20. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

2324. Subject: Soviet Support for Terrorism. Ref: A. State 37581,2 B. Moscow 2106.3 For Spiers from Matlock.

1. (S—Entire text)

2. I doubt that I have any evidence not available to the intelligence community on Soviet support for terrorism. My statement in ref B was based on the assumption that we do not concede to the Soviets the right to determine when a group is a “national-liberation” movement (and thus in their eyes entitled to use terrorism) and when it is not (and thus presumably does not have that right, at least in theory). I consider it unwise to accept either the Soviet definition of “national liberation” movements or the right the Soviets have arrogated to themselves to determine whether a particular group fits the definition or not. I believe we are on sounder ground if we consider any group which espouses the use of terrorism to achieve its political ends as a terrorist group and aid to such as aid to terrorism. In this sense, the Soviets are clearly guilty of aiding terrorism, and they know it.

3. The issue, however, does not stop there, in my view. While the Soviets have most often (and most overtly) dealt directly with groups they have dubbed “national liberation” movements, they have also maintained an active arms supply relationship with regimes they know are arms suppliers to terrorist groups which are not so classified. Qaddafy’s Libya is a case in point. I recall that, in the early 1970’s, I made a demarche on instructions to the Soviet Embassy in Washington requesting that both of us refrain from introducing “Redeye-type” missiles into the Middle East because of the particular danger this weapon would pose if it fell into the hands of terrorists. The Soviets gave us a waffling reply and shortly thereafter the Italian police arrested individuals in Rome in possession of Soviet “Strela” missiles. As I recall, reports at the time indicated that they had been brought into [Page 50] Italy in the Libyan diplomatic pouch. In supplying such weapons to Qaddafy, the Soviets must have been aware that he could well pass them on to terrorist groups. The same, of course, can be said for their arms supply relationships with South Yemen and Palestinian groups.

4. Although the intelligence community is obviously in a better position to judge than I am, I believe that there is considerable evidence that the Soviets have tolerated, and at times provided passive support to, training of terrorists by countries such as North Korea, allowing—for example—transit of “students” and instructors through the USSR. Given the very tight controls on entry and exit here, such tolerance in my view should definitely be construed as support for terrorism.

5. Finally, support for terrorism can also involve covert propaganda. In this area—as in others—the intelligence community is in an infinitely better position than I to know the facts. However, I would classify the clandestine broadcasts to Iran following the seizure of the U.S. Embassy there as a form of support to a particularly flagrant act of terrorism.

6. Your question seems to imply that there is less evidence of Soviet support for groups they do not classify as “national liberation” movements than I had supposed. Is the intelligence community really having trouble substantiating that the Soviets have indulged in indirect or covert support for such groups? If so, this is important to know.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Files, Vol. 17, Box 5 [Moscow, 1980–83]. Secret; Roger Channel.
  2. Telegram 37581 to Moscow, February 13, begins: “Intelligence community wishes to elicit all information we can on subject of Soviet support for terrorism (by which we mean terrorist groups like Red Brigades and Bader-Meinhoff rather than insurgent or ‛national liberation’ groups).” (Ibid.)
  3. Telegram 2106 from Moscow, February 12, in which the Embassy described the reaction of Soviet state media to Haig’s charge in his Senate confirmation hearing that Moscow was supporting international terrorism. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D810067–0838)