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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.