Oswald in New Orleans: Was he a psycho or the target of CIA psychological warfare?

Oswald in New Orleans

Lee Oswald in New Orleans, August 16, 1963

Fifty three years ago today, Lee Oswald, a self-taught leftist, a former Marine Corps radio operator, and a fluent speaker of Russian, handed out pamphlets for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans.

A photograph of this event became famous this year when presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that the father of his Republican rival is seen in the photo. All credible JFK scholars agree there is zero evidence to support Trump’s claim.

But what exactly the photo of August 16, 1963 does depict remains very much disputed. JFK scholars are divided. Some say it shows Oswald starting to go mad. Others say it shows Oswald being manipulated.

Who’s right?

Self Portrait in Red

Oswald captured on tape

The official theory, first proposed by the Warren Commission and later embellished by authors such as William Manchester, Gerald Posner, Gus Russo and Stephen King holds that Oswald was a psychopath in the making in August 1963. His distribution of FPCC pamphlets, in this theory, was a bid to make history as Castro’s defender. When he was challenged by local opponents of Castro and exposed on the airwaves as a former defector to the Soviet Union, he was humiliated and began to look for another way to make his mark on history.

On November 22, he supposedly acted.

The alternative explanation, based on evidence concealed from the Warren Commission, is that Oswald was the target of COINTELPRO psychological warfare operation in August 1963. This operation, according to this hypothesis, deployed a CIA front group, the Cuban Student Directorate (DRE) in a covert effort to discredit the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The members of the DRE, recipient of $51,000 a month from Langley, did more than anyone else to publicize Oswald’s FPCC antics.

George Joannides,

George Joannides: Did he run a psychological warfare operation targetting Oswald?

On the day the photo was taken the DRE sent one of it members, an FBI informant, to visit Oswald at his home posing as a Castro supporter. The DRE then challenged Oswald to a debate on WDSU, radio on August 21. That debate generated more publicity linking Oswald to the FPCC, including a tape recording of the radio debate (seen above) in which Oswald mildly criticized U.S. policy of hostility toward Cuba. In this view, when Oswald was publicly identified as a supporter of the FPCC and Castro, he was vulnerable to manipulation by those who in the CIA and FBI who sought to destroy the FPCC and the Castro government.

On November 22, Oswald was arrested and accused of killing JFK, which he denied. “I’m a patsy,” he said.

The question

So the photo that Trump made famous is not evidence of a conspiracy. It illuminates a JFK assassination question that that endures: Was Oswald a psychopath? Or was he the target of a CIA psychological warfare operation?

DRE Trinchera

The first JFK conspiracy theory, paid for by the CIA

The facts that have emerged since the Warren Commission  are not in dispute.

Joannides ran psychological warfare operations in 1963, according to his declassified job evaluation. He was the chief of the psychological warfare branch of the agency’s Miami station with an annual budget of $2.4 million.

Joannides had established control over the DRE, according to his July 1963 job evaluation.

Joannides maintained a residence in New Orleans, according to a sworn affidavit from U.S. Attorney Ron Machen.

Joannides received a tape of Oswald’s radio appearance from his DRE assets after JFK was killed. A box containing the tape is found in the National Archives and it is labelled “Howard,” which was Joannides’ alias.

In September 1963, the CIA informed the FBI that it was mounting an COINTELPRO operation against the FPCC in a foreign country. Within three weeks Oswald visited Mexico City and was picked up by CIA surveillance teams in Mexico City.

On October 10, 1963, a report on Oswald circulated among six high-ranking undercover officers in Washington, including Bill Hood, chief of operations in the Western Hemisphere who was Joannides’ ultimate boss.

When Oswald was arrested for shooting JFK, the DRE published the first JFK conspiracy to reach public print linking Oswald to Castro. The CIA did not disclose its funding of the DRE to the Warren Commission.

FPCC disbands

The destruction of the FPCC

In December 1963, the Fair Play for Cuba disbanded, irredeemably tainted by its association with Oswald, first made public by the CIA-funded DRE.

In 1978 Joannides was called out retirement to serve as the agency’s liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He did not disclose his role in the events of 1963 and obstructed the congressional investigation, according to HSCA general counsel Robert Blakey and HSCA investigator Dan Hardway.

The CIA retains scores of records about Joannides secret operations in the summer of 1963 that it refuses to make public claiming, absurdly, that their release would harm the national security of the United States in 2016.

So the question of whether Oswald was a CIA patsy cannot be resolved. Those who claim Oswald was a psychopath cannot deny that the CIA is still hiding relevant records that might contradict their conclusion. They can only argue that the CIA is telling the truth. Others can argue, with good reason, that there is no reason to trust the CIA’s veracity on this issue.

And there the matter stands, a half century after the fact.

The next president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, will have to decide by October 2017, if the CIA can continue to stonewall on the last secret files related to JFK’s assassination.


My new ebook, CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, available on Amazon, provides the fullest account yet of the JFK records that the CIA is still concealing.








  1. Jeff D. says:

    The DRE and Joannides were in the business of psychological warfare. If they were to post a job opening and accept resumes for the role of communist sympathizer it would seem unlikely they could find a better candidate for the job than Lee Harvey Oswald. I suppose Oswald could have just walked into their world and it was just a lucky break for the DRE. Given the amount of secrecy and the withholding of records related to this matter I doubt that is the case.

  2. Bogman says:

    After all the paranoia and suspicion over the years, it’s almost surreal to me that the above succinct summary is true and not fiction. IMHO, the release of those files will decide whether the US is a true democracy or a farce.

  3. GM says:

    I am still not sure about Oswald, in terms of whether or not he was a low ranking agent or asset of the CIA/FBI/ONI etc. On the face of it he appears not to have been the most stable of characters, but then again if Oswald was being manipulated by powerful elements in the American intelligence community in 1963, then perhaps his unpredictability might have been considered a plus point in some quarters.

    • Greg Arious says:

      Oswald was what is known as a “pigeon”; this is someone that fancies himself as a spook, but is far too uneducated and/or unstable to be recruited as an agent for one of the intelligence agencies. Often these types are instead used and manipulated by actual agents for their own purposes and then left out to dry. Which seems to have been the case with Oswald.

      • GM says:

        Thanks for the reply Greg. I assumed that for there to have been a conspiracy/plot in the assassination of JFK, then Oswald would have had to have been a low ranking agent/informer for one of the intelligence services. I don’t really know why this assumption blinded me to what you have said in your post. Of course Oswald did not need to have been an agent/informer. His defection to the Soviet Union would have meant both the CIA and the FBI would open a file on him, and hence knowledge of his personality would be known to those with access to the files. Oswald’s instability and often bizarre behaviour could be utilised against him later.

        I think I have just had a big doh moment….

  4. gerry campeau says:

    Testimony Of John Lester Quigley http://jfkassassination.net/russ/testimony/quigley.htm
    This brings up the Question was Quigley a true New Orleans FBI Agent or more likely a Dallas FBI where his Wife and son lived. Its remarkable that he was working with Agent Fain on Oswald case in 1961 Mr. STERN. Have you found subsequent to this interview, Mr. Quigley, that you had any other contact with the case of Lee Harvey Oswald before this interview?
    Mr. QUIGLEY. Yes; I discovered at the time I chocked our files that on April 18, 1961, I had; as a result of a request of the Dallas office, chocked the office of naval intelligence records at the U.S. Naval Station at Algiers. My purpose in checking that was merely to record what information their flies contained.

  5. DB says:

    Quality summary on the issue. I must admit what an incredible well thought out psych op plan , all in my humble opinion of course, but these guys were series professionals in their area of expertise

  6. S.r."Dusty Rohde says:

    The entire event of Oswald being filmed while passing out pro-Cuba fliers and then later manipulated into the WDSU interview was to boost the foundation and image of Oswald as a “Communist”. Of course, after returning from the USSR, Oswald was in fact anti-communist. Oswald would make this distinction not only in the interview where he stated he wasn’t communist, but he was a “Marxist-Leninist”. More importantly, Oswald wrote in his personal notes, speaking out on the failings of both, the Capitalistic and Communist idealogies.This is all documented evidence. Chauncey M. Holt also presented specific allegations and documentation referencing individuals aiding the set up of Oswald with the FPCC pamphlets (which traced to the office of William Harvey, CIA).

  7. Brian Joseph says:

    “The alternative explanation, based on evidence concealed from the Warren Commission, is that Oswald was the target of COINTELPRO psychological warfare operation in August 1963.”

    I think the alternative explanation is that he was a participant and not a target. The FPCC was the target.

  8. Kennedy63 says:

    The whole New Orleans episode involving Oswald was a patent “set-up” operation on several levels. Looking for “work” in the Big Easy, Oswald was assigned handing out Fair Play for Cuba pamphlets in noticeable locations pre-selected to draw attention to him and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. On a darker level, Oswald’s handlers realized he was useful as a “patsy” in the upcoming JFK assassination. Remember, in Chicago a former marine (Thomas Arthur Vallee), with a similar profile as Oswald’s, was detained until after JFK left Chicago. No such information about a “hit team” or the detained individual in Chicago was forwarded to Dallas. Given the hostile climate in Dallas against Adlai Stevenson and Vice-president Johnson, it is unfathomable that the Secret Service was obtuse regarding high active threat risks to JFK in Dallas. On the morning of the assassination JFK commented to Jackie that “We’re headed into nut territory,” upon seeing the insulting and provocative black bordered “Wanted for Treason” ad in a Dallas paper. The cumulative weight of seemingly disparate events (and disjointed and ambiguous evidence) points to a conspiracy – or an impromptu communist patsy set-up was being “fashioned” against him. We now know the FBI used “COINTELPRO” since 1956, to accomplish such ends.

  9. Kennedy63 says:

    In the above narrative, I wrongly stated JFK left Chicago. In fact, the trip was cancelled due to the recent Diem Brothers of Vietnam being assassinated, with assistance and complicit approval from the CIA. However, there was a tip off that JFK would be at grave risk in Chicago. Others have noted the strong similarities of the motorcade routes in Chicago and Dallas. In each of the cities JFK planned to travel in Fall of 1963: Chicago, Tampa, Miami, and Dallas, active death threats were investigated and information was passed on to the next city – except Dallas (we are told). Also, these were territories of the major mafia figures that RFK’s Justice Department sought to prosecute (Giancana, Trafficante, and Marcello). This criminal triumvirate also had worked on assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, at the behest of the CIA, involving ZR/Rifle under Bill Harvey, with mafioso Johnny Roselli, whom Harvey remained in contact with, following Harvey’s transfer to the CIA station in ROME.

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