Traitors Are Bad, Propaganda Is Worse: A Cold War-Era CIA Warning

(Photo by Jay Clark on Unsplash)

(Photo by Jay Clark on Unsplash)

In October 1984, as the Cold War raged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then-CIA Director William Casey made what was supposed to be a light-hearted speach at the agency's "Hallowe'en Banquet of Pumpkin Paper Irregulars."

He started with a joke, but as he got going, he delved into stories about some of the biggest traitors in espionage history from Alger Hiss to Kim Philby to even Benedict Arnold.

Then, towards the end of the speech, there was a twist.

"But even these dazzling penetrations pale into insignificance when compared to the concerted assaults which the Soviets have learned to make on public opinion in free countries," he said.

Casey said he only had time to mention one case in particular: the complex, international propaganda operation conducted by the Soviet Union in 1977 to sway the public, and therefore then-President Jimmy Carter, against the production of a particular tactical nuclear weapon known as the neutron bomb.

"We figure the Soviets spent on the order of $100 million to pull that off," Casey said.

Casey cited a quote from a Soviet arms negotiator that he said best described the East's advantage in exploiting the public discourse in the West.

"We know so much about how you make decisions. Americans are talking about this and writing about this all the time. It is more than we can swallow," the arms negotiator reportedly said. "But you know little of how we make decisions and we are not going to tell you. Because we do know, we have some chance of influencing your decisions. Because you don't know, your chances of influencing ours are limited and we intend to keep it that way."

In a story published today at RealClearLife, I wrote about the Soviet neutron bomb "active measures" operation and how it was, at least for a time, very successful by the U.S. government's estimation.

John Sipher, a former CIA officer who said he remembered the neutron bomb debate from his college days, said the whole episode should be examined for this lesson: Moscow has been at the international, covert propaganda game for decades and, by now, they're "amazing" at it.

Read: Inside a '$100 Million' Russian Propaganda Operation, 40 Years Later (RealClearLife)

Primary Source: CIA Director William Casey's 1984 Halloween Speech (PDF)

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