John A. McCone, Director of Central Intelligence

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John Alexander McCone

Death: 1991 (88-89)
Immediate Family:

Son of Alexander J. McCone and Margaret ("Maggie") Enright
Husband of Juneau Theiline McGee

Managed by: Private User
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About John A. McCone, Director of Central Intelligence

John Alexander McCone (January 4, 1902 - February 14, 1991) was an American businessman and politician who served as Director of Central Intelligence during the height of the Cold War.


McCone was born in San Francisco, California. His father ran iron foundries across California, a business started in Nevada in 1860 by McCone's grandfather. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1922 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, beginning his career in Los Angeles' Llewellyn Iron Works. He rose swiftly and in 1929, when several works merged to become the Consolidated Steel Corporation, he became executive vice president. He also founded Bechtel-McCone. A prominent industrialist, McCone also served for more than twenty years as a governmental advisor and official, including head positions at the AEC and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He also worked for the ITT corporation. McCone's political affiliation was with the Republican Party.

Atomic Energy Commission

In 1958, he became chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, in December 1960, while still Atomic Energy Commission chairman, McCone revealed CIA information about Israel's Dimona nuclear weapons plant to the New York Times. Hersh writes that President John F. Kennedy was "fixated" on the Israeli nuclear weapons program and appointed McCone CIA director in part because of his willingness to deal with this and other nuclear weapons issues - and despite the fact that McCone was a Republican.

Director of Central Intelligence

After the disaster of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, president John F. Kennedy forced the resignation of the CIA director Allen Dulles and some of his staff. McCone replaced Dulles on November 29, 1961.

He was a key figure in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM) during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In the Honeymoon telegram of September 20, 1962, he insisted that the CIA remain imaginative when it came to Soviet weapons policy towards Cuba, as a September 19 National Intelligence Estimate had concluded it unlikely that nuclear missiles would be placed on the island. (The telegram was so named because McCone sent it while on his honeymoon in Paris, France, accompanied not only by his bride, but by a CIA cipher team.)

McCone's suspicions of the inaccuracy of this assessment proved to be correct, as it was later found out the Soviet Union had followed up its conventional military build up with the installation of MRBMs (Medium Range Ballistic Missiles) and IRBMs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles), sparking off the crisis in October when they were later spotted by CIA's Lockheed U-2 surveillance flights. This correct judgement be McCone has been attributed to his innate scepticism of Soviet intentions, which have been described as 'a visceral mistrust'. His background in engineering and business may also have been a factor. Knowing the difficulty and expense that the Soviets would have incurred installing a SAM umbrella to include areas of no tactical significance, McCone could have reasoned that the consensus view at the time (that the military reinforcement of Cuba was merely intended to make it a harder target for the US to attack) was unlikely.

While McCone was DCI, the CIA was involved in many covert plots, including ones involving Laos (with the Hmong), Ecuador,[citation needed] Brazil,[citation needed] and Cuba. He apparently disapproved of Operation Mongoose, the plot to assassinate Fidel Castro.[citation needed] He would later tell DCI Stansfield Turner that the CIA actions in Chile were the work of Richard Helms, who didn't tell McCone what he was doing.[citation needed] However he was involved in the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état;[citation needed] he was friends with ITT president Harold Geneen whose company stood to lose its Brazilian subsidiary if president João Goulart nationalized it. McCone would later work for ITT.

McCone represented the CIA's opposition to U.S. support of a coup in South Vietnam against President Ngo Dinh Diem, but such objections were overruled by November 1963, when the State Department managed to convince Kennedy to allow the coup to proceed.

McCone resigned from his position of DCI in April 1965, believing himself to be unappreciated by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who he complained, would not read his reports, including on the need for full-fledged inspections of Israeli nuclear facilities. Upon his resignation, McCone submitted a final policy memorandum to Johnson arguing that Johnson's expansion of the war in Vietnam would arouse national and world discontent before it brought down the North Vietnamese regime.


Throughout his career, McCone served on numerous commissions that made recommendations on issues as diverse as civilian applications of military technology and the Watts riots.[8] He was a member of the Knights of Malta.

In 1987, McCone was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

McCone was portrayed by Peter White in the 2000 docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Thirteen Days and by actor Matt Craven in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class.

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