Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?
by Joan Mellen
Copyright 2008 Joan Mellen. All Rights Reserved.
[ed note: this essay first appeared on www.joanmellen.com]
This talk was delivered on October 5, 2008 at the Wecht Institute's Symposium: Making Sense of the Sixties
I’ve devoted my writing life since the early 1970’s to the subject of this conference, “Making Sense of the Sixties.” My first book was about the 1962 Algerian war of independence from France. So I am especially grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about where we are in assessing the events of the sixties. For me, we’re far beyond searching for one more “smoking gun.” The Kennedy assassination at this moment in our history is about linking the events of the sixties with the crises facing the Republic today. I’ll begin with an anecdote about the detective story writer Dashiell Hammett, the subject of one of my biographies.
Hammett was editor of the base newspaper in the Aleutian Islands during World War Two. One of his writers, a soldier named Eliot Asinof, later to write a book called “Eight Men Out” about the Chicago Black Sox, wrote an article for the paper exposing the corruption of officers smuggling booze. Expecting Hammett’s approval, Asinof instead received this advice, advice for this field of research no less than for any writer: “Lieutenant, everyone knows ‘what.’ Why don’t you try to find out ‘why.’” That, in my view, is where we go from here.
My particular subject this morning is Lee Harvey Oswald, that figure whose identity seems ever to recede beyond the reach of conventional historical research. The Warren Commission decided, with breathtaking defiance of the reality, that he was a sociopath, a person who “does not appear to have been able to establish meaningful relationships with other people…a man whose view of the world has been twisted…[a] troubled American citizen..[an] unstable character whose actions are highly unpredictable.” Moreover, this man murdered President Kennedy without the assistance of confederates, clearly in contrast to reality. Oswald as we examine his life was, for one thing, never alone.
At the other extreme is the view that Oswald was a “legend” created within U.S. Intelligence, a composite of two people, one born in the USA with that name, and another, of Eastern European origin, trained from an early age as an agent. That there happens to be a CIA CCD (Central Cover Division) fuels this scenario, along with inconsistencies, such as that Oswald boasted two report cards for the fall term of 1954, one from the Bronx, the other from Louisiana.
Drawing on what we know as certain, the Oswald who is recognizable to us was born in New Orleans, and seems rarely to have been deprived of the company of others. Certainly, he was not a loner in Dallas where he was offered the friendship of CIA asset and so-called oil geologist (he had no degree in the subject) George de Mohrenschildt. De Mohrenschildt reported to the Domestic Contact Service (00) in Dallas on Haitian matters, the existing record shows. The quintessential unreliable narrator, a year before his death, de Mohrenschildt targeted Haroldson Lafayette Hunt as the sponsor of the Kennedy assassination. Coincidentally, H. L. Hunt was unique among Texas oil men in being a lifelong antagonist of the CIA, as has been his son, Nelson Bunker Hunt. It was, perhaps, de Mohrenschildt’s final Agency assignment.
Nor was Oswald particularly solitary in New Orleans during the summer of 1963 where his presence was noted at anti-Castro training camps north of Lake Pontchartrain.
Almost from the moment of his arrival in New Orleans from Texas in April 1963, Oswald sought the acquaintance of CIA and FBI assets. He attempted to infiltrate anti-Castro groups. By the time he was arrested on Canal Street in August, he was so well acquainted with the FBI field office that he told the officer interviewing him, Lieutenant Francis Martello of New Orleans police intelligence, “Call the FBI. Tell them you have Lee Oswald in custody.” It was a moment that Martello neglected to describe to the Warren Commission which he held in utter contempt until the end of his life, as former police intelligence officer Robert Buras, working for the House Select Committee, and a long-time Martello acquaintance, told me.
Supporting the conclusion that the CIA was behind the Kennedy assassination is the fact that in New Orleans Oswald associated only with people with intelligence connections, beginning with Arnesto Rodriguez, an FBI informant with family members rooted in the CIA’s clandestine services. Rodriguez was one of FBI Special Agent Warren de Brueys’ informants. One day Oswald appeared at Rodriguez’s office at the International Trade Mart building at 124 Camp Street. He wanted to help the Cubans, Oswald said. He wanted to be part of the training camps. Rodriguez was suspicious. Who had sent Oswald to him? he wondered. How did Oswald know that there was “a training camp across the lake from us, north of Lake Pontchartrain?” It was top secret at the time, yet Oswald knew about it.
Pilot David Ferrie was a CIA asset whom Oswald knew from his youth in the Civil Air Patrol and with whom he renewed his acquaintance that summer. They were joined in their travels by Clay Shaw, a CIA operative whose activities were charted by at least five CIA components. The sources who observed Oswald with Shaw and Ferrie in those hamlets north of Baton Rouge are unimpeachable, and include Dr. Frank Silva, the medical director of the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson where Oswald applied for a job.
Dr. Silva himself observed at the hospital, chatting with some orderlies, a sloppy, unruly figure in an T-shirt bragging about how he had learned to shoot in the Marines and planned to go to Cuba to kill Fidel Castro. This man invoked his Marine Corps manual, exactly what Oswald had done when he visited Carlos Bringuier’s New Orleans store in an effort to join the DRE. (Of course, if he really wanted to join the Directorate, he would have been in Miami, and not in New Orleans that summer. Oswald did visit Miami, only for the anti-Castro people training there, as Ed Arthur told me, to be instructed by their CIA handlers to “stay away from him”).
A digression about sources. From about fifty hours of taped interviews, I could not use any of what a New Orleans figure named Gordon Novel told me. With a soldier of fortune named Gerald Patrick Hemming, the percentage of the truth to fabrication was 50-50. Knowing of my interest in Colombia, Gerry told he he had been imprisoned on Gorgona. (This was an island off the western coast of Colombia, named because of the preponderance of poisonous snakes wandering there. I didn’t believe him. This seemed like bragging. No, it turned out to be true. Smuggling drugs and not paying off the right people in Medellin, Gerry found himself on Gorgona.
Gerry told me that Robert Kennedy had addressed a group of Cuban exiles at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida in the summer of 1963. I needed corroborating witnesses; Gerry promised to name some, but couldn’t, and I broke off all contact with him. I forgot about this matter until a researcher named William Pepper told me the same story. His source, Pepper said, was an aging, very ill documentary filmmaker who had been a close friend of Robert Kennedy’s. He had won eight Emmys! Pepper said. And no, he couldn’t give me this dying man’s name.
As a film historian, I could reach any documentary filmmaker, and I called about ten people. None had ever heard the Homestead story. Then I contacted people close to Bobby Kennedy: Peter Edelman; John Seigenthaler; one of Robert Kennedy’s daughters; Ed. Guthman; Frank Mankiewicz; George Stevens; and Joey Gargan, a Kennedy cousin; the list goes on. None had ever heard of the Homestead story. Seigenthaler suggested I call the Kennedy library and ask to see the appointment book of Bobby’s secretary, Angie Novello. I did. They searched. 1963 was missing!
I went back to Pepper and insisted that he name his source – and it turned out that the source was…Gerald Patrick Hemming! In the course of the same conversation, Pepper told me that Bobby had flown to Dallas on the evening Oswald was arrested, and talked to Oswald in his cell! But I must not use this revelation! So historians must be wary, especially in this field.
Back to Oswald in Louisiana: Under heavy discipline, Oswald was following orders: hence, his not knowing that the East Louisiana State Hospital happened to be a MENTAL hospital. Dr. Silva spoiled the CIA’s scenario by determining that there was no way that this man would ever be employed at his hospital.
Among the most telling details about Oswald emerged in the testimony of William Wulff, who had been head of the Astronomy Club of New Orleans. One day Oswald showed up, wanting to be a member, although it was clear he had no interest in astronomy. Wulff asked him why he wanted to join the Astronomy Club.
“I like to infiltrate,” Oswald the teenager said, even then a person who preferred the company of others to being alone. At the same time, he cultivated invisibility, as if he were transparent. Infiltrating, he could follow the path laid out by that favorite of his fictional characters, FBI informant Herbert Philbrick, hero of “I Led Three Lives.” A caveat: it was Oswald’s brother Robert alone who gave out that Lee watched obsessively “I Led Three Lives,” while, as John Armstrong points in his book, “Harvey & Lee,” Robert is less than credible.
In his book “Lee,” Robert Oswald wrote that when he left home to join the Marines, Lee was still watching the reruns of “I Led Three Lives.” In fact, Robert joined the Marines on July 15, 1952, and the re-runs were not aired until after the series ended, in mid-1956. Oswald may have watched “I Led Three Lives,” but it wasn’t as his brother said. The program was first aired in September 1953.
The mainstream press persists in describing Oswald as a “Marxist” or a “Communist,” the diametrical opposite of what he was. Didn’t he express sympathy for the Soviet Union on New Orleans radio that August of 1963? Didn’t he pass out pro-Castro leaflets on behalf of the Fair Play For Cuba committee, a group created by the Socialist Workers Party?
And hadn’t he, as a Marxist, defected to the Soviet Union? Being a Marxist or a Communist was his cover, one that he cast off with regularity, as if it were all a game, a charade, like his defection itself.
Let’s turn for a moment to why CIA Counter Intelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton was so anxious to discount the testimony of Soviet defector, the late, ill-fated Yuri Nosenko. Having read KGB’s files on Oswald, Mr. Nosenko reported that the KGB had never used Oswald; and that, by the way, the Soviet Union did not sponsor the Kennedy assassination. Yet a caveat is in order here too since in 1964 Nosenko said there was only one thin file. By 1977, when Nosenko talked to the HSCA, the file had grown to “eight bulky volumes.”
Oswald’s appearance in the Soviet Union was as a participant in the Agency’s “false defector” program, in which he was joined by several other young men, whose files can be found at the National Archives. There is no document that names a “false defector program,” but that does not mean such a program did not exist, and there are copious files about various of the participants. James Angleton ran that program. By putting the lie to the possibility that the Soviet Union had sponsored the assassination, Nosenko’s statements implicitly threatened to expose for whom Oswald was acting. Nosenko’s life became a living hell after that.
There are reasons for challenging Nosenko’s credibility that we needn’t get into here. That Nosenko settled on the “lone nut” theory of the assassination is odd. To quote Lee Oswald’s mentor, David Ferrie, “people are no damn good,” and the “true” motives of defectors are too opaque to penetrate. That he suffered does not elevate Nosenko to credibility. That Nosenko failed two polygraphs gives one pause. (These polygraphs stood up when re-examined by HSCA experts, agreeing on the areas of deception).
Yet evidence suggests that Oswald was indeed in the Soviet Union on behalf of the CIA. I received a telephone call last November from one Donald Deneselya, who had worked for the CIA as a Russian language translator in the Soviet Russia section at the time of Oswald’s return to the United States from the Soviet Union.
As we know, the CIA, from John McCone on down, denied that CIA had ever debriefed Oswald upon his return. Had Oswald been debriefed by the Agency, we would have had further confirmation that he was, indeed, as were a whole list of people, a participant in the “secret defector” program run by CIA counter intelligence. CIA’s debriefing Oswald in itself did not mean that he was theirs. But the curious nature of his defection, with all its contradictions, combined with this debriefing, at least points to the existence of Angleton’s program.
I was not the first person to whom Mr. Deneselya revealed his proof that Oswald had been debriefed by the CIA. Deneselya had come forward first to Senator Richard Schweiker (they met together twice), to the House Select Committee, and later to the television program “Frontline.” What Mr. Deneselya did for me was to provide more details of what he had seen.
What Mr. Deneselya witnessed was a document detailing how a man, a defector, (his name was not mentioned), but who had been working at a radio factory in Minsk, had,upon his return to the United States, been debriefed by one “Anderson,” a CIA employee with an 00 designation. Deneselya did not remember the given name of Anderson, which has created a certain amount of confusion.
A Commander Anderson indeed was “seconded” to the CIA NYC field office by the Office of Naval Intelligence. The Commander Anderson of the United States Navy who was assigned to CIA’s covert office in New York was the original contact for Alexander Rorke, who accompanied Geoffrey Sullivan, the pilot who flew in and out of Cuba for the CIA along with Frank Fiorini (Frank Sturgis). Commander Anderson’s name appears in a CIA document dated June 28, 1962, to the Director of Central Intelligence from John Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, in connection with Rorke and Fiorini. (Commander Anderson knew his CIA commanding officer at Headquarters as “Norman Kiggins”). Commander Anderson was assigned to Cuban matters, and would not have been a person to debrief Oswald for the Soviet Russia Division. Shortly he would be serving the Agency at JMWAVE where the matters at hand were, indeed, strictly Cuban.
“Commander Anderson,” was not the person who debriefed Oswald. Nor was the debriefer one “ANDY Anderson,” as Donald Deneselya assumed after conversations with author John Newman. There was yet another “Anderson,” operating out of the Soviet Russia 6 Division, who was responsible for debriefings. “Anderson” was a pseudonym used by a woman named Eleanor Reed, a deputy chief of the Section 6 Soviet Russia research branch who was near the age of retirement. (Reed joined SR6 in 1956 and transferred out in 1964; she retired in 1970). “Anderson” turns out to have been a woman!
What was SR6? Thomas Casasin became Chief of the Soviet Russia, SR6 Branch in 1960. Casasin told the HSCA in an interview conducted on August 17, 1978, that “the function of Section 6 was operations in support of the Soviet Russia Division of the CIA,” including “classical espionage work.”
The “Anderson” who debriefed Oswald was, strictly speaking not working directly for Robert T. Crowley, who headed up the CIA Contact Division, Support Branch, the primary function of which was Counter Intelligence. But she may have acted on his behalf in the debriefing. I recount this information in my new little book, the prequel to “A Farewell To Justice,” which I called “Jim Garrison: His Life and Times.” (It was published by jfklancer).
Who ordered Eleanor Reed to debrief Oswald has emerged in a piece of investigative work worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself. A CIA document, number 287-690, Memo for Record, 3 December 1963, by Birch D. O’Neal, Chief, CI/SIG, Subject: Lee Harvey Oswald, deals with Mexico City and Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte. Urgarte had walked into the U.S. Embassy on November 25, 1963 and said he had witnessed Oswald at the Cuban Embassy on September 18th accepting $5,000 from a “red-haired Negro” to kill President Kennedy. Alvarado later failed a CIA polygraph and retracted the whole story.
This document was perused by historian, John Newman. Newman looked at a signature on the upper right hand corner, a signature that apparently had leaked off or burned off from another document, because it’s in reverse, as if it were viewed through a mirror. Newman concluded that the signature belonged to “Andy Anderson” because “00 Oswald” was written beneath it. The 00 Oswald were clear, but the signature was not that of Andy Anderson!
This signature, revealing who ordered the debriefing of Oswald, in fact belongs to one E. M. Ashcraft, Chief of the Contact Division. He and Robert Crowley, OSB/CI (Operational Support Branch, Counter Intelligence), were on the same level. Eleanor Reed’s overall boss would have been David Murphy, Chief of the Soviet Russia Division. Robert Crowley may have just about left 00/OSB (Operational Support Branch) where he was replaced by George S. Musulin by the time Oswald returned from the Soviet Union in June of 1962.
This is how it might have worked. Ashcraft would have called Thomas Casasin or Richard L. Winch or Donald E. Poole at SR6. This person in turn would have talked to Rudy Balaban (SR6 Research). Balaban, code name “Valentino,” would have consulted with Reed, who then called OS, the Office of Security, requesting permission to debrief Oswald. OS would pass the request on to Personnel Security Division, who would give a green light or a red light. On occasion Balaban and Reed would do debriefings together.
In the meantime, OS would liaise with CIA/SIG (Special Investigations Group), probably Anne (CIA nickname “Betty”) Egerter, then with the Counterintelligence Staff or with Paul Hartmann, who was Birch O’Neal’s “gofer.” The Special Investigations Group was a secret, small elite unit consisting of eight of James Angleton’s most trusted and closed-mouthed people. Among them in addition to Egerter were Newton (Scotty) Miler, Birch O’Neal, and others. SIG’s original brief was to investigate possibilities that CIA might have been penetrated by KGB. Soon after the inception of Counterintelligence, James Angleton expanded and established such components as R & A (Research and Analysis), Ops, and others. Each of the branch chiefs and deputies reported directly to Angleton. The Special Investigations Group was a closed book and most Agency people were denied access to it.
Further corroboration that the CIA Soviet Russia Division, Soviet Realities, SR6, in the person of Eleanor Reed, debriefed false defectors, is contained in a document I have just discovered and that CIA released "as sanitized" in 1998. The document resides in Robert Webster's file, is dated 17 August 1962, and is telling for several reasons; the cases of Oswald and Webster are so similar that we can await, with some expectation, that the parallel document of Oswald's debriefing by Reed (with perhaps her frequent debriefing partner Rudy ("Valentino") Balaban), may well surface. This document demonstrates beyond doubt Reed ("Anderson") was an SR6 debriefer; I copy it here in full ed. note: see 104-10182-10074:
TO: Eleanor Reed
FROM:  IR/CR
SUBJECT: Appraisal of Interrogation
1. The eagerness of the subject to help and his repeated expressions of regret for having neglected opportunities for more detailed observations left me with mixed reactions. In my opinion this attitude detracted from his otherwise seemingly genuine manner and at least for me it “watered down” his attempt to generate a repentant impression.
2. The subject readily answered questions and was extremely friendly during both periods of interrogation. Plottings and data, however, by the subject on a blank town plan left him for homework later proved disoriented. [sic]. The subject discovered his error during our second meeting and volunteered corrections.
3. As far as substantive intelligence gained is concerned, the interrogation provided data on a plant previously described as possibly in the electronics business as a probable radar storage and repair area. A hitherto unknown naval installation was also identified and located in an area other than the one previously assumed.
4. It can be said that if the subject’s bona fides are definitely established, positive intelligence gathered from him is of real value.
Excluded from automatic downgrading and declassification.
Sometimes Soviet Russia Counter Intelligence was called in at the briefings. So the mystery of Oswald in the Soviet Union unravels. The above trajectory offers further evidence that Oswald was a creature of the CIA, worked for the CIA, and, quite understandably, was debriefed by them upon his return.
Additional evidence that CIA debriefed Oswald after his return from the Soviet Union resides in the unredacted version CIA document 435-173A, dated 25 November 1963, by the same Thomas B. Casasin.
This document is familiar because we have long had a redacted version of Casasin’s 25 November 1963 memo to Walter P. Haltigan, whom Casasin subsequently revealed to be one “Jim Flint.” Flint was part of SR9, the operations part of the Soviet Division and was Casasin’s “normal contact” in Paris where Casasin arrived in September 1962.
In this memo, Casasin writes that “Oswald’s unusual behavior in the USSR” made him look “odd,” leading Casasin not to use him in operations in the REDWOOD target area. REDWOOD was an action indicator for the SE Division. (SED was a CIA geographic designator for the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern Europe). It seems now a case of one hand not knowing what the other was doing, a not infrequent CIA situation.
In that unredacted version of Thomas B. Casasin’s memo to Walter P. Haltigan, Casasin writes: “as chief of the 6 Branch I had discussed – sometime in Summer 1960 (he later corrected that date to “1962”) with the then Chief and Deputy Chief of the 6 Research Section the laying on of interview(s) [with Oswald] through KUJUMP [the operations division] or other suitable channels.” KUJUMP had a contacts division for debriefing persons. KUJUMP was synonymous with 00 (Contacts Division).
Casasin closes his addendum to the memo with this line, indicating that was not aware of Angleton’s program: “It was partly out of curiosity to learn if Oswald’s wife would actually accompany him to our country, partly out of interest in Oswald’s own experiences in the USSR, that we showed operational intelligence interest in the Harvey story.” Casasin was looking for links between Soviet women marrying foreigners and the KGB. Casasin also refers in his 25 November 1963 memo to a program called AEOCEAN 3, then run out of SR10, and referring to Oswald in particular: this was the legal travelers program, i. e. the intelligence use of legal travelers to the Soviet Union. It seems apparent that Casasin, a pseudonym, was not in the loop, and is struggling to make sense of Oswald and his defection.
In his HSCA interview, while speculating, without any real evidence, that Oswald might have been a “lay-low Soviet operative,” Casasin fills in some gaps in our knowledge about what Oswald was doing in the Soviet Union. He reveals that “there were some type of special design plants in Minsk which were of interest to the CIA.” Casasin adds that CIA “had some type of encyclopedic information at the agency on the radio factory in Minsk where Oswald worked.” He is talking about a component of CIA called the “Industrial Registry.” Casasin was instructed by CIA not to reveal to the HSCA any information about a tourist guide named Philip Robert Nielson whom he ran as an agent into the Soviet Union under a program called REDSKIN. Like Oswald, Nielson married a Soviet woman.
Here is the text of the CIA employee’s communication with the HSCA [ed note: see 104-10066-10201) with respect to Casasin’s revealing information about the agent he ran in the Soviet Union whose experience so curiously paralleled Oswald’s: his name was Nielson and he was a tour guide who stayed regularly at the Hotel Minsk:
I said that Casasin was another problem. The man had worked for us abroad under non-official cover. He had left the Agency and now works in a UN organization. He had run an agent into the USSR, that man [Philip Robert Nielson] having met a Russian girl and eventually marrying her. Our assumption is that the interest in the man is that the agent was successful in getting his Russian wife out of the country, as Oswald was in getting Marina out. We have no problem in arranging an interview with Casasin, but the name of the agent we do not wish to reveal, for reasons outlined at the meeting. I noted that Casasin (which is a pseudonym) was also a chief of one of the SR Sections during the time period of interest to them and this might make him additionally interesting to them, as they had requested the people for that period. Goldsmith said they are not interested in the identity or any aspects of Casasin’s agent or his Russian wife, which I said resolved that aspect of the matter (we can simply instruct Casasin to not divulge the agent’s name, etc., should there be some slip in this understanding, and make Casasin available for interview). However, no action was taken at the meeting.
It was on his second trip to the Soviet Union, in January 1959, that Nielson was given an Intourist interpreter noted as “TSK”, Tamara S. Kungurova. Nielson determined to marry her, and in the Spring 1962 he succeeded in bringing her out of the Soviet Union. (Kungurova’s CIA file was 201-234750). Hugo Lundahl would also marry a Soviet woman named “Tamara.” Given his work with Nielson and Lundahl, it is not surprising, then, that Casasin considered running Oswald as one of his agents in the Soviet Union.
In passing, let us note that the Warren Commission never contacted Casasin about his Oswald memo.
Casasin’s HSCA interview, released in 2000, reminds us of how heavily compartmentalized, how much on a need to know basis, counterintelligence operated: Casasin told the HSCA that “he does not recall any discussions concerning the possible use of American defectors to penetrate the Soviets.” Casasin does admit: “Counterintelligence did have their own closely held operations…and “it was possible or even probable that Counterintelligence ran operations in his own geographical target.”
Back to Donald Deneselya, who worked at a far lower rung of the Soviet Russia Division than Casasin, not to mention Crowley and Ashcraft. When Deneselya asked his Agency confreres about the document, he was told that the subject was Robert Webster, although Webster was located not in Minsk, but at a plant in Leningrad, and there was a parallel document mentioning Webster by name.
Mr. Deneselya was convincing. Among the details he added was that some time after he witnessed the Oswald debriefing document, he asked James Angleton where he might find a copy so that he could peruse it again.
“You’ll never find that document,” Angleton said. The bad faith of the House Select Committee is reflected in the “Outside Contact Report,” dated September 26, 1978, in which the Oswald revelation is barely mentioned, and Deneselya’s information is almost completely confined to his work with a KGB defector named Golitsin. Ken Klein should have been excited by the appearance of proof that Oswald had been debriefed by the CIA. Instead, in his report he affects disinterest. You can see him yawning ostentatiously over what should have been an astonishing revelation. Klein behaves no differently than the specious “Frontline” program which allows Deneselya a few words, then rapidly brings on Richard Helms and Robert Oswald, the brother whose bona fides I have already called into question, to discount the information that Oswald had been debriefed by CIA.
I’ve always believed that many documents have been destroyed and been wary of the notion that somehow once ALL the files were opened, we would gain the truth. I know of mounds of materials that were removed from libraries by “men in suits,” never to be seen again, despite FOIA requests. (In one case the men lied outright and said that they had been sent by the University where the papers had been willed: they hadn’t been).
So I doubt whether the debriefing report witnessed by Mr. Deneselya, will emerge. Yet it is also true that new information is always appearing: for example, I was telephoned after the publication of “A Farewell to Justice” by a witness who observed the Gurvich brothers in New Orleans at Saturn Aviation, a company run by one Al Crouch, and for whom David Ferrie flew. The Gurviches took away with them, never to be seen again, the flight record showing Ferrie’s movements. These included a flight Ferrie made to Dallas the week of the assassination.
After the assassination, knowing how sensitive they were, Crouch had put Ferrie’s log books in a floor safe, and they survived even a break-in.
Crouch was threatened, getting an anonymous phone call, saying, “Do you have a little girl about three years old who rides a tricycle?” Then he turned the log books over to the brothers Gurvich, one of whom, William Gurvich, had ingratiated himself into the Garrison investigation. Gurvich claimed he would deliver these records to Jim Garrison. Of course, Garrison never saw Ferrie’s log books.
Another lead that has emerged, this time from a newly released document, has a figure named Hugh Williams, released from the East Louisiana State Hospital on one of many writs of habeas corpus, meeting Oswald and Ferrie. On one occasion they went into the Gulf on a boat for target practice with World War II M-1 rifles. They talked about going to Cuba and assassinating Fidel Castro. This information matches Oswald’s rant at the hospital, overheard by Dr. Frank Silva.
Donald Deneselya’s having witnessed a document describing CIA debriefing of Oswald alone places Oswald as a participant in U.S. intelligence. That Oswald was a CIA asset, is this news? At a meeting of the National Board of the Communist Party, USA, held on December 4, 1963, the party’s National Secretary,” Benjamin J. Davis, rejecting the idea that Oswald was one of their own, commented, “Oswald was with the Central Intelligence Agency.” (This comes from a 12/11/63 FBI confidential document).
What else? I was fortunate enough to have been given by police lieutenant Francis Martello’s son a copy of the original note that Oswald handed to him. It is not what the Warren Commission saw. Oswald uses the term “AMEP” at one point, which refers to American Express. Apparently, Oswald was communicating from Russia back to the CIA through a CIA asset at American express named Michael Jelisavcic, who ran the American Express office in Moscow. The Oswald document contains the words Amer Ep (American Express) and the word “pouch.”
Now let us turn to an FBI document, dated 12/17/68, to Director, from SAC, New York, dealing with the investigation of Michael Jelisavcic, (spelling as it appears on CIA 104-10006-10130, NAME TRACE, JELISAVCIC, M.) and placed in an Oswald 105 file, indicating a relationship between Oswald and Jelisavcic. The document relates to the Bureau’s attempting to, quote, “resolve all facts concerning possible compromise of Jelisavcic by Soviet intelligence during his employment within the USSR.” The Bureau knew that Oswald possessed Jelisavcic’s name and room number, and were doing the usual damage control.
What is interesting, and encourages us to look at every document released that we can, is a number written on the right side of the document: 65-69127-13. Whether it belonged to Jelisavcic or to American Express, it suggests Oswald’s contact with Jelisavcic or with American Express or with both. Perhaps American Express was the conduit for funding, for Oswald’s orders, or simply provided the “pouch” for intelligence information from Oswald going back to Headquarters. What we know, as that consummate researcher on these subjects Malcolm Blunt explained to me, is that “65 serial is FBI filing system-speak for espionage. The number running along the margin refers to an “Espionage File.”
So now we can connect the following elements: the words American Express, and pouch on Oswald’s handwritten note, along with the American Express Co. representative in Moscow possessing an espionage number. But to recognize the value of the document, and its explosive quality, you have to know that the 65- designation points to an espionage number. (Apparently Western Union performed a similar function for the CIA within the United States.
There is also a CIA document, undated, with a single handwritten line: “See AmEmb Phone book trace on Michael Jelisavcic, AmExCo head in Moscow.” It’s titled “FILE NOTE RE TRACE ON MICHAEL JELISAVCIC.” Traces and how they are run are at the core of the CIA indexing and filing system; from traces, all identifiable information on an individual could be gleaned.
So we have two documentary pieces of evidence pointing to Oswald as a tool of the CIA placed in Moscow. This evidence matches the fact that the opening document in Oswald’s 201 file reflected Oswald as still being in the Marine Corps as of December 1960, even after his defection to the Soviet Union, suggesting that his “defection” did not bother them. The CIA index card indicated that “as of 1960” he was still in the Marines.
In the spring of 1960, Oswald’s name appears on a CIA mail opening list, meaning he was one of the two hundred most important people to them. CIA had yet to open a 201 file on him, although he did have a file and an AIN (Agency Identification Number), courtesy of the OS (Office of Security). Other evidence that CIA was monitoring Oswald closely includes an Oswald May 31st, 1960 cover sheet signed off on by a Jerry Prehn at Soviet Russia 9, which was the Operations component of the Soviet Russia Division. There were only six to eight people in this office and they kept their activities very close.
We also have the strange incident of Oswald’s name appearing on a list of people whom State Department security was asked to investigate: He appears as “Lee Oswald, tourist.” The responsibility for this investigation fell to one Otto Otepka, and what I wrote about Otepka and Oswald can be found on my website and on Rex Bradford’s Mary Ferrell website. Suffice it to say that the document naming Oswald, along with all the documents Mr. Otepka had collected, and including the results of Mr. Otepka’s investigation, were stolen from his private safe.
What makes this story so beguiling is that the likely suspect for the robbery of his safe and the demotion of Mr. Otepka from his position of responsibility in State Department security is Robert Kennedy himself, on whose behalf Walter Sheridan was acting in the Otepka matter.
I won’t go into Robert Kennedy’s fingerprints in the Oswald story, but I would like to reiterate; I have no reason to doubt the anti-Castro activist Angelo Murgado (Kennedy) in his statement to me that Robert Kennedy was aware of Oswald during the summer of 1963, found out that he was an FBI informant, and concluded that, if the FBI was controlling him, Oswald was no one to worry about. As John Volz, former US attorney in New Orleans, speaking about a witness named Vernon Bundy, said to me, “I know when someone is shucking me!”
A strange reference in one of investigator Anne Dischler’s notebooks dated 3/13/67, from a page I did not review for “A Farewell To Justice,” refers to a Billie White answering service in Lafayette, Louisiana, which received a telephone call from an aide to Bobby Kennedy, suggesting, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s interest in the Garrison investigation. This lead cries out to be followed up.
Nor is there any evidence to contradict Mr. Murgado’s very reluctant testimony that he was present with Oswald and Bernardo de Torres at the home of Sylvia Odio in late September 1963. Mr. Murgado and Mr. de Torres were both people with heavy government connections: there is even a document from J. Edgar Hoover telling his people no longer to use Mr. de Torres because of the nature of his CIA relationships. In the murky waters of U.S. intelligence during those years, Oswald swam with approved government contacts. Once more he was in the company of others, and intelligence operatives at that.
Others have studied CIA’s awareness of Oswald prior to the assassination, information disseminated to the FBI by Pete Bagley regarding Oswald’s movements in September 1963. (See the FBI document to: Mr. W.C. Sullivan, from: Mr. D.J. Brennan, 105-82555-183. The date of the document is 11/23/63).
When we return to Oswald’s activities in New Orleans, we find the Church committee investigating an Oswald arrest on April 10, 1963 reported by Customs Officers. This was the same day that Oswald supposedly or did shoot at General Walker….the Immigration and Naturalization Service wanted to know as well whether they were any other arrest records in New Orleans on Oswald. The Church committee investigator, Paul Wallach, was told to contact the Intelligence Unit of the New Orleans police.
Wallach discovered an apparent August 9, 1963 arrest of Oswald. We don’t have the records which include a memorandum by one Lt. August Lang, and an August 12, 1963 “Inter-office memo” to a Major Prossens. I outline Oswald’s shared connections to U.S. Customs, connections enjoyed by other CIA assets like Cesario Diosdado in Key West in “A Farewell To Justice.”
Just as I was perplexed about the research community’s silence about the Odio visit, I was equally bewildered when historians of the Kennedy assassination did not seize upon that material about Oswald and customs, attempt to investigate it further, or simply add it to what we know about Oswald. Oswald was close to customs officers in New Orleans: he was not invisible. Just as he was seen up in Clinton and Jackson with David Ferrie and Clay Shaw, just as he spouted off about killing Fidel Castro at the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson, so too in New Orleans customs officials knew him. He was seen by someone with some acquaintance with intelligence himself, Warren de Brueys’ informant, Orestes Pena.
Was Customs involved in the Louisiana events surrounding Oswald and the assassination? We see a rare mention of Customs in connection with the July 31, 1963 raid on the McLaney house in Lacombe, Louisiana, reported in August by Warren De Brueys, who sent copies of his report to US Customs, both in New Orleans and in Miami. Customs was called in to seize the explosives obtained.
Many witnesses came forward to reveal that Oswald knew Ruby, and Shaw and David Ferrie. One, revealed in an August 1977 Dallas Police Department Intelligence Division document, was one “Max Long” a former boxer, who operated a motel-bar in New Orleans. A document reports Long to have had in his possession a photograph of Ruby and Oswald together. Dick Russell, who, in his biography of Richard Case Nagell, has accomplished very significant work in uncovering the CIA’s and other agencies’ involvement in the Kennedy assassination, reports in his revised edition to “The Man Who Knew Too Much” how the 112th Military Intelligence Group files showed Oswald under surveillance by CIA’s Richard Case Nagell in the fall of 1962. A man named Jim Southwood corroborated that Oswald had been an intelligence operative. The custodian of the file room assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, near Seoul, South Korea reported that the 112th requested files on Oswald and Nagell both. My favorite line about military intelligence comes from Gerald Patrick Hemming, previously mentioned. Asked what role military intelligence played in the assassination of President Kennedy, Gerry said, “what did they ever do except sit around all day sucking on jelly donuts?”
When we look at all the established evidence, Oswald and Customs officials in New Orleans; Oswald as an intimate of the chief suspect in the murder of Mary Sherman, a man who called himself Juan Valdes, and who worked at the Customs House; Oswald in Clinton and Jackson with David Ferrie and Clay Shaw; we realize that there has been to date virtually no credible official investigation of Oswald.
To students, I would ask that you educate yourselves in the history of the socialist and Communist movement, the better for you to perceive why Lee Harvey Oswald could not have been a Marxist, and in his actions bore no relationship to any member of any socialist movement, Stalinist or anti-Stalinist, (Trotskyist). That photograph where Oswald holds both “The Worker” (the Communist Party newspaper) and “The Militant,” the paper of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, reveals a mischievous Oswald signaling to those in the know that he did not subscribe to the views of either, since in those times you had to be one or the other. Stalinists and Trotskyists were blood enemies, as witness, of course, the Stalin-sponsored murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico as well as Stalin’s betrayal of the Loyalists in Spain.
Oswald in New Orleans sometimes let the façade drop, as in his assertions that he planned to kill Fidel Castro, and in that fact that he made no contact with any known socialist or Marxist. This at once signaled to the Tulane student left, as several student radicals of the day told me, that he was a fraud. I interviewed Hugh Murray, several times, and Bob Heller. They had been arrested for attempting to integrate Woolworth’s and other places in New Orleans. At Tulane, they found Oswald’s “Fair Play For Cuba” leaflet. At once they knew that Oswald was no leftist.
What leftist made no contact with other leftists? Oswald ignored the Southern Conference Education Fund, led by James Dombrowski (discussed in “Jim Garrison, His Life and Times”), CORE, and even the pale Council on Peaceful Alternatives. What leftist hired people to hand out leaflets with them, as Oswald did? The answer, as CORE activist Bob Heller put it to me, was “none in history.”
Tulane graduate student Hugh Murray and his roommate Oliver St. Pe looked at the leaflet that had been stuck onto their friend Harold Alderman’s door. They considered, fleetingly, replying to the Post Office Box of “Hidell.” Then, Murray told me, they decided it must be some kind of trap and steered clear. (The Tulane student radicals drew this conclusion without knowing that Oswald and his leaflets were perched on the second floor of the detective agency of Guy Banister, former FBI Special Agent in Charge in Chicago, a virulent anti-Communist and CIA bagman to anti-Castro training camps. As I’m sure everyone here knows, one leaflet bore the address “544 Camp Street,” the side entrance of Banister’s office, until Banister saw it. After that there were no more “544 Camp Street” leaflets.
Oswald, arrested in Dallas, and asking, famously to be represented by a Communist Party lawyer named John Abt was Oswald signaling to his handlers that he intended to maintain his cover, that he would not tell the truth. It didn’t, of course, do him any good. Oswald was murdered on assignment by his old acquaintance Jack Ruby anyway.
Meanwhile, since “A Farewell To Justice” was published, I have received confirmations of the CIA connections of Oswald-connected figures like Fred Lee Crisman, the handler of Oswald’s acquaintance Thomas Edward Beckham, and Jack Martin, whose name, CIA admits (see the Appendix to “Jim Garrison, His Life and Times”) was a “generic.” A fragmentary report of Crisman as what is termed an “Internal Security Section” agent emerged from a FOIA inquiry I initiated. The document, dated September 13, 1969, its attachment missing, refers to Crisman as a 4250 agent.
Its author is a CIA agent himself, who takes the risk and exposes Crisman’s CIA connection, because Crisman’s behavior as what he calls a “disruption agent” appalls him. The author finds people like Crisman “dangerous to the democratic way of life and they should be halted. These men bear no love for the USA,” he writes. “They serve the CIA, and, what is more, they serve only a part of the CIA, for they would kill a fellow agent as fast as they would arrange your death….” The author, whose name is redacted, was angry enough to provide information to an outsider.
This document is what CIA would call a “trace.” It reveals that not everyone connected with the Agency was nefarious and evil. The author of this document exposes Crisman because he “is a man that is dangerous to the future of America.” Hunter Leake was second in command at the New Orleans CIA field office in 1963. His son Robert has talked about how his father told him he knew Oswald in New Orleans well.
There is further confirmation of Ruby and Oswald knowing each other in a piece of paper found by a woman in Martinsburg, Pa. with both Ruby and Oswald mentioned on it. The FBI was called. When the woman offered to take a lie detector test, the FBI refused to give it to her.
The woman was foraging in the trash can she shared with her neighbors, a Cuban family, because she was searching for evidence of her husband’s infidelity. The father of that family was named Julio Cesar Fernandez. She picked up the paper because she saw the name “Ruby” and thought she had caught her husband out! The word “Silver Slipper” was on the paper as well. Ultimately Gaeton Fonzi interviewed Fernandez, but the story petered out. As we know, Ruby owned the Silver Slipper lounge in Clinton, Louisiana. You can talk to Professor Gary Schoener up in Minnesota about this lead.
Today the Oswald story is relevant because it connects directly to the erosion of an independent press, and to its acquiescence in the government’s abrupt weakening of the rule of law. Once the CIA was able to get away with the murder of President Kennedy, it was a short step to the torture performed in Vietnam and then at Bagram and Abu Ghraib by CIA operatives; the official sanctioning of torture; and the casual dismissal of the principle of habeas corpus. Barack Obama has promised to support “open government.” If he fulfills that promise by, for example, opening the Church committee testimonies of the New Orleans customs officers and their relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald, he will win over many of us skeptics.
Much of what I have recounted about Oswald is familiar material to many members of this audience. I have been disappointed that few have been willing to draw the apparent, obvious and necessary conclusion about who sponsored the assassination of President Kennedy, a conclusion that emerges inescapably from what we know about Oswald. The place we go from here, the topic of this afternoon’s panel discussion, is, in my opinion, not to plead with government agencies, from inside courthouses or outside, to help us locate more minutiae. We know enough.
Rather, it’s long overdue for this research community to confront not just the fact, but the meaning of who planned this assassination, and why. The Agency that sponsored the assassination of President Kennedy has revealed itself in multiple ways, not least in exposing how it used Lee Oswald as its scapegoat and, indeed, as its “patsy.” It seems past the hour for coyness in naming that sponsor, and time to consider the political consequences of a government agency’s having murdered a President. I think it’s time to draw a line from the Kennedy assassination to the present historical moment where we have been faced with a systematic undermining of the US Constitution and an agenda demanding permanent war, a policy from which neither presidential candidate has dissociated himself.
If you grant that Lee Oswald was a creature of the CIA, and that the Agency’s fingerprints are everywhere in this case, what do you plan to say about these facts in your books and articles and speeches? How do you connect these details with the current plight of the Republic, and what can we do about it?