Intelligence, Inconsistent Allies, and Illegality
During the early years of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency sought nearly any reliable source or agents it could recruit behind the Iron Curtain to hamper the spread of the Russian controlled Soviet Union. It attempted to infiltrate and neutralize Soviet power by clandestinely targeting satellite Communist governments loyal to Russia. The challenge of finding, vetting, and utilizing such people was a primary concern for American intelligence to establish its operations and expand its unseen influence abroad, however, to design and execute hundreds of projects and yearly operations requires significant resources and well-trained employees.
The Central Intelligence Agency, of the late 1960’s, that planned and executed many successful once unknown operations was not entirely the same infant group that a decade earlier would attempt inadvisable projects with reprehensible methods. Even during the best of circumstances, a case officer must handle agents and sources with care and still maintain the security standards of their own intelligence group lest they encounter public blowback. One example of the Agency’s earlier “procedural standards” illuminated by modern releases of previously classified documentation is a notable case of what might occur if things instead went utterly awry.
The “Kelly” case was an Agency pseudonym for referencing a sensitive matter related to its Project Artichoke operation, a program using “special interrogation methods and techniques” which included the use of drugs, hypnosis, and complete isolation to psychologically influence a targeted subject.[i] However, the Office of Security and Office of Scientific Intelligence did not begin seeking to force behavioral changes in Mr. Lyle O. Kelly aka Donald Donaldson, both pseudonyms, but prior they desired to use him for operational purposes. The true name of the related subject referred to in Agency “Kelly” documents was Dimitur Adamov Dimitrov, a Bulgarian expatriate agitator leading small resistance groups in Greece that sought to provide intelligence for the CIA. Further, Dimitrov and his compatriots sought assistance from US officials that might aid in damaging Bulgaria’s Communist government.
According to the man himself, Dimitur “Diko” Dimitrov was the son of a farmer and born May 7, 1924 within the Bulgarian village of Medkovets. He was educated locally and studied languages at Sofia University, eventually achieving fluency in Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, and was proficient in Greek but knew little English. During 1942, he joined “a secret branch of the National Agrarian Union,” and, by 1943, he was undertaking self-reported underground activities. According to Dimitrov, by the age of twenty, he was driven into hiding, by Bulgarian fascists, and operated his underground contacts, which included a noted doctor in Bulgaria.[ii]
In the next few years, Dimitrov was accused of sabotage, by the local government, for inciting Russian forces within the country and worked with multiple groups to fight the growing Communistthreat following WWII. Using forged papers, he entered Yugoslavia to set up further contacts and subgroups of the Agrarian movement.
In due course, Dimitur was captured, by Yugoslavian police, for his illegal activities and following a legal judgement he was expelled to Bulgaria. While ill during his transfer, Dimitrov was able to escape Communist authorities and went back into hiding, within the city of Sofia, with the assistance of multiple anti-Communist contacts. After recovering, he spent the next few years organizing anti-Communist cells and giving speeches, which again led to his arrest and being sentenced to death in Bulgaria. While awaiting his sentence, he was assigned to work in a prison stone quarry and mounted another successful escape. By the summer of 1947, Dimitur crossed the southern border into Greece and turned himself over to British officials. He was admitted into a British run hospital and later sent to a Greek refugee camp in Lavrion.
Dimitrov subsequently gained employment broadcasting for Radio Athens in Bulgarian, writing political articles for local press, and books about his struggles against Communism.[iii] Despite his brash style of politics, youthful tendency to exaggerate, and doubts harbored by some intelligence officials, Dimitur was considered to have potential for being “an important Bulgarian figure…” Amidst 1950, Dimitur A. Dimitrov was a source for the Central Intelligence Agency and further attempting to fund and deploy a Democratic Bloc group to establish his overarching goal of a functional opposition to the government of Bulgaria. The Agency’s Security Staff approved his usage in the role of contract agent for Project QKSTAIR, during early 1951, for “political, psychological, and guerilla warfare” operations targeting Bulgaria from within Greece.[iv]
Notable CIA officer Frank Wisner was among those who approved the use of Dimitrov for propaganda operations while the Bulgarian revolutionary continued visiting potential agents within the Greek refugee camp in which he prior lived. Yet while he successfully disseminated propaganda, using his media position and connections, Dimitrov also was noted for operational failures. While serving as the principal operative in a 1951 Agency venture in which he selected the supporting agents, Dimitur was likely deceived by a Bulgarian militia plant within the ranks of the Lavrion refugee camp. This failure would publicly expose some of a CIA project and, following reports that Dimitrov was meeting with French Intelligence to sell his operational knowledge, caused officials to sour regarding their arrangement with him. Officials feared the French might learn of its extensive programs in Greece and in one document claimed it “might be a communist inspired attempt to penetrate United States intelligence activities.”[v] It was upon this basis, a following document noted discussions “concerning the disposal of Dimitrov” to prevent his disclosure of sensitive operational details. No longer was he viable a asset, but deemed a threat to operations and the Agency quickly moved to neutralize this self-created problem.
The “Kelly menace” is a statement among the documents that would later accuse Dimitur of stealing Agency funds (later proven untrue) and that grandiose assertions by Dimitrov that he would be Bulgarian Prime Minster in the future were insane “delusions of grandeur”. This possibly was a means of strengthening the case against him and provided justification for CIA’s future actions to remove him from the intelligence circles he was able to access. While in many instances the Agency “burned” such agents and prosecuted them, Dimitur Dimitrov was considered a risk if he was not immediately confined to prevent further discussion with French intelligence. To prevent his sale of operational information, officials deceived Dimitrov by placing him into the custody of Greek police who imprisoned him for over six months.
This incarceration solution proved temporary, at best, when intelligence officials were informed by Greek authorities that Dimitur was “a nuisance and told our people to take him back” for possibly inciting the prison population or guards with his story of false charges.[vi] Greek officials demanded the Agency move him to another location and this led to further discussions about other solutions for the Dimitrov problem. American intelligence leaders thereafter decided to ship him to the West via Germany beyond the reach of any opposing clandestine groups. “He was flown from Athens to a Frankfurt hospital where he underwent four days of observation.
He was then flown to a CIA holding facility at Fort Clayton in Panama,“ during September of 1951.[vii] The holding facility Dimitur was placed within according to a separate document was a military mental hospital, and he was deemed a ”psychopathic personality” despite officials knowing he was sane.[viii] Similar to Greek prison bureaucrats, the personnel at the Fort Clayton hospital, after several months, requested the CIA remove him because he was causing trouble with patients and staff.
It was during 1952 that intelligence functionaries began to consider the use of “Artichoke” methods to change Dimitrov’s stance toward his captors and those who falsely imprisoned him, by the liberal usage of drugs to achieve “narco-hypnosis”.[ix] If necessary, officials further pondered if they might generate amnesia within their captive via electroshock therapy. Dimitur Dimitrov would remain in hospital custody for years, until January of 1954, when the hospital faced closure and was again moved to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Syros.
At this point, CIA leaders believed that his operational knowledge was so outdated that it would pose no further threat to Agency operations and subsequently they attempted to resettle him in multiple countries, but were unable to do so. Finally, officials decided to allow Dimitur to immigrate with his family to the United States but did not anticipate his future actions.
Following his immigration to the US, accompanied by his wife and daughter, Dimitur became “a continual source of embarrassment”. Over the years following his release, he began a letter writing campaign to contact officials, including the CIA’s Director, the Secretary of State, and Vice-President Nixon, during the 1950’s. Dimitrov would later attempt to become a film producer and, amidst 1957, he pitched a film idea to the US Department of State. In the course of the time, he wrote directly to President John F. Kennedy, co-founded a film company, and made the acquaintance of Dutch journalist and writer Willem Oltmans. Oltmans was another person the Agency mistrusted for his interviews of some notable figures related to the assassination of President Kennedy and reported connection to Soviet officials.
Officials should have eventually realized the unrelenting Bulgarian exile would not cease attempting to gain the attention of higher officials, which might allow him to profit from his experiences. By 1968, Dimitur Dimitrov was calling himself a general in some instances, claiming to lead the Bulgarian underground, and seeking again to contact American intelligence via the US Embassy in Athens. After nearly two decades the Agency had stopped him from compromising some prior intelligence operations, but was never able to silence and prevent from being a consistent disruptive presence.
[i] Project Artichoke, CIA Cryptonym Project, The Mary Ferrell Foundation, maryferrell.org
[ii] Central Intelligence Agency, Restricted File, Activities of Dimitir Adamov Dimitrov, Bulgarian Refugee presently in Greece, October 13, 1950, pp.66, National Archives and Records Administration Number: 104-10435-10071
[iii] Ibid, pp. 67-69
[iv] Ibid p.87-90
[v] Ibid p. 25
[vi] Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum from Morse Allen, Subject: Kelly Case, January 25, 1952, p.1, NARA ID:104-10096-10218
[vii] House Select Committee on Assassinations, Segregated Central Intelligence Agency Files, Box 35, Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Willen Leonard Oltmans, September 22, 1977, p. 5
[viii] CIA, Memo from Morse Allen, Sub: Kelly Case, January 25, 1952, p.1, NARA ID:104-10096-10218
[ix] Ibid, p.2