Issue #2 New Discoveries in the Recently Released
IN THE FILES
[Excerpted from John Newman's testimony to Rep. Conyer's oversight committee on November 17, 1993 and originally reprinted in the Coalition On Political Assassinations newsletter, Open Secrets, Vol. #1, August, 1994.]
There are, I believe, troubling aspects surrounding the allegations of an association between Oswald and his murderer Jack Ruby. It is troubling not because such allegations can be proven or not, but because they reveal dramatic gaps, contradictions and possible deliberate obfuscation in the official records of this case.
Allow me to illustrate this point. John Franklin Elrod, an unfortunate alcoholic who happened to be walking along the railroad tracks not far from where Kennedy was shot on 22 November 1963, was thrown into the Dallas jail, arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination. He claims that in 1964 he told the FBI in Memphis that Oswald had identified another prisoner, one Lawrence Miller, in the jail that day. Miller had been arrested two days earlier with Jack Ruby's auto mechanic Donnell Whitter with US Army weapons stolen from National Guard Armory in Terrell, Texas.
Elrod claimed Oswald spoke of a meeting he had attended with Miller and Jack Ruby in which a "contract" was discussed and money changed hands. The FBI report which went to Washington at the time, however, made no mention of Oswald as the source of this information. More troubling still, is the Dallas FBI attachment to Elrod's FBI interrogation, which attempted to discredit Elrod's claim by stating flatly that Elrod had not been in the Dallas jail at all that day. The FBI will have some difficulty then in explaining the Dallas police record of Elrod's 22 November arrest and incarceration in the Dallas jail, a record that did not surface until February 1992.
Another Dallas police document which has recently surfaced and which adds to the possibility that Oswald was associating with Ruby is a December 11, 1963 memo signed by Dallas Police Department Detective W.S. Biggio. This memo cites a report that Oswald had driven Jack Ruby's car several times prior to the assassination. Even though the original source was an unidentified auto mechanic of Ruby, no one in an official capacity ever asked Whitter, who was known to be a mechanic of Ruby's, about this. Moreover, it seems strange that a 14-page report on Donnell Whitter is still classified. As this withdrawal sheet indicates, this document was reviewed as recently as June 1993. I find the withholding of such documents unsatisfactory and not in the spirit of the Records Act.
Why did the Dallas FBI bureau conceal Elrod's 22 November incarceration in the Dallas jail? Perhaps it was an innocent mistake. Those of us who have served in government are all too familiar with sloppy records. It strikes me that it was precisely to get at documents like these that the JFK Records Act was passed, and I have great reservations with "closing the case" before having seen all of the evidence. I thought that one of the reasons for the passage of the Records Act was to allow the people to look at all of the evidence before drawing a conclusion one way or the other.
Did the CIA, contrary to decades of denials, debrief Oswald? The new release of files pursuant to the Records Act strengthens the evidentiary base for the proposition that the CIA did in fact debrief Oswald. Of particular note is the fact that the Chief of the CIA's Soviet Realities Branch, in the Soviet Russia Division of the Directorate of Plans, wanted to lay on interviews of Oswald at the time of the re-defector's return to the US in the Summer of 1962 - a fact he recorded in a memorandum for the record three days after the assassination.
The House Select Committee rather foolishly ignored this memo simply because of a typographical error. Thanks to the JFK Records Act, we have a much more complete version of this memo, and what is new is that it was the Chief of the Soviet Realities Branch - or "SR 6" who wrote it. This branch was responsible, among other things, for creating, to use spy jargon, "painting" covers or "legends" for sleeper agents in the Soviet Union and to brief employees on what it would be like to be a sleeper agent in the Soviet Union.
In addition, a memo from James Angleton's CIA mole hunting unit, the CI/SIG, which stands for Counterintelligence Special Investigations Group, has surfaced in these files with handwriting on it which gives the name of a CIA Domestic Contact division employee - a name which appears to be one "Andy" Anderson - as a CIA contact for Harvey Oswald. This document, which, like the SR 6 document, was in a "soft file," meaning it was not in the original Oswald 201 file, confirms the recollections of other Clandestine Services employees that Andy Anderson did in fact debrief Oswald. Don Deneselya, who worked in the Russian Branch, Foreign Documents Division, Office of Contacts [OO/FDD, USSR] read Anderson's debrief in 1962. The very branch chief in the Domestic Contacts Division who would have overseen incoming debriefs like Anderson's confirms that his branch recovered the debriefing from the field office that had it.
There is nothing conspiratorial about the fact that the CIA debriefed Lee Harvey Oswald. They should have. That was their job. The debrief was routine. The troubling aspect is why the CIA has doggedly denied a debrief ever took place. The answer to this question has really been available all along, and the answer is that this denial is part of a broader lie the Agency has been telling for decades: that they were not interested in Oswald. This false statement of no interest in Oswald was not advanced to hide a routine debrief, an act which the Agency did do, but to excuse the Agency for an act it failed to do, namely, to launch a counterintelligence investigation of Oswald at the time of his defection to Russia. This failure was deeply troubling to the House Select Committee, which probed the Agency vigorously but unsuccessfully on this question. For 14 months the CIA failed to properly investigate Oswald, a man who left the U-2 spy base in Japan to defect to Russia and boldly announced his intention to commit an act of espionage.
Thus the debrief story is integral to the larger enigma of why, in the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA was apparently asleep at the switch for 14 months. Perhaps because of the CIA's interest in and contact with Oswald, the Agency panicked when President Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps the cables indicating Oswald had announced his intent to commit espionage were "lost," thus explaining the Agency's failure to do its job. Perhaps. Perhaps indeed, but perhaps not. I think it prudent to reserve judgment until we have all of the CIA's materials. One thing is certain: These new files make it clear that the CIA's past denials of interest in and contact with Oswald are not true.