Gossip From a 1955 CIA Spy Report Of a Soviet Cocktail Party


On June 3rd, 1955, a goodbye party was held in Sweden. It was bittersweet, as these kinds of affairs always are, and folks drank and reminisced as usual. However, after everyone shared their goodbyes and adjös, this particular get-together became the subject of a classified CIA report.

You see, the soiree was thrown for a high-ranking Soviet official at the embassy in Stockholm. Major Vladimir Konobeev, an assistant to Russian Military and Air Attache Colonel Semen Iouchtchenko, was returning to Moscow, and a party for him was held in Colonel Iouchtchenko's apartment. Various foreign service employees were invited to toast Mr. Konobeev. Two American Air Force attaches were in attendance, and they dished all the gossip to the CIA. Not cool, guys. Can't a few people get together to say goodbye to a good bud without all the da-ra-ma?

The report, titled "Observations at a Russian Cocktail Party Where Western Service Attaches Were Guests," has since been declassified, and we obtained it through the Freedom of Information Act. The war may have been cold, but the gossip was hot.

There Was a Pretty Low Turnout For the Party. What's Up With That?

"Apparently all of the foreign service attaches assigned to Sweden were invited; however, not all attended. This may have been due to another party at the Norwegian Embassy."

Sounds Like Colonel Iouchtchenko Doesn't Know How To Let His Hair Down

"The host, Colonel Iouchtchenko, seemed to have full command of the situation. Several times a glance or a nod from him would cause other iron curtain members to move away from the person to whom they may have been speaking."

*Whip crack.*

Who Are All These Unfamiliar Ladies?

"There were several other women present, presumably wives of the above officers, but their identity was not determined."


Konobeev was wearing WHAT?

"Major Konobeev was the only iron curtain attache in uniform."

Major Konobeev Has The Most Incredible Nickname

"On one occasion when Major Konobeev had moved away from his position in the receiving line, one of the Canadian service attaches approached him and stated, 'Cornbeef, how is it that you are wearing wings? I thought you were a soldier and not a flyer.' Major Konobeev seemed anxious to discontinue the conversation because he immediately moved back to his position in the receiving line with the comment that a soldier had to be able to do anything."

Cornbeef! How wonderful is that? Major Cornbeef! The Cornbeef-inator! Cornbeef on Rye, makin' copies...

The Interpreter Made a Fool Of Himself

"The interpreter...did not participate in the social gathering but appeared to be standing aside to assist when needed. He stated...that he was the Russian interpreter and could speak English and Swedish quite well. He had spoken only a few words when beckoned away by Colonel Iouchtchenko. He left immediately and excused himself somewhat embarrassed."

Sounds Like Cornbeef Didn't Approve Of People Getting Down On The Dance Floor

"A British Service attache, who knows Major Konobeev better than most, volunteered the following: Although he and the Dutch Service attache were invited to (and attended) this party, neither of their respective wives were invited. He felt that the reason, in the case of his wife, was that she had reminded Major Konobeev of his rudeness at the Service Attache Ball last May 12th; her reason for doing this was when Major Konobeev twice terminated her dancing by calling her Russian officer dancing partner away in the middle of the dance."

The Brits can always be counted on for some primo gossip.

Wait, Cornbeef Isn't Even His Real Name???

"The British believe...that Konobeev is still a full fledged member of the Red Air Force and a member of the MVD; also that Konobeev is not his real name."

Shut. Up.

Is Cornbeef Actually The Top Dog?

"A reliable Swedish source also volunteered the information that Konobeev was in the Red Air Force during World War II, but as a pilot; that he was shot down, received frost bite on his hands, that he is still in the Red Air Force in the MVD even though he declares he is in the Red Army. Also, that he is the Number One man in the Russian Embassy in Stockholm and that Konobeev is not his real name."

There's more to Cornbeef than meets the eye...

Even If His Name Isn't Cornbeef, He's Still a Great Guy

"Major Konobeev has been the most friendly of the Russian and Iron Curtain attaches. His knowledge of several languages, unobstructed conversations with other western attaches, and the fact that the Russian attache saw fit to have a farewell cocktail party for this individual, indicate that Major Konobeev is recognized in his own government, or at least in the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, as one of greater importance than perhaps his rank or title reveals."

We're gonna miss you, good buddy. Next time we're in Moscow, we'll be sure to give ol' Cornbeef a ring.

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5 Intriguing Details Found in the Newly Released JFK Assassination Papers
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

JFK assassination conspiracy theorists just got a major windfall, but so did history buffs. In 1992, Congress passed a law that ordered all federal agencies to transfer any records they had pertaining to the investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the National Archives. The vast majority of those records were declassified before this, but some were withheld or redacted. But the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act stipulated that all records that had been withheld, either partially or in full, would be released to the public 25 years later, on October 26, 2017.

Well, the time has come to open up the files, and there is plenty of intriguing content in the 2800 newly released documents to sift through. (At the last minute, the government withheld 300 more documents, which will have to undergo classified review over the next six months.) Here are five things we’ve learned so far—not all about the assassination itself—from the documents.


As the Boston TV station WCVB spotted, an FBI memo [PDF] from January 1964 detailed the agency’s search for a stripper connected to Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. The FBI was trying to determine the identity of the performer, who went by the stage name “Candy Cane,” but only knew that her first name was Kitty. They went as far as to contact the American Guild of Variety Artists in New Orleans, who told them that one performer by that name had died several months before the JFK assassination, and the only other (whose real name was Vivian) had seemed to have left town sometime after paying her August union dues. The memo doesn’t say just how Ruby and Candy Cane were related or if they ever tracked her down.


The USSR was no fan of the U.S., obviously, but the Soviets didn’t cheer JFK’s death. The news “was greeted with shock and consternation and church bells were tolled in the memory of President Kennedy” in the USSR, a Soviet source reported. Communist Party officials, for one, went on high alert, worrying that it was part of some far-right coup.

“They felt that those elements interested in utilizing the assassination and playing on anticommunist sentiments in the United States would then utilize this act to stop negotiations with the Soviet Union, attack Cuba, and therefore spread the war,” the FBI memo [PDF] from December 1966 states. And even if it wasn’t part of a larger plan, they thought it could still lead to big trouble: “Soviet officials were worried that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”

Plus, they were very much of the 'devil you know' mindset. Soviet diplomats understood JFK and respected that he had “to some degree, a mutual understanding with the Soviet Union” and a desire for peace between the two powers, and they had no idea what to expect from Vice President Lyndon Johnson. “The Soviet Union would have preferred to have had President Kennedy at the helm of the American government,” the memo said, citing the USSR’s UN representative Nikolai T. Fedorenko.


In 1959, long before Kennedy's assassination, Oswald had traveled to the Soviet Union. Shortly after arriving, he contacted the KGB asking to defect, but the Soviet spy agency “decided he was mentally unstable and informed him he had to return to the United States upon completion of his visit.” He was hospitalized after cutting his wrists in his Moscow hotel room, and was allowed to remain in Russia for some time afterward, even marrying a Russian woman. After he returned to the U.S., he sent a request through the Soviet embassy in Mexico just a few months before the assassination, asking to come back to the USSR.

In the wake of the assassination, the USSR reiterated that it wanted nothing to do with Oswald, and never recruited him for espionage. “Soviet officials claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had no connection whatsoever with the Soviet Union,” the memo states. “They described him as a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and never belonged to any organization.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly—what with all of those assassination plots, invasion attempts, and blockades—the Cubans were pretty stoked to see JFK go. “The initial reaction of Cuban Ambassador Cruz and his staff to report of assassination President was one of happy delight,” a CIA source reported on November 27, 1963 [PDF]. However, the Cubans realized that undisguised glee wasn’t going to be a good look for them. “Cruz thereupon issued instructions to his staff and to Cuban consulates and trade offices in Toronto and Montreal to ‘cease looking happy in public,’” the memo says.


The CIA’s foiled plots to kill the Soviet-aligned Cuban leader Fidel Castro are well known, but somewhat tangential to the assassination of JFK lies yet another misguided attempt to bump off Castro. In a top secret report [PDF] prepared during Gerald Ford’s administration, the agency admits that it tried to recruit the Mob to help. In “Phase I” of the assassination plot, formed sometime in 1960 or 1961, the CIA plotted to make poison botulism pills, then get members of the Mafia to deliver them to Cuba, into the hands of someone who could drop them into Castro’s drink. They tested out the pills on guinea pigs to make sure they worked, and set aside the money to make it happen.

In 1960, the CIA reached out to Chicago mobster Sam Giancana through an intermediate, and the agency approved a $150,000 payment for whatever contact in Cuba actually accomplished the task. The mobsters didn’t get any money, and they repeatedly said they didn’t want any, anyway—they were just looking to get back into the Havana gambling business. The “asset” assigned to slip the pills to Castro got scared, though, and didn’t actually do it, even though he worked in the Cuban prime minister’s office and had access. Then the CIA recruited a staffer at a restaurant Castro frequented, but by the time the pills arrived, Castro had stopped going there.

The plot was called off after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and in 1967, J. Edgar Hoover sent the U.S. Attorney General a memo that referred to the plot as the CIA’s “intentions to send hoodlums to Cuba to assassinate Castro.”

The Hospital in the Rock
Budapest’s Former Top-Secret Hospital Inside a Cave
The Hospital in the Rock
The Hospital in the Rock

At the top of a hill in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River, sits Buda Castle, a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site visited by thousands of tourists every year. Directly underneath the castle, however, lies a less-frequented tourist attraction: a series of ancient, naturally formed caves with a colorful and sometimes disturbing history.

The entire cave system is over six miles long, and most of that has been left unchanged since it was used as cold storage (and a rumored dungeon) in the Middle Ages. Between 1939 and 2008, however, a half-mile stretch of those caves was built up and repurposed many times over. Known as Sziklakorhaz or The Hospital in the Rock, its many uses are a testament to the area’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War.

At the start of World War II, the location served as a single-room air raid center, but operating theaters, corridors, and wards were quickly added to create a much-needed hospital. By early 1944, the hospital had officially opened inside the cave, tending to wounded Hungarian and Nazi soldiers. After less than a year of operation, the facility found itself facing its largest challenge—the Siege of Budapest, which lasted seven weeks and was eventually won by Allied forces on their way to Berlin.

As one of the few area hospitals still operational, the Hospital in the Rock was well over capacity during the siege. Originally built to treat around 70 patients, close to 700 ended up crammed into the claustrophobic caves. The wounded lay three to a bed—if they were lucky enough to get a bed at all. Unsurprisingly, heat from all those bodies raised the ambient temperature to around 95°F, and smoking cigarettes was the number one way to pass the time. Add that to the putrid mix of death, decay, and infection and you’ve got an incredibly unpleasant wartime cocktail.

A recreation inside the museum. Image credit: The Hospital in the Rock 

After the siege, the Soviets took control of the caves (and Budapest itself) and gutted the hospital of most of its supplies. Between 1945 and 1948, the hospital produced a vaccination for typhus. As the icy grasp of the Cold War began to tighten, new wards were built, new equipment was installed, and the hospital was designated top-secret by the Soviets, referred to only by its official codename LOSK 0101/1.

Eleven years after facing the horrors of the Siege of Budapest, in 1956, the hospital hosted the casualties of another battle: The Hungarian Uprising. Thousands of Hungarians revolted against the Soviet policies of the Hungarian People’s Republic in a fierce, prolonged battle. Civilians and soldiers alike lay side-by-side in wards as surgeons attempted to save them. During the uprising, seven babies were also born in the hospital.

Surgeons lived on-site and rarely surfaced from the caves. The hospital’s chief surgeon at the time, Dr. András Máthé, famously had a strict "no amputation" rule, which seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but in the end reportedly saved many patients' lives. (Máthé also reportedly wore a bullet that he’d removed from a patient’s head on a chain around his neck.)

The Hospital in the Rock ceased normal operations in December 1956, after the Soviets squashed the uprising, as the Soviets had new plans for the caves. With the Cold War now in full swing, the still-secret site was converted into a bunker that could serve as a hospital in case of nuclear attack. Diesel engines and an air conditioning system were added in the early '60s, so that even during a blackout, the hospital could still function for a couple of days.

The Hospital in the Rock

The official plan for the bunker was as follows: In the event of a nuclear attack, a selection of doctors and nurses would retreat to the bunker, where they would remain for 72 hours. Afterward, they were to go out and search for survivors. Special quarantined rooms, showering facilities, and even a barbershop were on site for survivors brought back to the site. (The only haircut available to them, however, was a shaved head; radioactive material is notoriously difficult to remove from hair.)

Thankfully, none of these nuclear procedures were ever put into practice. But the hospital was never formally decommissioned, and it wasn’t relieved of its top-secret status until the mid-2000s. For a while, it was still being used as a storage facility by Hungary’s Civil Defense Force. The bunker was maintained by a nearby family, who were sworn to secrecy. In 2004, it was decided that responsibility for the site fell solely on St. John’s Hospital in Budapest, who were seen as the de facto owners in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By 2008 the bunker was renovated, refurbished, and ready to be opened to the public. Today it operates as a museum, with exhibits detailing life in the hospital from various periods of its history, as well as the history of combat medicine as a whole. The sobering hour-long walk around the hospital concludes with a cautionary gaze into the atrocities of nuclear attacks, with the final walk to the exit featuring a gallery of art created by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Another part of the caves beneath Buda Castle. Image credit:Sahil Jatana via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The caves beneath Buda Castle have certainly had a bumpy history, and walking through them now is chilling (and not just because they keep the temperature at around 60°F). A tour through the narrow, oppressive hallways is a glimpse at our narrowly avoided nuclear future—definitely a sobering way to spend an afternoon.


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