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From the Secret JFK Files, Praise for a CIA Officer Who Monitored Oswald

The secret JFK assassinations files now under review at the White House include the records of senior CIA officers who knew about the supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before President Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963.

The Public Interest Declassification Board, which advises the president on historical issues, has urged President Biden to insure “maximum disclosure” in JFK files, set for release on October 26. Sabato’s Crystal Ball has examined the uneven enforcement of the JFK Records Act. WhoWhatWhy asks, “Will Biden Follow the Law?”

I want to share with readers, reporters, and Twitter, what is on the public record about these officers, individually and collectively. These files may shed light on the breakdown of presidential security in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

They are certainly relevant to the current White House review of JFK files. These officers were involved in the CIA’s monitoring of Oswald before Kennedy was killed. After Kennedy was dead, they lied about what they knew.

The first is Birch O’Neal, a CIA “mole hunter” who figures at the very beginning of the CIA-Oswald story.

Birch O'Neal
Artist’s sketch of Birch O’Neal, a senior  counterintelligence officer who opened the CIA’s first file on Lee Harvey Oswald in 1959.

Birch O’Neal was a former FBI man from Georgia who served as station chief in Guatemala in 1954 when a CIA coup overthrew the democratically elected government of President Jacobo Arbenz. He went on to work closely with counterintelligence chief James Angleton for many years, serving as chief of the Special Investigations Group (CI/SIG), a secretive office that pursued Angleton’s theory that the Soviet intelligence had a “mole” in the upper ranks of the CIA.

O’Neal was involved in the opening the CIA’s first file on Oswald when the ex-Marine defected to the Soviet Union in November 1959.

‘Sensitive Matters’

O’Neal’s personnel file, largely but not totally declassified in April 2018, disclosed the fact that his primary job responsibility in 1959 was directing “special investigations.” If O’Neal  investigated Oswald’s defection to the Soviet Union, or his subsequent return to Texas, or his alleged involvement in Kennedy’s assassination, no trace of it has ever surfaced.

O’Neal also coordinated “sensitive matters” between the CI Staff and the Office of Security, the Agency’s internal police force. The Office of Security opened the Agency’s first file on Oswald in November 1959.

On the day Kennedy was killed, O’Neal told the FBI that there was “nothing in the CIA file regarding Oswald other than material furnished to the CIA by the FBI and the State Department”–a statement that he almost certainly knew was untrue.

In fact, the CIA Counterintelligence (CI) Staff had recently received and sent multiple messages about Oswald’s visit to Mexico City, including this October 10, 1963 cable, which was signed by two of O’Neal’s colleagues in the CI Staff.

The CI Staff also ran the LINGUAL mail surveillance program which targeted Oswald from November 1959 to May 1960 and from August 1961 to May 1962. O’Neal later wrote a memo about the intercepted correspondence.

O’Neal was detailed from the CIA to the State Department in 1952, an assignment still shrouded in official secrecy 69 years later.

Upon his retirement in 1970, O’Neal received a letter of commendation from CIA director Richard Helms.

Will Biden declassify Birch O’Neal’s personnel file in its entirety? We’ll find out on October 26.

Birch O'Neal, molehunter
Excerpt from the personnel file of Birch O’Neal, senior counterintelligence officer who monitored Lee Harvey Oswald from 1959 to 1963.

Next: J. Walton Moore, the CIA’s man in Dallas.

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