William J. Hood dies; CIA man who signed off on ‘unusual’ Oswald cable

William J. Hood, retired CIA officer

William J. Hood at his home in Amagansett, N.Y.,  in April 2011. (Photo by Jefferson Morley © Jefferson Morley)

William J. Hood, a senior CIA officer involved in the intelligence failure that culminated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died last month at age 92.

Hood was one of the highest ranking CIA officials who failed to anticipate that accused assassin Oswald might pose a threat to JFK. On October 10, 1963, he and five senior colleagues at CIA headquarters signed off on a misleading classified cable sent to the CIA station in Mexico City that omitted mention of Oswald’s recent arrest in an altercation with anti-Castro Cubans. Based on the cable’s favorable assessment, the FBI took Oswald’s name off of a list of people of interest to the Bureau. Six weeks later, Oswald was arrested for killing JFK in Dallas.

In a 2007 interview Hood conceded to me that “the information that is left out [of the cable] is pretty significant.” But he denied that there was anything “smelly” about the cable.

In fact, the Oct. 10, 1963, Oswald cable stands out as one of the most odoriferous JFK assassination documents to emerge from the CIA in the last 15 years. Not fully declassified until 2001, the cable has more than a whiff of intrigue because it details what the agency hid from the Warren Commission and what agency officials still attempt to deny: that a handful of senior CIA operatives discussed Oswald’s foreign travels, left-wing politics, and communist contacts just weeks before JFK was killed.

One of them was Bill Hood.

A former newspaper reporter, William Hood first made his name at the CIA running undercover operations for the Office of Strategic Services, the war-time predecessor of the CIA. He rose in the ranks to become chief of all covert operations in Latin America in 1962. In that capacity he was asked to respond to a report in October 1963 that a man named Oswald had made contact with the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. Hood was one of six CIA officials who signed off on a three-page cable purporting to share what was known about Oswald. (His signature, “W. Hood,” is visible on the last page of the cable.)

As I reported for the Washington Post in 1995, the cable erroneously stated that the “latest [headquarters] info” on Oswald was a State Department report from May 1962. In fact, the CIA had just received an FBI report on Oswald’s arrest for fighting with anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans. Instead of informing the CIA’s Mexico CIty station about Oswald’s run-in with the law and his actions on behalf of a pro-Castro group, the cable concluded on a favorable note: Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union had had a “maturing effect” on him. Forty-three days later, JFK was shot dead, allegedly by the “maturing” Oswald.

When I showed Hood a copy of the cable at his home in Amagannsett, N.Y., in February 2007, he acknowledged that he participated in writing it. He admitted the cable was “unusual” because it had gone to his boss Thomas Karamessines for approval. He noted that many CIA hands had participated in the drafting of the cable. “It goes all over the place,” he said, noting its many signatories. “That’s a lot of coordination.”

Hood had no explanation for why the unknown and apparently harmless Oswald received such high-level attention. Nor could he explain why the FBI’s most recent arrest report on Oswald had been omitted from the cable. An affable and urbane man, Hood dissembled for about ten minutes. “You got me,” he finally shrugged. “I don’t know what the fuck this is.”

The conversation then took a curious turn. He started questioning me.

“What would anyone’s motive be for not informing” the Mexico City station about Oswald? he asked.

That seemed odd: the former chief of operations for the CIA was asking me, someone who never worked at the CIA, about agency practices.

Perhaps, I said, somebody was running an operation involving Oswald and holding details on a need-to-know basis.

“Absolutely not,” he snapped. “It’s not possible.”

Then he admitted it was possible.

“If it was something at Helms’ level, there might be a reason not to tell somebody in the field,” he said. “But not at this level.”

I pointed out the cable was written at Helms’ level. He himself was reporting directly to Helms at the time; and the cable was also signed by Karamessines, Helms’ most trusted deputy.

So what was the reason, I asked again, for not telling the CIA people in the field about Oswald’s arrest?

Hood had no explanation, except to say, “I don’t see any master hand in it.” It was an evasive and defensive performance. (I met with Hood again in 2011 and could tell he had lost power of memory and was not in a position to answer questions.)

It is a pity Hood wasn’t more forthcoming. There were few men more knowledgeable about the first quarter century of the CIA. He was a trusted aide to Dick Helms, who served as CIA director for almost seven years, and to counterintelligence chief James Angleton. He co-authored Helms’ posthumous memoir and penned three spy novels.

With his passing the mystery of the Oswald cable endures. Was Hood or one of his colleagues running an operation involving Oswald in October 1963? The possibility can’t be ruled out based on the available facts. Hood was responsible for overseeing covert operations at the time. He was informed about Oswald. He concealed what he knew. And he didn’t have any explanation for his actions — other than to deny that there was a secret operation.

It is a testament to the CIA’s enduring ability to defy accountability on the JFK assassination story that Hood was never required to testify under oath about what he knew of Lee Harvey Oswald before the murder of the president. He kept the CIA’s JFK secrets.

——-

(This excerpt from the CIA’s October 10, 1963, cable on Oswald shows the names and positions of six senior CIA officers who were knowledgable about the accused assassin’s travels and contacts while President Kennedy was alive)

CIA officers who knew about Oswald while JFK was alive.

Those witting about Oswald in October 1963 included: Thomas Karamessines, assistant deputy director of plans (ADDP), Soviet Russia counterintelligence officer Stefan Roll (SR/CI); counterintelligence officer Jane Roman (CI/Liaison); counterintelligence coordinator Betty Egerter (CI/SPG); “Scelso,” a pseudonym for John Whitten, chief of the Mexico desk (C/WH/3); and William Hood, chief of operations in the Western Hemisphere (WH/COPS), who signed in the absence of JC King, the chief of the agency’s Western Hemisphere division.

10 comments

  1. Bill Kelly says:

    William Hood’s non-fictional book “Mole,” is riveting reading, and divulges many of the once-secret “tradecrafts” of intelligence that all government intelligence agencies use and train their agents to use – some of which were used by Lee Harvey Oswald.

  2. JSA says:

    Jefferson,

    It seems that every month now we lose important people who could have valuable information about the assassination of President Kennedy. Very few people are still alive at this point. Besides people like George H. W. Bush, the former president, who is in his eighties and ailing (someone I think may have some secrets), how many other people who come up in documents/and/or research/reporting who might know something are still alive today? Not that all or any of them will talk, but it might be helpful to compile a working list.

    Thanks,
    JSA

  3. The JFK assassination was the ultimate expression of Operation Northwoods (1962 debut) and it was an operational success. I think Lee Harvey Oswald was somehow involved in it, but I don’t think Oswald shot any one on 11/22/63.

    It was Lyndon Johnson and Texas oil executives who were posing the threat to John Kennedy as well as the national security state itself.

  4. Shane McBryde says:

    Listened to Doug Horne’s 3 hour presentation with Len Osanic (#569) on the new release of the Air Force One recordings from Nov. 22nd ’63. The big take away for me was how much direction was originating from “Crown,” the White House Situation Room. Transmitting the “facts” of LHO’s sole complicity, coordinating the autopsy, and directing how the body would be transferred to the morgue. Also, the business of Gen. LeMay’s curious sojourn from to Toronto to Washington.

    • jeffmorley says:

      Can you post a link Shane?

      • Shane McBryde says:

        http://blackopradio.com/archives2012.html

        It’s show #569. jfkfacts.org won’t let me link to the audio file. So, follow the above link, and then do a (ctrl F) search. Type in the show number. It’s available in RealMedia or you can download the mp3 file. It’s an extremely well done presentation. The moderator just sits back and lets Horne have the floor.

    • Bill Kelly says:

      Shane, we have come up with over 40 important JFK assassination witnesses who are still alive but never properly interviewed, including “Stranger,” in command of the WH Situation Room on 11/22/63. I’ve talked to him on the phone and he was not even interviewed for Nerve Center, the history of the WH Sit Room.
      Those living witnesses who are not interviewed for the 50th will never be interviewed.

      • Shane McBryde says:

        Hey Bill,

        Although I’ve been keenly interested in the assassination for many years, I’m also a student of the history surrounding the event. What really confuses me the most, and keeps my head spinning are the contradictory presentations of Kennedy’s policies in those days.

        What his policy was visa-vi Cuba, Southeast Asia, Civil Rights and the Soviet Union seem to be at the heart of why the man was killed in the first place.

        On the one hand it seems you have researchers / historians represented for example by folks like Burton Hersh, Seymour Hersh and Noam Chomsky, who portray Kennedy as hawkish on the Soviets, obsessed with getting rid of Castro via Operation Mongoose, slow to act on Civil Rights, and committed to using American might to expell the communists from South Vietnam.

        In fact, one of the above mentioned authors suggests another invasion of Cuba had been planned by Kennedy to take place prior to the ’64 elections, his pledge to the Soviets notwithstanding. Additionally, the contention is repeatedly made that whatever it was the CIA was involved in, it was involved only at the behest of and pursuant to the expressed policy aims of the president.

        Conversely, there’s the other side, represented for example by Jim Douglas, Col. Fletcher Prouty, and Jim Garrison who present a scenario opposite to what’s laid out above. Namely, that Kennedy was pulling out of Vietnam entirely by the end of ’65 (NSAM 263), that Kennedy was seeking rapprochement with Castro, and in fact was unaware that Mongoose was still in operation, that Kennedy was pursuing detente with the Soviet Union, and that he was committed to enacting Civil Rights legislation.

        The latter scenario certainly makes a better case as to why JFK may have been killed, as all of those proposals would have struck even some liberals as rather extreme, let alone conservatives as nothing short of treasonous.

        I enjoy listening to you when you’re on with Len Osanic, and would appreciate your views on this.

  5. Sidenote: how did Richard Helms become director of the CIA (June, 1966 to Feb. 1973)? Because Deke DeLoach of the FBI was asked by Lyndon Johnson to vet DCI candidates. DeLoach (still alive today) had 2 lunches with Richard Helms and DeLoach told Lyndon Johnson to hire Helms over another FBI candidate.

    LBJ was closer to Deke DeLoach than he was to Hoover. DeLoach did a lot of PR work for the FBI; he saw the Zapruder film by midnight 11/23/63 and he (DeLoach) played a big role in the cover up of the JFK assassination due to his extensive media ties.

  6. Shane McBryde says:

    Here’s another great interview that’s worth a 2nd listen, if you had already heard it. It’s with David Talbot on NPR’s, “Fresh Air,” from 2007. Talbot’s discussing his then newly released book, “Brothers.” Towards the end of the interview Talbot references Jefferson Morely’s “heroic” attempts have the CIA release it’s remaining files on the JFK assassination.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10374276

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