The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination: A Half Century of Significant Disclosures [a conference sponsored by the Assassination Archives and Research Center, September 26-September 28, 2014, Bethesda, Maryland].
INFILTRATIONS: On the corruption of government investigations: How CIA and the FBI infiltrated the Garrison, Church Committee and House Select Committee investigations into the murder of President Kennedy, as revealed by documents released under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act.
By Joan Mellen
My research into the Garrison investigation let me to studying CIA, Garrison’s chief suspect in the Kennedy assassination, and Cuba, since it was in the area of Cuba that CIA operated most openly.
Let me begin by mentioning three myths connected with CIA and Cubans:
- That CIA worked in any way to further the efforts of the Cuban exiles in removing Fidel Castro. Pp. 109-110, of The Great Game In Cuba: de los Reyes meets with Allen Dulles.
- That DRE, the revolutionary student directorate, was interested in the JFK assassination. Only Carlos Bringuier was and his antics in New Orleans with LHO were repudiated by the DRE leadership. So that George Joannides being among the DRE handlers and then became CIA’s liaison to HSCA liaison did not represent a conflict of interest.
- Its is inaccurate and a serious understatement to suggest that Joannides’ being placed with HSCA was the main way CIA corrupted HSCA. This view is false, and an example of what CIA calls a “limited hangout.” Rather, CIA interference began on day one of Robert Blakey’s tenure as HSCA counsel and was a daily intrusion. *It culminated in Scott Breckinridge’s control of HSCA’s final report. Breckinridge worked out of the Office of Legal Counsel of CIA, high up.
I’d like to begin with the House Select Committee’s corruption by CIA since I had direct sources, not only in documents but having interviewed some major players. One group I met with was the leadership of DRE in Miami; the other was HSCA’s Louisiana team of Robert Buras and L. J. Delsa. I’ve also interviewed Carlos Bringuier, Gaeton Fonzi, and DRE leaders Juan Manuel Salvat Roque, Antonio Lanuza, Isidro Borja and Dr. Fernandez Rocha. I consulted the papers of Scott Breckinridge of CIA’s Office of General Counsel at the National Archives.
What has concerned me for some time was the premise that the HSCA fell under CIA sway based on the fact that the liaison George Joannides somehow had a conflict interest because he had been a handler of the group known as DRE, the revolutionary student directorate.
In the year 2003, Blakey would complain that the Agency did not reveal that its liaison to HSCA, George Joannides, had also been the handler for a time of an anti-Castro group called DRE (Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil) and that this compromised the committee’s investigation. This was, to say the least, misleading.
First, DRE had nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination. You cannot say Joannides had a conflict of interest because he had been the handler of a group that had an involvement in the Kennedy assassination because DRE had no such involvement. The self-styled DRE member in New Orleans, Carlos Bringuier, was chastised by the DRE leadership for his disruption of the Garrison investigation. The premise that Carlos Bringuier, who in fact was a rogue element of DRE, represented the group is false. He did not.
Bringuier, as you know, did engage in antics with Oswald in New Orleans. But he was only a self-professed representative of DRE. The DRE leadership took a dim view of Bringuier, who reported to the FBI and CIA and did not take direction from the leaders of the DRE, who were in Miami.
Juan Salvat, one of the three founding members of DRE, told me that DRE had only scorn for Bringuier. They did not endorse his antics with Oswald in New Orleans, which derived from CIA and the FBI rather than from the DRE. It was to CIA and the FBI to whom Bringuier reported.
I heard the same thing from other DRE leaders whom I interviewed in Miami, Isidro Borja, in the political leadership, Dr. Fernandez Rocha, and others. I was persuaded in these interviews, particularly with Salvat and Borja, that DRE had no interest in the Kennedy assassination or in the framing of Oswald. Their relationship with CIA had ended as less than friendly, and they had a particular aversion to Richard Helms. They took CIA’s money, yes, but they were not to be controlled.
These former members of DRE turned out to be elegant gentlemen. Fernandez Rocha was a medical doctor. Juan Salvat ran a publishing house. When I reached him one evening, Borja was on his way to the ballet.
The DRE in Miami in fact had neither interest nor complicity in the Kennedy assassination. They were not interested in Oswald or President Kennedy. Bringuier attempted to disrupt the Garrison investigation, then rushed to report everything to the FBI and CIA. When I talked to Juan Salvat, one of the three founding members of DRE, he told me that he had reprimanded Bringuier. We had nothing against Mr. Garrison, Salvat told Bringuier.
So whatever Joannides did in the daily proceedings of HSCA, on behalf of CIA, there was no conflict of interest. He was a CIA guy doing what Richard Helms wanted. Joannides, however, was the tip of the iceberg of CIA manipulation of HSCA. CIA was not about to leave subversion of HSCA to George Joannides. It was Scott Breckinridge of the Office of General Counsel, who ran the show, and even edited the HSCA final report.
CIA had been in control of HSCA from the time Philadelphia prosecutor Richard A. Sprague left the position as chief counsel, and Robert Tanenbaum refused to stay on. Both had insisted that no one connected to CIA have anything to do with the investigation, because CIA was a suspect. When Sprague led the investigation, among his guidelines was that they hire no one connected to the FBI, CIA or any federal agency because “to do a thorough investigation, those agencies’ actions would be part of the investigation.” Under Robert Blakey there were CIA people embedded in HSCA, among them a character named Harold Leap.
CIA was not going to permit the HSCA to conduct its investigation unimpeded. When Sprague subpoenaed CIA records, they never arrived. So Mr. Blakey should have known what was coming. Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the committee, told CIA to ignore the subpoenas. When CIA demanded security checks on everyone who was permitted access to the documents it did supply, along with confidentiality agreements, Sprague refused.
“I’ll be damned if they’ll investigate us before we investigate them,” Sprague’s deputy, Robert K. Tanenbaum, declared. CIA then marshaled its media and congressional assets to accuse Sprague of trampling on peoples’ rights, the same charge the Agency leveled against Jim Garrison.
From the time Richard Sprague left, the committee operated under the “guidance” of CIA. CIA operative named Richard Case Nagell put it simply: “Nobody there really wants the truth.”
It’s worth mentioning that moment when former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg expressed his willingness to take Sprague’s place. In a well-known telephone call to CIA director Stansfield Turner, Goldberg said he would serve under the condition of full CIA cooperation. His comment was met by Turner’s silence. Goldberg repeated his concerns.
“I thought my silence was my answer,” Turner said.
From then on, CIA ran the show. At once, Sprague’s replacement, G. Robert Blakey, cut a deal with CIA. The date was July 27, 1977, when Blakey and Larry Strawderman, CIA’s Information and Privacy Coordinator, finalized their arrangement. Strawderman wrote out the terms of CIA’s control of Blakey’s investigation. “Certain areas relating to the assassination of President Kennedy,” he decreed, “should be entirely disregarded based upon our contention that they are without merit or corroboration.” The arbiter of the value of any piece of evidence was – CIA.
Now the Committee capitulated to every Agency stricture. Blakey accepted that there be “sanitized materials,” that documents be kept “top secret” and “eyes only.” CIA scrutinized the notes of the investigators who were permitted to look at CIA documents in a locked room at CIA headquarters.
A nondisclosure agreement would silence certain House committee investigators and lawyers “in perpetuity.” (But not the Louisiana investigators, L. J. Delsa and Robert Buras, who refused to abide by the Agency’s insistence upon silence and secrecy and talked). Blakey promised to “protect Agency sources and methods,” that old chestnut CIA enlists to this day to deny freedom of information requests.
CIA controlled what questions the Committee couldpose to Agency assets, in particular Bernard de Torres, who would be immortalized in Kennedy assassination history as the “Leopoldo” who visited Sylvia Odio in Dallas three months before the assassination in the company of one “Leon Oswald.” Both CIA and the FBI dictated the time period about which the Committee was permitted to ask of Bernardo de Torres. The Committee complied.
Listening to de Torres and the pale, irrelevant questions the Committee asked of him, Miami investigator Gaeton Fonzi thought: listening to all this, you would wonder why of all the thousands of Cubans they could have called to testify they chose this guy.
During the HSCA investigation, Ted Shackley lied to Gaeton Fonzi, insisting that the Miami CIA station, JMWAVE, had been “only interested in pursuing its intelligence-gathering and propaganda missions.”
CIA continued to control the House Select Committee investigation.When Delsa and Buras subjected CIA asset Thomas Edward Beckham to a polygraph, they were suspended. They were forbidden from examining Beckham’s relationship to Fred Lee Crisman, with whom Beckham visited Offutt Air Force Base, home of the Strategic Air Command. Although Crisman was dead, they wanted to assess his role in these events, including his relationship to Clay Shaw. They were refused permission to do it.
Buras and Delsa were then separated. When Buras visited Clinton and Jackson, Louisiana in the company of Patricia Orr, an HSCA staffer, he was told that they were forbidden to interview anyone who had not already been interviewed by the Garrison investigators. This ruled out Dr. Frank Silva, the medical director of the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson where Oswald was brought by David Ferrie and Clay Shaw to apply for a job. Dr. Silva had encountered Oswald. No matter, Orr forbad it.The committee refused to authorize Buras and Delsa to investigate Oswald’s appearance at the hospital at all.
Having read a document containing nine names, independent minded HSCA people, like Eddie Lopez, and L. J. Delsa, revealed the list of names of CIA penetrations into the Garrison investigation: these included Thomas Edward Beckham, William Martin, Bill Boxley, William Gurvich, Pershing Gervais and Raymond Beck. Gervais and Beck also informed to the FBI. FBI and CIA worked together to undermine the Garrison investigation.
Oswald’s FBI handler in New Orleans was Warren de Brueys. Among Oswald’s CIA handlers, as we know, was David Atlee Phillips, and, in New Orleans, Guy Banister, David Ferrie and Clay Shaw, all of whom came under the purview of Jim Garrison.
CIA penetration into the HSCA, covering up its infiltration into the Garrison investigation, went further. Buras was forbidden to explore any possible contact between Guy Banister and Alvin and Lloyd Cobb, CIA assets. He could not look into Marydale Farms and whether Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald had made an appearance there. Delsa interviewed Warren de Brueys and knew that John Quigley had consulted de Brueys before he visited Oswald in jail. “I’d like to see your notes,” Delsa said. He had no notes, de Brueys claimed. Besides, he had never met Lee Harvey Oswald. He got away with it.
Carlos Bringuier told me that de Brueys had challenged him with the claim, “I can infiltrate you any time.” Shortly thereafter, Oswald appeared at his store.
I confronted de Brueys, and said. “You sent Oswald to Bringuier’s store!”de Brueys didn’t lie to me. He said, “That’s far-fetched!”
As CIA infiltrated the HSCA investigation, Buras was required to do his interviews in the company of Harold Leap, whom he discovered was CIA’s man on the committee. So it was Leap who went with Buras to interview former FBI clerk William Walter. Leap’s interruptions during the Walter interview were met with Walter’s indignation. “I know what I know and I know what I saw,” Walter said angrily. Oswald had “an informant’s status with our office.”
When Buras and Leap interviewed William Gaudet, Leap circumvented the crucial questions. Leap would not permit Buras to ask CIA asset Gaudet, who edited a newsletter called Latin American Reports out of Clay Shaw’s International Trade Mart, why his name, just before Oswald’s, was obliterated from the list of people getting Mexican tourist cards that had been sent to the Warren Commission. *(The Warren Commission never called Gaudet).
Later, HSCA lawyer Robert Genzman asked Gaudet, whether his relationship with CIA, “like Shaw’s,” was “purely informational.” The question contained the answer that Gaudet was expected to give. “No,” Gaudet said, defiantly, he did “certain chores for them that were not informational.”
HSCA deposed Gaudet as a “protected witness” with the Committee being instructed by CIA’s Frank Carlucci on what they could and could not ask him. Gaudet then angrily went into a riff on CIA’s having lied on documents with respect to the end dates of his service with them. One document said 1961 and another said 1969. “I never did end my relationship with CIA,” Gaudet said. Even J. Lee Rankin, the senior counsel for the Warren Commission, admitted that he had learned a bitter lesson. He told the HSCA he regretted he had taken the CIA’s word that Oswald “was never a CIA agent.”
By the time Buras (and Leap) interviewed another CIA asset, Jack Rogers, Buras had given up and didn’t even bother to ask him any questions.
I might also mention the sarcastic and belligerent tone of some of the HSCA interviews, particularly the one of Thomas Edward Beckham where the questioner insinuates that since Beckham knew Clay Shaw, he must also be a homosexual. Interviewed by an HSCA lawyer, William Walter was threatened with legal action by the FBI because he must be lying. Both Beckham and Walter were treated as hostile witnesses, with no objective but to undermine their testimony and their bona fides. You cannot blame Joannides for this. All this blaming of Joannides amounts to a limited hangout, a justification for the fact that Blakey had turned the investigation over to CIA from the first day onward.
I would direct your attention to a bunch of CIA memos residing at the National Archives that reveal the Agency’s persistent efforts to control the wording of the House Select Committee’s final report. Most of these were authored by Scott Breckinridge, writing on behalf of the Director of Central Intelligence. I see no evidence that any of the HSCA leadership stood up to Breckinridge, rejecting his “suggestions” or that his interference was rejected as entirely inappropriate.
One five-page, single spaced memo from Breckinridge to Robert Blakey was dated September 27, 1978. Writing on behalf of the Director of Central Intelligence, Breckinridge complains about HSCA’s questioning of Richard Helms. Irregularities in CIA’s 201 file of Lee Harvey Oswald had led to questions, not least why no file was seemingly opened for Oswald for fourteen months after his October 1959 defection to the Soviet Union.Helms had been questioned by HSCA lawyer Michael Goldsmith, inspiring the agency’s fury that Blakey should not honor Helms’ plausible deniability. “A man of such senior position in a large organization would obviously be unfamiliar with the sort of details asked him,” Breckinridge writes in a hectoring letter. His subtext is that Blakey had better get his staff under control. Breckinridge insists that there are “reasonable and convincing explanations” for the oddities in the Agency’s records on Oswald.
“I find the nature of the questioning disturbing,” Breckinridge writes, as if HSCA were under CIA jurisdiction. “Mr. Goldsmith’s performance on these points was tendentious at best. He introduced material into the record that we knew – or that he had reason to know – to be different from the way he elected to present it. This careful construction of a flawed record cannot serve the purpose of an objective investigation.” The Agency demanded that Blakey accept its denials, while claiming simultaneously that CIA was offering “cooperation.”
Blakey had provided CIA with several drafts of his final report. In a sixteen-page memo to Blakey, again on behalf of the Director of Central Intelligence, Breckinridge proposed changes to a second draft. In this memo, Breckinridge’s tone is arrogant and dismissive. He terms the report “incorrect” and attacks scornfully the investigator of Oswald’s Mexico City visit, who was Eddie Lopez. Over and over, Breckinridge defends the Agency against the charge that it had not informed the Warren Commission of what it knew. He serves up a plethora of excuses, including that it was the FBI that was charged with reporting to the Commission, and not CIA.
“What the Agency did was to supply material that was deemed relevant,” Breckinridge insists. He attacks the HSCA draft for “unsupported assertions,” calling it “badly confused in its treatment of facts and sources.” When he cannot refute the facts, Breckinridge terms the report “unbalanced.”
Breckinridge reserves special contempt for CIA’s John Whitten, the one officer who spoke frankly to the HSCA regarding the Agency’s maneuvers with respect to its own ostensible investigation of the Kennedy assassination. Whitten’s recollection was “wrong,” Breckinridge says in one place. In another he charges that Whitten’s “report,” his italics, was “incorrect.” Breckinridge objects to the “unusual space” Whitten’s testimony was given in the HSCA report. “This is not because he knew anything,” Breckinridge asserts, “but must be because he was prepared to speak about things he did not know.” Blakey provided CIA with several drafts of his final report. In that sixteen-page memo to Blakey, Breckinridge proposes changes.
He insists upon one deletion after another, some on the basis of protecting sources, some for no stated reason at all. “We would prefer no reference to an unclassified report to what is in the Calderon 201 file,” he writes. He objects to references even to the 1965 AMLASH trial, demanding that they be deleted. “Reportedly, Castro told the HSCA that he knew that AMLASH was Cubela; that is not for us to confirm,” Breckinridge says. He writes as if CIA and HSCA were a single entity.
In a March document, Breckinridge responds to a request made by Robert Blakey that CIA “review inserts for the HSCA draft report on Antonio Veciana. CIA obliged, going on accuse the HSCA investigator, obviously Gaeton Fonzi, of misrepresenting “both the relationship of CIA with the man described generally as an ‘asset’ in the proposed inset and what that man’s relationship was with Veciana.
Breckinridge denies that Veciana had any tie with CIA through “Bishop.” He insists that Maurice Bishop “was not of, from, or with CIA.” He argues that Bishop was not David Atlee Phillips, no matter that Gaeton Fonzi was able to accumulate a wealth of corroborating evidence, some from CIA officers, that he was. Veciana was “an asset of another U.S. government agency,” Breckinridge claims. Veciana was in fact CIA’s AM/SHALE-1. (Veciana was also with Army intelligence).Breckinridge goes on to accuse Fonzi of having “irretrievably botched the investigation,” which is outrageous.
“I have deleted the section on this because it is so flagrantly in error,” Breckinridge writes. Then he reveals how Blakey had contacted CIA every step of the way. “You planned to contact us early this week to have a substantive exchange on the final draft report,” Breckinridge writes. “We are available at your convenience.
Less than two weeks later, CIA reviewed the HSCA’s final draft paper called “Evolution and Implications of the CIA-Sponsored Assassination Conspiracies Against Castro.” Here Breckinridge is emboldened to “raise a personal question” on the very first paragraph. Then he complains that there is more “simplistic rhetoric” than “mature moral principle” in the document.
Arguing that the writings of church philosophers have distinguished “between different kinds of homicide,” Breckinridge invokes the red herring of whether Adolf Hitler should have been assassinated. Always he presents CIA as morally impeccable, its concerns “narrowly, protection of intelligence sources and methods.” Predictably he claims that the devastating conclusions of the Church committee were “erroneous.” I could discover no record that Blakey did anything but comply.
Garrison began with hope as revealed in his long conversations with Gaeton Fonzi, that are available in a set of tapes available from the National Archives. Before long, Jim Garrison had no alternative but to repudiate the HSCA, whose investigators treated him with such flagrant disrespect. Garrison called the Committee’s investigation “a solid cover-up as soon as Blakey got in there. Every time they came up with something good, it was blunted or turned aside by Blakey.”
What we have here is a persistent undermining and subverting of government investigations by the intelligence community.
In the media it became nothing short of treason to criticize CIA. Always the Pentagon sided with its CIA masters. Retired Army General John K. Singlaub accused Frank Church of “emasculating” CIA and helping the Soviets surpass the U.S. military, a patent absurdity.
I hesitated before accepting this topic, suggested to me by Jim Lesar, on the ground that by now everyone knows how the intelligence services subverted the government investigations into the Kennedy assassination. Then Jim Lesar added that I should talk about how CIA’s “Domestic Contact Service” infiltrated the Garrison investigation. The Domestic Contact Service, as it was then called, was involved, but it was a mere tip of the iceberg.
The source of the interference in Garrison’s work emanated from a far higher division of the Agency. So perhaps the information about how CIA – and which components of CIA – invaded the investigations bears some consideration.
Leading the charge in disrupting the Garrison investigation was not the more benign “Domestic Contact Service,” the CIA component whose functions included debriefing of Agency assets traveling abroad. The task of controlling and handling Garrison’s, and the government investigations that followed, was not even assigned to the clandestine services, the dirty tricks division.
Rather, it was the Office of Security through its Security Research Staff (SRS). What does it mean that every city that had a CIA field office also had a separate Office of Security office, and what was their function? We do know that the Office of Security kept dossiers on American citizens, from writers to businessmen.
When the Garrison files were released, among the documents were many issuing from the Office of Security’s research component via Sarah Hall. A document marked “For the Inspector General” and dating June 1975 reveals how Garrison’s office was penetrated by CIA’s Office of Security. There is a Sarah Hall document about Walter Sheridan whom I’ve long suspected was a CIA plant in Garrison’s investigation, one endorsed, as we know, by his associate Robert Kennedy.
For maximum deniability, the Office of Security developed a program of operatives designated as “qualified individuals.” These were people “employed as independent contractors to conduct background investigations on behalf of the Agency,” the document reads. The program was named the “Confidential Correspondent Program.” Those enlisted for service included U.S. Government investigators, who had entered secondary professions following their retirement. They included “law, real estate, construction and private investigations.” In addition to Sheridan’s, I’ll offer two other names. One was Bernard Spindel, an electronics mastermind. The private investigators used their “natural cover” as investigators.
Another participant in the “Confidential Correspondent Program” and one familiar to this audience was Robert A. Maheu, Howard Hughes’ director of security. The program began in 1950 and covered the period of the Garrison investigation.
Each operative recruited arrived with a well-developed cover. The “Confidential Correspondent” was then able to “conduct investigations on behalf of the Agency.” “Investigations,” that term was a euphemism for surveillance, penetration, and other black bag jobs. At times, participants in the “Confidential Correspondent Program” were given the “same commercial cover credentials used by staff investigators at the Office of Security to conduct covert investigations.”
CIA created 301 files for the corporations that were providing cover for its assets, “corporations of interest.” The corporations were as important as the personnel who were granted 201’s.Mentions of “301” files, whose subject is a corporation rather than an individual, are rarer than a hen’s tooth. One document, issued by the Historical Review Group for internal CIA consumption, references a 201/301 file denoting “an individual/company.” Here is a typical sentence: “An extract is used when an individual/company has a 201/301 file, but the length of the document may be too long to ‘B’ code (to B: code is to cross-file an entire copy of a document onto a 201/301).” It is difficult to locate references to 301’s, so tightly held is the Agency’s network of relationships with its corporate collaborators. If all this seems impenetrable to an outsider, obviously it was meant to be.
This CIA document points out that “it should be recognized that Deputy Director for Research is a cover and this office not necessarily confined to research but should be tasked with operational responsibilities.”
So the penetration of Garrison’s office by CIA and the FBI was far more complex than merely involving people like William Gurvich, a small time detective at the Port of New Orleans stealing Garrison office documents and reporting to CIA assets like Dallas newsman Hugh Aynesworth.
The Agency machinations formed a labyrinth of intertwined components. One CIA component would conceal documents from other Agency divisions under the cryptonym AESTORAGE. The clandestine services in particular did not release its documents to other CIA components.
At the Office of Security’s SRS, Security Research Staff, a deputy chief named Bruce Solie developed power parallel to that of the Director of Central Intelligence.It was Solie who micro-managed CIA’s focus on the Garrison investigation.
It was also Solie who controlled what CIA documents would be made available to the Church and Pike Committees six years later. The focus, following Garrison’s charge of CIA involvement in the assassination, was not on the assassination per se, but on CIA.
In an attempt to staunch the flow of inquiry into CIA operations, CIA director William Colby had revealed what came to be known as “the Family Jewels,” the most pernicious of CIA perfidies. These included CIA’s mind control program, MKULTRA; the assassination attempts on Castro, Lumumba, Trujillo and Diem; the CIA connections ofthe Watergate burglars; and Operation MHCHAOS, James Angleton’s program of spying on the anti-war movement by opening the mail of thousands of people.
Colby’s strategy was to disclose a select number of the Family Jewels in the hope that the Agency would then be left alone to monitor itself. As CIA asset Gerald Patrick Hemming told me, Colby’s “limited hangout with the family jewels before Congress was earnest, but still smelled like the serial murderer who will readily confess to a couple of robberies.” The term “limited hangout” should strike home. The focus on George Joannides as the root of CIA penetration of HSCA is an example of a “limited hangout.” Concentrate on the relatively insignificant role of Joannides and maybe people wouldn’t look into the rest of it.
“Bill, do you really have to present all this material to us?” Nelson Rockefeller asked William Colby as Rockefeller masterminded a commission that would exclude from scrutiny CIA’s attempted and real assassinations. Colby registered that Rockefeller “would much prefer me to take the traditional stance of fending off investigators by drawing the cloak of secrecy around the Agency in the name of national security.”
Here is some of what CIA did to subvert the efforts of the Church Committee, which was created on January 27, 1975: first, CIA sponsored an “unclassified history” of the Agency written by an employee named Anne Karalekas. CIA itself acknowledged they had restricted her depiction of covert operations to “general description information.” Karalekas worked closely with Scott Breckinridge. Karalekas does not mention the Bruce-Lovett report with its devastating attack on the clandestine services.
Frank Church declared as his goal to “strip the Agency of its ability to conduct covert military and para-military operations around the world.” He noted that what with CIA’s unilateral policy-making, the presidency had all but become “an irrelevancy.” Yet the Church Committee’s actions reveal a strong CIA influence. It did not, for example, subpoena CIA for documents until six months into its inquiry. It never recommended citing any CIA officer for contempt although the lying under oath of some CIA officers, notably James Angleton, was blatant.
A lie common among many of those who testified was evading the question of whether CIA had presidential authority for its assassination attempts. Richard Helms all but admitted that neither President Eisenhower nor President Kennedy had ordered CIA to involve itself in assassination attempts. It would not have been “appropriate” for a CIA officer to discuss the assassination of a foreign leader with a president, Helms said. Church Committee chief counsel Frederick A. O. Schwartz, found the CIA officers’ testimony “inconsistent” and “conflicting” with respect to whether on any given occasion they were acting on the direct orders of a president.
Whenever the Church Committee requested documents from the Agency, CIA found ways to circumvent them. Helms had made certain that “working papers” relating to assassinations had been destroyed because of “their sensitivity.” Colby insisted that only five investigators could view CIA materials and only at Walt Elder’s office at CIA. There would be no photocopying, only note-taking, a tactic later demanded of the House Select Committee. Two hundred CIA documents earmarked for Church Committee scrutiny vanished.
One handwritten sheet, released under the JFK Act, issuing from Bruce Solie, refers to “sensitive documents which were pulled from OS files prior to their being reviewed by Frank Church’s Senate Select Committee.”
When the Church committee requested documents about Oswald emanating from its “Volume II,” “the Oswald file,” the Office of Security denied the request. These documents dated from April 1959, prior to Oswald’s departure for the Soviet Union, a period for which CIA had insisted that they had no knowledge of him. The reverse was true: CIA certainly knew of Oswald prior to his defection.
Another group of documents CIA denied to the Church Committee were four sets of records from its “Vol. VI.” These referred to a man named “Jack Martin” or “John G. Martin” or “Joseph James Martin.” To remind listeners, Jack Martin was the first person who brought the relationship between Oswald and David Ferrie to the attention of the District Attorney of Orleans Parish on the weekend of the Kennedy assassination.
Of all the figures involved in the Kennedy assassination with CIA connections, CIA chose to shield two people: Oswald, predictably, and Jack Martin, who was a handler of Garrison suspectThomas Edward Beckham. When I finally tracked down Beckham, the first thing he asked me was whether Jack Martin was still alive.
At the time of the Church committee, CIA also opened another front. David Atlee Phillips had resigned from the Agency. Phillips now formed the “Association of Retired Intelligence Officers.” The group’s original project was dubbed “Confound.” It was designed to thwart the Church committee and operated from the premise that CIA could best defend itself by coming in from the cold and enlisting the media in its defense.
Within ten months, Phillips had mobilized six hundred former spies. He organized national and regional committees to train speakers, conduct research and write op-ed articles. Recruits were provided with “background material,” a forty-eight page packet with samples of effective speeches and articles. Among the themes the retired officers were encouraged to take up was that the Church and Pike investigations had put CIA officers in physical danger, although there was no evidence that this was the case.
Another effort was to turn William Colby into an Agency pariah. An operative at the Directorate of Operations, Eloise Page, declared the Colby’s openness “almost destroyed the Agency.” George Carver termed Colby’s going to the Justice Department about Helm’s misdeeds “utterly reprehensible.” Helms called Colby’s actions “a betrayal of trust.” Angleton, who had been fired by Colby, said that Colby “disclosed too many secrets.”
Agency officers subverted the Church investigation by lying. “Sometimes a lie is more important than the truth,” James Angleton once said. Among his lies to the Church Committee was “The Agency, unlike the Soviets, does not have an assassination department.” We need not reiterate William Harvey’s ZR/RIFLE or “Executive Action” program, or, the 1954 CIA manual, “A Study of Assassination” created for Operation PBSUCCESS, the coup against Guatemala president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.
Lying became the norm.
Angleton also lied to the Church Committee as to whether Oswald had been debriefed by CIA upon his return from the Soviet Union in June 1962. “Normally that would fall under the jurisdiction of the military, since he was a military man who defected,” Angleton rambled. “I am certain we never did so.” In fact, Oswald was debriefed in New York by a woman named Eleanor Reed (“Anderson”) in June 1962.
Other lies to the Church Committee came from Larry Devlin, CIA’s chief of station in the Congo, with respect to the assassination of Premier Patrice Lumumba. The truth was that station Devlin had organized the “rendering” of Lumumba to his enemies. Devlin enjoyed advance knowledge of Lumumba’s transfer which he withheld from government officials in Washington.
Devlin had made certain that “the right roads were blocked and troops alerted.” He used the term “more permanent disposal” with respect to Lumumba. And Richard Bissell, then DDP, had cabled him, “You are authorized to proceed with operation.” Dulles was even less opaque about the fate of Lumumba: “His removal must be an urgent and prime objective and under existing conditions this should be a high priority of our covert action.” This meant, Bissell later said, that “The President wanted Lumumba killed.”
CIA delayed in sending the Church Committee the key cables on the Lumumba case so that no one could be interrogated about them. Once the cables were finally made available, Devlin refused to return to the United States for further questioning. He had a heart problem, he claimed. He refused to reply to telephone interrogatories. Despite four sessions with the Church Committee, Devlin would never acknowledge that he had foreknowledge of the plan to transfer Lumumba to Bakwanga where he was murdered.
Of all the Church Committee’s failures of nerve, none was as egregious as its failure to expose CIA’s role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. It concluded, falsely, that there is “no suggestion of a connection between the assassination plot and the events which actually led to Lumumba’s death.” On the question of CIA responsibility for the death of Lumumba, there is a categorical denial: “It does not appear from the evidence that the United States was in any way involved in the killing.” In contrast was the Belgian government in 2002 apologizing to the Congolese people and admitting to “an irrefutable portion of responsibility in the events that led the death of Lumumba.”
CIA’s efforts to subvert the Church Committee investigation succeeded. The Committee wrote that there was “conflicting evidence” regarding whether CIA knew the weapons used in the assassination of Rafael Trujillo “were knowingly supplied for use in the assassination and whether any of them were present at the scene.” There was “no evidence” that American officials “favored the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam.”
In its Interim Report, the committee diluted its account of CIA murder attempts by invoking “American interests,” “Communist expansion,” and “the threat of spreading Communism.” In its version of blaming the victim, the Committee chastised presidents for exhibiting “a reluctance to know about secret details of programs.”
At the very least, unlike the House Select Committee to follow, the Church Committee acknowledged the problem. It pondered “illegal, improper or unethical acts” by the intelligence community, calling them contrary to the “ideals which have given the people of this country and of the world hope for a better, fuller, fairer life.”
At the House investigation, Representative Otis Pike, outraged at receiving redacted CIA documents, complained that “they [CIA] are not going to give this committee anything they don’t want to have made public.” The Pike Committee voted 10 to 3 to cite Colby for contempt. The next day a batch of documents arrived with only fifty words redacted. The Washington Post headlined its story, “CIA Bows to Pike.”
It was a pyrrhic victory. More than two hundred “Top Secret” and “Secret” documents that CIA had been ordered to turn over mysteriously disappeared. These documents covered such subjects as “the Agency’s use of business firms for cover.” Some would have exposed George Bush, who was serving as Director of Central Intelligence, having replaced Colby, as having lied during his confirmation hearings about his prior service to CIA and his permitting Zapata and Zapata Offshore for use in CIA operations.
The House voted not to release the February 1976 Pike report.We can draw out own conclusions about the desirability of government investigations.
When the House Select Committee on Assassinations requested files from the Office of Security for review, Bruce Solie sent a MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD to his staff. Office of Security personnel, Solie wrote, must not disturb the files marked “not having been viewed by the House Committee staff members, in order that they “maintain the integrity of the envelopes.” Whatever that means.
We would like to read the two depositions of the mad scientist Sidney Gottlieb, who devised poisons to be used against Lumumba. We would like to hear from Sheffield Edwards, a Director of the Office of Security; from McGeorge Bundy, and many more.
The Church Committee deposed Immigration and Naturalization Service Officers out of New Orleans, like David Smith, who was close to Warren de Brueys, but we lack those transcripts.These records from the Church and House Select Committee investigations connect back to the Garrison investigation and to Oswald.
Despite the profound inadequacy of the Church Committee’s final report, inconvenient truths damaging to CIA did emerge. It was before the Church committee that George Kennan expressed his regret at having authored National Security directive dubbed “10/2” that granted CIA unlimited power to pursue murder, sabotage and assassinationsin defiance of the rule of law.
James Angleton admitted to the Church Committee that CIA had never honored its charter anyway, reminding us that we should not be surprised that CIA lied to the Warren Commission and to the investigations that followed.“Going back to OSS days,” Angleton confided, “We’ve had operations that were domestic.”
A single note with respect to the Agency’s lack of respect for the ARRB and the JFK Act. The Office of Security file on Oswald, 35114, was a seven volume set. At HSCA it was sent to Betsy Wolf, who examined, among others, Volume 5. In 1997, CIA still had not sent these files to the ARRB. When the Agency was pressed to cough up these records, they claimed that there was no Volume 5, that the files had been misnumbered. Then they were caught with their pants down since both Betsy Wolf and Scott Breckinridge had referenced Volume 5.
That the intelligence services lied to government entities, as to the public, should be taken as a given. FBI told me they had never heard of Mac Wallace when I filed a FOIA request. But in the late 1990’s Jim Lesar had obtained a heavily redacted Wallace file. When in 2013 Dan Alcorn sent the Bureau the number on that file, they blinked. It all goes back to Jim Garrison, although most of the JFK researchers refuse to acknowledge his contribution. It was Garrison who looked first at CIA, and it remains today that if any new evidence is likely to emerge, it is from the bowels of CIA that we have the best chance of opening new territory.