Dear Mr. President, It's Time to Obey the Law: Release the JFK Secret Service Records and End Other Needless Secrecy
Dear Mr. President,
We know you have many pressing issues on your plate, but last week's problems with the Secret Service and White House security also warrant your attention. What if the man who sprinted across the White House lawn--and into your home--hadn't been a troubled ex-serviceman, but instead had been an terrorist from ISIS or Al Qaeda or a violent American white supremacist?
As you know, last week's incidents were only the latest in a long line of Secret Service problems involving lax protection of you and your family, heavy drinking and irresponsible behavior by some agents, and racial discrimination. What you probably don't know is that those problems have been issues for the Service since the early 1960s. One reason you--and most of the American public--aren't aware of those issues is the culture of secrecy that sometimes pervades the agency when it comes to its own shortcomings.
That secrecy is especially ironic since this week marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Warren Report, the book-length finding issued by the Warren Commission, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson and chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Secret Service was one of several government agencies--along with the CIA, the FBI, and the Office of Naval Intelligence--that were found by later government committees to have withheld crucial information from the Warren Commission.
Even worse, the Secret Service and the other agencies continued to withhold important information from all of the later government committees that investigated the various aspects of JFK's murder. These include the Rockefeller Commission appointed by President Ford, the Senate Church Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, the House Select Committee on Assassinations whose Chief Counsel for G. Robert Blakey, and the Assassination Records Review Board, appointed by President Clinton.
Congress passed the 1992 JFK Records Act unanimously, to release all of the files related to the JFK assassination, including records about the covert US operations against Cuba in the early 1960s that surfaced in so many of the official JFK investigations. While more than 4 million pages were released, even today the National Archives refuses to say how many pages of files remain secret. Is it 50,000 pages, a figure put forth by some experts? 90,000 pages, a figure extrapolated from CIA fillings in a Freedom of Information lawsuit? Or the figure reported by NBC News in 1998 of "millions" of pages, which was confirmed by a report from OMB Watch, which quoted someone who worked with the National Archives as saying "well over a million CIA records"--not pages, but "records"--remained unreleased.
Because of the needless ongoing secrecy practiced by the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, and other agencies, you probably don't know that just four days before President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, there was a major threat against JFK's life during his long motorcade through Tampa, Florida. While the Secret Service and other agencies withheld information on that attempt from the Warren Commission--and all of the later government investigating committees--long-overlooked newspaper files and Tampa law enforcement officials have now allowed that attempt to be well-documented You probably also don't know that in the weeks and days before JFK's assassination in Dallas, the US government had a special subcommittee of the National Security Council making plans for what to do regarding the "possible assassination of American officials." Only a few pages of those files were released decades later, though they indicated the existence of hundreds more pages from the various government agencies who had representatives on that sub-committee.
Our concern about needless secrecy that has persisted for decades is not merely academic. As indicated earlier, the Warren Commission was only the first--and least informed--of several government investigating committees. In the late 1970s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, with access to much more information, concluded that JFK was likely killed by a conspiracy. The Committee even named two Mafia godfathers--Carlos Marcello, who controlled organized crime in Louisiana and Texas, and Tampa's Santo Trafficante--as having "the motive, means, and opportunity to assassinate President Kennedy." They couldn't be more definitive because once again, the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, and Naval Intelligence withheld crucial information from them, as later confirmed by Committee investigators.
America's ongoing 54-year-old Cold War with Cuba is another painful side effect of all that needless secrecy. That Cold War essentially began in the summer of 1960, when then-Vice President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to hire the Mafia to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, before he had to face then-Senator John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election. Those CIA-Mafia plots eventually included Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, and Congressional testimony confirms those plots continued into the Kennedy Administration (and into 1963), only without the authorization of President Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Evidence indicates that Mafia godfathers Marcello and Trafficante planted phony evidence implicating Fidel Castro in JFK's murder, and sadly, some former CIA officials have continued to put forward that idea for decades. They can only get away with that because the Agency--along with the FBI, the Secret Service, and Naval Intelligence--continues to withhold so much crucial information about the CIA assets like Marcello and Trafficante, both of who later confessed their roles in JFK's murder, late in life, to close associates. Part of Marcello's confession was even taped by an FBI informant, but the FBI has refused to release any of those tapes or transcripts. Marcello and Trafficante's close associate in the CIA-Mafia Castro plots--Mafia don Johnny Rosselli, of the Chicago Mafia--likewise confessed, shortly before he was gruesomely murdered on Trafficante's orders. However, US officials from President Lyndon Johnson to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig believed those false "Castro killed JFK" reports, resulting in the stalemate between the countries that exists today. That Cold War with Cuba drains valuable US intelligence and security resources that could be used for far more serious threats. In addition, opening up trade with Cuba--as the US has done with former enemies like China and Vietnam--could be of tremendous benefit to the US economy.
Finally, the reluctance of the Secret Service to fully comply with the 1992 JFK Act has allowed the Service to keep making the same mistakes for more than fifty years. Because of that secrecy, you've probably never heard of a pioneering Secret Service agent named Abraham Bolden, the first African-American Secret Service agent to serve on the Presidential Detail, personally selected for that job by JFK.
Back in 1963, agent Abraham Bolden tried to warn the Secret Service Director about laxity on the part of some agents, their bouts of heavy drinking, and the racism he faced--problems that echo the Secret Service scandals of recent years. But Bolden's complaints fell on deaf ears, and he was reassigned to the Chicago office. While there, he monitored the investigation of a serious threat to assassinate JFK in Chicago on November 2, 1963, three weeks before JFK's trip to Dallas. The Chicago threat was so severe--with gunmen at large--that JFK cancelled his motorcade and entire visit at the last minute, forcing his Press Secretary to issue two different phony excuses. Bolden also heard the reports from Tampa 16 days later, about a very similar attempt to kill JFK during his motorcade in that city.
After JFK's murder in Dallas, Bolden realized that the details of the Chicago and Tampa attempts were shockingly close to what happened in Dallas. He's also heard the reports of Secret Service agents drinking in the early morning hours the day JFK was shot. As reported by Drew Pearson, America's leading investigative journalist at the time, "six Secret Service men charged with protecting the President...were drinking" at "the Fort Worth Press Club in the early morning of Friday, Nov. 22," just hours before JFK was assassinated in nearby Dallas. One agent "was reported to have been inebriated," and some remained at the Press Club "until nearly three o'clock" in the morning.
But things got worse--Drew Pearson reported that when some agents left the Press Club, they went "to an all-night beatnik [club named] 'The Cellar.'" After Pearson's article appeared, the Secret Service conducted a secret investigation, away from the public eye, and found that ten Secret Service agents had indeed gone to the notorious dive known as "The Cellar," which was run by Pat Kirkwood, an associate of Jack Ruby.
The agents and several reporters were escorted to the Cellar by Bob Schieffer, the CBS News anchor who then was a young reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In his autobiography, Schieffer described the allure of the club as being "the fact that the Cellar's waitresses wore only underwear" while serving drinks.
Bob Schieffer also pointed out that even though "the Cellar had no liquor license...if you were a friend of the owner...the drink of choice, Koo-Aid spiked with grain alcohol, was on the house." The Secret Service's own investigation showed that "10 special agents of the Secret Service stopped at "The Cellar" in the early morning hours of November 22, 1963. The Cellar's manager told investigators that until at least 4:30 or 5:00am, numerous White House guests [including "Secret Service personnel"] were brought over to" meet him, and "introduced as a member of the White House party or press. He then escorted them to tables."
More than twenty years later, in a broadcast interview with noted investigative journalist Jack Anderson (the protÃ©gÃ© of Drew Pearson), Cellar owner Pat Kirkwood claimed that some of the Secret Service agents "were drinking pure Everclear [alcohol]." Kirkwood added that several strippers who worked for Jack Ruby had come to the club, and indicated that Ruby might have sent them over on purpose.
The Secret Service's own internal investigation was later seen as a whitewash by some, since it claimed none of the agents had any alcoholic drinks at the Cellar, and that none of its agents were intoxicated at the Press Club. It also failed to note Abraham Bolden's earlier charges that he'd witnessed heavy drinking by some agents on the Presidential Detail.
By May of 1964, the public had largely forgotten about Drew Pearson's column, and the Warren Commission had been sent the Secret Service's reassuring report on the Cellar incident. The Secret Service had also successfully hidden from the Commission their work at helping to stop the assassination attempts against JFK in Chicago and Tampa in the weeks before Dallas.
So, Abraham Bolden planned to go to Washington, to tell the Warren Commission staff about all of those issues. However, Bolden was framed by the Mafia and arrested on the very day he went to Washington to talk to the Warren Commission investigators. The same Mafia bosses who had tried to kill JFK in Chicago--Rosselli, Marcello, and Trafficante--could never allow the Warren Commission to hear Agent Bolden's story about the Chicago plot to kill JFK.
Bolden was sentenced to six years in prison, despite glaring problems with his prosecution. His arrest resulted from accusations by two criminals Bolden had sent to prison. In Bolden's first trial, an apparently biased judge told the jury that Bolden guilty, even while they were still deliberating. Though granted a new trial, the same problematic judge was assigned to oversee Bolden's second trial, which resulted in his conviction.
Later, the main witness against Bolden admitted committing perjury against him. A key member of the prosecution even took the fifth amendment against self-incrimination when asked about the perjury of Bolden's main accuser. Yet Bolden's appeals were denied, and he had to serve hard time in prison, and today is considered a convicted felon.
It's now clear who was in the perfect position to help the mob bosses frame Bolden: Chicago Mafia member Richard Cain, who also was a high official in the Cook Country/Chicago Sheriff's department and an active CIA asset. Cain had also worked on the CIA-Mafia Castro plots that had involved mob bosses Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli. (Cain was later murdered in a mob hit, as was the Chicago mob boss he worked for.)
Abraham Bolden paid a heavy price for trying to tell the truth about the Secret Service's problems. The elderly Bolden still lives in Chicago, and has spent decades trying to clear his name.
In many ways, Abraham Bolden is the most tragic living victim of the needless government secrecy that still surrounds JFK's assassination. For example, Bolden has two CIA files, but neither has ever been fully released to him or to the American public, and they were withheld from all of the government investigating committees. Will the elderly Bolden live long enough to finally see the justice so long denied to him?
Mr. President, you embody the hopes and dreams of people around the world in a way that no US president has since John F. Kennedy. We know your hands are full, dealing with a variety of international crises and trying to get Americans the help the need on a variety of fronts.
Before it's too late for Mr. Bolden--and to help end the Cold War with Cuba--we hope you'll order the heads of your agencies to finally fully comply with the 1992 JFK Act. It won't be easy to implement, since files that have been previously released show that agency heads and high officials haven't hesitated to hide crucial information from Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Clinton. But there are plenty of noted historians--Dr. David Kaiser, Dr. David Wrone, Dr. Gerald McKnight, Dr. John Newman, and many more--who would no doubt be happy to help you insure that the agencies don't resort to the same obfuscation and secrecy that have let them hide embarrassing secrets for years.
You once paraphrased the old saying, "you have to know where you've been to know where you're going." That is certainly true regarding the needless secrecy surrounding the slaying of JFK, our never-ending Cold War with Cuba, and the tragic injustice that forces the elderly Abraham Bolden to continue to suffer. As long as the Secret Service and other agencies get away with hiding their problems and issues--even those from more than 50 years ago--we worry those problems will only continue.
Thom Hartmann & Lamar Waldron
To readers: We've started a new White House petition to release the files, and get a pardon for Abraham Bolden You can find that link, as well as more information about Bolden and the latest book about the still-withheld files (The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination), at: http://thehiddenhistoryofthejfkassassination.com/
This weekend, many noted historians and authors are speaking at a Conference in Washington, DC, about the many important government files withheld from the Warren Commission. More information is available from the Assassinations Archives and Research Center.