John R. Stockwell

John R. Stockwell

John Stockwell, the son of an engineer was born in the Belgian Congo (Zaire) in 1937. His father, an engineer from Texas, was involved in building a hydroelectric plant for a local mission hospital. His mother managed the only women's academy in Central Africa.

Stockwell was educated at the Presbyterian school in Lubondai before attending the University of Texas. In an autobiographical article Stockwell claimed that while at university he "never had a conversation with a liberal, much less a radical critic of the system".

After graduating he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. As a result of his ability to speak the languages of the area (Tshiluba and Swahili), Stockwell was sent to the Congo to deal with the rebellion being led by Patrice Lumumba.

Stockwell spent three years in the marines before working in the ranching and land-clearing business in Texas. This was followed by work in the sales and market analysis branch of the Gates Rubber Company in Denver. Stockwell was inspired by a speech made by John F. Kennedy ("ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country") to join the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1964 Stockwell voted for Barry Goldwater. As he later explained: "everyone in Texas knew that Lyndon Johnson was corrupt to the core, with mob ties, with murders sometimes associated with his political campaigns".

Stockwell's first CIA assignment was in West Africa. His main task was to monitor communist activity in the region. He was later promoted to the position of chief of the CIA base in the Katanga province. Stockwell reported back to Washington that he did not believe that the CIA presence in the Congo was not justified as it was not advancing "US national security interests".

Stockwell spent six years in Africa before serving in Vietnam. As officer in charge of Tay Ninh Province, he organized covert operations against the National Liberation Front. This resulted in him winning the CIA Medal of Merit. He remained in the country until joining the US flight from Vietnam in April, 1975.

Stockwell now served on a subcommittee of the National Security Council and was appointed as chief of the CIA's Angola Task Force. Unhappy with the way the CIA was targeting the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and resigned from the organization in December, 1976.

Three months later Stockwell published an open letter to CIA Director Stansfield Turner in the Washington Post. He claimed that 98% of CIA operations in the field were "fabrications but were papered over and promoted by aware case officers because of the numbers game". This resulted in Turner initiating a "house-cleaning of the clandestine services".

Stockwell has written two books on the CIA: In Search of Enemies (1978) and The Praetorian Guard: The US Role in the New World Order (1991). He has also made several lecture tours where he has spoken on CIA covert operations.

Primary Sources

(1) John Stockwell, open letter to Stansfield Turner (10th April, 1977)

We have not met and will not have the opportunity of working together, as you are coming into the Central Intelligence Agency when I am leaving. Although I am disassociating myself from the Agency, I have read with considerable interest about your appointment and listened to some of your comments.

You have clearly committed yourself to defending the Agency from its detractors and to improving its image, and this has stirred a wave of hope among many of its career officers. However, others are disappointed that you have given no indication of intention, or even awareness of the need, for the 'internal housecleaning that is so conspicuously overdue the Agency.

You invited Agency officers to write you their suggestions or grievances, and you promised personally to read all such letters. While I no longer have a career interest, having already submitted my resignation, numerous friends in the DDO (Deputy Directorate for Operations) have encouraged me to write to you, hoping that it might lead to measures which would upgrade the clandestine services from its present mediocre standards to the elite organization it was once reputed to be.

While I sympathize with their complaints, I have agreed to write this letter more to document the circumstances and conditions which led to my own disillusionment with CIA.

First, let me introduce myself. I was until yesterday a successful GS 14 with 12 years in the Agency, having served seven full tours of duty including Chief of Base, Lubumbashi; Chief of Station, Bujumbura; Officer in Charge of Tay Ninh Province in Vietnam; and Chief, Angola Task Force. My file documents what I was told occasionally, that I could realistically aspire to top managerial positions in the Agency.

I grew up in Zaire, a few miles from the Kapanga Methodist Mission Station, which was recently `liberated' by Katangese invaders, and I speak fluent English and Tshiluba, `High' French and smatterings of Swahili and other dialects.

My disillusionment was progressive throughout four periods of my career. First, during three successive assignments in Africa from 1966 through 1977 I increasingly questioned the value and justification of the reporting and operations we worked so hard to generate.

In one post, Abidjan, there was no Eastern bloc or Communist presence, no subversion, limited United States interests and a stable government. The three of us competed with State Department officers to report on President Houphouet-Boigny's health and local politics.

I attempted, to rationalize that my responsibility was to contribute, and not to evaluate the importance of my contribution which should be done by supergrades in Washington. However, this was increasingly difficult as I looked up through a chain of command which included, step-by-step: (a) the Branch Chief, who had never served in Africa and was conspicuously ignorant of Black Africa,; (b) the Chief of Operations, who was a senior officer although he had never served an operational overseas tour and was correspondingly naive about field operations; and (c) the Division Chief, who was a political dilettante who had never served an operational tour in Africa... Their leadership continuously reflected their inexperience and ignorance.

Standards of operations were low in the field, considerable energy was devoted to the accumulation of perquisites and living a luxurious life at the taxpayer's expense. When I made Chief of Station, a supergrade took me out for drinks and, after welcoming me to the exclusive inner club of `chiefs', proceeded to brief me on how to supplement my income by an additional $3,000 to $4,000 per year, tax-free, by manipulating my representational and operational funds. This was quite within the regulations. For example, the COS Kinshasa last year legally collected over $9,000 from CIA for the operation of his household...

The organization currently belongs to the old, to the burned out. Young officers, and there are some very good ones, must wait until generations retire before they can move up. Mediocre performances are guaranteed by a promotion system wherein time in grade and being a`good ole boy' are top criteria, i.e., there are no exceptional promotions and the outstanding individual gets his promotions at the same time as the 'onlygood' and even some of the 'not-really-so-good' officers, and he must wait behind a line of tired old men for the truly challenging field assignments.

These young officers are generally supervised by unpromotable middle-grade officers, who for many years have been unable to go overseas and participate personally in operational activity. These conditions are obviously discouraging to dynamic young people, demoralizingly so, and several have told me they are also seeking opportunities outside the Agency.

With each new Director they hope there will be a housecleaning and reform, but each Director comes and goes, seven in my time, preoccupied with broader matters of state, uttering meaningless and inaccurate platitudes about conditions and standards inside the DDO. The only exception was James Schlesinger, who initiated a housecleaning but was transferred to the Department of Defence before it had much effect.

You, sir, have been so bold as to state your intention to abrogate American constitutional rights, those of freedom of speech, in order to defend and protect the American intelligence establishment. This strikes me as presumptuous of you, especially before you have even had a good look inside the CIA to see if it is worth sacrificing constitutional rights for.

If you get the criminal penalties you are seeking for the disclosure of classified information, or even the civil penalties which President Carter and Vice-President Mondale have said they favour, then Americans who work for the CIA could not, when they find themselves embroiled in criminal and immoral activity which is commonplace in the Agency, expose that activity without risking jail or poverty as punishment for speaking out. Cynical men, such as those who gravitate to the top of the CIA, could then by classifying a document or two protect and cover up illegal actions with relative impunity.

I predict that the American people will never surrender to you the right of any individual to stand in public and say whatever is in his heart and mind. That right is our last line of defence against the tyrannies and invasions of privacy which events of recent years have demonstrated are more than paranoiac fantasies. I am enthusiastic about the nation's prospects under the new administration, and I am certain President Carter will reconsider his position on this issue.

And you, sir, may well decide to address yourself to the more appropriate task of setting the Agency straight from the inside out.

(2) John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The US Role in the New World Order (1991)

The President was perfunctorily warned of the threats against him, but the usual vigilant efforts to protect him were not taken. The Secret Service, FBI, and local police certainly can protect presidents. They do it continuously not only inside the United States but in foreign capitals around the world. Numerous, almost routine, techniques are involved, like bringing extra security forces to blanket problem areas, moving in caravans of cars at a brisk 45 miles an hour, and using, whenever possible, unannounced routes that do not include sharp, slow turns.

When President Kennedy and his wife visited Dallas on November 22, 1963, nearly all of the protections were lifted. Available Texas Guard units were not called into the city and available Dallas policemen were temporarily released from duty. The result? A team of CIA, Cuban exile, and Mafia-related renegades organized a simple military ambush in Dallas and successfully gunned him down. The ambush and its coverup were brazen and astonishingly open. In fact several plots, in Chicago, Miami, and Houston, to kill Kennedy had misfired or been thwarted. The plot that succeeded in Dealey Plaza was so open that various people were reported prior to the event to have said that Kennedy would be killed with a rifle and a patsy would be blamed for the crime. Individuals like Joseph Milteer, the "umbrella man," and a CIA pilot Robert Plumlee went to Dealey Plaza on the 22nd of November to watch.

Obviously, most CIA personnel were not involved and did not know of the plot since sensitive operations are compartmentalized in order to protect their security. Moreover, the great majority of the coat-and-tie people inside CIA headquarters would never have put up with a hit on the President. A great deal of the success of the CIA is due to its ability to attract patriotic, good soldiers who believe in the general rightness of what they do, and then insulate them through compartmentalization from the heavier activities.

The OPMONGOOSE renegades, however, included assassins, terrorists, and people who had been involved in the drug traffic from Cuba into the United States. The team set up a military-style ambush in Dealey Plaza, with shooters on the tops of buildings and the famous grassy knoll. The route of the President's convoy included a 120-degree turn which slowed the car to a near stop. There was cooperation of elements of the Secret Service, of the Dallas Police, and of other law enforcement agencies.

When the shooting began, the Secret Service driver put on - the brakes (home movies of the scene show the brake lights on). Anyone who has been through that kind of training - and I have been through their "bang and burn" courses - is drilled to react. When the bullets start flying in such a situation, you mash down on the gas and you get the hell out of the area; you do not slow down and look around as the seasoned Secret Service driver in fact did. In ten seconds of rifle fire, only one of the Secret Service agents in the trail car moved to the President's aid. The one agent who did move was Jackie Kennedy's personal guard, in Dallas at her request, not part of the team that was there to protect the President.

Kennedy was shot at very close range from firing stations, probably four of them, where the assassins fired eight to ten shots. He was hit in the back, throat, and twice in the head, two bullets each from the front and from the back. Texas Governor John Connally was hit twice. Two bullets were fired into the concrete, one on each side of the convoy. After the shooting stopped, the convoy raced away. The FBI and other branches of the government immediately launched the coverup. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, ordered the limousine in which Kennedy was killed be flown to Chicago and destroyed. The announced goal of President Johnson was to "reassure" the nation by proving that the killing was the work of lone assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. It was variously suggested that an investigation that turned up Soviet involvement might lead to nuclear war; it might embarrass the Kennedy widow; it might lead to domestic unrest. In fact; it might have led to a sizeable number of very important people and organizations being implicated in a presidential assassination. That might very well have exercised the population sufficiently to provoke a serious investigation of CIA, FBI, and Mafia activities in the country, and to demand some changes.

The evidence was extensively tampered with. The President's body was altered; the photographs of the autopsy were altered; and over 100 witnesses were killed or died mysterious and violent deaths. To this day, despite the House Committee's 1979 conclusion that there was a conspiracy, there has been no formal, official investigation. Neither have all the documents been released.

Even among the majority that acknowledge that there was abroad conspiracy, many find it difficult to believe that the CIA itself could have been involved. Perhaps, they reluctantly concede, "renegades" might have had something to do with it.

In fact, there is strong evidence that both the FBI and the CIA high commands had prior knowledge of and direct involvement in the conspiracy. After the Dallas Police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, but before they could have positively identified him (he had false identification papers in his wallet) much less interrogate him and reasonably confirm his (alleged) guilt, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover telephoned Bobby Kennedy in Washington to tell him that the assassin had been caught. Hoover gave Kennedy biographic information that he could only have had prior to the assassination. Clearly he was waiting with information about Lee Harvey Oswald, to blame him for the killing.

Similarly, CIA operatives far from Dallas were waiting with biographic information about Oswald to feed to the media. Some time after the Warren Committee hearings, journalist Seth Kantor found himself broadly suspected of being somehow a secret agent because, researchers found, the Warren Commission had classified part of his testimony. Puzzled, he checked and found that the Commission had in fact classified telephone calls he made during the afternoon of the killing. In addition to checking his own notes, he succeeded in forcing the Warren Commission to return his testimony to him, and identified the calls. One was to the managing editor of the Scripps-Howard news service bureau in Washington. Mid-afternoon, again long before the police could have interrogated Oswald, made a positive identification, concluded what had happened, and eliminated the possibility of accomplices in a conspiracy to kill the President, the editor told Kantor that Oswald had been identified as the assassin and instructed him to call Hal Hendricks, a journalist who gave Kantor detailed biographic information about Oswald. Years later, in the CIA-engineered coup in Chile, Hendricks was positively identified as a CIA operative working under journalistic cover. Moreover, the Warren Commission's move to classify the phone calls is proof positive that it knew there was an intelligence connection with Hendricks and strongly suggests that it was willfully covering up the assassination conspiracy.

In sum, the FBI Director and CIA media operatives were waiting, primed, before the assassination to launch the coverup and pin the blame on the pre-selected patsy, Oswald.