KOKOMO – President John F. Kennedy was an avid reader of the British spy novels written by Ian Fleming. Fleming’s hero, James Bond, conjured up in the President’s mind the vision of a tall, dark and handsome man, oozing charm and sophistication. When the opportunity presented itself late in 1961 or early 1962, after learning of his exploits, Kennedy summoned to the Oval Office the American James Bond.

Ushered into the Oval Office was a short, corpulent, pear-shaped, popeyed man with pigeon toes and a duck waddle. The man was William King Harvey, native son of Danville and Terre Haute, Indiana. The American James Bond was also the Hoosier James Bond.

For one brief year in Harvey’s life, he would operate at the highest levels of government with awesome responsibilities fraught with danger to himself and his country. The road to the pinnacle of professional success for Harvey had certainly been a long, bumpy and winding one. The roots of his ultimate success and failure rested firmly in the soils of the Hoosier State.

William King Harvey was born in 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio, but soon after his birth relocated to Indiana. His father was the most prominent attorney in Danville and his mother was an English professor at the Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute. His grandfather was the founder of the local newspaper. 

While still in the process of attending law school at Indiana University, with the urging and financial support of his father and the endorsement of his grandfather’s newspaper, Harvey ran for Hendricks County prosecutor. The reality of running as a Democrat in a Republican county caught up with Harvey and he was defeated by 800 votes.

Possessing a newly minted law degree, an attractive new wife and no reason for returning to Danville, Harvey moved to the small Ohio River town of Maysville, Kentucky, where he opened a one-man law practice. Harvey lacked the friendly, back-slapping manner that was required to establish himself in a small town and quickly learned that the practice of law was not his cup of tea. Maysville was just too sedate a place and Harvey secretly longed for action.

In 1940, Harvey surprised no one in Maysville when he left town to join the FBI. He started in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, office but moved to Washington, D. C., soon after the United States entered World War II, as part of a three-man FBI team targeted against our ostensible ally, the Soviet Union.

Late in the war, Harvey found himself in New York City grilling Elizabeth Bentley, the first Soviet spy nabbed in the United States. During 14 days of questioning, Bentley gave up the names of over 100 agents linked to the Soviet Union in both the United States and Canada. Twenty-seven of the individuals fingered by Bentley worked inside the U.S. government; one of these was Alger Hiss.

Harvey spent the next two years trying desperately to build a case against Hiss and the assistant secretary of the Treasury, Harry Dexter White. The stress and pressure of the high-stakes spy game of cat-and-mouse led Harvey down the path to excessive drink and that led to his undoing in the strait-laced, Hoover-led FBI.

One evening in 1947, Harvey left a booze-filled farewell party for a fellow FBI agent and began the long drive home through Washington, D. C. Somewhere along the way, in the middle of a torrential rain storm, either Harvey’s car flooded out or he pulled off the road to sleep. Regardless, his wife called the FBI to tell them that her husband had not come home. The next morning, Harvey showed up at the office like nothing had happened. Director J. Edgar Hoover disliked Harvey and used a section of the FBI field manual to punish him. FBI policies stated that every agent must be on two-hour call. Since Harvey had been missing in action for the night, Hoover took the opportunity to transfer Harvey from the seat of action in Washington to the relative backwater office of Indianapolis. Harvey refused the transfer and tendered his resignation.

The world was a much simpler place at that time and the good people of the United States knew nothing of the intrigues of Whitaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, Elizabeth Bentley and the massive espionage being conducted by our former friends in the Soviet Union. There was a newly formed organization that was keenly aware of the new threat posed by the Soviets and that was the Central Intelligence Agency. Harvey entered a world at the CIA that was quite foreign to him. The new CIA was formed and led by some of the bluest of the blue bloods in the United States. Most of the CIA’s leadership were from wealthy families and their pedigrees included degrees from the Ivy League schools. Harvey, with his gun-toting, crude and aggressive manner seemed like a fish out of water in the halls of the agency where a poet was esteemed more than a man who could shoot straight.

Harvey’s knowledge of Soviet espionage was something that the CIA was desperate to acquire and he was soon rewarded. In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Harvey knew more about the Soviets than anyone else in the CIA and he was welcomed into the brotherhood of spies.

Harvey and his wife socialized with the leading figures of the CIA at alcohol-laden events hosted in tony Georgetown. Through his drinking and socializing with British MI6 associates Kim Philby and Guy Burgess, Harvey distinctly came to smell the odor of a rat. When Burgess provoked Harvey at a party by drawing a caricature of Harvey’s wife in an obscene pose, the furious CIA agent first tried to punch out the notoriously homosexual Burgess and then, later, resolved to dig a little deeper into the British agents’ activities. 

Convinced that Philby and Burgess were Soviet agents, he developed a dossier on the men, convinced his superiors of their guilt and wrote a report that was used as the basis for the CIA demanding the removal of Philby and Burgess from American soil. Only later would British authorities learn that Kim Philby had been spying for the Soviets before, during and since World War II and had virtually destroyed Great Britain’s intelligence service.

Bill Harvey was now promoted to Berlin station chief at a time when Berlin was ground zero for the hottest U.S. and Soviet espionage, a time when a hot war could break out at any moment. Harvey amazingly hatched a plot to tunnel 700 yards from West to East Berlin, under the Soviet intelligence communications center, and to use sophisticated listening devices to intercept all Soviet radio traffic. The ploy worked incredibly well, with significant damage to the Soviets, and Harvey was hailed as an intelligence wunderkind. The tunnel came to be known as the “Harvey Hole” and it led to him receiving the Distinguished Intelligence Medal from CIA Director Allen Dulles. It solidified Harvey’s reputation as a man of action.

Harvey’s drinking escalated to epic proportions during his time in Berlin.  It was nothing for him to down seven double martinis for lunch and then follow that with more martinis and bottles of wine for dinner. He served martinis at his frequent parties in goblets instead of the more demure martini glasses.

In 1961, Harvey was reassigned to CIA headquarters and given command of the ZR/Rifle program, the program in charge of executive actions around the world. “Executive action” is CIA language for assassinations. Harvey’s first success was the removal of Soviet ally Patrick Lumumba in the Congo. That success thrilled President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had increasingly taken a more active role in the world of international intrigue. Robert Kennedy was rumored to have blurted out, “We can kill anyone we want now!”

During the Bay of Pigs disaster, the CIA had attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro in a Keystone Cops misadventure that failed miserably. A new, tougher hand was brought in to take command of the day-to-day operations of the newly organized plan for the destabilization of Cuba. Under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Edward Lansdale and supervised by a committee consisting of Gen. Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy, CIA Director John McCone and Robert Kennedy, the working group gave William King Harvey direct responsibility for the operation’s success. The effort was codenamed “Operation Mongoose.”

Harvey took operational control of over 400 agents, provocateurs and insurrectionists who made their daily work the overthrow of Fidel Castro and the destabilization of the Cuban government. Operations included, but were not limited to assassination, infiltration, propaganda and terrorist acts. 

Staging a terrorist act on U. S. soil and making it look like the terrorists originated in Cuba was even planned. President Kennedy and his brother Bobby were obsessed with removing Castro and no action was precluded. The operations received a written presidential order sanctioning its work. For the assassination part of the operation, Harvey turned to organized crime for their help. The Mafia had suffered mightily at the hands of Fidel Castro. Castro had seized and closed all of the Havana casinos, costing organized crime millions of dollars. The Mafia man who was chosen to deal closely with Harvey and be the go-between with the various crime families was the suave and sophisticated Johnny Roselli. Harvey arranged for poison to be delivered to Roselli on two occasions for the purpose of being put in Castro’s food. The plan never succeeded.

Attorney General Kennedy called Harvey before the working group and severely dressed him down for his failure to deliver the desired results. The tongue-lashing Harvey received was so severe that Gen. Maxwell Taylor turned to the President’s brother and said, “You could sack a town and enjoy it.”

In September 1962, Operation Mongoose was severely disrupted by the surprise revelation that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy feigned a cold and cut short a campaign visit to Chicago to return to Washington to deal with the crisis.

Robert Kennedy’s bloodlust was tempered by the new Cuban reality and he ordered the CIA and its operatives to stand down in Cuba. He wanted nothing to potentially provoke a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. Generals in both Russia and the United States advocated for total nuclear war and Kennedy wanted nothing to be done without the president’s direct order.

Whether at the direction of the military command or on his own volition, Harvey ignored Robert Kennedy and infiltrated 60 CIA commandos into Cuba. They were tasked with various missions to conduct prior to an anticipated military campaign to be launched against the island nation. When Kennedy accidentally learned of Harvey’s actions he stormed into Harvey’s office and started screaming and demanded to know who authorized the action. Harvey lost his temper, turned beet-red, grabbed his gun and slammed it on the table in front of him, pointed at the President’s brother. Kennedy told Harvey that he had two minutes to explain himself. When Harvey was still talking two minutes later, Kennedy stormed out. Harvey was done in Washington.

The CIA Director, John McCone, transferred Harvey to Rome as station chief there. Harvey’s excessive drinking escalated and he had numerous direct conflicts with the Italian security services and some of his more socially refined staff. The conflicts finally came to a head and Harvey was sent back to the United States.

The official CIA record shows that William King Harvey returned to the U.S. and finally retired in 1967. He was called before the Church Committee in 1975 to testify about the CIA’s assassination programs. He was scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Assassinations in 1976 but before he could testify, he died of a heart attack.

In 2003, CIA veteran and head of the Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt made a videotaped deathbed confession to his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. In his confession he identified Bill Harvey as playing a major role in what Hunt called “the big event.” 

Hunt told how in 1963 he was called to a meeting in Miami, Florida by CIA agents Frank Sturgis and David Morales and informed of a plan to kill Kennedy. Hunt identified Harvey and Morales as the key operational leaders of the plot. Harvey would arrange for the shooters and transportation of weapons to Dallas. The killers would be hired assassins from the Corsican mob led by Jean Souevre. Johnny Roselli would assist in procuring the shooters.

While Hunt’s account has never been verified, there is much circumstantial evidence that lends credence to the possible truth of the story. By the time that the House Assassinations Committee began conducting hearings into the Kennedy murder, Harvey was dead of a heart attack and Johnny Roselli had been cut into pieces and dumped into an oil drum into the ocean off of Miami Beach.

Harvey had the means and the motive to coordinate a hit on Kennedy, but did he? His wife C.G., herself a retired CIA officer may have known, but she carried Bill’s secrets with her to the grave in 2000. She was buried alongside her husband in the Danville South Cemetery.

The House Assassinations Committee reported that there probably had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and that more than one shooter had probably been involved. Although they could not prove it, most of the committee staff investigators believed that William King Harvey was most likely the leading figure. 

The Hoosier James Bond, William King Harvey, played a notable role during the Cold War and possibly in America’s greatest crime. 
 
Dunn is the former Howard County and 4th CD Republican chairman.