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.’

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