OTTO OTEPKA, ROBERT F. KENNEDY, WALTER SHERIDAN, AND LEE OSWALD
By Joan Mellen
“During the period 1961 to 1964, the activities of Walter and Bobby, germane to the events in this memorandum, are almost inseparable.”
Otto F. Otepka, Memorandum, September 20, 1968
Beginning in 1957, Otto F. Otepka served as Deputy Director of the State Department Office of Security. This meant that Otepka was in charge of granting security clearances for all State Department personnel. A cadre of people worked under his supervision. From this position of considerable responsibility, Otepka was plunged into a nightmare universe of harassment and surveillance. He was reassigned and removed to a position from which he could no longer reveal inconvenient truths. Yet he had done nothing wrong. It is an extraordinary tale of a career government officer being framed from within the government, his only sin the scrupulous manner in which he performed his duties.
Otto Otepka was born in Chicago on May 6, 1915 of Czech-born immigrant parents. His father had been a blacksmith and worked in America at a forge. He could offer his brilliant son little in the way of material support. Otepka worked his way through college and law school. After a stint in Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, in July 1942 he began his career in personnel security work with the Civil Service Commission as an investigator on the look-out for Nazis and crypto-fascists. With an interruption for service in the Navy, after the war he continued with the Civil Service Commission in the security field.
In 1953, Otepka arrived at the Office of Security where he was charged with the authority to uncover either criminal acts or Communist sympathies in the histories of people who had been appointed to positions in the State Department. Otepka was a man of his time, of the Cold War period and the Stalinization of Eastern Europe. Like many, he perceived a danger to the United States from the Soviet outreach. He was a methodical man, fair-minded, exacting and scrupulous. He told the author that he “never overstepped boundaries.” As a personnel security evaluator, he offered no personal opinions on American foreign policy.
Otepka was not a liberal, even as his case is a reminder that “liberals” hold no monopoly on integrity. He was a man of principle, a category that cuts across ideological lines. Otepka despised Senator Joseph McCarthy and his methods, even as he believed that Communist subversion was a threat to our system of government. “McCarthy didn’t identify Communists in the State Department,” Otepka told me indignantly. “He called people ‘Communists.’ A Communist is not a Communist because someone calls them that.” There were Communists, Otepka says, “but not those named by McCarthy.”
Although he denied security clearances to some people, Otepka was not a man given to frivolous accusations. “I had never approved of Senator McCarthy’s tactics,” he said when his own troubles began. “Everyone in the security field knew that.” Otepka was neither a shady Teamster president, nor the imaginative district attorney of Orleans Parish with history and the death of a revered President on his mind. Yet just as Bobby Kennedy and his right-hand man, Walter Sheridan, were later to pursue Jimmy Hoffa and Jim Garrison with scant regard for the law, among their earlier targets was Otto Otepka.
Walter Sheridan, who began as a National Security Agency operative, and garnered FBI and CIA clearances, enlisted the same grab bag of illegal and unscrupulous methods against Otto Otepka as he would utilize against Hoffa and Garrison. He was Bobby Kennedy’s “confidential assistant,” and on behalf of Bobby, aided by a clique of Kennedy loyalists planted in the Office of Security, he deprived Otepka of his position. Otepka was never severed from government service. Instead, he was reassigned to what seemed like higher positions, but which were, in fact, positions without responsibility, and which amounted to career oblivion.
Otepka at first believed that his ordeal was based on his having denied security clearances to some Kennedy appointees. This was not the case. Rather, his removal from authority was based upon his development of a file relating to one “Lee Oswald, tourist,” a name on a list of “defectors.” The quotation marks were added by the CIA itself for an October 24, 1960 document that marks the beginning of Otto Otepka’s investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald.
It began that October, 1960, even before John F. Kennedy was elected. Several offices at the Department of State undertook to identify and research a list of Americans who had defected to the Soviet Union, to Soviet bloc nations, or to Communist China. The assignment to check on Oswald, and to explore whether his name appeared in any existing security files, came to Otepka as chief security evaluator at State. Otepka contacted the FBI at once. This was routine. The CIA was next on his list.
At the Department of State’s “Office of Intelligence/Resources and Coordination,” Robert B. Elwood wrote to Richard Bissell, CIA’s then DDP [Deputy Director, Plans, a designation synonymous with the clandestine service]. The subject of his letter was “Request For Information Concerning American ‘Defectors.’” The quotation marks raise an implied question: were they really defectors or were they American agents introduced into the Soviet Union working for CIA Counter Intelligence?
It became a variation on La Ronde. The files danced from Agency to Agency, component to component. Bissell shipped the file to James Angleton at Counter Intelligence and to Robert L. Bannerman, Deputy Chief of the Office of Security at CIA. Bannerman sent Oswald’s name back to Otto Otepka. “It would all have gone through Angleton,” Bannerman told retired military intelligence officer and author, John Newman.
Beginning on June 1, 1960, Oswald’s background and file began to be examined by employees in the Office of Security at the State Department. On December 5 th , 1960, the Intelligence Collection and Distribution Division informed Otepka that he and the Office of Security would handle the official list of Americans who had defected to the Communist bloc. By now, John F. Kennedy had been elected President, but had not yet taken office.
Otepka began the work of determining whether “Lee Oswald” had bearing on any existing security case, either of an applicant for a position with the State Department, or of an existing employee. As he would any file, Otepka distributed the one bearing the name “Oswald” to his subordinates, eight or ten people, he told me, whose work he would then review. He sent Oswald’s name over to the Bureau of Soviet Affairs. It seemed to be all a matter of routine.
Oswald’s file was marked #39-61981. Sitting as it did in the Central File Room of the Office of Security, the “39” denoting an “Intelligence File,” the Oswald material raised questions. As the months passed, more questions surfaced. Otepka examined Oswald’s return from the Soviet Union with the unlikely assistance of a State Department loan. Otepka also pondered the speed with which Oswald’s wife, Marina, was cleared for entrance into the United States. By 1963, Otepka would be wondering why Oswald was issued a passport for travel to Cuba and, seemingly, the Soviet Union, despite a possible “criminal” flag in Oswald’s ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] file. It was at this time that Otepka’s security safe was burgled and his Oswald file disappeared for good.
Part 2: BOBBY KENNEDY MEETS OTTO F. OTEPKA, DECEMBER 1960
Bobby Kennedy’s hostility to Otto Otepka surfaced in December 1960, even before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, but after Otepka had begun to evaluate Lee Oswald. At 7 P.M. one evening, in the gathering winter darkness, Dean Rusk, Kennedy’s Secretary of State designate, requested that Otepka meet with him. Otepka assumed that the purpose of the meeting was a discussion of security clearances for Kennedy appointees. What turned out to be the troubling reality was that Rusk, whom Otepka had only just cleared, was functioning as an intermediary. It was Bobby Kennedy who wanted to meet with Otepka.
Bobby was late. Otepka and Rusk sat twiddling their thumbs in the deserted building until Robert Kennedy finally appeared. Offering no apologies, he complained that he had become lost in the labyrinthine corridors. It was in these same corridors, nearly three years later that Bobby’s “confidential assistant,” Walter Sheridan, would be handed the tapes of the illegal surveillance of Otepka’s telephone and office.
Eschewing preliminaries, Bobby came to the point. He was concerned that W.W. Rostow be granted a security clearance for his cabinet appointment. On two previous occasions, in 1955 and 1957, Otepka had declined to clear Rostow as a foreign policy expert. There was something not quite right about this man, Otepka thought. He pointed out to Bobby that Air Force Intelligence had voiced doubts about Rostow.
Those people are “nuts!” Bobby blurted out. His anger seemed incommensurate with the issue and surprised Otto Otepka, who was a calm, reasoned man not accustomed to such outbursts of emotion in the course of his work. Otepka’s instincts regarding Rostow were both correct and incorrect. Otepka was incorrect in believing that Rostow was a Communist sympathizer of any kind, despite his family background. He was right that the man was not what he seemed. John F. Kennedy’s inexperience and naivete – he would go on to circumvent the security problem by appointing Rostow to his White House staff – was to emerge when Rostow revealed his true colors.
Before long, Rostow began to beat drums for a ground war in Vietnam, a policy John F. Kennedy did not and would never favor. Rostow’s bleating for war would be heeded to the full once Kennedy was dead and Lyndon Johnson became president. By 1965, Rostow was demanding that 500,000 troops at the least be sent to Vietnam.
Bobby emerged enraged from the only face-to-face encounter he would ever have with Otto Otepka. He perceived that he had confronted a man who would not be bullied and who was not subject to political influence. As for Otepka, he at first believed that Bobby’s inexplicable hostility must be based on his refusal to clear Rostow, and also a shadowy figure named William Wieland, who had once sold arms to Fidel Castro. It was not so. It is not clear when Robert Kennedy became aware of Otepka’s handling of the investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald. But Otepka became certain that it was this investigation rather than his unwillingness to clear minor Kennedy appointees that led to Otepka’s demotion.
OTTO OTEPKA IS PLACED UNDER SURVEILLANCE
In November 1961, five months after Oswald reclaimed his passport for return to the United States, and nearly a year after Otepka’s meeting with Bobby Kennedy, Otepka was informed that the Office of Security was being re-organized. His job as Deputy Director was eliminated. In January 1962, Otepka became chief of a newly-created Division of Evaluations, a position where he would enjoy far fewer responsibilities.
Four months later, in April 1962, Robert Kennedy sent a long-time family loyalist named John Francis Reilly to head the State Department Office of Security. Roger Jones, who was Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration, later confided to author Michaux Henry Wilkinson, that Robert Kennedy told him personally that he wanted Reilly to be made Director of the Office of Security. Reilly had no experience either in security work or in personnel evaluation. He seemed an odd choice, this Justice Department lawyer. Reilly, a Massachusetts Irishman, had been recommended officially by Bobby Kennedy’s own executive assistant, Andy Oehmann. By Reilly’s own later admission, he was “sent over here to do a job, and by God I’m going to do it!”
The other piece of the puzzle was soon in place. That same April, Otepka’s Division of Evaluations was removed from responsibility for the “Intelligence Reporting Branch,” which was transferred to the Executive Office. This unit, from which Otepka was effectively excluded, now had the responsibility for receiving all intelligence reports from the FBI and CIA. The Intelligence Reporting Branch, far removed from the eyes of Otto Otepka, now decided whether information was of significance for personnel security purposes. It was this “Intelligence Reporting Branch” that forwarded relevant data to other bureaus and offices – or did not.
Another four months passed. In August 1962, a month after Lee Oswald returned to the United States, Reilly was promoted to the newly-created position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security, the more easily for him to proceed against Otto Otepka. Now four more Kennedy people arrived at the Office of Security to keep watch over Otepka. They included Joseph E. Rosetti, who had served in John F. Kennedy’s congressional office; Massachusetts Kennedy intimate, Robert J. McCarthy; and Charles W. Lyons, also from Massachusetts. These three were joined by David I. Belisle, a National Security Agency operative and friend of Walter Sheridan’s from his days at NSA. Belisle was to serve as Otepka’s immediate superior.
So the effort to ruin Otepka proceeded. Eventually he would be charged with prosecution under the Espionage Act, not for providing intelligence to the Soviet Union, or to “Peiping,” as Dean Rusk would always refer to the capital of China. No, it was to a subcommittee of the United States Senate that Otepka would be charged with providing “secret” information.
The charge was entirely bogus. No documents Otepka presented to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, before which he was called to testify, were classified. Moreover, he had obtained permission to testify from the Secretary of State himself. It was against the law for a public official to refuse to cooperate with a committee of Congress. Otepka had no choice but to testify.
Under watchful eyes, in his capacity as an evaluator, Otepka continued to work on his Oswald file. More details raised “red flags.” Oswald obtained a visa to the Soviet Union in Helsinki in two days –normally it took at least thirty days. (The State Department would lie to the Warren Commission and tell them that it took one to two weeks). Otepka wondered what Oswald actually did in the Soviet Union. He examined Marina’s propitious exit; it was known to take wives of U.S. citizens five months to a year for official permission to leave, and Oswald was no simple citizen: wasn’t he a defector, a traitor? Otepka would have liked to have examined Marina’s family history, he told me, and her connections to the Soviet secret police.
On April 4, 1962, Otepka consulted the Passport Office, inquiring whether “there has been a change in the Subject’s citizenship.” He requested any other information which might be of assistance to the Navy in considering Oswald’s case. Otepka told me he had hoped to have examined the anomaly that Oswald had received an exit visa a month and a half before he actually left Russia, and, again, there was the matter of that State Department loan that made his return home possible.
When Otepka learned in June 1963 that Oswald received a U.S. passport on one day’s notice, it confirmed his uneasiness. He did not blame Francis Knight in the passport office. Knight later told Otepka that she was following orders, that “she would issue a passport to a baboon if she knew that was the policy.”
In those years, wire taps were illegal unless there was probable cause that national security was being compromised. By 1962, Otepka’s telephone was being tapped. The tap was instituted by an electronics expert hired personally by Reilly named Elmer Dewey Hill, who would be assisted by others. Out of a room directly across from Otepka’s new hole-in-the-wall office in exile, Hill made his tapes.
Now every evening Otepka’s trash was confiscated. One night at 10 P.M., David Belisle, and a subordinate named Terence Shea, broke into Otepka’s office – only to discover Otepka sitting at his desk. Undaunted, they claimed they were searching for evidence that Otepka had provided classified information to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, although there was no evidence that he had done so. He had not.
An Otepka colleague named Stanley Holden, who would soon be fired from the electronics unit, disturbed by Otepka’s mistreatment, confirmed to him that the bugging had included not merely his telephone, but every word spoken in his office. Holden named Rosetti, Belisle and Shea as having led the surveillance, both of Otepka in his office, and Otepka in his private life. (Much later, a mastermind of an electronics expert named Bernard Spindel would reveal that a “Justice Department Agency” had a permanent tap into the main telephone line in Washington, D.C.).
In December 1963, Stanley Holden, in sworn testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, revealed that, in June, John Reilly had Otepka’s safe drilled open and personally searched the safe. Reilly had also gone through Otepka’s desk and files. Otepka did not remain silent.
On the day after Dean Rusk ordered Reilly to find out how Otepka had managed to obtain proof that tapes were being made of his conversations, Stanley Holden met with a strange “accident.” His face and tongue were slashed so badly that stitches were required. Terrified, Holden claimed, not very persuasively, that a heavy spring had come loose in his lab and hit him in the face.
Then Joe Rosetti and Robert McCarthy showed up at Holden’s home. McCarthy began to shout so loudly that the neighbors became witnesses. “Where is your loyalty?” he screamed at Holden for having revealed the wire taps to Otepka. “Don’t you have any loyalty at all? Don’t you think you owe Joe Rosetti any loyalty?” McCarthy concluded his tirade with a threat. “I’ll get you for this!”
It strains credulity to believe that such a fierce campaign could have anything to do with Otepka’s providing the Internal Security subcommittee with unclassified information (He gave them three innocuous documents, to which the legislative branch of government was entitled legally). It is equally unlikely that Otepka was being treated as if he were a criminal because he had denied a security clearance to some political has-beens, as he did in the case of Kennedy’s Ambassador-designate to Ireland, the owner of a construction business who turned out to be covered in graft and corruption.
Otepka was now relieved of any responsibility for security. He was given make-work, updating the Office of Security handbook. He was ordered to summarize each day’s Congressional Record. Otepka was not, however, a man to give up and suffer injustice without a struggle. From the moment he was driven from his position of responsibility and tossed into a limbo of boring tasks designed to press him to resign, Otepka became determined to learn who was responsible for his political demise – and why.
What Otepka did not know at the time, information that is only emerging now, more than four decades later, is Bobby Kennedy’s extraordinary interest in Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of his brother. Bobby’s obsession with Otto Otepka suggests that more than a year before John F. Kennedy’s death, he was concerned with Oswald. The curious intervention of the Department of Justice with the Dallas Police in the matter of Oswald’s having fired shots at General Edwin Walker, and Justice’s insistence that the Dallas Police not arrest Oswald, not pursue him, is one example. The telling document disappeared from the Dallas police files, and has not yet re-emerged, but General Walker told his friend Louisiana judge John R. Rarick about it at the time. Near death, Walker urged the House Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate this extraordinary intervention that traces back to Bobby Kennedy.
Another example of Bobby’s awareness of Oswald came to the author in an interview with Bobby’s operative Angelo Murgado, which is described in “A Farewell To Justice.”
Another hint, as yet a mere suggestion, of a relationship between Bobby Kennedy and Oswald has also emerged. “A Farewell to Justice” describes Oswald’s movements in the towns north of Baton Rouge in the spring and summer of 1963. Both before and after they joined Jim Garrison’s investigation, Anne Dischler and state trooper Francis Fruge worked undercover for the Sheriff’s department of Lafayette Parish, among ten other Parishes. In a newly recovered notebook, Dischler revealed to the author, is evidence that Dischler and Fruge learned that an aide of Robert Kennedy’s had communicated with people in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The information came through the Billie White Answering service in Lafayette; the note of the Kennedy office connection to Lafayette, through which Oswald (or a man calling himself “Oswald”) passed, stopping at the Holiday Lounge, was written in Fruge’s hand. The caller described himself as an “aide” working for Robert Kennedy.
At the moment the story stops there. But combined with Murgado’s testimony, that during the summer of 1963 Bobby’s employees knew about Oswald, knew even that he worked for the New Orleans field office of the FBI, this revelation of Bobby Kennedy’s communications with someone in the then obscure town of Lafayette raises questions. Where Oswald, or someone called “Oswald,” made an appearance, it emerges that Robert Kennedy was not far behind, whether in the presence of an underling, this as yet nameless aide, or Walter Sheridan, or, less likely, in the person of Kennedy himself.
This new evidence matches Bobby’s concerned telephone call to Dr. Nicholas Chetta, inquiring as to the cause of death of David Ferrie, Oswald’s closest New Orleans cohort. The incomplete notes in Anne Dischler’s notebook connect as well to the uneasy presence in Dallas in late September at Sylvia Odio’s of Murgado, who was working for Bobby Kennedy, along with Oswald.
The many connections between Robert Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald help to clarify that question that had so plagued Jim Garrison: why did Bobby Kennedy send Walter Sheridan to New Orleans to destroy, discredit and undercut his investigation? Sheridan, short and stocky, with his beaky nose, slit-like eyes, and outrageous violations of people’s privacy and rights, was in New Orleans for one purpose alone, to demolish Garrison’s work. This reality was clear to many, not least lawyer and Office of Naval Intelligence operative Guy Johnson. Sheridan “was clearly sent here by the Kennedys to spike Garrison,” Johnson said matter-of-factly.
Garrison himself had no doubt that Sheridan had been sent by Bobby to destroy his investigation, as he told John Wingate on the WOR-TV (New York) television program: “Robert Kennedy has without any question made a positive effort to stop the investigation and if he denies it here, he is a liar.” On “Mike Wallace At Large,” Garrison told reporter Joseph Wershba: “I cannot say with certitude what motivates this man. [Robert Kennedy]. I can only say that if my brother were killed, I would be interested in getting the individuals involved no matter who they are and I wouldn’t be interested in any way in the political aspect…it may be that Bobby is more interested in politics than I am.” Yet Bobby’s motive extended beyond his Presidential ambitions.
The answer seems increasingly apparent: Bobby was attempting to ensure that Garrison be sufficiently discredited so that should Garrison uncover Bobby’s relationship with Oswald in the years preceding the assassination of his brother, no one would believe him. Otto Otepka becomes a historical precursor of Garrison, another investigator whose work and career Bobby Kennedy would destroy in an effort to conceal Bobby’s close knowledge of Oswald. At first glance, Otepka, conservative, a loyal government employee, and Garrison, liberal, flamboyant, and a devoted admirer of John F. Kennedy, have little in common. Yet they both suffered greatly as targets of Bobby Kennedy’s desperate effort to conceal what he had been up to.
In retrospect, it becomes apparent that Bobby was frantic that no one discover that he had involved Oswald in his own operations against Fidel Castro. Up in Jackson, Louisiana, not far from Lafayette, at ease chatting with attendants at the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson, and overheard by the medical director of the hospital, Dr. Frank Silva, during the summer of 1963, Oswald had bragged about how he had been enlisted to kill Fidel Castro. Here was the real Oswald, no Marxist, but a government operative. And at every turn Bobby Kennedy hovered near. Garrison knew that Oswald had been up in Clinton and Jackson and might well have uncovered Bobby’s connection to him had Walter Sheridan not been dispatched to New Orleans to turn his investigation upside down.
Part 3: OTTO OTEPKA INVESTIGATES HIS OWN CASE
Perplexed by his harsh treatment, determined to find out why he had been placed in professional exile, and now demanding answers, Otepka approached friendly contacts in the FBI. He was being investigated by “higher authority in the Department of Justice,” he learned. Otepka was too experienced not to perceive what this meant. The “higher authority,” he told me, could not have been J. Edgar Hoover, who was always identified with the “Bureau.” It could only mean the Attorney General himself, Robert Kennedy.
It was in June 1963, after the Lafayette incident, and after the Walker shooting, that Otepka’s files on Oswald were stolen from his safe. The culprits, Otepka wrote in a 1976 letter to author Edward J. Epstein at “Reader’s Digest” magazine, were his superiors, people close to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Otepka’s crime had been his studying Oswald, as it had been his responsibility to do. That June, Otepka was removed from the Office of Security. He was never fired, nor ever would be. But in September 1963 ten criminal charges were leveled against him.
It was now even more urgent that Otepka determine why this was happening to him. The investigator had no choice but to investigate his own case. In a Memorandum dated January 9, 1964, Otepka describes an interview he conducted with William R. Cathey, Chief Special Agent for Southern Bell Telephone Company. Cathey told Otepka that a company named “Five Eyes” had “contracts with several Government agencies including one with the Department of Justice.” Otepka learned too that home telephones in the Washington, D.C. area were being bugged with the help of an employee of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company.
Under oath at his 1967 hearing, Otepka finally articulated in public and for the record what he had long believed, but never voiced. Asked who was out to get him, he named “a high official of another government agency…the person was Robert Kennedy.” Elmer Dewey Hill, who had done much of the wire tapping, admitted that the tapes of Otepka’s conversations had been handed to “some stranger” at Reilly’s behest. Reilly had instructed him, Hill said, to hand over the tapes at a pre-designated spot “to a person with whom he was unacquainted.” The name of that stranger would soon emerge.
At this hearing, John Francis Reilly admitted under oath that it had been Bobby Kennedy himself who had appointed him to head the Office of Security in 1962. He revealed as well that he planned to intercept all conversations carried out in Otepka’s office, not merely his telephone calls. Asked for the name of the mysterious stranger to whom Elmer Hill had revealed that the tapes of Otepka’s telephone and office had been delivered, Reilly refused to provide it.
Ultimately, Hill, Reilly and Belisle, all of whom had broken the law, escaped without punishment, although Hill and Reilly were both charged with perjury. Walter Sheridan stepped in and requested of both Under-Secretary of State, George Ball, and Deputy Under-Secretary of State J. Crockett, that David Belisle not be “asked to resign,” despite Belisle’s apparent malfeasance. Under the protection of Kennedy and Sheridan, Belisle was spirited off to a new job – at the American Embassy at Bonn.
THE NAME OF THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER IS REVEALED
It was in a most unlikely venue that the truth emerged about who had ordered the surveillance of Otto Otepka, and who had collected those surveillance tapes. It was not the “New York Times” or the “Washington Post” that produced the name of that “stranger.” Rather, the truth emerged in a Washington, D. C.-based weekly newsletter called the “Government Employees Exchange,” run by a man named Sidney Goldberg. It was Goldberg, a one-man editorial staff, who broke the story and solved the mystery.
In an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism, in the issue of the “Government Employees Exchange” dated September 4, 1968, Goldberg wrote that a source had come forward with the truth about who was behind the harassment and persecution of Otto Otepka. Goldberg learned that the Otepka surveillance tapes had been prepared by one Clarence Jerome Schneider, an electronics expert on Reilly’s staff. They were delivered into the hands of none other than Bobby Kennedy’s right-hand man, Walter Sheridan.
This same “knowledgeable source,” as Goldberg describes him, also identified Sheridan as “one of the chief contacts” for Robert F. Kennedy with International Investigators Incorporated. This firm, operating out of Indianapolis, was a “hush-hush” organization providing “industrial security services,” both to the federal government and to private employers. Among their specialties were “wiretap” operations. Outsiders called them “The Three Eyes,” Goldberg discovered. Employees used the name “The Five Eyes.” They were paid in “unvouchered funds” and provided with immunity from prosecution. So Justice Department records would never be able to reveal the role either Robert Kennedy or Walter Sheridan played in the surveillance of Otto Otepka.
Goldberg notes that although Sheridan was on the payroll of the Justice Department, Sheridan’s office was physically located at the White House. “Through a series of interconnected transfers of funds,” Goldberg writes, “Walter Sheridan disposed over the personnel and currency of whole units of the Central Intelligence Agency.” This seems an exaggeration, but for the fact that Bobby Kennedy spent more of his time at his office at Langley, involved in CIA operations, than he did at Justice. Wire tap tapes, including “voice profiles,” made at the White House by the Secret Service and at the Department of State, were passed on to Sheridan, and retained in a separate facility.
Goldberg’s source also reported that Bobby Kennedy had attempted to plant an anti-Hoffa article in “Life” magazine. This ploy was exposed in the “New York Times” on March 3, 1965. The source had discovered that the disgruntled Teamster whom Bobby planned to use against Hoffa was one Sam Baron, referred to as “Brown” in an exchange of letters between Hank Suydam of “Time/Life” in Washington and “Life” editor Edward K. Thompson.
Walter Sheridan did not miss Goldberg’s extraordinary article. Incensed, Bobby’s operative made a personal appearance at Goldberg’s tiny office. Denying any involvement in the Otepka case, Sheridan demanded a complete retraction. He threatened Goldberg that he would sue him unless Goldberg furnished him with the name of his source. Goldberg refused. Goldberg held his ground.
A decade later, author Jim Hougan interviewed Goldberg for his acclaimed investigative book, “Spooks,” published in 1978. Hougan found Goldberg to be a frightened man, his newsletter having long since folded. Goldberg did reiterate to Hougan that Walter Sheridan was the “chief contact” between the “Five Eyes” and Robert Kennedy.
As a result of Hougan’s interview with Goldberg, Hougan was able to contribute more details to the story of the Otepka tapes. Apparently, the tapes were sent first to CIA to eliminate background noise, then back to John Francis Reilly. It was Reilly himself who apparently passed the tapes to that “unidentified man in the corridors of the State Department.” This was Walter Sheridan. Goldberg’s source also was aware that David Belisle, while he was a National Security Agency employee, had done “certain favors” for the Kennedys.
Goldberg had been a courageous and bold journalist, as witnessed by another article in the “Exchange” that exposed how, after the Bay of Pigs, the CIA’s “New Team” infiltrated secret cooperating and liaison groups in the large foundations, banks and newspapers to influence U. S. domestic and foreign relations. Goldberg even named a “New York Times” executive vice-president, Harding Bancroft, as having been involved.
To Hougan, Goldberg seemed a shattered man. When Hougan asked to read Goldberg’s Otepka files, Goldberg refused. Hougan begged Goldberg to at least give him the name of the source who had identified Sheridan. Goldberg refused this request as well, protecting his source to the end. Yet there was no question in Hougan’s mind that Goldberg was telling him the truth. When Hougan later sought microfilms of the “Government Employees Exchange” weekly from the Library of Congress, he was told that they had been “misplaced” and were unavailable.
Over the years, Otto Otepka told me, he talked to Sidney Goldberg many times. He found Goldberg “a bit eccentric.” He was a man full of passion, but credible. Had he asked Goldberg for the name of the person who revealed that Walter Sheridan had taken possession of the surveillance tapes?
“You can’t ask a newsman for his sources,” Otepka said.
The fragments of the story of what happened to Otto Otepka emerged slowly and incompletely. Only in the wake of press indignation about Otepka’s harsh treatment did Senator Thomas J. Dodd add another piece to the puzzle of Bobby Kennedy’s and Walter Sheridan’s persistent obstruction of justice. Dodd admitted that he had called off four days of scheduled hearings during which the Senate subcommittee on Internal Security planned to question Edward Grady Partin about his relationship with Fidel Castro “because Bobby Kennedy told me to do so.”
Partin had already been reimbursed for his appearance when the hearing was canceled. Bobby and Sheridan had come far enough with Partin to make certain that he not be afforded any opportunity to change his mind about implicating Jimmy Hoffa.
Senator Dodd had elaborated. Bobby Kennedy told him that “he and the Justice Department had a personal interest in Partin and didn’t want to have the hearings held…Bobby had been the Attorney General and you don’t say no to him. He made the request a personal matter and I honored it.”
Otto Otepka drew the only conclusion available to him: “Bobby Kennedy still ensconced at Justice immediately following the death of his brother, wielded his power and sought the aid of his chief investigator, Walter Sheridan, to get what he was after, no matter how it was done.” The end, for Bobby, justified the means. It was in 1968 that Otepka finally realized that it was “the influence of [Bobby] Kennedy [that] caused the failure of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to call material witnesses like Schneider and prevented the thorough and timely resolution of my case.”
Part 4: OTTO OTEPKA STUDIES THE HOFFA CONVICTION
With time on his hands, still working for the Department of State, but bereft of responsibility, Otepka began to examine Walter Sheridan’s methods in his effort to convict Jimmy Hoffa. Otepka made no judgment on the guilt or innocence of Hoffa himself. He was interested only in the means by which the Hoffa conviction was obtained. In a 1968 “Memorandum,” Otepka writes that “it became generally known throughout the government intelligence community in Washington that the free-wheeling Sheridan had FBI agents perform electronic surveillance operations for the ostensible purpose of gathering evidence on which to prosecute Teamster Union President James Hoffa.” Otepka’s tone is measured, like the man himself.
George Bush’s persistent surveillance of American citizens, unimpeded either by court-issued warrants or probable cause, locates an antecedent in Sheridan’s relentless and entirely illegal wire-tapping. So Otepka noted that “government intruders intercepted conversations of American citizens in no way connected with Hoffa, nor in any way related to national security, and compiled dossiers for future reference.” His words are eerily prescient: it was Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheridan who provided a major precedent for George W. Bush’s assault on the U.S. Constitution. Despite the horrific price that Bobby Kennedy paid, it is for this reason that his unsavory activities need to be examined, and rejected.
Lauded as the historian of historians, Arthur Schlesinger went on to lie for Sheridan and Robert Kennedy, providing another misguided precedent: the embedding of the press and authors in official politics. “In the entire investigation in connection with the Hoffa cases,” Schlesinger would write, “there has not been one instance of wiretapping or bugging of Hoffa.” Schlesinger had to have known that the truth was otherwise. Readers might consult the three-part series on the Hoffa trial by Fred Cook published in “The Nation” magazine.
Each night during the Hoffa trial, Justice Department lawyers, under Sheridan’s direction, would play tapes of conversations between Hoffa and his attorneys. These tapes were obtained by the illegal bugging of Hoffa’s hotel suite at the Patton Hotel; they were utilized by the prosecution to determine what questions to ask in court the next day.
Later Sheridan, a consummate liar, claimed he “didn’t know of any wire tapping or bugging in the Hoffa case,” only for a retired police detective named Herman A. Frazier, to trap him. Only through a wire tap could Sheridan have known about a fake name, “Armentrout.” When Sheridan asked Frazier about “Armentrout,” it at once became apparent that Sheridan had listened to a wiretap. The truth had reared its inevitable head. Conservative publisher William Loeb of the Manchester “Union-Leader” swore out an affidavit that Cartha DeLoach, third in command at the FBI, revealed to him that Walter Sheridan had headed Bobby Kennedy’s “wiretapping unit,” that Robert Kennedy had also instructed the IRS to tap wires. Furious, DeLoach denied that he had told Loeb about the wire taps, but the cat was out of the bag.
Otepka perused a 1964 “Life” magazine article written, he discovered, with Walter Sheridan’s cooperation. It describes the chief witness against Hoffa, Edward Grady Partin, who had been paid, illegally, by Sheridan, as “a high-minded man having been involved only in some inconsequential brushes with the law, but now working on the side of justice and law and order.” Partin was in jail “because of minor domestic difficulties,” “Life” wrote of the man who had committed crimes ranging from first degree manslaughter, rape, and kidnapping to assault and battery and forgery.
For Partin, perjury was a misdemeanor. Partin was a more vicious criminal than Hoffa ever dreamed of being. In New Orleans, Partin had been represented for a time by a lawyer named Lou Merhige. When they parted company, Partin owed Merhige ten thousand dollars.
“You won’t sue me and I won’t have you killed,” Partin told Merhige as they murmured their final goodbyes.
Otepka noted that on the witness stand during the Hoffa trial, Sheridan swore under oath that he knew of no payments of money to Partin, an outright lie. Sheridan denied that he had authorized payments for Partin’s services as a federal undercover agent, which would have been against the law. When Partin, not easily controllable, admitted that he was, indeed, paid, then added, “They still owe me!” Sheridan passed the responsibility onto his own assistant, former FBI agent Frank Grimsley.
Then Grimsley, obviously less comfortable with perjury than Sheridan, admitted that the plan to pay Partin originated with Sheridan himself. The government had no choice but to produce a Justice Department memorandum, dated July 3, 1963, signed by Sheridan and requesting that a check be made out to A. Frank Grimsley, Jr. Grimsley was to “give this money to a confidential source,” it read. After the Hoffa trial, in gratitude, Bobby Kennedy sent Partin a “Lotus Ford” racing car, which Partin had requested as the gift he would most appreciate.
There were others connected to Bobby Kennedy’s obsessive “get Hoffa” campaign who would testify to Sheridan’s obstruction of justice, people Sheridan was unable to silence. Frederick Michael Shobe testified that Sheridan had hired him to harass and embarrass Hoffa and the Teamsters Union. Shobe revealed that he was paid in cash, sometimes directly by Sheridan. He was able to produce Sheridan’s unlisted home number in Bethesda, Maryland. Shobe had served time for burglary, forgery and armed robbery, rendering him vulnerable to blackmail. Yet he told the truth.
Sheridan had threatened him, Shobe testified. Sheridan had reminded Shobe that he associated with questionable people, violating his parole. Instead of returning to prison, Sheridan promised, Shobe should join Sheridan’s special investigative squad. Sheridan dangled a presidential pardon and a federal job before Shobe.
Sheridan was to enlist the identical technique in his attempts to bribe Jim Garrison’s witnesses, Perry Raymond Russo and Marlene Mancuso. Both were offered jobs in California, cash payments and a new life, should they help him to denounce Garrison and ruin his investigation. Jim Garrison would “go down” and she would “go down with him,” Sheridan threatened Mancuso should she not comply.
When Shobe discovered that the job Sheridan was offering him was in Japan, he balked. Shobe went on to testify for the defense.
Hoffa’s lawyer asked Shobe whether Sheridan had made it plain to him that his plan was to “get Hoffa.” Shobe said that it was. Sheridan had told Shobe that Hoffa should be in jail anyway, “and that…if we have to resort to unfair tactics, well, that’s where a person like myself came in at…to get him by any means, fair or foul.”
Did Sheridan say this to him directly?
“That is correct,” Shobe said.
Shobe also revealed that Sheridan had attempted to intimidate a Hoffa co-defendant named Thomas E. Parks, a funeral home employee. Sheridan’s goal was to force Parks to testify against Hoffa. Unless Parks agreed, Sheridan said, he would be implicated in a bribery attempt. In another Sheridan-inspired scam, worthy of his later antics in New Orleans, a fake arrest of Parks would be orchestrated. Parks would be taken into some woods. His abductors would be identified as Hoffa’s strongmen. They would dig a hole…then Parks would be rescued at the penultimate moment.
Shobe gave this testimony to the judge out of the hearing of the jury. He testified that he knew that the penalty for kidnapping in Tennessee was death. The prosecution did not even bother to challenge Shobe’s testimony. It was Sheridan’s modus operandi, the use of bribery, blackmail, and the intimidation of witnesses. After the Otepka case, and the Hoffa case, not to mention Sheridan’s obstruction of justice in New Orleans – for none of which he suffered any punishment, Sheridan was so impeachable that it is inconceivable that Robert Kennedy, even as President, would have dared set this character loose to lead an investigation into his beloved brother’s death.
BOBBY KENNEDY, WIRE TAPPER EXTRAORDINAIRE
After the death of his brother, Robert Kennedy persistently lied about his encouragement of unauthorized and illegal wire tapping. A telling set of documents exposing Bobby’s attempt to conceal his knowledge about and sanction of illegal wire taps resides at the LBJ library in Austin, Texas. The file opens with a 1964 letter from J. Edgar Hoover to Bill Moyers, working then for Lyndon Johnson.
A deputy attorney general had requested a name check and an Internal Revenue Service check “concerning Walter James Sheridan,” who needed to be cleared for re-employment as “confidential assistant” to Robert Kennedy, Hoover writes. He notes that on November 13, 1964, the House Judiciary Committee had approved a resolution inquiring into the Justice Department’s handling of “individual rights and liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution.” The Otepka case hovers just below the surface of this sentence, along with the knowledge that it was Walter Sheridan who, in masterminding the surveillance of Otepka, had violated his rights.
Courtney A. Evans, an assistant FBI director, had been responsible for handling “liaison with the office of the Attorney General.” Evans had established a “close relationship” with Robert Kennedy, with whom he met repeatedly to discuss “the use of microphones [wire tapping] by the FBI” and “microphone surveillances in criminal-type as well as security-type investigations.” Evans presented Kennedy with written information about wire taps, meeting with Kennedy’s “enthusiastic approval,” Evans recounted. The rights of citizens under the law was of small moment as the FBI and Robert Kennedy pooled their knowledge of the latest technology in illegal wire taps. Robert Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in November 1964.
By December 24, 1965, Courtney Evans had retired from the Bureau and joined the law firm of a Kennedy acolyte, Herbert J. Miller, Jr. Miller would serve as Walter Sheridan’s lawyer on more than one occasion. It was Herbert J. Miller, Jr. who extracted Walter Sheridan when he was indicted in Orleans Parish by Jim Garrison for petty bribery and intimidation of witnesses.
Walter Sheridan died in 1995. During the period of the ARRB, the National Archives sought to obtain Sheridan’s papers as Kennedy assassination records. The papers had been deposited at the Kennedy Library. Herbert J. Miller, Jr. then stepped in, seized Sheridan’s records from the Kennedy library, and removed them to the bosom of the Sheridan family, far from the prying eyes of historians. Miller’s taped interview with Jeremy Gunn of the ARRB is a masterpiece of obfuscation. On the subject of his deceased client Sheridan, and his behavior in New Orleans, Miller refused to answer a single question for the historical record.
One day Courtney Evans, at Bureau headquarters, shared with two fellow FBI officers details of the contacts he had with Robert Kennedy. He had furnished written information to Kennedy “and other Justice Department officials” who had served under Kennedy, Evans revealed. The subject of the discussion was the FBI’s use of microphone surveillances.
Then something odd occurred. After this meeting, Courtney Evans furnished Robert Kennedy with a letter denying that the two ever had any discussions about wire taps. Evans also lied and denied he had ever provided Bobby with written material about the FBI’s use of microphone wire taps.
Confident that Evans’ lying letter would protect him, defending himself in the press against persistent charges that he had sanctioned wire taps, Robert Kennedy denied he knew anything about the FBI’s use of surveillance microphones. To demonstrate his veracity, Bobby released to the press the fraudulent letter that Evans had obligingly written for him. The letter is dated February 17, 1966. In it, Evans states, falsely, that he “did not discuss the use of microphones by the FBI with Robert Kennedy during his tenure as Attorney General.” Evans also denies he knew of any written material that was sent to Robert Kennedy “at any time” concerning microphone surveillances.
Yet, as if Bobby sensed that the letter would not be enough, and that this fraud would backfire, he sent Herbert J. Miller, Jr. to testify before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There Miller argued that wire taps should be permitted, that legislation should be passed to authorize “limited and controlled interception and disclosure of telephone conversations.” Miller went on to request that the FBI monitor and tape record a meeting between three people, one a former lieutenant governor of Nevada. The FBI denied the request. The devious political games Attorney General Kennedy played continued in the years that he was Senator Kennedy.
Kennedy had surrounded himself with loyalists and people who would lie for him. But in J. Edgar Hoover he had a tireless enemy; historians must acknowledge that the truth may emerge from unsavory sources who reveal facts for motives of their own. On September 26, 1966, Hoover wrote to Lyndon Johnson’s Special Assistant, Marvin Watson, that the FBI had written evidence not only of Robert Kennedy’s authorization, but of his “insistence on the usage of microphones as an investigative technique.” It was one more example of the contradictory policies pursued by the Kennedys. Kennedy lobbied for greater and extensive use of wire taps, even as he denied being knowledgeable on the subject, just as John F. Kennedy pursued sabotage against Cuba at the same time as his emissary William Attwood pursued rapprochement with Fidel Castro.
On December 11, 1966, the FBI released to the press two memoranda which had been personally prepared by Courtney Evans in 1961 for then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy on the subject of wire taps. Bobby at once ceased to speak to Courtney Evans, as if Evans were the one who had betrayed him. Assigned to damage control, Herbert J. Miller, Jr. dashed off a letter to Judiciary Committee chairman Sam Ervin. He doubted, Miller wrote, that anyone in the Justice Department knew about the FBI surveillances. “I did not know and I wager that the Attorney General did not know there was trespass,” Miller says. The ambiguous word, “wager,” tells it all. Herbert J. Miller, Jr. was nothing if not clever.
As for Bobby Kennedy’s motive in spearheading his destruction, Otto Otepka has never gone beyond the statement that he believes that Bobby was involved in keeping Oswald’s activities secret. After the murder of his brother, Bobby had demanded of Frank Mankiewicz, “Do you think any of our people were involved?” Taken by surprise, Mankiewicz had thought, he told me, do you think there might have been? Bobby was well aware of Oswald and may well have had Oswald in mind as one of “our people.”
In 1963, Bobby Kennedy said: “If the American people knew the truth about Dallas, there would be blood in the streets.” The statement made no sense. It was as preposterous coming from the brother of the slain President as it was issuing from Lyndon Johnson, who enlisted similar words to persuade a reluctant Earl Warren to head his Presidential Commission.
In the last year of his life, campaigning for the Presidency, Bobby said more than once that he believed the Warren Commission was correct in its conclusion that Oswald had acted alone in the murder of his brother. It is apparent now that he knew otherwise. It may well be that in private, accountable to no one, Bobby had suggested to bewildered friends that once he was President he would conduct a thorough investigation of his brother’s death. Later, he might discover reasons why reopening the issue was not such a good idea after all.
One reality has come to light: Bobby knew about Oswald in advance of his brother’s assassination, and knew far more about Oswald than he was ever to admit. When Jim Garrison zeroed in on David Ferrie and Ferrie’s relationship with Oswald, Bobby made certain that Garrison’s investigation would fail.
After Robert Kennedy’s death, the Kennedy family continued to obstruct any investigation into the death of the President. Jim Garrison went into federal court to gain access to X-Rays and autopsy photographs for the Clay Shaw trial. Garrison’s assistant, Numa Bertel, prevailed. The Justice Department lawyer opposing the release of the documents was asked whether he planned to appeal. He had to consult the Kennedy family before he could make a decision, the lawyer said. The answer came back from the Kennedys. He was to do everything in his power to ensure that these records not be made available to Garrison. Yes, he would appeal, the lawyer said. Time ran out and the point became moot.
In 1968, Richard Nixon appointed Otto Otepka, still a government employee, to a Subversive Activities Control Board, not a very active body. It was obviously an attempt to offer Otepka active employment. Confirmation did not come easily. Falsely, Otepka was labeled a Birchite, because some Birchites supported his cause. He was also labeled an anti-Semite. Otepka was neither of these. Leading the attack against Otepka’s confirmation in committee was a fierce Edward M. Kennedy, fighting like a tiger to consign Bobby’s old adversary to oblivion. Kennedy lost. The full Senate approved Otepka’s confirmation, 67-21.
And so it should not be surprising that Edward Kennedy would offer a flamboyant eulogy at Walter Sheridan’s 1995 funeral. Kennedy terms Sheridan an “extraordinary human being” with “a heart as large as his ability, and his courage and dedication to justice.” It was not the finest of Kennedy hours. The most telling line in Teddy’s eulogy is this one: “When Walter surfaced with his catch, all the networks and reporters were there, ready to record it at our hearings.” Manipulation of the press was the least of Sheridan’s skullduggery.
Part 5: INTERVIEW WITH OTTO OTEPKA
In April 2006, I drove three hours across the swamp land of Alligator Highway in central Florida in search of Mr. Otto Otepka. His ordeal now forty years lost in the fog of history, Mr. Otepka was about to celebrate his ninety-first birthday. His directions were impeccable. Without incident, I drove into a sleepy Florida town and up to the door of a modest stucco cottage.
I peered through a screen door, and Mr. Otepka greeted me from a leather recliner, his voice clear and booming. He apologized for not rising to his feet, but he had suffered a muscle pull that made walking painful. His hair was still black, his back broad. His stature remained as it must have been in the days when he was driven from his position by enemies whose motive for years would elude him. Otto Otepka was, more than forty years later, the same man described by a colleague to the “New York Times” the day after he was demoted by the State Department, “calm, deliberate, articulate and cautious.”
He ushered me into his study, a small room crammed with books, filing cabinets. Boxes crammed with paper stretched to the ceiling. All this material bore on his case, not least the boxes of transcripts of the hearings that resulted in Otto Otepka’s complete vindication.
Prominently displayed in Mr. Otepka’s study is a commendation for meritorious service awarded to him by President Eisenhower. On the wall is a sign reading, “This job is so secret I don’t know what I’m doing!” A photograph of Bill Clinton and the White House bears this legend: “No Enemy Would Dare Bomb This Place And End The Chaos.” Otto Otepka’s sense of humor remained intact.
He removed a bulging file devoted to the career of Walter Sheridan. There is no doubt in Mr. Otepka’s mind now that Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheridan had been behind the theft of the defector files from his office safe. On a rickety copier, page by page, Mr. Otepka reproduced for me his Sheridan file. It includes Sidney Goldberg’s newsletter where Sheridan is identified conclusively as the person behind the destruction of Otto Otepka. Mr. Otepka began to keep a Sheridan file when he realized that Robert Kennedy’s secret connection to Oswald lay “at the root of his troubles.”
Mr. Otepka had no doubt that Sheridan’s role in his destruction was connected to some problem that Robert Kennedy had with Oswald. As Warren Commission documents began to dribble into the National Archives, he began a file on Oswald and his defection. It was important to him that I understand: he had made no copies of the Oswald documents he had collected when he investigated Oswald for the Department of State security office. Those he now had in his possession had come from the Archives. For Otto Otepka, based on his experience, the resort to illegal methods to accomplish political ends began not with Richard Nixon and the Watergate conspiracy, but with the Kennedys.
What sounded alarms, Mr. Otepka told me, what drove Robert Kennedy to drive him from his position, was that he had requested of the CIA that it look into the defectors to the Soviet Union whose names sat in his office safe. It had been a routine request, he said. It was what you did when a name elicited questions, as “Lee Oswald, tourist” did. Mr. Otepka’s experience suggests that Robert Kennedy was aware of Lee Oswald considerably before Angelo Murgado, working for Bobby, ran into Oswald in New Orleans during the summer of 1963 and again in late September at the Dallas home of Mrs. Sylvia Odio where Murgado appeared in the company of his fellow veteran of the Bay of Pigs, Bernardo de Torres.
All Mr. Otepka knew for certain when his safe was burgled was that someone wanted to know what he had learned about Oswald. He concluded that John Francis Reilly and David Belisle had been assigned to steal the defector files to help Robert Kennedy cover up his use of Oswald. There was no question in Mr. Otepka’s mind that Robert Kennedy had selected the people who suddenly become Otepka’s superiors.
The Oswald question remained perplexing. We went over the subject several times. Oswald was not an applicant for work in the State Department, yet Mr. Otepka was to analyze his record. CIA was on the distribution list for the file listing the “defectors.” Mr. Otepka’s job was to correlate the existing files of people whose names were on that list of defectors, Lee Oswald, “tourist,” among them. Other files, such as those from the Bureau of Soviet Affairs, needed to be consulted. He had asked himself whether the Oswald file had bearing on an existing security case, either on the file of an applicant or of an already cleared employee. Who was this Oswald?
Mr. Otepka remarked that much that has been written about him is false. Journalist Sarah McClendon wrote in her memoir, “Mr. President, Mr. President,” that Otto Otepka had told her he knew who had killed President Kennedy.” Mr. Otepka told me that he had never said any such thing. All he might have done was reiterate the conclusion of the Warren Report. And, of course, he had never provided classified information to anyone.
“I am at a loss as to why CIA didn’t receive distribution,” he mused, returning to the trajectory of the Oswald file.
Robert F. Kennedy had enlisted Walter Sheridan, and others, to damage his career in his effort to conceal that he was using Oswald in his anti-Castro activities, Otepka concluded. Otepka was a threat because he could expose who Oswald was. It was at least “plausible,” he says, remaining cautious, that Oswald was a false defector in the Soviet Union. Had they allowed him to uncover Oswald, investigate him as he investigated all those whose names were sent to him in his capacity as Deputy Director, and even as Chief of Evaluations, at the State Department Office of Security, history might have been different.
In the course of his travail, Otto Otepka exposed Robert Kennedy and Walter Sheridan for their flagrant disregard of the law. They had not counted on his tenacity, or on his unbroken record of integrity. In his simple dignity, he has outlasted them both.
The Otepka case, not least, keeps alive a question that cries out for further investigation. How was Bobby Kennedy using Oswald? Was he Oswald’s ultimate handler? Was Bobby protecting and utilizing Oswald at the same time as the CIA, unbeknownst to him, was laying the groundwork for framing Oswald for the murder of his brother?
Bobby’s press officer, Edwin Guthman, has revealed that Bobby dispatched Walter Sheridan to Dallas immediately after the assassination, ostensibly to look into the possibility of Mafia involvement in President Kennedy’s death. The absence of Dallas police records of the interrogation of Oswald raises a further question. Could Sheridan, astonishing as the suggestion appears, have made an appearance at that scene?
September 4, 2007
-For a general history of the Otepka case, see William J. Gill, “The Ordeal of Otto Otepka” (Arlington House: New Rochelle, New York, 1969). See also: Michaux Henry Wilkinson, “The Phenomenon of Administrative Dissent: The Case of Otto Otepka.” A dissertation presented to the Graduate Faculty of the University of Virginia in Candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. May 1977. Available from the University of Virginia and from Indiana University library.
-Jim Hougan exposes Walter Sheridan’s role in the Otepka case, and in facilitating Robert Kennedy’s wire tapping efforts, in “Spooks: The Haunting of America – The Private Use of Secret Agents” (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1978).
-See also, for the trajectory of the Oswald file: John Newman, “Oswald And The CIA” (Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, 1995), pp. 170-172.
-Walter Sheridan is unconvincing in his denial of his involvement in the Otepka case in “The Fall and Rise Of Jimmy Hoffa” (Saturday Review Press: New York, 1972). Sheridan repeats the falsehood that Mr. Otepka had broken a law by furnishing information to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (“he had been caught in the act”). This simply was not true. Dean Rusk as Secretary of State had granted Mr. Otepka permission to testify. In addition, the law mandated that as a government official he turn over documents in his possession to Congressional committees.
Sheridan admits to no responsibility for the wire taps, and terms it a “mistake” that Security Division personnel had placed a bug on Otepka’s telephone. Sheridan recounts as well his confrontation with Sidney Goldberg at Goldberg’s “small” office, noting, rather gleefully, that Goldberg was the sole employee on the paper. If he had any questions, Sheridan says he told Goldberg later on the telephone, he should send them to “Jack Miller.”
Sheridan denies every charge made against him. He writes as he operated, with the secure knowledge that higher authority would protect him. Sheridan concludes his discussion of the Otepka case with the nasty speculation that Goldberg was in “dire financial straits” when he wrote the article about Otto Otepka. Sheridan suggests thatGoldberg hoped to obtain money from the Teamsters’ pension fund or from the Manchester “Union Leader” whose publisher William Loeb, as cited above, had come down hard on Sheridan and Bobby Kennedy for the illegal wire tapping of Jimmy Hoffa and his lawyer.
Sheridan’s son, Joseph Sheridan, requested that the author fill out a questionnaire before he would allow access to his father’s papers, which had returned to the custody of the family. The author failed to pass this particular security clearance.
–for a full discussion of Sheridan’s methods in the Hoffa prosecution, see Fred J. Cook in “The Nation” magazine: “The Hoffa Trial,” April 27, 1964; “The Hoffa Decision,” January 2, 1967; “Anything To Get Hoffa,” February 20, 1967. Earl Warren dissented when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Hoffa conviction. See: Hoffa v. United States. No. 32. Supreme Court of the United States. 383 U.S. 293; 87 S. Ct. 408; 17 L Ed 2 nd 374; 1966. U.S. Lexis 2778. October 13, 1966 argued. December 12, 1966 decided.
–See also: Otto F. Otepka, “Memorandum For The Record.” September 20, 1968. Subject: Robert F. Kennedy, Walter Sheridan, Edward Grady Partin, et. al. Courtesy of Mr. Otepka.
–Otto F. Otepka to Hon. Orrin Hatch. February 16, 1981. 7 pages. Courtesy of Mr. Otepka.
-My interview with Mr. Otepka in Florida took place on April 13, 2006. Further conversations were by telephone, including on May 23, 2007. I have also drawn from my interview with Irv Heineman, April 9, 2006. Mr. Heineman had interviewed Otto Otepka earlier.
–Interview with Jim Hougan, May 17, 2007.
-Interviews with Marlene Mancuso, June 16, 2000; June 28, 2000; July 27, 2001; August 23, 2001. See “A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination and The Case That Should Have Changed History” (Potomac Books, Inc: Dulles, Virginia, 2005) for an account of Walter Sheridan’s attempt to persuade Mancuso to join his effort to destroy Jim Garrison’s investigation.
–For Edward Grady Partin’s threat to Lou Merhige: Interview with Lou Merhige, June 8, 2000.
–Edward Grady Partin tells Bobby Kennedy that he wants a Lotus Ford racing car and Bobby sends him one: Interview with Jim McPherson, January 9, 2000. McPherson represented Partin at seven of his trials.
–Bobby Kennedy asks Mankiewicz whether any of “our people” were involved: Interview with Frank Mankiewicz, December 1, 1999.
–Bobby sent Sheridan to Dallas: Interview with Edwin Guthman, May 11, 2000.
–Guy Johnson’s observation that Sheridan was sent by Bobby Kennedy to “spike” Garrison: Bud Fensterwald, “Notes on Meeting with Guy Johnson,” August 24, 1967. Assassination Archives Research Center (AARC).
–Jim Garrison appeared on Mike Wallace At Large” on September 26, 1967. He was interviewed by John Wingate on “Nine At Noon” on September 22, 1967. Transcripts of both programs are available at NARA.
–on Bobby Kennedy’s office making contact with people in Lafayette, Louisiana: Interviews with Anne Dischler, September 1, September 2, and September 3, 2007. Dischler only recently re-examined the notebook that contains Francis Fruge’s handwritten note referring to Bobby’s contacts in Lafayette.
Document management below relating to Otto Otepka and the Oswald file:
–HSCA. Record number 180-10102-10298. From: Otepka, Otto F. To: Epstein, Edward, Reader’s Digest, 3/28/78. 3 pages. NARA.
–Document id number: 1993. 06.19.10:31:00:090000. JFK. Agfileno: 201-289248. JFK Box #OSW 13. Fol/Folder V53B. Title: American Defectors to Sino-Soviet Bloc Countries. 12/2/1960. From: William Mcafee/INR/CS/State. To: Mr. Otepka, SY/STATE. NARA.
–Document id number: 1993.06.10.18:04:90000. JFK 201-289248. OSW 12. Vol/Folder V53B. Title: Comparative Statistics Concerning Bloc and US Defectors. 9/23/60. Who from: Richard D. Gatewood, IRC/STATE. Whoto: William B. Macomber, Jr. /State. NARA.
1993: 05.19.10: 15:01: 210000. JFK. 201-289248. OSW 13. Vol/Folder V53B. Title: American Defectors to Soviet Bloc Countries.
See also: CIA 104-10007-10274. JFK 201-289248. To: Wigren, L. Title: Oswald Commission To Meet 1 February. 12/18/63. Subjects: WC MTG.
–Documents regarding Robert F. Kennedy’s attempts to conceal his wire tap program. These documents are available at the LBJ library in Austin:
–Letter of J. Edgar Hoover to Honorable Bill D. Moyers, November 13, 1964. Agency: DOJ. Record number: 177-10002-10074. Records Series: Files of Mildred Stegall, “Sheridan, Walter.”
–Memorandum of Courtney Evans and his meetings with Robert Kennedy. Agency: Department of Justice. 177-10002-10170. Files of Mildred Stegall, “Miller, Herbert J.” 4 pages.
–Letter of J. Edgar Hoover to Honorable Marvin Watson. June 23, 1965. Agency: Department of Justice. 177-10002-10071. Files of Mildred Stegall, “Miller, Herbert J.”
–Letter of J. Edgar Hoover to Honorable Marvin Watson, September 23, 1966. Agency: Department of Justice. 177-10002-10124. Files of Mildred Stegall, “Evans, Courtney.”
–Agency, LBJ. September 27, 1966. 177-10002-10123. Files of Mildred Stegall, “Evans, Courtney.”
Ben H. Bagdikian, “Big Brother Is Listening.” “Saturday Evening Post,” June 6, 1964.
C. P. Trussell, “Hoffa Expose Bid Laid to Kennedy.” “The New York Times,” March 3, 1965.
Arthur C. Egan, Jr. “Bobby Kennedy Made Me Call Off Subversion Probe.” “Bridgeport Herald,” March 19, 1967.
Sidney Goldberg, “‘5 Eyes’ and ‘Doodlegrams’ Used by Depts. For Tapping.” “The Government Employees Exchange,” September 4, 1968.
Edith Kermit Roosevelt, “Government’s Private Spy Net.” “The Catholic News,” January 20, 1977.