“If they prove
that you are CIA,
demand back pay.”
—Letter from Discordian Society
co-founder Greg Hill to Kerry Thornley
dated February 19th, 1968
During the course of research for The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture (Amazon), I was unable to pin down any tangible evidence supporting these Thornley-CIA allegations and eventually just wrote them off as more of Garrison’s unsupported theories. Thus it came as a bit of a surprise to me when—in 2006—I happened upon Joan Mellen’s Farewell To Justice (Amazon) which stated in its preface:
“Kerry Thornley, the Marine Corps buddy of Lee Harvey Oswald, who told the Warren Commission that Oswald was a Marxist, turned out himself to have been a CIA employee trained, according to a CIA document, in Washington D.C., in chemical and biological warfare…”
At the time, this claim that Thornley was a documented CIA spook came as quite the stunner, and shortly afterwards I shared Mellen’s provocative pronouncement with Thornley’s long time friend, Louise Lacey, whose initial response was a sudden burst of laughter, followed by: “Dear, if Kerry was CIA, I think I would have known.”
“Dear, if Kerry was CIA,
I think I would have known.”
Louise, it should be noted, edited Thornley’s book Oswald for New Classics House back in 1965 and then later worked for Ramparts magazine as research director during Ramparts in-depth investigation of the JFK assassination, the first national magazine that was openly critical of the Warren Report. To this end, Louise worked alongside such notables as David Welsh, Mae Brussell, David Lifton and William Turner, and so when speaking of Thornley and/or the JFK assassination, Louise not only comes to the subject as someone who was a close friend of Thornley’s, but also someone involved very early on in JFK assassination research.
In Spring 2011, while conducting research for Caught in the Crossfire: Kerry Thornley, Lee Oswald and the Garrison Investigation (Amazon), I contacted Joan Mellen on how to go about obtaining a copy of this “CIA document” related to Kerry Thornley. Mellen replied that she’d send me a copy after she had time to recover from a recent medical ailment. Afterwards, I contacted Mellen periodically—on probably a half dozen occasions—but never heard back from her. Mellen, it should be noted, is still standing by her claim that Thornley was a CIA agent as evidenced in this recent interview.
More recently—on the advice of researcher Stu Wexler—I conducted a search of John Armstrong’s JFK assassination files at Baylor University online, where, lo and behold, I came across a copy of the document in question, which I post here for review.
In Farewell to Justice, Mellen identified the above as a CIA document and, alternately, as a DOD document. Page one clearly identifies it as a DOD document “translation” which was created as a request to the DOD from the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978. The upper right hand corner of the document is stamped:
Patricia Orr was a researcher for the HSCA and it appears that the document is her translation of Thornley’s service record. The document confirms that Thornley received training in biological and chemical warfare, but how Mellen arrived at the conclusion that this training was conducted by the CIA is unclear. In fact, there’s no mention of the CIA anywhere in the document—unless one is reading deeply between the lines. Well, there are the three last letters of Orr’s first name to consider perhaps.
It should be noted that Thornley received this biological and chemical warfare training at Atsugi Base in Japan which served as a CIA outpost during this period. In this regard, it’s conceivable that Thornley—and other Marines stationed at Atsugi—could have received training from CIA personnel also stationed at the base, but Mellen’s assertion that Thornley was a CIA employee is unsupported by the DOD document. What the thinker thinks, the prover proves…
On page 276 of Farewell To Justice, Mellen writes:
“From the Department of Defense files comes a document placing Thornley as a CIA employee who attended Chemical and Biological Warfare School. Receiving ‘technical instruction’ in Washington, D.C., Thornley moved from ‘confidential’ to ‘secret’ clearance. His course in ‘Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ ran from June to August 1960, and had begun at Atsugi…”
The term Mellen uses—“technical instruction”—actually appears in Thornley’s service records as “Tech instruct” which was an abbreviation for “Technique of Instruction,” a Marine Corps competition Thornley entered during this period.
According to the author’s page of Oswald, Thornley “…served in the Far East, in the First Marine Aircraft Wing, and distinguished himself again as a public speaker on political/philosophical issues by winning first place in the Wing Technique of Instruction Competition. He was therefore sent to Washington to appear in the finals…”
The August 1959 edition of Leatherneck magazine also mentions that the Technique of Instruction competition was scheduled to be held in September 1959 in Washington, DC., which is listed in an entry from page 3 of Thornley’s DOD file:
|14 Sep 59
|to TAD||Wash, DC|
While Joan Mellen found Thornley’s visit to Washington, D.C. somehow suspect, his service record—and other supporting documents which I post here—suggest that he was simply attending a Marine Corps public speaking competition, which was certainly nothing unusual for Thornley. According to the author’s bio page in Oswald: “While attending high school in Whittier, California, [Thornley] had won a number of public speaking competitions, including the Voice of Democracy Contest.”
According to Joan Mellen, after Thornley received his “technical instruction” in Washington, D.C., in September of ‘59, he was “…moved from ‘confidential’ to ‘secret’ clearance….” This suggested (to Mellen, at least) that Thornley had graduated from Marines Corps Corporal to Secret Agent with the CIA.
It should be noted that “secret” clearance in and of itself is not special or unique and just because Thornley received “secret” clearance doesn’t mean he was a “CIA employee.” As my friend and former Air Force Office of Special Investigation (AFOSI) Special Agent, Walter Bosley, recently informed me:
“SECRET is the first level of anything close to serious, but it’s not the big prize level. It’s the first level of stuff that can get someone in big serious trouble if they mishandle it or, God forbid, sell it. There are a lot more personnel with SECRET than with TOP SECRET and beyond, of course, but it’s not insignificant.”
According to Thornley’s DOD file, he was assigned as “Avn Elec oper”, shorthand for Aviation Electronics Operator.
These duties were performed at Atsugi Base from which the U2 flights originated during this period, at the height of the Cold War. I would venture to guess that other enlisted men in Thornley’s unit who performed similar duties also held “secret” clearance.
On page 67 of Farewell to Justice, Mellen endorses Garrison’s theory that the Old Post Office Building in New Orleans (also known as The Customs House) —located “across from Banister’s office”—was some sort of CIA spook central gathering place for, as Garrison described them, a “…number of young men who have been identified as CIA employees….” Garrison erroneously identified these CIA employees as Kerry Thornley, Lee Oswald, Thomas Beckham and Jack Martin, among others.
As it turns out, the Old Post Office Building was not exactly “across from Banister’s office” as Garrison described, but in reality a half mile away—or as Mellen more accurately notes in Farewell to Justice—in “close proximity.”
While Oswald was most likely involved in intelligence work during his Marine Corps service and afterwards, the claim that he was a CIA employee has never been conclusively demonstrated. To further suggest that Jack Martin or Thomas Beckham were CIA employees seems based primarily on the many sensational claims made by Beckham and Martin themselves in which I place little, if any, stock. This is not to say that I completely rule out any or all of these theories suggesting that Beckham or Martin might have been CIA agents or connected in some way to the Agency. However, these allegations are just that: theories to which Garrison never produced any substantial supporting evidence.
Lastly—to toss more water on this smoldering fire—I recently stumbled upon the following declassified CIA document (at the National Archives online database) dated January 1968.
Given the 1968 date, one can assume that this document was prepared in response to Garrison’s allegation that Kerry Thornley was a CIA agent. In this regard, the document lists Thornley’s CIA connections as “None.”
But, of course, THEY would deny it!