Biographies & Memoirs


Mary’s Mission

He’s lost in the wilderness. He’s lost in the bitterness.

This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world …

But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.

—James Brown

“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”

It is true that my discovery of LSD was a chance discovery, but it was the outcome of planned experiments and these experiments took place in the framework of systematic pharmaceutical, chemical research. It could be better described as serendipity.

—Dr. Albert Hofmann

The so-called sixties “drug culture” was not a campus fad. It was a worldwide renaissance of the oldest religions.

—Timothy Leary

SITTING AT HIS desk in a cramped office at 5 Divinity Avenue in the Center for Research in Personality at Harvard, Dr. Timothy Leary looked up and saw “a woman leaning against the door post, hip tilted provocatively,” studying him intently. “She appeared to be in her late thirties. Good looking. Flamboyant eyebrows, piercing green-blue eyes, fine-boned face. Amused, arrogant, aristocratic.”1 It was April 1962, and the Harvard lecturer had for months been immersed in the onslaught of problems and crises that his Harvard Psilocybin Project had been attracting. Mounting publicity had resulted in increasing scrutiny, not all of it by any means good. Both Leary and his colleague, Professor Richard Alpert, had been recently “vigorously criticized” at a faculty meeting for ethical and empirical violations that involved giving the hallucinogen psilocybin to undergraduates. Ordered to surrender their supply, they were forbidden to continue their research.

Overwhelmed by literally hundreds of outside inquiries received each week, the affable, bubbly forty-one-year-old Irish Harvard tweed Leary was looking forward to a trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in search of a more isolated retreat for his psychedelic research. As he was preparing to leave, the curious, unexpected visitor from Washington, D.C. arrived. She was someone he would encounter seven times over the next year and half. Twenty years later, in 1983, Timothy Leary recalled his initial impressions of their first meeting.

“Dr. Leary,” he remembered her saying “coolly,” “I’ve got to talk to you.” She had offered her hand for a formal greeting and, Leary recalled, introduced herself as “Mary Pinchot,” not Mary Meyer. “I’ve come from Washington,” she had said, “to discuss something very important. I want to learn how to run an LSD session.”2

Always partial to beautiful women, Timothy Leary was receptive. “That’s our specialty here,” he said. “Would you like to tell me what you have in mind?”

“I have this friend who’s a very important man,” Mary had told him. “He’s impressed by what I’ve told him about my own LSD experiences and what other people have told him. He wants to try it himself. So I’m here to learn how to do it. I mean, I don’t want to goof up or something.”3

Timothy Leary hadn’t understood at that moment that Mary was alluding to the president of the United States. Whether he was aware then that the president’s sister-in-law Ethel Kennedy had reportedly undergone LSD sessions in the late 1950s wasn’t known, but the president’s brother-in-law Stephen Smith, husband of Jean Kennedy, had already contacted Leary about his own desire to explore LSD. Tim had referred him to another early LSD proselytizer, his close friend Van Wolfe in New York, who subsequently acted as a psychedelic guide for the Kennedy family member in the early 1960s.4

“Why don’t you have your important friend come here with you to look over our project for a couple of days?” Leary responded. “Then if it makes sense to all concerned, we’ll run a session for him.”

“Out of the question. My friend is a public figure. It’s just not possible.”

“People involved in power usually don’t make the best subjects,” Leary cautioned.

“Look,” she said, according to Leary. “I’ve heard Allen Ginsberg on radio and TV shows saying that if Khrushchev and Kennedy would take LSD together they’d end world conflict. Isn’t that the idea—to get powerful men to turn on?”

“Allen says that, but I’ve never agreed. Premier Khrushchev should turn on with his wife in the comfort and security of his Kremlin bedroom. Same for Kennedy.”

“Don’t you think that if a powerful person were to turn on with his wife or girlfriend it would be good for the world?”

Nothing was certain, Leary explained. “But in general we believe that for anyone who’s reasonably healthy and happy, the intelligent thing to do is take advantage of the multiple realities available to the human brain.”

“Do you think that the world would be a better place if men in power had LSD experiences?” Mary asked.

“Look at the world,” Leary responded. “Nuclear bombs proliferating. More and more countries run by military dictators. No political creativity. It’s time to try something, anything new and promising.”5

The two continued talking and went out for a drink. Leary invited Mary back to his house for dinner. Michael Hollingshead, a burned-out eccentric who had been a Cambridge University philosophy instructor, now living in Leary’s attic, mixed more drinks as they discussed the changes that took place during the psychedelic experience. After dinner, they decided to take a low dose of magic mushrooms. While Hollingshead explained to Mary how to guide people in the throes of panic, Leary became aware of Mary’s frowning and recalled the following exchange.

“You poor things,” Mary said. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten into. You don’t really understand what’s happening in Washington with drugs, do you?”

“We’ve heard some rumors about the military,” Leary said.

“It’s time you learned more. The guys who run things—I mean the guys who really run things in Washington—are very interested in psychology, and drugs in particular. These people play hardball, Timothy. They want to use drugs for warfare, for espionage, for brainwashing, for control.”

“Yes,” Leary said. “We’ve heard about that.”

“But there are people like me who want to use drugs for peace, not for war, to make people’s lives better. Will you help us?”


“I told you. Teach us how to run sessions, use drugs to do good.”

Leary recalled feeling a bit uneasy. Mary seemed calculating, a bit tough, perhaps as a result of living “in the hard political world,” as he put it. He asked her again who her friends were that wanted “to use drugs for peace.”

“Women,” she said laughing. “Washington, like every other capital city in the world, is run by men. These men conspiring for power can only be changed by women.”

The next day Leary drove Mary to the airport, having “loaded her with books and papers” about the Harvard Psilocybin Project in preparation for her training as a psychedelic guide. He told Mary he didn’t think she was ready to start running sessions yet. She agreed. She would come back soon, she told him, for more practice.

“And don’t forget,” she said. “The only hope for the world is intelligent women.”6

Timothy Leary’s 1983 book Flashbacks portrayed Mary Meyer during the period of 1962 to 1963 in such a way that has aroused as much fascination as it has skepticism. The biggest, most unsettled question was left unanswered: Had Mary and the president actually wandered into the psychedelic Garden of Eden together during his presidency, and if so, when, and with what result? Leary’s account of his relationship with Mary also underscored Mary’s ongoing antipathy toward the nefarious nature of the CIA, specifically the Agency’s MKULTRA program, which was experimenting with all kinds of drugs for chemical warfare and mind control, including hallucinogens such as LSD. In addition, by April 1962, when Mary allegedly first appeared at Leary’s office at Harvard, her influence in Jack Kennedy’s life was already well established. Not simply a visitor to the White House residence when Jackie was away, Mary was seen in the Oval Office regularly. She attended any number of policy meetings at which the president discussed sensitive national security business and sought out her counsel.7 Mary’s close friend Anne Truitt described the importance of their relationship: “He saw she was trustworthy. He could talk to her with pleasure, without having to watch his words.”8

Appearances to the contrary, Mary’s decision to become involved with Jack wasn’t motivated by a selfish, manipulative desire to turn him on to drugs. If they did share a psychedelic experience,

Jack would have undoubtedly been a willing participant. Several accounts attest to the fact that Mary and Jack’s love relationship was serious, not a passing fling of intermittent one-night stands. Author Leo Damore had become convinced that by the time Kennedy reached the presidency, “Jack was a broken man. He had lived a life as an instrument of his father’s ambition, not his own.” It was Mary, said Damore, who took Jack by the hand. “She could see the brokenness in him, and didn’t need anything from him. In this relationship the power resided with Mary, and it was she, through her love, who bestowed the great gift of healing.”9 Yet Mary, too, appeared to have surrendered. “She told me she had fallen in love with Jack Kennedy and was sleeping with him,” said Anne Truitt. “I was surprised but not too. Mary did what she pleased. She was having a lovely time.”10

Just as fascinatingly, Timothy Leary’s account of the mysterious “Mary Pinchot from Washington,” depicted Mary as a kind of missionary for the ascension of world peace through the sagacious use of hallucinogens. Could an opportune mind-altering experience in the lives of powerful political figures, specifically the leader of the free world, awaken the kind of awareness, and leadership, that would take mankind away from war and strife toward the province of peaceful coexistence? Mary’s latent intention, Leary finally realized, had not only been to invite her lover the president to take a psychedelic excursion with her, but to train a small group of eight women in Washington, all of whom who were intimately involved with powerful public figures. Could the inducement of a psychedelically induced religious mystical experience in the politically powerful support a movement away from militaristic war and domination, toward harmonious peaceful coexistence throughout the world? It appeared that Mary had hatched a plan. Her pacifism and abhorrence of all violent armed conflict motivated a curiosity she thought worthy of exploration.

In the early 1960s, the world was fighting a war, albeit a Cold War, fraught with tensions that were constantly on the verge of escalating. Watching this unfold, Mary had a “catbird seat” as Cord’s wife. Perhaps through her own experience, psychedelic exploration had predisposed her to Allen Ginsberg’s vision. In any case, Timothy Leary portrayed Mary as a woman in possession of considerable feminine power, someone who had undergone her own personal transformation who now wanted to become an acolyte for world peace, intent on laying the groundwork for such a mission. Yet no one else has ever gone public to substantiate Leary’s claims about Mary’s mission, nor publicly verified the existence of any “LSD cell group” that she was supposedly working with. There is, however, one caveat to this dilemma that will be discussed shortly.

In addition, some of Leary’s critics (and there are many) even doubt that he actually had any contact with Mary Meyer at all. The majority of these critics believe he shamelessly exploited the story of Mary Pinchot Meyer, and engineered it for publicity for Flashbacks. In particular, the thrust of this criticism has been that if Leary had a relationship with Mary that began in 1962, why did he wait until 1983, some twenty years after the fact, to write about it? After all, Timothy Leary was a prolific author. Two of his major books from mainstream publishers, High Priest and The Politics of Ecstasy, both published in 1968—four years after Mary Meyer had been murdered—contain no mention of her.

However, it appeared that Leary did make an initial attempt to investigate Mary’s murder in late May of 1965 when he returned from his around-the-world honeymoon with his new wife. He told Leo Damore, and stated in Flashbacks, that he had finally called Vassar College in 1965 to find out Mary’s current whereabouts, only to discover she’d been murdered the previous fall. It was only at this juncture that Leary learned Mary had been married to Cord Meyer. In Flashbacks, Leary recorded that he broke down and sobbed at the time; he recounted the event to Damore in 1990.11 Enlisting the support of his friends Van Wolfe and Michael Hollingshead, Leary planned to do his own investigation and write a book about it. According to Van Wolfe, someone in “police intelligence in Washington” had told him Mary’s murder had been an assassination. The Leary-Wolfe plan was to “dig up the facts,” but Wolfe’s attorney warned him “nobody wanted this incident investigated,” that it was too dangerous to pursue.12

Another unanswered question still lingered: If Timothy Leary had returned from his around-the-world travels to Millbrook, New York, in the early summer of 1965, why hadn’t he followed Mary’s murder trial, particularly after having been so shocked and upset over her murder?

In an in-depth, nearly two-hour recorded interview in 1990, never before published, Leary told Damore that he did, in fact, know the trial was about to begin that summer, but that he had been blindsided by the emotional intensity of the breakup of his new marriage, as well as the crumbling of his Millbrook community, which included an onslaught of intimidation by local police. The campaign of police surveillance and interference had started just after Leary’s return, right before Ray Crump’s trial for the murder of Mary Meyer. After nearly a full year of harassment, the final hammer came down in March 1966, when G. Gordon Liddy, who had been attached to J. Edgar Hoover’s elite personal staff at FBI headquarters (and who would eventually become notorious as one of the Watergate break-in artists in 1972), raided Leary’s Millbrook compound.

“Had this been planned deliberately to keep you away from Mary’s murder trial?” Leo Damore asked Leary in 1990.

Prompted by Damore’s query, Leary entertained the possibility that the harassment might well have been deliberately timed to coincide with Mary’s murder trial. There had been an uptick in harassment and surveillance activity at Millbrook, said Leary, all through that summer and fall. Not wanting to stay for the winter, Tim and his new lady friend, Rosemary Woodruff, took off for the Yucatán in Mexico, only to be arrested at the Laredo, Texas, border crossing for “smuggling marijuana.” Rosemary Woodruff would famously remark: “Have you ever been in the situation where you feel all the gears shift, when everything changes? Poignant doesn’t begin to express it. I think Tim knew as well. Something like this had been waiting in the wings for a long time.”13

Media headlines all across the country would herald the Leary arrest. The backlash against him, and all recreational drugs, had begun. In spite of doing all he could to publicize and garner support for his trial, he was convicted on March 11, 1966, and sentenced to thirty years in jail and a $20,000 fine. The judge would eventually dismiss all the charges because of a failure to advise Leary and his family of their Miranda rights. But Leary was jailed again in 1969 on other drug charges, and then fled the country in 1970 and lived in exile for nearly three years. Finally captured in Afghanistan and extradited back to the United States, Timothy Leary would remain in the California prison system until April 1976.14 For more than ten years, Timothy Leary would be under siege, fighting for his life.

Upon his release from prison in 1976, having read the National Enquirer exposé about Mary’s affair with Jack published earlier that year, Leary would attempt a second investigation of Mary’s murder after coming across a copy of Deborah Davis’s book Katharine the Great at the home of his friends Jon and Carolyn Bradshaw.15 The Davis book revealed more details about who Mary Meyer had been, including her marriage to the CIA’s Cord Meyer, as well as her affair with the president. So incensed had Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham become over the book’s publication—purportedly because it accused Bradlee of having CIA connections—the two pressured publisher William Jovanovich of publishing giant Harcourt Brace Jovanovich to recall and shred the book.16

Leary would eventually oversee a further effort by Rebel magazine in the early 1980s to investigate Mary’s murder. He produced for Leo Damore several lengthy letters/reports from a private investigator by the name of William Triplett, whom he and Rebel had hired to do investigative work. Damore further confirmed the authenticity of Triplett’s investigation and association with Leary in early 1991.17

While Timothy Leary’s biographer, Robert Greenfield, lamented that Leary’s book Flashbacks wasn’t entirely accurate, he persisted in quoting many of the events in the book to support his portrait of Leary as a narcissistic miscreant. Greenfield did, however, verify in an interview for this book that Tim Leary knew Mary Meyer, and “probably did supply her with psychedelics.” Moreover, Mary was using her maiden name when she began their association. He wasn’t aware, perhaps intentionally so on Mary’s part, that she had been married to CIA operative Cord Meyer, with whom Leary himself had had a number of combative encounters when he was part of the American Veterans Committee (AVC) during his graduate student days at the University of California at Berkeley.18

“Tim didn’t like Cord Meyer,” said Greenfield. “His secretary in Berkeley confirmed that for me, as well as his relationship with Mary. My sense was that this [Leary’s relationship with Mary Meyer] did happen. If she came to him at Harvard, that’s the period where he was out to turn on the world and the aristocracy—people like Robert Lowell, Barney Rosset, Charles Mingus, Theolonius Monk, and Maynard and Flo Ferguson. At Millbrook, Tim still had the patina of respectability. He looked straight. He was an ex Harvard professor. It was the early sixties, pre-psychedelic. Based on all the research I did, it seems entirely likely to me Tim would have met with somebody like this, only Tim would have not made the association, given that Mary was only identifying herself as Mary Pinchot.”19

As authoritative and well-researched as Robert Greenfield’s 2006 biography of Timothy Leary had been, Greenfield didn’t have access to the important two-hour tape-recorded interview of Leary with the late author Leo Damore in November 1990. The Leary-Damore interview focused almost entirely on Leary’s relationship with Mary and the events surrounding her death, in addition to what was taking place in Leary’s own life at the time. During this interview, Leary offered many fascinating new details and insights about Mary and what he had learned about her activities. Damore and Leary also had a number of follow-up telephone conversations for nearly three years after the initial 1990 interview.20

“I knew Cord quite well in 1946 during my involvement with the American Veterans Committee,” Leary told Damore. “He was an absolute fanatic who fought with everyone, a real monster-machine!”21 Again, this may have indicated Mary’s knowledge that confrontations between Cord and Leary had taken place years earlier; Mary’s deception was likely deliberate. She clearly understood some of the risks involved in being identified, Leary told Damore, and she had wanted to keep a low profile from the very beginning. Throughout the interview, Leary reiterated several times that Mary never mentioned names.

“Mary first wanted to turn on the wives and girlfriends of important powerful men,” Leary explained. “That’s what she said. She never gave me any indication who these men were, or the women for that matter.”

“Weren’t you at least curious?” asked Damore.

“Mary was like a crusader,” responded Leary. “The early ones were almost always crusaders for a higher consciousness, like ministers of the gospel. And a lot of them were women. Peggy Mellon Hitchcock was another.” Indeed, so enthralled by the potential of hallucinogenic consciousness expansion was Ms. Hitchcock that when Leary was fired from Harvard in 1963, she and her brothers offered their family’s Millbrook, New York, estate as a base for psychedelic research. The legendary en masse exodus from Cambridge to Millbrook had taken place almost immediately.22

“What about details? How was she putting this together?” Damore wanted to know.

“When we met, it was clear Mary was unwilling to talk about specifics,” Leary recalled. “I really didn’t pay that much attention to her. I helped her when I could, when she called or came up to Boston, but I never gave much thought about it until after I found out she’d been murdered. Both at Harvard and Millbrook, we were being besieged from people all over the country and all over the world. It was overwhelming and never-ending.”23

One person still alive today, Mary’s close friend Anne Chamberlin, might well be able to authoritatively comment on Mary’s mission, because she was, according to Damore, part of Mary’s LSD cell group in Washington. But Anne Chamberlin has repeatedly refused to be interviewed for this book, although she did apparently talk with Damore on several occasions, starting in the late 1980s. During his interview of Leary, Damore revealed that he had been in contact with Chamberlin on more than one occasion:

One of the women who was involved with Mary in the LSD group is now living in Maine. And I’ve talked to her at great length. Anne Chamberlin. Anne Chamberlin is a writer, an essayist, extremely wealthy, out of San Francisco, out of Washington—out of, out of fear, actually. And Anne is more and more forthcoming because I think enough time has passed and those people in power who felt threatened by Mary Pinchot Meyer as a person who held an awful lot of information and a lot of secrets who could make certain politicians in this town very uncomfortable.24

In a follow-up request to Anne Chamberlin in early 2009, I alerted her to my ownership of the Damore material and the fact that I had become privy to some of what she had told him. I offered her every confidentiality if she would be willing to talk with me about it.25 A week later she replied by letter: “It saddens me that you continue to pursue the long-gone phantom prey. I have nothing to say about Mary Meyer, or anything connected with Mary Meyer. I have told you this before. I am telling you now. Don’t make me tell you again.”26 For whatever reason, Ms. Chamberlin never wanted to make known her relationship with Mary Meyer, nor reveal why she apparently abruptly left Washington shortly after Mary’s murder.

Leo Damore was curious about other sources of information regarding Mary’s possible use of psychedelics, though he wanted primarily to hear from the LSD guru himself where Mary had gone for assistance. Purportedly, there had been one other account. In 1989, C. David Heymann published the book A Woman Named Jackie. There, Heymann quotes from an alleged interview with former CIA counterintelligence chief Jim Angleton. Angleton was said to have told Heymann—referring to Mary’s affair with Kennedy—that “Mary kept an art diary in which she began making notations concerning their meetings, of which there were between thirty and forty during their affair—in the White House, at her studio, in the homes of friends.” Angleton then, according to Heymann, said that Mary and Jack “took a mild acid [LSD] trip together, during which they made love.”27

But no record of Heymann’s Angleton interview has ever been produced, nor have records of Heymann’s other alleged interviews with Timothy Leary and Tony Bradlee, which he told Damore he had conducted.28 Moreover, to my knowledge, Angleton never confirmed the statements he made to Heymann with anyone else before his death in 1987.29 Yet Angleton’s alleged statements might have been the sort of details Mary would have noted in her real diary—the one that Angleton stole on the night of her murder, not the artist’s sketchbook that the Bradlees and others designated as the diary, which was only a decoy.

During his 1990 interview of Leary, Damore asked him point-blank: “Do you believe there’s any doubt he [Jack] was using acid [LSD] in the White House with her [Mary]?” Leary’s response was adamant: “I can’t say that,” he told Damore emphatically. “That was only my assumption…. There’s no question in my mind now that she had proposed to use LSD with Jack. I had heard that Bobby had also been interested.”30

“But from all of the hints she was giving you,” Damore further pressed, “wasn’t it almost a given?” Again, Leary conceded he thought it was very possible, even likely, but would go no further.31 Six years later, in 1996, the year he died, Leary reiterated this same unwavering position to author Nina Burleigh. “Mary Meyer might have dropped acid [ingested LSD] with Kennedy,” he told Burleigh, but again made it clear that “he had no proof.”32

At the time of the 1990 Damore-Leary interview, the only other account of any drug use by Mary and Jack came indirectly from James Truitt for the breakout story he gave to the National Enquirer in 1976. Despite the subsequent smear campaign engineered to discredit Truitt, he was an established journalist and a former vice president of the Washington Post, who over the years had amassed a large set of papers and files that included portions of what Mary had confided.33

While researching material for her book Katharine the Great, author Deborah Davis read the 1976 Enquirer exposé and found it more than just credible. “Truitt’s story in the National Enquirer was strangely well documented,” Davis later recalled in 2009. “So much so, I actually went to Florida and talked to both the editor and writer about the story. It was after that I went to visit Jim Truitt in Mexico.” Davis interviewed Truitt for more than ten hours over a three-day period during 1976. The two then corresponded further by mail.34

Perhaps as a prelude, Mary may have wanted to see Jack’s reaction to something far less potent than a hallucinogen like LSD or psilocybin. Based on the information Mary shared with Truitt, there was at least one encounter when Mary and Jack smoked marijuana together in the White House residence. On Monday evening, July 16, 1962, according to Truitt’s notes, Mary produced “a snuff box with six marijuana cigarettes” in Jack’s bedroom. “Let’s try it,” Jack reportedly said to Mary.35

“She and the President sat at opposite ends of the bed and Mary tried to tell him how to smoke pot,” Truitt was quoted saying in the 1976 National Enquirer article. “He wouldn’t listen to me,” Mary told Truitt. “He wouldn’t control his breathing while he smoked, and he flicked the ashes like it was a regular cigarette and tried to put it out a couple of times.”

“Mary said that at first JFK didn’t seem to feel anything, but then began to laugh and told her: ‘We’re having a White House conference on narcotics here in two weeks!’

“She said that after they smoked the second joint, Jack leaned back and closed his eyes. He lay there for a long time, and Mary said she thought to herself, ‘We’ve killed the President.’ But then he opened his eyes and said he was hungry.

“He went to get something to eat and returned with soup and chocolate mousse. They smoked three of the joints and then JFK told her: ‘No more. Suppose the Russians did something now!’

“She said he also told her, ‘This isn’t like cocaine. I’ll get you some of that.’ She said JFK wanted to smoke pot again a month later, but never got around to it.

“When Mary got home that night she realized with horror that she’d left her slip in the President’s bedroom. It wasn’t until 8:30 the next morning that she was able to reach him by phone. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said he told her. ‘It’s in the Presidential safe in an envelope with your name and the Presidential seal on it.’”36

While folklore maintained that the actual affair between Mary and Jack didn’t begin until January 1962, it likely started much earlier.37 According to the account Kenny O’Donnell gave to Leo Damore shortly before his death in 1977, Mary was in the White House in Jack’s company shortly after he took office as president in early 1961. She often came into the White House, said O’Donnell, under the guise of “Dave Powers plus one” entries in the Secret Service logs before she was listed by her own name in the logs. The “Dave Powers plus one” entries were numerous all through 1961 and beyond. Her first documented solo private entrance into the White House residence (as noted in the White House Secret Service logs) occurred on October 3, 1961,38 followed by some thirteen other documented private visits during the Kennedy presidency. Mary also attended all six of the White House dinner dances, as well as any number of luncheons and smaller dinner parties given by Jack and Jackie.39 The secret lovers also met a number of times alone at the Georgetown home of Joseph Alsop, who had offered his house when he was away.40 Finally, there were a number of instances during his presidency when Jack met with Mary at her house in Georgetown.41

Mary’s privacy about the affair, however, no matter when it began, was of paramount concern. It appeared that she established an early ground rule in her relationship with Jack. A private person whose solitude was sacred, she didn’t want to be a topic of conversation in scandal-mongering Washington, nor of yesterday’s gossip, like so many of Jack’s dalliances. Jack appeared to have agreed to this condition, but couldn’t always restrain his bravado.

“If only we could run wild, Benjy,” he said to Ben Bradlee, looking over all the women at one of the White House dinner dances.42 Aware of Mary’s beauty and allure from across the room at the third White House dinner dance in February 1962, Jack had leaned in and commented to Bradlee, “Mary would be rough to live with.” According to Bradlee, it wasn’t the first time Jack had made the comment. “And I agreed, not for the first time,” recalled Bradlee.43 Had Jack’s remark revealed something about the nature of his relationship with Mary?

Look correspondent Laura Bergquist, married to Fletcher Knebel, a Harvard classmate of Jack’s, had had access to Jack ever since his 1952 senatorial campaign. Many years later, she insightfully characterized Jack as deeply vulnerable. “I think he always felt an insecurity about himself,” she told social historian Ralph Martin in an interview for his 1995 book Seeds of Destruction. “Not simply because he was part of the upward-mobile Irish, but because I think he recognized himself as an image that had been manufactured. And the questions came up: ‘Who loves me and wants me for myself, and who loves me for what they think I am, and what I can do?’” Martin’s next sentence read: “One of the women who loved him for himself was Mary Pinchot Meyer….”44

And Mary would have demanded Jack’s self-examination, demanded that he open his eyes, his heart, his soul, the core of his being to both the artifice and the reality of his existence, including his sexual promiscuity. She would have refused to allow him to hide behind his physical incapacity, his sense of obligation to his father or the Kennedy family, his fear of public ridicule or recrimination, or any indifference to such issues as civil rights or the dangers of the Cold War. She would have taken him to task in a way that some part of him deeply longed for, knowing the emotional pain he would have to confront. In order to reclaim himself, Jack would have had to brave a kind of grief and emotional intensity similar to what Mary herself had faced with the loss of her son Michael. Mary knew the drill—the crashing surf of unbearable sorrow, and what was required to survive it. The “prima female assoluta” would have been at once tender and firm with him, yet demanding that he show up, engage, and stop running.

For Jack, Mary may have represented the hope of a lost love, a magnetic, romantic passion, the kind of erotic chemistry he had once experienced with Inga Arvad, tempered by the same kind of no-bullshit, heartfelt bond he had shared with his departed sister Kathleen. Indeed, there were undoubtedly moments when Mary was “rough to live with,” but something in Jack had been awakened by Mary’s entrance into his life—something that kept him engaged, and apparently wanting more. Such was the fire and hope not only of love’s redemption, but a more clearly defined reclamation of himself and the kind of president he wanted to become.

Kenny O’Donnell confided to Leo Damore that Mary had been quite outspoken and confrontational with the president when he was about to resume nuclear testing in April 1962. “She openly challenged him to do something different, not fall into the trap of getting into a pissing contest with the Russians,” said Damore in 1992, based on O’Donnell’s statements to him. O’Donnell sometimes, according to Damore, even feared Mary because of the power she had over Jack, saying the president would “feverishly” pace around the Oval Office when he wasn’t able to get in touch with her by phone.45 Vulnerability isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness; very often it’s the emerging strength of a healing heart crying out for connection. “Mary had a serenity about her,” reflected Ben Bradlee pensively about a quality in her that he found unusual. “She was a serious person. If she fell in love with somebody, I suspect that person was really loved.”46

For a period of time the Bradlees, particularly Tony, may well have been kept in the dark about what was taking place. Mary would have insisted that Jack keep any knowledge of their affair from them, but that presented a problem, for the Kennedys were close friends with the Bradlees, before and during Jack’s presidency. Part of Mary’s ground rule was to keep her sister and brother-in-law off the scent of the trail. The two lovers hatched a scheme: Jack would dote on Tony and give the impression that she, not Mary, was the Pinchot sister who caught his eye. Tony Bradlee had always lived in Mary’s shadow. Four years younger, she was said to have been the “more reserved and shy of the two sisters.”47 And while they were not overtly competitive, Tony harbored a quiet jealousy toward her sister, who was always regarded as the more beautiful, more attractive, more enchanting of the two.

It was surely no accident that at the very first White House dinner dance on March 15, 1961, just two months into the Kennedy presidency, Mary was seated next to Jack at the president’s table; but the price of that admission was that Tony would be seated on Jack’s other side, “making the Beautiful People from New York seethe with disbelief,” according to Ben Bradlee.48 Some thought Mary’s affair with Jack had not yet begun, but according to the information Kenny O’Donnell shared with Leo Damore, it surely had.

Even Jackie, it appeared, fell for the trick for a period of time. As late as April 1963, when the Bradlees were dining alone with the Kennedys at the White House, Jackie had intriguingly remarked, “Oh Jack, you know you always say that Tony is your ideal [woman].”49 It appeared the remark already had a history. With Mary in attendance during Jack’s raucous forty-sixth birthday bash on May 29 on the presidential yacht Sequoia, the celebration had cruised up and down the Potomac River until “1:23 A.M.” It was a particularly “wild party” on a hot, humid Washington evening, complete with thunderstorms and periods of torrential rain, people drinking heavily while getting soaking wet, and Teddy Kennedy ripping half his pants off at the crotch. “But it was Jack himself,” noted author Sally Bedell Smith, “who misbehaved in an especially reckless fashion.”50

That observation was based in part on Smith’s interview with Tony Bradlee. According to Tony, she played up the fact that Jack had been “following her” around that birthday evening. “He chased me all around the boat,” Tony told Smith. “A couple of members of the crew were laughing. I was running and laughing as he chased me. He caught up with me in the ladies room and made a pass. It was a pretty strenuous attack, not as if he pushed me down, but his hands wandered.”51

Yet Tony’s most telling insight, expressed during her 2001 interview with Smith, was that Jack’s behavior “struck me as odd.” She added, “[I]t seems odder knowing what we now know about Mary [and her relationship with Jack].” The significance of her momentary discernment eluded her. Given that she was already smitten, Tony’s infatuation was as much wishful thinking as Jack’s behavior was a strategic ploy. “I guess I was pretty surprised,” continued Tony, “but I was kind of flattered,” quickly adding, “and appalled too.”52 But once again, the game had snookered Tony. It appeared she had been left in the dark right up until Mary’s murder. “Jack had been attracted to her,” she maintained. “He had made several unsuccessful passes. Jack was always so complimentary to me, putting his hands around my waist.”53 Years later, in 2007, Ben Bradlee still emphatically recalled how “shocked [Bradlee’s emphasis]” she had been when she found out Mary had been having an affair with Jack.54

One person who wasn’t fooled the evening of Jack’s forty-sixth birthday in May 1963, or anytime earlier, was journalist Charlie Bartlett, a close, dear friend of Jack’s who, with his wife, Martha, had first introduced him to Jackie. Bartlett, a distinguished journalist and Washington insider who spearheaded the Washington bureau of the Chattanooga Times, had also been a Yale classmate of Cord Meyer’s. He was well acquainted with everyone in the Kennedy inner circle, and he and Martha often socialized with Jack and Jackie.

Emotionally closer to Jack than Ben Bradlee would ever become, Charlie Bartlett was perhaps one of Kennedy’s primary confidantes. Jack mostly compartmentalized his close friendships, yet he confided in Bartlett what he rarely shared with anyone else. “I really liked Jack Kennedy,” recalled Bartlett in late 2008 in an interview for this book. “We had great fun together and a lot of things in common. We had a very personal, close relationship.” Apparently that awareness didn’t go unnoticed. When Jack began his presidency, Bartlett thought it a bit odd that his Yale classmate Cord Meyer, then a chief operative in the CIA’s covert action directorate, wanted to begin having a more social relationship with him. “Cord and I saw a lot of each other after Jack Kennedy became president because I think someone at CIA told Cord to keep an eye on me.”55

Regarding Jack’s relationship with Mary, Bartlett bluntly admitted, “I didn’t particularly like Mary Meyer.” He had known both Mary and Cord when they were married. When asked by Nina Burleigh why he never considered investigating the story of Mary Meyer, he reportedly exclaimed nervously, “Oh, I can’t. Too many of my friends are a part of that one.”56 But what he didn’t mention to authors Burleigh or Sally Bedell Smith was what he had come to know about Jack’s affection for Mary.

“That was a dangerous relationship,” Bartlett recalled. “Jack was in love with Mary Meyer. He was certainly smitten by her, he was heavily smitten. He was very frank with me about it, that he thought she was absolutely great.” That there were moments when Jack couldn’t contain his affection didn’t go unnoticed, either. Recalling a number of excursions on the presidential yacht Sequoia and the Kennedy family boat Honey Fitz, Bartlett further added: “We had these boat parties and we could see it [Jack’s affection for Mary]. I even got a little mad with him on one of the boat parties, because it was more than obvious. He took it [his relationship with Mary] pretty seriously.”57

Charlie Bartlett’s observations further dovetailed with Kenny O’Donnell statements to Leo Damore. O’Donnell, who was as close to Jack as anyone could be on a daily basis during his presidency, knew firsthand Jack’s affection for Mary. “Kenny had always admired Jack as a cool champion, the man of political celebration,” Damore revealed in 1992. “He saw it start to collapse because of Mary. Jack was losing interest in politics. The fun for Jack was winning the job [being elected president].”58 Sometime in October 1963, said Damore, just a little more than a month before his death, “Jack confided to Kenny he was deeply in love with Mary, that after he left the White House he envisioned a future with her and would divorce Jackie.”59

Mary was in the White House residence on Monday evening, August 6, 1962, just thirty-six hours after the apparent suicide of famed Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Her sultry “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” appearance three months earlier at a combined fund-raiser and birthday party for Jack in New York had already become an iconic Americana moment. Surely Mary knew that Jack had been involved with Marilyn. But had she known how the relationship had disintegrated, or how his brother Bobby had recently “taken his turn” with the world’s most famous sex goddess—who had been unwilling “to go away quietly”? That Bobby Kennedy and Peter Lawford were at Marilyn’s house the day she died was suspicious enough; that Bobby returned a second time that evening, according to two witnesses, immediately prior to her “suicide” was a bit more unsavory.60 The situation, according to people who knew Marilyn closely, had become critical. Should she have proceeded with her intention to publicly reveal the affairs, the Kennedy political machine might have been dealt a severe blow. The events immediately following her death created more questions than answers.61 Marilyn’s alleged crusade “to expose the Kennedys for what they are” has had enormous reverberations, including the close guarding of fifty-four crates of Robert Kennedy’s records at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum that are so confidential even the library’s director is prohibited from knowing what’s in them.62 Such have been the extensive efforts of the Kennedy image machine to keep the full disclosure of truth from the American people.

Toward the end of 1962, inside the White House Mary Meyer had become “almost part of the furniture,” in the words of White House counsel Myer Feldman, according to author Nina Burleigh. “Unlike with some of the other women—and men—in the White House, the president did not ask her to leave the room when he discussed business,” wrote Burleigh. “So frequent was her proximity to the president, and so obvious Kennedy’s admiration for her, that Feldman felt Mary might make a good conduit to the president’s ear if and when Kennedy was unavailable to discuss matters of state with him.”63 Mary’s emerging presence in the White House was more than just what was documented in the entry logs.

“I’d walk in and out of the office all the time,” Feldman told Burleigh, “and I would see her in the Oval Office or over in the residence. Around eight-thirty, when the day was over, often I’d walk over to the residence and she’d be sitting there. There wasn’t any attempt to hide her the way there was with some of the other women.”64

In addition, Mary’s evolving position within the Kennedy White House senior staff was never second tier. Mention of her name could even be considered advantageous for employment, in the opinion of Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. In a two-page December 1962 memo in support of fellow historian Trumbull Higgins’s proposal to write the official White House account of the Bay of Pigs debacle, Schlesinger stated, “I know Higgins slightly. He is an old friend of Mary Meyer’s, who knows him better.”65 Higgins eventually published a book on the Bay of Pigs fiasco entitled The Perfect Failure (1987), in which he concluded that President Kennedy had inherited a catastrophe in the making that had been prepared by the CIA under Kennedy’s predecessor President Eisenhower.

Allen Dulles was finally granted his wish by President Dwight Eisenhower to be director of the CIA (DCI) in 1953. But Eisenhower, even before leaving office, had regretted the Dulles appointment. With the CIA’s 1954 overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Eisenhower finally realized the Agency was dangerously out of control. He was advised to get rid of Dulles, but didn’t. It proved to be a huge mistake. Several year later, right before Eisenhower’s May 16, 1960, peace summit with Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the CIA engineered the May 1 downing of its own U-2 reconnaissance spy flight over Russian territory as a way to undermine any possibility of rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower had planned to orchestrate a Soviet détente before he left office, so that he could cut the defense budget and redirect resources toward America’s domestic needs. That dream was quickly vanquished as tensions between the two emerging superpowers resumed unabated. Through fear-mongering, the CIA had achieved its goal, urging upon Congress the strategic necessity for further increases in its budget. As he left office, President Eisenhower would finally explode at Dulles. “The structure of our intelligence organization is faulty,” he told the director. “I have suffered an eight-year defeat on this. Nothing has changed since Pearl Harbor. I leave a ‘legacy of ashes’ to my successor.” By 1964, the Agency’s clandestine service and operations would consume nearly two-thirds of its entire (classified) budget and, according to author Tim Weiner, 90 percent of the director’s time.66

In his farewell speech, President Eisenhower warned the public to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,” by what he called “the military-industrial complex.” Warning that “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower pointed to “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” as the antidote. But the military-industrial complex of which Eisenhower spoke had a third, unnamed component: intelligence.

Established in 1947, the CIA was, from its inception, virtually unaccountable to any authority. It was subject to little, if any, congressional oversight, a fact that would increasingly haunt both President Harry Truman and his successor, President Eisenhower. As a career military general, Eisenhower was skeptical about the role of civilians in clandestine paramilitary operations. In addition, he was troubled by the fact that the Agency had a carte blanche “get out of jail free card” for anything it attempted. President Truman’s 1948 National Security Council (NSC) had so imbued the Agency with unchecked, absolute power, it threatened the entire foundation of America’s constitutional premise.

That year the NSC approved what became known as “Top Secret Directive NSC 10/2,” a virtual bottomless pit of nefarious, illegal quicksand. The directive defined covert operations as actions conducted by the United States against foreign states “which are so planned and executed that any U.S. Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.” Creating what came to be known as “plausible deniability,” the directive sanctioned and authorized U.S. intelligence, principally the CIA, to carry out a broad range of clandestine activities and paramilitary operations that included preventive direct action, propaganda, economic warfare, sabotage, demolition, subversion against “hostile states,” assassinations, and “support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.” Years later, George Kennan, the directive’s original sponsor and architect, bluntly told Yale historian John Lukacs: “That was the greatest mistake I ever made in my life, because you know what the Central Intelligence Agency has devolved or evolved into.”67 In the mid-1970s, Kennan again reiterated before a U.S. Senate committee that it was “the greatest mistake I ever made.”68

During the 1950s, in the interests of promoting American economic growth and hegemony, the emerging Dulles calling card was an uncanny expertise in overthrowing foreign governments, many of them democratically elected. Eisenhower’s predecessor, President Harry Truman, had had his own confrontations with covert operations run by the Dulles cadre. Iran, in 1951, had decided to nationalize its oil industry, which before had been controlled exclusively by Britain. Winston Churchill had implored Truman before he left office in 1952 to order the CIA to join with British forces in MI6 and arrange for a coup against the newly democratically elected Mosaddeq government in Iran. Truman, without equivocation, said no. A year later, Eisenhower, seduced by Dulles, caved in. In August 1953, Operation Ajax overthrew Mohammad Mosaddeq and installed the Shah, leaving the Iranian people to suffer unimaginable horrors under the reign of SAVAK, the shah’s heinous praetorian guard, trained in surveillance, interrogation, and torture by the CIA.69

A year after the overthrow of Mosaddeq, the CIA (again under Dulles’s tutelage) would take down the government in Guatemala. President Arbenz, who had been democratically elected by his country in 1950 with 65 percent of the vote, was deemed “leftist” by the mainstream American media—no doubt reflecting the influence of the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird in the press—and vulnerable to the approach of a “Soviet beachhead in the Western hemisphere.” The Arbenz government’s “mortal sin” was land reform in its own country; it wanted to put a stop to private corporations like the United Fruit Company taking land away from the Guatemalan peasant population. Although few knew it then, both Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, owned sizable stock in United Fruit, with Allen Dulles himself serving as a member of the company’s board of trustees. The company lobbied hard for Washington to remove the Arbenz government, and in 1954, the CIA did so.70 Under Dulles-CIA auspices, similar coups would occur in Hungary, North Vietnam, and Laos before the 1960 election.

Jack Kennedy entered his presidency as an avowed Cold Warrior. Allen Dulles wanted to take advantage of the new president’s CIA sympathies as quickly as possible. Initially dazzled, then seduced, by Dulles and the aura of CIA covert operations, both Jack and his brother Bobby agreed to keep Allen Dulles in place—which included supporting, at least initially, the upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba run by Dulles protégé Richard Bissell. The CIA had been startled by Kennedy’s election; they weren’t prepared for it. “When Kennedy got elected, people at CIA were alarmed,” said former CIA covert operative Donald Deneselya. “Nixon was a team player, a known quantity. No one knew what was going to happen with Kennedy.”71 President Kennedy would soon boldly demonstrate why.

Early into his presidency in 1961, before the Bay of Pigs debacle, Jack had pushed hard against the CIA and the Joint Chiefs for the goal of a neutral and independent Laos in Southeast Asia. He wanted to end U.S. support of the country’s anti-Communist ruler, General Phoumi Nosavan, whose puppet government had been installed by a joint CIA-Pentagon military force during the Eisenhower administration. The insistence of the new president wasn’t well received; it also foreshadowed a bigger event to come. That April, the CIA launched the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion, hoping to get rid of Fidel Castro and install (or restore) a government more sympathetic to American business interests and the interests of the Mafia, who wanted to regain possession of the lucrative casinos in Havana. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a complete, utter fiasco. It would, however, become a defining event in the Kennedy presidency and in Cold War history.

A CIA-trained, equipped, and commanded Cuban-exile brigade was used to attempt the overthrow of Castro’s government. Almost laughably, Fidel Castro, along with the rest of the world’s leaders, including the Russians, knew the invasion was being launched, and who was really behind it. The invasion had originally been conceived during the Eisenhower administration. Its success would inevitably depend on American air support, although that detail had not been revealed to the president before the operation began. When the moment came, Jack realized he had been tricked by the Dulles inner circle, which had attempted to possibly play upon the president’s fear of appearing politically weak and inexperienced. Dulles believed Kennedy would cave in to political pressure, and thereby fall into line to make the operation a success. Awakened, Jack’s rectitude intervened; realizing he had been intentionally deceived, he called the operation to a halt, willing to suffer whatever political consequences might ensue.

Years later, according to Cold War historian L. Fletcher Prouty, Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas recalled a discussion he and the president had about the debacle. “This episode seared him,” said Justice Douglas. “He had experienced the extreme power that these groups had, these various insidious influences of the CIA and the Pentagon on civilian policy, and I think it raised in his own mind the specter: Can Jack Kennedy, President of the United States, ever be strong enough to really rule these two powerful agencies? I think it had a profound effect … it shook him up!”72

“We were at war with the national security people,” historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would quietly confide to a friend many years later.73 The enormity of the disaster wasn’t lost on Jack, who told one of his highest administration officials that he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” Inside the White House, the president was seething. “How could I have been so stupid? I’ve got to do something about those CIA bastards.”74That was followed by the realization that Allen Dulles—the man who had convinced him the CIA was indispensable, as he had done with Eisenhower—was too much of a legendary figure, and that it was hard “to operate with legendary figures.” He needed someone within the Agency he could trust. “I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department. Bobby should be in CIA,” he had said.75 The Bay of Pigs fiasco would turn out to be a harbinger of worse things to come. The Kennedy administration’s maiden voyage in foreign affairs, its shakedown cruise, was a rude awakening, and it would begin to reveal the kind of ruthless treachery at work.

Attending a conference on the Bay of Pigs in Cuba some forty years later in March 2001, longtime political journalist Daniel Schorr, speaking on the NPR radio program All Things Considered, said he had gained an entirely new perception of the fiasco:

It was that the CIA overlords of the invasion, director Allen Dulles and deputy Richard Bissell, had their own plan of how to bring the United States into the conflict. It appears that they never really expected an uprising against Castro when the liberators landed as described in their memos to the White House. What they did expect was that the invaders would establish and secure a beachhead, announce the creation of a counterrevolutionary government and appeal for aid from the United States and the Organization of American States. The assumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct American involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots.

“In effect,” said Schorr, “President Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed.”76 Unlike any president before him, President Kennedy took responsibility for what had occurred. The American public forgave him, upsetting the well-established CIA protocol of manipulating presidents and political leaders. The president would then do what his predecessor should have done years earlier: He fired Allen Dulles and his chief lieutenant, Richard Bissell.

But getting rid of Allen Dulles didn’t mean Dulles was gone. The entire upper echelon of the Agency, most of which had been recruited by Dulles, were loyal to him and would remain so. While Kennedy replaced Dulles with John McCone, a wealthy Catholic businessman, McCone was largely just a figurehead, intentionally left out of the loop, not aware of the more egregious CIA covert operations being run by people like Richard Helms, who now occupied Richard Bissell’s position at the head of the Directorate of Plans, and chief of counterintelligence Jim Angleton, both of whom would remain staunch, loyal Dulles followers. Allen Dulles would always be their boss, and they would consult him regularly after his formal departure.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco was a demarcation in the sand, an event that ultimately identified and determined the real forces that would work to undermine President Kennedy’s objectives. These forces were not the Soviets, or their puppet Fidel Castro, or the so-called falling dominoes of alleged Communist takeovers. They were internal. Global American hegemony was predicated on financial and political control, even if Communism was one way underdeveloped nations sometimes developed themselves. Eventually, financial and economic control became paramount, once political control had been established. The Empire always struck back.

In addition to firing Allen Dulles, Richard Bissell, and Charles Cabell, the president made an attempt to immediately deal with the CIA and redefine its mandate by issuing two new National Security Action Memoranda (55 and 57) on June 28, 1961, whereby he stripped the CIA of its covert military operational capacity and put it back into the hands of the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff—at least on paper.77 Ultimately, the memoranda may not have changed anything, other than to incur the further wrath of CIA higher-ups. Kennedy then moved “quietly,” according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “to cut the CIA budget in 1962 and again in 1963, aiming at a 20 percent reduction by 1966.”78

So bold were these moves, according to L. Fletcher Prouty, they shocked the entire national security apparatus. It was the beginning of a “dead man walking” in the White House. Indeed, Allen Dulles, the man who extracted the final revenge—the man who Mary Meyer once compared to “Machiavelli, only worse”—inadvertently let it slip to a young editor many years later what he really thought: “That little Kennedy … he thought he was a god.”79 Little did Dulles understand his statement was just his own psychological projection. It was Dulles himself who, for nearly twenty years, “thought he was a god,” as he and his CIA imperium pillaged the integrity of American democracy.

On July 20, 1961, during heightened tensions over Berlin, President Kennedy attended a National Security Council meeting. He listened attentively as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including General Lyman Lemnitzer and Allen Dulles, who was still in charge at the CIA,80 presented a plan for a first-strike, preemptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union that would take place in late 1963, preceded by a well-orchestrated series of events designed to produce “heightened tensions” between the two superpowers. The scheme for “heightened tensions” was eventually codenamed “Operation Northwoods,” and it had the written approval of all the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. According to author James Bamford, who first reported it in his bestselling book Body of Secrets (2002), “the plan called for called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving [General] Lemnitzer and his cabal [at the Pentagon] the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.”81 Sound familiar? We need only to remember how President George W. Bush—under the direction of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—took us into a war with Iraq under false pretenses.

Aghast at the above referenced NSC meeting in 1961, President Kennedy nonetheless respectfully asked, “Had there ever been an assessment of damage results to the U.S.S.R. which would be incurred by a preemptive attack?” and what would be “the period of time necessary for citizens to remain in shelters following an attack?” The president became so agitated that such a plan was even being considered that he directed “that no member in attendance at the meeting ever disclose even the subject of the meeting.” Disgusted, he finally got up and walked out. As he made his way back from the cabinet room to the Oval Office with Secretary of State Dean Rusk at his side, he was said to have muttered, “And we call ourselves the human race.”82

How much Jack shared with Mary about what he was up against in the early days of his presidency will probably never be known—unless perhaps Mary’s real diary during the last few years of her life becomes available. Jack regarded Mary as completely trustworthy; increasingly, he sought out her counsel. Having had a life with Cord, Mary was already well acquainted with CIA skulduggery. Likely, she even knew a few things Jack didn’t. Throughout his most critical moments during his presidency, Mary invariably found her way to his side, and always by invitation. No moment, however, was more critical than what occurred during the month of October 1962. Thirteen days would change everything, eventually inviting the highest of hopes, but not before a confrontation that portended nuclear annihilation.

Knowing Jack’s penchant for sailing, Mary might have even mentioned her father Amos’s warning to his brother Gifford in 1933: “Keep an anchor to windward in case of revolution,” Amos had told his brother in a letter, referring to the Depression era that was taking a toll on American economic stability. Whether it was the fog of economic uncertainty, the fog of shady covert operations, or the fog of war itself, only a true nautical seafarer understood how quickly conditions at sea could change. A ready, unentangled anchor might well save the day, or at least until it looked as if the fog might be lifting—the appearance of which sometimes turned out to be a mirage.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!