Daily Mail Claims KGB Responsible For Rise of Islamic Extremism

From the Daily Mail:

New book reveals how KGB operation seeded Muslim countries with anti-American, anti-Jewish propaganda during the 1970s, laying the groundwork for Islamist terrorism against U.S. and Israel

The highest-ranking Soviet-bloc intelligence officer ever to defect to the West claims in a new book that anti-American Islamic terrorism had its roots in a secret 1970s-era KGB plot to harm but the United States and Israel by seeding Muslim countries with carefully targeted propaganda.

…Those claims come from former Romanian Lt. Gen Ion Mihail Pacepa and University of Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak.

…Andropov commissioned the first Arabic translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian-forged 1905 propaganda book that alleged Jews were plotting to take over Europe – and were being aided by the United States.

…The Protocols book, Pacepa claims, became ‘the basis for much of Hitler’s anti-Semitic philosophy.’ And the KGB, he writes, disseminated ‘thousands of copies’ in Muslim countries during the 1970s.

…Pacepa and Rychlak conclude that much of the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and elsewhere can be traced back to Soviet clandestine operations, in which he himself played a major role.

Kennedy-era Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s disinformation campaigns ‘widened the gap between Christianity and Judaism,’ according to the authors…

Pacepa famously defected to the USA in 1978; the new claims appear to be an attempt to maintain relevancy through the continued revelation of privileged information that supposedly provides the secret key to understanding world affairs (Reza Kahlili is another example of this tendency). It is the case that the USSR promoted notions of Jewish conspiracy in the wake of the Six Day War, but to see this as the explanation for the existence of “Islamist terrorism” today is to boil down complexity to an absurd degree.

One very obvious alarm bell is that Andropov did not in fact commission “the first Arabic translation” of the the Protocols; the first translation was actually made in the 1920s. According to Binjamin Segel’s A Lie and a Libel: The History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (p. 62)

In the summer of 1925 a complete Arabic translation appeared in Damascus and immediately achieved wide circulation. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem made effective propaganda for it throughout the Orient.

Two conservative polemicists concur: Daniel Pipes writes in The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy (p. 311):

Christian Palestinians first translated the forgery into Arabic and published it perhaps as early as 1921 and certainly by 1926, followed by many others in subsequent years. Indeed, more translations and editions of The Protocols have appeared in Arabic than in any other language. Leading figures lent their names to editions, including the distinguished Egyptian writer ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad.

While Bat Ye’or adds in Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (p. 169):

The first Arabic translation of The Protocols from the French edition appeared in the review, Raqib Shayun (15 January 1926), published by the Roman Catholic community of Jerusalem. This propaganda, repeated by the Arab press and  radio, was contested by the Egyptian Jewish community.

Of course, the USSR may indeed have played an active propagandizing role from the late 1960s, as alleged, but if so it was pushing on an open door. The unhappy fact of the popularity of the Protocols in the Arab world cannot be reduced to a plot orchestrated by Yuri Andropov, and much less does this explain Islamic extremism in the twenty-first century.

Pacepa’s claim harks back to an age when “Communist conspiracy” could be trotted out as an explanation for any unwelcome development in politics or society. No need to think about how the west may have helped to give rise to Islamic extremism  (see, for instance, Mark Curtis’s Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam); and no need to think too much about the history of anti-Semitism in the West (or was Henry Ford a Soviet agent?). The claim that the Soviets “widened the gap between Christianity and Judaism” manages to gloss over both Christian anti-Semitism and the differences between Christianity and Judaism (I discussed the latter trend in fundamentalist forms of American Christianity here).

Pacepa and Rychlak’s book is entitled Disinformation, and it is not the first collaboration between the two men: in 2007 Pacepa alleged he had been part of a Soviet plot to smear the memory of Pope Pius XII. That claim is discussed by Zenit here.

UPDATE (11 July): Milking Pacepa’s supposed inside information further, WND now has a follow-up article, on the Vietnam War:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s 1971 testimony before a Senate panel claiming American troops in Vietnam regularly committed war crimes against civilians was a product of a Soviet KGB disinformation campaign, according to the highest-ranking Soviet-bloc defector.

“Although Kerry never fully revealed the source of the accusations, I recognized them as being a product of another KGB disinformation operation,” says Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa in a new documentary produced by WND Films.

…In the new documentary [tie-ing in with the book], retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an original member of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force who spent 36 years in the Army, challenges Kerry’s testimony.

“He never saw those things. He was perpetuating the myth of the left about our young men and women who served in Vietnam,” Boykin says.

(more on Boykin’s own extravagant claims here)

This, of course, rakes over old objections made by the Swift Boat Veterans to John Kerry’s “Winter Soldier” investigation.

In 2004, Annenberg Political Factcheck produced a useful round-up and assessment of Kerry’s testimony, which in 1971 Kerry had said was based on statements by “150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans”. Factcheck notes that this evidence did in fact turn out to be problematic: “many of the Winter Soldier participants later refused to speak to investigators for the Naval Investigative Service even though they were assured that they wouldn’t be questioned about atrocities they might have committed personally”, and there is evidence that some of the witnesses had been impostors. We can speculate that some of these impostors may have been working for the KGB, but Pacepa’s vague assertion that he “recognised” disinformation in Kerry’s words is too vague to be helpful.

It’s also worth making a more general point, despite the risk of stating the obvious: evidence in support of a claim may be tainted in any number of ways, but that does not always mean that it should therefore be dismissed out of hand, or that other independent evidence leading in the same direction is also discredited. Of course the USSR would seek to use the Vietnam War to propagandize against the USA, but Factcheck draws attention to plenty of other readily-available and well-known sources of authoritative information showing that war crimes undoubtedly did occur, and that it was these that turned Americans against the war.

Once again, Pacepa’s claim is both reductive of historical complexity and superfluous to historical understanding.


The Mail article was written by David Martosko, a controversial figure with a background in corporate PR before being taken on at the Daily Caller (see this profile in Mother Jones). Martosko’s appointment with the Mail earlier this year appears to be part of a strategy to get traffic from US conservative websites; Pacepa and Rychlak’s book is published by WND Books, and the Mail article has received a prominent link from WorldNetDaily.

One Response

  1. A rather…ironic…title for the book, no?

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