Soviet Active Measures in The
'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991

How Soviet Active Measures
Themes Were Spread

The Soviets spread the various active measures themes and messages through a wide variety of covert, semi-covert, and overt channels that they controlled or influenced.

"Black" or Covert Active Measures

"Black" or covert active measures operations were coordinated by Service A of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, the part of the KGB responsible for foreign intelligence operations. According to KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, in his book Instructions From the Centre: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975-1985, in the mid-1980s Service A consisted of approximately 120 professional officers, including 30 to 40 who were stationed at the Novosti Press Agency. (p. 3) Its technical staff included a highly competent group of forgers.

According to recent defectors, KGB active measures received increased attention and resources during the Gorbachev era. Their information indicates that the size and importance of Service A expanded during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

KGB active measures techniques included the use of agents of influence, forgeries, covert media placements, and controlled media to covertly introduce carefully crafted arguments, information, disinformation, and slogans into the discourse in government, media, religious, business, economic, and public arenas in targeted countries. These operations were characterized as "black" because the Soviet role was totally concealed. These KGB operations were carried out by members of line PR (political intelligence) in Soviet residencies, the KGB units in Soviet embassies in foreign countries. According to Gordievsky, line PR officers were supposed to spend about 25 percent of their time on active measures operations.

The July 22, 1991 issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the 60-man active measures unit of the East German Ministry of State Security (MfS or "Stasi"), which was patterned on Service A and which worked closely with it, had at least 7 separate sectors, one of which was responsible for economic active measures and another for active measures against foreign intelligence services. In addition to these functional sectors, Service A would logically have also had, at a minimum, a functional section on military affairs, and geographical sectors devoted to the United States, Western Europe, and the Third World, as well as a separate section for preparing forgeries.

For more information on recent revelations on "black" active measures, see the appendix.

"Gray" or Semi-Covert Active Measures

"Gray" active measures operations were coordinated by the International Department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee. It orchestrated foreign influence operations in the party-to-party and people-to-people realms, which were carried out by Soviet-allied communist parties, Soviet-controlled international front organizations, and Soviet nongovernmental organizations that played a role in foreign affairs, particularly friendship societies, the foreign policy-related institutes of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and the Soviet affiliates of the international front groups. These operations were characterized as "gray" because Soviet control was partially concealed. For example, Soviet nongovernmental organizations could not deny their Soviet affiliation but they claimed, disingenuously, to be pursuing an independent line from the Soviet government and Communist Party.

Recent investigations by the Russian supreme Soviet of CPSU funding of foreign communist parties have uncovered documentary evidence that during the 1980s the CPSU provided approximately $20 million per year in direct monetary aid to 98 different parties and movements on all continents. See the appendix for more details.

"White" or Overt Active Measures

"White" or overt active measures were coordinated by the international information subdepartment of the Ideology Department (prior to October 1988, Propaganda Department) of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee. This subdepartment oversaw the propagation of Soviet active measures themes and messages by the TASS and Novosti press agencies, Radio Moscow and Radio Peace and Progress, other elements of the Soviet press, and the information departments of Soviet embassies overseas.

From 1978 to 1986, the bureaucratic entity that became the Ideology Department's international information subdepartment was known as the International Information Department (IID) and had the status of a separate department in the CPSU Central Committee (CC). In a revealing aside, although it was known to the world as the International Information Department, this was a cover name, adopted only for dealing with outsiders. Within the Soviet bureaucratic world and in confidential correspondence, the department was known as the CPSU CC Department of Counterpropaganda. It arrogated to itself the most sensitive and complex foreign propaganda tasks, such as devising explanations for the mistakes or failings of Soviet foreign policy, and dealt with the most critical foreign policy issues, such as arms control and relations with the United States, leaving to a separate CPSU CC Propaganda Department the less challenging task of churning out routine praise for the Soviet Union.

The IID was divided into 6 sectors organized around geographical and functional lines. Each sector employed about half a dozen professionals, who determined the themes, arguments, and information used in Soviet foreign propaganda and the treatment of international affairs in the Soviet press. After these were decided upon, the IID and its successors would hold regular meetings to issue their guidance on international information issues to Novosti, TASS, Radio Moscow, Radio Peace and Progress, and other leading Soviet media.

It is also revealing to note that in the "white" realm, Soviet officials took an active and direct role in spreading many active measures themes in their public and, undoubtedly, private messages directed at Western audiences. Mikhail Butkov, a KGB officer who defected in Norway in May 1991, revealed this in an interview in the December 15, 1991 issue of the British newspaper The Independent, stating: "In his appeals to the West, Gorbachev used all the arguments that we were ordered to plant." Thus, the Soviet active measures apparatus had a vast array of covert, semi-covert, and overt channels available for influencing foreign public opinion and actions in a highly sophisticated way. The appendix contains more details about "white" active measures operations.

The Soviet active measures apparatus dwarfed, by a factor of perhaps 20 or 30 to 1, the U.S. governmental apparatus set up to analyze and counter its activities. Given these limitations, it is only possible to provide an overall conceptual framework and some illustrative examples of Soviet active measures operations, not a comprehensive report on their activities. The typology of active measures themes and messages outlined above provides a conceptual framework for categorizing these themes. By combining the various types of active measures themes with the various "black," "gray," and "white" channels through which they were spread, one can construct a matrix that portrays the different types of Soviet active measures operations. In the accompanying chart, the different types of themes or messages form the headings for the columns, and the various black, gray, and white channels for propagating these messages form the headings for the rows. Although such a schema is cumbersome, it is a useful way to conceptualize active measures operations in a coherent, comprehensive way.


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