In June 2010, the FBI arrested a group of Russian intelligence officers and agents. American commentators were puzzled at the spies’ lack of success in stealing “secrets.” Even though the KGB has enjoyed great success in covert influence operations against the culture of the United States throughout the last hundred years, most Americans are still largely blind to the 20th century’s “great game,” the war against America that communists won.
Federal prosecutors brought the Russian spies to court several days after their arrest. Vicky Pelaez, a Spanish-language writer for an American media service, was a pitiful sight. She appeared dazed and confused, a Hispanic housewife snatched from her kitchen.
Dazzled by Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, and ignorant of the most effective forms of espionage, Americans didn’t know what to make of the pudgy Peruvian-born journalist. Seemingly, the main concern of the media was the plight of her children. The Huffington Post speculated that she was betrayed by her handling officer—her husband. Many Americans were distracted by the slutty daughter of a KGB officer, caught peddling her wares as a swallow (KGB’s term for the bait in sex-traps). Little did Americans realize that the frumpy journalist, Vicky Pelaez, was the latest warrior in a century-long, vicious attack on America. The sex-kitten was just a shiny bauble to distract us.
In the early days of the struggle for world domination between the USA and global communism, American statesmen were clueless about the enemy they faced. They were clueless about the rules of the struggle. They were ignorant of the communists’ tactics. And they arrogantly refused to learn.
Today, Briggs hosts the even more confused, confusing, and convoluted meanderings of Ianto Watt. While Watt is surely expert in tangled webs, I’m not quite sure what his point is. His fascination with the Russian church, and its centuries of machinations is probably useful somewhere—maybe the Crimea, or Dagestan—but probably not for Americans trying to understand what happened to our country, and what’s happening now.
The fact is that Russia today is a proud, multi-cultural nation-state of vast size and population. They have a history, they have a cultural narrative, they are proud of that history and their place in the world. They also have extensive experience in covert action operations against the USA, and Europe. They have espionage/intelligence personnel and expertise that they constantly bring to bear against their adversaries. Their goal, unlike the USA’s (more of which later), is to advance Russian interests. They are focused like a laser beam on their own national interest. That’s the way it is supposed to be!
The details of their history and religion are interesting—no—fascinating. But useless in understanding the Russian influence operations against the USA. A brief overview of the background can be found below.
In 1929, more than a decade after the Bolsheviks had imposed communism on Russia, the American Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, politely declined to take part in espionage, averring that, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.”
The Bolsheviks, however, were not gentlemen. In 1929, the Russians were already reading our mail, even as we refused the offer to read others’. The communists had, so to speak, slipped into our house at night and were living in our basement. The communists were playing a game that America had never understood. Even at that early date, they were winning. Their strategy: covert influence operations.
Intel Collection vs. Active Measures
There are two major types of espionage operations: intelligence collection, and, in the KGB’s terminology, active measures. Intelligence collection is stealing secrets. The Rosenbergs were Soviet espionage agents focused on stealing and reporting America’s nuclear secrets.
Collection operations are fragile and perishable. The success of the operation, and its life-span, depends on the agent’s access to secrets, his willingness to continue stealing secrets, and his ability to avoid detection. Loss of access, change in motivation, or detection by authorities bring the operation to an immediate end. When the Rosenberg op was disrupted, there was no more product, no more secrets—it died with the communist agents in the electric chair.
Active measures arose from the communists’ long fight against the tsar. Outlawed as a party, the communists organized covert cells. Without strong military capabilities, they learned how to use the tools of active measures—propaganda, disinformation, and agents of influence—against the royal government.
Early American Flirtation with Active Measures
Partly in response to the communist revolution, Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive administration tried its hand at overt propaganda. In April, 1917, Wilson formed America’s first 20th century propaganda group, the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The CPI’s main objective was to bring the US into WWI, and to weaken German power. The CPI’s targets were both domestic and international. Among the international targets was Russia. Conflicting objectives created confusion, however. The Bolshevik threat to American business interests in Russia was of concern, but a strong communist Russia was also a powerful deterrent to German power. The CPI was disbanded after operating for two years. The effort left a bad taste in Washington’s mouth, but created some native expertise.
After Wilson’s short-lived stab at the influence game, it was only after World War II that America began to understand the rules of the game. When we belatedly tried to play, it was too late. The Russians had the upper hand. The KGB and its predecessors had infiltrated and begun the process of twisting to their benefit the most intimate domains of our culture.
Lenin Initiates Covert Influence Operations
Flush with success and certain of global communist domination, in 1921 Vladimir Lenin surveyed the situation. His army was all but imaginary. Worn down by WWI and the internal wars that followed, the Russian military was no match for any of its neighbors. Prosecuting a shooting war in Europe, Asia, or America was beyond the possible for the Red Army.
At the same time, Lenin was having second thoughts about Marxist dogma. The whole “dictatorship of the proletariat” theory looked ridiculous in the cold light of reality. He announced variations on communist theory, producing what became know as Marxism-Leninism. The key rationalization was that dictatorship by the masses was a goal, maybe a long-term goal. In the meantime, before reaching this paradise, Russia and humanity would go through a transition.
Lenin’s theory explained that during the early phases after establishing a communist state, an “Elite Vanguard” would control all decision-making, while preparing the masses for full communism. Russian elites, Lenin’s communist cronies, were the vanguard. With this justification of his dictatorship, Lenin provided a template for intellectuals to embrace his ideology. The need for an Elite made them special, and necessary, and gave them great power. At the same time they could claim to be wielding power “for the little people, the masses.”
ComIntern for Covert Influence
Faced with his lack of military strength, Lenin conceived a plan for global spread of communism using his party’s proven covert capabilities. He established the Communist International (ComIntern). This ostensibly independent group of communist leaders from around the globe was actually a front for Soviet political control. It also provided cover for international intelligence operations. After Stalin seized the reins of Soviet power, he strengthened the covert ops begun by Lenin, even as he ruthlessly murdered many of the operators. Though he did away with the ComIntern, its intelligence operations continued.
Covert Influence Methodology
The most long-lasting, virulent, and dangerous active measure is covert influence. In a covert influence operation a payload is secretly inserted into some part of the enemy’s cultural communications channels. The ultimate goal of covert influence is to transform the enemy in a way that is useful to the attacker.
In a typical covert influence operation an intelligence officer targets an agent of influence. The target is chosen for access to a desired channel of communications (the ComIntern intel operators targeted American media, academia, and Hollywood). The intelligence officer uses standard recruiting tradecraft to become friends with the targeted agent of influence. Appealing to the identified vulnerabilities of the targeted agent, the officer burrows into the target’s life.
The targeted agent of influence may, or may not, know that she is dealing with a hostile intelligence service, even after she is recruited. The agent might provide her services because she believes in the message, or she may work for pay, or maybe for some other gratification. In the actual operation, the espionage officer provides the recruited agent of influence with the payload. The agent of influence inserts the payload into his communications channel. Once the payload is inserted, in the form of a news story, an editorial, a speech, a book, a lecture, a movie, a radio program, a song, a play, or any other form of communication, the payload takes on a life of its own.
The message can influence consumers for the rest of their lives. All it takes is one time exposure, and consumers’ beliefs and attitudes can be changed. Reading a book or an article, hearing a song or a radio show, seeing a movie or a play are potentially life-changing experiences. The communist covert influence message was intended to change individual and societal morals and values.
In the Russians’ Pelaez case, the intelligence officer’s development and recruitment of the targeted journalist included marriage. This is a level of commitment and dedication that very few free world intelligence services can demand or expect. A steamy combination of true belief in her message, infatuation with her recruiting officer, substantial lifestyle benefits (a free ride to New York City and US citizenship) seemed to motivate Pelaez. Her influence work at the Hispanic newspaper in New York is typical of covert influence payloads. She denigrated the US and its policies, at the same time she lauded Latin American dictators, with the payload masked as her “point of view.” It is likely that her influence work changed the attitudes and beliefs of hundreds or thousands of those exposed to her intel operations.
Covert Influence Not Propaganda
In covert influence, the payload is subtle. When done correctly, it is hard to identify the payload as anything but the creator’s point of view. The payload is disguised as critical thinking, cultural criticism, or intellectual theorizing. Covert influence is not propaganda. A propaganda message might be: “Imperialist America murders babies in Iraq!” A covert influence payload might be a movie that sensationalizes an incident on the battlefield, with an unspoken theme of American military complicity in war crimes. This insidious form of espionage is more difficult to identify than propaganda.
Willi Munzenberg: Master of Influence Operations
The early USSR’s intelligence services perfected covert influence. Their desired goal: destroy the will of the capitalist enemy to resist “inevitable” communist domination.
Working under the Communist International (ComIntern), Willi Munzenberg, directed global covert influence operations, likely at Lenin’s direction. A ComIntern press agent, publisher, movie maker, and middleman, German communist and long-time friend of Lenin, Willi was the mastermind behind Soviet intelligence’s covert influence operations.
Munzenberg’s covert influence message was attractive to American intellectuals. The objective of the operations was to bring America down, sooner rather than later, so that communism could replace America’s free enterprise and individualism with a dictatorship of Elites and collectivism. Until his neck was broken by a rope in a French forest as Paris was captured from the Nazis in WWII, Munzenberg honed his message to a fine point. His operational genius provided a message that seduced the intellectuals, without leaving any trace of Soviet involvement.
Munzenberg perfected the “Popular Front” operational concept. He and his agents set up multiple organizations with high-minded names and reasons for existence—for example the International Congress Against Fascism and War, and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. These fronts gave intellectuals and artists a higher calling while serving as cover to insert covert influence payloads into the targeted cultures. The perceived moral superiority of the Soviet’s covert influence messages provided members a chance to show “you were a decent human being,” in fact, a better human being. Munzenberg despised these members, and called them “Innocents.”
I call these Americans “Willing Accomplices.” They were witting, and unwitting, agents of influence They were Willing to imbibe the superior attitude conferred by the high-minded ideals of the fronts. And they were Accomplices to the communists’ goal of destroying their country.
Targets: American Media, Academia/Education, and Hollywood
Munzenberg and his men, and later the KGB’s ops officers in the US, targeted the most efficient conduits to influence American culture. The press, education and academia, and Hollywood were the fertile recruiting grounds of Munzenberg’s influence operations.
The payload was a simple formulation. Stephen Koch, for his book on Munzenberg, Double Lives, interviewed Willi’s wife, Babette Gross, who survived the war to live into her 90s. Ms. Gross told Koch that Willi had carefully crafted the “payload” for his covert influence operations.
Reduced to its essence the message was: “You claim to be an independent-minded idealist. You don’t really understand politics, but you think the little guy is getting a lousy break. You believe in open-mindedness. You are shocked, frightened by what is going on right here in our own country. You’re frightened by the racism, by the oppression of the workingman. You believe in peace. You yearn for international understanding. You hate fascism. You think the capitalist system is corrupt.”
This subtly anti-American message created a mindset. The mindset created a superiority complex among those who adopted it. They were smarter, better, more feeling, more caring, more humane, more human, overall better people than the unwashed masses. As Stephen Koch explained, “The purpose … [was] to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people as a prime tropism of left-wing enlightenment.”
The attitude of wise superiority to the American masses, disdain for the racist, sexist, homophobic, foreigner-hating, dead-white-male-worshipping ignoramuses spread quickly throughout the three domains of cultural transmission. First academia rejected traditional America, her people, her founders, and her foundations. The press was next, closely followed by Hollywood.
The most stunning aspect of Munzenberg’s message was its ability to self-propagate. Like a fertile flower, once planted and growing, it spread its seeds far and wide, with no need for a gardener to nurture it. The payload, so powerful and seductive, once planted in the American intelligentsia, grew and metastisized, like a political cancer, until it burst forth in full flower as Political Correctness (PC) in the 1980s.
Munzenberg’s skillful covert influence operations, aiming to destroy American Exceptionalism, are still bearing fruit today. Willi’s influence operations outlived every one of the ComIntern officers that recruited the Willing Accomplices, the American agents who carried the influence messages into the heart of our culture. The effects of Willi’s operations outlived even the USSR, and even communism as a practical political platform.
Political Correctness 2017: Reflexive Loathing of the United States
It is not likely that any of the ComIntern covert influence operators realized that they were creating a monster that would grow for decades. They likely believed that after a few years their ops would have sown enough confusion to cause the global communist revolution they knew was coming. Even though the revolution never came in their lifetimes, the “hate America first” attitude slowly caught on. The Elites spread their anti-American message. It had to go underground from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. But after the late 1960s, the Elite Vanguard emerged in full flower.
A more concise description of Political Correctness cannot be found than Koch’s formulation of Munzenberg’s covert influence payload. Look inside any PC ideas, speech codes, or requirements, and you’ll find a “reflexive loathing” of traditional America, our values, history, and morals.
By the late 1980s, full-blown PC infected academia, education, the media, Hollywood, and American society in general. Americans were constantly bombarded with reminders of their hatefulness, bigotry, racism, sexism, and imperialism. Confused by the message of hate and disgust, while their daily lives were filled with positive energy, normal Americans became wracked with guilt. They were reminded daily that they were guilty of slavery, bigotry, killing babies in Vietnam, oppressing minorities and women around the globe, stealing the continent from the Indians, being arrogant in dealing with foreigners, killing the Earth with their hairspray, and various other sins.
In 2008, PC blossomed into full flower. In a spasm of PC-induced guilt, America elected our first anti-American president, who did not hide his disgust for normal Americans. Obama is the first president to apologize repeatedly for America’s sins against foreign countries, and to speak disparagingly against the country that elected him. Obama’s cool, detached Elite attitude, loathing the “bitter clingers” of the heartland, is a living testament to the power and success of Munzenberg’s covert influence operations.
Covert Influence Counter-measures
So, when American media seem to be puzzled as to the efficiency of Russian espionage operations against the US, and ignore the Russian’’ use of Pelaez as a covert influence operative, it is not surprising to a knowledgeable observer. The KGB’s successors, the Russian Federation’s intelligence service, learned all they know from the KGB. They have a long and successful history of working against America. They know the power of influence operations. The KGB, including Vladimir Putin has seen their influence ops succeed. The sorry state of PC-America is a direct result of Putin’s predecessors’ operations. All Americans should understand the power of past influence ops, and the potential for future influence ops.
Watts’ Fabulous Story-Weaving Clarified?
While I am at a loss to determine the point of Ianto Watts’ fabulous story-telling efforts here at the Briggs pulpit, a reasonable analytical conclusion is that he is warning of…something. And that it appears that he believes that something is big and ominous for “the West,” and, I guess, America. While I am sympathetic to his overall message (if I’ve successfully untangled the message from the dialectical obfuscation of his world salad), the message must be clarified. I’ve tried to do that, above, and in my book, and other material. Think positive!
Clizbe, author of Willing Accomplices, served as a staff CIA case officer in the 1990s, and as a contractor after 9/11. He has worked in various capacities in intelligence positions in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. His specialty is Counter-terrorism and Islamic Extremism. Kent has also worked Counter-intelligence, Counter-proliferation, Counter-narcotics, and other targets. In addition to extensive liaison work with foreign intel services, he has worked in the US Intel Community in inter-agency, inter-governmental intelligence operations since 9/11. He was awarded the Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, the highest civilian intelligence agency decoration for contractors, for his counter-terrorist operations in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. His work in the Philippines was described in an article by Mark Bowden in the Atlantic Monthly in March 2007, “Jihadists in Paradise.” In the US Air Force, Kent was a Vietnamese linguist, completing language training at DLI in Monterey, CA. He served for three years at Clark AB in the Philippines.
Note: Portions of this article originally appeared in Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Peace” in 2010. The thesis and extensive details are provided in my book: Willing Accomplices: How KGB Covert Influence Created Political Correctness.