JFK review board was thwarted on Marines’ assessment of Oswald

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.

(Photo illustration by Sean McCabe; Corbis)

“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.”

NCIS responds

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








  1. Ian MacFarlane says:

    If the USMC is as portrayed in ‘Full Metal Jacket’, diffuse records about Oswald would have existed. If now missing, full official investigation needed.

    I am humble author of “Proof of Conspiracy in the Assassination of President Kennedy’ (1975, Melbourne, Australia).

    So many missing records. How come?

  2. Clarence Carlson says:

    I continue to be amazed at the number of federal entities (CIA, FBI, ONI, USMC intelligence, State department) who had a legitimate intelligence interest in Oswald while he was living. Yet following the presidents assassination how many of those ever saw the light of day? This story of missing Marine Corps records is just one more example of how, in light of a colossal intelligence failure, everyone ran for cover.

  3. Jonathan says:

    The Marines are a separate branch but are part of the U.S. Navy.

    For example, an ROTC ensign (= army 2LT) may opt to join the marines.

    It’s no surprise to me the Marines produced no post-assassination files on Oswald. ONI would have vacuumed them up. ONI is a large, broad military intelligence organization. It serves the Marines.

    I find nothing sinister here. ONI would protect its investigatory work into Oswald’s background and its damage assessment at all costs, even today. The investigatory work would involve sources and methods.

    Furthermore, if ONI was investigating Oswald post his defection, ONI was trying to get information it didn’t have. CIA may have had information on Oswald at that time. The chances CIA would share that information with ONI were zero.

    ONI is like the army’s Military Intelligence branch. It’s aimed at collecting information and providing counter-intelligence services of military value to the Navy. Like army M.I., ONI may serve the CIA (or at the time, may have served the CIA). But the CIA always controls (or has controlled) those operations.

    • Dave says:

      Jonathan, you’re being too easy on ONI and the Marines, which apparently failed to turn over all their JFK assassination-related files on Oswald, as required by law. If they wished to protect sensitive sources or methods, they could argue certain grounds for continued classification, or redaction in part, but nonetheless all such records had to be handed over to the National Archives for the official record. And so that Jeff Morley can pry the last of them loose for us! 😉
      If this was not “sinister”, it was (and remains) illegal.

  4. Ronnie Wayne says:

    The work of ARRB and those who dug through and exposed information has raised the level of knowledge to a point most thought impossible 20 years ago. Much like this Marine/ONI issue they were stonewalled and misled by the CIA. Their efforts were limited by time and they had no investigative bite. They could not send say armed treasury agents or the military into the CIA to take anything relevant to JFK’ murder. Even after Jeff’suit ongoing over 10 years they still stonewall through the court to keep the 1100+ files/? million pages of related information they were ordered to release by their bosses, our government 20 years ago.
    In a article on 11/22/13 Judge Tunheim, head of the ARRB said “no real evidence of conspiracy”.
    By 11/25 he was calling their deception about Joannidies “Treachery”. “If the fooled us on that they may have fooled us on other things”.
    FREETHEFILES, on the seven most wanted especially.

  5. Winston Smith says:

    Interesting article. I kind of agree with Hans. While the ARRB uncovered a lot of valuable information, again it seems yet another half hearted attempt. If the government were really serious about reopening the investigation, I think they would have tasked the board with real investigative powers but I don’t think any government will ever do that – they have too much to lose. The very fact that Obama made anti-conspiracy theorist Cass Sunstein a top adviser should tell you everything. This is a man who thinks that people who challenge the government are mentally ill and that anyone spiting them should be ‘taxed.’ Unless there is some real change from the two party system, I doubt there will ever be a real investigation.

  6. Bill Kelly says:

    A recorded interview with the late Navy Commander Robert Steel – Reeves’ commander, confirms.what Reeves said, and also indicates other such living witnesses that should be questioned before it is too late.


  7. Jonathan says:

    The “119 Reports” are what U.S. Army counter-intelligence agents would produce as “background checks”. Principally to determine an individual’s eligibility for a particular security clearance.

    In my case, as I learned, well-dressed young men interviewed my fraternity brothers.

    The technique of interview was rigid. Ask questions beginning with who, why, what, where, when, how. A skilled interviewer could elicit and record a lot of pertinent information from a witness.

    For example, “What did you see him drink at his parent’s party?” Answer: Beer. “When you saw him drink beer at his parent’s party, did you believe it was lawful for him to do so?” Answer: Yes. “Why did you believe this.” Answer: Kids always had a beer or two at their parents’ parties, nothing out of control, and no one seemed to care.

  8. Brad Milch says:

    It’s heartbreaking to realize Americans still do not the know the full story of the murder of President Kennedy after 50 years. Each missing or withheld record is a piece of this country’s history educators cannot teach the young about events that happened prior to their arrival in this world & it leaves the older population that lived through the traumatic drama with the quagmire of questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. Clearly history’s ship is adrift on this issue, wandering the ocean aimlessly while the crew apathetically ignores the issues it pretends to not see.

    Perhaps the unified voice of educators is what is needed to free the withheld history. Educators should be able predict in advance all possible repercussions & backlash for standing up to the power elite (such as Willie Nelson’s infamous IRS audit & seizement of his property & possessions after he helped organize Farm Aid)and demanding that the history of this nation be freed to its people. What Jeff Morely is valiantly accomplishing here at his website educators nationwide need to enlighten their students that his crusade for JFK transparency may bear fruit that will enrichen their knowledge of America’s turbulent history.

  9. Hans Trayne says:

    It appears to solution to enforce the JFK Records Act resides within Congress, our governing body that rarely works at achieving much of anything in the interests of all US citizens (demonstrated repeatedly in opinion polls). Citizens can write their Congressman or Congresswoman, stage demonstrations, protests, rallies among other peaceful efforts to motivate Congress to take action.
    In WWII, a popular slang word was created describing the usual results of dealing with higher bureaucracy such as Congress: ‘BOHICA’ (translation: ‘Bend Over, Here It Comes Again’).

    Face it Jeff, we’re screwed.

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