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Lyndon Johnson and the Dominican Intervention of 1965

By David Coleman

US troops patrol the streets near a food line in Santo Domingo on 5 May 1965 during the Dominican Crisis.
US troops patrol the streets near a food line in Santo Domingo
on 5 May 1965 during the Dominican Crisis.

LBJ Regretted Ordering U.S. Troops into Dominican Republic in 1965, White House Tapes Confirm; Yet He Insisted, “I’d do the same thing right this second.”

Dominican Intervention 50 Years Ago Sparked Mainly by Fear of Communists: “I Sure Don’t Want to Wake Up … and Find Out Castro’s in Charge,” President Said

New Transcripts of Key White House Tapes Clarify and Illuminate LBJ’s Personal Role in Decision-Making during the Crisis

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 513

Posted – April 28, 2015
Edited by David Coleman
For more information, contact:
David Coleman, david@historyinpieces.com, 703/942-9245
or nsarchiv@gwu.edu, 202/994-7000

Washington, D.C., April 28, 2015 – President Lyndon Johnson regretted sending U.S. troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965, telling aides less than a month later, “I don’t want to be an intervenor,” according to new transcripts of White House tapes published today (along with the tapes themselves) for the first time by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

Johnson ordered U.S. Marines into Santo Domingo 50 years ago today. Three weeks later, he lamented both that the crisis had cost American lives and that it had turned out badly on the ground as well as for the United States’ – and Johnson’s own – political standing. Nevertheless, he insisted he would “do the same thing right this second.”

In conversations with aides captured on the White House taping system, Johnson expressed sharp frustrations, including with the group surrounding exiled President Juan Bosch, whom the United States was supporting. Speaking in late May 1965, Johnson told an adviser, “they have to clean themselves up, as I see it, where we can live with them. Put enough perfume on to kill the odor of killing 20 Americans and wounding 100.”

Johnson’s public explanation for sending the Marines into Santo Domingo was to rescue Americans endangered by civil war conditions in the Dominican Republic. But his main motivation, the tapes and transcripts confirm, was to prevent a Communist takeover. Basing his decision largely on assertions by the CIA and others in the U.S. government that Cuba’s Fidel Castro had been behind the recent uprising, Johnson confided to his national security advisor, “I sure don’t want to wake up … and find out Castro’s in charge.”

That intelligence, along with other information Johnson received during the crisis, turned out to be erroneous – a possibility LBJ himself worried about at the time.

The tapes, transcript and introductory material presented in this posting were provided by David Coleman, former chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and a Fellow at the National Security Archive. As Coleman notes, the materials are revelatory about Johnson’s personal conduct of the crisis and his decision-making style as president. The transcripts, in several cases newly created by Coleman, are crucial to understanding the material on the tapes, which can be hard to decipher and are therefore often of limited usefulness on their own to researchers.

* * * * *

Lyndon Johnson and the Dominican Intervention of 1965

By David Coleman

Fifty years ago today, some 400 U.S. Marines landed in the Dominican Republic. By the end of the following day, over 1,000 more had landed. In the coming weeks, they were joined by U.S. Army forces. Eventually, tens of thousands of U.S. troops would be engaged in what became known as the Dominican Intervention, first as part of a U.S. unilateral military action and then under the auspices of an international force compiled by the Organization of American States.

President Johnson huddles with advisers in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 28, 1965, just before delivering his televised speech announcing the deployment of U.S. Marines into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. L-R: George Ball, Sec. Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Jack Valenti, Richard Goodwin, unidentified, George Reedy, McGeorge Bundy, unidentified. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library.

Four days earlier, the Dominican Republic had begun a spiral into civil war when members of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (Dominican Revolutionary Party) and their allies stormed the National Palace and installed a provisional president. Resistance from Loyalist forces led to escalating levels of violence.

A series of increasingly dire reports from the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, William Tapley “Tap” Bennett, Jr., warning that the situation was getting dangerous for American citizens in the country and that outside influences were likely playing an influential role in the revolution convinced Johnson that he had to act and that he did not have the luxury of time to assemble an international coalition through the Organization of American States.

Against the advice of many of his senior advisers, Johnson personally decided to send in the Marines. Their declared mission was to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens from the island. As he explained it to a national television audience on the evening of April 28, it was “in order to give protection to hundreds of Americans who are still in the Dominican Republic and to escort them safely back to this country.”[1]

There was no mention of a communist threat in his public statement; nor had there been in his news conference comments the previous afternoon. Indeed, Johnson himself had specifically removed any such references from the drafts of his statement to encourage an emphasis on the peace-keeping and humanitarian aspects of the intervention. But there was a second important part of the military mission. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler put it in orders to General Bruce Palmer Jr., the commander of U.S. forces, the mission had two objectives, one announced and one unannounced.

Your announced mission is to save US lives. Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist. The President has stated that he will not allow another Cuba—you are to take all necessary measures to accomplish this mission. You will be given sufficient forces to do the job.[2]

Johnson feared that Castro-ite and Communist forces were threatening to establish a Communist regime in the Dominican Republic. But there was little hard evidence of such influence—something Johnson suspected at the time and which prompted later private expressions of regret.

LBJ’s secretly recorded White House tapes provide a deeply textured and intimate view of his decision making during the crisis.[3]

The telephone had long been one of Johnson’s essential work tools, allowing him to neutralize geography and compress time in reaching out beyond the bubble of the Oval Office. During the Dominican crisis, he employed it extensively, connecting directly with Tap Bennet in Santo Domingo, and with Puerto Rico where Abe Fortas (the future Supreme Court justice) had volunteered his services as a line of communication with exiled president Juan Bosch. He was also able to get status reports at all hours directly from the duty officers in the White House Situation Room and the Pentagon Military Command Center.

President Lyndon Johnson on the telephone in the Oval Office on July 17, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library.

But it did not always go smoothly. The lack of secure communications equipment meant that the President and his representatives in the Caribbean typically had to speak over open lines that were prone to interception or just the more mundane problem of crossed lines. In some cases, that led to absurdly convoluted codes being improvised that often created more confusion than clarity. In one call presented below, Johnson tells Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to call Bennett in Santo Domingo to ask his opinion on whether to send in an additional 500 Marines. “Listen for him to cough right loud, and if he doesn’t, why, let’s move,” Johnson instructs.[4]

Reflecting Johnson’s own heavy personal involvement in directing the intervention, the crisis is represented on hundreds of tapes in the Johnson collection of secretly recorded White House telephone conversations. Below is only a small sampling taken mainly from the first days when the important decisions were being made about sending U.S. Marines into harm’s way and whether to escalate U.S. military involvement.

The transcripts presented here provide a cross-section illustrating Johnson’s personal management of the crisis. Some of them are entirely new; others are improved versions of transcripts that have been published elsewhere previously. Together they reveal the kind of information that the President was hearing, including when, how, and from whom. They reveal, strikingly and often jarringly, the kind of incomplete and often flawed information that was being used to make important decisions. And they show the gap between what was being said in public and what was being said in private, a phenomenon that had troubled the administration less than a year earlier in the Tonkin Gulf episode and would become increasingly important as the Vietnam War raged on.

* * * * *

Links to Tapes and Transcripts

[Note: The following tapes are available at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, White House (WH) and Situation Room (SR) Series, Recordings and Transcripts of Conversations and Meetings.]

(See http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/Dictabelt.hom/content.asp.)

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arbannsmU.S. Covert Intervention in Chile: Planning to Block Allende Began Long before September 1970 Election

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 470

May 23, 2014

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh 202/374-7281 or peter.kornbluh@gmail.com

 

battleOfChileWashington, DC, May 23, 2014 – Covert U.S. planning to block the democratic election of Salvador Allende in Chile began weeks before his September 4, 1970, victory, according to just declassified minutes of an August 19, 1970, meeting of the high-level interagency committee known as the Special Review Group, chaired by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. “Kissinger asked that the plan be as precise as possible and include what orders would be given September 5, to whom, and in what way,” as the summary recorded Kissinger’s instructions to CIA Director Richard Helms. “Kissinger said we should present to the President an action plan to prevent [the Chilean Congress from ratifying] an Allende victory…and noted that the President may decide to move even if we do not recommend it.”

The document is one of a compendium of some 366 records released by the State Department as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The much-delayed collection, titled “Chile: 1969-1973,” addresses Richard Nixon’s and Kissinger’s efforts to destabilize the democratically elected Socialist government of Salvador Allende, and the U.S.-supported coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. The controversial volume was edited by two former officials of the State Department’s Office of the Historian, James Siekmeier and James McElveen.

“This collection represents a substantive step forward in opening the historical record on U.S. intervention in Chile,” said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile documentation project at the National Security Archive, and is the author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Kornbluh called on the State Department to continue to pursue the declassification of all relevant records on the U.S. role in Chile, including all records of CIA contacts with the Chilean military leading up to the September 11, 1973, coup; CIA funding for the truckers’ strike as part of the “destabilization” campaign, and CIA intelligence on the executions of two U.S. citizens in the wake of the military takeover, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.

The FRUS series is scheduled to release an electronic supplement of additional records in the fall, and to publish another volume,Chile, 1973-1976, next year. “The next volume could advance the historical record on CIA support for the Chilean secret police, DINA, CIA knowledge of Operation Condor, and Pinochet’s act of international terrorism in Washington D.C. that killed Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt,” Kornbluh suggested.

In the aftermath of General Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in October 1998, the National Security Archive, along with victims of the Pinochet regime, led a campaign to press the Clinton administration to declassify the still-secret documents on Chile, the coup and the repression that followed. Some 23,000 NSC, State Department, Defense Department and CIA records were released. Some of those have been included in the new FRUS collection which contains a set of meeting memoranda of the “40 Committee” — an interagency group chaired by Henry Kissinger which oversaw covert operations in Chile, as well as dozens of formerly secret cables, including CIA communications.

The release of the records comes amidst renewed debate over the CIA role in supporting the military coup in Chile. The forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs contains an article by former CIA operative Jack Devine, “What Really Happened in Chile: the CIA, the Coup Against Allende, and the Rise of Pinochet,” which reveals that intelligence he obtained on September 9, 1973, alerted President Nixon in advance to the timing of the coup. “I sent CIA headquarters in Langley a special type of top-secret cable known as a CRITIC, which takes priority over all other cables and goes directly to the highest levels of government. President Richard Nixon and other top U.S. policymakers received it immediately. ‘A coup attempt will be initiated on 11 September,’ the cable read.”

Nevertheless, Devine asserts that the CIA “did not plot with the Chilean military to overthrow Allende in 1973.”

However, according to a transcript of the first phone conversation between Kissinger and Nixon following the coup, when the President asked if “our hand” showed in the coup, Kissinger explained that “we didn’t do it,” in terms of direct participation in the military actions: “I mean we helped them,” Kissinger continued. “[deleted word] created the conditions as great as possible.”

The Kissinger-Nixon transcript is reproduced in the 2013 edition of The Pinochet File.

Read the FRUS volume here

 

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arbannsm

CIA SUCCESSFULLY CONCEALS BAY OF PIGS HISTORY

National Security Archives   May 21, 2014

 

bayopigsThumbWashington, DC, May 21, 2014 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday joined the CIA’s cover-up of its Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 by ruling that a 30-year-old volume of the CIA’s draft “official history” could be withheld from the public under the “deliberative process” privilege, even though four of the five volumes have previously been released with no harm either to national security or any government deliberation.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision throws a burqa over the bureaucracy,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org), the plaintiff in the case. “Presidents only get 12 years after they leave office to withhold their deliberations,” commented Blanton, “and the Federal Reserve Board releases its verbatim transcripts after five years. But here the D.C. Circuit has given the CIA’s historical office immortality for its drafts, because, as the CIA argues, those drafts might ‘confuse the public.'”

“Applied to the contents of the National Archives of the United States, this decision would withdraw from the shelves more than half of what’s there,” Blanton concluded.

The 2-1 decision, authored by Judge Brett Kavanaugh (a George W. Bush appointee and co-author of the Kenneth Starr report that published extensive details of the Monica Lewinsky affair), agreed with Justice Department and CIA lawyers that because the history volume was a “pre-decisional and deliberative” draft, its release would “expose an agency’s decision making process in such a way as to discourage candid discussion within the agency and thereby undermine the agency’s ability to perform its functions.”

This language refers to the fifth exemption (known as b-5) in the Freedom of Information Act. The Kavanaugh opinion received its second and majority vote from Reagan appointee Stephen F. Williams, who has senior status on the court.

bayopigsOn the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 2011, the National Security Archive’s Cuba project director, Peter Kornbluh, requested, through the FOIA, the complete release of “The Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation” — a massive, five-volume study compiled by a CIA staff historian, Jack Pfeiffer, in the 1970s and early 1980s. Volume III had already been released under the Kennedy Assassination Records Act; and a censored version of Volume IV had been declassified years earlier pursuant to a request by Pfeiffer himself.

The Archive’s FOIA request pried loose Volumes I and II of the draft history, along with a less-redacted version of Volume IV, but the CIA refused to release Volume V, so the Archive filed suit under FOIA in 2012, represented by the expert FOIA litigator, David Sobel. In May 2012, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler held that Volume V was covered by the deliberative process privilege, and refused to order any segregation of “non-deliberative” material, as required by FOIA.

The Archive appealed the lower court’s decision, and with representation from the distinguished firm of Skadden Arps Meagher Slate & Flom, brought the case to the D.C. Circuit, with oral argument in December 2013. The National Coalition for History, including the American Historical Association and other historical and archival professional organizations, joined the case with anamicus curiae brief authored by the Jones Day law firm arguing for release of the volume.

Titled “CIA’s Internal Investigation of the Bay of Pigs Operation,” Volume V apparently contains Pfeiffer’s aggressive defense of the CIA against a hard-hitting 1961 internal review, written by the agency’s own Inspector General, which held the CIA singularly responsible for the poor assumptions, faulty planning and incompetence that led to the quick defeat of the paramilitary exile brigade by Fidel Castro’s military at the Bahia de Cochinos between April 17 and April 20, 1961.

The Archive obtained under FOIA and published the IG Report in 1998. The CIA has admitted in court papers that the Pfeiffer study contains “a polemic of recriminations against CIA officers who later criticized the operation,” as well as against other Kennedy administration officials who Pfeiffer contended were responsible for this foreign policy disaster.

In the dissenting opinion from the D.C. Circuit’s 2-1 decision yesterday, Judge Judith Rogers (appointed by Bill Clinton) identified multiple contradictions in the CIA’s legal arguments. Judge Rogers pointed out that the CIA had failed to justify why release of Volume V would “lead to public confusion” when CIA had already released Volumes I-IV. She noted that neither the CIA nor the majority court opinion had explained “why release of the draft of Volume V ‘would expose an agency’s decision making process,'” and discourage future internal deliberations within the CIA’s historical office any more than release of the previous four volumes had done.

Prior to yesterday’s decision, the Obama administration had bragged that reducing the government’s invocation of the b-5 exemption was proof of the impact of the President’s Day One commitment to a “presumption of disclosure.” Instead, the bureaucracy has actually increased in the last two years its use of the b-5 exemption, which current White House counselor John Podesta once characterized as the “withhold if you want to” exemption.

The majority opinion also left two openings for transparency advocates. It invites Congress to set a time limit for applying the b-5 exemption, as Congress has done in the Presidential Records Act. Second, it concludes that any “factual material” contained in the draft should be reachable through Freedom of Information requests.

 

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