Friday, July 6, 2012

From Duranty to Palaez, Communist Penetration of American Media Continues

Pelaez, the Hispanic Press, and Russian Covert Influence

By: Kent Clizbe

Originally appeared in BigJournalism; July 9, 2010

The FBI arrested fiery New York columnist, Vicky Pelaez in late June.  An editor and writer for the Spanish language newspaper El Diario La Prensa, she was charged with being an unregistered agent of the Russian government.  Her far-left, anti-American columns won accolades from American Progressives, and from the Hispanic diaspora in the U.S.  Released on bail to home detention during the Fourth of July long weekend, she now awaits further legal developments. 

A sample from a Pelaez editorial in El Diario, translated from Spanish scorched the policies of her adopted country:  “…refusing to hear … the popular resistance and the opinion of the majority of countries in the world, the Big Boss [the United States] supported the putchists’ … illegal [Honduran] presidential elections…” Pelaez finished her anti-American rant, written in her comfortable suburban house in Yonkers, NY, with a tired revolutionary screech, “as long as injustice and poverty remain dominant, the struggle will continue.”  (El Diario, December 1, 2009)   

Soviet intelligence operatives (the KGB), starting in the 1920s, recruited agents in the press to influence American opinion.  The goal of the communist influence messages, as directed by Vladimir Lenin, was to destroy “the Main Enemy” from within.  Lenin used this tactic, learned in his own Revolution, because he knew the Soviet army was too weak to take on the American military. 

The influence message, boiled down to its essence was, and is, “America is an irredeemably racist, sexist, foreigner-hating, imperialistic, war-mongering country that deserves to be destroyed.”  Repeating this message over and over, like an advertising campaign, rooted the message deep in the psyches of the past several generations.  The ultimate result of decades of propagating this message through the press, education and academia, and Hollywood has been the attitude known as Political Correctness (PC). 

For nearly a century, Russian intelligence operations have exploited our openness, and the American commitment to individual rights.  The Russians know that an American, regardless of origin or recent citizenship, is allowed to speak freely and criticize the government.  To exploit our weaknesses, the KGB has honed their influence techniques.  They prefer to use leftists, minorities, and women (Pelaez is a three-fer, combining all three desirable attributes) as their agents. 

When confronted or challenged, these agents claim oppression.  This was modeled during successful influence operations in the 1950s.  The operations involved influencing reactions to the arrest, trial, and execution of the Soviet covert collection agents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.   This was a textbook case study of Russian intelligence apparatchiks’ response to exposure.   The technique can be summarized as:  “Admit nothing.  Deny everything.  Make counter-accusations.” 

The template of the Pelaez operation is familiar to experts in Russian covert influence operations.  In the early 1920s, the KGB targeted a foreign-born journalist of dubious background, Walter Duranty.  When he landed in Moscow, on assignment with the New York Times, he was immediately picked up by KGB officers.  Their assessment of Duranty would have only taken a week or two.  In that short period of “time on target,” the KGB’s smooth operators would have discovered Duranty’s myriad vulnerabilities. 

Arriving in Moscow Duranty would have been quickly assessed as an egotistical, one-legged opium addicted hack journalist who craved attention and sexual contact with girls of a certain age.  In short order the KGB provided Duranty with a renovated apartment in the devastated Russian capital, a car and driver, a house-keeper-with-benefits, access to sources of wine, women and song, and numerous official Soviet sources, exclusively for Duranty. 

KGB-facilitated sources provided Duranty with scoops on numerous stories.  His house-keeper provided him with a live-in sexual outlet (his borderline insane wife left Moscow after a short period of residence).  And the non-stop rounds of wine, women, and song stroked his ego.  He was soon hailed as the dean of foreign correspondents in Moscow.  He held court at hotels and bars frequented by Americans and westerners, always on the look-out for young girls he could impress with his power. 

While the KGB fed Duranty stories, they met his other needs, for a time.  The house-keeper gave birth to Duranty’s only child.  However, after Duranty helped arrange the US diplomatic recognition of the USSR, and covered up Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine, the KGB cut loose its unstable agent of influence, and Duranty faded into oblivion. 

Today we see the same pattern of influence operations against the American media.  One of the most important demographic slices in America is the Hispanic population.  With Spanish language media providing direct targeting, covert influence operators find targeting Hispanics quite easy. 

Pelaez arrived in New York in 1988 and established herself as an expert on leftist issues.  She burrowed deep into the Spanish language press.  From journalist to commentator, she editorialized freely.  She was widely quoted in Hispanic media, and frequently highlighted by Cuban propaganda vehicles. 

If the allegations against Pelaez are accurate, Russian covert influence operations would seem to be following a well-worn path of tradecraft.  Using tried and true recruiting techniques, the Russian operators methodically assess the motivations of their targets.  Using the targets’ unique motivations, the KGB recruits them as agents.  They become Willing Accomplices in anti-American influence operations.  Sometimes the agents are witting of their KGB control, sometimes they are not.  From the FBI’s reports, it appears that Pelaez was likely fully witting of her KGB sponsorship. 

Pelaez, originally a citizen of Peru, infiltrated the US after a suspicious, one-day “kidnapping” by Peruvian communist rebels.  Soon after, she was granted asylum to enter the US.  Ironically, her asylum request was apparently based on the threat of retribution from the communists. 

The use of a Russian-born immigrant, hiding in plain sight as a KGB controller is another bit of classic Russian tradecraft.  A husband acting as controller for a wife is uncommon, but not unheard of (see again, the Rosenberg case).  Pelaez’s husband appears to have confessed to the FBI, admitting his birth in Russia and his work for the KGB.  It’s likely that his role was as a principal agent, acting as the go-between for his wife and their KGB handlers. 

In extensive research into KGB covert influence operations, I have developed a three question sequence to identify suspected agents.  Has the subject traveled to Russia, or been subject to communist assessment and development somewhere else?  After exposure to assessment and development, does the subject’s publicly expressed point of view match that of the Russian party line?  After development by the KGB, did the subject’s material circumstances change for the better? 

A quick analysis of Pelaez’s life reveals that the answers to all three questions match the profile of other Russian agents.  She was “kidnapped” for one day by communist rebels.  During that period of control by the communists, she obtained an exclusive interview with their leader.  Since this incident, her point of view has matched the KGB’s anti-American point of view almost perfectly.  Finally, with asylum in the US, a high-profile job in New York, and her husband’s work as a college professor, Pelaez’s material circumstances have definitely improved. 

Most Americans are justifiably confused and skeptical about the FBI’s charges against Pelaez and her alleged co-conspirators.  But to those who study the Russians’ historical influence operations, the revelations are another chapter in the KGB’s continuing efforts to destroy American culture and society.  These arrests should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans who treasure our unique qualities—rough and ready, rugged individualism, commitment to liberty, and belief in the free enterprise system. 

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