The best form of gossip is always laced with the truth. It’s the same with active measures (AM) used to shape the perceptions, beliefs, emotions and actions of an adversary to disorientate, disrupt and fuel internal dissent. It’s political and psychological warfare. AM includes propaganda, counterfeiting official documents, inserting false information into factual reports, as well as political repression through a bewildering mix of truth and lies. Leading academic on active measures, John Hopkins University Professor Thomas Rid, explains the key to AM is hooking into the emotions of the population where just enough truth amplifies those emotions. Once those few facts tap into our emotions and we connect with others who share those emotions, then the presentation of anything to the contrary has no result.
The campaign takes on a life of its own (that’s what makes the measures ‘active’) aided and abetted by elites, academics, mainstream media, politicians and community influencers. Opinionated elites are the best useful idiots for AM. Only when the system is on the brink of destabilisation can the ‘new normal’ be established. The political warfare of Covid-19 is one of the best case studies of active measures in the modern era. A perfect weapon against liberal democracies to undermine trust in each other and our political system.
During the last Cold War, the KGB’s Department X (then Service A) was responsible for running aktivnye meropriyatiya, or active measures. Retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, described AM as ‘the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence’. According to KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov, the KGB spent 85 per cent of its time on AM with the aim of demoralising the adversary’s population and changing their perception of reality. One of the AM classics was Field Manual 10-1 outlining how the US would plan an invasion of Europe should the Cold War turn hot. The KGB obtained the plans and inserted one or two fake pages. One fake page showed which European cities the United States would hit with a nuclear bomb. In 1968 the KGB leaked the document to German soft porn magazine, Der Stern, as well as the more reputable Der Spiegel. Der Stern’s editors couldn’t believe their luck. Der Spiegel was more discerning, even suspecting it might be a KGB trick, but published it anyway. The Times in London had headlines declaring, ‘US to Hand out H-Bombs’. Despite acknowledging the document could be a forgery, mainstream media declared the story was just too good. Imagine what the real document must be like! It created US-EU diplomatic tensions for years.
Then there was Aids Made in America. Against the background of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the KGB launched one of the most infamous AM campaigns in history – Aids was an American biological weapon developed at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Department X (then Service A), recognised the fear of Aids spread faster than the virus. A seemingly unlikely source of the AM campaign began in an Indian newspaper, the Patriot. Third countries are often used to kick off AM campaigns. The article was 20 per cent forgery and 80 per cent fact. It stated Aids, the deadly mysterious disease, was likely the result of Pentagon experiments gone wrong.
A KGB memo from 7 September, 1985 provided instructions to Bulgarian intelligence to spread the Aids disinformation. The facts published in the Patriot became the blueprint. Newspaper articles started appearing in Peru, Sweden, Finland, the Middle East and the Netherlands. Then Jakob Segal, retired director of the Institute of General Biology at East Germany’s prestigious Humboldt University, and his wife (a biology professor), published a scientific journal article on the topic. The Segals were cultured, articulate and spoke several languages. They made the Aids AM campaign more believable by giving it a scientific founding. They were willing agents of influence. Their paper appeared in Africa, starting in Zimbabwe. The real kicker occurred when the Sunday Express in the UK published headlines in October 1986 declaring, ‘The Killer Aids virus was created in an American lab’.
Newspapers in thirty countries reprinted the story including the Australian. It was prime time TV news. CBS-News ran a segment on Dan Rather’s flagship current affairs program with 15 million viewers. The KGB was ecstatic. KGB defector Yevgeny Primakov confirmed the Aids story was designed to distract the world from the Red Army’s use of chemical weapons in Afghanistan.
Fortunately, most of us are not psychopaths. We never consider the lengths other people will go to defeat their enemies. Yet it’s also a flaw when planning for war against non-Western opponents. Many in the West continue to think we all hold the same values. Surely over twenty years fighting jihadists should have taught us that is complete nonsense.
Back to Covid. Some may recall the images distributed to the world by China when the virus emerged in early 2020. People collapsing in the street, lockdowns, residents welded into their apartments and slow-moving mobs of hazmat suits fumigating streets. One of the best was the photo in March 2020 of cyclists passing an elderly man allegedly lying dead on a Wuhan street. The Sun in the UK published the photo calling it ‘dawn of the dead’. We simply believed a communist dictatorship was honestly reporting events, data and scientific studies. All aimed at shaping the minds of Western media and the decisions of politicians.
Eighteen months on, still every waking moment is consumed with catastrophic messaging, saving lives and worse-case-scenario modelling. Now it has taken on a life of its own. No sooner are we released from a lockdown than the media switches to Covid in the sewage. Lockdowns, masks forever, being tracked and traced and a relentless message that freedom is to be feared. If it feels like you are hallucinating with the number of rules, you are not alone. Question a single edict and you become part of the active measures. It’s your fault. Now under Biden’s administration and its collusion with Big Tech corporations such as Google and Facebook, you may be labelled an anti-vaxxer, Trump-voting member of QAnon.
In just over 18 months Western countries have been ravaged by a self-inflicted social, psychological and economic contagion that risks their national security as effectively as an outright military invasion. It’s war without firing a shot in a battle for reality. Beware of the new normal and reject the attempt to ‘reimagine’ our freedoms.
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