More Mexico Mysteries

Rex Bradford
May 2002

The last Mexico City story in this essay concerns the photographs taken of an unidentified person who has often been called the "Mystery Man." New releases contain some items of interest. The man's identity remains unestablished, though CIA files contain a fair amount of conjecture that he is Yuriy Moskalev, a Soviet scientist whose photograph shows a passing resemblance to the unidentified Mexico City man. [Documents theorizing that Moskalev is the mystery man include RIF #104-10413-10055 and 104-10413-10077, among others]

The Commission's Desire

But of greater interest than this unlikely identification is the cable traffic surrounding the Warren Commission's decision to publish a photograph of the Mystery Man in its Exhibit volumes (the photo was published in WH16 as Commission Exhibit 237, titled "Photograph of unidentified man.").


Another of several photos of the Mexico City "mystery man"

For reasons explained but still not entirely clear, FBI agent Bardwell Odum showed one or more of these photos to Oswald's mother Marguerite on the evening of November 23, 1963. The man in the photos has a superficial resemblance to Jack Ruby, and Marguerite subsequently asserted before the Warren Commission that she had been shown a photo of Ruby before Ruby killed her son. [WH1, p. 152-153]

The Warren Commission understandably wanted to rebut Marguerite's assertion. In order to do so, the Commission intended to publish one of the "Mystery Man" photos, proving that it wasn't Jack Ruby. On July 20, 1964, Warren Commission staffer Wesley Liebeler met with Arthur Dooley at CIA. Liebeler had already received affidavits from FBI's James Malley and Bardwell Odum regarding the photograph, but Liebeler also wanted an affidavit from the CIA regarding the date the photo was taken, and indicated that the Commission would publish the photo. [Memorandum of Arthur Dooley of 7-20-64, at RIF #104-10400-10293]

Richard Helms supplied an affidavit to Chief Counsel Rankin 3 days later, along with a request that the Warren Commission not publish the photograph, giving as reasons that "…it would jeopardize a most confidential and productive operation" and "It could be embarrassing to the individual involved who as far as this Agency is aware, had no connection with Lee Harvey Oswald or the assassination of President Kennedy." [Memo from Helms to Rankin, 7-23-64, at RIF #104-10400-10292]

The CIA's concern for this individual's privacy is touching, but the Commission did not back down. Two months later, on September 22, Arthur Dooley and Louis Pucket of CIA visited the Commission, where they met with staffers Goldberg and Liebeler, who insisted that the photo must be published, but deferred the final decision as to cropping and other matters to Chief Counsel Rankin. [Dooley memorandum of 9-25-64, at RIF #104-10400-10279]

CIA Headquarters promptly alerted the Mexico City Station the next day regarding publication of the photo. The possibility that publication would "blow" the photo-surveillance operation was on Headquarter's mind, and the cable noted: "OUSLER BEING CALLED TO WASH TO GIVE INFORMED OPINION OF POSSIBLE DAMAGE TO LILYRIC OR LIMITED" [the photo surveillance operations] [DIR 51937 of 9-23-64, at RIF #104-10400-10291]. In a follow-up memo the next day, Headquarters invited the station's comment on possible exposure of the photo surveillance operations, but added "IT IS NOT POSSIBLE HAVE PHOTOS EXCLUDED FROM REPORT." [DIR 52398 of 9-24-64, at RIF #104-10400-10290]

September 25, A Busy Day

The Mexico City Station was not happy. Replying on September 25, the Station responded that "STATION UNCLEAR AS TO PURPOSE SERVED BY PUBLICATION PHOTO OF PERSON NOT EVEN INVOLVED IN THIS CASE." After complaining that Marguerite Oswald could simply be ignored in this matter, the cable went on to add a very curious paragraph: "IF AS MEXI PREFERS TO BELIEVE OF ODENVY SHE SHOWN SPREAD OF CROPPED PHOTOS ALL OF WHICH TO APPEAR, NO OBJECTION HERE TO PUBLICATION OF REF PHOTO. IF THIS INCORRECT AND THIS SOLE PHOTO SHOWN HER AND TO BE PUBLISHED AGAINST MEXI WISHES, REQUEST EXACT ACCOUNT OF WHAT ODENVY TOLD HER." [MEXI 1011 of 9-25-64, at RIF #104-10400-10286]

This cable is strange in several regards. For one thing, the testimony of Marguerite Oswald is explicit that she was shown a single photograph by FBI Agent Bardwell Odum, "in the cup of his hand." [WH1, p.152-153] And an affidavit signed by Odum on July 10 1964 refers to his cropping and display of a single photo [Affidavit of Bardwell D. Odum, WH11 p.468]. So why does the Mexico City station "prefer to believe" that she was shown a spread of cropped photos. And if this is really true, was it a spread consisting of all of the Mystery Man photos flown up from Mexico City (several were indeed supplied), or was it a spread of other photos which included a single Mystery Man photo? If the latter, why would they all have been cropped?

Probably the strangest aspect of the cable is that the Mexico City station did not object to an entire spread of photos being published; the objection was if publication was to be of a single photo. This makes no sense if the real objection had to do with blowing the photo-surveillance operation (i.e., showing backgrounds which would reveal camera placements to the Cubans and Soviets, etc). The more photographs published, the more likely someone would identify the source. What is going on here? The cable ends with the plea: "STATION WOULD APPRECIATE EFFORT TO DELETE PHOTO FROM PUBLICATION."

Headquarters replied the same day, confirming that the FBI had indeed shown Marguerite Oswald an entire spread of photos, "BUT SUBJECT PHOTO ONLY ONE WHICH ATTRACTED ATTENTION." [DIR 52774 of 9-25-64, at RIF #104-10400-10287] And again on the same day, Mexico City Station responded, announcing its plans to evacuate the photo-surveillance stations in anticipation of publication of the offending photograph. But the detailed plans for such evacuation were preceded by the most curious statements in all of these cables, reproduced below:

[MEXI 1018 of 9-25-64, at RIF #104-10400-10288]

This cable is remarkable. The "dangers para 3" refer to the earlier Mexi cable's assertion that "CANNOT PREDICT SECURITY EFFECT OF PUBLICATION WITHOUT ANSWER PARA 2," where paragraph 2 is the strange assertion previously shown, i.e., that the Mexi station was fine with publication of an entire spread of photos, but not of the single Mystery Man shot.

What is yet more remarkable here is the Mexico City Station's request to retouch not only the background but also the face of the unidentified man. The Warren Commission had agreed to strip out every stitch of background at CIA's request—now the CIA, or at least the Mexico City Station, abruptly urged a photo alteration to avoid revealing (to whom?) the identity of the supposedly unknown Mystery Man. It strains credulity that such a request was made by people who did not know the identity of the man in the photograph. There is at least one albeit cryptic indication in the record that they did.

After arrangements were made on November 22 to send the photos to Dallas, Mexico City CIA Station Chief Win Scott wrote a letter to J. C. King, Chief of the Western Hemisphere division of CIA. The letter begins:

Dear J.C.:

Reference is made to our conversation of November 22 in which I requested permission to give the Legal Attaché copies of photographs of a certain person who is known to you. [Letter from Win Scott to J.C. King of 11-22-63, at RIF #104-10400-10302]


And who is ASCHAM, who might prevail upon the Commission to perform this retouching of the face in the photo? The requesting cable does not reveal the identity of this obviously important person. But another document in released DDP (Deputy Director for Plans) files is a seven-page writeup of a meeting between ASCHAM and an unidentified high-level Mexican official, brokered by CURTIS (CIA Station Chief Win Scott). The memo of this meeting, which took place on January 14, 1961, uses pseudonyms throughout, but there are enough clues to provide a reasonable guess as to ASCHAM's identity. ASCHAM was a high-level U.S. official. ASCHAM had a brother who was also a high-ranking U.S. official and who was "very sick" in 1958. In the memo of the meeting, ASCHAM seems closely allied with both the CIA and with U.S. business interests. ASCHAM is almost certainly Allen Dulles, whose brother John Foster was Secretary of State under Eisenhower until his death by cancer in May 1959. [Memo of meeting between ASCHAM, CURTIS, and WITHHELD, in DDP files at RIF #104-10310-10001]


Yet another of the Mexico City "mystery man" photos.

Whether Dulles was contacted or not, the Warren Commission did go on to publish the Mystery Man photograph, and CIA photo-surveillance operations were momentarily disrupted. The face in the photo was not retouched. Why did it need to be? Who was this man? Who in CIA knew who he was? Was his photo really sent to Dallas as a mistaken picture of Oswald, or was he thought to be an accomplice, or was something else entirely at work here?


Next Part: VI. Conclusion