Chapter 13. Spetsnaz and Deception

Secrecy and disinformation are the most effective weapons in the hands of the Soviet Army and the whole Communist system. With the aim of protecting military secrets and of disinforming the enemy a Chief Directorate of Strategic Camouflage (GUSM) was set up within the Soviet General Staff in the 1960s. The Russian term for 'camouflage' — maskirovka — is, like the word razvedka, impossible to translate directly. Maskirovka means everything relating to the preservation of secrets and to giving the enemy a false idea of the plans and intentions of the Soviet high command. Maskirovka has a broader meaning than 'deception' and 'camouflage' taken together.

The GUSM and the GRU use different methods in their work but operate on the same battlefield. The demands made of the officers of both organisations are more or less identical. The most important of these demands are: to be able to speak foreign languages fluently; and to know the enemy. It was no coincidence that when the GUSM was set up many senior officers and generals of the GRU were transferred to it. General Moshe Milshtein was one of them, and he had been one of the most successful heads the GRU had had; he spent practically the whole of his career in the West an an illegal (See Viktor Suvorov, Soviet Military Intelligence (London, 1984). Milshtein speaks English, French and German fluently, and possibly other languages as well. He is the author of a secret textbook for GRU officers entitled An Honourable Service. I frequently attended lectures given by him about operations by Soviet 'illegals' and the theory upon which the practice of disinformation is based. But even the briefest study of the writings of this general in Soviet military journals, in the Military -Historical Journal (VIZ) for example, reveals that he is one of the outstanding Soviet experts in the field of espionage and disinformation.

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The GUSM is vast. It is continually gathering a colossal number of facts on three key subjects:

1. What the West knows about us.

2. What the West shows us it does not know. 3. What the West is trying to find out.

The GUSM has long-term plans covering what must be concealed and what must have attention drawn to it in the Soviet Army and armaments industry. The experts of the GUSM are constantly fabricating material so that the enemy should draw the wrong conclusions from the authentic information in his possession.

The extent of the powers given to the GUSM can be judged from the fact that at the beginning of the 1970s REB osnaz (radio-electronic warfare) was transferred from the control of the KGB to the control of the GUSM, though still preserving the name osnaz.

There are very close links existing between the GUSM and the GRU and between spetsnaz and the REB osnaz. In peacetime the REB osnaz transmits by radio 'top-secret' instructions from some Soviet headquarters to others. In time of war spetsnaz operations against headquarters and centres and lines of communications are conducted in the closest co-operation with the REB osnaz, which is ready to connect up with the enemy's lines of communication to transmit false information. An example of such an operation was provided in the manoeuvres of the Ural military district when a spetsnaz company operated against a major headquarters. Spetsnaz groups cut the communication lines and 'destroyed' the headquarters and at the same time an REB osnaz company hooked into the enemy's lines and began transmitting instructions to the enemy in the name of the headquarters that had been wiped out.

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Even in peacetime the GUSM operates in a great variety of ways. For example, the Soviet Union derives much benefit from the activities of Western pacifists. A fictitious pacifist movement has been set up in the Soviet Union and Professor Chazov, the personal physician of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, has been made head of it. There are some who say that the movement is controlled by the Soviet leadership through the person of Chazov. Chazov, in addition to being responsible for the health of the General Secretary, is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, i.e. one of the leaders who has real power in his hands. There are very few people who can manipulate him.

The mighty machinery of the GUSM was brought into operation in order to give this Communist leader some publicity. General Moshe Milshtein himself arrived in London in April 1982 to attend a conference of doctors opposed to nuclear warfare. There were many questions that had to be put to the general. What did he have to do with medicine? Where had he served, in what regiments and divisions? Where had he come by his genuine English accent? Did all Soviet generals speak such good English? And were all Soviet generals allowed to travel to Great Britain and conduct pacifist propaganda, or was it a privilege granted to a select few?

The result of this publicity stunt by the GUSM is well known — the 'pacifist' Chazov, who has never once been known to condemn the murder of children in Afghanistan or the presence of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, and who persecutes opponents of Communism in the USSR, received the Nobel Prize.

'But,' as Stalin said, 'in order to prepare new wars pacifism alone is not enough.' (Leningradskaya Pravda, 14 July 1928.) That is why the Soviet leaders are preparing for another war not only with the aid of the pacifists but with the help of many other people and organisations which, knowingly or unwittingly, spread information which has been 'made in the GUSM'.

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One of the sources spreading Soviet military disinformation is the GRU's network of agents, and in particular the agents of spetsnaz.

In the preparation of a strategic operation the GUSM's most important task is to ensure that the operation is totally unexpected by the enemy, particularly the place where it is to take place and the time it is due to start; its nature, and the weapons the troops will be using; and the number of troops and scope of the operation. All these elements must be planned so that the enemy has not prepared to resist. This is achieved by many years of intensive effort on the part of the GUSM at concealment. But concealment is twofold: the GUSM will, for example, conceal from the enemy advances in Soviet military science and the armaments industry, and at the same time demonstrate what the enemy wants to see.

This would provide material for a separate and lengthy piece of research. Here we are dealing only with spetsnaz and with what the GUSM does in connection with spetsnaz. GUSM experts have developed a whole system aimed at preventing the enemy from being aware of the existence of spetsnaz and ensuring that he should have a very limited idea of its strength and the nature of the operations it will conduct. Some of the steps it takes we have already seen. To summarise:

1. Every prospective member of spetsnaz is secretly screened for his general reliability long before he is called into the Army.

2. Every man joining spetsnaz or the GRU has to sign a document promising not to reveal the secret of its existence. Any violation of this undertaking is punished as spying — by the death sentence.

3. Spetsnaz units do not have their own uniform, their own badges or any other distinguishing mark, though it very often uses the uniform of the airborne troops and their badges. Naval spetsnaz wear the uniform of the naval infantry although they have nothing in common with that force. Spetsnaz units operating midget submarines wear the usual uniform of submariners. When they are in the countries of Eastern Europe the spetsnaz units wear the uniform of signals troops.

4. Not a single spetsnaz unit is quartered separately. They are all accommodated in military settlements along with airborne or air-assault troops. In the Navy spetsnaz units are accommodated in the military settlements of the naval infantry. The fact that they wear the same uniform and go through roughly the same kind of battle training makes it very difficult to detect spetsnaz. In Eastern Europe spetsnaz is located close to important headquarters because it is convenient to have them along with the signals troops. In the event of their being moved to military settlements belonging to other branches of the forces spetsnaz units immediately change uniform.

Agent units in spetsnaz are installed near specially well defended targets — missile bases, penal battalions and nuclear ammunition stores.

5. In the various military districts and groups of forces spetsnaz troops are known by different names — as reidoviki ('raiders') in East Germany, and as okhotniki ('hunters') in the Siberian military district. Spetsnaz soldiers from different military districts who meet by chance consider themselves as part of different organisations. The common label spetsnaz is used only by officers among themselves.

6. Spetsnaz does not have its own schools or academies. The officer class is trained at the Kiev Higher Combined Officers' Training School (reconnaissance faculty) and at the Ryazan Higher Airborne School (special faculty). It is practically impossible to distinguish a spetsnaz student among the students of other faculties. Commanding officers and officers concerned with agent work are trained at the Military-Diplomatic Academy (the GRU Academy). I have already mentioned the use made of sports sections and teams for camouflaging the professional core of spetsnaz.

There are many other ways of concealing the presence of spetsnaz in a particular region and the existence of spetsnaz as a whole.

In spetsnaz everyone has his own nickname. As in the criminal underworld or at school, a person does not choose his own nickname, but is given it by others. A man may have several at the outset, then some of them are dropped until there remains only the one that sounds best and most pleases the people he works with. The use of nicknames greatly increases the chances of keeping spetsnaz operations secret. The nicknames can be transmitted by radio without any danger. A good friend of mine was given the nickname Racing Pig. Suppose the head of Intelligence in a district sent the following radiogram, uncyphered: 'Racing Pig to go to post No. 10.' What could that tell an enemy if he intercepted it? On the other hand, the commander of the group will know the message is genuine, that it has been sent by one of his own men and nobody else. Spetsnaz seldom makes use of radio, and, if the head of Intelligence had to speak to the group again he would not repeat the name but would say another name to the deputy commander of the group: 'Dog's Heart to take orders from Gladiolus,' for example.

Before making a jump behind enemy lines, in battle or in training, a spetsnaz soldier will hand over to his company sergeant all his documents, private letters, photographs, everything he does not need on the campaign and everything that might enable someone to determine what unit he belongs to, his name, and so on. The spetsnaz soldier has no letters from the Russian alphabet on his clothes or footwear. There may be some figures which indicate the number he is known by in the Soviet armed forces, but that is all. An interesting point is that there are two letters in that number, and for the spetsnaz soldier they always select letters which are common to both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets — A, K, X, and so forth. An enemy coming across the corpse of a spetsnaz soldier will find no evidence that it is that of a Soviet soldier. One could, of course, guess, but the man could just as easily be a Bulgar, a Pole or a Czech.

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Spetsnaz operates in exceptionally unfavourable conditions. It can survive and carry out a given mission only if the enemy's attention is spread over a vast area and he does not know where the main blow is to be struck.

With this aim, drops of large numbers of spetsnaz troops are not carried out in a single area but in smaller numbers and in several areas at the same time. The dropping zones may be separated from each other by hundreds of kilometres, and apart from the main areas of operation for spetsnaz other, subsidiary areas are chosen as well: these are areas of real interest to spetsnaz, so as to make the enemy believe that that is the area where the main spetsnaz threat is likely to appear, and they are chosen as carefully as the main ones. The decision as to which area will be a prime one and which a subsidiary is taken by the high command on the very eve of the operation. Sometimes circumstances change so rapidly that a change in the area of operation may take place even as the planes are over enemy territory.

The deception of the enemy over the main and subsidiary areas of operation begins with the deception of the men taking part in the operation. Companies, battalions, regiments and brigades exist as single fighting units. But during the period of training for the operation, groups and detachments are formed in accordance with the actual situation and to carry out a specific task. The strength and armament of each group is worked out specially. Before carrying out an operation every detachment and every group is isolated from the other groups and detachments and is trained to carry out the operation planned for that particular group. The commander and his deputy are given the exact area of operations and are given information about enemy operations in the given area and about operations there by spetsnaz groups and detachments. Sometimes this information is very detailed (if groups and detachments have to operate jointly), at others it is only superficial, just enough to prevent neighbouring commanders getting in each other's way.

Sometimes the commander of a group or detachment is told the truth, sometimes he is deceived. A spetsnaz officer knows that he can be deceived, and that he cannot always detect with any certainty what is true and what is a lie.

Commanders of groups and detachments who are to take part in operations in reserve areas are usually told that their area is the main one and the most important, that there is already a large force of spetsnaz operating there or that such a force will soon appear there. The commander of a group that is operating in the main area may be told, on the contrary, that apart from his groups there are very few groups operating in the area. Irrespective of what the comander is told he is given quite specific tasks, for whose accomplishment he answers with his head in the most literal sense. In any operation the GRU high command keeps a spetsnaz reserve on its own territory. Even in the course of the operation some groups may receive an order to withdraw from the main areas into the reserve areas. Spetsnaz reserves may be dropped into the reserve areas, which then become main areas of operations. In this way the enemy obtains information about spetsnaz simultaneously in many areas, and it is exceptionally difficult to determine where the main areas and where the reserve ones are. Consequently the enemy's main forces may be thrown against relatively small groups and detachments which are conducting real military operations but which are none the less a false target for the enemy. Even if the enemy establishes which are the main areas of spetsnaz operations the enemy may be too late. Many spetsnaz groups and detachments will already be leaving the area, but those that remain there will be ordered to step up their activity; the enemy thus gets the impression that this area is still the main one. So as not to dispel this illusion, the groups remaining in the area are ordered by the Soviet high command to prepare to receive fresh spetsnaz reinforcements, are sent increased supplies and are continually told that they are doing the main job. But they are not told that their comrades left the area long ago for a reserve area that has now become a main one.

At the same time as the main and reserve areas are chosen, false areas of operations for spetsnaz are set. A false, or phoney, area is created in the following way. A small spetsnaz group with a considerable supply of mines is dropped into the area secretly. The group lays the mines on important targets, setting the detonators in such a way that all the mines will blow up at roughly the same time. Then automatic radio transmitters are fixed up in inaccessible places which are also carefully mined. This done, the spetsnaz group withdraws from the area and gets involved in operations in a quite different place. Then another spetsnaz group is dropped into the same area with the task of carrying out an especially daring operation.

This group is told that it is to be operating in an area of special importance where there are many other groups also operating. At an agreed moment the Soviet air force contributes a display of activity over the particular area. For this purpose real planes are used, which have just finished dropping genuine groups in another area. The route they follow has to be deliberately complicated, with several phoney places where they drop torn parachutes and shroud-lines, airborne troops' equipment, boxes of ammunition, tins of food, and so forth.

Next day the enemy observes the following scene. In an area of dense forest in which there are important targets there are obvious traces of the presence of Soviet parachutists. In many places in the same area there had been simultaneous explosions. In broad daylight a group of Soviet terrorists had stopped the car of an important official on the road and brutally murdered him and got away with his case full of documents. At the same time the enemy had noted throughout the area a high degree of activity by spetsnaz radio transmitters using a system of rapid and super-rapid transmission which made it very difficult to trace them. What does the enemy general have to do, with all these facts on his desk?

To lead the enemy further astray spetsnaz uses human dummies, clothed in uniform and appropriately equipped. The dummies are dropped in such a way that the enemy sees the drop but cannot immediately find the landing place. For this purpose the drop is carried out over mountains or forests, but far away from inhabited places and places where the enemy's troops are located. The drops are usually made at dawn, sunset or on a moonlit night. They are never made in broad daylight because it is then seen to be an obvious piece of deception, while on a dark night the drop may not be noticed at all.

The enemy will obviously discover first the dummies in the areas which are the main places for spetsnaz operations. The presence of the dummies may raise doubts in the enemy's mind about whether the dummies indicate that it is not a false target area but the very reverse.... The most important thing is to disorient the enemy completely. If there are few spetsnaz forces available, then it must be made to appear that there are lots of them around. If there are plenty of them, it should be made to appear that there are very few. If their mission is to destroy aircraft it must look as if their main target is a power station, and vice versa. Sometimes a group will lay mines on targets covering a long distance, such as oil pipelines, electricity power lines, roads and bridges along the roads. In such cases they set the first detonators to go off with a very long delay and as they advance they make the delay steadily shorter. The group then withdraws to one side and changes its direction of advance completely. The successive explosions then take place in the opposite direction to the one in which the group was moving.

Along with operations in the main, reserve and false areas there may also be operations by spetsnaz professional groups working in conditions of special secrecy. The Soviet air force plays no part in such operations. Even if the groups are dropped by parachute it takes place some distance away and the groups leave the drop zone secretly. Relatively small but very carefully trained groups of professional athletes are chosen for such operations. Their movements can be so carefully concealed that even their acts of terrorism are carried out in such a way as to give the enemy the impression that the particular tragedy is the result of some natural disaster or of some other circumstances unconnected with Soviet military intelligence or with terrorism in general. All the other activity of spetsnaz serves as a sort of cover for such specially trained groups. The enemy concentrates his attention on the main, reserve and false target areas, not suspecting the existence of secret areas in which the organisation is also operating: secret areas which could very easily be the most dangerous for the enemy.