Out of Russia: Money can't buy the KGB file on Oswald

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MOSCOW - Somebody, so the story goes, is willing to pay dollars 50m (pounds 26m) for the KGB's file on Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin of President Kennedy. The offer arrived on the desk of the man who now has the file, Eduard Shirkovsky, the former KGB chief in Minsk, but he is not selling - a fact that makes some people think the file must contain documents that would throw light on the murky relationship between Oswald and the KGB.

Mr Shirkovsky says the dossier contains no such information. He is keeping the file, he claims, as a matter of national pride because it was composed by agents of the Belarus KGB, not Moscow KGB, and Belarus is now an independent state.

For some months the new and improved, independent Izvestia newspaper, formerly the stodgy old Soviet organ, has been on the trail of the file and has talked to former officials who have either seen the dossier or knew Oswald when he lived in Minsk. Mr Shirkovsky talked, but refused to arrange interviews with KGB agents.

The Oswald dossier, No 31451, consists of five thick volumes and a small folder covering the strange years of Oswald's life from October 1959 to June 1962 when he lived in the former Soviet Union, having persuaded the KGB that an ex-US marine could have become a 'Communist to the marrow', as he described himself. To prove it, he attempted to commit suicide by cutting the veins in his left hand after he was refused political asylum.

He was whisked into hospital and granted temporary residence in Minsk, where he got a job as an assembly worker in a radio factory, was assigned 20 Minsk KGB agents who were supposed to see if he were worth 'developing' as an agent, and was given the code-name 'Likhoi'.

None of the agents knew what the others were doing and sometimes even accused each other of having too close a relationship with foreigners - ie with Oswald. One of the Minsk agents, Pavel Golovachev, met Oswald at the factory and became friends with him. He was once accused by another agent of fartsovka - buying goods from foreigners and selling them for profit.

Oswald's flat in Minsk was bugged. His upstairs neighbours were asked to leave their flat to allow the bugs to be inserted. But the agents drew a blank. They also concluded that Oswald was not spy material and that he was not spying for any Western intelligence service. The KGB apparently considered him so low grade that they could not believe that he 'acted alone', as the official Warren Commission of inquiry concluded, in Kennedy's assassination.

In Minsk, Oswald married Marina Prusakova, who worked in a chemist's shop, who still tweaks the curiosity of Kennedy assassination buffs. They wonder whether she might have been a KGB plant. Why, for example, was her patronymic - middle name - sometimes Nikolayevna and other times Alexandrovna? The people Izvestia talked to say she never worked for the KGB, and the riddle of the names is easily explained. Marina's father was called Nikolai, hence Nikolayevna, later her mother married again and her stepfather's name was Alexander hence Alexandrovna.

Her marriage to Oswald is another curiosity less easily dismissed. He met her at a dance in Minsk in March 1961 and was married within two months. This was quick even for a Soviet marriage. Izvestia suggests it might have been a primitive propaganda stunt: an American asks for asylum and falls in love with a Russian girl. The stuff of socialist dreams.

When Oswald became disillusioned with Soviet society, his initial efforts to return to America were thwarted. Oswald, Marina and his newly-born daughter finally left, after telling a neighbour: 'You go on building your Communism by yourselves. You can't even smile like human beings here.'

Among Oswald's friends who went to see him off at Minsk railway station was Pavel Golovachev, a KGB agent who photographed the couple in the compartment window. When Oswald was killed on his way to prison after the assassination, Golovachev wrote Marina a letter of condolence. Later the KGB came to his flat and took away all photographs of Oswald and his wife, and Golovachev was threatened with imprisonment if he did not keep quiet about his relationship with Oswald.

Until Mr Shirkovsky, or his successors, can be persuaded to part with the dossier - for money or perhaps the higher interests of history - that is as far as the story goes.