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

Recent Revelations About
Soviet Active Measures

An Example of "Black" Active Measures:
Alleged Soviet Agents of Influence and
Covertly Sponsored Publications in Denmark

On January 2 and 5, 1992, The Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported some fascinating revelations about alleged Soviet agents of influence in Denmark made by high-ranking KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky. They provide important insights into how Soviet agents of influence were handled and how the KGB used them to achieve its purposes.

After growing disillusioned with the Soviet system, Gordievsky began working secretly for British intelligence in 1974 while serving as a KGB officer in Copenhagen. He continued to rise within the KGB until 1985, when he was slated to become rezident, or chief of KGB operations in London. At this time, he came under suspicion and was recalled to Moscow for interrogation. With the help of the British, he managed to elude the KGB and escaped from the USSR to freedom. Gordievsky supervised KGB political influence operations in Denmark during his tour of duty there from 1973 to 1978, and is uniquely qualified to speak authoritatively about active measures operations in that country.

Gordievsky identified two people who he said were particularly successful Soviet agents of influence in Denmark. One was Jacob Holdt, the photographer and author of the widely disseminated book American Pictures. The other was Jorgen Dragsdahl, then and now the foreign affairs and defense specialist for the small but influential leftist, intellectual Danish newspaper Information, and from 1980 to 1983 a member of the Danish government's Security and Disarmament Policy Committee. Both men have denied acting as agents of Moscow, although Holdt has admitted receiving money from Soviet officials. Dragsdahl has claimed that the allegations in Ekstra Bladet are "untrue, defamatory, and a threat to my employment and welfare," and is suing the newspaper.

Jacob Holdt's book American Pictures contains hundreds of photographs showing scenes of extreme poverty in the United States, the vast majority involving blacks. It highlights the themes of racism and extreme poverty to the exclusion of virtually everything else.

According to Ekstra Bladet, when American Pictures was first published in 1977, Jacob Holdt had no connection with the KGB. But the KGB officers responsible for political influence operations in Copenhagen saw the value of a book like American Pictures and immediately targeted Holdt for recruitment. Gordievsky describes the process:

The KGB had a very great interest in Jacob Holdt because of American Pictures. It was decided that we should seek to recruit him as an agent and that task was given to my colleague Nikolai Petrovich Gribin.

In 1977, Gribin began to cultivate Jacob Holdt. He sought him out and invited him to luncheons. He treated him like a great treasure and he was quickly able to recruit the Dane. After a few months, Jacob Holdt began to take money from us. ...The KGB paid him significant sums.

In 1977, the Soviets were on the defensive because of President Jimmy Carter's human rights campaign. They regarded American Pictures as an effective tool in denigrating the U.S. human rights record, and made plans to secretly boost its circulation. The January 2 Ekstra Bladet cited a top secret KGB workplan for active measures work in 1978, which stated:

There will be great power put behind our active measures in the following areas:

...Emphasis on the human rights abuses of the United States. The publication of [Jacob Holdt's] book in West Germany and Sweden, and help to assure its publication in Great Britain and help with activities in relation to [Jacob Holdt's] picture exhibit. Study possibilities to have the exhibit shown in other Western countries.

American Pictures became one of the most popular books about the United States in the Danish secondary school system, spreading its extremely unfavorable portrayal of the United States widely throughout Danish society.

Another top secret document sent from KGB headquarters to Copenhagen stated, according to Ekstra Bladet, that the active measures campaign "which involved the publication, distribution, and publicity for the book American Pictures earns special recognition" and had been reported to the highest Soviet authorities, including the Politburo. Gordievsky concluded by characterizing Jacob Holdt as a "first class agent of influence," stating, "Jacob Holdt was a true and real agent. He fulfilled the criteria and we paid him."

In his book Instructions from the Centre, Gordievsky explained the criteria the KGB used for determining whether an individual was considered to be a fully recruited agent:

In order to qualify as a full KGB agent, the "subject of deep study" has to fulfill two main conditions. First, he (or she) has to agree to secret, "conspiratorial" collaboration. Second, he (or she) must be willing to accept instructions from the KGB. Targets who fail to meet with either of these conditions are classed only as "confidential contacts;" their chances of subsequent promotion to full agent status are slim. (p. 40)

Gordievsky said that Holdt fulfilled the criteria for being a Soviet agent.

Holdt has denied this. He admitted meeting with Gribin for years and stated that he once took 10,000 kroner (more than $2,000) from him, but insisted, "I do not consider myself their agent." Holdt, who raised money for poor African countries, explained the relationship in these terms:

It is clear that the KGB had plans for me. I knew that. But I had my own plans. I had something to do with the KGB but I also frequented prostitutes and murderers. I was indifferent to where I got the money that was needed in Africa.

Ekstra Bladet commented:

We have talked with people who know Jacob Holdt and they all explain that he is an idealistic man who has done important work for the oppressed. No one has anything bad to say about him. He has shown the world how it should treat the weak. But those were strange friends he had when he was entrapped by the KGB.

According to KGB documents cited by Ekstra Bladet, the KGB also wished to use Holdt to recruit other agents. One KGB document stated, under the topic of "Principal goal for agent infiltration in the work against the Main Enemy [the United States]:"

Intensify the study of [Jacob Holdt's] contacts. The idea is that we lead him to people who have a potential interest in working against the Main Enemy and the idea is that we should think, later on, of getting [Jacob Holdt] to recruit them under "false flag" pretenses.

A "false flag" recruitment is one in which a person is convinced to work on behalf of, in this case, Soviet intelligence, but given the false impression that he is working for another government. In this way, individuals who would have been repulsed by the idea of working for the Soviets could have been recruited to do anti-American work. The Soviets envisaged such a recruiting role for Holdt.

Jorgen Dragsdahl is a much different person than Jacob Holdt. He has been a prominent and, by all accounts, extremely well informed writer on foreign affairs and defense issues for Information, a small circulation Danish newspaper that is influential in the Danish foreign affairs and security community. In the January 5, 1992 issue of Ekstra Bladet, Gordievsky described how he said the KGB had recruited Dragsdahl as an agent of influence:

The whole thing began in the middle of the 1970s, when I was the second in command for political espionage (Line PR) at the KGB station in Denmark. Dragsdahl had written some quite pro-Soviet articles in Information and we decided to try to get to know him.

It was my colleague KGB officer Stanislav Chebotok who had the task of testing out Dragsdahl and he quickly made contact with him. In fact, within a very short time, he was very close friends with Dragsdahl. We began slowly to involve him.

When Stanislav Chebotok had gotten a good hold on Dragsdahl, he began to give him ideas about what he should write in Information when he treated important political and military issues. We gave him facts and arguments.

What happened is that more and more Dragsdahl began to use Chebotok's suggestions in his writing. Everyday, Chebotok sat and read Information with a magnifying glass. We could confirm that Dragsdahl, to a rising degree, reflected the KGB's thinking.

In 1977-1978, the last year that I was in Copenhagen, Dragsdahl was very active and the rezident Mikhail Petrovich Lyubimov was so fascinated by him that he took him over himself, that is to say, Lyubimov became his case officer.

Gordievsky considered Dragsdahl to be an unusually effective Soviet agent of influence. He explained why:

Dragsdahl was gifted and wrote well. He had imagination and he knew a great deal about military-strategic and political questions. But what made him such an unusual agent was that he was so sophisticated. There are not many others that were.

The most important thing was that he presented the KGB's ideas to his readers in a very artful fashion. His articles were not primitive propaganda drivel. They showed from far and away that Dragsdahl was extremely well informed and he referred to points of view from all sorts of places. In this way, it was impossible for readers to discover where he obtained the things that the KGB put in his head.

Evening after evening Chebotok and Lyubimov sat and talked about what they should feed him the next time, what ideas they should give him. The problem was precisely that Dragsdahl did not swallow all the propaganda. He had his own viewpoints and sometimes he rejected the KGB's ideas because he thought they were too primitive. He was very creative himself.

It was precisely that that made him so useful and so loved. If Chebotok and Lyubimov had given him 4 or 5 arguments for the next article on a particular subject, they were surprised when they read it. Lyubimov would say, "It's extraordinary. We gave him only 4 or 5 ideas, but he's written 10 things which are as if they had come out of our mouths. He's better at it than we ourselves are."

The fantastic thing about Dragsdahl was not just that the KGB could use him as a very sophisticated channel to bring forward its views (anti-Americanism, anti-NATO politics, etc.). In addition, he himself created such viewpoints and published them. Dragsdahl worked together actively with the KGB to undermine Western viewpoints. It was very goal-oriented disinformation.

I know these things for certain because I got all the reports about Dragsdahl from his case officer.

People in Service A said that this was just what they needed and the First Chief Directorate in Moscow expressed the same viewpoint. It was the most refined form of Soviet propaganda: to allow a respected Western political commentator to serve it.

When Dragsdahl in the meantime wrote critically about the Soviet Union, it was also water for the KGB's mill. It was this refinement that heightened his credibility.

According to Gordievsky, Dragsdahl wrote articles that contributed to the following KGB active measures efforts:

1) the campaign against the neutron bomb.

2) the campaign against President Jimmy Carter's human rights policy.

3) the campaign against NATO's deployment of the Pershing II rocket and cruise missiles in Europe

4) to try to give the West the impression that the Soviet threat was not so bad.

5) the disarmament negotiations.

These were the major Soviet active measures campaigns during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Gordievsky also stated that Dragsdahl was paid large sums of money by the KGB when he met with his case officer in Vienna and Budapest:

I don't know what he got, but I know that the sums that the KGB normally paid an agent when one met with him in a third country capital. The typical payment was $15,000 to $20,000 in cash.

The January 5 Ekstra Bladet article concluded with some, interesting observations on the relationship between Jacob Holdt and Jorgen Dragsdahl:

In recent days, Jorgen Dragsdahl has written in Information understandingly and in a friendly fashion about his old friend, the photographer Jacob Holdt, who has been revealed in Ekstra Bladet as a KGB agent.

Jacob Holdt told Ekstra Bladet, "Dragsdahl was the man who made me famous. It was he who promoted the book American Pictures and it was also he who thought up the title. No one has done more for this project than Dragsdahl."

American Pictures was published by the publishing house associated with Information, where Dragsdahl worked.

Interestingly, Dragsdahl was also a close student of the concept of "non-offensive defense," an idea that originated in the West but which was adopted by Moscow for its own purposes and became one of the main slogans of "new political thinking." The U.S. magazine The Nation reported in its April 17, 1989 issue:

Ironically, Gorbachev appropriated the ideas of European and American researchers in devising the sweeping proposal [on a "non-offensive" military doctrine] forwarded last month in Vienna. Jorgen Dragsdahl, a defense writer and editor with the Copenhagen daily Information, has traced this influence and attributes it to peace researchers such as Anders Boserup in Denmark, Robert Neild in Britain, and Horst Afheldt in West Germany. Through seminars and consultations with Soviet policy analysts, some of their ideas gradually filtered into the Kremlin. A few diplomats, notably Lev Meldelevich, former ambassador to Denmark, took a keen interest in the theories and channeled them back to Moscow.

This raises the intriguing possibility that Dragsdahl may have been influential not just in allegedly carrying out KGB instructions in Denmark, but may also have also played a role in helping provide some of the raw material that Soviet ideologists used to devise some of the core concepts of "new political thinking." As explained in the chapter on "The Conciliatory Slogans of New Political Thinking," ideas such as "non-offensive defense" were at the heart of Soviet active measures operations from 1988 to late 1990, and again from the spring of 1991 to the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991.

It is also interesting to note that Information was one of the few noncommunist publications in the world to participate in one of the most objectionable Soviet disinformation campaigns of the Gorbachev era, which falsely accused the U.S. government of killing the 918 people who died in the Jonestown mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. The June 6-7, 1987 issue of Information included a book review of the Soviet book Death of Jonestown - Crime of the CIA, which made these absurd claims. This particularly crude and egregious Soviet disinformation campaign was almost universally ignored in the noncommunist world. Information found it worthy of note, however.

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