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Was Kerry Thornley CIA?

“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


It’s long been rumored that Kerry Thornley was a CIA agent, a salvo first fired by Jim Garrison in his February 21st, 1968 press release which stated that Thornley was among a “…number of young men who have been identified as CIA employees, Thornley had a post office box in the federal building across from Banister’s office. Such post office boxes are customarily used by federal employees with clandestine assignments as ‘message drops’ as well as an acceptable excuse for regular visits into a federal building. Another of the young men having such a post office box was Lee Harvey Oswald. What this means is simply that Kerry Thornley and Lee Oswald were both part of the covert federal operation operating in New Orleans….”

Jim Garrison’s February 21, 1968 press release
'identifying' Kerry Thornley as a CIA employee.

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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 Lacey

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.

Page 1 of Kerry Thornley's DOD file.

Download All 3 Pages in PDF

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…”

Photocopy of author's bio page taken from Kerry Thornley's Oswald.

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
Tech instr
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.”

A writeup from Kerry Thornley's 1957 high school yearbook
on his participation in 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.

Kerry Thornley in the Marines.

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.

Document produced by Jim Garrison which lists
the young men 'employed by the CIA post office....'

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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.

Declassified CIA document which lists Thornley’s CIA connections as 'None.'

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!

9 replies on “Was Kerry Thornley CIA?”

Gorightly has gone wrongly here. His article is typical of so-called analysts who poke around the fringes with parsing semantic exercises while leaving the thick heart of evidence untouched. Seeing Gorightly’s style I wouldn’t trust anything he wrote.

A real researcher would go deeper and seek affirmation of exactly who and what handled Thornley’s technical training and which Marines were sent back for such technical training. If you have knowledge of good deep research like DiEugenio and some of the other better more well known assassination researchers, Gorightly is making a conspicuously shallow attempt that doesn’t truly seek what he pretends to be looking for and only seeks to dismiss Mellen’s accusations. The internet is full of these brave contrarians like Greg Parker, Martin Hay, Lee Farley and others, however they are just real evidence attackers posing as bold questioners of main conspiracy theory beliefs. The lack of certification of Thornley’s technical training should clue you that it was covert training.

A credible researcher would dwell more on Thornley’s real interactions with Oswald at the Bourbon House bar and how Thornley lied about not meeting Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. Garrison was shrewd and was on to the conspiracy. He was so in this case too. Gorightly pretends to be a critic but then turns around and shows no interest in the author of a book about Oswald (Thornley) trying to get away with saying he couldn’t remember if he was sitting next to the person who was so interesting he decided to write a book about him. This is OK with Gorightly – even though it was witnessed by numerous people who were then not followed through on. It’s obvious to anyone with common sense that Thornley’s sitting next to the most radioactive spook in America at the time had to have intriguing connotation other than “I simply can’t remember” and that there was much more to Thornley than he wanted people to know. There were also timing problems with his California trip account and he got out of town fast after the assassination and became a weird doorman who interacted with Roselli.

Hi Albert,

Honored to have your presence here. Hail Eris!

You state that the supposed Thornley/Oswald sighting “…was witnessed by numerous people who were then not followed through on.” Please cite these numerous people for me (full names), and any specific sources, primary documents, links that support this claim, i.e. witness statements, etc.

Also refer to my series on Barbara Reid here at historiadiscordia which might help to inform you further on the subject.

Beast, Adam

That CIA document looks more like the type of thing used to discuss periodicals and such (open source intelligence, see the listed source) than a response to what Garrison said. I suppose that it is indirectly in response to that, however it doesn’t seem like the type of thing that would be prepared for the public. It was probably made because the CIA was mentioned(?), or to have this information for reference in case it was, or would become, useful for another reason, such as those names in all CAPS(or both).

Either way, it does state there was no affiliation with the CIA, and since it is most likely an internal document I doubt they would have falsified information on it, but who knows.

I always found Kerry Thornley to be an interesting character, but you are making me want to investigate this stuff myself since there seems to be so much more out there that may have been overlooked. I found The Prankster and the Conspiracy to be entertaining and informative, so I guess I need to pick up Caught in the Crossfire and take a look at other books about this topic, plus Thornley’s own books related to Oswald. Fun stuff!

Hi rygD,

Yeah, I was speculating somewhat on the doc. When I mean “in response”, I’m guessing when the CIA heard allegations from Garrison that Thornley and others were CIA, they put together a list and did a brief write-up on who the individuals were and also confirmed within the agency that they were not CIA employees, or had not been in involved in contract work with the agency. I think they probably accessed FBI docs to put the information together. But yes, an internal document, for their own knowledge, and something to refer to when these allegations would spring up.

It seem Mr. Gorightly wants Thornley to be innocent so badly he’d disregard obvious damning evidence in his own writings. Anyone who isn’t a “discordian” can see past this BS. Or maybe that’s the purpose of the article, to throw a bunch of shit out to readers and let them argue over it? One would have to believe all the links were only coincidences, and that Thornley was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. The odds are astronomical. Also his involvement in the 60s “counterculture” puts him in the thick of intelligence activity. Damn wherever Thornley goes he’s always surrounded by spooks! Another coincidence! Hardly.

What’s the damning evidence, Mr. Jimmy? And evidence of what? That anyone involved in the ’60s counterculture was somehow part of intelligence agency activity and by extension were involved in the Kennedy assassination? Also, provide a list of whom you claim were spooks that surrounded Thornley, and I’ll go through them with you one by one, so we’re clear just whom we are discussing here.

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