The continuing controversy over Planned Parenthood’s sale of tissue and organs from aborted fetuses for research is eerily reminiscent of a Soviet disinformation campaign during the 1980s that accused the United States of kidnapping and killing babies and children in the Third World in order to sell their organs. Soviet propaganda did not mention aborted fetuses—perhaps because abortion in the Soviet Union was rampant and unremarkable—but it fabricated information about American trafficking in body parts for transplant in order to incriminate a profit-hungry capitalist system.
Although the details of Planned Parenthood’s activities do not conform precisely with Soviet allegations, the moral imperative is stark and unequivocal. A series of undercover videos recorded by a pro-life advocacy organization documents Planned Parenthood’s practice of performing abortions in a manner designed to preserve fetal organs intact for sale. The casual manner in which officials of Planned Parenthood discuss this practice while eating lunch is particularly unsettling. Against this backdrop, the old Soviet lie no longer seems so far fetched. It has returned to haunt us.
The Kremlin was a master of disinformation, a tool that it employed to mislead and manipulate a target audience—an audience that in the case of the body parts campaign was public opinion both in America and abroad. The ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union constructed an entire apparatus within the KGB (the Soviet intelligence service) to formulate and disseminate disinformation on themes created by the party’s Central Committee. KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who later became the top Soviet leader, elevated the service’s Disinformation Department to the status of an independent directorate to signify its importance.
The alleged U.S. sale of organs from babies and children was one of the prime topics of Soviet disinformation, along with claims that the AIDS virus was developed and deliberately spread by the U.S. military, that the CIA had a hand in the 1978 mass suicide of 914 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana (where the victims were forced to drink poison-laced Kool-Aid), that Washington was complicit in the murders of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme, and that the CIA provided “ideological inspiration” to the killers of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. In 1979 Soviet disinformation agents spread a false rumor that the United States was responsible for the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by opponents of the Saudi Arabian regime—a charge intended to jeopardize U.S. relations with Arab and Islamic nations.
A book entitled Once Again About the CIA that was published by the Soviet news agency Novosti in 1988 (not, it is worth noting, in Stalin’s heyday, but at the height of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms) alleged CIA involvement in the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. The book’s cover featured an illustration of bloody corpses superimposed on the CIA’s seal and reportedly was distributed in waiting rooms reserved for foreigners at Soviet airports.
Soviet disinformation typically appeared first in liberal and left-wing news outlets in Europe and the Third World. The government-controlled Soviet media would then disseminate the articles worldwide, attributing the information to non-Soviet sources. Newspapers and TV stations around the world in turn would unwittingly replay the allegations, lending them an air of authenticity and creating Moscow’s desired multiplier effect.
India, a leader of the Third World and a close Soviet ally, was one of Moscow’s favorite venues for planting disinformation. Romesh Chandra, the leader of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of India, was the longtime head of the World Peace Council, a preeminent front group for the dissemination of Soviet propaganda.
Typical of the Kremlin’s use of Indian media was an article placed in 1987 in the Hindustan Times, a mainstream daily. The article, planted by a journalist on Moscow’s payroll, claimed that the United States was buying Honduran children in order to harvest their organs for transplant. This “news” item exemplified the Kremlin’s heavy focus on Central America, which was a ripe target for Soviet disinformation at a time the U.S. government had been supporting the contra forces against the Sandinista revolutionaries in Nicaragua and where resentment of “Yanqui imperialism” had a long history.