Written by Frank Cassano and Arnaldo Fernandez
The CIA never recovered from its perfect failure at the Bay of Pigs. It generated a sort of obsession with Castro that led to an ultimate defeat in times of dirty war; but also to a carnivalesque approach to Castroist Cuba. A facet of this carnavalization became manifest in the fourth part of the series JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald. The episode is entitled “The Cuban Connection,” but illustrates how former CIA case officer Bob Baer is disconnected from historical truth.
The Wizard of Ozzie
Baer opened this episode with a memo from HSCA first Deputy Counsel, Robert Tanenbaum,1 about Oswald’s involvement in New Orleans with Cuban exiles—and some non-Cuban soldiers of fortune—recruited and trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro. Thusly, he is setting the stage for a hell of a sleight of hand. Former Marine “Ozzie” Oswald, re-defector from the Soviet Union and pro-Castro activist in Dallas,2 will turn into a leftist wannabe killer of Kennedy.
It’s easy to predict that the conjuring trick will continue with Castro knowing in advance Oswald’s criminal intent, since everything going on in the anti-Castro belligerent milieu in the U.S. was reported to him by the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS). On the other hand, the CIA did have the luxury of missing Oswald as a security risk, since it funded the black ops against Castro, but it ran them from afar with “little oversight”. It doesn’t matter that since April 24, 1963, the vey leader of Alpha 66 in Dallas, Manuel Rodríguez Oscarberro, had been reported to the Secret Service as security risk to President Kennedy.3
Big-budget paraphernalia—underwater sonar, a diver, metal detector for canvassing the forest—are displayed again, as if the episode were about artifacts instead of new milestones in the well-known historical trail of the CIA dirty war against Castro. However, Baer forgot to include a crap detector and claimed that nobody else had ever really looked into the connection between Oswald, the Cubans, and the CIA. It would mean that—just for instance—New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison never started an investigation in late 1966 or Harold Weisberg never wrote Oswald in New Orleans: Case for Conspiracy with the CIA (Canyon Books, 1967). But by skipping those authors, Baer does not have to bring up the names of David Ferrie, Clay Shaw and Guy Banister.
The legerdemain with Ozzie included the Tourette’s-Syndrome-style reiteration that he shot Kennedy and he did it “with the same rifle” ordered by mail on March 12, 1963, and used to shoot at General Edwin Walker on April 10. Baer forgot what Tanenbaum stated in his ARRB Testimony (1996): “I don't think from my experience that Lee Harvey Oswald could be convicted in any courtroom in America.” As it happened, the Warren Commission engaged in acts of evidentiary wizardry to do so:
- The bullet recovered by the Dallas Police Department (DPD) from the Walker shooting was changed to incriminate Oswald as able “to carry out a carefully planned killing of another human being.”4 DPD officers Van Cleave and McElroy described a steel-jacketed 7.62 mm (30.06) bullet in their General Offense Report file the same day of the attack. Those fired against President Kennedy were copper-jacketed 6.5 mm bullets.
- The $21.45 money order for the rifle mailed by Ozzie from Dallas was supposed to have arrived at Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago on March 13, less than 24 hours after it was sent from Dallas. It was then deposited on the same day of arrival at the First National Bank.5
- The 36-inch, 5.5 pound Mannlicher Carcano carbine ordered by Ozzie does not match the murder weapon entered into evidence by the Dallas Police: a 40.2 inch, 7.5 pound Mannlicher Carcano short rifle.6 And there is no evidence of any weapon being picked up by Oswald at the post office in Dallas.7
Down to Miami
Baer evidently wants to travel instead of reading any books on the subject he is addressing in the TV series. As even beginners know, the “key to this whole operation” in New Orleans lies in the Miami CIA station (JM/WAVE). Hence Baer and his team go to South Florida. They track down former CIA contractor Marshall Golnick, who has “inside information” from a half century ago. They also do another archaeological search in Key Largo around a military facility.
Golnick states that the Cuban exiles trained in New Orleans were dropped off by bus in Miami and received money and weapons. They were ready to stage raids into Cuba to destroy any infrastructure in sight; but this all ended with the fiasco at Bay of Pigs (thereby forgetting about Operation MONGOOSE). Golnick then reinforced the historical lie used by Baer himself to justify why Cuban exiles hated Kennedy: The latter ordered the Bay of Pigs invasion, but then withheld air support.
The invasion was a so-called CIA covert operation that was unleashed with a Pearl-Harbor-style air bombing against three Cuban air force bases. Since these bombings were attributed to Castro’s defectors, they could not return to bomb again without destroying the plausible deniability required by the White House to prevent condemnation at the UN.8 And further, as Peter Kornbluh demonstrates in Bay of Pigs Declassified, the alleged D-Day air strikes were not part of the original plan. They were to be launched from an airstrip on the island after a beachhead was secured. The latter never happened.
Finally, Golnick drops his own bomb about Oswald: likely aligned with the most radical fringe groups such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7. It does not matter that Alpha 66 was founded in 1962 and Omega 7 in 1974. According to the program, all these groups wanted to kill Kennedy and so did Oswald. Baer hammers the point home: “Oswald is a pronounced Marxist who praised Communist ideals.” Therefore, he and the radical Cuban exile groups worked together to achieve the common goal of killing JFK. Such a coincidence of contraries was strong enough to prevent the fierce anti-Castro Alpha 66 fighters from reacting to Oswald’s Castroist inclinations. By skipping authors like Weisberg and Garrison, Baer does not have to bring up the names of David Ferrie, Clay Shaw and Guy Banister.
Amid the extremist Cuban exile paramilitary subculture, Oswald flaunted his Fair Play for Cuba Committee [FPCC] militancy in New Orleans from mid-June to late August 1963. But only members of the Student Revolutionary Directorate (DRE) cadre, Carlos Bringuier and two cohorts, confronted him in a minor fracas at Canal Street on August 9, when Oswald was distributing the sold-out 1961 first edition of FPCC pamphlet The Crime Against Cuba (1961).9 Which had Banister’s 544 Camp Street address stamped on it. Oswald had described the scuffle—including being arrested by the police—in a letter to the FPCC dated August 1st and postmarked August 4th. In other words, before it happened.
The CIA in Limbo
Although all the anti-Castro groups in New Orleans and Miami were CIA brainchildren, Baer and his partner, former police officer Adam Bercovici, do not give a damn about how the CIA wasn’t aware of an Oswald-Alpha 66 common goal. Instead, they do some brainstorming to find Oswald’s deeper motivation. And they discover it. Oswald had an “I’ll show them” mindset.
They also discover, this time on the computer, that the man behind Alpha 66 was Maurice Bishop. But they don’t identify him as David Philips, who in 1963 was playing a CIA dual role: Chief of the Cuban Desk in Mexico City and Chief of Covert Ops against Cuba in Langley. They only resort to the well-known statement by Antonio Veciana about having seen Bishop with Oswald in Dallas in the late summer of 1963. Bercovici concludes: “There’s your co-conspirator. He had on-the-ground assistance in Dallas.”
Back on the computer, they bump into the famous, late September Sylvia Odio incident.10 It’s prima facie evidence of Oswald being impersonated in Dallas while visiting Mexico City, or vice versa. But Baer limits his explanation as to why the FBI didn’t track the event in Dallas: “Because they missed it.” Indeed, they did. On October 9, 1963, the FBI cancelled the security flash on Oswald,11 but on October 10, 1963, Langley omitted in a cable (DIR 74673) to the FBI that “Lee Oswald” had spoken with Soviet Consul Valeriy Kostikov in Mexico City, Baer’s main character of the first episode (“The Iron Meeting”). Such a piece of intel would have been enough to restore the flash. This cable also provided a false description of a presumed American entering the Soviet Embassy and the related photo taken by a CIA site wasn’t Oswald’s. In other words, during these weeks, it was Murphy’s Law that pertained: Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong between Oswald, the FBI and the CIA.
In closing the episode, Baer and Bercovici swallow whole Marina Oswald’s testimony about her husband shooting at General Walker. They search the DPD files on the case. Oswald appears to have never been brought up even as a person of interest by the police prior to the creation of the Warren Commission. But they focus in on the two cars seen leaving from the alley behind General Walker’s house, concluding Oswald had likely been driven in and out by accomplices.
The preview of the fifth part, “Scene of the Crime,” showed a re-enactment of the shooting at Dealey Plaza. A rifle is fired from above and behind at a rubber head, which goes backwards after being shot. As in the Walker shooting, Oswald will surely have get-away accomplices.
1 In a fictionalized account (Corruption of Blood, Dutton, 1995) of his HSCA experience, Tanenbaum referred to a black-and-white silent 8 mm home movie showing military exercises. The viewer can see the pinpoints of fire from rifles and the shimmering gouts of muzzle blast from machine guns. Among the people in the film, Tanenbaum identified David Ferrie in a close-up; Oswald “in his ball cap and black T-shirt;” Antonio Veciana “in civvies this time, holding a .45 and smiling;” and "another guy in civilian clothes,” who Tanenbaum believes was David Atlee Phillips, alias Maurice Bishop (pages 143-46). Jim DiEugenio asked Tanenbaum: “Was it really as you described in the book, with all the people in that film? Bishop was in the film?” Tanenbaum replied: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely! They're all in the film. They're all there. But, the fact of the matter is the [HSCA] began to balk at a series of events” (Probe, Vol. 3, No 5, July-August 1996). In fact, the film vanished after Tanenbaum's departure from HSCA.
2 Shortly before Oswald moved to New Orleans, the FBI office in Dallas received info about him passing out pamphlets of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee [FPCC] on Main Street and wearing a placard around his neck reading, “Hands Off Cuba, Viva Fidel.” It occurred on April 15, 1963. SA Agent James Hosty reported it on September 10. See Warren Commission, Vol. XXVI, CE 2718.
3 Eventually, a CuIS informant furnished the intel Rodríguez Oscarberro had told him that “if his involvement in the assassination was uncovered, he was a dead man, given that he was an Alpha 66 delegate in Dallas and knew too much.” See Escalante, Fabian: JFK: The Cuba Files, Ocean Press, 2000, 170 f.
4 Warren Report, 406.
5 Ibidem, 119. It implies that, in about 24 hours in 1963, the U.S. Post Service picked up the money order from a mailbox in Dallas and transported it to a post office where it was sorted and shipped out to the airport. Then it flew 700 miles to Chicago, was picked up there and driven to the main post office, where it was sorted, placed on a truck and driven to the regional post office. Here it was given to a route carrier who delivered it to Klein's. After being sorted out again, Klein's delivered it to the First National Bank of Chicago to be deposited in Klein's account.
6 Armstrong, John: Harvey and Lee, Quasar Ltd., 2003, 477.
7 DiEugenio, James: Reclaiming Parkland, Skyhorse, 2013, 62.
8 When Eisenhower approved the CIA policy paper A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime on March 17, 1960, he made crystal clear to CIA Director Allen Dulles: "Our hand should not show in anything that is done" (Memorandum of Conference with the President, March 17, 1960. FRUS, Vol. VI, Doc. 486). Kennedy stuck to the script and ruled out an intervention of the U.S. armed forces under any condition, as he clearly stated at a press conference at the State Department on April 12, 1963 (Cf.: Johnson, Haynes: The Bay of Pigs, W. W. Norton and Co., 1964, 72).
9 By that time, the CIA had ordered 45 copies. DiEugenio, James: Destiny Betrayed, Skyhorse, 2012 158 f.
10 In late September, Mrs. Odio was visited by two Cubans (Leopoldo and Angelo) along with an America introduced as Leon Oswald. They would be "working in the underground" and looking for her help regarding funds for the Cuban exile group JURE. The next day, Leopoldo phoned Mrs. Odio and discussed Oswald, saying he was an excellent shot and had said that President Kennedy should have been killed after Bay of Pigs. When JFK was murdered in Dallas, Mrs. Odio fainted upon hearing the news and recognizing Oswald. Her account was corroborated by her sister Annie, who had briefly seen the visitors. It reached the FBI and later the Warren Commission, but the latter ultimately dismissed it because its chronology put Oswald on his way to Mexico City on the same dates.
11 Because of that, Hoover disciplined Lambert Anderson, Marvin Gheesling, and sixteen other agents.