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Military Experiences
Part III: 1961-1963

Experiences of and Perspectives on the Bay of Pigs

Prouty: Some time before we were ready to actually launch the Bay of Pigs invasion, there had been so much training and detonation of various explosive devices at the Agency's training camp down at what we call The Farm, in Virginia, that we had to close The Farm and move all this training to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where there's a harbor and a lot of open spaces, and an airbase.

They asked me to see if we could find -- purchase -- a couple of transport ships. We got some people that were in that business, and they went along the coast and they found two old ships that we purchased and sent down to Elizabeth City and began to load with an awful lot of trucks that the Army was sending down there. We deck-loaded the trucks, and got all of their supplies on board. Everything that they needed was on two ships.

It was rather interesting to note, looking back these days, that one of the ships was called the Houston, and the other ship was called the Barbara J. Colonel Hawkins had renamed the program as we selected a name for the Bay of Pigs operation. The code name was "Zapata."

I was thinking a few months ago of what a coincidence that is. When Mr. Bush graduated from Yale, back there in the days when I was a professor at Yale, he formed an oil company, called "Zapata," with a man, Lieddke, who later on became president of Pennzoil. But the company that Lieddke and Mr. Bush formed was the Zapata Oil Company. Mr. Bush's wife's name is Barbara J. And Mr. Bush claims as his hometown Houston, Texas. Now the triple coincidence there is strange; but I think it's interesting. I know nothing about its meaning. But these invasion ships were the Barbara J and the Houston, and the program was "Zapata." George Bush must have been somewhere around.

With the ships loaded and ready to go, the Agency went in to brief the President one more time. Actually, the ships were at sea, the troops were at sea. And finally, on a Sunday afternoon -- well, we'll go back a few days. On Saturday morning, April 15th 1961, three B-26 bombers flew over Cuba, and hit the military base near Havana, and destroyed all but three of Castro's combat-capable aircraft. It was a pretty successful trip.

We knew that the odds of getting them all in one shot would be a slim chance, so we were ready again to strike a second time. And we had already had briefings on two strikes, one earlier and then one to follow up. We had to follow it up. So we had U-2's fly all over Cuba and we found the three planes that were missing. They were three of what we call T-birds, T-33 jets. They were just training planes, but each one had two 50-caliber machine guns. They were fast little airplanes, easy to maneuver, and they were a great threat to the B-26's of our Cuban-exile airforce. We had to destroy them. We found them down in the southern part of Cuba, all in the same little base, sitting on the ground, wingtip to wingtip.

The plan for the second attack was that we would hit them just before sunrise with four B-26 bombers. One bomber could have destroyed them, but we would go with four: right at sunrise, because the brigade was due to land on the beach at sunrise. And if we were bringing the brigade in, certainly that would alert their aircraft, and their planes would be in the air. We had to hit them just before sunrise or everything was gone. So this was approved when we briefed the President on Sunday afternoon, which was April 16th, 1961.

He approved the whole plan. And he approved the strike with the Cuban-exile's bombers for the morning of the 17th which was absolutely necessary. Without that we could not have hit the beach. Nobody had any problem with that whatsoever. In fact, a very good friend of mine (an old Agency friend) was the base commander for this operation at Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua where we had the four B-26 bombers just ready to go.

That was about 3:30 on Sunday afternoon. The ships were at sea; the President said OK -- that was the first time he approved it, by the way. Here we were a few hours before the attack, before he even approved, that he first said they could go. You could see how reluctant he was, really, to approve this program.

At one o'clock in the morning (Monday) my telephone rang, right here in Washington. On the phone was my old friend in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. He was saying, "Fletch, you have got to get approval for my bombers to leave. Somebody canceled the strike." I said, "That's impossible. We got the approval this afternoon from the President. Who can cancel that strike?" He said, "I don't know. But I've been told I can't let the bombers go." And he said, "Listen." He was living in a little tent and he had a field telephone, and he held the telephone out and I could hear the engines on the bombers going. And I said, jokingly, "Let them go!" And he said, "No, they gave me orders. I can't let them go." I said, "OK, I'll call the city and see what I can get."

So I called into this control center (that I'd been working with every day since that New Year's Day of 1959) and I said, "Listen. Why aren't the bombers going?" And they said, "General Cabell got a call saying he cannot let them go unless he can talk to Secretary Rusk and get Secretary Rusk to approve, and he's trying to find Secretary Rusk now." And I said, "Yes, but we've got a sunrise attack and the sun is going to come up." It'd take the bombers four hours to fly from Puerto Cabezas to the base where the T-33's were in Cuba, and any time we lost there would put the arrival of the bombers after sunrise. The B-26's wouldn't be there, and the brigade would be attacking the beach -- which is what they did, of course.

I called as many as I could and all I found was that everybody was in an uproar. Everything was in a shambles. After all this careful planning, the whole CIA section in there was just distraught with the developments. General Cabell was off trying to make some arrangements -- trying to find Mr. Rusk, I guess, or make arrangements with him. And -- in a strange little side episode -- Allen Dulles, who was in charge of the whole thing, was out of the United States. He wasn't even in the country. He'd gone out to a speaking engagement in Puerto Rico. In other words, he's out of the cycle. We had to use General Cabell or nothing. (General Cabell was his deputy, as you will recall.)

I had done what I could do. I was not that close to the program in a command sense; I couldn't order them to go. I had called everybody I knew to alert them. I went to sleep. I went to the office the next morning and found out that the bombers had not gone. And I found out that already those jets had been attacking the ships. One ship had pulled offshore, trying to escape; the other ship had been sunk. The men had landed on the beach. The beach landing was pretty good, but we knew the effort was lost.

In that first day, we lost 16 B-26s. The jets just chopped them up. And all due to this call to Cabell saying, "You can't go unless you can get Mr. Rusk or unless you want to confront the President." The President was out of Washington; he was in Glen Ora, Virginia, his home in Northern Virginia. General Cabell had been with the Agency for years. He was an Air Force lieutenant general. He had a lot of administrative experience, but not combat experience. He was not exactly the man you'd want to have fight his way through this kind of a situation, especially when somebody like the President was involved.

During the latter part of this same month of April, after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy appointed a board to investigate what had happened and why things went wrong and what he should know about this whole operation. He was very wise about the appointment, because the first man he put on was Allen Dulles himself. The second man was Admiral Arleigh Burke, who was the Chief of Naval Operations and was the closest man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the daily operations of this planning. General Lemnitzer was the chairman, but Burke had handled all the details because the Navy command had the ships and all that. So Burke was on it. The third man was a man Kennedy had never met until 1961: General Maxwell Taylor, who had been Chief of Staff of the Army under Eisenhower. And the fourth man was Bobby Kennedy. I cannot imagine a more able, competent and -- what would you say? -- cleverly devised group than those four. Kennedy did it right, because they came from different circles.

And they sat in there, in an office that was only two doors from mine. I talked with almost everybody going in and out of there as they went, because they were all old friends I'd been working with for a long time. And they combed this operation from one end to the other. When they were done, Maxwell Taylor wrote a long, long letter to the President that had the full approval of the other three members -- Dulles, Arleigh Burke and Bobby Kennedy. In this, they came to the conclusion that the reason for the failure was because of the phone call that came from McGeorge Bundy to General Cabell.

People have looked at this with a lot of different views. McGeorge Bundy was a Special Assistant to the President; he was in the White House. He and his brother, Bill Bundy, had been very close to the CIA (in fact, Bill Bundy worked for the CIA for years) and they also were acquainted with President Kennedy. McGeorge Bundy for some reason called Cabell.

What the Taylor committee found out was that he had been talking with Adlai Stevenson, our Ambassador to the UN. And Ambassador Stevenson had been seriously embarrassed when he was asked to tell the UN that the bombers that struck Cuba on the first attack (Saturday morning) did not have anything to do with America; that they were Cubans who were defecting, and as they defected they shot up the air force. He showed pictures. He showed the front page of the New York Times with a picture of one of the defector's planes on the ground in Miami: it had Cuban markings on it and everything.

Within an hour after Stevenson had held that picture up to show the UN, Castro had proved, beyond doubt, that that airplane was not one of his. He didn't have an airplane with eight guns in the nose and all that sort of thing, and he blew Stevenson's argument out of the water. And that seriously embarrassed Stevenson, who had been our ambassador to the UN only recently having been appointed by Kennedy (a month or two at the most). He was irate to think that his own government would set him up for that.

So Stevenson had reason to want to talk to McGeorge Bundy and to say: "No more air attacks. We're not going to get into this business", without ever thinking about the landing on the beach. He didn't know about the landing on the beach. He just didn't want another "air attack." And McGeorge Bundy may have (may have, this is conjecture, but he may have) been sufficiently convinced by Stevenson of "no more air attacks," without realizing the enormous significance of that air attack, that last strike to wipe out the last airplanes of Castro's force. So you can make an allowance for how that happened.

But the record is perfectly clear that, at 9:30 that Sunday night, McGeorge Bundy reversed the President's decision and called Cabell and said "no air strike tomorrow." That doomed the whole affair, because the airplanes destroyed the mission.

Now, people have said: "OK. Bundy was Kennedy's Assistant, right in the White House. Why didn't Kennedy straighten this out?" That's a good question. But let's go one step further. That is true; but within weeks Bobby Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, Admiral Burke and Allen Dulles were writing this in a letter to the President to tell the President this was their finding. Why would they have to tell him, in an official letter, that this was the reason it failed, if he had been the man that called McGeorge Bundy?

You see, Bobby Kennedy could have told them right there in the meeting: "OK, I know Jack called him. Let's drop it right now. We'll say that it was Jack Kennedy's problem." Or the others could have said it because Allen Dulles was being fired, he could have said it out of spite. But they didn't. They knew that McGeorge Bundy had made a serious mistake, or had made a decision that looked like a mistake later on. It could have been an honest decision -- he could have thought that Stevenson was making a good point ("no more air attacks"), without thinking about the effect of that. They weren't military tacticians. Jack Hawkins had designed the plan, but not these people.

It's a very mixed-up thing. As a result, people later on have argued that Kennedy destroyed his own plan by not sending over U.S. Military air cover for the beach landing. Air cover was no part of the beach landing, any more than it was for the British and the French in Cairo in 1956, because there were supposed to be no airplanes. You don't need air cover if there are no airplanes. You don't need an umbrella if it isn't raining.

It's a shame that through the years the literature has been filled up with partial information, none of which explains this all the way from the fact that I got that phone call from Nicaragua explaining what that man was up against. I could hear the planes running, and I jokingly told him, "Let them roll!" He knew I was joking, I didn't have the authority.

And then people have written that the problem with the Bay of Pigs was: Kennedy didn't provide U.S. Military air cover. They didn't need air cover. And General Cabell never did tell Kennedy that the call had been made. Kennedy woke up in the morning thinking there had been more than adequate air cover by the brigade's own B-26's. That was the plan as he had approved it on Sunday afternoon.

Ratcliffe: What do you mean by "air cover"?

Prouty: The distinction lies between the brigade's own B-26's that Bundy had grounded, and U.S. Military Air Cover that the National Security Council Directive 5412 prohibits. This is why the public has been led to believe "Air Cover" meant that Kennedy should have sent fighters from the aircraft carriers (Navy fighters) and wiped out those jets; in other words, wiped out any opposition. But we didn't need air cover. Those Cuban jets were supposed to be rubble by sunrise.

Ratcliffe: We didn't need air cover if the plan had been allowed to proceed as it had been approved by JFK on Sunday afternoon.

Prouty: And the plan had said that if they didn't destroy those planes, don't land on the beach. You can't stop a snowball once it's going downhill. But the difference was the levels between the military tacticians and the political tacticians, which didn't meet. This was a new Kennedy team. They didn't have -- even Maxwell Taylor had never met Kennedy. He wasn't an advisor to him until afterwards. Kennedy kept Taylor in the White House to be his military advisor to guard against this again. He didn't want it to happen again. This is very complicated.

But you can see how, if we think about it realistically, it makes sense that it could have happened. It's the unfortunate (I believe it is unfortunate, "the unfortunate call" -- I don't think it was malicious) -- the unfortunate call that Bundy made, that the Taylor Report clearly states "Bundy made."

There's a very good book out called Operation Zapata, which explains this word by word, signed by Maxwell Taylor -- not by some author -- this was Maxwell Taylor. Operation Zapata did nothing but translate the government records into a book cover. There's no editorializing whatsoever. The Bay of Pigs operation plan itself was much more effective than most people think.

Ratcliffe: Why do you think Bundy didn't think to confirm with Kennedy that this was OK before he simply called Cabell and said "no air strike"?

Prouty: I think that he and Stevenson discussed this carefully during the evening. Stevenson, wrathful after being embarrassed the day before; Stevenson not knowing about the invasion; Bundy not knowing about the tactical significance of this -- you see, there's plenty of room to give each man his own thoughts.

A Result of CIA Covert Military Commanders in Vietnam:
The League of Families for the Prisoners of War
in Southeast Asia

A good example: I was in the Pentagon (of course, I had been there for years) when the whole Kennedy team came in. Well, they were great guys, but: of all these people coming in to run the Department of Defense (Bob McNamara and on down through Ed Katzenbach, Alan Einhoven and, oh, you can go on and on, Paul Nitze -- Nitze's made a great record since, Bill Bundy), not a one of them with a day of military service, and they were running the Department of Defense. That doesn't mean they didn't know how; it meant they needed some experience. Let them stay there awhile, and they were going to do all right.

If you put yourself back to that era: Eisenhower had been in the White House for eight years. The Pentagon was run by Eisenhower people who had the vast experience of World War II behind them: they knew warfare; they knew the Defense Department. All of a sudden, in comes the Kennedy team. That didn't change the bureaucracy, but it changed the top. And every one of these top jobs went to people who had little or no military experience. It was very noticeable to me. I was one of the few current military officers at that level, at that time, and I'd go to lunch with these fellows. I remember Ed Katzenbach: He had been Dean at Princeton (I believe I'm correct by saying Princeton) -- a terrific fellow. I mean, just the most enjoyable, experienced, intelligent guy you'd ever met. I'd go to lunch with him. (In the Pentagon he couldn't find the dining room, he couldn't find the bathroom! The Pentagon's a helluva place!)

So Ed would come down to my office and he'd say, "Hey, let's go to lunch." And we'd talk about everything. He had no military experience. And the same with a lot of these people. But they had a tremendous capability. And if they had stayed in the Pentagon for a full eight years, this country would be much different than it is today. I'm not taking anything off their capability. I'm simply saying that, the Bay of Pigs came too early; it was too much, and a little bit too crafty for them to understand at that stage of the game. It became a disaster, and then it has never been explained properly. The words of Operation Zapata explain it, but you have to know what it's all about to read it properly. But it's on the record. I'm not creating a record here, I'm simply stating what is in the record there.

So that influenced Kennedy's view of Vietnam. When Kennedy was briefed by President Eisenhower in January of 1961, President Eisenhower told him about the hotspots around the world. He didn't use the word "Vietnam" at all, he talked about Laos. Time Magazine, in all of 1960, mentioned Vietnam only six times, and four of them had nothing to do with the war. You know, Vietnam was not a hot button. Cuba was, Laos was, Berlin was, and so on. So it's easy to forget the preface to Vietnam when you don't remember these things.

These events led up to the Vietnam scene much more significantly than most people want to remember. Of course, the generation gap is coming and the people coming of age now don't remember this at all. They just know that 25 years ago Kennedy was killed. But they don't remember the antecedents to the decisions he made about the Bay of Pigs and about Vietnam.

This was a very interesting period. When we got this Bay of Pigs thing behind us (much to our disgust), we did move toward Vietnam. For instance, C-123 aircraft that we were using in these operations were flown to Vietnam. They became the Agent Orange spray planes, they played that part. The B-26's that had been converted with the eight guns in the nose (what was left of them), were flown to Vietnam and became the first heavy combat aircraft over there. Helicopters that had been used in different operations in Laos were moved to Vietnam and they became the air patrol capability in Vietnam. The P-51 fighters that we had fixed up for Indonesia: they went into Vietnam. They were available -- all these aircraft were available, and they scraped them all together and parked them in Vietnam. In other words, the war was going to happen whether anybody planned it or not. Everything was moving in that direction.

So we saw the years from 1960 into '61 and '62 as years when a certain amount of momentum kept going. And the only command structure in Vietnam at that time was CIA. The military were in the position of being the logistics staff. We provided the equipment, we provided certain training.

For instance, people don't think about helicopters. In those days, for every hour a helicopter flew (a military helicopter), it had to receive 24 hours of maintenance. That was just a general rule: twenty-four hours of maintenance. Which meant we had to cover Vietnam with helicopter maintenance people. They were called soldiers. And it looked like the troop size was growing, because they were soldiers or marines or whoever -- airforce people -- but they were maintaining helicopters. Anytime you get a helicopter squadron together, you have to get a helicopter supply unit together.

If you have a supply unit, you have to get a maintenance unit. So what was 400 men becomes 1200 men. You get 1200 men together, you have to have a PX, you have to have a hospital, and so on. We were creating a structure in Vietnam built upon the operation of helicopters. And all they did was to fly the Vietnamese soldiers around more or less like a police activity -- transporting the Vietnamese military. The next thing you know, we had 3,000 men in Vietnam, then we had 6,000. By the end of 1963, at about the time of Kennedy's death, there were somewhere between thirteen and sixteen thousand military (so-called military) in Vietnam.

What was strange was that a great number of those military were really not military. They were cover military; they were involved with the CIA or other covert programs. That has a great significance. Has it ever occurred to you why, of all the wars the United States ever fought, that at the end of this war we created a League of Families for the Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia? Why did we turn the Prisoners of War program over to wives, mothers, sisters of soldiers in Vietnam? Do you know why? I was a founding advisor of that organization, by request of a general. I was retired by that time, but I was asked to come back and work on it because I knew Vietnam so well and I knew the situation so well.

The reason I was asked to be an advisor was that we had so many men who were called "Captain So-and-so" but really were civilians with the CIA. When one got shot down, the people that captured him found his records: "Captain So-and-so." But the U.S. Army wasn't missing a captain, so nobody declared him a prisoner. Their records were so messed up because of the way these people were lost: out of "Air America," the CIA airline, out of helicopter support units, out of all these other contrived units that we were putting in there which were not military. So that insurance programs, mortgage payments, all the normal things people have to take care of, were tumbling down on this group of people called Prisoners of War over there. And our own Army, Navy and Air Force couldn't account for them. We didn't even know they were missing.

I talked at great length to the father of a Navy pilot who went down. He was telling me about all the abnormal things that had happened in his dealings with the Navy since his son went down somewhere in Indochina -- he didn't even know where. So I turned to the father and I said, "Do you know if your son was flying for the Navy?" He said, "Of course he was, he -- " "No," I said, "do you know for sure? Or was he flying for CIA or Air America?" That poor man was totally shocked. He went over to the Pentagon immediately and demanded an answer. He found out his son was flying for CIA, and he never knew that. You see, what are you going to do with a situation like that?

So we created this unusual organization called the League of Families for the Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia. And I was there at the first meeting. I was there years after that -- many, many, many meetings -- because we had a very serious job to perform. For instance, we had to see if something as simple as their military insurance coverage would be acknowledged by the insurance companies. We had a big re-insurance organization we used for this. We tried to put across the Geneva Accords to protect these men. And a lot of other things that were necessary (that we could not normally do for prisoners of war) with this kind of a covert war. It was really a screwed-up mess. But you see, it grew that way and we had to do something. This is what had confronted Kennedy and his people as the war moved on into 1963.

JFK Prepares To Get Out Of Vietnam:
The Taylor/McNamara Trip Report of October 1963
and NSAM 263

By the summer of '63 Kennedy had made up his mind to get out of Vietnam. By that time I had been transferred from the Office of Secretary of Defense to the Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ratcliffe: In 1963?

Prouty: In '62. But I'm talking about the summer of '63: by that time I had been transferred. I was transferred in '62. Mr. McNamara had approved the plan submitted by General Erskine to create the Defense Intelligence Agency. With that approval General Erskine (who had been on service for an awful long time) retired, and his office (the Office of Special Operations, where I had worked and where Lansdale was working) was abolished. Mr. McNamara suggested that the office that I was in (the Military Support of Clandestine Operations) be transferred to the JCS. We established the office there; it was the Office of Special Operations. I created it. I was its chief for the first two years, until I retired in 1964.

During that period we watched this rise of increasingly effective military in Vietnam. At the same time, the Kennedy administration could find no real reason to continue a war there. They gradually began to rationalize that: `Look, this is a Vietnamese war, it's not an American war. We should provide support to them but let them fight their war.'

This rationale began to snowball into the latter part of 1963. At that time Kennedy did something that I think was quite typical of him and quite clever. General Krulak was my boss in the JCS, he was an experienced combat-trained Marine, and he was probably the closest military officer to the Kennedy family -- very close to Bobby Kennedy and quite close to Jack Kennedy. He went to meetings in the White House frequently. I know because I worked right in his office.

Kennedy sent General Krulak to Vietnam. This was more or less a nominal visit. Krulak knew an awful lot about Vietnam; he didn't need to go. But it brought him up to date; it let him hear some briefings that were current, let him talk with some people, so that when he came back he could write, `I've just come from Vietnam; here's the story.'

Ratcliffe: And when was that?

Prouty: That was in September of 1963. By that time General Krulak knew what Kennedy's plans were. So that when he came back he sat down and he started writing what became NSAM 263 -- otherwise known as the Taylor/McNamara Trip Report of October '63.[1] They both are the same, although some people don't realize that the numbered memoranda simply covers the Taylor/McNamara Report.

But they're the same document, and they bear the same authority coming from the White House as a National Security Action Memorandum. So Krulak was engaged writing this major report -- and I was one of his principal writers -- I wrote probably as much or more of that document than anybody else did. It was a very large report, profusely illustrated; we had pictures in it, we had maps in it. When it was all done, they bound it in a big leather cover that said "President John F. Kennedy from Robert McNamara and Maxwell Taylor."

We flew the finished report to Hawaii in a jet, gave it to Taylor and McNamara so they could read it on their way back, so that when they gave it to Kennedy they at least would know it existed. But what the report was really, was Kennedy's own views on the Vietnam War -- not anybody else's. All Krulak did (and all I did) was write what Kennedy had told us to do.

The agent in that was Bobby Kennedy. Krulak would see Bobby Kennedy, I guess, every day. We even slept in the office for awhile. We were working right around the clock. We had something like 16 secretaries, four every four hours, just going right around the clock like that, getting this huge report prepared. (It was before the days of word processors and things like that.)

But when Taylor and McNamara came back and landed in a helicopter on the lawn of the White House, they gave the President this big report. The President knew exactly what was in the report because it was what he had dictated to Krulak. What Krulak had written and given to them had made the circle; it was back in Kennedy's hands and now he could declare it to be national policy.

About two days later, on October 11th, 1963, he signed this NSAM 263 which, among other things, said that by Christmas time a thousand military men are coming out of Vietnam, coming home. And by the end of 1965 all U.S. personnel will be out of Vietnam.

That was very important. For instance, in the Pacific at that time we had a military publication called the Stars and Stripes. It was the old newspaper from WWII. The headline of the Stars and Stripes that day (great big headline) said: "One thousand troops being withdrawn from Vietnam by Christmas and the remainder by '65." Nobody missed the point. It was right there in big letters. And this is what Kennedy planned.

Privately, Kennedy had told some of his confidants that "As soon as I am reelected, I am going to get people out of Vietnam and we're going to Vietnamize that war; we'll just provide support for them;" and "I'm going to break the CIA into a thousand pieces." Those are quotables you can get from Senator Mansfield and from other intimates of the President (and that those of us working on those things day-by-day knew were exactly the sentiments of John F. Kennedy).

The Murders of President Diem and Kennedy

About three weeks after JFK had published NSAM 263 as an official document from the White House, President Diem was killed in Vietnam. General Krulak knew about the plans for the removal of the Diems from Vietnam. It did not include killing anybody. The wife of Diem's brother, Nhu, had left Vietnam ahead of time. She was in the United States on a speaking tour -- and a very prominent speaking tour because she was called the Dragon Lady. Everybody knew where she was. Nhu was supposed to leave and meet her -- I think in Rome, because the other brother (who was a cardinal in the Catholic Church) had gone to Rome also. And that left Nhu and Ngo Dinh Diem to leave: they were going to a Parliamentary Union meeting in Belgrade and Diem had been asked to be a speaker there.

So his departure from Vietnam was supposed to be the same departure any chief of state would make who was going somewhere else to deliver a lecture and make a visit. So a special airplane (a commercial airplane, not military) was being flown into Saigon that day to take him to Belgrade, with his brother. (The other brother had already left and Nhu's wife had already left.)

For reasons that none of us have ever known, the two Diem brothers went to the airport, went up the stairs to the airplane and got in it, and came out again. And, to the surprise of the few people there that knew they were leaving (among them the people we had spotting this affair, that Krulak had), saw them get back into their car and go speeding back into town (where they went into the palace, the presidential palace), and suddenly realized they were alone.

They were in some sense incompetent -- they didn't understand political government. Their people had been so repressive that they knew as soon as the Diems left they would be killed. The people would attack them. They hated that guard that was around Diem. So they had all run. And when the Diems went back into the palace it was empty. There was nobody there.

They immediately realized what was going on, and they went into a tunnel (that had been dug for this purpose beforehand) that went under the river, over to the suburb of Saigon called Cholon. Unfortunately, at the other end of the tunnel, there were some soldiers there who had been ordered to be there, and they put them in a van and they killed them in the van. And that's how they were killed. It had nothing to do with the plan that had been laid on for them.

I was in my office that afternoon and General Krulak came in and he was absolutely blanched. He said, "The Diems have been killed." He said, "I can't believe that they wouldn't follow the program we had lined up for them." He said, "But we just had a call saying that they went in the plane, came out of the plane, and went back to the city. Later it was discovered that they'd been killed."

To the people that had carefully planned their movement out of the country -- and of course it was going to be a coup d'état -- maybe Diem felt that it was and didn't want to leave, or something. But he was going to be out. He was never going to come back. And maybe he sensed that, or maybe somebody had tipped him off. We can't account for it. In fact, when Krulak turned to me and talked to me about it, he said, "We'll never know what went through their heads. They should've been smarter. They should've just kept going and they'd have been out and they wouldn't have . . . "

If you remember, in the time of Watergate it was discovered that the Nixon presidential advisor named Charles (Chuck) Colson had employed Allen Dulles' old-time biographer Howard Hunt (and Bay of Pigs expert) to go into the files in the White House (the confidential presidential files in the White House) and doctor those files to make it appear that Kennedy had ordered the death of Diem. That will show you how imperative it was to certain interests in Washington to make it appear that Kennedy had ordered the death of Diem. That's looking back: that was in '72, wasn't it?

Ratcliffe: '71 or '72.

Prouty: Looking back a decade, we find that kind of retroactive work was going on. It's quite insidious when you think about it. But, the facts are much, much different. Kennedy did not plan the death of Diem. And it was stupid, it was unfortunate. But I was right where I could hear these principals talking. I was writing documents for them, I know exactly what happened.

And I think this business of being that close to the things that were going on actually played an interesting part in my own life. Because, at just about that same time, Ed Lansdale (whom I'd known since 1952 and who I'd been working with since he came back to the Pentagon in 1956, every day) came to me one day. He was still up in Mr. McNamara's office, and I was in the JCS area then. I wasn't working right in his immediate office then. But he came to me one day and he said, "Fletch, you've been working pretty hard and I've got an approval to something that might be a nice paid vacation. How would you like to go to the South Pole?" And I thought, I wouldn't mind a paid vacation -- I don't know about the South Pole -- but if someone is going to fly me down to the South Pole and all. So OK, I'd be glad to go. Then he said, "Go over to the South Pole Office on Jackson Court near the White House and talk to Mr. So-and-So." I went over there and I found out that they were planning to fly a VIP party to the South Pole and they did need a military escort officer. And I was being nominated for that, and I went to the South Pole. Actually, I had been working for that Antarctic Office since 1958-1959. I possess a Commendation, dated 1959, from them.

I was out of Washington from, I think, the 10th of November until November 28th, after President Kennedy was killed -- so that I was intimate with the things that had to do with the death of Mr. Diem, but I was completely out of the scene for the things that happened in the death of President Kennedy. And it has occurred to me in the 25 years since that period that, in some way, that spells some of the pressures that were going on in Washington at that time: that it was better that I -- and people like me who were very intimate with affairs in Washington -- had to be out of the way. I was sent there as the Escort Officer for an industrial group who set in operation a nuclear power plant at McMurdo Navy Base. It was an interesting interlude.

I came back from the South Pole on November 28th, 1963 and one month later I retired from the service. I went in to General Krulak and said, "General, I am through." I had been in the Pentagon nine years. The General was a bit upset. He told me he had received information from the Air Force that they were going to send me to Vietnam as the Chief of Intelligence in Saigon. I have never tried to corroborate it, but that is what he told me. He said that I was slated to become a general if I would stay on and take that job. And I have never corroborated that; it is simply what he told me. I said, "I thank you very much, General, I'm going to retire." And I retired on the 1st of January and I went to work for a private company on the 2nd of January.

But that period of time, in those nine years that I have described (from 1955 until 1964), I think, are unequaled in history, at least in modern times. Because I saw unfold all of these different actions that became the Vietnam War, the death of Kennedy, and many other strange events that have never been duplicated in the United States of America. It's really very interesting.

Explanation of the Office of Special Operations --
Military Services Providing Support
to Government Clandestine Activities

Ratcliffe: In Appendix I of your book, The Secret Team, you included a job description you said was typical for you, regardless of whether you were in the headquarters of the Air Force, the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[2] I'd like you to read this for us and comment on the types of activities this generalizable job description covered for you in any of the three positions you held that were somewhat interchangeable.

Prouty: From time to time, people have wondered and asked about this business that we euphemistically call "special operations" that is the military services providing support to the clandestine activities of the government, usually clandestine activities that are at least nominally under the control of the CIA. There are official papers on this, and I as said earlier that we derive the authority from the NSC Directive No. 5412.[3]

In the process, the Secretary of Defense established an office called the Office of Special Operations. And I'd like to read to you verbatim really, and then describe parts of it -- what the Government felt about this kind of work; because this was a perfectly public paper in the days when I first acquired it, and it says quite a bit about the kind of activities that go on in covert operations.

I believe that, at least from a policy guidance line, this would apply even to the recent things that we call the Iran hostage/Contra affair. The people were working along the same lines as this paper here. So we'll take a careful look at it.

The following job description is taken from the U.S. Government Organization Manual, 1959-1960, page 143. It's a typical government definition of the term "special operations." It defines quite well the work that I was in from 1955 through 1963, whether it was with the Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Office of Secretary of Defense.

Now, I will read the next words as direct quotations from this government operations manual.

The Assistant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) [who was General Graves B. Erskine of the Marine Corps, Retired; he was Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Special Operations] is the principal staff assistant to the Secretary of Defense in the functional fields of intelligence, counterintelligence (except as otherwise specifically assigned), communications security, Central Intelligence Agency relationship and special operations, and psychological warfare actions. He performs functions in his assigned fields of responsibility such as: (1) recommending policies and guidance, governing the Department of Defense planning and program development; (2) reviewing plans and programs of the military departments for carrying out approved policies and evaluating the administration and management of approved plans and programs as a basis on which to recommend to the Secretary of Defense necessary actions to provide for more effective, efficient, and economical administration and operation and the elimination of duplication; (3) reviewing the development and execution of plans and programs of the National Security Agency

I'll break there for a moment. Most people don't realize that the two are that closely allied: that Defense/CIA and the National Security Agency work together. And that it was this Office of Special Operations that was responsible for the reviewing, the development, and the execution of plans and programs of the National Security Agency

and related activities of the Department of Defense; and (4) developing Department of Defense positions and providing for Department of Defense support in connection with special operations activities of the United States Government.

And I'll break there. That means that the Department of Defense operated as effectively in clandestine operations as did any other part of the government, or even more so. It wasn't CIA all the time, or NSA all the time; actually the Department of Defense is the leader in all this work. This is what this statement is underscoring.

In the performance of his functions, he [this Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations] coordinates actions, as appropriate, with the military departments and other Department of Defense agencies having collateral or related functions and maintains liaison with the Department of State, the Director of Central Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Information Agency, and other United States and foreign government organizations on matters in his assigned fields of responsibility. In the course of exercising full staff functions, he is authorized to issue instructions appropriate to carrying out policies approved by the Secretary of Defense for his assigned fields of responsibility.

And I'll break there. You see, that is what I was asked to do by General White when I was asked to write the instructions and policies under NSC 5412. And General White's authority was derived from the Secretary of Defense and we're reading that here you see, the entire military establishment. So you can see that this statement here covered everybody in the Department of Defense, which would include the Air Force and all the others, and that's why I was doing that work in 1955.

In the course of exercising full staff functions, he is authorized to issue instructions appropriate to carrying out policies approved by the Secretary of Defense for his assigned fields of responsibility. He also exercises the authority vested in the Secretary of Defense relating to the direction and control of the National Security Agency and related activities of the Department of Defense. The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) is appointed by the Secretary of Defense.

Very important: he works for the Secretary of Defense. He is not there to do the job of someone else (such as the CIA or any other group). He is a full-time employee of the Secretary of Defense.

I would cite that last line to those people who have been reading the record recently about the trial of Colonel North. Colonel North was working for the Secretary of Defense when he worked for the NSC. And people shouldn't mix that up. It's too bad that the courts and the congressional committees didn't understand that distinction. But they should read this same paper: because the military work under the Secretary of Defense when they're doing covert activities -- not for some other office. Even though they might have a desk in some other office, they are members of the military. Colonel North was paid by the Marine Corps, not by the National Security Council -- that's very important and they should keep this in mind.

This is a formal statement that describes what the Office of Special Operations was doing and what it was responsible for. That's where I worked for two years, that's where General Lansdale worked for two-and-half or three years. It was the key office for the development of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and it was the number one office for all relationships on covert activities with the CIA, with the NSC, with the White House, and with anybody else involved in this action.

It isn't explained there, but in the pursuit of this kind of business, many other departments are involved. We had to work with the Treasury Department. We had to work with FAA about the movement of aircraft. Sometimes we had to work with Customs people regarding flights coming in when we could not allow Customs to board the plane. They understood, but they had to know about it. We had to have cleared people (what we called "cleared staff") there. There were thousands and thousands of people involved in the network that's described in this paper.

Most people, I think, feel that the clandestine activities are 10 or 15 people running around the world performing tricks, "fun and games." It's a very large organization. In many respects all this talk about the closeness between the Office of Special Operations and the National Security Agency -- this gave us effective communications all over the world.

Just like we heard during Colonel North's trial: he knew immediately when things were being done (after they had given orders to have these things done -- NSA can do that, NSA can listen in on anything, they know what's going on). That's why the direction of NSA was put under this office -- so that we would have a uniform, worldwide system for clandestine operations. It's a very formal program.

The only area that isn't stated in that paper (and when I used to work there I used to feel rather strongly that it wasn't really omitted but it wasn't specifically cited) was the intricacies we had in handling money. If you're going to steal money from a bank, you have to know where you're going to put it afterwards. Money is very hard to hide. Money is very hard to steal.

When you're working in an organization like the Defense Department or the U.S. government, it is extremely difficult to move sums of money because the bureaucrats all know where that money ought to be. You don't take money that is in the Department of Agriculture and spend it in the Department of Commerce. You just don't do it. Well you don't take money that was ostensibly appropriated for the CIA and spend it in the Defense Department or vice versa.

The Economy Act of 1932:
Handling The Money To Run Covert Operations

As intricate as anything we did in the days we were in this kind of work was handling money. I spent more time, on these papers that I prepared for the methodology of handling covert operations,[4] in devising the money trails as anything else.

That's why I feel in this current business about the Iran-hostage exchange, when you hear these top people talking about the use of the Economy Act of 1932 -- they don't say the year -- they just say the Economy Act, what they are really talking about is this very secret money channel that we established for actual covert operations. It works all right. It's not described in this document[5] at all. But it was a key to how this whole business of covert operations worked. You've got to pay people all the time.

For example, you've got to buy helicopters. One of the situations we had: we had planes going all over the world all the time. The usual system when you're flying an aircraft all over the world is to use a credit card just like the airlines do. The pilot buys thousands of gallons of fuel and puts it on the credit card. But how do you put a credit card on an "Air America" CIA airplane that really belonged to the Air Force? And, in the end, how do you pay the bills?

We created a system for this. We created a system where every single credit card turned in on these planes in the clandestine business around the world would arrive at a certain computer center at Dayton, Ohio. From that computer center in Dayton, it would fall into a certain box and we'd pay those bills. Then we'd turn right around and charge CIA -- but we'd do it on internal U.S. Air Force books so nobody knew it. Thus we could follow the movement of every single airplane. If you can't do that, you can't run covert operations. As you heard Colonel North trying to explain what they did, and he can't do it -- it's because the system broke down. They had trouble with the system, they need to go back and rethink the system. A very intricate system.

Ratcliffe: In other words, that level of indirection was essential to cover what the money was really being used to pay for.

Prouty: Yes. The money we're talking about is nothing but numbers: so many dollars in the Defense budget that moved into the CIA budget, or vice versa and so many dollars from another budget moving into this budget. We never touched a dollar, we never asked the Sultan of Brunei or anyone else for a couple of million bucks as they say the "Iran-Contra" operators did -- that's utterly ridiculous! If you're going to help some young kids in Honduras that are called the "Contras," you don't go around borrowing millions of dollars to give to some ex-Nicaraguan in a villa in Palm Beach! That's what the Iran-Contra scheme was doing.

Those "cover story" operators were millionaires under the Somoza regime. They'd like to be back again being millionaires under another regime. You don't send them millions of dollars in checks and say, "Hey, spend this money buying grenades." The ridiculous thing about all this -- how do you take grenades out of an Army supply depot? How do you get some Army supply sergeant to give you a truckload of grenades? You can't say to him, `Hey, I'm going to take these down and give them to the Contras.' The Army supply sergeant won't give you anything. You have to have a letter of authority and it has to look like every other letter he's ever seen. You don't sell them for $3 a piece to the Contras! You see how ridiculous all this stuff is?

During that Iran-Contra fiasco, if we just had a chance to take this one directive, and explain it to Judge Gesell or to Prosecutor Walsh and let them know what the facts of life are, they would have ended that problem in a few days. They wouldn't even need the jury. It's just ridiculous the way this has grown.

Ratcliffe: Isn't it also true that the whole scam of that trial is that, if there was to be any trial at all that was correct, it would have been a military trial? -- since he was in the Operations as a --

Prouty: We have to look at it several ways. If they reached the point in coming down the levels, the first thing to know is to find out who really made the decision and whether he had that authority. It wasn't Ollie North; it wasn't Poindexter; it wasn't McFarland. They all worked for people. So you have to go to the people they worked for and say, "Who made the decision?"

The man who said this Iran-Contra operation was done under the Economy Act made the decision. Because, by saying it was done under the Economy Act, what he is doing is opening the doors of the secret supply channel, which is worth tens of millions of dollars. He had to have the money for it -- meaning the money in the federal budget -- not cash on the barrel, and not cash he got from the King of Saudi Arabia.

He made the decision to release the missiles, and not to sell them to somebody -- in exchange for hostages. When you exchange the missiles for hostages, you don't get any money; the hostages are the money, you exchange for hostages. If somebody kidnapped my dog and said he wanted $100, I'd give them the money and I'd take the dog. That's the deal!

The whole situation in this contrived Iran-Contra situation -- from the point when McFarlane went over to Teheran with a cake and a Bible, the whole thing, right there, was explaining itself as a weird, mixed-up exercise. You don't do clandestine exercises that way. There was something terribly wrong with it when it started with a cake and a Bible.

I bought that present for Diem that we mentioned earlier to put on his desk because Lansdale was the guy that was going there; well even that felt pretty strange, to be using U.S. money to put a trinket on President Diem's desk. But it wasn't going to hurt anybody. But this Iran-Contra deal is the biggest aberration on covert operation I've ever heard of. It simply is not a covert operation at all. Somebody was just handling a lot of money, and Meese created the meaningless name for that game, "Iran-Contra", that was just contrived.

Ratcliffe: What's your sense of the most likely explanation for how things have gone so awry?

Prouty: It's simple. The Iraqis have fought the Iranians since 1981. And in that period the Iraqis have released data that this warfare cost them $60 billion. I'm sure the Iranians fought as hard as the Iraqis did. The Iranians were using U.S. military hardware, because most of their army and navy are supplied with things made in the United States. When the equipment is made in the United States -- like engines or parts -- you have to buy them from the United States; nobody else makes that specific military equipment, at least not identical. So you have to buy it from the United States.

So, I believe (without too much concern about the exact record, or the figures) that it must have cost the Iranians about $60 billion to fight the Iraqis. If it did, it means the Iranians purchased (from somebody) parts made in the United States that belonged to the U.S military (or the military suppliers) worth $60 billion. Not a few million. Not a cake and a bible. Sixty billion dollars. They don't want to talk about it.

So they'd rather talk about the cake and the bible and the Contras. That's the role Mr. Meese created to divert the people from the $60 billion and talk about the Contras. When you're talking about the Contras, everything that happened in Iran is quiet. One was supposed to balance the other.

If you go back and look at the newspapers, the Iranian/Contra problem began with a little newspaper saying that weapons from the United States had been exchanged for hostages. That was the problem -- only that. Then, when Mr. Meese went poking around in the papers in the White House, he says he found a memo that the money from that exchange was going to the Contras. He made some funny statements. There's no money from the exchange -- not from that exchange -- and there was no need of giving money to the Contras. But every eye and ear of the members of the Congressional hearings turned to the Contras, and they forgot Iran from that time on. Mr. Meese's gambit succeeded. As simple as that.

Then we get people who have other interests -- and I make no brief for them; but people like the Christic Institute -- who amplified on this deal. The next thing you know, everybody's looking at Nicaragua instead of Teheran. Well, that covers up the $60 billion deal we played with Iran. There's your problem.

Clarifying the Role of the National Security Agency (NSA)

Ratcliffe: Regarding a statement in what you quoted: you were saying the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Operations was in charge of reviewing the plans and activities of the NSA -- the NSA being the electronic eyes and ears of the world for the U.S. Did this mean you would review plans of the NSA of where they would be listening or what they would be looking for?

Prouty: Let's keep something in mind here: there is a lot of misunderstanding about the role of the National Security Agency (NSA). It is eyes and ears -- as a purely technical or mechanical job. It's like the water company. You have to have a lot of pipes and then the water can come in your house or somebody else's house. But the pipes have to be there first. If they want to meter the water coming into your house, they put a meter out there and they read the meter. Communications is a flow of information something like that.

There are communications channels existent all over the world. It's all floating around out there in space, all vibrating away in space, perfectly normal and in accordance with the laws of physics. If you want to listen in, you use a radio, or you improve radios to all kinds of capabilities by using computers. And that equipment can monitor any emission that's in the air, or even in the ground. There are programs that count the vibrations in the earth. They have things sunk near roads that can count the number of trucks that pass down that road every day. They can tell you the weight of the truck by the way it bounces, and so on.

The NSA is so good at all of this emission business, whether it's radio waves or whatever kind of waves; they can tell you when a power transmission line is carrying the normal load of electricity or an increased load or when it's turned off. They can tell you when a nuclear power plant far out in the back of Western China near the Mongolian border is operating or not operating.

The NSA can do that. These are purely physical things that they do with instrumentation and enhanced with computers. But they're not covert activities. There's a difference. They're in the pipes, somebody tells them what to do and they do it.

The other side of it is, they do so damn much that you can't read it out. They've got warehouses of data. So they learn to rotate it, and reuse it, and all that. But they let the computers scan it, and the computers pull stuff off by signature devices that can read voices, read numbers -- all kinds of things -- until they get the data they are seeking.

But even then, they need direction. They need to be told: `You heard so-and-so talk on the phone last week. Find that voice again and let us know what he says next time he makes a phone call'. And whether he's in Tokyo or whether he's in Singapore, they'll find that voice again and the computer will identify it by its code signatures, voice signatures, and they'll put the message out. That's NSA.

So NSA needs direction. General Erskine was charged with the responsibility for giving them that direction when required. It makes a lot of sense. But it is entirely different from the kind of direction you might have working with CIA, where the CIA is an independent agency and able to do any and all kinds of activities that human beings can devise which are not the sorts of tasks you can put under direction. So the CIA activities are much different from the NSA activities. One is sort of a numbers game, and the other is akin to dealing with poetry -- you never know what's going to be next. It's an art. It's a skill. As Mr. Dulles wrote in his own biography, it's The Craft of Intelligence. It's much different.

Abolishing the OSO
and Moving Special Operations Into the JCS

Things came together in this Office of Special Operations, where the CIA and the NSA enhanced each other. As such, it was a real fine structure -- that OSO Office should never have been abolished. It was a very important office; they made a big mistake. That's when control over our foremost intelligence agencies began to go downhill, when they abolished OSO. The Defense Intelligence Agency was established at the same time in early 1961.

Ratcliffe: OSO was run by General Erskine?

Prouty: Yes, Erskine. He had been in that assignment for nine years. I was his Chief Air Force Officer for Special Operations. He had an Army Officer and a Navy Officer in similar functions. His Deputy was Lansdale, who was with CIA. And he had other people from CIA -- a fellow named Frank Hand and some others. But I was his Chief Air Force Officer and I had headed a similar Office of Special Operations in the Air Force for the previous five years.

Ratcliffe: Then, when you went in 1962 through 1963 into the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, your title and position was still dealing with Special Operations.

Prouty: Yes. I set up that new office to retain that capability of dealing with the CIA and its covert operations when they closed down OSO. When they closed down the OSO, other work, like the NSA, was managed through other offices after that. McNamara dispersed them into different offices. The Office of Special Operations, the covert support, was put into JCS, and I worked under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But it stayed -- the role was identical, as far as that part was concerned.

Ratcliffe: I thought there was some point when you were involved with doing for the other branches of the Defense Department what you had done for the Air Force, in terms of acting as this liaison.

Prouty: That was with JCS. Then I had a senior Army man, a senior Navy man and I acted as a senior Air Force man so we had all the services. I had a Marine General, and I worked for a Marine, so we had all the services covered by being in the JCS. I think that was the proper way to run that. I agreed very much with General Wheeler and Mr. McNamara when they asked me to go there, because I felt that really was -- at certain times in my work with the Air Force, we would collide with the other services. The Agency would, in effect, bargain with us.

Take the beginning of the Bay of Pigs: the Agency went to the Navy and asked for initial support in Panama for the Bay of Pigs operation. The Navy wouldn't do it. So they came to the Air Force, and we did it. We did the Navy's role really. That's not good -- that kind of colliding on these jobs. If the Navy had a good reason not to do it, we should have dropped it right there. In the JCS we'd put it all on the same desk and we wouldn't have that kind of a mix-up. That was a better way to run this operation.

Ratcliffe: But you also said you felt it was a mistake to have abolished the office as it stood in the Office of the Secretary of Defense?

Prouty: Yes. In the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where they were higher, he also had DIA and NSA. And that was very important; they should have kept those together. And he also had the State Department liaison and the White House liaison.

Ratcliffe: Alright. You were just commenting about this paper.

Prouty: Yes. It's very good to talk from this government publication. It describes the roles and the function and the policy of this Office of Special Operations. If you divide those functions, then some central authority is not operating to go from one line across the other line.

For example, if we wanted to work with the NSA. NSA knew we had the same function with CIA, or that we had the same functions with the State Department, the same responsibilities in the White House. So that we could bridge all of these organizations together. And from the dominant position of the Secretary of Defense, we could make sure that NSA and CIA -- and when necessary, the State Department and the White House -- all knew the same things. We were not working at cross-purposes. It was a very effective build up that began again with this NSC 5412 paper back in 1954, and placed under General Erskine's control and supervision.

Now if that same policy was being performed today -- by what we see again in the Iran hearings -- I don't think they would have had all this misunderstanding about who was doing what. Because this was very clear. All we had to do was, if I ever had a question about whether or not I should do something that the CIA asked me to do, I had a very simple answer to that myself. I would go to the Secretary of Defense, who kept a record of his NSC actions, and I would say: `Mr. Gates, did the NSC approve this operation (the CIA had just called me to perform)?' He'd look at his record and he'd say, `Yes. Day before yesterday we approved it. Go ahead.' I wouldn't be in the quandary that Ollie North and his associates find themselves in.

There was no ambiguity. We knew. If something came up that involved the support of NSA, NSA could say, `Why are you asking us to do that?' I would say, `Well, we have had a meeting with the CIA. The Secretary of Defense says we'll do this.' And then we would do it.

When we needed coordination with the ambassador in India, or the ambassador in Thailand, we could go to the State Department as the legal representative of the Secretary of Defense and say: `We have an operation that involves CIA, that involves NSA, that's going to take place in India, and we just want to let you know.' Fine. Then we don't have anybody stumbling over each other's toes. Right now, this question of whether Mr. Bush, when he went to Honduras, did this or did that -- we didn't get into that kind of problem, because it had been decided by everybody before we did it. This was a very good system for this kind of secret operation.

The other way to say it is: the lack of it leads to the problems that we have seen now. I think that it was a serious mistake for the Secretary of Defense to abolish the OSO and let these responsibilities go separately on their own, as they appear to be doing now. In order to create another OSO, President Reagan brought that responsibility up into the White House under the NSC. Well, they're not staffed to do any of this. In fact, Poindexter, North, McFarlane, and Earl are all military officers on duty. They all belong in the Pentagon. They don't belong over there in the White House. They made a bad mistake when they failed to see the necessity to keep this team work working as it was between '54 and '64 and probably for several years after that.

Ratcliffe: Who abolished the OSO -- McNamara?

Prouty: McNamara. It happened almost inadvertently because, again, McNamara was new. He'd only been there a few months. And General Erskine, who had been in that job longer than any person had ever been Assistant Secretary -- it was time for him to retire. He was an elderly man at the time. I think just because Erskine was leaving, McNamara had not had the experience with the system -- and I think there was no suitable successor -- Lansdale wasn't the type of man to be the boss.

Lansdale was a good operator, but not the man to be the boss. First of all, Lansdale was a CIA agent. They also were setting up DIA at the same time -- I think a little bit overwhelmed by all these things -- and they didn't think that losing this whole package was going to be so important. I fought pretty hard to keep my package together, and I was successful. I was glad to get it into JCS. But I severely missed the ability to go to the NSA people, or to the State Department or the White House, to coordinate all this. I still coordinated with the CIA but, you see, not with the others. So the system began to break down when it was divided.

Ratcliffe: You were unable to because it wasn't within your scope of contacts as easily as it had previously been?

Prouty: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not get these functions when he got the function of Special Operations. He did not get these other functions. He only got Special Operations. And personalities have a tremendous impact. General Lemnitzer, was, as far as I'm concerned, an ideal Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was not interested in Special Operations. He thought the military should be military: no fun and games. It was just that way -- it's his military strength, just the way he'd act.

  1. Copies of NSAM 263, the "Report of McNamara-Taylor Mission to South Vietnam", NSAM 273, as well as some of their primary supporting documents, are included together in Appendix B.

  2. The Secret Team, Appendix I,

  3. See Appendix C.

  4. "Military Support of the Clandestine Operations of the United States Government" written in 1955. See Military Experiences, Part II, page 42.

  5. U.S. Government Organization Manual, 1959-1960, page 143. See page 76.

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