WaPo asks: Why did CIA wiretap a reporter in the 1960s? Answer: Because of his JFK reporting

The Washington Post‘s Ian Shapira had a fascinating piece over the weekend about a son pursuing his father’s journalistic legacy.

Jim Scott, 64, a retired Navy public relations officer who lives in Maryland, wants to know why the CIA wiretapped his father, Paul Scott, a syndicated columnist and investigative reporter in Washington in the 1960s. Scott was half of “The Allen-Scott Report,” a popular syndicated column that ran in some 300 papers nationwide.

One reason why Scott was bugged by the CIA: his JFK reporting.

Scott and his partner Robert Allen, both deceased, were exemplars of Washington journalism in the 1960s. They were not as well known as another reporting duo, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, who plied the Georgetown social circuit where the Kennedy administration officials mingled and did business. Scott and Allen did not mingle with the social elite but cranked out informative reporting on the government bureaucracy. The CIA first started wiretapping Paul Scott in the spring of 1963, apparently because of his reporting on Soviet weapons in Cuba.

The files obtained by Jim Scott showed that his father was still the object of CIA concern in 1968. What Jim Scott didn’t know was his father also attracted CIA attention in March 1967 with a mini-bombshell published in the Northern Virginia Sun, a newspaper that no longer exists. A short item in the Allen-Scott column of March 9, 1967, stated:

“An affidavit at the National Archives documented that the State Department had received a cable from the CIA on Lee Oswald’s ‘current activities’ just six weeks before JFK was killed.” While the affidavit was declassified, they reported, “the CIA report is still marked secret.”

This short item gave top CIA officials a heart attack — literally.

In March 1967, the Warren Commission report was only three years old. Public skepticism about its conclusions was growing rapidly as books like Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment” and Harold Weisberg’s “Whitewash” climbed the best-seller lists. When it came to the CIA and Oswald, the American public only knew what the Warren Commision had reported: that in October 1963, the CIA notified the FBI that a man named Oswald had visited the Soviet Embassy and Cuban consulates in Mexico City in an unsuccessful effort to get a visa to travel to Cuba.

The Warren Commission was not shown the actual cable that was sent to the FBI and the State Department, which told a rather fuller story. In response to a query from the Mexico City station about Oswald, the CIA did more than simply tell the FBI that a man with that name had appeared in the Soviet and Cuban diplomatic offices. The CIA supplied the State Department with a detailed biography of Oswald and noted some of his recent activities.

Nor was the Warren Commission told that the CIA had sent another cable about Oswald on October 10 to the Mexico City station. That cable also detailed Oswald’s politics and travels while suggesting he was not the object of concern. That cable said that, in the State Department’s view, Oswald’s residence in the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1962 had had “a maturing effect” on him.

Six weeks later, JFK was shot dead in Dallas, allegedly by the maturing Oswald.

The Allen-Scott item posed a problem for the CIA’s leadership. Scott and Allen were bureaucratically savvy reporters who were calling attention to an internal CIA communication whose existence the agency preferred to deny. They even had a source who knew the document’s classification status, which meant they might have a source who could show them the cable itself.

In Mexico City, station chief Win Scott was worried. Scott and Allen’s syndicated column was published in the Mexico News, an English language paper. When the item about the Oswald cable appeared, its accuracy alarmed him. If the U.S. government confirmed the Scott-Allen story, he told CIA Director Richard Helms, it would be an admission that the U.S. government had eavesdropping capabilities in the Cuban and Soviet offices. It would compromise one of crown jewels of his operation in Mexico, a wiretapping program run with the help of senior Mexican officials called LIENVOY. He urged the agency not to declassify the cable.

How worried was Win Scott? Ten days later he was feeling chest pains. He checked himself into a Mexico City hospital. He had suffered a minor heart attack. (I tell the story in my biography of Scott, “Our Man in Mexico,” p. 242.)

In Langley, Helms had his own reasons for palpitations. He had only recently ascended to the director’s chair. He was worried about growing public skepticism about the Warren Commission’s conclusions that he felt impugned the CIA’s credibility. He was personally vulnerable. He certainly did not want it publicly known that three of his top deputies (Tom Karamessines, Bill Hood, and John Whitten) had signed off on a complacent assessment of Kennedy’s alleged killer. People were starting to wonder,  “Did the CIA track Oswald before JFK was killed?” The cable answered that question affirmatively and definitively. The conspiracy theorists would have a field day. Helms made sure the cable stayed classified.

Paul Scott’s scooplet was especially threatening in March 1967 because New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison had just started making headlines nationwide by announcing his intention to investigate an alleged JFK assassination conspiracy in New Orleans, which he said involved CIA operatives. Garrison might demand to see the Oswald cable with an eye toward discrediting the CIA and advancing his scattershot prosecution.

How worried was Helms? Three weeks later, he launched a secret campaign, “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report,” in which he ordered CIA officials worldwide to use their media contacts to discredit critics who argued JFK had been ambushed by his enemies in Dallas.

If the CIA listened in on Paul Scott’s phone line in 1967 as they did in 1963, they surely  wanted to find out his sources for the story on the Oswald cable. Scott continued to investigate issues related to the Kennedy assassination with a rare diligence in the Washington press corps, but he never broke the story of the Oswald cable. The Oswald cable(s) would not become public until 1998.

The Post story reports that the Scott family has had no luck in getting the CIA to explain its actions. No surprise there. The wiretapping of Paul Scott was a clear violation of the Agency’s charter, which bans operations on U.S. soil. The CIA is especially loathe to admit that it targeted a reporter who was investigating the CIA’s pre-assassination knowledge of Oswald.








5 thoughts on “WaPo asks: Why did CIA wiretap a reporter in the 1960s? Answer: Because of his JFK reporting”

  1. The identification form for the Countering Criticism of the Warren Report memo notes that it was sent out on 1/4/67. And yet the memo itself says 4/1/67. I suspect this was because it was written for distribution overseas, where they list the month first.

    I believe the January date is accurate. At that time the Johnson Administration was under heavy fire. Life Magazine, The New York Times, and I believe Esquire had either called for a new investigation, or published articles questioning the work of the Warren Commission.

  2. Here is early commentary and books on the JFK assassination. Note, the first one is a speech by Fidel Castro on 11/23/63 deducing he was about to be framed for the murder of JFK. Things were definitely heating up by 1967:

    Concerning the Facts and Consequences of the Tragic Death of President John F. Kennedy Fidel Castro 1963
    The Torch is Passed. The Associated Press Story of the Death of a President Associated Press 1963
    The Murder of the Young President Merriman Smith 1963
    Four Dark Days in History Collectors Copy A Photo History of President Kennedy’s Assassination JFK 1963
    The Strategy of Peace John Kennedy 1963
    I Was Castro’s Prisoner John Martino 1963
    Texas Supplemental Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Serious Wounding of Governor John B. Connally November 22, 1963 Waggoner Carr 1963
    JFK – The Man & the Myth Victor Lasky 1963
    Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective Richard E. Neustadt 1963
    Who Killed Kennedy? Four Dark Days in History: November 22, 23, 24, 25 1963; Who Killed Kennedy Jim Matthews & Jim Kennedy 1963
    The Gaps in the Warren Report Joachim Joesten 1964
    President Johnson (German) Joachim Joesten 1964
    Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy? Joachim Joesten 1964
    A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power J. Evetts Haley 1964
    Operations of Billie Sol Estes: A Report United States 1964
    Red Roses from Texas Nerin Gun 1964
    Who Killed Kennedy? Thomas Buchanan 1964
    Destiny in Dallas: on the Scene Story in Pictures and Assassin’s Assassin R. B. Denson 1964
    Guns of the Regressive Right or How to Kill a President Morris A. Bealle 1964
    Dallas Justice: The Real Story of Jack Ruby and His Trial Melvin Belli 1964
    That Special Grace Ben Bradlee 1964
    Death of a President: a Reprint on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy M. S. Arnoni 1964
    Assassination: The World Stood Still John Cottrell 1964
    Invisible Government: the CIA and US Intelligence David Wise & Thomas Ross 1964
    None Dare Call It Treason John A. Stormer 1964
    Dallas Public and Private: Aspects of an American City Warren Leslie 1964
    FOUR DAYS: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy, compiled by United Press International and American Heritage Magazine Bruce (Ed) Catton 1964
    November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three Wendell Berry and Ben Shahn 1964
    The Two Assassins Renatus Hartog and Lucy Freeman 1964
    Kennedy Without Tears: The Man Beneath the Myth Tom Wicker 1964
    A Day in the Life of President Kennedy Jim Bishop 1964
    Who Killed Kennedy? Jim Matthews 1964
    Highlights of the Warren Report. The Facts and Findings Surrounding the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Who Killed Kennedy? Jim Matthews & Marc Davis 1964
    The Warren Report: The Official Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy LBJ/Hoover/CIA/ & Seven Con Men 1964
    Oswald Case: Mark Lane’s Testimoney to the Warren Commission – Audio CD Mark Lane 1964
    My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy Evelyn Lincoln 1965
    Oswald: A Self Portrait In Red [recording] INCA 1965
    Oswald Kerry Thornley 1965
    Portrait of the Assassin Gerald Ford and John Stiles 1965
    Coup D’Etat in America: the CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Alan J. Weberman & Michael Canfield 1965
    Whitewash: The Report on the Warren Report Harold Weisberg 1965
    Ready for the Plaintiff! Melvin Belli 1965
    Kennedy and the Press Harold Chase & Allen Lerman 1965
    Mission with Lemay: My Story Curtis LeMay & MacKinlay Kantor 1965
    A Mother in History Jean Stafford 1966
    Rush to Judgement Mark Lane 1966
    All American Louse: A Candid Biography of Drew A. Pearson Morris A. Bealle 1966
    Forgive My Grief (Volume 1) Penn Jones 1966
    The Second Oswald: a Startling Alternative to the Single Assassin Theory Richard Popkin 1966
    The Oswald Affair: An Examination of the Contradictions and Ommissions of the Warren Report Leo Sauvage 1966
    The Bastard Bullet: A search for Legitimacy for Commission Exhibit 399 Raymond Marcus 1966
    There Was a President National Broadcasting 1966
    Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth Edward Jay Epstein 1966
    The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson in the assassination of President Kennedy Joachim Joesten 1967
    Marina Oswald Joachim Joesten 1967
    Oswald: The Truth Joachim Joesten 1967
    The Garrison Enquiry: Truth & Consequences Joachim Joesten 1967
    Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother Robert Oswald, Myrick Land, Barbara Land 1967
    Plot or Politics Rosemary James and Jack Wardlaw 1967
    The Assassination of President Kennedy Michael Rand, Howard Loxton, Len Deighton 1967
    Six Seconds in Dallas Josiah Thompson 1967
    Forgive My Grief (Volume 2) Penn Jones 1967
    The Evidence Maggie Field 1967
    MacBird Barbara Garson 1967
    This Awesome Challenge: The Hundred Days of Lyndon Johnson Michael Amrine 1967
    The Death of a President William Manchester 1967
    Jackie, Bobby & Manchester: The Story Behind the Headlines! Arnold Bennett 1967
    The Manchester Affair John Corry 1967
    To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy Roger Hilsman 1967
    The Bane in Kennedy’s Existence Bernard M. Bane 1967
    Alpaca Revisited H.L. Hunt 1967
    Was Oswald Alone? Gil and Ann Chapman 1967
    Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace Leonard C. Lewin 1967
    Film Comment:John F. Kennedy:Two Controversial Films Film Comment 1967
    The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report Lawrence Schiller & Richard Warren Lewis 1967
    The Truth About the Assassination Charles Roberts (Pierre Salinger Foreward) 1967
    The Controversy: the Death, the Warren Report (vinyl record) Lawrence Schiller 1967

  3. “In Langley, Helms had his own reasons for palpitations. He had only recently ascended to the director’s chair.”

    Deke DeLoach, who is still alive today, played the pivotal role in the selection of Richard Helms as the Director of the CIA. Basically, DeLoach vetted Richard Helms over 2 lunch meetings at the request of Lyndon Johnson.

    This shows of the lines of hierarchy here. LBJ using FBI to vet CIA.

  4. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

    You refer to Garrison’s “scattershot prosecution.”

    Given the profound level of CIA preparation for the Garrison case — more than a year before the trial began,according to Jim DiEugenio’s completely rewritten Destiny Betrayed, 2nd edition– and also given the agency’s multi-valved penetration of Garrison’s office, I wonder if “scattered shot” might be more descriptive.

    Here is just one example in a gross of broken statutes. https://www.facebook.com/notes/nathaniel-heidenheimer/there-was-a-james-phelan-house-in-nola-how-the-cia-created-a-media-hub-for-the-g/217656561707337

  5. This feels like a very specifically directed operation. Should we consider this as just one case among the many associated with CHAOS?

    Do we have any way to determine if Angleton’s CHAOS was in any way connected to FBI’s COINTELPRO? We now know that joint-agency operations were occasionally operational.

    Thank you.

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