Rachel Maddow traces CIA torture program back to JFK investigation

CIA ignores own lessons in developing torture program, says MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

Maddow links today’s scandal to the abuse of Yuri Nosenko, a Soviet military intelligence officer, who endured harsh interrogation techniques in the 1960s after he told told the CIA that Soviet intelligence service had no relationship with accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Maddow is right because JFK’s assassination and the government’s decision to avoid investigating it was critical in the consolidation of the national security state that now tortures, spies, and bombs with impunity.

But she makes some mistakes that are worth pointing out. While Nosenko was treated harshly, his CIA interrogators never directly inflicted pain on him. They put him in solitary confinement. They subjected him to sleeplessness, deprived him of food and the like. That may be torture to some but it is not the same as the torture that the Bush administration inflicted.

Maddow works from the assumption that Oswald’s sole guilt is beyond dispute, a view I do not share.

She says that Nosenko interviewed Oswald, which is not the case. Nosenko reviewed his file but never met Oswald.

She says that Nosenko said Oswald “acted alone,” which is not the case. Nosenko only told the CIA that Soviet intelligence had no dealings with him. He did not pass judgment on the question of his alleged sole guilt.

Maddow says that “the CIA did not believe him,” which is simplistic. Counterintelligence chief James Angleton and other officials close to him did not believe Nosenko. Other senior CIA officers did.

Maddow says the CIA ignored his history when it launched the torture regime after the September 11 attacks. But it may not have been that conscious. When the CIA keeps secrets, it keeps them from its own personnel as well as from the public. Secrecy makes us and them ignorant. And when you are ignorant, you can’t help but ignore.

In fact, most of the details of Nosenko’s treatment are withheld by the CIA, which cites the JFK Assassination Records Act as justification. More than 2,000 pages of records related to Nosenko’s interrogation are still withheld from public view until at least 2017.







  1. Tom says:

    Historian named Alfred McCoy from Madison has story for the origins of US torture that go back to Eisenhower Administration efforts to counter rumors the Soviets had penetrated human consciousness and were developing “Manchurian Candidate” type agents. so Eisenhower starts a program to help US agents resist torture. It’s an interesting story. (Heard his interview today on The War and Peace Report.)

    • lysias says:

      Resisting torture is rather different from inflicting torture. And, even if the people undergoing the training had to suffer from torture techniques like waterboarding, their quasi-torture did not have the same psychological effect as real torture does: they knew it was for training purposes, and they knew it was soon going to end.

  2. BrotherBruce says:

    On July 14, 1960, LBJ was the Senate Majority Leader, the 3rd most powerful man in Washington. JFK had just won the Presidential nomination and had already offered the VP slot to Senator Stuart Symington. Working on Johnson’s behalf, House Speaker Sam Rayburn let the Kennedys know that his protege, Lyndon Johnson, expected to be offered the Vice Presidential spot. Rayburn assured Jack and Bobby that LBJ had no intention of accepting but that he expected the offer. It was another political master stroke by Lyndon. After laying the trap, JFK stumbled right into it. Upon being advised that offering Lyndon the slot was the correct and expected protocol, Jack called on Lyndon in his suite and hung out the strictly pro forma offer. To Kennedy’s shock and extreme chagrin Lyndon grabbed Kennedy’s hand and pumped it up and down as he enthusiastically agreed to be JFK’s running mate.
    Upon hearing the news, JFK’s inner circle went ballistic. “In your first move after being nominated you go against all the people who supported you”, Salinger and O’Donnell shouted. Walter Reuther, UAW President “exploded in fury” when told that Johnson would be on the ticket. After an afternoon of argument and crazed debate Bobby went up to Lyndon’s suite and withdrew the offer. Then it was Sam Rayburn’s turn to go ballistic. Johnson turned on the waterworks and retreated to his bedroom; He had the reputation as being the greatest actor in Congress and today’s emotional performance rivaled that of his 19th century counterpart; John Wilkes Booth. Sam Rayburn picked up the phone, called JFK and demanded to know what was going on. Threats were made, hints of “big trouble for Jack’s campaign” were thrown out. Kennedy’s womanizing and health issues made him vulnerable to blackmail and he caved in immediately to Speaker Rayburn. “Don’t worry about Bobby, he doesn’t know whats going on” Kennedy replied, “Lyndon has the job if he wants it.”
    Now think about it; Why would the 3rd most powerful man in the Federal Government want so badly to campaign for such a low visibility, minimal power position? When asked that question by a female reporter, LBJ replied; “I’m a gamblin’ man honey, 25% of all President’s die in office and this is the only chance I’ve got.” For a man who’d already been implicated in several murders this was a significant, implied threat. What was Lyndon thinking? Was he already planning on “rubbing out” Kennedy or was he simply going to use his friend and neighbor, J. Edgar Hoover’s, secret files on Kennedy to scandalize JFK and force him to resign the office?

    • David Regan says:

      LBKs oral history tapes confirm the animosity JFK had for Johnson. She even offers that Jack planned on turfing Hoover once re-elected. Good points you raised, check this out for more on his corruption: The Men Who Killed Kennedy – Part 9 – The Guilty Men (2003) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgNfQYpS1gQ&sns=tw via @youtube

    • Photon says:

      Actually, there is some evidence that LBJ offer was Joe Kennedy’s idea; while RFK was the nominal campaign manager the Old Man made the plans,spent the money, arraigned the campaign and laid the groundwork for the modern marketing of political candidates.”We’re going to sell Jack like cornflakes”-and he did. As a political pragmatist, he knew that he had to get a prominent Southern Democrat on the ticket, preferably from a big state( in those days no Democrat get elected President without the solid South, especially Texas).Joe also had to deal with the anti-Catholic bias of much of the Southern electorate. LBJ brought Texas, which in a close election was the difference.In reality LBJ was probably the most liberal Southern New Deal Democrat that Kennedy could have gotten on the ticket.
      As far as LBJ succeeding JFK, Johnson had a much greater risk of dying in office than JFK did, particularly following his near-fatal heart attack. In 1960 he was still smoking, overweight and enjoying an occasional Old Granddad. Had he not stopped smoking and given up whiskey for Fresca he probably wouldn’t have made it past 1968- after he left office and resumed his old habits he rapidly went downhill and died from cardiovascular disease. I suspect that he was tired of the Majority Leader grind, particularly as he would not be the most prominent Democrat in Washington after the election.Also, he actually believed the standard B.S. from every Presidential candidate that his Vice Presidency would be a powerful position, that he would be in charge of relationships with Congress, that he would still be a power player in D.C. With JFK’s lack of experience and youth it wasn’t an illogical conclusion.

      • lysias says:

        Wasn’t Missourian Symington, who grew up in Baltimore, whose mother came from one of the old Virginia families, a Southerner?

    • roy wieselquist says:

      Brother Bruce, you know what’s going on. I am, perhaps, one of the top 100 JFK scholars, although that is known only to my beleaguered family and friends. I am writing the definitive history of the 11/22/63 coup d’etat from way before Julius Caesar (see Michael Parenti–the first JC was for the people too. That’s why Dante had Brutus and Cassius frozen in the lowest circle of hell with Judas. Treasonability counts for something) to the present day. This book may never be published, but I have to write it, if only to get this mass of 10 notebooks straight, on paper, so I will have a clean, clear, ready reference for myself.
      I write to you now to give you one tidbit of the thousands I have collected over the last 10 years that JFK has consumed me. And it has to do with that tragic VP choice, lyin, murderin Lyndon. A live TV camera was on that worse-than-Judas when Jack won the nomination with Wyoming. LBJ spit out, “I’m gonna get that son-of-a-bitch.” A la America, that little pearl of hatred was erased from CBS (I think, would have to look it up) archives.
      Funny how I found this out. I didn’t see/hear it on TV myself. I was nearly six at that time; as a hellion in Westfield, Mass., baseball, fishing, and fighting was all that interested me. AMD I was barely nine in Mrs. Rose Fitzgerald’s 4th-grade classroom (not THE Rose F.[Kennedy], but what a coincidence, ey?}, when the fascists took over in 1963 and ushered in the New Dark Age.
      No, I heard this nugget around the 50th anniversary. I used to be a rabid caller to a now-execrable late-night radio show, Coast to Coast. I ranted for a while on one JFK show about my big-picture idea of the thing, esp. the “LBJ as mastermind” part. They couldn’t/ wouldn’t get me off. Not long after my call, a dear, kind, gentle soul of an older gentleman called, and, partly out of sympathy for me and my passion, related his witnessing of the true LBJ at the 1960 Dem convention. At which time, the caller had been a very political high schooler who was glued to the coverage; and since then, he has looked for that footage, and has been unable to find it. Though he sounded like a man with a trusting nature, he believes it was excised.
      No exaggeration, I must have over a hundred details that I have never seen in any book AND have not been able to find on the interweb, where facts go to be buried under a mountain of detritus. SO, I wonder if you would be interested in finding documentation for Lyndon’s excited utterance, which is best evidence in a case.
      Thanks for your encompassing take on the situation. I’ll be looking for more, Roy Walter Wieselquist

      I saw your very erudite comment through looking up Barry Krusch, whom I just now heard about reading James Tague’s (oh, another one gone)last book.

  3. bogman says:

    Helluva a good Boston Global article on the “double government.”

    Perhaps solving the JFK case could be the catalyst for the much-needed reform of our security apparatus?

  4. David Regan says:

    I couldn’t help but wonder about the domestic opposition JFK struggled after reading this piece : Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/18/vote-all-you-want-the-secret-government-won-change/jVSkXrENQlu8vNcBfMn9sL/story.html?event=event25 via @BostonGlobe

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