History is full of strange and enigmatic individuals who have passed through the ages to leave behind fascinating stories and leave their mark on time. Larger than life, these people have managed to create an indelible legacy and to create a wake of mystery, and one of these was a KGB assassin and spy who would have a life of drama and intrigue and go on to become an important player in the study of psychic powers and phenomenon. It is a tale of spies, international espionage, and ESP, and remains a rather bizarre journey through the life of a man who left behind a legacy that is still talked about to this day.
In the 1950s Nikolai Evgenievich Khokhlov was a KGB agent who had already racked up quite an illustrious career. In 1941 he had been a prominent member of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or the now defunct NKVD, which was in charge of secret police work and overseeing the country’s numerous prisons and labor camps, and they were notorious for their unchecked executions and assassinations, and their deep roots into the world of international espionage. During his stint with the NKVD, Khokhlov took part in attacks against the Nazis in occupied Moscow during World War II, and also fought behind enemy lines disguised as a Nazi officer in German occupied Belarus, as well as taking part in assassination missions such as the failed bid to assassinate Wilhelm Kube, who at the time was the regional Nazi leader of Belarus.
After the war, Khokhlov became active within the KGB, which at the time was a new organization looking for people with his kind of experience and skill set. One of his most important missions within the KGB was to go to Frankfurt, Germany, in order to assassinate Georgiy Okolovich, who was a chairman of an anti-communist organization called “The National Alliance of Russian Solidarists.” His weapon for doing this was like something out of a James Bond film, a gadget that seemed like a normal pack of cigarettes, but which held a deadly surprise. The pack held a hidden button, which when pressed would fire out hollow-nosed bullets spiked with potassium cyanide which made a noise “no louder than the snap of the fingers and might pass unnoticed in the moderate conversation in a normal office.” A cool and deadly little toy, in other words.
He had the tools he needed and all of the reconnaissance done, so on February 18, 1954, Kholkhlov went right up to the door to Okolovich’s apartment, but he had had a change of heart, was sick of killing, and rather than kill the political activist he instead tipped him off that a hit was out on him. Knowing that he had betrayed his country and defied orders, Khokhlov had no choice but to leave his life behind, including his wife and young son, and surrender to the Americans. In the meantime, his wife was imprisoned for 5 years, but this did not bring the rogue KGB agent back, and indeed he would never see his wife again. He instead defected to the American side, where his story became a fascination with the press. After all, how often did they have a real life KGB spy and assassin in their possession? News stories abounded about him, and he took on a sort of new life.
He actually became a bit of a celebrity, giving numerous interviews in which he spilled all manner of KGB secrets and tools of the trade, and he even wrote a book on it all, entitled In the Name of Conscience in 1957. All of this drew the wrong kind of attention, as in 1957 there was a KGB assassination attempt made on his life, in the form of what was at first thought to be thallium poisoning, but would later be found to have been a radioactive isotope called polonium, perhaps the first known use of radioactive materials for an assassination in KGB history. He would survive this attempt on his life, although it left him a bald, withered husk of the man he had been at the time, taking weeks to recover.
Khokhlov would go on to study psychology at Duke University, eventually earning a PhD, which is where he would meet Joseph Banks Rhine and be introduced to the world of the paranormal and ESP. Rhine, originally a botanist, had become irrevocably obsessed with the world of psychic powers, including clairvoyance, ESP, and telepathy. By all accounts Khokhlov was fascinated by all of this, becoming quite enamored with the paranormal as well, and became involved with Rhine and the institute in 1966. Here he would tell of the secret Soviet experiments that had been carried out regarding powers of the mind and parapsychology, giving fascinating anecdotes about successful experiments in which the Soviets had managed to perfect remote viewing, in which a psychic can witness events happening thousands of miles away. He would at one time write a paper on all of this, entitled The Relationship of Parapsychology to Communism in September of 1966, and he would say:
The fate of the world today depends on the common understanding by the whole human race of what a human being really is. Here we are, on this side of the Iron Curtain, a small group of parapsychologists, trying to enlarge the common notion of man. And there are they, men of science and spirit, who are striving for the same higher goal.
When Khokhlov earned his PhD he was offered a permanent spot of the Institute’s staff, but he would have a falling out with Rhine due to their very different approaches to the phenomena they were so passionate about, complaining that Rhine had the tendency for “pure statistical manipulations without touching the inevitable issue of human consciousness and its metaphysical essence.” He would move to California and become a psychology professor at California State University, San Bernardino, in the meantime marrying again and having three children. He also continued his studies into ESP and parapsychology, giving lectures on it, writing important papers on it, and teaching courses on spiritual life and hypnosis, and he became quite the celebrity again, appearing on such popular programs as 60 Minutes and others. He was even approached by the U.S. government and CIA to give detailed information on the state of parapsychology and ESP experiments in the Soviet Union, and it is believed that the information he provided helped to fuel their own top secret government programs on psychic phenomena. As to his own views on these phenomena he would tell Stacey Horn, of the site Unbelievable:
There are too many speculations about the field of parapsychology in the popular media, but very little real substance in the analyzes of that extremely important view upon human nature. Actually, that field is not “para” anymore, but while the paralyzing grip of behaviorism is weakening, the truly scientific components of “para” are becoming the pillars of psychological research today. Alas, not in the USA, but everywhere in the sobering world.
In 1992, Khokhlov, who had by that time spent most of his life hiding from his past, was pardoned by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and the following year he would retire from his emeritus professor position. He would eventually set foot in Moscow for the first time since the 1950s and even meet his long lost son. In 2007, after a life that had evolved from espionage and assassination to joining the enemy, to surviving his own assassination attempt, to revolutionizing the world of parapsychology in the United States, to a journey into academics and writing numerous papers on the subject and opening our eyes to what the Soviets were doing with it, Khokhlov died of a heart attack at the age of 84. It is quite an interesting tale and strange history, and it seems as if this former KGB assassin managed to not only live a colorful, intriguing life, but also leave his mark on the world of the paranormal.