Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign

Thomas Boghardt

Our friends in Moscow call it ‘dezinformatsiya.’ Our enemies in America call it ‘active measures,’ and I, dear friends, call it ‘my favorite pastime.’
—Col. Rolf Wagenbreth,
director of Department X
(disinformation) of East
German foreign intelligence

The practice of intelligence differed considerably between East and West during the Cold War. Western intelligence services were most commonly tasked with gathering information, but their Soviet bloc counterparts placed much greater emphasis on deception operations to influence opinions or actions of individuals and governments.

These “active measures” (aktivinyye meropriatia, as the Soviets called them) included manipulation and media control, written and oral disinformation, use of foreign communist parties and front organizations, clandestine radio broadcasting, manipulation of the economy, kidnappings, paramilitary operations, and support of guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations. Under Joseph Stalin, active measures also included political assassinations. The basic goal of Soviet active measures was to weaken the USSR’s opponents — first and foremost the “main enemy” (glavny protivnik), the United States — and to create a favorable environment for advancing Moscow’s views and international objectives worldwide.

This is the story of one such measure — a campaign to implicate the United States in the emergence of the AIDS pandemic that appeared in the early 1980s. The story both illustrates the nature of Soviet and communist bloc disinformation programs and demonstrates the potential long-term consequences.

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All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in this article are those of the author. Nothing in the article should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of its factual statements and interpretations.

Posted: Jan 26, 2010 11:38 AM
Last Updated: Jan 26, 2010 11:39 AM