Fictoid #2:
The Nosenko Arrest

Fictoid Launching Pad: Newsweek

On November 18, 1985, In a cover story about the KGB defector Vitaliy Yurchenko, Newsweek suggested that James Jesus Angleton, the former chief of the CIA's counterintelligence staff, had been responsible for the incarceration of Yuri Nosenko. Nosenko, a 47-year old KGB officer, had defected to the United States and claimed to have been the KGB officer in charge of the case of Lee Harvey Oswald — yet another cold war defector— who resided in Russia prior to assassinating President John F. Kennedy.

Newsweek reported "Convinced that Nosenko was a Soviet plant, he kept him in solitary confinement for more than three years." The proximate source for the charge was a claim in the autobiography of Admiral Stansfield Turner, who had come to the CIA more than a decade after the event, that "Angleton's counterintelligence team set out to break" Nosenko.

The story of Angleton, who had become emblematic of the deepest conspiracy-thinking in the CIA, locking up in an isolated cell, a KGB officer who might be able to shed light on the JFK mystery, not only had legs in the news media, but was graphically depicted in a fictive movie shown on HBO entitled "Yuri Nosenko, KGB," starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Despite its authoritative rendering, the story was a fictoid. Angleton did not order the arrest, imprisonment or hostile interrogation of Yuri Nosenko. Nor did he, or his counterintelligence staff, even have jurisdiction over the Nosenko case, which was the exclusive responsibility of the CIA's Soviet Russia Division. Nor did they participate in it (other than being informed of the decision.)

What happened in 1964, as is unambiguously set forth in his congressional testimony, is that the chief of that division, David Murphy made the decision to imprison Nosenko without consulting Angleton. Murphy testified that he was concerned that Nosenko might re-defect to Russia and launch "a massive propaganda assault on the CIA." Murphy then got the approval of Richard Helms, the director of the covert side of the CIA, and Lawrence Houston, the CIA's legal counsel. Since the CIA did not have the power to arrest anyone in the U.S., Murphy, Helms and Houston then went to the Justice Department and asked Deputy U.S. Attorney-General Nicholas Katzenbach for legal approval from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to imprison Nosenko. Nosenko had been brought into the U.S. on "parole" to the CIA, and, on this basis, Kennedy authorized the detention of Nosenko.

Nosenko was the only case on record in which the CIA imprisoned someone. Consequently, it became the subject of an investigation by both the Rockefeller Commission and the House Select Committee on Intelligence. A half dozen CIA officials involved in the detention testified under oath. All clearly stated that the Soviet Russia division, not the counterintelligence staff, recommended the arrest, and Angleton himself was not part of the process.

Angleton was informed of the decision by Newton Miler, his liaison with the Soviet Russia division. Miler later recounted to Samuel Halpern and Hayden Peake, who were investigating the issue, that that Angleton not only had no role in the arrest, but opposed the "hostile interrogation approach." He further explained that Admiral Turner was wrong in attributing the hostile interrogation to Angleton's "counterintelligence team," and, in fact, "no CI staff personnel ever interrogated Nosenko or interviewed Nosenko from 1964 to 1975." What Turner evidently had confused was the Soviet Russia Division's counterintelligence team, which conducted the interrogation, with Angleton's staff, which had no access to Nosenko.

To its credit, Newsweek effectively corrected its story in its letters column (December 23,1985, p.12), noting "Newsweek regrets the error."

The fictoid did not, however, fade away in other newspapers. As recently as January 2, 2002, The New York Times featured an article on its Op Ed page by Tom Mangold re-asserting that Angleton had violated the constitutional rights of Nosenko by having him "arrested and thrown into solitary confinement." The Times published this fictoid even though it was inconsistent with Mangold's own prior account inn his book "Cold Warrior" in which he writes (page 189) that after Nosenko arrived in the US, "Richard Helms and David Murphy began preparations to imprison the Soviet defector and start hostile interrogations." In the New York Times, he changed "Richard Helms and David Murphy" to "Angleton." And since the newspaper of record had not corrected this switch, the fictoid had been perpetuated into the third millennium.

(For a more detailed account, Samuel Halpern and Hayden Peake, "Did Angleton Jail Nosenko?" International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Winter 1989. For testimony, Select Committee on assassinations, House of Representatives, 95th Congress, 2nd session, 1979 Volume XII.pp531-5)

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