'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
On October 4, 1991, the newly appointed head of what was then the Soviet foreign intelligence service and is now the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Yevgeni Primakov, touched on some of these issues in a press conference. Primakov stated that the newly independent states of the former USSR were potential targets for Moscow's intelligence operations, which, of course, included active measures. According to the newspaper Trud:
When the USSR was dissolved and Russian president Boris Yeltsin took control of the USSR's central institutions, including its foreign intelligence service, he kept Primakov as its head. On April 6, 1992, ITAR-TASS reported that 8 of the 11 countries comprising the CIS had recently signed an agreement on cooperation among themselves in which they pledged not to conduct intelligence activities against each other. It remains to be seen how this agreement will work in practice or whether Primakov's earlier warning will remain relevant.
In his October 1991 press conference, Primakov also pledged that the then-Soviet foreign intelligence service would "strive to provide objective information in order to avoid any disinformation." on March 17, 1992, while recruiting for the RFIS at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Primakov initially appeared to bolster this reputation for truth-telling by admitting that the KGB had fabricated and planted disinformation stories blaming the United States for the creation of the AIDS virus.
But there appeared to be a mischievous element in Primakov's admission of KGB wrongdoing. According to the March 19, 1992 issue of Izvestia, he then claimed - falsely - that the U.S. had retaliated for the USSR's AIDS disinformation campaign by spreading rumors that the USSR had been involved in the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II. The article stated:
Primakov's claim was clearly impossible because charges of Soviet involvement in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II began to appear in 1981 and 1982, well before the USSR's AIDS disinformation campaign began. (The original AIDS charge, planted in the KGB-founded Indian newspaper Patriot in July 1983, went unnoticed by the world until October 1985, when the Soviets began to replay it in a concerted media campaign.) Even if the U.S. government had wished to respond to the AIDS disinformation campaign in kind - which it did not - it could not have retaliated for something that had not yet occurred. Furthermore, charges of Soviet involvement in the attempted papal assassination were the result of investigations by independent journalists, not the U.S. government, which never blamed the USSR for this event.
Other false charges have also appeared in the Russian press. On April 9, 1992, the Russian news service ITAR-TASS carried an item containing falsehoods that, if believed, would lend credence to fears that the breakup of the USSR may result in Soviet nuclear materials and expertise being transferred to other countries. It reported:
"Red mercury" is not "a strategic metal used in the production of nuclear weapons," as purported in the article, but a hoax. According to the April 13, 1992 issue of the British newspaper The Independent:
David Kay, the director of the Uranium Institute in London and the leader of the U.N. team sent to inspect Iraq's nuclear facilities after the Gulf war, was quoted in the March 15, 1992 issue of the London Times as stating that the "red mercury" rumor began long ago:
A variety of scam artists have been involved in the "red mercury" hoax. According to the April 13, 1992 issue of The Independent, individuals have been arrested "trying to peddle trace quantities of plutonium and slightly enriched uranium, although neither in remotely strategic quantities." One person simply placed mercury in a red-tinted vial. As CIA Director Robert Gates told the U.S. Congress in testimony on January 15, 1992:
The April 13 issue of The Independent cited reports that "the Russian mafia are said to be closely involved" in the red mercury scam. It also stated:
Thus, although the "red mercury" rumor appears to have started on its own, and a number of confidence artists have apparently used it as a money-making scam, individuals or intelligence organizations in the former Soviet Union may also have circulated the rumor for their own purposes.
In other instances, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service officials have made quite simplistic disinformation claims. For example, in the May 4, 1992 issue of Izvestia, RFIS spokesman Yuri Kobaladze claimed, falsely, that recent revelations in the press in United States, France, and Belgium about extensive, ongoing economic espionage by the RFIS were "forgeries" aimed at pressuring the RFIS to curtail its intelligence activities abroad.
The veracity of some conciliatory statements by Russian government leaders has also been questioned by some observers. For example, the Russian government pledge that it no longer intends to target U.S., European, Japanese, or Chinese targets with its nuclear missiles has been questioned by President Kravchuk of Ukraine and by the captain of a Typhoon nuclear submarine armed with 20 strategic ballistic missiles carrying 200 warheads. The submarine captain stated in an interview in the joint Russian-American newspaper We in March 1992 that targeting instructions for his strategic missiles have not changed:
An article in the May 8, 1992 Washington Times illustrated how conciliatory themes are currently being used by Russian government authorities in efforts aimed at foreign media. The article, entitled "Envoy proposes U.S. and Russia curb spy efforts," stated:
By making a highly public offer that it presumably had calculated in advance would be rejected as unrealistic, the Russian government was thus able to appear to be taking the high moral ground with regard to the issue of intelligence collection, without running any real risks that it would have to curtail any of its intelligence gathering operations. This is an illustration of how a post-totalitarian government can use a seemingly conciliatory gesture to enhance its own image and to try to make a democratic government appear in a bad light.
This offer was reminiscent of a similar suggestion made during the last days of the Soviet regime. On Russian television on November 27, 1991, Soviet academician Georgi Arbatov suggested that the CIA and the Soviet foreign intelligence services reach a reciprocal agreement on their activities. Arbatov suggested that the intelligence services of both countries abandon covert operations and stop recruiting citizens from each others' countries as agents. Such utopian suggestions have no likelihood of being implemented, but they do improve the image of the side making the noble-sounding suggestion and make the other side appear, by contrast, to be somewhat unethical. This appears to be their purpose.