( PDF | ASCII text formats )
OSWALD and the FBI
Harold Feldman is a translator and journalist, living in Philadelphia. As a translator, he has worked extensively for the Social Security Administration. Mr. Feldman is also a frequent contributor to psychoanalytic journals, one of his papers having been “The Hero As Assassin.”
The Warren Commission should, if possible, tell us how President Kennedy was killed, who killed him, and why. But beyond that, it must tell us if the FBI or any other government intelligence agency was in any way connected with the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. At this moment, the possibility of such associations in the young man’s life is intolerably a subject for speculation.
On the day after the assassination, the Dallas Chief of Police complained on television that the FBI had interviewed Oswald about a week earlier and had failed to inform the Dallas authorities of this fact — something the bureau would normally do after making contact with a suspicious Red. Drew Pearson also reported this but added, “In Washington, the FBI denied that they had interrogated Oswald recently.”
However, Michael Paine, who with his wife helped take care of Mrs. Oswald and the two children, “claimed that FBI agents had visited Oswald more than one time after he returned to Dallas from a trip to Mexico City.” Oswald returned to Dallas from Mexico City on October 3, 1963. This report also is contradicted by another:
The FBI picked up the trail again in Dallas after Oswald’s return there on Oct. 3. He was not interviewed, but agents checked twice with Mrs. Ruth Paine, who told them that Oswald had gone to work on Oct. 16 in the Texas State School Book Depository. (The New York Times, 12/10/63.)
The Minority of One (January, 1964) tells us:
William M. Kline, Chief of the U.S. Customs Bureau investigative services in Laredo, Texas, stated on November 25 that Oswald’s movements were watched at the request of “a federal agency in Washington.” (New York Post, November 25.) Eugene Pugh, U.S. agent in charge of the Customs office on the American side of the bridge at Laredo, Texas, said that Oswald had been checked by American immigration officials on entering and leaving Mexico. Mr. Pugh admitted to the New York Herald Tribune that this was “not the usual” procedure. He said Americans were not required to check in with Immigration when crossing the border, “but U.S. immigration has a folder on Oswald’s trip.”
One thing is clear: the FBI was in fairly constant touch with Oswald’s activities. How far these contacts went is indicated in “the revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to recruit Oswald as an undercover informant in Castro groups two months before Mr. Kennedy’s death.” This report, which appeared in a Philadelphia Inquirer dispatch from Dallas, December 8, went on:
The FBI attempt to recruit Oswald as an informant, an informed law enforcement source said, was made in September, just after he had moved to Dallas from New Orleans.
On January 1, Lonnies Hudkins of the Houston Post, published a story under the headline: “Oswald Rumored as Informant for U.S.” Hudkins found that Oswald did know agent Hosty. He had Hosty’s home phone, office phone and car license number — this on the authority of William Alexander, assistant to Henry Wade, Dallas District Attorney. Alexander had attended the grilling of Oswald on November 22 and 23. Hudkins notes that if the FBI had Oswald under surveillance, the watch could not have been too close or they would have known about the rifle and other matters; but, as a sheriff deputy put it, “you just wouldn’t think to check out one of your own stoolies.” Hudkins quotes Wade, himself a former FBI agent, as saying” “It may be true, but I don’t think it will ever be made public if it is.”
What the public hears of the FBI’s part in the Oswald case is usually a report that such and such a witness or authority has been asked, or ordered, to keep his mouth shut. Thus, Dr. J. J. Humes of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., the man who conducted the autopsy on the President, seemed to be the best authority on the exact angle of entry of the murder bullets, but “Dr. Humes said he had been forbidden to talk.” A thirty-four-year-old machinist named Malcolm Howard Price said he had looked through the telescopic sight of Oswald’s rifle on a rifle range in suburban Dallas — but “Mr. Price declined to answer further questions because, he said, the FBI had asked him not to talk. The FBI here [Dallas] denied this.” (The New York Times, December 10.) On December 6, the Times had observed:
Most private citizens who had cooperated with newsmen reporting the crime have refused to give further help after being interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dallas city and county police withdrew their help the same way. One high officer said he wished he could answer questions “because it would save us a lot of work.”
The Western Union office in Dallas handled frequent messages for Lee Oswald, but inquiries there brought the reply that “any details or comment would have to come from Washington headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
It is in the light of this official coyness that we must consider the possible connection of Oswald with the attempted shooting of General Walker. Oswald’s widow is said to have declared that he boasted of shooting at that doughty warrior. In view of her prolonged seclusion from the public, and even from relatives, under government supervision, we must infer that any statement alleged to be hers at this time is a deliberate “leak.” It is interesting that a similar “leak” at the beginning of the case — that a rifle which Mrs. Oswald knew her husband had kept in a garage was missing on the morning of the assassination — proved to be false. The FBI is also reported to have found a document in Oswald’s handwriting that mentions his attack on Walker, but once again the document has not been produced for examination or reproduced in the press.
Incidentally, if “the loner” did try to shoot General Walker, we would be again confronted with questions like those raised about the killing of the President. “At the time of the Walker shooting,” we read in the Philadelphia Inquirer of December 7, “Dallas police reported that the bullet was from a .30-06 caliber rifle. The weapon used to kill Mr. Kennedy was a 6.5 millimeter weapon, equivalent to about .270 caliber.” Moreover, an eyewitness in the Walker affair informed police that he saw at least two men enter the getaway car after the shooting. (Oswald never learned to drive a car.)
Was the alleged assassin of President Kennedy employed by the FBI? We have seen a news report that the agency tried to recruit him and that it has refused to say whether he accepted the offer. At present, all we know is that his history, as we have been able to piece it together, is not inconsistent with such employment. Indeed, his financial record seems entirely inexplainable unless we make some such hypothesis.
If there is anything constant in Oswald’s life, it is his need of money. After three years on a marine private’s pay, he goes to Russia. There he works in a factory for the pittance of 80 rubles a month. He returns to America with a wife and child in mid-1962 and thenceforward works at a series of jobs paying the legal minimum wage or less — when he is not unemployed. For months his only acknowledged source of income is the Texas unemployment compensation of $33 a week. His job at the School Book Depository, from whose warehouse he is supposed to have shot the President and Governor Connally, paid him $1.25 an hour.
Surely he was a pauper, a fellow whose monetary resources could only keep him swinging between want and destitution. But if there is another thing about Lee Oswald as certain as his indigence, it is that he was often capable of expenditures that would have cramped the purse of a suburban status seeker.
After years of subsisting on a marine’s pay, from which he occasionally sent money to his mother, he undertakes a trip to Russia with a capital of $1,600. How could he have put aside this nest egg? After years of low factory remuneration in the Soviet Union, he wants to return to the United States and, in a letter to his mother, estimates the cost at $800. He borrows $435.71 from the United States Embassy in Moscow but, mirabile dictu, he repays the loan between October, 1962, and January, 1963, during which time he was unemployed for several weeks and worked for a time as an unskilled developer of photostatic prints.
A Miss Pauline Bates, public stenographer, whom Oswald paid for typing his notes for a book about Russia three days after his return, has said that “he hinted he had gone to the Soviet as a U.S. secret agent.” He allegedly told her then that “when the State Department granted my visa, they stipulated they could not stand behind me in any way,” an admonition suggestive of instruction, to an undercover man.
Back in America, as impecunious as ever, he finds the money to rent an office for $30 a month, where he sets up in business as the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He buys a rubber stamp, he prints 2,000 leaflets, he pays a $10 court fine, he buys a rifle and telescopic sight by mail, gets them assembled and bore-sighted — and in his room after his arrest the police find $150. This young man, untalented, it appears, for anything but finding odd windfalls of money, goes to Mexico City for a week to get visas for a trip to Cuba and Russia that would have cost at least $1,000. (The Cuban and Russian consulates did not issue the visas.) After the murder of the President, the police find in his room, in addition to the wad of money, “several expensive cameras and rolls of film.”
Where did the money come from? The FBI and the Dallas police fail to supply information on the subject. For the Russian period, we have the unsupported assertion of Pravda that Oswald was an American spy who made numerous contacts with the American Embassy. This might indicate a CIA affiliation. He wrote his mother that, on his return, he would spend a day or so in New York and Washington for “sightseeing.” After that, all is dark except for one hint. An Associated Press dispatch of November 30 from Dallas says in part:
“Someone telegraphed small amounts of money to Lee Harvey Oswald for several months before the assassination of President Kennedy, it was reported today,” the Dallas Times Herald said. The unidentified sender telegraphed Oswald $10 to $20 at a time.
Here apparently are some of the Western Union items about which the FBI has been so secretive — but why this secrecy? If the money came from the Communist Party, it is hard to understand why the FBI should cooperate in a Bolshevik plot. If it came from a right-wing or Fascist source, the FBI could not lose much by revealing it. But if the money came from a government source, then the agency’s reticence is understandable.
Shortly before the assassination, Oswald seemed to be expecting better times:
Mrs. Ruth Paine, the woman with whom Marina was staying, said: “He seemed in exceptionally high spirits.” [When he visited his wife the weekend prior to President Kennedy’s arrival in Dallas.] Oswald told his wife “things are looking up” and that soon they would have enough to look for an apartment, buy furniture. (Sunday Bulletin, Philadelphia, 12/15/63.)
If the FBI did not employ Oswald or work with him, then who wrote the letters he addressed to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York? Oswald alone certainly didn’t. Whoever wrote the letters to New York was coherent, commanded a good vocabulary, rarely misspelled a word, and punctuated decently. Oswald himself wrote English that a sixth-grader would blush to acknowledge. Here is a letter he wrote to his mother from Russia on June 28, 1963. I preserve the original spelling and punctuation:
Now compare this semi-literate effusion with the following addressed to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee about two years later. (A New York Times report on the letters to FPCC indicates that they were handwritten, so presumably no public stenographer improved their style.)
Dear Mr. Lee:
And so on for several more well-integrated paragraphs.
He now spells “receive” and “necessary” correctly. He has mastered the apostrophe. His ideas cohere. He tackles words like “innovations,” “provocative,” “recourse,” “disapproving,” “approaching,” and “application” with success, something that would have been clearly beyond the powers of the voluntary exile in Minsk.
Until the authorship of the letters to FPCC is settled, I think it reasonable to suppose that Oswald did not compose them, at least not without help. Who, and where, is the invisible scribe? No associate of his New Orleans period has been found, or even hinted at. If Oswald was employed by the FBI to operate in “Castro groups,” as the news report suggests, it is also reasonable to suppose that in the letters to FPCC his pen was guided by the FBI.
It is no simple matter any longer for a radical American to get a passport from his government. If he is a known Communist or subversive, it is almost impossible. Let a man be known as a do-gooder, bleeding heart or a nonconforming screwball, and his application for travel will be greeted with jaundiced eye and dragging feet. But Lee Oswald got one readily as late as June, 1963.
One day last June, he applied for a passport and — despite his record — got it in a single day. He called himself a “photographer”; he said he planned to take a long trip abroad — perhaps including Russia — late this year. (Newsweek, 12/9/63.)
By that date, Oswald was known as a Soviet defector, had praised Castro on a radio program, and on November 2, 1959, had written an affidavit saying, “I affirm that my allegiance is to the Soviet Socialist Republic.” But his passport application was granted—and posthaste. “It still isn’t clear how it was processed so rapidly,” commented the New York Herald Tribune.
Oswald’s apartment, too, was filled with fascinating things. Besides the batches of leaflets with the legend “Hands Off Cuba!” and bearing the unauthorized imprint of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, police found several metal file boxes filled with names of Castro sympathizers. How did he manage, in so short a time, to compile so extensive a list?
The FBI appears once more in Oswald’s news life during the last two days before he was killed. One report details two telephone calls made by FBI agents to the Dallas Police on November 24, warning them of threats against Oswald’s life. The threats materialized later the same day under circumstances which raised a forest of questions throughout the world.
Equally puzzling, his mother, Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, has insisted that an agent of the FBI showed her a photograph of Jack Ruby just about seventeen hours before Ruby shot her son.
It was understood, however, that Federal agencies had acknowledged that she had been shown a photograph that night for identification, but spokesmen would not disclose whether it was that of Ruby. (The New York Times, 12/2/63.)
The next day the FBI denied that the photograph was that of Jack Ruby, but they would not comment further. Mrs. Oswald repeated her statement and has demanded that the pictures be produced again.
The following item completes, for the moment, this side of the weird Dallas story.
Washington, Dec. 9—The Federal Bureau of Investigation gave the Secret Service a “risk” list of Dallas individuals in advance of President Kennedy’s fatal trip, but the list did not include the name of Lee H. Oswald.
Lee Oswald, the twice-court-martialed marine who defected to Russia and renounced his American citizenship, the pro-Cuba activist who had been arrested a few months earlier while distributing leaflets, the erratic “Marxist” who was employed on the route of the President’s motorcade—Lee Oswald did not qualify for the FBI’s exclusive “risk” list. And why? Because the FBI’s “statutory responsibility” was limited to suspected spies and saboteurs!
This sudden legalistic attachment to its self-interpreted “statutory” obligations must cause very wan smiles indeed among the many individuals and organizations (including the NAACP and the Unitarian Church in Texas) which have come under the beady-eyed surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.