Tape: Call on JFK Wasn't Oswald
.c The Associated Press
By DEB RIECHMANN
Sunday, Nov 21, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) - Hours after President
Kennedy was assassinated, FBI agents reportedly listened to a
tape of a phone call that a man identifying himself as ``Lee
Oswald'' had placed to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City.
They made a startling discovery: The
voice on the tape was not Oswald's, government records say.
This controversial tape has been a
question mark in the assassination investigation since Kennedy
was killed Nov. 22, 1963. Only now - 36 years to the day after
the murder - has the government released a flurry of new details
The CIA said years ago that the tapes
on which it recorded the call were erased. Documents released
in recent years said otherwise. The latest and newest of declassified
documents offer more evidence that the tapes survived.
The discovery that the voice on the
tape was someone other than Oswald was a ``disquieting discovery
because the man who impersonated Oswald was still at large,''
said John Newman, an ex-military intelligence analyst, author
and professor at the University of Maryland.
Oswald was in Mexico City in September
and October 1963. During his one-week stay, he contacted the
Soviet Embassy and the Cuban consulate, inquiring about visas
needed to go to the Soviet Union via Cuba.
It is widely known that the CIA bugged
telephones and took surveillance photos at both the embassy and
consulate. But the agency maintained that it had routinely erased
and reused tapes of the phone intercepts. A message from the
CIA's Mexico City station to headquarters on Nov. 24, 1963, said:
``HQ has full transcripts all pertinent calls. Regret complete
recheck shows tapes for this period already erased.''
It was also known that while he was
in Mexico City, Oswald had contact with Valeriy Kostikov - a
man that one CIA memo described as a ``case officer in an operation
which is evidently sponsored by the KGB's 13th Department responsible
for sabotage and assassination.'' It was the caller who is thought
to have impersonated Oswald who links him to this Soviet spy
unit known as Department 13.
Newly declassified documents - some
released in the past six months - say that after the president
was shot, a Navy plane carried a top-secret package from Mexico
City to Dallas and landed there about 4 a.m. EST the day after
Former FBI Agent Eldon Rudd, later
a Republican congressman from Arizona, was aboard the plane.
``There were no tapes to my knowledge,''
Rudd said in a telephone interview. ``I brought the pictures
up (from Mexico) and it was my understanding that it was just
Documents contradict Rudd's understanding.
A newly released memo dated Nov. 27, 1963, from FBI headquarters
to its office in Mexico City, stated:
``If tapes covering any contacts subject
(Oswald) with Soviet or Cuban embassies available, forward to
bureau for laboratory examination and analysis together with
transcript. Include tapes previously reviewed Dallas if they
were returned to you.''
And a transcript of a telephone call
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover made to President Johnson just six
hours after the plane arrived in Dallas supports the belief that
FBI agents listened to a tape that suggested an impersonation.
``We have up here the tape and the
photograph of the man who was at the Soviet embassy using Oswald's
name,'' Hoover told Johnson, according to a transcript of that
call released in 1993. ``That picture and the tape do not correspond
to this man's voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it
appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet embassy
While they would not speculate about
the identity of the caller, several assassination researchers
privately offered some explanations: Oswald could have been impersonated
by a CIA officer who called the Soviet Embassy simply to fish
for details about what Oswald was doing in Mexico City. Or, maybe
someone was trying to link Oswald to the KGB's assassination
unit before Kennedy's murder.
Whatever the answer, there was plenty
of reason for worry in Washington about any evidence pointing
to Soviets or Cubans as somehow involved in the assassination.
Relations with the former Soviet Union were icy. Both sides were
armed with nuclear weapons. The Cuban missile crisis was still
very much on America's mind.
``The public must be satisfied that
Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who
are still at large,'' Nicholas Katzenbach, then deputy attorney
general, wrote in a memo on Nov. 25, 1963.Katzenbach.html
``Speculation about Oswald's motivation
ought to be cut off and we should have some basis for rebutting
(the) thought that this was a communist conspiracy or ... a right-wing
conspiracy to blame it on the communists.''
In a telephone interview last week,
Katzenbach said he does not know anything about the FBI listening
to a tape in Dallas. ``Whether I knew anything about it at the
time, or what I knew about it at the time, I don't recall,''
Oswald's trip to Mexico City was only
briefly addressed by the Warren Commission, which concluded in
1964 that Oswald was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy.
His activities in Mexico City were
investigated vigorously by the House Select Committee on Assassinations,
which re-investigated the Kennedy murder in the 1970s. The committee
then raised the possibility of an Oswald impersonation but said
there was not sufficient evidence to ``firmly'' conclude that
Many more details about the trip, however,
have surfaced in CIA and FBI documents released by the Assassination
Records Review Board. The board, set up by Congress to amass
all assassination-related records, opened tens of thousands of
pages before it closed down in 1998.
Gus Russo, author of a book about the
foreign policy implications of Kennedy's assassination, said
he is skeptical that FBI agents listened to actual tapes. He
cited a Nov. 25, 1963, memo from the FBI office in Mexico City
to headquarters that said ``there appears to be some confusion
in that no tapes were taken to Dallas, only typewritten reports
Newman said he has seen that memo and
others that say the tapes were erased, but he said a pattern
has emerged in the documents.
``For the first 24 hours after the
assassination, there is no mention of erasures, only detailed
discussions about listening to tapes,'' Newman said. ``Then we
go from one tape being erased to all tapes being erased. This
is designed to protect very sensitive U.S. intelligence sources
and methods and American relations with Mexico.''
The CIA's phone intercepts in Mexico
City have been an unanswered question in the assassination case
for decades, says T. Jeremy Gunn, former director and general
counsel of the review board.
However, he said two assistant counsels
on the Warren Commission, William T. Coleman Jr. and W. David
Slawson, told the review board that they had gone to Mexico City
and not only read transcripts, but listened to recordings.
``We tried to find the tape,'' Gunn
said of the review board's effort. ``We were unsuccessful. We
tried to get everything we could and we end up with question
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.
To Transcript of John Newman's NID '99 Presentation
Excerpts From JFK Documents
.c The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
Excerpts from declassified documents
that say a man impersonating Lee Harvey Oswald called the Soviet
embassy in Mexico City just weeks before President Kennedy was
assassinated, and that investigators listened to a tape of the
Memo Nov. 23, 1963 from FBI Director
J. Edgar Hoover to Secret Service Chief James Rowley:
``The Central Intelligence Agency advised
that on Oct. 1, 1963, an extremely sensitive source had reported
that an individual identifed himself as Lee Oswald, who contacted
the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City inquiring as to any messages.
``Special Agents of this bureau, who
have conversed with Oswald in Dallas, Texas, have observed photographs
of the individual referred to above and have listened to a recording
of his voice. These Special Agents are of the opinion that the
above-referred-to individual was not Lee Harvey Oswald.''
Memo written Nov. 23, 1963 from Alan
Belmont, third in command at FBI Headquarters, to Clyde Tolson,
Hoover's right-hand man.
``The Dallas agents who listened to
the tape of the conversation allegedly of Oswald from the Cuban
Embassy to the Russian Embassy in Mexico and examined the photographs
of the visitor to the Embassy in Mexico ... were of the opinion
that neither the tape nor the photograph pertained to Oswald.''
Internal FBI memo written Nov. 24,
1963 by Hoover:
``Oswald made a phone call to the Cuban
embassy in Mexico City, which we intercepted. It was only about
a visa, however. He also wrote a letter to the Soviet Embassy
here in Washington, which we intercepted, read and resealed.
This letter referred to the fact that the FBI had questioned
his activities on the Fair Play to Cuba Committee and also asked
about extension of his wife's visa.
``That letter from Oswald was addressed
to the man in the Soviet Embassy who is in charge of assassinations
and similar activities on the part of the Soviet government.
To have that drawn into a public hearing would muddy the waters