Samuel Halpern was born in Brooklyn. His father, a tailor, was bankrupted by the Depression. After the Second World War he joined the Central Intelligence Agency.
In the late 1950s Halpern was executive assistant to Desmond FitzGerald, the chief of the Far Eastern Division of the CIA. He also worked as one of FitzGerald's operations officers in Saigon during the early stages of the Vietnam War.
In 1961 Halpern worked with Richard Bissell and Desmond FitzGerald in the various plots to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. According to Halpern Robert Kennedy put the CIA under a lot of pressure to arrange the assassination of Castro. Halpern later claimed that "Bobby Kennedy was a bad influence on Des (FitzGerald). He reinforced his worst instincts." Thomas Parrott, the secretary of SGA, claimed that FitzGerald had trouble dealing with Kennedy: "He was arrogant, he knew it all, he knew the answer to everything. He sat there, tie down, chewing gum, his feet up on the desk. His threats were transparent. It was, "If you don't do it, I tell my big brother on you."
Halpern was involved in the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He came to the conclusion that Fidel Castro had nothing to do with the plot to kill Kennedy.
In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. This eventually resulted in the forming of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
Halpern was one of those interviewed by the HSCA. As David Kaiser pointed out in his book, The Road to Dallas (2008): "While witnesses like Richard Bissell, the deputy director for plans, and his deputy and successor, Richard Helms, worked very hard not to provide any information that the Church Committee did not already have, a few others, like William Harvey, Sam Halpern, and E. Howard Hunt, were much more forthcoming. Most importantly for history, Halpern in particular did the committee (and now historians) the service of making it quite clear that the agency had the means and the will to conceal sensitive information forever, if it so chose."
Halpern was interviewed by David Corn for his book Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (1994) and Evan Thomas for his book The Very Best Men (1995).
Samuel Halpern died in March, 2005.
(1) Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men (1995)
Halpern valued his relationship with FitzGerald as "almost father and son," but it became strained in the winter and spring of 1963. "Des's approach was a little scary," Halpern said. "We had a good base of intelligence in Cuba by 63. It had been our agent who targeted the U-2 to the missiles-we knew what was going on. Des came in, and unfortunately, because of pressure from Bobby, tried to do too much. Des did not want to be thwarted. When he wanted it done, you got it done, or he'd do it himself. With Castro he got frustrated. "Why can't we do this?" he'd demand. He'd glare at people and make you feel uncomfortable and quote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. He had contagious enthusiasms, but it was difficult to get him to stop and think, once he got the bit in his teeth." Halpern, like Ted Shackley, was inhibited. "I was just a junior officer, and I didn't have connections in Georgetown," said Halpern. "I didn't know what dinner parties he was going to.
Halpern thought the relationship between Kennedy and FitzGerald was unfortunate. "I think Bobby Kennedy was a bad influence on Des," he said. "He reinforced his worst instincts." Halpern said he began to "dread coming in to work in the morning," especially Monday mornings after FitzGerald had had all weekend to "run into" Kennedy and think up his own schemes "all these hare-brained ideas," as Halpern described a series of plots that would seem like black comedy when they surfaced a decade later during the Church Committee hearings.
(2) David Kaiser, The Road to Dallas (2008)
The IG report came to the attention of President Gerald Ford in early 1975 after a famous leak of widespread CIA wrongdoing to Seymour Hersh of the New York Times in the previous December. The 1967 document then became the basis for the Senate Select Committee of Intelligence Activities' report, Alleged Assassination Attempts against Foreigns Lenders, published later that year. But neither the Church Committee report (named after the committee chairman, Senator Frank Church) nor the IG report itself, which was finally released in 1993, told anywhere near the whole story about the U.S. governments attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Written by lawyers, the Church Committee report focused on very specific questions concerning high-level authorization of, and responsibility for, the assassination plots. The secret testimony on which it was based is now fully available in the JFK collection at the National Archives, and it contains much key information not included in the report. It also documents the ethos of the CIA at the height of the Cold War and gives a unique glimpse into the agency's inner workings. While witnesses like Richard Bissell, the deputy director for plans, and his deputy and successor, Richard Helms, worked very hard not to provide any information that the Church Committee did not already have, a few others, like William Harvey, Sam Halpern, and E. Howard Hunt, were much more forthcoming. Most importantly for history, Halpern in particular did the committee (and now historians) the service of making it quite clear that the agency had the means and the will to conceal sensitive information forever, if it so chose.
(3) David Corn, Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (1994)
In June, the Rockefeller Commission released its report. It was full of soiled linen. The President's panel revealed that the CIA had tested LSD on unsuspecting subjects, spied on American dissidents, physically abused a defector, burgled and bugged without court orders, intercepted mail illegally, and engaged in "plainly unlawful" conduct.
On Capitol Hill, the Church Committee was conducting private audiences with Richard Helms, John McCone, Richard Bissell, William Harvey, and lesser-known Agency colleagues. (The House committee inquiry stalled, amid bickering over its leadership.) Colby was cooperating with the congressional inquiries and handing over the Agency's darkest secrets. Shackley, who two years ago had blocked the inquiries of the Church subcommittee, was one of many Agency people who watched with disbelief as Colby graciously passed secrets - some related to Shackley's own activities-to the prying headline - hogs of Congress. "But once the decisions were made," Shackley claimed, "the organization supported him."
That is the myth - the dedicated professionals saluting and doing the Director's bidding, even when it pained them. Sam Halpern, a former senior DDO officer called out of retirement to deal with the investigators, found that some offices in Langley, conveniently, could not locate relevant materials. It was obvious to him that documents were being lost as they were being requested.