Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK (10 page)

BOOK: Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK
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Whether or not the CIA investigated the damage that Oswald could have done to the U-2 program, the point is that the Agency could presume that the KGB would be interested in Oswald's U-2 knowledge. Clearly, Oswald thought he had something of "special interest." According to information from the Soviets, Oswald said he was "prepared to offer something of interest. He knew about airplanes; he mentioned something about devices."'

 

CHAPTER FOUR

"I Am Amazed"

"Why the delay in opening Oswald's 201 file?" the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) asked the CIA in 1978.' This was a valid and penetrating question. According to the February 1960 Agency Clandestine Services Handbook, 201 files were then opened on persons "of active operational interest at any given point in time."' Operational interest is a broad phrase, and the Handbook spelled out three specific types it intended for 201 files: "subjects of extensive reporting and Cl [counterintelligence] investigation, prospective agents and sources, and members of groups and organizations of continuing interest." In addition, the Handbook added a fourth category of individual:

It has become apparent that the 201 machine listings should include the identities of persons of operational interest because of their connection with a target group or organization even though there may not be sufficient information or specific interest to warrant opening a file.

Oswald fit these criteria, but the fact is that Oswald's CIA 201 file was not opened for over a year after his defection. The delay was not noticed by the Warren Commission, which paid scant attention to Oswald's CIA files. The HSCA, however, tried to find out why this delay occurred.

In order to study the early portion of Oswald's CIA records, we must understand why Oswald would have a 201 file at all; this perspective is necessary to appreciate the implications of his not having one. Oswald's 201 file was not opened until December 8, 1960, but its shadow reaches back into the events of October to December 1959 and presents us with one of the great quandaries of the Oswald case. The Agency's explicit reason for opening Oswald's 201 file in December 1960 was that he was a defector, a condition that had been clear from October 1959. Because no 201 file followed Oswald's defection, it seems reasonable to wonder how the Agency interpreted his defection. Abnormalities in Oswald's files like this one raise questions about his possible role in U.S. intelligence operations.

The Late Opening of Oswald's 201 File: Part J3

The HSCA investigators justifiably felt they had discovered something important when they learned that there was no proximate postdefection 201 file in the CIA on Lee Harvey Oswald. The HSCA began by searching for the person who finally opened the 201 at the end of 1960. HSCA investigator Dan Hardaway located and spoke with the enigmatic Ann Egerter, who had the fortune of having first Birch D. O'Neal, and second James Jesus Angleton, in her immediate chain of command. She was inside the most sensitive counterintelligence operation in the Agency: the mole-hunting CU SIG. Hardaway's notes of that encounter are more memorable than most such HSCA contact reports:

I contacted Ms. Egerter for an interview. Ms. Egerter said she had no knowledge of the assassination of John Kennedy and that she did not wish to submit to an interview. I told her we wished to talk about her knowledge of Lee Oswald. She said that she did not know anything about Oswald that was not in the papers, and really had nothing to tell us and would not talk to us. I informed Ms. Egerter that if she did not submit to an interview that I was afraid we would have to subpoena her."

Ann Egerter handled Oswald's files for the last three years of his life. For most of that time, nothing could go in or out of his file and no one could see it without Ann Egerter's permission. Hardaway was therefore justified in threatening to subpoena her testimony. Though she is no longer alive today, Ann Egerter changed her mind and eventually testified before the HSCA. The verbatum record of her testimony is still classified.

Fortunately, the HSCA did paraphrase a few important items from her testimony and put them into their final report. We know that on June 27, 1978, the doors in a room in the Rayburn Building of the House of Representatives were closed to the public so that the HSCA could take the "classified deposition of a CIA employee."5 The Agency's "201 files are opened when a person is considered to be of potential intelligence or counterintelligence significance," the anonymous "employee" testified, and the Oswald file was opened "because, as an American defector, he was considered to be of continuing intelligence interest."

We know that the "employee" doing the talking is Egerter because the Final Report read: "The Committee was able to determine the basis for opening Oswald's file on December 9, 1960, by interviewing and deposing the Agency employee who was directly responsible for initiating the opening action." Because of the CIA's 1992-1994 files release, we can be certain that person was Ann Egerter. All the House Select Committee could get out of Egerter was that she had opened the file after she saw Oswald's name on a list of defectors received from the State Department.6 This reply, while perhaps technically correct, is only remotely helpful. It begs this troubling question: If the CIA was willing to open a 201 file on Oswald for this reason in December 1960, why not open it in October 1959, when he actually defected?

In the end, and after much testimony, the HSCA resorted to a statistical analysis and found that for the period 1958 to 1963, a 201 was opened on a person immediately after that person's defection only twenty-five percent of the time. In the other seventy-five percent of the cases, the HSCA noted, the 201 opening was "triggered by some event independent of the defection." Based on this superficial analysis, the committee concluded that such a delay in 201 openings on defectors "was not uncommon."' However, this analysis only confounded the issue, because it did not state if those seventy-five percent were cases like Oswald's, where the defection was known when it occurred. Put another way, in a quarter of all cases, defection led to a 201 opening, and might well have in the other cases were it not that other events came to light first. This statistical study did not consider whether the defectors without 201s were known defectors, and thus the study ignored the main question: Would a defection-once known and verified by the Agency-lead to a 201 file opening?

The committee's reasoning also seems flawed because defection itself is a "trigger" event-all the more so when supplemented with cable traffic from American Embassies in Moscow and Tokyo, military and civilian intelligence cables and memoranda, and considerable national and international press reporting. All of this and a lot more were loaded into the same shell when the Oswald "trigger" was pulled in November 1959. Much, much more.

There was a far deeper omission in the HSCA's analysis of the late 201 opening. Defection is a legal act, but espionage is illegal. It defies reason that a known defector who had threatened-in front of a U.S. Embassy official-to commit espionage would be the object of a 201 opening a year later just because his name appeared on a list of defectors. This is simply too great a flaw in the landscape of Oswald's CIA files to dismiss. It prompts suspicion that his files were deliberately handled in some special way. Otherwise, one would have to say that CIA was derelict.

In the 201 opening form filled out by Egerter, Oswald's defection is mentioned but not his threat to give up military secrets. Actually, Oswald's CIA 831A [Field Personality (201) Request] looks pretty threatening without the espionage information, with comments such as "Defected to USSR" and "Radar operator," and a check mark in the box for "Restricted File." But the failure to mention his threat to talk about radar to the Soviets is extraordinary. Thus, unless there is more to the CIA's relationship with Oswald than we are being told, one can argue that the failure of the CIA's mole-hunting experts to open a 201 file in 1959-when they knew that Oswald had defected and offered to give up radar secrets along with "something of special interest"-was a conspicuous breakdown of the Agency's security and counterintelligence functions.

So that there should be no question about the paramount importance of the timing and circumstances of Oswald's 201 file opening, it is worth revisiting what happened in 1978, when the HSCA deposed the director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms, specifically on the question of the delay in the opening of Oswald's 201 file. The following exchange between HSCA questioner Michael Goldsmith and Mr. Helms took place:

MR. GOLDSMITH: ... Why did it take more than one year to open a 201 file on Oswald? I might add, this is an issue which is somewhat controversial in the case.

MR. HELMS: I can't imagine why it would have taken an entire year. I am amazed. Defect to the USSR [in] October 1959. This [201 opening] is December 1960. There wasn't a 201 file already in existence, I am amazed. Are you sure there wasn't?

MR. GOLDSMITH: The opening of the file, according to the record, is 9 December 1960.

MR. HELMS: Yes, [approximately 1/2 a line still classified] but [2-4 words still classified] had they not opened a file a lot earlier?

MR. GOLDSMITH: According to the record that the committee has seen, the first opening of any file on Oswald was 9 December 1960.

MR. HELMS: I can't explain that."

Indeed he could not explain it, because it makes no sense at all. We will return shortly to the clue in Helms's statement-the section still partially censored-because it fits with other evidence of pre201 file activity at the CIA on Oswald.

There is more to the HSCA probe, which refused to let this important question die. The HSCA insisted that the CIA indicate "where documents pertaining to Oswald had been disseminated internally and stored prior to the opening of his 201 file."9 The answer is disturbing. The CIA argued that "none of these documents were classified higher than confidential," and, further, that "because document dissemination records of a relatively low national security interest are retained for only a 5-year period, they were no longer in existence for the years 1959 to 63."10 None of this was close to the truth. The HSCA threw its hands up and resigned with the statement that "in the absence of dissemination records, the [late 2011 issue could not be resolved.""

It is unfortunate the CIA made such misleading statements to a congressional investigation. We have most of those records today, along with the internal dissemination documents the HSCA asked for-but did not get-back in 1978. What these documents show is eye-opening. The old argument that Oswald's pre-201 files were not important enough to keep turned out to be untrue in a particularly embarrassing way. The truth is that part of Oswald's pre-201 CIA files were classified SECRET EYES ONLY. This sort of mischief compromises not just the Agency's integrity on this issue, but also on the entire gamut of surrounding issues. Not surprisingly, there are more problems with the Agency's story about Oswald's pre-201 files, especially the claim that Confidential files had been destroyed. This, too, turns out to be wrong. The truth is that the CIA kept Oswald's Confidential files. We have them today. These files were stored in some sensitive and revealing places, places we will visit at the end of this chapter.

So why the bogus story about missing documents? Perhaps we should have a whole new subdiscipline for contemporary historians who try to wade through the deceitful maze of Cold War counterintelligence. In practice, this story functioned as a smoke screen preventing further disclosure of Oswald's CIA files-especially the early ones. The idea is this: We have nothing because we destroyed what we had. At the same time, this story reinforced the fictitious notion that the Agency's preassassination interest in Lee Harvey Oswald was superficial: We got rid of his files because we were not interested in him. Problems with this begin, however, the moment you think about it.

The story that a marine who defected and threatened to give military secrets to the enemy was judged to be of only "relatively low national security interest" is dubious. The fact that the HSCA was misled to adds a dramatic and tragic perspective to this coverup, and impresses one with the lengths to which the CIA was prepared to go to protect the secrets that lay in Oswald's files. Spinning tales is not done for sport, but rather to protect secrets. Oswald's early files are astonishing to read. They establish beyond any doubt that the CIA had a keen interest in him from the very day of his defection.

CI/PROJECT/RE

CIA Director Helms's testimony contained this partial-because some words were redacted-question: "Had they not opened a file a lot earlier?" This question is worth exploring based upon the internal record now available to us. Let us revisit the paper trail inside the CIA in the immediate wake of Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union.

We must begin with what we have previously labeled the docu mentary "black hole" in the CIA's Oswald files, the period from November 4 to December 6, 1959. During this time, the arrival and movement of all incoming documents on Oswald--even news clippings-are seemingly impossible to trace. To this day, the Agency has not properly accounted for the internal distribution of these documents. We now know that these documents entered the CIA, and we have fragmentary but growing evidence of early files that were both substantial and intriguing. At the end of this chapter we will offer additional specific examples of these files. Now we will focus on one such file and pick up the trail where three documents told a troublesome story about Oswald, a story the public would not learn about until after JFK's death.

These three documents are the two Moscow cables, one from Snyder on October 31 and one from the Navy Liaison on November 2, which told of Oswald's intent to reveal radar secrets. The third is the November 2 dispatch from Snyder that included the additional detail about "something of special interest." How can we find out how the Agency reacted to these startling cables? Remarkably, answers are in the newly released JFK files. In spite of the obstacles presented by the CIA's record-keeping on Oswald, we can now reconstruct the path these crucial documents took inside the Agency. Moreover, what we find in these documents is not only the classified story of Oswald's threat to commit espionage, but also what the CIA decided to do about it.

BOOK: Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK
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