May 1 1990

CIA Chief Bush Suppresses the News

FAIR Exclusive

Documents obtained by FAIR, released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), show that George Bush, as head of the CIA in 1976, tried to bottle up a news story that exposed the apparent duplicity of another former CIA chief, Richard Helms.

The story, broken on Oct. 1, 1976, by David Martin (now CBS Pentagon correspondent, then with Associated Press), revealed that Helms had given misleading testimony to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of John Kennedy. Helms testified that the CIA had not “even contemplated” making contact with Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin. Through the FOIA, Martin obtained CIA memos showing that in 1960 the agency “showed intelligence interest” in Oswald and “discussed…the laying on of interviews” with him.

When Bush saw the AP story in the Washington Star, he asked for an internal CIA review to see if the story was true (it was) and if it would “cause problems for Helms.” (Helms had lied to a Senate committee about the CIA’s role in subverting Chilean democracy and would later be convicted of contempt of Congress.)

After investigating, Bush assistant Seymour Bolten reported back that the exposure of Helms’ false testimony to the Warren Commission would probably cause Helms “some anxious moments,” though not “any additional legal problems.” But Bush was assured that a “slightly better” story had resulted from an Agency phone call to AP protesting that Martin’s story was “sloppy.” Additionally, Bush was told that an unnamed journalist had “advised his editors . . . not to run the AP story.”

Bolten complained to Bush: “This is another example where material provided to the press and public in response to an FOIA request is exploited mischievously and in distorted form to make the headlines.” One might more accurately describe it as an occasion where George Bush’s CIA pressured one news outlet to back away from an accurate story while using an asset in the press corps to suppress it in another.