'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
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:
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:
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:
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:
Ekstra Bladet commented:
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]:"
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:
Gordievsky considered Dragsdahl to be an unusually effective Soviet agent of influence. He explained why:
According to Gordievsky, Dragsdahl wrote articles that contributed to the following KGB active measures efforts:
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:
The January 5 Ekstra Bladet article concluded with some, interesting observations on the relationship between Jacob Holdt and Jorgen 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:
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.