Nikolai S. Leonov has an interesting perspective on the story of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Leonov joined the KGB in 1958 and retired in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant General. In the spring of 1963, his fluency in Spanish gained him the job as the Russian interpreter for Cuba president Fidel Castro during his first visit to the USSR in the spring of 1963, In the photo above he is the man standing between and behind Castro and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Later that year Leonov was assigned to the KGB Station in the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. In October 1963, he was immediately informed when a man named Lee Harvey Oswald called the Embassy seeking a visa to travel to Cuba.
Leonov recalled this encounter in his memoirs (Likholetye [The Troubled Years], 2005). The relevant passage was translated by Mark Hackard for his digital page Espionage History Archive. Here is an extract.
“Once on a Sunday in the autumn of 1963, several weeks before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I was playing volleyball with my colleagues at the embassy’s athletic field. Suddenly a somewhat agitated duty officer appeared and began to ask me to receive an American visitor and speak with him.
“Swearing under my breath, I ran over in my track suit, hoping that I could get off with a request for him to come on a workday. Entering the reception room for foreigners, I saw a young man with an unusually pale face. A revolver lay on the table, its cylinder loaded with bullets. I say nearby and asked him how I could be of assistance. The young man said his name was Lee Oswald, that he was an American, and that he was currently under constant surveillance and wanted to return immediately to the USSR, where he had earlier lived and worked in Minsk, and be delivered from the constant fear for his life and for the fate of his family.
It was clear that behind the table sat a man with an overstimulated nervous system that was on the verge of breakdown. There was no purpose to speaking with a person who was in such a state.
“The question of restoring citizenship was extremely complicated. One had to write a well-founded request to the USSR Supreme Council Presidium and then wait without any great hope for a long time. And if a positive decision came, then bureaucratic red tape would a lot of time. With the softest, most calming tone I could use, I informed our unusual visitor of this. He began to write a request, but his hands were trembling strongly. Suddenly he set the pen aside and firmly stated: “I’ll shoot them all today. In the hotel everyone is following me: the manager, the maid, the doorman…”
“His eyes shone feverishly, and his voice became unsteady. Images and scenes unknown to me had obviously set upon him. It was clear that behind the table sat a man with an overstimulated nervous system that was on the verge of breakdown. There was no purpose to speaking with a person who was in such a state. We had only to calm Lee Oswald down as much as possible, try to convince him not to do anything that could hinder a positive resolution to his question of restoring USSR citizenship, and accompany him out of the embassy. I let the embassy consular department know of what had occurred.
After November 22
“When some time later I learned that namely Lee Oswald was accused of assassinating US President John Kennedy, I saw on television the moment of his murder in a Dallas jail. It was a murder camouflaged as a random assassination, and it became clear to me that he was an obvious scapegoat. Never could a man with such a shaken nervous system, whose fingers couldn’t steadily hold a pen, calculatingly and in cold blood produce the fatal shots accurately from long distance.
“I say this firmly and with conviction, because in my youth, as a student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), I was involved in sport shooting and steadily passed the requirements for a marksman. I was even a member of the Moscow shooting team. Many times I had to shoot from a combat rifle in competitions, and I know that the foundation of success lies most of all in a trained and forged nervous system.
“And I recall that in his conversation with me, Oswald not once spoke negatively of the president or US government. All his fears were tied to someone from nearby, although he couldn’t definitively explain who was after him and why. It’s a pity for such people hounded through life and made the victims of a greater political game.”