In 1945 he began studying law at the University of Virginia and two years later joined the newly formed CIA where he adopted the name John Scelso. He served in Washington and Vienna where, according to Jefferson Morley "he developed a reputation as built a reputation as an effective, if sometimes abrasive, officer and a skilled interrogator".
In March 1962 Whitten joined the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division. The following year he was promoted to be chief of all CIA covert operations in Mexico and Central America.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Richard Helms initially appointed Whitten to undertake the agency's in-house investigation. Whitten and his staff of 30 officers, were sent a large amount of information from the FBI. According to Gerald D. McKnight "the FBI deluged his branch with thousands of reports containing bits and fragments of witness testimony that required laborious and time-consuming name checks." Whitten later described most of this FBI material as "weirdo stuff". As a result of this initial investigation, Whitten told Richard Helms that he believed that Oswald had acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
On 6th December, Nicholas Katzenbach invited John Whitten and Birch O'Neal, Angleton's trusted deputy and senior Special Investigative Group (SIG) officer to read Commission Document 1 (CD1), the report that the FBI had written on Lee Harvey Oswald. Whitten now realized that the FBI had been withholding important information on Oswald from him. He also discovered that Richard Helms had not been providing him all of the agency's available files on Oswald. This included Oswald's political activities in the months preceding the assassination.
After talking to Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City, Whitten discovered that Lee Harvey Oswald had been photographed at the Cuban consulate in early October, 1963. Scott had not reported this matter to Whitten, his boss, at the time. Nor had Scott told Whitten that Oswald had also visited the Soviet Embassy in Mexico. In fact, Whitten had not been informed of the existence of Oswald, even though there was a 201 pre-assassination file on him that had been maintained by the Counterintelligence/Special Investigative Group.
Whitten had a meeting with Richard Helms where he argued that Oswald's pro-Castro political activities needed closer examination, especially his attempt to shoot the right-wing General Edwin Walker, his relationship with anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, and his public support for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Whitten added that has he had been denied this information, his initial conclusions on the assassination were "completely irrelevant."
Helms responded by taking Whitten off the case. James Jesus Angleton, chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch, was now put in charge of the investigation. According to Gerald McKnight (Breach of Trust) Angleton "wrested the CIA's in-house investigation away from John Whitten because he either was convinced or pretended to believe that the purpose of Oswald's trip to Mexico City had been to meet with his KGB handlers to finalize plans to assassinate Kennedy."
Whitten was also later to discover that CIA officer George Joannides had in 1963 been the case officer for the Student Revolutionary Directorate, the Cuban exile group with whom Lee Harvey Oswald had multiple interactions in New Orleans.
In 1965 Whitten was moved sideways into an important post reviewing operations. Despite being awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal in 1970, the CIA's highest honour, Whitten's never received further promotion. He therefore took early retirement and moved to Austria, where he pursued a new career as a singer with the Vienna Men's Choral Society.
In 1975 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began investigating the CIA. Senator Stuart Symington asked Richard Helms if the agency had been involved in the removal of Salvador Allende. Helms replied no. He also insisted that he had not passed money to opponents of Allende.
Investigations by the CIA's Inspector General and by Frank Church and his Select Committee on Intelligence Activities showed that Helms had lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They also discovered that Helms had been involved in illegal domestic surveillance and the murders of Patrice Lumumba, General Abd al-Karim Kassem and Ngo Dinh Diem. Helms was eventually found guilty of lying to Congress and received a suspended two-year prison sentence.
In its final report, issued in April 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities concluded: Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied. The committee also revealed details for the first time of what the CIA called Operation Mockingbird.
The committee also reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had withheld from the Warren Commission, during its investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, information about plots by the Government of the United States against Fidel Castro of Cuba; and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1976 Thomas N. Downing began campaigning for a new investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Downing said he was certain that Kennedy had been killed as a result of a conspiracy. He believed that the recent deaths of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli were highly significant. He also believed that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had withheld important information from the Warren Commission. Downing was not alone in taking this view. In 1976, a Detroit News poll indicated that 87% of the American population did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy.
Coretta Scott King, was also calling for her husband's murder to be looked at by a Senate Committee. It was suggested that there was more chance of success if these two investigations could be combined. Henry Gonzalez and Walter E. Fauntroy joined Downing in his campaign and in 1976 Congress voted to create a 12-member House Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the deaths of Kennedy and King.
On 16th May, 1978, Whitten appeared before the HSCA. He criticised Richard Helms for not making a full disclosure about the Rolando Cubela plot to the Warren Commission. He added " I think that was a morally highly reprehensible act, which he cannot possibly justify under his oath of office or any other standard of professional service."
Whitten also said that if he had been allowed to continue with the investigation he would have sought out what was going on at JM/WAVE. This would have involved the questioning of Ted Shackley, David Sanchez Morales, Carl E. Jenkins, Rip Robertson, George Joannides, Gordon Campbell and Thomas G. Clines. As Jefferson Morley has pointed out in The Good Spy: "Had Whitten been permitted to follow these leads to their logical conclusions, and had that information been included in the Warren Commission report, that report would have enjoyed more credibility with the public. Instead, Whitten's secret testimony strengthened the HSCA's scathing critique of the C.I.A.'s half-hearted investigation of Oswald. The HSCA concluded that Kennedy had been killed by Oswald and unidentifiable co-conspirators."
John Whitten also told the HSCA that James Jesus Angleton involvement in the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was "improper". Although he was placed in charge of the investigation by Richard Helms, Angleton "immediately went into action to do all the investigating". When Whitten complained to Helms about this he refused to act.
Whitten believes that Angleton's attempts to sabotage the investigation was linked to his relationship with the Mafia. Whitten claims that Angleton also prevented a CIA plan to trace mob money to numbered accounts in Panama. Angleton told Whitten that this investigation should be left to the FBI. When Whitten mentioned this to a senior CIA official, he replied: "Well, that's Angleton's excuse. The real reason is that Angleton himself has ties to the Mafia and he would not want to double-cross them."
Whitten also pointed out that as soon as Angleton took control of the investigation he concluded that Cuba was unimportant and focused his internal investigation on Oswald's life in the Soviet Union. If Whitten had remained in charge he would have "concentrated his attention on CIA's JM/WAVE station in Miami, Florida, to uncover what George Joannides, the station chief, and operatives from the SIG and SAS knew about Oswald."
When he appeared before the HSCA Whitten revealed that he had been unaware of the CIA's Executive Action program. He added that he thought it possible that Lee Harvey Oswald might have been involved in this assassination operation.
In 1996, Whitten's 192-page deposition to the House Select Committee on Assassinations was finally declassified by the Assassination Records Review Board. However, the board did not then declassify his true name and he continued to be known as John Scelso.
John Moss Whitten died in a Pottstown nursing home on January 2000. Minnesota federal judge John Tunheim, the chairman of the JFK Assassinations Records Review Board, argued that John Scelso's 1978 testimony "was perhaps the single most important document we uncovered". However, this statement was not released until 2001. The year after Whitten had died. Richard Helms died on 22nd October, 2002. Seven days later, the CIA declassified John Whitten's name.
It was 1:30 in the morning of Nov. 23, 1963, and John F. Kennedy had been dead for 12 hours. His corpse was being dressed at Bethesda Naval Hospital, touched and retouched to conceal the ugly bullet wounds. In Dallas, the F.B.I. had Lee Harvey Oswald in custody.
The lights were still on at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Va. John Whitten, the agency's 43-year-old chief of covert operations for Mexico and Central America, hung up the phone with his Mexico City station chief. He had just learned something stunning: A C.I.A. surveillance team in Mexico City had photographed Oswald at the Cuban consulate in early October, an indication that the agency might be able to quickly uncover the suspect's background.
At 1:36 am, Whitten sent a cable to Mexico City: "Send staffer with all photos of Oswald to HQ on the next available flight. Call Mr. Whitten at 652-6827." Within 24 hours Whitten was leading the C.I.A. investigation into the assassination. After two weeks of reviewing classified cables, he had learned that Oswald's pro-Castro political activities needed closer examination, especially his attempt to shoot a right-wing JFK critic, a diary of his efforts to confront anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, and his public support for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. For this investigatory zeal, Whitten was taken off the case.
C.I.A. Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms blocked Whitten's efforts, effectively ending any hope of a comprehensive agency investigation of the accused assassin, a 24-year-old ex-Marine, who had sojourned in the Soviet Union and spent time as a leftist activist in New Orleans. In particular, Oswald's Cuba-related political life, which Whitten wished to pursue, went unexplored by the C.I.A. The blue-ribbon Warren commission appointed by President Johnson concluded in September 1964 that Oswald alone and unaided had killed Kennedy. But over the years, as information which the commission's report had not accounted for leaked out, many would come to see the commission as a cover-up, in part because it failed to assign any motive to Oswald, in part because the government's pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald had been more intense than the government ever cared to disclose, and finally because its reconstruction of the crime sequence was flawed.
On December 11, 1963, John Scelso (John M. Whitten), chief of Western Hemisphere Branch 3, wrote an alarming memo to Richard Helms, deputy director of Plans. In bold handwriting at the top of the memo are the words "not sent." Below this is written "Questions put orally to Mr. Helms. 11 Nov. 63." In smaller handwriting under this are the words "Dec. presumably," reflecting the obvious fact that the Helms oral briefing was December 11, not November 11. Scelso wasted no time in throwing this stone into the pond: " It looks like the FBI report may even be released to the public. This would compromise our [13 spaces redacted] operations in Mexico, because the Soviets would see that the FBI had advance information on the reason for Oswald's visit to the Soviet Embassy."
How could the FBI have known Oswald's reason in advance? Next to this piece of text was a handwritten clue: "Mr. Helms phoned Mr. Angleton this warning." Perhaps "this morning" was meant, but in either case this may mean that CIA counterintelligence operations were involved.
It is intriguing that anyone in U.S. intelligence would have had advance notice of Oswald's visit to the Soviet Embassy. Evidently the FBI report that was mentioned was worded so that its readers might conclude that the FBI had been the source of information, but from Scelso's report, it is not hard to guess that it was the CIA's operations in Mexico that had yielded "advance information on the reason for Oswald's visit to the Soviet Embassy." But just what exactly does this phrase mean?
Oswald had told the Soviet Consulate in Mexico City that he corresponded with the Soviet Embassy in Washington about returning to the U.S.S.R. As previously discussed, the FBI would have learned of the contents of this correspondence. But this would not have compromised CIA operations in Mexico City. The CIA station monthly operational report for October 1963 did mention Oswald's visit to the Soviet Consulate, and did so under the subtitle "Exploitation of [7 letters redacted] Information." The same seven-letter cryptonym is redacted in the line beneath this subtitle, but the last letter is partially visible, enough to see that it is the letter Y In another CIA document from the Mexico City station the cryptonym LIENVOY has been left in the clear, and it was apparently used for the photo surveillance operation against the Soviet Embassy and Consulate." If this is true, the point of the Scelso memo above might have been this: Publication of the October 9-10 cables would show the telephone intercept had been linked to the photo surveillance, and that since the phone call came first, the cable showed the Agency had advance knowledge of the reason for Oswald's (the impostor) visit to the Soviet Consulate.
It appears that the CIA had advance knowledge about more than Oswald's October 1 visit to the Soviet Embassy. There is circumstantial evidence that the CIA Mexico City station might have been watching Oswald since his arrival on September 27. This evidence, according to the Lopez Report, was the Agency's decision to investigate the transcripts back to September 27, before they had learned of that date through post-assassination investigation:" This Committee has not been able to determine how the CIA Headquarters knew, on 23 November 1963, that a review of the [redacted] material should begin with the production from 27 September, the day Oswald first appeared at the Soviet and Cuban Embassies".
This was an incisive point. So was the direction in which the Lopez Report then headed: what headquarters knew about Oswald's visits to the Cuban Consulate.
The CIA conducted its own investigation into the assassination. Although he was not its official head, the man who took ultimate control over the CIA's internal investigation and the CIA's relationship with the Warren Commission was Mary Meyer's friend and her ex-husband's closest confidant, James Jesus Angleton. Angleton apparently manipulated the Warren Commission through former CIA director Allen Dulles. In January 1964 he debriefed a Russian defector named Yuri Nosenko, whom he personally believed to have been sent by the Russians to trick the Americans. Nosenko defected just after Kennedy's assassination and told the CIA that although the KGB knew of Oswald before the murder, the KGB had not been behind his actions on November 22, 1963. Through Dulles, who was a member of the Warren Commission, Angleton made sure the commission's report was sufficiently hedged that if in fact Nosenko was proven to be a liar, the CIA would not look duped.
In a memo sent to a CIA official in July 1964, reference was made to discussions with Dulles regarding Nosenko and how best to handle Nosenko's information without having "a negative effect on the standing of the Commission's report." The memo concluded that Angleton would be "the most suitable person to work with [Dulles] directly" on the matter. Dulles and Angleton kept the commission away from the curious ties between the CIA and the Mafia, the Kennedy brothers' involvement in those ties, and the CIA plots to assassinate Castro using American hoodlums. The final report contained no mention of those activities, and it took another decade before they were officially admitted by the agency.
The CIA man officially in charge of the agency's internal investigation of Kennedy's death eventually testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He said that Angleton's involvement was improper but that Helms refused to end it. The CIA official, identified by the false name "John Scelso," was chief of the CIA's Central America and Mexico operations when Kennedy was killed.
He was placed in charge of the investigation by Helms, but Angleton "immediately went into action to do all the investigating," Scelso testified. When Scelso complained, he said Helms refused to act but said "you go tell him" to back off. Helms never denied the incident took place but said that "everyone" was involved in the investigation.
Scelso also told investigators Angleton was aware of the CIA's plots with the Mafia, and he claimed that others in the agency believed Angleton had personal ties to the Mafia. Scelso based this allegation on the fact that Angleton had vetoed a CIA plan to trace mob money to numbered accounts in Panama. Angleton said it was the FBI's business, but Scelso said he discussed the matter with another CIA man, who "smiled a foxy smile and said, `Well, that's Angleton's excuse. The real reason is that Angleton himself has ties to the Mafia and he would not want to double-cross them.' " Angleton was stationed in Sicily during his early years with the OSS during World War II, where he recruited agents for the Allies.
From his position as a great collector of secrets, Angleton was well placed to manipulate the flow of information from the CIA about Kennedy and the assassination in the post assassination years. He seemed to speculate that a conspiracy was behind the assassination when he said, "A mansion has many rooms and there were many things going on.... I am not privy to who struck John." Typically, Angleton never explained that remark. History is left to ponder whether he was simply indulging his taste for metaphoric language or implying knowledge of a conspiracy.
The first AMWORLD memo was sent to CIA Station Chiefs in Mexico City, Guatemala City, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and, of course, Miami, among others. As primarily a "heads up" memo, it didn't detail sensitive operational aspects of AMWORLD and C-Day. The operation was listed under Desmond FitzGerald's Special Affairs Staff (SAS), and research by Dr. John Newman and Washington Post editor Jefferson Morley proves that CIA officers at some CIA stations-including Mexico City-had lines of communication to FitzGerald and Richard Helms that even the local CIA Station Chief didn't have access to. This would lead to much confusion and secrecy in the fall of 1963, when the number 3 man in Mexico City, David Atlee Phillips, was privy to information about Lee Harvey Oswald's visit there that even the Mexico City Station Chief didn't know about. This reflects the levels of knowledge various CIA officials had about AMWORLD and C-Day The Mexico City CIA Chief would know generally about AMWORLD, and the Kennedy and CIA support for Artime, from this memo. But only someone like David Atlee Phillips would know sensitive operation details about AMWORLD, and how it fit into the C-Day coup plan.
One of the CIA officers who signed the first nMwoxtD document, John Whitten (codename SCELSO), initially headed the CIAs secret internal investigation into JFK's assassination. According to Jefferson Morley, Whitten was removed from that duty by Richard Helms when he asked Helms for "files on Oswald's Cuba-related activities." Whitten later testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he had been "appalled" to learn later that Helms had been organizing other assassination attempts against Castro at the time of JFK's death, and hadn't informed Whitten.6 While Whitten knew about C-Day and Artime, he didn't know about Helms's other plots-or that CIA files confirm that Artime and Varona had been part of the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. The mob bosses who the CIA admits worked with Artime and Varona in these plots Johnny Rosselli and Santo Trafficante-were among the mobsters blamed for JFK's assassination by the House Select Committee and other investigators.
Under Hoover's direction the FBI's handling of Oswald's Mexico City activities was simply a repetition of the way the director and bureau elites dealt with the larger, controlling issue of the assassination itself. That is to say, the politically determined theory of the crime-Oswald acting alone took the president's life-took iron-clad, unamendable precedence over all the evidence and witness testimony. President Johnson and Hoover had agreed on the "official truth" of Dallas over the weekend following the assassination. When LBJ, anxious to "settle the dust" of Dallas, asked that the FBI report on the assassination be on his desk by Tuesday, November 26, the day after Kennedy was buried, Hoover notified the General Investigative Division "to wrap up investigation; seems to me we have the basic facts now:"" Only two developments delayed for the moment this rush to judgment: The first was Hoover's suspicion regarding Oswald's assassin, Jack Ruby, and his easy access to Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police department. The second unanticipated development was the revelation from Mexico City about an Oswald imposter and a possible KGB-Castro conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
As soon as FBI Washington had proved that the Alvarado story was bogus and conspired with the CIA to suppress from the Commission any revelations about an Oswald imposter, Hoover closed the book on any further FBI investigation into the "potential Cuban aspects" surrounding Oswald and his seven days in Mexico City. It would have been expected that the FBI's General Investigative Division (GID) would carry the major responsibility in any legitimate investigation into the Kennedy assassination. Up to a point, this was true. The FBI report that LBJ wanted on his desk by November 26 was prepared by the GID. According to Assistant Director Alex Rosen, the head of that division, the "basic investigation was substantially completed by November 26, 1963," to meet the White House's expectations." After the GID turned in its thrown-together report the division was relegated to the margins of the investigation. Rosen himself was assigned to the bureau's bank-robbery desk. The GID head would later characterize the FBI's investigative efforts into the Kennedy assassination as "standing around with pockets open waiting for evidence to drop in." Even more telltale was Hoover's order on November 23 to cancel all bureau contacts with Cuban sources. He followed this up by excluding the FBI's Cuban experts and supervisors in the bureau's own Cuba Section of the Domestic Intelligence Division from any investigation into Oswald's Mexico City activities. The director focused the probe away from Mexico and the Caribbean to the Soviet Union. Investigation into Oswald's political activities and associations was turned over to the bureau's Soviet experts.
In concert with the FBI, CIA Langley pulled the plug on an honest investigation into any Cuban aspects of the Kennedy assassination. In the CIA's case, the process was more indirect and devious, but the end result was same. Initially, the CIA's deputy director of plans, Richard Helms, appointed John Whitten to undertake the agency's in-house investigation into the assassination. Whitten was a senior career officer with twenty-three years in the clandestine service. In 1963 he was the head of WH-3, the agency's designation for the Western Hemisphere Branch that comprised Mexico and the Caribbean. The WH-3 head had a staff of thirty officers and about an equal number of clerical staff. What Whitten did not suspect at the time was that Helms and the chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch, James Jesus Angleton, had set him up for failure. There is good reason to believe that Hoover was part of an interagency scheme to thwart any good faith investigation into the suspicious machinations surrounding the activities of the CIA's Mexico City station.
Theoretically, Whitten had the experienced area professionals, staff, and informers to conduct a sweeping investigation into Oswald's activities in Mexico City, but during the short time that Whitten was in charge of the investigation he ran into a stone wall. The FBI deluged his branch with thousands of reports containing bits and fragments of witness testimony that required laborious and time-consuming name checks. Whitten characterized most of the FBI information as "weirdo stuff." None of this mountain of paper contained vital information that was critical to any legitimate probe into the assassination. For example, Whitten knew nothing of Oswald's alleged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans during the summer of 1963, Oswald's so-called Historic Diary with insights into his years in the Soviet Union, or the FBI's assertion that JFK's charged assailant had attempted to take the life of General Edwin Walker. Whitten knew none of this until, at Katzenbach's December 6 invitation, he was allowed to read CD 1. By that time Helms and Angleton were preparing to pull the investigation out from under him.
In the chain of command for WH-3, COS Win Scott was under Whitten and, in the bureaucratic scheme of things, expected to report directly to Whitten. But Scott, Whitten's subordinate, never told him about Oswald's contacts with the Cuban and Soviet embassies until the day Kennedy was assassinated. Equally remarkable was the fact that Whitten had never heard of Lee Harvey Oswald until November 22, 1963, even though the CIA had a restricted 201 pre assassination file on Oswald held by the Counterintelligence/Special Investigative Group, indicating that this branch of the CIA confined to sensitive counterintelligence operations may have had a special interest in former marine PFC Lee Harvey Oswald."
The most significant and intriguing turn in this paper trail is the recent revelations that some senior CIA officers in the Special Affairs Staff (SAS) had an operational interest in Oswald just weeks before the Kennedy assassination. At the end of 1962 the Kennedy team essentially shelved "Operation Mongoose" as ineffective in its determined campaign to oust Cuba's communist regime. In January 1963 the SAS was created to direct the secret campaign to bring down the Castro government and replace it with a pro American government in Havana. The SAS's executive officer was Desmond FitzGerald, who ten months later was the chief action officer of operation AMLASH, a freelancing operation that did not have the White House's blessing.
This keen interest in Oswald just weeks before JFK left for Dallas was closely held by FitzGerald and a handful of other senior SAS staff officers. It was such a tightly held secret that Win Scott, Mexico City's chief of station, and John Whitten, the career officer Helms picked to head the agency's investigation into the Kennedy assassination, were never told. Whitten's exclusion from FitzGerald's highly compartmentalized "need-to-know" SAS group, and his subsequent abrupt removal from directing the CIA's in-house investigation, were anything but a routine administrative matter or a case of coming out on the losing end of some messy bureaucratic power struggle.
Whitten, as discussed earlier, was a twenty-three-year professional in the clandestine service. His credibility was unquestioned. Early in his CIA career he had introduced the polygraph to the agency and put it to skillful use in some of the CIA's most sensitive espionage investigations." Deputy Director of Plans Helms, chief of the CIA's covert operations division, removed Whitten not on the alleged grounds that his two-week investigation was going nowhere but out of concern as to where it might lead. Helms replaced Whitten with the chief of counterintelligence, and Angleton immediately turned the investigation over to his division's Soviet experts. As was the case with the FBI, the CIA's senior officers diverted all attention away from the Cuban angle in the Kennedy assassination. Always the professional, Whitten quietly stepped aside and held his own counsel until 1978, when he was called to testify before a House committee. At the time Whitten had retired and was living outside the country. Minnesota federal judge John Tunheim, the chairman of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, was of the opinion that Whitten's 1978 testimony (not released until 2001) "was perhaps the single most important document we uncovered."
Whitten testified that when he took over the CIA's in-house investigation his team of thirty agents was provided with no details about "Oswald's political activity in the United States, especially the 'pro-Castro activity' and autobiographical sketches... found among his effects." These "autobiographical sketches" included Oswald's accounts of his encounters with Carlos Bringuier and the CIA-funded DRE group in New Orleans in August 1963. This information was readily available in some version of Oswald's 201 file that was held by Angleton's CI/SIG section at Langley. Whatever intelligence FitzGerald's select SAS group had on Oswald must remain in the realm of speculation. Whitten told his congressional questioners that if he had known about Oswald's activities in New Orleans and contacts with the DRE Cubans, he would have focused his investigation on the "possible involvement of the Miami station". Although Whitten did not believe Oswald was connected to the CIA, after that year's chilling revelations about the CIA's "Executive Action" programs, which was the first time Whitten learned of these assassination operations, he told the committee he could not rule it out.
Whitten was a man of uncompromising professional integrity. During his 1978 secret testimony he unburdened himself when the topic turned to political assassinations. He was appalled that Helms had endorsed such a program and appointed a "thug like [Bill] Harvey to hire some criminal to commit assassinations." He accused Helms of violating every "operational precept, every bit of operational experience, every ethical consideration." When the committee counsel asked if he thought Harvey had been involved in the Kennedy assassination, all Whitten would allow was that he "did not have any reason to believe it." A few minutes later the general counsel asked what Whitten made of the fact that Harvey had instructed his wife to burn all his private papers after his death, implying that there might be a "smoking gun" tying Harvey to the killing of the president. The generally gentlemanly and collected Whitten shot back, "He was too young to have assassinated McKinley and Lincoln. It could have been anything." In short, Whitten was ready to believe that Harvey, the CIA's former head of Task Force W, the action officer in charge of Cuban covert operations before FitzGerald replaced him in 1963 to head up the SAS, was capable of anything and that his nominal boss, the then DDP, Richard Helms, knew it and had taken no steps to restrain him.
During the short time that Whitten was engaged in his investigation he never heard of operation AMLASH. The name Rolando Cubela Secades first came to his attention in the 1970s after the Senate's Church Committee brought it to light.54 There was never a remote possibility that Whitten's team of investigators would have turned up anything about FitzGerald's plans to assassinate Castro. What unnerved Helms was the prospect that Whitten might have turned his attention to the CIA's Miami station (JM/Wave) operating out of South Dade and uncovered the CIA's connections with the DRE, the most militant of the anti-Castro exiles.
As developed earlier, in 1962 Helms had assigned George E. Joannides, a young, well-educated, and experienced junior officer on a fast track inside the agency, to take over as the DRE's contact officer." Helms picked Joannides because the contact officer he replaced, Ross Crozier, had failed to earn the respect of the DRE and therefore had little control over these CIA assets. When Joannides took over, all of this changed. Joannides was the chief of the Psychological Warfare Branch of the Miami station for more than a year before Kennedy's assassination. He was the directorate's paymaster, keeping the exile group in funds to the tune of $25,000 a month.56 More than any other CIA officer, Joannides (code name "Howard") knew about the real operational purpose behind Oswald's staged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans and his carefully scripted contacts with the DRE during the month of August 1963, just weeks before he left for Mexico City.
This was the reason Helms worked so assiduously to keep Joannides's name from ever surfacing in any of the investigations into the JFK assassination. Even when the so-called 1992 JFK Records Act forced the CIA to surrender Joannides's 201 file, the file was purged. It was Helms's concern that if Whitten was allowed to continue his investigation he would discover the FBI reports on Oswald's "pro-Castro" activity in New Orleans and concentrate the in-house investigation on the CIA's JM/Wave station. With a team of thirty agents and a staff of thirty clerical workers Whitten might have shaken loose any operational secrets involving Joannides and the DRE and exposed a clearer picture of the CIA's interest in Oswald. Helms was determined to keep these "family jewels" securely locked away and out of reach of a colleague whose ethical integrity made him a poor risk as a coconspirator. It was this looming threat that prompted Helms to remove Whitten from the investigation and turn it over to Angleton. Angleton, like his professional counterpart, Hoover, dropped the Cuban angle in the assassination and turned the investigation over to Counterintelligence's Soviet Division to determine whether the KGB had influenced Oswald in any way.
If hard-line elements within the CIA conspired to force the new president's hand or provide Johnson with the grounds to settle the "Castro problem" by an invasion of Cuba, they were quickly disappointed. Two weeks after the assassination the White House sent a clear signal to the CIA to abandon its agitation about a "Red plot" behind the tragedy of Dallas. On December 6, 1963, Katzenbach invited John Whitten and Birch O'Neal, Angleton's trusted deputy and senior SIG officer, to the Justice Department to review a copy of the FBI's report (Commission Document [CD] 1) on the Kennedy assassination. At that point CIA Langley knew that the "official truth" of Dallas would be that Oswald, acting alone, had killed the president. President Johnson used CD I to impress upon the CIA that he wanted all rumors and allegations about a "Red plot" squelched.'
Hoover was quick to take the initiative in backstopping Johnson's determination to shut down the Mexico City rumor mill. On November 27 the director ordered Laurence Keenan, a Spanish-speaking supervisor in the bureau's Domestic Intelligence Division, to take the first available flight to Mexico City. Keenan was instructed to "coordinate the entire investigation" into the "Red plot" allegations and "pursue them vigorously until the desired results are obtained." Keenan left that evening on the first flight available to Mexico City. He had no passport or visa, but FBI legate Clark Anderson met him at the airport and whisked him through Mexican Customs and Immigration to an awaiting embassy car. When Keenan arrived at the U.S. Embassy there were five or six officials waiting for him, including Ambassador Thomas Mann and Win Scott, the CIA's station chief. According to Keenan, he relayed to the group that it was "Hoover's conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and in view of Oswald's untimely death no further investigation was deemed necessary: '
The FBI and CIA diverted their respective investigations away from probing into any connection between Oswald and his public pro-Castro activities during the three months before Kennedy's assassination. The day following the assassination Hoover canceled orders to contact the FBI's Cuban sources. The director narrowed the focus to Oswald and any alleged Cuban connections even further when he excluded all of the bureau's Cuban experts and supervisors from the investigation. Abandoning any Cuban angle in the assassination, Hoover turned the investigation over to the bureau's Soviet experts.
Senior CIA officers, in concert with the FBI, maneuvered to keep the public in the dark about any possible connection between the agency and Oswald's movements in Mexico City or his staged pro-Castro activities in New Orleans. In late December Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms moved John Whitten from the CIA's investigation and replaced him with James Angleton, the chief of the agency's counterintelligence staff. According to Whitten, Angleton had "direct ties" with Hoover.' Angleton quickly concluded that Cuba was unimportant and focused his internal investigation on Oswald's life in the Soviet Union. Whitten later told his House Select Committee interrogators that had he remained in charge of the investigation and been fully informed of the FBI's and CIA's pre assassination files on Oswald, he would have concentrated his attention on the CIA's JM/Wave station in Miami, Florida, to uncover what George Joannides, the station chief, and operatives from the SIG and SAS knew about Oswald. However, when Angleton took over the investigation the CIA had clear sailing in covering up any connection between it and the Kennedy assassination. Commissioner Allen Dulles, who had been CIA director before the Bay of Pigs fiasco prompted Kennedy to remove him, was Angleton's ex parte pipeline into what took place inside the Commission's executive sessions. For instance, when Hoover and McCone testified before the Commission they knew beforehand what line the questioning would take, allowing them to coordinate their responses. "Was Oswald ever an agent?" And "Does the CIA/FBI have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate President Kennedy?" When Hoover and McCone made their separate May 1964 appearances before the Commission they were on message with a "No" to both questions.
These were the kinds of generic questions that the government should have made every effort to answer in order to be true to its solemn obligation to uncover the reasons behind the Dealey Plaza conspiracy. Where there is no mystery, no shadow of doubt, is that planning for provocation to justify major U.S. military action against Cuba was a persistent theme in some government circles, most notably the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA, during the Kennedy presidency.