An Irrelevant Biography


An Irrelevant Biography Legend- The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald By Edward Jay Epstein McCiaw Hill 464 pp $12 95 Reviewed by Leo Sauvage authoi, "TheOswaldAffan" When Edward Jay Epstein's...

...An Irrelevant Biography Legend- The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald By Edward Jay Epstein McCiaw Hill 464 pp $12 95 Reviewed by Leo Sauvage authoi, "TheOswaldAffan" When Edward Jay Epstein's Inquest appeared in 1966, it certainly was not the first criticism of the Warren Commission and its Report But the book—published m France and, I believe, in other countries as The Epstein Repot t—probably was the most effective critique to come out up to that point In large part this was because it did not directly challenge the Report's widely accepted finding that Lee Harvey Oswald, and Lee Harvey Oswald alone, killed President John F Kennedy for reasons unknown Instead, it chipped away at the bottom, catching eager believers unaware A Cornell graduate student working on a master's thesis at the time, Epstein succeeded in questioning and getting answers from many Commission members and lawyers who had until then managed to keep out of the way of any doubter Their replies and his additional researches enabled him to put together a study that undermined the Warren Report's conclusion by effectively uncovering the "mechanics of the investigation,' the "selection process' and the "alteration of facts' Inquest also gave special importance to a point emphasized by previous critics that the Commission had devoted too much time to "Oswald's life history" and not enough to "the assassination itself " This second "Epstein Report," subtitled The Sea et Woi Id of Lee Harvey Oswald, can be faulted for the same thing—a publisher's press release claiming that the volume sheds "New Light on the Kennedy Assassination" notwithstanding No attempt is made here to deal in any analytical or investigative or simply straightforward way with the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963 Epstein merely concentrates on Oswald's life—but only up to, and not including, the fatal day—particularly on what others already have noted The Report brushed aside with studied indifference the incredible forbearance shown both by the Soviet and the U S authorities toward a double and perhaps triple defector like Oswald Thus we are again told that the Soviet authorities let him leave the USSR with his Russian wife and his Russian-born child, something they are not m the habit of doing The Americans quickly returned the passport he had thrown in their faces at the U S Embassy in Moscow, and welcomed him home without even a routine debriefing When the former Marine, who boasted that he was telling the KGB everything he had learned in his radar unit, asked for a new passport, expressly mentioning the USSR among the countries he intended to visit, the document arrived in less time than the average American has to wait Granting the truth of all this, one is compelled to ask a question that is less frivolous than it sounds So what7 That Oswald was considered useful by the KGB or the CIA in a complicated intelligence game does not tell us if, how, where and why he fits into the assassination For Epstein, who has by now conveniently dismissed even his own demolition of the Warren Commission's tissue of mistatements (his explanation of its investigative inadequacy is that the FBI and CIA failed to inform the Commission of Oswald's past), the answers to the first three questions are m As to the why, we are told that "neither Angleton's shop [the CIA's Counterintelligence Department, then headed by James J Angle-ton] nor the [CIA's] Soviet Russia Division believed that Oswald was acting under the control of Soviet intelligence when he assassinated the President " Inasmuch as the author apparently shares that opinion—even adding early on that circumstantial evidence seemed to diminish that possibility"—we are left wondering what relevance Legend has to Dallas To reach this stage, the former graduate student used an army of researchers and interviewed 400 people Reader's Digest, which commissioned the book, is said to have spent some $400,000 to allow Epstein and his team to travel—comfortably, I would guess—throughout the world True, the author only had to go to Endicott, New York, to meet Kathenne Mallo-ry—who thought that a man who talked to her in Minsk in 1961, while she was traveling with the University of Michigan Band, was Oswald "because of some resemblance around the mouth " But he did have to go all the way to Tokyo to interview Yaeko Okui, "a young and exquisitely beautiful Japanese girl," who "for almost three hours" had sat with Oswald "at the far end of the living room" during a Christmas week party in 1962 Okui, incidentally, "said she did not remember the subject of her conversation with Oswald, but that the one brief contact with him 'ruined her life ' She would not elaborate further " The single interesting section of Legend is what Epstein has learned —mostly, it seems, from Angleton —about the conflicts inside the CIA and between the CIA and J Edgar Hoover's FBI Unfortunately, this material, too, is so artificially blown up and so unashamedly exploited in a drugstore-thriller style that little of it can be taken very seriously Moreover, where it is possible to check Epstein's statements, they often prove implausible or just plain wrong A chapter on "The Status of the Evidence" concermng Dallas includes material that is presented as if much of it had not already been discredited in Inquest In addition, the author offers us "The Cuban Connection," centering mainly on a repulsive character named Roland Cubela Precisely what role Epstein thinks Cubela played in the assassination is never made clear, in fact, it's not clear that Epstein even know who Cubela is For one thing, he constantly misspells the name "Cub-ella " For another, the Cuban was not "a former comandante of Castro's Army " He was a comandante of the rival Directono Revolucionario, who occupied the Presidential Palace in Havana after the flight of Batista and until Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara threatened to blow him out with tanks Together with his "anti-Communist" chief Faure Chomon, later made Cuba's ambassador to the USSR, he was bought by Castro (before being bought by others) and became one of the bloodiest, most hated agents of the new regime's repression Now, it is quite possible that Cubela was a "double agent sent over to test the intentions of the Kennedy Administration toward Castro " It is, however, impossible to know what to make of this—or of the alleged fact, heavily insisted upon, that Cubela met with "the CIA case officer" m Pans precisely on November 22, 1963, and that this man promised him "the high power rifle he wanted fitted with telescopic sights " A "legend," according to former KGB officer Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko, "is a false biography " I'm not sure whether Legend is false or not, but I am convinced that most of the so-called evidence is unacceptable On the other hand, I am ready to believe that when Oswald took a typing course in Dallas, he arrived "with exceedingly dirty fingernails...

Vol. 61 • June 1978 • No. 13

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