In Kiev, they are partying like it’s 1989. Pro-western protesters even pulled down a statue of Lenin that had stood unmolested for decades.
Moscow’s effort to reassert its influence over its former client state has triggered wide spread public protests. In the process, sledgehammers have reduced leftover symbols of Soviet occupation to rubble.
The chaos in the Ukraine is sharp reminder that Russia has not foresworn its old ways. If the angry protesters jamming the streets of Kiev don’t convince you, flipping through the pages of Disinformation will close the case.
The Soviet Union’s Cold War arsenal bristled with arms from nuclear bombs, tank divisions, and backfire bombers to gulags, spies, terrorists and revolutionaries. But one of Moscow’s most prized, secretive and diabolical weapons was disinformation. Thorough a relentless campaign of political and psychological warfare, the Soviet Union planned to undermine the West with propaganda, rumor and lies. In Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, Ion Pacepa, a former Romanian intelligence officer who defected to the United States in 1978, and Ronald Rychlak, a professor of the University of Mississippi, have collaborated to produce a saga of Soviet disinformation from the Stalinist era to the fall of the wall. Beyond that, they show how these tactics have been revived under the current Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
Disinformation draws a good deal on the authors’ previous published works including Pacepa’s expose on his former boss, Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceausescu and a book on the Kennedy assassination. Rychlak wrote Hitler, the War, and the Pope, a defense against charges Pope Pius XII was a Nazi-collaborator. Each of these books argued that Moscow played a major role in playing the West–promoting the notions that Ceausescu was the “progressive” face of Communism, that the CIA was behind the killing of President Kennedy, and that the Pope cheer-led for the Holocaust. In this book they pull together these stories and more to produce a sweeping narrative of how the Soviets tried to shape public opinion as one of their chief instruments of dark diplomacy.
Disinformation is a page-turner from beginning to end. Every chapter offers history never heard in high school. Some will snap this book shut and cry “I told you so.” Others will slap their forehead in disbelief. No one will be neutral about Disinformation–and they’ll all have something to point to for arguing they are right.
That the Soviets practiced disinformation is undeniable. Some of their campaigns are well-documented. For example, the Soviets resurrected the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 19th century Russian propaganda forgery that purported to be the plan for the Jews taking over the world. The Soviets used this fiction to fan antisemitism in the West and the Middle East.
It is also undeniable that “liberal” voices in the West often—and sometimes knowingly—parroted Soviet propaganda to encourage everything from anti-nuclear demonstrations to “liberation theology” which fueled bloody, church-sanctioned socialist revolutions in Latin America. Over the course of the Cold War, Soviet spin popped up everywhere from university lectures to Hollywood movies.
Throughout the book, Pacepa and Rychlak connect lots of dots. But in some instances, the book doesn’t provide definitive proof that there enough dots in between to prove that their dots are connected properly. The place of the controversial journalist I.F. Stone is case in point. Without question over his long career, Stone leveled a lot of criticism that would have made Moscow happy. Pacepa and Rychlak flat out label him a “Soviet agent.” Many agree, citing for example the Venona intercepts, decrypts of Soviet intelligence traffic which have been used to identify agents of Moscow operating in the West. Stone’s defenders, on the other hand, argue the case against him is far from closed.
What Disinformation does, however, is remind us how much “hidden” history of the Cold War remains and what a poor job most of our Ivory Tower academics have done in ferreting it out. If they dug deeper and harder, they may prove some of Pacepa and Rychlak assertions are wrong, but they might also find that a fair amount of Cold War progressive history is tied to mother Russia.
Most importantly, Disinformation offers more than enough evidence to demonstrate that this “new” generation of leaders in Moscow is trying to pull the same “old” tricks. Take RT, the Russian Television news channel that broadcasts in the U.S. and other countries. Its programming mimics Western progressive muck-racking journalism, but objectively it’s hard to view RT news as anything but a propaganda tool.
The truth is out there. But this controversial and provocative book reminds us there is much else to the story. After reading Disinformation the next time an inflammatory tweet, a provocative Facebook post, or a conspiratorial commentary on cable news comes up, one may well wonder if someone in Moscow has just pulled a string.