“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment,” wrote former president Harry Truman in the Washington Post on December 22, 1963. It was exactly one month after the assassination of President Kennedy.
“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 wrote.
The former president never explicitly linked JFK’s death to the clandestine service, but the timing and venue of his piece was suggestive.
Why Truman spoke
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.
Truman addressed the allegations obliquely.
“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 and called them “men of the highest character, patriotism and integrity.” He added he could only assume the same about “all those who continue in charge.”
But he had stiff words for the agency’s leaders. He said the CIA’s “operational duties” should “be terminated.”
In short, JFK’s assassination prompted Truman to call for the CIA’s abolition.
There can be little doubt that the circumstances of Kennedy’s murder prompted Truman’s radical proposal. The former president, living in Missouri, began writing his Post article nine days after Kennedy was killed, according to an excellent 2009 piece by former CIA officer Ray McGovern (who says he was relying on JFK researcher Ray Marcus).
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.”
Dulles v. Truman
Four months later, former CIA director Allen Dulles paid Truman a visit. Dulles tried to get Truman to retract what he had written in the Post.
“No dice, said Truman,” according to McGovern/Marcus.
But four days later, in a formal memo for Lawrence Houston, the CIA’s general counsel, Dulles fabricated a retraction. He claimed that Truman told him the Washington Post article was “all wrong,” and that Truman “seemed quite astounded at it.”
Truman denied it. In a June 10, 1964, letter to 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.
COME BACK TOMORROW FOR JFK STORY #18: The JFK cover-up began at a heated meeting at CIA headquarters on Christmas Eve 1963