Electronic Assassinations Newsletter
Over the past several years, thanks to the JFK Assassination Records Act passed in 1992, we have seen more documents released from the secret files than at any time in the previous thirty years. Document summaries compiled by researcher Joe Backes provide a useful guide to the new evidence.
Topics include Oswald's CIA "201" file, his return trip from the Soviet Union, his visit to Mexico City, the FBI's investigation of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the CIA investigation of Oswald, anti-Castro groups, Jack Ruby and the formation of the Warren Commission.
What have these documents told us so far? What information have the FBI, the CIA and other agencies made such an effort to conceal from us for all these years? What has initially been squeezed out of the classified dark corners of the covert world? It is time to sum up the progress to date, as well as some clues as to what remains hidden.
John Newman summed it up nicely in his 1995 book Oswald and the CIA: "The [Central Intelligence] Agency appears to have had a serious operational interest in Oswald" which "may have led to his use or manipulation." This contradicts everything we have been told about Oswald by the 1964 President's Commission on the Assassination (Warren Report) and the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations, as well as other government sources.
The key to the puzzle proved to be the CIA's own coversheets, which recorded the internal dissemination of records. Nearly every document generated in the government about Oswald was being circulated to six different divisions of the CIA.
Even his origins have proven more mysterious than expected. As greater documentation emerges about his life before 1959, two separate and distinct biographies become apparent. In one, he moves directly from New York to New Orleans; in the other, to North Dakota for the summer; in one, he remains in New Orleans, working a series of jobs; in the other, he moves to Fort Worth and joins the Marines. Researcher John Armstrong is pursuing these rival data streams. Documents on Oswald also appear under the variations Lee Henry Oswald and Harvey Lee Oswald.
Upon his discharge from the Marine Corps in September 1959, he wasn't given the usual identification card. Instead, he was given an unlaminated DD 1173. The only other person known to have had such a card was CIA employee Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane was shot down while Oswald was in the Soviet Union.
Even the discharge itself raises questions. It is now clear that the Marine Corps knew beforehand that Oswald planned to go to the Soviet Union, and his superior officer, Capt. Ayers, signed an affidavit in support of the passport application which clearly stated this.
When he went to Moscow in October 1959, he attempted suicide when refused permission to remain. We now know that he was interrogated by the KGB, which he mentioned to the FBI in 1962, a reference which was ignored. The KGB closely monitored him after that; placing him in a hotel room which contained an infrared camera. Some later KGB surveillance photos were published in a book by KGB retiree Oleg Nechiporenko.
First, however, Oswald showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on October 31, Halloween, wearing white dress gloves, attempting to renounce his U.S. citizenship. The FBI opened an espionage and counterintelligence file on him that month, but a Navy cable at the time indicated this was not the first report, noting "CONTINUING INTEREST OF HQ, MARINE CORPS, AND US INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES; 'INTELLIGENCE MATTER'." The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) branch near New Orleans opened what became a comprehensive file on Oswald.
The FBI's liaison man with the CIA promptly contacted the Counterintelligence division, headed by legendary mole-chaser James Angleton. When the CIA opened its file on Oswald has not been determined, as the agency intentionally obscured its pre-assassination history. It even lied to its own employees regarding what it knew about Oswald.
The most we can determine at this point is that a file existed in the CIA's Security Office, though it may have originated elsewhere. Oswald was quickly put on the exclusive Watch List, 300 people whose mail the CIA monitored and opened. The program's head recalls intercepting more of Oswald's mail than the CIA has officially admitted. The CIA division that wasn't informed about Oswald was Soviet Russia, which received its first Oswald report in June, 1960.
Priscilla Johnson, reporter for a news organization with CIA connections, had worked for the Office of Special Operations during World War II, applied in 1952 to work for the CIA, worked for Senator John F. Kennedy, and was described by the CIA in 1956 as being of "operational interest." (The day after the assassination, the FBI interviewed her "as a suspect.")
The U.S. Embassy sent her to interview Oswald. He told her that someone had spent two years preparing him for his entry into the Soviet Union, but he wouldn't say who that was. He learned enough to enter the Soviet Union through Helsinki, Finland, the border with the fewest delays, despite having only one Soviet consular official. Even there, he got approval in record time, two days instead of seven to fourteen.
Oswald had highly classified knowledge of the CIA's top secret U-2 spy plane program, and seven months later the Soviets downed Gary Powers' U-2; as a result, the CIA shut down its operations at Atsugi, where Oswald had been stationed. An investigation had taken place in November at El Toro Marine Base in California, but no agency has yet admitted having conducted it. The most likely suspect is Angleton's Counterintelligence division. The Warren Commission avoided asking about the U-2.
After moving to Minsk, Oswald met a student from Cuba named Alfred, who shared his dissatisfaction with life there. The Warren Commission mislabeled him as Hungarian. Cuban diplomats in Minsk reportedly kept a file on Oswald. Oswald had been in touch with Cuban diplomats in California before his discharge from the Marine Corps, suspected then of being with Naval Intelligence. Another ex-Marine sympathetic to Cuba, Gerry Patrick Hemming, secretly met with Oswald outside the gate at El Toro base; Hemming worked for the CIA.
In February 1960, the FBI opened a second file on Oswald.
The file which the CIA later admitted to having on Oswald was finally opened in December 1960. This was about the time it launched a counterintelligence operation (including James McCord, of Watergate, and David Atlee Phillips, whose operatives later tried to link Oswald to Castro) against the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a group which became publicly associated with Oswald. It was also the time when Vice President Richard Nixon and the CIA began planning assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, which soon involved the Mob. Among the CIA personnel were E. Howard Hunt (Watergate) and, again, David Atlee Phillips.
Former CIA director Richard Helms almost gave the game away in his 1978 House testimony when he asked his questioner: "had they not opened a file a lot earlier?" The testimony of other CIA employees on the subject remains classified.
We now know that the CIA was receiving information about Oswald and other defectors from a source in the Soviet Union, probably inside the KGB. Oswald received packages in the Soviet Union, though his family sent none.
In May 1961, the FBI, like the CIA, began a counterintelligence operation against the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. By early 1962, Lee Oswald was preparing to return to the United States. KGB surveillance transcripts indicate that his wife Marina was having second thoughts, and he feared that if he left first, she might not join him later. When Oswald requested permission to leave, said then KGB chief Vladimir Semichastny, he thought "Thank God!," and "Immediately we sent a note to the Ministry of Internal Affairs saying let him out."
Also, Oswald made unsuccessful attempts by mail to have his undesirable Marine discharge reversed, as detailed in his military record (released in full in 1992). Before his departure, he allegedly tried to make two bombs, but finally gave up and threw away the casings, KGB reports indicated.
The Oswalds left Russia in June 1962. Fearful of being charged with espionage by the Soviets, he had discarded his diary and notes; on the ship to America, he reconstructed them as best he could into the document he called his "Historic Diary."
In Part Three, the real Lee Harvey Oswald, entangled in a secret world.
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