On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Oleg Kalugin was in New York City working as the United Nations correspondent for Radio Moscow. But that job was a cover for his real profession: espionage.
From 1958 to 1990, Kalugin was an intelligence officer for the Soviet KGB. The youngest person to rise to a general's rank in KGB history, he defected to the United States in 1990. He is currently a professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.
The following is an excerpt of ABCNEWS' interview with Oleg Kalugin, who dismisses the notion of a Soviet plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy.
ABCNEWS: At the time of the assassination, the Soviet Union and the United States were enemies. Would the Soviets have had a reason to kill the president of the United States?
Kalugin: No, that is just absolutely absurd. First of all, to kill the president of the United States is tantamount to a declaration of war. And back then we did not practice the assassination of foreign leaders — I mean of Western nations. We would probably have loved to have killed Tito of Yugoslavia, but he was a maverick in the Communist movement who betrayed our ranks, and for that reason was targeted for assassination. Stalin wanted to get rid of him and he ordered the KGB to find ways to have him killed. Well, it failed.
But we in the Soviet Union had no reason to kill any Western leader, particularly the president of the United States. We never practiced assassination or even attempted to kill anyone in the West. Not one leader was targeted by Soviet intelligence.
ABCNEWS: In trying to understand the Soviet reaction to Kennedy's death, how important was the fear of war?
Kalugin: For the Russians, another war was just unthinkable. The Russians lost 27 million in World War II. And every family, including mine, had someone killed, on the front or died during the siege of Leningrad, for instance. So war as an idea was absolutely unacceptable to the nation as a whole and to the Soviet leadership. So to avoid war was truly the most important, paramount mission of the Soviet leadership.
And they tried their best, despite Khrushchev's attempt to bully the United States before the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev would never, never just go into war with the United States. First of all, he knew it would be suicidal, and Russia was not prepared actually to defeat the United States. I mean, militarily. Khrushchev boasted about it but we didn't have the capabilities at that time.
ABCNEWS: In 1959 Lee Harvey Oswald arrives in Russia, a former Marine who claims he's a Marxist, and says he wants to defect. Wouldn't the KGB want to recruit someone like him?
Kalugin: Oswald initially was viewed as a CIA agent. I mean, as a plant. Well, later, after covert investigation, we found out that it was unlikely that man would represent the CIA. He was no good for the CIA. We had better view of the CIA. That guy could not represent the CIA. Now, we thought, maybe he could be used by the KGB and indeed, we viewed him and considered him as a potential recruit.