Saturday, November 14, 2015

Quotable: Marian Leighton recalls Soviet disinformation campaigns

Friday, November 13th 2015

Marian Leighton, a former intelligence officer who specialized in Soviet affairs, recalled the “Soviet disinformation campaign during the 1980s that accused the United States of kidnapping and killing babies and children in the Third World in order to sell their organs.”  Her article, “A New Baby Parts Scandal,” appeared in The Weekly Standard issue of November 2, 2015.  Older Public Diplomacy officers will recall USIA’s work to flag and refute the false charges.  Here are bullet points from the review of the Soviet campaigns:

  • The Kremlin was a master of disinformation, a tool that it employed to mislead and manipulate a target audience—an audience that in the case of the body parts campaign was public opinion both in America and abroad.

  • The ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union constructed an entire apparatus within the KGB (the Soviet intelligence service) to formulate and disseminate disinformation on themes created by the party’s Central Committee. KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who later became the top Soviet leader, elevated the service’s Disinformation Department to the status of an independent directorate to signify its importance.

  • The alleged U.S. sale of organs from babies and children was one of the prime topics of Soviet disinformation, along with claims that the AIDS virus was developed and deliberately spread by the U.S. military, that the CIA had a hand in the 1978 mass suicide of 914 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana (where the victims were forced to drink poison-laced Kool-Aid), that Washington was complicit in the murders of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme, and that the CIA provided “ideological inspiration” to the killers of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

  • In 1979 Soviet disinformation agents spread a false rumor that the United States was responsible for the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by opponents of the Saudi Arabian regime—a charge intended to jeopardize U.S. relations with Arab and Islamic nations. 

  • Soviet disinformation typically appeared first in liberal and left-wing news outlets in Europe and the Third World. The government-controlled Soviet media would then disseminate the articles worldwide, attributing the information to non-Soviet sources. Newspapers and TV stations around the world in turn would unwittingly replay the allegations, lending them an air of authenticity and creating Moscow’s desired multiplier effect.

  • India, a leader of the Third World and a close Soviet ally, was one of Moscow’s favorite venues for planting disinformation.

  • Typical of the Kremlin’s use of Indian media was an article placed in 1987 in the Hindustan Times, a mainstream daily. The article, planted by a journalist on Moscow’s payroll, claimed that the United States was buying Honduran children in order to harvest their organs for transplant. This “news” item exemplified the Kremlin’s heavy focus on Central America, which was a ripe target for Soviet disinformation at a time the U.S. government had been supporting the contra forces against the Sandinista revolutionaries in Nicaragua and where resentment of “Yanqui imperialism” had a long history. 

  • One of the most egregious Soviet-inspired accounts of the U.S. sale of body parts alleged that wealthy Americans were buying up and butchering Latin American children in order to use their organs for transplant. A similar Soviet press placement held that Mexican children routinely were kidnapped, spirited across the U.S. border, and murdered so that their vital organs could be transplanted into sick American children from affluent families.

  • The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, another important Soviet front organization, seized upon the story and publicized it in the media of more than 50 countries.

  • The Soviet Union enlisted the intelligence services of its client states in Eastern Europe to assist with the disinformation campaign about “baby parts” and related issues. East Germany’s Ministry of State Security, better known as the Stasi, played a major role in this activity as part of its overall activism in the Third World.

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