Wiretapping in Mexico City, Double Agents, and the Framing of Lee Oswald
by Bill Simpich
Chapter 1: The Double Dangle
What some people don’t get is that the JFK story is about justice.
It’s not a parlor room game. This case should have been solved a long time ago. The leader of the United States was killed in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses.
The case was given to two of the best investigative outfits in the world. Why couldn’t they solve it?
This story will explain that both the CIA and the FBI had been blackmailed and could not carry out an honest investigation. If they had, it would have destroyed their members' careers, their families, and the future of their agencies.
The story of Dealey Plaza has been told over and over again. But no one’s ever looked at Oswald hard enough.
Some say he was a spy. Some say he was a lone nut. The truth may be something other than what these labels imply. But one thing is crystal clear from the latest document releases: Whether he knew it or not, he was being used as an intelligence asset.
When Oswald came on the scene, people talked. Other people recorded it.
It is a state secret – but nonetheless true and well documented – that shortly before JFK’s death, Oswald was impersonated on a wiretap in Mexico City. A tape of this tap survived the assassination. That tape was returned to the custody of the CIA. That tape has now disappeared, but may still exist to this day.
This state secret has poisoned our society, and will continue to do so until all the facts are out.
New witnesses and documents revealed over the last twenty years explain what really happened.
Here’s a good way to start this story. Why did this man Oswald try to defect to the Soviet Union, come back saying he had seen the light, and then try to go back again a year later?
Something was going on with this man. Was he being used in some way?
Oswald and another defector named Robert Webster were used as “dangles” to learn more about Soviet military plans and to unearth “moles”
The first place to look is Oswald’s defection to the Soviet Union in 1959. Oswald had just received his discharge from the Marines, where he had served as a radar operator at the U-2 bases in Japan and in the Philippines. He only had some reserve duty to put in before his discharge from the Marines was final and unconditional. His defection resulted in the loss of his veterans’ benefits. That would have been a serious blow to anyone, but especially to a low-income and poorly educated guy like Oswald, who had a good IQ and was motivated to make something of himself.
Lee Oswald: spy, loner,
or perhaps something else?
Many people assume that Oswald was a spy of some kind. I think this is the wrong question, because we still don’t know whether Oswald was a witting or unwitting ally of US intelligence. I think that the odds are low that Oswald was a paid CIA agent. However, a fair reading of the records shows that the CIA used Oswald’s file for operational purposes while he was in the Soviet Union.
Whether or not Oswald was a fake defector, the important thing is that any American who defected to the Soviet Union would be watched very carefully. If there was a way to use his defection, American counterintelligence would use it to penetrate the closed Soviet society. That’s the approach I’m going to take here.
It’s also important to look at the defection in 1959 of another defector, Robert Webster. Webster, a Navy veteran, defected two weeks before Oswald - and returned to the US two weeks before Oswald. Whether Oswald and Webster knew it or not, US intelligence used both men as "dangles" to learn more about Soviet military plans and to try to unearth enemy spies known as “moles”.
Robert Webster, a materials specialist, was used to learn more about the Soviet needs for plastic and fiberglass in their missile program. Oswald, a radar operator, was used to entice the Soviets with his experience tracking U-2 surveillance flights. Upon arrival, Oswald announced that he was a radar operator with the Marines and he knew some "classified things" that he was going to give to the Soviets. Oswald had also brought with him a handwritten statement renouncing his American citizenship that he wanted the Embassy to accept so that he could seek Soviet citizenship. We know that the CIA closely watched both Webster and Oswald.
Military intelligence was also watching these two men. The documents indicate that Air Force intelligence had recently given Webster a security clearance and were following his work with plastic and fiberglass.[ 1 ] Naval and Marine intelligence pretended that they didn’t care about either Webster or Oswald, but the documents indicate that they kept an eye on Oswald in particular.
How to set up a molehunt
During their time in the Soviet Union, Oswald’s description was subtly blended with Webster’s description for in-house use at the CIA in what is known as a “marked card” in a "molehunt”.
A marked card is a technique designed to look for leaks when enemy spies repeat the leaked information. An operation designed to capture infiltrators is known as a molehunt. The CIA used Oswald’s altered description to try to unearth infiltrators within the Agency itself.
In a marked card operation, “falsified bits of information, like bent cards, (are) passed through the system to see where, and by what route, they ended up”. If any phony information inside Oswald's file fell into the wrong hands, and if that phony information re-emerged in another intelligence document, that marked card would provide a lead as to who was leaking information to the Soviets. Slipping marked cards into someone’s case file was one of the techniques used in a molehunt. It’s an operation that leads to paranoia within the hunter and the hunted.
The "marked card" technique has been around for a long time. Peter Wright in Spycatcher refers to this method as a "barium meal." Tom Clancy in Patriot Games calls this trick a "canary trap." Author Peter Dale Scott mentions that the "marked card" was one of the methods used to try to capture the infamous CIA mole Aldrich Ames during the 1990s. The marked card trick didn't work because Ames himself was the chief of the Soviet Russia counterintelligence staff.
Ann Egerter handled Oswald’s file. She worked at the office that spied on spies.
The person who ran the molehunts was James Angleton, CIA’s chief of counterintelligence and a legend in the Agency. An avid fisherman, he specialized in the use of lures. He was known as “the Angler”. Angleton’s main task was to stop spies from infiltrating the CIA itself. In 1955, he created the Special Investigations Group, known as CI-SIG. Angleton told the Church Committee that CI/SIG’s role was to prevent the penetration of spies into the CIA and the government by code clerks and others with access to sensitive files. CI-SIG would work with the CIA’s Office of Security, who provided them with access to the personnel files of all the CIA employees. No one knew more about the CIA employees than these two offices.
Angleton’s intelligence analyst Ann Egerter of CI-SIG (Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Group) opened biographical files – known as 201 files - on Oswald and Webster while they were in the Soviet Union. Egerter’s main job as an analyst was to spy on individuals inside the CIA itself. She referred to CI-SIG as the “the office that spied on spies”.
Egerter had all of the CIA’s documents available to her by working with the Office of Security, which also had sole access to CIA employee personnel files. By embedding false statements - the “marked cards” - within Oswald's file, and then tracking those people that had access to Oswald’s file, Egerter and her molehunters could determine if this information had surfaced to unauthorized personnel.
Angleton's biographer Edward Epstein revealed that Angleton was known for using marked cards. On one occasion, Angleton worked with the Office of Security to prepare "selected bits of information about planned CIA operations passed out, one at a time, to different units of the Division to see which, if any, leaked to the enemy. The marked card in the initial test revealed that an effort would be made to recruit a particular Soviet diplomat in Canada. The Office of Security agents, watching the diplomat from a discreet distance, observed the KGB putting their own surveillance on him on the day of the planned contact, realized that the marked card had gotten to the KGB."
How the double dangle was created
Now that we’ve discussed how to set up a molehunt, let’s discuss how a double dangle was created. As seen below, Oswald and Webster looked almost exactly the same.
Lee Oswald and Robert Webster
These photos are particularly eerie. I believe that the similar appearance of Oswald and Webster was designed to entice Soviets to talk about the uncanny resemblance of these two men, or to express their confusion regarding these two men. These conversations could then be picked up by American wiretaps and bugs planted in strategic places such as Soviet government buildings. Covert operations of this type were run by the CIA’s Staff D.
The highly sensitive mission of Staff D was to set up the listening devices and provide the fruits of their labor to the National Security Agency. The head of Staff D was Bill Harvey, who had founded Staff D in the forties and had just recently returned after a successful stint at the Berlin Operations Base. I don't know exactly how many Americans were in the Soviet Union back then, but there weren't many. Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes estimates that the number of CIA sources within the Soviet Union during that era was as low as twenty.
Marina Prusakova in Minsk
One story illustrates how strong this resemblance was between Oswald and Webster. Robert Webster met Oswald’s future wife Marina Prusakova at the American Exhibition held in Moscow during the summer of 1959. They saw each other again in 1960. Curiously, Marina spoke English to Webster, while she only spoke Russian when she came to the United States with Oswald.[ 2 ] On one occasion, Marina even confused Webster with Oswald. Webster and Oswald were used to loosen Soviet tongues, and they may have never realized it.
Marina wasn’t the only woman confused by the two men. In the 1990s, the Assassination Records Review Board interviewed Joan Hallett, the widow of the former naval attaché at the American Embassy in Moscow. Hallett remembered seeing Oswald at the Embassy on September 5, right at the end of the American Exhibition. No one could understand the discrepancy between her strong and clear recollection and the September 5 date. The solution is simple - Hallett was mistaking Webster for Oswald. Webster disappeared on 9/10/59 – six days after the Exhibition ended. Oswald didn't arrive in Moscow until a month later.
After Webster was enticed to defect in 1959, he was used as a dangle to find out about Soviet progress in plastics and fiberglass and the impact on the Soviet military program
Look at the events surrounding Oswald's entry into the USSR, with a special focus on what Webster did after the American Exhibition in Moscow ended in early September 1959. The American Exhibition was the locale for the famous "kitchen debate" between Nixon and Khrushchev, where the two leaders used the setting of a modern kitchen as the theatrical backdrop for a battle over which nation offered a better way of life.
Robert Webster held the fort at the Rand Development Corporation’s display booth. He was described as 5 foot 10, about 30 years old, and a “lone wolf”. He was on good terms with his boss, Rand president James H. Rand, III. Jim Rand was almost certainly not a CIA officer because he had a "201 number" – this number is the name of a biographical file that is used for persons of interest to the CIA. However, Rand was a well-respected CIA source, as seen in this analysis report cover sheet Rand prepared for the Agency’s Domestic Contacts division after Webster's return. I will contrast Webster’s movements with Oswald’s with the use of italics.
On September 4, Oswald filled out a passport application saying that he was leaving the US on 9/21/59 by boat. He would be gone for four months to attend school at the Albert Schweitzer College and elsewhere. He indicated that he would begin his tour in Cuba, travel through Europe all the way to Finland, and then cross into Russia. Actually, Oswald was not scheduled to attend Albert Schweitzer College until April 1960.
Oswald's statement about Cuba, Finland and Russia was a red flag for the counterintelligence agents that routinely review passport applications.
Right before Webster’s disappearance, he was told by the Soviets that they would accept him as a citizen if he would teach them how to make the Rand spray gun demonstrated at the American Exhibition. When he agreed to show them, the Soviets agreed to provide him with citizenship. One of Jim Angleton’s deputies testified that Webster was regarded as a loss because of Soviet interest in Webster's knowledge about the "specifications of a nozzle that prepared plastic in a particular fashion".
During this summer, Webster had been enjoying the attentions of a Russian woman named Vera. Webster had been suffering with marital problems back in the United States. Jim Rand believed that the Soviets were using Vera to convince Webster to stay "in order to gain his knowledge of (the) plastics and synthetics industry".
Webster knew a lot about the technology that the Soviets wanted for their military and space programs, in order to fabricate their missiles and engines. All signs are that the US wanted the inside baseball on the state of development of Soviet missiles and military hardware - Webster learned during his stay that "Soviet plastics technologies on a commercial and application basis are about ten years behind those of the US."
This letter between two FBI counterintelligence chiefs is revealing: "Subject does not have access to any classified data, but the Rand Development Corporation has expressed interest in his welfare because of his peculiar knowledge of the plastics and fiberglass industry. The U.S. is ahead of the Russians in the plastic and fiberglass field, and, therefore, the Soviets would have a logical interest in the subject's remaining in the Soviet Union. We also know that the Soviets have requested information concerning fiberglass and plastics through our double agents."
Webster’s “peculiar knowledge” was not going to make up a ten year disadvantage between the US and the USSR in this field. However, as we will see, Webster became an invaluable source to US intelligence on the state of Soviet technology in these fields.
Webster disappeared after he got his 20 day travel visa
While Webster negotiated with the Soviets, Lee Harvey Oswald received a dependency discharge based on his claim that he was going to take care of his mother, who was supposedly injured months earlier by a falling candy box, and arrived in Fort Worth on September 12, 1959. He would still have to put in some reserve duty before his discharge was final.
Right after Webster got a 20 day visa for travel around the USSR, he disappeared on the 10th with Vera instead of leaving the USSR on the 14th as planned. Air Force intelligence described his trip as a 20 day Intourist tour of Kiev, a tourism agency firmly in the hands of the KGB.
During Webster’s disappearance, Oswald traveled from New Orleans to Europe by freighter
On September 16th, rather than return to the world of import-export, Oswald used his knowledge of that world to chart an unusual course by taking a slow boat to Europe. Oswald obtained a ticket to go to Le Havre, France by freighter for the next day. Although he wrote that he intended to leave on the 21st, he actually left on the 17th.
Oswald skipped his planned trip to Cuba. Was it because Webster had disappeared? For a man on a slow boat, Oswald was in some kind of hurry. No one can prove that Oswald was working as an intelligence agent, or if he was being manipulated in some way. However, the evidence indicates that it was one or the other. Oswald’s trip was not a coincidence.
What we do know is that in the eyes of intelligence, it was far better for Oswald to take a slow boat then to fly by plane. Throughout the summer of 1959, CIA officer “William Costille” and KGB officer Gregory Golub – under their cover as embassy consuls – were going out to Helsinki nightclubs for a few drinks, some flirtation with their female companions, and testing each other and their dates as possible defection targets. They would muse about ways to make it easier for Americans to obtain an instant visa to cross the border and enter the Soviet Union.[ 3 ]
It was too early for Oswald to enter the Soviet Union. Webster's whereabouts were unknown. Nor was it known whether Costille had been successful in lining up an instant visa for Americans.
On September 30, just as his visa was about to expire, Webster wrote the American embassy and told them that he was staying in the USSR. On October 6, a diplomat at the American embassy sent a memo to the State Department, tipping them off that Webster was defecting. The memo included a handwritten memo sizing up Webster, possibly from a photograph, describing him as "hgt 10.5, light, looks 165". The State Department memo quickly reached the top echelon at the FBI.
with handwritten note giving this
description: "hgt 10.5, light, looks 165"
When Webster surfaced, Oswald jumped off the boat and got an instant visa to the USSR
Oswald cut short his trip once Webster turned up. Oswald disembarked in France on October 8. Oswald did not stop by the Albert Schweitzer school. Oswald was now on the move.
On October 8, a memo from the CIA’s Soviet Union division revealed that all components involved with the Webster affair were swearing up and down that he was not their agent. All signs are that Webster’s movements were being choreographed by Air Force intelligence, whether Webster knew it or not.
By October 11, Rand flew to the USSR to visit Webster, who was in the hospital for reasons that are still unclear. Jim Rand could not get any information, and was so frustrated that he referred to the American consul Richard Snyder as a "jerk".
Oswald sped to Helsinki and arrived during the weekend of October 10. Oswald stayed at the Klaus Korki and Torni hotels, places that the CIA referred to as the local “pink hotels” - apparently because socialist travelers were attracted to them. The impecunious Oswald lined up his stay through an expensive Intourist package, even though his passport application said that he would not be using any such service. The KGB was watching Oswald.
Shortly before Oswald’s arrival, we see memos with the indicators REDCAP and sometimes including LCIMPROVE. REDCAP was used for monitoring the activities of Soviet officials and installations outside of the USSR, and also as a defector inducement program. David Murphy, chief of the USSR division, described REDCAP as a "defector inducement program" in his book Battleground Berlin. LCIMPROVE was used for counterintelligence operations directed at the USSR.
A REDCAP memo recounts how CIA consul William Costille gave his counterpart Gregory Golub two tickets to see Leonard Bernstein in an upcoming concert.[ 4 ] This was in appreciation for Golub’s recent assurance in a REDCAP/LCIMPROVE memo that any American who came to Helsinki with their papers in order would be granted a visa “in a matter of minutes” by the Soviets.[ 5 ] When a couple of Americans sought instant visas on Costille’s advice, Golub called Costille and told him that “he would give them their visas as soon as they made advance Intourist reservations. When they did this, Golub immediately gave them the visas.” A few days later, Costille gave Golub the Bernstein tickets. Golub had lunch with Costille on the 13th to say thank you.
Oswald applied for his visa on the 13th and received his visa in record time by the 14th, obtained in one day rather than the customary wait of a week or more in Helsinki. Helsinki was considered to be the quickest place in the world for a foreigner to receive a Soviet visa. He then boarded a train, arriving in Moscow on October 16.
Two good looking six footers were now loose in the Soviet Union, both willing to provide information to the Soviets – with no talk of criminal charges back in the USA
Even though Rand groused about Webster's defection as "industrial espionage", his friends at Air Force Intelligence were unconcerned about Webster’s defection. The Air Force had the most to gain by what Webster learned about the Soviet missile programs. It is documented that Jim Rand cooperated with Air Force Intelligence.
A memo of Rand's describes how Anastas Mikoyan, Khrushchev’s friend and Presidium colleague – the “Big M” - allowed Rand, his assistant George Bookbinder, and consul Snyder to meet with Webster on the 17th and ask him a lot of questions. Webster was given Soviet citizenship, and filled out a form with Snyder renouncing his American citizenship. Webster later followed it up by turning over his passport and receiving a Soviet passport from the Soviets. Curiously, Webster never turned over his passport to Snyder as requested.
On October 17, the New York Times runs a story on Webster's defection on October 17 with Webster's friend Ted "Korkycki" piously exclaiming that Webster could be of “very little help” to the Soviets. However, internal CIA memos reveal that Webster was known as "Guide 223" and Ted "Korycki" was known as "Lincoln Leeds". Webster was also described as part of a project, with the name redacted. It looks to me like Webster was an asset and his friend was an intelligence man.
Two days later, a UPI article about Webster by Bud Korngold looks like it caught the eye of the journalist Priscilla Johnson – although her left-wing credentials made her too much of a security risk to get hired by the CIA, the Agency often looked to her to help them with a story. Korngold’s article described Webster as a "good-looking 6-footer", with "blond hair and blue eyes". A month later, Johnson described Oswald as a "nice-looking six-footer", with brown hair and gray eyes. Who but a spy agency is interested in the color of a defector's eyes?
A few days later, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations contacted the CIA and assured them that things were not as bad as they had initially feared. The word was that Webster had no access to any classified military information. Actually, no one ever seemed upset by Webster’s defection – nor Oswald’s.
Oswald showed up at the American Embassy on October 31 and showed the consul Richard Snyder his handwritten renunciation of his citizenship. He also stated that he was going to provide classified radar information to the Soviets. Snyder assumed Oswald was referring to the U-2. Snyder concluded that Oswald was assuming that the KGB had bugged the American Embassy, and “was speaking for Russian ears in my office.”[ 6 ]
If Snyder’s assumption was right, Oswald may have been wittingly or unwittingly prepped by someone from Harvey’s Staff D. As Norman Mailer said, “Oswald was a spy in his own mind.”
Snyder did not accept Oswald’s efforts at renouncing his citizenship, telling him that it was Saturday morning and that he would need to come back during normal working hours and he would have the papers prepared for him at that time. Oswald never came back to complete the process.
Within four days of Oswald’s defection, both the Office of Naval Intelligence and the FBI decided that they would take no action, despite Oswald’s statement at the American embassy that he was a radar operator with the Marines and he knew some "classified things" that he was going to give to the Soviets.[ 7 ]
F. L. Jones of the FBI’s Foreign Liaison Unit suggested that a “stop” be put on Oswald’s file so that an alarm would go off if he tried to return to the United States under any name, and it was done that week by FBI counterintelligence supervisor Bill Branigan in coordination with Angleton’s office.[ 8 ]
Pursuant to the “stop”, also referred to as a “security flash”, Oswald was quietly included as one of three hundred US citizens on their “Watch List” under the HTLINGUAL program, so that Egerter, the Office of Security, and her counterintelligence colleagues at the FBI could read his mail. Meanwhile, Priscilla Johnson conducted a starry-eyed interview of that nice looking six footer, Lee Harvey Oswald.[ 9 ]
After the CIA’s top double agent was captured by the Soviets, Jim Angleton obsessively looked for a mole while Bill Harvey blamed himself
Besides Oswald’s value in shaking up the Russians because he looked so much like Webster, there was another game afoot.
While Oswald was a radar operator in Asia, Col. Pyotr Popov was a top double agent for the CIA, providing important Soviet military intelligence to Angleton under the code name ATTIC. In April, 1958, Popov heard a drunken colonel brag about the "technical details" that the KGB had on a new high-altitude spycraft that America was flying over the USSR. Popov concluded that the leak of such details came from within the U-2 project itself. While in Berlin, Popov passed this U-2 leak to the Agency and then returned to Moscow.[ 10 ]
During 1958-1959, Berlin chief Bill Harvey was very worried that Popov had been found out and was going to be arrested due to heavy-handed FBI surveillance. During a visit to New York City, a Soviet spy partner of Popov’s had noticed that someone had rifled through her bags. Harvey’s response was, “Oh shit, oh damn.” The quality of Popov’s reports decreased during the summer of 1959, always a troubling sign that the source has been discovered by the other side.[ 11 ]
Many who have reviewed this case conclude that CIA counterintelligence officers wanted to use Oswald’s defection as an opportunity to listen to what the Soviets thought about Oswald’s background as a radar operator for the U-2.
But maybe there was more at stake. Perhaps they wanted to see whether the Soviets thought that Oswald might be useful as a possible way to draw out Popov. Or maybe the idea was to dangle Oswald as bait to draw out the mole that had exposed Popov.
On the day Oswald arrived in Moscow, Popov and a key CIA officer were arrested in Moscow. Popov was executed.
Oswald's arrival was on the same date as Popov's arrest. Although Oswald's Moscow arrival was sped up as part of the ongoing drama involving Webster, it may have been part of a hunt for the person in U.S. intelligence who had exposed “Popov’s mole.”
In any case, Popov’s capture had to throw Angleton – a notoriously paranoid man - for a loop.
Angleton's biographer Tom Mangold wrote that the execution of Popov accelerated Angleton's belief that "Popov could only have been betrayed by a mole buried deep within Soviet Division.". Mangold found Angleton misguided, stating that the evidence is clear that a CIA officer gave the game away for good when he was spotted picking up a message from Popov. "Popov was actually lost to the Soviets because of a slipshod CIA operation; there was no treachery."[ 12 ]
The important thing, as brought out by author David Robarge, is that Popov's capture marked the time when Angleton became "fixed on the mole". Angleton wanted to know who was the mole who had exposed Popov.
Angleton’s predecessor as CI chief, Bill Harvey, had returned to his command fortress at Staff D in late 1959. Harvey listened to wiretaps from around the world, including the heavily wiretapped Soviet embassies, in a specialized office with armed guards. Harvey blamed himself for Popov’s capture. He knew that the proper security protocol had not been used when Popov’s message was picked up.[ 13 ] He was much more comfortable in the field than Angleton would ever be.
The plans to bring Webster home were scuttled when the U-2 was shot down
In January 1960, Webster received word that his mother had a nervous breakdown and his father has assumed financial responsibility for his children. At that point, Webster made it clear that he wanted to return home but the Soviets would not let him.
On April 15, the CIA got word that Webster was going to be in Moscow for the May Day parade with the hope of visiting the American embassy. The plan was to begin a lengthy and complicated affair to get him out of the country.
On April 26, Rand called the CIA Cleveland field office and told them that he and Bookbinder were heading to Moscow in the next ten days to try to get Webster out.
On April 28, the CIA Miami chief got the word that Rand, Bookbinder, and their colleague Dan Tyler Moore were heading for Moscow. Like Rand and Bookbinder, Moore was ex-OSS. Moore was also the brother-in-law of Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson, and had the savvy to put together a plan to smuggle Robert Webster into Rand's car and out of the USSR. The Miami chief ended his message by saying that his note was "some warning that an accident may be on its way to happen". The plan was to smuggle Webster out on May 4.
On May 1, 1960, the U-2 was shot down. This caused an international incident that broke up the peace summit that was about to begin between President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Oswald was familiar with the U-2, as he had picked up its signal when he worked at the Atsugi base in Japan. Upon his arrival to the Soviet Union, Oswald had announced that he was a radar operator with the Marines and he knew some "classified things" that he was going to give to the Soviets. Yet Oswald was never punished for making these disloyal statements.
In the wake of the U-2 incident, the Soviet government told Rand to close down his Moscow office. Rand lost contact with Webster, and thus the plan to get him out of the USSR never materialized.
After the downing of the U-2, Oswald's usefulness as a dangle was ended, but his case file continued to be filled with marked cards in Egerter’s molehunt
Although the downing of the U-2 ended Oswald’s usefulness as a dangle, Egerter and other officers in the counterintelligence division of the CIA continued to use the Oswald case file as a marked card to look for leaks in the US security apparatus. These marked cards included the claim that Oswald had successfully renounced his citizenship, getting his parents’ names wrong, and even getting his own name wrong as “Lee Henry Oswald”.
Egerter kept a careful eye on Oswald’s file for the rest of his short life, even after his return to the United States. As Oswald was going home, a note in the Oswald file says “ZR Webster”. ZR is a CIA digraph for intercept operations, and this looks like a directive to check the wiretap records on Webster. Bill Harvey’s Staff D tracked people all over the world through intercept operations which used the prefix “ZR”.[ 14 ]
Webster was debriefed upon his return by various elements of the CIA. Oswald and Webster were joined at the hip, as far as Angleton’s people were concerned.
Here’s how the new marked cards entered the Oswald file.
FBI agent John Fain conducted an interview with Lee's brother Robert Oswald. Robert said that the family was shocked when Oswald turned up in the USSR and sought Soviet citizenship.
Fain also interviewed Lee's mother Marguerite. Marguerite said that she was shaken because her letters to Lee in the Soviet Union were being returned and she didn't know how he was doing. Lee had told her during his visit the previous September that he was thinking of going to Cuba, but he had never said anything about the Soviet Union. She had just received a letter from the Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland saying that they were expecting him to arrive on April 20, 1960.
After these interviews, Fain slipped a couple of marked cards into his memo of May 12, 1960. The records show Fain was working with Egerter. She received a copy of Fain’s memo right away. The CIA’s records of the Fain memo bounced back repeatedly between Angleton’s CI-SIG and the Soviet Russia division.[ 16 ]
I should add that on the same day as Fain's memo, Egerter prepared a letter for Angleton’s signature to the FBI liaison. This note discussed Rand's failed plan to bust Webster out of the Soviet Union on May 4. An accompanying routing slip indicates that Angleton reviewed Egerter's note a week later and personally acknowledged reviewing it.
One marked card in Fain's 5/12/60 memo is his incorrect reference to Lee Oswald's father as "Edward Lee Oswald", and his mother as “Mrs. Edward Lee Oswald”. Oswald’s father and mother were never known by this name. The father’s real name was "Robert Edward Lee Oswald", as he was named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Fain’s memo resulted in Oswald's undesirable discharge from the Marines three months later, which haunted Oswald for the rest of his short life.[ 19 ] Fain’s superiors were forced to agree that Oswald had never renounced his citizenship, but the Marines refused to change their ruling on Oswald’s discharge. I don’t think Oswald ever got over getting a bad discharge. It made getting a job and going back to school much more difficult. For whatever reason, it was as if the gods of Olympus had decided to punish this mere mortal, making him more vulnerable to do their bidding.
During December 1960, Egerter finally opened a 201 file for Oswald when the Office of Security put together a list of defectors and it noticed that Oswald had no biographical file.[ 20 ] I think, however, that the Office of Security was spurred to make this observation only after finding out from various sources that Oswald was interested in returning to the USA.[ 21 ] Angleton’s successor George Kalaris noted many years later that the 201 was opened because of Oswald’s defector status and because of Oswald’s “queries about possible reentry into the United States”.
Egerter named him “Lee Henry Oswald”, and supplied the head of covert operations with a separate Lee Henry Oswald index card with the note “CIT?”, asking whether Oswald was a citizen. Egerter knew Oswald’s real name and was staying on top of his story, as shown by a late 1960 note signed by Egerter after reviewing the Soviet division’s latest memo on Oswald’s background. Oswald’s 201 file could now be used to keep track of Oswald’s alleged biography.
As mentioned earlier, the covert operations desk had a separate Lee Harvey Oswald index card that was based on Fain’s interviews with the Oswald family. This card states flatly and falsely that Oswald was now a Soviet citizen! In the limited but important world of CIA record-keeping, there were now two different Oswalds by the end of 1960.[ 22 ]
The physical differences between Oswald and Webster were blended for molehunt purposes
The following discussion is important because it shows the game that was played by blending the identities of Oswald and Webster. I am convinced Fain misrepresented some of the “minor details” that Marguerite Oswald told him, as part of an approved CI-SIG operation conducted for molehunt purposes by Angleton’s division. Keep in mind that Angleton’s job was to prevent penetration of the CIA, and he had been focused on the Soviet branch since the blowing of the Popov operation.
Here’s Marguerite’s supposed description of Lee to Fain: "5' 10", 165 lbs., light brown and wavy hair, blue eyes". Except for the hair color, this is a description of Robert Webster, not Oswald. Webster's job application in 1957 describes him as five feet ten, 166, blond hair, blue eyes.
Oswald’s weight never got anywhere close to Webster’s 165 pounds. Although Oswald was known to exaggerate and write that he weighed 150 or 160 on two separate occasions, Oswald’s documented weight for the last seven years of his life varied between 131-140 pounds.[ 23 ]
Webster's hair was slightly wavy. Oswald also had slightly wavy hair. However, in contrast to Webster’s 5 feet, 10 inches, Oswald's height was generally described as 5 feet, 9 inches, as shown in this photo.
After Fain’s memo, Oswald's height is only described as 5' 10" in one fateful event - a critical memo about an Oswald sighting in Mexico City shortly before the assassination, with Egerter as an acknowledged co-author. As we will see, the way that Oswald was described in Mexico City will take us to the heart of the drama in Dallas.
Oswald exaggerated his height to 5 feet, 11 inches starting with his application to the Switzerland college in March 1959 and continuing until his return from the Soviet Union. After his return, Oswald reported himself as 5 feet, 9 inches to prospective employers…except when dealing with government officials, where he described himself as 5 foot 11. This maneuver kept his records with the government consistent. It doesn’t prove that Oswald was a government spy. It indicates that Oswald was a spy in his own mind, and would exaggerate his own description. There is no record that Oswald ever described himself as “5 foot 10, 165”.[ 24 ] CI-SIG may have noticed that Oswald was toying with his own measurements, which may have elevated him in their eyes as a prime candidate to have his biographical data used in a molehunt.
This phony description of Oswald as “5 foot 10, 165” came back into play three years later. In Mexico City, Oswald tried again to get an instant visa – this time, to visit Cuba and the Soviet Union. On October 10, 1963, Egerter was the co-author of two memos describing a man known as “Lee Henry Oswald” – the name that Egerter had used for him back during his time in the Soviet Union.
The first memo describes Oswald with the blended/Webster description from his time in the USSR...Five feet ten, 165, hair is light brown and wavy, eyes blue. (Memo 1, directed to Mexico City)
The second memo blends this description with the photo of a six foot man who was a probable KGB officer. Six feet, receding hairline, age 35, athletic build. (Memo 2, directed to the headquarters of the FBI, State Dept., and Navy - and note that the KGB officer was 35 years old and well built.)
Egerter prepared these two memos with two different descriptions of Oswald that went to different agencies. One said that he was a defector seeking to re-enter the US. The other one, responding to the Mexico City station, added that the realities of life in the USSR had a "maturing effect" on Oswald. The reasons why will be explored in the Mexico City chapter.
My conclusion about the blending of their identities was to get the Soviets to talk about Webster when Oswald was on the scene, since they looked so similar. Webster was used in a dangle designed to ensure that US defense capabilities were not being undercut by the Soviets in the plastics and fiberglass fields. What the US got from the Webster operation was peace of mind. The US was ten years ahead in these areas.
Similarly, Soviets who knew the two men might talk about Oswald when Webster was on the scene. In either instance, more intelligence would be obtained. After the downing of the U-2 on May 1, 1960, Oswald the man had little value in any dangle for the Soviets. It was a good time for Egerter and Fain to turn to Oswald’s file for use in a molehunt.
Fain’s marked card memo led to Bill Bright suggesting there might be an Oswald imposter
The writer John Newman suggests taking a look at the routing slip for the aforementioned 5/12/60 Fain report. It shows how a Soviet section officer named Bill Bright silently directed his Soviet section colleague "IEL" to keep an eye on Oswald’s birth certificate, and to watch for the possibility that an imposter might get ahold of this certificate.[ 25 ] Bright was the first to suggest that someone might try to create a “second Oswald” – all the way back in 1960.
Rather than write anything down, Bright directed IEL to p 6 of the Fain memo – you can see where double hashmarks are written along the margin in this memo - where Marguerite says that her son Lee brought his birth certificate to the USSR.[ 26 ] It’s fair to assume Bright wrote those double hashmarks to highlight the importance of Oswald’s birth certificate.
Bright also did something else. The routing slip reveals that "WB" (William Bright) told the registry to "index page 7", which is the page in the Fain memo that has an inaccurate hand-written description of Oswald as “CIT: USSR, Res. Moscow, USSR, ex-U.S. Marine, who upon his discharge from Marine Corps, Sept 59 traveled to USSR and renounced his U.S. citizenship.” Marguerite Oswald never said that Oswald was a Soviet citizen – only that Oswald had “apparently sought Soviet citizenship”.
See how these notes from Fain’s memo were preserved on this index card; however the clerk accurately fixed the writing to say that Oswald traveled “to renounce his US citizenship” rather than “renounced his US citizenship”. The claim that Oswald was a Soviet citizen, however, was not corrected. Did Bright write the note himself? Based on a quick review of the meager amount of Bright’s handwriting that is available, I can’t rule it out yet.
This inaccurate handwritten description was on the same page as the physical description as "5 foot 10, 165 lbs, light brown wavy hair, blue eyes".[ 27 ] Now, if anyone turned from the index card to page 7 of Fain’s memo, the reader would immediately see Oswald’s inaccurate physical description.
The FBI’s version of page 7 does not include the handwritten description. It’s also possible that page 7 was indexed specifically for the “5 foot 10, 165 pounds” description, the handwriting was added later, and the index card was created last.
In either case, Bright had now successfully shoehorned the Webster-like description of Oswald into the CIA’s indexing system. Thanks to Bright focusing on this particular page to be indexed – rather than another page that did accurately describe Oswald’s citizenship status - the CIA now had quick access to an inaccurate description of Oswald’s citizenship status and an inaccurate physical description of Oswald.
The “5 foot 10, 165” description was now easily accessed by the CIA’s Records Integration Division, which would now come up whenever an officer used the index card to investigate Oswald’s citizenship status. During the sixties, Egerter’s division had a dozen officers spying on the file clerks at the Records Integration Division to fend off enemy moles.
Bright’s suggestion led to Hoover’s warning about an Oswald imposter
The New York FBI field office took Bright’s advice and took a look at Oswald's file. When they saw that Oswald's mother Marguerite was having her letters returned undelivered, they suggested that since Oswald had his birth certificate in his possession, someone might have assumed Oswald’s identity.
"there is a possibility that
an imposter is using
Oswald's birth certificate"
On June 3, 1960, with Oswald file-handler F.L. Jones at his side, J. Edgar Hoover took Bright’s advice to the next level. Hoover wrote a memo to the State Department, where he warned that an imposter may be using Oswald's birth certificate. Hoover’s initials of JEH can be easily seen on this memo. A follow-up memo also clearly bears Hoover’s signed initials. This memo was overlooked by the Warren Commission, but must have kept Hoover awake at night. Whether or not Hoover believed that Oswald was impersonated, he certainly didn’t want the American people to find out that he had been worried that Oswald was the victim of an impersonation back in 1960.
For the rest of 1960, Marguerite kept knocking on the doors of government officials trying to find out if her son was alive or dead. She finally decided to see if she could get any action from the new administration in Washington. On January 23, 1961, three days after JFK was sworn in, Marguerite boarded a train to Washington, DC. Upon her arrival, she met with a State Department official. Marguerite asked if her son was an agent of the US government. A few weeks later, after a year of silence, the government finally told Marguerite that her son Lee was alive in the USSR and had an actual address. Now she was able to write to him, and did.
"The Hunt for Popov's Mole"
discussed the possible use of
Oswald's file in a number of
The writer Peter Dale Scott offers us an early 1961 snapshot of this ex-Marine, just turned 21, identified as someone who might have been impersonated by J. Edgar Hoover himself: “(Oswald now had) a legend with an ambiguous U.S.-Soviet background, whose citizenship and whose ideological alignment were now both in question...The documentary record on Oswald, beginning with the UPI story on the weekend of his defection, was salted with references to his interest in going to Cuba...in 1963 the products of the Oswald (marked card) operation were used to double for a propaganda operation whose purpose was to neutralize the Fair Play for Cuba Committee."[ 28 ]
That propaganda operation will eventually take us to Mexico City just two months before the assassination, where Oswald was impersonated when he tried once again to get an instant visa – this time, to go to Cuba as well as the Soviet Union.
First, however, we should take a look at how Bill Harvey’s people tried to take over the Oswald case in 1961, before realizing that Egerter controlled the Oswald file. After that, they continued to monitor it.
1 Air Force Intelligence gave Webster a security clearance: Ann Egerter was tipped off that when an FBI liaison officer asked about the extent of Agency interest in Webster, he was told that "there was some back in May 1959, but not now" and that there was no record of any security clearance for Webster. On the other hand, Webster's boss Jim Rand recounts that May 1959 was when Webster was in the midst of getting his security clearance, which was granted on June 5. I conclude that Webster’s security clearance came from Air Force intelligence.
2 Curiously, Marina spoke English to Webster: Interview by Dick Russell with Robert Webster, 1997, recounted in John Armstrong’s Harvey and Lee, p. 267.
3 They would muse about ways to make it easier for Americans to obtain an instant visa to cross the border and enter the Soviet Union: See my article “The JFK Case: The Twelve Who Built the Oswald Legend” (Part 2), p. 2.
4 This memo recounts how CIA consul William Costille gave his counterpart Gregory Golub two tickets to see Leonard Bernstein in an upcoming concert: Memo from the Chief of Station, Helsinki to the Chief of Station, Western Europe and Chief of Station, Soviet Russia, 10/9/59, HSCA Segregated CIA Collection, Box 5/NARA Record Number: 104-10051-10194.
The following two memos, read side by side, make it clear that Costille is the pseudo for an agent named Robert Fulton, and that Roodine is the pseudo for Frank Friberg, the Helsinki chief of station:
Memo by Harry Sundvik to Frank Friberg, late April, 1961, re trip to Leningrad, p. 7, HSCA Segregated CIA Collection (microfilm - reel 7: Duque - Golitsyn)/NARA Record Number: 104-10262-10106.
Drafts of accounts of Leningrad trip, where Costille’s name is substituted for what I believe to be “Bob Fulton”, p. 4. HSCA Segregated CIA Collection (microfilm - reel 7: Duque - Golitsyn)/NARA Record Number: 104-10262-10111.
Fulton is identified as “Robert Fulton” in Tom Mangold’s Cold Warrior, at p. 211.
5 Golub’s recent assurance that any American who came to Helsinki with their papers in order would be granted a visa by the Soviets“ in a matter of minutes”: Dispatch – REDCAP/LCIMPROVE - Procuring of Female Companionship for Gregoriy T. Golub, Memo from Chief of Station, Helsinki to William Costille, 8/28/59, HSCA Segregated CIA Collection (microfilm - reel 8: Golitsyn - Hernandez)/NARA Record Number: 104-10172-10294.
6 Snyder concluded that Oswald was assuming that the KGB had bugged the American Embassy, and “was speaking for Russian ears in my office”: Interview of Richard Snyder by Scott Malone and John Newman, 9/1/93; see John Newman’s Oswald and the CIA, p. 530.
7 Oswald stated at the American embassy that he was a radar operator with the Marines and he knew some "classified things" that he was going to give to the Soviets: Testimony of consul John McVickar at the Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 5, p. 301. Also see: Message from Office of Naval Intelligence, Moscow, to Central Naval Operations, 11/3/59.
8 The “stop” was put on Oswald’s file by FBI counterintelligence supervisor Bill Branigan in coordination with Angleton’s office: John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 25-26. When the FLASH was posted, Jones’ 11/4/59 memo is referenced. FBI FLASH, 11/4/59.
Also see Gheesling’s statement that the FLASH was opened on 11-10-59. Oswald was still on the watchlist, as Gheesling says that “he inadvertently did not remove the stop” upon Oswald’s return to the United States: Memo from W. Marvin Gheesling to James H57690. Gale, “Lee Harvey Oswald, Internal Security –R”, 11/26/63. Copy of this memo at National Archives.
Alan Belmont, the #3 man at the FBI, had a different approach than Jones, saying that the FLASH was set to go off if Oswald was arrested after returning to the US. Testimony of FBI supervisor Alan Belmont, Warren Commission Hearings, Volume 5, p. 7. Also see this memo showing that the FLASH was cancelled on 10/9/63, taking a spotlight off Oswald. FBI Cancellation of FLASH, 10/9/63.
As seen in Chapter 5, Gheesling was in on the decision to shut it down. A day later, on 10/10/63, Egerter caused the sending of two memos, both containing phony items about Oswald’s background. This information would have put a spotlight on Oswald if the FLASH was still on.
9 Oswald was quietly included as one of three hundred US citizens on their “Watch List” under the HTLINGUAL program, so that Egerter and her counterintelligence colleagues at the FBI could read his mail: The stop was done in coordination with the HTLINGUAL program. See the note on Jones’ 11/4/59 memorandum saying “flash postal iden 11/10/59”. Memorandum, Branigan to Belmont, 11/4/59, p. 2.
Priscilla Johnson conducted a starry-eyed interview of that nice-looking six-footer, Lee Harvey Oswald: Priscilla Johnson’s recollections of Oswald interview to State Department, 12/5/63, Volume 20, Warren Commission Hearings, p. 294.
The attached memo is a good short summary of how HTLINGUAL operated. Memorandum from Inspector General William Broe to Director, CIA, 5/22/73.
10 While in Berlin, Popov passed this U-2 leak to the Agency and then returned to Moscow: Mark Reibling, Wedge, pp. 154-155.
11 The quality of Popov’s reports decreased during the summer of 1959, always a troubling sign that the source has been discovered by the other side: David Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, pp. 91-95; Reibling, pp. 154-155.
12 The execution of Popov accelerated Angleton's belief that "Popov could only have been betrayed by a mole buried deep within Soviet Division": Tom Mangold, Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s Master Spy Hunter (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), p. 250.
13 Harvey knew that the proper security protocol had not been used when Popov’s message was picked up: Id., also see David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, pp. 91-92, 102.
14 As Oswald was going home, a note in the Oswald file says “ZR Webster”: See John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 498, re file number 200-8-14, Routing Sheet, 5/17/62, NARA Record Number: 104-10322-10043.
Originally, I thought this note just meant “please wiretap Webster”. But this memo shows that it means “overall” in the context of Staff D; other operations in Luxembourg and the Congo are referred to that are generally associated with the ZRRIFLE assassination plots run out of Staff D.
Also see a similar reference to “ZR Ruby” on July 1967, in response to a rumor that Jack Ruby was hypnotized. Since Ruby had died during January 1967, such a note appears to suggest looking at Ruby’s “ZR file”. Routing sheet, circa September 1967. Oswald 201 File, Vol 55. Routing Sheet re FBI Letterhead Memo, 7/18/67, NARA Records Number: 1993.06.22.16:59:56:210380.
FBI Letterhead Memo, 7/18/67, id.
Hypnotism was apparently considered to be an “intercept operation”, see the reference to ZRALERT. (With all this said, I think a tap is more likely) Memo from Bruce T. Johnson, DDA, to General Counsel, 5/17/78, HSCA Segregated CIA Collection, Box 59/NARA Record Number: 104-10146-10294.
15 F. L. Jones at the FBI’s foreign liaison unit and Marvin Gheesling at FBI counterintelligence continued to watch both men during their three years in the USSR: Neither Jones nor Gheesling were revealed in this 1976 list of all FBI personnel who supervised the Oswald case. Gheesling had a supervisory role during Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union and afterwards, and Jones was critical in the handling of the file. Note that the 1960 memo about Oswald has the initial “G” on it, which I believe is Gheesling. The 1962 memo about Webster is written by “WMG”, W. Marvin Gheesling.
16 The CIA’s records of the Fain memo bounced back repeatedly between Angleton’s CI-SIG and the Soviet Russia division: Routing and Record Sheet, 5/25/60, re DBF-49478, Oswald 201 File, Vol 1, p. 137.
18 Oswald had not succeeded in his attempt to renounce his citizenship, because the American consul Richard Snyder wisely decided to engage in stalling tactics…: Interview of Richard Snyder by John Newman, 2/26/94, recounted in Newman’s Oswald and the CIA, p. 6.
For details on some of the obscure code used in Egerter’s creation of this 201 file, see 8/24/78 memo, NARA Record Number: 104-10051-10130.
21 I think, however, that the Office of Security was spurred to make this observation only after finding out from various sources that Oswald was interested in returning to the USA: See the very intriguing discussion in John Newman’s Oswald and the CIA, pp. 168-198.
22 For the limited but important purpose of CIA record-keeping, there were now two different Oswalds: By the time 1963 rolled around, a “Lee H. Oswald” index card would also be created based on his activity in New Orleans. This card had “P2” on it, which referred to page two of the report describing Oswald as a “(member) of the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee at 799 Broadway, New York City. See doc re distribution of Cuban propaganda”. This phrase is quoted on the index card itself.
The CIA agrees that all three of these index cards were in existence as of 11/22/63), one for his 201 file, and the other two based on FBI reports from 1960 and 1963. The question is whether these cards were used for different legends of the man.
23 Oswald’s weight never got anywhere close to Webster’s 165 pounds. Oswald’s documented weight for the last seven years of his life was between 131-140 pounds: As late as 1963, when a young man of 23 would be expected to have "filled out", Oswald exaggerated his weight on at least one occasion as high as 150. When Oswald exaggerated his height to 5' 11" in March, 1959, he also exaggerated his weight to 160 on that one occasion, probably to create more flexibility in his legend.
This point is so important that it requires emphasis. No one other than Oswald ever estimated Oswald's weight at greater than 140, except Fain’s report quoting Marguerite Oswald, which was picked up three years later by Egerter. By way of contrast, here's the FBI's description of Oswald after his August 1963 arrest in New Orleans: Five feet nine, 140, hair is light brown, eyes blue-hazel, slender build.
24 Oswald was a spy in his own mind, and would exaggerate his own description. There is no record that Oswald ever described himself as “5 foot 10, 165”: In the last three months of Oswald’s life, on two separate occasions, even the description of his eyes was toyed with by either Oswald or the FBI. Oswald described his eyes as grey, but government officials described Oswald's eye color as blue in all documents I have seen except as grey on his final passport. During Oswald's two arrests in 1963 in New Orleans and Dallas, his eyes were described as blue-hazel and blue-gray.
Those are very odd descriptions. In particular, the New Orleans arrest didn’t warrant that amount of detail. Did someone take action designed to knit together the two different bodies of evidence? Or did Oswald self-report those odd descriptions, knowing that he had disguised his identification in the past? I’d put my money on Oswald.
25 A Soviet section officer named Bill Bright silently directed his Soviet section colleague "IEL" to keep an eye on Oswald’s birth certificate, and to watch for the possibility that an imposter might get ahold of this certificate: See Routing and Record Sheet, 5/25/60, re DBF-49478, Oswald 201 File, Vol 1, Folder 2. p. 137.
26 Rather than write anything down, Bright directed IEL to p 6 of the Fain memo – you can see where double hashmarks are written along the margin in this memo - where Marguerite "volunteers" that her son Lee brought his birth certificate to the USSR: Memo by John Fain, 5/12/60, p. 6.
28 The documentary record on Oswald, beginning with the UPI story on the weekend of his defection, was salted with references to his interest in going to Cuba: Peter Dale Scott tracks this history in "The Search for Popov's Mole", Fourth Decade, Vol. 3, Issue 3 (March 1996), an article which stretches out and digs into the depth of the molehunt. Footnote 136 cites a Washington Post story, 11/1/59, where Oswald's sister-in-law says, "He said he wanted to travel a lot and talked about going to Cuba."; the aforementioned Fain report of 5/12/60 that quotes Marguerite as saying that Oswald told her the previous September that he was thinking of going to Cuba; and how Cuba was the first country mentioned on Oswald's 1959 passport application.