What a senior KGB officer said about Lee Harvey Oswald

Nikolai Leonov

Insider: Fidel Castro, Nikolai Leonov, and Nikita Khrushchev

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.


Nikolai Leonov KGG

Retired KGB official Nikolai Leonov

“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.”


  1. Ronnie Wayne says:

    I thought LHO supposedly spoke pretty proficient Russian. Didn’t Marina think at first he was from another part of Russia mainly because of his accent/inflection? After having to speak and read it every day while he lived there one would think he had become conversational at a minimum.

    • Brian D. Litman says:

      Valery told me that Oswald’s Russian was so bad that he asked him to just speak English. Yatskov said Oswald was painful to try to comprehend.

      Marina? At first? Maybe for a nanosecond. About the time for 1 synapse to fire.

  2. DB says:

    I’m not going to dismiss Litman comments . For all I know LHO could of met Soviet agents at some point in MC

    However the evidence is overwhelming that LHO was at a minimum impersonated on the taped MC phone calls .

    Hoover was very clear about agents listening to tapes and concluding it was not LHO and as such informed the president and in a separate memo referenced CIA misleading the FBI about LHO in MC . There is the FBI memo stating tapes reviewed by Dallas agents . 2 Warren commission staffers also heard the tapes – another verification . After the impersonation the tapes were marked urgent, LHO became of keen interest to senior CIA officers, and the SIG rightly commended a mole hunt . These actions make perfect sense ( for once lol ) and especially since LHO was previously impersonated. The fact the CIA could not provide any photo evidence that LHO visited the embassies at such dates was an impossibility and then the infamous 14 minute gap which lines up with other obstruction of justice acts by certain agents.

    I’m skeptical of a lot of LHO information but the MC impersonation has been verified on numerous levels , by numerous agents and by numerous agency actions after such tapes were heard . This is about as clear as corresponding confirmation as we can get but the HUGE ? Is the why and by whom to really fill in the blanks about the MC incident .

    Mr Litman information can be useful in trying to better understand the MC incident to determine to what benefit the various agencies were trying to use LHO and / or his imposters as my best guess is there were numerous whys and by whom in this incident depending upon those agents objectives

  3. DG Michael says:

    Sorry, but I’m not buying what this Russian guy is selling. Hoover himself told LBJ that the “man on the tapes and in the pictures [from Mexico] is not the same man we have in Dallas jail [paraphrased].” The only time we witnessed LHO “fired up” was when he was yelling at DPD about something (probably about him not getting legal representation), and being slightly frustrated when he yelled out he was nothing but a patsy.

    • Brian D. Litman says:

      This “Russian Guy” retired as the deputy head of KGB Global Foreign Intelligence (#2) and prior chief of KGB Western Hemisphere Operations. He was instrumental in fomenting relations between Cuba and the USSR.

      I recall that Hoover had been looking at mis-identified evidence in the aftermath.

  4. Skeptic says:

    Entering service in 1958, Leonov would have been yet a junior officer in 1963. Why a Spanish translator would have been needed for an Oswald interview is not explained. This sounds rather like a garbled rendition of Nechiporenko’s PASSPORT TO ASSASSINATION–with Leonov in the dominant role. For that matter, Leonov does not name any others present with Oswald, though so infers.

    Leonov’s Oswald is literally gibbering from fear of a nameless dread, though offering no criticism of JFK or “government.” My recollection is that Nechiporenko’s hysteric offered that the pistol was for protection from the FBI.

    Charitably, Leonov invites skepticism.

    • “Charitably, Leonov invites skepticism.”~Skeptic

      I get that feeling as well, that it is perhaps to take Leonov with a grain of salt here. This is certainly NOT the Oswald we see under pressure at the police station during questioning by the press.

      There is something self serving in this “X” KGB official that needs to be contemplated. One point being, was that REALLY Oswald he is describing? Was the real Oswald ever actually in Mexico City?
      He claimed the only place he ever visited was Tijuana, while on leave from basic in S.D. (language school, learning Russian)

    • JohnR says:

      You’re right, Skeptic. Why the Spanish translation? Also, Oswald never had Soviet citizenship. No need to restore anything, unless Leonov just misunderstood him.

      • Bill Banks says:

        Oswald in Mexico is endorsed by the DGI’s Fabian Escalante in THE PLOT TO KILL KENNEDY AND CASTRO by Claudia Furiati: “… Could anyone imagine that Oswald would not be identifiable to the KGB?”….” He goes on to add “four fundamental elements:” Duran, photographs, signature, and KGB interview. (138-9)

        Fritz(?) remarked on how calm Oswald remained, talkative until the conversation might turn interesting at which point he would clam up. The exception was when Hosty mentioned Mexico City, which produced immediate agitation. ??

        Russian language school for junior EM’s without intel assignment seems unlikely. Surely(?), a Russian language school in San Diego would have come to light years back? Leave from basic training would be more unlikely yet: disappearance and reappearance in training company would be readily apparent, sparking curiosity among his fellows.

      • Bill Banks says:

        The original site, of course, is in the Russian language. Native fluency in a foreign tongue is never easy. Restoration of Soviet citizenship to a defector who renounced same is past belief. My guess is that the request for re-entry into USSR as a legal resident was confused with citizenship restoration during translation to English.

    • Armaldo M. Fernandez says:

      As Spanish-fluent KGB official, Leonov had to do with Castro and Mexico, not with Oswald. He had to do with Oswald because of his cover as consular official at the Soviet diplomatic compound in Mexico City. Oleg Nechiporenko told almost the same story, but mentioned Valery Kostikov and Pavel Yatskov as the only present. Yatskov confirmed Cuban General Escalante that Oswald arrived at the Soviet Consulate on Saturday at the time there was a volley ball game going on, but did not referred the episode with the gun narrated by both Nechiporenko and Leonov, who excluded each other as eye witnesses. The latter even says it occurred on Sunday. Thus, who is telling the truth? My final take: the less likely to be an eye witness is Leonov, who in turn could have perfectly been just an ear witness.

      • Brian D. Litman says:

        The pistol episode was an internal Rezidentura event and would hardly be discussed with even a friendly Embassy. But … you seem to know more of the facts than others here.

    • Brian D. Litman says:

      1. No spanish translator was needed. The conversations were conducted principally in English and some Russian. (LHO spoke very poor Russian). Leonov speaks English well enough.

      2. Leonov met LHO independently of Kostikov and Yatskov.

      3. My impression from Kostikov and Yatskov (I knew them all well) and LHO’s limited time to be in Mexico and his initial hassle with the Cuban’s supports his anxiousness to get the Soviet visa.

      4. Yes, LHO said he was “in fear for his life”. My own estimate was that he was being over-dramatic to make his point to my KGB clientelle that he needed help.

      • Tom S. says:

        Mr. Litman has not provided enough info to persuade me he is who he claims he is.
        I’m not saying I am suspicious, only sharing what I know since I am approving his comments.


        • Brian D. Litman says:

          Tom, Hello and thank you for your approvals.

          I am not sure what you mean as to who I “claim” to be.

          Are you worried that this forum’s fascination with “imposters” should cast suspicion on commenters such as myself?

          You need evidence as to my bona fides? Just want to clarify.

          • Tom S. says:

            Hello Brian, the email address accompanying your comments is a “blind” drop address. Commenters have no
            access to other commenters’ email addresses, but I understand privacy concerns. I have no jfkfacts.org assigned
            email address and I contact commenters using my personal email address. I was not comfortable sending an email
            to the address you provided. Your comments include extraordinary claims by someone in a position to have such
            knowledge, contacts, and experience, so I would have preferred to read an non-generic email address associated with your comments. I want readers to understand I am approving your comments to appear, I have no reason to doubt
            you are Brian D. Litman, but I do not know for certain that it is you sharing this unique, interesting evidence.
            I am confident Jim Lesar and Jeff Morley are acquainted with you, and I’ve now learned the IP# associated with your comments points to a geolocation you are linked to. I did not want to delay approving your comments while attempting to become confident no disclaimer was needed.

      • DB says:

        Interesting info Mr Litman

        Mexico City will always be a great mystery in this case . IMO their was clearly some intelligence operation going on ( to what level , why and by whom will likely always be a ? ).

        All I can say right now is LHO was at a minimum impersonated in some fashion in MC but why , by whom will again probably always be a ? But I think it’s fair to say this impersonation resulted in interest by CIA officers up to DC .

        To me at least it’s rather incredible on 2 occasions Hoover stated LHO was impersonated . What are the chances of that ? Whether he knew it or not , he was being used for some type of intelligence purpose(s)

      • leslie sharp says:

        “Just Google It”


        MOSCOW — As of Wednesday, KGB agents have an agent of their own–in West Hollywood.

        One of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Soviet contacts, an undercover diplomat code-named “Yakovlev,” who says he helped steal U.S. atom bomb blueprints, and other retired intelligence operatives having trouble making do on their inflation-ravaged pensions are ready to tell their secrets to the world, courtesy of a U.S. entertainment firm. . . .

        “We are selling historical information,” said Col. Anatoly P. Privalov, vice chairman of a fraternal association of retirees from the former Soviet secret service, the Foreign Intelligence Veterans Assn., and a former intelligence operative in Turkey and Algeria. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t get any money.” . . .

        The 37-year-old Litman is just the latest entrepreneur to announce a deal for KGB stories. In recent months, as the Soviet Union unraveled, two major Hollywood entertainment companies announced that they had obtained “exclusive” rights to make TV movies based on KGB files. RHI Entertainment Inc., headed by producer Robert Halmi, and Century City-based Davis Entertainment Television, underwritten by former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis, both claimed they had obtained exclusive access to KGB files. And late last year, ABC’s “Nightline” broadcast what it described as exclusive KGB files on Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

        • Brian D. Litman says:

          Neither Halmi nor Davis got anywhere with KGB because they were fools who dealt with frauds.

          I was already living in Moscow and was already under SCD surveillance. This, because my first business dealings were with the newspaper Pravda. I persuaded Pravda to go commercial and sell adverts. Pravda was under the control of the CPSU – and CPSU *was* the locus of all power in Soviet Russia. Nobody, especially an American would get near the apex of the party’s printed word communications appartus unless KGB had X-rayed them. And I was very well-irradiated.

          To make a long story short, (I intend to share all the details to a future, small “Kindle” volume), they liked me, they trusted me, they knew I was not CIA and their pensions were being cut. I knew we could help add to their retirement incomes by bringing “the other side” of the Cold War to … light.

          So, I made the deal with the entire veterans organization (with approval from Moscow Centre) and project numero uno was LHO and MEX. I became close to Nechiporenko, Yatskov and Kostikov. We liked each other. We drank vodka. Even steely-eyed Semichastny liked me and asked me to his house.

          It always surprised me that more wasn’t made of LHO’s interface with Kostikov given Valery’s KGB brief. The imagination could run wild. Good thing it didn’t go that way.

          I entered the Soviet Union in 1990 convinced that Oswald was a pawn in a conspiracy executed at the highest echelons of CIA. Over 5 years, I had become well acquainted with some of the most formidable players at Moscow Centre. I got an entirely unique understanding of CIA capabilities. I was apprised of the archives, case officer reports and LHO’s biographic folio.

          By the summer of 1993 my conclusions about the Case metamorphosed.

          Tom, that email address is a special address I use for security. It works. You may try it and I will get everything, and your email will not be seen as spam by my email application.

  5. Paulf says:

    This goes to two important points about Oswald.

    As I have said before, whatever troubled Oswald, JFK was not his enemy and he had no reason to shoot the president. If he was actually a leftist, which is debatable, lashing out at a liberal politician makes no sense. All the posturing about his mental state is rank speculation.

    Second, the alleged shots he took would have had to have been perfect in every regard. The aim, the quality of the weapon, the execution, and that’s not even counting the crazy path of the bullet. Could Oswald have done it? Yeah, sure, like I could have won the lottery the other day when I bought three tickets. Anything is possible. But anything is not likely. The probability that someone with Oswald’s skills and experience and mental state (if he was so troubled) could have executed the shots in the prescribed manner is a million-to-one or less.

    • Brian D. Litman says:

      The shots were quite doable. This has been analyzed ad nauseum. Oswald rated as a Marine Sharpshooter in his first Marine test.

  6. “It’s a pity for such people hounded through life and made the victims of a greater political game.”~Nikolai Leonov

    A very interesting observation by Mr Leonov. An observation that can be applied to sever other pawns in this “greater political game”, that took Oswald’s life, Kennedy’s life, George de Mohrenschildt, Rose Cheramie, Officer Tippet, Jack Ruby…et al.

    As is said, “it’s not paranoia if they are really out to get you.”

    • JohnR says:

      So many different people, so many different descriptions of Oswald’s demeanor. Contrasting this encounter with descriptions of Oswald being interrogated after the assassination raises a few questions, to say the least.

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