Russian Active Measures

The most powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflicts of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable, and conditional.” – Vladimir Lenin.

The Soviets became masters of the techniques which they called aktivnyye meropriyatiya (active measures). The techniques have their roots in Leninist ideologies and include but are not limited to forgery, propaganda, setting up and funding front groups, kidnapping, drug trafficking, terrorism, and assassinations. There is a growing amount of evidence that the old methods of active measures have been reworked into modern methods are still in use today. However, this time around they are not being funded and implemented by Soviet sponsors, but by Russian ones. [1]

One method of Soviet trickery was to fake defection. This involved having “ex”-Soviet members speak out against the Soviet party while really still being a part of it. Through this it was possible to further spread disinformation from seemingly credible sources who appeared to want to expose “the truth”. In reality, these defected Soviets were still true Soviets just doing their part in distorting the perceptions of the public and private sectors. [3]

One method of today’s modern active measures is referred to as a “troll farm” or “troll factory”. Essentially, the factory/farm is comprised of multiple people who are being employed to post propaganda online under fake identities in order to influence other users who see it. An example of this is seen in the Internet Research Agency who employed hundreds of Russian citizens to make pro-Kremlin posts to make it seem as though the Kremlin had more support than it really did. [1]

Plant, incubate, propagate has been replaced by tweet, retweet, repeat.” – Steve Abrams (2016).

Defining what exactly active measures are has been an ongoing task. Shoen and Lamb (2012) said “The term active measures… was a catchall expression used by the KGB for a variety of influence activities“. Eagleburger, former US Under Secretary of State Lawrence said “no phrase in English conveys precisely the meaning of active measures“. [1]

I would call it the heart and soul of the Soviet intelligence – was subversion. Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.” – Oleg Kalugin, retired KGB Major General.

The following three sections of black, gray, and white active measures are taken from USIA’s Soviet Active Measures in the Post Cold War Era 1988-1991. [1]

“BLACK” Active Measures coordinated by KGB Service A

  • Agents of Influnce
  • Forgeries
  • Covert media placements
  • Controlled media

“GRAY” Active Measures coordinated by CPSU CC International Department

  • Foreign Communist Parties
  • Soviet-controlled International Front Organizations
  • Soviet nongovernmental organizations
  • Soviet Friendship Societies
  • Foreign Policy-related research institutes

“WHITE” Active Measures coordinated by CPSU CC Ideology Department

  • TASS
  • Novosti Press Agency
  • Radio Moscow
  • Radio Peace and Progress
  • Other Soviet media
  • Information departments of Soviet embassies

Our KGB staff, using new typewriters and wearing gloves so as not to leave finger-prints, typed up hundreds of letters and sent them to dozens of African missions. The letters, purportedly from white supremacists as well as average Americans, were filled with virulent racist diatribes. The African diplomats publicized some of the letters as examples of the racism still rampant in America, and members of the American and foreign press corps quoted from there.” – Oleg Kalugin, retired KGB Major General (1994).


Soviet Forgeries

The intriguing history of Soviet disinformation and forgeries has yet to be written.” – M. Agursky (1989)

An example of Soviet disinformation is the Trest conspiracy. An example of Soviet forgery is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The State Political Directorate (GPU) was behind the fake conspiracy Trest. Vasily Shulgin (1878-1976) was convinced the conspiracy was real and on a secret visit to Russia with a forged passport, he was further convinced to write about the conspiracy. The Soviet Secret Police exposed Trest as a fake conspiracy in 1927. [3]

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[1] – Abrams, Steve. “Beyond Propaganda: Soviet Active Measures in Putin’s Russia.” Connections, vol. 15, no. 1, 2016, pp. 5–31. JSTOR, Accessed 6 June 2020.

[2] – The Menace of Unreality

[3] – Agursky, Mikhail. “SOVIET DISINFORMATION AND FORGERIES.” International Journal on World Peace, vol. 6, no. 1, 1989, pp. 13–30. JSTOR, Accessed 6 June 2020.

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