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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 37: Oswald in Russia (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 23

In the last episode, we looked at Oswald’s interaction with the American Embassy in Russia, including some communications from the Embassy that either showed foreknowledge that Oswald would soon be arriving at the Embassy, or were just a big coincidence – which is possible.

 

We also got into the question of why the CIA delayed opening a routine 201 file on Oswald, even though the CIA determined that Oswald was important enough to be one of about 300 Americans who had their mail read by the joint CIA/FBI operation HTLINGUAL. There wasn’t a clear answer as to exactly why the 201 file was delayed, other than the fact that James Angleton, the CIA’s head of counterintelligence, was involved in the matter, according to other people in the CIA who worked with Angleton. We don’t exactly know what that means at this point. But, it’s not nothing.

 

We also discussed the decision of the Soviets to relocate Oswald to the city of Minsk – about 9 hours southwest of Moscow in Belarus, which, of course, at that time was part of the Soviet Union. In this episode, we pick up with Oswald in Minsk. We’ll cover how his relationship with Marina began, whether Marina was a KGB asset, and we’ll revisit what American defector Robert Webster said about Marina.

                                                        

THEME SONG

 

On March 17, 1961 – about a year and two months after Oswald first arrived in Minsk – he met 19 year old pharmacology student, Marina Prusakova, at a trade union dance. Marina’s mother died when she was 15 and she never knew her father. So, she and Oswald had a difficult childhood in common.[1]  

 

Marina had moved from Leningrad to Minsk in 1960 to live with her aunt and her uncle.[2] After she moved to Minsk, she also spent some time in Moscow, where she had a boyfriend named Mohammed Reggab, a Moroccan exchange student. Reggab had recently broken up with Marina before she met Oswald.[3]

 

According to Oswald’s historic diary, he asked Marina if he could walk her home after the dance. And, he did walk her home, along with five other guys. Oswald’s diary entry says QUOTE, “We like each other right away. She gives me her phone number and departs home with a not so new friend in a taxi. I walk home.”[4]

 

A not so new friend? It sounds like the diary is saying that Marina ditched Oswald and took a taxi with one of the other 5 guys who was walking her home. Whether she was just friends with this guy or something more was going on, that’s not exactly a romantic first meeting. Aside from Lee obtaining Marina’s phone number, it doesn’t seem like he particularly made an impression on Marina when they first met if she left with another guy. So, how do they end up getting married?

 

Marina told the HSCA in 1978 that she first really spoke to Lee after the dance when they were invited for tea at a gathering at someone’s house.[5] But, that’s not consistent with what Lee’s diary says. It’s also not consistent with what Marina said to reporter and former CIA asset, Priscilla Johnson, in the book that they co-wrote together titled “Marina and Lee.” In the book, Marina says that Oswald was in the hospital on March 25th and she received a call to visit him there.[6]

 

But records from the Fourth Clinical Hospital in Minsk show that Oswald was actually admitted to the hospital on Thursday, March 30th after complaining of pain in his throat. He then had his tonsils removed and stayed at the hospital until April 11th.[7] Curiously, when questioned by doctors, Oswald said that he never had any type of venereal disease[8] – which we know is not true given the records of his treatment for Gonnorrhea while he was in Atsugi in 1958. But Maybe Oswald was too embarrassed to admit it. Who knows.

 

Given that he was in the hospital for 12 days, we would expect Oswald to either not have diary entries for those periods or if there are diary entries, we would expect them to mention the fact that he was in the hospital. If you are writing about your life and you have been in a hospital for more than a week, you’d probably mention that fact in the diary.

 

But Oswald’s diary does not say anything at all about him being in the hospital, even though there are diary entries that cover that period of time. There is an entry for March 18th through the 31st that says QUOTE “We walk. I talk a little about myself. She talks a lot about herself. Her name is Marina Prusakova.” An entry for April 1st through April 30th says QUOTE “We are going steady and I decide I must have her. She puts me off. So, on April 15, I propose. She accepts.”[9]

 

At the time, couples who wanted to get married in Minsk were required to file a notice with the government 10 days before the wedding. Despite Oswald saying that he proposed on April 15, documents from the registrar’s office in Minsk show that Marina and Lee filed a notice of intent to marry on April 10 (which is one day before Lee was released from the hospital, and 5 days before he says he proposed).[10]

 

Once again, we have a conflict between Oswald’s historic diary and other known facts. It makes a lot of sense to me that if you were in the hospital, you would stop writing in your diary. But, that’s not what happened here. Lee did write diary entries for the period where medical records show he was in the hospital, which is when Marina says she got to know Lee. But, somehow, he left out the part about all of this happening in a hospital.

 

Additionally, Lee would have had to propose to Marina before they filed a notice to marry. But, he says in his written diary that he proposed on April 15 when the notice to marry was filed on April 10. People get dates wrong all the time. But, dates in a written diary would probably be less likely to be wrong in my view. These conflicts serve to undercut the credibility of Oswald’s Historic Diary.

 

Marina and Lee are eventually married on April 30, 1961 – about 6 weeks after they met at the dance. To recap, the official story, Oswald lost out to another guy the night he met Marina. But, he got her phone number that night and apparently called her while he was in the hospital.  Then, Marina agrees to visit him in the hospital, even though she had only met him briefly at the dance and he was among 5 other boys walking her home. While Marina visits with Lee in the hospital, she apparently falls for him like Marty McFly’s mom did in Back to the Future after he got hit by a car, and then Lee proposes and Marina accepts his marriage proposal.

 

Lee and Marina were not alone a single time before they were married. This seems weird, but I suppose it’s possible. My grandmother met a guy who promised her a piano after meeting him on a bus and they stayed married for over 50 years until my grandpa passed away. People get together in strange ways that often don’t make sense to others. But, still, something seems off about Lee and Marina’s relationship.

 

Gerald Posner explains the quick marriage before the two really had a chance to know one another as being a result of Oswald being on the rebound from when he was rejected by Ella German (although Oswald did date Nellya in between Ella and Marina). Posner also says that Marina never had an apartment of her own and she wanted to live in Oswald’s nice apartment.[11] This seems incredibly superficial, but again, my grandmother said she got married for the promise of her own piano.

 

WAS MARINA KGB?

 

The rapid speed of Marina and Lee’s marriage has led to questions about whether Marina may have been a Soviet KGB agent. While, there are no declassified KGB files that prove that Marina was in fact an agent,[12]the possibility that she was is worth exploring given a few other pieces of information that have come out over the years.

 

When Marina moved to Minsk, she moved in with her Uncle Ilya, who was a high ranking member of the communist party and a colonel in the MVD – the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs which worked closely with the KGB.[13] That doesn’t prove that Marina was KGB. But, it is a direct connection.

 

Perhaps more incendiary, is a declassified CIA document from Oswald’s 201 file titled Indications of Intelligence Involvement by Marina Oswald, where the CIA lists 29 potential reasons to believe that Marina was affiliated with the KGB.[14] By way of example, here are just a few of those indications:

 

·      The mystery of her father could be a cover story to hide a “cover-damaging father.”

·      She refused her first job assignment and had no consequences.

·      She took vacations and ate at restaurants without having much money to support herself.

·      Her Uncle must have been important since he had a VIP apartment in Minsk; and

·      Her surprisingly quick decision to marry an ill-tempered foreigner.

 

In addition to the CIA’s concerns about Marina specifically, there’s also a declassified CIA memo from Thomas Casasin of the CIA’s Soviet Russia division, from November 25, 1963 that says that he wanted to talk to Oswald while he was in Russia, but he but never had the chance to. One of the reasons he wanted to speak with Oswald was because there was a trend of Soviet women marrying foreigners, then eventually divorcing their spouses when they were back in the spouse’s home country. And some of these women were tied to the KGB.[15] Casasin wanted to warn Oswald about the possibility that Marina could be KGB and might be using him to get a legitimate foothold in the United States. But, Casasin never ended up speaking to Oswald as far as we know.

 

After the assassination and after Jack Ruby killed Lee, James H Martin became Marina Oswald’s business manager to help her navigate different potential offers for the purchase of her life story rights. Marina told Martin about her life before Oswald. She said that she once entertained the ambassador of Afghanistan in his hotel room in Leningrad.[16] She later told author Norman Mailer that the Afghan ambassador raped her.[17]

 

This begs the question of how she got into a position to be entertaining the ambassador of Afghanistan in the first place. When the HSCA called Martin to testify and he began telling the story about Marina and the Afghan ambassador, the interview was stopped and those comments were stricken from the record.[18] 

 

Yuri Merezhinsky told Norman Mailer that he knew both Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina in Minsk. He claimed that Marina got in trouble for always hanging around the Hotel Leningrad and that she was sent away from Leningrad to Minsk because of prostitution with a foreigner.[19] So, who was Yuri Merezhinsky? He’s the man who introduced Marina to Lee Harvey Oswald according to what Marina herself told the Warren Commission and the FBI.[20] So, he isn’t just some random guy.

 

And remember, Robert Webster, Oswald’s fellow American defector to the USSR in 1959 claimed to have met Marina at a trade show in Moscow, when she was from Leningrad. And he said that she spoke English.

 

The information that I just laid out doesn’t prove that Marina was KGB. But we should certainly keep an open mind to that possibility between her uncle’s affiliations, her interest in foreign men, the existence of a Soviet honeypot expatriate divorce scheme that was already identified by the CIA, and the 29 reasons why Marina may be KGB memo from the CIA.

 

Post Marriage Minsk

 

On May 16, 1961, Oswald wrote to the US Embassy to inform them that he was now married and that he wanted a full guaranty of immunity before traveling to Moscow. The United States State Department interviewed both Marina and Lee in July of 1961 in person at the Embassy in Moscow and determined that Oswald never renounced his citizenship, which meant that they could come back to the US. Remember, Oswald didn’t fill out the proper paperwork and he didn’t visit the office on a business day, so his attempt at legal defection failed. Oswald told the US Embassy that he never spoke to Russian authorities or gave them any information, which he had previously threatened to do.[21]

 

American Consul Richard Snyder said in his report “Oswald indicated anxiety as to whether he would face possible lengthy imprisonment.”[22] But, the State Department instructed Snyder to  “not to give any assurances one way or the other about prosecution.”[23] 

 

By the Summer of 1961, the wheels were in motion for Lee and Marina to leave the Soviet Union for the United States. Oswald still had to get an exit visa from the Soviet Union and Marina still needed to get permission from the Soviet Union and the United States . While they waited for a decision, for much of the rest of 1961, Marina and Lee were living in Minsk, where everyone knew they were trying to leave for America, making them both into social pariahs.[24] Marina finally received the Soviet travel approval on Christmas Day, 1961.[25] But, she still needed her American visa. 

 

On January 5, 1962, Oswald wrote to the US Embassy in Moscow asking for a loan for travel expenses back to the United States. The Embassy responded on January 15 that Oswald needed to provide evidence that Marina would not become a public charge in the United States and that he could do so through an affidavit of support by one of his close relatives.[26]

 

Before I immersed myself in Oswald’s time in Russia, I always thought this loan to Oswald showed some sort of conspiracy in the form of the American government providing help to its false defector. But, it may have been more routine than that. Yes, it’s weird that the State Department would give a loan to someone who threatened providing military secrets to the Soviets. But, the loan is not the weird part. Getting a loan, which he was required to repay, was probably not a very big deal after all. The weird part is that Oswald was not arrested on site and he was allowed to get his passport back, regardless of whether he was given a travel loan.

 

On January 26, the State Department sent a memo to the US Embassy in Moscow that Marina Oswald could not come to the United States. But, the US Embassy in Moscow either didn’t get the memo or they ignored it because after they received it, the Embassy Counsel Joseph Norbury, nevertheless, wrote to Oswald telling him that the Embassy would accept his application for a loan.[27]

 

On March 9, US Embassy Counsel Joseph Norbury writes to offer Oswald a $500 loan as soon as Marina’s visa is approved.[28] For whatever reason, Norbury was continuing to ignore the January 26th State Department memo that said that Marina was not approved to travel. The basis for her failure to be approved was that immigrant visas were not permitted from the Soviet Union. For reasons that have never been explained, higher ups at the State Department escalated the Marina Oswald case to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bypass the law prohibiting Soviets from immigrating to the United States. On March 22, the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department wrote to the INS Commissioner Raymond Farrell, urging him to reconsider Marina Oswald’s denial.[29] Just a few days later, on March 26, Oswald received notice that Marina had been approved to travel to the United States.

 

The obvious questions raised by the circumstance of Marina’s visa approval are: Why did the State Department care enough to escalate Marina’s case and why did the INS Commissioner bypass the law to help Marina come to America?

 

Oswald Corresponds with Navy

 

Lee Harvey Oswald had his marine corps discharge status changed from discharge for dependency (to take care of his mom) to an undesirable discharge on September 13, 1960 “based on reliable information which indicated that he had renounced his US citizenship with the intention of becoming a permanent citizen of the USSR.”[30] Oswald wasn’t happy about this discharge status.

 

On January 30, 1962, he wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, requesting that his undesirable discharge from the marines be reversed. In the letter Oswald says QUOTE “I have and always had the full sanction of the US Embassy… and hence the US Government.” It sounds like Oswald is saying that he has permission from the Embassy to be in Russia and that he has the blessing of the government to do what he is doing. But maybe even more interesting than that - the man Oswald wrote the letter to was none other than John Connally, who, according to the Warren Report, Oswald would later shoot from a 6th floor window. Small world![31]

 

Connally responded to Oswald on February 23, 1962 that he was no longer the Secretary of the Navy and that Fred Korth was the new Secretary of the Navy. Remember Edwin Ekdahl - Marguerite Oswald’s second husband? She caught Ekdahl cheating and divorced him. In that divorce, the attorney who represented Edwin Ekdahl against Marguerite Oswald was none other than Fred Korth, who went on to become the 57th Secretary of the Navy.[32] I do think this is just a coincidence that has no bearing on the case. But, how crazy is it that back to back Secretaries of the Navy had ties to Oswald?

 

Robert Webster Redux

 

We talked about defector Robert Webster earlier in the context of his claim to have met Marina Oswald in Moscow in 1959. It turns out that Moscow wasn’t the only time Marina visited Webster, according to him.

 

Webster, who lived in Leningrad, applied for an exit visa from the Soviet Union in the Fall of 1960, which was denied. He was told to reapply in a year. Marina was working in Minsk at the time and took a vacation to Leningrad, today known as Saint Petersburg, about 12 hours away, in the Fall of 1960. This was before she met Oswald.

 

Marina didn’t tell the Warren Commission who she was visiting on this trip. But, she told the FBI that she met Lev Priz-ent-sez and the FBI found that name in one of her notebooks. When the FBI looked into who he was, they found that Priz-ent-sez lived in the same apartment building as Robert Webster. Priz-ent-sez was apartment 7, and Webster was 18. Webster confirmed to Dick Russell that he did see Marina for a second time in Leningrad. They spoke only in English.[33]

 

We don’t know exactly what Marina was doing with Webster in Leningrad. Webster’s Russian wife was living with him in the apartment. So, if this was a sexual dalliance, they would have had to avoid her. But, it does look like Marina was at least communicating with Webster, as he confirms, from the address in Marina’s notebook.

 

This isn’t the only evidence that Marina met Robert Webster. Katya Ford, a Dallas friend of Marina, told the FBI that Marina said Oswald was sent to Russia because he worked for Rand Corporation and helped set up the American exhibit at the World Trade Exposition in Moscow.[34] It sounds like Marina confused Robert Webster with Lee Harvey Oswald![35]

 

So Oswald and Webster both: defected a few months apart in 1959, on a Saturday when Embassy offices were closed, had potentially sensitive information, were befriended by Marina Prusakova, and both men returned to the US in the Spring of 1962.

 

In a country as big as the Soviet Union, what are the chances that Marina would meet two of the first three American defectors by happenstance? That seems incredibly unlikely to me.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We’ve got one episode to go on Oswald’s time in Russia. Among other topics, we’ll explore how Oswald’s Russian was described while he was in the Soviet Union, whether he actually offered any secret information to the Soviets, and what was going on behind the scenes at the State Department when it came to Lee Harvey Oswald.


[1] Warren Report, at 702.

[2] Warren Report, at 703.

[3] John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 332 (citing CIA Classified Message to FBI, 11/26/63)

[6] Priscilla Johnson, Marina and Lee, at 83.

[7] Records of 4th Clinical Hospital in Minsk

[8] Id.

[9] CE 24, at 102

[10] Armstrong at 335

[11] Posner at 66.

[12] Id at 65.

[13] James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, at 146.

[15] https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/104-10332-10018.pdf. (It turns out that Thomas Casasin wasn’t anyone’s real name. It was a pseudonym for Jacques Richardson, who was a CIA employee who worked in Japan at the Atsugi station from 1955 to 1960. https://www.tpaak.com/tpaak-blog/2017/9/14/the-cia-man-who-considered-using-oswald); https://www.archives.gov/files/research/jfk/releases/2018/180-10143-10227.pdf

[16] DiEugenio at 146-147.

[17] Norman Mailer, Oswald’s Tale, at 37

[18] Id. at 147.

[19] Id. at 156.

[21] CE 977; Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, at 328

[22] CE 977

[23] Warren Report at 753.

[24] Posner at 69-70.

[25] Id at 71.

[26] Armstrong at 381.

[27] Id. at 383.

[28] Id. at 386.

[29] Letter from Department of State to Commissioner of INS, 3/22/62

[30] Armstrong at 298.

[31] Warren Commission, Cadigan Exhibit 2.

[33] Id.

[34] Armstrong at 267.

[35] Commission Document 5, p 259, FBI Interview of Katherine Ford by SA James Hosty, 11/24/63

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