Lying for Lenin
Dezinformatsia: Active Measures in Soviet Strategy.
by Richard H. Shultz and Roy Godson.
Pergamon-Brassey’s. 210 pp. $19.95.
Last spring a rumor spread in the Islamic world that on his moon walk, astronaut Neil Armstrong had heard strange voices; returning to earth, he had discovered these to be an Islamic call to prayer. According to the rumor, the experience had made such a deep impression on him that he became a Muslim—whereupon the space agency promptly fired him.
All this was of course pure fantasy, and at first American embassies issued routine denials. This, however, was not enough; the story stubbornly refused to die. In the end, leading Arab journalists were connected by phone directly to Armstrong’s Ohio office, so that they could hear his denial from his own mouth and report it to their readers.
This rumor, an account of which was published in the London Sunday Times in January 1984, is a typical example of Soviet disinformation efforts designed to turn public sentiment against the U.S. in a volatile region. In Dezinformatsia: Active Measures in Soviet Strategy, Richard H. Shultz and Roy Godson provide a scholarly study of activities of this kind. In the Soviet lexicon, the term “active measures” describes a wide array of techniques for influencing events in foreign countries: these include overt and covert propaganda, mass demonstrations, and the use of front organizations, agents of influence, and forgeries. The concept also encompasses paramilitary assistance to insurgents and terrorists, plus the occasional act of sabotage and murder, committed for psychological effect.
A responsibility of the International Department of the Central Committee, active measures play a crucial role in weakening opponents from the inside and securing benefits for the Soviet Union that it could not obtain through normal negotiations or even by force. Accordingly, the Soviets carefully integrate active measures into their global strategy, which again is determined by the “correlation of forces,” i.e., the Kremlin’s overall assessment of political, economic, and military trends.
The present study, which is supported among other things by interviews with former senior Soviet-bloc intelligence officers, concentrates mainly on disinformation efforts conducted against the NATO countries in the two decades from 1960 to 1980. Here the principal goal has been to discredit, isolate, and separate the U.S. from its European allies. In the field of overt propaganda, Shultz and Godson use the “Weekly International Review” column in Pravda and the Soviet foreign-affairs magazine New Times to trace the changing themes and to demonstrate the sharp increase and growing sophistication of these efforts over the years. The themes may change, but the hostility, they show, remains constant, which is significant in view of the popular notion that the 70’s were years of lessened tension. The authors’ careful analysis discloses little evidence that Soviet leaders, for all their bluster and cries of alarm, actually perceived a direct threat to the Soviet Union during those years. Their propaganda reflected tactical foreign-policy objectives rather than genuine security concerns.
Closely coordinated with the overt campaigns are the covert activities. As early as 1926, the Finnish Communist leader Otto Kuuisinen recommended the creation of a “solar system” of organizations and smaller committees around the Communist party, under its influence but not under its direct control. During Yuri Andropov’s tenure at the KGB there occurred a spectacular elaboration of this idea. To such old-timers as the World Peace Council (1949) and the International Union of Students (1946) were added a host of smaller groups, usually with the word “peace” prominently displayed in their name, and usually with Communists in key positions. The organizational strength thus achieved was clearly demonstrated in the campaign against the neutron bomb and in the nuclear-freeze movement.
Even more difficult to trace are agents of influence. These are individuals who use their position as opinion-makers to promote the interests of the Soviet Union. As an example the authors cite the case of the French journalist Pierre-Charles Pathé, who for almost two decades worked to undermine French-American relations through his many connections and through his newsletter Synthesis, which had a small but exclusive readership among the French political elite. Shultz and Godson conclude their exhaustive account of Pathé’s activities by reminding us that he was only one of a number of forces targeted at French leaders. This leads them to ponder the degree to which Soviet active measures played a part in de Gaulle’s decision to withdraw from the military wing of NATO, a serious strategic loss to the alliance and one that has never been properly analyzed.
Finally there are the forgeries, which fall into two categories: complete fabrications, and doctored versions of actual documents, designed to create suspicion among the allies. These vary from the subtle to the ridiculous. One set of forgeries from the early 60’s tried to depict Stratetic Air Command personnel as emotionally unstable, and featured a letter from an airman stating his intent to drop an atomic bomb on Soviet territory because he had lost a friend flying over East Germany. More sophisticated documents reveal alleged American plots to overthrow Third World leaders, alleged American attempts to interfere in the internal policies of NATO allies, and alleged American bias in inter-European quarrels. In 1978, Andreas Papandreou, then the Greek opposition leader, read a forged State Department telegram to the Greek parliament, purportedly outlining an American policy favoring Turkey over Greece. Lately we have seen a crop of material allegedly showing official American willingness to sacrifice the European allies in a limited nuclear war; the material even includes maps targeting European cities for destruction.
Some forgeries have been dismissed by the Western press as obvious plants, such as a letter supposedly from Ronald Reagan to King Juan Carlos of Spain advising the king to crack down on left-wing forces, or (in an example too recent to be included in this book) the document supposedly from the Ku Klux Klan threatening violence against non-white Olympic athletes at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Others are not so easily exposed. The authors cite a forged U.S. Army Field Manual providing guidelines for army intelligence interference in host countries and for the subversion of foreign officials and military officers. This particular fabrication, which first surfaced in Turkey in 1975, has since appeared in more than twenty countries, including the U.S. itself.
It is difficult to assess the overall impact of Soviet active measures, for they involve a long-term process of erosion. But one sign of success may be the widespread tendency in the West to regard the U.S. rather that the USSR as the major cause of world instability and the primary threat to peace, or the equally fashionable cynicism that sees no difference between the two countries. That the Soviets themselves regard active measures as a useful foreign-policy tool and an important adjunct to the more conventional instruments of statecraft can be deduced from the constant expansion of their role and from the fact that they are controlled by the Politburo itself.
Not surprisingly, Shultz and Godson recommend more determined countermeasures by Western governments, and support such initiatives as the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy, designed to promote democratic values abroad. But the main task must be the continued exposure of dezinformatsia. A democracy can make intelligent decisions about its future only if it has a clear perception of reality; it is exactly the purpose of active measures to distort that perception. If ever there was a field meriting the attention of investigative journalists, this is it.