What Jane Roman Said
By Jefferson Morley

© 2003. Posted by Permission
Jefferson Morley is the world news editor of washingtonpost.com. He can be reached at morleyj2000@yahoo.com.

In the summer of 1994 I became curious if a retired employee of the Central Intelligence Agency named Jane Roman was still alive and living in Washington.

I was curious because I had just seen Roman's name and handwriting on routing slips attached to newly declassified CIA documents about Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. This is what I found significant: these documents were dated before November 22, 1963. If this Jane Roman person at CIA headquarters had read the documents that she signed for on the routing slips, then she knew something of Oswald's existence and activities before the itinerant, 24 year-old ex-Marine became world famous for allegedly shooting President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In other words, Jane Roman was a CIA official in good standing who knew about the alleged assassin in advance of Kennedy's violent death.

What self-respecting Washington journalist wouldn't be interested?

Of course, I knew enough about the Kennedy assassination to know that many, many, many people knew something of Lee Oswald before he arrived in Dealey Plaza with a gun--a small family, an assortment of far-flung buddies from the Marines, family and acquaintances in New Orleans and Dallas, some attentive FBI agents, not to mention the occasional anti-Castro Cuban, and even some CIA officials.

But Jane Roman was not just any CIA official. In 1963 she was the senior liaison officer on the Counterintelligence Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. That set her apart. At the height of the Cold War, the counterintelligence staff was a very select operation within the agency, charged with detecting threats to the integrity of CIA operations and personnel from the Soviet Union and its allies. The CI staff, as it was known in bureaucratic lingo, was headed by James Jesus Angleton, a legendary Yale-educated spy, who was either a patriotic genius or a paranoid drunk or perhaps both. Roman's responsibilities in the fall of 1963 included handling communications between the CI staff and other federal agencies.

My own personal beliefs about the Kennedy assassination were, at that point, no more or less conspiratorial than most Americans, paranoia jousting with common sense giving way to boredom. As a journalist I was interested. I figured that no matter what you thought about the causes of the president's murder, it seemed indisputable that the killing of a democratically elected chief of state in broad daylight constituted some kind of intelligence failure. It wasn't supposed to happen and lots of people were paid good money to make sure it didn't happen. But it did.

The murder of President Kennedy, author Tom Powers had once told me, "was a kind of lightning bolt that illuminated the darkness that usually surrounds the CIA."

And in the summer of 1994 there was a lot of new information about the Kennedy assassination coming onto the public record. Something called the JFK Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) had been created by Congress in the aftermath of Oliver Stone's hit movie "JFK." This five-member civilian panel of historians and legal experts, created by the JFK Assassination Records Act of 1992, had been given broad powers to declassify all of the government's assassination-related records. The ARRB and its staff were just beginning the chore of reviewing and releasing thousands of secret JFK documents.

The new JFK files might shed light on the question, what kind of intelligence failure was Dealey Plaza?

Who better to answer that question than a CIA counterintelligence professional who was trusted by the top brass and who was--as those routing slips suggested--familiar with the agency's reporting on the accused assassin before the president's murder? A little digging in the public record revealed that Jane Roman was very much alive.

I wasn't looking for a proverbial "smoking gun." I didn't think that Jane Roman was in any way responsible for the intelligence failure of November 22, 1963. Knowing more than a few CIA people, some of them in my own family, I assumed she was like them: smart, fallible, well educated, loyal to country and cause, often liberal in outlook. I knew that her late husband, Howard Edgar Roman, had been a respected agency hand. She was retired, in good standing, and discreet. And since she had never been interviewed by any assassination investigator, or by any TV network, or by any author or journalist in the 31 years since Kennedy was killed, I thought what Jane Roman had to say might be newsworthy

If nothing else, Roman could conceivably contribute first-hand testimony about what other people in the agency thought about the assassination. The murder of President Kennedy, author Tom Powers had once told me, "was a kind of lightning bolt that illuminated the darkness that usually surrounds the CIA. It was a unique moment in which a whole series of agency operations were exposed in full light."

What would Jane Roman say about that lightning bolt?

Part 2: The Ben Bradlee Challenge