CIA tradecraft & JFK’s assassination: the making of a patsy

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

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

CIA veteran Rolf Mowatt-Larseen proposed a “thought experiment” to the November 2019 JFK conference in Dallas. He reverse-engineered the lone gunman scenario, posing a question both novel and incisive.

 “How can you get away with a really elaborate but very simple plan of deception, to end up in a place where the president is dead and it is blamed on someone else, other than the people who perpetrated it?” he asked. “Not easy.”

Mowatt-Larssen answered his own question with tradecraft analysis. From an operational point of view, at least four people must have been involved, he said1) A mastermind with a deeply personal motivation to kill the president of the United States; 2) someone with the ability to recruit Lee Oswald into the role of patsy; 3) someone with the ability to recruit Jack Ruby to kill Oswald; and 4) a second gunman in Dealey Plaza.

The motivation, he said, “most logically relates to the dual events of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis,” he said. Both times, Kennedy chose not to invade the island, prompting men of power who believed they had “the responsibility to save the country from the president,” men who thought “Kennedy is too green, too young. He almost got us into a war with the Soviets. He abandoned people we had trained and sent to Cuba to overthrow Castro.’”

“It has to be personal, ” Mowatt-Larssen insisted. “Every spy that worked for the Soviets that we caught had very personal reasons why they betrayed their country.”

The CIA officers who recruited Oswald had a wealth of information collected since 1959 in his so-called 201 personality file, he says. This file was controlled by the agency’s Counterintelligence staff, led by James Jesus Angleton. Mainstream defenders of the lone gunman theory, like Harvard professor Cass Sunstein and CNN host Chris Matthews, scoff at the idea that the agency would recruit someone as volatile as Oswald, a 24 year old ex-Marine who once had security clearance.

Mowatt-Larssen, a former station chief who handled scores of agents in the course of his career, does not scoff.

 “Why would you try to recruit him?” he asked. “Only if he’s going to be blackmailable. To set him up as the person who killed the president…. so you can sell the cover story of the lone gunman. [That’s] the only logical reason to bring him into the plot.“

Oswald’s tasking

Viewed through the eyes of an operations officer, Oswald’s wandering path to Dealey Plaza makes more sense. It is not paranoid craziness to think Oswald was manipulated by CIA officers, Mowatt-Larssen says.

Mowatt-Larssen hypothesizes that Oswald was recruited, wittingly or unwittingly, into a plot to kill JFK in the spring of 1963. Oswald, he says, came to the attention of Jim Moore, a former FBI agent who ran the CIA’s Dallas office for many years.  Moore’s CIA file, not declassified until April 2018, show that his job responsibilities in 1963 included “exploitation of a source’s complete intelligence potential by debriefing thoroughly” and “cultivation of contact to develop trust and confidence.”

That’s exactly what happened in Dallas in early 1963, Mowatt-Larssen says, when certain CIA men recruited Oswald into the role of patsy.  He has an idea of how it was arranged.

George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian-speaking geologist befriended Oswald in late 1962 after he returned from Russia with his wife Marina. De Mohrenschildt played the role of “access agent,” he says. De Mohrenschildt had been feeding information to the CIA for years. His friendship provided the agency with access to Oswald so that he could be recruited. A third CIA operative–not Moore, not de Mohrenschildt–would have made the pitch to Oswald, according to  Mowatt-Larssen.

He speculates that Oswald, egotistical and prone to flattery, accepted and was immediately induced to leave Texas. “The first thing you do if you’ve recruited a man like Oswald in Dallas,” he explained, “is to get him out of Dallas.”

In April 1963, Oswald moved to New Orleans under the influence of his unidentified CIA handlers, Mowatt-Larssen says.

“You want to reestablish his loyalty, his willingness to accept tasking and to try see if you can use him in a broader capacity,” he explained. The agency’s operatives sought to establish Oswald’s “pro-Castro connections because that’s going to be the cover story. That pro-Castro people were involved in the assassination. That’s his tasking.”

      Mowatt-Larssen’s scenario is founded in documented fact. In August 1963, Oswald provoked a series of encounters with anti-Castro exiles in the CIA-funded Cuban Student Directorate. At the time, the group’s leaders in Miami were receiving $51,000 a month from George Joannides, the chief of covert operations in the Miami station. Mowatt-Larssen believes Carlos Bringuier, the leader of the Cubans who confronted Oswald, was a “CIA contract agent.” As a result of a CIA psychological warfare program, codenamed AMSPELL, Oswald was identified as a Castro supporter in New Orleans newspapers, radio and TV.

      At the same time, Oswald was monitored by senior agency officials back in Langley, Mowatt-Larssen says, a fact which is also well-documented. When Oswald travelled by bus to Mexico City in late September in a failed bid to get a visa to travel to Cuba, the agency was paying close attention..

“Everybody is following him: [counterintelligence chief] Angleton, [Win Scott,] the chief of station  in Mexico,” Mowatt-Larssen said. “Everybody’s aware of what’s going on.  He’s on everybody’s stove.” In his metaphor, the itinerant ex-Marine, scheming for a place in history, was actually getting cooked.

      Oswald returned to Dallas in October 1963 and took a job in the Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza. Six weeks later, when JFK’s motorcade passed by, a flurry of shots rang out and JFK was fatally wounded. Oswald left the scene and was arrested 90 minutes later, allegedly after shooting a police officer. In custody, Oswald denied he had killed the president, telling a crowded news conference, “I’m a patsy.”

“I got chills when I heard Oswald say, ‘I’m a patsy,’” Mowatt-Larssen recounted. “That famous clip. I think I know what he meant…. He knew he had been set up and he knew he was abandoned.” The next day Oswald was being transferred to a more secure jail when he was gunned down on national television by Jack Ruby, owner of a burlesque club and organized crime wannabe.

NEXT: ‘I’m not privy to who struck John’


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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