Trump taps JFK files to distract from the file Mueller is building

U.S. President John F. Kennedy is greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of children and nuns from the Convent of Mercy, as he arrives from Dublin by helicopter at Galway's sports ground, Ireland, June 29, 1963.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy is greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of children and nuns from the Convent of Mercy, as he arrives from Dublin by helicopter at Galway's sports ground, Ireland, June 29, 1963. ASSOCIATED PRESS

I met Lee Harvey Oswald’s Soviet control agent. It is a story that is buried in my notebooks, but memorable. His name is KGB Colonel Oleg Maximovich Nechiporenko and he has been outed before. Nechiporenko met and conferred with Oswald via the Soviet Union’s embassy in Mexico City only weeks before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Secret JFK assassination files are buried deep in the intelligence community’s basement, but will see the light of day when released by the 45th president, a White House occupant who believes and freely deals in global conspiracies.

Releasing these files allows President Trump yet again to distract the nation from his inability to govern effectively. Further, it gives him another shot at undermining an American intelligence community he deeply distrusts by exposing CIA and FBI dark secrets and asserting these agencies are up to no good. Presidential distraction and revenge aside, the hidden files will certainly contain information about Nechiporenko and his Soviet colleagues.

In fact, Gerald Posner, author of “Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK,” recently told CNN that within those secret files is “the biggest news that JFK researchers are looking for about Mexico City, where Oswald…went to the Soviet Mission twice.” Nechiporenko will figure prominently in that intel.

My story dates to the end of the Soviet Union, when I was the Moscow correspondent for NBC Radio and Mutual News. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had dissolved the USSR on Christmas Day 1991 and everyone who had a stake in the system was scrambling to figure out how to survive, escape, profit, or overturn the empire’s collapse. Political leaders slid into new roles, reformers arose, London real estate became desirable, shady operators privatized state property for personal gain, and KGB officers scrambled to leverage their networks and knowledge to seek a soft landing.

Enter KGB Maj. General Oleg Kalugin, fluent in English, a 20th century purveyor of U.S. fake news and disinformation, and the ultimate survivor. Moscow had just celebrated the new year and Kalugin found his way onto American television, where in an interview he let the world know choice tidbits of information and was making a subtle global pitch about his personal value, interest, and ability to share the KGB’s deepest secrets. He told stories of Soviet counterintelligence interrogating captured American soldiers in Vietnam and accidentally-on-purpose dropped Nechiporenko’s name as the officer who in 1963 met with Oswald in Mexico.

I was part of an NBC team that invited Nechiporenkoto to our Gruzinsky Pereulok 3, Moscow bureau, a sealed-off and guarded compound for foreign diplomats and news organizations. The Russian Epiphany holiday was fast approaching and Nechiporenko, a KGB counterintelligence officer, was keen to counter the explosive Vietnam charges against him. Unbeknownst to him, we also invited his accuser, Kalugin, to be in the adjacent room so he could watch and then dramatically face Nechiporenko after his interview with Bob Abernethy. It was a dramatically televised version of MAD magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy.”

Nechiporenko said his work in Vietnam was minimal, only involving one unimportant American with insignificant information, but the bombshell he dropped was that, indeed, he ran Oswald out of Mexico. As an intelligence professional, he knew the state interest and popular value in the details of his Oswald relationship, so he was only willing to tease it. In fact, he casually mused about how much money he could get for this type of information and made it clear that he was not sharing details for free.

Kalugin confronted a surprised Nechiporenko after the interview, with Kalugin asserting that there were more Americans who faced Soviet interrogations in Vietnam. Nechiporenko stuck with his line that it was only one, and said Kalugin was “delusional.” The JFK-Oswald connection, however, stayed mostly a mystery.

For years, Nechiporenko tried to profit off his knowledge and wrote the book “Passport to Assassination: The Never-Before-Told Story of Lee Harvey Oswald Told by the KGB Colonel Who Knew Him.” Long ago anticipating the eventual release of the U.S. secret documents, Nechiporenko wrote that “even if the closed CIA files regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were to be opened tomorrow, there is still one agency who had more contact with Oswald than any other…the KGB.”

Kalugin, too, profited from his KGB insider knowledge, writing books, moving to the West, and partnering with former CIA Director William Colby to develop the Activision interactive entertainment, “Spycraft: The Great Game.” The Soviet state no longer existed, but the Russian successor state saw Kalugin as a sellout and turncoat, stripping him of his rank and privilege. Russia and Putin label him a traitor.

Releasing mountains of previously unseen information is Trump’s way of avoiding questions this week about military deaths, the Mueller investigation, a failed legislative agenda, the North Korean standoff, the Iran deal, and just about anything else of substance. Re-opening the question of “who really killed JFK?” also allows Trump to question further the intelligence community’s and previous presidents’ integrity, duty and loyalty.

A growing list of senators and citizens refuse to be distracted by White House white noise, questioning Trump’s own integrity, duty and loyalty while an investigation gets closer to discovering any Russian control agents within the Trump campaign. A nation nervously awaits the release of those secret files, too.

Markos Kounalakis, Ph.D. is a senior fellow at Central European University and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Contact him at markos@stanford.edu or on Twitter @KounalakisM.