Friday, November 23, 2018

The Facts About JFK, NSAM 263 And The Pentagon Papers

JFK speaking on the problems in Vietnam in late 1963.

In the opening scenes of the recent movie, The Post, we see Daniel Ellsberg copying  the Pentagon Papers in a hidden room  – and hear his voice over as he scans one document to do with JFK:  “May 11, 1961, President Kennedy orders a Pentagon review with a possible commitment of U.S troops to Vietnam.”

This incident and the Papers themselves have led many to conclude Kennedy actually had every intention of full American commitment – which is emphatically not so.  What Kennedy did is to authorize the barest minimum of non-military advisers for cooperation with the South Vietnamese. So, in fact, Kennedy’s “contribution” to the War was nowhere in the same league as Truman’s (citing a May 3, 1950 Paper), Eisenhower’s or LBJ’s.  Indeed, it was Johnson who launched the full scale war which led to 58,000 deaths by use of the Tonkin Gulf ruse.

Let us also be clear that the Tom Hanks’ film, The Post, is based on the NY Times version of the Papers, which is not the complete version. As a result of the way the Pentagon Papers surfaced there have always been difficulties in using them. The Times version, widely available, only scratched the surface. Both the Gravel and HASC editions appeared in only a few, or one printing, and were therefore not very accessible to the public. Restricted availability—in many cases limited to good college libraries—kept the full set of materials away from most of the public.

he Gravel edition had the virtue of a straightforward presentation and including Johnson administration documents.  (Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel entered more than 4,000 pages of the 7,000-page Pentagon Papers into the Senate record in 1971, insisting the public had a right to know the truth behind the Vietnam War.)  The HASC edition’s advantage lay in its much more ample documentation on the presidencies of FDR, Harry Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. On the other hand this version used the pagination of the original Department of Defense compilation, which was confusing and changed almost as often as the studies themselves.

Since the original publication by The Washington Post – using the same source, Ellsberg, as the Times, the clamor for access to the Pentagon Papers has resulted in the appearance of several editions of the documents. The most widely available and best-known of these versions is The Pentagon Papers as Published by the New York Times, which compiled in one place the series of articles and set of documents that newspaper had published. (Note 1) This edition attracted huge public attention and went through many printings but was flawed in that it represented a very narrow selection among the abundance of materials contained in the original. (The Times reporters had distilled the 43 studies of the original to which they had access into a single volume) . That version was far surpassed by the Gravel document, read into the Congressional Record.

Now, for the first time ever, all three major editions of the Pentagon Papers have been made available simultaneously online. The posting is to  the National Security Archive at George Washington University (, and allows for a unique side-by-side comparison, showing readers exactly what the U.S. government tried to hide for 40 years by means of deletions from the original text.

The national archives posting includes the full texts of the "Gravel" edition entered into Congressional proceedings in 1971 by Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) and later published by the Beacon Press, the authorized 1971 declassified version issued by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC)  with deletions insisted on by the Nixon administration, and the new 2011 "complete" edition released in June by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

See e.g.

It still behooves us to correct the record on JFK’s Vietnam history including his alleged complicity in the assassination of the Diem brothers.  For this,  L. Fletcher Prouty’s citation (cf.  pp. 272-73  JFK The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy)  of a key section in the autobiography (In the Midst of Wars ) of former Gen, Edward Lansdale is invaluable  As Col. Prouty put it:   “One of the most important narratives of this event was written by Edward G. Lansdale in his autobiography In the Midst of Wars. Few Americans, if any, knew Ngo Dinh Diem and the situation in Vietnam from 1954-68 better than Ed Lansdale.”

That Lansdale section reads as follows:

   “As the prisons filled up with political opponents, as the older nationalist parties went underground, with the body politics fractured, Communist political cadre became active throughout South Vietnam, recruiting followers for action against a government held together mainly by the Can Lao elite rather than by popular support. The reaped whirlwind finally arrived in November 1963, when the nationalist opposition erupted violently, imprisoning many of the Can Loa and killing Diem, Nhu, and others. It was heartbreaking to be an onlooker to this tragic bit of history.

   Col. Prouty then goes on to elaborate (ibid.):

"It was some time before the news became known that Diem had fled to Cholon and been captured and killed there. This news was flashed around the world; this was the story that everyone heard. The public never heard of the planned flight to Europe that the Kennedy administration had arranged for him.

   Thus it was that the file of routine cable traffic between Washington and Saigon eventually became known with the release and publication of the Pentagon Papers. This is how it happened that Howard Hunt was able to locate certain top-level messages to and from the White House and Ambassador Lodge in Saigon that contained information referring to "highest authority"--the cable traffic code for President Kennedy.

    None of these messages contained any reference to a plot to kill President Diem and his brother or came even close to it. Concealed within these messages were carefully worded phrases that gave Ambassador Lodge the information he needed in order to direct all participants into action and to begin the careful removal of the two brothers to Europe by commercial aircraft.

   According to information that came out during the Watergate hearings, those files that had been forged to smear President Kennedy were put in Hunt's White House safe, where they remained until discovered by investigators later.

   There is much about this episode that has become important upon review. There are those who have been so violently opposed to Jack Kennedy and all that he stood for that they have stooped to all kinds of sordid activities to smear him while he was alive, to attack his brother Bobby while he was still alive, and to hound Sen. Edward Kennedy to this day. Nixon's gratuitous reference to Kennedy's "complicity in the murder of Diem" after a decade of silence on that subject speaks for itself. The efforts of Howard Hunt and Chuck Colson (both employees of the White House at the time) to dig up old files in order to besmirch the memory of President Kennedy provide another example.

    In an ominous way, the Pentagon Papers and Watergate episodes were cut from the same fabric, and most important, their exposure was a direct outgrowth of the nationwide dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War. Because the development of the war in Indochina had been spread out so long, since 1945, and because most of the events that brought about this terrible form of modern genocide in the name of "anti- communism" or "containment" were buried in deep secrecy or not even available in written records, Robert S. McNamara, then secretary of defense, directed, on June 17, 1967 that a task force be formed to collate and study the history of U. S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to the present. "

And the most salient point (ibid.):

"This neglect of key documents served to reduce the value of those that remained to tell the story of the Vietnam War. From the beginning, the Pentagon Papers were a compilation of documents designed to paint President John F. Kennedy as the villain of the story, and to shield the role of the CIA.

    This vast stack of papers has been labeled the Pentagon Papers, but that is a misnomer. It is quite true that most of them were found in certain highly classified files in the Pentagon, but they were functionally limited files. For example, despite their volume--nearly four thousand documents--there are remarkably few that actually bear the signature of military officers. ..When such papers are removed from the "military" or "Pentagon" categorization, what remains is a nonmilitary and non-Pentagon collection. For the serious and honest historian, this becomes an important distinction. To be truly "Pentagon" Papers, the majority of them, at least, ought to have been written there."

These observations are critical and also germane to the issue of whether Kennedy intended to pull all then U.S. advisors out of Vietnam. This was by his signing and release of National Security Action Memorandum 263, which too many still refuse to accept as factual.   Again, in this regard JFK researchers owe a debt of gratitude to Col. Prouty - who  in his above -cited book- supplied a lot of the document details and backstory, including reference to the cover letter by McGeorge Bundy, e.g.

Which is carelessly cited as NSAM 263 by amateur researchers or "buffs". These superficial researchers are ignorant of the fact that the actual heart of the NSAM  (sections IB(1-3) of the report cited in the letter) appearing in  Document 142 of The Pentagon Papers: Report of McNamara - Taylor Mission to South Vietnam'

Turning to said document (142) one reads, for example:

IB(2) A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by U.S. military personnel can be carried out by the Vietnamese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. military personnel by that time.

IB(3): In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to take over military functions, the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.

Note the wording and that a partial drawdown of 1,000 was due for the end of 1963 and the bulk by 1965. Most lazy wannabes never get this far while some others that do mistake the "1,000" total for the entire intended lot. 

 Not only did Johnson not preserve Kennedy's plans for drawdown as revealed in the NSAM,  he willingly  signed off on the decisions that dispatched the troops and ordered the bombing campaigns.  Much of this was by way of his own NSAM 273. A gain, for more on the origin backstory of LBJ's NSAM -273 check out the information in the link below:

Why slip JFK's NSAM 263 to pull out of 'Nam into a set of supposed military ("Pentagon")  documents designed to portray him as the "villain"? Clearly, one beholds a disinformation hit that coincided with other disturbing aspects of the Diem situation, for example. In fact, it was rogue elements in  the CIA that instigated the coup and murder of the Diem brothers and this also has been made known in sundry released files.  (John A. McCone was Director of the Agency when all this was going on, but it was more likely William Harvey in charge of the Diem assassinations, as well as JFK's via the Staff D mission.)

Some of the aspects of the JFK- CIA rift can be found  in the book, JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass.
As Douglass notes (op. cit. p. 192): Kennedy got his  final wake up call on who was controlling his government when, in an early September, 1963 meeting he was informed by a David Bell of AID (a CIA cover organization) that the funds from the Commodity Import Aid Program had “already been cut off”,  essentially assuring a coup would ensue with the Diem government in South Vietnam. The Diems were killed on Nov. 2, 1963 and the CIA had planned for Kennedy to be taken out the same day in Chicago, except that trip was cancelled. The lone assassin set up for that hit was Thomas Arthur Vallee.

Kennedy was evidently livid and directly asked Bell who had told him to do that, to which Bell replied, “No one(ibid.). The will to power disclosed here indicates the CIA felt it more powerful than Kennedy himself or his decision-making authority.  If they felt that way, there is nothing that they wouldn’t do to prevent the President from getting in their way.  In Douglass’ own words – which I can’t surpass:

“In plainer language, the president was acting too much like a president, rather than just another office holder beholden to the powers that be.”

The altercation  was confirmed by New York Times journalist Arthur Krock  in his piece  ‘The Inter-Administration War in Vietnam’, The New York Times, Oct. 3, 1963). wherein he wrote:

"If the United States ever experiences an attempt at a coup to overthrow the government, it will come from the CIA  

Ironically, the threat of a coup by the Agency is now as great or greater than it was then but for radically different reasons. The CIA essentially "went to war" with Kennedy because he had formally  created the Defense Intelligence Agency, responsible only to him. This after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in which he was grossly misled by DCI Allen Dulles - who he subsequently fired, along with his deputy, Charles Cabell. (In the wake, Kennedy also defined a list of directives on what the CIA could and could not do. By the end of 1961, JFK's 'Special Group' had no less than 17 recommendations for the "reorganization and redirection of the CIA".  This followed on from Kennedy's vow to "smash the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.")

What strikes many researchers now is the asymmetry between the two situations separated by more than 55 years. I.e. in 1963, JFK adhered to his Constitutional oath of office and respect for law in attempting to rein in an  out-of-control intelligence agency that had plotted (and executed) numerous coups as well as framing a patsy (Lee Harvey) Oswald) for JFK's later assassination in November, 1963.  To read more see e.g.


The Agency - which has now rectified most of its past excesses-  ironically faces a "president"  defined by out of the box excesses.   This is a manic mutt they regard  clearly as a psychotic  loose cannon, and a threat to democracy on account of his unchecked, narcissist tendencies and blatant disregard of intelligence community inputs. (As with the Jamal Khashoggi slaughter by the Saudis.)  That would be none other than Donald John Trump, aka Drumpf.

See, e.g. this piece by former JFK assassination researcher, Jefferson Morley, e.g.

What Happens When The Intelligence Community Decides That Trump Is Too Dangerous To Be President?


"Trump’s contempt for the intelligence profession, weaponized in his “deep state” conspiracy theories, has agency personnel feeling professionally vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. An irrational chief executive has shattered their apolitical pretensions and forced them to re-examine what their core beliefs require....

If there’s one thing to be learned from talking to former CIA personnel, it’s the sense that the CIA system—powerful, stealthy, and dangerous—is blinking red about the latest news of an authoritarian leader in an unstable nation."

So we now behold a juxtaposition where a once rogue agency that got off on "coloring outside the lines"  and thwarting a lawful president now confronts a renegade "resident" of the White House who fancies doing the same as he smashes every norm and Constitutional principle, e.g.

The Rule of Law
 Stay tuned because this sorry story is still playing out, and there's no telling where or how it will end. 

See also:


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