top of page
  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Was Clay Shaw a "Contract Agent" for the CIA?

The recent Oliver Stone documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, makes the claim that Clay Shaw was a "highly valued contract agent" of the CIA.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript: (at 1:17:15)

Whoopi Goldberg: The [Assassination Record] Review Board has shown these denials to be false. Shaw was both a highly valued contract agent and had a covert security clearance for a project codenamed QK/ENCHANT.

Where did these incredible claims come from?

I will start with the first claim about Shaw being a contract agent.

Joan Mellen, in her book, A Farewell to Justice, claimed that she found a smoking gun that proved Clay Shaw worked for the CIA: (page 388)

"Incontrovertible proof has come to hand from the bowels of the CIA itself convicting Shaw of perjury. Notwithstanding CIA's insistence that "we have never remunerated him." Shaw had indeed worked as an employee for CIA, a job for which he was paid handsomely, according to the Agency. CIA's History Staff surveyed CIA records that had been made available to the House Select Committee on Assassinations between 1977 and 1979. There were sixty-four sequestered boxes of documents and the one outing Clay Shaw as an Agency employee was among them.
"In 1992, the PROJFILES "CIA Matters," a component of CIA addressed by its History Staff, released a document that entirely vindicates Jim Garrison in his conviction that Shaw was acting not for himself in his relationship with Oswald, but for the Central Intelligence Agency. CIA prefaces its revelation about Shaw with a predictable disclaimer. The Agency declares that nothing was found in the records "that indicates any CIA role in the Kennedy assassination or assassination conspiracy (if there was one) or any CIA involvement with Oswald." Then CIA's History Staff Chief, J. Kenneth McDonald, adds:
"These records do reveal, however, that Clay Shaw was a highly paid CIA contract source until 1956."

CIA Document RIF #104-10428-10104, dated February 10, 1992, page 3. Section seven notes that "Clay Shaw was a highly paid CIA contract source until 1956."

Note that the document says "contract source" and not "contract agent."

To Garrisonites, this document was akin to the Rosetta Stone.

Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter and prominent JFK conspiracy theorist, made a big deal out of this document on his blog,

But there are problems.

Shaw was a domestic contact source until 1956; might the word contract be a simple typo?

Or perhaps a 1955 document that refers to Shaw as a “valued source” of the CIA’s Domestic Contact Service was misunderstood by the unknown person who compiled this information in 1992.

This 1955 document is indeed in the segregated collection. You can find it in reel 17. "This set of CIA documents is a microfilmed collection of documents to which the House Select Committee on Assassinations had access, split into 72 reels. See also a related and overlapping set of documents which were not recorded on microfilm."

It is important to note the McDonald summary document in question (which is factually unreliable for reasons apart from its description of Shaw) was not prepared contemporaneously during Shaw’s years of service to the Agency, but decades later. It was compiled for the purpose of describing a collection of assassination-related documents the Agency was preparing to release at the order of then CIA Director Robert Gates, months before the Assassination Records Collection Act became law. All of this material was given to the HSCA.

As for the document's reliability, researcher Paul Hoch has found another example of where this document was wrong. It refers to "records relating to Gilberto Alvarado, who maintained that he witnessed Cubans passing Oswald cash at a party on the night before the assassination." In fact, this description is obviously a confused mashup of two allegations that were separately made: one by Gilberto Alvarado in 1963 (which he ultimately retracted), and another, made later, by Elena Garro de Paz.

The date given for this twist party (November 21) matches neither allegation and is obviously an error, thus suggesting that the 1992 document is not exactly a completely reliable accounting of what is in the CIA's own archive.

On the night before the assassination, Oswald was in Dallas with Marina at Ruth Paine's house (thus he could not have received cash in Alvarado's presence or have been at a party in Mexico City). Oswald was only in Mexico City from September 26 to October 3. If he attended a party - which is a big if - it could only have happened during this time period.

The 1992 memo was written by J. Kenneth McDonald, a CIA historian. Max Holland spoke with McDonald who told him:

“His recollection was that the memo was assembled from a couple of summaries that were prepared for him by the History Staff”

In an email Holland noted that "Unless someone can produce a document contemporaneous with Shaw's service as a domestic contact source that states he was well-remunerated or compensated, then I think whatever extant documents we have from his actual service trump a description in a summary that was prepared hastily."

It seems clear that the History Staff made an error. The actual documents sequestered by the CIA are available and none of them mentions "contract source." If that term had actually appeared in any document that the HSCA examined, we would have known this well before 1992. In addition, the term "contract source" is not in the standard CIA lexicon. Searching for "contract source" on the Mary Ferrell website only returns the 1992 document.

Jerry Shinley has also raised the possibility of a scribal error. He noticed that there are typist's initials on the document:

Is it possible that something like "highly-rated CIA contact source" was rendered as "highly-paid CIA contract source"? Could the typist has been working from a handwritten draft or from an audio recording?

Other documents in the CIA file on Shaw contradict the notion that Shaw was paid or that there is an inkling of truth in the Paese Sera allegations. These were prepared in 1967, during the height of the CIA’s concern that Garrison might actually know about the Agency’s innocuous relationship with Shaw and purposely misrepresent it in public utterances. A document dated 16 October 1967 flatly stated that Shaw was never remunerated for his services.

Conspiracy theorists who jumped on the 1992 document have to face the fact that there are no CIA documents that support the allegation that Shaw was paid by the CIA. No doubt, they will fall back on the old standby that the documents must have been destroyed (see below). That doesn't quite work in this case because the documents were sequestered by the CIA, seen by the HSCA and examined again in 1992.

Now on to Project QK/ENCHANT.

J. Monroe Sullivan was the Executive Director of the San Francisco World Trade Center and he was with Clay Shaw on November 22, 1963. He certainly had approval under QKENCHANT - but it was on an "unwitting" basis. The 'covert' in 'covert security approval' appears to mean that the approval itself was covert, not that Shaw was approved for covert operations.

The number after Clay Shaw's name #402897-A was not related to QKENCHANT. It's just a CIA identifying number for Clay Shaw that you find on many documents.

That is certainly not definitive. But, QKENCHANT was not an operational project. And so there is absolutely no evidence that Clay Shaw was an operational agent of the CIA.

JFK Revisited is very selective in the information it provides to viewers. The film omits paragraph b. above, and its highlights of paragraph c. do not include the 1949 date - well before Project QKENCHANT even started.

Clay Shaw was just a source for the Domestic Contact Service from 1948 to 1956.


Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page