Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: Harvey and Lee - How the CIA framed Oswald by John Armstrong

"We do know Oswald had intelligence connections. Everywhere you look with him, there are fingerprints of intelligence." -Republican Senator Richard Schweiker, member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Village Voice: 12/15/75)

For a long time I considered the idea of Lee Oswald having a double to be out there in Fringe Land.  I’m still wondering if it could really be true that he was being impersonated.  The book, “Harvey and Lee - How the CIA framed Oswald” by John Armstrong is the definitive book on the subject.  Armstrong’s research is solid and exhaustive in detail since he made his fortune in the oil business and thereafter had the time and money to the pursue the research.  If you don’t agree with the book’s main theme, that Lee Oswald was impersonated from the age of 14 on and was used as a CIA project, it remains a tremendous source book for JFK researchers.  There are facts in this book you will not find anyplace else.  I have over 30 JFK books in my ever growing collection and not a single one of them mentions such details as the second paper bag, the issues with the money order used to purchase the rifle, or Marina Oswald’s suspicious financial dealings with Tex-Italia Films, or any number of obscure facts on the case that point towards conspiracy.  Facts that many in the pro-conspiracy JFK community could and should use in their books and presentations and for whatever reason, do not.

Coming in at 983 pages, Harvey and Lee is almost as heavy of tome as Vince Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History (over 1600 pages). But unlike that book, it’s more manageable to hold and read. It includes a CD full of photos and declassified documents and is well sourced with chapter notes and index. Unlike Bugliosi’s work, it’s hard to find for a book that is not out of print and prices can be as high as $100 or more. I paid $77 for mine and consider myself lucky!

The Tangled Web
Untangling the tangled web of Lee Oswald’s life is a bewildering task. Do not think you can sally forth and easily figure this guy out. And it all starts early on in his life. His ways are mysterious but if one filters his actions through Cold War espionage one gets a glimpse of who he was and what his mission was. I can see why the Warren Commission chose early on to downplay that part of the investigation and quickly come to a conclusion of a lone shooter not affiliated with anybody in a plot. If they dug too deeply they knew they would blow open a hornet’s nest of behind the scene government and military operations (see Breach of Trust, Gerald McKnight).

Two Ozzies, Two Mommies
The Oswald-as-doppelganger theory has been around a long time. Jim Mars made note of it in his book, Cross Fire. Surprisingly, this is not an idea issued from kooky conspiracy buffs as the lone nut crowd may suggest, but directly from the government. The first instance is a June, 1960 memo from FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover to the Dept. of State warning them that somebody has accessed Oswald’s birth certificate and may be impersonating him. Hoover, the King of the FBI, never states his sources or evidence for this. But the ship is launched.

What John Armstrong brings to the table is his contention that Lee Oswald is being impersonated as young as 14 years old. There is a lot he brings forth on this, but the most telling comes from the Warren Commission’s 26 volumes of collected evidence. There are in those volumes, two sets of educational records from the fall of 1953. One set has Oswald enrolled in PS #44 in New York. The other set has him enrolled in Beauregard Junior High in New Orleans also in the fall of 1953.

Rapidly apparent is that obviously, Oswald can’t be in two places at the same time. He could be impersonated, or some of these records could be false. Armstrong rarely raises the issue of these documents being forged as an explanation for this curious development. Of course, that raises other questions as well, such as, if Oswald is just a lone gunman then why make up phony records to add to his perceived guilt? This is supposed to be a clear-cut case, right? (I call this the framing of the guilty man. A recurring theme if you watch for the pattern.)

Another factor to consider: With Lee being impersonated at this young age, there would need to be a second mother as well for the other boy. Things have suddenly gotten complicated and the theory is to the breaking point. I can’t imagine a more difficult situation to work out if this is supposed to be part of a clandestine operation. However, this doesn’t seem to concern the author in the slightest, and he makes no mention of how freaky this situation has become. Basically, for this to work, one would need one woman and her son, another woman and her child and everybody has to resemble each other. Amazing! And don’t forget, one of the moms has two sons from a pervious marriage. Imagine what a mess the holidays could become!

Intertwined with this is how both pairs look and act. According to various records, photographs, and witness accounts collected by Armstrong, some people experienced a tall Lee and a short Lee (who wanted to be called by his middle name, Harvey). With the mothers some people knew a tall Marguerite and some knew a short Marguerite. The resulting theme then is a tall son and mother and a short son and mother. And it carries down to their personalities as well. The tall pair are attractive, social, and well liked; the short pair are just the opposite. All too convenient it seems and it’s the element of this story that is tidy.

Oswald Here, There, And Everywhere
Probably the most striking thing about John Armstrong’s research is the numerous sightings of Lee Oswald at times and places that he shouldn’t be. The most striking account is that of Palmer McBride, who claims to have worked with Oswald at the Pfisterer Dental Lab. More than just coworkers, they hung out at each other’s homes, double dated, and Oswald was a member the local astronomy club where he impressed everybody by touting the abilities of the communist system in the launch of the Sputnik. McBride said he knew Lee Oswald during the years of 1957 through early 1958 when Oswald is supposed to have been stationed at the U2 base in Atsugi, Japan. Conversely, his best friend in the Marines stationed with him there was Zack Stout. Stout describes Oswald as regular guy that never discussed politics or had an interest in communism or the Russian language and didn’t mind having a beer with the boys.

So in Armstrong’s narrative one Lee is in Japan the other Lee is in New Orleans. Then, as the Lee in Japan boards a ship with his fellow Marines to head off to Taiwan, the Louisiana bound Lee travels to Japan to reside at the Atsugi base. Armstrong bases this on medical records showing Oswald being treated for various infections at Atsugi. This is a bit of stretch and Armstrong once again does not mention the possibility of false documents being rendered to provide a fabricated trail for enemies (or future investigators) to pursue.

The main part of Harvey and Lee precedes along this theme of Oswald being two places, or more, at once. There is such a huge selection of sightings and encounters it’s almost as if there is a whole clone army of Oswalds rummaging about the countryside. It seems to build expansively towards the last few months leading up the assassination with Oswald encounters becoming almost frenetic in pace. It gets to the point where Armstrong implies that both are together at the same place, such as both being in the same school (building) at the same time, both in the Marines simultaneously or both in the School Book Depository Building at the moment of the assassination. And nobody is going to notice? That's quite a stretch and I think Armstrong starts losing control of the narrative at these junctures. It adds a degree of kookiness to something that could otherwise be feasible.

Another thing I take issue with is how the doubles are utilized. Armstrong details over and over again that while one Lee is at work the other is out and about and in some situations, drawing attention to himself. A case in point–the Dobbs House Restaurant incident on the morning of November 20, two days before the assassination (pg. 781). This Oswald is having a hissy fit over his eggs not being cooked right and making such a fuss, that many there took note it. This is supposed to have occurred at 10:00 A.M., the same time Oswald, according to his work records, is filling out book orders. Shouldn’t the other Oswald be keeping a low profile? Or maybe it’s the proper thing so as to create confusion and cover later on down the road, in the advent that someone raises the doppelganger issue? Then the investigator gets called a crackpot for daring to broach the subject.

(Also intriguing with this incident is Dallas police officer J. D. Tippet is in the restaurant the same time Oswald is noticing the fuss taking place. Was he there to observe Oswald?  Who knows...)

Despite my misgivings, there is enough interesting stuff here to certainly make a strong case for Lee Oswald being a impersonated. There is a huge amount of witness testimony that does makes sense. Not everybody can be lying or mistaken. One can also see the hand of the authorities (i.e., FBI, CIA, WC) to manage this testimony so the truth does not air.

A case in point is the famous Silvia Odio incident (pg. 623). In brief, a Cuban immigrant was staying with her sister when three men came to the door–two hispanic men and one caucasian, who was introduced as Leon Oswald. They were seeking financial help to fund a take-down of Castro as they knew her father was once a wealthy Cuban businessman. Suspicious, she turned them away and a few months later recognized Lee Oswald, the accused assassin, as the same man who had appeared at her door as “Leon.” Her story was fluffed off by the Warren Commission but later accepted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s. Her account of meeting Oswald is widely accepted among researchers, even some lone nut supporters. (It should be pointed out that Odio is not the only witness to seeing Oswald–so was her sister Annie who first answered the knock at the door and overheard the conversation. She was never interviewed by FBI or the Warren Commission.)

However, at the time Oswald appears at the Odio apartment in late September of 1963 he is also supposed to be on the bus in Mexico in route to Mexico City. Oops! And interestingly, I've seen few researchers, even pro-conspiracy ones, point this fact out. I can partially see why, as it leads one to some rough patches on the rabbit trail. Not everybody wants to deal with it. Armstrong documents this, and many other instances of reliable and multiple witness encounters with Oswald at places and times only an impostor could appear at.

Where Does Everybody Go?
It's the main unfinished business of Harvey and Lee. We know what happens the real Lee Oswald, but what happens to his double, if he has one? Or for that matter, his doppelganger mother? Armstrong simply doesn't tell us. The trail has grown cold and he seems not to care. I would think this is an important thing to resolve, but to be fair, I don't know how this part of the story could be resolved. There are few witnesses to Oswald impersonators after the assassination and basically no records of any kind that have been released on the subject.

There has been a book published in recent years called, “Flight from Dallas: New Evidence of CIA Involvement in the Murder of President John F. Kennedy”. It relates the story of an Air Force Sergeant, Robert G. Vinson and his flight home on the day of the assassination. He claims the transport plane he took that day makes an unannounced stop at an airstrip outside of Dallas and two men emplane in yellow coveralls and one of the men resembles Oswald. You can see this man's account told on YouTube. The final designation is the airbase at Roswell, New Mexico where the yellow clad Oswald departs never to be seen again. An interesting story but we still don’t know what happens to this other Oswald providing this account is even true.

Harvey and Lee stands as probably the most meticulously detailed account of Lee Oswald's life written to date. Not even Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale comes close to John Armstrong's research and pales in comparison. I have sympathy for any future biographer of Lee Oswald because he or she will have to wade through all of this doppelganger business with the many conflicting witnesses and documents and the "fingerprints of intelligence" as Senator Schweiker remarked, ever present. It'll be interesting to see if they will want to go this deep into it. I bet many won't.

Whether this is a conspiracy or not, the JFK assassination is loaded with cover-ups. Perhaps Oswald being impersonated is the biggest cover-up of them all, possibly bigger than a conspiracy for a presidential assassination. As a result, Oswald appears even more of a mysterious figure. We still don't get close to who he was or why he would be a part of this, or if he even knew he was a part of something this huge. He was most likely played and he seems far too intelligent and self-aware for that kind of game. He remains a true International Man of Mystery who passed his secrets on to no one. Oh, what a fascinating trial this would have made!

Even if you don't go for the doppelganger theory in Harvey and Lee, there is a tremendous amount of facts on the Kennedy assassination that you won't find anywhere else. I peruse this book often and find something new every time. It makes a great source book for JFK researchers.

Although John Armstrong is meticulous in his research he does err in some places.  One place is the Carro Report, which was issued by Lee Oswald’s probation officer John Carro. It was written because of Lee going truant at PS #44 in 1953 during his New York phase and consists entirely of an interview with Lee’s mother Marguerite. In the interview Marguerite gets just about every fact regarding her life and family background wrong.  For example she lists her marriage to Lee’s father, Robert Sr. as the first marriage for both.  She is wrongit’s the second marriage for both.  She gets Lee’s birthday off by a day; gets Robert’s age at time of death wrong; had the wrong number of years they were married; states that all three songs come from this marriagenot trueoldest son John Pic from first marriage; lists the wrong church that Lee was baptized in and so on.

Where  Armstrong errs is in listing issues which are not in the Carro Report.  Two examples are the claim that Marguerite lists family property in Corning Texas, a town that does not exist in the state and Marguerite not knowing what her married sister’s surname.  Neither of these issues is listed in the report.  I don’t know if Armstrong read a different report in the National Archives but does list in the chapter notes several interviews with John Carro in other publications.  Perhaps Carro stated those things in other interviews and did not include them in his report.  At any rate, Marguerite Oswald’s discrepancies are strange enough without adding to it and I fail to understand how Armstrong messed this up as his overall research is quite accurate.

Carro Report:

Sources: At this writing, one copy of Harvey and Lee priced at $195.00.

Flight from Dallas: New Evidence of CIA Involvement in the Murder of President John F. Kennedy by James P. Johnston and Jon Roe.

Also see: W. Tracy Parnell’s lame attempt to debunk Armstrong’s work. (Which by the way does not reference the book, only Armstrong’s published reports.)