• Fred Litwin

Did the FBI Bug Garrison's Offices?

James DiEugenio, in his book Destiny Betrayed and in Probe Magazine (July-August, 1977), has made the claim that Jim Garrison's offices were wiretapped by the FBI. Before we get to dealing with the allegation, it is worth pointing out that Garrison long believed the FBI was listening in on his conversations.

In early 1967, journalist Hugh Aynesworth visited Garrison to discuss the case. Garrison, he said, would rush off periodically and shout a chess move into the handset of the phone. Aynesworth asked him what was happening and Garrison replied, "That's the code. The Feebees [FBI} will never break it." He then told Aynesworth that he had to take out the kids to play before noon because, as he put it, "There's a torpedo from Miami after me. Everybody knows they sleep till noon." Garrison's aides told the Times-Picayune that "he often answers the telephone, F--- you, J. Edgar Hoover."

In an interview with Edward Wegmann, William Gurvich remembers the code:

Wegmann: Are phones tapped?

Gurvich: I heard that they tapped phones but I honestly don't know of any phone that was tapped. Garrison thought his and everybody else's were tapped, you know, and we devised a code to use on the phone so the FBI wouldn't know what we were talking about, but Garrison couldn't work the code, so that was rather ineffective.

Garrison then came up with a plan to raid FBI offices. Here is an excerpt of an interview with William Gurvich on WDSU-TV on June 27, 1967:

Gurvich repeated the same story, under oath, at the Christenberry hearings on January 26, 1971:

In fact, Garrison's offices were bugged - by Garrison himself. There are many tape recordings of meetings in Garrison's office in the National Archives. Garrison put in a bug in Perry Russo's house, and you can read the transcript of his discussions with James Phelan. Pershing Gervais was wired when he interviewed Jack Martin at the Fontainebleau Motel.

Here's a short excerpt from a Perry Russo interview with William Gurvich from January 29, 1971:

Note that George Eckert was an investigator in Jim Garrison's office.

Here is an excerpt from a transcript of a discussion between Edward Wegmann and William Gurvich from September 16. 1967:

Wegmann: Any tapes on the interrogation of Shaw on March 1st?

Gurvich: I have never seen any or heard of any. They couldn't have because their system was very poor up here. They only had two rooms equipped for bugging - that was Ward's and Garrison's, and then later, they tried to do it on our lines but they were very inept. They tried to bug Ivon's telephone in his own office and they couldn't, with all of that very expensive equipment.

Wegmann: Are phones tapped?

Gurvich: I heard that they tapped phones but I honestly don't know of any phone that was tapped. Garrison thought his and everyone else's were tapped, you know, and we devised a code to use on the phone so the FBI wouldn't know what we were talking about, but Garrison couldn't work the code, so that was rather ineffective. Witnesses like Carlos Quiroga had their interviews taped.

Harry Connick donated many audio tapes from the Garrison Investigation. Here is a partial listing:

There are 135 audiocassettes at NARA from the Garrison investigation. Some of the conversations come from bugs or taps - here are just a few:

  • Kerry Thornley and A.Sciambra phone conversation

  • 1st Interview between P. Russo and J. Phelan

  • Statement of J. Martin (Fountainbleau)

  • Jack Martin Phone Conversations Tape # 2

  • Phone call from Cliff Hall to R. Burns re: Kelly Thornley knowing Oswald

Now, let's get to the supposed bugging of Garrison's offices by the FBI. The allegation is contained in Destiny Betrayed, and in Probe Magazine (Volume 4, #5, page 16). DiEugenio reproduces this Garrison memo from 1973:

Here is how DiEugenio describes this memo in Destiny Betrayed: (page 264)

"In 1973, former FBI employee William Walter called Garrison's chief investigator Lou Ivon and told him about some of the subterfuges regarding the Kennedy case and Garrison... Walter first said that he did not like Garrison personally, but he thought he was sincere since he knew what went on in the New Orleans FBI office concerning the JFK case. He said messages were sent to the office that FBI reports were to be altered so that there would be no questions about the conclusions of the Warren Report. He also stated that there "were complete statements from various individuals which were eliminated by the agents." He then said that the Bureau had assigned ten to fifteen agents to follow Garrison's investigators to see what leads they were checking out."

Now, I don't happen to find any of this persuasive. FBI reports form the backbone of criticism of the Warren Report. Just read Sylvia Meagher's Accessories After The Fact. The FBI more likely wanted agents to get things right before reports get sent to the Warren Commission.

Interestingly, some of Garrison's staffers developed an appreciation for the FBI. Here is an excerpt from Tom Bethell's diary (entry of March 15, 1968):

Also, Alcock, Ivon and Sciambra have all attested at different times to the efficiency of the FBI's investigation. It is hard to think of anyone of any relevance who was not interviewed by them within a week or two of the assassination. (In fact, most were interviewed within a few days.) This has been, I am sure, a source of great disappointment to the DA's office, although Garrison himself has never admitted as much. When all the books and articles came out criticizing the Commission, I think many people in the office thought they were exploring virgin territory when they looked into Oswald's background, because these books had tended to over-emphasize the short-comings of the FBI. They gave no indication of how extensive their investigation had been. Far from finding virgin territory, they found that the FBI had been there ahead of them every time -- three years ahead of them. I don't think anyone was expecting this. I know I wasn't; it was clear that many of the people working on the investigation, such as Louis Ivon, acquired a certain sneaking respect for the FBI, as I did too.

To be honest, the FBI did not have a need to have "ten to fifteen agents to follow Garrison's investigators." New Orleans, as I have mentioned several times, was a cauldron of rumor, innuendo and gossip. Informants from Garrison's office were regularly going to the FBI, and so they had a very good idea of what was going on. Many informants were reporting information to both Garrison and the FBI - people like Joseph Oster and Betty Parrott come to mind.

According to DiEugenio, Garrison was thinking of suing the U. S. government for illegal surveillance in 1977. Garrison interviewed William Walter who told him further details about what the FBI was up to:

In this interview, Walter reaffirmed that Garrison's office was wired. Walter named several of the former FBI agents and one undercover agent who had been transferred to the phone company's security office, "...from which vantage point, under a longstanding arrangement between the Bureau and the phone company, he can patch anybody's phone lines into the Bureau's local cable for self-activating recordings."

Walter told Garrison that the tapes were transcribed every day. "How was he so sure about this part of the operation? Because he later married the Bureau secretary who typed up the transcript."

Garrison wrote a memo about the interview. DiEugenio does not publish the memo, but just a few short excerpts. Here's one:

"However, Walter makes clear that this was just a thin cover to protect the Bureau and "explain" its entry into the operation. Besides the Bureau clerk typing the transcripts of my conversations in the Bureau office, recordings of my conversations were monitored in the Bureau's Technical Surveillance room and a full file was maintained in the office on my phone calls."

This is the entirety of the evidence that the FBI wiretapped Garrison's phones. There are no transcripts, no memos about the wiretapping, no corroboration from other FBI employees, no nothing.

So just how credible is William Walter?

Well, William Walter contacted Mark Lane in 1968 after a speech. Walter told Lane that he had worked at the FBI and that he knew of a teletype received in the New Orleans office warning about an assassination attempt on November 22, 1963. It should be noted that William Walter was just 21 when Kennedy was assassinated and he had a very junior position in the FBI.

Here is a good short summary of the Walter allegations.

Walter was not ready to go public and Lane put a note under his doorstep:

Lane then wrote out an affidavit:

The next day, January 31, 1968, Garrison appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he read the affidavit on the air. This led to a massive internal FBI investigation.

This a document that William Walter typed up at Tulane University - from his notes - of the teletype he said he saw. He destroyed his notes.

Here is an FBI memo from June 1968 regarding the Walter allegations:

Here is more detail on Walter's probation with the FBI:

I am sure that the conspiracy theorists will say that Walter was punished for what he knew. And the FBI back then, under J. Edgar Hoover, was ridiculously rule-bound and punitive. Just check the punishments given to agents who had anything to do with Oswald pre-assassination - like James Hosty.

And, as the first memo says:

"Walter's file does show that he was censured on two occasion ... It is felt such information would be responsive to Mr. Vinson's request whether Walter is or has been subject to mental aberration or stress."

The William Walter file was put to bed, but he resurfaced in 1975 when there was a renewed interest in the JFK assassination. Hugh Aynesworth investigated the story and filed this story:

The HSCA also investigated Walter's allegations, including the allegation that Oswald was an FBI informant.

Here is the HSCA folder on William Walter

Here is a link to Walter's testimony before the HSCA.

Here are the HSCA conclusions about William Walter:

What is interesting is the paragraph above about William Walter's wife.

"Walter advised the committee that he did not know of anyone who could definitely substantiate his teletype allegation, although he suggested that his former wife Sharon Covert, who also worked for the FBI in New Orleans, might be able to do so. Sharon Covert, however, advised the committee that she could not support any of Walter's allegations against the FBI and that Walter had never mentioned his allegations to her during their marriage."

Now, back to the allegation of the FBI wiretapping Garrison. To quote DiEugenio: (Probe Magazine, op. cit.)

"How was he so sure about this part of the operation? Because he later married the Bureau secretary who typed up the transcripts."

Was this the same wife? Sounds like it. The time-frame works. Was it a second wife? It hardly matters since Walter provided no hard evidence, and his credibility has been found wanting.

Might there be another indicator of William Walter's credibility? Well, how about this:

I can’t be absolutely sure that was the same William Walter, but Walter was born on March 9, 1942 which would make him 45 years at the time of this article - and it describes him as being in his mid-40s.

Not surprisingly, guess who thought there was enough credibility in Walter's story to put it into a film? Yes, you guessed it, Oliver Stone in JFK. Here is the scene (Oser is an Assistant DA):

Garrison: ... There again Quigley destroyed the notes of the meeting. I think we can raise the possibility that Oswald was not only an informant but that he may have well been the original source for the telex we have dated November 17 warning of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas on November 22.

Holds up the telex. We see a close-up: URGENT TO ALL SACS FROM DIRECTOR."

Garrison: William Walter, the night clerk on duty here in the FBI office, gave me a copy of this. It went all over the country. Nothing was done, and the motorcade went ahead on schedule - and this wasn't even mentioned in the Warren Report! Read it, Al.

Oser: (voice-over) "Threat to assassinate President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, November 22 - 23. Information received by the Bureau has determined that a militant revolutionary group may attempt to assassinate President Kennedy on his proposed trip to Dallas, Texas, etc, etc ..."

FLASHBACK TO New Orleans office in 1963. Walter the night clerk, receives the teletype, reads it, and runs it.

Garrison: (voice-over) ... shortly after the assassination, Walter says, the telex was removed from all the files in all cities, as an obvious embarrassment to the Bureau. I believe Oswald was sending information through Hosty ...

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