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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Did Lee Harvey Oswald Have a 'Crypto' Clearance?

As I was perusing James Douglass' book JFK and the Unspeakable, I saw a claim that Lee Harvey Oswald had a 'crypto' clearance: (page 39)

When the authors of the Warren Report mentioned Oswald's work in the Marine Corps as a radar operator, they neglected to point out that the future defector had a "Crypto" clearance, which was higher than "Top Secret." and that his work immersed him in information about the CIA's super-secret U-2 flights.

His footnote references page 300 in Gerald McKnight's book, Breach of Trust:

McKnight's research into Oswald's security clearances determined the fact that "when he served overseas at Cubi Point, the Philippines, and Atsugi, Japan, Oswald had 'Crypto' clearance, probably one of a dozen or more special clearances at that time higher than 'Top Secret' ... the Warren Commission knew about Oswald's 'Crypto' clearance but suppressed it from being included in the report."
The Warren Commission knew about Oswald's "Crypto" clearance but suppressed it from being included in the record. Rankin never raised this issue in any of the on-the-record executive sessions. The Commission became intensely interested in Oswald's tour of duty in the Philippines when it learned that an eighteen-year-old marine in Oswald's outfit had died of gunshot wound while guarding the crypto van at Cubi Point. The dead marine was Pvt. Martin D. Schrand. Schrand and Oswald had attended the electronics school at Jacksonville, Florida, and advanced radar school at Biloxi, Mississippi, before being posted overseas in the same radar unit assigned to the ultrasecret crypto van. All six marines, including Lee Harvey Oswald, attached to the crypto van had to have "Crypto" clearance.

There are no footnotes for any of the references to a 'crypto' clearance in McKnight's book.

I see no evidence that the marines who guarded the 'crypto van' had to have 'Crypto' clearance.

In his 1967 book Oswald in New Orleans, Harold Weisberg told of receiving a phone call during a radio show appearance from a man who wished to remain anonymous but said he had served alongside Oswald in the Marine Corps. The caller went on to explain that in the unit in which he and Oswald had served, five men enjoyed a special clearance called “crypto” and Oswald was one of them. (Weisberg, p. 87) Weisberg later noted how odd it was that although Oswald had to have had a high security clearance for the work he did, none was mentioned in his Navy records. Nonetheless, when he obtained the Navy documents related to the death of Oswald’s fellow Marine, Martin Schrand, Weisberg discovered that Schrand had been guarding the “crypto van,” for which crypto clearance was a necessity. Oswald, it transpired, was one of the six individuals assigned to this van. (See Weisberg letter to Vincent Bugliosi, 7/20/99 and Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, p. 300) Needless to say, Weisberg concluded that his anonymous source had been telling the truth.

So, the ultimate source is Harold Weisberg: Here is what he writes in his book, Oswald in New Orleans: (page 87 - 88)

My writings on the assassination and its official investigation have been restricted to what comes from the official information. Here I make a minor departure because I think it is important.

At one o'clock in the early morning of December 15, 1966, in the Oakland, California, studios of Radio Station KNEW, I had just finished appearing on Harvard-educated lawyer Joe Dolan's lengthy phone-in radio program on which listeners called with comments or questions about the assassination and its investigation.

There was a man on the line who had called toward the end of the program. He wanted to speak to me but not on the air. Further, he wanted the assurance that our conversation would be private. This was, of course, mysterious. I took the call.

The caller was disturbed by the "beep" on the line. He associated that with the required signal for recording. I assured him that the engineer was not on it, that it was not being taped, and that he could talk to the engineer to learn these things. Overhearing this, the engineer explained to me and I to the caller that, with phone-in programs, the beep is automatically built into the line so there can be no possibility of listeners not knowing the conversation is being broadcast. The stranger on the other end of the line was partly satisfied. He alluded to this beep several times in the next hour and a half. We talked that long.

It was part confessional, part shame mixed with self-pity and self-derogation, part fear, and all worry. This man had been in the Marine Corps with Oswald. From his personal experience, he did not believe a single word about the Oswald of this period that became public with the Report. He had agonized in silence for three years between the issuance of the Report and our conversation because he knew things, he said, that had not been made public and were not in accord with what had been published -- and he was certain what he knew was correct.

Following his military service, he had built a successful life, had a family, and was worried about the possible consequences of being associated with any account not in consonance with the official Oswald "line." He feared he or his business might be hurt or that his family might suffer. By no means could I assure him that nothing would happen; I did encourage him to consider the importance to the country, to his family and himself, of any information he might possess.

But he would talk only in anonymity. I respect his desires and will not reveal the few unintended clues to his identify that slipped out. I have made and will make no effort to trace him.

Briefly, it is his story that Oswald was bright, not a kook of any kind, not a blatant or proselytizing Marxist, and really a quiet, serious guy. They knew each other socially and engaged in certain recreational activities together. He never heard Oswald say anything about Communism, for or against, in all this time.

More important is what he disclosed about Oswald's position in the Marine Corps. The unit in which both served, said my informant, was one of three similar ones of which one was always in Japan and the others in the United States. Their function was classified. Every man in the outfit carried security clearances. They had a security clearance of which I had never heard. These were that kind of unusual military organizations.

Of all the men in the outfit, five had special "top" security approvals. The entire complement carried a minimum of "confidential" (the grade the official file records Oswald as having had). Above this there were "secret," "top secret," and a special one, "crypto." Of all the men, only five were "crypto."

One of these was Lee Harvey Oswald!

"Can you possibly be wrong?" I asked him.

He insisted not.

"Could your memory be playing tricks?"

No, he was positive. He went farther when I questioned him about "crypto," which he indicated was "black box" stuff. I took it to mean a connection with nuclear weapons.

So, the whole idea of a "crypto" clearance came from an anonymous phone call to Harold Weisberg.

Bugliosi references Weisberg's book, Case Open: (pages 174 - 176)

A telephone call to any of the many critics familiar with it or to me would have disclosed that I had published the fact that Oswald had a Top Secret and a Crypto clearance when he was a Marine. That kind of high security clearance for a man later accused of assassinating the President and that Commission did not report it?

Weisberg admits that "there is no record that I know of which says that Oswald had a Crypto clearance."

Weisberg says the proof is in the court martial inquest into the suicide of Martin Schrand. I cannot find any evidence of this anywhere. This file is in the Weisberg archive, and I cannot see anything that sustains Weisberg's allegation.

One of the men who served with Oswald was Zack Stout. Here is the relevant section of his interview with the HSCA:

I can find no evidence to support the allegation that Lee Harvey Oswald had a 'crypto' clearance.


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