Priscilla Johnson McMillan

Priscilla Johnson McMillan

Priscilla Livingston Johnson was born in Glen Cove, New York, on 19th July, 1928. As a student she was a member of the United World Federalists, an organization run by Cord Meyer. After graduating with a master's degree from Radcliffe College in 1952 she applied to join the Central Intelligence Agency.

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. 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, Johnson was described as being born in Stockholm, Sweden, on 23rd September 1922. It also stated that during the Second World War she was "utilized by OSO (Office of Special Operations) in 1943 and 1944". 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 traveled 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."

John McVickar and Richard Snyder in Moscow
John McVickar and Richard Snyder in Moscow

Lee Harvey Oswald agreed to be interviewed by 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 John F. Kennedy 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."

In 1964 Johnson befriended Marina Oswald, and the two spent considerable time together. According to Johnson, she spent thirteen years researching Marina and Lee, before it was published in 1977.

Other books by Priscilla Johnson McMillan include Khrushchev and the Arts (1965) and The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the Birth of the Modern Arms Race (2005). Articles by her have been published in Harper's Magazine, The Reporter, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Boston Globe.

Primary Sources

(1) Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (1977)

On November 13 Lee telephoned Aline Mosby, a reporter for United Press International; she came to see him, and he talked to her "non-stop" for two hours. And, on November 16, a Soviet official came to his room and informed him that he could remain until a decision had been made what to do with him. It was virtually a promise that he could stay, and Lee was vastly relieved.

I happened to be the beneficiary of his relief. I was a newspaper and magazine reporter in Moscow in 1959. I had just returned from a visit to the United States and, on November 16, I went to the consular office of the American Embassy, as the American reporters did, to pick up my mail. John McVickar welcomed me back with these words: "Oh, by the way, there's a young American in your hotel trying to defect. He won't talk to any of us, but maybe he'll talk to you because you're a woman."

McVickar turned out to be right. At the Hotel Metropole I stopped by Oswald's room, which was on the second floor, the floor below my own. I knocked, and the young man inside opened the door. Instead of inviting me in, he came into the corridor and stood there, holding the door open with his foot. I peeked into his room, and saw that it was exactly like mine, right down to its shade of hotel blue. To my surprise, he readily agreed to be interviewed, and said that he would come to my room at eight or nine o'clock that evening. Good as his word he appeared, wearing a dark gray suit, a white shirt with a dark tie, and a sweater-vest of tan cashmere. He looked familiar to me, like a lot of college boys in the East during the 1950s. The only difference was his voice-he had a slight Southern drawl.

He settled in an armchair, I brought him tea from a little burner I kept on the floor, and he started talking fairly easily. He spoke quietly, unemphatically, and only rarely betrayed by a gesture or a slight change of tone that what he was saying at that moment meant anything special to him. He began by complaining about Richard Snyder and his refusal to accept on the spot his oath of renunciation. I had no idea what he was talking about, since I had not discussed him with Snyder or McVickar, nor heard about the stormy scene at the embassy two weeks before."

During our conversation Lee returned again and again to what he called the embassy's "illegal" treatment of him, which he termed a "prestige and labor-saving device." He spread out two letters on my desk: one his letter of protest to the American ambassador, Llewellyn Thompson, and the other his letter from Snyder, which said that he was free to come to the embassy at any time and take the oath. Well, I said, all you have to do is go back one more time. He swore he would never set foot there again. Once he became a Soviet citizen, he said, he would allow "my government," the Soviet government, to handle it for him.

Lee's tone was level, almost expressionless, and while I realized that his words were bitter, somehow I did not feel that he was angry. Moreover, he did not seem like a fully grown man to me, for the blinding fact, the one that obliterated nearly every other fact about him, was his youth. He looked about seventeen. Proudly, as a boy might, he told me about his only expedition into Moscow alone. He had walked four blocks to Detsky Mir, the children's department store, and bought himself an ice cream cone. I could scarcely believe my ears. Here he was, coming to live in this country forever, and he had so far dared venture into only four blocks of it.

I was astounded by his lack of curiosity and the utter absence of any joy or spirit of adventure in him. And yet I respected him. Here was this lonely, frightened boy taking on the bureaucracy of the second most powerful nation on earth, and doing it single-handedly. I wondered if he had any idea what he was doing, for it could be brutal to try to stay if the Russians did not want you-futile and dangerous. I had to admire Lee, ignorant, young, and even tender as he appeared, for persisting in spite of so many discouragements.

I was sorry for him, too, for I was certain he was making a mistake. He told me that he had been informed that morning that he did not have to leave the country. So I supposed that he would soon be granted citizenship, vanish into some remote corner of Russia, and never be heard from again. He would not be allowed to see any Americans, much less reporters, and he would be unable to signal his distress. Like every Westerner in Moscow, I had heard innumerable tragic stories about foreigners who had come to Russia during the 1930s, crossed the Rubicon of Soviet citizenship, and never been allowed to leave. I assumed that Lee would regret his choice and that he, like the others, would be trapped. As young as he was, he would have a lifetime to be sorry.

(2) Walt Brown, Treachery in Dallas (1995)

While awaiting word of his acceptance into Russian society, Oswald gave two interviews to American journalists in Moscow. Priscilla Johnson would later testify that her interview with Oswald left her with the feeling that "the plight of the U.S. Negro brought him to the USSR."' This is a difficult thesis to reconcile, given Oswald's later relationships with Guy Banister et al. (hardly civil rights fanatics), Oswald's seeming absence of civil rights concerns in the United States (the "Clinton, Louisiana" posturing aside), and finally, what could Oswald possibly do about the plight of the U.S. Negro from far off Russia?

When Aline Mosby interviewed him, she indicated, "Beyond his brown eyes [emphasis added], I felt a certain coldness." She also indicated that some of Oswald's statements sounded rehearsed (a claim that others would make), and she told of Oswald's boast that he saved the $1,500 necessary for the trip. She concluded that she considered defectors to fall generally within one of two categories, but "Oswald appeared to be a one-man third category." Indeed.

Both journalists tended to agree that Oswald was overplaying his "defector" role and that the Soviets wouldn't buy it. Oswald, however, had to go through the ritual, as he had to know, or have been taught, that the Soviets were listening.

To reinforce his credentials, Oswald staged a performance for the benefit of consuls Snyder and McVickar at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, conveniently attempting to renounce his citizenship at a time when the embassy was closed. Documents from this event suggest Oswald would offer secrets, or "has offered"' secrets to the Russians.

(3) Donald Jameson, Chief SR/CA, memo, marked top secret (11th December, 1962)

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. I don't think she would go along with that idea at all. On the other hand, she is searching for both more information and more understanding of the problem of the Soviet intellectual and is consequently subject to influence.

(4) Lisa Pease, James Earl Ray Did Not Kill MLK (2003)

Another author favored by the intelligence community, was George McMillan, whose book "The Making of an Assassin" was favorably reviewed by no less than Jeremiah O'Leary. Mark Lane tells us "On November 30, 1973, it was revealed that the CIA had forty full-time news reporters on the CIA payroll as undercover informants, some of them as full-time agents." Lane adds, "It seems clear than an agent-journalist is really an agent, not a journalist." He then tells us: " In 1973, the American press was able to secure just two of the forty names in the CIA file of journalists. The Washington Star and the Washington Post reported that one of the two was Jeremiah O'Leary."

On March 2 of 1997, the Washington Post ran not one but two articles condemning Ray and the calls for a new trial, written by longtime CIA-friendly journalists Richard Billings and Priscilla Johnson McMillan, wife of George

McMillan. In another paper the same Sunday, G. Robert Blakey, the architect of the cover-up at the HSCA, also made his voice heard for the case against a new trial. And a week later, Ramsey Clark - the man who within days of the - assassination was telling us there was no conspiracy in the King killing - had also recommended the formation of yet another government panel in lieu of a trial for Ray. The only voice missing was Gerald Posner. But his too would come. Posner's next book, Killing the Dream, was about the King assassination.

Is the presence of such people commenting on the James Earl Ray case just coincidence? Or is it indicative of a continuing cover-up? Examine their back grounds and decide for yourself.

It's predictable, really, that Priscilla would be writing in defense of the official myths relating to the MLK case. "Scilla," as her husband called her, has been doing the same in the John Kennedy assassination case for years. She just happened to be in the Soviet Union in time to snag an interview with the mysterious Lee Harvey Oswald. Later, she snuggled up to Marina long enough to write a book which Marina later said was full of lies, called Marina and Lee. Priscilla's parents once housed one of the most famous and high-profile defectors the CIA ever had - Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Josef Stalin. Evan Thomas - father of the current Newsweek mogul of the same name and the man who edited William Manchester's defense of the Warren Report - assigned Priscilla to write the defector's biography. Alliluyeva later returned to the Soviet Union in dismay, saying she was under the watch of the CIA at all times.

Is Priscilla CIA? She applied for a job there in the '50s, and her 201 file lists her as a "witting collaborator," meaning, not only was she working with the agency, she knew she was working with the agency. And how independent was she? In a memo from Donald Jameson, who was the Soviet Russia Branch Chief and who in the same year handled CIA Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton's prize (and the CIA's bane) Anatoliy Golitsyn, wrote of Priscilla: "Priscilla Johnson was selected as a likely candidate to write an article on Yevtushenko in a major U.S. magazine for our campaign ... I think that Miss Johnson can be encouraged to write pretty much the articles we want."

(5) John M. Newman, Oswald and the CIA (1995)

Neither Priscilla Johnson's 1959 contemporaneous notes nor her 1963 written recollection mentions that Oswald told her he had threatened to reveal radar secrets. Her book Marina and Lee makes no mention of radar secrets. Her newspaper articles then and since make no mention of radar secrets. Under oath, however, she told a

very different story. Here is the bombshell she dropped during her sworn testimony to the Warren Commission:

MR. SLAWSON: Miss Johnson, I wonder if you would search your memory with the help of your notes and make any comments you could on what contacts Lee Oswald had had with Soviet officials before you saw him, any remarks he made or things you could read between the lines, and so on.

MISS JOHNSON: I had the impression, in fact he said, he hoped his experience as a radar operator would make him more desirable to them [the Soviets]. That was the only thing that really showed any lack of integrity in a way about him, a negative thing. That is, he felt he had something he could give them, something that would hurt his country in a way, or could, and that was the one thing that was quite negative, that he was holding out some kind of bait.

In a 1994 interview with the author, Priscilla McMillan found the contradiction between her Warren Commission testimony and other writings troubling. How could Priscilla not have written about such a startling part of her interview with Oswald? "I know, that it is terrible," she remarked in 1994, "that is so unprofessional." Her recollection was at first indecisive, and she wondered if it had not been "wrong to tell the Warren Commission that." At length, however, she stuck with her testimony." Not surprisingly, Priscilla's revelation about radar secrets startled her Warren Commission interrogator, W. David Slawson. This is what happened next:

MR. SLAWSON: Could you elaborate a little bit on that radar point. Had you been informed by the American Embassy at the time that he had told Richard Snyder that he had already volunteered to the Soviet officials that he had been a radar operator in the Marine Corps, and would give the Russian government any secrets he had possessed?

MISS JOHNSON: I had no idea that he had told Snyder that, but he did tell me-I got the impression, I am not sure that it is in the notes or not, l certainly got the impression that he was using his radar training as a come-on to them, hoped that that would make him of some value to them, and I

MR. SLAWSON: This was something then that he must have volunteered to you, because you would not have known to ask about it?

MISS JOHNSON: Well, again I am not very military minded, and I couldn't have cared less, you know. But somehow along the line, if it is not in my notes then it is a memory, then it is one of the things I didn't write-well, one thing is you know I tend to write what I thought I might use in the story. But I wasn't going to write a particularly negative story about him. I wasn't going to write that he was using it as a come-on so I might not have transcribed it simply for that reason, that it wasn't a part of my story. But it definitely was an impression that he-and it was from him, certainly not from the embassy, that he was using that as a come on, and I sure didn't like that. But it didn't occur to me he might have military secrets. I just felt, well hell, he didn't have much as a radar operator that they need, although even there I didn't know. Maybe there was some little twist in our radar technique that he might know. It showed a lack of integrity in his personality, and that I remembered. What he might or might not have to offer them I didn't know.

What emerges from this testimony is that Priscilla was predisposed against doing a critical story on Oswald, so much so that contrary to a reporter's instincts to get the most dramatic story, she deliberately ignored Oswald's stated intent to commit a disloyal act.