CIA official met often with Warren panel, witness says Angleton ignored orders in probe of JFK shooting

October 06, 1996|By NEWSDAY

The chief CIA investigator of President John F. Kennedy's assassination has testified that another high CIA official -- noted for seeking conspiracies -- disobeyed orders in repeatedly conferring with the Warren Commission shortly after the murder.

The witness also said a colleague once told him that the CIA official, the late James Angleton, "has ties to the Mafia."

Almost 33 years after the assassination, the identity of the witness, who held various top-secret CIA jobs, is considered so sensitive that federal authorities insist on withholding his true name. He is known only by the alias "John Scelso."

While Scelso testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, his 192-page testimony was kept secret until now.

It has just been sent to the National Archives by the Assassination Records Review Board, a federal agency that screens assassination documents and makes public those that do not endanger national security.

Scelso's testimony, which criticized operations of the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and other agencies, likely will renew debates, especially among conspiracy seekers, on the assassination and how it was investigated.

When Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, Scelso was chief of a CIA branch responsible for operations in Mexico and Central America.

Richard Helms, the CIA chief of clandestine services and later the agency's director, placed Scelso in charge of the assassination investigation.

Angleton, a counterintelligence official with close ties to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, "immediately went into action to do all the investigating," Scelso testified, criticizing the move sharply.

"Helms called a meeting at which Angleton and a lot of others were present and told everybody that I was in charge and that no one should have any conversations with anyone about the Kennedy case without my being present -- which was violated from the word 'go' by Angleton, who dealt with the FBI and the Warren Commission and [Warren Commission member and former CIA Director Allen] Dulles himself. Angleton ignored Helms' orders. I tried to get Helms to make him obey and Helms said, 'You go tell him,' " Scelso testified.

Angleton, who died in 1987, spent much of his career searching for conspiracies -- believing that there was a Communist mole in the CIA -- and was presumed by other CIA officers to have tried to press a conspiracy theory on the Warren Commission. The commission found no evidence of a conspiracy. Angleton was fired in 1975. Years later, a mole was found -- Aldrich Ames -- but he had entered the CIA after Angleton's dismissal.

At one point in the 1978 House testimony, committee attorney Michael Goldsmith asked Scelso, "Do you have any reason to believe that Angleton might have had ties to organized crime?"

"Yes," replied Scelso, who is now retired and lives abroad, government sources said. He said the Justice Department once asked the CIA to determine the true names of people holding numbered bank accounts in Panama because the Mafia was hiding Las Vegas "skim" money there.

"We were in an excellent position to do this and told them so -- whereupon Angleton vetoed it and said, 'That is the bureau's [FBI's] business.' "

Scelso said he discussed the situation with another CIA officer: nTC "And he 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.' "

On another subject, Scelso gave Kennedy conspiracy hunters a slight piece of ammunition. A Soviet defector, Yuri Nosenko, was known to have told investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald -- identified by the Warren Commission as Kennedy's assassin -- was not a Soviet agent.

But Scelso said, "I later heard that Nosenko was discovered to have been dissembling, not being on the level. That information was imparted to me by CIA officers."

Based on the information CIA headquarters had on Oswald before the assassination -- chiefly that he had been in the Marine Corps and defected to the Soviet Union, then returned -- Scelso said he saw no reason to pay him special heed.

"Oswald just seemed to me to be a small-potatoes defector," he said. But he conceded that significant information about Oswald had not reached headquarters before the assassination.

It dealt chiefly with Oswald's visits to the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City and his attempts to obtain a Cuban visa two months before the assassination.

He revealed that all the outside telephone lines at the Soviet and Cuban embassies were tapped by American agents and that calls Oswald made to them were recorded. After Oswald was arrested, Scelso revealed, agents compared audiotapes made while he was in custody with the wiretaps and determined that he was the same man who had visited the embassies.

Pub Date: 10/06/96

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