Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Joseph and Stewart Alsop and the JFK Assassination
In 1963 Joseph and Stewart Alsop syndicated column appeared in over 300 newspapers. Both these journalists had a long-term relation with the CIA.
Stewart Alsop was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) before being transfered to work under Allen Dulles at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1944. After the war Alsop co-wrote with Thomas Braden (later to become head of the International Organizations Division of the CIA), a history of the OSS called Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage (1946).
After the war Joseph and Stewart Alsop established the thrice-weekly "Matter of Fact" column for the New York Herald Tribune. Stewart concentrated on domestic politics, whereas his brother traveled the world to cover foreign affairs. In 1946 Joseph and Stewart Alsop urged militant anti-communism. They warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless the country addressed this problem, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country... it is the right - the very extreme right - which is most likely to gain victory."
The Alsops lived in Washington where they associated with a group of journalists, politicians and government officials that became known as the Georgetown Set. This included Frank Wisner, George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Richard Bissell, Desmond FitzGerald, Thomas Braden, Tracy Barnes, Philip Graham, David Bruce, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen, Cord Meyer, Richard Helms, Desmond FitzGerald, Frank Wisner, James Angleton, William Averill Harriman, John McCloy, Felix Frankfurter, John Sherman Cooper, James Reston, Allen W. Dulles and Paul Nitze.
Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) has pointed out: "In long exchanges, heated by intellectual passion and alcohol, their vision of a new world order began to take shape. Internationalist, abrasive, competitive, these men had an unshakeable belief in their value system, and in their duty to offer it to others. They were the patricians of the modern age, the paladins of democracy, and saw no contradiction in that. This was the elite which ran American foreign policy and shaped legislation at home. Through think-tanks to foundations, directorates to membership of gentlemen's clubs, these mandarins were interlocked by their institutional affiliations and by a shared belief in their own superiority.
In 1947 several of these figures were involved in establishing the CIA. It has been argued that the OSS provided a model for the CIA. Others have suggested that it was the British Security Coordination (BSC) that was the true forerunner. According to Joseph C. Goulden several of the "old boys" who were around for the founding of the CIA like repeating a mantra, “The Brits taught us everything we know - but by no means did they teach us everything that they know.”
According to Carl Bernstein, Joseph Alsop did important work for the CIA: "In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA. Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters."
Evan Thomas, the author of The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA (1995), argues that the Alsop brothers worked very closely with Frank Wisner, the director of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the CIA. He points out that he "considered his friends Joe and Stewart Alsop to be reliable purveyors of the company line in their columns". In 1953 the brothers helped out Edward Lansdale and the CIA in the Philippines: "Wisner actively courted the Alsops, along with a few other newsmen he regarded as suitable outlets. When Lansdale was manipulating electoral politics in the Philippines in 1953, Wisner asked Joe Alsop to write some columns warning the Filipinos not to steal the election from Magsaysay. Alsop was happy to comply, though he doubted his columns would have much impact on the Huks. After the West German counterintelligence chief, Otto John, defected to the Soviet Union in 1954, Wisner fed Alsop a story that the West German spymaster had been kidnapped by the KGB. Alsop dutifully printed the story, which may or may not have been true."
Richard Bissell, the head of the Directorate for Plans (DPP), was also a close friend of the Alsops. He later recalled: "The Alsops were fairly discreet in what they asked, but I was not as discreet as I should have been. They could usually guess." Bissell admitted to Jonathan Lewis, who was helping him with his memoirs, that the Alsops were the only journalists who he provided with secret information. In 1955 the Alsops reported details of what had taken place in a National Security Council meeting. Allen W. Dulles was so angry that he ordered Wisner to cancel a meeting with the Alsop brothers that weekend at his farm in Maryland. On another occasion, Paul Nitze was so upset that they published the contents of a sensitive cable, that he told them, "You're not the Alsop brothers! You're the Hiss brothers!"
In 1957, during his first and only visit to the Soviet Union, Joe was entrapped by the KGB in a Moscow hotel room. According to Evan Thomas, "Alsop foolishly allowed himself to be caught in a honey trap by the KGB on a trip to Moscow in 1957. The Russians took photos of Alsop in the midst of a homosexual act with a KGB agent and tried to blackmail him into becoming an agent." Edwin Yoder has argued in his book, Joe Alsop's Cold War: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue (1995), that the existence of these photographs did not stop Alsop from continuing to denounce the Soviet Union. However, twelve years later Alsop discovered that the photographs had come into the possession of J. Edgar Hoover. It is possible that Alsop was so important to the CIA that they were able to protect him from the KGB operation.
Alsop held liberal views on domestic issues and became a supporter of John Kennedy. According to Katharine Graham, Alsop told her in 1958 that he had the potential to become president. When she stated: "Joe, surely you're not serious." He replied, "Darling, I think he will certainly be nominated and quite probably be elected." In 1960 Kennedy did win the Democratic Party nomination. Alsop now joined forces with Philip Graham to persuade Kennedy to make Lyndon Johnson, instead of Stuart Symington, his running-mate. It is claimed that Alsop commented to Kennedy: "We've come to talk to you about the vice-presidency. Something may happen to you, and Symington is far too shallow a puddle for the United States to dive into. Furthermore, what are you going to do about Lyndon Johnson? He's much too big a man to leave up in the Senate." Graham then added that not having Johnson on the ticket would certainly be trouble.
In her autobiography, Personal History (1997) Katharine Graham revealed that her husband and Alsop lobbied for President John Kennedy to appoint their friend, Douglas Dillon, as Secretary of the Treasury. Arthur Schlesinger points out in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965) that the Kennedy team "were distressed by (Graham and Alsop) impassioned insistence that Douglas Dillon should and would-be made Secretary of the Treasury. Without knowing Dillon, we mistrusted him on principle as a presumed exponent of Republican economic policies."
Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) has argued that a high-level CIA official told her that Stewart Alsop was a "CIA agent". Saunders discussed this issue with Joseph Alsop. He dismissed this claim as "absolute nonsense" but admitted that both men were very close to the agency: "I was closer to the Agency than Stew was, though Stew was very close... I dare say he did perform some tasks - he did the correct thing as an American... The Founding Fathers of the CIA were close personal friends of ours... It was a social thing. I have never received a dollar, I never signed a secrecy agreement. I didn't have to... I've done things for them when I thought they were the right thing to do. I call it doing my duty as a citizen... The CIA did not open itself at all to people it did not trust... Stew and I were trusted, and I'm proud of it."
One wonders if the CIA had any influence over the way that the Alsop brothers reported the JFK assassination.