The Parapsychology Laboratory and the Russian Secret Police

“We will have a part-time relationship with a number of graduate students in psychology at Duke this year—more than before. Including a former Russian Intelligence officer, Nikolai Khokhlov.” – J. B. Rhine, September 13, 1965.

When I came across the letter which included that snippet naturally I thought.  ‘Well, isn’t that interesting?’  I looked into Khokhlov’s story and learned he wasn’t just a former intelligence officer, but also a would-assassin.

Eleven years before that letter was  written, when Khokhlov was a 31-year-old secret police officer working out of Moscow, he was sent to Germany to murder the anti-communist leader Georgi Sergeyevich Okolovich.  His wife Yanina begged him not to commit murder, but he didn’t know how to get out of it.  He’d already refused to kill someone once before and he knew he couldn’t refuse again.  Khokhlov went to Frankfurt and early in the evening on February 18, 1954 he knocked on Okolovich’s door.  But instead of killing him he said, “I am a captain in the MGB—the Ministry of State Security,  I have been sent to Frankfurt to organize your assassination.  I don’t want to carry it out and I need your help.”  Okolovich contacted the Americans.  Khokhlov, who couldn’t go back to Moscow now, left Yanina and his 18-month-old son Aleksander behind and defected to the United States.  He never saw them again.


Khokhlov was working as a radio editor and broadcaster in 1963 when he first wrote Rhine about his encounters with paranormal phenomena.  Rhine encouraged him to enroll at Duke, which he did, ultimately getting a PhD in psychology.  I emailed briefly with Khokhlov.  While at Duke, Khokhlov monitored Soviet involvement in parapsychology for Rhine, and when he got his PhD Rhine offered him a position on the staff.  But by then Khokhlov had become disillusioned with Rhine’s approach which focused on “pure statistical manipulations without touching the inevitable issue of human consciousness and its metaphysical essence.”  Khokhlov accepted an offer of a professorship from the California State University in San Bernardino instead.

I didn’t have the heart to ask Khokhlov about the wife and son who were left behind in Russia (why I will never be good at reporting certain kinds of stories). I know that he remarried, and had three more children, including a son who sadly died. And he retired from CSU/San Bernardino in 1993.  I would have liked to have gotten to know Khokhlov better. His email was very kind and generous and it would have been great to interview him in person, and he was willing, but it wasn’t possible for me to go out West for a number of reasons. Which is unfortunate.  He died in September, 2007, seven months after we emailed.  I have a file on him, which includes testimony which he gave to the Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956, and some articles about attempts on his life after he defected.

Khokhlov said he was very close to the Rhines for a while, but he eventually severed the relationship.  He ended his last email to me with:

“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.  Again, I wish you all the success that such a topic deserves.”

The pictures are from a November 20, 1954 Saturday Evening Post article titled I Would Not Murder for the Soviets, written by Dr. Khokhlov.

8 thoughts on “The Parapsychology Laboratory and the Russian Secret Police

  1. According to Wikipedia, Nikolai was reunited with his son via e-mail after he was allowed to make a visit to Moscow in 1992 (he was pardoned by Boris Yeltsin). Nothing is said about Yana’s fate beyond the information that she had to serve a five-year sentence of involuntary settlement after Nikolai skipped the country.

  2. Oh, when I read that it sounded like they meant he met another son, one that he hadn’t know about before, not Aleksander.

  3. To Mr. Horn:
    I guess there is whole different realm than the basic physical realm. It is to this realm I wish to travel at will. I believe this realm has a field which becomes more and more tangible the more familiar one becomes with it. This field is the ticket to the non-physical realm. I think if one allows all feelings to include this field then gradually the perception of the field increases. In this field is a light and the beings who live in the other realm radiate this light. Fairies, and other such beings radiate this light. Perhaps the dead can help us come the feel the field better and to make it useful to our lives. Richard Yelverton Simpson

  4. Hi. I’m open to the possibility of a non-physical realm, or at least a physical realm that exists in some way we don’t understand, and might have difficulty detecting currently. But I still have trouble with everything else, alas. I’m still open and interested though!

  5. I was fortunate enough to take Dr. Khokhlov’s course in Parapsychology at Cal state, San Bernardino some years ago. He was a fascinating, kind man and a born story teller with some amazing stories to tell. We did some experiments in telepathy, “far viewing”, and Kirlian Photography sometimes with amazing results. I loved every minute of it, especially after class conversations with Dr. Khoikhov

    I highly recommend his autobiography, ” In the Name of Conscience”, so titled because while he could justify killing in war, he could not, in good conscience, do so after the war.

  6. Thank you so much for commenting. He definitely seemed like a thoroughly decent man to me. I just googled his book and everyone who has read it speaks highly about it. I even found the 1959 Kirkus review! Here it is:

    In April of 1954 Nikolai Khokhlov, former Soviet secret agent, announced his defection from the secret services at a press conference called by U.S. authorities in Bonn. Subtitled The Testament of a Soviet Scret Agent this is a record of his intelligence activities since 1941 when he was recalled from the front to the NKVD. He was prepared for partisan work behind German lines and was responsible for the liquidation of Kube, the Nazi “”Butcher”” of Byelorussia, the most spectacular feat of his wartime career. During eight years spent in Military Intelligence he posed at various times as a German, a Pole, later became a Rumanian citizen. When he returned to Moscow he was anxious to leave the service and, encouraged by his wife, began to refuse assignments. Finally ordered to Frankfort for the planned assassination of a Russian emigre revolutionary, the doubts he had always felt about the justice of the Soviet regime became convictions and he exposed the plot to Okolovich who put him in contact with the Americans. American agents at first found it difficult to accept his story it was too idealistic. But eventually they agreed to remove his wife and child to the American Embassy in Moscow in exchange for his publicized defection to the West. The Americans blundered after Khokhlov had already exposed his family and he ends his book on this desperate note. The author of this intriguing record has received wide publicity in numerous interviews, Saturday Evening Post and U.S. News and World Report.

  7. As I recall when Dr. Khokhlov told our class his story, he felt betrayed by American intelligence who, he had come to believe, never had any intention of saving his wife and child. I distinctly remember him saying that, to him, the C.I.A. was no better than the KGB. For many years he wasn’t sure what happened to his wife and son but assumed if his wife was alive it was in some God forsaken gulag and death was probably preferable.

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