Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Did Otto Otepka Know About Oswald and the CIA?

This article was originally published in Probe magazine, which I co-edited with Jim DiEugenio.

- - - -

By Lisa Pease

Otto Otepka once told journalist Sarah McClendon that he knew who had killed JFK, but would say no more on the subject.1 What might he have been in a position to know?

As head of the State Department’s Office of Security (SY), Otto Otepka was responsible for issuing or denying security clearances for State Department personnel. He took his job very seriously. In 1958, Otepka was awarded for Meritorious Service by no less than John Foster Dulles. The award lauded Otepka’s “loyalty and devotion to duty” as well as his “sound judgment, creative work and unusual responsibilities”, adding that Otepka “reflected great credit upon himself and the Department and has served as an incentive to his colleagues.”2

Not a McCarthyite

Otepka has often been unfairly portrayed as a right-wing clone of Senator Joe McCarthy. But the record does not support this caricature. In fact, Otepka crossed swords with Joe McCarthy in 1953 over Wolf Ladejinksy, a State Department agricultural expert who had once been employed by a Soviet trade agency. Despite such an obvious affiliation, Otepka’s evaluation cleared Ladejinsky of McCarthy’s unfair charges. Otepka himself has stated,
I thought my whole record would prove I was not a McCarthyite. I had never approved of Senator McCarthy’s tactics. Everyone in the security field knew that.3
November 5, 1963, Otto Otepka was unceremoniously fired from State based on charges that were unfounded.

How did Otepka fall so far from grace? And could it have had anything to do with his investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald?

Otto Otepka’s troubles started in December of 1960. Otepka’s biographer William Gill clearly believes that Otepka’s problems stemmed originally from Otepka’s continued denial of a security clearance for the former OSS veteran Walt Rostow. Otepka had denied him clearance twice before, and in December of 1960, Dean Rusk, newly appointed Secretary of State, visited Otepka in person to ask what Rostow’s chances would be of getting cleared at that time. Otepka was unable to give Rusk any reason to believe Rostow would ever receive clearance, and Rusk subsequently placed Rostow in the White House as a member of Kennedy’s personal staff, specifically as McGeorge Bundy’s second in command on national security matters.

Walt Whitman Rostow was the brother of Eugene Rostow. In Professor Don Gibson’s article about the creation of the Warren Commission, (Probe, May-June 1996) Gibson revealed Eugene Rostow’s primary role in the formation of that body. Eugene’s call was made less than two and a half hours after Oswald was killed. Walt Rostow also shared something in common with the CIA’s legendary Counterintelligence Chief, James Angleton. He did not believe in the Sino-Soviet split.4 Rostow was no communist, but in fact a hawkish Cold Warrior.

Walt Rostow was one of Kennedy’s “counterinsurgency” experts. “He made counterinsurgency seem profound, reasonable, and eminently just,” said author Gerald Colby in his book Thy Will Be Done. Walt Rostow—like Dean Rusk, Roswell Gilpatrick, Edward Lansdale, Paul Nitze, Harland Cleveland, Roger Hilsman, Lincoln Gordon, Adolf Berle, McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger—came to work in the Kennedy administration directly from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Special Studies Project. This group had been hand-chosen by Nelson Rockefeller to assist him when he himself was seeking the Presidency. Author Colby called this “Nelson’s Secret Victory”, pointing out that while Kennedy knew many powerful people, they were mostly politicians, not men with experience in foreign affairs. The Rockefeller family network, and Nelson’s group in particular, provided a large assortment of bright, qualified men. However, with such a homogenous group surrounding him, Colby noted, “there was no one to advise the young president on the wisdom and efficacy of such covert operations as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA’s secret war in Indochina, Project Eagle, or Lumumba’s murder.”5

Otepka’s biographer doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between Kennedy and this group. He insinuates that Bobby was behind Walt Rostow’s rise and Otepka’s fall. Bobby was originally the true believer in counterinsurgency as a means for conducting limited warfare and thus saving a greater number of lives than in outright war, which at that point in time seemed to mean nuclear war. But Bobby became disenchanted himself with both Rusk and Rostow and their type of counterinsurgency. Colby includes the text of one of Bobby’s speeches as released to the press, in which was written, “Victory in a revolutionary war is not won by escalation, but by de-escalation.” Kennedy did not actually speak these words when the speech was delivered, but the words were widely quoted by the press.6

Investigating Oswald

Was the denial of clearance for Rostow the trigger for Otepka’s eventual downfall? Or could it have been a letter that went out a few weeks earlier? In a letter dated October 25, 1960, Hugh Cummings of State’s Intelligence and Research Bureau wrote a letter to Richard Bissell at CIA, requesting information on defectors to the Soviet Union. Number eight on the list of eighteen names was Lee Harvey Oswald. In the book Spooks, Jim Hougan writes that,
According to Otepka, the study on defectors was initiated by him because neither the CIA nor military intelligence agencies would inform the State Department which defectors to the Soviet Union were double agents working for the United States.7
Although Otepka remained in the dark, within the CIA there seemed to be fewer questions as to for whom Oswald worked.

When State’s request came to CIA, Bissell turned the request over to two places: James Angleton’s Counterintelligence (CI) staff, and Sheffield Edwards’ Office of Security (OS) staff. In OS, Robert Bannerman, himself a former SY official and a colleague of Otepka’s, told his people to coordinate their response with CI. Evidently, Bannerman knew that Angleton’s CI staff, as opposed to the Soviet Russia Division (SR), would have the answers State needed. Paul Gaynor, of OS’s Security Research Staff (SRS), also seemed to have special knowledge that Angleton would be the appropriate person to handle this request. He passed Bannerman’s request for a coordinated response for State to Marguerite Stevens of SRS.

John Newman, in Oswald and the CIA, describes the unusual nature of Gaynor’s framing of this request:
This request, as Gaynor relayed it to Stevens, however, was worded in a peculiar way, as if to dissuade her from doing research on seven people. Bannerman specified that he wanted information on American defectors other than Bernon F. Mitchell and William H. Martin, and five other defectors regarding whom Mr. Otepka of the State Department Security Office already has information. One of the “five other defectors” that Stevens was not supposed to look into was Lee Harvey Oswald.8 [Newman’s emphasis]
Readers of Probe will remember from the last issue how CIA told the Headquarters offices of the FBI, State and INS that the CIA had already given information (re Oswald’s Mexico City trip) to the field offices of the same entities, which proved to be a lie. Is this a similar lie? Did Otepka have the information already? No, according to Otepka. In addition, we know now that Angleton’s CI/SIG chief, Birch D. O’Neal, prepared his own response regarding these “defectors”. And 10th on the list was Oswald. And more importantly, Oswald’s particular entry was marked SECRET.9 And again, as described in the last Probe, SIG—the Special Investigations Group—contained Angleton’s private handful of his most closed-mouth associates.

It’s significant that both Bannerman and Gaynor knew that the appropriate area for responding to inquiries about Oswald was Angleton’s CI staff. It’s interesting too how Gaynor relayed a response to a subordinate, Marguerite Stevens, in a manner that did not indicate to her that someone else in CIA had information on Oswald.

Another significant element in CI/SIG’s response was that it included a known lie. Oswald was listed as having “renounced” his citizenship.10 Although Oswald had attempted renunciation, he had not followed through and was still considered by both governments a citizen of the United States. Newman muses of this assertion, “Was CI/SIG truly incompetent or spinning some counterintelligence yarn?”11 The latter seems more likely, in light of other events.

The Opening of Oswald’s 201 File

Late November, 1960, Angleton’s staff sent Bissell their proposed response to State, which Bissell signed and forwarded. Yet we are to believe that, despite this obvious flurry of attention, just a few days later, on December 9, 1960, CI/SIG’s Ann Egerter opened a 201 file in the name of Lee Henry Oswald. Newman has stated that he thinks this name might have been the result of a simple mistake. While this response seems strained for a file that was restricted, as this one was, this explanation is even more weak in light of the recent attention focused on one Lee Harvey Oswald preceding the opening of this file. In fact, Egerter herself directly related the opening of the file to State’s request for information when deposed by the HSCA. Does this make any sense? It seems more like Egerter was trying to hide the CIA’s knowledge of Oswald, than preparing to divulge more of it.

Newman raises an interesting issue by quoting a memo from the man who later took Angleton’s position, George T. Kalaris. Kalaris gave a different version of why the 201 file was opened at that time, which states flatly:
Lee Harvey Oswald’s 201 file was first opened as a result of his “defection” to the USSR on 31 Oct 1959 and renewed interest in Oswald brought about by his queries concerning possible reentry into the United States.12
One of Oswald’s own letters supports Kalaris’ assertion. Oswald wrote to the American Embassy in Moscow in early 1961:
Since I have not received a reply to my letter of December, 1960, I am writing again asking that you consider my request for the return of my American passport.13
Newman quotes from an ABC Nightline broadcast from 1991, in which ABC claims that the KGB had intercepted this letter and that the original still exists in Soviet files. Newman further points out that only some extraordinary source or method could have relayed this information to the CIA so quickly for them to open the 201 file by December 9th. Even if Oswald wrote on December 1st, how did the CIA, continents away, learn the contents of a letter in the cold war Soviet Union within eight days? And more importantly, what would that indicate about the level of interest the CIA really had in Oswald, to be monitoring him so closely? In addition, Newman points out that,
Throughout Oswald’s stay in the Soviet Union, an Agency element which appears regularly on cover sheets for Oswald documents is CI/OPS, which means “Counterintelligence Operations.” If Oswald was a dangle, this might suggest that it was a counterintelligence operation run by Angleton.
Whatever the truth of the opening of the 201 file and the true purpose of Oswald’s trip to the Soviet Union, Otepka’s request for information sparked a chain of communications to Angleton’s unit, which then lied about Oswald in response. And Otepka’s life irrevocably changed. From December 1960, whether due to his refusal to clear Rostow, his poking into Oswald, or some other reason, Otepka started being taken off any “sensitive” security cases. It seemed Otepka’s reputation for meticulous attention to detail and thoroughness was making him a problem in SY. Why? Who was threatened by a man doing a good job?

Downward Spiral

An incredible, three year campaign unfolded against Otepka. Because of his stellar record, no one dared fire him. But all kinds of efforts were spent trying to make him want to quit, starting with his removal from the most sensitive cases in December, 1960. The first public attack began when stories appeared in the press that State—and specifically Otepka’s security area—would be undergoing a “reduction in force.”14

Shortly thereafter, Otepka was called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), of which Senator James Eastland was Chair and Senator Thomas Dodd a vocal member. Otepka had gotten to know Jay Sourwine, the subcommittee’s Chief Counsel. Informally, Otepka had shared some of his concerns for what he saw as a loosening of the clearance procedures with Sourwine. Sourwine and the subcommittee quickly began, with Dodd presiding, to hold what came to be known as the Otepka hearings. In the subcommittee’s subsequent report, the members concluded that the release of the news stories was meant to cause Otepka’s voluntary resignation.

Since this effort failed, other steps had to be taken. Otepka’s superior in SY tried to entice Otepka into taking a position in a different division. But Otepka refused, and none too soon, since that division was dissolved a mere two months later.15 Next, Otepka was shifted into a position that was essentially a demotion. Still, Otepka hung on, trying to do the job he felt needed to be done.

Otepka had found that Rusk had appointed a number of officials to State under a blanket waiver that effectively backdated security clearances for the new officials. Otepka tried to raise his concern with his superiors, and urged them to go to SISS. But SY just wanted Otepka to look the other way.

In 1962, John Francis Reilly took control of SY. From the very beginning, he too seemed to be on a mission to get rid of Otepka. Otepka’s biographer relates this encounter, just weeks into Reilly’s term:
Smiling broadly, [Reilly] asked, “Where’s your rabbit’s foot?” Mystified, Otepka raised his eyebrows in question. Reilly laughed and, maintaining his air of benevolent affability, he explained that Otepka had just been selected to attend the National War College. This was an honor usually reserved for Foreign Service officers marked for higher things. Being human, Otepka was naturally pleased. Reilly seemed genuinely delighted that such good fortune had befallen a member of his staff and just for a moment, Otepka was taken in. He accepted the appointment with thanks, and perhaps with a sense of relief that he could escape, at least temporarily, from the strained atmosphere that prevailed in SY. Reilly shrewdly asked him to put his acceptance in writing.
That same day, May 7, Otepka wrote Reilly a memorandum formally expressing his willingness to attend the War College for ten months beginning in August. However, he could not resist adding, tongue in cheek, that the appointment had come as something of a surprise to him because the State Department had repeatedly assured him, the Congress, and the public that he would be kept in a responsible position in the Office of Security. Reilly returned this memo with the request that Otepka delete his comments on the Department’s premises. Otepka complied.16

Reilly, however, overplayed his hand. His overdone praise made Otepka a bit uneasy, and he decided to do a little checking on his own. What he found was that his appointment had not been entered with the regular nominations, but was entered as a last minute emergency-type nomination. Otepka then asked Reilly if by accepting, he would still be able to return to his post at State. Reilly admitted he would have to fill Otepka’s spot, and there would be no place to which Otepka could return. With that, Otepka rejected this “honor” and chose to remain in place.

Less than a week after Otepka’s refusal, Reilly placed his first spy, Fred Traband, in Otepka’s office. More would follow. Reilly also brought in a National Security Agency (NSA) alumnus, David Belisle, to work with Otepka. Belisle brought with him a new “short form” procedure to rush through people’s security clearances. Otepka was appalled, but powerless. Belisle took away Otepka’s card-file index, the product of years of work. Otepka was removed from the FBI’s after-hours call list, which was another demotion. For a short time, Otepka was seriously thinking of quitting. Ironically, it was his buddy, Jay Sourwine, who talked him out of it. Ironically because it was this very relationship that most contributed to Otepka’s eventual downfall.

Sourwine started working on Otepka to get him to divulge what was really going on behind the scenes at State. But as usual, being a by-the-book person, Otepka insisted on following protocol. If Sourwine wanted him to testify before SISS, the subcommittee would have to formally request his testimony. And then, Otepka insisted on getting clearance from his superiors before testifying. Was Sourwine truly interested in helping Otepka, or was he part of a plot to entrap Otepka into saying something that would finally provide the justification for Otepka’s ouster?

In mid-February, 1963, Otepka was formally notified that his appearance was requested before SISS. Otepka testified to the subcommittee on four different occasions. At the very first hearing, Sourwine asked the question relating to the cause of Otepka’s appearance before the committee in the first place. He asked if Otepka had been subjected to any “reprisals” from State because of his previous testimony. But Otepka was wary of saying anything that could make his already uncomfortable situation at SY worse, and defended both State and their treatment of him. Otepka defended his own actions, but would not point an accusatory finger at anyone else. Sourwine continued to press the matter with more subtle questions, until he got Otepka to talk about a case where Otepka conceded to being pressured to put through two security clearances where he didn’t feel one was justified. Otepka’s refusal to clear the persons delayed the formation of the committee to which these people had been appointed for over a year. And in the end, through Otepka’s persistence, they were both dropped from the committee.17

One of Otepka’s biggest heresies, however, was disclosing to the Senate subcommittee that, despite the subcommittee’s earlier report and recommendations from the earlier Otepka hearings, State had continued to process under blanket waivers nearly 400 people in the roles of file clerks and secretaries. As author Gill put it, “it is often easier for an obscure clerk or a trusted secretary to waltz off the premises with a top-secret document than it would be for an official at the policy-making level who is afraid he is being watched.”18 This greatly alarmed the senators, but Otepka added one more piece of information. There was an effort underway to reinstate Alger Hiss to the State Department. Knowing what we know today, one might wish that effort had been successful. But at the time, all that was known was that Hiss had been convicted of perjury and had been accused of espionage.

High-Tech Harassment

Shortly after the third or fourth appearance, Otepka began noticing trouble on his phone line. Chatter could be heard sometimes, other times calls wouldn’t go through, and sometimes there would be an amplification effect. Otepka was being bugged. And not just though the phone. Listening devices were installed in his office. What could someone possibly fear that Otepka might be discussing to warrant such intense surveillance?

And then there was the night Otepka had been working late, stepped out for dinner, and then returned to work some more. Imagine his surprise when, around 10pm, David Belisle and another NSA spook entered his office, thinking he was gone for the night. Belisle made the flimsy excuse that he had been concerned by a cleaning woman he claimed to have seen entering Otepka’s office. But Otepka had been sitting there for some time, and called Belisle on this lie.19

When Otepka’s regular secretary fell sick, one Joyce Schmelzer was placed in his office with orders to spy on Otepka. One of her tasks was to gather the burn bag each night, mark it with a big red “X”, then call to alert another SY member that Otepka’s burn bag was on the way down. The trash was searched regularly for any incriminating information that could be used against Otepka.

For weeks, his house was under surveillance. His wife, tired of seeing the man in the car parked across the street every night, called the local police. After the police forced the man to identify himself (he worked for a private security firm), the man never reappeared.

Was Otepka keeping people with carefully constructed communist-like backgrounds from being placed, on behalf of intelligence agencies, in State for official cover? It would seem his offenses must have been extraordinary to warrant such high-level harassment. Was someone out to discredit Otepka in case he later spilled the beans on one particularly sensitive case?

Someone had even drilled a hole into his safe, and with a mirror determined the correct combination, and then plugged the hole again. What could someone possibly fear that Otepka might be discussing to warrant such intense surveillance? According to Otepka, the only sensitive material in the safe was his half-finished study of American defectors in the Soviet Union, with a yet to be completed determination on one Lee Harvey Oswald. When Hougan asked Otepka specifically if Otepka had been able to figure out if Oswald was an agent of the US or not, Otepka answered, “We had not made up our minds when my safe was drilled and we were thrown out of the office.”20

Amazingly, the people involved in harassing Otepka did little to cover their tracks. It was an open secret that Otepka was being tapped. And Otepka still had many friends in State, who told him who was responsible for many of these activities. Meanwhile, Reilly was trying to undermine Otepka’s support on SISS. He told all kinds of lies about what Otepka had done on various security cases and directly contradicted Otepka’s testimony before the subcommittee. Otepka was appalled. The Senate subcommittee was in quandry about who to believe—Otepka, or his SY superior. Sourwine told Otepka he would need something other than his word. He would need documents. Again, one should consider what followed in regards to the question of whether Sourwine was engaging in some form of entrapment.

Preparing the Defense

For ten days, Otepka gathered his evidence. He prepared a 39 page brief with 36 attachments to support his own testimony and directly refute that of Reilly’s. Of the attachemtns, 25 were unclassified; six were marked “Official Use Only”, three were marked “Limited Official Use”; and two were marked “Confidential.”21

Otepka was careful that none of what he divulged to the Senate subcommittee was information that in any way could compromise the national security of the United States. And even the two marked “Confidential” were mere transmittal memorandums for more sensitive attachments, and Otepka did not turn over the attachments.

The piece d’resistance in this affair was the manipulation of evidence taken from Otepka’s own safe. Sensitive documents were “found” in his burn bag one night, with the classification tags illegally clipped off. Otepka claimed, and the State Department never denied, that the evidence seems to support the contention that the documents were planted in his bags for the sole purpose of discrediting him. The day after these documents turned up, SISS called several SY members to the Hill to discuss the bugging of Otepka. The first man called was the spy Reilly had planted in Otepka’s office from the beginning, Fred Traband. Traband was so unnerved at being called, however, that, while denying knowledge of the tapping, he told the story behind the burn bag operation. The next man, Terry Shea, not only acknowledged the burn bag story, but added that Reilly had personally searched Otepka’s files and safe. The rest continued to deny any participation in or knowledge of the tapping of Otepka.

House of Cards

On June 27, 1963, Reilly unceremoniously shunted Otepka out of his office into a new, make-work position reviewing and updating policy manuals. Otepka was ordered to turn over the combination to his safe (which still held the unfinished Oswald study) and was sent to another office on another floor. He was denied access to his former records. Many of Otepka’s staff were purged from their positions at this time as well. On his new office wall, Otepka hung these words from Prime Minister Churchill:
Never give in. Never, never, never, never! Never yield in any way, great or small, large or petty, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force and the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.22
Adrift without direction, Otepka took some time off, and then made the mistake of stopping by his old office for a look. Belisle heard about this and admonished Otepka to stay away. Otepka’s wife was surprised, when calling her husband at his office, to hear “Mr. Otepka is no longer here.” And Otepka’s phone was rigged so that he could receive no incoming calls himself. His buzzer was disabled. When a call for Otepka came in, a phone would ring in another location, where a secretary would have to answer the call, and then walk to his door, knock, and tell him to pick up the line, before he could receive the call. This also ensured no privacy, since anyone could be listening on the other end of his calls. One of the men involved in tapping Otepka, Elmer Hill, had his wiretap lab across from Otepka’s office.23

Domestic Espionage?

At the end of July, the other shoe dropped. Otepka was informed by the FBI that he was being formally charged with espionage. Years later, it was discovered this move was ordered by Rusk himself, and the order hand-delivered by Reilly to the Department of Justice. This, for turning documents over to a Senate subcommittee. He was also charged with having clipped security classifications from documents, something Otepka did not do.

In our last issue of Probe, we told of another whistleblower, Richard Nuccio, and how he was punished for giving information to the congressional body legitimately designated to receive such. Peter Kornbluh, writing for the Washington Post, quoted a 1912 law which stated that “the right of employees…to furnish information to either House or Congress, or to a committee or member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.” Otepka himself cited this same law to the FBI in defense of his own actions.

Meanwhile, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee was going to bat for Otepka. They hauled before them what the committee later called the “lying trio” of Reilly, Belisle and Hill.24 All three were found to have committed perjury when they denied knowledge of the tap on Otepka.

The Long Shadow of Walter Sheridan

In an interesting and relevant side story, the tapes made from the bugging of Otepka’s office were passed to a man that was unidentified in the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee’s hearings. Jim Hougan, while researching a strange case of bugging on Capitol Hill, found a man, Sidney Goldberg, who claims that the man in the corridor was none other than Walter Sheridan.25 Walter Sheridan was the former NSA and FBI man who did so much to sabotage Jim Garrison during his investigation into Kennedy’s assassination. According to a source of Goldberg’s, Hougan wrote that Sheridan “disposed over the personnel and currency of whole units of the Central Intelligence Agency.”26 In addition, the same source claimed that Sheridan was behind the preservation of Belisle’s job with State when Belisle’s role in the bugging of Otepka was revealed. Belisle was not fired, but was transferred to Bonn, Germany. Sheridan denied having any role in these events. But is Sheridan to be believed, in light of the lies he put forth during the Garrison investigation?

Despite the support of the committee, Otepka was on the way out. He was met at work on September 22, 1963, with a note saying “You are hereby notified that it is proposed to remove you from your appointment with the Department of State….”27 Otepka was outraged at the charges:

“I was not particularly disturbed by the charges regarding my association with Jay Sourwine or the data I’d furnished him for the subcommittee,” Otepka later recalled. “But I was shocked and angered to find that the State Department had resorted to a cheap, gangland frame-up to place me under charges for crimes it knew I had never committed.”28

One would think that finally, Otepka’s ordeal would be over. One would be wrong. He had been fired from his career position at State. Yet even after this, Otepka was warned that his home phone was probably tapped! And just a few days later, the man who had originally divulged who was behind the tapping of Otepka, Stanley Holden, suffered a mysterious “accident.” Holden was a good friend of Otepka’s, and had himself been under surveillance. His face and tongue had been so badly cut that stitches were required. His own explanation of being hit in the face by a heavy spring did not seem to explain his wounds, and the rumor went around that he had been beaten up by those who didn’t like him talking.

In a last ditch effort to preserve Otepka at State, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee wrote a brief letter, signed by every subcommittee member, which strongly urged Rusk to reconsider the decision to force Otepka out of State. But Otepka’s fate had already been sealed. On November 5, 1963, Otepka was finally formally ousted from the State Department. Just seventeen days later, Kennedy would be assassinated. And the killing would be pinned on the man Otepka was trying to investigate when he was removed from his office.


1. Sarah McClendon, Mr. President, Mr. President! (Santa Monica: General Publishing Group, 1996) p. 82
2. William J. Gill, The Ordeal of Otto Otepka (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1969), p. 56
3. Gill, p. 232
4. Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1995), p. 553
5. Colby and Dennett, p. 343
6. Colby and Dennett, pp. 542-543.
7. Jim Hougan, Spooks (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1978) p. 371
8. John Newman, Oswald and the CIA (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995), p. 172
9. Newman, p. 172
10. Newman, p. 172
11. Newman, p. 173
12. Newman, p. 176
13. Newman, p. 177
14. Gill, p. 117
15. Gill, p. 123
16. Gill, pp. 161-162
17. Gill, p. 235
18. Gill, p. 238
19. Gill, p. 243
20. Hougan, p. 371
21. Gill, p. 254
22. Gill, p. 280
23. Gill, p. 285
24. Gill, p. 289
25. Hougan, p. 128. Hougan wrote of a wiretap that was discovered that ran from Capitol Hill to the Esso building, terminating not in the basement, where most lines terminate, but on the top floor behind a locked door to which the phone company didn’t even have access. The floor was leased to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, and the room was marked as a “restricted area”. Goldberg had a source that claimed Walter Sheridan was the ultimate recipient of this tap. In addition, Bernard Fensterwald appears in this story. When he heard that Goldberg was on the trail of the tap, he walked into Goldberg’s office and offered to help. Fensterwald convinced Goldberg to sign a statement that wasn’t true under the guise that this would help him. The situation became a nightmare for Goldberg. Fensterwald also played a role in protecting the tap. The tap was brought to the attention of Senator Long’s Ad-Prac committee by Bernie Spindel, a famed wiretapper himself. Spindel claimed government agents were constantly working on the tap. Fensterwald then committed a “blunder”: he requested information on the cable from the telephone company. This had the effect of sending a warning to whoever was bugging the hill. Because such requests took several days to process, the buggers had plenty of time to remove the tap that was under investigation. Why would Fensterwald, a sophisticated lawyer who sat on a committee specifically involved with wiretapping issues, make such an obvious mistake?
26. Hougan, p. 128
27. Gill, p. 291
28. Gill, p. 293

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dan Hardway rebuts Shenon's assertion that RFK put Allen Dulles on the Warren Commission

Dan Hardway gave me permission to share this with the world. I’m more than happy to. Dan Hardway was one of the key investigators into the CIA’s role in the JFK assassination for the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s. Hardway also has one of the finest minds I’ve met in this case and a genuine dedication to getting at the truth of what happened.

= = = =

This link is to a JFKFacts published excerpt from my response to Phil Shenon's assertion that RFK nominated Allen Dulles to serve on the Warren Commission. The little bit JFKFacts printed is excepted from the following fuller response to that assertion, just so you may know. Sapere aude.

David Talbot, in his brief Facebook response to Phil Shenon’s article in Politico Magazine, “Yes, the CIA Director was Part of the JFK Assassination Cover-Up,” denied the claim that Robert Kennedy was responsible for Allen Dulles being on the Warren Commission. Shenon had said: “[President] Johnson appointed Dulles to the commission at the recommendation of then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy.” Talbot responded, “Shenon also repeats the old canard that RFK urged President Johnson to appoint former CIA director Allen Dulles to the Warren Commission. This bogus story apparently originated with Lyndon Johnson himself, who alleged in his 1971 memoir that Bobby recommended both Dulles and John McCloy, another Republican pillar of the Wall Street-national security world. Johnson, of course, was one of the most notorious fabulists who ever occupied the Oval Office. And his hatred of Bobby Kennedy, who by 1971 was conveniently dead, was one of the core passions of LBJ's life. The notion that Johnson would huddle with his arch enemy to make such a politically delicate choice as the makeup of the Warren Commission is absurd. So is the idea that Bobby himself would recommend two men who were political enemies of his late brother -- two men with whom JFK had strongly clashed over national security policy. In truth, as close CIA associates of Dulles later revealed, such as Richard Helms, Dulles himself arm-twisted his way onto the Warren Commission, where he and McCloy soon established themselves as the dominant players. This is one more example of Shenon's gullibility when it comes to covering CIA-related issues.”

In addition to David’s very valid points about the antipathy between Johnson and RFK which, if anything, David understates here, and Johnson’s slim acquaintance with the truth, I would like to point out a couple of additional reasons to reject the idea of RFK being behind Dulles’ appointment to the Warren Commission. As David says, this story’s first public appearance was in LBJ’s memoirs as an unsupported allegation. (The Vantage Point, p. 27) An earlier telephone transcript of a telephone call between LBJ and Abe Fortas, in December of 1966, has Johnson saying “We even asked the Attorney General to name people he wanted. He recommended people like Allen Dulles and John McCloy.” The context of the conversation, however, is about countering criticism of the President that they think may be coming from Nicholas Katzenbach, President Johnson is telling Fortas that he needs to talk to Katzenbach and telling him what to say to him. (See…/conversations/1966/lbj_wh661… to hear the recording of the conversation.) The statement is in the context of their continuing disputes and animosity.

It should be noted that no one who was close to Robert Kennedy has ever confirmed his input into the selection of the members of the Warren Commission, let alone his nomination of Allen Dulles and John J. McCloy. In addition, there is only one contemporaneous document that can be cited as in any manner supporting that assertion. The document is a Memorandum from Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s top administrative assistant who had worked for him since 1939. The brief memo is dated 11/29/63. It reports: “Abe [Fortas] has talked with Katzenbach and Katzenbach has talked to the Attorney General. They recommend a seven man commission – two Senators, two Congressmen, the Chief Justice, Allen Dulles, and a retired Military Man....” A hand written note at the bottom of the page says “orig. not sent to files.” The memo also bears the a stamp that indicates it was received by Central Files on April 20, 1965. It is unlikely that this document could ever be used as evidence on several grounds. The statement that RFK approved Dulles is, at best triple hearsay – allegedly, RFK told Katzenbach who told Fortas who told Jenkins who wrote the memo. The document also does not bear standard indicia of credibility in that, as it notes, the original was not preserved in the normal course of business, and a copy was not recorded until seventeen months after the original had been written. The memo asks LBJ to respond to three questions. I have not been able to find a copy of any response.

Interestingly enough, LBJ also met with J. Edgar Hoover on November 29, 1963, at 1:39 p.m. They discussed the composition of the Commission Johnson was considering, as Hoover reported in a memorandum:

“ He then indicated the only way to stop it is to appoint a high-level committee to evaluate my report and tell the House and Senate not to go ahead with the investigation. I stated that would be a three-ring circus.

“The President then asked what I think about Allen Dulles, and I replied that he is a good man. He then asked about John McCloy, and I stated I am not as enthusiastic about McCloy, that he is a good man but I am not so certain as to the matter of publicity he might want. The President then mentioned General (Lauris) Norstad, and I said he is a good man. He said in the House he might try (Hale) Boggs and (Gerald R.) Ford and in the Senate (Richard B.) Russell and (John Sherman) Cooper. I asked him about Cooper and he indicated Cooper of Kentucky whom he described as a judicial man, stating he would not want (Jacob K.) Javits. I agreed on this point. He then reiterated Ford of Michigan, and I indicated I know of him but do not know him and had never seen him except on television the other day and that he handled himself well on television. I indicated that I do know Boggs.”

There was no discussion here of the Attorney General nor of any recommendations he may have made. They went on to discuss other matters, including some discussion of the Attorney General, but did not discuss anything about the Attorney General and his alleged suggestions regarding the composition of the Commission.

Jim Lesar and Dan Alcorn have called my attention to another recorded telephone call between LBJ, RFK and Allen Dulles on June 23, 1964. This is truly a remarkable, fascinating conversation, especially considering the strained relationships between RFK and LBJ and RFK and Dulles. Those considerations make some of the conversation’s subtleties ambiguous at best. Of particular note are the references to the Warren Commission and its on-going work:

At 5:23, Dulles says to RFK, "What is the timing on this? (The proposed Dulles trip to Mississippi). I'm on this other Commission you know, and we are trying to finish up our work, you know, and I wouldn't want the Chief Justice to think I'd run out on him." Is he concerned that this is a move by RFK to get him less involved in the final deliberations of the Committee? Missing a perfect opportunity to remind RFK that he is on the WC by his nomination, Dulles here says nothing about it. Note the proximity of this assignment to the untranscribed WC Executive Session of 6/29/64,…;, which followed not long after the Executive Sessions in may where the remarkable conversations about the possibility of LHO being a government asset happened. Dulles was present at the meeting, apparently arriving back in D.C. from Mississippi in the early morning hours of 6/26/64. (see

At 7:03 Dulles asks RFK, "Why did you pick me for this?" RFK responds, "Because I know you," to which Dulles responds with a long hearty laugh, adding, "I've been a little mad at you, you know, oh a little bit on this Bay of Pigs book, but I might forget that very easily.(laughing)" RFK: "Well, anyway..." Dulles: "I don't stay angry long." RFK: "Fine." and turns the conversation back to Mississippi. You can hear the irritation in RFK's voice at this point. He never joins Dulles's laughing. “This Bay of Pigs book" that Dulles refers to was, most likely, Haynes Johnson's The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of Brigade 2506, which was published in May, 1964– the month before this conversation. Given the long prior relationship between RFK and Haynes Johnson, Dulles may have considered the book to be part of his ongoing propaganda battle with RFK over the Bay of Pigs that started with the post-invasion press maneuvering and the Taylor Commission. It is another indication of continued antagonism between RFK and Dulles, further weakening the case for believing that RFK would have nominated Dulles to serve on the Commission charged with investigating his brother’s murder.

At 8:43, Dulles to LBJ, "You remember that I'm on this, that you put me on this Commission that I'm working on with the Chief Justice and the others... and that is reaching a point where I would not want to neglect that work...for anything." The ellipses represent LBJ interjections of affirmation and understanding. Johnson then assures him that he will have access to a presidential jet and that he would be going down to Mississippi and back very quickly.

The most remarkable thing about the conversation is that nothing is said about RFK involvement in selecting Dulles for the Warren Commission. When talking to RFK, Dulles did not say anything about serving on the Commission at his request or nomination. In speaking with LBJ, he points out that he is serving on the Commission by LBJ's appointment, but does not say anything to him about his appointment being in any way connected with RFK. Also, the exchange between Dulles and RFK, quoted above would seem to indicate that the relationship between the two men was, even at this point, strained at best. You have to hear the voice tones to really appreciate this. And this context, at the 2:00 minute mark, Dulles opening his conversation with RFK by expressing his condolences about, apparently, Ted Kennedy's illness, is downright strange.

Over all, the predominant subtext seems to be that Dulles's main concern is that this is designed to divert him from his involvement with the Warren Commission's final deliberations. Hence, the need to reassure him of the minimal role he is to have in Mississippi, the expeditious travel arrangements, and the time assurances. From the LBJ/RFK side, it is apparent that they have agreed in advance to ask Dulles to do this. But, on the other hand, there is absolutely nothing in this conversation to indicate that they had agreed previously on his appointment to the Warren Commission by LBJ. Indeed, listening to the whole conversation, especially that between RFK and Dulles about the reason for his selection to go to Mississippi strongly militates against believing that RFK had been involved in Dulles appointment to the Commission.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to the conversation yourself at…/lbj-wh6406.15-3868.

David Talbot comments, in regard to this conversation:

“This is indeed a fascinating conversation, which I'm just now absorbing. I completely agree with your analysis. I would add how unnerving it is to hear Dulles tell Bobby how sorry he was about his brother (meaning Teddy, of course, not JFK...but still).

“I would also add this as general context: At this point in his life, Bobby is still in major turmoil and uncertain of how to proceed in his political career. He suspects the assassination came from within the CIA's plot against Castro, but he probably hasn't focused on Dulles yet, who after all was supposedly out of the CIA by the time of the assassination. (RFK was likely unaware of the extent to which Dulles was STILL involved with CIA affairs, as I report in my new book.) And Bobby, though he and LBJ hated each other, was still figuring out whether he should stay in the Johnson administration -- and even had hopes that Johnson would pick him as his running mate in '64. (This conversation about Mississippi took place in June of that year, while Bobby didn't announce for the Senate until Aug. 25, after Johnson had made clear he would not pick him.) So everything is up in the air for Bobby at this stage.

“The one thing he remained focused on during this period as attorney general was civil rights, since he knew that would be a big part of his brother's and his legacy. And my guess is Bobby thought that by sending a heavyweight like the former director of the CIA down to Miss would put the fear of God in the locals. At this point, they hadn't even found the bodies of the young civil rights workers, and I'm sure RFK wanted to send a strong message to the governor et al that they better cooperate if they knew what was good for them.

“Despite Dulles's concerns about being pulled away from his Warren Commission work, Bobby clearly had no respect or concern for that (he knew by then it was going to be a whitewash.) I doubt that sending Dulles to Miss was an attempt to deflect him from his commission work (since he was only going to be gone a couple of days). But it certainly showed that RFK considered this civil rights crisis more important than whatever Dulles was doing on the commission, whose conclusions RFK regarded as foregone.

“And finally, yes, I find the uncomfortable little exchange about "the Bay of Pigs book" very telling. As Dan says, the ideological battle over the telling of the Bay of Pigs story remained a huge point of contention between the Dulles and Kennedy camps. Dulles clearly hated the Haynes Johnson book (Johnson in fact told me he was the target of CIA spleen after the book came out). And he was so disturbed by the way Schlesinger and Sorensen wrote about the BoP (as a fast one pulled on JFK by the CIA) the following year, that he put a great effort into telling his version of the operation in an article for Harpers (which he finally abandoned). Dulles clearly knew that Haynes Johnson was a Kennedy confidante and his book reflected that. Here, in this conversation, Dulles tries to laugh off the fact that "I've been a little made at you on this Bay of Pigs book." But, he goes on to say, I don't stay mad long. Hah! This was a man who nursed grudges long and hard and never forgot them.

“RFK's response to Dulles is terse and equally telling. He knows the subject is a minefield and he moves swiftly on.

Another taped conversation relevant to this question is also available at…/lbj_k6311_05_16_dulles_trunc…. This is the call President Johnson made to Allen Dulles on November 29, 1963, to advise him that he would be on the Commission. This is one of the shortest calls that LBJ had to make to the potential members of the Commission. Unlike others who were reluctant to serve, Dulles expressed no reluctance, the call only lasted approximately a minute and thirty or so seconds, but Johnson appears to try to repeat the arguments he made to others anyway.

In this call to Dulles, neither Dulles nor LBJ mention Robert Kennedy or his possible involvement in Dulles selection. The conversation opens with LBJ apologetically advising Dulles: “I have some unpleasant news for you.” Dulles says, “Yes.” LBJ goes on, “We are going to name very shortly a presidential commission made up of seven people ... as a study group to go into this FBI report ... in connection with the assassination of our beloved friend, and you’ve got to go on that for me.” Dulles responds, “Because I can really serve you,” and LBJ interrupts saying, “I know you can, I know you can, not any doubt about it. Just get ready now to go in there and do a good job. America’s got to be united in this hour.” At this point the tape becomes somewhat garbled and hard to understand as Dulles says something about his “previous job.” LBJ’s response is very garbled for me to understand well, but LBJ can be heard to say “you always do a good job as I found out long ago.”

It is generally considered that Dulles, in raising his previous job, is expressing a concern that his service as the director of the CIA would disqualify him from service on the commission. Many consider that he did so based on a concern that it could serve as a basis for adverse propaganda. On the other hand, it could be that he knew, especially considering the circumstances of his departure from the job, that he had a serious conflict of interest that should prevent his serving. The nature of the basis of his concern is not apparent from the conversation. No one at the time, however, raised Dulles apparent conflict of interest.

Is there a countervailing theory as to how Dulles got on the Warren Commission? In his 2007 book, Brothers, David Talbot says that Allen Dulles lobbied to be appointed to the Warren Commission. He also reported that Dulles’s biographer, Peter Grose, concluded that there is “no evidence that the younger Kennedy played any role in the composition of the commission.”

David Talbot returned to this issue in his recently published book, The Devil’s Chessboard:

“The Dulles camp itself made no bones about the fact that the Old Man aggressively lobbied to get appointed to the commission. Dick Helms later told historian Michael Kurtz that he ‘personally persuaded’ Johnson to appoint Dulles. According to Kurtz, Dulles and Helms ‘wanted to make sure no agency secrets came out during the investigation.... And, of course, if Dulles was on the commission that would ensure the agency would be safe. Johnson felt the same way – he didn’t want the investigation to dig up anything strange.

“William Corson, a former Marine Corps officer and Navy intelligence agent who was close to Dulles, confirmed that the spymaster pulled strings to get on the Warren Commission. He ‘lobbied hard for the job,’ recalled Corson....”

The Devil’s Chessboard, pp. 573-574. Secretary of State Dean Rusk also lobbied LBJ to appoint Dulles to the Commission.

Interestingly enough, I have not been able to find a recorded conversation between LBJ and John J. McCloy regarding his service on the Warren Commission. Talbot, however, finds it “preposterous” that RFK would have sought to have him or Dulles placed on the commission investigating his brother’s murder:

“Like Dulles, whose former agency Bobby immediately suspected of a role in the assassination, McCloy was a Cold War hard-liner. McCloy had resigned as JFK’s chief arms negotiator at the end of 1962, in frustration with what he felt was Soviet intransigence. But it was McCloy himself who was the obstacle. Several months after Kennedy replaced him with Averell Harriman ... the two superpowers reached a historic agreement to limit nuclear arms testing.”

Michael Kurtz’s characterization of the motivations behind LBJ appointing Dulles to the commission is given some support from statements made in Robarge’s article on McCone. Robarge reports that, while there is “[n]o documentary evidence indicat[ing] whether McCone ordered the circumscribed approach [to providing the Warren Commission information] on his own or at the White House’s behest .... the DCI [McCone] shared the administration’s interest in avoiding disclosures about covert actions that would circumstantially implicate CIA in conspiracy theories and possibly lead to calls for a tough US response against the perpetrators of the assassination.” [Emphasis added.] Unfortunately, Robarge does not say where he found the expression of the administration’s interest, or how it was expressed or communicated. He just rules out it being done in a documented order from the White House. Later, in the same article, he says, “McCone and Dulles both wanted to draw attention away from CIA and encourage endorsement of the FBI’s conclusion soon after the assassination that a lone gunman, uninvolved in a conspiracy, had killed John Kennedy. The DCI could rest assured that his predecessor would keep a dutiful watch over Agency equities and work to keep the commission from pursuing provocative lines of investigation....” Indeed, in keeping with the interests they shared with the Johnson administration. Dulles proved true to his comment to LBJ on November 29, 1963, the he could really serve him. He, indeed, very effectively protected the administration and the CIA’s interest in preventing a real investigation of the murder.

In view of all this, it is my opinion that there is no sufficient proof that RFK had anything to do with Allen Dulles being on the Warren Commission. There is, however, evidence that RFK’s deputy at the Justice Department, Nicholas Katzenbach, was lobbying for the appointment of a Presidential Commission. Early after the assassination, LBJ was expressing a desire for a Texas Court of Inquiry to handle the investigation into the assassination. It appears that the idea for a Presidential commission came from Washington pundits, such as the CIA connected Joseph Alsop, and from Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach’s interest in such a commission was first expressed by J. Edgar Hoover in a call to Walter Jenkins on November 24. That same day, Eugene Rostow, Dean of Yale Law School, called Bill Moyers and reported the same thing. On November 25, Katzenbach delivered his famous memo on the subject to Bill Moyers. It is this memo that begins:

“It is important that all of the facts surrounding President Kennedy’s Assassination be made public in a way which will satisfy people in the United States and abroad that all the facts have been told and that a statement to this effect be made now.

“1. The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”

These actions on Katzenbach’s part, taken while RFK was largely incapacitated by his grief in the days immediately following the assassination, do not lend substantial credence to the idea that RFK nominated McCloy and Dulles to serve on the commission. Indeed, there is no mention of such a nomination in any of the contemporaneous documentation presently available on Katzenbach’s activities.

= = = = = = =
Thanks again for this work, Dan. Yours in the pursuit of truth.