Silvia Duran

Silvia Duran

Silvia Duran was born in Mexico in 1937. In August 1963, she began working in the Cuban consul's office in Mexico City.

At 11.00 a.m. on Friday, 27th September, 1963, a young American entered the office. He said his name was Lee Harvey Oswald and that he needed a Cuban transit visa.

Oswald told Duran that he planned to leave in three days' time and stay in Cuba for a couple of weeks. He then intended to move onto the Soviet Union. To establish his identity Oswald showed Duran her his passport, correspondence with the American Communist Party, his membership card for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a newspaper clipping about his activities in New Orleans and a photograph of Oswald in custody, accompanied by two police officers.

Duran was suspicious of Lee Harvey Oswald. She could not understand why Oswald had not applied in advance by contacting the Communist Party in Cuba. Duran told him that he would need a passport photograph to apply for a visa for Cuba. He returned an hour later with the photograph.

Duran then told Oswald she could not issue a transit visa without confirmation that he had clearance for travel to the Soviet Union. Oswald was told it would be at least seven days before his transit visa could be issued. Oswald replied that he could only stay for three days.

Duran then told him he would need to visit the Soviet embassy to get the necessary paperwork. This he did but Vice Consul Oleg Nechiperenko informed him that the visa application would be sent to the Soviet embassy in Washington and would take about four months. Oswald then returned to the Cuban consulate at 4.00 and told Duran that he had been to the Soviet Embassy and that they were willing to give him a visa straight away. Duran phoned the embassy and was told that Oswald was lying and that the visa would not be issued for some time. After a brief argument Oswald left the consulate. Six times Oswald needed to pass the newly installed CIA camera as part of the LIERODE operation.

The CIA surveillance program worked and on Monday, 30th September, Anne Goodpasture recorded details of Oswald’s visits to the Cuban consulate. As Goodpasture noted, the two types of “security” information that most interested the CIA station concerned “U.S. citizens initiating or maintaining contact with the Cuban and Soviet diplomatic installations” and “travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens or residents.”

The CIA tape of the Oswald call to the Soviet embassy was marked “urgent” and was delivered to the station within 15 minutes of it taking place. Winston Scott read Goodpasture’s report and next to the transcript of Duran’s call to the Soviet embassy, he wrote: “Is it possible to identify”.

It later emerged that the CIA station in Mexico was already monitoring Silvia Duran. According to David Atlee Phillips and Winston Scott, the CIA surveillance program had revealed that Duran was having an affair with Carlos Lechuga, the former Cuban ambassador in Mexico City, who was in 1963 serving as Castro’s ambassador to the United Nations.

When Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in Dallas shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Duran immediately recognized him as the man who visited the Cuban consul's office on 27th September. This was reinforced by the discovery of Duran's name and phone number in Oswald's address book. However, Eusebio Azcue, another man who met Oswald in the office, said the man had dark blond hair and had features quite different from those of the man arrested in Dallas.

The CIA surveillance program worked and on Monday, 30th September, Anne Goodpasture recorded details of Oswald’s visits to the Cuban consulate. As Goodpasture noted, the two types of “security” information that most interested the CIA station concerned “U.S. citizens initiating or maintaining contact with the Cuban and Soviet diplomatic installations” and “travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens or residents.”

The CIA tape of the Oswald call to the Soviet embassy was marked “urgent” and was delivered to the station within 15 minutes of it taking place. Winston Scott read Goodpasture’s report and next to the transcript of Duran’s call to the Soviet embassy, he wrote: “Is it possible to identify”.

Soon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy Scott contacted Luis Echeverria and asked his men to arrest Duran. He also told Diaz Ordaz that Duran was to be held incommunicado until she gave all details of her contacts with Lee Harvey Oswald. Scott then reported his actions to CIA headquarters. Soon afterwards, John M. Whitten, the CIA head of the Mexican desk, called Scott with orders from Tom Karamessines that Duran was not to be arrested. Win told them it was too late and that the Mexican government would keep the whole thing secret. Karamessines replied with a telegram that began: “Arrest of Sylvia Duran is extremely serious matter which could prejudice U.S. freedom of action on entire question of Cuban responsibility.”

Silvia Duran, her husband and five other people were arrested. Duran was “interrogated forcefully” (Duran was badly bruised during the interview). Luis Echeverria reported to Winston Scott that Duran had been “completely cooperative” and had made a detailed statement. This statement matched the story of the surveillance transcripts, with one exception. The tapes indicated that Duran made another call to the Soviet embassy on Saturday, 28th September. Duran then put an American on the line who spoke incomprehensible Russian. This suggests that the man could not have been Oswald who spoke the language well.

Thomas C. Mann, the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, sent a message to Winston Scott that stated: "Duran should be told that as the only living non-Cuban who knew the full story, she was in exactly the same position as Oswald prior to the assassination. Her only chance of survival is to come clean with the whole story and cooperate fully. I think she'll crack when confronted with the details."

On 25th November, Gilberto Alvarado, a 23 year-old Nicaraguan man, contacted the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and said he had some important information about Lee Harvey Oswald. The U.S. ambassador, Thomas C. Mann, passed the information onto Winston Scott and the following morning, Scott's deputy, Alan White and another CIA officer interviewed Avarado. He claimed that during a visit to the Cuban Embassy he overheard a man he now recognised as Oswald, talking to a red-haired Negro man. According to Avarado, Oswald said something about being man enough to kill someone. He also claimed that he saw money changing hands. He reported the information at the time to the U.S. Embassy but they replied: "Quit wasting our time. We are working here, not playing."

Winston Scott told David Atlee Phillips about what Gilberto Alvarado had said to Alan White. On 26th November, Phillips had a meeting with Avarado in a safe-house. Avarado told Phillips that the red-haired black man had given Oswald $1,500 for expenses and $5,500 as an advance. Although he was not sure of the date, he thought it was about 18th September.

Thomas C. Mann and David Atlee Phillips believed Avarado but Scott was not so sure. He argued that there was an "outside possibility" that it might be a set-up by the right-wing government in Nicaragua who wanted the United States to invade Cuba. However, as Jefferson Morley pointed out in Our Man in Mexico: "The unstated message emanating from the White House was by now clear to Win - though not to Mann. Speculation about Oswald's motives was to be cut off, not pursued."

On 27th November, Luis Echeverria told Winston Scott that they had rearrested Silvia Duran because she was trying to leave Mexico for Cuba. Thomas C. Mann sent a message to Winston Scott that stated: "Duran should be told that as the only living non-Cuban who knew the full story, she was in exactly the same position as Oswald prior to the assassination. Her only chance of survival is to come clean with the whole story and cooperate fully. I think she'll crack when confronted with the details."

On 28th November, Scott contacted Luis Echeverria and told him that Washington wanted the Mexicans to interrogate Gilberto Alvarado. On 29th November, Scott received a message from John M. Whitten saying: "Please continue to keep us filled in on status of interrogations of Slvia Duran, Alvarado and others implicated as fast as you can get info."

J. Edgar Hoover sent FBI agent, Larry Keenan, to Mexico City in order to have a meeting with Winston Scott, Thomas C. Mann and David Atlee Phillips. Mann started the meeting by expressing the belief that Fidel Castro and the DGI were behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that it was just a matter of time before the United States invaded Cuba. However, Keenan replied that Hoover, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy, all believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Thomas C. Mann later told Dick Russell: "It surprised me so much. That was the only time it ever happened to me - We don't want to hear any more about the case - and tell the Mexican government not to do any more about it, not to do more investigating, we just want to hush it up.... I don't think the U.S. was very forthcoming about Oswald... it was the strangest experience of my life."

In reality, J. Edgar Hoover had not ruled out the possibility of a communist plot to kill John F. Kennedy. At 1.40 on 29th November, Hoover told Lyndon B. Johnson on the telephone: "This angle in Mexico is giving us a great deal of trouble because the story there is of this man Oswald getting $6,500 from the Cuban embassy and then coming back to this country with it. We're not able to prove that fact, but the information was that he was there on the 18th of September in Mexico City and we are able to prove conclusively he was in New Orleans that day. Now then they've changed the dates. The story came in changing the dates to the 28th of September and he was in Mexico City on the 28th. Now the Mexican police have again arrested this woman Duran, who is a member of the Cuban embassy... and we're going to confront her with the original informant, who saw the money pass, so he says, and we're also going to put the lie detector test on him."

That evening Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios told Winston Scott that Gilberto Alvarado had recanted and signed a statement admitting that his story of seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in the Cuban Embassy was completely false. He said his motive was to try to get the United States to take action against Fidel Castro.

A few days later Gilberto Alvarado reverted to his original story. He told his Nicaraguan handler that the only reason that he recanted was that his interrogators threatened "to hang him by his testicles". However, soon afterwards, he recanted again. David Atlee Phillips later claimed that Alvarado was "dispatched to Mexico City by the Somoza brothers... in what they considered a covert action to influence the American government to move against Cuba". Jefferson Morley argues that Phillips is being disingenuous: "Phillips knew all along about Alvarado's service as a CIA informant. Even the FBI knew all along he was under CIA control."

Silvia Duran was questioned about her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. Despite being roughed up she denied having a sexual relationship with Oswald. She also claimed that Gilberto Alvarado was lying about money being passed to Oswald. Luis Echeverria believed her and she was released. However, Duran later admitted to a close friend that she had dated Oswald while he was in Mexico City.

A week after the assassination Elena Garro reported that she had seen Oswald at a party held by people from the Cuban consulate in September 1963. The following week, June Cobb, a CIA informant, confirmed Oswald presence at the party. She also had been told that Oswald was sleeping with Duran. Winston Scott reported this information to CIA headquarters but never got a reply.

It emerged later that when Duran was interviewed by the Mexican authorities soon after the assassination she described the man who visited the Cuban consul's office as being "blond-haired" and with "blue or green eyes". Neither detail fits in with the authentic Oswald. But these details had been removed from the statement by the time it reached the Warren Commission.

Duran was interviewed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. This testimony is classified. However, in 1979 Duran told the author, Anthony Summers that she told the HSCA that the man who visited the office was about her size (5 feet 3.5 inches). This created problems as Oswald was 5 feet 9.5 inches. When Summers showed Duran a film of Oswald taken at the time of his arrest, Duran said: "The man on the film is not like the man I saw here in Mexico City."

Primary Sources

(1) Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy (1990)

Duran, a twenty-six-year-old Mexican national, had been employed at the Cuban embassy only one month before Oswald allegedly arrived in Mexico. Her predecessor had been killed in an automobile accident. The CIA cable regarding Duran's arrest, only declassified in recent years, stated: "Arrest of Silvia Duran is extremely serious matter which could prejudice U.S. freedom of action on entire question of Cuban responsibility .. . With full regard for Mexican interests, request you ensure that her arrest is kept absolutely secret, that no information from her is published or leaked, that all such info is cabled to us, and that fact of her arrest and her statements are not spread to leftist or disloyal circles in the Mexican government.

In a 1978 article, Mark Lane concluded: "This almost incredible cable reveals the extent of CIA control over Mexican police officials, many of whom had been trained by the CIA, and many of whom were engaged by the CIA while they ostensibly worked for the Mexican government. The CIA's willingness to order Mexican police officials to make false statements to their own superiors and to mislead the 'circles in the Mexican government' provides an insight into the CIA's desperation to secure some evidence to prove... that Oswald had gone to the Cuban Embassy."

Apparently the statements that Duran gave to the Mexican authorities were not to their liking. She was not released for several days and only then after she had identified Oswald as the man who visited the embassy.

Once free, Duran began to speak of her experience. This prompted yet another CIA cable, which ordered CIA personnel to have Duran rearrested, but to conceal who was behind the action. A portion of this cable stated: "to be certain that there is no misunderstanding between us, we want to insure that Silvia Duran gets no impression that Americans are behind her rearrest. In other words we want Mexican authorities to take responsibility for the whole affair.

Duran was rearrested and did not speak of her experiences afterward. She was never interviewed nor called as a witness by the Warren Commission, which never learned of her two arrests.

(2) Warren Commission Report (1964)

Senora Duran is a well-educated native of Mexico, who was 26 years old at the time of her interrogation. She is married to Senor Horacio Duran Navarro, a 40-year-old industrial designer, and has a young child. Although Senora Duran denies being a member of the Communist Party or otherwise connected with it, both Durans have been active in far left, political affairs in Mexico, believe in Marxist ideology, and sympathize with the government of Fidel Castro, and Senor Duran has written articles for El Dia, a pro-Communist newspaper in Mexico City. The Commission has reliable evidence from a confidential source that Senora Duran as well as other personnel at the Cuban Embassy were genuinely upset upon receiving news of President Kennedy's death. Senora Duran's statements were made to Mexican officials soon after the assassination, and no significant inaccuracies in them have been detected. Documents fitting the description given by Senora Duran of the documents Oswald had shown her, plus a notation which she said she had given him, were found among his possessions after his arrest.

He apparently also stated that he was a member of the Communist Party and displayed documents which he claimed to be evidence of his membership. He said that he intended to go to Cuba on September 30 and to remain there for 2 weeks, or longer if possible, and then go on to Russia. Senora Duran took down the relevant date and filled out the appropriate application. Oswald left the Embassy but was to return in the afternoon.

Then, or possibly even before his initial visit to the Cuban Embassy Oswald went to the Soviet Embassy where he spoke with either Pavel Antonovich Yatskov or Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov. They are both consular officials serving also as agents of the KGB. Oswald later said that he had dealt with "Kostin," undoubtedly a reference to Kostikov. He was unable to obtain a Soviet visa then. Marina said that the officials at the Soviet Embassy "refused to have anything to do with him."

(3) Martin Shackelford, The Early Investigations: Before and After the Assassination (undated)

In July 1963, a CIA operative, working undercover for the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, enabled the CIA to manipulate and use a pro-Castro Texan named Eldon Hensen. This seems to be similar to what they did with Oswald two and a half months later. After Oswald's embassy visits, an impostor called the Soviet embassy, claiming to be Oswald; in one call, a woman impersonated Silvia Duran; they asked for money from the Russians. CIA propagandist David Atlee Phillips later tried to pass off these calls to the Washington Post as authentic.

In the Cuban embassy, the person with whom Oswald had the most contact was the attractive Silvia Duran, former mistress of Cuba's U.N. ambassador. She and Oswald were rumored to have had an affair, though the reliability of the story is shaky. She described the "Oswald" with whom she had contact as "short and blond." It is interesting that a CIA agent later reported to his superior that "all that would have to be done to recruit Ms. Duran was to get a blond, blue-eyed American in bed with her."

At the time, the CIA lied to its own Mexico City station about its knowledge of Oswald; and later lied to the Warren Commission about its contemporary knowledge of Oswald's Mexico City trip. The only divisions with the full story on Oswald at that time were James Angleton's Counterintelligence division, and the Security Office, where Oswald's first file may have originated. In the month after Oswald's visit to Mexico City, the CIA received materials obtained through FBI break-ins of the New York office of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

A cable with false information about the Oswald visit was sent to the FBI, State Department and the Navy. A more accurate cable was sent to the CIA's Mexico City station. Both were "authenticated" by the same CIA official, Ann Egerter. This activity received relatively high-level coordination. Many of the documents relating to Mexico City carry the name "John Scelso," pseudonym of a yet-unidentified CIA official, deputy to covert operations chief Richard Helms. "Scelso's" House Assassinations Committee testimony was just released.

(4) Anthony Summers, The Kennedy Conspiracy (1980)

Duran and her former boss both remembered the Oswald at the consulate as being blond-haired. She has also said she remembers him as having had "blue or green eyes." Neither detail fits with the authentic Oswald. Persuasively, Duran's signed statement following her interrogation by Mexican investigators-within days of the assassination-specified that Oswald's hair was blond. But that detail was removed from a second statement, which was likely a deliberate fabrication.

Even so, one might still put the Duran description down to faulty memory-one might even dismiss the matter of height-were it not for the spontaneous recollection of yet another Mexico City witness.

In 1963 Oscar Contreras was studying to be a lawyer at Mexico City's National University. He belonged to a left-wing student group which supported the Castro revolution and had contacts in the Cuban Embassy. One evening in late September 1963-the time of the Oswald incidents in Mexico-Contreras and three like-minded friends were sitting in a university cafeteria when a man at a table nearby struck up a conversation. He introduced himself curiously, spelling out his entire name"Lee Harvey Oswald." That made Contreras and his friends laugh, because Harvey and Oswald were more familiar as the names of characters in a popular cartoon about rabbits. Indeed, says Contreras, that was the main reason the name stuck in his mind. With minor variations, "Oswald" gave the students a familiar story. He said he was a painter, had to leave Texas because the FBI was bothering him, and declared that life in the United States was not for him. He wanted to go to Cuba, but for some reason the Cuban consulate was refusing him a visa. Could the students help-through their friends in the Embassy? Contreras and his friends said they would try. That night they talked to their Cuban contacts, including Consul Azcue himself and a Cuban intelligence officer, and were sharply warned to break off contact with "Oswald." The Cuban officials said they were suspicious of Oswald and believed he was trying to infiltrate left-wing groups. When Oswald next came to see them, Contreras and his friends told him that the Cubans did not trust him and would not give him a visa. "Oswald" continued trying to ingratiate himself and ended up spending the night at their apartment. He left next morning still begging for help in getting to Cuba, and the next time Contreras heard the name Oswald was after the assassination. He made no secret of the recent encounter but did not bother to report it to the American Embassy. Like many ordinary Mexicans, Contreras has little love for the American authorities. His story became known only in 1967, after he mentioned it in conversation with the local US consul." Congress' Assassinations Committee, concluding that neither the CIA nor the FBI had adequately investigated the matter, tried to reach Contreras in 1978. They failed to locate him, but I traced him easily enough in the bustling Mexico town of Tampico. He had become a successful journalist, was the editor of the local newspaper, El Mundo, and I judged him a good witness. The details he supplied add to the suspicion that the Oswald who visited the Cuban consulate was an impostor.

Like Azcue, Contreras said the "Oswald" he met looked more than thirty years old. Like Sylvia Duran, he recalled very positively that Oswald was short-he too thought at most 5' 6". He said he would normally be reluctant to be so specific, but his recall on this point is persuasive. Contreras himself is only 5' 9" tall, and he clearly recalled looking down at the man he calls "Oswald the Rabbit."

The Mexico evidence is even more complex than is presented here. A fair analysis today, however, suggests that the real Oswald may indeed have visited the consulate at one stage on Friday, September 27, but that an impostor may have been involved at a later stage of the contacts with the consulate. A phone call from the Cuban consulate to the Soviet embassy on Saturday, September 28, in which Oswald was supposedly a participant, almost certainly involved an impostor. If that suspicion is correct, what was going on?

The witness Contreras has offered food for thought. Perhaps he was being over-suspicious, he told the author, but he could not understand how, of all the thousands of students in Mexico City, the man called Oswald picked on three who really did have contacts in the Cuban embassy. Contreras remembered that he and his friends were drinking coffee, after a discussion and film show in the philosophy department, when the strange American accosted them. Nothing about the evening, or the moment, had anything to do with Cuba. How did the American know that these particular students might be able to help him?"

(5) Arturo Rodriguez, Oswald in Mexico (August 1995)

The visit of Lee Harvey Oswald to the Cuban Consulate in Mexico, in the fall of 1963, was the highlight of a project to blame Cuba for the assassination of President Kennedy.

To understand the scheme of the plot, it will be necessary to look at Oswald's past, his arrival in New Orleans in the spring of the same year, the activities he carried out there which identified him with supporters of the Cuban Revolution, the incidents with the Cuban exiles and the publicity given to this, his encounter with two elements of the CIA in September in Dallas, the incident with the Cuban exile, Silvia Odio, and finally his trip to Mexico and the negotiations carried out in the Cuban and Soviet Consulates to obtain a visa to allow him to travel to those countries.

In the investigation of Oswald's past, from the time he entered the U.S. armed forces on Oct. 24, 1956, until his return from the Soviet Union on June 2, 1962, it was evident that we were witnessing an intelligence agent, who "deserted" with a very definite purpose, subordinated to a project, directed by the CIA or other US intelligence service. We believe it to be that today, in light of the information known, shared by many, the reason why we won't dwell on its reasoning. Nevertheless, we are at your disposal to discuss our arguments at a convenient time...

Statements given by witnesses Eusebio Azcue and Alfredo Mirabal and by the Mexican Silvia Duran - known to all of you - allows us to establish the fact that an individual identified as Lee Harvey Oswald visited the Cuban office on three occasions.

Silvia Duran recalls these visits to be on the 27th, although Azcue considers that the first two (visits) took place on that day which happened to have been a Friday, and the third on Saturday the 28th. Mirabal's statements are not so precise.

The chronology of the visits were known 15 years after the assassination. While Mrs. Duran's statements collected in total during interrogations conducted by the Mexican police, given to the CIA station there and later to the Warren Commission, (outlined) the relation of Oswald's encounters and other important data.

A brief review of these visits can be resumed in the following:

a. The people that personally take care and speak to him were secretary Duran and the consul Azcue. Comrade Mirabal, who did not speak English, is an eye witness of his presence on more than one occasion, at a distance of approximately four meters.

b. Oswald applied for a visa to Cuba on his way to the USSR, expressing his wish to travel on the 30th of September, staying in Havana from one to two weeks.

c. He showed documents and said he belonged to the US Communist party and was secretary of the Fair Play for Cuba in New Orleans. He showed a dubious passport - and as you can remember- he was issued a new one-stating his residency to be the USSR from October 1959 to June 1962 and a marriage certificate with a Soviet citizen.

d. Silvia Duran made up the form for his visa application adding to it the photos given by the subject, which was signed in her presence. This form included all documents presented by the subject for the purpose of his application and was signed by Alfredo Mirabal (at the bottom of the application) attesting to this.

e. The Cubans, under instructions in force at that time, told the applicant that it was impossible to grant him a visa for the time he requested it for, until the country of destination had granted it.

f. The situation of this subject was such, that Azcue as well as Duran called the Soviet consulate to explain his case.

g. During the subject's visit to the Soviet consulate, it was explained to him that requirements for granting a visa to that country took generally two to three months, the reason why he would have to wait that long.

h. He returned to the Cuban consulate somewhat disturbed and tried to force the visa granting, leading to an altercation between himself and consul Azcue, for which he was ordered out of the office.

This altercation was in the presence of comrade Mirabal and Antonio Garcia Lara, an official of the commercial office, who, at hearing the discussion and thinking this might be a provocation, went downstairs to the consulate office and was able to see the subject leaving.

Another witness to the visit was Guillermo Ruiz, in charge of the commercial office, who at the time was going to his office, was intercepted by Azcue who was arguing with a North American subject and asks him, since he spoke good English, to explain to him again why he was denied the visa and the reasons why. Ruiz did this and had a chance to look at the subject's face for a few seconds at a short distance.

Since the moments after the Kennedy assassination, our embassy's personnel in Mexico noticed, with the exception of Azcue who was back in Cuba, that the accused assassin was the same person that had visited them in September. Alfredo Mirabal informed his Ministry officially, Lara only commented about it, given the small participation they had in the events and knowing of the report made by Mirabal, an official superior to them.

On his part, Azcue in Cuba, did not recognize Oswald's photos published by the press as the person who visited the Cuban Consulate in Mexico.

This contradiction between Azcue and Mirabal, were made evident in statements given by both to the investigators of the Select Committee in 1978.

As for Mrs. Duran, she recognized Oswald from the first moment as the person that she helped in the Cuban Consulate at the end of September 1963.

The investigations done by us show that the typewriter used to fill out the questionnaire form of the subject said to be named Oswald, was the same one as the one in Mrs. Duran's office, used to fill out other forms. The photo was Oswald and if we note the Warren Commission's verdict, the signature in the document was also his. There is one additional element. The signature of comrade Mirabal, attesting to the data given by the applicant, was his. There is no doubt.

An arithmetic addition of the testimonies tell us that four (persons) recognized Oswald as the person that visited and requested a visa, and one and only one, Azcue, did not recognized him. Other evidence already explained, points out that it was Oswald and not someone else who visited the Consulate.

As such, we conclude that the subject that identified himself as Lee Harvey Oswald, during a visit to the Consulate in the month of September of 1963, to request a transit visa to Cuba, was indeed the same person, that after the - was identified by the same names.

(6) David Kaiser, The Road to Dallas (2008)

Available sources on what actually happened inside those embassies include four transcripts of intercepted phone calls; testimony by a CIA transcriber about a fifth transcript that has never been found; the testimony of two officials each in the Cuban consulate and the Soviet Embassy about their conversations with Oswald; and an entirely different story that an American Communist and FBI informer claimed to have heard from Fidel Castro himself in spring 1964.

The first person Oswald saw in the Cuban consulate was Silvia Duran, a young Mexican woman of leftist sympathies who handled visa applications there. As the CIA immediately acknowledged in the days after the assassination, she was already of considerable interest to the agency because She had been the mistress of Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations, Carlos Lechuga, when he was stationed in Mexico City during 1962. Duran was interrogated twice by Mexican authorities in the days after the assassination but was never interviewed by representatives of the Warren Commission. When the HSCA interviewed her in June 1978, they put in front of her Oswald's application for a Cuban visa, confirming that he had come in on September 27. She explained that he had stopped by three times that day. She was not certain whether he immediately announced that he wanted a transit visa that would enable him to go to the Soviet Union via Cuba or whether that emerged as a possible alternative during their conversation. She customarily told applicants that a visa to Cuba required only a reference from a Cuban who would take responsibility for the visitor while there." She explained to Oswald that he would need four photographs in any case, told him where he might get them, and bid him good day.

When Oswald returned shortly thereafter with the pictures, she filled out his application. Then, apparently in an attempt to will political favor, he presented a dossier designed to prove his support for Communism in general and the Cuban Revolution in particular. It included his Russian labor card, his Russian marriage license, correspondence with the Communist Party USA, his Fair Play for Cuba Committee card, and a clipping from a New Orleans newspaper describing his arrest for disturbing the peace. When he claimed, falsely, to be members of the CPUSA, Duran pointed out that American Communists usually arranged to travel to Cuba with the party's help, and she explained to HSCA investigators that the CPUSA could have arranged to have his visa waiting.

(7) Jefferson Morley, Our Man in Mexico (2008)

Birch O'Neal, head of Angleton's Special Investigations Group, weighed in, via cable, with a suggestion. He told Win that it was "important you review all LIENVOY tapes and transcripts since Sept 27 to locate all materials possibly pertinent." O'Neal thought correctly that such material would date to September 27, the day Oswald first contacted the Cuban consulate in Mexico City. But how did he know that? It was either a lucky guess or, more likely, SIG knew of Oswald's Cuban contacts in advance of Kennedy's assassination.

Another key question: Where were the surveillance tapes of Oswald, aside from those of his October 1 call to the Soviet embassy? Headquarters demanded an answer from Win, and David Phillips came up with one. They had been erased. More than a decade later, Phillips told the Church Committee exactly when it happened. "It was not until after 5 pm on November 23, 1963 that Agency headquarters cabled its station in Mexico City as to whether the original tapes were available," the committee stated in its final report. "David Phillips recalls that this inquiry precipitated CIA station's search for the tapes which confirmed that they had been erased."

Phillips's recollection was technically accurate. It was true that the originals had been erased. Phillips did not know or did not say that Anne Goodpasture had a duplicate of at least one of the Oswald conversations. Win said the same thing. He relayed three of the transcripts of Oswald's phone calls to Helms in Washington. He did not send the transcript of the call about Oswald's travel plans made by Cuban consulate employee Sylvia Duran on September 27. About the Saturday, September 28, conversation, he wrote, "Subject is probably OSWALD. Station unable compare voice as first tape erased prior to receipt of 2nd call." With that dubious claim, the CIAs false story that there were no LIENVOY tapes of Oswald's conversations came into being.

The issue of Oswald's visit to the Cuban consulate was, as always, handled with the utmost discretion. One pressing question for Win was, what did Sylvia Duran know about Oswald? The station already had a "substantial interest" in her before the assassination, Phillips later admitted, not the least because surveillance had revealed that she had had an affair with Carlos Lechuga, the former Cuban ambassador in Mexico City, who was now serving as Castro's ambassador to the United Nations. At least one Mexican source on the CIA payroll had told his case officer that "all that would have to be done to recruit Ms. Duran was to get a blonde, blue-eyed American in bed with her."

Win called Luis Echeverria, the trim, self-effacing sub secretary to Diaz Ordaz, the minister of government, whom Win had recruited into the LITEMPO network. Echeverria, as LITEMPO-8, had shown the ability to get things done. Win asked him to have his men arrest Sylvia Duran. Then he called Diaz Ordaz, expecting full cooperation from the Gobernacion minister. He asked that Duran be held incommunicado until she gave all details of her contacts with Oswald. Diaz Ordaz agreed. Within an hour, President Lopez Mateos himself called. Win was expecting condolences for Kennedy's death, but his friend wanted to share some intelligence. His people working in the LIENVOY joint operations center had located the transcript of Oswald's September 28 call.

But when Win reported his aggressive police work to CIA headquarters, he was rebuked. Mexico desk chief John Whitten called on a nonsecure phone line with urgent orders from Helms's top deputy, Tom Karamessines: call off the Mexicans. Don't arrest Sylvia Duran. Win told him it was too late, but not to worry. The Mexican government would keep the arrest secret and make sure no information leaked.

Not reassured, Karamessines followed up with a cable to make sure Win understood his instructions.


A decade later, when investigators discovered this cable and asked for an explanation, Karamessines said he had no recollection of it. When pressed on why he might have issued such an order, he said that the CIA might have "feared that the Cubans were responsible [for the assassination] and that Duran might reveal this during an interrogation." He further ventured that "if Duran did possess such information, the CIA and the U.S. government would need time to react before it came to public attention." But Karamessines could not explain why he sought to prevent Win from using his Mexican contacts to learn what Duran knew.

John Whitten, chief of the Mexico desk, wrote a rare memorandum for the record stating that he opposed Karamessines's order. When Senate investigators asked him about his objections in 1976, he too said he had no recollection of the memo he had initialed. But he did attempt an explanation. "We were concerned about blowing the revealing our telephone taps, prematurely revealing our knowledge that Oswald had been in the Cuban consulate at all," he told investigators. "Of course, that all came out later in the papers and so on but at this juncture... the 23rd, the next day. We were keeping a lid on everything because we didn't know which way the thing was going to go." Might the United States attack Cuba in retaliation for the murder of the president? That question did not need to be asked at CIA headquarters, Whitten said. "It was just in the air."

Two years later, Whitten came up with a more incisive explanation. At the time we were not sure that Oswald might not have been a Cuban agent, and the arrest of a foreign consular person was quite a serious matter under international law. Although Sylvia Duran was a Mexican.... Karamessines may not have known at the time and simply felt that this breach of international law, violation of her immunity, might have made it awkward for the United States, if we wanted to let out a roar of outrage if we discovered that Castro had been behind the assassination. In other words, Karamessines feared that this whole thing [the arrest of Duran] might be laid at the United States doorstep."

But why wouldn't American officials want to question a communist who had contact with the man who had apparently killed the president?

Jim Angleton did not want to answer that question. He told congressional investigators he had a "vague recollection" of Karamessines's order. 'All I would say is that usually if Tom intervened it was for good reason ... because he had superior information."

Karamessines's order to Win showed that within twenty-four hours of Kennedy's assassination, top CIA officials were maneuvering to preserve their "freedom of action" to blame the crime on Castro an option that would have generated the U.S. invasion of the island that Cuba hawks had long favored. The command evoked the mind-set that generated Operation Northwoods, the Pentagon pretext operations conceived and rejected by JFK in 1962 and 1963: if Castro could be blamed for a horrible crime against American interests, then the U.S. government might be able to justify an invasion to overthrow him. The Karamessines order also illuminated the difference between Win and his superiors in Washington.