Over the past several years, the testimony of a previously obscure Soviet defector has grown ever more potent as America unravels into chaos. Should we trust him?
The late Yuri Bezmenov (1939-1993), styled a man who turned his back on the KGB and a “fighter against totalitarianism,” has gained exalted status among independent media commentators and has even found currency in the mainstream. Bezmenov, the son of a Red Army officer and trained in oriental languages, was a journalist for the Soviet news agency Novosti and scored a posting to India in the late 1960s. In 1970 he vanished from the USSR embassy colony disguised as a hippy and made his way to the West, where he would rail against the Soviet system, writing pamphlets like Love Letter to America; No Novosti is Good News; World Thought Police; and Black is Beautiful, Communism is Not.
As a Soviet defector, Bezmenov was readily available to denounce Moscow and the communist menace in Western media outlets. His shining moment, now filtered through a multitude of memes and short clips on social networks, was a 1984 interview with author G. Edward Griffin. Bezmenov sold himself to his audience as a former KGB operative and proclaimed that the Soviet Union was applying a Marxist strategy of subversion to undermine the United States from within. It consisted of four stages:
Bezmenov’s analysis and prognostications have since been seized upon by columnists and media personalities as proof of everything from a cultural Marxist drive to take over America to a specifically Russian plot with the same objective. He stars in a trailer for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War as a Cassandra warning of communist subversion. He has also featured in no less than the New York Times’ clumsy “Operation Infektion,” a 2018 video series informing us that Russian intelligence “hacked” the 2016 US presidential elections through disinformation operations.
Few, however, have called into question Bezmenov’s story and his claims, most tellingly his supposed status within the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence). This biographical detail is what made his story sensational, as the defection of a mere Soviet journalist would hardly arouse much interest in the reading public. Yet that’s the hard truth – Bezmenov never served in the KGB.
Yuri Bezmenov was never a KGB staff officer for the First Chief Directorate or any other unit of the Soviet intelligence service. Nor did he ever see the inside of School 101, where future intelligence officers trained, Lubyanka, or the KGB residency in India. Bezmenov was a low-ranking newsman for Novosti who wrote propaganda, and after he switched sides, he plied the same trade on behalf of the Western powers. The KGB may indeed have used him as an informant – to keep an eye on contacts of interest – and for participation in occasional “active measures,” disseminating Soviet narratives and piecemeal disinformation to foreign media. Bezmenov’s position would have allowed for such possibilities. While a certain number of KGB officers would have worked undercover as journalists at Novosti (not the inflated 75% Bezmenov gives), Bezmenov wasn’t one of them.[i]
Bezmenov was also never a wizard of Soviet psychological warfare – he had no entry to the KGB First Chief Directorate’s Service A or the Communist Party’s Central Committee that oversaw its activities. Nor did Bezmenov, self-identified expert on active measures, ever mention Service A’s chief Maj. Gen. Ivan Agayants, or his successor Lt. Gen. Sergei Kondrashev. He demonstrates zero understanding of the strategic purpose of real active measures as practiced by the KGB. His supposed training in tabletop wargames and interrogation would have been part of cursory reserve officer mobilization courses mandatory for Soviet university students throughout the Cold War, not a special program that made Bezmenov a hardened expert in subversion. Indeed, the four-step process of subversion he claimed as a covert Soviet strategy could be gleaned by anyone well-versed in Sun Tzu and practical psychology. Further, Bezmenov provides no evidence of Soviet infiltration of American culture and institutions to advance a complex, globe-spanning campaign to implode the United States, only coarse ideological invective.
What Bezmenov embodies in Cold War espionage history, in exaggerated fashion, is the tendency of defectors to inflate their self-worth through ever-wilder claims. Anatoly Golitsyn, an actual KGB officer who crossed the Iron Curtain a decade before Bezmenov, forged a similar path with tales of a “Monster Plot,” including a false Sino-Soviet split, to deceive America and leave her ripe for conquest. Golitsyn enjoyed the patronage of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence, and his theories were popular among suspicious cold warriors throughout the West.
Today Bezmenov is clearly useful to US media and political elites, and so his assertions of Soviet subversion are dusted off and given a new lease on life. It’s much easier to ascribe the failure and dysfunction of an entire political system to “Kremlin meddling,” or an even older KGB plan just now being realized, than to shine light on the predations of an oligarchic superclass that has misruled America into civilizational breakdown. Anti-communism is a sure hit with the right, and liberals are programmed into a newfound hatred of Russia; each side is manipulated via dialectics in order to further obfuscate the truth and obscure any viable resolution to real cultural, political and economic challenges.
There very well may be a resurrected Bolshevist spirit of subversion present in the current disorder, a phenomenon that infused the Frankfurt School’s transvaluation of all values in the West. In our twenty-first century that spirit animates neither communism, an ideological corpse long-buried, nor the SVR, modern Russia’s intelligence service. Rather, the ruling class itself, with its panoply of media organs, multinationals, academia and government agencies, seems possessed by a force spiraling towards destruction.
In the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, players, briefed by prophet Bezmenov on the Soviet threat to America, are able to choose three options for their character’s gender: male, female, and non-binary. Just who is subverting whom?
[i] To get a handle on the CIA’s extensive use of journalistic cover and media outlets for covert action and psychological warfare, see Carl Bernstein’s 25,000-word 1977 Rolling Stone expose.