Feasibly both the United States and Soviet 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 and over twenty United States military personnel defected from nineteen sixty to nineteen sixty-two.i The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation debriefed some upon their return and 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 greater finances and accommodations in Russia but Ricciardelli's wife constantly objected to the defection and life in Russia. He is one of the seventeen people that might have been utilized for a US defector program.iii
Agency official Thomas Casasin contemplated Lee Harvey Oswald's possible intelligence uses. Casasin suspected Marina was possibly using Oswald for relocation to serve as a Soviet intelligence asset because there was a pattern of such activity prior detected.iv 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 defector could obtain useful information in the Soviet Union. 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 Modern declassified evidence reveals 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 and 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 employees conducting the interview believed these were cues supporting Ricciardelli was not honest, Ricciardelli’s wife had left and his children resided with relatives.vii He is another returned defector with few prospects and legal rights.
Ricciardelli and Oswald were unemployed; each had a family to feed under the shadow of their former actions, and these men additionally had similar tumultuous domestic situations with their wives resenting their political decisions.viii Soviet authorities observed both defectors and the former public declarations of each man and associations with Russia impeded attempts to find employment. Yet 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 and they too were interested and suspicious of Oswald.xi Ricciardelli and Oswald are two of the dozens of active travelers and defectors in the years preceding the Kennedy assassination.
Thomas Mooradian defected in nineteen forty-seven and returned to the United States in nineteen sixty, during interviews with the FBI and CIA his discovered contact with the KGB precluded operational use. Tommaro Sgvio was taken by his parents to Russia during the nineteen thirties; he left Russia in nineteen sixty for Italy was contacted by the FBI and the CIA debriefed him in nineteen sixty-two. “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 but later accompanied by his wife and adopted daughter he tried again to reach the USSR in July 1959 and was successful. In December of 1959 a Ukrainian newspaper published a letter written by Block in 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 Golub, a known Soviet espionage agent. A Central Intelligence Agency source informed them Halperin provided Golub with prior information and Halperin allegedly offered this information while he served in the United States Office of Strategic Services. The Halprins subsequently move to Russia without official challenge despite previous suspicions and Congressional questioning.
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 but Citrynell departed Russia and was later “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 nineteen sixty. “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 that gave a “scathing denouncement of the United States.”xv Martin contacted a traveler while in Russia who offered the conversation for Agency use, he disclosed that 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 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 and Oswald’s mail and location in Russia was noted as well and this information on Oswald is classified secret.xix
Oswald's Communist veneer was secured by merely a few overt vaguely subversive actions and his critics speculate about Oswald’s “deep” Communist connections that rely largely on the mere claims of Lee Harvey Oswald. He states he is a Marxist but he never joins the Communist Party, Socialist Party, or had any office in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee despite his prior erroneous statements. Oswald never verifiably attended regular meetings and he did not participate in various associated events and programs. Akin 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. The similarities between Oswald and a few defectors actions are noteworthy and 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, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 1993.07.21.16:35:00:000280
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, NARA ID: 104-10408-10084
iii. HSCA, Segregated CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero - OS/SAG Security Files, Memorandum Sub: US Army Personnel who defected to the Soviet Union, Box 45, 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, 104-10059-10181
v. HSCA, Seg. CIA staff notes, 180-10143-10227, Oswald, Lee, Russian Period, CIA, Methodology, 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, 104-10128-10164
viii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Subject: Norman transcript, June 16, 1969, pp. 2-3,
ix. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Memorandum Subject: Case 41, 096 – Ricciardelli, Libero, August 6, 1963
x. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Ricciardelli, Libero – OS/SAG Security Files, Case 41,096 Libero Riccardelli- US Repatriate, 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, August 9, 1963, NARA ID: 104-10128-10168
xii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, Defectors, Subject: List of American defectors, November 21, 1960, p. 3, NARA ID: 1993.08.03.10:27:50:210053
xiii. CIA files, Russ Holmes work file, HSCA request of 12 April 1978, p. 2, 104-10408-10084
xiv. Ibid, p. 3
xv. HSCA Seg. files, Defectors, 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, NARA ID: 104-10219-10246
xviii. HSCA, Seg. CIA files, American Defectors, Box 45, File 16, October 31, 1960, p. 2, NARA ID: 104-10129-10134
xix. HSCA Seg. files, Defectors, 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, NARA ID: 124-10207-10459
xxi. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Microfilm reel 11, Defection Program, March 30, 1961, p. 1, NARA ID: 104-10175-10068
xxii. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Box 59, Memo: Re Mexico City and Defector Issue, June 20, 1978, NARA ID: 1993.08.07.11:30:33:680059
xxiii. HSCA, Segregated CIA Files, Defector Information on Lee Harvey Oswald, May 11, 1964, p. 1-2, NARA ID: 104-10052-10064
xxiv. HSCA, Segregated CIA FIles, Microfilm Reel 18, Webster-Wirogue, Debriefing of Robert Edward Webster, April 16, 1963, NARA ID: 104-10182-10065
xxv. HSCA, FBI 62-10909, Warren Commission Headquarters Liaison File, Section 6, Liberio Ricciardelli, February 7. 1964, p. 1-2
Edited: December 2017