Disinformation Campaigns from the 1980s: Ethnic Weapons, Organ Harvesting, And Child Trafficking

This report covers disinformation campaigns from the 1980s, including claims about ethnic weapons and child trafficking by the United States.

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history
disinformation
health security
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Affiliation

Information Epidemiology Lab

Published

November 4, 2023

This report covers disinformation campaigns from the 1980s, including claims about ethnic weapons and child trafficking by the United States. False claims about depopulation schemes, polio vaccines and HIV, ethnic weapons, and trafficking of children remain popular through to the present.

This content, initially presented by the Active Measures Working Group, provides an ideal resource for helping the public develop cognitive immunity and resistance to future mis- and disinformation. A table of stories that weren’t a part of any discernible campaign at the time they were documented has been added to the reference section (See Table 5).

‘Ethnic Weapons’

Table 1: A type of biological weapons disinformation, stories and headlines about an ‘ethnic weapon’ were promoted by the Soviet state.
Date Country Source Notes/Comments
1980-05-26 USSR Pravda Claims that “the US military department conducted trials of ’ethnic viruses in California in 1977;” mentions a “secret US naval laboratory in West Oakland.”
1981-03 USA People’s World US Communist Party newspaper reports that the US Navy laboratory in Oakland is experimenting with ethnic weapons. Also, there are reports of similar People’s World accounts in 1980.
1983-05-21 USSR Radio Moscow South Africa allegedly continued US Vietnam War-era research on “ethnic weapons.”
1983-09-09 Senegal Pan African News Agency The report charges South Africa has conducted “wide-ranging research into chemical weapons ’that affect only black-skinned people.”
1984-01-05 USSR TASS Alleges South Africa is developing “chemical ’ethnic weapons,” an “invention by US criminals.”
1984-05-25 USSR TASS Charges that Israelis and South Africans are developing an “ethnic weapon” to kill “an African or an Indian, a Chinese or an Arab.” It reports that “according to some data,” such a weapon is already being tested on Namibians.
1984-08-13 USSR TASS US, South African, and Israeli involvement charged.
1984-08-19 Syria Tishrin The unattributed report says, “a number of secret military research centers are now engaged in research on special types of tuberculosis, cancer, and influenza that kill only Arabs and Africans.” Charges “Israel, South Africa, and their protectors” with responsibility.
1985-04-02 UK Reuters Reports Selskaya Zhizn allegations.
1985-04-02 USSR Selskaya Zhizn South African and Israeli cooperation alleged.
1985-04-02 USSR TASS Carries Selskaya Zhizn story.
1985-04-03 Zimbabwe Bulawayo Carries TASS item.
1985-07-13 USSR Chronicle Radio Moscow Labels CIA and Pentagon as “initiators” of “ethnic weapons.”
1985-10-08 Ghana People’s Daily Graphic Article alleging US, Israeli, and South African research based on “Soviet sources.”
1985-10-08 USSR TASS Article alleging US, Israeli, and South African research based on “Soviet sources.”
1985-11-15 USSR TASS Accusations against South Africa and the US and South African development based on forged letters purportedly from US Defense Department officials.
1985-12-26 USSR TASS Pick-up of story based on forgery
1985-12-27 USSR Krasnaya Zvezda A repeat of TASS item
1985-12-31 Malagasy Carrefour Carries article on alleged US
1986-01-30 USSR Radio Peace and Progress Criticizes alleged US and South African development of “ethnic weapons.”
1986-02-05 USSR Radio Moscow Commentator Vladimir Voyevodov alleges South Africa is manufacturing ethnic weapons with US aid.
1986-02-10 Nigeria Nigeria voice Novosti-bylined article alleges joint US and South African research.
1986-02-12 Nigeria New Nigerian Carries the same Novosti article.
1986-02-18 USSR Radio Moscow Alleges South African research.
1986-09-01 USSR Novosti Article by N.U. Pogodi titled, “Death at the Cellular Level: United States and South Africa Develop Ethnic Weapons.”
1986-09-27 Nigeria The Voice Article by N.U. Pogodi titled, “Death at the Cellular Level: United States and South Africa Develop Ethnic Weapons.”
1986-11-18 USSR Radio Moscow Article by Novosti surrogate claiming Israeli and South African development. Correspondent Vladimir Valentinov alleges South African development.
1987-01-10 USSR New Times South African and US interests alleged by the interviewer.
1987-01-10 USSR TASS TASS report distorts the New Times article, attributing allegations made by the interviewer to Professor Yuri Rychkov of the General Genetics Institute.
1987-01-14 India Patriot Pro-Soviet weekly (set up by KGB) repeats TASS allegations.
1987-01-29 Kuwait Al abbas A long article charging US development includes a purported picture of an “ethnic weapon” being fired!
1987-02-13 Tunisia Al-Sabah A repeat of the same article that appeared in Kuwaiti newspaper.
1987-02-20 Bulgaria Otechestven Front Alleges that targets of US “ethnic weapons” include Southeast Asians, Brazilian and other Latin American Indians, plants, animals, and microflora.
1987-04-04 Ghana The Mirror Claims alleged US AIDS tests on Zairians could be related to a “genetic weapon that kills only black and colored people.”
1987-05-01 USSR Novosti Article alleges the CIA developed a “morbific bacteria” ethnic weapon.
1987-06-02 Ghana Ghanaian Times CIA development of “morbific bacteria” ethnic weapon charged. The article also accuses the US of spreading toy bombs in Afghanistan and producing “shooting umbrellas.”
1987-06-14 USSR Moscow News Novosti director Valentin Falin alleges “facts” of US development of ethnic weapons are “well known.” As evidence, he cites an article that contradicts his assertions.
1987-07-12 Peru La Voz Marxist daily links “ethnic weapon” and AIDS disinformation.
1987-08-03 Dominican Republic El Nuero Diario “Valley fever,” allegedly produced by the US, is said to “basically cause death to blacks and Asians.”
1987-10-19 Peru Cambio Marxist newspaper carries a story repeating Novosti’s May 1987 “morbific bacteria” claims.
1987-10-21 Ghana Ghanaian Times The article attributes “ethnic weapon” accusations to unidentified “Senegalese press reports.”
1987-12-04 Ghana Ghanaian Times An article by Issac Abraham mentions forgery featured in Dec. 85 Carrefour article in Malagasy press; alleges the US “prompted” South Africa to develop “ethnic weapons.”
1988-01-01 USSR Novosti Military Bulletin Extremely detailed accounts renew charges.
1988-01-09 USSR TASS Reports Ghanaian Times story and alleges “top secret experiments in this field were started in a naval laboratory at Oakland, California in the 1970s” (same charge as 1980 Pravda article).
1988-01-30 Ghana Mirror Repeats disinformation.
1988-02-05 USSR Radio Moscow English-language broadcast to South Africa reiterates charges.

Stories about a biological weapon capable of targeting a specific group are decades old. The most successful scare campaign dates back to 1980. During the Cold War, the Soviets planted stories worldwide, suggesting that the United States was developing an “ethnic” or “genetic” weapon. The reports alleged that this weapon had been designed to harm specific racial or ethnic groups.

  • Sometimes, the weapon is described as a threat to specific racial or ethnic groups based on their Slavic heritage, African descent, Asian heritage, or sexual orientation.

  • One suspected aim was to depict the US as a nation controlled by White Supremacists who would stop at nothing to eliminate everyone else.

  • The claims about targeting specific groups have never gone away. In 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned about “genetic weapons” with the utmost seriousness.

  • Today, the ‘ethnic weapon’ has risen again in lies propagated by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as well as by the Russian Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, who has attempted to use it to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Source for this section.

Child Organ Trafficking

Table 2: Organ-harvesting or -trafficking disinformation stories and headlines.
Date Country Source Notes/Comments
1987-01-02 Honduras La Tribuna Former Social Welfare Minister Villeda Bermudez said trafficking in baby organs exists.
1987-01-02 Cuba Radio Havana Reports organ-trafficking story.
1987-01-03 Cuba Granma Cuban Communist Party newspaper reports a story on the front page.
1987-01-03 Nicaragua El Nuevo Diario Both report organ-trafficking story.
1987-01-03 Honduras El Heraldo Villeda Bermudez says he had only heard rumors of trafficking in body parts.
1987-01-04 India Hindustan Times Carries Press Trust of India story based on Reuter’s account of Villeda Bermudez statements reported on January 2.
1987-01-05 Honduras La Tribuna In a letter to the newspaper, Villeda Bermudez clarifies that he was only referring to rumors of organ trafficking.
1987-01-09 Honduras La Tribuna, all Honduran media First Lady, other authorities say there is no evidence for reported allegations. Reuters carries a story on January 8.
1987-02-05 Guatemala Prensa Libre, El Grafico Reports of baby parts trafficking appear in Guatemala.
1987-02-06 Cuba Granma Front-page report of Guatemalan story
1987-02-06 Nicaragua El Nuevo Diario First report of Guatemalan story
1987-02-09 Dominican Republic Listin Diario Dominican Republic press picks up Guatemalan report.
1987-02-12 Guatemala El Grafico Reports USIS statement discounting organ-trafficking report.
1987-02-13 Guatemala Prensa Libre Organ story labeled invention.
1987-02-16 Guatemala This Week Weekly news bulletin with international subscribers.
1987-02-18 Guatemala Prensa Libre Guatemala’s Minister of Interior calls allegations piece of very imaginative fiction.
1987-02-19 Guatemala Prensa Libre Reports allegations as facts.
1987-02-25 Guatemala Diario de Centro America Editorial mentions alleged practice, then questions it.
1987-03-05 Guatemala El Grafico Editorial deplores alleged practice.
1987-03-07 Netherlands Volkskrant Mentions Guatemalan allegations in a story datelined Mexico City.
1987-03-08 Guatemala El Grafico Allegations mentioned in two-page story.
1987-03-15 Yugoslavia Nin Weekly news magazine cites the report of Enfoprensa, Mexico-based propaganda arm of Guatemalan Marxist guerrillas.
1987-03-15 Guatemala El Grafico Lengthy rebuttal of allegations by USIS Public Affairs officer.
1987-04-05 USSR Pravda Correspondent in Mexico cites purported Villeda Bermudez allegations without his repudiation of them. Soviet disinformation campaign begins.
1987-04-05 USSR TASS Spreads Pravda story worldwide.
1987-04-06 India Patriot Pro-Soviet/English-language daily (reportedly set up by KGB) runs Press Trust of India (PTI) story carrying Pravda allegations.
1987-04-06 India Daily Hindustan Hindi-language version of Hindustan times
1987-04-06 India Indian Express, Free Press Journal Bombay papers carry PTI report.
1987-04-12 USSR TASS Report from Mexico City cites a report by Guatemalan guerrilla front group Cerigua.
1987-04-14 France L’Humanite French Communist Party organ runs an extensive article entitled Child’s Heart for Sale.
1987-04-19 USSR Trud Reprint of L’Humanite article; commentary by 3 Soviet doctors deploring alleged trafficking.
1987-04-21 Nicaragua Barricada Official Sandinista organ carries Prensa Latina story replaying L’Humanite allegations.
1987-04-XX India Hindustan Times Prestigious mass-circulation English-language daily carries Prensa Latina story.
1987-04-28 India Telegraph Influential English-language daily with circulation of 120,000
1987-05-05 European Parliament Member of radical Proletarian Democracy Party in Italy tables motion mentioning allegations. Cites Enfoprensa news agency.
1987-05-06 Finland Tiedonantaja Replay of L’Humanite article in Stalinist newspaper.
1987-06-11 USSR Socialist Industry Repeats L’Humanite allegations
1987-06-11 USSR Radio Moscow
1987-06-13 USSR Sovetskaya Kultura
1987-07-02 Switzerland Hebdo Cites report from French newspaper Temoignage Chretien.
1987-07-23 European Parliament European Community Commission states that it does not know of any transplant operations performed in Europe for which the organs of Latin American children have been used.
1987-07-23 Dominican Republic El Sol Generally moderate newspaper reports allegations.
1987-07-25 USSR Izvestia Article cites purported quotes by officials from Defense for Children, Int’l (DCI) as evidence for allegations. When DCI officials learn of Izvestia’s report, they repudiate it.
1987-08-21 USA Desafio Publication of formerly-Maoist Progressive Labor Party
1987-08-25 Dominican Republic El Nuevo Diario
1987-09-10 Switzerland Geneva Home Information Weekly, free tabloid distributed citywide in Geneva carries charges.
1987-09-14 Cuba Radio Havana Repeats allegations about Guatemalan children.
1987-09-17 Argentina La Razon Reports claims of infant organ trafficking by Peronist deputy Onofre Bris de Sanchez. No allegations of US involvement.
1987-09-26 Argentina La Razon Bris’ claims repeated.
1987-09-27 Mexico Excelsior Prensa Latina report datelined Buenos Aires reports on Bris’ claims in La Razon.
1987-10-06 Council of Europe Dutch Parliamentarian mentions allegations in presenting a report on child exploitation. Information based on March 7 report in De Volkskrant.
1987-10-06 Canada Canadian Broadcasting Company Dutch Parliamentarian repeats allegations in radio interview.
1987-10-06 Switzerland Defense for Children, Int’l Officials write a letter to Izvestia protesting quotations ascribed to them and demanding rectification.
1987-10-07 Switzerland Defense for Children, Int’l issues press release on letter of protest to Izvestia.
1987-10-13 Norway Bergens Tidende Influential newspaper cites Guatemalan allegations.
1987-10-25 Italy Panorama Leftist Weekly carries an article speculating that wealthy individuals in Mexico and Central America may be purchasing spare parts for children, including those from the US
1987-10-28 Guatemala Baudillio Hichos Lopez, the alleged source for Guatemalan allegations, issues a statement denying statements attributed to him.
1987-10-30 USSR Sovetskaya Rossiya article repeats charges and mentions Jonestown, Olaf Palme assassination, and AIDS disinformation.
1987-11-10 Argentina Diario Popular Sensationalistic tabloid repeats organ-trafficking charges with no US involvement alleged.
1987-11-17 Netherlands Volkskrant article reports British professor McMasters announces that a black market in infant organs is centered in India and Central America. The article is written by the same correspondent who wrote the March 7 De Volkskrant piece alleging US involvement. When queried, McMasters reports that he made no such comments.
1987-12-01 Argentina Pagina 12 Leftist daily reports statements by Secretary of Health Rodolfo Rodriguez that there is no evidence for perverse rumors of organ trafficking.
1987-12-03 Norway Na Gossip weekly repeats Guatemalan allegations.
1988-01-18 Venezuela El Nacional Article in leading Caracas daily repeats Honduran allegations, attributing the story to an unsigned note appearing in an unnamed Caracas daily on December 5, 1987.
1988-01-21 Argentina Channel Nine Aide to Peronist senator repeats charges on television. The basis for the allegations is the April 1987 Defense for Children, Int’l report.
1988-01-24 Guatemala El Grafico Article reporting the arrest of two Israelis. for selling children charges that children were to be cut up for organ transplants in the US and Israel. Other media ignore or dismiss organ trafficking allegations.
1988-01-25 Honduras Local newspapers carry ACAN-EFE wire service story that reports El Grafico charges.
1988-01-26 Guatemala El Grafico article reports US denial and lack of evidence for charges.
1988-01-27 France L’Humanite Article by Maite Pinero, author of April 14, 1987, L’Humanite Article, reports latest charges; repeats allegations from early 1987.
1988-01-30 Guatemala El Grafico Prints letter from Director of Treasury Police Oscar Diaz to USIS Guatemala clarifying that police have no proof, evidence, or indication of trafficking in Guatemalan children for organ transplants.
1988-02-02 Mexico La Jornada Leftist paper cites Guatemalan women’s group Ixquic as a source of allegations.
1988-02-09 Bangladesh Several papers Local news agency and press carry Prensa Latina story, datelined Mexico City, repeating charges. Prensa Latina’s story cites Enfoprensa’s account.
1988-02-XX Bangladesh Local news services and papers carry corrections to the story.
1988-02-XX Congo Panorama Sovietique Local Novosti newsletter cites a statement by a Guatemalan women’s organization made in Mexico as a source for allegations.
1988-02-14 Morocco Al Bayane Communist Party paper reports El Grafico charges, claiming that it has published no more information on the issue. The article claims it has become routine for babies to be assassinated on surgical tables so that their eyes and kidneys could be used for transplants. The source is Prensa Latina’s story, republished in the Granma Digest of the Cuban Press.
1988-02-17 Guatemala, Honduras Local media Guatemalan T.V. and Honduran press carry Panama-datelined ACAN-EFE report that Codehuca organization has repeated allegations.
1988-02-18 Bangladesh Ittefaq Country’s largest vernacular daily deplores disinformation.

Soviet media widely published claims that Americans were kidnapping or illegally adopting Latin American children for their organs, starting in April 1987. The claims originated from Guatemala and Honduras earlier that year. Government agencies, private sector organizations, and investigative journalists that looked into the claims found no evidence of child organ trafficking as described in the news stories. The stories ultimately led to multiple violent attacks on US citizens traveling abroad.

  • The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibits the buying and selling of organs in the United States. The American Society of Transplant Surgeons and the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees organ transplants in the US, had no knowledge or evidence to support the claims.

  • The rumors of trafficking in baby parts first appeared in Honduras in early 1987. Still, the source for them, Leonardo Villeda Bermudez, the former Secretary General of the Honduran Committee for Social Welfare, immediately repudiated statements attributed to him. He said he had merely heard unconfirmed rumors of such activities.

  • The top officials in the Social Welfare ministry, including the First Lady of Honduras, emphasized that there was no evidence for such allegations, and the claims disappeared from the Honduran press.

  • Similar stories appeared in Guatemala in February 1987, allegedly from the Treasury Police. The director of the Treasury Police told the US Public Affairs Officer that he and his men had no evidence that children were being used for this purpose.

Circulation of statements from respected community members, later found to be fraudulent or inauthentic, could be viewed as a precursor to the more recent Operation Secondary Infektion. Thanks in part to Soviet media, the organ harvesting claims spread worldwide, reappearing every few years.

Source for this section.

Jonestown Massacre

Table 3: Disinformation related to the Jonestown Massacre.
DATE COUNTRY SOURCE NOTES/COMMENTS
1987-10-27 USSR Ministry of Justice Soviet Ministry of Justice publishing house prints 100,000 copies of the book Death of Jonestown - Crime of the CIA
1987-01-30 USSR Izvestia Official Soviet government newspaper carries 5-column story USA - 918 Victims of Political Terror, based on Death of Jonestown book. The author of the article, Andre Istkov, is one of the book’s three co-authors
1987-02-01 India Patriot, The Statesman, United News of India Moscow-datelined story by United News of India reports book’s major assertions
1987-02-03 Poland Trybuna Ludu Communist Party daily reports essence of Izvestia account
1987-02-10 Poland Rzeczpospolita Government daily endorses book
1987-02-11 USSR Leningradskaya Pravda Novosti article reviews Death of Jonestown book
1987-02-27 Bulgaria Otechestven Front article claims that book convincingly prove[s] that 914 ‘American dissidents’ were assassinated in cold blood by the CIA for their ideas
1987-03-01 USSR Moscow News Article titled Crime of the Century by TASS correspondent in Guyana at time of massacre endorses disinformation
1987-03-02 USSR Izvestia Sunday Supplement Nedelya carries story The CIA Exterminated Them accompanied by a picture of bodies
1987-03-07 Poland Rzeczpospolita Polish government daily
1987-04-01 USA World Press Review Jan. 30 Izvestia account reported
1987-04-07 Czechoslovakia Czechoslovak Soldier Carries Novosti account
1987-04-09 Finland Helsingin Sanomat Finland’s leading daily carries a short review of Jonestown book
1987-04-10 USSR Smena Leningrad Komsomol daily
1987-04-25 GDR Neues Deutschland Official organ of East German Communist Party
1987-05-07 Poland Zycie Warsawy Polish News Agency report announces the publication of documentary Death of Jonestown book which, it says, presents unquestionable proof unmasking the criminals as well as the disinformation trying to hide this crime of the century
1987-05-15 Cuba Juventud Rebelde article by one of the book’s authors, Novosti correspondent B. Antonov
1987-05-20 Laos Vientiane Pasaso
1987-06-06 Denmark Information Review of Death of Jonestown book
1987-06-12 USSR Radio Moscow Commentator recommends Death of Jonestown book to listeners
1987-07-10 USSR Rabochaya Gazeta Kyiv paper article Who Killed the Congressman?
1987-08-29 USSR Izvestia First of two-part series; mentions three previous Izvestia reports
1987-08-30 USSR Izvestia Continuation of two-part series
1987-09-03 Bolivia Hoy article by the author of original Jan. 30 Izvestia article
1987-10-30 USSR Sovetskaya Rossiya article also mentions AIDS, Olaf Palme assassination, and baby parts disinformation
1987-11-01 Cameroon New Dawn September issue of Soviet magazine carrying disinformation is distributed locally
1987-11-15 USSR Pravda On the ninth anniversary of the massacre, article on the Jonestown Tragedy reiterates disinformation charges
1987-11-19 Finland Kansan Uutiset Communist newspaper carries Novosti story authored by TASS correspondent in Guyana at time of mass suicide
1987-11-20 USSR Radio Peace and Progress Spanish-language broadcast charges ultra-rightists with covertly organizing massacre
1987-12-18 East Germany Das Volk Death in the Jungle article repeats disinformation
1988-02-01 USSR Bookstores begin to carry coffee table book CIA: State Terrorism of the USA, which accuses CIA of the Jonestown massacre
1988-02-01 Spain Books and Arts Publication of Soviet printing of the USSR rights agency Reviews Death of Jonestown book, offering sale of Spanish-language translation rights

In January 1987, the Soviet Union launched a disinformation campaign, falsely accusing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of orchestrating the November 1978 massacre of 918 people, including men, women, and children, in Jonestown, Guyana. Among the victims were 304 individuals who were 17 years old or younger.

  • The Jonestown disinformation campaign centered around a 224-page book titled “The Death of Jonestown -- Crime of the CIA,” published by the Soviet Ministry of Justice. The authors of the book, S.F. Alinin, B.G. Antonov, and A.N. Itskov, were correspondents for Novosti and Izvestia, respectively.

  • The mass suicide-murders at Jonestown were orchestrated by Reverend Jim Jones and his followers, after the fatal shooting of a US Congressman, Leo Ryan, a defector, and three members of the media.

  • Ryan, a California Congressman, was concerned about disturbing reports emerging from “Jonestown,” a settlement in the South American nation of Guyana, established by Jim Jones and his group, the Peoples Temple. Reports suggested that the commune was subjected to forced labor, beatings, and drug-induced behavioral control. The group also experienced suspicious deaths and had conducted rehearsals for mass suicides. Notably, many of the Jonestown residents were constituents of Ryan from San Francisco.

  • According to the Soviet Ministry of Justice’s book, the US government orchestrated the Jonestown massacre to prevent the residents from immigrating to the Soviet Union - a claim for which there is no substantiating evidence. The Soviet narrative reverberated through state-controlled media such as Izvestia and Moscow News. Media outlets in Poland, Bulgaria, and East Germany also propagated the false allegations.

For several months, the campaign persisted, with the Soviets blaming the CIA for organizing the “crime of the century.” This was part of a broader strategy by the Soviet Union to discredit the United States and its intelligence agencies. While genuine information about US intelligence agency actions at the time may have been enough to discredit them, the allegations regarding Jonestown were unfounded.

Source for this section.

HIV Disinformation

Table 4: Examples of HIV/AIDS disinformation.
Date Country Outlet Claims
1988-02-18 Uruguay Brecha Article “AIDS from a Yankee Laboratory?”, written by known disseminator of disinformation
1988-02-13 Russia Radio Moscow Interview with Dr. Jacob Segal who was a key source of AIDS disinformation
1988-02-05 Russia Radio Moscow English-language broadcast to South Africa repeats ethnic weapons disinformation
1988-02-04 Cameroon Cameroon Tribune Article repeats AIDS disinformation, drawing on Soviet and North Korean material
1988-01-05 Portugal Correio de Manha Repeats AIDS disinformation from Novosti
1988-01-02 Antigua The Outlet Reprints AIDS disinformation as reported in Cuban Interior Ministry’s official organ
1987-11-19 Portugal Novosti Novosti military bulletin repeats AIDS disinformation in Portuguese Tempo article
1987-10-30 Russia Sovetskaya Rossiya Article repeats AIDS, Jonestown, Olof Palme assassination, and baby parts disinformation
1987-10 Russia Novosti Novosti chairman defends AIDS and ethnic weapon disinformation in conversation with American journalists and academics

A significant Soviet disinformation campaign falsely claimed that the AIDS virus was artificially created in a US military facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Various global medical and scientific experts, including some notable Soviet scientists, debunked this claim.

The disinformation campaign began in 1983 with an Indian newspaper, the Patriot, set up by the KGB in 1962, according to Soviet defectors.

Image of a 1983 copy of The Patriot, infamous for publishing HIV disinformation. New York Times. (2017).
Figure 1: Image of a 1983 copy of The Patriot, infamous for publishing HIV disinformation. New York Times. (2017).

Although initially ignored, the story was picked up by the Soviet newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta in 1985 and has been circulated by Soviet media ever since, appearing about 40 times in 1987 alone. The story spread to over 80 countries and was translated into more than 30 languages during the late 1980s.

Source for this section.

Why Do Scientists Believe HIV Has a Natural Origin?

The most compelling evidence against the claim includes the detection of AIDS antibodies in serum samples from the 1950s, but there is far more evidence that supports a natural origin:

  • Nature of the Virus: HIV is a retrovirus with a long history of evolution and existence. Retroviruses have been infecting mammals for tens of millions of years.

  • Close Relatives in Animals: Close relatives of the virus have been found in chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys. The most widely accepted theory is that HIV originated from transferring the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) from chimpanzees to humans during the bushmeat trade in Central Africa.

  • Evolution of the Virus: The structure and behavior of HIV indicates that it has evolved over a long period. Genetic studies show a diverse range of HIV subtypes, suggesting a long evolutionary history. It’s estimated that HIV first crossed over to humans in the early 20th century, well before humans had the technology to engineer such a virus.

  • Historical Samples: Testing of human blood samples from the 1950s and 1960s uncovered HIV, predating any possible human technology that could create such a virus.

    • “We estimated the time of origin of the HIV-1 main group to be near 1930,” Robert Koerber and colleagues stated at the 7th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in 2000.

    • That estimate has since been adjusted to an even earlier date. The earliest cases of HIV likely originated in the 1920s from the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is well before anyone had the ability to create a virus.

  • Scientific Consensus: Based on the above and other lines of evidence, there is a broad consensus within the scientific community that HIV is not man-made. HIV/AIDS researchers, including Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo, who first discovered the virus, agree that HIV originated naturally.

While it’s possible to manipulate or create viruses in a lab, the characteristics of HIV and the circumstances of its emergence strongly support the consensus that it is not a man-made virus.

When HIV and Ethnic Weapon Disinformation Combined, It Jeopardized US Relations with African countries

The merging of two propaganda campaigns — one suggesting that the US was developing ethnic weapons and the other asserting that the US created the AIDS virus — further jeopardized America’s relationships in Africa.

As of 2022, the AIDS pandemic has affected an estimated 85.6 million people since its onset, with 39.0 million people currently living with HIV, 1.3 million new infections, and 630,000 deaths in that year alone; furthermore, 40.4 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the epidemic started, and 29.8 million are currently accessing antiretroviral therapy.

  • Following the nonaligned nations summit in Harare in 1986, rumors that the US was utilizing AIDS as a racial weapon against Africans started to spread across the continent. This was thanks partly to a report by “Russian-born biophysicist Jakob Segal.”

  • On June 7, 1987, the Patriot newspaper escalated the situation by accusing the US Department of Defense of performing experiments in Africa to study the depopulating effect of AIDS in strategically crucial regions such as Zaire.

  • In early 1988, a Nigerian newspaper modified the narrative, asserting that the spread of AIDS in central and western Africa resulted from wealthy Americans testing a contaminated polio vaccine on impoverished African people during the 1960s. These allegations took various forms and were repeatedly reported in media outlets across the continent.

  • That the AIDS disinformation campaign came in the aftermath of the Tuskegee Experiments, “research” that involved the federal government letting hundreds of Black men in rural Alabama go untreated for syphilis to see what happened to them, only made the campaign more credible.

Source for this section.

How the US Tracked False Claims Spreading in Africa and What It Learned

In mid-1985, USIS Public Affairs Officer Bruce Koch developed a computer program to monitor and analyze Nigerian press coverage to identify and track disinformation campaigns. He focused on feature articles, editorials, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor. This monitoring revealed the extensive and intensive efforts of the Soviet bloc to influence the Nigerian press until the end of 1987. The prominent propagandists were news agencies from the bloc, primarily Novosti, Sofia Press, and Cuban agencies.

These agencies gained influence by employing Nigerians who would lend their names to misinformation pieces written by bloc writers. This technique gave the misinformation a layer of credibility to Nigerian readers, who were more likely to accept the propaganda as truth.

The Soviets also cultivated relationships with Nigerian academics and journalists, sending them to bloc countries for journalism courses. As a result, Nigerian press coverage of Soviet Muslim and Afghanistan issues became more favorable to the Soviets.

In addition to the aforementioned strategies, the Soviets relied on Novosti press releases and publications. Nigerian writers often used these materials as research material, including freelancers who followed the Soviet line on international affairs. The Nigerian media institutions had ample quantities of these materials, which were frequently used to fill space in publications.

Novosti also distributed magazines and booklets in Nigeria, often through university bookstores, trade union offices, and the Soviet cultural center. These publications also became source material for articles in the Nigerian press.

The Soviet disinformation campaign was supported by the monthly Nigerian Marxist publication, New Horizon, which regularly reprinted the World Marxist Review. Although the distribution figures for this periodical were imprecise, it was widely distributed through university bookstores and labor union offices.

Source for this section

Sources

Note

The primary source for this report:

Active Measures Working Group. 1988. “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost.” InfoEpi Lab Notion. https://infoepi.notion.site/Active-Measures-Working-Group-1988-Soviet-Active-Measures-in-the-Era-of-Glasnost-0de3325fed254166a82ec3a2d916b0b5.

Other sources that have informed this work and collection:

  • Arms Control Center. (2022, March 29). Fact Sheet: The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. https://armscontrolcenter.org/fact-sheet-the-nunn-lugar-cooperative-threat-reduction-program-2/

  • Bhattacharya, S. (2005). New retroviruses jump from monkeys to humans. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7073-new-retroviruses-jump-from-monkeys-to-humans/

  • Boghardt, T. (2009). Soviet Bloc intelligence and its AIDS disinformation campaign. Studies in Intelligence, 53(4), 1–24. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA514366.pdf

  • Bohlen, C. (1992, December 10). American Vows Millions to Ex-Soviet Science. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/10/world/american-vows-millions-to-ex-soviet-science.html

  • Campbell, J. C., & Bittman, L. (1986). The KGB and Soviet disinformation: An insider’s view. Foreign Affairs , 64(4), https://doi.org/10.2307/20042744

  • CDC. (2023). HIV/AIDS Timeline. CDC. https://npin.cdc.gov/pages/hiv-and-aids-timeline

  • Covington, L. W. (2005). The Age of AIDS. The Nursing Clinics of North America, 40(1), 149–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cnur.2004.08.011

  • Dillin, J. (1983). Soviet propaganda mill spews out forgeries, fake news to undercut US In The Christian Science Monitor; Boston, Mass. The Christian Science Publishing Society (d/b/a “The Christian Science Monitor”), trusteeship under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/soviet-propaganda-mill-spews-out-forgeries-fake/docview/1037948545/se-2

  • Eggeling, W. (2000). The Soviet Information Bureau: internal views on a Soviet propaganda institution, 1945-47. Osteuropa, 50(2), 201–225. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/soviet-information-bureau-internal-views-on/docview/38841508/se-2

  • Gallagher, J. (2014). Aids: Origin of pandemic “was 1920s Kinshasa.” BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-29442642

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  • Holz, Y. (2022). The Active Measures Working Group: a Study of US Government Responses to Soviet Disinformation During the Reagan Era (H. Brands, T. Rid, T. G. Mahnken, & M. Kocher (eds.)) [Doctor of International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University]. https://www.archives.gov/files/records-mgmt/rcs/schedules/departments/department-of-state/rg-0059/n1-059-91-011_sf115.pdf

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Stories Not Part of a Campaign

There is no country column for this table due to an absence of data.

Table 5: Stories that were not part of a discernible campaign when they were documented.
Date Source Theme: Specifics
1984-01 Foreign bases ‘US digs deeper into Sri Lanka’ - Accuses US of considering moving the headquarters of the Central Command (CENTCOM) to Sri Lanka after establishing a US naval base in Trincomalee.
1984-02-01 Kalantar (CPI daily) Foreign bases/destabilization: US military experts helping Pakistan build a military base in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
1984-02-02 The Telegraph Destabilization/terrorism: British Intelligence and CIA support for anti-Indian terrorism abroad.
1984-02-17 The Daily (pro-Soviet) Destabilization: Charges US with Financing, arming, inspiring religious and cast extremists in India.
1984-03-26 Hindustan Times Chemical/Biological Warfare (CBW): Accuses US of waging chemical warfare in Afghanistan.
1984-04-25 Hindu Destabilization/terrorism: US accused of encouraging terrorism in India - TASS.
1984-06-06 New Age (Communist Party weekly) Chemical/Biological Warfare (CBW): Epidemic dysentery in East India, Bangladesh linked with so called genetic engineering experiments … by American scientists.
1984-06-15 Hindustan Times Destabilization: Sikh separatists linked with Pakistan and the US
1984-06-28 Patriot, (pro-Soviet daily) Human rights violations: Leonard Peltier case (American Indian Movement leader allegedly persecuted by USG).
1984-07-13 Punjab Kesari (Hindi-language daily) Destabilization/espionage: MOSSAD in collaboration with CIA attempting to spread an intelligence net in developing countries, including Sri Lanka.
1984-08-16 Hindustan Times Destabilization: DIA-Khalistan separatist link alleged.
1984-08-24 Danik Basumati (Bengali-language daily) Destabilization/terrorism: Allegation of US support for Sikh terrorists.
1984-11-01 Daily Destabilization/assassination: President Reagan’s condolence message came at 2:00 p.m., while the death of Mrs. Gandhi was not officially announced until 2:30 p.m., implying US foreknowledge of the murder; also cites unnamed political leaders who claim murderers were tools of the Western superpower.
1984-11-15 The Statesman, Amrita Bazar Patrika, and the Hindu Destabilization/espionage: Alleged CIA training Centers in Pakistan for agents to subvert Afghan and Indian governments.
1985-01-19 Blitz Destabilization: Edward Griffin, who guided Prof. Hardgrave on State Department study of political situation in India if Mrs. Gandhi died, awarded top CIA decoration, 10,000 dollars.
1985-01-19 Blitz Espionage/Ambassador Dean: Claims that Ambassador Dean has links with the CIA.
1985-02-22 Navbharat Times VOA/espionage/Sri Lanka: Military use of Sri Lankan VOA site alleged.
1985-03-20 Patriot CIA/narcotics: Quotes from a book by a Danish journalist which alleges that CIA raises funds for counter revolutionaries by selling narcotics.
1985-04-07 Tribune, April 7-13 Sunday Observer Espionage/foreign bases: Gwadar, a Pakistani naval base, has become a major US electronic listening post. Many US officers in the Embassy, American Center and USAID offices are from the CIA.
1985-04-10 Statesman, Patriot, Amrita Bazar Patrika Foreign bases: Quotes Soviet weekly New Times which alleges 23 airfields for US military available in Pakistan.
1985-06-15 to 27 Patriot, Daily, Blitz Destabilization/terrorism: Alleges suspected terrorist involvement in blowing up the Air India flight linked to the CIA.
1985-07-13 Daily Destabilization/terrorism: CIA disinformation specialists aim to confuse Air-India crash investigation officials and cover up CIA and FBI complicity.
1985-08-13 Aj (Hindi-language daily) Destabilization: Claims US lobby involves Ecuador in supporting Khalistan (Sikh) separatist movement
1985-09-02 Times of India Espionage: KAL 007 destroyed by Soviets was on alleged spy mission.
1985-10-06 Punjab Kesari, Hindi-language daily Destabilization: A dozen members of US Congress accused of supporting Khalistan.
1985-10-21 Patriot, Daily Destabilization/Afghanistan: CIA-sponsored Independent Media venture launched to bolster flagging campaign of vilification and distortion against Kabul regime and Soviet presence.
1985-10-29 Patriot Destabilization/terrorism: Ecuador acts as proxy in support of Khalistan terrorists in hope of receiving benefits from US
1985-11-16 Blitz Destabilization: Alleged report by Univ. of Pittsburg Professor Marshall Singer predicting Rajiv Gandhi’s death similar to CIA funded Robert Hardgrave’s prediction of Indira Gandhi’s death; seems to be old game of situational analysis which invariably is program of action for US agents or hit men.
1985-11-28 Nav Bharat Times, Hindi-language daily Destabilization/terrorism: Multinationals headquartered in US accused of financing Christian missionaries and voluntary organizations to destabilize India and carry out terrorist activities.
1985-12-14 Hindustan Hindi-language daily Espionage: Alleged US intelligence sharing with Pakistan against India.
1986-01-04 Patriot Espionage/narcotics: US narcotics agents infiltrating Indian police and intelligence.
1986-04-05 Indian Express Destabilization: Established Pakistan and American links with Sikh terrorists may also include a Chinese connection.
1986-05-08 Patriot Espionage/terrorism: TASS - The CIA, in collusion with the Israel secret service MOSSAD, engineered the explosion at the La Belle Disco in West Berlin.
1986-08-05 Nav Bharat Times Destabilization: CPI(M) accuses the USG of backing separatist demands for a Gorkhaland homeland for the Nepalese minority in India.
1986-08-29 Hindu Economic/technological discrimination: Secret deal for transfer to Pakistan of advanced US technology, including super computers not available
1986-08-29 Espionage/destabilization/terrorism Release here of Kunhanandan Nair’s book Devil and His Dart, an attack on the CIA, timed for distribution at the NAM Summit in Harare. (Nair, an Indian, is the East Berlin-based correspondent for Blitz, a pro-Soviet weekly tabloid from Bombay.
1986-09-29 Patriot Foreign bases/military intervention: Pakistan Army - a vanguard of US Rapid Deployment Force.
1986-10-16 Patriot Destabilization: Conspiracy hatched by the US in connivance with Pakistan and China to create changes in Indian policy in keeping with the demands of the US-Pak-China strategic consensus.
1986-10-22 Ananda Bazar Patrika Destabilization: Alleged US support for the Khalistan movement.
1986-11-25 Free Press Journal Chemical/Biological Warfare (CBW): US chemical weapons to Pakistan for use in Afghanistan.
1987-02-01 The Statesman, Indian Express, and Patriot Destabilization: Soviet Foreign Minister charges CIA’s neo globalist policy supports extremists in Punjab.
1987-02-03 The Statesman Patriot Human rights/terrorism: Soviet Book ‘A Drama in Jonestown CIA Crime’ - alleges that the 1978 ‘Kool-Aid’ massacre was carried out by the CIA.
1987-03-12 Calcutta papers, including The Statesman Destabilization: US assistance to Pakistan used to train Sikh extremists at six camps located inside Pakistan.
1987-03-26 Patriot Destabilization: CIA fanning fundamentalism among Indian Muslims.
1987-04-06 Patriot Human rights abuses: Moscow-datelined PTI story quoting Pravda dispatches from Mexico City accuses Americans of adopting thousands of Honduran children to use their body parts in organ transplants.
1987-04-17 Patriot Destabilization/Afghanistan: the US is interested in keeping Afghanistan in perpetual turmoil to fulfill its imperialist designs of world domination, according to a leftist Indian jurist.
1987-04-23 Link - pro-Soviet weekly Chemical/Biological Warfare (CBW): US Biological Warfare Through ‘Living Weapons’ - accusing the US of using mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and migratory birds to spread epidemics in Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere.
1987-04-23 Indian Express Patriot Destabilization/Afghanistan: According to the official Afghan news agency Bakhtar, the CIA and Pakistan plan to kill Najibullah.
1987-04-30 Hindustan Times, The Telegraph Human rights abuses: Pravda report: Honduran children sold for organ transplant parts in the US
1987-05-16 News Today, Madras daily Destabilization/coups: Coup overthrowing Bavadra government in Fiji was allegedly engineered and executed by the CIA.
1987-06-17 The Hindustan Times VOA/subversion: VOA transmitter in Sri Lanka is powerful enough to broadcast subversion worldwide, according to Sri Lankan Communist Party daily Attha.
1987-09-16 Several papers Destabilization/coups: Alleged US involvement in the Fiji coup.
1987-10-10 Blitz Espionage: Former US Embassy political officer Paul Kreisberg accused as CIA spy.
1987-10-24 Several papers Disinformation/destabilization: Chronology of a disinformation campaign alleging a US conspiracy to disrupt the NAM Summit held Sept. 1-6 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
1987-11-22 Hindustan Times Destabilization/Sri Lanka: According to the Sri Lankan Communist Party, the CIA has established links with Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and is assisting LTTE in opposing the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord.
1987-12-12 Blitz Chemical/Biological Warfare: Cites the text of an intercepted communication from a rebel leader to allege that US ‘toxic bombs’ are being used against the Kabul government.

Citation

BibTeX citation:
@article{infoepi lab2023,
  author = {InfoEpi Lab},
  publisher = {Information Epidemiology Lab},
  title = {Disinformation {Campaigns} from the 1980s: {Ethnic}
    {Weapons,} {Organ} {Harvesting,} {And} {Child} {Trafficking}},
  journal = {InfoEpi Lab},
  date = {2023-11-04},
  url = {https://infoepi.org/posts/2023/11/5-1980s-disinfo.html},
  langid = {en}
}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
InfoEpi Lab. 2023. “Disinformation Campaigns from the 1980s: Ethnic Weapons, Organ Harvesting, And Child Trafficking.” InfoEpi Lab, November. https://infoepi.org/posts/2023/11/5-1980s-disinfo.html.