Monday, October 13, 2008

The Original "Fake But True" Forgery

Gordon Liddy describes, in Will, his first impressions of who was to be one of his main partners in crime, E. Howard Hunt.

Hunt was about my size, twelve years older, and a brief conversation revealed two things about him: he was knowledgeable in the area of intelligence operations and had a command of the English language one associates with brains and a first-class education. I had heard of him from Bud Krogh and, after conversation confirmed his expertise in the field of intelligence, I accepted him. We clicked immediately and I did what I could to help him.


Hunt continued to maintain a separate office, but he was so intimately involved in what we were doing that I assumed it was only because there was no more space available in Room 16. We became fast friends and our families visited each other. Howard's wife, Dorothy, had a strong personality and herself had an intelligence background. She worked in the Spanish Embassy, and I suspected she had been placed there by the CIA...


By far the bulk of my time was devoted to the problem of the Ellsberg prosecution and leaks. Added to that was an instruction to try to find, in Defense Department files, cables from the time of the assassination of [Ngo Dinh] Diem that would shed light on what, if any, was the American complicity in that episode. The Nixon administration that John F. Kennedy had ordered Diem slain. I checked the cable traffic at the Pentagon. My contact there was the late Fred Buzhardt, then General Counsel. I had no difficulty getting access to the regular traffic, but when I found that cables from the critical period seemed to be missing (the volume of cable traffic dropped noticeably, particularly on the prospective coup of Minh against Diem) and asked to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff back-channel traffic, I ran into a stone wall. Buzhardt wasn't the problem; it was Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.

I reported my difficulty with Laird to both Krogh and David Young. Krogh said that Ehrlichman would turn Laird around and give me access to the Joint Chiefs' back-channel traffic, where I believed I might find the "smoking gun" cable -- to coin a phrase -- but even Ehrlichman couldn't break down Laird. I had to abandon the project. At the same time Hunt was trying to find the same kind of cable by going through the traffic at State. He, too, determined that the key cables were missing. I am convinced, from the content and tone of the traffic that I did see, that the United States either ordered, or at least acquiesced with prior knowledge, in the murder of Diem -- but I can't prove it.

As it happens, Liddy was exactly right: the U.S. was responsible for Diem's assassination. But what he slyly omits is that Howard Hunt eventually forged the smoking gun cable both he and Hunt had failed to find:

In September 1971, Hunt forged and offered to a Life magazine reporter top-secret State Department cables designed to prove that President Kennedy had personally and specifically ordered the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.[18] Hunt told the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 that that he had fabricated the cables to show a link between President Kennedy and the assassination of Diem, a Catholic, to estrange Catholic voters from the Democratic party, after Colson suggested he "might be able to improve upon the record."

Sounds like a job straight out of Chuck Colson's office, all right. I wonder if Liddy helped.

The funny thing is, the cable that gave the game away was in front of the Nixonites' faces all along. It was Cable 243, and it was a part of the Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg leaked to The New York Times. Perhaps Hunt and Liddy just wanted to find a different cable than 243, one that didn't implicate Nixon's old running mate Cabot Lodge in the operation. Anyway, enough room was left in the cable for the Kennedys to have plausible deniability (something they were good at). There is just rarely if ever a smoking gun in these sorts of communiques, as Liddy and Hunt's superiors Nixon and Kissinger should have known full well, and indeed they perpetrated the exact same thing in their cables to Santiago green-lighting, in the same deniable language, the kidnapping and murder of General Schneider and the subsequent coup against Salvador Allende.