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The JFK Case; the Office that Spied on its Own Spies

Message Bill Simpich
Memos released in full show that Lee Harvey Oswald was used in espionage aimed at the Soviets during 1959 and 1963. On both occasions, Oswald was seeking an instant visa in order to enter a Communist country.

Documents recently released in full reveal that alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was wittingly or unwittingly used in CIA spying activities referred to as LCIMPROVE during the two months before John F. Kennedy was killed. Until the last few years, these documents only existed in less-than-complete form.

LCIMPROVE is defined in two separate CIA documents as "Counter-espionage involving Soviet intelligence services worldwide". The request for the definition of LCIMPROVE by government staffers to the CIA is here (see item #2) The CIA's response is here.

Counter-espionage involves actions taken to detect and counteract espionage. Several CIA memos with the subject line "LCIMPROVE" were written during the two periods of Oswald's life when he was trying to instantly obtain a visa to enter a communist nation.

The LCIMPROVE memos in 1959 dramatically describe the time when Oswald was seeking to defect to the Soviet Union. These memos are also linked to the REDCAP program to induce Soviets and Eastern Europeans to defect to the West.

These REDCAP/LCIMPROVE memos are filled with wild yarns about sex-and-alcohol parties involving Americans and Soviets together in Helsinki. It was days of wine and roses, with each side testing the other. American vice consul William Costille was enticing the Soviet consul Gregory Golub to defect. By all appearances, Soviet consul Golub just wanted to let the good times roll.

Soviet consul Golub was warmed by the camaraderie. Helsinki became the only place in the Soviet borderlands where a foreigner could get a visa in a matter of minutes if you "looked all right". This change in policy came down shortly before Oswald needed to cross the Soviet border from Helsinki.

Oswald was still a Marine when he came to Helsinki. Oswald would probably never have received permission from Soviet authorities in Moscow to enter the USSR. The instant visa from Golub is what made it possible for Oswald to successfully defect to the Soviet Union during October 1959. He married a Soviet woman and returned with his new family to the United States in 1962.

LCIMPROVE documents from late 1963 report on Oswald's quest to get instant visas to visit Cuba and the USSR. A great deal of evidence indicates that Oswald was impersonated in Mexico City. All references to Oswald in Mexico City are based on what is contained in the CIA reports. I am not assuming that these stories about Oswald are true.

The CIA reports on Oswald's visits to the Soviet and Cuban consulates in Mexico City to obtain these visas less than two months before the JFK assassination. Oswald showed up with his visa application at the Cuban consulate on a Friday all fired up to leave for Cuba the following Monday. This was during a time when Mexico City was an "intelligence battlefield" for both sides in the Cold War.

On the lighter side, Oswald was behaving like a clown. He was demanding an instant travel visa to go to Cuba. The American government ban on Cuban travel had begun two years earlier in 1961. Mexico City was the only place in Mexico that an American had any chance to get into Cuba at all. The Cubans were only providing travel visas during time to American travelers when a way station was needed while en route to one's ultimate destination.

In this case, Oswald hadn't even applied for a Soviet visa. Obtaining a visa from the Soviets was going to take four months. Oswald was doing one of the things he was known at being best at - being an impossible person.

Oswald had succeeded in making himself the talk of the town on Embassy Row in Mexico City. Tongues were wagging inside the Cuban consulate at Oswald's rash and rude manners as he tried to convince the employees into giving him a visa to leave for Cuba the following Monday. His flat-out lie to them about having a Soviet visa added more fuel to the fire.

The buzzing of the consulate employees was picked up by CIA wiretaps throughout the building and on every telephone. As a bonus, such an event inevitably worsened relations between Cuba and Oswald's Fair Play for Cuba Committee during a time when a documented CIA-FBI plan to discredit the FPCC was nearing fruition.

The more hidden aspects involved the shadowboxing between the Americans and the Soviets. For years, there was a practice in intelligence circles of slightly altering items in Oswald's biography and using these items as "marked cards" as they passed information back and forth with each other. If an unauthorized person had access to a particular spelling of a name, for example, that "marked card" indicated that there had been a leak. A leaker might be a defector.

The "marked card" technique has been around for a long time. Peter Wright in Spycatcher refers to this method as a "barium meal". Tom Clancy in Patriot Games calls this trick a "canary trap". Scott mentions that the "marked card" was one of the methods used to catch the infamous CIA mole Aldrich Ames during the 1990s. The marked card trick didn't work because Ames himself was the chief of the Soviet Russia counterintelligence staff.

Thus, Oswald was wittingly or unwittingly involved in a molehunt aimed at American intelligence officers. Ann Egerter was the main mover in this effort. Egerter was with the Counter-Intelligence Special Investigations Group, or CI/SIG. For years, the CIA and other agencies had been using "marked cards" as a method to see if the CIA itself was being infiltrated by Soviet or Cuban agents. Egerter referred to her group as the "office that spied on spies".

At the same time, REDCAP memos surfaced during the summer of 1963 directed at Kostikov and other Soviet Embassy employees. As mentioned above, REDCAP was a CIA program that encouraged Soviet defections. Soviet vice consul Valeriy Kostikov was the subject of a REDCAP memo written the same day that Oswald first visited the Soviet embassy. The CIA may have wanted to see if Oswald could effectively test the emotional makeup of Soviet vice consul Valeriy Kostikov or another embassy employee. Oswald was known to be a provocateur, in the classical sense of the word. He knew how to get an argument going, as well as how to spur a discussion that might reveal a vulnerability that Kostikov or another embassy employee.

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Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney and an antiwar activist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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