CIA tradecraft & JFK’s assassination: ‘The very top people’

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 CIA officer analyzes the death of a president.]

“Why am I doing this?” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen asked the audience at the Coalition Against Political Assassinations’ conference in Dallas. “As a CIA officer it’s a little controversial. What is my goal? My goal is to have an answer [about who killed JFK] for myself and my children.” That may sound overly ingenuous to some, but most people in the room, myself included, had the same agenda.

Mowatt-Larssen was nine years old when he heard the news from Dallas.

“There were three times in my life when I didn’t trust the government to tell the truth,” he said. “This is hard for a CIA officer to say. The Kennedy assassination, where I’m absolutely convinced if nothing else that there was a cover-up. The second was Watergate, and the third is now.”  The crises of American power—JFK’s assassination, Watergate and Trump’s presidency—have a way of making people rethink their assumptions.

As for the notion that JFK was the victim of  a plot among the leaders of the U.S. government, Mowatt-Larssen said,  “I will not go there.” U.S government culpability for JFK’s death is a bridge too far for him. “I hope you will respect that,” he told the audience. “I cannot go to a place where I think my government did this.  I’ll be convinced if the evidence takes me there but I’m not at all persuaded to take that seriously.” 

Mowatt-Larssen went on to make a series of points that I found both cogent and persuasive. These were not the claims of a “conspiracy theorist.” They were certainly not the words of a “CIA stooge.” Mowatt-Larssen’s observations about the causes of JFK’s death are founded in CIA practices. They are realistic and plausible. They can be tested empirically—if and when all of the JFK files are made public.

‘The very top people’

The JFK conspiracy, says Mowatt-Larssen, was probably quite small,  at least terms of the number of people who had advance knowledge of the Dallas ambush. “That’s one of the counterintuitive things about the  history of agency,” he explained. “The greatest operations we planned and carried out with wild success….were things that were [planned and executed] by very few people, I’ve done some of those things. I’ve been part of some of those things.”

“Only the very top people in our organization could have done something like this,” he went on. “I mean the best operational minds… the best in terms of capability, competency and expertise. To keep it a secret. To take it to the grave.”

The agency’s professionalism in perception management should not be underestimated he said.

“A rogue CIA operation to kill the president will be indistinguishable from a lone gunman [scenario] to the extent it was planned and carried out flawlessly by experts in the craft of intelligence,” he said.

What this retired spy wants you to believe is this: The Warren Commission’s narrative of Lee Harvey Oswald, the lone gunman, may well be a CIA cover story, a media legend generated by “experts in the craft of intelligence.” The purpose: to conceal a conspiracy to kill the liberal president.

 If Mowatt-Larssen’s analysis is correct, his former employer has been lying about JFK’s assassination for 56 years. But is he right?

NEXT: The making of a patsy


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. William Banks says:

    _Al Jazeera_ is not necessarily my idea of objective news reporting, but this piece strikes me as fair. Note author is Stephen Kinzer. Error here is relying on Dulles for too long. Nonetheless, blame lies with Ike primarily for not putting the old bull out to pasture. _And_ not having such a radical plan put before a “murder board” for analysis.

    Note JFK had an even dumber idea about Cuba, despite the warning here.

  2. robert e williamson jr says:

    Mr. Banks seeing as how the CIA has lied from day one about the Kennedy murder, by facts that have been displayed here, I see your question as being somewhat irrelevant. Why did they lie and why is CIA and president after president not released the records.

    #1 The hit was successful, see Mr. Conors comment.

    I’m getting to the point with my studies of the CIA are paying dividends by allowing me to understand some things about who likely knew what and when.

    Who was in the Dulles click and who weren’t. Who of those were trusted and who wasn’t trusted enough to be let into the smokey room.

    Most of the guys who were in OSS were hard boiled types. Loyal to the “Old Man” to the bitter end. Misguided loyalty enhanced by the by the superior station in life that serving with OSS and CIA afforded them.

    Heady stuff for the fifties and sixties.

    Think about this when Allen Dulles ordered a fly over of Russia an it culminated in Gary Powers being short down he surprised a furious Eisenhower.

    I quote from page 366 of Mr. Talbot’s book “The Devil’s Chessboard” here,

    “The flight on the eve of the Paris summit seemed so badly timed and planned that at least one close observer, Air Force colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, suspected that the CIA has intentionally provoked the incident in order to ruin the peace conference and ensure the continued reign of Dulles dogmatism, Prouty, a liaison officer between the Pentagon and the CIA who was summoned by Dulles whenever CIA spy flight ran into trouble, later wrote that the U-2 shoot sown was “a most unusual event” that grew out of a “tremendous under ground struggle between peace makers led by President Eisenhower” and the Dulles “inner elite.” END of Quote.

    The notes for the pages included here can be found on p645 and 646 in the NOTES section of the book.

    I believe that the case can be made that Allen Dulles was off his rocker here he has already challenged the sitting President by his actions that went opposite of what he had told the President.

    Proutys reference to Allen Dulles “inner elite” is not idle gossip, but the observation of Air Force colonel.

    I believe as we find more of these references and other insider facts about “Bad Actor” Allen Dulles this mad man will finally be found out.

    The last sentence on page 366 is as follows. : “The president told White House aides Andrew Goodpaster and Gordon Grey that he never wanted to set eyes on Dulles again.

    I betting Kennedy knew too little about this situation to do him any good.

    Think Bigger Bob, here.

  3. Ken says:

    At first thought, the motive seems plausible, but upon further reflection, does it really? These would have been seasoned CIA operatives who would have surely experienced losses in the past. But now, suddenly, they move to take out a sitting US president because they didn’t agree with him on Cuba? And for what – not to affect policy. The Cuban missile crisis was over and the US now had a pledge to never invade Cuba. A change in administrations wasn’t going to change that. If we were talking about lower level operatives, “maybe” – out of pure revenge, but would we really expect that out of “top men” – seasoned espionage professionals?

  4. Bill Banks says:

    Simple mind, simple question: why would experienced intelligence operatives stage shooting from two (or more) directions to blame single shooter?

    • ed conor says:

      For the same reason paratroopers carry a main chute and an emergency chute.
      LHO, or whoever was using his rifle, missed the first 3 shots.
      As Machiavelli wrote (and the CIA elite had read him), “when you strike at the king, you must not miss.”

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