A faithful reader sends a timely reminder: Birch O’Neal, the CIA’s unknown Oswald expert, dissembled to an FBI agent within hours of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I wrote about O’Neal yesterday. A career CIA counterintelligence officer who died in 1995, O’Neal is perhaps the most interesting new character to emerge from the tens of thousands of JFK assassination files released since last October.
His previously unknown saga sheds new light on a JFK secret the CIA and defenders of the Warren Commission still deny: the agency’s pre-assassination surveillance of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Birch Dilworth O’Neal, a Georgia native and former FBI agent, was a long-time lieutenant of the CIA’s legendary counterintelligence chief James Angleton. Largely unknown to journalists and historians, O’Neal played a seminal role in the monitoring of Oswald.
According to declassified portions of his personnel file made public for the first time late last year, O’Neal served in 1963 as chief of a secretive office called the Special Investigations Group or SIG,
Angleton, a brilliant and sinister character, relied on O’Neal and the SIG staff to hunt for suspected moles in Langley. O’Neal’s deputy, Betty Egerter, described the SIG as “the office that spied on spies.”
O’Neal, in short, occupied a very sensitive position in the CIA.
[Here is O’Neal’s Washington Post obituary].
On November 22, 1963 President Kennedy died in a hail of gunfire as his motorcade passed through downtown Dallas. Within two hours of the shocking news came reports that a man named Oswald had been arrested.
An agent from the FBI’s Washington Field Office proceeded to interview “Birch D. O’Neal of the CIA” for the purpose of obtaining “any information” in the CIA files on Oswald.
According to the agent’s report, he “learned there is nothing in CIA file [sic] regarding Oswald other than material furnished to CIA by the FBI and the Department of State.”
The FBI passed O’Neal’s statement to the Warren Commission, which accepted it statement at face value. The final report of the commission, issued in September 1964, makes no mention of the fact that senior CIA officers–including O’Neal–collected intelligence on Oswald from 1959 to 1963.
Oswald, a political leftist, denied shooting Kennedy. He claimed he was “a patsy,” implying other people were involved in the assassination of JFK. Before Oswald could explain, he was killed while in custody of the reactionary and racist Dallas Police Department.
Conspiracy theories have flourished ever since, while O’Neal’s story, has remained a state secret–until late last year.
In fact, O’Neal’s statements to the FBI agent on the day JFK was killed was conspicuously untrue.
As O’Neal knew, Angleton’s staff and the agency’s Mexico City station, had exchanged a series of cables about Oswald when he visited Mexico City just six weeks before. His aide Betty Egerter helped draft one of those cables on October 10 1963.
O’Neal also knew that the agency had intercepted and read Oswald’s mail under a covert CIA program codenamed HTLINGUAL. He had even read some of the letters, which were held in Oswald’s file.
O’Neal, in short, sought to obscure what he and his boss, Angleton, knew about Oswald before November 22, 1963.
What It Means
The story is not so much significant for what was withheld from the FBI because much of the CIA reporting on Oswald was later made available to the Bureau.
The significance of the story is that O’Neal felt the need to dissemble when first asked about the CIA’s pre-assassination knowledge of Oswald.
The reader notes;
Whatever O’Neal’s exact statement about the CIA file was, it seems clear that the CIA did not want to immediately reveal to the FBI the full extent of their coverage of Oswald and the serious problems raised (e.g. by the [CIA’s] photographs of a visitor to the Russian Embassy [who identified himself as Oswald].
Not coincidentally, the CIA in 2018 still seeks to obscure what it knew about Oswald before JFK was killed.
Conspiracy theorists can speculate about what the agency might be hiding 55 years after JFK’s death. There is no denying that it is hiding a lot.
Of 224 pages in the Birch O’Neal file released late last year, 179 pages contain redactions and three are completely secret.
If President Trump is serious about his tweet promised all the government’s JFK files to the American people, he will release the complete Birch O’Neal file by April 28, 2018,