How the USSR interfered in the 1964 US presidential election: KGB memo

History, International

Editor’s Note

Russia’s interference in foreign elections is hardly a new practice. In the recently-declassified archives of the KGB in Kyiv, historians have found a document detailing how the USSR was to interfere in the US 1964 elections to attack Republican anti-Communist hardliner Barry Goldwater, who ultimately suffered a landslide loss against Democrat Lyndon Johnson.

Signed by First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR Vasily Kuznetsov and KGB Chairman Vladimir Semichastny, the memo reveals a number of active measures the USSR was to take to smear Goldwater by forging negative content that could be used by the Democrats in their campaign.

Potential Russian interference in the US presidential election has been a top media topic several times in recent years. The archival document that we are going to read today tells us about the Soviet experience in such a case.

This note is dated September 1964 – shortly before the elections in the United States, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican, ardent anti-Communist and Conservative Barry Goldwater were running for President.

The document was signed by the head of the KGB and the deputy head of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was intended for the country’s top leaders.

The document

“Top secret. Instance number two. For the Central Committee of The Communist Party of the Soviet Union

First page of the microfilmed KGB document.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR and the KGB under the Council of Ministers of the USSR consider it expedient, in connection with the electoral campaign in the United States, to implement in the near future through closed channels of third countries a number of active measures (publication of materials in the foreign press we use, instigation in the relevant political circles of information, etc.) designed to have a beneficial effect on the foreign policy of the Soviet Union on the course and results of the presidential elections in the United States and to strengthen anti-Goldwater sentiments both in the United States itself and in other capitalist and neutralist countries.

Note. Active measures is a specific term of the KGB, meaning covert operations aimed primarily at misinforming the enemy.

“At the same time, it is understood that some of the planned measures, after their implementation, can be used by the US Democratic Party and its press in their own interests in the pre-election struggle against Goldwater.

“The main direction of the planned activities is to show:

“1. Goldwater’s victory in the elections and pursuing the foreign policy course outlined in the program of the Republican Party would mean a decline in US authority among both allied and neutralist states, leading to US political isolation from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“2. The possibility of Goldwater’s election as president causes concern throughout the bourgeois world and is already a source of discord in NATO, since the US allies, given Goldwater’s extremism, cannot allow him to play with their fate, don’t want to associate themselves with his program that threatens the outbreak of a nuclear war. Goldwater’s rise to power would lead to intensify the confrontation between the United States and its allies.

“3. The coming to power of Goldwater, openly proclaiming methods of interference in the affairs of other states, and primarily in the internal affairs of socialist countries, would have led to an aggravation of US relations with these countries, and above all with the USSR, would have increased the danger of an atomic conflict.

“Along with this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR and the KGB under the USSR Council of Ministers consider it desirable to prepare and implement measures to discredit Goldwater as a person among the American population. This means, in particular:

“a) To prepare a document indicating the indirect involvement of Goldwater as a far-right leader in the assassination of President Kennedy. To propose, if necessary, to make this document public shortly before the election day, to prevent Goldwater and his supporters from taking appropriate countermeasures.

“b) To inspire documented information abroad that Goldwater periodically suffers from mental disorders (maniac, drug addict).

The last page of the microfilmed KGB note.

“We ask for consent.

“[First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR] Vasily Kuznetsov.

“Chairman of the KGB under the Council of Ministers of the USSR Vladimir Semichastny.

“September 3, 1964.

Don’t be surprised if document pages are black for this is a microfilmed copy. The document was found in the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History by Georgy Filatov, Ph.D., a researcher at the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and was published in his telegram channel.

The bird’s-eye view of the Kremlin. In Soviet times, the central structures of the Soviet Communist Party’s apparatus were located in the facilities within the Kremlin walls.

As Georgy explains, the action plan was discussed and approved by the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU (this was a narrow circle of the most influential people in the Soviet Union, later this structure was returned to its old name – the Politburo) in October 1964.

We don’t know whether the Soviet active measures influenced the outcome of those elections. Barry Goldwater received only 39% of the popular vote and 52 electoral votes. Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory with 61% of the popular vote and 486 electoral votes.

Further reading:

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