Challenging Global Perceptions of the United States

Europe and Eurasia Regional Issues
Disinformation Russia And Us

​Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union conducted multiple covert disinformation campaigns against the United States. One such operation was the U.S. Army Field Manual 30-31B (hereinafter referred to as “FM 30-31B,” or “30-31B”) in which the Soviet Union forged a military training manual to influence the attitudes and behaviors of countries hosting American personnel (DOS 1983, 1; Schwartz 1988, 5). Forgeries are an ideal form of covert action against an enemy because these operations are simple and cost-effective (Clark 1989, 51). As a counter to Soviet activities, the United States conducted its own covert operations to support a favored foreign policy of global communist containment. The leadership in the Kremlin viewed the containment policy as a threat to national security and the longevity of the communist regime (DOS 1981, 2; Jones 2018, 2-3). Respectively, both nations had a significant stake in the communist ideological fight in Western Europe, which would begin in Italy in the 1940s. Three decades later, FM 30-31B would alter perceptions of the United States and its intentions for friendly, non-communist nations.

​In the immediate post-war period, the Soviet Union did not receive the same recognition as other Allied powers, and this perceived dismissal of the Russian’s part in ending World War II had a profound impact on Soviet foreign policy (Zakaria 2008). Because the United States rose as a unilateral power following the war, America became a prime target for Kremlin-sponsored intelligence operations. When the US established the policy of containment, the USSR chose this specific area of interest to undermine the United States. The White House then initiated the policy of containment in Italy prior to the 1948 election, in which the Christian Democratic Party (DCI) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) were the primary competing parties, by providing covert support for the DCI and subverting the PCI with covert propaganda and action (Daugherty 2007, 6-7; Hulnick 2002, 6-7). Ultimately, in the case of the 1948 elections, the US was successful, but its efforts against the communists would fuel the Soviets’ hatred of America.

​In the twenty years following the United States’ initial anti-communist operations in Italy, the American-supported DCI and the Soviet-supported PCI conducted persistent, aggressive operations against their opponents to achieve a majority for their respective political parties in the Italian parliament (Ganser 2005, 65-79). To subvert American interests and activities in Italy and other Western European states, the Soviet Union created the forged 30-31B document. This field manual promoted the idea of an American effort to support leftist terrorist groups to influence host governments (Pike 2013). Part of the Soviet design of this document was to make FM 30-31B appear authentic to the average individual and to advance a basis for later efforts to implicate the United States in heinous acts against friendly foreign governments (Ganser 2006, 776; Macbain 1981, 16). A few years after the surfacing of the forged document in 1976, the Soviets used 30-31B as the “evidence” that tied the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the Red Brigades – an extreme left Italian terrorist organization accused of the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister (PM) and head of the DCI, Aldo Moro (Macbain 1981, 16; Pond 1985). While the United States denies any involvement in Moro’s murder, the question of whether the forged field manual was a successful Soviet covert operation still stands.

​Controversy still exists regarding whether the United States was an “agent provocateur” in the murder of Prime Minister Moro, which makes this research relevant and important to the study of national security and intelligence operations. Although the United States cannot deny its actual or attempted involvement in foreign governmental processes, the US has maintained a consistent policy against operating with or for terrorist groups. Critics such as Daniele Ganser and Kleanthis Grivas disagree and use FM 30-31B as support for their claims that the US influenced the Red Brigades to kidnap and murder Prime Minister Aldo Moro (DOS 2006). The Soviet accusation of the US involvement in the Moro murder is the single most significant and persistent outcome of the field manual operation, but the USSR used 30-31B multiple times as proof of American ties to leftist terrorist groups (Macbain 1981, 16; Pike 2013). Because the Kremlin designed the use of FM 30-31B to influence attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors in the Italian theater and beyond, it is important to determine the success of this covert operation. The United States prides itself on its democratic values and any significant influence the field manual engendered would have a strategic impact on America’s international relationships and the continued maintenance of United States national security.

​Several themes appeared while researching information for FM 30-31B and the Soviet Union’s part in creating and promoting the manual as legitimate. Scholarly discussions addressed Soviet forgery campaigns, political assassinations, stay-behind networks – troops left in theater after hostilities to influence the population, and Italian terrorist groups as multiple moving factors associated with the murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Because of the multiple moving parts scholars associate with the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Moro, the connection to the United States is unclear. Soviet forgery campaigns and political assassinations are two significant components of contemporary history, and the nuances relevant to these themes establish a better understanding of the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine the United States and its allies in the West. NATO’s stay-behind networks fit into this puzzle because scholars have had little time to dissect these networks for responsible and necessary educational gain. The secretive nature of these networks leads to misunderstandings regarding their purpose, and the authors attempt to debunk this secrecy. Competition between Italian terrorist groups responsible for multiple atrocious, indiscriminate attacks during the “Years of Lead” (Anni di Piombo, 1960s-1980s) complicates the situation further (D’Amato 2018, 419-420). These groups represented the extreme fascist and communist factions in Italy that conducted thousands of attacks annually, and the authors attempt to untangle their motivations and mindsets for causing destruction.

​Applying Theory

​Persuasion theory can provide insight into the success of the Kremlin’s FM 30-31B disinformation operation. This theory focuses on the ability of a government, organization, or business to persuade an individual to mold, enforce, or alter pre-existing mindsets, attitudes, or behaviors (Cameron 2009, 309). Generally, there are two types of elaboration an operator uses to exact change in an individual’s response to a message: item-specific and relational. Item-specific elaboration uses particular information associated with a specific concept, while relational elaboration relies on the similarities between concepts or events to make connections to additional information (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya 1999, 48). For this study, the researcher will focus on the relational elaboration aspect of persuasion theory to assess persuasive ability of the field manual to alter the perspectives of the target audience.

​Persuasion theory can provide insight into the success of the Kremlin’s FM 30-31B disinformation operation. This theory focuses on the ability of a government, organization, or business to persuade an individual to mold, enforce, or alter pre-existing mindsets, attitudes, or behaviors (Cameron 2009, 309). Generally, there are two types of elaboration an operator uses to exact change in an individual’s response to a message: item-specific and relational. Item-specific elaboration uses particular information associated with a specific concept, while relational elaboration relies on the similarities between concepts or events to make connections to additional information (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya 1999, 48). For this study, the researcher will focus on the relational elaboration aspect of persuasion theory to assess persuasive ability of the field manual to alter the perspectives of the target audience. individual’s perception of an event, so persuasion theory with the Yale Model of Persuasion approach can help in understanding Soviet efforts to influence Italy’s government and citizens in response to FM 30-31B and the murder of Prime Minister Moro.

​Even though popular opinion supports the belief that the Red Brigades were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Moro, the study of the relationship between Soviet forgery campaigns, political assassinations, stay-behind networks, and Italian terrorist organizations requires further research. The literature on Soviet forgery campaigns and political assassinations supplies abundant information regarding Kremlin tactics used to disrupt US national security and individual targeting by subversive groups. However, it fails to address the success of the FM 30-31B operations, the impact this operation had on contemporary mindsets, and the relationship these factors have with stay-behind networks and Italian terrorist organizations. Furthermore, the lack of information available regarding governments involved in stay-behind networks could provide scholars and governments with essential knowledge to understand the activities of these networks, and advanced information regarding the relationship between Italian terrorist groups and American, Italian, and Soviet governments requires further study. Ultimately, the FM 30-31B document requires more attention to determine if the field manual would persuade an average individual to believe the United States would partake in horrendous acts such as the murder of PM Moro without the promotion of the influential tactics and non-sequitur approaches the Soviet Union used to promote their agenda.

​Overall, the operations the Kremlin conducted against the United States during the Cold War were in response to the US policy of communist containment. The Soviet Union established sophisticated departments and agencies to fulfill domestic and foreign policies using active measures with the US as the primary target. Relevant literature provides extensive information regarding the various aspects associated with the FM 30-31B operation conducted primarily between 1975 and 1980, but many authors fail to synthesize these components to reveal a wide and objective picture. Current research needs a better assessment of United States and Soviet Union’s involvement in Italy during the Cold War to better assess how, when, and where each superpower was involved in the murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Moreover, current research requires a better assessment of contemporary mindsets of the period that could have an impact on future relationships between the United States and other nations. The relational elaboration aspect of persuasion theory as well as the Yale Model of Persuasion will facilitate the conduct of this research to achieve appropriate outcomes. In doing so, further research should be able to determine the level of Soviet success in the FM 30-31B forgery operation.


​Although other researchers and governments have studied Soviet disinformation operations and the field manual previously, this study seeks to determine the true success or failure of the FM 30-31B operation. Assessments of success and failure rarely have clear-cut boundaries. Thus, the case study approach assesses where the Soviet field manual operation lands on the spectrum of success and failure. The operation involves multiple different avenues the researcher must consider to determine the true success or failure of 30-31B because of its complexity. Finally, the researcher addresses the four processes of the Yale Model of Persuasion as well as the general guidelines of persuasion outlined in Gass and Seiter’s (1999) book on persuasion and influence: intent, coercion, context, plurality, presence, and media to make a conclusion. The researcher will test information acquired for the study against each of these processes and guidelines to determine their applicability to the overall study.

​FM 30-31B

​Generally, the US Field Manual 30-31B appears to be a genuine document at first glance. For the average audience with limited knowledge of other US Field Manuals, 30-31B would seem legitimate. However, with further study by individuals familiar with US government documents and in comparison to other field manuals the US Army created and published at the time, FM 30-31B is less persuasive. The researcher studied two copies of the FM 30-31B document in comparison to other similar field manuals including FM 30-31 (CAIB 1979, 11, 14- 18; Young 2001a). Through a Freedom of Information Act request, John Young (2001a) received a poor copy of FM30-31B. In the CovertAction Information Bulletin (CAIB 1979) former CIA officers produced in the 1970s, the authors present another copy of 30-31B that is dissimilar to Young’s copy from the government. In Young’s copy (2001a), the format and headings do not match those of other field manuals of the time, but the size and style of font are similar to FM 30-31 as well as FMs 6-15, 20-60, and 31-16 (Department of Army 1970a; 1970b; 1970c; 1970d). Conversely, the CAIB version of FM 30-31B has the proper format and headings, but it does not utilize the same font size and style (1979). In addition to these errors, Young’s version (2001a) incorrectly numbers the pages of the document in comparison to FM 30-31 and others, while the CAIB (1979) copy does not list page numbers at all. Although the Young and CAIB versions of FM 30-31B have style and format errors, the wording remains the same. Per the Young (2001b) transcript of the document, FM 30-31B alludes to FMs 30-31 and 30-31A similar to other field manuals, while 30-31B uses the phrase “well-tried” in Chapter 3, section 5-e and “Special Force” in reference to Special Forces in Chapter 3, section 4-d. These errors appear to be faults in Russian – English translations the average reader may overlook.

​Regarding distribution, the FM 30-31B had a far reach. The document first appeared in Baris, a Turkish publication, in 1975 although the author of the article did not conduct an in-depth assessment of the Top Secret Supplement B (US GPO 1980, 86). Following the initial mention, 30-31B materialized in several nations and publications. In 1976, FM 30-31B showed up behind a glass bulletin board at the Filipino embassy in Bangkok, Thailand with a note addressed to the President of the Philippines (Young 2001b). Later, in 1978, El Pais and El Triunfo news publishers in Spain, L’Europeo in Italy, various other left and right media outlets, and multiple nations including the United States and the Soviet Union reported on the forgery and speculated on 30-31B’s ultimate purpose (CAIB 1979, 9; Ganser 2004; US GPO 1980, 16, 67, 77, 86). In the period between 1975 and 1980, FM 30-31B showed up one more time in Portugal to military officers in a further attempt to convince a foreign nation of American misdeeds (US GPO 1980, 87). Overall, the Soviet forgery appeared in multiple countries through different media publications. The Soviet Union relied on extensive distribution of FM 30-31B to reach as many individuals as possible. Regardless of the individuals’ acceptance of the forged document as false or authentic, many people were aware of its existence.

​Soviet Forgery of FM 30-31B

​During the Cold War, the Soviet Union spent billions to undermine the United States and the West while they also attempted to influence nations to alter foreign policy in support of Soviet communist goals (Anderson 1998, 414; Jones 2019, 3; Minority Staff Report 2017, 6; Walton 2019, 110-111). Using active measures such as the distribution of forgeries, the Soviet Union could achieve its goals and maintain deniability. As shown in the last section, the Soviet Union distributed information regarding FM 30-31B along with accusations of inappropriate American conduct in an effort to convince relevant populations of 30-31B’s authenticity (US GPO 1980, 16). Indeed, the Soviet forgery reached multiple audiences, which can enhance the success of this covert operation. Because of the Soviet Union’s extensive use of forgeries as tools of foreign policy, the United States developed a modus operandi (MO) for this effort. This MO consists of security classifications, letterheads, copies, blurriness, cover letters, and plots in Soviet forgeries as well as free distribution, simple media design, and a foreign government or leadership focus (US GPO 1980, 173; Young 2001b). US FM 30-31B has all of these components, which lead to the identification of the document as a Soviet forgery.

​Status Quo Attitudes

​From 1975 to 1980, attitudes toward the United States and the Soviet Union depended on political affiliation and the environment of the time. This period was at the height of the “Years of Lead” and right and left-wing terrorism, which influenced Italian attitudes toward Soviet and American foreign influence and the acceptability of the Italian government’s activities (Drake 2001, 359; Heurtebize 2014, 526). However, the most influential aspect of Italian public opinion centered on conspiracy theories. Italians are prone to the development of and belief in conspiracy theories, so theories spread immediately following the kidnap and murder of Prime Minster Aldo Moro (Hof 2013, 233, 253; Drake 2001, 371). The left, including the influential Italian Communist Party (PCI) promoted and perpetuated many of these conspiracy theories to reduce the effectiveness of the Christian Democratic Party (DCI) (Hof 2013, 236, 245-246; Mistry 2010, 249-250). Because of the influence of conspiracy theories and the PCI’s efforts, status quo attitudes shifted in favor of Soviet communism and against American democratic values in the Italian government (Heurtebize 2014, 526). With the failure to save Aldo Moro from his fate, the lack of evidence, and despite Italian efforts to debunk conspiracy theories, Italian citizens believe government and foreign influence lies behind Red Brigades actions against PM Moro (Drake 2001, 364; Hof 2013, 243; Hof 2018, 430). Ultimately, the susceptibility of Italian citizens to believe in conspiracy theories regardless of their origin would play into the Soviet Union’s favor.

​Relationships with the Red Brigades

​A further aspect of consideration regarding the believability of the FM 30-31B document is the relationship of the United States, Soviet Union, and Italy with the left-wing Red Brigades terrorist group. As an extension of belief in conspiracy theories, Italian citizens and journalists tried to identify the nation that would have likely assisted the Red Brigades in their terrorist activities throughout the Anni di Polombo. These individuals, including Prime Minister Moro in his letters from captivity, blamed the United States, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, or the Italian state as well as the socialist (PSI) and democratic (DCI) parties of Italy as acting in collusion with the Red Brigades (Coleman 1992, 5; Directorate of Intelligence 1982, 14; Drake 2001, 363; Drake 2007, 345; LaRouche 1979, 53-54; Pascali 1990, 37; Sterling 1982, 25; Zoakos 1981, 30). However, further available evidence indicates the Red Brigades acted independently given their hatred of the Italian government, dissatisfaction with PCI’s shift toward a compromise with the DCI, and the lack of information that would indicate any other communist or non-communist nation’s overarching influence in Italian government affairs or the Moro murder (Directorate of Intelligence 1982, 1, 13-14; Hof 2013, 240; Hof 2018, 430; Irrera 2014, 19; Magherini 1993, 185; Orlandi 2011, 28; Petlák and Miroslav 2020, 10-11). Without the declassification of documents indicating the true level of American, Italian, or Soviet influence in left or right-wing terrorism in Italy between 1975 and 1980, the existence of a relationship with the Red Brigades will remain non-existent or unclear. Despite new information that would add to the argument, the Italian citizens’ preference for conspiracy theories may persist.

Relational Elaboration

​To review the meaning of relational elaboration, this aspect of persuasion theory relies on similarities between events to make connections and to influence an individual’s response to a message (Meyers-Levy and Malaviya 1999, 48). The Soviet Union used relational elaboration with the FM 30-31B document by distributing this document across several nations for maximum effect. Additionally, Soviet officers of the Kremlin would align information relayed in the forged document to actual events such as the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Moro. Despite the Soviet Union’s intentions to implicate the CIA, 30-31B promotes a military perspective. One phrase in the document, “…with other US agencies,” is the small addition Moscow designed to tie in the CIA (Young 2001b). US FM 30-31B achieved a more persuasive effect because the Soviet Union associated actual events with the forged documents. Italian citizens already believed in a potential government, foreign or domestic, conspiracy theory behind the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, and the Kremlin’s attempts to implicate the United States solidified this perception.

​Yale Model of Persuasion

​According the Yale Model of Persuasion, or “message learning approach,” a researcher must consider the source, message, channel, and receiver in addition to the four processes of attention, comprehension, yield, and retention (Cameron 2009, 310). As the source of the forged document and frequent distributor of forgeries, the Soviet Union had plenty of expertise in persuasiveness. Additionally, the message to promote the United States’ involvement in Italian domestic terrorism using media channels would affect all susceptible and superstitious Italian audiences receiving the message.

​With global distribution to communist and non-communist channels, the Soviet Union gained the attention of Italian citizens. Regardless of political affiliation, most Italian citizens would receive the message the Soviet Union presented. Particularly with the use of Italian publication L’Europeo, the Kremlin appealed to the Italians personally by associating the FM 30-31B document with American activity in Italy as well as with Prime Minister Aldo Moro’s murder. Alone, FM 30-31B may not have been persuasive. The US government tailors field manuals toward military populations, and these documents may not reach a civilian audience. Average citizens understood the theory the Kremlin wanted to promote because the Soviet Union used wide distribution across various regions with multiple outlets, promoted relational elaboration, and tied the forged document to actual political activity in Italy at the time. Additionally, since Moscow reiterated the connections between the US, FM 30-31B, Italy, and the Moro murder, the repetition made the document and its implications easier to comprehend.

​Despite thorough investigation and the debunking of false narratives, the evidence indicates many Italian citizens yielded to the message portrayed in FM 30-31B. As a primary target for the connection between 30-31B and the murder of PM Moro, Soviet-influence on Italian attitudes was one of the Kremlin’s goals. The United States immediately marked the document as a forgery and government investigations revealed no collusion, but citizens still believed the US was somehow involved in the terrorist activity in Italy during the “Years of Lead” (Mistry 2011, 255; US GPO 1980, 16). Furthermore, Italian citizens were skeptical of the Italian government, which plays into the effectiveness of the 30-31B forgery operation. Message retention is more difficult to determine within the bounds of the case study (1975-1980). Soviet reintroduction of the forged document would encourage Italian citizens to remember the Kremlin-suggested influence of America in Italian affairs. Once Moscow connected 30-31B to the kidnapping and murder of PM Moro, Italians became more committed to the belief that there was a higher right-wing power associated with left-wing domestic terrorism.

​Gass and Seiter’s Guidelines

​Gass and Seiter’s guidelines to determine the persuasive ability of US FM 30-31B regarding intent, coercion, context, plurality, presence, and media also provide a quick estimate regarding the success or failure of the Soviet forgery operation. The Soviet Union intended to persuade Italian citizens that the United States was interfering in domestic politics and terrorism in Italy during the Anni di Polombo and in the period between 1975 and 1980 specifically. Due to the promotion of the Soviet forgery and the extensive efforts of the PCI to promote an anti-Western narrative, Italian citizens became more skeptical of the authenticity of their government in attempting to counter terrorism and regarding Italian relationships with foreign nations. Generally, Italian perceptions of government and foreign involvement in domestic terrorism are limited to the FM 30-31B context. Citizens did not alter their attitudes or behaviors toward other nations or external political influence. Moscow targeted the entire Italian population and nationalities beyond with the forged field manual, which would add to reinforcing belief systems and to promoting secondary and tertiary effects. Physically, the Soviet Union was present through its influence in the PCI. However, the Kremlin’s presence was more apparent in communication through media publications and propaganda that consistently promoted FM 30-31B and continuously created connections between the forged document, domestic terrorism, and US involvement in Italian affairs. As mentioned above, the advancement of the Soviet forgery existed primarily in the media. Using newspapers, journals, and radio stations, the Soviet Union maximized the presence of FM 30-31B.

​Case Study Conclusion

​During the “Years of Lead” between the 1960s and 1980s, Italy experienced years of tumultuous and violent environments leading to multiple deaths from left and right-wing terrorism. The Soviet Union and the United States conducted influential overt and covert operations during this time that affected Italian perceptions of foreign influence in Italian affairs. Specifically, between 1975 and 1980, the Kremlin promoted the existence of US Field Manual 30-31B to suggest the United States was involved in domestic terrorism and to eventually implicate the US in the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. This study was important to determine the success or failure of the 30-31B forgery operation and to provide better guidance for preventing Soviet or Russian disinformation influence in the future. Overall, the purpose of this study was to use persuasion theory, relational elaboration, the Yale Model of Persuasion, and Gass and Seiter’s guidelines on persuasion to determine if the Soviet Union was successful in influencing the Italian citizens of perceived American misdeeds during a period of high tension and susceptibility to conspiracy theories.

​Based on the height of its utility from 1975-1980, the Soviet-sponsored U.S. Army Field Manual 30-31B operation was a success. The Soviet Union successfully used relational elaboration to draw connections from 30-31B to emotionally charged events in Italy at the time. Additionally, the Kremlin’s message to implicate the United States in Italian domestic terrorism using media channels and to influence Italian opinions toward the US was a success. Italian citizens paid attention to Soviet efforts, comprehended the message, yielded to the message by changing behaviors and attitudes, and maintained retention of the message through Moscow’s repeated attempts to undermine the United States. Furthermore, the Soviet Union hit all targets in Gass and Seiter’s guidelines to persuade Italian citizens to accept FM 30-31B as an authentic document and proof of America’s complicity in Italian terrorist activities. Without further evidence, the study indicates that the Red Brigades planned and conducted the kidnap and murder of PM Moro independently of any external influence. Despite investigations that dismiss American involvement in Italian domestic terrorism, the Soviet Union was still successful in convincing the Italian population of US FM 30-31B’s legitimacy in Italy’s political affairs. Obvious implications exist for the success of 30-31B against national security. The Russian government has made a habit of using disinformation and misinformation to convince the global population of illegitimate accusations that target the United States. With the success Russia has had, there is no reason to expect that the Kremlin will change its operational procedures. The “system” in the Russian Federation is broken in many ways, but its ability to influence the opinions of diverse individuals is not. Ultimately, the United States still needs to uncover an appropriate and effective policy to counter Russian tactics to prevent further distrust from the constituency in America.


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