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The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) Findings - Part 3


Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once simply defined conspiracy as "a partnership in criminal purposes." That definition is adequate. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to set out a more recise definition. If two or more individuals agreed to take action to kill president Kennedy, and at least one of them took action in furtherance of the plan, and it resulted in president Kennedy's death, the President would have been assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

The committee recognizes, of course, that while the work "conspiracy" technically denotes only a "partnership in criminal purposes," it also, in fact, connotes widely varying meanings to many people, and its use has vastly differing societal implications depending upon the sophistication, extent and ultimate purpose of the partnership. For example, a conspiracy to assassinate a President might be a complex plot orchestrated by foreign political powers; it might be the scheme of a group of American citizens dissatisfied with particular governmental policies; it also might be the plan of two largely isolated individuals with no readily discernible motive.

Conspiracies may easily range, therefore, from those with important implications for social or governmental institutions to those with no major societal significance. As the evidence concerning the probability that President Kennedy was assassinated as a result of a "conspiracy" is analyzed, these various connotations of the word "conspiracy" and distinctions between them ought to be constantly borne in mind. Here, as elsewhere, words must be used carefully, lest people be misled.(1 )

A conspiracy cannot be said to have existed in dealey Plaza unless evidence exists from which, in Justice Holmes' words, a "partnership in criminal purposes" may be inferred. The Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was not involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the President was, for example, largely based on its findings of the absence of evidence of significant association between Oswald and other possible conspirators and no physical evidence of conspiracy.

The Commission reasoned, quite rightly, that in the absence of association or physical evidence, there was no conspiracy. Even without physical evidence of conspiracy at the scene of the assassination, there would, of course, be a conspiracy if others assisted Oswald in his efforts. Accordingly, an examination of Oswald's associates is necessary. The Warren Commission recognized that a first premise in a finding of conspiracy may be a finding of association. Because the Commission did not find any significant Oswald associates, it was not compelled to face the difficult questions posed by such a finding. More than association is required to establish conspiracy. There must be at least knowing assistance or a manifestation of agreement to the criminal purpose by the associate.

It is important to realize, too, that the term "associate" may connote widely varying meanings to different people. A person's associate may be his next door neighbor and vacation companion, or it may be an individual he has met only once for the purpose of discussing a contract for a murder. The Warren Commission examined Oswald's past and concluded he was essentially a loner. It reasoned, therefore, that since Oswald had no significant associations with persons who could have been involved with him in the assassination, there could not have been a conspiracy.

With respect to Jack Ruby,

(2 ) the Warren Commission similarly found no significant associations, either between Ruby and Oswald or between Ruby and others who might have been conspirators with him. In particular, it found no connections between Ruby and organized crime, and it reasoned that absent such associations, there was no conspiracy to kill Oswald or the president.

The committee conducted a three-pronged investigation of conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination. On the basis of extensive scientific analysis and an analysis of the testimony of Dealey Plaza witnesses, the committee found there was a high probability that two gunmen fired at President Kennedy.

Second, the committee explored Oswald's and Ruby's contact for any evidence of significant associations. Unlike the Warren Commission, it found certain of these contacts to be of investigative significance. The Commission apparently had looked for evidence of conspiratorial association. Finding none on the face of the associations it investigated, it did not go further. The committee, however, conducted a wider ranging investigation. Notwithstanding the possibility of a benign reason for contact between Oswald or Ruby and one of their associates, the committee examined the very fact of the contact to see if it contained investigative significance. Unlike the Warren Commission, the committee took a close look at the associates to determine whether conspiratorial activity in the assassination could have been possible, given what the committee could learn about the associates, and whether the apparent nature of the contact should, therefore, be examined more closely. (3 )

Third, the committee examined groups-political organizations, national governments and so on--that might have had the motive, opportunity and means to assassinate the President. The committee, therefore, directly introduced the hypothesis of conspiracy and investigated it with reference to known facts to determine if it had any bearing on the assassination.

The committee examined a series of major groups or organizations that have been alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the President. If any of these groups or organizations, as a group, had been involved in the assassination, the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy would have been one of major significance.

As will be detailed in succeeding sections of this report, the committee did not find sufficient evidence that any of these groups or organizations were involved in a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination. Accordingly, the committee concluded, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet government, the Cuban government, anti-Castro Cuban groups, and the national syndicate of organized crime were not involved in the assassination. Further, the committee found that the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination.

Based on the evidence available to it, the committee could not preelude the possibility that individual members of anti-Castro Cuban groups or the national syndicate of organized crime were involved in the assassination. There was insufficient evidence, however, to support a finding that any individual members were involved. The ramifications of a conspiracy involving such individuals would be significant, although of perhaps less import than would be the case if a group itself, the national syndicate, for example had been involved.

The committee recognized that a finding that two gunmen fired simultaneously at the President did not, by itself, establish that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the President. It is theoretically possible that the gunmen were acting independently, each totally unaware of the other. It was the committee's opinion, however, that such a theoretical possibility is extremely remote. The more logical and probable inference to be drawn from two gunmen firing at the same person at the same time and in the same place is that they were acting in concert, that is, as a result of a conspiracy.

The committee found that, to be precise and loyal to the facts it established, it, was compelled to find that President Kennedy was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy. The committee's finding that President Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy was premised on four factors:

(1) Since the Warren Commission's and FBI's investigation into the possibility of a conspiracy was seriously flawed, their failure to develop evidence of a conspiracy could not be given independent weight.
(2) The Warren Commission was, in fact, incorrect in concluding that Oswald and Ruby had no significant associations, and therefore its finding of no conspiracy was not reliable.
(3) While it cannot be inferred from the significant associations of Oswald and Ruby that any of the major groups examined by the committee were involved in the assassination, a more limited conspiracy could not be ruled out.
(4) There was a high probability that a second gunman, in fact, fired at the President.

At the same time, the committee candidly stated, in expressing it finding of conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination, that it was "un able to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.

The photographic and other scientific evidence available to the committee was insufficient to permit the committee to answer these questions. In addition, the committee's other investigative efforts did not develop evidence from which Oswald's conspirator or conspirators could be firmly identified. It is possible, of course, that the extent of the conspiracy was so limited that it involved only Oswald and the second gunman. The committee was not able to reach such a conclusion, for it would have been based on speculation, not evidence. spects of the inestigation did suggest that the conspiracy may have been relatively limited, but to state with precision exactly how small was not possible. Other aspects of the committee's investigation did suggest, however, that while the conspiracy may not have involved a major group, it may not have been limited to only two people. These aspects of the committee's investigation are discussed elsewhere.

If the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy was limited to Oswald and a second gunman, its main societal significance may be in the realization that agencies of the U.S. Government inadequately investigated the possibility of such a conspiracy. In terms of its implications for government and society, an assassination as a consequence of a conspiracy composed solely of Oswald and a small number of persons, possibly only one, and possibly a person akin to Oswald in temperament and ideology, would not have been fundamentally different from an assassination by Oswald alone.(4 )


With the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of President Kennedy, speculation arose over the significance of Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union from October 1959 to June 1969, and his activities while living in that country. Specifically, these troubling questions were asked:

Had Oswald been enlisted by the KGB, the Soviet secret police ?.
Could the assassination have been the result of a KGB plot?

(a) United States-Soviet relations

To put these concerns in context, it is necessary to look at SovietAmerican relations in the 1960's. United States-Soviet relations had, in fact, been turbulent during the Kennedy Presidency. There had been major confrontations: over Berlin, where the wall had come to symbolize the barrier between the two superpowers; and over Cuba, where the emplacement of Soviet missiles had nearly started World War III.

A nuclear test-ban treaty m August 1963 seemed to signal detente, but in November, tension was building again, as the Soviets harassed, American troop movements to and from West Berlin. And Cuba was as much an issue as ever. In Miami, on November 18, President Kennedy vowed the United States would not countenance the establishment of another Cuba in the Western Hemisphere.

(b) The Warren Commission investigation

The Warren Commission considered the possibility of Soviet complicity in the assassination, but it concluded there was no evidence of it. In its report, the Commission noted that the same conclusion had been reached by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, among others. Rusk testified before the Commission on June 10, 1964:

I have seen no evidence that would indicate to me that the Soviet Union considered that it had any interest in the removal of President Kennedy * * * I can't see how it could be to the interest of the Soviet Union to make any such effort.

(c) The committee's investigation

The committee, in analyzing Oswald's relationship to Russian intelligence, considered:

Statements of both Oswald and his wife, Marina, about their life in the Soviet Union;
Documents provided by the Soviet Government to the Warren Commission concerning Oswald's residence in the Soviet Union;
Statements by Soviet experts in the employ, current or past, of the Central Intelligence Agency; Files on other defectors to the Soviet Union;
and Statements by defectors from the Soviet Union to the United States.

(1) Oswald in the U.S.S.R.

--The committee reviewed the documents Oswald wrote about his life in the Soviet Union, including his diary and letters to his mother, Marguerite, and brother, Robert. They paralleled, to a great extent, the information in documents provided to the Warren Commission by the Soviet Government after the assassination. These documents were provided to the Commission in response to its request that the Soviet Government give the Commission any "available information concerning the activities of Lee Harvey Oswald during his residence from 1959 to 1962 in the Soviet Union, in particular, copies of any official records concerning him."

Two sets of documents, totaling approximately 140 pages, were turned over to the Commission by the Soviets in November 1963 and in May 1964. They were routine, official papers. None of them appeared to have come from KGB files, and there were no records of interviews of Oswald by the KGB, nor were there any surveillance reports. Unfortunately, the authenticity of the documents could not be established. The signatures of Soviet officials, for example, were illegible.

Nevertheless, the Soviet documents and Oswald's own statements give this account of Oswald's stay in the Soviet Union:

He lived there from October 1959 to June 1962.
He attempted suicide on learning he would not be permitted to remain in the U.S.S.R.
He worked in a radio plant in Minsk.
He met and married Marina.
He was originally issued a residence visa for stateless persons and later issued a residence visa for foreigners.
He obtained exit visas for himself and his family before departing the Soviet Union.

Neither the documents nor Oswald's own statements indicate that he was debriefed or put under surveillance by the KGB.

The committee interviewed U.S. officials who specialize in Soviet intelligence, asking them what treatment they would have expected Oswald to have received during his defection. For the most part, they suspected that Oswald would have routinely been debriefed by the KGB and that many persons who came in contact with Oswald in the U.S.S.R. would have been connected with the KGB.

(2) Treatment of defectors by the Soviet Government.

--The committee examined the CIA and FBI files on others who had defected in the same period as Oswald and who had eventually returned to the United States. The purpose was to determine the frequency of KGB contact and whether the treatment of Oswald appeared to be significantly different from the norm. The defectors studied by the committee were selected because their backgrounds and other characteristics were similar to Oswald's, on the theory that their treatment by the KGB could be expected to parallel that of Oswald, if he was not a special case, a. recruited assassin, for example.

The examination of the defector files was inconclusive, principally because the case of nearly every defector. was unique. In addition, the files available on the experiences of the defectors were often not adequate to extract meaningful data for the purpose of this investigation, since, they were compiled for other reasons. As to contacts with the KGB, the experiences of American defectors appeared to have varied greatly. Some reported daily contact with Soviet intelligence agents, while others did not mention ever having been contacted or debriefed.

(3) Yuri Nosenko.

--Of all the areas investigated by the committee with respect to possible Soviet involvement in the assassination, none seemed as potentially rewarding as an examination of statements made by KGB officers who had defected to the United States. In determining how the KGB treats American defectors, an ex-KGB officer would certainly be of great interest. In this regard, the committee had access to three such men, one of whom, Yuri Nosenko, claimed to possess far more than general information about American defectors.

In January 1964, (5 ) Nosenko, identifying himself as a KGB officer, sought asylum in the United States. He claimed to have worked in the KGB Second Chief Directorate whose functions, in many respects, are similar to those of the FBI.According to Nosenko, while working in 1959 in a KGB department dealing with American tourists, he learned of a young American who sought to defect to the Soviet Union. The American was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Nosenko stated he had worked extensively on the Oswald case, and he provided the FBI and CIA with data pertaining to Oswald's request to defect and remain in the Soviet Union, the initial rejection of that request by the KGB, Oswald's suicide attempt and a subsequent decision to permit him to remain in Russia. Although the KGB, according to Nosenko, was well aware of Oswald, it made no attempt to debrief or interview him. Never was any consideration given by the KGB to enlist Oswald into the Soviet intelligence service.

The committee was most interested in Nosenko's claim that in 1963, after Oswald was arrested in the assassination, he had an opportunity to see the KGB file on the suspected assassin. As a result, Nosenko said, he was able to state categorically that Oswald was not a Soviet agent and that no officer of the KGB had ever interviewed or debriefed him.

Nosenko's testimony, however, did not settle the question of Soviet complicity in the assassination. From the time of his defection, some U.S. intelligence officers suspected Nosenko was on a disinformation mission to mislead the American Government. Since other CIA officials believed Nosenko was a bona fide defector, a serious disagreement at the top level of the Agency resulted.

The Warren Commission found itself in the middle of the Nosenko controversy--and in a quandary of its own, since the issue of Nosenko's reliability bore significantly on the assassination investigation. If he was telling the truth, the Commission could possibly write off Soviet involvement in a conspiracy. (6 ) If, on the other hand, Nosenko was lying, the Commission would be faced with a dilemma. While a deceitful Nosenko would not necessarily point to Soviet complicity, it would leave the issue in limbo. The Warren Commission chose not to call Nosenko as a witness or to mention him in its report, apparently because it could not resolve the issue of his reliability.

The committee, on the other hand, reviewed all available statements and files pertaining to Nosenko. It questioned Nosenko in detail about Oswald. finding significant inconsistencies in statements he had given the FBI, CIA and the committee. For example, Nosenko told the committee that the KGB had Oswald under extensive surveillance, including mail interception, wiretap and physical observation. Yet, in 1964, he told the CIA and FBI there had been no such surveillance of Oswald. Similarly, in 1964, Nosenko indicated there had been no psychiatric examination of Oswald subsequent to his suicide attempt, while in 1978 he detailed for the committee the reports he had read about psychiatric examinations of Oswald.

The committee also found that the CIA had literally put Nosenko in solitary confinement from 1964 to 1968. Strangely, while he was interrogated during this period, he was questioned very little about Oswald. The Agency did not seem to realize Nosenko's importance to an investigation of the assassination. While Richard Helms, then the CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, did tell Chief Justice Warren about Nosenko, the Agency's interest in him seemed to be largely limited to its own intelligence-gathering problem:did the KGB send Nosenko to the United States to deceive the CIA on many matters, only one of them perhaps related to the assassination?

In the end, the committee, too, was unable to resolve the Nosenko matter. The fashion in which Nosenko was treated by the Agency--his interrogation and confinement--virtually ruined him as a valid source of information on the assassination. Nevertheless, the committee was certain Nosenko lied about Oswald--whether it was to the FBI and CIA in 1964, or to the committee in 1978, or perhaps to both. The reasons he would lie about Oswald range from the possibility that he merely wanted to exaggerate his own importance to the disinformation hypothesis with its sinister implications.

Lacking sufficient evidence to distinguish among alternatives,

(7 ) the committee decided to limit its conclusion to a characterization of Nosenko as an unreliable source of information about the assassination, or, more specifically, as to whether Oswald was ever contacted, or placed under surveillance, by the KGB.

(4)Opinions other defectors.

--In addition to interviewing Nosenko, the committee questioned two other former KGB officers who had defected to the United States. While neither could base an opinion on any personal experience with that part of the KGB in which Nosenko said he had served, both said that Oswald would have been of interest to the Soviet intelligence agency, that he would have been debriefed and that he may have been kept under surveillance.

(5) Marina Oswald.

--The committee not only considered a possible connection between Oswald and the KGB, it also looked into charges that his widow, Marina, was an agent of the KGB, or that she at least influenced her husband's actions in the assassination on orders from

Soviet officials. The committee examined Government files on Marina, it questioned experts on Soviet affairs and former KGB officers, and it took testimony from Marina herself. The committee could find no evidence to substantiate the allegations about Marina Oswald Porter.

Mrs. Porter testified before the committee that Oswald had never been contacted directly by the KGB, though she assumed that he and she alike had been under KGB surveillance when they lived in the Soviet Union.

(6) Response of the Soviet Government.

--Finally, the committee attempted to obtain from the Soviet Government any information on Oswald that it had not provided to the Warren Commission. In response to a committee request relayed by the State Department, the Soviet Government informed the committee that all the information it had on Oswald had been forwarded to the Warren Commission.

The committee concluded, however, that it is highly probable that the Soviet Government possessed information on Oswald that it has not provided to the U.S. Government. It would be the extensive information that most likely was gathered by. a KGB surveillance of Oswald and Marina while they were living m Russia. It is also quite likely that the Soviet Government withheld files on a KGB interview with Oswald.

(d) Summary of the evidence.

Its suspicions notwithstanding, the committee was led to believe, on the basis of the available evidence, that the Soviet Government was not involved in the assassination. In the last, analysis, the Committee agreed with the testimony of former Secretary of State Dean Rusk. To wit, there is no evidence that the Soviet Government had any interest in removing President Kennedy, nor is there any evidence that it planned to take advantage of the President's death before it happened or attempted to capitalize on it after it occurred. In fact, the reaction of the Soviet Government as well as the Soviet people seemed to be one of genuine shock and sincere grief. The committee believed, therefore, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet Government was not involved in the assassination.


1 - It might be suggested that because of the widely varying meanings attached to the word "conspiracy," it ought to be avoided. Such a suggestion, however, raises another objection--the search for euphemistic variations can lead to a lack of candor. There is virtue in seeing something for what it is, even if the plain truth causes discomfort.

2 - The Warren Commission devoted its Appendix XVI to a biography of Jack Ruby in which his family background, psychological makeup, education and business activities were considered. While the evidence was sometimes contradictory, the Commission found that Ruby grew up in Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants; that he lived in a home disrupted by domestic strife; (6) that he was troubled psychologically as a youth and not educated beyond high school; and that descriptions of his temperament ranged from "mild mannered" to "violent." (7) In 1963, Ruby was 52 and unmarried. He ran a Dallas nightclub but was not particularly successful in business. His acquaintances included a number of Dallas police officers who frequented his nightclub, as well as other types of people who comprised his clientele.

3 - The committee found associations of both Ruby and Oswald that were unknown to the Warren Commission.

4 - If the conspiracy was, in fact, limited Oswald, the second gunman, and perhaps one or two others the committee believes it was possible they shared Oswald's left-wing political disposition. A consistent pattern in Oswald's life (see section A 5) was a propensity for actions with political overtones. It is quite likely that an assassination conspiracy limited to Oswald and a few associates was in keeping with that pattern. Further, it is possible that associates of Oswald in the Kennedy assassination had been involved with him in earlier activities. Two possibilities: the attempt on the life of Gen. Edwin A. Walker in April 1963. With respect to the Walker incident, there was substantial evidence that Oswald did the shooting (section A5), although at the time of the shooting it was not sufficient to implicate Oswald or anyone else. It was not until after the Kennedy assassination that Oswald became a suspect in the Walker attack, based on the testimony of his widow Marina. Marina's characterization of Oswald is more consistent with his having shot at Walker alone than his having assistance, although at the time of the shooting there was testimony that tended to indicate more than one person was involved. Further it is not necessary to believe all of what Marina said about the incident or to believe that Oswald told her all there was to know since either of them might have been concealing the involvement of others. According to a general offense report of the Dallas police, Walker reported at approximately 9:10 p.m. on April 10, 1963, that a bullet had been fired through a first floor window of his home at 4011 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas. Detectives subsequently found that a bullet had first shattered a window, then gone through a wall and had landed on a stack of papers in an adjoining room. In their report the detectives described the bullet as steel-jacketed, of unknown caliber. Police located a 14-year-old boy in Walker's neighborhood who said that after hearing the shot, he climbed a fence and looked into an alley to the rear of Walker's home. The the boy said he then saw some men speeding down the alley in a light green or light blue Ford, either a 1959 or 1960 model. He said he also saw another car, a 1958 Chevrolet, black with white down the side, in a church parking lot adjacent to Walker's house. The car door was open, and a man was bending over the back seat, as though he was placing something on the floor of the car. On the night of the incident, police interviewed Robert Surrey, an aide to Walker. Surrey said that on Saturday, April 6, at about 9 p.m., he had seen two men sitting in a dark purple or brown 1963 Ford at the rear of Walker's house. Surrey also said the two men got out of the car and walked around the house. Surrey said he was suspicious and followed the car, noting that it carried no license plate. If it could be shown that Oswald had associates in the attempt on General Walker, they would be likely candidates as the grassy knoll gunman. The committee recognized, however, that this is speculation, since the existence, much less identity, of an Oswald associate in the Walker shooting was hardly established. Further, the committee failed in its effort to develop productive leads in the Walker shooting. With respect to the Cuba literature incident, Oswald was photographed with two associates distributing pro-Castro pamphlets in August 1963. As a result of a fight with anti-Castro Cubans, Oswald was arrested, but his associates were not. Of the two associates, only one was identified in the Warren Commission investigation (Warren Report. p. 292). Although the second associate was clearly portrayed in photographs (see Pizzo Exhibits 453-A and 453-B. Warren Commission Report, Vol. XXI, P 139), the Commission was unable to indentify him as was the case with the committee.

5 - Nosenko had first contacted the U.S. Government in June 1962.

6 - The Commission as well as the committee recognized that Nosenko could have been candid and that the connection between Oswald and the KGB could have been compartmentalized, that is, known only to a select few people, not including Nosenko.

7 - Beyond those reasons for falsification that can be attributed to Nosenko himself, there has been speculation that the Soviet Government, while not involved in the assassination, sent Nosenko an a mission to allay American fears. Hence, while his story about no connection between Oswald and the KGB might be false, his claim of no Soviet involvement in the assassination would be truthful.