Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov was a KGB agent when he defected to Canada in 1970. He managed to escape to the Western world from India where he was a KGB operative for India’s Soviet propaganda outlet, the Novosti Press Agency. In Canada he was given a new name, Thomas David Schuman and he started to work in the Canadian media on news reports about the Soviet Union. His cover was soon blown however, when a Soviet outlet exposed his new identity. He was subsequently warned by Canadian intelligence about the ‘possibility of further Soviet action’ against him. At this point he decided to go fully public with his story and past work at the KGB, becoming a great “burden” for the Canadian intelligence.
Despite his attempt to ‘warn the West’, Bezmenov did not became famous in the 1980s for alerting America about the dangers and penetration of Soviet disinformation. Depressed and frightened as he had lost the protection of the Western intelligence community, he started to drink and drifted away from his Canadian family. He died in January 1993. His name re-emerged and he finally gained popularity around 2013 when an interview with him was uploaded to YouTube attracting millions of viewers. The interview was made by Edward Griffin in 1984. Albeit the interviewer is known for some outright conspiracy beliefs, the video still offers a food for thought about the dangers of ideological capture and how receptive our modern society is to disinformation.
‘What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American’
In the interview the defector Yuri Bezmenov explained the techniques used by KGB to spread disinformation and destabilize democratic societies. He outlined a four-stage plan devised by the KGB to brainwash societies through manipulation that can twist public opinion in a way that people become indifferent or even suspicious of facts. He argued that the KGB is waging a long-term psychological warfare to ideologically subvert the Western world and especially America. In his words this ‘great brainwashing’ manifests itself in the following way in real life, ‘What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country’.
The first stage of the ‘great brainwashing’ that is called ‘demoralization’, which takes 15–20 years. In his words, ‘this is the minimum number of years to educate one generation of students in the country of your enemy. Expose (these students) to the ideology of the enemy; in other words, Marxism-Leninism is being pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students without being challenged or counterbalanced with the basic values of Americans.’ He continues that by the 1980s these ideologically obsessed people are part of the American system and higher education in a way that it is impossible to get rid of them. Because ‘you cannot change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information (…) The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him (a) concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it.’ He believed that in the 1960s the hippies were already contaminated by the ideas planted by the KGB; therefore, from the 1980s on, their influence made its way into American politics too.
Sabotaging the economy, foreign relations, defence and institutions takes another 2–5 years after the ‘demoralization’ is complete
He believed that the first of KGB’s four-stage plan is already accomplished, and it would take at least one generation of hard work to return the American mindset to a more patriotic one. After the first (already accomplished) stage, comes the second stage that is ‘destabilization’. During this ‘destabilization stage’ the subverter (USSR) undermines the institutions of the Western world. Sabotaging the economy, foreign relations, defence and institutions takes another 2–5 years after the ‘demoralization’ is complete. After the second stage comes the third, ‘crisis’ stage which takes only a couple of weeks. In this stage an artificially induced crisis violently puts an end to the political power structure in the Western world. Once the government is overthrown, comes the fourth stage, ‘normalization’ when Soviets take over. This ‘normalization’ can go on indefinitely, and it means the imposition and consolidation of a Marxism-Leninist form of government.
Although it would certainly be a highly questionable claim to make that Marxism is popular nowadays in Western academia due to the KGB’s disinformation campaign decades ago, it is nevertheless puzzling to see how Yuri Bezmenov’s description of the first stage bears a great resemblance of some Western institution’s ideological capture and refusal to prioritize facts over ideology. It is not to suggest that there was/is a coordinated plan to ‘re-educate’ or ‘demoralize’ a generation of Western students. It is only to be a warning sign about the dangers of ideological capture and the importance of reassuring the West in its basic values, as Bezmenov believed that the only antidote to this ‘big brainwashing’ is educating a new generation of Americans in the spirit of patriotism, American values and raising awareness about the dangers of Marxism-Leninism.
Although Bezmenov’s warning is highly disputed, his four stages are used to explain disinformation campaigns even in academia. The so-called ‘Soviet subversion model’ that he outlined was used by academics to analyse the propaganda campaign that preceded the Russo-Georgian War and other contemporary Russian disinformation campaigns. Even the New York Times quoted Bezmenov as a source about how the KGB operated. According to The New York Times, Department A of the KGB which was dealing with misinformation, or ‘ideological subversion’ had 15,000 employees and a multi-million budget. Every KGB agent was required to spend at least 25 per cent of their time thinking about ‘disinformation’ campaigns they might use to demoralize the West. The New York Times claims that the techniques described by Bezmenov were indeed used by the Soviet Union, and therefore, the KGB is the inventor of disinformation or fake news as we know it today.