Imagine that someone killed the president of the United States and that the CIA flatly denied, under oath, that it had been involved with the assassin — not once, but multiple times over multiple decades. Imagine that years later, documents emerged showing that this had been a lie. Imagine that some of those documents showed that the killer had, in fact, been surveilled by the agency, specifically by an office that one of its own employees described as the one that “spied on spies.”
It would all seem pretty strange, if not suspicious. Right?
This is the very real state of affairs concerning the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the CIA and skeptics in the political and media establishments have long insisted was simply a “lone nut” unconnected to the agency, and who murdered the president with no outside help. Chipped away at for years, that narrative dented yet again this week thanks to the unearthing of a new, unredacted document from the Biden administration’s most recent round of JFK records declassification.
As reported by the New York Times, the document in question shows a CIA official named Reuben Efron writing about mail correspondence between Oswald, who was returning home after a three-year stint as a defector in the USSR, and his mother while he’d been living in Minsk, with both the letter and a Washington Post story about his return to the United States attached. Dated June 22, 1962, Efron’s memo notes that “this item will be of interest to Mrs. Egerter” — Elizabeth Ann Egerter, who worked under CIA counterintelligence (CI) chief James Angleton in the “office that spied on spies,” the Special Investigations Group (SIG) — as well as to “CI/SIG, and also to the FBI.”
In other words, not only was the CIA aware of Oswald before the assassination, but the agency was reading his mail and considered him someone of interest, specifically to the very office responsible for investigating spies. And it was doing so as late as seventeen months before Kennedy was killed in Dallas.
Adding to the strangeness is the fact that Efron pops up in the 1964 Warren Commission report on the murder, listed as one of thirteen people in the hearing room during the testimony of Oswald’s widow — and, as the Times points out, the only one of the twelve US officials present who wasn’t identified with any kind of title. Jefferson Morley, the historian and longtime JFK researcher who discovered the memo, told the paper that it suggested that Efron was Angleton’s “eyes and ears inside the room.”
“It certainly looks like there was a concerted, organized operational effort to keep track of Oswald, for what purpose we don’t know,” Morley says.
That the agency had been reading and collecting Oswald’s mail while he was in the Soviet Union isn’t a new revelation. But this memo does reveal, for the first time according to Morley, who exactly was reading his mail, that Efron was a CIA employee, and that the agency viewed it as important to keep these apparently minor details hidden from the public for sixty whole years.
Yet when asked if Oswald was a CIA agent, Richard Helms, CIA director at the time of Kennedy’s death, had told the President’s Commission on CIA Activities as late as 1975 that “the agency was never able to find any evidence whatsoever, and we really searched that it had any contact with Lee Harvey Oswald. . . . He was certainly never used by the CIA.” It’s just one of many examples of the agency lying about the matter to the public and to officials.
The memo should cast doubt on official claims that the more than four thousand assassination-related documents still under lock and key won’t change our understanding of the case. Because many of those documents are already viewable but simply have details like names and locations blacked out, the argument goes, releasing them won’t yield the kind of bombshell revelations that assassination researchers hope for.
And yet, in this instance, merely un-redacting someone’s name in a previously released document has proven hugely significant.
“‘There’s nothing significant here’ — that statement is made by people who don’t look at the records,” says Morley.
Documents Pile Up
This isn’t the only major revelation that has come out of President Joe Biden’s December declassification. One is a secret 1977 memo unearthed by Morley and other researchers that was written by an employee of the foreign intelligence branch of the CIA’s Miami station, showing that far from assuming that Oswald acted alone or that the KGB was involved, officers there considered anti-communist Cuban exiles prime suspects.
According to the memo, when Kennedy was still alive, station chief Theodore G. Shackley ordered scrutiny of the movements and plans of “known dangerous Cuban exile activists” while the president was traveling the country, to get wind of and halt any “conspiracies” in that community to “exploit or interfere with the president’s movement.” After Kennedy’s death, the memo states, Shackley and other top station officials ordered agents to gather information about Cuban exiles who may have been involved in the assassination.
Sure enough, the decades that followed have seen serious circumstantial evidence of anti-Castro exile involvement come to light. One anti-Castro militant, Antonio Veciana, admitted that he had been introduced to Oswald in Dallas by his CIA handler, a man whom he later identified as David Atlee Phillips, head of the agency’s anti-Cuban operations. In late 2021, the son of anti-Castro fighter and CIA contractor Ricardo “Monkey” Morales revealed that his father had told him that he had trained Oswald as a sniper at a secret CIA training camp for an invasion of Cuba, and that he had been ordered by his CIA handler to go to Dallas for a “clean-up” mission two days before Kennedy was shot.
Another document from the December tranche found by researchers is a 1976 CIA memo attesting to the agency’s heavy involvement in the Warren Commission’s investigation. According to the memo, thirty-nine CIA personnel were involved, including “nine of whom were involved daily.” As Morley pointed out at the time, several of those listed in the memo are known to have misled the Warren Commission about the CIA’s interest in and knowledge of Oswald.
It’s further evidence of what even the agency’s own in-house historian in 2013 charitably called a “benign cover-up” by the CIA in its dealings with the commission, aimed at pushing it in the direction of what it considered the “best truth” — that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, for his own, inexplicable motives.
Miles to Go
The December declassification that has kept thousands of documents obscured was announced as Biden’s “final” one, threatening to keep hidden countless records that could be pivotal to public understanding of the assassination.
Among the records that are still classified are dozens of documents on George Joannides. Joannides came out of retirement in 1978 after he was picked by the CIA to be its liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations’s reinvestigation into the case — one that staffers complained that Joannides serially stonewalled and obstructed them on — without disclosing that Joannides was the CIA Miami station official who had headed the very anti-Castro exiles being investigated.
The CIA later awarded him its Career Intelligence Medal but insisted on keeping secret any explanation of what exactly for, on the grounds of “national defense and foreign policy.” The CIA’s own evaluation deemed him “the perfect man for” the job in 1978, and praised “the firm position that he took with the young investigators.”
“If it took sixty-one years to get Efron’s name, and they’re still keeping four-thousand documents, is there something still in there about this?” says Morley. “You’d be willfully naive to say there isn’t.”
The Mary Ferrell Foundation recently won a court judgment to proceed with seeking the immediate release of some records, though that effort will likely be tied up in litigation for some time to come. Beyond that, perhaps the best hope for securing the further release of documents is mounting political and public pressure, particularly with the assassination’s sixtieth anniversary approaching this November.
Still, even if the CIA flatly refuses to abide by the law, coverage of the Efron memo by outlets like the Times and ABC suggests that questioning the official narrative of Kennedy’s killing is no longer as taboo in establishment circles as it once was. It’s cold comfort given the lies and secrecy that the incident remains stubbornly shrouded in, six whole decades after it happened. But given the stakes, and given the ramifications of the CIA’s ongoing secrecy and incompetence, it’s something.