A review of evidence never offered to the President’s Commission regarding official activities
Feasibly both the United States and Russian governments utilized several travelers and defectors. These people were tourists or aspiring expatriates who seemingly wished to embrace foreign life. These defectors in some cases provided useful intelligence data on topics of official interest. Over twenty United States military personnel defected from 1960 to 1962.i The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation debriefed some upon their return. Other prior defectors continued to be sources of official information.
Former United States Air Force officer Libero Ricciardelli notably brought his family to Russia for “personal problems” and was able to obtain Soviet citizenship unlike Lee Harvey Oswald.ii Ricciardelli similar to Oswald enjoyed his greater finances and accommodations in Russia. Yet Ricciardelli's wife constantly objected to the defection and life in Russia. He is one of the seventeen people feasibly utilized for the US Defector program.iii
Agency official Thomas Casasin contemplated Oswald's possible intelligence uses. Casasin suspected Marina was possibly using Oswald to relocating to serve as a Soviet intelligence asset.iv There was a pattern of such activity prior detected. Yet the reservations about Marina did not dissuade initial consideration of Oswald's use, however the unusual nature of Oswald’s actions led Casasin to suspect KGB involvement. Yet even a tourist and failed defector could obtain useful information.
Nor were Casasin's ideas of plots unfounded, the Agency itself used the "Legal Travellers Program". Casasin "said the program began pre-1960 with the lessening of tensions between the United States and Soviet Union." "The Legal Travellers Program operated in such a way that the agency contact was in touch with the traveller well before the proposed trip and would be informed as to which areas would be visited, what he would be doing in the country, ect. The agency contact would then be able to give the traveler the agency's "requirements" for information while he was abroad." Casasin personally objected to the program stating, "...it was too short-term to justify the investment of resources and the risk involved."v Despite modern declassified evidence, Casasin prior told the HSCA Staff that he believed no memo existed regarding his thoughts on Oswald.vi
Despite the increased lifestyle Oswald and Ricciardelli enjoyed abroad, they returned to the United States. Ricciardelli was debriefed upon his return; the first session did not go well. The lead Agency official believed Ricciardelli was offering “a well rehearsed and developed story…he continually hesitated before every answer.” One Agency employee conducting the interview believed these were cues that offered Ricciardelli was not honest, Ricciardelli’s wife had left and his children resided with relatives.vii
Ricciardelli and Oswald were unemployed; each had a family to feed under the shadow of their former actions. These men additionally had similar tumultuous domestic situations with their wives resenting their political decisions.viii Soviet authorities observed both defector and attempted defector. Former public claims of each man and associations with Russia impeded attempts to find employment. Oswald continued uttering hyperbolic statements and overt Marxist claims upon his return to the United States.
Conversely, Ricciardelli attempted to regain his United States citizenship and plead with Agency officials to aid him in his efforts.ix Ricciardelli was subsequently assessed by the Agency Domestic Contacts Service or Division (DCS aka DCD) as possibly being “a valuable source of information” concerning a Soviet scientist he was in extended contact with.x The FBI was apprised of the ongoing investigation.xi Oswald and Ricciardelli are two of the dozens of active travelers and defectors in the years preceding the Kennedy assassination.
Thomas Mooradian defected in 1947 and returned to the United States in 1960. During interviews with the FBI and CIA his contact with the KGB precluded operational use. Tommaro Sgvio was taken by his parents to Russia during the 1930s; he left Russia in 1960 for Rome, Italy in 1960. The FBI made contact with him and the CIA debriefed him in 1962. “Purpose of contact was possible use against other Italians returning from USSR and possible operational leads in the USSR.”
“In 1957 Morris Block traveled to the USSR…was one of a group of Americans to travel to Communist China. In the summer of 1958 Block attempted unsuccessfully to travel to the USSR using an altered passport. Accompanied by his wife and adopted daughter he made another attempt to reach the USSR in July 1959 and was successful. In December of 1959 a Ukrainian newspaper published a letter written by Blockin which he severely criticized life in the United Sates and detailed his own history of unemployment and alleged “persecution” by the FBI after his return from China.”xii
Maurice Halperin was “a visiting professor of the Social Sciences Division of the USSR Academy of Sciences on a contract which expires in 1961.” Halperin was noted to have prior contacts with Jacob Golob, a known Soviet espionage agent. A Central Intelligence Agency source informed them Halperin provided Golub with prior information. This information was allegedly offered by Halperin while he served in the United States Office of Strategic Services. Despite suspicions and later Congressional questioning, he and his wife subsequently relocated to Russia.
Joseph Marshall was “arrested by Soviets in 1945, released from prison in 1956. Departed USSR 9 December 1960. Debriefed by DCD (Domestic Contacts Division aka Service) for positive intelligence and also by SE Division.”xiii Harold Citrynell similar to Lee Harvey Oswald traveled to the USSR; he made representations to the Soviet government for Soviet citizenship and permanent residence. Citrynell left Russia and was “Unwittingly interviewed by CIA officer at US Embassy in Copenhagen. It is believed that Subject may have also been interviewed by our Domestic Contacts Division sometime after his return to the United States.”xiv
National Security Agency officials William Martin and Bernon Mitchell defected to Russia in 1960. “They had gone to Mexico and thence to Cuba where they had obtained transportation to the USSR.” These former Navy associates used the route Oswald is alleged to have sought years later. After defecting Martin and Mitchell participated in a press conference which gave a “scathing denouncement of the United States.”xv
Martin contacted a traveler while in Russia who offered the conversation for Agency use. Martin recounted his interrogation by the Soviets and their statement that United States government sought to assassinate him. Martin ardently believed these claims and changed his name and location.xvi It seems Lee Harvey Oswald was not the only suspicious former military traveler acting strangely abroad.
Robert E. Webster “Disappeared in Moscow in September 1959 after he assisted in packing up the Rand Development Corporation display at the Moscow World Fair. He reappeared on 17 October 1959 and signed a statement renouncing his American citizenship. Returned to US as immigrant on 20 May 1962. Debriefed by various elements of the CIA.” [xvii] Yet the Agency claimed in a separate classified file that Webster was never debriefed, this other file offers a defector list including Lee Harvey Oswald. The list notes “Several of the above referred to defectors have been of interest to the CIA.”xviii
Oswald appears on another defector list with a detailed biography just over a year after his attempted defection. Oswald’s discharge and visit to his mother in Waco, Texas is noted just preceding his “defection”. According to the Agency document Oswald’s offered reason for defection at the American Embassy was “the plight of the American Negro and U.S. ‘imperialism’ abroad.” He never mentions any commitment to Marxism. Oswald’s mail and location in Russia was noted as well. The information on Oswald is classified secret.xix
The Communist veneer Oswald had long touted was never secured by consistent actions but a few overt ones. Critics speculate about Oswald’s “deep” Communist connections that rely largely on the claims of Lee Harvey Oswald. He states he is a Marxist but he never joins the Communist Party, Socialist Party, or Fair Play for Cuba Committee despite his prior erroneous statements. Similar to his “defection” Oswald never truly acted upon the political beliefs he often asserted.
Similar men of little means and military background discontent with America went to Russia preceding and following Oswald. The reasoning varies but some of them were not mere tourists and served prior and future intelligence purposes. Most Commission officials were unaware of the many actual defectors, and those who may have served as FBI or Agency informants in Soviet territories. Yet similar to the Agency plots to assassinate Castro, Allen Dulles and the handful of others in the Agency or FBI who became aware were silent.
These officials deprived the President’s Commission of relevant information that would have offered additional insights. They suppressed evidence that might lead to damning revelations that occurred in future decades after most were dead. The similarities between Oswald and a few defectors actions are noteworthy. Some of these men were the pawns of chance, belief, and feasibly various interests foreign and domestic.
i. House Select Committee on Assassinations, Segregated Central Intelligence Agency files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Memo #260A- Informally from SA Turner/WFO/FBI, U.S. Army Personnel who deserted to Iron Curtain countries, Box 45, File 727, pp. 1, 2
ii. Central intelligence Agency files, Russ Holmes work file, HSCA request of 12 April 1978, Procedures on debriefing US defector repatriates, April 20, 1978, p. 3
iii. HSCA, Segregated CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero - OS/SAG Security Files, Memorandum Sub: US Army Personnel who defected to the Soviet Union, Box 45, File 727, September 16, 1969, pp. 1, 2
iv. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Recollections of Thomas B. Casasin about Oswald unusual behavior in USSR, Box 8, File385, November 25, 1963
v. HSCA, Seg. CIA staff notes, 180-10143-10227, Oswald, Lee, Russian Period, CIA, Methodology, File 1046, August 17, 1978, p.6
vi. Ibid, p. 9
vii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, microfilm reel 16 (Ricciardelli-Ruby), Memorandum subject – Case 41,096 Ricciardelli, Libero, July 26, 1963, p. 2
viii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Subject: Norman transcript, Box 45, File 727,June 16, 1969, pp. 2-3
ix. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Memorandum Subject: Case 41, 096 – Ricciardelli, Libero, Box 45, File 727, August 6, 1963
x. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Case 41,096 Libero Riccardelli- US Repatriate, Box 45, File 727, May 26, 1966
xi. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Memorandum, Permission to reveal the identity of a former US citizen (now a Soviet Citizen) as a source of this Agency to the FBI, Box 45, File 406, August 9, 1963
xii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Defectors, Subject: List of American defectors, Box 12, File 306, November 21, 1960, p. 3
xiii. CIA files, Russ Holmes work file, HSCA request of 12 April 1978, p. 2
xiv. Ibid, p. 3
xv. HSCA Seg. files, Defectors, Box 12, File 306, p. 6
xvi. HSCA Seg. files, microfilm reel 54 (Maheu-Merola, Cobb, Ramon), Meeting with US Defector, William Martin, Former employee of the US National Security Agency, Box File August 27, 1962, pp. 1-2
xviii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, American Defectors, Box 45, File 16, October 31, 1960, p. 2
xix. HSCA Seg. files, Defectors, Box 12, File 306, p. 7
UPDATE: Additional relevant defector files that support the article's prior contentions.
xx. HSCA, FBI Subject files, No Title, Vladimir Rodriguez Lahera, July 17, 1964, p. 1
xxi. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Microfilm reel 11, Defection Program, March 30, 1961, p. 1
xxii. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Box 59, Memo: Re Mexico City and Defector Issue, June 20, 1978
xxiii. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Defector Information on Lee Harvey Oswald, Box 6, May 11, 1964, p. 1-2
xxiv. HSCA, Segregated CIA FIles, Microfilm Reel 18, Webster-Wirogue, Debriefing of Robert Edward Webster, April 16, 1963
xxv. HSCA, FBI 62-10909, Warren Commission Headquarters Liaison File, Section 6, Liberio Ricciardelli, February 7. 1964, p. 1-2
Related Primary Evidence:
1967 CIA Study of Defectors