New releases in the J Walton Moore OP file

I recently posted a note about the 2022 releases in the CIA Office of Security file on James Walton Moore.

Moore, who was chief of the Dallas field office for the CIA’s Domestic Contact Division during 1962-63, is suspected by conspiracy minded researchers to be a link between the CIA and Lee Oswald via George De Mohrenschildt, a Russian born geologist who was both a domestic contact for Moore and an acquaintance of Oswald.

My previous note did not discuss possible Moore-De Mohrenschildt-Oswald links. It only looked at the current state of Moore’s OS file, and how many docs in the file are still redacted after the December 2022 releases. Such is the boring type of blog this is. The answer to that question, for the very few who care, was that four docs still have redactions. All these redactions are the names of other CIA employees.

This second Moore-ish note discusses the 2022 releases in the other big file on Moore, his personnel file (OP stands for Office of Personnel). The 2018 release of the file is here and the new 2022 release is here. It is 338 pages long, so give it a few extra seconds to download.

I will give you fair warning now though. Don’t look for much more entertainment in this note than there was in the OS file note.

The NBR OP files

I have written several notes about NBR records in the JFK Assassination Records Collection. (Here is a link to the notes.) “OP” files (Office of Personnel) are one of the largest sets of NBR files, with about 10,000 pages altogether. Some of the people covered by these files were of great interest to assassination researchers. So why did these files only come out of NARA’s vaults in 2017-2018?

The Assassination Record Review Board, the federal board which oversaw the assembly and release of records in the ARC, had a massive job to do and not enough time to do it. To save time on their review of these records, which were unlikely to contribute anything to the JFK story, they began to designate records as NBR (“not believed relevant”) to the JFK assassination.

Files so designated went back in the vaults until the 2017 release deadline in the JFK Act so that the ARRB could spend their limited time searching out and reviewing better stuff.

Over the years, however, assassination researchers discovered that large files on people they were interested in were still locked away, and expectations began building up over these documents.

It was not the ARRB’s intention to lock up really interesting stuff, however. Here is a quote from Michelle Combs, a senior researcher on the ARRB staff:

The ARRB staff recognizes that many of the individuals whose files are found in the Microfilm Collection are significant to an understanding of the assassination. However, the material in these files not marked by the ARRB staff and not already found in the Sequestered Collection was found to consist of basic standard personnel information and to have no believed relevance to the assassination.

We have the material on the ARRB meeting which discussed the OP files that Combs and the other analysts proposed for NBR status. They provided lots of these files for the Board to examine. The Board voted for NBR.

Now, of course, the 2017 deadline for release is long past. Yet there are still documents in these files which have redactions. This interests me, so I will have more to say about the NBR OP files in a later post.

Other people have drawn more definite conclusions than I have and think that these redactions represent significant/important information for the assassination story, despite the ARRB judgment that these records were not relevant.

Moore’s OP file was one of the files that researcher Jeff Morley singled out as possibly signficant/important in this article. I haven’t seen much of Morley’s research on Moore, so I don’t really understand his basis for this.

Some of Morley’s take on Moore, and other people, such as CIA officer Birch O’Neal, is perhaps influenced by the research of Bill Simpich, a JFK researcher who is also a lawyer for the Mary Ferrell Foundation. Simpich wrote a whole series a decade ago about twelve people who he believed had built a legend of Lee Oswald as a disgruntled left-wing loner who killed President Kennedy for the notoriety. In other words, the people who framed Oswald. Walton seems to be somewhere on this list.

In any case, all this gives me a reason to look at just how much material in Moore’s OP file is still withheld, and what type of information is withheld. Based on what has been released since 2018, was the ARRB wrong in its judgment about the relevance of Moore’s file to the JFK assassination story? These seem to me very natural, reasonable questions, but hey, it’s a free country. Feel free to think me unreasonable for writing about this.

Moore’s file

Moore’s personnel file is big, 338 pages. Related documents are sort of scattered in clumps. Overall order is most recent first, earliest last. This is common in OP files. In Moore’s file, the first item is a 1977 letter from DCI Stansfield Turner congratulating him on his retirement and thanking him for his service. The last item: Moore’s honorable discharge certificate from military service in World War II.

File documents can be rather neatly divided into two piles: first, circa WWII era employment records; second, Moore’s post war employment documents, stretching form the end of the 1940’s all the way up to his 1977 retirement.

Are there redactions in these documents? Yes, there are, even after the December 2022 releases. Prior to 2022, about 113 pages out of 338 in Moore’s OP file had redactions. After the December 2022, about 42 pages have redactions. The most redactions on one page are 3, so these are not heavy redactions, but it is still disappointing, and surprising, given the type of material in the file.

One thing that especially surprised me is where the redactions are. They are almost all in the first set of records, centering on Moore’s records for 1947-48. There are about four redactions in all the records for Moore’s career after 1949.

There is a reason for this, of course, but understanding it involves understanding Moore’s personal history.

Jim Moore’s parents were missionaries in China, which is where he grew up. In fact, he graduated from the famous Chefoo School before returning to the U.S. for college.

One thing that I found interesting in browsing through all of the OP files was how many of these people had a China background. E. Howard Hunt served in the CBI theater, Scotty of the CI staff Miler was a code clerk in Shanghai, Jake Esterline of the Bay of Pigs trained anti-Japanese guerrillas, and so on. Moore, however was the oldest China hand of them all.

Moore served for about three years with the FBI after college, but when the war started, he joined the navy and wound up in OSS, a very big group of OP file holders. After the war, he joined CIG, the immediate predecessor to the CIA, and moved to Shanghai. When the Office of Special Operations was formed, he moved again to Qingdao (Tsingtao in the cable traffic), and was scheduled to become Chief of Station in Dalian (Dairen in the cable traffic), in the former Manchuria.

His appointment was blocked, however, when the Russians, who controlled most of northern China, refused to issue him a visa, and he cooled his heels in Tsingtao for some time. As the cable traffic and various memos show, they considered sending off to Seoul or back to Shanghai. Eventually, however, he was made Chief of Station in Calcutta, and spent about a year or so there, before returning to the States.

This peripatetic period spawned almost all of the redactions left in Moore’s OP file. I count about 38 pages with redactions, all dating from 1947-48. For the remainder of Moore’s career, there are only two other pages that have redactions.

I don’t know why the CIA has seen fit to leave so many redactions in these documents. I suspect that it may have something to do with Moore’s cover as station chief, perhaps references to him working in a particular consulate with a particular title. Anyway, this was a disappointment to me. These documents are now 75 years old, not 60ish. These are not great secrets of state, it’s just Jim Moore having trouble getting a visa. Show a sense of balance, please.

The one or two later redactions refer to Moore’s contributions to research on Soviet military issues, and may have sprung from his contact work in Dallas. The redactions occur in a 1970s document that has nothing to do with JFK, Oswald, or DeMohrenschildt.

My two cents

Overall, the file shows us that his supervisors thought highly of Moore, and his coworkers enjoyed working with him. I saw nothing very mysterious in the file, other than what his job title might have been in the late 1940s. I saw nothing related to the JFK assassination. For those just interested in researching Moore, the OP file is rather ho-hum. Moore’s OS file, which I discussed earlier, was more interesting.

Anyway, having taken a lot of time to go over Moore’s file, I feel entitle to give my two cents. This is it. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.