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

A Sophisticated
Disinformation Operation

Examples of sophisticated disinformation are more difficult to identify because they are more effectively disguised, but one publication seems worthy of attention in this regard.

Beginning in 1980, a group in France known as the Association pour le Droit a l'Information began to issue a bimonthly publication called Bulletin d'Information sur les Interventions Clandestines (BIIC). The publication's name was virtually identical to that of a U.S. publication called Covert Action Information Bulletin, founded in 1978 by Philip Agee and others.

Mr. Agee is a former CIA officer who has specialized in anti-CIA literature since 1975. In 1976, when Agee was expelled from Great Britain, the British government stated that he had "maintained regular contacts harmful to the security of the United Kingdom with foreign intelligence agents." The November 18, 1976 Washington Post article reporting Agee's expulsion stated that British government sources had indicated that the "foreign intelligence agents" referred to were Cubans. This is consistent with the fact that in his 1975 book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, Agee profusely thanks libraries in Havana and "representatives of the Communist Party of Cuba," who, he said, "gave me important encouragement at a time when I doubted that I would be able to find the additional information I needed."

It has also been alleged that Agee has had dealings with Soviet as well as Cuban officials. The Economist's "Foreign Report" stated in its April 27, 1985 issue:

Former CIA officials believe that Philip Agee ... established a significant contact with Soviet intelligence back in October 1964, when he was still working for the CIA. It was then that he first encountered Vassily Petrovich Semenov in Montevideo. Semenov was a senior KGB officer....

Four years later, under Soviet economic pressure, the Cubans agreed to a joint intelligence arrangement with the Russians, under which the Cuban DGI assumed increased responsibility for handling radical dissidents in western countries. Semenov reemerged as the chief KGB adviser to the DGI, with an office in Havana. He was based in Cuba during the months that Agee spent there researching his book, "CIA Diary," after leaving the CIA. Western analysts also claim that Semenov traveled to Moscow when Agee went there two years ago - by his own account, to explore the prospects for a Russian edition of his book.

Such a Soviet/Cuban division of labor would have made great sense in dealing with radical leftists in Western countries, and is consistent with the display of pro-Cuban emotion-shown by Top Secret in 1991.

While the exact nature of Agee's contacts with Cuban and Soviet officials remain unknown, the track record of the publication he helped found, Covert Action Information Bulletin, is well established. It has published anti-U.S. disinformation and propaganda in tandem with the Soviet active measures apparatus from its founding in 1978 through late 1990, when it criticized alleged U.S. government destabilization of the Soviet Union and supposed "meddling" by the National Endowment for Democracy in Lithuania and elsewhere, at precisely the same time that disinformation centered around these themes was being featured in Soviet publications.

Olivier Schmidt, the editor of Bulletin d'Information sur les Interventions Clandestines, is a close associate of Agee's and of the group that produces Covert Action Information Bulletin. Under the name Karl van Meter, he edited the book Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa along with the editors of Covert Action Information Bulletin. In Agee's diary, On the Run, he noted he usually stayed with van Meter when in France.

BIIC changed its name to Le Monde du Renseignement in 1983. it also published an English edition, Intelligence/Parapolitics, whose name was changed to Intelligence Newsletter in late 1988.

Prior to late 1988, much like Covert Action Information Bulletin, Intelligence/Parapolitics frequently published crude Soviet disinformation stories. For example, it consistently endorsed the false claim that Korean Air Lines flight 007 was on an intelligence mission for the United States. It dismissed as "disinformation" claims that the KGB may have had a part in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and implied that the CIA may have been behind the attempt on the Pope's life. It also endorsed the claim that the AIDS virus had been invented in a U.S. military laboratory. It did all this while claiming to be a "non-allied center for information, documentation, and the study of parapolitics, intelligence, and all intelligence services, no matter what their political or ideological affiliation."

In October 1988, Intelligence/Parapolitics went through a remarkable transformation. It went from being a monthly, typewritten collection of obscure, but publicly available information selling for $25 per year to a slick, $400-per-year biweekly newsletter that purported to provide "inside information" on what was occurring in intelligence services worldwide. Olivier Schmidt remained its editor.

The information contained in Intelligence Newsletter was, on the whole, vastly improved and those who are knowledgeable about the intelligence field found it impressive in many ways. But Intelligence Newsletter still contained items of crude disinformation that surely would be recognized as such by a publication of its expertise, if it were truly unbiased.

For example, in July 1990, Intelligence Newsletter reported that Julius Mader was about to publish an update of his 1968 book Who's Who in the CIA, without mentioning that since 1980 this book had been publicly identified as a disinformation operation conducted by the Czechoslovak and East German secret services, in which half the names included were not those of genuine CIA operatives.

Intelligence Newsletter also consistently treated publications containing crude disinformation, such as the West German magazines Geheim and Top Secret as apparently credible sources. The February 15, 1989 issue of Intelligence Newsletter also treated as credible a book containing crude disinformation, CIA: Club der Moerder: Der U.S. Geheimdienst in der Dritten Welt, by Top Secret editor Opperskalski and Kunhanandan Nair, who, as noted above, was at the time the East German correspondent for Blitz, an Indian newspaper famous for carrying Soviet disinformation and which was identified in a 1962 book by Soviet defector Alexander Kaznacheev as having "close ties with Soviet intelligence." Intelligence Newsletter's only caution about such egregious disinformation was to describe the Nair/Opperskalski book as being written from a "critical leftist point of view."

But even when it endorsed publications containing crude disinformation, Intelligence Newsletter did so in a way that this would not have been obvious to someone who was not a specialist in this area. This style was in sharp contrast to the shrill, obviously anti-U.S., anti-Western disinformation that appeared in its predecessor publication Intelligence/Parapolitics.

Intelligence Newsletter's "insider" mystique and upscale packaging made it an ideal conduit for disinformation aimed at elite Western audiences. Unlike publications peddling crude disinformation to audiences predisposed to think the worst of the United States, the disinformation in Intelligence Newsletter achieved its credibility by speaking to the sophisticated, "worldly-wise" cynical side of those who wished to possess supposedly "inside information" known to only the very few. For example, in its August 29, 1990 issue, just after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Intelligence Newsletter falsely claimed that the United States was to blame for the Iraqi invasion because the U.S. had allegedly connived with Saudi Arabia to block concessions that Kuwait supposedly wished to make to Iraq, in order to provoke an Iraqi invasion. This phony story was bolstered with dramatic details that would have seemed available only to those "in the know."

In its June 20, 1990 issue, Intelligence Newsletter used this same basic approach to push the disinformation claim that although "there seems to be no direct official CIA or Mafia involvement in the Kennedy assassination ... a complex mixture of people associated with both organizations took part." In its October 4, 1988 issue, Intelligence Newsletter ruled out involvement by the Afghan intelligence service KHAD or the KGB in the assassination of President Zia of Pakistan, instead concluding that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was the most likely culprit. Intelligence Newsletter also had good words for the KGB's anti-terrorism efforts and the cooperative Soviet policy during the Gulf crisis, but would typically criticize and belittle the efforts of Western intelligence services, including those in France, Britain, Germany, and other NATO countries as well as the CIA.

Interestingly, the change from crude to sophisticated disinformation that occurred in 1988 in Olivier Schmidt's publication paralleled precisely the shift that occurred in Soviet active measures practices at this time. Crude disinformation claims that would be eagerly believed by anti-Western groups in the Third World or malcontents in the industrial democracies began to be replaced in Soviet active measures operations by false allegations and disingenuous themes more palatable to elite Western audiences. Some of these sophisticated disinformation claims were anti-U.S. and anti-Western, like those in Intelligence Newsletter; others were more conciliatory and pro-Soviet.

Just before the failed coup attempt in the USSR in August 1991, Intelligence Newsletter was vigorously circulating anti-U.S. disinformation. For example, in its July 31, 1991 issue, it falsely charged that Paul Henze, an American expert on Ethiopia and the author of a book on the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, had been responsible for supporting the development of the Gray Wolves, the extreme-right terrorist organization with which would-be papal assassin Mehmet Ali Agca had been associated. This attempt to smear Henze harked back to the earlier days of Intelligence/Parapolitics, when such crude anti-American claims were made routinely. Interestingly, Intelligence Newsletter misspelled Henze's name, referring to him as Paul "Hentze." This is how his name would be spelled if it had been translated from English into Russian and then transliterated back into English by someone who was unfamiliar with the actual spelling of Henze's name. This identical misspelling of Henze's name had also previously appeared in some English-language Soviet publications.

After the August coup, the tone of Intelligence Newsletter changed somewhat. It was no longer as anti-American as it had been previously; it seemed less focused thematically, and it emphasized economic and technical issues more heavily than it had previously. In November 1991, it adopted a new format. It still continues to be published in 1992.

FORWARD Forward to "Conciliatory Disinformation"
BACK Return to "Soviet Active Measures in the Post-Cold War Era" Table of Contents