On April 5, 1972, CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, backed by director Richard Helms, issued a blanket order:
“the agency was not, under any circumstances , to make inquiries or ask any source or defector about Oswald”
The order, found in the massive batch of JFK files released online this week, came nine years after Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas on November 22, 1963, allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24 year old ex-Marine. The order was issued after officials in the agency’s Soviet Bloc division asked a Russian defector about the accused assassin who lived in the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1962.
The CIA memo,
classified as a state secret for the past 35 years [Ed note: Paul Hoch tells me the memo was released with a name redacted in 1998] sheds light on how Angleton, a legendary spy chief known for his brilliance and paranoia, tightly controlled the JFK investigation for years after the crime. No one at the CIA was supposed to ask questions about Kennedy’s accused killer.
Angleton’s espionage exploits have inspired a small library of spy novels and several Hollywood films since his death in 1987, including Norman Mailer’s novel Harlot’s Ghost and Robert DeNiro’s CIA film The Good Shepherd.
But the true story of Angleton’s sinister role in the events leading up to JFK’s assassination–and the cover-up that followed– is only beginning to come to light. The April 1972 memo and other newly-declassified records leave little doubt that Angleton was the mastermind of the CIA coverup that followed JFK’s assassination.
The memo is just one of the CIA records among the 113,000 pages of JFK records scheduled to be released by the National Archives by October 26.
[Newsweek: America’s Most Powerful Conspiracy Theorist Will Decide the Fate of Secret JFK Trove, by Jefferson Morley ]
Why Angleton felt so strongly that the defector, a KGB officer named Oleg Lyalin, is a complex story that I will recount in a future post.
Facts v. Theories
Angleton, a conspiracy theorist par excellence, has inspired many conspiracy theories himself. From my study of the declassified CIA records and extensive interviews, the new JFK files should be read with three factual points in mind.
–Angleton suspected a KGB conspiracy behind Kennedy’s murder. He publicly testified to that effect at least four times.
–Angleton knew more about Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy was killed than anyone in the CIA or the U.S. government. Angleton’s aides, in a secret office known as the Special Investigations Group, monitored Oswald’s movements and correspondence from October 1959 through November 1963.
–After JFK was killed, Angleton gained control of the CIA”s investigation of Oswald and did not relinquish until he was fired by in December 1974.
The CIA wanted to control questions about Lee Harvey Oswald in 1972 because Angleton had a conspiracy theory he wanted to investigate. Angleton also had lot to hide about CIA operations involving the accused assassin before JFK was killed.
Download Memo for Record, Oswald, April 5, 1972 here.
Next: How the CIA Duped Warren Commission
“The Ghost is the compulsively readable, often bizarre true-life story of American spymaster James Jesus Angleton – the CIA’s poetry-loving, orchid-gardening mole-hunter for almost 20 years. Capturing the extent of Angleton’s eccentricity, duplicity and alcohol-fueled paranoia would have challenged the writing skills of a Le Carre or Ludlum, and Jefferson Morley has done it with flair. This important book depicts the trail of wreckage left behind by Angleton in a CIA career that involved him in virtually every major spy-versus-spy drama of the Cold War and drew him deeply into the mysteries of the Kennedy assassination and the murder of one of JFK’s mistresses.”
—Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act