Friday, August 20, 2010

Lee R. Pennington, Family Neighbor...

Robalini's Note: Lee Penington was the next door neighbor of my mom's family when she grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Here is a little biography of him found on the Internet, courtesy of Uncle Fats...

Lee R. Pennington was a senior FBI agent who worked closely with J. Edgar Hoover. He claimed to have "70,000 confidential contacts" throughout the United States. Pennington, who specialized in identifying left-wing activists, supplied a great deal of information to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). It was during this period that he met Lou Russell and James W. McCord.

By the time Pennington retired from the FBI in 1953 he was the third highest rankin agent in the organization. He then went to work compiling files on domestic "subversives" for the American Legion's National Americanism Commission". Later he became director of the Washington office of the right-wing group, the American Security Council.

Pennington also worked for the CIA who paid him $250 a month by "sterile" check, which could not be traced back to the government. It was such a secret relationship that even the director of the CIA was not informed about it. According to David Wise (The American Police State): "once a month Pennington would report to his case officer, Louis W. Vasaly at the Burgundy Room, a restaurant in Chevy Chase." Over a fifteen year period Pennington also provided information to Paul Gaynor, the chief of CIA's Security Research Staff (CRS) and Howard Osborn, director of the Office of Security.

Pennington continued to keep in contact with James W. McCord. Pennington's secretary, Donald Sweany, a former staff member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, married McCord's secretary, Lucille.

On 17th June, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while in the Democratic Party headquarters in Watergate. Two days later Pennington went to McCord's house where he met Donald and Lucille Sweany. While there he watched as the Sweanys and Ruth McCord destroyed a large number of documents linked to the Watergate break-in. Pennington later claimed he informed his CIA case officer, Louis W. Vasaly, about the burning of McCord's files.

The FBI received information that McCord's files had been destroyed by a former CIA agent called "Pennington". They also discovered that a man named Pennington had driven James W. McCord to his Rockville home following his release on bail. FBI agent, Donald L. Parham, asked the CIA to produce a report on Pennington.

According to the author, Jim Hougan Secret Agenda (1984): "The CIA's response to the FBI's inquiry was to give the bureau the name of a different Pennington - not Lee R., Jr., but Cecil H. The latter was a retired employee of the Office of Security. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the Watergate affair and had not, of course, driven McCord anywhere at any time. Grilled by the FBI for reasons that he could not comprehend, his alibi was quickly verified, with the result that the Pennington lead turned into a dead end for the bureau, just as the CIA had intended."

An unnamed CIA official told the Senate Committee chaired by Lucien Nedzi that: "He (Edward F. Saye) told me at the time... that Mr. Lee Pennington had entered Mr. McCord's office at home, destroying any indication of connections between the Agency and Mr. McCord." The head of the Security Research Staff said that "Pennington was too sensitive and the decision had been made to sacrifice Cecil Pennington instead".

In August, 1972, Richard Helms told Stephen L. Kuhn, the deputy director of the Office of Security, to "Remove the (Pennington) materials from the (Watergate) files and maintain them separately." This message was passed to another CIA officer who refused to comply with the order. He remarked to another officer that the "Agency did not need its own L. Patrick Gray". This was a reference to L. Patrick Gray, the director of the FBI who destroyed the documents in the White House safe of E. Howard Hunt. The two officers placed the Pennington materials in a sealed envelope and marked it for the director's "Eyes Only". In August, 1973, the new CIA director, William Colby, asked to see all files related to the Watergate Scandal. Kuhn instructed the CIA official given this responsibility to collect these documents together, that he was not to include the Pennington envelope in the materials given to Colby.

When interviewed by the Lucien Nedzi and his Senate Committee Richard Helms admitted that during the Watergate investigation he ordered the erasure of all tapes and transcripts of conversations secretly recorded in his office and the French Room (a conference room used by senior officials of the CIA). More than four thousand pages of recorded conversations over a six year period were destroyed.

Helms had been instructed by Mike Mansfield that all documents relating to Watergate had to be preserved. Helms told Nedzi that the destroyed materials had nothing to do with Watergate: "When I heard about tapes and destruction of Watergate-related tapes, the thing that immediately struck me was: "who knows what was on those tapes except me or my secretary? Who in the public can make an allegation that there were any tapes that were Watergate-related?" Lucien Nedzi replied: "The problem is... how can you prove they weren't Watergate-related."

In his book Secret Agenda, Jim Hougan alleges that Pennington was providing Lou Russell and James W. McCord with CIA reports on people like Jack Anderson that were being targeted by those involved in Operation Sandwedge. Hougan claims that "Lee R. Pennington was McCord's cut-out to the Security Research Staff."

William Colby was eventually given the Pennington file. On 28th June, 1974, he reported to Howard Baker: "The results of our investigation clearly show that the CIA had in its possession, as early as June, 1972, information that one of its paid operatives, Lee R. Pennington, Jr., had entered the James McCord residence shortly after the Watergate break-in and destroyed documents which might show a link between McCord and the CIA."

Lee R Pennington died of an apparent heart attack in October, 1974.

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