Dubious but unresolved: Newly declassified CIA memo takes on claim agency employed JFK assassin

Among Kennedy assassination documents released this month by the National Archives and Records Administration is a memo addressing a CIA finance clerk's claim that Lee Harvey Oswald and the CIA had a direct relationship.

Updated: December 25, 2022 - 11:11pm

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A recent release of declassified documents from the National Archives and Records Administration pertaining to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy includes an internal CIA memo that skeptically relays — without ruling out completely — a report that the intelligence agency employed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Officially, Oswald acted alone in the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination, firing at the presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas, from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. At the time, Kennedy was riding in an open-top convertible and sustained fatal gunshot wounds.

Oswald was apprehended shortly thereafter, but not before he also killed police officer J.D. Tippit while attempting to flee the scene. He was killed two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, whom authorities then arrested. Ruby was later convicted of Oswald's murder.

Various conspiracy theories involving Kennedy's death have persisted for decades, with many permeating popular culture. Sitcoms and video games such as "Seinfeld" and Call of Duty have alluded to claims that Oswald may not have acted alone.

Prominent among such theories is a notion that the CIA orchestrated Kenney's death in retaliation for his removal of CIA Director Allen Dulles following the botched Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Though the claim of CIA involvement is commonly dismissed as a conspiracy theory, NARA's declassification of documents has shed light on some potential links between Oswald and the CIA. It was already known that as a Marine Oswald was stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan in 1957. The base was also a hub for the CIA's psychedelic drug research, and some have already suggested Oswald may have been a subject of the agency's experiments, according to The Intercept.

However, one of the CIA documents NARA released this month acknowledged the possibility, albeit remote, that Oswald and the CIA had a more direct relationship, with the clandestine organization actually employing him. An internal memorandum from 1978 details repsonses within the CIA to a former finance clerk testifying before the House Select Committee on Assassinations that the agency employed Oswald while he was stationed in Atsugi.

"Shep phoned to say that James Wilcott, Jr., a finance clerk with the Agency from 1957 (EOD as GS-4), who served in Tokyo 1960 to October 1964, has told HSCA people that CIA hired Lee Harvey Oswald when Oswald served in Atsugi," it reads. "Wilcott, after returning from Tokyo was assigned to JMWAVE in 1965, and resigned/retired in 1966."

The CIA author of the memo informed the recipient that Wilcott arrived in Tokyo after Oswald's departure from Japan. "Anything Wilcott thinks he knew had to be secondhand," he wrote. "I said that Russ Holmes inherited the Oswald files, but that he has assured me the Agency had no contact with Oswald."

The memo went on to assert that any records contradicting that assertion might be found in "EA," which The Intercept interpreted as a likely reference to the agency's East Asia division. While far from a smoking gun, the memo offers some insight into closed-door inquiries involving links between the death of President Kennedy and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

The memo was partially released in 2017 under the Trump administration, then fully unredacted this month as part of a larger declassification push by NARA. Congress in 1992 authorized the declassification of all government records connected to the assassination by October 2017, though both President Trump and President Biden have delayed the full release of certain documents on security grounds.