Lee Oswald became visible to the public in New Orleans, as a champion of the Cuban revolution, a Russian defector and generally as a “commie”, his on air acceptance of Marxism cinched that for the listeners. According to the Warren Commissions later characterization, all of Oswald’s activities that summer were simply part of Oswald’s plan to lay the groundwork for being accepted into Cuba. Yet what the Commission most definitely did not surface were the indications that Oswald’s activities were more structured and that the press coverage he received was not simply coincidental.
As an example, he wrote to the FPCC, describing in some detail a street confrontation with Cuban exiles. Such a confrontation did occur, but a week following his letter and that incident led to him requesting the police arrange an interview with him by the FBI. In her book Farewell to Justice, Joan Mellen describes an interview with former New Orleans Police Lt. Irwin Magri. Magri had requested the interview by handing him a note asking that he call the FBI, tell them that Lee Oswald was in custody and that the note should be given to them. The note contained the name of a specific agent – Warren DeBrueys. DeBureys worked the subversives beat in the FBI office and would have been individual to handle a compartmentalized Oswald informant file (described by another office clerical employee). Later, during the Garrison investigation, Attorney General Ramsey Clark ordered one local agent (DeBureys was gone from the office) first not to testify at all and then granted him the option invoking privilege in his testimony. The agent (Kennedy) did just that, refusing to answer any questions about Oswald other than admitting that the federal agents in New Orleans had a knowledge of Lee Oswald.
Oswald in New Orleans is a long story, covered in many books. In his most recent update Tony Summers interviewed yet more individuals who stated that it had been known within the FBI office that Oswald was acting as an informant. Earlier numerous employees of former FBI agent and in 1963 private investigator Guy Bannister had confirmed that it was generally known that Oswald was some sort of an informant, providing information on his contacts with Cuban exiles and others. It is also of note that Bannister’s office had been screened as a CIA propaganda cover by the CIA during the ramp up to the Bay of Pigs and that the Agency had initiated anti-Castro propaganda operations in New Orleans as early as 1961.
In New Orleans Lee Oswald developed the public image of a pro-Cuba activist while at the same time it was becoming known to a number of individuals that he was not totally what he seemed and that at a minimum he was providing information to the FBI and very possibly being used – knowingly or unknowingly – in a much more complex and highly effective anti-Castro, anti-Communist propaganda campaign. Oswald was becoming known, and Oswald was being “tagged” as a potentially useful asset, very likely to the CIA’s own escalating FPCC campaign, which was being set up to extend across Latin America. In fact the CIA had even asked the FBI for its FPCC membership and mailing lists to help develop the new campaign. In the summer of 1963 the two agencies were in the midst of the AMSANTA campaign using FPCC members and the CIA was moving to showcase the FPCC as example of the dangers of Communist infiltration and subversion. And at just that point in time Lee Oswald had become the symbol of that propaganda campaign – his radio interviews would be featured on a propaganda record intended for broad distribution beginning in the fall.
But Lee Oswald had also come to the attention of other people, foreigners to New Orleans who had begun to show up in the city that summer. FBI informant Orest Pena and a fellow worker at the Habana bar both described Lee Oswald in the company of a “Mexican looking” individual. If you have SWHT you will find further details on Oswald’s contacts with similar individuals in Chapter 3, Harold Weisberg’s book on Oswald in New Orleans is also highly recommended. The upshot of it all is that Lee Oswald was contacted by newcomers to New Orleans while engaged in his FPCC advocacy and those individuals began to take Oswald off in a very different direction. If you were to believe the Warren Commission, Oswald’s activities in New Orleans were all designed to take him on his way to Cuba. However that is in direct conflict with what Oswald himself was doing by the end of the summer – Oswald was watching the departure of his pregnant wife and young child to the Dallas area, to live with the Paines, while Oswald himself was preparing to depart for the north-east, the Washington/Baltimore area. Cuba was not his destination and he was making that rather clear to a number of people. In particular he was making it clear in a paper trail of correspondence to Socialist Party of the USA, to the Worker (newspaper of the CPUSA), and to the Communist Party of the USA itself – the organization that Oswald had so dramatically rejected earlier (indeed he still rejected Communism per se in his radio appearances, declaring himself only a follower of Marxist social views).
He offered his services as a photographer to The Worker since he was relocating to its area and on September 1 he wrote for instructions on how to contact both representatives from both the SWP and CPUSA since he was moving to the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area. In even stronger terms, his letter to CPUSA asked for guidance on going “underground” to continue the revolutionary struggle – something totally foreign to any of Oswald’s previously expressed views or remarks. Interestingly, following the assassination, some of the earliest FBI questions – asked in great confidence – of Marina Oswald related to her knowledge of Oswalds trips to Mexico City – and Washington D.C.
Oswald’s plans for Washington seem quite clear, certainly they seemed so in his letters. His motive was perhaps less clear. While Marina Oswald was packing to move to her friend Ruth Paine, a Quaker, a couple of Quaker women were assisting her pack in New Orleans. Thanks to the research of Greg Parker, we have details of a conversation with Oswald at that point in time. One of the two was a younger women, she would later relate Oswald’s attempts to “chat her up” and his remarks about his upcoming trip to Washington. When she asked him to elaborate on the trip and his plans he became flustered, made some remarks about having business to do and “picking up a gun”, then dropped the conversation. All in all, something had taken Oswald very off on a tangent by early September – or so it would appear. In the next posts it will become clear that it was not nearly as much a tangent as it might seem and very much in line with the plans of certain visitors to New Orleans during the summer of 1963