Document:Decoding Edward Jay Epstein's 'LEGEND'

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Robin Ramsay claims that Edward Jay Epstein's Legend is disinformation.

Disclaimer (#3)Document.png file of unspecified type  by Robin Ramsay
Subjects: Legend, Edward Jay Epstein, JFK Assassination
Source: Lobster Magazine

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Decoding Edward Jay Epstein's 'LEGEND'

As Steve Dorril shows in his essay on Permindex, the lack of a satisfactory resolution to the assassination of Kennedy allowed Soviet intelligence to use the event to their own ends. The French also had a go with the pseudonymous book Farewell America which made public considerable information about the CIA's activities while pretending to be a solution to the assassination. In both cases the assassination was used against political opponents. With Permindex the Soviets were making trouble for US interests, especially in Italy: Gaullist elements used Farewell America to attack pro-American sections within French intelligence as well as exposing some of the CIA's activities.[1] Legend is an example of the same process.

Legend is two interwoven narratives: a biography of Oswald, and an account of disputes within the US intelligence services over the status of a Soviet defector, Nosenko. The biography of Oswald is essentially that given in the Warren Commission's Report: lonely left-wing adolescent joins Marines, defects, returns, tries to shoot General Walker and then shoots Kennedy. Epstein tarts all this up with a large amount of totally irrelevant material derived from interviews with some of Oswald's Marine colleagues. He tries to convince the reader that in some sense Oswald was got at by the KGB - maybe in Japan. There is of course, nothing resembling evidence for this belief. There is no 'secret life' - the promise in the book's subtitle. In 1964, while the Warren Commission was sitting, Nosenko defected and announced, among other things, that he had been in charge of the KGB's file on Oswald's stay in the Soviet Union, and that the KGB had not attempted to recruit him. Nosenko's testimony was welcome to almost all concerned: a "lone nut" was the verdict that was required. But Counter Intelligence (CI) in the CIA, debriefing Nosenko, began to detect what it thought were flaws in Nosenko's story, and the suspicion began to grow (in the minds of men congenitally inclined to be suspicious) that Nosenko was a false defector, a plant, sent to the US to whitewash KGB involvement with Oswald and, perhaps, to lead CI off the track of other Soviet 'moles' within the US. (That Nosenko might have been a false defector sent to tell the truth about the absence of KGB involvement with Oswald does not seem to have been considered.)

Nosenko, we are told, split the US intelligence community. Most of the CIA accepted him as a genuine defector: CI refused to do so. The FBI accepted him as genuine because parts of what he was saying were being confirmed by the FBI's own 'mole' still in place at the UN: to disbelieve one meant to disbelieve both. After a long bureaucratic hassle Nosenko was declared 'clean' and hired by the CIA. Some years later the upper echelons of CI resigned (or were sacked); and Epstein, taking their side in the dispute, believes the result has been to turn the Agency 'inside out' - the 'good guys' removed, and a Soviet 'mole' installed within the Agency.

Epstein has two problems. First there is not a shred of real evidence that Oswald was KGB. Second his thesis rests on the premise that Oswald, alone, shot Kennedy: for which there is no evidence; which Epstein knows to be false; and which Epstein's first book on the assassination, Inquest (1966) did much to undermine.

Epstein tries to conceal this latter difficulty by relegating his revised version of Oswald's role in the actual shooting to a brief section at the back of the book. It is unbelievably sloppy. For example, in Section VI of Appendix A (this is in the UK paperback version), titled The Sequence of the Shots, Epstein tells us that: "The Warren Commission...concluded that only two shots were fired accurately, the first striking the President in the back of the neck and passing through him to cause two wounds in Governor Connally; and the second exploding the President's head and fragmenting. (A third shot missed completely)."

Then, four lines later, he assures us that: "from the path of the bullets delineated in the autopsy photographs and X-rays (and other collateral evidence) it can be concluded that Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets and that a third bullet then hit Kennedy." But he has forgotten about the bullet that missed and absurdly, in a few lines, commits himself to four shots, and demolishes his entire case. Did anyone actually proof-read Legend?

Epstein has got himself into this ridiculous muddle because he wants to avoid the Warren Commission version of events ("magic bullet" and all) while sticking to Oswald as the "lone assassin". He wants us to think that Oswald was (somehow) KGB, and therefore the assassination was (somehow) KGB, without being willing to stick his neck out and say the assassination was KGB. Oswald remains a "lone nut", but now one of the KGB's "lone nuts".[2]

To achieve this Epstein and his team of (count them) 8 researchers create a partial biography of Oswald in which everything linking him to the political right-wing, the US intelligence services and the anti-Castro Cubans, is systematically excluded. And I mean excluded: Epstein had already demonstrated knowledge of much of such material in his second foray into the assassination, his account of the Garrison enquiry.[3]

What Epstein does, in effect, is to restore the parapolitical world to the state of innocence which existed before the Bay of Pigs. The 'menace' is, once again just the Soviet Union: it is the KGB which is the conspiratorial fifth wheel of history - not the CIA. Epstein writes for all the world as if none of the revelations about the real nature of American political life that occurred between Dallas and Watergate, had ever existed; and in this innocent world of black hats and white hats he would have us believe that only James Angleton, the erstwhile head of CIA Counter Intelligence, perceived the reality of the Soviet menace.[4]

Angleton and his senior colleagues in CI were forced out of the Agency in late 1974 by the then DCIA, William Colby. The immediate cause of their removal was Seymour Hersh's story in the New York Times alleging that CI had been involved in illegal mail opening operations. Colby confirmed the truth of the story and asked for Angleton's resignation. Epstein would have us believe that the real reason for his ouster is the dispute over Nosenko. Epstein argues thus: that Oswald was KGB proves that Nosenko was a false defector. That Angleton was right about Nosenko proves that Angleton was removed because he was right about Nosenko.

As far as I can see from reading some of the other literature on this episode, Angleton was removed because he was a paranoid fruitcake whose chronic suspiciousness was a major obstacle to the CIA's gathering of intelligence on the Soviet Union: Angleton seems to have assumed that every defector, agent, informant, was a Soviet disinformer.[5] It would appear that Hersh's story gave Colby the pretext to rid the Agency of Angleton - something many of his predecessors had wanted.

In fact, the mail opening episode, Angleton's paranoia, and the dispute about Nosenko conceal another, more pressing reason for Angleton's removal. For Angleton and the CI branch had another role within the CIA: they had exclusive control of the link between the CIA and the Israeli Intelligence Service (IIS).[6]

This anomalous set-up seems to have been something of a closely guarded secret before 1974. I have seen no references to it in print before then, and Colby, if he is to be believed, only learned of it when he became DCIA, after almost 30 years in the Agency.[7]

The CI-IIS link served as a "mechanism for insulating Israel from multinational pressure within the CIA" - i.e. from the oil companies with interests in the Middle East - and on Angleton's resignation "Israeli intelligence matters were reorganised along more conventional lines. That is they devolved into the orbit of the Middle East specialists and, for the first time, came under the domination of the multinationals."[8] In other words, Angleton (in Hougan's words 'the best friend Israel ever had') had been running his own intelligence network independent of, and frequently in opposition to, the rest of the US foreign policy machinery.

The CIA's dependence on this exclusive CI-IIS relationship left the US in the lurch when IIS failed to predict the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In his memoirs Nixon refers to this "intelligence shortcoming". No doubt at the time the message went down the line in more robust form: this wasn't the first time Nixon (and Kissinger) felt they'd been dropped in the shit by the CIA. Hersh's mail opening story handed Colby the perfect pretext to rid the Agency of Angleton and shut down the CI-IIS link. He traded a brief minor scandal which quickly got lost amidst the Watergate coverage in return for the preservation (albeit temporary) of the larger, more sensitive secret. US government support for Israel during the Yom Kippur war was tempered by considerations of detente with the Soviet Union: Kissinger soft-pedalled the re-supply operation to the Israeli armed forces.

"Kissinger wanted a limited Israeli defeat. The nicety lay in calculating the optimum scale of the defeat: big enough to satisfy the Arabs; modest enough to bring Israel to the conference table; bearable enough to avoid the collapse of Mrs Meir's government and its replacement by right-wing intransigents"[9]

Kissinger's calculations were almost right but then OPEC raised the price of oil and changed everything. For the Israeli lobby in the US these events raised the spectre of Israel sacrificed on the altar of oil and detente. Sections of the Israeli lobby began moving rapidly to the political right. Commentary, the journal of the American Jewish Committee, and the single most influential voice of the Israeli lobby, mirrored this change.[10] In a series of major articles Israeli interests were linked to the rejection of detente and an expanding US arms budget[11]; the editor warned of the abandonment of Israel[12]; and Israel was presented as America's only reliable ally in a Middle East threatened by Soviet expansionism[13]. (This had always been Angleton's view and the reason for his support of Israel.)

By 1979 Commentary had become a full-blown neo-Conservative pro-Reagan platform: the editor, Norman Podhoretz, had even seen the prospect of the "Finlandisation of America" lurking behind detente[14].

Along the way two books had a particular impact. One was Alan Weinstein's Perjury, a study of the Hiss case, which concluded that, after all, he had indeed been guilty. Perjury enabled Podhoretz, for example, to see that: "In exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent, Congressman (sic) Richard Nixon made a major contribution to the bringing home of the Communist menace and therefore to the mobilisation of popular support for an interventionist foreign policy."[15]

For a member of the Israeli lobby in 1976 when that was written 'an interventionist foreign policy' meant something quite specific. The other book, of course, was Legend, which did for Oswald what Perjury had done for Hiss. In a long review essay of both books in Commentary Michael Ledeen[16] announced that: "the real spectacle has been the discrediting of any concern over Communist espionage and subversion in the United States. Indeed, the concern has been turned inside out; the real threat - according to the fashionable mythology - was a conspiracy on the part of the vicious power structure using the myth of a Communist menace to justify its aggressive designs abroad and the squelching of opposition to those designs at home.. the real subversives, both at home and abroad, were 'loyal' Americans - FBI and CIA men - who overthrew foreign governments, violated the constitutional rights of the American citizen, and, hand in hand with the other leaders of the military-industrial complex, inaugurated and perpetuated the Cold War."[17]

A host of demons are being exorcised here: the revisionist historiography of the Cold War; Dallas; Watergate; Vietnam; Cointelpro; domestic surveillance run amok as everybody from the IRS downwards tapped, taped, planted, bugged, and (yes) assassinated - all of it swept away ('fashionable mythology') after the revelations of Perjury and Legend.

Three months after Ledeen's piece Epstein himself contributed a long article of his own, The War Within The CIA, based on the Nosenko sections of Legend. In it he discussed the Angleton-Colby dispute, suggestions from CI people that Colby was the Soviet 'mole' Angleton had suspected within the CIA; and, as the clincher for a predominantly Jewish readership, he added an account of the CIA's unwitting recruitment of a KGB agent who had infiltrated a group of Soviet Jewish dissidents. Epstein attributes the resulting mess to the removal of Angleton and the downgrading of basic counter intelligence procedures.[18]

By 1977, when Epstein was starting to write Legend, the CI-IIS link had ceased to be a secret (if, indeed it ever was one: I have no way of knowing). For five years, while researching Legend and writing and researching his previous one, Agency of Fear[19], Epstein had been the confidant of groups of intelligence personnel and politicians with intelligence links. In 1975 Tad Szulc revealed that CI people had delivered nuclear technology to the Israelis in 1957/8[20]; and in the same year Anthony Pearson's Conspiracy of Silence was published[21] and sections of it, detailing the CI-IIS link and the nuclear deal, were published in Penthouse, and Pearson himself widely seen on American television while promoting the book. Yet there is no mention of the Israeli connection either in Legend, the Commentary piece based on it, or any of Epstein's subsequent writing on this subject.[22]

The real secret of Legend is not the gossip about Oswald s life in the Marines Epstein has accumulated, but the CI-IIS relationship and Angleton's role in particular. Legend is a kind of smoke-screen behind which Epstein hopes to conceal what Angleton was doing with the Israelis. The election of Jimmy Carter was the climax of a series of disasters and revelations in domestic and foreign policy which seemed to have wrecked the anti-Communist rationale of the US ruling elites. In the political crisis which followed Carter's election, the anticipated groups on the political right, with most (but not all) of the intelligence agencies and the military, joined forces to recreate a plausible Soviet 'menace'.[23]

For the first time these groups were joined by most of the Israeli lobby, for whom nothing less than the future survival of Israel appeared to be at stake.Into the low, dishonest, but predictable campaign which ran the course of the Carter administration, and climaxed, triumphantly (and fittingly) with the election of the moron now sitting in the White House, Legend added a little sensational colouring to an otherwise dangerously serious campaign. If 'Minuteman vulnerability' and 'the window of opportunity' were rather complex concepts for an American public which had virtually ceased to read; if the events in Angola, the Horn of Africa were too far away and too obscure; if the complexities of the case against Salt 2 defeated attempts to make them political dynamite; then the idea that the KGB had a hand in the assassination of President Kennedy was something almost anyone could ingest on breakfast television.

Legend, in fact, is an ingenious compendium of misinformation. Amplifying the 'Soviet threat' it was another blow against détente, against Carter, for Reagan. With the Nosenko material it offered to explain Angleton's fall with a story which was interesting because apparently secret - obscuring the Israeli connection which was by then firmly in the public domain. Suggesting that it was the 'commies' who shot Kennedy after all, it offered to rehabilitate the US intelligence services - especially the CIA - which a large section of the American public had long suspected of doing the dirty deed.

Legend was never intended as a serious contribution to the literature on the Kennedy case. This, unfortunately, didn't prevent the US/UK literary and political establishment from swallowing Epstein's thesis whole.[24]

As for Epstein, I can only hope that he occasionally comes across what he wrote in 1974. In an essay with the now amusing title, Journalism and Truth, Epstein wrote: "When journalists are presented with secret information about issues of great import, they become, in a very real sense, agents for the surreptitious source."[25]


  1. The account of the origins of Farewell America is in Warren Hinkle's If You've Got A Lemon Make Lemonade (New York 1974)
  2. It really is as stupid as this.
  3. In his essay in the New Yorker, 13th July l968. This became a book, Counterplot, which I haven't read. I assume they're substantially the same.
  4. Angleton believed that the Soviets have a 'plan', a blueprint for the take-over of the world. This 'plan' has become a feature of the propaganda of this New Cold War. It is in De Borchgrave and Moss's The Spike, for example, and also in the less well known (but much better written) The Exchange, Theodore Wilden (London 1982). Wilden's book is a hymn of praise to Angleton. The only claim that such a 'plan' actually exists that I know of is in Jan Sejna's We Will Bury You (London 1982). Sejna gives an account of this 'plan' circa 1968 just before he defected. From his account it is hard to believe that anyone in the Soviet bloc takes it any more seriously than they do Marxism-Leninism - i.e. not at all. (Assuming, of course, that Sejna is actually telling the truth.)
  5. Including Penkovsky, who got himself shot for his troubles. Interesting new account of the Penkovsky episode in Anthony Verrier's Through The Looking Glass (London 1983). This is a major piece of work and will be reviewed in Lobster 3.
  6. Thomas Powers The Man Who Kept The Secrets (London 1980) p313 William Colby Honourable Men (London 1979) p387 Powers is believed by some to be a CIA agent. I have seen no evidence on this.
  7. Colby (above) p387
  8. Jim Hougan Spooks (London 1979) pp.434/5
  9. The Insight Team Insight On The Middle East War (London 1974)
  10. A change also reflected in Podhoretz's own thought. His later writing makes depressing reading when compared with his celebrated autobiography Making It. You can almost hear the brain cells dying.
  11. Edward Luttwak in Commentary (February 1975)
  12. Podhoretz in Commentary April 1976
  13. Eugene Rostow in Commentary April 1977. Rostow, like Luttwak, is now in the Reagan Administration.
  14. Podhoretz in Commentary, March 1980. This article is supposed to have had a great impact on Reagan's 'thinking'. Says who? I refuse to believe that Reagan could even understand material like this. Maybe the title, The Present Danger, appealed?
  15. Podhoretz in Commentary April 1976
  16. Ledeen is one of the New Cold War mouthpieces based at the Georgetown Centre. See Lobster No 1, item 20. Also Fred Landis in Inquiry (US) 30th Sept. 1979
  17. Michael Ledeen, Hiss Oswald the KGB and US (Commentary May 1978)
  18. The War Within The CIA (Commentary August 1978)
  19. Agency of Fear (New York 1977)
  20. Tad Szulc, Penthouse September 1975: also NYT 12th July 1975.
  21. Anthony Pearson, Conspiracy of Silence (London 1978)
  22. For example: There's a lot more I haven't read. If anyone has an Epstein piece in which the Israeli thing is mentioned I'd appreciate it being sent to me.
  23. An amusing aspect of this is the current US cartoon for kids being shown in this country which has a bear as the villain, called Yuri! The heroes are two American robots. The name of the prog. I've forgotten. It's on Granada (ITV Midlands, Saturday mornings).
  24. Especially the Sunday Times (London) which ran three large excerpts in March 1978. I don't have a record of a single sceptical review. Anyone see one? Epstein's standing in this country is high almost everywhere. When I mentioned all this to the current editor of Tribune some years ago, he was disbelieving.
  25. Journalism and Truth (Commentary, April 1974) An earlier version of this essay first appeared in Penn Jones' The Continuing Enquiry