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Oswald's language abilities and evidence related to his Soviet soujourn (1959-63)

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I have started this thread with James Norwood, professor and author of the article Oswald's Proficiency in the Russian Language.   We have agreed to have this discussion here, rather than at the thread discussing my series on The Twelve Who Built the Oswald Legend.  It is an important discussion that needs its own focus.

James believes that LHO's Russian proficiency and other evidence related to his time in the Soviet Union between 1959-62 - I took the liberty to extend the analysis to 1963 because that year also provides telling data.  James writes:

"...in analyzing the legend of Oswald, students of the JFK assassination will find it essential to understand why, when, and where Oswald learned Russian. 

"The topic of the legend opens a Pandora's Box of questions about the truth lying beneath the legend.  It is not enough to merely assert that he was a "wannabe spy," given (a) the careful planning of the venture to the Soviet Union in 1959; (b) Oswald's exceptional foreign language skills; (c) the feigning of his ignorance of Russian in the Minsk years; and (d) the ease with which he returned to the United States in 1962. 

"At the close of my article, I conclude that, far from being a wannabe spy, Oswald was a bona fide 100% agent of the United States."

I am really looking forward to this discussion, because my present position is different - but not necessarily contradictory - with James' position. 

I believe that it is proven that Oswald was a source of information to both Customs in New Orleans and the FBI in New Orleans and Dallas.  Furthermore, the CIA (with FBI assistance) used his file for molehunts using "Lee Henry Oswald" and a variety of other marked cards, as well as a "dangle" in the hunt for Popov's mole - that, and other activity, certainly makes LHO a CIA "asset".   

Anybody who defected to the Soviet Union was a potential asset to the intelligence agencies - and maybe more.  When he returned, he was far more valuable to them.

I would like to go farther than my current analysis that LHO was a "wannabe spy", but for whom?  And in what configuration?  My consistent position  is that even at this late date we don't have enough data points to prove even beyond a preponderance of the evidence - much less a reasonable doubt - that LHO was a CIA agent or informant.   Let's drill down a bit deeper.

Two big questions:  Was LHO an agent or informant - more than a "source", or an "asset", or a "dangle" that could be used?  If he was either agent or an informant, who hired him?  Let me address these briefly, and then pass the baton to James and whoever else wants to weigh in.

Why not start with the biggest rock in the pond - Oswald's defection to the USSR in 1959, and that the former chief of Soviet CI believed that LHO's defection was "witting"?   

SR/CI Pete Bagley was considered by many observers to be "the best counterintelligence analyst of the cold war era" (Newman, Countdown to Darkness, p. 30). In mid-1963, Bagley was recalled from Berne, Switzerland to Langley, where he was rapidly promoted to chief of his Soviet counterintelligence division (Tom Mangold, Cold Warrior, p. 170).   

In 2012, Bagley reviewed a series of documents shown to him by researcher Malcolm Blunt, and came to the conclusion that Oswald was a "witting defector" to the Soviet Union  (Newman, p. 30).   Malcolm believes Bagley saw "in that instant that this high school dropout...may indeed have been utilized."

Bagley's statement is important - at one time, I considered Bagley to be a possible architect of the JFK assassination.  I am pleased that I never put that in writing - it would be pretty painful to have to take it back - something all good researchers have to do from time to time, because mistakes inevitably creep in.

I agree that Oswald knew that he had government support when defecting to the Soviet Union - but I'm not conceding that LHO was acting as an agent for an intelligence service.  He may have been willing to accept a little "help" and to offer a little "help", without acting as an agent for the government.

A couple weeks after his arrival in the Soviet Union, LHO presented consul & former CIA officer Richard Snyder with a handwritten "renunciation of citizenship" during the embassy's least-busy shift on Saturday morning - similar to what Bob Webster had done a couple Saturdays earlier - and Nick Petrulli a couple Saturdays before that. 

Snyder's colleague consul John McVickar testified that Oswald said he was a radar operator with the Marines and that he knew some "classified things" that he was going to give the Soviets.   

I am convinced that LHO did these things with the reasonable assumption that the Embassy was bugged and that the Soviets were listening.

The above facts do not prove that Lee Oswald was a CIA agent.  If he was operating as the witting agent of any intelligence organization, my best bet is that he may have been doing it with some assistance with the Office of Naval Intelligence.  Although I am not yet convinced, ONI would be my first choice for any fake "military defector program" that included Oswald - Donald Moneir told the ARRB that he was aware of an operation known as Navy Code 30, a fake defector program run by ONI.

Unfortunately, no one I know of has stepped forward with any further details of Navy Code 30 to buttress Moneir's account.  Journalists demand double sources in most big stories.  You want someone who can corroborate your witness.  Saying that there "a good person" like James Wilcott who has offered important information about "the Oswald program" in Japan is important, but it is not enough.  

I am very critical about relying on photographs without the aid of expert witnesses - which is my biggest problem with seizing on the Defense Dept. ID of Oswald as evidence of an intelligence operation.  To my eyes, that photo looks like a montage of two photos of Oswald, or maybe even two separate people.  John Armstrong's book has tons of good research material and so does the Harvey & Lee website, but that's not the same as a definitive analysis.  I have not yet seen a scientific analysis fo that photograph and whether it is a "double image" or not.  It looks like tradecraft, but that's not proof.

Just think about the many lines of disinformation that the JFK case has been plagued with for more than five decades.  Much of this disinformation is spread by our adversaries.  It is even worse when it is spread by our friends and allies.  It is really important to base our most important analysis on solid sources that can be corroborated.  Thinly sourced evidence simply has to go on another stack of items to be re-examined when more data points emerge - no matter how alluring it is.

James Wilcott's testimony about "the Oswald program" - cited by Jim Hargrove as #1 in his list of twenty evidentiary arguments that Oswald was a CIA agent - is certainly an indicator that there was a lot of interest about Oswald within the CIA ranks in Japan on 11/22/63.  My personal belief is that Wilcott was an admirable person and a truth teller, but he didn't have strong first-hand knowledge about the Oswald program.  He was not in an Edward Snowden-type situation.

As just one possibility, Wilcott may have been fed disinformation because Wilcott was an admitted dissident within the CIA ranks before he left the Agency.   He also proffered his recollections fifteen years after the fact, without telling documentation or corroborating witnesses - the passage of time and combat with relentless adversaries can have an effect on the accuracy of our memories.  However, even without reaching a final decision on Wilcott's evidence, there are a number of sources that indicate that LHO may have been involved in espionage in Japan, or was at least used as a dangle for attractive Japanese women. 

Marina talked about how Oswald would rhapsodize about pretty Japanese girls. George de Mohrenschildt testified that Marina told him that LHO had an affair during early 1963 with Yaeko Okui - a certified public accountant who moved in Dallas in the summer of 1959 (right before LHO's departure for the USSR) and moved back to Tokyo in 1964.

The Okui story mirrors the Paines' move to the Dallas area in Sept. 1959 (the same week as LHO's return to Dallas for a three-day stay, followed by an abrupt departure for the USSR) - their subsequent separation in early 1963, which allowed Marina and her daughter to move in to the Paine home - and the Paines' temporary reconciliation in the days after 11/22/63.

Most of us know that LHO's medical records show he caught "gonorrhea... in the line of duty - not due to own misconduct".  What we don't know yet is the nature of Oswald's line of duty.  For now, I believe that LHO was up to something in Japan - he may not have been a full-blown agent for ONI or anyone else.  

Similarly, I think he was up to something in the USSR, and his cover may have been as simple as his arrival to Moscow as a "tourist" - the phrase used for LHO in the State Dept list actually called List of American "Defectors".  Those quotation marks offer a small - but telling - bit of evidence that the State Department believed these guys were fake defectors.

The CIA's REDSKIN program routinely used tourists as a source of information, coupled with a little CIA guidance.  Tradecraft requires CIA officers to lie when needed about who they are working for - if this was a REDSKIN op, LHO may have never known it. 

Similarly, the Domestic Contacts Division - known within the CIA as KUJUMP - sometimes provided money and resources to people like de Mohrenschildt, who wrote ten reports to the CIA in the late fifties under the aegis of what appears to be a 'guidance' protocol known as GUIDE-164

Once LHO got to the Soviet Union, he unveiled his handwritten renunciation - I'm sure he got guidance in creating that document and in building his legend at the American Embassy on Saturday - but, again, from whom?  Webster - known in CIA documents as "Guide 223" - got his primary guidance from the Air Force, while the CIA officers (especially James Murphy, a long-time close associate of Angleton) clucked his tongue in alleged dismay. 

I am moving towards the opinion that ONI was assisting LHO in this journey - and CIA may have been assisting ONI in this effort just like CIA assisted the Air Force in the Webster defection - but the evidence is so thin that I am not yet willing to offer this opinion in an article - offering this opinion-in-progress is as far as I am willing to go right now.

I don't feel there's enough evidence yet to say that LHO was some kind of ONI agent that was given a CIA assist - or that CIA ever used him as anything more than a dangle and as "an asset".  Let's figure out which agency played the primary role in guiding Oswald to the Soviet Union.

I have made it very clear that I do believe that the CIA used Oswald as a dangle in the Soviet Union - and he may not have known anything about the CIA's role.  Oswald may have gone into the USSR as a headstrong young actor - with his own post-adolescent agenda - who had been successfully baited by ONI and CIA to be an enticing dangle.

To add another level of complexity to Oswald's time in the USSR, consider this:  If you study the IJDECANTER documents that were recently released by the Archives, it does appear that Oswald may have been enticed by the Soviets to be an agent for their side for a period of time.   Or, maybe, these documents are disinformation.

I am still not wholly convinced that the IJDECANTER documents are bona fide, but they are worth some deep study - and we need more of them, it's a pretty thin set we have here.

On James Norwood's work on Oswald's proficiency in Russian and his time in the USSR, I want to spend more time studying his work before I offer a lot of opinions on what I believe is a well-written article.  

I keep thinking about the aunt of one of Oswald's fellow Marines - Rosaleen Quinn - who had taken a Berlitz course and sought out Oswald as someone to practice with during the summer of 1959.  As James mentions in his article, she found "Oswald spoke Russian well for someone who had not attended a formal course in the language."

Let me close with a passage from John Newman's Countdown to Darkness, pp. 2-3, where Newman offers some good, hard thinking on when Oswald may have been inspired to step up his game:  

"It is likely that Popov's April 1958 message to (CIA officer George) Kisevlater about the U-2 was what led to Angleton's search for a mole inside the CIA...the strategy for using Oswald as a lure in the Soviet Union while cutting (the Soviet Russia Division) out of the loop inside the CIA had to have been made long before Oswald asked for and received permission for a compassionate early discharge from the Marines.  

"It could have been made just before Oswald began teaching himself Russian.  The four or five month interregnum between Popov's U-2 tipoff and Oswald's interest in learning Russian seems an appropriate amount of time to spot and assess the available candidates for a U-2 related dangle in the USSR."




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For this discussion, it was my understanding that we would engage in a focused dialogue about the true nature of Oswald's purpose in residing in the Soviet Union from 1959-62.  In expanding the time frame to 1963, as you have done above, I believe that we would missing an essential point, namely, that there were two "legends" crafted for Oswald.  I have written on this subject in my article "Lee Harvey Oswald: The Legend and the Truth":  http://harveyandlee.net/J_Norwood/Legend.html

In my article, I wanted to keep things simple for people to understand that one Oswald legend was created long before John F. Kennedy was elected President, and it obviously had nothing to do with the assassination.  The first legend was conceived with Oswald's cooperation to paint a portrait of a disgruntled American Marine who was a Marxist idealist. 

The second legend was crafted sometime after the Cuban Missile Crisis and without Oswald's knowledge.  That legend built upon the profile of the Marxist sympathizer, adding the element that Oswald was a malcontent prone to violence.  This second legend had everything to do with President Kennedy because Oswald was being framed as the assassin.

Unless the distinction is drawn between the two legends, the analysis of the legend topic becomes murky.

In your opening statement above, you have provided an overwhelming number of topics to consider.  While it is fine if others want to comment on your various points, I am writing to request that in our interchanges, could we begin with the period leading up to the "defection" and ending with Oswald's return to the United States in 1962?  I hope this will be agreeable.

The first question that I have for you is whether we are in agreement that at the time Oswald left for the Soviet Union in fall 1959, there is enough evidence to conclude that his purpose was as a United States agent and not as a genuine Marxist wishing to defect from the United States.  Do you concur?

Edited by James Norwood
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Yes!  Your thinking is right on the mark.  The "legend" was being developed long before Oswald entered the military.  The evidence for this is found in the times when the young Oswald is spouting off to his school chums about Marxism, proudly showing them his copies of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, and, on one occasion, arguing in support of communism with the dad of one of his New Orleans friends and getting kicked out of the home.  This was all pretense done with the intent of leaving a paper trail.  The kid was clearly being coached and directed in preparation for the long-term project of the "defection" to the Soviet Union.

The main point I was underscoring in my post to Bill above was that it is important to set aside the JFK assassination for a moment and focus on the evidence of Oswald's life prior to his return from the Soviet Union in 1962.  What emerges is a fascinating story.


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In response to James' questions - yes, we can begin with the period leading up to the defection and ending with LHO's return to the US in 1962.  

To your next question - I certainly agree that LHO was not a genuine Marxist wishing to defect from the United States.  I think he was a liberal Marine who was loyal to the United States, and we agree that the legend was being developed long before he left the military.   LHO told a number of people that he had never met a communist in his entire life.

The loaded question for me is that whether there is enough evidence to conclude that when he left the US, his purpose was to act as a United States agent.  

I'm looking forward to our continued exchange, because there is not enough for me at this point.   Yes, he was a young man, and easily manipulated.  But by whom, and for what purpose?

As I said above, I'm convinced he was used as a dangle, an asset, and a source of information.   The focus for me is on the word "agent".  I think that he may have been willing to accept a little "help" and to offer a little "help".  That, in my mind, is not the same as acting as a government agent.  

If he was a full-blown agent, my inclination is that he was initially working on a low-level with ONI - based on what he seems to have been doing in Japan and elsewhere as an 18-19 year old Marine prior to his Soviet soujourn.

I am moving towards the opinion that ONI or another agency assisted LHO in his journey to the USSR.  If it was ONI, CIA had reasons to support this effort, just like they supported the Air Force in the Webster defection.  (We now know more about Webster than we do about Oswald.) 

If it was CIA, the Agency certainly had an interest in using Oswald in trying to unearth the mole that blew the Popov operation, in piggy-backing on the Webster operation, in a U-2 dangle with the Soviets, and more.

Both ONI and CIA may have used Oswald as some kind of agent, or it may have been another combination of forces.    (I am convinced that the CIA used him once he was there for molehunt purposes.)

I don't feel there is enough evidence to offer this as an opinion - not enough data points.  I look forward to your response. 

It seems to me that there is some good evidence about Oswald's "pretense of Communism" and how he might have been "coached and directed" during that period of time prior to his USSR trip.  It's more than the real or imagined importance of watching "I Led Three Lives".  Evaluating that evidence is important.  What evidence is trustworthy, and what is shaky?


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Another excellent query, Matt.

This particular young boy was chosen because he was fluent in the Russian language, and that skill coupled with an obscure background difficult to trace (as opposed to that of a graduate of Yale) made him the perfect candidate for low-level operative in a Cold War intelligence operation. 

I'll be happy to answer any questions you have on this matter.  But I have unfolded the argument and presented the evidence in my article "Oswald's Proficiency in the Russian Language": 


Edited by James Norwood
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20 minutes ago, Bill Simpich said:

The loaded question for me is that whether there is enough evidence to conclude that when he left the US, his purpose was to act as a United States agent.


That question isn't loaded at all.  Surely, you recognize that it is the heart of the matter of why you challenged me to a debate here on this thread.  By the late 1970s, Senator Richard Schweiker asserted that there were "fingerprints of intelligence" all over Oswald, and we have so much more evidence today to support his conclusion.  You and I can closely examine the evidence on this thread and let readers make up their own minds. 

For starters, I would offer one instructive example in the Warren Commission testimony of Dennis Ofstein in Volume X of the Hearings and Exhibits.  Offstein was one of Oswald’s co-workers at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall in 1962.  Ofstein had spent a year studying Russian language at the famed Monterey language institute, and he was amazed with Oswald's grasp of the Russian language, both in reading and conversational Russian.  In their occasional talks at work, Ofstein and Oswald engaged in conversations about the time Oswald spent in Minsk.  From those talks, Ofstein concluded that Oswald had been an agent of the United States.  On multiple occasions during his testimony, he told the Commission that he believed Oswald was an agent of the United States.  That testimony, sworn under oath, should have alerted the committee to thoroughly investigate Oswald's ties to the intelligence community.  Of course, that never happened in large part because Allen Dulles was screening the information from the commission.

My position is that we now have a threshold of evidence to conclude that Oswald was a low-level operative, spy, dangle, or agent (take your pick of the terms) at the center of what was known in the 1950s as the Oswald Project in sending a false defector to the Soviet Union for the purpose of gathering intelligence at the height of the Cold War.  The testimony of Dennis Ofstein is only the tip of the iceberg for the evidence.


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Jim - reading through your article, half your points in it seem to come from Warren Commission witnesses saying, yeah, he did speak Russian, and he spoke it really well. Were any of them coached? Were any Warren Commission witnesses ever coached? Were those ones coached? Beats me. But does that question ever occur when judging Warren Commission testimony that supports the official story?

I’ll have to go through Walt Brown’s chronology again - a mammoth task - as one of Brown’s regular points throughout the work is that, despite commentary suggesting otherwise, Oswald couldn’t speak Russian. And he digs up a bunch of instances where LHO could have, or should have, or was asked to, but didn’t.

And could assets or dupes who weren’t agents occasionally do the same sort of thing that an agent might do, thereby sometimes muddying the water as to who was an agent, and who was an asset doing much the same thing? I’d argue the answer lies somewhere between ‘sometimes’ and ‘not often’, but doesn’t make it all the way over to ‘never’.

Enjoying this discussion regardless.

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I would prefer to characterize our discussion here as an exploration of the evidence.  I would like to learn something  and I think I have information that I would like to share with you.  I don't know how much we will persuade each other or any other readers, but persuasion is not my primary goal - exploration is.

Anthony is not convinced that LHO spoke excellent Russian - I am until someone persuades me otherwise. 

You and I agree on Dennis Ofstein, who worked with LHO at JCS from 1962-1963 - we also agree on Rosaleen Quinn back in 1959, who believed LHO spoke Russian "well", given his lack of opportunities to speak conversational Russian.  

Can you let me know what evidence you are offering that a young boy named Oswald was coached for an operation into the Soviet Union in 1959? 

You brought up in your article the testimonies of Palmer McBride, Zack Stout, and Lt. Allison Folsom - who I would love to evaluate more thoroughly in discussion with you.

Your article, however, does not address the central question of who coached Oswald in the period prior to Sept 1959.

To recap, you offered four points for discussion:  

(a) the careful planning of the venture to the Soviet Union in 1959; can we focus on this aspect - I'm looking forward to it.  If we can hold off on the full-blown Harvey & Lee discussion for a moment, that would be helpful.

(b) Oswald's exceptional foreign language skills; we agree

(c) the feigning of his ignorance of Russian in the Minsk years; we agree.  Some of John Armstrong's best work - and your work on this subject is good too.


(d) the ease with which he returned to the United States in 1962; not sure how important this is? The evidence shows he was trying to leave the USSR for at least a year; his words indicate he wanted to leave once the U-2 went down in May 1960. 

Let me also address your position that an Oswald Project existed in the 1950s.  That term could be a useful theoretical construct, but I'm not yet convinced such a project existed. 

My concern, again, is that the term "Oswald Project" that you are relying on was used originally by James Wilcott, based on what he learned on 11/22/63.   

To put forward an Oswald Project in the 50s, it needs a foundation set in the fifties.  I have read two of your articles, and I know that part of your analysis is that two boys named Oswald were trained in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the 50s. 

Before we focus on that evidence - which is fascinating and which will take awhile - what other evidence of Oswald "coaching" is out there for his pre-Soviet period?

To the best of my knowledge, Wilcott's testimony remains uncorroborated, more than forty years after he presented it.  His testimony was that he learned about it after the assassination - not before.  I believe he first came forward with it in 1978.

The HSCA sought out the people he cited by name, and they simply refused to back him up in any regard.  That doesn't mean he was lying.  As I've said before - as I understand it, Wilcott was a known CIA dissident within their ranks as early as 1963. 

Without more evidence, I can't be confident that Wilcott received anything but a line of disinformation.  Truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies - that's my line of thinking about most of the evidence that circles Mr. Oswald.

You have done the work and you turn to analysis - not argument - I think we are embarking on a fruitful discussion.


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44 minutes ago, Anthony Thorne said:

I’ll have to go through Walt Brown’s chronology again - a mammoth task - as one of Brown’s regular points throughout the work is that, despite commentary suggesting otherwise, Oswald couldn’t speak Russian. And he digs up a bunch of instances where LHO could have, or should have, or was asked to, but didn’t.

If Oswald managed to function in the Soviet Union for that amount of time I think it's fair to say he spoke the language. I also don't think that it's that startling that he managed to learn it. He began studying it on his own time a couple years before his defection, and once living in the country he got plenty of practice. I understand that Russian is more difficult to master than, say, Spanish, but Oswald was of above-average intelligence.

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1 hour ago, Anthony Thorne said:

reading through your article, half your points in it seem to come from Warren Commission witnesses saying, yeah, he did speak Russian, and he spoke it really well. Were any of them coached?


The one Warren Commission eyewitness who might be considered suspect is the shadowy figure of George deMohrenschildt.  But the others are primarily ordinary citizens who had chance meetings with Oswald and happened to hear him speak unusually fluent Russian.  The questions asked about foreign language proficiency by the Warren Commission attorneys were boilerplate in their examination of the witnesses who had contact with Oswald.  I see no reason why any witness would be coached into implying that Oswald was either competent or inept in speaking Russian, or why that would matter to the Commission.  The truly hot button questions had to do with Oswald’s proclivity to violence. 

I give especially strong weight to the Warren Commission witnesses on the side of credibility because they swore an oath prior to their testimony and risked perjury charges if they lied.  With the exception of deMohrenshcildt, I see no reason why any of those eyewitnesses would be lying about their experience of Oswald's proficiency in Russian.  As you note above, the Warren Commission witnesses were only half those who vouched for his competency.  The instances when Oswald appeared to be deficient were during the Minsk years when he was feigning ignorance of the language and maintained the appearance of lethargy in trying to improve.


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2 hours ago, Bill Simpich said:

(a) the careful planning of the venture to the Soviet Union in 1959; can we focus on this aspect - I'm looking forward to it.  If we can hold off on the full-blown Harvey & Lee discussion for a moment, that would be helpful.


I agree that this would be an excellent place to start!  And for this discussion, I was not even planning on mentioning Harvey & Lee.  There is great potential to try to come to terms with the focused question of whether Oswald was an agent of United States in the lead-up to his sojourn in the Soviet Union.  In this young man's life, I do not believe he had much personal "agency."  Sadly, like others during the Cold War, he was a creature of the CIA.

A little historical background is important for understanding the context of Oswald's so-called defection.  In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his "secret speech" at the XX Party Congress in Moscow, wherein he denounced the atrocities of Joseph Stalin.  There followed what is often called a brief "thaw" in the tensions between the superpowers.  By 1959, a major summit had been planned in Paris in which there was the potential for Khrushchev and Eisenhower to break the ice. 

This was the political backdrop when Oswald left the Marines and made a beeline for the Soviet Union in 1959.  In its historical context, the gravitas of this venture had major diplomatic implications if Oswald's ties to American intelligence were exposed.  The following components of Oswald's trip suggests that it was not a small operation:

• Oswald postured as a Slavophile who played Russian records, read Russian-language publications, and was known by the nickname Oswaldovitch to his fellow Marines in Santa Ana, California.  This posturing established a motivation for the "defection";

• Oswald's discharge from Marines was conducted under extremely suspicious circumstances in which he claimed hardship to support his mother after a candy bowl landed on her head;

• Oswald's phony application as a student to the non-existent Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland was a carefully documented ruse;

• Oswald's route to the Soviet Union taken through Finland miraculously allowed him to enter the country expediently with little bureaucratic hassle;

• Oswald's phony suicide attempt in a Moscow hotel was designed to influence the authorities' decision to allow him to remain in the Soviet Union;

• Oswald's finances in 1959 consisted of military scrip, raising the question of how he could have funded this trip.

The points raised above suggest a meticulously choreographed operation that was in the works for a considerable amount of time and that could only have been implemented by the facilitation of the national security network.  This was no small espionage project, especially considering the timing during the period of the thaw.

An essential eyewitness account of the Oswald defection is that of James Botelho, Oswald's Marine roommate in Santa Ana, who described the investigation that followed in the immediate aftermath of a United States Marine seeking asylum in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War: 

“It was the most casual of investigations.  It was a cover-investigation so that it could be said there had been an investigation….Oswald, it was said, was the only Marine ever to defect from his country to another country, a Communist country, during peacetime.  That was a major event.  When the Marine Corps and American intelligence decided not to probe the reasons for the ‘defection,’ I knew then what I know now:  Oswald was on an assignment in Russia for American intelligence.”

"A major event," in the words of a contemporary observer in the military.

We will probably never uncover a direct body of evidence of those who trained, prepared, and coached the young Oswald as he grew up.  However, I made a research trip to the Fort Worth area, traveling to all of the known addresses where Oswald lived.  There were so many moves on the part of Marguerite that it was mind-boggling to contemplate, and she often lost money on the sale of her homes.  Some of the moves of only several blocks made no sense until I learned that the move translated into young Oswald changing school districts.  The constant moving served to make it difficult for the KGB to trace Oswald's history when he arrived in the Soviet Union.  For this assignment, the idea was not to recruit a high-profile spymaster like Yale University graduate Cord Meyer, whose background could easily be traced.  Rather, it had to be an obscure, low-level operative like Oswald with a salient skill:  facility in the Russian language.  A substantial effort went into constructing the legend to cloak that reality.

Based on the prodigious research efforts of military historian John Newman, we know enough from the scarce surviving documents to understand that CIA had some kind of relationship with Oswald prior to JFK's election as president.  So, I am puzzled why you are unable to accept the word "agent" as the role of Oswald in this operation.  Based on the data that I have presented above, I have two questions for you:

(1)  What more information would you need as the threshold to be able to identify Oswald as an agent of the United States, as opposed to a "wannabe agent" or an aspiring James Bond? 

(2)  Would you accept the term asset as an appropriate description of Oswald in the so-called defection of 1959?


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May I interject? Bill, you say we know more about Robert Webster’s defection that about Oswald’s. Do we know if Webster spoke Russian, and if he did how he learned it? Was Webster a known agent of CIA or AFI? 
James - you are inferring that Marguerite was in on the game and moving around to protect her future agent son? Seems like a stretch. 

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23 minutes ago, Paul Brancato said:

James - you are inferring that Marguerite was in on the game and moving around to protect her future agent son? Seems like a stretch. 


It didn't seem like stretch to Marguerite Oswald, who was indigent and forced to place her two oldest sons in an orphanage.  The money she received from moving around likely allowed her to get her boys out of the asylum and to maintain the semblance of a family as a single mom.


Edited by James Norwood
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