Cuba, implacable enemy of the Free World

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[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

How did the Soviets, with their pathetic, poverty-creating, “Progressive” economic system, keep fighting the Cold War decade after decade? What kept them in the game long after the U.S. and its Western allies should have won?

The answer: deception. The Soviets systematically deceived the West to make it appear that they were stronger than they really were and that they were interested in peaceful competition with the Free World.

As a result of Soviet deception, the West acted timidly toward the Soviets until the Reagan Era. Indeed, prior to President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher, most Western leaders seemed less interested in defeating the Soviets than in currying favor with them. “We win. They lose,” as Reagan once privately described his Cold War strategy, seems simplistic, but, in fact, it represented a complete turnaround—a change that signaled the beginning of the end of the Soviet Empire.

For decades previously, the Soviets often went unmolested as they worked to implement their plan for victory. (There were exceptions: We stood up to them in Vietnam, until we stopped doing so.) The Soviet victory plan included these elements: control of space and opposition to the development of space-based missile defense; a massive, secret program for the development of biological weapons such as anthrax, smallpox, and plague; and domination of the Third World.

Cuba was critical to that last part. The Castro dictatorship, which presented itself to the world as unaligned, was actually the Soviet Union’s partner, its surrogate in its effort to bring the Third World under its control.

Today, in the wake of the Obama administration’s surrender to Cuba, it’s time to take a look at the role played in the Cold War by the murderous dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

In this guest column, Ana Almeida, the Capital Research Center’s Haller intern, looks at one of the Soviets’ techniques that bamboozled the West, the use of Cuba as a surrogate for Soviet involvement in the Third World. – SJA

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“Active measures is the Soviet term for a form of political action aimed at foreign public opinion, political elites, and decision makers.” “The Soviet term active measures describes a wide variety of deceptive techniques to promote Soviet foreign policy goals and undermine those who oppose Soviet actions.” — Richards J. Heuer

The USSR released large-scale strategic deception campaigns against the U.S. sphere of influence throughout the Cold War. The term “active measures” (aktivnyye meropriyatiya) describes a wide variety of deceptive techniques to promote Soviet foreign policy goals and  undermine the enemies of communism. Active measures undertaken by the KGB include agents of influence, propaganda, and disinformation that amplified communist influence and presence internationally. The history of Soviet-Cuban relations reveals that Cuba—as a proxy state for the Soviet Union—fostered the Soviet big strategy of spreading pro-Moscow communism worldwide.

Soviet active measures are equivalent to strategic deception in Western intelligence theory. These measures are political actions implemented via deceptive techniques aimed at influencing foreign public opinion, decision makers, and foreign intelligence services. Active measures also correspond to a professional expression used by KGB officials to refer to KGB’s operations intended to influence opinions and policies in foreign countries.

During the Cold War, active measures were used to manipulate Western perceptions of the Soviet communist regime, promote USSR’s foreign policy goals, and undermine its opponents. In the post-Cold War, they remain an integral part of Russian national policy and a strategic modus operandi of the Russian autocratic state. 1

Strategic deception is a typical attribute of a counterintelligence state such as the USSR. The active measures programs were centralized and integrated. The 1st Chief Directorate of the KGB was in charge of influence, propaganda, and disinformation operations. The USSR used its intelligence apparatus and those specific activities to offensively combat the capitalist regime as well as to exert influence and control over its satellite countries.

Influence operations were tools to propagate Soviet views and interests among foreign leadership groups. A typical influence operation entailed covert financial support to leftist parties and political leaders, whose positions were advantageous to the Soviet Union. Another measure was the insertion of propaganda in the Western and Third World Press, usually handled by official Soviet news agencies or the Communist Party, in order to undermine the U.S. and its allies. Disinformation was one more deceptive technique disseminated by agents of influence for the sake of Soviet interests. Active measures were often covert actions non-attributable to the Soviet Union.2

For instance, the Soviet support to the Cuban communist regime was based on the implementation of covert active measures by Cubans as agents of influence. Major USSR’s covert operations backed up Fidel Castro’s dictatorship throughout the Cold War years. Castro’s regime received political, military, economic, and cultural support from the Soviet Union to be a successful example of communism to the world. A sponsored communist country in Central America, a U.S. immediate satellite region, was an offensive strategy to combat capitalism, exert influence worldwide, and serve long-term Soviet foreign policy goals.

The 1987 Department of State Report on Soviet Influence Activities provides a study of the entire range of USSR’s active interaction with Latin America. The USSR developed strong diplomatic ties and military relations with Latin American countries, especially with Cuba and Nicaragua. According to this report, the Soviet Union’s political, economic, and cultural activities in the region increased in the 1960s and 1970s. Soviet military sales to Latin America grew $3 billion between 1973 and 1984. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the Soviet Union provided an amount of $9 billion in military aid to Cuba. This military assistance increased exponentially in the 1980s. As of 1987, Soviet economic and military aid to Cuba exceeded $10 million per day and $4 billion per year. All that Soviet investment made the Cuban military the best equipped in Latin America then.

Soviets supplied Cubans not only with weapons but also with advisers. As of 1985, approximately 10,000 advisers were stationed in Cuba; posted in economic sectors, in the armed forces, and in the Cuban intelligence service. The most sophisticated Soviet intelligence facility outside the USSR, capable of monitoring U.S. communications, was located near Havana.3 The KGB and the Cuban intelligence service, Direccion General de Inteligencia (DGI), were especially cooperative in the late sixties.

In 1968, the Soviets instigated Castro to sign a secret agreement that surrendered to the Kremlin control over Cuban foreign policy. That same agreement consigned the DGI to the KGB. All DGI’s operations had to be approved by a KGB colonel whose office was adjoining to the DGI’s director’s own. DGI’s personnel were regularly selected to be trained or recruited by the KGB. Cuba became the only Soviet satellite state whose intelligence service was subsidized by the USSR.

Moreover, the USSR had an enormous influence in the Cuban political affairs during the Cold War years. In exchange for the Soviet Union’s extensive support, Cuba became not only a reliable ally in the West, but also a military asset for the Soviets. Castro agreed to act under the auspices of the pro-Moscow communism. At the opening session of the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Castro stated that any revolutionary movement in the world could count on Cuba’s support. Cuba’s operational role in worldwide guerrilla warfare training was crucial to advancing international communism.

The Soviet military assistance to Cuba served the strategic purpose of extending influence and deflecting attention away from USSR’s direct support to terrorism. In other words, Soviets used Cubans as proxies or agents of influence to spread communism through violent means following the USSR’s geopolitical strategies. In the 1960s, the target areas were mainly in Latin America and Africa. In the 1970s, the USSR shifted its influential focus to the Middle East and Western Europe. 4

The DGI selected young Europeans to sign up for Castro’s “summer camps” and recruited young Americans to the Venceremos Brigades to support revolutionary activities in Latin America and African countries. In Latin America only, Cubans trained an amount of 20,000 persons in guerrilla warfare and terrorist techniques besides supporting armed violence in Central America.5 In 1959, Castro sent his expeditionary forces to support revolutionaries in Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. In 1962, 1,500 Latin American guerrillas were part of the Cuban guerrilla nuclei. 6

Additionally, Castro supported the 1964 Marxist coup in the Zanzibar archipelago of Tanzania. John Okello spent three years in Havana before he led the Zanzibar Revolution. Cubans trained most of the revolutionaries led by Okello, who overthrew Jamshid bin Abdullah’s Arab government, and proclaimed the Republic of Zanzibar in 1964.7 Before the revolution, Okello instructed his men to assassinate Arabs, not to kill pregnant and elderly women, and spare virgins of rape. The revolutionaries carried out attacks on property, beatings, rapes, and murders against the Arab and Asian populations in the region. Assassinated Arab prisoners were buried in mass graves. There are no precise statistics about the number of deaths that occurred during the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964. 8

In the 1960s, Cuban guerilla warfare training sites were installed in Congo and Algeria as well. Ernesto “Che” Guevara himself arranged training in Congo. In Algeria, about two hundred Cuban guerrilla instructors trained the Sahrawi rebels of Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (POLISARIO).9 The Polisario Front is an active national liberation movement that fights for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

Cuba also supported the communist regime of Equatorial Guinea personified by Francisco Nguema’s dictatorship (1968-1979). Castro provided Nguema with hundreds of Cuban political advisers and bodyguards during his government. Nguema’s regime was responsible for 100,000 exiles and 50,000 political executions, including executions performed by the Equatoguinean dictator. Allegedly, he used to drink human blood and receive a salary of $5 million a year.

On top of underpinning African communist regimes, Castro sent weapons and troops to that continent. In 1961, a shipload of Cuban weapons were sent to Western Africa and offloaded in Morocco by guerrilla trainees from all over Africa. In the 1970s, following the 1968 secret agreement Castro sealed with the Soviets, Cuban troops were deployed to wherever the Kremlin decided. By 1980, between forty and fifty thousand Cuban troops were deployed to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. 10

Twenty thousand Cuban troops were placed in Angola in order to “sovietize” the country after it achieved its freedom from Portugal in 1975. Angola became a semi-Soviet satellite country then. Seventeen thousand Cuban troops were in active service in Ethiopia in order to establish the Marxist-Leninist regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam (1974-1991). Ethiopia became the first completely “sovietized” black African state. Massive human rights violations were committed during Colonel Mengistu’s communist regime. Thousands of Ethiopians disappeared, were tortured and/or murdered. Another thousands died due to forced relocations ordered by the regime.11

In the early 1970s, South Yemen became an international locus of terrorism training and sheltering or “a wonderfully safe terrorist haven” in Sterling’s words. After the 1973 October War in the Middle East, forty Cuban experts in guerrilla warfare were strategically placed in South Yemen. It became the main training network for the Palestinian Rejection Front, a radical political coalition formed by Palestinian factions opponent to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The German leftist terrorist groups Baader-Meinhof Gang (a.k.a. Rote Armee Fraktion – Red Army Faction), Bewegung 2 Juni (June 2 Movement), and Revolutionäre Zellen-RZ (Revolutionary Cells) were also trained in advanced guerrilla warfare by Cuban experts in South Yemen.

In the mid-1970s in Libya, Cuban instructors taught Spanish Basques from Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) guerrilla warfare techniques. Libyan dictator Qaddafi supported the Basque terrorist group and had sheltered around 150 Cuban guerrilla instructors in Libya by 1980.12

South Yemen became a completely Sovietized country in 1978. The Yemeni seaport city of Aden was surrounded by Soviet naval forces and bombarded by Cubans piloting Soviet aircraft. Later in that same year, the number of Cuban troops in South Yemen increased from 700 to 1,700, and by 1980, there were between 6,000 and 7,000 troops. The presence of Cuban troops was crucial for the consolidation of USSR’s communist control over South Yemen.13

Aside from influence operations, economic and cultural relations served to broaden the Soviet ideological presence in the world. Commercial relations with Latin America were mostly disadvantageous to the Soviet Union except for trade with Cuba. Cuba ran a large trade deficit with the USSR due to the extensive Soviet assistance to the island, which far exceeded commercial relations. Overall, Soviets had trade deficits because they would import from Latin Americans three times as much as they exported to the region. Regardless of financial logic, there was a strategic rationale behind these Soviet economic policies. They aimed to exploit anti-imperialist sentiments and foment resentment towards the U.S. in the region.

The successful Cuban Revolution of 1959 caused the U.S. to cease economic relations with Cuba. Since then, the USSR filled the diplomatic vacuum by investing on commercial relations with Cuba and the rest of Latin America. Cuba became one of the top Latin American USSR’s trade partners along with Brazil and Argentina.14

The USSR also invested in strengthening cultural ties with Latin America in order to expand communism in the region. Soviet education programs granted thousands of scholarships and other forms of assistance to Latin American students and professionals, mainly in scientific and technical fields. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean in the USSR more than doubled. In 1964, there were about 6,400 students in Cuba sponsored by the Soviet Union. Since the scholarships were entirely subsidized by the Soviet Union, these policies came at a very high cost. They were long-term investments aimed at ideologically influencing the population in the region.

The Soviets strategically used the media as another way to exert ideological influence on Latin Americans. Communist propaganda was disseminated in Latin American broadcast by official Soviet agencies (TASS and Novosti), Radio Moscow, and by the Cuban Prensa Latina. This intended strategy advanced communist ideology in the region through covert propaganda and disinformation techniques.

TASS used to provide disinformation to local news media organizations in approximately 12 Latin American countries. Radio Moscow used to broadcast 103 hours per week exclusively to Latin America.15 Novosti used to handle insertion of leftist publications through local communist parties and front groups.  Disinformation was also inserted through controlled agents and journalists. Materials with disinformation content were placed in the Third World Press, often in conservative or moderate newspapers and magazines.16 Basically, the official Soviet agencies, TASS and Novosti, were means to manipulate Third World Press.

As previously mentioned, the USSR relied on Cuba as a surrogate state to proliferate communist ideology in Latin America. Cuban exploited its cultural affinity with other Latin American countries to disseminate propaganda and disinformation in the region. Cubans used to place articles on Marxist-oriented newspapers and circulated pro-Soviet newspapers and books in Nicaragua. Prensa Latina used to provide material to the Nicaraguan news agency Agenda Nueva Nicaragua (ANN).17 These joint Soviet-Cuban efforts focused on cultural and information activities to exert ideological influence over the Third World.

William Casey, Director of Central Intelligence, on an address to the Dallas Council on World Affairs in 1985 stated that “These Soviet news agencies [TASS and Novosti] are supplemented by those of the bloc countries. For example, Cuba’s contribution is out of all proportion to its size or importance. Prensa Latina broadcasts over 2,500 news dispatches on two national and 12 international radio circuits daily. These dispatches are available in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French from 36 branch offices throughout the world. Radio Moscow is thus strongly supplemented by Radio Havana.”

Overall, Soviet active measures functioned as silver bullets to amplify communist influence and presence worldwide. Cuba was a proxy for the Soviet big strategy of spreading pro-Moscow communism not only in Latin America but worldwide. The Cuban army was a crucial military asset to the Kremlin that fought covert wars to bolster the USSR’s foreign policy goals. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union traditionally exerted its political influence not by the force of politics, but by the politics of force.

Active measures are embedded in the Russian political behavior. This deep-rooted modus operandi derives from the Soviet bureaucratic and operational tradition. This Soviet tradition is exemplified by the large-scale strategic deception campaigns released against the West throughout the Cold War years. The history of Soviet-Cuban relations is a testimony to this tradition. The USSR “party-police-military-state” was an inborn counterintelligence state. Strategic deception is a typical attribute of a counterintelligence state and still an integral feature of the Russian political system.18

The U.S. Congress Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of 1982 regarding Soviet active measures referred to a CIA study that lists the strategic objectives of such operations.19 Based on this finding, the implementation of Soviet active measures – influence operations, covert propaganda, and disinformation – in/through Cuba was mostly effective. It demonstrated both that the U.S. was an aggressive imperial power and that the American policies were incompatible with the underdeveloped world. Hence, Soviet active measures effectively influenced the world and the American public opinion in favor of the Soviet Union. As a result of that, the USSR created a favorable environment for the execution of its foreign policy goals in the Americas and abroad.

Moreover, the USSR managed to undermine U.S. intelligence efforts throughout the Cold War, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The build-up of Soviet ballistic missile sites in the island drove the two world superpowers to the brink of a nuclear war. It was one of the most effective Soviet strategic deception campaigns and one of the most remarkable intelligence failures in the history of U.S. intelligence.

William Casey, former Director of Central Intelligence, described Soviet active measures’ efforts as a psychological war with its own campaigns, tactics, and strategic goals. He claims these measures were a significant instrument of communist policy characterized by both an aggressive and a defensive nature. They were intended to protect the Soviet political system by denigrating the America’s image, i.e. identifying it with oppressive policies and governments in the world. In Casey’s words, “At no time in this century (…) have these techniques [active measures] been used with more effect or with more sophistication than by the current Soviet state and its allies, notably Cuba…”

When evaluating effectiveness of Soviet influence operations it is important to take into account how the Soviets analyze the American decision making process. Since influencing American political decisions was the ultimate purpose of Soviet activities, each time the U.S. made a political decision favorable to the Soviet Union, the operation(s) leading to that decision can be considered a successful active measure. No matter how indirect that influence was, for instance, through public opinion or agents of influence.

From the USSR’s perspective, active measures were effective for they weakened the ‘main enemy’ and increased international support for Soviet policies. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia continued to adopt inherited assets of the Soviet active measures apparatus to achieve strategic policy objectives.20

 

ENDNOTES

 

  1. Richards J. Heuer Jr., Soviet Strategic Deception (Lexington: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 21-27.
  2. Richards J. Heuer Jr., Soviet Strategic Deception (Lexington: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 28-29.
  3. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 251.
  4. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 250-251.
  5. “Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87, August 1987,” PoliticalWarfare.org, accessed September 26, 2011, http://jmw.typepad.com/files/state-department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf
  6. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 248-250.
  7. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 248.
  8. Zanzibar Revolution. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, accessed September 30, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanzibar_Revolution   
  9. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 248-254.
  10. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 249.
  11. Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam (1974-1991). Ethiopia Military, accessed October 1, 2011, http://ethiopiamilitary.com/colonel-mengistu-hailemariam-1974%E2%80%9HYPERLINK “http://ethiopiamilitary.com/colonel-mengistu-hailemariam-1974–1991/”31991/
  12. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 254.
  13. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981), 253-257.
  14. “Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87, August 1987,” PoliticalWarfare.org, accessed September 26, 2011, http://jmw.typepad.com/files/state-department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf           
  15. “Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87, August 1987,” PoliticalWarfare.org, accessed September 26, 2011, http://jmw.typepad.com/files/state-department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf
  16. Richards J. Heuer Jr., Soviet Strategic Deception (Lexington: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 29.
  17. “Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87, August 1987,” PoliticalWarfare.org, accessed September 26, 2011, http://jmw.tyHYPERLINK “http://jmw.typepad.com/files/state-department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf”com/files/state-HYPERLINK “http://jmw.typepad.com/files/state-department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf”department—a-report-on-active-measures-and-propaganda.pdf
  18. John J. Dziak, Soviet Strategic Deception (Lexington: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 3-6.
  19. Richards J. Heuer Jr., Soviet Strategic Deception (Lexington: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 25.
  20. Soviet Active Measures in the Post-Cold War Era (1988-1991). Muskingum University, http://intellit.muskingum.edu/russia_folder/pcw_era/index.htm
  21. Soviet Active Measures in the Post-Cold War Era (1988-1991). Muskingum University, http://intellit.muskingum.edu/russia_folder/pcw_era/index.htm

 

 

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