In 1992, KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the UK with notes and copies of 30,000 classified files collected over the years of his lenghty service. As related to longtime espionage journalist Christopher Andrews, Mitrokhin's job had given him access to a great deal of information relating to Soviet propaganda and the John F. Kennedy assassination.
From Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, pp. 225-230:
It would have been wholly out of character had the Centre failed to interpret President Kennedy's assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963 as anything less than conspiracy. The deputy chairman of the KGB reported to the Central Committee in December:
A reliable source of the Polish friends [Polish intelligence], an American entrepreneur and owner of a number of firms closely connected to the petroleum circles of the South, reported in late November that the real instigators of this criminal deed were three leading oil magnates from the South of the USA -- Richardson, Murchison and Hunt, all owners of major petroleum reserves in the southern states who have long been connected to pro-fascist and racist organizations in the South.
It was not difficult to find circumstantial "evidence" for this simplistic conspiracy theory, particularly as regards the oil magnate and anti-Communist buffoon H. L. Hunt. "The Communists need not invade the United States," Hunt once preposterously declared. "Pro-Bolshevik sentiment in the US is already greater than when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government and took over Russia."
Hunt's son, Bunker, was one of a group of right-wing mavericks who had paid for a full-page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News on the day of Kennedy's visit, accusing the President of being a Communist stooge-a charge which prompted Kennedy to say he was "heading into nut country." The Dallas strip-club owner Jack Ruby, who shot and fatally wounded Oswald on November 24, had visited the Hunt offices shortly before Kennedy's assassination.
The KGB reported that a journalist from the Baltimore Sun "said in a private conversation in early December that on assignment from a group of Texas financiers and industrialists headed by millionaire Hunt, Jack Ruby, who is now under arrest, proposed a large sum of money to Oswald for the murder of Kennedy." Oswald had subsequently been shot by Ruby to prevent him revealing the plot." Khrushchev seems to have been convinced by the KGB view that the aim of the right-wing conspirators behind Kennedy's assassination was to intensify the Cold War and "strengthen the reactionary and aggressive elements of American foreign policy."
The choice of Oswald as Kennedy's assassin, the KGB believed, was intended to divert public attention from the racist oil magnates and make the assassination appear to be a Communist plot." The Centre had strong reasons of its own to wish to deflect responsibility for the assassination from Oswald. It was deeply embarrassed by the fact that in 1959 Oswald had defected to Russia, professing disgust with the American way of life and admiration for the Soviet system. Initially the KGB had suspected that he might have been sent on a secret mission by the CIA, but eventually concluded that he was an unstable nuisance and were glad to see the back of him when he returned to Texas with his Russian wife in 1962. After Oswald's return the FBI at first similarly suspected that he might be a Soviet agent but then seems to have made the same jaundiced assessment of him as the Centre." KGB suspicions of Oswald revived, however, when he wrote to the CPUSA in August 1963 whether it might be better for him to continue the fight against "anti-progressive forces" as a member of the "underground" rather than as an open support Communist ideals." Jack Childs (code-named MARAT), an undeclared member of the CPUSA who acted as one of its main points of contact with the KBG warned Moscow that Oswald's letter "was viewed as an FBI provocation." The fact that, unknown to the KGB, Childs was himself an FBI agent renders his warning unusually ironic."
The Warren Commission, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate Kennedy's assassination, reported in September 1964 that it had found "very persuasive" evidence that Oswald had acted alone and none of a conspiracy. Though the report was flawed, its main conclusions are probably accurate. Service A, which may well have been genuinely persuaded that Kennedy was the victim of a right-wing conspiracy, succeeded in sponsoring its first counterblast even before the Warren Report appeared. The publisher was Carl Aldo Marzani (codenamed NORD), an Italian-born American Communist and Soviet agent, probably recruited before the Second World War, who was extensively used by the KGB for active measures." Early in 1960 the New York residency recommended to the Centre that Marzani be given 6-7,000 dollars to enable his Liberty Book Club to continue publishing pro-Soviet material:
NORD is an extremely energetic person and is quite devoted to his task. Despite his financial difficulties, he is struggling to keep SEVER [Liberty Book Club's publishing company] afloat. SEVER, together with its commercial bookselling network, the Prometheus Book Club, has been in existence for fourteen years. During this time it has published and distributed more than 200 titles of a progressive nature, by both American and foreign authors. The catalogue of the SEVER publishing firm lists around fifty tides, and the Prometheus Book Club has 7,000 members. Books are also sent to 8,000 addresses on an individual basis.
The international department of the Central Committee was plainly impressed. In May 1960 it approved a secret grant of 15,000 dollars, more than twice the sum suggested by the New York residency.
Marzani's productions during 1960 included his own translation of a rapturous endorsement of the Soviet system by an Italian Communist:
It is the duty of every Socialist, of every democrat, of every modern man, to deepen his understanding of the USSR . . . We are today capable of continuing to transform the world, thanks to the successes of the USSR, thanks to the successes in a series of other countries, thanks to the struggles which we all wage in our own lands. We can, and we will, extend the civilization that was born in October 1917.
In September 1961 the CPSU Central Committee allocated another 55,000 dollars for the next two years to allow Marzani to expand his publications. He was given a further 10,000 dollars a year to cover advertising costs." When the young KGB officer Oleg Kalugin, stationed in New York in the early 1960s under cover as a Radio Moscow reporter, paid his first visit to one of Marzani's receptions, he found his apartment "filled with an assortment of Communists, liberals, and KGB undoubtedly, by FBI informers in attendance."
Among the books published by Marzani in 1964 was the first volume on the ear in the United States, Oswald: Assassin or Fall-Guy? by the German writer Joachim Joesten. At the beginning of the book Joesten expresses his "heartfelt thanks to Carl Marzani, a shrewd and hard-hitting publisher in the finest American tradition, who put his whole heart and soul in this book;" Marzani succeeded in publishing it within five weeks of receiving the manuscript." Joesten supported Moscow's line in pinning the blame for the assassination on a conspiracy by right-wing racists, chief among them "oil magnate H. L. Hunt":
They all feared that Mr. Kennedy, with his test-ban treaty, his neutralization of Laos, his dislike of Latin-American militarists, and his quiet feelers towards Castro, intended to put an end to the Cold War, cut back the arms budget and bring under control the Warfare State-that "Military-industrial complex" which President Eisenhower had excoriated, and warned the nation about, in his farewell address.
According to Joesten, Oswald was "an FBI agent provocateur with a CIA background" who had been judged expendable, used as a fall guy and murdered to prevent him giving evidence. Oswald: Assassin or Fall-Guy? thus established two themes which were to recur in Soviet and Russian active measures for the next thirty years: a plot by Hunt and other right-wing fanatics; and the involvement of the CIA. At the time, however, Joesten's book was overshadowed by the publication of the Warren report and further undermined by the publicity given to Joesten's Communist background."
The KGB correctly identified the New York lawyer Mark Lane as the most talented of the first wave of conspiracy theorists researching the JFK assassination. According to one report made on him, probably by the New York residency: Mark Lane is well known as a person with close ties to Democratic Party circles in the US. He holds liberal views on a number of current American political problems and has undertaken to conduct his own private investigation of the circumstances surrounding the murder of J. Kennedy."
Joesten praised Lane as "brilliant and courageous" and dedicated his own book to him: "Neither the 'Police state tactics' of the FBI -- to use [Lane's] own words -- nor the conspiracy of silence of the press magnates, could sway him from doggedly pursuing the truth." Together with student assistants and other volunteers, Lane founded the Citizens' Committee of Inquiry in a small office on lower Fifth Avenue and rented a small theater at which, each evening for several months, he gave what became known as "The Speech," updating the development of his conspiracy theory. "This alternative method of dissent was required," writes Lane, "because not a single network radio or television program permitted the broadcast of a word of divergence from the official view." Though it dared not take the risk of contacting Lane directly, the New York residency sent him 1,500 dollars to help finance his research through the intermediary of a close friend whom Lane's KGB file identifies only as a trusted contact. While Lane was not told the source of the money, the residency suspected that he might have guessed where it came from; it was also concerned that the secret subsidy might be discovered by the FBI.
The same intermediary provided 500 dollars to pay for a trip by Lane to Europe in 1964. While there, Lane asked to visit Moscow in order to discuss some of the material he had found. The Centre regretfully concluded that inviting him to Russia would reveal its hand in too blatant a way and his proposed trip was "tactfully postponed." Trusted contacts were, however, selected from among Soviet journalists to encourage him in his research. Among them was the KGB agent Genrikh Borovik, who later maintained regular contact with Lane. Lane's Rush to Judgment, published in 1966, alleged complicity at the highest levels of government in the Kennedy assassination. It was top of that year's hardback bestseller best and went on to become the best-selling paperback of 1967, as well as enjoying what Lane modestly describes as enormous success around the world" and causing "a dramatic change in public perception" of the assassination.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lane's success was less enormous. The most popular books on the assassination were now those that exposed some of the excesses of the conspiracy theorists." CPUSA leaders who visited Moscow in 1971, though describing Rush to Judgment as "advantageous to the Communists," claimed that Lane's main motive was his own self-aggrandizement. In the mid-1970s, however, the dramatic revelations of real conspiracy in the Nixon White House and of CIA assassination plots against several foreign statesmen gave the conspiracy theorists a new lease on life." The KGB, predictably, was anxious to lose no opportunity to promote active measures which supported the increasingly popular theory that the CIA was behind Kennedy's assassination. Its chief target was the former CIA officer turned Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt (sometimes confused with the Texan oil millionaire H. L. Hunt), who had been wrongly accused of being in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
The centerpiece of the active measure against Howard Hunt, codenamed ARLINGTON, was a forged letter to him from Oswald, allegedly written a fortnight before the assassination. The letter used phrases and expressions taken from actual letters written by Oswald during his two years in the Soviet Union, was fabricated in a clever imitation of his handwriting.
Dear Mr. Hunt,
I would like information concerning my position. I am only asking for information. I am suggesting that we discuss the matter fully before any steps are taken by me or anyone else.
Lee Harvey Oswald
The implication, clearly, was that Oswald wanted to meet Hunt before going ahead with the assassination.
Before being used, the forgery was twice checked for "authenticity' by the Third Department of the KGB's OTU (operational technical) Directorate. In 1975 photocopies of it were sent to three of the most active conspiracy buffs, together with covering letters from an anonymous well-wisher who claimed that he had given the original to the Director of the FBI, Clarence Kelly, who appeared to be suppressing it. The Centre was doubtless disappointed that for almost two years its forgery received no publicity. In 1977, however, the letter was published by Penn Jones, the retired owner of a small Texas newspaper and self-published author of four books about the assassination. The New York Times reported that three handwriting experts had authenticated the letter. Oswald's widow also identified her husband's handwriting." Experts summoned by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 concluded more prudently that they were unable to reach a "firm conclusion" because of the absence of the original document.
The Centre was somewhat put out, however, by the fact that initial press reaction to its forgery centered chiefly on the likelihood of the letter being addressed to the late Texan oil millionaire H. L. Hunt (the central character in its own original conspiracy theory), rather than the KGB current intended target, the Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt. Service A believed there had been a CIA plot to disrupt its own plot. The KGB reported that an "orchestrated" American press campaign was seeking to divert public attention from Oswald's connections with the American intelligence community by concentrating on H. L. Hunt instead. In April 1977, soon after the publication of the forged letter, the KGB informed the Central Committee that it was launching additional active measures to expose the supposed role of the "American special services" in the Kennedy assassination. By 1980 Howard Hunt was complaining that, "It's become an article of faith that I had some role in the Kennedy assassination."
By the late 1970s the KGB could fairly claim that far more Americans believed some version of its own conspiracy theory of the Kennedy assassination, involving a right-wing plot and the US intelligence community, than still accepted the main findings of the Warren Commission. Soviet active measures, however, had done less to influence American opinion than the Centre believed. By their initial cover-ups the CIA and the FBI had unwittingly probably done more than the KGB to encourage the sometimes obsessional conspiracy theorists who swarmed around the complex and confusing evidence on the assassination. Allen Dulles, the recently retired DCI on the Warren Commission, had deliberately not informed the commission that the CIA had plotted the assassination of Castro. On the very day of Kennedy's assassination, the Agency had supplied an agent with a murder weapon for use against Castro. J. Edgar Hoover too had held back important information. He discovered, to his horror, that Oswald had not been included on the FBI's security index of potentially disloyal citizens, despite having written a threatening letter to the Bureau after his return from Russia and subsequently making an appointment to see a KGB officer in Mexico City. After reading a report on "investigative deficiencies in the Oswald case," Hoover concluded that, if it became public, the report would destroy the FBI's reputation."
The information withheld by Dulles and Hoover would have been most unlikely to undermine the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald had been a lone assassin. But, when it became public in the mid-1970s, it inevitably encouraged the belief that there had been other cover-ups which pointed to the involvement of the intelligence community. The Watergate scandal, and the revelations of intelligence abuses which followed, created a perfect breeding ground for the spread of conspiracy theories." Though most of the major abuses had been ordered or authorized by successive presidents, the belief grew that, in the words of Senator Frank Church, chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the CIA had been "behaving like a rogue elephant on the rampage."
A skeptical expert analysis of the handwriting in the "Dear Mr. Hunt" letter
Back to JFK Reports and Documents
Back to JFK menu
Dave Reitzes home page