Deception & “Active Measures”

KGB Lt. General Vitaly Gregorievich Pavlov (1914-2005), a senior officer of the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence), responds to charges made by Soviet defectors to the West regarding disinformation campaigns in the Cold War. Pavlov notes that disinformation is a normal tool for ensuring the secrecy of ongoing intelligence operations by any espionage service, and that Anatoly Golitsyn’s claims of a “grand deception” were proven as fantasy by the historical record.


Now I’d like to speak a bit on the so-called active measures of Soviet foreign intelligence – those very active measures over which Anatoly Golitsyn, Stanislav Levchenko, Vladislav Bittman, and still others among the traitors, launched into their hysterics after having left for the West. In their portrayal, such measures represent calculated, wide-scale activity to deceive a world audience and lead it into confusion regarding the true goals and motives of Soviet foreign policy.

Anatoly Golitsyn kept it up until all postwar complications and conflicts that the Soviet Union encountered in relations with Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, China, and Czechoslovakia were not a manifestation of real problems generated by everyday life, but merely a “demonstration” executed on a grand scale with the goal of dis-informing and deceiving a trusting Western public. He released his opus literally on the eve of the cardinal changes that unfolded in our country, the states of Eastern Europe, and in the international arena as a whole. In light of these events there is no need to waste words on refutation of such, so to say, a “concept.” Even Golitsyn’s colleague in betrayal, Stanislav Levchenko, called his “theoretical research” an absurdity. Levchenko, however, also made his share of “revelations” regarding Soviet disinformation against the West, bringing forth not a single fact meriting attention to back his assertions.

Lt. Gen. Vitaly Pavlov
Lt. Gen. Vitaly Pavlov

From a leadership position in Soviet intelligence, I encountered this problem more intimately than earlier, and I even looked deeper into its history. Disinformation is familiar to humanity from time immemorial. Its classic example is the legendary Trojan Horse. But here we must account for the following.

One should not confuse, as iour opponents often do intentionally, political disinformation with operational disinformation. The latter presents an essential tool in the arsenal of all intelligence services, a tactic applied to camouflage one’s own actions, the neutralization of damage incurred, etc. In itself, what is an intelligence officer’s legend, his cover, other then certain disinformation techniques? A widely known exemplar of operational disinformation was Operation Trust, conducted by Soviet intelligence in the 1920s, the objective of which was to strike a blow against sabotage and subversive action by the White Guard counterrevolutionaries. Therefore, references to Trust as an argument, as if disinformation is characteristic of our intelligence service from its birth, are deprived of any basis. Such disinformation, I repeat, is an integral element in the activity of any intelligence service.

For those who would slander us, it wouldn’t be bad to remember what kind of disinformation measures, for example, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) carried out through the French and Dutch Resistance. Agents inserted behind enemy lines were given materials and information directly calculated to fall into the hands of the Nazis. Intentionally false data about the period and place that the allies would land were announced to leaders and participants of resistance organizations, and when they fell into the clutches of the Gestapo – not without the help of provocateurs – they would give the confessions desired by the Anglo-American command. Cruel methods, one might even say cynical ones, although they found their attempted justification in “operational necessity.”

In addition, our intelligence service, in spite of the ill-willed claims of some in the West, never purposely sacrificed its sources. An example of this was saving two valued agents, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, at the price of a certain weakening of Kim Philby’s security.

When I oversaw foreign counterintelligence, however, we several times had to confront a difficult dilemma. We received extremely valuable information from sources inserted into the intelligence services of our then-opponents, yet to realize it was quite complicated, as it could create threaten the source with exposure. Such a situation arose with the reports of George Blake, Kim Philby, and other of our agents. We constantly had to weigh how great the risk would be during the realization of the information acquired by them.

Concerning active measures, their basic objective is to facilitate the execution of our state’s foreign policy course. This is a most important component of the work of a foreign intelligence service in any state. The Americans, it seems, call it “covert operations,” while we use the term “active measures.” Their composition amounts to the dissemination hardly of disinformation, but rather of information necessary to us, which for one or another reason is hidden or silenced. It is brought to the attention of the wider public or certain circles, upon whom it is directly oriented.

CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, a key sponsor of defector Anatoly Golitsyn and the "grand deception" theory.
CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, a key sponsor of defector Anatoly Golitsyn and the “grand deception” theory of Soviet foreign policy behavior.

I was to carry out such measures in Canada when, through our own possibilities, we were forced to disseminate statements and documents of the Soviet leadership that had been silenced by the local media so that the public could receive a correct – and not one-sided – representation of transpiring events, as well as of the positions and actions of our state.

But I essentially didn’t have any business with “agents of influence,” of whom we supposedly had a multitude, as is sometimes claimed in the West. At one time, it’s true, this term was in currency, but it didn’t stick because such a category of agents wasn’t there within our intelligence service. For example, when I ran the Vienna residency, among our numerous (I won’t specify how many) agents, there wasn’t one whom we had grounds to classify as such, although they influenced our policy with their information.

It is also not disinformation when an intelligence service makes public genuine, verified documents and materials of the opposing side, evidence that reveals some of its not-so-noble intentions, plans, and actions that had been kept secret, precisely due to their character.


Work Cited: Павлов В. Г. Управление “С”: во главе нелегальной разведки. Яуза-Эксмо, 2006 г. Москва.

Translated by Mark Hackard.

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