— In November 1921, Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Soviet Union’s secret police known as the Cheka, had a plan. Four years earlier, the Bolsheviks had expelled the Romanov dynasty and established the world’s first Communist government. Western European intelligence agencies, fearful of communism, sought to infiltrate the Soviet Union, while the powerful White Russians had fled to European capitals like Paris and Berlin, from where they hoped to plot the czar’s return.
Dzerzhinsky’s plan involved a prisoner, Alexander Yakushev, then sitting in the infamous Lubyanka prison in central Moscow. Although Yakushev had worked for the Soviet government, the Cheka had discovered his secret allegiance to the czar, arrested him and threw him into the Lubyanka, where in future years alleged enemies of the people would be executed on the flimsiest pretenses.
Dzerzhinsky wanted an indirect means of neutralizing the enemies of the Soviet Union, of fooling and confusing them so thoroughly that they would lose all sense of moral and political direction.
Instead of executing Yakushev, Dzerzhinsky gave his prisoner what he wanted, if only as a cover: He made Yakushev the head of a czarist organization called the Trust and sent him to Europe as the group’s emissary. Yakushev spread the message that anti-Bolshevik agents “had penetrated into the higher levels of the army, the security service, and even the government, and would in time take power and restore the monarchy,” as KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn described the Trust in his landmark 1984 study of Soviet security services, “New Lies for Old.”
Though little known today, the Trust is a predecessor of Russia’s operations in the United States during the 2016 election, a lesson in how Russia uses disinformation to discredit enemies foreign and domestic. Like the Russian bots tweeting about the Second Amendment or the fake Black Lives Matter pages set up from the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, the Trust was an operation that preyed on Western credulity. The Trust, as the spy-craft historian Michael Holzman has written, “projected in the minds of its targets — the White Russian leadership and various, especially British, secret intelligences — an image they found congenial.” In other words, they were fooled because they wanted to be.
https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP78-03362A002200040004-7.pdf" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank">a declassified CIA history describes as a showcase of “Soviet provocation.” (A CIA spokesperson declined to discuss details of agent education.) To Sipher, the Trust is a perfect example of an “active measures” campaign of the kind the Kremlin directed during the 2016 presidential election." data-reactid="45" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; font-family: Georgia, "Times New Roman", serif; font-size: 18px;">John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who worked for the agency’s clandestine service and ran operations out of Moscow, says that officers assigned to Russia were made to study the Trust, which a declassified CIA history describes as a showcase of “Soviet provocation.” (A CIA spokesperson declined to discuss details of agent education.) To Sipher, the Trust is a perfect example of an “active measures” campaign of the kind the Kremlin directed during the 2016 presidential election.
In his history of Russian spycraft “The Sword and the Shield,” Soviet intelligence historian Christopher Andrew writes that operations like the Trust, and others, “became increasingly successful in penetrating the main imperialist powers” of Europe. That was because “while security in Moscow became obsessional, much Western security remained feeble.”
The White Russians wanted to believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was at hand, just like some want to believe that Donald Trump is saving Western civilization from hordes of immigrants and refugees. Primed to believe these things, we may not look closely at the source or its motivations.