The October cables

Lee Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy, traveled to Mexico City at the end of September, 1963. During his stay there, he visited both the Cuban and Soviet Union embassies. Prior to one of these visits, he called the Soviet Embassy, identifying himself as Lee Oswald. This call was monitored by a teltap center, jointly operated by the Mexican and United States governments, and became the subject of several cables between CIA headquarters and its Mexico City station in October 1963, a month before the assassination of President Kennedy.

These October cables concerning Oswald were the subject of a detailed investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA 1976-78). Under the 1992 JFK Act, the cables and HSCA documents were released by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent federal board established by the Act to oversee the assembly and release of all government records related to the JFK assassination.

This note describes the cables and their release. It also lists, but does not discuss, several HSCA depositions by CIA officers that focus on these cables. There has been some confusion about the release of these cables under the JFK Act, with some writing that two of the cables were released in full only in December 2021. In fact, the cables were released in full decades ago, but two attachments, which recorded the names of CIA undercover personnel, were withheld until the 2017-2018 releases.

At the same time, in 2017-2018, the HSCA testimony of the officers who sent (and received) the cables was also released in full (or with only a few minor redactions). This release means that the story of these cables is now available in full to any interested enough to dig up the documents.

The cables

The JFK ARC contains five cables which were sent by CIA HQ or the Mexico City station in October 1963 and which mention Lee Oswald. There are multiple copies of these cables in the ARC, and a fair number of complications associated with them.

These cables are all part of a record series sometimes called the “JFK FOIA documents.” They were released by the CIA in 1976-77 is response to an FOIA request made by David Belin and Bernard Fensterwald. The complete history of this series is far too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say that these docs all come from CIA files on Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy. They are usually identified by a set of double numbers: document 1-1B, 2-524, 5-1A, etc. For simplicity I will just use the first number to identify the cables.

Each of the cables also has its original numbering, used when first sent and received. These numbers consist of a cable prefix, indicating the originating station, and a sequence number, which identifies the specific cable sent by that station. The five cables discussed in this post were all sent in October 1963. The doc number, cable number, date sent, and number of copies I have found in the ARC are as listed below:

JFK Doc # Cable # Date ARC copies
Cable 5 MEXI 6453 10-08-63 61
Cable 6 DIR 74673 10-10-63 49
Cable 7 MEXI 6453 10-11-63 59
Cable 8 MEXI 6534 10-15-63 30*
Cable 10 DIR 77978 10-24-63 11

Following is a table of the different versions of these cables. Because there are multiple copies and multiple releases, these are just examples. A list of copies and releases is forthcoming.

JFK Doc # ver A ver B ver C
Cable 5 5A 5B 5C
Cable 6 6A 6B (DOS) 6C (FBI)
Cable 7 7A 7B
Cable 8 8A 8B (=1373)
Cable 10 10A

As the examples show, most of the cables had multiple versions. The examples also show that at least one copy of each version was released in full by 2018. All redacted copies not released in 2017-2018 were released in full in December 2021.

The HSCA Depositions

Several HSCA depositions featured extended discussion of cables 5, 6, and 7. These came from the following CIA staff:
John Whitten (open in full)
Alan White (one word/phrase redacted)
Charlotte Bustos (four words/phrases still redacted)
Herb Manell (open in full)
Barbara Manell (open in full)
Paul Hartman (open in full)
Elizabeth Egerter (open in full)

The links here give the most recent releases I could find of these. Most are open in full. Redactions remaining are minute.

Comments on cable versions

For those wondering why so many different versions, there are basically two versions for each cable: one is the HQ copy (mostly the A versions), one is the Mexico City station copy (call it MC; these are mostly the B version). Not every cable has both versions, however. For example, cable 10 has only an HQ copy.

Cable 6 does not have an MC version either. This is because it was not sent to MC, but to three other government agencies: the Department of State, the FBI, and the Navy (Oswald was an ex-marine). I have not yet found the Navy version of this cable.

In case you are wondering why one number is used for different versions, that is not always the case. For cable 8, the HQ copy of MEXI 6534 is numbered as JFK Doc 8. But the MC copy of MEXI 6534 is numbered JFK Doc 1373. In other words, the MC version of this cable was treated as a totally different document. Don’t know why these were numbered like this.

There is also the issue of the Routing and Record Sheet (RRS). A lot of JFK docs have these. In some cases, these are even separate documents, i.e. they have a separate RIF sheet. In other cases, the RRS is counted as part of the cable or memo or whatever. Sometimes different copies of JFK docs with the same number will be plus or minus an RRS, such as cable 7. I didn’t count copies without an RRS as different versions. This may strike some people as arbitrary.

Another problem is that sometimes one may run across a copy of one of these document which does not have a JFK Doc stamp on it. These may also have other differences, such as in the marginalia. I’m not sure why not all of the copies JFK docs were stamped. Perhaps some came from different or earlier files. I count these unstamped copies when I count how many copies of a cable there are. This might make my counts differ from other people.

There are also cases where a copy is not stamped, but there is a handwritten annotation on it that indicates it belongs to the JFK Doc series. These handwriten annotations can be exceedingly difficult to make out, and it is quite possible I have missed some of these.

In short, if you really want to keep track of all these docs, you have to watch carefully.

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