The KGB, the CIA and the Death of JFK
LIANE HANSEN, host:
A new book called "Spy Wars" sheds some light on the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States at the height of the Cold War. Its focus: the death of an American president. That drew the notice of NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
DANIEL SCHORR: There's been no news on the Kennedy assassination front for some time, but here we go again. Over the years, you could take your pick of theories: Fidel Castro avenging himself with the Kennedy plot on his life; the mafia, the CIA or both, in combination; the Pentagon; or maybe the Soviet Union, where Lee Harvey Oswald lived for three years as an American defector.
President Johnson himself feared that it might be the Russians under Nikita Khrushchev, and he figuratively bit his nails, hoping that the Warren Commission would find out otherwise as it did.
One facet of the story had to do with Yuri Nosenko, a high-ranking KGB officer who defected to the United States in Geneva, bringing word that the KGB was not involved in the assassination. As it happened - he told the FBI when interrogated - he was the one who handled the KGB file on Oswald. And after the assassination, Nikita Khrushchev ordered a crash investigation to determine whether there was any KGB connection. Nosenko said that Khrushchev was greatly relieved to learn that the KGB was not involved. In fact, said Nosenko, the KGB considered Oswald to be mentally unstable and would never have entrusted him with any mission.
Maybe so, but some in the CIA and notably counter-intelligence chief James Angleton were convinced that the Nosenko defection was a fake, intended to pull the wool over American eyes. And so Nosenko was held in a cell for five years while agency interrogators tried to break him.
In the end, the then-CIA director John McCone told me the CIA concluded that Nosenko was for real and that the Russians were not involved in the assassination. Maybe not, but who would believe the Russians, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which Kennedy forced Khrushchev to back down?
So now comes Tennent Bagley, one of the CIA people involved in Nosenko's walk-in defection at the American embassy in Geneva in 1964. Bagley is coming out with a book titled "Spy Wars," in which he argues that a high-level KGB defection, coming weeks after the Kennedy assassination, had to be no coincidence.
His theory is not that the Soviets were involved in the assassination, but that fearing they would be blamed, they staged a defection in order to persuade Americans that the Russians were not involved.
Maybe so, but with KGB files presumably available since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there should have been something to support that theory. And Yuri Nosenko, where is he? Like other defectors, given a new name by the CIA and settled somewhere. No doubt, he will enjoy the book by his one-time handler.
This is Daniel Schorr.
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