On June 26, the newspapers delivered shocking front-page news: that the CIA in 1960 recruited three mobsters, Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, and Santo Trafficante, to kill Fidel Castro. Yet the handling of the story is a testament to the ignorance of the American people about their government and the persistent success of the CIA in concealing the whole truth. None of what was in the papers about the assassination plots is new—all of it has been known for more than thirty years, and far more detailed sources have been available for ten. Furthermore, the full story of the assassination plots has never been publicly acknowledged. They went on at least two years longer than the newspaper reports state, because CIA agents concealed them not only from the Kennedy White House but from their own director.
The Castro plots originally had no paper trail at all and obviously were designed never to come to light. They became known outside the agency, however, because Sam Giancana, the
A year later, in the spring of 1962, the FBI decided that it could not prosecute Giancana or Maheu because they might reveal their role in the Castro assassination plot. When Robert Kennedy learned this, he and
Instead, the agency cut Maheu, Giancana, and Maheu’s CIA case officer out of the plot and turned Johnny Roselli and Santo Trafficante (who was actually the most important mobster involved) over to a new agent—pistol-packing, hard-drinking William Harvey. Harvey and Richard Helms agreed that they would not tell the new CIA director, John McCone, that the plot was continuing, and Harvey, as he proudly explained to the Senate’s Church Committee in 1975, concealed it from everyone outside the agency even though he was the agency’s representative on Operation Mongoose, a Kennedy administration task force dedicated to Castro’s overthrow. As far as
We would not know any of this, in all probability, had not Roselli and Maheu enlisted a prominent
In those days—and for all we know today as well—when the CIA is asked by the press or another part of the government about its involvement in some covert activity, the answers it puts on paper—even in internal memoranda—don’t really try to tell the whole truth. Instead, they summarize what the files say, which may not be the whole story at all. (When the assassination plots against Castro leaked on several occasions before 1967 the agency simply denied there was anything to them at all—but after the IG made his investigation and filed his report, they could not.) When the
It occurred to me this morning, reading a Washington Post story about John McCain's broke and imploding run for the White House, that we now have an even more important gap in our knowledge regarding major political contributors. The campaigns for the presidential nominations, even more than the general elections, depend largely on big-money donors, but the press does not systematically tell us who they are, how much they give, how they make their decisions, or what they want. Almost eighteen months ago several leading Democrats told me that Hilary Clinton had most of the major Democratic contributors sewn up. Only time will tell whether the whole eighteen-month process which is now about 1/3 over was really something of a charade whose outcome was largely predetermined by conclaves in smoke-free rooms about which we know almost nothing. I hope the answer is no.