WASHINGTON — The code names assigned to a series of informants on whom the FBI relied for information about Soviet intelligence activities were released for the first time, as part of the opening of once-secret files about the JFK assassination.
Informants code-named Nick Nack, Gunson and Gleme helped bolster the claims of a high-level informant Yuri Nosenko, whose authenticity was being challenged by the CIA and its longtime counter-espionage chief James Angleton.
The code names were included in records released Nov. 17 as part of the trove of files from the government's investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Most of the 10,744 records released by the National Archives in the latest batch had been made public before but with critical redactions, including the informants' code names.
A Jan. 6, 1965, memo from William Sullivan, the FBI's intelligence chief, said the informants provided details that supported Nosenko as well as another high-level FBI source known as Fedora.
Gleme, Sullivan wrote, was "a woman Soviet agent," who was dead by January 1965. He did not identify Nick Nack or Gleme other than to say they were back in the Soviet Union.
Nosenko first contacted the U.S. government in January 1964 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CIA, Sullivan wrote, "is convinced that he is a 'plant' and not a genuine defector from the Soviets to the United States."
The CIA, Sullivan wrote, thought Nosenko was a Soviet double agent meant to mislead the U.S. intelligence community, so it was essential for the FBI to take stock of its own informants in order to defend its findings.
Since he defected from the Soviet Union, where he worked for the KGB intelligence service, Nosenko told U.S. investigators that Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was considered too mentally unstable to work with by the KGB. Oswald was a former Marine sharpshooter who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and returned to the United States in 1962.
The dispute between the CIA and FBI over Nosenko "will ultimately go to the White House," Sullivan wrote.
Angleton, who believed the Soviets were trying to undermine U.S. intelligence by sending fake defectors to the United States, thought Nosenko was a fake. Instead, Angleton put more faith in another Soviet defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, who had warned the CIA someone like Nosenko would try to subvert CIA efforts.
The CIA interrogated Nosenko harshly for three years before it finally accepted that he was telling the truth in 1969. In the meantime, however, the controversy roiled the intelligence community.
Who was Fedora?
Aleksei Kulak was Fedora, a KGB official working in New York with the cover of a science officer at the Soviet's United Nations mission. He had been providing the FBI with valuable details about Soviet intelligence.
Fedora told the FBI in 1962 that it had a Soviet mole inside the bureau, a man known only as Dick. Later, the FBI assigned that unknown suspect the code name UNSUB Dick. UNSUB means "unknown subject."
Fedora, as Sullivan wrote, provided information similar to Nosenko's, which gave the FBI greater faith in both men. But Sullivan knew that Angleton distrusted both, and the FBI did not want Angleton's suspicions to taint the information the bureau was getting from these two prominent informants.
Sullivan said the information provided by two other prominent FBI informants, Jack and Morris Childs, bolstered the bureau's faith in Fedora. The Childs brothers were Communist Party activists from Chicago who informed on the party for at least 15 years and were known by the code name SOLO.
Oleg Kalugin, a longtime KGB official who moved to the United States in 1995, told author David Wise that the Soviets had long suspected Kulak as being an informant, but his courageous World War II record "gave Kulak a kind of cloak of immunity," Wise wrote.
Crazy Billy Sullivan
Sullivan was one of the FBI's powerful officials in the 1960s and early 1970s, until he was fired by Director J. Edgar Hoover after a power struggle that led Hoover to lock Sullivan out of his office while on vacation. Sullivan and Hoover's break started in 1970, when Sullivan told a group of journalists that the international Communist Party was not the threat to the United States that Hoover had long claimed.
He was known to friends and foes inside the bureau as Crazy Billy.
During the first two years of the Nixon administration, Sullivan coordinated with national security adviser Henry Kissinger and his deputy, Alexander Haig, on a series of FBI wiretaps on the telephones of 17 government officials and journalists. The wiretaps, aimed to find out who was leaking secrets to the press, were later part of the "abuse of power" impeachment article against Nixon in 1974.
Sullivan also led the FBI's longtime covert intelligence program called COINTELPRO and the bureau's surveillance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He was responsible for sending King a threatening anonymous letter urging King to kill himself.
The FBI's pursuit of King was based on information provided by Solo that Stanley Levison, a close King adviser, was a communist, information that led Hoover and others to consider King a threat.
Many of the records released since Oct. 26 under the provisions of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 have nothing to do with the actual assassination but with people, agencies and countries implicated in the various investigations of the killing and related conspiracy theories.
The FBI documents about sources and informants had been released before, but with the key code names censored. Of the latest 10,744 documents, only 144 had been withheld in full.
President Trump said he would release all of the documents without redactions, but FBI and CIA officials prevailed upon him to keep some still secret or to release others with key details blacked out.
Any information that is still redacted is subject to Trump's review and could be released in full in the coming months, the National Archives said.