russ-baker-family-of-secrets.thumbnail.jpgWhen George W. Bush (whom I’ll call W for this review, to distinguish from his father, Poppy) pushed to have the Supreme Court appoint him in 2000, I speculated to a friend about why W would pursue such an illegitimate Presidency. "I bet he’s got to take control to hide Poppy’s crimes." That’s where Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America starts, too: with W’s early efforts to bury Poppy’s records.

… early in his presidency, George W. Bush had sought to roll back reforms on America’s recent past. He seemed determined to lock the file drawers. But what did those file drawers contain? Could there be clues regarding the origins of George W. Bush’s most damaging policies–the rush to war in Iraq, officially sanctioned torture, CIA destruction of evidence, spying on Americans with the collusion of private corporations, head-in-the-sand dismissal of climate change, the subprime mortgage disaster, skyrocketing oil prices? Indeed their could. None of these developments looks so surprising when one considers the untold story of what came before.

In his effort to tell the story of the Bush dynasty (particularly those events Poppy would like to hide), Baker covers ground others–Kevin Phillips and Robert Parry, among others–have touched on. Yet Baker did a great deal of new investigative research into the guts of Poppy’s secrets. For example, Baker unpacks a November 29, 1963 J. Edgar Hoover memo noting that "George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency" had been briefed on FBI concerns that anti-Castro groups might respond to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination by raiding Cuba.

[We have been] advised that the Department of State feels some misguided anti-Castro group might capitalize on the present situation and undertake an unauthorized raid against Cuba, believing that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy might herald a change in U.S. policy … [Our] sources know of no [such] plans … The substance of the foregoing information was orally furnished to Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency …

Later, Baker explores why George de Mohrenschildt–a key contact of Lee Harvey Oswald’s leading up to the assassination–would write Poppy during his tenure as CIA Director (and just months before de Mohrenschildt died).

I tried to write, stupidly and unsuccessfully, about Lee H. Oswald and must have angered a lot of people … Could you do something to remove the net around us? This will be my last request for help and I will not annoy you any more.

Baker also conducted interviews with key players in the Bush chronology, such as with the owner of an oil services company in Alaska that employed W during the summer of 1974, or the founder of Harken Energy.

By bringing these data points together in one book, Baker brings to light a lot more information about the ties the Bushes have to both licit and illicit networks of money, intelligence, and power.

That said, I don’t buy all his conclusions about those data points. Baker has clearly shown that Poppy was a key member of a large, largely secret, network of power, but he hasn’t proven what role Poppy (or others) played in that network. Simply showing the existence of the network, after all, doesn’t prove anything about the agency of individuals within it.

To be fair, Baker explains that "the research for this book, by definition, is a work in progress." It’s in that spirit that I found the book most valuable–an important contribution to a larger work in progress to expose the Bush family and their role in the global power structure.

In his conclusion, Baker describes a colleague joking that he should call the book, "Everything you thought you knew is wrong." It may or may not be–but certainly, there are details Baker exposes that ought to make you question whether what you know is right. Whether Baker ends up convincing you or not, reading this book should make you question much of what you know about the last half century of US history.

Update: Go to the website http://www.whowhatwhy.com/ to find out how to support this kind of investigative work.