Joseph Trento

Joseph Trento

Joseph Trento has worked for CNN's Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and with the journalist Jack Anderson.

In August, 1978, Victor Marchetti published an article about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the liberty Lobby newspaper, Spotlight. In the article Marchetti argued that the House Special Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had obtained a 1966 CIA memo that revealed E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis and Gerry Patrick Hemming had been involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. Marchetti's article also included a story that Marita Lorenz had provided information on this plot. Later that month Trento and Jacquie Powers wrote a similar story for the Sunday News Journal.

The HSCA did not publish this CIA memo linking its agents to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Hunt now decided to take legal action against the Liberty Lobby and in December, 1981, he was awarded $650,000 in damages. Liberty Lobby appealed to the United States Court of Appeals. It was claimed that Hunt's attorney, Ellis Rubin, had offered a clearly erroneous instruction as to the law of defamation. The three-judge panel agreed and the case was retried. This time, Mark Lane, defended the Liberty Lobby against Hunt's action.

Lane eventually discovered Marchetti’s sources. The main source was William Corson. It also emerged that Marchetti had also consulted James Angleton and Alan J. Weberman before publishing the article. As a result of obtaining of getting depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner and Marita Lorenz, plus a skillful cross-examination by Lane of E. Howard Hunt, the jury decided in January, 1995, that Marchetti had not been guilty of libel when he suggested that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by people working for the CIA.

In 1987 Trento published Prescription for Disaster: From the Glory of Apollo to the Betrayal of the Shuttle. Trento co-authored with Susan Trento and William Corson, Windows: Four American Spies, the Wives They Left Behind, and the KGB'S Crippling of American Intelligence (1989). Trento and his co-authors argue that the Central Intelligence Agency had lost its war with the KGB. This was followed by Renegade CIA: Inside the Covert Intelligence Operations of George Bush (1993).

Trento's next book was The Secret History of the CIA, 1946-1989 (2001) Trento argues that the "CIA has been a colossal failure, outmaneuvered by its enemies, penetrated by the KGB, and duped at every turn".

In 2005 Trento published Prelude to Terror: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty, the Rogue CIA, and the Comprising of American Intelligence (2005). Other books by Joseph Trento include: Scapegoat (2006), America and the Islamic Bomb (2007) and Unsafe at any Altitude (2007).

Primary Sources

(1) Thomas K. Adams, Military Review (November, 2003)

Joseph J. Trento's The Secret History of the CIA, 1946-1989, attempts to expose alleged ineptitudes and wrongdoing in the CIA. Unfortunately, the book promises much more than it delivers. Also, it makes no direct reference to terrorists attacks, dealing almost entirely with the period from the CIA's founding in 1947 to the 1980s. In fact, the term "terrorism" is absent from the index...

The centerpiece of Trento's book is a 1985 interview with the legendary former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence James Angleton. As might be expected, the interview offers little new about Angleton or his work as a counterspy. However, in a series of extensive quotes from Angleton, it provides the clearest and most succinct statement of the book's theme. Disgraced and dying of cancer, the counterspy reportedly said, "I realize now that I have wasted my existence, my professional life.... There was no accountability and without accountability everything turned to shit.... Fundamentally, the founders of U.S. intelligence (the CIA) were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power.... You had to believe (they) would deservedly end up in hell."

The best that can be said of this book is that it avoids accusing the CIA of actively seeking world domination. For those interested in the CIA and the practice of intelligence, there are many superior books on the subject.

(2) John Prados, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March, 2002)

Building on his earlier work, Widows: Four American Spies, the Wives They Left Behind, and the KGB's Crippling of American Intelligence, which he co-wrote with his wife Susan and William Corson, Trento attempts to show the various ways Soviet spies were able to penetrate the agency early on in its existence. (Corson, a former marine who was detached to CIA duty during the Vietnam War, is also a major source for Secret History.) He describes how career agents and Russian master spies were able to establish their bona fides to CIA leadership and report from inside U.S. intelligence for decades.

To prove his contention that the Berlin base was compromised and to identify possible moles, Trento recounts in considerable detail the careers of several CIA officers who served in Berlin in the 1950s, highlighting inconsistencies in their work and describing the failed operations they were involved in.

One of the author's prime suspects is George Weisz, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Hungary in 1932. Weisz joined the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) in 1949, continued on at the CIA when the OPC was folded into the agency, and worked in the clandestine service until his retirement. Trento documents Weisz's work with William H. Whalen, an army officer who in the mid-1960s was convicted on charges of having spied for the Soviet Union. Trento writes: "It may be that Whalen's proximity to Weisz was an unfortunate coincidence. There was no serious security investigation to determine if Weisz or anyone else deliberately assisted Whalen's betrayal." The author also points to Weisz's unsuccessful efforts to infiltrate U.S. agents into North Korea during the Korean War. But the fact is, all such attempts failed, even those Weisz was not a part of.

Trento employs circumstantial and marginally suggestive evidence throughout the book, which makes his conspiracy charges seem far-fetched and unbelievable. And although the book contains a nice account of the Berlin station, it sheds little light on the CIA's efforts to glean intelligence about the Soviet Union. He devotes only a few pages at the end of his book to this topic, where he tries to connect the compromising of the Berlin station to later CIA operations in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and other events. He also briefly touches on the FBI's counter-intelligence failure in the Robert Hanssen case. About the only thing missing from this eclectic mix is a charge that Aldrich Ames was also one of the boys from Berlin.

(3) Steve Sewall, James Angleton (22nd July, 2003)

My father, Richard B. Sewall, taught English at Yale for forty years. In the 1960's, he was the first Master of Ezra Stiles College. He retired in 1976. In June of last year, ten months before his death last April at age 95, he flew from Boston to Chicago to spend three months with me...

My father had finished his meal. We had discussed family matters. I fell silent, wondering how I might resume the dialogue that had guided me over the past 35 years. His eyes, sunken and watery, were fixed on me. Age be damned, I told myself, we’re gonna talk, full throttle, just like we always have.

I read my father an excerpt from Joseph Trento’s magisterial Secret History of the CIA. This extraordinary book is a history of American intelligence since World War II and, in many respects, of American foreign and domestic affairs as well. James Jesus Angleton ’41, Yale’s second most famous spy (the first being Nathan Hale), is a central figure in this book. Appointed by CIA founder Allen Dulles (a Princeton alum), Angleton was the founding Director of CIA Counterintelligence. It was his job to protect the CIA from penetration by Soviet spies.

At Yale, Angleton had majored in English. My father recalled his name and said he had taught him. Angleton, I said, was a true aesthete. He edited a poetry magazine that he himself hand-delivered to subscribers at all hours of the night. On a visit to Harvard, he had heard a lecture by the English literary critic William Empson and taken it upon himself to bring Empson to lecture at Yale. Not bad for an undergraduate, we agreed.

In 1974, CIA Director William Colby dismissed Angleton for his failed attempt to expose a Soviet mole who, Angleton was convinced, had totally penetrated the CIA. Angleton’s obsessive witch hunt had destroyed the careers of dozens of wrongly accused agents and demoralized the entire agency.

But time confirmed his worst fears. As Trento and David Wise before him have shown, CIA counterintelligence and FBI counterintelligence as well were indeed totally compromised by Soviet agent Igor Orlov, a “man with the soul of a sociopath” yet supremely disciplined and loyal to Stalin. Angleton missed nabbing Orlov by a hairsbreadth. Under scrutiny for years - CIA and FBI agents openly visited Gallery Orlov, the quaint art and picture-framing store that Igor and his wife Eleanore managed in Alexandria, Virginia - Orlov managed to pass two polygraph tests and got away clean.

(4) Joseph Trento, Secret History of the CIA (2001)

The Kronthal case demonstrated just how careless Dulles and Wisner were about their early recruitments. As the CIA investigators later found, Kronthal had led a dark life in the art world, working with the Nazi regime during the war in fencing art stolen from Jews. It was during this period that German intelligence caught him in a homosexual act with an underage German boy. However, his friendship with Herman Goering prevented his arrest and saved him from scandal. Kronthal had every reason to believe the incident had been safely covered up.

When the Soviets took Berlin, they found all of Goering's private files, which included Kronthal's records. When Kronthal replaced Dulles as Bern Station Chief in 1945, the NKVD prepared a honey trap based on the information they had obtained. Chinese boys were imported and made available to him, and he was successfully filmed in the act. "His recruitment was the most well-kept secret in the history of the Agency," James Angleton said. The entire time Kronthal worked for Dulles and Wisner, he was reporting every detail back to Moscow Center. Kronthal was the first mole in the CIA. He served the Soviets for more than five years.

(5) In 1985 Joseph Trento interviewed James Angleton for his book, Secret History of the CIA (2001)

Within the confines of (Angleton’s) remarkable life were most of America’s secrets. “You know how I got to be in charge of counterintelligence? I agreed not to polygraph or require detailed background checks on Allen Dulles and 60 of his closest friends... They were afraid that their own business dealings with Hitler’s pals would come out. They were too arrogant to believe that the Russians would discover it all. . . . You know, the CIA got tens of thousands of brave people killed. . . We played with lives as if we owned them. We gave false hope. We - I - so misjudged what happened."

I asked the dying man how it all went so wrong.

With no emotion in his voice, but with his hand trembling, Angleton replied: “Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was part of it and I loved being in it... Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Carmel Offie, and Frank Wisner were the grand masters. If you were in a room with them you were in a room full of people that you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell.” Angleton slowly sipped his tea and then said, “I guess I will see them there soon.”

(6) Joe Trento and Jacquie Powers, Sunday News Journal (20th August, 1978)

A secret CIA memorandum says that E. Howard Hunt was in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered and that top agency officials plotted to cover up Hunt's presence there.

Some CIA sources speculate that Hunt thought he was assigned by higher-ups to arrange the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Sources say Hunt, convicted in the Watergate conspiracy in 1974, was acting chief of the CIA station in Mexico City in the weeks prior to the Kennedy assassination. Oswald was in Mexico City, and met with two Soviet KGB agents at the Russian Embassy there immediately before leaving for Dallas, according to the official Warren Commission report.

The 1966 secret memo, now in the hands of the House assassination committee, places Hunt in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963.

Richard M. Helms, former CIA director, and James Angleton, former counterintelligence chief, initialed the memo according to investigators who made the information available to the Sunday News Journal.

According to sources close to the Select Committee on Assassination, the document reveals:

* Three years after Kennedy's murder, and shortly after Helms and Angleton were elevated to their highest positions in the CIA, they discussed the fact that Hunt was in Dallas on the day of the assassination and that his presence there had to be kept secret.

* Helms and Angleton thought that news of Hunt's presence in Dallas would be damaging to the agency should it leak out.

* Helms and Angleton felt that a cover story, giving Hunt an alibi for being elsewhere the day of the assassination, "ought to be considered."

Hunt, reached Friday at his Miami, Fla., home, denied that he was in Dallas on Nov. 23, 1963, and denied that he had been in Mexico City any time after 1961.

Hunt said that he was in Washington the day of the Kennedy murder. "I have plenty of witnesses. I took off at noon that day and went shopping and had a Chinese dinner in downtown Washington with my wife."

Hunt said he knew of no reason for such a memo to exist. He said he had he had never heard of the memo's existence.

CIA sources, who have provided the assassination committee with material pertaining to Hunt's alleged presence in Dallas, say that Hunt's story about shopping in downtown Washington was a cover story concocted as a result of the memo. They say all Hunt's witnesses are CIA arranged and that his wife cannot be questioned because she was killed in a plane crash.

The assassination committee will open hearings this fall on the Kennedy murder.

Dawn Miller, spokeswoman for the committee, said that there would be "no comment on the report of a memo. We will be holding detailed hearings in September. Because of committee rules that is all I am permitted to say."

Committee sources told the Sunday News Journal that both Helms and Angleton had been questioned by committee investigators but that the issue of the memo was not raised with either witness. Sources say Helms told the committee he could not answer specific questions on the CIA's involvement because of "an inability to remember dates."

Helms's faulty memory on ITT's involvement in Chile led to his sentencing last year of two counts of withholding

information from Congress, a charge reduced from perjury by order of President Carter.

Helms could not be reached for comment. A secretary said that he was out of town and would not be available.

When Angleton was questioned by committee staffers, he was "evasive," according to a source who was present. Angleton could not be reached for comment.

Asked to explain why a potentially damaging cover-up plot would be put out on paper, one high-level CIA source

said, "The memo is very odd. It was almost as if Angleton was informing Helms, who had just become director, that

there was a skeleton in the family closet that had to be taken care of and this was his response."

One committee source says the memo "shows the CIA involvement in the Kennedy case could run into the CIA hierarchy. We are trying not to get ahead of ourselves but the mind boggles."

As part of its $5-million expenditure on the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the committee contracted a Cambridge, Mass., sonics firm to review tape recordings made as shots were fired at the Kennedy motorcade.

The firm has provided the committee's technical staff with new evidence which shows that four shots and not three were fired at the Kennedy car. Sources say this would have made it impossible for Oswald to act alone.

"Combined with the memo covering up Hunt's involvement in Dallas that day, what we have so far puts a real dent in the Warren Commission version," a committee source contends. Helms and Angleton currently are targets of an internal CIA probe and a new Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the possibility that the Soviet KGB penetrated the CIA with a mole, or a high-level double agent.

Cleveland Cram, the former CIA station chief in Ottawa, Canada, was called out of retirement to investigate Angleton's and Helms' role in the penetration. Cram came across the Hunt memo in his mole study," one investigator suspects.

The urgency of the mole investigation within the agency has reached "a more intense level since the memo was discovered," according to a source close to the internal investigation.

Herbert E. Hetu, public affairs director of the CIA, told the Sunday News Journal, "I had heard rumors of such a memo but had been unable to track them down. I checked with our liaison with the assassination committee and he didn't know about it."

The possibility of a "mole" or double agent in the CIA in connection with Oswald was first brought to light in Edward J. Epstein's book, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald.

That book details Oswald's ties with U.S., Soviet and Cuban intelligence. According to Epstein's editor at Readers Digest Press, which published the book, Angleton was a main source for the author.

In 1964, a Soviet defector named Yuri Nosenko told the CIA that Oswald did not act as a Russian agent in the Kennedy assassination. For years, according to the book, a battle within the agency ensued as to whether or not Nosenko was telling the truth.

That battle ended in 1976 when Nosenko was accepted as a genuine defector and put on the CIA payroll and given a new identity.

According to the book, Angleton urged that Nosenko not be accepted because he believed the Russian to be a double-agent.

Hunt's appearance on the scene in Dallas and in Mexico City at the time of the murder adds strength to a theory shared by some internal CIA investigators. They believe Oswald was working for US intelligence, that he was ordered to infiltrate the KGB, and that this explains his life in Russia. They also believe that Oswald proved to be so unstable that he was "handled by the KGB into becoming a triple agent, and assigned for the Dallas job."

The same investigators theorize that Hunt was in Dallas that day on the orders of a high-level CIA official who in reality was a KGB mole. Hunt allegedly thought he was to arrange that Oswald be murdered because he had turned traitor. Actually he was to kill Oswald to prevent him from ever testifying and revealing the Russians had ordered him to kill Kennedy, the CIA sources speculate.

CIA investigators are most concerned that either Helms or Angleton might be that mole.

Hunt first detailed the existence of a small CIA assassination team in an interview with the New York Times while in prison in December 1975 for his role in Watergate. The assassination squad, allegedly headed by Col. Boris Pash, was ordered to eliminate suspected double agents and low-ranking officials.

Pash's assassination unit was assigned to Angleton, other CIA sources say.

Hunt's fondness for strange plots has 'been widely reported. He is alleged to have concocted schemes ranging from Watergate to a plot to assassinate columnist lack Anderson. Hunt is also the author of 45 spy novels.

It was also learned from CIA and committee sources that during the time that the Warren Commission was investigating the Kennedy assassination, Angleton met regularly with a member of the commission - the late Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA and Angleton's boss.

Dulles, on a weekly basis, briefed Angleton about the direction of the investigation. Angleton, according to sources, in turn briefed Raymond Rocca, his closest aide and the CIA's official liaison with the commission.

Rocca, now retired was unavailable for comment. His former wife, who also worked for Angleton, is now working for Cleveland Cram as part of the CIA mole investigation team.