A new JFK assassination tape found among the new JFK files in the the National Archives yields the previously unknown coda of one of the most famous espionage controversies of the 20th century. Read more
Tag Archive for mole hunt
One of the most significant new JFK files concerns a CIA officer you probably never heard of.
Birch O’Neal is virtually unknown in the vast literature of JFK’s assassination. He is not mentioned in the reports of the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He figures in no conspiracy theories.
Yet O’Neal played a seminal role in the story of the CIA and accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. As a mole hunter for counterintelligence chief James Angleton, O’Neal controlled the agency’s Oswald file from November 1959 to November 1963.
O’Neal’s story is still sensitive, more than 20 years after his death in 1995. Last November the agency released a heavily redacted version of O’Neal’s personnel file. Of the 224 pages in the file, 177 contain redactions, and three are wholly secret.
But one important page was released. Read more
The counterintelligence chief was suspected of being a Soviet spy, so the CIA investigated.
My new story in The intercept.
In a November 2017 post for the Washington Decoded blog, the chief historian of the CIA, David Robarge, joined the discussion of the causes of the assassination with JFK researchers.
As I said in my first comment on Robarge’s review of The Ghost, I take his criticism as a compliment. Clearly, my book has struck a nerve with the CIA and those who defend the widely disbelieved theory that a lone gunman killed President Kennedy for reasons known only to himself.
That nerve is the still-unexplained role of Angleton, the legendary counterintelligence chief, in the events leading up to the gunfire in Dealey Plaza.
In his review, Robarge asks
if Angleton was using Oswald for the limited purpose of helping him conduct the molehunt, then why blame him for an ‘epic’ counterintelligence failure by not stopping Oswald?
Let me explain by responding to Robarge’s comments on four of the most important findings in The Ghost.
1) Angleton and JFK’s assassination
Robarge says that I claim “Angleton and the CI Staff supposedly were, or should have been, preoccupied with Oswald.” He says, “Morley denies that he ever wrote that, but then how can he declare that Angleton’s “pre-assassination interest in Oswald” “indicates his “culpability in the wrongful death of President Kennedy?”
Here’s how. Robarge and I agree that Angleton opened an Office of Security file on Oswald in November 1959, an unusual procedure intended to assist Angleton in the mole hunt. The CIA did not share Angleton’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald with the Warren Commission, the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee, or the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).
Why this material evidence was withheld from investigators is not hard to guess. To admit that senior CIA officers had been following the suspected assassin for four years would have opened the agency up to legimitate questions and investigation. Angleton and others might well have have lost their jobs. So the CIA fed a lie to the Warren Commission–we didn’t know much about Oswald–and the story stayed buried for decades. When the truth could be denied not longer, it was downplayed.
In a 2013 article for a CIA journal, Robarge acknowledged that the CIA had not informed the Warren Commission about its plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro and described this deception as a “benign cover-up.”
I’m not alone in wondering how any CIA coverup in the murder of a sitting president could qualify as “benign,” but I agree with Robarge that it was a cover-up.
The CIA’s failure to disclose Angleton’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald also qualifies a cover-up, which Robarge also seems to view as benign. I’m not so sanguine.
To summarize what I wrote in The Ghost:
Every piece of paper about Lee Harvey Oswald that came into the CIA between 1959 and 1963 was routed into a file controlled by Birch O’Neal, chief of the mole-hunting Special Investigations Group.
As the ex-Marine made his way from Moscow to Minsk to Fort Worth to New Orleans to Mexico City to Dallas, Angleton’s mole hunters in the SIG were informed at each step of the way. And, to repeat a point that Robarge does not care or dare to dispute, as of November 15, 1963, Angleton knew Oswald was in Dallas.
(See my recent Daily Beast piece “CIA Spyhunters Knew Oswald Was in Dallas.“)
And when Oswald was arrested for killing JFK a week later, the CIA concealed the nature of Angleton’s interest–the mole hunts–from the FBI and the Warren Commission.
As Morley makes clear, Oswald had been of “intense” interest to the agency, and Angleton had control of the growing file on him. The most charitable explanation for Angleton’s actions is that he was hoping to catch one of those moles who, he was convinced, had infiltrated the agency.
Peter Savodnik, writing about the Russians and the Trumps on the Vanity Fair web site, says yes.
In my upcoming Angleton biography, I review the case and come to the opposite conclusion: Pete Bagley (and Jim Angleton) were wrong: Nosenko was a bona fide defector.
On June 15, 1978,investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations interviewed James Angleton, retired CIA counterintelligence chief about his handling of the JFK assassination investigation in 1963 and 1964.
The interview, which sheds new light on Angleton’s conspiracy theories about a mole in the ranks of the CIA, was never transcribed or made public–until now.
In a Web exclusive, JFK Facts is offering a downloadable PDF transcript of Angleton’s closed-door HSCA interview.