Was Angleton culpable in JFK’s assassination?

I’ve been debating the question with CIA historian David Robarge, 

In Washington Decode, he asserts “that the US government did not have actionable information that Oswald was a clear threat to the President before 22 November 1963.”

That is true.  He says, correctly, that historians “must fairly assess why people acted based on what they knew at the time.”

That is exactly what I did in THE GHOST. And that’s why I think Angleton was culpable in the death of JFK. 

Tomorrow: Four key JFK files that are still secret

By late September 1963, CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton knew a whole lot about the obscure Lee Oswald, a whole lot more than he told the Warren Commission. On Oswald questions, Angleton preferred to “wait out” the Commission.

That’s because he had a lot to hide.

Angleton knew that Oswald had gone to the Soviet Union threatening to reveal military secrets. He put Oswald’s name on list of people whose mail was to be opened, copied and read.

Angleton knew that he had married a Russian woman. Angleton knew that Oswald had returned to Texas in June 1962. In September 1962, the FBI’s interview with Oswald was delivered to Angleton’s office.

So in the fall of 1963, Angleton already knew a great deal about the obscure Oswald and he was about to learn more. On September 24, 1963, and October 4, 1963, Angleton’s liaison officer, Jane Roman, had signed for two recent FBI reports on Oswald.

The FBI reported that Oswald beat his wife, had been arrested for fighting with CIA-funded Cubans in New Orleans, and was active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization, which the Justice Department listed as a subversive organization.

On October 8, 1963, Angleton’s office was notified that Oswald had appeared in Mexico City where he visited the Cuban Consulate, which Angleton had identified as a local hub of Cuban intelligence activity in this important but overlooked memo.

And Angleton was informed that Oswald had made contact with presumed Soviet intelligence agents, including Valery Kostikov, a suspected KGB assassin.

That is what Angleton “knew at the time.”

So on October 10, 1963, Angleton could have told Mexico City station that Oswald was a violent leftist who was active in a subversive organization, and in contact with known KGB agents, while seeking to travel to two hostile countries.

He could have said the same thing to the FBI in Dallas and New Orleans.

Did Angleton report accurately on Oswald?

He did nothing of the sort. Instead, Angleton’s aides (Jane Roman, Betty Egerter, Bill Hood, John Whitten, and Tom Karamessines) researched, composed, revised, and signed off on a cable to Mexico City stating, erroneously, that “the latest HDQS info” on Oswald was a 17-month old State Department report.

In the October 10 cable Angleton’s people repeated to station chief Win Scott the State Department’s outdated claim that Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union had had “a maturing effect” on him.

If we accept for the purposes of argument that Oswald killed the president on November 22, the October 10 cable is smoking gun proof of Angleton’s failure to report accurately or respond appropriately to actionable intelligence on an presidential assassin. His puzzling inaction qualifies as negligence. If he was negligent he contributed to the breakdown of security in Dealey Plaza.

Other interpretations are possible.

Maybe Angleton didn’t share timely information because he was running an operation involving Oswald. When I interviewed Jane Roman about the cable, she said that its contents indicated someone in the CIA had “a keen interest” in Oswald “held on a need to know basis.”


6 thoughts on “Was Angleton culpable in JFK’s assassination?”

  1. I think firstly, its not Angleton’s job to protect JFK, it is only the secret service’s job to protect JFK. The CIA cannot operate on US soil so it would only care about foreign enemies of the state. Next, Oswald was always working for Angleton since his defection to Russia as a fake defector, working covertly as a double agent to find russian moles for Angleton. He was never the shooter or assassin. Third, Oswald was NOC (non-official cover) and denied existence by top CIA if caught. Fourth, Oswald was working with DAvid Atlee Phillips to sneak into Cuba to kill Castro, so it would have ruined the plot if Angleton publicly ruined Oswald’s cover story and outed him as a CIA informant.

  2. robert e williamson jr

    Question Jeff do you have info that would indicate that either CIA, FBI or DAllas police contacted LHO’s employer at the school book repository?

    Just curious?

  3. There’s a followup commment one could make about this situation. Suppose Oswald was, in fact, involved in “doing something” for the CIA, and specifically, doing some sort of undercover work, perhaps in some capacity with CI-SIG. In that case, then either Angleton (or the people at the Office of Security) would, upon Oswald’s arrest, immediately know “something” was rotten in Denmark. Perhaps, for example, they might know that, based on library records, this fellow was reading at the rate of 3 books/week, or abut 150 books a year. If so, then when Oswald was arrested as the “suspect” in the Kennedy assassination, shouldn’t Angleton’s reaction have been: “This can’t be. We know this guy! He’s a phony Communist and we’ve used him in our such-and -so operation(s).” In that case, why wasn’t Angleton immediately communicating with “higher authority” alerting them that there must be some serious misunderstanding, or worse, because the Dallas Police Department was focusing on the “wrong man” as the assassin?

    But we don’t get any of this “alternative behavior” from Angleton. Instead, he jumps into the “Oswald-did-it” drama, and at a fairly simple minded and simplistic level: the rifle, 3 shells, etc., instead of using the intelligence we have all heard that drives Angleton, and based on that, I would assume he would not (or should not) “accept Oswald at face value” (at all); but instead attempt to “walk the cat backwards” and see if he could understand the reality of what was unfolding in the opening hours and days after Oswlad’s arrest. But we see none of that. Instead, he behaves as if he’s a Henry Wade version of a CIA counter-intelligence official. So what happened to the oh-so-smart Jim Angleton? (Gee! Maybe he’s acting in bad faith, after all!).

    1. Mr. Lifton,

      I think the honest answer to Morley’s question would lead to other questions whose answers might reveal the alternative scenarios you raised.

  4. Jeff: I think you’ve framed the question too narrowly. As I understand it, you are asking (in effect): Did Angleton have information about Oswald which would have (or should have) alerted him to the possible threat that Oswald posed to the President’s safety–i.e., his life, etc. But that question is asked in the context of Oswald being “the assssin.” But there’s another way of looking at it, and another question that, if Angleton was as sharp as some maintain, perhaps ought to have been asked, and it was this: is this man Oswald someone who might be set up (i.e., utilized) as the fall guy in a future assassination attempt? In other words, the way your post words the question is “seeing Oswald” through the lens of his being a potential assassin. But if Angleton is as sharp as so many maintain he was, then wouldn’t he also be obliged to consider “other models” of conspiracy? And in that case, then why should he not be expected to ask: Is this man being set up for as a future fall guy in some plot? Angleton was not Capt. J. Will Fritz of the Dallas Police. He was not a simple minded dope. So. . . if he was (in fact) so smart, then why wasn’t he looking at Oswald (and his machinations) through this “alternative lens”–and ask: “Gee, I wonder if this fellow is being set-up for a future fall? And how might I look into this further, and see whether I can detect data to see whether his location is being “managed” so as to “cross paths” with Kennedy? Is that asking too much to ask from a man who was a poet, a Yale graduate, highly analytical, and a supposed genius? A man who was in charge of the Counter-Intelligence function at CIA? Are we supposed to believe that all he was capable of doing is asking: “Could Oswald be a homicidal maniac?” Why not: “Could Oswald be in the process of being set-up by certain third parties, in a plot against the President of the U.S.?”

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