Sunday, 26 February 2017 19:09

Creating the Oswald Legend – Part 1

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In the first part of this projected multi-part series, the author reviews Oswald's "defection" to the USSR in the light of Cold War games and his possible connection to them, and proposes an interesting twist on what the role of his stay there may have been.


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I. An Unusual Defector

Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in the fall of 1959, on October 16. On the Saturday morning of 31 October 1959 he visited the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and threw his passport to the receptionist while announcing that he was willing to renounce his American citizenship. The surprised receptionist advised Oswald to discuss his matter with the American Consul, Richard Snyder. Oswald handed over to the consul a hand-written letter declaring his allegiance to the “Union of the Soviet Republics”. The second Consul, John McVickar, later testified to the Warren Commission that Oswald followed a pattern of behavior indicating that someone or some unknown parties had coached him.1

The receptionist, Joan Hallet, later recalled that a security officer took Oswald to the secure area upstairs and that “a visitor would never ever get up there unless he was on official business. 2

Oswald revealed to Snyder that on the 16th of October he had applied for Soviet citizenship. Snyder gave him a form and asked him to fill in his U.S. address plus the address of his closest relative. Oswald became upset because he did not want to involve his mother in this, but eventually he had to report her address in Fort Worth, Texas.

When asked: Why did he wish to defect to the Soviet Union? he replied that he was a Marxist. Snyder then asked him if he was willing to serve the Soviet state, to which he replied that he was a radar operator in the Marines and he had willingly declared to the Soviets that if he was to become a Soviet citizen he would then reveal information regarding his time in the Marines, and his duties. He insinuated to them that he knew something of special interest.3

Snyder assumed that his words “of special interest” were a reference to the ultra secretive project involving the spy plane known as U-2, which flew missions from U.S. military bases around the world. Oswald was familiar with the U-2 since the plane was also flying out of Atsugi Japan where he had been stationed as a Marine during 1957-1958. This revelation to Snyder was quite odd, because it could have led to his arrest. Snyder believed that Oswald did it on purpose since Oswald had probably assumed that the Soviets had bugged the U.S. Embassy, and he was speaking for Russian ears in his office. This is also another odd and peculiar thing to do in order to get the Soviets’ attention. If he really wanted to give up military secrets he could have gone straight to the Soviet authorities in secret so the American Intelligence services would have never learned of his treason. Bill Simpich4 believes that if Snyder’s assumption was right, Oswald may have been wittingly or unwittingly prepped by someone from CIA officer William Harvey’s Staff D, since they were responsible for signal intelligence. Bill Harvey was stationed in Berlin during Oswald’s visit to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, so we cannot conclude with certainty that he had anything to do with Oswald and Staff D at that time.

Snyder informed Oswald that there was no time left to fill in the necessary documents because it was Saturday noon and they had to close the consulate. He advised him to come back on Monday morning to complete the process of renouncing his citizenship. He also asked Oswald to hand him his passport. Oswald got very irritated and upset and he stormed out of the Embassy and never returned to pick up the documents he so desperately needed. However, he did oblige Snyder’s request and gave him his passport. By doing so he wittingly or unwittingly made sure that his passport would not be detained by the Soviets. He had therefore kept the door open for his return to the States.5

Before Oswald, two American citizens had tried to renounce their citizenship during the same September month. They were Nicholas Petrulli, on the first week of September, and Robert Webster on Saturday, September 17. Strangely enough, both of these defectors, like Oswald, had visited the Embassy on a Saturday, which made it difficult to finalize the process for renouncing their citizenship. Petrulli did manage to achieve it, but he then changed his mind and asked to return to the U.S. Webster is a person of interest who we will examine further at a later stage. It was Petrulli’s change of heart that prompted Snyder to give Oswald a chance to think it over in case he also changed his mind during the weekend.6

After Oswald’s departure, Snyder prepared his report regarding Oswald’s visit and he sent a cable to the State Department. Cable 1304 warned that Oswald offered information to the Soviets that he had acquired as a military radar operator. For whatever reason there was not any mention of the possibility that he might have revealed the U2 spying activities.

On Tuesday morning, November 3, the FBI and CIA had begun to look for information about Oswald after hearing the news about Oswald from the press in Moscow. Snyder had not sent his cable yet to State, so nobody knew of its existence back in the America. Around noon, the Navy received a cable from the Navy attaché in the Moscow embassy that the following diplomatic pouches –– 224/26 October and 234/2 November –– were on their way from Moscow. The content of the two cables included information about two ex Navy persons, Lee Harvey Oswald and Robert Webster.7

Pouch 234 with the Oswald information arrived at the State Department on Thursday, November 5, and the Navy attaché alerted the Navy to ask for it after its arrival. On the same afternoon the FBI and CIA received pouch 234, and also Snyder’s cable but, to this day, the CIA has not been able to confirm which officer was the recipient.8

As former intelligence officer John Newman has noted, from the beginning, Oswald’s file had fallen into a black hole. The Navy sent its attaché cable to the CIA, which described how Oswald threatened to reveal top secrets about radar to the Soviets. This cable had also fallen inside a black hole, because no one ever saw it until after JFK’s murder. So when Sam Papich, FBI’s liaison to the CIA’s Counterintelligence division (CI), asked for information relating to Oswald’s defection, the CIA responded that they had none.9 The FBI still put Oswald’s name on their watch list to stop his entering the country under any name.

At CIA, the Navy cable eventually landed in James Angleton’s Counterintelligence Special Investigation Group (CI/SIG) on December 6 –– but we have no knowledge of its whereabouts the previous 31 days. In addition it was not sent to the right department, which was the Soviet Russia Division (SR).10

Meanwhile, while waiting on the Soviet decision to allow him to stay in the USSR, Oswald stayed in his hotel room in Moscow writing letters to his family explaining why he wanted to defect. He also gave interviews to two American journalists, one of them was Priscilla Johnson.8 Priscilla testified to the HSCA in 1978 that it was McVickar who pressed her to take an interview from Oswald with the excuse that, because she was a woman, it would have been easier for Oswald to talk to her. Snyder had asked McVickar to talk to Oswald and try to change his mind about defecting, but he had not told him to ask Priscilla to do it. As a result Snyder was very upset with McVickar.11

McVickar said to Priscilla that there was a fine line between her duty as a journalist and as an American. She later testified that McVickar told her before leaving to remember that she was an American.12 On November 16, Priscilla interviewed Oswald for 5 hours. Oswald revealed to her that the Soviets would allow him to stay in the USSR and would examine the possibility for him to study at a Soviet institution.13 According to Priscilla, Oswald hoped to be useful to the Soviets since he was a radar operator and he could offer them something to harm his country. Oswald was staying in room 233 of the Metropole Hotel, where the KGB had secretly installed infrared cameras to spy on tourists, and the CIA knew that.14

The next day, November 17, John McVickar invited Priscilla to dinner to discuss her interview with Oswald. After dinner McVickar wrote a memo where he stated that Priscilla had told him that Oswald would be trained in electronics but Priscilla later denied that she did.15

Oswald was later sent by the Soviets to Minsk to work in an electronics factory, information that Snyder did not know, so one has to question how McVickar was privy to it at that time. McVickar also falsely wrote that it was Priscilla that asked him to meet with Oswald.16 It seems that McVickar had taken a personal interest in Oswald, and one has to wonder if he was privy to information about Oswald that Snyder never had a chance to get.

Priscilla wrote an article based on her Oswald interview that was published in the Washington Evening Star, 26 November 1959, describing Oswald as a handsome and serious young man, six feet tall, from the South, with a slight accent and different ideas, but did not report any of his intentions to reveal military secrets to the Soviets.17 So who was Priscilla Johnson?

Priscilla Johnson, as a college student majoring in the Russian language, was a member of “United World Federalists”, an organization that tried to spread the idea that a World Government was necessary and that the U.N. should be given more powers. One of the founders of this organization was Cord Meyer of the CIA’s International Organizations Division.18 After her graduation in 1952 she tried to enlist in the CIA but she was rejected. In 1953 she briefly worked for the office of Senator John F. Kennedy.

In 1955 she moved to Moscow, where she worked in the U.S. Embassy as a translator. In 1958 the CIA’s office of Counterintelligence/OperationalApproval (CI/OA) asked for permission to utilize Priscilla in its operations. To this day, this operation that involved Priscilla is still classified.

She returned to the States where she was hired as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). On November 13, 1959, she went back to Moscow and happened to interview Lee Harvey Oswald, the ex-Marine who wanted to defect to the USSR.19

What kind of news organization was NANA? NANA was a news agency competing with the likes of Associated Press and United Press International. Sometime in the 50’s it was bought by Ivory Bryce, a former officer of British Intelligence, and his American partner Ernest Cuneo. Both men were good friends with Ian Fleming, the James Bond author and ex-intelligence officer of the British Navy.20

Some of NANA’s members were novelist Ernest Hemingway, Inga Arvad, suspected of being a Nazi spy, and Virginia Prewet who worked for David Phillips. It would seem that NANA was an intelligence network closely connected to Operation Mockingbird.21 According to Deborah Davis, the author of Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and her Washington Post Empire, Meyer was Mockingbird's “principal operative”.

When Josef Stalin died, his daughter Svetlana defected to the States and stayed with Priscilla’s father, Stewart Johnson. Priscilla helped Svetlana write her memoirs.21

Following JFK’s assassination, Priscilla was privileged enough to spend time with Marina Oswald in the summer and fall of 1964. As an important witness to testify for the Warren Commission, Marina was not allowed to come in contact with anyone, living under Secret Service protection. How Priscilla managed to stay with her when nobody else could approach her is a question that has not been answered. Priscilla had one more privilege: to write Marina’s biography.

Senator Richard Russell, a member of the Warren Commission, was not convinced that Oswald was guilty or that he had travelled to Mexico, but an unexpected incident helped change his mind. Marina testified that she found a ticket to Mexico inside a magazine while writing her biography with Priscilla. In other words, after numerous searches, the FBI and the Dallas Police could not find it, but Priscilla and Marina did.22

In 1977 Priscilla published her book titled Marina and Lee. Marina revealed that she did not contribute much to the book; it was Priscilla who had to discover most of the facts and put them in order. Priscilla never stopped trying to convince the public that Oswald was guilty. On April 20, 1978 she appeared before the HSCA, along with her attorney and a written affidavit. The Committee found this odd, since she was not being accused of anything so the affidavit and the lawyer were not necessary.23

Researcher Peter Whitmey revealed Priscilla Johnson’s relations with the CIA after a large number of CIA documents were made available to the National Archives. A document dated 11 December 1962, written by Donald Jameson of CIA, revealed that the CIA believed Miss Johnson could be encouraged to write articles that they wished.24 Other documents reveal that she met with CIA officers for seven hours in 1964, while in 1965 there was another meeting at her request. The CIA’s office of Security granted her clearance to secret information in 1956. It is difficult to give credence to Priscilla’s words when we now know that she was trying for years to conceal her relationship to the CIA, at the same time she was perpetuating a false mythology about Oswald as Kennedy’s killer. 25


II. Minsk and the U-2 Incident

The Soviets did not grant Oswald the Soviet passport and citizenship that he wanted. Eventually he was given a residence document, without citizenship, which allowed him to stay in the Soviet Union. In January 1960, he was sent to Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, a city that was a center of science and technology. Oswald was given a position in the experimental division of a radio factory of 5000 employees that had been producing electronic systems. The job proved to be a disappointment because he ended up manufacturing metal parts with a lathe machine. The Soviet state provided for him an apartment with a view of the river at a very cheap rent of only 60 rubles. His monthly salary was 700 rubles, and together with the economic aid given to him by the Russian Red Cross, he ended up earning 1400 rubles, which equaled the salary that the factory’s director was receiving.26

According to KGB files, Oswald was under constant surveillance. His apartment was bugged, his mail was opened and some of his neighbors and coworkers were informing the authorities about his activities.

His employment in an electronics factory fulfilled McVickar’s uncanny prediction that Oswald would be trained in electronics, but is also in line with a discovery announced in a 1991 Nightline broadcast that examined recently released KGB files. It was discovered that the KGB had issued this order: “Find employment using his electrical skills”.27 We know the Soviets were suspicious that Oswald might have been a U.S. intelligence dangle, since they knew that the Americans were trying hard to get any information about the Soviet electronics industry. So why would the Soviets send a possible fake defector and dangle, who could have been a CIA spy, to work in an electronics factory? It would have made more sense to send him to work in a milk plant or a vodka distillery that had no connection to defense or the military. This would make sense, however, if the Soviets wanted to pretend playing along and thereby feed back to U.S. intelligence false information about their electronics industry.

Oswald’s “Historic Diary” offered a detailed description of the Minsk factory size and number of employees, manufacturing 87,000 large powerful radios and 60,000 television sets.28 Oswald’s supervisor and the chief engineer was Alexander Romanovich Ziger, a Polish Jew who had immigrated to Argentina in 1938 and then returned to Belorussia in 1956. He could speak English with an American accent and had worked with an American company in Argentina. Oswald and Ziger became friends: Oswald would spend recreational time at Ziger’s home socializing with Ziger’s daughters.29

On May 1, 1960, the very day that the Soviets shot down the U-2 spy plane, Oswald was at Ziger’s house attending a party. That night Ziger advised Oswald to return to America and Oswald wrote in his diary: “Ziger advises me to go back to U.S.A., it’s the first voice of dissention [sic] I have heard. I respect Ziger, he has seen the world. He says many things and relates many things I do not know about the U.S.S.R. I begin to feel uneasy inside, it’s true!!”30

That same day the Soviets were parading their military personnel and armor in front of the Kremlin. Gary Powers, the U-2’s pilot, survived the wreckage and was arrested by the Soviets. The U-2 was the pride of American intelligence and was a testament to America’s technological superiority.31 The New York Times labeled the U-2 flights as the most successful project in the history of intelligence. Allen Dulles, the CIA’s Director, stated that the U-2 could collect information with more speed and accuracy than any spy on the ground.32 For the first time they would have a view of all Soviet military bases, factories, train rails, radars, missiles, even submarines. Considering all the above, the downing of the U-2 would be disastrous for U.S. intelligence. Was it really such a disaster, or, in a disguised way, a surprising success?

One thing we can say about it is this: it was disastrous for the peace summit in Paris that was soon to take place. Eisenhower and Khrushchev were scheduled to meet, along with other leaders from Western Europe. If successful, the two Presidents were supposed to talk further in Moscow. The U-2 shootdown made sure that the peace talks would be shot down just as the spy plane was. The Peace Summit was disbanded quite quickly, and it was replaced by a show trial that convicted Powers. He was sent to prison, and this humiliated Eisenhower and weakened his foreign policy. The U-2 incident proved to be a disaster for U.S. diplomacy.33 In fact, there are some who even believe that it was the cause of Eisenhower’s famous Farewell Address, in which he warned Americans to beware the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex.

What exactly happened to the U-2 plane that fateful May day remains a mystery. President Eisenhower had forbidden the flights over the Soviet Union because he did not wish to provoke the Soviets just before the summit. The CIA had used the “missile gap” as leverage to continue the U-2 flights, since they believed the Soviets were far ahead in the matter of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that could attack the U.S. at any time soon.34

Eisenhower was willing to reconsider as long as the U-2 did not fly inside Soviet air space. So he authorized operation HOT SHOP on the 9th and 18th of June 1959 above the Iran-USSR border that managed to record for the first time an ICBM eighty seconds after launch.35 Eisenhower did not want to authorize any more flights, but the CIA and the Secretary of State convinced him to continue. They felt the information they could get about the Soviet ICBMs was more important than the danger of being caught.

On July 9, 1959, a U-2 flew above the Ural mountains and photographed a whole range of ICBMs. Despite the mission’s success, Eisenhower did not authorize another flight because he was expecting Khrushchev to visit Washington on 15-27 September, 1959. On September 12, 1959, the Soviets sent Luna 2 orbiting the moon, and Khrushchev was bragging about their success when they met. He also bragged about the powerful range of their ICBMs, which he thought could wipe out whoever dared to threaten his country. The American Government listened carefully and took36 with great seriousness his allegations. Eisenhower was then persuaded to allow another flight on April 9, 1960. The flight was successful and the Soviets did not complain about it, so there was a chance that they did not detect that U-2 flight. Eisenhower was asked to allow one more flight and he reluctantly agreed only if the flight would not occur after May 1, 1960, since the summit talks were about to begin37. The CIA assured the President that, even in the unlikely event of the Soviets shooting down the U-2, the plane was equipped with self-destruction mechanisms and that the pilots had been ordered to commit suicide rather than be captured alive. After the shootdown, and believing the abovementioned claims, a confident U.S. government tried to cover it all up by saying that it was a meteorology airplane that had accidentally entered Soviet airspace.

Moscow had waited 48 hours to announce to the world that their missiles had shot down the U-2 from its flight height of 70,000 feet; an altitude that the Americans believed made it impossible for the Soviets to track it and shoot it down. Data collected from the NSA showed that the automatic pilot malfunctioned and forced the plane to tumble to 30,000 feet. Allen Dulles was the official who announced the NSA information, but inexplicably the U.S. Government changed its story and went along with the Soviet claim that they had shot it down.38 Before, Khrushchev had called Eisenhower an honest person that he could sit down and talk with. He changed his rhetoric at the summit in order to humiliate and embarrass the U.S. President.

On May 16, 1960, Khrushchev demanded to be the first to speak at the summit. He strongly complained about the U-2 spying over his country and asked Eisenhower to publicly apologize. Eisenhower replied that the flights had been cancelled but refused to apologize in public. Khrushchev became irritated and left the summit and simultaneously cancelled Eisenhower’s visit to Moscow.39

The big question is: How did the Soviets manage to shoot down the U-2? The official version is that the aircraft was hit when it entered the engagement zone of a SAM battalion above the town of Sverdlovsk. The U-2 was flying at 70,500 feet when a SAM-2 surface-to-air missile detonated close behind the aircraft. A retired Soviet Colonel, Alexander Orlov, revealed in 1998 that a SAM 2 missile had missed but exploded behind the U-2 and its fragments pierced the tail and wings without touching the cockpit.40

At first, no one on the ground in Sverdlovsk and Moscow realized that the intruding U-2 had been downed. A target blip reappeared on radar and was immediately hit by a missile from another SAM battalion. But this target turned out to be a Soviet fighter jet that had been scrambled to intercept the U-2. The monitor screens then cleared up, and it became clear that the U-2 had been shot down.41

Others, like the late USAF Colonel and liaison with the CIA, Fletcher Prouty, disagreed and did not believe the official version. The aircraft was flying at a very high altitude where the air was thinner, so it needed the addition of pure oxygen, sprayed in small doses into the fuel to boost ignition. If the oxygen ran out or stopped spraying, then the engine could stop working and the plane would have to descend to a lower altitude to get the engine running again. Prouty claimed that an unknown inside party sabotaged the oxygen bottle –– which looked like a fire extinguisher –– and as a result the U-2 lost height and dropped to a lower altitude. At this height, the MIG fighters escorted the aircraft and forced Powers to land on its belly. To support his claim, he revealed that some time before, a U-2 had landed on its belly at Atsugi base in Japan where Oswald was based. That particular aircraft was sent to Lockheed for repair and then to the Peshawar airbase in Pakistan, the same base from which Gary Powers took off on May 1, 1960.42 Prouty believed that the above incident was a trial, to test-land a U-2 on its belly in the Soviet Union without completely destroying it.

Gary Powers was certain that the Soviets knew about his mission long before he learned of it. The order was transmitted from Germany to Turkey and from there to Pakistan. The previous night the man responsible for communications at the airbase in Germany had left his post for a few hours to rest. During that time a black out in communications occurred. As a result, his assistant who was filling the post decided to call the airbase in Turkey by phone, which was forbidden because the line was not secure. Why had the black-out occurred? Was it just an innocent mistake or was it deliberate? 43

Allowing either of these two explanations about the U-2 incident, we have to wonder as to who was responsible for its demise. If the official version is true, the Soviets were able track it down and hit it. This poses a problem, because the aircraft would have blown to pieces. If Prouty’s version is true, then we would have to look elsewhere to identify those that were responsible. In the former case we have to consider the following two possibilities. Either Oswald had offered the necessary information to the Soviets, or a mole inside the U.S. intelligence had compromised it. In the latter case, we have to consider it an inside job, as Prouty implies. We then need to ask why U.S. officials would have committed such an act. And further, one has to wonder what could have been Oswald’s role in this sinister scenario, if any.

When Oswald showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he threatened to offer information to the Soviets, “something of special interest”. Could this “special interest” refer to the U-2 program? Oswald’s Captain at El Toro base in California said after the JFK assassination that “he did not know whether Oswald actually turned over secrets to the Russians. But for security sake it had to be assumed that he did.”44

Lt. John Donovan also testified to the Warren Commission that Oswald had access to the location of all bases on the West Coast, to all radio frequencies, squadron strength, number and type of aircrafts in a squadron, and the authentication code for entering and exiting the Air Force Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Oswald also knew the range of all U.S. radar and radios and was schooled in the MPS 16 height finder radar and TPX-1, a piece of machinery that would deflect the radio and radar signals several miles away from their actual source so the Soviet missiles would aim at a false target. To mislead the Soviet radar, the U-2 was equipped with TPX-1 that would cause the SAM-2 missiles to deviate from their target.45

Gary Powers believed that Oswald betrayed to the Soviets the height at which the U-2 flew, a knowledge that he had acquired while working with the new MPS 16 height-finding radar.46 Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s chief engineer, the man responsible for designing the U-2, believed that the Soviets were able to shoot down the aircraft because they had managed to isolate its scramble signals or to measure exactly its radar signals.47 Donovan told the Warren Commission that they wasted a lot of working hours changing all the tactical frequencies and destroying the old codes after Oswald defected to the USSR. Donovan could not believe that the Warren Commission never bothered to ask him about the U-2.48

Oswald’s unit, MACS-1 in Japan, seemed to follow the movements of a U-2 operation called “Detachment C”, a CIA operation producing vital information of U.S. strategic importance. Operation “Detachment C” began on April 8, 1957, and it was moving all around the Far East.49 Oswald was at Atsugi Japan from September until November 1957, a period of time that coincided with the launch of the Sputnik satellite and the beginning of the Soviet ICBM program. From November 1957 until March 1958, Oswald’s unit MACS-1 was moving over to the Philippines as part of operation STRONGBACK; its purpose was an invasion of Indochina, which was aborted. While in Cubi Point, Philippines, Oswald was tracking the U-2 flights over China that would have collected useful information about China’s military strength and the alleged crisis between China and the Soviet Union. Oswald was in Taiwan at the same time that a crisis had emerged there. The knowledge of all the above mentioned information that Oswald possessed would have been very valuable to the Russian intelligence agencies, the KGB and GRU.50

It is bizarre that the Warren Commission did not examine the possibility that Oswald had given information to the Soviets that helped them to shoot down the U-2. It is even more bizarre that the CIA did not arrest and charge Oswald with treason after he returned to the U.S. If Oswald had nothing to do with the U-2 shoot down then one should wonder why the CIA closed down all U-2 missions from Atsugi. Powers did not fly from Atsugi, but from Pakistan. The only connection between Atsugi and the U-2 incident was Oswald.51

It is illuminating to hear Allen Dulles’ own thoughts regarding the U-2 shoot down as recorded by a statement he made to the “Senate Foreign Relations Committee” on 31 May 196052:

“They [the Soviets] have gone through four years of frustrations in having the knowledge that since 1956 they could be over flown with impunity, that their vaunted fighters were useless against such flights, and that their ground-to-air capability was inadequate. It was only after he [Khrushchev] boasted, and we believed falsely, that he had been able to bring down the U-2 on May first by a ground-to-air missile, while the plane was flying at altitude, that he has allowed his people to have even an inkling of the capability which we have possessed.”

Dulles went even further to state that “Our best judgment is that it did not happen as claimed by the Soviets; that is, we believe that it was not shot down at its operating altitude of around 70,000 feet by the Russians. We believe that it was initially forced down to a much lower altitude by some as yet undetermined mechanical malfunction."

If we were to believe Allen Dulles, the possibility that the U-2 was hit by Russian missiles becomes distant. Gary Powers maintained all his life that the U-2 had not drifted down to a lower altitude due to malfunction. However, shortly before the helicopter crash that cost his life, he said during a radio interview that his plane had been sabotaged on the ground before takeoff and since the security was extremely tight, it had to be an inside job, probably CIA’s Office of Security.53

So if Oswald or a mole was not responsible for the U-2 shoot down, who was responsible and why?


III. OXCART and CORONA

When the U-2 began operating in the summer of 1956, it was expected to have a relatively short operational life in overflying the Soviet Union –– perhaps no more than a year or two. The estimates did not predict that the Soviets would be able to develop missiles capable of shooting down the U-2; rather that they could develop radar capable of tracking the U-2 aircraft.54 If they could achieve that then they would have undeniable proof to support diplomatic protests that would gain the world’s sympathy and support.

The Soviets were able to track down the U-2 during its first over flight above the USSR. The need for a new, better and invincible aircraft had arisen, and this give birth to operation OXCART.

In 1956, the CIA decided to build a more advanced aircraft that could fly at much higher speed and altitudes than the U-2, and with more powerful cameras, radar and deflection systems. Thus, in the fall of 1957, operation GUSTO was born and Richard Bissell established a committee to oversee the selection procedures. The committee’s chairman was Polaroid’s chief executive Edwin Land, along with officials from the Air Force, the Navy and defense manufacturers. Two companies were the most prominent: Lockheed, which had built the U-2, and Convair, which had built the B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber for the Air Force.55

Lockheed’s Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, said that “It makes no sense to just take this one or two steps ahead, because we’d be buying only a couple of years before the Russians would be able to nail us again …. I want us to come up with an airplane that can rule the skies for a decade or more.”56

Convair’s proposal was known as KINGFISH while Lockheed’s proposal was the A-12 that could reach MACH 3.2 and fly up to 97,000 feet, at a range of 4,600 miles.57

The two competing firms presented their final designs to the selection committee on 20 August 1959. On 29 August the committee selected Lockheed’s A-12 to replace the U-2. On 3 September, Project GUSTO was concluded and Project OXCART, designed to build the A-12, was begun. However, the committee asked Lockheed to reduce the radar cross-section (which eventually resulted in a weight reduction of 1,000 pounds), to increase its fuel load by 2,000 pounds, and to lower maximum altitude to 91,000 feet instead of the original 97,000 feet.58

On 11 February 1960, the CIA signed a contract to order 12 A-12s, three months before the fateful flight of the U-2.59 The A-12 was, however, never used for its intended purpose of overflying the USSR. Instead, it was used in conventional warfare. Even then, it was decided that the A-12 would be replaced by the Air Force’s variant, the SR-71. The most advanced plane was decommissioned a year after it began operating because of fiscal pressures and competition between the CIA and the Air Force. After Kennedy took over from Eisenhower, he stated publicly that he would not allow any overflights of the Soviet Union.60 The most decisive factor in this decision was the technological advancements in satellite technology that made it feasible to safely collect information about the Soviet military.61 The CIA, however, did not lose out on this situation since the Agency was part of the CORONA satellite project which was destined to rule the skies.

The idea for this project was first conceptualized in late 1957 with the purpose of providing high quality images of missile launch sites and production facilities. President Eisenhower gave the go-ahead in February 1958. The project was a joint effort of the CIA, the private defense industry and the Air Force. The CIA once again had nominated Richard Bissell to be its representative. The most prominent defense companies involved were Lockheed, Itek Corporation and General Electric. The reconnaissance satellites were produced and operated by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. During its time, it collected valuable information about Soviet and Chinese military sites. On their first mission, the CORONA satellites were able to collect more information than all the U-2 flights over the USSR.62

Maybe the A-12 did not fulfill the purpose that CIA had envisioned, but even then they knew that it would last for a brief period of time. In his project log in 1967, Johnson wrote63:

“I think back to 1959, before we started this airplane, to discussions with Dick Bissell where we seriously considered the problem of whether there would be one more round of aircraft before the satellites took over. We jointly agreed there would be just one round, and not two. That seems to have been a very accurate evaluation.”


IV. Cold War Business

Therefore, in practical terms, one could conclude that the downing of the U-2 was not such a disaster after all, since better and more advanced alternatives were already on the sidelines waiting to usurp the skies instead. We cannot claim that the A-12 and the CORONA satellites were produced as a result of the U-2 incident, but surely it helped in accelerating the urgency of replacing the U-2 in intelligence reconnaissance. In other word, these two projects would have materialized regardless of the U-2 shoot down. As we saw earlier on, the U-2 incident achieved one major Cold War gambit, and that was to sabotage the Peace Summit in Paris, thus eliminating any hope for an Eisenhower attempt at detente. For the CIA, the Air Force and the defense industry contractors, this would be justification to vigorously pursue the development of more projects like A-12 and CORONA, which ensured more business with millions of dollars to be earned. As Dick Russell wrote in his The Man whoKnew too Much, “Interestingly, after the U-2 went down, the price of shares of arms manufacturing companies rose sharply on the New York Stock Exchange, and government military-contract awards increased substantially.”64 Cleverly enough, they hit two birds with a stone: successfully prolonging the Cold War and increasing their profits –– business as usual. The sacrifice of the U-2 was a small price to pay since they knew from its inception that operationally it would only last for a few years.

We cannot only blame the U.S. side for unilaterally achieving this result. There were in the Soviet Union powerful people who were to benefit as much from the continuation of the Cold War. Khrushchev had concluded that the Cold War could bankrupt the Soviet Union, and he was looking forward to easing the economic burden by agreeing with Eisenhower to some sort of slowing of the relentless pursuit of the arms race.65 Some of the KGB members and some powerful politicians did not see it that way, as they believed that something like that would threaten their power and their benefits. So the sabotaging of the Paris Summit could have been a collaboration of American and Soviet hard liners, what George M. Evica described as “a treasonous cabal of hard line U.S. and Soviet Intelligence agents, who saw their mutual meal tickets in jeopardy.”66

yfurtseva
USSR Minister of Culture
Yekaterina Furtseva

The Soviet members of this cabal may have been Yekaterina Furtseva, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yuri Andropov, who wanted to wrestle power away from Nikita Khrushchev.67 Yekaterina Furtseva was an interesting character that some believe was the most powerful woman in the Soviet Union and Khrushchev’s lover. She even had authority over KGB’s head, Vladimir Y. Semichastny, threatening to replace him with his deputy whenever he displeased her. She loved everything American and she was primarily concerned about her family’s well being.68

In 1993, it was revealed that Oswald had a champion in the Politburo, and it was none other than Furtseva. In The Man who Knew too Much Russell reported that “Furtseva urged that the young ex-Marine be allowed to stay on … and sought to keep KGB chief Semichastny from recruiting Oswald.” Later Semichastny concluded that Furtseva was running her own shop.69

The big question that we considered earlier was if Oswald had any role in the U-2 incident and if the information that he might have provided helped the Soviets to bring down the aircraft. We have argued here that the Soviets may not have shot down the U-2, that it was probably an inside job and that Oswald had nothing to do with it. So why was he sent to the Soviet Union? Research by Peter Dale Scott70, Bill Simpich71 and John Newman72 tend to support the theory that Oswald was sent to the Soviet Union by Angleton’s counterintelligence division on a mole hunt. It all started in 1953, when the CIA succeeded in recruiting Pyotor Popov, a Soviet Military officer who in turn passed secrets to the CIA. In 1958, Popov informed his CIA handler, that a Soviet mole was planted in the CIA and had betrayed technical details about the U-2. All three researchers argue that Oswald was a dangle, designed by Angleton to surface this mole. Some researchers would argue that Popov himself was eventually betrayed by this mole. The latter assertion is erroneous, however, since Popov was not betrayed by any mole. As Angleton biographer Tom Mangold revealed, Popov was found out when an American Embassy officer left a letter for Popov in a mail box, unaware that he was followed by the Soviets, who then found the letter.

If there was a mole inside the CIA, he might have betrayed information about the U-2, but not Popov’s double role. To analyze in detail this mole hunt is not the purpose of this essay. It is also alleged that Angleton used Oswald to catch a mole, this time in Mexico, in the fall of 1963. However, in both cases a mole was not found. But in the first case, the Paris Summit was sabotaged, and in the second case the mole hunt helped to accommodate the assassination of President Kennedy. If we apply Occam’s razor, then the simpler explanation is the right one. I tend to conclude that the mole hunt in both instances was not a benign one, but was used by Angleton as a cover, to conduct his own dark operations which provided him with a potential alibi in the subsequent investigations. If anyone would question how the U-2 was shot down, for instance, they could claim that a mole betrayed it and the CIA had tried to find out who he was (by using the Oswald dangle), but that unfortunately the mission had failed to reveal him.

We have discussed the U-2 incident, operations OXCART and CORONA, and the sabotage of the Peace Summit. We noted that the final proposals for the aircraft that would have replaced the U-2 were presented to the evaluation committee on August 20, 1959, and the final choice was made on August 29. Is it a coincidence, as Mark Prior pointed out73, that three days earlier, on August 17, Oswald had filed for his discharge from the Marines? It is possible that the CIA, along with the Air Force and parts of the defense industry, had decided to throw Oswald into their Cold war games. Before travelling to the Soviet Union, Oswald had applied to attend the fall semester of an obscure European institution, the Albert Schweitzer College. Little did he know that by doing so, he would unwittingly cross paths with an influential Unitarian74 who was President of the American Friends of Albert Schweitzer College, had been a Director of the Bureau of Budget, and was involved in the U-2 and the CORONA project, through the Pentagon and the CIA.


NOTES

1 Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew too Much, Carroll & Graf 2003, p. 116.

2 ibid, p. 116.

3 John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, Skyhorse Publishing Inc. 2008 [1995], pp. 2-5.

4 Bill Simpich, State Secret, ch. 1, “The Double Dangle.”

5 Newman, op. cit., p. 6.

6 Bill Simpich, The Twelve who built the Oswald legend, part 2.

7 Newman, op. cit., p. 22.

8 ibid, pp. 23-24.

9 ibid, p. 25.

10 ibid, p. 27.

11 ibid, p. 77.

12 ibid, p. 72.

13 ibid, p. 73.

14 CIA memo, document 861-374, 4 June, 1964.

15 Newman, op. cit., p. 84.

16 Newman, op. cit., p. 81.

17 Simpich, The Twelve who built the Oswald legend, part 2.

18 The Twelve who built the Oswald legend, part 1.

19 http://spartacus-educational.com/JFKjohnsonPR.htm

20 Bill Kelly & John Judge, “Was Oswald Bottle-fed by NANA?”

21 ibid.

22 James DiEugenio, “Priscilla Johnson McMillan: She can be encouraged to write what the CIA wants”.

23 ibid.

24 Peter Whitmey, “Priscilla Johnson McMillan and the CIA”.

25 DiEugenio, “Priscilla Johnson McMillan”.

26 J.A. Weberman, Coup d’etat in America, Nodule 7, p. 7.

27 Russell, op. cit., p. 117.

28 ibid, p. 124.

29 Newman, op. cit., p. 147.

30 Weberman, op. cit., p. 10.

31 Gary Francis Powers, Operation Overflight, Holt, Reinhart & Winston 1970, p. 58.

32 Allen W. Dulles, The Craft of Intelligence, The Lyon Press 2006, p. 61.

33 Russell, op. cit., p. 119.

34 Gregory W. Pedlow & Donald E. Welzenbach, The CIA and the U-2 program, 1992, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/the-cia-and-the-u-2-program-1954-1974/u2.pdf, pp. 159-160.

35 ibid, p. 162.

36 ibid, pp. 163-164.

37 ibid, p. 170-172.

38 Russell, op. cit., pp. 119-120.

39 Pedlow & Welzenbach, op. cit., pp. 180-181.

40 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter98_99/art02.html

41 Alexander Orlov, The U-2 program: A Russian Officer Remembers, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter98_99/art02.html, p. 11.

42 http://www.prouty.org/sabotage.html

43 Powers, op. cit., p. 356.

44 Newman, op. cit., p. 39.

45 ibid, p. 44.

46 Russell, op. cit., p. 120.

47 Powers, op. cit., p. 338.

48 Newman, op. cit., p. 46.

49 ibid, p. 30.

50 ibid, pp. 42-43.

51 ibid, p. 46.

52 https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/collection/francis-gary-powers-u-2-spy-pilot-shot-down-soviets

53 Russell, op. cit., p. 120.

54 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-12/from-the-drawing-board-to-factory-floor.html

55 ibid.

56 ibid.

57 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_A-12

58 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-12/from-the-drawing-board-to-factory-floor.html

59 ibid.

60 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-12/a-futile-fight-for-survival.html

61 ibid.

62 https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2010-featured-story-archive/corona-the-nation2019s-first-photoreconnaissance-satellite.html

63 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-12/a-futile-fight-for-survival.html

64 Russell, op. cit., p. 119.

65 Joseph Trento, The Secret History of the CIA, Basic Books 2001, p. 255.

66 George Michael Evica, A Certain Arrogance, Trine Day 2011, pp. 193-194.

67 Trento, op. cit., p. 256.

68 ibid, p. 256.

69 Russell, op. cit., p. 118.

70 Peter Dale Scott, Dallas ‘63, The First Deep State Revolt against the White House, kindle version, ch. 3, “Hunt for Popov’s Mole.”

71 Simpich, State Secret, ch. 1, “The Double Dangle.”

72 John Newman, Countdown to Darkness, kindle version, ch. 1, “Oswald and the Angleton Mole Hunt.”

73 Mark Prior, “Oswald and the U-2 program”, www.KennedysandKing.com

74 Evica, op. cit.

Last modified on Saturday, 11 March 2017 14:09
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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