford failed in their effort to suppress the assassinations portion of the Commission’s work. Rather, the media, alerted to the issue by the president himself, kept pressing until Ford declared he would turn over the assassinations material to the Church Committee. The president essentially kicked the controversy down the road. The Commission’s files and interview records related to assassinations gave Church investigators a blueprint and a boost in their own inquiry. Senator Church’s committee moved quickly and completed its investigative report in October 1975. Along the way investigators compiled more than 8,000 pages of depositions or testimony, covering 75 witnesses over 60 days of hearings, most held in executive session. Committee staff analyst Loch Johnson, who later authored a classic account of the “Year of Intelligence,” found many revelations almost unbelievable, in some cases “requiring a suspension of disbelief few serious novelists would ask of their readers.”[v]
With the committee at the point of asking that the full Senate release its report, on October 31 President Ford wrote Senator Church to ask that the report be kept secret on national security grounds (Document 21). Several days later the committee voted to reject Ford’s demand, and Church answered his letter on November 4, writing, “in my view the national interest is better served by letting the American people know the true and complete story . . . . We believe that foreign peoples will, upon sober reflection, admire our nation more for keeping faith with our democratic ideals than they will condemn us for the misconduct itself” (Document 22). In a display of legislative strategy, on November 20 the Senate convened in a secret session to debate releasing the Church assassinations report but failed to delay or prevent its being made public, because the committee had approved the report while the full Senate took no vote on whether to enforce a rule that would have held up release.
The sordid story of CIA assassination plots came into the open most authoritatively in the Church report. Its revelations did not destroy the republic, contrary to White House and intelligence community warnings. The committee recommended that a prohibition on assassinations be written into law, even supplying language that could be used in such a statute. Their prohibition would have covered not only foreign officials but members of an “insurgent force, an unrecognized government, or a political party.”[vi]
The White House took a different tack. A steering group of officials working on the political crisis of the “Year of Intelligence,” proposed that President Ford issue an executive order (E.O.) to govern intelligence agencies and operations, and that the order include a prohibition on assassinations. Senator Church objected that anything a president set by fiat could be changed by fiat as well, by means of a future executive action. Besides, the Ford executive order, issued in February 1976, lacked the definition that would have been supplied by the Church Committee-recommended statute. President Jimmy Carter issued his own executive orders on intelligence, in a preliminary form in May 1977 and in a reworked version in January 1978. The assassination prohibition would be widened somewhat, by removing the word “political,” which the Ford E.O. had used as a qualifier (as in “political assassination”), and by extending the ban beyond government employees to anyone working for or on behalf of the United States. The Carter ban would be repeated verbatim in President Ronald Reagan’s E. O. 12333, issued on December 4, 1981. Every subsequent president has continued the ban, and the Reagan E.O. itself remains in force.
[i] See John Prados, The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy and Presidential Power. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013, pp. 160-161.
[ii] Nicolas Djumovic, “Ronald Reagan, Intelligence, William Casey, and the CIA: A Reappraisal,” Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, April 2011, pp. 7-8.
[iii] Prados Family Jewels, pp. 163-165.
[iv](Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States(Rockefeller Report), June 1975, pp. 251-269.
[v] Loch K. Johnson, A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985, p. 50. A new edition of this book will appear very shortly from the University of Kansas.
[vi] United States Senate (94th Congress, 1st Session). Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pp. 289-290.
Read the Documents
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, David Gergen Files, Box 2, Folder, "Central Intelligence Agency."
After the press began publishing stories focusing on CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders, this excerpt of a note for Gerald Ford attempts to prepare the president for possible questions relating to such activities. The note recommends that the president give no information at the time by stating simply, "I am not in a position to give you any factual account," and briefly mentioning the current investigations of CIA activities by Congress and the Rockefeller Commission.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission, Parallel File, Box 5, Folder, "Assassination Materials (2) A-I (j)."
In this Memorandum, Senior Counsel to the Rockefeller Commission Ernest Gellhorn, reaches the important conclusion that "the Executive Order establishing the Commission obliges it to investigate CIA activity within the United States in support of alleged assassination attempts." The legal reasoning behind the memo is that the Commission's charter specifies, "without functional limitations, that it shall 'ascertain and evaluate any facts relating to activities conducted within the United States by the Central Intelligence Agency which give rise to questions of compliance with the provisions of 50 USC 403.'" Gellhorn goes on to stress that, "it is in fact difficult to imagine a greater threat to individual liberty or national security than arming or funding lawless elements for the purpose of killing others. The geographic location of the planned assassination seems irrelevant and does not immunize the domestic activity from scrutiny." Consequently, Gellhorn strongly recommends that the Commission investigate these activities, stressing that, "failure to do so would, I fear, not only impair the credibility of the Commission's other findings, it could also have a damaging impact on the effectiveness of the Agency. The clear lessons of recent political history must be that attempts to hide past mistakes or misdeeds, even if the only reason they are now questioned is the emergence of a new set of stricter public standards, are unlikely to succeed and can only destroy those who tread this path."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission, Parallel File, Box 5, Folder, "Assassination Materials (2) A-I (j)."
In this Memorandum, David Belin, executive director of the Rockefeller Commission, expands on the jurisdictional and legal issues raised by Gellhorn two days earlier (Document 2) in order to open a discussion with the rest of the Commission on whether to investigate CIA assassination plots. He lays out two arguments against investigating, including if the assassination plots involved only CIA personnel, and if "the ultimate goal of the activity involved a foreign operation..." The first argument is countered by raising the issue that CIA assassination plots might have involved the recruitment within the U.S. of non-CIA personnel. He dismisses the second point, given that, "The difficulty of such an argument is that it could be applied to exclude many of the other areas the Commission has already taken to investigate." A further concern is whether the Commission should only investigate the one alleged assassination plot that involved non-CIA personnel (against Fidel Castro), or two additional plots that had come to the attention of the Commission. Belin leans towards investigating all alleged attempts given that, "the public at large might not understand the Commission drawing fine lines undertaking to investigate one assassination attempt but not undertaking to investigate the remaining two attempts. Many citizens would find it hard to imagine a greater threat to the principles for which this country stands than the threat of assassination..."
NARA, JFK Assassination Records, GRFL, Rockefeller Commission, Mr. Hunt, Clapper, Baker, Weidner, Gellhorn, etc., Box 10, Folder, "CC-H (II-B) Clark Clifford Interview."
This memorandum summarizes the legal and practical arguments regarding the Commission's authority and duty to investigate CIA assassination plots, and sets the preferences of the Commission's staff, which favors investigation unless the CIA "makes full disclosure on its own." Ultimately the staff recommends that with respect to organized crime, "while respectable arguments can be made either way, by far the better view is that the alleged Mafia connection is a matter which the Commission can and should investigate." However concerning assassination plots that did not involve the Mafia, the staff members were more cautious: "The arguments from a strictly legal point of view probably preponderate against investigation, but from a practical point of view may favor investigation." Expanding in favor of the practicality of investigation, staff members conclude that, "We should not limit ourselves because of what may be embarrassing ... There is a substantial public interest in having the matter disposed of as promptly as possible." Furthermore, fearing for the Commission's legitimacy if they did not investigate, they stress that "refusal to investigate will be seen by many as confirmation that the Commission does not in fact desire to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. This is particularly true if the Commission simply ignores the charges or relies on what appears to be an overly technical reading of its charter. To investigate only the Mafia-related charges, and to ignore the others, would be the worst of both worlds."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission, Parallel File, Box 5, Folder, "Assassination Materials (2) A-I (j)."
In this Memorandum, Marvin Gray, counsel to the Rockefeller Commission, takes a more cautious approach concerning the Commission's jurisdiction to investigate CIA assassination plots since, "there are no definitive legal arguments which would settle the scope of the Commission's jurisdiction." Furthermore, he reads the Commission's charter as intended to, "preclude the examination of overseas operations or objectives of the Agency, including whether they were properly approved" - an interpretation that might cover assassinations overseas. As such, he recommends modifying the Commission's charter, "to provide for assessment of overseas operations in extraordinary cases."
This letter by Philip Buchen, counsel to President Ford, authorizes the Rockefeller Commission to investigate CIA assassination plots as approved by the president. However, in an attempt to control the investigation's final product, the authorization instructs: "Once you complete your investigation in that regard, you should advise the President of the outcome, through me, and then it can be decided whether the subject should eventually be included as an integral part of the Commission's final report or whether it may call for an earlier submission to the President and possible immediate Presidential action." The approval comes after members of the Rockefeller Commission discussed the issue with Vice President Rockefeller, having argued in favor of investigation "subject to the President's concurrence." The arguments presented to the vice president were twofold. First, the goal would be to ascertain the veracity of the allegations against the CIA. Second, the Commission would try to "determine whether existing safeguards would prevent activities of that nature in the future regardless of whether they might involve domestic of foreign conspiracies."
NARA, JFK Assassination Records, GRFL, Rockefeller Commission, Testimony, Castro Speeches, and Rockefeller Files Inventory, Box 11, folder, "Testimony - 04/14/1975 (Chamberlain and Warner)."
In this brief interview excerpt, Rockefeller Commission Executive Director David Belin asks John Warner, the CIA's general counsel, if he believes "that there is any authority that the Agency has to conduct any planned assassinations in peacetime against any foreign leader?" Warner responds: "Certainly we have no specific authorization. Whether that comes within the Constitutional authority of the President, I am not clear." Warner then elaborates that the president might indeed have the authority to order the CIA to carry out an assassination under "his inherent authority as Commander-in Chief and President."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission Parallel File, Box 4, Folder, "Assassination Materials, Misc (3)."
This staff report by Mason Cargill of the Rockefeller Commission provides a brief description of dozens of CIA documents potentially related to the Agency's assassination attempts. The memo and attached report also show several of the challenges that investigators faced in trying to uncover CIA operations. Cargill was given access to former CIA Director John McCone's personal files (from November 24, 1961 through December 31, 1964), as well as documents compiled by the CIA inspector general on Operations MONGOOSE and ZR/RIFLE. These documents could only be accessed at CIA headquarters and some documents had been destroyed. Cargill concludes that the files, "certainly indicate a strong desire to bring about the downfall of the Castro government, along with extreme pressure from the President and Attorney General to find a way to do so. However, nothing in these files indicates any plans to assassinate Castro."However some of the documents show that the CIA "was aware of plots by certain Cuban exiles to liquidate Castro." Similarly, McCone himself stated that the policy objective should be to "...encourage dissident elements in the military and other power centers of the regime to bring about the eventual liquidation of the Castro/communist entourage and the elimination of the Soviet presence from Cuba" (emphasis in Cargill memo). Concerning ZR/RIFLE, the documents suggests a second purpose for the program - "the establishment of an assassination capability and perhaps even a plan to use one agent ... in an assassination attempt in the Congo." Cargill recommends that the Commission try to obtain copies of the most important documents.
National Security Archive, Intelligence Policy Collection, Covert Action Series.
In this document the CIA prepares a brief description of Project ZR/RIFLE - relating to CIA plots against Castro - in response to David Belin's request for a compendium description. The summary claims the Agency could find only four files related to ZR/RIFLE. The summary itself is quite vague, merely explaining that ZR/RIFLE was an "executive action capability" dealing with the activities of a CIA asset in Europe "responsible for spotting and assessing individuals whom the Agency could use." The document acknowledges that "There are a few references in the files that might be construed as a connection with this activity, but they are so cryptic that, without additional information it would be difficult to tie them together." This document shows the difficulty of uncovering such operations-even within the CIA-as it concludes that "It appears that the Chief, [blank] decided to conceal the 'executive action capability' under the ZR/RIFLE cryptonym when he was assigned responsibility for developing this activity. Further, the virtual absence of any written material on this subject suggests that activities dealing with the 'executive action capability' were not intended to be committed to writing."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, Rockefeller Commission Papers, Box 4, Folder, "Assassinations Materials Miscellaneous (3)."
A Rockefeller Commission staff analyst describes the degree of access he obtained to various CIA records, making clear that while some materials became available other records had been destroyed or apparently did not exist.
NARA, JFK Assassination Records, GRFL, Rockefeller Commission, Belin, Gray, Greene Files Correspondence, Box 8, Folder, "II-Z memo from staff."
This document by Peter Clapper, director of public affairs for the Rockefeller Commission, proposes a set of criteria for writing the report and makes a number of recommendations for CIA reforms to be included in the Commission's final report. However, Clapper has no illusions that their work is aimed at reforms. "Like it or not, we are engaged largely in a public relations job." Nonetheless, in this memo he declares "dedication to the idea that we are here to serve neither the President nor the CIA but the American people." He warns Belin that, "You may gather from the recommendations that the CIA is not high on my list of trustworthy agencies." Clapper argues in favor of making it clear "that the Agency did not in every case cooperate fully with the Commission," arguing that, "I will not be easily convinced that the week-long delay between the time when I requested to see certain Helms files and the time when I was allowed to view them was not used by the Agency to cull from those files potentially damaging material. The files which I viewed contained numerous chronological gaps which increased my suspicions. The fact that the Inspector General was assigned to leaf through the files with me and that I did not view them privately furthered the impression that I was being spoon-fed." Clapper also criticized the CIA for the many holes in its written records, recommending, "Some regulatory mechanism should be created to prohibit the destruction of written records and to require the drafting of written records on all programs requiring the expenditure of funds and on all meetings at the branch level or higher." Furthermore, he proposes a declassification process for CIA materials. Concerning covert operations, Clapper recommends that they should be transferred to another agency in order to "cleanse the Agency of one of its dirtier activities ..." Finally, he proposes an "Anti-Murder Amendment" - "that no agency of the U.S. Government will assassinate or plot to assassinate foreign leaders in time of peace ... the legislation might define peacetime as any time when there has been no declaration of war. The statute should prohibit employees and contractors of all agencies involved in gathering foreign intelligence from consideration of murder in peacetime."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission Parallel File, Box 5, Folder "Assassination Materials (2) A-I (j)."
Notified by the White House that the Rockefeller Commission will have to turn over materials relating to its investigation of CIA assassination plots, and feeling the pressure from such a change in protocol, Marvin Gray protests to David Belin. Gray, counsel to the Commission and lead investigator in one of its cases - the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, former President of the Dominican Republic - states that he will personally vouch for the accuracy of his report, but since no one else reviewed it staff should not be held responsible for his findings. Similarly, Gray tells Belin, "By the same token, I do not wish to appear to be responsible for any drafts you have prepared concerning the results of the investigation you undertook into other cases," referring to CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro, which Belin investigated.
NARA, JFK Assassination Records, GRFL, Rockefeller Commission, Belin, Gray, Greene Files Correspondence, Box 8, Folder "II-Z Memo from Staff."
This memo from Peter Clapper, the Rockefeller Commission's director of public affairs, warns David Belin, executive director of the Commission, that if the President decides not to publish the Commission's findings on CIA Assassination plots they should be prepared to "face heavy criticism from the press and public" since it will be viewed as a "cover-up and will cast doubt on the rest of the report." Clapper goes on to explain that the arguments against publication, including suggestions that the Commission did not have enough time to finish its investigation, or that the findings are incomplete, are "weak" and "hard to justify." Clapper then speculates that if the reason for this "curious procedure" is that the president "should not be the one to admit that some previous administrations plotted assassinations, it is an argument that cannot be gracefully be made in public. Citizens would be encouraged to think there is a conspiracy among Presidents to protect their predecessors as they would have their successors protect them." Consequently, he stresses that it would be "far better to publish partial findings with the expressed hope that a subsequent investigation can be based on them than to provide such findings sub rosa to the Senate Select Committee." He closes by lamenting that "I am constantly impressed with the refusal of our leadership to try candor on the people."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Rockefeller Commission Parallel File, Box 5, Folder "Assassination Material, Chronology (2)."
In this Memo, David Belin agrees to Marvin Gray's May 28 request (Document 7) that only those investigating inquiries into CIA assassination plots should be held responsible for their respective reports. This focuses on Belin himself (on the Castro case) and Gray (Trujillo), given that the rest of the staff did not review the drafts. Furthermore, Belin stresses that both of their reports are incomplete due to time constraints and because "we were denied full access to National Security Council records including records of the 40 Committee and its predecessors." Sensing the pressures on Gray, Belin reasserts his desire that no material of substance be removed from the final report by either Gray or Hugh Morrow and that, "when in doubt the material should be kept in rather than removed ... " Belin concludes by noting the irony in the fact that the Commission's investigators have come under pressure given that, "Surely any failure on the part of any member of the staff to discover additional facts is relatively minor compared with the actual misconduct involved-particularly when that misconduct involves such activities as assassination plans."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 7, Folder, "Rockefeller Commission Report: Final (1)."
This document shows White House Chief of Staff Richard Cheney's handwritten edits to key portions of the Rockefeller Commission report. The White House edits include inserting recommendations the Commission had not approved, eliminating ones that it had, and significantly moving around passages of the text. Among the most significant changes was one that contravened already-existing practice at the CIA, according to which agency officers had instructions to take any order they found improper directly to the director. The Commission affirmed that instruction and added the agency inspector general (IG) as a potential adjudicator. White House editors removed from the recommendation any recourse to the IG and confined the scope of the recommendation so that employees were only to report orders that came outside of established channels. The report's entire treatment of "Alleged Plans to Assassinate Certain Foreign Leaders" is removed, replaced by a brief text asserting that the commission had not had the time to cover the subject (see, by contrast, Document 13). The Cheney edit inserts more critical language in one case, concerning CIA drug experiments, describing them as "illegal." But where the original Rockefeller Commission text concluded that several other CIA activities, including domestic spying, were unlawful, the White House watered down those judgments to describe the actions as merely "improper." In the case of the government keeping files on, and creating lists of, political dissenters, where the Rockefeller Commission had flatly judged the action improper, Cheney's revisions created the impression that "many" of these records had somehow been inadvertently created by the application of certain inappropriate "standards."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 8, Folder, "Rockefeller Commission Report."
This item is a draft of President Ford's opening statement for the press conference releasing the Rockefeller Commission's final report. The draft has handwritten edits from Richard Cheney's office, including edits meant to downplay the significance of the Commission's investigation on CIA assassination plots. Instead of "evidence they have concerning these allegations," the president would now say "the materials they have developed concerning these allegations." The draft goes on to explain that the assassination portion of Rockefeller's report would not be released to the public as such a disclosure would be inconsistent with the national interest. The edits also recommend that only the Senate Select Committee have access to the materials gathered by the Commission, instead of all Congressional committees investigating the intelligence community, as suggested in the original draft.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 8, Folder, "Rockefeller Commission Report."
This updated draft of President Ford's opening remarks to the press concerning the release of the Rockefeller Commission Report shows that all of the suggested edits in Document 11 were accepted.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 8, Folder, "Rockefeller Commission Report: General."
This White House briefing book, with four strategy memos attached, summarizes the Rockefeller Commission's assassination report and discusses several options for dealing with the expected fallout. Not making the assassination report public is one of the major problems anticipated. The brief asserts that the Commission's investigations on assassination plots, "add very little to the internal reviews of the same matters conducted by the CIA's Inspector General in 1967." It makes two exceptions: a brief analysis of an August 10, 1962, Special Group Augmented meeting on Operation Mongoose, and material indicating that Robert Kennedy knew of CIA-Mafia actions against Castro as early as 1961. The brief goes on to state that the Church Committee is now aware of the Special Group Augmented and Mongoose, and "will undoubtedly seek to obtain White House and other records with respect to those items."
According to the strategic analysis this creates a challenge: not providing the Church Committee with the additional documents will result in a "partial" and "misleading" history that, "create[s] the impression that the CIA was largely acting alone in these matters..." However, White House aides argued that sharing the documents "would be an unprecedented act; the minutes and other records of covert action groups have never been provided to any Congressional group under any circumstance." Further, "incalculable diplomatic ramifications" could ensue, along with "incalculable dangers to reputations of former officials." Some reputations "could be irreparably injured by unfair association with 'assassination ploys' or charges of improper connections with the CIA." The brief then outlines the advantages and disadvantages of two potential options: to provide access to all the materials to some members of Congress under strict supervision, or to respond to document requests on a case-by-case basis
The attached strategy memos discuss a speech that President Ford will give during the ceremony where he receives the final report, and how to use that platform to mitigate the focus on CIA assassination plots and to chastise the press for their focus on covert operations. For the former, one memo recommends that President Ford "reiterate his position that even contingent planning for the assassination of foreign leaders is repugnant to our system of government and state his satisfaction with the fact that this same conclusion had been reached by the Intelligence Community which had voluntarily taken some steps to correct such action." However, another memo recommends that although the president might consult with the Department of Justice and Congress as to the need for further investigations, that for the assurance of such restraints to endure, "it is unnecessary to fix blame on other Administrations for what may have happened in the past." Concerning the latter, the memo recommends that the president's "strongest comments" should be reserved for the press given their increased willingness to publish secrets. Highlighting some recent press stories could provide the basis for, "(a) strong condemnation, (b) promise of prosecution for future acts, and (c) the announced decision to seek stronger laws to protect against such stories."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 7, Folder, "Report on CIA Assassination Plots (1)."
This is the Rockefeller Commission's 86-page section on CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders that was excised from the final report and not made available to the public on White House orders. With limited access to documents and heavily dependent on a dozen interviews (including Richard Bissell, McGeorge Bundy, Colonel Sheffield Edwards, Richard Helms, Gordon Gray, General Edward Lansdale, General Lyman Lemnitzer, John McCone, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, General Maxwell Taylor and two unnamed CIA case officers), the bulk of the report focuses on U.S. covert activities against Cuba including some assassination plots against Fidel Castro. A smaller section of the report also investigates CIA actions against the president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo. Although the report briefly mentions plans against Congolese President Patrice Lumumba and Indonesia's President Sukarno, it concludes that, "No evidence has been found involving any other attempts to assassinate any other foreign leader which had significant overt activities within the United States. However, the reports cautions that the "nature of the activity and the degree of secrecy and compartmentation within the Agency is such that it is difficult to find any evidence of this kind unless specific facts are brought to the attention of an investigative body."
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, Philip Buchen Files, National Security Series, Box 26, Folder, "Chronological File (1)."
This memo to President Ford from his counsel, Philip Buchen, summarizes the Rockefeller Commission's assassination report, noting its incomplete nature given that investigators "did not have access to all of the underlying documents - including NSC and Defense records - concerning MONGOOSE." Buchen includes two attachments (not available) that discuss National Security Council and Department of Defense files concerning "the Castro matter," and "the Trujillo matter." Buchen concludes that the information in the Rockefeller Commission report and the two attachments "is about as much as we will ever know from documents readily available to us" about the Federal Government's role in plots to assassinate Castro and Trujillo. One reason is that much of the planning was probably never recorded, but "there may be many former participants in various aspects of these matters from whom information can be obtained by thorough interrogation."
Gerald R. Ford Library, Ronald Nessen Papers, Subject Series, Box 299, folder, "Intelligence."
In this letter, President Ford writes to the Church Committee to "urge" it not to make public its final report on CIA assassination plots. Ford warns that publication of the report will "result in grievous harm to the national interest and may endanger individuals." Focusing on the U.S. national interest, the president argues that disclosure "would likely be exploited by foreign nations and groups hostile to the United States in a manner designed to do maximum damage to the reputation and foreign policy of the United States. It would seriously impair our ability to exercise a positive leading role in world affairs." As to endangering individuals, the president writes, "that publication at this time will endanger individuals named in the report or who can be identified when foreign agents carefully study it. I am sure that none of us want such an unfortunate result." The letter closes with a final warning: "If the Select Committee elects to ignore my recommendation, it must bear responsibility for the damage which will result to the United States and harm which may result to individuals."
Gerald R. Ford Library, Ford Papers, President's Handwriting File, National Security Series, Box 31, folder, "Intelligence (7)."
Senator Church replies to President Ford's October 31 letter (Document 21) and rejects the president's arguments against publication of the Select Committee's final report on U.S. assassination plots. Church explains that the final report will be made available to the public because, "In my view, the national interest is better served by letting the American people know the true and complete story. A basic tenet of our democracy is that the people must be told of the mistakes of their government so that they may have the opportunity to correct them."