Chance for a Cold War Thaw
Between the spring and summer of 1963, the Czechoslovak Government undertook a review of the political trials of 1949-1955. The New York Times focused upon the Prague trial of 1952 and reported on the efforts of the Czechoslovak Government to undo their conviction of Rudolf Slansky and Vladimir Clementis.
The first article, "Shake-Up Reported in Slovak Communist Party," appeared on April 26, 1963 and reported suggestions that Rudolf Slansky maybe cleared of crimes against the state.
The second column of this article, under the banner “Ferment of Anti-Stalinism . . . ," contained the error: "The same posthumous rehabilitation may also be in view for Vladimir Clementis, a Slovak Communist executed with Slansky .an seven others."
On August 9, 1963, the page three article, “Czech Court 'Restores', Slansky, Hanged in 1952,to Legal Status," stated that Rudolf Slansky has been juridically rehabilitated and the Czechoslovak Supreme Court has found that Dr. Alexei Cepicka, former Deputy Premier and Defense Minister, and Ladislav Koprivas, former State Security Minister, had violated legality in a criminal manner. This article contained the error: "Among the others, all sentenced to death by hanging, were Mr. Slansk and Vladimir Clementis, a former Czech Foreign Minister."
The next article "Slansky and 8 Others Absolved by Czech Court" appeared on page twenty of The New York Times on August 22, 1963. This article contained the error: "The Czechoslovak news agency CTK. said the Czech Supreme Court had absolved Mr. Slansky and eight other former Communist officials, including former Foreign Minister Vlado Clementis, on all points of the indictment presented against them in Nov. 1952."
On the following day, August 23, 1963, the articles "Slansky Verdict is Left in Doubt" and "2 Former Aides Sentenced" appeared on the same page as a Nat
Sherman' advertisement. The latter article reported that two-former Deputy Interior Ministers, Col. Antonin Prchal and Col. Karel Kostal, were sentenced to prison for "fabricating untrue accusations" and "violating legality in the course of investigations" in the political trials of the early fifties.
The full significance of these articles on the reversal of the convictions of Slansky and Clementis and the prosecution of those who acted illegally was revealed during the Prague spring of 1968.
What Might Have Happened?
In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy directed his brother and Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, to quietly undertake a review of the Rosenberg case. While the inner circle of the Kennedy administration debated how far they should go in undoing the Rosenberg conviction, members of the intelligence community fought vigorously to block any undoing of the Rosenberg convictions.
Robert Kennedy was the principal advocate of a vigorous prosecution of those who had acted criminally. John Kennedy was more restrained and leaned toward an exposure of the illegalities and a finding of wrongful deaths in the Rosenberg case.
John Kennedy listened to the arguments of the CIA, FBI, and ONI that reopening the Rosenberg case would have dire consequences but was more strongly influenced by the failure of the intelligence community to provide an explanation of their position. In September of 1963, John Kennedy made the decision to follow Robert Kennedy's advice.
In September 1963 rumors of the planned assassination of John Kennedy were planted in Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans. The FBI, through its network of informers, was quick to pick up these rumors and recognized the signature of a CIA operation. The FBI was faced with a paralyzing dilemma; it knew that the only group with sufficient knowledge of operations to threaten to have the blame for the assassination of John Kennedy placed on the CIA was its own secret group of illegal operators consisting of mainly former agents of the FBI and the ONI.
J. Edgar Hoover, the master of blackmail, did not dare move against those illegal operators who for decades did the dirty work for the FBI. These illegal operators entrapped and rehearsed the witnesses whose testimony put the leadership of the Communist Party in prison, and affected the infiltration of organized labor by organized crime; first to drive out the leftist influence and then to attack the labor movement in general. Hoover knew these illegal operators had learned their lessons well but had no loyalty to the FBI and would use their knowledge of illegal activities to protect their own interests. The master was held hostage by his own students.
The CIA was caught between a rock and a hard place. The illegal operators poured salt into an open wound by using selected members of the Cuban-American communities in Miami and New Orleans, with close ties to the illegal Domestic
Operations Section of Central Intelligence, to implant the rumors of the pending assassination of John Kennedy. In 1961, following a review of the Bay of Pigs operation and upon recommendation of Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy fired leading members of the CIA for using the Domestic Operations Section in violation of their charter.
Both the FBI and CIA did not intervene to advert the pending assassination. Neither organization could explain their position to the chief prosecutorial officer of the United States without embarrassing and endangering themselves. In most cases this silence would be taken as assent to the assassination. However, there is a special circumstance to be taken in account; individuals of the FBI and the CIA are protected by the self-incrimination clause of the fifth amendment.
The Prague Spring
In the months before the assassination of Robert Kennedy, during the spring of 1968, we find, after a five-year lull, renewed interest in the Prague trials of the early fifties. The images most of us were given of the Prague spring as a time of relaxation and plurality was a partial truth. In reality, the Prague spring of 1968 was a period of intense struggle when previously repressed elements of Czechoslovak society, gained political power, and began to oppress their opponents.
During April of 1968, The New York Times reported two deaths of government officials who were linked to past purges. Both reports contained typographical errors. The page three article of April 3, 1968, “Inquiry on Jan Masaryk's Death . . . ,” contained the error: "The question to which Mr. Sivitak demanded an an- ally have a budget for 1958-1969. swer was this:" This article appeared below the picture of the body of Dr. Jozef Brestansky hanging from a tree. Dr. Brestansky was the deputy president of the Czechoslovak Supreme Court who was drafting a rehabilitation law for those unjustly imprisoned during the fifties and was recently accused of having passed harsh sentences in a case based on "artificially construed" charges.
The April 20, 1968-article "Czech Found Dead; Linked to Masaryk" was published on page six with an error-free Nat Sherman' advertisement. This article reported on the death of Major Bedrich Pokorny, a former intelligence officer, who investigated the death of Jan Masaryk. In describing the circumstances of the 1948 death of Jan Masaryk, the article erroneously stated: "He was found dead in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry shortly after the Communist takepover in that year."
Between the end of April and early May of 1968, two articles appeared on the Prague trial of 1952. The first article appeared with an erroneous Nat Sherman' advertisement and the second article contained a pair of unbalanced quotes.
The April 29, 1968-page six article"Czech Charges Slansky Purge in 1952 Was Ordered by Stalin" was published adjacent to a Nat Sherman' advertisement in which part of the words "business" and "gifts" were missing. The previous advertisement of April 27, 1968 and the following advertisement of April 30, 1968 were printed in full.
The article of May 8, 1968, "Soviet Tied to Czech Purges" from page ten contained two successive paragraphs with opening quotes and no closing quotes.
The implicit danger in openly discussing the role of the KGB in using forged evidence to press for the prosecution of Rudolf Slansky became explicit by the end of May. An unidentified member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of Czechoslovakia gave a European reporter an extensive interview on the Soviet role in the Prague trial of 1952. This member asserted that the secret evidence the KGB that linked the defendants to the CIA was withheld from the Czech courts and that the KGB pressured officials of the Czechoslovak Government to falsify evidence (probably the forged letter) in order to secure convictions at the Prague trial. The member then abruptly lamented as his voice cracked. "We could not believe that anyone could be so deceitful, that anyone would stoop to such treachery." After a brief pause the member explained: "A western intelligence agency had manufactured the evidence against Slansky and Clementis that was picked up by the KGB." This interview provided one more interesting detail. The manufactured evidence was picked up by the KGB at the temporary headquarters of the United Nations on Long Island.
Reaction to the publication of this interview was atypical. There were no instant denials of the allegation that a counter-intelligence operation that resulted in numerous deaths was conducted on the premises of the United Nations. Nor were there any complaints from either the United Nations or any individual member on the charged charter violation. The most curious sign was silence of the western press who had for fifteen years blamed the KGB for the injustice of the Prague trial.