What The Warren Commission Missed
Our Man in Mexico
By Jefferson Morley)
Edward Jay Epstein
hours of President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963,
the CIA had established that Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged
killer, had met with Cuban officials at the Cuban embassy
in Mexico City eight weeks before. The CIA had also established
that, four weeks after the meeting, Havana had approved
a visa for Oswald, even though it normally did not grant
visas to American citizens. At the time, Oswald was working
under the alias “O.H. Lee” at the Texas Book Depository
facts obviously point toward the sinister possibility of
foreign involvement in the Kennedy assassination—Cuban involvement.
That two CIA sources independently reported seeing a Cuban
official giving money to Oswald at Cuba's embassy in Mexico
City only adds force to the possibility. And Castro himself
had said, in the summer of 1963, that if American leaders
continued “aiding plans to eliminate Cuban leaders . . .
they themselves will not be safe.” As CIA officials knew,
such U.S. “plans”—i.e., the CIA's efforts to assassinate
Castro—had continued up to the day of the Kennedy assassination.
when the Mexican federal police, after the Kennedy assassination,
arrested a female employee of the Cuba consulate who had
been in contact with Oswald, the CIA suggested that the
Mexicans hold her incommunicado. The agency also suggested
that they ask her such questions as: “Was the assassination
of President Kennedy planned by Fidel Castro . . . and were
the final details worked out inside the Cuban Embassy?”
Thomas Mann, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, alerted Washington
that there might be an indictable case against Cuban officials.
wonder, then, that the Warren Commission—put together within
days of Kennedy's death to investigate the assassination—asked
the CIA to provide it with everything the agency had regarding
Oswald's activies in Mexico. The commission dispatched its
top staff members to Mexico to meet with Ambassador Mann
and Winston Scott, the CIA's station chief there. But nothing
ever came of this Cuban connection. As we know, the Warren
Commision, in its final report, determined that Oswald acted
alone. What happened?
one thing, the CIA had changed its tune by the time the
Warren Commission staff members got to Mexico. The agency
now claimed that it had learned of Oswald's activities in
Mexico long after the assassination, by way of the FBI,
and that stories about a Cuban official giving money to
Oswald did not hold up. The Warren Commission concluded
that there was no credible evidence of Cuban involvement.
later, thanks to congressional investigations, it emerged
that the CIA had not been forthcoming with the Warren Commission
about what it knew of Oswald's Mexican activities. Jefferson
Morley's “Our Man In Mexico” brilliantly explores the mystery
of this reticence. Though Mr. Morley is a dogged investigative
reporter, he has not discovered any jaw-dropping evidence
that will change forever the way we think about the Kennedy
assassination, but he uncovers enough new material, and
theorizes with such verve, that “Our Man in Mexico” will
go down as one of the more provocative titles in the ever-growing
library of Kennedy-assassination studies.
book begins as a straightforward biography of Winston Scott,
the CIA station chief in Mexico City in the early 1960s.
It is an enthralling account of Scott's career as one of
America's most accomplished spy masters. Mr. Morley memorably
depicts not only of Scott's espionage exploits, from London
in World War II to Mexico City at the height of the Cold
War, but also his complicated love life and his ambitions
as a poet.
Man in Mexico” moves onto murkier ground as it explores
Oswald's movements in Mexico City during Scott's tenure
there. But Mr. Morley has succeeded in ferreting out a wealth
of CIA documents that reveal lapses, misreporting and destroyed
evidence. He maintains that the CIA once possessed photographs
of Oswald entering the Cuban embassy and audiotapes of wiretaps
that picked up Oswald's conversations with Cuban officials.
The evidence is missing, he says; in fact, the disappearance
of so much material has led him to conclude that Winston
Scott “perpetrated a wide-ranging coverup of CIA operations
around Oswald.” But why would Scott have done it?
Morley advances the theory that the CIA had to cover up
an “operation” of its own that employed Oswald. While that
theory might explain the holes in the record he encountered,
Mr. Morley offers no evidence that such an operation ever
existed. Instead he resorts to dredging up the “tantalizing”
outline for a proposed novel by an ex-CIA officer in which
a character working for the CIA recruits Oswald to assassinate
Castro. Using fiction to make a factual argument is dubious
enough, but what makes this exercise particularly absurd
is the identity of the aspiring novelist: David Atlee Phillips,
who testified repeatedly under oath to Congress that he
did not know of any CIA plots involving Oswald.
are of course more mundane explanations for the gaps in
the CIA's surveillance of Oswald. Consider, for example,
the agency's inability to produce photographs of Oswald
entering the Cuban diplomatic compound in late September
1963, when eyewitnesses attested to his presence there.
Mr. Morley shows that if Oswald used the public entrance
to the embassy, he almost certainly would have been photographed
by the CIA. So he concludes the CIA hid the evidence.
what if Oswald had entered through the embassy's back garage,
which was not covered by the CIA camera? As it turns out,
two other investigators, Wilfried Huismann and Gus Russo,
researching for their documentary “Rendezvous With Death,”
tracked down the guard who was on duty at the garage back
then. He recalled seeing Oswald in the garage, explaining
that he would have noted the outsider's presence since Oswald
was accompanied by a Cuban intelligence officer.
Scott was naturally aware that the CIA's surveillance cameras
could be avoided by using the embassy's nonpublic entrances.
After the assassiation, why didn't he investigate the reasons
behind such limited observation of the site at a time when
Oswald was being tracked? My own guess is that Scott realized
that a consensus had been reached in Washington according
to which Oswald had acted alone, without foreign assistance;
in short, there was no need to pursue that avenue of inquiry.
He probably also realized that opening up the Cuban angle
would lead to embarrassing revelations about the CIA's earlier
operations against Castro. In other words, he acted like
a bureaucrat by protecting the government's secrets.
with so many of tangents in the history of the Kennedy assassination,
the record of Oswald's activities in Mexico City is so spotty
that we likely will never know what really happened there
and can only speculate. Scott supposedly wrote a memoir
in which he refuted the Warren Commission's conclusions.
But shortly after he died in 1971, the manuscript disappeared—at
the instruction, Mr. Morley suggests, of CIA Director Richard
Helms. Maybe it will surface one day.