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THE JFK CASE: THE TWELVE WHO BUILT THE OSWALD LEGEND (Part 4: When the U-2 Goes Down, Oswald is Ready to Return)

Bill Simpich
Message Bill Simpich
Oswald meets Don Alejandro, a White Russian in the Soviet Union

When Oswald began working in Minsk at the Radio and TV factory as one of 5000 employees, he noticed that he was "being observed" by his supervisor. The supervisor was chief engineer Alexander Romanovich Ziger, a Polish Jew in his late forties who had supposedly relocated to Argentina in 1938 and returned to Belarus around 1955 or 1956. Mr. Ziger spoke English with an American accent, while his family spoke no English. Ziger claimed he had worked for an American company in Argentina.

Sources describe Ziger as Alejandro or as Aleksandr. Oswald called himself "Alec" or "Alik" while in the USSR, and even obtained a hunting license under the name "Aleksey Harvey Oswald". Although the story is that "Lee" is difficult for Russians to pronounce, I suspect that his friendship with Don Alejandro was a major factor. Between 1959-1962, Oswald and "Don Alejandro" spent six days a week together at the factory and three or four nights at the Ziger home speaking in English over tea and cakes. Oswald enjoyed many Sunday drives into the country with the family. Don Alejandro is Legend Maker #8.

Oswald on the left, Don Alejandro Ziger on the right
Oswald on the left, Don Alejandro Ziger on the right
(Image by none)
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Most of the CIA's file cards and forms spell Alejandro's surname as "Zeger". The Moscow phone book spells it as "Ziger". The Warren Commission is partial to "Zieger". We do see a note stating that "Alexander Zeger...is probably identical with Alejandro Ziger, a Polish engineer and radiotelephonic expert. As his homeland was in a contested border region claimed by both Poland and the Ukraine, Ziger was what is known as a White Russian. Ziger had allegedly been taken in by Soviet propaganda, greatly disappointed with what he found in the USSR, while his family was living. The story is that by January 1957, Ziger had already applied at the Argentine Embassy in Moscow to return to Argentina.

Among the twelve who built the Oswald legend, Ziger is the one who we know the least about. This CIA document indicates that Ziger may have been an agent" and an "ardent Communist officer" born in 1908. Ziger not only spoke several languages (Russian, Polish, Spanish, and English), but he appears to be a man with leadership skills. It is apparent that he was a voice listened to at the sheet metal plant.

At a minimum, it looks like Ziger had a family member involved in CIA counterintelligence. There is a reference in Oswald's phone book to a "Debovy or Debooy". CIA analyst Marguerite Stevens wondered if it might be a reference to "David DeBoey Sagier". Born in 1908, David Zagier's memoir Botchki describes growing up in Poland and his work with the OSS and the CIA. David D. Zagier wrote an OSS paper on the devaluation of the Finnish mark. "D. Zagier" can be found among a list of the CIA's most famous counterintelligence officers of the 1960s.

Similarly, the history of Zeger's family is very odd. Alejandro Ziger's daughter "Lenora Zeger" is described as divorced and a singer. Lenora and Lee used to like to flirt together. The CIA's traces indicate that Lenora's birthdate is supposedly "1923". This would make Lenora old enough to be Lee's mother. Oswald's diary estimates that Lenora was born in 1934. The CIA's traces for the younger sister Anita indicate that her birth year is supposedly "1929". Regarding Mrs. Zeger, her traces are run for her apparent name, "Ana Dmitruk". The odds are strong that Ana is related to Pavel Dymitruk, whose ex-wife Lydia took in Marina Oswald after the Oswalds left the USSR and arrived in Texas virtually penniless.

An alleged ship manifest says that Ziger and his family left Argentina for the USSR in 1956, but the birth years don't track what we have previously seen - his birth year as approximately 1912, his wife Ana's as 1910, daughter Leonor as 1935, and daughter Anita as 1941.

While in the Soviet Union, Oswald spoke very little Russian in public

In recent years, an astonishing revelation about Oswald has emerged. Oswald pretended to understand almost no Russian during his entire time in the Soviet Union. Author John Armstrong went to Argentina in 1998 and interviewed Anita Zeger. To Armstrong's astonishment, Anita Zeger told him that Oswald "didn't speak any Russian at all". She amended her statement to say "not much".

For spying purposes, an operative is much more valuable if people say things around him assuming that the operative does not understand what is being said. Zeger knew English, but the rest of his family did not. Oswald's male friends spoke English, and his female companions were from the foreign language institute who spoke English.

His Intourist guide Rimma Shirokova recalled that "he didn't seem to know a single word in Russian" when he arrived in the USSR. Angleton's aide Ray Rocca told the Church Committee that Shirakova was a KGB agent. Stanislav Shushkevich, who taught Oswald Russian, reported that Oswald found Russian difficult, but he eventually was able to understand with the aid of gestures, written notes, and a dictionary.

When Oswald was hospitalized for his alleged
suicide attempt, the authorities thought that he understood the Russian spoken to him despite his verbal denials. "Sometimes he answers correctly, but immediately states that he does not understand what he was asked".

Oswald's Russian was considered good enough in the United States to qualify him as a professional translator, and for his wife Marina to mistake him as a native-born Russian with a Baltic accent when they first met. Russian is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. No one can master Russian during the less than three years that Oswald was in the Soviet Union, particularly when that someone refuses to use Russian in most public settings. Credible witnesses say that Oswald mastered Russian before his trip to the USSR. He probably picked up the Baltic accent during his time with the Zegers.

The story behind the shootdown of the U-2, and how it played into Oswald's decision to return to the USA

An NSA agent named Jack Dunlap now enters our story in a most dramatic fashion. "An extremely sensitive and reliable source" is quoted in an FBI letterhead memo that "Dunlap gave the Soviets important information regarding the U-2 flights over the USSR and that Dunlap's information provided the Soviet Union with the capability of shooting down the Powers U-2 aircraft...as a result of Dunlap's information, the Soviets were well aware of when the U-2 planes crossed over the Soviet Union. The Soviets always had their anti-aircraft guns trained on those planes." This source was known as TOPHAT. TOPHAT was Lt. General Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov, exposed by Aldrich Ames - a real mole inside the CIA - whose motivation was money and not ideology.

The FBI memo that recounts TOPHAT's story then adds that "Khrushchev held back from allowing them to shoot down the planes, waiting for an appropriate political time to do this. Khrushchev eventually "gave the okay" to shoot down the Powers U-2 aircraft at a time when he thought it would do the most good for Soviet prestige and at a time when he was being pressed by China to show their hand." From the wording of the memo, it's unclear if TOPHAT was the source referring to Khrushchev's actions.

Dunlap succeeded in his mission even though CI chief James Angleton realized that Dunlap was a mole in 1959, a year before what is known as the U-2 affair. After Dunlap committed suicide in July 1963, and numerous classified documents turned up in his possession, his widow admitted to the FBI on August 20, 1963 that Dunlap told her before his suicide that he had been selling secrets to the Soviets.

Another piece of the puzzle is that Moscow had just recently obtained the ability to shoot down the U-2 with the development of the SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles. By 1960, these missiles were installed around big cities and sensitive locations. All of the sites on Francis Gary Powers' flight path were protected by SA-2 missile sites.

When a U-2 flight was conducted on April 9, 1960, the plane's electronic intelligence (ELINT) collection unit indicated that the Soviets were tracking them early on. The CIA's Deputy Director of Plans Bissell was warned that "penetration without detection" was now a problem. When Powers went on that fateful flight on May 1, 1960, the CIA knew that he was in danger. There is no record that the CIA warned Eisenhower that the peace summit might blow up in his face.

DDP Bissell has said that the photographic capabilities of the U-2s provided "more than ninety percent of all its hard intelligence about the Soviet Union." during that era. During the early "60s, military surveillance satellites were in their infancy. Until the first satellite launch in August, 1960, the U-2 was the only way to obtain overhead photos of military test sites and similar sensitive installations.

Throughout the 1950s, the U-2 was able to defeat Soviet air defenses for two reasons: It could fly beyond the range of their missiles to an altitude of 90,000 feet, and it had ultra-secret radar-jamming equipment. Kelly Johnson, the legendary research engineer for Lockheed, designed the U-2 and many key US military planes at the largely autonomous "Lockheed Advanced Development Projects" (better known as the "Skunk Works") in Burbank, California, delivering the first U-2 in 1955 to the infamous top-secret base Area 51. Johnson said that the Soviets were "somehow able to isolate the (U-2's) radar-jamming signals and use their beams to guide the anti-aircraft missile...(this meant) either a penetration by Soviet intelligence of United States radar countermeasures or, by some other means, the ability to take precise measurements of the U-2's radar signals."

The U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, wrote in his book
Operation Overflight that he believed Oswald's defection was related to his being shot down: "Oswald's familiarity with MPS 16 height-finding radar gear and radio codes...are mentioned in the testimony of John E. Donovan, a former first lieutenant assigned to the same El Toro radar unit as OSWALD."

Lt. John Emmett Donovan had been Oswald's commanding officer in 1959, and had discussed more than radar gear and codes: "OSWALD has access to the location of all bases in the west coast area, all radio frequencies for all squadrons, all tactical call signs, and the relative strength of all squadrons, number and type of aircraft in each squadron, who was the commanding officer, the authentification code of entering and exiting the ADIZ, which stands for Air Defense Identification Zone. He knew the range of our radar. He knew the range of our radio. And he knew the range of the surrounding unit's radio and radar."

Donovan was an FBI agent from 1953-1956, and was a recent graduate from Georgetown University's Foreign Service school when interviewed by the Secret Service during December 1963. On the same day as this Secret Service interview, Donovan was contacted by Evening Star reporter Jeremiah O'Leary who was "also a Marine reservist". Donovan told the Warren Commission that the Marines spent thousands of hours changing all the tactical frequencies and verifying the destruction of codes.

No question that Oswald made the US government's security much more vulnerable by his threat to talk to the Soviets. But whether or not he did it, Oswald didn't know anything about how to unjam the U-2's radar-jamming signals, which was the Soviets' core problem as it made it very difficult for the Soviets to even find an overflying U-2. Nor was Oswald's knowledge of the height-finding radar gear all that helpful, if the U-2 could fly higher than the Soviet air defenses could reach and simultaneously jam Soviet radar.

What is fascinating is that there is no investigation in the CIA or FBI files dedicated to whether Oswald was handing U-2 information over to the Soviets. Nor is there anything in the military files that I am aware of, other than this complaint by his own lieutenant John Donovan. Incredibly, the Warren Commission did not ask Donovan or any of Oswald's military colleagues a single question about the U-2, even though the shootdown incident happened on the second overflight after Oswald's arrival to the USSR. Donovan said that "he did not know whether Oswald had actually turned over secrets to the Russians. But for security's sake it had to be assumed that he did".

Eight days after Donovan testified to the Warren Commission, Richard Helms wrote a memo to the Warren Commission entitled, "Oswald's Access to Information About the U-2", which was classified as "Commission Document 931" and not released for thirty years. Francis Gary Powers discussed it at length in his book, as he really wanted to know what it said. Powers died in 1978. When Helms' memo was released in 1993, this was its conclusion:

"To summarize: There is no evidence or indication that OSWALD had any association with, or access to, the JTAG (Joint Technical Advisors Group) operation or its program in Japan. This applies also to information regarding the U-2 or its mission."

The gap between Helms' version and Donovan's version is vast.
Donovan talks about how his unit provided U-2 support at Cubi Point in the Philippines, where Oswald once tracked a U-2 flying over China and showed it to him.

Whether or not Oswald actually provided U-2 secrets to the Soviets, it was certainly part of the legend created on his behalf. The best tip-off is right in Oswald's own diary, where he says that Don Alejandro advised him to go back to the USA on the night of May 1, 1960, the night that the Soviets shot down Powers' U-2.

"It's the first voice of opposition I have heard. I respect Ziger, he has seen the world. He says many things, and relates many things I do not know about the USSR. I begin to feel uneasy inside, it's true!"

The CIA's memo says that Ziger "cautioned Oswald not to tell any Russians" .

Oswald's work in the Soviet Union was done. Both sides would take a long look at him, saying: "Whose man is he?"

Next time: Oswald returns home to join the White Russians in Texas


The CIA cited Oswald's estimate of 5000 employees at the factory:
Oswald 201 file, Vol. 24, p. 143.

He noticed that he was "being observed" by his supervisor:
Oswald 201 File, Vol 24 Bulky, Oswald Chronology Part 2 to Name Trace Appendix Draft, p. 26.

The supervisor was chief engineer Alexander Romanovich Ziger, a Polish Jew in his late forties who had supposedly relocated to Argentina in 1938 and returned to Belarus around 1955 or 1956: Oswald 201 File, Vol 38B/NARA Record Number: 1993.06.10.15:01:04:030000, Chronology of Oswald in the USSR.

Mr. Zeger spoke English with an American accent, while his family spoke no English. Zeger claimed he had worked for an American company in Argentina. Sources describe him as Alejandro or as Alexsandr: ARRB 1996 Releases/NARA Record Number: 104-10009-10068, Revised and Updated Version of List Forwarded to WC re Names. Also see John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p. 288 (interview with daughter Ana Evelina Ziger, 1998)

Oswald called himself "Alec" or "Alik" while in the USSR, and even obtained a hunting license under the name "Aleksey Harvey Oswald": Oswald 201 File, Volume 24, p. 8.

Oswald's diary states that he enjoyed many Sunday drives during 1960 with the Ziger family: Oswald 201 File, Vol 24 Bulky, Oswald Chronology Part 2 to Name Trace Appendix Draft, p. 32.

Tea and cakes with Don Alejandro: John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p. 287 (interview with daughter Anita Evelina Ziger, 1998) Photo of Don Alejandro: Warren Commission Exhibit 2624.

Most of the CIA's file cards spell Alejandro's surname as "Zeger": Name Check Request - Alexsandr Ziger, ARRB 1996 Releases/NARA Record Number: 104-10006-10226

The Moscow phone book has the listing as "Ziger":Commission Document 680 - CIA Appendix C to Chronology of Oswald in USSR, , p. 193.

The Warren Commission is partial to "Zieger". J. Lee Rankin memo to J. Edgar Hoover, 9/5/64, FBI Warren Commission Liaison File (62-109090), FBI 62-109090 Warren Commission HQ File, Section 19, p. 239.

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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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