Active Measures · Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russian Conspiracies and Active Measures

We live in the age of the conspiracy theory, with isolated segments of the population believing in just about everything one could believe, up to and including flat-earth and lizard-aliens masquerading as world leaders. Most of these conspiracy theories evolve from the depths of the internet or the imaginations of the paranoid; some start as jokes or ‘trolling’ attempts and take on a life of their own, and some are based in legitimate questions about world events which spin beyond the realm of the reasonable.

However, the origin of some conspiracy theories is not so mysterious. Over the last few decades, have you ever heard any of the following conspiracy claims?

  • JFK was assassinated by a plot led by three leading Southern-US (or Texan) Oil magnates (Richardson, Murchison and Hunt) in collaboration with the CIA;
  • The AIDS virus was manufactured by the United States as a biological weapon, at Fort Dietrich, in Maryland;
  • Wealthy US industrialists were using child organs harvested from children in the Third-World, specifically sub-Saharan Africa, as organ transplants for themselves and their own children;
  • Martin Luther King was an active US agent, working against Black extremist groups with the CIA;
  • Similarly, that Martin Luther King was assassinated by a stooge of the US Government/CIA when he was about to reveal his government associations;
  • That Reagan was an alcoholic, like his father, and was frequently drunk in the White House;

If you have ever heard or (hopefully not) believed any of these claims, then congratulations: you are a victim of Russian disinformation campaigns. Each of these conspiracies were devised in Moscow and deliberately spread as part of the Russian effort to create dissent and internal conflict in Western States. The Russian agency in charge of these operations was Service A of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, and they were active as far back as the 1920s, when the organization was known as the Checka, a Communist evolution of the pre-revolutionary Tsarist Okhrana. Though Service A also involved itself in assassinations and other active measures, by the late Cold War they were primarily a disinformation service, planting conspiracies and stories to drive a wedge between countries, and to drive a wedge between the people of a state and its government.

Service A forged documents which they gave to third-world leaders as ‘intercepts’ to drive a wedge between them and the US, they manipulated foreign media and peace movements, and they gathered compromising information (Kompromat) on Foreign leaders. Their most active interference in US elections before 2016 was in 1984, when they interfered as much as possible to prevent the re-election of Ronald Reagan.

The most successful of the disinformation campaigns were the JFK assassination conspiracies: the first books and articles to come out about possible conspiracies after 1963 were all funded or produced, directly or indirectly, by Soviet Intelligence. The story about Western ‘baby harvesting’ gained so much traction that in 1988 a motion was passed in the European Parliament condemning the phenomenon. Some of the old KGB conspiracies still linger on the internet now, decades later.

The end of the Cold War and the replacement of the KGB by the FSB did nothing to diminish Russia’s interest in active disinformation, and the growth of the internet made these operations both easier and harder to trace. Combined with a counter-establishment movement in the US and a growing distrust of the Federal Government, happily promoted by the FSB, they found fertile ground for their efforts.

In the last few years we have absolute evidence that the Russian intelligence community has interfered in the 2016 US Presidential elections and the 2016 Brexit campaign in the UK, and strong evidence they have interfered in French, Ukrainian, and Saudi elections. Keep in mind that the FSB, GRU and SVR (The three main Russian intelligence agencies) have, between them, about a million staff. By contrast, the CIA has about 23,000 staff. UK agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ combined have about 13,000.

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