On this day in 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald is thinking about buying a gun. The CIA is paying attention to him and his wife.
The 23-year-old ex-Marine is living on Elsbeth Street in Dallas (in a building that was torn down earlier this month). He works at the Jagger-Chiles-Stovall graphic arts company and is taking typing lessons at night. He lives with his wife Marina and subscribes to a variety of leftist publications.
Socially, his friends tend to be more conservative. One of his most supportive friends is a Russian emigre with friends at the CIA named George de Mohrenschildt to whom he would later give a photo of himself with a gun.
Having obtained a printed mail order form for “Seaport Traders,” Oswald fills it out with this date. He uses a fake name, “A.J. Hidell,” and a real post office box address (P.O. Box 2915, Dallas, Texas). He orders a pistol, holster and ammunition, then scratches out the last two items. He would not mail the form for another six weeks. (The heavy and hot debate among JFK experts about this gun is beyond the scope of this article.)
What can be said with certainty is that January 27, 1963, is a small but significant moment in the events leading to JFK’s assassination.
This was the first time Lee Oswald is known to have used name “Hidell.” He would later use this same name when ordering pro-Castro literature from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. People have speculated weakly that “Hidell” might be a reference to “Fidel.” Others note that Oswald once gave the name “George Hidell” as a reference.
Speculation aside, the most salient and least disputed fact is that Oswald uses this alias for his purchase of guns and for his public pro-Castro activities. In other words, Oswald uses “A.J. Hidell” when he is thinking like a gun-wielding supporter of Castro.
Eleven months in the future, on November 22, 1963, this same Oswald would arrested for killing JFK, and a Cuban student exile group funded by the CIA would publicly identify Oswald as a pro-Castro gunman.
Whether Oswald shot JFK or not, January 27, 1963, is the day when his enduring persona as “a pro-Castro gunman” begins to take shape.
At this key moment, the CIA is paying more attention to Oswald than the FBI. The local FBI office has closed its file on Oswald the previous October. The bureau, said FBI director Clarence Kelley, regarded Oswald as “unworthy of any further consideration.”
In Langley, the CIA’s file on Oswald, controlled by James Angleton’s Counterintelligence Staff, remains open. Indeed Angleton’s covert mail opening program called HT/LINGUAL had just three days earlier intercepted and opened a letter to Marina Oswald from a correspondent in Russia. This letter went into Angleton’s files, which were not shared with the rest of the CIA. (For the underlying CIA documentation of this story, see John Newman’s in Oswald and the CIA, pp. 280-286.)
As Oswald/”Hidell” begins to act more forcefully on his pro-Castro convictions in the spring of 1963, the FBI and CIA will watch him more carefully.
For now, Oswald puts aside the order form. “A.J. Hidell” doesn’t need a gun just yet.
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