Lee Harvey Oswald* is the central character in the official version of the John F. Kennedy assassination, but many things about him—in that story—don’t quite fit together.
1. To start with, the fact that he defected to the USSR and came back so easily. This has naturally led many to suspect he had some kind of intelligence connection. He is said to have announced to the US Embassy in Moscow that he wanted to renounce his US citizenship and that he would give the Soviets information he learned as a Marine. Despite this, he kept his citizenship and the US embassy later assisted his travel back to the US.
His wife Marina later said in an interview that he was a proud American and would talk about politics with her family, including speaking positively about the newly-elected Kennedy. Jim Garrison suspected that he was being trained by Naval Intelligence based on the fact that he was given a Russian language exam, a rare occurrence for a private in the Marines. Jim Garrison has been criticized on a number of points, but this particular question is worth pondering.
It’s clear that the worldwide Communist movement was the “security” establishment’s main concern during this period, and that considerable resources were spent on espionage, counterespionage, infiltration, monitoring, etc. Not all of this was done in-house, either. The CIA had a lot of employees on the beat, but beyond that was a huge network of allied organizations, informants, infiltrators, and enthusiasts. Specific movements, e.g. the anti-Castro movement, were full of people allied with but not technically in the employ of the CIA. John le Carré’s book The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a great, if fictionalized account of somebody on the margins of government employ during this period.
Given these facts and this background, it’s hard to believe that Lee Oswald was not working for the US government when he went to the Soviet Union.
2. Next is the stumping for Castro period in New Orleans. Oswald was reported by many sources to be an “associate” of Guy Banister, who appears to have been one of the CIA’s point men for anti-Castro organization in the area. He is known to have been the founder and only member of a local pro-Castro group and to have distributed pro-Castro literature. He even went on the radio for this purpose. However, and this is very subjective, his manner when questioned does not suggest a man passionately devoted to the ideas he spouts. Given point #1 above, and his known association with Banister, and the information in Buddy Walther’s report about having files on “Cuban sympathizers” in his house, it seems that in this case too he was playing a role assigned to him by somebody else.
I’m fascinated by many of the specific stories about what Oswald did in New Orleans at this time, although I know that many of them are probably false. However the overall framework given here does not rely on any one witness being credible or any one story being faithfully reported.
3. Credible stories abound of Lee Oswald being observed in this or that place where he may not have been, perhaps most importantly Mexico City. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to create one or more narratives about Oswald before the assassination, and it had to be somebody with the resources, organization, and motive to do so and keep it quiet later. That sounds like the activities of an intelligence agency, or at least activities directed by an intelligence agency.
As further evidence, Marina Oswald said in an interview many years later that both she and Lee Oswald were observed in places around Dallas before the assassination that she never in fact went to. (This is one case where I am relying on one witness, because she seemed to me to be telling the truth. It doesn’t make sense why she would lie in that context, and I’ve never heard it disputed although I imagine it is somewhere.) Even if this is not true, the main point still stands.
[For the scope and thoroughness of reported incidents, however credible, see here.]
4. Now we come to the most notorious “fact” about Oswald: shooting Kennedy. As is written in numerous other places, even if he did shoot Kennedy it’s not physically possible that he was the only shooter. This is an important point but it is dealt with elsewhere so I will keep this point brief here.
5. Long recognized is another weak spot in the official story, the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit. Oswald’s guilt here was considered very important to the overall narrative, except that the eyewitness testimony pretty clearly did not clearly implicate Oswald at all. Witnesses variously described two shooters, or a short man with bushy hair, or another man who was not Oswald. The recreation of Oswald’s alleged journey down the street was inconclusive as well; it’s possible that there was enough time, but it’s not certain. Moreover, this episode might put Oswald heading in the wrong direction if it is to fit with the rest of the story. All told, somebody shot Officer Tippit but there’s no reason to believe that Oswald was that man, and various reasons to believe that he wasn’t. Oswald was eventually identified in police line-ups, though these police line-ups were manipulated in every way possible to produce that result, and lack any credibility.
6. Lee Oswald declared to reporters “I’m just a patsy.” Could that be true? Points 1 and 2 at least imply the possibility that he could have been a government operative of some kind. Point 3 indicates that somebody was setting him up for something. Point 4 demonstrates that the plot, whatever it was, was larger than just him. Point 5 indicates that somebody really wanted the crime pinned on him even to the possible extent of framing him for yet another crime and using that to relate him to the first.
Why wouldn’t he say more about it to reporters? This I can only speculate on, but it’s important to remember that he had a wife and small children. His mother was still alive. His relationship with his wife was not perfect, and I don’t know much about his relationship with his mother, but all of his neighbors in Dallas said that he loved his children and took great joy in being with them. Threats against them, even if they were only in his mind, would have been very effective in keeping him quiet. As he couldn’t have known he was going to be murdered only two days later, he may have hoped for a way to exonerate himself later without exposing his family to danger.
I could be wrong about any or all of this, but at each point I have taken the position that seems to me to make the most sense among the competing explanations. Taking a cue from public choice economics, I don’t make unrealistic assumptions about the behavior of government agencies; on the contrary, based on known evidence, these assumptions seem more realistic than the official version.
It goes without saying that there are many other things about Lee Oswald in the official story that don’t add up either. These are just an important few.
* I think the responsible thing for Kennedy assassination researchers and enthusiasts to do is to refer to him as Lee Oswald, not as Lee Harvey Oswald. It seems the full-name treatment is supposed to make him stand out in some weird way, which is already granting half of the case to the party line inventors. He did not go by Lee Harvey Oswald during his life, and whenever I can I write simply Lee Oswald.