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Woodward and Bernstein

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Obama FISA Request, Wiretaps on Trump Server: Conspiracy or Coincidence?


Yours truly is a conspiracy theorist.

Be patient for a few minutes and I promise to demonstrate why this is important today.

It’s obvious that the murder of President John F. Kennedy was a conspiracy. Before you scoff, consider this fact: Gallup pollsters say as much as 81% of Americans have agreed. That means those who think Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone-nut assassin are roughly the same percentage that believe Elvis Presley is still alive. In fact, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans have always thought more than one gunman was involved. Who’s on the fringe here?

The complaint most often lodged against those of us in the majority is, “That happened a long time ago. Nobody cares anymore.” So, what on earth can justify obsessing about Kennedy’s assassination nearly 54 years after the fact?

In one of the more than 100 books on the Kennedy assassination in my library, the author invoked this Biblical passage as justification:

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

My calling in life was to be an investigative reporter. I had some moderate success, investigating stories that sent one man to jail, five others to prison, enjoined a public agency from breaking the law and prompted a change in campaign finance laws. I was hired by a top-flight newspaper and eventually given a plumb investigative job that often assigned me to work exclusively to uncover stories you could only call, “conspiracy theories.”

When some people hear “conspiracy theory” they hear “crackpot,” or “obsessed” or even “irrational.” When I hear “conspiracy theory” my mind recalls a memo drafted by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1967. You could look it up (that’s a real plus when dealing with conspiracies).

As public criticism and doubt increased about the Warren Commission’s lone-nut gunman explanation, the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theorist” in 1967 to discredit critics. The government scheme has been effective. Today, about the fastest way to get people to doubt something is to call it a “conspiracy.”

The CIA memo was sent to agents with instructions to pass along the advice to their assets and cooperative sources in the media, government and academia to discredit Kennedy conspiracy theorists. It was labeled “psych,” short for “psychological operations,” or disinformation. A decade later, a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times revealed the memo’s existence, which up to then had been merely another conspiracy theory.

The CIA’s goal had been “to inhibit the circulation of such claims” by suggesting they are “without serious foundation” and the work of “propagandists.” The spy agency even suggested book reviews and articles “are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” If conspiracy theorists persist, the memo advised countering them by insisting that, “Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States.”

Some of you may recall Watergate, which for all intents and purposes appeared to be a routine burglary – until news reporters probed deeper and found, lo and behold, a conspiracy!

Long before Watergate, there was the 1953 coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was sentenced to three years’ solitary confinement in a military prison. Later, Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was ousted in a coup d’ etat, locked up, beaten then executed. About this time, multiple assassination attempts failed to kill Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Were all these acts of violence by isolated cranks? In the 1970s, a congressional investigation pulled back the curtain to show these assassinations, attempts, coups and other violent acts were conspiracies carried out by agents of your federal government. No theory. Fact.

If you doubt the reach of the invisible intelligence community, you might review the work of Carl Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter, who exposed the Watergate conspiracy. Later in the 1970s, Bernstein wrote extensively on how the CIA had infiltrated newsrooms and board rooms of U.S. newspapers and broadcast media to influence what news is covered, and how it is covered. This was no mere conspiracy theory. It’s fact.

Arguably, the world’s trajectory has been altered repeatedly by conspiracies in fact, not theory. As truth has seeped out, the damage done to credibility has been devastating and cumulative. For example, whom do you trust today?

One reason (there are many others as well) that yours truly continues to read about and in my modest way to investigate JFK’s assassination is because contrary to the nay-sayers, it does matter, even after all these years.

As a lifelong journalist, dedicated to unearthing the truth, and as a Christian, who understands it is truth that sets us free, I find it terribly discomforting when people slough off the murder of an American president as if it was inconsequential.

Many of those same people have no problem obsessing over who will win the next Super Bowl, or which actress is worthy of an Oscar. As if those things matter.

For the record, I am not a Kennedy admirer, as are so many others who have researched his murder. I believe JFK was an ineffective president whose policies and practices were inconsistent and unrooted in any long-standing ethic. He was an even worse husband. But murder is not the way civilized republics should remove presidents.

As a journalist, I am ashamed of the state of my profession. The most critical moments in journalistic history are when things of great magnitude occur. When the press fails by epic proportions to do the very thing it exists to do – find the truth – it’s disgraceful. When the press is complicit in covering up the truth, it’s shameful.

In the JFK assassination, the press, the lamestream media if you prefer, failed big time. You could look that up too.

A near universal cynicism has gripped our culture since the JFK murder. Government’s ham-handed cover-ups eventually have been shown leak by leak, expose’ by expose’ to have concealed a factual conspiracy, not a theoretical one. There’s even one school of thought that says the cover-ups were clumsy on purpose, sort of an in-your-face arrogance by conspiratorial powers to let America know those conspiring don’t care if you find out because there’s nothing you can do about it. If that doesn’t chill you, you’re un-chillable.

But the worst consequence of conspiracies by powers unaccountable to voters and to the law is what we now see playing out. Here’s why the JFK conspiracy murder and all those conspiracies before and since are still important today: It was unwise for Donald Trump to publicly criticize the intelligence community. The last president to do that ended up in a premature grave.

Sure enough, since Trump took on the intelligence establishment he has been afflicted by one leaked scandal-in-the-bud after another, all clearly originating from that realm of secrecy populated by agents and spies. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

Maybe you think it’s a coincidence that on his way out the door Barack Obama is said to have obtained special court authorization to eavesdrop on Trump’s campaign and then continued monitoring when no evidence of wrongdoing was detected. Maybe you think it’s coincidental that as he left office, Obama relaxed NSA rules to allow intelligence to be widely shared with government agencies that up to then were not permitted to see such material. And you may think it’s coincidental that intelligence data is springing forth almost daily from who knows how many anonymous sources within the permanent, career bureaucracies into the laps of a cooperative press that rushes it into print and onto the airwaves – all to Trump’s detriment.

One of the books on the Kennedy assassination is titled Coup d’ Etat, and purports to explain “the motives of high ranking government officials” in the murder of JFK. In recent days, conservative commentators have begun describing what is happening to Trump as a “silent coup.”

Words matter, as the CIA realized half a century ago when coining the phrase “conspiracy theories” as a pejorative. A definition of conspiracy is “a joining or acting together, as if by sinister design.” A definition of coup d’ etat is the “sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority.”

Here are some more words that matter: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Some more of the past will be revealed this year that might help us remember. By October, the federal government is required to release 40,000 more secret documents, the final collection of known records that could shed light on JFK’s murder. Because it matters.


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