One of the most effective open government laws ever passed by the U.S. Congress was the JFK Records Act, passed 22 years ago in October 1992.
The implementation of the law, mandating the review and release of all records related to the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963, was overseen by the Assassination Records Review Board, a forgotten federal agency that did a remarkable job uncovering what former New York Times reporter Phil Shenon has called “the hidden history of the Kennedy assassination.”
But the ARRB was stymied on one key group of records.
Oswald, the ex-Marine
One area of the JFK assassination story where ARRB was unable to shed much new light was the U.S. Marine Corps records on Oswald, who served in the Marines from age 17 to 20 before defecting to the Soviet Union in 1959.
It seems almost certain that such records exist (or existed once). Yet they have proven hard to find.
The ARRB’s FInal Report described the issue.
“The question of whether the Marine Corps conducted a post-assassination investigation and produced a written report on former Marine Private Lee Harvey Oswald, circa late 1963 and early 1964, has never been resolved to the satisfaction of the public. Similarly, many have wondered whether the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) conducted a post-defection ‘net damage assessment’ investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald circa 1959 or 1960. Various former Oswald associates and military investigators have recalled separate investigations….”
The ARRB asked about Oswald’s Marines Corps records.
“The Review Board asked the Marine Corps to search for any records relating to post-assassination investigations that the U.S. Marine Corps might have completed, as some researchers believe. The U.S. Marine Corps searched files at both U.S. Marine Corps HQ in Quantico, and at the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, but the Marine Corps did not locate evidence of any internal investigations of Lee Harvey Oswald, other than correspondence already published in the Warren Report.”
Fred Reeve’s story
The ARRB considered the possibility of an ONI post-defection investigation.
“The Review Board became aware of an individual named Fred Reeves of California, who was reputed to have been in charge of a post-defection ‘net damage assessment’ of Oswald by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) shortly after Oswald’s defection to the U.S.S.R. The Review Board contacted Reeves, interviewed him twice by telephone, then flew him to Washington, D.C., where the Review Board staff interviewed him in person.”
Reeves was seemingly a credible witness. In 1959, he was a civilian Naval Intelligence Operations Specialist. He served in the District Intelligence Office of the San Diego, California, 11th Naval District.
“Reeves told the Review Board that a week or so after Oswald defected to the U.S.S.R., two officers from ONI in Washington, D.C. (one of the officers who called Mr. Reeves was Rufus Taylor, who was Director of Naval Intelligence in 1964) called him and asked him to conduct a background investigation at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, California, Oswald’s last duty station before his discharge from the Marine Corps.
“Reeves said that he went to El Toro, copied Oswald’s enlisted personnel file, obtained the names of many of his associates, and mailed this information to ONI in Washington, D.C.”
“He said that ONI in Washington ran the post-defection investigation of Oswald, and that the Washington officers then directed various agents in the field. Although Reeves did not interview anyone himself, he said that later (circa late 1959 or early 1960), approximately 12 to 15 ‘119’ reports concerning Oswald (OPNAV Forms 5520119 are ONI’s equivalent of an FBI FD302 investigative report), crossed his desk.
“Reeves said he was aware of ‘119’ reports from Japan and Texas, and that the primary concern of the reports he read on Oswald was to ascertain what damage had been done to national security by Oswald’s defection. Reeves reported that he also saw eight to ten ‘119’ reports on Oswald after the assassination, and that he was confident he was not confusing the two events in his mind.”
From the ARRB report:
“In the spring of 1998, Review Board staff members met with two Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) records management officials, one of whom personally verified that he had searched for District Intelligence Office records (with negative results) from the San Diego, Dallas, and New Orleans District Intelligence Offices in 1996 with negative results. This search included ‘119’ reports from the time period 1959-1964, during an extensive search of NCIS record group 181. The search included any records that would have been related to Oswald’s defection. Thus, the Review Board ultimately located no documentary evidence to substantiate Reeves’ claims.”
What is to be done?
Reeves story is credible and logical and corroborated by other witnesses and evidence. Of course, the Marines would do a damage assessment when one of its members defected to a foreign power. It is simply not possible that the Marines did not do an assessment of the damage done by his defction.. In short, the available evidence points to the existence of U.S. Marines Corps files on Oswald that have never been seen.
If these records still exist, the JFK Records Act mandates that they be made publicly immediately.
Unfortunately, since the ARRB went out of existence in 1998, there is no mechanism to enforce the JFK Records Act. We have seen that the National Archives is unable or unwilling to publicly challenge the CIA’s extreme secrecy practices around JFK records.
The only alternative would seem to be litigation.
To be continued