CIA tradecraft & JFK’s assassination: ‘I’m not privy to who struck John’

[ICYMI: Part I : A veteran officer analyzes the death of a president / Part II: ‘The very top people.’ / Part III: The making of a patsy ]

The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald is another key to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen’s JFK analysis. He argues that one of the conspirators had to have had access to the Mafia bosses who could induce Jack Ruby to eliminate the accused assassin as a witness.

Former CIA station chief Rolf-Mowatt-Larssen addressed a conference of JFK researchers in Dallas in November 2019. (Credit: Jefferson Morley)

In Dallas, Mowatt-Larssen said he was “stunned” to learn that the CIA, led by legendary operations officer William K. Harvey, had a formal liaison with organized crime figures in 1963. Many at the CAPA conference in found that hard to believe. The agency”s collaboration with leading organized crime figures in 1963 has been public knowledge since the mid-1970s.

Mowatt-Larssen closed his presentation by quoting an enigmatic comment that James Angleton once made to reporter Seymour Hersh about JFK’s assassination: “A mansion has many rooms,” the counterintelligence chief said. “I’m not privy to who struck John.”

Mowatt-Larssen unpacked this gnostic parable for the assembled researchers.

“The mansion refers to CIA,” he explained. “The rooms refer to compartments, where we hide information, control information. ‘I’m not privy’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I don’t suspect.’  ‘I’m not privy’ [means] ‘I wasn’t in the loop.’” Angleton’s oracular comment, he went on, “confirms for me at a gut level, if not on an analytical basis, that he had a suspicion [of a plot to kill JFK], if not more than that.“

Seymour Hersh had the same reaction. The investigative reporter said he thought Angleton was trying offload the blame for JFK’s assassination on some other component of the agency.

This story, however, tests the limits of Mowatt-Larssen’s theory that “CIA rogues” ambushed Kennedy in Dealey Plaza. Angleton was one of the most powerful men in the agency. If he condoned a plot, then complicity in the assassination reached the highest levels of government and was not confined to the Miami station, as Mowatt-Larssen contends.

Angleton thoughtful
Counterintelligence chief James Angleton.

Modified Limited Hangout?

Is Mowatt-Larssen advancing some hidden institutional agenda to shape public perception of the JFK assassination story? Maybe. The agency has a long record of deceptive and misleading statements about the JFK story. Although I disagree with Mowatt-Larssen on some factual points—he thinks Oswald fired the fatal shot, which strikes me as impossible–that doesn’t show intent to deceive. Reasonable people can differ.

Dan Storper suspects Mowatt-Larssen is engaged in a “modified limited hangout,” that classic Washington maneuver in which a political actor gives up some damaging information to forestall disclosure of something worse.

If that’s true–and I’m not sure that it is–Mowatt-Larssen’s claim that rogue officers killed Kennedy would suggest the CIA is abandoning its long-standing blanket denials of involvement in JFK’s assassination in favor of something more candid.. That would be a welcome and newsworthy development.

After spending time with Mowatt-Larssen, I have no reason not to take at face value his sincere interest in the JFK story. I assume he is pursuing it on his own. I’ve met more than a few old agency hands unafraid to stake out impolitic views.

Certainly no retired CIA officer has ever publicly offered an interpretation of November 22, 1963 that is so grounded in tradecraft and the documentary record and so incriminating of agency personnel.  

That too is newsworthy.  Ideally, Mowatt-Larssen would testify before the House Oversight Committee about the enforcement of the JFK Records Act in the advance of the next scheduled release in October 2021. He could advise  Congress about where the American people might finally find the rest of the JFK story.


Part I : A veteran officer analyzes the death of a president / Part II: ‘The very top people.’ / Part III: The making of a patsy / Part IV; I’m not privy to who struck John.’


  1. Roger Odisio says:

    Murdering JFK was risky, but those who did it undoubtedly came to the conclusion it was necessary. Founded in 1947, the CIA quickly moved from merely intelligence gathering to developing its own foreign policy, as Truman lamented in his famous letter to the Wash Post one month after Kennedy’s murder. Thus, the Iran and Guatemala coups in the 50s and the murder of Lamumba in early ’61, probably followed by the killing of Hammarskjoldt.

    But Kennedy was trying to stand in the way. It was easy for them to see Kennedy as a traitor, providing them with justification for the drastic step they were about to take.

    Once they saw how easy it was to control information thru the media and cover up what they did, they went on a rampage destroying much of the American left that could challenge them. RFK, MLK, Malcolm, the destruction of the Panthers and the Diggers and any semblance of a challenge to corporate hegemony.

    In short, they solidified their US base, allowing them to build their US empire worldwide. Now both political parties cheer on every move the empire makes.

    Point is, any discussion of what the murderers did and why must be put in this context.

  2. Len Kurtz says:

    CIA spying tradecraft; who cares. It’s like it is a kind of scientific thing. What it feels like is about a bunch of self-important adults playing cowboys and Indians.

  3. Vikas says:

    Is there a reference for the Angleton quote to Hersh?

  4. Jeff Meek says:

    I have shared with some friends the notes I took at Rolf’s presentation and in doing so, one question has been asked a couple of times about picking up LHO after the shooting. Why not have the vehicle there to pick him up and then eliminate Oswald? Anyone have thoughts on that?

  5. robert e williamson jr says:

    I addition to what I submitted earlier I would like to ad this. At

    After the David Atlee Phillips article come Primary Sources, 2) David Atlee Phillips, Miami Herald ( April 17 1986)

    Third paragraph from the bottom sounds much like the comments made in notes of the BOP’s History Vol III

    Thanks again Jeff.

  6. robert e williamson jr says:

    Think bigger. I’m no expert for sure but I really enjoy asking why. Especially when I’m tasked with taking on professional liars.

    Three elements of most criminal investigations, motive, method, opportunity. Regardless many crimes are crimes of desperation.

    Say what you will but killing JFK was an enormous risk. A risk that very well may explain the 56 years of machinations, mendacity and obstruction.

    A risk that was taken despite it’s enormity may have have happened because of extreme pressure from the outside on some of those very deep on in the inside.

    There was one group who were becoming more and more desperate. The longer JFK lived the more peril their plot was exposed to.

    Jeff are you holding the book I ordered hostage? I’m snowed in, is it obvious.

    Great stuff here.

    Thanks again Jeff!

  7. robert e williamson jr says:

    I will continue to say toe everyone, “what could be so outrageously important that CIA to this day continues to obstruct justice?”

    Now I’ll ask one question.

    Why has not the fact the CIA, based on information from the Institute for Research, Middle Eastern Policy has not been investigated for not cooperating with the FBI’s investigation of NUMEC.

    I have a theory that makes plenty of sense. These Rogue operatives of CIA had motive,means and opportunity. No one however talks about funding. Of course it’s just a thought.

    Now to scrutinize some of this a little closer. CIA is keeping tabs but why? Mr. Larssen claims that rogue officers may have been involved so the next question would be were they still employed by the CIA?

    Based on comments about JJA comments to Mr. Hersch about a mansion and it’s rooms I’m very intrigued indeed. JJA’s long very close association with Israel which was his responsibility, the Israeli government and it’s intelligence branch and his statement about a mansion seem curiously convenient. Of course because he needed plausible deniability. Those individual mansion rooms provide the security that “those very few top people” need to stay undetected and give their handlers plausible deniability. (sources and methods stuff)

    I don’t suppose Mr. Larssen is any too keen to go into this area but history and the records of the JFK White House tell a story of a president on a mission to clip CIA’s wings at the least and tear it into a thousand pieces at most. Why this is critical is timing, JFK was getting closer and closer to shutting down sugar daddy relationship the U.S. had with Israel at the time. He was working hard toward non- proliferation and ending atmospheric testing.

    So the pressure was on to do something with JFK. He had become a very big problem for the Israelis who have never avoided the enemy of my enemy is my friend type relationship.

    CIA don’t want to stop their BS and tell the truth the reason just might be they got had by JJA and a band of rogues.

    I know CIA has now implicated itself by admitting it knew about LHO.

    I know Angleton, in his arrogance, tried to make light of his situation at CIA with his “mansion rooms” statement and we all know now that he had, he thought, the out of plausible deniability. Why would he need to defend himself if he didn’t know anything?

    Thanks Jeff great stuff here.

  8. Bogman says:

    Bottom line, there is a huge question mark hanging over the JFK assassination to this day, and in some ways it’s only gotten bigger over time as documents come out.

    The CIA is largely responsible for putting it there. Until they come clean on their decades of subterfuge, there can be no final answer on what really happened.

  9. Russ Tarby says:

    Mowatt-Larssen’s deduction that someone with CIA connections influenced Mafia figures to induce Ruby to murder Oswald makes much sense. None other than Bill Harvey’s drinking buddy, Johnny Roselli, corroborated a crucial part of that scenario when he told Jack Anderson that Ruby “was one of our boys.”
    Recent research by the indefatigable Bill Simpich further suggests that the CIA had employed several key members of the Dallas Police Dept. including Capt. Glen King and called in certain favors that awful weekend. When hundreds of documents were declassified in 2017, we learned that none other than Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell also had an official informant role with the CIA.
    Rumors that Ruby himself was CIA-connected aren’t as far-fetched as first may seem. He was definitely involved in gun-running to Cuba as early as 1959, so would surely be on the Agency’s radar if not under its employ.
    In his book about Allen Dulles, “The Devil’s Chessboard,” author David Talbot unearthed evidence that Bill Harvey made a trip to Dallas that fall just prior to Jack Kennedy’s killing. Roselli’s whereabouts for autumn 1963 — although he was under routine FBI surveillance — is nebulous at best.
    In any case, given the Roselli-Harvey connection paired with Agency influence inside the DPD, could certainly have laid the foundation for the silencing of Lee Oswald.

    • Russ Tarby says:

      moreover, DPD Capt. William Ralph Westbrook — who was heavily involved with the investigation of the JFK and Tippit murders on Nov. 22, 1963 — later became a police advisor in South Vietnam when he was working for the U.S.A.I.D. (United States Agency for International Development), which meant that he was working for the CIA.
      Was he already an Agency asset at the time of the assassination? If he were he would’ve been in position to make sure Ruby had access to LHO…

  10. ed connor says:

    Mowatt-Larssen’s theory that “rogue” CIA officers killed JFK is not new.
    David Phillips told former HSCA investigator Kevin Walsh that he thought JFK had been killed by “unnamed rogue officers.”
    – JFK Facts, 6/27/17.

    Watergate plumber and CIA officer E. Howard Hunt told his son, St. John Hunt, in writing, that he met with David Morales and Frank Sturgis in a Miami hotel in 1963 and was offered an opportunity to take part in “the Big Event.” (the assassination). Hunt told them he didn’t want to work with “Bill Harvey, who is an alcoholic psycho.” Hunt told his son that everybody at the CIA wanted to get rid of the president, and “fortunately, they did.” -Eric Hedegaard, Rolling Stone, 4/5/07.

    No wonder the CIA, and Trump, still withhold the personnel files of, inter alia, Phillips and Harvey.

    • Jeff says:

      I think that the location where a rogue player/team may have been based in late 1963 is important context. Harvey was based in Milan, Italy during this time frame along with other “rogue” individuals who formerly worked in the US and did not support JFK, such as Lyman Lemnitzer. During this period, Lemnitzer was based in Paris, France leading NATO, and in his previous role as the JCOS, he signed the Operation Northwoods document. He had issues with JFK on par with LeMay and Lansdale.

      Mowatt-Larssen’s theory is supported by many fact-based documents that appear to connect together and support his thoughts.

  11. Jeff says:

    In regards to your comments in the last paragraph, is the House Oversight Committee planning to review the JFK Records Act? The attached link includes a recent article that provides some insight as to Mowatt Larssen’s current focus at Harvard.

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