In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy flew to Europe for what would be the final overseas trip of his life. Although he had left Washington, the forces of political tumult set loose by his presidency followed him abroad. These forces came swirling together in Rome during JFK’s official visit to the ancient imperial capital, where tour guides still pointed out the stone steps on which Julius Caesar’s blood was spilled.
On the sultry evening of July 1, Kennedy was feted by Italian president Antonio Segni at the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of popes, kings, and chiefs of state since the sixteenth century. At the formal banquet—watched over by the extravagantly uniformed Corazzieri honor guard, in their torso-hugging white tunics and gold helmets with flowing horsetails—Segni paid tribute during his toast to Kennedy’s recent Peace Speech at American University. Kennedy’s “dynamic” quest for peace, declared Segni, was a welcome break from the “static” era of nuclear deadlock. After Segni concluded his welcoming remarks, JFK stood up and reiterated his peace message, telling the assembled dignitaries that “war is not inevitable, and that an effective end to the arms race would offer greater security than its indefinite continuation.” Invoking Italy’s volatile political history, Kennedy then warned of “the siren temptation of those with seemingly swift and easy answers on the far right and the far left.” It was up to those who advocated “social justice and progress and human rights,” said Kennedy, to make the more difficult ideals of democracy a reality for people all over the world.
Kennedy’s Italian itinerary, which included an audience with the new pope, Paul VI, at the Vatican and a side trip to Naples, was the finale to a triumphant European tour that was highlighted by a sentimental stopover in Ireland and his resounding challenge to Soviet tyranny at the Berlin Wall (“Ich bin ein Berliner . . .”). The crowds in Rome that greeted Kennedy’s motorcade were comparatively sparse, as the presidential limousine and its police motorcycle squadron made the long and winding trip to the Quirinale along the boulevards and narrow streets of the capital. The Eternal City could be blasé about visiting dignitaries, and the summer heat was sweltering. Yet underneath the city’s unruffled exterior ran a shiver of excitement about the visiting American president who cut such a bella figura—particularly in contrast to Italy’s aging, white-haired leaders. EvenL’Unità, the Italian Communist Party newspaper, appreciatively noted JFK’s tall, tan good looks and his stylish blue-gray suit and purple tie.
But as the young American president was taking the spotlight at the Quirinale, the forces aligned against him were converging in Rome. Behind the elaborate festivities at the palace that night was an intense Italian political drama, one with international ramifications. Since the mid-1950s, Italy had been hotly debating l’apertura a sinistra—“the opening to the left”—a political deal that would peel away the Socialist Party from its traditional Communist Party allies and result in a left-center coalition with the ruling Christian Democrats. Pietro Nenni, the wily, seventy-two-year-old political survivor who headed the Socialist Party, had been diligently trying to maneuver his party away from its alliance with the Italian Communists ever since the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Nenni hoped that with a forward-looking new president in the White House, the United States—which had quietly dominated Italian politics since World War II—would finally give its blessing to the apertura.
The Eisenhower administration had flatly opposed the opening to the left, seeing a Socialist partnership with the Christian Democrats as a slippery slope that would lead to a Communist-dominated government in Rome. Eisenhower officials worried that if the Socialists were allowed into Italy’s government, they would try to steer Rome on a neutral course between Washington and Moscow. The CIA—which had a proprietary sensibility about Italy, dating back to its well-funded, covert campaign to thwart a Communist Party victory in the country’s 1948 elections—engaged in its usual schemes, along with its allies in the Italian intelligence services, to block the apertura. The agency’s anti-left strategy in Italy was spearheaded by Jim Angleton who, with his deep personal roots in the country, had turned Rome into a key Cold War battleground. The Eisenhower administration’s resistance to the apertura was further enforced by Clare Booth Luce, Ike’s ambassador to Rome.
It was Arthur Schlesinger who convinced President Kennedy to break with Eisenhower policy and support Italy’s opening to the left. “My impression is that [Nenni] has honestly broken with the Communists,” the White House aide informed Kennedy in a March 1962 memo. Schlesinger had his own sentimental attachment to Italy, dating back to his boyhood when his father offered sanctuary in Harvard’s history department to anti-Mussolini exile Gaetano Salvemini, an Italian Socialist politician and historian.
Angleton was so furious about the new tilt in favor of Nenni’s Socialists that he began telling people that Schlesinger was a Soviet agent. Meanwhile, former ambassador Luce lobbied frantically against the apertura, dashing off a long, somewhat incoherent letter to JFK in February 1963, filled with random observations about the growing threat from the left in Rome. “Italy’s pro-West government has had one foot on the Moscow banana peel for seventeen years,” she observed. If the “pro-Communist Socialists” were brought into power, “the Italian Communist Party will negotiate Italy’s future with the U.S.S.R.” Luce concluded by warning the president not to fall into a left-wing trap during his visit to Rome. “In the present climate, there is a real possibility you may be very embarrassed by the enthusiastic reception you will get from the Communists! I can see the banners now: ‘Vivo [sic] Kennedy e Khrushchev!’”
Frustrated by the stubborn bureaucratic resistance that Kennedy was receiving from within his own government to his shifting policy on Italy, Schlesinger sent the president an angry memo in January 1963. “Lest you think you run the U.S. government, the [Italy] matter is still under debate,” the White House aide acidly remarked.
But President Kennedy eventually ignored the political pushback and embraced Italy’s apertura. He became so enamored of the idea of building a strong center-left coalition to anchor Italy’s turbulent politics that he arranged for United Auto Workers leaders Walter and Victor Reuther, to whom he had strong political ties, to help fund Nenni’s party. JFK’s trip to Rome gave him the opportunity to officially anoint the opening to the left.
After dinner at the Quirinale, Kennedy used the rest of the evening to quietly communicate his views to the leading Italian political figures gathered at the event. As the president strolled along the gravel paths of the lush palace garden, he was approached by various politicians and officials, including Palmiro Togliatti, the head of Italy’s potent Communist Party, with whom he exchanged a few words. When an Italian news photographer snapped a shot of the two men in conversation, Kennedy later asked him for the film, concerned about the impact that the photo might have in Italy’s fraught political climate. Amazingly, the photographer obliged the American president.
In a far corner of the garden, a low wooden platform bathed in spotlights had been set up for the president to hold private audiences with Italy’s dignitaries. The longest conversation that Kennedy held that evening was with the old Socialist warrior, Pietro Nenni. As the two men huddled together on the little stage, their faces nearly touching, they were a study in contrasts: Kennedy tall, youthful, and glamorous; Nenni, diminutive, bespectacled, and balding. But Nenni clearly felt he had found a political soul mate in Kennedy. The previous year, Nenni had tweaked the U.S. foreign policy establishment with an essay in Foreign Affairs, in which he defended his party’s neutralist stand in the Cold War and attacked Western imperialism, charging U.S. and European governments with backing “Fascist-type dictatorships” in the Third World. “They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in shoring up rotten situations doomed in any case to crumble,” wrote the Italian. “They have opened doors to Communists instead of supporting democratic and socialist forces that would be capable of directing the impulse to freedom of the colonial peoples.” Now, as a long line of other Italian politicians waited impatiently to speak with Kennedy, Nenni was engaged in rapt conversation with an American president who had voiced the same sentiments.
When his audience with Kennedy finally came to an end, Nenni was “absolutely enraptured and happy as he could be,” according to a U.S. embassy official who was there. Stepping off the platform, the old man wrapped his arms around his wife and murmured something into her ear. As they walked away, Nenni wiped tears from his eyes. Later, Nenni’s wife told a group of American diplomats attending the Quirinale event that her husband had been “enchanted” by JFK. The Socialist leader was convinced that his political dream was about to come true: after years of determined U.S. resistance, Italy’s democratic left was at last to become part of the government.
The president, too, thought his trip to Rome was a “considerable success,” telling Schlesinger on his return to Washington that he had a “good talk” with Nenni and adding, “So far as I could see, everyone in Italy is for an opening to the left.”
But Allen Dulles and his old cohorts in the CIA’s Rome station did not share the president’s enthusiasm for the Italian political developments, and they boldly communicated their dissent to Christian Democratic officials. This is a remarkable and, until now, unreported story, one that sheds new light on the growing fissures in the Kennedy administration. Shortly after JFK flew home from Italy, Dino John Pionzio, the CIA’s leading operator in Italy at the time, huddled with Sereno Freato, the administrative secretary of Aldo Moro—a rising star in the Christian Democratic Party who would soon become Italy’s prime minister. Pionzio, a Skull and Bones member at Yale (Class of 1950) and zealous Cold Warrior, was adamantly opposed to the opening to the left. The CIA man wanted to know what Moro had discussed with Kennedy a few days earlier during an afternoon stroll that JFK and the Italian politician had taken through the Quirinale garden. To his great dismay, Pionzio was told that Moro and Kennedy had agreed the aperturashould go forward.
Dulles and the CIA felt they had a proprietary relationship with the Christian Democrats, ever since those early Cold War days when the agency began funneling money to the Italian party. Dulles himself had confirmed this arrangement when he was CIA director, during a secret meeting with Moro that was held in Freato’s Rome office. Following this meeting, the Christian Democratic Party became the beneficiary of CIA funds that arrived promptly on a monthly schedule. By the early 1960s, the party was receiving 60 million lire a month (about $100,000) from the spy agency. In the beginning, it was Freato who collected the cash in a large suitcase, a duty that later fell to other administrative secretaries of the party. These monthly CIA payoffs to the party were in addition to the under-the-table contributions made to the Christian Democrats during various political campaigns.
Pionzio’s meeting with Freato put the Christian Democrats on notice: their budding alliance with the Socialists did not enjoy full support in Washington, particularly in national security circles. Afterward, Moro, who had received conflicting messages from Kennedy and the CIA within a matter of days, could be forgiven if he was confused about who was actually running the U.S. government. The CIA’s attempt to subvert the apertura was one more flagrant example of how the agency sought to undermine the Kennedy presidency, as well as Italian democracy.
In November 1963, Aldo Moro finally formed a coalition government with the Socialists, despite the less-than-enthusiastic reaction from the Christian Democrats’ patrons in the CIA. Socialist leaders hoped that the historic center-left partnership would lead to a new golden age of social progress for Italy. But their dreams were not fulfilled. Even before JFK’s assassination on November 22, the die-hard opponents of the apertura in the CIA and Italian intelligence services were actively conspiring to sabotage the deal. When William K. Harvey arrived in Italy in summer 1963 to take over the Rome CIA station, the offensive against democracy, in Italy and the United States, took a dark turn.
Bill Harvey was an odd choice for Rome station chief. He spoke no Italian and he had no affinity for the Italian people or interest in their history and culture. A gruff, bulbous man with a frog-like voice, he was born and raised in a small Indiana town and had none of the cosmopolitan polish of his Ivy League–bred CIA colleagues. Harvey began his intelligence career as an FBI gumshoe, but his hard-drinking habits did not go down well in J. Edgar Hoover’s stern nanny culture, and he jumped ship for the newly formed CIA in 1947. The blunt-spoken, pistol-packing Harvey was not a good fit with the CIA either, but the agency would find ways to put him to use. Dulles and Helms thought he had a “cop” mentality. Harvey, in turn, dismissed the CIA’s upper echelons as “Fifth Avenue cowboys” and “fucking namby-pambies.” He was no hayseed, he felt obliged to remind colleagues—he had been raised by a single mother who became a full professor at Indiana State University, and he had a law degree. He liked to rattle the agency’s Ivy League types during meetings by pulling out one of the many guns he owned, spinning the cylinder and checking the load, as if he were about to use it.
From his days as an FBI Red-hunter, when he tracked down Communists and fellow travelers in Washington, Harvey became convinced that high society was riddled with traitors. Harvey’s class resentments no doubt played a role when he became the first CIA official to sniff out Kim Philby, the witty, urbane, Cambridge-educated double agent who was stationed in Washington from 1949 to 1951. At one of Philby’s liquor-soaked parties, Guy Burgess—the most flamboyant member of the Cambridge spy ring—drew a lewd, crotch-baring caricature of Harvey’s wife, Libby, a boozy Indiana gal who never fit into the CIA social set. A drunken Harvey threw himself at Burgess and had to be pulled away by Angleton. It was the Indiana “cop” who saw through Philby, not Angleton, who remained forever beguiled by his British friend. Angleton and Harvey were the odd couple of CIA counterintelligence—“the poet and the cop,” as one observer called them. They would alternately clash and connive together throughout their careers.
Harvey’s star rose at the agency after he exposed Philby, and he was dispatched to the Cold War front lines in Germany, where he ran the CIA’s Berlin station during the 1950s. His reputation continued to grow as he constantly searched for new ways to take the battle to the Soviet enemy. While in Germany, Harvey worked closely with Reinhard Gehlen’s notorious organization, and Gehlen came to consider him a “very esteemed [and] really reliable friend.”
The Berlin spy tunnel—an underground surveillance project that wormed its way into the city’s Russian sector, permitting the CIA to eavesdrop on enemy communications—was Harvey’s most dramatic coup. Dulles, who always had a soft spot for espionage theatrics, called Harvey’s tunnel “one of the most daring and valuable operations ever,” even though the Soviets quickly discovered the subterranean project and began using it to feed disinformation to the Americans. Despite Harvey’s crude ways and his penchant for intemperate action, Dulles, who needed action heroes to boost the agency’s image, helped turn him into a CIA legend, awarding him the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the agency’s highest accolade.
Dulles brought Harvey back to Washington in 1959. By then he had a second wife, Clara Grace (“CG”) Harvey, a big, vivacious woman who had enjoyed her own successful career in the U.S. military and CIA. One of CG Harvey’s secret assignments involved accompanying former Nazi rocket scientists, including Werner von Braun, and their families on flights to the United States, where they were put to work on U.S. missile and space projects. When Bill and CG—whom he called “Mommy”—returned home, they brought with them their adopted daughter, Sally, whom they had found as an infant when she was left in a cardboard shoe box on the doorstep of their West Berlin home. Back in Washington, Harvey had high ambitions: he wanted to run the agency’s Soviet division, a top post that he thought he had earned by his aggressive performance in Germany. But the CIA elite, who continued to think of him as a cop, steered him into rougher assignments.
Dulles named Harvey chief of the agency’s Division D, the unit in charge of signals intelligence—gathering information through various means of electronic eavesdropping, which the CIA shared with the National Security Agency. But Division D also seemed to have more mysterious functions. In October 1960, according to one agency document, Harvey made a trip to Europe that was largely intended for him to recruit criminal underworld figures for secret CIA missions. Among those he sought out were safecrackers and break-in specialists. Harvey would soon be dealing with men whose skills were of a more violent nature.
In November 1961, Harvey was put in charge of the top secret CIA operation to kill Castro, code-named ZR/RIFLE. He quickly nudged aside Bob Maheu, the independent contractor the CIA had originally hired to run its murder racket in the Caribbean, and began working directly with Mafia ambassador at large, Johnny Rosselli.
The dumpy, baggy-panted cop and the dapper, silver-haired gangster with the tailored suits formed a tight, if unlikely, bond. Harvey invited Rosselli to dinner at his family’s spacious Chevy Chase home, where little Sally took to calling him “Uncle Johnny.” The two men had secret, martini-fueled rendezvous in the Miami area, where the CIA maintained its largest station, JM/WAVE, and operated a bustling network of paramilitary training bases as well as safe houses in the posh Coral Gables and Key Biscayne neighborhoods. Harvey provided Rosselli with vials of poison and stockpiles of guns to pass along to the Mafia’s hired killers in Cuba. Nothing ever came of the two men’s Cuba schemes, and Castro continued to thrive. But Harvey never lost faith in his Mafia partner. Regardless of his criminal background, Rosselli was a man of “integrity as far as I was concerned,” Harvey would tell Senate investigators years later, a man who was always loyal and dependable “in his dealings with me.”
“I loved Rosselli,” CG Harvey said during an interview at her Indianapolis retirement home in 1999, the year before she died. “My husband always used to say that if I had to ride shotgun, that’s the guy I would take with me. Much better than any of the law enforcement people. Rosselli was the kind of guy that if he gave you his desires and friendship, well he was going to stick by you. And he definitely was Mafia, and he definitely was a crook, and he definitely had pulled off all kinds of stunts with the Mafia. But he was a patriot, he believed in the United States. And he knew my husband was a patriot, and that’s what drew him to Bill.”
In 1962, Helms—who, along with Angleton, had replaced the “retired” Dulles as Harvey’s main patrons at the agency—promoted the agency tough guy, naming him head of the CIA’s entire Cuba operation, Task Force W. Helms and Harvey kept much of the operation, including their assassination efforts against Castro, a secret from President Kennedy as well as from CIA director McCone. Harvey grew deeply contemptuous of the Kennedy brothers, whom he regarded as rich boys who were playing with the nation’s security. He concluded that their subversion program aimed at overthrowing Castro’s regime, code-named Operation Mongoose, was all for show. Harvey thought so little of the man JFK put in charge of Mongoose, Air Force officer Edward Lansdale, that he would lift his ass in the middle of their meetings and let loose a fart or pull out a knife and begin to trim his nails.
Harvey came to hate Bobby Kennedy—the CIA overseer who was constantly nipping at his heels—most of all. RFK browbeat Harvey so severely during one White House meeting on Cuba that Max Taylor later told the attorney general, “You could sack a town and enjoy it.” Harvey took to calling RFK “that fucker” and began suggesting that some of the attorney general’s actions bordered on treason.
“Bobby Kennedy and my husband were absolute enemies, just pure enemies,” recalled CG Harvey in her retirement home, channeling Bill Harvey’s deep resentments years later. “[Bobby] was an idiot . . . and he had no confidence in himself, because his brother put him in a job that he really wasn’t capable of handling. It made for a lot of stress for the people who were working in law enforcement.”
The tension between the two men finally exploded in October 1962, when Harvey schemed with the Pentagon to send a series of raiding parties into Cuba at the height of the missile crisis to pave the way for the U.S. military invasion that administration hard-liners hoped was imminent. RFK was outraged by Harvey’s reckless behavior in the midst of the hair-trigger nuclear crisis. “You were dealing with people’s lives,” the younger Kennedy brother later exclaimed, “and then you’re going to go off with a half-assed operation such as this?”
Harvey’s protectors acted quickly before Bobby Kennedy could ax him. Helms realized that he would have to relieve Harvey of the Cuba command and hustle him out of Washington. Giving him Rome was Angleton’s idea. Angleton thought the CIA station there had gone soft and was not doing enough to snoop on Soviet skullduggery in the Eternal City and not working hard enough to block the opening to the left. Harvey’s ruthlessness had not played well with the Kennedys in Washington, but it was just what Angleton wanted in Rome.
Helms and Angleton did not tell McCone about Harvey’s new assignment until it was a fait accompli. They knew that McCone was “something of a snob and a puritan,” in the words of an aide—the kind of executive who liked to keep his hands clean—and the down-and-dirty Harvey “just wasn’t his cup of tea.”
Many imperial agents of America would have regarded Rome as a dream assignment. But Harvey and his wife never took to Italy; they “were very fond of Germany, and they didn’t like anything about Rome,” according to one CIA officer. Bill despised the Italian people, whom he called “goddam wops.” CG complained about being constantly cheated by the locals whenever she went to the market, and she couldn’t get used to navigating through the narrow cobblestone streets in the family’s hulking Ford station wagon. Once, when CG was driving Sally and the daughter of another CIA officer along the ancient Appian Way on their way to the beach, she snarled, “I just don’t understand why they don’t bulldoze all this and make it a freeway.” Like her husband, who would sit with his back to the wall whenever he dined out in Rome, his .38 revolver within easy reach, CG also felt besieged by enemies. She claimed that people in a “Communist compound” near the Harveys’ villa would throw rats over the wall into their garden, forcing CG to chase the scurrying vermin out of the family dining room.
According to CG, one of her husband’s less savory tasks was procuring prostitutes for President Kennedy while he was in Rome. “When Jack was in Rome visiting the Embassy, my husband had to assign two men, along with the [Secret] Service men who were protecting him. And these two men were required to get Italian prostitutes into Jack’s bed, two at a time. . . . I mean [the Kennedys] were a lousy group of people, I mean they were really scum.” Despite JFK’s reputation for sexual adventurism, it is highly unlikely that the president would have relied on a notoriously anti-Kennedy CIA officer whom his brother loathed and distrusted to act as his pimp. Nor had Harvey even taken command of the Rome operation by the time of Kennedy’s visit. It was, in fact, Harvey who seemed to indulge in a reckless sex life in Rome. Rumors about his sexual indiscretions circulated throughout the Rome station, including a story that Harvey had impregnated his young secretary.
While stationed in Rome, the Harveys were quartered in a lovely, fawn-colored villa on Janiculum Hill owned by the American Academy. Galileo once stargazed in the villa’s gardens. But Bill and CG had little interest in ancient history. They spent a lot of time and money redecorating the house—“in poor taste,” observed Harvey’s deputy, F. Mark Wyatt. If the Harveys were the stereotypical Ugly Americans, Wyatt and his wife, Ann, were ideal representatives of the United States. The Wyatts, who had fallen in love in Rome after the war when they were both young CIA agents, were enchanted by the city and spoke Italian fluently. Ann Wyatt took her three young children on rambling tours of Rome, tracking down works by Caravaggio and other masters in galleries and churches and stumbling upon one of the sets where Cleopatra was being filmed at the time. One night, the Wyatts bumped into Marcello Mastroianni in a restaurant and brought home his autograph.
Mark Wyatt, who enjoyed good relations with local officials, was supposed to act as a buffer between the brusque Harvey and the CIA’s counterparts in Italian intelligence. But Harvey soon bulled his way into the china shop and began throwing his bulk around. Italy’s military intelligence unit, SIFAR (Servizio Informazioni Forze Armate, or Defense Information Service), had a long, subservient relationship with the CIA, providing the Americans with the results of their spying on Italian political figures and partnering with the United States on Operation Gladio, the secret “stay-behind army” program to resist left-wing advances in Europe.
But now Harvey pushed SIFAR officials to take even more aggressive actions. The CIA station chief urged Colonel Renzo Rocca, a top SIFAR counterespionage chief, to sabotage the center-left partnership that had gained decisive momentum with Kennedy’s visit. Harvey pushed Rocca to use his “action squads” to carry out bombings of Christian Democratic Party offices and newspapers—terrorist acts that were to be blamed on the left.
Wyatt was no shrinking violet when it came to covert action. He had served as a CIA bagman during the 1948 elections in Italy, handing over suitcases filled with cash to Italian officials in the luxurious Hotel Hassler overlooking the Spanish Steps. Later, Wyatt was one of the main liaison agents between the CIA and Operation Gladio, frequently visiting the secret Gladio headquarters on the island of Sardinia. Nor was Wyatt one of those delicate desk heroes who had never risked his life. He had grown up in the farm country around Sacramento, picking fruit after school for his father’s cannery. During the war, while serving as a young Navy officer in the South Pacific, Wyatt’s ship was attacked by Japanese submarines and kamikaze planes, and he had seen men blown to bloody mist before his eyes.
But Wyatt had his limits when it came to carrying out Harvey’s orders. Not only did Bill Harvey see nothing wrong with violating Italian sovereignty, but he saw murder as a legitimate political tool. One day, Wyatt was stunned to hear his boss propose recruiting Mafia hit men to kill Italian Communist officials. When Wyatt objected to his extreme suggestions, Harvey would fly into a rage. During one angry showdown between the two men, Harvey pulled a gun on Wyatt.
Harvey’s secret efforts to subvert Italy’s center-left government reached a climax in 1964, when General Giovanni de Lorenzo—former SIFAR director and chief of the carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police—threatened to overthrow the government and arrest hundreds of leftist politicians unless Socialist officials agreed to abandon their reform proposals and accept a weaker role in the coalition government. The elderly Nenni, who had suffered exile and imprisonment under Mussolini’s regime, harbored deep anxieties about a fascist revival in Italy, and he quickly gave in to General de Lorenzo’s demands. Wyatt later insisted that he had no involvement in the coup plot. But de Lorenzo was widely considered a stooge of the CIA, and there is little doubt that Harvey played a role in the brusque and successful effort to intimidate Italian democracy. By then, Kennedy was dead and could not protect Italy’s fragile political experiment as he had intervened against the French military putsch in 1961. When Nenni anxiously asked Schlesinger, who visited Rome in the spring of 1964, whether the new American president, Lyndon Johnson, could be counted on to continue JFK’s Italy policies, Schlesinger had to give the old man the “chilling” truth.
Mark Wyatt was attending a meeting at the Gladio base in Sardinia with Bill Harvey when he heard that President Kennedy had been shot at high noon in Dallas. When the telex arrived, in the early evening local time, Wyatt found Harvey collapsed in bed, following a late-afternoon round of martinis. After Wyatt managed to rouse him, the CIA station chief blurted out some provocative remarks about the events in Dallas that deeply disturbed Wyatt for the rest of his life. According to his three children, Wyatt, who died in 2006, at eighty-six, would always suspect that Harvey had some prior knowledge of the Kennedy assassination or was in some way involved.
“My dad would sometimes talk about Harvey in the context of the Kennedy assassination,” said Wyatt’s son Tom. “He talked about the connection between Harvey and the Mafia—not just his involvement with Johnny Rosselli, but with the Mafia in Italy. Those connections in Italy worried my father a lot.” Wyatt’s suspicions about his Rome boss were so strong that his daughter, Susan, encouraged him to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. “My father really believed in CIA—he really wanted to believe in it, and he was loyal to it, despite all its flaws,” Susan recalled. “And he really didn’t want to do things that would hurt it.”
But Wyatt continued to be haunted by Harvey and the Kennedy assassination late into his life. In 1998, when a French investigative journalist named Fabrizio Calvi came to interview Wyatt about Operation Gladio at his retirement home on California’s Lake Tahoe, the former CIA official felt compelled to raise the subject, out of the blue, as Calvi was leaving. “As he was walking me out to my car, Wyatt suddenly said, ‘You know, I always wondered what Bill Harvey was doing in Dallas in November 1963,’” Calvi recently recalled. “Excuse me?” said the stunned French journalist, who realized that Harvey’s presence in Dallas that month was extremely noteworthy.
Wyatt explained that he had bumped into Harvey on a plane to Dallas sometime before the assassination, and when he asked his boss why he was going there, Harvey answered vaguely, saying something like, “I’m here to see what’s happening.”
When Calvi tried to pursue the conversation, Wyatt cut it off as abruptly as he had started it and said good-bye. Calvi himself forgot about Wyatt’s remarks until years later.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Harvey was in Dallas in November 1963,” House Assassinations Committee investigator Dan Hardway, who was assigned by the panel to probe possible CIA connections to JFK’s murder, observed years later. “We considered Harvey to be one of our prime suspects from the very start. He had all the key connections—to organized crime, to the CIA station in Miami where the plots against Castro were run, to other prime CIA suspects like David Phillips. We tried to get Harvey’s travel vouchers and security file from the CIA, but they always blocked us. But we did come across a lot of memos that suggested he was traveling a lot in the months leading up to the assassination.” (More recent legal efforts by the author to obtain Harvey’s travel records from the CIA also proved fruitless, despite the 1992 JFK Records Act, which required all federal agencies to release documents related to the Kennedy assassination.)
CIA officials later talked about Harvey’s stint in Rome as a sad exile for a once-illustrious agent—a drunken last stand before his shameful exit from the agency. But that’s not how Harvey himself—or his deputy—regarded his Rome interlude. Harvey still saw himself at the center of action, crawling through the criminal underworld, stockpiling weapons, conspiring with Italian security officials—in short, doing whatever was necessary for the cause of freedom. As for Wyatt, he saw his boss as a dangerous character, rather than a figure of pathos—a man who he would always suspect played a deeply sinister role in American history.
If Rome was filled with the greatest amount of political intrigue during JFK’s final tour of Europe, then his four-day stopover in Ireland in late June 1963 brimmed over with the greatest emotion for Kennedy. There was no compelling political reason for the president to visit the Emerald Isle, as Kenny O’Donnell, his fellow Boston Irishman but tough-minded adviser, told him. “It would be a waste of time,” O’Donnell said. “You’ve got all the Irish votes in this country you’ll ever get. If you go to Ireland, people will say it’s just a pleasure trip.”
But to Kennedy—exhausted from the constant barrage of Cold War crises abroad and the turmoil within his own administration—that sounded exactly like what he wanted: a pleasure trip to Ireland.
For Kennedy—whose eight great-grandparents had all left Ireland for Boston, part of the heartbreaking depopulation of the island under British colonial rule—returning to Ireland was both a homecoming and a farewell. The first U.S. president to visit Ireland—and an Irish American one at that—JFK was embraced by the Irish people as one of their own as he traveled throughout the island, visiting his ancestral homes and drinking tea and eating cold salmon sandwiches with his few remaining Irish relatives. The young and old poured into the streets in Dublin and Galway and Cork and Limerick, cheering and frantically waving little American flags. Women with tears in their eyes held up rosary beads and shouted, “God bless you,” as his open presidential limousine crept slowly along the weathered stone streets, with a beaming JFK standing tall in the back of the vehicle. Schoolchildren sang “Danny Boy” and “The Boys of Wexford,” his favorite Irish songs. On jam-packed O’Connell Street in downtown Dublin, a group of nuns broke into a jig for Kennedy.
The Secret Service had warned local officials that Kennedy should be kept at a safe distance from the exuberant crowds because the jostling could injure his fragile back. But Kennedy himself ignored his guards, wading into packs of people, who grabbed at him and embraced him and clapped him on the back. Instead of exhausting him, the trip clearly rejuvenated Kennedy. When the president first arrived at the U.S. embassy in Dublin, where he and his entourage were staying, he looked “very tired . . . and he seemed in a very thoughtful mood,” according to Dorothy Tubridy, a longtime Irish friend of the Kennedy family. “But as each day went on, he became happier and more relaxed.”
“From the time he stepped off that plane [at Shannon Airport], it was love at first sight,” Dave Powers, Kennedy’s other indispensable Boston Irishman, later recalled. “He fell in love with Ireland, more and more after four days. And the Irish people fell in love with him . . . because he was one of theirs. He knew it, and they knew it. . . . He was president of the United States, and he was one of their own.”
Ireland was still poor, still divided by religion and British rule, still exporting its sons and daughters across the ocean as laborers and hired help. But here was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a shining symbol of Irish resilience and success, returned to them at last. “Here he was, a good-looking man, marvelous teeth, lots of hair, beautiful wife and children, quick intellect—an Irishman and a Catholic,” recalled a Dublin journalist who covered JFK’s majestic visit. “He could have been any of our cousins.”
The trip brought out Kennedy’s fine, dry wit. He seemed to get looser at each public event. “When my great-grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things—a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty,” JFK told a crowd in the port town of New Ross, from where Patrick Kennedy had shipped out one hundred years before, only to die after ten years of backbreaking labor in his new homeland, leaving four young children behind. But JFK had the Irish gift for turning sorrow into laughter. “If he hadn’t left, I’d be working over there at the Albatross Company,” he said, pointing in the direction of a local fertilizer business, as the crowd broke into uproarious laughter. “Or,” Kennedy continued, after a practiced pause, “perhaps for John V. Kelley”—a local pub owner, which brought new howls from the audience.
In Wexford, Kennedy told the crowd, “There is an impression in Washington that there are no Kennedys left in Ireland, that they are all in Washington, so I wonder if there are any Kennedys in this audience.” A few hands fluttered in the air. “Well,” smiled JFK, “I am glad to see a few cousins who didn’t catch the boat.”
But Kennedy was also deeply aware of Ireland’s sense of loss and the sweet tragedy of life, and he beguiled crowds with verses of Irish poetry, snippets of Gaelic—the unconquered language—and quotations from the island’s literary heroes. JFK had done his homework before the trip, reading and memorizing and dipping deeply into Ireland’s cultural heritage. He knew that words were the key to the nation’s heart. In February, as he was preparing for his Ireland trip, Kennedy had even invited the Clancy Brothers, the popular Irish singers, to perform for him at the White House. The folk group ended all of their concerts with a traditional drinking song called “The Parting Glass”—an achingly beautiful tune that captured all of the Irish farewells down through the years.
As Kennedy toured the green island, he carried within him that unique Irish sensibility, that deep knowingness of the inevitability, and the nobility, of defeat—and the implacable will to carry on, in defiance of one’s fate. “He never would have been President had he not been Irish,” Jackie Kennedy later wrote to Éamon de Valera, the eighty-year-old Irish president and legendary rebel leader who had hosted JFK during his visit. “All the history of your people is a long one of overcoming obstacles. He felt that burden on him as a young Irishman in Boston—and he had so many obstacles in his life—his religion, his health, his youth. He fought against each one from the time he was a boy, and by always striving, he ended as President. He was so conscious of his heritage—and so proud of it.”
Reminiscing about his Ireland trip later with O’Donnell and Powers, JFK said that the emotional highlight for him had been his visit to Arbour Hill, hallowed ground for the Irish people. It was here where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, who had been executed by the British at Kilmainham Jail, were laid to rest. Kennedy, who placed a wreath on their graves, was the first foreign head of state to honor the martyrs of Irish nationalism. It was a poignant moment, as the Irish Army Band played Chopin’s “Funeral March” and a sad folk song called “Flowers of the Forest,” with the young Irish American president standing silently next to frail, half-blind de Valera, who as a young rebel leader had also faced the hangman’s noose at Kilmainham Jail.
Kennedy was fascinated by the story of little Ireland’s rising against the mighty British Empire, and he grilled de Valera during the trip about his role in the rebellion. How did de Valera escape the fate of his fellow rebel leaders, JFK wanted to know? Only because he was born in New York, explained the Irish president, and the British—eager to cajole America into World War I—were reluctant to offend their essential allies. “But there were many times when the key in my jail cell was turned and I thought my turn had come,” the old man told Kennedy.
After laying the wreath at Arbour Hill, JFK delivered a nationally televised speech before the Irish parliament. The speech made clear where Kennedy’s sympathies lay in Ireland’s long struggle for independence—a struggle that continued in Northern Ireland, where the British still held sway. The indomitable people of Ireland had inspired the world, Kennedy told the assembly. “For every nation knows that Ireland was the first of the small countries in the twentieth century to win its struggle for independence.” By standing up to “foreign domination, Ireland is the example and the inspiration to those enduring endless years of oppression.” JFK, fresh from his stirring speech at the Berlin Wall, certainly had the peoples of Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe in mind. But there were also echoes in Kennedy’s liberationist rhetoric of his earlier speeches about the anticolonial struggles of Vietnam and Algeria.
As Schlesinger noted, Kennedy’s speeches stirred the forces of freedom around the world. In Ireland, his visit electrified a new generation struggling to free itself from the medieval domination of the Catholic Church and centuries of colonial backwardness. Later, working on his 1965 White House memoir, A Thousand Days, Schlesinger banged out a random observation on his typewriter that captured the unique global power of the Kennedy aura: “JFK accomplished an Americanization of the world far deeper & subtler than anything JFD [John Foster Dulles] ever dreamed of—not a world Americanized in the sense of adopting the platitudes & pomposities of free enterprise—but a world Americanized in the perceptions & rhythms of life. JFK conquered the drm of yth [sic]; he penetrated the world as jazz penetrated it, as Bogart and Salinger [JD] and Faulkner penetrated it; not the world of the chancelleries but the underground world of fantasy & hope.”
But if Kennedy’s presidency gave rise to dreams, it also triggered fear and reaction. To the Cold War establishment and other bastions of the old guard, JFK was not a charismatic symbol of change, he was a stark threat. It was clear by this point in his embattled presidency why Kennedy was so enthralled by legends of the Irish martyrs. Their deaths were his own death foretold. As he prepared for his trip to Ireland, Kennedy had come under the spell of an Irish poem about a fallen leader from days of old named Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill, reciting its verses so often in the White House that they stuck in his staff members’ heads. The poem, by the early nineteenth-century Irish patriot and poet Thomas Davis, who himself died young, at age thirty, was a lament for a beloved, assassinated leader, poisoned by the treacherous agents of British villainy.
Soft as woman’s was your voice, O’Neill! Bright your eye,
O! why did you leave us, Eoghan? Why did you die?
Your troubles are all over, you’re at rest with God on high,
But we’re slaves, and we’re orphans, Eoghan!—why did you die?
Kennedy’s trip to his ancestral homeland was a celebration, but also a mourning. A melancholy note hovered over the ceremonial events, a sense of past and future loss, even as Kennedy tried to keep spirits high. On his final day in Ireland, while bidding farewell to a crowd in Limerick, Kennedy promised that he would return “in the springtime”—the same promise made by millions of other young Irish men and women as they left their dearest ones for distant shores.
Kennedy’s days in Ireland were the happiest of his presidency. “The trip meant more to him than any other in his life,” Jackie wrote to President de Valera after her husband’s death. “I will bring up my children to be as proud of being Irish as he was. . . . Whenever they see anything beautiful or good, they say, ‘That must be Irish.’”
Jackie, who was pregnant at the time, had not been able to accompany JFK on the trip. But she wrote to de Valera as if they were connected by blood, as if she had known the old Irish leader for years. “I know we were all so blessed to have him as long as we did,” she ended the letter, “but I will never understand why God had to take him now.”