The Holocaust Historiography Project

Behind Khrushchev Remembers

Victor Marchetti

One of the more interesting escapades of the Cold War was the publication in the early 1970s of the book Khrushchev Remembers. The circumstance surrounding the publication of the memoirs of [then-retired former Soviet premier] Nikita Khru-shchev under the guidance of Time, Inc., were mysterious and mystifying. Khrushchev’s thoughts had been secretly taped in the Soviet Union and then miraculously transported to the United States to be transcribed and published, indicating that a special deal had been worked out between the US and the USSR — with the CIA and the KGB acting as the agents in the transaction.

The Soviet leader in those days was Leonid Brezhnev, and he was having trouble with the unreconstructed Stalinists in the Communist Party. He needed to do something dramatic to blunt the challenge to his power by these diehard reactionaries. So, a scheme was hatched whereby Khrushchev, who was still popular with the masses, would secretly dictate his memoirs and strongly criticize Stalin and his policies, particularly those favored by Brezhnev’s opponents.

But in the tightly controlled Soviet society, there was no way that Khrushchev’s views could be published. There was no such thing as freedom of speech in the Communist empire. However, if the tapes, after being reviewed by Brezhnev’s people, were to be smuggled out of the USSR to the US, they could be published there as a best-selling book — and later smuggled back into the Soviet Union for distribution to the public by the underground network. The Kremlin would then be able to feign helplessness and shrug its shoulders.

Meanwhile, the Stalinists would be dealt a serious set-back, which would be underscored by the Kremlin’s lack of punishment to Khrushchev. And in the United States, the Nixon-Kissinger team would be happy with the proof that Stalinist Russia was a thing of the past and the Brezhnev regime was one Americans could live with. Although Soviet people might understand what had really transpired, the gullible American public would accept Khrushchev Remembers as genuine — especially if the media went along with the plan. And that is precisely what happened. The Khrushchev tapes were “smuggled” out of the Soviet Union, right under the nose of the KGB, by a young correspondent at the Time news bureau in Moscow. Months later, after the book had been edited and put in bound galleys in New York, this same daring journalist traveled to Helsinki to give the KGB one last look at Khrushchev Remembers before it was published.

The name of the young Time correspondent and the CIA’s helping hand: Strobe Talbott [who recently became President Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State].

About the author

Victor Marchetti served for 14 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he rose to be executive assistant to the deputy director. He is co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, published in 1974. Marchetti’s address to the Ninth IHR Conference (1989), “Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History,” appeared in the Fall 1989 Journal. He is presently editor-publisher of the newsletter New American View, P.O. Box 999, Herndon, VA 22070. This item is reprinted, by permission, from the March 1, 1994, issue of New American View.

From The Journal of Historical Review, May/June 1994 (Vol. 14, No. 3), page 43.