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Monday, 11 August 2014 16:06

Jean Davison, Oswald's Game

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Oswald's Game really tells us more about the biases and obsessions of Jean Davison on the Kennedy case than it does about its ostensible subject. Which is really the worst thing one can say about a biographer, concludes Jim DiEugenio.


Why Jean Davison Won't Quit: A Look Back at Oswald's Game


"I'd like to once again say 'thank you' to Jean for an exemplary book, which offers up just about as good a biography on President Kennedy's assassin as you're likely to find."

David Von Pein


Jean Davison published her book Oswald's Game back in 1983. To date, it remains the only book she has ever written on the Kennedy assassination. Further, one will Google long and hard to find any articles or essays she has published on the JFK case.

Which is not to say that she is not an active participant in the Kennedy murder debate. She is. She has been a frequent poster at many forums since at least the early nineties. And she continues to do so to this day. As the reader can see from the above quote, Warren Commission zealot David Von Pein is a firm believer in the efficacy of her book. Von Pein, of course, was also a staunch advocate for Reclaiming History. His critical acumen and honesty were found lacking in that instance. As we shall see, his critical faculties are also found in abeyance in the case of Oswald's Game. This retrospective review is meant to elucidate what Davison does today, but also to show how bereft of critical analysis the Krazy Kid Oswald Camp is.

Before I begin I wish to add a word to the lexicon. It will be the second addition from the JFK debates, after the word "Fetzering." Fetzering; owing to former philosophy professor Jim Fetzer; usually means disagreeing by using rancor, name-calling and just plain arrogance i.e. "I think you're wrong therefore you are."

In rereading Oswald's Game for the first time in over 20 years, I was struck by the author's recurring pattern of making sweeping, but specious, generalizations with the utmost confidence and authority. Therefore I will use the term "davisonism" throughout this review to denote these occurrences of Davisonism: presumed certainty which, upon analysis, are almost always exposed as pretentious gas passing.

II

In her Introduction, Davison begins in an odd, but emblematic way. She only deals very briefly there with the assassination and the appointment of the Warren Commission. After four pages, she centers on her encounter with Mark Lane's book Rush to Judgment. Why would she do that? Because one, of her subthemes throughout the work is to minimize and marginalize the efforts of the Warren Commission critics. As we will see, she does this through a variety of propaganda techniques. At the outset, she goes after Lane and his depiction of the testimony of Jack Ruby. Specifically, she says that Lane shortened the context of Ruby's testimony to try and show that he was asking to leave Dallas so he could tell his whole story in Washington.

Her reply to Lane is that this is not really accurate. She says that what Lane "didn't say however, was that the 'tests' Ruby wanted to take were simply a lie detector test; and the reason Ruby wanted to take one was to prove that he was not part of a conspiracy." (Davison, p. 18, italics in original) She then continues with this: "The following month Ruby was allowed to take a polygraph test in his jail cell, and he showed no signs of deception when he denied being part of a conspiracy." (ibid, p. 19) Thus, the kibosh is placed on Lane as representative of all critics. The message is: You can't trust them. The subtext is: Trust me, Jean Davison. I will give you the full picture.

Thus we have the first davisonism. Since her book was written years after the House Select Committee on Assassinations published its volumes, it may be even worse than that. Because in those HSCA volumes is a report by a panel of experts on the polygraph exam given to Ruby by FBI agent Bell Herndon. That report is highly critical of Herndon and therefore impacts negatively on the credibility of Oswald's Game. The panel concluded that Herndon's test violated at least ten accepted practices of good polygraph technique. (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 244) These ranged from having way too many people in the room; which could lead to distractions and false readings; to actually misusing important equipment.

Another key violation by Herndon was the sheer number of questions given to Ruby. Which was over a hundred. The panel blistered the FBI agent on this point. They wrote that the number of questions "showed total disregard of basic polygraph principles." (ibid) The problem was simple: "...the more a person is tested, the less he tends to react when lying. That is...liars become test-tired, they no longer produce significant physiological reactions when lying." (ibid) In other words, because of the length of the test, Ruby could get away with lying without being detected. Under these circumstances, the panel said a second test should have been given as a crosscheck to the faulty technique of the first one. After all, the entire proceeding lasted over five hours. (ibid, p. 245)

The panel also said they had a real problem with how Herndon categorized the three types of questions polygraph technicians use. These are: relevant questions, control questions, and irrelevant questions. A control question is one that the operator offers up knowing the probability is high that the subject will lie about it. He does this in order to get a reading on what a lie will look like on his chart for this particular subject. Irrelevant questions are just that; questions which are not germane to the case but will give a good reading for answering honestly. The third category, relevant questions, are those asked that are germane to the case, and about which the authorities wish to know if the subject is lying about. The panel concluded that Herndon mixed up the categories for the questions. Therefore it was hard to decipher the landmarks in his chart as to what constituted deceptive criteria. (ibid, p. 245)

As I wrote about Herndon in Reclaiming Parkland:

There was a method to the madness. First, by wearing Ruby down the charted physiological responses would be less detectable. Second, by confusing the three types of questions, there would be no accurate landmarks with which to make an accurate chart.

But this was not enough for Herndon. The panel concluded that he set the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) machine to only a quarter of its maximum reading at the beginning. This machine is sensitive to internal stimuli indicating deceptive criteria. He then actually lowered the setting. (ibid) This was the opposite of accepted practice. The setting should have never been that low at all. But it should have been raised as the test went on because of its overlong length. Because of this, the panel concluded that the GSR reading was completely useless.

All of this is quite relevant to the davisonism that Ruby showed no sign of deception when asked if he was part of a conspiracy. For instance, the panel noted that Ruby's negative reaction to the question, "Did you assist Oswald in the assassination?" recorded the largest GSR reaction in the first test series. In other words, when Ruby was relatively fresh and the GSR was set at its highest point. To accompany that indication, there was also a suppression of breathing and a rise in blood pressure at the time. (ibid, p. 246)

Now, when one looks at the footnotes to Oswald's Game, one will see that there are references to the HSCA volumes. But when she refers to the Ruby polygraph, she only uses the Warren Commission. (See page 304, footnotes 18 and 19) In other words, at the outset of her book, to the unsuspecting reader, it appears that 1.) Ruby was an honest person 2.) He was not a part of any plot, and 3.) The Commission was a reliable fact finding body. When, in fact, the HSCA report cited above indicates the opposite was the case for all three.

But actually, it's worse than that. Every Warren Commission zealot, which Davison is, needs to camouflage a central part of the cover up. Namely, that the investigative agencies of the Warren Commission gave that body unreliable and incomplete information. Because, obviously, if that is so, then the Commission's fact finding procedure can be proven to be both flawed and incomplete. Knowing what we do today about J. Edgar Hoover; through, for example, the works of Curt Gentry and Athan Theoharis; the Bureau has lost much of its reputation for honesty and objectivity. In fact, today, Hoover's career; from the Palmer Raids to his harassment of Martin Luther King; is looked upon as a necessary aberration. It was necessary because the man was a blackmailing adder who exercised almost total control over his agency. Why is that an important point to make? Because it is not credible to assume that Herndon would have done what he did unless it was sanctioned from above. By not telling the reader about this report, or about Hoover's character, Davison can hide that crucial point from her readers.

Which brings us to two more davisonisms. First, by beginning with this strophe, namely that the Commission was credible and its critics were not, Davison stands the revealed factual record on its head. With what we know today, in fact back in 1983 when Oswald's Game was published, the Warren Report was a massively flawed proceeding from its inception. Actually, from before its inception. And one of its most grievous errors was relying on men like Hoover at the FBI, Richard Helms and James Angleton at CIA, and James Rowley and Elmer Moore of the Secret Service. The result was that the Commission did things like tailoring testimony, eliminating important information, and altering evidence. (Click here as to how and why)

The second davisonism that extends from this opening is her depiction of Jack Ruby. It can only be termed a whitewash. Recall, this book was written after the HSCA volumes were released and after Seth Kantor's biography of Ruby was published. (In fact, Kantor's book Who was Jack Ruby? is actually in Davison's bibliography.)

Near the end of her book, she picks up Ruby again at DA Henry Wade's infamous Friday night press conference, after Oswald had been apprehended. She admits that Ruby was in the room. (Davison, p. 246) But she leaves out two important pieces of information. First, that he camouflaged himself as a journalist. Second, that he corrected Wade as to the one-man operation Oswald was involved with in New Orleans. Wade said it was the Free Cuba Committee, and Ruby corrected him as to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. (Kantor, 1992 edition, pgs. 101-02)

Here, Davison also adds something that is just inexplicable. In a whopper of a davisonism, she writes that Ruby was "a police buff who knew several dozen members of the local force." This could be lifted straight from the Warren Report. (See p. 24, where they say Ruby knew maybe 50 cops) It is one reason the report has fallen into disrepute. For as Sylvia Meagher pointed out in her classic Accessories After the Fact, the Warren Report tried to "remodel Ruby" into an "antiseptic portrait." (Meagher, p. 391) Because in the 26 volumes there was evidence that Ruby had "ties with the underworld, gamblers and hoods, [and] narcotics traffic." (ibid) But further, Meagher asks, why was Ruby allowed to wander freely through the Dallas Police station throughout the entire assassination weekend? Once, he even got an officer's help in paging a TV station employee. (ibid, pgs. 422, 423) Meagher also shows that Ruby had been protected in the past from being charged by the police for felonies.

The truth is that Ruby knew over half of the 75 or more cops who were in the basement when he shot Oswald. (ibid, p. 423) If we apply that ratio to the entire department, Ruby probably knew over 500 members of the force. In fact, that figure is probably too low. Ruby's friend, Reagan Turman, told the FBI that Ruby "was acquainted with at least 75%, and probably 80% of the police officers on the Dallas Police Department." (Commission Exhibit 1467) And as many others have written, one probable reason for this is that Ruby was a front man for organized crime when it moved into Dallas. (Meagher, pgs. 423-24) In fact, an FBI informant said that for Ruby to carry on as a courier for mob gambling, which he did, the man had to have police connections in both Dallas and Fort Worth. (FBI report of 12/6/63) This informant, William Abadie, had briefly worked for Ruby writing up gambling "tickets" as well as serving as a "slot machine and jukebox mechanic." He went on to say he had observed policemen coming and going while acting as a bookie in Ruby's apartment.

This could go on and on. (Click here for more on Ruby) But the point is that Davison, as with Ruby's polygraph, is not candid with the reader about Ruby's background and the extent of his police connections. Needless to say, she also eliminates the credible reports of Ruby being at Parkland Hospital. Which Ruby unconvincingly denied. (Meagher, pgs. 394-95)

But alas, Ruby is not the main focus of Oswald's Game. That status belongs to Oswald. As we will now see, Davison is as biased and incomplete about him as she is about Ruby.

III

If one were going to write a biography of Oswald in 1983, one would want to make it as complete and thorough as possible. Or else, why write such a book? To make your effort as complete as you could would mean collecting as much information as possible from as many places as possible. This would mean, at a minimum, making trips to Washington, New Orleans, Dallas/Fort Worth and New York City. Washington is where the declassified record is located. Oswald had lived in the other three cities. One would also want to check up on Oswald's military records, and interview as many former service colleagues as one could locate. And this would just be the beginning. Since, in any field investigation, leads pile up once an interview is done.

The shocking thing about Oswald's Game is this: There is no evidence that Davison did any of the above! For instance, in her footnotes there is not one reference to either an original phone interview she did, or to an on the scene, in person interview. Which is incredible. But further, I could find no reference to any newly declassified documents she secured. The overwhelming majority of her footnotes come from four sources: the Warren Report, the Commission's accompanying 26 volumes, Edward Epstein's book Legend, and Priscilla Johnson's book, Marina and Lee.

In and of itself, that tells us much about both who Davison was and is, and her book. Because, as many commentators have noted, the summary of Oswald's life presented by the Warren Report had some serious lacunae in it. And the objectivity of Epstein and Johnson is, to put it mildly, circumspect. To be candid, they have both been credibly accused of being close to the CIA. (For Johnson, click here) In fact, Legend was written with consultation from James Angleton, who many believe today to have been Oswald's control officer. (Click here for info on Epstein) Throughout Oswald's Game, Davison does not say one word about any of this controversy. Why?

It's probably the same reason she begins her book as she does. After the introduction, she spends a short chapter on Oswald's defection. She then begins the book proper with Chapter 2. It's titled "Marguerite's Son.". The chapter is an echo of Jean Stafford's book, A Mother in History. Which most of us realize today was a laborious and demeaning exercise in which a gifted novelist was made to do a hatchet job courtesy of FBI informant Hugh Aynesworth. We must also not forget what Arlen Specter said to Jean Hill. When she resisted changing her story about hearing too many shots, Specter said words to the effect, we can do to you what we did to Marguerite Oswald. Stafford's book; really an expanded magazine article; was an out and out hatchet job. On the cover, it showed Marguerite standing over Oswald's grave, with the subtitle, "The Mother of the Man who killed Kennedy."

What was Marguerite's vice, which condemned her to brutal caricature at the hands of the Commission and Stafford/Aynesworth? They had two problems with her. She thought her son may have been innocent, and she also thought he was probably an intelligence agent. In retrospect, those two beliefs should have brought her praise for her honesty, insight, and courage. But since the politics of the JFK case are so pervasive, Marguerite had to be macheted in public. Which, no surprise, Davison has no problem with.

But there is unintentional humor to be had here. Davison is so agenda driven, so monomaniacal in her condemnation of Oswald and his mother, so obsessed with showing some kind of early personality defect Lee inherited from his mom, that she spills over into unconscious self-parody. When Oswald went to Russia, one of the things he told one of the reporters in his room at the Metropole Hotel was that he first got interested in communism when a woman handed him a pamphlet meant to save the Rosenbergs. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by Jim DiEugenio, p. 145; Davison, p. 54) Davison uses this incident throughout the book to somehow indicate that a large and latent psychic chasm was unleashed in Oswald by reading this pamphlet. For her, this is a huge milestone in Oswald's mental evolution, one that started him down the road to murder.

Which, upon analysis, is funny. See, the Metropole was used for many state services in Moscow. As John Newman has shown, it was furnished with infrared cameras, for spying on its residents. Therefore, it's natural to suspect it was also wired for sound. (DiEugenio, ibid) When Oswald surfaced this story about the Rosenberg pamphlet, he was trying to convince the Russian authorities to let him stay in Moscow. Clearly, by letting him hole up at the Metropole, the Russians were deciding on whether Oswald was a genuine defector, or on an espionage mission. Oswald issued many B movie platitudes trying to convince the KGB he was genuine. In one of his interviews with American journalists, he said at age 15 he became seriously interested in communism when "an old lady handed me a pamphlet about saving the Rosenbergs." (ibid)

It was probably this statement that convinced the KGB Oswald was on a spy mission. For they then kicked him out of Moscow and sent him 450 miles away to Minsk. They set up a ring of human intel around him, and also wired his state furnished apartment for sound. (Ibid) Why? Because Oswald did not have his story straight. Oswald has to be referring here to his sojourn in the liberal New York City. Since it's hard to believe there were Rosenberg committees in New Orleans or Dallas. But when Oswald turned 15 in 1954 he was living in New Orleans, not New York. Further, why would anyone be distributing "Save the Rosenberg" literature at that time? The couple had been executed in June of the previous year. The KGB officers watching and listening to the surveillance tapes must have been both smiling and frowning at Oswald's performance. But Davison is so intent on indicting Oswald she presents this dead on serious. She then follows it with this davisonism:

Whether through force of example or inherited disposition, Lee Oswald had acquired an egocentricity resembling his mother Marguerite. What made the Rosenberg pamphlet memorable to him, surely was that he saw himself in it...Here he held in his hand a message that said to him: Here are allies you can identify with... (Davison, p. 56)

To the professional KGB of course, the reaction was quite different: they saw through the little playlet. But really, Davison's five and dime story psychoanalysis based on faulty assumptions is so strained, so heavy handed, that it reminded me of Woody Allen's hilarious mockumentary Take the Money and Run. With very few alterations, this part of Oswald's Game could serve as a scenario for that type of film.

IV

The above points out another grave failing of Oswald's Game. The writer's repeated tendency to leave out important information that the reader needs in order to render an accurate judgment. As noted above, Davison is hell-bent on keeping Oswald out of the hands of the CIA. Therefore, she simply eliminates or greatly discounts key information that could lead the reader to consider that hypothesis, since it fits into a complete portrait of the man.

Consider Oswald's acquisition of the Russian language. She says he learned it in the service on his own. I could find no reference to the executive session report of the Warren Commission in which they say Oswald was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. (Executive Session transcript of 1/27/64) That transcript was declassified through the efforts of Harold Weisberg in 1974. Ten years before Oswald's Game was published. Some readers may think that is important information. For the simple matter that Russian is a very difficult language to learn. And it's not credible that someone could acquire it on his own through listening to records or reading periodicals. (Davison, pgs. 73 and 76) Coinciding with this failure is the missing name of Rosaleen Quinn. In the service, a colleague of Oswald's set up a meeting between Lee and his aunt, Ms. Quinn. Quinn had been studying for a State Department job. She had therefore been tutored in Russian for over a year. After Quinn came away from the meeting with Oswald, she said he spoke Russian at least as well as she did. Any language expert will tell you that you simply cannot become fluent in something like Russian by listening to the radio or records. You must be privately tutored or take part in classes. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 131) If one combines the instruction in Russian with the defection, with the phony platitudes uttered by Oswald at the Metropole, and the KGB cynicism about him, then one could at least suspect that maybe Oswald was being prepared by the Navy to go to Russia as a false defector. But you cannot do this if you cut out Quinn, the Defense Language Institute, the difficulty in learning Russian, and the KGB suspicion and surveillance at the Metropole.

Davison also does not explain why the KGB would be suspicious of Oswald in the first place. In other words, she does not place Oswald's defection into its proper backdrop. Oswald left the USA for Russia in the fall of 1959. Prior to 1958, American defectors to Russia had been a rather rare occurrence. In 1958, there had been four. In 1959, prior to Oswald, there had already been two of them, Robert Webster and Nicholas Petrulli. It is stunning, but it's true: You will not see either of those names in the index to Oswald's Game. By the end of 1960, the number of defections had ballooned to the high teens. (Ibid, Destiny Betrayed, p. 139) The KGB noted the trend. Just as they noted that many of these defectors were from the military. Which is unusual in itself. Robert Webster had worked for Rand Corporation, which had ties to the CIA. And Rand was one of the first companies to sell products inside of Russia. It was at a trade fair that Webster had defected.

But yet, once one understands what Davison is up to in this book, one comprehends why all this is left out. For instance, although Oswald was not supposed to have known about the Webster case, before he left the USSR to return to the USA, he asked American embassy officials "about the fate of a young man named Webster who came to Russia at about the time he did." (ibid) And by not dealing with Webster, Davison avoids something that she almost has to avoid. Webster met the 19-year-old Marina Prusakova in Moscow in 1959, before she met her future husband Lee Oswald. And Webster spoke to her in English! Which is a language Marina was not supposed to have acquired yet. After the assassination, the address of Webster's Leningrad apartment was found in Marina's address book. (ibid, p. 140) When any curious, interested reader is confronted with this kind of information, he or she would naturally ask: 1.) What are the odds of a 19-year-old girl meeting two of three defectors in 1959 in the huge expanse of Russia? 2.) Why would Marina have learned English and why would she later lie about it? Clearly, Davison does not want the reader to contemplate those questions. Which is why she does not tell you about Marinaís uncle, who was a high official in the Russian equivalent of the FBI. Or that Marina once confused her meeting with Webster with her meeting of Oswald. (ibid, p. 140) All of this suggests the probability of an American "false defector" program being set in place. It also suggests the KGB was on to it. And with Marina, may have been designing countermeasures for it.

The proof of this is the Otto Otepka case. Otepka was an investigator in the State Department. In late 1960 he noticed this quite discernible uptick in suspicious defections from the USA to Russia. So he sent a cable to Dick Bissell at CIA. He wanted to know which of the defectors were real and which were not. Bissell turned this request over to James Angleton and his Counter Intelligence staff. This is interesting because, as author John Newman found out, many of Oswald's CIA documents at this time bear the label CI/OPS, which means Counter Intelligence Operations. The eighth name on Otepka's list was Lee Oswald. When the CIA assigned the list to a researcher, he was told to work on some but not others. One of the "others" was Oswald. When CIA sent backs its reply to State, the name Oswald was marked SECRET. But Otepka was persistent. He wanted to know the truth about both Oswald and the program. For that he was harassed, persecuted and eventually thrown out of his office. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 164) A State Department intelligence analyst suspects Oswald is a false defector. He cannot get an answer to this from the CIA. He persists and eventually loses his job. Once he is out, his safe is drilled into to find what he knew about Oswald. This was on November 5, 1963. Somehow, that information about her subject did not seem important to Jean Davison.

But if that is a puzzler, the following is a complete baffler. As noted, Oswald did not defect until the fall of 1959. Otepka made his request to CIA in late 1960. It was only after this request that the CIA opened up a 201 file on Oswald, over a year after the defection. This delay was so weird to the HSCA that it inquired about it to more than one CIA official. For the 201 file is a common file at the Agency. It is an information file on any person of interest to them. Oswald had to be such since he had shown up at the American Embassy in Moscow and hinted he could give secrets of the U-2 to the Russians. (Ibid, p. 143) But neither Ann Egerter, Angleton's assistant, nor Richard Helms, former Director of the CIA, could explain why it was not opened promptly.

Now, the combination of the Otepka persecution, with this inexplicable 201-file delay could lead one to conclude that the 201 file was not opened because Oswald was a false defector for Angleton. But again, the reader cannot even ponder this since it's not in this book. The information about the 201 was unearthed by the HSCA. The HSCA shut down four years before Oswald's Game was published. A good summary of the Otepka affair is in Jim Hougan's book Spooks, which was published in 1978. The Ordeal of Otto Otepka, a book length treatment of the matter, was published a decade before that, in 1969. Therefore, as the reader can see, there was really no excuse for this fascinating and important data not to be included in Oswald's Game. The only apparent excuse is that it did not fit in with the writer's agenda. Considering how large and consuming that agenda was, the book's more apt title would have been Davison's Game.

V

As noted above, it's pretty clear that Davison did not do any traveling to anywhere in America to investigate Oswald's life. In fact, it's not certain that she even made any phone calls. So it obvious that she did not try and replicate Oswald's journey overseas for his defection to the USSR. If she had, she may have discovered at least a couple of interesting things that would have prevented her book from being a museum piece upon publication.

Oswald was never known to have any solid finances. So when his service pal Nelson Delgado was asked, he replied that he had no idea how Oswald could afford to travel across Europe. Delgado said this cost anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand dollars. (Destiny Betrayed, p. 137) Which a study of his bank records reveals he did not have. But in addition to this, Davison could have told us about the hotels he stayed in while in Helsinki. British investigator Ian Griggs actually stayed in them. The first was the Hotel Torni. Griggs described this as no less than a five star hotel. The rough equivalent of the Savoy in London or the Four Seasons in San Francisco. How and why would someone as low status as Oswald choose to stay at such a place? Someone must have alerted him to this dilemma because he soon checked out. He went to the Klaus Kurki Hotel. Griggs described this as maybe a notch below the Torni. A four and a half star hotel. Since, as I said, Davison never went anywhere for a field investigation, she cannot inform us of this dichotomy. And therefore, the reader cannot ask the obvious questions: Where did Oswald get the money to stay in the kinds of hotels that Nelson Rockefeller and Jean Sibelius booked? (ibid, p. 138) And second, why would the usually frugal Oswald become a spendthrift in Finland?

But beyond that, outside the pages of Oswald's Game, with normal rationality, the question also arises: Why did Oswald even go to Helsinki? Davison says that he placed an educational facility destination adjacent to Helsinki on his passport application. Which does not really explain it, since Oswald wrote several places on the application. Some of which he never went to. It appears he went there because that particular Russian Embassy had close ties to Intourist, the Russian state-owned travel bureau. Oswald applied for a visa to Intourist on October 13th. He got it the next day. (ibid, p. 138) Again, this is notable for the saga of Oswald. Because the Helsinki embassy was the only one in Europe which granted these visas that fast. The US Embassy there had direct ties to their Soviet counterparts and sent people who needed expedited visas to them. Did Oswald know this? Is this why he went there? If so, who told him about it? Since Davison deals with the matter of Helsinki in about two sentences, those questions also do not arise in Oswald's Game. (See Davison, pgs. 81, 84)

This brings us to the matter of how Oswald began his journey to Helsinki. Once he was fluent in Russian, as proven through his conversation with Quinn, Oswald did something unusual. He applied for a hardship discharge. Again, Delgado could not understand it. For these were notoriously hard to get and took a long time to process. (Second Edition, Destiny Betrayed, p. 136)

Now, let us make the mystery about this transparent, which Davison really does not do. Oswald's actual application was submitted on August 17th. At this point, his service contract had less than four months to run. The HSCA discovered that these proceedings took as many as six months to finalize. (ibid) Therefore, under normal circumstances, Oswald would have been better off just waiting out his service contract rather than gambling with the complex process of discharge. Why do I say that? Because, usually there were thorough investigations made at both ends to make sure the application was not a bogus attempt to get out early. And if there had been normal inquiries done, Oswald's filing would have been exposed as ersatz and he would have been busted.

But he wasn't. One reason he was not was this: instead of taking six months, or even three, his application was approved in just ten days! The way Davison deals with this is rich. She says that Oswald's application "was approved fairly quickly." (Davison, p. 82) Well, that's one way of putting it. But by not telling us about the actual time lapse, she avoids the question of what kind of inquiry could the Navy have made in just ten days. Because the main reason the application was granted was the excuse that Marguerite had a candy box at work fall on her nose. She needed to get a doctor's affidavit to collect on workmen's compensation since the company she worked for did not think the injury was that serious.

One of the doctors that Marguerite visited to collect information for her workman's compensation claim was Dr. Milton Goldberg. He called the FBI on the day of the assassination and said he could not go along with her claims for injuries and referred her to other doctors. But he also told the FBI that on one of her early visits she told him her son wanted to defect to Russia. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 136) Now, her first visit to Goldberg was on January 9, 1959. Which was a full nine months before Oswald was discharged. It was six months before he reported to the Red Cross to begin the process of the dependency discharge. Of which there was no dependency. The Navy could have discovered this just by interviewing Robert Oswald, who was living in Fort Worth at the time. There is no evidence that he was helping his mother at the time. And, of course, when Oswald did get out, he spent all of three days in Texas. Clearly, something was going on behind the scenes with this hardship discharge. But you would never get any suggestion of impropriety from Oswald's Game.

VI

One of the most bizarre things about this bizarre book is that Davison cannot bring herself to admit the obvious paradox about Oswald. Here you have a supposed Marxist who decides to join the Marines. On his return from Russia he chooses to live with first, the rightwing White Russians in Dallas/Fort Worth. These people wanted to overthrow the communists and restore the czar. In New Orleans, he had various associations with the Cuban exiles. These men wanted to overthrow Castro and make Cuba an ally of the USA again. If Oswald was a communist, he was one of the weirdest communists ever. But further, like every other inquiry into his life, Davison fails to produce one communist friend that Oswald worked with or shared time with on the ground in the USA. Does this not make his associations with the White Russians and Cuban exiles even stranger?

If you can believe it, in the 300 pages of her book she never admits to this fact. Probably because it so plainly flies in the face of her thesis about Oswald being a communist. And, in fact, Richard Snyder who worked out of the American Embassy in Moscow, and interviewed Oswald, worked for the CIA on Operation Redskin. This was a program designed to recruit Ivy League Russian speaking graduates to travel behind the Iron Curtain. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 141) Three days before Oswald showed up in his office to try and renounce his citizenship, Snyder wrote a letter to a fellow State Department employee on his experience with American "defectors." There are quotes around that word because Snyder did the same. And he was referring to the Webster case. (ibid)

How did Oswald begin this strange masquerade as a communist Marine, false defector, FBI informant, and CIA agent provocateur? Well in any serious study of his life, which Oswald's Game is not, the figure of David Ferrie and Oswald's teenage years in the Civil Air Patrol under his supervision must loom large. To use one example, John Armstrong spends four oversized pages on this episode in his biography called Harvey and Lee. (See pages 122-25) Again, the way Davison handles this key episode is so rich as to be humorous. Referring to June of 1955, she writes, "That summer he joined the Civil Air Patrol and attended several meetings at which one of the leaders was an eccentric pilot named David Ferrie. Ferrie would become a central figure in many conspiracy theories." (Davison, pgs. 62-63) I kid you not, that is it.

But even she cannot keep the lid on how important this episode is. Because, right after this, she writes that it was this time period when Oswald began to exhibit an interest in Marxism. Now, a true biographer who really wanted to be honest with the record and his reader would have to equate the two. For anyone who studies Ferrie quickly understands he was not just your usual CAP instructor. He had an inordinate interest in the lives of his cadets. And if Davison had gone to New Orleans and interviewed some of these subjects she could have written about this. But, in fact, she did not even really have to do that. Because Jim Garrison had donated many of his files to Bud Fensterwald's AARC (which was under a different name at the time.) So all she had to do was drive down to Washington to look at these interview transcripts and affidavits. If she was too lazy for even that, then she could have interviewed the two New Orleans investigators for the HSCA, Bob Buras and Lawrence Delsa. They would have told her that Ferrie had a tremendous influence over these youths. And he also seemed to have clearance from above to do things with them that required special permission. Like camping out with them at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, and having military planes fly them back form drill competitions. He also convinced a number of them to join the Marines. (Author's interview with Delsa in New Orleans in 1994; Destiny Betrayed, p. 84) I could go on and on in this regard, but suffice it to say, many writers have deduced that David Ferrie was a powerful influence on Oswald's life. If he was not, then why was Ferrie so obsessed with hiding his relationship with Oswald in the CAP in the days following the assassination? (Destiny Betrayed, pgs 176-77)

Sticking with New Orleans and Garrison, she spends about a page in a bare bones, less than cursory discussion of the Clinton/Jackson incident. She concludes this with a shattering davisonism. She says that if the event occurred it was certainly Guy Banister, not Clay Shaw who was the driver of the car. She then says that since the witnesses there were confused about Banister and Shaw they may have been mistaken about Oswald as well. She also adds, and they did not come forward until 1967. (Davison, pgs. 284-85)

Where does one begin to dissect this drivel? Again, it exposes Davison as the totally amateur researcher she is. For if she would have collected the primary resources on this incident; something she has a phobia against; she would not have written such foolishness. The witness statements make it clear that it was not Banister with Ferrie and Oswald, it was Clay Shaw. For instance, Henry Burnell Clark said the driver of the car was unusually tall, well over six feet. Banister was about 5' 9," Shaw was 6' 4." (William Davy, Let Justice Be Done, p. 105) If that is not enough, Sheriff John Manchester said he approached the car and asked the driver to identify himself. When asked what name he gave, Manchester said under oath, "He gave Clay Shaw, which corresponded with his driver's license." (ibid, p. 106) The witnesses were not confused at all. In her usual lazy way, Davison decided to accept reporters' spin instead of using the primary sources. And if she had gotten out of her living room, she would have discovered that the witnesses did not come forward in 1967. They all talked about the event in the wake of the assassination. Reeves Morgan called the FBI. And local rightwing publisher Ned Touchstone interviewed them in 1965, and wrote about it in his publication called The Councilor. (Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice, pgs. 214-15, p. 234)

VII

Let us now proceed to the payoff of the book. The reason I think Davison actually wrote the thing. That is, her discussions of the Odio incident and Mexico City. Davison wants us to buy into something pretty unpalatable. She wants us to think that Oswald was both at Sylvia Odio's apartment door and in Mexico City. That is, there was no mistaken identity and no imposters involved. She does this by employing the same trick that Vincent Bugliosi does. Before the Commission, Sylvia twice said that three men; two Cubans and Leon Oswald; visited her during the last week of September. It was on a Thursday or a Friday. (WC Volume XI, pgs. 370, 386) This means the date could be either the 26th or 27th. Even if we accept the earlier date, this contradicts the Warren Report. For they state that on that date, Oswald was on a bus headed from the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City. (WR, p. 733)

So, to avoid this serious problem; which clearly suggests the use of an imposter in one or the other place; Davison did in 1983 what Vincent Bugliosi did almost 25 years later. She moved the date back to the 25th. Even with that, there is a problem. The incident took place at around 9 PM in Dallas. The Warren Report has Oswald in Houston that night calling the socialist editor of a magazine. But the call came at nine or a bit later. There is no indication the call was long distance. The drive from Dallas to Houston is about four hours. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 352)

All of this is discounted by Davison. She says that it's Oswald at Odio's. But she says that it was really Oswald manipulating the Cubans there. She says "if the real Oswald was used, how did the anti-Castro plotters get their Marxist enemy to stand at Odio's door to be introduced as a friend of the Cuban exiles." (Davison, p. 194) Well Jean, the same way Oswald was in Guy Banister's office and in Clinton/Jackson with Shaw and Ferrie. Because anyone who knows this case and has any objectivity realizes that Oswald was not a Marxist. Davison makes great pains to compare this incident with what she calls Oswald's attempt to infiltrate Carlos Bringuier's Cuban exile group, the DRE in New Orleans. But if Bringuier and his assistant Carlos Quiroga were supplying Oswald with the flyers for this Trade Mart leafleting incident, then this "infiltration" idea of hers collapses. And that is what a neutral witness, Oswald's landlady Jesse Garner, seems to indicate. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 162) This silly comparison of hers is further undermined by Quiroga's polygraph test for Jim Garrison. Quiroga was asked: "You have said you tried to infiltrate Oswald's 'organization.' Isn't it a fact that you knew his Fair Play for Cuba activities were merely a cover?" Quiroga replied in the negative. That reply indicated he was lying. So did his negative reply to the following: "Is it not a fact that at that time Oswald was in reality a part of an anti-Castro operation?" (Ibid) Again, Davison's attempt at being a researcher is a bit embarrassing.

But she carries on her concept further. She now says that Oswald was actually manipulating the Cubans he was with. Again, this is silly. On two counts. First, why would Oswald put himself forth as a possible assassin of Kennedy in advance of the murder? If you believe Davison, that is what happened here. But secondly, if Oswald was doing the manipulating, then why was it the Cubans who called Sylvia back to make the incident more indelible?

Finally, like many Commission advocates, Davison leaves out the fact that Odio belonged to JURE. This was a liberal anti-Castro group that was a favorite of Kennedy. And it was hated by Howard Hunt because he called its leadership by Manuelo Ray, "Castroism without Fidel." In other words, the under text here is that the Cubans were trying to ingratiate Oswald with a leftist exile group in advance of the assassination. This is made manifest by the fact that the two Cubans masqueraded as JURE members but were not.

Let us conclude with what Davison now says is her proof that Oswald planned on killing Kennedy. She uses the hoary, mildewed Daniel Harker story. This was a newspaper account of an interview with Fidel Castro in which he was reported as saying that if "US leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorism plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe." (Davison, p. 22) The problems with this story are manifold. First, as she notes, there is not any evidence that Oswald saw the story. Second, with the evidence we have now, it's clear that Kennedy was trying for detente with Castro at this time. The attacks on Cuba had dwindled away to almost nothing. And the declassified Inspector General report makes it clear that Kennedy never authorized any of the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Third, as she acknowledges, the evidence says that Oswald liked Kennedy. Fourth, if Oswald killed Kennedy for the Castro cause, why did he deny it afterwards?

Davison couples this with something even weaker. It's the report from an FBI informant in the communist party that Oswald walked into the Cuban consulate and said he was going to kill Castro. These have come to be called the SOLO documents. And this part of them, the Castro threat is almost surely a forgery. As John Newman told this reviewer, this is allegedly a part of a letter from the informant to Gus Hall, leader of the communist party. Newman said, this kind of information would not be part of that letter to Hall. SOLO was too experienced to do that. (Author interview with Newman, 11/29/13) Second, why would Oswald, on the occasion of having problems with his visa blurt out in the consulate that he was going to kill Kennedy. When, in fact, it was his own fault he was having problems. He was not prepared with the proper documentation. Third, if Oswald said this, then why did not the incoming or outgoing chief counsel there hear him? And for that matter, neither did Sylvia Duran. Fourth, Oswald needed clearance for his in-transit visa from both Cuba and Russia. Why would he say something like this knowing that if the Russians call for a check, someone will tell them, "He said he was going to kill Kennedy." Fifth, Castro did not mention this threat in either his nationally televised radio/TV appearance of November 23rd of during his speech at the University of Havana on November 27th. And since no one at the embassy heard Oswald say this, then Castro would have had to manufacture the quote. Why would he do such a thing? (ibid, Newman interview.)

Newman says that he does not think the informant manufactured the quote either. He thinks someone in the FBI did and pasted it into the letter. Quite naturally, every one of these cogent points is absent from Oswald's Game. I mean, Davison's Game.

Needless to say, Davison does not list the plentiful evidence that Oswald was not in Mexico City. Namely, the voice on the tapes sent to Dallas, was not his. The CIA has never been able to produce one picture of Oswald entering either embassy in over 50 years. Even though a total of five cameras covered both embassies. Four of the five embassy workers who encountered this man called Oswald, said he was short and blonde. In 1978, when consul Eusebio Azcue was interviewed by CBS news about Mexico City, he produced photos taken by the Cuban surveillance cameras of the man who identified himself as Oswald. The man was short and blonde. (Armstrong, op. cit. p. 646)

I have saved the most thundering davisonism for last. Let us luxuriate in its pure arrogance:

To argue, as some critics have, that Oswald was merely posing as a leftist from the time he was 16 until, literally the day he died, one must unravel the story of his life presented in this book and attempt to reweave it into an entirely new pattern. I can't say that it is impossible to do so, but thus far it hasn't been done. (Davison, p. 285)

A statement like that is literally requesting a pie in the face. That pie, a coconut/custard one, was delivered to Davison seven years later. It was by Philip Melanson and it was called Spy Saga. That book revolutionized our thinking about Oswald. And the thing to note is that no great discoveries were made between 1983 and 1990. Therefore, Jean Davison could have theoretically done what Melanson did. But her agenda would not allow it. Today, Spy Saga has been furthered by John Armstrong's Harvey and Lee and John Newman's Oswald and the CIA. So today we know much more about Oswald than the Commission would ever tell us. In the light of those works, Jean Davison's book looks today like a smoking pile of rubbish. Useless to anyone except maybe David Von Pein or John McAdams.

As demonstrated above, Oswald's Game really tells us more about the biases and obsessions of Jean Davison on the Kennedy case than it does about its ostensible subject. Which is really the worst thing one can say about a biographer.


Read Part 2 (Update)

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 April 2017 16:47
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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