After the Bay of Pigs fiasco in the early ’60s, John F. Kennedy forced out then-director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, replacing him with engineer John McCone. McCone was an outsider to the “boy’s club” at the CIA, and Kennedy hoped the new director might shake things up and bring a fresh perspective to the organization. When Kennedy was assassinated, McCone faced the Warren Commission as the chief proponent of the Lone Gunman theory — the assertion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
In September of 2014, 50 years after his death, the CIA released a classified document related to the investigation into the Kennedy assassination. It concedes that more than 70 percent of the American public believes Kennedy’s death was part of a larger conspiracy, and admits that McCone kept a lot of information secret that could have aided the commission’s investigation.
CIA historian David Robarge included this classified report with his biography of John McCone, who died in 1991. The biography is still unpublished, but the CIA has gone public with the report in order “to highlight misconceptions about the CIA’s connection to JFK’s assassination” (according to their statement to POLITICO).
Chief among the facts that were never brought to light during the hearings were the multiple assassination attempts of Fidel Castro by the CIA, and even the mafia, which could have led to the possibility of a retaliation on Cuba’s part. Undocumented conversations took place after JFK’s death between attorney general Robert Kennedy and McCone; Robert Kennedy’s awareness of the CIA’s attempts on Castro’s life makes it difficult to conclude he wasn’t also afraid that Cuba had a part in his brother’s death. The attempts on Castro’s life were later made public in the ’70s, but this declassified document adds new background information to the commonly accepted idea that the CIA knew more about Kennedy’s murder than they told us.
One example of CIA obfuscation: The agency was apparently tracking Oswald before 1963, after he tried to defect to the Soviet Union in the ’50s. It was part of an incredibly illegal operation called HTLINGUAL that had the CIA opening people’s mail. It’s obvious why the agency wouldn’t want that to come out during a murder investigation. It also demonstrates a knowledge of a known threat in Oswald, years before the agency says he “went rogue” and killed Kennedy:
Max Holland, one of the most fair minded scholars of these events, has concluded that “if the word ‘conspiracy’ must be uttered in the same breath as ‘Kennedy assassination,’ the only one that existed was the conspiracy to kill Castro and then keep that effort secret after November 22nd.” In that sense – and that sense alone – McCone may be regarded as a “co-conspirator” in the JFK assassination “cover-up.”
The agency still maintains that this information is “benign,” claiming McCone didn’t think Cuba was involved in Kennedy’s death. The picture painted by the report is that he was hands-on in dealing with the Warren Commission, and he kept past actions of the agency a secret to ensure Oswald’s conviction. McCone allegedly was certain that Oswald acted alone, so he pushed that agenda.
Being that most of the CIA activity with Cuba happened before McCone’s time with the organization, it’s a wonder why he went to such great lengths to cover up the past director’s actions. The report offers no conclusive answer for that, but does hint that the Johnson administration was involved in the cover-up:
[McCone] shared the administration’s interest in avoiding disclosures about covert actions that would circumstantially implicate [the] CIA in conspiracy theories and possibly lead to calls for a tough US response against the perpetrators of the assassination… If the commission did not know to ask about covert operations about Cuba, he was not going to give them any suggestions about where to look.
The report also alleges that McCone was not conspiring with Dulles, his predecessor and a member of the commission, to cover up past deeds at the CIA. But he could.
Rest assured that his predecessor would keep a dutiful watch over Agency equities and work to keep the commission from pursuing provocative lines of investigation, such as lethal anti-Castro covert actions.
Despite withholding evidence from the Warren Commission, the surviving members of that investigation still believe that ballistic information proves Oswald acted alone. The importance of this classified document going public is that it shifts blame for faulty investigative work from the Warren Commission to McCone’s deception. The CIA also insists it had nothing to do with a conspiracy by the U.S. government to kill Kennedy.
The lack of interest around this declassified report (there are still 15 “blanked out” areas of the statement that involve names and places, presumably for security reasons) is a sad statement about how little we are surprised that the government covers up its own misdeeds. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is a major part of our recent history, yet news that our spy agency was active in hiding the truth from a major investigation into JFK’S death seems to have become something of a passing interest.
Warren Commission chief investigator David Slawson agrees.
The world loses interest, because the assassination becomes just a matter of history to more and more people.
It’s not exactly tinfoil hat-level stuff, but conspiracy theorists could argue with some merit that it’s easy to admit to a small lie in order to spare a bigger one. (And real conspiracy theorists would say, “THIS IS J.F.K. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT. HOW DID THIS NOT HIT THE NEWS CYCLE?”)
Then of course there is the worry — natural when someone finds out they’ve been lied to — that perhaps a bigger set of lies is still out there somewhere.