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.
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.
(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.