William K. Harvey

William K. Harvey

William King Harvey, the son of a lawyer, was born in Danville, Indiana, in 1915. After graduating from Indiana University Law School he opened a one-man law practice in Kentucky. In December, 1940, he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In July 1947 Harvey broke FBI regulations that an agent had to be on two-hour call at all times. J. Edgar Hoover ordered that Harvey should be punished by being reassigned to Indianapolis. Harvey refused the post and resigned. Soon afterwards Harvey joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to Richard D. Mahoney: "William K. Harvey, a squat, balding tank of a man with eyes that bulged because of a thyroid condition... began assembling a squad of assassins recruited from the ranks of organized criminals in Europe."

Frank Wisner, the head of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) asked Harvey to investigate Kim Philby, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) liaison in Washington. Harvey reported back in June 1951 that he was convinced that Philby was a KGB spy. As a result Philby was forced to leave the United States.

Harvey was sent to West Germany where he worked with Ted Shackley at the CIA Berlin Station. In 1955 he was commander of Operation Gold which succeeded in tapping Soviet phone lines via a 500-yard tunnel into East Berlin. Until it was detected a year later, the tap gave the CIA information about the military plans of the Soviet Union. It was only later that it was discovered that George Blake, a MI6 agent in Berlin, had told the KGB about the tunnel when it was first built.

Tom Parrott, who worked with Harvey in Berlin claims that Harvey was "anti-elitist". He disliked and resented the "Ivy Leaguers in the CIA". According to another agent, Carleton Swift: "He (Harvey believed that the elite had a guilty conscience. Guilt was the upper-class pathology. Actually, he was envious as hell. He wanted to be part of the establishment. He knew he wasn't, so he hated it." According to Swift he ruined several people's careers because of their elite background.

Harvey was also involved a policy that was later to become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). This including a coup d'état that overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after he introduced land reforms and nationalized the United Fruit Company.

In March I960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plan to overthrow Fidel Castro. The plan involved a budget of $13 million to train "a paramilitary force outside Cuba for guerrilla action." The strategy was organised by Richard Bissell and Richard Helms.

After the Bay of Pigs disaster President John F. Kennedy created a committee (SGA) charged with overthrowing Castro's government. The SGA, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy (Attorney General), included John McCone (CIA Director), McGeorge Bundy (National Security Adviser), Alexis Johnson (State Department), Roswell Gilpatric (Defence Department), General Lyman Lemnitzer (Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Maxwell Taylor. Although not officially members, Dean Rusk (Secretary of State) and Robert S. McNamara (Secretary of Defence) also attending meetings.

At a meeting of this committee at the White House on 4th November, 1961, it was decided to call this covert action program for sabotage and subversion against Cuba, Operation Mongoose. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy also decided that General Edward Lansdale (Staff Member of the President's Committee on Military Assistance) should be placed in charge of the operation.

The CIA JM/WAVE station in Miami served as operational headquarters for Operation Mongoose. The head of the station was Ted Shackley and over the next few months became very involved in the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. One of Lansdale's first decisions was to appoint Harvey as head of Task Force W. Harvey's brief was to organize a broad range of activities that would help to bring down Castro's government.

On 12th March, 1961, Harvey arranged for CIA operative, Jim O'Connell, to meet Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Roselli and Robert Maheu at the Fontainebleau Hotel. During the meeting O'Connell gave poison pills and $10,000 to Rosselli to be used against Fidel Castro. As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book: Sons and Brothers: "Late one evening, probably March 13, Rosselli passed the poison pills and the money to a small, reddish-haired Afro-Cuban by the name of Rafael "Macho" Gener in the Boom Boom Room, a location Giancana thought "stupid." Rosselli's purpose, however, was not just to assassinate Castro but to set up the Mafia's partner in crime, the United States government. Accordingly, he was laying a long, bright trail of evidence that unmistakably implicated the CIA in the Castro plot. This evidence, whose purpose was blackmail, would prove critical in the CIA's cover-up of the Kennedy assassination."

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy instructed CIA director John McCone, to halt all covert operations aimed at Cuba. A few days later he discovered that Harvey had ignored this order and had dispatched three commando teams into Cuba to prepare for what he believed would be an inevitable invasion. Kennedy was furious and as soon as the Cuban Missile Crisis was over, Harvey was removed as commander of ZR/RIFLE. On 30th October, 1962, RFK terminated "all sabotage operations" against Cuba. As a result of President Kennedy's promise to Nikita Khrushchev that he would not invade Cuba, Operation Mongoose was disbanded.

Harvey was now sent to Italy where he became Chief of Station in Rome. Harvey knew that Robert Kennedy had been responsible for his demotion. A friend of Harvey's said that he "hated Bobby Kennedy's guts with a purple passion".

Harvey continued to keep in contact with Johnny Roselli. According to Richard D. Mahoney: "On April 8, Rosselli flew to New York to meet with Bill Harvey. A week later, the two men met again in Miami to discuss the plot in greater detail... On April 21 he (Harvey) flew from Washington to deliver four poison pills directly to Rosselli, who got them to Tony Varona and hence to Havana. That same evening, Harvey and Ted Shackley, the chief of the CIA's south Florida base, drove a U-Haul truck filled with the requested arms through the rain to a deserted parking lot in Miami. They got out and handed the keys to Rosselli."

Some researchers such as Gaeton Fonzi, Larry Hancock, Richard D. Mahoney, Noel Twyman, James Richards and John Simkin believe that Harvey was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

William Harvey died as a result of complications from heart surgery in June, 1976.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999)

William K. Harvey, a squat, balding tank of a man with eyes that bulged because of a thyroid condition... began assembling a squad of assassins recruited from the ranks of organized criminals in Europe....

He was a rough man for rough assignments, a "boom and bang" type. He drank martinis to excess, packed a .45 wherever he went, and freely resorted to obscenity in all kinds of company With his aspect of an insolent fat plumber, he was not considered especially bright among the better born, but the appearance was misleading. Trained as an attorney, he had a penetrating command of intelligence work, with ten years experience in the field, and was a former FBI agent who understood the Hoover method of disguising tracks and disposing of enemies bureaucratically or otherwise.

(2) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987)

Harvey was already a living legend in the CIA for his hard drinking and his cowboy manners. He began his career handling Soviet counterespionage for the FBI, until Hoover sacked him for drunkenness. He promptly took his invaluable FBI knowledge and put it to work for the fledgling CIA, becoming along with Angleton one of the most influential American operators in the secret war against the KGB. Through most of the 1950s he served in Berlin, running agents, digging tunnels, and taking the battle to the Soviets wherever possible. For him, the Cold War was as real as if it had been hand-to-hand combat. But for all his crude aggression, Harvey was smart, with a nose for a spy. It was he who first fingered Philby in the USA after the defection of Burgess and Maclean. Harvey had amazing recall for the details of defections and cases decades before, and it was he, before anyone else, who put together the contradictory strands of the M16 man's career. While others paused for doubt, Harvey pursued Philby with implacable vengeance, and the incident left him with a streak of vindictive anti-British sentiment.

(3) John Kelin, review of Noel Twyman's book, Bloody Treason (1998)

The author is a retired engineer, and approaches his subject with an engineer's thoroughness (although he writes that he approaches the subject as a prosecutor convinced of conspiracy). After an obligatory retelling of the events in Dealey Plaza and the political climate of 1963, an exacting analysis begins. Twyman quite reasonably envisions a power elite threatened by JFK, and convinced it is powerful enough to both carry out the assassination and cover it up. A long list of suspects, both groups and individuals, is gradually narrowed down to just a handful of probable conspirators...

Harvey has long been considered a prime suspect in the case. And he certainly comes to mind when reading the aforementioned chapter, "The Mastermind." In this fascinating section, Twyman adopts the conspirator's point-of-view to "think through a plot that conforms to all the known evidence and could have been concocted by a logical mind." Twyman imagines this mastermind addressing the assassination's sponsors and outlining a compartmentalized plot that shields those at the top, and leaves a designated patsy, a supposed lone nut, holding the bag.

When Twyman finally names his real villains, we recognize three men whose involvement has been alleged for years: Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and H.L. Hunt. The author says they acted from that oldest of motivations, self-preservation, and that "they had the the power and the money to make it happen and cover it up." It is amusing, in a sick sort of way, when Twyman says that Hoover seems to be the one person involved who had no redeeming qualities. "I have searched the literature and ... if there was something likable about him I haven't found it."

(4) Leroy Fletcher Prouty, An Introduction to the Assassination Business (1975)

Assassination is big business. It is the business of the CIA and any other power that can pay for the "hit" and control the assured getaway. The CIA brags that its operations in Iran in 1953 led to the pro-Western attitude of that important country. The CIA also takes credit for what it calls the "perfect job" in Guatemala. Both successes were achieved by assassination. What is this assassination business and how does it work?

In most countries there is little or no provision for change of political power. Therefore the strongman stays in power until he dies or until he is removed by a coup d'etat - which often means by assassination...

The CIA has many gadgets in its arsenal and has spent years training thousands of people how to use them. Some of these people, working perhaps for purposes and interests other than the CIA's, use these items to carry out burglaries, assassinations, and other unlawful activities - with or without the blessing of the CIA.

(5) Christopher Sharrett, Fair Play Magazine, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy as Coup D'Etat (May, 1999)

One phase of this narrative is represented in Gus Russo's Live by the Sword. The moralistic biblical admonition of this book's title offers its thesis: Kennedy got what he deserved. Russo's conception of the Kennedy brothers portrays them as the ultimate Cold Warriors, with RFK the instigator of plots against Fidel Castro that LBJ wanted to hide in the aftermath of the assassination in order to prevent a war with the Soviet Union. According to this narrative, LBJ believed that "Castro killed Kennedy in retaliation," an idea that has long had currency in the mass media. But this discourse ignores a large part of the historical record. Marvin Watson, a Johnson staffer, told the Washington Post in 1977 that Johnson "thought there was a plot in connection with the assassination," and that "the CIA had had something to do with the plot."

On the matter of RFK being the guilt-ridden instigator of the Castro plots, anguished that he had caused his brother's death due to his anti-Castro obsessions, we should note that Robert Kennedy exploded in front of assistants Peter Edelman and Adam Walinsky after he read the Jack Anderson column that put into play the idea of RFK as craftsman of the Castro assassination plots. RFK complained "I didn't start it, I stopped it. I found out that some people were going to try an attempt on Castro's life and turned it off. A recent Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary on the Kennedy assassination includes taped remarks by RFK speaking very derisively of CIA covert operations specialist William Harvey. RFK termed Harvey's ideas "half-assed" and potentially very damaging to the United States. Recently declassified CIA documents about its use of hoodlums to penetrate the Cuban Revolution and assassinate its leaders demonstrate that the Agency didn't brief RFK. Gus Russo perpetuates the claim that RFK was convinced that Castro killed his brother, ignoring evidence that RFK contacted Jim Garrison (since RFK took seriously the notion of a domestic plot), and that he was concerned with the possibility that the CIA may have had involvement in the assassination.

(6) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987)

Harvey listened to my Cyprus experiences, he was struck by the parallel between the two problems: both small islands with a guerrilla force led by a charismatic leader. He was particularly struck by my view that without Grivas, EOKA would have collapsed.

"What would the Brits do in Cuba?" he asked.

I was a shade anxious about being drawn into the Cuban business. Hollis and I had discussed it before I came to Washington, and he made no secret of his view that the CIA were blundering in the Caribbean. It was a subject, he felt, to steer clear of if at all possible. I was worried that if I made suggestions to Angleton and Harvey, I would soon find them being quoted around Washington by the CIA as the considered British view of things. It would not take long for word of that to filter back to Leconfield House, so I made it clear to them that I was talking off the record.

I said that we would try to develop whatever assets we had down there-alternative political leaders, that kind of thing.

"We've done all that," said Harvey impatiently, "but they're all in Florida. Since the Bay of Pigs, we've lost virtually everything we had inside . . ."

Harvey began to fish to see if I knew whether we had anything in the area, in view of the British colonial presence in the Caribbean.

"I doubt it," I told him, "the word in London is steer clear of Cuba. Six might have something, but you'd have to check with them." "How would you handle Castro?" asked Angleton. "We'd isolate him, turn the people against him ..."

"Would you hit him?" interrupted Harvey.

I paused to fold my napkin. Waiters glided silently from table to table. I realized now why Harvey needed to know I could be trusted.

"We'd certainly have that capability," I replied, "but I doubt we would use it nowadays."

"Why not?"

"We're not in it anymore, Bill. We got out a couple of years ago, after Suez."

At the beginning of the Suez Crisis, M16 developed a plan, through the London Station, to assassinate Nasser using nerve gas. Eden initially gave his approval to the operation, but later rescinded it when he got agreement from the French and Israelis to engage in joint military action. When this course failed, and he was forced to withdraw, Eden reactivated the assassination option a second time. By this time virtually all MI6 assets in Egypt had been rounded up by Nasser, and a new operation, using renegade Egyptian officers, was drawn up, but it failed lamentably, principally because the cache of weapons which had been hidden on the outskirts of Cairo was found to be defective.

"Were you involved?" Harvey asked.

"Only peripherally," I answered truthfully, "on the technical side."

I explained that I was consulted about the plan by John Henry and Peter Dixon, the two M16 Technical Services officers from the London Station responsible for drawing it up. Dixon, Henry, and I all attended joint M15/MI6 meetings to discuss technical research for the intelligence services at Porton Down, the government's chemical and biological Weapons Research Establishment. The whole area of chemical research was an active field in the 1950s. I was cooperating with M16 in a joint program to investigate how far the hallucinatory drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) could be used in interrogations, and extensive trials took place at Porton. I even volunteered as guinea pig on one occasion. Both M15 and M16 also wanted to know a lot more about the advanced poisons then being developed at Porton, though for different reasons. I wanted the antidotes, in case the Russians used a poison on a defector in Britain, while M16 wanted to use the poisons for operations abroad.

Henry and Dixon both discussed with me the use of poisons against Nasser, and asked my advice. Nerve gas obviously presented the best possibility, since it was easily administered. They told me that the London Station had an agent in Egypt with limited access to one of Nasser's headquarters. Their plan was to place canisters of nerve gas inside the ventilation system, but I pointed out that this would require large quantities of the gas, and would result in massive loss of life among Nasser's staff. It was the usual M16 operation-hopelessly unrealistic and it did not remotely surprise me when Henry told me later that Eden had backed away from the operation. The chances of its remaining undeniable were even slimmer than they had been with Buster Crabbe.

Harvey and Angleton questioned me closely about every part of the Suez Operation.

"We're developing a new capability in the Company to handle these kinds of problems," explained Harvey, "and we're in the market for the requisite expertise."

Whenever Harvey became serious, his voice dropped to a low monotone, and his vocabulary lapsed into the kind of strangled bureaucratic syntax beloved of Washington officials. He explained ponderously that they needed deniable personnel, and improved technical facilities-in Harvey jargon, "delivery mechanisms." They were especially interested in the SAS. Harvey knew that the SAS operated up on the Soviet border in the 1950s tracking Russian rocket signals with mobile receivers before the satellites took over, and that they were under orders not to be caught, even if this meant fighting their way out of trouble.

"They don't freelance, Bill," I told him. "You could try to pick them up retired, but you'd have to see Six about that."

Harvey looked irritated, as if I were being deliberately unhelpful. "Have you thought of approaching Stephenson?" I asked. "A lot of the old-timers say he ran this kind of thing in New York during the war. Used some Italian, apparently, when there was no other way of sorting a German shipping spy. Probably the Mafia, for all I know ..."

Angleton scribbled in his notebook, and looked up impassively. "The French!" I said brightly. "Have you tried them? It's more their type of thing, you know, Algiers, and so on."

Another scribble in the notebook.

"What about technically - did you have any special equipment?" asked Harvey.

I told him that after the gas canisters plan fell through, M16 looked at some new weapons. On one occasion I went down to Porton to see a demonstration of a cigarette packet which had been modified by the Explosives Research and Development Establishment to fire a dart tipped with poison.