Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Interview with ONI Investigator Robert Steel




Image result for Paul Bentley Dallas PD with Oswald
Cigar chomping Dallas Detective Paul Bentley takes Oswald into custody 


November 24, 1963
Detective Paul Bentley
Dallas Police Department

Dear Paul,
Perhaps you are aware that ONI has quite a file on Oswald, which no doubt has been made available on the Washington level. If not, I am certain that this information can be obtained for you through our resident special agent in charge of the Dallas office, A. C. Sullivan, who is a wonderful agent, and whom I hope you know. As a personal friend, I congratulate you, wish you continued success, and pray that your guardian angel will remain close at hand and vigilant, always. 

Robert D. Steel
Commander, USNR-R
7960 June Lake Drive,
San Diego, California 

Oral History Interview with Robert D. Steel, La Jolla, California. February 1, 2013

Interviewer: I am interviewing Commander Robert D. Steel, US Navy Reserves, Retired in La Jolla, California, as an oral history project for the Baylor University Library, JFK Section. Steel’s wife Judy is sitting in as an observer during this interview. Good morning Commander Steel.

Good morning Commander Steel.

Robert D. Steel: Good morning.

Question: What is your full name sir?

RDS: Robert David Steel.

Q: When and where were you born?

RDS: May, M-A-Y- Texas, that’s in the central part of the state….

Q: And when were you born?

RDS: May 26, 1919

Q: When did you join the Navy?

RDS: I graduated from the University in Texas, then I went to Northwestern University midshipman school in Chicago in January 1942 and graduated in May, 1942. I came out to the West Coast, I was in charge of training, Naval section from the University of Southern California.

Q: Did you serve on any ships during World War II?

RDS: I would consider the Sea Scout a ship.

Q: So you served on the Sea Scout?

RDS: I was the commanding officer.

Q: I read about the Sea Scout, that was a sonar training ship, wasn’t it?

RDS: Yes it was.

Q: Okay. Did you serve on any other ships during World War II?

RDS: Yes I did, for the last two years of the war I was on board a destroyer escort.

Q: Were you an officer on that ship?

RDS: Yes, I was number three officer, a first lieutenant in charge of everything above the waterline.

Q: What did you do after the war?

RDS: I first worked for the Internal Revenue Service as a tax collector.

Q: In San Diego?

RDS: Collecting from business men in San Diego, and following that Naval Intelligence, I came to work for them as a special agent.

Q: What year did you leave active duty and join the Naval Reserves.

RDS: I suppose that would be 1945.

Q: And what year did you join ONI?

RDS: 1948.

Q: How many years did you work for ONI?

RDS: As a special agent 22 years.

Q: Did you work for ONI in any other capacity other than special agent?

RDS: Yes, I was a commanding officer of the Reserve officers throughout the area.

Q: What years would that have been?

RDS: That was for a two year period and I had to work my way up to that position, and I retired from that around 1962.

Q: When you were working as a special agent were you technically a civilian agent?

RDS: Yes sir, but I wore two hats, being a Reserve officer I was also doing Reserve duty from time to time with various other agencies – CIA, FBI and other military services in Washington DC mainly.

Q: Did you serve as liaison with CIA and FBI so to speak?

RDS: I wouldn’t call it liaison, I was indoctrinated into their activities.

Q: Did you work for the same branch or department of ONI while you were a special agent all those years?

RDS: Would you repeat the question?

Q: I am a little bit unfamiliar with the structure of ONI. I believe there was a special branch – the Naval Investigative Service, did you work for that branch for 22 years as a special agent?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did your work at ONI involve liaison with any other government agencies?

RDS: (Laughs) Yes.

Q: With CIA and FBI for example?

RDS: Yes.

Q: In which naval district were you stationed in late 1959 and early 1960?

RDS: Would you repeat that?

Q: In which naval district were you stationed in late 1959-60?

RDS: My headquarters were always in this naval district.

Q: That would include San Diego?

RDS: San Diego and all the area that included Arizona and New Mexico.

Q: Who was your boss 1959-1963?

RDS: Who was my boss? I had many.

Q: Did you know Fred Reeves?

RDS: (Laugh) A very good close friend.

Q: Was he the head of the San Diego ONI office?

RDS: For a brief period.

Q: Do you remember roughly when?

RDS: No I’m sorry I can’t recall. 

Q: Was he ever your boss.

RDS: Very briefly. We were mainly co-workers.

Q: When did you start living in San Diego?

RDS: Ten, 1942.

Q: Where was your office in San Diego?

RDS: Headquarters building was at Broadway Pier.

Q: Who were your closest colleagues in San Diego?

RDS: ONI or other law enforcement agencies?

Q: I was thinking ONI.

RDS: I had dozens, I mean, its best to be good to everybody.

Q: Do you know what a “119 Report” was?

RDS: Yes sir.

Q: Did you ever write any 119 Reports on anyone while you were with ONI?

RDS: Hundreds of them.

Q: Did you have anyone working under you in 1959.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Is it fair to say that you did as well in 1963?

RDS: Repeat?

Q: Did you have anyone working under you in 1963?

RDS: Its hard to say working under me, we worked as a team. There were people in certain positions who were less qualified as myself, so we worked as a team because somebody had to fill certain billets, somebody had to sit by at a desk because they were incapable of doing certain things.

Q: Let me put it this way, were you anybody’s boss in 1963?

RDS: We worked as team, they were co-workers.

Q: Okay. Fred Reeves told the Assassinations Records Review Board that a week or so after Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the USSR, Reeves had been called by two ONI officers in Washington DC and was asked to do a background investigation on Oswald at El Toro, Marine Air Station, Oswald’s last duty station before leaving the Marine Corps. Is it possible you did this investigation for Reeves?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Would you say it is possible or would you say it is probable?

RDS: Probable.

Q: Is it fair to say you were you probably sent in to do this investigation of Oswald because you were a more highly skilled experienced investigator than the ONI people stationed at El Toro who were used to doing more mundane investigation.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember doing this investigation for Reeves at El Toro?

RDS: (Yes) but not very well.

Q: Given that Oswald was stationed at El Toro and had just defected, I’d like to ask you some hypothetical questions. Would have done it by yourself or with other special agents?

RDS: (unintelligible)

Q: Okay. Would you have questioned Oswald’s former colleagues at El Toro?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Would you have had a stenographer with you?

RDS: No.

Q: Would you have introduced yourself to these marines you were questioning?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember the name Nelson Delgado at El Toro.

RDS: Not the name, could you tell me his position?

Q: He was a marine like Oswald and a friend of Oswald, not an officer, an enlisted man.

RDS: No I don’t remember.

Q: Okay. Going back to Reeves and the ARRB Final Report, Reeves said he went to El Toro Marine Air Station, copied Oswald’s enlisted personnel files, talked to Oswald’s associates and mailed this to ONI in Washington D.C.  Reeves said that ONI in Washington DC ran the post defection investigation of Oswald and the Washington officers then directed various agents in the field. Reeves said he did not interview anyone himself but that later, late 1959 or early 1960, there were approximately twelve to fifteen ONI 119 Reports that crossed his desk. Reeves said he was aware of some of the 119 Reports from Japan and Texas and that the primary concern of the reports he read on Oswald was to ascertain what damage to national security Oswald’s defection to the USSR had caused. Is it possible that you wrote any of the 119 Reports on Oswald that crossed Reeves’ desk?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember writing any of them?

RDS: No.

Q: Okay, shifting gears a little bit here, was Detective Paul Bentley of the Dallas Police Department a friend of yours?

RDS: An acquaintance.

Q: How did you know him?

RDS: I’m not sure, but I think he was a polygraph examiner.

Q: Did you ever work with him?

RDS: I think (we were in) the Navy together. [Unintelligible]

Q: Now you wrote a letter to Paul Bentley on November 24, 1963, two days after Oswald was arrested in Dallas, and in the letter you say that quote “ONI had quite a file on Oswald,” and in the letter you also said that A. C. Sullivan of the ONI office could provide Bentley with this file. Did you send this letter before or after Jack Ruby shot Oswald that day?

RDS: Did I send the letter before….?

Q: It’s an historical fact that Jack Ruby shot Oswald on the 24th of November, 1963 and the letter you sent Bentley was dated the same day, so I am wondering if you sent it before or after Ruby shot Oswald?

RDS: I’m sure it was after.

Q: How did you know that ONI had quote “quite a file on Oswald” at that time?

RDS: (Long pause) I don’t know.

Q: Did you see it?

RDS: Did I see it?

Q: Did you see the ONI file on Oswald?

RDS: I may have written the God damn thing.

Q: Okay. Was A.C. Sullivan of Dallas a friend of yours.

RDS: A very close friend.

Q: How did you come to know him?

RDS: He was in the same business I was in. He had been a guest at my home. I had been a guest at his home.

Q: Now was he the head of the Dallas ONI office?

RDS: Yes he was.

Q: Did Sullivan know about the ONI file on Oswald?

RDS: Of course.

Q: Did A.C. Sullivan already have the file on Nov. 24, 1963

RDS: Undoubtedly.

Q: Did you ever speak with Sullivan about Oswald’s ONI file?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Looking back at it, are you sure your statement in the letter that ONI had quite a file on Oswald was accurate? Absolutely sure, very sure, or less sure now than when I wrote the letter.

RDS: Does the letter today bring back any memories?

Q: Reads letter: Dear Paul, Perhaps you are aware ONI has quite a file on Oswald…..

RDS: No.

Q: Did you ever write to or discuss with anyone else about Oswald’s ONI file?

RDS: I don’t think so, other than A.C. Sullivan.

Q: Did you ever have occasion to visit the Dallas ONI office?

RDS: Yes, a number of times.

Q: Where was it located?

RDS: It was in the Post Office building, it was across the street, it was the building from which Kennedy was killed.

Q: It was near Dealey Plaza, and there was a Post Office building on the other side.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did the Dallas ONI do general ONI work or did it specialize in certain things?

RDS: General.

Q: Did you know other law enforcement or intelligence people in the Dallas area?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did you know J. Mason Langford, of Ft. Worth, he was head of security for General Dynamics or Convair and later became fire martial of the county.

RDS: I don’t recall him.

Q: Did you know I.P. Hale or Max Clark?

RDS: Both names sound familiar but I don’t recall right now.

Q: Did you know Pat Gannaway, of the Dallas Police Special Services Bureau?

RDS: I just don’t remember.

Q: Did you know Jack Revell, the head of the Dallas Criminal Section of the SSB?

RDS: These names are all familiar but I don’t recall them.

Q: Did you know Colonel Robert E. Jones of 112 Army Intel Group at Fort Sam Houston?

RDS: I don’t recall.

Q: James Powell, an Army Intelligence agent of the 112th?

RDS: The name is familiar but I don’t recall.

Q: Had you heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or Harvey Lee Oswald before the assassination?

RDS: Yes, its possible that I knew him very, very well.

Q: On some documents the name is transposed – Harvey Lee Oswald.

RDS: That is a common occurrence and I never paid much attention to it.

Q: You said there’s a good chance you know Oswald quite well before the assassination?

RDS: Quite possibly.

Q: How would you have possibly known about Oswald quite well before the assassination?

RDS: Because I may have investigated the guy. (After his 1959 defection)

Q: Do you remember investigating him?

RDS: Vaguely [?]

Q: What is your personal opinion of ONI and Oswald?

RDS: ONI was a wonderful organization. As for Oswald, he was a sick man.

Q: What is your personal opinion of the causes of the assassination?

RDS: Oswald was just sick out of his mind.

Q: Do you think he killed Kennedy by himself?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?

RDS: I don’t know.

Q: When you heard that Oswald had been arrested, did his name sound familiar to you?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say about Oswald, ONI and the assassination?

RDS: No.

Q: Thank you for letting me interview you today, Commander Steel.


  ing.

Question: What is your full name sir?

RDS: Robert David Steel.

Q: When and where were you born?

RDS: May, M-A-Y- Texas, that’s in the central part of the state….

Q: And when were you born?

RDS: May 26, 1919

Q: When did you join the Navy?

RDS: I graduated from the University…. in ….Texas, then I went to Northwestern University midshipman school in Chicago in January 1942 and graduated in May, 1942. I came out to the West Coast, I was in charge of training , Naval section from the University of Southern California, followed by … Midshipman from UCLA.

Q: Did you serve on any ships during World War II?

RDS: I would consider the Sea Scout a ship.

Q: So you served on the Sea Scout?

RDS: I was the commanding officer.

Q: I read about the Sea Scout, that was a sonar training ship, wasn’t it?

RDS: Yes it was.

Q: Okay. Did you serve on any other ships during World War II?

RDS: Yes I did, for the last two years of the war I was on board …. a destroyer escort.

Q: Were you an officer on that ship?

RDS: Yes, I was number three officer, a first lieutenant in charge of everything above the waterline.

Q: What did you do after the war?

RDS: I first worked for the Internal Revenue Service as a tax collector.

Q: In San Diego?

RDS: Collecting from business men in San Diego, and following that Naval Intelligence, I came to work for them as a special agent.

Q: What year did you leave active duty and join the Naval Reserves.

RDS: I suppose that would be 1945.

Q: And what year did you join ONI?

RDS: 1948.

Q: How many years did you work for ONI?

RDS: As a special agent 22 years.

Q: Did you work for ONI in any other capacity other than special agent?

RDS: Yes, I was a commanding officer of the Reserve officers throughout the area.

Q: What years would that have been?

RDS: That was for a two year period and I had to work my way up to that position, and I retired from that around 1962.

Q: When you were working as a special agent were you technically a civilian agent?

RDS: Yes sir, but I wore two hats, being a Reserve officer I was also doing Reserve duty from time to time with various other agencies – CIA, FBI and other military services in Washington DC mainly.

Q: Did you serve as liaison with CIA and FBI so to speak?

RDS: I wouldn’t call it liaison, I was indoctrinated into their activities.

Q: Did you work for the same branch or department of ONI while you were a special agent all those years?

RDS: Would you repeat the question?

Q: I am a little bit unfamiliar with the structure of ONI. I believe there was a special branch – the Naval Investigative Service, did you work for that branch for 22 years as a special agent?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did your work at ONI involve liaison with any other government agencies?

RDS: (Laughs) Yes.

Q: With CIA and FBI for example?

RDS: Yes.

Q: In which naval district were you stationed in late 1959 and early 1960?

RDS: Would you repeat that?

Q: In which naval district were you stationed in late 1959-60?

RDS: My headquarters were always in this naval district.

Q: That would include San Diego?

RDS: San Diego and all the area that included Arizona and New Mexico.

Q: Who was your boss 1959-1963?

RDS: Who was my boss? I had many.

Q: Did you know Fred Reeves?

RDS: (Laugh) A very good close friend.

Q: Was he the head of the San Diego ONI office?

RDS: For a brief period.

Q: Do you remember roughly when?

RDS: No I’m sorry I can’t recall. 

Q: Was he ever your boss.

RDS: Very briefly. We were mainly co-workers.

Q: When did you start living in San Diego?

RDS: Ten, 1942.

Q: Where was your office in San Diego?

RDS: Headquarters building was at Broadway Pier.

Q: Who were your closest colleagues in San Diego?

RDS: ONI or other law enforcement agencies?

Q: I was thinking ONI.

RDS: I had dozens, I mean, its best to be good to everybody.

Q: Do you know what a “119 Report” was?

RDS: Yes sir.

Q: Did you ever write any 119 Reports on anyone while you were with ONI?

RDS: Hundreds of them.

Q: Did you have anyone working under you in 1959.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Is it fair to say that you did as well in 1963?

RDS: Repeat?

Q: Did you have anyone working under you in 1963?

RDS: Its hard to say working under me, we worked as a team. There were people in certain positions who were less qualified as myself, so we worked as a team because somebody had to fill certain billets, somebody had to sit by at a desk because they were incapable of doing certain things.

Q: Let me put it this way, were you anybody’s boss in 1963?

RDS: We worked as team, they were co-workers.

Q: Okay. Fred Reeves told the Assassinations Records Review Board that a week or so after Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the USSR, Reeves had been called by two ONI officers in Washington DC and was asked to do a background investigation on Oswald at El Toro, Marine Air Station, Oswald’s last duty station before leaving the Marine Corps. Is it possible you did this investigation for Reeves?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Would you say it is possible or would you say it is probable?

RDS: Probable.

Q: Is it fair to say you were you probably sent in to do this investigation of Oswald because you were a more highly skilled experienced investigator than the ONI people stationed at El Toro who were used to doing more mundane investigation.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember doing this investigation for Reeves at El Toro?

RDS: (Yes) but not very well.

Q: Given that Oswald was stationed at El Toro and had just defected, I’d like to ask you some hypothetical questions. Would have done it by yourself or with other special agents?

RDS: (unintelligible)

Q: Okay. Would you have questioned Oswald’s former colleagues at El Toro?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Would you have had a stenographer with you?

RDS: No.

Q: Would you have introduced yourself to these marines you were questioning?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember the name Nelson Delgado at El Toro.

RDS: Not the name, could you tell me his position?

Q: He was a marine like Oswald and a friend of Oswald, not an officer, an enlisted man.

RDS: No I don’t remember.

Q: Okay. Going back to Reeves and the ARRB Final Report, Reeves said he went to El Toro Marine Air Station, copied Oswald’s enlisted personnel files, talked to Oswald’s associates and mailed this to ONI in Washington D.C.  Reeves said that ONI in Washington DC ran the post defection investigation of Oswald and the Washington officers then directed various agents in the field. Reeves said he did not interview anyone himself but that later, late 1959 or early 1960, there were approximately twelve to fifteen ONI 119 Reports that crossed his desk. Reeves said he was aware of some of the 119 Reports from Japan and Texas and that the primary concern of the reports he read on Oswald was to ascertain what damage to national security Oswald’s defection to the USSR had caused. Is it possible that you wrote any of the 119 Reports on Oswald that crossed Reeves’ desk?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Do you remember writing any of them?

RDS: No.

Q: Okay, shifting gears a little bit here, was Detective Paul Bentley of the Dallas Police Department a friend of yours?

RDS: An acquaintance.

Q: How did you know him?

RDS: I’m not sure, but I think he was a polygraph examiner.

Q: Did you ever work with him?

RDS: I think (we were in) the Navy together. [Unintelligible]

Q: Now you wrote a letter to Paul Bentley on November 24, 1963, two days after Oswald was arrested in Dallas, and in the letter you say that quote “ONI had quite a file on Oswald,” and in the letter you also said that A. C. Sullivan of the ONI office could provide Bentley with this file. Did you send this letter before or after Jack Ruby shot Oswald that day?

RDS: Did I send the letter before….?

Q: It’s an historical fact that Jack Ruby shot Oswald on the 24th of November, 1963 and the letter you sent Bentley was dated the same day, so I am wondering if you sent it before or after Ruby shot Oswald?

RDS: I’m sure it was after.

Q: How did you know that ONI had quote “quite a file on Oswald” at that time?

RDS: (Long pause) I don’t know.

Q: Did you see it?

RDS: Did I see it?

Q: Did you see the ONI file on Oswald?

RDS: I may have written the God damn thing.

Q: Okay. Was A.C. Sullivan of Dallas a friend of yours.

RDS: A very close friend.

Q: How did you come to know him?

RDS: He was in the same business I was in. He had been a guest at my home. I had been a guest at his home.

Q: Now was he the head of the Dallas ONI office?

RDS: Yes he was.

Q: Did Sullivan know about the ONI file on Oswald?

RDS: Of course.

Q: Did A.C. Sullivan already have the file on Nov. 24, 1963

RDS: Undoubtedly.

Q: Did you ever speak with Sullivan about Oswald’s ONI file?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Looking back at it, are you sure your statement in the letter that ONI had quite a file on Oswald was accurate? Absolutely sure, very sure, or less sure now than when I wrote the letter.

RDS: Does the letter today bring back any memories?

Q: Reads letter: Dear Paul, Perhaps you are aware ONI has quite a file on Oswald…..

RDS: No.

Q: Did you ever write to or discuss with anyone else about Oswald’s ONI file?

RDS: I don’t think so, other than A.C. Sullivan.

Q: Did you ever have occasion to visit the Dallas ONI office?

RDS: Yes, a number of times.

Q: Where was it located?

RDS: It was in the Post Office building, it was across the street, it was the building from which Kennedy was killed.

Q: It was near Dealey Plaza, and there was a Post Office building on the other side.

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did the Dallas ONI do general ONI work or did it specialize in certain things?

RDS: General.

Q: Did you know other law enforcement or intelligence people in the Dallas area?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Did you know J. Mason Langford, of Ft. Worth, he was head of security for General Dynamics or Convair and later became fire martial of the county.

RDS: I don’t recall him.

Q: Did you know I.P. Hale or Max Clark?

RDS: Both names sound familiar but I don’t recall right now.

Q: Did you know Pat Gannaway, of the Dallas Police Special Services Bureau?

RDS: I just don’t remember.

Q: Did you know Jack Revell, the head of the Dallas Criminal Section of the SSB?

RDS: These names are all familiar but I don’t recall them.

Q: Did you know Colonel Robert E. Jones of 112 Army Intel Group at Fort Sam Houston?

RDS: I don’t recall.

Q: James Powell, an Army Intelligence agent of the 112th?

RDS: The name is familiar but I don’t recall.

Q: Had you heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or Harvey Lee Oswald before the assassination?

RDS: Yes, its possible that I knew him very, very well.

Q: On some documents the name is transposed – Harvey Lee Oswald.

RDS: That is a common occurrence and I never paid much attention to it.

Q: You said there’s a good chance you know Oswald quite well before the assassination?

RDS: Quite possibly.

Q: How would you have possibly known about Oswald quite well before the assassination?

RDS: Because I may have investigated the guy. (After his 1959 defection)

Q: Do you remember investigating him?

RDS: Vaguely [?]

Q: What is your personal opinion of ONI and Oswald?

RDS: ONI was a wonderful organization. As for Oswald, he was a sick man.

Q: What is your personal opinion of the causes of the assassination?

RDS: Oswald was just sick out of his mind.

Q: Do you think he killed Kennedy by himself?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?

RDS: I don’t know.

Q: When you heard that Oswald had been arrested, did his name sound familiar to you?

RDS: Yes.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say about Oswald, ONI and the assassination?

RDS: No.

Q: Thank you for letting me interview you today, Commander Steel.


NOTE: Robert Steel passed away shortly after this interview. Many thanks to Thomas Graves for taking the time to question him on the record before he passed away. A copy of the original cassette will be made as well as a digital version and the original returned to Thomas Graves. Originally slated to be sent to the Baylor Poague Library JFK Collection, that is no longer accepting JFK material, copies will be archived at the Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington D.C. 


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