Question: Why isn’t the FBI spying on Marina Oswald better known?
Answer: Because much governmental effort has gone into making sure that it is not better known.
Why? Maybe because Marina Oswald and her children–alive and living in Texas–have solid grounds for a lawsuit.
Before my research, I knew vaguely about a 1975 New York Times report on how the FBI admitted tapping and bugging Marina’s conversations. “Electronic surveillance,” the Times reported, was “based upon written approval of the Attorney General of the United States. The Government contended then that in national security cases, court approval was not required“.
That was true. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Supreme Court ruled in the US v. Keith case that “national security” was not a sufficient basis to conduct a search without a warrant.
But no one has ever seen transcripts of the surveillance of the wife of the accused assassin of JFK, a fact first noted by author Lamar Waldron in his book Legacy of Secrecy .
Nor has anyone has ever heard the tapes of this surveillance.
But we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the U.S. government spied on Marina Oswald after the assassination of JFK.
The results were not reassuring to Hoover’s insistence that Lee Oswald was solely responsible for JFK’s murder.
Dallas FBI agent Jim Hosty confirmed in his book that Marina was surveilled and he added a convincing detail: His FBI fellow agent Anatole Boguslav translated the Russian comments into English.
The transcripts and the tapes are still missing — a scandal that needs to be addressed as the National Archives prepares to release 3,600 still-secret JFK documents by the legally-mandated deadline of October 2017.
Hosty’s account indicates that the Dallas FBI office initially had custody of the tapes, with orders not to erase them.
Where are the tapes now? No one knows. I suspect that at least the transcripts are hidden inside informant files that have never been turned over to any investigative agency.
What the tapes revealed
I unearthed some FBI documents that explain why these tapes and transcripts have not been turned over.
The surveillance of Marina recorded statements that went directly to the question of her husband’s guilt or innocence in the murder of JFK— yet the FBI halted the surveillance less than two weeks after it began, saying that the results were “insignificant”.
This evidence was not provided to the Warren Commission.
The documents also show that although Attorney General Robert Kennedy did provide approval to tap Marina’s phone, he never gave the FBI permission to plant microphones (“bugs”) inside her home.
This newly-discovered information gives Marina and her family the right to file a new suit against the FBI and certain officials for violation of their constitutional rights.
The contents of the newly-discovered files
On the Mary Ferrell Web site, I found three folders of FBI material that are highly relevant to the JFK story.
These three folders tell us that although the phone tap and bugs were revealing some important first-hand information–such as the doubts of Marina and Oswald’s brother Robert that Lee shot JFK– the surveillance was shut down based on the FBI’s inexplicable claim that nothing of significance was being learned.
On February 24, 1964, Warren Commission chief counsel J. Lee Rankin asked J. Edgar Hoover for a “stake-out” of Marina’s home with “discreet physical surveillance”. This memo, and others in this folder, are within Hoover’s famous “JUNE” mail file, conducted when he wanted to conduct technical surveillance.
(Note to researchers: See the second page of this FBI June mail file for “special storage”, and page 190 on “records management”).
On February 24 1963, field surveillance began, and agents surreptitiously monitored Marina’s movements.
RFK never gave the FBI permission to plant microphones inside her home .
The next day, February 25, we see Bobby Kennedy’s signature approving Hoover’s proposal for a wiretap on her home on 2/25/64.
Bill Sullivan, the head of domestic intelligence for the Bureau, wrote on the 25th that “the practical thing to do is to place the installation in her new home…and then give this coverage adequate time to see if anything relevant can be developed.”
However, for reasons unknown, the FBI exceeded the terms of RFK’s approval of the tapping of Marina’s phone. On February 27, the FBI obtained “internal approval” to plant bugs inside Marina’s home–without asking the Attorney General.
The microphones were planted throughout the house- – from the attic to the bedroom — on the night of February 28, hours before Marina was going to move in to her new home. The phone tap was installed on February 29 by Special Agent Nat Pinkston. The bugs became operational on March 2.
Although the plan was to conduct surveillance indefinitely, the whole operation was shut down for no plausible reason by March 12.
There was no such “general authority.” If he Bureau had no court order authorizing the planting of microphones inside Marina’s home, the bugging was clearly illegal.
If RFK had approved of the bugs, their legality would be a closer question. Without RFK’s approval, the FBI was clearly breaking the law as it was understood in 1964.
What was learned
A report by FBI special agent Milton Newsom discusses what was picked up on Marina’s phone and the microphones inside the house. The results were not reassuring to Hoover’s insistence that Lee Oswald was solely responsible for JFK”s murder.
Newsom’s report shows that:
–at that time Robert Oswald, Lee’s brother, was saying that he thought Lee was innocent. Later Robert Oswald would say he had no doubt about Lee’s guilt.
–Marina went back and forth on whether Lee was guilty.
–Marine said that she didn’t remember the package that Lee’s neighbor and co-worker Buell Wesley Frazier claimed Lee brought with him to the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) that fateful Friday morning.
On March 11, Marvin Gheesling, a senior FBI counterintelligence agent in Washington, tipped off Lee Rankin, chief counsel of the Warren Commission, about some of what was learned about the conversation in Marina’s house.
Gheesling took pains to avoid letting Rankin know about a conversation between Marina’s business manager (and paramour) James Martin with the Russian translator Ilya Mamantov.
Mamantov was brought into the case by Army Intelligence on the afternoon that JFK was killed. Mamantov believed Oswald was a Soviet agent. He proceeded to obtain a questionable statement from Marina on the night of November 22, 1963 that she recognized the rifle found on the sixth floor of the TSBD as belonging to Lee.
Martin told Mamantov that “Marina understands English pretty well” and that she didn’t need a translator. That news would have caused shock waves at the Warren Commission, which had been given the impression that Marina had little comprehension of English-language conversations going on around her.
The FBI claim that ‘no significant results’ had been obtained was nonsense.
The FBI claimed there was a major problem with the surveillance: it was picking up attorney-client communications between Marina and her attorney William McKenzie.
In the past, the FBI had not considered that as a problem. McKenzie had already assured the FBI that he would assist them in “spot checking” her activities that were not direct attorney-client communications.
McKenzie also told Rankin that he would get a waiver of the attorney-client privilege from his clients about anything they knew about JFK’s assassination –and he had it in writing within days after the bugging began.
There is no denying that the information they were obtaining was of great importance. The FBI claim that “no significant results” had been obtained was nonsense.
What can be done today?
I will take action to see if these tapes or transcripts of Marina Oswald remain in the possession of the FBI’s “informant files“, as indicated in the documents I reviewed. The FBI did not turn over any such material to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) in the 1990s.
I will also challenge the FBI’s refusal to provide these documents and the rest of the informant files to the ARRB or the other investigative bodies that have demanded that all relevant evidence be turned over. This is part of a pattern that I will discuss in my follow-up article.
Warren Commission in the dark
Marina’s love life also was an area of potential embarrassment for all concerned. After her husband’s murder in policy custody, she became romantically involved with her business manager James Martin, with whom she discussed the pros and cons of marriage which might lessen the possibility of her deportation. Marina was vulnerable to pressure due to her immigration status.
Chief counsel Rankin was informed that the surveillance of Marina would be ended. The FBI recommended that Agent Newsom’s report not be given to the Warren Commission, in order to avoid public criticism of the Bureau for tapping Marina. Hoover wrote that the Commission was trying to embarrass his agency. The story remained hidden.
When the New York Times story broke the story a decade later, Warren Commission assistant counsel David Belin said that it was “horrible” that the Commission was not informed about the FBI’s actions.
Legal implications in 2015
Since the failure to obtain RFK’s permission to plant bugs in Marina’s home has been revealed for the first time, the argument can now be made that the FBI cannot claim reasonable belief of compliance with the law prior to the 1972 court decision that court approval is required in order to use hidden microphones.
The statute of limitations only begins to run in a setting where a reasonable person would learn about it. Media publication is considered to be such a setting.
The time to sue on the telephone tap would have begun with publication of the Times story in 1975, and the statute of limitations has long since run on that subject.
The time to sue on the bugging of Marina’s home, however, has arguably just begun with the publication of this story revealing RFK’s failure to provide permission.
Dick Russell has written about how Marina has expressed interested about filing suit to try to take effective action in reaching resolution in the JFK case. I wonder if she is still interested?
My legal opinion is that Marina Oswald – and maybe even her two children, who resided with her at the time – are now free to file a lawsuit against the FBI and certain officials for the planting of the bugs.