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The Mystery of Marina Oswald

Monday, November 24, 2003 - 15:15 Print Text Size

The 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination has prompted the usual round of articles and TV programs examining the assassination and theories of what actually happened. The speculation is endless — not because people are searching for meaning in a meaningless world, as one TV program suggested. Rather, the speculation is endless because the official explanation offered by the Warren Commission is difficult to believe. That may have been the way it happened, but it is not a genuinely satisfactory explanation.

We don't have problems with the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was a shooter, but we do have problems with the idea that he was the lone gunman. There are four crucial points that, for us at least, make it extremely unlikely that Oswald was operating alone:

1. Oswald had a beautiful, unobstructed shot from the Texas Schoolbook Depository building in Dallas as the presidential motorcade approached. He passed on a perfect shot, choosing instead to allow the motorcade to turn left and proceed below his window, and then took a much more difficult shot with his view partially obscured by a tree. Why would he have done that if he were acting alone?

2. The idea that he took three shots with his bolt-action Italian rifle in the elapsed time (a few seconds) — taking out Kennedy with the head shot — is just outside the box of credibility. No matter how we strain, we can't get there.

3. The trajectory of the bullet that was supposed to have hit the president and Texas Gov. John Connolly similarly strains credibility.

4. The idea that Jack Ruby, a strip club owner and connected guy, went to the Dallas police station on an impulse and was so overwhelmed by uncontrollable rage at the death of his president that he shot Lee Harvey Oswald strains our credulity beyond its limits. Ruby was a lot of things, but sentimental was not one of them. Ruby looked out for Ruby. Whatever brought him to the station to kill Oswald was not uncontrolled emotion.

There are lots of other things, but for us, these four issues — taken together — make it very difficult to buy the Warren report. We can probably explain away any one of these aspects, but the four things taken together with other anomalous facts create a critical mass of doubt.

The only strength of the Warren Commission report is the weakness of the alternative explanations:

1. Kennedy was killed by the American Mafia because Bobby Kennedy came after them, despite the fact that Joseph Kennedy had cut a deal with Sam Giancana over the West Virginia primary and the graveyard vote in Illinois. This is a reasonable explanation, except for the fact that it leaves no explanation for Oswald's role in the president's killing.

2. Kennedy was killed by Cuban Intelligence because the Kennedys tried to kill Fidel Castro. This is an interesting theory, except that it doesn't explain where Jack Ruby fits in.

3. Kennedy was killed by the CIA because he wanted to pull out of Vietnam. This one suffers from the fact that the evidence that Kennedy wanted to pull out of Vietnam is pretty skimpy and the greater fact that, in 1963, Vietnam was one of a dozen foreign policy issues out there. The idea that the agency was so passionate about Vietnam that operatives would kill the president over it is just silly.

4. Cuban exiles killed Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs and the pledge not to invade after the Cuban missile crisis. The problem, again, is Oswald.

5. Hybrids of more than one of these theories. These make for interesting reading, but the problem is that all of the hybrids wind up involving dozens of people from multiple groups, none with any reason to trust each other. How do you keep a hybrid from leaking?

The only way some of these theories work is if Lee Harvey Oswald was not involved or somehow was, in his words, made into a "patsy." For any of the conspiracy theories to work, Oswald would either have had to be an innocent victim, had someone else masquerading as him or been part of a conspiracy that his own background didn't easily bring him into. It really all comes down to who Lee Harvey Oswald was — a subject that has garnered endless speculation.

Far less speculation has gone into what is, in our view, a significantly neglected aspect of this story: Marina Oswald. From Stratfor's standpoint, she is at least one of the keys to whatever happened on Nov. 22, 1963. Our image of Marina Oswald, dating back to the days following the assassination, is that of a simple, frightened young woman, stunned by what had happened and in way over her head. That image of a more or less innocent bystander has remained intact for 40 years, even though the facts have consistently pointed to her being a much more important figure in the story.

Marina Oswald — born Marina Prusakova — met Lee Harvey Oswald in Minsk, where he worked in an electronics factory after having defected to the Soviet Union in 1959. She was then 19 years old. Her father had been killed in the war; she lived with her stepfather in Archangel, in the far north of Russia, before moving to Moldova as a small child and then to Leningrad at age 12. In 1955, she entered the Pharmacy Technikum for what the Warren Report called "special training." She received a diploma in pharmacology in June 1959 and then was assigned to a job in a warehouse, which she quit after a day.

Two months later, she moved to live with her uncle in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Her uncle was a colonel in the MVD — the Russian Interior Ministry security service. At that time, the agency — which was a mixture of a national police force and the FBI — carried out several functions, from running large parts of the Gulag to serving as an internal security force. According to the Warren Commission, Col. Prusakov was head of the local lumber industry, which would have certainly made him part of the Gulag apparatus and therefore part of the security structure. With a rank of colonel, he clearly had substantial responsibilities. According to the Warren Commission, Prusakov "… had one of the best apartments in a building reserved for MVD employees."

In Minsk, Marina finally got a job in the pharmacy of a hospital. At the same time, she joined Komsomol, the Communist youth organization — a fairly common thing to do and something that her uncle, given his standing in the government apparatus, certainly would have expected her to do. She had a good many friends when, seven months after moving to Minsk, she was introduced to Lee Harvey Oswald. They had one date — at a dance. Immediately after the dance, Oswald was taken ill and checked into a hospital, though not the one where Marina worked. Marina visited him often in the hospital, although they had met only twice prior to his hospitalization. She was able to visit him outside of regular visiting hours, according to the Warren Commission, because of her uniform. Oswald was hospitalized from March 30 until April 11. It is not clear what illness kept him hospitalized for almost two weeks, but he was cared for at an ear, nose and throat clinic: He apparently had the mother of all sinus headaches.

According to Marina's testimony to the Warren Commission, Oswald visited her regularly at her uncle's apartment after his release. The Commission makes a point of saying that "they were apparently not disturbed by the fact that he was an American and did not disapprove of her seeing him." This is an important point. Oswald was an American defector, clearly regarded with suspicion by Soviet Intelligence. Marina's uncle was a colonel in the MVD. Having American defectors visit his apartment in 1961 should have concerned him a lot. He would certainly report it to his superior. An American FBI official entertaining his niece's Soviet defector boyfriend in 1961 would certainly be cautious about its effect on his pension; however, Prusakov apparently was not concerned.

Now it gets interesting. On April 20, a little more than a month since their first meeting, Oswald proposes to Marina. She accepts and they are married on April 30. Let's pause here. Marina Oswald is an attractive young woman. She holds a diploma in pharmacology from a first-rate technical school in Leningrad. Her uncle is a senior official in the MVD. Lee Harvey Oswald is a foreign defector, without any real future and — we are handicapped here by our glandular bias — not a great looker or sharp dresser. But he must have been a hell of a dancer, because they were married about six weeks after they met with much of the courtship having taken place in a hospital.

OK — it may have been uncontrollable love at first sight. Stranger things have happened, we suppose. The problem was that in order for Marina to marry Oswald, they needed to get special permission from the state, because he was a foreigner. That would have been true if he were the head of the Polish Communist Party. But Oswald wasn't just a foreigner, he was an American defector. Given the Soviet bureaucracy, someone in Moscow was going to have to sign off on this one — and it had to have kicked off one heck of a security review in her uncle's office, but permission nevertheless was granted in 10 days.

If that is hard to believe, try the next one. After about a month of marriage, Oswald tells Marina that he's tired of the Soviet Union and wants to go home. She apparently says "whatever" and they start making arrangements to leave the Soviet Union. At this point, she told the Warren Commission, her aunt and uncle became upset and stopped speaking to her. A great deal has been made of the U.S. Embassy's willingness to allow Oswald to return to the United States, but not nearly enough has been made of the fact that the Soviets permitted not only Oswald, but also Marina, to leave the country.

In October, while this was going on, Marina decided to take her annual vacation. According to the commission, Oswald and Marina agreed that she needed "a change of scenery." Having been married less than six months, she took a three-week vacation by herself to visit an aunt in Kharkov. Kharkov in October is not the greatest place to visit, but off she went.

When she returned, she pursued her exit visa. She met with an MVD colonel, Nicolay Aksenov, who had to approve the exit permit. Marina thought that the interview might have been granted because her uncle was also an MVD colonel, but that makes little sense if her uncle opposed her departure. On Dec. 25, 1961, about six weeks after applying, she received her exit visa from the Soviet Union, as did Oswald. Marina told the Commission that she was surprised to receive permission. That is an understatement — what happened was unheard-of. Although the Warren Commission tried to argue that these things were not that uncommon, they just were.

Let's recap here:

1. Marina, part of the Soviet upper-middle class, reasonably educated and an attractive young woman, meets Lee Harvey Oswald and is so smitten by him that she agrees to marry him in a little over a month — two weeks of which he spent courting her from a hospital bed.

2. The Soviet government grants Marina permission to marry him in the span of 10 days, despite the fact that this is an MVD colonel's niece marrying a U.S. defector.

3. Oswald immediately decides to head back to the United States, and in spite of her uncle's supposed objections — and Prusakov could have stopped this dead in its tracks if he wanted — she is granted permission to leave the Soviet Union in the company of an American defector. The time between her formal request and receiving permission is a matter of weeks.

If the Warren Commission has the facts right — and we think they do — then this is clear: the Soviet government wanted Marina and Oswald to marry and they wanted them to go together to the United States. That is crystal clear. Now, we take a leap, but a reasonable one: The only agency in the Soviet Union with the ability and interest to get this done was the KGB. If Marina wasn't KGB, she did one hell of an imitation.

Endless questions flow from this, ranging from what the mission was to why the U.S. embassy permitted Marina into the country. This now enters into the realm of speculation. However, one thing is clear to us: Any theory as to what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, that does not take into careful account the role of Marina Oswald is inherently flawed. This includes the Warren Commission's own findings. If Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy, there has been no adequate explanation of Marina Oswald's role in this.

The only way to dismiss the Marina question is to make the following three assertions:

1. You have to believe that Marina, the attractive MVD princess, took one look at Oswald and said, "I've got to have that man."

2. You have to argue that obtaining permission in 10 days for an MVD colonel's live-in niece to marry an American defector was no big deal.

3. You have to argue that getting an exit permit from the Soviet Union for Marina in the space of six weeks in 1961 was no big deal.

If ever there was a cooked-up marriage, this was it. Now, how this fits into the assassination story is too speculative to bother with — but that no explanation is possible without building this into the story is obvious.

There has been tremendous focus on Oswald's stay in the Soviet Union and speculation that his defection might have been part of a CIA plot. That is not inconceivable, although the purpose of the plot is opaque. There has been focus on Washington's decision to readmit Oswald, even though he had renounced his U.S. citizenship. All of this has focused attention on the CIA, but there has not been equal attention paid to the extraordinary story of Marina Prusakova's marriage to Oswald and her exit from the Soviet Union.

This does not necessarily clear things up, but in our mind, it sets an additional hurdle that any theory must pass over. The eagerness of the Warren Commission to pass over the strange marriage of these two is one of the reasons we have little confidence in the analysis it contains. The fact of the marriage raises questions of whether Oswald was, simply in the context of his marriage, involved in a conspiracy. If he was the only gunman — which we doubt — he still was not alone.

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