William King Harvey: The CIA’s ´Loosest Cannon’


In the annals of the Cold War, no operative is more misunderstood, and marginalized than the CIA’s William King Harvey


By Trowbridge H. Ford


Part I

According to Cambridge Professor Christopher Andrew, the leading historian of the services Harvey worked for, the Agency and the KGB, he was nothing more than the faceless husband of Libby Harvey, the spouse who Soviet spy Guy Burgess produced a pornographic cartoon of during a drunken party. Robin Winks, author of Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961, avoided Harvey like the plague in its research and writing.

There is no mention either of the Agency officer in Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones’s The CIA & American Democracy. The only real exception among respected works is Mark Riebling’s The Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA, but even here, he concentrated his description on Harvey’s independent efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro, something Attorney General Robert Kennedy, it seems, finally stopped on June 20, 1963 when Harvey attended a farewell lunch with Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana’s recruiter of anti-Castro hitmen, at Tino’s Continental Restaurant in Georgetown.

Even more controversial books on operations Harvey was involved in have little to add. Jonathan Vankin & John Whalen have nothing new about Harvey in The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, though they did discuss CIA’s efforts to control human behavior through chemical and psychological means, to get Castro, and to help succeed somehow in getting rid of JFK, RFK, MLK, and a few others. Anthony Summers, in The Kennedy Conspiracy, after discussing Harvey’s efforts to assassinate Castro despite the opposition of the Kennedy brothers, added information about his efforts to recruit through the Corsican Mafia in Marseilles Thomas Davis, Christian David, and Lucien Sarti as JFK assassins when Harvey, it seems, took up his new assignment in Rome.

According to this information, the conveniently dead Sarti killed the President with a single, exploding bullet to the head, and Giancana suffered ultimately a similar fate at the Mafia’s hands for his role.

Only Noel Twyman, in Bloody Treason: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, vastly expanded this claim and several others by Summers, contending that JFK’s stripping of Harvey’s power to carry out assassinations resulted in his becoming the chief planner of the President’s assassination, organizing no less than three hit squads for the job – an Agency one, a Mafia one, and the French one – an operation for which he was ultimately obliged to kill Giancana himself to keep secret.

Peter Dale Scott, especially in Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, has preferred to see Harvey as simply the fall guy for darker forces in the intelligence services, particularly Director Hoover and Agency CI Chief James Angleton, the Mafia’s Santos Trafficante, and Carlos Marcello, and anti-Castro activists, especially John Martino and Rosselli.

In going from this “rags to riches” context when in comes to the JFK conspiracy in particular, and Harvey in general, though, the reader has no clearer indication of who exactly killed the President, much less an understanding of what Harvey’s actual role in this killing, and several other operations was. While critics of the Warren Commission may enjoy an alternative explanation of the President’s assassination in which it is portrayed as a turkey shoot in which all his enemies participate, it, in the final analysis, is no more helpful than the original cover up.

In sum, it seems that a history of Harvey would be helpful, and perhaps in the process, the reader can gain a better understanding of all kinds of CIA special operations, especially its involvement in key assassinations.

William King Harvey, the son of a successful Indianapolis attorney, was born during WWI in Danville, Indiana, and followed in his father’s footsteps, attending Indiana University Law School, and setting up practice in Maysville, Kentucky after an unsuccessful attempt to enter local Democratic Party politics.

While there, Harvey met his wife-to-be, the pretty Libby, but his failure at the Bar had him joining the FBI in December 1940.(Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, p. 120ff.)

During WWII, Harvey attempted to put together double-agent cases in New York against the Nazis, including a successful one in which William Sebold ran a secret shortwave radio station on Long Island, but Director Hoover refused to sanction it for long, and others at all for fear of losing control of events and adverse Bureau publicity, especially when the Dusko Popov Affair turned so sour.

Popov was a British-German double agent who came to warn Washington about Japan’s plan to attack Hawaii, but Hoover was only interested in prosecuting him for vviolating the Mann Act which criminalized the taking of women across state borders for sexual purposes, especially since he had resumed his affair with French actress Simone Simon in New York City, considering his revelations as little more than money-making schemes.

After the war, Harvey’s efforts were even less successful, and recognized, though he was the agent who developed turncoat Elizabeth Bentley’s leads about communist infiltration. Harvey was responsible for Hoover writing a Top Secret Report for President Truman about 12 alleged Soviet agents, including Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White, Truman’s own assistant Lauchlan Currie, and the State Department’s Alger Hiss, in the government, requesting that the Director reactivate Bentley as a communist double agent to develop more names, an enormous opportunity in light of the defection of GRU cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko in Ottawa. “No defector, ” Chapman Pincher has written in Treachery, “had ever yielded such a haul of spies and agents.” (p. 237)

Hoover would have none of it, however, preferring to publicize Bentley’s allegations at the expense of his pet enemies, the spies’ superiors, and William Donovan’s OSS. Consequently, Harvey, instead of catching a host of atomic spies, starting with Klaus Fuchs, and leading Cambridge traitors, Donald Maclean and Burgess, was reduced to pursuing rag-tag groups of dedicated communists, and fellow travellers, like the Joseph Katz, and Gregory Silvermaster groups, of which White and Currie were members.

By late 1947, Harvey was so demoralized by the process that he failed to show up for work one morning because of being in a drunken stupor, leading to his transfer back home to Indianapolis, and to his finding new employment with the CIA.

While he had the highest hopes that the new agency, especially its Office of Policy Coordinaton, would fulfill its potential, its largely unsuccessful cowboy operations around the world, especially in Eastern Europe and the USSR, increasingly left something to be desired, primarily because of Soviet spying by Philby. Harvey, who was running Staff C’s foreign mail-opening program (HT/LINGUAL), and was under instruction not to upset Hoover, was prepared to believe that homosexual Carmel Offie, an OPC deputy director, was the source of the leaks, thanks to a file the Bureau had prepared on him.

When OPC director Frank Wisner still refused to fire Offie, Harvey, thanks to his FBI connections, especially with his former subordinate Robert Lamphere, was brought into the Venona program behind Hoover’s back to determine who the real moles were. While the Bureau was still pursuing Bentley’s domestic leads with the new technology, Harvey wanted to determine who the decrypts “Homer” (Maclean), “Hicks” (Burgess), and “Stanley” (Philby) were in coded KGB and GRU messages, especially after the traumatic dinner party at the Philbys’ on January 19, 1951.

Hardly had Harvey commenced his inquiries than Maclean and Burgess were flushed from cover, fleeing to Moscow on May 25th. Then, after the Bureau had officially supplied CIA with the decrypts, as Harvey had requested, he zeroed in on Philby, formally accusing him of being a Soviet agent two weeks later. Hoover, though, to protect the Bureau’s inflated image, was no more eager to prosecute Philby than the Agency had been to pursue Offie. In the meantime, Philby was withdrawn to Britain, and obliged to resign from MI6, resuming a newspaper career.

William King Harvey

Harvey had no more to show for his next important effort, the famous Berlin Tunnel Operation, despite all the hoopla by Anglo-American intelligence. After Stalin’s murder, when the West was caught flatfooted by the uprising in East Germany in June 1953, and was unaware of the power struggle in Moscow, Harvey was made station chief in Berlin, “…running agents, digging tunnels, and taking the battle to the Soviets wherever possible.” (Peter Wright, Spycatcher, p.147)

Harvey was most eager to take advantage of what MI6, GRU double agent Pyotr Popov, and the Post Office’s Wright had done since 1949 with a 70-foot tunnel up to Vienna’s Imperial Hotel, tapping Red Army communications (Operation Silver), and two years later, a joint CIA-MI6 effort had resulted in the construction of a 600-yard tunnel into East Berlin for the same purpose (Operation Gold). Unfortunately, by this time, Popov, who had just been reassigned there, had been reclaimed by the KGB; Wright, now with MI5, and the KGB’s most important spy, had been brought into the project to improve its technical capabilities; and MI6’s George Blake, another Soviet spy, became aware of its existence. Wright’s knowledge let the Soviets know just what, how, and why the West was looking for.

The Soviets leaked Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Twentieth Party Congress to make it seem that the project was working, and that the Soviet leaders was a faint-hearted liberal, but veiled what they wanted during the Suez Crisis, and the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution.

It was only several years later, when Harvey was deeply involved in another Wright-induced, wild-goose chase – the assassination of Fidel Castro – that he learned how wasteful and pointless the Berlin Tunnel operation had been. In 1957, Wright had sicked CIA on Cuba, and in September 1960, Robert Maheu, another former FBI agent, had cleared with DCI Allen Dulles and DDP Richard Bissell the use of Mafia hitmen against Castro.

Harvey was immediately given overall control of the program, and he twice planned, with the assistance of its Technical Services Divison and a Sam Giancana cutout, but without success poisoning Castro, finally settling to coordinate his assassination with the Bay of Pigs invasion. Without President Kennedy supplying sufficient support to the anti-Castro rebels, and without E. Howard Hunt keeping from the Cuban dictator what CIA had in store for him, though, the plans came to nothing.

In October 1961, Wright was back in Washington to prime again the hopelessly dry well. To get Harvey back on board, the MI5 technical specialist discussed its RAFTER capability – what the KGB had, but CIA didn’t – in a way which made the forced defection of CIA spy Michael Goleniewski crystal clear.

The Polish intelligence officer knew that Blake worked for the Soviets, and threatened to blow the rest of Gordon Lonsdale’s network sky high. Thanks to London’s failure to inform CIA that the KGB was closing in on Goleniewski’s HF radio transmissions, it was he who was sacrificed rather than Lonsdale’s other important agents, starting with Wright.

Once Harvey finally calmed down enough to see Wright for dinners at James Angleton’s and at a restaurant, though he still called him an “untrustworthy motherfucker”, he so stressed the need of assassinating Castro that Harvey was soon working again with the Mafia on the project (ZR/RIFLE), behind the President’s back, as part of the whole CIA anti-Cuban effort (Task Force W) in Operation Mongoose.

The high point in this effort occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis when Harvey, contrary to Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s order, dispatched a commando team to Cuba to kill Castro.

When JFK settled the Missile Crisis without the overthrowing of the Cuban regime, and ordered a domestic crackdown on anti-Castro forces the following April, Harvey was at the end of his tether about what to do, deciding to kill JFK instead. While the luncheon in June with Rosselli has been portrayed as a farewell sendoff for Harvey, actually it was a test to see if Hoover would make a fuss if he continued to contact Mafiosos.

When the Director indicated that he would not, Harvey knew that he could continue to deal with the Mafia as long as he was not clearly involved in commiting a domestic crime, what would force the Bureau to get involved. It was in June 1963 that Roselli and John Martino – backed by the Agency, Life magazine, organized crime.and financier William Pawley – arranged a mission to go to Cuba in the hope of assassinating Castro – what could lead to similar retaliation by the Cuban leader if it proved convenient – and smuggling out two Soviet colonels stationed there who “…wished to defect with knowledge of where the Russians had hidden offensive missiles in violation of the Cuban-missile-crisis settlement.” (Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, p. 115)

About setting up Oswald to connect the President’s assassination with alleged developments in Cuba, Gottlieb’s protégé John Gittinger – the Agency’s expert on finding an unwitting subject to hypnotize for operations (John Marks, The Search For The ‘Manchurian Candidate’ , pp.19-20) , finally was persuaded by Marks to explain its experiments in rapid induction for fear that he might come to even more alarming conclusions if left unaided in his research, Gittinger told Marks about MKULTRA subproject 128 (ibid., footnote at the bottom of p. 244), where Dr. George White attempted in a Mexico City motel to program Oswald to kill JFK after Harvey apparently had flown in from Washington in July 1963. “The station proposed a low-level agent,” Marks explained, “whom the Soviets had apparently doubled.” (p. 203)

Harvey, Marks’ apparent source, then told him a cock-and bull story about what had happened. After Harvey had puffed up Oswald about his importance, and that his bosses wanted to see him to give him more money, Harvey and apparent resident Winston Scott did this: “At a prearranged time, the two case officers gently grabbed hold of the agent and tipped his char over until the back was touching the floor.” Then, instead of the consultant attempting the rapid induction, he allegedly froze for some unknown reason, unable to perform the technique.

Actually, the truth seems to be that Oswald – though a Marine, and susposedly used to taking orders – refused because he was not inclined to kill the President. And this seems to have been the case when they then were all involved in trying to cover it up when another attempt by White would have solved the whole problem if the operation was merely an experiment, and not a covert operation. Harvey helped this interpretation by incongrously adding this: “We explained we had heard a noise, got excited, and tipped him down to protect him. He was so grubby for money he would have believed any excuse.”

Once Lee Harvey Oswald had not been successfully hypnotized to assassinate the President by rapid induction in July, Harvey, taking advantage of the newly created Domestic Operations Division, began planning operations against Cuba, and the President which would backfire on the Soviets and Cubans. To assist this, Harvey seems to have informed reporter Robert E. Baskin of The Dallas Morning News’s Washington Bureau that the Cuban Missile Crisis was resuming after the 13-month delay, and that someone sounding like Lee Harvey Oswald was threatening former Vice President Richard Nixon and Dallas Representative Bruce Alger.

In the October 20th issue, Baskin – thanks, it seems, to what Harvey knew about what the Bureau was up to – wrote in his Weathervane column: “The FBI and postal inspectors are on the trail of a person in the Dallas area who has been mailing post cards with obscene charges againt Rep. Bruce Alger and former Vice President Richard N. Nixon. All bear the same handwriting. Most of them carry Dallas postmarks, but some have been mailed at Irving and Fort Worth. The sender in believed to be a possibly dangerous social deviate.” (Quoted from Part II of my three-part series. “Politics Of The Times Led to Kennedy’s Death, ” in The National Exchange, vol. 2, no. 10, p. 14.)

About the resumption of the crisis with Cuba – what seemed most real to Baskin, and due to happen when JFK went to Texas on Novemeber 21th – he concluded:

A year later, one can ask: Is it really over?

Since then there has been a general softening of the Russian line toward the United States, culminating in the signing of a nuclear test ban treaty. Khrushchev these days seems a very amenable fellow indeed.

BUT CUBA is still Communist and only 90 miles away.

In Berlin the ugly, rubble-like wall still divides the free from the enslaved.

In Vietnam the Communist guerillas continue to attack.

And disorders, frequently triggered by Communists, plague many nations in every hemisphere.

Is it really over? (Quoted from ibid.)

To create a process which would not get the Bureau involved – what had happened when Chicago mobsters openly discussed in Miami murdering union boss Frank Esposito in 1962, obliging the FBI to use the bugged information to prevent it – Harvey created a set of coded terms, “Cleopatra Movie”, “Little Egypt”, “Twist Board Craze”, etc., centered around advertised acts at Jack Ruby’s (aka Jacob “Sparky” Rubenstein for his youthful deliveries of Iskra) Carousel Club in Dallas, and other Mafia-infested clubs around the country, to set in motion forces which would threaten the President, kill him, and make it look as if Havana had done it for Moscow.

Ruby, who had been Giancana’s man in Dallas since 1947, used alleged difficulties with American Guild of Variety Artists employees to call important Mafiosos, especially Barney Baker, Dave Yaras, Irwin Weiner, Lenny Patrick, Lewis McWillie, and Rosselli, and to travel to important cities like Miami, New York, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and LA, to set operations in motion. When JFK visited these cities, thanks to Ruby’s prodding, security was increasingly heightened because of threats, what reached absurd proportions in Miami just before the assassination, and JFK was bound to relax in Dallas, especially because of Nixon’s actions there. and making out that he needed no protection.

The only problem with these Mafia covert operations was the use of “Little Egypt”, the code word apparently for attacks on Castro, since there was actually a belly dancer with the same name, and she threatened court action with the slimy clubs which falsely advertised her performances.

In this context, it was easy for Giancana’s assassination team of Richard Cain, Chuckie Nicoletti, and Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio to kill the President, while a decoy team in the nearby railroad marshalling yard confused authorities as to who were the perpetrators.

The trouble was that Cain had not test fired the rifle that Larry Crafard, who had come to Dallas under the cover of making movies, and who, once cleaned up, and wearing his false teeth, impersonated Oswald on several occasions, had delivered to the Book Depository, and, consequently, Texas Governor John Connally was accidentally wounded seriously.

Cain and Nicoletti, when they were making their getaway, murdered Dallas policeman J. D. Tippitt, running into the acquaintance accidentally, and fearing that he suspected them of killing the President and wounding the Governor. In short, Ruby, who had been waiting in the ad office of The Dallas Morning News to place more coded messages for Harvey’s ongoing operations in the next day’s edition after JFK had been cleanly disposed of, was forced to cancel the ads, and close his club, grinding everything to a halt.

For Harvey, this meant making it appear that Oswald was not a friend of Castro’s through the Fair Play for Cuba Committee’s Gilberto Lopez, and a student of KGB “assassation specialist” Valeri Kostikov – a false legend that the CIA in Mexico City had put together by ordering him around – but the most unlikely acquaintance of Ruby’s, explaining why he had to murder him.

In the process, Harvey was as stretched out as the Pentagon’s Haig, having to forget about converting Operation Americas into a sudden assault with Howard Hunt’s Second Guerrilla Operation on the Bay of Pigs again, the “downing” of Captain Joe Glenn Hyde’s U-2 to kick off a resumption of the Cuban Missile Crisis, all the impersonations of Oswald, Martino’s Russian military defectors who would conveniently claim that Khrushchev still had offensive missiles in Cuba, and the American military responses primed to settle scores finally with Castro.

Harvey’s U-turn was best illustrated by Hal Hendrix, the reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis, foregoing reporting the assassination in Dallas so that he could be with Haig’s Operation Americas, only to see it suddenly reduced to defensive maneuvers on Colombia’s Atlantic coast.

Harvey was ultimately reduced to making CIA “Oswald free”, an apparent agent the KGB had recruited through his wife, Marina – what was achieved by Ruby assassinating him, once Hoover, thanks to Lee having an alibi for the murder since he was standing at the entrance of the TSBD when it happened, had determined that there was not enough to convict him. (Summers, p, 316)


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Trowbridge Ford (1929 - 2021) was the son of William Wallace Ford, the father of the US Army's Grasshoppers. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and Columbia University where he received a Ph.D. in political science after a stint in the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps as a draftee during the Korean War, and after being discharged, worked as the sports editor and a reporter for the now-defunct Raleigh Times. Thought academia was the thing for him.  He was quite satisfied teaching all kinds of courses about European and American politics while writing his dissertation about an under-appreciated British politician, Henry Brougham, who became the Lord Chancellor of the famous Reform Government (1830-34). At the same time, Trowbridge became most interested in the role that A. V. Dicey, a famous Oxford legal professor, played in settling the Irish question - another figure that historians didn't think did much about.   It was while he was doing research on the dissertation at the British Museum in London that President Kennedy was assassinated, and it slowly led him to take a dimmer view of academic life, especially when joined by campus protests over the growing Vietnam War.  He was fired by two institutions of higher learning because of his protests against the war. When the Vietnam War finally ended, he got involved in researching the Dallas assassination, and his first serious efforts about it appeared in Tom Valentine's The National Exchange in 1978 - what Fletcher Prouty thought was quite good, just urging him to go higher in the Agency and the political world for the main culprits. He slowly started doing this, ultimately deciding to retire early in 1986, planning on finishing his Brougham biography while living in Portugal. While he did this, he had made too many enemies with the White House not to be punished - first by attempts to establish that he maliciously tried to destroy Richard Nixon during Watergate by libeling him, and when he died, DCI George Tenet tried to have me killed by poisoning - what would make his death look like a suicide or a natural one. As a result of this, once he had finally determined the cause, he moved to Sweden to not only save his skin but also investigate and write about assassinations, covert operations, 'false flag' deceptions, preventive wars, weapons development, and their use, etc.  He passed away in 2021.