As a senior archivist for the KGB’s foreign-intelligence directorate, Vasili Mitrokhin had access to a treasure trove of information. He unveiled those secrets after defecting to Britain in 1992.
One such secret concerned the “active measures” — the lies – the KGB had used against the West during the Cold War. In the 1980s, for example, the KGB spread a couple of particularly pernicious rumors. It claimed the United States had manufactured the AIDS virus and that rich Americans were murdering children in the Third World for organ-harvesting purposes.
Framed by faux science and ideologically screened “experts,” and harnessing anti-American sentiments, these rumors gained huge traction. In October 1986, the Sunday Express, a British newspaper, reported the AIDS conspiracy, giving it credence, on its front page. In September 1988, the EU parliament passed a motion condemning trafficking in “baby parts.” As Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, summed it up in The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB: “Thus fortified by spurious scientific jargon, the AIDS fabrication not merely swept through the Third World, but took in some of the Western media as well.”
Today, Russia is waging another active-measures campaign. But this time Russia’s target is fracking. The facts are clear. Fracking, which is revolutionizing energy politics, offers a cheap, new source of global power. But that’s not all. In offering Europe independence from Russian energy exports, fracking poses a direct challenge to Russia. Because Putin depends for revenue on his oil and natural gas-exports, fracking’s cheaper alternative presents him with a big problem. Indeed, lower oil prices are already driving Russia’s economy into recession.
Facing this threat, Russian intelligence has implemented a three-pronged strategy.
First, Russia has ramped up covert payments to environmental groups in the West. By supporting well-intentioned environmentalists with hard cash (often without their knowledge), Russian intelligence gains Western mouthpieces to petition Western audiences in its favor. Based on Russia’s prior record, we can also assume that Putin has funneled money through intermediaries to sympathetic Western politicians.
Second, the Russian SVR (CIA equivalent) has directed its spies to gather intelligence on the American energy industry. Just last Monday, the Justice Department charged two SVR cover officers and an SVR agent with spying on “United States’ efforts to develop alternative energy resources.” This is what Russian intelligence officers do when they’re not offering polonium tea (the means by which, in 2006, Russian contract agents acting under official orders murdered a defector in London).
Finally, Russian intelligence’s biggest cover operation — its RT “news” outlet — is undertaking a massive propaganda campaign against fracking. Take Max Keiser, one of RT’s human puppets in the U.K. (see my take here) in London. According to Keiser, fracking is a “hoax” that “causes incalculable environmental damage,” “indebtedness,” and it “has no profitable scenario in any scenario.” Not to be outdone by RT UK, RT America recently released an hour-long documentary that “documents” illnesses supposedly induced by fracking in the American heartland. This propaganda is no amateur operation. By manipulating the testimony of others — such as trusted think tanks — RT veils its Kremlin spin under a façade of facts. They do so because they know that in today’s world, a façade is all that’s necessary. This, after all, is the age of conspiracies and evil corporations Aware that Western populations are largely uninformed about fracking, Russia is able by its various agitations to “guide” lightly informed citizens toward its agenda.
And it is finding success. Last week, to placate environmental groups, Britain’s Labour Party forced the government to introduce new regulations on fracking.
Such efforts will only increase. Facing the collapse of its energy-export market, the destruction of its energy-blackmail capabilities, and the depletion of its foreign-exchange reserves, Russia regards fracking as a critical national-security threat. And now more than ever, for President Putin, probably no option is off-limits.
Don’t rule out a fracking “accident.”