Over the last four decades I have navigated the murky shoals of the JFK assassination, seeking to ascertain the truth with an open mind to all possibilities. The multitude of theories that have crossed my transom over all these years range from the ludicrous (Jackie did it) to the most plausible (Oswald did it.) On these treks, and in literally thousands of interviews, I have come to admire—with some exceptions—the men and women of our intelligence services.
So it was with a degree of shock that I recently learned that former CIA Director R. James Woolsey had co-authored a new book that posits a conspiracy theory that resides much closer to the ludicrous side of the JFK spectrum than the plausible, i.e. Khrushchev did it.
In Operation Dragon, co-authored with a former head of Romanian intelligence, the writers channel Qanon-style nonsense by contending that the Warren Commission concluded that Khrushchev hired Lee Harvey Oswald to kill Kennedy, and the proof is in the secret “code words” embedded in the report.
Seriously? Please, Mr. Woolsey, say it ain’t so.
Now, I have to confess I’m relying only on a detailed New York Post review of the book. (I’m busy on Earth.) But according to the Post reportage, the “decoded” Warren Report says the following:
US Marine Oswald was recruited by the KGB when he was stationed in Japan in 1957, whereupon he gave his KGB case officers vital technical details on the CIA’s super-secret U-2 spy plane, info that would help the Sovs shoot down a U-2 flight in May 1960. After Japan, Oswald defected to Moscow, where he became a KGB assassin chosen by Nikita to murder Kennedy. In June 1962, Oswald and his KGB-assigned wife exfiltrated to the US in order to murder Kennedy. In September 1963, two months before doing the deed, Oswald went to Mexico to meet with his Soviet case officer to finalize details.
Note: There is zero evidence for the paragraph you just read.
As Carl Sagan famously said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Without even reading the book I feel safe in predicting that Woolsey and his co-author, defector and former Romanian spy chief Gen. Ion Pacepa, not only have no extraordinary evidence, they don’t even have mediocre evidence—that is unless you reside in the “everything is fake news” world, in which case I recommend the Jackie-did-it-with-help-from-aliens theory. It’s the most entertaining. However, if you believe that the Earth is round, let me throw out some actual historical facts.
First, this is not new territory for Gen. Pacepa, who authored a 2007 book, Programmed to Kill, which also named Nikita K. as the bad guy. I did read that book, whose publication was said to have sent Sagan’s poor corpse spinning so fast that there was some belief that it caused a rash of earthquakes that year. In that book, it is clear that Pacepa so desperately wanted Khrushchev to be the bad guy that he piled innuendo upon suspicion upon unfounded allegation upon hearsay in order to convict a man who by all actual accounts respected and admired President Kennedy. To wit:
• At the height of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev read JFK’s critical settlement proposal letter aloud to his advisers, then appealed to them for over an hour to trust the American president. Thankfully, they did. Khrushchev later wrote of the crisis: “I’ll always remember the late President with deep respect…he showed himself to be sober-minded…He showed real wisdom and statesmanship…”
• After Kennedy gave his landmark “Peace Speech” at American University in June 1963, Khrushchev called it “the greatest speech by an American President since Roosevelt.”
• Khrushchev’s son Sergei, who later became an American citizen and scholar at Brown University, said in a 2003 interview that his father trusted JFK much more than Nixon or Johnson, whom he considered more of a hawk.
• Sergei, a 28-year-old when Kennedy was killed, was with his father when the news came. He said that his father was so shaken that he wanted to attend the funeral himself, but decided that he didn’t know how the Americans would take it. So he and his wife sent a letter of condolence to Jackie, then he sent his top aide Anastas Mikoyan in his place. In the receiving line, Mikoyan was one of only two men who broke down weeping, so much so that Jackie had to console him as he cradled his head in both his hands. When Khrushchev learned that Kennedy’s killer Oswald had lived in the Soviet Union for two years, Sergei watched as his father immediately picked up the phone and called the KGB to find who this man was and what they knew about him.
• Regarding Oswald, where to begin? Let’s start with the fact that Oswald’s radar assignment in Japan gave him zero information on the U-2 spy planes. His Marine Air Control Squadron-1 unit had nothing to do with them. That was also the conclusion of Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, KGB Chief Vladimir Semichastny and numerous others.
• Why would the Soviets hire an unstable man such as Oswald for the murder of the century? Oswald slashed his wrists just five days after arriving in Russia; he had a horrible work record at a radio factory. When he returned to the U.S., Oswald did everything he could to draw attention to himself by going on the radio and television in New Orleans, preaching the gospel of Fidel—just what Nikita would want.
• And why would Oswald kill Kennedy for a country he had grown to despise? He left Russia because he hated Soviet Communism once he came into the thrall of Cuban Marxism. One of the biggest arguments he had with his pregnant Russian wife Marina was when he dictated that their child would be named Fidel if it were a boy. Fidel Oswald, there’s something to chew on. Later, when Marina tried to hang herself, Oswald caught her and beat her with his fists. Jason Bourne and James Bond had nothing on this assassin.
Oswald only went to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City because he was told they had to approve his travel to Cuba. There is zero evidence that the Soviet agents he met there were his “case officers.” Like everybody else, they thought he was nuts.
Woolsey and Pacepa seem to have no idea who Lee Oswald really was, a damaged 24 year old who had reached the end of his rope, so he thought he’d go out in a flash and do a simultaneous favor for his hero, Fidel Castro. I could go on for another 5,000 words on the errors just alluded to in the Post treatment of their book.
But here’s the thing: Woolsey has to know all this, and more. He’s no fool. He was a defense policy lifer with a specialty in arms control before Bill Clinton named him to the CIA. Some online critics assert that he is a Russophobe. Others say he just wants to make a buck. Then there’s that Turkey mess. I’ll let the Internet parse that out, but something fishy is going on here. Any former CIA director knows better.
Co-published with SpyTalk, where Jeff Stein leads an all-star team of veteran investigative reporters, writers, and subject-matter experts who will take you behind the scenes of the national security state. Subscribe to get full access to the newsletter and website.