Testimony of Priscilla McMillan

Hearing of 3/24/95 -- Boston, Massachusetts
Our next witness this morning is Priscilla Johnson McMillan, history professor at the Harvard Russian Research Center, and she is the author of Marina and Lee, which was published in 1977.

Good morning.

MS. McMILLAN: I would like, first of all, to thank this board for what it is doing for all of us.

I know that you are trying to redress the harm and the wound that was done to the American spirit in 1963 and the confusions that have arisen since so that we may -- the American people may be free to move on to the current history, which clamors for its attention.

I made a printed statement to the board earlier and mentioned certain records, and my remarks today will not duplicate that statement but are by way of amplification.

I forgot in that statement to mention some records that I tried but failed to find when I was writing Marina and Lee.

One is the draft chapter for the Warren Commission on Oswald's personality that was written by Wesley Liebeler, and in the National Archives, I was able to read Liebeler's notes, but I never did see his first draft, which I think the Commission had decided not to use.

I never saw Oswald's Marine Corps record. You probably have it, but I didn't see it.

Another item which I did mention in my earlier statement to you is the Marine inquest record into the death of Private Martin Schrand in the Philippines, which was of interest to me because it might have helped to establish Oswald's ability and propensity to kill prior to other episodes that occurred later.

In my book, I tried to point to deficiencies in my own research so that others could take it from there, but so far as I know, those lapses have not been picked up, and I just wanted to point them out to you.

I have been told by other researchers that some materials that had not been made available by the presidential library, the Kennedy Presidential Library, up here -- and I know that you were there yesterday and that you doubtless know more about those than I do, and so, I'm just going to give a written summary of oral histories, but there were some gaps in the Robert Kennedy material, including his desk diaries -- the year 1963 was missing -- telephone messages for '62 and '63 are missing but resume in '64, and logs of Robert Kennedy telephone conversations. I have a feeling you know much more about this than I do.

Then I think the bulk of my remarks have to do, again, with the Russian side, and since I wrote my statement earlier, it's been announced that President Clinton is going to Moscow on May 9th to the 11th, and I would like to emphasize that that presents a very unique opportunity for this board.

Some things in Russia haven't changed much since the time of Ivan the Terrible, and that is that the personal commitment of the leader is about the only thing that can make certain things move, and I think if, in advance of Clinton's visit, it is made known to President Yeltsin that the President would very much appreciate a cooperation with this board, it might be critical in obtaining certain records there.

He has done this before in trips abroad, as in providing the Poles with material on the Catin massacre. It costs you nothing, and in the present situation of imbalance between the two countries in the favor of the United States, it's something he can do rather easily.

Also, I think the reports that the Chechen intervention has weakened his hand are probably not correct and that he is in charge.

I revert, then, to the importance of the presidential archive, which would contain the most important documents that were collected for Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev, and the importance of that archive, both for material on Oswald and material on Yuri Nosenko.

I have been told by fellow researchers that intervention in that archive by Yeltsin's assistant, Filotov, has not been helpful. It has to go to Yeltsin himself.

Similarly, with the Central Committee's Otdel Administrativnikh Organov, files which are sealed right now, and again, nothing matters---would help except intervention by Yeltsin.

In general, the archival situation in Moscow has tightened, and documents that were available in late '92 and in 1993 are not available now.

I have been told that it's especially difficult to get help from the KGB right now. There are two places to look in Moscow, I think. One are the main KGB files in the old building on the Lubyanka. The others are located outside Moscow at the headquarters of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

I forgot in my printed statement to mention the files of the military intelligence, the GRU, and I also forgot that the present government of Byeloruss might be helpful, because the old Byelorussian Republic had a security service of its own that presumably did track Oswald.

The Minsk office of the U.S. exchange organization IREX could probably be helpful in locating archival sources in Minsk.

In my earlier statement, I mentioned a former KGB official named Yvegeny Petrovich Pitrovanov, and I repeat that.

There is a Russian in the United States who wrote a book published in Moscow in the '70s on the Kennedy assassination. He lives now in New Jersey, Tenafly, New Jersey. His book was also published in the U.S. by a Russian language publishing house, Hermitage. His name is Egar Yurfemoff, and he may be knowledgeable about sources in the former Soviet Union.

There are a number of Americans whose names and addresses and telephone numbers I will provide to you and some Russians, emigres, one emigre, who is curator of the Andrei Sakharov archive here at Brandeis University, and two Russians who are here at the Russian Research Center, who are very knowledgeable about Russian archives.

I think that the former KGB head, Bachatin, who came to office after the August '91 coup and was not there very long, would have seen everything in his brief time and should probably be approached unofficially. I'm not sure how those things are done, but it might be an embarrassment for him if it were too official.

The last matter I wanted to bring up -- are my own papers which I accumulated while writing my book, Marina and Lee, I have 13 or 14 file boxes in my basement, and I have been told by other assassination researchers that they are not very safe there, which I was quite hurt by.

They would include between 700 and 800 pages of interviews that I conducted with Marina Oswald in 1964 and '65. They are not big pages but maybe five-by-eight pages, and I would be translating mentally, and you know, I wrote some in Russian but mostly English.

Then I had Warren Commission exhibits and other materials that could cast light on the veracity of what I was being told or could reconcile, various versions.

Then there is my own earlier manuscripts, drafts, which were cut for length and, in some cases, on the insistence of the lawyers for my publisher for reasons of privacy or defamation.

I wrote to the archives, perhaps in 1976, that out of gratitude for the help of Mr. Marion Johnson, then the curator for legislative, civil, and judicial archives, I wished to will those, on my death, to the archives, and my will does leave them to the archives, but should this board want those records sooner, I could arrange to have them xeroxed to keep the xeroxes for myself or whatever arrangements would be best for this board.

And that's all I had to say today, except that I have these written notes, and I will give those to whomever, perhaps to Mr. Samoluk.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Ms. McMillan. We appreciate your willingness to share your materials with us. I think that would be very, very helpful for us. Maybe we could ask you just a few questions.

You mentioned your interviews with Marina Oswald Porter. Do you think she has information that should be added to the JFK assassination collection?

MS. McMILLAN: All I can say is that she is a very honest person when she's dealing with an official government board, and if she has anything, she'll give it.

We used to discover things unwittingly, in cookbooks and other unlikely places, and I am sure she would be cooperative, but I can't think of anything.

DR. NELSON: I wonder how static the Russian bureaucracy is, and I ask that question because we have discussed earlier the fact that, in this country, the organization of an agency 30 years ago may not be the same as an organization now.

So, is it -- would it be more valuable to us to try to reach people who are emigres and such, who have come here, who know that period, as you did, that time, or to perhaps reach the current researchers or just both?

I mean there are a great many people now trying to do research in various Russian archives, and are they knowledgeable enough about what happened 30 years ago to be useful to us?

MS. McMILLAN: Are you speaking of the researchers into those archives or the officials in charge?

DR. NELSON: Oh, I was thinking more about whether the researchers could seek the information, 30-years-old information, and be assured that the organization itself would have been that static. Perhaps it had.

MS. McMILLAN: I hope my answer will be responsive to your question. The researchers with whom I have talked seem very, very knowledgeable about what documents are where. None of them have ever worked on --

DR. NELSON: No, I understand.

MS. McMILLAN: -- Oswald, but they do seem to be very, very knowledgeable about what is where.

On the other hand, if it's hard to get everything in the U.S. Government, as my preceding witness, it will be much harder there, of course.

I think that, if you touch the right button at the top, you will get cooperation to the extent that those people know.

As for whether the officials in the Russian and Byelorussian bureaucracy now, I would think no. I would think you would have to go to some older retired people, such as Pitrovanov, to find out what might be where, and you would have to have people with some imagination, would be my guess.

DR. NELSON: Is it your perception, in speaking to the researchers, that the bureaucracy was so great in the Soviet Union that nothing was thrown away, that things are there if we could just find them?

MS. McMILLAN: I think the real danger is that there are things that are there that they are not going to cough up, that if they had something that pointed to Oswald's working for any Soviet agency, it might not be handed over under any circumstances, but it might by mistake, for one thing, and -- what was the other part of your question?

DR. NELSON: Well, my question was whether they, in fact, had such a bureaucracy that they didn't throw things away.

MS. McMILLAN: Oh, yes. They not only don't throw -- I mean they do keep many copies, and a document which ought to be in one place -- it may have been destroyed there, but it would be somewhere else.

They are just drowning in paper, and they keep multiple records, which is a fortunate thing.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Any other questions?

DR. HALL: Yes.

Are you familiar with the forthcoming work by Norman Mailer on Lee Oswald?

MS. McMILLAN: He has talked to me about it, but I have not seen that, Mr. Hall.

Dr. Hall: Could you, in the course of those conversations -- or did you, in the course of those conversations, get any sense of the records that were made available to him by the KGB or others?

MS. McMILLAN: I didn't get a sense of there being Moscow KGB documents, but I may be totally ignorant about that, but of Minsk, yes.

He said he talked -- I think what he told me was he talked to 18 ex-KGB officials, he had recordings, and that he maybe said he had reduced them down to two in the book, but there had actually been 18.

But I am trying -- I did mention in my statement that there might have been something else besides the KGB in Minsk, and that would be the Byelorussian government --

DR. HALL: Right.

MS. McMILLAN: -- at that time.

DR. HALL: I think it's safe to say we should ask that question of Mr. Mailer. Mr. Mailer came to you as someone who is expert in --

MS. McMILLAN: I didn't see him. He called me to say that he wished to pay me fair use for quotations --though I had just two conversations with him.

But it does occur to me, with you asking that, that Marina's uncle lived in a building, an apartment building that was across the street from the residence of the secretary then of the Byelorussian Communist Party, Akiral Masorloff, and I don't know whether Masorloff is living -- I suppose he's dead -- but I'm not sure that they wouldn't have kept quite a close watch on that building and the comings and goings, and there might even be photographs. That might be helpful.

I never did talk to Lee Oswald's friends in Minsk. I thought that -- I couldn't get a visa, and I thought, even if I could, that it would do them nothing but harm, but Mr. Mailer certainly did talk to them, and most of our conversation had to do with how were they, what were they like, did he think they were truthful, that type of thing.

DR. HALL: Thank you very much.

DR. JOYCE: Ms. McMillan, there have been several statements to the effect that you might have had a connection to the Central Intelligence Agency.

I was wondering if you could elucidate the nature of them and whether you might have had any conversations with the CIA concerning Oswald in connection with the Soviet Union or Cuba.

MS. McMILLAN: Thank you for asking, Mr. Joyce.

My government service was 30 days as a translator in Moscow in the winter of -- early 1956, when I was a translator for the Joint Press Reading Service -- American, British, Canadian -- I think there was a fourth country.

It was an English-language translating service, and my boss there asked for my continued employment but was refused, because I did not have a security clearance from the U.S. Government.

My conversations with CIA officials about Oswald came only following the assassination. I think it was the FBI who came to see me over the weekend of November 22nd-23rd. I'm not sure if I ever did talk to CIA people about Oswald after the assassination. I talked to State Department, Warren Commission.

I did have a conversation once in Grand Central Station with a CIA official, and until recently, I couldn't remember why I had that conversation, but I think I do remember now that it was in 1959, before I was returning to the Soviet Union after covering Khrushchev's visit to President Eisenhower in the fall of '59.

I had been under a good deal of pressure from the KGB to be an informer when I was a reporter, and I was frightened in going back, and I thought somebody -- the American ambassador was aware of my difficulties, but I was afraid that something could happen to me, and I wanted someone on the outside to know, and that was the fall of '59.

His name was Gary Coite, and I believe I was asked about that by the House Assassinations Subcommittee, but I am not sure whether I remembered at that time why I spoke with him, and then, in the autumn of '62, Mr. Donald Jamenson, who I thought was named Mr. James McDonald, came to see me in Cambridge, and I spoke to him about my observations on a visit I had just made for The Reporter magazine about the intellectual atmosphere.

I was writing about the de-Stalinization and Soviet painters and writers, and my notes had been confiscated when I left Leningrad airport, 18 notebooks, and President Kennedy had helped me with that matter. That is, Carl Kazen -- he had had Kazen speak to me.

And so, I felt that I should speak to Mr. Jamenson, and I did not -- my effort then -- I assumed that anything one intelligence service knew, the other intelligence service knew and that their files were inter-penetrated --and of course, my concern was for my Soviet friends.

So, I didn't name names except of, I think, Yveta Chenko, people who were so well-known in the west that I couldn't hurt them, but otherwise I gave him the mood-- I don't think I mentioned names of anyone I thought could be hurt.

And those were the extent of my witting contacts with the -- I, of course, knew people in the American embassy, the British embassy, the French embassy, and the Israeli embassy, but I only saw them -- contacts about things I was particularly interested in, like the British had someone who knew a lot about the parasite laws passed by Khrushchev in 1959, but the Israelis knew a lot about intellectual circles and so did the French, more than the Americans did, and the Americans I would go to for agriculture and economy.

But if I thought somebody was in the intelligence of either side, I avoided them. It was just a demimonde-- and I avoided them, but of course, I would have talked to people that I didn't know, and in that situation, the only thing that saved you and made you able to write and have any spontaneity in your life is to be a somewhat open person, and so, I tried to be like that, but of course, you don't know everything you're dealing with, and it was a rapidly-changing situation.

DR. MARWELL: Ms. McMillan, you mentioned in your written statement that you submitted to the board that you thought it would be wise for us to seek out records of the U.S. Communist Party concerning Oswald and also the records of John Abt.

Do you have any leads for us about where we might find these records?

MS. McMILLAN: I wish I did. No. But I thought that Oswald's choice of Abt for a lawyer was very telling, and I assume the Communist Party was very upset and that Abt purposely disappeared because it would be embarrassing to the party, but your guess is just as good as mine.

But I was very glad that the previous speaker spoke about Oswald's prison interrogation, because again, the various notes have been made---are remarkably congruent but tantalizingly incomplete.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Ms. McMillan, your information and thoughts on how we should seek former Soviet records are very helpful, and we really appreciate that.

Let me ask you one final question. You interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald in 1959 in the Soviet Union. Would you just take a moment to give us your sense of the man, your thoughts, impressions of him based on that interview?

MS. McMILLAN: Well, he was stunningly young. He looked like a very young boy, and I felt very sorry for him. He seemed to be at sea and not to know what he was dealing with.

He told me proudly that he had been to Get Schemer, a children's department store that was only a block from our hotel, and that he had bought an ice cream cone there, and he seemed so proud that he had done anything -- he didn't know the language very well.

I just made him tea during that time. I just felt pretty sorry for him, and I felt somewhat a sense of identification, because I had weak press credentials and was a lone individual trying to remain as a reporter, you know, with the Soviet bureaucracy, and I did speak the language, I had studied the country, and I had a Master's degree, and I think I was 31, whereas he had just turned 20, and he seemed younger, and we were both lone individuals up against the bureaucracy, and so, I felt quite a sense of sympathy for him, and I liked him.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you very much.

MS. McMILLAN: Thank you.

MR. TATRO: Mr. Chairman, can I ask another question about Abt?

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Let's proceed with the hearing first, and we'll take care of you before the end of the hearing.

Thank you very much.

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