The day after Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko met
President Kennedy on Oct. 18, 1962, he cabled a thumbs-up to
Moscow: Kennedy didn't know about Soviet missiles in Cuba. The
message - one of several recently declassified diplomatic cables
sent during the Cuban missile crisis - said the situation was
He didn't know that Kennedy had reconnaissance photos of the
missiles in his desk as Gromyko sat across from him.
Gromyko, however, kept secrets of his own that wouldn't be
revealed until scholars and players in the crisis got together in
Havana in 1992: Gen. Alexander Gribkov, who helped plan the Soviet
operation, disclosed that the Soviets had not only medium-range
nuclear missiles, but also short-range tactical nuclear weapons
for use against an American attack on Cuba.
But if the Americans thought 1962 was the brink of war, 1983 saw
the Soviets reaching for the panic button. When NATO was conducting
military exercises in Germany, "The Politburo thought the exercises
were a pretense for launching a major nuclear attack," says
Vladislav Zubok, a fellow at the National Security Archives in
Washington. The KGB went on high worldwide alert. Memoirs tell of
KGB agents anxiously counting the lights burning in the Pentagon at
night and checking NATO blood reserves to gauge the Western allies'
The United States lost dozens of aircraft and 252 crew members
on spy missions over Russia's frontiers; 138 airmen are still
Paul Cole, an independent American researcher, searched the
archives of the Soviet military and KGB intelligence agency and
found the names of "eight or nine" US airmen who died in Soviet
But he estimates that upwards of a hundred disappeared into the
gulag, along with up to 400 American POWs from World War II and 35
from the Korean War. "I don't think you'll ever find their names
written down. I did, however, find eyewitnesses who could identify
people by name," Dr. Cole says.
Nuclear Tragedy At Chelyabinsk
When Soviet scientist Zhores Medvedev, living in Britain, wrote
in 1976 that a tank containing 70 to 80 metric tons of radioactive
waste had exploded in Russia's southern Urals in 1957, Western
scientists vilified him in the press.
The explosion at Chelyabinsk-65, a secret city where nuclear
material was produced for weapons, is one of the world's worst
nuclear accidents, almost comparable in sheer damage to the 1986
Chernobyl disaster. It shot radioactive debris more than 1,000 feet
into the sky and polluted 9,000 square miles. Not only did the
Soviet government keep the accident secret from its people, but the
United States government never revealed that the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew the details as early as 1959.
Information on the human and environmental consequences of the
disaster is still out of reach, says Natalya Mironova of the
Movement for Nuclear Safety in Chelyabinsk.
JFK's Assassin Was Not KGB
Many of the conspiracy theories that swirl around the 1963
assassination of President John Kennedy focus suspicion on the KGB.
The spy agency's files on assassin Lee Harvey Oswald came to be
regarded as something of a Holy Grail within the Western research
community ever since it was learned that Oswald once defected to
the Soviet Union.
Now, after looking at the files, American researchers have found
no link. "What has been released is not conclusive," says Harvard
University researcher Mark Kramer. "It doesn't show that Oswald was
anything but what the Soviets have always told us about him - that
he was an unstable loser they were glad to get rid of."
The Soviets evidently shared America's shock after Kennedy's
murder and initially suspected Cuban leader Fidel Castro was
involved. "The first reaction was 'Wow, do you think the Cubans had
anything to do with it? …