Lucky Stars
Moscow's good fortune hasn't run out.


Next month will mark 44 years since Lee Harvey Oswald committed the crime of the century — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Why did two official U.S. government investigations fail to focus on the very obvious indications in their own research materials that Oswald had a very close relationship with the Soviet KGB?

The answer is that both the Warren Commission (1964) and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976-79) received compelling information from a reliable and extremely sensitive FBI source, documenting that the Soviet government was not involved in the assassination, nor did it ever have an operational relationship with Oswald.

Does Moscow today realize how incredibly lucky it was that Morris Childs, the “secretary of state” of the American Communist Party, was a highly trusted FBI agent?

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Russia has always been a country built on lies, but under the Soviet regime deception was fine-tuned to an exquisite pitch. When it was learned that Lee Harvey Oswald had assassinated President Kennedy, the Kremlin pulled out all the stops to assure the world — starting with its international communist friends — that the Soviets had nothing to do with that crime of the century. Under Soviet tutelage, I learned that the trick for such operations was to let your deception target see for himself what your message was, rather than for you to give him an official lecture. That is exactly how the Kremlin acted on this occasion.

On November 22, 1963 (the day of the assassination), Boris Ponomarev, the august chairman of the International Department of the Communist Party, hastened to “consult” with Morris Childs (a senior representative of the American Communist Party), who was on his annual visit to Moscow. (All information on Morris Childs is taken from John Barron, Operation Solo: The FBI’s Man in the Kremlin) Ponomarev was discussing the news with Morris, when a couple of party underlings burst in breathlessly, their faces ashen. In Russian, which Morris had never admitted to understanding — although the Soviets must have known he had spent the first nine years of his life in Russia and three subsequent years at the party’s Lenin School in Moscow — they briefed Ponomarev on Lee Harvey Oswald, who had just been arrested for Kennedy’s murder. In a state of near panic, they blurted out that Oswald was a former U.S. Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union and re-defected to the U.S. According to the excited speakers, the KGB had, however, just sworn to the Kremlin that they had never had any operational relationship with him.

Suddenly the storytellers noticed Morris — “the American” — and asked what he should be told. Ponomarev vouched for him and said he should be told the truth. So the talented actors retold the same story in English — which they just happened to fluently speak. The Soviets earnestly pleaded with him to believe they had nothing to do with the assassination.

Eventually Ponomarev and Mikhail Suslov — the party ideologue, who had befriended Morris ever since his student days in Moscow — agreed that Morris should immediately fly back to inform the chairman of the American Communist Party that the KGB had nothing to do with Oswald, and to convey Moscow’s instructions to limit the party’s statements to expressions of regret and abhorrence of political violence.

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Morris arrived back in New York on December 2 and immediately met with his FBI case officer — for what the Soviets did not know, was that Morris had been a highly valued and extremely sensitive FBI agent since 1951.

Within two weeks, the FBI had disseminated a highly classified eyewitness report, from a source that had provided reliable information in the past, to the effect that high-ranking Soviet officials in Moscow swore they had had nothing to do with the assassination and had never had any operational relationship with Oswald. The FBI report, which did not reveal the identity of the source, was shown in great secrecy to President Lyndon Johnson, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, to a few other top members of the administration, and to the Warren Commission. (Years later, the substance of the report would also be provided to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.)

The result was that in their reports neither the Warren Commission nor the House committee ever seriously considered that the Soviet government might have had a hand in Oswald’s assassination of President Kennedy, despite evidence showing that Oswald had returned from the Soviet Union only temporarily. They also ignored documents handwritten by Oswald proving that, just before killing President Kennedy, Oswald had traveled under a false name to Mexico City where he had secretly met “Comrade Kostin,” whom he also referred to as Comrade Kostikov. The latter was identified by the CIA as an officer of the KGB’s department for assassinations abroad.

The Warren Commission held only 14 days of hearings, because its task was no longer to investigate the assassination, but rather to use the collective authority of its distinguished members to authenticate the FBI source’s information without compromising him. For its part, the House committee scarcely even considered the possibility of Soviet involvement — the CIA was the main target of its investigation, and it was quickly exonerated.

Both investigations into the possibility of Soviet involvement were therefore essentially pro forma, relying primarily on the perceived grief and consternation of the Soviet government and population, and on statements from the heads of other U.S. government departments and agencies — who had also received the FBI source’s information — that all available evidence pointed to Oswald’s having acted alone. Their conclusions were:

“The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or [Oswald’s murderer] Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.”