How Henry Wade, DA of Dallas, ran afoul of the FBI and CIA

Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade on Oswald as an FBI informant.

As part of the paper’s 50th anniversary JFK coverage, Scott K. Parks of the Dallas News recounts a story that roiled the national press in early 1964: the rumor that accused assassin Lee Oswald was a paid FBI informant. Using declassified FBI documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Parks sheds new light on how an independent Texas law man shook up official Washington.

In Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade believed the story that Oswald was an FBI informant and he persisted in talking about it, which worried U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, chairman of the commission investigating the assassination. It also worried the commission’s general counsel J. Lee Rankin.

“They did not want to be seen as conducting an investigation of Hoover’s FBI,” the story notes.

The rumor that Oswald was a U.S. government informant was not just threatening to the FBI. It was also threatening to the CIA. The FBI was responsible for watching Oswald, a former defector to the Soviet Union, in 1963 but the CIA had been monitoring his travels and contacts since 1959. The rumor especially concerned those CIA officers–including top deputies to Richard Helms and James Angleton–who knew even more about Oswald than the FBI on the eve of Kennedy’s assassination..

In a meeting with Warren and Rankin in January 1964, Wade did not mince words about how U.S. government agents would have handled an informant like Oswald: without a paper trail.

From the Dallas News story:
“Wade went on to tell Rankin and Warren that when he was an undercover FBI agent in South America during World War II, he didn’t have to keep receipts or identify his paid informants.”

“The implication was clear: FBI headquarters — meaning J. Edgar Hoover — might not even know if Oswald had been a bureau informant, because field agents might not have shared that information with their Washington superiors.”

Hoover ordered an investigation of Wade and found that Wade had kept paper records of his informants. Wade was forced to change his story. The FBI director had protected the bureau’s reputation. But Wade never back off his point: somebody could have been handling Oswald.

Wade’s words stirred concern in Washington because he was treading close to some of the U.S. government’s most sensitive national security operations. As scholars David Kaiser and John Newman documented, the FBI and the CIA and made sure that their operations in late 1963 targeting the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, of which Oswald purported to be a member, were not disclosed to Warren Commission. The reason: “national security.”

Yet these “national security” operations were at the heart of the intelligence failure that culminated in JFK’s death. In the last three months of JFK’s life, while senior FBI and the CIA officials were targettng the FPCC for penetration, disruption and destruction, some of these same officials were informed as Oswald publicly promoted the FPCC, an organization officially classified as “subversive” by the U.S. government.

These same officials were notified when Oswald was arrested for fighting with CIA-sponsored Cubans in New Orleans. Then Oswald went to Mexico City where he met with Cuban and Russian diplomats. These conversations were recorded by the CIA and reviewed by senior undercover officers–who kept their FBI colleagues in the dark about Oswald. Then Oswald moved to Dallas with his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.

The response of the CIA and FBI? On October 10, 1963, they removed Oswald’s name from the FBI’s “alert” list of persons of interest to the FBI headquarters. They reduced Oswald’s security profile as he made his way to Dealey Plaza.

Why such hands-off treatment for a known leftist whose biography and travels were well-known to senior CIA operations officers? (Those in the know about Oswald included assistant deputy director Tom Karamessines, chief of Western Hemisphere operations William J. Hood, Mexico desk chief John Whitten and counterintelligence liaison officer Jane Roman.

One possible explanation is that these officials thought of Oswald as an asset, a person who could provide information and/or be manipulated. In a word, Oswald may have been what Henry Wade said he was.

There’s no piece of paper that says that, say defenders of the FBI and CIA.

Henry Wade’s voice of experience was a useful corrective to such willful naivete. The people who ran agents didn’t have to keep receipts or even identify their paid informants to superiors, Wade said. At a time when the extent fo the CIA’s pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald was a supreme “national security” secret, Wade’s candor endangered the FBI and the CIA’s “plausible deniability” on Oswald.

One online biography of Wade states that in 1964, “Wade produced a screenplay on the assassination entitled Countdown in Dallas. The script suggested that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby were involved in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. The film was never made.”

Wade stayed on as D.A. in Dallas for another decade, gaining a measure of fame for his role in the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade. 

It would be thirty years before the full extent of the CIA and FBI’s pre-assassination surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald would be revealed to the American people.

Kim Wade, a Dallas attorney and Henry Wade’s son, reviewed his father’s FBI file at the request of the Dallas News. Afterward, he said: “If my dad were alive and looking back on this incident, I think he would be wryly amused. He may have adjusted his story to maintain good relations with the FBI. But the big picture is that the FBI wanted it to appear that it had nothing to do with Oswald.”




8 thoughts on “How Henry Wade, DA of Dallas, ran afoul of the FBI and CIA”

  1. George Simmons

    I remember seeing a documentary which stated that transcripts show that after Wade’s testimony to the Warren Commission, some members of the Commission discussed the possibility of Investigating the FBI for possible links with Oswald. Apparently, it was Allen Dulles who persuaded them that this would not be worthwhile as none of the FBI agents would talk due to secrecy oaths.

    The Dallas news article above mentions the moment when Oswald was arrested in New Orleans after a scuffle when he was handing out Pro Castro literature, but does not mention the people he was scuffling with were part of a group funded by, and monitored by the CIA, as the George Joannides affair shows. I find that quite bizarre.

  2. On the morning of Hoover’s death there were instructions to destroy his d files ( d for destruction). It is believed that his most sensitive files, tapes and photos went up in smoke or in the shredder. Or both. It was also believed that these most sensitive files were being systematically destroyed by Helen Gandy up to a year before Hoover’s death, according to Curt Gentry’s book ‘J Edgar Hoover: The Man and his Secrets’ as well as an anonymous FBI source per the New York Times. Mark Felt received 12 boxes of files while L Patrick Grey reviewed some of the office files the day after Hoover’s death. Neighbor’s of Hoover claimed they saw James Jesus Angleton removing boxes from Hoover’s home. The destruction of files in Hoover’s home were overseen by John P Mohr the #3 @ FBI who claimed that Angleton was removing cases of spoiled wine.

  3. Shane McBryde

    This to me seems to fit rather well into the framework described by Col. L. Fletcher Prouty when he talked about how all that was needed to effect the elimination of a leader was to simply relax the security around said leader. In other words there is always one or more nuts out there more than ready to take a shot at bumping off a head of state; the only thing that prevents the would be assassin from archieving success is the high level of state security. Relax the security and that “nut,” lone or otherwise has a much greater chance of being successful.

    History is replete with such examples. To wit: John Wilkes Booth who found a totally unprotected Lincoln or Gavrilo Princip who operated with the blessing of the Serbian secret service and thus was allowed a free shot at the archduke.

    1. I agree with you Shane. Even a “lone nut” scenario does not rule out a conspiracy which is why it’s overly simplistic to reduce the debate to lone nut vs conspiracy, black and white points of view.

  4. I accidentally pressed the ‘post’ button before I was finished & had a chance to proof read it (I sincerely apologize for this). I meant to finish with:

    Producing post assassination documentation that Lee Oswald was being monitored (real or CYA) sends a message that Oswald did not ‘belong’ to that agency (regardless if true or not). If it was suspected that Oswald was a soda pop agent every soda bottler in the US would produce documentation that they were watching him just in case someone pointed the finger at any of them. See what I’m saying.

    Jesse Curry made no bones about the FBI knowing about Oswald & not informing the DPD; he said that on live TV the assassination weekend. It’s been said Curry pointing the finger at the FBI is what got Hoover to take over the investigation. Too bad Hoover didn’t take Oswald into Federal custody for suspected terrorism against the US or something along those lines.

    It took tremendous courage or stupidly (or both) to lock horns with Hoover in his reign because he had files & surveillance tapes on a multitude of people, prominent or poor. Where all this material is today has not been disclosed. he is said to have a lot of JFK & RFK’s extramarital flings on tape. Where are the tapes? I’ve read it said many times Hoover was the US version of Himmler.

    Evidently both Wade & Curry both survived Hoover’s potential wrath for saying what they said linking Lee Oswald to the FBI. Neither turned up dead shortly after the assassination. Hosty was the FBI man monitoring Oswald & he claimed he was unaware Oswald worked at the TSBD although he did know where Oswald’s wife lived. I’ve read that Postal Inspector Holmes was involved in diverting Oswald’s mail to FBI mail snoops. The question that hangs in a lot of folks’ mind is was Oswald ‘one of the boys’ for the FBI, CIA, Naval Intel, etc.?

  5. In response to this tidbit of information, one of many discrepancies in the JFK assassination I might add, the best that the Lone Nutter Buffs can come up with is that dropping Oswald from surveillance about a month before the assassination was “an accident.” The fact that there is no piece of paper that says that Oswald was an “asset” doesn’t prove much. Papers in those days prior to electronic records and multiple data sets could be destroyed with more ease that today. Today you have so much electronic back up in the way of files that you can’t be so sure that you haven’t destroyed everything. Let’s just say that it’s a lot more difficult, as NSA researcher and reknowned writer James Bamford has said. The entire record of Oswald’s easy defection into the Soviet Union, and especially his return to the USA, raises a huge set of questions about whether he was part of an intelligence gathering operation that to deny this is to in effect stick your head in the sand. Common sense asks that one dig deeper and demand all of the CIA files be released, to see if there’s anything more to Lee Harvey Oswald that the Agency isn’t allowing to see the light of day. As taxpayers who pay to keep CIA going, we the people should demand that we get all of the answers not already shredded or burned. This isn’t the Soviet Union. It’s our democratic republic, the USA, and it belongs to us.

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