Thursday, 04 May 2023 07:58

Case Closed 30 Years On: Even Worse - Part 1/5: Gerald Posner's Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald

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British researcher Martin Hay does a complete review of Gerald Posner's 1993 book Case Closed. After a very long examination he concludes that, in light of new evidence, the book is even worse now than it was then. This is likely the most complete critique of Posner in the literature. This is Part 1 of 5.

When Gerald Posner’s Case Closed was first published in August 1993, it was greeted with a level of acclaim that likely had never been enjoyed by any other work dealing with President Kennedy’s assassination. U.S. News and World Report devoted dozens of pages to promoting the book while Posner himself was featured on a variety of high-profile television shows including the Today show, 20/20, and NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. Meanwhile, mainstream reviews of Case Closed were almost uniformly positive, with many commentators calling the book “definitive” and praising Posner for having “solved” the case. In fact, as award-winning columnist Rob Zaleski noted in The Capital Times, “…the response from critics has been so overwhelmingly positive that some historians are suggesting it’s time for many Americans to give up their obsession with the assassination and get on with their lives.” Not surprisingly, the book became a New York Times bestseller and was subsequently nominated for the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Following the release of Oliver Stone’s powerful conspiracy drama, JFK, in 1991, giving up its “obsession” with the JFK assassination was precisely what the MSM had been encouraging the American people to do. It is no exaggeration to say that the media’s response to Stone’s movie was the opposite of its uncritical embracing of Case Closed. In fact, the sheer volume of editorials, op-eds, letters, and articles that attacked JFK and its director was almost as staggering as the venom with which they were written. And, what’s more, the attacks began 7months before the movie was released and while principal photography was still in progress! Nonetheless, the emotional impact of Stone’s film, and the questions it raised about its subject, created a massive public outcry that ultimately led to the JFK Records Act of 1992 and the formation of the Assassination Records Review Board, an independent agency that was tasked with freeing the many documents related to the assassination that were still being hidden by Federal agencies.

To those who had followed the case and were familiar with the MSM’s complicity in covering up the full truth about Kennedy’s death, it came as little surprise that it rallied behind a book that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of convincing the public that they need not worry about what was in the soon-to-be released files because the Warren Commission had been right all along: Lee Harvey Oswald had acted in killing President John Kennedy. Political reporter Tom Wicker gushed on the jacket of the first edition of the book,

Case Closed is a deliberate, detailed, thoroughly documented, sometimes brutal, always conclusive destruction of one Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory after another…After this book, the case of JFK is indeed closed.

But unlike Wicker, those who had taken the time to learn a thing or two about the subject were decidedly less impressed by both Posner’s conclusions and his duplicitous methodology.

For example, Texas-based researcher Gary Mack, who served as curator of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas for more than twenty years, noted that Case Closed was “…unquestionably a prosecution case stacked against Lee Harvey Oswald and the research community, using false and misleading information in a biased attempt to prove the unprovable.” (The Fourth Decade, Vol. 1, issue 1, p. 15) University of Wisconsin history professor David Wrone―whom Posner himself quotes as an authority on the subject of the assassination―went even further in his criticism, writing that “…[Posner’s] book is so theory driven, so rife with speculation, and so frequently unable to conform his text with the factual content in his sources that it stands as one of the stellar instances of irresponsible publishing on the subject.” (The Journal of Southern History, February 1995, pp. 186-188) Even Vincent Bugliosi, in his own massive but failed attempt at propping up the official story, criticised Posner for “engaging in many of the same unfortunate tactics” for which he had condemned the conspiracy theorists. (Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p. xxxvi)

Numerous detailed critiques were written of Case Closed, perhaps the most comprehensive of which was authored by esteemed first-generation Warren Commission critic Harold Weisberg and totalled more than 200,000 words in its original form. The result of all this work was that Posner was exposed, as Weisberg dryly opined, as a man “who has trouble telling the truth even by accident.” (Weisberg, Case Open, p. 172) And yet, despite these critiques, and despite the many thousands of pages of documents freed by the ARRB since its publication that change the calculus of the crime, Posner remains one the MSM’s go-to experts. For example, in February of 2021, journalist James Moore wrote a piece for the British online newspaper The Independent, weakly attempting to lump JFK research in with QAnon and Covid-denialism. He ended his ill-informed diatribe by writing, “Lee Harvey Oswald did it on his own, and as Gerald Posner said in his exhaustively researched book…: Case Closed.” A few months later, Variety critic Owen Gleiberman also made sure to namecheck Posner and his book in his shoddy review of JFK Revisited, noting that Case Closed was instrumental in his own thinking on the case.

It is precisely because Case Closed is still being touted by the media today that it seems appropriate for me to revisit the book now, on the thirtieth anniversary of its original publication. Not only to reemphasise the many flaws that were apparent to knowledgeable researchers at the time of its release, but also to highlight what we have learned in the intervening years and what the state of the evidence is today. Case Closed? That title is almost satirical.

Part One: Portrait of an Alleged Assassin

Posner spends approximately the first 215 pages of Case Closed giving his version of the life story of Lee Harvey Oswald. It is fair to say that this section of the book is key to Posner’s no-conspiracy argument and the author himself says as much when he writes that, “Understanding [Oswald] is the key to understanding what happened in Dallas…” (p. 5) Indeed, Posner clearly knows that if he is able to convince readers that Oswald was a dangerous, psychotic malcontent with delusions of grandeur, it will be much easier to get them to accept the notion that, in Posner’s words, “Lee Harvey Oswald, driven by his own twisted and impenetrable furies, was the only assassin at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963.” (p. 472) There is little doubt that this methodology is effective on those with no meaningful knowledge of the subject. Tom Wicker, for instance, suggested that “…the book’s most important contribution may be Posner’s thorough, dispassionate, yet rather sympathetic account of the warped and miserable life of Lee Harvey Oswald.” And yet, without even getting into the forensic evidence that flatly contradicts a lone gunman scenario, Posner’s portrait of Oswald fails to convince the well-informed because of its numerous misrepresentations and utter lack of completeness.

How Wicker was able to find any sympathy for Lee Oswald in Posner’s 215-page assault on the dead man’s character is beyond me. What Posner presents is in no way a true biography because the author obviously has no intention of discovering who Oswald really was. It is, instead, little more than a bloated and tedious compendium of every bad thing ever said about the accused assassin, with no regard whether it was true or accurate. As author Walt Brown noted, Posner portrays Oswald “as an individual far more demented than any previous human being on the planet. Perhaps Mr Posner forgot that he also authored a biography of Dr [Josef] Mengale.” (Brown, Treachery in Dallas, p. 40) Indeed, Posner makes so little effort to balance the proceedings, and is so careful to present only the very worst comments made about the deceased former Marine, that readers of Case Closed could be forgiven for thinking that no one ever said a kind word about him.

A prime example of this is found in Posner’s use of Oswald’s oldest brother, Robert. Posner happily quotes Robert when his words appear to support the contention that Oswald endured a troubled childhood or that he was in the habit of beating his wife. Yet he could find no room anywhere in his over 500-page book for Robert’s sworn testimony before the Warren Commission: he considered his brother to be a normal human being “in every way.” (WC Vol. 1, p. 311) Nor does Posner see fit to divulge that Robert said he had “never known [Oswald] to attempt or indicate to attempt to carry out any type of violence…” (Ibid, p. 394) or that he believed, until the media convinced him otherwise, that “…the Lee Harvey Oswald that I knew would not have killed anybody.” (Ibid, p. 314) Is it possible that Posner truly believes it relevant to the assassination that Robert described his mother as “rather quarrelsome” but not that he felt his brother incapable of murder?

Nonetheless, it is true to say, as Posner does, that Oswald’s childhood was far from ideal: that his mother Marguerite was at times neglectful and, at others, overbearing. It is also true that this led to Oswald becoming a chronic truant who missed out on a great deal of schooling. Yet these facts have marginal relevance to the assassination if, and only if, one already buys into the notion of Oswald as lone nut assassin. In reality, if playing hooky from school because of parental inattentiveness automatically led one to become a political assassin there would likely be very few leaders left in the world and every elected official would need to live life in a bullet proof bubble. But for Posner, Oswald’s truancy has significance because it landed him in a juvenile reformatory called Youth House where he was assessed by staff psychiatrist, Dr Renatus Hartogs. A decade after completing his evaluation, Dr Hartogs told the Warren Commission that he had seen “definite traits of dangerousness” in young Oswald and that he had “recommended this youngster should be committed to an institution.” (WC Vol. 8, pp. 217-218) So important is Hartogs’s assessment, according to Posner, that he takes the time to chastise many prominent critics for supposedly ignoring the good doctor’s testimony. (p.13n)

What Posner fails to tell his readers is that, during his Commission questioning, Hartogs was confronted with his original 1953 report and forced to concede that it did not reflect his testimony. It did not indicate he had found any potential for violence in Oswald, nor did it contain any recommendation that Oswald be institutionalised. (WC Vol. 8 p. 221) Posner tries to circumvent this by writing that Hartogs had not explicitly noted Oswald’s “potential for violence” in his report “since that would have mandated institutionalization,” (p. 13) thus ignoring the fact that Hartogs falsely claimed to have made that very recommendation! Furthermore, Posner withholds the fact that Hartogs’s professional credibility was shattered entirely in 1975 when he was found in court to have used his female patients for sexual purposes―claiming it was part of their therapy―and ordered to pay $350,000 in damages. (The New York Times, March 20, 1975) Some expert! Is it any wonder that no one besides Posner takes him seriously?

Posner so desperately wants to portray Oswald as prone to violence from a young age, that he exaggerates an incident that occurred a few months before Oswald found himself in Youth House, during which the then 12-year-old supposedly threatened the wife of his half-brother John Edward Pic with a knife. The incident occurred in August of 1952 when Oswald and his mother were staying temporarily with John, his wife Marge, and their new-born son in New York City. “One day,” as Posner tells it, “Marge asked Lee to lower the volume on the television, and instead he pulled out a knife and threatened her. When Marguerite rushed into the room and told him to put it away, he punched her in the face.” (p. 10) Posner cites the Warren Commission testimony of John Pic in support of his account but neglects to mention that there is another side to the story.

Pic testified that he had not witnessed the incident himself. Rather, he had been out of the house when an argument “about the TV set” erupted “between my wife and my mother…my mother antagonized Lee, being very hostile toward my wife, and he pulled out a pocketknife and said that if she made any attempt to do anything about it that he would use it on her, at the same time Lee struck his mother.” (WC Vol. 11 p.38) Not being present when it occurred, Pic was basing this account on what his wife told him when he arrived home. But as he also testified, his mother gave him a different version of events.

Marguerite’s side of the story, as she told the commission herself, was that Lee was holding “a little pocketknife, a child’s knife,” because “He was whittling…John Edward whittled ships and taught Lee to whittle ships.” According to Marguerite, Marge had “hit Lee…so when she attacked the child, he had the knife in hand. So, she made the statement to my son that we had to leave, that Lee tried to use the knife on her. Now, I say, that is not true, gentlemen.” (WC Vol. 1 pp. 226-227) Unlike Posner, I see no need to take sides in this petty family squabble, nor does it strike me as being in any way important to understanding Oswald. What is inarguable, however, is that Posner’s retelling of the incident demonstrates his monumental agenda for smearing Oswald. For neither John’s nor Marguerite’s account has young Lee punching his mother in the face as Posner contends without evidentiary support.

Continuing his skewed narrative, Posner writes of Oswald’s return to his New Orleans birthplace, in 1954, where he became friendly with a fellow student at Beauregard Junior High named Edward Voebel. He carefully selects a few words from the fifteen pages of Voebel’s testimony, making it appear as if Voebel had nothing at all nice to say about Oswald. “According to Voebel,” Posner writes, “Lee was ‘bitter’ and thought he had a raw deal out of life. ‘He didn’t like authority,’ he recalled.” Furthermore, as Posner tells it, “Voebel was startled when Oswald hatched a plan to steal a Smith & Wesson automatic from a local store.” (p. 16) Here, as with the rest of his “sympathetic account,” Posner misrepresents the testimony he cites and eschews every positive remark made so that he can avoid humanizing his subject.

In truth, Voebel made it clear that, although he had no personal knowledge of the man Lee had grown into, he had warm feelings for the boy he knew. “I liked Lee,” he said. “I felt that we had a lot in common at that time…He was the type of boy that I could like, and if he had not changed at all, I probably still would have the same feeling for Lee Oswald…” (WC Vol. 8 pp.4-5) Voebel fondly remembered going with Oswald to Exchange Alley to play darts and pool. In fact, “Lee’s the one taught me to play pool,” he recalled. (Ibid) And although Posner leads readers to believe that Voebel saw Oswald as “bitter” or acting like he had a “raw deal,” Voebel was clear that he did not feel that way “back in those days,” it was simply an assumption he had made about the man Oswald became after the assassination occurred.

…I don’t think I had that impression at that time,” he explained. “I’ll say this: most of the things about Lee I liked. I think I may have made a statement…about him being bitter toward the world and everything, but of course, that would have been my opinion since this happened. I wasn’t talking then about when we were going to Beauregard, to the same school. (WC Vol. 8 p. 13)

As for Oswald’s startling plan to steal a pistol, Posner is somehow much more certain of the make and model of the selected weapon than was Voebel. “I can’t remember the pistol, to tell you the truth,” Voebel testified. “…It might have been a Smith & Wesson. I think it was an automatic, but I don’t remember.” (WC Vol. 8 p.9) More importantly, Voebel suggested that the whole silly idea may have simply been concocted by the 14-year-old Oswald to “look big among the guys.” As he testified, “I don’t think he really wanted to go through with it, to tell you the truth…It was just some fantastic thing he got in his mind, and actually it never did amount to anything.” (Ibid. p. 10)

It was during the time that Oswald was hanging out with Voebel, according to Posner, that he began to manifest an interest in communism. Yet, for his part, Voebel did not believe this to be the case. “I have read things about Lee having developed ideas as to Marxism and communism way back when he was a child,” Voebel told the commission, “but I believe that’s a load of baloney.” (WC Vol. p. 10) On the other hand, Posner quotes two other acquaintances of young Lee who recalled his believing that “communism was the only way of life for the worker…” (Ibid p. 16) Assuming these witnesses to be correct in their recollection that Oswald was “looking for a communist cell in town to join,” it is remarkably odd that Oswald then proceeded to join the Civil Air Patrol, the official civilian auxiliary of the Unites States Air Force. Unsurprisingly, Posner has nothing to say about this strange dichotomy, but it would appear to be reflective of a pattern that emerges throughout Oswald’s adult life in which he was heard to say one thing and seen to do the opposite. Because although he would frequently profess a commitment to communism or Marxism, he never officially joined any such organisation, and all his contacts and acquaintanceships were with right wingers.

The Marxist Marine

If it is strange that a self-professed communist would join an organization like the Civil Air Patrol, then it is downright bizarre that he would enlist in the Marines-- as Oswald did in the autumn of 1956. Posner quotes Oswald himself as saying that he joined the Marine Corps because his brother Robert had done so. Yet, perhaps recognizing the unsatisfactory nature of this explanation, he also quotes John Pic as saying, “He did it for the same reason that I did it and Robert did it…to get from out and under…[t]he yoke of oppression of my mother.” (Posner p. 19) Pic’s speculation, however, is obviously coloured by his own feelings toward his mother. And as Robert testified, “It appears as though Lee was able to put up with her more than I or my older brother John could.” (WC Vol. 1 p. 316)

Whatever Oswald’s real reasons for enlisting may have been, Posner suggests that he “did not easily adjust to the Corps” (p. 22) and writes of him being “unmercifully razzed” by his fellow Marines. (p. 21) But Oswald’s experience was far from unique, and it probably goes without saying that the ten weeks of boot camp he endured was not meant to be a walk in the park. Sherman Cooley, who was assigned to the same platoon in boot camp as Oswald, described the whole experience as “holy hell.” (Edward Epstein, Legend, p. 63) Additionally, Posner withholds the fact that one of the things for which Oswald was taunted by his Marine buddies was his lack of proficiency with a rifle. Cooley recalled that Oswald’s consistent inability to qualify on the rifle range earned him the rather unflattering nickname “shitbird.” “It was a disgrace not to qualify,” Cooley said, “and we gave him holy hell.” (Ibid) Cooley, who was an expert shot himself, told author Henry Hurt in 1977,

If I had to pick one man in the whole United States to shoot me, I’d pick Oswald. I saw that man shoot, and there’s no way he could have learned to shoot well enough to do what they accused him of. (Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 99)

Hurt interviewed more than fifty of Oswald’s fellow Marines and found that they all agreed with Cooley. According to Hurt, “Many of the Marines mentioned that Oswald had a certain lack of coordination that, they felt, was responsible for the fact that he had difficulty learning to shoot.” (Hurt, pp. 99-100) Needless to say, Posner ignores these first-hand observations. For his theory to appear viable, he needs to give the impression that Oswald was a decent enough shot to be able to pull off the assassination. So, he writes that three weeks into training, Oswald “…shot 212, two points over the score required for a ‘sharpshooter’ qualification, the second highest in the Marine Corps.” (p. 20) What Posner fails to disclose, however, is that Oswald’s full scorebook was reviewed during the Warren Commission testimony of Lt. Col. Allison G. Folsom of the Marine Corps Records Branch and it showed that Oswald must have had a “good day” the day he qualified because his scores on every other day demonstrated that “he was not a particularly outstanding shot.” (WC Vol. 8 p. 311) In other words, if he genuinely achieved a score of 212, it was because he got lucky.

In June 1957, Oswald qualified as an aviation electronics operator and, three months later, was shipped to Atsugi, Japan―the home of the CIA’s super-secret U-2 spy plane operation―where he joined the Marine air control squadron known as MACS-1. Predictably, Posner selectively quotes the testimony of other Marines stationed at Atsugi to portray Oswald’s time there as mostly friendless and miserable. But in a slightly more balanced―if still rather flawed―portrait, author Edward Epstein wrote that “Oswald…found at Atsugi a camaraderie with a group of men that he had never experienced before.” (Epstein, p. 70) Epstein quotes Godfrey Jerome Daniels, known as “Gator” to his fellow Marines, who described Oswald as “just a good egg. He used to do me favours, like lend me money until payday…He was the sort of friend I could count on if I needed a pint of blood.” (ibid) Daniels was also impressed by Oswald’s intellect, stating, “He had the sort of intelligence where you could show him how to do something once and he’d know how to do it, even if it was complicated.” (ibid) Additionally, although Posner has Oswald shirking his duties and consistently bristling under authority, his supervisor in the radar hut, Captain Francis J. Gajewski, noted six months after Oswald arrived at Atsugi, “…[Oswald] has done good work for me. I would desire to have him work for me any time…he minds his business and he does his job well.” (ibid, p. 68)

None of this is meant to suggest that Oswald was a model Marine. Rather, it is intended to further illustrate the total lack of balance or objectivity in Posner’s account. You will not find the names of Gator Daniels or Francis Gajewski anywhere in Case Closed. You will, however, find the author relying on the testimony of Kerry Thornley, another of Oswald’s fellow Marines, whom Posner quotes as stating that Oswald was “emotionally unstable…got along with very few people” (p. 30) and “felt that the officers and the staff NCO’s at the Marine Corps were incompetent to give him orders.” (p. 22) Posner portrays Thornely as having special insights into Oswald’s psyche and claims he knew him “even better” than Nelson Delgado who worked in the same radar bubble and shared a barracks with Oswald when they were stationed together in Santa Ana, California. (p. 30) Posner never delves into how singular and strained Thornley’s testimony was. (See Kerry Thornley; A New Look) Nor does he mention that Thornley also claimed that both Oswald and he were the product of Nazi breeding experiments and that a bugging device had been implanted in him at birth so that he could be monitored by Nazi cultists! (Michael T. Griffith, Hasty Judgment: A Reply to Gerald Posner—Why the JFK Case is Not Closed)

One point on which Posner does not quote Thornley is the issue of Oswald’s security clearance. Posner writes that Oswald “had the lowest-level security clearance, ‘confidential.’” Thornley, on the other hand, testified that while he had only a confidential clearance himself, “Oswald, I believe had a higher clearance…I believe he at one time worked in the security files, it is the S & C files…I believe a ‘secret’ clearance would be required.” (WC Vol. 11 p. 84) Although he admitted this belief was “just based on rumor,” (ibid) in this instance there is reason to believe Thornley was correct. Nelson Delgado confirmed that both he and Oswald “had access to information, classified information. I believe it was classified ‘secret.’ We all had ‘secret’ clearances.” (WC Vol. 8 p. 232) And, in fact, there is further reason to believe that, at least for a time, Oswald’s clearance was much higher than “secret.”

In his 1967 book Oswald in New Orleans, Harold Weisberg told of receiving a phone call during a radio show appearance from a man who wished to remain anonymous but said he had served alongside Oswald in the Marine Corps. The caller went on to explain that in the unit in which he and Oswald had served, five men enjoyed a special clearance called “crypto” and Oswald was one of them. (Weisberg, p. 87) Weisberg later noted how odd it was that although Oswald had to have had a high security clearance for the work he did, none was mentioned in his Navy records. Nonetheless, when he obtained the Navy documents related to the death of Oswald’s fellow Marine, Martin Schrand, Weisberg discovered that Schrand had been guarding the “crypto van,” for which crypto clearance was a necessity. Oswald, it transpired, was one of the six individuals assigned to this van. (See Weisberg letter to Vincent Bugliosi, 7/20/99 and Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, p. 300) Needless to say, Weisberg concluded that his anonymous source had been telling the truth.

The subject of Oswald’s Marine Corps security clearance is directly tied to two larger questions: Was Oswald an intelligence asset? And, in October 1959 when he received an early discharge from the Marines and then “defected” to the Soviet Union, was he a traitor or was he acting on official instructions? James Anthony Botelho, who shared a room with Oswald in Santa Ana for approximately two months before his discharge, gave a sworn affidavit to the Warren Commission stating that he was surprised when he learned that Oswald had gone to the USSR. Having had the opportunity to discuss communism and Russia with Oswald, Botelho said, “my impression is that although he believed in pure Marxist theory, he did not believe in the way communism was practiced by the Russians.” (WC Vol 8 p. 315) Later, Botelho said that knowing as he did that Oswald was actually “anti-Soviet,” and seeing that no real investigation took place at the Marine base following his supposed defection, he had concluded that “Oswald was on an intelligence assignment in Russia.” (Jim Marrs, Crossfire, p. 110) As numerous researchers have suggested, there are compelling reasons to believe Botelho was correct.

For example, despite the fact that Oswald was openly flouting an interest in communism when stationed in California―subscribing to Russian newspapers, teaching himself the language, loudly playing Russian records, calling communism “the best religion” and encouraging his fellow Marines to call him “Oswaldskovich”―his behaviour did not land him in any trouble. Quite the contrary; he was given an Army Russian equivalency test. Posner, knowing he must address this oddity somehow, suggests that the Marine Corps tolerated the alleged communist in their midst because those around him “viewed Oswald as peculiar but harmless.” (Posner p. 32) Yet he has no explanation for why Oswald’s superiors felt it appropriate to test his Russian language skills.

World War II veteran and New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, was stunned when he learned that Oswald had been given such a test:

In all my years of military service… . I had never taken a test in Russian…In 1959, when Oswald was taking that exam, I was a staff officer in the National Guard in a battalion made up of hundreds of soldiers. None of them had been required to show how much Russian they knew.

Furthermore, Garrison quipped, a radar operator like Oswald “would have about as much use for Russian as a cat would have for pyjamas.” (Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, pp. 22-23)

Another indication that Oswald was treated with unusual leniency by the Marine Corps is the ease with which he obtained his early discharge. In March of 1959, Oswald applied to attend Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland. As Jim DiEugenio has noted, it remains a mystery how Oswald had ever come to learn of this obscure little college, located high in the Swiss Alps. Even Swiss authorities seemed to know nothing about it. After the assassination, when the Swiss police were asked to find the college by the FBI, it took them two months to do so. (Jim DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 133)

However he learned of it, Oswald’s application to Schweitzer was accepted and a few months later he applied for a dependency discharge, claiming that he needed to look after his mother because she had suffered an injury at work. The reality was, however, that Marguerite was fine. A candy jar had fallen on her nose months before, but X-rays had revealed no fractures or signs of serious damage. Nonetheless, Oswald’s discharge was approved without issue on September 4, 1959. It is important to note that it normally took three to six months for a dependency application to be approved, but in Oswald’s case it took just two weeks. (DiEugenio, p. 136) Furthermore, a week before his release, he applied for a passport, stating on his application that he intended to travel to numerous destinations including, England, France, Switzerland, Cuba and Russia. (22H78) Yet, even though this completely contradicted Oswald’s reason for obtaining an early discharge, it does not appear that the Marine Corps raised any objection.

Oswald in the USSR

A month after he was discharged, Oswald made his way to the USSR, arriving in Moscow on October 16, 1959. There are questions about this journey that remain unresolved to this day. For example, in 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported:

Oswald’s trip from London to Helsinki has been a point of controversy. His passport indicates he arrived in Finland on October 10, 1959. The Torni Hotel in Helsinki, however, had him registered as a guest on that date, although the only direct flight from London to Helsinki landed at 11:33 p.m., that day. According to a memorandum signed in 1964 by Richard Helms, ‘[I]f Oswald had taken this flight, he could not normally have cleared customs and landing formalities and reached the Torni Hotel by 2400 (midnight) on the same day.’ Further questions concerning this segment of Oswald’s trip have been raised because he had been able to obtain a Soviet entry visa within only 2 days of having applied for it on October 12, 1959. (HSCA report, p. 211)

After extensive investigation, the HSCA admitted it had been “unable to determine the circumstances surrounding Oswald’s trip from London to Helsinki,” (ibid) For Posner, this is not a problem. He simply ignores Oswald’s stop in London altogether and begins his account of Oswald’s trip with his arrival in Helsinki. (p. 47)

Oswald arrived in Moscow on October 16, claiming that his intention was to defect and become a Soviet citizen. Five days later, his request for citizenship was officially rejected and he was given two hours to leave. In response, Oswald went up to his hotel room and cut his left wrist in what Posner presents, because it suits his purposes, as a serious suicide attempt. Yet Dr Lydia Mikhailina, a psychiatrist who examined him at the Botkinskaya Hospital, insisted that it had been nothing more than “a ‘show suicide,’ since he was refused political asylum, which he was demanding.” (John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, p. 264) Author Norman Mailer interviewed the hospital staff who attended Oswald for his own biography of the accused assassin and was told that the cut to Oswald’s wrist “was never a serious wound…he would not have been allowed to stay if he had been a Russian. In and out the same day for such a case. His cut was hardly more than a scratch; it never reached his vein.” (Mailer, Oswald’s Tale, p. 52)

Oswald’s gambit bought him some time, however, and so, three days after he was released from hospital he walked into the American embassy, forcefully proclaiming his desire to renounce his US citizenship. Posner writes that Oswald,

…declared he was a Marxist, tossed his passport across the consul’s desk, and said he intended to give the Soviets all the information he had acquired as a Marine radar operator. American consul Richard Snyder…put him off by claiming it was too late in the day and the paperwork could not be finished in time. Oswald left in a huff. Although Snyder told him to return Monday to finish his revocation, he did not. (p. 52-53)

Snyder would later describe Oswald’s attitude in the embassy as “cocksure” and suggested, “This was part of a scene he had rehearsed before coming to the embassy.” (John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 5) His colleague John McVickar concurred. “It seemed to me to be a possibility that he was following a pattern of behaviour in which he had been tutored by person or persons unknown,” McVickar suggested, “…that he had been in contact with others before or during his Marine Corps tour who had guided him and encouraged him in his actions.” (Armstrong, p. 266) Furthermore, Snyder believed that Oswald “thought he was talking to a bug in the wall…talking as much to what he thought were his Soviet handlers as he was to me.” (Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much, p. 201) Clearly the above can be said to support the idea that Oswald was operating under someone else’s instruction which is probably why none of it appears in Case Closed. Regardless, Oswald’s actions appear to have yielded results as, on January 4, 1960, he was issued an identity document for stateless persons and relocated to the city of Minsk, where he would spend the next year of his life.

In telling his account of Oswald’s time in Russia Posner relies heavily on Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer who sought permanent asylum in the United States in February 1964, two months after the assassination. Nosenko’s claim was that he had been tasked with investigating whether there had been any relationship between Oswald and the KGB after Oswald became the prime suspect in Kennedy’s murder. He told Posner in no uncertain terms that his investigation revealed that “The KGB was not at all interested in [Oswald]. I cannot emphasize that enough―absolutely no interest.” (p. 49) Furthermore, he claimed, it was of no significance to the KGB that Oswald had been a radar operator in the Marines with possible information about the CIA’s U-2 spy plane since “Our intelligence on the U-2 was good and had been for some time,” he said. (Ibid) By now I am sure readers will not be surprised to learn that Posner fails to reveal significant information that impacts on Nosenko’s credibility.

When he first arrived in the U.S., Nosenko was placed in a comfortable safe house. But on April 4, 1964, he was abruptly transferred to a new location where he was forced into an attic and subjected to a relentless program of degradation and mental torture. Nearly a year and a half later, he was moved to a new location where he was locked inside a specially constructed, ten-foot-square, windowless concrete bunker in which he would spend the next three years. Posner details some of the disgraceful methods the CIA used to torment Nosenko during this period. Yet he neglects to say what it was that precipitated the sudden and dramatic change in how the defector was handled.

The likely reason behind Nosenko’s ordeal was first revealed by Harold Weisberg in his 1975 book, Post Mortem. After obtaining hundreds of relevant pages of documents, Weisberg reported that “Nosenko told the CIA…and the FBI that the Russians actually believed Oswald was a ‘sleeper’ or ‘dormant’ American agent and had him and his mail under surveillance all the time he was in the USSR.” (Weisberg, Post Mortem, p. 627) Since the FBI did not have agents inside the Soviet Union, what Nosenko was saying was that the KGB had suspected Oswald of being CIA. It was after Nosenko revealed this fact in his interviews with the FBI―and the Bureau shared those interviews with the CIA―that the Agency began what Posner calls “extremely aggressive interrogations.”

Even after Nosenko was finally freed from his custom-made hell, he spent the rest of his days living under an assumed name, controlled and closely guarded by the CIA. It is, therefore, difficult to place much faith in Nosenko’s account of Oswald’s Russian sojourn. In fact, even without knowing the above, Nosenko’s word is rendered dubious by the fact that he made provably false statements. For example, Posner quotes Nosenko as saying that Oswald was examined by two Russian psychiatrists during his stay at Botkinskaya Hospital; that Nosenko read their reports himself; and that “both concluded [Oswald] was ‘mentally unstable.’” (p. 51) Yet as Posner must know, given that he claims to have re-indexed the Warren Commission volumes, the results of these Soviet psychiatric evaluations were published by the commission, and they contain no such conclusion. In fact, they state that Oswald was “not dangerous to other people…of clear mind” and displayed “no psychotic symptoms.” (WC Vol. 18 pp. 464-473) Once again, this unwanted information appears purposely left out of Posner’s “sympathetic account.” It should be noted: John Newman’s latest work in Uncovering Popov’s Mole, goes much further in an examination of Nosenko and contains even harsher conclusions about the man. Which, of course, makes Posner look even more gullible.

From all appearances, Oswald’s time in Minsk was largely uninteresting, which perhaps explains why he wrote to the U.S. embassy a year after he arrived in the city, stating that he wished to return to his home country. The most noteworthy thing to happen to him during this period was that he met and married a 19-year-old Russian native named Marina Prusakova. The couple met at a trade union dance in March 1961 and, Marina later recalled, “I liked Lee immediately. He was very polite and attentive…” According to a narrative Marina prepared for the Warren Commission, when Lee first invited her to dance, she did not know that he was American, “and when we started to talk, I decided he was from one of the Baltic countries, since he talked with an accent.” (WC Vol. 18 p. 600)

The fact that Oswald had learned to speak the notoriously difficult Russian language well enough for Marina to think he was from the Soviet Union is something Posner does not like. Because it suggests, once again, that he had received help or training. Consequently, Posner quotes Oswald’s closest friend in Minsk, Ernst Titovets, as saying his Russian was “rather inadequate…” (p. 64) Yet Titovets―who published his own book about Oswald in 2020―has since made it clear that Oswald spoke the language well and that Titovets had no problem whatsoever carrying on a conversation with him. (Jim DiEugenio, interview with Titovets, 2014 AARC Conference in Bethesda) Additionally, Posner omits any reference in his book to Rosaleen Quinn, an air stewardess from New Orleans who had dinner with Oswald shortly before his defection. Quinn recalled that they had conversed in Russian for approximately two hours and, although she had studied with a Berlitz tutor for over a year, Oswald spoke the language far more fluently than she did. (Epstein, p. 87) The omission of Quinn’s name from Case Closed is another example of Posner’s tendency to ignore that which contradicts his dubious narrative.

Just a few months after Lee met Marina, she became pregnant with their first child, and he applied for permission for her to join him in his return to America. It might be expected that a self-proclaimed defector who offered to give away military secrets would face some serious opposition from U.S. officials when he stated his intention to return home with a Russian wife and child in tow, but such was not the case. In fact, the State Department loaned him $435.71 to pay for his travel and Marina’s immigrant visa was approved a few months after her arrival in the U.S. The relative ease of Oswald’s return has raised many an eyebrow but, unsurprisingly, Posner’s is not one of them.

Oswald in Texas

The Oswalds arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 13, 1962, and immediately headed to Fort Worth, Texas, where they stayed temporarily with Lee’s brother Robert. According to Posner, approximately two weeks into their stay, Oswald “…hit Marina for the first time in one of their fights…He slapped her hard around the face and threatened to kill her if she spoke a word to Robert or [his wife] Vada.” (p. 80) In succeeding chapters, Posner paints a picture of Marina suffering horrendous abuse at her husband’s hands, with him screaming at, slapping, punching, and even choking her with little or no provocation. Yet the author fails to reveal that Marina mentioned no such abuse in her earliest interviews with the FBI or Secret Service, and that in her first appearance before the Warren Commission she detailed only one occasion on which Oswald had hit her. And this alleged incident did not occur during their stay with Robert but months later, after Marina had written a letter to an ex-boyfriend in Russia, saying she was sorry she had married Lee. (WC Vol. 1 p.33)

Over time, Marina’s depiction of Lee changed from that of a good family man who loved to help with the children to a vicious spousal abuser who forced himself on her sexually. Posner quotes liberally from her later claims whilst ignoring how they contradict her original statements. In fact, the very worst instances of abuse described in Case Closed are sourced not to any of the sworn statements or testimonies Marina gave shortly after the assassination but to the 1977 book Marina and Lee by Priscilla Johnson McMillan. Posner relies so heavily on McMillan’s book that he cites it approximately 75 times within just a few chapters. Yet Marina and Lee is not generally considered to be a reliable source. Although the book was ostensibly based on interviews McMillan conducted with Marina over a period of more than a decade, shortly after it was published, Marina appeared to distance herself from it, apparently going so far as to deem it a “pack of lies.” Furthermore, for many researchers, McMillan’s reliability is rendered dubious by the fact that she applied to work for the CIA in 1953 and was described in Agency files as a “witting collaborator” who could be “…encouraged to write pretty much the articles we want.” (The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, p. 304-305)

Of course, it makes little difference whether McMillan accurately reported what Marina told her or not, because Oswald’s widow has made so many contradictory statements that basing anything on her word alone should be unthinkable to any writer who is possessed of even a degree of objectivity. In a once secret memo, Warren Commission lawyer Norman Redlich noted that, through her publicist, Marina had created an image of herself “…as a simple, devoted housewife who suffered at the hands of her husband…” And yet, Redlich suggested, “…there is a strong possibility that Marina Oswald is in fact a very different person―cold, calculating, avaricious, scornful of generosity, and capable of an extreme lack of sympathy in personal relationships.” (HSCA Vol. 11 p.126) Indeed, testimony from friends of the couple suggested that Marina delighted in openly taunting her husband about his lack of money and his inability to provide more material luxuries. Furthermore, even Posner admits that Marina was heard to complain about Lee’s sexual performance, telling friends, “He sleeps with me just once a month, and I never get any satisfaction out of it.” (p. 94) What Posner doesn’t make clear is that she made such comments right in front of him, an action that hardly suggests that she lived in constant fear of her spouse.

Shortly after arriving back in the States, Oswald became acquainted with a Russianémigré and petroleum engineer named Peter Gregory. Posner suggests that Oswald got in touch with Gregory “to obtain some feedback” on a memoir he had written of his time in the USSR. “…he visited Gregory twice at his office,” Posner writes, “not only to show his memoirs, but also to inquire about possible work as a translator.” (p. 78) This, however, is false.When Gregory testified to the Warren Commission, he made no mention of any memoirs. He was very clear that what Posner presents as a secondary concern was, in fact, the only reason Oswald sought him out. “He knew that I was teaching Russian at the library,” Gregory said, “…he was looking for a job as a translator or interpreter in the Russian languages” and he wanted Gregory “…to give him a letter testifying to that effect.” (WC Vol. 2 p. 338) Gregory said he had tested Oswald’s ability “by simply opening a book at random and asking him to read a paragraph or two and then translate it,” after which he was more than happy to provide a letter certifying Oswald’s ability. (Ibid) Posner throws in the memoir story for the same reason he withholds the fact that Gregory said Oswald translated the book “very well” and thought the ex-Marine might be “of Polish origin” ―because he wants to continue downplaying Oswald’s Russian proficiency.

Through Gregory, the Oswalds were introduced to the “White Russians,” a community of Eastern Europeanémigrés residing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As Posner tells it, the émigrés quickly took to Marina but were far less enamoured of Lee. This is, perhaps, an understandable situation. After all, the highly conservative White Russian community―which was closely aligned with an anti-Soviet movement known as the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists―would likely be ideologically predisposed to distrusting and shunning a self-professed Marxist like Oswald. Consequently, many of them did make quite negative remarks about Oswald after his death. For example, Posner quotes Anne Meller as saying Oswald was “absolutely sick” and “against everything.” He quotes Katya Ford as labelling him “unstable…a mental case” And he writes that the “most authoritative opinion” was that of George Bouhe who said that Oswald “had a mind of his own, and I think it was a diseased one.” (p. 84)

Yet, Posner fails to note that, despite their apparent contempt for him, some of these same individuals expressed their extreme surprise at learning that Oswald had been charged with assassinating the president. George Bouhe, for example, told the Warren Commission that although he saw Oswald as mixed up, “I did not go into the thinking…that he is potentially dangerous.” Asked if it had ever occurred to him that Oswald would have shot someone or committed an act like the assassination, Bouhe said, “Never.” (WC Vol. 8 p. 377) Similarly, Anne Meller said she thought Oswald was more “strange” and “ridiculous” than dangerous and recalled being “completely shocked” at learning of his alleged actions. “It was terrible shock,” she said. “…we could not believe at first at all…We could not believe he will do things like that.” (Ibid, p. 390)

The one member of the Russian émigré community to take kindly to Oswald was a petroleum geologist named George de Mohrenschildt, who would later write of his first meeting with Oswald, “Only someone who had never met Lee could have called him insignificant. ‘There is something outstanding about this man,’ I told myself:

One could detect immediately a very sincere and forward man…he showed in his conversation all the elements of concentration, thought and toughness. This man had the courage of his convictions and did not hesitate to discuss them. (HSCA Vol. 12 p. 76)

The admiration was apparently mutual and the two quickly became close friends. Yet to say they made an odd pairing is an understatement. Oswald came from a poor family and enjoyed only a ninth-grade education. De Mohrenschildt on the other hand was from an upper-class Russian family, was entitled to call himself “Baron,” held a master’s degree, and counted George H.W. Bush and Jackie Kennedy’s mother amongst his acquaintances.

For obvious reasons, Posner does not want readers to believe that someone like de Mohrenschildt could have held a high opinion of Oswald, so he quotes from de Mohrenschildt’s commission testimony in which he described Oswald as a “semi-educated hillbilly” and “an unstable individual…” (p. 89) Yet the author neglects to mention that de Mohrenschildt later admitted to feeling much regret over making such “unkind” remarks about his friend. Further, to try to explain why he said what he said to the commission, the baron suggested that just about anyone being confronted by Allen Dulles, Earl Warren, Gerald Ford, and “innumerable, hustling lawyers…would [be] impressed and intimidated to say almost anything about an insignificant, dead ex-Marine.” (HSCA Vol. 12 p.216)

In his unpublished manuscript, I am a Patsy! I am a Patsy!, de Mohrenschildt described Oswald as “an utterly sincere person…deprived of hatred,” (ibid, 90) and remarked that Lee was so fluent in Russian that, “He must have had some previous training…” (ibid, 118) He further described his deceased friend as “very bright” (ibid) and “socially motivated” (ibid, 97) with a genuine concern for racial equality. And he noted that although Oswald frequently criticised both the Soviet and U.S. systems, “he never complained” about his own situation. “…it was Marina who was constantly dissatisfied.” (ibid, 86) De Mohrenschildt described Marina as a “super-materialist” (ibid, 122) who liked to ridicule her husband and quoted Oswald as saying of her, “Man, that woman loves to fight.” (ibid, 130) He admitted to knowing that Oswald had hit Marina but also pointed out that, as Marina herself confessed in her own Warren Commission testimony, she had been violent towards him too. “Marina annoyed him, he beat her up,” de Mohrenschildt wrote, “but she scratched him back and hurt him worse. Lee regretted his acts but Marina did not.” (ibid, 150) Assuming it to be accurate, it is clear from de Mohrenschildt’s account that the Oswalds endured a destructive relationship in which neither party was entirely blameless. But in the end de Mohrenschildt said that, despite it all, “…I never considered Lee to be capable of a truly violent act.” (ibid)

Posner does not divulge any of the above but does reluctantly quote de Mohrenschildt as saying, “There was something charming about [Oswald], there was some―I don’t know. I just liked the guy―that is all.” (Posner, p. 86) Then, to explain how de Mohrenschildt could have seen “a side [of Oswald] no one else did,” he goes to work denigrating him, pulling together as many derogatory opinions of the Baron as he can find. Posner then suggests that their friendship was based upon a shared “outcast’s perspective on life.” (p. 88) But, as many writers and investigators more knowledgeable and objective than Posner have concluded, the relationship might be better explained in the context of de Mohrenschildt’s documented ties to the CIA. De Mohrenschildt was a regular contact for the Agency from at least 1957 and admitted that he had discussed Oswald with the head of the CIA’s Domestic Contacts Division in Dallas, J. Walton Moore, over lunch in late 1962. “I would never have contacted Oswald in a million years if Moore had not sanctioned it,” he said. (DiEugenio, p. 153)

Posner claims that the conversation between de Mohrenschildt and Moore “could not have happened, because Moore apparently did not see or speak to de Mohrenschildt after 1961, more than a year before Oswald even returned to the U.S.” (p. 87) His source for this assertion is pages 217 to 219 of the House Select Committee on Assassinations report. But if we check the cited pages, we find that Posner has once again cherrypicked the details he likes and ignored everything else. The HSCA report does note that Moore himself wrote a memorandum claiming to have met with de Mohrenschildt on only two occasions. But on the very same page it also states that “…documents in de Mohrenschildt’s CIA file…indicated more contact with Moore than was stated in the 1977 memorandum.” In other words, Moore was downplaying his relationship with de Mohrenschildt to cover his own butt.. De Mohrenschildt himself was more forthcoming, telling Edward Epstein that the CIA agent had dined at his Dallas home on several occasions. This friendship was confirmed by de Mohrenschildt’s wife, Jeanne, in an interview with TV personality Bill O’Reilly. (Mal Hyman, Burying the Lead, p. 270)

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Last modified on Thursday, 11 May 2023 12:02
Martin Hay

Martin Hay is a writer and musician living near London. He has been a keen student of the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King for over 15 years and, as well as contributing popular articles to CTKA, maintains his own well-regarded blog, The Mysteries of Dealey Plaza.

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