21. Telegram From the Department of State to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts1

377222. Subject: Countering Soviet Active Measures: Proposed USG Guidance and Report on AIDS. Pass to PAOS. Ref: (A) State 346837.2

1. Summary. The Department is concerned that the effects of the current AIDS disinformation campaign could intensify as the number of AIDS-related cases increases. An interagency mechanism has been set up to monitor ongoing events and is preparing guidance and a comprehensive report, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other relevant agencies, to counter charges that the US is responsible for the creation and dissemination of the virus. Posts’ views on the proposed guidance as well as on a public affairs strategy for countering AIDS-related disinformation are welcome. End summary.

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2. Background. Since October 1985, allegations that the US manufactured the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus as a result of biological warfare research at Ft. Detrick, Maryland have appeared in more than 50 countries in media of all political viewpoints, several international wire services, and Soviet bloc radiobroadcasts in more than twenty languages. The Soviet-inspired campaign has further engendered negative perceptions of the US by alleging that the West is trying to shift responsibility for AIDS to African countries and, by sowing fears that the disease may be spread by US military personnel overseas, exaggerating legitimate risk factors associated with the virus.

3. Growing attention to the spread of the virus will present Moscow with additional exploitable opportunities for the foreseable future. For example, increasing local receptivity to charges that US military personnel are AIDS carriers could lead Moscow to broaden its claims to include other Americans overseas such as diplomats, students, tourists, businesspersons and Peace Corps volunteers. Demands that US military bases in the Philippines be closed to prevent the spread of AIDS already have appeared in the local press there and have been repeated by TASS;3 ultimately such charges could have an effect on US basing negotiations around the world and multilateral health/scientific negotiations and agreements, for example.

4. Department is now pulling together guidance for posts’ background and discretionary use (A) outlining the mission of Ft. Detrick and the nature of the research being conducted there; (B) describing US prophylactic efforts to protect US Armed Forces personnel who are deployed overseas; (C) identifying medical and scientific vulnerabilities and inaccuracies, where they exist, in Soviet and Soviet-sponsored information; and (D) discussing scientific and other qualifications to the extent possible of the purveyors of Soviet-sponsored information. Department will be cabling this information to posts as it is developed.4

5. A technical report, to be issued by HHS,5 as currently conceived will provide positive information on US attempts in conjunction with international bodies to identify the cause of the disease, modes of transmission, experimental methods of treatment, and epidemiological research (i.e., establishing the incidence and prevalence of the virus). Department expects the publication to be issued around the first of the year.

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6. Posts should continue reporting local perceptions of alleged USG involvement with the creation/dissemination of the virus, as well as of press reports expounding upon the same theme; such reporting has proven vital in assisting the Department in its assessments and is greatly appreciated. Department also welcomes comments and suggestions from posts on adequacy of guidance outlined above, as well as ideas on developing a public affairs strategy to counter AIDS-related disinformation. Please slug responses “INR/IDDAS Bailey”.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D860926–0414. Confidential. Drafted by Hertzberg; cleared in OES, EAP/PHL, PA, DOD, USIA, PM, EUR/SOV, Fort Detrick, and HHS; approved by McNeil.
  2. Telegram 346837 to all diplomatic and consular posts, November 5, transmitted a chronology of the Soviet disinformation campaign. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D860845–0124)
  3. In telegram 34623 from Manila, October 27, the Embassy reported on press items that demanded the closure of bases. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D860825–0352)
  4. Transmitted in telegram 382137 to all diplomatic and consular posts, December 10. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  5. Not found.