Tuesday, March 7, 2017

James Wilcott

Update: May 3, 2020. Researcher Lance Payette brought the following information to my attention. To lend credibility to his story, promoters of the Wilcott affair have sometimes referred to his position in the CIA as “finance officer” (see, for example, Armstrong’s Harvey and Lee, page 262). But Payette told me in an email, “As far as I can tell, he was never a GS-9. He had been hired as a GS-5 and made a career employee at GS-7. A Resignation Interview Report dated April 15, 1966 shows him as still a GS-7 when he left the CIA. No matter how anyone tries to spin it, no one at GS-5 or GS-7 is an officer.”

The dubious allegations of James Wilcott, a former CIA employee who testified before the HSCA in executive session, are still repeated by theorists promoting the idea that the CIA was involved in the JFK assassination. [1] Wilcott (born 9-27-31 in Cleveland, OH [2]) told the HSCA that he had been informed by a fellow CIA employee while posted in Tokyo that Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) had received disbursements from the agency under a cryptonym. [3] Here is a summary of the HSCA investigation into the matter. [4]

· Although Wilcott stated that he was told by a CIA case officer that LHO was an agent, he was unable to remember the name of that officer. He was also unable to identify the alleged cryptonym associated with LHO.

· Wilcott stated that although he heard the allegation that LHO was an agent shortly after JFK was assassinated, he did not check agency disbursement records to verify the claim or report the information to any investigative agencies.

· The HSCA interviewed 18 Tokyo CIA employees named by Wilcott [5] including the chief and deputy chief of station and none were aware of any information indicating LHO was an agent or any information that would confirm Wilcott's allegations.

· An intelligence analyst who Wilcott had named as having been involved in a conversation about the LHO allegations stated that he not in Toyko at the time Wilcott said he spoke to him, a fact confirmed by the HSCA.

· Almost all the Toyko employees interviewed by the HSCA said that if LHO had been employed by the agency that they would have known it.

· Based on all the evidence, the HSCA found that Wilcott’s allegation was “not worthy of belief.”

CIA Problem Case

What could have been Wilcott's motivation for his allegations? Although he downplayed difficulties with the CIA during his HSCA testimony, it turns out that Wilcott was “a problem case” according to Bruce Solie of the CIA Office of Security. [6] And Wilcott admitted his dissatisfaction with the CIA began even before JFK was killed. [7]

It is rather surprising that Wilcott ended up at the CIA since his US Army service was also checkered. According to one report, Wilcott repeatedly “complained of backache, but medical examination revealed no organic cause.” The report went on to say that Wilcott “continually used his alleged medical disability in order to get out of work and built such a wal [sic] around himself that his company commander felt that he was of no use to his outfit." [8]

A CIA document created at the time of his employment shows that the CIA did have at least some reservations about Wilcott. “The first thing of note is the scattered work and educational history of this fellow,” the report began. “On paper, the case is all against him … but the guy has intelligence.” The report concluded “He’s had a tough life to say the least … I think he’ll do a competent job and perhaps with experience and training do a very good one.” [9] Despite the concerns noted by the Army and the CIA, Wilcott was accepted into the agency, perhaps in part because he and his wife Elsie applied jointly.

Wilcott’s problems with the agency began when he was arrested in November of 1964 for public drunkenness by the Washington DC police. At the time, Wilcott was “fighting” with a man named Ray Robinson, [10] who was an antiwar activist with a long criminal history. By July of 1965, Wilcott was under internal investigation by the CIA. [11] That investigation disclosed that Wilcott was associated with several left-wing activists with communist ties. [12]

On September 29, 1965, Wilcott was given a polygraph examination which he passed. [13] A pre-polygraph interview found Wilcott to be “very naive” and stated that he would “grin at odd times and chuckle at others” in a way that seemed inappropriate. [14] In July of that same year, a different interviewer had found Wilcott to be a “very na├»ve, gullible individual” and again reported inappropriate laughing. [15] Another report of Wilcott’s naivety was given by George Brun (this is probably George Breen, a CIA friend of Wilcott) who also said that Wilcott “aspires to be an intellectual” and “reads considerably in the field of economics and social studies.” [16]

Wilcott was interviewed by the CIA Deputy Director of Security, Harlan Westrell, who informed him that “he was very lucky that he had been transferred to Florida because this prevented him from becoming more deeply involved with the various [leftist] individuals." Westrell went on to say that the CIA’s concern was because “several of these individuals had long term communist connections and it appeared that a recruitment pitch had been directed toward the subject.” Furthermore, Wilcott was “given a warning that he must not associate with these individuals anymore” and advised that any “recurrence of his past conduct would be sufficient grounds for dismissal from the agency.” [17] No doubt due to his deteriorating relationship with the agency, Wilcott resigned effective April 15, 1966. [18]

Wilcott as Anti-War Activist and Conspiracy Theorist

Wilcott admitted during his HSCA testimony that he became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an anti-war group, while still employed by the CIA. [19] In 1965, the group's president stated that he wasn’t sure "how much longer we can stay non violent" and in 1969, the SNCC changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee to reflect this change in policy. [20]

In 1968, Wilcott began efforts to promote his JFK assassination theories and contacted Glad Day Press to recount his CIA experience. [21] In 1970, Wilcott joined the Peace and Freedom Party, a political party that promoted socialist and anti-war policies. A CIA report stated that Wilcott was “letting it be known to all members that he is a former CIA agent.” [22] Around this time while working in Utica, NY, Wilcott joined another anti-war group called the Vietnam Education Council and alleged that he was harassed by the CIA and FBI although he admitted he had no proof to back up his claims. [23]

In 1975, Wilcott’s LHO allegations were published in the college paper The Pelican and in 1977, he twice appeared on KPOO radio in San Francisco to discuss his LHO story. He also spoke to various private groups about his alleged experiences. [24]

Covert Action and the Cuban Youth Tribunal

In June 1978, Phillip Agee, a former CIA employee who wrote a book critical of the agency, William Schaap (who also served as Wilcott’s attorney during his HSCA testimony), James Wilcott and his wife Elsie founded Covert Action magazine. [25] The magazine continued Agee’s criticism of the CIA and featured a column called “Naming Names” which revealed the identities of undercover CIA officers. [26]

In 1982, the US Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which made it a federal crime to intentionally reveal the name of a covert agent. The law was a response to several incidents where CIA personal had their identities compromised. These incidents climaxed with the death of Athens CIA Station Chief Richard Welch in 1975 after a publication similar to Covert Action revealed Welch’s name. Covert Action was often mentioned as an impetus for the legislation and during a house debate, Congressman Bill Young said “What we're after today are the Philip Agees of the world.” [27]

In August 1978, Agee and both Wilcotts became willing propogandists for Castro’s communist government when they traveled to Cuba to participate in the World Youth Festival’s “Youth Tribunal.” The purpose of the invitation only “tribunal” was to absolve the island nation of any suggestion of guilt in the JFK assassination and promote the idea that the CIA killed JFK to prompt an invasion.

In his account of the assassination before the tribunal as reported by the Cuban state newspaper Gramma, Wilcott’s statements took on a sensational quality. Wilcott now said that before the assassination, “certain changes” in the station routine led him to believe that “something was going to happen.” On November 22, he had left Tokyo and upon his return was informed of JFK’s death and told to report to the station. There, he “found a scene of great jubilation and excitement.” Wilcott opined “It was obvious that the majority of the personnel at the station, especially those who had to do with operations, were excited and overjoyed abut Kennedy's assassination. This really bothered me because I supported Kennedy.”

According to Gramma, Wilcott said that during the next few days, “the substance of conversation among operations officers was that one shouldn't think that Kennedy's assassination was the work of a mad man. They gave specific details about high level, top secret meetings regarding the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) and how Kennedy was a traitor who deserved to die.”

The paper also reported that “Wilcott's colleagues told him the original plan involved passing Oswald off as a man solidly linked to the Cuban Government, so it would be possible to claim the assassination was the work of a Cuban agent. This then would provide the pretext for attacking Cuba. However, it was not possible to establish solid ties between Oswald and the Cuban Government, and this part of the plan was dropped.” [28] Wilcott’s story as told to the tribunal is greatly exaggerated when compared to what he told the HSCA in his sworn testimony.

In the HSCA files on Wilcott there is a reference to an alleged CIA cryptonym for the “Oswald Project” that apparently came from the notes of Wilcott's statements to an HSCA staffer. In the notes, Wilcott stated that the cryptonym was "RX-ZIM." However, when questioned under oath by the HSCA, Wilcott said he couldn't remember the cryptonym or the name of the CIA employee who allegedly told him about it (Wilcott HSCA Testimony page 12-13). He confirmed this in his manuscript titled “The Kennedy Assassination” which was published by the HSCA with his testimony and other evidence (see sources at the bottom of the page).

However, in a later statement before the Cuban “tribunal” Wilcott again commented on the cryptonym as well as the name of the employee that provided it. But even before the sympathetic Cubans, Wilcott could only say that the cryptonym was "something like RX-ZIM or a crypto of this kind with 2 consonants and 3 or 4 pronounceable letters." The name of the alleged employee is illegible in the copy I read which is at the John Armstrong Baylor archive. It is clear that Wilcott couldn’t remember either the cryptonym or the name of the employee with enough conviction to testify to these facts under oath. He probably feared that the HSCA would call the individual to testify and he would deny knowledge of the cryptonym and the "Oswald Project." It should be noted that The Mary Ferrell Foundation, which has an extensive list of cryptonyms, has labeled RX-ZIM as "speculative" since there is absolutely no corroborating evidence for Wilcott's claim and no other cryptonyms exist with the "RX" prefix.

The San Francisco Chronicle

Wilcott’s criticism of the CIA was “beyond the pale” in September, 1978, when he excoriated the agency during an interview he gave to liberal journalist Warren Hinckle for the San Francisco Chronicle. [29] Wilcott told Hinckle that the agency was "a perverse place of sexual blackmail, betraying friends, unleashing psychopaths, and hobnobbing with mobsters, of pseudonyms and cryptonyms, drunkards and ripoff artists, dirty money and dirty tricks and run-amok assassins, a place where error and folly were held sacred in the almighty name of secrecy."

The true source of the "shop talk" that the HSCA had charitably described and which led to Wilcott learning of the LHO "project" also became clear in this interview. Wilcott claimed that because the Toyko CIA station “controlled every aspect of Japanese society", they were able to offer scotch to employees at 75 cents a bottle and double martinis at a nickel. "At those prices" Wilcott quipped, "you almost couldn't afford not to drink." Hinckle reported "It was during these after-hours drinking sessions that Wilcott became aware of the nature of many secret CIA operations normally hidden by cryptonyms." Wilcott mentioned alcohol several times in the interview and CIA documents show that his superiors were at least somewhat concerned about his drinking. Given these facts, it is not surprising that Wilcott couldn't remember who told him about LHO.


It is obvious that Wilcott harbored bitterness toward the CIA for what he perceived as a bias against liberal minded employees and because of the agency's investigation and alleged harassment of him. It is likely that this attitude altered his perception of the events that he witnessed at the Tokyo station and resulted in him assigning sinister meaning to what was just scotch-soaked gossip. It is also clear that Wilcott crossed the line from activist to extremist with his later activities. This included being a co-founder of a magazine that potentially endangered the lives of CIA personal and traveling to Cuba at the invitation of Fidel Castro to bash America and promote the official Cuban view of the JFK case.

[1] See for example Harvey & Lee by John Armstrong, p. 890.

[2] Security File on James Bernard Wilcott Jr., p. 24.

[3] HSCA testimony of James B. Wilcott Jr., p. 12-13.

[4] All statements in the summary are taken from HSCA Final Report, p. 198-200 unless otherwise indicated.

[5] Security File on James Bernard Wilcott Jr., p. 17.

[6] Ibid., p. 11.

[7] HSCA testimony of James B. Wilcott Jr., p. 35.

[8] Security File on James Bernard Wilcott Jr., p. 153.

[9] Ibid., p. 159.

[10] Ibid., p. 77-79.

[11] Ibid., p. 96.

[12] Ibid., pp. 55-73.

[13] Ibid., p. 40.

[14] Ibid., p. 42.

[15] Ibid., p. 80, 93.

[16] Ibid., p. 38.

[17] Ibid., p. 36.

[18] Ibid., p. 27.

[19] HSCA testimony of James B. Wilcott Jr., p. 41.

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee

[21] HSCA testimony of James B. Wilcott Jr., p. 42.

[22] Security File on James Bernard Wilcott Jr., p. 19.

[23] HSCA testimony of James B. Wilcott Jr., pp. 29-32.

[24] Ibid., 43-44.

[25] http://sdonline.org/51/remembering-philip-agee/

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CovertAction_Quarterly

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_Identities_Protection_Act

[28] http://cuban-exile.com/doc_001-025/doc0020.html

[29] Warren Hinckle, "Couple Talks About Oswald and the CIA," San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1978.

Links to Sources

HSCA Final Report, pp. 198-200.

HSCA Testimony of James B. Wilcott, March 22, 1978.

Security File on James Bernard Wilcott Jr.

Unpublished and undated Manuscript, “The Kennedy Assassination.”

Wilcott Tokyo Employees List

San Francisco Chronicle Article


  1. Splashed some doubt here and there, didn't really look into other possibilities - this is pretty much a hit piece that leads the curious reader wanting more. They'll have to find it elsewhere. But I like your work generally speaking, so keep it up.


  2. Full name is Rob Stewart if that helps lend any credence to my comment :)

  3. Rob,

    The article has been updated with additional information.

  4. Nicely done, additional context is a good improvement.

    Rob again :)


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