Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking intelligence official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. In 1989, Romania's president Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come word-for-word out of Pacepa's book, Red Horizons, republished in 27 countries. Pacepa's newest book is Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination.
FP: Lt. Gen Ion Mihai Pacepa, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Pacepa: It is a great honor for me to be here. Yours is one of the few magazines that truly understand the Kremlin.
FP: Mr. Pacepa, you had direct knowledge of the KGB’s ties to Oswald and you also have had access to newly disclosed KGB documents. Tell us a bit about your own personal expertise in terms of this subject and the recently declassified evidence you have seen. Then kindly share with us the conclusions you have arrived at.
Pacepa: Moscow, of course, admitted nothing to us, the leaders of the Soviets’ surrogate intelligence services, about any involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The Kremlin knew that any indiscretion could start World War III. But for 15 years of my other life at the top of the Soviet bloc intelligence community, I was involved in a world-wide disinformation effort aimed at diverting attention away from the KGB’s involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald, the American Marine who had defected to Moscow, returned to the U.S., and killed President Kennedy.
We launched rumors, published articles and even produced books insinuating that the culprits were in the U.S., not in the Soviet Union. Our ultimate “proof” was a note addressed to “Mr. Hunt,” dated November 8, 1963 and signed by Oswald, copies of which turned up in the U.S. in 1975. We knew the note was faked, but American graphological experts certified that it was genuine, and conspiracy theorists connected it to the CIA’s E. Howard Hunt, by then well known from the Watergate affair, and used it to “prove” that the CIA was implicated in the Kennedy assassination.
Original KGB documents in the Mitrokhin Archive, brought to light in the 1990s, finally proved that the note was forged by the KGB during the Watergate scandal. The forged note was twice checked for “authenticity” by the KGB’s Technical Operations Directorate (OTU) and approved for use. In 1975 the KGB mailed three photocopies of the note from Mexico to conspiracy buffs in the United States. (The KGB rules allowed only photocopies of counterfeited documents to be used, to avoid close examination of the original).
After the Soviet Union collapsed, I hoped the new leaders in Moscow might reveal the KGB hand in the Kennedy assassination. Instead, in 1993 they published Passport to Assassination: the Never-Before-Told Story of Lee Harvy Oswald by the KGB Colonel Who Knew Him, a book claiming that a thorough investigation into Oswald had found no Soviet involvement with him whatsoever. Hangmen do not incriminate themselves.
FP: Can you go into a bit of detail about what the Mitrokhin Archive is?
Pacepa: In the 1990s, retired KGB officer Vasily Mitrokhin, helped by the British MI6, smuggled ca 25,000 pages of highly confidential KGB documents out of Moscow. They represent a minuscule part of the KGB archive, estimated to be some 27 billion pages (the East German Stasi archive had 3 billion). Nevertheless, the FBI described the Mitrokhin Archive as “the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source.” According to this archive, the first American book on the assassination, Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy?, which blames the CIA and the FBI for the crime, was masterminded by the KGB. The book’s author, Joachim Joesten, a German-born American communist, spent five days in Dallas after the assassination, then went to Europe and disappeared from sight. A few months later Joesten’s book was published by American communist Carlo Aldo Marzani (New York), who received $80,000 from the KGB to produce pro-Soviet books, plus an annual $10,000 to advertise them aggressively. Other documents in the Mitrokhin Archive identify the first American reviewer of this book, Victor Perlo, as an undercover KGB operative.
Joesten’s book was dedicated to American Mark Lane, described in the Mitrokhin Archive as a leftist who anonymously received money from the KGB. In 1966 Lane published the bestseller Rush to Judgment, alleging that Kennedy was killed by a right-wing American group. These two books encouraged people with any remotely related background expertise to join the fray. Each viewed events from his own perspective, but all accused elements in the U.S. of that crime. New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison looked around his home district and in 1967 arrested a local man, whom he accused of conspiring with elements of U.S. intelligence to murder Kennedy in order to stop the latter's efforts to end the Cold War. The accused was acquitted in 1969, but Garrison clung to his story, first writing A Heritage of Stone (Putnam, 1970) and eventually publishing On the Trail of the Assassins (Sheriden Square, 1988), one of the books that inspired Oliver Stone's movie JFK.
The Kennedy assassination conspiracy was born—and it never died. According to another document, in April 1977 KGB chairman Yury Andropov informed the Politburo that the KGB was launching a new desinformatsiya campaign to further implicate “American special services” in the Kennedy assassination. Unfortunately, the Mitrokhin Archive is silent on the subject after that.
FP: You have discovered documents personally written by the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, suggesting that he was linked to the KGB’s department for assassination abroad, and that he had returned to the U.S. from the Soviet Union only temporarily, on a mission. Two federal investigations and over 2,500 books have looked into the assassination, but no one has raised this matter. How come?
Pacepa: Because no assassination investigators or researchers were sufficiently familiar with KGB operational codes and practices. The FBI recently told the U.S. Congress that only a native Arabic speaker could catch the fine points of an al-Qaida telephone intercept—especially one containing intelligence doubletalk. I spent 23 years of my other life speaking in such codes. Even my own identity was codified. In 1955, when I became a foreign intelligence officer, I was informed that from then on my name would be Mihai Podeanu, and Podeanu I remained until 1978, when I broke with communism. All my subordinates—and the rest of the Soviet bloc foreign intelligence officers—used codes in their written reports, when talking with their sources, and even in conversations with their own colleagues. When I left Romania for good, my espionage service was the “university,” the country’s leader was the “Architect,” Vienna was “Videle,” and so on.
In an interview published in the U.S., KGB general Boris Solomatin, a long-time deputy chief of the PGU (Soviet foreign intelligence), once stated: "I don't make out of myself a man who knows everything in intelligence—as some former officers of the First Department [i.e., the PGU] who have written their books try to do. In intelligence and counterintelligence only the man who is heading these services knows everything. I am saying this because all the questions concerning ciphers and cipher machines were under another department—in a directorate outside of mine, similar to your National Security Agency."
During my last ten years in Romania I also managed the country's equivalent of NSA, and I became familiar with the code systems used throughout the Soviet bloc intelligence community. This knowledge allowed me to realize that the innocuous-sounding letters from Oswald and his Soviet wife to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. (made available to the Warren Commission) constituted veiled messages to the KGB. In them I found proof that Oswald was sent to the U.S. on a temporary mission, and that he planned to return to the inscrutable Soviet Union after accomplishing his task.
It took me many years to sift the wheat from the chaff in going through the piles of investigative reports generated by the violent death of the young American president, but when I finished I was fascinated by the wealth of KGB fingerprints all over the story of Oswald and his killer, Jack Ruby.
FP: So give us some concrete KGB fingerprints.
Pacepa: Let’s take the handwritten note in Russian Oswald left his Soviet wife, Marina, just before he tried to kill American general Edwin Walker in a dry run before going on to assassinate President Kennedy. That very important note contains two KGB codes: friends (code for support officer) and Red Cross (code for financial help). In this note, Oswald tells Marina what to do in case he is arrested. He stresses that she should contact the (Soviet) “embassy,” that they have “friends here,” and that the “Red Cross” will help her financially. Particularly significant is Oswald’s instruction for her to “send the embassy the information about what happened to me.” At that time the code for embassy was “office,” but it seems that Oswald wanted to be sure Marina would understand that she should immediately inform the Soviet embassy. It is noteworthy that Marina did not mention this note to U.S. authorities after Oswald’s arrest. It was found at the home of Ruth Paine, an American friend with whom Marina was staying at the time of the assassination.
FP: The Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Oswald had no connection whatsoever with the KGB. But according to your book, Oswald secretly met an officer of the KGB’s assassination department in Mexico City just a few weeks before shooting President Kennedy. What’s the evidence?
Pacepa: There are many bits of evidence proving Oswald’s connection with the KGB. A tangible one is the letter he sent to the Soviet embassy in Washington a few days after meeting “Comrade Kostin” in Mexico City. Elsewhere Oswald identified the person he had met there as “Comrade Kostikov.” The CIA has identified Valery Kostikov as an officer of the PGU’s Thirteenth Department for “wet affairs” (wet being a euphemism for bloody). A handwritten draft of that letter was found among Oswald’s effects after the assassination. The previously mentioned Ruth Paine testified that Oswald re-wrote that letter several times before typing it on her typewriter. Marina stated he “retyped the envelope ten times.” It was important to him. A photocopy of the final letter Oswald sent to the Soviet embassy was recovered by the Warren Commission. Let me quote from that letter, in which I have also inserted Oswald’s earlier draft version in brackets:
“This is to inform you of recent events since my meetings with comrade Kostin [in draft: “of new events since my interviews with comrade Kostine”] in the Embassy of the Soviet Union, Mexico City, Mexico. I was unable to remain in Mexico [crossed out in draft: “because I considered useless”] indefinily because of my mexican visa restrictions which was for 15 days only. I could not take a chance on requesting a new visa [in draft: “applying for an extension”] unless I used my real name, so I returned to the United States.”
The fact that Oswald used an operational codename for Kostikov confirms to me that both his meeting with Kostikov in Mexico City and his correspondence with the Soviet Embassy in Washington were conducted in a PGU operational context. The fact that Oswald did not use his real name to obtain his Mexican visa confirms this conclusion.
Now let’s juxtapose this combined letter against the free guide book Esta Semana-This Week, September 28 – October 4, 1963, and a Spanish-English dictionary, both found among Oswald’s effects. The guide book has the Soviet embassy’s telephone number underlined, the names Kosten and Osvald noted in Cyrillic on the page listing “Diplomats in Mexico,” and check marks next to five movie theaters on the previous page. In the back of his Spanish-English dictionary Oswald wrote: “buy tickets [plural] for bull fight,” and the Plaza México bullring is encircled on his Mexico City map. Also marked on Oswald’s map is the Palace of Fine Arts, a favorite place for tourists to assemble on Sunday mornings to watch the Ballet Folklórico. (Click here to see these documents, Oswald’s handwritten notes and other similar materials.)
Contrary to what Oswald claimed, he was not observed at the Soviet embassy at any time during his stay in Mexico City, although the CIA had surveillance cameras trained on the entrance to the embassy at that time. In short, all of the above facts taken together suggest to me that Oswald resorted to an unscheduled or “iron meeting”—zheleznaya yavka in Russian—for an urgent talk with Kostikov in Mexico City. The “iron meeting” was a standard KGB procedure for emergency situations, iron meaning ironclad or invariable.
In my day I approved quite a few “iron meetings” in Mexico City (a favorite place for contacting our important agents living in the U.S.), and Oswald’s “iron meeting” looks to me like a typical one. That means: a brief encounter at a movie house to arrange a meeting for the following day at the bullfights (in Mexico City they were held at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon); a brief encounter in front of the Palace of Fine Arts to pass Kostikov one of the bullfight tickets Oswald had bought; and a long meeting for discussions at the Sunday bullfight.
Of course, I cannot be sure that everything happened exactly that way—every case officer had his own quirks. But however they may have connected, it is clear that Kostikov and Oswald did secretly meet over that weekend of September 28-29, 1963. On the following Tuesday, still in Mexico City, he telephoned the Soviet embassy from the Cuban embassy and asked the guard on duty to connect him with “Comrade Kostikov” with whom he had “talked on September 28.” That phone call was intercepted by the CIA.
FP: Every communist party was managed by a Soviet-style politburo, all Soviet bloc armies wore the same uniform, every East European police force was replaced by a Soviet-style militia. How was this Soviet pattern reflected in the bloc’s intelligence community?
Pacepa: “Everything you’ll see here is identical to what I saw in your service,” Sergio del Valle—Cuban minister of interior and overall chief of both domestic security and foreign intelligence—told me in 1972, when he introduced me to the managers of the Cuban espionage service, the DGI. Even the DGI officers’ training was based on the same manuals we in the Romanian espionage service, the DIE—Departamentul de Informatii Externe—had gotten from the PGU.
Yes, Soviet intelligence, like the Soviet government in general, had a strong penchant for patterns. By its very nature espionage is an arcane and duplicitous undertaking, but in the hands of the Soviets it developed into a whole philosophy, every aspect of which had its own set of tried and true rules and followed a prescribed pattern.
During the many years I spent researching Oswald’s ties with the KGB, I took the factual, verifiable information on his life that had been developed by the U.S. government and relevant private researchers, and I examined it in the light of PGU operational patterns—little known by outsiders because of the utter secrecy then—as now—endemic to Russia. New insights into the assassination came suddenly to life. Oswald’s experiences as a Marine serving in Japan, for instance, perfectly fit the PGU template for recruiting American servicemen outside the United States that I for many years had applied to Romanian operations. It also was obvious that the locker at a bus terminal Oswald used in 1959, after returning to the U.S. from Japan, to deposit a duffel bag stuffed with photographs of U.S. military planes was in fact an intelligence dead drop. During those years the use of such lockers was all the rage with the PGU—and the DIE.
Soviet espionage operations can be isolated out by their patterns, if you are familiar with them. Counterintelligence experts call these patterns “operational evidence,” showing the fingerprints of the perpetrator.
FP: Most of the work on the Kennedy assassination suggests that Oswald was a low-ranking Marine who had no important information to offer the KGB. He was also clearly disturbed and somewhat of a loose-cannon. If that is true, why would the KGB have recruited him?
Pacepa: That was Soviet dezinformatsyia—disseminated by my DIE as well, at KGB behest. The truth is quite different. Here is one example. As a radar operator at Atsugi Air Base in Japan, Oswald knew the flight altitude of the CIA’s super-secret U-2 spy planes flying over the Soviet Union from that base. In 1959, when I was chief of Romania’s intelligence station in West Germany, a Soviet requirement sent to me asked for “everything, including rumors,” about the flight altitude of the U-2 planes. The Soviet Defense Ministry knew that U-2 planes had flown over the Soviet Union several times, but its Air Defense Command had not been able to track them because the Soviet radars of those days did not reach ultra-high altitudes.
Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot whom the Soviets shot down on May 1, 1960, believed that the Soviets were able to get him because Oswald had provided them with the altitude of his flight. According to Powers’ statement, Oswald had access “not only to radar and radio codes but also to the new MPS-16 height-finding radar gear” and the height at which the U-2 flew, which was one of the most highly classified secrets.
It seems that Oswald, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, was one of the people in the audience attending Powers’s spectacular trial in Moscow. On February 15, 1962, Oswald wrote to his brother Robert: “I heard over the voice of America that they released Powers the U2 spy plane fellow. That’s big news where you are I suppose. He seemed to be a nice, bright american-type fellow, when I saw him in Moscow.”
It would have been normal procedure for the KGB to take Oswald to observe the Powers trial as one of the rewards given him for having enabled the Soviet Union to shoot down the U-2.
FP: Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer who defected to the U.S. in 1964, told assassination researcher Gerald Posner: “I am surprised that such a big deal is made of the fact that [Oswald] was a Marine. What was he in the Marine Corps—a major, a captain, a colonel?” How do you explain Nosenko’s statement?
Pacepa: I know for a fact that Nosenko was a bona fide defector. But he belonged to a KGB domestic department and knew nothing about PGU foreign sources—just as a middle level FBI agent would know nothing about CIA sources abroad.
Recruiting low-ranking American servicemen was one of the PGU’s highest priorities in those days. Hunting for a “serzhant” was my top priority during the three years (1957-59) I was assigned as rezident in West Germany, and it was still a top priority in 1978, when I broke with Communism. Of course the PGU would have liked to recruit American colonels, but they were difficult to approach, whereas low-ranking officers were more accessible and could provide excellent information if given the right guidance.
Sergeant Robert Lee Johnson is a good example. In the 1950s he was stationed abroad where, like Oswald, he became infatuated with communism. In 1953 Johnson surreptitiously entered a Soviet military unit in East Berlin, where he asked—as Oswald evidently did—to be granted political asylum in the “workers’ paradise.” Once there, Johnson was recruited by the PGU and persuaded to return temporarily to the U.S. to carry out a “historic task” before starting his new life in the Soviet Union—as was the case with Oswald. Eventually, Sgt. Johnson was secretly awarded the rank of Red Army major and received written congratulations from Khrushchev himself.
According to PGU Col. Vitaly Yurchenko, who defected to the CIA in 1985 and soon redefected, U.S. Chief Warrant Officer John Anthony Walker—another “serzhant”—was the greatest agent in PGU history, “surpassing in importance even the Soviet theft of the Anglo-American blueprints for the first atomic bomb.” John F. Lehman, who was the U.S. secretary of the Navy when Walker was arrested, agreed.
FP: In 1962, when Oswald returned from the Soviet Union, he brought with him a 13-page document entitled “Historic Diary.” Why was it called that?
Pacepa: “Historic” was a PGU slogan at the time. The term was introduced by General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, a former Soviet chief adviser to Romania’s Securitate who rose to head the PGU for an unprecedented fourteen years. “Historic” was his favorite expression. The Securitate had the “historic task” to weed out the bourgeoisie from the Romanian soil, as he constantly preached at us. The “historic duty” of the PGU was to dig the grave of the international bourgeoisie. Dogonyat i peregonyat was our “monumentalnaya, historic task,” he told us right after Khrushchev had launched that famous slogan of his about catching up with the West and overtaking it in the space of ten years.
Personal diaries were also Sakharovsky’s invention. All our illegal officers and agents sent to the West under a fictitious biography had to take along some kind of written memory aid, so that they could remember exactly where they had supposedly been when, and what they had done in various periods of their alleged lives. Up to the end of the 1950s, these notes had been taken abroad in the form of microdots or on soft film concealed in some everyday object, but of course they presented the potential risk of becoming incriminating evidence if ever found. In January 1959 Sakharovsky ordered all Soviet bloc foreign intelligence services to conceal those biographies in the form of diaries, drafts of books, personal letters or autobiographical notes. These notes were drafted by disinformation specialists, copied out by hand by the illegal or intelligence agent concerned, usually just before leaving for the West, and then carried across the border openly.
A microscopic examination of Oswald’s “Historic Diary” did indeed show that “it was written in one or two sessions.” It was also copied out in great haste, as suggested by the many spelling inaccuracies.
FP: Your book takes an intriguing twist in the way it tells the plot. In the end, you find that the evidence suggests that Oswald lost PGU (Soviet Foreign Intelleigence) support, and that he went alone to kill President Kennedy. This is a bit of an eye-brow raiser. Tell us what you know and explain your interpretation please.
Pacepa: In October 1962, the West German Supreme Court mounted a public trial of Bogdan Stashinsky, a Soviet intelligence defector who had been decorated by Khrushchev for having assassinated enemies of the Soviet Union living in the West. This trial revealed Khrushchev to the world as a callous political butcher. By 1963 the once flamboyant Soviet dictator was already a crippled ruler gasping for air. The slightest whiff of any Soviet involvement in the assassination of the American president could have been fatal to Khrushchev. Thus, the KGB—as did my DIE—canceled all operations aimed at assassinating enemies in the West.
The PGU unsuccessfully tried to deprogram Oswald. The available documents show that, to prove to the PGU that he was capable of securely carrying out the assigned assassination, Oswald conducted a dry run by shooting at—although narrowly missing—American general Edwin Walker. Oswald put together a package, complete with photographs, showing how he had planned this operation, and then he took this material to Mexico City to show “Comrade Kostin,” his case officer, what he could do. Even though he had pulled off the Walker assassination attempt without being identified as the perpetrator, Moscow remained adamant.
The stubborn Oswald was devastated, but in the end he went ahead on his own, utterly convinced he was fulfilling his “historic” task. He was just 24 years old, and he had done his best to obtain weapons in an inconspicuous way and to fabricate identity documents, using the tradecraft the KGB had taught him. Up until the very end he also followed the emergency instructions he had originally been given by the KGB—admit nothing and ask for a lawyer.
Since Oswald already knew too much about the original plan, however, Moscow arranged for him to be silenced forever, if he should go on to commit the unthinkable. That was another Soviet pattern. Seven chiefs of the Soviet political police itself were secretly or openly assassinated to prevent them from incriminating the Kremlin. Some were poisoned (Vyacheslav Menzhinsky in 1934), other were executed as Western spies (Genrikh Yagoda in 1938, Nikolay Yezhov in 1939, Lavrenty Beriya and Vsevolod Merkulov in 1953, and Viktor Abakumov in 1954).
Furthermore, immediately upon news of Kennedy’s assassination Moscow launched Operation “Dragon,” a disinformation effort in which my service was deeply involved. The aim—which has succeeded only too well—was to throw the blame on various elements in the United States for killing their own president.
FP: A first review of Programmed to Kill, by Publishers Weekly, states that your book is based on old intelligence anecdotes and offers no convincing Soviet motives for the assassination. What do you have to say to that?
Pacepa: On January 3, 1988, The New York Times published a similar review of my first book, Red Horizons, stating that it contained only “squalid anecdotes” about Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu. But two years later Ceausescu was executed at the end of a trial whose accusations came almost word-for-word out of Red Horizons—which is still in print.
FP: So wasn’t all of this – if it is true—a bit crazy for Khrushchev to have risked? It could have caused a world war, no?
Pacepa: Khrushchev, who was my de facto boss for nine years, was irrational. Today, people remember him as a down-to-earth peasant who corrected the evils of Stalin. The Khrushchev I knew was bloody, brash and extroverted, and he tended to destroy every project once he got his hands on it. Khrushchev’s irrationality made him the most controversial and unpredictable Soviet leader. He unmasked Stalin's crimes, but he made political assassination a main instrument of his own foreign policy. He authored a policy of peaceful coexistence with the West, but he ended up by pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war. He concluded the first agreement for the control of nuclear arms, but he tried to secure Fidel Castro's position at the helm of Cuba with the help of nuclear arms. He repaired Moscow's relations with Yugoslavia's Tito, but he broke those with Beijing and thereby destroyed the unity of the Communist world. On September 11, 1971 Khrushchev died in ignominy, as a non-person, although not before seeing his memoirs published in the West giving his own version of history.
FP: Lt. Gen Ion Mihai Pacepa, thank you kindly for joining Frontpage Interview. Aside from the new revelations and important facts and questions you have brought to the forefront about the Kennedy assassination, your book serves as yet another reminder of the evil nature of the KGB and the truly dark and sinister entity that we faced in the Soviet regime.
Thank you for your fight for the truth and for historical memory.
It was an honor to speak with you again.
Pacepa: I greatly appreciate your courage in being willing to debate this controversial subject.
 Cristopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (New York, Perseus Books Group, 1999), p. 229.
 Oleg Nechiporenko, Passport to Assassination: the Never-Before-Told Story of Lee Harvy Oswald by the KGB Colonel who knew him (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993).
 Washington Post Magazine, April 23, 1995.
 Warren Commission Exhibit 2486.
 Testimony of Ruth Hyde Paine, Warren Commission Vol. 3, pp. 12-13.
 Warren Commission Exhibit 1400.
 Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 496.
 Edward Jay Epstein, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald (New York: Reader’s Digest Press), p. 16.
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 Epstein, Legend, p. 89.
 Francis Gary Powers, with Curt Gentry, Operation Overflight: The U-2 spy pilot tells his story for the first time (New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1970), p. 357.
 Warren Commission Exhibit 315.
 Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 49.
 Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story Of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), p. 462.
 John Barron, Breaking the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), pp. 148, 212.
 Epstein, Legend, pp. 109, 298n.