Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Commentary: Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald

The first chapter is devoted primarily to reporting on the settling of Oswald in the USSR and the defection of Yuriy Nosenko in 1964. There is an allegation preceding the description of Angleton's handling of the Nosenko assessment to the effect that Golitsyn had reported an “agent in the highest echelons of US intelligence”. That never happened. When first asked, by DCI Dulles, soon after his defection, if CIA was penetrated, Golitsyn said he knew of no such penetration. He reported later an agent who turned out to be a low level support agent who worked for us in Munich and Berlin until 1961 (“Sasha”), well before Golitsyn defected.

At the direction of DCI Helms, Nosenko was professionally and objectively evaluated by an Office of Security officer, including polygraph, in late 1967, concluding that the case made against him by Angleton (Golitsyn) and the Soviet Division, headed by Murphy and Bagley, was invalid, and that Nosenko was in fact bona fide. The false case made against Nosenko by Angleton (Golitsyn) and the Soviet Division is presented approvingly here. The usual argument is made that Nosenko reported mostly on things Golitsyn had already reported, which was contradicted by the investigation of Nosenko conducted by an objective Security officer in 1967, when Nosenko was released after over three years in solitary confinement;

  • Vassall, in the British Admiralty staff is cited. Golitsyn gave some vague information which did not lead to identification of Vassall, while Nosenko's details about him led to his arrest.
  • Golitsyn reported that the US embassy was penetrated technically, but a subsequent search found nothing. Nosenko reported exactly where the technical equipment was located, and technicians then found it.
  • Nosenko had no information on technical penetration of the new embassy building, but when technicians found the wiring on the roof of the old building, the wiring leading to the new building was close by.
  • Nosenko was blamed for having reported that a senior KGB officer had come to the US to track down a former KGB agent who reportedly had worked only in the motor pool; in fact, he also had been a cipher machine mechanic.

In several accounts, Nosenko’s reporting on the Penkovskiy dead drop in Moscow which was scouted by embassy security officer Abidian, during which he was observed by the KGB, is said to have been at the time of his defection in February 1964. However, Kisevalter, who had debriefed Nosenko in Geneva in June 1962, insisted that Nosenko reported that compromise of the dead drop to him (and Bagley) in June 1962—three months before the KGB apprehended Jacobs emptying the dead drop.

In his extensive coverage of Oswald's biography, especially his military service, as an argument as to why the KGB should have been interested in his background, Epstein is following the thinking of Nosenko's handlers. While he mentions the fact of Oswald's suicide attempt in Moscow as possibly causing KGB doubts as to his reliability, there is no mention of the fact that Khrushchev's close friend, Minister of Culture Furtseva , with her reputed strong influence over the KGB, had forbidden their interviewing Oswald.

In the last chapter, Nosenko is again attacked , and the polygraph examination carried out by the Security officer appointed to review his case is described as the Office of Security negating its own earlier polygraphing of Nosenko. Not so, as the officer who conducted the initial tests was a Soviet Division case officer who had previously worked in the Polygraph Branch. In any case, Nosenko was cleared and released in October 1968, after the interviews and polygraphing by Solie starting in October 1967. CIA officially found Nosenko bona after Solie's analysis, and that conclusion was reinforced by another review of the case by John Hart in 1976.

The primary error of the analysts/officers who made the case against Nosenko was lack of understanding of the personality and background of Nosenko. As the son of a Soviet cabinet minister, he really had to answer to no one, so his approach to any assignment was superficial—he could do no wrong. In making his case to us in the first phases of his defection, he made up whatever he thought would be impressive and acceptable to us. The officers dealing with him actually had very little experience dealing with any KGB officers other than one or two defectors, whose access, backgrounds and personalities were quite different from Nosenko's. Golitsyn was diagnosed by an experienced CIA psychologist as being clinically paranoid. The clinically paranoid Golitsyn's theories had already been accepted and promoted by Angleton, so Nosenko's significant information, starting with his testimony that Oswald was not acting for the USSR in killing Kennedy, either was not yet provided by him or had been rejected as invalid.

Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald, Edward Jay Epstein, 1978

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