Journalists in the Service of Reds: Engineers of Human Souls

Exiles from totalitarian regimes have always been a potential and real threat to the credibility, durability and legitimacy of dictatorships, particularly the Communist variety. These regimes sought to quash exile effectiveness through a round-the-clock dispatch of intelligence assets in aggressive defamation and elimination operations.

By Tania C. Mastrapa | October 25, 2013

In the United States, we metaphorically abide by the double-edged sword. While America is a haven for those who seek freedom from repressive regimes, we simultaneously provide a forum for supporters of those regimes. Stephen Kimber, an award winning journalist and currently a professor of journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, represents the latter.

As a writer, Comrade Kimber is what Soviet dictator Josef Stalin called an engineer of human souls – endowed with the power to remold the ideological mentality of his readers. Kimber recently wrote, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five – a book that justifies agent insertion into the United States by the Cuban regime and (of course) slanders anti-Communist Cuban exiles.

The Washington Post published an Op-Ed by Kimber where he defends the Cuban Five – spies who, among many other illegal acts, were instrumental in the 1996 downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes over the Florida Straits. The American light aircraft were shot down over international waters by Cuban MiGs firing air-to-air missiles that killed four on board. The Cuban Five were subsequently convicted by a federal jury that did not include any Cuban exiles.

South Florida’s WLRN General Manager John Labonia defended the station’s decision to also provide a platform to Kimber. To not do so would apparently have been dumb and intolerant. He nodded to the sensitivity of the matter and stated, “…the local conversation about Cuba has evolved and become more broad-minded…and that it can accommodate opinions today that might have been too uncomfortable to engage a generation ago.” Have broad-mindedness, objectivity and tolerance ever been demanded of other victims of totalitarianism, such as Jews under the Nazi regime and those who toppled Adolf Hitler? No, because these standards are solely exacted on victims of Communism and the underlying reality is that their lives are allotted a low value, if any at all.

The unbridled statements by journalists and others about Communism’s exiles are certainly beneficial to the oppressors. Thus, those subjected to property confiscation, political arrests and torture are somehow unable to accurately address their homeland’s ills as opposed to those who regurgitate the content of Communist State publications. For example, journalists describe Vietnamese exiles, ad nauseum, as “right-wing” and an “extreme anti-Communist bloc,” whose younger generations are more open-minded. The loved ones of the 16,000 Cambodians who died on orders of Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. “Duch,” ought not have had a say in his sentencing, according to international judge Sylvia Cartwright because of the need for objectivity and balance as opposed to victims’ “mob rule.” A group or government that attempts, by any means necessary, to bring freedom to a country is generally lauded as heroic – so long as that country is not under the yoke of Communism. Laotian anti-Communists have been subjected to arrests, bombardments, re-education camps and shootings; but an effort by exiles and sympathizers, labeled by the U.S. government as “mercenaries,” to liberate the country resulted in arrest for many in the United States.

So how did the double standard originate?

Exiles from totalitarian regimes have always been a potential and real threat to the credibility, durability and legitimacy of dictatorships, particularly the Communist variety. These regimes sought to quash exile effectiveness through a round-the-clock dispatch of intelligence assets in aggressive defamation and elimination operations. The Bolsheviks initiated a variety of go-to labels for anti-Communist enemy émigrés that remain in force today; “right-wingers” and “terrorists” have, by far, enjoyed the most mileage, while “hysterical” and “paranoid” are strong runners-up. It ought to be noted, however, that even some Westerners who projected an anti-Communist image reverted to these labels to discredit certain exiles. Winston Churchill referred to anti-Communist Polish émigrés and the Polish Underground as “terrorists” in writings such as Triumph and Tragedy. Churchill wanted Poles to succumb to Stalin so that he could fulfill his own agenda. Since they refused, he branded them.

In addition to longtime Communist infiltration of the U.S. Armed Forces, Department of State and Pentagon, media infiltration has always been a crucial operation in disinformation and defamation campaigns against their enemies. Frankly, all too many journalists have willingly compromised their credibility and profession in service of Communist dictatorships, whether as conscious or unconscious agents of influence. Stasi Officer Colonel Rolf Wagenbreth bragged that the GDR’s secret police successfully worked with Western journalists. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, authors of The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors, wrote, “Journalists can be a twofold asset for an intelligence service. They not only often have sensitive information from government sources, but they can ‘spin’ their articles to promote a specific viewpoint.”

Journalists can also report on inconsequential news items so as to intentionally distract from serious issues such as corruption, repression, and shortages. They can attempt to diminish the weight of evidence provided by witness testimonies in addition to corroborated and cross-referenced data on Communist operations found in opened state security archives. Journalists can repeatedly report on the alleged widespread softening of anti-Communism among younger generations until this “fact” becomes beyond reproach.

David Satter, former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times wrote in 1985, “The Soviet authorities do not expect Western journalists to believe Soviet propaganda, but only to repeat it uncritically, without any effort to analyze what it means, so that, over time, the Soviet Union’s ideological lying and officially sanctioned misuse of language, enhanced by the credibility of important American publications, begin to have the same numbing effect on Westerners as on Soviet citizens.”

A very different kind of journalist than Satter, Russian-American Nicholas Daniloff, while employed by U.S. News and World Report as a Moscow correspondent, callously remarked, “I don’t consort with dissidents. The magazine considers them a passing phenomenon of little interest. In a political sense, they don’t have any influence – and they are perishing.” A few years later Daniloff became director of the journalism program at Northeastern University and remains a professor there.

Journalists serving the Communist cause

The list of Western journalists in the service of Communist dictatorships is extensive: Walter Duranty, Joseph Barnes, Samuel Krafsur, Lawrence Todd, Kim Philby, and I.F. Stone (née Isidor Feinstein), just to name a few.

Walter Duranty, Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times (1922-36), witnessed some of the most brutal moments in Soviet history under Lenin and Stalin. Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) had tactically encouraged foreign investment in Soviet Russia in order to strengthen the Communist regime with the funds generated from capitalism. When this economic “reform” ended, Russian exiles and foreign investors (known as NEP-men) lost every penny to the regime. Duranty was tickled pink and wrote in his book I Write As I Please, “…my first reaction was one of pleasure…they got what I knew was coming to them, and that’s that.” Later he wrote that reports of the Soviet engineered Ukraine famine that resulted in millions upon millions of deaths due to forced collectivization was “mostly bunk,” “exaggeration” and “malignant propaganda.”

In sharp contrast to Duranty, Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian did accurately report on the Great Famine (not without resistance from his editors and eventual dismissal). Muggeridge said Duranty was “the greatest liar of any journalist I met in fifty years of journalism.” Nevertheless, The Pulitzer Prizes – “honoring excellence in journalism and the arts since 1917″ – refused to rescind the foreign reporting prize awarded to Walter Duranty in 1932. The Board failed to find “clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception” on his part.

Communists did not limit their recruitment efforts to U.S.-based journalists. From the 1950s – 1980s, the United Kingdom-based BBC World Service employed a ring of spies who reported to the UDBA, the secret police of the former Yugoslavia. The journalists’ tasks included informing Marshal Josip Broz “Tito” of émigrés’ personal lives and anti-Communist activities as well as planting disinformation among them to sow discord. The Yugoslav regime categorized the exiles the “enemy emigration” and all opponents as terrorists. One of the agents at BBC from 1971-76, Mitja Meršol, had previously worked at the New York Times in 1966. Unmasked by opened secret police archives, he remains unrepentant. Meršol claims his stint as an informant “harmed no one.” But the UDBA, armed with information on exiles provided by journalists such as Meršol, unleashed hit squads abroad in “special actions” that murdered anti-Communists and their loved ones – even young children. According to John R. Schindler, Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, the UDBA managed Western perceptions by depicting the hits as the “result of squabbles among émigrés.” Tito had broken with Soviet domination and fashioned himself as a moderate, with the help of many Westerners. Schindler says that because he was useful to the West his murderous apparatus was spared the sometime condemnation reserved for other Communist secret police agencies.

The engineers of our souls remain hard at work remolding the minds of readers by promoting a progressive agenda inherited from their Bolshevik heroes. Today’s journalists and writers whitewash the enablers of state terrorism from Cuba’s intelligence services embedded in the United States, such as the Cuban Five, and reinforce double standards applied to anti-Communist exiles. And they do so with impunity and propaganda because they are not subjected to the same totalitarian censorship and repression of the regimes they serve.

Tania C. Mastrapa, Ph.D. is a Research Professor in Cuban and Latin American Studies at the Institute of World Politics. Dr. Mastrapa is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.