Lessons from a Cold Warrior
The first time I used the word disinformation in public, I got an
immediate reaction from the audience: A woman said, “You mean, of course,
misinformation.” Well, I disagreed. There is a big difference between
disinformation and misinformation. Misinformation is unconscious deception.
Disinformation is planned, conscious deception for gain. I’ll give you an
example: If I believe that the cold war is over and I tell you so, that is
misinformation. If I do not believe it is over, but I tell you that it is
just to make you abandon your defenses, that is disinformation.
The disinformer uses all kinds of methods and I imagine you have
encountered some disinformation yourself. It appears in the press, on TV,
and now on Internet. Disinformation has a long history. It first appeared
around 600 BC. There was a Chinese scholar, by the name of Sun Tsu, who
spoke of disinformation. Because he did not like the murder and bloodshed of
his soldiers, he figured out that there were other means of defeating the
enemy without going to battle. Sun Tsu believed that warfare is established
on deception, by creating constant false appearances, and spreading
disinformation and trickery of all kinds.
“You must seek out enemy agents who have come to spy on you, bribe them
and induce them to stay with you, so you can use them as reverse spies. By
intelligence thus obtained, you can find local spies and inside spies to
employ, cause the [disinformation] of dead spies to be conveyed to the
enemy, and get living spies to work as planned.”
You see what he says about the agent that has to be sent to the enemy’s
camp for the purpose of leaking disinformation? Sun Tsu’s doctrine for war
has become a doctrine used by certain governments in the political field.
One of these that is particularly fond of the doctrine is the former Soviet
government. Deception has always been very popular with the Soviets. In the
’20s they began using deception and Sun Tsu’s precepts in fighting against
their domestic opposition. First, they destroyed the Social Democratic
opposition. Then they destroyed the Monarchist opposition and the
intellectuals, known as Eurasians. Finally, they managed to get into
intelligence services: the British, Polish, Estonian, and the Finnish.
Toward the end of that operation, the files of these intelligence services
were full of disinformation about the Soviet regime.
After they had gotten rid of the opposition movements, they widened their
target and started using the precepts of Sun Tsu with regard to Western
public opinion. Then came an era of books. It started before WWII, but the
main attack came after the war. The idea was to calm the fears of the West
against the Soviets. The books presented the Soviet government as very
friendly: the Soviet leaders were good fellows, not too bright usually, but
they were nice people. For example, this book called Notes for a Journal,
allegedly by Maxim Litvinov, who was for a long time Minister of Foreign
Affairs of the Soviet Union, is nothing but a hoax from beginning to end. It
was written by a man named Besedovskiy. The sad thing is that General Walter
Bedell Smith, a former head of the CIA and former US Ambassador to the
Soviet Union wrote the preface to one edition and a British professor and
historian wrote the introduction to another. Another book, My Uncle Joe, was
supposed to have been written by a nephew of Stalin but was also really
written by Mr. Besedovskiy.
Curiously enough, the ideas presented in these books – that the Soviet
leaders were good fellows and that human rights violations occurred equally
under communism and in the United States – is visible in a book of memoirs
called Krushchev Remembers, which was also on the State Department’s list of
recommended reading for its personnel.
Disinformation always accompanies true facts. Just because the events
check out does not mean that the document does not contain disinformation.
Sometimes disinformation is one word.
AFF: When did you discover the work of Sun Tsu? And who told you about
NGW: Sun Tsu I discovered a long time ago. I met a general at the Hoover
Institution who was writing a book about Sun Tsu. I don’t remember his name.
AFF: To what extent was disinformation used by the Soviet government
within the Soviet Union?
NGW: It was certainly used and quite a lot. There was a lot of
disinformation targeted at the Soviet people. I mean, the whole life was
disinformation in Russia.
AFF: Are the documents in the Soviet Archives falsified?
NGW: I’ve received some documents from someone who is studying the period
in which I’m particularly interested, the ’20s. Some of it is true. Some of
it is not true. Because, you see, many of the people who wrote the documents
did not actually know what the government was doing. There are two instances
that I know of where the government concealed from the people who
participated in the hoax, the purpose of the hoax.
AFF: Tell us about people like Strobe Talbot, who translated Kruschev
NGW: I can’t understand how a man, who is supposed to be an expert on
Soviet affairs, could have translated the Krushchev book and not have seen
that it was a fake. I don’t understand it. Usually, the disinformed people,
the ones who are supposed to be disinformed, they are fooled. For example,
there is the Trust Legend, a very important operation, which was conducted
by the Soviets in the ’20s. It was against the Monarchists who were very
powerful in Russia at the time. Not powerful, that’s the wrong word. There
were very many of them in Russia at the time. In addition, there was the
immigration which was largely Monarchist. The Soviets created a bogus
organization, called Legend, using blackmail and bribery to get former
officials to contact the real Monarchists abroad, pretending that they were
enemies of the Soviet regime. People believed them. They had not read Sun
Tsu. In 1927 the whole thing exploded and it was a disaster. Half of the
people in Russia were executed. The ones abroad were left without any hope.
AFF: Have you worked with Bertram or Alan Wolf and what is your opinion
NGW: He was a nice friend. He attended one of the first meetings of the
Communist International. Then he learned everything there was to know about
Stalin and the communists. And he changed and became anti-communist and
anti-Soviet. When I knew them, they understood disinformation.
AFF: Were you in Riga, Lativa at the same time as George Kennan?
NGW: Yes. At that time, before the war, there were two sections in the
Riga Legation: There was the Baltic section and the Russian section. I
worked in the Russian section. It was considered very highly from the point
of view of scholarship and the way we reported on things. It had a very good
reputation. Then they closed it down. First they moved part of it to Moscow
for reporting with the recognition of Russia in 1932. Then they left us to
report on the production of pig bristles. George eventually got under the
influence of certain people who made him less opposed to. . .well, he just
AFF: If you’re in the State Department and have controversial views, say
you’re a young Foreign Service Officer who has controversial views about
China, for example, and the Chinese Government decides that you’re a
problem, is it possible that your career could be ended by the Chinese
NGW: Yes. Right now I don’t know how it works, but in my day, it was just
the person was considered inefficient, did not get promotions. After two or
three promotions that are missed, he’s out of the service.
AFF: You explained about disinformation targeted at the Soviet
population. To what extent can we expect that from our own government?
NGW: In order to have successful disinformation, you must have
censorship. With our journalism, it is difficult to have censorship.
AFF: Some people might say that Gorbachev helped along the destruction of
the Soviet Union. Why or why not?
NGW: The Soviet Union had to be changed. It couldn’t go on the way it
was. It had to have a free market or free trade. For example, before the
thing allegedly collapsed, they had a system where if you wanted to buy
something from Argentina and you were in Tajikistan, then you would have to
go to Moscow, get permission from Moscow, and then go back to Tajikistan and
write to Argentina. Everything had to go through Moscow. And that of course,
destroyed the country – destroyed trade.
AFF: Why is the Cold War not over?
NGW: Look around. What was the Cold War? The Cold War was espionage,
which has increased. Missiles, which are still around. Infiltration, which
has reached tremendous proportions.
AFF: What do you think is Russia’s greatest disinformation campaign
NGW: There is one, certainly. I think it is the same usual one: “We are
so weak, we can’t do anything. Our soldiers are on the verge of complete
collapse.” You have to study the press. Unfortunately, I am blind and can’t
read as well, so I can’t know for sure whether this is the main purpose of
AFF: What’s Gorbachev up to these days?
NGW: I wish I knew. He is not very, terribly intelligent. He is a good
worker for his employers. He’s very skillful in talking to the West. But
he’s not a very desirable character. He is still a communist, although he
does not belong to communism anymore. He belongs to whatever has replaced
the Communist International. If you let me speculate, under the condition
that it is pure speculation, I will tell you, but if you fall asleep, it’s
not my fault.
Before, in the ’30s, in ’32 actually, the Soviets began pushing “peace.”
The idea of peace as a tool against the West went on merrily until the ’50s.
In the ’50s, I believe, there was this Stockholm appeal. There were all
kinds of peace groups and movements. All of them were led by fellow
travelers or communists, and they had an awful lot of naive people joining
them. Then came the end of the “Evil Empire” and something else had to be
found because peace no longer attracted people. After all, we were at peace
with Russia. Everything was fine. So then they came up with the idea of the
environment. The environment became the tool to oppose Western regimes. The
armies were always using poisonous wastes, poisoning the atmosphere. So you
have to fight not only the environment, but also people who poisoned the
environment: the Army and the CIA.
Take, for example, Agenda 21, which was a long resolution passed in 1992
in Rio de Janeiro. In one of the first paragraphs of the resolution, was a
call to get rid of the CIA. Now it is the environment. And it is most
successful, especially among young people.
AFF: Why were people so willing to believe in Alger Hiss and reject
NGW: Oh, no. Don’t ask me that. I was not here at the time. I was abroad.
There’s always a tendency to trust the Left wing. I don’t know why. Don’t
ask me that. You have to be a psychologist for that.
AFF: What about our intelligence establishment? Is it stronger than ever?
NGW: I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know anything about the Pentagon, but
the CIA is not in very good shape from what I read. Ames, true. Nichols,
true. All of that does not speak for very good intelligence.
AFF: Are we learning more from them than they’re learning from us at this
NGW: We’re learning about the past. They do not show you anything that is
the present. They give you stuff on the ’20’s and ’30’s, but they do not
give you anything on the present.
AFF: What can we do to prevent or defeat whatever organization that’s
replacing the Communist International?
NGW: Keep your eyes open and your ears open. Many people are studying the
past, but very few are studying the present.