Castro, Oswald, and JFK: the end of an obsession
Arnaldo M. Fernandez
After almost half a century of conspiracy theories on JFK assassination, a former CIAanalyst and current research associate at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) in the University of Miami (UM) has accidentally given the conclusive evidence that Cuban ruler Fidel Castro has nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald and Kennedy´s death. In his latest book, Castro’s Secrets (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), Dr. Brian Latell insisted in unveiling a “conspiracy of silence:” Castro would have known in advance Oswald was going to kill Kennedy and chose to remain silent. Far from making even a circumstantial case against Castro, Dr. Latell actually paved the way for critical thinking and led to erase any cloud of suspicion.
The Comer Clark Allegation
Castro’s foreknowledge is an old story broke by late British journalist Comer Clark: “Fidel Castro Says He Knew of Oswald Threat to Kill JFK” (National Enquirer [London], October 15, 1967, pages 4-5). On July 9, 1967, Clark flew to Havana and tried to carry out an interview with Castro, but it was flatly denied. Nevertheless, Clark wrote that an impromptu interview had taken place anyway on a sidewalk at a pizzeria in front of a cheering crowd. Castro would have told him: “Yes, I heard of Lee Harvey Oswald’s plan to kill President Kennedy. It’s possible I could have saved him. I might have been able to, but I didn’t. I never believed the plan would be put into effect.”Castro went on and explained that Oswald visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City twice; the last time “he said something like: ‘Someone ought to shoot that President Kennedy’. Then Oswald said —and this was exactly how it was reported to me— ‘May be I’ll try to do it.’ This was less than two months before the U.S. President was assassinated.”
“It’s a lie from head to toe,” Castro replied in a tapped interview conducted by a panel of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in Havana on April 3, 1978. He put forward a devastating argument: “I never go to public restaurants and that man invented that.” Congressman Christopher Dood (D/Connecticut) stressed: “I don’t even give interviews in a pizzeria.” (HCSA Report, Volume III, pages 207-09). Dood could have added never before a crowd and not in the least about such a sensitive matter.
Nevertheless, The Final Report of HSCA (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979, page 122 f) brought up that “the substance” of Clark interview with Castro had been independently reported to the U.S. Government by a highly confidential and reliable source: “Oswald had indeed vowed in the presence of Cuban consulate officials to assassinate the President.” Further investigation led the HSCA to believe that Oswald did not voice such a threat to Cuban officials, and however reliable the confidential source may be, it should be “in error in this instance.”
The Jack Childs report
The source was Jakob “Jack” Childs, codenamed NY 694-S by the FBI, who had engaged with his brother Morris in the Operation SOLO (1958-77) to infiltrate the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) for gathering intelligence about its relations with the URSS and other communist regimes. On May 20, 1964, Jack Childs flew from Moscow to “the beach” [Cuba] in the SOLO Mission 15. He spent ten days there and was able to talk with Castro about the JFK assassination.
Childs reported to FBI Director John Edgar Hoover that “Castro received the information about Oswald’s appearance at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico in an oral report from his people in the Embassy, because he, Castro, was told about it immediately (…) Castro said ‘I was told this by my people in the Embassy exactly how he (Oswald) stalked in and walked in and ran out. That in itself was a suspicious movement, because nobody comes to an Embassy for a visa (they go to a Consulate). [Castro] stated that when Oswald was refused his visa at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, he acted like a madman and started yelling and shouting on his way out, ‘I’m going to kill this bastard. I’m going to kill Kennedy’ [Castro]was speaking on the basis of facts given to him by his embassy personnel, who dealt with Oswald, and apparently had made a full, detailed report to Castro after President Kennedy was assassinated.” (FBI Records: The Vault – SOLO (http://vault.fbi.gov/solo), Part 63, pages 58-59).
The old sleuth Hoover summed up to Warren Commission General Counsel, James Lee Rankin, on June 17, 1964: “The information furnished by our source at this time as having come from Castro is consistent with and substantially the same as that which appears in Castro’s speech of November 27, 1963 (…) No further action is contemplated by this Bureau” (Warren Commission Document 1359).
The Latell Report
In the June 2012 edition of the electronic newsletter The Latell Report, published by the ICCAS-UM (http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/latellReport.asp), Dr. Latell summed up: “Childs learned that Castro received the information about Oswald’s appearances at the Cuban embassy, because he was told about it immediately. Fidel spoke to Childs on the basis of facts given to him by his embassy personnel, who dealt with Oswald, and apparently made a full, detailed report.” By trimming “after President Kennedy was assassinated” from the Childs report, Dr. Latell turned this alibi into a smoking gun against Castro, who had denied any foreknowledge of Oswald in both his speech at the University of Havana on November 27, 1963, and his Radio/TV appearance on November 23, 1963 (JFK Exhibit F-684).
Dr. Latell boasts about catching Castro in a lie not only by keeping hidden the actual time —after President Kennedy was assassinated— in which Castro knew about Oswald. Childs also brought Castro’s alibi by furnishing the exact location of the Oswald’s outburst: the Cuban embassy, not the consulate, located in a separate building. The Lopez Report [a.k.a. Oswald, the CIA, and Mexico City, 1978] actually states that the CIA photographed the visitors to the Cuban diplomatic compound from two different windows in a third floor apartment at 149 Francisco Marquez Street (see pages 12 f.) because the entrance to the embassy was on the corner of Tacubaya Alley and the entrance to the consulate, on the corner of Zamora Street.
Moreover Childs came to the foregone conclusion that “Castro had nothing to with the assassination.” After discussing his statements with Beatrice Johnson, the CPUSA representative in Cuba, Childs and Johnson decided never talk again about the issue “because it was dynamite.” Hoover took it seriously, but Dr. Latell didn’t. He dared to manipulate time and location for making his point, and no wonder the issue exploded in his hands.
The HSCA sound judgment
Unaware of the Childs report, the least HSCA could do was discarding “that Oswald voiced a threat to Cuban officials,” because both the outgoing and incoming Cuban consuls in Mexico City, Eusebio Azcue and Alfredo Mirabal, testified (HCSA Report, Volume III, pages 127-58 and 173-78, respectively) they did not hear Oswald threatening Kennedy’s life while dealing with him about an in-transit Cuban visa to go on with his family to the Soviet Union. Neither did the Mexican employee Silvia Duran (JFK Exhibit F-440A) who attended Oswald three times on the same day, September 27, 1963, regarding his visa application (JFK Exhibit F-408).
Based only on newspapers, Castro knew that HSCA had extensive information about phone conversations in Mexico City. Azcue and Mirabal were forced to truthfully testify for avoiding to be caught in a lie at a public hearing in the United States. The Childs report corroborated the testimonies of the three mentioned eyewitnesses at the Cuban consulate. Childs reasoned further that “the Cuban Embassy people must have told Oswald something to the effect that they were sorry that they did not let Americans into Cuba because the U.S. government stopped Cubans from letting them in, and that is when Oswald shouted out the statement about killing President Kennedy.” It goes without saying that Oswald was told at the Cuban embassy to apply anyway for a visa at the proper place: the consulate.
In The Final Report, HSCA concluded: “Nothing in the evidence indicated that the threat should have been taken seriously, if it had occurred, since Oswald had behaved in an argumentative and obnoxious fashion during his visit to the consulate” (page 122). The same logic applies for the Cuban embassy. Its officials or employees who heard Oswald’s threat must have considered it an idle boast, deserving no serious attention. Only after President Kennedy was assassinated and Oswald made the news, they were obliged to inform Castro.
The first defector
For disputing HSCA logic, Dr. Latell resorts to defectors from the Castroit General Directorate of Intelligence (acronym DGI in Spanish). The first one, Vladimir Rodriguez-Lahera, would have “told the CIA that Castro lied when he publicly denied any knowledge of Oswald.” The legend says he defected in Canada around April 24, 1964, and the CIA codenamed him AMMUG-1.
His debriefing (JFK Exhibit F-250) included “that the only possible fabrication known by the source was the specific denial by Fidel Castro on a television program [November 23, 1963], of any Cuban knowledge of Oswald.” For turning “possible fabrication” into evidence, Dr. Latell swallows AMMUG-1’s saying that the most routine matters at the Cuban diplomatic compound in Mexico City were reported directly to Castro. Neither Castro nor any other Chief of Government has time for being informed about visa applications or nasty applicants.
By May 8, 1964, the CIA realized AMMUG-1 didn´t know what he was talking about. He ended up admitting: “I have no personal knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald or his activities.” His CIA handler memoed: “The source does not claim to have any significant information concerning the assassination of President Kennedy or about the activities of Oswald.” Even so, Dr. Latell keeps on agonizing about AMMUG-1 report that Oswald “was in contact” with DGI officers “before, during and after” his visits to the Cuban consulate.
As anyone else —including the CIA and God— AMMUG-1 did not gave the slightest conjecture about “after”. In regard of “during,” he stated that senior intelligence officer Manuel Vega “mentioned that Oswald had gone to the Cuban consulate two or three times in connection with a visa.” AMMUG-1 didn‘t recall anything else about Oswald contacting DGI officers, but added: “I fell sure that he would have done so because Vega had said that Oswald had returned several times and [it was] the usual procedure [for] expediting the granting of visas” to DGI agents: if the visa applicant does not utter “indicate phrases,” the DGI officers “tell the applicant to return in a few days.” This house of cards falls down not only because Oswald came three times on the same day to the Cuban consulate. AMMUG-1 felt sure there was a contact “during” under the premise that Oswald was a DGI agent. It implies a contact “before,” but at this point AMMUG-1 became entirely pointless:
“I thought that [Cuban official] Luisa Calderon might have had contact with Oswald because I learned about 17 March 1964, shortly before I made a trip to Mexico, that she had been involved with an American in Mexico (…) The DGI had intercepted a letter to her by an American who signed his name as Ower (phonetic) or something similar (…) It could have been Howard or something different (…) She had been followed and seen in the company of an American. I do not know if this could have been Oswald.”
The Twisted Pair
In his 1964 debriefing by the CIA, AMMUG-1 does not refer to Cuban consul Alfredo Mirabal, identified by Dr. Latell as “incoming DGI chief in Mexico City” for putting spin on his testimony before HSCA: “In an oddly unguarded moment, [Mirabal] admitted that he had prepared a report on Oswald for DGI headquarters.”
It would confirm Castro knew of Oswald before the JFK assassination, but “for DGI headquarters” is a prosthesis implanted by Dr. Latell. Mirabal alluded to his report only once: “It was my colleague, Azcue, who brought all these documents and all this information to my desk for my report. It is then that I talked with the Soviet consul, and when I mentioned this to him, he told me that Oswald had in fact requested a visa for the Soviet Union but that he had been told that it would take about 4 months to obtain a response, and that is the reason that I included that information in the footnote that was to be sent to Havana.” Mirabal was obviously testifying about his report to the Cuban Foreign Ministry in connection with the in-transit visa application filed by Oswald on September 27, 1963.
Dr. Latell found even another report “indicating that Oswald probably first came to the attention of the DGI several years earlier, when he was a young Marine serving in southern California.” It’s the transcription (JFK 104-10400-10162, in CIA – Russ Holmes Work File) of a phone conversation between the above mentioned Luisa Calderon (LUISA) and a male colleague (HF), captured by the CIA at 5:30 pm on November 22, 1963. It clearly rules out any foreknowledge of Oswald by DGI:
“LUISA interrupts and asks if it was a gringo that killed him [Kennedy] and HF says yes, but said he had been in Russia, and that he wanted to become a Russian citizen, but Russia had not wanted to nationalize him… LUISA is surprised and says ‘Listen, they really know things there!’
HF: Yes, that he knows Russian very well and besides this type had gone with Fidel’s forces to the Sierra [Maestra], or wanted to go, something like that, who knows how it was (…) [I] was eating with some friends (…) when someone came and gave [the news] but they did not believe it until he told them to turn on the radio; that’s what they did and they learned about it; that the last he had heard, a moment ago, was that that type is one OSWALD…
LUISA: But they already know that he speaks Russian and belongs to the Pro-Cuba Committee; that they already know that he wanted to nationalize himself, but he has not confessed.
HF says she is right, adding that it could be that they tried to find some let’s say solution from him, because (…) we think that if it had been (…) one of the segregationist or against integration who had killed Kennedy, then there was, let’s say, the possibility that a sort of civil war would arise in the U.S.”
Neither Calderon nor Mirabal led to Dr. Latell’s suggestion that the DGI was acquainted with Oswald and had started a file on him when he was a marine stationed (December 22, 1958 – September 11, 1959) in California. The specific account on Oswald attempting to get in with Castroit consular officials in Los Angeles in early 1959 suggests quite the contrary. Former marine (1954-58), Castroit pilot (1959-60) and anti-Castro soldier of fortune (1960-62) Gerald Patrick Hemming stated: “I thought he [Oswald] might’ve been on the Naval Intelligence payroll. You know, a penetrator. I told the [Castroit] leadership to get rid of him.” (Dick Russell, The Man Who knew Too Much, Carroll & Graf, 1992, page 178).
Although no DGI officer would have ever dared to do it with an American “madman” in a one-day visit, Dr. Latell asserts that when Oswald “left the consulate and shouted his intent to kill Kennedy,” it was actually “the war cry of a fully primed soldier for Fidel [Castro].” In accord with AMMUG-1, Dr. Latell placed all the DGI officers at the consulate, where they would have given Oswald “plenty of propaganda and indoctrination” and also applied “a favorite practice in their tradecraft:” winding him up. The debate on this speculation is superfluous since Dr. Latell blatantly relocates “the war cry” of Oswald from the embassy to the consulate.
The most valuable defector
The last straw in Dr. Latell’s unveiling of “a conspiracy of silence” is a classic non sequitur fallacy slipped by Major Florentino Aspillaga, a Castroit “intelligence officer of the year” (1985) who defected from Czechoslovakia to Austria in June 1987. Being hardly 16 years old, Aspillaga already had the standing assignment of electronically detecting CIA agents and infiltration teams. On November 22, 1963, he got an unprecedented order around 9:00 or 9:30 am EST: “Listen to any small detail from Texas.” At 1:40 pm EST, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite broke the news” “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade…” Aspillaga drew the conclusion: “Castro knew Kennedy would be killed.”
Whatever the reason Castro would have had to give the order, the most unlikely is some foreknowledge about Oswald’s intention to shoot Kennedy, because it would imply that Castro must have been sure about Oswald whereabouts on November 22, 1963. The well-known eventful journey of Oswald turns such foreknowledge impossible. Shortly before Oswald left New Orleans for Mexico City, his wife Marina (nee Prusakova) had moved to Irving, about 17 miles from Dallas, for the birth of their second child. She stayed at her friend Ruth Paine’s home. Oswald came back from Mexico City on October 2, 1963, when nobody —including God and the CIA— knew whether he will be in Dallas or elsewhere by the time of the still in the talking stage JFK visit. Oswald arrived in Dallas on October 3, 1963, and checked in at the YMCA. Since the day before, the FBI Field Office in New Orleans was asking Dallas, Fort Worth, and even Malvern (Arkansas) for ascertaining Oswald’s whereabouts.
After failing to get hired at Padgett Printing in Dallas, Oswald hitchhiked to Ruth Paine’s house in Irving. He returned to Dallas on October 7, 1963, but couldn’t get a job either and went again to Irving on October 12. He came back to Dallas on October 14. As Ruth Paine mentioned that he was having trouble finding work, her neighbor Linnie Mae Randle hinted about an opening at the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD), where his brother Buell Frazier was employed. Paine called Oswald and he began to work by pure chance at the TSBD on October 16, 1963.
Apart from the strange order to use intelligence resources for knowing details that will be surely available by listening to the commercial radio, Aspillaga’s credibility is as weak as his reasoning. He told Dr. Latell that he had previously given the information about that order only to the CIA in 1987. Then it must be fully explained why the CIA didn’t come forward with Aspillaga to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), gathered from 1992 to 1998 around the fireworks made by Oliver Stone with his film JFK (1991). It also makes everyone wonder why Aspillaga abstained from revealing the issue to the media. In June 1988, for instance, he referred to Castro 69 times during a radio interview with Tomas Regalado in Miami, but not even once to Kennedy.
Dr. Latell wrote in his book he “owes a special debt of gratitude” to Aspillaga, but both have put themselves in a delicate spot with an anecdote à la carte 25 years later for connecting Castro to Oswald. Dr. Latell abjures social science by messing around with DGI defectors, despite his own foreknowledge about the methodological circumstance that their tales couldn’t be compare with Castro’s archives. The blame is not on Castro for shielding them from outsiders, but on Dr. Latell, since he used the creative imagination of Cuban defectors for writing a non-fiction book instead of a novel about the JFK assassination.