John Paisley


John Arthur Paisley, the son of Joseph and Clara Paisley, was born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, on 25th August, 1923. His father, was a follower of Tom Mooney, the trade union leader in San Francisco, who in the 1920s led a campaign for a six-day, ten-hour-a-day work week. Joseph was arrested several times during this campaign and Clara, a deeply religious woman, eventually left her husband and moved to Bellefonte, Arkansas. Later the family settled in Phoenix, Arizona.

In 1941 John Paisley enrolled with the Maritime Service Training and the following year he graduated as a radio officer. During the Second World War Paisley served as a radio operator in the Merchant Marine. Paisley spent time in Cuba and the Soviet Union where he learnt Spanish and Russian.

After the war Paisley returned to Arizona where he worked as a radio operator for the highway patrol in Phoenix. In September 1946, he enrolled at the University of Oregon. Six months later he was expelled after the authorities caught him in his dormitory room with a young woman.

In 1948 Paisley went to work as a radio operator for the United Nations. Employed as a radio operator with the Bunche-Bernadotte Peace Mission in Palestine. This included visiting Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordon.

On his return to the United States Paisley married Maryann McLeavy and enrolled in the University of Chicago and studied international relations. A fellow student, Leonard Masters described Paisley as "left idealistic" who was devoted to civil rights.

Paisley officially joined the Central Intelligence Agency in December, 1953. However, his friend, Leonard Masters, believes that Paisley was in fact recruited several years earlier at university by Richard Innes. Paisley joined the CIA's new Electronics Branch as an Economics Intelligence Officer. While based in Washington, Paisley became friends with Bernard Fensterwald.

In 1953 Paisley went to Washington where he was given the job of monitoring the development of electronics in the Soviet Union. Two years later the CIA loaned him out to the National Security Agency (NSA) where he analyzed the electronic data coming back from the Berlin Tunnel, an electronic listening post that William K. Harvey and his staff managed to establish in Germany.

Paisley returned to the United States in 1957 and was placed in charge of the CIA's Electronic Equipment Branch, Industrial Division. In 1959 Paisley spent a great deal of time in Eastern Europe where he analyzed developments being made in Soviet technology. According to Joseph Trento (Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters), Paisley joined the CIA's inner circle: "Using the new technology of spy satellites, eavesdropping satellites and listening posts, Paisley combined that electronic data with information from agents in place to give startling new pictures of Soviet society."

Trento adds "like most of the early CIA recruits, Paisley shared the passionate liberalism that dominated the men recruited in the late forties and early fifties." Trento claims that Paisley's friends claim that he was a "liberal who was outraged by injustice." Another friend, Gladys Fishel, claims that Paisley did more than just talk about political philosophy and in his spare time taught "disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia".

Paisley was eventually appointed as deputy director of the Office of Strategic Research. According to Dick Russell, Paisley may have been linked to the decision of Lee Harvey Oswald to defect to the Soviet Union. One of Paisley's jobs was to interview Soviet defectors such as Anatoli Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. Paisley also worked with Oleg Penkovsky, who was executed by the Soviets in 1963.

Edward Proctor, director of the Office of Strategic Research (OSR), and Paisley believed in supplying the president with accurate information about the estimates of Soviet military strength. For example, in the early 1960s the OSR rejected the idea that the Soviet Union had dramatically closed the "missile gap" and posed a serious nuclear threat to the United States.

However, in 1969, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger began putting the OSR under pressure to publish exaggerated estimates in order to justify increased military spending in the United States. It was also hoped that these high estimates would convince the Senate to give its support to the SALT 1 negotiations.

Paisley found these political pressures and began talking about leaving the CIA. It was agreed that Paisley should take a sabbatical studying at the Imperial Defence College in London. Paisley returned from England in January, 1971. One of his first tasks was to put together negotiating teams for the SALT 1 talks. An OSR colleague, Clarence Baier, claimed that Paisley came back a different person. "He just didn't speak out, he seldom stuck his neck out." Instead, he accepted the demands made by Nixon and Kissinger.

In 1971 Egil Krogh, gave a White House assignment to David R. Young, a member of the National Security Council Staff. His official job concerned the classification and declassification of documents. However, his real task was to discover the people "leaking" classified documents and secret information. G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were appointed as Young's assistants.

The White House then asked the CIA for help with this investigation. James Angleton suggested that the man they should approach was John Paisley. Joseph Trento suggests that Angleton was growing increasingly suspicious of Henry Kissinger and that he "wanted Paisley in Young's proximity was that Paisley may well have been working for Angleton all along." Trento adds that Kissenger was very interested in "how hundreds of pounds of enriched uranium were transferred illegally to Israel to seed their nuclear weapons program". Angleton had been the man responsible for this and feared that if this story was discovered, he would be sacked from the CIA.

Paisley became CIA liaison to the White House Special Investigations Unit. He also agreed to help the White House to search for the source of these leaks. His first task was to investigate the activities of Daniel Ellsberg. By August 1971, the project to discredit the leakers of the Pentagon Papers became known as Operation Odessa. It is not known what role Paisley played in Watergate. He kept details of these activities from friends and family, including colleagues in the CIA. However, Joseph Trento has speculated that Paisley might have been Deep Throat.

In 1971 Paisley began organizing sex parties in Washington. Along with CIA colleague, Donald Burton, Paisley formed the Rush River Lodge Corporation. According to Trento, "Burton and Paisley staged several sex parties at the lodge." Those who attended these parties included politicians and journalists. Burton admitted that a "high-level Nixon appointee enjoyed tying up women and beating them" at these parties. Another person who attended was the beautiful Hana Koecher, an agent with the Czech intelligence service.

Joseph Trento argues that another regular at these parties was Carl Bernstein. "In a December 1979 telephone interview, Bernstein denied having attended any such parties. A few days later he called back to say, 'I may have attended the parties, but I never met anyone named John Paisley'. Half a dozen Paisley intimates place Bernstein and Paisley at the same sex parties beginning as early as 1971."

Bernstein also denied that Paisley was Deep Throat. Trento does not believe him and claims that the sex parties was the reason why their main source on Watergate was given the name Deep Throat (a popular pornographic movie at the time these events took place). Trento poses the question: "Was the fact that Bernstein was attending sex parties with the CIA's liaison with the White House Plumbers just a coincidence, or was that how the source really obtained his name?"

In March 1973, James Schlesinger became director of the CIA. According to Donald Burton, Paisley "despised Schlesinger". Burton adds that "Schlesinger told Paisley that he did not like OSR's estimates and wanted them changed". Paisley ignored Schlesinger's orders and in less than six months he had been replaced by William Colby. According to Samuel V. Wilson, Colby's Deputy Director, Paisley became very close to the new head of the CIA. It is therefore surprising that Paisley officially retired from the CIA in 1974. In reality Paisley continued to work for the CIA. He carried out several highly secret assignments where he reported directly to Colby.

In August 1975, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) wrote a letter to President Gerald Ford proposing that an outside group of experts be given access to the same intelligence as the CIA analysts and be allowed to prepare a competing National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and then make an evaluation. The outside group would be called the B Team. The CIA and the intelligence community estimates would be the A Team.

William Colby, the director of the CIA, rejected the idea. On 30 January 1976, Gerald Ford sacked Colby and replaced him with George H. W. Bush. Soon afterwards Bush agreed to the setting up a B Team. As a result of this move, outsiders would now have access to all of America's classified knowledge about the Soviet Military. Hank Knoche, Bush's deputy, was ordered to organize this new system. Interestingly, Paisley was brought out of retirement to become the CIA 'coordinator' for the B Team. It was Paisley who would control the documents that they saw and the information they received.

Members of the B Team included Richard E. Pipes, Clare Boothe Luce, John Connally, General Daniel O. Graham, Edward Teller, Paul Wolfowitz (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), General John W. Vogt, Brigadier General Jasper A. Welch, William van Cleeve (University of Southern California), Paul Nitze (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs), Foy D. Kohler (U.S. Ambassador to Moscow), Seymour Weiss (State Department) and Thomas W. Wolfe (Rand Corporation).

One member of the A team, David S. Sullivan, of the CIA's Office of Strategic Research, came to the conclusion that Paisley had been put into place to prevent the B Team from seeing important classified material. As a result, Sullivan began leaking classified documents concerning the SALT 1 negotiations to Pipes and Graham. He also passed these documents to Richard Perle, who at that time was working for Senator Henry Jackson.

On 26th December, 1976, David Binder reported in the New York Times that the B Team had changed the National Intelligence Estimate around by 180 degrees. The CIA was furious claiming that right-wing members of the B Team had leaked classified documents to the New York Times and in doing so had compromised national security. Daniel O. Graham reacted to these charges by claiming that the leaks had come from John Paisley, who he described as a "weepy liberal who was too soft on the Soviets".

David S. Sullivan began telling friends that Paisley and Henry Kissinger were working as Soviet agents. Sullivan told CIA security chief Robert W. Gambino that there were ten moles in the CIA. On 25th August, 1978, Sullivan informed Gambino that "John Arthur Paisley, the former Deputy Director of Strategic Research, was working for the KGB." Sullivan does not appear to have any evidence that Paisley was a spy: "I guess, in the end, I never trusted him... I never liked him. There was something that wasn't right. He seemed like some kind of burned-out old fart who had a beard and looked like a queer. I am convinced he was the mole."

When President Jimmy Carter took office he sacked George H. W. Bush and replaced him with his old friend, Stansfield Turner. Paisley continued to do work for the CIA and records show that Paisley briefed Turner in 1977 and 1978. Paisley's address book included both Turner's home and White House telephone numbers.

In May 1978 Paisley began working for the Washington accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. The job had been obtained for Paisley by K. Wayne Smith, who was a fellow member of the CIA's Military and Economic Advisory Panel. However, Joseph Trento discovered that the CIA was actually paying his $36,000 salary. As Trento points out: "It is clear that the Coopers position was needed as some sort of cover job for Paisley during the spring, quite possibly without the knowledge of Dr. Smith."

K. Wayne Smith's secretary, Kay Fulford, claims that Paisley rarely visited the Coopers & Lybrand office and most of the time she contacted him via his telephone number at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As Trento points out: "four years after his retirement, Paisley still had an office at the CIA."

On 24th September, 1978, John Paisley, took a trip on his motorized sailboat on Chesapeake Bay. He anchored his boat at Hooper's Light and in a radio conversation with his friend, Mike Yohn, Paisley explained that he had an important report to write. Two days later his boat was found moored in Solomons, Maryland. Paisley's body was found in Maryland's Patuxent River. The body was fixed to diving weights. He had been shot in the head. Police investigators described it as "an execution-type murder". However, officially Paisley's death was recorded as a suicide.

In their book, Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters (1989), William R. Corson, Susan B. Trento and Joseph Trento, argue that John Paisley was a Soviet spy. They also argue that he was never murdered and that he was probably in hiding in the Soviet Union. The authors argue that Dr. Stephen Adams “had no conclusive evidence that the body he examined was John Arthur Paisley.” In doing so, they reject the claim made by Dr. Russell Fisher, that the identification of the corpse of Paisley’s came from the fingerprints the FBI had on file for the dead man. They also dismiss the claim that Paisley was identified by his dental records.

Joseph Trento, and all other authors who have looked into this case, have all argued that Paisley did not commit suicide. As Jim Hougan pointed out in Secret Agenda, “according to the coroner who conducted the autopsy, death was caused by a gunshot wound behind the victim’s left ear.” Hougan add: “The site of the wound, behind the victim’s left ear, also militated against the suicide theory, since Paisley himself had been right-handed, and would presumably have fired the gun with his right into the right side of his head. Adding to the suspicion that murder had been committed was the fact that no blood, brain tissue, weapon or expended cartridge was found aboard the Brillig, which suggested that the victim had been killed in the water or perhaps murdered elsewhere and his body dumped at sea.”

As the authors of Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters point out: “Although the physical evidence defies that conclusion, the police determined that Paisley had wrapped two nineteen-pound weight belts around himself, jumped from Brillig, and shot himself in the head in midair.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, top secret documents concerning “Soviet nuclear capabilities conducted in late 1977 by a CIA group” were found on his boat. The newspaper goes onto argue that “government sources said it is not possible to rule out the theory that the Paisley affair touches on the existence of a Soviet “mole” – a deep-cover Soviet agent planted inside the Agency – and the dead officer’s knowledge thereof.”

This is probably CIA disinformation. A very different story is told by Gerald Sword, the first man to board Paisley’s boat. He looked through the papers and later told the CIA what he found. As Dick Russell points out, he found a CIA memo that stated: “Coast Guard personnel found some papers dealing with the Cuban crisis.” It is not known what was meant by the term “Cuban crisis” but it is possible that Paisley was writing a report about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Former CIA agent, Victor Marchetti, told Harrison Edward Livingstone and Steve Parks of the Baltimore Sun that Paisley knew a great deal about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and was murdered during the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation because he was "about to blow the whistle".

Primary Sources

(1) Alan Weberman, The CIA and FBI Supression of Information (2004)

John Arthur Paisley was a former CIA official who worked for the Agency on a contractual basis, who, according to Tad Szulc, was involved with Yuri Nosenko. The two men became friends, and John Arthur Paisley frequently visited Yuri Nosenko. Inquiry Magazine reported: "Mary Ann Paisley thinks her husband's death may be related to Yuri Nosenko...At the request of Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI began a counter-intelligence analysis of the Paisley case...the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Stansfield Turner says Yuri Nosenko has 'no recollection of ever meeting Paisley.'" Author Jim Hougan cited a letter Mrs. Paisley wrote to Stansfield Turner, in which she mentioned that she had worked for Kathrine Hart (the wife of John L. Hart) when she was in the CIA. Angleton told Look Magazine, "To my knowledge Paisley was never involved in the clandestine side. I have doubts that he knew Yuri Nosenko" (cited in Inquiry 11.15.79). Joe Trento and William R. Corson reported John Arthur Paisley worked with Bruce Solie. Bruce Solie, 75, died on December 25, 1992, after 28 years of CIA service.

John Arthur Paisley was sailing on the Chesapeake Bay on September 23, 1978. In his possession was a briefcase of secret documents that dealt with the Soviets. The next day John Arthur Paisley was found in the bay, with two diver's belts weighing a total of 38 pounds strapped to his upper abdomen. The autopsy report stated the cause of death was a "Gunshot wound, penetrating head, close contact range. Entrance in left occipital parietal region with powder deposition within wound and on skull. Crania-cerebral injury. Missile recovered, large caliber, deformed, jacketed, lead. Trajectory: left to right (cannot be further evaluated)."

The gun was never recovered. Was the death of John Arthur Paisley a suicide or a murder? Had John Arthur Paisley put on the weight belts, leaned over the edge of the boat, shot himself, then fallen overboard with his gun? The Maryland County Coroner concluded: "John Paisley, a 55 year old white male showing advanced decomposition changes, died of a penetrating gunshot wound to the head. The manner of death is undetermined. Signed Russell S. Fisher, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner." The boat belonging to John Arthur Paisley was found by Maryland Park Rangers. The CIA was first on board and recovered the secret documents. Why had John Arthur Paisley taken these documents with him if he intended to kill himself? Bernard Fensterwald called the CIA and asked the Agency to "make available for him to interview a number of Agency personnel that appear in a telephone list finder which belonged to Mr. Paisley."

(2) Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much (2003)

We come now to a man who died under extremely suspicious circumstancesright in the midst of the House Assassinations Committee's investigation. Early in October 1978 I received a clipping from Richard Nagell in the mail. It was from the front page of the October 3 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and headlined "CIA Mystery Death-Ex-Deputy Director's Body Found Floating in Bay." The subject was John Arthur Paisley, then fifty-five, whose decomposed torso had floated into the mouth of Maryland's Patuxent River and been discovered by a passing pleasure boat. The body, allegedly identified as Paisley's through dental records, was affixed to diving weights. There was a bullet wound in his head, with police investigators speculating on either a suicide "or an execution-type murder." Paisley had last been seen alive aboard his motorized sailboat the Brillig on Chesapeake Bay on September 24. The boat was found aground near his home mooring in Solomons, Maryland, the day after that.

Below the headlines about Paisley, Nagell had inscribed a typed message: "Was he nash? He was nash!" Nagell had drawn a box around one sentence in the article: "Paisley, who lived in Washington, retired in 1974 as deputy director of the CIA's Office of Strategic Research."

Only a few months before this, I had been sitting with Nagell in a West Los Angeles bar when he suddenly said, "Do you know what 'nash' means? The Russians used to use that phrase. It meant he was 'ours' and nobody else's.

When I mentioned "nash" to a couple of sources familiar with the intelligence community, they expressed surprise that I had even heard the term, but reiterated the Russian meaning. Now, in sending the clipping, Nagell appeared to be revealing that John Paisley was "nash" - a Soviet spy inside the CIA.

Officially, Paisley's death was ruled a suicide. But speculation about the activities of this hitherto-publicly unknown CIA official would be rampant among the media in the months ahead. At the time he disappeared, Paisley had been working under a CIA contract to coordinate a Top-Secret government re-evaluation of Soviet strategic capabilities and intentions. Now there were grave questions about the sophisticated communications equipment on his boat designed for secret transmissions, and about Paisley's earlier role in the CIA's debriefings of Soviet defectors.

Paisley's widow, Maryann, decided to hire a lawyer to "find out what really happened to my husband." Her choice was Bernard Fensterwald, Jr. Fensterwald had a reputation for taking on controversial cases and clients (including Nagell and Watergate burglar McCord), and I had no reason to suspect that this was anything other than part of his penchant for rattling the skeletons in the CIA's closets. He had managed to obtain a number of documents about Paisley under the Freedom of Information Act and, after Fensterwald received permission from Maryann Paisley, in 1980 I flew to Washington to examine the documents.

That was when I realized that a possible Paisley connection to Oswald might have dated back to the ex-Marine's time in the USSR.

In 1959, the same year Oswald "defected," John Paisley had been appointed chief of the Electronic Equipment Branch, Industrial Division, within the CIA's ORR. Paisley's primary function was overseeing the CIA's assessment of "the problems and accomplishments of the (Soviet) Bloc electronics industry."

Paisley's name never came up during the House Assassinations Committee's investigation. However, one committee report described information received from an ex-CIA employee "that the CIA maintained a large volume of information on the Minsk radio factory in which Oswald had worked. This information was stored in the Office of Research and Reports"-which would have been Paisley's office. The committee report continued: "Another former CIA employee, one who had worked in the Soviet branch of the Foreign Documents Division of the Directorate of Intelligence in 1962, advised the committee that he specifically recalled collecting intelligence regarding the Minsk radio plant."

When Oswald left the Soviet Union in 1962, he brought home with him a "Historic Diary" that was discovered among his effects after the assassination. One section is a detailed description of the Minsk radio and television plant. Here Oswald carefully noted the number of employees at this "major producer of electronic parts and sets." He also delineated that the factory "manufactures 87,000 large and powerful radio and 60,000 television sets," as well as the plant's size and various shops.

If the CIA became the beneficiary of this information, it would almost surely have come to the attention of John Paisley.

(3) The Baltimore Sun (26th January, 1979)

Government sources said it is not possible to rule out the the theory that the Paisley affair touches on the existence of a Soviet “mole” – a deep-cover Soviet agent planted inside the Agency – and the dead officer’s knowledge thereof. At first, the CIA claimed the documents in Mr. Paisley's possession were relatively unimportant papers classified "for internal use only." Later it acknowledged that Mr. Paisley had kept materials pertaining to the top secret comparative study of nuclear capabilities conducted in late 1977 by a CIA group and "Team B". The CIA also admitted that Mr. Paisley had served as coordinator of "Team B".

(4) William R. Corson, Susan B. Trento, Joseph Trento, Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters (1989)

Paisley's retirement was sporadic at best. He frequently cut short sailing trips to go to Washington on what he said was CIA business. One reason Paisley was called back to the CIA was William E. Colby. 'Colby loved him. He really was very fond of him,' Sam Wilson remembers. Wilson says Paisley agreed to me back in and do a few individual jobs for Colby at the quest of John M. Clark, who was then Wilson's deputy. Wilson remembers that the first time he met Paisley, he was prepared to spend half an hour with him, but he was so enthralled with his abilities, he let the meeting go on for two hours. When he was done, Wilson found Paisley to be erudite, sophisticated, cultured, witty.''`Oh, what a sense of humor! He had it all together. Not greedy, not hungry, not ego-stricken ... I liked him,' Sam Wilson stated.

Wilson says Paisley enjoyed his new assignments. He 'seized upon the new challenges with quiet alacrity. He didn't miss a beat - no pause, no hesitation - as though he'd gotten sort of reinfected.'

At a retreat for top CIA officials in Warrenton, Virginia, Sam Wilson got a close look at Paisley. 'I remember him as a very incisive reasoner. It wasn't so much inductive as deductive. I know because we worked problems together some. Some times he would circle a problem and then intuit an answer. I would wonder how he got that. Just a straight line right into the center of the problem. He had a capacity to intuit that I have seen in some women, but I seldom see it in a man. I call it circular logic or a circular pattern of reasoning. You circle something like this, thinking about it, and all of a sudden inspiration hits you and wham-o, you've got it. I can't do it and I don't trust it when I think I am doing it.'