JFK files: Lee Harvey Oswald's links with Russia, fears over missile attack and the CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of assassinating John F Kennedy, is shot by Dalas nightclub owner Jack Ruby - AP
Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of assassinating John F Kennedy, is shot by Dalas nightclub owner Jack Ruby - AP

Russia feared an 'irresponsible' US general could launch a revenge missile strike in the wake of John F Kennedy's assassination, while Dallas police knew about the threat to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, it has emerged.

Thousands of previously classified files relating to the assassination of the US President were released on Thursday shedding new details on the case, although Donald Trump bowed to pressure from the CIA and FBI by blocking the release of hundreds of more sensitive records.

The US president said he had made the decision because of national security concerns, but allowed the release of 2,800 other files.

"I have no choice," the US president said in a memo, citing "potentially irreversible harm" to national security if he were to allow all records out now. He was placing those files under a six-month review.

Historians warned that the files were unlikely to contain any bombshell revelations or put to rest the rampant conspiracy theories about the 1963 assassination. 

• Four unanswered questions from the JFK conspiracy

The documents approved for release show federal agents madly chasing after tips, however thin, in the days after the November 22, 1963, assassination and juggling rumours and leads worldwide.

Some documents were withheld at the last minute and some reports indicate that several hundred documents in the release were expected to cover the investigation into Oswald's visit to Mexico City - Credit: US National Archives
Some documents were withheld at the last minute and some reports indicate that several hundred documents in the release were expected to cover the investigation into Oswald's visit to Mexico City Credit: US National Archives

Files that drew scrutiny concerned the gunman Lee Harvey Oswald's links with the Russians, while the materials also cast a wide net over varied activities of the Kennedy administration, such as its covert efforts to upend Fidel Castro's government in Cuba.

In a 1975 “summary of facts gathered by the Executive Director of the CIA Commission concerning possible involvement in plans to assassinate foreign leaders,” it is stated that the CIA explored working with “mafia resources” as a means of killing the Cuban leader.

Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of assassinating former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, is pictured holding a rifle and communist flag in this undated Dallas Police Department Archive image - Credit: Reuters
Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of assassinating former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, is pictured holding a rifle and communist flag in this undated Dallas Police Department Archive image Credit: Reuters

“The commission has determined that agents of the CIA were involved in planning in this country with certain citizens and others to seek to assassinate Premier [Fidel] Castro. The commission has also determined that the CIA was involved in shipping arms from this country to persons in the Dominican Republic, who sought to assassinate Generalissimo Trujillo.” 

In a Sept. 14, 1962, meeting disclosed in the files, for example, a group of Kennedy's senior aides, including brother Robert, the attorney general, discussed a range of options against Castro's communist government.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally ride in a liousine moments before Kennedy was assassinated, in Dallas - Credit: Reuters
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally ride in a liousine moments before Kennedy was assassinated, in Dallas Credit: Reuters

The meeting was told the CIA would look into the possibility of sabotaging airplane parts that were to be shipped to Cuba from Canada. McGeorge Bundy, JFK's national security adviser, cautioned that sensitive ideas like sabotage would have to be considered in more detail on a case-by-case basis.

What else did we learn from the files:

Hoover’s reaction in aftermath of assassination

In the chaotic aftermath of the assassination, followed two days later by the murder of the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald while in police custody, FBI Director J, Edgar Hoover vented his frustration in a formerly secret report found in the files. It opened: "There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead."

But, reflecting on Oswald less than an hour after he died, Hoover already sensed theories would form about a conspiracy broader than the lone assassin.

"The thing I am concerned about, and so is (deputy attorney general) Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin," he said.

He also reported: "Last night we received a call from our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organised to kill Oswald."

Hoover said he relayed that warning to Dallas police and was assured Oswald would be sufficiently protected. Oswald was shot dead the next day by Jack Ruby.

US President John F. Kennedy (R) with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (L), FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1963 - Credit: FBI
US President John F. Kennedy (R) with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (L), FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1963 Credit: FBI

Was Oswald a CIA agent?

A document from 1975 contains a partial deposition by Richard Helms, a deputy CIA director under Kennedy who later became CIA chief, to the Rockefeller Commission, which was studying unauthorised CIA activities in domestic affairs. Commission lawyers appeared to be probing for information on what foreign leaders might have been the subject of assassination attempts by or on behalf of the CIA.

A lawyer asks Helms: "Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent" - here the document ends, short of his answer.

Threats to Kennedy and Johnson

Among the files is a more than 400-page document that appeared to describe people being monitored as potential threats to Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Officials described one such person this way: "Subject participated in pickets against JFK in 1961. Allegedly trained in guerrilla tactics & sabotage. Considered very dangerous by those who know him. Has visited USA & Cuba. Considered armed and dangerous."

Some suspicions missed the mark badly.

One document describes a person who sent a letter to Johnson in December 1963 stating "you're doomed." The document says: "Interviewed 1/23/64; friendly. Said letter was a joke. Not dangerous. Attending 5th grade."

US President John F. Kennedy (L) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961 - Credit:  JFK PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY
US President John F. Kennedy (L) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961 Credit: JFK PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY

Anti-Castro plots

The collection also discloses a Sept. 14, 1962, meeting of a group of Kennedy's senior aides, including brother Robert, the attorney general, as they discussed a range of options against Castro's communist government.

The meeting was told the CIA would look into the possibility of sabotaging airplane parts that were to be shipped to Cuba from Canada. McGeorge Bundy, JFK's national security adviser, cautioned that sensitive ideas like sabotage would have to be considered in more detail on a case-by-case basis.

Cuban president Fidel Castro, left, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev hug at the United Nations in this late 1960 file photo - Credit: AP
Cuban president Fidel Castro, left, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev hug at the United Nations in this late 1960 file photo Credit: AP

In a 1975 “summary of facts gathered by the Executive Director of the CIA Commission concerning possible involvement in plans to assassinate foreign leaders,” it is stated that the CIA explored working with “mafia resources” as a means of killing the Cuban dictator.

“The commission has determined that agents of the CIA were involved in planning in this country with certain citizens and others to seek to assassinate Premier Castro. The commission has also determined that the CIA was involved in shipping arms from this country to persons in the Dominican Republic, who sought to assassinate Generalissimo Trujillo.” 

The document also discusses CIA contacts with the Mafia, including mob boss Sam Giancana, for the purposes of assassinating Castro. 

Oswald's meeting with Soviet assassination agent

One of the titbits from the files that caused some excitement was the fact Harvey Oswald met Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, a KGB agent who worked for the KGB's 13th department, which was responsible for assassinations, about two months before Kennedy's killing.

The document, dated November 23 1963, states: "According to an intercepted phone call in Mexico City, Lee Oswald was at the Soviet Embassy there on 28 September 1963 and spoke with the consul,  Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov. This was learned when Oswald called the Soviet Embassy on 1 October, identifying himself by name and speaking broken Russian, stating the above and asking the guard who answered the phone whether there was 'anything new concerning the telegram to Washington'. The guard checked and then told Oswald that a request had been sent, but nothing had as yet been received."

The FBI believed the meeting related to a visa or passport application of Oswald.

Notes from a CIA Mexico City station report - Credit: US National Archives
Notes from a CIA Mexico City station report Credit: US National Archives

Concerns that Oswald was KGB agent

One of the most intriguing parts of the tragic episode was the role of Yuri Nosenko.

The Russian was, on the surface at least, a senior KGB defector. Nosenko had told Warren Commission that Oswald, who lived in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s before traveling to Mexico City and then to Dallas, had acted on his own and was never an agent of the KGB.

But not everyone was convinced. According to the New York Times, Richard Helms, then head of the C.I.A.'s espionage operations, and later director of the entire agency, testified to the House Committee on Assassinations that he found Nosenko's claim "strained credulity. . . . I have not been able to swallow it.

Another sceptic was Tennent H. Bagley, who was one of Mr. Nosenko’s main handlers as chief of counterintelligence for the C.I.A.’s Soviet division. 

One of the released files is a letter from Bagley to the Committee on Assassinations.  "If Nosenko is a KGB plant, as I am convinced he is, there can be no doubt that Nosenko's recited story about Oswald in the USSR is a message from the KGB. That message says, in exaggerated and implausible form, that Oswald had nothing whatever to do with the KGB, not questioned for his military intelligence, not even screened as a possible CIA plant ... By sending out such a message, the KGB exposes the fact that it has something to hide ... That something may be the fact that Oswald was an agent of the KGB.”

Oswald was a ‘maniac’ and the Soviets’ reaction

In another file, Mr Hoover outlines what the agency knew of the Soviets' reaction to the assassination. The document appears to support Nosenko's claim that Oswald was viewed as mentally unstable. 

"According to our source, Soviet officials claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had no connection whatsoever with the Soviet Union. They described him as a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else. They noted that Oswald never belonged to any organisation in the Soviet Union and was never given Soviet citizenship.” 

The Soviets were also said to believe it was a coup. "According to our source, officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believed there was some well-organised conspiracy on the part of the 'ultraright' in the United States to effect a 'coup.' They seem convinced that the assassination was not the deed of one man, but that it arose out of a carefully planned campaign in which several people played a part.”

Soviet feared a war in the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, according to the memo: “Our source further stated that Soviet officials were fearful that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”

Lee Harvey Oswald in custody - Credit: Reuters
Lee Harvey Oswald in custody Credit: Reuters

The KBG also suspected President Johnson was 'responsible' for Kennedy's assassination. "Our source added that in the instructions from Moscow, it was indicated that 'now' the KGB was in possession of data purporting to indicate President Johnson was responsible for the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy. KGB headquarters indicated that in view of this information, it was necessary for the Soviet Government to know the existing personal relationship between President Johnson and the Kennedy family, particularly that between President Johnson and Robert and 'Ted' Kennedy."

Oswald was on FBI radar before assassination

The FBI had discussed Oswald about a month before the shooting, according to a document marked 10/25/63.

An agent said in the FBI memo, which came from the bureau’s New Orleans office, said: “Will maintain contact with Cuban sources for any indication of additional activity on the part of subject organisation which appears to have become inactive since the departure from New Orleans of Lee Harvey Oswald.”

The organisation referred to was the Pro-Castro "Fair Play for Cuba Committee”.

It continues: “If Oswald has relocated in the Dallas territory it is possible he may inaugurate a FPCC branch in that area.”

Cuban envoy showed ‘happy delight’ at assassination

Cuba has insisted it had nothing to do with the assassination, but one of its diplomats didn’t do a good job at hiding his reaction. According to a CIA memo shortly after the shooting, the “initial reaction of Cuban ambassador Cruz and his staff” was “one of happy delight”. 

“Ambassador Cruz received cable, which ordered ambassador and his staff to govern their actions by official attitude of govt to which they accredited. Cruz thereupon issued instructions to his staff and to Cuban consulates and trade office Toronto and Montreal to ‘cease looking happy in public’.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting