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Yeltsin Gives Clinton Oswald Files

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - Documents given by Boris Yeltsin to President Clinton on Sunday could shed light on whether Lee Harvey Oswald schemed to kill President Kennedy while he was an American defector living in the Soviet Union, assassination researchers said.

Yeltsin's surprise gift to Clinton - declassified papers containing information gathered by Russian intelligence agencies about Oswald - are a ``monumental breakthrough,'' said historian Kermit Hall, a former member of the Assassination Records Review Board. That federal panel, which went out of business last September, was created to gather all known records regarding the assassination.

Hall said the Russian records - which the board was unable to obtain when it sent Hall and two other board members to Russia in 1996 - could show what Oswald was thinking and doing in the years leading up to the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas.

``It's really critical,'' said Hall, an Ohio State University historian. ``This could tell us if he was scheming to do anything.''

Oswald, a former Marine, defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and renounced his American citizenship. That attracted the attention of the KGB, which bugged his apartment in the Belarus capital city of Minsk, paid neighbors to inform on him and kept Oswald and his Russian wife Marina under constant surveillance.

The KGB amassed a six-volume file on Oswald's activities in Minsk, Hall said.

Disenchanted with his life in Russia and his menial factory job, Oswald returned to the United States in 1962, settling in Dallas with his wife and baby. Some assassination researchers concluded that Oswald did not decide to kill Kennedy until he moved to Dallas.

The Warren Commission, which conducted the official U.S. government investigation of Kennedy's slaying, concluded that Oswald was the sole gunman.

Two days after the assassination, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death as police were transferring him from the city jail to the county jail.

In Moscow, the Interfax news agency said Yeltsin gave Clinton 80 documents, which also detailed the Soviet government's reaction to Kennedy's assassination.

Although the assassination review board members were turned down when they sought copies of the files in 1996, writers Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller were allowed to examine some of them and used them for their 1995 book, ``Oswald's Tale.'' The book, tracing Oswald's life, shed no light on whether he had plotted to kill Kennedy.

U.S. officials said the files, which Yeltsin gave to Clinton when they met Sunday in Cologne, Germany for the Group of Eight summit, are in Russian.

It's not yet clear what they contain and whether they are the Minsk files on the Oswald surveillance or files from Moscow containing the Soviet Union's own investigation of the assassination.

``We need to translate them first,'' David Leavy, National Security Council spokesman, said Monday from Slovenia.

Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, said Sunday in Cologne that the papers will be reviewed ``and all interesting elements will be made public.''

The National Archives, which oversees the collection and public release of JFK assassination documents, has been in touch with the White House about the KGB files, said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman.

David Marwell, the review board's former executive director, said the KGB files are important for their historical significance and for what they might reveal about Oswald's life in Russia.

``Certainly records of his residence of Minsk would help in trying to understand him and what motivated him,'' said Marwell, who was part of the 1996 delegation to Russia.

Hall said the files could answer some lingering questions about Oswald's activities in Russia, providing fodder for or extinguishing theories about whether Oswald had contacts with U.S. intelligence officials in Russia.

``This would be extraordinarily interesting material,'' said Hall.

Other researchers doubt that the Minsk files will contain any blockbusters.

Gus Russo, a lead reporter for a 1993 ``Frontline'' television documentary on Oswald, said he has seen some of them and they contain ``zero evidence that Oswald was a spy.''

``It will be very anticlimactic,'' he said.