On Feb. 14, 1979, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was abducted from his car by men posing as traffic cops and taken to a room at the Kabul Hotel. His kidnappers demanded the release of two jailed Muslim militants. Hours later, assault troops from the Afghan communist government fired through the hotel room door, killing Dubs and two of his abductors.

Over the years, published accounts and public statements by government officials have created deep confusion about the case. Some Americans have questioned whether the KGB organized Dubs's kidnapping and murder. Other accounts have speculated that Tehran-backed Shiite militants were involved.

Former Soviet archivist Vasili Mitrokhin's account of the episode, based on KGB cables and files, does not fully solve the mystery, but he does offer new evidence that Dubs was killed in a botched KGB-led rescue attempt:

* The files reviewed by Mitrokhin do not describe a preconceived Soviet plot to kill Dubs. Three Soviet advisers were present in the hotel during the assault and helped to direct it. KGB officials ordered the attack and armed the Afghan assault group with Kalishnikovs and protective Soviet vests.

* The kidnappers were armed with only three pistols among them. Two died in the attack, one was taken into custody, and one escaped -- it isn't clear how. "In order to frustrate requests from the Americans to question the detained terrorist and hunt down the one who escaped, it was decided to shoot the one who had been detained and to shoot another prisoner, pretending that he was the fourth terrorist," Mitrokhin writes. The two killings were carried out on the night of the kidnapping. The escaped terrorist apparently was never caught.

* The two Muslim militants whose release was demanded by the kidnappers had been executed in prison the previous April. The KGB apparently knew this as it considered how to resolve Dubs's abduction.

* After Dubs's death, the KGB planted stories in the foreign press claiming that the kidnappers were members of a radical Islamic Shiite organization. The KGB also put out misleading and confused accounts about how the abduction unfolded. Its disinformation campaign lasted more than a year, involved forged documents concocted by KGB handwriting experts, and sought to direct blame for the botched rescue attempt on Hafizullah Amin, an Afghan communist leader then in disfavor with the Soviets.

For more than 22 years after the kidnapping, for political and security reasons, the State Department declined to appoint an ambassadorial- level successor to Dubs in Kabul. Last December, special envoy James Dobbins presided over a ceremony raising the Stars and Stripes over the U.S. Embassy there.

-- Steve Coll