WHO WAS LEE HARVEY OSWALD?
THE WECHT INSTITUTE,
DUQUESNE UNIVERSITY, PITTSBURGH, PA.
OCTOBER 5, 2008
By Joan Mellen
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
“Commander Anderson,” was
not the person who debriefed Oswald. Nor was the debriefer one “ANDY
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
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.” (Published by JFK Lancer).
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
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,
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
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
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 that I
have just discovered that 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 reasonable
expectation, that a 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
that Reed (“Anderson”) was an SR6 debriefer. I copy
it here in full:
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
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
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
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
HSCA information about a tourist guide he ran in the Soviet Union
under a program called REDSKIN, and who, like Oswald, married a
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?