The CIA Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory is a leading John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory. It was frequently mentioned during the 1960s and 1970s when the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in plots to assassinate foreign leaders. Kennedy said to his collaborator Clark Clifford, shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, "Something very bad is going on within the CIA and I want to know what it is. I want to shred the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the four winds."[1][2]


Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA during the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba by a small army of Cuban nationals in April 1961. The assassination policy of the CIA had been created under Allen Dulles. Robert Kennedy had been working as Attorney General and was running the intelligence agency through the White House Special Group. The embarrassment of the U.S. government and the CIA due to the failed invasion turned the Kennedy brothers against Richard M. Bissell and Allen Dulles resulting in the firing of both Bissell and Dulles. To make matters worse Allen Dulles decided to volunteer to help investigate President Kennedy’s murder. According to William Corson, Allen Dulles “lobbied hard for the job” as he was not in the prestigious group appointed by Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson finally appointed him.[3][4] Congress began investigating the intelligence agencies by way of the Church Committee. In the weeks following the assassination, major changes were made in the CIA.

CIA assassinationsEdit

In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee published fourteen reports on the formation of U.S. intelligence agencies, their operations, and the alleged abuses of law and of power that they had committed. Among the matters the Church Committee investigated, was the involvement by U.S. intelligence agencies to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo[5] and Fidel Castro.

The CIA provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters on the morning of the assassination of President Diem of Vietnam, which was carried out by Lucien Conein,[6] although Robert S. McNamara and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., (who was a participant as a White House historian) both stated that President Kennedy went pale when he heard the news about the coup and was shocked that Diem had been murdered.[7]

Kennedy and the CIA had a strained relationship following the Bay of Pigs disaster, with Kennedy remarking that he wanted "to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds."[8] However, that animosity was evidently short-lived, as CIA deputy director for intelligence John L. Hegerson would later write that "the [CIA's] relationship with Kennedy was not only a distinct improvement over the more formal relationship with Eisenhower, but would only rarely be matched in future administrations."[9] While the CIA's budget has always been classified, ranking CIA official William Colby made it clear when he wrote, "the fact of the matter is that the CIA could not have had a better friend in a President than John F. Kennedy. He understood the Agency and used it effectively, exploiting its intellectual abilities to help him analyze a complex world, and its paramilitary and covert political talents to react to it in a low key way."[10]

The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that in 1979, although Oswald assassinated Kennedy, a conspiracy was probable but that the conspiracy did not implicate any U.S. Intelligence agencies. This conclusion was based almost entirely on the analysis of a police dictabelt which supposedly recorded the sound of a fourth bullet being fired in Dealey Plaza. The HSCA also said that President Kennedy did not receive adequate protection in Dallas, and the Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated or used by the Secret Service in connection with the President's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the President from a sniper.[11] This lack of protection may have occurred because Kennedy himself had specifically asked that the Secret Service make itself discreet during the Dallas visit,[12] undermining claims that the Secret Service "let it happen." It is important to note that if there were U.S. intelligence agencies to be implicated in the murder of a sitting president, that murder would effectively constitute a coup d'état.

Cuban exilesEdit

Richard Helms, a director of the CIA's Office of Special Operations, had reason to be hostile to Kennedy since when first elected, Kennedy supported invading Cuba and then only later changed his mind about how to approach the matter. After the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba sponsored by the CIA, Kennedy changed his mind about an invasion, earning the hatred of the Cuban exile community. Thus, Helms was immediately put under pressure from President Kennedy and his brother Robert (the Attorney General) to increase American efforts to get rid of the Castro regime. Operation Mongoose had nearly 4,000 operators involved in attacks on Cuban economic targets.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations believed evidence existed implicating certain violent Cuban exiles may have participated in Kennedy's murder. These exiles worked closely with CIA operatives in violent activities against Castro's Cuba. In 1979, the committee reported this:

President Kennedy's popularity among the Cuban exiles had plunged deeply by 1963. Their bitterness is illustrated in a tape recording of a meeting of anti-Castro Cubans and right-wing Americans in the Dallas suburb of Farmer's Branch on October 1, 1963. (37)

Holding a copy of the September 26 edition of The Dallas Morning News, featuring a front-page account of the President's planned trip to Texas in November, the Cuban exile vented his hostility:

"CASTELLANOS... we're waiting for Kennedy the 22d, [the date Kennedy was murdered] buddy. We're going to see him in one way or the other. We're going to give him the works when he gets in Dallas. Mr. good ol' Kennedy. I wouldn't even call him President Kennedy. He stinks."[13]

Author Joan Didion explored the Miami anti-Castro Cuban theory in her 1987 non-fiction book "Miami."[14][15]

Three trampsEdit

A list of the better known "identifications" of the three tramps alleged by conspiracy theorists includes:

Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, has been alleged to be the tallest of the three tramps in the photographs. Harrelson at various times before his death boasted about his role as one of the tramps,[16] however, in a 1988 interview, he denied being in Dallas on the day of the assassination.[17]

E. Howard Hunt, the CIA station chief who was instrumental in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and who later worked as one of President Richard Nixon's White House Plumbers, was alleged by some to be the oldest of the tramps. At the time of his death, Hunt's son released tapes of Hunt implicating LBJ in Kennedy's assassination.[18] In 1975, Hunt testified to the United States President's Commission on CIA activities within the United States that he was in Washington, DC on the day of the assassination. This testimony was confirmed by Hunt's family and a home employee of the Hunts.[19] In 1985 however, in Hunt's libel suit against Liberty Lobby, defense attorney Mark Lane introduced doubt as to Hunt's location on the day of the Kennedy assassination through depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner, and Marita Lorenz, plus a cross-examination of Hunt.

Frank Sturgis is thought by some to be the tall tramp in the photographs. Like Hunt, Sturgis was involved both in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Watergate burglary. In 1959, Sturgis became involved with Marita Lorenz, who later identified Sturgis as a gunman in the assassination.[20] Hunt's confessions before his death similarly implicates Sturgis.

Chauncey Holt, also alleged by some to be the oldest of the tramps, claims to have been a double agent for the CIA and the Mafia, and has claimed that his assignment in Dallas was to provide fake Secret Service credentials to people in the vicinity.[21] Witness reports state that there were one or more unidentified men in the area claiming to be Secret Service agents.[22]

The House Select Committee on Assassinations had forensic anthropologists study the photographic evidence. They were able to rule out E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Dan Carswell, Fred Lee Chapman, and other suspects in 1978.[23] The Rockefeller Commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Frank Sturgis was in Dallas on the day of the assassination.[24]

Despite these positive identifications of the tramps and the lack of any connection between them and the assassination, some have maintained their identifications of the three as persons other than Doyle, Gedney and Abrams and have continued to theorize that they may have been connected to the crime.[25][26]

E. Howard Hunt Edit

Former CIA agent and Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt has been named as a possible participant in several Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. Separately, he has denied complicity in the murder of JFK while accusing others of being involved.

Some researchers have identified Hunt as a figure crossing Dealey Plaza in a raincoat and fedora immediately after the assassination.[27] Others have suggested that Hunt was one of the men known as the three tramps who were arrested and then quickly released shortly after the assassination.

In 1976, a magazine called The Spotlight ran an article accusing Hunt of being in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and of having a role in the assassination. Hunt won a libel judgment against the magazine in 1981, but this was thrown out on appeal, and the magazine was found not guilty when the case was retried in 1985.[28]

Shortly before his death in 2007, Hunt authored an autobiography which implicated Lyndon B. Johnson in the assassination. Hunt suggested that Johnson had orchestrated the killing with the help of CIA agents who had been angered by Kennedy's actions as President.[29][30] A 2007 article published in Rolling Stone magazine revealed deathbed confessions by Hunt to his son which suggested a conspiracy to kill JFK orchestrated by Lyndon Johnson, CIA agents Cord Meyer, Bill Harvey and David Sánchez Morales, as well as a "French gunman," who purportedly shot at Kennedy from the grassy knoll.[31]

Organized crime and the CIA conspiracyEdit

It is alleged that Mafia criminals may have wished to retaliate for increasing pressure put upon them by Robert Kennedy (who had increased by 12 times the number of prosecutions under President Dwight Eisenhower). Documents never seen by the Warren Commission have revealed that some Mafiosi were working very closely with the CIA on several assassination attempts of Fidel Castro.[32]

Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, and mobsters Carlos Marcello, Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli, Charles Nicoletti and Santo Trafficante Jr. (all of whom say Hoffa worked with the CIA on the Castro assassination plots) top the list of House Select Committee on Assassinations Mafia suspects.[33]

Carlos Marcello allegedly threatened to assassinate the President to short-circuit his younger brother Bobby, who was serving as attorney general and leading the administration's anti-Mafia crusade.[34][35]

In his memoir, Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, Bill Bonanno, son of New York Mafia boss Joseph Bonanno explains that several Mafia families had long-standing ties with the anti-Castro Cubans through the Havana casinos operated by the Mafia before the Cuban Revolution. The Cubans hated Kennedy because he failed to fully support them in the Bay of Pigs Invasion; the Mafia hated the Kennedys because, as Attorney General, the young and idealistic Robert Kennedy conducted an unprecedented legal assault on organized crime. This was especially provocative because several of the Mafia "families" had worked with JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, to get JFK elected, and there have always been reports of voting irregularities during the 1960 election, the closest election in history at the time. Both the Mafia and the anti-Castro Cubans were expert in assassination, the Cubans having been trained by the CIA. Bonanno reports that he realized the degree of the involvement of other Mafia families when he witnessed Jack Ruby killing Oswald on television: the Bonannos recognized Jack Ruby as an associate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.[36]

Information released only around 2006 by the FBI indicates that Carlos Marcello confessed in detail to having organized Kennedy's assassination. [2] The FBI then covered up this information which it had in its possession. This version of events is also supported by the findings of a 1979 Congressional Committee investigation that Marcello was likely part of a Mafia conspiracy behind the assassination, and had the means and the opportunity required. The assassination came less than a fortnight prior to a coup against Castro in Cuba by the Kennedy brothers, related to the Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Invasion.

James Files claims to be a former assassin working for both the Mafia and the CIA who participated in the assassination along with Johnny Roselli and Charles Nicoletti at the behest of Sam Giancana.[37] He is currently serving a 30-year jail sentence for the attempted murder of a policeman.

Alleged Cuban retaliation for CIA activitiesEdit

President Lyndon Johnson informed several journalistic sources of his personal belief that the assassination had been organized by Fidel Castro from Cuba. Johnson had received in 1967 information from both the FBI and CIA that in the early 1960s, the CIA had tried to have Castro assassinated, had employed members of the Mafia in this effort, and that Attorney General Robert Kennedy had known about both the plots and the Mafia's involvement.[38]

It was Johnson's belief that JFK's assassination had been organized by Castro as a retaliation for the CIA's efforts to kill Castro. In October, 1968, Johnson told veteran newsman Howard K. Smith, that "Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first." In September, 1969, in an interview with Walter Cronkite of CBS, Johnson said that in regard to the assassination he could not, "honestly say that I've ever been completely relieved of the fact that there might have been international connections." Finally, in 1971, Johnson told Leo Janos of Time Magazine that he, "never believed that Oswald acted alone."


  3. The Secret History of the CIA, by Joseph J. Trento, ISBN-9-780786-715008, pags: 204, 268-269
  6. (Document 17)
  7. (Note 10)
  8. New York Times, April 25, 1966, p. 20.
  9. John L. Helgerson, Getting to Know the President, CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–1992, CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, May 22, 1996, p. 26,
  10. 4. Colby and Forbath, Honorable Men, p. 221.
  12. Bugliosi, Vincent. "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy." 2007, Norton: New York, New York. pp. 29, 38.
  13. Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives Page 132
  14. James Chace, "Betrayals and Obsession", NY Times, October 25, 1987, on Joan Didion's book MIAMI
  15. Joan Didion, "MIAMI", New York, Simon & Schuster, 238pp. 1987
  16. Secrets of Woody’s hitman father, The Times, April 8, 2007
  18. Hedegaard, Erik, The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt, Rolling Stone, 4/5/07, and audio tape broadcast on 4/28/07 on the syndicate radio program 'Coast to Coast Live'.
  19. "Were Watergate Conspirators Also JFK Assassins?" Knuth, M.
  20. Lane, Mark. Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? Thunder's Mouth Press 1992. ISBN 1-56025-048-8.
  21. Video interview with Chauncey Holt by John Craig, Phillip Rogers, and Gary Shaw 10/19/91.
  22. Both Dallas police officer Joe Smith and Army veteran Gordon Arnold have claimed to have met a man on or near the grassy knoll who showed them credentials identifying him as a Secret Service agent. Summers, Anthony. "Not in Your Lifetime." Warner Books 1998. ISBN 0-7515-1840-9.
  23. Three Tramps Photos Examined by Experts
  24. Were Watergate Conspirators Also JFK Assassins?
  25. Fetzer, James H. Assassination Science : Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK Open Court 1998. ISBN 0-8126-9366-3 .
  26. Presentation by Mary Holt at the November In Dallas Research Conference 2000.[1]
  27. "If This Is Hunt Are There Any Other Photos?"— Discussion of proposal identifying Hunt in photographs of Dealey Plaza
  28. Lane, Mark, Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? Thunder's Mouth Press 1992. ISBN 1-56025-048-8.
  29. Hunt, E. Howard, American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond, Wiley, 2007. ISBN 0-471-78982-8
  30. Hunt Blames Jfk Hit On Lbj NY Post, 11/4/2007.
  31. The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt, Hedegaard, Erik, Rolling Stone 4/5/2007.
  32. CIA offered money to Mafia Retrieved December 3, 2006
  33. The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy - The Crime library
  34. Thomas L. Jones, Punching Federale, chapter 11 of his book Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy in the Big Easy.
  35. The John F. Kennedy Assassination Information Center information on Carlos Marcello from congressional investigation, “The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Organized Crime, Report of Ralph Salerno, Consultant to the Select Committee on Assassinations.”
  36. Bonanno, Bill (1999). Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story. New York: St Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-20388-8
  37. Dankbaar, Wim, Files on JFK: Interviews with Confessed Assassin James E. Files, and More New Evidence of the Conspiracy that Killed JFK. Trine Day 2008. ISBN 0-9794063-1-5
  38. The Assassination Tapes, by Max Holland The Atlantic Monthly, June 2004
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