PRISCILLA JOHNSON BIO.
Priscilla Johnson McMillan
Priscilla Livingston Johnson was born in Glen Cove, New York, on 19th July, 1928. As a student she was a member of the United World Federalists, an organization run by Cord Meyer. After graduating with a master's degree from Radcliffe College in 1952 she applied to join the Central Intelligence Agency.
According to CIA files she was rejected because some of her associates would require more investigation. The document was signed by Cord Meyer, who was now chief of CIA Investigations and Operational Support. On 17th March, 1953, W. A. Osborne, sent a memo to Sheffield Edwards, head of CIA security, that after checking out Johnson's associates he "recommended approval." However, on 23rd March he sent another memo saying that "in light of her activities in the United World Federalists" he now "recommended that she be disapproved".
In 1953 Johnson went to work for Senator John F. Kennedy. The following year she worked as a translator for the Digest of Soviet Press. In 1955 Johnson moved to the Soviet Union where she worked as a translator for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This time the CIA made no objection to Johnson having access to classified information.
Priscilla Johnson returned to the United States in April 1957. The CIA continued to take an interest in Johnson. In a CIA document dated 23rd August, 1957, Johnson was described as being born in Stockholm, Sweden, on 23rd September 1922. It also stated that during the Second World War she was "utilized by OSO (Office of Special Operations) in 1943 and 1944". John M. Newman has speculated that Johnson was being given a cover story of someone who had a "good security record".
In February 1958 Johnson traveled to Cairo. The following month she was in Paris. According to her own testimony she worked for "someone I knew either for Radio Liberty or the Congress for Cultural Freedom." While in France she applied to the USSR consulate to go to the Soviet Union. On 6th May, 1958, the Chief of CI/OA submitted a request for operational approval on Johnson. The operation for which she was being considered is still classified.
Johnson arrived in Moscow for the third time on 4th July, 1958. She did not stay for long and returned to the United States. Soon afterwards she obtained employment as a reporter for the North American News Alliance (NANA). Johnson arrived back in Moscow soon after Arline Mosby had interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald (13th November, 1959).
On her arrival Johnson checked into the same hotel as Osward. The following day she visited the American Embassy to pick up her mail (16th November, 1959). According to Johnson, John McVickar approached her and told her that "there's a guy in your hotel who wants to defect, and he won't talk to any of us here". She later told the Warren Commission: "John McVickar said she was refusing to talk to journalists. So I thought that it might be an exclusive, for one thing, and he was right in my hotel, for another." As Johnson was leaving the American Embassy McVickar told her "to remember she was an American."
John McVickar and Richard Snyder in Moscow
Lee Harvey Oswald agreed to be interviewed by Johnson. She later testified that they talked from between nine until one or two in the morning. Oswald told her: "Once having been assured by the Russians that I would not have to return to the United States, come what may, I assumed it would be safe for me to give my side of the story."
Johnson's article appeared in the Washington Evening Star. Surprisingly, the article did not include Oswald's threat to reveal radar secrets. Nor was it mentioned in any other article or book published by Johnson on Oswald. However, under oath before the Warren Commission she admitted that Oswald had told her that "he hoped his experience as a radar operator would make him more desirable to them (the Soviets)".
On 11th December, 1962, a CIA memo written by Donald Jameson (declassified in August, 1993) reported: "I think that Miss Johnson can be encouraged to write pretty much the articles we want. It will require a little more contact and discussion, but I think she could come around... Basically, if approached with sympathy in the cause she considers most vital, I believe she would be interested in helping us in many ways. It would be important to avoid making her think that she was being used as a propaganda tool and expected to write what she is told."
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy Johnson wrote an article for the Boston Globe where she described Lee Harvey Oswald as a classic example of an "embittered psychological loner". She added: "I soon came to feel that this boy was of the stuff of which fanatics are made."
Another CIA document dated dated 5th February, 1964, reports on a 11 hour meeting with Johnson. The main objective of the meeting was to debrief Johnson "on her flaps with the Soviets when she was in the USSR, notably at the time of her last exit." She was also asked if she "would be interested in writing articles for Soviet publications." Gary Coit, the CIA officer who conducted the interview with Johnson reported that "no effort was made to attempt to force the issue of a debriefing on her contacts". However, Coit told her he would "probably be back to see her from time to time to see what she knows about specific persons whose names might come up, and she at least nodded assent to this."
Other books by Priscilla Johnson McMillan include Khrushchev and the Arts (1965) and The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the Birth of the Modern Arms Race (2005). Articles by her have been published in Harper's Magazine, The Reporter, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Boston Globe.
© John Simkin, September 1997 - June 2013