102. Memorandum From John Lenczowski and Kenneth deGraffenreid of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • The Next Soviet Move in the Korean Air Lines Massacre: Disinformation and Distraction

On the basis of standard Soviet practices, their bizarre midnight demarche2 and today’s recent announcement that “they had now found wreckage and papers,”3 it is likely that the Soviets are about to engage in a massive active measure to show the world that KAL 007 was on a spy mission for the U.S. We strongly suspect that the Soviets will produce forged documents, tapes or equipment allegedly recovered from the wreckage. We believe this could occur as early as tomorrow at a scheduled press conference in Moscow.

—When the Soviets have committed their most egregious crimes, they and their apologists, both here and abroad, have attempted to turn such incidents somehow into the blame of the U.S. or its allies.

—Routinely, on almost any international question, the Soviets try to cast themselves as flexible and legitimate interlocutors searching for peace. Although other countries often recognize this image to be false, out of fear they are required to pay it homage. For this reason, success in these matters for the Soviets is a question of damage limitation by distorting the truth of their crimes, diverting world attention and raising doubts in peoples’ minds about Soviet culpability. The Soviet handling of this event has been standard operating procedure: (1) denial, (2) counter charges against the West; (3) laying the groundwork for justification of their action; (4) mobilizing their apologists to proffer exculpatory explanations (e.g., the Soviet “paranoia” argument); [Page 355] (5) distracting international attention with accusations of crimes committed by the “imperialists”, and (6) finally the Big Lie: the creation of a Western crime, even worse than the Soviet crime.

—A constant theme in Soviet active measures is the dirty work of Western spies.

While a Soviet forgery offensive will appear transparent, and indeed ludicrous, to most Americans, it will nevertheless be difficult to deal with internationally. Because the Soviets inspire fear, and because their latest terrorist act indeed does succeed in terrorizing people, there will be a willingness to accept even the most incredible Soviet charges. And on top of this, we are burdened by the fact that the media have a congenital desire to give credence to Soviet explanations and prove the U.S. Government to be a liar. Thus, it is critical that our strategy include the following considerations:

—Keep the Soviets on the defensive. This can be done by reminding the world of the many other Soviet crimes that are ongoing. E.g., people are being massacred daily in Afghanistan. We could publicize the daily death toll. USIA has just produced a film on the Soviet war there. We could ask Congress for permission to show this film in the U.S. and the President could show it to the people on prime time TV.

—We should at the highest level dismiss the Soviet forgery as a lie and a typical active measure. All appropriate government press spokesmen should be prepared to pass out already-prepared State Department reports on the methods and themes of Soviet active measures. Talking points should also be prepared.

—We should then avoid giving credence to the false Soviet charge with detailed U.S. response, or else their effort will have been successful in distracting the world from their crime. A detailed response will lead to numerous questions about U.S. intelligence activities, and even if we are successful in “proving” that this flight was not an intelligence mission, the aroma of involvement by U.S. intelligence activities will remain.

—We might even try to preempt a Soviet forgery offensive by giving press briefings on the subject and voicing our suspicion that this may be the Soviets’ next move. This could be done by a senior foreign policy official.

We have tasked CIA and the State Department Active Measures Working Group to begin to prepare material in anticipation of what we suspect may happen. If the Soviets do in fact engage in this exercise, we suggest that the President may wish to consider further direct sanctions against the Soviets because by then the issue will have become, despite our best effort, a serious U.S.-Soviet confrontation.

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1. That you authorize us to develop a strategy to preempt a Soviet forgery offensive.4

2. That you authorize us to develop a strategy of response to such a forgery offensive.5

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Robert Lilac Files, Arms Transfer, Subject File/1981–84, AT (Arms Transfers): [Korean Airlines] KAL [09/07/1983]; NLR–332–14–32–1–7. Secret. Sent for action. Lenczowski initialed for deGraffenreid.
  2. See Document 101.
  3. The New York Times reported that “the Soviet Ambassador said on Thursday [September 8] that his Government had found debris from the downed South Korean airliner in international waters and would turn the recovered materials and documents over to Japan, Foreign Ministry officials said. The envoy, Vladimir Y. Pavlov, in a meeting with Yoshiya Kato, head of the ministry’s European and Oceanic Affairs Bureau, also said the Soviet Union would report on its search operations off the Soviet island of Moneron, near Sakhalin, in accordance with ‘international practices.’” (“Soviet Envoy Pledges to Give Jet Debris to Japan,” New York Times, September 9, 1983, p. A11)
  4. On the Approve line, Clark wrote: “Had Eagleburger call Koppel.” Presumably, Clark is referring to Ted Koppel who was the host of ABC’s “Nightline” news program, which had been covering the KAL story.
  5. Clark checked the Approve option.