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The National Archives released over 2,800 records on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The once-classified records have fascinated researchers and fueled conspiracy theorists for decades.
USA TODAY

The CIA delayed responding to requests for information about its longtime counter-espionage chief, James Angleton, as it tried to minimize the disclosure of his activities related to Soviet defectors and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, newly released documents show. 

“Don’t answer his initial request any sooner than necessary,” said a May 31, 1979, internal CIA memo about a Freedom of Information Act request from author David Martin, who is now a CBS News correspondent. “When we do, deny release of any of the information, maintaining it is still classified and involves protection of sources and methods.”

Martin was seeking information about the agency’s handling of Yuri Nosenko, a former KGB agent who defected to the United States in 1964. Angleton and some of his colleagues in the CIA and FBI considered Nosenko a possible double agent.

The CIA memo was one of dozens about Angleton included in the 13,213 files released last week by the National Archives. They show the concerns and frustrations about the work Angleton did during his CIA tenure and the difficulty investigators had in getting access to his files at the agency.

Angleton was the agency’s main conduit of information to the Warren Commission, the seven-member panel appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination. Angleton did not tell the commission about the CIA’s involvement in attempts to overthrow or kill Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro, which factored into later conspiracy theories.

Acknowledged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s life in the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1962, support for Castro and contacts with Cuban and Soviet diplomats in Mexico City dominated the CIA’s interest in Oswald and Angleton’s attention.

Angleton’s treatment of Nosenko, a former KGB agent, dominated many documents in the JFK files. Nosenko told his U.S. intelligence handlers that the KGB had no connection with Oswald, whom Soviet intelligence officials considered unstable.

However, Angleton placed more faith in the words of another defector, Anatoly Golitsyn, who claimed Nosenko was a fake. The CIA interrogated Nosenko for three years in the 1960s, often subjecting him to harsh treatment, before concluding in 1969 that he was legitimate.

“As more and more of the details of his thirty-year-old spy career have emerged, it has become clear that Angleton’s legacy at the CIA was a uniquely disastrous one,” wrote Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.

Documents revealed last week by the National Archives include:

• A Dec. 18, 1997, letter from the Assassination Records Review Board, the agency responsible for the JFK documents, to the CIA that complained about the agency’s delays in providing information about key files, including the fate of Angleton’s vast records.

 “Because of the perceived controversy surrounding the disposition of Angleton’s files, the Review Board believes it prudent to obtain a clear understanding of the types of files that he maintained and their ultimate disposition,” the letter said.

• Several memos related to the fate of a manuscript of a novel written by Winston Scott, the longtime CIA station chief in Mexico City, where Oswald traveled in September 1963 in an attempt to get visas to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. 

When Scott died, Angleton appeared at his home and took copies of the manuscript, as well as other personal effects, with him. “The manuscript contains some dramatic inaccuracies about Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit to Mexico City,” said an Oct. 6, 1978, memo by CIA official S.D. Breckinridge.

Breckenridge’s memo quotes John Horton, a CIA official who worked with Scott, saying that Scott “had gone to seed” and told war stories about battles he had not fought.

Who is Angleton?

James Jesus Angleton ran the CIA’s counterintelligence division from 1954 to 1975. The son of an American father and a Mexican mother, Angleton went to Yale University and Harvard Law School and served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.

After the CIA’s creation in 1947, he joined the agency and became head of the counterespionage unit in 1954, where he remained until 1975.

A chain-smoking and hard-drinking obsessive, Angleton held great sway inside the CIA for decades, enabled in part by his friendship with Richard Helms, the former head of covert operations and later the CIA director from 1966 to 1973. 

During a Senate investigation led by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, Angleton acknowledged multiple cases in which the CIA violated its charter by conducting operations on U.S. soil, including illegally opening the mail of U.S. citizens.

Angleton also said the CIA asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to conduct surreptitious break-ins into the homes and offices of suspects, so-called “black bag jobs.” 

The arrest and subsequent escape to the Soviet Union of British intelligence operative Kim Philby, a longtime Soviet spy, burned Angleton, who had been one of Philby’s closest friends in U.S. intelligence. He became intensely suspicious of Soviet defectors, believing them plants aimed at planting false information and destabilizing the CIA.

Latest records release

The Angleton documents and others were released under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which Oct. 26 as the final deadline to release them. Almost 2,900 files were released that day, while some others were kept secret because of requests from the CIA and FBI, which feared their release would compromise national security. 

Last Thursday, 13,213 files were released. Many had been released previously, and the latest batch contained information that had previously been censored.

More: JFK files: CIA started to disavow knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald within hours of killing

More: JFK files: Here are the most interesting records on Kennedy assassination, annotated

More: JFK files: Feds release 2,800 secret records; Trump withholds others due to national security concerns

 

 

 

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