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

The Vault
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.

Advertisement

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.

KhrushchevPage1
Click on image to reach full 15-pp PDF.

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.