'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
In late 1988, when the head of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, Vladimir Kryuchkov, became KGB chairman, the Soviets began to try to construct a new, benign image for the KGB. Much of this image-building consisted of conciliatory disinformation.
For example, in 1989, the Soviets announced that the KGB's Fifth Directorate, which combated "ideological subversion," had been abolished and that a new "Directorate to Defend the Constitution" had been established, in what was portrayed as a sharp break with the practices of the past. Although Soviet policies towards internal dissent did loosen during this period, the alleged abolition of the Fifth Directorate and the establishment of the "Directorate to Defend the Constitution" amounted to little more than a name change. It continued its functions much as before.
In 1989, Kryuchkov authored a pamphlet entitled "The KGB Must Abide by the Interests of the People." The pictures in the pamphlet revealed what the Soviets wanted the world to believe about the "new KGB." They showed KGB officers and troops fighting terrorism, guarding the USSR's borders, rescuing the crew of a sinking fishing boat, capturing a mafia gangster, combating drug trafficking, and preparing for interviews on television. It was also mentioned, almost in passing, that the KGB possessed an intelligence and a counterintelligence service.
The impression the pamphlet attempted to impart was that the KGB was a professional, modern security and intelligence agency much the same as any state would have. It existed in order to protect its citizens, punish criminals, and maintain public order. The seamy side of the KGB's activities, including its mammoth espionage, subversion, and ideological surveillance operations were left unmentioned, denied, or glossed over. Kryuchkov wrote in the 1989 pamphlet, ironically in retrospect, that "at the basis of all our efforts we have placed two criteria - legality and truth." But, as his actions in August 1991 made clear, he did not want the KGB to surrender all its repressive functions.
In addition to conciliatory disinformation and the disingenuous argument that the KGB was essentially an intelligence service "like every country had," the Soviets also used some grand conciliatory gestures in their effort to improve the KGB's image. One was their constant lobbying, in a very public way, for cooperation between the KGB and Western intelligence services in the "common effort" against drug trafficking, crime, and terrorism. These are all exceedingly worthy goals, but much Soviet effort in this area was largely a propaganda campaign aimed at improving the KGB's image, as opposed to a serious, businesslike effort to improve cooperation.
The Soviet effort to engage the West in joint anti-terrorism efforts began in earnest in 1987. An April 1, 1987 article in the New York Times, entitled "Soviet Proposes Antiterror Effort to West," stated:
Soviet authorities not only used their diplomats to push this idea, but also nongovernmental groups and, perhaps, a highly dramatic media incident that Natalie Grant, a student of Soviet disinformation since the 1920s, has suggested may have been deliberately stage-managed by the Soviets.
This dramatic, eye-catching incident occurred in December 1988. In a incident that drew worldwide media attention, Moscow reversed its long-standing policy of not giving in to terrorist demands and allowed Soviet gunmen who had seized a bus with 30 children on broad to depart the USSR for Israel, after giving them several million dollars in ransom. once in Israel, the children were released, the hijackers were disarmed, arrested, and returned to the USSR. Throughout the crisis, Moscow went out of its way to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate with other countries in bringing the hijackers to justice. Several days later, Vitaly Ponomarev, deputy head of the KGB, announced in a December 7 interview with Moscow's Radio Peace and Progress that the KGB would be willing to cooperate with the CIA, British intelligence, or even Israel's Mossad intelligence service in combating terrorism.
The very next month, in January 1989, unofficial meetings between Americans and Soviets began on the issue of finding ways to combat terrorism. The American nongovernmental organization that sponsored the meeting was called "Search for Common Ground." Its executive director, John Marks, had authored or co-authored several books highly critical of the CIA. The group he assembled also included a number of respected counter-terrorism experts from outside the U.S. government, including former senior CIA officials. In the August 1990 "acknowledgments" to a book on this subject he co-edited with Soviet writer Igor Beliaev, entitled Common Ground on Terrorism, Marks indicated that he had sought and received funds for such a project for the past three years.
In the March 5, 1989 issue of the Washington Post, Marks and Brian Jenkins, a counter-terrorism expert at the RAND corporation, wrote an article on "Talking Terrorism with Moscow," which described their meeting with the Soviets two months earlier. In its concluding paragraph, the article seemed to incorporate one of the main slogans of "new thinking," when it spoke about moving away from the enemy image. Marks and Jenkins wrote:
In an interview in the February 11, 1989 issue of Izvestia, Marks stated that the Soviet Peace Committee, the "public organization" that served as a cornerstone of the active measures apparatus in the USSR, had been instrumental in originating the idea of convening a meeting of U.S. and Soviet experts on terrorism. The interview, by Izvestia correspondent M. Yusin, stated:
Marks and Beliaev elaborated on the origins of their group in the introduction to their book Common Ground on Terrorism. They stated:
These actions illustrates how the Soviets used. nongovernmental groups, such as the Soviet Peace Committee, and perhaps highly publicized media incidents such as their handling of the December 1988 hijacking to strengthen their conciliatory image in the West. As Natalie Grant wrote in Conservative Digest in 1990, these conciliatory active measures were very useful in improving the Soviet image in the West, which had been tarnished by reports of Soviet support for international terrorism, later revealed to have been accurate by Russian authorities. Grant stated:
As mentioned earlier, in a revealing footnote to this episode, on May 25, 1992, Sergei Shakhrai, who had recently resigned as the senior legal adviser to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, revealed that in 1975 the KGB had delivered arms and ammunition to a Palestinian terrorist group, so that it could "carry out operations against American and Israeli personnel in third countries." (The New York Times, May 26, 1992). On June 5, 1992, Russian Information Minister Mikhail Poltoranin stated that Soviet support for terrorism had continued under Gorbachev, through 1991 - the same period in which the Soviets were vigorously urging the United States and Western countries to join them in a common effort to counter terrorism.