The CIA and the Man Who Was Not Oswald

Six weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963; the Central Intelligence Agency sent the following teletype message to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Departments of State and the Navy:

Subject: Lee Henry OSWALD

  1. On 1 October 1963 a reliable and sensitive source in Mexico reported that an American male, who identified himself as Lee OSWALD, contacted the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City inquiring whether the Embassy had received any news concerning a telegram which had been sent to Washington. The American was described as approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with a receding hairline.

  2. It is believed that OSWALD may be identical to Lee Henry OSWALD, born on 18 October 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. A former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959 and later made arrangement through the United States Embassy in Moscow to return to the United States with his Russian-born wife, Marina Nikolaevna Pusakova, and their child.

  3. The information in paragraph one is being disseminated to your representatives in Mexico City. Any further information received on this subject will be furnished you. This information is being made available to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Was the Lee Henry Oswald of the CIA message Lee Harvey Oswald? Yes, according to Richard Helms, then chief of the Agency’s Clandestine Services. In a March 1964 memorandum to J. Lee Rankin, general counsel to the Warren Commission, Helms explained that “OSWALD’S middle name was erroneously given as ‘Henry’ in the subject line and in paragraph two of the dissemination…. The maiden surname of Mrs. OSWALD was mistakenly listed as ‘PUSAKOVA.”’

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not “approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build”; he was twenty-three years old and slender. Apparently the CIA was concerned about the discrepancy, for on October 23 it sent the following message to the Department of the Navy:

Subject: Lee Henry OSWALD

Reference is made to CIA Out Teletype No. 74673 [the earlier message], dated 10 October 1963, regarding possible presence of subject in Mexico City. It is requested that you forward to this office as soon as possible two copies of the most recent photograph you have of subject. We will forward them to our representative in Mexico, who will attempt to determine if the Lee OSWALD in Mexico City and subject are the same individual.

Since Oswald had served in the Marine Corps, which comes under the administration of the Navy, his personnel records would have included his photograph.

What the Agency did not say in this cable is that it had in its possession a photograph of the man who had apparently “identified himself” as Oswald. The man in the CIA photo was not Lee Harvey Oswald; he was, just as the Agency’s “reliable and sensitive source” had described him, approximately thirty-five years old, with an athletic build and a receding hairline.

According to a memorandum by …

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Letters

The CIA’s Mystery Man July 17, 1975