Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of JFK, is a larger-than-life character who could easily have walked out of the pages of a spy/espionage novel. Indeed, the creator of such a character as Oswald, might struggle to get him past a literary agent or a publisher as his activities stretch credulity.
Oswald had a difficult upbringing and as a child and teenager was constantly on the move, never really settling anywhere. As soon as he could he flew the coop from an overbearing mother and joined the US Marines. So far, so good and quite unremarkable. But then events take a strange turn.
Oswald joined the Marines in the late 1950s, at the height of the Cold War. America was in the midst of anti-communist patriotic fervour. Yet Oswald was openly proclaiming his Marxist sympathies in the Marines, so much so that he was nick-named ‘Oswaldskovich’ by fellow marines.
He’s discharged from the Marines after a few ‘incidents’ and tries to defect to the USSR. Initially rejected by the Soviets, he appears to attempt suicide and is them admitted by the Soviets who settle him in the city of Minsk, allocate him a good apartment and assign him a comfortable job in a radio factory. He eventually marries the niece of a KGB colonel: Marina.
Seemingly disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union, Oswald applies and is allowed to re-enter the USA with no sanctions or penalties against him. Marina and he move to Dallas where he takes up a number of itinerant, low-paid jobs which never last long. His relationship with Marina is increasingly volatile and he subjects her to domestic abuse.
Violence of a different kind, political violence, now comes to the fore in Oswald’s life as he makes an attempt on the life of a staunch anti-communist right-winger named General Edwin Walker. Oswald attempts to assassinate the General at his home in March 1963, but (just) misses. Subsequently, after the assassination of JFK, damming photos emerge of Oswald posing with a rifle and a pistol along with two left-wing newspapers taken by his wife in his backyard. Despite many attempts to brand these photos as fakes, they are indisputably regarded as genuine.
During the summer of 1963 he moves to New Orleans, and on his own volition sets up a local chapter of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Campaign, despite being advised not to by the FPCC President in New York. At his own expense he prints FPCC fliers and starts handing them out in public in downtown New Orleans, a provocative act in a city which is a hotbed of anti-Castro activities. Sure enough a posse of anti-Castro activists descend on the scene, a fight ensues, and Oswald is arrested and bailed. Later, Oswald appears on New Orleans TV and radio extolling the virtues of communism.
In the autumn of 1963 Oswald attempts to go to Cuba. He travels to Mexico City and visits the Cuban Embassy where he’s informed that the best way to enter Cuba is by obtaining a visa from the Soviet Embassy, which he also visits. Of all the numerous strange twists and turns in Oswald’s short but eventful life, this visit to the two embassies, in particular the Soviet Embassy, has generated the most controversy and would deserve a blog of its own, which I will return to at some future point. Suffice to say that Oswald is rebuffed by both embassies.
Thwarted in his ambition to get to Cuba, Oswald returns to Dallas and an increasingly fractious relationship with Marina. Through a friend of Marina, he lands another low-paid job at the Texas School Book Depository which just happens to be on the route the presidential motorcade will take on November 22nd and the rest, as they say, is history.
This is just a fleeting summary of a brief life which has been pored over in forensic detail. And there are literary thousands of books, both pro and anti-conspiracy theory which go into this in far greater detail than I have space for hear.
The point is from a purely intelligence/espionage point of view Lee Harvey Oswald would be a disaster. Why? Because the essence of all good intelligence operatives, i.e. spies, is that they have good plausible covers or ‘legends’. Spying is about merging seamlessly into the background, of having a logically, consistent backstory that can be checked out and survive careful probing. Above all, the spy MUST not attract attention to his or herself.
Oswald is the antithesis of any of this. The twist and turns, the contradictions in Oswald’s life story would immediately draw attention and suspicion on him by any organisation or agency he was trying to infiltrate or impress. In short, no intelligence
service would go near someone who had the background of Oswald with a bargepole.
One example out of many will suffice. Much is made of the fact that when Oswald was dishing out those pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans, an address stamped on the back of the fliers was in the same building that housed a detective agency that was virulently anti-communist, anti-Castro and alleged to have ties to the FBI. There are several explanations as to why Oswald used that address. But in terms of trying to create a legend this would be comparable to someone in Britain trying to, for example, infiltrate the Socialist Workers Party while using an address on their literature which also was a base for the British National Party! This would be a glaring contradiction and instantly call into question the credibility of the person promoting the leaflets by all sides.
Whatever the strange enigmas associated with the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, a spy he definitely was not. But, paradoxically, those very same enigmas and contradictions surrounding Oswald which rule him out as a real spy, have left enough of a trail of ambiguity and doubt to keep the conspiracy theorists in business for a considerable time to come.