Thursday, July 15, 2021

More on Priscilla from John Newman


Courtesy of Dr. John Newman, on the recent passing of Priscilla Johnson McMillan (1928-2021):
After being lied to repeatedly during my interviews with her many years ago, when the documents came out I outed her every move with the CIA in my Volume II--Countdown to Darkness (pp. 323-325), published in 2017. I thought the following might come in handy for anyone who might be interested in the true documentary record of Priscilla's perfidy.
Priscilla Johnson and the CIA
The head of Security of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russell Langelle, had been expelled from the USSR two weeks before Oswald’s defection due to his exposure as the CIA’s Moscow cutout for Pyotr Popov (see Chapter One). (1) Langelle was one of half a dozen CIA officers working under “deep cover” inside the Moscow Embassy. (2) That many boots on the ground in Moscow would have been very helpful to Angleton’s ability to understand how Oswald had handled the defection and something about the initial Soviet reaction.
Journalists were also helpful, and the work of one reporter in particular, Priscilla Johnson, allowed Angleton to understand early on that the defection had gone well. As I have documented at length in this chapter, her handy work was inextricably intertwined with all of Oswald’s early files at the CIA. Johnson swore that she only worked for the U.S. government for six months in 1956, and that she never worked with the CIA. (3) That is what she told me when I interviewed her in July 1994. She said that I was “going to be her savior” because I believed her. CIA records demonstrate a long history of on-again off-again CIA interest in using her operationally. In the end, the CIA Security Office did approve a Covert Security Approval (CSA) for the Soviet Russia Division (SRD) to use her covertly in the liberal Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF) and to debrief her about her contacts in the USSR—including Oswald.
As early as 1952, the SRD wanted to hire Johnson as an intelligence officer in the division’s Office of Reports and Requirements (ORR), where she would have needed a Special Intelligence (NSA) clearance. (4) The CIA Security Division’s (SD) Personnel Security Branch (PSB) indicated interest in placing her, and asked the SD Project and Liaison Section (PLS) to review Johnson from a counterespionage (CE) angle. In May 1953, Bruce L. Solie, working in PLS at that time, recommended that she be “security disapproved.” (5) According to a later CIA document, her application was rejected because some of her associates and memberships “would have required more investigation than thought worthwhile.” (6)
In 1956, SRD again requested clearance to use Johnson, this time as a legal traveler—a “spotter”—in the USSR. However, the request was disapproved, this time by Counterintelligence Operational Approvals (CI/OA). Yet, that did not end the Johnson CIA saga. The SRD would keep asking OS for clearance to use her and would inevitably succeed in doing so.
In April 1958, Pyotr Popov had warned his Soviet Russia Division (SRD) case officer, George Kisevalter, about a Soviet mole who had betrayed the technical details of the CIA U-2 plane (see Chapter One). As fate would have it, Priscilla Johnson just happened to be leaving for an assignment in Moscow at that very moment. On 28 April, SRD, once again, submitted a request to CI/OA to obtain operational approval for SR/2 to use her as a legal traveler. (7) On 5 May, the SR/2 Chief followed up the request with this additional information:
Subject [Johnson] has applied for a visa to study or work in the USSR. The visa has been granted and subject intends to depart for Moscow within the next two weeks. We wish to recruit subject before her departure and brief her on positive and operational intelligence requirements. Priority clearance is requested because of the time element involved. ( 8 ) [Emphasis added]
CI/OA immediately alerted CI/Liaison, Jane Roman, to expedite an FBI check on Johnson. (9)
1. Tennent H. Bagley, Spy Wars—Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 73-75.
2. 5/4/78, HSCA, Genzman notes on interview with Russell August Langelle; RIF 180-10143-10233.
3. 00/00, HSCA Report on “Oswald, Lee, Russian Period; RIF 180-10141-10489.
4. CIA MFR, Subject Johnson, Priscilla Mary Post, #71589; RIF 104-10119-10261.
5. 3/5/53, Bruce Solie memorandum for the Deputy Chief, Security Division; RIF 104-10119-10260.
6. 5/9/62, DIR 03113 to Paris Station; RIF 104-10119-10285.
7. 4/28/58, Request for Investigation and Approval, Priscilla Johnson, RIF 104-10173-10220; see also RIF 104-10119-10286.
8. 5/5/58, Memo from Chief, SR/2 to CI/OA, Subject: Priscilla Johnson; RIF 10410173-10239.
9. 5/6/58, Memo from CI/OA to Jane Roman, CI/Liaison; RIF 104-10173-10237.
From the fragmentary documentary record, it is not clear whether the Security Office denied the request or SRD cancelled their own request. Apparently, it was a tough decision as the request was left hanging fire for forty-five days. SR/2/FI (Foreign Intelligence) notified the CIA station where Johnson was located—London—about the cancellation with this explanation:
“Subject’s past activity in USSR, insistence to return and indefinite plans inside [USSR], likely to draw Soviet suspicions. Do not wish to use subject. Regret delay. Appreciate station efforts.” (10)
This time the decision not to use Priscilla Johnson was different than the occasions in 1953 and 1956. Those previous occasions did not trigger the opening of a 201 file on her. The day before the above cable was sent (18 June 1958) to the London Station, SR/10, the branch that handled legal travelers to the USSR, requested RID to open a 201 file on Johnson. (11) More than two months went by before SR/10 requested CI/OA to cancel the request for Johnson’s operational approval. (12)
Johnson did go to Moscow. An index control card about Johnson and her residence at the Hotel Metropole in Moscow makes reference to a memo about her for the CI Staff on 30 October 1958. (13) Even though Johnson had (apparently) not been given an operational approval (OA) for contact and use in Moscow by the time Oswald showed up there. An OA was not necessary. The embassy was crawling with CIA officers working under cover. There were also several American journalists whose mailboxes were located in the foyer just outside of the embassy’s consular office. And there was a consular officer working there, John McVickar, who was only too happy to dispatch Johnson on her way to contact Oswald and, at the same time, to suggest the she remember she was an American—inferring that this brought with it certain responsibilities. Her 26 November 1959 news article was published around the world, and was the trigger for the soft files opened on Oswald in both SR/6 and CI/SIG.
One month before Lee and Marina Oswald arrived in the U.S. (13 June 1962), the eminent professor of Russian studies at Harvard, Richard Pipes, recommended Priscilla Johnson for a position in a CIA “Soviet Survey.” Johnson was living in Paris at the time, and Cord Meyer, Chief of the CIA’s International Organizations Division (IOD), informed the Paris Station that an appropriate clearance request would be initiated on her and that a decision would be deferred until the Security Office (OS) concluded the investigation. (14) The survey position was part of the CIA’s QKOPERA program, operated by IOD. QKOPERA was a project to counter Soviet activities in international organizations. More specifically, it was designed to unite and promote anti-communist intellectuals in organizations such as the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF). (15) The CCF was an international organization sponsoring Western intellectuals, artists and musicians.
On 25 May 1962, the chief of the CIA’s Covert Action (CA) Staff sent a request to the CI/OA Support Division for a proprietary operational approval to use Johnson as news editor and writer for a publication under QKOPERA. (16) On 24 July and again on 18 October, the OS Investigations and Operation Support (IOS) Division requested the CA Staff Chief to provide the OS with up-to-date information on Johnson. (17) Apparently, the CA Chief did not respond and dropped the matter. But that did not stop Johnson from traveling to London, Moscow, and Leningrad, to collect information for future use on the project. At least some of the information gathered on her trip made its way into two CIA intelligence Information Reports on 19 and 24 October 1962. (18) The first IR revealed that a Soviet journalist and friend of Johnson had reported an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Khrushchev. In the second IR, Johnson reported information she had collected in the USSR on intellectual and artistic affairs.
10. 6/19/58, DIR 27892; RIF 104-10119-10287.
11. 6/18/58, Personality (201) File Request, from SR/10 to RI/Analysis Section; RIF 104-10173-10223. NB: The RIF sheet has the wrong date—9/18/59. There was no event on or near that date to trigger a 201 opening, and a close examination of the opening sheet reveals that the date is in fact 6/19/58.
12. 8/28/58, SR/10 to Chief, CI/OA, Request for Cancellation of Approval; RIF 104-104-10120-10444.
13. 10/30/58, Index card on Johnson, Hotel Metropole, Moscow, and memo for CI Staff; RIF 104-10119-10241.
14. 4/9/62, DIR 03113 to PARI; RIF 104-10119-10285.
15. 5/14/96, Memo for ARRB from CIA Information Management Staff, External Support Group; RIF 104-10336-10005.
16. 5/25/62, CA Security to CI/OA, Re Priscilla Johnson; RIF 104-10173-10218.
17. 7/24/62 and 10/18/62, DDS/IOS memoranda on Priscilla Johnson; RIF 10410119-10284 and 104-10119-10281. NB: These two versions are very heavily redacted; the 7/4/62 IR is in the clear at RIF 1993.07.29.17:50:13:710039; the 10/18/62 IR is in the clear at RFI 1993.07.29.17:49:01:430039.
18. 10/19/62, Reported Attempt on Khrushchev’s Life, RIF104-10173-10217; 10/24/62, Changes in Cultural Affairs/Party Officials Patronize Writers, RIF 104-10173-10216.
Finally, on 17 December 1962, Donald Jameson, Chief of Soviet Russia Covert Action (C/SRD/CA), sent CI/OA and OS/Security Support Division (SSD) up-to-date information on Johnson in a new request for a provisional covert security approval (PCSA) for use in the AE/DINOSAUR Project. (19) AE/DINOSAUR was a project under which SR would be able to debrief Johnson concerning her contacts in the USSR. (20) However, before she was eventually cleared for use on 3 May 1963, (21) someone else (possibly in IOD) submitted a contact report about a meeting with Johnson because she had been “selected as a likely candidate to write an article on Yevtushenko (a popular Russian poet) in a major U.S. magazine for our campaign.” (22)
After the Covert Security Approval (CSA) was approved in May 1963, Priscilla Johnson became “a casual contact, cleared, and used by SR/Covert Action.” So much for Johnson’s claim never to have worked with the CIA. On a 3 March 1964 Routing Slip by CI/SIG Chief Birch O’Neal, this comment was typed by Paul Hartman:
I spoke with the case officer, Gary Coit, and asked him whether Priscilla Johnson had ever mentioned the meeting with Oswald. He said she had made casual mention of it so I asked him to set that down on paper as best he could. A copy of his memorandum is attached. (23)
Gary Coit worked in SR/CA. His 3 March memorandum about his conversation with Johnson contained this passage:
During the conversation, Priscilla Johnson mentioned in passing her having interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow. She said she had had a long talk with him during which it became evident that he had very confused ideas, of economics in particular. … She didn’t realize at the time that he was nuts enough to kill the president, though obviously he was strange. (24)
Johnson’s work with CIA continued at least through the end of 1965. (25) A CIA review of her 201 file indicated that she had been a “witting collaborator” for the CIA. (26) A 26 April 1978 CIA Office of Legal Counsel memorandum on upcoming HSCA interviews stated, “Priscilla Johnson McMillan may be called to discuss her contacts with Oswald in Moscow at which time her ‘witting source’ affiliation may be exposed.” (27) HSCA Staff notes indicate that it was exposed, along with her contacts with Gary Coit. (28)
19. 12/17/62, Donald Jameson, C/SR/CA Request to CI/OA re Johnson POA for AE/DINASAUR; RIF 104-10120-10441, and RIF 104-10173-10214.
20. 12/18/63, M. D. Stevens MFR; RIF 10410119-10254.
21. 4/25/67, M. D. Stevens memo to Chief OS/SRS; RIF 104-10119-10244.
22. 12/11/62, Contact Report: Meeting with Priscilla Johnson; RIF 104-10173-10215. A 30 January 1931 OS office memo had this handwriting: “No document needed for PCSA (Provisional Covert Security Approval debriefing); RIF 104-10119-10277.
23. 3/4/64, O’Neal Routing Slip with Hartman comment on reverse; RIF 10410173-10226.
24. 3/3/64, Coit MFR—Partial Contact Report on Meeting with Priscilla Johnson.
25. 12/9/65, Instruction sheet, 201-102798; C-70300—Johnson’s CIA file numbers; RIF 104-10173-10224.
26. 1/3/75, Review of 201 File on U.S. Citizen, Johnson; RIF 104-10173-10360 and RIF 104-10135-10331.
27. 4/26/78, Roger Gabrielson, OLC, MFR, HSCA—Projection; 104-10146-10340.
28. 3/9/78 and 4/7/78 HSCA Staff notes by R. Genzman; RIF 180-10143-10243. I got my copy of Genzman’s 4/7/78 staff notes on Johnson from Malcolm Blunt without a RIF sheet; they were released to Blunt on 4/5/10 at NARA II. They might not be in the collection any more. I have not been able to retrieve them by the date or name (Genzman).

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