Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Secret Soviet Plot to Bring Down the United States

And It's Been Spectacularly Successful!

Moscow's Red Square. State Historical Museum Center Right

In case you haven't noticed, we haven't posted on our blog The Zen Parrot for several weeks because we've been away on a trip of a lifetime. We've been off to visit the Old Country. Russia, that is.

Our family, on our father's side, comes from a long line of fervent monarchists, with a centuries old tradition of serving in the Tsarist military. Our great grandfather Yakov was a high ranking general in the Russian cavalry, as no doubt his father, grandfather, and great grandfather before him were as well. So it was probably to be expected that our grandfather Vasily would himself become a cavalry officer.

Grandfather Captain Vasily Front Right (in Cavalry Boots) Fighting the Bolsheviks

Unfortunately the grandparents passed away before we were ever old enough to appreciate their background and history. Our parents professed to know little about it. So we had the dream of traveling to Russia some day to research our family history and possibly even visit the estate outside of Moscow that our family supposedly came from. Our dream finally came to fruition this past year.

We first visited Russia in 1980 during the darkest days of the Leonid Brezhnev era when the bad old Soviet Union seemed so immutable and unchangeable. Researching Russian archives? Don't even think about it. We went back in 1989 during the heady days of Perestroika, but still faced insurmountable obstacles to accomplishing any actual research on family history.

Moscow's State Historical Museum, Established 1894, With Russian Genealogical Archives

Things are different now. For one thing, money talks. With a little grease we found a willingness to unlock archive doors that previously had been closed to westerners. Plus, it didn't hurt to have a Russian last name. For a month, every day except Tuesdays (for some reason never fully explained to us the museum is closed Tuesdays) we were at the door when it opened at 11:00 am and worked uninterrupted until closing at 7:00 pm.

Meet Dmitry, One of the Moscow State Historical Museum's Archivists

After about three days at the museum, one of the museum's archivists, a jovial chap named Dmitry, invited us to his apartment after closing for drinks. Dmitry called himself an archivist. We would consider him a glorified file clerk. But free drinks? Sure. Drinks at the hotel bar were seriously overpriced. The next evening, he invited us back to his apartment. For a business proposition he explained. Turns out, for the right price, he could provide us historical Russian artifacts to purchase. And even arrange to ship them home to us. Yeah, sure. We really weren't all that interested in commencing a life of crime this late in our lives.

Well, he knew we were legitimate historians (Ph.D. History, University of Idaho, 1993). Plus we could read Russian. How would we like to look at some old Russian documents? Never before seen by western eyes. Just declassified by the Russian government. Might turn into a subject for a book some day. Okay, we couldn't resist. What would it hurt to look?

Most of the material was dry as dirt. Пятилетнего плана Лима Бин Производство в степи Казахстан. Five Year Plan for Lima Bean Production on the Kazakhstan Steppe. Give me a break! Then there was Теория и практика Радиотелеметрия Наблюдения в Узбекистане. Theory and Practice of Radio Telemetry Observations in Uzbekistan. We were beginning to entertain serious doubts about Dmitry. Then came a box labeled Комитет государственной безопасности (КГБ). We just about choked on our кофе (coffee, that is). КГБ in English is KGB. Committee for State Security. The Soviet Secret Police. The outfit that Russian President Vladimir Putin belonged to during the bad old Soviet days. Now we were getting somewhere. We decided it was worth a hundred Euros to get Dmitry to open the lid of this box for us. Euros only. Bastard wouldn't even take dollars.
Old KGB Headquarters Building in Moscow. Home of Lubyanka Prison

The material we saw mostly dealt with KGB operations in East and West Germany and Western Europe. Contracts. Contacts. Lists of this and that.


But one file we pulled out of the box was labeled Сумка проекта Чай. Project Tea Bag. Tea was and still is the Russian national drink. After vodka. When Dmitry saw the file he visibly blanched. Apparently he had some familiarity with Project Tea Bag. He insisted we put our iPhone away and not take any photos of this particular file. We called out to have a pizza delivered before closing. Then Dmitry locked his office door and we sat up all night drinking frozen zubrovka and reading the Project Tea Bag files. By the time the museum opened in the morning the two of us were in pretty sorry shape but we had one hell of a story to tell. Amazingly Dmitry went back to work while I literally crawled across Red Square back to my room at the Hotel Rossiya. I collapsed into bed to vodka-addled dreams of FSB (Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB) agents kicking in the door to arrest me.

To get all the lurid details you'll need to buy the book we're planning to write about this Soviet era operation. Suffice it to say the operation had the three essential ingredients of a blockbuster spy novel: Sex. Drugs. Rock N' Roll. But we'll give you a teaser here.

During the 1980s the Soviet Union was bleeding out from its ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan. Led by the doddering old fool Leonid Brezhnev the empire was on its last legs. Anyone not in the time warp of the Kremlin could see it. Including a high-ranking KGB officer by the name of Vladimir Putin. Yes, that Vladimir Putin. A group of reformist Soviet officials including Putin realized the days of the Old Soviet Empire were numbered. They needed to act fast to neutralize the United States as a threat to Russia. Working with leading scientists and behavioral psychologists at Moscow's Ivan Pavlov Institute they concocted a plan they called Сумка проекта Чай, Project Tea Bag.

The scientists developed subliminal messages they would embed in contemporary American television commercials. These messages would inculcate a deep seated hatred of government in the television audience which the Russians hoped would lead to a popular uprising in America. The behavioral psychologists believed it would take twenty years for this subliminal messaging to take its desired effect. Give or take. Working through government financed Russian holding companies in the West, the Soviet officials began orchestrating ad buys in the mid-1980s, with the final ad buys in 1989. Unfortunately for them the Soviet empire collapsed sooner rather than later. Only decades later would the Russian officials come to realize just how effective Project Tea Bag really was.

With some research we were able to identify a few of the commercials the Soviets concocted. See if you can spot the subliminal messages in these Soda Wars commercials from the 1980s.
(Not to worry. You'd need to watch these continuously over an extended period of time to fear becoming a raving lunatic.)

Not surprisingly no one in the Kremlin would respond for comment to this story. While we were in Moscow we managed to track down one of the former Soviet researchers responsible for these commercials. He responded that the group never really expected Project Tea Bag to amount to much. They thought that the subliminal messaging concocted by the behavioral psychologists would result in adherents taking such radical and absurd positions on political questions of the day that no one would ever take them seriously.

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