It has been over two decades since the Soviet Union ceased to exist, but evil organizations cast a shadow over the world even when they are long gone. “The evil that men do lives after them,” Mark Anthony said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. History has repeatedly backed up that oratory with facts.
The evil that the men and women of the Communist superpower did lives on after them, not only in the many lives lost to Communist terror and the countless families scarred by being deprived of loved ones, but in the foul vapor of Soviet ideas. These ideas can be divided into two categories; the ideas that have been formally acknowledged and those ideas that were spread covertly through underhanded means.
It is this latter set of secret ideas that Disinformation, a book by Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking Soviet bloc intelligence official to defect to the free world, and Ronald J. Rychlak deals with. Overt ideas can be defended against. Covert ideas however must be detected to be defended against.
Disinformation looks at the impact of the Soviet Union’s covert propaganda campaigns in the United States and around the world. One particularly significant corner of the world that Disinformation takes us to is the Muslim world.
There were some who thought that the Muslim world and the militantly secular Soviet Union would never be able to collaborate together. Indeed the Carter Administration bet so hard on that particular mistaken idea that it helped give birth to an Islamic Iran run by the Ayatollah Khomeini as part of its Green Belt strategy. But long before that, Disinformation informs us that the Soviet Union was busily arranging its alliances in the Muslim world while betting on its own version of the Green Belt strategy.
In the ’30s and ’40s, Nazi Germany reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood using a common language of anti-Semitism. Ion Mihai Pacepa reveals that the Soviet Union played the same game in the seventies, disseminating its Arabic translations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion across the Muslim world. The historical irony of the Communist intelligence services distributing a piece of disinformation originally manufactured by the Czarist secret police shows us how little some things change and how history has a way of coming full circle.
While Muslim anti-Semitism obviously long predated the KGB’s efforts, as with the Nazis, the USSR’s gifts provided a common language and a common set of goals. That commonality made it possible to plant agents of influence and to train terrorist leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, a product of the USSR’s infamous Patrice Lumumba University, not to mention, as the book alleges, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri and Yasser Arafat.
And while the short-term target of this effort was the State of Israel, the long term targets included the United States and the rest of the free world.
The KGB First Directorate’s chief, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, wielding responsibility for foreign intelligence, said, “In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon.”
But terrorism required someone else to do the killing. The Soviet Union’s agents of influence could stir the pot, but it still took an ideology that people were willing to kill and die for. And despite the success of some left-wing Middle Eastern terrorist groups, fulfilling Andropov’s vision of creating a billion adversaries aimed at America could only be done by harnessing the killing power of Islam.
As the former head of the KGB who later rose to lead the Soviet Union, Andropov embodied the state of terror as no man since Stalin had been able to. A state of terror at home in the Soviet Union meant a secret police and political repression, but as a state of terror abroad, the Soviet Union spread terrorism through bombings and airplane hijackings of American and Israeli targets.
The long term goal was to destabilize the Middle East in a way that would make it a particular danger zone for the United States. While the Soviet Union is long gone, the Middle East has long since been a danger zone and continues to become even more dangerous year by year. While the Soviet Union never succeeded in its goal of making the Middle East completely toxic to the United States, the Arab Spring came far closer than many Soviet efforts did in transforming formerly safe countries into hostile territory.
The power of disinformation is the power of bad ideas. Bad ideas can linger on even long after those organizations and governments that set them loose have collapsed or dissolved. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion outlived the regime under which it was manufactured. Similarly the Soviet Union’s efforts in the Middle East have outlived the fall of the Berlin Wall, the coup against Gorbachev and the lowering of the red flag over the Kremlin.
Bad ideas infect people with a worldview that distorts their actions. They can make self-defense seem like a terrible evil and appeasement seem like the zenith of human civilization. They can turn the most vicious and murderous terrorists into humanitarians and transform actual humanitarians into terrorists. And their existence can only be inferred from their outcomes. Where there is chaos and destruction, malaise, corruption and despair, there the disinformation has done its dreadful work.
The Soviet Union may be dead, but like Marx’s specter of Communism wandering across Europe, its bad ideas still haunt and possess many of the leaders of the free world. And when those leaders look out at the world, they don’t do so as Americans, as Frenchmen or Englishmen, but through the tinted red lenses of a dead evil empire.
Wherever the disinformation of the Soviet Union spread and wherever its ideas were accepted and came to be seen as mere common sense, there the evil that men do lives on after them.
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