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K.G.B. Told Tall Tales About Dallas, Book Says

 September 12, 1999

By JAMES RISEN

WASHINGTON -- The Soviet K.G.B. fabricated evidence linking the Central Intelligence Agency to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and passed the material to unwitting conspiracy theorists in the United States, according to a new book based on K.G.B. files brought to the West by a defector.

 

According to the files turned over by a former K.G.B. archivist to British intelligence and detailed in a new book, Moscow's cold war spy service took several steps designed to link the C.I.A. to the assassination.

Howard HuntThese steps included forging a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald to a C.I.A. officer, E. Howard Hunt, asking for information "before any steps are taken by me or anyone else," according to the new book, "The Sword and the Shield," written by Christopher Andrew and the former K.G.B. officer, Vasily Mitrokhin. The book is to be published by Basic Books this month.

The Oswald letter was supposed to have been written about two weeks before President Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, but was actually created by the K.G.B. in the mid-1970's, after E. Howard Hunt's name had surfaced in the Watergate investigation, according to K.G.B. files copied by Mitrokhin while he served as a K.G.B. archivist.

The letter was then passed anonymously to three conspiracy buffs and entered circulation in the United States when it was picked up by one writer of self-published assassination books, the authors report.

The letter led to a brief flurry of interest when a Dallas newspaper reported that a handwriting expert declared it to be genuine, but a Congressional panel that reinvestigated the Kennedy assassination in the late 1970's later concluded that the letter was probably a forgery.

hunt_letter1The K.G.B.'s clumsy propaganda campaign never had much of an impact on the debate over the Kennedy assassination in the United States. But the archives spirited out of Russia by Mitrokhin appear to support the longstanding assertions by C.I.A. officials that the K.G.B. conducted disinformation campaigns designed to raise dark suspicions about the United States Government and prominent American leaders around the world.

The book also suggests that those efforts were amateurish and often silly. In August 1967, for instance, the K.G.B. authorized a plan to discredit the Rev. Martin Luther King by planting articles in the African press portraying him as an "Uncle Tom" who was secretly being paid off by the Government so that he would make sure the civil rights movement would not threaten President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The K.G.B. was apparently frustrated that a moderate like Dr. King had emerged as the most influential voice in the civil rights movement, but Moscow's comical propaganda revealed the K.G.B.'s lack of understanding of American politics and society. The K.G.B.'s propaganda campaign had even less impact than the F.B.I.'s separate, but equally fumbling, efforts to smear Dr. King.

"News that the K.G.B. was attempting to plant false stories in the African press portraying Dr. King as an 'Uncle Tom,' at the very time when Dr. King was harshly attacking Johnson's conduct of the Vietnam War indicates that American police agencies were not the only Keystone Kops active in the 1960's," said David J. Garrow, a historian at Emory University and the author of "The F.B.I. and Martin Luther King Jr."

Mitrokhin was a K.G.B. archivistin charge of managing many of the spy service's secret files until he retired in 1984. When he arrived in Britain in 1992 and sought out British intelligence, he brought with him a huge cache of notes that he said he had taken based on those files, and turned them over.

The Mitrokhin files, which the British considered reliable enough to share with the C.I.A. and F.B.I., have offered Western intelligence and law enforcement officials a treasure trove of historical information about K.G.B. operations around the world.

And while the archives quoted in the book contain only limited information about Soviet espionage cases, they have already helped identify some spies. In the United States, for instance, the book reveals that the Mitrokhin files helped lead the F.B.I. to Robert Lipka, a former code-clerk at the National Security Agency, who worked as a Soviet mole in the 1960's. Lipka was arrested in 1996 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage. Information about other open spy cases contained in the archives were withheld from the book, including the case of a former State Department official, Felix S. Bloch, who was suspended in 1989 and resigned in 1990 but was never charged or arrested.

Mitrokhin first tried to defect to the United States but received a lukewarm reception from a C.I.A. officer when he approached the agency in a Baltic country soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Officials say that the C.I.A.'s Soviet/East European Division had decided that the K.G.B. was no longer a threat and had instituted a controversial policy that led C.I.A. officers in the field to turn away many defectors. Paul Redmond, who was then the C.I.A.'s deputy chief of counterintelligence, said in an interview that he sought to take over the Mitrokhin case after other officials had failed to show interest, but by then Mitrokhin had turned to the British.

Redmond now argues that the C.I.A.'s diffident handling of Mitrokhin's efforts underscored a larger problem, which was that the C.I.A. decided "naïvely" after the collapse of the Soviet Union to scale back its espionage operations against Moscow. ABC News reported on this controversy on Thursday.

The C.I.A. apparently did miss a good bet with Mitrokhin, since his archives also seem to reveal a wide array of intriguing insights into other K.G.B. operations, including the planting of secret caches of weapons in Europe and probably in North America, apparently for use in the event of war.

They also appear to show that the K.G.B. tried to blackmail Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany in the 1960's by alleging that he had spied for Moscow during World War II.

While Brandt was living in exile in Sweden during the war, he had provided information about Germany to the Soviets as well as the British and Americans, but never committed espionage, the files show. But in 1962, the K.G.B. attempted to blackmail Brandt by threatening to use evidence of his dealings with the K.G.B.'s Stockholm residency against him, according to the Mitro khin archives. The attempt failed.

The book says that Mitrokhin's files also pointed to the existence of a previously unknown British agent who was recruited on ideological grounds by the Soviets during the 1930's, but who survived the collapse of the famous Kim Philby spy ring.

Melita Norwood, code-named Hola in the Mitrokhin files, remained in place after the others in the Cambridge spy ring were identified or forced to defect to Moscow.

The book says that, after being recruited to the Soviet cause in the 1930's, she began to spy for Moscow after she started working for the British Non-Ferrous Metals Association in 1945, providing information on Britain's project to build its first atomic bomb. She spied for the Soviets for decades, and in 1958 Moscow secretly awarded her the Order of the Red Banner.

According to the book, she also tried to recruit other British officials to spy for Moscow, and succeeded in convincing at least one unidentified British civil servant to provide the Soviets with technical information and intelligence on British arms sales in the 1960's and 1970's.

She retired without being arrested and, now 87, lives in a suburb of London, where she spoke to reporters after news of her past was revealed on Saturday in The Times of London. She said she had no regrets.

"I did not want money," the newspaper quoted her as saying. "It was not that side I was interested in. I wanted Russia to be on an equal footing with the West."

"Older people, the ones who lived through it, might understand," she added.

"I'm not so sure about the young generation. I hope they accept it."

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