Missing Church Committee Transcripts
With the National Archives' planned 2017 release of some 3600 postponed JFK records, attention has been focused on what will be in these new releases, and also what known records will remain "missing." Important among these are currently-withheld documents of the Church Committee, the Senate committee which in the mid-1970s conducted the most wide-ranging congressional review of U.S. intelligence agencies in our nation's history, and also conducted a probe into these agencies' response after the JFK assassination.
Church Committee Documents Scheduled for Release in 2017
The documents scheduled for October 2017 release includes 26 Church Committee records currently withheld in full, listed below.
The ARRB and Missing Church Committee Records
This list is unfortunately short. It appears that a number of JFK-related Church Committee records have "gone missing," perhaps permanently so. This problem was known to the Assassination Records Review Board. Master researcher Malcolm Blunt provided the MFF with pages copied from the files of ARRB staffer Ronald G. Haron; these 114 pages include memos discussing the problem of missing files, in particular interview transcripts.
Haron's files include a July 1996 memo from AARB staffer Joe Freeman to Counsel Jeremy Gunn discussing the failure to obtain from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [SSCI] "numerous testimonies referenced in Volume 5 of the Church Committee Report...not present in the Church Committee's files at NARA II".
Also in Haron's files is a 9-page inventory of what the ARRB had obtained by August 1997, followed by a 5-page list of what was still unobtained by that time.
A later handwritten history noted that in January 1998 the ARRB "received 16 items of testimony" not previously provided, but the following month "identified 75 key items of testimony still absent. That same month they received "an additional 15 items." Two pages later in the hardwritten note "What We Still Need" lists the following (partial) set of what was still missing:
- Key FBI officials involved in the Kennedy assassinaton at HQ, WMFO, including Alex Rose and Wiliam Sullivan [7 FBI in total]
- George Bush, the CIA Director in 1976
- John McCone, former CIA Director
- CIA officials who worked on the Kennedy investigation
- CIA officials who worked with Desmond Fitzgerald, who was involved with the Castro assass. plots
- Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel
- John Sherman Cooper, WC [Warren Commission] member
- Robert McNamara, Sec of Defense
- Douglas Dillon, Sec of Treasury
In late June of 1998, after receipt of additional transcripts in January and February and just a few months before the AARB closed up shop, the "Status of Church Committee Records" showed that some of these had been received, and a few of those had been declared NBR (Not Believed Relevant), including two interviews with CIA Counterintelligence chief James Angleton!
But most of the roughly 60 transcripts still missing in February 1998 apparently never made into the ARRB's hands.. The AARB acknowledged the problem in its Final Report, noting that after initially being notified of missing records, "For approximately two years, the SSCI did not explain or rectify this crucial gap in the records provided to NARA." The ARRB, after protracted negotiations, eventually obtained direct access to "all 450 boxes of original Church Committee files" and "inspected all the original files...However, the hard copy of testimony cited in the JFK Assassination Report was not among the materials" (only microfilmed copies of some of them). The compliance section of the AARB's Report concluded "At the time of this Report, the SSCI coud not explain the absence of these original transcripts (and perhaps accompanying materials) relating to the Kennedy assassination."
Depositions Cited in Two Key Reports but Never Released
Several years ago, I looked at the complete set of released transcripts of testimony to the Church Committee, some 130 of them, obtained by the AARC and available on this website. The process entailed reviewing the pages of two Church Committee Reports - the Interim Report ("Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders") and the Schweiker-Hart Report ("The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies"). These clearly were the two reports most directly related to JFK's murder, and transcripts cited in them should be released.
What this review found (and several were probably missed) were 39 individual transcripts cited in these two reports which were not among the released transcripts. 15 of these were cited in discussion of the 1973 murder of Chilean General Rene Schneider, and rightly or wrongly may have been deemed "out of scope." But most of the remaining 24 are clearly relevant. They include CIA officers involved in the Castro plots, CIA Director John McCone, White House advisor McGeorge Bundy, JMWAVE Station Chief Ted Shackley, and even an FBI supervisor involved with the FBI's JFK investigation.
Here are the missing transcripts compiled from that review of the two Church Committee volumes:
What Remains Missing
It's important to note that this discussion has a limited focus on transcripts of testimony which should be in the JFK files but are not. This does not include discussion of other JFK-related documents in the Committee's files which are not interview transcripts. Nor does it address the much larger universe of Church Committee records on other topics, which were never considered for release under the JFK Records Act.
Even within this limited scope of testimony transcripts, much remains missing, and only a few of these apparently will become available in 2017.
Among the 26 Committee records on the 2017 list, only 8 of them appear to be interview transcripts. These are:
- 157-10002-10030: Richard Bissell, 7/17/1975 [33 pages]
- 157-10002-10151: Sam Papich, 8/22/1975 [4 pages - notes not transcript?]
- 157-10014-10004: James Angleton, 9/12/1975 [151 pages]
- 157-10014-10006: James Angleon, Scotty Miler, 1/22/1976 [74 pages]
- 157-10014-10047: Untitled, 5/6/1976 [80 pages - date and subject suggest this is Ted Shackley, JMWAVE Chief]
- 157-10014-10049: Untitled, 3/15/1976 [50 pages - date and subject suggest this is FBI Supervisor (Retired) of the Soviet Section with FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division]
- 157-10014-10084: Untitled, 5/10/1976 [43 pages - date and subjects suggest this is CIA Chief of Counterintelligence of the Special Affairs Staff (Harold Swenson)]
- 157-10014-10090: Untitled, 11/12/1975 [34 pages - ???]
These 8 transcripts don't begin to fill the chasm of what's missing. A small amount of the discrepancy may be due to confusion. For example, the listing above includes 157-10014-10084, a 43-page transcript of 5/10/1976 with the Chief of Counterintelligence of the CIA's Special Affairs Staff, postponed in full (the NARA online database confirms this). Yet 157-10014-10048 (two digits juxtaposed) is an available interview of the same date with the same person (postponed in part), which goes some 67 pages. Were there two interviews on the same day, or are these two records referring to the same interview?
Interestingly the two Angleton interviews to be released in 2017 are those noted as Not Believed Relevant in the ARRB documents.
Despite the possibility of a few such errors, it remains true that the list of what will still be missing after 2017 is lengthy.
Officials questioned about assassination plotting against Patrice Lumumba, and whose transcripts are missing, include Sidney Gottlieb, "Michael Mulroney," and Douglas Dillon. Questioned regarding Trujillo plots but missing are Henry Dearborn and a CIA Station Officer. Many depositions concerning the "kidnap plot" against General Rene Schneider of Chile are not available, possibly deemed not relevant; these include Henry Kissinger, Thomas Karamessines, Alexander Haig, and many others.
Even reducing the focus to simply those officials directly involved with the investigations of the Kennedy assassination or U.S. anti-Castro activities, depositions in the ARRB list which will remain missing includes among others (see ARRB list):
- CIA Analyst, subordinate of James Angleton (probably Ray Rocca), 3/15/1976
- CIA Assistant to Desmond Fitzgerald, 9/18/1975
- CIA Case Officer and interpreter for Desmond Fitzgerald, 7/29/75
- Ted Shackley, CIA Chief of JMWAVE, 8/19/1975, 5/16/1976 (2017 list includes 5/6/1975 interview)
- John Sherman Cooper, member of Warren Commission, 5/24/1976
- Two of three FBI Supervisors assigned at HQ to Kennedy assassination case interviewed on the same day, 4/27/1976
- FBI Inspector, liaison to Warren Commission, 3/20/1976
- FBI Receptionist in the Dallas Office, 7/15/1975
- FBI Special Agent in Charge, 12/20/1975
- FBI Supervisor for the Soviet Section, 4/23/1976
- FBI Supervisor of Special Agent James Hosty, 9/8/1975, 9/15/1975
- Richard Helms, CIA DD/P, 6/11/1975 (other Helms testimony released)
- Gerry Patrick Hemming, soldier of fortune, 5/23/1975
- Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel, 6/17/1975
- Thomas Karamessines, Deputy to Richard Helms, 8/6/1975, 10/24/1975, 11/3/1975, 4/18/1976
- Nicholas Katzenbach, Asst. Attorney General, 5/7/1975, 12/3/1975
- John McCone, CIA Director, 2/3/1976 (10/9/1975 released)
- Orestes Pena, New Orleans resident, 11/24/1975
- William Sullivan, FBI Asst. Director for Domestic Intelligence, 4/21/1975, 9/16/1975 (4/21/1976 released)
- Howard Willens, Asst. Counsel for Warren Commission, 5/12/1976
- George McManus, Helms' executive assistant, 7/22/1975 (noted by ARRB in 1998 as "ready for transfer to NARA", but never released)
- McGeorge Bundy, White House advisor, 7/11/1975
- Case Officer, 8/4/1975
- Duty Officer, 8/11/1975
- Case Officer 1, 8/11/1975
- (Desmond Fitzgerald's) "Assistant," 9/18/1975
- Sheffield Edwards, Director of the CIA Officer of Security, 4/9/1975 (Rockefeller Commission testimony)
- "Official" (in CIA Western Hemisphere Division), 9/18/1975
- Intelligence Officer, 5/10/64 [sic]
- John McCone (CIA Director), 6/6/1975
- George Bush, then CIA Director, 4/8/1976, 4/26/1976
Where are all these missing transcripts? It appears that most of them are not in the 450 boxes of Church Committee material held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - were they destroyed and if so when and by whom? Were they possibly removed to another location for storage, and then withheld from the ARRB? And which of them -- for instance those transcripts related to the Schneider or Lumumba murders -- were indeed in the files, but not processed by the ARRB? I don't know of any precise accounting or either what transcripts were originally created, nor which may still survive but are not released under the JFK Records Act.
Why Does It Matter?
The number of missing transcripts, involving these names so familar to students of the Kennedy assassination case, is striking. Why are they not public records? Is the reason simply sloppy handling of such a large collection, or turf wars between the ARRB and an uncooperative Senate Select Committee on Intelligence? The fact that the Senate Committee apparently at some point microfilmed the testimony and then removed the paper copies from its files invites suspicion.
So then, are the particular transcripts which are missing more "important" than those which have been released, or do we simply have a random subset of the full record of testimony?
The number of FBI supervisors directly working on the JFK assassination case with missing transcripts - almost all of those interviewed - is one clue that something unusual is afoot here. And then there are names like Orest Pena, the New Orleans bar owner who told the HSCA that "he was an FBI informant who reported to Warren D. deBrueys...on several occasions he saw Oswald in the company of deBrueys and other Government agents..."
The full number of missing Church Committee transcripts, let alone other relevant Committee documents, is unknowable. The ARRB's list of transcripts was created from sources wider than my simple perusal of the footnotes of two reports, but there is no way to gauge how many additional transcripts didn't make the list.
For instance, not mentioned either in the two Reports cited, nor in these ARRB files, is any testimony of Wendall C. Roche. Roache, who worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in New Orleans in 1963, was contacted by Church Committee staff member Paul Wallach on December 3, 1975. Roache's name had been given to the Committee by none other than Orest Pena, whose own testimony remains missing.
According to a memo to file written by Wallach, Roache told him "I've been waiting twelve years to talk to someone about this," and was "willing to come to D.C. at our convenience."
Roach began telling Wallach immediately about Oswald, saying he "saw him around frequently" and recalled "that he had an office in..." Wallach wrote that "I cut him off, politely suggesting that we go over all of this in an interview session."
Roache also offered the name of another INS employee, Ronald L. Smith. Six days later, Wallach wrote up a phone call he had with Mr. Smith, who recalled in April of 1963 having "interrogated a prisoner....named Lee Harvey Oswald." While Smith did not want to testify, claiming "he would have nothing to add," the same does not appear to be true of Roach, or possibly other people whose names were raised in these calls, including a David Smith of Customs.
Did the Church Committee ever conduct an interview with Wendall Roach, and if so what did he tell them? Would it square with the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald was really a pro-Communist loner? Or, if such an interview wasn't among the missing, would it add yet more weight to the viewpoint that Oswald's activities were just a pose? That, as Church Committee Senator Schweiker said regarding Oswald, "Everywhere you look with him there are the fingerprints of intelligence."
It seems we may never know for sure. The most we can learn from missing records is the pattern created by the empty space they leave behind.
-- Rex Bradford
Lee Harvey Oswald passing out pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans in the summer of 1963