Saturday, November 24, 2012

The CIA's Great Gatsby

Edwin P. Wilson was anything but inconspicuous in the nineteen-seventies. To many, he was Washington's answer to the Great Gatsby. His 2500-acre farm, bordering on the estate of Sen. John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in the hunting country of Virginia, was the site of weekend barbecues that attracted senators, congressmen, admirals, generals, CIA officers and other high government officials. Wilson's three private planes were usually available to ferry VIPs wherever they wanted to go. He also had properties scattered around the world, an apartment in Geneva, a hunting lodge in England. a seaside villa in Libya and real estate in North Carolina, Lebanon and Mexico.

The cash seemed to flow as freely as the hospitality in Wilson's world. Paul Cyr, for example, who then worked for the Pentagon, came to the Wilson farm for turkey shoots and wound up accepting cash bribes for, among other things. allowing Wilson to plant bugs in the Army Materiel Command. (In 1982, Cyr pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Wilson and agreed to cooperate with the federal prosecutors.) Another Wilson associate said he had seen cash distributed to a long list of congressmen and government officials, and that "whatever else you call it, blackmail was the name of the game." The same man maintained that Wilson had installed tape recorders in his Washington, D.C., office. in his limousines and at the farm, and added. "I assumed that almost everything said was recorded."

During these festive weekends. no one asked where or how Wilson got the money to play the Great Gatsby. But it certainly was not family money. Wilson came from an impoverished farm in Idaho and had to work as an attendant in a laundry room to put himself through college in Oregon. In 1952. he enlisted in the Marines, and in 1955, he joined the CIA as a S70-a-week security guard. For the next 16 years, he worked as an undercover agent. When he finally left the CIA in 1971, he was earning only $20,800 a year. From then until 1976, he went to work for a secret naval intelligence operation. called Task Force 157, for an equally modest salary. In an interview, Wilson explained that he had worked for the Navy for "patriotic reasons... not money." Yet, despite his meager salaries, Wilson amassed a fortune. Then, in 1980 he was indicted in a murky case involving international arms transfers.

Wilson’s problems intensified in 1983 when three witnesses in the investigation died. Rafael Villaverde. a Cuban refugee. disappeared at sea after his speedboat exploded off the coast of Florida; Kevin Mulcahy. an electronics expert. was found dead in an isolated motel in the Shenandoah Valley-apparently a victim of exposure; and Waldo Dubberstein, an archaeologist and expert on the Middle East, died of a shotgun blast to his head– a presumed suicide.

All three of the deceased had worked for the CIA and, in the mid 1970s. became involved in operations involving Wilson.

Villaverde, who had served the CIA as a saboteur in Cuba, was recruited by Wilson as a hired gun and promised a million dollars for an assassination in Egypt. Mulcahy, a CIA specialist in secret communications technology. was hired to supervise the smuggling of electronic and military equipment. Dubberstein, an ex-CIA man whose subsequent work for the Pentagon included compiling the daily military intelligence summary for the Secretary of

Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff— a position that gave him access to the ultra secret

Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the precise order of battle for nuclear war— was paid by Wilson to sell his country's secrets.

Assassin, smuggler and spy: Why had these men accepted such nefarious assignments?

The answer each gave was that he had been recruited by Wilson after he left the CIA in 1971 under the pretense that he was still a CIA executive,. In the espionage world. misrepresenting one's side or organization in order to get an opponent to cooperate is called a "false flag- recruitment. When the recruit realizes he has been duped, he was too far compromised to easily withdraw his cooperation.

According to IRS data released in July 1983, Wilson made at least $21.8 million from servicing Libya alone, Libya funneled this huge sum of money into Wilson's account in return for special equipment and personnel that could be used to implicate the CIA in Qaddafi's assassination plots and other conspiracies.

As it then turned out, Wilson artfully used the false flag trick for to penetrate deep inside the U.S. intelligence establishment. In addition to Villaverde, Mulcahy and Dubberstein, Wilson attracted to his false flag no fewer than three dozen intelligence and weapons specialists. including CIA officers on active duty. senior military officers and civilian weapons designers with top-secret clearances. Through these connections, he obtained secret CIA cables from the Far East, NSA computer procedures for detecting submarines and missile, assassination devices from CIA suppliers and exotic secret weapons from the Navy and CIA testing base at China Lake in California. Wilson also clandestinely exported to Libya all the components (including technicians and specially developed exploding plastics from the CIA) for manufacturing terrorist bombs disguised as ashtrays and other innocent looking objects. Even worse, the explosive in the ashtrays had distinctive characteristics and a 'signature' that could he traced back to, the CIA.

The damage Wilson has done to U.S. intelligence cannot be assessed merely in terms of stolen secrets and weapons technology. All its vaunted techniques of "quality control," including polygraph tests, failed to detect Wilson's recruitment of CIA personnel. At least two CIA officers on active duty moonlighted for Wilson (one of them used his CIA credentials to recruit an entire team of Green Berets for then Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi). In addition. Wilson hired four part-time CIA contract employees and a dozen former CIA officers, many of whom still had CIA clearance and consulting status. Moreover, even after being fired from the CIA, Wilson maintained a close association with two of the agency's top executives-Thomas G. Clines, the director of training for the clandestine services, and Theodore G. Shackley, who held the No. 2 position in the espionage branch. Both of these men sat in on meetings that Wilson held with his operatives and weapon suppliers and, by doing so, helped further the illusion that his activities had the sanction of the CIA— an illusion crucial to keeping his false flag attractive.

Clines not only met with Wilson informally, but Wilson used his legal and office facilities to set up corporations for Clines' personal use, Clines had also been the control officer for one of the Cuban exiles whom Wilson recruited as an assassin. In reviewing the evidence in 1977, Adm. Stansfield Turner. then the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, concluded that Clines had been working "in collaboration" with Wilson, and permitted him to resign quietly from the agency. Subsequently, Wilson secretly funneled $500,000 from a bank in Geneva into one of the shell corporations, money which Clines used to finance deals to ship US arms to Egypt. (Clines repaid money after Wilson's indictment in 1980.)

Shackley had known Wilson and Clines since the early 1960s, when they had all worked on preparations for the invasion of Cuba. He explained during an internal investigation by the CIA that he had not wanted to be a captive of the CIA system, that Wilson had served as an outside contact. Yet, according to federal prosecutors who examined the CIA's files on Wilson, Shackley had not filed reports of his contacts with Wilson and his associates, nor had he recommended that they be debriefed by the CIA's domestic contacts office— the usual channel for such intelligence. Further, Shackley had intervened on Wilson's behalf within the intelligence community on at least two occasions and ridiculed Kevin Mulcahy as an "irrational, paranoid, alcoholic and unreliable informant," after Mulcahy reported some of Wilson's illicit deals to the FBI and CIA in 1976. The CIA's investigation failed to overcome the defenses of this Old Boy network: Indeed, even after Mulcahy informed on Wilson, CIA officers continued working for Wilson. So much for the idea of quality control.

In his defense, Wilson's attorneys argued that Wilson had in fact been working all along for the CIA. The U.S. Attorney E. Lawrence Barcella. however, refuted this defense claim by showing that Wilson was unable to provide any details of his relations with the agency, not even the obligatory cryptonym of his operation or the name of his case officer.

A federal court in Virginia convicted Wilson of exporting firearms to Libya without permission and sentence him to 10 years in 1983. He was then convicted in Texas of exporting explosives to Libya and sentenced to 17 years and, in New York, he was convicted him of attempted murder, criminal solicitation, obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, and retaliating against witnesses, and sentenced him to 25 years, to run consecutively with his Virginia and Texas sentence.

He spent the next 20 years in prison. Then, on October 29, 2003, Judge Lynn N. Hughes of Federal District Court in Texas threw out the 1983 conviction after finding that prosecutors knowingly used false testimony to undermine his defense. Judge Hughes found that the CIA claim that Wilson had not worked for the organization since his dismissal in 1971 had been undermined by a CIA memorandum indicating high officials in the CIA may have known of his recruitment activities. So how high did Wilson’s liaisons penetrate the CIA? We will never know. Wilson, who died on September 10, 2012, took this secret to the grave,

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Did Castro Know--And When Did He Know It

In 1976 Thomas Mann, who had been the U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1963, told me that he believed that there was “an indictable case” that Castro had been involved in the Kennedy assassination, but when he continued reporting this view in cables to the State Department, he was fired. Now there is a new book by Brian Latell, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for Latin America, that again raises the question: What did Castro know — and when did he know it — about the Kennedy assassination?

Prior to this book, here is what has been established. On November 22, 1963, there were actually two jackals on the prowl: one in Dallas, Texas, the other in Paris, France.
In Dallas that day, Lee Harvey Oswald, who previously had attempted to assassinate General Edwin Walker, was working under a false name at the Texas Book Depository, which overlooked the route that President John F. Kennedy would take that day. Oswald had arrived at work that morning with a package that, as the FBI lab would later establish, contained his rifle.
Less than two months earlier, Oswald, under his real identity, had gone to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City and met with Cuban officials. Even though the Cuban government did not then grant visas to individual American citizens who were not sponsored by government organizations, on October 15 his application was processed in Havana. On October 18, the Cuban foreign ministry notified the embassy in Mexico that it could issue Oswald a visa if he also obtained a Russian entry visa, so an exception was made in his case.
The jackal in Paris was Major Rolando Rubella who, as a close associate of Fidel Castro, was allowed to travel abroad for the Cuban government. What Castro supposedly did not know was that Cubela had been recruited by the CIA and given the code name AMLASH. His CIA mission would be to assassinate Castro. During the Collegiate Games in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that took place from September 5-8, 1963, he met with CIA case officer Nestor Sanchez and tentatively agreed to this mission. Although he had asked to meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the best the CIA could do was arrange a meeting in a safe house in Paris on October 29, 1963, with Desmond Fitzgerald, a high-ranking CIA officer, who identified himself as the personal representative of Robert Kennedy.
At this point, the jackal asked Fitzgerald to supply him with a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights that could be used to kill Castro from a distance and to insert an agreed-upon phrase in a speech President Kennedy would give in Miami. The phrase was inserted, thus confirming that the CIA had the backing of the President.
The next meeting took place in Paris on November 22 at the time that JFK’s motorcade was moving past the Texas Book Depository. Instead of the requested rifle, the CIA offered Cubela a poison pen with a concealed syringe. In the midst of the meeting, the news arrived that Kennedy had been shot. Cubela returned to Cuba but never carried out the assassination assignment.
The burning issue for the CIA was whether Castro learned about this plot. It knew that Castro had intentionally revealed he knew about CIA support for an operation to eliminate him on September 7, 1963. It also knew that was the very day that the CIA was meeting with its jackal in Brazil.

Even more ominously, Castro chose a diplomatic reception at the Brazilian Embassy, which was Brazilian territory. At the reception, he went directly over to the US correspondent for the Associate Press, Daniel Harker, and told him, in an on-the-record interview, that “United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.”
The timing and Brazilian connection were enough to convince James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s legendary counterintelligence chief, that the Cubela operation was “insecure.” He warned Cubela’s handlers that the fact that Cubela had refused the CIA request to take a lie detector examination made him suspect and recommended, without success, that the operation be ended.

The question of whether Cubela was a double agent persisted for three decades and was only answered when Miguel Mir, who served in Castro’s security office from 1986 to 1992, defected. He told the CIA that he had personally reviewed Cubela’s file, and it showed that Cubela was working as a double agent under the control of Cuban intelligence from the time when he allowed himself to be recruited in Brazil.

His real mission was to ascertain whether President Kennedy was behind the CIA plots — hence his request to meet with his brother and have words scripted by Cuban intelligence put in JFK’s Miami speech. If so, Castro knew 1) CIA officers in Brazil were recruiting an assassin to kill him 2) the CIA was prepared to deliver an exotic assassination weapon, and 3) the CIA was supported by President Kennedy.

What Castro knew about Lee Harvey Oswald is less clear. During his stay in Mexico City between September 27 and October 2, 1963, Oswald made at least two visits to the Cuban Embassy. To convince the Cubans of his bona fides — and seriousness — he had prepared a 10-page dossier on himself, according to the testimony of his wife, Marina. This resume included photographs he had taken of General Walker’s home just prior to Oswald’s attempt to assassinate him with a high-powered rifle. So the Cubans could have known that Oswald was a potential assassin with a high-powered rifle.

When the Cuban Consul argued with him over the requisites he would need for a Cuban visa, Oswald reportedly made claims about services he might perform for the Cuban cause. According to the 2009 book Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder, by Gus Russo and Stephen Molton, Oswald then met with at least one Cuban intelligence officer outside the embassy. Whatever was said in or outside the embassy, Oswald’s file, presumably containing this information, was sent to Havana in support of his application, which was conditionally granted.

Five months after the assassination, Castro told Jack Childs, a courier for the Communist Party USA, that Oswald had shouted in the Cuban Embassy in Mexico that he was going to kill Kennedy. Unknown to Castro, Childs was working as an informant for the FBI and duly reported his conversation with Castro to US intelligence.

While Castro’s statement coincided with what other witnesses in the embassy claimed to have overheard, it was not evidence Castro had prior knowledge. He could have been briefed on Oswald’s file after the assassination. But if this threat was in Oswald’s file, why was Oswald’s visa approved?

Brian Latell now addresses this question in Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine. He reveals that Florentino Aspillaga, who defected from Cuban intelligence in 1987, and whom he interviewed, told the CIA that just hours before Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, he had received an extraordinary order from the high command of Cuban intelligence when he was in charge of the communications unit located near Castro’s compound.
Up until then, his unit had focused its antennae on Miami to monitor clandestine radio transmissions from anti-Castro groups. But now he was instructed to redirect all his antennae to Texas and report immediately any transmissions of interest. He assumed from his conversations with his superiors that they had been desperately seeking a transmission from Texas. Latell deduces from this shift that Cuban intelligence had prior knowledge of the Kennedy assassination.
Such a conclusion, however, requires a leap about the purpose of the shift. It is possible that it was not related to Oswald or the Kennedy assassination. Cuban intelligence may merely have been awaiting a burst transmission from an asset in Texas who had no connection with Oswald. But if Castro did have advance knowledge about Oswald, he had little reason to stop him since he also knew by this time  Kennedy;s CIA had plans to kill him.  Until we have further information about the activities of Cuban intelligence on November 22, 1963, the antennae shift, along with the visa approval, will remain a central part of the mystery

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Angleton Conference

Last Thursday (March 29) ,I spoke at a conference on Moles, Defectors, and Deceptions: James Angleton and His Influence on US Counterintelligence  that was organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center and Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies. I was invited because of my book James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right , And believed it would be interesting to have a retrospective discussion of James Angleton and his continuing influence on American counterintelligence. Alas, with one notable exception, the other speakers, seemed determined to repeat all the canards about Angleton’s pursuit of moles and deception. The exception was the lead speaker was Tennent Bagley, who was deputy head of the Soviet Bloc division of the CIA in Angleton’s era. He made the case that “The Fictional image of Angleton– and it is fictional– has done more to damage counterintelligence than any failure or misstep of the real Angleton in the real world.” In pointing out that “mole hunts are an indispensable part of counterintelligence,” he revealed that after in the 1980s, after Angleton had been fired, the CIA got a “shocking wake up call when the KGB arrested “all CIA sources inside the Soviet intelligence services.”

In my talk, I argued that the CIA is still vulnerable to deception because it continues to ignore Angleton’s precept that intelligence is most vulnerable to deception when it believes it is invulnerable. The other panelists, including those from the CIA, continued to insist that strategic deception, if it exists at all, is not a problem.

After the conference, Bagley wrote me that the mindless repetition of labels such as “paranoia” to dismiss Angleton struck him as little more than “the baying of a pack of hounds after a false lure, not the real fox.”

That may be an accurate description of an intelligence service that rejects the concept of deception.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Lessons of Le Carre

Whether or not it wins an Oscar, the movie adaptation of John Le Carre's 1974 novel "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" demonstrates the power of the classic spy story about the struggle of a fallen intelligence officer to uncover a high-level mole. The obstacle to finding the mole is the intelligence service itself, which attempts to rid itself of the mole hunter. It doesn't want to admit that it has been gulled—a story that's all too rooted in reality.

Consider, for example, the findings of an internal CIA investigation in 1995. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the CIA's inspector general examined how in the late 1980s and early 1990s the CIA had incorporated Russian disinformation into its own reporting. He discovered that over those years the KGB had dispatched at least a half-dozen double agents who provided disinformation cooked up in Moscow to their CIA case officers. Between 1986 and 1994, some of this data had routinely been passed to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in reports with a distinctive blue stripe to signify their importance.

When the inspector general traced the path of this disinformation, he found that the "senior CIA officers responsible for these reports had known that some of their sources were controlled by Russian intelligence." CIA Director John Deutch, who had received the blue-border reports when he was deputy secretary of defense, told Congress that the CIA's failure to disclose that the intelligence emanated from KGB-controlled agents was "an inexcusable lapse."

The only way that the KGB could have duped the CIA for years was by modifying its data so that it would continue to seem plausible—and that required some form of feedback. As it later turned out, the KGB had no fewer than three moles in American intelligence capable of providing such feedback: In the CIA it had Aldrich Ames starting in 1985. And in the FBI the KGB had both Robert Hanssen since 1978 and Earl Edwin Pitts starting in 1987. They survived as moles—Hanssen for 22 years—because of the sort of institutional blindness, born out of bureaucratic fear, so well described in Le Carre's novel.  Those officers in the CIA who attempted to remedy this blindness, notably counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, were dismissed as paranoid.

These double agents came to light largely because of the defections from the KGB that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, under more normal circumstances, entrenched bureaucracies can be expected to resist reappraisals of their past work, especially where careers are at stake. The intelligence community's 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran is a case in point.

Based on intelligence, including reports from agents and defectors, that an Iranian nuclear weapon-design program—code-named Project 111—had ended, the NIE declared: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," including "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium enrichment." The intelligence community took at least partial credit for this success by attributing Iran's change to "increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work."

Today no one, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes that Iran gave up its nuclear weaponization ambitions. Indeed we now know from satellite imagery and other means that in 2003 the regime was secretly completing a new uranium-enrichment facility at Fordo, 20 miles north of the holy city of Qom. That was after it closed down Project 111, which in any case had been compromised by a laptop stolen from Iran and smuggled into Turkey and then into CIA hands.

Nor can the CIA rely on its own espionage apparatus, because a communications accident in 2004 compromised most, if not all, of its agents in Iran: The CIA inadvertently sent a list of its operatives to a double agent, a disaster described by the reporter James Risen in his book "State of War." As a result, the CIA could not be sure how much of the data it received from those operatives was disinformation.

Yet, as far as is known, the CIA has still never reappraised the sources and methods that led to its conclusion that Iran had abandoned its quest for a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Epstein's latest book is "James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right?"