Monday, 16 October 1995 20:41

FBI vs. ARRB: Heading Into Overtime

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The first fight with ARRB over declassification of files: the FBI digs in its heels over 15 it deems "sensitive".


From the September-October, 1995 issue (Vol. 2 No. 6) of Probe


The first dispute over release of previously classified documents by the Assassination Records Review Board now continues into a second month. In the July 22nd issue of Probe ("ARRB Meets First Hurdles," p. 1) we reported that the FBI had chosen to contest the release of 15 previously classified documents that the Board had decided to declassify in full. The ARRB vote on these documents had been unanimous. The Bureau then decided to take their dispute to President Clinton. They asked him to intervene on their behalf to block full disclosure. President Clinton decided to send the appeal back to the FBI and gave them 30 days to further substantiate their original arguments against total disclosure.

Those arguments centered on the traditional line of protecting sensitive "methods and sources" accompanied by expected collateral damage to intelligence sources and agents inside foreign countries. In this latter part of the FBI plea, the Bureau has enlisted the help of the State Department in defending their position. From our sources in Washington, we understand that State will be helping redraft the FBI plea which is due on September 30th with a decision expected to be announced shortly after.

Response Significant

COPA Secretary John Judge has written that the White House was surprised at the volume of faxes, letters, and calls that they received over this issue. At the time of the FBI appeal, there had been little mainstream media coverage of this case. When Melissa Robinson of the Associated Press, who has become the point person for that news organization on this issue, first went with the story, very few newspapers picked up on the dispute. But two things seem to have happened since. First, the FBI refused to take an official position on the issue. Neither Director Louis Freeh, nor Attorney General Janet Reno has acknowledged the debate over the files. Robinson wrote in her original story, "A telephone call to the FBI seeking comment was not immediately returned." When word of the dispute got into Probe, Open Secrets and the Internet, a buzz was created over the issue. Kennedy researchers like John Newman, Peter Dale Scott, Dr. Gary Aguilar and many others, wrote letters that were published on computer billboards and sent via fax and E-mail to the White House. This took place in late August and early September. Then during Claudia Furiati's Kennedy conference in Rio de Janeiro (Probe, July 22nd p. 18), Newman played his hole card.

Carver Gayton & the "Dirty Little Rumor"

As readers of Probe should know, the FBI has always denied any formal relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. This denial was upheld by both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Still, there have been serious questions raised about this stance from the beginning. In a famous article in the January 27, 1964 issue of The Nation, Harold Feldman raised some very cogent questions about this point. In researching his recent book Oswald and the CIA, John Newman discovered an affidavit in the files of the Church Committee by one Carver Gayton. In this document Gayton had stated that he had met FBI agent James Hosty when Hosty had been transferred to Kansas City after the assassination. While there, Hosty had told Gayton that Oswald had been a PSI (Potential Security Informant) for the Bureau. While at the Rio Conference, Newman prepared a press release and faxed it to several press organizations. Reporter Sam Vincent Meddis picked up the release and wrote a story for USA Today. That story appeared at the top of page four in the August 30th issue of that national newspaper. In the article, FBI authorities stated that Gayton later denied that Hosty made the statement. This is true. Gayton told the HSCA in a June 1, 1977 interview that Hosty never told him anything at all about Oswald "and certainly not that LHO was an FBI agent." The problem here is that the Church Committee document was a sworn affidavit. The HSCA report is of an informal interview. There is no evidence that the HSCA ever confronted Gayton with his previous affidavit. It is interesting to note here that the lead that the HSCA was following on this interview was the same one that the Garrison investigation uncovered on Gayton. A man named Jim Gochenaur had written a letter to Garrison stating that when he was renting an apartment from Gayton, Gayton had told him the Hosty anecdote. In his interview with Howard Gilbert and Jack Moriarty of the HSCA, Gayton ridiculed Gochenaur by stating "he is somewhat of a flake and was an assassination buff".

Oliver "Buck" Revell

The article then quotes Oliver "Buck" Revell, former Bureau criminal investigations chief. In what must be termed "damage control", Revell states that "the PSI designation does not necessarily mean Oswald became an informant. It merely suggests that the FBI had an interest in possibly turning him into one because of his Marxist connections." This is the same "retired" FBI agent who wrote a fatuous response to the LaFontaine piece in the Washington Post on the John Elrod story. The same Revell who recently threatened legal action against PBS and author Diarmuid Jeffreys for charging him with cooperating with Oliver North in 1) Illegally harassing CISPES, a Central American support group favoring the Sandinistas, and 2) Assisting North's efforts to obstruct justice during the Iran-Contra Hearings. The same Revell who has become FBI point man on the Oklahoma City bombing, a case the FBI is already having problems with as questions about the explosives used and witnesses against suspect Timothy McVeigh now abound. It is important to note that Revell was also in charge of the FBI Dallas field office and became associate director from 1989-91.

In light of this information about FBI reluctance, seemingly led by "retired" higher-up Revell, it is relevant to quote Robinson's AP release: "The FBI has not yet specified reasons for keeping parts of the documents classified but is expected to stress the sensitive nature of work with foreign governments and the need to protect informants' identities" (emphasis added).

Although the Newman press release garnered the press coverage and framed the media debate, two other bits of evidence in this regard bolster the original contentions about Oswald by the critical community. Researcher Jeff Caufield has found a report on another HSCA interview with New Orleans FBI employee William Walter, mentioned by Jim Garrison in his book On the Trial of the Assassins. It seems that Walter, in a November 1977 interview, told HSCA investigators that Oswald was an FBI informant. Researcher Anna Marie Kuhns-Walko reportedly has also uncovered similar documents relating to an FBI agent who discovered the same and when FBI Director Hoover learned of this, "he hit the roof."

FBI on Trial

These indications of Bureau obstinacy in the face of the law – and possible obstruction of justice in the Kennedy case – could not have come at a worse time. The FBI is now under siege on several fronts. The new book Fatal Justice, on the Jeffrey McDonald murder case, has exposed the use of "professional" witnesses, a practice that goes back a very long time with the Bureau. The recent hearings on Capitol Hill concerning the shootings at Ruby Ridge bore a resemblance to the O. J. Simpson trial in a significant aspect. In the latter, LAPD officer and star witness Mark Fuhrman took the fifth amendment and refused to testify upon recall by the defense. In the former case, sniper Lon Horiuchi took the fifth before the Senate Committee investigating the Ruby Ridge shooting. His attorney was Earl Silbert, the original Justice Department lawyer involved in the Watergate investigation. Silbert was later replaced by special prosecutor Archibald Cox. A week later, four more FBI officials took the fifth in front of the same committee. The attorney for the four officials was Brendan Sullivan, the former attorney for Oliver North. In a further parallel, the chairman of the investigating panel was Arlen Specter. Specter allowed the five agents to invoke their privilege against self-incrimination in a closed session. He said there was no intent to "humiliate" them.

Making things even worse for the FBI's image are the revelations of former crime lab analyst Frederic Whitehurst. In an AP story carried nationwide and on an ABC "Primetime Live" segment, Whitehurst made the following startling revelations: 1) He was pressured to distort findings about the World Trade Center bombing to favor prosecutors. 2) In a Georgia bombing case investigated by current FBI Director Freeh, two agents slanted evidence by testifying about tests that weren't done and scientific conclusions they could not support. One of the agents, Roger Martz, testified in the Simpson case. 3) During one investigation, he was physically threatened by FBI bomb squad members to make false claims about evidence. 4) On one occasion, an FBI crime lab expert illegally adjusted a forensic testing device in order to alter the results the machine produced.

In a turn that will be familiar to all JFK researchers, when Whitehurst complained about these practices, nothing was done about his memos. Indeed the FBI's only reaction has been to declare Dr. Whitehurst's charges false and then demote him. At the end of the ABC segment, when reporter Brian Ross asked Whitehurst outside his home why he had gone public with the charges, Whitehurst, choking back tears, said that the proudest day of his life was when he became an FBI agent. On that day, he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. That oath did not include a clause to remain silent when other FBI agents broke the law. This genuinely moving moment will remind many readers of the transformation described by Kennedy researcher Bill Turner in his pioneering book Hoover's FBI.

In the face of all this, Director Freeh – while acknowledging the accusations as very serious – rejected suggestions for an outside panel review of the FBI. Even though opinion polls show that, in the face of these violent controversies, favorable opinions of the FBI have declined and negative perceptions have risen. To our knowledge, Freeh has taken no public position on the ARRB dispute with the FBI files. In a Los Angeles Times interview, the Director stated that 1) he regarded any matter that affected the FBI's credibility as serious, 2) that it was essential to acknowledge past mistakes, and 3) that firm action should be taken to correct wrongdoing. If Louis Freeh is serious, a good place to begin on all three is for him to take a public stand for openness on the Kennedy files.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 22:06
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and Reclaiming Parkland (2013/2016), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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