Within a few hours of John Kennedy’s assassination, an anti-Castro organization in New Orleans called the DRE (Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil) issued a press release publicizing that Lee Harvey Oswald, who had just been arrested in connection with the assassination, was a communist. The allegation quickly caught steam and word spread all across the world that Kennedy had been killed by a communist. The Warren Commission, which was the official body charged with investigating the assassination, ultimately concluded that Kennedy had, in fact, been killed by a communist.
What no one knew at the time — and what no one would discover for several decades — was that the DRE was being funded by the CIA to the tune of around $50,000 per month ($400,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars) and was closely supervised by a CIA agent named George Joannides.
The question that naturally arises is: Was the president really killed by a bona fide communist or was his assassination instead a sophisticated “blame it on a communist” strategy to distract attention from the CIA as the orchestrator of one of its state-sponsored regime-change operations? As I pointed out in part 3, the CIA and the Pentagon would later teach the “blame a communist” strategy to Latin American military officials as a way to avoid detection in secret state-sponsored assassinations.
The notion that Oswald was a genuine communist is filled with anomalies, mysteries, and contradictions.
How many genuine communists have ever joined the Marines? Marines hate communists. They kill communists. Why would a genuine communist want to join an organization that hated and killed communists?
Oswald joined the Marines in 1956, just a few years after the Korean War, during which U.S. Marines and other U.S. forces killed and injured millions of North Koreans, all of whom were considered to be commies. The entire country, including rural villages, had been flattened by massive U.S. carpet-bombing campaigns.
Moreover, the war was never ended by treaty. There was simply a suspension of hostilities. It could be resumed at a moment’s notice, with U.S. Marines and other military personnel being called upon to kill even more North Koreans, not to mention Chinese communists.
If Oswald was a genuine communist, why would he want to put himself in the position of having to kill fellow communists or be killed by fellow communists?
In June 1963, Kennedy delivered a public speech at American University in which he sent shock waves all across the world and especially within the U.S. national-security establishment. Known today as the Peace Speech, Kennedy announced an end to the Cold War and his aim to establish a peaceful and friendly coexistence with the Soviet Union. The speech was so well-received in the Soviet Union that it was broadcast all across the country, the first time that had ever happened. Soon after that, Kennedy entered into a highly publicized nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviets.
Why would a genuine communist want to kill a president who was clearly reaching out to the communist world in a spirit of peace, friendship, and mutual coexistence, especially knowing that his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, who most people knew hated the Kennedys, would very likely be hewing to the Cold War line that guided the U.S. national-security establishment?
Prior to his employment at the Texas School Book Depository, Oswald was employed at a graphic-arts company in Dallas named Jaggars-Stiles-Stovall, which developed top-secret photographs for the CIA. Would a genuine communist ever have been permitted to work at that type of facility?
Indeed, would a genuine communist ever be permitted to be a U.S. Marine, especially at the height of the Cold War, when U.S. officials were doing everything they could to ferret out, smear, and destroy anyone suspected of being a communist? Would the U.S. military have permitted a genuine communist to serve at Atsugi Air Force Base in Japan, where the top-secret U-2 fly plane was based?
When Oswald announced his defection to the Soviet Union in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he told embassy officials that he planned to tell the Soviets everything he knew, which would necessarily have included the classified information he had acquired during his assignment in Japan. Yet he was permitted to return to the United States without being abused, harassed, smeared, subpoenaed, or indicted (or, it seems, even debriefed). Compare his treatment, for example, to that of Martin Luther King, who was only suspected of being a communist.
Moreover, at the height of the Cold War and the U.S. anti-communist crusade, Oswald was permitted to bring back a Russian wife, who could easily have been accused of being a communist, especially given that one of her uncles was closely connected to Russian intelligence. Why would they easily let what could be a Russian spy into the United States when they were doing everything they could to cleanse America (and the world) of communists?
When Oswald moved to his hometown of New Orleans in April 1963, he secured a job at Reily Coffee Company, which was owned by a right-wing anti-communist. Why would a person like that hire a genuine communist?
Is there a rational explanation for all that? Actually, there is.
Soon after the Warren Commission was established, the commission’s chairman, Earl Warren, called a top-secret emergency meeting of the commission. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss information that Warren had received that Oswald had actually been working for U.S. intelligence or as an FBI informant or both. To resolve the matter, the question was put to the heads of the FBI and the CIA, both of whom denied it. Believing that the FBI and the CIA would never lie about such a matter, Warren put the issue to rest and ordered that the proceedings of that particular meeting never be disclosed to the American people or anyone else.
But that Oswald was working for U.S. intelligence is the only scenario that makes sense. Within that particular framework all the mysteries, anomalies, and contradictions disappear.
When Oswald was growing up, his favorite television program was I Led Three Lives, which was about an American businessman who posed as a communist while secretly serving as an informant for the FBI. Many of the segments of I Led Three Lives are posted on YouTube. It’s worth watching at least one or two, not only to get a sense of what life was like in Cold War America but also to see what could have been going through the mind of young Oswald as he watched his favorite television program.
It is not difficult to imagine Oswald’s fantasizing about becoming a G-man when he grew up and even following in the footsteps of Herbert Philbrick, the patriotic, anti-communist hero of I Led Three Lives. It would certainly explain why Oswald would begin studying communism as a teenager. After all, to successfully pose as a communist among genuine communists would require a deep understanding of communism and socialism.
That would explain why Oswald would become a Marine and have no reservations about the possibility of being immediately called upon to kill communists. It would explain how Oswald would be assigned to Atsugi Air Force Base, how he would learn fluent Russian in the Marines, and why his self-publicizing as a communist Marine would not cause any concern within the anti-communist military bureaucracy.
Given that the U.S. Marine Corps has long served as a primary source for recruiting CIA agents, it would not surprise anyone that Oswald would be among the CIA’s recruits or hires. It would also explain how he was easily able to secure an early discharge and how he was able to make it to the Soviet Union with hardly any money. It would also explain why he would be infiltrated into the Soviet Union — as a false defector. It would explain his employment at Jaggars-Stiles-Stovall in Dallas and the Reily Coffee Company in New Orleans.
Oswald moved from Dallas to New Orleans in the spring of 1963 and became the representative of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization, interesting enough, that the CIA, the FBI, and the rest of the U.S. national-security establishment was spying on, infiltrating, and trying to destroy, notwithstanding the fact that its mission was simply to establish normal relations with Cuba.
It was during that time that Oswald made contact with the DRE, the organization that the CIA was secretly supervising and funding and that would, several months later, be the first organization publicizing Oswald’s supposed communist connections to the world.
Oswald’s initial contact with the DRE, an anti-Castro, anti-communist organization, was rather unusual. He approached the head of the organization, a man named Carlos Bringuier, and offered to work for the DRE. Oswald offered to help train DRE agents, even giving Bringuier his U.S. Marine Corps manual, apparently to help establish his military credentials.
Later, Bringuier got word that Oswald was out on the streets of New Orleans passing out pamphlets promoting the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. In what was obviously a major mistake, some of Oswald’s FPCC pamphlets had 544 Camp Street in New Orleans stamped on them as the return address. That was the address of the office of a former FBI agent named Guy Bannister, an office Oswald had been seen visiting.
In what has all the earmarks of a concocted fight, Bringuier and Oswald went after each other, with Oswald even inviting Bringuier to hit him. Both were arrested for disorderly conduct. Bringuier pled not guilty and the charges were dismissed. Oswald, on the other hand, pled guilty, thereby ensuring him more publicity. Later, in a public radio debate between Oswald and Bringuier, the latter publicly exposed Oswald as a communist.
During the entire proceedings of the Warren Commission, the CIA kept secret the fact that the CIA had been supervising and funding the DRE.
In the 1970s, the House Committee on Assassinations opened a reinvestigation of the Kennedy assassination. A renowned Philadelphia prosecutor — Richard Sprague — was named investigative counsel for the committee and immediately made it clear that the CIA would be a target of interest in the investigation. When the independent-minded Sprague refused to sign the CIA’s secrecy agreements, he was forced out of his position and he returned to Philadelphia. He was replaced by a lawyer named Robert Blakey, who agreed to sign the CIA’s secrecy agreements and displayed a much more deferential attitude toward the CIA.
Two young law students, Edwin Lopez and Dan Hardway, were assigned the task of examining CIA records relating to the assassination, including records relating to the still-mysterious trip that Oswald supposedly made to Mexico City prior to the assassination. At first, CIA officials cooperated with Lopez and Hardway, so long as their records examination took place within CIA offices.
After a while, however, the CIA realized that the two young law students knew exactly what they were doing and what they were looking for. That was when the CIA brought in a CIA agent to serve as a liaison between the House Select Committee and the CIA. That liaison agent was none other than George Joannides, the CIA agent who had been secretly supervising the DRE, both before the assassination and on the day it issued the press release publicizing Oswald’s communist connection.
As it turned out, Joannides’s job was not to serve as a liaison or a facilitator but rather as an obstructionist. His mission was to prevent Lopez and Hardway and the House Select Committee from delving any further into the assassination-related records of the CIA. That’s why Oswald’s supposed trip to Mexico City, where he appeared to be fortifying his public persona as a communist, is still so shrouded in mystery.
Needless to say, neither Joannides nor the CIA disclosed to the House Committee Joannides’s role with the DRE before or after the assassination. They chose to keep that secret.
In 1992, Congress enacted the JFK Records Act, which required all federal agencies, including the CIA, to disclose their Kennedy-related records to the public. The enforcement entity for the act was the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).
Throughout the term of the ARRB, the CIA not only did not disclose its files relating to Joannides, and the DRE, it decided to keep the entire matter secret from the ARRB, just as it had done from the Warren Commission in the 1960s and the House Select Committee in the 1970s.
The CIA’s decades-long secrecy on Joannides and the DRE came to an end in 2001, when former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley revealed the matter in an article in the Miami New Times.
When Robert Blakey, the lawyer who had replaced Richard Sprague as counsel for the House Select Committee, discovered what the CIA had done, he was livid. He stated, “If I’d known his role in 1963, I would have put Joannides under oath — he would have been a witness, not a facilitator. How do we know what he didn’t give us?”
In an addendum to an interview, Blakey added,
I was not told of Joannides’ background with the DRE, a focal point of the investigation. Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the staff or by the committee. He would never have been acceptable to us as a point of contact with us to retrieve documents. In fact, I have now learned, as I note above, that Joannides was the point of contact between the agency and the DRE during the period Oswald was in contact with the DRE. That the agency would put a “material witness” in as a “filter” between the committee and its quests for documents was a flat-out breach of the understanding the Committee had with the Agency that it would cooperate with the investigation.
The committee’s researchers immediately complained to me that Joannides was, in fact, not facilitating but obstructing our obtaining of documents. I contacted [Deputy Counsel Scott] Breckinridge and Joannides. Their side of the story wrote off the complaints to the young age and attitude of the people.
They were certainly right about one question: the committee’s researchers did not trust the Agency. Indeed, that is precisely why they were in their positions. We wanted to test the Agency’s integrity. I wrote off the complaints. I was wrong; the researchers were right. I now believe the process lacked integrity precisely because of Joannides.
The later reaction of federal judge John Tunheim, who chaired the ARRB, was not much different: “If we had known of his role in Miami in 1963, we would have pressed for all his records…. I think we were probably misled by the agency. This material should be released.”
But the Joannides material will not be released because the CIA will still not permit it to be released. In fact, when the National Archives released its final batch of Kennedy-assassination records last month —including records that the CIA succeeded in keeping secret for more than half a century — the CIA’s Joannides files were not among them.
The reason: They say that the release of those 50-year-old records would constitute a grave threat to “national security.” Of course, there is another possibility — that the release of the records would add to ever-growing amount of circumstantial evidence of a national-security regime-change operation on November 22, 1963.
This article was originally published in the November 2017 edition of Future of Freedom.