Today is the birthday of Harry Truman and a fitting day to remember what he wrote in response to the assassination of President Kennedy.
“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment,” wrote Truman in the Washington Post on December 22, 1963, the one-month anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.
“It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.”
Truman never linked JFK’s death to the clandestine service but the timing and venue of his piece, was suggestive. Already Soviet bloc news outlets were speculating Kennedy’s murder–and the murder of the only suspect while in police custody–pointed to U.S. government involvement in the assassination.
“This quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue–and subject for cold war enemy propaganda,” Truman wrote.
Truman said he knew the first two directors of the CIA, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and Allen Dulles and knew them to be “men of the highest character, patriotism and integrity.” He pointedly added he could only assume the same about “all those who continue in charge.”
He said the CIA’s “operational duties” should “be terminated.”
According to an excellent 2009 piece by former CIA officer Ray McGovern (who says he was relying on JFK researcher Ray Marcus), Truman began thinking about his Post article nine days after Kennedy was killed. In handwritten notes found at the Truman Library, the former president noted, among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only “when I had control.”
Four months later, Dulles paid Truman a visit trying to get him to retract what he had written in the Post.
“No dice, said Truman,” according to McGovern/Marcus. “No problem, thought Dulles. Four days later, in a formal memo for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private retraction, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post article was ‘all wrong,’ and that Truman ‘seemed quite astounded at it.'”
But in a June 10, 1964, letter to the managing editor of Look magazine, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing that he never intended the CIA to get involved in “strange activities.”
As the country grieved JFK’s death and suspicions of conspiracy mounted, many current and former U.S. officials publicly rallied around the official story that Oswald had killed JFK alone and unaided. But privately many people familiar with the workings of the CIA had their doubts. Truman’s article was one of the earliest expression of those doubts. Others would follow.
“Top 6 Washington insiders who suspected a JFK plot,” (JFK Facts, Oct. 2, 2013).