David Ignatius: JFK, Assassination and Nosenko ... New Information

Roundup: Talking About History

Roll back the tape to January 1964: America is still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and investigators don't know what to make of the fact that the apparent assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, lived for three years in the Soviet Union. Did the Russians have any role in JFK's death?

Then a KGB defector named Yuri Nosenko surfaces in Geneva and tells his CIA handlers that he knows the Soviets had nothing to do with Oswald. How is Nosenko so sure? Because he handled Oswald's KGB file, and he knows the spy service had never considered dealing with him.

For many spy buffs, the Nosenko story has always seemed too good to be true. How convenient that he defected at the very moment the KGB's chiefs were eager to reassure the Warren Commission about Oswald's sojourn in Russia. What's more, Nosenko brought other goodies that on close examination were also suspicious -- information that seemed intended to divert the CIA's attention from the possibility that its codes had been broken and its inner sanctum penetrated.

The Nosenko case is one of the gnarly puzzles of Cold War history. It vexed the CIA's fabled counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, to the end of his days. And it has titillated a generation of novelists and screenwriters -- most recently providing the background for Robert De Niro's sinuous spy film"The Good Shepherd."

Now the CIA case officer who initially handled Nosenko, Tennent H. Bagley, has written his own account. And it is a stunner. It's impossible to read this book without developing doubts about Nosenko's bona fides. Many readers will conclude that Angleton was right all along -- that Nosenko was a phony, sent by the KGB to deceive a gullible CIA....

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