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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

"JFK: Destiny Betrayed" Misleads on Allen Dulles and the Warren Commission

Screen shot from JFK: Destiny Betrayed

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, misleads viewers on the selection of Allen Dulles to serve on the Warren Commission. Here is an excerpt from the transcript: (11:49 of episode one)

Oliver Stone: In regard to the Warren Commission, who do you think was the most puzzling appointment to this Commission?

David Talbot: Allen Dulles's appointment to the Warren Commission, I think, is one of the great frauds of American history.

Eric Sevareid: Have you ever committed any acts of violence in your life?

Allen Dulles: No.

David Talbot: Lyndon Johnson went around telling people that Bobby Kennedy, of all people, lobbied to have Dulles put on the Commission.

Allen Dulles: I don't think that even if you had ten more Commissions, that you'd never get away from the idea that maybe there was a plot. We just didn't find any traces of it.

David Talbot: What really happened with Allen Dulles was the CIA lobbied to have him put on the Commission, because they needed to have one of their own on the Commission, to make sure that certain doors remain closed.

Eric Sevareid: Mr. Dulles, the Russian writer and propagandist Ehrenburg once wrote that if the master spy Mr. Dulles ever got to heaven by anybody's absent-mindedness you would mine the clouds and begin to slaughter the angels.

Allen Dulles: ‘Shoot the stars and slaughter the angels.’

Eric Sevareid: Have you ever committed any act of violence in your life?

Allen Dulles: No.

It really wasn't a serious question.

Talbot claims that the CIA lobbied to have Dulles put on the Commission. I went to his book, The Devil's Chessboard, to determine the source of this statement.

First, from the picture section of Talbot's book:

Notice that Talbot says that "Dulles lobbied aggressively," and not the CIA.

The next reference is on page 573:

The Dulles camp itself made no bones about the fact that the Old Man aggressively lobbied to get appointed to the commission. Dick Helms later told historian Michael Kurtz that he "personally persuaded" Johnson to appoint Dulles. According to Kurtz, Dulles and Helms "wanted to make sure no agency secrets came out during the investigations ... And, of course, if Dulles was on the commission, that would ensure the agency would be safe. Johnson felt the same way -- he didn't want the investigation to dig up anything strange."

Talbot's source of the allegation that Helms "personally persuaded" Johnson comes from Michael Kurtz's book, The JFK Assassination Debates (page 173). The footnote says that it comes from an interview with Richard Helms. The second statement that Helms "wanted to make sure no secrets came out ..." is from an interview Talbot conducted with Michael Kurtz.

So far there is no documentation except the Michael Kurtz claim that Richard Helms told him this in an interview. The credibility of Michael Kurtz has been questioned by many people, including several conspiracy theorists. Here is Pat Speer's conclusion:

The point is that Kurtz has made a series of claims in his JFK-related books and articles that are erratic and smell to high heaven, and that his sources for these claims are erratic and often involve interviews with people that were already dead. Well, geez Louise, it follows from this that Kurtz's wilder claims, particularly his claims of talking to people few ever talked to in which they told him things they never told anyone else, should be thoroughly disregarded.

On the next page, Talbot writes:

William Corson, a former Marine Corps officer and Navy intelligence agent who was close to Dulles, confirmed that the spymaster pulled strings to get on the Warren Commission. He "lobbied hard for the job," recalled Corson, who had commanded young Allen Jr. in the Korean War. After he took his place on the commission, Dulles recruited Corson to explore the Jack Ruby angle. After spending months pursuing various leads, Corson eventually concluded that he had been sent on a wild-goose chase. "It is entirely possible I was sent on an assignment which would go nowhere ... Allen Dulles had a lot to hide."

Talbot's source for this is Joseph Trento's book, The Secret History of the CIA, page 269:

According to William Corson, the former spymaster "lobbied hard for the job." Once appointed, Dulles wasted no time installing himself as the intelligence expert on the Warren Commission.

Trento's source is an interview with William Corson.

I checked four of William Corson's books and none say anything about the Warren Commission and Allen Dulles.

So, the allegations in Talbot's book all stem from interviews with Michael Kurtz and William Corson. We have no underlying details or documents to support the claim.

Talbot then writes: (page 574)

Among those urging Johnson to give Dulles the Warren Commission job were establishment allies like Secretary of State Dean Rusk, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation. These same voices were raised on behalf of McCloy.

Talbot's source is page 541 of Peter Grose's book, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. On page 542, Grose writes:

At 4 P.M. that day [November 29th] Johnson got through on the telephone to Richard B. Russell, Democrat of Georgia and a respected dean of the Senate. He said he would "try to get Allen Dulles" to serve on an investigating commission. Russell concurred, "Dulles is a good man." Secretary Rusk had also commended Allen: "Dulles, on this kind of issue, I think would not be partisan. I think that would be good." Then the President put the call in to Allen.

Sounds to me that Johnson was asking Russell and Rusk what they thought -- as opposed to them "urging Johnson to give Dulles the Warren Commission job."

Here is an audio recording of Johnson speaking to Rusk:

Johnson brings up the name of Dulles first, and then Rusk gives his opinion.

That is the extent of the evidence to support the allegation that Dulles, or the CIA, lobbied to have him put on the Warren Commission.

As Talbot mentioned in that short clip from JFK: Destiny Betrayed, Lyndon Johnson wrote in his memoirs that Attorney General Robert Kennedy asked him to put Dulles on the Commission: (page 27 of The Vantage Point)

As for the makeup of the rest of the commission, I appointed the two men Bobby Kennedy asked me to put on it -- Allen Dulles and John McCloy -- immediately.

Of course, it is easy to say. Is there any documentation to support what Johnson is saying?

Here is a memo from Walter Jenkins to President Johnson:

There was a second page with a list of possible members:

The foremost biographer of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro, discussed this in his book, The Passage of Power: (page 442)

The purpose of the commission was to reassure the country, so he [Lyndon Johnson] felt its members must be public figures whose very presence on it would be reassuring, "men," in his phrase, "known to be beyond pressure and above suspicion." When, in response to his request, Robert Kennedy suggested two names -- former CIA director Allen Dulles and a longtime adviser to Presidents, John J. McCloy, both of them Republicans -- Johnson made them two of the seven, along with three respected Capital Hill figures.

There is another piece of evidence supporting the view that Robert Kennedy suggested Dulles and McCloy. Johnson discussed this in a tape recording of a conversation with Abe Fortas from December 17, 1966 (relevant section is at 1;21 in the recording).

Lyndon Johnson: No, but I would just say that you hear from [Bennett] Cerf or some of 'em stories, that you['re] involved, that he [Katzenbach] came over to talk to you .. and that there's some rumor that we didn't want a national commission, that you came in [and] urged it ... we urged it. We went to the top to get the chief justice [to] do it, and we even asked the attorney general to name people he wanted. [And] he recommended people like Allen Dulles and John McCloy. (transcript from page 339 - 340 of Max Holland's The Kennedy Assassination Tapes)

Talbot is half right here:

David Talbot: What really happened with Allen Dulles was the CIA lobbied to have him put on the Commission because they needed to have one of their own on the Commission, to make sure that certain doors remain closed.

I believe that the reason Robert Kennedy wanted Dulles on the Commission was to ensure "that certain doors remain closed." Kennedy did not want the assassination attempts against Castro to come out because he and his brother were deeply implicated.

And that is an area that JFK Revisited just can't visit.

Here is a short excerpt from a transcript in Max Holland's book, The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, page 242.

Lyndon Johnson: I know you are. Now let the attorney general tell you what he thinks about it, and I'll be back on in a minute.

[Robert Kennedy takes the telephone]

Robert Kennedy: Allen?

Allen Dulles: Bob?

Robert Kennedy: How are you?

Allen Dulles: [I'm] very well.

Robert Kennedy: Good.

[There is a brief discussion of Senator Edward Kennedy's injuries from a plane accident.]

Robert Kennedy: I think this could be awfully important. You know the situation is extremely explosive in Mississippi.

Allen Dulles: Oh, I know it is.

Robert Kennedy: And there's very little contact -- and [it] has been ]that way] for the last few years -- between the authorities down there and the federal authorities. And the fact that the [Mississippi] governor said that this was a possibility that he'd accept, and have some impartial person go down there and look at the situation, I think could, you know, be a big help and give us some breathing space. And also, somebody with your reputation around the country and around the world, I think, could perform a real service.

JFK: Destiny Betrayed misleads viewers into believing that Allen Dulles was appointed to the Warren Commission against the wishes of Robert Kennedy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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