- Historic Sites
Did Castro Ok The Kennedy Assassination?
On the 45th anniversary incriminating new evidence revealed
Winter 2009 | Volume 58, Issue 6
On September 24, 1964, a copy of the official Warren Commission Report was delivered to President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office. Its conclusions were, in hindsight, as accurate as possible, given the commission's impossibly short investigative calendar and its utter lack of foreign intelligence. It named, correctly, Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone shooter, hypothesizing that in shooting John F. Kennedy he had been lashing out for reasons only he knew. The report found “no evidence of a conspiracy.”
A few weeks later, President Johnson's hidden tape recorder captured a phone conversation with Senator Richard Russell, the old Dixiecrat whom he had pressured to be on the Warren Commission.
“I don't believe it,” Russell said about the report's conclusions. “I don't either,” admitted the president.
Around the same time, Johnson was on the phone with his old friend Mike Mansfield, the majority leader of the Senate. The president divulged what few in Congress had been briefed about: “There's a good deal of feeling that maybe the Cuba thing. Johnson's voice trailed off for a moment. He was always careful not to be too definite on the subject. "Oswald was messing around in Mexico with the Cubans.”
Johnson had handpicked the members of the Warren Commission and directed its focus. Could it be that he and his attorney general, Robert Kennedy, believed there might be details that should remain hidden to keep the American public calm in the wake of the tragedy in Dallas? The fact was, Lyndon Johnson never would believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. His staunch contention would always be that “Oswald was a Communist agent.” A year before his death, in 1972, Johnson finally started revealing his secret to people outside his close circle, telling George Weidenfeld, publisher of his autobiography, that one day he would prove the Oswald-Castro connection. But there weren't enough days left at that point for Johnson to expose the truth.
A conspiracy of silence would keep the facts hidden until now, 45 years later, when evidence from a variety of different sources, many of them newly available, can be pieced together to tell the real story for the first time.
Two charismatic leaders prevailed over the Western Hemisphere in the early 1960s, both men having risen to power with two fundamentally different visions of freedom. Initially, some saw a natural kinship between John E Kennedy and Fidel Castro, but they were each in the grip of the new cold war's paradigm, one of strictly defined opposites. In many ways, the young Jack Kennedy was not much different from the young Fidel Castro. Both had been dominated and manipulated by their fathers. Where Joe Sr. had acquired his millions as a scheming, streetwise Irish outsider, Angel Castro lived as a gentrified peasant, self-made and considered rich on his own turf but still a lowly Guajiro in the eyes of the Cuban aristocracy. Their talented sons had leaped over decades, even centuries of class prejudice to become leaders by sheer force of personality. They were intellectually curious, articulate, easy in the company of men, and attracted to the spotlight.
Both Jack and Fidel came from large Catholic families, and both of their fathers made a sport of bedding women out of wedlock. Joe Sr. kept his mistresses out of sight in hotel rooms, at the penthouses of trusted friends, or on his private yacht. Angel took his lovers wherever he desired them, including in his own home.
Fidel, Raul, and their siblings had been born to Angel's housekeeper while she worked for his wife, and Angel made no secret of the small shack full of his offspring, who lived just out of sight of the casa grande. It was not until Fidel was seventeen years old that Angel recognized him as his legal offspring. Fidel loathed him.
Still, Angel knew that Fidel was exceptional and would grant him special privileges, sending him to the country's best preparatory school, keeping him in natty clothes, and furnishing him with a car as he approached his college years. Fidel's sister Juanita noted that he treated the peasants on the Castro plantation with the same cruelty as his father did. “There were a lot of employees working on the farm and serving at the house,” she reported—nearly 1,000 people in all—but “Fidel never took care of these people. On the contrary, he criticized my father for being too generous with them.” He made no public declaration on behalf of the poor until he joined Cuba's leftward drift in his early twenties—right around the time that Jack Kennedy was first elected to Congress.
Fidel overcame his “rustic” upbringing to be reasonably well liked at El Colegio de Belen in Havana. But the priests who taught there sensed a certain moral indifference in him. His temper could be savage. He accepted leadership from no one, taking only the wise counsel of one brilliant priest named Llorente. By the time he moved on to the University of Havana, he arrived dressed like a businessman, albeit with a lounge lizard's flair for excess, and quickly learned to negotiate the thuggish politics that thrived there.
The stately Harvard campus did not foster the political trench warfare that the University of Havana did, and Jack Kennedy's psychological issues were certainly not as aggravated, but he too underwent a transformation as he made his way out of school, through the war, and into a campaign for Congress in 1946. The unpretentious, honest, and egalitarian PT boat commander of World War II gave way to a cooler peer of the realm, a man whose charm became more calculating. He was capable of kindness, and he understood, intellectually, that power could improve the lives of those less fortunate. But one of his lovers of long standing noted his “tremendous acceptance of inequality at every level. . . . That was absolutely acceptable.” He seemed content to believe that “people who are different have different responses. The pain of poor people is different from 'our' pain.”
It was Jack and Fidel's younger brothers—the naturally empathetic ones, Bobby and Raul—who schooled the older ones in their humanity. When Jack made his run for the presidency, it was Bobby who tutored him in the nuances of American poverty and injustice. When Fidel made his first triumphal tour of the United States after he had vanquished the dictator Fulgencio Batista, it was Raul who waylaid him in a Houston hotel and berated him for not telling Americans that he was a Marxist. The garrulous yet emotionally remote older boys gained depth in the presence of their kid brothers, but conversely, they were also pushed to positions of passionate intransigence, too.
By the early sixties, the brothers had reached their initial goals of winning the American presidency and leadership in Cuba. Castro's victory came at great cost. In the years since, historians have debated whether Fidel ever actually murdered someone. But few question Racal's baptism in blood, nor his ongoing ministry. Of the deaths he has overseen, some were street criminals but the vast majority were political enemies, and estimates of the toll range as high as 14,000, claimed in a Harvard University study. The Cuba Archive project concluded that some 5,600 Cubans have died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Minors and females were not spared.
Under pressure from within and without, Kennedy and Castro began directing their newfound power to destroying each other. When Jack came to power, he considered Fidel to be Cuba's liberator after the corrupt cruelties of Batista, but Eisenhower and Nixon had already been plotting a coup. Elaborate (albeit flawed) plans were already in place. The secret war against the Castros was forced upon the Kennedys by the American Right, by Jack's early disdain for moderating “liberalism,” and by the Hard Left pressure exerted by Raul and Che Guevara. Assassination was only one tool in the American kit, but given the nightmare cults that had so recently empowered Hitler and Stalin, political decapitation was seen as tactically concise and morally expedient. This secret war, however, would leave deeply buried scars on the heart of America.
In November 1961 the CIAs Cuba desk officers Bill Harvey and Sam Halpern had a plan, the next phase in the ongoing attempt to remove Castro. Halpern came up with a name for it: Operation Mongoose, named after a carnivorous predator that kills its prey after stealing its eggs. It thus both dispatches its enemy and removes its progeny, thereby preventing any line of succession—exactly what the Kennedy White House and the CIA had in mind for the Castros and their political descendants.
The plans were to continue fomenting revolution, and, by most estimates, the operation had somewhere between $50 million and $150 million to spend on its endeavor. The logistics would be implemented by Harvey and his “Task Force W.” The White House had taken the Cuban operation out of the purview of the CIAs Western Hemisphere Division and placed it directly under the control of Bobby Kennedy and the White House staff. The president thus had direct oversight.
On March 16, 1962, a meeting convened in the Oval Office with the goal of setting presidential guidelines for Operation Mongoose. The meeting was attended by the president; Bobby; the newly installed director of the CIA, John McCone, and all the rest of the innermost players in the secret war, including Ed Lansdale, Bobby's Mongoose coordinator. It was Lansdale who wrote a memorandum of this meeting, which remains the only known documentary evidence that Jack and Bobby ever endorsed or authorized a hit on Fidel.
The meeting commenced with a briefing from Lansdale about the training of Cuban exile insurgents in the fine points of guerrilla warfare. The president then reiterated that he was not yet ready to approve any direct American military involvement in such plans. Lately he had made many speeches warning against the new insurrectionary forms of war, and calling for improved countermeasures.
Bobby then briefly described a possible opportunity in which members of the Cuban underground might stake out Fidel. Lansdale's memo, written later that same afternoon, called ‘die plan’ “worth assessing firmly and pursuing vigorously. If there were grounds for action, the CIA had some invaluable assets which might well be committed for such an effort.” Lansdale went on: “I pointed out that this all pertained to fractioning the regime. If it happened, it could develop like a brush-fire, much as in Hungary, and we must be prepared to help it win our goal of Cuba freed of a Communist government.”
In the words of a former CIA director, “The language of the memo speaks for itself. The only thing that Robert Kennedy can be referring to is the assassination of Castro. This paragraph should never have been written.”
It was not until just before the United States launched the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 that Castro publicly declared himself a “socialist.” But once Fidel embraced the Red path, he did so with a vengeance, goading Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to fire the first nuke in the Missile Crisis in October 1962. Given Cuba's rogue tendencies, Khrushchev had made it the KGB's business to stay on top of U.S. efforts, and the Soviets had learned of Operation Mongoose. To deter it, Khrushchev sent his island ally 40,000 Russian troops, 1,300 field pieces, 700 antiaircraft guns, 350 tanks, and 150 fighter jets. Fidel and Raid were soon wonderfully well protected. Later, when Castro embraced the Chinese Communists, the Soviet leader started taking steps to contain Castro's megalomania.
There is evidence that the Soviet premier and the American president colluded in this regard, secretly discussing the political neutralization of Fidel. But in the last year of FK's life, while those more circumspect means were in play, the U.S. plans to kill Castro continued. With the U.S.-backed assassinations of other world leaders—Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam—Fidel became even more certain that he was the next hit on the Kennedys' list. In 1965 Castro's sister Juanita, who had defected the year before to the States, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Un- American Activities that “Fidel's feeling of hatred for this country cannot even be imagined by Americans. . . . His intention—his obsession—is to destroy the U.S.!”
The CIA began to focus upon one Rolando Cubela, a military hero of the Cuban revolution who had secretly grown disillusioned with Fidel's Communist leanings. He thus began flirting with CIA agents in order to form a possible alliance aimed at el presidente's removal. According to the CIA, there was no contact with Cubela from August 29, 1962, until September 1963. On September 7, officer Nestor Sanchez and his partner, Richard Maxwell Long, met with Cubela at a safe house in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to reassure him that the agency had decided to use him in the next phase of their plan to overthrow Castro. They discussed ways of approaching other Cuban military officers; Cubela told Sanchez that he wanted assurances at the top who could ensure America's support for his actions, which included the decapitation of the Cuban regime. This was always the last word in any talks with Cubela: he wanted to hear it from the White House.
Within the agency, there were a number of dissenting voices. Cubela's mistress and her brother were high- level G2 (Cuban intelligence) officers. He was thought to be as “changeable as the weather, ... capable of rash, thoughtless, violent action under the strain of provocation, tense situations, or frustration.” The year before he had attempted suicide.
But the plot hurtled forward in hopes of success before the 1964 elections in the United States. Bobby had pushed for a secret base in Costa Rica, which was carrying out raids in Cuba with materials provided by the Defense Department. They bombed Cuban infrastructure, such as railroads, bridges, and power plants, and smuggled in radio equipment, arms, and supplies to resistance forces. On September 6, Fidel publicly charged the United States with responsibility for an air attack on Santa Clara, Cuba.
For all of that boom and bang, however, and all of Bobby's surety that Cubela was the right man for the job, the CIA skeptics would prove to be correct: the Cubans were on to him. It was during that summer that a G2 officer known as "Oscar Marino" and others became aware that Cubela was a counterrevolutionary. And yet Cubela was not arrested.
The same day that Cubela was having his meeting with the CIA in Brazil, Fidel was due at a reception at the Brazilian embassy in Havana. There, el lider niciximo pulled aside Associated Press correspondent Daniel Harker, within earshot of other journalists. Harker, a native of Colombia, spoke fluent Spanish and was preferred by Castro for American press interviews because of his accuracy in translating. “He often pulled me aside when he wanted to be certain his words were reported exactly as he said them,” Harker later remembered.
“Hey, Colombian,” said Fidel, “come over here, I want to talk to you.” He started in about the recent attacks, the other reporters bending in to hear more. “We are taking into account . . . the Caribbean situation,” he growled, “which has been deteriorating in the last few days due to piratical attacks by the United States against the Cuban people. . . . Kennedy is a cretin . . . the Batista of our times.” He never used the word “assassination,” but his meaning was clear. “If U.S. leaders are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe. Let Kennedy and his brother Robert take care of themselves, since they too can be the victims of an attempt which will cause their death.”
With that, Fidel strode on into the reception and began shaking hands, resplendent in his olive fatigues. Two days later, the story hit the Associated Press and the U.S. newspapers, including the New Orleans Times- Picayune, a paper read by a young Castro supporter named Lee Harvey Oswald.
On October 3, 1956, in the same month that the Socialist Youth Party of Cuba appealed to Fidel to drop his revolutionary quest and join theirs, a pale, lonely teenager sat down in his mother's small apartment in Fort Worth, Texasand wrote a letter to the Young People's Socialist League, or (YPSL) in Chicago. The apartment at 4936 Collingwood was the nineteenth home this boy had known. Raised without a father, in the clutches of a mentally unstable mother, Lee Harvey Oswald's future appeared to child psychologists who examined him as a disaster waiting to happen. There is some evidence that Lee may have suffered brain damage at the age of five when a chest of drawers toppled over on his head during a move. He was unconscious for eight days. Lee's doctor told his mother, “if the boy comes to at all, he's going to have a problem.” From then on, he would suffer occasional blackouts, doing things he couldn't remember, walking out in the middle of classes and wandering his school's hallways.
A year after his outreach to the YPSL, Oswald, desperate to leave his mother, enlisted in the Marines, where his pro-Communist rants rendered him something between a joke and a pariah. After an early discharge in September 1959, he almost immediately boarded a ship as the first leg of a pilgrimage to Moscow, where he intended to defect. When he was rejected by the Soviets, the youngster forced their hand by attempting suicide. Faced with the cold war equivalent of a public relations nightmare, the Soviets decided to smile upon him, sending him off to Minsk, where the KGB would babysit him around the clock for the next two and a half years. It was in Minsk that he married the tempestuous young Marina Prusakova, the niece of an elite Soviet intelligence officer.
As the Castros continued to co-opt the Cuban revolution and Rani flirted ever more heavily with the Soviet state, he was sending his youngest spies to Minsk for special training at the academy of the Russians' MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), a subsidiary of the KGB that was responsible for civil law enforcement as well as more shadowy pursuits. Within the school's hierarchy was Col. Ilya Vasilyevich Prusakov, Marina's uncle. Among the students were Jose Abrantes, the personal assistant to the Cuban intelligence chief, Ramiro Valdes Menendez, and one Fabian Escalante Font, a young agent of increasingly dangerous reputation who would soon rise to the top of the G2.
There were approximately 200 students at the academy when Oswald arrived in Minsk. As it happened, he was interested in studying German, and his KGB file describes how “friends” steered him to the Foreign Language Institute (FLI) located directly adjacent to the MVD academy on Ulyanov Street. The KGB agents were astonishingly thorough. They chronicled Oswald's moviegoing habits, every piece of cake and cup of coffee he consumed in public, his stinginess on dates with women he wasn't enthused about, his preference for blondes, his ignorance of Marxist-Leninist theory, the records and appliances he bought, the hardware stores he visited, and, of course, the friends with whom he consorted. The “official” record of his life in Minsk omitted only what reflected badly on the Soviet intelligence apparatus.
Oswald spent so much time on Ulyanov Street that he soon became acquainted with a number of the junior Cuban spies. Marina would later tell the FBI about one of Lee's friends, Alfred, a "young man from Cuba [who] spoke Spanish" and who would later attend the University of Moscow. Lee would brag to Marina that he had gotten tight with some of the young future Cuban "ministers" and expected that he might be such a minister there himself one day.
On July 18, 1962, just over a month after Lee, Marina, and their baby arrived in New Jersey, Vladimir Kryuchkov, a future KGB chief, sent an encrypted Oswald file to the attention of Valdes Menendez at G2 headquarters in Havana. According to a source who examined the KGB's files in 2005, it read: “Lee Harvey Oswald left the Soviet Union in order to establish himself with his Soviet wife Marina in the U.S.A. He is ideologically unsound and psychically unstable.” Nevertheless, Kryuchkov asked Valdes “to observe Oswald in the U.S.”
Recently, actors from the Cuban side—aging cold warriors still alive in the Americas—have corroborated the Cuban link to Oswald. One of them, who went by the name “Oscar Marino” in our talks, had been a senior Cuban spy, a founder of G2, and a revolutionary companero of Fidel's. It was his esteemed place in the national leadership that made him privy to the Oswald overtures. It took over a year of negotiations for him to agree to sit for interviews with us. He lived, and perhaps still lives, in a Latin American metropolis, and when asked about his politics in 2005, he sighed that he had “had enough” of ideology and bloody intrigue. He felt “no love for Kennedy,” and still considered himself a revolutionary, but was demoralized by the “corruption” of Castro's original promise.
When he was asked when the Cuban secret service first made contact with Oswald, Oscar flinched and gave a long pause, gazing out a window at the tops of some mimosa trees. “It was in the fall of 1962,” he finally said with certainty. He had seen Oswald's name on a foreign collaborators list. He had also been present during high-level discussions on how to make contact with Oswald. According to the KGB document, a Cuban operative met Oswald “repeatedly, several times,” with the first rendezvous at the end of 1962—exactly when Oscar Marino said it had been.
The Cubela liaison occurred during a period of exceptional marital discord for the Oswalds, a couple whose relationship existed on the emotional edge. Adding to the tension were their perpetually strained finances. According to recent inter-views, some G2 money may have appeared at just the right time. Lee's cash outlays for that period exceeded his known income: every three or four weeks, starting in August 1962, he'd send the State Department a money order (or cash) for about $10 toward repayment of a $396 loan he had made upon his return to the United States. In the seven weeks between December 11, 1962, and January 29, 1963, however, he paid off the balance of the loan in three large amounts ($106, $100, and $190). Given that Oswald's known expenses from October to January, based on a laborious reconstruction by the Warren Commission, were $537, and his earnings were $892, paying off the loan would have left him $101 in the red—making this a rather strange time to settle a major debt, unless he had a secret source of funds.
Where this money came from has been a source of speculation for nearly half a century. According to Oscar Marino, the money was provided by the Cubans, who preferred to recruit “true believers,” not men who could be bought for big money. The small payments gave Lee some fiscal breathing room, and he did not spend conspicuously—just enough, on specific needs. Why would he have spent some of that money paying off a loan from the government he thought so little of? Because he would not be able to receive a new, updated passport before that debt was cleared, and apparently he might soon be doing some traveling.
Oswald was more optimistic about his chances of becoming a Cuban spy than were his G2 contacts. He became an aggressive “self-recruiter,” and his first attempt to impress had its genesis at a February 13, 1963, party in Fort Worth, thrown by Russian immigrants. One of the other guests, a German intellectual, inadvertently inspired Oswald in his plans to impress the Cubans. As the party guests grew increasingly concerned over Oswald's aggressive remarks about President Kennedy, the German attempted to divert Oswald's hatred toward a local race-baiter—and fervid anti-Castroite—the retired Gen. Edwin Walker, who lived in Dallas. One month later Oswald ordered a cheap pistol and an Italian rifle by mail. After much reconnaissance of Walker's upscale home, Oswald took a shot at him from his fence line on April 10, 1963, as Walker sat inside by a window.
Oswald thought he had killed Walker, but in fact he had missed by inches, and he was never a suspect in the assault, which remained unsolved until Lee was arrested for killing Kennedy. Even then, it was seen as just another example of his political derangement. But when the authors interviewed a former Soviet spy who had reviewed the KGB's Cubela file in 2005, the clear implication was that Oswald saw the Walker incident as a more serious "audition" for his Cuban G2 contacts.
In the awful suspense that followed the Walker shooting, Marina suggested that Lee leave town for a while—maybe go back to New Orleans, where he had lived as a boy and still had some relatives. After a few days of mulling it over, Lee came to agree with her. Besides, there were a lot of Cuban exiles down there to talk with, so on April 24 he set out for the Big Easy.
Over the next four months, Oswald's attempts to infiltrate the local anti-Castro exiles apparently impressed no one in that city or in Havana, where he most desired to make an impact. But he did learn some things on the streets, most notably that the Kennedys were planning another invasion of his beloved Cuba. It now appears that Oswald was communicating with the G2 that summer.
Increasingly, however, the hemisphere's vortex of international intrigue began to pull him toward the axis mundi of the G2, the KGB, and the CIA: Mexico City. It was not only a place where all had embassies (and the attendant spies) in close proximity, it was also the G2's staging point for Cuban terrorists and assassins. It appears that Oswald's G2 contacts were cursory at this point, perhaps because he could not have been a reliable operative but more of a wild card useful only for "disposable," one-off actions. Oswald thus appears to have felt pressed to take more direct action to gain their trust.
So, in late September 1963, weeks before he murdered President Kennedy, Oswald spent five days amid the spy intrigue of Mexico City. The CIA, which had peppered the opposition's embassies with hidden microphones, phone taps, and surveillance cameras, claimed after the assassination that no photos or tapes of Oswald in Mexico exist. Lyndon Johnson had spoken: federal investigators were constrained from following up on any leads that might produce evidence for foreign conspirators. Four decades later, however, it has become clear that Oswald spent at least half of his time in the company of Cuban spies.
He had arrived at the Cuban and Soviet embassies without warning. His behavior was so erratic, so green and yet desperate, that they refused his request for a visa to Cuba. That night, we now know, Oswald went to a university and tried to enlist the help of some Mexican radicals. They took him out on the town, but when one of their leaders interceded on his behalf the next day at the Cuban Embassy, he was told to forget it. The American was unstable. It was not until Oswald went back to make a last stand at the embassies later that afternoon—not until he broke down, pulled a gun, wept, and finally claimed that he would prove his revolutionary loyalty by killing “that bastard, Kennedy”—that the doors to his Communist utopia suddenly opened to him.
As the old G2 men have described it, he was embraced. The authors learned that one low level G2 agent saw him repeatedly in the Cuban Embassy garage, out of sight of CIA cameras, meeting with an elite G2 operative, a red-haired black man. Others, including a Mexican insurance investigator there on business, would also see him. An attractive Mexican receptionist would take him briefly as her lover, and the wife and daughter of a future Nobel laureate would party with him at an apartment full of Cuban diplomats and staffers, all within the span of his “lost week” in the Mexican capital.
Seven weeks later, while Oswald lay in wait for the president, the first Cuban who had recruited him would be meeting with CIA agents in Paris to receive the weapon with which he was meant to kill Fidel.
It was overcast in the City of Light, but, despite the chill, the sidewalk cafes were already aglow in the gathering dusk of a Friday night. Two men arrived at the same luxury apartment building in which, just a few weeks earlier, one of them, Cubela, had met with a man who called himself James Clark. In fact, "Clark" was the alias used by the CIA's Cuba desk chief, Desmond FitzGerald, when he was on covert operations. Even without knowing the man's real identity, Cubela had been convinced that he was a senior American official; he wore his blue- blood authority well. The man known as Clark had given Cubela the assurances he had demanded— that the operation under discussion had been approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And within days of that first meeting, Bobby Kennedy, the president's brother, had contacted Cubela directly. Had it not been for those extraordinary guarantees, Cubela would not have returned.
On this evening, another CIA agent, known to Cubela as “Sanson,” placed a small, black leather case on a table before him. Inside, Cubela found a metal tube, encased in foam rubber. Sanson plucked it from its nest, unscrewed the cap, and produced a single, brushed-chrome Paper Mate pen. Holding it up for closer observation, he pushed the depressor. In his other hand he held a tiny flashlight, and when he switched it on, a fluorescent beam revealed a micro-thin needle where the ballpoint would ordinarily be. The instrument was a finely tooled syringe, created at Langley for one purpose: it could be filled with a highly effective poison. Sanson suggested Black Leaf 40, a slow-acting commercially available pesticide.
The Paper Mate weapon took Cubela off guard. This deadly little prop implied close quarters, one on one. “I requested rifles and explosives,” he said, querulous. Cubela had a house at Veradero Beach, right next door to one of Fidel's many domiciles; this seemed like the place for an easy strike.
Sanson placed the fake ballpoint back in its tube. He explained that if Cubela needed to get in close, he would be frisked, and a dart gun would give him away. The case officer promised once again that rifles and explosives would be forthcoming—all the weapons Cubela and his fellow insurrectionists would need for both a palace coup and the widespread revolt that would ensue. These munitions were in fact already stockpiled at a secret location in rural Cuba that would be revealed at the last moment.
Cubela slipped the tube into an inside pocket, weighing his reply. Before he could give it, a telephone rang across the room. An agent answered and then passed the phone to Sanson. The call was urgent, he said.
Sanson listened, briefly, and then returned the phone to its cradle, pausing for a long moment before he spoke. The president of the United States had just been shot, he said, in Texas. “Oswald volunteered to kill Kennedy,” Marino explained in 2005. “He was so full of hatred that it gave him the idea. He wanted it himself [because] he hated his country. He was already prepared to do it. He was a soldier of the revolution and offered his services to us in order to kill Kennedy. . . . Let's just say we used him. He adopted our plans as his own—his idea was a natural projection of our wish.” Marino, wanting to be clear, added, “That doesn't mean he was brainwashed—that wasn't necessary. Is it so important, whether or not he acted on his own initiative? He was an instrument of the G2. It makes no difference whether he volunteered or was used. It ends up the same.”
For all the weird, ongoing hope for proof that the Mafia or the CIA or the oil companies or even the Florida exiles killed Kennedy, the evidence is now overwhelming that a Cuban-style Communist who had learned of the planned U.S. reinvasion was the sole triggerman, and that he did it with the aid and comfort of Fidel and Raid Castro.
The effect of Lee Oswald's crime is tremendously paradoxical. On one hand, because of Lyndon Johnson's subsequent choices, Oswald single-handedly achieved his political goal: he ended the secret war against the Castro brothers. Because that small, proxy war had provoked a nuclear confrontation 13 months earlier, it could even be said that he reduced the chances of a big, hot war, simply by ending the little one. On the other hand, the fears his crime raised in the minds of international leaders, who worried over Oswald's Cuban contacts, were so great that it nearly provoked a new nuclear showdown. Johnson was essentially forced to do in November 1963 what Khrushchev had done in October 1962: he backed away from the endgame. Oswald's dual effect on international tension was analogous to his own inner duality: the odd gulf between the peacenik idealist and the gunslinger. That duality was hiding in plain sight in the screed he wrote on the SS Maasdam during his return voyage to America. His manifesto debated the relative merits and injustices of the world's two dominant systems and then ended with a prediction of an imminent nuclear war. In hindsight, it was both a prediction and a vow: the recognition that the superpowers might destroy each other and a promise, however unconscious, that he might one day help them along.
Internationally speaking, by averting nuclear war on one hand and increasing its likelihood on the other, Oswald's effect on the cold war was perhaps a wash. Domestically, however, his effect has been, up until now, more definitive. In the short run, his crime further polarized the United States in an already extreme moment. In the longer term, it split the country open and made it susceptible to a form of political decay that was nearly as insidious as the recoil of the crime itself.
Sections of this essay appear in Brothers in Arms by Gus Russo and Stephen Molton © 2008. Reprinted by arrangement with Bloomsbury.