GEORGE BUSH: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY
Chapter -XV- CIA DIRECTOR
In late 1975, as a result in particular of his role in Watergate, Bush's confirmation as CIA Director was not automatic. And though the debate at his confirmation was superficial, some senators, including in particular the late Frank Church of Idaho, made some observations about the dangers inherent in the Bush nomination that have turned out in retrospect to be useful.
The political scene on the homefront from which Bush had been so anxious to be absent during 1975 was the so-called "Year of Intelligence," in that it had been a year of intense scrutiny of the illegal activities and abuses of the intelligence community, including CIA domestic and covert operations. On December 22, 1974 the New York Times published the first of a series of articles by Seymour M. Hersh which relied on leaked reports of CIA activities assembled by Director James Rodney Schlesinger to expose alleged misdeeds by the agency.
It was widely recognized at the time that the Hersh articles were a self-exposure by the CIA that was designed to set the agenda for the Ford-appointed Rockefeller Commission, which was set up a few days later, on January 4, 1975. The Rockefeller Commission members included John T. Connor, C. Douglas Dillon, Erwin N. Griswold, Lane Kirkland, Lyman Lemnitzer, Ronald Reagan, and Edgar F. Shannon, Jr. The Rockefeller Commission was supposed to examine the malfeasance of the intelligence agencies and make recommendations about how they could be reorganized and reformed. In reality, the Rockefeller Commission proposals would reflect the transition from the structures of the cold war towards the growing totalitarian tendencies of the 1980's.
While the Rockefeller Commission was a tightly controlled vehicle of the Eastern Anglophile liberal establishment, Congressional investigating committees were empaneled during 1975 whose proceedings were somewhat less rigidly controlled. These included the Senate Intelligence Committee, known as the Church Committee, and the corresponding House committee, first chaired by Rep. Lucien Nedzi (who had previously chaired one of the principal Watergate-era probes) and then (after July) by Rep. Otis Pike. One example was the Pike Committee's issuance of a contempt of Congress citation against Henry Kissinger for his refusal to provide documentation of covert operations in November, 1975. Another was Church's role in leading the opposition to the Bush nomination.
The Church Committee launched an investigation of the use of covert operations for the purpose of assassinating foreign leaders. By the nature of things, this probe was lead to grapple with the problem of whether covert operations sanctioned to eliminate foreign leaders had been re-targeted against domestic political figures. The obvious case was the Kennedy assassination.
Church was especially diligent in attacking CIA covert operations, which Bush would be anxious to defend. The CIA's covert branch, Church thought, was a "self-serving apparatus." "It's a bureaucracy which feeds on itself, and those involved are constantly sitting around thinking up schemes for [foreign] intervention which will win them promotions and justify further additions to the staff...It self-generates interventions that otherwise never would be thought of, let alone authorized." [fn 1]
It will be seen that at the beginning of Bush's tenure at the CIA, the Congressional committees were on the offensive against the intelligence agencies. By the time that Bush departed Langley, the tables were turned, and it was the Congress which was the focus of scandals, including Koreagate. Soon thereafter, the Congress would undergo the assault of Abscam.
Preparation for what was to become the Halloween massacre began in the Ford White House during the summer of 1975. The Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan preserves a memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Ford dated July 10, 1975, which deals with an array of possible choices for CIA Director. Rumsfeld had polled a number of White House and administration officials and asked them to express preferences among "outsiders to the CIA." [fn 2]
Among the officials polled by Cheney was Henry Kissinger, who suggested C. Douglas Dillon, Howard Baker, Galvin, and Robert Roosa. Dick Cheney of the White House staff proposed Robert Bork, followed by Bush and Lee Iacocca. Nelson Rockefeller was also for C. Douglas Dillon, followed by Howard Baker, Conner, and James R. Schlesinger. Rumsfeld himself listed Bork, Dillon, Iacoca, Stanley Resor, and Walter Wriston, but not Bush. The only officials putting Bush on their "possible" lists other than Cheney were Jack O. Marsh, a White House counselor to Ford, and David Packard. When it came time for Rumsfeld to sum up the aggregate number of times each person was mentioned, minus one point for each time a person had been recommended against, the list was as follows:
Robert Bork [rejected in 1987 for the Supreme Court] White McGee Foster [John S. Foster of PFIAB, formerly of the Department of Defense] Dillon Resor Roosa Hauge.
It will be seen that Bush was not among the leading candidates, perhaps because his networks were convinced that he was going to make another attempt for the vice-presidency and that therefore the Commerce Department or some similar post would be more suitable. The summary profile of Bush sent to Ford by Rumsfeld found that Bush had "experience in government and diplomacy" and was "generally familiar with components of the intelligence community and their missions" while having management experience." Under "Cons" Rumsfeld noted: "RNC post lends undesirable political cast."
As we have seen, the CIA post was finally offered by Ford to Edward Bennett Williams, perhaps with an eye on building a bipartisan bridge towards a powerful faction of the intelligence community. But Williams did not want the job. Bush, originally slated for the Department of Commerce, was given the CIA appointment.
The announcement of Bush's nomination occasioned a storm of criticism, whose themes included the inadvisability of choosing a Watergate figure for such a sensitive post so soon after that scandal had finally begun to subside. References were made to Bush's receipt of financial largesse from Nixon's Townhouse fund and related operations. There was also the question of whether the domestic CIA apparatus would get mixed up in Bush's expected campaign for the vice presidency. These themes were developed in editorials during the month of November, 1976, while Bush was kept in Beijing by the requirements of preparing the Ford-Mao meetings of early December. To some degree, Bush was just hanging there and slowly, slowly twisting in the wind. The slow-witted Ford soon realized that he had been inept in summarily firing Colby, since Bush would have to remain in China for some weeks and then return to face confirmation hearings. Ford had to ask Colby to stay on in a caretaker capacity until Bush took office. The delay allowed opposition against Bush to crystallize to some degree, but his own network was also quick to spring to his defense.
Former CIA officer Tom Braden, writing in the Fort Lauderdale News, noted that the Bush appointment to the CIA looked bad, and looked bad at a time when public confidence in the CIA was so low that everything about the agency desperately needed to look good. Braden's column was entitled "George Bush, Bad Choice for CIA Job."
Roland Evans and Robert Novak, writing in the Washington Post, commented that "the Bush nomination is regarded by some intelligence experts as another grave morale deflator. They reason that any identified politician, no matter how resolved to be politically pure, would aggravate the CIA's credibility gap. Instead of an identified politician like Bush...what is needed, they feel, is a respected non-politician, perhaps from business or the academic world." Evans and Novak conceded that "not all experts agree. One former CIA official wants the CIA placed under political leadership capable of working closely with Congress. But even that distinctly minority position rebels against any Presidential scenario that looks to the CIA as possible stepping-stone to the Vice-Presidential nomination."
The Washington Post came out against Bush in an editorial entitled "The Bush Appointment." Here the reasoning was that this position "should not be regarded as a political parking spot," and that public confidence in the CIA had to be restored after the recent revelations of wrongdoing.
After a long-winded argument, George Will came to the conclusion that Ambassador Bush at the CIA would be "the wrong kind of guy at the wrong place at the worst possible time."
Senator Church viewed the Bush appointment in the context of a letter sent to him by Ford on October 31, 1975, demanding that the committee's report on US assassination plots against foreign leaders be kept secret. In Church's opinion, these two developments were part of a pattern, and amounted to a new stonewalling defense by what Church had called "the rogue elephant." Church issued a press statement in response to Ford's letter attempting to impose a blackout on the assassination report. "I am astonished that President Ford wants to suppress the committee's report on assassination and keep it concealed from the American people," said Church. Then, on November 3, Church was approached by reporters outside of his Senate hearing room and asked by Daniel Schorr about the firing of Colby and his likely replacement by Bush. Church responded with a voice that was trembling with anger. "There is no question in my mind but that concealment is the new order of the day," he said. "Hiding evil is the trademark of a totalitarian government." [fn 3]. Schorr said that he had never seen Church so upset.
The following day, November 4, Church read Leslie Gelb's column in the New York Times suggesting that Colby had been fired, among other things, "for not doing a good job containing the Congressional investigations." George Bush, Gelb thought, "would be able to go to Congress and ask for a grace period before pressing their investigations further. A Washington Star headline of this period summed up this argument: "CIA NEEDS BUSH'S PR TALENT." Church talked with his staff that day about what he saw as an ominous pattern of events. He told reporters: "First came the very determined administration effort to prevent any revelations concerning NSA, their stonewalling of public hearings. Then came the president's letter. Now comes the firing of Colby, Mr. Schlesinger, and the general belief that Secretary Kissinger is behind these latest developments." For Church, "clearly a pattern has emerged now to try and disrupt this [Senate Intelligence Committee] investigation. As far as I'm concerned, it won't be disrupted," said Church grimly.
One of Church's former aides, speech-writer Loch K. Johnson, describes how he worked with Church to prepare a speech scheduled for delivery on November 11, 1975 in which Church would stake out a position opposing the Bush nomination:
The nomination of George Bush to succeed Colby disturbed him and he wanted to wind up the speech by opposing the nomination. [...] He hoped to influence Senate opinion on the nomination on the eve of Armed Services Committee hearings to confirm Bush.
I rapidly jotted down notes as Church discussed the lines he would like to take against the nomination. "Once they used to give former national party chairmen [as Bush had been under President Nixon] postmaster generalships--the most political and least sensitive job in government," he said. "Now they have given this former party chairman the most sensitive and least political agency." Church wanted me to stress how Bush "might compromise the independence of the CIA--the agency could be politicized."
Some days later Church appeared on the CBS program Face the Nation, he was asked by George Herman if his opposition to Bush would mean that anyone with political experience would be a priori unacceptable for such a post? Church replied: "I think that whoever is chosen should be one who has demonstrated a capacity for independence, who has shown that he can stand up to the many pressures." Church hinted that Bush had never stood up for principle at the cost of political office. Moreover, "a man whose background is as partisan as a past chairman of the Republican party does serious damage to the agency and its intended purposes." [fn 4]
The Brown Brothers, Harriman/Skull and Bones crowd counterattacked in favor of Bush, mobilizing some significant resources. One was none other than Leon Jaworski, the former Watergate special prosecutor. Jaworski's mission for the Bush network appears to have been to get the Townhouse and related Nixon slushfund issues off the table of the public debate and confirmation hearings. Jaworski, speaking at a convention of former FBI Special Agents meeting in Houston, defended Bush against charges that he had accepted illegal or improper payments from Nixon and CREEP operatives. "This was investigated by me when I served as Watergate special prosecutor. I found no involvement of George Bush and gave him full clearance. I hope that in the interest of fairness, the matter will not be bandied about unless something new has appeared on the horizon." Jaworski, who by then was back in Houston working for his law firm of Fulbright and Jaworski, sent a copy of the Houston Post article reporting this statement to Ford's White House counselor Philip Buchen. [fn 5]
Saul Kohler of the Newhouse News Service offered the Ford White House an all-purpose refutation of the arguments advanced by the opponents of Bush during November and into December. "And now," wrote Kohler, "President Ford is catching all sorts of heat from a lot of people for appointing Bush to the non-political sensitive CIA because he once served as Chairman of the Republican national Committee." How unfair, thought Kohler, "for of all the appointments Ford made last weekend, the nomination of Bush was the best." For one thing, "you'd have to go a long way to find a man with less guile than George Bush." Bush had been great at the RNC- "he managed to keep the RNC away from the expletive deleted of that dark chapter in American political history." "Not only did he keep the party apparatus clean, he kept his own image clean..." And then: "Was Cordell Hull less distinguished a Secretary of State because he had headed the Democratic National Committee?," and so forth. Kohler quoted a White House official commenting on the Bush nomination: "The gag line around here ever since The Boss announced George for the CIA is that spying is going to be a bore from now on because George is such a clean guy." [fn 6]
In the meantime, Bush got ready for his second meeting with Mao and prepared the documentation for his conflict of interest and background checks. In a letter to John C. Stennis, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would hold the hearings on his nomination, Bush stated that his only organizational affiliations were as a trustee of Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and as a member of the Board of the Episcopal Church Foundation in New York City. In this letter, Bush refers to the "Bush Children Trust" he had created for his five children, and "funded by a diversified portfolio" which might put him into conflicts of interest. He told Stennis that if confirmed, he would resign as trustee of the Bush Children Fund and direct the other trustees to stop disclosing to him any details of the operations of the Bush Children Trust. Otherwise Bush said that he was not serving as officer, director, or partner of any corporation, although he had a lump-sum retirement benefit from Zapata Corporation in the amount of $40,000. According to his own account, he owned a home in Washington DC, his summer house at Kennebunkport, a small residential lot in Houston, plus some bank accounts and life insurance policies. He had a securities portfolio managed by T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, and he assured Stennis he would be willing to divest any shares that might pose conflict of interest problems. [fn 7]
Congressional reaction reaching the White House before Bush's hearings was not enthusiastic. Dick Cheney of the White House staff advised Ford to call Senator John Stennis on November 3, noting that Stennis "controls confirmation process for CIA and DOD." Ford replied shortly after, "I did." [fn 8] A few days later Ford had a telephone conversation with Senator Mike Mansfield, the Democratic majority leader, and one of his notations was "Geo Bush--for him but he must say no politics." [fn 9]
Negative mail from both houses of Congress was also coming in to the White House. On November 12, Ford received a singular note from GOP Congressman James M. Collins of Dallas, Texas. Collins wrote to Ford: "I hope you will reconsider the appointment of George Bush to the CIA. At this time it seems to me that it would be a greater service for the country for George to continue his service in China. He is not the right man for the CIA," wrote Collins, who had been willing to support Bush for the vice presidency back in 1974. "Yesterday," wrote Collins, "I sat next to my friend Dale Milford who is the only friendly Democrat on Pike's Committee. He strenuously questioned why Bush was being put in charge of the CIA. He likes George but he is convinced that the Liberals will contend from now to Doomsday that George is a partisan Republican voice. They are going to sing this song about Republican Chairmen and let the liberal press beat it out in headlines every day. I have heard this same story from many on the Hill who stand with you. Please use George in some other way. They are going to crucify him on this job and Senator Church will lead the procession. I hope you find an urgent need to keep Bush in China," wrote Collins, a Republican and a Texan, to Ford. [fn 10]
There was also a letter to Ford from Democratic Congressman Lucien Nedzi of Michigan, who had been the chairman of one of the principal House Watergate investigating committees. Nedzi wrote as follows:
The purpose of my letter is to express deep concern over the announced appointment of George Bush as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
As Chairman of the Special Subcommittee on Intelligence of the House Armed Services Committee since 1971, I have had the obligation and opportunity to closely observe the CIA, the other intelligence agencies, the executive and legislative relationships of these agencies, and vice-versa. We are at a critical juncture.
After reassuring Ford that he had no personal animus against Bush, Nedzi went on:
However, his proposed appointment would bring with it inevitable complications for the intelligence community. Mr. Bush is a man with a recent partisan political past and a probable near-term partisan political future. This is a burden neither the Agency, nor the legislative oversight committee, nor the Executive should have to bear as the CIA enters perhaps the most difficult period of its history.
The Director of the CIA must be unfettered by any doubts as to his politics. He must be free of the appearance, as well as the substance, that he is acting, or not acting, with partisan political considerations in mind.
In my judgment, as one buffeted by the winds of the CIA controversy of the last few years, I agree that a man of stature is needed, but a non-political man.
Accordingly, I respectfully urge that you reconsider your appointment of Mr. Bush to this most sensitive of positions. [fn 11]
Senator William V. Roth of Delaware sent Bush a letter on November 20 which made a related point:
It is my deep conviction that the security of this nation depends upon an effective viable Central Intelligence Agency. This depends in part upon the intelligence agency being involved in no way in domestic politics, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. For that reason, I believe you have no choice but to withdraw your name unequivocally from consideration for the Vice Presidency, if you desire to become Director of the CIA. [...]
If Bush still wanted to pursue national office, wrote Roth, "then I believe the wise decision is for you to ask the President to withdraw your nomination for the CIA Directorship." [fn 12] Roth sent a copy of the same letter to Ford.
Through Jack Marsh at the White House, Bush also received a letter of advice from Tex McCrary, the New York television and radio personality who was also an eminence grise of Skull & Bones. "Old Tex" urged Bush to "hold a press conference in Peking while the President is there, or from Pearl Harbor on December 7, and take yourself out of the Vice Presidential sweepstakes for '76." McCrary's communication shows that he was a warm supporter of Bush's confirmation. [fn 13]
Within just a couple of days of making Bush's nomination public, the Ford White House was aware that it had a significant public relations problem. To get re-elected, Ford had to appear as a reformer, breaking decisively with the bad old days of Nixon and the Plumbers. But with the Bush nomination, Ford was putting a former party chairman and future candidate for national office at the head of the entire intelligence community. Ford's staff began to marshal attempted rebuttals for the attacks on Bush. On November 5, Jim Connor of Ford's staff had some trite boiler-plate inserted into Ford's Briefing Book in case he were asked if the advent of Bush represented a move to obstruct the Church and Pike committees. Ford was told to answer that he "has asked Director Colby to cooperate fully with the Committee" and "expects Ambassador Bush to do likewise once he becomes Director. As you are aware, the work of both the Church and Pike Committees is slated to wind up shortly." [fn 14] In case he were asked about Bush politicizing the CIA, Ford was to answer:" "I believe that Republicans and Democrats who know George Bush and have worked with him know that he does not let politics and partisanship interfere with the performance of public duty." That was a mouthful. "Nearly all of the men and women in this and preceding Administrations have had partisan identities and have held partisan party posts." "George Bush is a part of that American tradition and he will demonstrate this when he assumes his new duties."
But when Ford, in an appearance on a Sunday talk show, was asked if he were ready to exclude Bush as a possible vice-presidential candidate, he refused to do so, answering "I don't think people of talent ought to be excluded from any field of public service." At a press conference, Ford said, "I don't think he's eliminated from consideration by anybody, the delegates or the convention or myself.
In the meantime, Bush was in touch with the Ford White House about his impending return to Washington. On November 27 he wrote to Max L. Friedersdorf, an assistant to Ford: "We'll be back there in mid-December. It looks like I am walking into the midst of a real whirlwind, but all I know to do is to give it my all and be direct with the Committee." Then, penciled in by hand: "Max- I will be there in EOB on the 10th--Jennifer Fitzgerald with me now in China will be setting up a schedule for me a day or so in advance," and would Fridersdorf please cooperate with Bush's girl Friday. [fn 15]
Ford's lobbying operation went into high gear. Inside the White House, Max Friedersdorf wrote a memo to William Kendall on November 6, sending along the useful fact that "I understand that Senator Howard Baker is most anxious to assist in the confirmation of George Bush at the CIA." Mike Duval wrote to Jack Marsh on November 18 that "[Rep.] Sonny Montgomery (a close friend of Bush) should contact Senator Stennis." Duval also related his findings that "Senators McGee and Bellmon will be most supportive," while "Senator Stieger can advise you what House members would be most useful in talking to their own Senators, if that is needed." [fn 16] It was.
Bush's confirmation hearings got under way on December 15, 1975. Even judged by Bush's standards of today, they constitute a landmark exercise in sanctimonious hypocrisy so astounding as to defy comprehension. If Bush were ever to try an acting career, he might be best cast in the role of Moliere's Tartuffe.
Bush's sponsor was GOP Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on Senator John Stennis's Senate Armed Services Committee. Later, in 1988, it was to be Thurmond's political protege, Lee Atwater, cunning in the ways of the GOP "southern strategy," who ran Bush's presidential campaign. Thurmond unloaded a mawkish panegyric in favor of Bush: "I think all of this shows an interest on your part in humanity, in civic development, love of your country, and willingness to serve your fellow man." Could the aide writing that, even if it was Lee Atwater, have kept a straight face?
Bush's opening statement was also in the main a tissue of banality and cliches. He indicated his support for the Rockefeller Commission report without having mastered its contents in detail. He pointed out that he had attended Cabinet meetings from 1971 to 1974, without mentioning who the president was in those days. Everybody was waiting for this consummate pontificator to get to the issue of whether he was going to attempt the vice-presidency in 1976. Readers of Bush's propaganda biographies know that he never decides on his own to run for office, but always responds to the urging of his friends. Within those limits, his answer was that he was available for the second spot on the ticket. More remarkably, he indicated that he had a hereditary right to it--it was, as he said, his "birthright."
Would Bush accept a draft? "I cannot in all honesty tell you that I would not accept, and I do not think, gentlemen, that any American should be asked to say he would not accept, and to my knowledge, no one in the history of this Republic has been asked to renounce his political birthright as the price of confirmation for any office. And I can tell you that I will not seek any office while I hold the job of CIA Director. I will put politics wholly out of my sphere of activities." Even more, Bush argued, his willingness to serve at the CIA reflected his sense of noblesse oblige. Friends had asked him why he wanted to go to Langley at all, "with all the controversy swirling around the CIA, with its obvious barriers to political future?"
Magnanimously Bush replied to his own rhetorical question: "My answer is simple. First, the work is desperately important to the survival of this country, and to the survival of freedom around the world. And second, old fashioned as it may seem to some, it is my duty to serve my country. And I did not seek this job but I want to do it and I will do my very best." [fn 17]
Stennis responded with a joke that sounds eerie in retrospect: "If I though that you were seeking the Vice Presidential nomination or Presidential nomination by way of the route of being Director of the CIA, I would question you judgment most severely." There was laughter in the committee room.
Senators Goldwater and Stuart Symington made clear that they would give Bush a free ride not only out of deference to Ford, but also out of regard for the late Prescott Bush, with whom they had both started out in the Senate in 1952. Senator McIntyre was more demanding, and raised the issue of enemies' list operations, a notorious abuse of the Nixon (and subsequent) administrations:
"What if you get a call from the President, next July or August, saying 'George, I would like to see you.' You go in the White House. He takes you over in the corner and says, 'look, things are not going too well in my campaign. This Reagan is gaining on me all the time. Now, he is a movie star of some renown and has traveled with the fast set. He was a Hollywood star. I want you to get any dirt you can on this guy because I need it."
What would Bush do ? "I do not think that is difficult, sir," intoned Bush. "I would simply say that it gets back to character and it gets back to integrity; and furthermore, I cannot conceive of the incumbent doing that sort of thing. But if I were put into that kind of position where you had a clear moral issue, I would simply say "no," because you see I think, and maybe-- I have the advantages as everyone on this committee of 20-20 hindsight, that this agency must stay in the foreign intelligence business and must not harass American citizens, like in Operation Chaos, and that these kinds of things have no business in the foreign intelligence business." This was the same Bush whose 1980 campaign was heavily staffed by CIA veterans, some retired, some on active service and in flagrant violation of the Hatch Act. This is the vice-president who ran Iran-contra out of his own private office, and so forth.
Gary Hart also had a few questions. How did Bush feel about assassinations? Bush "found them morally offensive and I am pleased the President has made that position very, very clear to the Intelligence Committee..." How about "coups d'etat in various countries around the world," Hart wanted to know?
"You mean in the covert field," replied Bush. "Yes." "I would want to have full benefit of all the intelligence. I would want to have full benefit of how these matters were taking place but I cannot tell you, and I do not think I should, that there would never be any support for a coup d'etat; in other words, I cannot tell you I cannot conceive of a situation where I would not support such action." In retrospect, this was a moment of refreshing candor.
Gary Hart knew where at least one of Bush's bodies was buried:
Senator Hart: You raised the question of getting the CIA out of domestic areas totally. Let us hypothesize a situation where a President has stepped over the bounds. Let us say the FBI is investigating some people who are involved, and they go right to the White House. There is some possible CIA interest. The President calls you and says, I want you as Director of the CIA to call the Director of the FBI to tell him to call off this operation because it may jeopardize some CIA activities.
Mr. Bush. Well, generally speaking, and I think you are hypothecating a case without spelling it out in enough detail to know if there is any real legitimate foreign intelligence aspect... [...]
There it was: the smoking gun tape again, the notorious Bush-Lietdtke-Mosbacher-Pennzoil contribution to the CREEP again, the money that had been found in the pockets of Bernard Barker and the Plumbers after the Watergate break-in. But Hart did not mention it overtly, only in this oblique, Byzantine manner. Hart went on: "I am hypothesizing a case that actually happened in June, 1972. There might have been some tangential CIA interest in something in Mexico. Funds were laundered and so forth."
Mr. Bush. Using a 50-50 hindsight on that case, I hope I would have said the CIA is not going to get involved in that if we are talking about the same one.
Senator Hart. We are.
Senator Leahy. Are there others?
Bush was on the edge of having his entire Watergate past come out in the wash, but the liberal Democrats were already far too devoted to the one-party state to grill Bush seriously. In a few seconds, responding to another question from Hart, Bush was off the hook, droning on about plausible deniability, of all things: "...and though I understand the need for plausible deniability, I think it is extremely difficult."
In his next go-round, Hart asked Bush about the impact of the cutthroat atmosphere of the Cold War and its impact on American values. Bush responded: "I am not going to sit here and say we need to match ruthlessness with ruthlessness. I do feel we need a covert capability and I hope that it can minimize these problems that offend our Americans. We are living in a very complicated, difficult world." This note of support for covert operations would come up again and again. Indicative of Bush's thinking was his response to a query from Hart about whether he would support a US version of the British Official Secrets Act, which defines as a state secret any official information which has not been formally released to the public, with stiff criminal penalties for those who divulge or print it. In the era of FOIA, Bush did not hesitate: "Well, I understand that was one of the recommendations of the Rockefeller Commission. Certainly I would give it some serious attention." Which reeks of totalitarianism.
The next day, December 16, 1975, Church, appearing as a witness, delivered his phillipic against Bush. After citing evidence of widespread public concern about the renewed intrusion of the CIA in domestic politics under Bush, Church reviewed the situation:
So here we stand. Need we find or look to
higher places than the Presidency and the nominee himself to confirm the
fact that this door [of the Vice Presidency in 1976] is left open and that
he remains under active consideration for the ticket in 1976? We stand in
this position in the close wake of Watergate, and this committee has
before it a candidate for Director of the CIA, a man of strong partisan
political background and a beckoning political future. Under these
circumstances I find the appointment astonishing. Now, as never before,
the Director of the CIA must be completely above political suspicion. At
the very least this committee, I believe, should insist that the nominee
disavow any place on the 1976 Presidential ticket. [...] I believe that
this committee should insist that the nominee disavow any place on the
1976 Presidential ticket. Otherwise his position as CIA Director would be
hopelessly compromised. [...] Mr. Chairman, let us not make a travesty out
of our efforts to reform the CIA. The Senate and the people we represent
have the right to insist upon a Central Intelligence Agency which is
politically neutral and totally professional. It is strange that I should
have to come before this of all committees to make that argument.[...]
It was an argument that conceded far too much to Bush in the effort to be fair. Bush was incompetent for the post, and the argument should have ended there. Church's unwillingness to demand the unqualified rejection of such a nominee no matter what future goodies he was willing temporarily to renounce has cast long shadows over subsequent American history. But even so, Bush was in trouble. The other senators questioned Church. Thurmond was a bullying partisan for Bush, demanding that Church certify George for the GOP ticket in 1976, which Church was unwisely willing to do. Senator Tower wanted to know about Church's own presidential ambitions, and brought up that the press corps called the Senate Intelligence Committee the "Church for President" committee. Why didn't Church renounce his presidential ambitions so as to give his criticism more credibility? Goldwater spun out a mitigating defense of Bush. Church fought back with what we may consider the predecessor of the "wimp" argument, that Bush was always the yes-man of his patrons: if you were going to put a pol into Langley, he argued, "then I think that it ought to be a man who has demonstrated in his political career that he can and is willing to stand up and take the heat even where it courts the displeasure of his own President." "But I do not think that Mr. Bush's political record has been of that character."
Church was at his ironic best when he compared Bush to a recent chairman of the Democratic national Committee: "...if a Democrat were President, Mr. Larry O'Brien ought not to be nominated to be Director of the CIA. Of all times to do it, this is the worst, right at a time when it is obvious that public confidence needs to be restored in the professional, impartial, and nonpolitical character of the agency. So, we have the worst of all possible worlds." Church tellingly underlined that "Bush's birthright does not include being Director of the CIA. It includes the right to run for public office, to be sure, but that is quite a different matter than confirming him now for this particular position."
Church said he would under no circumstance vote for Bush, but that if the latter renounced the 76 ticket, he would refrain from attempting to canvass other votes against Bush. It was an ambiguous position.
While still reeling from Church's philippic, Bush also had to absorb a statement from Senator Culver, who announced that he also would vote against Bush.
Bush came back to the witness chair in an unmistakable whining mood. He was offended above all by the comparison of his august self to the upstart Larry O'Brien: "I think there is some difference in the qualifications," said Bush in a hyperthyroid rage. "Larry O'Brien did not serve in the Congress of the United States for 4 years. Larry O'Brien did not serve, with no partisanship, at the United Nations for 2 years. Larry O'Brien did not serve as the Chief of the US Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China." Not only Bush but his whole cursus honorum were insulted! "I will never apologize," said Bush a few second later, referring to his own record. Then Bush pulled out his "you must resign" letter to Nixon: "Now, I submit that for the record that that is demonstrable independence. I did not do it by calling the newspapers and saying, 'Look, I am having a press conference. Here is a sensational statement to make me, to separate me from a President in great agony.'"
Bush recovered somewhat under questioning by Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, a reliable ally. Senator Symington urged Bush to commit to serve at the CIA for at least two years; Bush was non-committal, but the pressure was becoming unbearable. After some sparring between Bush and Gary Hart, Henry Jackson of Washington came in for the first time. Jackson's constant refrain was that the maladroit and bumbling Ford had put Bush in a very awkward and unfair position by nominating him:
To be very candid about it, it seems to me that the President has put you in a very awkward position. The need here is really to save the CIA. I do not need to recite what the Agency has gone through. It has been a very rough period. And it seems to me that the judgment of the President in this matter is at best imposing a terrible burden on the CIA and on you. It raises a problem here of nominating someone, who is a potential candidate, for service of less than a year. This is what really troubles me because I have the highest regard and personal respect for your ability and above all, your integrity. Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that the President should assure this committee that he will not ask Ambassador Bush to be on the ticket.
Jackson, a former chairman of the Democratic national Committee, had turned down an offer from Nixon to be Secretary of Defense, and had cited his party post as a reason for declining. While George squirmed, Jackson kept repeating his litany that "Ambassador Bush is in an awkward position." Bush asked for the opportunity to reply, saying that he would make it "brief and strong." He began citing James Schlesinger serving a few months at the CIA before going on to the Pentagon, a lamentable comparison all around. With Bush red-faced and whining, knowing that the day was going very badly indeed, Stennis tried to put him out of his misery by ending the session. But even this was not vouchsafed to poor, tormented George. He still had to endure Senator Leahy explaining why he, too, would vote against the Bush nomination.
Bush whined in reply "Senator, I know you have arrived at your conclusion honestly and I would only say I think it is unfortunate that you can say I have the character and I have the integrity, the perception, but that the way it is looked at by somebody else overrides that." A candidate for the CIA was in mortal peril, but a public wimp was born.
Bush had been savaged in the hearings, and his nomination was now in grave danger of being rejected by the committee, and then by the full Senate. Later in the afternoon of November 16, a damage control party met at the White House to assess the situation for Ford. [fn 18] According to Patrick O'Donnell of Ford's Congressional Relations Office, the most Bush could hope for was a bare majority of 9 out of 16 votes on the Stennis committee. This represented the committee Republicans, plus Stennis, Harry Byrd of Virginia, and Stuart Symington. But that was paper thin, thought O'Donnell: "This gives is a bare majority and will, of course, lead to an active floor fight which will bring the rank and file Democrats together in a vote which will embarrass the President and badly tarnish, if not destroy, one of his brightest stars." O'Donnell was much concerned that Jackson had "called for the President to publicly remove George Bush from the vice presidential race." Senator Cannon had not attended the hearings, and was hard to judge. Senator McIntyre obviously had serious reservations, and Culver, Leahy, and Gary Hart were all sure to vote no. A possible additional Democratic vote for Bush was that of Sam Nunn of Georgia, whom O'Donnell described as "also very hesitant but strongly respects George and has stated that a favorable vote would only be because of the personal relationship." O'Donnell urge Ford to call both Cannon and Nunn.
LBJ had observed that Ford was so dull that he was incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. But now even Ford knew he was facing the shipwreck of one of his most politically sensitive nominations, important in his efforts to dissociate himself from the intelligence community mayhem of the recent past.
Ford was inclined to give the senators what they wanted, and exclude Bush a priori from the vice presidential contest. When Ford called George over to the Oval Office on December 18, he already had the text of a letter to Stennis announcing that Bush was summarily ruled off the ticket if Ford were the candidate (which was anything but certain). Ford showed Bush the letter. We do not know what whining may have been heard in the White House that day from a senatorial patrician deprived (for the moment) of his birthright. Ford could not yield; it would have thrown his entire election campaign into acute embarrassment just as he was trying to get it off the ground under the likes of Bo Callaway. When George saw that Ford was obdurate, he proposed that the letter be amended to make it look as if the initiative to rule him out as a running mate had originated with Bush. The fateful letter:
Dear Mr. Chairman:
As we both know, the nation must have a strong and effective foreign intelligence capability. Just over two weeks ago, on December 7 while in Pearl Harbor, I said that we must never drop our guard nor unilaterally dismantle our defenses. The Central Intelligence Agency is essential to maintaining our national security.
I nominated Ambassador George Bush to be CIA Director so we can now get on with appropriate decisions concerning the intelligence community. I need-- and the nation needs-- his leadership at CIA as we rebuild and strengthen the foreign intelligence community in a manner which earns the confidence of the American people.
Ambassador Bush and I agree that the Nation's immediate foreign intelligence needs must take precedence over other considerations and there should be continuity in his CIA leadership. Therefore, if Ambassador Bush is confirmed by the Senate as Director of Central Intelligence, I will not consider him as my Vice Presidential running mate in 1976.
He and I have discussed this in detail. In fact, he urged that I make this decision. This says something about the man and about his desire to do this job for the nation. [...]
On December 19, this letter was received by Stennis, who announced its contents to his committee. This committee promptly approved the Bush appointment by a vote of 12 to 4, with Gary Hart, Leahy, Culver, and McIntyre voting against him. Bush's name could now be sent to the floor, where a recrudescence of anti-Bush sentiment was not likely, but could not be ruled out.
Bush, true to form, sent a hand-written note to Kendall and O'Donnell on December 18. "You guys were great to me in all this whirlwind," wrote Bush. "Thank you for your help--and for your understanding. I have never been in one quite like this before and it helped to have a couple of guys who seemed to care and want to help. Thanks, men--Thank Max, [Friedersdorf] too -George" [fn 19]
But underneath his usual network-tending habits, Bush was now engulfed by a profound rage. He had fought to get elected to the Senate twice, in 1964 and 1970, and failed both times. He had tried for the vice presidency in 1968, in 1972, had been passed over by Nixon in late 1973 when Ford was chosen, in 1974, and was now out of the running in 1976. This was simply intolerable for a senatorial patrician, and that was indeed Bush's concept of his own "birthright."
Bush gave the lie to Aristotle's theory of the humors: neither blood nor phlegm nor black nor even the yellow bile of rage moved him, but hyperthyroid transports of a manic rage that went beyond the merely bilious. George Bush had already had enough of the Stennis Committee, enough of the Church Committee, enough of the Pike Committee. Years later, on the campaign trail in 1988, he vomited out his rage against his tormentors of 1975. Bush said that he had gone to the CIA "at a very difficult time. I went in there when it had been demoralized by the attacks of a bunch of little untutored squirts from Capitol Hill, going out there, looking at these confidential documents without one simple iota of concern for the legitimate national security interests of this country. And I stood up for the CIA then, and I stand up for it now. And defend it. So let the liberals wring their hands and consider it a liability. I consider it a strength."
But in 1975 there was no doubt that George Bush was in a towering rage. As Christmas approached, no visions of sugarplums danced in Bush's head. He dreamed of a single triumphant stroke that would send Church and all the rest of his tormentors reeling in dismay, and give the new CIA Director a dignified and perhaps triumphant inauguration.
Then, two days before Christmas, the CIA chief in Athens, Richard Welch was gunned down in front of his home by masked assassins as he returned home with his wife from a Christmas party. A group calling itself the "November 19 Organization" later claimed credit for the killing.
Certain networks immediately began to use the Welch assassination as a bludgeon against the Church and Pike committees. An example came from columnist Charles Bartlett writing in the old Washington Star: "The assassination of the CIA Station Chief, Richard Welch, in Athens is a direct consequence of the stagy hearings of the Church Committee. Spies traditionally function in a gray world of immunity from such crudities. But the Committee's prolonged focus on CIA activities in Greece left agents there exposed to random vengeance." [fn 20] Staffers of the Church committee pointed out that the Church committee had never said a word about Greece or mentioned the name of Welch.
CIA Director Colby first blamed the death of Welch on Counterspy magazine, which had published the name of Welch some months before. The next day Colby backed off, blaming a more general climate of hysteria regarding the CIA which had led to the assassination of Welch. In his book, Honorable Men, published some years later, Colby continued to attribute the killing to the "sensational and hysterical way the CIA investigations had been handled and trumpeted around the world."
The Ford White House resolved to exploit this tragic incident to the limit. Liberals raised a hue and cry in response. Les Aspin later recalled that "the air transport plane carrying [Welch's] body circled Andrews Air Force Base for three-quarters of an hour in order to land live on the 'Today' Show." Ford waived restrictions in order to allow interment at Arlington Cemetery. The funeral on January 7 was described by the Washington Post as "a show of pomp usually reserved for the nation's most renowned military heroes." Anthony Lewis of the New York Times described the funeral as "a political device" with ceremonies "being manipulated in order to arouse a political backlash against legitimate criticism." Norman Kempster in the Washington Star found that "only a few hours after the CIA's Athens station chief was gunned down in front of his home, the agency began a subtle campaign intended to persuade Americans that his death was the indirect result of congressional investigations and the direct result of an article in an obscure magazine." Here, in the words of a Washington Star headline, was "one CIA effort that worked."
Between Christmas and New Year's in Kennbunkport, looking forward to the decisive floor vote on his confirmation, Bush was at work tending and mobilizing key parts of his network. One of these was a certain Leo Cherne.
Leo Cherne is not a household word, but he has been a powerful figure in the US intelligence community over the period since World War II. Leo Cherne was to be one of Bush's most important allies when he was CIA Director and throughout Bush's subsequent career, so it is worth taking a moment to get to know Cherne better.
Cherne's parents were both printers who came to the US from Romania. In his youth he was a champion orator of the American Zionist Association, and he has remained a part of B'nai B'rith all his life. He was trained as an attorney, and he joined the Research Institute of America, a publisher of business books, in 1936. He claims to have helped to draft the army and navy industrial mobilization plans for World War II, and at the end of the war he was an economic advisor to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan. During that time he worked for "the dismantling of the pervasive control over Japanese society which had been maintained by the Zaibnatsu families," [fn 21] and devised a new Japanese tax structure. Cherne built up a long association with the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Cherne was an ardent Zionist. He is typical to that extent of the so-called "neoconservatives" who have been prominent in government and policy circles under Reagan-Bush, and Bush. Cherne was the founder of the International Rescue Committee, which according to Cherne's own blurb "came into existence one week after Hitler came to power to assist those who would have to flee from Nazi Germany...In the years since, we have helped thousands of Jews who have fled from the Iron Curtain countries, all of them, and have worked to assist in the re-settlement of Jews in Europe and the United States who have left the Soviet Union."
Cherne's IRC was clearly a conduit for neo-Bukharinite operations between east and west in the Cold War, and it was also reputedly a CIA front organization. CIA funding for the IRC came through the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a known CIA conduit, and also through the Norman Foundation, according to Frank A. Cappell's Review of the News (March 17, 1976). IRC operations in Bangladesh included the conduiting of CIA money to groups of intellectuals. Capell noted that Cherne had "close ties to the leftist element in the CIA." Cherne was also on good terms with Sir Percy Craddock, the British intelligence coordinator, and Sir Leonard Hooper.
Cherne was a raving hawk during the Vietnam war, when he was associated with the as yet unreconstructed Kissinger clone Morton Halperin in the American Friends of Vietnam. Along with John Connally, Cherne was a co-chair of Democrats for Nixon in 1972. He had been a founding member of Herman Kahn's Hudson Institute, a school for Kissingerian Strangeloves, and has always been a leader of New York's Freedom House. Cherne was also big on Robert O. Anderson's National Commission on Coping with Interdependence and on Nelson Rockefeller's Third Century Corporation.
Cherne was a close friend of William Casey, who was working in the Nixon Administration as Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs in mid-1973. That was when Cherne was named to the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) by Nixon. On March 15, 1976, Cherne became the chairman of this body, which specializes in conduiting the demands of financier and related interests into the intelligence community. Cherne, as we will see, would be along with Bush a leading beneficiary of Ford's spring, 1976 intelligence re-organization.
To top it all off, Cherne has always been something of a megalomaniac. His self-serving RIA biographical sketch culminates: "Political scientist, economist, sculptor, lawyer, foreign affairs specialist-- any one and all of these descriptions fit Leo Cherne. A Renaissance man born in the 20th century, he is equally at home in fields of fine arts, public affairs, industry, economics, or foreign policy."
Bush's correspondence with Cherne leaves no doubt that theirs was a very special relationship. Cherne represented for Bush a strengthening of his links to the Zionist-neoconservative milieu, with options for backchanneling into the Soviet block. So on New Year's Eve Bush's thoughts, perhaps stimulated by his awareness of what help the Zionist lobby could give to his still embattled nomination, went out to Leo Cherne in one of his celebrated handwritten notes: "I read your testimony with keen interest and appreciation. I am really looking forward to meeting you and working with you in connection with your PFIAB chores. Have a wonderful 1976," Bush wrote.
January 1976 was not auspicious for Bush. He had to wait until almost the end of the month for his confirmation vote, hanging there, slowly twisting in the wind. In the meantime, the Pike Committee report was approaching completion, after months of probing and haggling, and was sent to the Government Printing Office on January 23, despite continuing arguments from the White House and from the GOP that the committee could not reveal confidential and secret material provided by the executive branch. On Sunday January 25, a copy of the report was leaked to Daniel Schorr of CBS News, and was exhibited on television that evening. The following morning, the New York Times published an extensive summary of the entire Pike Committee report, which this newspaper had also received.
Despite all this exposure, the House voted on January 29 that the Pike Committee report could not be released. A few days later it was published in full in the Village Voice, and CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr was held responsible for its appearance. The Pike Committee report attacked Henry Kissinger "whose comments," it said "are at variance with the facts." In the midst of his imperial regency over the United States, an unamused Kissinger responded that "we are facing a new version of McCarthyism." A few days later Kissinger said of the Pike Committee: "I think they have used classified information in a reckless way, and the version of covert operations they have leaked to the press has the cumulative effect of being totally untrue and damaging to the nation." [fn 22]
Thus, as Bush's confirmation vote approached, the Ford White House on the one hand and the Pike and Church committees on the other were close to "open political warfare," as the Washington Post put it at the time. One explanation of the leaking of the Pike report was offered by Otis Pike himself on February 11: "A copy was sent to the CIA. It would be to their advantage to leak it for publication." By now Ford was raving about mobilizing the FBI to find out how the report had been leaked.
On January 19, George Bush was present in the Executive Gallery of the House of Representatives, seated close to the unfortunate Betty Ford, for the President's State of the Union Address. This was a photo opportunity so that Ford's CIA candidate could get on television for a cameo appearance that might boost his standing on the eve of confirmation. The invitation was handled by Jim Connor of the White House staff, who duly received a hand-written note of thanks from the aspiring DCI.
Senate floor debate was underway on January 26, and Senator McIntyre lashed out at the Bush nomination as "an insensitive affront to the American people." The New Hampshire Democrat argued: "It is clearly evident that this collapse of confidence in the CIA was brought on not only by the exposure of CIA misdeeds, but by the painful realization that some of those misdeeds were encouraged by political leaders who sought not an intelligence advantage over a foreign adversary, but a political advantage over their domestic critics and the opposition party."
McIntyre went on: "And who can look at the history of political subordination of the CIA and expect the people to give an agency director so clearly identified with politics their full faith and confidence? To me it is a transparent absurdity that given the sensitivity of the issue, President Ford could not find another nominee of equal ability--and less suspect credentials--than the former national chairman of the president's political party."
In further debate on the day of the vote, January 27, Senator Biden joined other Democrats in assailing Bush as "the wrong appointment for the wrong job at the wrong time." Church also continued his attack, branding Bush "an individual whose past record of political activism and partisan ties to the president contradict the very purpose of impartiality and objectivity for which the agency was created." Church appealed to the Senate to reject Bush, a man "too deeply embroiled in partisan politics and too intertwined with the political destiny of the president himself" to be able to lead the CIA. Goldwater, Tower, Percy, Howard Baker, and Clifford Case all spoke up for Bush. Bush's floor leader was Strom Thurmond, who supported Bush by attacking the Church and Pike Committees. "That is where the public concern lies, on disclosures which are tearing down the CIA," orated Thurmond, "not upon the selection of this highly competent man to repair the damage of this over-exposure."
Finally it came to a roll call and Bush passed by a vote of 64-27, with Lowell Weicker of Connecticut voting present. Those voting against Bush were: Abourezk, Biden, Bumpers, Church, Clark, Cranston, Culver, Durkin, Ford, Gary Hart, Philip Hart, Haskell, Helms [the lone GOP opponent], Huddleston, Inouye, Johnston, Kennedy, Leahy, Magnuson, McIntyre, Metcalf, Mondale, Morgan, Nelson, Proxmire, Stone, and Williams. Church's staff felt they had failed lamentably, having gotten only liberal Democrats and the single Republican vote of Jesse Helms. [fn 23. ]
It was the day after Bush's confirmation that the House Rules committee voted 9 to 7 to block the publication of the Pike Committee report. The issue then went to the full House on January 29, which voted, 146 to 124, that the Pike Committee must submit its report to censorship by the White House and thus by the CIA. At almost the same time, Senator Howard Baker joined Tower and Goldwater in opposing the principal final recommendation of the Church Committee, such as it was, the establishment of a permanent intelligence oversight committee.
Pike found that the attempt to censor his report had made "a complete travesty of the whole doctrine of separation of powers." In the view of a staffer of the Church committee, "all within two days, the House Intelligence Committee had ground to a halt, and the Senate Intelligence Committee had split asunder over the centerpiece of its recommendations. The White House must have rejoiced; the Welch death and leaks from the Pike committee report had produced, at last, a backlash against the congressional investigations." [fn 24]
Riding the crest of that wave of backlash was George Bush. The constellation of events around his confirmation prefigures the wretched state of Congress today: a rubber stamp parliament in a totalitarian state, incapable of overriding even one of Bush's 22 vetoes.
On Friday, January 30, Ford and Bush were joined at the CIA auditorium for Bush's swearing in ceremony before a large gathering of agency employees. Colby was also there: some said he had been fired primarily because Kissinger thought that he was divulging too much to the Congressional committees, but Kissinger later told Colby that the latter's stratagems had been correct. Colby opened the ceremony with a few brief words: "Mr. President, and Mr. Bush, I have the great honor to present you to an organization of dedicated professionals. Despite the turmoil and tumult of the last year, they continue to produce the best intelligence in the world." This was met by a burst of applause. [fn 25] Ford's line was: "We cannot improve this agency by destroying it." Bush promised to make "CIA an instrument of peace and an object of pride for all our people." Bush went on to say: "I will not turn my back from the past. We've learned a lot about what an intelligence agency must do to maintain the confidence of the people in an open society. But the emphasis will now be on the future. I'm determined to protect those things that must be kept secret. And I am more determined to protect those unselfish and patriotic people who with total dedication serve their country, often putting their lives on the line, only to have some people bent on destroying this agency expose their names." A number of senators were invited, with Stennis, Thurmond, Tower, Goldwater, Baker and Brooke leading the pack; others had been added by the White House after checking by telephone with Jennifer Fitzgerald.
Before proceeding, let us take a loom at Bush's team of associates at the CIA, since we will find them in many of his later political campaigns and office staffs.
When Bush became DCI, his principal deputy was General Vernon Walters, a former army lieutenant general. This is the same Gen. Vernon Walters who was mentioned by Haldeman and Nixon in the notorious "smoking gun" tape already discussed, but who of course denied that he ever did any of the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman said that he had promised to do. Walters had been at the CIA as DDCI since May, 1972--a Nixon appointee who had been with Nixon when the then vice president's car was stoned in Caracas, Venezuela way back when. Ever since then Nixon had seen him as part of the old guard. Walters left to become a private consultant in July, 1976.
To replace Walters, Bush picked Enno Henry Knoche, who had joined CIA in 1953 as an intelligence analyst specializing in Far Eastern political and military affairs. Knoche came from the navy and knew Chinese. From 1962 to 1967 he had been the chief of the National Photographic Interpretation Center. In 1969, he had become deputy director of planning and budgeting, and chaired the internal CIA committee in charge of computerization. (This emphasis was reflected during the Bush tenure by heavy emphasis on satellites and SIGINT communications monitoring.) Knoche was then deputy director of the Office of Current Intelligence, which produces ongoing assessments of international events for the President and the NSC. After 1972, Knoche headed the Intelligence Directorate's Office of Strategic Research, charged with evaluating strategic threats to the US. In 1975, Knoche had been a special liaison between Colby and the Rockefeller Commission, as well as with the Church and Pike Committees. This was a very sensitive post, and Bush clearly looked to Knoche to help him deal with continuing challenges coming from the Congress. In the fall of 1975, Knoche had become the number two on Colby's staff for the coordination and management of the intelligence community. According to some, Knoche was to function as Bush's "Indian guide" through the secrets of Langley; he knew "where the bodies were buried." Otherwise, Knoche was known for his love of tennis.
Knoche was highly critical of Colby's policy of handing over limited amounts of classified material to the Pike and Church committees, while fighting to save the core of covert operations. Knoche told a group of friends during this period: "There is no counterintelligence any more." This implies a condemnation of the Congressional committees with whom Knoche had served as liaison, and can also be read as a lament for the ousting of James Jesus Angleton, chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence operations until 1975 and director of the mail-opening operation that had been exposed by various probers. [fn 26]
Here was a deputy who could protect Bush's flank with his Congressional tormentors, who would call Bush to the Hill more than fifty times during his approximately one year of CIA tenure. He would also appear to have had enough administrative experience to run things, shielding Bush from the defect that Governor Scranton had pointed out years before- the lack of administrative ability. Nevertheless, Woodward and Pincus [fn 27] portray the Knoche appointment as getting mixed reviews within the CIA, and quote Admiral Daniel J. Murphy's view that the Knoche nomination was "not popular." For Woodward and Pincus Knoche was "a personable, tennis-playing giant of a man."
The Admiral Daniel J. Murphy just mentioned was Bush's deputy director for the intelligence community, and later became Bush's chief of staff during his first term as vice president. Much later, in November, 1987, Murphy visited Panama in the company of South Korean businessman and intelligence operative Tongsun Park, and met with Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. Murphy was later obliged to testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his meeting with Noriega. Murphy claimed that he was only in Panama to "make a buck," but there are indications that he was carrying messages to Noriega from Bush. Tongsun Park, Murphy's ostensible business associate, will soon turn out to have been the central figure of the Koreagate scandal of 1976, a very important development on Bush's CIA watch. [fn 28]
Other names on the Bush flow chart included holdover Edward Proctor and then Bush appointee Sayre Stevens in the slot of Deputy Director for Intelligence; holdover Carl Duckett and then Bush appointee Leslie Dirks as Deputy Director for Science and Technology; John Blake, holdover as Deputy Director for Administration; and holdover William Nelson, followed by Bush appointee William Wells, Deputy Director for Operations .
William Wells as Deputy Director for Operations was a very significant choice. He was a career covert operations specialist who had graduated from Yale a few years before Bush. Wells soon acquired his own deputy, recommended by him and approved by Bush: this was the infamous Theodore Shackley, whose title thus became Associate Deputy Director for Covert Operations. Shackley later emerged as one of the central figures of the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980's. He is reputedly one of the dominant personalities of a CIA old boys' network known as The Enterprise, which was at the heart of Iran-contra and the other illegal covert operations of the Reagan-Bush years.
During the early 1960's, after the Bay of Pigs, Theodore Shackley had been the head of the CIA Miami Station during the years in which Operation Mongoose was at its peak. This was the Howard Hunt and Watergate Cubans crowd, circles familiar to Felix Rodriguez (Max Gomez), who in the 1980's supervised gun-running and drug-running out of Bush's vice presidential office.
Later, Shackley was reportedly the chief of the CIA station in Vientiane, Laos, between July 1966 and December 1968. Some time after that he moved on to become the CIA station chief in Saigon, where he had directed the implementation of the Civilian Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) progra, better known as Operation Phoenix, a genocidal crime against humanity which killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians because they were suspected of working for the Vietcong, or sometimes simply because they were able to read and write. As for Shackley, there are also reports that he worked for a time in the late 1960's in Rome, during the period when the CIA's GLADIO capabilities were being used to launch a wave of terrorism in that country. Such was the man that Bush chose to appoint to a position of responsibility in the CIA. Later, Shackley will turn up as a "speech writer" for Bush during the 1979-80 campaign.
Along with Shackley came his associate and former Miami station second in command, Thomas Clines, a partner of General Richard Secord and Albert Hakkim during the Iran-contra operation, convicted in September 1990 on four felony tax counts for not reporting his ill-gotten gains, and sentenced to 16 months in prison and a fine of $40,000.
During Bush's tenure Shackley's circles were mightily remoralized. In particular Ed Wilson, a veteran of Shackley's Miami station, now a retired CIA officer who worked closely with serving CIA personnel to organize gun running, sex operatives, and other activities, plied his trade undisturbed. The Wilson scandal, which had grown up on Bush's watch, would begin to explode only during the tenure of Stansfield Turner, under Carter.
Another career covert operations man, John Waller, became the Inspector General, the officer who was supposed to keep track of illegal operations. For legal advice, Bush turned first to holdover General Counsel Mitchell Rogovin, who had in December 1975 theorized that intelligence activities belonged to the "inherent powers" of the Presidency, and that no special Congressional legislation was required to permit such things as covert operations to go on. Later Bush appointed Anthony Lapham, Yale '58, as CIA General Counsel. Lapham was the scion of an old San Francisco banking family, and his brother was Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's Magazine. Lapham would take a leading role in the CIA coverup of the Letelier assassination case. [fn 29]
Typical of the broad section of CIA officers who were delighted with their new boss from Brown Brothers, Harriman/Skull and Bones was Cord Meyer, who had most recently been the station chief in London from 1973 on, a wild and wooly time in the tight little island, as we will see. Meyer, a covert action veteran and Watergate operative, writes at length in his autobiography about his enthusiasm for the Bush regime at CIA, which induced him to prolong his own career there:
I again seriously thought of retiring
from the Agency but the new atmosphere in CIA's Langley headquarters
changed my mind. George Bush had been appointed by President Ford to
succeed Colby as DCI in January, and by the time of my return he had
completely dispelled the fears that had been aroused by his former
political connections. Having served in the Congress as a Republican
representative from Texas and having recently been chairman of the
Republican National Committee, he was initially viewed with suspicion as
an ambitious politician who might try to use the Agency for partisan
purposes. However, he quickly proved by his performance that he was
prepared to put politics aside and to devote all his considerable ability
and enthusiasm to restoring the morale of an institution that had been
battered enough by successive investigations. Instead of reaching outside
for defeated Republican candidates to fill key jobs, he chose from within
the organization among men who had demonstrated their competence through
long careers in intelligence work. He leaned over backward to protect the
objectivity and independence of the Agency's estimates and to avoid
slanting the results to fit some preconceived notion of what the President
wanted to hear.
This all sounds like a Bush campaign brochure, but it is typical of the intelligence community forces loyal to Bush; as for Cord Meyer, it may be that he developed the design for the Special Situation Group which Bush chaired from March, 1981 to January, 1989, through which Bush ran Iran-Contra and all of the other significant covert operations and coups of the entire Reagan era.
And what did other CIA officers, such as intelligence analysts, think of Bush? A common impression is that he was a superficial lightweight with no serious interest in intelligence. Deputy Director for Science and technology Carl Duckett, who was ousted by Bush after three months, commented that he "never saw George Bush feel he had to understand the depth of something....[he] is not a man tremendously dedicated to a cause or ideas. He's not fervent. He goes with the flow, looking for how it will play politically." According to Maurice Ernst, the head of the CIA's office of economic research from 1970 to 1980, "George Bush doesn't like to get into the middle of an intellectual debate...he liked to delegate it. I never really had a serious discussion with him on economics." Another former CIA aide to Bush who wanted to remain anonymous observed that "it was an approach remarkably similar to what a younger, more active Ronald Reagan might have done." Hans Heymann was Bush's National Intelligence Officer for Economics, and he remembers having been impressed by Bush's Phi Beta Kappa Yale degree in economics. As Heymann later recalled Bush's response, "He looked at me in horror and said, 'I don't remember a thing. It was so long ago, so I'm going to have to rely on you.'" [fn 31]
Other CIA employees remember Bush as a manager who would not grapple with concepts, but who rather saw himself as a problem solver and consensus builder who would try to resolve difficulties by getting people into a room to find a compromise basis of agreement. In reality, much of this was also a calculated pose. No one has ever accused Bush of profundity on any subject, except perhaps race hatred, but his disengaged stance appears as an elaborate deception to conceal his real views from the official chain of command.
In the meantime, the scuttlebut around Langley and the Pentagon was, according to a high CIA official, that "the CIA and DOD will love George Bush and Don Rumsfeld more than they hated or feared Bill Colby and Jim Schlesinger because neither will make any real waves." One writer summed up Bush's superficial public profile during this period as "not altogether incompetent." [fn 32]
During the first few weeks of Bush's tenure, the Ford administration was gripped by a "first strike" psychosis. This had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, but was rather Ford's desire to pre-empt any proposals for reform of the intelligence agencies coming out of the Pike or Church committees with a pseudo-reform of his own, premised on his own in-house study, the Rockefeller report, which recommended an increase of secrecy for covert operations and classified information. Since about the time of the Bush nomination, an interagency task force armed with the Rockefeller commission recommendations had been meeting under the chairmanship of Ford's counselor Jack O. Marsh. This was the Intelligence Coordinating Group, which included delegates of the intelligence agencies, plus NSC, OMB, and others. This group worked up a series of final recommendations that were given to Ford to study on his Christmas vacation in Vail, Colorado. At this point Ford was inclined to "go slow and work with Congress."
But on January 10 Marsh and the intelligence agency bosses met again with Ford, and the strategy began to shift towards pre-empting Congress. On January 30, Ford and Bush came back from their appearance at the CIA auditorium swearing in session and met with other officials in the Cabinet Room. Attending besides Ford and Bush were Secretary of State Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Attorney General Levi, Jack Marsh, Phil Buchen, Brent Scowcroft, Mike Duval, and Peter Wallison representing Vice President Rockefeller, who was out of town that day. [fn 33] Here Ford presented his tentative conclusions for further discussion. The general line was to pre-empt the Congress, not to cooperate with it, to increase secrecy, and to increase authoritarian tendencies.
Ford scheduled a White House press conference for the evening of February 17. In an atmosphere of intense last-minute haggling over bureaucratic prerogative, Bush was careful to meet with Leo Cherne to consolidate his relations with both Cherne and PFIAB. Cherne's memo of February 6 shows that he asked Bush to "make sure that we on the board are not surprised." Cherne stressed the need to know as much as possible about changes in the Sino-Soviet relationship and the need to upgrade economic intelligence, which, he lamented, was becoming flabbier as the oil crisis and the accompanying shocks to the international monetary system receded. Cherne was for declassifying whatever could be declassified, a bureaucratic posture that could not go wrong. Cherne thought that the "Pike Commission has a poor staff, issued a dreadful final report, but it did in the course of its inquiry ask the right questions." These, Cherne told Bush, should be answered. Cherne also wanted to set up "non-punitive regular monitoring" to evaluate the successes and failures of the intelligence community. This proposal should be noted, for here we have the germinal idea for Team B, which Bush set up a few months later to evaluate the agency's record in judging the strategic intentions and capabilities of the USSR. [fn 34]