Priscilla Johnson McMillan, the biographer of Lee Harvey Oswald and defender of the official theory of JFK’s assassination who concealed her collaborative relationship with the CIA from the reading public, has died.
John Simkin tells the story in an email.
Priscilla Johnson McMillan, the author of Marina and Lee (1977) has died after a fall at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts (7 July, 2021). In July 1964 Johnson moved to Texas and befriended Marina Oswald, and the two spent considerable time together. In November 1964, Johnson signed a contract with Harper & Row for a book to be published about the Oswalds. The book was expected to be published in 1965, however, Marina and Lee did not appear until 1977. In the book she argued that Oswald had assassinated the president and had acted alone. In an interview published 36 years later she said: “I’m just as sure now as I was then that he did it, and also that he couldn’t have done it with anybody else. He wasn’t somebody who, in his life, had ever done anything with anybody else.”
In the article that appears in Wikipedia nothing is said about her CIA background. This has been revealed in recent years by declassified CIA files. While studying Russian literature at Radcliffe College, Harvard University, she became a member of the United World Federalists, an organization run by Cord Meyer. After graduating with a master’s degree in 1952 she applied to join the CIA.
According to CIA files she was rejected because some of her associates would require more investigation. The document was signed by Cord Meyer, who was now chief of CIA Investigations and Operational Support. On 17th March 1953, W. A. Osborne, sent a memo to Sheffield Edwards, head of CIA security, that after checking out Johnson’s associates he “recommended approval.” However, on 23rd March he sent another memo saying that “in light of her activities in the United World Federalists” he now “recommended that she be disapproved”.
In 1953 Johnson went to work for Senator John F. Kennedy. (It is claimed that Johnson was the only person who knew both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald). The following year she worked as a translator for the Digest of Soviet Press. In 1955 Johnson moved to the Soviet Union where she worked as a translator for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This time the CIA made no objection to Johnson having access to classified information.
Priscilla Johnson returned to the United States in April 1957. The CIA continued to take an interest in Johnson. In a CIA document dated 23rd August 1957, it stated that during the Second World War she was “utilized by OSO (Office of Special Operations) in 1943 and 1944”. As she was only 15 at the time this is clearly inaccurate. John M. Newman has speculated that Johnson was being given a cover story of someone who had a “good security record”.
In February 1958 Johnson travelled to Cairo. The following month she was in Paris. According to her own testimony she worked for “someone I knew either for Radio Liberty or the Congress for Cultural Freedom.” While in France she applied to the USSR consulate to go to the Soviet Union. On 6th May 1958, the Chief of CI/OA submitted a request for operational approval on Johnson. The operation for which she was being considered is still classified.
Johnson arrived in Moscow for the third time on 4th July 1958. She did not stay for long and returned to the United States. Soon afterwards she obtained employment as a reporter for the North American News Alliance (NANA). Johnson arrived back in Moscow soon after Arline Mosby had interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald (13th November 1959).
On her arrival Johnson checked into the same hotel as Osward. The following day she visited the American Embassy to pick up her mail (16th November 1959). According to Johnson, John McVickar approached her and told her that “there’s a guy in your hotel who wants to defect, and he won’t talk to any of us here”. She later told the Warren Commission: “John McVickar said she was refusing to talk to journalists. So I thought that it might be an exclusive, for one thing, and he was right in my hotel, for another.” As Johnson was leaving the American Embassy McVickar told her “to remember she was an American.”
Lee Harvey Oswald agreed to be interviewed by Priscilla Johnson. She later testified that they talked from between nine until one or two in the morning. Oswald told her: “Once having been assured by the Russians that I would not have to return to the United States, come what may, I assumed it would be safe for me to give my side of the story.”
Johnson’s article appeared in the Washington Evening Star. Surprisingly, the article did not include Oswald’s threat to reveal radar secrets. Nor was it mentioned in any other article or book published by Johnson on Oswald. However, under oath before the Warren Commission she admitted that Oswald had told her that “he hoped his experience as a radar operator would make him more desirable to them (the Soviets)”.
On 11th December 1962, a CIA memo written by Donald Jameson (declassified in August 1993) reported: “I think that Miss Johnson can be encouraged to write pretty much the articles we want. It will require a little more contact and discussion, but I think she could come around… Basically, if approached with sympathy in the cause she considers most vital, I believe she would be interested in helping us in many ways. It would be important to avoid making her think that she was being used as a propaganda tool and expected to write what she is told.”
After the assassination of JFK Johnson wrote an article for the Boston Globe where she described Lee Harvey Oswald as a classic example of an “embittered psychological loner”. She added: “I soon came to feel that this boy was of the stuff of which fanatics are made.”
Another CIA document dated dated 5th February 1964, reports on a 11 hour meeting with Johnson. The main objective of the meeting was to debrief Johnson “on her flaps with the Soviets when she was in the USSR, notably at the time of her last exit.” She was also asked if she “would be interested in writing articles for Soviet publications.” Gary Coit, the CIA officer who conducted the interview with Johnson reported that “no effort was made to attempt to force the issue of a debriefing on her contacts”. However, Coit told her he would “probably be back to see her from time to time to see what she knows about specific persons whose names might come up, and she at least nodded assent to this.”
Priscilla Johnson’s Wikipedia article points out she married George McMillan in 1965. He is described as a freelance writer. However, in his obituary in the New York Times in 1985 it states he was also the author of The Making of an Assassin (1976), a book that claims that James Earl Ray worked alone in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr.