Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK (8 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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Claims of an Investigation at El Toro

One day in November 1959-shortly after Oswald's defectiona group of strangers are alleged to have visited Oswald's former unit at the El Toro Marine Base. One of Oswald's marine coworkers, Nelson Delgado, recalled the experience to Oswald biographer Edward J. Epstein. Delgado told Epstein he "remembers a group of civilians in dark suits arriving in November with stenographers and literally taking over their headquarters company to question marines about Oswald." Delgado explained that "one by one" Oswald's marine associates "were ushered into their captain's office." 16 According to Delgado, none of the marines were told who their interrogators were. That was and is most unusual. El Toro was a marine base, and it would have been natural for Naval Investigative Service (NIS) agents to come and ask questions, but such agents must-and always do-identify themselves when questioning military personnel in any official capacity.

Epstein recorded Delgado's vivid account of how the interrogation at El Toro proceeded:

When his turn came, Delgado recalls, he was asked his name, rank and serial number. Then one of the civilians shot quick questions at him concerning his job in the radar bubble, his knowledge of Oswald's activities and especially his opinion of the sorts of classified information to which Oswald had had access. A number of other marines in the unit recalled being asked the same questions as a stenographer typed away at her machine."

Researchers have been unable to identify the origin of this interrogation unit. Neither the FBI nor the Marine Corps has any record of this investigation, and both the OSI and the CIA have denied ever conducting it. The ONI and the NIS response to Epstein's Freedom of Information Act request was similarly uneventful: They told Epstein that "the report of the investigation was not in their files."

If Delgado's account of this investigation is true, who were these men in dark suits? It is not unreasonable to assume they were from the intelligence agency that had the most at risk with respect to U-2 operations when Oswald defected: the CIA. It would not have been abnormal for the Office of Security, which was the most likely element to be charged with protecting the overall security of the U2 program, to have been conducting what, in military intelligence parlance, could be called a quiet "damage control" assessment. Oswald had worked at three locations in Asia, where one of the most sensitive CIA programs in the world was in progress, and he had then traveled directly to the very country against which this supersecret program was targeted. American intelligence methods and the lives of American U-2 pilots were potentially at stake.

Whether or not such an investigation-perhaps at a much higher level of classification than the confidential Navy and State Department cables on Oswald-was conducted, it should have been. The situation called for quick and accurate answers to the questions. Who was Oswald? What did he know? What damage could he do to the program? If such an investigation did not exist, it is reasonable to begin wondering why not. In this vein, one would be justified in asking if there had been some terrible lapse in U.S. counterintelligence or if Oswald's defection may have been planned by American intelligence." We know little about the November 1959 El Toro interrogation Delgado claims to have been part of. If it did occur, it fell into the same black hole that the confidential Navy and State Department cables from Moscow fell into at the CIA. The possibility that those cables-which described Oswald's stated intent to disclose secrets to the Soviets-were somehow lost in the CIA is close to zero. The State and Navy cables eventually surfaced, but no documents on an Agency damage assessment of Oswald's defection have yet emerged. Nevertheless, Donovan argues that Delgado would not tell a lie about an investigation such as this. Donovan is more cautious in the way he recalls the event. He recalls that there might have been a "light investigation." Interviews, such as they were, were conducted at Santa Ana, California, he says today."'

The couple-of-civilians-snoop-around scenario led investigatorlawyer Mark Lane to argue that this investigation "was a cover investigation so it could ae said there had been an investigation."20 This is but one of many possibilities. Given the sensitive nature of the U-2 program, one might advance the counterargument that resources would more likely be used in covering up an embarrassing internal investigation than leaving a deliberate trail to advertise it. For our purposes, however, we may proceed by observing that given Oswald's extensive knowledge of U-2 operations in Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines, the Soviets could be expected to be interested in him. Therefore, any American files on Oswald after his defection should have been carefully examined, stored, and controlled. As we shall see, they were.

Whether we look at Oswald as a "lone nut" or a "fall guy" in the assassination of John Kennedy, we know that he knew a lot about the CIA's U-2 program. Thus, it would have been odd for the CIA not to have pursued an investigation into the possible consequences of his defection to the Soviet Union. It would not have been unusual for a U-2 damage assessment to have been so highly classified that only a few people in the Agency knew about it. The program itself was restricted to those few people who had a legitimate "need to know," and these same restrictions would have applied to any security investigation of the program. The disclosure of information relating to the location of the U-2s, their personnel, logistical and security support, the frequency of their missions, and the countries against which they were targeted-all subjects upon which Oswald could offer the Soviets information-would reasonably be considered damaging to the national security.

Moreover, an assessment of the potentialities in the Oswald case would have been a security embarrassment to the CIA, whose U-2 program was facing stiffening competition from other technological innovations. The U-2 gave the Agency a major voice in the strategic debate at a seminal moment of the arms race. We still lack, however, hard evidence of any Oswald damage assessment-and this will likely remain the case. Even a "light" investigation into the potential damage if it fell into the KGB's hands would have been alarming enough to prompt a quick and quiet burial of the matter.

It seems prudent for the sake of analysis, however, that we should not proceed without at least examining what it was that the CIA would have discovered and likely concluded had it looked into the U-2 information in Oswald's past. These questions naturally arise: First, who would have been concerned about this in the CIA? And second, just how sensitive was Oswald's knowledge of the U-2 program?

Who Should Have Examined Oswald's U-2 Background?

Even though the U-2 operations at Atsugi, Cubi Point, and Taiwan were very "closely held" (intelligence jargon meaning very limited distribution), Oswald obviously knew a great deal about the program. Thus it is only natural to wonder if the CIA was, as it properly should have been, aghast at the dangers presented by Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union. It seems probable that the CIA counterintelligence vacuum cleaner-which sucked in many of Oswald's early documents-was also the resting place for any Security Office files generated by the defection, including any assessment of the damage to EIDER CHESS.

The CIA could reasonably expect the KGB to be interested in Oswald, and the counterintelligence staff would have been a natural collection point in the Agency for his files at that time. The counterintelligence implications of the Oswald case were there from the very beginning and, as we will discover, would grow more acute right until the murders of Kennedy and Oswald. Quite apart from the U-2 considerations of Oswald's defection in 1959, the CI staff and its controversial leader, James Jesus Angleton, should have had many concerns. For example, they should have wanted to know about the defection's implications for the KGB's capability against CIA operations in Japan and every other place Oswald had been stationed. If Angleton and his staff were to get involved in a secret damage investigation in the wake of any defection to the Soviet Union, the logical person for him to call upon would be the chief of his own mole-hunting section, the Counterintelligence Special Investigation Group. That person at the time was Birch D. O'Neal. Therefore we should ask the question: Is there any evidence of O'Neal's interest in Oswald during the initial "black hole" period in November 1959?

The answer is yes.21 On Friday, November 6, 1959, Snyder's lengthier dispatch on Oswald's defection arrived at State Department headquarters in Washington." This document was in the possession of the FBI no later than the following Thursday, November 12, and was at the CIA, where fifteen copies were sent, no later than Friday, November 13. We can confirm that it was physically located at the CIA by this date because of a parenthetical entry on the CIA's document lists on Oswald prepared for the HSCA.23 The original CIA cover sheet is missing, which still prevents an authoritative determination on the precise office and person to whom it first went in the CIA.

We at least know, however, that this document was in fact in the CIA during the mysterious, or "black hole," period of November 3 through December 6. In fact, it falls nearly in the middle of this period. A kind soul to whom historians shall forever be indebted typed a bracketed note about this document on a CIA document list, which reads "[Received in CIA on 13 Nov 59]."2` Moreover, upon close examination there is some handwriting in the upper righthand corner of the copy in the National Archives. We can easily read it because it was written so neatly. It says "O'Neal," almost certainly the very man we are looking for-chief of CI/SIG. That writing appears to be identical to O'Neal's writing elsewhere in the collection, and is thus hard evidence that Angleton's mole-hunting chief was scrutinizing these earliest of materials on Oswald.

The disheveled nature of Oswald's early CIA files makes it impossible to understand as much as we might otherwise, but the foregoing is clear evidence of CI/SIG receipt of several Oswald documents on December 6, 1959. This information was not publicly available until 1993, and much additional research will be necessary just to ensure all related records have been located. We now know that somebody in the CIA was examining a key Oswald document on November 13, and so we should consider whether the content of that document could help illuminate the threat posed to the U-2 program by Oswald's defection. The contents of Snyder's November 2 dispatch confirmed what those in the Agency who knew of the U-2 program should have feared the most-that Oswald had threatened to talk about more than radar. As previously discussed, in this dispatch Snyder offered a more complete version of the threat Oswald made in the American Embassy on October 31:

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 [emphasis added].

Snyder's later theory that by "something of special interest" Oswald may have meant the U-2 program seems reasonable. The question is, how could the CIA possibly avoid drawing the same conclusion?

Among the concerns the Agency might have had about Oswald's intentions would certainly be the possibility of revelations about the U-2 in the media. Fortunately, from the Agency's perspective, this did not happen even after a U-2 was shot down in May 1960 in the Soviet Union. The American Embassy in Moscow had not notified the press of Oswald's threats at the time of his defection. Moreover, the only reporter who knew about it did not, for reasons we will examine in Chapter Five, use it. Oswald's threat to give up secrets to the Soviets remained classified until after the Kennedy assassination.

We may not find out any time soon-at least as far as hard documentary evidence is concerned-what the CIA concluded about Oswald's possible role in the May 1960 U-2 shootdown and about the related question of what else he might have compromised about American U-2 operations. In one sense, however, we don't have to. Something that Captain Donovan said right after the Kennedy assassination goes straight to the heart of the matter. Donovan explained that he "did not know whether Oswald actually turned over secrets to the Russians. But for security's sake it had to be assumed that he did.' 121 What Donovan said then is still the standard operating procedure for any intelligence organization today, and it was certainly true with respect to the U-2 program in 1959. Corpsman Hobbs pointed out to the ONI in 1964 that "one year after Oswald visited Russia, J. F. Powers [sic] was captured."26 ONI Agent Berlin's report concluded: "Since it was common knowledge around the base that the U-2s were being utilized for recon flights, Hobbs now believes that Oswald could have given that information to Russia."

It is reasonable to assume that someone at the CIA might have concluded the same thing that Corpsman Hobbs did. From the newly released files come fresh hints that someone took a hard look at what damage Oswald might have done to the U-2 program after he defected. This new detail has emerged: By August 19, 1960-three and a half months after U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down in the Soviet Union-all CIA personnel and every piece of their equipment at Atsugi had "cleared the base and turned the facilities back to the Navy."27 The Oswald defection in October 1959 must be considered in the context of his knowledge of the U2 program. That this is so can readily be seen from examining how sensitive the U-2 program and Oswald's knowledge really were.

Oswald and the U-2: How Sensitive?

The Soviet ballistic missile program began in spring 1957. Detachment C, the CIA U-2 spy mission at Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan, was operational by the week of April 8, 1957. By March 1958, ten to fifteen Soviet ICBMs had been launched to distances of up to 3700 miles. Thus, Atsugi was an ideal location from which to launch espionage flights to collect the Far East end-presumably impact areas-of the evidence of these test launches. The first American intelligence report on a successful Soviet test launch of an ICBM landed on President Eisenhower's desk in late August 1957. Lee Harvey Oswald arrived at the Atsugi Naval Air Station on September 12, 1957. Twenty-two days later, the Soviet Union launched the Soviet satellite Sputnik on the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

BOOK: Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK
2.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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