It was October 2, 1963, and a remarkable story, written by Richard Starnes, appeared in the Washington Daily News. It claimed that the CIA was working diligently to undermine JFK’s Vietnam policies and that his own Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, was complicit in this subterfuge. Frustrated by South Vietnamese President Diem’s inability to unite his people in resistance to the aggression of the communist North, Kennedy hesitantly agreed to the CIA’s call for a regime change. But he did not sanction the assassination of Diem. On November 1, 1963, the CIA, in a plot concocted by Lucien Conein, murdered Diem in spite of JFK’s wishes. Furious at the CIA’s unwarranted actions, Kennedy vented to Starnes. In that interview, JFK tried to warn the American people that the CIA was out of control and capable of anything, including murdering its own President.
From pages 170-171 of my book JFK and the End of America:
Together Conein and Lodge, perhaps knowing that JFK’s days were numbered, defied the President and gave the go-ahead to kill Diem. The South Vietnamese generals, having been informed that Kennedy was going to pull out of Vietnam entirely by 1965, saw the regime change as their only chance to win the war against the North before America left.101 On November 1, just hours before the coup, Lodge lied to Diem by telling him there was nothing to worry about.102 Later that day Diem was assassinated. When JFK received the news he was, according to Arthur Schlesinger, “somber and shaken”; he knew the CIA, through their emissaries Lodge and Conein, had arranged the murder against his wishes. As he had done after the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy told intimates that he needed “to do something about those bastards; they should be stripped of their exorbitant power.”103
In his own way, Kennedy was aware of the storm that was coming. He was, in all likelihood, the source for incendiary quotes about the CIA which appeared in major East Coast newspapers in the early fall of 1963; his intent was probably to alert an oblivious public to the dangers the CIA posed to American democracy. Scripps-Howard reporter Richard Starnes wrote an article for the Washington Daily News which ran on October 2 under the headline, “Arrogant CIA Disobeys Orders in Viet Nam.” In it, Starnes quotes a high U.S. official [President Kennedy] saying that “if the United States ever experiences a Seven Days in May (a reference to a popular early 1960s fictional book detailing the overthrow of a U.S. president), it will come from the CIA and not the Pentagon.”104 The following day Arthur Krock wrote a sort of corollary piece which ran in the New York Times and was less harsh on the CIA. Still, Krock quoted “a very high American official [Kennedy]” who compared the CIA’s growth to a “malignancy…[and] was not sure even the White House could control…any longer.”105
Less than a month later, Conein pulled off the CIA-connected murder of Diem. Just three weeks after that, Conein was, quite possibly, in Dallas to witness the demise of the CIA’s public enemy number one. On 11/22/63 he (or his identical twin) was photographed with a self-serving smirk on his face as JFK’s limo passes. Kennedy is looking straight ahead and does not notice the Conein lookalike staring directly at him. Less than a minute after this photo was taken, the fatal shots rang out. If Conein played a part in the execution, it was the second time in less than a month that he helped topple a head of state. As Neil Sheehan wrote in A Bright Shining Lie, “[Conein] had accomplished the act that is one of the highest professional aspirations for a [secret agent]—setting up a successful coup d’etat.”106