According to a 1992 CIA release that summarizes Clay Shaw's contacts with the CIA:
"A memorandum marked only for file, 16 March 1967, signed Marguerite D. Stevens, says that J. Monroe SULLIVAN, #280207, was granted a covert security approval on 10 December 1962 so that he could be used in Project QKENCHANT. SHAW has #402897-A."
William Davy, in Let Justice Be Done, has argued that this memo shows that Clay Shaw was "an active covert operative." Others, including an alleged ex-CIA employee posting on the internet, have maintained that QKNCHANT involved only routine debriefing of people in the trade industry, and that Clay Shaw's involvement, if any, was unwitting. What was Project QKENCHANT? In an attempt to shed some light on this question I will examine several CIA documents.
According to a CIA document (RIF #104-10418-1042) one Guy D. Johnson "was granted a covert security clearance on 12 January 1954 to permit his use in the U.S., for cover purposes in connection with project QKENCHANT." This was not the Guy Johnson who was an acquaintance of Jim Garrison and at one time a lawyer of Clay Shaw, but a businessman involved in the exporting of printing equipment. According to his obituary in the New York Times, posted by Jerry Shinley on May 26, 1999, "Mr. Johnson had traveled extensively in Latin America, selling printing equipment ..." There are two points in this memo worth noting. First, the reference to Johnson being used for "cover purposes." Secondly the memo states: "His security file does not reflect whether he was actually used." Obviously even CIA analysts have only limited knowledge of CIA activities.
Let us take a closer look at another CIA memo (#104-10119-10323) concerning a Covert Security Approval (CSA). This memo originated from C/CCS (Chief/Central Cover Staff). This memo states:
1. ... "E. Howard Hunt, who retired from CIA effective 30 April 1970 is now an employee of the Robert M. Mullen Company in Washington D.C., and it will be necessary to make him witting on our relationship with the company." 2. This will verify the conversation between Messrs. Mahoney and Luskokie on 28 May 1970 in which a CSA under project QKENCHANT was requested concerning Mr. Hunt Robert D. Gahagen Chief Central Cover Staff Corporate Cover Branch"
A great deal of information is available about the CIA's use of the Mullen Company. According to memo from Howard J. Osborne, Director of Security at the CIA dated June 21, 1972: "Since 1963, a total of eight people of the Mullen Company have been cleared and made witting of Agency ties, mainly in providing CIA cover overseas." (Quoted in Mormon Spies, Hughes and the CIA by Jerald Tanner, citing Committee on The Judiciary, Testimony of Witnesses, Book 3, pages 11-2.)
According to The Nelson Rockefeller Report to The President by the Commission on CIA Activities (Manor Books, 1975), p. 175: "After Hunt came to work for Mullen he was told, with CIA's consent of the existing cover arrangements so that he could deal with administrative matters when necessary during Mullen's frequent absences from Washington." Also according to the Rockefeller report, "Robert Mullen had, however, for many years cooperated with the CIA by making some of his overseas offices available at different times as a cover for Agency employees abroad."
Another document that refers to QKENCHANT is #104-10121-10355, in which a QKENCHANT clearance was requested for Peter Robert Maheu, "a former Office of Security clerical employee and the son of Robert A. Maheu." A clearance was also requested for a bookkeeper employed by Robert A. Maheu & Associates which "the Agency is using for cover purposes." The memo also states that "Robert A . Maheu "was granted a Covert Security clearance to permit his use by Central Cover Staff to permit his use by Central Cover Staff as a covert associate under Project LPHIDDEN. According to Central Cover Staff, he has been utilized since that time and the above firm is being utilized to provide cover for an agent in South America." (Before the words "being utilized" someone has inserted a handwritten word that I cannot make out. It has 3 or 4 letters and ends in "o".)
CIA document #104-10124-10103 refers to a request for a QKENCHANT clearance for Hugh Chisholm McDonald, the author of the book Appointment in Dallas. The memo is dated 8/3/76, after that book came out. This memo states: "Office of Security records do not support Mr. McDonald's claims to Agency employment or involvement in clandestine operations. From 1955 to circa 1061 Mr. McDonald, as an independent contractor, assisted Technical Service Division/Authentication Division/DDP in the development of the Identikit.."
In May 1969 McDonald formed World Associates, Inc. The memo states: "In June 1969 Central Cover Staff evidenced interest in Mr. McDonald under Project QKENCHANT. Commencing in January 1970 Mr. McDonald initiated meetings with the Domestic Contact Service suggesting that his firm, World Associates, Inc., soon to be involved internationally in bank security, could be used for intelligence procurement. The Office of Security files do not reflect the outcome of the Domestic Contact Service and the Central Cover Staff interests."
Another CIA document that references QKENCHANT is #104-10435-10001 titled "Memo No. 9, Garrison and the Kennedy Investigation":
"a. Mark LANE said on the acknowledgment page of Rush To Judgement: ‘I am deeply indebted to Benjamin SONNENBERG, Jr. whose numerous and invaluable suggests have found their way into this volume.
b. Benjamin SONNENBERG was granted a CSA on 29 June 1959 for use under Project QKENCHANT. The CSA was revalidated for continued use on 26 July 1965." Mr. Sonnenberg is described as a director of the publishing firm of Henry Holt & Co, the publisher of Lane's book.
Conclusion: Clearly QKENCHANT was a project of the Central Cover Staff not the Domestic Contact Service. The CIA used American companies doing business overseas to provide cover for CIA agents–which it still does today as the Valerie Plame affair shows. Apparently any employee of a company used for purposes of cover who would need to, or was likely to, become aware of the CIA's use of that company would require a Covert Security Approval for utilization under that project–codename Project QKENCHANT. The President or Director of the company used would likely be aware that his company was providing cover for CIA employees overseas. The bookkeeper, as in Robert Maheu & Associates, might require approval as well, particularly if he was involved in payroll. Others, as apparently was the case for J. Monroe Sullivan of the International Trade Mart, would be approved for unwitting use. These might be employees who did not have a need to know but who might find out nonetheless. So what of Clay Shaw? Given his position one would expect that he would have a Covert Security Approval for use in QKENCHANT, most likely on a witting basis. But it is not at all clear that this was the case. J. Monroe Sullivan had a QKENCHANT clearance, although on an "unwitting basis". But the memo that started the controversy says only that "Shaw has #402897-A." This only proves that the CIA had a file on Shaw and assigned him a file number. Furthermore, according to #104-10012-10017:
"Traces on Subject have been run in RID/Main Index, the index of Security and the Central Cover Staff. The first showed only a 1951 FBI interview with SHAW about a former employee of the New Orleans Trade Mart. The second showed that 00/Contacts Division had requested a name trace about 1949 and that the check of FBI records then conducted was negative. Central Cover Staff has no record."
Clearly the Central Cover Staff should have had a record if Shaw had been cleared for QKENCHANT. As Jerry Shinley posted on 26 April 2000 at alt.assassination.jfk, "this clearly shows that the CIA did not possess the information to run a thorough security check on Shaw and that the only Office of Security record on Shaw was the 1949 name check. If Shaw had been approved for QKENCHANT, that should have come up during the Office of Security check." Given that the CIA was apparently using the International Trade Mart under QKENCHANT for cover purposes, it is a bit surprising that Shaw may not have had a CSA under Project QKENCHANT. Further research is clearly called for.