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THE JFK CASE: THE TWELVE WHO BUILT THE OSWALD LEGEND (Part 3: Counterintelligence goes molehunting with Oswald's file)

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Third in the series. This chapter focuses on how Lee Harvey Oswald threatened to reveal military secrets to the Soviets about the U-2, and how US counterintelligence used his file as a "marked card" to capture supposed Communist spies who were trying to infiltrate the CIA.

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Oswald threatened to reveal military secrets to the Soviets

The Warren Commission wrote many pages on Lee Harvey Oswald's visit to the American embassy in Moscow shortly after his defection to the USSR. However, the Warren Report says nothing about the U-2, much less about Oswald's work for the U-2 project as an aviation electronics operator.

The Commissioners were informed by CIA deputy director Richard Helms that Oswald only worked near the U-2 hangar in Japan, tap-danced around Oswald's access to the U-2 in the Philippines, and concluded that Oswald had no "information regarding the U-2 or its mission."

The Warren Report does mention that Oswald told legend maker #4 consul Richard Snyder that he had "already offered to tell a Soviet official what he had learned as a radar operator in the Marines" (p. 693). However, the Commission concluded that since neither the FBI or the Navy prosecuted Oswald, the State Department had no basis to conclude that Oswald's statement was "anything more than rash talk". (p. 775)

The CIA knew about Oswald's treasonous offer. In a memo written shortly after JFK's death,
CIA officer John Whitten states that a list of "American defectors to the USSR list" was put together in November 1960. "From then on, we received a number of FBI and State Department reports on Oswald, detailing "his defiant threat to reveal to the Soviets all he knew about Navy radar installations in the Pacific."

Whitten makes it sound like the CIA heard about these threats after the U-2 went down on May 1, 1960. In fact, Snyder's report and Navy reports in early November 1959 describe Oswald's threat to provide radar secrets to the Soviets, and the CIA had copies of these reports in their files right after Oswald left the American embassy on October 31.

The CIA's position was that "Since Oswald was a former Marine and a U.S. citizen, his defection was of primary interest to the State Department, the FBI, and the Navy Department. CIA does not investigate U.S. citizens abroad unless we are specifically requested to do so by some other Government security agency. No such request was made in this case."

One CIA officer, however, shows extraordinary interest in Oswald.
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This CIA officer is Ann Egerter, an analyst at the small, super-secret Counterintelligence Special Investigations Group (CI/SIG). Egerter called CI/SIG "the office that spied on spies". Her boss, legend maker #1 CI chief James Angleton, admitted that one of CI/SIG's purposes was to monitor defectors.

An FBI officer is also playing close attention - Marvin Gheesling, a supervisor at FBI Headquarters.

Oswald and the Moles

The October 31 and November 2 memos prepared by Snyder and his colleague Ed Freers about Oswald's defection are used by Ann Egerter, legend maker #5, to fill Oswald's file with items of false information known as "marked cards". "Marked cards" are designed to capture a mole who spreads the information to unauthorized individuals.


The "marked card" technique has been around for a long time. Peter Wright in Spycatcher refers to this method as a "barium meal". Tom Clancy in Patriot Games calls this trick a "canary trap". Author Peter Dale Scott mentions that the "marked card" was one of the methods used to try to catch the infamous CIA mole Aldrich Ames during the 1990s. The marked card didn't work because Ames himself was the chief of the CIA's Soviet Russia counterintelligence staff.
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Freers and Snyder mentioned in their initial October 31 note about Oswald's visit that Oswald's mother's last address was at 4936 "Collinwood St.". Not only had Mrs. Oswald not lived on Collingwood since May 1957, but her address on September 4, 1959 was 3124 West Fifth Street, the very address Oswald had used on his passport application.

Keep in mind that when Snyder prepared his reports, he was a trained observer and reporter of minutiae that the average person would not notice. This "Collinwood St." entry was just one of several misspellings and errors that were purposeful and not accidental. This deliberate error was a "marked card" to see if a mole leaked this information elsewhere.

Two days later, the November 2 dispatch prepared by Freers and Snyder adds three more marked cards to the deck. One was that Oswald was "discharged" from the service. Another was that Oswald's highest grade was corporal. The third was that Oswald applied for his passport in San Francisco.

Peter Dale Scott, the author of the highly revealing essay "Oswald and the Search for Popov's Mole", carefully examined each of these marked cards. Oswald was not discharged, but received a dependency release and placed in the reserves with duties to perform until 1962. Oswald's highest grade was not corporal, but private first class. Finally, Oswald's passport states that it was issued in Los Angeles, not in San Francisco.
Lee Harvey Oswald's 1959 passport by none


Scott focuses on the importance of these anomalies that fill Oswald's CIA file, stating that they are evidence of "a significant, sophisticated multi-agency counterintelligence operation." Scott advances the thesis that "Oswald himself was a low-level part of a CI search for a leak or mole", and that Oswald's unexplained talk of espionage right in front of the KGB microphones (the KGB had the US embassy thoroughly bugged) is a very poor way to convince the KGB of his bona fides but "makes perfect sense as a test for leaks in response to Popov's arrest fifteen days earlier".

The American and Soviet embassies have long and famous histories for placing bugs in each other's embassies, tapping each other's phones, and reading each other's mail. The KGB confirmed in 1959 that Freers was not CIA, and that the KGB maintained a microphone in Freers' office.

In "Popov's Mole", Scott points out that the errors detailed above, and others that we will soon discuss, was repeatedly circulated in the documentary history of Oswald's files by Jim Angleton's colleague Ann Egerter and other CI/SIG officials. By embedding these false statements within Oswald's file, and tracking who had access to the file information, Egerter could determine if this information had surfaced elsewhere, and that would be evidence of unauthorized access.

Angleton told the Church Committee that the role of CI/SIG was to prevent the penetration of spies into the CIA and the government, and that the "historical penetration cases are recruitment of U.S. officials in positions (of) code clerks." Angleton's search for a mole turned the CIA upside down by the time he was fired in 1974. Dozens of CIA officers were fired. By 1980, Congress was forced to pass a "Mole Relief Act" to compensate the unfairly accused victims.

Egerter used Oswald himself in what is called a "dangle". Angleton's biographer Tom Mangold wrote that the execution of Popov accelerated Angleton's belief that "Popov could only have been betrayed by a mole buried deep within Soviet Division.". Mangold found Angleton misguided, stating that "Popov was actually lost to the Soviets because of a slipshod CIA operation; there was no treachery." David Robarge, in a very thoughtful piece that should be read in its entirety, agrees that Popov's capture marked the time when Angleton became "fixed on the mole". Oswald's arrival was on the same date as Popov's arrest.

Nonetheless, if Angleton was convinced that there was a mole in the Soviet Division, it's a good bet that he believed that radar operator Oswald's sudden entry into the Soviet Union on the same day was no accident.

What is curious is that Egerter opened no 201 file for Oswald at this point. A 201 file is a CIA file that is created to profile any person "of active operational interest". For whatever reason, she did not want to admit that the CIA had any operational interest in Oswald.

The FBI had operational interest in Oswald, and let everybody know it. Headquarters supervisor Marvin Gheesling is described as having "considerable experience in espionage, intelligence and counterintelligence operations." Gheesling, legend maker #6, promptly opened a "watch list" file on Oswald within a week of his visit to the Embassy in late 1959 by creating what is called a FLASH card. As John Newman muses, "This combination of being on the Watch List without a 201 file makes Oswald special. Perhaps not unique, but certainly peculiar. It was as if someone wanted Oswald watched quietly."

At the same time, Oswald was added to the HT LINGUAL list, Angleton was effectively in charge of HT LINGUAL, a joint project of the CIA, FBI and US Postal Service in which Angleton was the titular head. Oswald was now one of the 300 Americans whose letters would be secretly opened as part of HT LINGUAL project monitoring mail coming from the USSR.

A quick glance at what happened three years later: Gheesling's role turned ominous when he took Oswald off the watch list in the month before the assassination. Gheesling's action took place just hours before Egerter helped write two separate messages that provided two different descriptions of Oswald. One message sent to third party agencies referred to him specifically as "Lee Henry Oswald", with an inaccurate physical description, apparently designed to mislead the national leadership of these agencies. The in-house message provided a more accurate description of Oswald - as we'll see later, still containing subtle mistakes - going only to the local agencies. These are further indications of the molehunt.

Gheesling's decision to take Oswald off the watch list effectively dimmed the lights around Oswald. It meant that Oswald would not be watched in Dallas with close scrutiny in situations involving national security, such as when JFK came to town in a motorcade. If Gheesling had waited another day, Oswald would have been in the spotlight. Dallas agents would have been on him like white on rice.

After Egerter passes Oswald's marked cards to FBI's John Fain, Fain joins the molehunt

Going back to 1960...the marked cards begin to multiply a few months later. In February 1960, Oswald's mother is worrying about him. Marguerite told the Secret Service that SA John Fain recommends that she write Secretary of State Christian Herter and Congressmen Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright. Curiously, the FBI has no public paper trail of meeting with Fain at this early date. FBI files in 1959-60 and Oswald's Marine records remain classified and should be released.

Mrs. Oswald then sends one letter to Congressman Wright telling him that "according to the UPI Moscow press, he appeared at the US embassy renouncing his citizenship". The next day, she wrote Secretary Herter a letter saying that Oswald had not renounced his citizenship and "is still a U.S. citizen".

Why Mrs. Oswald would say two different things in two different letters one day apart is a longer discussion. Nonetheless, these two totally contradictory documents are a central part of this case. The inaccurate statement that Oswald had "renounced his citizenship" was central to SA Fain's report of May 12, 1960. This report also had the marked card of "Edward Lee Oswald" for the name of Oswald's deceased father, rather than his correct name of Robert Edward Lee Oswald.

Fain's inaccurate report about renunciation was the direct cause of Oswald's dishonorable discharge by the Marines on August 17, 1960. Oswald wrote the Secretary of the Navy trying to get this dishonorable discharge changed, not realizing that John Connally had resigned as navy secretary to run for Governor of Texas in 1962. Connally wrote back and said that he had forwarded Oswald's letter to the new secretary. John Fain is legend maker #7.

At a minimum, Ann Egerter's use of the Lee Oswald's file enabled CI to engage in some very clever molehunting, particularly when she decided to name his 201 file "Lee Henry Oswald". She claimed years later that "Henry" wasn't in her handwriting. Take a look for yourself. The name of the file itself was a "marked card". If anyone else referred to Lee Henry Oswald, a bright trail would be left behind.
Egerter's form includes the terms "defected to the USSR" and "radar operator", but says nothing about Oswald's threat to pass "classified things" to the Soviets.

Next week, the series will continue with Part 4: When the U-2 Goes Down, Oswald is Ready to Return

Endnotes:

The Commissioners were informed by CIA deputy director Richard Helms... Richard Helms memo to Director, FBI; Warren Commission Document 931, 5/13/64.

The Warren Report does mention that Oswald told legend maker #4 consul Richard Snyder
that he had "already offered to tell a Soviet official what he had learned as a radar operator in the Marines". Warren Report, p. 693.

However, the Commission concluded that since neither the FBI or the Navy prosecuted Oswald, the State Department had no basis to conclude that Oswald's statement was "anything more than rash talk".
Warren Report, p. 775.

CIA officer John Whitten states in a memo written shortly after JFK's death that after an American defectors to the USSR list was put together in November 1960 "from then on, we received a number of FBI and State Department reports on Oswald, detailing"his defiant threat to reveal to the Soviets all he knew about Navy radar installations in the Pacific."
memo by CIA officer John Whitten, "CIA Work on Lee Oswald and the Assassination of President Kennedy", p. 3, 12/20/63, Oswald 201 File, Vol 10B, NARA Record Number: 1993.06.14.15:56:02:000000

Angleton's search for a mole turned the CIA upside down by the time he was fired in 1974:
See generally David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, (Guilford, CT, Lyons Press: revised edition, 2003).

Angleton admitted that one of CI/SIG's purposes was to monitor defectors:
HSCA Security Classified Testimony, Angleton deposition, 10/5/78, p. 150.

The October 31 and November 2 memos of Snyder and Freers are used by Ann Egerter, Legend maker #5, to fill Oswald's file with items of false information known as "marked cards":
Ed Freers memo to State Dept., 10/31/59; Warren Commission Exhibit 908, Snyder's report to State Department of 11/2/59, p. 2 (see fourth paragraph)

Author Peter Dale Scott mentions that the "marked card" was one of the methods used to catch the infamous CIA mole Aldrich Ames during the 1990s. The marked card trick didn't work because Ames himself was the chief of the Soviet Russia counterintelligence staff: Peter Dale Scott, "The Hunt for Popov's Mole", Fourth Decade, March 1996, p. 4.

Oswald's mother had not lived on Collinwood since May 1957:
"Collingwood since May 1957", see Warren Commission Exhibit 822, SA John Fain's report of 7/3/61, p. 2. Also see Peter Dale Scott, The Hunt for Popov's Mole, p. 6.

The passport application: See Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 22, p. 77:

Freers' dispatch states that Oswald was "discharged" from the service, that the highest grade achieved was that of a corporal, and that he applied for his passport in San Francisco: Warren Commission Exhibit 908, Vol. 18, p. 97, Foreign Service dispatch from the American Embassy in Moscow to the Department of State, 11/2/59. Freers signs document, Snyder signs first page as the reporter:

Oswald received a "dependency release", with obligated service up until 1962, not a discharge. See Warren Commission Document 1, 12/6/63, p. 23,

Oswald was not discharged, but released from active duty: Warren Commission Document 1114, Navy message 22257, From: CNO To: ALUSNA, Moscow, 11/4/59.

His highest grade was not corporal, but private first class: Warren Report 687, 688; Warren Commission Exhibit 3099, Certificate of True Copies of Original Pay Records from 10/24/96 to 9/11/59 for PFC Oswald, dated 9/15/64, prepared by Major E.J. Rowe.

Also see: Warren Commission Document 1114, Navy message 22257, From: CNO To: ALUSNA, Moscow, 11/4/59.

The passport, which was not only examined by Snyder but retained by him:

Oswald had given his passport to Snyder at the Embassy when he said he wanted to renounce his American citizenship: Testimony of Richard Snyder, Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 5, p. 269.

The passport indicates clearly that it was issued not in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles: Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 18, p. 162, Warren Commission Exhibit 946, passport of Lee Harvey Oswald, issued September 10, 1959.

The KGB confirmed in 1959 that Freers was not CIA, and that the KGB had a microphone in his office: Diplomatic List, Moscow, 1 January 1959 (information obtained from defector Yuri Nosenko), HSCA Segregated CIA Collection, Box 14/NARA Record Number: 104-10070-10150

Historical penetration cases are recruitment of U.S. officials in positions code clerks:Deposition of James Angleton, 9/17/75, Church Committee, p. 17.

Angleton's search for a mole is well-known for having turned the CIA upside down by the time he was fired in 1974:
See generally David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, (Guilford, CT, Lyons Press: revised edition, 2003).

By the time Angleton was fired in the midst of the Watergate era, he was accused of being a Soviet mole himself. By 1980, Congress was forced to pass a bill to compensate the unfairly accused officers in what became known as the Mole Relief Act: David Wise, Molehunt, Chapter 18

Popov was actually lost due to a slipshod CIA operation there was no treachery. John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 87-88

David Robarge, in a very thoughtful piece that should be read in its entirety, agrees that Popov's capture marked the time when Angleton became "fixed on the mole": David Robarge, Moles, Defectors and Deceptions: James Angleton and CIA Counterintelligence, p. 36.

A 201 file is a CIA file on any person "of active operational interest": Clandestine Services Handbook, 43-1-1, February 15, 1960, Chapter III, Annex B, "Personalities - 201 and IDN Numbers", RIF# 104-10213-10202. Cited by John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995) at p. 47 and 537, note 2.

Headquarters supervisor Marvin Gheesling is described as having "considerable experience in espionage, intelligence and counterintelligence operations": HSCA Report, Volume XII, p. 566.

"This combination of being on the Watch List without a 201 file makes Oswald special. Perhaps not unique, but certainly peculiar. It was as if someone wanted Oswald watched quietly." John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 422.

At the same time, Oswald was added to the HT LINGUAL list": John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 56.

Egerter helped prepare two totally conflicting documents. One was a teletype to third party agencies such as the FBI, State Department and the Navy inaccurately describing Oswald as "approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with receding hairline...believed that Oswald was identical to Lee Henry Oswald": CIA teletype 74673 to FBI, State Department, and Navy, October 10, 1963; NARA, JFK files, CIA 201 file on Oswald.

The in-house version with the more accurate description went only to the local agencies:
CIA headquarters teletype 74830 to Mexico City CIA station, p. 3, October 10, 1963; NARA Record Number: 104-10015-10048

SA John Fain recommends that she write Secretary of State Christian Herter and Congressmen Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright: "Popov's Mole", p. 8: 16 Warren Commission Hearings, p. 729.

Mrs. Oswald then sends one letter to Congressman Rayburn telling him that "according to the UPI Moscow press, he appeared at the US embassy renouncing his citizenship": Marguerite Oswald letter to Congressman Jim Wright, 3/6/60, Warren Commission Document 1115, p. 51

The next day, she wrote Secretary Herter a letter saying that Oswald had not renounced his citizenship: "All I know is what I read in the newspapers. He went to the U.S. Ambassy (sic) there and wanted to turn in his U.S. citizenship and had applied for Soviet citizenship. However the Russians refused his request but said he could remain in their country as a Resident Alien. As far as I know he is still a U.S. citizen." Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 16, pp. 594-595; Commission Exhibit 206.

The statement that Oswald had renounced his citizenship was picked up in SA Fain's report of May 12, 1960: FBI report of 5/12/60 by SA John Fain; 17 Warren Commission Hearings 700, 702; Exhibit 821, p. 3.

Because Fain printed this inaccurate information about renunciation in his report, the result was Oswald's dishonorable discharge by the Marines on August 17, 1960: John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 212-213

Oswald even wrote John Connally from the USSR, not realizing that Connally had quit his job as Secretary of the Navy to run for governor of Texas in 1962: Memo by FBI SA James Hosty, 11/25/63, p. 2, Commission Document 75 - FBI DeBrueys Report of 02 Dec 1963 re: Oswald/Russia, p. 701,

"Edward Lee Oswald": John Fain's report, 6/12/60, p. 3, 17 Warren Commission Hearings 700, 702, Exhibit 821.

"Robert Edward Lee Oswald": FBI report of Donald C. Steinmeyer, 4/1/64, re marriage records for Robert Edward Lee Oswald; 11/27/63 report by SA Joseph G. Engelhardt re sister of Robert Edward Lee Oswald.

The 201 opening form filled out by Egerter includes the terms "defected to the USSR" and "radar operator" but says nothing about Oswald's threat to pass "classified things" about his work to the Soviets: 201 file request by Ann Egerter, 12/9/60, HSCA Segregated CIA Collection, Box 7/NARA Record Number: 104-10054-10204

 

Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney and an antiwar activist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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