WHAT JANE ROMAN SAID

A Retired CIA Officer Speaks Candidly About Lee Harvey Oswald
By Jefferson Morley

Jane Roman did not dispute that she had been familiar with Lee Harvey Oswald before November 22, 1963. She spoke with candor.

1. Introduction
2. The Interview
3. ‘A keen interest in Oswald’
4. The Dead End
5. The ‘Scelso Deposition’: What John Witten Said
6. Dick Helms’ Man in Miami

Click here to read the transcript of the interview with CIA Counterintelligence officer Jane Roman.

The Interview

I first called Jane Roman in the summer of 1994. I told her that I worked as an editor for the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post. I told her I had seen her name on some new CIA records in the National Archives.  Could she spare some time to review them with a colleague and me?Roman said she was going away for the summer, maybe when she got back in the fall.  In October, I called her again in. I explained that it was very difficult to understand records like this, especially for some one like myself who had never worked at the CIA. I needed her help. I told her that I liked to work with a colleague, I preferred to tape record my interviews and thought we could cover everything in 90 minutes.

She agreed. She invited me to come to her house on Newark Street in Cleveland Park on November 2, 1994.

My colleague was John Newman. He was a 20-year veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence. He had worked in sensitive postings at the far-flung corners of the National Security Agency’s intelligence empire. He had expertise in analyzing the cable traffic of the Chinese armed forces. He had served as executive assistant to the director of the National Security Agency, which gave him a feel for high-level office politics. He had also written a book, “JFK in Vietnam” that was praised by retired CIA director William Colby and by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Newman had served as an adviser to Oliver Stone on the set of “JFK” and was one of the experts called upon to advise the JFK Assassination Records Review Board.

I had first met Newman two years before in 1992, at a talk he gave on his book at Georgetown University. We became friendly, sharing abiding interests in national security policymaking and the Kennedy assassination. As I learned from him how to analyze CIA cables, I did my own reading in the new JFK files and shared with him what I found. We talked about what the new records suggested, specifically about what the routing slips indicated about what the CIA knew about Oswald before the assassination. We had our theories but John emphasized to me that more information was needed.

So when Jane Roman agreed to talk to me, I knew I was going to bring John Newman along. In my phone calls to Roman, I made certain that I mentioned Newman’s intelligence training and national security background and that he would be participating.

The interview took place at Roman’s house, a classy Cape Cod cottage on Newark Street. It was a warm autumn morning. We walked up the brick path through the ivy and rang the bell. Roman greeted us graciously, ushered us into her comfortable and tasteful home and seated us at a dining room table. Newman spread out his file folders and we made small talk.

There was an awkward moment when Roman insisted I tell her how I had found her. I said, ridiculously, that I had my sources. She said she wanted to know or she didn’t see the need to go any further. I promptly folded.

“I found the property records on your daughter’s condo,” I said.

Roman nodded and seemed grimly satisfied. I pulled out my tape recorder and she balked again. Newman reassured her that taping was the best protection for all concerned. She relented.

Listening to the tape of the 75-minute interview that ensued, I am struck by several things. Above all, the tone is professional. Newman and Roman spoke as colleagues in the intelligence business. They understood what the other one was saying. Newman was assertive, well prepared, self-possessed. Roman was circumspect, thoughtful and concise.

Right from the start, Roman and Newman parried with revealing results.

“When was the first time that you recall having heard about Lee Harvey Oswald and saying something about him,” Newman asked, turning his palms up. “Or hearing somebody saying something to you about him?”

He paused:  “Was there a time before the assassination?”

“I don’t think I ever heard about him before the assassination,” Roman said evenly.

Outside of the intelligence profession and the Washington Beltway, some people might be tempted to describe this statement as a lie. The records Newman and I possessed showed quite clearly that Roman’s office, CI/LS, had been appraised of Oswald’s doings off and on from 1959 to 1963. This was a legitimate interest. Oswald, an American citizen who had served in the Marines, had defected to the Soviet Union, and then returned. Roman received many reports on him. Roman, in charge of the office, had surely at least glanced at some of them. If she hadn’t, she wasn’t a competent professional. And sitting at her living room table under the portrait of a dour New England ancestor, I felt quite certain that Jane Roman had been highly competent. But I didn’t think Roman was lying, not in the sense that she was trying to deceive us—why else had she agreed to talk to an editor from the Washington Post? Obviously, she was willing to speak about these matters.

Her untruth, I recognized, was less a smokescreen than a signal. If we knew enough to thread the needle of her very professional lack of candor, she would talk. We just had to ask the right questions.

Newman produced a sheath of copies of the CIA cables that Roman had signed for over the years. They were all cables about one Lee Harvey Oswald of New Orleans and his travels between November 1959 to October 1963. Roman took her time examining them.

From that point on, Roman did not dispute that she had been familiar with Lee Harvey Oswald before November 22, 1963. She spoke with candor.

A second thing that stands out from the interview tape: Jane Roman was well informed about the agency’s workings and its inner circle. She mentioned that she had been to the funeral of Ray Rocca, a longtime counterintelligence expert. She alluded to her friendship with retired CIA director Dick Helms, then living a couple of miles away on Garfield Street in Northwest Washington.

On the tape, I was mortified to hear moments when Roman’s age showed. She admitted to a failing memory. She seemed at times befuddled by Newman’s courtly but fast-paced cross-examination. She sometimes lost all sense of chronology and needed reminders -- which Newman readily provided. With the documents in front of her, Roman demonstrated that her recollection of details was acute.  When Newman mistakenly referred to a CIA official listed on one document as “Wood,” she caught him.

“Hood,” she said correctly referring to a former colleague, William Hood.

As the interview proceeded, Newman sought to coax Roman into talking about the handling of information on Oswald by the senior staff members of the CIA’s operations division and the counterintelligence staff in the weeks before Kennedy was killed.

He showed her the cover sheet on one FBI report on Oswald that had been sent to the agency.  There was a blizzard of signatures on it. Newman had deciphered the writing and identified the officials in various offices in the Directorate of Plans, as the covert operations division was then known. He read off the names of all the people who signed the routing slips for the Oswald file in September 1963.

“Is this the mark of a person’s file who’s dull and uninteresting?” he asked. “Or would you say that we’re looking at somebody who’s—“

“No, we’re really trying to zero in on somebody here,” Roman acknowledged.

Next: 'A keen interest in Oswald'