The JFK 100

Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?

Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald


Biographical Summary
Was Oswald a Spy?
Did Oswald Have a History of Violent Behavior?
Would Oswald Have Had a Motive to Kill JFK?

Lee Harvey Oswald


Biographical Summary

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1939, to Marguerite Claverie Oswald. His father, Robert E. Lee Oswald, an insurance premium collector, had died of a heart attack two months earlier. Lee was the third of three children in the family, all boys; Robert, Jr., was five years older, while seven-year-old John Edward Pic, the oldest boy, was Marguerite's son from a previous marriage. Lee spent most of his childhood years in Texas.(1)

The family prospered for a time when Marguerite married her third husband, Edwin Ekdahl, in 1945. "All of us liked Mr. Ekdahl and got along well with him," Robert Oswald would later recall, "but I think Lee loved him most of all. He was the first father Lee had ever known. John and I could remember having a father to play with us when we were little, swinging us around the yard and picking us up when we fell, but Lee had never known a normal family life."(2)

Ekdahl was the closest Lee Oswald ever came to having a father, but it didn't last; the marriage ended in divorce three years later.(3)

As a single mother, Marguerite was often unable to provide for her three sons. John Pic and Robert Oswald spent several years in and out of orphanages, with Lee occasionally joining them. His childhood was marked by constant upheaval, as he and his mother moved from one place to another; it was rare for him to attend more than one semester at any given school. His grades were generally unexceptional, and as he grew older, his attendance became spottier. He was often characterized as a solitary child who read a lot and formed few friendships.(4)

In 1952 Marguerite Oswald brought Lee to New York City, where eldest brother John Pic had taken up residence. After an incident in which 13-year-old Lee threatened Pic's wife with a pocketknife, mother and son were asked to leave, and they found an apartment in the Bronx.(5)

Lee's attendance at school became a rarity. He was picked up for truancy in early 1953, and was briefly assigned to a center for troubled youths.(6) The chief staff psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, described thirteen-year-old Lee as a


tense, withdrawn and evasive boy who dislikes intensely talking about himself and his feelings. He likes to give the impression that he doesn't care about others and rather likes to keep to himself so that he is not bothered and does not have to make the effort of communicating. It was difficult to penetrate the emotional wall behind which this boy hides and he provided us with sufficient clues, permitting us to see intense anxiety, shyness, feelings of awkwardness and insecurity as the main reasons for his withdrawal tendencies and solitary habits. Lee told us: "I don't want a friend and I don't like to talk to people." He describes himself as stubborn and according to his own saying likes to say "no." Strongly resistive and negativistic features were thus noticed but psychotic mental content was denied and no indication of psychotic mental changes was arrived at.

Lee is a youngster with superior mental endowment functioning presently on the bright normal range of mental efficiency. His abstract thinking capacity and his vocabulary are well developed. No retardation in school subjects could be found in spite of his truancy from school. Lee limits his interests to reading magazines and looking at the television all day long. He dislikes to play with others or to face the learning situation in school. On the other hand he claims that he is "very poor" in all school subjects and would need remedial help. The discrepancy between these claims and his actual attainment level show the low degree of self-evaluation and self-esteem at which this boy has arrived presently, mainly due to feelings [of] general inadequacy and emotional discouragement.

Lee is the product of a broken home as his father died before he was born. Two older brothers are presently in the United States Army [sic] while the mother supports herself and Lee as an insurance broker. This occupation makes it impossible for her to provide adequate supervision of Lee and to make him attend school regularly. Lee is intensely dissatisfied with his present way of living, but feels that the only way in which he can avoid feeling too unhappy is to deny to himself competition with other children or expressing his needs and wants. Lee claims that he can get very angry at his mother and occasionally has hit her, particularly when she returns home without having bought food for supper. On such occasions she leaves it to Lee to prepare some food with what he can find in the kitchen. He feels that his mother rejects him and really has never cared very much for him. He expressed the similar feeling with regard to his brothers who live pretty much on their own without showing any brotherly interest in him. Lee has a vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which he tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations. He did not enjoy being together with other children and when we asked him whether he prefers the company of boys to [that] of girls he answered "I dislike everybody."(7)


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Lee Harvey Oswald


Lee's chronic truancy brought him before the courts, but his mother generally refused to comply with recommendations about counseling and other treatments for her son.(8)

"If she had faced it, if she had seen to it that Lee received the help he needed," Robert Oswald would state, "I don't think the world would ever have heard of Lee Harvey Oswald."(9)

Marguerite soon moved with Lee to her hometown of New Orleans, but not before an incident that was to prove a milestone in Lee's life, when a woman on a New York City street handed him a pamphlet on the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case.(10) He subsequently located a copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital in a New Orleans library, a discovery he described as akin to "a very religious man opening the Bible for the first time." (11)

Those who postulate that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a Marxist at all, but actually a spy posing as a leftist, must believe that he was recruited awfully young. On October 3, 1956, Oswald wrote this letter to the Socialist Party of America:


Dear Sirs;

I am sixteen years of age and would like more information about your youth League, I would like to know if there is a branch in my area, how to join, ect., [sic] I am a Marxist, and have been studying socialist principles for well over fifteen months[.] I am very interested in your Y.P.S.L.


Lee Oswald(12)


His interest in Marxism was soon to become one of the motivating forces in young Lee's life. Even as early as high school, he was alienating his peers with Marxist diatribes. On one occasion, the father of an acquaintance escorted Oswald from his home when he overheard Lee lecturing his teenage son about the evils of capitalism and the superiority of socialism.(13)

Lee's other strong interest was in joining the Marines as his brother Robert had, and as soon as possible. "Of course, I knew he would do it as soon as he reached the age," half-brother John Pic noted to Warren Commission counsel Albert Jenner. "He did it for the same reasons that I did it and Robert did it, I assume, to get from out and under. . . . [the] yoke of oppression from my mother."(14)

After completing basic training, Oswald served in the Far East, then California. The more politically-oriented of Oswald's Marine pals would occasionally engage him in discussions about socialism, Communism, the USSR, and Oswald's newest hero, Fidel Castro.(15)


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Lee Harvey Oswald


Upon receiving a hardship discharge to help care for his mother, Oswald spent only a couple of days in Texas before suddenly boarding a ship to Europe. He had been accepted to the Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland but never arrived; it appears his enrollment with the college had been nothing more than a ruse. Instead, in October of 1959, Lee showed up at the American Embassy in Moscow and announced his intention to defect to the USSR.(16)

In Moscow, to UPI reporter Aline Mosby, Oswald expressed some of his motivation for defecting in response to a question about socialists in the US. "I dislike [socialists] as I know them in the United States," he said. "You don't just sit around and talk about it. You go out and do it . . ."(17)

The USSR initially refused to allow Oswald to remain past the few days his tourist visa permitted, but after he melodramatically slashed one of his wrists, the authorities granted permission for him to remain on a temporary basis. He was sent to Minsk, assigned a laborer's position at an electronics factory, and given an apartment that was luxurious by Russian standards. By early 1962, however, he was ready to return to the US, with a young Russian wife, Marina, and a baby daughter. "I am stating [sic] to reconsider my disire [sic] about staying," he wrote in his diary. "The work is drab[;] the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling allys [sic] no places of recreation acept [sic] the trade union dances[.] I have had enough."(18)

In his "Historic Diary" (as he called it), Oswald set down some of his thoughts about his disillusionment with the Soviet Union and his longing for a society that somehow combined the best aspects of Marxist communism and American capitalism. "To a person knowing both systems," Oswald wrote, ". . . there can be no mediation between the systems as they exist today. He must be opposed to their basic foundations and representatives." "I have lived under both systems," he noted. ". . . I despise the representatives of both systems."(19)

The family settled in Dallas, where they were befriended by members of the Dallas-Fort Worth community of White (anti-Communist) Russians. Lee and Marina's marriage, which had been rocky enough in Russia, began disintegrating almost immediately. Lee became remote and abusive, and struck Marina on several occasions. He drifted from one menial job to another, and resented the Russian emigres who bought Marina things he could not afford. His political activism took a sinister turn in April 1963, when he fired a shot into the home of resigned US Army Major General Edwin A. Walker, an ultra right-winger, rabid segregationist, and virulent anti-Communist. Oswald missed his target and escaped undetected. Having just been let go from his job in Dallas, he let his terrified wife talk him into trying his fortunes in his hometown of New Orleans, far from the hotbed of Dallas politics.(20)

In New Orleans Oswald founded a one-man chapter of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He gained publicity when he scuffled with members of New Orleans's violently anti-Castro Cuban exile community, and was invited to debate the subject of Castro's revolution on local radio. He made a trip to Mexico City where he attempted to secure a visa to Cuba, but was unsuccessful. Marina observed that Oswald "liked some things in Russia, he liked some other things here, didn't like some things there, and didn't like some things here. And I am convinced that as much as he knew about Cuba, all he knew was from books and so on. He wanted to convince himself. But I am sure that if he had gone there, he would not have liked it there, either. Only on the moon, perhaps."(21)

In the meantime, Marina and baby June moved to Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, to live with Ruth Paine, a Quaker woman who had befriended Marina. In Dallas Oswald found work through a neighbor of Mrs. Paine's at the Texas School Book Depository in downtown Dallas. At the time of the Kennedy assassination, Marina and June (and new baby Rachel, born in October 1963) were staying with Ruth Paine, while Oswald rented a room in Dallas and visited his family on weekends.(22)


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Lee Harvey Oswald


Was Oswald a Spy?


One of the central claims of Oliver Stone's JFK is that Lee Harvey Oswald was a spy, sent to the USSR by the United States government.

Stone's primary evidence for this is his claim that Oswald had been trained in the Russian language by the US military:


It's incredible, honey -- the whole thing. A Lieutenant Colonel testifies that Lee Oswald was given a Russian language exam as part of his Marine training only a few months before he defects to the Soviet Union. A Russian exam!

. . . Honey, in all my years in the service I never knew a single man who was given a Russian test. Oswald was a radar operator. He'd have about as much use for Russian as a cat has for pajamas.

. . . And then this Colonel tries to make it sound like nothing. Oswald did badly on the test, he says. "He only had two more Russian words right than wrong." Ha! That's like me saying Touchdown here . . . (points to the dog) . . . is not very intelligent because I beat him three games out of five the last time we played chess.

Liz, do I have to spell it out for you? Lee Oswald was no ordinary soldier. That was no accident he was in Russia. He was probably in military intelligence. That's why he was trained in Russian.(23)


However, Lee Oswald wasn't trained in Russian, and his military file discloses no such training. Several of his fellow Marines recalled Oswald teaching himself Russian, and he apparently requested to take a written examination to test his knowledge. The examination is part of Oswald's USMC file, and no attempt was made to conceal it from the Warren Commission. The existence of the exam was voluntarily disclosed to the Commission during the deposition of Lt. Col. Allison G. Folsom of the Marine Corps's Personnel Department, Records Branch.(24)

Since it is impossible to prove a negative, in this case, that Oswald received no military training in the language, let's try a little commonsense:


  1. If Oswald had been trained in Russian, is it conceivable that he would have been sent to the Soviet Union without even a single oral examination to judge his mastery of the language?

  2. If Oswald had been trained in Russian, is it likely he would have been dispatched to the USSR having scored a failing grade on his one and only written examination?

  3. If indeed Oswald did receive other examinations, oral or written, why are they omitted from his military file, when one such written examination was freely made a part of his record?

  4. If Oswald had been trained in Russian, how likely is it that witnesses to such training would have remained silent all these years?


The best evidence that Oswald received no formal training in Russian is the fact that, without exception, those citizens of Russia who encountered Oswald upon his arrival in that country believed him to speak little or no Russian at all.

For example, Rimma Shirakova, the Intourist guide who met Oswald upon his initial arrival in Moscow, believed that Oswald "didn't seem to know a word of Russian," and she had to speak to him in English. Co-workers at Oswald's place of employment in Minsk also believed him to speak little or no Russian when he first arrived there.(25)

Most compelling are the statements of the KGB Counterintelligence general who supervised the task of covertly determining whether Oswald had received precisely that type of training prior to his arrival in the USSR. Interviewed by Norman Mailer in 1993, the KGB man, identified in Mailer by the pseudonym "Igor Ivanovich Guzman," had to "make certain that the Americans had not schooled him [Oswald] in Russian and he was concealing the knowledge. That was difficult to determine, but could be examined by observing closely how he proceeded to acquire more language proficiency. So, that would also become a task for any person teaching him Russian. The monitor would have to be able to determine whether Oswald was jumping from lesson to lesson with suspicious progress, or, taking the contrary case, was he experiencing real difficulty?"(26)

Soviet intelligence did not take such tasks lightly. The KGB assumed from the beginning it was possible that an ex-Marine like Oswald could be a US government agent. He was placed under surveillance every time he left home, and his apartment was bugged and monitored. His friends, co-workers and acquaintances were debriefed regularly. KGB agents were planted within his social circle to keep a closer watch. It was the ultimate opinion of his KGB monitors that he had received no training in Russian, nor did he possess any other knowledge or skills to be expected of a spy.(27)

Let's examine some of Oliver Stone's other claims intended to demonstrate that Oswald had been a spy for the US government.

"Negative on his [Oswald's] tax records," Stone has a DA's office investigator telling Jim Garrison. "Classified. First time I know a DA can't get a tax record."(28)

Obviously, this is intended to show that the government is hiding something. However, all IRS records are considered private and confidential unless specifically exempted by their subject or, in the event of a subject's death, his or her next of kin. In Oswald's case, it is his widow, Marina Oswald Porter, who has the legal authority to release or withhold Lee Harvey Oswald's tax records. She has released some of them; others she has refused to make available to the public, though copies have been distributed to a handful of selected researchers.(29)

The following exchange occurs between fictional NODA investigators, "Susie Cox" (Laurie Metcalf) and "Bill Broussard" (Michael Rooker):


I put together a list of all the CIA files on Oswald that were part of the Warren Report and asked for them. There are about 1200 documents --

(gives it to Jim who reads)

Oswald in the USSR, in Mexico City, Oswald and the U-2, a CIA 201 personnel file, a memo from the Director on Oswald, travel and activities -- can't get one of them. All classified as secret on the grounds of national security. It's real strange.

Maybe there's more to this, Susie. The CIA's keeping something from our enemies.

Yes, but we're talking about a dead warehouse employee of no political significance. Three years later and he's still classified? They gave us his grammar school records, a study of his pubic hairs . . .(30)


The documents in question were not withheld to protect Oswald; in most cases they were withheld to protect the sources and methods used to gain the information. Revealing this information would have compromised all such sources at great expense of time, money, and conceivably, in some cases, even human life. Virtually all such documents have since been declassified.(31)


Put it in context, Bill, of what we know about Oswald. Lonely kid, no father, unstable childhood, high school dropout -- wants to grow up and be a spy . . .(32)


His family members recalled that, as a child, Lee enjoyed radio and television shows about espionage.(33) Obviously, extremely few of the people who enjoy such fare grow up to be professional spies.


. . . [J]oins the Marines at 17. He learns Russian, he acts overtly Marxist with two other Marines, but he's stationed at a top secret base in Japan where U-2 spy flights over Russia originate.(34)


For the most part, Oswald was discreet about his interests, and they aroused little attention or suspicion. Virtually none of his fellow Marines in Japan recalled his ever mentioning anything about the USSR, Marxism or Communism.(35)


He's discharged from the Marines supposedly because his mother's sick.(36)


Not sick -- Marguerite Oswald was injured in an accident at work. This has since been confirmed.(37) It is reasonably clear that Oswald was only using his mother's accident as an excuse for an early discharge, and never had any intention of staying home to care for her.(38)


He stays home 3 days, then with a $1500 ticket from a $203 bank account, he goes to Moscow . . .(39)


In 1959, Oswald told reporter Aline Mosby that he had saved $1,500 during his years in the Marines. USMC records reveal that Oswald's wages for this period total $3,452.20.


One of the consuls, John McVickar, says Oswald's performance was not spontaneous -- it seemed coached.(40)


Oswald's statements to McVickar clearly were not spontaneous; he had been planning them for months, and perhaps as long as two years.(41)


The Russians are skeptical -- want to send him back. Maybe they suspect he's a spy. He supposedly slashes his wrists in a suicide attempt so that they're forced to keep him, and he disappears for six weeks, presumably with the KGB.(42)


Oswald never "disappeared," and JFK's documented screenplay gives no indication of where Oliver Stone could have gotten the idea he had. Because of suspicion that he might have been an agent of the US government, the KGB chose not to debrief Oswald, but rather to covertly use agents and monitoring devices to glean as much objective information from him as possible.(43) While Stone expresses doubt about Oswald's suicide attempt, newly available hospital records and eyewitness interviews confirm that Oswald indeed slashed his wrist at that time. Although the wound would not necessarily have been a fatal one, it is very possible Oswald would have bled to death had he not been found reasonably quickly.(44)


Finally they shuttle him to a radio factory in Minsk where he lives as high on the hog as he ever has -- he's given 5,000 rubles, a roomy apartment with a balcony, has affairs with local girls.

Makes sense -- he's a spokesman.

But he never writes, speaks, or does any propaganda for the Russians.(45)


Oswald's salary was supplemented by the Soviet Red Cross (no relation to the American organization of that name). It was a matter of political pragmatism for the Soviets to ensure that their American guest received as favorable an impression of the country and its government as possible.(46)


He meets Marina, whose uncle is a colonel in Soviet intelligence, at a trade union dance . . .(47)


Marina's uncle, Ilya Prusakov, was not involved in Soviet intelligence; he was a lieutenant colonel and head of the Timber Administration of the Belorussian Republic's Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD).(48) This might be comparable to a position in the US Department of the Interior.


. . . [S]he [Marina] thinks he's Russian the way he speaks . . .(49)


No, Marina told the FBI she thought "he [Oswald] was from one of the 'Baltic countries,'" where Russian is spoken as a second language, "since he talked with an accent."(50) She would later clarify to author Gerald Posner that her experience with people from the Baltics was that they "don't speak Russian very well," and "they speak with accents and do not [normally] speak Russian."(51)


The only explanation for the royal treatment is he did give them radar secrets. Or fake secrets.(52)


Oswald did not receive "royal treatment"; he received privileged treatment, as any American would have.


I don't know if it's coincidence, but Oswald had a top security clearance and knew about the U-2 program from his days at Atsugi Air Base in Japan. Six months after he arrives in Russia, Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spy flight goes down in Russia. That plane was untouchable. Powers hinted that Oswald could've given the Russians enough data to hit it. As a direct result, the peace summit between Khrushchev and Eisenhower failed. I can't help thinking of that book, Seven Days in May -- maybe someone in our military didn't want the Peace Conference to happen, maybe Oswald was part of that.(53)


"That's the biggest pile of bull," laughs Dino Brugioni, the CIA's chief U-2 photoanalyst of that period. "The Soviets already knew how to track the U-2s, so what the hell could he [Oswald] tell them? All he could give them was the fact that there were U-2s at Atsugi, and they already knew that. The actual photo targets were a tightly held secret, and there is no way a radar operator had that information."(54)

There also is no evidence that, as Stone further suggests, Lee and Marina received any favored treatment in leaving the country. Rather than obtain a speedy exit from the USSR, it took nearly a year for both to receive approval for their exit visas, well within the range of normal transactions in the Soviet Union at that time.(55)

The bottom line? One of the first researchers to propose that Oswald was an agent, and who greatly influenced Jim Garrison in that regard,(56) was Harold Weisberg. Weisberg studied the case -- and repeatedly sued the government to release assassination-related records -- for nearly four decades before passing away in 2002. Weisberg acknowledged that the Warren Commission "checked into almost every breath [Oswald] drew,"(57) and candidly admitted to author Vincent Bugliosi in 1999, that "much as it looks like Oswald was some kind of agent for somebody, I have not found a shred of evidence to support it, and he never had an extra penny, so he had no loot from being an agent."(58)


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Lee Harvey Oswald


Did Oswald Have a Prior History
of Violent Behavior?

It is easier to accept Lee Harvey Oswald as John F. Kennedy's assassin (or one assassin in a conspiracy plot) if it can be demonstrated that Oswald had a prior history of violent and unstable behavior. Did he?

Yes; there is abundant evidence of such behavior on Oswald's part, beginning with the evidence linking him to the April 1963 assassination attempt upon the former US Army General, Edwin A. Walker.

Marina Oswald also testified to the Warren Commission about another incident she said took place on a weekend morning on late April of 1963:


Mrs. OSWALD. It was early in the morning and my husband went out to get a newspaper, then he came in and sat reading the newspaper. I didn't pay any attention to him because I was occupied with the housework.

Then he got dressed and put on a good suit. I saw that he took a pistol. I asked him where he was going, and why he was getting dressed. He answered, "Nixon is coming. I want to go and have a look." I said, "I know how you look," or rather, "I know how you customarily look [at things], how you customarily take a look," because I saw he was taking the pistol with him . . ."(59) ". . . Then he said, 'I am going to go out and find out if there will be an appropriate opportunity and if there is I will use the pistol.'"(60)


Marina said she cried and fought with her husband until he finally agreed not to go.(61) More on this incident is discussed below.

There is also the eyewitness testimony of numerous White Russian residents of Dallas and Fort Worth who, for a brief time, befriended Lee and Marina, primarily out of sympathy for Marina. When Elena Hall met Marina, for example, Marina "had black and blue over half of her face."(62) Hall allowed Marina to stay at her home on one occasion when Oswald's behavior drove Marina out of her house.(63)

There is Anna Meller, who saw "a terrible blue spot" over Marina's eye on one occasion,(64) and who housed Marina on another occasion she left Lee.(65)

There is George Bouhe, who saw Marina with bruises and a black eye on more than one occasion, and assisted her when she moved in with Elena Hall.(66)

There is Alexander Kleinerer, who was witness to an occasion when Lee, angry that Marina's skirt was partly unzipped, "slapped [Marina] hard in the face twice" while she held their baby, June.(67)

There are the Oswalds's fellow tenants at the roominghouse owned by Mahlon Tobias, who frequently complained to Tobias: "They didn't like the way [Oswald] beat her all the time."(68)

"They complained to you that he manhandled her?" Warren Commission counsel Albert Jenner asked him.

"Yes," Tobias testified, "there was one man that came over there one night and he told me, he said, 'I think that man over there is going to kill that girl . . .'"(69)

A common opinion among this community was that Lee Oswald was mentally unbalanced. Another woman who welcomed Marina Oswald into her home, Katherine "Katya" Ford, called Lee "unstable," observing that "something was rather wrong with the man."(70) Oswald was "a mental case," she said. "We all thought that."(71)

To Anna Meller, Lee Oswald was "absolutely sick. I mean mentally sick." George Bouhe referred to Oswald's mind as "diseased."(72)


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Lee Harvey Oswald


Would Oswald Have Had a Motive to Kill JFK?

A common question, and one raised by Oliver Stone, is whether Lee Oswald would have had a motive to assassinate John F. Kennedy. One of the most insightful responses to this question comes from Albert H. Newman's book, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why.


[One factor in Oswald's motivation] may be thought of as the printed word -- the accusations against President Kennedy in The Worker and The Militant read by Oswald, the unfolding of stirring news events concerning the United States and Cuba (in which Oswald would appear to have had great interest), the vicissitudes of General Walker, the assassin's original target, as he involved himself in the University of Mississippi desegregation crisis of September-October 1962, and in turn became involved in the developing Cuban Missile Crisis of that autumn. Here the Commission staff, hampered by lack of time, defaulted totally. The Report hardly mentions the Missile Crisis, though the press associations selected it as the biggest story of 1962 and historians already regard it as the most important confrontation of the Cold War. The Mississippi story ranked number three in the press associations' year-end list, and although Walker figured most prominently in all the reports dealing with it and subsequently became Oswald's primary target, the [Warren] Commission staff did not include any reference whatever to it in the Report. As a result, Oswald, an acutely political being (as his 1959 defection attests), is depicted as inhabiting an ideological Sahara where there occurred nothing whatever in which he had any interest.

Time after time, the staff's failure to scan even the headlines of back newspapers leads into blind alleys of mystery that, properly surveyed and linked, form a highroad of meaningful, patterned purpose on Oswald's part. To illustrate this point, let us examine, briefly, one such cul-de-sac in the Report in which Oswald, on an indefinite morning in late April 1963:


"finished reading a morning paper [according to Marina Oswald] . . . and put on a good suit. I saw that he took a pistol. I asked him where he was going and why he was getting dressed. He answered 'Nixon is coming. I want to go and have a look.'"


He also said he would use the pistol if the opportunity arose.

The Report then speculates about the date. Oswald left for New Orleans April 24; the Nixon incident occurred before that, while he was still in Dallas, and:


Marina appeared certain that the Nixon incident "wasn't the day before [he left]. Perhaps 3 days before."


According to Marina's testimony, Oswald had been reading the paper before his outburst. Three days before the twenty-fourth would be the twenty-first. In the only major Nixon story of the entire month, the Dallas Morning News of Sunday, April 21, splashed over its front page the following two-line headline and bank:


Open US Support
Of Rebels Urged


This would seem to pin down not only the date but also what roused Oswald to a demonstration of anger -- or at least ostensible anger, for it would appear he had an ulterior motive -- against Nixon. Yet to readers of the Warren Report the matter of what Oswald might have had against the former vice-president remains a complete mystery.

To pursue Oswald's highroad further, it is also a fact totally unsuspected by the Commission that just two days before the assassin-to-be shot at Walker (on April 10, 1963) the general had returned to his Dallas home from an extended speaking tour on international communism in the course of which, according to previous dispatches that appeared in the Dallas Times Herald and the Trotskyite Militant, he "proposed that the US 'take the 82nd Airborne Division . . . and liquidate the scourge that has descended on Cuba.'"

To complete this chilling survey, what of the late President? He delivered his last major address in Miami on the evening of Monday, November 18, 1963. In it, he criticized Castro for betraying the ideals of the Cuban Revolution. The Dallas Times Herald of November 19 reported that he "all but invited the Cuban people to overthrow the regime of Castro and promised them US support if they do." By Friday at 1:00 PM Dallas time the speaker was dead.

This suggestive thoroughfare of possible cause and effect could never have been discerned without an investigation of the newspapers and periodicals that Lee Harvey Oswald is known to have read. That all-important reading chore was simply left undone by the Commission staff.

[Another factor in Oswald's motivation] is international radio, the main battleground of the propaganda war, an important, ever-expanding sector of the Cold War. The Commission staff can hardly be blamed for overlooking it, for these days North America is glued firmly to its television sets and stereo hi-fi apparatus. Not one United States citizen in a hundred realizes that the Revolutionary Government of Cuba transmits nightly in English on both shortwave and the standard broadcast band (the latter over station CMCA, "The Friendly Voice of Cuba" on 730 kilocycles, audible in the southern states after nightfall, which on occasion, as "Radio Free Dixie," urged the Negroes to arm themselves and rebel against the "white imperialists"). Although the speeches of Fidel Castro are repeated time and again in English over Cuban government transmitters, they have received slight coverage in the United States press (they are unconscionably long), so that it is small wonder the Commission staff failed to examine them as a possible source of incitement. Yet in the thirty months prior to the assassination they were unvaryingly and immoderately hostile to President Kennedy. And apart from the prime minister's speeches, an incessant rain of hate propaganda directed at the United States has poured from the island of Cuba.

How do I know this? For years it has been my habit now and then to monitor the Communist government radio stations with shortwave receiver and tape recorder, putting into typescript for preservation a selection of broadcasts that seem at the time significant, comic, or unusual. Based on thousands of hours of listening, it is my conviction -- and obviously that of the Marxist governments' propagandists as well -- that if soap and cigarettes can be sold over radio, so can hatred of the United States, its policies, and its leaders.

The Commission staff and/or the FBI, which during 1964 had custody of Oswald's possessions on the list in Exhibit 2003, sent Oswald's portable receiver to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade for examination. On June 19, 1964, the agency solemnly reported in a letter signed by a general:


The Russian "Tourist" portable radio was examined for cryptologic evidence. The radio appears to be a normal receiver and there is no evidence of its use for any other purpose.


This comic superficiality resulted from a combination of too much expertise and too little information. It is like examining a dagger and reporting that it cannot fire bullets. If anyone at Fort Meade had been given to understand the importance of radio in Oswald's background, he might have seen fit to add the important qualifying term "shortwave" to the description of the receiver as "normal," and opened to the Commission staff an enormous field of investigation that would inevitably have changed its finding of "no evidence that Oswald was . . . persuaded or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate President Kennedy."

According to Oswald's aunt, her solitary, bookish nephew as a teenager in New Orleans "had this little radio that he had taken apart and fixed" and spent a great deal of time alone in his room listening to it. When Oswald joined the Marines in 1956, he chose the MOS (military occupation specialty) of radio and radar in connection with aircraft control. Shortwave radio is used in ground-air communications, and high-performance receivers were available on every post where Oswald served. The Commission staff puzzled over what gave this strange left-leaning, Russian-language-studying Marine the notion of defecting to the USSR at the end of his enlistment. It sought Communist contacts in Japan, where Oswald was stationed in 1957-58, and could find none. Circumstances suggest that Oswald's mysterious contact might well have been the English-language North American Service of Radio Moscow, which nightly paints a rosy picture of life in the Soviet Union. It puts a strong signal into Japan (as I discovered in 1946) from transmitters in Khabarovsk, Siberia. The cliches about "US imperialism" in the Far East, mouthed by Oswald to Aline Mosby of UPI, who interviewed him at the time of his defection in 1959, surely possess the familiar ring of Radio Moscow's repetitive propaganda.

Oswald also told Miss Mosby that he wanted to work in electronics. When he was admitted to a Moscow hospital following his suicide attempt, he represented himself as an electronics expert. Hence his assignment, when the Russian authorities relented and allowed him to remain, to the Byelorussian Radio and Television Factory at Minsk. But whereas Oswald's Marine training might have made him an expert dial-twister, he possessed no knowledge of electronics theory, and so the bosses at Minsk put him to work on chassis and parts as an unskilled metalworker. This may well have marked the beginning of Oswald's disillusionment with life in the USSR. After thirteen months in Minsk he began an effort to extricate himself and return to the United States; and probably at about this time he began scribbling "The Kollective," a series of notes bitterly critical of the Soviet Union. In them he disclosed his awareness of the Russian shortwave broadcasts in an allusion to the towers of the jamming transmitters in Minsk:


But the jamming frequiencies [sic] are only half those of the 'Radio Moscow' propaganda programs, which may be heard on any short wave radio in the United States and without jamming.


Sometime during Oswald's employment in the factory at Minsk he acquired the portable radio he later brought with him to the United States. In February 1962, when his return to the United States was only four months away, he referred in a letter to his brother Robert to a Voice of America broadcast he had heard in Minsk -- such sure evidence that the "Tourist" radio had a shortwave capability that I did not bother until mid-1966 to try and confirm it. The answer to my Washington query, from a highly placed contact in the Executive Branch with access to the innermost recesses of the FBI, took weeks in arriving. It was, as expected, "Yes."

The Commission and its staff, unaware of the long reach of Oswald's receiver, did not think of it as a possible source of incitement-by-propaganda and thus failed to inquire into the assassin's listening habits. However, a Dallas Morning News reporter who went to Oswald's roominghouse the afternoon of the assassination unwittingly stumbled across a clue in that direction that got into the paper of November 23, 1963, but not, of course, into the Report:


The housekeeper, 58-year-old Mrs. Earlene Roberts . . . said Oswald was neat and clean, ate a lot of fruit, made coffee and sandwiches in his tiny room and kept no late hours.

"He was always in bed by 9:30 or 10 PM," she said. Mr. Johnson [the proprietor] said he noted Oswald would retire early and listen to his small radio.


In 1963, Radio Havana's first English-language broadcast of the night began at nine o'clock Dallas time, the second at eleven. A personal listening check in the summer of 1966 with the cheapest shortwave transistor portable I could find (it was under $12) disclosed that in the Dallas area Radio Havana was consistently the strongest signal in the forty-nine-meter band (at 6.135 megacycles), registering two or three times the strength observable in New York.

Thus Oswald's inclination to listen to pro-Castro propaganda is attested by the selection of pamphlets on the list of his effects in Exhibit 2003; by at least one statement in his writings that proves he knew of the existence of international shortwave propaganda; by the capability of his receiver and the signal strength of the Havana station in his area that would give him the means to listen; and by his habits as observed by Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Johnson, which hint that he did so consistently on week nights prior to the assassination.(73)


Could Cuban propaganda have influenced Oswald? An acquaintance of his, Volkmar Schmidt, had a lengthy political discussion with the young Marxist in early 1963. Schmidt recalls that Oswald "was extremely critical of President Kennedy, and he was just obsessed with what America did to support this invasion at the Bay of Pigs, obsessed with his anger towards Kennedy." Schmidt considered Oswald "a deeply troubled man" who was "totally obsessed with his own political agenda," and who "would have have found anybody of importance to assassinate . . . to leave a mark in the history books, no matter what."(74)

Such conclusions may not be the final word on the subject, but they provide a reminder that Lee Harvey Oswald was not necessarily the naive, innocent waif Oliver Stone depicts in JFK.


Copyright © 2001, 2012 by David Reitzes


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1. Warren Commission Report, pp. 669-70.

2. Robert L. Oswald, with Myrick and Barbara Land, Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother (New York: Coward-McCann, 1967), p. 36.

3. Warren Commission Report, pp. 671-73.

4. Warren Commission Report, pp. 672-80.

5. Warren Commission Report, pp. 675-76.

6. Warren Commission Report, pp. 676-77.

7. May 1, 1953, report of Renatus Hartogs; Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, pp. 223-24, also Vol. XX, pp. 89-90.

8. Warren Commission Report, pp. 676-79.

9. Robert L. Oswald, with Myrick and Barbara Land, Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother (New York: Coward-McCann, 1967), p. 60.

10. Aline Mosby, "Oswald Interview Recalled: UPI Reporter Talked to Defector in Moscow," UPI dispatch, November 23, 1963.

11. Notes from Mosby interview, cited in Albert H. Newman, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1970), p. 183.

12. Warren Commission Report, p. 681.

13. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 18.

14. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XI, pp. 3-4.

15. Warren Commission Report, pp. 681-91.

16. Warren Commission Report, pp. 681-91.

17. Notes from Mosby interview, cited in Albert H. Newman, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1970), p. 183.

18. Warren Commission Report, pp. 699-713. Quotation from Oswald diary: Warren Commission Exhibit No. 24, p. 9 (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XVI, p. 102).

19. Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), p. 948.

20. Warren Commission Report, pp. 713-25. 21. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. I, p. 22.

22. Warren Commission Report, pp. 726-40.

23. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), pp. 31-32. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

24. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 307. There has been speculation that Oswald attended classes at the Army's Monterey Language School (now the Defense Language Institute), fueled by a statement of Lee Rankin, chief counsel to the Warren Commission, that the Commission was looking into a rumor that Oswald had attended classes at the school. The Commission investigated the matter and concluded that Oswald had not studied there. As author Gerald Posner notes, Monterey was not an intelligence facility, and its records show that Oswald never attended a single class there. (Gerald Posner, Case Closed [New York: Random House, 1993], p. 63.)

25. Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), pp. 43, 85.

26. Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 71.

27. Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), pp. 69-192.

28. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 45. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

29. Some have been posted online at The Truth Is Redacted.

30. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 46. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

31. Documents can be ordered online from The President John F. Kennedy Records Collection.

32. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 46. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

33. Robert L. Oswald, with Myrick and Barbara Land, Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother (New York: Coward-McCann, 1967), pp. 46-47.

34. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 46. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

35. For example, Donald Camarata stated, "I never heard Oswald make any remarks on his part concerning Communism, Russia or Cuba." (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 317.) Peter Connor stated, "I never heard Oswald make any anti-American or pro-Communist statements." (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 317.) Allen D. Graf stated, "Oswald never gave to me any indication of favoring Communism or opposing capitalism" (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 318.) Mack Osborne stated, "I do not recall any remarks on his part concerning Communism, Russia or Cuba. (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 323.) Richard D. Call stated, "I do not recall Oswald's making serious remarks with regard to the Soviet Union or Cuba." (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 323.)

Things had changed by the time he was stationed in California a year later; numerous fellow Marines testified that they were aware of his interest in Russia and the Russian language. (Warren Commission Report, pp. 685-87. See also Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007], pp. 1384-85.)

36. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 46. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

37. Summary report of Martin Shackelford lecture, "The Candy Box 'Fabrication' and the Hardship Discharge of Lee Harvey Oswald," Fair Play, No. 7.

38. Mosby/wages: Warren Commission Report, p. 656.

39. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 46. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

40. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 47. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

41. Warren Commission Report, p. 656.

42. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 48. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

43. Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 72.

44. Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), pp. 51-52.

45. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 48. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

46 Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 96.

47. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 48. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

48. Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 54.

49. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 48. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

50. Marina Oswald, biographical narrative, Warren Commission Exhibit No. 994, p. 5; Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XVIII, p. 500. In an interview, Marina said she "thought he had probably come" from one of the "Russian-speaking Baltic countries," because "his Russian, although good, bore a definite accent." (Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1401, p. 261; Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XXII, p. 745.)

51. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 63.

52. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 49. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

53. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 49. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

54. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 102.

55. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 72.

56. Weisberg acknowledged his influence on Garrison, but was quick to add on one occasion, "This is not a matter of claiming credit. Claiming credit for Garrison is like [claiming credit for] inventing AIDS. Nobody can really claim credit for what strange things that strange man said and did." (Harold Weisberg, HOAX, unpublished manuscript, 1994, p. 93.)

57. Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), p. xxxii.

58. Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), p. xlii.

59. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. V, pp. 387-88.

60. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. V, p. 392.

61. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 89.

62. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 89.

63. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 395.

64. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 85. Marina told Meller she had hit her head on a door; Meller didn't believe her: ". . . I felt always like [the] girl tried to hide something."

65. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VIII, p. 365.

66. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 85. Marina told Bouhe that Oswald had hit her.

67. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 93.

68. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 93.

69. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 93.

70. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 84.

71. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. II, p. 308; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 84. It is Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler who speaks the phrase, "mental case"; Mrs. Ford agrees with it.

72. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993), p. 84.

73. Albert H. Newman, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1970), pp. 22-26.

74. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 118.


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