November 30, 2018
Nothing New Under the Sun

I copied the following excerpts long ago from somebody or other’s White House memoirs, but neglected to write down whose. Change the names, though, and these might have come from tonight’s news. Unfortunately.

Once a senior Agency officer, while briefing the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked a question out of the blue about casualties inflicted on North Vietnam’s civilian population during USAF bombing attacks. The CIA officer provided such figures as he could. Several days later Helms happened to be walking through the White House arcade between the Mansion and the President’s Oval Office. Lyndon Johnson, walking along side, took Helms by the arm and said in a fatherly tone, “Now, if you feel any urge to go up and testify in Congress on this whole question of civilian casualties in Vietnam, I just hope you’ll pass by and have a drink with me the afternoon before.” Helms, of course, promised he would. He later said of the incident, “This was his way of conveying a message to me that he wanted to have something to say about this. It was done pointedly but not vociferously.”‘ At his morning meeting the next day, Helms told the DDI of the President’s sensitivity to North Vietnamese civilian casualty figures and instructed all elements in the Agency to avoid the subject . . .

With President Johnson I finally came to the conclusion that what I had to say I should get into the first 60, or at least 120 seconds, that I had on my feet. Because after that he was pushing buttons for coffee or Fresca, or talking to Rusk, or talking to McNamara, or whispering here or whispering there. I had lost my principal audience. . .

Nor were the temperament and personal style of Richard Nixon the only obstacles Helms faced under the new regime. The new President surrounded himself with a staff that combined an intensely personal loyalty to its boss with a vindictive capacity for seeing presidential adversaries in every quarter.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at November 30, 2018 06:21 PM
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