Baker's Misfocused Family of Secrets
Russ Baker's Family of Secrets has a rather deceptive title. In two ways.
First, although it says it will be about the Bush family, strictly speaking, it really is not. There are only a few pages about Prescott Bush, father of George H. W. Bush, the man who really started off the whole regime.
But further, there is next to nothing on important figures in George’s brood like Neil, Marvin, and especially, Jeb Bush. Which means that the book really examines the careers of two men only: George Bush Sr. and Jr.
But it’s even more constricted than that. From a careful reading of the volume, the book spends over 40 percent of its text on just three events in the lives of those two men. In order they are: Senior’s alleged involvement in the JFK case and Watergate; and Junior’s much debated service in the Texas Air National Guard. That’s it. Check for yourself.
Think for a moment of all the rather dark and deadly things those two men have been involved with. It’s hard to believe that Baker makes short work of the following: the Iran/Contra affair, the elimination of the Sandinistas through lethal means, the October Surprise, Gulf War I, Oliver North’s drug running, the election heists of 2000 and 2004, the incredible intelligence failure that resulted in 9-11, the phony pretenses for Gulf War II, and the 2007 collapse of the American economy.
That list is, of course, selective and reductive. But Baker gives all of these matters the once over. In fact, some are not dealt with at all. It is an odd choice.
Baker would probably say that there have been reams written about the above topics. Which is true. Yet, there are two salient points to be made in that regard.
First, one can always do more digging into matters like the above. For the simple reason that they are very large and complex subjects that have yet to be exhausted.
Secondly, the Bush family role in the above events I listed is certain. It is not a matter of manufacture, conjecture or speculation. As we shall see, that is not the case with two of the three areas that Baker has chosen to concentrate his book on.
National Guard Duty
The most solid reporting in the book is that dealing with George Bush Jr. and his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Once out of college, George would lose his student deferment and almost certainly be eligible for a tour in Vietnam.
The problem was this: although the Bush clan supported the war in public for political fodder, they secretly understood it was a terrible mistake that was not worth fighting in, much less dying over. So they had to finesse George W. Bush dodging his impending service in Indochina.
The clan decided on an exit ticket: W. would join the National Guard.
The Bush story has been that George talked to unit commander Lt. Col. Walter Staudt and Staudt told him positions were open. (p. 138) In reality, strings were pulled by state Speaker of the House, Ben Barnes, to get Bush Jr. into a special Air National Guard unit. (p. 139)
But, once in, W. got even more special treatment. Usually, to be commissioned a second lieutenant, one has to either attend officer training school, pull 18 prior months of service, or have 2 years of ROTC. Bush did none of these, but he still got the commission. (p. 140)
In the summer of 1970, having completed his jet pilot training, his full-time obligation now transformed to a part-time status, usually referred to as a “weekend warrior.” But after this, in early 1972, something began to go wrong with Bush’s flying career.
For some reason that has never been fully explained, he was taken out of the cockpit and placed in a two-pilot training plane. (p. 148) From which he had already graduated. In fact, he had become such a liability in the air that, according to the author, the last documented record of him flying alone is April 16, 1972. (ibid)
He then left both the unit and the state. The problem is he had not fulfilled his time obligation yet. This now begins the second stage of murkiness to the Bush National Guard saga: in addition to not flying again, did he or did he not fulfill the rest of his service obligation?
The latter question is partly covered up by another political campaign. George Jr. said he now was going to work on another Allison managed enterprise. This one was the senate run of Red Blount in Alabama.
So George Jr. requested a transfer to the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance unit in Montgomery at Dannelly Field. The question then became: Did Bush Jr. then fulfill his service at Dannelly? Well, the former base commander said the following: “I’m dead certain he didn’t show up.” (p. 150)
And in fact, as Baker writes, “no credible records or eyewitnesses ever emerged to back” his claim of fulfilling his weekend service requirement in Alabama. (ibid) After Blount’s loss in November of 1972, George Jr. packed his bags and returned to Texas.
But he did not return to Ellington as he was supposed to do so. He first went to Washington DC and then to Florida for the holidays. He then returned to Dannelly in Alabama for a routine x-ray. (p. 153) He also called a former female Blount worker and invited her to dinner.
Over dinner, he told her he was there for guard training. As Baker notes, this sure sounds like George Jr. was laying in a future CYA trail to disguise the facts that a.) he had not served Alabama and b.) he was not returning to Ellington.
There is no record of him serving back at Ellington after Alabama. Further, no paperwork for alternative service in Alabama was ever sent to Ellington. (p. 156)
As Baker logically deduces, “Just about all the evidence suggests that George W. Bush went AWOL from National Guard duty in May 1972 and never returned, thus skipping out on two years of a six-year military obligation.” (ibid)
Finessing a Scandal
From the beginning of Junior’s political career his handlers knew this National Guard episode was going to be a problem And as Bush’s career advanced along to the point that he was now considering running for president, the issue would not go away. It appears that when the presidency got on their radar screens, the Bush team fiddled with the files.
As Baker summarizes it, there are documents missing from Bush’s Guard file that should be there. For instance, on how Texas handled his transfer to Alabama, and also a panel report that should have been written up after Bush stopped flying. (p. 412)
Further, “microfilm containing military pay records for hundreds of Guardsmen, including Bush, was irreversibly damaged”. (ibid)
What is so utterly fascinating about this whole sorry tale is that no MSM source did any real reporting on it until late May of 2000. This was when W. had more or less vanquished the GOP field and was closing in on the presidential nomination.
Only then did reporter Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe break a story, which included interviews with Bush’s former commanders who did not recall seeing him in Alabama or Texas in 1972 or ‘73. (ibid)
In 2004, right before the re-election campaign, things did heat up. National Guard manager Bill Burkett appeared on Hardball and made an accusation about seeing Bush aides clean up the Guard records. This story had some bounce, as it later appeared on the CBS News and in the New York Times. (p. 447) Then two things happened to suck any helium left out of the balloon.
First, John Kerry and his campaign manager Bob Shrum made one of the biggest miscalculations in the history of presidential races. Rather than attacking the first four years of W.’s presidency, they decided to center Kerry’s nominating convention, and a large part of his early campaign, on his service in Vietnam.
Baker properly scores them for this. It was a misguided strategy, especially in light of the fact that there was so much in the Bush presidency to go after. But we all know what made it worse. Karl Rove created the whole phony Swift Boat Veterans for Truth mirage.
And, unchallenged at first by the Kerry campaign and the press, this Rove manufacture was allowed to disseminate through rightwing outlets like Fox News.
The second event that helped bury the issue was the Dan Rather-Mary Mapes-CBS News bloodbath. Most of us know this story by now. Burkett got hold of some documents about George’s service in the Texas Guard. One seemed to depict a transfer from Killian due to George’s inability to meet standard on his pilot training, and his failure to get a physical. (p. 456)
This, and three or four other documents whetted the appetite of Mary Mapes, Rather’s 60 Minutes II producer. She wanted to use the documents for a 60 Minutes segment on the issue.
There were two problems with this. First, Burkett got them from a source who did not want his name divulged. In fact, this mysterious source did not even turn them over to Burkett. A go-between named “Lucy Ramirez” did so. Consequently, the provenance of the documents was under a cloud.
Second, the documents themselves were copies. Further, Mapes had Burkett fax them to CBS in New York. (p. 457) This resulted in further distortion of the lettering on the papers.
Everyone knows what happened next. Bush allies on the Internet began to question whether the documents were real or fakes. This created a tempest in the midst of an election campaign i.e. the whole phony issue of whether or not the “liberal media” was out to get a sitting GOP president.
CBS management did a bad job in meeting this challenge. They eventually gave in and authorized an “independent panel.” Which, of course, was not really independent. Their job was to essentially get rid of or demote everyone involved with the program.
How bad was this panel? They never even investigated or ruled on whether the documents were actually genuine.
If Bush Jr. had planned it all in advance, it could not have turned out better for him. Through the Swift Boat mirage, Kerry’s emphasis on his military service backfired. And because of the Web attack on 60 Minutes, the whole Texas Guard issue was taken out like a machete had cut it away.
Baker combines some original reporting with work by people like Moore and Mapes to put together a factually solid summary of this whole sorry episode. What it all says about W., and even worse, the national media, seems to me to be of the utmost importance and interest.
The former abdicated his responsibility to the Guard. And the latter abdicated its responsibility to the public.
If the rest of Family of Secrets were as sound as this section, the book would have been a good and valuable effort. In my view, such is not the case. In fact, it’s not even close.
And the bad part is that the rest of the book really means upwards of 90 percent of it. Baker’s reporting on Bush Sr. does not reveal anywhere near the amount of factual data, reliable testimony, logical inference, and investigative reporting that he does on the Texas Guard story.
A clear objective of the book is to counter and modify the work of Joseph McBride for the Nation. In two essays done in 1988, McBride unearthed documents and interviews that indicated that Bush Sr. was involved in providing cover for Cuban exiles for the CIA.
McBride did not go any further than what the documents indicated. He came to the conclusion that Bush’s actual CIA status — whether he was an agent or asset – could not be really evaluated. But it looked like he was a businessman used as an asset.
One of the main objectives of Baker’s book is to somehow show that Bush Sr. was much more than just a CIA asset at the time of the Bay of Pigs. In fact, Baker tries to insinuate that Bush Sr. was a CIA officer from the fifties onward. In fact, his chapter on Bush Sr. becoming CIA chief in the mid-seventies makes this objective clear. It is entitled “In From the Cold.”
Generally speaking the argument is made through three steps: 1.) Bush’s alleged service as an agent in the fifties 2.) His alleged role in the JFK case, and 3.) His alleged role in the Watergate effort to bring down President Nixon.
Baker writes that the McBride articles elicited a collective yawn from the media at the time of publication. (p. 11) Not really so. As McBride notes in his second piece, his story “received wide coverage in the media.”
The Bush team’s initial denials, and the CIA’s break with tradition to issue a formal reply were extraordinary. It was made worse when, in a dumb stroke, the Agency tried to say the document actually referred to a different George Bush.
McBride tracked down this second George Bush, who did work for the CIA at the time. From the interview, it is very hard to believe the memo from J. Edgar Hoover, warning of a possible exile attempt to attack Cuba in the wake of JFK’s death, referred to him. [See Mark Lane’s Plausible Denial, pgs. 376-78]
All this mucking about created a buzz in the press. Especially considering the fact that, back then, there was no Internet to speak of at all. But I think Baker wants to characterize it as much less than it was in order to somehow portray himself as a pioneer in uncovering the long ignored clandestine career of Bush Sr.
In other words, McBride’s work was the tip of the iceberg and it greatly understated who Bush Sr. was and what his ties to the Agency really were. Let us evaluate Baker’s case for the long withheld clandestine career of George Bush Sr.
Baker begins his excavation on page 12. He says that researcher Jerry Shinley has found a document that places Bush’s service with the CIA back into the early fifties. The problem is that the phrasing in this document is quite ambiguous.
It says that through a Mr. Gale Allen the CIA had learned in 1975 that Bush had knowledge of a terminated project dealing with proprietary commercial projects in Europe. Bush learned of them through CIA officer Tom Devine.
Now, the fact that Devine told his sometime oil business partner about a since deceased CIA project does not mean that Bush Sr. was in the CIA. In the memorandum’s terms, at least as Baker presents it, the wording suggests what I just wrote: Bush had acquired the knowledge through Devine.
Another problem is that Bush’s commercial projects were not in Europe, but in America and the Caribbean. So I got the feeling that, unlike with the Air Guard story, the author is stretching his data thin.
That impression was strengthened when I discovered that, Baker was relying largely on one source for the rest of his information about Bush and the CIA prior to the Bay of Pigs. That source was Joseph Trento’s 2005 book entitled Prelude to Terror. Which creates a problem.
Trento is a longtime writer on intelligence matters. In fact, he figures importantly in Mark Lane’s Plausible Denial. Trento is not an intelligence writer in the way that say Tony Summers is. Summers is a digger, a man who does not accept the world of intelligence by its surface measures or by what its maestros tell him.
Trento usually trusts what most of his sources tell him. To the point that sometimes he just writes their declarations out in sentence form. A good example of this would be his previous 2001 book, The Secret History of the CIA.
Since two of Trento’s most trusted sources were CIA operators like James Angleton and Robert Crowley, the book has a definite spin to it. For example, in spite of much contrary evidence, it says that it was not Henry Cabot Lodge who spawned the coup against Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam, but President Kennedy. (Trento, p. 252)
Trento, listening to Angleton, characterizes Lee and Marina Oswald as Russian agents, and the Kennedy assassination as a KGB plot. (pgs. 258ff)
Trento mentions the fact that George DeMohrenschildt said he had been told by the CIA to contact Oswald. But Trento, quoting Angleton writes, “Angleton, however, maintained that DeMohrenschildt worked for the KGB and that he was the Oswalds’ control officer.” (ibid, p. 258) He also adds that DeMohrenschildt took his own life in 1983, when in fact he died mysteriously in 1977. (ibid)
Angleton tells Trento that Oswald’s cavorting around with Cubans in New Orleans was a KGB charade to blame the assassination on Cuba and not Russia. (ibid, p. 260)
I could go on in this vein but let me just add this: Trento tells us that another of his sources, William R. Corson, was dispatched to Dallas by President Johnson to begin his own investigation of the case. (Trento, p. 267)
And that Corson ended up working for the Warren Commission. Corson told Trento that Cuban DGI agents convinced Jack Ruby to kill Oswald. (ibid) There is no evidence for any of this.
In spite of all the compromising elements I have listed, it’s from Trento’s Prelude to Terror that Baker gets the large part of the rest of his information about George Bush and his previously secret ties to the CIA.
In light of all I have outlined above, here is a question that Baker should have asked himself: “If this information about George Bush is true and viable, then why didn’t Trento use it in his previous book? After all, it was titled The Secret History of the CIA. Wouldn’t George Bush be part of that?”
What makes this even worse is that in the area of Prelude to Terror where the early CIA employment of Bush is discussed, virtually every endnote is to an interview with a CIA officer. (See Prelude to Terror, pgs. 362-64)
In other words, it’s all anecdotal. But furthering my original point, these interviews were almost all done many years ago. So why didn’t Trento use them in the previous book? It doesn’t help matters that almost all these interview subjects are now dead, so they can’t be cross-checked.
Why should they be? Consider this: “It was in the late 1950’s that the covert operations culture called upon George H. W. Bush’s talents. Bush was at first a tiny part of Operation Mongoose, the CIA’s code name for their anti-Castro operations.” (ibid, p. 16)
Baker didn’t seem to notice that the CIA could not have first called on Bush in the late 50’s to be part of Mongoose because Mongoose did not begin until 1962.
Finally, let me add one last word about why the use of this book seems suspect to me. The general message of Trento’s tome is that the use of private intelligence networks, set up by people like Ted Shackley, has led to our present problems in places like Afghanistan. (ibid, pgs. 316-17).
The book blames some of this on George Bush Sr. because of his well-known ties to the Saudi Arabian monarchy. It is also highly critical of this network’s Saudi ties to Pakistan and the death of President Zia.
In fact, it blames the Saudis inability to keep control of Pakistan’s atomic weapons quest as the reason why the quest became Islamicized, that is, anti-Israel in intent. Who is a major source for Trento’s view of Bush and the Saudis in all this: Angleton’s scribe Edward Epstein. (See p. 324)
I should note that one of Angleton’s later responsibilities in the CIA was supervising the Israeli desk and interfacing with Mossad.
Baker writes not a word of caution, qualification or warning about any of the above. That’s how much he wants to make Bush Sr. a longtime CIA operator. And the drive does not stop there. Not by any means.
As most commentators on the life of George Bush Sr. acknowledge, by the early Sixties, he was trying to transition out of his previous petroleum business life-style. He wanted to get into national politics — a goal at which he later succeeded in a big way.
So in 1963, he was living in Houston and became chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. As such he was supporting Barry Goldwater for president. He also decided to run for the Senate against liberal Democratic incumbent Ralph Yarborough.
An important point to enumerate here, as Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin do in George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, is this: Bush was in on the beginning of the revival of the GOP in the South.
And, unlike Dwight Eisenhower’s GOP version, it was a particularly virulent strain of the GOP. One that would eventually and naturally evolve into the Newt Gingrich slash-and-burn version, whose intent would be to essentially raze the New Deal.
According to Tarpley, Bush had run hard for the county office in 1962, with his wife in tow. They went from meeting to meeting telling listeners that there had to be a viable two-party system in Texas. It was from this county position that Bush decided to scaffold his run against Yarborough. He announced his candidacy on September 10, 1963. He would have to win a primary first before he took on the populist Yarborough.
Just about all the above is missing from Baker’s treatment of Bush’s first senatorial run. To Baker, all this rather interesting drama takes a back seat to what he perceives as the real and hidden importance in that run: George Bush’s role as a covert CIA operative in the killing of John F. Kennedy.
In fact, Baker devotes more pages to this subject than any other. (About 90 of them.)
He begins his Chapter 4 on a rather unusual note, one that will establish his creeping solipsistic view. He actually implies that Bush became chair of the Harris County party not for the above stated political ends. Oh no. He did it so he could travel all over Texas. Why?
Because “Bush’s political work, like his oil work, may have been a cover for intelligence activities.” (Baker, p. 49) By the way, the supposition about his oil work being a cover is largely from Trento.
A few pages later, on page 52, Baker introduces what will clearly be the main entrée for his theory of Bush the covert operator in the Kennedy hit. This is the Parrott memorandum. Baker is going to drag every single piece of nuanced meaning he possibly can out of it.
To provide the background: After John F. Kennedy was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, George H. W. Bush called the FBI. He said he had heard in recent weeks that a member of the Young Republicans named James Parrott had been talking about killing Kennedy when he came to Houston.
The FBI characterized Parrot as rightwing, a quasi-Birchite, a student at University of Houston, and active in politics in the area. Further, a check of Secret Service indices revealed that they had a report that Parrott had threatened to kill Kennedy in 1961.
The FBI interviewed Parrott’s mother and then Parrott himself. They found out that Parrott had been discharged from the Air Force for mental reasons in 1959. Parrott said he had been in the company of another Republican activist at the time of the shootings. Bush at first denied making the call, and then he said he did not recall making it. (See Tarpley, Chapter 8b.)
In light of the above basic facts, let us watch what Baker does with this. First of all, if you were a covert CIA operator in on the Kennedy plot, would you announce in advance that you would be in Dallas to give a political speech almost at the time of Kennedy's assassination?
Further, would you put that announcement in the newspapers? Well, that is what Bush did in the Dallas Morning News on Nov. 20.
At the actual time of the assassination, Bush was in Tyler, Texas. The author said he made the FBI call about Parrott to establish an alibi. This makes no sense. Why? Because Bush already had an alibi.
As Kitty Kelley established, the vice president of the Kiwanis Club — a man named Aubrey Irby — was with Bush at the time of Kennedy’s murder. Along with about a hundred other people. For Bush was about to give a luncheon speech at the Blackstone Hotel. He had just started when Irby told him what had happened. Bush called off the speech. (Baker, p. 54)
Question for the author: With about 101 witnesses, why would you need a phone call to establish your alibi?
The author then writes that Bush told the FBI he would be in Dallas later on Nov. 22, and that he would be staying at the Sheraton that night. Baker finds it suspicious that he did not stay the night as he said he was going to.
Or as Baker writes in his full Inspector Javert mode: “Why state that he expected to spend the night at the Dallas Sheraton if he was not planning to stay?” (p. 59)
Well, Russ, maybe he was planning to. But because he later realized that Dallas would not be a real good place to campaign in that night, he changed his mind. I mean don’t you think the populace was mentally preoccupied?
The Parrott Question
What Baker does with the figure of Parrott, the troubled right-wing student, is just as odd. As Tarpley wrote, the man had been discharged from the Air Force for psychiatric reasons. He was from the rabid right in Texas, which is pretty rabid. And the Secret Service had a source that said he had made a threat against Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs.
Baker soft-pedals all this to the max. He tries to make Parrott into a sweet misunderstood lad who Bush somehow magically picked out to provide him an alibi he didn’t need. I could find no mention in Baker of the previous Secret Service file threat by Parrott which Tarpley mentions. And because that is not here, an important part of the story gets jumbled.
In Bush’s report to the Bureau, he mentioned a man named Keary Reynolds as someone who may have told him about Parrott. From Parrott and his mother, Baker wrote that Reynolds actually came to Parrott’s house to ask him to paint some signs for the GOP campaign. So this now becomes Reynolds giving Parrott an alibi. (Which, like Bush, he did not need. Because, as I wrote above, he had been with another Republican activist.)
Baker then interviews Reynolds. Reynolds does not recall making the paint job offer or visiting the Parrot house. (pgs. 61-63) He said he vaguely recalled the name because a young man had come around HQ previously and someone told him that he had threatened JFK. He also recalled escorting Parrott to the Secret Service office on Nov. 22 because of that.
So what Reynolds does is back up the Secret Service having a threat file on Parrott. He also seems to back up Bush hearing about this reactionary around HQ. Finally, he seems to undermine the whole “visit to Parrott’s house to offer a job” thesis.
Reynolds said he was never at the Parrott home. Parrott and his mom may have fibbed about that to conceal the fact that the Secret Service called him in that day because of his past history. And also perhaps of the Bush phone call.
But Baker is still not done. Barbara Bush is apparently part of the plot, or at least the cover-up. Barbara Bush wrote a note about her activities on Nov. 22, 1963. Addressed just generally to members of her family, it talks about her being at a beauty parlor when she heard the news on the radio of Kennedy being shot. (Baker, pgs. 53-54)
Again, Baker gives the letter the Javert going over. First, he asks where was George? Russ, Kitty Kelley already established where George was. Did you expect him to be at the hairdresser’s with his wife during a primary campaign?
Back then, guys used combs and Brylcreem. Baker then asks why the letter had not surfaced earlier. Maybe because this was Barbara’s first book of personal memoirs? As far as I can see, that was the case.
Barbara Bush did write one book previously called Millie’s Book, but that was really a children’s book about the White House, wryly written from the point of view of her dog. Baker then asks for the original note, which he says he cannot get since Bush and his wife would not talk to him for the book. I wonder why.
What I think Baker is getting at — and he’s always getting at something or other – is this: Somehow Barbara faked this letter years later to establish another alibi. But again, for whom? Her husband already had one. (I really hope Baker does not mean for herself.)
Further, back in 1994 when her book was published, who harbored any suspicions about Bush Sr. and the JFK case?
The rest of this overlong JFK section is, for me, even worse than the above. A friend of the Bushes was letting them use their plane during the campaign. I think Baker means us to believe that this was not a friendly gesture between friends: Mr. Zeppa was really an accessory to the plot as he squired Bush around. Don’t ask me how or why.
Jack Crichton was a pal of Bush’s in the Texas GOP. But Crichton, in turn, was a friend of Deputy Police Chief Lumpkin who was driving the pilot car in Kennedy’s motorcade. What that means is never made clear.
But Baker also brings up the fact that Crichton provided a translator for Marina Oswald who wrongly worded her Russian phrases. What Baker leaves out is that Marina had a few translators, and they were all questionable.
In spite of the speciousness of the above, Baker caps it off with Jack Ruby’s famous speech in an empty courtroom about people in “very high positions” putting him in the place he was in after his conviction for murder. (p. 118) I actually think Baker wants to imply that Ruby was referring to Bush.
To show how misguided the guy is, for the sake of argument, let us grant him one of his premises in regards to the Parrott episode: That it was a charade meant to divert attention. (And with all I pointed out above, that is a very generous grant of credit.)
Here’s my question: What would be the point of a diversion if both Bush and Parrott had credible alibis? Which they did. This is what the author says: “Poppy Bush was willing to divert the investigative resources of the FBI on one of the busiest days in its history.” (p. 65)
Can Mr. Investigative Journalist Russ Baker really be this ignorant about the FBI and the Kennedy murder? As Tony Summers discovered long ago, J. Edgar Hoover was “working” on the Kennedy case from the racetrack the next day. (Summers, Official and Confidential, p. 315)
As everyone except perhaps Baker knows, Hoover had closed the case against Oswald within about 2-4 hours. (Vanity Fair, 12/94, p. 90) He did so for many reasons. The fix was in almost immediately.
And it never let up. The idea that somehow Hoover was actually going to investigate 1.) Who Oswald really was, and 2.) What the true circumstances of the murder were is a preposterous tenet. But that is somehow what Baker is proposing: the Parrott episode somehow upset Hoover’s apple cart.
As was established in The Unauthorized Biography of George Bush, from their days in the oil business in Texas, Bush Sr. knew George “the Baron” DeMohrenschildt.
This was probably because the Baron partnered an oil investment firm with Eddie Hooker. (Baker, p. 75) Hooker had been Bush’s roommate at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. (ibid, p. 72) And they had stayed friends through the years.
After giving a brief but serviceable overview of the Baron and his brother Dimitri, plus the development of the White Russian community in Dallas, the author begins to describe why the Baron was in Haiti at the time of Kennedy’s assassination.
According to Baker, it was only the Baron’s distance from Dallas at the time of the murder that allowed his actions to escape the purview of the Warren Commission. (p. 113) Again, this shows how shallow Baker is on his view of the Kennedy case. Can he really be serious? Except for Oswald, who the heck did not escape the purview of the Warren Commission?
You can make a pretty good list of all those they had myopia about. In addition to DeMohrenschildt, there was Ruth and Michael Paine, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Guy Banister, Kerry Thornley, Sergio Arcacha Smith, Sylvia Duran, and even Sylvia Odio (who the Commission never took seriously).
And that’s just those dealing with Oswald’s direct associations. The Commission was a set-up from the start. And it was meant to be so. Whether DeMohrenschildt was in Haiti or not.
Baker then compounds the above with this thundering truism: “The bottom line is that the Warren Commission did not assign a seasoned criminal investigator to figure out DeMohrenshildt’s relationship with Oswald and his larger circle of connections.” (p. 127)
Maybe Baker doesn’t know that the Commission had no private "seasoned criminal investigators" on staff. They relied on the FBI, CIA and Secret Service. Who, as most informed observers realize, were covering things up and making a point of not figuring out the "larger circle of connections."
The author found out the real reason that DeMohrenschildt was able to escape scrutiny. It wasn’t actually because of the above. It was the blinding obfuscation of the sisal plant. Hold on a moment. Let me explain.
Once DeMohrenschildt handed off Oswald to the Paines, he left Texas for Haiti. Before departing he and his partner had a couple of meetings with government agents i.e. the CIA and Army intelligence. He and his business partner Clemard Charles were then paid almost $300,000 by the Haitian government for geologic testing and a prospective sisal plantation.
There has always been a question about whether or not this money was really a disguised reward for his mission with Oswald.
As far as I can see, Baker ignores the money angle. He then says that the sisal proposal was a cover to disguise what DeMohrenschildt was really doing. (pgs. 104-105) I am assuming Baker means what he already did with Oswald.
But here’s my question: Who was the sisal motif supposed to fool? Critics of the Commission have always been suspicious of the Baron and his Haiti payoff. The money may have been for his Oswald duties, or it may have been for a role in a later coup against the Duvaliers in Haiti. Which attempt did take place, and Charles was jailed for his perceived role in it.
But the point is, what did Baker think was going to be discussed and put on paper before the two left? Did he really think the CIA or Army intelligence was going to write that the Baron was now coming off his clandestine assignment with the future patsy in the upcoming JFK murder?
Or that the interviewers were going to outline the upcoming overthrow attempt? These kinds of thing do not get written about in memoranda.
About 140 pages later, the DeMohrenschildt story gets picked up again. This time it’s in the midst of the hurricane created by the Church Committee, the Pike Committee, and the formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations to reopen the JFK case.
In September of 1976, the Baron wrote a short letter to the new CIA Director, George Bush. (p. 268) In it, the Baron described the painful situation he now found himself in: he said his phone was bugged, he was being followed, and the FBI would not help him. He thanked his old acquaintance and asked him if he could do something to help.
If anything, the Baron was underestimating his drastic situation. He did not describe two other elements. First, the psychological treatments he was getting, actually electroshock. This may have been from the loss of his daughter three years hence; or, as Jim Marrs has written, a mysterious doctor may have inflicted it on him. (Baker, p. 271)
Hunting the Baron
Secondly, the weird figure of Willem Oltmans was pursuing him, trying to get him to “confess” to his role in the Kennedy murder.
Oltmans was a Dutch journalist who knew DeMohrenschildt from a few years back -- 1968 to be exact. (HSCA testimony of Oltmans, p. 10) Just precisely what he was up to, or why he pursued George insistently over the years, these have never really been explained.
But it’s interesting that after George suddenly died on March 29, 1977 — allegedly a suicide — Oltmans began to spread the news that the Baron had confessed to him before he supposedly took his life. It was a bizarre plot that involved Russian KGB agents with Texas oilmen.
But, according to Oltmans, the Baron himself was also involved and Oswald had acted on his instructions in this plot. (ibid, p. 28). Oltmans began his campaign to tell the world of this right after his former friend died. He testified before the HSCA in closed session on April 1, 1977.
When one reads this deposition you will note that the longer Oltmans talks, the less Deputy Counsel Bob Tanenbaum believes him.
At around this time, reporter Jerry Policoff of New Times met with Oltmans in New York. Policoff had secured notes DeMohrenschildt had made while working on a manuscript left with his lawyer.
The notes expressed his considerable fear of Oltmans and the reason he had fled from him in Amsterdam. He felt the journalist was trying to drug him in order to get him to say things he did not want to say. He also thought Oltmans was bisexual and was making a homosexual pass at him.
Oltmans had heard that Policoff had secured the notes and got in touch with him to meet. Oltmans reacted to the notes by saying they were forgeries. Policoff said he was confident they were genuine. Oltmans then made some thinly disguised threats on his health. Policoff left.
Oltmans’s behavior left Policoff with the strong suspicion he was some kind of intelligence asset. (Communication with Policoff, June 24, 2010)
Yet Oltmans was only one side of a pincers movement. Once George ran away from Amsterdam to escape him, Edward Epstein awaited him in the United States. And he promised the Baron thousands of dollars to just sit and talk with him about Oswald.
In fact, Epstein was the last person to see him before DeMohrenschildt died. On the morning of his death, he had been subpoenaed by the HSCA. Epstein wanted to talk to George since he had been working on a biography of Oswald for Reader’s Digest.
Epstein’s unofficial adviser was James Angleton. The book that derived from this effort, Legend, insinuates that the Baron was a KGB control agent for Oswald. The reader should note here the rough parallel with what Oltmans eventually was selling.
Bush made two replies to the September 1976 missive by the Baron. One was to his staff, which had forwarded the letter to him.
These are rough bullet notes saying the following: that he did know DeMohrenschildt, that the Baron got involved with dealings in Haiti, that his name was prominent in the Oswald affair, that the Baron knew Oswald prior to the JFK murder, at one time DeMohrenschildt had money, Bush had not heard from him in years, and he was not sure what his role was in the JFK matter. (p. 267)
On the whole this is accurate. But Baker takes issue with the last two points.
Concerning the first of those points, he says that Bush was in contact with the oil geologist in 1971, and that DeMohrenschildt had written Bush a note when he became GOP County Chair in 1973. Bush may or may not have gotten that note. If he did not, he had not heard from him in about six years.
Concerning the last point, if Bush was not in on the JFK plot, then in 1976, that was a quite defensible stance.
Bush wrote the Baron a brief letter back saying he sympathized with his situation. But although there was media attention to his case, he could not find any official interest right then. He then said he wished he could do more, and then signed off.
Considering the fact that Epstein and Oltmans were likely working off the books for Angleton, his observation about “official interest” was probably correct. Thus ended the Bush/Baron relationship.
Almost like he knows he has very little here, Baker tags on some meandering scuttlebutt about a man named Jim Savage who delivered the Baron’s car to him in Palm Beach on his return from Amsterdam. It’s another of his Scrabble type name association games: Kerr-McGee, the FBI, Sun Oil, even the Pew family. (pgs. 275-277)
The above two sections are pretty much the sum total of Baker’s work on Bush Sr. and the JFK murder. If anyone can find anything of significance here, something that somehow changes how we look at the case, please let me know. In all honesty, I can’t.
As threadbare as Baker’s work is on the JFK case, his two chapters on Bush Sr. and Watergate are probably worse (pgs. 175-252). It’s so poor that it made me think he had a desperate rationale behind it all. (Which I will discuss later.)
Baker has drunk deep the revisionist history of Watergate. So in an effort to set up a Nixon vs. CIA backdrop, he mentions Nixon’s desire to attain secret CIA files that Richard Helms was reluctant to turn over. (p. 181)
Baker says Nixon wanted CIA files on the days near the end of the Kennedy administration. Hmm, maybe dealing with the Kennedy assassination? Problem: the paragraph where he mentions this is not footnoted.
But the next paragraph is. In that paragraph Baker has John Ehrlichman telling H.R. “Bob” Haldeman that the CIA is holding something back and the way they are acting, it must be dynamite.
The problem with this quote is that when I looked it up in the source Baker named, The Haldeman Diaries, I couldn’t find it where he said it was. I then searched that book for all references to CIA Director Richard Helms, who Baker said Nixon demanded the documents from. Still no luck.
Now, most informed observers know that there are two sources for this “secret file” tale. Haldeman wrote about a meeting with Richard Helms in which he was instructed by Nixon to mention the whole “Bay of Pigs thing.” Helms came unglued when he did.
So Haldeman came to believe that the phrase was a code term for the JFK murder. (See pgs. 38-39, of Haldeman’s The Ends of Power. But oddly, in those pages, Haldeman writes that although he actually wanted to do a private inquiry into the JFK case, Nixon turned it down.)
Another source for this is Ehrlichman’s roman a clef novel, The Company. In that work, Ehrlichman is referring specifically to the secret Bay of Pigs Inspector General report.
But what Baker writes here is simply confusing. He refers to relevant files “regarding the turbulent and little-understood days leading up to the end of the Kennedy administration.” These secret CIA documents do not exist anywhere that I know of in file form.
So what Baker is referring to, and why he uses it, are things never really made clear. And the author reveals his own confusion when he later contradicts himself by saying the files Nixon was seeking were about the Bay of Pigs. Which, of course, was at the beginning of the Kennedy presidency. (Baker, p. 200)
Regarding the book’s treatment of the Watergate scandal, Baker gets off to a rather unpromising start. He never recovers.
Nixon and Bush
It was under Nixon that George Bush actually became a player on the national stage. In fact, one can argue that it was Nixon who salvaged Bush’s political career.
Bush had tried to break into that national theater in two runs for the Senate from Texas. He first lost to Ralph Yarborough and then to Lloyd Bentsen. Afterwards, Nixon gave Bush a job first as United Nations Ambassador and then as chair of the Republican National Committee.
Nixon made it clear that although he perceived Bush to be part of the Eastern Establishment — of which Nixon was not — he liked and trusted him. And no serious commentator whether of a conventional or a revisionist stripe — e.g. Stanley Kutler or Jim Hougan, respectively — has ever proffered that George Bush had anything to do with what happened to Nixon during Watergate.
Like most Republicans, Bush supported Nixon through the crisis as long as he could. His advice basically consisted of advising Nixon to tell his whole part of the story as truthfully as possible. One can read any number of Watergate books and this is what will come through.
Baker can’t settle for that. Why? Because if Watergate was a CIA operation, it doesn’t fit his agenda of defining George Bush as this super-duper Agency Black Operator from way before the Bay of Pigs.
So as with the Kennedy assassination, Baker has to create a function for Bush in this labyrinthine plot.
As I said, the author has drunk deep in the literature of Watergate revisionism. So he is familiar with the books, Secret Agenda and Silent Coup. But you will see very little of the discoveries about the Watergate break-in from the former in this book.
This is at first seemingly odd. Why? After all, Hougan’s Secret Agenda (and later Silent Coup) make the case that the Watergate break-in was deliberately sabotaged by CIA operatives masquerading as Nixon campaign workers.
The problem for Baker is there is no evidence that Bush had anything of any substance to do with any of it, in any aspect.
So he goes over to the inferior revisionist book on the subject, Silent Coup. He borrows the authors’ aggrandizement of the role of John Dean in the scandal. Why? It’s because in March of 1973, in a phone call with Nixon, Bush — at the urging of others – suggested sending Dean to testify before the Watergate Committee. (p. 213) That’s about it.
The reader should understand something: in March of 1973 Nixon was being attacked in the media because of his stonewalling of the Watergate Committee. (Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate, p. 268)
In fact, Nixon was being specifically pilloried over this issue that Bush is talking to him about. That is, his invoking blanket executive privilege over public testimony by members of his staff. Nixon even said that the doctrine of executive privilege was not subject to question by the other branches of government. (ibid)
What made it worse was that Dean was supposed to be writing a report on Watergate for the White House at the time. So he should have been an important witness. (ibid)
Further, because Dean had cooperated with acting Director of the FBI Patrick Gray on Watergate, the threat was that if Dean did not testify, Gray would not be approved. (ibid, p. 269) So this made the issue Bush was addressing important both in Congress and in the media.
How bad did it get? It got so heated that three conservative GOP senators -- Jim Buckley, John Tower and Norris Cotton -- all implored the President to get Dean before Congress. (ibid, p. 270)
So Bush was doing what several other Republican leaders were. By not informing you of that, by not specifically mentioning the circumstances and acts of many others, Baker tries to make what Bush did into some covert conspiratorial act. Which it is not. And that’s bad journalism.
In fact, this whole section on Watergate is really a confession of bankruptcy on Baker’s part. Failing to find anything to implicate Bush in either the conventional or revisionist versions of Watergate, he concocted something that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist.
And then, after he produces nothing, he states that Bush was actually behind it all. (p. 232) Which is nothing but pretentious and bombastic balderdash.
I almost don’t want to go on. But I should mention that what Baker does with the JFK and Watergate episodes is symptomatic of the rest of the book. He wants to somehow implicate the Bushes in crimes for which there is next to no evidence, while not reporting on the ones for which there is plenty of evidence.
Therefore, somehow the Bushes are also involved in BCCI, the stealing of the Marcos Gold, and even the Phoenix Program. And there is about as much evidence in those instances as what Baker produces in the JFK and Watergate cases. My question then is: Why stop there? Why not involve them in the King and RFK cases, Russ? (I hope I didn’t give him any ideas.)
The overall poor quality of this book worries me. We are at a crossroads in America between the fall of the Old Media and the rise of the New. (See here for a view of that http://www.ctka.net/2009/huffpo.html)
We know what we got from the Old Media, which is still hanging on. But if the New Media means a choice between the likes of The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast on the one hand, and the unfounded conspiracy mongering of the likes of Alex Jones and Family of Secrets on the other, then are we really any better off than we were before?
I’m not sure.
James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. [A version of this review can be found at the CTKA Web site at http://www.ctka.net/reviews/family_secrets.html ]
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