The CIA's 1961 "Personality Sketch" of Nikita Khrushchev

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 21 2014 1:15 PM

The CIA's 1961 "Personality Sketch" of Nikita Khrushchev

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

In this 15-page document, shared with John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency summed up their view of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s personality. (Click on the image below, or on this link, to reach the PDF of the full document.)

The document was part of a 155-page dossier JFK’s staff gave him before his meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June of that year. (The whole folder is visible online through the JFK Library’s digital archives.) The “personality sketch” accompanied notes from President Eisenhower’s conversations with Khrushchev, memoranda from the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor, and other background material on the Soviet leader and his previous relationship with the United States.


The CIA “personality sketch” presented the agency’s view of Khrushchev as a proud, possibly vain self-made man, a namedropper who was paradoxically pragmatic and irascible. The anonymous author of the document thought that Khrushchev had become increasingly refined in shaping his public image, having “given up his public drinking bouts,” and even the “raucous performance at the UN last fall” showed “the mark of calculation, in contrast to some of his earlier headlong indiscretions.”

The personality sketch referred to varying reports on Khrushchev’s ability in debates, noting that he was rapier-sharp in some conversations, but dull in others, and seemed to over-rely on his staff to brief him. Regardless of lapses, the document summed up: “[Khrushchev] has the uncanny ability of making people depart evaluating their own performance rather than describing his.”

By all accounts—including Kennedy’s own—the summit in Vienna was a disaster, with the more-experienced Soviet leader steamrolling the new president. “He savaged me,” the president told the New York Times columnist James Reston after the meetings were over.

At the summit, Khrushchev made threats to isolate West Berlin. In August of that year, construction on the Berlin Wall began.

Click on image to reach full 15-pp PDF.

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?