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

Recent Revelations About
Soviet Active Measures

"White" or Overt Active Measures

"White" active measures in the Soviet press were coordinated by the international information subdepartment of the CPSU CC Ideology Department, prior to 1986 known as the CPSU CC International Information Department (IID). The difference between the IID and the International Department (ID) is that IID staffers would develop themes and arguments for Soviet propaganda organs while ID staffers would work directly with organizations that played a role in international affairs. In order to become a staff member of the IID, fluency in a foreign language, significant work abroad (often for 5-10 years), or at least 5 years experience in a central propaganda organ were the typical requirements.

Despite its benign sounding cover name, the International Information Department was known within the Central Committee for its close links with the KGB. For example, the deputy head of the IID in the mid 1980s, Nikolai Chetverikov, assumed this position after being expelled from France in April 1983 for espionage activities. Former Politburo member and CPSU CC Secretary Alexander Yakovlev pointed out the special status of the IID in Izvestia on February 17, 1992. He stated:

In general for a long time there was a provision banning the recruitment to work in the Central Committee of people from the KGB. Only later, when the International Information Department was formed, was this provision for some reason repealed for it.

One key component of the "white" active measures apparatus was the Novosti Press Agency (APN). The activities of Novosti's department of political publications, which specialized in active measures, were discussed in the Moscow newspaper Kuranty on September 19, 1991. The article provides an inside look at how the 30-40 active measures specialists working there on assignment from KGB's Service A devised arguments and assembled information for covert media placements, which were then published in an unattributed or falsely attributed fashion throughout the world and often subsequently replayed in Soviet media:

The purposes of the part-time craftsmen, concentrated in the main editorial offices for political publications and some other structures, was to conduct "black propaganda:" to prepare articles, books, brochures, or simply argumentation in which, to the extent possible, the "Soviet ears" would be invisible. ... it is not always convenient, for instance, to defend the interests of Kremlin policy with the help of "opuses" by official authors.... It is another matter if an independent newspaper or a magazine, published in faraway foreign cities and towns, publishes an article written from an entirely neutral position, using generalized facts found in Western publications, and on top of it is signed by a local journalist or public figure.

...What is important is that these objectivist materials pushed the same ideas directed at Western politicians and ordinary folks: to boycott the Soviet market means to prolong unemployment; American grain sent to the starving people of Africa is poisoned by pesticides; the Soviets really do not have a superiority in tanks and missiles, and so on. The effect of the action depends, of course, not only on the quality and smartness of arguments prepared in the Western style, but also on where the unrenowned opus is published and under whose signature.

...the disinformation operation ... does not end with the publication of a skillfully planted scholastic thesis. The highest aerobatics is to quote an already planted "duck" in - this time - quite official propaganda: See, even the West European press is indignant over the machinations of the wily Uncle Sam. So, it is a sacred task for us to stop these wily efforts.

The Kuranty article also explains how the KGB disinformation specialists working at Novosti were able to use their position to tap into the resources of the hundreds of world-class scholars working at Soviet academic institutes, who supplied them with well researched information and carefully crafted arguments that bolstered the active measures themes decided upon by CPSU and KGB officials:

Disinformation requires daily laborious work. ...[And] to tell the truth, God deprived many [KGB] officers ... of any talents. Except, of course, the predilection to report on others. Which necessitates "borrowing" someone else's gray matter and commissioning the needed articles and collections of theses to experts.

It is not advisable, however, to call, for instance, an ISKAN [USSR Academy of Sciences Institute of the United States and Canada] researcher from such a [KGB] center, or invite him for a meeting at a secret residence. It is quite another matter to call from a known moonlighters' feeding bin, as the APN had been for decades, and ask him to write a five or six-page article.

It is true that the topics sometimes shocked some "egghead Sovs." Some refused under the pretext that the suggested interpretation of facts would not correspond to reality. Naive people, they sincerely tried to educate their telephone interlocutors, who looked to be complete ignoramuses in their eyes.

...Sometimes commissions fell through despite the fact that scientists, many of whom were unique specialists, were coming under pressure locally by bosses who had received a call from somewhere "at the top" or by the "undercover [KGB] officers" in their own institute. ...But most of the time the specialists agreed to earn some extra milk for the kids without questions: meet the deadline and provide the number of the savings bank account to deposit the honorarium. It is not our business. If somebody orders material that the Americans are just about to strike a deal with the Russians behind Western Europe's back, it means that somebody needs it. ...Everybody has to make a living.

Thus, the totalitarian nature of the Soviet political system made it possible to construct an elaborate system for influencing foreign public opinion and actions in a highly sophisticated way. The resources at the disposal of the Soviet active measures apparatus were immense, as were their means of spreading the various messages and themes that they crafted, as the following example illustrates.

In March 1992, Father Gleb Yakunin, a former Soviet dissident who is now a member of the Russian parliament and the vice-chairman of a committee that is investigating KGB archives, visited the United States and distributed KGB and CPSU CC Propaganda Department documents that illustrated how these officials worked together to orchestrate the domestic and foreign media coverage of events in the USSR.

One document Yakunin distributed was signed by the Deputy Chief of the CPSU CC Propaganda Department, P. Slezko, on April 21, 1986. It concerned media coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Church convocation, the vehicle which Stalin used in 1946 to dissolve the Uniate (Catholic) Church in the Ukraine, confiscating its property and forcibly merging it into the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Central Committee document warned:

The Vatican and anti-Soviet Uniate-nationalist centers of the West are making an attempt to resurrect Uniate religion in the Ukraine. ...[They] are disseminating slanderous fabrications and insinuations about the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR, the persecution of believers, and calling them "to return to the fold of the Ukrainian Catholic Church."

In light of these problems, the CPSU propagandists stated:

In order to counter the anti-Soviet actions of the Vatican and foreign Uniate-nationalist centers, ... the following measures to widely mark the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Church Convocation may be considered:

  • to conduct ... celebrations ... of the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Church Convocation with the invitation of Orthodox Church delegations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, and also representatives of the World Council of Churches; to invite Western journalists accredited in Moscow, and also media representatives from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania for the celebration of the jubilee; to satisfy the request of Austrian television about the creation of a documentary film about the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Church Convocation for showing through channels on West European television;

  • to instruct TASS, APN, and USSR Gosteleradio (Soviet television and radio] to enlighten foreign audiences about said jubilee;

  • to instruct USSR Goskino (the State Committee on Films] to create, on orders of the Moscow Patriarchate, a documentary about the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Convocation for showing abroad with the subsequent preparation of films;

  • for the editors of Izvestia, New Times, the weekly Moscow News to prepare and publish materials connected with the 40th anniversary of the Lvov Convocation and its meaning.

A May 1986 KGB document distributed by Yakunin recorded their assessment of this event:

A large group of agents of the organs of the KGB, including "Adamant," "Antonov," "Lukyanov," "Skala," and others, took part in organizing and conducting measures. The celebration, in which about 300 guests and 10 representatives of foreign orthodox churches took part, took place in a spirit receptive to us. Positive influence was rendered on the foreigners, and interviews of a positive character were taken from several. Materials about the celebration were broadcast abroad through the mass media for counterpropaganda purposes.

In line with our orientation, the Lvov Oblast [region] KGB cut short attempts of foreign journalist E. Zigli (Federal Republic of Germany) to collect tendentious information about the situation of the church in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

In this way, the Central Committee Propaganda Department and the KGB worked together to orchestrate the "news" in and about the USSR.

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