Sunday, 16 February 2014 18:16

Shane O'Sullivan, Killing Oswald

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This is a good enough documentary for the novice, but it does not contain enough information that is vital to understanding this complex case. I also believe that there were plenty of good researchers to recruit instead of David Kaiser, who, with all due respect, is just a better version of Robert Blakey, writes Vasilios Vazakas.

I. Introduction

Shane O'Sullivan is an Irish writer and filmmaker best known for his book and documentary RFK Must Die where he examined the assassination of Robert Kennedy. O'Sullivan created a sensation and made headlines when he identified three mysterious looking persons at the Ambassador Hotel at the time of the Bobby Kennedy assassination, as CIA agents. He named them as David Morales, George Johannides and Gordon Campbell. Most researchers have disputed his claim and believe that O'Sullivan was mistaken. And to his credit, he himself has admitted his error.

In his new film, he decided to take on the JFK assassination. He made a film to document the life of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The title he chose was Killing Oswald and it gave me the impression that the theme of the film would have been an examination of Oswald's murder by Jack Ruby. After watching it I realized that the title was not the best of choices. The film does not deal with his murder per se, but with his life and actions before the assassination. A more appropriate title would have been something like "Oswald the Patsy" or "The Life and Death of Oswald" or even "Was Oswald an Intelligence Agent?"

The documentary consists of fourteen chapters beginning with Oswald's days in Japan, his defection to Russia, his relationship to the CIA, his Cuban escapades in New Orleans, his bizarre trip to Mexico and finally the day of the assassination. Other chapters examine double agent Richard Case Nagell, the Odio incident and the attempt to kill General Walker. One the best features of the film is the rare historical footage, including that of Castro entering Havana with Che Guevara, interviews with George De Mohrenschildt and Antonio Venciana, the Bay of Pigs invasion, David Atlee Phillips in Mexico and Oswald in custody.

Now let's examine if the O'Sullivan produced film is what some claimed it is: the best documentary ever about the JFK assassination.

II. Kaiser and the Theology of Conspiracy

In the opening of the documentary we watch Oswald talking to the reporters and declaring himself a "Patsy" followed by Chief of Police Curry's assurances that Oswald will not be in danger since the police have taken all the necessary precautions. Unfortunately for Curry history proved him wrong. As America watched Ruby assassinate Oswald while inside the Police station in front of Police officers. Marguerite, Oswald's mother predicts what we now know with a degree of certainty: that Oswald was a patsy and that "history will absolve him of any involvement in the deaths attributed to him." Then O'Sullivan proceeds with a clip from a Woody Allen movie where Woody is obsessed with the assassination and his girlfriend mocks him for using the conspiracies theories to avoid sex with her. Although the scene is humorous, I did not quite understand what purpose it was supposed to serve, other than ridicule JFK researchers as conspiracy theorists who will believe any whacky theory. I would expect this from someone like John McAdams, but not from someone who does a movie to help explain this complex case and this complicated figure.

However this was nothing compared to the second blow, which hit me directly in the face. The first person to be interviewed, of all people, is David Kaiser, a man who firmly believes that the Mafia instigated the assassination. And he elaborated on this theorem in his book The Road to Dallas. One only needs to read Jim DiEugenio's review of that book to understand Kaiser and his beliefs. An historian by trade has now decided to talk in theological terms to explain the various beliefs regarding the assassination. He informs us that there are three churches:

  1. The Lone Nut Church, whose high priests are Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi and believe that Oswald and Ruby were lone nuts that acted of their own.
  2. The Grand Conspiracy Church whose founder was Mark Lane and has Oliver Stone as its high priest and who believe in a large conspiracy and a cover up.
  3. The Middle Church, which includes a few people like Robert Blakey and David Kaiser. They believe that Oswald was guilty but as a part of a conspiracy put together by Organized Crime.

So there you have it. This is the "Divine Conspiracy" according to Kaiser, to paraphrase Dante's "Divine Comedy." In my view Kaiser's beliefs constitute a "Conspiracy Comedy."

Now, if a church includes as its members Lane and Stone, I will proudly join that church. I am very wary of those middle ground researchers who are not sure of what really happened, who think that Oswald maybe did what the WC says or maybe he did not; that maybe, just maybe, there was a conspiracy. Kaiser puts himself in the same league with Robert Blakey, the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations who chose to not investigate the case in depth and surrendered to the CIA's wishes. If one wants to learn more about the deeds of Blakey he can read Jim DiEugenio's excellent piece called "The Sins of Robert Blakey" from the book The Assassinations, which he co-edited with Lisa Pease. Unfortunately for him, Kaiser's theory is outdated and today, with the possible exception of Tony Summers, all serious researchers disagree with the idea that the Mafia was behind the assassination.

If one reads DiEugenio's books, like Reclaiming Parkland and Destiny Betrayed, one will find out that Oswald was never in the sniper's nest during the assassination. Therefore, he did not fire the alleged weapon.

I cannot comprehend why O'Sullivan invited Kaiser to be a part of his documentary. Even worse he was a, perhaps "the" central figure in the documentary, speaking more than the other three guests. I would agree that John Newman, Dick Russell and Joan Mellen were excellent choices but I cannot imagine what prompted him to pick Kaiser. If he wanted a historian or a researcher with a good grasp and knowledge of the case, there were plenty to choose from. Some that come to my mind are Gerald McKnight, Peter Dale Scott, Jim DiEugenio, Lisa Pease, James Douglass, Larry Hancock and Greg Burnham. These researchers have proved time and again that they have a superior knowledge of the case than Kaiser will ever have. However, this is something that only O'Sullivan can explain. In my opinion, it was a serious blunder that cast a shadow over his entire effort.

III. Oswald's Defection to the Soviet Union

Luckily things get better when John Newman and Dick Russell talk about Oswald's years in Japan, and his subsequent defection to the USSR. Newman tells us that there was a mole in the KGB who informed the CIA that there was a mole in the U-2 program. He obviously meant Colonel Pyotor Popov who revealed to the CIA the above information after overhearing a drunken Colonel bragging that the KGB had obtained technical information about the U-2 spy plane (see Peter Dale Scott's article "In Search of Popov's Mole"). Popov was arrested by the Russians for treason on October 16, 1959, the day Oswald arrived in Moscow. Dick Russell explains to us that Richard Case Nagell, who met Oswald in Japan "had a casual but purposeful acquaintanceship with Oswald", related to Oswald's feature defection to USSR with radar secrets. Newman continues that Oswald, while announcing to American Consul Richard Snyder that he wanted to renounce his citizenship, also threatened to reveal classified information of special interest to the Soviets. Newman says that it was not necessary to do that in order to renounce his citizenship, which could have resulted in his arrest. Because it was Saturday Oswald could not fill out the necessary paperwork so he did not renounce his citizenship officially. We also see an actor, Raymond Burns, as Oswald. He recites monologues from the historic diary regarding his defection.

I believe that O'Sullivan wasted valuable time on the historic diary, which only helps to reveal Oswald's bone fides as a false defector. Instead, he should have examined the defection in more depth to fully understand what happened.

Snyder assumed Oswald was referring to the U-2. Snyder concluded that Oswald was assuming that the KGB had bugged the American Embassy, and "was speaking for Russian ears in my office. If he really wanted to give secret information to the Soviets he could have gone straight to them without the Americans ever knowing. Bill Simpich (State Secret, Ch.1, believes that if Snyder's assumption was right, Oswald may have been wittingly or unwittingly prepped by someone from Bil Harvey's Staff D, since they were responsible for signal intelligence.

It is worth it to mention that Bill Harvey of Staff D worked on the U-2 related Project Rock. This documentary should have also examined the theory that Oswald somehow had something to do with the shootdown of the U-2 plane by the Soviets on May 1, 1960 which led to the abortion of the Soviet-American peace conference in Paris. The failure of that process ensured the continuation of the Cold War, which satisfied a treasonous cabal of hard-line US and Soviet Intelligence officers, whose masters were above Cold War differences as George Micahel Evica and Charles Drago believe. Among the Soviet hardliners were Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Yekaterina Furtseva who wanted to wrest power from Khrushchev (see Joe Trento, The Secret History of the CIA). Dick Russell wrote in his book (The Man Who Knew Too Much, p. 118) that Furtseva-who was the most powerful woman in Russia-urged that Oswald be allowed to stay in Russia, and then prevented KGB from recruiting him.

I don't think that Oswald gave the Soviets any important information with which to aid them in the shootdown the U-2. His role was a distraction to take the blame for this treasonous act, instead of those who were responsible. Bob Tanembaum wrote in his book Corruption of Blood that "every intelligence agency is plagued by volunteers and individuals who wish to become spies. Virtually all of them are useless for real intelligence work...but some of them can be used as pigeons, that is, as false members of a spy network who can distract attention of counterintelligence operatives..." I believe that Oswald played that pigeon role in USSR and later in New Orleans and Mexico City. Many believe that Oswald was some kind of CIA operative, but not directly. John Newman noted that since Oswald had defected to the USSR, it should have been the Soviet Russia Division that should have opened a file on him. Strangely enough, it was Jim Angleton's CI/SIG that opened the file, a year after his defection. And simultaneously he was put in the mail intercept HT/LINGUAL program, which made Oswald quite unique. Newman told Jim Dieugenio that he suspected that Oswald was an off-the-books agent for Jim Angleton because Oswald's first file was opened by CI/SIG, and he was on the super secret and exclusive mail intercept list. (Destiny Betrayed, p. 144).

IV. New Orleans and Cuban Escapades

Two of the great mysteries that surround Oswald's life are his activities and associations in New Orleans and Mexico City. When in New Orleans Oswald contacted the Communist Party (CPUSA), The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and he tried to open a local charter of the pro-Castro organization, Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPPC). While there he was in the company of strange fellows, which on the surface, did not make sense. Private Detective Guy Banister a fanatical rightwinger, anti-Communist, anti-Castro and segregationist. Jim Garrison proved Oswald was also in contact with a weird character named David Ferrie, and also Clay Shaw, a local businessman employed by the International Trade Mart. Somehow, O'Sullivan does not mention Ferrie and Shaw while examining Oswald's activities in New Orleans. I feel that he should have done so. He correctly shows Oswald's contact with the anti-Castro organization DRE, his phony fight with Bringuier, and his TV and radio interviews that brought him in contact with Ed Butler of an anti-Communist and anti-Castro organization, named Information Council of the Americas (INCA).

Kaiser came to the conclusion that Oswald was part of FBI's COINTELPRO program, which had as its goal to disrupt subversives, and it targeted organizations like the FPCC, the CPUSA and the WSP. He also concluded that Oswald was not working directly for the FBI, but he was working for anti-Communist organizations like INCA that were given the assignment by Hoover. Peter Dale Scott had first suggested in his book Deep Politics that Oswald didn't work directly for the FBI but for a private investigative firm that probably had contracts to many different intelligence agencies. Kaiser may be right about this conclusion, but not entirely. We have evidence that both Banister and Butler were in contact with the CIA and not just the FBI. As DiEugenio showed, Butler was in communication with people like Charles Cabell, Deputy Director of the CIA, and Ed Lansdale, the legendary psy-ops master within the Agency who was shifting his focus from Vietnam to Cuba. Gordon Novel, the CIA agent who spied against Garrison said that he had seen David Atlee Phillips, and Sergio Arcacha Smith in Banister's office (DiEugenio, p. 105, Destiny Betrayed). It is also documented that the CIA, back in 1961 was planning to discredit the FPCC, and the officers involved in the operation were James McCord and David Atlee Phillips. Thankfully, John Newman and Joan Mellen remind us that Oswald's actions in New Orleans were choreographed by the CIA and David Atlee Phillips. Antonio Venciana, a Cuban exile, said in his interview that he had seen in Dallas his case officer Maurice Bishop talking to Oswald in Dallas. Gaeton Fonzi believed that Phillips was Bishop but Veciana never confirmed it. Luckily, in November, during the 50th anniversary, Venciana sent a letter to Fonzi's widow confirming that Phillips was indeed the officer he knew as Maurice Bishop.

A key facet of information missing from the documentary is that George Johannides, a CIA officer, was the man handling Carlos Bringuier's New Orleans DRE organization from Miami, something that was hidden from the HSCA when he was the CIA liaison with the Committee. Other key incidents missing are the Cliton-Jackson incident and the story of Rose Cheramie.

O'Sullivan then takes on the famous Sylvia Odio incident, giving us three different versions as to what happened then, and who the Cubans were, known by their war names as Leopoldo and Angel. Dick Russell, correctly in this author's opinion, said that we still don't know their true identity. Mellen tell us her belief that Leopoldo was Bernardo DeTorres and Angel was Angel Murgado, a Cuban associated with Robert Kennedy. But many researchers have disputed her claim. Kaiser states that it was Loran Hall, Laurence Howard and William Seymour, the three visitors to Odio. This theory was promoted by Hoover but long discredited, and without merit (DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pp.239-242).

I believe that, instead of trying to identify these persons, he should have concentrated on the fact that Odio was a member of JURE, a Cuban exile organization used by the CIA against Castro. Some CIA officers like E.H. Hunt and David Morales hated its leader Manolo Ray and considered him to be a communist, not much better than Castro. Leopoldo presented Oswald as a nut and expert marksman, which is exactly what the Warren Commission supported. So it was an effort to associate Oswald the nut, and the subsequent assassination of the President, with Manolo Ray and JURE, the group the CIA hated. None of this is included in the documentary.

Oswald in Mexico

Despite the time limitations of the documentary, O'Sullivan does a fairly decent job in describing Oswald's alleged visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City, what occurred there, and the impersonation of Oswald that linked him to Valeri Kostikov, a KGB officer who allegedly was a member of KGB's Department 13, responsible for assassinations.

John Newman, in trying to explain what occurred in Mexico, stated "My explanation is that the story reflects a failure in the primary mission which was that Oswald, or the Oswald character, was supposed to be able to get to Cuba, ostensibly on his way to the Soviet cement the story that Oswald was connected to Castro...When that failed, to get the visa from the Cubans and Soviets...they had to come up with a plan B, ... the phone conversations, mentioning his name and Kostikov's name..."

I am a great admirer of John Newman and his work, and we owe him a great deal of gratitude for deciphering the Mexico City mystery. However I will have to respectfully disagree with him that the primary mission was to get Oswald to Cuba. I cannot believe that his handler-who Newman thinks was probably David Phillips-did not know that to get a Cuba visit, one had to arrange it via the CPUSA, or that the Cubans would have required a Soviet visa first. I think the whole operation was a ruse to make it appear that Oswald wanted to travel to Cuba and force the Cubans to call the Soviets to have on record that they were cooperating together in controlling Oswald. Kaiser is certain that Oswald did travel to Cuba, but I disagree with him. If Oswald was in Dallas visiting Odio he would not have been able to make it in time to Mexico. If one reads the Lopez report it is almost clear that someone had impersonated him all along and that Oswald never traveled to Mexico.

Although Newman names Phillips as the man handling Oswald in Mexico, O'Sullivan for whatever reason, chose not to include Newman's view regarding James Jesus Angleton, the Chief of CIA's Counterintelligence. In the 2008 epilogue of his superb book Oswald and the CIA Newman names Angleton as the man who designed the Mexico City plot. In fact, the name of Angleton is not mentioned even once during the two hour duration of the documentary. The same goes with Anne Goodpasture, Win Scott's assistant in the US Embassy in Mexico. The very person that produced the "Mystery Man" photograph, that was supposed to be Oswald entering the Cuban and Soviet Embassies. He is not a mystery man though, because the Lopez Report has settled the issue many years ago. "Since the time of the assassination, this man has been identified as Yuriy Ivanovich Moskalev, a Soviet KGB officer" Lopez Report (p.179). These should have been included, since it is by now fairly obvious that it was Angleton in Langley and Phillips with Goodpasture in the field who choreographed Oswald's moves and set up the Mexico City charade.

Two others facts that are very crucial in the case are not covered by this documentary. The first was a memo that the CIA sent to FBI the day before Oswald got his tourist visa to visit Mexico. There, the CIA proposed a counter-operation against the FPPC. According to the memo, the CIA was considering "planting deceptive information to embarrass the organization in areas where it had support" (Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 622-623).

The second fact had to do with CIA's reply to Mexico Station that included the statement that they had no information on Oswald after May 1962, which was a lie. Jane Roman, Angleton's subordinate who signed off on the bottom of the cable, admitted to John Newman in 1994 after seeing the cable that "I am signing off on something I know isn't true." She also told him that "the SAS group would have held all the information on Oswald under their tight control", and that "it's indicative of a keen interest in Oswald, held very closely on a need-to-know basis" (Newman, ibid).

VI. DeMohrenschildt and Ruth Paine

After Oswald returned from Russia, he settled with his family back in Dallas. O'Sullivan documents the fact that Oswald was befriended by a White Russian Baron, George DeMohrenschildt, with CIA connections. It was Dallas CIA station chief J. Walton Moore who asked DeMonhreschildt to get into contact with the ex-Marine. O'Sullivan includes some rare footage of the Baron being interviewed and one of its best moments is a very clever and witty remark by DeMohrenschildt: "As it stands now, Oswald was a lunatic who killed President Kennedy. Ruby was another lunatic who killed the lunatic who killed the President - and now we have the third lunatic, supposedly Garrison, who tries to investigate this whole case. I think it is extremely insulting to the United States, the assumption, that there are so many lunatics here."

When Oswald went to New Orleans, his wife Marina and his child moved to her friend's Ruth Paine. After hearing some of the interviews that Ruth Paine gave and presented on this documentary, one would get the impression that she was a very compassionate and altruistic person, who helped her friend Marina out of kindness. You would certainly not assume that this woman had CIA connections, and had played an important role in the framing of Oswald. She seems joyful and smiling, a housewife clueless, about the assassination. However if O'Sullivan have done his homework, he would have known that she was more than a housewife.

Most of the incriminating evidence against Oswald was found at Ruth Paine's garage. Among them,

  1. The pictures of the outside of General Walker's house, along with the backyards photographs, showing Oswald holding in his hands, communist literature, a rifle and a handgun (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p.202).
  2. The documents produced after JFK's assassination that proved that Oswald had travelled to Mexico City, evidence that the Police couldn't find after searching her house (DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p.284).
  3. Testimony that she had seen Oswald typing a letter referring to Kostin (another name for Kostikov), about their meeting in Mexico that was sent to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. This letter is considered to be a forgery.
  4. Ruth Paine was the one who found Oswald the job at the Texas School Book Depository. However he received a phone call on October 15, 1963 from the unemployment office which asked her to inform Oswald that they had found for him a job with Trans-Texans Airlines, as a baggage carrier. They were paying him $100 more than the Texas Book School Depository, yet Oswald chose the job at the library. The truth is that Ruth never told Oswald about the phone call. (John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p.725).

I could have written a lot more about her, but this not in the scope of this review. But if you wish to learn more about her you can read DiEugenio's Destiny Betrayed and Evica's A Certain Arrogance.

VI. Conclusions

This is a good enough documentary for the novice, but it does not contain enough information that is vital to understanding this complex case. I also believe that there were plenty of good researchers to recruit instead of David Kaiser, who, with all due respect, is just a better version of Robert Blakey. I noted earlier on that the choice of the documentary's title was not the most appropriate. But I bypass this issue since the film was one of the few antidotes to the 50th anniversary Lone Nut blitz of propaganda, e.g. the movie Parkland and the numerous books that supported the Warren Commission fraud. It was a brave act by O'Sullivan to produce a documentary that tried to present and unravel the mysteries surrounding Oswald's life, almost all of which were ignored at the 50th. And I hope that more JFK researchers will take this as an example and produce similar work. It is a duty we all have that is long overdue.

Last modified on Friday, 24 March 2017 21:13
Vasilios Vazakas

Vasilios Vazakas was born in Athens, Greece, and studied in Edinburgh, Scotland; he holds a BEng in energy engineering and an MSc in building services engineering. He has had a long-running interest in the JFK assassination, its relation to US foreign policy, and its relevance today.  Vasilios has contributed a number of book reviews to this site.

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