Was Lee Harvey Oswald a Tool of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?


The purpose of this paper is to consider reasons why the CIA may be so reluctant to release their files related to the John F. Kennedy assassination.

I believe it likely the CIA was using an unwitting Lee Harvey Oswald for two purposes. 1] To smoke out a mole who penetrated CIA operations. 2] To discredit the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC).

1] Did the CIA use Oswald to smoke out a Soviet mole within the agency?

Peter Dale Scott and John Newman have done much to advance this believable theory. In April of 1958 Pyotr Popov, a Soviet military intelligence officer, who had been working for the CIA, notified his CIA contact that a mole within the agency was leaking technical details about the CIA’s U-2 spy plane operation.

Based upon Popov’s assertion the CIA’s Counter Intelligence Chief, James Angleton, started a search for the mole. The question is how would Angleton unmask the spy? One possible answer lies in Oswald’s defection to the Soviet Union and that from September 12, 1957 to November 2, 1958 Oswald was stationed in Japan where he was a radar operator handling U-2 spy plane over flights of Russia.

Oswald arrived at the US Embassy in Moscow on October 31, 1959. He notified US Counselor Officer Richard Snyder that he intended to renounce his citizenship and give the Soviets information “of special interest.” Most likely what he knew about U-2 radar operations. Snyder immediately notified his superiors about this development.

When the CIA received this information, almost immediately (November 9, 1959) they put Oswald’s name on their HTLINGUAL “watch list.” HTLINGUAL was a secret mail opening program in New York City. The staff screened letters mailed to or from the Soviet Union. However, it appears any intelligence gathered on Oswald was redirected to and seemed to disappear within the agencies spy hunting unit - the Special Investigations Group (SIG).

Less than a month after Oswald defected (November 17, 1959) the FBI opened a 105 personnel (informational) file on him. Curiously it took over a year (December 6, 1960) before the CIA opened their 201 file (equivalent to the FBI’s 105). Additionally, the file was opened under the name Lee Henry Oswald. (Emphasis mine)

Some believe that the CIA’s file opening delay and the middle name error were intentional. Angleton may have limited the agencies information on Oswald. If someone outside the SIG requested information on Oswald then Angleton had to assume the request was coming from the mole at the behest of Soviet intelligence.[1] Angleton would have his Soviet mole. In the end no request surfaced and obsession with the mole destroyed Angleton’s career.

Some corroboration Angleton was holding back information may lie in a November 2, 1959 request from the FBI’s Sam Papich. Papich contacted the CIA:

 “Oswald, Lee Harvey - Mr. Papich would like to know what we know about this ex-Marine who recently defected in the USSR.”

The unsigned response came November 4, 1959. “Mr. Papich was advised that we had no info on subject.”

“No info on subject!” The CIA knows nothing about a defecting ex-Marine who claims he will give U-2 secrets to the Soviets. Note that the FBI was requesting information using Oswald’s true name.

To discuss question #2 we have to skip ahead about 4 years. During those intervening years the Russians move Oswald to Minsk (January 7, 1960) where he is employed in a radio factory. He procures an apartment and meets a Russian woman (Marina Prusakova), they marry (April 30, 1961), and have a child (June – February 15, 1962). Meanwhile Oswald has become disillusioned with Soviet life and notifies the embassy he wishes to return to the United States. He returns to the United States (June 1, 1962) arrives in Fort Worth, and works at menial jobs. He heads for New Orleans (April 24, 1963) where he begins corresponding with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (May 26, 1963).

2] Was the CIA planning to use Oswald to discredit the Fair Play for Cuba Committee?

On September 13, 1963 the FBI’s S.J. Papich wrote indicating that John Tilton of the CIA “Is also giving some thought of planting deceptive information which might embarrass the (Fair Play for Cuba) Committee in areas where it does have some support.”

The records show both the CIA and FBI were following Oswald’s movements. While Oswald was living in New Orleans (April 24, 1963 to September 25, 1963) he was a one man FPCC representative. He passed out FFCC leaflets, appeared on a radio show, and got into a scuffle with anti-Castro Cubans. He took several opportunities to write the FPCC’s Vincent Lee detailing his exploits.

Since he intended to return to the Soviet Union he may have been creating a pro-Castro persona to use when he entered the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. He would go there seeking an in-transit visa to Cuba and on to Russia. Is it possible that the CIA would use Oswald’s actions in New Orleans and Mexico City to serve as the FPCC embarrassment Tilton was considering?

The FBI along with the CIA was tracking Oswald’s activities as of October 31, 1959 and his activities were continuously monitored by the CIA Mexico City station while he was there. The Station Chief, Winn Scott, considered Oswald “a dangerous potential defector from the USA to the Soviet Union.”[2] Oswald left Mexico City on October 3, 1963. At that point the Mexico City CIA station, and for that matter the entire agency, lost track of him.

Unlike the Eldon Hensen case[3], the CIA failed to notify the FBI of his return to the United States. One can imagine the CIA’s horror when Oswald resurfaced on November 22, 1963 as Kennedy’s assassin.

[1] The Special Investigations Unit used false information known as “dangles” to attempt to catch spies. Another defector, Robert Webster, was used in the same fashion to learn more about Soviet military plans and to unearth “moles”

[2] Winn Scott James, Foul Foe (Unpublished, 1978), p. 269.

[3] Hensen, an American from Texas, attempted to contact the Cubans in Mexico City and offer to sell his services. Mexico City CIA station intercepted his telephone conversation and sent an imposer to interview him. When he left, the Mexico City station notified headquarters and the FBI of his return. He was promptly arrested.


HTLingual notification on Oswald

11/02/1959 “Mr. Papich would like to know . . “ memo.

09/13/63 Papich’s letter concerning John Tilton’s consideration of embarrassing the FPCC