Former CIA director John McCone has long been suspected of withholding information from the Warren Commission, President Lyndon Johnson’s investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In a report, written in 2013 by CIA’s top in-house historian David Robarge and quietly declassified last fall, the intelligence agency acknowledges that McCone and other senior CIA officials were “complicit” in keeping “incendiary” information from the commission.
Politico reports that John McCone replaced Allen Dulles as director of central intelligence in November 1961, after President Kennedy forced out Dulles following the CIA’s bungled operation to oust Fidel Castro by invading Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. McCone’s mission was to restore order to the CIA.
McCone became an important witness following JFK’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963.
According to the article: “McCone pledged full cooperation with the commission, which was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, and testified that the CIA had no evidence to suggest that Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, was part of any conspiracy, foreign or domestic. In its final report, the commission came to agree with McCone’s depiction of Oswald, a former Marine and self-proclaimed Marxist, as a delusional lone wolf.”
Robarge’s 2013 report says that, McCone, who died in 1991, was at the center of a “benign cover-up” at the CIA, intended to keep the commission focused on “what the Agency believed at the time was the ‘best truth’—that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing John Kennedy.”
According to the report, the most important information that McCone withheld from the panel’s 1964 investigation, was the existence, for years, of CIA plots to assassinate Castro, some of which put the CIA working with the Mafia. Lacking this information, the commission never knew to question whether Oswald had accomplices in Cuba or elsewhere who wanted Kennedy dead in retaliation for the Castro plots.
Politico states that the report comes close to an official CIA acknowledgement of impropriety in the agency’s dealings with the commission. While the coverup may have been “benign,” it was still a cover-up that denied information to the commission that might have prompted a more aggressive investigation of Oswald’s potential Cuba ties.
Originally published in September 2013 in the CIA’s classified internal magazine, Studies in Intelligence, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, the report was drawn from a still-classified 2005 biography of McCone written by Robarge. The article was declassified last fall and is available on The George Washington University’s National Security Archive website.
The article says that McCone, who was convinced that Oswald had acted alone and that there was no foreign conspiracy involving Cuba or the Soviet Union, directed the agency to provide only “passive, reactive and selective” assistance to the Warren Commission.
The report suggests that the White House might have directed McCone to hide the information. 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,” the article reads. “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.”
David Slawson, the Warren Commission’s chief staff investigator, said in an interview: “I always assumed McCone must have known, because I always believed that loyalty and discipline in the CIA made any large-scale operation without the consent of the director impossible.”
Slawson, now 84 and a retired University of Southern California law professor, said he regrets it had taken so long for the CIA to acknowledge that McCone and others had seriously misled the commission. After half a century, Slawson says, “The world loses interest, because the assassination becomes just a matter of history to more and more people.”
The article identifies other information that McCone did not reveal to the commission, including evidence that the agency might somehow have been in communication with Oswald before 1963 and that the CIA had secretly monitored Oswald’s mail after he attempted to defect to the Soviet Union in 1959.
Politico reports that in the 1970s, when congressional investigations exposed the Castro plots, members of the Warren Commission and its staff expressed outrage that they had been denied the information in 1964. They said that if they had known about the plots, the panel would have been more aggressive in trying to determine whether JFK’s murder was an act of retaliation by Castro or his supporters. Regardless, Warren Commission staffers remain convinced today that Oswald was the lone gunman in Dallas. This view is also shared by ballistics experts who have studied the evidence.
The report suggests the spy agency is responsible for some of the criticism commonly directed towards the Warren Commission for large gaps in its investigation of the JFK’s murder, including its failure to identify Oswald’s motive in the assassination and to pursue evidence that might have tied Oswald to accomplices outside the United States.
“The decision of McCone and Agency leaders in 1964 not to disclose information about CIA’s anti-Castro schemes might have done more to undermine the credibility of the commission than anything else that happened while it was conducting its investigation,” the report reads. “In that sense—and in that sense alone—McCone may be regarded as a ‘co-conspirator’ in the JFK assassination ‘cover-up.’”
* Originally published October 2015.