One mystery of JFK assassination story is why accused assassin Lee Oswald was not photographed when he visited the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Mexico City two months before President Kennedy was killed in Dallas.
The CIA had three photographic surveillance bases to take pictures of visitors to the Embassy. Oswald visited the Embassy at least twice in an unsuccessful effort to obtain a visa. But the CIA says no photograph of Oswald was taken.
The photo to the right, which CIA personnel in Mexico City mistakenly linked to Oswald, depicted a man who was never conclusively identified.
In 1978 investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations
(HSCA) looked into the question of why Oswald was not photographed. They were only given photographs from one of the three surveillance bases. According to my research, the negatives or photos taken by a second photo base may still exist. These negatives or photos should be immediately located and released. I summarized my findings in Chapter 4 of my book State Secret, and will now update them here.
The photos we have
The CIA only gave the HSCA investigators the logs and production from the photo base LILIMITED, which was located immediately opposite from the Soviet embassy front gate. Missing are the logs and production from LILYRIC, an alternate photo base located on the upper story of a building farther down the block, which also targeted the front gate.
A third photo base, LICALLA, was aimed not at an entrance but at the embassy’s back garden. Its purpose was to photograph the Soviet compound personnel. It’s unlikely that Oswald would be found in this set of photos. (The LI digraph identified CIA operations in Mexico).
Where are the photos from LILYRIC? A CIA memo from 1978 states that the photos “may” have been destroyed in a purge years earlier. But the story only begins there.
The LILYRIC photos are important because phone records indicate that Oswald entered the Soviet embassy during the afternoon hours of Friday, September 27. A CIA memo states that Oswald first entered the Soviet embassy at 1446 (2:46 pm). (Those familiar with the Mexico City story will appreciate the brusque author’s unwitting admission: At the time of the assassination, the Cuban and Soviet tapes involving Oswald “were not erased — as was customary — so they were available for review.”)
The standard operating procedure for weekdays was for LILYRIC to operate between 0900 to 1400 or 1500, and for LIMITED to operate between 1200 to dark. On Friday the 27th, LIMITED was only in operation during the morning hours. The logs and production for LILYRIC were allegedly destroyed in the aforementioned purge. This loss meant that there was no way to verify whether Oswald entered the Soviet embassy that Friday afternoon.
(For those researchers wondering whether Oswald entered the embassy on Saturday the 28th – LILYRIC did not have coverage on Saturdays. LIMITED ordinarily did have Saturday coverage, but for unexplained reasons LIMITED was not operating on that Saturday.)
The photos that may still exist
Several sources state that the LILYRIC photos of the Soviet embassy still exist.
Ann Goodpasture was the officer who was placed in charge of screening the photographs after Oswald was spotted making a phone call to the Soviet embassy. Goodpasture testified during 1978 that although she thought that the reason that the LILYRIC production “had been destroyed” was to create storage space after the paper-driven station chief Win Scott retired in 1969. She believed that the negatives from LILYRIC were sent to CIA headquarters in the days after 11/22/63.
Four days after Goodpasture’s testimony, she was subjected to a CIA debriefing. Goodpasture told Scott Breckenridge — the CIA’s principal coordinator with the HSCA — that the logs and production in Mexico City were most likely destroyed by custodian Milly Rodrigues with Charlotte Bustos’ approval at Headquarters. At this meeting, Goodpasture said nothing about the negatives.
For her part, Bustos told Breckenridge that the LILYRIC production wasn’t destroyed at all. Bustos worked at Langley during the events of 1963 as well as 1978, and had a reputation for excellent memory.
Furthermore, although the logs and contact prints from LILYRIC during July-November of 1963 are “missing” according to a job conducted in 1970, a CIA inventory sheet shows that a search for LILYRIC by its number 50-6-74/6 revealed not only that a foreign intelligence branch of the Western Hemisphere division provided a “complete” set to the reviewers in 1973, but that the job was a duplicate.
To tie a bow on this sorry story, it should be noted that records of negatives, photos, tapes, and transcripts sent to Langley can be found in this CIA chronology. I see nothing in the files indicating any kind of systematic CIA search of the chronology’s contents, nor that all of these documents have been publicly released. The one-page chronology is incomplete and not even chronological – it was slapped together and is unreliable. I suggest that it is reasonable to assume that all relevant photos pertaining to Oswald’s Mexico City visit were sent to Headquarters immediately after the assassination.
Despite numerous HSCA requests, a reasonable explanation for the failure to provide the LILYRIC production was never provided by the CIA. This kind of ambiguity makes certain people very happy. It creates a permanent guessing game about whether Oswald visited the Soviet embassy or not. The Lopez-Hardway team realized that this missing evidence made it impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of the Soviet photographic overage. A draft of their report included the handwritten comment: “so don’t try”.
The JFK Records Act
All aspects of the LILYRIC production should be immediately subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee, which is responsible under the JFK Records Act for tracking compliance by the agencies to produce all assassination-related documents right up to the present day.
The Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) was responsible under the JFK Records Act for the review and release of millions of JFK records from 1994 to 1998. In their final report, the ARRB emphasized the “continuing obligation of federal agencies to release records on the assassination after the Review Board’s term expires“.
Review of the LILYRIC photos may resolve whether Oswald ever visited the Soviet embassy. Based on the statements of Goodpasture and Bustos, as well as the contents of the attached documents, the production from the LILYRIC photo base should be immediately located and released.
The CIA’s failure to conduct a reasonable search for the LILYRIC production warrants the most serious investigation imaginable. The Agency is meddling with the history of our country.
I will write about other instances of illegally withheld documents in the months ahead. Providing these documents should not devolve into a chess game between the CIA and concerned citizens. Since the JFK Records Act was passed in 1992, providing these documents has been the law of the land.
Historians, researchers, and the general public should demand full and complete enforcement of the JFK Records Act. As the CIA and other agencies have refused to comply with its provisions over the years, a stronger version of the Act should be prepared right now. The right time for its introduction and passage will come.