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.
The CIA would spend the next two decades fighting the release of documents to citizens who requested them under the FOIA. For CIA officials, whose lives were dedicated to secrecy, the logic behind the checks and balances of the three-branch system of government may have been incomprehensible. The idea that federal judges not trained in espionage could inspect CIA files and even order their release was enough to curdle the blood of secret operatives like Richard Ober. CIA officers felt that neither Congress nor the courts could comprehend the perils that faced secret agents. Their instinctive reaction, therefore, was to find any avenue by which they could avoid judicial or journalistic scrutiny.
A month after Congress enacted the new FOIA amendments, someone at the CIA leaked the news of MHCHAOS to Seymour Hersh at the New York limes. Hersh's article appeared on the front page of the December 22, r974, issue under the headline "Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years." Although sparse in detail, the article revealed that the CIA had spied on U.S. citizens in a massive domestic operation, keeping 10,000 dossiers on individuals and groups and violating the 1947 National Security Act. Hersh reported that intelligence officials were claiming the domestic operations began as legitimate spying to investigate overseas connections to dissenters.
Gerald Ford, who only four and a half months earlier had assumed the presidency in the wake of Nixon's resignation, took the public position that the CIA would be ordered to cease and desist. William Colby, who had replaced James Schlesinger as CIA director, was told to issue a report on MHCHAOS to Henry Kissinger.
Apparently Ford was not informed that Kissinger was well aware of the operation. A few days later, after Helms categorically denied that the CIA had conducted "illegal" spying, Ford named Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to head a commission that would be charged with making a more comprehensive report. Ford's choice of Rockefeller to head the probe was most fortunate for Ober. Rockefeller was closely allied with Kissinger, who had been a central figure in the former New York governor's 1968 presidential primary campaign. Although Rockefeller was well regarded in media and political circles for his streak of independence, it was all but certain from the beginning that his report would amount to a cover-up.
In fact, Colby ran into trouble because he was willing to be more forthcoming about MHCHAOS than Rockefeller and Kissinger desired. After Colby's second or third appearance before the commission investigators, Rockefeller drew Colby aside and said, "Bill, do you really have to present all this material to us? We realize there are secrets that you fellows need to keep, and so nobody here is going to take it amiss if you feel there are some questions you can't answer quite as fully as you seem to feel you have to."
Because of MHCHAOS and Watergate, Congress began to investigate the CIA. On September 16, 1975, Senators Frank Church and John Tower called Colby to testify at a hearing about CIA assassinations. Colby showed up carrying a CIA poison-dart gun, and Church waved the gun before the television cameras. It looked like an automatic pistol with a telescopic sight mounted on the barrel. Producers of the evening newscasts recognized this as sensational footage, and just as surely Colby recognized that his days as director were numbered. He had not guarded the CIA secrets well enough.
Colby was fired on November 2, 1975. His successor was George Herbert Walker Bush, who had been serving as chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing. Bush's job would be delicate, perhaps impossible, and probably thankless; but as the former chairman of the Republican Party, he had already been in a similar position, guiding the party through the worst days of the Watergate scandal. He had supported Nixon as long as it was politically feasible, then finally had joined those who insisted on Nixon's departure.
The disclosure that the CIA, in its domestic surveillance program code-named Operation Chaos, tapped wires and conducted break-ins caused a public stir that intervention in far-off Chile had not. Over the Christmas holiday in Vail, Colorado, President Ford, it would later emerge, had finally gotten to read the CIA inspector general's report, informally dubbed the Family Jewels.
It detailed a stunning list of 693 items of CIA malfeasance ranging from behavior-altering drug experiments on unsuspecting subjects, one of whom plunged to his death from a hotel window; to assassination plots against leftist third world leaders.
Anxious to keep congressional committees, already gearing up for investigations, from laying bare the worst of these, President Ford, on January 5, 1975, announced the appointment of a "blue-ribbon" commission to inquire into improper domestic operations. The panel was headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and included such stalwarts as Gov. Ronald Reagan of California, retired general Lyman Lemnitzer, and former treasury secretary Douglas Dillon.
A few days later President Ford held a long-scheduled luncheon for New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger and several of his editors. Toward the end the subject of the newly named Rockefeller commission came up. Executive Editor A. M. Rosenthal observed that, dominated by establishment figures, the panel might not have much credibility with critics of the CIA. Ford nodded and explained that he had to he cautious in his choices because, with complete access to files, the commission might learn of matters, under presidents dating back to Truman, far more serious than the domestic surveillance they had been instructed to look into.
The ensuing hush was broken by Rosenthal. "Like what?"
"Like assassinations," the president shot back.
Prompted by an alarmed news secretary Ron Nessen, the president asked that his remark about assassinations be kept off the record.
The Times group returned to their bureau for a spirited argument about whether they could pass up a story potentially so explosive. Managing Editor E. C. Daniel called the White House in the hope of getting Nessen to ease the restriction from "off-the-record" to "deep background." Nessen was more adamant than ever that the national interest dictated that the president's unfortunate slip be forgotten. Finally, Sulzberger cut short the debate, saying that, as the publisher, he would decide, and he had decided against the use of the incendiary information.
This left several of the editors feeling quite frustrated, with the inevitable result that word of the episode began to get around, eventually reaching me. Under no off-the-record restriction myself, I enlisted CBS colleagues in figuring out how to pursue the story. Since Ford had used the word assassinations, we assumed we were looking for persons who had been murdered - possibly persons who had died under suspicious circumstances. We developed a hypothesis, but no facts.
On February 27, 1975, my long-standing request for another meeting with Director Colby came through. Over coffee we discussed Watergate and Operation Chaos, the domestic surveillance operation.
As casually as I could, I then asked, "Are you people involved in assassinations?"
"Not any more," Colby said. He explained that all planning for assassinations had been banned since the 1973 inspector general's report on the subject.
I asked, without expecting an answer, who had been the targets before 1973.
"I can't talk about it," Colby replied.
"Hammarskjold?" I ventured. (The UN. secretary-general killed in an airplane crash in Africa.)
"Of course not."
"Lumumba?" (The left-wing leader in the Belgian Congo who had been killed in 1961, supposedly by his Katanga rivals.)
"I can't go down a list with you. Sorry."
I returned to my office, my head swimming with names of dead foreign leaders who may have offended the American government. It was frustrating to be this close to one of the major stories of my career and not be able to get my hands on it. After a few days I decided I knew enough to go on the air even without the identity of corpses.
Because of President Ford's imprecision, I didn't realize that he was not referring to actual assassinations, but assassination conspiracies. All I knew was that assassination had been a weapon in the CIA arsenal until banned in a post-Watergate cleanup and that the president feared that investigation might expose the dark secret. l sat down at my typewriter and wrote, "President Ford has reportedly warned associates that if current investigations go too far they could uncover several assassinations of foreign officials involving the CIA..."
The two-minute "tell" story ran on the Evening News on February 28. While I had been mistaken in suggesting actual murders, my report opened up one of the darkest secrets in the CIA's history.
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. The commission hastily scheduled a new series of secret hearings in the vice president's suite in the White House annex. Richard Helms, who had already testified once, was called home again from his ambassador's post in Tehran for two days of questioning by the commission's staff and four hours before the commission on April 28.
I waited with colleagues and staked-out cameras outside the hearing room, the practice being to ask witnesses to make remarks on leaving. As Helms emerged, I extended my hand in greeting, with a jocular "Welcome back'." I was forgetting that I was the proximate reason for his being back.
His face ashen from fatigue and strain, he turned livid.
"You son of a bitch," he raged. "You killer, you cocksucker Killer Schorr - that's what they ought to call you!"
He then strode before the cameras and gave a toned-down version of his tirade. "I must say, Mr. Schorr, I didn't like what you had to say in some of your broadcasts on this subject. As far as I know, the CIA was never responsible for assassinating any foreign leader."
"Were there discussions of possible assassinations?" I asked.
Helms began losing his temper again. "I don't know when I stopped beating my wife, or you stopped beating your wife. Talk about discussions in government? There are always discussions about practically everything under the sun!"
I pursued Helms down the corridor and explained to him the presidential indiscretion that had led me to report "assassinations."
Calmer now, he apologized for his outburst and we shook hands. But because other reporters had been present, the story of his tirade was in the papers the next day.
Beyond his ideological reasons for opposing a CIA investigation, Ford was also influenced by partisan and institutional considerations. Hersh's initial stories had accused Richard Nixon's CIA of domestic spying - not Lyndon Johnson's CIA or John Kennedy's CIA. If, indeed, the improprieties took place on the Republicans' watch, then too much attention to these charges could hasten the GOP's post-Watergate slide and boost the careers of crusading Democrats. Ford also opposed wide-ranging investigations because he felt responsible for protecting the presidency. "I was absolutely dedicated to doing whatever I could to restore the rightful prerogatives of the presidency under the constitutional system," he recalls. His aides list Ford's renewal of presidential power after Watergate as one of the greatest achievements of his administration. This lifelong conservative believed that he had a duty to control the congressional investigators and restore the honor of his new office.
Within days of Hersh's first story, Ford's aides recommended that he set up an executive branch investigative commission to avoid "finding ourselves whipsawed by prolonged Congressional hearings." In a draft memo to the president written on 27 December, Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Cheney explained that the president had several reasons to establish such a commission: to avoid being put on the defensive, to minimize "damage" to the CIA, to head off "Congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch," to demonstrate presidential leadership, and to reestablish Americans' faith in their government.
Ford's aides cautioned that this commission, formally called the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, must not appear to be "a 'kept' body designed to whitewash the problem." But Ford apparently did not follow this advice. 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.
In a revealing move, the president also appointed General Lyman Lemnitzer, the same chairman of the Joint Chiefs whose office in 1962 had been charged by Congressman Jerry Ford with a "totalitarian" attempt to suppress information. In short, Ford's commissioners did not seem likely to conduct an aggressive investigation. Of the "true-blue ribbon" panel's eight members, only John Connor, a commerce secretary under Lyndon Johnson, and Edgar Shannon, a former president of the University of Virginia, brought open minds to the inquiry, according to critics.
Many congressmen, including GOP senators Howard Baker and Lowell Weicker, found the commission inadequate. Some supporters of the CIA, such as columnist Joseph Kraft, worried that many Americans would view the commission as part of a White House cover-up. Although Kraft personally admired the commissioners, he feared that their findings would not be credible and therefore would not reduce "the terrible doubts which continue to eat away at the nation." A public opinion poll confirmed these reservations. Forty-nine percent of the people surveyed by Louis Harris believed that an executive commission would be too influenced by the White House, compared with 35 percent who supported Ford's action. A clear plurality - 43 percent - believed that the commission would turn into "another cover-up," while 33 percent had confidence in the commission and 24 percent were unsure. The New York Times editorial board, also suspicious of the panel, urged congressmen not to allow the commission to "become a pretext to delay or circumscribe their own independent investigation." A week later, the Times again reminded Congress of its duty to conduct a "long, detailed" examination of the intelligence community: "Three decades is too long for any public institution to function without a fundamental reappraisal
of its role."
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...
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...
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.