The CIA’s reaction to Kennedy’s assassination

[Excerpted from Scorpions’ Dance: The President, the Spymaster and Watergate (St Martin’s Press, 2022)]

“Dick Helms was having a sandwich lunch with John McCone in the director’s suite on the 7th floor of the CIA building when an aide burst into the room. “The president’s been shot,” he cried. McCone turned on a television and watched the news bulletins. Then, Helms recalled, the director “clapped his hat on his head and left to meet Bob Kennedy at his home at Hickory Hill, not far from the agency Headquarters.”

Richard Helms
Richard Helms

“Helms chose not to mention Bob Kennedy’s first question when McCone arrived. Helms knew the story because his friend Arthur Schlesinger recounted it in his biography of RFK. Stunned and shocked by the news his brother was dead,  Kennedy voiced his gut suspicion. “I asked McCone …. If they” referring to the CIA—”had killed my brother,” Kennedy said, “and I asked him in a way that he couldn’t lie to me and they hadn’t.”  But Bob Kennedy was not convinced–not that day and not ever–by the denials of the CIA men. He woud always believe his brother had been killed by some combination of anti-Castro Cubans, renegade CIA officers, and Mafia bosses.”

“Helms rushed to his office and sent a “book message,” a cable communication to every CIA station in the world calling for every scrap of relevant information, especially “any bit of information conceivably pointing to a plot involving any foreign power.”

“Within ninety minutes a suspect had been arrested. By four o’clock Eastern time, radio stations were reporting his name was Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald. He was being held in a Dallas jail on suspicion of killing a police officer. A quick check of the Agency’s Central File Registry located Oswald’s 201 file, which contained only a handful of documents, indicating that Oswald was a 24-year ex-Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959 and returned in June 1962. The Agency, it seemed, had received no information about him since then. That was the first story the CIA told about the Oswald file. It was far from the whole story.”

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