Thursday, August 17, 2023

Helms, LBJ, the Kennedys, and American Politics


Helms, LBJ, the Kennedys, and American Politics

Peter Schultz


            The following passage is from Jefferson Morley’s book, Scorpions’ Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate: “As antiwar demonstrations grew and race riots spread in the summer of 1967, Johnson demanded to know who was behind it all. ‘LBJ simply could not believe that American youth would on their own be moved to riot in protest against US foreign policy,’ Helms recalled [in his memoirs].” [88-89]


            To understand what was going on, it’s necessary to realize that LBJ wasn’t demanding information to support a suspicion he had. He made his demands and made them known so these phenomena would appear as he wanted them to appear. He was “managing perceptions,” not seeking “intell.” He wanted people to perceive these events as inspired conspiracies, inspired by foreign or outside agitators, to which he was forced to respond. He was not acting against “American youth,” but against “foreigners” and “agitators.” He was, therefore, actually trying to protect American youth, not infiltrate their activities in order to control them. The result in the CIA was Operation Chaos, created by Helms, allegedly to hunt for the “intell” LBJ wanted. But actually it was a way to manage perceptions, to make it appear such intelligence existed.


            It is often the case that the CIA creates the intelligence it claims to have discovered. So, too, does the White House and other governmental agencies. It even has a name, “public diplomacy.” This serves to create the fear(s) which the government then says it must combat, often via plausibly deniable covert activities, all in the service of “national security.”


            To take another example from Scorpions’ Dance: “Johnson skimmed the [CIA] report” about the alleged Kennedys’ anti-Castro activities, including assassination plans. “He [Johnson] came away thinking Kennedy had run ‘a goddamn Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean.” [87-88] Unsurprisingly, LBJ concluded that – because that is why the report was written, to allow LBJ to make such a pronouncement. And, of course, Johnson made sure his pronouncement was made known. Of course, the unrest wasn’t created by Helms, LBJ, et. al. But how it was made to appear was, just as the CIA report was used to construct a narrative about the Kennedys’ alleged “Murder Incorporated” in the Caribbean. As Morley says, with considerable understatement: “The spymaster [Helms] not only knew how to steal and keep secrets. He also knew how to manage perceptions.” [86] Indeed, he did as do presidents and other “public servants.”

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