Untold JFK story: the FBI’s pre-assassination hunt for Lee Harvey Oswald

On September 27 and 28, 1963, a man calling himself Lee Oswald visited the Cuban consulate and Soviet embassy in Mexico City. He was seeking visas to visit both countries.  As Oswald was a former defector to the Soviet Union who was planning on traveling with his Russian-born wife, he immediately attracted the interest of CIA officers and FBI agents in the Mexican capital.

And so the FBI began searching for Oswald–while President Kennedy was still alive, a story that was withheld from the Warren Commission and is ignored in virtually every book about JFK’s assassination.

Pre-assassination hunt for Oswald
The results of the FBI’s pre-assassination search for Lee Oswald

Many of the records documenting that interest have still not been turned over to this day, despite the mandate of the JFK Records Act of 1992 that the American public is entitled to all “assassination-related” documents.

Searching for Oswald

It started with a phone call. On September 28, 1963 and again on October 1, a man who called himself “Lee Oswald” made phone calls to the Soviet consulate about his visa application. One of these calls was intercepted by the CIA, which shared the information with local FBI agents. They then searched for Oswald in Mexico throughout October and November of 1963.

(Many researchers, including myself, are convinced that these phone calls were faked and that someone was impersonating Oswald. But that’s a different story; you can read about it here.)

The details of the pre-assassination search for Oswald were not shared with the Warren Commission despite their obvious relevance.

The FBI conducted a complete recanvass of all informants, including an agent known as MEX-164 who spent four days a week among Cuban sources.  The unanimous report was that not only did no one recognize him as a visitor to either the Soviet or Cuban embassies, but that they had “not picked up any information concerning Oswald”.

After the assassination, agents Peck and Crawford worked with the FBI’s legal attache in Mexico City. The attache wrote a final report relying on FBI agents Peck and Crawford in late April 1964.

Who was Charles B. Peck?

In his book Robert Kennedy and his Times (p. 264, Arthur Schlesinger referred to Charles Peck as Hoover’s “best FBI crime researcher“.  In Bobby and J. Edgar, (p. 160) Burton Hersh refers to Peck as William Sullivan’s assistant.  Sullivan was the FBI’s top man in domestic intelligence.

Peck is known to have written a report on Cuban military defector Pedro Diaz Lanz in 1959, and on ultra-rightist U.S. General Gen. Edwin Walker back in 1961.  Peck worked in FBI HQ, with an emphasis on Cuba.
Matthew D. Crawford, Jr. was an FBI agent stationed in Mexico.  His role in the Oswald investigation was minor – he seemed to simply follow Peck’s lead.
In other words, some of the FBI’s top counterintelligence agents were looking for Lee Oswald before JFK was killed.
The FBI cover-up
The FBI decided that “it was not advisable” to provide the Warren Commission the names of all the agents that worked on the Mexico City case.  The Agency decided to inform the Commission only about those whose work was “substantive” and whose work caused a “definite interest” to be displayed among Commission members.
How could any of the Commissioners displayed “interest” if they didn’t know about the findings of Peck and Crawford?  The relevant memo has no mention of Peck or Crawford.
The decision to conceal the FBI’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald is another example of how the investigation of JFK’s death was quickly narrowed to avoid information casting doubt on the White House’s preferred conclusion–reached on November 25, 1963, before the investigation had begun–that Oswald had acted alone and unaided.
Here are five of Peck and Crawford’s memos on the hunt for Oswald by date.
What the FBI still withholds
Four of these five memos are based on information drawn from what the FBI calls “134 files,” which concern “counterintelligence assets.” One is based on information from “137 files”, which concern “criminal informants”.
None of the files that contain the underlying information were turned over to the ARRB, despite the fact that the JFK Records Act mandates the disclosure of all “assassination-related” documents. The law was apparently trumped by FBI policy to only turn over these files to criminal investigators.
A forthcoming article on JFK Facts will discuss how other agencies also held back JFK assassination documents from the ARRB.
Finally, let me close by saying that Charles Peck wrote a very special memo on November 22.  This memo went even further than the five already mentioned — after more than a month of investigation, the Bureau still had no idea how Oswald got in or out of Mexico.
Furthermore, on the 23rd, Peck sought out the informants with information about the Soviet and Cuban embassies.  They didn’t know anything about Oswald either!

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