Three days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA told his successor Lyndon Johnson a bit of news: the agency’s sources had just confirmed press reports that accused assassin Lee Oswald had visited the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City two months before.
Here’s what the President’s Intelligence Checklist (TPIC)– just released by the CIA and LBJ Library–reported on November 25, 1963.
It was revealing moment. Intentionally or not, the CIA was misleading the new U.S. president about what Agency personnel knew of the man accused of killing his predecessor.
Some people in the CIA knew much more than that about the accused assassin than the TPIC indicated
Released by the CIA with much fanfare, the November 25, 1963, TPIC informed the new president that CIA had only learned about Oswald’s contacts with the Cubans and Soviets in the days and hours after Kennedy’s death.
This was newsworthy. The Washington Times proclaimed the CIA had “confirmed” Oswald’s links to the Soviets and Cubans within days of the assassination. Politico included the November 25 briefing among “13 newly released presidential briefs you’ll want to read.”
What did they know and when did they know it?
The story needs historical context.
CIA records declassified in the 1990s show that a host of senior CIA operations officers had already learned — and conferred among themselves — about Oswald’s foreign contacts six weeks earlier, in early October 1963, when JFK was very much alive.
Here’s the proof: a top-secret four-page CIA cable about one Lee Harvey Oswald, dated October 10, 1963
What the CIA’s disclosure show, inadvertently I’m sure, is damning.
The CIA didn’t tell the LBJ that certain senior officers had known about Oswald’s actions in Mexico City almost as soon they occurred. If that fact had been shared with a shocked and grieving nation in late 1963, some senior CIA officers could have–and probably should have–lost their jobs.
That didn’t happen. The men and women of the CIA who knew about Oswald’s contacts with communist officials in Mexico City while JFK was alive ranked high in Langley.
Thomas Karamessines, assistant deputy director;
William J. Hood, the chief of CIA operations in the Western Hemisphere, and;
John Whitten, chief of the Mexico desk.
All three men reported to Richard Helms, the deputy director of operations.
Oswald’s visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies were also known in October 1963 to Jane Roman and Ann Egerter, senior aides to James Angleton, chief of the agency’s Counterintelligence Staff.
The November 25, 1963, presidential briefing represents one of the first signs of the CIA’s cover-up of information related to JFK’s assassination.
The continuing cover-up
The JFK cover-up continued in December 1963 when John Whitten, an honest and highly competent CIA officer, tried to investigate Oswald’s pre-assassination activities.
As I reported in the Washington Monthly in 2003, deputy director Helms and counterintelligence chief Angleton were hostile. Angleton attacked Whitten’s draft conclusions; Helms ordered Whitten to cease his Oswald investigation, and re-assigned him.
The CIA was not going to allow any investigation of what its undercover officers knew about Oswald in the summer of 1963 That was simply too sensitive a “national security” issue to be discussed in public.
In early1964, when Warren Commission investigators started to ask questions about what the CIA knew of Oswald in Mexico City, Angleton told an aide he wanted to “wait out the Commission,” rather than respond.
The cover-up continues 52 years later.
As first reported in JFK Facts in 2013, the agency retains more than 1,100 documents related to the death of the 35th president. These records will not be released until October 2017 at the earliest,, according to the National Archives.
What do we know now?
The CIA, it is fair to say, is seeking favorable attention by releasing secret records that CIA Director George Tenet once claimed could never be released for publication “no matter how old or historically significant it may be,”
So as the CIA touts its revelations online, the November 25, 1963, presidential briefing illuminates a dark truth about the history of the agency.
Within days of JFK’s assassination, senior CIA officials were concealing their knowledge of JFK’s accused assassin from their colleagues, from the American people, and from the new president.
In other words, the newest evidence shows hat the JFK assassination cover-up originated in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and Counterintelligence Staff.