WASHINGTON — The documents from the KGB file on Lee Harvey Oswald that President Boris Yeltsin presented to President Clinton have now been translated. There are no sensations, but there are interesting sidelights on the two years that Oswald spent in Russia before he came back to the United States and eventually assassinated President Kennedy.
The KGB assigned to the defector the file number 31451 and the code name "Likhoi," which means "reckless." Recorded in the file is Oswald's application for Soviet citizenship in 1959: his slitting his wrists in a Moscow hotel when told his tourist visa was expiring and he had to leave, and the unexplained intervention of Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan to grant him a residence permit.
Recorded also is Oswald's being told he would have to live in Minsk, which he first thought was in Siberia. In Minsk, which is in Belarus, he was given a job in a radio and TV factory and kept under constant surveillance, his home bugged.
Of ironic interest is that Oswald joined the factory's hunting club, but was never able to hit anything. A fellow worker shot a rabbit for him.
Various documents reflect the KGB decision not to recruit Oswald for any intelligence assignment, because he was considered too unstable, or perhaps even a CIA agent. One KGB officer called Oswald "an empty person." Recorded also are reports from female informants of Oswald's offensive behavior with women at factory socials.
Much of the file starts after the assassination in Dallas. Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the KGB to make a crash investigation to establish whether the intelligence agency had any connection with the assassination. The answer was no. Khrushchev asked what it meant that, before Oswald's return to the United States in April 1963, a KGB officer in Minsk noted, "Before he left for the States, we tried to influence him in the right direction." The KGB assured Khrushchev this meant only that Oswald was urged to say nice things about his stay in Russia.
Apparently unsatisfied, the Kremlin followed the Warren Commission's investigation closely; the file contains dozens of news reports translated into Russian.
There is nothing in the file that contradicts the version given to the FBI in 1964 by KGB defector Yuri Nosenko. CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton believed that Nosenko was a Soviet plant, and tried to break him down over a period of several years. In the end, the CIA determined officially that Nosenko had told the truth.
The final entry in the KGB file is dated April 29, 1964, and says, "This file is of such historical importance that it should never be destroyed."
Over the years, there have been many - including, at one point, President Johnson - who believed a communist plot lay behind the assassination of President Kennedy. No credible evidence of that has emerged, nor is there any in this KGB file.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.