THE MOLEHUNT PHASE II: LEE HENRY OSWALD AND THE OSWALD 201 FILE

 
 

How the Late (9 December 1960) Opening of a CIA 201 File on Lee Henry Oswald was Part of a New Phase of the Hunt for Popov's Mole

For many decades controversy has surrounded the use of the name Lee Henry Oswald by a CIA officer working in the CIA's molehunting unit--the Counterintelligence Special Investigations Group (CI/SIG), Ann Egerter.  Equally controversial has been the question of why it took the CIA thirteen months after Oswald's defection to the USSR to open his 201 file.  The most bizarre aspect of the 201 opening controversy is the Agency's official position: The reason for opening Oswald's 201 file was because he defected to the USSR!

The pages in this folder will illustrate a few of the highlights in my discussion of both of the above mentioned controversies in Chapter Eighteen of Countdown to Darkness.  The reader here will need to consult that chapter and Chapter One for related events and people that took place and were active before and after the facts provided in the pages of this folder to understand the fundamental premise of that chapter: The late 201 opening and the Lee Henry Oswald "marked" card were not unrelated phenomenon.  Rather, they were both part of the CIA's relentless and unsuccessful attempt to find the KGB mole in the CIA.  That mole, according to an April 1958 tip by Soviet military intelligence defector Pyotr Popov, had learned much of the technical details of the Agency's secret U-2 overhead reconnaissance program.

In the first of the folders on this website devoted to Countdown to Darkness, I mentioned the strategy--put into place at the time of Oswald's defection in October 1959, to starve the Soviet Russia Division (SRD) of incoming documents on Oswald--of the security and counterintelligence staffs to surface the mole.  By the spring of 1960 it was clear that the strategy had not worked.  So the strategy was amended, only slightly, in May 1960, by inserting just one Oswald item into SRD's "realities" branch, SR/6.  That one item was a November 1959 newspaper article on Oswald by journalist Priscilla Johnson (later McMillan-Johnson).  Her story was accurate and contained all of the pertinent facts except for the diamond in the rough--that Oswald had offered to give the USSR information of "special interest" about his work in the Marine Corps.  He had worked was as a radar operator in the CIA's super-secret U-2 program.

By the fall of 1960, the molehunt had still failed to surface the mole.  Knowing that the KGB would be interested in this Oswald U-2 flypaper, CI Chief James Angleton could only conclude that the KGB's interest was insufficient to risk contacting their mole for more information.  That, in turn, could only mean that the mole was for more valuable as a source of information to Soviet intelligence than just for the U-2 program.  Having suffered failures with the Kim Philby and other espionage cases, Angleton's angst increased exponentially.  Eventually it would destroy the SRD and Angleton with it.  In any event, by October 1960, CIA counterintelligence executed a new phase in the molehunt that I will attempt to illustrate briefly in the following pages of this folder.