Electronic Assassinations Newsletter
This is the latest in a series of articles reviewing the history of the JFK Assassination Records Act, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) which it created, and the information so far revealed by the new documents. (The previous four articles can be found on the JFK Place web site on Internet)
GAMES THE CIA PLAYED
In July 1963, a CIA operative, working undercover for the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, enabled the CIA to manipulate and use a pro-Castro Texan named Eldon Hensen. This seems to be similar to what they did with Oswald two and a half months later. After Oswald's embassy visits, an impostor called the Soviet embassy, claiming to be Oswald; in one call, a woman impersonated Silvia Duran; they asked for money from the Russians. CIA propagandist David Atlee Phillips later tried to pass off these calls to the Washington Post as authentic.
In the Cuban embassy, the person with whom Oswald had the most contact was the attractive Silvia Duran, former mistress of Cuba's U.N. ambassador. She and Oswald were rumored to have had an affair, though the reliability of the story is shaky. She described the "Oswald" with whom she had contact as "short and blond." It is interesting that a CIA agent later reported to his superior that "all that would have to be done to recruit Ms. Duran was to get a blond, blue-eyed American in bed with her."
At the time, the CIA lied to its own Mexico City station about its knowledge of Oswald; and later lied to the Warren Commission about its contemporary knowledge of Oswald's Mexico City trip. The only divisions with the full story on Oswald at that time were James Angleton's Counterintelligence division, and the Security Office, where Oswald's first file may have originated. In the month after Oswald's visit to Mexico City, the CIA received materials obtained through FBI break-ins of the New York office of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
A cable with false information about the Oswald visit was sent to the FBI, State Department and the Navy. A more accurate cable was sent to the CIA's Mexico City station. Both were "authenticated" by the same CIA official, Ann Egerter. This activity received relatively high-level coordination. Many of the documents relating to Mexico City carry the name "John Scelso," pseudonym of a yet-unidentified CIA official, deputy to covert operations chief Richard Helms. "Scelso's" House Assassinations Committee testimony was just released.
OTHER INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES
The Postal Service began investigating Oswald in August 1962 because of "subversive" mail he was receiving. They made him sign a form saying that he wanted to receive foreign propaganda mailings. Later, they destroyed records ordinarily retained for several years, making it impossible to learn who had signed for the rifle Oswald ordered, or who else was designated to receive mail through his Dallas post office boxes. Postal Inspector Harry Holmes lied to the Warren Commission about applicable postal regulations. The investigative records relating to Oswald's rifle remain sealed, though the Postal Service promised in 1995 to release them.
Prior to the assassination, the Army had a file on Oswald. Several Army intelligence agents were present in Dealey Plaza during the assassination, at least one, James Powell, taking photographs (only one has been released). After the assassination, there is evidence the Army conducted a secret investigation of Oswald in Japan, resulting in a 20-page report. Whether a copy still exists is unknown, as the Army reported it destroyed its Oswald file in a "routine" records destruction in 1973.
Just after the FBI reopened its case on Oswald in early 1963, he ordered a pistol and a carbine through the mail. At the time, there were two government investigations going on concerning mail-order gun sales. One was by a committee headed by Sen. Thomas Dodd (a committee source recalled weapons being ordered using the name Oswald or Hidell), and the other by the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Firearms Division of the Treasury Department. Both were specifically investigating the firms to which Oswald sent orders. Another target of the investigations was the American Nazi Party, whose address was found in Oswald's notebook. This has led to speculation that Oswald was working for these investigations. It is worth noting that another of Dodd's committees, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, had a working relationship with Guy Banister.
AFTER THE ASSASSINATION
Wrapping up all the loose ends in a neat package was the job of the Warren Commission. The idea came, not from the White House, as has been traditionally held, but from private sources.
Within hours of Oswald's Sunday morning death, Yale Law School Dean Eugene Rostow called White House aide Bill Moyers. This call was the genesis of the Warren Commission, which traditional accounts have always attributed to President Johnson or Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. In fact, Johnson was originally hostile to the idea, but a call the next day from columnist Joe Alsop caused second thoughts, and suggested that former Secretary of State Dean Acheson was behind the idea. Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and Secretary of State Dean Rusk also pushed it. This is consistent with Johnson's own sketchy account in his memoirs.
These are people concerned less with investigating the crime than with the broader public policy concerns served by the Warren Commission.
When the Commission got its investigation under way, the transcripts of its interviews with witnesses were submitted to the FBI for "editing and corrections," with some resulting changes substantially altering the meaning. The FBI also edited FBI field office reports before passing them on to the Commission, instead of relaying the originals, as has been assumed. Buck Revell, who assisted the FBI investigation of Oswald as a Marine officer, later became the FBI assistant director handed the recommendations of the House Assassinations Committee; when activity in the case renewed in 1991, he became head of the Dallas FBI office.
Early reports indicated a 7.65 rifle was used in the assassination; the FBI received a 7.65 cal. rifle shell found in Dealey Plaza, but buried this in the files until 1995. Also found in the Plaza was a 30.06 rifle linked to Loran Eugene Hall, who acquired it in mid-November, and flew November 17 to Dallas, where his anti-Castroite colleague Gerry Hemming was the day of the assassination. A 30.06 rifle shell was later found on the roof of the County Records Building, overlooking Dealey Plaza. Using an adapter called a sabot, 6.5 mm. bullets could have been fired from a 30.06 rifle.
Other agencies, too, carefully concealed information from the Warren Commission. The CIA's "Oswald file," as given to the Commission, had been assembled from selected documents in four files. A similar pattern appears in Army Intelligence documents. The State Department turned over 13 files on Oswald to the Commission, but didn't even acknowledge the existence of the defector file.
A House Committee staff report noted that Lt. Col. Bill Brewer "had been in charge of compiling the Oswald military file for the use of the Warren Commission," taking documents from three or more files, and "did not include records that were classified secret or top secret. "Marine Capt. John Donovan announced that Oswald's defection had required "thousands of man-hours changing everything," then later admitted the authentication codes "are methodically changed anyway," and the changes had nothing to do with Oswald.
The Commission got the "original Oswald file" from the Office of Naval Intelligence, another compilation of selections from at least three other files. Admiral Rufus Taylor gave instructions "to prepare a file." The original files were even withheld from his superiors in the Defense Department!
Peter Dale Scott comments: "Admiral Taylor's decision to have a file prepared, rather than share raw data, is further evidence that the original files with Oswald records contained truths quite different than those eventually given to the public... The absence of a single file on Oswald might suggest that Oswald was not simply a subject for external investigation, so much as someone with a special relationship to ONI itself."
In Dallas, United States Attorney Barefoot Sanders, an LBJ ally, opposed publication of depositions, censored FBI reports, and vetoed at least one witness being called by the Commission. When the Commission agreed to share all interviews with the Texas Attorney General's office, Sanders unilaterally canceled the agreement.
To his credit, much-maligned Commission counsel Arlen Specter made repeated efforts to gain staff access to the autopsy photos and X-rays, but was only briefly shown one photo, which he wasn't even certain was Kennedy. Someone else from the Commission staff, however, saw the full set of materials.
According to witness Sylvia Odio, Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler told a guest over dinner: "Well, you know if we do find out this is a conspiracy you know that we have orders from Chief Justice Warren to cover this thing up."
We now know that Robert Kennedy had so many questions about the Mexico City episode that he investigated it personally, going to Mexico City in October 1964, following the release of the Warren Report. This remained secret for 30 years, until CIA documents mentioning it were released.
In Part Six, we'll look at the sealed records of the House Assassinations Committee, and the latest developments from the files.