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Norman Mailer and the JFK Assassination

John Simkin

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I know most members of the forum would have been very unhappy with Mailer's Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (1995). The book includes a detailed examination of his movements in the years, and particularly in the months, leading up to Kennedy's death November 22, 1963. However, Mailer suggests that Oswald killed Kennedy in a desperate search for achievement.

However, it is his earlier book, Harlot's Ghost (1991), that interests me. The characters in the novel are a mixture of real people and fictional figures. The book appears to be the autobiography of Harry Hubbard, a CIA official. The novel starts with the death of Hubbard's mentor Hugh Montague, who has either been assassinated or committed suicide on his boat. This character is probably based on that of John Paisley who had died in similiar circumstances in September, 1978. On hearing about the death of Montague goes to Russia to work on his account of his life in the CIA. Hubbard's autobiography ends in 1963 with the assassination of JFK. The last words in the book is "to be continued". However, Mailer never returned to Hubbard's autobiography.

John Paisley officially joined the Central Intelligence Agency in December, 1953. However, his friend, Leonard Masters, believes that Paisley was in fact recruited several years earlier at university by Richard Innes. Paisley joined the CIA's new Electronics Branch as an Economics Intelligence Officer. While based in Washington, Paisley became friends with Bernard Fensterwald.

In 1953 Paisley went to Washington where he was given the job of monitoring the development of electronics in the Soviet Union. Two years later the CIA loaned him out to the National Security Agency (NSA) where he analyzed the electronic data coming back from the Berlin Tunnel, an electronic listening post that William K. Harvey and his staff managed to establish in Germany.

Paisley returned to the United States in 1957 and was placed in charge of the CIA's Electronic Equipment Branch, Industrial Division. In 1959 Paisley spent a great deal of time in Eastern Europe where he analyzed developments being made in Soviet technology. According to Joseph Trento (Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters), Paisley joined the CIA's inner circle: "Using the new technology of spy satellites, eavesdropping satellites and listening posts, Paisley combined that electronic data with information from agents in place to give startling new pictures of Soviet society."

Trento adds "like most of the early CIA recruits, Paisley shared the passionate liberalism that dominated the men recruited in the late forties and early fifties." Trento claims that Paisley's friends claim that he was a "liberal who was outraged by injustice." Another friend, Gladys Fishel, claims that Paisley did more than just talk about political philosophy and in his spare time taught "disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia".

Paisley was eventually appointed as deputy director of the Office of Strategic Research. According to Dick Russell, Paisley may have been linked to the decision of Lee Harvey Oswald to defect to the Soviet Union. One of Paisley's jobs was to interview Soviet defectors such as Anatoli Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. Paisley also worked with Oleg Penkovsky, who was executed by the Soviets in 1963.

Edward Proctor, director of the Office of Strategic Research (OSR), and Paisley believed in supplying the president with accurate information about the estimates of Soviet military strength. For example, in the early 1960s the OSR rejected the idea that the Soviet Union had dramatically closed the "missile gap" and posed a serious nuclear threat to the United States.

However, in 1969, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger began putting the OSR under pressure to publish exaggerated estimates in order to justify increased military spending in the United States. It was also hoped that these high estimates would convince the Senate to give its support to the SALT 1 negotiations.

Paisley found these political pressures and began talking about leaving the CIA. It was agreed that Paisley should take a sabbatical studying at the Imperial Defence College in London. Paisley returned from England in January, 1971. One of his first tasks was to put together negotiating teams for the SALT 1 talks. An OSR colleague, Clarence Baier, claimed that Paisley came back a different person. "He just didn't speak out, he seldom stuck his neck out." Instead, he accepted the demands made by Nixon and Kissinger.

In 1971 Egil Krogh, gave a White House assignment to David R. Young, a member of the National Security Council Staff. His official job concerned the classification and declassification of documents. However, his real task was to discover the people "leaking" classified documents and secret information. G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were appointed as Young's assistants.

The White House then asked the CIA for help with this investigation. James Angleton suggested that the man they should approach was John Paisley. Joseph Trento suggests that Angleton was growing increasingly suspicious of Henry Kissinger and that he "wanted Paisley in Young's proximity was that Paisley may well have been working for Angleton all along." Trento adds that Kissenger was very interested in "how hundreds of pounds of enriched uranium were transferred illegally to Israel to seed their nuclear weapons program". Angleton had been the man responsible for this and feared that if this story was discovered, he would be sacked from the CIA.

Paisley became CIA liaison to the White House Special Investigations Unit. He also agreed to help the White House to search for the source of these leaks. His first task was to investigate the activities of Daniel Ellsberg. By August 1971, the project to discredit the leakers of the Pentagon Papers became known as Operation Odessa. It is not known what role Paisley played in Watergate. He kept details of these activities from friends and family, including colleagues in the CIA. However, Joseph Trento has speculated that Paisley might have been Deep Throat.

In 1971 Paisley began organizing sex parties in Washington. Along with CIA colleague, Donald Burton, Paisley formed the Rush River Lodge Corporation. According to Trento, "Burton and Paisley staged several sex parties at the lodge." Those who attended these parties included politicians and journalists. Burton admitted that a "high-level Nixon appointee enjoyed tying up women and beating them" at these parties. Another person who attended was the beautiful Hana Koecher, an agent with the Czech intelligence service.

Joseph Trento argues that another regular at these parties was Carl Bernstein. "In a December 1979 telephone interview, Bernstein denied having attended any such parties. A few days later he called back to say, "I may have attended the parties, but I never met anyone named John Paisley". Half a dozen Paisley intimates place Bernstein and Paisley at the same sex parties beginning as early as 1971."

Bernstein also denied that Paisley was Deep Throat. Trento does not believe him and claims that the sex parties was the reason why their main source on Watergate was given the name Deep Throat (a popular pornographic movie at the time these events took place). Trento poses the question: "Was the fact that Bernstein was attending sex parties with the CIA's liaison with the White House Plumbers just a coincidence, or was that how the source really obtained his name?"

In March 1973, James Schlesinger became director of the CIA. According to Donald Burton, Paisley "despised Schlesinger". Burton adds that "Schlesinger told Paisley that he did not like OSR's estimates and wanted them changed". Paisley ignored Schlesinger's orders and in less than six months he had been replaced by William Colby. According to Samuel V. Wilson, Colby's Deputy Director, Paisley became very close to the new head of the CIA. It is therefore surprising that Paisley officially retired from the CIA in 1974. In reality Paisley continued to work for the CIA. He carried out several highly secret assignments where he reported directly to Colby.

In August 1975, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) wrote a letter to President Gerald Ford proposing that an outside group of experts be given access to the same intelligence as the CIA analysts and be allowed to prepare a competing National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and then make an evaluation. The outside group would be called the B Team. The CIA and the intelligence community estimates would be the A Team.

William Colby, the director of the CIA, rejected the idea. On 30 January 1976, Gerald Ford sacked Colby and replaced him with George H. W. Bush. Soon afterwards Bush agreed to the setting up a B Team. As a result of this move, outsiders would now have access to all of America's classified knowledge about the Soviet Military. Hank Knoche, Bush's deputy, was ordered to organize this new system. Interestingly, Paisley was brought out of retirement to become the CIA 'coordinator' for the B Team. It was Paisley who would control the documents that they saw and the information they received.

Members of the B Team included Richard E. Pipes, Clare Boothe Luce, John Connally, General Daniel O. Graham, Edward Teller, Paul Wolfowitz (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), General John W. Vogt, Brigadier General Jasper A. Welch, William van Cleeve (University of Southern California), Paul Nitze (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs), Foy D. Kohler (U.S. Ambassador to Moscow), Seymour Weiss (State Department) and Thomas W. Wolfe (Rand Corporation).

One member of the A team, David S. Sullivan, of the CIA's Office of Strategic Research, came to the conclusion that Paisley had been put into place to prevent the B Team from seeing important classified material. As a result, Sullivan began leaking classified documents concerning the SALT 1 negotiations to Pipes and Graham. He also passed these documents to Richard Perle, who at that time was working for Senator Henry Jackson.

On 26th December, 1976, David Binder reported in the New York Times that the B Team had changed the National Intelligence Estimate around by 180 degrees. The CIA was furious claiming that right-wing members of the B Team had leaked classified documents to the New York Times and in doing so had compromised national security. Daniel O. Graham reacted to these charges by claiming that the leaks had come from John Paisley, who he described as a "weepy liberal who was too soft on the Soviets".

David S. Sullivan began telling friends that Paisley and Henry Kissinger were working as Soviet agents. Sullivan told CIA security chief Robert W. Gambino that there were ten moles in the CIA. On 25th August, 1978, Sullivan informed Gambino that "John Arthur Paisley, the former Deputy Director of Strategic Research, was working for the KGB." Sullivan does not appear to have any evidence that Paisley was a spy: "I guess, in the end, I never trusted him... I never liked him. There was something that wasn't right. He seemed like some kind of burned-out old fart who had a beard and looked like a queer. I am convinced he was the mole."

When President Jimmy Carter took office he sacked George H. W. Bush and replaced him with his old friend, Stansfield Turner. Paisley continued to do work for the CIA and records show that Paisley briefed Turner in 1977 and 1978. Paisley's address book included both Turner's home and White House telephone numbers.

In May 1978 Paisley began working for the Washington accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. The job had been obtained for Paisley by K. Wayne Smith, who was a fellow member of the CIA's Military and Economic Advisory Panel. However, Joseph Trento discovered that the CIA was actually paying his $36,000 salary. As Trento points out: "It is clear that the Coopers position was needed as some sort of cover job for Paisley during the spring, quite possibly without the knowledge of Dr. Smith."

K. Wayne Smith's secretary, Kay Fulford, claims that Paisley rarely visited the Coopers & Lybrand office and most of the time she contacted him via his telephone number at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As Trento points out: "four years after his retirement, Paisley still had an office at the CIA."

On 24th September, 1978, John Paisley, took a trip on his motorized sailboat on Chesapeake Bay. He anchored his boat at Hooper's Light and in a radio conversation with his friend, Mike Yohn, Paisley explained that he had an important report to write. Two days later his boat was found moored in Solomons, Maryland. Paisley's body was found in Maryland's Patuxent River. The body was fixed to diving weights. He had been shot in the head. Police investigators described it as "an execution-type murder". However, officially Paisley's death was recorded as a suicide.

In their book, Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters (1989), William R. Corson, Susan B. Trento and Joseph Trento, argue that John Paisley was a Soviet spy. They also argue that he was never murdered and that he was probably in hiding in the Soviet Union. The authors argue that Dr. Stephen Adams “had no conclusive evidence that the body he examined was John Arthur Paisley.” In doing so, they reject the claim made by Dr. Russell Fisher, that the identification of the corpse of Paisley’s came from the fingerprints the FBI had on file for the dead man. They also dismiss the claim that Paisley was identified by his dental records.

Joseph Trento, and all other authors who have looked into this case, have all argued that Paisley did not commit suicide. As Jim Hougan pointed out in Secret Agenda, “according to the coroner who conducted the autopsy, death was caused by a gunshot wound behind the victim’s left ear.” Hougan add: “The site of the wound, behind the victim’s left ear, also militated against the suicide theory, since Paisley himself had been right-handed, and would presumably have fired the gun with his right into the right side of his head. Adding to the suspicion that murder had been committed was the fact that no blood, brain tissue, weapon or expended cartridge was found aboard the Brillig, which suggested that the victim had been killed in the water or perhaps murdered elsewhere and his body dumped at sea.”

As the authors of Widows: The Explosive Truth Behind 25 Years of Western Intelligence Disasters point out: “Although the physical evidence defies that conclusion, the police determined that Paisley had wrapped two nineteen-pound weight belts around himself, jumped from Brillig, and shot himself in the head in midair.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, top secret documents concerning “Soviet nuclear capabilities conducted in late 1977 by a CIA group” were found on his boat. The newspaper goes onto argue that “government sources said it is not possible to rule out the theory that the Paisley affair touches on the existence of a Soviet “mole” – a deep-cover Soviet agent planted inside the Agency – and the dead officer’s knowledge thereof.”

This is probably CIA disinformation. A very different story is told by Gerald Sword, the first man to board Paisley’s boat. He looked through the papers and later told the CIA what he found. As Dick Russell points out, he found a CIA memo that stated: “Coast Guard personnel found some papers dealing with the Cuban crisis.” It is not known what was meant by the term “Cuban crisis” but it is possible that Paisley was writing a report about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Former CIA agent, Victor Marchetti, told Harrison Edward Livingstone and Steve Parks of the Baltimore Sun that Paisley knew a great deal about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and was murdered during the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation because he was "about to blow the whistle".


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John, I have been thinking of starting a women's lingerie company and calling it Freud.

I meant well-researched. Case in point: "Harlot's Ghost" contains a very obscure reference to the murder of Gus Greenbaum and his wife, without mentioing their names.

The problem with a well-researched book of fiction based on fact is of course that one often cannot distinguish between when the author is reciting an actual fact of history and when he is creating a fact.

A suggestion to John: I think you should post your above post to a thread on Paisely, don't you think?

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I like this quote by Gore Vidal about Mailer: “Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”

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I agree whole-heartedly ... Harlot's Ghost was a great read. I thought that Mailer was really onto something. He seemed to have an "inside " scoop or perspective on the CIA and the times surrounding 1963, especially the MKULTRA/LSD thing. It was written in the first-person. As you may know, his style/thinking was that history was somewhat inaccurate, and so his version (thoroughly researched and detailed of course) was just as legitimate as the sanitized/published version. I heard him speak at the Univ of Pennsylvania on this theme; quite fascinating. I especially think he was "on" to Harvey and Angleton... but he ended it with an unfinished tenor ("...to be continued") but apparently never finished. I had heard he was courted by CIA and went to Langley for a visit. I wonder why he didn't followup with a sequel.



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John, I have been thinking of starting a women's lingerie company and calling it Freud.

I meant well-researched. Case in point: "Harlot's Ghost" contains a very obscure reference to the murder of Gus Greenbaum and his wife, without mentioing their names.

The problem with a well-researched book of fiction based on fact is of course that one often cannot distinguish between when the author is reciting an actual fact of history and when he is creating a fact.

A suggestion to John: I think you should post your above post to a thread on Paisely, don't you think?

John, Harlot's Ghost is Mailer's way of presenting the assassination to us. His close association to Breslin, RFK, The Presidential Papers, The Kennedy Family and the friends of all forced him to do a sort of mea culpa. His apology ?? His public disavowal that the novel is not about the assassination was given to assuage the Kennedy Family after the book first came out. He was about to be ostracized from the "circle" of Kennedy Friends according to a review I believe that I read in Atlantic Monthly concerning the novel. I'll try to find it. What was most interesting to me was after studying this assasination for so many years that the Arbenz, Hunt, Harvey/Rosselli and Cuban interaction comes straight at you in the novel. I stumbled on to those revelations by finding all the little clues from piecing together watergate connections to united fruit company to dulles bros. to the bay of pigs to harvey sending in commandos to Rosselli and Giancana and Joe kennedy...Mailer weaved together a tale with Sinatra and Campbell that touches on all the nuiances. I turned every page and shook my head as the little joke seemed to be on me. Mailers research was outstanding as his bibliography illustrates. I recommend this novel to every Kennedy assassination Researcher. Although Mailer is a sick pervert, get ready for the graphic pornography in his writing! :blink:

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