Responsible Statecraft notes that January 17 marked
the 61st anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s coining of the Military Industrial Complex in his farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961. His departure and the incoming Kennedy administration would herald, at least in popular lore, the New Frontier. Three years later, the young Kennedy would be dead, an assassination forever at the center of unresolved collective disbelief and mystery.
Conspiracy theories have abounded, most all of them involving some level of government cover-up in the aftermath of the assassination.The latest tranche of declassified JFK documents in December hasn’t helped, for sure. They reaffirm a level of CIA knowledge of suspected lone gunman Harvey Lee Oswald years and weeks before the assassination heretofore unknown. The CIA had long constructed a narrative, beginning during the 1964 Warren Commission investigation of Kennedy’s killing, that the agency’s awareness of Oswald before November 22, 1963 was minimal. We know now, due to all of the documents declassified up through the last year, that the CIA was actively lying.
According to longtime CIA and Kennedy assassination biographer Jefferson Morely, the amount of info the agency had stored up on this so-called lonesome loser before that day in Dallas was “more like maximal”:
Author Kelly Vlahos goes on to point out that Eisenhower’s address was “bold and prescient in that it called out the arms complex as a potential abuser of a free and open democratic system,” the 34th president gave free rein to the CIA.
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
What he did not realize is that the covert alternative that he had allowed Dulles to expand had become its own gigantic complex of spies, paired with scientists and researchers, a labyrinth of civilian institutional collaborators, and an explosion of unrestrained taxpayer funding, corrupted by power and driven by ideology, secrecy, and fear. By its very nature it would thwart any possibility for an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” and not until the 1974 Church Committee hearings did the American people know the things that had been done in their names, before and after the Kennedy assassination.
Thanks to the destruction and/or classification of files we may never know the full extent. Meanwhile, the CIA’s operations throughout the Reagan years, and more recently the Global War on Terror, showed that covert ops had become a full complement of the MIC, not an alternative. Perhaps Eisenhower could not have anticipated that.