Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
October 28, 1959 - January 7, 1960.
US Press and Waiting in Moscow
According to KBG Colonel Nechiporenko's book, Passport to Assassination, upon his release from the hospital, Oswald had been given his train ticket to Helsinki and advised that the next day he would be seen at OVIR (the Visa and Registration office.) The circumstances seemed similar to those on the eve of his apparent suicide attempt the previous week. But on October 29, according to Nechiporenko, Oswald was advised by the head of OVIR that he could remain in the USSR pending a final decision by the Supreme Soviet on his request for citizenship.
Oswald wrote in his diary:
Leave Hospital in Intourist car with Rimma for Hotel Berlin. Later, I change hotel to Metropole. Rimma notified me that the passport and registration office wishes to see me about my future. Later, Rimma and car pick me up and we went the office to find four officials waiting for me (all unknown to me). They ask how my arm is, I say OK; they ask, Do you want to go to your homeland? I say no, I want Soviet citizenship. They say they will see about that... They make notes. "What papers do you have to show who and what you are?" I give them my discharge papers from the Marine Corps. They say, "Wait for our answer." I ask, "How long?" "Not soon."
Later, Rimma comes to check on me. I feel insulted, and insult her.
Hotel room 214, Metropole Hotel.
I wait. I worry. I eat once, stay next to phone. Worry. I keep fully dressed.
Hotel Room - I have been in hotel three days; it seems like three years. I must have some sort of a showdown!
The next day
Oswald once again takes dramatic action. For October 31, his diary entry
I make my decision. Getting passport at 12:00, I meet and talk with Rimma for a few minutes. She says, 'Stay in your room and eat well.' I don't tell her about what I intend to do since I know she would not approve. After she leaves, I wait a few minutes and then I catch a taxi. 'American Embassy,' I say.
It is likely that Oswald planned his actions at the embassy well in advance. US Counsel Richard Snyder would later testify that Oswald appeared to be well prepared and focused during his appearance at the embassy to ostensibly renounce his citizenship. It is my opinion that Oswald chose October 31 as the day to appear there only because the Soviet authorities returned his passport that day. Oswald writes in his diary that he needed to "get" his passport. I would venture that his passport was taken for another three-day processing at OVIR to amend his residency from Hotel Berlin to the Metropole. Oswald would have probably known that he risked being turned away at the embassy by Soviet police stationed outside if he could not produce a US passport. Moreover, he must have also known that if he appeared at the embassy without a passport in hand he would find it difficult getting any service.
Oswald arrived at the US Embassy at approximately 12:30 p.m.
The US Embassy was then
and is still today located on Tchaikovsky Street, a section of the
multi-lane "Ring Road" which encircles the inner zone of Moscow. It
is a nine story building occupied by the US since 1953. It would
come to house roughly one hundred American embassy staff and almost the same
number of Soviet employees -- all without exception, KGB agents or
full-time KGB officers.
The first floor of the embassy housed the consular section, where Oswald would make his presence known. Although I am unsure of the disposition in 1959, in the 1980's, the second, third, and fourth floors, contained the living quarters of embassy staff and Marine guards and their mess hall. The floors above the sixth were off limits to Soviet employees. The seventh floor contained the offices of the CIA and the State Department's political department, the eighth contained the State Department's economic and scientific sections, while the ninth floor housed the Ambassador's office and secure communications rooms -- the so-called CPU (Communications Programs Unit.) The restricted floors were accessible only from the ninth floor after passing a Marine guard checkpoint.
Lee Harvey Oswald's actions inside the US embassy on October 31, are outside the scope of my research. I found no Russian witnesses who could enlighten me as to what transpired inside. According to the official history, Oswald presented himself to Consul Richard Snyder and declared his intention to renounce his citizenship. Snyder, according to his testimony, stalled Oswald by saying he did not have the necessary papers on hand to accept Oswald's renunciation. Snyder interviewed Oswald for approximately an hour, extracting from him his mother's address back in the USA, the motives for his defection and information on his arrival route. At some point in the interview, Snyder asked Oswald if he was willing to serve the Soviet state. Oswald's unfortunate reply was cabled back to the State Department that weekend :
"Oswald offered the information that he had been a radar operator in the Marine Corps and that he had voluntarily stated to unnamed Soviet officials that as a Soviet citizen he would make known to them such information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty as he possessed. He intimated that he might know something of special interest." [FSD-234]
What military information did Oswald have access to? According to Oswald's Marine crew commander at El Toro, Lt.. John Donovan:
"He had access to the location of all bases in the west coast areas, all radio frequencies for all squadrons, all tactical call signs, and the relative strength of all squadrons, number and type of aircraft in a squadron, who was the commanding officer, the authentication code of entering and exiting the ADIZ, which stand for Air Defense Identification Zone. He knew the range of our radar. He knew the range of our radio. And he knew the range of surrounding units' radio and radar... There are some things which he knew on which he received instructions that there is no way of changing, such as the MPS 16 height-finder radar gear... He had also been schooled on a piece of machinery call a TPX-1, which is used to transfer radio--radar and radio signals over a great distance. Radar is very susceptible to homing missiles, and this piece of equipment is used to put your radar antenna several miles away, and relay the information back to your site which you hope is relatively safe. He had been schooled on this." [WC Vol. 8 p.298]
In the end, Oswald was told by Snyder to return to the embassy on Monday if he wanted to follow through in renouncing his citizenship. The frustrated Oswald abandoned his passport with Snyder and departed. Oswald would not return to the embassy until two years later, after he began the process of returning home to the USA. Overall, Oswald's appearance at the embassy remains a strange event with multiple layers of possible explanations.
Why did Oswald bother stopping in at the embassy? Most defectors went directly to their Soviet destination without contacting the US embassy. Was Oswald staging a performance for the benefit of the Soviets in an attempt to force their hand in granting him citizenship? Was Oswald staging a performance in his role as a US intelligence operative as part of a legend that would be put to later use in the USA? Or was Oswald genuinely intending to give up his US citizenship and betray his country by revealing classified military data? One thing is sure. Once Oswald's visit to the embassy became known to the Soviets, even the most remote consideration of using him in the future as a Soviet agent in the USA would have been dropped. Exposed, Oswald was useless to the Russians in that capacity. That too might have been Oswald's motive for his dramatic visit to the embassy. Moreover, by leaving his passport at the embassy, Oswald insured that the document remained out of Soviet hands.
Whatever his motive, however, Oswald opened himself to possible charges of espionage and attracted the attention of US intelligence agencies, including the FBI, but not, remarkably the CIA, as far as we know. No CIA file dating to the period of Oswald's visit to the embassy has been located so far. It would be another year before the CIA apparently opened a so-called "201" file on Lee Harvey Oswald (which remarkably identified him as Lee Henry Oswald.)
As soon as Oswald returned to his room at the Metropole, US journalists, alerted by
the embassy, began calling at his door requesting an interview.
The KGB report stated that on November 1,2, and 3, numerous US journalists,
"including Stevens," called on Oswald but that he had refused to grant any
of them an interview. They even sent him tickets to a puppet theater,
attempting to lure him out of his room. Oswald did not take the bait. Except for UPI Moscow Bureau Chief Robert J.
Korengold, AP's Alfred Goldberg, Aline Mosby and the recently
KGB-identified Stevens, we do not know who these reporters were who made the
first attempts to interview Oswald.
[Nechiporenko p. 37]
[US Department of State, LS no.0692061-4 JS/PH, 1999.] [ Click here to see Original KGB Document (284k) ]
Who was Stevens?
The "Stevens" named in the KGB report, was probably Edmund Stevens, the Christian Science Monitor Moscow correspondent. He is mentioned by name in the report because he had a special relationship with the Soviets going back decades. Stevens was a 'semi-defector' himself, first arriving in Moscow in 1934 at the age of twenty-four to work for a Soviet publishing agency.
According to the conservative Accuracy In Media (AIM) lobby group, Stevens had been secretly a member of the Young Communist League USA since 1931 and he joined the Communist Party - USA in 1938. The American-Russian Chamber of Commerce hired him that year in Moscow, and he began writing for the Manchester Guardian and the London Daily Herald.
When Stevens returned to the U.S. in 1939, he was given the privileges of bringing his Russian wife with him and retaining ownership (as far as one could "own" in the USSR) of his house in Moscow. In the US, Stevens defended Soviet policies, including the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. During the war he served as a war correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and as an adviser in the delegation of W. Averell Harriman at a conference of Stalin and Churchill in 1942. Stevens supported Soviet claims to spheres of interest in Eastern European countries but eventually Stevens became disillusioned with Stalin. Stevens returned to Moscow only after Stalin's death in 1953. He reported for several media organizations and was the Christian Science Monitor's Moscow correspondent.
Stevens apparently enjoyed a lavish life style in the USSR. For almost 30 years he lived in what was called a luxurious log cabin in traditional Russian style; when this dwelling was demolished to make room for a housing development, the government gave him a three-story mansion in downtown Moscow. Stevens' wife was permitted to send art objects to New York for sale, a privilege denied other dealers.
According to AIM, Steven's membership in the USA Communist Party was not revealed until after his death in Moscow in 1992.
At some point during this period, Radio Moscow interviewer and suspected KGB agent Lev Setyaev visited Oswald and the so-called "defector" photograph was taken in his hotel suite by a yet-unidentified photographer. Setyaev's visits to Oswald are not mentioned anywhere in the documents the Russians released to the US in 1999.
According to Nechiporenko, another intelligence officer, posing as an Intourist official with the name Andrei Nikolayevich, interviewed Oswald on November 4th. The officer told Oswald he would get in touch with him to help him settle in the USSR. He never contacted Oswald again, and when Oswald asked Rimma a week later to find the individual, she was informed by Intourist that nobody by that name was employed there.
According to the above cited KGB report, on November 5th, Oswald told Rimma Shirakova of his visit to the US embassy. It is likely that Soviet US Embassy employees and microphones planted in the building had already made the KGB well aware of Oswald's visit to the embassy.
Oswald made the following entries for November:
More reporters, three phone calls from brother & mother. Now I feel slightly exhilarated, not so lonely.
Fifteen days of utter loneliness. I refuse all reporters, phone calls. I remain in my room; I am racked with dysentery.
I decide to give an interview. I have Miss Mosby's card so I call her. She drives right over. I give my story, allow pictures. Later story is distorted, sent without my permission, that is: before I ever saw and OKed her story. Again I feel slightly better [slighted and bitter ?] because of the attention.
A Russian official comes to my room, asks how I am. Notifies me I can remain in USSR till some solution is found with what to do with me; it is comforting news for me.
Once again, the entries in Oswald's journal are not necessarily synoptic with the real chain-of-events. It was on Friday, November 13th, that Oswald granted reporter Aline Mosby an interview but was very unhappy with the resulting article which appeared on November 15 in the US press.
Missing from Oswald's diary is his extensive interview of November 16 with Priscilla Johnson McMillan, a figure who would play a reoccurring role in shaping the written record of the JFK assassination. Johnson was a veteran traveler to Moscow who returned to the Soviet Union for her fourth time on November 15, 1959. Previously she worked as a translator in the US Embassy but now she was returning to Moscow as a reporter for NANA (North American Newspaper Alliance.) The next day, while picking up her mail from the US Embassy she was tipped off by McVicker to the Oswald's presence in the Metropole Hotel. Coincidentally, Johnson's room was one floor above Oswald's. Perhaps less coincidentally, Johnson had extensive contacts with the CIA and had even applied to the agency for employment in 1952 but withdrew her application before she would have been turned down. She was characterized as "screwball, goofy and mixed-up" in the CIA refusal to grant her security clearance at the time of her application. Nevertheless, on May 6, 1958 the CIA's Soviet Russia Division requested "operational approval" to use Johnson for a CIA operation still classified today. Johnson was also debriefed by the CIA on numerous occasions prior and after her meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald. [John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 61-67.]
Priscilla Johnson McMillan and the CIA
CIA document released to the National Archives on March 25, 1977.
Chief, [redacted] 12 April 1957
Chief, Contact Division, OO [redacted]
Priscilla Johnson [redacted to end of line]
1. In November 1956 [redacted] expressed an interest in
subject asked that we obtain a sample of her writings. We at last have
been successful in contacting subject, and enclose herewith a sample of
her writing. This particular article has been rejected by several
CIA Document Released 1993.
Contact Report Meeting with Priscilla Johnson on 11 December 1962.
1. Circumstances of Meeting: Priscilla Johnson was selected as a likely candidate to write an article on Yevtushenko in a major U.S. magazine for our campaign.....She had been an OO source and they had a clearance on her for contact and debriefing...
2. Impressions and Assessment: Miss Johnson impressed me as being able, astute and conscientious, qualities that I have noted in the articles of hers that I have read....Although concerned about making her articles accurate as to fact and free from any external influence, I think she might be worked around to writing an article in which she genuinly [sic] believed, but which would also further our purposes for Yevtushenko. She also has other information that would be well worth getting on several young Soviet writers.
4. Yevtushenko: Miss Johnson agreed with our evaluation of Yevtushenko, but only up to a point. She said that those in whom she had the greatest faith in the USSR consider Yevtushenko to be still on their side of the line and think of him as a defender of their causes in internal literary matters at any rate.....She was, therefore, reluctant to attack him all out. I did not raise the issue of her writing an article at our inspiration, but raised the general problem of whether it would not help to have him attacked here so that he could go back to the USSR and plead for greater freedom in order to continue as a [sic] effective propagandist. She got the idea and thought there might be something to it. She said she was going to write a series of articles for the REPORTER including one on him and that she thought she must write only the truth, without defining exactly what that was to me.
5. Despite her statements in the paragraph above, I think that Miss Johnson can be encouraged to write pretty much the articles we want. It will require a little more contact and discussion, but I think she could come around.... Basically, if approached with sympathy in the cause she considers most vital, I believe she would be interested in helping us in many ways. It would be important to avoid making her think that she was being used only as a propaganda tool and expected to write what she is told. I don't think she would go along with that idea at all. On the other hand, she is searching for both more information and more understanding of the problem of the Soviet intellectual and is consequently subject to influence.
Donald JAMESON [sic]
Oswald's decision to give interviews is often related to his being told by the Soviets that he he will now be allowed to remain in the USSR. In his diary, Oswald writes that he is informed of this on November 16th. If this is correct then this would not include his interview with Mosby which he gave on November 13th. Johnson who interviewed Oswald on the evening of November 16, reported that Oswald was sure that he was going to be allowed to remain in the USSR.
Priscilla Johnson's interview with Oswald gives us little further insight into the motives behind his journey to the the USSR. He maintained the same position that he held with the Soviet authorities and US Embassy officials: he was disillusioned with the capitalist system, he was a Marxist, he wanted to live in a socialist state. One observation of Johnson's, however, does offer some insight into how Oswald was spending his time in Moscow. Writing years later, Johnson says:
He looked about seventeen. Proudly, as a boy might, he told me about his only expedition into Moscow alone. He had walked four blocks to Detsky Mir, the children's department store, and bought himself an ice cream cone. I could scarcely believe my ears. Here he was, coming to live in this country, forever, and he had so far dared venture into only four blocks of it.
[Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee, p. 84]
In fact, Oswald had ventured out even less than that. Detsky Mir was only two blocks away from the hotel. This is a valuable observation because Johnson would be the last American to see Oswald in Moscow. Shortly afterwards he would "vanish." According to a memo sent at the time by US Consul McVickar, Johnson stated that Oswald told her that he'd be leaving the hotel at the end of the week. Johnson later denied that Oswald told her anything of the sort, but said that she believed on her own that Oswald had checked out of the hotel that week because he was no longer in his assigned room.
According to Rimma Shirakova's 1992 statements to Norman Mailer, Oswald was merely moved to a cheaper room on a higher floor and that he would take all his meals in his room. That is entirely possible. Rosa Agafonova, the Hotel Berlin interpreter told us that Oswald would often come and visit her at the Service Bureau in the Hotel Berlin and that he spent New Year's Eve there. They would chat and he would practice his Russian. At one point, she and several other people from Intourist took Oswald out and bought him a winter fur hat. Lev Setyaev stated that he met with Oswald several times that winter. But neither Agafonova or Setyaev knew anything about his room. Setyaev told me that on subsequent visits to Oswald, he would meet him in the lobby of the hotel.
It is suspicious that from November 1959 to early January 1960, when Oswald left for Minsk, nobody from the US press or embassy searched for him or bumped into him accidentally. Nobody at the embassy was even slightly curious as to what happened to the young American threatening to reveal vital military secrets to the Soviets. Priscilla Johnson lived in the same hotel in which Oswald stayed! The hotel is of medium size, and entry and exit to and from the hotel would be restricted to a few doors by Soviet policy of checking identification before letting anyone proceed inside. It is remarkable that in all those weeks Johnson did not bump into Oswald in the lobby, the restaurant, or in any of the few local shops. Yet that appears to be exactly what happened.
In his diary for the period, Oswald wrote:
Nov. 17 - Dec. 30. I have bought myself two self-teaching Russian language books. I force myself to study 8 hours a day. I sit in my room and read and memorize words. All meals I take in my room. Rimma arranged that. It is very cold on the streets so I rarely go outside at all for this month and a half. I see no one, speak to no one except every now and then Rimma, who calls the ministry about me. Have they forgotten? During December, I paid no money to the hotel, but Rimma told the hotel I was expecting a lot of money from USA. I have $28 left. This month I was called to the passport office and met 3 new officials who asked me the same questions I answered a month before. They appear not to know me at all.
I attempted in every way to confirm that indeed Oswald was where he says he was. If there is any missing period in Oswald's life, then this is the most extensive. Weeks go by without there being any witnesses to Oswald's activities. We have only Rimma Shirakova's statements to Mailer, placing Oswald living in the Metropole Hotel from mid-November to early January.
Late in December, Oswald was informed that he would be granted a one-year temporary residency and that he would be sent to live in Minsk where he would work in an electronics factory. Rimma Shirakova states that he was deeply disappointed; Oswald hoped he would be allowed to study in University in Moscow. He wept bitterly, she said.
On January 4, 1960, Oswald was issued a Soviet internal passport, citing his citizenship as "stateless." It was valid for one year. He was given a one-time grant of 5000 old rubles ($500) to settle his hotel bill and purchase a train ticket for Minsk. There would also be a monthly subsidy of 70 new rubles ($70) from the Soviet Red Cross.
On January 5 or 6, 1960 Oswald took the eight hour journey west from Moscow to Minsk. A local KGB surveillance team was awaiting his arrival there.
Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia