Operation INFEKTION | Anti-American, KGB Manufactured Conspiracy Theories


Operation INFEKTION
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In 1992, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov admitted that the KGB was behind the Soviet newspaper articles claiming that AIDS was created by the US government.[1]

Operation: INFEKTION was a KGB disinformation campaign to spread information that the United States invented HIV/AIDS [2] as part of a biological weapons research project at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Soviet Union used it to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad, and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations).[3]

According to U.S. State Department analysts, another reason the Soviet Union “promoted the AIDS disinformation may have been its attempt to distract international attention away from its own offensive biological warfare program, which [was monitored] for decades”–in addition to anthrax, the Soviets were believed to have developed tularemia, the plague, and cholera for biological warfare purposes, as well as botulinum toxin, enterotoxins, and mycotoxins.[4] An alternative explanation is that the operation may have been in retaliation for American accusations that the Soviets used chemical weapons in Southeast Asia, later dubbed the yellow rain incident.[2]

Story Genesis and Progression

The groundwork appeared in the pro-Soviet Indian newspaper Patriot which, according to a KGB defector named Ilya Dzerkvelov, was set up by the KGB in 1962 “in order to publish disinformation”.[5] An anonymous letter was sent to the editor in July 1983 from a ‘well-known American scientist and anthropologist’, stating that AIDS was manufactured at Fort Detrick by genetic engineers. The ‘scientist’ claimed that “that deadly mysterious disease was believed to be the results of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons,” and implicated CDC scientists with being sent to Africa and Latin America to find dangerous viruses alien to Asia and Europe. These results were purportedly analyzed in Atlanta and Fort Detrick and thus the “most likely course of events” leading to the development of AIDS.[6]

The Segal Report

The campaign started in earnest in October 1985 after the story was ignored for two years, with the original article being published again by Literaturnaya Gazeta. To lend credence, the Soviet Union used a pseudo-scientific paper written in 1986 by a retired East German biophysicist named Dr. Jakob Segal, co-authored by his wife Dr. Lilli Segal and Dr. Ronald Dehmlow, at Humboldt University. The report was quoted heavily by Soviet propagandists, and the Segals were often said to be French researchers in order to hide their connections with communism. Dr. Segal postulated that the AIDS virus was synthesized by combining parts of two distantly related retroviruses: VISNA and HTLV-1. [7] An excerpt of the Segal report is as follows:

It is very easy using genetic technologies to unite two parts of completely independent viruses… but who would be interested in doing this? The military, of course… In 1977 a special top security lab… was set up…at the Pentagon’s central biological laboratory. One year after that… the first cases of AIDS occurred in the US, in New York City. How it occurred precisely at this moment and how the virus managed to get out of the secret, hush-hush laboratory is quite easy to understand. Everyone knows that prisoners are used for military experiments in the U.S. They are promised their freedom if they come out of the experiment alive.[8]

Elsewhere in the report, Segal said that his hypothesis was based purely on assumptions, extrapolations, and hearsay and not at all on direct scientific evidence.[9]

Dissemination methods

The AIDS story exploded across the world, and was repeated by Soviet newspapers, magazines, wire services, radio broadcasts, and T.V. It appeared forty times in Soviet media in 1987 alone. It received coverage in over eighty countries in more than thirty languages,[10] primarily in leftist and communist media publications, and was found in countries as wide spread as Bolivia, Grenada, Pakistan, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Malta. A few versions made their way into non-communist press in Indonesian and Philippine press. [11]

Dissemination was usually along a recognized pattern: propaganda and disinformation would first appear in a country outside of the USSR and only then be picked up by a Soviet news agency, which attributed it to others’ investigative journalism. That the story came from a foreign source (not widely known to be Soviet controlled or influenced) added credibility to the allegations, especially in impoverished and less educated countries which generally could not afford access to Western news satellite feeds. To aid in media placement, Soviet propaganda was provided free of charge, and many stories came with cash benefits.[11] This was particularly the case in India and Ghana, where the Soviet Union maintained a large propaganda and disinformation apparatus for covert media placement.[12]

Soviet narrative

To explain how AIDS outbreaks were simultaneously so prevalent in Africa, the Moscow World Service announced that Soviet correspondent Aleksandr Zhukov discovered that in the early 1970s, a Pentagon controlled West German lab in Zaire “succeeded in modifying the non-lethal Green Monkey virus into the deadly AIDS virus.” Radio Moscow also claimed that instead of testing a cholera vaccine, American scientists were actually infecting unwitting Zairians, thus spreading it throughout the continent. These scientists were unaware of the long period before symptom onset, and resumed experimentation on convicts upon return to the US, where it then spread when the prisoners escaped.[13]

Other disinformation campaigns running at the same time made the AIDS accusations more believable. In 1987, Professor Rychkov, the head of the human genetics lab at a Soviet genetics institute, claimed the United States was researching a DNA molecule capable of controlling people’s minds and behavior, and said it was a definitely a possibility that AIDS was made by the U.S. Other allegations were made that included the creation of an ‘ethnic bomb’ to destroy non-whites, and fine-tuning it to target specific age groups and genders. The U.S. was also said to have released killer mosquitoes into Pakistan, violating arms control agreements, trafficking in baby parts, and creating treatment resistant and ultra-deadly strains of dengue fever, malaria, and other tropical illnesses. [14]

Claims that the CIA had sent “AIDS-oiled condoms” to other countries sprang up independently in the African press, well after the operation was started.[2] In 1987, a book (“Once Again About the CIA”) was published by Novosti, with the quote:

The CIA Directorate of Science and Technology[15] is continuously modernizing its inventory of pathogenic preparations, bacteria and viruses and studying their effect on man in various parts of the world. To this end, the CIA uses American medical centers in foreign countries. A case in point was the Pakistani Medical Research Center in Lahore… set up in 1962 allegedly for combating malaria.

The resulting public backlash eventually closed down the legitimate medical research center. Soviet allegations declared the purpose of these research projects, to include that of AIDS, was to ‘enlarge the war arsenal.’[12]

Worldwide Response to AIDS Allegations

Ironically, many Soviet scientists were soliciting help from American researchers to help address the Soviet Union’s burgeoning AIDS problem, while stressing the virus’ natural origins. The U.S. politely refused to help as long as the disinformation campaign continued.[16] The Segal report and the plenitude of press articles were dismissed by both western and Soviet virologists as nonsense. [17]

Dr. Meinrad Koch, a West Berlin AIDS expert, stated in 1987 that the Segal report was ‘utter nonsense’ and called it an ‘evil pseudo-scientific political concoction.’ Other scientists also pointed out flaws and inaccuracies in the Segal report as well, including Dr. Viktor Zhdanov of the Ivanovsky Institute of Virology in Moscow, who was the top Soviet AIDS expert at the time. The president of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences clearly stated that he believed the virus to be of natural origin. Other scientists and doctors from Paris, East and West Berlin, India, and Belgium called the AIDS rumors lies, scientifically unfounded, and otherwise impossible to seriously consider. [18] Although Segal himself never said ‘this is fact’ and was very careful to maintain this line throughout his report, “such technical qualifiers do not diminish the impact of the charges, however, because when they are replayed, such qualifiers are typically either omitted or overlooked by readers or listeners.”[19]

US Embassy officials wrote dozens of letters to various newspaper editors and journalists, and held meetings and press conferences to clarify matters. Many of their efforts resulted in newspapers printing retractions and apologies.[20] Rebuttals appeared in reports to Congress and from the State Department saying that it was impossible at the time to build a virus as complex as AIDS; medical research had only gotten so far as to clone simple viruses. Antibodies were found decades earlier than the reported research started, and the main academic source used for the story (Segal’s report) contained inaccuracies about even such basic things as American geography—Segal said that outbreaks appeared in New York City because it was the closest big city to Fort Detrick. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. are all closer, while New York is 250 miles away.[19]

The Gorbachev administration also responded indignantly and launched a defensive denial campaign “aimed at limiting the damage done to its credibility by U.S. efforts to raise world consciousness concerning the scope of Soviet disinformation activites”. [12] The Soviet Union interfered with general attempts by US Embassy officials to address misconceptions and expose the Soviet disinformation campaign, to include placing pressure on news agencies that recanted their position. For example, Literaturnaya Gazeta on December 3, 1986, castigated a Brazilian newspaper which earlier in the year had run a retraction following its publication of the AIDS disinformation story. In 1987 “Moscow’s Novosti news agency disseminated a report datelined Brazzaville (Congo), calling on the West to put an end to the ‘anti-African campaign’, and repeating the charges that the virus was created in US military laboratories” while in 1986 Literaturnaya Gazeta warned specifically against contact with Americans. [21]

In 1988, Sovetskaya Rossiya put out an article defending their right to report different views, and the chief of Novosti stated that it drew upon foreign sources for much of the AIDS coverage and the press was free under glasnost.[12] The Mitrokhin Archives reveal that

faced with American protests and the denunciation of the story by the international scientific community, however, Gorbachev and his advisors were clearly concerned that exposure of Soviet disinformation might damage the new Soviet image in the West. In 1987, US officials were told in Moscow that the AIDS story was officially disowned, Soviet press coverage of the story came to an almost complete halt.[22]

The campaign faded from most Soviet media outlets, but it occasionally resurfaced abroad in third world countries as late as 1988, usually via press placement agents.[23]

Aftermath

Fairly recent research shows the ongoing effect on the public mind.

In 1992, 15% of Americans considered it definitely or probably true that “the AIDS virus was created deliberately in a government laboratory.”[2] In 2005, a study by the RAND Corporation and Oregon State University revealed that nearly 50% of African Americans thought AIDS was man-made, over 25% believed AIDS was a product of a government laboratory, 12% believed it was created and spread by the CIA, and 15% believed that AIDS was a form of genocide against black people.[2] Other AIDS conspiracy theories have abounded, and have been discredited by the mainstream scientific community.

In 1992 Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov admitted that the KGB was behind the Soviet newspaper articles claiming that AIDS was created by the US government.[24] The book Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police [25] describes how the Stasi cooperated with the KGB to spread the story.[25]

See also

References

  1. Jump up ^ AIDS as a biological weapon. America.gov (2005)
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Operation INFEKTION – Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign. Thomas Boghardt. 2009
  3. Jump up ^ U.S. Department of State. Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, August 1987., pg. 33
  4. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 45
  5. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 34, 44
  6. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 35
  7. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 34-36
  8. Jump up ^ U.S. Department of State. Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1987-1988. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, August 1989., pg. 3
  9. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 35
  10. Jump up ^ U.S. Information Agency. “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost.” Report to Congress, Washington D.C., March 1988., pg. 10
  11. ^ Jump up to: a b Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 38
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Soviet Influence Activities, 1987-1988., pg. 4
  13. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 3
  14. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 34-35, 39, 42
  15. Jump up ^ This is essentially like saying a hospital’s department of neurosurgery is researching how to give heart-worm medication to cats. The CIA’s Science and Technology department has virtually nothing to do with biological warfare research. See https://www.cia.gov/offices-of-cia/science-technology/index.html for a more accurate description.
  16. Jump up ^ “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost”., pg. 3
  17. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 10
  18. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 36
  19. ^ Jump up to: a b “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost”., pg. 10-11
  20. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 41-42
  21. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 43, 49
  22. Jump up ^ Andrew and Mitrokhin, 2005., pg. 340
  23. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1987-1988., pg. 3-4
  24. Jump up ^ AIDS as a biological weapon. America.gov (2005)
  25. ^ Jump up to: a b Koehler, John O. (1999) Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police ISBN 0-8133-3409-8

External links

Operation INFEKTION: Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign


Operation INFEKTION: Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign

“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 CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence has just published Volume 53, Number 4 (December 2009) of Studies in Intelligence. The issue includes an unclassified extract from a classified study of the Soviet Union’s propaganda “campaign to implicate the United States in the emergence of the AIDS pandemic that appeared in the early 1980s.” According to a note at the beginning of the extract, “This article was the recipient of an Annual Studies in Intelligence Award in 2009.”The author writes:

The opening salvo of the AIDS disinformation campaign was fired on 17 July 1983, when an obscure newspaper in India, the Patriot, printed an anonymous letter headlined “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” The letter, allegedly written by a “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” in New York, claimed that “AIDS…is believed to be the result of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons.” (4)

The 17 July letter’s extensive quoting of US sources—e.g., U.S. News & World Report, Associated Press, and Army Research, Development & Acquisition magazine—suggests that US-based KGB officers initiated the AIDS campaign, or at least collected the material that triggered the idea. The KGB had large residencies in New York City and Washington, DC, both of which were assigned officers who worked solely on active measures. (5)

Read the CIA’s introduction here and the actual study by Thomas Boghardt here.

 

Conspiracy Theories Used as Propaganda | Operation INFEKTION | The KGB and Anti-American AIDS Conspiracies


Government use of conspiracy theory: Operation INFEKTION
Art: Burning heart by Leslie Ann O’Dell. Listening: Black Star by Lustmord.

A future common theme on this blog will be that governments don’t just partake in conspiracies, but they also create and amplify conspiracy theories. Note the difference here. The former is legal term about individuals colluding in secret; while the latter pertains to a narrative about these collusions. One is ontological to do with the world; while the other is epistemic to do with beliefs about the world.
There are various reasons why governments would need to create a belief in conspiracy. Sometimes it is to cover up black projects or intelligence failures, i.e. covering up real conspiracies. Other times the conspiracies are created as offensive weapons against some international actor, i.e. creating fake conspiracies. For the moment, I’d like to discuss the aforementioned reason from a case that is in actual scholarly literature: Operation INFEKTION, which was the Soviet disinformation campaign to pin the origin of AIDS on the USA.

A good source on this disinformation operation is an essay entitled “AIDS Made in the USA”: Moscow’s Contagious Campaign, which is from the book The New Image Makers: Soviet Propaganda & Disinformation Today. The author is the noted historian of counterintelligence Roy Godson. You won’t find this essay published on the Internet, which is unfortunate given it is a well-reasoned argument giving us a clear example of governments creating conspiracy theories (I may get around to scanning it, and putting it up on this blog). The reason why this clear example is so important is because it allows us to draw some broader themes of how governments go about spreading disinformation. True believers in high weirdness and conspiracy circles often accuse each other of spreading disinformation, and it sometimes becomes hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. A clear non-bullshit example can be quite illuminating.
Godson argues in the essay that the “AIDS was made in the USA” disinformation campaign was created by the KGB in 1985. They continued this disinformation campaign for around two years. Godson identifies five reasons why they did this:

  1. To discredit the United states by falsely claiming that AIDS originated in CIA-Pentagon experiments.
  2. To discourage undesirable political contact with Westerners by portraying them as potential carriers of the disease.
  3. To create pressure for removal of US military bases overseas on the grounds the US service personnel spread AIDS.
  4. To undermine US credibility in the Third World by maintaining that hypotheses about the African origin of AIDS are an example of Western, and especially American, racism, and;
  5. To divert attention from Soviet research on biological warfare and genetic engineering and to neutralize accusations that the Soviet Union has used biochemical agents in Asia.

Notice the two wider themes here of using conspiracy theory. (1) to (4) are all examples of undermining the ethos or moral stature of some actor or groups. (5) is an example of diverting attention away from an actual conspiracy. These twin themes of undermining ethos and diverting attention from actual conspiracies will arise again in future posts about government use of disinformation. Also, when I say ethos, I mean in the rhetorical sense. To undermine someone’s ethos in rhetoric is to undermine their character. This is important in rhetoric, as building rapport with the audience by appealing to one’s character and moral stature is one of the foundations for a rhetorical speech.

I won’t recount the timeline of how this disinformation campaign came about. You can read the Wikipedia article above on the operation to recount this. But some other tidbits worth noting here are the following:
The disinformation campaign started in newspapers in Russia and India. They then spread to radio, and then other sources from around the world picked up on the disinformation. This disinformation campaign was also backed by pamphlets, which were spread in Africa. One of these pamphlets was written by biologist named Jacob Segal, and was backed by (what appeared to be) scientific reasoning. Segal was then cited in a news article in England, which then spread the disinformation about the planet like wildfire. Once major papers from around the planet picked up on it, the KGB no longer used their primary sources. Instead they started spreading the disinformation by stating other major papers from around the planet had confirmed the theory about AIDS. What we can learn from these is that:

  • disinformation can be sophisticated. It can use individuals that people trust (like scientists), and can dress itself up with reasonable arguments.
  • disinformation campaigns can use multiple sources (radio, newspapers, pamphlets).
  • disinformation campaigns will try to hide the original sources. Once the campaign is in the open, they may switch to sources that their targets may trust (in this case, domestic newspapers). In rhetoric this is a combination of using kairos (the opportune moment to switch sources), combined with exploiting ethos (sources people trust).

Godson also has a lengthy paragraph on how the AIDS campaign was, “a diversionary tactic against claims that the Soviet Union has used biochemical weapons in Cambodia, Laos, and Afghanistan and is engaged in genetic-weapon research.” The first claim about chemical weapons pertains to Yellow Rain. Those interested in disinformation should also read that Wikipedia article on Yellow Rain for a possible similar campaign conducted by the USA. The second claim about genetic-weapons pertains to US attempts to undermine Soviet bioweapons research via UN arms control treaties (Godson quotes a State Department report here). Godson states that one of the aims was to “muddle the debate” between bio-chemical weapons and AIDS.
So finishing up, we have the two aims of government use of conspiracy theory:

  1. To undermine ethos, and;
  2. To divert attention away from actual conspiracies.

We also have some general properties of these disinformation campaigns:

  • They can be epistemologically sophisticated.
  • The sources will change themselves according to the opportune moment for spreading the disinformation.
  • They will take into consideration the targets of the campaign, and will use sources that the target trusts.

Now, true-believing conspiracy theorists might state something along the lines of, “Yeah, but how do we know this Operation happened? It could be a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory.” The answer to this, is that it actually happened. You can look up old news archives and find the disinformation spread in actual newspapers. There are also multiple corroborating sources that this event occurred, including sources from the Russian parliament and members of the East German Stasi admitting to the campaign. Godson has 26 footnotes to his essay, most of which are primary sources. I will endeavour to upload a scan of this essay in the future.