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Tipping Point

Part 2: Enter Lee Oswald

by Larry Hancock, November 2020

Enter Lee Oswald


Walking a Tightrope


With his early interest in the revolution against Batista and his contacts with the Cuban Consulate in Los Angeles previously noted, it is perhaps not surprising to find Lee Oswald entering into Cuban affairs in 1963, first with an initial approach to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) in March while in Dallas, and then becoming more visibly active in pro-Cuba activities in New Orleans that summer. [ 127 ] During that period, the FBI had access to all of Oswald's correspondence with the FPCC. The FBI had its own source inside the group's office, which it used to copy both correspondence, and the FPCC's membership and mailing lists. The FBI routinely prepared intelligence updates on the FPCC and copied the CIA on much of that information.

Earlier (well before his first letter to the FPCC), during the period of October 1962 up to March 1963, Oswald and his wife Marina had been covertly checked out by the CIA's Domestic Contacts section, via a contact by Dallas CIA officer J. Walton Moore with George de Mohrenschildt. [ 128 ] De Mohrenschildt was socially networked to many individuals within the Russian community in Dallas, and provided a cover for monitoring Oswald following his return to Texas. Moore had visited with de Mohrenschildt prior to the Oswald's arrival and advised him that a former Maine who had worked at an electronics factory in Minsk was returning to the U.S. with a Russian wife - and the CIA had an "interest" in him.

Encouraged by de Mohrenschildt, Oswald wrote an extended memoire of his time in Russia and particularly his experiences in Minsk. Oswald actually had the memoire typed, and provided a copy to de Mohrenschildt. The memoire contains detailed observations on a number of elements of general military interest as well as considerable detail on the "Minsk Radio and Television Plant" – including plant production numbers, staffing by job position, male/female worker breakdown, well as additional descriptions of the facility and its operational logistics. All in all the memoire served quite admirably as an intelligence debrief of Oswald - without the need for any direct contact with the CIA. [ 129 ]

Beyond that, Oswald's remarks captured a number of very negative personal feelings which he had developed towards the Soviet Union, as well as to the Communist Party of the United States. [ 130 ]

"The Communist Party of the United States has betrayed itself! It has turned itself into a traditional lever of a foreign power to overthrow the government of the United States, not in the name of freedom or high ideals, but in servile conformity to the wishes of the Soviet Union....The Soviets have committed crimes unsurpassed...imprisonment of their own peoples [sic],,,,mass extermination....The Communist movement of the United States has turned itself into a "valuable gold coin" of the Kremlin. It has failed to denounce any actions of the Soviet government when similar actions of the United States bring pious protests. [I have] many personal reasons to know and therefore hate and mistrust communism."

Oswald's personal feelings of 1962 are in dramatic contrast to his actions and written communications of the following year. They are totally opposite from the language and attitudes found in Oswald's letters to CPUSA in late September and early October, 1963 . Something seminal occurred with regard to Lee Oswald early in 1963; it would lead to a far different image for Oswald than we find in his memoire, prepared only months earlier. The memoire itself is actually quite consistent with Oswald's diary writings about his activities while in Russia – and totally unlike many aspects of his 1963 activities.

The range of the possible associations between Lee Oswald and various elements of the American intelligence community is far beyond the scope of this work. In order to retain a focus on the JFK conspiracy, this discussion will examine only those aspects which apply to Cuban affairs - and the pro-Castro Oswald "image" which developed in New Orleans. That "image" will be discussed in regard to its probable use in a variety of intelligence activities, as well as its possible use by the conspiracy as a "poison pill" – a form of insurance which ensured that both the CIA and FBI would withhold key information from the official inquiries rather than expose their own prior knowledge of Lee Oswald.

In regard to Oswald's own thoughts, his actions in New Orleans may not have been as inconsistent as they appear. There is good reason to accept that he was genuinely interested in the populist and socialist elements of the Cuban revolution, and that his actions in both contacting anti-Castro Cubans and then publicly supporting Cuba and its revolution were not as bipolar as they seem. Additional thoughts and commentary related to Lee in 1963 may be found in the end note cited here. [ 131 ]

As noted above, Lee Oswald was already engaged with the FPCC as a pro-Cuba/Castro supporter when he made his first contact with the local Cuban community in New Orleans – a contact with its most active anti-Castro element. That much-discussed contact began with an offer to buy "bonds" which the DRE had been selling. Because the group's leader, Carlos Bringuier, had just been notified that such sales were illegal he immediately suspected Oswald of being involved in some sort of police or FBI effort to trap him into an illegal act.

Oswald's offer of financial support for the anti-Castro effort was immediately rejected. When he was told they were no longer being sold, he offered his services as a military trainer, based on his Marine experience. Bringuier referred him to the DRE's military wing, but in the interim – concerned that he might be some sort of provocateur - sent one of his own associates (Carlos Quiroga) to contact Oswald, presenting himself as a Castro supporter in order to test Oswald's true affiliations. [ 132 ]

Oswald's landlady at the time was later interviewed and described seeing Quiroga visit Oswald, carrying what appeared to be a stack of leaflets – very possibly Fair Play for Cuba leaflets. Oswald can be shown to have requested materials from the FPCC itself, however an approach by Quiroga with FPCC materials in hand would certainly have been consistent with the visit being a test of Oswald's true affiliations.

Oswald's approach to the DRE, and Bringuier's response, would have been reported to DRE headquarters in Miami as a standard practice, a report which would also have been copied to the DRE's CIA case officer. That was important since DRE was still being funded by the CIA on a monthly basis, to collect and report intelligence (in particular on potential Castro intelligence activities), on suspected double agents, and on anything which should be considered for propaganda purposes – the primary duty assigned to DRE as of 1963.

In that regard, two CIA case officers - George Joannides and William Kent – are known to have been directly in contact with and receiving reports from the DRE organization in 1963. Both men worked DRE from Miami, but documents also show that each of them had also resided in, and worked from, New Orleans for periods of time. Kent appears to have spent time in New Orleans during the summer when Oswald made his approach to the DRE. While we know a bit about the DRE – CIA connection in 1963 (primarily due to the diligent research and legal actions of Jefferson Morley), as of this writing almost six decades later, it has been impossible to obtain some sixteen key documents relating to CIA case officer communications with the group.


Oswald's Uses


Jefferson Morley, Revelation 19.63
Jefferson Morley, "Revelation 19.63",
The New Times, April 12, 2002

The CIA knowingly and continuously shielded elements of the Oswald/DRE relationship from all Congressional inquiries (including the identity and activities of Joannides and Kent) and remains willing to go to court to protect files relating to Joannides even in the 21st century. It has only been in recent years that the extreme degree of CIA stonewalling over the DRE and Oswald has become a matter of public attention, even in Miami. [ 133 ]

Fortunately, based on Morley's work - which included numerous interviews with actual DRE members – and that of other researchers, we now have a much fuller story of the extent to which Lee Oswald was known within the Cuban exile community following his summer in New Orleans, a story which in itself gives the lie to the official view of Oswald as a virtually unknown, "lone nut".

To fully appreciate Oswald's summer 1963 encounter with the DRE, it's important to understand that the CIA maintained its relationship with the DRE largely due to the fact that DRE had by far the largest anti-Castro organization, not only inside Cuba but extending across Latin America. Because of the youth of many of its members and its roots within the university community, the DRE also continued to participate in international youth conferences – providing a perfect cover for the CIA to conduct political action in those venues. [ 134 ]

As previously noted, just prior to his activities in the independent DRE bombing projects of 1963, CIA asset Carlos Hernandez had attended a major youth conference in Helsinki, Finland. Earlier Hernandez had participated in the high profile 1962 DRE mission into Cuba, a mission which personally included the leaders of DRE (Salvat and Borja). During both 1962 and 1963 DRE continued to demonstrate its influence by publishing newspapers which were often cited on the Senate floor, and it maintained branches throughout both the United States and Latin America.

Given its reach and potential there is no surprise in finding that the CIA assigned DRE case officers to make the most of its capabilities in communications and propaganda. David Phillips had initially worked with the DRE during the 1960/61 Cuba Project, followed by William Kent. During the interregnum of 1962 Ross Crozier served as their political case officer.

Dan Hardway, An Operational Sketch
Dan Hardway, "An Operational Sketch",
2014

In early 1963 Crozier was replaced by George Joannides (pseudonym Newby) - deputy chief of psychological warfare operations against the Castro government. His prior duties had involved working against communist influence in Greece and Libya. The appointment also elevated the level of the CIA relationship with the DRE, since Joannides reported directly to JMWAVE Station Chief Shackley (pseudonym Routeman) – even though his own designated supervisor was propaganda Chief William Kent (cover name Ron Gupton and cryptonym Truchard). [ 135 ] Joannides chose to establish a personal relationship with the group, meeting with DRE leader Fernandez-Rocha every couple of weeks and sometimes as many as three times a week. [ 136 ]

Regardless of any personal engagement, there was a continual conflict in agendas – well described to Morley by DRE military leader Manual Salvat. Salvat was adamant that DRE was simply not going to take any orders from either the CIA or the United States as to their military activities. And as noted previously, during 1963 DRE military leaders such as 'Chilo' Borja and Manuel Salvat had become increasingly frustrated and bitter about the new Kennedy administration restraints.

In interviewing individuals willing to speak on the subject, Morley found that by the summer of 1963 attitudes inside the DRE were "extremely bitter". When talking with Ross Crozier he was given the impression that attitudes inside the DRE towards JFK were "scarcely less hostile" to the president than to Castro. Even in official JMWAVE memos to headquarters, station chief Shackley described the attitude within the DRE for administration policy makers as nothing less than sheer "contempt".

That contempt led to action, to the decision to proceed with plans to strike a major blow against Cuba by the end of 1963, a plan endorsed by Salvat and to be implemented by the DRE's military section, using boats and weapons cached at a base on Catalina Island, off the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. Planning and preparations for that effort would carry on during the second half of 1963, however during July DRE leaders such as Salvat and Borja also began to receive messages on another matter from the DRE's delegate in New Orleans, Carlos Bringuier.

Bringuier was seeking direction on what to do about a former Marine named Oswald, who had showed up at the local DRE office on August 5, offering to buy DRE bonds and to help with military training. According to Borja, the response was to engage with Oswald, to test him and if necessary expose him if he was not a true anti-Castro activist. Over the course of the next few weeks Bringuier would do just that, and continue advising DRE headquarters and its leaders of his actions.

Bringuier would later testify that one of the ways he tested Oswald was to persuade an associate to visit him and determine Oswald's true intentions - was Oswald anti-Castro or pro-Castro? Had he been trying to somehow infiltrate the DRE or was he actually trying to promote the Fair Play for Cuba Committee – for which he had begun to pass out leaflets and soliciting recruits?

Of course true allegiances within the Cuban exile community were sometimes unclear - in 1961 Quiroga himself had been suspected of being a Castro supporter. Quiroga was monitored by the CIA as being pro-Castro, however based on their findings they revised their opinions and then considered recruiting him during 1962. [ 137 ]

Later, District Attorney Garrison would investigate Quiroga and conduct a polygraph examination related to his knowledge of a conspiracy against JFK – Quiroga challenged its findings, which had suggested he was concealing information. Among other things, the examination had found him repeatedly lying on several subjects, including Oswald's association with individuals he refused to acknowledge or name.

What Quiroga really knew about Oswald or about a conspiracy remains uncertain. All that can surely be said is that following the assassination he would be among many in New Orleans and Miami going to the FBI and the media with information positioning Oswald as a Castro agent – stating Oswald had boasted to him that in any conflict he would support Castro over the United States.

Still, regardless of all the machinations and obfuscation in play - by DRE, by the CIA, or by both - by the end of August the name Lee Oswald was well-known inside the DRE and among Cuban exiles not just in New Orleans but from Miami to Dallas. Oswald had been in public confrontations supporting Cuba, televised on local news channels. He had been in radio debates with Bringuier, defending socialism and Marxism and the Castro regime. Sections of those radio debates had even been compiled into a propaganda record, warning of the influence of the FPCC, prepared for distribution across Latin America by the Information Council of the Americas (almost certainly a CIA propaganda outlet).

Bringuier had kept Jose Lanuza, in charge of all DRE's North American chapters, informed about Oswald activities, and a considerable file on Oswald was accumulated at DRE headquarters in Miami – the DRE even provided background information on Oswald and his time in the Soviet Union to Bringuier for the radio debate. Following the debate Bringuier made sure that articles on the broadcast were sent to DRE headquarters, as well as tapes of the interview itself.

In turn DRE headquarters issued a press release calling on the U.S. Congress to investigate Oswald and the FPCC – versions of that release were also issued by five other exile organizations including Alpha 66. The DRE leadership was highly supportive; one of its military leaders, Chilo Borja, told Jefferson Morley that the CIA had most definitely been advised of the DRE actions against Oswald in New Orleans – he described it as the sort of action that would bring them credit with the CIA; it was the sort of thing they were given money to do. [ 138 ] Of course we should know much more than just that. Morley's investigative work quite plainly shows that relevant CIA records are being withheld (that has been proven in Morley's extended legal efforts) and that others may either be missing or intentionally destroyed. [ 139 ]

Oswald's visibility to the DRE and the CIA (not to mention the FBI) in New Orleans has numerous implications. Joannides himself offered no insights on Oswald and neither did Chief of Station Shackley. Decades later, Joannides' supervisor / reviewing officer William Kent (crypt Trouchard) [ 140 ] gave the most accurate and honest answer on the subject to his daughter.

Kent had been chief of JMWAVE psychological warfare before Joannides took over that position in August, 1963 and was quite familiar with the activities of the DRE. When interviewed by Jefferson Morley, Kent's daughter recalled asking her father about Lee Oswald. His only response was that Oswald had been a "useful idiot". When asked who killed JFK, his response was "It's better you don't know". [ 141 ]

Regardless of Oswald's use by American intelligence agencies, one point that emerges from his time in New Orleans and his engagement with the DRE is that Lee Oswald was not an unknown. He had appeared in press releases issued by half a dozen of the major exile groups, and had been a topic of extensive discussion and interest in that community during August of 1963 – so much so that even in Dallas his name and activities had been communicated to individuals with ties to New Orleans. Sylvia Odio remarked that her uncle in New Orleans (Augustine Guitart) had discussed Oswald and his highly visible efforts in support of the Castro regime with her. Guitart himself had personally attended, along with Bringuier, the court hearing in which Oswald faced charges related to a confrontation with DRE members during leafletting for the FPCC.

By September 1963, Oswald had become a perfect figure to be used by anyone wishing to spread concern about the influence of Fidel Castro or to cast blame on the Cuban regime, whether for propaganda purposes – or something more intense.


Larry Hancock is the author of Someone Would Have Talked and several other books, including The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. (with Stuart Wexler), NEXUS, and his most recent work In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks? Larry has for several years co-directed the annual November in Dallas research conferences, and written and spoken extensively on the political assassinations of the 1960s, the efforts to oust Fidel Castro, and national security.


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ENDNOTES


[ 127 ] Oswald's first letter to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (apparently of some urgency to Oswald, who was normally quite frugal but sent this letter via Air Mail) expressed his interest in supporting Cuba and described having already demonstrated for Cuba in Dallas using a handmade placard; in response he was mailed 50 copies of the standard FPCC leaflet material. John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, 275. While the FBI did not confirm the incident described by Oswald in the letter there is anecdotal information from the DPD that one officer may have observed such activity, but the individual fled upon seeing the officer approach so exact identification was not possible. It needs to be noted that in February the alias A. Hidell had been used to order a rifle and Oswald would use that same alias in organizing his "virtual" FPCC chapter in New Orleans, ensuring that "Hidell" was listed with the Post Office to receive mail at Oswald's PO Box.

[ 128 ] Ibid, 277

[ 129 ] There is good reason to suspect that Oswald's information was indeed collected and became part of an intelligence file on the Minsk Radio and Electronics plant. The HSCA developed information that in 1962 a contact report was routed to the Soviet Branch of the CIA Directorate of Intelligence; the information being provided by a former Marine who had returned from the Soviet Union after having been employed at the plant. That information became the subject of a news inquiry by reporter Daniel Schorr and there is now documentary evidence that Schorr was stonewalled in his investigation, and that corroborative information was withheld from him. The ARRB obtained material showing that CIA Director William Colby even wrote a memorandum relating to the matter. Colby stated that he felt he had adequately deflected Schorr. But Colby remained concerned, so much so that he directed that Schorr must not be allowed to learn anything more prior to his broadcast – anything which would support the idea that Oswald had indeed been a source for the CIA.

Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked 2010, 85-86 also Exhibit 7-A1, CIA memorandum of Colby conversations with CBS.

[ 130 ] Warren Commission Volume 16, 422-3, and analysis in Andrew Kiel, J. Edgar Hoover: The Father of the Cold War, UPA, 2000, 146-147

[ 131 ] There appears little doubt that, during 1963, intelligence activities involving Lee Oswald, the Hidell alias, and the public image that developed around him over the summer were in progress. The ordering of a rifle under the Hidell alias in March, his March pro-Cuba/Castro communication with the FPCC, his initial outreach to the anti-Castro community in New Orleans - followed by highly visible pro-Castro public appearances and media visibility. That image would have been reinforced by his photograph with the rifle and both socialist and communist newspapers (both organizations staunchly defended and supported the Cuban revolution). Beyond that he also repeatedly wrote letters to both groups, in one instance asking CPUSA about advice in possibly going "underground". In total, it is easy to see all these elements as combining to create the "image" of a young, radicalized former Marine being subverted by foreign propaganda.

Yet that image is dramatically inconsistent with the views expressed in his private memoire of late 1962 only months earlier, in which he expressed views undeniably hostile towards Soviet communism and in particular the Communist Party USA. In that context, it appears that, beginning in early 1963, Oswald either willingly or unknowingly was being crafted as a both a domestic intelligence "dangle" and a potential propaganda tool.

One scenario which appears likely is that information on Oswald collected by CIA's Domestic Contacts immediately following his return from Russia would have been shared with the Western Hemisphere directorate. At that point, a decision might have been made to monitor Oswald as a "dangle" in domestic collections regarding Cuba, and beyond that to begin developing him as a potential propaganda device. Oswald effectively served as a "dangle" simply by going about his interests and activities – monitoring his mail, obtaining information on his activities though people in contact with him and if necessary conducting pretext interviews of his employers to determine his work status and activities could be done without his knowledge while exposing persons of interest contacting him either privately or at work.

With anti-Castro and anti-FPCC propaganda reinvigorated within the new SAS group, it would not be surprising find headquarters propaganda specialists such as John Tilton involved with the use of Oswald, as well as SAS staff at Miami Station – including both foreign intelligence officers and DRE case officers. When David Phillips was seconded to SAS as a propaganda asset he may well have been added to the Oswald project (Phillip's meeting in Miami with Tilton in October lends support to that idea).

However despite the various usages pursued by the CIA, the bottom line in regards to conspiracy would be that a number of CIA officers would have been well aware of how entangled the CIA was with the Oswald identity by November 1963, not just for propaganda but in other respects which are discussed in this work – including penetration and fragmentation actions against Cuban diplomatic staff. For those involved in a conspiracy, that would have enhanced the use of Oswald, making him not only a pointer to Castro but making it likely the CIA would be forced to conceal information related to him for operational security reasons - not to mention neutering any real investigation of conspiracy that might be initiated internally within the agency.

[ 132 ] HSCA Volume 10, Section 9, DRE, 85

[ 133 ] Jefferson Morley, "Revelation 19.63", The New Times, April 12, 2002

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/revelation-1963-6353139

[ 134 ] Op Cit

[ 135 ] Dan Hardway, "An Operational Sketch", 2014

https://aarclibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/dan_hardway_aarc_9_26_14.pdf

[ 136 ] Op Cit

[ 137 ] Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked 2010, 40-41

[ 138 ] Jefferson Morley, "Revelation 19.63", The New Times, April 12, 2002

[ 139 ] Op Cit,

Morley determined that the CIA's archives contained no reports, receipts, memoranda, notes, or cables relating to the DRE (including funds supplied) for the entire 17-month period in which Joannides was its case officer. His personnel file only notes they were being paid for intelligence collection and propaganda. Of course, such reporting was standard administrative practice; reports for the officers preceding and following Joannides are in the files. Morley even notes that Joannides was commended in his 1963 performance review for his adherence to the rules for correct reporting.

Morley interviewed six separate, retired CIA operations officers who confirmed that Joannides was required to file written memoranda regarding anything reported as to Oswald and the DRE. All of which means that something was going on with Oswald and the CIA that had to be removed from the system following the president's assassination – or that the DRE was internally abuzz about Oswald but for some reason withholding everything about him from the CIA, including the sort of propaganda work for which they were retained and paid. The fact that the CIA has refused to disclose any contemporary documents or communications relating to Lee Oswald and the DRE during his time in New Orleans is quite suspicious. Either very relevant documents or being withheld or both SAS and JMWAVE were ignorant of the DRE related contacts with Oswald that summer. A total lack of documents would also imply that the CIA's Domestic Affairs staff in New Orleans had totally failed to inquire into a highly visible American who had been in Russia, and had become a pro-Castro advocate - engaged with an activist Cuban exile group actively supported by the CIA itself.

[ 140 ] CIA document; Fitness Report on George Joannides, 1963, 1964

https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=16078

[ 141 ] Personal communication with Jefferson Morley, January 2020 also Dan Hardway, "An Operational Sketch", 2014

https://aarclibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/dan_hardway_aarc_9_26_14.pdf

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