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

Budgetary Implications

Given the scant resources that were allocated within USIA to the task of tracking, analyzing, and countering Soviet active measures, the direct budgetary consequences of the collapse of the Soviet active measures apparatus are minuscule. During the better part of the past 10 years, the unit responsible for countering active measures and disinformation within USIA's Policy Guidance office has consisted of two full-time employees. Their efforts, of course, depended on extensive reporting from USIS (United States Information Service) posts overseas, where information officers watch for anti-American articles and items of misinformation and disinformation and report them to USIA headquarters. The role of the policy guidance officers at USIA headquarters is to do the background research necessary to respond to the allegations and to communicate this information and guidance to the field.

Despite the small size of the "counter-disinformation" staff, their efforts and that of USIA's leadership apparently played a major role in the Soviet decision to curtail sharply crude, anti-American disinformation during the "post-Cold War" era. According to an account in the September 19, 1991 issue of the Moscow newspaper Kuranty, protests by former USIA Director Charles Wick in June 1987 to Valentin Falin, then the head of Novosti Press Agency, led to the disbanding of a disinformation unit within Novosti. The Kuranty article stated:

In 1987, the talk started circulating that the plague of the 20th century (AIDS] is not God's punishment, but the result of professional negligence of American bacteriologists. They - the tale went - ignorantly released the artificial virus developed by them from their secret test tubes before its time. This was a very serious accusation, considering what kind of paralyzing fear the mere word AIDS had been evoking. Once in a while references were actually made to some sources of minor authority, including even some European professor. For professionals, however, it was clear where the thing was coming from. ...That is why there was no doubt in the United States as to who had discovered the AIDS virus in American test tubes. The diagnosis was extremely quick. Soon afterwards the head of the American information agency USIA lodged a personal protest to then APN Chairman V. Falin. The addressee was selected extremely well. Shortly before the sensational "discovery" [that the U.S. had allegedly created the AIDS virus], a special group of staff, and not only staff, "undercover" APN employees was created by Falin's personal order, under the direction of Colonel M., newly invited to join the agency.

It is said that Falin had met the disinformation professional while serving as an ambassador to (then) West Germany. The acquaintance came in handy when Falin took charge of the agency. However, after the Americans, incensed by such a brazen lie, applied forceful pressure, the group was disbanded, and the colonel himself disappeared somewhere.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet active measures apparatus, there are still numerous anti-American articles in the media worldwide that require research and guidance from Washington. For example, the so-called "baby parts" rumor, which the Soviet disinformation apparatus embraced during 1987 and 1988, and again briefly in 1991, continues to be rampant in the world press. The USIA officers responsible for countering disinformation made a major contribution to U.S. public diplomacy during the coalition war against Iraq, working very effectively to counter a number of virulent anti-American disinformation campaigns spread by Iraq and its allies. Anti-American propaganda and disinformation continues to be spread by Iraqi, Cuban, Iranian, Libyan, and other governments and groups. As mentioned in the previous section, the active measures activities of states of the former Soviet union need monitoring for their impact on U.S. interests. The USIA officers responsible for countering active measures and disinformation have turned their attention to deal with these issues on a flexible, as-needed basis, and will continue to do so.

More broadly, the collapse of the Soviet active measures apparatus should bring a partial respite for USIS posts around the world, who act as the front lines of defense in responding to anti-American stories worldwide. Although the Soviet active measures apparatus was not responsible for the broad and diffuse phenomenon of anti-Americanism, it was the instrument that was most active in taking advantage of anti-American sentiments in order to create problems for the U.S. government in its foreign relations. With this deliberate source of trouble-making gone, the problems caused by it have receded. But, in many countries, the relentless decades of Soviet-sponsored anti-American propaganda and disinformation have shaped attitudes and caused or exacerbated problems that will continue to exist for many years to come.

In short, there is no large budgetary "windfall" for USIA from the collapse of the Soviet active measures apparatus. The small resources once devoted almost exclusively to this task have been shifted to other similar tasks.

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