Those who read – and write – about Lee Oswald’s earliest days, and most specifically about his time in the military, have generally not yet taken advantage of one of the newer and best resources available to them. In that regard, I’m speaking of a book titled “The Missing Chapter” by Jack Swike.
Swike was a Marine Corps officer, stationed at Atsuki Japan shortly after Lee Oswald had been there. Swike’s assignment was in security and counter intelligence. A graduate of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence school, he also worked in that role for the U.S. government following his military service.
Swike’s detailed knowledge of the base and the various activities – several of them highly classified – provides unique insights into why personnel assigned to the base were serous targets for communist intelligence collections. While most discussion of Atsuki and Oswald focuses on the U-2 (which Swike does cover) he notes that a far more serious target, one with immense propaganda value, related to the METO Top Secret facility on the base. That highly restricted area was used to rotate in specialty Marine Corps teams out of the Defense Nuclear Energy’s Sandia Base in Albuquerque.
Those teams were trained in the final assembly of atomic weapon. While assembled atomic weapons were not routinely stored at Atsuki, Marine Corps attack aircraft capable of delivering them were based there, and at least one American ship carrying atomic bomb components was stationed offshore. If the Korean war resumed, Atsuki would have served as a resource to assemble and even deliver atomic bombs in any new conflict.
Given the immense Japanese sensitivity to atomic weapons, any disclosure of such details would have been a huge propaganda opportunity for communists in Japan. While details of the unit were keep totally restricted, as were details about U-2 operations at Atsuki, Swike notes that Marines on the base would have at least known that something highly classified was going on in regard to both, making base personnel highly attractive targets for communist agents and “connected” party girls at both local and Tokyo bars and entertainment centers.
Along that line, Swike presents interviews from Marines acquainted with Oswald who provide some fist hand information into the bar scene and Oswald’s activities at various clubs. Because he worked shifts Oswald had the freedom to visit not only local bars, but places in both Tokyo and Yokohama.
In terms of spending money, the exchange rate at the time was immensely favorable to U.S. money and Swike also found evidence Oswald was not above engaging in at least some minor but profitable black-market sales, even if they only involved items available on base such as American liquor and cigarettes.
All in all, The Missing Chapter provides considerable new information not only on Lee Oswald, but on the environment, he was in at Atsuki during his service there – and I highly recommend it.
Haven’t read the book yet, however, as I myself was involved with Nuclear Weapons, Classified Documents control, and Intelligence during my own tour in the Marines, I’ll put in my two cents.
Marine Corps Air Station Atsugi has long been a base for recon operations.
During the 1980s, there were detachments of EA6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft flying missions over North Korea, China, and the Soviet Far East. Air Force recon birds also flew from Atsugi as well.
There were also many secret facilities in the Far East whose purposes were vaguely known but were subject to rumor control. With base personnel seeing as exotic and unusual an aircraft such as the U-2 flying from Atsugi would genuinely lead to rumors about their activities. Observing their operations made these Air Wing Marines vulnerable to use and manipulation by foreign intelligence. As noted, the many bars and clubs were ideal locations to open up unwitting servicemen to spill secrets.
Regarding Oswald, his unconventional habits, as well as his frequenting clubs known to be hangouts for foreign Intel operatives, could have been his first indirect association with the world of Intelligence.
I also suspect Oswald would have had little appreciation for the number of both military and CIA counter intelligence assets deployed in those bars and clubs. Given his generally contrarian attitudes and disdain for regulations he might well have just seen it all as welcome adventure in being overseas. In that regard its more than a little likely that he showed up in routine surveillance reports, even more so if he attempted to visit or make inquiries at the Russian embassy in Tokyo.
To Oswald it may all have been part of the adventure, an opportunity to do things he never could have back home. In reality its more than likely he was “spotted” and tagged as someone to watch. After all, the best “dangles” are the unwitting ones, no connections, no tension, just acting on their own – sort of like a young goat wondering though a forest of tigers.
Your comment about Oswald being a naive young man abroad for the first time is quite accurate. From what I’ve found, Oswald appears to be a bit more naive then most. This naivete probably made him more open to potential observation/ manipulation by Intel assets.
From all my own research into Oswald, (Some of it based on my own experiences in the Marines.), I’ve come to the conclusion that he was not a budding James Bond, but rather an overly suggestable individual whose idealism made it easy for others to control and motivate him.
Simply put- “A Useful Idiot.”
Over the years I’ve come to revise a number of impressions I once held (and even wrote) in regard to Lee Oswald. I now see him as a contrarian with an opinion on everything and ready to argue with anyone at the drop of a hat (not unlike myself at his age). I also see him as sort of a born adventurer, easily bored, with a broad range of interests and the nerve to pursue any of them that held his interest for a time….as did his interest in Russian culture and the Cuban revolution.
The fact that he never attempted to conceal his interests, including unpopular and questionable ones relating to Russia or Cuba, with the fact that he was actually willing to act on them made him stand out in the crowd, especially in the military. When you add in the naivete factor he became relatively easy to maneuver with minimal contact and effort. All in all the perfect “dangle”, useful but clueless.
I’ll add something else about Oswald that I don’t think has been considered, namely that a person of his makeup was not an uncommon sight in the military of the late 1950s.
At this time in American History, there was an active military draft that sucked up just about every eligible male citizen into the ranks. Among those caught in it were young hipster beatnik types who either dropped out of college or just wanted to get out and see the world. There were also aspiring Jack Kerouacs who entered the military to get GI Bill benefits. Indeed, some very famous figures from the Beat/ Hippie era were themselves military veterans. Among them: Poet Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy ( Army), writer Hunter S. Thompson ( Air Force), music promoter Bill Graham( Army), comedian George Carlin ( Air Force), actor Steve McQueen ( Marines), and musicians Jerry Garcia ( Army), Mickey Hart ( Air Force), Country Joe MacDonald ( Navy), and Jimi Hendrix ( Army).
The hipster in uniform even made it into popular culture. The military comic strip “Beetle Bailey’ had the characters Private Rocky, who was the platoon troublemaker, and Private Plato, who spouted poetry and asked way too many questions. The Korean War novel “The Hunters” has in it a young arrogant F-86 pilot who is a jazz fanatic and talks Jive language, much to the chagrin of his flight leader.
With this is mind, Oswald’s unusual behavior would have been dismissed by his fellow Marines as him just being the squadron Hipster. His bookishness, his philosophical bent, and his unusual interests automatically typecast Oswald, making him an easy source of derision by his squadron mates.
The WC spent a lot of time interviewing Marines who served with Oswald at one location or the other and its pretty clear he did stand out and was noticed by many. However the WC also clearly shuffled the deck in which interviews it decided to focus on and not all made it into the 12 volumes. Recently one researcher determined that the Marine interviews had been collected, handed off to a particular private “archive” and had received no real attention for decades. When permission was gained to view the material, the owner was quite surprised to find the majority of what was supposed to be there simply was missing…with no clue as to where or when the missing elements had gone.
However with what we do have available, its clear that Oswald was the type you describe, even if he voluntarily enlisted. His contrarian political views, his interest in Russia, his books and magazines (with no pictures…grin), all made him remembered – but in many instances in a way that did not fit the WC model which was being developed. The statements from Nelson Delgado about Oswald’s Cuban revolutionary interests are one example of that.