The operational reason for this deception has yet to fully come to light. Could it, however, have been connected to a clandestine operation that the SAS (the CIA's Special Affairs Staff for Cuban operations) was running?
A document supporting such a theory is the CIA memo sent to the FBI on Sept. 16, 1963 -the day before Oswald obtained his permit to go to Mexico.20 The Agency said it was considering countering the pro-Cuba "Fair Play for Cuba Committee"(FPCC) activities in foreign countries by planting deceptive information to embarrass the FPCC in areas where it had support. Such an operation against the FPCC would have been the responsibility of the SAS. Given Oswald's activities on behalf of FPCC that had been reported in newspapers, did the SAS have advance knowledge that Oswald would be paying a visit to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City?
Shortly before Oswald arrived in Mexico City, the incoming FBI reports to the CIA about his activities in Dallas and New Orleans were not put in his 201 file (the one where all previous FBI and State Department reports on Oswald had been filed), but were diverted into another one - a FPCC (100-300-11) file. Agency components in possession of these files during Oswald's trip, and at the time of the exchange of information about it with headquarters, included the Operations section of the Counterintelligence Staff (CI/OPS) and the Counterintelligence section of the SAS (SAS/CI). It was these components whose equities were most on the line when Oswald was publicly accused as Kennedy's assassin.
The Agency's first internal record of the moment Oswald's name came over the radios after the assassination is revealing: "the effect was electric."21 Whatever SAS/CI and CI/OPS had been up to was swept away by the story that no one knew of Oswald's contacts with the Cuban consulate. Mexico station chief Win Scott was indignant about this lie. In his memoir Scott mocked this cover story and said that his station had immediately cabled headquarters with "every piece of information" about Oswald's visits to the Cuban consulate.22
WHY THE COVER-UP?
As the documents show, the intelligence cover-up on Oswald and Mexico City was real. The question is, why?
The impersonated phone call linking Oswald to Kostikov and the visit to the Cuban consulate certainly raised the possibility that Oswald not only had not acted alone, but was in the employ of Castro and the Kremlin. And, if this were the case, then the CIA and FBI, by failing to act for six weeks upon the Oswald-Kostikov link, might possibly have doomed President Kennedy.
Thus, it was a situation suggesting diverse motives for a cover-up - from protecting sensitive sources to hiding incompetence and even preventing a nuclear war, a nightmare scenario that gripped the White House within hours of the president's murder.
At 10:00 am on Saturday, November 23, President Johnson asked FBI Director Hoover if there was anything new concerning Oswald's visit in Mexico City (it's unclear when Johnson first had learned of the Mexico City visit). It was at this point - just 22 hours after the assassination-- that Hoover told Johnson about the Kostikov link and that it was not Oswald's voice on the tape; he had been impersonated. 23
Over at the Justice Department, with Attorney General Robert Kennedy in mourning that weekend, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach handled the case. He met with Hoover on Sunday, shortly after Jack Ruby had killed Oswald. Katzenbach then prepared a memo for Johnson's top aide, Bill Moyers, stating that the public had to be "satisfied" that Oswald had acted alone and that the "evidence" would have convicted him at a trial. Katzenbach warned that speculation about Oswald's motive had to be "cut off" and that the thought that the assassination was a communist conspiracy or a "right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the communists" had to be rebutted.24 After the Sunday meeting Hoover observed, "The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."25
To head off any congressional investigations, President Johnson decided to create a blue-ribbon commission that would be headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren and composed of august leaders like Senator Richard Russell. When Russell said he didn't like Warren and refused the assignment, Johnson told him that he had no choice, that it already had been announced, that he could work with anyone for the good of America, and that Oswald's apparent connection to Castro and Khrushchev had to be prevented "from kicking us into a war that can kill forty million Americans in an hour." 26
Chief Justice Warren also refused at first to take the job even after both Robert Kennedy and Archibald Cox had asked him. In his talk with Russell, Johnson told Russell he had "ordered" Warren to come to the White House and in that meeting Warren had twice refused the president's request. LBJ continued, "And I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City." The president told Warren this would make it look like Khrushchev and Castro killed Kennedy. LBJ said that Warren started crying and agreed to take the assignment.27 In a 1972 documentary for public television Warren himself told the same story—except for the tears. He said that Johnson felt the argument that Khrushchev and Castro had killed Kennedy might mean nuclear war. Warren said he responded, "Well, Mr. President, if in your opinion it is that bad, surely my personal views don't count."28
So as the FBI record indicates, President Johnson, Deputy Attorney General Katzenbach, and FBI Director Hoover accepted that they would have to be in line with a lone-assassin scenario, a decision that was made no later than Sunday, two days after the assassination. And two days later, in a November 26 phone call, Katzenbach told the FBI, "there might have to be some so-called editorial interpretation" for any FBI report that would be released to the public.29
But for the lone-assassin scenario to stand, the Mexico City evidence at CIA - the tapes of the impersonation and some cables - had to be destroyed or altered. The problem was that news of the impersonation was spreading.
Memos were circulating at the highest levels of government concerning Oswald, Kostikov and the latter's role in KGB assassination operations.30 And over at the FBI the documentary record within the first 24 hours was already considerable. There were those lower down in the FBI who had listened to the tapes, and there were memoranda circulating among the top four men in the FBI and Secret Service Chief James Rowley.31 The situation at CIA was similar. Besides personnel at the CIA Mexico City station, memoranda about the voice comparisons began circulating among senior officials at headquarters by Sunday, November 24th, two days after the assassination. 32
The staff of the Mexico CIA station and others at headquarters such as Richard Helms and George Kalaris (in their various memoranda and testimonies during the years after the assassination) would have little reason to contradict the record unless the record is untrue. Lies, as Hoover observed in that scolding note regarding the CIA to his subordinates, were told in the days after the assassination. As much as to protect sources and methods, these lies appear to have been invented to buttress the lone-assassin story - itself ostensibly created for the purpose of preventing war and saving millions of lives. Whether or not this also permitted conspirators to avoid the scrutiny of investigation—a possibility I take seriously—is something we will continue to debate.
While many of the pieces of this story became evident from the early 1993 and 1994 releases of documents to the Assassination Records Review Board, the daunting contours of the Mexico City story and the ensuing national security cover-up were not apparent until the late 1990s when the work of the Assassination Records Review Board was completed and earlier documents, which had been heavily redacted, were released in full.
Looking back over the forty years since this case began, three things stand out. First, while cover stories may achieve their objective in the short run, they undermine public confidence when the truth comes out—as it inevitably does. Second, releasing the records to the public is the first step toward restoring that confidence. FRONTLINE's documentary, my book, and this article would not have been possible without those records.
Finally, with six million pages added to the National Archives on this case from the Review Board's work, we need to be patient and temper our inclination to want all the answers right away. We need a small army to read, analyze, and interpret what is now rightfully ours and what remains to be discovered of the historical record. For while the 1990s' release of intelligence files was enormous, there are still some records that are missing - for example, Oswald's Marine Corps G-2 files and some of the FBI files in 1959-60. They remain classified and might provide useful information.