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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman October 16, 2019

No evidence JFK said any US coup would ‘come from the CIA not the Pentagon’

Did President John F. Kennedy really say that if the United States ever experienced a coup it would come from the CIA? 

That’s what one Facebook post claims. The post features a photo of President Kennedy with text alongside that reads:

"If the United States ever experienced [a coup to overthrow the government] it will come from the CIA and not the Pentagon.’ JFK"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The internet often attributes this statement to Kennedy, but there is no evidence that he said or wrote it.

We see the quote widely linked to Kennedy in unsourced social media posts. But we could not locate any variation of the statement in several searches of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation website.

Researchers at the JFK Presidential Library told PolitiFact they haven’t come across the quote in Kennedy’s papers or addresses, either.

"We've never found any evidence in the archives here that John F. Kennedy said or wrote this statement," Stacey Chandler, a reference archivist with the library, wrote in an email. "We do, however, have archival evidence that the article that featured the quotation was the subject of some concern in the administration, based on a National Security Council meeting about Vietnam that took place the same day the article was published."

Chandler pointed us to an Oct. 2, 1963, article by Scripps-Howard staff writer Richard Starnes, who was reporting from Saigon, Vietnam, at the time. 

The article, "‘Arrogant’ CIA Disobeys Orders in Viet Nam," was published in the Washington Daily News. The following passage appears about halfway through the article:

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"Other American agencies here are incredibly bitter about the CIA. 'If the United States ever experiences a 'Seven Days in May' it will come from the CIA, and not the Pentagon,' one U.S. official commented caustically."

"Seven Days in May" is a fictional book, published in 1962, of a military attempt to overthrow the U.S. government.

Starnes adds later in the article that a "very high American official here, a man who has spent much of his life in the service of democracy, likened the CIA's growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure even the White House could control it any longer."

But he doesn’t name that official and indicates that several anonymous sources provided quotes like that of the "U.S. official" to whom the coup comment is attributed. 

A New York Times article about Starnes’ report was published the following day. In it, reporter Arthur Krock wrote about Starnes’ article and combines some of the quotes into one paragraph: 

"Among the views attributed to United States officials on the scene, including one described as a 'very high American official...who has spent much of his life in service of democracy...are the following: The CIA's growth was 'likened to a malignancy; which the 'very high official was not sure even the White House could control...any longer.' 'If the United States ever experiences [an attempt at a coup to overthrow the Government] it will come from the CIA and not the Pentagon.' The agency 'represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone.'"

This passage puts the "very high American official" in close proximity to the quotation in question, and may be the reason people started to attach the words to Kennedy. 

"In the archives here, we do have evidence that John F. Kennedy was aware of the Starnes piece," Chandler said. She said Kennedy mentioned it in the Oct. 2, 1963, National Security Council meeting, according to the meeting summary (located on page 27 of the scanned document here):

"The President then asked what we should say about the news story attacking CIA which appeared in today's Washington Daily News. He read a draft paragraph for inclusion in the public statement but rejected it as being too fluffy. He felt no one would believe a statement saying that there were no differences of view among the various US agencies represented in Saigon. He thought that we should say now we had a positive policy endorsed by the National Security Council and that such policy would be carried out by all concerned."

Our ruling

A Facebook post claims President John F. Kennedy once said "If the United States ever experienced [a coup to overthrow the government] it will come from the CIA and not the Pentagon."

But there is no evidence that proves JFK said the statement. A news article from October 1963 quoting an anonymous "U.S. official" appears to be the original source for the quotation. In the years since, people have assumed that person was Kennedy, but JFK scholars have not made that explicit leap.

We rate this False. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Oct. 7, 2019 

John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, JOHN F. KENNEDY QUOTATIONS, Accessed Oct. 15, 2019

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Archive search, Oct. 15, 2019, Washington Daily News 'ARROGANT' CIA DISOBEYS ORDERS IN VIET NAM," Oct. 2, 1963

New York Times, "The Intra-Administration War in Vietnam," Oct. 3, 1963

Email Interview, Matt Porter communications officer at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Oct. 14-15, 2019

Email Interview, Stacey Chandler reference archivist as the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Oct. 15, 2019 

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No evidence JFK said any US coup would ‘come from the CIA not the Pentagon’

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