Albert H. Newman on Lee Harvey Oswald's Motivation



From Albert H. Newman
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy:
The Reasons Why

(New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1970)
pp. 22-26


[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 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 (Ch. IV, 188, quoting Marina Oswald's testimony):

"finished reading a morning paper . . . 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 (Ch. IV, 189):

"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 (2768, XXVI, 155):

"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 (Report, Ch. 1, 21) of "no evidence that Oswald was . . . persuaded or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate President Kennedy."

According to Oswald's aunt (L. Murret, VIII, 131), 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 (95, XVI, 406) 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 (316, XVI, 875) 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."*

(*That roundabout procedure was dictated by my understanding that the receiver, being one of Oswald's possessions having no exhibit number of its own, had been returned to Marina at the time of the transfer of the evidence to the National Archives. Nevertheless; on a much later visit to the Archives I turned in a request for it. To my surprise, the radio was there, packed in a cardboard box along with its somewhat battered power-supply pack. Like many portables of a 1950s vintage, it is about the size of a small mantelpiece clock, the case in maroon plastic, with a massive and crudely executed speaker grille of brass. Most prominent in the center of the front edge are three white buttons, an obvious tipoff to the most casual examiner possessing any radio background that the instrument is multiband.)

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.


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