Monday, April 24, 2017

The Significance of the Still Secret - Secret Service Threat Sheets

The Significance of the Still Secret - Secret Service Threat Sheets
Image result for Secret Service Protective Research Service office
                                JFK and James Rowley - Director of the Secret Service 1963

By William Kelly 

In his March Sunshine Week presentation at the National Press Club, Federal Judge John Tunheim called attention to the Secret Service Threat Sheets for 1963 that the Review Board requested but the Secret Service wanted to keep secret.

The former chairman of the Assassinations Records Review Board said: “Actually, the Secret Service was probably the most difficult agency. They were the only one that tried to reclassify material after we took office to keep the information away from us. And it wasn’t information that was all that important.”

“They fought us on the Threat Sheets,” Tunheim said, “and they would be important since the President was assassinated that fall, so the Threat Sheets would be relevant, but they fought us on that. And I’m not sure as to what actually happened there, because it was after we left office.”

It was quite common for the various agencies seeking to keep records secret to continue to withhold them until after the Review Board was out of business, even though they were required to sign off on a sworn statement agreeing to continue to turn over assassination records to the National Archives after the Review Board had ceased to exist.

Indeed, the Threat Sheets for 1963 would be important, and they most certainly are relevant to the assassination, should be in the JFK Collection at the National Archives II and if still secret they should be released in October.

As the late professor Philip H. Melanson, Ph.D. says in his book “The Secret Service – The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency” (Carroll & Graf, 2002), “In Washington D.C., the Secret Service ‘Watch Office,’ complete with a switchboard that operates twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, screens incoming data – State Department cables, intelligence reports from the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and National Security Agency, and countless other private and public sources – alerting the Secret Service and Treasury officials via the switchboard when there is an unusual event or emergency.”

“The Secret Service’s Protective Research data bank is crammed with files on groups, organizations, people and past events and incidents, all of them indexed and cross-indexed. What most Americans do not know is that a simple call or E-mail from someone with a personal ax to grind can land virtually anyone on the Watch List. Many thousands of citizens – most of them harmless – are on file as having been checked out for one reason or another as potential threats, and each year the file swells with several thousand new names. Among these, there can be as many as a thousand individuals arrested and several hundred convicted for threats against public officials…”

“The system is, as the Service describes it, is ‘primarily directed toward identifying dangerous individuals.’ There are over fifty thousand Americans in the Protective Research files, ostensibly because of some actual or potential threat or some problem or characteristic that makes them potentially dangerous. Cross-checked against lists of employees at the hotels or airports where protectees appear, the group is constantly monitored.”

“When the president is on the road, the file is whittled down to identify dangerous people in the specific area that he will visit. Dubbed the “Trip File,” it may contain as many as one hundred names; with state and local law-enforcement officers and federal field officers, the Service attempts to check out and account for every person in the trip file. In their advance work, agents try to learn whether these individuals are still in the area; whether they are in jail, hospitalized, or at liberty; and what their current condition is, which usually means seeking to interview them. Sometimes, if a red flag of some sort goes up in the interview, a few people will actually be detained for the duration of the president’s visit.”

“A second and more menacing list of names is prepared for each trip. These are individuals in the area who are considered to be definitely dangerous, as opposed to potentially dangerous, or who remain unaccounted for after the efforts to check out each person in the Trip File. Known as ‘the Album,’ the second file includes a photo and profile of each individual and is studied by every agent in the protective squad. Particularly dangerous cases are red-flagged with a ‘Look-Out.’ As are previously accounted for individuals in the Trip File who suddenly become unaccounted for because of escape from prison or a mental institution.”

While this system is now upgraded to the digital computer age, it functioned pretty much the same back in 1963 except they used index cards, case files and a big blackboard on which the top threats were listed.

As recalled by former agent Gerald Blaine in his book “The White House Detail” (Gallery Books, 2010, p. 59), “The first stop before any advance was always the PRS (Protective Research Service) offices were the nerve center for tracking threat cases. Any time there was a threat made against the president’s life – whether it was a written letter, a phone call, details gathered from an informant, field investigation, or an unstable person trying to get inside the Northwest Gate of the White House – an investigative report was initiated and a case file number issued. A PRS agent would type the report on carbon paper so there would be multiple copies, noting the threat maker’s name, last known address, a synopsis of the threats made, a description of the person, and their medical history, if known.”

“Cases were analyzed and categorized according to the seriousness of the threat. They ranged from ‘extremely dangerous’ to the innocuous ‘gate crasher,’….whenever somebody made a threat against the president, they would be categorized as a permanent risk. There’d be an investigation, the individual would be monitored, and the case file would remain in the Protective Research file for as long as the person was still alive.”

“The records room of the PDS office contained rows and rows of gray metal four-drawer file cabinets that held thousands of threat suspect files, organized by case number. There were smaller file cabinets where index cards of each suspect were organized both geographically and alphabetically. The cards were cross-referenced to the case files. Thus if you knew either the name of a suspect or their last known location, you could go to the small index drawers, locate the card, which would have the case number on it, then go to the large filing cabinets to get the master file.”

“The most serious threat suspects were the ones on the flash cards every agent carried with them at all times. It was the nature of threat makers to wander as vagabonds or itinerants, moving from town to town or state to state. You never knew when or where one of them might show up.”

“Blaine walked over to the bulletin board where the PRS kept a list of current threat makes or gate crashers from around the country who were of immediate concern. Most of the cases were familiar names from the flash cards he already had.”

While Special Agent Roy Kellerman would go to Dallas as the advance man there, Blaine was the advance man for the president’s trip to Tampa a week earlier, and was preparing for the president’s visits to both Tampa and Texas.

“Blaine turned to (Agent Cecil) Taylor, who was mimeographing and preparing more flash cards. ‘Are there any active files for Texas?’ Blaine asked.”

“’No, Roy Kellerman just gave me a heads-up about the president’s upcoming trip, so I did a thorough check. There weren’t any active threats in Texas. This is all we have on the current nationwide active list.’ Taylor pointed to the bulletin board as Blaine reviewed the names on the list.”

1.      Stanley Berman – professional gate crasher.

2.      Carl Brookman – on record with FBI subversive activities in the Nazi Party and possible association with the Communist Party. Possesses firearm.

3.      William Robert Bennett – disabled veteran.

4.      John Francis Donovan – letter and telegram writer. Considered a menace.

5.      Johnnie Mae Hackworth – letter writer, religious fanatic who made threats against the president; arrested in 1955 and 1060.

6.      Josef Molt Mroz – picketer and ‘Polish Freedom Fighter.’

7.      Barney Grant Powell – threatened Truman, extreme temper, violent man with assault background, carries firearms.

8.      Peppi Duran Flores – threatened Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Says he is a communist and pro-Castro.

9.      Wayne L. Gainey – claimed the KKK authorized him to kill the president in 1963. Teenager. 

      John William Warrington – mental; wrote five letters threatening JFK for his association with Martin Luther King, Jr.; says he will be lying in ambush in Florida.


“’Here you go,’ Cecil (Taylor) said as he handed Blaine the copies. ‘We’ll let you know if anything pops up. Obviously Arnie Peppers has a good handle on things down there.’”

“Blaine was relieved to know that Arnie Peppers was still in the Tampa area. His biggest concern was the anti- and pro-Castro groups, but he knew that Peppers and another Florida field agent, Ernie Aragon, had established a source network in Miami and Tampa that was so well tuned, they heard about any new faces in the Cuban community the minute they stepped foot into Florida. Arnie would be a huge help on this advance.”

The Threat Sheets are important and relevant not only because they were kept from the Review Board but they were kept from the Secret Service Advance man assigned to Dallas, Special Agent Roy Kellerman.

As reported in Gerald Blaine’s “The White House Detail,” as soon as he got the Dallas assignment Kellerman went directly to the Protective Research Service (PRS) to get the latest threat reports from that area of the country, and he was told by agent Cecil Taylor that there wasn’t any. While Blaine says Kellerman was pleased there were no active threat reports from Texas, he was actually quite astonished, as he knew Texas, Dallas in particular, was a hot bed of radical extremists.

Even if you just read the newspapers you knew that Lyndon Johnson and his wife were accosted and threatened in Dallas by rabid right wingers while on the 1960 campaign trail, a group of wealthy women led by Congressman Bruce Alger they called “The Mink Coat Mob.”

Then there was a sniper on the lose who took a shot at General Walker, and the well known fact that UN Ambassador Adlai-Stevenson was physically assaulted in Dallas a few weeks earlier by right wing protesters who were still being investigated at the time of the assassination.

“From the initial planning of the (Texas) trip,” writes Phil Melanson, “many politicians and aides were concerned about the President’s safety in Texas. The week before Kennedy’s visit, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had come to Dallas to speak to the local United Nations Association. He was confronted by demonstrators who cursed him, spat upon him, and shoved to get at him. One picketer slammed his sign against the ambassador’s head. The shaken Stevenson called Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and urged that the president not go to Dallas.”
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“In the weeks before Kennedy arrived in Dallas, the Service did make a special effort to identify the individuals who had fomented a near-riot by throwing rocks during the Adlai Stevenson incident. Agents worked with the Dallas police, who found an informant willing to identify the ringleaders of the demonstration by viewing a television film of the incident; then the Secret Service made still pictures of these ringleaders and distributed the images to agents and police who would be stationed at Love Field and at the Trade Mart. None of these potential troublemakers was ever spotted before or during the Kennedy visit.”




“Additionally, the Stevension episode prompted the Service to pay ‘special attention to extremist groups known to be active in the Dallas area.”

That the PRB could not identify any potential threats to the president in the entire state of Texas was just unbelievable, and Kellerman must have known something was up.

Kellermen’s boss should have been the advance man on the Texas trip but he decided to take a vacation so Kellerman was brought in as a replacement, and when he got to Dallas he found no shortage of potential suspects.

As Melanson described, the local Secret Service and Dallas police were closing in on the group that had attacked Stevenson a few weeks earlier.

Dallas TV reporter Wes Wise said that the local police and Secret Service closely reviewed all news camera film and photos of the protesters, singled out certain suspects and made profile pictures of each, some of whom were identified as Denton, Texas college students. A Denton undercover policeman was sent in to infiltrate the group and photos of the suspects were distributed to the Secret Service and security agents at the Trade Mart, where the president was scheduled to speak at the moment he was killed.

One of the Stevenson protesters may have been an early suspect in the assassination, as shortly after the murder occurred a Secret Service agent at the Trade Mart made an emergency phone call to John Rice, the Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of the New Orleans Secret Service office.

At the time Rice was in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at an air base near Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was instructed to do a discrete background check on a suspect in the assassination, one John Martin.

No, not Jack “Scruggs” Martin, the crazy New Orleans investigator who dropped a dime on David Ferrie and Guy Banister. This John Martin was a young college student, a right wing political fanatic and religious zealot, whose family and friends described him to Rice as a young nut case.

By the end of the day however, Rice realized he had been sent on a wild goose chase, as the alleged assassin was caught and in custody, and Lee Harvey Oswald did have ties to New Orleans that Rice would end up investigating, including the whereabouts of Oswald’s library card and all of the Banister, Ferrie, Shaw shenanigans.

Rice would also begin an investigation of Colonel Jose Rivera, a doctor in the US Army Reserves who taught science classes at a New Orleans university for many years and expressed foreknowledge of the assassination. Rivera would tell his research associate, another New Orleans resident, who had talked with Oswald, that he - Rivera was aware of a “special research project the Army was conducting using photos and films to identify protesters and rioters,” – the same techniques the Dallas police and Secret Service were using to identify the Stevenson protesters.

“We’re photographing demonstrators with telephoto cameras from rooftops,” Rivera said. “We’ll identify individual demonstrators and put their names in computer files.”

The Threat Sheets should give us some more information on John Martin as well as the suspects in threats made against the president in Chicago and Tampa in the weeks leading up to the assassination that Blaine was made aware of. When former Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, who investigated the Chicago threats, called attention to the fact that the Secret Service had intentionally destroyed the Tampa Advance Reports, Blaine noted in his book that he wrote the Tampa Advance Reports and still had copy in a box under his bed. With that the NARA contacted Blaine and obtained the reports, copies of which were intentionally destroyed by the Secret Service to keep them from the ARRB and the JFK Collection.


The Threat Sheets and PRS records on threats to the president should include the John Martin and the Stevenson attackers, the suspects in both the Chicago and Tampa threats against the president, as well as other known threats – Joseph Milteer, and the Alpha 66 Cuban who is recorded on tapes as threatening the president in Dallas before he arrived there.

We know Oswald is not among them, as the FBI took him off the watch list a few months earlier, and Oswald’s alleged visit to Mexico City did not set off the inter-agency alarms that it should have.
Back in Dallas, Oswald’s case officer – James Hosty, was also assigned to the Walker shooting case, but he didn’t connect Oswald to it. After he interviewed Oswald and visited Marina, Oswald delivered a threatening note to Hosty at the FBI office in Dallas, a note that he later destroyed.

Warren Commission attorney Sam Stern said in an interview with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) 


that had he knew about Oswald’s allegedly threatening note to Hosty, he “would have regarded it as greater identification of the possibility of potential danger in Oswald of violence,…(and) if we had found out that happened, we would have gone to a full Commission meeting immediately, and would have made the big decision regarding any future relationship between the Commission and the FBI. It just would have gone to the heart of the whole relationship and the Bureau’s motivation. The destruction of that note would have resulted in the ultimate brouhaha.”

Besides refusing to turn over the Threat Sheets to the Review Board and attempting to reclassify previously released records, the Secret Service acknowledged it intentionally destroyed assassination records after the JFK Act was passed by Congress – specifically the Tampa Advance reports.

The Review Board also took testimony from Secret Service agent James Mastrovito, who was charged with maintaining the records who acknowledged destroying some of them by “culling the files.” He also said he flushed parts of JFK’s brain down a food processor that was contained in a sealed vial labeled JFK’s brain and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.


According to the HSCA report: “When Mastrovito took charge of the JFK Assassination file, it consisted of 5 or 6 file cabinets of material. After Mastrovito finished “culling” irrelevant material, the collection was down to one five-draw file cabinet. Mastrovito guessed that his purging of extraneous material took place around 1970. He said that the extraneous material consisted of records of 2000-3000 “mental cases” who called the Secret Service after the Kennedy assassination to claim responsibility for the shooting. Mastrovito offered that Robert Blakey questioned him about this destruction of documents and threatened legal action. Mastrovito pointed out that Chief Rowley’s August 1965 memo directed him to remove irrelevant material. Blakey had obtained index cards from the Secret Service for what were then called “White House cases” and/or CO2 cases. These cares had been sent to the Warren Commission in a card index file. From these cares, Warren Commission members had requested specific Secret Service reports. Blakey had also sought specific files based on his examination of these index cards. Apparently, Mastrovito had destroyed some files that Blakey had wanted to see. Mastrovito decided which files to keep and which files to destroy. Mastrovito said no one had access to the assassination file except people in the Secret Service. Some reports were copied for the FBI and the Warren Commission. Mastrovito said protective surveys were not in the assassination file but were kept in the operations division.”

On my request to the National Archives as to the current status of the Secret Service “Threat Sheets” referred to by Judge Tunheim, I received the following reply from Martha Murphy:

Mr. Kelly,

We were able to verify that we have summaries of USSS records, commonly referred to as "threat sheets", in our protected collection. These 400+ pages have been referred to USSS for review. These pages will be released no later than the October deadline unless the USSS files an appeal and the President upholds that appeal. 

These "threat sheets" were written by HSCA staffer Eileen Din(n)een and are notes derived from USSS protective intelligence files. 

The ARRB discussed this issue in their Report on page 115 (sic 113) of Chapter six linked here:


Final Report ARRB – Chaper 6 Part I. The Quest for Additional Information and Records
Final Report – Page 113

I.    Miscellaneous 

3. Secret Service

a. Protective survey reports.

Whenever the President traveled outside of Washington D.C., the Secret Service would generate a Protective Survey Report, or a ‘trip report.’ Trip reports, composed by Secret Service agents who conducted advance work for the President’s trips, contained information ranging from logistical details about seating arrangements to details about individuals in the area known to have made threats against the President’s life. Some of the survey reports document information Secret Service received from other agencies such as the FBI or CIA.

The survey reports detail President Kennedy’s travel, whereabouts, associations, and activities for his entire administration. They also provide a complete picture of the Secret Service’s protection of President Kenendy.

b. Shift reports.

The White House Detail consisted of Secret Service agents whose duties were to personally protect the life of the President, the Vice President, and their respective families. The White House Detail kept ‘shift reports,’ usually authored by the Special Agent in charge of the shift, that detailed the activity of each section during their assigned working hours.

c. Eileen Dinneen memoranda.

Eileen Dinneen, a staff researchers for the HSCA, obtained access to protective intelligence files and Protective Survey Reports. Dinneen documented her review of these files in memoranda and reports. The Review Board staff found useful Dinneen’s documentation of information contained in the Secret Service protective intelligence files of individuals whom the Secret Service considered to be dangerous to the lives of the President, the Vice President, and their families from March to December 1963. For each protective intelligence files she reviewed, Dinneen created a one-page report documenting the name of the individual and background information the Secret Service maintained on the individual. The Board’s vote to release in full these “threat sheets” was the subject of the Secret Service’s May 1998 appeal to the President.



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2 comments:

Debra Conway said...

Bill, Another superb gathering of critical info and analysis.

spearman said...

The 1963 JFK Conservation SS trip files should be a part of the Oct 2017 release even though marked "Withdrawn for national security reasons", right, Bill?