I had no idea the maze within a maze I was about to
enter with this interview. Some three months earlier,
I had a drink at the University Club with two Reader's
Digest editors, Fulton Oursler, Jr. and Edward Thompson.
I had met Thompson when he offered to republish my New
Yorker article on the Black Panthers and the Press (unfortunately,
the New Yorker refused to then allow any of its writers
to be excerpted in the Digest.) Both men impressed me
with their political savvy, seriousness and charm. They
proposed that I write a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald
which the Digest would amply finance. I initially rejected
the idea, explaining that the Warren Commission's documents
had already been picked through by numerous writers
and had not produced any new evidence.
Thompson replied, measuring his
words carefully, that the Digest did indeed have new
evidence. They could furnish me access to Yuri Nosenko,
the KGB officer who had supervised Oswald's case in
Moscow before himself defecting to the United States.
Up until point, Nosenko had been
held under tight wraps by the CIA. The Warren Commission
had not been permitted to see him even though he was
in a position to fill in the blanks in Oswald's relationship
with Soviet intelligence during the two and a half years
he had spent in the Soviet Union. Now, 12 years later,
the Digest was offering me the chance to examine this
intriguing missing piece in the jigaw puzzle of prior.
It was an offer I could not refuse.
Nosenko had been introduced to the
Digest by Jamie Jamieson, a "former" CIA officer, who,
still a "consultant" to the CIA, arranged media interviews
with Soviet defectors. He also ghost-wrote articles
for defectors and, was in the process of ghost-writing
Nosenko's book. Instead, for reasons I never learned,
Oursler and Thompson had decided to get an outsider
writer for a book about Oswald in which Nosenko would
be a source.
I arrived at the Digest offices
on Rhode Island Avenue at 11 AM with Oursler. Jamieson,
though on crutches, spryly greeted us. He told me that
Nosenko was "as good as gold." The CIA had found him
completely reliable. Since his defection in 1964, he
had provided "a hundred or so" invaluable leads to Soviet
agents. As far as the JFK assassination went, Jamieson
said the CIA had established Nosenko had "full access"
to the KGB's Oswald file.
Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko then arrived.
He six feet tall, but his posture seemed to reflect
the wear and tear of a secret life. He had a massive
jaw and sorrowful eyes set deep in their socket. His
English, though adequate, was still marked with a pronounced
I began by asking Nosenko about
his prior life in Russia. Oursler, the only other person
in the conference room, took notes.
Nosenko's answers were minimal. He
rarely volunteered or expanded on them. He said he had
been October 30, 1927 in the town of Nikolayev. His
father, Ivan Nosenko, was part of the Communist elite,
an alternate member of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party who served as the Soviet Minister of
Shipping. He died in 1956, when Nosenko was 29. At his
funeral, important leaders of the Soviet Union, including
Nikita Khrushchev, Georgi Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin
and Kliment Voroshilov, formed the guard of honor. Yuri
Nosenko himself was already a rising star in the KGB.
He detailed his career with great
precision. In 1953, he had transferred to from Naval
Intelligence to the KGB's Second Chief Directorate,
which was responsible for counterintelligence against
potential enemy agents inside Russia. He became Deputy
Chief of the American-British section of its Tourism
Department in 1962, which monitored the activities of
American visitors in Russia. At that time, Oswald was
residing in Russia.
Nosenko explained that he therefore
assumed supervisory responsibility for any efforts the
KGB undertook to surveil, recruit or otherwise exploit
Oswald. Then, after Kennedy had been assassinated, he
was charged with conducting a complete after-the-fact
investigation of all contacts between Oswald and Soviet
intelligence officials. He said that he had a warplane
put at his disposal so he could get all of Oswald's
files to Moscow and send his own investigators to the
city of Minsk where Oswald worked. As he described it,
he was the post-assassination "inspector general" of
the case. After completing his investigation, he decided
to defect to America, which he did by contacting a CIA
officer in Geneva.
At this point, I asked him directrly
whether the KGB had recruited Oswald.
"No," he replied. Neither the KGB,
or any other Soviet service, had attempted to recruit
or exploit Oswald. He explained it was concluded shortly
after he came to Russia that he was too unstable to
be of any use to the KGB. So, although the local police
in Minsk watched him, he was never drawn into any relationship
with the Russians. On the contrary, Russian intelligence
was relieved when he decided to return to the US with
his Russian wife. He could also say from his unique
access to the file that no effort was made to recruit
him after he left.
I continued questioning him for
six hours. I found some of his answers, which he seemed
to be giving by rote, at odds with documentary evidence,
but he spoke with great authority, insisting he, and
he alone, was in a position to know if there had been
a liaison between Oswald and the Russians. He said,
"As much as I despise the KGB, and would like to implicate
them, the fact is that they were blameless in this matter."
As the interview wore on into the late afternoon, he
said he was hungry, and suggested we break for dinner.
Ousler had made a 6pm reservation
at Jean-Pierre, a posh French restuarant on K Street,
so we adjourned for dinner. Nosenko consumed a great
deal of wine at dinner. Finishing off the bottle, he
seemed to smolder and then said, out of the blue, he
wished he could confront "that man!"
"That man," the focus of
his sudden hatred was the CIA's former counterintelligence
chief, James Jesus Angleton. But why the anger? With
more wine, it became clear that there would be no continuation
of our interview after dinner. At about 9pm, he left
the restaurant, a car was waiting him. A man waved to
him from the back seat and they sped off.