Saturday, January 09, 2010

Family Of Secrets- Part 2: Poppy


Last week we ran a synopsis of the first few chapters of Russ Baker's riveting book, Family of Secrets, the fullest story of the Bush dynasty that anyone has been able to piece together. We delved into the first 7 chapters and there have been so many requests for explanantions of the rest of the chapters, that we'll give away another 7 today-- and then the rest tomorrow. The book really is phenomenal and the paperback is inexpensive, so it makes essential reading-- and a great gift.

Chapter 8: Wings for W.

Kennedy’s death made possible LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War, and created business opportunities for the interests that backed both LBJ and the Bushes. But the Bush family’s history of military service, and its support of the war presented a dilemma: how to keep George W. out of the Indochina bloodbath while saving face with their pro-war backers?

After detailing Poppy Bush’s hobby of quietly orchestrating outcomes for those around him (from strategic romances to jobs), Baker shows how strings were pulled to get George W. into the Texas Air National Guard—a safe haven during the Vietnam War-- by pushing him ahead of better-qualified candidates on the official waiting list. Baker then delves into W’s spotty career as a pilot, and the on-going public relations campaign to clean up that problem.

Baker also explores evidence of a particular recklessness and mean streak on Bush’s part, that would reverberate during his presidency. Among these are several previously unreported episodes involving women who were loyal to him-- including a girlfriend compelled to have an illegal abortion.

Notwithstanding his behavior, his father wants him in the “family business,” and, while still training with his Guard unit part-time, he is soon working for an intelligence-connected company run by a family retainer. That this was not intended for public consumption would later become evident: as a candidate, W. preferred that the public wrongly believe that he had never traveled abroad, rather than admit to the foreign travel for this firm.

Baker then cites eyewitnesses on the real reason W. prematurely left his position as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard-- both substance abuse problems and fear of flying may have been involved-- and documents the elaborate cover-up of his shirking of his military obligation. His father sends him to stay out of sight until his military obligation ends, first in an out-of-state political campaign, and then in an inner-city Houston community service program. Later, major news organizations bought a fabricated account of this period. Baker uncovers evidence that Poppy Bush helped engineer the cover-up and then sent his son off to Harvard Business School, far from prying reporters in Texas.

Chapter 9: The Nixonian Bushes

SUMMARY: The back story to the rise of the Bushes: Richard Nixon’s secret obligation to the family, his role in promoting Poppy, and the family’s ultimate betrayal.

DETAIL: George W. Bush most certainly would never have been even an outside prospect for the presidency had not his father been president first. And Poppy might never have been president were it not for Richard Nixon. Nixon appointed the elder Bush to high-profile positions for which he had few qualifications. These promotions filled out Poppy’s resume and propelled him quickly upward. Why did the notoriously unpredictable Nixon, prone to shaking up his team, and privately dubious of Poppy’s mettle, nevertheless stay steadfast in his commitment to Poppy’s well-being? The reason was a secret obligation Nixon owed to the Bushes, dating back three decades.

Richard Nixon was essentially created as a politician in 1946 by financial interests that sought to unseat Congressman Jerry Voorhis, a leading Capitol Hill critic and investigator of banks, investment houses and insurance companies. Poppy’s father Prescott Bush seems likely to have played a role in arranging Nixon’s candidacy. After defeating Voorhis, Nixon would serve the Bushes and the interests they represented faithfully for two decades.

In 1968, the Bushes and their friends pushed Nixon to make Poppy, then just a freshman congressman, his vice presidential nominee. Nixon balked, visibly angering the Bushes. When Nixon attained the presidency, he began asserting his independence from his former patrons in the establishment in multiple ways. Working with Henry Kissinger, he launched extensive secret foreign policy negotiations that excluded and angered members of the military-industrial complex-- that powerful but shadowy entity which President Eisenhower had warned about as he left office in 1961.

Nixon also perturbed the oil industry, represented in the person of Texas congressman Poppy Bush who had-- with the help of his father-- landed a prized seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he became known for his doing everything he could to protect valuable tax breaks for the oilmen.

Playing his own devious game, Nixon persuaded Poppy to leave this valuable perch to run for the US Senate from Texas. When Poppy lost, he suspected that Nixon had secretly backed his Democratic opponent. Nixon, however, gave Poppy a consolation prize: UN ambassador.  He also elevated that post to cabinet stature. This had two important consequences for Bush: on the one hand, Poppy now had a front-row seat to White House deliberations on international issues, including oil imports; on the other hand, Poppy’s base of operations was now in New York-- allowing him to distance himself from Washington as the Watergate scandal, which would ultimately destroy Nixon, began to unfold.

Chapter 10: Downing Nixon, Part I: The Setup

SUMMARY: Compelling evidence points to a staggering new interpretation of Watergate: That the same constellation of corporate, military and intelligence elements which removed JFK from power orchestrated the events that forced Richard Nixon to resign.

DETAIL: When burglars are arrested at the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate building, Nixon immediately sees that the crime makes no sense. He does not, however, realize that it is part of a pattern of events to which he himself will be tied.

Of course, Nixon knows he has enemies-- including the right wing of the Republican Party and various business interests, to whom he does not respond with sufficient obeisance. Nixon also has enemies in the shadows. Since the first days of his administration, he, like JFK, has been battling the CIA. Among other things, the Agency balks at turning over records related to the Bay of Pigs invasion—for which he had been the “action officer”  as vice president under Eisenhower. According to Nixon’s top aides, when he spoke to them about seeking information on “the Bay of Pigs thing,” he was actually referring to  the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Nixon was also deeply disturbed by the fact that circumstances had placed him in Dallas the very morning that his old nemesis, JFK, was assassinated in that city. Nixon’s presence there was the result of a request by a businessman with ties to the US-backed secret effort to topple the democratically elected Chilean president Salvador Allende. That businessman, Baker notes, was a Bush family confidant. Nixon was asked to appear in Dallas in connection with a convention, timed for the week of JFK’s motorcade, that would bring thousands of rabidly anti-Castro and anti-Kennedy Pepsi bottlers to Dallas. The US army had taken the peculiar step of donating military vehicles for use in a social activity related to the convention, which resulted in the movement of military trucks in the city on the eve of Kennedy’s arrival. Baker also probes the strong views of the sugar lobby toward the removal of Castro, and Nixon’s own warning to his aides to be wary of that lobby.

Flash forward to 1972. Nixon recognizes that the CIA was involved in the Watergate burglary, that the burglars and their supervisors had been both strongly anti-Kennedy and connected to attempts to overthrow or kill Fidel Castro, and that there were powerful Washington circles eager to prevent any records from surfacing that linked them to the removal of world leaders. Nixon realizes that a very high-stakes game is afoot and that he is the likely intended victim.

However, by November, 1972, the discovery of the Watergate burglary has not caused Nixon any great political problems, and he is reelected in a landslide. In forming a new cabinet, he complies with a request from his UN ambassador George HW Bush that he be brought back to Washington and installed as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Nixon presumably knows nothing about Poppy’s double life with the CIA. In addition, Nixon is unaware that a number of figures connected to CIA elites have been infiltrated into his White House.

Almost immediately, a series of operations unfold, all traceable to the White House, that will end up destroying Nixon. Moreover, the operations are connected  to earlier ones that began well prior to the Watergate burglary, and that also would have badly damaged the president if publicized, but each time, leaks to the press failed to generate sufficient controversy. Even today, some of these operations are not widely recognized as precursors to the Watergate break-in. The elements were always provocative: purported attempts to blackmail Republicans, to obtain sexually embarrassing information on Democrats, and so on.

One such story was the so-called Townhouse Affair, a budding financial scandal that fizzled before it could explode. The best-known, and most damaging to Nixon, was the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. (Ellsberg is the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers which so embarrassed the military leadership by exposing years of lies regarding the purported success of the Vietnam War.)

None of these were actually initiated by Nixon-- in many cases, he was entirely unaware of anything; in a few cases, he appears to have been deliberately given bad advice, goaded to provide broad thematic approval for operations that actually served no real administration interest and were guaranteed to damage him if discovered.

This chapter takes a fresh look at White House counsel John Dean and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who became celebrities because of their roles in the undoing of Richard Nixon. It focuses on their little-known personal ties to the right wing of the Republican party, and to military and intelligence interests unhappy with Nixon and his initiatives, including his “back-channel” diplomacy to de-escalate the arms race and end the Cold War. Baker explores how both men came to be in their positions, and were thus able to play key roles in Nixon’s downfall. Throughout the chapter, we see traces of Poppy Bush’s activities, showing up on John Dean’s call sheets for no apparent reason, establishing personal relationships with White House operatives who set up shadowy operations in Nixon’s name, helping John Dean in efforts to convince Nixon to take the blame for these activities with which he has no connection.

Chapter 11: Downing Nixon, Part II : The Execution

SUMMARY: The operation to remove Nixon goes into high gear; Nixon ultimately is checkmated.

DETAIL: We see the purportedly loyal John Dean turn witness for the prosecution, and discover that the man who informs the Senate of the existence of a White House taping system, Alexander Butterfield, is connected to the CIA.

We learn the extent to which Dean himself, far from being troubled by his conscience about activities occurring around him, was at the very center of the mega-scandal-- encouraging low-level operatives, without Nixon’s knowledge, to participate in illegal activities including the Watergate break-in itself, and fostering elements of a cover-up that he would later blame on Nixon.  

We discover how Nixon’s remarks from several out of hundreds of taped conversations were taken out of context to create the impression of guilt. One is the famous “smoking gun” tape, where in reality Nixon is not calling for a suppression of the Watergate investigation, but rather learning that the CIA is involved and following Dean’s advice. The other is John Dean’s celebrated warning to Nixon about a “Cancer on the presidency”-- a cancer that turns out to have little to do with Nixon, and everything to do with duplicitous men surrounding him.

This chapter also details the elaborate effort, involving Dean and Poppy Bush, to goad the liberal Connecticut Republican Senator Lowell Weicker, a Bush family nemesis, into congressional inquiries that led to Nixon’s resignation.

Other figures who play a role in Nixon’s downfall turn out to have their own intelligence ties-- besides Bush, Dean, Woodward, and Butterfield, these include White House aides Egil Krogh and Richard Moore,  RNC official Jeb Magruder, and even Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, a friend of Poppy Bush’s from Texas with his own ties to CIA and to the botched investigation of the JFK assassination. Jaworski, Bush and others are tied to Texas foundations which served as conduits for fund disbursement to secret CIA projects.

Baker also probes the evidence that “Deep Throat” was a fictional creation intended to divert inquiry from the true story of how the damaging anti-Nixon narrative was actually orchestrated.

The disgraced Nixon is replaced by yet another figure connected to the Kennedy assassination story-- Gerald Ford. Ford had been a member of the Warren Commission and played a crucial role in the commission’s single-bullet theory that implicated Oswald, and Oswald alone. One of Ford’s first acts is to move Poppy Bush out of the investigative limelight, sending him off to China as envoy. Once again, Poppy disappears as things are heating up, and reappears elsewhere in a prestigious post for which he lacks qualifications, and propelled upward.

Chapter 12: In from the Cold

SUMMARY: This chapter covers the real reason the Ford administration responded to congressional investigations of the CIA by installing the  purported intelligence neophyte Poppy Bush as Agency director.

DETAIL: While Poppy is in China, revelations of staggering CIA improprieties are published. With congressional inquiries underway, Poppy is recalled from Beijing and made director of the agency. It is yet another appointment for which he seems ill-qualified: Poppy is known only as a likable, lightweight politician with no background in spycraft.

Poppy’s new position is the result of a so-called “Halloween Massacre” in which President Ford, generally considered a moderate, lunges to the Right.  He rolls back Nixon’s policy of rapprochement with the communists, and dramatically increases the power of two hardball conservatives, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with a protégé, Paul Wolfowitz. All will become key figures decades later in the George W. Bush administration.

At CIA, Poppy politicizes the intelligence analysis process. His mission is to challenge growing evidence that the Soviet Union is in serious decline, which threatens the interests of defense contractors and hardliners in the military.

Poppy also oversees moves  to restrict further inquiries into the essential nature of the CIA, and to move sensitive operations off the books in order to stymie reform efforts. He also faces growing calls for new inquiries into assassinations of public figures. Meanwhile, the Chilean ex-diplomat Orlando Letelier, an associate of the deposed president Allende, is killed in Washington by a bomb planted by a man with CIA connections.

As investigators for a new House Select Committee on Assassinations begin interviewing witnesses about the events of November 22, 1963, a CIA official urges the Reader’s Digest, long connected with CIA propaganda efforts, to conduct its own  inquiry. Among the people it contacts is Poppy’s old friend, George de Mohrenschildt.

Meanwhile, the now elderly de Mohrenschildt writes to Poppy at CIA headquarters about unknown persons who are threatening him. De Mohrenschildt admits that perhaps he has been indiscreet in talking about Oswald, and asks Bush to “remove the net.” Bush sends him a friendly letter dismissing his concerns. Ford loses his re-election bid to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Poppy, dismissed from his CIA post, returns to Texas and joins a Texas bank with intelligence connections. (Poppy will later claim that he cannot recall what the job entailed.) On the day a House committee investigator arrives to interview de Mohrenschildt about JFK’s death, the Russian émigré dies from a shotgun blast to the head. It is determined to be suicide.

Chapter 13: Poppy’s Proxy and the Saudis

SUMMARY: The untold story of how the Bush circle arranged and benefited from a shotgun marriage between the United States government and the Saudi royal family. 

DETAIL: When Poppy Bush assumed the CIA directorship, some curious events took place in Texas. James Bath, an airplane broker who had served in George W. Bush’s Air National Guard unit and doubled as a kind of “minder” for W., received a call from a Saudi tycoon. Bath would later claim the call came out of the blue. In any case, Bath was soon in business with two of the most powerful Saudi clans. One of them was the Bin Ladens.

Was this an assignment from Poppy to a reliable family operative, and/or a reward for Bath’s help in keeping W. out of trouble?  Back when Bath  and W. served together in the Guard, Bath had stopped flying at the same time as W. and this became a cover for W’s grounding. Bath was an ace with no problems on his record, and it appears that he fell on his sword as a favor to the powerful family that had taken him into its fold.

The Saudi venture looks improbable on its face. Bath had no real business experience to commend him to the billionaires. Quickly, though, he was paired in the venture with another pilot, this one an MBA. Bath became affluent. But what was in it for the Saudis?

For an answer, we travel through a condensed history of the relationship between the Saudis, America, and the oil industry. Key points include the US commitment to protect the Saudi royal family from the constant efforts to depose them. Poppy Bush figures prominently in this.
Bath seems to be an intermediary in a complex shotgun marriage in which the US ramps up protection, and the Saudis agree to run petrodollars through Texas. Some  funds benefit the Bush circle; others support the Iran-Contra supply lines and other unauthorized covert operations.  Bath essentially fronts for all of this.

Chapter 14: Poppy’s Web

The bank that employs Poppy during these years is typical of institutions in the Bush orbit. It has ties to powerful oil industry figures, to the Saudis, and to figures connected to the Kennedy assassination. Later, during the savings and loan scandal, the bank will fail.  The government will bail it out during Poppy’s presidency.

Poppy works hard to keep his distance from Jim Bath, but Bath’s extensive off-the-books intelligence operation is riddled with Bush operatives.

A virtually unknown aspect of the criminal bank, BCCI, is its ties to the CIA and to Poppy Bush-- and its role in damaging the political fortunes of President Jimmy Carter, a bête noir of the CIA and of the elder Bush. Carter eventually loses his bid for re-election to Ronald Reagan and his running mate, Poppy Bush. 

Much more was at stake in the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran than is generally known. The Rockefellers were desperate to hang on to the billions deposited in their Chase bank by the Shah’s government. The hostage crisis lasted for the entire year of Carter’s re-election battle and ended when Reagan and Bush were inaugurated.  Coincidentally or not, it helped ensure that those Chase funds would not be returned to Iran’s revolutionary government. The Shah’s backers will later show up in businesses tied to a young George W. Bush. When the Shah’s son is evading hit men, he will hide out in the business run by Bush operative Jim Bath.
Chapter 15: The Handoff

Despite his image as a spoiled goof-off,  George W. Bush was deep into the political and intelligence machinations of his father. The strange companies that W. ran or participated in bear the markings of covert intelligence activities.

The first of these was an international business that W. doesn’t talk much about. The second came over a summer during his years  at Harvard Business School. W. was supposed to be serving out his part-time Air National Guard obligation. Instead he showed up in Alaska to work at a firm whose owner admits it did intelligence-related work. This job never made it onto W.’s  thin resume.

After graduation, W. followed his father’s example, and headed to Texas, supposedly to seek his fortune in the oil industry. The substantial funds that poured into his first venture did not seem to come from the people who signed the checks.  In any case, the ventures failed to make money for the investors, whoever they really were.

George W. took time out from business to mount his first Congressional campaign. Again, vast sums poured in, from family friends around the country and from  financial, oil, military and intelligence interests. With the campaign underway, W. met and quickly wed Laura Welch, whose claim that she did not know W. during his troubled National Guard days seems in doubt. 

After losing the election, Bush returned to the oil industry in a venture financed in part by figures connected to the Saudis and the Shah of Iran. When this venture too failed, he was rescued by wealthy Cincinnati businessmen, one of whom he will as president appoint to his foreign intelligence advisory board.

Tomorrow Next week we'll look at the last third of the book.

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