Nelson Rockefeller was born in Bar Harbor, Maine, on 8th July, 1908. He was the son of John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. and the grandson of John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1930 Rockefeller went to work for the family business. In the next few years he spent a lot of time in Brazil and Latin America.
In 1940 Rockefeller was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State and during the Second World War served as Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, an anti-Nazi alliance for Central and South America. After the war, Harry S. Truman appointed him as head of the International Development Advisory Board.
In 1945 Nelson Rockefeller invited John J. McCloy to join the family law firm. He accepted the offer and the firm became known as Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. The law firm's most important client was the Rockefeller family's bank, Chase Manhattan. As John D. Rockefeller Jr. told his personal lawyer, Thomas M. Debevoise, "McCloy knows so many people in government circles... that he might be in the way to get information in various quarters about the matter without seeking it, or revealing his hand." McCloy's main task involved lobbying for the gas and oil industry.
The family's main concern was the threat posed against their interests in Standard Oil of California. John D. Rockefeller Jr. owned almost 6 per cent of the stock of the company, making him the single largest shareholder. In 1946 Harold Ickes claimed that Rockefeller was violating the terms of the 1911 dissolution decree. Two other anti-trust lawyers, Abe Fortas and Thurman Arnold, joined forces with Ickes to petition the Justice Department to investigate the matter. John J. McCloy, was asked to sort the matter out and by the autumn of 1946, he had persuaded Ickes, Fortas and Arnold to drop the matter.
Rockefeller was a member of the Republican Party and his political career was helped by the election of Dwight Eisenhower who appointed him as chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Government Reorganization. In 1953 Rockefeller became undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Rockefeller left Eisenhower's government in 1956. Two years later he was elected governor of New York after defeating the incumbent governor, W. Averell Harriman, by 600,000 votes. A member of the liberal wing of the party, Rockefeller was in favour of increased public spending and during his period of office launched several construction projects.
Rockefeller made three unsuccessful attempts to gain his party's presidential nomination. His liberal political views were held against him and he lost to Richard M. Nixon in 1960. He was also a candidate in 1964. He was attacked by Prescott Bush for divorcing his wife of 32 years. "Have we come to the point in our life as a nation where the governor of a great state... can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade the mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?" Other Republicans shared these views and Barry Goldwater got the nomination but was easily beaten by Lyndon B. Johnson.
In reality, Rockefeller's political views were more conservative than they appeared. For example, in 1964, one of Rockefeller's law firm’s most important clients, M. A. Hanna Mining Company, had a serious problem. John J. McCloy had several meetings with Hanna’s chief executive officer, George M. Humphrey. The two men had been close friends since Humphrey was Eisenhower’s Treasury Secretary. Humphrey was very concerned about the company’s investment in Brazil. Hanna Mining was the largest producer of iron ore in the country. However, after João Goulart had become president in 1961, he began to talk about nationalizing the iron ore industry.
Goulart was a wealthy landowner who was opposed to communism. However, he was in favour of the redistribution of wealth in Brazil. As minister of labour he had increased the minimum wage by 100%. Colonel Vernon Walters, the US military attaché in Brazil, described Goulart as “basically a good man with a guilty conscience for being rich.”
The CIA began to make plans for overthrowing Goulart. A psychological warfare program approved by Henry Kissinger, at the request of telecom giant ITT during his chair of the 40 Committee, sent U.S. PSYOPS disinformation teams to spread fabricated rumors concerning Goulart.
John J. McCloy was asked to set up a channel of communication between the CIA and Jack W. Burford, one of the senior executives of the Hanna Mining Company. In February, 1964, McCloy went to Brazil to hold secret negotiations with Goulart. However, Goulart rejected the deal offered by Hanna Mining.
The following month Lyndon B. Johnson gave the go-ahead for the overthrow of João Goulart (Operation Brother Sam). Colonel Vernon Walters arranged for General Castello Branco to lead the coup. A US naval-carrier task force was ordered to station itself off the Brazilian coast. As it happens, the Brazilian generals did not need the help of the task force. Goulart’s forces were unwilling to defend the democratically elected government and he was forced to go into exile.
As a result of the Watergate Scandal, on 9th August, 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first president of the United States to resign from office. The new president, Gerald Ford, nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president. During his confirmation hearings it was revealed that over the years he had made large gifts of money to government officials such as Henry Kissinger.
Later that year, Seymour Hersh of the New York Times, published a series of articles claiming that the Central Intelligence Agency had been guilty of illegal activities. In his memoirs, Ford said that he feared a congressional investigation would result in "unnecessary disclosures" that could "cripple" the CIA. He and his aides quickly decided that he needed to prevent an independent congressional investigation. He therefore appointed Rockefeller to head his own investigation into these allegations.
Other members of the Rockefeller Commission included C. Douglas Dillon, Ronald Reagan, John T. Connor, Edgar F. Shannon, Lyman L. Lemmitzer, and Erwin N. Griswold. Executive Director of the task-force was David W. Belin, the former counsel to the Warren Commission and leading supporter of the magic bullet theory. In 1973 Berlin had published his book, November 22, 1963: You are the Jury, in which he defended the Warren Report as an historic, "unshakeable" document.
In her book, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI, Kathryn S. Olmsted, wrote: "His choice for chairman, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had served as a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which monitored the CIA. Members Erwin Griswold, Lane Kirkland, Douglas Dillon, and Ronald Reagan had all been privy to CIA secrets in the past or noted for their strong support of governmental secrecy."
The journalist, Joseph Kraft, argued that he feared that the Rockefeller report would not end "the terrible doubts which continue to eat away at the nation." This was reflected in public opinion polls taken at the time. Only 33% had confidence in the Rockefeller Commission and 43% believed that the commission would turn into "another cover-up".
At a meeting with some senior figures at the New York Times, including Arthur O. Sulzberger and A. M. Rosenthal, President Gerald Ford let slip the information that the CIA had been involved in conspiracies to assassinate political leaders. He immediately told them that this information was off the record. This story was leaked to the journalist Daniel Schorr who reported the story on CBS News. As Schorr argued in his autobiography, Staying Tuned: " President Ford moved swiftly to head off a searching congressional investigation by extending the term of the Rockefeller commission and adding the assassination issue to its agenda."
Rockefeller's report was published in 1975. It included information on some CIA abuses. As David Corn pointed out in Blond Ghost: "the President's panel revealed that the CIA had tested LSD on unsuspecting subjects, spied on American dissidents, physically abused a defector, burgled and bugged without court orders, intercepted mail illegally, and engaged in plainly unlawful conduct". The report also produced details about MKULTRA, a CIA mind control project.
Rockefeller also included an 18-page section on the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Allegations Concerning the Assassination of John F. Kennedy). A large part of the report was taken up with examining the cases of E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis. This was as a result of both men being involved in the Watergate Scandal. The report argued that a search of agency records showed that Sturgis had never been a CIA agent, informant or operative. The commission also accepted the word of both men that they were not in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
The Rockefeller Commission also looked at the possibility that John F. Kennedy had been fired at by more than one gunman. After a brief summary of the Warren Commission (1964) and the Ramsay Clark Panel (1968) investigations, Rockefeller concluded: "On the basis of the investigation conducted by its staff, the Commission believes that there is no evidence to support the claim that President Kennedy was struck by a bullet fired from either the grassy knoll or any other position to his front, right front or right side, and that the motions of the President's head and body, following the shot that struck him in the head, are fully consistent with that shot having come from a point to his rear, above him and slightly to his right."
Rockefeller also looked at the possible connections between E. Howard Hunt, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and the CIA. He claimed that there was no "credible evidence" that Oswald or Ruby were CIA agents or informants. Nor did Hunt ever have contact with Oswald. The report argues: "Hunt's employment record with the CIA indicated that he had no duties involving contacts with Cuban exile elements or organizations inside or outside the United States after the early months of 1961... Hunt and Sturgis categorically denied that they had ever met or known Oswald or Ruby. They further denied that they ever had any connections whatever with either Oswald or Ruby."
This section of the report reached the following conclusions: "Numerous allegations have been made that the CIA participated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission staff investigated these allegations. On the basis of the staff's investigation, the Commission concluded there was no credible evidence of any CIA involvement."
The report was condemned as a cover-up. Dr. Cyril H. Wecht accused the Rockefeller Commission of "deliberately distorting and suppressing" part of his testimony as to the nature of Kennedy's head and neck wounds. Wecht demanded that a full transcript of his testimony be released. Rockefeller refused on the grounds that the commission proceedings were confidential.
President Gerald Ford dropped Rockefeller as his vice-presidential candidate in 1976 and he retired from national politics.
According to Jonathan Kwitny (Endless Enemies), in his retirement Nelson Rockefeller went on hunting and fishing trips with Guillermo Hernández-Cartaya, the Cuban businessman who was involved in the World Finance Corporation bank scandal. In 1976 Cartaya helped to establish Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU). Other members included Frank Castro, Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, Armando Lopez Estrada and Guillermo Novo.
Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack on 26th January, 1979.