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

Looking To The Future

An understanding of the types of active measures and disinformation operations pursued by the Soviets during the "post-Cold War" era is essential to analyzing future political influence operations. Any future such operations are likely to incorporate, in large part, many of the manipulative techniques that the Soviets pioneered and employed heavily in recent years.

A variety of state and non-state actors around the world continue to use sophisticated, crude, conciliatory, confrontational, and alarmist disinformation and active measures operations in their efforts to influence the perceptions and actions of foreign publics and governments. Remaining communist countries such as Cuba and North Korea have their own active measures and disinformation apparatuses. States or groups that have been trained by the CPSU, such as Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organization, use these techniques in their foreign policy endeavors. Highly ideological, anti-Western regimes such as Iran or Libya have elaborated their own front group structures and appear to have few qualms about spreading anti-Western disinformation.

According to a report in the April 21, 1992 New York Times, Chinese authorities engage in active measures aimed at the United States. A recent Chinese document excerpted in the Times stated:

We want to ease tensions with the United States and break down the sentiment in America for sanctions.... We should take prudent and active measures, and properly report issues in Sino-American relations, so that bilateral relations develop in a way that will help us. Propaganda news stories must be careful and tactical, paying attention to results. As for American interference in our internal affairs, violations of our sovereignty, and slanderous rumor-mongering, we can reveal this in ways that accord with the circumstances and with our diplomatic aims.

In a May 19, 1992 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Robert Bernstein, chairman of Human Rights Watch, stated his belief that the Chinese authorities may be involved in spreading conciliatory disinformation. Bernstein said that two recently released photographs of imprisoned Chinese pro-democracy activists, which showed them in apparent good health, were "highly suspect," and he cast doubts on official Chinese accounts of the condition of imprisoned dissident Wei Jingsheng, who was jailed in 1979 after advocating that democracy become China's "fifth modernization."

On other occasions, the Chinese press has carried anti-American disinformation. on January 14, 1992, the Beijing newspaper Jiefangjun Bao, repeating charges that had appeared in the November 24, 1991 issue of the People's Daily, reported the false "baby parts" rumor. The article claimed:

Some surgeons in the United States were entrusted by rich people to find physically fit children in Brazil. After paying a certain sum of money to their poor parents, these surgeons were able to remove organs from the children through surgery.

Various communist parties around the world also continue to use disinformation and active measures techniques. For example, a March 1992 article in the French magazine Viva written by Maite Pinero, a correspondent for L'Humanite, the newspaper of the Communist Party of France, repeated a litany of long refuted and discredited "baby parts" allegations. Pinero's article was subsequently reported by Radio France International and appeared in the press in the Malagasy Republic.

Pinero is a longtime participant in what was a combined Soviet/Cuban/French Communist disinformation campaign on the so-called "baby parts" issue. Her initial article, tendentiously and inaccurately titled "Selling the Hearts of Children," appeared in the April 14, 1987 issue of L'Humanite, the same month in which the Soviet, Cuban, and Sandinista media in Nicaragua began to spread disinformation on this issue. In May 1992, Pinero was in Geneva, Switzerland, passing out material on the "baby parts" rumor to journalists. The same month, Renee Bridel, an assistant representative of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), for decades a Soviet-controlled front group with consultative status at the United Nations, distributed disinformation on the "baby parts" story to another journalist in Geneva, resulting in a story carried by EFE, the Spanish news agency. IADL and Bridel have been very active in spreading the "baby parts" story since 1988. It is unclear whether she and Pinero were acting on their own in spreading this rumor in May 1992, or as part of a larger, coordinated operation.

Within the former USSR, many elements of the former active measures apparatus have survived and continue to operate, maintaining informal links with embittered hard-line remnants of the former CPSU apparatus, who yearn to again wield power in the future. Also, important active measures entities such as the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (RFIS), the direct lineal descendant of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, and a variety of "nongovernmental" front groups continue to operate - now under Russian rather than Soviet sponsorship. In time, many of the independent states that made up the former Soviet Union may also develop their own active measures apparatuses.

In what appeared to be a striking display of continuity across regimes, on April 4, 1992 the Union of Soviet Friendship Societies (USFS) voted to transform itself into the Russian Association for International Cooperation, or RAMS in its Russian-language acronym. On May 12, 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin supported this initiative, proclaiming RAMS to be the legal successor to the USFS. Yeltsin decreed that all the property of the USFS, including real estate both on Russian territory and abroad, would be transferred to RAMS.

In a May 1992 announcement, RAMS stated:

The newly-established agency is an umbrella structure embracing over 100 cultural, human rights, educational, scientific, ecological, medical, etc. organizations, collective and associate members.

...RAMS maintains on a regular basis cooperation with similar structures in the former USSR republics. CEOs [Chief executive officers] of these organizations make up a coordinating committee which meets on a regular basis to work out common approach [sic] toward financial contributions and joint use of property abroad.

...The budget is made up of membership dues, income-raising activities, and financial support of the Government on ear-marked programs.

RAMS also announced that Valentina Tereshkova, the chairperson of the USFS, had been elected chairperson of RAMS.

In this way, a key element of the Soviet active measures apparatus seems to have been transferred largely intact to the Russian government, which is now funding it instead of the CPSU. Much of the personnel remains the same. Thus, the Soviet friendship societies, which served the interests of the CPSU in the "people-to-people" realm, have been transformed into Russian friendship societies, which will now presumably serve Russian government interests, at least on certain "ear-marked" programs. Much the same sort of transformation process from Soviet to Russian institutions appears to be occurring throughout what was formerly the Soviet active measures apparatus.

The Soviet friendship societies were used to funnel money to nongovernmental groups in other countries that promoted friendship with the USSR. In May 1992, Alan Thompson, the former executive secretary of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (NCASF), pleaded guilty to a charge of violating currency regulations in the United States. It was revealed that Thompson had received $17,000 for NCASF operations in Moscow from Sergei Zimenko, a Soviet official of the USSR Friendship Society.

The February 7, 1992 issue of Pravda revealed an example of continuing active measures operations apparently undertaken by hard-liners in the former USSR. It reported that a "Committee of Public Organizations to Promote a Near East Settlement" had recently been formed under the chairmanship of V.M. Vinogradov. Vinogradov had served as a KGB officer in Great Britain in 1961. He stated that, in addition to contributing to the success of the Middle East peace talks, one of the main aims of his group was "to strengthen friendly ties to all countries of the region." In this regard, he complained that during the Moscow round of Middle East peace talks "disrespect was shown ... to Iran, Libya, and Iraq, which were not invited to the conference," and suggested that they be more fully included in the future.

Vinogradov criticized the Russian government's approach to the peace talks, which he said he did not place sufficient pressure on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied. He concluded that "the Moscow round did not advance the cause of a settlement one iota."

In short, the stance of the newly-formed "Committee of Public Organizations to Promote a Near East Settlement" is anti-Yeltsin, anti-Israeli, pro-Iran, pro-Libya, and pro-Iraq, positions identical to those embraced by ousted communist hard-liners.

Pravda reported that the initiative to form Vinogradov's organization was:

supported by the Russian Society for Friendship with Arab Countries, the Russian Palestine Society, the International Association for the Cooperation of Lawyers, the Academy of the Spiritual Heritage of the East, the Association of Diplomatic Officials, the Committee for Friendship and Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Russian Lawyer's Association, and the Public Academy of Culture and General Values.

These organizations or their predecessors previously functioned as parts of the Soviet active measures apparatus. It thus appears that, despite the demise of the CPSU, large parts of its active measures machinery have survived and continue to operate, either on behalf of the Russian government or for disaffected former communist hard-liners who wish to undermine the Yeltsin government and forge closer ties to anti-Western regimes.

Vinogradov also stated that his committee had applied for the status of a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations, which was one of the main avenues through which Soviet front groups wielded their influence in the past.

On February 28, 1992, the former Soviet army newspaper Krasnava Zvezda reported on a traditional Soviet-style active measures operation apparently undertaken by the Russian government. The newspaper reported that "a meeting of the aktiv of the international committee 'Peace to the oceans' and the Association of International Maritime Law" had adopted an appeal calling on the Commonwealth states to:

preserve for a transitional period a unified security system, a unified military-strategic area, and unified control of the CIS Armed Forces, and to declare a moratorium on the division of the Navy for at least two or three years.

This operation had many of the classic characteristics of a Soviet-style active measures operation, and, in fact, utilized one of the active measures organizations created during the "post-Cold War" era. The "Peace to the Oceans" front group was formed in June 1990, when the Soviets were making a concerted effort, through diplomatic and active measures channels, to pressure the West to accede to Soviet wishes to begin talks on naval disarmament. On July 3, 1990, Radio Moscow reported on the thoroughly stereotypical activities of this newly formed front group:

The inaugural conference of a new public organization has been held in Moscow. Around 200 representatives of the Soviet public - generals, admirals, lawyers, scientists, writers, and journalists - who were invited to the conference gave their unanimous backing to the idea of setting up a Soviet committee for peace, disarmament, and ecological security on the seas and oceans - abbreviated to the Soviet Committee for Peace to the Oceans....

This Soviet-created front group is now apparently being used by the Russian government for its purposes. Its appeal explicitly stated:

The "Peace to the Oceans" committee expresses support for the Russian Federation's president's initiatives and proposals on reducing the CIS Strategic offensive Armed Forces, including the Navy, on parity principles.

The article continued:

The lack of a unified CIS Navy, the appeal says, could lead to a possible naval arms race and the emergence of confrontation at sea. Only on the basis of the CIS Joint Armed Forces and a unified Navy is it possible to formulate a defensive doctrine that is acceptable to the sovereign states and could reliably avert all threats from the seas and oceans.

This heavy-handed attempt to label policies that active measures operations are meant to support as "peaceful" ones, which "avert threats" and make possible a "defensive doctrine," while alleging that contrary policies will lead to "confrontation," an "arms race," and the possibility of war is a familiar Soviet-style active measures practice.

It is also interesting that the committee's appeal was issued in the name of its "aktiv." In the Soviet system, a group's aktiv was the nucleus of its communist party organization.

Thus, although the Soviet active measures and disinformation colossus that sought for decades to undermine the Free World with a variety of hostile and manipulative campaigns has disintegrated, sizable fragments of the old system have survived and continue to operate. Some are sponsored by the Russian government and others apparently by disaffected communist hard-liners who wish to exert as much power as they can.

FORWARD Forward to continuation of discussion of "Looking To The Future"
BACK Return to "Soviet Active Measures in the Post-Cold War Era" Table of Contents