Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Why of the JFK Assassination

                                                        The Why of the JFK Assassination  

                                                             John Delane Williams

L. Fletcher Prouty, author of The Secret Team [1] and a special consultant to Oliver Stone for the movie JFK, had JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy [2] published before his death in 2001. This book was an attempt to exhaustively address the Why of the assassination. He begins his enquiry at the end of World War II, setting the context for what would culminate in the assassination of the American President in 1963.     


 Beginnings of the Cold War


Prouty was involved in a couple of incidents in 1944-1945, that didn't make much sense at the time, but in retrospect, seemed to be part of the starting of the Cold War.  The first incident occurred in August, 1944. Prouty was scheduled to be the chief pilot for 30 transport planes which flew 750 American POWs and Nazi intelligence officers and  their voluminous Eastern European intelligence files from Syria to Cairo. A number of the Americans had one or both legs amputated to keep them from fleeing from their Balkan captors. The Nazi intelligence officers were taken out of the Balkans prior to the arrival of the Soviet armies. It seemed very strange to Prouty that the United States was helping their enemies (the Nazis) escape from our allies, the Soviets. This seemed to be an unusual action during a time of war.  [3] The second occurrence was the shipping, on September 2, 1945, of an enormous amount of leftover armaments to Ho Chi Min in Hanoi, and to Korea. [4] In retrospect these two simultaneous events proved to be ominous regarding future warfare of the United States armed forces.


The Eisenhower Years


As President Truman would later lament, he started the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) out of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). [5] President Eisenhower inherited the CIA when he took office. During the Eisenhower years, the CIA fomented much ill in the world, and one might think it was partly because they either couldn't hear or understand what Eisenhower said.  On January 8, 1954, President Eisenhower was meeting with the National Security Council where he stated that he was bitterly opposed to placing U.S. troops in Indochina. Present at the meeting was Allen W. Dulles, Director of the CIA. Six days later, his brother John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, at a National Security Council meeting, suggested a guerrilla operation against the Vietminh formed government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Secretary Dulles suggested we could raise hell in Vietnam at a relatively low cost. [6]   


The incursion into Vietnam was only one of several CIA operations during the Eisenhower years. There was also the replacement of President Quirino of the Philippines by Ramon Magsaysay, and the replacement of the murdered Premier Muhammad Mossadegh of Iran with the Shah of Iran. [7]


For Eisenhower, one of clearest disregarding of an explicit presidential order was the order to cease all over flights of Soviet Russia prior to his summit with Nikita Khrushchev. Nevertheless the CIA had Gary Powers attempt the then longest U-2 flight, from Pakistan to Norway. On May 1, 1960 engine failure caused him to land near Sverdlovsk, jettisoning the talks with Premier Khrushchev. [8]


The Report from Iron Mountain


In 1967, Dial Press published a supposedly suppressed government document that caused quite a stir. Some claimed that the report was bogus. Others found it either to be welcome, or conversely extremely unwelcome. The study was purported to have begun in 1963 during the Kennedy administration; when the 15 members disbanded, they agreed that that the report would remain secret. A John Doe reportedly handed the report to Leonard Lewin. [9] The report addressed the issue, how would society handle the situation where "peace broke out". Several different scenarios were considered, none of which would be considered to be desirable, sometimes for economic reasons, other times because the solutions were undesirable (for example, the reintroduction of a more updated version of slavery). [10] The conclusion includes "Planning or rationalizing the war system, on the other hand [as compared to peace],to ensure the effectiveness of its major stabilizing functions is not only more promising in respect to anticipated results, but is essential; we can no longer take for granted that it will continue to serve our purposes well because it always has." [11] The report in fact was a satirical hoax, as Lewin, its author, revealed in 1972. Because it seemed to logically arrive at the absurdity of a peace economy, it arrived at the war economy as the logical solution to the future. Needless to say, the report (though bogus) was well received in some quarters. The Defense Department ordered 5000 paperbacks for some purpose. "A handful of far right zealots and eccentrics predictably applauded the report's conclusions." [12]  Its import here is that the thinking dovetails closely with the reality that confronts us, since Hiroshima, has dramatically changed. "There can no longer be an all-out,  go-for-broke-type warfare there has been down through the ages, a war that leads to the meaningful victory for one side and abject defeat for the other. Witness what has been called warfare in Korea and Vietnam..." [13]


Hegemony in Vietnam


As indicated earlier, the road to Vietnam (the American Vietnam War) began in 1945 with the delivery of armaments to Ho Chi Minh, the premier of the newly declared  Democratic Republic of Vietnam. By 1946, the French had taken over military commitments to Vietnam. The U.S. began supplying military aid to the French, thus having armed both sides in this conflict. By 1949, the war had become  a major international issue. The French were intent on getting out of Vietnam, in a military sense. They had set up the closest thing to a government in the South part of Vietnam. The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in May of 1954 by the Vietminh. The former Emperor, Bao Dai asked Ngo Dinh Diem to be the premier of this new country (South Vietnam); Diem assumed the office on July 7, 1954, and was elected President in October, 1954. The only thing the “government” of South Vietnam had was a president. There was no congress, no army, no police, no tax system. What structure of government that existed was provided by the remaining French. Commerce functioned reasonably well because Chinese traders would serve as a conduit for buying farm products and bringing merchandise in exchange for the farm products sold; Diem got rid of the French and the Chinese traders. Also, 1.1 million Tonkinese, presumably Catholic, had been transported  (by the U.S.) or walked from the North to South Vietnam. Their destination was the Saigon area. No provisions were made for this mass of people, and many resorted to  banditry to survive. From 1954 and beyond, the CIA was involved with much of the goings on in South Vietnam, and in particular, the moving of the Tonkinese to South Vietnam. [14]


Many of the changes were seemingly not in the interests of helping South Vietnam as a country, insofar as South Vietnam had much of a chance of successfully becoming a country. While the installing of Diem as president was questionable, the three major strikes against the new country were 1) Having 1.1 million Tonkinese “Catholics” move into the area around Saigon, without providing them the means to begin their lives in a productive way, thus moving many of them to become looters of the native peoples of South Vietnam. The new Diem government had no resources to be of much help to the new immigrants; and 2), Forcing out both the Chinese traders and the French persons who formed some degree of structure  for the populace in the South. [15]

These tragic decisions most likely were at least agreed to by the CIA. These decisions were not in the best interest of working toward the survival of the new nation of South Vietnam.  But perhaps that was not their purpose. Prouty infers that, consistent with The Report from Iron Mountain, the goal is to continue spending on expendable military war materials. [16]


Bay of Pigs- The Decision to Not Allow a Second Air Raid


The Bay of Pigs has had several book length treatments; one of more definitive, in terms of JFK's involvement, is by Peter Wyden. [17] One critical point is the decision to call off the planned bombing of the remaining three Cuban aircraft. Prouty stated, "But between the time of Kennedy's approval at 1:45 P.M. Sunday and the time for the release of the B-26's from the Hidden Valley Base at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, the vital dawn air strike to destroy Castro's three remaining T-33 jets was called off by President Kennedy's special assistant for national security affairs, McGeorge Bundy, in a telephone call to General Cabell." [18]


If Bundy did in fact make such a call, it is inconceivable that he would have done so except on the explicit orders of President Kennedy. Wyden paints a very different scenario. Shortly after the Presidential approval of the second bombings to eliminate the remaining three Cuban jets, McGeorge Bundy called General Cabell. "Bundy said no air strikes could be launched until after the Brigade had secured the Giron air strip, and strikes would ostensibly be launched from there. This was an order from the President." [19]  


After Bundy's conversation with  Cabell, Secretary Dean Rusk received General Cabell and Richard Bissell at his office. Earlier, Rusk had talked to President Kennedy, who told Rusk that the air strikes were to be called off unless there were "over-riding considerations". Cabell and Bissell presented their case for the air strikes to Secretary Rusk. Rusk called the President and relayed their pleas for reinstating the air strikes. Rusk concluded in his presentation to JFK, that the air strikes were important, but there were no over-riding considerations. The president agreed with Rusk. Then Rusk asked Cabell if he wanted to speak to the President. Cabell, recognizing that the President was the Commander in Chief, and had said no. When the ultimate leader has said no twice, there is no reason to ask again. [20]


However, Prouty wasn't finished. After a call from the CIA commander at Puerto  Cabezas urging Prouty to call General Cabell at Operation Zapata to order the release of the planes to bomb the Cuban jets, using OSO/OSD authority. General Cabell wasn't in. "After that call, I reached the CIA's Zapata office and suggested they release the B-26's "on Kennedy's orders" or the whole effort would fail." [21]


The person speaking to Prouty said that it was in the hands of McGeorge Bundy, Secretary Rusk, and General Cabell. Invoking JFK's name with no authority to do so could perhaps have had serious consequences for Prouty. Fortunately for him, his ruse was rebuffed. It is remarkable that Prouty never addressed that his attempt to infuse the U.S. further into the Bay of Pigs fiasco would have been an act of war against Cuba. This attempt occurred at the very time that the actions of the United States vis-a-vis Cuba were being closely scrutinized at the United Nations meetings. The expectancy of the CIA and the military was that American air support could be called upon to insure the success of the mission. Prouty had never seemed to reconcile that the CIA had vastly underestimated the support the Cuban people had for Castro.


The TFX Decision


Eisenhower had wished to delay a large aircraft purchase so that he could end his last year with a budget surplus; thus the purchase could be arranged under the new President Nixon. The new president of course had a different last name. Thus it fell to JFK to be in a position to award a huge peace military project. Secretary of Defense McNamara then added the navy's procurement money to the Air Force's money, adding up to 6.5 billion dollars. This was the largest procurement ever during peacetime; both JFK and McNamara were aware that such a project could pave the way to JFK's being re-elected in 1964. Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg joined 

JFK and McNamara in mapping the United States down to the County level. Their approach was to find the proposal that would allow tipping the areas who voted Republican in the 1960 presidential election by bringing the work for the TFX to those counties, to insure a Kennedy re-election. On the other hand, the military system had gone through their "normal"  selection process, spending an estimated 275,000 man hours. [22] The view of most military personnel involved in the process were reasonably sure Boeing would win the contract. The General Dynamics/Gruman proposal would give a more favorable result at the ballot box. In the end, the contract was awarded to General Dynamics/Gruman. The old military-industrial "team" members were livid with the decision. The decision making process on military expenditures had been taken out of their hands. It only got worse from the military-industrial perspective; Roswell Gilpatric, a New York banker, who was McNamara's deputy, announced at a banker's convention on April 9, 1963, the new Kennedy position, "I have not the slightest doubt that our economy could adjust to a decline in defense spending." [23]


Four Decisive National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM)


After the embarrassment of the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy appointed a Cuban Study Group. This group included General Maxwell Taylor, who had retired after differences with President Eisenhower over the strength of the army; Admiral Arleigh Burke, who had been involved with the military planning of the Bay of Pigs; CIA Director, Allen Dulles; and Bobby Kennedy. General Taylor asked many questions of Dulles and Burke. When the study group concluded, Taylor wrote a letter to President Kennedy with recommendations that became NSAM #55, NSAM #56, and NSAM #57. [24] NSAM #55 had a key element. The Joint Chiefs of Staff was to replace the CIA as his advisor in peacetime. That NSAM was sent only to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer. Typically, such a memorandum would have gone to the Secretary of Defense, with copies to the Secretary of State and to the Director of the CIA. [25] So what happened to the recommendation that the joint chiefs of staff replace the CIA as the advisor to the President in peacetime? In a word, the military as represented by the Joint Chiefs Staff saw such an arrangement as being outside the parameters they were able or willing to work in. Their business was war, not peace. NSAM #56 & #57 fleshed out how these paramilitary operations might be conducted. [26] Also, on July 11, 1961, President Kennedy created the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as a means to reduce the importance of the CIA. [27]


NSAM #263 Contains 10 subparts. Subpart 2 has garnered the most interest. It states: "The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated  in the White House statement of October 2, 1963." [28] President Kennedy directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963. [29] Further, it was JFK's plan to remove all U.S. personnel out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. [30]


An Amazingly Fast Extra Edition of the Christchurch Star


Prouty happened to have been dispatched to Christchurch, New Zealand, just before November 22, 1963. JFK's shooting in Dealey Plaza occurred at 12:30 P.M. (7:30 A.M. on November 23, Christchurch time). Before noon, Christchurch time (before 5PM Dallas time 10/22/1963) the Christchurch Star had an Extra on the streets covering the assassination. Reported were news items filed by on the spot reporters, who reported Senator Ralph Yarborough saying at least two shots came from his right rear, which did not correspond to the 6th floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building. Automatic weapons were reported. What is most amazing is the detail reported in the Christchurch Star and on the streets before 5 P.M. Dallas time. Included was a fine studio portrait photograph of Oswald in a business suit, white shirt and tie.  Details of his defection to the Soviet Union, his activities in the Soviet Union, his return to the U. S. with his wife and child, his having been a chairman of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, were all sent on the wires by both the Associated Press (AP) and the British United Press (BUP). [31] The paper  reported all of this information and was on the street over two hours before Oswald was charged with the murder of J.D. Tippet (7:10 P.M. Dallas time). Oswald was not formally arraigned for the murder of President Kennedy until 1:30 A.M.. over 7 hours after the newspaper hit the streets in Christchurch. [32] One wonders just how a dossier is prepared and circulated around the globe about a virtually unknown person in such a small time frame!


Pulling This all Together


Prouty gives us insight into the why of the JFK assassination. Much of the why deals with that a continued Kennedy presidency (i.e., elected for a second term in 1964) presented to several interested parties their specific issues. For the CIA, there was the threat of JFK either eliminating or emasculating the agency. President Kennedy had already tried to reduce their influence (and perhaps their budget) through NSAM #55. The war in Vietnam was pretty much a CIA operation. During President Kennedy's tenure, military advisors had been added, but NSAM #263 would scale this back by 1,000 men in December 1963, and perhaps remove all personnel by the end of 1965. The CIA's "raising hell" in Vietnam would be over. The Christchurch Star's remarkably quick printing of the news about a suspect who hadn't even been charged was indeed remarkable. Whatever the CIA's involvement, they would be a prime suspect for getting Oswald's dossier to the AP and BUP so quickly.


The military surely had their quarrels with JFK. Perhaps most notable was their displeasure with the TFX decision wherein the Kennedy administration ignored the nearly unanimous preference for Boeing by the military, and the awarding of the 6.5 billion dollar contract to General Dynamics-Gruman, using the awarding process to advance JFK's chances for re-election. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were often at loggerheads with President Kennedy, but arguably, such is the process of a democracy. Certain individuals  may have had strong grievances with the President. The military controlled the autopsy at Bethesda; [33] the autopsy would have been conducted in Dallas without the intervention of the secret service, who, along with the Presidential party removed President Kennedy's body against the strong demands of Dr. Rose to conduct a legal autopsy in Dallas. [34] Though Prouty was impressed with the Report from Iron Mountain; even though he admits that it was a novel by Leonard Lewin, he still seems to consider that there was such a study group, started in August 1963, perhaps by Secretary McNamara. [35]. Prouty often quotes from it at length. In that the Report concludes with the recommendation of a continued war economy, even in peacetime, the Report likely resonated with military leaders in the 60's and 70's (and probably even today). However, President Kennedy seemed to be looking to a peace dividend, thus significantly reducing the military budget (see [22]).


The sector that had the most to lose with the JFK presidency was the defense related industries. They were thwarted by the handling of the TFX contract, which the Kennedy administration was using political efficacy rather than the "normal" processes of awarding contracts. But the future of a Kennedy administration was much more daunting, from the defense industries perspective. Kennedy appeared to looking toward a peace dividend in future spending, and apparently ending the Vietnam conflict without the billions of dollars that such a continuance could (and did) entail. There were fortunes to be made, or left on the table. Those in the war business had become accustomed to calling the shots. Likely they were involved with calling another kind of shot.



  1. Prouty, L.F. (1973). The Secret  Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control of the United States      

  and the World. New York: Prentice-Hall. 

  2. Prouty, L.F. (2011). The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy. Dover, DE:  Skyhorse Publishing. Originally published in 1996 by Carol Publishing Group, New York.

  3. Ibid., pp. 10-11.

  4. Ibid., p. 45.    

  5. Ibid., p. 18.

  6. Ibid., pp. 56-57.

  7. Ibid., pp. 32-37.

  8. Ibid., facing p. 60. 

  9. Special Study Group (1967). Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability   of Peace. New York: Dial Press.

10. Ibid., p. 84.

11. Lewin, L.C. (1996). Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. New York: The Free Press, p. 106.

12. Ibid., p. 150.

13. Prouty, (2011)., p. 5.

14. Ibid., pp., 67-80.

15. Ibid., pp. 78-80.

16. Ibid., pp.107-108.

17. Wyden, P. (1979). The Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon & Schuster.

18. Prouty, (2011)., p. 130.

19. Wyden, p. 197.

20. Ibid., pp. 199-200.

21. Prouty, (2011)., p. 131.

22. Ibid., p. 145.

23. Ibid., p. 148.

24. All three memoranda are available at . These files were taken from L. Fletcher Prouty's own files while working at the Pentagon.

25. Prouty, (2011)., p. 170.

26. Ibid., pp. 225-227.

27. Ibid., p. 228.

28. National Security Memorandum No. 263.

29. Ibid.

30.Prouty, (2011). p.116.

31. Ibid., pp. 306-310.
32. Wood, I.D. III. 22 November, 1963: A chronolog

Monday, July 28, 2014

                                             Did Oswald Speak in Russian while Living in the Soviet Union?

                                                               John Delane Williams and Ernst Titovets

Why Oswald, an alleged assassin of JFK, according to the expressed official view, and an innocent man, according to the overwhelming evidence supplied by independent researchers, is still relevant half a century after those tragic events in Dallas? Is it that, in defending Oswald, there is a public outcry against the deeds of those forces in power that stood behind the JFK assassination and picked out Oswald, a convenient scapegoat, to cover up their crime? The protesting voices carry an important message that the rights of a man in the street should be respected so that there should be no persons used like Oswald was, in the future. The relevance of Oswald is further demonstrated by the hundreds of books up to now concerning Oswald. Unfortunately, only a few of these books were written by persons who had first hand information about Oswald. All too often, others to various degrees do a profile of the man, rather than relate information from those who had an extensive knowledge of him.


The common sense answer to the question posed in the title of this article would be, “Of course”. He was known to be a reasonably proficient speaker of Russian. After his return from Russia, Oswald demonstrated his proficiency in Russian in his interactions in Dallas with the Russian community there; also, he must have spoken Russian to his wife Marina, who had only a simple knowledge of English. However, John Armstrong in his tome [1] where he hypothesizes two Oswalds, Lee Oswald and Harvey Oswald, that Lee Oswald never spoke Russian [2], and Harvey Oswald never spoke Russian during his 1959-1962 stay in the Soviet Union.[3] It is difficult to prove a negative, but Armstrong reasons from several known instances of Oswald not speaking Russian that he never spoke Russian in Russia: “Oswald had to be suspicious of everyone around him, including Marina and the Zigers, and would never have dared to speak Russian. In fact no one said he did, except Marina.” [4] The inference that can be drawn from this reasoning is that to speak Russian would have been dangerous for Oswald, perhaps inferring that he might have been sent to spy on Russia by an American intelligence agency; perhaps expulsion from the Soviet Union, or imprisonment might have been outcome from speaking Russian.


                                                                         Meeting Oswald


The publication of Ernst Titovets’ [5] book would seem to call into question much of the reasoning by Armstrong. Though Titovets finished writing his book in 2000, delays in publication were due to not finding a publisher; the book was published in 2010. Titovets was a Russian with a strong interest in the English language, and was cultivating his abilities to speak English. There were few native English speakers in Minsk (since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Minsk is in Belarus), where Titovets was a fourth year medical student when he was introduced to Lee Harvey Oswald in September, 1960.  Titovets was invited to the home of Alexander Ziger, an older worker at the radio factory where Oswald was also employed. The Zigers were immigrants from Argentina, who spoke both Spanish and Russian fluently. Among the Zigers, only Alexander spoke English; his English was with a heavy accent.  Titovets noted that (in September, 1960) Oswald’s Russian consisted mostly of a few stereotyped phrases and a very limited vocabulary. Oswald seemed tongue-tied trying to converse in Russian. It was as if he had to think in English, and then translate to Russian. [6]


Oswald was allowed to stay in an apartment near the radio factory where a job was found for him. It turns out that the Russians were trying to accommodate Oswald during his stay in Russia. While Oswald might have information that could be of use to Soviet Intelligence, other bureaucratic entities decided to allow Oswald to stay. Instead of trying to directly get classified information from Oswald, the KGB monitored his activities and bugged his apartment. The Soviets apparently didn’t want to have an international incident while Oswald was in the Soviet Union. Oswald had indicated he wanted to stay in the Soviet Union, and seek Soviet citizenship. [7] A Russian tutor was found for Oswald, given Oswald’s rudimentary skills in the language. Stanislav Shushkevich, a senior engineer at the radio factory, gave him lessons in Russian. The assignment was made by the Communist Party; thus, the assignment was taken seriously by Shushkevich. [8]


                                                                Getting Together


Oswald invited Titovets to his apartment on September 28, 1960. Neither knew very much about the other. Titovets had a strong interest in becoming closer to a native speaker of English; his training and exposure had been to British English both in class and on the BBC. He had only briefly had experience talking to a British student who had a short stay in Russia. Oswald, with his Southern American speech would be his longest exposure to a person who was a native speaker of English. Titovets tape recorded Oswald speaking English so that Titovets could study more closely Oswald’s American English. [9] Oswald’s interest in Titovets was simpler; Titovets was a similar aged Russian who seemed, for whatever reason, to be genuinely interested in Oswald. Titovets began making assumptions about Oswald based on appearances and Oswald’s behavior. Oswald’s apartment was seemingly what would be inhabited by a successful young professional. Oswald invited Titovets to the opera, and Oswald seemed to enjoy it, leading Titovets to presume Oswald was a more refined person. At the medical school, only a few of his classmates would go to the opera and actually enjoy it. It was Titovets observation that, “Lee would be a wary character when speaking his faltering Russian and a relaxed normal person when he spoke his native tongue.” [10]


                                              The Unfolding of Oswald’s Competency in Russian


As indicated, Oswald’s initial communication in Russian after he arrived in Russia was quite limited. This may have been at least slightly surprising to him, to be aware that he had chosen to move to a country that he was not able to communicate very well in their language, though his receptive Russian might have let him understand more than he could make himself understood. When Oswald’s fellow workers would tell a joke during work breaks, Oswald would often miss the punch lines due to his inadequate Russian. [11] On March 17, 1961, Oswald attended a lecture by Professor Lidia Cherkasova about her recent trip to the United States. Cherkasova’s son introduced his mother to Oswald. After the lecture, Oswald met Marina for the first time at a dance held after the lecture.  In Marina’s account of how she met Lee, she stated, “Sasha was with his friends from the Institute. One of the friends introduced me to Lee, calling him Alik…And Lee invited me to dance and we started to talk. I decided he was one from the Baltic countries, since he talked with an accent.” [12]


Oswald, according to Titovets, eventually succeeded in making considerable progress with his Russian. [13] Oswald would eventually write:

           I am totally proficient in speaking conversational Russian. I can read non-technical

           Russian text without difficulty and can to a less extent write in the Russian

           language. [14]

Titovets adds,

           By the time we met, his Russian was just adequate for the task he set before him.

           I would mention that it took him about twelve months in the Soviet Union to

           arrive at that level. It was another academic step that he set for himself to

           achieve and he accomplished it. A far as I’m aware, he did not attend any Russian

           language courses. It was all through self-education and practice combined with

           his natural aptitude for languages. [15]

I sent an e-mail query to Titovets regarding the degree to which Oswald spoke Russian in the Soviet Union. [16] Titovets replied, “By the time I met Oswald he had stayed in Russia already close to 12 months and he did speak quite adequate Russian with a heavy American accent. He read Russian newspapers and journals. The two of us spoke exclusively in English but when in the company of Russian speakers Oswald made it a point that, as a matter of politeness, we all spoke Russian.” [17] When Titovets learned that Armstrong stated that Oswald spoke no Russian while in the Soviet Union, [18] Titovets was amazed. Titovets stated, “It was a cause of genuine surprise on the part of my old friend Vyacheslav Stelmakh, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the Belorussian State University who knew Oswald at the Radio Plant and was also friends with Oswald’s first love Ella Germann, when I told him a researcher in the States doubts the fact that Oswald spoke Russian. There are still many Russians here in Minsk who would confirm the fact.” [19]


Armstrong [20] stated “The KGB recorded numerous conversations within Oswald’s apartment from 1960 thru 1962. If any of the conversations had been in Russian the KGB would have noted the extent of his language ability in their reports and would have immediately suspected him of being a spy.” Armstrong is wrong on two counts. Oswald did use Russian while living in the Soviet Union. And, in that the Communist party provided a person to tutor Oswald in Russian, they would have expected him to use Russian in his daily activities. His using Russian would not have seemed to be a cause for alarm for the KGB if Oswald spoke Russian when his apartment was bugged. 


                                          Deciding to Come Back to the United States


Though we can’t know for sure when Oswald began thinking about coming back to the United States, we can pinpoint two incidents that more or less heralded his return. He had fallen in love with Ella Germann, a co-worker at the radio factory in Minsk. He proposed to her on January 2, 1961. She turned him down. [21] The decisive incident occurred just two days later. He routinely went to the Passport Office shortly before his residence permit was about to expire. He was given the option of applying for Soviet citizenship or getting another term for his residence permit. Oswald chose to simply extend his residence permit for another year, signaling that his intent to become a Soviet citizen may have ended. [22] Titovets noted there were several hints in Oswald’s behavior that showed an interest in returning to the United States. When at Titovets apartment, Oswald would listen intently to Voice of America; Oswald seemed starved for news from his homeland. [23] Titovets came up with idea that they should play army games, specifically to yell out the drill orders to the other person. It became clear that Oswald was proud of his service in the Marines, and he thought America’s armies were better. [24] The University of Michigan Band gave a concert in Minsk on March 12, 1961. After the concert, Oswald went to the stage to engage the Americans in conversation. It was clear that Oswald strongly wished to be among his countrymen. [25] Five days later, after Professor Lidia Cherkasova’s lecture about her trip to the United States, Oswald, along with several others, was invited to her apartment for a reception. Oswald wanted to find the news from home. [26]  


 Then too, there was Oswald’s disillusionment with the Soviet system. He would ask about the ridiculousness of the quota system, wherein each sector was encouraged to overproduce their commodities. How would the Soviets be able to utilize the surplus? Also by this time, Oswald was aware that his apartment had been bugged. [27]  




                                         Titovets’ Retrospective View of Oswald


After Oswald returned to the United States, he and Titovets wrote letters to one another. Oswald mentioned that he and Marina might be coming back to the Soviet Union. His last letter (August 30, 1963) mentioned that a second child was to be born in October. [28] As time went on after the assassinations of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, Titovets tried to understand what Oswald was doing when he came to the Soviet Union. Titovets used the Warren Commission exhibits in his own search for Lee Harvey Oswald-Who was this interesting American English speaker who was my close friend while he was here in The Soviet Union? Why did he come? Why did he leave? Why was he planning to come back? Titovets wrestled with these and other thoughts regarding Oswald both before and during the writing of Oswald: Russian Episode. What Titovets came to understand was that Oswald was a self educated person who was interested in political sociology. Perhaps he came to Russia to live permanently, or perhaps he was tentative in this decision, or perhaps his decisions were framed through his learning process. He was definitely a student of the Soviet system, as he was a student of the American system. Oswald began to look at the two systems and try to take the better things from both systems, while discarding some aspects of both systems. These ideas were brought to fruition in Oswald’s writing The Athenian System. [29]        


Titovets stated, “Summing up my research into Oswald’s life in Russia, it seems to me I was more privileged to learn his true state of mind than any other person he knew.” [30] Titovets posited that Oswald was trying to integrate the better features of the Soviet system into an American democracy to help bring forth a fairer, better society in America.  Oswald foresaw, much as Marx did, that the American capitalistic system would eventuate in a crisis (perhaps a nuclear war) that would bring itself to an end. At that point, the Athenian system could be the logical step for the survivors of the crisis. [31]


 Titovets saw Oswald as a non-violent person, and incapable of committing the acts toward President Kennedy that were the conclusions of the efforts of the Warren Commission. [32] It appeared that Oswald was a convenient pawn for the Warren Commission to place the blame upon for President Kennedy’s assassination. In Titovets view, Oswald was pursuing his dream, to look at the systems of the two superpowers and amalgamate a new system that combined the best features of both of their systems. [33] Thus, Oswald, in chasing his dream, was a happy man. [34]


                                          Titovets’ Reading of Harvey and Lee


Ernst Titovets apparently decided to read Harvey and Lee for himself, presumably to answer the question, how did Armstrong conclude that Oswald spoke no Russian in Russia? Titovets then sent me an e-mail [35] addressing only those portions of Armstrong’s book that pertained to Oswald’s being in Russia and only those portions that was familiar to Titovets.


Armstrong [36]:”I wanted to be sure I understood her answer and said, “Ana you knew Oswald from the time he arrived in Minsk until the day he and Marina left for the United States. You and your parents accompanied them to the train station and took photographs (published in the Warren Volumes). During that time he never spoke any Russian, even up to the day he left Minsk?” Ana, once again replied, “No,-not a word. My father always interpreted for him-he was the only person in the family who spoke English…” (p. 288)…“An English-speaking medical student, Erich (Ernst) Titovets, first met Oswald at the Hotel Minsk and later was a regular visitor to his apartment.” (p. 289).

Titovets: Actually, I met Oswald not at the Hotel Minsk, but at the Zigers' apartment. It was in the presence of the whole family: Alexander Ziger, his wife Signora Anna and his two daughters, Anita, [37] and Eleanora. Oswald spoke Russian and there was no need to interpret for him.


Armstrong [38]: “At the factory Oswald met another person who spoke English. Pavel Golovachev, the son of a famous Soviet Air Force General…After Pavel and Oswald began spending a lot of time together the KGB asked him to report on Oswald’s activities. He dutifully informed of his contacts with Oswald and kept them apprised of his movements.” (p. 289).

Titovets: Pavel Golovachev did not speak English at all. Once he confided in me that he wished he did and he was sorry he did not speak the language.


 Armstrong [39] “On October 18 [1960] Lee Harvey Oswald celebrated his 21st birthday. Ella Germann, a girl from the Horizon factory who Oswald had been dating the past two months, and spoke very good English, attended a small birthday party at his apartment.”(p. 311).

Titovets: Ella Germann did not speak English at all.   


Armstrong [40]:”It is clear that Marina associated with Americans, spoke English with Webster and almost certainly spoke English with Oswald… Marina’s ability to read, write, and speak English fluently before she left Russia is indisputable.” (p. 340).


Titovets: Marina did not speak English at all. It would be really surprising if she would have spoken English with Oswald and completely ignored me even when the three of us were together.  


Armstrong [41]: “When Oswald and Marina met, danced, and agreed to a date the following Friday they spoke a common language. Was it Russian or English? The HSCA asked Marina, ‘At the time were you speaking Russian together?’ She answered, ‘Yes. He spoke with an accent so I assumed he was from another state.’ Oswald came in contact with hundreds of people in Russia, but Marina is the only person-THE ONLY PERSON who said that he spoke Russian while in Russia.” (p. 334).


Titovets: Armstrong is right about there were so many people who met Oswald in Minsk. There are still many living who would have testified to the fact that Oswald spoke Russian to them. Had John Armstrong followed Norman Mailer’s [42] example, he would have come to Minsk and interviewed them.


In the book Oswald: Russian Episode [43] one can find an illustration with Oswald’s longhand in Russian on the inside cover of a book where Oswald contemplates the names for his future child. Incidentally, Oswald signed his writings.           


When a date-line does not fit Armstrong’s he dismisses it as an error and suggests his “correct” one. To give an example:

Armstrong [44]: “NOTE: We will soon see the date of March 17 is in error.” (p. 333).

Titovets: It is the night at the Trade Union Palace when Oswald first met Marina Prussokova. The date of March 17, 1961 is correct.


                               Recent Interviews of Persons Who Knew Oswald in Minsk


Two recent interviews were conducted by Ernst Titovets with persons who had known Oswald when Oswald was living in Minsk. The first interview was with a neurologist Dr. Alexander Mastykin, MD., Ph.D. on March 20, 2013. Mastykin was a medical student at the time he met Oswald. Mastykin was learning Spanish and practiced the language at the Spanish-speaking Zigers family. He knew Anita Zigers very well.


Titovets: Did Anita Ziger speak English at the time she knew Oswald?


Mastykin: I never heard a single English word ever drop from her lips!


Titovets: John Armstrong wrote a book Harvey and Lee and there, according to John Armstrong, Anita would say to him in an interview that Oswald did not speak Russian at all while he was in Minsk.


Mastykin: It would be Anita all over! I wouldn’t put it past her that she might well invent things and say anything on the spur of the moment, unnecessary true, just for kicks. It might well depend on her mood, how she was approached and if the question was a suggestive one.


Titovets: Did Oswald speak Russian?


Mastykin: To say the truth there was not much love lost between the two of us; I mostly tried to steer away from him. I did not speak English while Oswald did not speak Spanish so it was Russians on those rare occasions when we happened to meet.         


The second interview was with Vladimir Zhidovich, a leading engineer at the Radio and Cosmic Technologies Department of the Bylorussian State University in Minsk. This interview took place on March 19, 2013. Zhidovich worked together with Oswald at the same shop in the Radio Plant in Minsk.


Titovets: Vladimir, do you know English?


Zhidovich: No, I do not. Why ask? You know that I don’t speak the language!


 Titovets: Never mind. I’ll tell you later. Just answer my questions! Did Oswald speak Russian?


Zhidovitch: Russian was the only language we could communicate with him. He was not a talkative person and his Russian needed much brushing up. But he understood most [of] what he was told to and reacted accordingly.


Titovets: Did anyone at the Radio Plant speak English to him?


Zhidovitch: No way! Nobody knew English around [there] and I never heard anybody speaking English to Oswald at work. Even Stanislav Shushkevich, when he happened to drop over on business to the shop, spoke Russian to him. Now, tell me what’s this all about?


Titovets: A John Armstrong in his book Harvey and Lee insists that Oswald did not speak Russian while those around him spoke mainly English. We both know perfectly well that Oswald did speak Russian and I just wanted to hear it from you to oblige an American friend and researcher who wants to check the fact.


Zhidovitch: First I thought it was some kind of trick question. Of course Oswald did speak Russian!



Armstrong’s Contribution to the Critical Literature regarding the Kennedy Assassination


In any research investigation, the theorist may either start with assertions, or with hypotheses they arrive at in some manner. In Armstrong’s case, though he does not refer to his assertion as a hypothesis (one might infer that Armstrong felt that he sufficiently proved his assertion to being true) his assertion/hypothesis can be addressed logically by others. To be sure, Armstrong had a tough hypothesis to prove. No matter how convincing his reasoning, one counterexample would prove his hypothesis false.  Repeating Armstrong’s assertion, “Oswald had to be suspicious of everyone around him, including Marina and the Zigers, and would never have dared to speak Russian. In fact no one said he did, except Marina. [45]  


Allowing the exception of Marina, any other person who heard him speak Russian while in Russia would prove this assertion/hypothesis false. Titovets’ [46] book stands as evidence that Oswald did on many occasions speak Russian in Russia. Further, the interviews herein with Vladimir Zhidovitch and Alexander Mastykin concur that Oswald spoke Russian in Minsk.  But we would even question Armstrong’s making the assertion in the first place. If the Communist party were to provide him with a Russian tutor, then would not they logically expect him to speak Russian? The KGB was bugging his apartment and had at least one person (Pavel Golovachev) reporting to the KGB on Oswald. If Oswald seemed to learn Russian too fast, they would have figured that out. In monitoring his apartment, they would seem likely to have ferreted out any bogus behavior. Stanislav Shushkevich, the person chosen to tutor Oswald by the communist party, was a poor choice to attempt to teach Oswald. Shushkevich, a post-graduate science student at the university in Minsk, had learned to read English for his scientific studies, but had little experience in conversing in English.  Because Russian is a language that uses Cyrillic symbols, it is initially more difficult for persons whose reading has been mostly using European alphabetical symbols. On the other hand, using an approach that emphasizes first learning the spoken language would likely be more successful, particularly for someone with Oswald’s educational background. Stellina Ivanova, the Intourist Director at Minsk would become a teacher of Russian to Oswald. This proved more helpful to Oswald, though as Mailer pointed out, Oswald did not pay her a kopeck for her efforts. [47] Oswald’s learning of Russian, as described earlier, was an arduous task-and apparently within the expectancies of the KGB as they listened to his progress with the hidden microphones. Titovets [48] has shown that Oswald began to speak Russian with limited fluency with increasing success over time while in Russia.


In Armstrong’s concluding that Oswald spoke no Russian to anyone in Russia (perhaps excepting Marina), given the rather strong case that Oswald did in fact talk in Russian as he became somewhat more proficient in the language, the statement that Oswald  did not speak Russian in Minsk is clearly false. Curiously Armstrong admits that Oswald must have spoken some Russian to Stellina Ivanova, since, upon hearing of his marriage to Marina she quipped,”How can that be? You don’t know Russian well enough.” [49] From this comment one could infer that he must have spoken Russian to her- it just wasn’t adequate enough for fluency.


 Armstrong has compiled the many circumstances that multiple “Oswalds” appears to be doing things at the same time that cannot be attributed to a single individual. [50] Some of these multiple Oswalds can be attributed to misidentifications, to doppelgangers, or to persons who have deliberately impersonated Oswald, either for their own reasons or for hire. That compilation is a useful contribution. But the multiple Oswalds appear to have ended on November 22, 1963.


Finally, the question posed in the title to this article, “Did Oswald speak Russian while in the Soviet Union?” and the answer is simple. Of course he did.



1.       Armstrong, J. (2006). Harvey & Lee: How the CIA framed Oswald. Arlington, TX: Quasar, LTD.

2.       Ibid, p. 187.

3.       Ibid, pp. 339-340.

4.       Ibid, p. 340.

5.       Titovets, E. (2010). Oswald: Russian Episode. Minsk, Belarus: Mon Litera Publishing House.

6.       Ibid, pp. 94-95.

7.       Ibid, p. 18-31.

8.       Ibid, p. 49, p. 229.

9.       Ibid, pp. 146-155.

10.   Ibid, p. 111.

11.   Ibid, p.62.

12.   WCE, Vol. XVIII, pp. 597-602.

13.   Titovets, p. 377.

14.   WCE, Vol. XVI, pp. 337-346.

15.   Titovets, p. 377.

16.   Williams, J.D. e-mail sent to Ernst Titovets, March 13, 2012.

17.   Titovets, E. e-mail sent to John Williams, March 14, 2012.

18.   Williams, J.D. e-mail sent to Ernst Titovets, March 16, 2012.

19.   Titovets, E. e-mail sent to John Williams, March 19, 2012.

20.   Armstrong, p. 339.

21.   Titovets, pp. 156-163.

22.   Ibid, p. 173.

23.   Ibid, p. 147.               

24.   Ibid, pp. 182-190.

25.   Ibid, pp. 210-216.

26.   Ibid, p. 241         .

27.   Ibid, pp. 191-193.

28.   Ibid, pp. 329-345.

29.   Ibid, p. 384; Lee Oswald, The Athenian System, WCE 98, pp. 431-434.

30.   Titovets, p. 384.

31.   Ibid, p.384.

32.   Ibid, pp.389-390.

33.   Ibid, pp. 384-394.

34.   Ibid, p. 423.

35.   Titovets, E. e-mail to John Williams, 1/29/2013.

36.   Armstrong, p. 288, 289.

37.   Some confusion might arise between “Ana” and “Anita”. Anita’s actual name was Ana, the same name as her mother. Thus as long as she lived in the family unit, the younger Ana went by Anita to avoid confusion. Thus, the Russian youths who knew her at the time Oswald was in Russia referred to her as Anita. By the time John Armstrong interviewed her in 1998, she now went by Ana.

38.   Ibid, p.289.

39.   Ibid, p. 311.

40.   Ibid, p. 340.

41.    Ibid, p. 334.

42.   Mailer, N. (1995). Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House.

43.   Titovets, E. (2010).

44.   Armstrong, p. 333.

45.   Ibid, p. 340.

46.   Titovets, E. (2010).

47.   Mailer, N. (1995). p. 82.

48.   Titovets, E. (2010).

49.   Armstrong, p. 339.

50.   In reading Janney, P. (2012) Mary’s Mosaic. New York: Skyhorse Publishing., I came across a reference to John Armstrong’s article in Probe: Armstrong, J. (1998). Harvey, Lee and Tippet: A New Look at the Tippit shooting. Probe: January-February, Vol. 5, No. 2, ( ) which in turn was identical to an article of the same name published in 2012 in The Dealey Plaza Echo (17: No. 2, pp. 9-22). There should minimally have been a note of attribution to the earlier publication so that readers would not mistake it for new original research. 


This paper was delivered at the 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination Conference, Arlington, TX, November 23, 2013. It was published in JFK-E/Deep Politics Quarterly, 1,3, 21-34.