New evidence and analysis support the contention that the KGB bears a significant share of the responsibility for the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Official investigations have tended to discount the likelihood of a Soviet hand in the assassination, and relatively few outside investigators have pursued this line of inquiry. However, some observers have always considered the Soviets a likely suspect. The Soviets had a palpable, powerful motive: to gain revenge for the humiliation of the USSR in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Certainly, the idiosyncratic odyssey of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald into the Soviet Union and a Russian marriage as well as his contacts with Soviet diplomatic offices preceding the assassination afforded the KGB many opportunities to interact with him. In a sense, therefore, the KGB is the elephant in the living room of suspects in this case. Yet repeated investigations have failed to turn up specific evidence that would implicate the KGB.
Now a new report (“Did the KGB Murder President Kennedy’s Girlfriend?”) details the evidence and logic for believing that, one year after the Kennedy assassination, the KGB used a contract killer to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer, JFK’s senior female consort during his White House years. If we accept this conclusion, and there is telling circumstantial evidence of its accuracy, then we must ask what it suggests about the assassination of JFK himself.
Three aspects of the Meyer case deserve consideration. Individually, they are mere straws in the wind; but cumulatively they become more interesting.
First, the KGB must have had a compelling reason to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer. Otherwise, it is hard to see why they would have taken the risk of exposure. The most plausible motive would have been to get revenge against Meyer for misleading Khrushchev and the KGB about Kennedy (she was acting as a behind-the-scenes intermediary between Kennedy and Khrushchev, with an apparent personal agenda of promoting peace via marijuana- and LSD-induced softening of American and Soviet leaders).1
According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, at the time deputy director of foreign intelligence for Gheorghe-Dej’s Romania, in his book Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination2, Dej was visiting Moscow at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pacepa writes:
“According to Dej’s account, when Khrushchev finished reading that cable [from the KGB in Washington saying that Kennedy had ordered a naval quarantine of Cuba], his face was purple. He looked inquiringly at [KGB chief] Semichastny, and, when the terrified general nodded, Khrushchev ‘cursed like a bargeman’. Then he threw Semichastny’s cable on the floor and ground his heel into it. ‘That’s how I’m going to crush that viper,’ he cried. The ‘viper,’ Dej explained in telling the story, was Kennedy.
Goading himself on, Khrushchev grew increasingly hysterical, uttering violent threats against the ‘millionaire’s whore’ and his CIA masters.”
Dej interpreted ‘that viper’ and the ‘millionaire’s whore’ as references to Kennedy, but viper (gadyuka) is feminine in Russian and a common epithet for a malicious, treacherous woman. Moreover, Kennedy was a millionaire himself and of the wrong gender, and he did not have CIA masters. A far better interpretation is that Khrushchev was referring to Mary Meyer. In turn, this suggests that Meyer’s peace rhetoric and perhaps her talk about the purported use of drugs by American leaders had emboldened Khrushchev to undertake his breathtakingly reckless Cuban missile adventure, which ultimately led to a terrifically embarrassing withdrawal.
Second, the timing of both killings was right. Meyer was not murdered several years before or after the JFK assassination, but 11 months after—enough time for it not to seem too closely connected, but not any more time than that. So, too, Kennedy was murdered 13 months after the Cuban missile crisis, not a year sooner or later, though that seems to have been a result of the freelance action of Lee Harvey Oswald in seizing the opportunity of Kennedy’s visit to Dallas.
Third, the divorced husband of Meyer was senior CIA official Cord Meyer. When questioned by a reporter as he neared death in 2001, he said that his ex-wife was murdered by “[t]he same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy.”3 This statement has been taken to refer to the CIA, but that makes no sense. There is no good reason to think that CIA was involved in the murder of Kennedy, despite strained efforts by conspiracy theorists (and Soviet disinformation) to show otherwise. Nor is there any valid reason to think that the CIA wanted to murder Mary Pinchot Meyer, who was a long-standing friend of Agency officials. (This has not stopped some from suggesting that CIA murdered her to cover up its assassination of Kennedy.4)
But, if one assumes that CIA knew that the KGB had murdered Mary Pinchot Meyer, then Cord Meyer’s remark takes on a very different meaning. It is a statement by a former senior CIA official that he, and perhaps the Agency in general, had concluded that the KGB was behind the murder of John F. Kennedy.
The KGB’s Favorite U.S. Marine
The Soviets repeatedly denied that the KGB had had any contact with Lee Harvey Oswald, and at first they seem to have been suspicious of him. But as a Marine radar specialist in Japan and California, Oswald had access to extensive classified information regarding radars, flight patterns, and in particular the new US height-finding radar that would have been of exceptional interest to the KGB in regard to the U-2 spy flights. Oswald told US Embassy officials in Moscow that he intended to reveal sensitive information to the Soviets. Gary Powers, pilot of the U-2 flight downed in May, 1960, suggested that Oswald might have betrayed to the Soviets information that they used to shoot down the U-2.5 This seems very believable, and it would mean that Oswald had proved himself a loyal communist and one who had provided precious information to the USSR. So the KGB would have trusted him.
Given Oswald’s aggressive mentality and track record (well known to the KGB), it would have required very little for the KGB to insert into his mind the suggestion that he should assassinate Kennedy. Indeed, virulent communist hate propaganda during Oswald’s years in the Soviet Union might have instilled in his impressionable brain the need to take action, as the occasion presented itself, against those like the American president who thwarted the progress of communism.
According to Pacepa, there are reasons to think that, under cover of a civilian life in Minsk, Oswald was trained by the KGB in clandestine techniques for serving as an operative if and when he returned to the United States. As Pacepa persuasively shows, the KGB provided Oswald his wife Marina according to a standard technique to bind a foreign agent to the USSR.
Otherwise reliable defector Yurii Nosenko’s denial of KGB interest in Oswald, Pacepa points out, is wrong because Nosenko was in the domestic division of the KGB and was not aware of the interest of the foreign branch (PGU) in him. Thus Pacepa’s explanation trumps standard “Lone Gunman” accounts by capable authors who have convincingly debunked a host of conspiracy theories but have themselves mistakenly followed Nosenko.6 Pacepa also argues that, even though the Soviets originally may have had the intention of assassinating Kennedy, in 1962 the KGB ordered its agents worldwide to cease assassination activities because Khrushchev’s reputation had been badly tarnished as an orderer of assassinations in a West German criminal case. Failing to receive a go-ahead from the KGB, Oswald purchased a rifle on his own, against KGB practice, and pursued his own plan to assassinate Kennedy. The KGB was alarmed enough to move Oswald’s handler (George de Mohrenschildt) out of Dallas in Spring 1963 and into sequestration in Haiti. But the Soviets evidently made a decision not to stop Oswald or warn the Americans.
Therefore, following the incisive account of General Pacepa, the most senior Soviet Bloc intelligence officer to defect during the Cold War, the answer to the question of whether the Soviets ordered the assassination of Kennedy appears to be No. But they provided the ugly, suggestive propaganda that led Oswald to hate Kennedy; conceivably but not very probably, they may have trained him as an operative, while very likely at a minimum they provided him with rifle practice;7 they failed to order him to desist; and they deliberately neglected to warn the Americans of a possible upcoming assassination attempt. Likely using the Cuban intelligence organization as a go-between, they also arranged for Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald two days after the Kennedy assassination, Pacepa argues; and (Pacepa also suggests) they killed Ruby himself with radioactive poison at the time when he was scheduled for retrial and might become available to talk with reporters.
The contract murder of Mary Meyer would make a third KGB-arranged killing that fit into the pattern of doing away with problematical individuals connected with Kennedy and his assassination.
Thus, even though Oswald ultimately acted on his own, Khrushchev and the KGB were deeply involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and must share the blame for it.
We now have a full, very believable explanation of the JFK assassination that contains both the idiosyncrasies of a Lone Gunman and the conspiratorial maneuvering of a KGB engaged in its specialty of deniable murder. The Kennedy assassination and related murders can now be seen as an integral episode of a Cold War that America waged against a ruthless enemy. And Americans can finally feel a sense of closure about this national tragedy.
Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes on science, medicine, and history. See the biosketch at About Us. The John F. Kennedy assassination shares important traits with the anthrax mailings case of 2001. In both cases observers assigned far too much weight to objections to elephants-in-the-living-room (the KGB and al Qaeda, respectively) and not enough weight to correctly evaluated circumstantial evidence. See Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?