Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK (4 page)

BOOK: Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK
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The most extraordinary development during the defection occurred when Snyder--on a roll-asked Oswald if he was willing to serve the Soviet state. Whether or not Oswald had prepared for this question is intriguing, for his answer could not have been worse from the standpoint of eliciting Snyder's cooperation in getting his defection papers. Oswald's reply, McVickar later wrote, "tended to extinguish any sympathy one may have felt for a confused and unhappy young man."23 It also led to an interesting start to the paper trail on Oswald back in Washington, especially at the CIA, a subject to which we will shortly return. Snyder's contemporaneous written account of the duel with Oswald contains this passage:

Oswald offered the information that he had been a radar operator in the Marine Corps and that he had voluntarily stated to unnamed Soviet officials that as a Soviet citizen he would make known to them such information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty as he possessed. He intimated that he might know something of special interest.24

Here again Oswald's remarks seem laden by significance. Special interest? What "special interest" information did Oswald know beyond what he had learned as a radar operator? Perhaps Oswald had in mind something he had learned because of his assignment to Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan, where an extremely sensitive CIA program had been-and still was-ongoing.

McVickar also recalls that Oswald said he was going to turn over "classified things" to "Soviet authorities."25 Snyder later theorized that what Oswald may have had in mind by using the words "something of special interest" was the supersecret American U-2 spy plane that was based at Atsugi.26 If so, this question then arises: Why drop the hint in the American Embassy? After all, was not Oswald's purpose simply to obtain the defection papers? Snyder's hypothesis was that Oswald assumed the KGB had bugged the American Embassy, and "was speaking for Russian ears in my office."27

By this time it was after noontime. "We are closed now," Snyder said, "and I can't get all the papers typed up right now. If you want, you can come back in a couple days when we are open and get them."28 At this point, Oswald simply turned around and left. "He came storming out," Keenan-who was still sitting on the couch outside Snyder's officerecalls. "It was enough to catch my attention."

In spite of this ending to the defection scene, however, Oswald followed up Snyder's stalling tactics in a curious way. He complained bitterly about Snyder's treatment during an interview with a news reporter in his hotel room but never returned to the embassy to sign the papers. "Perhaps he heard a little voice," Snyder now muses, "[which said] don't burn that bridge." By not executing the renunciation papers, Oswald had, in effect, left open a way to return to America.`

Room 233, the Metropole

Oswald left the American Embassy interpreting the outcome not as a defeat but as a victory. This seems strange given that he had failed to get the paperwork for renunciation of U.S. citizenship, the ostensible purpose for his visit that morning. But not if his real objective, as Snyder had guessed, was to impress the KGB, whom he had to assume was bugging the American Embassy. Support for this interpretation comes from Oswald's diary, which records his exuberance after his return to his hotel room:

I leave Embassy, elated at this showdown, returning to my hotel I feel now my enorgies [sic] are not spent in vain. I'm sure Russians will except [sic] me after this sign of my faith in them."

Still wrapped up in his thoughts about his encounter with Snyder, Oswald returned to his hotel room. He had not had time to sort much out, when he was surprised by a knock on his door.

The hand knocking on Oswald's door belonged to the Moscow bureau chief of United Press International (UPI), Robert J. Korengold, whom Snyder had immediately notified by telephone after alerting Washington-in his cable 1304-about the defection request. "I called on Korengold fairly quickly," Snyder explains, "to try and get another line on Oswald."32 Snyder encouraged Korengold by telling him that an interview with Oswald might prove "interesting" for the UPI. Snyder may even have told Korengold the room in which Oswald was staying at the Metropole.33 Korengold wasted no time in following up Snyder's lead, and arrived at the door of Room 233 at two P.M.34

When Oswald opened his door, Korengold requested an interview. "How did you find out?" Oswald asked in response, flabbergasted at the speed with which events were unfolding.35 (Korengold might even have beaten Oswald back to his room, a possibility suggested by Korengold's recollection that his contact with Oswald came "after several unsuccessful attempts."36) It was rare that a chance to interview a defector came around, and it began to look as though his persistence had paid off. "The embassy called us," Korengold replied hopefully. Caught off guard, Oswald flatly refused to give Korengold an interview. Korengold recalled, "Oswald stated he knew what he was doing and insisted he did not wish to talk to anyone."37

After ten minutes of getting nowhere with Oswald, the intrepid UPI bureau chief left the Metropole, disappointed but not about to give up. When Oswald shut the door, he felt Korengold was part of a plot. Oswald later wrote of his feelings: "This is one way to bring pressure on me. By notifing [sic] my relations in U.S. through the newspapers."3S Meanwhile, Korengold went back to his office and spoke with a correspondent for the UPI, Aline Mosby. As we will discuss in a later chapter, Mosby led a colorful life in the Soviet Union, including being "drugged" in a Moscow restaurant and victimized in the Soviet press for her "drink and debauchery."39

Within minutes of talking to her bureau chief, Mosby was on her way to Room 233 in the Metropole. She told the FBI in 1964 that she had learned of Oswald in the fall of 1959 "from a source she can no longer recall,"' but the source was probably Korengold. Mosby recounts her journey to Oswald this way:

I went up in the creaky elevator to the second floor and down the hall, past the life-sized nude in white marble, the gigantic painting of Lenin and Stalin and the usual watchful clerk in her prim navy blue dress with brown braids around her head. An attractive fellow answered my knock on the door of Room 233.x'

For Oswald, life was getting more interesting by the moment. Oswald was surprised at the attention he was getting: two American reporters in less than half an hour.42

"I am Lee Oswald," he said with a "hesitant smile" to Aline, who recalls that she then "murmured some pleasantry" in reply. Oswald, still off guard and unsure, refused her a formal interview, but Mosby, it seems, was far more successful than Korengold in loosening Oswald's tongue. "I think you may understand and be friendly because you're a woman," Oswald told her.43 He then agreed to answer Mosby's questions.

Oswald informed Mosby that he had applied to renounce his American citizenship and become a Soviet citizen. He did so, he said, "for purely political reasons."44 Mosby successfully elicited enough personal details from Oswald to rush back to her office and put all of this into a report for the wires, adding, "The slender, unsmiling Oswald refused to give any other reasons for his decision to give up his American citizenship and live in the Soviet Union. He would not say what he is planning to do here."4s

There was, of course, someone else who was listening to what Oswald said to Mosby. An internal 1964 CIA memorandum that commented on a draft paper entitled "KGB operations against foreign tourists" contained the following useful entry: "Rm 233, Hotel Metropole, Moscow-equipped with infra-red camera for observation of occupants."46 Thus the Soviet KGB office in Moscow was presumably busy writing a report of the conversation between Aline Mosby and Lee Oswald, as Mosby's UPI ticker of the same event burned across the wires of the U.S., including those in Texas.

The reporters of the Star Telegram in Forth Worth were probably still drinking their first cup of coffee when Mosby's UPI report popped out of their ticker. The second line read,"Lee Harvey Oswald, of Fort Worth, Tex., told United Press International in his room at the Metropole Hotel, `I will never return to the United States for any reason.' "47

Halloween in Fort Worth

"The first time I was aware he was in Russia," Robert Oswald testified in 1964 about his brother Lee Harvey Oswald, "was on Halloween Day 1959, October 31."48 Within hours after Oswald's defection, three or four Forth Worth reporters were at the home of Robert Oswald, pestering him for information about his brother. Robert Oswald initially resisted but then yielded to the pressure tactics of the reporters, who suggested that he cooperate because he might be "the only source of information" about what brother Lee was doing in Russia.

When the interview was over, another man appeared at Robert Oswald's house. Robert does not recall who he was other than that he identified himself as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. This man not only asked questions but had suggestions as well. He told Robert Oswald he should send two telegrams, one to Secretary of State Christian Herter, and the other to Lee Oswald in Russia. With the man still in his home, Robert immediately called Western Union and sent both telegrams, and then advised the reporter of the contents. Even though Robert "did not receive confirmation of these telegrams from Western Union" while the reporter was still present, they both appeared in full in the Sunday, November 1, edition of the Star Telegram."'

Thus Robert Oswald sent two messages to his brother, one directly and the other through the U.S. State Department. The first one to arrive in Moscow was the latter, a State cable arriving at 6:34 P.M. Sunday evening at the American Embassy in Moscow. The embassy was requested to "pass following message if possible." The message read, "For Lee Harvey Oswald from Robert Lee Oswald. QUOTE Contact me as soon as possible through the fastest means available. UNQUOTE." The photostatic copy of this cable extant in the National Archives today bears the signature of then Secretary of State Christian Herter,50 who had either come into his office at the State Department or received the cable via an aide early that Sunday morning. In any event, arriving at the embassy communications center at 6:34 P.M., the cable would have to wait until Monday morning for someone to attempt to deliver it to Oswald.

That same Sunday, Oswald's mother attempted to call him at his hotel room. Kent Biffle, a Fort Worth newspaper reporter, had arranged a three-way telephone conversation between his office, Marguerite Oswald, and her son at the Metropole hotel. Seth Kantor, another Fort Worth newspaperman at the time, recalls what happened:

[I]t took several hours to arrange the call trans-Atlantically and trans-continentally and get the call into Russia to where Oswald was. At times it seemed it would be impossible to get the call through, but at last the call was ready and Mrs. Oswald was on her line in her home and Kent Biffle, sitting right across from me at the Press city desk, was on his phone, and here came Oswald on the phone from Russia. As soon as Oswald found out that it was his mother on the phone in Fort Worth and it was a newspaperman who had set this thing up, so she could talk to her son, Oswald hung up. All those hours down the drain."

Oswald was evidently offended at the thought that newspaper reporters would use his mother as a means of getting the story on his defection.

On Monday, Richard Snyder asked his secretary, Marie Cheatham, who also served as the administrative assistant for the consular section, to telephone Oswald, tell him that the embassy had received a telegram from his brother, and ask him to stop by the office to pick it up.51 When he took Cheatham's call at 9:30 A.M., Oswald, not keen on the idea of returning to the embassy, refused Cheatham's request. Snyder told his secretary to try a different approach. She wrote a memo to Snyder afterward to explain what happened:

I again called Mr. Oswald immediately thereafter, as instructed by you, to ask him if I could read the message to him over the telephone. His room did not answer. At 11:05 I contacted Mr. Oswald at his hotel and asked him if I could read the message from his brother, that I now had two telegrams for him. Mr. Oswald replied, "No, not at the present time," and hung up.53

This passage makes it clear that the second of the two Robert Oswald telegrams arrived in the consular office between the second and third of Marie Cheatham's phone calls to Oswald's hotel room-that is, between 9:30 and 11:05 A.M. that Monday morning in Moscow.

The situation of the Oswalds in Dallas was unenviable. All immediate efforts to reach Lee in Russia had failed, and the local press in Texas did not look favorably upon defectors. There had been one press report in the Corpus Christi Times a week earlier profiling a string of defections to the Soviet Union. The article said:

As far as we are concerned, any American citizen, male or female, who renounces his citizenship in favor of the Soviet Union, is entitled to the protection of this government in two particulars only. The State Department should ask him two questions: Was he drunk or sober when he did it? Did he seem to have all his marbles with him at the time?

Having settled these questions to its own satisfaction, the government and people of the United States should wave him goodbye and see to it that his name is wiped off our national books forever, and he never be allowed to set foot in this country again, dead or alive.50

This newspaper clipping, which had been sparked by the recent defection of other Americans, would, by mid-November 1959, become the first official record in Oswald's FBI headquarters file- 105-82555.55 By that time there would be more than the Corpus Christi Times complaint to put in Oswald's file.

An "Intelligence Matter"

Snyder recorded the details of Oswald's defection, fully documenting his bizarre performance in the embassy that day. Snyder's complete account was typed by his secretary, Vera Brown, and sent to the State Department in a lengthy dispatch two days later, Monday, November 2. It included this assessment:

Throughout the interview Oswald's manner was aggressive, arrogant, and uncooperative. He appeared to be competent.... He was contemptuous of any efforts by the interviewing officer in his interest, made clear that he wanted no advice from the embassy. He stated that he knew the provisions of U.S. law on loss of citizenship and declined to have them reviewed by the interviewing officer. In short, he displayed all the airs of a new sophomore party-liner.'

BOOK: Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK
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