Is Trump at war with the CIA? The president's upcoming decision on still-secret JFK records will be revealing

"JFK researchers: Trump at risk for assassination" is a lousy piece of journalism, less a story than a meme

Published March 26, 2017 3:59PM (EDT)

 (AP/John Locher)
(AP/John Locher)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


From the fever swamp of Alex Jones' InfoWars, Jerome Corsi reports that "JFK researchers" are saying President Donald Trump is at risk for assassination because of his differences with the Central Intelligence Agency.

I have been a JFK researcher for 35 years. Corsi has distorted what most of us think to serve a fear-mongering political agenda. "JFK researchers: Trump at risk for assassination" is a lousy piece of journalism, less a story than a conspiratorial meme. But it does reveal an important untold story about Trump and the CIA.

As Corsi reports, the president faces a big JFK decision later this year.

Origins of the story

At a Sunshine Week conference on JFK assassination records, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 16, attorney Larry Schnapf made a hard-to-refute point: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is still a crucial story in American political life.

"The Invisible Government," a bestseller about the CIA written while JFK was still alive and published after his death, was an early statement of the "deep state" concept, now debated by pundits from Remnick to Greenwald to Gingrich. Trump used a bogus JFK theory to defeat rival Ted Cruz. We flock to movies about Jackie Kennedy and LBJ. And across the political spectrum, people worry about the unchecked secret powers of the CIA.

The contemporary relevance of the JFK story is unmistakable.

A stretch

In his remarks, Schnapf likened President Trump's differences with the CIA to Kennedy's and speculated they could provoke a deadly response.

“Donald Trump must understand the threat to his life from enemies within the Deep State is real," Schnapf said.

Schnapf was extrapolating from a common suspicion about JFK's death. President Kennedy, a pro-civil rights, pro-peace president, was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The belief that CIA personnel were involved in JFK's death is not proven. (Nor is it unfounded, as my forthcoming biography of legendary spook James Jesus Angleton will show.)

But it is a stretch for Schnapf to say Trump faces a greater threat of assassination as a result of his CIA policies. It is an even bigger stretch for Corsi to conclude that Schnapf's view is the "consensus" of JFK researchers. It isn't.

Trump vs. the CIA

Historically speaking, there are big differences between Trump's relationship with the CIA and JFK's.

Over the last six months, Trump has had a series of verbal skirmishes with unnamed former agency officials (but surely including pro-Clinton former CIA directors John Brennan and Mike Morrell). He has made clear his disdain for the CIA and its analytical work. Former CIA officials have responded in kind.

This could be seen as a Deep State power struggle. It could also wind up being just another Washington turf war.

With its $15 billion-a-year budget and 20,000-plus employees, the CIA is an independent power center in the nation's capital. The agency is institutionally resistant to Trump's agenda because adviser Steve Bannon seeks to dismantle America's traditional international alliances. The CIA has played a leading role in those alliances since 1947. Naturally, the agency opposes radical change.

Trump's actual policy differences with the CIA are hard to discern. The president advocates torture via waterboarding, which the CIA has renounced. He has reportedly loosened restrictions on CIA drone strikes. Neither move seems unfriendly to Langley's interests. We don't know anything about what Trump is actually proposing for the CIA's FY 2018 budget.

As Michael Glennon recently told AlterNet, it is quite possible that the authoritarian Trump will make common cause with the most secretive sectors of America's "double government," including the CIA.

JFK vs. the CIA

By contrast, President Kennedy had much more substantive differences with the CIA.

From 1961 to 1963, JFK deployed the CIA to wage covert war from Cuba to Berlin to Laos, to photograph Soviet nuclear installations and support the growing U.S. military mission in Vietnam.

Kennedy, while often supportive of the agency, broke with the CIA and the Pentagon during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Over vehement objections from his generals, JFK refused to invade the island. He improvised and imposed a peaceful solution — and won a huge increase in popularity.

This confrontation shaped the rest of JFK's presidency. In early 1963, Kennedy effectively thwarted the plans of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provoke an invasion of Cuba. In his famous American University speech of June 1963, JFK promoted peace with the Soviet empire. In the fall of 1963, he privately discussed reconciliation with Cuba. He was cruising toward re-election. And then he was shot and killed.

In short, Kennedy's clash with the CIA was about specific policies and it was profound. Trump's is neither — at least not yet.

In any case, Corsi's idle headline about the possible assassination of a sitting president is irresponsible, especially in a country with as many guns and mentally ill people as the United States. InfoWars should retire this meme.

JFK disclosure in 2017

Corsi's dispatch overlooked the more significant news. In the conference's keynote address, federal judge John Tunheim called for complete release of the government's JFK files later this year.

“It’s time to release them all,” said Tunheim, the former chair of an independent panel that declassified thousands of JFK records in the 1990s.

The National Archives retains a trove of more than 3,500 JFK assassination records, obtained by Tunheim's review board, that have never been seen by the public. The records are historically significant.

The unseen CIA files include 2,000 pages of transcripts of the CIA's harsh interrogation of KGB defector Yuri Nosenko, who handled Lee Harvey Oswald's file for Soviet intelligence service. They also include CIA files of senior undercover officers in 1963 such as Bill HarveyDavid Phillips and Howard Hunt. All three believed Kennedy's policies were dangerously weak, perhaps even treasonous. Harvey and Phillips are known to have mounted assassination operations.

The JFK Records Act of 1992 mandates the release of all of these records by October 26, 2017.

In his Press Club comments, Tunheim, the senior federal judge in Minnesota, noted that President Trump and White House General Counsel Donald McGahn face important decisions about these records. The leadership of the CIA, including Trump-appointed director Mike Pompeo, may prefer that some of this material remain secret.

By Jefferson Morley

Jefferson Morley is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

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Alternet Assassination Central Intelligence Agency Cia Donald Trump Jfk Assassination John F. Kennedy