Search form

Scroll To Top
News & Opinion

Long Before Helping Trump, Russia was Peddling Dangerous AIDS Conspiracies

Long Before Helping Trump, Russia was Peddling Dangerous AIDS Conspiracies

Act Up, 1990

Soviet Union Pushed 1980s Conspiracy That AIDS Was Caused By A Biological Weapons Experiment Targeting Gay Prisoners


When an Indian newspaper with Soviet funding published a letter in July 1983 claiming that AIDS had been hatched in military experiments at Fort Detrick, Md., it lit the fuse for a dangerous campaign of misinformation with disastrous consequences. Known as Operation Infektion it helped sow division at the height of the Cold War, and was only officially retracted by Russian prime minister Yevgeni Primakov in 1992.

Then, like now, the idea was simple: Undermine scientists and the media by planting fake news stories. According to fascinating report in today's New York Times, a September 1985 memo from the East German secret police to Bulgarian intelligence spelt out the goal as being "to generate, for us, a beneficial view by other countries that this disease is the result of out-of-control secret experiments by U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon involving new types of biological weapons."

A month after that East German memo, an article titled "Panic in the West or What Is Hiding Behind the Sensation Surrounding AIDS," was published in Literaturnaya Gazeta, a KGB mouthpiece. From that point on, the conspiracy began to take hold in the West as well, promulgated by the black and gay press--both communities with historical reason to be suspicious of government--as well as by CBS News and Anti-Semitic nutjob Lyndon LaRouche. Kanye West has rapped about it in song. Twice.

"The Soviets intuitively understood how the human psyche works," Thomas Boghardt, a military and intelligence historian, told The Times. In a lengthy and detailed paper, Boghardt lays out a simple but effective strategy: Identify opportunities to exploit dissent, point to inconsistencies in the news, create alternative narratives, and then promulgate.

At a 1986 conference of non-aligned nations held in Zimbabwe, some 20 KGB officers helped distribute a 47-page pamphlet by Professor Jakob Segal, an East German biophysicist, in which Segal suggested that the US had experimented on homosexual prisoners who had then infected the wider population. Segal's claims would end up in the conference's final report, as well as in the press of 25 African countries. British papers including The Daily Telegraph, a Conservative opinion leader, repeated Segal's theories uncritically.

In 1987, partly inspired by Segal's work, the Austrian author Johannes Mario Simmel published a bestseller, With the Clowns Came Tears, about the dangers of genetic engineering in which the Fort Detrick conspiracy is mentioned. Markus Wolf, the head of East Germany's foreign inteligence unit kept ten copies of the book on his desk as a reflection of the campaign's success.

The end of the Cold War, and more importantly, the spread of AIDS to Russia, would eventually shift the focus. After Charles Schultz, the then U.S. Secretary of State, compained to Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1987 about the disinformation campaign, the Soviet Academy of Sciences began to back away from the theory, abandoning it entirely in 1988.

But the damage was done. As the death toll continued to rise in the 1990s, AIDS conspiracies would continue to undermine pulbic health efforts by sowing doubt in effected communities. The consequences of that are too horrible to contemplate.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories