How The History Channel is Tracking Oswald Non-Historically
The six-part series “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald” (History Channel, Tuesdays, 10 PM EDT) went on the air this week. To give weight to the presentations, the host is a former CIA agent, Bob Baer. Baer boasts that no one else, except him, has analyzed the more than two million pages of declassified documents about the JFK assassination which the Assassination Records Review Board has released.
Not everyone who reaches back into history can survive intact. Baer doesn’t make it because of Shenonism.1 At the very beginning of the series he more or less announces this by presenting long-known facts as somehow exciting new findings. He then conveys them to the viewer as a big deal, because the Warren Commission couldn’t grasp them. Baer simply overlooked or—even worse—swept under the carpet all the sound research performed after the JFK Records Act (1992).
The first part of the series—“The Iron Meeting” (zheleznaya yavka in Russian, designating a standard KGB procedure for an urgent talk)—proves to be more than enough to realize that Baer dives into subjunctive history; namely the history imagined in the mood used when something may or may not have happened. He circumvents all the quanta of proof that do not fit his biased view of Oswald as the lone gunman shooting a magic bullet, and with the Soviets and the Cubans behind him.
Baer starts by arrogating to himself the discovery of a CIA document, dated the day after the assassination, about a J. Edgar Hoover/Lyndon B. Johnson phone conversation revealing that Oswald met with Soviet officials in Mexico City. Except that the CIA station learned about such a meeting well before the assassination. According to their records, they taped an October 1, 1963 call through their Mexico City based listening post codenamed LIENVOY. According to these records, a call to the taped phone 15-60-55 at the Soviet Embassy contained this passage:
—Hello, this is LEE OSWALD speaking. I was at your place last Saturday and spoke to a Consul, and they say that they'd send a telegram to Washington, so I wanted to find out if you have anything new? But I don't remember the name of that Consul.
—KOSTIKOV. He is dark?
—Yes. My name is OSWALD.
Trying to make an impression, Baer resorts to an analogy between ISIS and the Soviet Union—as the main U.S. enemy at different times—for asking rhetorically what we should believe if an American citizen met with ISIS officials abroad, came back and killed the sitting U.S. President. Baer refuses to take on the more obvious question. Which is this: if the CIA knew that an American citizen met with Soviet officials in Mexico City, why was he allowed to return to the U.S. without being subsequently handled as a security risk? Even though the CIA had immediately learned2 about his visit not only to the Soviet Embassy, but also to the Cuban diplomatic compound on September 27, 1963.
The CIA and Oswald in Mexico City
The Lopez Report (1978) seems to remain outside the scope of Baer´s self-proclaimed pioneering analysis. Which is a little amazing since he has already announced that he read the 2 million pages of declassified documents of the ARRB, and that board was established as a result of the JFK Act. One of the Board’s early targets was the Lopez Report, concerning the subject of Oswald in Mexico City. Instead, Baer devotes himself to the “working theory” about Oswald receiving a walk-in package from the KGB as soon as he visited the Soviet Embassy. Baer does not deal with the fact that the CIA has never produced a recording of Oswald's actual voice or a photo of Oswald at either embassy, despite having both the Soviet and Cuban embassies under bugging and photo surveillance3. This lack, especially of evidence from phone taps, would have an impact on the validity of the conversation he quotes. Further, the Lopez Report does not refer to Oswald picking up any package at the Soviet Embassy. And that report is, far and away, the most voluminous and thorough investigation ever done about Oswald’s alleged activities in Mexico City.
The viewers are left in the dark about how John Newman has convincingly demonstrated in Oswald and the CIA (1995) that the Agency was closely and constantly tracking Oswald from 1959 to 1963. Baer also abstained from warning the viewers about Oswald being impersonated by phone in Mexico City, as Bill Simpich has proven beyond any reasonable doubt in State Secret (2013).
But first and foremost, Baer dodged the oh-so-intriguing fact that the CIA concealed or misrepresented key data on Oswald before the assassination. The LIENVOY report for September 19634 referred only to “two leads of operational interest:” a female professor from New Orleans calling the Soviet Embassy, and a Czech woman calling the Czech embassy. The so-called October cables between the CIA Station there (MEXI) and CIA HQ at Langley (DIR-HDQS) provide additional evidence about a conspiracy of silence at a time when no one could know, except if there were plotters, what was coming.
- October 8. MEXI 6453 reported to Langley that "an American male who spoke broken Russian" had said his name was “Lee Oswald.” He was at the Soviet Embassy on September 28 and spoke with Consul Vareliy Kostikov. This cable described a presumed American male who had entered the Soviet Embassy at 12:16 hours on October 1, but it wasn´t Oswald.
- October 10. DIR 74830 replied that Lee Oswald "probably" was “Lee Henry Oswald.” This cable specified: “Latest HDQS info was ODACID [State Department] report dated May 1962” on Oswald as “still US citizen [returning] with his Soviet wife [and] their infant child to USA.” Langley omitted two 1963 FBI reports from Dallas (September 24) and New Orleans (October 4) on Oswald's leftist activism, including his militancy in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) and his scuffle with Cuban exiles in New Orleans on August 9, 1963. Instead, the cable quoted a 1962 report by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “Twenty months of realities of life in Soviet Union had clearly had maturing effect on Oswald.”
- October 10. DIR 74673 disseminated to ODACID, ODENVY (FBI), and ODOATH (Navy) the description provided in MEXI 6453 for the presumed American male, but omitted the crucial hint that Oswald had spoken with Soviet Consul Vareliy Kostikov.
Why did MEXI 6453 hide all information from Langley about Oswald visiting the Cuban diplomatic compound? Why did DIR 74830 hide from MEXI all information about Oswald's pro-Castro activism in Dallas and New Orleans? Why did Langley lower Oswald's security profile by quoting—as latest info available—a May 1962 memo from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow? Why did Langley go further by excluding Department of State, FBI and Navy from the information furnished by MEXI about an eventual contact between Oswald and KGB officer Kostikov? Instead of dealing with these relevant whys, Baer invites the History Channel viewers to a bullring in Mexico City.
Diving into the subjunctive history, Baer imagines that Oswald entered the Soviet Embassy and received a KGB walk-in package with four postcards of landmarks in Mexico City. One of them, a bullring, was the perfect location for a covert meeting, since the CIA bugging at the Soviet Embassy prevents KGB officers from talking freely about political murder. Thus, we have a rezidentura very concerned about bugging, but so unconcerned about photo surveillance that its officers will follow up a case knowing that the person of interest had not been photographed by the CIA either entering or exiting the embassy.
Thereupon Baer and two fellow travelers engage in a sort of children’s game aimed to prove that finding Oswald after entering a bullring and taking his seat for a covert meeting would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The outcome is obvious, but the attentive observer wonders why the CIA Station in Mexico City wasn’t shadowing Oswald after having listened to a call—on September 27 at 4:00 p.m.—from the Cuban to the Soviet Consulate5 regarding “a U.S. citizen who had requested a transit visa to Cuba because he is going to URSS.”
Having proven that an iron meeting may have taken place at a bullring in Mexico City on Sunday, September 29, 1963, Baer attempted again to amaze the viewers with a discovery. Apparently unaware of the CIA transcript from the October 1, 1963 tapped phone call, Baer ran a high-tech device designed to find “hidden links” among many documents. It matched a “Comrade KOSTIN”—mentioned in a typed letter (Commission Exhibit 15) to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, dated on November 8 or 9, 1963, and signed by Lee H. Oswald—with the surname Kostikov listed in the staff of the Soviet Embassy in 1963.
Baer asserted “it´s not a coincidence” having both Oswald and Kostikov in Mexico City at the same time. He´s right. It wouldn’t have been a coincidence that Oswald met Kostikov. The latter was a consul assigned to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City since September 19, 1961, and the former was trying to get a Soviet visa. It´s not a coincidence either that Bear takes for granted what CIA Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms told the Warren Commission (Commission Document 347) about Kostikov: “[He] is believed to work for Department Thirteen of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. It is the Department responsible for executive action.” Ignoring that the Kostikov-Oswald connection was debunked long ago by, among others, Peter Scott in his essay on “CIA files and the pre-assassination framing of Lee Harvey Oswald” (March 1994), Baer simply confirms his shift in focus from history to story. And on top of an unsubstantiated exchange of postcards, Baer leaves out another key point, this time about Oswald and the bullring. On page 735, the Warren Report attributes the information about Oswald being at a bullfight to Marina Oswald. What the Commission left out was this integral fact: at her first Secret Service interview, in the days immediately after the assassination, Marina repeatedly and forcefully denied that Oswald had ever been to Mexico! (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 280)
Expect More Malarkey
Baer doesn't seem to care whether what he says is true or false, or if some of the things he says are directly opposed by other, earlier evidence. Rather, he only seems to care whether or not his viewers can be persuaded. Thus, the second part, and the rest of the series, is pretty predictable. Baer will follow in the footsteps of Dr. Brian Latell, showing that Castro knew about it. Without any shred of evidence about Soviet or Cuban agents training Oswald or providing him with guns or money, Baer will move the burden of dealing with Oswald from the KGB to the Cuban Intelligence Services (CuIS). He will also transfigure Oswald into a Castroite true-believer.
3 By 1963, the CIA Station was running two phone tap operations in Mexico City: LIENVOY, focused on the embassies, and LIFEAT, aimed rather at homes. Under the program LIEMPTY, three photo bases were operating around the Soviet Embassy: LIMITED, LILYRIC, and LICALLA. Another (LIONION) was set in front of the Cuban diplomatic compound.
5 The Lopez Report (1978) gently deemed as not “accurate” the blatant lie given by the CIA Inspector General in 1977 to HSCA: "It was not until 22 November 1963 [that the] Station learned (…) Oswald had also visited the Cuban Embassy." (p. 123)