Sylvia Meagher examines the activities of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Soviet Union and the United States prior to President Kennedy's assassination. She goes on to explain how this information refutes the findings of the Warren Commission.
RECORDED: 26 Jan. 1967. BROADCAST: KPFK, 18 Apr. 1967.
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William O'Connell This is William O'Connell, and we're talking again about the assassination of President Kennedy and the Warren Commission Report. Our guest today is Mrs. Sylvia Meagher or New York City. Mrs. Meagher, as some of you may already know, is the author of a number of articles that have appeared recently in The Minority of One. Her principal contribution in the field of scholarly research is a subject index to The Warren Report, which is indeed an index not only of the report itself, but the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits printed by the Government Printing Office.
Mrs. Meagher resides in New York City. She happens to be out here on a tour at the present time. We have prevailed upon her to come to Los Angeles. If my listeners will forgive me, a personal note: I want to say that this is, perhaps of all the interviews I've conducted, the one that I've been most looking forward to. I want to say, and I'm glad to be able to say, finally - welcome Mrs. Meagher to KPFK.
Sylvia Meagher Thank you. It's very good to be here.
William O'Connell Let me begin straight away by asking you what it was that brought you to a serious and scholarly study of the assassination? Also, I think part of that question that follows is how did the subject iIndex itself come about?
Sylvia Meagher Well, in common with many other people in this country, I found that the initial story out of Dallas on Friday the 22nd of November 1963 was so highly implausible and unconvincing. I began from that day to follow with very great interest all the information that was published during the succeeding year published in the press and in the magazines, seeking some kind of rational explanation of these events and of the alleged motivation and commission of this crime.
At no point during that time did I find that there was coherence, plausibility, and directness. In fact, I think it is extraordinary how many revisions continually took place unabashedly, revisions of the evidence that would flow through the papers, especially the revisions of the autopsy and medical findings, an area of evidence which should not have been subject to so many contradictions and changes.
In spite of this strong skepticism I felt from the beginning, when The Warren Report was published, I think I was quite prepared - if that was a thoroughly convincing and straightforward, well-supported document, I think I would have accepted it. I would've come to accept that all of these improbabilities, coincidences, changes in the presentation of the case by the various authorities, whether the Dallas police and district attorney, the FBI, or the commission itself during the term of its work, I would have accepted all of that as unfortunate evidences of certain confusion and non-coordination.
However, The Warren Report -- speaking out only of the 888-page document that was published in September 1964 -- seemed to me marked by internal contradictions to some degree, but more particularly marked by an evasiveness of language that troubled me deeply. There were many passages and many points on which the language of the report was so obfuscatory and lacking in a directness and candor, it seemed to me, that I wondered and was deeply concerned about the reasons for the writers of the report to have gone through these rather exquisite efforts to say certain things in a way that seemed overcautious, overcontrived, and began to await the publication of the 26 volumes of the hearings and exhibits in the hope that these volumes would throw light upon many of the areas, which left me still greatly in doubt and with many misgivings.
William O'Connell May I ask how long was the time lapse between the appearance of The Warren Report itself and the actual issuance of the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits?
Sylvia Meagher It was two months. I remember my own personal excitement when the crate arrived. It was, I believe, the day before Thanksgiving in 1964. I plunged into these volumes with truly enormous interest and curiosity in the hope of, again, finding those answers which I had failed to find in The Warren Report itself.
Now I must say that reading these volumes, far from allaying these misgivings that's in common with many other people, I have felt greatly intensified. I found not only contradictions which indicated carelessness, predisposition of the commission to certain findings, unfair tactics in the examination of witnesses, I found, as many other people have pointed out, that there were favorable witnesses. I'm using the wrong terminology here. There were the witnesses that ... friendly witnesses, friendly witnesses and hostile witnesses, which in itself is entirely inappropriate to any fact-finding investigation. You should not have friendly or hostile witnesses.
Aside from these evidences of carelessness and bias, I found absolutely unambiguous instances of misrepresentation of fact, misrepresentation of the facts in the 26 volumes as they were reflected in The Warren Report itself. These, in a number of instances, were on crucial points of the evidence.
In the study of the 26 volumes, which, as you know, Bill, I'm sure that you've encountered the same difficulty, it is very difficult to locate material. I found that what was happening was something that I had seen somewhere in the volumes, in which I wanted to find again, caused me to spend four and five hours at times looking for this. There was no way to locate it. In many instances, there was absolutely no way to locate it either by the footnotes in the report or any other method.
And so I began to draw up something of an index for my own personal use to save the time that I was losing in scouring the hearings and exhibits. This was just done on just pieces of paper with notations in pencil. I intended it only for my private use in checking out the evidence on any particular point as far as it could be checked out.
As I was engaged on this work, and I think one or two people with whom I was in contact at that time knew that I was working on this index for myself, they impressed upon me the fact that all of the researches would have equal need for such an index that would all be able to save time. It was suggested to me by Vince Salandria of Philadelphia that it would be of such great help to all the researchers to have such an index. He urged me to drop all my other studies in the report and hearings and exhibits as of that time and concentrate on the subject index and to have it published and distributed, an idea which I must admit had not occurred to me.
I felt that he was probably quite correct in that this would be of service to everybody who is taking interest in the evidence, and so I did give that priority. I dropped what I had started to do, which was writing up some of the discrepancies, some of the incoherence and contradictions in the evidence and concentrated on the subject index.
I wish, Bill, that I had a great deal more time to devote to compiling the index. I feel it has definite imperfections that should be greatly refined. There are also some errors and omissions. In spite of those defects, I think it has been useful.
William O'Connell Well, it's an invaluable research aid to anyone who's doing any sort of serious work on the 26 volumes. I think that both the defenders of the commission's point of view and the critics would agree to that. Which leads me, if I can interject just a point here, you say in the explanatory note of the subject index, you say, "While the subject index utilizes the footnotes in the report, it derives primarily from detailed study and critical analysis of the hearings and exhibits. Consequently, it includes negative references." I wonder if you would explain precisely what you mean by that and tell our listeners what those negative references consist of.
Sylvia Meagher Yes, certainly, Bill. The Warren Report, of course, provides footnotes which document its assertions, or supposedly do. In some cases, they actually do not, I might add. Theoretically, the footnotes document their assertions.
For example, in the area of marksmanship, the marksmanship of the alleged lone assassin, the footnotes referring back to the testimony of various persons who provided the commission with some support for its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald did have the necessary skill as a rifleman. Those footnotes do not, of course, refer back to such testimony as, for example, Dean Adams Andrews Jr. of New Orleans, a lawyer who apparently had had contact with Oswald, who had consulted him about seeking a reversal of his unsatisfactory discharge from the Marine Corps, and who gave us his personal opinion, a most striking and strong statement in which he stated his categorical conviction that Oswald could not have committed this crime because he did not and could not have had the necessary skill as a rifleman, in which he discussed his own experience as a marksman when he was in the service and the deterioration of any skill, even if it is at a high level, without constant and daily target practice.
This was a most striking passage of testimony which was totally ignored. I believe it was very necessary in any discussion of Oswald's marksmanship, and I do have such a classification in the subject index to include not only what was said by what I might call the government witnesses, who provided to some degree or another a support of the commission's conclusion, but to provide the contrary evidence.
This is not really a prime example of negative references. I think a better one would be the example of, let us say, the assertions about Oswald's use of the alias A. Hidell. In this case, the commission makes a series of assertions of the fact. For example, that when Oswald was being driven from the Texas Theater to the police station under arrest ostensibly for the murder of Tippit, that he had refused to give his name or his address and that the detective seated next to him in the automobile had put his hand in Oswald's pocket, pulled out his wallet and found in that wallet a fabricated identification card in the name of A. Hidell.
Now in my index, I include not only references to the testimony which assert that this took place in the car, but I include also the contemporaneous report of the detective in question, in which he gives an account of this ride from the theater to the police station, and he makes no mention whatsoever of finding this card in the name of A. Hidell or any other reference to the name A. Hidell, and not this detective alone but, in fact, the contemporaneous reports of all of the police officers in that car.
I call it a negative reference in the sense that it means documents do not include as one would expect that they would include a reference to this highly important event that supposedly took place, the discovery of a fabricated identification card on the suspect.
There are many other instances of this kind, but I think the general idea is quite clear that I have tried to include citations to testimony or documents which should bear out contentions in the report but failed to do so.
William O'Connell Right. In mentioning Oswald, we're almost jumping to a question that I was going to save for later in the program, but it's the question of Oswald's guilt. Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, amongst the mass media publications, have begun to question the findings and the conclusions and the overall viability of the reconstruction of the assassination made by the Warren Commission, but these publications which are, let's say, eminently respectable, accept almost without qualification the case which the commission maintains against Oswald as the lone assassin.
In terms of the physical evidence, they maintained that its weight is almost overwhelming. I think perhaps Epstein alone amongst the critics does the same thing. Do you think that Oswald's guilt and implication in this crime has or has not been amply demonstrated?
Sylvia Meagher I think that the evidence clearly demonstrates that Oswald was entirely innocent of this crime, and indeed of the two other crimes charged to him: the murder of Tippit and the alleged attack on General Walker. I would say this purely on the basis of the official published evidence.
I'm sorry that one aspect of the evidence has received quite inadequate attention, except perhaps from Leo Sauvage in his book The Oswald Affair, and that is Oswald's alibi, even by the commission's rather unfair reconstruction of his alleged movements by which he was able to reach the second floor of the depository from the sixth floor of the depository after a number of rather time-consuming procedures, when he, theoretically, left the window from which the shots had been fired that is he had to wedge his way out from behind this barricade of cartons.
He had to hide the rifle rather carefully, it was not discovered immediately, and run down the stairs and enter a lunchroom, the commission reenacted this alleged progress of Oswald from the sixth floor window to the second floor lunchroom, timing him as against the police officer, Marrion Baker, who encountered him there, which in itself was most unfair because he should have been timed against Roy Truly, the superintendent of the depository who had preceded Baker on the stairs.
This is one anomaly. There are other anomalies in the reconstruction. I don't think I should take the time to go into them now, but even under the commission's reconstruction and its data, Oswald had a margin of a maximum of 16 seconds and a minimum of one second to reach that second floor lunchroom had he been coming from the sixth floor.
I think it's a travesty of justice to convict a man on a margin of one to 16 seconds of a crime where the other evidence is so deplorably feeble where there is no motive, there is no means, and there is no opportunity. In the process of depriving this man of what appears to me, as well as to Mr. Sauvage and to other critics, to be an extremely powerful alibi.
There has been a great deal of shenanigans about the bottle of Coke that he was or was not drinking when he was encountered by M.L. Baker, the policeman. The initial stories out of Dallas was that when Oswald was encountered, he was drinking a Coke. Oswald himself, in his first interrogation by Captain Fritz on Friday afternoon, said that he was drinking a Coke when this incident occurred.
I think as the facts of the case were assembled with more detail by the authorities, it became apparent that had he truly been holding a Coke, it would have taken him more than his margin of about 16 seconds to fish change out of his pocket, insert it into a machine, and wait for the bottle to drop, open the bottle, and be standing with the Coke in his hand.
This destroyed the allegation that he had sufficient time to reach the second floor and to be standing there calmly when M.L. Baker approached him. And so the story was revised. It was then said on all sides that Oswald was not holding a bottle of Coke when he was encountered by Baker.
Oddly enough, when people are off guard who have some authoritative knowledge of this incident, when they're off guard, they seem to restore his bottle of Coke. M.L. Baker himself, when he was asked by the FBI, I believe it was September 23rd, just a few days before the report was issued, to provide an affidavit, it's not clear why they asked him, he'd already testified, but he was asked to give an affidavit, repeating in very summary form the fact that he had been in the motorcade, that he had heard shots, and then he had dashed into the building and what had then transpired.
It was written in his affidavit, "I ran up to the second floor and I saw a man drinking a Coke." Then the words 'drinking a Coke' had been crossed out and initialed MLB by Baker. Very recently, I believe it was late in December, Mr. Albert Jenner Jr., who was a senior counsel to the Warren Commission and responsible for some vital areas of the investigation, he gave a telecast, it was a television interview, on a program called Your Right to Say It, which was rebroadcast in New York at the end of December. It had been taped perhaps some weeks before that.
William O'Connell I think it was announced for showing locally on NET, a local educational television station, but I haven't seen it myself as yet. Perhaps it will be seen later.
Sylvia Meagher Well, I hope it will be. I hope it will be seen by an audience which is in a position to recognize the almost unbelievable misstatements of important fact in Mr. Jenner's presentation on that program, as well as certain statements and assertions, which seem to me and to others who are well-informed about this case, to be pure invention.
One of the statements that Mr. Jenner made, and I think in this case he was inadvertently correct in discussing the evidence against Oswald, he made the statement that Oswald was encountered on the second floor drinking a Coke within a very short time after the shots. I say I believe he was inadvertently correct; he would not intentionally have said, have acknowledged that he was drinking a Coke since he was defending the conclusions of the commission. I believe-
William O'Connell That vitiates the time of the reconstruction that they provided.
Sylvia Meagher Absolutely.
William O'Connell I see.
Sylvia Meagher Absolutely. Indeed, I think the whole time reconstruction is vitiated even without this bottle of Coke. I mentioned it in particular because it's the most graphic reason and it's not perhaps very easy to go into the other details of the reenactment, which involved timing and other factors of a somewhat mathematical nature in which to make this quite graphic to the listener.
I think even without the depravation of the bottle of Coke, this alibi is sustained because the reenactment itself is a very defective one. I think anyone who is interested in looking into this further should read Mr. Leo Sauvage's chapter on Oswald's alibi in his book, The Oswald Affair, which is published by the World Publishing Company.
William O'Connell You have a book coming out yourself in the fall, Accessories After the Fact. Will you deal with some of this in your book or ...
Sylvia Meagher Yes, yes. I'm dealing with this as part of a larger chapter on Oswald's activities in the depository before the shots and after the shots.
William O'Connell Well, do you feel then, Mrs. Meagher ... And this is a question that I put to a recent critic on this program, if indeed Oswald was not doing the things in the depository and elsewhere imputed to him by the commission, do you feel nonetheless that it is incumbent upon critics of the report to provide some kind of reconstruction of their own as to what did happen or not?
Sylvia Meagher Certainly not, Bill. Certainly not. Any attempt to give the critics parity with the Warren Commission is sophistry and is most unwarranted. The Warren Commission had virtually unlimited resources, both in manpower, funds, laboratory facilities, whatever was needed, and subpoena power, I might add, subpoena power, which is by far from being the least of these necessary powers and authorities and resources for an investigation.
The critics, up until very recently, have worked unknown to each other, making independently quite parallel discoveries and reaching parallel conclusions. I think it's only perhaps within the last year that there has been any continuous exchange of information or even acquaintance among most of the critics.
There was some interchange, I think, beginning not too long after the report was published, but we were then working in an atmosphere of total deafness and taboo. No one, and certainly not these important periodicals that you mentioned, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, no one was willing to entertain any discussion which cast doubt on The Warren Report.
William O'Connell Well, what do you attribute this change in climate to? What has caused this turnabout in the fortunes of the critics of the report and presumably the receptive audience that is now reading these critiques?
Sylvia Meagher I believe that Epstein's book, Inquest, was the pivotal factor in opening the door that had been tightly shut. It was a book that was introduced by a quite eminent journalist, Richard Rovere, and which had many credentials and which had, quite uniquely, the fruit of Epstein's personal interviews of many of the lawyers and many of the members of the commission, who gave him information which was otherwise unknown and unsuspected, which cast very serious doubt upon the working methods of the Warren Commission.
I believe this was the crucial factor in opening the path for the discussion which has since developed, the national debate, one might almost say. We've come a very long way from the era of taboo when this was simply not discussed and...
William O'Connell This is quite respectable now, isn't it?
Sylvia Meagher Well, it's respectable if you abide by certain rules. One of the rules is that you respect and affirm the probity of the Warren Commission, or they were now permitted to charge the commission with carelessness and with inadequacy in its investigation. Indeed, Senator Cooper himself was very recently quoted in The New York Times, I believe, as saying that there were defects in the report, there were areas that should have been investigated that were not.
Now it is also respectable to say there might have been more than one assassin so long as you affirm that Oswald was guilty, was implicated, was a part of perhaps a conspiracy of two people, and, of course, it's preferable to postulate that these were two Oswalds, two random, unmotivated, neurotic people who had some kind of a motiveless motive. It is not yet acceptable to the establishment media to even discuss the possibility of Oswald's total innocence nor to discuss the even more horrifying, to them at least, lack of probity of the Warren Commission.
Now I don't think any of the critics relish making charges for the sake of their own sensationalism, and it is rather sensational, I suppose, to even suggest that the Warren Commission deliberately issued a false indictment of Oswald... yet it is really inescapable that there are many assertions in the report which are clearly misrepresentations of the evidence and were written dishonestly.
Now Congressman Gerald Ford, in his book Portrait of the Assassin, has maintained that nothing went into that report that wasn't cleared by every one of the seven members of the commission, that they went over every sentence and every word and nothing could go in that have any sort of dubious antecedents. In fact, he said the unofficial motto of the commission was "truth is our only client here". Bill, if this is truth, then black is white, night is day, and war is peace. This is not truth. This is a false document.
I think it's a matter of perhaps some more time before those who would not even at one point discuss any skepticism of the finding that Oswald was the lone assassin, but who are now willing to discuss the possibility that he had an accomplice. I think perhaps another year or two, given more time, more knowledge of the actual facts by the media and by writers and by public figures, I think it will become quite apparent to them that it is essential to discuss the innocence of Oswald.
If, in this country, we have any true fidelity to these principles to which we give great lip service, and one is the principle of justice to all individuals, the obscure and the powerful. It doesn't matter who they are, justice is an indivisible thing.
If we are prepared to sacrifice it in any situation, and I don't care what the apparent stakes may be, but the minute you are prepared to sacrifice an Oswald of any description, and you don't need to like him, and I don't say that I myself find him easy to understand or to identify as a person nor would I even say that I like him, I certainly don't admire him, this is not necessary in order to defend this man if he is innocent.
William O'Connell Would you have attempted to understand Oswald? You have attempted to examine a possible role for him. I recall two articles that appeared in 1966 in The Minority of One, and I wondered if we could address ourselves to them now. In one article, you were examining the contention of some critics that Oswald conceivably had been an agent of espionage on the part of the United States government; although the article that you wrote dealt primarily with Lee Oswald and the United States State Department.
You discussed such things as the obtaining of his passport to go abroad, the lookout file that should have been established upon his return as a defector. I wonder if we could address ourselves to some of the questions that you felt were raised by what you said was the commission's inadequacy in confronting or dealing with this evidence. Is it conceivable that the government was winking at known spy activities by a former citizen when Oswald was readmitted to this country?
Sylvia Meagher No, I have more confidence in the government's care than to think such a thing, the government's care for our national security. I think we must go back even beyond the issuance of the passport, a failure to insert lookout cards in this man's file, go back to the time in 1959, in October, that he was on his way to the Soviet Union. He had sailed from New Orleans and landed in Le Havre and gone to London. According to The Warren Report, he left London on October 9th, 1959 by air, arrived in Helsinki on the 10th, where he stayed for some days, obtained a visa to enter the Soviet Union, and proceeded to the Soviet Union from Helsinki.
Now the documents bring to light a quite puzzling phenomenon. The report, as I mentioned, says that Oswald left London on October 9th, 1959 for Helsinki, but the exhibits ... And I might add that the exhibits, it has been admitted by former counsel to the commission at the exhibits that went into these 26 volumes were not examined. They were not selected by the legal counsel.
It is not known who selected them, who compiled them, and who arranged them for publication, but it has been admitted that the lawyers themselves did not make the selection. It's perfectly obvious that no careful check was made to ensure that the exhibits and the testimony published ... Or I should say just the exhibits; not the testimony, the exhibits in this case were consistent with the assertions and conclusions in the report, so that in these exhibits, we find with reference to the date of Oswald's departure from London, we find in his passport a stamp of the airport officer at the London airport showing that Oswald left on October 10th, 1959.
Now this in itself may seem the most insignificant era of one day in presenting a date which is very remote from the circumstance of the assassination, remote in time and other levels. However, in conjunction with this, there is also a series of reports by the CIA, which made an investigation and informed the commission that there was no commercial flight by which Oswald could have left London on October the 10th, 1959 and arrived in Helsinki in time to register some time before midnight in a Helsinki hotel, which he did. He did register before midnight in a Helsinki hotel. It is only if you arbitrarily change his departure date from London that you can account for his presence there when he arrived.
However, since the passport has been stamped October 10th, the commission has not only misrepresented the date in its report, but in misrepresenting the date, it has dismissed entirely without confronting or solving it the problem of how did Oswald get from London to Helsinki. Is it possible that the CIA is mistaken, that there was a commercial flight? Is it possible that he went on some military transport?
I mention the possibility of military transport because the documents indicate that, at a much later stage, in early 1962, prior to his return to the United States in June '62, there were problems of Oswald's travel together with his wife and child, by then, back to the United States, financial problems. It had not been found possible for him to obtain the money needed for this travel. It seems that he himself suggested the possibility of his return via some military aircraft. I believe he specifically mentioned from a German base, which suggests to me that perhaps he had one prior experience of such travel.
In any case, this did not happen because when all other means were exhausted of his obtaining funds with which to return to the United States, the State Department, although he met none of the criteria that would entitle him for a loan of government funds, did advance to him the necessary money for his return together with his wife and child.
In many other aspects of their relationship with Oswald, the State Department behaved in a way that anyone who has studied its operation in cases of this kind, or indeed in cases involving far milder offenses than attempted defection then announced intention to give military secrets to the Russians, their behavior has been so utterly atypical, so utterly out of line, and so consistently out of line that questions must arise as to Oswald's true relationship with United States authorities at that period of time.
William O'Connell What was the Soviet attitude, the attitude of the Soviet government with reference to Oswald after he appeared in the Soviet Union? Do the supporting volumes give us an indication?
Sylvia Meagher Bill, there is no direct evidence from Soviet authorities on this. It is true that the exhibits include certain documents out of the Soviet Union file on Oswald, which was turned over to the United States authorities by the Soviet Embassy in Washington, but these documents do not cover their evaluation of him when he arrived and attempted to defect, so that the information we have is fragmentary and hearsay.
Insofar as light is thrown on this in the volumes, it appears that the Soviets were most reluctant to accept him as a naturalized citizen of the Soviet Union. In fact, it was their coldness toward him that apparently caused him to contrive this so-called suicide attempt, in which it's obvious from a study of the circumstances that he was made quite sure in slashing his left wrist that he was not going to die, that he knew that somebody would arrive momentarily as indeed took place.
He was then taken to a Soviet hospital where, interestingly enough, he, of course, received psychiatric screening and psychiatric evaluation, as is true, I think, in almost any American hospital: attempted suicide cases are considered psychiatric cases and are screened. The findings were that this man is not dangerous to anyone, that he was stable, knew what he was doing, is perfectly rational.
I think that their documents at least suggest that the Soviet authorities themselves had reached the conclusion that he contrived this alleged suicide attempt. I don't mean that it didn't take place; I mean that it wasn't a genuine attempt to kill himself in order to provide himself with a guarantee of an extension of his stay in the Soviet Union.
He was then apparently given a stateless person's document, which permitted him to work in a radio parts factory in Minsk. There is no indication of any time that the Soviet authorities accepted or trusted him. I think they were very dubious on him. They never gave him citizenship. He did apply for it, by the way. He did apply and it was rejected by the Soviet presidium. This is, of course, only hearsay evidence from one of the officials in the American Embassy in Moscow, who was told this, I believe, at a cocktail party by a Soviet official, but there's no documentation on the point.
I think the Soviet government did not accept as valid Oswald's defection and his declarations of loyalty to the Soviet Union. I think they must have thought that he was untrustworthy, not merely in the sense of an unstable personality, and there had been defectors who were merely unstable personalities, who were trying for reasons. There are domestic relations to escape responsibility by means of defection.
I think they suspected him as being, politically, a fraud, that he was not really seeking Soviet citizenship out of deep conviction or anything like that. They may even have suspected him of being an American agent. Although they didn't have access then to all of the documents which have now been published and which seemed to me to present a strong prima facie case for his having at that time, in 1959, a clandestine assignment from some American government agency. I couldn't go any further than that, Bill, because the evidence doesn't permit anything beyond this inference.
William O'Connell I noticed in Inquest, I believe it was, Epstein cites the fact that the Soviet Union, at least their NKVD or one of their intelligence divisions, furnished the Warren Commission or our government with certain information as to Oswald's rifle capability during the time he was in the Soviet Union. Am I correct in that? Is this in the report or in the 26 volumes? Is this-
Sylvia Meagher No. No, it isn't in-
William O'Connell It's not in the report?
Sylvia Meagher No. This information was received from a Soviet defector who, interestingly enough, defected not long after the assassination. It was a matter of months, as I recall it; although without checking the text, I wouldn't be sure.
This defector was able to leave either the Soviet Union or perhaps some embassy, it's not specified where he may have been stationed, bearing with him the Soviet Union's file on Oswald. This is what Epstein asserts, and it has not been challenged by anybody.
I don't know the contents of the file he brought other than what Epstein quotes, that "he was such a poor marksman that when he went on hunting parties with his friends in Minsk using a shotgun", which it has been established he did possess a shotgun and belonged to the hunting society in Minsk, but he was such a poor shot that to save face, to save him embarrassment, his friends would give him some of the game they had shot because he hadn't succeeded in bringing down anything.
This, of course, was not mentioned anywhere in The Warren Report of the 26 volumes nor did they even mention the defector in question or the fact that he had brought out with him and turned over to the American authorities a file on Oswald, a Soviet file on Oswald, nor do we know from Epstein's book or from any other source the other contents of that file.
William O'Connell Moving Lee Oswald physically from the Soviet Union then to Dallas some weeks prior to the assassination, you've examined a number of contradictory appearances by a Lee Oswald. It seems to me it pertains to a resolving of an issue of not only identification but veracity by the confrontation of eyewitnesses to a particular happening, one eyewitness with the other. You maintain that, indeed, the commission didn't do that. I wonder if you could relate to our listeners the particulars of that specific article that you wrote. Do you recall what I mean?
Sylvia Meagher Well, I think you're referring to the incident of the auto demonstration and Bogard, allegations about a customer who identified himself as Oswald and whom Bogard believed to be Oswald. This really was first brought up, again, by Leo Sauvage in a magazine article, I believe, in Commentary early in 1964, or perhaps in The Reporter magazine.
William O'Connell No, it was Commentary-
Sylvia Meagher [crosstalk 48:04] Commentary.
William O'Connell ... because it was an article that was crucial in my interest in the case, yes.
Sylvia Meagher Well, he first wrote about this series of allegations by various witnesses of a man identified as Oswald, which suggested to him the possibility that Oswald had been deliberately impersonated in order to incriminate him in advance of the assassination.
Now I have made a particular and close study of the whole constellation of the two Oswald episodes. So far as the Bogard one is concerned, I think the onus there must be placed on the two FBI agents who interviewed Bogard the morning after the assassination, when someone other than Bogard reported to the FBI that Bogard had indicated that Oswald had come to look at a car and had said that he expected a large sum of money in the near future with which he could buy this car paying cash. That would have required some $3,000 to $3,500.
This in itself immediately suggested that he might be in a conspiracy and expected to receive money for having shot at the president. This is in the context of the circumstances as they existed on Saturday morning, the 23rd of November.
Now the two FBI agents who interviewed Bogard, it seems to me, under the most elementary concepts of criminal investigation should immediately have taken this man to the Dallas police station because there was much corroboration for his story. There were other people in the auto agency who are able to confirm that such a man had been there. Another of these salesmen, Oran Brown, had also jotted down the name Oswald on a slip of paper, as had Bogard.
There was no reason to suspect that this man had invented the story. He had not even reported the story. It had been done by another salesman. Under the most elementary criminal investigative procedures, those two FBI agents should have taken Bogard, the prime witness, to the police station where Oswald was under interrogation, where he was being shown to witnesses in identification lineups.
This they did not do, and I was at a loss to understand that not only did they not confront Bogard with Oswald and asked him to say whether or not this was indeed the customer. So far as the available records indicate, they did not even report this to the Dallas police or other authorities who were investigating the assassination which had occurred on the day before. They did not even report this, even though it was, again, prima facie evidence that this man might have been a paid assassin.
I don't believe he was and I don't believe that this has been borne out in any way on the contrary by subsequent evidence, but I'm speaking in terms of the contemporaneously circumstances. I simply fail to understand the failure of the FBI to take the necessary steps. Now that failure must be aligned with certain other evidence. I'm sorry to be leaving the question about the two Oswalds. I'd like to return to that-
William O'Connell Please, go ahead.
Sylvia Meagher ... but the other evidence of an ambiguous relationship between Oswald and the FBI. One was the famous incident of the fact that in his notebook, he had noted the name, phone number, and license plate numbers of FBI agent James P. Hosty Jr., the man who was, in fact, in charge of the Oswald dossier and who claimed that he had never seen, spoken to, nor interviewed Oswald, but had merely made two very brief visits to the home of Ruth Paine in Irving, and who was unable himself to account for the presence of the license plate numbers in Oswald's notebook that the commission says in its report that Marina Oswald testified that she had copied these license plate numbers because Oswald had once told her that if any FBI agent came around to do that.
Now the statement in the report is quite literally correct. Marina Oswald did so testify. This is typical of some of the fundamental misrepresentation, because you can tell the literal truth and still misrepresent the truth.
It's true that Marina Oswald so testified, but it is also true that only two occasions that she could have copied down this number. The commission itself established in its investigation and its examination of witnesses that on neither occasion could she possibly have seen the license plates much less the license plate numbers, so that it is an evasion of a rather ugly sort to say in the report, which is the literal truth, yes, Marina Oswald did testify that she had jotted down the license plate numbers and given them to her husband.
But the commission proved to its own satisfaction -- Mr. Jenner himself, accompanied by Secret Service agent John Joe Howlett, experimented to see if it had been possible for her to copy these numbers. They said to each other you cannot even see the license plate much less the numbers on the one occasion when the car was parked at the house. On the other visit of Hosty, he had parked the car about a block away, or a good part of a block away, where not only could the license plate numbers not be seen but you'd have no way of knowing that that was the car in which Hosty arrived.
Now, of course, I'm treating this episode in my study of the Warren Commission's work, which is called, as you said before, Accessories After the Fact, but before I elaborated this in the manuscript, I felt that I should make a further attempt to understand this by writing to the commission counsel, who had, in fact, investigated this and performed the experiment, that is to say, Mr. Jenner.
I wrote to Mr. Jenner. I believe it was quite early or middle of the year 1965. I wrote to Mr. Jenner, detailing all of the known facts as I had gleaned them from the published documentation, which presented a dilemma that while report says that she copied these numbers, that all of the available evidence suggests that she could not have copied those numbers and that we, therefore, still did not know how those numbers found their way into Oswald's notebook. When one considers the many other ambiguities that involve his possible relationship with the FBI, that has become a rather important question. How did the numbers get there?
I presented all of this to Mr. Jenner in a most respectful letter, asking if he could possibly enlighten me. I received a very courteous acknowledgment in which Mr. Jenner said that he had to leave town just then on some legal business, but he would return on July 19th, 1965, would look into the matter, and I would hear from him very shortly. I never did hear from him. As the weeks passed and, I think, even months passed, I became very concerned that he had not, as he had volunteered to do, written me about this to clarify.
I wrote him again, referring to our previous correspondence, to his undertaking to write to me and clarify this matter, and asking him to please let me hear from him and that I hoped he would still write and still give me the facts. That letter has never been answered at all. In view of the fact that I was unable to obtain any clarification, I felt that I had to treat this, in my examination of the evidence, not the lack of fidelity between The Warren Report on one side and 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits on the other.
William O'Connell I know I may be leading you into the area of speculation, but the question that seems to present itself in my mind then is as we possibly see Oswald in the role of a creature of perhaps the CIA or FBI, on the one hand, you see him involved not at all in the assassination, and yet we find him in the Texas School Book Depository at the time. Does this pose a dilemma, an interesting occurrence of chance, or just what? How do we deal with this? Do you feel compelled to find a thread that would make it meaningful?
Sylvia Meagher Bill, I can only say that the known evidence presents such a mystery and such a paradox and such a potentially sinister circumstance that it must be reexamined. That is all I can say. I feel I do not have sufficient information, or was not able to obtain sufficient information, because I wrote also to Congressman Ford and J. Lee Rankin on other aspects of what appeared to me to be a most ambiguous set of facts involving Oswald's possible relationship with the FBI or other government agencies, without reply, again, I would add.
I believe this must be looked at very carefully and very objectively by a new investigation, as must almost every other aspect of the so-called evidence against Oswald, which, I think, almost without exception is far less secure, is far less hard evidence than one would think from reading The Warren Report alone.
I think many analysts of the report, in quite good faith, had at an earlier stage written criticisms of the commission's methods and, to an extent, of its apparent prejudice and preconceptions, but had accepted the basic findings. I have in mind a professor, Herbert Packer, who wrote in The Nation, even Murray Kempton, who wrote in New Republic, and Dwight Macdonald, I would add, who wrote in Esquire magazine, all of this at a quite early stage late in 1964, early 1965, accepting what the commission presented as hard evidence as being, in fact, hard evidence, which a scrutiny of the hearings and exhibits reveals to be quite soft and, in some cases, quite slimy and slippery.
William O'Connell Well, in deference to Murray Kempton, I think he did say at the time that, for the most part, the Warren Commission, even at that early date, appeared to him to be no better than a prosecution document.
Sylvia Meagher Indeed that was the title of his article, "The Case for the Prosecution". He has since, incidentally, in his introduction to Professor Richard Popkin's paperback book, The Two Oswalds, I believe it's called, or is it The False Oswald? [sic, the book is actually called The Second Oswald] I forget, but Kempton wrote an introduction to that paperback in which it's evident that on the basis of subsequent revelations, he has nothing but contempt for the Warren Commission's conclusions and its report.
Again, this is an evidence of a gradually rising shift, an expanding shift in public opinion and in the opinion of opinion makers, which I believe in the next few years, we'll see even the present taboos broken down, that it will become respectable to discuss Oswald's innocence and it will become respectable to criticize the commission in terms other than mere haste and slovenliness and carelessness.
William O'Connell We'll leave with that note. I'm going to have to close in the hope that the dialogue that we have been engaging in recent weeks on this program will continue in that spirit.
We've been talking with Sylvia Meagher, the author of Subject Index to The Warren Report, and considered by her colleagues to be the foremost authority on the report itself. I want to thank you, Mrs. Meagher, for coming to the studio today. Where do you go now in your ...
Sylvia Meagher I'm hoping to return to New York tonight, Bill. I want to thank you for letting me come here.
William O'Connell Thank you so much.