Active Measures

   Aktiviniie meropriatia (active measures) in the jargon of the Soviet intelligence services meant political manipulation and propaganda to influence international opinion. From the beginning of its existence, the Soviet Union sought to use propaganda to defend its legitimacy and malign its enemies on the right and the left. A special bureau was created in the GPU in January 1923 for disinformation “to break up the counterrevolutionary schemes of the enemy.” The Soviet security service became more active in the 1930s in financing campaigns to explain the Moscow Trials and demonize former party leader Leon Trotsky. The Soviet party and security service used contacts with foreign communist parties and Soviet sympathizers—once referred to as “useful idiots” by Vladimir Lenin—to legitimatize these campaigns. After World War II, the Soviet intelligence service used the term “active measures” to describe covert political action designed to affect the political opinion of unfriendly and neutral countries. From the early 1950s, a constant theme of Soviet active measures was “peace campaigns,” designed to portray the United States as a hawkish and irresponsible nuclear power. Active measures often centered on the placement of misleading or false newspaper stories to impact popular opinion. For example, during the Korean War, false stories were planted in the press alleging U.S. complicity in spreading plague and smallpox in Korea and China.
   KGB Chair Aleksandr Shelepin made Ivan Agayants head of a Service D (the D apparently stood for Dezinformatsiya) in the late 1950s and insisted that the First Chief Directorate, which was responsible for foreign intelligence, expand its campaigns against the American leadership. Shelepin apparently believed that such campaigns could be directed to drive a wedge between the Americans and their NATO allies. The KGB gave active measures an important role in Soviet diplomacy. In a 1986 report from KGB Chair Viktor Chebrikov to Mikhail Gorbachev, the KGB chief trumpeted: “Intelligence systematically carried out active measures to aid the implementation of the Soviet state’s foreign policy initiatives and to expose the foreign policy of the United States and its allies. Active measures were carried out to discredit the American ‘Star Wars’ plan, to aggravate and deepen imperialist contradictions, and to step up the antiwar movement in Western countries.”
   A major target of KGB active measures was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In the 1960s and 1970s, the KGB sponsored “exposures” of CIA operations in many Western and neutral countries. The KGB in the late 1960s paid for the publication of books blaming the CIA for John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In Great Britain, these publications were successful enough to lead 32 Labour members of Parliament to sign a petition calling for the expulsion of the CIA station from London. Articles and books were published listing the names and addresses of CIA officers, leading to the assassination of a CIA officer in Greece. In the 1980s the KGB placed a number of stories in Indian and African newspapers claiming that AIDS had been designed by the U.S. government to destroy the population of Africa. The articles were designed to raise anti-American sentiment in African countries where the United States hoped to base naval units. These articles then appeared in the European and American press and were believed by tens of millions of people.
   Soviet active measures were carefully coordinated with the International Department of the Communist Party Central Committee, and were well financed. Within the KGB, covert actions were managed by Service A (the successor of Service D) of the First Chief Directorate. These activities actually backfired as often as they worked. Evidence that the KGB was behind the AIDS stories emerged in the 1980s and created devastatingly bad publicity for Moscow at a time when the Soviet Union was seeking better relations with Washington.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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