A handful of senior CIA officers were informed about the travels, contacts, and politics of Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before President Kennedy was killed and expressed no security concerns, according to a declassified CIA cable,
Indeed when four CIA officers learned about Oswald in October 1963, they all signed off on a cable saying that he was “maturing.”
Forty two days later, Oswald allegedly killed JFK in Dallas.
The names of the CIA officers who made this lethal mistake were Jane Roman, William J. Hood, Tom Karamessines, and John Whitten. All are deceased.
Their names appear on the once top-secret cable, dated October 10, 1963.
A little background. In the cable they responded to a query from the CIA’s Mexico City station about Oswald, an itinerant leftist who was seeking to travel to Cuba. These four senior officers assured their colleagues in Mexico City that they knew all about Oswald’s defection to the Soviet Union in 1959 and his subsequent return to the United States in May 1962. Not to worry, they said. Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union had a “maturing effect” on him.
Who were the CIA officials who misjudged the accused assassin?
They all held senior positions.
1) Jane Roman, who died in 2007, was a long-time assistant to James Angleton. He was the legendary spymaster who ran the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff from 1954 to 1974. Roman’s position made her a consummate CIA insider. According to the CIA, she and her husband Howard, also a CIA officer, helped former CIA director Allen Dulles write his 1963 book, The Craft of Intelligence.
Roman’s job title was liaison officer. That mean she was in charge of all communications between the Counterintelligence Staff and other offices of the government. It was Roman who opened Oswald’s CIA file in December 1960. She had been reading CIA cables, State Department memoranda, intercepted correspondence, and FBI reports about Oswald for more than three years before JFK was killed.
If Oswald was a sociopathic communist assassin, as some contend, he was a sociopathic communist assassin who was known to Jane Roman and her colleagues.
In 1995, I interviewed Roman for story for the Washington Post Outlook section. She had some interesting things to say about this cable.
Roman later “bitterly regretted” talking to me.
In her unpublished 1996 letter to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent civilian panel, Roman acknowledged that “Oswald was the subject of great interest to both the CIA and FBI” before November 22, 1963.
2) The second CIA officer who said Oswald was “maturing” in late 1963 was William J. Hood. He died on January 28, 2013, his role in the JFK story still unknown to the public, journalists, and historians.
In 1963, Bill Hood occupied one of the most senior positions in the clandestine service. He served as the chief of covert operations in the Western Hemisphere. He was close to Jim Angleton and assisted him on counterintelligence operations.
Hood was the “authenticating officer” on the October 10 cable, meaning he was responsible for the accuracy of its contents.
I interviewed Hood at his home in Amagansett, New York, in 2007 for my book Our Man in Mexico. He denied that the CIA was running an operation involving Oswald before JFK was killed. He rejected the idea that Kennedy had been killed by enemies.
But he had no explanation for the assertion that Oswald was “maturing.”
“I would like to think that 80 percent [of CIA cables] would be more competent,” Hood told me. “I don’t find anything smelly in it.”
The most senior CIA officer to sign off on the faulty Oswald cable was 3) Tom Karamessines. He was the trusted assistant to deputy CIA director Richard Helms, and the “releasing officer” for the cable. That meant he was responsible for making sure that its content and distribution supported U.S. policy.
In 1976, Karamessines testified to the Church Committee investigating CIA abuses. He was asked about his approval of Oswald cable. He explained that his job was:
“to make sure that it [the cable] wasn’t violating any particular policy of ours, particularly since it was dealing with a man who at least had been an American and might still be an American. And we were taking an interest in this fellow even though he wasn’t an American.”
Or course, Oswald was an American, so Karamessines’s explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense. His testimony sounds nervous, as if he was trying to head off the accusation that the CIA was spying on an American.
“I read the message,” Karamessines went on. “It concerns a Marine defector, who apparently according to the incoming message to which this was a response, was trying to get in touch with some Soviets or Cubans in Mexico. That would be the extent of my interest it at the time.”
Karamessines offered no explanation or defense of the claim that Oswald was “maturing.”
The fourth CIA officer who signed off on the faulty Oswald cable was John Whitten. In 1963 he ran the Mexico and Central America desk of the CIA’s operations directorate. He was the only one of the four who sought to investigate Oswald after JFK was killed.
In May 1976 and again in May 1978 Whitten testified to JFK investigators. He explained that on November 23, 1963, deputy director Helms put him in charge of reviewing all CIA information about the accused assassin.
Whitten assembled a staff and worked long hours for two weeks reviewing the avalanche of reports from around the world about Oswald. But he soon realized his colleagues were not sharing all relevant information with him.
Specifically, he said Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton had not shared FBI reports about Oswald’s encounters with the New Orleans chapter of the Cuban Student Directorate, a CIA-funded Cuban exile group, in August 1963.
“Oswald’s involvement with the pro-Castro movement in the United States was not at all surfaced to us [meaning him and his staff] in the first weeks of the investigation,” Whitten said.
Tim Weiner, author of a best-selling history of the CIA, said Angleton’s conduct amounted to “an obstruction of justice.” (See “Legacy of Ashes,” p. 265.)