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Richard Ober, Operation Chaos, JFK Assassination and Watergate

John Simkin

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Angus Mackenzie points out in his excellent book, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home (1998): "Richard Ober's name is curiously absent from indexes of books about political spying of his era. Ober managed to keep in the shadows - a force behind the scenes, a man careful to say nothing that would reveal his true role. Few of his associates would even admit to knowing him. It was a breach of the code when one associate gave me a rough description of Ober as a big man with reddish skin and hair."

Ober does not even appear in Daniel Brandt's comprehensive Namebase website. Well, who was he and why is he important?

Richard Ober was born in about 1921. He studied at Harvard University with Ben Bradlee and after graduating in 1943 he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Ober became a liaison with the anti-Fascist underground in Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war Ober joined the Central Intelligence Agency. For over 20 years he served under James Angleton as his chief counter-intelligence deputy. According to Angus Mackenzie, Ober was a senior figure in the special operations branch, that "carried out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors". The liaison between the special operations unit and Richard Helms, director of the CIA, was Ober. Mackenzie quotes one senior CIA source as saying: “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms. I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.”

If the CIA were involved in the assassination of JFK, then Ober would probably have been involved in the organisation and cover-up of the killing.

In June 1970, Richard Nixon held a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Helms and the heads of army and navy intelligence. Nixon wanted better intelligence on “revolutionary activism”. The result was Operation Chaos. Ober was put in charge of the operation. He was given an office in the White House and worked closely with Nixon, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.

Nixon was unaware that Ober was placed in the White House to spy on his administration. In her book, Katharine the Great, Deborah Davis argued that it was during this period that Ober gathered information on Nixon’s illegal activities. Ober discovered that Nixon was trying to undermine the power of the CIA. It was therefore decided to bring him down. Ober therefore became Deep Throat and provided information to CIA assets, his old university pal, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.

In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Richard Helms as director of the CIA. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest. Nixon now appointed James Schlesinger as the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: “The clandestine service was Helms’s Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size.” This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.

On 9th May, 1973, James Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: “I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about “activities outside the CIA’s charter”. From this investigation, Schlesinger discovered that Ober had been spying on the Nixon White House. Ober was transferred to the National Security Council. One source claims that Ober wasn’t fired because, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Ober was safe because he had too much information on Nixon. He was able to use this material via the Washington Post to bring Nixon down (partly in revenge for what he had done to Richard Helms and the rest of his colleagues involved in illegal activities).



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  • 2 months later...
Guest Tom Scully

Peter, speaking of Flannery O'Connor, I stumbled upon this last week and I found it interesting. Her ancestral home has been opened to the public.


I think I got there because her name came up related to F. Scott Fitzgerald and his daughter, Scottie. I was surprised she (Scottie) was so close to this CIA man and his father, although I knew Harold was F. Scott's literary agent and much, much, more.:


by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith

Harold Ober, born circa 1881, was a rare and precious human being. I should know, because I lived with him for four years during World War II; shared his anguish every morning as we turned on the radio, hoping neither of his two sons (nor my husband) was involved in some new parachute landing in Europe or Pacific island invasion; walked with him through the woods every morning from his enchanting house to the Scarsdale railroad station; learned everything I know about music from him—Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev were his favorite composers at the time, though his wife, Anne, tells me that later he preferred Gustav Mahler to them all; and played terrible tennis with him on the court belonging to our neighbors, Bob Haas of Random House and his wife Merle, our closest family friends. Though I didn't know it at the time, it was Bob who had lent “Gramps,” as I called him for some long-forgotten reason, the money to see my father through during the depression years.....

....My reluctance to be sent to Dromore Road, when all the teen-age action was in Baltimore where my friends were, was matched only by the reluctance of the Ober boys—Richard, my own age, now the most responsible of government officials and owner of a small farm of his own in the country outside Washington, D.C., and Nathaniel, two years younger, now a superintendent of schools in Minneapolis —to accept this “instant sister” who had been thrust upon them....


In 1989, Nancy Bush Ellis's niece, Constance, married an employee of Harold Ober Asssociates....it is a small world. Nancy's husband was Alexander Ellis, Jr. and he had quite a crew in his wedding party, nothing unexpected from a member of Skull & Bones.

...My curiousity about this lawfirm was escalated when I read the following obituary. In 1946, Nancy Bush married Alexander Ellis, Jr. Their best man was William B. Macomber, Jr. Their ushers were John Chafee, Nancy's brother, George HW Bush, James Buckley, and twin brothers, David and John Lindsay. The following year, their brother, George, joined Debevoise & Plimpton, and later became presiding partner....



- New York Times - Nov 22, 1953

Robert Cummings of the Navy The marriage of /fiss Shirley! l[a,Se Ellis, ... Escorted by her brother, Alexander Ellis Jr. of Concord, Mass., the bride wore


Constance Cummings, Student, Is Wed

Published: September 03, 1989

...Mr. Kelly, a son of Norma Lewis Cummins of Cortland, N.Y., and Sean Kelly of New York, is a graduate of the United Nations International School and Concordia University in Montreal. He is a foreign rights assistant for Harold Ober Associates, a New York literary agency, and a freelance writer. His father, a former senior editor at National Lampoon magazine, is an author and a film and television writer. His mother was a life-style editor of The Montreal Star.

Jean Crompton Ellis Obituary: View Jean Ellis's Obituary by The ...


Mar 16, 2011 – ... Ellis and the late Alexander Ellis, was a resident of Osterville, Mass., ... Jr., and is survived by her sister, Shirley E. Cummings, of Wakefield, .

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