New Documents Shed Light on CIA's Connection to Lee Harvey Oswald

A corps of researchers looking into the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy say they have unearthed proof his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was involved in an operation by the CIA mere months before the killing, reigniting questions about whether the Oswald truly was alone in his decision to kill the youngest man ever elected president.

In a Tuesday press conference at the National Press Club, Jefferson Morley—a veteran of the D.C. press corps and a preeminent expert on JFK's assassination with the Mary Ferrell Foundation—told reporters that he and attorneys with the foundation obtained documentation relating to a still-classified covert operation approved by senior CIA officials three months before Kennedy's death that suggested the agency used Oswald for intelligence purposes several weeks prior to shooting.

"This is an extraordinarily serious claim, and it has profound implications for the official story," Morley said Tuesday morning in Washington. "The CIA knew far more about the lone gunman than then they are admitting even today. So this story deserves the closest possible scrutiny."

The document, one of several researchers obtained this month as the result of an October lawsuit, is a precursor to a fuller release of documents anticipated by the National Archives this month.

John F Kennedy
Texas Governor John Connally (foreground) adjusts his tie as President John F Kennedy (left) and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy (in pink) settle in rear seat for the motorcade into Dallas from the airport on November 22, 1963. After a few speaking stops, the president was assassinated in the same car. Getty Images

The mandated release of records dates to a 2021 memo by President Joe Biden's administration ordering the release of all documents related to the JFK assassination after several delays by agencies like the CIA and FBI. Attorneys for the Mary Ferrell Foundation argued that the agencies have illegally stalled the release of more than 16,000 additional documents related to the case over concerns they could potentially compromise the names of individuals and the methods used in intelligence-gathering activities more than a half-century ago.

Newsweek reached out to the CIA for comment.

"Why would they want to hide that? Because it's embarrassing," Larry Schnapf, a professor of law at New York University who has served as the foundation's attorney, told Newsweek. "But embarrassment is specifically a term the JFK Records Act provides for. It says that embarrassment is not grounds for postponement."

That the CIA knew of Oswald is not a smoking gun. It has already been revealed the federal government knew more about the circumstances surrounding the Kennedy assassination than it acknowledged publicly, beginning with the National Archives' release of a trove of previously classified documents relating to the assassination in 2017 as well as the release of a number of documents detailing Oswald's history in 2021.

And its existence does not prove of a CIA plot to kill the president, as some theories have speculated.

But the document, one of 10 that researchers believe was improperly withheld from the initial release, helps underscore what the government has so far refused to acknowledge, and why public mistrust over the truth of the Kennedy assassination continues to persist nearly 60 years later.

If true, the newly released documents appear to contradict the government's claims that it had no knowledge of Oswald prior to the killing, outlined at the time of Kennedy's murder by an apparent communist sympathizer and in the years following his death.

In a previously classified 1975 deposition on Oswald's potential involvement in the case, former CIA Director Richard Helms claimed that Oswald was "certainly not an agent of the CIA," was "never used by the CIA," and that the agency could find "no evidence that Oswald had any connection with the CIA."

Lee Harvey Oswald
The Dallas Police Department mug shots of Lee Harvey Oswald following his arrest for possible involvement in the John F Kennedy assassination and the murder of Officer JD Tippit. Getty Images

In other instances, they said, independent research has confirmed other discrepancies in the official narrative around the involvement of figures like George Joannides, a now-deceased CIA agent who had intimate involvement with the group of communist revolutionaries Oswald had been in contact with prior to the killing. Joannides notably withheld information about his role from congressional investigators seeking answers about Kennedy's death.

Ultimately, the release of the documents is not just about confirming or not confirming whether a conspiracy theory is true. It's about whether the government lied about what it knew.

"This is an opportunity for the CIA to come clean," former CIA officer and senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Rolf Mowatt-Larssen said Tuesday. "Not because the CIA was involved in Kennedy's assassination, but because the CIA understands that there is still doubt as to what happened and whether there were people inside the CIA or any other parts of the U.S. government who might have been involved in this horrific conspiracy to kill the president."

To this day, the federal government has maintained that Oswald acted alone and had no connection with the CIA. The federal government has also denied that Oswald had any connections to communist organizations in Cuba or to organized crime cells in the U.S. that could have had motivation for Kennedy's death.

But given the geopolitical context of the era—concerns over a communist governmental presence in Latin America, a potential shift in U.S. policy toward Vietnam—some still believe the narrative is not to be dismissed.

To this day, Morley suggests that the CIA is still hiding 44 documents known to exist in Joannides' personnel file that he said "will shed light on his secret activities" between 1963 in 1978, including information about a CIA operation involving Oswald he said "has never been disclosed."

Whether those documents are released this month, Morley said, is the true test of whether the federal government is prepared to acknowledge the truth about its involvement in Kennedy's death.

"I'm not crazy about the term the smoking gun," Morley said. "I think that's a bit of a cliche. It's not a term that investigative reporters use. But I think in this case, it's appropriate that what we're talking about here is not smoking-gun proof of a conspiracy to kill the president. We're talking about smoking-gun proof of a CIA operation involving Lee Harvey Oswald, that the CIA is still concealing in 2022.

"This body of records has profound implications for the official story of the assassination. Is the undisclosed Oswald operation evidence of CIA complicity in JFK assassination? Is it evidence of incompetence and understanding the threat Oswald posed to the president? Only full disclosure on December 15 can resolve this question."